Very few agencies get to launch an automotive brand. Cars are special. They’re expensive, they are an outward representation of their owners personal positioning (at least in America), and automotive brands have a special place in advertising folklore. It was VW with DDB that launched “the creative revolution” with the iconic “Think Small” ad.
Notable brand launches have mostly been new luxury nameplates from Japanese companies, Honda with Acura, Inifiniti with Nissan (which had to make the change from Datsun to Nissan before this) and Toyota with Lexus. Others were GM’s creation of the short lived Saturn, Toyota with the even shorter launch of Scion, and then Tesla.
Crispin Porter + Bogusky was asked around the turn of the 21st century to relaunch the Mini Cooper in the USA- now that it was owned by BMW. They thought they had a monumental task with a relatively small budget.
In early 2001 American roads were dominated by SUV’s – the fastest growing segment – and light trucks was the most popular segment in the category. Japanese and German brands dominated the import segment and gas was $1.25. Bigger was better. Small car sales were at their lowest point in 15 years.
MINI’s heritage was British, which was synonymous with unreliability in the car category.
The deck was stacked, and to top it all off, there were only 2 cars in the line, the Cooper and the Cooper S. The first step was to identify what makes a brand a brand:
We did an exhaustive study of iconic brands across a variety of categories and discovered six characteristics common to iconic brands.
1. A defining signature look
2. An ability to elicit a physical or emotional reaction
3. A tendency to take on characteristics outside their category
4. A tendency to own a unique benefit within a category or create a new category altogether
5. An ability to connect with and reflect the attitudes and values of a broad user base
6. A tendency to break conventions and reinvent to stay salient
From there- sort of work backwards to find the mojo. With Mini there were several clues.
The car doesn’t look like any others- it’s funky. It also is a blast to drive. They worked that into the brief:
- Showcase the defining look of the new MINI – its size and contrasting roof.
- Create as many opportunities as possible for people to come in contact with the new MINI so they could experience its smile generating magic.
- Subtly anthropomorphize the new MINI.
- Communicate our unique benefit – life-affirming exhilaration at an attainable price.
- Emphasize customization and individual self-expression.
- Use non-traditional media and traditional media in very non-traditional ways.
CP+B took this insight and did some testing. They created an “exhilaration scale” to clarify the price to WOW factor. And, then, they started looking for the definition of that experience.
At first they called it “going”- as opposed to driving, which was the operative industry word. Then, someone stumbled onto “Motoring” – it was driving- with a British twist- and “Let’s motor” was born. That, along with the badge, and distinctive non-traditional media, lead to a launch that out-lived some other small car brands (Scion) despite the car not excelling in the reliability or cost of ownership like the other newer brand launches.
Once they had a tagline, there were ads, and then there were stunts. Lots of stunts.
The ads were out of the box. Literally. Like putting a Mini Cooper on top of an SUV and driving it around a city.
The key takeaway from this post are things we at The Next Wave preach in our tagline, Create Lust • Evoke Trust. To do that, we look at those six characteristics everyday. We search for universal truths that build easy inroads to consumers psyches, and then find a way to elicit emotion that sets your brand apart from your competition. It’s what Steve Jobs did at Apple with ease of use, putting the customer first- and creating “Bicycles for our minds” – something simple- and easy- and loved, to move people from thinking of computers as distant machines that spoke an arcane language, to “hello.”
There are other iconic brands that found a powerful voice through better positioning. We’ll list just a few.
- “Just do it” from Nike
- “The Ultimate Driving Machine” from BMW- which they walked away from, and have recently started edging back.
What would make your list.
If you’d like to discuss crafting your iconic brand, we’re here to help you find your insight and give you the tools to own your position in your industry.
A friend gave me a copy of Dick Wasserman’s 1988 book “That’s our new ad campaign…?” and I started digging in. Wasserman approaches the book as an effort to help everyone, from the CEO to a student understand how to tell a good ad from a bad one- via a system.
Inherent in this story is a look at “how the sausage is made” and he is very clear that clients need to bring their A game to the table if they want great advertising. He cites a CEO who made a conscious effort to get better advertising.
Reuben Mark was the CEO of Colgate Palmolive- who made waves by hiring agency folks to run his marketing efforts and to manage their agencies. He was involved, but trusted his people to do the creative. He also realized that his agencies had to make money and actually raised their compensation level.
Here are Reuben Mark’s ten commandments for creative excellence, as listed in Ad Age:
- Be the best client they have.
- We must really care.
- True partnership/mutual trust.
- Ask for excellence.
- Clear, honest direction.
- Look for the big idea.
- Streamline approval procedure.
- Personal involvement of top management of client/agency.
- Ensure agency profitability.
- Be human.
The chairman of every corporation with an ad budget would do well to make these ten commandments his guide for dealing with his ad agencies.
