Sean Cummins

20 creativity insights from the brain behind the “best job in the world” campaign

Today I had the pleasure of enjoying lunch with an advertising “guru” – he doesn’t like that term –  so lets call him a leading marketing executive – the CEO of CumminsNitro – Sean Cummins.

He’s the man behind Virgin Blue’s marketing (and indeed their “brand”), the Tourism Queensland Best Job in the World Campaign and other interesting things.

He spoke for four hours in two functions today and I’m going to try to focus on the interesting bits. Things that may be beneficial if you’re thinking about marketing, branding or strategy… I know that lists are great blog fodder – so here we go… (this is basically my notes from the functions). These are in chronological order not order of significance – but I think the most important idea for me was that creativity is not airy fairy – it’s a discipline. Then, shortly behind, was the idea that “genius comes from the prolific” which actually came from Einstein.

  1. There are a whole lot of ads out there shot exactly the same way – and he gave an example of “weird stuff happening on streets” from gerbils in running wheels to walking ATMS – he put together a two minute clip of bits from all these ads in a seamless montage. Finding a point of difference includes the style of your campaign – not just the substance of your product.
  2. We are in the throes of the greatest change in advertising ever – so much so that the man at the helm of one of Australia’s most highly regarded companies told a small business that asked a question to think hard before advertising. Ask if you need to advertise at all.
  3. There’s an old quote from a guy from Proctor and Gamble that says “I know 50% of my marketing works, I just don’t know which half.”
  4. Advertising has traditionally focused on a “push” philosophy where the seller “pushes” their messages onto the buyer – social networking and the changing community mentality means that it’s moved to a “pull” model where people choose what brands to hold dear and pull them to themselves.
  5. The concept of your branding being your logo essentially died when Nike became known for sweatshops –  your brand is what you’re known for, not your recognisable logo. Your brand is more than your logo – it is perhaps best defined as your “aura”.
  6. “The last bastion of the creative scoundrel is to change your logo”…
  7. Being successful in understanding markets and selling products means being an investigative journalist and researching trends and vibes rather than capturing a fleeting moment of creativity and hoping it resonates.
  8. Test things with focus groups – have people who will give you blunt, realistic feedback.
  9. Don’t sell anything off a negative. Find a positive. Don’t sell the reef on the basis that the reef might one day not be here – it opens up an in for lobby groups and the competition.
  10. Paul Hogan once captured the consumer’s intention best (and the way to sell things) when he said you don’t invite people to your house to see the furniture. People are after authentic experiences and interactions – not an icon or postcard perfect photo.
  11. When you’re selling something strategy is more important than substance – you don’t come to a client with an idea for an ad but a strategy.
  12. Sometimes tighter deadlines produce tighter results – “give me an hour and I’ll produce a more pithy campaign than if I’m given a month”…
  13. If a proposition or proposal has the word and in it it’s not single minded.
  14. Twittering is like sponsored stalking.
  15. The movie Australia was an artifice – with no buy in for tourism whatsoever – tacking a $60 million campaign on the end was a gross error in judgment.
  16. Sometimes we need to stop making sense and start acting on ideas to see how far they can go.
  17. Develop a creative habit – or a methodology and discipline for creativity. Figure out how and where you best come up with ideas. Where do you think your clearest. Don’t keep a notepad by your bed (unless writing down your spontaneous ideas helps you get to sleep). Dreams are not when we are at our most lucid. Set a rigid routine around your creativity.
  18. Einstein said “genius comes from the prolific” the more of something you do the more likely you are to get better at it and produce a flash of brilliance. Songwriters may write their biggest hit in five minutes but it will take a lifetime of discipline to produce the ability to do so.
  19. When you’re communicating an idea try to find a one word summary. Consider how you’d explain it when grabbing an innocent bystander on the street – the longer you take the more freaked out they become.
  20. For complex ideas write the concept out in full and then prune. Remove the unnecessary fluff until you’re left with your substance. Follow the epithet “say it straight then say it great” in order to ensure you’re communicating the essence of your idea.

Gruen man

The Gruen Transfer returned to TV tonight. It’s a brilliant show. Tonight’s topic – tourism advertising. A subject close to my heart. Made some interesting observations about how tourism marketing works and the basic formula.

A couple of years ago at a marketing workshop with Virgin Blue marketing guru Sean Cummins (from Cummins and Partners) showed two tourism advertisements from different states with the soundtracks switched – and it was almost impossible to tell the difference.

Tourism ads are by and large formulaic and in the past were too focused on iconic shots of postcard landmarks – and apparently what we’re really into is collecting experiences rather than pictures.

Tourism marketers are limited by government funding and the fact that the tourism industry is a disparate bunch of small businesses who don’t really want to throw much money into advertising a destination rather than their own businesses.

I’m going to make my own tourism ad on their website and figure out how to put it up here.

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