My day-job requires me to mentor new planners. I usually summarize the sessions on a note and post it here as an installment of the “planning communication strategy for beginners” series. I hope one day this series can be published as a textbook, both in Indonesian and English.
When I was still a junior in advertising, every time I saw great work got made I wondered, “How did they come up with it?”
Few years in the industry got me to change that question into, “How the hell did they sell it to clients?”
The world will never be short of ad agencies’ brilliant ideas that are never executed. I don’t think this is clients’ fault —it’s way too easy to blame clients, and doing so only takes us to a dead-end. I think this happens because most agencies can’t sell those ideas to clients. Agencies fail to convince clients that those ideas will solve real problems, not just because they are “cool”, or “never done before”, or “award-worthy”.
Once we fully accept the responsibility of selling ideas, let’s continue with how planners contribute. For me, a planner (or a strategist, whatever your business card says about you) plays a big role in two areas:
- Explain the idea clearly and concisely, so clients can immediately understand what it’s about
- Convince clients that the idea solves their real problem
- Defend the idea from attacks and criticisms
This post will focus on the first area: formulating the idea clearly and concisely. It’s dead simple. When we present our idea to clients and they don’t instantly get what it is all about, how can they believe that the target will?
Unfortunately, too many times we fail to formulate our idea in a clear and concise way. We often use fancy or flashy words to label the idea (e.g. “Shinning moments with Brand X”, or “Brand Y Partylicious”) without explaining what it actually means. Or we often use slides after slides to show the elements that make up the idea, without summarising upfront what it’s essentially about.
The best way to explain the agency idea is to use a log line. A log line expresses the essence of a story (usually of a movie or a novel) in one or two simple sentence(s).
Some example of log lines from famous classic movies:
- The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son (The Godfather)
- Set in unoccupied Africa during the early days of World War II, an American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications (Casablanca)
- While on a trip to Paris with his fiancé’s family, a nostalgic screenwriter finds himself mysteriously going back to the 1920s every day at midnight (Midnight in Paris)
A good log line gives a clear answer to the question of, “What is it all about?” without having to recite the whole movie or novel. Yet it also intrigues us to know much more about the details: what actually happens? How does the story progress?
To explain an idea using the log line format, you need two elements (the order of appearance is interchangeable):
- The short summary of what the idea is, AND
- The strategic intent of that idea, or what the idea is trying to achieve.
I will give you an example from one of my favorite TV spots in 2012:
I would describe this idea as, “To give life to Samsung’s belief in the virtue of relentless effort, we show a visual montage of several different athletes with disabilities who are training very hard without lenience.”
Let’s dissect this description by each element:
- “To give life to Samsung’s belief in the virtue of relentless effort ” is the strategic intent of the idea. Obviously it has to link with the communication strategy
- “Showing athletes with disabilities who are training very hard without lenience” is the summary of the idea
- A visual montage of several different athletes” refers to the chosen vehicle to tell the story or idea.
Another benefit of using log lines to express our creative ideas is it delineates which elements of the idea that can’t be substituted or changed (because doing so will break down the idea), and which one are more “flexible”. From the example above, we know that:
- If the clients believe that the training feels a bit “cruel”, we probably need to convince them further that viewers should realize how these athletes train as hard as “regular” athletes. In fact, the lack of leniency is the beauty of the whole idea.
- If the clients insist on showing his favorite sports, let’s say badminton, we can incorporate it without breaking down the idea.
- If the clients are not entirely happy with visual montage of many different athletes and are thinking of focusing only on one (famous) athlete, then the discussion should be about which route will be more effective to deliver the strategic intent. In this case, I believe if we use one famous athlete, we can potentially distract viewers’ attention from effort to “special talent”.
- If the clients insist on showing moments of victory instead of episodes of training, they may not realize that they have the problem with the strategic intent of glorifying effort. The discussion needs to refer back to the strategy.
This way, formulating the idea in the log line format also helps us in protecting the idea’s integrity against naïve suggestions or uninformed criticisms.
What about the criticism of “But I’ve seen something like this before!” We have to probe what the clients mean by “something like this”. Is it just a matter of setting (e.g. in Serengeti desert) or props (e.g. red Corvette)? Is it the storytelling vehicle, or the whole idea itself?
If it’s a matter of setting or props, we can discuss if those elements are essential or irreplaceable –my experience tells me most of the times they are not.
But the discussion gets more interesting if it’s about the same creative device. Let’s see two examples here.
Both of them are using the same creative device: in the eyes of children, parents appear to be something else. Yet the similarity ends there, once we recognise the strategic intent and the log line of each advert:
IKEA’s “Playin’ With My Friends” idea can be expressed like this: A cheerful, upbeat, and naïve depiction of how children see parents as toys they can play with, in order to render the IKEA kitchen as a happy place.
Meanwhile, Fragile Childhood’s “Monsters” idea can be expressed as: An eerie and gloomy depiction of how children see alcoholic parents as menacing monsters, to help us empathise with what those children have to go through everyday.
This is why we need to explain, discuss, and defend our idea in its entirety, not in piecemeal fashion. This is also why we often need to add qualifiers (like the words I emphasised in the above examples).
Are the log line technique suitable to explain ideas beyond TV spots? Of course. Let’s look at these example.
“To save more trees and discourage wasting paper, we build a tool that enables us to prevent any document from being printed out” (Save as .WWF)
“To stop Romanian consumers from taking their classic chocolate brand Rom from granted, we replace it with a new, Americanised version to provoke public protest” (American Rom)
“To help ensure the survival of the big segment of its costumers, American Express creates a special day where people are encouraged to shop in small local business for the holiday seasons” (Small Business Saturday)
After reading this, let’s make sure that before presenting the agency’s proposal to your clients, we spend enough time to internally discuss and agree how should the idea be expressed, so it’s easier to explain and defend it.