Smart Brand Managers are forever scrutinizing the value they are gaining from their agencies. All too often, this value judgement lands on the desk of the chief creative officer and of course it should; but it needs to land equally on the desks of the head of strategy and the head of account service.

The ad industry has forever been trying to accurately respond to the old quip, attributed to John Wannamaker, “Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Recently, Marc Pritchard of Unilever announced their “People First” initiative. As stated in CampaignLive; “a structure in which talent from roster agencies across holding groups are brought together under one roof to service the FMCG giant’s North American fabric care business.”

This is a client, a great client actually, doing everything he can to unlock value from these relationships for his brands. Multiple agencies, multiple brands, massive media spend, redundancy and not enough of a payoff; or at least that’s what we can infer from the directive.

I don’t know Marc Pritchard, but really appreciate his efforts not to throw the baby out with the bath water. In the article he talks about bringing all the various agency creative together as a new model effort to find value by uniting the agencies in one collaborative effort.

I’ve run huge global brand development sessions with agency partners and client brand teams from all over the world. The largest initiative included participants from 16 countries. The approach can work miracles in ideation and equally important in getting everyone on the same page. Getting everyone on the same page with a big brand idea requires great talent in the room, a hugely collaborative effort, and egos left behind.

Believe it or not, it is rarely the creatives who do not play well with others. The minute the big idea is agreed, it’s the agency business leads who start tearing at the budget like lions on a kill. Unless a client is willing to address the budget and compensation in an equally unilateral manner, it is very tough to make the collaboration and the outcome stick.

I’ve worked on both Unilever and P&G brands and these are smart people with massive resources and still they are struggling to realize the promised value in the age of “new media.”

These initiatives can work but to my mind, the real culprit is the industries’ addiction to its own hype. The ad industry did not invent Google, or Facebook or any of the other super creative things that are reshaping the world; all we do is figure out how to monetize these things to our advantage and now clients are finally asking; How do all these exciting pieces of content you create make me money and build my brand?  Clearly there is benefit; but how much return is in that investment?  Spending less on creative and eliminating this redundancy is helpful to a brand if all the collaboration works out; but this is a client-driven attempt to solve an industry problem. We need to get better; showing and proving our value in context of the media and not just the execution itself. Possibly one of the worst things to have happened in the advertising industry is that media was cleaved off from the agencies and became independent. It is not a matter of church and state; it is a matter of execution of ideas, and ideas cannot be separated from the media that gives voice to their expression.

The problem with no, the real problem, is that it’s not yes. Turning no into yes is often a cat and mouse game with the marketing team. You might have 10 clients on a single brand with a claim to input and by the time you’re done, your big idea might not be so big any longer and your enthusiasm may certainly have waned… but your idea finally gets moved upstairs with the warm endorsement of a semi-aligned brand team. Sound familiar?

If this is a regular routine and when you look yourself in the mirror and with absolutely no self-aggrandizing bullshit you can say, without equivocation, that this is your best work and that the big idea for the brand has been pillaged to death by no, you’ve enter the club of no authority.

The club of no authority, wields the only axe they are authorized to carry; no.

Have you noticed? The decision making around big ideas by marketing teams is sadly, often a chess match of realpolitik in the face of the true authority upstairs.

They cannot give you a yes, because yes is not in the room.

When the idea finally climbs the last flight of stairs and enters the corner office, it may not get that yes because it’s been watered down and the corner office thinks and behaves differently. The corner office is not worried about the corner office. The corner office wants the big idea to be truly big and liberating. The corner office wants your expertise above all else.

This is your moment.

Do everything in your power to be in that room and have your original iteration of the idea at hand. If the idea starts to take a dive offer the alternative solution, one of your originals.

If it achieves yes, immediately give credit to the marketing team for pushing you to no end.

If it all falls flat, accept responsibility and start asking a lot of questions, get the corner office in on the dialogue. Show your humility in the face of their expertise, work to an insight, listen intently, walk out armed, tell them you’ll be back in 48 hours, ready to deliver a yes.

