10 posts categorized "Ad Agencies"

02/10/2010 Honest Marketing

I spoke with Walter Naeslund yesterday. I've been following him on Twitter and found myself intrigued with his new agency Honesty. I wanted to find out how a marketing/advertising agency could call itself honest with a straight face. According to a Gallup poll in 2008, advertising agencies score just slightly higher in Honesty and Ethics compared with stockbrokers and congressmen.  It's one of the least trusted professions.

So how will Walter and crew be different? A core of what they offer seems pretty standard: Finding the basic story and driver behind a product and service and amplifying it. Perhaps a difference is that if there is no great or relevant story behind a product, they won't try and make one up, they'll change the product. One of the more interesting things with Honesty is that they have people who know how to work on product development. That's certainly a difference between the traditional places.

It seems, with Honesty's focus on bringing digital and metrics to the table first, rather than last, that the real opportunity is the type of people in this new Swedish group. It's a collection of hybrids. Walter has put together a team, each of whom is fluent in several disciplines, like SEO and PR, or product development and copywriting, brand and game theory.

Maybe having hybrids keeps you more honest. It probably means people don't lock themselves into their silos so easily and that they are more open to new things.

The biggest challenge, it seems, is educating clients. Taking the time to explain how Honesty works and having a compulsion to tie everything back to measurable goals means changing the way corporate marketers are used to working.

It was refreshing to hear Walter talk about what he's up to. The business has only been in existence since October, and they've yet to come up against a situation they had to walk away from to keep their principles. I'm sure it will happen, or at least I hope it does.

It's hard being honest. And harder when you're marketing for someone else. In any case, this is one group worth keeping your eye on. You can follow the adventure through Walter's blog. One thing is for sure, though: We need as much honesty as we can in this industry.

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07/21/2009 LendingTree: Rebranding vs. Change

LendingTree is in the news today. It's rebranded itself, with the help of Boston advertising firm Mullen. LendingTree, described as a mortgage Web site operator, saw its fortunes dip in our mortgage-backed melt down. But, with Mullen's help, it's rising again, with its call of "You to the rescue." And, of course, central to all of this are TV commercials with actors dressed up like super heroes.

Which raises the biggest question: How has LendingTree truly changed?


Apparently the Web site changed. It's a good Web site with lots of financial tools that walks you step-by-step through different scenarios. And then leads you to apply. The site has a friendly design and is easy to use. So far so good.

LendingTree is on Twitter. Not that much on, to be honest, and they seem to talk mostly about the Web site, the TV commercials and the articles written about Mullen. Hmmm.

If consumers don't have as much trust in financial institutions because many of them have acted irresponsibly and perhaps criminally, is rebranding with a big TV campaign, a new Web site and a Twitter account enough? Should the tag line change from "You to the rescue" to "Ag Agency to the rescue?" http://twitter.com/lendingtree

Actually, it's not even the first time in the last few years LendingTree switched from it's old tag line "When banks compete, you win" in a new ad campaign. Back in September 2007, it saw the writing on the wall and started running ads about "smart borrowing."

Where I'm going with all of this is that the way LendingTree works or connects with its customers doesn't seem to have changed at all. The façade has changed. The "message" has changed. But what I can't see are any substantial operational or customer service changes, things that would tell a consumer that this financial institution is not one of the bad guys, that it doesn't say it's on your side, it proves it.

Tools are great and the ads are cute but what are they really doing to improve their customer engagement with personal connections? Not much, from what I can see. Not in social media and barely on its own site. For example, whereas financial institutions such as Bank of America make Live Chat a big part of their online experience, the chat on LendingTree is pretty hard to find. Something that simple sends a message.

With Mullen founder Edward Boches  so active on Twitter, I somehow expected a place like Mullen to lead with connections to real people and using the medium to build relationships. Maybe that's phase 2. Or maybe it's too difficult to pull off, so ads and a new Web site were the way to go.

Whether it increases trust in LendingTree is the big question. Hopefully, new TV ads won't be enough.
03/06/2009 Skittles' Agency Strategy

The Skittles social media bomb went off this week, when the candy maker swapped its home page for its social media presence on various platforms. I’m not going to debate whether it was original or a rip-off, whether it was gimmicky or brave, smarter minds than I have already expounded on those topics.

