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Best New Thinking Winner 2010

Anti-Kata No. 3

Anti-Kata No. 3 Advertisers Anonymous – 12 steps out of addiction

This anonymous contribution is clearly from someone attempting professional suicide :-) What is the effect of clients being addicted to spending money on advertising because they can’t think what else to do with it? The kata follows the 12 steps made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous. There is a serious point to be made – wasting advertising budgets is stupid – because it damages the medium and creates a culture of mediocrity. Addictive behaviour is destructive behaviour – clients and agencies please note.

1. Powerlessness We admitted that we were powerless over advertising – that our lives had become unmanageable as we committed to spending the budget without being convinced that it would deliver against the marketing plan, and feeling that we had no alternative.

Commentary: if the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. The problem with advertising is that it is a technology – it almost never fails absolutely. Which means there is a huge tendency to keep on using it when the returns are plain average – if only because to try anything else is to risk absolute failure and after all nobody got fired for spending advertising budget in exactly the same way as all their competitors – you won’t be in the job forever – so mediocrity is taken as the norm. But this doesn’t mean that advertising is working or is the best alternative. There’s a lot of bluffing going on out there. At the point where we admit that we’re not satisfied, that we are willing to face the emptiness of not knowing what the alternatives are then it needn’t be the end it might be a new beginning.

2. Hope We came to believe that there were resources available to help find new ways to grow the business if we had the courage to draw on them and get out of the rut we found ourselves in.

Commentary: Step 2 is about letting go of old solutions that aren’t working and being willing to commit to finding new answers. It also means being willing to accept outside help. The main thing is to become more conscious of what we’re doing and to refuse to stick to knee jerk reactions.

3. Faith We decided to move away from our problems and so reach out for help.

Commentary: The act of stretching into new territory looking for assistance will necessarily help you to take a broader view of communications than you had when all you worried about was getting budgets spent and being seen to do your job. You will start to see new communications opportunities for what they are not as panaceas but capable of delivering valid and valuable solutions even if there isn’t a one overwhelming solution to take the place of advertising.

4. Inventory We took a searching and fearless look at the effects of our past advertising activity on ourselves and others.

Commentary: This is where you start to take responsibility for the past. It doesn’t mean that everything you did before was wrong and ineffective. But it will mean facing up to the consequences of our past actions. Not was money wasted which was straight off the bottom line but work ran which your customers and prospects learned to ignore or filter out, or which damaged their relationship with the brand or their perceptions of the company. Made them more cynical towards your company and your motives. Waste is more than financial.

5. Honesty We admitted to ourselves how our misuse of advertising affects those around us

Commentary: this step is about honesty – ultimately if you have the responsibility for running the marketing programme then it wasn’t the fault of your boss, or your competitors – you’re not powerless – part of the transformation is recognising the power you have and the will and confidence to use it properly.

6. Preparation We established a new pattern of positive marketing behaviours, avoiding the sorts of isolation which would make us vulnerable to relapses, and gathering the resources which could help us recover from whatever lapses we might have.

Commentary: We have all kinds of defences against change and will reward ourselves for going back to habitual behaviours. When we get tired or stressed we are more likely to relapse into old habits. Time deadlines are also fatal for pushing into making snap decisions which you later regret. To make good business decisions you need time to reflect and to consider our decisions. Impulsive behaviour is likely to be based on old patterns.

7. Letting go. We strive to find in our motivation a deeper sense of who we are rather than fear or defensiveness

Commentary: Step 6 is still largely negative behaviour – in this step you reach deep into yourself to find a more profound motivation than avoiding future mistakes. Despite the risks – the game is still there for the playing. People are still trying to buy products – consumption has never ever been as high. What people are losing is a sense of the contribution that advertising is supposed to make to help them find the products they want and the motivation for buying them. Marketing is central to people’s buying activity – the challenge is how to connect in a way that adds to the product and doesn’t distract or detract.

8. Humility We consider how we can find ways to restore the balance where this is possible.

Commentary: part of the solution involves cleaning up the mess of the old. We have to deal with this head-on even though it is tempting to deny or ignore it. We have to recognise the power of an apology and the willingness to re-engage and to acknowledge where audiences have become cynical or distrustful because of lack of accountability in the past.

9. Reparation We will make direct amends to people where appropriate except where to do so would damage the relationship further.

Commentary: The steps taken hitherto are largely internal and don’t require you to actually connect with your audience to tell them what has gone wrong. It may be appropriate to go public about the change in emphasis so as not to let yourself off the hook. A number of high street banks have very publicly acknowledged the failure of their considerable marketing and advertising spends and how this served to build up only resentment. This isn’t just a ploy to get attention – to deliver it has to be genuine. A genuine apology will win you respect. You can earn the right to their renewed attention.

10. Continue to take personal inventory We will strive to become fully conscious or ourselves and the systemic effects of our actions.

Commentary: this is about establishing positive behaviour patterns and continuing to do so – it won’t happen all at once. It is harder work, and tiring to continuously review how effectively we are communicating with our audiences. But the pattern of broadcasting without listening hasn’t got us anywhere.

11. Conscious contact We stay tuned, in touch with a broader sense of ourselves and what we are trying to accomplish.

Commentary: The fundamental problem with an addiction is that it can continue to define the boundaries of what is possible and what is acceptable. When we explore new ways of engaging with our markets there will be new forms of involvement which advertising could never have delivered. Part of the recovery is discovering and embracing new boundaries and setting new more ambitious goals.

12. Sharing the message Having been awoken we will continue to develop our human potential and will actively help all those who cannot control their use of advertising.

Commentary: Once we have come through this process of change then the most powerful way of confirming our determination to add value to our audiences and their experience of our products is to share what we have learned with others. Brands which re-invent themselves refresh the categories they are in and force the competition to change – usually they make it better for everybody – competitive advantage becomes win win.







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