All client companies have their rules of engagement and most of the time you will be bound by these rules and the culture that defines them. Work towards a presentation plan with your client team, they will appreciate this effort more than you realize. After all, yes benefits everyone.

The past nine months have been an exercise in constraint. Adding the role of The F. William Harder Chair Professor of Business Administration at Skidmore College to my life’s work has taken some adjustment. All positive. This work will be the subject of its own blog post because it deserves the airtime.

Here at Brandforming, we’ve been aggressively moving the nature and scope of our engagements to be primarily defined by brand idea and strategy development. With a few exceptions, we’ve dialed down on tactical execution.

We’ve enjoyed some very nice engagements that have resulted in perspective-shifting, business-altering ideas for our clients. This is enormously satisfying as we’ve significantly and positively impacted the businesses of our clients. It has also allowed us to engage effectively and precisely with these clients, giving them the attention they deserve while I work at the very serious and seriously gratifying job of being a Professor.

There have been some interesting knock-on effects of this constraint. We prepare and execute a very thorough engagement for our clients and send them off with a simple, powerful brand idea. They move forward happy and excited. Nice. As of this writing, a full 75% of these clients are returning to us with additional work.

The reality is that they are returning because they do not feel the idea is being fully realized. Why? As we re-engage it becomes clear that the client has gotten bogged down in execution. Bogged down, often with their own internal constraints, often in conjunction with the failure of the client-agency relationship. And in two instances the client’s AOR did not fully deliver on the power and potential of the idea despite everyone getting along just swimmingly.

Of course, we are always delighted when the phone rings again with clients seeking our council because they trust the work we’ve done together. On the other hand, we would be equally happy to see the ideas take flight without the need for us to re-engage. Our shift in scope forgives us most of the burden of these misfires. Still, we are upset by the sounds of frustration on the other end of the phone. And because we know that being an AOR is often a compromised existence, we do everything in our capability to help re-focus and re-energize these relationships.

Execution is no little thing and it is often the first thing that gets compromised. We are working in an age of such downward price pressure that many agencies are struggling to survive. The evidence is all around us: talent flight, collapsing margins, and bad media. Clients need to invest in execution and the most important part of this investment is in a partner that can make things happen without a lot of wasted effort. Big ideas don’t always need to cost a fortune to execute, but they must always be smartly — effectively and efficiently — rendered.

In Mid-April Team Brandforming was on location in Florence Italy at the incredible Belmond, Villa San Michele, shooting our campaign for our client Monvieve. Monvieve is a haute couture Italian Fashion Brand.

Monvieve designs and handcrafts bespoke bridal veils in Italy. Each veil is a unique work of art, as fine and beautiful as you can imagine. Our client, Alison Miller, the creative director and owner of the label, works with each of her clients to assure the experience is as flawless as her veils.

Villa San Michele dates from the 15th century, the Villa’s facade is attributed to Michelangelo. Step inside and you experience the ethereal beauty and solitude of a Renaissance monastery that is as much a part of Italy’s culture as the country’s greatest cathedrals and galleries. Grazie’ a lei Clio Cicuto and the entire team at Villa San Michele.

For those who know me personally you will immediately grasp the joy in this moment, a lover of art, art history and nearly all things Italian.  To work with another Italian luxury brand such as Monvieve and to shoot in Florence, puts this gig on the top of my list of great experiences. Our photographer, Massimiliano Botticelli and his all star team did an amazing job, flawlessly executing a long and intense day of shooting. His team hit every mark in our production schedule to take best advantage of the glorious natural light. Max did not stop until the sun was gone from the sky. Grazie’ a lei Max!

Framing images for our campaign #MonvieveMoments against a backdrop designed by Michelangelo was the culmination of a tremendous amount of work by our client. Team Brandforming was thrilled to play our part in bringing the story to life. It takes years of dedicated focus and talent to succeed in the fashion industry and Alison is on her way to her next success.

Defining Moments is what Monvieve is all about and it is exactly what is achieved whenever a woman steps into a Monvieve product. It is a transformative moment, a defining moment, a #MonvieveMoment

Check out some of our production stills up on the Monvieve Facebook page. Follow Monvieve on Instagram. Please remember, it’s nice to share.

