He said, He said

In this Strategy Direct+Interactive eight-part series, Vickers & Benson Direct & Interactive's Bryan Tenenhouse and Steve Murray chew the fat on everything from 'How to give constructive feedback so you're getting what you want from your agency' to 'Creative department employee retention: Nightmare on Elm Street.' In this third installment, the duo discusses 'direct creative.'

In this Strategy Direct+Interactive eight-part series, Vickers & Benson Direct & Interactive’s Bryan Tenenhouse and Steve Murray chew the fat on everything from ‘How to give constructive feedback so you’re getting what you want from your agency’ to ‘Creative department employee retention: Nightmare on Elm Street.’ In this third installment, the duo discusses ‘direct creative.’

Bryan: Before we get to our main topic today, let’s address some feedback we got on our integration article from last month.

Steve: Got a lot of e-mails after the last article. But one in particular caught our attention. The writer asks: ‘[When it comes to considering integration,] is there usually a turf war between profit centers within the same company?’ The answer really comes down to your agency’s structure. With the model we discussed last month, where the cross-functional account director determines how the client’s business objectives are best met, turf wars are a lot less likely. All we can say is, it’s a model that’s working for us.

Bryan: Now, we also got some feedback from direct creatives. Some felt that we were implying that direct people don’t get to come up with the big idea. Remember, we were talking about ‘integrated’ campaigns. If the defined business objectives from the client said we needed to generate leads through direct response, of course, that big idea would be created by direct folks. But, when it’s an integrated campaign, the big idea needs to come from the mass guys.

Steve: And the reason for that is because it’s more creatively feasible to make a brand ad tactical rather than the other way around. A great example of this is Rogers’ High-Speed Internet ‘rigor mortis’ campaign. It’s an amazing awareness campaign backed up with some strong tactical direct response print media.

Bryan: I personally think that it was because so much of the spot centered around a clever interpretation of the ‘problem,’ which will always be more entertaining. Features and benefits beyond the implied (‘You don’t have to wait’) weren’t discussed. The offer and call to action were up for a very brief time in a super at the end of the spot. But that’s fine because I’ll bet the business objectives asked for support from a mass spot to increase the effectiveness of the tactical DM components. That’s an effective integrated campaign.

Steve: It even won last year’s Best of the Best award at the CMA’s RSVP awards. Amazing for a multi-media campaign that made no bones about the fact that the TV component wasn’t direct response.

Bryan: So the final answer is this: Direct creatives still come up with the big idea when it’s a direct job. They ‘evolve’ the big idea when it’s an integrated campaign. Clearly, this thing called integration is controversial.

Steve: The debate over integration even extends to how the RSVPs themselves are judged. (‘Where does general advertising fit in?’ ‘Should it have its own category?’ ‘Should integrated multi-media campaigns with mass components have their own category?’)

Bryan: These are fair questions because, ultimately, discipline-based integrated campaigns will have a higher cost per order because of the mass media buy. So clients and cross-functional agencies need to decide early what those business objectives are and which discipline is best suited to execute against them.

Steve: This is a pretty good segue to the topic we were actually supposed to talk about in this article about 400 words ago. Feedback.

Bryan: Oh well, we digressed. We’re creative. But the point is related. Direct creative people should give feedback to direct creative people. Clients should evaluate creative and give feedback based on direct marketing principles.

Steve: Prioritize your thinking when you’re writing the brief. Is the data telling you something that can inspire creative or the offer? Is the offer good enough to drive the concept? Also, ask yourself how the main selling benefit comes alive in the brief and then in the creative.

Bryan: Once you’ve got yourself thinking that way, always ask yourself, ‘Why?’ Why are you reacting the way you are to the creative? Is it an emotional reaction or a cerebral one? Ask the creative team, ‘Why?’ Why did they choose that direction? Why did they choose that image? Why those words? The answers should always bring you back to the brief and the communication objectives.

Steve: It’s a matter of discipline. Always focus your comments on the creative so that it’s customer-centric. How a marketing pro in head office will react will be totally different than the average Joe reacting in his home.

Bryan: That’s why it’s also critical that all key client decision-makers are in the room when the creative is presented.

Steve: They hear firsthand how the science of direct comes through in the creative.

Bryan: So that it not only gets attention, but remains relevant and customer-focused to the end.

Steve: Too often, the creative gets watered down because feedback comes ‘shot from the hip’ rather than against the brief.

Bryan: So what are five things you look for in creative to ensure it stays customer-focused?

Steve: One, have you drilled down into the data to make it come alive in the creative?

Bryan: Is the data worthy to be part of the big idea?

Steve: If it is worthy, that mailing will be more powerful because it will tap into an insight that is extremely relevant to that target.

Bryan: Number two, where’s the offer? No, the product is not the offer. An offer is an incentive for the reader to ‘buy now.’ Or it can make the product more accessible, like a 60-day free trial.

Steve: The offer taps into the consumer’s most primal reaction – ‘what’s in it for me?’

Bryan: Next, relevant benefit. The creative needs to convey the number one relevant benefit of the product or service. If it doesn’t come across in the main headline or the payoff, you’re not communicating the product effectively. Think about the ‘problem/solution/proof’ formula.

Steve: Right. What problem does the product or service solve? The product or service is the solution. The features and benefits are the proof.

Number four, once you’ve evaluated the creative against these criteria, step back and ask yourself whether the creative actually pops. Does it stand out from the clutter?

Bryan: This can get you into subjective territory, but if you were to throw that mock-up on a table with finished work, bills and other mail, does it stand out?

Steve: Or if it’s a print ad, does it stop you? Print it out in color and paste it into a magazine to find out.

Bryan: Finally, how does the creative incorporate the brand’s attributes? Does it help to build your brand?

Steve: If there is a mass awareness component to the brand, how does the creative relate to that? If you’re truly integrated, it will.

Bryan: I think we just went full circle. Probably a good place to stop.

Steve: By the way, we did enjoy hearing from some of you. So if anything got your attention here, good or bad, feel free to drop us an e-mail. Or write a letter to the editor.

Bryan Tenenhouse is SVP, creative director at VBDI. Collaborator Steve Murray is also SVP, creative director at VBDI. They can be reached at (416) 487-6446 or on the Web at www.vbdi.com.