This is a guest post by Jeff Swystun, Chief Communications Officer at DDB Worldwide, based in New York.
Jeff is responsible for growing the influence and value of the DDB brand. He leads internal & external communications, knowledge management & intellectual capital, and is Dean of Catalyst, DDB’s university. A prolific speaker and writer, Jeff has spoken at over 80 conferences in over 25 countries. He is the editor of The Brand Glossary (now in 4 languages), The Brand Marketers Report, Best Global Brands, Best Canadian Brands, Best Chinese Brands, author of many white papers including Brand Consistency, Adopting a Professional Services Mindset, Capturing Opportunities in Challenging Times, Catalysts for Branding, and Global Branding, along with columns in marketing journals. Jeff appears on CNBC, ABC, NBC, CNN, CTV, CBC and BBC television and radio. CNBC refers to him as a “marketing maven” and both Nightly Business Report and the Business News Network call Jeff a “branding guru”. He is a branding and marketing expert for the Society of Industry Leaders, a DMI member, and sits on an advisory panel of a leading global strategy consultancy. Follow Jeff on Twitter: @jeffswystun.
“Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum. The creative person looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport.” Robert Wieder
Some of the most successful brands and their marketing can be attributed to a very straightforward but powerful theory that has been proven time and again. It argues that the most effective and enduring communications are born from single, simple insights into human behavior. Insights so simple, in fact, that once revealed we react by saying, “that must already exist” or “why didn’t I think of that”.
Think circa 1851 - when in Moby-Dick there is the tale of one of the characters strapping his sea-chest to a wheelbarrow but then, not knowing how to maneuver the barrow gathers the whole assembly and carries it.
Fast forward to the 1970's when wheels appear on traditional suitcases. This is attributed to Bernard Sadow when he tugged the odd looking prototype into Macy’s in 1972. The luggage buyer ridiculed him saying no one would want to drag their luggage but was soon over ruled by a sharper, more travel-savvy Vice President.
For Mr. Sadow, inspiration had come one day in 1971 when he was lugging a large suitcase through customs and a man breezed by towing heavy machinery on a dolly. This led him to develop the technology whereby travelers could pull their luggage by a leash. And sure these poorly balanced suitcases toppled over en masse in airports and train stations but still it was a huge improvement over the technology that had remained largely unchanged for centuries. He demonstrated that an insight comes from acute observation and deduction.
Now we move to 1989, because it takes a further 17 years to improve on leashed luggage, when Northwest Airlines pilot Bob Plath develops the roll-aboard suitcase for flight crews. It soon spawns wheels on everything. I spend a great deal of time flying and I continue to marvel at roller luggage – a simple idea that has had such impact. In fact, if you think about the word “luggage” it connotes “to lug”, to be uncomfortable, to be a human beast of burden. It took us a long time to shatter that notion.
So you see, the best insights are the simplest ones. The ones that once introduced blend into our day to day consciousness with nary a ripple. They are so smooth in adoption that we feel like they have always been there.
Insights are interesting in isolation but their real purpose is to solve a problem. And in business, certainly in marketing, that usually equates to creating demand. One of our clients at DDB, The Swedish Army, had a demand problem. After 200 years, Sweden ended its mandatory military recruitment policy. For the first time in history, the armed forces needed to attract recruits – which was rather tough given its image as a playground for no-brain bullies.
DDB in Stockholm developed a truly integrated campaign to attract potential officers to the armed forces and improve their image by asking a simple question: “Have you got what it takes?”
The campaign allowed potential officers to answer that question for themselves through a series of interactive tests. The website was the hub of the campaign with traffic driven through print, interactive web banners and direct mail and TV. Also direct mail pieces were sent to prospective recruits containing a puzzle and a note which read: “You are chosen. Call this number for further instructions”. After dialing the number, they would hear instructions that they had 40 seconds to complete the puzzle and enter the code shown to stop the countdown.
If they completed this challenge they were instructed to bring the puzzle into a dark room where they could read the message that their recruitment had begun and were directed to the website for further instructions. It only took a matter of days for the site to start picking up visitors.
Inspired by the real tests recruits take when applying for pilot training, people could find out on the web if they had what it takes to be an officer. Using headphones, the experience created the feeling that the instructor was right there in the room with the test taker. While completing tests on memory, multi-tasking, spatial thinking and concentration, participants could see how they compared with others, particularly any friends that may have challenged them to the test.
The site had over 360,000 visitors and 180,000 completed the tests with over 70,000 hours of interactivity. And that in a country with only 9 million inhabitants. In one month, there were more applications than in the whole previous year.
The insight appealed to brain over brawn while avoiding the relevant but too often tapped message of national pride and duty. The Swedish campaign resonated with the target market of problem solvers not problem makers so you not only get quantity you also attract a different caliber of recruit.
No one has a monopoly on good ideas and the same can be said for uncovering insights. However, it does take focus and dedication. I want to close by posing two questions to you. Whether you are a marketer, a graphic designer, whatever you do – we are all communicators. And as communicators, you will do better by your clients, your audiences and yourselves, if you challenge yourself and your work by asking…
How insightful are you and how inciteful are you?
Does your work prompt new thinking? Will it change the way people think? Is it creative solely for creative sake or does it solve a problem or advance an argument? Does it help your client sell more, more often, to more people, at a higher price? Does it improve our world?
There was a great line from Mad Men where the Creative Director, Don Draper, critiques some copy and offers the copywriter the following advice, “Stop writing for other writers”. Meaning be relevant to the consumer and engage them with powerful insights executed with brilliance both strategically and creatively.
So I encourage you to look at things from fresh angles, examine problems from other perspectives, seek inspiration from other industries, from the animal kingdom, from science, from science fiction. Uncover the insights that incite and you will find yourself in a rarified and exciting place. But do not be surprised that once you identify and implement that particularly amazing insight that people say, “wasn’t that done before” or “that’s not new” because as Arthur Koestler said, “The more original a discovery, the more obvious it seems afterwards.”
Chief Communications Officer