More is Less

I was asked to comment on a set of work for a globally famous institution as a favour for someone (no names but a true and accurate account); the reason was the person concerned couldn’t judge the agency’s proposals. I asked to see the client brief which was a shopping list of points without any hint of strategy or direction. Next I read the creative brief which turned out to be a condensed version of the client brief therefore passing the task of deciding on direction to the creative team(s).

In this case more was unquestionably less because all involved didn’t know what the focus of the brief should be.

At Simons Palmer we always worked hard at trying to get the client to sign off the creative brief before it went in to the creative department; at times tough because most clients always wanted to add more whilst we were always trying to take out stuff. A pleasure for all creatives was the poster work for Nike because the briefs were rifle shot, without any irrelevant information and the output was admired, award winning work.

I do wonder of we and clients over-complicate things because we feel more is more. The best briefs are the ones down to a few words. At CST there was a problem with Daihatsu, the client felt the advertising wasn’t working and he had a rebellion on his hands with his dealers. A chat over lunch with the MD was very revealing because he just talked about the issues in normal language – no jargon. The basis point was a lack of footfall at the dealers. The more test drives taken led to more sales, so get more test drives. The current advertising at the time was attempting to do other things unrelated to the commercial challenges the business was facing – in a word pointless.  Back at the agency we talked about this problem and a week later we presented some ideas that focused on the problem.  It was approved, the results were very good and he was applauded by the dealers for tackling the problem in  a lateral and creative way.

I think it is about the questions asked, chipping away the layers of chat to get down to the heart of the matter.

Some years ago I was asked if I would meet Paul Spencer who was the CEO of Royal & SunAlliance by a mutual friend. When we met for the first time he talked about the business, we were short on time so I asked him what was keeping him awake at night. He said he felt RSA was culturally unable to confront the challenges in the domestic insurance market, new brands were stealing business via the internet and he was very concerned about the future. I put a small team together at Ogilvy and went back to him with a point of view a few months later having looked at the market and RSA in some depth. Our advice was not to compete with the low cost brands, occupy fresh ground, create a new brand and populate the new business with people excited about being part of something new. 12 months later MORE TH>N was launched.

In my opinion this happened because of two things; first the CEO articulated a clear, simply understood issue and also the CEO cut out any corporate barriers to making this happen.

A well known writer I have worked with in the past always takes the team though poster concepts before moving to any other medium. I always found this challenging but incredibly helpful because it gets to the heart of the matter. His rule was simple – you can only have one message.

Returning to the favour regarding the work for the global advertiser. We invented alternative strategies, sorted the work out in to categories that reflected our made up strategies, then commented about each execution against a purpose. It worked and I’m looking forward to the results.

Obviously the notion of  ‘less is more’ is widely known but rarely applied. Interestingly fashion advertising seems to salute this notion, check out Louis Vuitton and their seamless brand delivery from advertising to their stores all over the world.

Final anecdote. The lovely Amy Smith (later MD of W&K and then CEO of JWT in Oz) and I hawked around a presentation about the Nike poster campaign on a new business drive. We were invited to present to the marketing department at Mars, a great opportunity. After the presentation and in to questions one of the Mars team said he thought the Cantona poster wasn’t very well branded. I asked where he had seen it, gave me the answer and I asked him ‘how did he know it was a Nike poster?’ He stuttered for a few seconds and said ‘because it looked like Nike advertising’. He went on to say it could include more information, have a bigger logo, etc. He missed the point completely.

Less is more (most of the time).


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