Stop Trying To Solve The Client’s Problem
It’s been a while since I really went off on a fundamental aspect of the advertising business, but after sitting through a deluge of piss-poor creative briefs, the time has come. And it has been a long time coming.
Let’s start with a scenario.
The client, let’s call them Amalgamated Durables, sets up a meeting with your agency. Specifically, the account director, hopefully the creative director, and maybe even the owners (having the owners there can be good, or really fucking bad).
After the usual introductory bullshit and ass kissing, the client gets down to brass tacks. And it is at this point you get to the meat and taters of the meeting. What’s the client thinking? Do they have a great new product or service? Do they want a launch campaign? Do they want something revolutionary?
The client will lay it out on the table, and the agency representatives will, hopefully, probe for the details. And then the agency kicks into gear, with a creative brief that will address the problem at hand and the direction the creatives should head in.
These days, it seems to be the client’s fucking problem. And 99% of the time, that is the wrong approach.
Here are a few examples of problems I have seen in the last few months, both at my own place of work, and from other places that reached out and touched me in that way ad folks tend to do. OK, they were venting.
“We need to penetrate the marketplace and gain at least 5% market share.”
“Consumer opinion of the latest widget has been poor. Its image needs revamping.”
“Sales are down. Please create a campaign to boost 4th quarter income.”
“Apple is kicking our ass. Let’s kick Apple’s ass.”
“People don’t like this new flavor, and we invested $2 million in it.”
“No one knows who the fuck we are!”
The savvy among you will know why that’s wrong. If you’re a moronic account executive who thinks these are legitimate problems to solve, please do us all a favor and find a job in another industry. Maybe one that involves food service or bar work.
If you're in the creative department and think they are problems you can solve, bang your head against the wall a few times. Then, pity yourself for having rotten agency experiences and awful mentors.
Those are not problems that need to be stated. They can be listed in background information, or “other considerations.” But they are not problems your advertising should be solving.
Your advertising needs to solve the CONSUMER’S PROBLEM.
Sorry for the awful use of caps, but I had to. It came over me like an ocean of jizz at a bukkake competition.
So, what’s the consumer’s problem?
It’s something that can be solved by the client’s product or service. That’s the problem you have to solve, and it should always be the first place to start.
Consumer problems include:
“My phone bill is too damned high.”
“This itchy asshole is killing me. And I wiped. ‘Roids!”
“I don’t have much time to clean my shitty house.”
“Just once I’d like an energy drink that doesn’t taste like battery acid.”
“My 401k looks about as healthy as a Steve Jobs did before he kicked the bucket.”
“I hate my fucking job.”
Ah, I hear what some of you are saying. Sometimes, there’s no problem to solve. Like selling Pepsi or chips or flights. Or, the consumer problem could be solved by your product or service, but also every competitor’s out there.
That’s when you dig deeper and find out why your product would be a better fit for the consumer than the one they have, or the others on the market.
Pepsi is sweeter than Coke. Maybe Coke would be a better choice. The chips you’re eating right now don't have the flavor burst you’re looking for. XYZ airlines doesn’t charge a baggage fee. Or it has more flights to different destinations.
You’ll find it. And you can use it to create a problem you can then solve. Yes, I did just say that. Create a problem for the consumer, then solve it. This is a basic advertising premise that has always been a part of our industry.
But what you cannot do is dive headfirst into a project that is trying to solve the client’s problem. Their problems are always the same.
We want more sales.
We want more buzz.
We want more customers.
We want less bad press.
Blah, fucking, blah. We know. Every creative knows. And seeing these stated as the problem to solve is about as useful as telling coal miners they need to dig for coal.
No shit, Sherlock.
Felix is a site contributor, ranter and curmudgeon for The Denver Egotist. He’s been in the ad game a long time, but he’s still young enough to know he doesn’t know everything. If he uses the f-bomb from time-to-time, forgive him. Sometimes, when you're ranting, no other word will do. In his spare time, he does not torture small animals. He's been known, on occasion, to drink alcohol by the gallon. Do as he says, not as he does.