Demo Love

“Demo love” is a phrase I learned early on in my advertising career, and I’ve been burned by it more than once. Someone puts a demo(nstration) track on a rough piece of advertising as a proof of concept, but it’s so powerful that it becomes impossible to separate the ad from the track. Everyone falls in love with it. But then you find out you can’t have it: can’t get the rights, it’s too expensive, whatever. And then everyone is angry and disappointed as they realize the music ate the idea.

(When I was at TAXI, we created a spot called “Demo Love” for a little client who owned an indie music business, featuring then famous creative directors in the industry. That whole experience was a nightmare for reasons I don’t care to recall, but the spot was kind of fun if for no other reason than it underscored our industry’s self-awareness of taking our work way too seriously. I wish I could find it. Oh well.)

There’s another less discussed version of demo love, which is falling in love with an executional direction. There are so many times I’ve dug my heels in on a concept, only for it never to see the light of day. Having spent nearly 20 years on the agency side, I think it’s fair to say that 95% of the ideas presented never see the light of day. That certainly doesn’t mean they all deserved to, but it’s a depressing statistic nonetheless. Digging my heels in against odds like these wasn’t always the wisest move; I’ve never been accused of having too little conviction! However, I’d like to think it resulted in better work than it might have had I not fought, even if I didn’t win the initial battle. All that said, flexibility is a virtue in our business. There are undoubtedly ideas I fought hard for that didn’t survive for good reason. And fighting too hard for one thing can cloud a different view of that thing, which might in fact be more appropriate.

Back in the summer of 2018 when in early 2019 planning, we were told we’d be challenged by our Senior Leadership Team (SLT) at OppenheimerFunds to work with a much smaller budget given talk of an impending recession. So we were asked to present two plans: 1. flat, and 2. significantly reduced. Put simply, I didn’t want to. It would be too easy for the SLT to choose the reduced budget and re-allocate those funds to more quantifiable areas: when your sales process is several months, and mostly done behind closed doors, quantifying the value of advertising is tenuous at best. Instead, I suggested we present a flat plan, and one significantly higher, the argument being that brands who increase spend during a recession do better long term (thank you, P&G’s A.G. Lafley who famously said in 2008 “when times are tough, you build share.”) In addition to this, I said we should present the ad concepts we’d run should a recession occur, because great advertising can sway anyone despite what most believe. Here’s what McCann came up with.

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DEMO LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT. This is (spoiler alert: would have been) award-winning work and our team immediately “bought” it.

But the experience was anti-climactic. The SLT approved the flat budget, our firm was put on record as saying the bull market would continue for another five years and lo and behold, we were (somewhat) right, or at least the sort of downturn needed for this work to make sense didn’t materialize. It was a perverse feeling to be kind of rooting for a recession so that I could make an ad campaign, despite recognizing it would be a huge bummer for my bank account, my family, everyone else’s families, the job market, the world economy…

While sadly (ok, happily) a recession didn’t hit, in the late fall and early winter of 2018, three relevant things did: 1. Invesco announced it was acquiring OppenheimerFunds, 2. our global funds (with which the firm was synonymous) started underperforming, and 3. the market overall started experiencing some fairly significant volatility. This meant the global campaign we were investing millions of dollars in media against was feeling a wee bit tone deaf.

We reconsidered Forest/Trees, even though we knew deep down it wasn’t right – and in fact would have been irresponsible as its publication might alone stoke fear of an impending major downturn. But there was another campaign McCann had presented in response to that brief, which we’d overlooked because of our puppy eyes for Forest/Trees. And in fairness, this other one might have come across as flippant in the context of a true recession so it wasn’t right when presented. But the stars aligned for our new context: a volatile market, coming from an asset manager who had a responsibility to its acquiring firm to preserve AUM as much as possible in the face of an unsteady global market.

Below, meet one of our five irresistibly lazy animals inviting investors to Challenge Impulse by suggesting doing absolutely nothing in times of volatility is the smartest move.

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Perhaps this is my favorite campaign of all time because it was my OppenheimerFunds swan (no pun intended) song. But I also loved it because of its simplicity, its subtle humor, and its single-minded focus on the most compelling investment stat you’ll ever read: over any 15-year period since 1926, markets have been up 99.8% of the time.

I was also proud of myself and my team for not letting that demo love bug bite us this time – for allowing ourselves to see past our first true love and recognizing Lazy Animals for its simple brilliance, wrapped in fur.


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