Campaign Advertising Journal – Most of the advertising I see these days is really bad. Many companies and their advertising agencies try to steal our attention with provocative statements and images. They adopt strategies of “luring the bugs to the lights” instead of doing the hard work needed to understand and connect with their tribes. That’s why I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw the Wall Street Journal’s new Make Time campaign. It’s ok. I stopped at the subway and jumped on the next train as I savored the simplicity and depth of the message. Am I a geek? Can be. But I appreciate great craftsmanship. Here are some thoughts on why this campaign is so effective and what we can learn from it.

The messaging and storytelling is what makes this campaign so great. “People who don’t have time, take time to read the Wall Street Journal.” Pure genius The message reflects deeply nuanced ideas about the Wall Street Journal tribe. The WSJ tribe is made up of very ambitious people who are busy leading, creating and impacting. These high achievers have no leisure time to read a morning paper. But, they take time to read the WSJ because it helps them perform at their best. The message not only reinforces the tribe’s beliefs, but also addresses customers’ biggest objection to the product: time. It effectively reframes WSJ reading time as a professional investment.

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The campaign supports the message with an artfully composed photo of Tory Birch (and other business leaders) reading the WSJ at work. Note that the photos depict people reading at work. The images support the message that the WSJ is a tool for professional success, not a side dish for Sunday morning coffee.

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The campaign themes are also carefully selected. The creators of the campaign chose Tory Burch (designer), (musician), Zhang Xim (CEO of Soho China) and Mike McCue (tech entrepreneur). Each of these individuals is an artist/creator as well as an ambitious business leader. Subjects suggest that the WSJ helps stimulate creativity and business knowledge. They wisely did not include investment bankers or hedge fund managers in the campaign (despite the obvious connection given the newspaper’s name). Finance professionals are, in fact, part of the WSJ tribe. However, featuring them in the campaign would lead the audience down a much less relatable path. I would suggest that the WSJ is a tool for finance professionals rather than a tool for creative and ambitious people. Financial professionals can relate to Tory Burch’s ambition while non-financial professionals often have a hard time relating to the titans of finance.

Thecampaign complements its out-of-home message with a digital experience. The landing page and videos reinforce the story with even greater fidelity. Here’s Tory Burch’s video:

The campaign concludes with a new slogan: “Read with ambition”. I generally don’t like slogans because they are too abstract or too cheesy to be meaningful. In this case, the motto works. “Read” is a concrete verb and “ambitious” perfectly describes the defining attribute of the WSJ tribe.

We all tend to talk about ourselves when we should be talking about our audience. Most ads, sales pitches, and presentations are more about the company (or the presenter) than the customer. Customers like to hear about themselves much more than suppliers. So find out what your audience cares about and talk about it. Your product or service is only useful to the extent that it supports the beliefs of your tribe.

Wow, That’s Good

Focus on end users, not average users. The WSJ campaign doesn’t have 9-5 employees who read the paper once a week. It focuses on time-strapped creators and executives who read it every day. No one is inspired by the average. However, we are tempted to say “our product is for everyone”. According to Seth Godin, the days of selling average products to average people are over. We need to feel comfortable saying “maybe our product isn’t for you”. People who want a paper for a lazy Sunday should buy a USA Today.

Clever jingles and creative stunts are poor substitutes for a deep understanding of our audience. We have to roll up our sleeves and listen. Only after we know what our audience really cares about can we tell a story that resonates with them. Then we have to do the hard work of making the story simple. One of my professors in graduate school regularly quotes this quote from Oliver Wendall Holmes Jr.: “I would care nothing for simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Distilling nuance and complexity into something simple is both difficult and incredibly powerful. There is no shortcut to success – we have to do the hard work.

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