I’ll warn the reader right now – this is going to be a strange blog post which may make sense only years from now, but I ask your indulgence and bear with me.
Our industry is rather strange, when you really stop and think about it.
In advertising, we get paid to make people feel something.
(At least good advertising makes people feel something.)
Good advertising makes people laugh, or cry, or have “feels” in that moment, and we do it with a purpose. We make you feel something to make you do something.
The best advertising somehow manages to do all that inside of 60 seconds without any warning.
One minute you were thinking about grocery shopping, or having to walk the dog, or its snowing out, or the screwed up pass that ended in an interception, or that missed double play, and then an ad came on, and POW – major feels without any warning at all.
A mentor and friend, George Lois, famously said that good advertising is “poison gas.” It should completely knock you on your ass without warning.
That’s what we get paid to do for a living and it’s a strange profession to be certain.
When I started this agency two years ago, I had three goals (which we are still working to achieve):
- To bring the highest creative advertising agency value to the aviation industry. To us, achievement of this goal would mean creating a campaign that we judge to be at the top of our craft and delivers lasting brand recognition to the client.
- To expand the number of people who recognize the value that aviation brings to our lives: making the “freedom that flight enables” understood by the widest audience possible.
- Giving a voice of passion and purpose to industry players that otherwise think of themselves as boring and unimaginative.
I felt (and now as we add people – we feel) that those goals would be disruptive to both advertising and aviation.
We felt if we achieved any of these, it would be game changing for us and for clients.
Despite all the lauding of creative advertising, precious few agencies actually do it anymore (the number of agencies that consistently do it I can name and count on one hand, and none of those agencies work in the aviation industry sector). Creative work is largely seen as being “too expensive” in an age where advertising is ubiquitous, largely pedestrian, and disposable. That said, I know we hunger for those great “poison gas” moments as evidenced by the reception of Jeep’s ad “Groundhog Day” for the 2020 Super Bowl.
I know the great campaign that will catapult the industry client willing to embrace it – will be a piece of creative that will be in the vein of “poison gas”.
Second, no campaigns we’re aware of focus on making aviation understood outside of the niche community that is “aviation.” In fact, this is a very serious problem for the industry as a whole. In trying to understand why no “good agencies” operated in this niche, I realized one of the pieces of the answer was the coterie nature of the aviation community. The aviation community is suspicious of outsiders and hesitant to bring people into its sphere of passions and pursuits. It’s no surprise under those circumstances that all of our competitors (except us) tell an ubiquitous origination story of “I used to do (fill in the blank – usually a pilot) in aviation, but now I do marketing. So you should hire us because we get you.”
That’s a great idea, we get you. But apparently they don’t “get you” enough to push you to sell to people whom you’re afraid of, and that’s a bone of contention with us. The only way the industry grows, be it an MRO, an FBO, a charter, a manufacturer, whomever, is by expanding the demand base for the industry beyond just those who jump on a plane. As I’ve explained before in many fora, luxury boats, art, fine wine, collectibles, and real estate all manage to grow dramatically post the 2008 “bust,” and yet somehow aviation as a whole barely grew by comparison. Many of these industries face barriers of purchase as high (and sometimes higher) than aviation. So why didn’t it grow as much? This is entirely because of how the industry’s parochial view of advertising: that a print ad in a magazine, some trade shows, and some glossy brochures should cover it.
We believe that this industry is magnificent and should be celebrated as a marvel of modern technology and triumph, and we have no intention of keeping that secret only inside the industry.
Finally, giving a voice of passion and purpose is so desperately needed. The art and craft behind what people in this industry do is beyond description. Every day people in this industry engage in art, science, physics, and service. The entire industry’s function is a ballet of design, form, function, and people. Yet, the messaging by companies in this industry (largely because of the talent of their advising agencies) is dry, lifeless, devoid of voice, devoid of brand, and devoid of spirit.
We think that is totally wrong.
Because advertising and marketing are about VALUES.
What do you believe and for whom do you exist to serve.
Those two ideas, beliefs and customers, are always at the core of every great ad, every great campaign, every memorable slogan, every commercial that knocked you off your feet. We feel when we are prodded to examine our beliefs or when we find people who are “our people,” in the world.
There are several ways to accomplish this “feels” on command. I’ve spent the better part of a decade trying to understand the triggers and the craft that lead to it. I’ve interviewed nearly every legendary ad man alive (and some who aren’t anymore) to understand the “epic campaigns” that became the stories of legend in Mad Men and the halls of advertising. The most direct, effective, and durable way, the way that every “legendary” advertising has used to be effective, is to immediately shoot straight at beliefs and make us “feel” something.
I realized this when I first encountered an ad by Lloyd Choi. He made it as part of an advertising contest for Chevrolet. The ad didn’t win, but it drew such an intense reaction that people were really upset about the ad. In part, the ad made them feel “too much,” and uncomfortable with their grief, they lashed out in anger at Chevrolet.
Making people feel is powerful, like a chain saw, but in the hands of the unskilled it can be quite dangerous. That ad, “Maddie,” drew 10 million views (which would be awesome for any ad) in YouTube. It was written up in all of the major trades. In sixty seconds, they had people bawling harder than when “Travis” had to go out and shoot “Old Yeller.”
The message may have been wrong, but the advertising’s values were clear – through thick and thin, those we love always stick by us.
Now whether or not you think Chevrolet embodies that value (I personally don’t) is another question. If that ad had come on during the Academy Awards show, I assure you, whomever won best picture that year would be immediately eclipsed by that ad’s impact.
In this day and age where we are constantly bombarded in the “head” about rationality, we’re starved for connection.
It’s why Colin Kaepernick kneeling caused such a stir. Either your agree with Kaepernick or you don’t.
Nobody is in the middle on that one. It touched too many emotive “hot buttons” for that.
Nike tripled down on it, believing that speaking to the beliefs of those whom it perceived were abandoned by Adidas, Under Armor, and Reebok, would help it reclaim market share.
Nike has a long history of advertising on values. The campaign “Just do it,” is about values. And the campaign of “Believe in something,” followed and built on that value. Despite Fox News and parts of the social mediasphere predicting Nike’s downfall, the company claimed $163 million in earned media, a $6 billion brand value increase, and a 31% boost in sales.
All we can remember, in the end, is either who agrees with us, or who doesn’t. We can remember how people made us feel, but not necessarily what they said.
So, this is what we’re focused on at this agency. Values. Communicating values.
You will see it soon. Things will change for us, and you will see how this idea is executed for us (and then later for you).
Our value is – we love aviation. We chose you (this industry) after selling soap, and food, and liquor, and hotels, and grills, and sport teams, and plumbing, and roofing, and engineering, and office products, and tons of other things we can’t even remember anymore, we’ve sold so much crap for other companies over our careers.
We chose you, because, we love aviation. We love the people who work in it. We love the companies that exist in it. We love what you do. We think what you do is important. We think modern life would be impossible without it.
So, consider this a manifesto, a rant, whatever.
To me, it’s the beginning of a clarity I’ve struggled to find for the past two years about what our agency is really about and why I want this to work so bad for this niche.
We love aviation.
Soon, you’ll see how, and why, we believe advertising is about values.
(And to understand what lead me to realize all this, despite the hints being in front of me for the past decade, you can watch this and this. Again, this post may not make sense for a long time, until we finally get there, and make everyone in this industry understand what we know to be true.)