In early April team Brandforming was on location at Carnegie Mellon filming a PSA for the Computer Science Teachers Association, we nicknamed the spot Robot Love.  After months of work and insight development, derived from rounds of one-on-one interviews, we finally rolled cameras.

Special thanks here to our partners Associations Development Group for thinking of us and bringing Brandforming on as collaborators. Team Brandforming cranked out 5 different concept boards for client review. It didn’t take long for the client team to settle on the theme and spot we created, Computer Science. Cool Stuff. The goal of the PSA is to encourage more young people, especially girls, to get involved in computer science. In fact, the Fox TV show, FabLab is equally dedicated to this goal. Nearly half the high schools in the US do not offer computer science. It’s astonishing to consider since there is hardly a life today untouched by some aspect of computer science.

Filming took place at Carnegie Mellon because of their outstanding computer science program and also because of Professor Manuela Veloso. Professor Veloso is an extraordinary person, her brains, talent and determination make her a fantastic teacher, mentor and coach to all the enthusiastic students we met while filming. Thank you #ManuelaVeloso. Thank you #CMU. Thank you #Pittsburgh.

Professor Veloso is well known for her work in Robotics but computer science is about a lot more than just Robotics, as she is very quick to point out.  Kids in America need more exposure to computer science and a better understanding of the many career opportunities associated with it. I hope the TV show #FabLab catches the imagination of its young audience and that our TV spot helps drive awareness of just how cool computer science really is.

It was good fun working with Robots to help tell our story. It was also great to work with Professor Veloso, her students and the producers of FabLab too. The spot was filmed by Galileo Media Arts. Robot Love, the science behind computer science.

Team Brandforming and Computer Science, now that’s Cool Stuff.

Occasionally, rummaging through the back of the drawer turns up a gem. In this case, a merger pencil.  To me the no.3 lead was always the perfect choice, especially during a merger or IPO; no.2 was always a bit too soft for my taste. This was the mighty tool, long before we had computers on every desk. This, a blank sheet of paper and a cup of coffee was the ideal way to start any project. It still is a superior set of tools.

This post isn’t really about the pencil but rather the merger stamped across the surface. I have lived and worked through a number of mergers and IPO’s in my agency life and at this point, I can say with some degree of confidence that they are events that do little to elevate or even maintain the level and quality of the work. In fact, with rare exception, it is quite the opposite.

In the near term these events also do very little to help most of the agency client base, save perhaps the largest. In the long run, many years down the road organizations like Wire and Plastic Products have turned up as a global agency juggernaut, best known as WPP.  Sir Martin sure knows what he’s doing in this regard.  Before building WPP into one of the world’s top agency networks he was finance director of Saatchi & Saatchi  — see the merger pencil above. The team at WPP seem to have it all worked out, not so for the failed Publicis-Omnicom courtship. Was the proposed merger love only at first bite?

What’s working brilliantly for WPP did not turn out so well at the time for Saatchi & Saatchi. As the go- go 80’s imploded there was all kinds of intrigue and mayhem and loss of business as the operation began to unravel. Yet, it was fabulous to be there because at the time, it was the place to be…until it wasn’t. I should note that for many years now Saatchi & Saatchi is back on high ground and has been knocking out some great work, but it was a long road back.

Mergers and IPO’s for large agency groups comes down to winners and losers. All the bather about a “merging of equals” or how being a publicly traded company will not change the culture are fantasies of good will. And how it will not mean a loss of jobs or impact clients — good intention perhaps, but not reality. Too many moving parts to manage effectively. A familiar scene across many industries.

On the rare occasion, when it works, it works because the dominant agency is a top-ranked creative powerhouse and that is the driving culture. The executive team is identified and the agenda is supported and maintained throughout the process, across the entire new organization with no excuses and with respect all around.  The goal is to deliver the same great product across the globe as well as around the block. A rising tide lifts all boats.

