London: Some time ago, just after the release of Spiderman 3, I visited a public toilet somewhere in central New York. As I entered, I noticed a gap in the long line of urinals. One was missing. Strange, I thought. Then something caught my eye. The urinal wasn’t missing at all. It was, well, elevated. There it was, hanging from the ceiling and beside it, on the wall, was a message: Spiderman 3 — Out now. I’ll never forget it.
Nor will I forget Tom Dickson from Blendtec chucking his iPhone into a household blender. He pressed the smoothie button and asked, “Will it blend?” (In case you’re curious — yes. It did blend!) Week after week, Dickson tested the blendability of such items, and the ultra powerful Blendtec blender managed to pulverize them all.
Starting over: Martin Lindstorm says a new approach could make all the difference to a brand
But I do tend to forget all those diet, car, insurance, bank, credit card, exercise equipment, who-knows-what commercials and infomercials. And, most banner ads, almost every billboard, and all those direct mails. They never even make it to my memory bank.
What makes the difference between these starkly different categories of communication — the magically memorable and the utterly forgettable? Are there any driving forces that could be common denominators for the success of the first category and the regrettable nature of the second group?
It happens that the blender ritual and the Spiderman 3 installations were created by companies with severe budget restraints. And, in neat contrast, the mass of endless “infomercials” and bland advertisements emanate from companies with nicely fixed media budgets.
It is interesting to see that very few companies which enjoy generous budgets come up with memorable ideas. In fact, a comfortable budget seems to dilute their imaginative resources. Sometimes a big marketing budget puts the brakes on creative thinking.
Now, I know every marketing director reading this will curse the suggestion, but here goes: Cut your marketing budget by half. Throw your marketing plan in the bin and start all over.
You’ll be forced to be creative. Suddenly, you won’t be able to comfortably do what you did last time. Maybe, what you’ve always been doing.
When you have the budget to carry on as before, along a seemingly safe path, why change the approach? But that safe path is more likely to be a rut you can’t get out of. You recycle old ideas, reuse media plans, imagine you’re breathing life into expired thoughts. This can tire a brand to the point of stagnation.
As my dad always said, if you follow the leader’s tracks in the snow, you’ll never get ahead of him.
So, what’s the trick to starting afresh? Be prepared to seriously start over and set strategies to keep your brand from falling into that rut.
Here are some ideas to kick start your new approach:
1. I’ll bet a lot of your budget is dedicated to activities that no one has ever questioned. Like ads in Yellow Pages, your annual catalogue, or some ongoing sponsorship that has more to do with the boss’ passion than relevant brand-building. Starting over means all over. So, no holy cows here. Right from the start, secure a mandate to throw out what’s not working, and introduce what does work.
2. Cutting your marketing budget by half also means that your current advertising agency may be too expensive. Or too conservative, because you’ve forced them into that rut. So, examine their potential. Can they achieve that great thinking, or do you need to find a new creative partner?
3. Great ideas can be cheap and accessible. Initiatives like Bootb.com make it possible to seek and buy great ideas — online. The process is simple: post your brief, receive creative ideas from creative professionals and untested amateurs from all over the world. You only need one great idea to crack it.
4. Use media channels in non-traditional ways. Billboards are flat, so go 3D. Banner ads are passive, so make them interactive. TV ads are glossy, so make them imperfect. If you really want to spend your money on traditional media, approach it unconventionally.
I’m sure you’ll strike obstacles and roadblocks on your way out of the rut. But the creativity you seek is a matter of daring. So, if this prospect makes you uncomfortable, it may be time to shake off the yoke of conservatism, leap out of the rut, and cut your marketing budget by half.
Martin Lindstrom is a globally renowned branding expert and author of BRANDchild and BRANDsense.