Are you paying for a campaign and getting an ad?

19 Oct

The word “campaign” gets tossed around a lot in boardrooms and creative meetings. Advertising purists will tell you that the ultimate test of an advertising idea is whether or not it has “legs”: in other words, is the idea executable in multiple iterations?

I’ve always found this misleading, as I suspect clients often pay for campaigns when all they really got was an ad.

What’s the value of a campaign over a single ad?

Multiple executions can build on a story or message, creating new angles to look at, so the audience can get a more comprehensive and memorable view of the product or service or business. That can be even more valuable over time, when a single ad seen too often enters your advertising blind spot, whereas a fresh execution of a strong idea pulls you in all over again, but with less heavy lifting required from the message.

So when is a campaign not a campaign?

Take a look at this series for Send4Help, an emergency service that uses satellite technology to allow you to send an alert when you need assistance. Could be a life-saver.

Send4Help ad with woman

Send4Help ad with man

Send4Help ad with woman 2

The way I see it, it’s just the same gag over and over. The models change and the wraps change, but the ads are indistinct from each other. None of these ads is likely to move you more than another. Nor does the story build or become more interesting with each subsequent telling.

Here, one ad would have just as easily communicated the benefit to the audience. Somehow the agency managed to convince the client to go the whole hog.

(Another issue I have with the campaign is the tired old “there’s a better/easier way” approach – where you show people behaving in a ridiculous manner to suggest how challenging the problem is to solve conventionally. This sums up half of the advertising out there it sometimes seems. But I digress.)

Now check out this campaign for UK mag Nuts.

Nuts Magazine Stripper ad

Nuts Magazine ad "from behind"Nuts Magazine "not pregnant" ad

The ads look more or less the same but they are not. They each build the case for the magazine, using different situational prompts. You are likely to have your favourite, or at least one you dislike the most! Is the story less interesting and effective if you start whittling the campaign down to one ad? I would argue that it is.

Not so with Send4Help.

There are countless worthy campaigns out there, but too often there are single ideas masquerading as more.

If you’re a client, are you getting less than you paid for?

So based on the criteria of my rant, what do you think of the next series. Campaign? Or single idea?

Lowell Blonde ad

Lowell Brown ad

Lowell Dark ad

8 Responses to “Are you paying for a campaign and getting an ad?”

  1. David Caughran (@westcoast_dave) October 19, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    Great post Doug! Yet we see it time and again… Worst thing is that there are those who pass off an idea as a campaign, and their client thinks they’re getting value. Ahh, yes, the ongoing battle against what they don’t know they don’t know…

    ps. the last series was definitely a single idea repeated

  2. Doug Brown October 19, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

    Thanks David. It’s hard to come up with more than one execution of great idea. But I think that’s the test. If you’re struggling on the 3rd ad, it isn’t a campaign. Great campaigns just keep writing themselves. See Boddingtons print ads, Knorr Sidekicks TV ads, Playland posters…etc! A great campaignable idea inspires you to keep going.

    As for the last series, different hair colours expand the idea, but using the same visual device was what let it down.

  3. @susanjones October 19, 2011 at 7:09 pm #

    Great stuff Doug! I’m with David, last series was a single idea.

  4. Doug Brown October 19, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    I appreciate the comment Susan. I quite like the ads and feel they are pretty visually striking, but its hard to imagine ways to make the idea bigger, so I’m with you and David here.

  5. Christie October 22, 2011 at 6:46 pm #

    Your explanation of what make a campaign was really interesting. I had never thought about what really constituted a campaign, but it makes sense.

    Of the Nuts magazine examples you used, I have to say the “It looked like a girl from behind” one is the funniest. I can’t help wondering what we did to make him give us that look…

    I share your distaste with the “there’s a better/easier way” approach to some advertising out there. Sometimes I wonder how obviously trying to make me feel stupid is going to make me buy their product or service.

  6. Catherine Novak October 22, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    Now you’ve got me thinking about how to expand the series – I’m pretty sure a broom would not cut it, lol.

  7. Doug Brown October 22, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

    > Christie, that whole “there’s an easier way” approach baffles me completely. It makes their potential customers look stupid, as you note. I can’t imagine why an advertiser thinks that this is a good tactic…but that’s not really what the post was about. 😉 Thanks for the comment!

    > Catherine I wracked my brain to figure out other executions: colour and natural hair. I couldn’t ultimately think of anything brilliant which means one of two things: I’m not really very good at this game; it’s a single idea masquerading as a campaign. Both, perhaps?


  1. Blog Comments: 1-10 « PR Hot Air - December 16, 2011

    […] BLOG COMMENT 2: Are you paying for a campaign and getting an ad? […]

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