Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Engagement Planning, 50s Style...

Well, not as such. Let's call it applied empathy. A great passage from Hey Whipple, including a piece from one of my luminaries, Howard Luck Gossage. It's this kind of human understanding that underpins any good communication, personal or corporate.

Except for the handful I see in the One Show every year, most billboards are mediocre or bad. When an ad in a magazine sucks, I can turn the page. But if I live across the street from an ugly billboard, there's nothing I can do about it.
Copywriter Howard Gossage didn't believe outdoor boards were a true advertising medium: "An advertising medium is a medium that incidentally carries advertising but whose primary function is to provide something else: entertainment, news, etc... Your exposure to television commercials is conditional on their being accompanied by entertainment that is not otherwise available. No such parity or tit for tat or fair exchange exists in outdoor advertising... I'm afraid the poor old billboard doesn't qualify as a medium at all; its medium, if any, is the scenery around it and that is it not its to give away"
Until the day billboards are banned, either as "graphic littering" or "retinal trespassing," you owe the citizens of the town where your billboard appears your very best work. You must delight them.

This is a fantastically astute observation. Not because it shows sound business sense, though obviously that's a boon. No, I love it because it is so sympathetic to the audience member. I love it because it can only have come from someone who's in tune with his own feelings and experiences as an audience member.
It's also remarkably sensitive to the individual advertiser's sense of duty to the entire advertising medium. Each one of us, whenever we represent an individual client in an individual piece of communication, is simultaneously representing the entire medium and beyond that, the very concept of interrupted, unasked-for communication. And it's possible, believe it or not, to serve your client's interests well while damaging your medium - any credit card mailer circa 2002 will tell you. So it's nice to see Sullivan and Gossage take the long view.

I'm no expert in it, but to me this looks like a nice early iteration of engagement planning, too. Thinking that doesn't stop at "what's my brand like?" or "what's my audience like?" but continues to the very specific, very important question of "should my brand happen to appear in this medium... then how should it behave? Is it an invited guest in the audience's day, or an intruder? At what - a formal party or a gathering of mates? A sunny afternoon on the porch? A business meeting?" I'm going to stop now before this becomes very convoluted, but it's a worthwhile thought: if my product doesn't belong in this space, how it can it behave like it's been invited?

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