No, I simply want to tip my hat at Skittles' new business strategy targeting creative and marketing people who work in big and small agencies. Yes, amid all the hoopla, I believe Skittles smartly developed and brilliantly executed a plan to grow its business through candy and junk food dependent marketers, designers, programmers and their ilk.

Face it; every agency has some snack strategy to keep its worker bees working harder and more productively. Most have bowls of candy throughout the workspace, they reward overtime with pizza and more than a few have beers or kegs on tap. When these aren’t enough, agencies sprinkle vending machines throughout the office.


Skittles made a play to be the snack of choice for those of us in the creative and marketing world, and they did a great job. Whether the rest of the country noticed or not, we marketers did notice, and we Tweeted, Blogged, Facebooked and chatted like never before. General Motors approached bankruptcy and the stock market dived to scary depths but all we had on our minds was Skittles social media play.

Watching the power and the fury on Twitter this week reminded me of my own Skittles story at my former agency. We always had some snack on hand: gumballs that were hard as rock and may have been up to five years old, Hershey’s kisses, and Jolly Ranchers, among others. We all snacked on them, occasionally. Then our admin had a stroke of brilliance and started buying bags and bags of Skittles at Costco.

The first batch disappeared in 3 days. The second batch disappeared in 2 days. We ate more Skittles over the first two weeks than all the other candy combined over two months! I admit I was one of the worst culprits. Chomping down Skittles (and chewing up the in-sides of my mouth) I developed more Web strategies, online marketing plans and RFP responses than ever before.

And then it stopped. The big boss was willing to spring for candy, just as long as we didn’t eat too much of it. Things went back to normal, and the gumballs came back.

This is what I think Skittles is up to this week. As we follow trendsetter David Armano on Twitter describing his own Sour Skittles consumption, can the rest of the industry be far behind? Watch for sales results around Madison Ave, Chicago, S.F, Boston, Portland, Austin and other creative mega-centers for March.

As for the rest of the population, Skittles still has more work to do. Like actually engaging with people and providing a direction for the noise they create, rather than just watching the noise happen.

In the mean time, we should expect to see some amazing marketing ideas and creative campaigns over the next several months as our Skittle highs kick in.

02/08/2009 The Noismakers

David Armano got me thinking the other day, as he usually does with his blog posts and diagrams, with a Tweet. Now on his blog, he was explaining the difference between paid media and unpaid media. I was fumbling to think of a response to that and I realized that the word “media” got in my way.

Maybe because I spent the last 9 years in an ad agency, in my head, media is something owned by someone else, like TV, newspapers and radio. Paid media meant buying a piece of that, usually advertising. Unpaid media usually meant public relations, where you get an article written without paying the journalist. Still, you have to pay the public relations specialist to get the article.

With Web and Digital, media has blown apart. Either everyone owns a piece of the media (such as blogs) or they own the content of the media (such as things like TripAdvisor.com reviews).

Instead of media, I thought, maybe, we should use the old term “voice.” But after reading Marcel Lebrun’s great post on share of voice vs. share of conversation, I think a better term would simply be:


There’s paid Noise (every time you pay someone to make Noise for you).
There’s unpaid Noise (every time someone you know or don’t know decides to make Noise about you).


I see Noise as value neutral, although dictionary.com might argue with me. A beautiful song is good Noise. Flatulence is bad Noise (unless you make the iPhone app iFart). Advertising is definitely Noise, some of it good Noise, most of it bad Noise. Customer reviews are Noise. We hope customers are noisy like a boisterous party and not noisy like a violent mob.

Paid Noise would include everything a company pays for marketing. Work like ads, PR, search engine marketing, event marketing, and guerilla marketing. Unpaid Noise is Noise that emanates from a customer experience. Reactions to products, customer services, physical locations, and services.

Where this breaks down is characterizing the response to paid Noise. If someone goes online and reacts to a Superbowl ad, is that paid Noise or unpaid Noise?  We’re not paying that person, but he or she responds to our paid Noise. In the very least, paid Noise gets an assist. Same with building a great microsite. When people pass on and talk about Elf Yourself, is that paid Noise or unpaid Noise?

I’m going to stick with this for a while and push on it. I like where Armano is going with earned vs. paid, though. It's also a great distinction between digital media strategy and social media strategy, something I'll have to try out on some clients.

We marketers are  Noisemakers. The question is: are we singing or farting?