~pg 26 of “That’s our new ad campaign…?” by Dick Wasserman
Much of this amounts to respect of the ad agency by the client- and an understanding that the big ideas won’t come if the foundation of the relationship isn’t solid. When you look at brands that consistently do great advertising, year in year out, you usually see a long term client/agency relationship. This has gotten harder and harder as we’ve come to believe that hiring a star “chief marketing officer” with an average tenure around 2 years, is a good way to manage marketing.
Typically, the best relationships are directly between the CEO of a company and the Chief Creative Officer of the agency. Look at the relationship between Steve Jobs of Apple and Lee Clow of TBWA\Chiat\Day, or Dan Wieden of W+K and Phil Knight of Nike. Those are the kinds of relationships that have generated some of the greatest ad campaigns and concepts of all time.
Clients who think their agency shouldn’t be bothered by being involved in something as mundane as an email blast or the design of a welcome packet- often miss the bigger picture of a clear brand voice. Jobs was fanatical about reviewing every single campaign, every package design because he knew brand voice was critical.
When it comes to the establishing of the relationship, clear contract terms are to be assumed; what is the client getting for their retainer or contract rates. If you approach an agency asking to pay less, don’t expect more, no matter how big you are in comparison to their other peers. A communication system, be it an online project management portal, or something like #Slack should be included in the working agreement. Not only should the means of communication be clear, but also responsibilities for responses as well.
But most importantly, if you want creative excellence, look for passion in the voices of your agency. Hire what Crispin Porter + Bogusky
calls “ad people” well, they used to hire ad people.
Which isn’t what they used to say in their Employee Handbook from 2004.
These are the weird and wonderful people who are at the core of any great agency.
Just because you work at an ad agency doesn’t make you an ad person.
First, ad people really love ads. They like to talk about them. They like to read about them. They like to see them. And they love being involved in their creation. Second, ad people are deeply interested in the advertising industry.They know which agencies have what accounts, they know which people are doing great things at other agencies.
They know what the trends are and they follow accounts on the move. They are emotionally involved in what they do. If youre an ad person, you have a career here. If youre not an ad person, you have a job. Whichever one you are, its worth taking the time to learn about the ad industry. Its like the old saying goes: the worst day in an ad agency beats the best day a bank ever had.
Passion is what really separates good agencies from the great ones. Just never mistake winning industry awards as passion for the craft. Awards are nice, but results should always be more important.
In what I consider the seminal book on advertising, “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This” by Luke Sullivan, he has a section where he he describes the disconnect between many clients CMO career path, vs those on the agency side- typically, one comes up through sales, and the other- comes up through- well, the creative consulting side of things. Really awesome clients ask their agency what books on advertising to read, and great agencies ask the client what they should read about their business. We have a booklist, but are really happy if our clients just read Whipple.
We have our own theory of what makes client/agency relationships create synergy: think of it more like a marriage, and not a contractual relationship. Choose your partner wisely, and realize, that gestation of a great campaign usually takes slightly longer than that of a baby. W+K wasn’t Nike’s first agency- who came up with “there is no finish line” but it was a few years after Nike moved the business to W+K when “Just do it” was introduced.
There is a learning period, and it’s not something that can be sped up. Clients who invest in teaching their agency about their business, usually get much better creative solutions. In a data driven world, this also means sharing not only web logs and analytics, but actual sales figures, customer data, and costs involved in making a sale. This is how targeting and marketing automation tools get optimized.
What may be the most overlooked aspect of the agency/client relationship however is what are the clients real objectives. Is it to get big and get bought, to maximize profits, to build the company, to be a leader in their field? While it may seem obvious, it’s not always clear to both parties and sometimes this is where the disconnect is. Steve Jobs was building “bicycles for our minds” when he launched Apple Computer. Watch him explain how he came up with that expression, and then figure out what does success look like for your agency/client relationship?
Apple computer may have grown to be the most valuable company in the world, but, since Jobs has left the planet, Apple has also seemed to lose his idealism. Apple doesn’t seem to remember its roots of being a company that helped you evolve and move the human race forward and that’s too bad.
The final word of advice in being a great client, and getting the most out of your relationship is to hire people who believe in what you do. We won’t take vape stores or manufacturers as clients, just like we won’t take on tobacco companies. We’re also not interested in your micro or macro beer brew operation, your distillery or your gun store. It’s not because we don’t think you deserve great advertising, it’s just that we aren’t going to be passionate about working on those types of accounts.
If you found this helpful, please take a moment to add any advice you may have for being a great client. Thank you.
You are selling yourself to people who sell things for a living.
Make every word count.
Leave out all the stuff about being a team player, or motivated. Actions speak louder than words. Show us that you not only want to work for us, but that you actually took the time to learn about us.
Some actual cover letters (painful examples):
“To the Next Wave Team,
As a (Insert your majors) Studies major, I have taken it upon myself to seek out opportunities that aim to integrate my knowledge into practical application. With that, I feel that your open internship position would be a worthwhile endeavor to expand my skills and tailor them to the objectives that best serve the The Next Wave.”
