Watch What You Say

The advertising business has always been filled with clichés. In the ’80s, “Let’s run it up the flagpole and see how it flies” was another way of saying, “I don’t know myself. Let’s see what other people (focus groups) think.”

Today, there are more clichés and catchphrases than ever. But instead of being merely tired and corny, they’re dangerous. Many of them are supposed to be indicative of how we’re reinventing advertising. I think they’re setting us back.

“Media-neutral” is supposed to mean we look at a problem and suggest the proper media without being biased toward any specific medium. It’s supposed to sound cool and contemporary. But since when is being neutral about anything a good thing? If I hear one more person say, “We’re media-neutral,” I will personally request that he or she be sent to some ad agency in Switzerland.

Don’t be media-neutral. Be media pro-active. Or inventive. Or progressive. Have an opinion. Figure out the solution and lead the way with exciting ideas. No wonder clients think we’re behind the times. We’re neutral. Down with neutrality.

The next bad cliché is, “The 30-second TV commercial is dead.” As Monty Python once said, “It’s not dead. It’s sleeping.” When done correctly, a TV commercial can be one of the most influential forms of communication known to man. Unfortunately, most TV commercials stink. Viewers don’t fast-forward through great commercials. They skip crappy ones. This is not a new phenomenon. Don’t blame new technology and all the new media. Blame bad ideas.

The rumors of the TV commercial’s death are premature. Join the small group of artists and thinkers who know how to create great TV spots, and keep TV a vital part of your media mix. Other media choices should inspire us to turn TV commercials into golden opportunities, not something to be embarrassed about.

Here’s another that’s already dated: “Nontraditional media.” Guess what? Everything that’s nontraditional today will be traditional tomorrow. Then what are we going to call it? This idea of using media beyond TV, radio and print is not a new one, either. Ask any direct or sales-promotion agency. For years I’ve said that sides of shopping carts, sides of buildings, in-store announcements, etc., can be as creative as any TV commercial.

And I hate to tell you, but the Internet isn’t nontraditional anymore. It’s traditional and expected. The trick is to go from telling your clients that they need to be on the Internet to showing them new ways to stand out on the Internet. Remember, spam blockers are just the Web’s version of TiVo. If we don’t do a better job, the newest cliché will be, “The Internet is dead.”

Finally, here’s a cliché conversation between client and agency.

“What are your integration capabilities?” asks the client.

“We’re very integrated,” says the agency.

Everybody says it. Everybody knows it’s the wave of the future. And almost everybody’s full of it. How many integrated campaigns have you seen recently and said, “Wow!”? In fact, how many have you seen at all? It’s not happening.

My advice is this: Get your media directors out of their cubicles 19 blocks away and make them sit in a room with your writers, art directors, planners and account people (like the good old days) and brainstorm. Many years ago, when I was working on Mercedes-Benz, my media director suggested breaking a print campaign by projecting images on the sides of buildings. It wasn’t my idea. It was the media director’s idea. And it happened because we inspired each other. It’s not about filling in boxes on an organizational chart. It’s about finishing each other’s sentences. That’s integration.

If you really want to do a job for your clients, look at everything, everywhere. Invented or not invented yet. Be “media-progressive” with all media. Get everybody in a room. And don’t discount the power of well-crafted, well-thought-out TV commercials. Run that up your flagpole.

For the record: A Newswire item [July 12] misstated Loreyne Alicea’s duties as Hispanic ad and PR agency ViVA’s new president. She will manage day-to-day operations of the Miami-based shop and its San Antonio subsidiaries.