Marketers ratchet up creativity to break through

Short of tattooing ads on the back of eyelids, advertising is everywhere as marketers persevere in their never-ending quest to find different ways to reach consumers. They're pushing the boundaries of creativity, both in execution and media placement, and surprisingly it's some of the more staid, established categories that are being the most innovative.

Short of tattooing ads on the back of eyelids, advertising is everywhere as marketers persevere in their never-ending quest to find different ways to reach consumers. They’re pushing the boundaries of creativity, both in execution and media placement, and surprisingly it’s some of the more staid, established categories that are being the most innovative.

There is nothing gratuitous about this innovation. The marketers are staying true to brand values and positioning but delivering the message in a non-traditional venue or with a humorous twist not generally expected in their category.

They are taking risks – maybe not as big as some agency creatives would like – but there’s a lot on the line every time a marketer tries to break new ground.

David Strickland, SVP of marketing for Zellers, explains that often clients who are criticized for not taking enough risks are being cautious because their job and those of their co-workers are at stake.

‘Sometimes I think in the push for creative excellence, people don’t understand that the reality of life within a corporate environment is that you are taking personal risks when you’re pushing those envelopes.’

If you take the advertising and communications model to its ultimate, he explains, it is the [company] president speaking on behalf of the people and the brands they lead.

Strickland adds: ‘That’s why [CEOs] care so much when stuff takes them outside of their value set or acceptable behaviours, because, quite frankly, their friends and their board of directors and shareholders look at them and ask, ‘What are you doing? That’s not what we know you as.’

Still, some brands have a whole roster of constraints and regulations, and still manage to break through in surprising new ways.

Take the prescription pharmaceutical category for instance. You can’t link the brand and the disease, and you can’t portray a doctor in the ad, so you’re pretty much limited to brand name, quantity or price.

It doesn’t seem much to go on, but Taxi Advertising & Design has spun an unexpected gem for Pfizer Canada’s Viagra brand by staying well within these guidelines.

The ‘Good Morning’ campaign has no dialogue – just the catchy tune of the same name as a backdrop for a man dancing and skipping his way to work one lovely morning. The spot ends as he enters the elevator with, ‘Viagra. Talk to your doctor’, superimposed on the screen.

It’s a far cry from the usual staid approach taken by pharmaceutical companies but Veronica Piacek, team leader for Viagra at Pfizer, didn’t have a tough time selling the campaign within Pfizer because she was armed with a slew of supportive research.

There was extensive research conducted prior to the creation of the advertising and afterwards it was tested with consumers and physicians.

Among the findings is that while consumers are uncomfortable talking about the actual condition – erectile dysfunction – they have no such qualms about asking their doctors about Viagra.

Piacek says it was important that the ‘Good Morning’ campaign stood out but even more crucial for it to be within the boundaries of good taste and ad guidelines.

‘Breakthrough is the goal for any brand that’s advertising. If nobody notices, what’s the point?

‘Taxi did a great job coming up with great work that is tasteful, responsible, falls within the Canadian regulation and can break through all at the same time. That’s pretty rare these days.’

Similarly, the over-the-counter drug category is known particularly for its white-coated doctors advertising executions – a trend that makes it even more essential for a brand to stand out.

One of the ways that Advil has broken away from the pack is with non-traditional media placement – stadium stairs at SkyDome, rink boards in minor hockey arenas and tee block advertising at golf courses.

Shari Read, marketing director, analgesics at Whitehall-Robins, says Young & Rubicam and The Media Edge came up with these suggestions following the June 2000 regulation change that allowed Advil to be sold outside of the drugstore environment.

The company began looking at alternate distribution channels and the advertising agency got into the act. As part of the advertising at SkyDome, the arenas and golf courses, Advil is now sold at the concession stands and pro shops of these venues.

The creative executions are eye-catching and appropriate for the locations: the stair risers at SkyDome feature individual posters that read alternately ‘Ouch’, ‘Ouch’, ‘Advil’ all the way up.

‘[Non-traditional media placement] is not an extremely hard sell [within Whitehall-Robins] because it’s consistent with Advil’s image which is to be leading edge in the analgesic market, to be the brand innovator in the category. That means not just what we say, but how we say it,’ says Read.

‘One of the key pieces of learning for us is that pain is everywhere and we think Advil should be everywhere.’

Read says although it’s been easy to sell so far, the real challenge will come next year when they want to do it all again – and the marketing department has to report the ROI of these placements. Since that’s nearly impossible, she assessed what part of the budget would be appropriate to spend on non-traditional media, looking at those easiest to quantify by traffic, impressions and costs per impression.

It seems to be paying off. She says Advil is the fastest-growing brand in the market and the share of category is growing at a brisk pace.

‘We’re not going to walk away from TV as our primary medium,’ says Read. ‘We just want to explore alternate media to see if we can get some added reach, recognizing that TV doesn’t reach all of our target group.’

Coffee is another category that is plagued with formulaic advertising featuring, for example, cheery people enjoying their morning coffee and a magnificent sunrise. (How unreal is that?)

Dino Bianco, VP of coffee, cereals and desserts at Kraft Canada, calls this ‘sip and savour’ advertising – and not something you’re bound to see for Kraft’s Nabob brand.

