Sometimes, something old is better than something new. In his 1963 book “Confessions of an Advertising Man,” David Ogilvy said: “What you say is more important than how you say it.”
Lately, almost every marketer I speak with laments the increasingly difficult task of earning audience attention. No one seems to have a solution but everyone seems to feel the answer lies buried deep within some new piece of technology they don’t understand.
They are wrong.
Technology is providing an endless distraction, but your audience will pay attention when you actually are willing to say something interesting. There is far too much follow-the-leader blandness in today’s marketing because everyone is so risk-averse. But think about it—isn’t it a greater risk to mimic the competition than to differentiate from it?
When a product or service says something unique, it’s magical. Attention is bestowed upon a marketer when a relevant message is delivered with an interesting or new perspective. If it contains a real emotional connection, the message will be even better—it will be memorable, maybe even iconic.
What we are talking about is good old-fashioned creativity. Creativity is hard and scary. As human beings we have a tendency to think reproductively—we look to past experience and repeat what was successful. But if you think the way you’ve always thought, you’ll come up with the same ideas. Creativity is the result of finding a perspective that no one else has taken. Scientists call this, thinking productively.
GE, partnering with ad agency BBDO, does this really, really well. It has one of the most creative and agile brand/advertising programs on the planet. Every advertising effort combines emotional resonance with relevance and charm. My current personal favorite is the Millie Dresselhaus ad. I can watch this ad over and over—it’s that good.
GE is looking to encourage more women to study the STEM disciplines and work for the company—and they took a very unique approach to make science cool. Millie Dresselhaus was the first woman to win the National Medal of Science in engineering. In this spot, Dresselhaus is treated like a celebrity. The commercial cuts from little girls receiving a Millie doll for their birthdays, hipsters mimicking Millie’s braid (it wraps the crown of her head) and a hospital nursery where all the girls are named Millie. The juxtapositions are brilliant and absurd, such as a little old lady followed by paparazzi and selfie seekers. These are scenes we associate more with Kardashians than scientists. The result is a consummate message of female empowerment and social commentary delivered in a way that entertains and lifts the soul.
Linda Boff, GE’s chief marketing officer was quoted in Ad Week, “There are people out there—Millie Dresselhaus is the one we’ve chosen to highlight—who have done remarkable things and deserve admiration and adulation and holding up those women as role models is a really fun way to shine a light on what we’re calling balancing the equation and addressing what is this industry-wide challenge of getting more women in STEM.”
Taking on gender equality in a national ad campaign has risks, yet GE took it on and managed to avoid sounding self-congratulatory or sanctimonious. This spot’s power comes from its wit. (And no special effects or some insane new techno-wizardry.) Whether you see it on traditional media or on your phone, is irrelevant—when you watch it, you want your daughter to want to be recognized for her brain rather than more superficial things. It delivers a knockout punch.
Pure and simple, this is great creative work. If you want to be heard, have something to say, say it differently and make it deeply human. David Ogilvy’s words from 60 years ago are classic — “What you have to say is more important than how you say it.”