Making ads - a dash of creativity & lots of science

2017 is almost over and I thought we must give something to the readers to mull over as the year ends. Year ends, in my opinion automatically put one in a reflective mode about the year gone by, what has one learnt, achieved and what will the new year bring in. As I was closing things on my to-do list today the fact that 2017 has ended hit me hard and needless to say I went into this mode of what have I done noteworthy in this year. I am putting all of these down because the post is an outcome of all the thinking. 

I want to give you a brief synopsis of what I do in my current role so that you understand why am I writing about ad making all of a sudden. So I handle Equity for Dettol for all Developing Markets which means all ads that are run on Dettol irrespective of the product, country, culture, price segment, consumer et al are made by me and in 2017 I have made in excess of 20-25 ads and then they get multiplied by the number of countries and overall I have worked on approximately 400-500 odd copies including all edits. And hence this post.....

Much like the number series, I think this topic needs at least 3-4 posts to cover it in its entirety. However, the clear purpose of this one is to give a newly minted marketer a flavour of what is involved in making an ad.

Firstly, the most important part of making an ad as a marketer is the brief writing. The most famous quote on advertising always has been - the creative you get will only be as good as your brief. This is completely true. Of course, much like everything in life that sits on a normalized curve there will be exceptions on both ends - great brief leading to a lousy creative and a terrible brief leading to a great creative. But then those are what they are - exceptions and rare cases best attributed to either bad luck or great creativity. And before one can attempt writing a good brief one must know what is needed for the creative process and what your role as a marketer in the process is.

Ad making can be cleanly divided into 2 parts: Pre script development and post script development. I am going to focus on the pre script development and just for fun lets call them BC & AD. BC = Before Creative and AD = After Development (these are my fun moments while writing :p).

Disclaimer: From now onward, this post is relevant for people with marketing experience of 0-3 years. For the rest, it can be a nostalgic read for the time & fun gone by.

In BC, as a marketer you have only and only 2 roles to play in the ratio of 75:25 (can be 70:30 or 80:20 depending on your brand, form of advertising, how long the campaign has been on etc etc but it needs to be in this zone). I am putting down the ratio because in the glitzy world of ad making one can easily get lost on the other side and forget why the ad is getting made in the first place.

These 2 things will determine whether you are doing a good job as a Brand Manager or not. Actually these two things will determine whether you will have a tangible say in the copy making process or not and hence be ready to lead the process when you grow up to that position.

First and the part that constitutes 70-80% of the work is the science  exact, backed by numbers & indisputable. When I say it is indisputable; I mean the data led conclusions should be indisputable. The choices that the analytics throw of course are much like all choices debatable & often proven correct or incorrect in hindsight. But the background work has to be precise, exact & conclusive. It needs running your business through a fine tooth comb and peeling off layers & layers till you are sure you know everything that needs to be known about your business. The few questions which need to be answered in this part of the process are:

  1. WHO: Who will you target with this copy? Now, please be aware that this person can be different from your brand target consumer in some ways or in many ways. In fact, in some cases they could be completely different people altogether. This part needs extensive use of Household Panel data & syndicated consumer track or dipstick studies to pin point the exact set of consumers the ad will target. For e.g. Gain & Loss analysis can show who are you losing to - brand, sub segment, particular geographies or even SECs. Similarly the consumer track can show you if there is a certain segment of consumers who are finding you less relevant or are not finding value in your brand any longer & dipstick studies or exploratory research can throw an entirely new consumer trend that you may want to ride on.  But this needs knowing you business by segment, geography, variant (if any), pack sizes etc. inside out. The more granular & pointed the definition of WHO - the sharper & creatively sound the copy will be.
  2. WHAT: What is the business need for the ad? Again, it will help increase consumption, penetration or share is not the answer we are looking for here. You are looking for a statement that captures what is the need. For e.g. the business need is to extend into different benefit segments or is the business need to gain share of recruitment or is it to create a new category. Now, here is where the brand analytics comes into play. What will become the next engine of growth..... where is the category moving to.......... are there any macro trends one wants to ride on et al. 
  3. WHY: Why will this copy address the business need? Here, one needs to be razor sharp about the choices one is making. This is where the proof of the pudding is. Is a copy the best way to solve the business need? Will a promo do it better? Will running a longer edit of the old copy do it better? Will a price reduction do it better? Has the current copy worn out? All the questions regarding the choices you have on the table need numbers to back any of them and this is when you make the science indisputable. 
And then comes the next 20-30% of the work which is the sexy part or the glitzy part. How do you provide a creative springboard! You need to inspire the creative to share your vision of what do you want the consumer to feel & want. The creative minds are not interested in where are the consumers coming from - they are interested in who she/he is as a person. What motivates them.......... how is their day and how can your brand make their day better............ what are the little nuggets that can make this consumer laugh or cry or be angry. What will make this consumer fall in love with your brand - it cannot be the product - it has to be the feeling the brand evokes for him/her. You need to handhold the creative into the secret garden where they can then find the fairies and the demons. But the responsibility of opening the door to the secret garden is yours. How well you do it will determine the 'Aha" of your story and the aptness of it to grow your business. And here, I don't mean that every ad needs to be the one that makes the mom cry or laugh. Even absolutely functional ads need to inspire their creators. For instance, you need to be able to tell the creative the importance of 10 rupees in your consumers daily life; how she keeps squeezing out the toothpaste till the tube gives way at the seams or how she mixes water in the liquid hand wash till it no longer lathers. All of this will give the creative team the wings to dream, to fly and to come back with a winning script that will grow your business. 

So yeah, this is my two bits on what constitutes making an ad. It is a dash of creativity and oodles full of science and needless to say everything needs to be peppered with love & passion because that last seasoning does make a difference. 

On that note, here's to a great 2018 for all!!!! 


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