‘If you’re lucky you’re engaging people’s minds and thoughts for 30 seconds. How do you do that in a way that for coffee advertising, which quite frankly is generally boring, in a way that is entertaining as well as getting my message across so they won’t change channels?

‘We opened up the field a bit on the brand and gave it permission to work on the edges and it’s clearly a challenge we’ve given to the agency (J. Walter Thompson). We’ve taken off the traditional limitations and asked them to stretch the limit – and they have.

‘Our goal is to try to break through making sure at the same time we’re staying true to our brand and our consumers and not doing it in a way that will diminish the brand, its image or the message we’re trying to get across.’

The core message is that Nabob is a ‘better cup of coffee’ and that has been portrayed in spots ranging from coffee being spilled on an expensive rug and being salvaged and drank, a gargoyle coming to life, and most recently, the ‘Puppy’ spot where a couple is very tolerant of their new puppy trashing their home bit by bit until it rips apart their package of Nabob. With that, puppy finds itself back in the pet store window.

For Bianco, pushing the envelope is just his response to directives at the highest levels of Kraft that encourage an environment of creativity that has fostered the Nabob work and breakthrough campaigns for other brands such as Kraft Dinner.

‘It becomes a tone from the top. It’s not swimming upstream, it’s swimming in the direction in which the organization is moving,’ says Bianco.

‘It is the leadership of [Kraft] that has given the challenge of getting better at advertising. There really is a focus on making sure we’re doing breakthrough advertising.’

Meanwhile, the gasoline category faces a unique challenge: the product is rather elusive and most often chosen on price. You can’t touch it or hold it so it’s harder to differentiate brands, and even more so if you’re operating on a small budget and want to spend what you have wisely.

Just add in the request for some breakthrough creative and that pretty much describes the prerequisites of Sunoco’s director of marketing and e-business, Steve Douglas.

What Douglas and Grey Worldwide came up with was a cost-effective creative concept of a licence plate with humorous messages used across all aspects of the business, from pump toppers and car washes to specials on food and cooler clings inside the stations’ convenience stores. The campaign began this past summer. It started with simple messages such as, ‘Pr4mnce’ and quickly evolved from there.

Travelling billboards on truck backs feature the execution, ‘If you used Ultra 94, you’d be in front of me.’ In the new magazine Her Car, the execution reads: ‘All the rage this year, black pumps with green hose.’ The tagline is: ‘If you use Sunoco ethanol gasolines, it’s better for the environment and your automobile.’

The licence plate format will also be adapted for any television advertising Sunoco does in the future.

Douglas says, ‘There’s a great deal of money involved with coming up with creative and if there are photo shoots to do or artwork to buy, you burn a lot of dollars. Then there are a lot of iterations going back and forth before you get it settled and approved. If it’s particularly groundbreaking for any reason, or contentious, or out there – then you might have to run it by the most senior management and get it okayed.

‘The concept we came up with, the licence-plate concept, is something simple that is representative of the driving experience. We’ve taken the vanity plate and once we created that, we could focus on the messaging.’

Douglas didn’t have any problem pitching the copy-only concept to the rest of Sunoco. He says the entire company bought into the new campaign very quickly, because like vanity licence plates you see on the highway, everyone wanted to figure out the messages and then offer suggestions of their own.

‘Whenever you pitch an idea, you have that terrible moment when you first unveil it and there’s this silence. Do they love or hate it? It was without fail, a success,’ says Douglas.

In fact, the company had an internal contest that netted hundreds of entries from employees and Sunoco retailers, some that were used in the campaign. Douglas is looking at bringing customers into it as well with a similar contest.

And who would have thought that one of Canada’s big banks would be the advertiser to really show the industry how cross-platform campaigns can work? Royal Bank did just that working with M2 Universal and CanWest Global Communications on a series of quarterly reports: ‘State of the Nation,’ ‘State of Education,’ ‘State of Health Care’ and, coming in February, ‘State of the Markets.’

The Royal Bank-sponsored reports were executed as inserts in The National Post, the National Post Business magazine, programs on Global and Prime TV, and on all CanWest Global online properties.

Peter Tutlys, senior manager of advertising, media and promotion for Royal Bank, says putting the program together took nine months and yes, he had to sell the idea throughout the corporation.

‘By the nature of our industry, we are more conservative than others. We have a particular brand print we have to adhere to. Being innovative and creative, those rules still apply but it’s within certain boundaries – and maybe it’s more the delivery of the message, the medium, as opposed to doing something creative for the sake of creative,’ says Tutlys.

Since showing that Royal Bank is open to innovation, Tutlys has been approached by all the competing media and has just launched a program with BellGlobemedia around RSP season. Royal Bank is the exclusive bank on Sympatico’s finance site and there are ads promoting the site and its resources in the Globe and Mail. There will also be a CTV component.

Tutlys says the first one, the CanWest deal, was the harder sell within the company and now it’s getting easier.

‘It’s an inside joke. Now that we’ve put the CanWest deal to bed, senior management is saying, ‘You’ve raised the bar now you have to surpass it.’

‘How do you surpass something that large? It’s a challenge and that’s what makes it fun.’