Looking back

Prose & Cons looks back on 2007 and can’t wait for 2008. The past year has been relatively uninspiring from a marketing perspective, with many brands promising but not delivering. At the time of writing Australia still lacked a world-class high-speed broadband infrastructure, media networks were regularly shooting themselves in the foot trying to second guess their audiences and too much of the advertising produced was derivative and uninspiring. The childhood obesity crisis is still being blamed on marketers, who are also taking the heat for making children anorexic and image conscious.

The most memorable ad of the year was the Government’s ‘Work choices’ campaign, which, before you think I have totally lost the plot, was memorable because it made me reach for the remote control to change channels in world record time (please Guinness Book of Records, return my call!). Sadly, 2007 also saw the passing of Alan Morris, one of the greatest minds in Australian advertising history and probably the only person who could have taken a controversial product like workplace relations reform and made it into a hit.

Looking forward

Time once again for the official Prose & Cons crystal ball to be dusted off and consulted. What lies ahead in 2008 aside from a lot of slogans with the words ‘great’ and ‘08′ in them? While tempted to predict a sport marketing crisis involving drug allegations and Christmas displays appearing in stores in September, let’s be a bit more daring. All the banks will get together and save a fortune by making one generic ad that they can each add their logo to for the last two seconds. An airline will simplify its pricing strategy to one where there are only 6982 different pricing variations on a single route. It will become compulsory on every brand recall to blame a mysterious, unnamed overseas supplier. Three major brands will ‘refresh’ their logo and nobody will notice. And a clothing brand will launch a ‘controversial’ campaign and nobody will notice that either. Your mailbox will also have so many catalogues in it just before the now weekly ‘the sun will come up, the earth is round, we are running out of excuses sale’ that recycling bins will need to triple in size to cope, sparking the Government to SMS every Australian its new environment policy. Can’t wait!

Making data talk

One of Prose & Cons’ better consulting engagements was with a global firm who seemed very impressed with the data presented on its marketing operations. Asking where I had acquired such valuable information, it was surprised to learn it was from a different division of its own company. It proved, with great success, my point about needing a better system. Having information is one thing, knowing what to do with it, however, is the most important aspect. On this topic I recently attended a dinner where Doug Campbell, a data analytics expert with Deloitte, informally educated a group of leading marketers on the imperatives associated with analysing information. In academia we talk of ‘torturing data’ to make it talk and one suspects, from his experience, that Campbell would make a master interrogator. He also recommended a book, Competing on Analytics by Davenport and Harris, as a primer for the value of such insights. It’s a good read and any marketer would benefit from opening their mind to the systematic processes espoused. As a first step, however, I would suggest making a holiday read out of the highly entertaining and insightful Moneyball by Michael Lewis. The bestseller from 2004 is about US baseball, but you don’t need to be a fan to appreciate the lessons on thinking it offers.

By design

Great design is increasingly mandatory for a successful product. With so much choice and such an abundance of material to work with, there is no excuse for arguing that good design costs too much. Across most categories, even the usual price leader is boasting previously unthinkable design elements. Take a look at the Korean cars with their sleek European styling or the supermarket aisles full of snazzy packaging and eye-catching colours at everyday low prices. As brands work on their looks, so too do the advisers who are pitching the new communication. Creative agencies are focused on their own style more than ever before, working feverishly to look solid and successful enough for the traditional brands, yet suave and sophisticated for the emerging market. Relatively new creative outfit The Surgery (thesurgery.com.au) has adopted a retro approach in establishing its brand by launching an oversized reception magazine that aims to project its style in a tangible and unusual manner, which harks back to a time when life made more sense. Prose & Cons likes this approach because it follows my long held contention that when it comes to communication, the best style is the one that resonates with the target audience and their lifelong experiences – such as, in this case, flicking through a magazine in the various waiting rooms of life.