01/28/2009 IAB Says Online Creative Stinks

The Interactive Advertising Bureau is about to jump in to save the sorry state of online advertising. According to the IAB, the “creative shabbiness" we see online stems from entrenched perceptions inside big advertising agencies that online is not a creative medium. Dependence on old media "reach and frequency" media planning principles within those agencies ends up dragging the whole product down.

The IAB is right. I’ve written previous posts how online advertising has amazing potential for engagement and even direct sales.

But who, exactly, doesn’t believe online is a creative medium? It’s probably the most creative medium around today. And when even the venerable old Hatch Awards in Boston gives its best of show award to a Web site, a site of a TV focused ad agency, you’d think no one would believe the idea that online isn’t a creative medium.

Want to see some recent creativity? Check out this ad from Swedish Åkestam and Holst for playground or this one from Brazilian Famiglia for Rossi. You can find great examples at Banner Blog.

What the IAB meant was that there are still a lot of traditional creatives that still don’t understand digital. And the longer they keep making the ads, the longer we’ll see shabby online creative. For the people running these types of agencies, the responsibility falls on you for allowing this behavior. For Clients using these agencies, switch as fast as you can. These people are stealing your money.

As for blaming the media departments, media departments need to get up to speed on the different types of online advertising they can do. It means shifting some of the media spend into solutions like EyeBlaster or Adroit. Digital creatives can help here a lot.

If you’re currently producing crappy rotating billboards for online ads, stop. Talk to your team and come up with other solutions. You’ll still drive ROI and engagement and have a little more pride in what you produce.

11/25/2008 Online Banners – Dead Like in the Holy Grail

This week’s news has trumpeted the death (finally!) of the online banner. Adweek has blasted this out as their top story in their online newsletters "Is the End Near for Display Ads." It’s like listening to the apocalyptic ‘messengers’ on a corner of Broadway (or maybe Madison). Actually, it’s right out of one of my favorites scenes from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

It’s most interesting, though, to read the first line of the article.

“Digital media buyers have been trying to kill the banner ad for years.”

Digital media buyers? Well, I can understand why they’re trying to kill banners. It’s because it’s a whole lot more work for them than buying other media. Compared with insertion orders on broadcast TV or newspapers, or media planning with a set number of known quantities, buying digital media is a pain in the butt. I’ve worked with great traditional media buyers who shudder and hide under their desks when faced with an online buy.

Just recently I’ve had conversations with a group at one of the largest businesses in the U.S. who’s using the largest media agency in the world to place their online banners. It’s amazing the amount of mistakes they’ve made in getting the right banners running on the right sites at the right time. Basic stuff, actually. But outside of business as usual apparently.

Media buyers aside, content is the biggest problem with online banners, not the medium itself. Too many banners are simply animated billboards. And no one connects with small space billboards. I’ve written about this in a previous blog entry a few weeks ago.

The opportunity right now is to re-energize this medium with the creativity and technology it deserves. The Adweek article laments the lack of results for online banners compared with other online (but not offline) media. Maybe, but I’ve developed banner campaigns that had click through rates approaching 1% and interaction rates near 20%. Those are great engagement metrics however you slice them.

In one campaign, for Unicel, we developed a rich media banner that people spent an average of 30 seconds playing in. That’s on average and that’s time spent engaging not just watching. More importantly, that one campaign helped drive sales more than any other online campaign, search included.

Look too at how Apple is using the banner space. They’re using the medium to tell stories in a great way, taking advantage of the inherent technology. Apple seems to be best at telling stories in their 30 second spots and is doing the same thing with the online banner.


I think one of the problems with banners is that they’re born out of advertising creatives who simply translate an offline (often print) campaign to the banner. It’s already stuck and boring before any interactive work begins. The only thing to do is to animate it.

Online banners will reach its potential when we (digital marketers, ad agencies, businesses) stop looking at them as simple extensions of existing work but when we instead take advantage of the technology to engage users in this space. We need to apply the same interactive creativity that separates great Web sites from static ones. We need to use this space to tell stories in a new way instead of replicating old ways.

I'm not the only one going down this path. As my econ professor always said "Look at the market." This week we saw that Theorem, a company specializing in reporting, online ad and search just purchased rich media creative agency Webpencil.

Banners are down right now, but not quite dead. Like some stocks I’m looking at, I think they are a "buy."

