Creativity Vs. Formula

I've been stewing on a question Ben Kunz posed on Twitter last week: If advertising works, why don't marketers simply replay old media plans and ad creative?

As would be expected, the question generated some lively debate about the role of creativity and the need for "freshness" in advertising. Many great points were made about how the mind needs to be "surprised" to pay attention and that new and unexpected communications are required to shock the audience into embracing your message.

I agree with much of what was said. Running the same plan and the same targeting and the same creative year in and year out is bound to generate diminishing returns over time for most businesses. That's why adjectives like "nimble" and "agile" are always being applied to business today. You need to respond to a constantly changing market with messaging and placement that is meeting your customer's needs.

But is this always true?

The Roto-Rooter Factor

As we were debating all this, suddenly a jingle came into my head:

Roto-Rooter, that's the name,
And away go troubles down the drain.

If you played the link, it's absolutely clear that they've been running a version of the same jingle for 50 years. The plan is simple too. It's usually an ad buy that runs during weekend or late-night programming. Nothing changes here. And presumably it's been very effective.

The point is that change and freshness in our marketing is not always appreciated by the consumer, nor is it always necessary. Using Roto-Rooter as an example, we see a service that you may use (hopefully) not more than once or twice in a lifetime. There's no need to "shock" a customer into paying attention so you're top of mind the next time they go to the store. You don't need to come up with fancy promotions and funny ads that they can mentally reference when they see your beer in the display case. What you need is that jingle, so ingrained in the minds of individuals, that when the one time in a customer's life rolls around where hair balls have backed up the main drain from the house they will think of nothing but that song and call a Roto-Rooter plumber.

A Balancing Act

Agencies and their clients tend to evaluate their stature and effectiveness by the level of creativity they bring to the table. It's all about the "next big idea" and forward thinking rules the day. But the best agencies know that behind the scenes there is a constant balancing act between what must stay consistent and what needs to be refreshed. A solid brand requires some things remain familiar. Whether it's a logo, a tone of voice, a tagline or a cute character, a brand depends on this equity being built over time. 

Where some agencies and their clients get off track, however, is when the pressure to be "new" outweighs the need to establish consistency. Some products and service simply demand endless repetition. Think of all the different ad campaigns churned out in the pest control space over the last few years. They've had robots and superheros and talking walls. Now try to match the ads to the brands. I don't know about you, but the only name that comes to mind is Terminix, because their name says, "Terminates" and "Termites." I can't tell you which ad is theirs for certain. 

Now some might say that my lack of differentiation is because the ads in this space aren't good. I would disagree, though. The ads have all be excellent. It's the audience attention that is lacking. We simply don't like to think about pests until we need help with getting rid of pests. So no matter how creative the ad is, we simply aren't paying that much attention to the message.

So looping back, this is a perfect example where repetition would serve better. Sure, it gets old and boring and will probably be mocked. It certainly won't win awards or secure that next marketing post at a bigger brand. But it would work. Because repetition here would solidify a name in the customer's mind so that the next time they need you, they will think of you first. 

And this doesn't just apply to small, local market services like plumbers and exterminators. This is also why car spots always end on a shot of the face plate or why McDonald's always has the golden arches on a field of red. It all comes down to finding that right balance between the "new" and the "familiar."

So my question for you today: Have you found the right balance in your marketing? If not, then it's time to re-evaluate and make sure your message is not sacrificing brand equity for a white washing of creative self-satisfaction.

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