When it doesn’t work, it’s because the merger or IPO is an exercise in financial control designed to benefit the few at the expense of the many. This unleashes all kinds of grief and stress because this agenda does not always align well with doing what’s best and right for your clients and their brands.

When it works you see little turnover of talent and business. When it doesn’t, you see years of management change, talent flight and loss of accounts.

On the occasion of the pencil seen above, Saatchi & Saatchi Dorland was the UK based network agency and Saatchi & Saatchi Compton was the US arm. They merged DFS and Dorland to create DFS-Dorland which existed for a fairly brief period before they combined all of us into my very special Yellow no.3 pencil. I save these pencils as Momento mori, small monuments to help remember that even the best of hard work and talent can be defeated by the ephemeral trappings of seeking scale for the sake of scale, rather than in service of your agency product.

As for my collection of pencils, I keep them at hand because putting ideas to paper remains essential regardless of the names changing over the door. Which reminds me, I need to order up some no.3’s for Brandforming.

When you are looking for something new and different and captivating, look to your right. When you are looking for something familiar and undifferentiated and understood look to your left.

When thinking up ideas and reviewing concepts and potential ways to execute them it is essential to consider the inherent tension in the idea, the contrast, the incongruity of it all.

This is the thing that drives an idea, it’s internal flame. Great brands thrive on incongruity and great products and services are often defined by one insightful point of tension that the product or service can overcome. And the campaigns that deliver these ideas with great creativity propel these brands to stardom.

Volvo cars thrive on the idea of safety which resolves the fear of injury or death.  BMW thrives on its idea of the ultimate driving machine, casting itself against dull imperfection, sensory deprivation and blandness. These are emotionally driven ideas, that touch the heart. Achieving the whitest whites in your laundry is not simply about whiteness, it’s about knowing you’ve done the best job you can, of achieving a visible perfection.

But why do ideas like these work? Why do campaigns like these hold our attention? It all comes down to the way our minds work. The left brain-right brain functionality forever studied and in some cases grossly oversimplified, hold the key to understanding what make a great idea — great.

The functionality of the right brain is dominant in alertness to new, different, incongruent and more “emotional” points of tension that appeal to our emotional self. The left brain functions as a sort of running catalogue of all things known, understood and expected. The left brain is so good at this that it gives the right brain the full freedom to perform the major task of keeping us alive to anything new at all — good or bad – it is our early warning system. The scanning, searching, emotional nature of the right and the deconstructing, comparative, analytical left come together to define the essence of who we are and our relationship to the world — our ego. This coming together to form what I’ll call the ego-energy of left and right brain functions is very much a complimentary end game and failing to satisfy one comes at the risk of losing the other and should be considered the emotional whole brain effect. The significance of this can not be overstated when it comes to creating ideas, because this is the terrain of the big idea.

Let’s consider the ubiquitous “Pharma Beach” ads. I’m not sure who originally coined this phrase. It started as a slight to the ever present execution of people on beaches in pharmaceutical advertising and now seems to have grown in meaning to include all the usual slice of life stuff we’ve grown so accustomed to seeing day in and day out. Pharma Beach must be a pretty big place, maybe even bigger than the Hampton’s.  At this point there are so many people enjoying Pharma Beach that it would seem we’ve all been cured. Unfortunately that’s far from the truth, and for advertisers “Pharma Beach” has grown so familiar it is not the best place to attempt to differentiate your brand, unless of course you do something incredible different with it, which we rarely see.

Ideas that wash up on Pharma Beach are known and easily broken up into familiar catalogued bits by the left brain, filed and put away — a place for everything and everything in its place. The right brain has little time or attention to give to the familiar and generic. It looks past the known and understood — the generic. Why create a generic campaign for a branded product?

This, my friends, is why so many ad campaigns fail to deliver the true potential of the brand— they die of boredom, sequestered in the left brain catalogue of “I’ve seen this before.”

The capacity of the left brain to break things down into the known can cause a kind of circular thinking as its constant need to dominate the world by manipulating it into known components can hold us back from creating and trusting differentiated ideas.

