Conceptual Art

I’m still thinking about that commercial where the corpse can’t stop smiling because he liked his job.

Ads that are funny, poignant or just plain clever will always require the kind of creativity that made Madison Avenue famous.

Madison Avenue, of course, moved downtown, uptown, crosstown—and to various other points north, west and south long ago. Curiously, the concept that advertising creativity is limited to making the ads has not budged much at all.

In fact, planning media for ads requires as much creativity as producing them. It also should command as much importance; creativity in media planning is clearly instrumental to a brand’s competitive edge. Ad clutter opens the case; accountability for results closes it.

Creating a winning media mix is not as simple as it used to be. Unfortunately, too many advertisers seize any opportunity to suggest that it is. Take the Super Bowl, for instance. I was amazed to read this postgame observation from one advertiser: “We used the Super Bowl because we could reach 50 percent of our audience in one day.”

What about the other 50 percent? What about the other 364 days?

Perhaps a more encouraging example was set by the company that ran the “smiling corpse” ad——which took an expansive view of its media planning around the Super Bowl. In addition to its TV spots, Monster projected its famous “Trump” mascot on buildings in and around Tampa. The company plastered city sidewalks with the mascot, too. It flew a blimp overhead. And it supported the entire effort with a targeted direct-mail campaign.

That strategic dispersion of media is not another sop to integrated marketing. It embraces the basic truth that advertising must align with a consumer’s physical as well as psychological state. It further suggests a refreshing willingness to wipe the slate clean and experiment by reaching consumers in unconventional ways.

Success, of course, ultimately is based not only on impressions made but on business results achieved. Good advertising must reach the right audience at the right time and place—and it must work. Proving that it works requires yet another level of creativity—creative interpretation. Advertisers must be able to examine numerous data points and discern the overarching story. Only then can the advertiser expect to retell the story in a way that consistently reconnects with its consumers.

Fortunately, advertisers today have access both to the data and the tools to fit this new dimension of story telling into the creative process. The ability to analyze what works and what fails is far greater today than it was five years ago.

The learning, by the way, is active versus passive, which should be stimulating to any creative mind.

The creative challenges of advertising’s future will continue to hang on brilliant concepts and superb executions of those concepts. They will just as surely include the imperative that the advertising’s creative energy extends to its media plan.

Otherwise, next time there may be a corpse in that ad but it won’t be smiling.