Let’s face it, there are some brands that are so iconic that, to advertise, all they need do is print their logo. Those that come easily to mind are Apple, Nike, Ford, Volkswagen, Target, IBM, GM and Virgin. Certainly there are others but the point here is that these companies have invested lots of money and time to create and sustain their brands in the mind of their customers. So, how should an organization that traces its history all the way back to the second half of the 15th Century market itself? And, oh by the way, the organization is a secret one!
The solution? Take out full-page advertisements in London papers. The adverts must include lots of words printed in a tiny font and no logos should appear anywhere on the page. Seriously?
Seriously. According to The Guardian, that is exactly the approach taken by M&C Saatchi when Britain’s MI6 (the Secret Intelligence Service) decided to launch a new recruitment program titled What are you waiting for? In a brilliant move, M&C Saatchi composed the advertisement to be so completely different from all the rest that they created something akin to Volkswagen’s “Think Small” campaign. You’ve got to read the entire advert to even figure out what it’s all about and who is doing the advertising.
Obviously, MI6 isn’t just interested in anyone joining the organization. They expect a minority of readers to even read the advert by pointing out in the third paragraph that, “Only 17% of people ever read adverts past the headline.” If you persevere to the end, you’ll find that MI6 is serious about its recruitment and its secrecy. “You may feel like talking to friends or family about this, “ they write, “That’s completely natural and will end your application process before it’s even started.”
An article in the Daily Mail quotes a spokesperson from the Foreign Office as saying that the campaign is “designed to attract people from a wide variety of backgrounds who have the skills we are looking for, but for various reasons may not have considered a career in MI6…it is important that we continue to ensure talented people consider the Service as a career.” MI6 is reaching out to a very refined, specific audience.
No one will ever know the efficacy of these advertisements; after all, its success is a secret. My guess is that they are highly effective because the design targets the right audience; precisely intriguing the qualified few that MI6 is seeking to hire. Herein lies the lesson: too many organizations misspend their advertising resources. The Pareto principle works in advertising just as well as in any other endeavor, 20% of your audience is going to produce 80% of your revenues. Like MI6, your organization wants, and needs, a refined customer base. You want to motivate them to do business with you and a great way to do that is to differentiate yourself from all other competitors for customer mindshare.
In my consulting work, I am surprised at the number of clients who look to see what their competitors are doing and copy their actions. While they may tailor their activities to their own businesses, client and competitor mostly do the same thing. So be bold, break from tradition, use a different approach focused on the top 20% of your customers. If an organization with a history dating back to the 15th Century can learn to do it, why not yours? What’s holding you back? What are you waiting for?
 The name’s Saatchi – M&C Saatchi. (2012, February 3). The Guardian [online]. Retrieved May 8, 2013, from http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/mediamonkeyblog/2012/feb/03/mi6-ad-newspaper-advertisements.html
 MI6, the not-so secret service: Agency opts to advertise for staff using full page newspaper advert. (2012, October 28). Daily Mail [online]. Retrieved May 8, 2013, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2224611/ MI6-secret-service-Agency-opts-advertise-staff using-page-newspaper-advert.html