You don’t have to choose between creative and valuable

creative_designAndy Cohen was a marketing ad agency guy back in the day when Direct Response TV ads were considered tawdry, cheap ways of marketing. The kind of TV advertising that kept asking you to CALL NOW! It was the domain of late night used car and vacuum salesmen. Brand businesses wouldn’t touch it.

Andy helped change all that. He and his colleagues wrote award-winning ads for Clorox, Chase Bank, Club Med, Time Warner, American Express, among many other marquee name brands. Their mantra was never compromise direct response volume for the sake of creativity, and never compromise creativity for the sake of direct response revenue. In their mind, both had to be elevated together in tandem. In their mind, they believed they could build brand integrity while simultaneously elevating ad impact and revenue. They demanded innovation of each other in pursuit of excellence.

Andy had an idea for a short Direct Response TV spot. It goes like this: Man wearing a suit in a city somewhere. Closeup on smiling face. Voice of God narration: “Why are you so happy? Did you recently find a high margin, low cost investment offer? And you’re excited about how hard your money is working for you? You must have discovered the new bond offer? No? Oh, it’s trading at $5 and returning 13.5%. its not too late…you can still get on board…”

Meanwhile the viewer watches the individual’s face start proud, smug and happy, and gradually go to sad and appalled that he was missing out, and then back to a sense of urgency and opportunity. Only at the very end the viewer hears a voice say, “Hello, Merrill Lynch. How can I help you?” Andy’s design of the ad spot relied on the notion that the man’s facial gestures convey more urgent emotion than dialogue.

Andy showed this ad design to his boss who said it was crap, terrible – a waste of thought, and told Andy to go make something valuable. Andy didn’t throw the idea in the trash. He kept tweaking it to make it better.

Lesson 1: Believe in the power and novelty of your ideas.

Meanwhile their client, Merrill Lynch, was in a pinch. They had purchased a billion dollars worth of bonds from the government and needed to move them, fast. They were sitting on a billion dollars worth of uninvested static assets. So at the next advertising meeting with Merrill Lynch, Andy pitched his idea.

The Chief Marketing Officer listened quietly and then declared he didn’t like it. So of course to agree with the client, everyone in the room said, “OK no problem. We have other ideas.” Not Andy.

Andy asked “Why? Why don’t you like it?” He persisted to find the real reason why the CMO didn’t like the ad idea.
CMO replies, “Well the tie is ridiculous. No one would wear such a ridiculous tie.”
Andy grabbed the sketch artist in the room and asked him to redraw the face. “How about now?” Andy asked.

Lesson 2: Persist until you understand the real reason.

The biggest misconception is that communication happened. If your audience immediately dismisses your idea, don’t assume they think it’s crap. People say No to great ideas for reasons that often have nothing to do with the idea itself. People often say No to ideas that have personal triggers. The key to identify the root assumptions behind decisions.

Merrill funded the ad, and they moved 750 million dollars worth of bonds in 9 weeks using that ad. And incidentally it was the first DRTV commercial to ever win a CLIO award, and many other creative advertising awards.