When the Weiden & Kennedy Old Spice campaign hit, it was a bittersweet moment for me. I worked on Procter business for almost 15 years, during the dark ages when they called advertising “copy” and storyboards lived or died on a day-after-recall test score. I had already moved on to other clients (and different kinds of problems) when P&G started to evolve creatively over the last few years–going to Cannes, freshening up their agency roster, doing better, simpler, more visually oriented work. Then the Old Spice Man happened and I could taste the green bile of envy in my mouth: If only P&G was this open-minded back when I worked on the business…
Well, maybe not so much. Companies, like people, revert to type over time. In Procter’s case, that means the overpowering desire to turn creative into a quantitatively-driven, repeatable, predictable process. In my day, that meant dealing with canards like “You need to mention the brand name 4 times during the 3o seconds, and within 4 seconds from the beginning.” Now, thanks to the continuous feedback loop which is the internet, it’s much, much, more granular:
“For about a year, Pantene has been using such a system, Smart Media, developed with Resource Interactive, Cincinnati. Smart Media analyzes click-through rates and flash surveys on purchase intent across numerous permutations of ads and placements.
The program evaluates three creative elements (the headline, hair visual and background color), and Pantene makes changes based on how different combinations of each element perform in various media placements.
The brand makes discoveries that inform future creative. Those have included that white backgrounds don’t work well on Yahoo, orange is effective on Facebook and blondes get a better response than brunettes on some sites.”
Personally, I’d rather stick knitting needles in my eyes than face a future of letting every single variable in an ad I create be “optimized” in this way. But that doesn’t make me right. It makes me, at this point in my career, someone with the luxury of choice. Procter is seeing gains in all their metrics by following this methodology, and I have no reason to doubt it. Google, everyone’s favorite cool tech company besides Apple, does everything this way. Every word, every color, every pixel of white space in a Google interface has been “designed” by sheer computational force. While I doubt that is true of their wonderful advertising yet (because if it did, I’d have to kill myself), give it time.
Meanwhile, if you’re a youngish creative with a headhunter texting you about a great job working on P&G at Publicis, think about this: 1 banner ad with 3 different headline options, 3 different background colors and 3 different head shots=27 layouts.