Rule #1 – Make it Personal
Find out names of the people you are approaching. This isn’t an ad to the masses, it’s an ad to a real live person at a unique firm. Do your research.
“Hello, my name is (your name) and I believe that I could be a huge asset to your team. I am a graduate of (Insert Favorite) University with a degree in (some related field) and extensive experience in (skill 1) and (skill 2).”
Rule #2 – Know your Audience
What you think is great, sure, but what I think is all that matters. Talking about your school or your experience might be great, but there are legions of people who can say the exact same thing.
“As a confident, articulate and goal-driven production professional with (X)+ years of experience, I am an ideal candidate for this role with The Next Wave. I am a creative problem solver with a demonstrable record of helping organizations meet their goals. My positive attitude, world-class work ethic, and attention to detail have helped me succeed in a variety of operational projects. I take my work seriously and approach every undertaking with enthusiasm, diligence, and positivity.”
Rule #3 – Show, Don’t Tell
This one is important. Instead of talking about skills you think you have, demonstrate them. Your cover letter is an introduction, your resume the reference guide, and your portfolio should be the shizzle/sex appeal/show.
Not that we love to have our ego stroked, but, demonstrating a knowledge of the firm you are applying to says more about how you approach a client than how you get a job. If you want to sell BMW that you are the person who has the skills necessary increase BMW motorcycle sales, the cover letter is where it starts. Same thing with selling yourself to us, or anyone.
Make it easy for us to see that you know something about our firm, our culture, our clients, and how you will be an asset.
This example is overkill, but, when Chase Zreet, who was trying to get a job at Wieden+Kennedy to work on the Sprite account he did a whole video, with real production values. This is what your competition looks like:
Of course he got the job. Even the client noticed.
Go visit. You decide, is this the guy you would want coming up with your next campaign? Should you be hiring him to help you get the job you think you’re worthy of?
His campaign for a job came out in 2009. I still remember it.
AdWeek magazine has a helpful post: 9 Tips for landing your first job at an advertising agency. Hint, a lot of it applies to your second and third jobs at an agency as well. Other than Lee Clow (2 agencies) and Alex Bogusky (1 agency) most of you will do some job hopping.
So, key takeaways: The cover letter shows you know something about your target market (the agency you are applying to), you have some unique or interesting insight or skills, that will help them make money if they hire you, and it’s memorable. Some people think this means delivering your message like a stunt- wrapping it around a sandwich, which may be attention getting, but, I’m more inclined to be impressed with something that can spread, cost effectively, like both of the job pitches above. You aren’t going to buy the masses sandwiches to buy your product.
Your portfolio, speaks for itself. Including a client brief summaries , as well as Key Performance Indicators Met are the only additions to the work. The work should speak for itself. Clearly state what your part was in the project. Don’t show work others did without giving proper credit.
Resume: Clean and simple. Where you worked, what you did, what you learned. Include hobbies, interests, because, well, interesting people work in advertising. Even working at Burger King can be valuable, if the agency is working on a fast food account- if you can share insight you gained while working there.
And, lastly, make sure your resume has your name in the file name. Make sure it’s a PDF. If you have links in it- make sure they work. There is nothing worse than saying, “i want to look at that Bogusky kid’s portfolio again” and you search your computer for a file with his name attached that was named “My 1989 ad portfolio.” Sorry Alex,
Now, go get ’em killer.
note: I’d asked Alex Bogusky to review this post in an earlier form, and it went tangential, and the post got a re-write. But, here is the advice the Creative Director of the Decades gives:
The advice I give kids is pick three place that you would die to work at. Learn everything you can and do everything you can to weasel in from every angle.1 place is okay too.
When you are talking top of the world beating agencies the weasel factor is key, because it’s you against everyone else who thinks they’ve got the next big thing in them.
It wasn’t just any client, it was one of our oldest. One who we helped them birth their business, outgrow a location, move, go through many management changes. Dropped everything to make things happen for them- without rush fees. Their business was like a second home, comfortable, inviting. We know the staff by name and they know us.
Getting the dear john email hurt. The conversation that followed hurt more. The client was crying.
Our activism had collided with their politics.
For almost 20 years we’d been their champions, and they’d been ours. But, now that was all coming to an end. Because we won’t sell our soul to the machine, and they became a part of it.
The loss of their account won’t damage us at all financially. They may find out that they will pay a lot more to work with the competition. They may find out that the drop everything and get this done costs a lot more. It might not get done as quickly. They may pay for the learning curve of a new agency- or, they may just listen a little more, and do things outside what their comfort zone allowed before and feel absolved. These things happen.
But, when it comes to our soul, if anything, we’ve hardened our resolve to continue to fight the machine, to make things better in our community.