The first order of business working on a project is to write down the truest thing you can say about your product or brand. You need to find the central truth about your brand and about the whole category – the central human truth.
It’s unlikely the truest thing will be mentioned on the client brief. But you can hear it being talked about on blogs or read it in the customer reviews on Amazon. Sometimes the truest thing is what the client wants to say; more often, it’s not. Products are the clients’ children and it’s no surprise they want to talk about its amazing grades and how it’s captain of the football team.
Bringing truth into the picture, however, is the single best thing an ad agency can do for a brand. The agency can bring an objective assessment of a brand’s strengths and weaknesses and if it’s a good agency, they’ll discover a brand’s most relevant truth and then bring that alive for people.
This is not a science and we all see different truths in a brand, but more often than not, we’ll agree when someone hits on a real truth. Here are four brands and my personal perspective on the truest things about each one.
• Krystal burgers: I’m not sure it’s food, but I want 24 of them.
• Crocs: The client will say “comfortable.” Correct answer is “ugly.”
• eHarmony: “If anyone finds out we met online, we will both just DIE .”
• Canadian Club: Isn’t that the old school rotgut that dads drink in the basement while watching hockey?
Here’s the weird part. Clients will spend massive amounts of time and money to uncover these brand truths and then – frightened by the results – proceed to cover them all back up with B.S. (“Let’s put some lipstick on this pig.”) But marketing sleights-of-hand are kinda like the garage mechanic coming out to tell you, “Well, I couldn’t fix the brakes so I made your horn louder.”
Clients will often deny these truths and cling tenaciously to what they want you to believe about their brand. The problem is they don’t own the brand and they don’t own the truth: customers do. So it isn’t surprising what happened, for example, when Las Vegas tried to rebrand itself as a “family-friendly” destination in the mid ‘90s – huge fail. Fortunately, R&R Partners came along and helped the client tell the truth: the city is One Big Bad-Ass Party. And “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” came to life.
There are ads to be written all around the edges of any product. But we’ll be talking about getting to the ideas written right from the essence of the thing. In Hoopla, Alex Bogusky was quoted, “We try to find that long-neglected truth in a product and give it a hug.” Notice he said they find this truth, they do not invent it. Because nobody can’t invent truth. The best ideas are truth brought to light in fresh, new ways.
Remember, we’re talking about truth here, not what a client or a creative director wants you to say. Amir Kassaei, CCO of DDB Worldwide, put it this way:
Our [industry’s] only reason for existence is to find or create a relevant truth – and, to be honest, not only to the people we’re talking to and want to sell something to, but to ourselves. Great ideas that change behaviour happen only when they’re based on a relevant truth. That’s when they make an impact on societies and cultures and add value to people’s lives. But as people get more connected and live a more advanced lifestyle, they’ll be more critical of bullshit. People know more than ever, faster than ever. And that is a great thing because it will force us to be more critical of bullshit. As an industry, we have to stop falling into the trap of phoney ideas, of superficial gloss that looks great in an awards jury room but does not matter in the real world.
So there you go: that is one of the smartest things I ever learned about advertising. Interestingly, getting to the truest thing is essential in any kind of creative enterprise, whether you’re making a painting, an ad, or a music video. But I digress.
Mark Fenske, Veteran Copywriter