Cows to the slaughter

Several of advertising’s sacred cows have come under attack in recent years. This is nothing but good news in an industry that absorbs so much change and yet tends to become set in many ways that once may have worked but no longer do.

Last week’s column (Rant? Submission? Entry? Piece? Post? What’s the best term?) by Tom Tom questioning the value of the campaign got me thinking about this healthy questioning of ideas, processes and devices that are generally considered holy in our business.

In addition to the notion of the campaign, other targets include the big idea, the creative strategy (as represented by its tangible manifestation, the creative brief) and the advertising component nearest and dearest to my heart, the tagline.

All of these have been considered by many to be pillars of the process of creating advertising. In fact, very often the process of creating advertising has consisted of writing the brief, which helps inspire the big idea, which is often alluded to succinctly or expressed by a tagline. And the bigness of the idea has been measured, at least in part, by its “campaignability.” An idea with legs has almost always been considered superior to a one-shot by virtue of those same legs.

You might think that these are all components of a paradigm that is shifting or has already shifted. But if you do think that, I would argue you don’t fully appreciate (or perhaps understand) them.

One big problem in criticizing the value of campaigns, to take Tom Tom’s topic, is that what is being criticized is actually bad campaigns, not the idea of the campaign per se.

One of Tom Tom’s premises seems to be that campaigns consist of barely discernible, cookie cutter iterations—a straw man, in my view. While some clients view campaigns this narrowly, this is a problem with those clients, and with particular campaigns, not with the idea of the campaign itself. (Tom Tom, of course, offers other salient arguments, questioning the value of repetition, familiarity and so forth, all of which would require a whole different discussion.)

The same argument applies to the creative brief and the tagline. Most criticism seems to be aimed at bad briefs and bad taglines. It is a fallacy to condemn an entire class of entities—be it creative briefs, taglines, big ideas or campaigns—based on the failings of its most flawed members.

17 comments:

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Given consumer's fragmented attention and limited time, I can certainly argue that the idea of a campaign would seem valuable, although perhaps we need to think about Transmedia Storytelling (http://tinyurl.com/yq467y) (to steal a term from Henry Jenkins) as a new platform for our campaign. The Matrix and Heroes both use this technique.

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