Marketing Talent Inc

What Comes First: The Media Choice Or The Creative Idea?

When I started in marketing, way back in the mid 90s, life was a little simpler because the media and the creative were both under one agency roof.  The meetings were simple:  you’d see your various TV script options, give some feedback and then the room would go silent and the account person would say “now let’s look at the media plan” and the media person would take you through a 15 page presentation on where else the idea of your TV script could go. You’d see some magazine, OOH and even some sampling idea.  There was no internet advertising yet.

Then one day, our media folks from our agency were spun off, had a new name, moved offices and had a new President.  But still owned by WPP.  It now just meant we had two presentations and the Brand Leader now had to make sense of things and try to piece it together. About a year into that new relationship, I was sitting there confused and asked the question: ”So what comes first, the media choice or the creative idea?”  The room went silent for about 5 minutes.  Then of course both sides talked over each other, both saying it was them that came first.

Media is an investment against your strategy and creative is an expression of your strategy.  But both media and creative are only useful if they connect with consumers.  Great advertising must connect through very insightful creative that expresses the brand’s positioning and told in a way that matters to those who care the most. And yet, great adverting must be placed within the consumers’ life where it will capture their attention and motivate them in the expressed desired way to meet the strategy.  So really, the consumer comes first and strategy comes second.  But media and creative need to work to jointly capture the consumer and deliver the strategy.  

The Problem now rests with Brand Leaders.  While one could theoretically argue that if the Big Idea of the advertising is so big, it should work in every medium, that’s just not true in reality.  Some ideas just work better in certain mediums.  And yet the media people could also theoretically argue that if you go for the most efficient and effective media option, the media will do the work for you. That’s also not true. It’s too bad that ad agencies broke apart.  Because agencies could make a lot more money if they continued to answer this question on behalf of their clients.


Here’s a solution for Brand Leaders

The three questions you always need to keep in your head at all times:  1) where is your consumer 2) where is your brand and 3) how does the creative idea work?


1.  Where is your consumer?

You should really understand who your consumer is, and who they are not.  You need to make sure you understand the insights about them, because it’s those insights within your creative that allow you to connect with them.  They’ll say “they get me”.  You should always be mapping out a day in the life of your consumer.  Get in their shoes and say “what does my consumer’s day look like and how will my message fit or interrupt their life?”  Take a “be where they are approach” to your media.


2.  Where is the Brand?

First thing you have to do is consider where your brand is on the Brand Love Curve where brands go from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and all the way to Beloved.  At INDIFFERENT, it’s about announcement style such as mass media, LIKE IT becomes about separating yourself from the competition while LOVE IT and BELOVED you’ll start to see the growing importance of event marketing to core users or social media as a badge of honor to share with others.


3.  How does the Creative work?

The best advertising should draw ATTENTION, be about the BRAND, COMMUNICATE the main message and STICK in the consumers head long beyond the ad.

  • Attention:  You have to get noticed in a crowded world of advertising.  Consumers see 6000 ads per day, and will likely only engage in a few.  If your brand doesn’t draw attention naturally, then you’ll have to force it into the limelight.
  • Branding:  Ads that tell the story of the relationship between the consumer and the brand will link best.  Even more powerful are ads that are from the consumers view of the brand.  It’s not how much branding there is, but how close the brand fits to the climax of the ad.
  • Communication:  Tapping into the truths of the consumer and the brand, helps you to tell the brand’s life story. Keep your story easy to understand. Communication is not just about what you say, but how you say it—because that says just as much.
  • Stickiness:  Sticky ads help to build a consistent brand/consumer experience over time.   In the end, brands are really about “consistency” of the promise you want to own.  Brands have exist in the minds of the consumer.

slide16But in the reality of advertising, not every ad execution will be able to do all four of the ABC’S.  When I’m in the creative room, I try to think about which of the two ABC’S are the most critical to my strategy.  If it’s a new product, I need Attention and Communication, if it’s in a competitive battle I need Brand and Communication, and if I’m the leader with a beloved brand, I need to make sure it’s about the Brand and it Sticks.


What I recommend you do:

I hold off on making any media decisions until I see the creative idea and how it is expressed in a few media options.  With all the potential media now available, I ask for 3 executions of each big idea.  I want to see it in:

        1. Video Version
        2. Billboard
        3. Long Copy Print

Sounds simple, but once I see all 3, it helps me to know that the idea has legs beyond one medium.  It also enables me to begin matching up creative elements to the most optimized media options on the table.

The “Video” ask would work in TV, movie theatre, viral video or even on a website.  The “Billboard” could be traditional billboard on on-line billboard, website cover or even on the back of a magazine.  The “Long Print” would help with a print ad, social media stories or even a blog on your website.

With 3 simple asks against each creative idea, I would cover off most of the traditional media options.  Now I can engage with the Media Agency, knowing how the creative idea would work against any of their recommendations.  I’ve done the work that the agency would have done back in the 1990s before they broke apart.


Client Media Math

While the media agency owns the media math that blows your mind, here is some simple client side media math.

  • Your production budget should be around 5-10% of your overall advertising plan.  If you have small budgets, that may creep up to 20%, but that’s it.  Every time you do a new piece of creative, the production dollars go up and the media dollars go down.  I’d recommend you focus on one main traditional media and have only one secondary option.  This keeps your spend focused.
  • When it comes to social media, keep in mind there is no free media options.  Instead of financial capital, you are now exhausting people capital.  Just like the traditional options, I would recommend one lead social media and one secondary focus.  Do not try to be all things to all people.
  • The other reason to focus is to ensure you do great executions and not just “ok”.  Pick the media that maximizes the power of the creative.  And don’t exhaust the team by spreading them against too many activities.
  • Allow 80 to 90% of your media spend be on the highly effective highly efficient media plan.  That means 10-20% of your media spend can now go against high IMPACT creative ideas that you know will break through.

Ask your creative team to deliver a Video, Billboard and Long Copy Print.

photo credit: zetson via photopin cc


Graham Robertson: I’m a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands. I love great TV ads, I love going into grocery stores on holidays and I love seeing marketers do things I wish I came up with. I’m always eager to talk with marketers about what they want to do. I have walked a mile in your shoes. My background includes CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke. I’m now a marketing consultant helping brands find their love and find growth for their brands.

Website: | Twitter: @grayrobertson1

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