The 4 C’s Of Impactful Advertising Campaigns by Knowledge@Wharton

Advertising campaigns advice from Droga5’s Colm Murphy

Colm Murphy is the group strategy director for Droga5, an advertising agency based in New York City. The firm’s client roster boasts some of the biggest brands in the world, including Coca-Cola, Chase, Google and Under Armour. Murphy, who led brand strategy for Rolex, Puma and Halls for JWT New York before joining Droga5, talked with Knowledge@Wharton about the creative process behind a successful advertising campaign and how to keep fresh ideas flowing.

An edited transcript of the conversation appears below.

Knowledge@Wharton: When you begin working with a new brand or on a new campaign, what are the first questions you ask? What kind of data do you need to get started?

Colm Murphy: We look at the world through four lenses. We call them the Four Cs, which are the company, the category, the consumer and culture. Within each of those, there are different amounts of research that you may need to do, depending on what you already have available and what new questions you need to answer. We get a lot out of digging really deep into what the company is all about, what the DNA and the soul of the organization might be about, what the brand really stands for, not just what it’s selling, what people’s ambitions are, where they want it to go. That’s the first part of it. And the second part of it is the category — what else is happening around the business that this brand is in. What space might there be? What other opportunities? What are the tropes and things you might want to avoid? What are the category dynamics?

The third part is consumer insight, which is probably the one that most people would be familiar with. But what we like to try to do there is get a little deeper, try to get into something that maybe hasn’t been uncovered by normal research. But because consumers are really good at telling you where they are now, what they are thinking about at the moment, the fourth is often the most interesting to us, which is the cultural piece. What’s happening in the culture that surrounds the subject matter that you’re thinking about? Because what’s happening there is where the customers will be in the future. We also do a lot of very qualitative research, often with cultural leaders and experts that can help us unlock a little bit about where things are going to go, rather than where they are now.

Knowledge@Wharton: An article about the agency quoted an executive from Coke Zero who said, “Droga5, they don’t impose their brand on the brand.” What does that mean to you?

“If something is very entertaining or very useful, you have a chance of it becoming viral.”

Murphy: The thing that’s consistent about what we do is the influence that we’re trying to achieve…. The process I was just talking about with the Four Cs is going to be different for every brand and every situation because it has different customers, and they deserve a fresh start every time. Every brand should have its own totally unique point of view, its own purpose and whatever executional elements and style are right for that situation. We have a set of values that we hold that are always the same in how we work, so we’re always creatively led, strategically-driven, digitally native and humanity-obsessed. It’s a set of principles that will always apply and will always get us to the right product for the problem at hand. But I think the similarities work in terms of philosophy more than strategy or execution for any particular brand.

Knowledge@Wharton: Traditionally, when you think of advertising, you think of maybe just a commercial or an ad. But today, it’s about a full campaign. When you’re planning for campaigns these days, how do you determine the right content for each platform and how do you plan for virality?

Murphy: Virality is something that you are rewarded with if you create something that people really get value from. If something is very entertaining or very useful, you have a chance of it becoming viral. But you plan for it being entertaining or useful, not for being viral. That’s something that you have the privilege of being the benefactor of if you create something that people genuinely want. After we do the brand strategy part of what I was talking about with the Four Cs, there’s just as robust a communications planning process where we think about what are the tasks that the communications need to achieve, what are the right channels for achieving those tasks and what is the right content to fill those channels? So it’s all part of a plan, which is far broader than any one particular piece of content. You just pull the right levers at the right time.

Knowledge@Wharton: I wanted to talk more in depth about a campaign you recently worked on for Dixie, which makes cups and plates. This was a campaign planned around the message of #godarkfordinner, which was encouraging people to take a meal with their family but without their devices. This was partly based on a survey that showed that most people use their smartphones or tablets while eating. How did you work with the brand to decide that this was the right match-up in terms of promoting this particular message?

Murphy: It’s fairly common to talk about disposable products as things that can save you time. One thing we found out when we were doing our research was that people were really looking for a more emotional presence around their mealtimes. We thought that the plate was a tool that could help you do that. Once we had established that was what we wanted the brand to stand for, it became a fairly natural evolution to then think about what are the enemies of emotional presence? The biggest one that we found from doing the survey and from other sources is [that technology is] the one thing that just punctures the little bubble you want to try to create around mealtimes.

Knowledge@Wharton: It’s its own bubble.

Murphy: Exactly, and people love those moments. Dixie has a place in that moment, so it’s totally right for that brand to stand up for protecting that moment.

Knowledge@Wharton: Some of these campaigns, like the ones you did around Honey Maid graham crackers, looked at different types of families — nontraditional families and blended families. These are longer, kind of documentary-length commercials. Would you start with the concept and break it down into the smaller pieces that then become the commercial, or do you start with the small and take it to the big?

Murphy: The way that we really think about it is, “What do we want the brand to be known for, and what’s the right way of telling the story?” With the examples where we are getting into quite big cultural discussions, it deserves a longer-format way of bringing it to light. It will be more about what’s the right way of telling the story that we are wanting to tell? And then, commercial. There’s

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