Ash Coleman-Smith, Ogilvy: Stay true to basic principles

In these times, when we are all under pressure, a few simple questions can help focus the mind

Ash Coleman-Smith, Ogilvy
Ash Coleman-Smith, Ogilvy

We are all under pressure - to do more for less, even more creatively and faster; to push teams and/or the agency harder; and yet, at the same time, to wire into consumer attitudes that have shifted spectacularly, thanks to the recession.

It's easy to lose focus and edge in these ‘interesting times'. It's also easy to lose one's conviction about basic ongoing truths when it comes to engaging consumer audiences.

Here, in no particular order, are three questions that I, and others with whom I work, have been asking more often since the credit crunch. They seem to have helped maintain focus and edge.

Firstly, there may be some short-term shifts in consumer attitudes, but what, given the campaign objectives, is the ongoing relevant long-term consumer ‘truth'? Here's a recent example where asking this question brought clarity around the issue of austerity versus ethical brand behaviour. Some clients and industry commentators argue that recessionary pressures fundamentally erode consumer attitudes in this area.

In June we commissioned a survey into consumer attitudes to CSR. In fact, the research has shown that consumers are actually slightly more sensitised today to CSR when it comes to brand preference. However, their trust in brands/companies' commitment to maintain ethical standards during a recession has declined.

Consumers have not suddenly changed how they judge brands and businesses on the basis of their ethical behaviour, even if their spending behaviour has changed in the short term. The ‘truth' remains that differentiated and well-communicated CSR will become a point of competitive advantage as the economy turns.

Secondly, are we sure we reached the target consumer as efficiently as possible? In today's digital and social media world, consumers are finding it easier to become part of communities. Calculating ‘opportunities to see', reach or penetration is fine, but we should also look for ways of gaining added momentum.

We can perhaps search out consumer communities via partners (media, other symbiotic brands, NGOs etc) that can grow organically. When the Comfort fabric conditioner brand team wanted to reach out to mums about its baby product, it knew national media would be important, but for long-term results and cost-effectiveness, using  ‘word of mum' communication was also critical. The efficiency question pushed fresh thinking. The team linked with media online, creating the ‘Comforteers' - an incentivised community of like-minded mums. In weeks, more than 7,000 mums signed up to take part. The activity and ongoing community has now touched millions via other relevant communities - it has become self-sustaining.

Thirdly, have we over-complicated things? Faced with the pressure to do more for less and fit more into communications, it can be easy to develop overcomplicated solutions. Simplicity differentiates - especially if it comes from the heart of the brand. Recently Welsh Lamb has been challenging not only New Zealand Lamb but also English and Scottish Lamb. The competitors have used a queue of celebrities, chefs, experts and DJs. Welsh Lamb needed to keep it simple and differentiate. Welsh passion lies behind the brand. This became the clear centre point for the campaign - who better to represent passion for quality than a Welsh lamb farmer? The launch and hunt for this farmer has attracted extensive coverage - a simple idea that cut through the noise.

Everyone is asking the other obvious ‘interesting' questions about value and measurement, but these have been in our faces for a while. We wish you good luck in interesting times.

 

Views in brief

If your agency was a food or drink brand, which would it be? Red Bull. It blends Ogilvy's signature colour with the capacity to make things take flight - that is, giving our clients wings to rise above the competition.

Which brand has best caught the public mood in its communications over the past six months? Recession champion Marks & Spencer. It came up with dinner for a tenner, an immediate response to the bra tax fiasco and a clever ad campaign, ‘sorry we boobed'. Plus, there was the timely reassertion of the principle that has made it the nation's iconic retailer - ‘quality worthevery penny'.

Ash Coleman-Smith is managing director of Ogilvy PR EMEA

 

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