How to Judge Advertising Copy: Approve the Good. Reject the Bad.

Over the years, I’ve seen so many Brand Leaders who love Advertising, yet just don’t love their own advertising.  

I’ve always found this odd.  These Brand Leaders use their instincts on other brands’ work but can’t find those same instincts on their own work.  They are likely the ones sending Super Bowl ads around the office, yet they are the first to crap all over the work of their own agency.  

What really holds back most Brand Leaders from greatness is they actually under-estimate their own role in the process of getting to great advertising.  How they show up does more to make or break an ad than even how the agency shows up.   slide1-1After all, the Brand Leader gets the “final say” on every aspect of the ad–brief, script, director, casting, music, budget and final edit.  The agency can only recommend.  What the Brand Leader does with that “final say” can make or break the ad.  

If you knew that how you show up to your agency got better work for you, do you think you would show up differently?

In terms of giving feedback at that first creative meeting, a Brand Leader can really only do three things.

      1. Approve an ad
      2. Reject an Ad
      3. Give direction on how to make the Ad better 

If you’re sitting in the hot seat, how will you know?  It’s not easy to sit in the hot seat as the decision maker.  I’ve seen some Brand Leaders use all instinct, and no fundamentals.  They miss the most basic of things.  While other Brand Leaders strictly use fundamentals and forget to use their instincts.  They miss the magic or are the first to put together a Frankenstein from various things on the brief.  

Clients aren’t Ready

I come at this discussion from the client side.  I’ve never worked at an agency in my life.  But I have 20 years of CPG experience and have been in the shoes of the Brand Leader at every level.  I feel comfortable to say that Clients are not ready.    

Here’s the problem with the math.  Most brands make 1 campaign per year, and in your first 2-3 years as an Assistant Brand Manager, you might get a few comments in at the meeting. Then all of a sudden, you’re now the newly promoted Brand Manager and expected to lead the campaign.  As bright as you might be, you have never been on the hot seat and you might not be ready to give feedback to the agency.  Even your boss, who will coach you and judge your performance might have made 5 ads in their career.  Across from you sits a creative team, a creative director and a Group Account Director, who each might have 10+ years of experience and each work on 20+ campaigns per year.  

And what you have to say at the meeting will make or break your ad.  If you aren’t nervous at that meeting, good for you.  And good luck.  Because, you should be nervous. 


How well prepared are you?  An ill prepared Brand Leader will more than likely deliver a poor ad.   How many hours of training have you had on giving direction to a creative team?   How many times did you role-play giving feedback to the agency?  How good was the coaching you received on your feedback?  Not only do you need the fundamentals through solid training, but you likely need someone coaching you through a role-playing exercise.  

How will you show up?  Are you ready?  Or will you just be another brilliant Brand Leader who can’t seem to make a great ad on their own brand?

Judging the Ad:

The Creative Meeting is not Easy.  You’ve got to balance, the head, the heart and the gut against the good of the brand.  Take your time and sort it through asking the following questions:

  1. Do you love what it can do for your brand?  If you don’t love it, how do you expect your consumer to love it?  A great ad has to have everyone’s heart and soul put into it.  If you “sorta like” it, then it will be “sorta ok” in the end.  If you love it, you will fight for it.  (The Heart) 
  2. Is it on strategy?  Is the Advertisement an expression of what you have been writing in your strategy documents?   Is it doing what we hoped it would do?  I love the ABCS technique (outlined below) because it helps me to frame things in my mind, so I can evaluate it past how I feel.  I think you need something to ground yourself.  (The Head)  If  there is something in your gut says it’s off, it likely is.  (The Gut)
  3. Is it long-term Idea?  Is a big enough idea that fits with the brand, does the hard work you want to do for the brand and can last 5 years.  Think about leaving a legacy—which forces you to think of campaign-ability.  (The Brand)  Look at the Creative Brief and if the ad is not on strategy, then it has to be rejected   Advertising is an expression of strategy.  If it’s not on strategy, it has no value.  

I once was in the midst of fighting for an Ad campaign as it was going up through the approval ranks of my own senior management.  It was a very odd campaign.  Yet I loved it.  One night, I was out for a walk with my wife and she said “what if it gets rejected”.  And I said “it will be the end of me”.   She thought I was crazy and said “you can’t think that way”.  And I said “I have to think that way”.  The question of whether you love it or not, is not a “sort of” question.   You have to be all-in, ready to battle for it’s life.  If you don’t love the work, how do you expect your consumer to love the brand?   The campaign was approved, and it doubled the business over the next 10 years.  

The ABC’S of Advertising 

Here’s a potential tool you can take into the room that is very easy to follow along.  You want to make sure that your ad delivers on the ABC’S which means it attracts  Attention, it’s about the Brand, it Communicates the brand story and Sticks in the consumers mind.  

