Great Leaps Forward




One of the most satisfying things in life is having the courage and nous to take advantage of an opportunity. Identifying and acting on those rare occasions where ‘the cards are stacked in your favour’, ‘the winds blowing in the right direction’ and ‘all your ducks are lined up in a row’ produce some of the sweetest moments in the world.

Finding these tactical opportunities in the arena of marketing and advertising can be equally exciting and add tremendous value to any activity. For us the ‘perfect storm’ is often a combination of external events, imaginative use of communication channels, a well-timed relevant message and startling creative, all tied together with a healthy dose of good luck. The component parts of a tactical campaign may not seem that special in isolation, it’s only when they are placed together that they become real dynamite.

I still remember vividly (although it was many moons ago!), one of the first times I saw this effect in practice:

Our agency was working with Crisis (then Crisis at Christmas) to try and run a fundraising campaign on a budget that would have made a shoestring look wide!

Media choices were limited, we couldn’t afford direct mail or broadcast whilst online didn’t really exist (long time ago!). National press was our only real viable avenue, the question was how to extract maximum impact from minimal spend.

Our recommendation was to shift the proposed campaign period from November to as close to Christmas as we could get, avoiding the busy Autumn pre-Christmas media market and taking advantage of the dearth of activity and dramatically reduced ‘short term’ prices around the event itself. The nature of the charity also lent itself naturally to this timing, even allowing the opportunity for some relevant conscious pricking.

The counter balance argument was that nobody had the time or inclination to read a newspaper over the holiday period. Whilst this may have been true in part there was one crucial exception. In the pre-digital age readers relied far more on the press as a source of TV listings reference. Every national press title published a Christmas TV programme guide, this by definition had a two week shelf life and would be referred to frequently over the period. We decided to focus our campaign exclusively into these supplements.

The masterstroke was a creative execution that glued all these variable elements together seamlessly. The charities message, the timing, the pricking of conscious, and the media environment, all combined perfectly in headline and imagery.

The picture of a homeless person sitting outside a makeshift cardboard shelter and the headline ‘Another Christmas in front of the box’ was simple, but in this environment, unmissable.

The cash poured in, way beyond even the wildest expectations of both client and agency, beating target by tenfold, making a fortune for the cause and adding several hundred invaluable fresh donors to the database.

The simple lessons behind this success are as true today as they were then:

Think laterally but logically, don’t ignore the obvious but think outside the box if you can build a case for it.

Marry the media to the message to add impact.

Never underestimate the importance of timing.

Take advantage of every variable to give you the maximum exposure for minimum investment

In the immortal words of Hannibal Smith ‘I love it when a plan comes together’.