This article was originally posted on The Manila Times on January 23, 2020.
THERE are good-looking ads that can win awards but cannot tickle products from the supermarket shelves on which they are moored. They will be pretty and produced expensively, but they are not the kind that shake trees and change minds, affect and infect people. But once in a very blue moon, an ad will make its product fly off the shelves and out of stores, and create out-of-stock headaches for its manufacturers.
Powerful ads are rare because they seldom survive the process of creation.
The people in the agencies I have led are indoctrinated and soused and marinated in what I call “aberrant advertising.” Aberrant advertising is creative work that is “in-your-face,” creative work that exploits every single second it is allowed use of.
Now, an aberrant idea terrifies everybody in the room where it is born. If an idea doesn’t scare the creators, it will be like one of those good-looking ads.
An aberrant idea must have a champion, for without one, someone who will say, “wait, wait, let’s give this a chance,” it will die, most assuredly. No matter how wild, impractical, no matter how small its chances of being approved, that idea deserves a discussion, or an argument.
Should it survive the room in which it was born, there are other rooms to contend with. In large ad agencies, they subject the idea to panel reviews, where people of other teams are invited to weigh in, with management in attendance. Quick and dirty research, or a focused group discussion (FGD) will be suggested.
The larger, the more aberrant the idea, the bigger the target; criticism will be harsher, opposition will be louder.
There will always be people who prefer the nice and pretty, what is fashionable or liked by the young, or what is in good taste today. Good taste is the norm established by many, applauded through years. If you create something of good taste, you may attain that distinction of being world class.
To beat the best of the world though, you must be aberrant.
When an idea is subjected to reviews, what survives is an ad shorn of stark and strong features. There will be attempts to shave or smoothen what juts out, to make it be more regular, more acceptable, to remove what is abrupt or surprising or loud. For Bonamil, we had infants swimming under water, naturally and gracefully, like they were meant to be under water. And they were naked. The story was sturdiness, Tibay sa Buhay. Reviews and FGDs would have engendered concerns about safety and credibility, and would have demanded clothing, floating devices, and the presence of adults swimming with them.
And that’s just from inside the agency.
When former finance secretary Ramon del Rosario Jr. asked to see speculative presentations for AsianBank, he wanted to change the then prevailing image of the firm, which was that of a small savings bank.
Our mechanism for eliciting aberrant ideas is to ask “Eh kung?” (what if?) followed by a wild thought, which we would then temper later.
Eh kung we tell the viewer to keep his regular bank? That he was going to need the network and the services of his bank? What if we told the viewer that should his needs become more complicated, he should consider AsianBank as “his other bank?” (What the campaign did, in effect, was pole-vault the new bank to being the “second bank” in the customer’s mind).
The agency is only as creative as the client will allow it. The bank client who allows himself to be positioned as “the other bank” is one amazing client.
We did not want to sell RiteMED, a brand of premium medicines, as cheaper medicines, we did not want to state the obvious. Eh kung we get angry; what if we scold the viewer, tell her that “it’s wrong to buy expensive medicines if there’s RiteMED? Tell her “Bawal ang mahal”?
The room most neglected in Philippine homes is the comfort room. If broken, the fixtures will remain broken. Inertia at rest is an obstacle: getting around to renovating and replacing old facilities is the hard part. Eh kung we told the homeowner that the bathroom is her “true living room”? That a comfortable bathroom like HCG allows one to linger, spend more time in, even do some thinking?
The tagline or creative expression is “I can live here,” and it is loved enough by HCG that it uses it abroad.
Magnolia chicken was telling customers that they didn’t have to pinch chilled chicken or smell them to check for freshness. Eh kung we dare tell the customer to do so? Tell them, “go ahead, ‘amuy-amuyin, pisil-pisilin’ (smell and pinch it),” because Swift Sariwanok is fresher chicken”? What if we go for the market leader, use their story, and use it to topple them?
Fear, fear of the big idea, is a hindrance to large, landmark success. The aberrant idea, in its infancy, when still unshaped, untempered, is easy to snuff out. Best to stay the hand, let the idea breathe, give it a chance, and do not try for consensus. In advertising, as in many disciplines that rely on judgement, one person has to own the problem, one person has to say, “no, this is scary, but we’re going with this big idea.”
The author is chairman of Estima, an ad agency dedicated to helping local industrialists and causes, and co-founder of Caucus Inc., a multi-discipline consultancy firm. He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.