  • Attention:  You have to get noticed in a crowded world of advertising.  Consumers see 6000 ads per day, and will likely only engage in a few.  If your brand doesn’t draw attention naturally, then you’ll have to force it into the limelight.
  • Branding:  Ads that tell the story of the relationship between the consumer and the brand will link best.  Even more powerful are ads that are from the consumers view of the brand.  It’s not how much branding there is, but how close the brand fits to the climax of the ad.
  • Communication:  Tapping into the truths of the consumer and the brand, helps you to tell the brand’s life story. Keep your story easy to understand. Communication is not just about what you say, but how you say it—because that says just as much.
  • Stickiness:  Sticky ads help to build a consistent brand/consumer experience over time.   In the end, brands are really about “consistency” of the promise you want to own.  Brands have exist in the minds of the consumer. 

Buying media and putting something on air does not attract attention for your ad.  Why would consumers want to listen to what you have to say.  You have to EARN the consumers’ attention.  The best way to grab Attention is to take a risk and do something not done before. Here are the 5 ways to attract attention.

  1. Be Incongruent:  This is a great technique to get noticed is by being a bit off kilter or different from what they are watching.  A lot of brand leaders are afraid of this, because they feel it exposes them.  Avoid being like “wallpaper”   If you want a high score on “made the brand seem different”, it starts with acting different.   kitkat
  2. Resonate:  Connect with the consumer in the true way that they see themselves or their truth about how they interact with the brand.
  3. Entertain them:  Strike the consumers emotional cord, by making them laugh, make them cry, or make them tingle.  From the consumers view—they interact with media to be entertained—so entertain them.
  4. The Evolution of the Art of Being Different:  As much as Movies,  TV music continues to evolve, so do ads. As much as your art has to express your strategy, it needs to reflect the trends of society to capture their attention.  Albino fruit flies mate at twice the rate of normal fruit flies.  Be an albino fruit fly!!!
  5. Location Based:  Be where Your consumers are open and willing to listen.  The Media choice really does impact attention.  Make sure your creative makes the most of that media choice.  

There is an old advertising saying “half of all advertising is wasted, but we aren’t sure which half”.  Coincidently, the average brand link is 50%.  Our goal should always be to get higher.  The best Branding comes when you connect the Brand to the Climax of the ad.   It’s not about how much branding or how early the branding arrives.  

  1. Be Part of the Story:  in the spirit of big ideas, how do you tell a story, using your brand.  It’s not how much branding you use, but rather how closely connected the brand to the climax of your ad.
  2. Is it the Truth:  It sounds funny, but if there is a disconnect between what you say, and what you are….then the brand link won’t be there.  People will discard the ad.
  3. Own the Idea Area:  Be a bit different—make sure that what you do sets you apart from anyone else. 
  4. Repeat:  don’t be afraid of building your brand—and the simplest way to get branding is to repeat and repeat and repeat.

Communicating is about selling.  Keep in mind, communication is not what is said, but what is heard.  The best way to Communicate is through Story Telling that involves the brand.  The modern-day world of the internet allows richness in story telling.  

  1. Start a Dialogue:  If you can do a good job in connecting with the consumer, the branding idea can be a catalyst that enables you to converse with your consumer.
  2. What are you Selling?  You have to keep it simple—you only have 29 seconds to sell the truth.  Focus on one message…keep asking yourself “what are we selling”.drill
  3. Powerful Expression:  try to find one key visual that can express what you are selling.  This visual can be leveraged throughout
  4. Find Your “More Cheese”:  Many times its so obvious what people want, but we just can’t see it or articulate it. 
  5. Sell the Solution—not the Problem:  Brands get so wrapped up in demonstrating the problem, when really it is the solution that consumers want to buy. 

We all want our ads to stick.  You need to adopt a mindset of “will this idea last for 5 years”.  The Best way to Stick is to have an idea that is big enough.  You should sit there and say is this a big idea or just an ad?

  1. Dominant Characteristic:  things that are memorable have something that dominates your mind (e.g.:  the red-head kid)
  2. How Big Is the Idea?  Its proven that a gold-fish will get bigger with a bigger bowl.  The same for ideas.
  3. Telling Stories:   While visuals are key to communicating, in the end people remember stories—that’s how we are brought up—with ideas and morals that are designed to stick. 
  4. Always Add A Penny:  With each execution, you have a chance to add something to the branding idea.  Avoid duplicating what you’ve done…and try to stretch as much as you can. 
  5. Know Your Assets:  There has to be something in your ad that stick Know what that is and then use it, in new executions or in other parts of the marketing mix.


If you don’t love the work, how do you expect your consumer to love your Brand.

To see a training presentation on Get Better Advertising: 


If you are in the mood to see stories on great advertising, here’s a few other stories:


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Read more on how to utilize our Brand Leadership Learning Center where you will receive training in all aspects of marketing whether that’s strategic thinking, brand plans, creative briefs, brand positioning, analytical skills or how to judge advertising.  We can customize a program that is right for you or your team.  We can work in person, over the phone or through Skype.  Ask us how we can help you. 


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