You, your budget. Who’s controlling who?

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“Ok, I’ll get into it in a few minutes,” I said, as the account executive was leaving a brief for some radio commercials on my desk.

I read it once, top to bottom, but knowing I had other priorities I decided to leave it for the moment. I didn’t know it then, but something wasn’t clicking.

This true story took place in Buenos Aires, about 15 years ago. But don’t go anywhere — the lessons are very much alive and current. Stay with me.

I’ll leave specifics out, for obvious reasons. But some key details about the brief are essential to the story. The project was about a yerba mate brand that had just gone through changes on its logo and packaging.  In case you’re curious what yerba mate is, or how people drink it, this will give you a good idea:

Even though we’re talking about one of the leading branded-food product companies in South America, the client had a limited budget for this particular project. And since radio was a relatively cheap media, the idea was to run radio ads for a few weeks.

It all made sense — apparently.

Back to the brief. A day or two later, I skimmed through it again, ready to work on it, and suddenly I realized what the problem was. My co-creative director and I met with the account executive to discuss the request.

“We want to confirm something,” I said. “This is a brief to write radio spots … about this yerba brand that has just changed its logo and look and feel?” [Dramatic pause.] “Don’t you think there is something weird about that?”

She didn’t.

So we gave her our point of view: Whether the budget is big or small, it would be terrible to waste it on an ineffective approach.

In this case, doing radio was like doing nothing. Yes, it tends to be cheaper than other media, but we’re talking about a new logo and look — visual elements. Even if we miraculously managed with a few radio spots to turn potential customers into fanatics that desperately ran to the supermarket looking for the product, chances are they wouldn’t be able to find it.

On radio, people would have no clue what the product looked like. And that would be a problem among the 20-plus other yerba mate brands.

“If this was my money, … ” I continued — and when I’m working on a project I tend to think that it is my money, so that I take good care of it — “I’d forget about a media buy. I’d rather put posters on every supermarket’s window, or produce point-of-sale material so people can connect visually. And buy it.”

Back to 2017 now.

How many times have you let your brand or organization’s budget dictate what you do? Don’t feel bad, we’ve all fallen into that trap. The trick is being alert, and not letting budget do that to you ever again.

The goal of the budget is not to dictate what to do, but to tell you — in a soft-spoken voice — how much you can spend.

In the yerba mate case, the right question was not, “What media can I buy with this budget,” but rather “What’s the best way to spend the money I have in order to reach my goals?”

Takeaways? If I had to simplify them into just three bullets, I’d say:

  1. Don’t let numbers limit what you can do. Your budget only limits what you can spend.

  2. When you think you know what you are doing, pause, and think again.

  3. The smaller the budget, the broader the creative thinking should be on how to spend it.

This article was originally published on Medium


Twitter: @gustavoasman
At Pyramid, Gustavo oversees the design, interactive, editorial, and social media teams, driving strategic thinking and creative problem solving across the firm. With extensive expertise in advertising and creative direction, Gustavo has worked around the globe, from Argentina to New York City, Southeast Asia, and now Seattle. This international journey taught Gustavo a lot: About similarities and differences. About going to the human essence. About pausing to see things from a new perspective. He has an extensive portfolio, with clients spanning Unicef, The Ad Council, DHL, and Unilever. Gustavo received a bachelor’s degree from Cangallo Schule in Buenos Aires and graduated from the Argentine Association of Advertising Agencies.