I’ve just written a little book called ‘The Special Brand’.
It’s no magnum opus or dry textbook on marketing, but more of a sensible and straightforward approach to being different by being very focussed.
It’s out as a paperback on Amazon and as an ebook. £6.95.
It is getting some nice comments from various people here and in the US.
(I’m in the Economic Times in India next month!)
I’ve included some bits below for you, plus the foreword from the fabulous Claudia Caplan in Baltimore.
At the end of the day, it’s written for the ordinary marketer, large or small, who wants to get back to the basics.
And to help get a few larger clients back on track.
"The Special Brand was not written as a book for the experts, the academics, the award winners or the almighty in advertising or marketing. But it should be read by them.
It is written for the man who is trying to make his business look different.
Or the company that has spent so much money on intelligence it has lost sight of why it is useful any more.
Or the multinational who is still using old ways and habits to try and become something new.
It’s one of those books where you spend an hour reading it and a very long time afterwards thinking about what it is telling you.”
"I worked under Mr Shanks for a couple years in Dallas - my first "real" agency experience.
While we were a small niche shop, DS ran it like we were one of the Madison Avenue big boys. He encouraged us to keep thinking, keep pushing, keep creating and keep writing. Now almost 5 years and several agencies later, we’re on different continents but I still feel his presence every time I sit down to write.
This book is a little of what it was like to work for him. Always boiling down concepts and strategy to the big idea…the brand essence. And he was always quick with an anecdote from his globe-trotting career that perfectly related to whatever we were doing.
It’s a quick read…and I see myself going to back to THE SPECIAL BRAND now and again when I reach a creative roadblock and need to clear out the cobwebs”
“In a business world constantly seduced by complexity, fads and trends, so often the casualty is the simple, important stuff that truly carries the business along.
As Steven Covey said “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
In The Special Brand, David Shanks brings us right back to the main thing… the brand… the DNA of the business.
In refreshingly simple terms, he lays out a cast-iron case for the brand being the supreme driver of the business and in equally straightforward language he tells us how to go about doing it.
The Special Brand should be an essential two hours’ reading for every Chief Executive, Marketing Manager, Product Manager and MBA student.”
" Small, yet perfectly formed."
"An excellent, and very accessible, little book for anyone interested in promoting their brand - whatever its size. A straightforward reminder of some simple truths, often overlooked, that could quickly transform the fortunes of struggling entrepreneurs.
There are a lot of advertising and marketing books out there. Shelves of them, in fact.
And many, if not most, focus on a simple idea: “How I conquered the world of advertising and am considerably smarter than you.
” David Shanks aims to make the reader feel like the smart one. Right away, that should tell you what a clever marketing person he is.
In fact, ‘The Special Brand’ serves a number of purposes. If you’re a client, it helps you clear away all of the marketing jargon and focus on what you really should do and what that could possibly mean for your brand.
If you’re an agency person, it moves you away from just making ads to truly making a difference for your clients.
Clearly and simply, David lays out the road map to discovering the truth of your brand and why anyone should give a happy damn.
From creative director to client and back again, I’ve been in advertising longer than I’d like to admit.
And it’s tempting to say that this clever little book really doesn’t tell you anything new.
More than tempting, it’s the truth.
Because “The Special Brand” is filled with the commonsense stuff that we really do know, but just tend to forget in the heat of the meetings and the conference calls and the frighteningly meaningless things like “ideation sessions.”
But look at it this way, the Bible doesn’t tell you everything new either.
And like the Bible, this book simply reminds you of what you always should be doing.
That’s not to suggest that you’d ever confuse David Shanks with anyone’s Lord and Savior.
Though in the right situation, he and this book could save both your ass and your marketing budget.
Claudia Caplan, Chief Marketing Officer, Bethesda, Maryland, USA
Chris passed away this week. He was one of my work partners in Singapore when we had our own agency.
It was a time of extremely satisfying irresponsibility and typical of many young expats trying to make a business work whilst having a great time.
I’m sure it hasn’t changed at all.
People have been asked to contribute their memories of Chris for the service. So here are mine.
I think in many ways they are also a few thoughts about why our business can be great.
And why you should never forget it’s only advertising and quite fun, if you let it be.
