advertising, differentiating, opinionating, thinking

Running away to the Circus: Dispatches from The Festival of Commercial Creativity – Charles Wigley and BBH’s Anti-Wind Tunnel Movement


"getting medieval on our ass" was what Charles Wigley, chairman of BBH, promised the circus audience last week, as he got "back to the core of what we do with big brands and set processes".  he asked a simple question … how can we spend our time better?


Wigley argued that just like how at some point all cars started to look the same – we've done exactly the same thing to our industry …he refers to it as the anti wind-tunnel marketing movement, and there's a rather nifty presentation embedded below (via a post on BBH labs).

he observes that we talk differentiation, but that 90% of the stuff we "burden the earth with" is the same; "we are churning out similarities" – he suggests two reasons:

(1) we all follow largely the same (consumer insight-oriented) process: "professionalism has led to homogenization and systematisation of the creative process … a model of creative development that traps us all" … the result being that most brands approach the same questions with the same people in same way

(2) we consistently fail to ask the question: is it different?  we focus so exclusively on relevance that we fail to think about whether our work is true or different. a point summed up rather neatly with this still from the above slideshow.



of ads that are indistinguishable from each other…

Banking – NAB, Westpac and St George
SUVs – Jeep, BMW and VW
Cereal – Coco Pops, Milo and Sultana bran

(NB I'm trying to track these down on YouTube but can't find many / any of them – I'll keep trying and post when I do)

Wigley's simple and elegant point is that because the briefs are all the same, the results are the same. this extends into digital solutions too … there's a very real danger that advertising will eat itself.

the cliches are now so ingrained that adverts can be created that that play with the established conventions of the category and market…


why this is happening…?

part of the problem is that lack of tangible USPs.  Wigley argues that we now rely on ESP (emotional selling propositions) to market brands, and so the holy grail becomes the key consumer insight.  but we all have the same products in the same category marketing to the same people with the same process to the consumer insights – and the ideas they generate – are all the same.  we are, as Wigley puts it, "dancing on a pinhead when dealing with these briefs".

But does it matter?

well yes it does.  when we create parity communications with similar insights "we're removing the cost efficiency of real brand differentiation".  we accept a situation where the biggest media budget will always win, a flight to a centre-ground where the biggest spenders remain the biggest spenders and innovation and ideas and differentiation and engagement and adding utility and entertainment to the world through are communications become a quaint dalliance that the communications industry had with itself and consumers at the turn of the 21st Century.  media becomes a commodity not an opportunity, a barrage of impacts not a platform for engagement.  could the last people to leave the industry please turn out the lights.


Wigley rightly observes that we all use the same brands in presentations…  Nike, Google, Uniqlo.  what do they have in common?  they are brand leaders not consumer followers.  So … how do we put differentiation back into the ideas we generate and the work we produce?  Wigley offers ten solutions…

  1. use insights from multiple points of view and disciplines ie go beyond the consumer insight.  lead don't follow consumers.  focus on brand – Wiley quoted Siddarth Banerjee, Unilever's Regional Marketing Director of Asia: "what is the single most important part of the marketing mix that is essential to ensure a better chance of success in the marketplace? … ownership of a point of view" … Wigley describes this as the main distinction between a convention brands and a conviction brands, and observes that the fastest growing brands are in posession of energized differentiation – in that they have vision, innovation and dynamism
  2. Is it different? is the first and last question we should ask
  3. remember that not all consumers are created equal.  there are leaders, followers and the rest.  followers are cheaper and easier to find
  4. test in the real world not in the test tube (echoing what Marvin Chow discussed when he shared Chrome's marketing strategies earlier in the session).  get work up and online and evaluate it based on actual not expected performance
  5. bring back regional test market (was good to see a Yorkshire Television logo up on the screen)
  6. look to the future not the past.  "what's the foresight not the insight?" … Innocent saw colourful fun health coming and built their brand for the future that was to embrace it
  7. hurry up.  what are we so often waiting for?  speed up the process.  Wigley refers to Colin Powell's 40%-70% rule: if you have information to the extent that you're less than 40% likely to make the right decision then get more information.  but if you collect information beyond 70% chance of success you're likely to get it wrong – you'll have too much information and the situation will have changed.  in short act whilst you have more than 40% but less than 70% chance of success
  8. value inexperience as much as experience … we've become too expert in sometimes very niche categories
  9. put judgement back into the job spec – he quoted one marketing director who after being presented to by the agency said "I absolutely love this work, let's go straight to research"
  10. restructure the organisation.  Wigley suggested that the difference between single brand companies vs multi-brand companies was that in the latter people don't work specifically on brands, but rather are sharing the same info with all the brands in the company.  sometime you need new structures and groups to create differentiation – for example First Direct or Unilever siloing Axe into an entirely separate unit

Wigley left us with this delightful observation – courtesy of Mitchell and Webb – into how advertisers approach communicating to women and men.  not sure how it related to the topic in hand, but made the Circus crowd chuckle…

for more information on BBH's Anti-Wind Tunnel thinking you can visit BBH LABS – I recommend that you regularly do so … as labs go, these ones rock


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