A local state university president, already facing a budget deficit, is quoted in the paper suggesting that “more cuts are needed” and that the Coronavirus is destroying their ability to enroll students. This is not the message to send, even if it may be true. There is no urgency in her plans, because she assumes the university will survive, will be bailed out, she’ll have another job. The future is not something we can control, but it’s also inevitable and it’s your job to adapt and plan to win, not to admit defeat and attempt to manage.
Need proof? Steve Jobs came back to Apple in 1997 and the company was on it’s death bed. New products, including the innovative iMac were a year away. The first thing he does is look for a new ad agency. Chiat\Day, which had been the agency that gave him the iconic “1984” spot introducing the Macintosh had been off the account for 10 years when they were invited back to pitch. Now, one of the hottest shops in the country, the plan for Lee Clow and Rob Siltanen was not to pitch- to walk away if asked, so when Jobs demanded spec work, Siltanen was ready to walk, but Clow said they’d be back.
The campaign they came back with, “Think Different” didn’t show photos of computers. It wasn’t even grammatically correct, and Jobs had said he didn’t want TV, but they came back with a rip-o-matic rough cut of a 2 minute spot showcasing famous folks who walked to the beat of a different drummer set to the song “Crazy” by Seal. Only problem was, it was 2 minutes long and they needed something more compact. After Siltanen did his best to write a new voiceover- Jobs trashed his work and alienated him. Another writer was brought on, Ken Segall., and he gave us the final script for “Here’s to the crazy ones” which was as much an ode to Jobs as to the people featured in the campaign. It was the right bet, and set the stage for Apple’s comeback. The string of products, from the iMac, to the iPhone to the iPad changed the world- all as predicted by the campaign which was as much manifesto as it was aspirational, because Apple was down, and almost counted out. Jobs wasn’t throwing in the towel, he was focusing his brand on attaining greatness, which is the exact right thing to do in a crisis.
With the whole world in shock over the Coronavirus crisis, many leaders (and university presidents) have thrown in the towel. Most have directed their agencies to do ads that all sound the same “in these unprecedented times” and “we’re all in this together” kumbaya bullshit.
“If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” — General George Patton
It’s so bad, you can cut them all together and get- well, someone already did:
This is not the answer. Ever. Doing what everyone else is doing is exactly the point that “Think different” railed against. Now, of all times, is the time to launch your brand with a new message, a new way of doing things, a new commitment to reach new heights. It’s called adapting, and it’s critical to evolution. We were adapting before the crisis- to the new gig economy, to software as a service, to a new media landscape where “fake news” was somehow acceptable.
The pandemic was just a unforeseen misdirection to most. Yes, Bill Gates saw it coming, but didn’t do a good enough job of raising the alarm. Now, the question is, will you rise to the challenge? Will you adapt, overcome and succeed? The PhD flails and fails, the college drop out swings for the fences. It’s easy to be a “leader” when things are predictable- but the true test is when they’re not.
“A leader is a dealer in hope.” — Napoleon Bonaparte
“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” — President Theodore Roosevelt
The funny thing is, Steve Jobs was inspired by Nike’s advertising and looking for his own version of it when he came back to the sinking Apple.
“The best example of all, and one of the greatest jobs of marketing the universe has ever seen is Nike,” Jobs explained. “Remember, Nike sells a commodity. They sell shoes. And yet when you think of Nike, you feel something different than a shoe company. In their ads, they don’t ever talk about their products. They don’t ever tell you about their air soles and why they’re better than Reebok’s air soles. What does Nike do? They honor great athletes and they honor great athletics. That’s who they are, that’s what they are about.”
He wanted to do the same for Apple’s brand. “The way to do that is not to talk about speeds and feeds. It’s not to talk about MIPS and megahertz, it’s not to talk about why we’re better than Windows,” Jobs said.
Jobs went on in the talk to announce Apple’s newest ad campaign, which used the tagline “Think Different,” and featured pictures of legendary thinkers like Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King and John Lennon. The ads didn’t describe Apple computers’ specifications or functions, but instead gave a sense of the company’s mission.
And when you want to see a company give the right response in troubled times, Nike, with their agency for life, Wieden+Kennedy, get it right, right now:
Because, once you admit you are down, if you don’t start talking about a comeback, you will never have one.
“We succeed only as we identify in life, or in war, or in anything else, a single overriding objective, and make all other considerations bend to that one objective.” — President Dwight D. Eisenhower
We’re not saying we have the answers for the Coronavirus crisis you are facing, but, we’re here to help brands find a voice that is uniquely theirs and projects hope for a better future. This is what advertising does- it creates lust, evokes trust- and triggers an emotional response. If your campaign doesn’t inspire folks while they are desperate for a comeback, don’t even consider running it.