“Looking at this brief, I really just wanted to send you my Amex bill for 1993.
Chris would have loved the singlemindedness of that.
But as I ponder his loss, I also find myself thinking about Chris on many different levels…workmate, friend, drinking buddy, agency partner, comedian, confidant, adman, winner, loser, thinker, bon vivant and all the other things that young blokes become to each other when they own the same company.
He was my work partner for about seven years in Pounds Shanks Jordan, which was once described as “All icing and no cake.” I still regard this as a compliment.
So I couldn’t give you just one fond memory of Jordo, as we used to call him. But I have tried to keep it to just ten.
They probably won’t mean much to anyone except me. And him, if he’s listening.
So in no particular order:
1. Simon Pounds and I used to phone his office using false names.
One day his Chinese secretary shouted through to him “Noel Coward on line one, George Best on line two.”Quick as a flash he responded with “Tell Noel he owes me a script. And tell Bestie we’re not the Ball Partnership.”
2. We re-pitched for a food client as the incumbent. It was obvious the regional man wanted to get rid of us.
So he asked us to create a new brand, instead of looking at our epic success with the old one.
But we refused and rationalised the existing brand as the ‘new’ brand solution, which was a big risk for Chris.
And we got fired for breaking the rules. Jordo was in tears.
I was so enraged for him I rang up the regional client in his hotel from the coin box in Emerald 5 to tell him I knew why he had rigged it this way.
Unfortunately, this also got the local expat client fired, who happened to be Jordo’s mate and the reason why we got the business in the first place.
When Jordo was hauled in front of them he shrugged and replied:
“Well, when you’re on a pitch it’s like trying to catch a fish. And you sometimes need to use different methods to show you want the business. The thing is, Shanksy is fishing with dynamite. But that’s us.”
I loved him immensely for that.
3. Chris was a great presenter of creative work.
He had that combination of an avuncular manner and a stentorian voice that basically rolled over people to keep them quiet.
And he used to laugh at his own jokes in meetings.
I was never quite sure whether the clients got it, but every time they left we used to roll about the office killing ourselves. It was a brilliant time.
4. “My objective is to get to work. My strategy is to take the bus.” This may not be his line, but I learnt it from him. Chris was a very clever thinker in terms of strategy and he taught me a lot.
5. Chris had a wit and a turn of phrase that I’ve stolen, embellished and often repeated. They all still live in my heart.
When he was working from home:
“I’ll call you back. There’s a monitor lizard in my office that’s the size of Elvis and it’s looking at me like a peanut butter sandwich.”
When I trusted him with my laundry:
“Mate, I know that mint green Hugo Boss suit cost you a fortune. But our amah put it in the washer and now it wouldn’t fit the little bloke on Fantasy Island.”
When we were slow:
“Guys, we need to work quicker. This is moving like a constipated snail dragging a bag of cement up a hill by its testicles.”
When a client was being ridiculous:
“Sure. And we can also nail jelly to the ceiling.”
6. We were once struggling to get a script through and I’d written it about six times. Fail, fail, fail.
So one night I went out, drunk a load of beer and smashed out the idea with a marker on a pillow case in the hotel.
When I showed it to Jordo next morning his eyes lit up.
He just took the scrawly pillow case and presented it to them, with a “See, we do good ideas in our sleep over here.” What a man. It went through in five seconds.
7. We were growing like mad but our cashflow was terrible, so we borrowed some money from a bunch of very unsavoury Burmese chaps.
But then we didn’t have the money to pay them back either.
This was not very clever because at the same time we had to send Jordo to Burma with Bobby Charlton on a BAT trip.
I remember him fondly saying that he might have been the only bloke to convince Bobby he was a guest, when he was really an insurance policy.
And why he had to sleep in Bobby’s room at night. Which may not be true.
8. Like everyone else we used to go to the Top Ten when we were in Singers.
So we bought Jordo a year’s VIP membership without telling him.
I used to go all the time using his name.
When he found out and tried to get in one night, they wouldn’t let him in.
And he always had to pay afterwards, which was even better.
9. I stayed with him in Taiwan once. We were in a taxi and the little driver had a portable TV taped to his steering wheel, so he could watch a soap opera in the Taipei rush-hour traffic.
