Thursday, January 7, 2010

The First Step to Great Advertising

You don't have to have a multi-million dollar budget to get good advertising.  With their bigger budgets, large businesses can afford to allocate more resources – people, money, etc. – towards developing and producing an ad campaign.  However, even a small company with a very limited budget can get effective advertising if it does a little work up front.

If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.” – Lewis Carroll

Many companies and their ad agencies develop their advertising using a process that is similar to the Lewis Carrol quote (above) from the Wizard of Oz.  A better approach, without wasting your ad agency’s time and your company’s money, is to develop a Creative Strategy Statement, also known as the Creative Platform as the very first step in the process.  The Creative Platform is a document developed in conjunction with your ad agency that outlines the purpose of the ad campaign, describes the target audience, and gives reasons for the target audience to act.  This is important for both your company and the ad agency because it establishes a clear direction for the ad agency to follow and gives you a clear framework to evaluate their campaign or execution concepts.

This is not a new idea or process, nor was it invented here.  All Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG)  companies and all large ad agencies have the creation and approval of the Creative Platform as the mandatory first step before starting to develop any new ad campaign, regardless of the media to be used.  In fact, one of the first training sessions that I had to attend almost thirty years ago, when I was an Assistant Brand Manager at Raltson Purina Company, was the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) Seminar on Creative Advertising which taught this process.  Back them almost all of the major CPG companies (P&G, Pepsi, General Mills, etc.) sent their young brand managers to those seminars. 

Here is what I recommend including in your Creative Platform:



Advertising Objective

To inform, persuade, remind or engage

Target Audience

A description of whom your advertising is aimed at


The single-minded proposition that communicates your brand’s key benefit.  Geico's might have been something like "save 15% or more on car insurance".  Energizer batteries was "Energizer batteries last longer".


The facts that give the target audience permission to believe your proposition.


Should your ads be serious or light-hearted, etc.?

Executional Musts

Things the ad agency must include in the ads, i.e. a slogan, logo. disclaimer, warning, etc.

Call to Action

If a Direct Response Ad: what should the target audience do? Call a phone number? Visit a website?


Case Study: GEICO Advertising

While GEICO car insurance is not a small company, their current campaigns are a perfect example of a company and an ad agency working off of a consistent creative platform.  Now, GEICO is concurrently running at least four different television ad campaigns; GEICO Gecko, the Cavemen, Kash (the stacks of money with googley eyes), and the Rhetorical Questions.   

The objective in all of GEICO's campaigns is to persuade the target audience, everyone who drives and therefore needs car insurance, that they will benefit from switching to GEICO because GEICO can help save money.  Other auto insurance companies also offer this benefit, but GEICO supports their claim by emphasizing quickness and convenience. 

GEICO ads are tongue and cheek and generally humorous, and every campaign uses a variation of the company's slogan that  “fifteen minutes can save up to fifteen percent or more on auto-insurance,” and a call to visit GEICO's website or telephone its toll-free hot line. 

Where GEICO separates itself from others is in their advertising budget.  GEICO needs to advertise more because they use a “pull” strategy to sell directly to motorists, where their chief competitors sell indirectly through their agent channels.  Warren Buffet, CEO of GEICO's parent company, Berkshire Hathaway, said in an investors' meeting that if he could, he would spend two billion dollars on GEICO advertising instead of last year's $789 Million.  GEICO’s willingness to spend copious amounts of money on advertising allows them to run four different television ad campaigns on major networks in prime-time, so people do not become fed up with the monotony of repeatedly viewing the same commercial.  Yet because all four campaigns work from the same creative platform, the net effect is a much stronger imprinting of the message.

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