Your strategy is showing? Good

Ogilvy Sydney head of strategy Ryan O'Connell
By Ogilvy Sydney head of strategy Ryan O'Connell | 1 December 2017
Ryan O'Connell

One of the most frustrating things you’ll hear in this industry is when someone bellows “Oh! Your strategy is showing!”, like somehow this is a bad thing, and the embarrassing equivalent of having your fly undone.

Why exactly is your strategy being prevalent in the creative work a reason to kill an idea? It really shouldn’t be. In fact, I’d argue that if the strategy isn’t obvious in the work, then that’s a real reason to call in the metaphorical guillotine.

Heaven forbid that the consumer should ‘accidently’ comprehend what the communications is trying to do. Um, isn’t that the point?

Showing your strategy is bad in wars, sport and poker, but in communications it should almost be a mandatory.

Before someone sarcastically says “Well, what do we need creatives for then?”, let’s be clear on the difference between the strategy being evident in the creative work, and the creative work simply being the strategy. There is a massive difference between the two and I’m not suggesting the latter; I’m advocating for the former.

The strategy is essentially how we expect the communications to work, so it makes inherent sense that the creative exhibits this in some way. Showing the strategy ensures the communications has a better chance of doing what it was designed to do. Needless to say, achieving the objectives is a good thing. It’s what we get paid to do.

I totally understand using the phrase when the creative hasn’t taken the strategy and moved it on, failing to turn it into something engaging that will build a connection with the audience. If all you’re left with after creative development is the strategy sans something memorable with cut-through, then yes, it’s time to ask some questions. Probably something like “What the hell have you been doing for two weeks?”

However, if the work is a brilliant creative expression of the strategy, it should be celebrated as blissful nirvana, rather than a reason to pull out a tired cliché.

Some brilliant campaigns could have tragically never seen the light of day if someone had foolishly said “Your strategy is showing!” and others had even more foolishly listened to them.

Consider the following campaigns for a moment, through the lens of that overused statement:

Meat & Livestock Association – ‘You’ll never lamb alone’

Strategy: Celebrate everyone who makes Australia the great place it is today, not the day itself. 

V Energy – The massive hit that improves you a little bit.

Strategy: We’ll promise just marginal improvement. Nothing more.

RTA – ‘Speeding. No one thinks big of you.’

Strategy: Make speeding uncool by empowering people to undermine a speeding driver’s masculinity.

I’ll let you be the judge of whether those campaign’s strategies were showing, but here’s a little hint: they were. They also all happen to be effective, award-winning campaigns. Which isn’t a cherry on top; it’s my actual point.

So next time someone decides to utter those four little words, let’s hope it’s because they’re extremely excited by the notion and consider it a good thing, rather than a deeply misguided attempt to kill what could be a beautiful creative idea that will be truly effective.

Ogilvy Sydney head of strategy Ryan O'Connell

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