Marketers: Are You Letting Your Brand Down?

“I’m pretty sure I wasn’t followed.”

It could be a Jack Bauer line from 24 delivered as he tries to infiltrate the bad guy’s center of operations. But it’s not. It’s what dead ad legends like Bill Bernbach and Howard Gossage might say if they could see some of the work being produced today.

Still, I can think of a BMW 5-Series ad that Bernbach and Gossage might have liked: “The Hotrod of Polite Society.” There’s a headline with oomph. But that was ages ago. More recently, Nike did a spot called “I Feel Pretty” — remember it? You should, as its originality broke new ground turning female beauty into something that’s ass-kickingly potent when it comes to sports.

But let’s move from history to ads that ran last week. Where are all the killer ideas that make serving on an awards show panel a slightly unnerving experience for the professional jealousy they inspire? We need more work like the winner of the Cannes Titanium Award from the Tokyo shop, Design Barcode Inc. You might remember that they took a bloodless symbol of commercialism, the barcode, and reinvented it with humor, emotion and charm to make packaging sell harder.

Incidentally, “Titanium” recognizes the one thing that can make an ad truly great. Risk.

Cannes is on this week. If you were a judge, you’d be installed in the usual lavish surroundings of the Cote d’Azur looking for work that’s anything but the usual. On that note, my vote goes to Durex for the “Get It On” spot. It’s one of the few true risks in the show and an absolute hoot with bonking on screen, albeit by balloon animals fashioned out of condoms.
Judging from the work done in advertising schools here, in Australia and Europe, there’s no shortage of risk taking and great thinking from young copywriters and art directors. So why isn’t it always getting through to the production stage? Could it be marketers are filtering it out? In a time when profit warnings are rife it feels safer to back-burner hard creative decisions. After all, anything that jeopardizes the revenue that is managing to trickle in could get you a pink slip. A response to that is the Chinese proverb, “You can’t leap a wide canyon in two jumps.” Exactly. Why fool around with tentative steps when nothing less than a bold solution will do?

But even before the panicky markets and the economic downturn, more might have been done to ensure clients were able to avoid the kind of work that leaves a brand in the shadow land of tired strategies, me-tooisms and corpspeak. If MBA programs taught more about the creative process, marketers would be enlightened about what’s good, what’s damn good and what’s to be avoided like the plague. The number for Harvard’s Business School is 617-495-6128 — maybe someone should ring and suggest course work that brings Gossage’s creative approach to selling back to life.

Armed with knowledge about the creative process, marketers would be better able to save serious money and time in the review process by confidently choosing the agency with the best strategic thinking and creative firepower. They’d understand more about how to approve work that can counter the competitions’ messaging. With a Bernbach/Gossage history course they’d gain the knowledge and judgment to benefit their brands with work that’s more likely to get noticed. They’d be better able to compete.

Now back to Jack Bauer. The joke going around is that if everybody on 24 followed his instructions, the show would be called 12. Similarly, savvy marketers have the power to avoid the wasted time, dead ends, misfires, needless expenditures and hand-wringing uncertainties that often lead to creative ideas being subordinated to ego sensitivities or corporate politics.