Lessons (To Be) Learned

It’s traditional to start the first post of the year with predictions for the year ahead. It’s inevitable that a few of these will come true (on the basis that even a stopped clock is right twice a day), and equally inevitable that most will never happen.

Fortunately these latter are never mentioned. It’s the height of bad manners (not to mention a breach of the bloggers’ code) to point out next January that the emperor turns out to have no clothes.

So, as the Cog Blog enters its 7th year we’re going to steer well clear of any predictions, and most specifically any with any trackable numbers attached to them. Rather, we are going to look back at what we’ve learnt over 2019 and cogitate on how we take those lessons forward into 2020.

We’ve learned that the advertising world did exist before the advent of online media forms. Hard to believe, I know but the lessons of the past are coming in remarkably useful, and this will no doubt continue to be the case in 2020.

For example, reach matters. Excessive frequency irritates (and can be hugely counter-productive). Trying to convince the same person who has just bought your goods to buy them again might work if you happen to be selling beans but doesn’t work if you’re buying saucepans (you may correctly assume I’m writing on the basis of personal experience).

Machines are clever at many things, including helping write media plans, but  the clue is in the word ‘helping’. We are not yet at the stage when media plans can be entrusted to a giant optimiser. Creative excellence trumps most things.

Anyone who thinks otherwise either doesn’t know what a media plan is, wouldn’t know creative excellence if it punched them in the face, or has no experience of working with optimisers.

Short, snappy slogans work. They become memorable, and as such we want to believe them more than having to do the work to try to understand wordy restating of a strategy (or policy, come to that).

Audience measurement might be a dry topic, discussed and delivered by earnest people who don’t wear black T-shirts, jeans and sneakers and who prefer to attend conferences that actually debate the issues as opposed to a dressed-up trade show, but dry or not ‘measurement’ is believe me the topic of the moment.

Media runs on measurement. If the measurement is wrong, or not there, or not validated objectively then we’re all in trouble.

Anyone who thinks otherwise is in for a nasty shock when they wake up to find that the ground beneath their feet has turned into a rather nasty, messy bog.

In 2019 the indications were that we were starting to recognise some basic truths. Media principles survive. Slogans work. Measurement matters.

There are more. Branding works, building brand equity is a worthwhile enterprise. Short-term activity, designed to drive short-term results also works.

But – and here’s the bit we need to get a lot better at in 2020, these things work better in combination. Campaigns designed to deliver short-term results work better if someone has thought to build the brand over the preceding few years. It’s not either, or; it’s both

Some have done wonderful work building their brands over more than ‘a few years’. Here’s the ‘Farewell to the VW Beetle’ ad from the US. Just think what that car certainly, but also that positioning , that agency (DDB as was) and that advertising has done for the VW business over many decades, building a platform from which all other activities can accelerate.

All media forms and platforms work, but media forms work better together – as has always been the case. As media fragments, and as more and more new opportunities emerge this is even more true.

Anyone who thinks otherwise is either a media salesman paid to have a blinkered world view, or someone new to the business who simply believes the latest round of absurdly very big numbers from the online platforms.

The more things change, the more we forget as someone almost said.

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