Joel Kelly's Blog

Joel Kelly's updates about his latest writing, his process, and his life as a Halifax-based author and marketer.

Don't just illustrate the brief: Making a better car ad.

In advertising, campaigns usually start with a "brief." Typically, it's written by an account manager — or a "planner" — who attempts to provide key facts for the creative team to use when making the ad. It usually contains information like:

  • Audience (who is the ad for?)
  • Main message (what's the one thing we want to communicate?)
  • Key insight (an irrelevant fact cherry-picked from research)
  • Background information (why this ad, and why now?)
  • Mandatories (stuff the client is making us include even though it doesn't make sense)

A good brief tells the creative team what they need to know. A bad brief tells the creative team what to create.

And a bad creative team (and accounts team), make an ad that's essentially just an illustration of the brief.

Here's an example I saw the other day of an ad that's an illustration of the brief:

Yes, I took this photo in a bar restroom.

Yes, I took this photo in a bar restroom.

You can imagine what the "insight" was: Buying a car is a key moment in a person's life. Millennials aren't buying many cars, though, these days. So let's tell them to buy a car before they get married or have kids.

Do you see the problem(s)? It's not an ad for this car. It's an ad for cars in general, sort of. Unless you're the only car maker (or this car is far and away the top car in the category), this doesn't help you. If this ad does anything, it will only be to make someone think about buying a car. Not this car.

But, of course, it won't even do that.

But it's easy to pick on this ad, and I'm sure the creative team were hamstrung in some way or another. But what about a world where they're not? If that's the "insight" we're stuck with, and we have to write an ad based on it, what would be a better concept?

Well, let's give it a shot. Let's apply a few rules of marketing we know:

  1. Unless you are the leader in your category by far, advertise your product, not the category
  2. If you are a competitor brand, position yourself in opposition to your competitors or the prevailing thought
  3. Make an impact (90% of advertising is ignored or not recalled)
  4. Communicate a single, key point
  5. Advertise to your most likely customers, not the longshots

We know that millennials are buying cars, but they are spending a lot less on them.

So our ad should:

  1. Explain why this car is better than other affordable cars
  2. Advertise longterm value, not price
  3. Have a catchy headline, and look different than other car ads
  4. Tell us something about this particular car
  5. Go after millennials that are buying cars, but affordable, practical cars
  6. Finally, understand that millennials don't have the same connection to cars that older generations do. A car doesn't mean "freedom" anymore. It's another thing you feel you have to do (like get married and have kids). Appeal to that.

The Civic Coupe is heavy on features, including their "Honda Sensing" technology. Some of the features, including its rear camera, are meant to help avoid hitting pedestrians.

So a better direction for the ad would be the below. This obviously wouldn't be final copy, but it's a direction and position worth exploring:

Not everything about our cars are exciting. But they are important. Our Honda Sensing technology is built to keep the people around your car as safe as the people in your car. The all new 2016 Civic Coupe. Built for people.

Isn't that better? Now, this has the potential to turn off people who do hate pedestrians — you don't want to end up like "Your Father's Oldsmobile." So that's a risk that would need to be considered. But it might be better to start positioning yourself for the world's next car buyers, especially if your car is gas-powered.

Anyway, that was my little creative exercise for the day. I hope you enjoyed it.

And remember: Don't just illustrate the brief!

Note: The "Pedestrian" headline seems so obvious to me I'm not convinced it hasn't been done before, but I can't track down an example.