8 posts categorized "advertising"

01/24/2012 Kill Them With Kindness

It’s election season and in the U.S. we’re getting ready for a good solid year of negative advertising. It’s sad that it works so well. The negativity so easily spreads to the social channels. There we end up with a cacophony of anger and insults rather than any interesting interaction. As a result, one ends up disliking all of the candidates (which may be a good description of what’s happening with the GOP voters this year).

But what about brand and product advertising? Does negative advertising work there as well? Most of the negative advertising we see today is clearly aimed at young males. We usually see competing products or behavior painted as weak and mostly feminine (think car and beer commercials). 

One notable exception was the oft-discussed “I’m a Mac” campaign where Apple instead killed Microsoft with kindness. This unexpected, slightly patronizing but always empathetic spin probably did more to damage Microsoft’s reputation that all of it’s software bloat combined.

If you look at many of the smart brands that have integrated social media into their operations, you see the same thing. Rage, frustration and displeasure are met with patience, understanding and kindness. Most of the time, it works. There’s something about the social channel that brings out the complainer in all of us. Why that is would be great topic for a doctoral thesis.

So try this for a strategy: whether you’re arguing with someone about politics, sports or brands, or attempting to convince customers to use your products over your competitors, try killing them with kindness rather than with clubs and arrows. My guess is you’ll be both more successful and less frustrated.


10/13/2011 The State of Marketing

Digital. Social. The Age of the Consumer.

We keep reading about how marketing is fundamentally shifting. Every day there are articles and blog posts about the changing relationship between customers and brands. We experience how new technology has changed the game.

And then there’s the reality of marketing. Brought to you with stark contrast in IBM’s Institute for Business Value latest study.  

Here’s what the study says:

  • Most CMOs are not using social media to track current customer sentiment
  • Most use traditional marketing research
  • Most CMOs believe that by 2015 they will have to show ROI on their marketing investment
  • Most feel they aren’t currently prepared to provide hard numbers

Maybe it’s not so surprising that they don’t use digital sources to inform their decisions. But most are not prepared at all to respond to the shifting market and to change the way they run the marketing department.


Perhaps even more depressing is the fact that even if CMOs did all of the right things, they have little or no influence on key business decisions, such as new product development, pricing or channel focus. In short, they’re not included on the main things companies do.

One question that comes to mind is: What will it take to remove the CMOs that don’t get it with ones that do?

Or maybe that’s the wrong question, since the other C-levels don’t seem to let the CMO in the room where decisions get made.

It’s further proof why mediocre advertising is still the rage. And why agencies that cater to and empower laggards makes so much money.

I guess we’re going to have to wait for #occupymadisonavenue.

08/11/2011 Can Marketing Adapt to a Depressing Economy?

Income inequality is increasing in the U.S. Lower and middle class incomes have declined for the last 30 years, falling as much as 15% since 2007. At least that’s what I’m seeing more and more in the news these days. In the mean time, wealthy people continue to get wealthier. If people are even talking about this issue, it’s mostly in political discussions. However, this skewing could have major implications for the advertising industry.

The latter half of the 20th century was the golden age of advertising. We’re seeing proof of that in the wild success of the AMC show “Mad Men.” It was a time of growing economic equality and the burgeoning of an American middle class whose wages rose alongside its social ambitions. When you connect that with the growth of sophisticated communications, such as broadcast TV, marketers had a field day promoting all sorts of things. 

It was a time where you could create a commercial and, if it were successful, you’d create the real product to sell.

That world is disappearing faster than we imagine. For those of us in the marketing industry, we’re looking at a world where a very small group of people can afford almost anything, while a burgeoning group of people can barely afford the necessities. It raises a number of practical and even moral questions (don’t run away ad people, you can deal with it!).

The people in the poorer middle and bottom are going to be more and more price and deal driven. They’re not going to have the disposable incomes for luxury or high-end goods, and they’re going to have to buy fewer things, not more things. Recent reports show people fleeing from cable and satellite TV subscriptions, with providers losing almost 600,000 customers in the second quarter of 2011.

People at the top of the income heap do have money to spend but, from a marketing standpoint, they are fewer and fewer. Marketing to them will have to be more pinpointed and exclusionary.

Which raises a question for brands: If part of branding is to create desire and inspire people to aspire (think cars, fashion), is it right to market this way to people who have less and less money to spend? Or maybe we don’t really care (brands really don’t, they just want to sell).


