Philips' 'Simplicity' Campaign: A Brilliant Creative Standout

But New-Think Marketing Effort Collides With Old-Think Media Types

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In a(nother) year that's been bereft of standout U.S. creative, Philips could quite reasonably claim to have run the best campaign of '06.
Philips' director of brand communications, Eric Plaskonos, and a visual from a recent company 'Simplicity' event focused on the theme of 'glow.' | ALSO: Comment on this column in the 'Your Opinion' box below.
Philips' director of brand communications, Eric Plaskonos, and a visual from a recent company 'Simplicity' event focused on the theme of 'glow.' | ALSO: Comment on this column in the 'Your Opinion' box below.

Simplicity
I am not referring to the shave-your-gooseberries videos for the Philips Norelco Bodygroom (see shaveeverywhere.com), although they spread like wildfire, made us laugh and cleared the shelves of the natty little razor. Rather, I'm talking about the "Sense and Simplicity" brand campaign in which the creative excellence is not so much the message, but rather the way it's been delivered.

A lot of ink has already been spilled to explain what Philips has been doing, but allow me to briefly recap. In short the idea is to embody the simplicity message in the medium by using Philips' media bucks to improve the consumer experience. Translating to what? Well, first off, a $2 million sole sponsorship of CBS's "60 Minutes. "Then there was the $5 million deal with Time Inc., in which Philips paid to bring the contents panels in Fortune, Time, People and Business 2.0 to the first pages of those four magazines.

The consumer experience
There was also a deal with Gourmet to create a compact 102-page supplement featuring nothing but stories by well-known authors. Most recently, Philips has been footing the bill so that visitors to the Wall Street Journal and ESPN websites can access premium content for free.

Wouldn't it be great if every media owner applied "Philips thinking" to their brands, regardless of whether anyone was prepared to pay for it? Sounds like actually-really-care-about-the-consumer (see also "wishful") thinking. But since the biggest single problem faced by today's media owners is the finite number of hours in their audiences' days, it'd surely be a good exercise for all.

Even more than that, however, what is fascinating about Philips' campaign is how difficult they found it to persuade media owners to take their money in return for the execution of some relatively simple concepts. Eric Plaskonos, director of brand communications at Philips and the brain behind this particular campaign, heaped praise on the few who could: "CBS, Time Inc., Hearst, Conde Nast were willing to do these types of initiatives," he said. "It says something about their perspective on the future of media and that they aren't afraid to try new things in an effort to bring the best possible product to their consumers."

Painful tales
But he also has painful tales of executions that were six months in the making, and of others that never saw the light of day, such as the company's effort to buy out pre-movie advertising time in theaters and use it to reduce the length of time theatergoers have to spend watching ads before they get what they just paid (handsomely) to come and see. Screenvision "didn't like the ads."

Along with his media agency, Carat, Plaskonos has been in a number of meetings with media owners in which executives from different departments were clearly meeting for the first time: "We've found there's nothing like the 'simplicity' initiative as a departmental icebreaker. Often sales and other departments just don't have a strong enough relationship to push through an idea."

He said the business models of many media owners simply aren't built for marketers who want to try different things. "Media companies are not as anxious to deliver ideas as they are their pages, spots and banners. Units are sold so far in advance that the possibility of turning something on its head by 'buying out space and/or time' is just not worth it for the economies of a media company."

That's worrying because there's nary a marketer left who isn't looking for a bigger, better way to connect with those media-controlling consumers. I'm willing to bet that those that can't deliver them because of their silos, retrograde thinking or formulaic business models are going to find the next decade very long indeed.
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