When I first got into the ad biz and during my college studies the big thing that was repeatedly hammered into my young, impressionable mind was the need for every ad and ad campaign to have a "concept."
A concept was that big idea, that creative aha that would simultaneously capture the consumer's attention and drive home a key benefit of the brand being advertised. And in the world of interruption based marketing, that makes sense. And to a lesser degree, today, it still does.
But here is the rub. Here is the big thing that I think many of my fellow advertising folk haven't quite figured out. In the world of social media and web based marketing, you don't need a concept. Why? Because social and by and large digital isn't an interruption based communication platform. It's invitation based. In fact, you could say that with DVR's, Satellite Radio, etc., that all advertising is quickly becoming invitation based.
So in an invitation based communication environment, a concept is no longer necessary. If I'm on a brand website, I'm there because I want to be there. I've either clicked on an ad, a link on a search result or maybe I typed in the URL myself. If I'm clicking on your content (pics, videos, audio files) I'm doing so because I think there is something there that is going to inform or entertain me. Likewise, if I choose to watch your ad on TV vs fast-forwarding my DVR, I think I'm going to get 30 seconds of value -- again, info or entertainment. Not 30 seconds of "concept" where the ad is basically focused on trying to get me to understand your clever "concept" in hopes that it will forever drill the key benefit into my not so impressionable mind and win you some award. And if I Fan you on Facebook or Follow You on Twitter, I'm not looking for a concept, I'm truly inviting a conversation.
This may not sound like a big deal but actually it is a herculean change for ad folks, especially those in the creative realm. It fundamentally changes how they do what they do. It requires a complete rewiring of the circuits to achieve. So if you read this blog and you're in that space, do yourself a favor and stop focusing on what the concept is and start focusing on what you're going to do to create conversation both offline and online. It won't happen overnight but it needs to happen I think in order to stay up with the changes going on all around us.
Instead of a concept, focus on the consumer. Not all consumers, just those that might be in the market for what you've got to sell. Because in an invitation world, I'm not spending time with anyone that I don't really need to, I'm too busy.
So get a really good idea of your consumer and then think about the role that each medium you're creating for will have in the purchase process. If you're doing TV, well that is likely going to be a big awareness driver. Research has shown you have about 3 seconds to get a consumer into your TV spot. So forget some big set up concept, instead, make sure that first impression gives me a reason to stop the DVR fast-forward and pay attention to the next 27 seconds. Then tell me something I didn't already know and/or entertain me or in some other way reward me for my 30 seconds. But make the spot about the product/brand, not about figuring out your "concept."
If you're doing print - think like a writer. Give me a reason to read your ad. They say folks won't read long copy ads. That's kind of bullshit if you ask me. For heavens sake, their reading a magazine or newspaper so by default they've shown a willingness to read long form. What we should be saying is that folks won't read bad long-form ads. But then, folks won't read bad long-form stories either... they just skim that story and move on to the next. So take advantage of your platform. If you've got a full-page, consider using it. If you can drive home the point in a meaningful, impactful and memorable manner without lots of words, do so. But again, don't leave the consumer trying to figure out your clever concept. They have neither the time nor inclination.
In short, where offline advertising is concerned, seems to me everything we do should either create conversation or commerce -- that is stimulate a purchase off the ad or spot being seen. If that is not or cannot be done (high involvement purchases for instance) then advertising's role is to begin the conversation. And each piece of the campaign (tv spot, print ad, radio spot) shouldn't just be the concept executed in that medium. No, they each should be designed to maximize their conversation creation ability given the limitations and power of the specific medium. Each piece should invite, provoke or entice the consumer to enter into a conversation about or with the brand at the office, with their friends or better yet, on the web or via social networks. And once we get folks onto that website or into our social community, we have to talk to them and to quickly find out why they are there, what they hope to accomplish and then give it to them as quickly as possible. So don't concept a website, architect it. Don't just push offers to your fans and followers ask them questions. Learn from them and truly figure out if your product/brand can make their lives better. If so, then hopefully you'll move from conversation to commerce in short order.
Disagree? I hope you do. After all, debate is the father of all knowledge. So shout it out for all of us to see. I know not everyone will agree with this post so let's get it on in the comments section! Bring it baby... feeling feisty today ;-)