Anachronism of the year has to be this little accidental truth from a meeting I attended a while ago:

“But the big idea is the two-minute ad!”

To be fair to the guy (an ad agency account chap who’s pretty smart, actually), he was trying to convince the client that the ad they’d written worked best in its long-form version, and that giving this cut the biggest possible push (in expensive broadcast spaces) was the most impactful route to engaging consumers.

And we’ve all said things that look bad in print. Or sound wrong the moment we’ve said them.

So sorry to him.

But this comment seemed representative of a view that still has a peculiar hold on people, even as we move into 2012.

I am not philosophically opposed to big ‘event’ ads. But I do think they should be indicative of something else that sits behind the film.

And that comment highlighted that there wasn’t anything.

It was just a script.

We mentioned words like ‘efficiencies’, not because we think cheap is best, but because we were asking what the two-minute exposure was meant to achieve.

Say you get that desired (if infeasibly unlikely) ‘water cooler moment’, what next?

In short, what’s the idea?

From what moment of inspiration did the script spring? Where else does that take us?

A big ad isn’t mutually exclusive to a big idea. Yeo Valley is a perfect case in point – bold TV was just one manifestation of a central idea or thought.

We wanted to develop that core thought.

Or rather, understand what it was.

There was so much in the script that spoke to a central idea, it just hadn’t been articulated or defined in that way yet.

Unfortunately, as is so often the case, we’d arrived at a script first, with a bit of a hole where an idea should be.

I suspect this is because a) that’s what the ad agency is good at and b) that seems to be the way clients have been conditioned to think about ideas.

I find this surprising.

That, despite everything changing weekly before our very eyes, it’s the script that still wields so much power.

I’ve written before about how it’s a brilliant way of establishing with consumers what the brand stands for.

And I get that people who work at brands can rely on it as a way of articulating the brand for themselves.

But I think this is a bad thing.

The main problem is that it makes for a pretty cosmetic level of integration.

A focus on a TV script means other channels are assessed on how well they can translate elements of the ad, not the idea. At best it’s the message that carries over; at worst all they have to go on is ‘look and feel’.

Second, it means logistically everything gets concentrated into the production timings for TV creative.

Because everyone’s focused on getting that done on time, nothing new can enter the frame, and there’s little time and effort made for more participative stuff that might bring the campaign to life elsewhere.

So the net effect of the script-first approach is to generate superficial, executional integration at the pace of the medium that has the most involved and time-consuming production process.

Shallow brand experiences that take a lot of laboured effort to get out of the door.

Shallow and laboured.

Anybody work with or for clients who actually say they want that?

Didn’t think so.

The script-first model is broken. BBH understand this. Most campaign development doesn’t get close to the marketing singularity Mel advocates – the moment when the message becomes indivisible from the product or service the consumer is interacting with.

Shallow and laboured is not good when culture is accelerating as fast as it is, and when people expect a deeper and more authentic experience with brands and services (at least those that they value).

You need to move quickly.

So then: instead of shallow and laboured, how about decisive and deep?

Being decisive about what the brand stands for – what the idea is – makes it easier to commit to stuff that comes your way. And going deep within the equity of the brand to develop a positioning means you can articulate something in your comms that didn’t start with a brief to the ad agency.

Now, my spirits aren’t often raised either by TV sponsorship, or indeed by Britain’s Got Talent, but there was something reassuring about the decisive nature with which Virgin Media could announce, a week after appointing BBH, that the agency would be making the idents for their  sponsorship of BGT.

The intent to do something like this must have been in train for some time. Big properties like that come up infrequently, and they go quickly. Which means the ad agency either needs to be on board or prepared to meet the challenge. You have to be ready to pounce, and the move suggests the brand knows where it’s going , and that the property fits with something bigger or deeper that the brand is aiming for next year.

Whatever that is, you can see the lengths that Virgin Media is prepared to go to – changing the logo doesn’t come easily to any brand, but it’s interesting to see it being done in time for a year when being British will attract some sort of deeper, if intangible, meaning for a while.

This isn’t particularly progressive stuff, but it does show a way that being decisive and deep could help us avoid the script-first model, and ultimately help us have ideas that are about more than just the way they are executed.

And if agencies aren’t acting like this is important, who will?

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