Like victims of Stockholm syndrome we grow sympathetic to our captor and are held by our left brain’s incessant desire to break everything down into known bits, catalogue it for us and keep our world nice and tidy, and we like it.  This functionality of the left brain helps us reside comfortably in the known world but it can also keep us from breaking free.

If you want work that breaks through, then we need to break-through to the right brain. There are no formulas for this, no secret ingredient that will make you successful. There is only the need for a commitment that goes for the heart, that stirs the emotion that appeals to the ego. Ideally this is supported by a brand essence that embraces a meaningful incongruity that can only be resolved by the product or service itself.

It is hard work but when you Head For The Heart, great things happen.

For the first time in recent history the CLIO Awards integrated Healthcare into the overall show. As an Executive Jury participant, it feels like an epic moment, not just because we had some really strong work to debate again this year, but because in the context of the entire show, health, if not healthcare specifically, was well-represented globally. The CLIO Awards are getting healthier.

It is long overdue that the creative industries take on healthcare and apply its vast wealth of talent to help solve the world’s health problems. Kudos to CLIO for leading the charge in contextualizing the work within the industry. With the integration of healthcare into the show this year we achieve not only the recognition of great work but more importantly, how this work stacks up to other health and wellness work not submitted into the healthcare category. Work such as the simple, powerful project for 28 Too Many is brilliant for its insight and simplicity and absolutely riveting execution. It achieves in a series of deceptively simple images what a 50-page website could never do. I say this not in disregard to the power of digital but in homage to the incredible power of an idea that succeeds because of its intelligence and its sparseness.

End FMG everywhere. Donate Now.

Ogilvy & Mather, London

In an age when it often feels that one surefire path to an award is to orchestrate an event, film that event and then share it across social media, the work for 28toomany.org defies present convention. The work is executed with great empathy and delivers a tearful blow to the pride of nations who dare look away… and it does it without relying on the gaming of social media to prove its point. I will suggest this is a very analogue idea — a bit of old school brilliance. I tip my hat.

As an industry, I think we have an obligation to keep health and wellness on the top of the agenda because it benefits all of us and with more of us doing it, the more we’ll get accomplished. The work for 28 Too Many delivers on all fronts, regardless of the category it was entered into.

In my former gig as a founder and chief global creative officer Palio, I traveled the world for both research and creative development. Health and wellness is one of those topics that unites all peoples around the globe and it is one area in which we have many more commonalities than we do differences. Keeping it in a silo only makes it harder. Let’s mix it up, think and behave differently about health and wellness — this is one of the motivations behind my new company Brandforming — to tap the broader talent pool and leap boundaries.

As technology continues to topple old barriers almost as fast as we can name them, it is time to apply the learnings of all the fun and fascinating applications to do some truly heavy lifting and solve real problems, not just for the entertainment value . And with that, let’s consider Lucky Iron Fish, the 2015 Grand CLIO in Healthcare Innovation winner. This work astonishes with its simplicity because Lucky Iron Fish excels not through some fantastic application of technology, but through the power of its cultural insight and a few pennies worth of scrap iron. Another powerful analogue idea. Visit their website and learn their story http://www.luckyironfish.com/

Insight into action

Lucky Iron Fish – Ontario

Lucky Iron Fish was developed with great cultural sensitivity that unlocked an insight that placed the Lucky Iron Fish into the heart of every home and improved the quality of health. For this very reason this same work also achieved legendary status at the Cannes Lions Festival earlier this year.

World health data offers the promise of incredible perspective, if not insight, into some really pressing global health challenges. Many of these very same challenges find their way right into our daily lives; yet we persist in acting as if these problems belong to someone else. The recognition this year to Dr. Mickey Chopra, CLIO Healthcare Honorary Award for his service at Unicef as Chief of Health and Associate Director of Programs at UNICEF’s NY headquarters, acknowledges the profound impact he has had in shaping policy into action for maternal, newborn, and child health, immunization, pediatric, HIV/AIDS, and health systems. To Dr. Chopra, we all matter, the world over.

