Above: Soho, New York….scene of the car crash!

We have been working with a very enjoyable client recently and because they are a pleasure to work with we have made a particular effort for them. The project is largely over and a number of their team working on the project have written to us complimenting us on our work for them. Nice to hear our efforts are appreciated.

It led to us talking about clients who value what we do and those who don’t, which in turn led us to recall the following client.

How it all started:

A few years ago we gave a new business presentation regarding qualitative research to a famous company we hadn’t worked with before.

They have two main brands, one of which is very premium, the other of which is somewhat premium. They are both marketed globally, and separately. Although based in Britain their biggest market is the US. Russia is another big market.

We found ourselves discussing advertising research. They said they didn’t do any, which we found very surprising. They said the only qualitative research they did was regarding product development.

They gave us a brief to research some proposed advertising. The project went well and we worked with them for a number of years. They were a very nice company to work with, although it is one of those businesses that rotate people around functions and so the level of marketing expertise wasn’t as high as we have seen in some other sectors, where there is more functional specialism. Maybe that was the cause of subsequent events?

Then one day we saw an ad on air that we hadn’t been involved in, which was disappointing. We rang their ad agency, who by then we knew well, who told us the client had decided not to research the ad.

We let a bit of time pass and called the client saying we were keeping in touch and asked about the ad. They said they hadn’t researched it as they didn’t feel that the ad research had helped them much. They weren’t at all critical or hostile, they simply didn’t feel that the research had been very helpful. They couldn’t have been nicer about it.

Nonetheless, we left the call reeling: this is what had happened during our final project with them.

The farewell project…although we didn’t realise that at the time!:

They had called us to say they had some advertising they wanted us to research. It was part of a new strategy, combining the two brands into one campaign, which is something we had known they were interested in. The ad agency gave us a presentation on the new strategy, which whilst possessing a clear chain of logic leading to a distinct and overarching big brand thought, gave no indication that the strategy had been researched. When we asked if it had, the answer was “No”.  But not only had the proposition contained in the advertising not been researched, neither had the strategy of combining the two brands, which we found remarkable.

Nevertheless, the project proceeded.

An animatic and mood film were made illustrating the proposed ad, and the research took place in London, Moscow and New York.

Moscow’s metro may be as opulent as it is reputed to be, but it’s also a nightmare to navigate if you can’t read Cyrillic! We can’t, and so we and the agency Planning Director spent a morning on it – lost!

In London and Moscow the execution and its communication were moderately well received but not to the extend that great things could be expected from the strategy or execution.

In New York (the US is their biggest market globally remember) the advertising wasn’t just disliked. It was very wrong indeed.

But the problem wasn’t the execution. The problem was the strategy.

Owners of the more premium brand disliked the association with the less premium brand, which they considered to be too functional (but not too downmarket). Owners of the less premium brand didn’t like the association with the more premium brand, which they considered to be pretentious and affected (but not too upmarket).

The very likeable Account Director from the ad agency’s US office did a valiant job in trying to interpret the respondents intense dislike of the strategy positively. If he’d been on the Titanic when it hit the iceberg he’d have viewed it as a chance to go swimming. But even he couldn’t avoid the truth for too long.

The famous Cipriani restaurant in Soho, New York. Happily, slap bang opposite the New York viewing facility, and so scene of the commiseration dinner following the final New York groups.

We wrote a debrief saying that not only should the advertising not be made, but also that the strategy should be abandoned as it was resolutely rejected in the client’s key market.

Our recommendation was accepted and the brands continue to be marketed separately to this day.

And they think our research didn’t help? It saved them from a strategic disaster in their biggest market! How much more helpful could the research have been?!

The moral of the story:

Despite events, we look back on working with them fondly as their brands and consumers are interesting – and we had some fun travelling the world with them and their agency, but that’s another story!

But there is something in this tale that we, and any agency, need to remember: even if you have done the best work you can, that doesn’t mean its value will be recognised. It’s something we have to accept. And on the other hand, there have been occasions when we have been praised to the hilt for very simple things. Swings and roundabouts, as they say.