Too damn right my strategy is showing


Propaganda – a job to do, something to say and therefore nothing gets in the way

One of the more stupid cliches that you hear banded about advertising agencies is the phrase “your strategy is showing”.

It is usually used by creatives to describe work in which the brand idea is not totally obscured by the creative execution. And by weak planners to explain why their thinking isn’t in the work.

I can’t speak for you but as far as I am concerned strategies should scream out from communications.

I mean why have them if they don’t?

When you think about campaigns like Avis’s ‘we try harder’, BA’s ‘the world’s favourite airline’, Stella’s ‘reassuringly expensive’, BT’s ‘it’s good to talk’, the AA’s ‘fourth emergency service’ or Honda’s ‘power of dreams’ it is bleeding obvious what the brand is up to, the strategy stands out like a modesty at a new business meeting.

Creative work should engage people, provide an emotional connection, build memorability, invite people to join the conversation, absorb them in the moment, build emotional desire and all of those wonderful things that it does. But it should also dramatise the strategy.

I can’t for the life of me think why you wouldn’t want your strategy showing unless of course it is so lifeless and limp that 10,000 volts wouldn’t bring the bloody thing to life.

If that is the case then burying it under layers of creative artifice and never speaking of it again is the least you can do.

BA Face from 1989 – they could run it today and it would be fresh and powerful.

One of the many great Stella films. A little overblown at this length but still a gem.

Honda Grr – because you can never see it too many times.

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17 Replies to “Too damn right my strategy is showing”

  1. Yes yes yes yes yes… in three years of editing Private View in Campaign the “oops, your strategy is showing line” has always bothered me. I’ve never said anything because a) if truth be told, I never really understood what they meant and b) you don’t criticise Private Viewers. It’s hard as hell to get them to write it in the first place.
    This is by no means a rigorous analysis, but I’m willing to bet a sizeable amount that when reviewers have said “your strategy is showing” they’ve said it about a poor idea which has been poorly executed.

  2. It doesn’t have to be a poor idea. It could be a decent idea. The ‘strategy is showing’ line is invariably a response to poor execution, where the communication has failed to do the things highlighted above – engage, bring joy, create excitement, provoke dialogue. Those examples above are simple and smart strategies, beautifully executed. Lots of brainy ad people could have said ‘ Your strategy is showing’ about them all. Except instead they said ‘ Oooo..that’s good.’

  3. “BA Face from 1989 – they could run it today and it would be fresh and powerful.”
    Except for this:

  4. In it’s purest form, all strategy is creative and all creative is strategic.
    In our new IKEA work, Be Brave, not Beige is the brief and the idea and the line.
    A brief is not a brief unless it is built around an idea. An idea is worthless unless it delivers against a strategy.
    It’s the Tao of Planning.

  5. Phil – glad you are back in the saddle at Ikea. Passed your place last night and saw the stuff up in reception.

  6. What’s also slightly alarming about the “your strategy is showing” line is that it suggests that advertising can *only* work through a kind of subterfuge. Remember it was Dr Goebbels who remarked that “the most effective form of persuasion is where you don’t know you’re being persuaded.”
    But I think there are a few cases where the phrase can be applied – “I’ll have a Babycham” perhaps.
    Why here? Well, maybe there are certain advertising tasks (making something cool, for instance, or young) which have to be undertaken obliquely. Because if you are overt about what you hope to achieve (“Sherry – young people absolutely love it”) you become completely implausible.
    Should people undertake these ambitious yet unbelievable repositionings? That’s another question. But it is quite often the task set by the client brief.
    Is David Cameron’s strategy showing, perhaps?

  7. Perhaps there is a difference here between a strategy that is intentionally made to show (so that it almost verges on openness/honesty) and a strategy that tries to go unnoticed but it’s completely obvious way they’re up to (so that it verges on cringe worthy/insulting).
    For me personally, Cameron’s public bike rides, 2006 GQ magazine shoot, cannabis confession, Jonathan Ross appearance, blog, MySpace site and association with the Notting Hill jet set certainly belongs in the latter, as an attempt to strike a chord with today’s youth culture.
    However, I dare say others are less cynical and it’s a cunning strategy in fairness – one that is probably working. Similarly, I question Robbie Williams’ musical talent, but his ability to make a success out of aping just about every hero archetype under the sun (James Bond, Ice skater champ, racing car driver, ‘sex god’ stripper etc.) has to be commended. Sorry, these are not advertising examples – I digress here – but perhaps it’s helpful to look at the broader branding context also.
    So, as always, it seems there are no universal laws to the marketing game – everyone has made a good point. But that’s good, right? It would be a dull, predictable, homogenous industry if not the case. And of course, there’s never a dull moment on Adliterate! Happy Easter all, M.

  8. think there is a big difference between strategy and ‘proposition’ (or whatever people want to call it nowdays). Personally I don’t have a problem about the proposition being obvious or not, sometimes it makes sense to assert the proposition, sometimes it’s better to find another way to communicate it, however there is often a problem if the strategy (what you want to achieve and how, not entirely what you want to say) is obvious. If this happens people can feel they’re being manipulated, or marketed to… and so reject the brand communication.
    So thanks fellas for the advice, but next time I want to encourage people to pay premium for my brand I think I’ll not communicate “oi you, pay more!”

  9. Great post.
    Your model has proven itself time and again in our agency. Uh oh. I better check our licensing agreement on that thing. ;)
    But it’s not going to provide for the idea. It’s just a strong framework.
    P.S. They have re-run this ad. They just happened to do it for Carlton Beer and the Big Big Ad. ;)

  10. ‘oops, your strategy is showing’.
    It’s just good marketing shorthand for one of 2 problems.
    1. The strategy doesn’t do enough for a idea to emerge when linked to the communication objective
    2. The creative execution of the strategy is lazy.
    No more thinking needed. Just go back and improve the work now you know it’s not right and don’t shoot the messenger.

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