#200 In which our hero discusses an odd project
We have a presentation coming up next month. It’s a little strange… we are proposing a co-promotion between a major national retailer and a major food manufacturer. Since this is still in the planning phase (even though we should be well past that point, more on that in a moment) it’s not kosher for me to divulge the actual companies. Well, since this is an un-authorized blog, it’s probably never going to be okay for me to discuss work things. But to understand the rest, you need at least an idea of how these companies work together (or don’t).
So, for the sake of this post, let’s say one of the companies is SuperCuts, a national chain of cheap hair cut joints. And let’s say the other one is Breyers, the ice cream company. Again, these are NOT the actual companies we’re pitching, but just placeholders for the following tale of woe.
My agency already does a little business with SuperCuts (not really, but just follow along), but we’re not the agency of record (I’ve discussed the boring details of advertising before). So we have a relationship of sorts with them. We’ve never done work with Breyers, but we’d like to. So that sets the stage.
At some point, some account executive got the bright idea that we should do a co-promotion between the two. Because what goes together more naturally than hair cuts and ice cream, right?
If you’re like me, you first thought was, “Huh? Cheap hair cuts and ice cream?” Far as I can figure, it went down something like this: we work with SuperCuts, but we’d love a bigger piece of their business. We don’t work with Breyers, but would love to add their business to our portfolio. So why not propose a co-promotion between the two, effectively killing two birds with one stone?
Apparently the plan was to go to SuperCuts and say, “Hey! You know who would make a great promotional partner? Breyers! You should totally talk to them!” Then, while everyone in the room was nodding, we’d go to Breyers and say, “Hey! You know who would make a great promotional partner? SuperCuts! You should totally talk to them!” And then we’d facilitate a meeting between the two, they’d develop a mutually beneficial program, and we’d be heroes.
But, what really happened is that when this idea was floated to SuperCuts, they responded by saying, “Breyers, huh? That does should interesting. Do you have a program in mind?” And then, our account executive, not having planned any further than just getting everyone together in the same room, bullshitted his way through the rest of the meeting. “Um, a program? Um… sure! Yeah, we do. Boy, do we ever! We have a program like you wouldn’t believe! Why doesn’t we get back together in, say, three weeks and we’ll show you our kick-ass plan?”
And then he scuttled back to the office as quick as he could and came to the creative department and said, “Holy shit! We need to develop a SuperCuts/Breyers plan right now!”
And that’s where I came in.
Granted, the situation is a little messed up, but that’s really what the creative department gets paid for: coming up with great creative solutions on the fly. Three weeks was really pushing it though; it takes time to think up the idea, consider all the production/media issues, design a look, and mock up some props that will express the feel of the final promotion.
And it doesn’t help that we’re talking about two businesses which don’t really seem to be a natural fit.
I mean, it’s not like we’re proposing a SlimFast/Jelly Belly cross-promotion, that wouldn’t make any sense. But haircuts and ice cream? If you think about it for a moment, maybe it does make a kind of sense. SuperCuts, being a price-driven business, works on a lot of kids. Kids who don’t always want to go get their hair cut. But what if they could get a gift certificate for free ice cream as a reward? That might make it a little easier on the parents. And if you’re a harried mom looking for a quick haircut for your kid (and you know it’s going to be a fight) which would you choose: the cheap place that gives you nothing but a haircut or the cheap place that gives you a haircut AND ice cream coupons? Right, no-brainer.
And if you go a little deeper with the concept… what if you actually installed little freezers right in SuperCuts so you could sell ice cream novelties right then and there? You’d probably drum up more haircut business, and you’d sell more ice cream, even to adults. So both SuperCuts and Breyers benefit.
Again, we’re not really talking about SuperCuts and Breyers, but it’s that same sort of “WTF? Are you kidding? Hmm… maybe this could work…” thing.
So we started work. And here’s the big thing to remember: we don’t have enough time to do this right. I mean, in advertising you rarely have all the time you need, but this was pretty extreme, especially considering the level of presentation the AEs wanted.
And it quickly grew frustrating. Given this “I don’t know how it works, it’s YOUR job to figure it out” attitude, I pulled a couple of concepts out of my ass. Things that looked decent on paper. But many of then, for a variety of reasons, weren’t executable. And no-one on the team hesitated to tell me why they wouldn’t work, but didn’t offer any sort of solution as to how to make them work, or suggest something else that would work better. So I wrote concept after concept, just to have them shit on again and again.
Finally, we had two concepts that were pretty strong, seemed to make sense and touch on the hot buttons for both companies. Things seemed to be running smoothly, until the lead AE on the account says, “I really think we need one more concept.”
Here’s the thing: this happens all the time in advertising. You might think that the best course of action would be to develop one kick-ass idea and really put all your best people behind it. But, clients are fickle. There’s always the chance that they might torpedo it for some unforeseen reason. Like, if you present a promotional idea that relies on a heavy radio schedule… then the client tells you they don’t like radio. They may have no logical reason for dismissing radio, but if that’s all you got, then you’re screwed.
So agencies generally like to go in with a couple concepts, three being a popular number. It’s a bullshit apologist approach, if you ask me, and seems to force an agency to present several decent ideas instead of one great one. But that’s what clients expect right now, like it or not.
Anyway, I’m working with a designer on looks, etc., when we have another meeting Thursday. Keep in mind that the actual presentation is the following Wednesday, giving us only three days to hammer everything out. At this meeting, the lead AE again voices his opinion that we need a third concept. So he starts spitting out ideas… “What if it’s a radio call-in promotion? Or something to do with ice cream in the grocery aisle? Or…”
And generally, it’s fine to be throwing ideas out like that, but Jesus Christ we only have three days to finish what we have, do we really need to invent another idea just so we reach a magical number? At this point, we should be waaay past proposing completely new ideas.
I wasn’t happy.
But I write up his idea, and even as I’m doing so I’m thinking this will never fucking work. And when I shoot it out to the team for comment, lo and behold media shoots it full of holes. Like I knew they would.
So I’m facing a long weekend of trying to finalize things, and I’ve already called The Scientist to tell her that there was no way that I could drive to Maryland to visit the in-laws this weekend as planned, when I was saved by the deus ex machina; the client called to cancel the meeting.
It’s been rescheduled for next month. Since then, far as I can tell, work has ground to a complete halt. Everyone is busy with other projects (myself included) and probably hasn’t given it a second thought since the meeting was rescheduled.
I mean, why should we take advantage of this extra time when we could sit on it and do nothing for weeks?
To be continued.