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Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Tapping Madison Ave.-Quality Creative at Fire-Sale Rates

Smaller companies and organizations simply can't afford Madison Avenue-caliber advertising typically used at the Fortune 500 level. But cutting costs when it comes to ad content often means resorting to the use of cheap, and probably uninspiring ads (which won't serve well if competing firms can out-class you). What's needed is a way to tap into Madison Ave.-quality content that can be tailored to a specific campaign. And guess what: such an inventory of creative assets is already available.

It's a tall order for direct marketers to rise above the fray and consistently deliver original, high impact ads for clients. Never before has competition for the attention of highly targeted audiences been as intense as it is today. This is especially true with ever-increasing pressures to limit Internet "pop-ups" and spam, never mind telemarketing calls. Even the more respectable forms of direct marketing are under pressure to compete using higher-quality content that can grab attention and deliver the message.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for direct marketers on the quest for competitive advantage is to bridge gaps between the cost of compelling original advertising and small company marketing budgets. Smaller companies and organizations simply can't afford Madison Avenue-quality firepower typically used at the Fortune 500 level. How does one compete with a budget for peanuts when the client needs compelling, eye-catching creative work?

Direct marketing is really all about delivering a client's value message tailored to a highly specific demographic market of potential customers. It's about instantaneously catching attention using the knowledge of what they are prone to want or need, and with a built-in call to action--offering a solution to a likely problem, and doing so in a way that sticks like a sudden appetite. Make them smell the popcorn, and they'll be buying it soon enough.

Easy to say, and easy enough to understand, but how does one create compelling and original direct-to-market advertising without cannibalizing the budget for the rest of the marketing mix?

The answer: Madison Avenue-caliber ads.

That's right. What was once the purview of corporations with big marketing budgets is now available to companies with few marketing dollars and fewer to spend on talent to create such ads from scratch. How is this possible? The answer really isn't all that surprising. Let's consider some relevant aspects of direct marketing before we get to that.

DM: Bigger Bang, Bigger Buck
Direct marketers are among the higher-cost choices for reaching an audience with a company's call to buy, and for good reason: they slice and dice demographics to reach that sweetest of sweet spots for a given product or service market. They do the best job of separating the wheat from the chaff. With a direct marketer, a client pays for the work of identifying and reaching the likeliest customers for your product.

But if you're a direct marketer, what can you do to provide that service and still keep costs down to remain competitive with the next guy? If you break down the costs of service, chances are the creative design portion of advertising will account for the biggest slice of the cost pie, even in the face of sophisticated demographic research and splicing techniques, contact management, and printing and mailing costs.

Reducing the cost of ad content acquisition either means resorting to the use of cheap, and probably uninspiring ads (which won't serve well if competing firms can out-class you), or finding a way to tap into creative content that can be tailored to a specific campaign. Guess what: the latter is possible, and Madison Ave.-caliber content is readily available today.

The Creative Excess Phenomenon
Advertising agencies usually don't just stake their reputations on a single-shot concept when developing a given campaign for a client. They usually give clients a choice, a palette of ideas all conceived as potential answers to the client's advertising objectives. The vast majority of concepts produced by an agency--particularly those in print form--never see the light of day once they've been rejected by a client in favor of another ad or collective theme of ads. In other words, a lot of great creative work from a single agency goes unused in spite of the time, talent and resources employed to produce that work.

There's also the creative work that gets lost in agency-to-agency competition. For example, let's say three agencies were brought in to compete for a major food product company's $1M advertising account. Chances are that each of the three agencies developed more than just the creative ads they each chose to make their respective bids with. In addition, the client may have asked for ads in one or more of print, broadcast or Internet banner media.

Not only would the "excess" creative from each agency go by the wayside, the losing agencies are also left with perceived "unusable" creative material. After all, it was conceived for a specific pitch to a specific client. Where does it go? To borrow the theme of a highly successful PSA from the 1980s, an unused ad is a terrible thing to waste.

The Era of Digital Assets
Technology is a beautiful thing. Ideas that were once as hard to capture as a lightning bug in daylight are now easily collected, catalogued and retrieved as assets in digital form. That means anything involving information related to company business--this quarter's financials, e-mail content, Web site visitor click-throughs--can be captured and managed much more effectively than ever before.

The management of creative work can be viewed this way: it's optimizing the value of the work, and minimizing the loss (or offsetting the cost) of investment of time, talent and production by keeping it on hand for future use. Today's creative work isn't just confined to a paper-based drawing or photo, a beta tape or other cumbersome media. If it isn't created in digital form from the get-go, it eventually becomes digitized and captured on hard disks, compact disks, digital tape or DVD, and therefore becomes easier to create, manage, exchange and store than ever before. It's now a business of managing and optimizing digital assets, or the ability to make the most of them whether they become the next Super Bowl ad or a residual effort that might be used in an unrelated advertising campaign.

This transformation of creative work into digital form has implications up and down the chain of companies that conceive, produce, distribute, use or convey the ads. Design agencies can create new revenue streams from work it doesn't successfully sell directly to clients. Advertising sales reps can provide new services (likewise new revenue streams) by providing better services faster to their customers that advertise in magazines, journals, newspapers, and on TV. Companies can shave costs, reduce marketing windows and produce more compelling ads to pitch their goods and services to customers.

Creative Concept Repurposing
In the examples below, the "latte" concept is refined to support messaging in three very different markets.

 Click to enlarge

Syndication: What a Concept
It's surprising to think the idea of aggregating unused creative material for advertising as something new. Thought Equity Inc. , in Denver, CO, is a company conceived under the realization that so much creative talent was going unused, there had to be a market for it. Who ever said well-developed, unused ads couldn't be applied to another campaign or company? In today's digital world, ads can be manipulated and reshaped just as easily as the photograph of your best friend you jokingly decided to morph into a monkey.

