What do great campaigns have in common?
Cahill's book is called Igniting the Brand, and admittedly, I haven't read it yet. And since Amazon seems to be sold out right now, it may be a while before I do. However, AdAge recently posted a nice three-minute interview with Cahill about his findings. Essentially, the author examined case studies from 115 particularly effective campaigns executed over the past quarter-century to see if there were any commonalities. What did he find? In short, there was no clear "formula" for building an effective campaign. Makes sense so far, right? Further, he suggested that when agencies attempt to put a process in place for rigorously or "scientifically" improving an ad, it can often backfire since the insight necessary to make an ad connect for a given brand or product is not quantifiable. Finally, he argued that today's trend of focusing on hard data to make decisions and optimizations might cause otherwise savvy marketers to miss key opportunities, since the discoveries that lead to these opportunities are born of an aha! moment, and not from pouring over reams of spreadsheets. (That last argument reminds me a little too much of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink.)
Process, not formula
Image credit: Josh Hallett
So while I concur that there's no set formula, I think it's unwise to suggest -- for digital signage design, at least -- that there's nothing to be gained by following a procedure at a certain stage of your content development efforts.
Idea versus execution
Another point that I certainly wouldn't argue is that a similar process exists at the idea stage of content design. To me, campaign creation and campaign execution are two entirely different things, and it's unlikely that the approach for the latter can apply cleanly to the former. Ad campaigns need to rely on some data to make basic assumptions about the audience. For instance, Summer's Eve really doesn't have to care what men think of their brand. But much beyond that, marketers have to rely on instinct and emotion as much as anything else to build a solid campaign and strategy -- after all, they're trying to elicit an emotional response from viewers. Getting back to my point above, once they hand off their ideas to the content creators, a little bit of procedural polish can go a long way towards turning a merely good ad into a great one, from an effectiveness standpoint.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: a lot of the content on digital signage networks these days is utter crap. We're firmly a decade into our industry's evolution. Surely we can do better. But day in and day out, I come across content that's illegible, not memorable or just plain ugly. Considering that we've had guidelines posted on the Internet for years now that could address at least two of those issues, it just shouldn't be that way anymore. But still I'm hopeful that as more people discover at least some of these best practices (here, elsewhere, or from their own trial and error), they'll start using them to optimize future content to be cleaner, clearer and better-performing.
What other aspects of building or managing a digital signage network could be improved with a process? Which things are better left to intuition? Leave a comment and let us know.