You'd Better Be Bold

How 'Two Dumbasses' Raised Awareness

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Note: my editors told me that my contributions need to be a little more practical. The first editor, my wife, gave me some grief over my last post. Though she does marginally support the idea of "Kickin' it Week," she felt it lacked a real purpose. Obviously, she does not understand the true spirit of "Kickin' it Week" and its importance to our culture. I have placed her on a two article probation for insubordination.

My other editor, Ken Wheaton, wasn't nearly as harsh. I'll go with what he says.

(Ed. Note from Mrs. Zanger to Note: It's not that I didn't like the idea of "Kickin' It Week," it's more that a proposal of such a week in May is a very long time from today, and also I wasn't sure what any of this had to do with advertising.)

Doug Zanger Doug Zanger
When I meet with clients, I am usually told, "We really want this advertising to work." It's a fairly apparent observation, but with it comes every manner of expectation. That's one of the most profound challenges of being in a smaller market. Portland is the 24th largest market in the country and it has equal parts sophistication and provincial attitude. What separates Portland from others is that it does fancy itself an intelligent place. Having been here for 15 years, I would say that is accurate. However, for every erudite Volvo driver, there is a "mainstream" consumer waiting in the Gap-clad wings.

So how does an advertiser really make an impact? It's not so much how it can be done, it's more about avoiding the traps that prevent campaigns from not just working, but leaving a lasting impression on the consumer and market.

There are varying layers of traps in local/smaller advertising. The first is the idea of separation. This isn't a terribly new idea, but local/smaller advertisers would like to have you believe that their business is so much farther above the competition. This trap can cloud judgment--it can be the single most important component of breeding "sameness." The thinking is, "If we yell loud enough, we'll stand out." This approach in radio is dangerous. As the creative director at Livengood/Nowack in Portland once told all of us, "Imagine you are driving along and your passenger started yelling at you. You'd probably tell him to shut up."

The second trap that handcuffs local/smaller advertisers is the thought that they are actually bigger or different than they really are. I am a strong advocate of going/sounding big, but you'd better be able to back it all up, and there better be a reason that you are going this way. Local/smaller advertisers have the most unique opportunity to actually do exceptional work because there are built-in elements to their businesses that naturally lend themselves to this approach. The single most robust advantage a local/smaller company has, especially in radio, is to sound big while being able to change things while the campaign is in play. It can make the subtle tweaks and turns much faster than a big advertiser. National advertisers are the Titanic, while smaller companies are more like the boat Crockett and Tubbs helmed in "Miami Vice."

A third trap is lack of boldness. This is the scariest part of the equation and it does address the previous two traps. Boldness demands discipline and the intestinal fortitude to let a little rope out for the agency or media partner. Local/smaller advertisers generally have difficult time doing this because their dollars are more sensitive. They feel a stronger vesting of interest because that $300 radio spot chips away at a pile that needs to be replenished much faster than a multinational. This is the single greatest opportunity a local/smaller advertiser has--the idea of being bold.

(There are plenty of other traps that I will address at some point, but these three are the most salient for this discussion.)

Bold doesn't mean going off the deep end and putting together a campaign that's bold purely for that sake of being bold. It goes deeper than that. Determining a creative strategy at the beginning, but allowing it to breathe at any point, is what makes the bold approach work. I liked what Jonah Bloom wrote about Crispin, Porter & Bogusky because it inspired the notion that, no matter where you are, a visceral reaction is good and being bold is the most basic foundation. (I do take umbrage with his choice of football team . . . Jonah's is Tottenham Hotspur, mine is Arsenal)

A Practical Example
About four years ago, we met with an after-market import parts retailer. (That's a fancy way of saying: a place that sold body kits, big-ass mufflers, funky lights and nitro packages.) We went through the usual dance of: "We have the best selection," "We have the best price," "We'd like to say our phone number 400 times." What was telling and what became the "a-ha" moment for us was not in the meat of the conversation, but rather what the client told us in casual conversation. He mentioned that (and this is anecdotal, I don't have hard numbers) close to 80 percent of people who buy this stuff had absolutely no idea what it does. They buy it because their friends buy it . . . and, in turn, they end up spending thousands of dollars on crap they don't need.

A couple of things sprung up from this: the idea of actual product education and the birth of two characters (and we actually did this) we dubbed, "The two dumbasses." (The rules at hip-hop stations are a little different . . . so we were OK with it.)

The client was, as expected, hesitant. These were uncharted waters and this was definitely a bold approach. What we were doing was: separating them, making them sound big . . . and, yes, being bold. Like most smaller/local advertisers, the budget wasn't terribly large. We needed to make an impact.

I won't bore you with the details, but the thing worked. Sales went up, the image and position was clearly solidified and, yes, the marketer ended up spending more and more over time. In fact, when they diverted from the campaign, many of their regular customers clamored for the return of the "two dumbasses." Even though it was a stand-alone retailer, we had built some equity for their business. Sadly, some internal issues forced the retailer to close, but we had one hell of a good three-year-run for a one-shop pony.

This isn't a magic bullet. It doesn't work every time. Most of us can agree that sometimes the best luck to have is equal parts good, bad and dumb. If it fails, it is usually because of discipline and focus. Even if the idea is bold, discipline and focus always need to be in place or you are setting yourself (and your client) up to fail--spectacularly.

I am currently working on a similar philosophical approach for La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries here in Portland. I can't divulge much at this point (we're at the beginning of the campaign and I'll update you on its progress from time to time), but it is different, it stands out, and the goal is to make a bold statement and work like crazy.

Quick Hit
Have you ever worked on a "bold" campaign that worked? Tanked?
What are some "bold" campaigns out there that you like? Dislike?

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