Healthcare advertising and communications have come along way in the U.S. but still has much further to go to achieve the kind of impact these campaigns deliver. The very regulations we rail on about are a trap we set for ourselves when we insist on following the same old well-worn paths. Just because we are allowed to do branded promotion for healthcare brands in the U.S. doesn’t mean it is the only tool in the box. At this point it is abundantly clear that all the advertising and promotion for products here in the U.S. has not done much to improve our health or drive down the cost of healthcare. Americans are not among the healthiest people and as we know all too well, the cost of and access to healthcare has become one of the biggest burdens we face.

I’ll leave us today with another CLIO winner that Heads For The Heart with humor and takes on the Affordable Care Act

Not so funny but no joke

The Affordable Care Act from Funny or Die

In late June Brandforming was in engaged by Maserati of Albany to help launch their dealership. There are currently only 18 dealerships across the US that represent Maserati of North America. Compare this to Chrysler which by one account has 2,390 Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram dealerships in the United States or BMW with 350 and right away you see the exclusivity of the offering. Maserati is one of the great marquees of the auto world, well established for their combination of high performance and luxury.

The challenge for  Maserati of Albany is that the dealership officially opened with the arrival of their first cars in June, however, the dealership retail store will not be completed until some time next year.

So how do you launch a dealership without a destination worthy of the cars themselves?

The Brandforming team sat down with the owners of the dealership, the DePaula family, to discuss some ideas and gain some insight into their approach to running one of the most successful Chevrolet dealerships in the entire country. During our conversation we were interrupted a number of calls from customers. Every call was answered and every need attended to by one of the DePaula family. This was a great example of why the DePaula’s were awarded one of the few Maserati Dealerships in the US, impeccable service.

As members of the community, the DePaula family supports a number of charitable organizations and in particular they have a love of all things horses. From these insights was born the idea for the introduction of the Maserati brand to the Albany Capital Region.

La Dolce Maserati and the #DePaulaDriveForCharity were conceived as a way to link up the charitable works of the DePaula Family with their love of automobiles.

The program consists of an auction prize, La Dolce Maserati, presented at a series of Gala events in Saratoga as part of an on-going charitable program call the DePaula Drive for Charity.

La Dolce Maserati features 2 packages for 4 people, a total of 8 from each event, to experience the sweet life. On Oct. 4 participants will board the scenic Saratoga-North Creek Railway in Saratoga. They will ride in a vintage art deco dining car with a glass viewing roof as they travel north into the mountains and the beauty of the fall season. The train ride was donated by the Saratoga and Northcreek Railway. On board the train, participants will be served fine Italian delicacies compliments of Mazzone Hospitality. Upon arrival guests will be greeted by members of the Maserati team and checked out on their cars before setting off for a spirited drive through the mountains. On the return trip guests will receive more food and beverages and a gift bag to continue their sweet life experience while at home.

We developed the package and set work work creating the content to drive the engagement. Activation consisted of placement of content about the promotion in Gala event brochures, placement of cars at key venues around Saratoga, an exciting public relations package that included test rides for the media at opening day of the the horse track in Saratoga, and a compelling social media strategy built on Facebook, that pulled all the assets together.

The Brandforming team executed this with near flawless precision. The DePaula Drive For Charity continues to receive enormous support from the community with nearly $20,000 raised for various charities, including Saratoga Hospital.  The Oct 4 train ride is sold out with nearly 50 participants, (we had to allow for a few extra seats) Maserati of Albany went from near zero awareness to being top of mind and the talk of the season. And perhaps best of all for this business, they have already sold a number of these very fine automobiles and at the same time have elevated support for the charities involved.

In general people love knowing they can have fun and do good at the same time, we couldn’t agree more.

A great deal of what the team achieved can be found here on the event Facebook page

The page and various posts reached well over 3 thousand people, achieved 450 likes and it’s been followed by local media. In addition we achieved media pickup during a national horse racing broadcast, primetime news coverage and front page press coverage —  you can find it all on the Facebook page.

This case proves once again that when you #HeadForTheHeart, great things happen. Look for another blog post about this project as we move into the fall.