10/24/2008 Crispin and Windows, take 2

Sometimes I can’t resist piling it on. Back on September 10th I wrote a blog entry lamenting the fact that Crispin Porter Bogusky spent Microsoft’s money on an expensive TV ad campaign (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Well, Apple has responded. And, of course, the ads are much more fun to watch than Microsoft’s. Please, Alex, make a Subservient Bill for us, please! Since Subservient Vista is apparently out of the question.

09/16/2008 Who is this for, anyway?

We marketing professionals like to be in control. We like making decisions and hope that someone (our bosses, our clients) thinks we’re making smart decisions. We tend to make it about us, not about you.

But it’s not about us anymore (if it ever was). Those who ignore this run the risk of making some bad decisions.

A while ago, we rebuilt a simple e-commerce site, one that was working pretty well, to make it work even better. Then we ran into a traditional AD who, with support of the ECD, refused to make a “crappy” Web site. It wasn’t about conversions or customers or business goals, it was about making it look “beautiful.” It was really about putting it in the AD’s portfolio.

The beautiful site is up, and it’s doing less business than its predecessor. Guess if the client is pleased.

I’ve seen marketing directors pull the plug on campaigns because they couldn’t see the banner ad or Google paid search. Never mind that we geo-targeted the ads to a different area or that we targeted a different target demographic.

If we can’t accept the fact that it’s not about us, it’s about the customer; if we can’t give up our control fixation and give more control to the customer, we’re going to continue to waste marketing dollars.

And with Lehman Bros, AIG and the rest of the economy starting to tank, that doesn’t seem like a very smart move.

09/10/2008 A Microsoft TV Ad – Not that there’s anything wrong with that

The Web is awash and agog at the new Microsoft TV commercial starring Bill Gates with co-star Jerry Seinfeld. Or vice versa. Some hate it, some love it, and some don’t get it.

Face it: watching Jerry Seinfeld is never boring. I used to think the same thing about Crispin Porter & Bogusky, the cool agency behind the new ad campaign.

But for all their coolness and cult of Alex, for all of their alternative media and online focus, what CPB ended up delivering was same old, same old. I mean, what’s up in Colorado?

A TV commercial? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but where’s the customer engagement, the personalization, the conversation?

Use the biggest star you can find and see if his shine can rub off on Bill Gates? How traditional. From this group, with a deep-pocketed client, I was hoping and expecting something more along the lines of Subservient Chicken.

Personally, I’ll take Ms. Dewey over Jerry any day. One of the better Microsoft campaigns. Much more fun and engaging, with results, too.

Maybe CPB thinks they’ll see a slew of user-generated content like the I’m A Mac ad has generated on YouTube, like this one for a WII and this one for comic books. Don’t hold your breath.

Right now, CPB seems to be happy that their generating buzz and conversation. I wonder if generating and measuring negative comments was one of the business goals of the campaign. Doesn’t Microsoft already have enough of that?

A huge, missed opportunity to change the top down CONTROL of Microsoft and deliver more KAOS and personal engagement.

For you Seinfeld fanatics: Didn’t Jerry’s apartment always have one Mac or another in the corner on the desk?

09/09/2008 What Marketers Want

According to a new report from Sapient marketers want agencies to have a greater depth in the digital space. Is this really a surprise? It seems to me that this had been on the wish list for a while now.

While agencies don’t seem to have changed that fast, perhaps the marketers have started to. In other words, marketing directors seem to be more precise in what they’re looking for. Interestingly enough, the people in this survey already had a significant amount of their marketing dollars online.

Some of the desired items include: more knowledge of the digital space, more pull (read conversion) tactics, online communities. What I find most fascinating is that #10 on the list, below design, strategy and branding is analytics. That is, making sure the tactics actually worked and grew the business.

What does this say about marketers? That results are secondary? That hiring a firm with a chief digital officer is better, smarter or easier than hiring a firm that brings in the bacon, online? [Note: Having been a “chief digital officer” at an agency, I know how that can work successfully. But it’s still not as good as business results].

Idris Mootee in his recent blog post doesn’t think that traditional agencies will ever get this and sees a brain drain happening in the opposite direction.

The question for marketers is: Isn’t it better to hire a firm that can deliver on 1-6 and 10 as their primary focus, and augment that with specialists who can deliver on 7-9 rather than vice versa?

The opportunity is ripe for digital firms who understand the customer and who can speak brand and marketing. Just like AKQA and EVB are doing

It seems that that is truly what marketers want.

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