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May 25, 2005
Advertising with Roots
 

That house has good bones. That guitar has soul. That ad has roots. What is that intangible quality about certain things that makes them enduring, valued and relevant after years of evolving culture? This is an often-debated question among our team as we practice our craft and build an agency brand here in Nashville, Tennessee. While the clay is still wet, here’s what we’re discovering about the tools needed to make what we call advertising with roots.

First, advertising with roots isn’t about advertising.
It’s about the raw materials that create a dialogue between a brand and a consumer. Every single fiber, from the What to the Why of a brand, goes into the vernacular of this conversation, pushing it to be salient, emotional, enduring and results-generating. Make an ad and you’re finished. Open a dialogue and you inspire quite a different sentence.

Advertising or Archaeology?
Do we manufacture solutions, or do we assemble true artifacts into business ideas for clients? One presumes ad tricks, “proven solutions” and industry hooey. The other offers an honest creation based on strategic excavation, intellectual curiosity and enjoying the feel of cultural dirt beneath your fingernails. While both approaches may work, only one lasts. And building a brand is about ideas that last. What you might call ideas with roots.

Mechanized guesswork from a skyscraper window.
This is enemy #1 in making something enduring. The world is not lived in skyscrapers. And, despite years of hypnosis to the contrary, brands cannot live locked atop some 27th floor windows dotting a skyline where street level is a place ad people go for coffee or to grumble about the “hardships” of the day, the client or latest strategy brief. Advertising with roots requires going outside—of the building, of the industry, of your life and squarely into the emotions and texture of whomever you seek to converse. In making advertising, whatever we do, let’s please make something honest. It is much more apt to work, to contribute something meaningful and to advance our consciousness as human beings.

Authoring a strategy versus simply writing one.
At our agency, we call strategy documents Conversation Starters because that’s what they do. What they don’t do is premeditate ad solutions, press releases, sweepstakes or new merchandising displays. Nor do they suggest doing something wild, graffiti-oriented or viral. They simply open a conversation—first internally and then in the outside world—that is asked to emotionally connect and produce business results. Atop these forms, you will find the following words. They say it best. “Strategy isn’t quick or casual. It’s an intellectual and emotional journey into the soul of the target. Put yourself in the shoes of the person. Know what they’re feeling. Only then will you know the appropriate way to intervene.”

Turning over rocks with clients—not for them.
Whether they know it or not, clients want communications with roots. They want honesty from us as ad practitioners and from the resources we bring them. But in that very statement lies an ironic reality. Less and less do clients want us to “bring them” anything. They want to discover—or perhaps uncover—opportunities in partnership. To turn over the rocks together. If we all get comfortable enough with ourselves, our clients, the cost-accounting ramifications and the notion that the truth is out there if we look hard enough, we will in fact be led to advertising with roots. If we become the agency people who go away for months, only to come back and “sell the answer to the client,” we will become artifacts ourselves. And probably will have done nothing but make a mechanized guess from some far-away office window. See previous text.

De-departmentalize or die.
Last, the familiar motto about deconstructing the old-world stereotypes, clearing away the cobwebs and truly working across disciplines in teams of people. Well, it’s a fundamental requirement of creating advertising with roots. Early but difficult years of chemistry remind me that water is made up of atoms or molecules or elements or something. Whatever the case, water really isn’t pure. It’s a mixture of things. Just as thinking must be if it is to truly grow business. Roots can sprout from one place. They need water from many to grow. Find what it takes to tip up the watering can and see what happens.

You just might discover what it feels like to put down your own roots.


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While the buzz in Nashville usually comes from country music, Jeffrey Buntin, Jr. is determined to create advertising buzz in that city as well. As president and CEO of The Buntin Group, Jeffrey has led the charge to make Tennessee's largest agency its most creative as well.
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