Marketing Guru: What happens when my boss has ad expectations that can never be met?

John Lewis' ads seem to win every award going, but what should you do if your boss has unrealistic hopes of matching that success?

Q: We're briefing our ad agency on a campaign, and the fact that John Lewis ads are scooping every award in sight has come to our managing director's attention. He wants us to put 'emotional advertising' into the brief. We're a B2B software company. Help.

A: I love your question. If I were writing for a cycling magazine, it would be like receiving a question along these lines: 'I've just seen Bradley Wiggins winning the first stage of the Tour de France. It looks like a great way to earn a living. I think I want to be a world class international pro-cyclist. What make of bike should I buy?'

If only it were as easy as putting 'emotional advertising' in the brief. What your managing director is reacting to is John Lewis' commitment to excellence in retail since 1864, its innovative employee partnership model, the tens of millions it spends on store design, the acres of positive coverage of it in the national press, and the work of one the best agencies that its multimillion advertising budget can buy. You might respectfully suggest to your boss that there's slightly more to it than emotional advertising.

However, let's assume that your company is the Evel Knievel of B2B software. Your best bet is the well-trodden road to testimonial, where you plunder the rich emotional treasure chest of your satisfied customers. Except in this case, I'd just make them up.

Powerful stories

Seek out stories about how your humble B2B software saved someone's marriage, put a smile on the face of a small child or rescued a dog from approaching floodwaters.

This can be justified (to the agency, if not the ASA) as selling the emotional benefit. For example: 'Last week, thanks to your software, I managed to leave the office on time, and happened to chance upon a bird with a broken wing in the middle of the road. I rescued it, nursed it to health and today released it into the wild.'

How you square this sensitive advertising with the screen-high vibrating call-to-action insisting people BUY NOW! is up to you.

Award-winning emotional ads for B2B software may make your managing director feel warm inside, but direct ads will make him rich; and ad awards won't feed his kids.

Will Harris is a former marketing director for Nokia in the UK and Asia region. He was the first marketing director of the Conservative Party and launch marketing director of the O2 brand.

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