Can Ad Creative Be Bigger Than The Client Can Handle?

Derek A. Lackey,  March 26, 2015

Having spent my entire career in Advertising I have seen this topic "What is great creative" come up time and time again. Ad Week called attention to Taco Bell's new 3 minute docudrama .

I will begin by saying Deutsch is a great agency. Their "Routine Republic" campaign is exceptiionally well executed, art directed and will most certainly be talked about by the target audience. It will clean up at the advertising awards shows and may even lead to additional executions. They did their job and generated what most people will see as great creative - or did they? Will this campaign do more for Deutsch's bottom line than Taco Bell's? 

Let's examine what is "great creative".

Great creative starts with the client's brief. Does Taco Bell have stats that lead them to believe McDonalds is vunerable right now? I do admit, I have not delved into the market research and I am not privy to the facts that had Taco Bell decide this direction, but knocking a brand with such dominance in a specific area (fast food breakfast) off their #1 position is a daunting task. Some would say an impossible one. Unless of course McDonalds shoots themselves in the foot repeatedly - which is not likely based on the sound marketing decisions they have always made.

So the client tells the agency they want to challenge McDonalds for the FAST FOOD BREAKFAST market. This is a position McDonalds clearly dominates in the minds of most consumers. When we think "fast food breakfast" we think McDonalds. Ries & Trout, the brilliant marketing strategists who have written many books on the subject, would say NEVER attack the leader in their strength. Change the game. Create a new ladder. Flank them. But never attack them where they are strong. So my issue is less with the agency's creative and more with the marketing direction of Taco Bell. Advertising is a powerful tool not a panacea.

In response to the client brief, the agency creates a great campaign. It is and will continue to get the public's attention. Some rebel factions might even rail against the big corporate arches. Yet still when they think fast food breakfast, will they still think McDonalds? 

In my opinion this creative is bigger than the client can handle.

Lets say it works and it generates waves of trial. A mass of consumers worldwide decide they are going to give Taco Bell a chance. If you have eaten there (lunch or dinner) lately, do you think for a moment they are equipped to turn that trial into long-term customers? Do you think the quality of their fledgling new product can challenge McDonald's breakfast - perfected over many years of committed staff training and tweaking? Do you think Taco Bell has made the significant investment in training their staff to produce a consistent, tried and true quality product? One of the reasons we continue to go to McDonalds for a quick breakfast is the quality of the product itself. All of the heavy media spending with the best ad creative we can concieve of will not change that. This battle will be fought at store level and this great ad campaign may simply make millions of consumers realize that Taco Bell's food is just not as good as McDonalds, further reinforcing McDonalds dominance in fast food breakfast. Was Taco Bell ready, at store level, for this kind of creative?

Sergio Zyman, during his days as CMO at Coke, pulled the greatest ad ever created - the Mean Joe Green spot where he trades the young boy his sweater for his Coke. It was arguably the best commercial ever made but Zyman read the daily sales reports closely. After 2 weeks of seeing no shift in sales, despite loud complaints from bottlers and the media, he sent the agency back to the drawing board to come up with creative that helped sell Coke. That weekend the agency created "The Real Thing".

Advertising can be a powerful tool. A client must always think it through from their consumer's point of view. What is the OBJECTIVE of the campaign? Can we deliver on the implied promise of the campaign?

So I ask you, was the creative good?


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