• A version of this article was first published on LinkedIn on August 22, 2019

Al Navarro

Co-Owner & Chief Creative Officer, Mint Advertising

1 article Following

The first in a series of essays from award-winning creative director and small agency co-owner, Al Navarro.

I recently returned from a family vacation in Europe which included stops in Greece, Italy, and Spain. While wandering the streets of the various cities and towns we visited, I was struck by a few observations that I think all marketers — client or agency-side —  could learn from.

  1. When it comes to design, organization and air beats chaos and clutter EVERY TIME.

While shopping for souvenirs in the historic Plaka district of Athens, we passed store after store that had much of the same cheap stuff displayed haphazardly, in bulk. The effect was a visual assault, with nothing really standing out beside an overall impression of “this is a mess.” I tried to avoid these stores, understanding that while they might give me the best bang for my tourist buck, I had an equal chance of getting ripped off.

However, the occasional store went against the grain. And for the most part, these were the stores that drew my family in and got us to part with our hard-earned euro.

Thiki (https://www.thikigreece.com) was one of them. Taking a more elegant and minimalist approach to both product design and merchandising, Thiki easily stood out on the heavily trafficked Adrianou Street.

  1. Don’t play it (too) safe.

This is not about being street smart when touring Europe. It actually has to do with souvenir shopping again.

In Greece, we noted that many of the souvenir shops sold phallic-shaped bottle openers and soaps. A tour guide explained that these were a cheeky nod to Dionysus, the Greek god of fertility, the grape harvest, and wine.

Then in Sorrento, a resort town near Naples in Italy, we saw more phallic imagery on display in tourist shops, this time in the form of underwear and kitchen aprons printed with the realistic image of a male statue…including its, ahem, private parts. While this execution was much crasser and definitely felt more opportunistic than the bottle openers and soaps of Greece, it had something going for it.

Namely, it got us to stop and look. And given the rest of the clutter that usually surrounded these items (see above), that’s something.

But more than that. The aprons and underwear made such an impression on us that we mentioned them to our travel companions when we got back on the cruise ship.

So what does this have to do with marketing and advertising?

It’s simple, really. For starters, while certainly of questionable taste/appropriateness, both sets of souvenirs stood out among the clutter. They got us to look. Then look again. Additionally, these items got us to talk about them. Remember them. So much so that I’m writing about them right now.

I’m sure some of you may be thinking “But you didn’t buy them, right? So it really wasn’t that good.” And while you would be right that I didn’t buy any myself, some members (no pun intended) of our party did take home a few soaps and bottle openers. But that’s not even the point…I’m just not the sort of person who would ever have these types of items in my house — even if they were given to me or were free. Just as there are many people who are not in the target market for a given product or service.

Despite not buying myself, I consider these somewhat outrageous novelty items a big marketing success. Not only did they catch my eye, but they also made me stop at a store that I probably would not have stopped at. Not to mention the word of mouth advertising that they prompted.

  1. Great work is less a product of great creatives and more of great client partnerships.

This point has nothing to do with souvenir shopping and everything to do with ad agencies. You see, while in Europe, I saw via social media that some old friends from my years in NYC were also in Barcelona at the same time as we were. So we couldn’t not have a drink with them (cava @ La Vinya del Senyor in the Placa Santa Maria del Mar), right?

The husband of this couple is a very high-level creative/strategy type at McCann-Erickson. We hadn’t seen them in years, so we didn’t talk about business much, more catching up on kids, aging parents, etc. But I shared with my friend a realization that I’ve been having more and more after 25 years of working in the ad business: That great work is less about great creatives or great agencies — and more about having great relationships with clients. True partnerships. He agreed wholeheartedly.

You see, behind every great ad you’ve ever seen — remembered, talked about with co-workers, friends, and family — was a client who had the guts to approve and pay for the work.

A great case in point is the “Fearless Girl” statue in New York’s financial district. What you may not know about this iconic statue is that it was part of a marketing campaign for State Street Global Advisors, an investment management company. When it debuted for International Women’s Day in 2017, it was positioned staring down the famous Wall Street bull statue — garnering media coverage and countless photos.

Now, can you imagine what it took to sell in that idea to the client? Or for the client to buy it?

“So, we know you are expecting a TV commercial, some print ads, and digital….but what do you think about a statue?”

There is no real ROI you can calculate on a statue. No sales that could be directly attributable to it. But there’s no doubting that it was an overwhelming success for the client and the agency. According to the statue’s Wikipedia page, “As reported by Bloomberg News, analysts from marketing firm Apex Marketing estimated that the statue resulted in $7.4 million in free publicity for SSGA.” Additionally, it won three Grand Prix awards at the Cannes Lions festival for McCann-Erickson.

A big “Thank You” to all the Mint client partners who took a chance on a little agency with big ideas over the years.