Thought Equity went about creating and tapping into an enormous reservoir of unused high-caliber print, video advertising elements that can be catalogued and exchanged like so many photographs or files of PC clip art. The company makes them available at fire-sale rates relative to what was (or would have been) sold as an original concept.

This reservoir is filled to the brim with unused yet very high-quality creative material from more than 300 advertising agencies and creative firms, and fed by a constant river of new material flowing in each day. Thought Equity serves as an exchange of sorts between those agencies, in addition to being a supplier of concepts directly to companies, including direct marketers.

This syndication model allows advertisers to search, preview and select from thousands of quality print, broadcast or Internet campaigns. The creators of advertising, such as design agencies, can now generate new revenue streams from these unused, "benched" creative assets. Distributors of advertising, such as newspapers, magazines and broadcast companies, can now easily provide press-ready advertising inventory to their local and industry-specific advertisers, who in turn save time and money because much of the otherwise costly creative work has already been done. The result: production costs are reduced, margins and revenues are increased, and businesses are better served with higher quality creative work.

Repurposing Ad Copy
In the two print ads below, the tagline--"Come in crying. Leave in Stiches."--is used effectively by two different healthcare providers.

 Click to enlarge

Expanding Value
In light of this new model, local and regional businesses have been significantly underserved by the advertising industry. Take newspapers, for example. Historically they have not been able to offer local businesses any real spectrum of original ad content, placing the onus of creativity on the small business (who turns to an agency), and thus also a burden of cost.

Thought Equity offers a solution, which is specifically designed for local businesses, and enables them to be more competitive and to differentiate their brand--something they've never been able to effectively do until now. This same value creation applies to direct marketers, especially direct-mail advertisers.

Thought Equity also provides a collection of thousands of multi-piece marketing campaigns, across top performing vertical industries--not simply stock photos or copywriting. This database of work is available to direct marketers and in ready-to-use format, allowing the marketer to more effectively capture the imagination and generate excitement with a given prospect.

Another postcard-by-mail marketer, Amazing Mail, a consumer-oriented service site that enabled people to create and send postcards by downloading their own photos, transitioned into a service that provides business-to-business and business-to-consumer targeted mailer campaigns. With clients such as Gateway Computers, Aramark and UBS/PaineWebber, quality creative is not only a check off item, its putting the brand at stake each and every time a customer picks up a direct mail piece from any of those companies.

Managing Digital Assets: A Look Under the Hood
Thought Equity has what it calls a digital asset management product that features an easy-to-use, Internet browser-based front end that belies some very sophisticated capabilities. It's coupled with an advanced search and retrieval technology that makes it easy to search this vast reservoir for the right content. An embedded security and rights-management process ensures that all available digital assets are free from intellectual property restrictions. Both print and video advertisements are then categorized and searchable according to demographic and descriptive criteria.

One direct marketing company using the digital asset management service is RSVP Publications, a postcard mailer ad-stack delivery service targeted to upscale, affluent homeowners. RSVP has more than 10,000 visually engaging postcards available to their 70 franchisees through Thought Equity. By establishing a central repository, RSVP can provide its clients with a level of quality creative work it can easily tailor to its objectives and that resonates with the affluent sensibilities of the targeted recipients.

The Fine Print
The company's print service was designed for the entire sales and production staff at newspapers and regional publications, but it is also great for direct marketers. The cost per ad is based on the number of ads purchased and the targeted scope/circulation of the ads. The concept not only gives advertisers a deep pool of high-quality creative to choose from, it enables them to generate ads quickly in order to respond to changing industry demands.

A beautiful aspect of this is that this type of product provides ad sales teams and creative service departments with subscription-based access to the content via a Web browser. Sales staff can easily select campaigns from scores of searchable categories, and customize samples to their specific requirements. These creative ideas, with the direct marketer's identifying logo attached, can then be used as a sales tool to present to prospective advertisers. There is no limit or cost for browsing and printing creative ad samples. Again, this is one more way of eliminating typical costs of dealing with original creative concepts designed by an agency from scratch.

Once the prospective advertiser selects a campaign and the specific creative work associated with it, the full artwork may be downloaded by the sales or production staff. Customer specific details including logo and copy may then be inserted for final approval. Compared to full development of a high quality, multi-piece campaign, this method offers a tremendous savings over in-house production of a custom campaign. Once an ad is selected, the direct marketer (or newspaper, etc.) gains exclusive rights to usage in the specified market for a period of 12 months.

Repurposing Commercials
In the examples below, the same "bobblehead" commercial is used effectively by two different banks. (NOTE: The first bobblehead guy is shaking his head "no," while the second bobblehead lady is nodding her head "yes.")

 Click to play QuickTime movie

 Click to play QuickTime movie

The same principles that apply to managing print digital assets are also true on the broadcast/Internet side for video and animated graphics. Thought Equity has assembled the industry's largest library of production-ready commercials and footage to serve the cable and broadcast industries. Commercials and clips are completely rights-managed and searchable by over one hundred demographic categories to serve consumer or business markets.

By tapping into such an inventory of creative assets, cable and broadcast companies can reduce pre-press and production costs, increase gross margins, enhance localized ad quality and realize a greater advertising result. Perhaps more significantly, local companies are now able to advertise alongside enterprise companies with a similar degree of muscle, and share the advantage of reaching millions of potential customers because they can access this library of cost-efficient and highly effective agency-quality advertising.

Given the ready availability and cost-effectiveness of unused high-quality creative assets, direct marketers can make themselves considerably more competitive.


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