Magic numbers

In Advertising, Dubai, Interview, Marketing, Published journalism on November 24, 2010 at 7:42 pm

Draft FCB London’s executive creative director, Mark Fiddes, tells Communicate why his agency is dealing in digits

Originally published in Communicate, May 2010

“A number paints a thousand pictures,” said Mark Fiddes, executive creative director of Draft FCB London, as he introduced his presentation at the Dubai International Advertising Festival. His talk was catchily entitled, “Using data insights to connect in 6.5 seconds,” and he used it to outline some numbers that might set the creative brain ticking, or at least help it win a pub quiz.

It takes 119.5 seconds to pour a pint of Guinness.

A German shepherd’s carbon footprint exceeds that of a Jeep by 300 percent.

44 percent of people talk to their cars.

Statistics like this are fascinating for geeks like Communicate, who thrive on information of limited applicability. But Fiddes claimed that an agency can be run on the basis of stats such as these. So we caught up with him to find out what he was talking about.

He reminds us that the first example he gave was from advertising legend Bill Bernbach, of Doyle, Dane and Bernbach fame. The number was two, and the client was Avis. The campaign was “one of the best positioning lines in history,” says Fiddes: “We try harder.”

“It’s simply born of the fact that as the second-largest car hire company after Hertz, Avis had to prove itself,” he continues. “It was a fantastic insight, but it was based on that simple number ranking.”

Draft FCB has adopted the idea of using numbers as part of its agency positioning. Communicate is skeptical, suggesting it could just as easily have used colors, for example, as its corporate gimmick. But Fiddes says numbers are particularly handy.

“What numbers give you is a representation of the world as it is,” he says. “And what you are doing with advertising, often, is showing the world as you want it to be.”

Numbers, he says, “allow you to know where you are starting from.”

Draft FCB is amassing a database of consumer trends (see “The trend of the world,” Communicate, page 52, March 2010). These trends, gleaned by the agency’s planning departments around the world, often include numbers, and are split into categories. Some sectors are geographically specific, says Fiddes, while others are global. “For example,” he says, “the luxury goods category tends to be as relevant in Dubai as it is in New York.”

JUMPING-OFF POINT. Numbers are a “creative springboard,” says Fiddes; they give those tasked with devising campaigns “an objective reality about the world out there on which you can start your creative idea.”

The time it takes to pour a pint, or people’s car conversations might not instantly inspire a campaign, but, says Fiddes, “Those numbers are great starting places.”

“I mean, what else have you got?” he asks. “You’ve got a blank piece of paper and a pen. To have something else to go on can be very useful.”

Numbers have to be matched with insights, though, to produce a creative solution, and Fiddes is keen to reel off examples.

Public broadcaster Radiotjänst is one. Sweden’s equivalent of the BBC wanted to persuade people to pay their television license fees. So Draft FCB started with the number 90. That’s the percentage of people in Sweden who pay their license fees. Draft FCB threw 60, the comparatively smaller percentage of young metropolitans who pay their fees, into the mix. And then it added some insight. In this case, the insight was that it’s the people who pay their license fees who keep ad-free, high-quality, public broadcasting alive.

From this, the agency created the “Hero” viral video campaign. Consumers can go to, upload a photo of a friend, and watch a video where that person is shown on billboards, magazines, even in photographs on dressers, as a Swedish hero.

“If you think about the marketing strategy here, it’s the brand saying, ‘We really value these people, this is a really fantastic thing, let’s celebrate them,’” says Fiddes. “It led to a different way of looking at it. It wasn’t the hectoring tone of voice that you often see in the BBC’s licensing drives; it was quite the opposite, and that was all born out of that number.”

Another campaign used the number 87 to sell Jamaica’s tourism board. That’s the percentage of teenagers who are embarrassed by their parents. On top of this, teens are the most important influencers in the average household in the choice of long-term holidays. So Draft FCB set up a “dad-dancing championship,” where kids could load videos of their fathers shaking their shameful stuff to win a holiday and some “dance rehab” in the Caribbean.

SECONDS CHANCE. Fiddes’ agency also uses a number for itself. It’s 6.5, which is the number of seconds consumers will give to a brand message before deciding whether or not to engage with it. Like any agency with a new positioning, Draft FCB has been flaunting the figure like a toddler with a toy truck.
Stephen Martincic, Draft FCB’s regional vice-president of corporate communications for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, joins Fiddes and Communicate.

He says 6.5 seconds is a way to get the agency working together. Draft FCB, the lovechild of FCB, a regular advertising agency, and Draft, a direct marketing shop, holds great sway in having no barriers between its different disciplines.

“Everyone is talking about breaking the silo, but nobody does it,” says Martincic. “If you want to break the silo you have to create something.” What the agency created was a positioning it could apply across the board.

6.5 seconds is a gimmick, admits Martincic. “It can be seven, tomorrow it can be five, it can be four. On billboards it’s going to be 10, in magazines it’s going to be 20 seconds, and it varies in the markets as well. That’s why we are going to include the Middle East in the next survey that we do. But we’re going to keep the 6.5, because 6.5 is a brand.”

It’s also a number that tempted Fiddes to leave his previous job as global creative director at Euro RSCG. When Communicate asks him if Draft FCB gives more sway to research or creative instinct, he says the agency is “exactly in the middle.”

“The reason I joined the agency was it seemed to be the only network occupying that space,” he says. “Clearly it needed to do something with it, and 6.5 seconds is the number that kicks off the creativity. Internally we call it the ‘holy shit’ number; it’s a wonderful way to bring those two arms [Draft’s and FCB’s differing heritages] together, to fuse those two influences.”

Figures might have won Fiddes over, but they also help charm clients. “Clients live in a numbers world,” he says. “Clients are responsible to financial directors and shareholders and CEOs, so they deal with numbers all the time.”

That’s another reason the agency takes stats to briefs, he continues. “Before you show creative work, you show the magic number at the beginning of the creative brief. It gives an incredible sense of security that this work is going to be rooted in a reality, not speculative fantasy. There’s a greater sense of reassurance that this might actually work.”

When Communicate asks Fiddes if 6.5 seconds means the death of long copy, as it appears to encourage ads that get straight to the point, he quotes

Jonathan Harries, Draft FCB’s vice-chairman and global creative officer, who says, “Everything we do has to be simple enough to be understood, complex enough to be interesting.”

“Numbers by themselves are pretty colorless,” says Fiddes. “It’s the words and pictures that bring them to life.” In a digital age, it will often be images that grab the viewer’s attention, but they can then focus that attention on engaging, long copy. “That’s the great thing about the development of digital media,” says Fiddes. “It’s saved the word in advertising.”

Fiddes’ fascination with figures has at least given a new meaning to “digital media.”


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