Global Marketing
Management Consultants
Global Marketing
Management Consultants
Global Marketing
Management Consultants

How many advertising ideas do you need to find the right idea?

This post is by Darren Woolley, Founder of TrinityP3With his background as analytical scientist and creative problem solver, Darren brings unique insights and learnings to the marketing process. He is considered a global thought leader on agency remuneration, search and selection and relationship optimisation.

You have briefed the agency on the new campaign. The brief is in to the agency and you are awaiting the first round of concepts. Right?

This is the interesting expectation. The first round. How many rounds of creative work does it take to get THE idea? And how many ideas each round? In fact, how many ideas in total?

The answer is that it takes as long and as many ideas as it takes to get the right one. So lets define the right one. The right idea. The right idea is the one that answers the needs of the brief.

But it is interesting that we have noticed that in many of the agency remuneration benchmarking projects we have undertaken the average number of concepts presented per brief appears to be increasing.

The brief goes in. The agency responds with creative concepts. The marketer provides feedback. The concept is either changed or the brief is modified. Or the agency provides more creative concepts and so it goes.

Where it stops depends. Usually it is because the schedule has run out of time and production must commence or the project has run out of budget.

Here are some reasons too many ideas are needed:

1. Convoluted or inefficient approval process

The agency was briefed by the local office of a global advertiser who would then require the agency to present three concepts. The Brand Manager would reject and request additional ideas until they had three ‘APPROVED’ concepts. These concepts were then presented to the senior marketing team who would then approve or more usually reject concepts. The rejected concepts where de-briefed back to the agency who would then have to present additional concepts to the Brand Manager and on their approval were presented to the senior marketing team.

This continued until the senior marketing team had three ‘APPROVED’ concepts to put into concept testing. The results of the concept testing determined the concepts to be sent to the regional head office for approval. Often this would see the ‘winning’ concept rejected. This would send the whole process back to the beginning to get three more concepts for ‘testing’ and then once a concept is ‘APPROVED’ by regional head office it goes on to global and the whole process can happen again. Even after all this the ‘APPROVED’ concept from global can be rejected by the local market CEO.

2. Incomplete or poorly considered briefing

A major advertiser was averaging almost 30 fully developed concepts for every brief. This was because the Brand Manager would brief the agency and have the agency produce concepts until the account management team complained. The Marketing Manager would get involved and review the concepts to date. They would then ‘re-brief’ the agency and the process would continue. Over and over again until until the Marketing Director  received a call from the agency CEO.

The Marketing Director would review the more than 20 concepts and then ‘re-brief’ the agency CEO to do more ‘directed’ concepts, usually over the weekend and approved on Monday. Why? Because they finally got THE BRIEF. It just took more than 30 fully worked ideas to get there.

3. Misalignment of stakeholders on objectives

The marketer is in a category where the brand is managed from manufacture to retail and all stakeholders are involved in the approval process for advertising. While everyone is committed to putting the customer ‘at the centre of everything they do’ everyone has a different perspective and opinion on how they should engage the customer.

This means that the agency is briefed by the marketing team and the concepts are approved by the marketing team. Then they present the approved concepts to the various stakeholders and at each stage they provide feedback to the agency.

The retailer thinks it should be more offer focused and the art direction more retail to stand out. The finance team want the finance offer to stand out stronger. The senior management team wants the product to be hero (read make the product shot bigger) and legal team want the disclaimers and terms to be more prominent. While corporate affairs is concerned that the concept is too risky.

4. Marketers who lack the confidence in their own judgement

A small marketing team has a good relationship with their agency but once a year the agency averages 20 to 30 concepts for the annual brand brief. The agency works on the brand brief each year and out of the many concepts they develop they present their preferred concepts to the marketers. No matter how good or relevant the concepts, the marketing team will request more ideas before they present this to the Marketing Director for approval.

When asked why they needed more concepts, the marketing team readily admit that the Marketing Director likes to see lots of ideas so he can feel assured that he is choosing the best idea available. This is the same logic that we have heard that the Marketer does not know what they want, but they will know it when they see it. Therefore the more concepts and ideas the agency develop and present the more likely they are to discover the concept the marketer needs.

Either way this approach is incredibly wasteful.

5. Agency lacking in talent or ability

Of course, it could be that the agency is just no good. Lacking in talent and creative ability. Unable to come up with a concept that the marketer can approve. It is no wonder they have not gone into receivership  if they are incapable of delivering the very core of their purpose.

One marketer told me that the agency was hopeless, but luckily, when they failed to crack the brief, he was able to ‘give’ them the big idea. But even when handed to them on a plate the agency managed to screw it up and he will have to give them five or six ideas until they get it right.

You have to congratulate a marketer that is willing to persevere with such an incompetent agency.

How many ideas does it take to get the right idea?

How many does it take? It is worth considering as too many ideas has a cost:

  1. It costs agency resources to create each additional concept
  2. It costs internal resource to manage the protracted process
  3. When the process eats into production time it adds cost
  4. It costs the enthusiasm of the talented people working on your business
  5. It costs the opportunity of having the time to make a strong idea even stronger

To be honest, if it is taking more than half a dozen goes to get it right, you probably have a problem. Either the brief, or the approval process or the expectations are wrong. Rather than continuing to waste time, money, effort and talent, it is better to solve the problem.

What do you think?

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    Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email:

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