We were trying to get a flight and Jordo was worried the chap was taking us to the domestic airport by mistake.
So he jumped out the crawling cab, tied his hankie round his face and parked himself in front of the windscreen in the middle of all the traffic.
Then he made goggle shapes with his fingers, wings with his arms, and started to bark out all these zooming Dambusters’ theme tune noises to the bemused and slightly terrified driver.
This was his way of translating ‘big plane driven by foreigners’. I can still hear him saying “It’s all in the idea, son.”
10. Lastly, and I’ve used this line on many an occasion, because in many ways it sums up Jordo’s quick mind and ability to never take things too seriously:
We took a new client to a posh restaurant in Singapore.
The place was stone dead. Nada. It was one of those moments when nobody on either side quite knows what to say.
Except Chris: “Well, I’m bloody glad we booked then. Who wants a beer?”
Big heart. Big laugh. Big loss.”
Too many people in advertising think only about the ads.
Or whatever else agencies make, write, blog or flog these days under the cover of some form of contrived intelligence.
How creative they are. How good the ideas are. How all this will achieve ‘cut-through’. What the SEO rankings are. What the page views are. What the latest technology is. How they can magic up a social network. Etcetera.
And even, dare I say it, what other people and clients will think or approve of their creative efforts.
( Which is not really the point of this article, because we’ve all moaned about that before.)
I think this is all short-term thinking in what is supposed to be a long-term business.
It’s all blahdvertising.
Which doesn’t really move the needle at all for the lady who works in Boots, or the kid who is on the dole, or the man in the pub.
Sure, do a great ad, get loads of views. Everybody loves it and notices it.
But remember that when everybody has forgotten about said piece of brilliance, only the blahdvertising industry is still talking about it.
Often for years afterwards.
This made me think.
In our quest for endless instant creative originality, are we inadvertently making brands become more invisible?
Simply because we have lost sight of why they might be relevant to the very people we are seeking to convince?
And what the hell should we be actually doing for clients that is really any consistent use in the long term?
To me, it’s all about whether a brand can actually live in people’s hearts or not.
For ten, twenty, thirty or even fifty years. Not a week or a year.
Now, how does that happen?
In all honesty, I think a lot of this is by accident.
Because it sure as hell isn’t because of many agencies, judging by what they think they offer.
My point is, too many agencies produce blahdvertising because they deliver masses of stuff in complete isolation to their clients’ real consumer proposition.
Or what business their clients are really in.
Or what the man in the street really wants from their clients’ products.
In fact, I don’t think many of them have the slightest clue.
They just do stuff, hoping to force it down our throats like some giant anaconda of endless content.
Satisfying themselves that somebody, somewhere is reading or tweeting or bleeping or statusing it.
Because now there’s so much stuff going out the door nobody really has much of an idea whether it’s doing any good or not.
And yet, on those rare occasions when some of us do get it right, we can save our clients’ money through clear thinking about they really are about as products as services.
Thus turning all that blahdvertising into something which has relevance and purpose.
Because we can focus their brand relevance with so much clarity that everything we do make for them becomes so much more pointed.
In other words, it’s not what we do. It’s what we don’t do that can make us very useful.
And then we can be quite brilliant as an industry.
We all know our business is about getting people’s attention at a time when they are really focussed on a need for a particular product.
So Portico Publishing in London have asked me to write a book about a medium that is growing all over the world.
Loo doors. Or loo doors in pubs and restaurants, to be precise.
Because more and more pubs are using that nanosecond of total fixation on a one-foot square space to say something about their place.
And er, torture us if we can’t guess which is the Gents or Ladies.
I think this is quite clever in terms of creativity, psychology, human behaviour and even advertising.
So next time you barge, hop, wriggle or squirm your way into a pub washroom and see a great pair of loo door signs, think of me first.
And take a picture, or tell me where they are. You can email me on email@example.com.
You can also tell the pubs there’ll be an index of the 50 or so best loo door signs from around the world.
And that this little book will be sold internationally in all the usual places.
So it will be good PR for them as well.
Go on, get on it. Thanks.
Don’t waste too much time reading my blog about this because it’s really inconsequential fluff around the main event.