For those non-luxury brands how do you justify marketing in the face of decreasing demand and return? People with less money will want deals, not brand.

This is where social marketing might bridge the gap. As long as people are online that is. Although if they can afford their Internet connection, smart consumers might band together to share Internet subscriptions with their neighbors through WiFi groups. 

People will look for free content and entertainment. They’ll look for targeted offers and deals. They’ll look for recommendations from other penny-pinchers. They’ll want group buying power to lower prices even further. They’ll want advice on how to feel and live well even as their incomes decrease. They’ll want ways to stay healthy, even if they can’t afford organic food and expensive gym memberships.

Social channels offer ways for brands to do this. It’s not as sexy as advertising. It assumes much longer buying cycle. But it might be the only way to build brand loyalty in an era of decreasing disposable income.

It will mean that we marketers will have to lower our sights as well, to less expensive, less flashy and more meaningful storytelling and communications. It will mean that we’ll have to get our hands dirty and help our clients understand the struggling middle and lower classes, instead of the jet setters we’d rather hang out with.

Or maybe nothing will change. Except that more of our clients will go out of business, which means fewer marketers and advertisers.

But the times are changing, for the worse. The question is whether we’re able to tap into those insights and use them in a positive way for people, businesses and marketing.

04/21/2011 Pay Attention!

I found this on a blog last week and found it so inspiring I've taped this list up on my wall, and ordered the book.

I plan on presenting it to every client before every presentation I give or idea I share. What strikes me is how seldom marketing departments actual think about these things, let alone do them in their marketing. Imagine how much better marketing or advertising would be if we, ourselves, paid attention to this list.

[Cheers to the A List Apart blog, from which I'm lifting this section below]:

"In his book Brain Rules, John Medina identifies four significant characteristics of attention:

Attention is most easily gripped by emotions, threats, and pleasures: ideas that challenge our deeply-held beliefs, images that shock or arouse us.

We want to know why something is relevant to us. Only then will we be willing to spend the time it takes to understand the details of it. 

The idea that multitasking is a myth seems to be well-established by now, although a decade ago it seemed like multitasking was the inevitable future of human consciousness. We are learning to work with, not against, our cognitive limitations. 

We believe in giving audiences freedom, even if it's the freedom to zone out or take a break from one part of a talk to focus on another part. That's how people learn."


11/21/2010 A Traditional/Digital Creative Peace Plan

Some political problems seem intractable: Democrats and Republicans agreeing to work together for the good of the country, Israelis and Palestinians working out a peace agreement to benefit the entire Middle East (and the world), and traditional and digital creatives finding a way to work collaboratively in and between agencies for the good of their clients. I’ll save the first two for another blog post or VPR commentary. But I have hope for the third one.

While I constantly read online about the gulf separating these two creative groups of people, and the challenges for agencies to move from the broadcast to the digital age, I received some stark reminders at this year’s MITX Award ceremony. The bigger, older agencies expressed frustration over attracting digital talent and implementing internal change.  The smaller, digital agencies (and big agency digital talent) still felt increasingly dissed and misunderstood by their traditional counterparts.

And I kept thinking, “We’ve come so long, why can’t we all just get along.” (Hey, I’m from Vermont and lived in Sweden, so neutrality comes naturally).

The traditional/digital divide is a real one. Somehow it seems that the talents and knowledge of each groups threaten the egos and jobs of the other. That’s unfortunately what happens when you have people involved. But all hope is not lost. Here’s a solution that I think might help bridge this divide. It’s the idea of recognizing that each group has a unique approach and that the other group usually lacks just that approach.

Great traditional creatives have the critical talent of simplification. They have to take messy ideas and turn them into an effective, easily understood and emotionally resonating message for a print ad or 30 second spot. Believe me, it is really hard to say something of value in such a small or short space. The limitations of the ad world mean that traditional creatives excel in Simplicity. And simplicity is a critical component for success in communication.

Great digital creatives have the critical talent of complexity. They can recognize complex patterns and connect seemingly disparate elements into logical systems. They take modern digital technology and build platforms for doing things, remarkable things. It is amazingly hard to build great, easy to use platforms that deliver true value. Digital creatives have mastered the challenge of complexity, a critical component in developing unique, and effective people-focused digital communications.

The problem today is that a lot of the digital creatives make things TOO complex. They over think their solutions and often times develop systems that are way too hard to use, implement or understand. I’ve found that keeping digital creatives and technologists from over-thinking is a huge challenge.

