You can probably tell by the title that this article is a little critical. Please understand that I only write this because I have made each and every one of these mistakes. I hate to admit it, but I’ve made them more than once. We all have. These three mistakes are just a few of the creative traps that clients and agencies fall into again and again. Creative types are just as culpable as the clients they serve, so let’s get them out in the open and maybe we can help each other avoid them.
As new ways to market and brand spring up almost daily, so do new opportunities for creative mistakes. This list contains some of the traps digital media lays out for us, but also includes a few of the classic gaffs that are timeless snares to avoid. Remember, this isn’t about finger pointing. It’s about helping each other make the work better and more effective. So, let’s get started.
Mistake #1, Depending on User Generated Content
We’ve all seen User Generated Content (UGC) campaigns that have caught fire with consumers and spread like wild fire across social media. This kind of content is highly attractive. For one thing, it’s authentic. Social media thrives on “real” content. It’s what it was invented for. UGC also has the allure of being cheap. Users are generating content, not the brand. There are some great examples of UGC campaigns out there. A few come to mind:
Women’s clothing company Aerie’s #AerieReal campaign: Aerie pledged to stop retouching photos featuring models wearing their bathing suit line. There has been an outcry over how excessive photo editing impacts young women’s self-esteem and body image. Aerie encouraged their followers to post un-retouched pictures of themselves in a bathing suit on Instagram. For every post Aerie donates $1 to NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association). Approximately $10K was raised when the campaign started in 2014, and this has increased each year since. Aerie still refuses to retouch its model photography to this day.
Starbucks #RedCupContest: Every December Starbucks introduces its annual red cup design to celebrate the holidays. The contest is simple. Starbucks customers post pictures of themselves sipping from their red cup to be eligible to win prizes like free coffee and gift cards. Starbucks fans have always delivered. This last December there were more than 40,000 unique posts of customers with the signature red cup in hand. That’s a healthy amount of user generated content for just 30 days of promotion.
These kinds of results really get creative pros and clients alike salivating. But here’s a few things to think about. In Aerie’s case the campaign’s goal was to raise awareness and money for a good cause. And yes, they received good PR and brand awareness in return. I’ve made the mistake of attaching cause-based goals to promotions in the hope of generating interest and user participation. I’ve found if the promotion tries to do two things, support a cause while selling the brand, it rarely inspires the response desired.
In the case of the Red Cup promo, Starbucks has a massive social following. They have spent the better part of two decades and millions of dollars developing an audience. When they initiate a campaign asking their fans to submit content, it has a pretty good chance of success. But you need to think about all the work that went in to that success. Most of my clients don’t have that kind of social following or the budgets to create one.
The allure of UGC is strong. It offers brands a chance to engage with their customers in a very personal way. However, social media is a very fickle and tricky thing. It is hard to predict if user participation will be a boom or a bust. We’d all like to create the next Ice Bucket Challenge for our clients, but it’s very hard to manufacture that kind of user engagement. So, here’s my final point on this. If you are planning a social media campaign that depends on User Generated Content, be very careful and be ready to make that content yourself!
Mistake #2, Make the Logo Bigger
Okay, this one is a classic, but I’d like to look at it a little differently and think about a bigger (bad pun) issue at stake here. The mistake isn’t wanting the logo to be bigger or smaller. The mistake is thinking that changing the size of the logo will actually make the ad better. It’s very easy to make fun of clients who immediately give you this input on a design or piece of content. It’s an age-old story. The creative team wants the logo to be postage stamp sized while the client wants it to occupy 40% of the space. The real issues are a little more complex. Art directors are trying to make the ad tasteful and elevate the brand. Clients just want people to be able to see their logo without playing “Where’s Waldo.” As an Art Director/Creative Director, I’m sympathetic to both.
I want my clients to have the best-looking content possible, but I also want them to feel like their brand is well represented and easy to spot no matter what kind of content we’re creating for them. Here’s where the mistake happens. No ad campaign was successful or unsuccessful because of the size of the logo. Before you send me examples, hear me out.
Let’s agree that to make an effective piece of marketing you need to do a lot of things right—strategy, media, messaging, timing, target audience, offer, frequency… I could go on. My point is, our job is to communicate and promote our client’s brand is way more complex than sizing the logo up or down. In fact, when you compare it to the many important decisions that go in to every form of marketing, the size of the logo hardly makes a difference at all. That’s why we all have jobs. If it were as easy as increasing or decreasing the size of the logo, well, anyone could do that.
The great Luke Sullivan talks about “making the logo bigger” in his book, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This: A Guide to Creating Great Ads. He says, “If it’s agreed the ad successfully stops a reader and engages him with an offer that intrigues, what do you suppose the reader will look for next? It’s doubtful he’ll look at the logo of some other ad. It’s doubtful he’ll take his attention off the leash and let it wander into the park like a stray dog. There’s a dynamic involved here. The reader’s just seen something he wants. Where can he get it? The logo. Unless you’re using a watermark, the reader will almost certainly find it, no matter what the size.”
But in the same chapter Sullivan also says this, “Just the same, when you swagger into a client’s boardroom with a full-page newspaper ad punctuated by a logo you could cover with a dime, fur’s gonna fly.”
So, the solution is to be reasonable and sensitive to the client wanting to see his or her brand mark bigger than a dime. It’s not impossible to find the middle ground, but I’ll repeat the caution that Luke Sullivan states so eloquently. People stop and engage with content because it intrigues. When is the last time a logo intrigued you enough to buy something, no matter what the size?
Mistake #3, Cramming
You’ve heard the expression, “Trying to fit 10 pounds of potatoes in a 5-pound sack.” Well, this could be the single biggest mistake clients and agencies alike make on a consistent basis. Look, I get it. Advertising is expensive. We all want to maximize our client’s marketing dollar, but packing more information in an ad can actually have the reverse effect of communicating effectively.
It stands to reason that when you put too much information in a video, post, or billboard, there’s a chance the viewer won’t have time or patience trying to get through it all. Effective advertising leads prospects to want to find more information, while ads that pack in too much information can confuse and dilute the main message. In many ads the emotional benefits of a brand are competing with practical features, latest deals, locations, proof points, and testimonials within the same ad.
It’s easy for us to think we need to provide more information to entice customers to be loyal to a brand. The trap is we think that info overload will help differentiate us from the competition by giving the customer all the facts they need to choose our brand. Unfortunately, the opposite can happen.
Consider a recent campaign for the iPhone which promoted the incredible quality of the camera and the amazing photos you could take with it. The ads featured amazing portraits and landscape photos taken with the actual device. If the ads had been lists of technical specs like megapixels, low light capabilities and zoom ratio, would it have been more effective? Of course not. The ads made us want to take the same kind of pictures of our kids and girlfriends on our vacations. The end benefit to the consumer, great pictures, was the single focus of the ads; and people who wanted to compare the technical specs to other phones went to the web to do their research.
Now I understand using Apple as an example is a little unfair. The clients you work on may not have the brand awareness of a super-brand like Apple. I’ve also heard that “white space” is for a brand that doesn’t have much to say. But even for a small brand trying to get attention, the best strategy is to decide what you do best and talk about it to relevant audiences.
So, let’s help each other avoid these creative pitfalls. When you have a difference of opinion with your client, make sure you respond to them with empathy and logic. It’s tough out there for clients and creatives alike. The end goal is to make effective, brand building ads for our clients. Avoiding these common mistakes is a good start.