Understanding Creative Strategy, part 3: The paradigm in the wild (advertising)

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The Paradigm

At the heart of our creative strategy model are the ‘marketing win conditions’ of Integrity, Relevance and Difference. I often refer to that part of the model as ‘The Paradigm’.

I use ‘paradigm’ because I believe it reflects one of the most prevalent and fundamental concepts in business and marketing. I admit that is an outlandish claim. Probably second only to attempting to create a unified model of creative strategy. But I stand by it.

A quick reminder: the paradigm defines how brands win in markets. Typically, they use aspects of their core competence to create a proposition for an audience that stands out from the alternatives (and against the general noise of the world). To do that, you need to get as close as you can to the audience (Relevance) and as far away from the rest (Difference). Often a balancing act. It’s deceptively simple.

(if you missed the visual summary, it’s here.)

Examples of the paradigm in advertising thinking

Here is a small collection of quotes and references that may sound different at first, but all reflect the same or quite similar three factors/aspects. This time we start with examples from Advertising and next time we’ll move beyond (it was too much for one post). Emphasises are mine.

  • Here’s a Stephen King (not the author, but “the godfather of planning”) explaining what makes brands successful in 1971: ‘First, it has to be a coherent totality, not a lot of bits. The physical product, the pack and all the elements of communication — name, style, advertising, pricing, promotions, and so on — must be blended into a single brand personality. Secondly, it has to be unique, and constantly developing to stay unique, because it is through its uniqueness that the brand can offer sustained profit margins. And the uniqueness will depend on both functional and non-functional values — appeals to the senses, the reason and the emotions. The added values beyond the functional may become increasingly important. Thirdly, this blend of appeals must be relevant to people’s needs and desires, and immediate and salient. It must constantly stand out from the crowd; it must spring to mind. This will not of course be a static thing. It will constantly have to develop and to take the initiative to avoid me-tooism. If the brand can have these three sets of attributes it will succeed, because retailers will need it as much as the public does. It will get its due distribution and display and be valued highly enough to build a good profit margin.’

It’s not in the same order, but these are the same elements. ‘Coherent totality’ = Integrity. ‘Has to be unique’ = Difference. ‘Relevant to people’s needs and desires’ = Relevance. (King also anticipates some recent marketing science. It’s a cool article overall.)

  • In his talks, Sir John Hegarty presents his own triangle. Here’s a screenshot from a talk he gave at SCA last year, one he uses frequently:

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Interestingly but not surprisingly, Sir John’s journey flows in an opposite direction to mine. He starts with memorable — which can easily be seen as playing the role of difference. Motivating — must tap into audience needs, wants, behaviours — all familiar relevance factors. And finally truthful which aligns with integrity. The different direction reflects the complementary perspectives of branding and advertising. Brand agencies tend to start with the Brand/Integrity aspect. (and research agencies with the Audience/Relevance aspect, but that’s for another time.)

  • Charles ‘Chaz’ Wigley, until recently Chairman of BBH Asia said: ‘Ads (and briefs and everything really) only need to be three things — true, distinctive, motivating. Thank you Heather Alderson Adam and eve DDB’.

By now I probably don’t even need to unpack, you can see it yourself. And we get two top agencies and two strategy leaders for the price of one.

So that’s three generations of advertising leaders all aligning on the same paradigm. But it keeps going:

  • Copywriting mentor and general force of nature Vikki Ross says about the most effective copywriting: ‘C is for copywriting. It’s also for consistent, considerate and confident. All the things brands should be as they communicate (another word starting with C) with their consumers (and another).’

Vikki’s mad language skillz in this quote alone aside — It’s not that far-fetched to see how ‘consistent’ is a part of integrity. ‘Consideration’ of the audience as an emotionally articulate way to establish relevance, and ‘confidence’ — to stand out, to be yourself, as difference.

  • Pete Cain, tells the students at SCA that to develop a strong proposition, they need to find ‘something true, insightful, relevant or unique.’ [or all].
  • Richard Russel talks about the best insights being driven by a ‘brand, product or human truth that is relevant’ and supports ‘thinking differently’ and ideas then bring the insight to life in an ‘impactful memorable way’.
  • Steve Harrison starts with identifying ‘problem/solution’ where many of his cases find a truthful core. And then calls for a ‘Relevant Abruption’ which is parallel to a relevant difference.

After a while, it feels almost like if we asked any practitioner or thought leader in advertising to choose three principles that good advertising or successful brands should follow, high chances they will mention at least two out of the three. Through parallel concepts or literally the same.

But it keeps going when you zoom out into some of the industry’s large scale research into brands.

  • In Y&R’s brand asset valuator, for a while, one of the world’s largest brand equity research efforts brand value = Vitality + Stature. Vitality/Strength is comprised of Differentiation and Relevance.
  • In Kantar’s Brandz, the current largest brand equity database (as far as I know) the middle layers of their model which is a pyramid going from ‘presence’ (‘I know about it’) to ‘bonding’ (‘nothing else beats it’), are ‘relevance’, ‘performance’ and ‘advantage’. The three questions they suggest to explain that middle? ‘Does it offer me something?’ [relevance] ; ‘Can it deliver?’ [they call it performance, but clearly, integrity, in the wide sense is responsible for the question of delivery, even more on a perception level]; ‘Does it offer something different than others?’ [difference]

The fat strategic bonus

Between the lines of those examples, you may be able to see one of the most useful things about this paradigm as a tool. You can use it both to stress-test an opportunity or a strategy before choosing it — ‘Can we do this with integrity, relevance and difference?’ (especially as opposed to other alternatives or compared to our competition) or use it to push your thinking further ‘Can we take this strategy and improve its integrity, relevance or difference?’.

Those questions are always useful. Always illuminating. Always pushing you forward. They are almost always integral to strategic thinking in marketing. So use them.

Next time, we’ll see that the paradigm makes guest appearances even in sister disciplines and beyond, and try to understand why. And then we could move to a tour of other marketing phenomena it can illuminate.

Sign up for the next part here.

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