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Reference Tracks

In leading creative teams, one of the things I’ve had the most trouble with is asking them to compare the campaigns they’re executing to great work that’s currently running. Between not watching TV and not being on every social platform, to not wanting to be influenced by other award-winning campaigns for fear aspects of what they saw would find their way into the work, the idea of constant comparison is often met with pushback.

For a long time I didn’t have a good answer to these objections. The ad awards world really can feel like a conceptual and stylistic echo chamber. And the pursuit of work built from original thinking that’s surprisingly executed should draw from influences well outside the advertising world.

Enter an idea from the music world: “The reference track.” In many ways producing music, particularly the modern electronic variety, is analogous to creating advertising. In both cases the creator, in an attempt to make what is essentially disposable art somehow lasting, tries to match the level of production value of what’s currently out there in order to introduce something new.

Music producers determine the volume and intensity of elements like the kick drum, bass, and vocals by switching back and forth between their track and a finished track of a similar style. This is far from copying. It’s understanding the context and environment their song will be entering and making sure their work fits into that context when it’s released into the world.

In advertising, a certain level of polish and finish is expected in order for the viewer to notice, take seriously and have the opportunity to remember. It’s the price of entry that your campaign have the basic quality level as other work it’s competing with in order for anything provocative or different to break through and be recalled.

So, go ahead, keep an eye on what’s running, have an ongoing list of favorites, and use them as a measuring stick. Knowing the environment and context of the world your ads are entering will only help you break the rules even better to ensure your campaign is seen and talked about.

About the Author
Paul Prato is the Group Creative Director at PPK, an independent advertising agency based in Tampa, Florida that helps leading and high-growth brands accelerate the way they capture and grow their market share. Paul has led the creation of campaigns for regional, national, and international brands for over 20 years.

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