Courage is the key today

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Today's desperate times are an opportunity to be courageous in our businesses and in our work. We live in incredibly challenging times-economically, socially, politically. No one has been immune to the massive change the world has undergone over the past two decades: No person. No company. No industry.

A byproduct of change is a marked increase in uncertainty. We in advertising grapple with it every day-uncertainty about the future, what the stock market will do, what new accounting scandal will hit the front page, where technology will lead us.

It is changing the very nature of marketers' businesses, and of agencies' businesses, too. With uncertainty comes fear. That's of grave concern when applied to the advertising industry. Our business derives its energy from the wonder of the creative spirit-a spirit too easily dampened by hesitation and second-guessing. Fear is our common enemy, regardless of which agency signs our paychecks. We must be united against it. Courage makes our work great. It's what empowers us to achieve breakthroughs and brilliant execution of our ideas.

How one agency did it

To see the power of courage, look at our CraveroLanis Euro RSCG in Argentina-a country faced with political, social and economic turmoil, where inflation reached 4,800% and where banks regularly refuse to open their doors. Where some days it is not safe to go to work; where there are riots, kidnapping and murder. In the face of mayhem, the leadership of CraveroLanis has the courage to stay true to its ideals. They focus on winning new business and remain devoted to producing exceptional creative work.

Not long ago, when ad spend was at record lows in Argentina, marketers there largely believed cable TV was less effective than network TV. CraveroLanis developed a campaign to redirect ads to cable for Argentina's Cable Bureau, which represents 40 of the largest media companies in the region (including CNN, E! Entertainment, Sony and ESPN). The strategy was brilliant: Change the perception of cable with an ad that would itself prove the efficacy of a cable-only campaign.

The message had to be exceptionally creative. When the agency unveiled its plans, the clients were hesitant. But they gave the go-ahead. The ad featured male marketing executives dressed as women, walking the streets to recoup sales revenue they lost by not advertising on cable. Shocking? Yes. Successful? Yes. Courageous? Without question. Cable's TV ad share increased to 15% from 12% in just two months. Cable became synonymous with a good ROI, and for many advertisers with limited budgets it became the core medium for their campaigns.

If it takes courage to propose new ideas, it takes courage for clients to accept them. But trying times often encourage rather than hinder a brave response. If clients had endless money, how many genuinely creative business ideas would ever be born? Not many. Why develop something as intricate and creative as a buzz marketing campaign when it's so much easier to blanket the airways with a 30-second ad?

That doesn't mean advertising needs to be shocking. Sometimes it simply needs to be different. Consider the Aflac duck. American Family Life Assurance Co. in 1989 was unknown in the U.S. Today, 90% of Americans recognize the name Aflac. So what happened? In 2000, the company undertook an aggressive ad campaign that, unlike typical insurance ads, simply focused on name recognition, not on products and services. The campaign later made an unapproachable topic, cancer insurance, friendly and amusing. Putting a campaign on the shoulders of a duck that quacks "Aflac" was risky. But it paid off.

we sell creative leadership

In the week following the campaign launch, the Aflac Web site had more visitors than during the entire previous year. Today, sales are up more than 65% and the campaign won the 2002 Effie award. Now a part of popular culture, the duck appears on talk shows and news programs and at sporting events. It has its own line of merchandise (proceeds from merchandise sold on the Aflac Web site benefit the Aflac Cancer Center in Atlanta.)

What better way to illustrate that our business isn't just about advertising or marketing or communications? It's about creative insight and creative leadership, forging ideas that bring opportunity to clients' businesses.

Today, clients need us more than ever, and we need them more than ever, too. We need them to help us understand their businesses and the issues they face (not just the basic statistics and goals they initially share with us). We need their commitment to help us develop genuinely creative ideas, those most likely to yield profitable innovation. And we need them to have the courage to support our creative visions, even when they fall outside the realm of the tried and true. It is our job to help our clients succeed in ways they didn't even know existed. How effectively, how brilliantly we do that, comes down to courage-having the courage to be great.

Bob Schmetterer is chairman-CEO of Havas' Euro RSCG Worldwide, New York.

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