Where are the New Great Campaigns?

By The Cog Blog Archives
Cover image for  article: Where are the New Great Campaigns?

Back in the olden days when people actually went to meetings, a common client refrain when the planners unveiled their thinking and the creatives the executions was: "Yes, but is it campaign-able?"

A strong execution of course was and is a wonderful thing, but a campaign is, to coin a phrase, not just for Christmas. A campaign lasts, a campaign adds layers and depth to the original idea.

A campaign has the potential to become an asset, in more ways than one. It can mean you need to spend less during each burst; there's no need to introduce the idea or concept, there's the added value you get from non-commercial messages like PR, or word of mouth, and there's the opportunity to manage a sense of anticipation amongst consumers.

Great marketers understand this, and the best are able to subsume their natural wish to do something entirely new and different in the knowledge that they're building an asset for the business.

They also know that ads very rarely wear out, except amongst brand managers, and so replacing them constantly is not necessary.

It may be a consequence of getting older, and the inevitable decline into a mindset where the default is that everything was better way back when, but I do think that campaigns are rarer these days.

Campaign (the magazine) carried an excellent piece by the writer Walter Campbell who worked on one of the most famous TV ads of recent times -- Guinness' "Surfer." How it came to be. How it linked the thought that waiting for something adds to the eventual enjoyment to be had when it arrives, with the famous Guinness Is Good for You line. (Hence, "Good things come to those who wait.") And how it ignored the original brief not to mention the length of time it takes to pour a Guinness.

Guinness believes in great advertising that lasts, as anyone who has visited the brand's Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, which devotes a floor to the brand's advertising heritage, will know.

Campaigns can be created around lasting lines (Audi's Vorsprung Durch Technik, famously copied by Sir John Hegarty from a poster on an Audi factory wall in the 1980's), jokes (Perrier's clever "Eau" puns), characters (Leo Burnett's "critters," the Jolly Green Giant, Tony the Tiger), mini-dramas (Nescafe Gold Blend) or comedies (PG Tips chimps).

They can tie together a disparate series of messages to evoke a common feeling about the brand -- VW, Nike, adidas, Tango.

For some reason they catch, and they last.

So how is it that all of the above are old? Where are the new great campaigns?

There are some, of course. Warburtons, the John Lewis work (getting on a bit), Comparethemarket's Meerkats (positively vintage), McDonald's musical sting (verging on the classic) ... but they seem to be rarer somehow.

Maybe we've come to believe that all messaging is transitory. Nothing lasts; from Instagram posts to Twitter threads, they flare, they disappear. Our attention spans are shortening. We don't have the time or the patience for anything that requires us to concentrate or to remember.

This can't be true though. Cinema was riding high pre-pandemic and seems likely to do so again. Book purchasing is apparently booming. TV drama series are making the news.

I suspect the focus of marketers and therefore their agencies have shifted away from great creative, and thus campaign-able ideas and towards accountability. There's nothing wrong with that, except that "accountability" has come to mean "short-term accountability."

If the likes of Facebook and Google, who stage-manage so much of the industry debate, were honest about their desire to influence business outcomes, they would see that true outcomes build and need to be assessed over time. They would note that great long-running campaigns can add immensely to a brand's value.

They would realize that yes, as transitory platforms they have a role to play -- but that role is not at the expense of brand-building activities using other channels and other means of communication. That outcomes are not solely about clicks and likes. That brands need more than two, three or (horror ...) even four seconds to tell their story. That great advertising is additive, not exclusive. Collaborative, not confrontational. Long-lasting, not transitory.

Campaigns, not ads.

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