Search and Reapply

I grew up on the Procter and Gamble account. If there’s one thing P&G do better than almost anyone is to follow their own advice based on their own experiences. They used to call this ‘Search and Reapply’.

Unilever had a similar mantra, ‘Steal with Pride’.

The basics of both were and are simple. Look at what others do, look at what’s worked for you, look around you, collect the evidence, review, collect more evidence, then and only then act.

This whole process can take a long time, or a very short time depending on the task but common to everything is the twin realisation a) that someone else, possibly even someone smarter than you has faced and maybe solved this problem before somewhere and b) that sometimes your first thought, your gut instinct can be wrong.

These thoughts come from an acceptance that there are many ways to skin a cat, and a humility to accept even though you have a million Twitter followers, a trade press column and a LinkedIn profile that contains every endorsement going you never stop learning.

It’s been a good week for the oldies, the dinosaurs, and those with the experience and the scars to prove it.

Take the personalisation of ads, now about to be made rather harder by Google.

Like so many things, the reality of personalised ads isn’t quite all that it seems. But let’s keep it simple and say that it sometimes makes sense to have many variations of the same basic message, and to push the most relevant variant in front of the most appropriate audience.

So – if you’re Ford cars you may have a basic message, but that message is translated in multiple different ways to promote multiple models.

I may see the old gits’ model, with a large boot for the golf clubs, a high driving position that allows for easy entry and exit, and 5 doors.

You may see the sporty two-seater perfect for that weekend getaway (I really should have been a copywriter…).

But not always. You may be a beer, for whom fame is all, and context is key.

Here’s a quote from a blog called Melting Asphalt by Kevin Simler, a man so good he’s been quoted by Bob Hoffman (in 2019) and Richard Shotton in (I think) 2018 and again this week. The original quote (the below is a precis) dates from an even older piece called ‘Ads Don’t Work That Way’. I believe it’s from 2014. When dinosaurs roamed the earth.

“If a relatively unknown brand of beer advertises itself as an ‘unpretentious fun-times party beer’ during the Superbowl, you can bring that beer to your friend’s BBQ later confident that your intentions will be understood.

“Whereas if the same unknown brand advertised itself across 100 different TV shows (reaching the same gross audience) and you only saw one of them – on an obscure cooking show (say) – you’d have no idea whether your friends at the BBQ would have the same understanding of the brand’s image, and whether they would perceive your intentions correctly.”

If you’re a beer, fame is good.

If you’re Ford, some degree of targeted messaging is good, but all playing to a consistent brand message.

Then there’s the news that Airbnb is ‘slashing’ their performance marketing spend in favour of brand building work.

Perhaps the notion of adding some brand magic to the tedious and competitive process of booking accommodation may finally be gaining traction within Airbnb’s hallowed halls.

A few days ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Feldwick, one of the industry’s best strategic planners, for asi. Paul has a new book out, ‘Why Does the Pedlar Sing?’ subtitled ‘What creativity really means in advertising’.

The interview was a delight to do, a reminder of how good we used to be at ads, how popular they were (certainly compared to now) and why we seem to have lost the knack as ‘new techniques’ take hold.

Here’s a link to the podcast:

The absurdity of so many modern arguments (in themselves reruns of very old arguments) about what technique, channel or medium works best is that the real answer is potentially everything, in combination.

No-one’s right all the time, most things have been tried. Think how much money could be saved if everyone followed the Search and Reapply principle.

Marketing is rarely either / or, it’s this and that, plus.

The only issue is how good you are at doing your job.

Or, as my old Coca-Cola client Jelena Veselinovic put it beautifully in a post this week:

“There’s no such thing as performance or brand marketing. There are only different marketing problems that require different marketing tools.”

  1. Absolutely nailed it…

  2. Thank you!

  3. So true as ever. Robin Wight applied a similar principle to creative work which he branded as ‘advertising archeology’. Have a look at what’s worked for the brand in the past and reapply. Some of WCRS’s most successful campaigns were born of this principle, Zanussi, the appliance of science and BMW, the Ultimate Driving Machine to cite but two.

  4. Good comment, thank you!

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