When the “Think Different” campaign launched, Apple immediately felt the boost despite having no significant new products. Within 12 months, Apple’s stock price tripled. A year after the “Think Different” launch, Apple introduced their multi-colored iMacs. The computers represented revolutionary design, and they became some of the best-selling computers in history. But without the “Think Different” campaign preceding and supporting them, it’s likely the jellybean-colored and gumdrop-shaped machines would have been viewed by the press and general public as just more “toys” from Apple.
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.
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.
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.
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.
September 23, 1977. Steve Jobs walks into a conference room to introduce “Think Different” internally. Khaki shorts, long sleeve black turtleneck with the sleeves pushed up- looking tired.
It’s an 18 minute presentation that anyone looking to turn a brand around should watch.
It’s not about speeds and feeds. It’s not about a better product. It’s about the core values of the company- and where does Apple fit in this world.
Yes, he begins with the product line being too complex, the distribution channel being too long and heavy, and that they spend a ton of money on advertising- although “you’d never know it.” He doesn’t blame his predecessors. He looks to the future and thinks about what kind of people he wants to build products for: “we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.”
They get to use people that had never appeared in an ad- or ever world- for any other company. Partially because they aren’t talking about themselves, and partially because their leadership understood that doing great work comes first.
He cites examples- the milk processor board spent 20 years advertising “Milk is good for you- even though it really isn’t” and sales didn’t move- and then, Goodby Silverstein comes up with “Got milk” - which actually advertises the lack of the product and sales climb.
Jobs says that Nike, who makes a commodity- shoes, doesn’t sell shoes, and does advertising the “best of anybody” by honoring great athletes and athletics. Side note- Nike, for the most part has used Wieden and Kennedy for the brand since the start. Believing and trusting your ad agency is another good lesson. Jobs went right back to Chiat/Day for this campaign for a reason.
The result- is the “Think Different” campaign. Which literally changed everything. People listened to an ad. they watched it over and over- before YouTube. The words from this ad, turned into posters, were remembered as a eulogy for Jobs because it was so different.
Watch the video about the introduction. Learn. (sorry the actual commercial has the music cut out- you can watch the full final spot below).
If there is one fundamental lesson to learn from Apple and Steve Jobs, it’s that a business that’s entirely focused on producing an amazing customer experience, will in the end, win. Google understood search quality must come first, Amazon understood that free shipping is more important than advertising and Zappo’s knows you can buy the same shoes from anywhere- but that the experience matters. Netflix understood- then forgot that they were the company for people who loved movies.
Reading the Steve Jobs biography, we came across this little gem explaining the idea behind the movie “Toy Story”- and it sums up the mindset all of us must take when designing our business for our customers- what do we have to do to make them unbelievably happy? Why do we do what we do? Why do toys exist?
The idea that John Lasseter pitched was called “Toy Story.” It sprang from a belief, which he and Jobs shared, that products have an essence to them, a purpose for which they were made. If the object were to have feelings, these would be based on its desire to fulfill its essence. The purpose of a glass, for example, is to hold water; if it had feelings, it would be happy when full and sad when empty. The essence of a computer screen is to interface with a human.” The essence of a unicycle is to be ridden in a circus. As for toys, their purpose is to be played with by kids, and thus their existential fear is of being discarded or upstaged by newer toys. So a buddy movie pairing an old favorite toy with a shiny new one would have an essential drama to it, especially when the action revolved around the toys’ being separated from their kid. The original treatment began, ‘Everyone has had the traumatic childhood experience of losing a toy. Our story takes the toy’s point of view as he loses and tries to regain the single thing most important to him: to be played with by children. This is the reason for the existence of all toys. It is the emotional foundation of their existence.
Walter Isaacson, “Steve Jobs” page 285-286
What is the foundation of your businesses existence? Why do you do what you do? Do you convey your reason for being in everything you do? Do you stay relevant? When that shiny new toy comes along, will you be forgotten? If you understand why you exist in the first place, there can be no confusion in your customers mind on why they came to you originally.
What is the single most important reason your business exists?
The “think different” spot that was created soon after Steve returned to Apple, and moved the ad account back to Chiat/Day and rekindled the relationship with Lee Clow, may be the best short tribute to Steve, even though it’s from 1997.
As a memento, tribute and gift to you- we’ve taken the spot and created a poster for you to print and hang.
Click on image for link to PDF of "Here's to the Crazy One's poster
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