A young writer sent me these product reviews for the Bic For Her Ballpoint pen.
And they made me realise the power of viral media when managed in a way that engages you without thinking about it.
Even better, I might go and buy it now.
Just click in the space above the copy.
I’ve always been a bit suspicious of this campaign.
Although I also have to admit, I know nothing about it.
So I could easily be setting myself up to be annihilated by both the agency and the client.
Anyway, everyone knows about this funny little creature with the Russian accent.
We’ve even seen cuddly toys and books, as well as suffering irritating half-wits inflicting “Simples” on us in the pub when we are getting our change back.
I also know the name of the sites they keep going on about. Both of them.
But not once have I been tempted to visit either.
In fact, there’s something in me that chemically refuses to engage with them (and it’s not some poncy adman resistance).
Why? Because, up to now, there has been no simples Reason To Buy that benefits me as a punter.
Not a squeak of any information which will save me money, or give me a great deal, or insure anything from a meerkat to a mere, er, million bucks’ worth of White Russian jewellery.
Or anything. So there’s no stickiness.
Now, I don’t know about you, but as much as I like Viewer Reward (which I talked about recently), I do expect some meat in with my fluffy creative souffle.
This also led me to wonder what is the point of television advertising these days?
Is it now just relegated to interminable name recognition, whether you shout it, sing it or just get little furry glove puppets to parade it in front of you in funny accents?
(Like those dreadful betting ads where some demented foreign chap shouts out the name of the brand all through the spot. Which I just don’t have the will to talk about today.)
Until, like some Pavlovian dog, you eventually just subconsciously type out the one name that has been hot-stamped the deepest into your cerebellum?
But then, just as I was beginning to believe in all this fairground barker stuff myself, lo and behold there appears a little twist in the aforementioned meerkating strategy.
And out of nowhere, we are regaled with some new TV spots featuring a sort of dippy human meerkat aristo, complete with mutton chop whiskers and velvet dressing gown.
Yes, a person.
Spouting yes, real information about savings, deals, and all sorts of good producty things his rodent (or whatever meerkats are) doppelganger never bothered to mention before.
This is where I can sense the hand of the client saying to the agency “Look, we are doing all very well with unaided recall and we are selling loads of books and everyone knows us, but the thing is, no-one knows why we are better or what we can offer in er, insurance. Which is why we are here.”
And so to me, we have a fork in the road. It will be interesting to see what happens now.
This restores my faith in clients, but makes me curious about agencies.
In that I wonder what sort of advice was flying around about building up the name first through a spokesman.
And then after a zillion dollars and an unspecified amount of time, grudgingly getting back to actually selling something. Or maybe just not, until forced to.
Maybe Sergei will tell me. Before he disappears.
I’ve said this many times to some poor account person,
Usually accompanied by the CD’s haughty disapproval.
Because all they’ve offered up are the normal skimpy facts, accompanied by the budget and deadline stuff, which is all they are really interested in. As usual.
Now in fairness, many of these troops do have a stab at writing a proposition somewhere in the brief.
But again, it’s often pretty much a pithy sentence which is anything but singleminded, unique or interesting.
And thus we all have a great excuse for producing poor work.
The thing is, you can tell these things are written by those who don’t really know how much a good brief with a good insight, propels the delivery of better and better work.
Blah, blah, blah. We’ve all heard this a million times.
Unfortunately, this also seems to include me.
Because I had to write a brief the other day.
And in all honesty, I wrote a good insight into it because I pretty much knew the type of ads I wanted to see.
So in a sense, I was cheating.
By writing an insight for something I thought I already knew the brilliantly creative answer to.
And then I realised the ads I smugly thought were the final solution were actually just the beginning.
This is not a good feeling.
Even worse, I looked through most of my old work and thought “ None of these are good ads. They are just good briefs.”
This is also not a good feeling.
It’s a bit like spending half your life coming to the last door in The Temple Of Doom.
And realising it’s just the first door of the next level. Groan.
So if you’re writing a brief, get it to the point where it has an insight that would be pretty good if it was used as the line or thought to tie up the campaign.
In fact, convince yourself you’ve done all the creative work already.
And then give it to the Creative Department
So they can do it again.