Be a ‘Stractics’ Player

Imagine you’re a hungry consumer. You see an Angus burger ad with an arrow pointing to the patty that says: “100% Juicy Angus.” Then you see a Jack in the Box sirloin burger ad making fun of the term “Angus” by pointing out that it’s one letter away from sounding like, well, something else. Do you conflate Jack’s burger with the other burgers, thereby doubling the impact of your activation?

Research tells us that you do. So do the unthinkable and buy where your competitors buy as a way to make your product more memorable and to reinforce the big campaign idea. Layer every piece of their media with yours to create a double take in the consumer’s mind. Is this campaign an example of creative media? It won us an Effie award.

I’m convinced that the only approaches worth considering are the ones that arise from a new way of doing media, a way that combines strategy and tactics together, simultaneously. Because the media marketplace is too unforgiving to have to correct mistakes, we need to be right the first time out.

The only way to do that is to really execute creative media ideas, not just pay them lip service. As someone who began his career as an account guy focusing on the creative side at large agencies like Chiat/Day, I’m grateful that media agencies are being recognized as “creative” by our clients and the press. But what, really, does that vague term mean?

Is creative media like art — we know it when we see it? Is it measured by Media Lions or some other metric? We think the answer is that creative media is a concept we call “stractics,” for “strategic tactical elements.” This is the answer to the question, “what is creative?” and it’s not just a differentiator for media shops — it’s a survival tactic.

Historically, planners have approached media in two steps, by writing strategies and tactics separately. But times have changed. Digital technology changed it. And with clients expecting media to deliver creative answers to complex business problems, as opposed to merely efficient buying or hitting numbers, expectations have changed too.

In the marketplace we face today, the lines are blurred.  The most efficient and effective solutions to communication objectives, particularly critical in a recessionary economy, are now achieved only when media services practitioners combine their two disciplines.

The trick is not to marry smart strategy with effective tactics, but to produce one seamless effort that combines the two — “stractics.” Agencies need to bring strategies for their brands head-on into a media environment where consumers can see competitive messaging at once. Initiate a complete review of your competitors’ media buys and then time media flights to run alongside the competition.

In our case, this strategy aimed straight at the big guys, using our TV, radio, print and out-of-home to go head-to-head, using their quality cues to reinforce ours. This works especially well with challenger brands where we have to attack the larger, well-funded marketers by essentially outsmarting them.

Another reason why stractics and similar approaches are so well suited to today’s realities is that they demand a new kind of relationship with creative agency partners. The hype over “creative media” almost always swirls around media services shops in isolation. We think that robs us of half our creative firepower, because we have agency partners who bring an enormous advantage to the table. And many of us working at stand-alone media agencies are driven to be creative — and owe a good part of our success to ideation — by working in collaboration with our creative agency partners.

Working effectively with creative agencies is not brain surgery.  It comes down to having an equal seat at the strategy table and then collaborating on ideas to drive our shared clients’ business forward. It’s not enough just to be an expert in channel planning anymore. First-to-market innovations are the key, and these stractics are the result of teamwork between creative and media partners.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for developing stractics:

An effective stractic: Either blocks or hits the competition head on; has sizzle/newsworthiness; boldly delivers on the communication goal; requires collaboration with creative agency partners; makes you feel a bit uncomfortable.

An ineffective stractical approach: Is a one-off that does not support the communication goal; is so tactical that it’s lost the essence of strategy; is one that cannot be translated into other marketing channels/strategies; is too comfortable or safe.

Only when creative and media agencies start to think along these lines, will they be able to deliver innovative ideas to drive clients’ business forward. This is the new definition of bundling for the 21st century. Don’t be frightened by this brave new approach, it’s a marketplace mandate.

Zachary Rosenberg is executive vp and general manager of Horizon Media’s Western region.