Traditional creatives, on the other hand, seem to have the problem of not being able to construct systems or platforms, even on an idea level. Somehow they think they’ll end up having to do math, so they turn away from it. Their solutions tend instead to be overly simplistic and one-offs. I’ve found that moving traditionals into more complex discussion makes their eyes just glaze over.

My peace plan is this:

Digitals need to recognize the power, and sometimes brilliance of the traditionals’ simplicity. They need to learn this power from them and embrace it as part of their thinking. The power of simplicity when applied to complex ideas is astounding.

Traditionals need to recognize the power, and sometimes brilliance of the digitals’ complex thinking. They need to learn this power since, at the end of the day, this complexity connects to the actual, real world experience of everyday people. The power of creating complex digital systems for the good of consumers is brilliance in motion.

And just to show that this can work, just look at the hackneyed example of Apple. They’ve combined brilliant, complex technical systems with an elegant simplicity of use. It’s no wonder their products are wildly successful.

There is a way to work together in the creative marketing spaces. Of course, recognizing and embracing each group’s unique talents means keeping egos and titles in check. It means accepting the idea that each group and person in that group needs to grow and evolve. 

Otherwise, we'll just keep on fighting, and losing.


11/08/2010 Bogusky, Gladwell and Revolution

Advertising legend Alex Bogusky has left his ad agency to start a new company of his own, named Fearless Revolution. Its mission is to help support a new consumer revolution because

“To be a concerned citizen requires that we become concerned consumers because the reality is, corporations will impact our future as much as governments will. Voting beyond the ballot box with our purchasing power is rapidly becoming a powerful individual tool in the democratic experience.”

The first thing Alex wants help with is to crowdsource a writing of a new consumer bill of rights. The old one had things like the right to safety, the right to be informed, the right to choose and the right to service. Fearless Revolution wants to update this for the digital age.

I am all for more power to the consumer. Right now, individual Americans are at such a disadvantage compared with corporations, interest groups, and super-rich people. This is the U.S. where money is king. Those with it get to decide. Movements like Fearless Revolution look to turn that dynamic on its head by weighting collective numbers and influence against greater economic wealth.

But is that what Alex and Fearless are really doing? Are they really providing a forum or impetus for consumers to join and act collectively in opposition, it seems, to business and corporations? Is Alex looking to head a new Social Consumers’ Union?

While all this sounds great, I don’t think that’s what Alex Bogusky is doing at all. Actually, if you look at the business model behind the new company, it seems to be this:

“We help big companies and titans of industry uncover the consumer advocate hiding inside the layers of corporate BS.”

Whoa! What happened to the revolution? Is Fearless trying to crowdsource consumer advocacy to sell to its corporate clients in the same way that Alex’ former partner John Winsor is doing with the advertising business at his new shop Victor & Spoils? If so, it seem like Mr. Winsor is the more honest of the two, since he’s not promising that any of his collaborators will be Creative Director at the next big agency.

All the talk about revolutions made me think of the article Malcolm Gladwell penned in the New Yorker on social media and revolution. Gladwell argues that real revolution is hierarchical, strong tie, high-risk activism. 

Yet what Fearless Revolution describes seems to be weak-tie, horizontal, low-risk activism. It's the kind of activity Gladwell paints as good at gaining participants but not very effective at actually changing anything. 

And the question hanging over all of this is: what is Alex Bogusky really willing to risk here? He says he wants to be another Ralph Nader, but Ralph Nader always risked everything he had. His passion and risk taking are what made him successful.

Alex, what are you willing to risk? Clearly you should have enough money to tide you over for a while. Are you willing to risk your business connections and past clients for this new cause? Are you willing to take on Burger Kings unhealthy offerings as a consumer’s right to a healthy food?

Right now it looks like Fearless Revolution is a great marketing execution aimed at gaining corporate clients for the business. And if that’s the case, it’s the worst example of marketing possible.

Alex, you are THE guy to do this. But you can’t do this in the same way you worked at CPB. Are you ready to let go and really lead change?

To paraphrase John Lennon:
You say you want a revolution, well, you know, you better free your mind instead.


05/27/2010 Lessons from Cap'n Crunch: Tell a great story

I've been fascinated by the stories about the cereal Cap'n Crunch. It shows the impact of a powerful story and narrative.

Quaker Oats had done market research in the early 1960's and found that kids wanted a cereal that would stay crunchy rather than getting mushy in milk. They developed a material that they could safely add to cereal to keep it crunchy.

Then they went to Jay Ward, who had created the brilliant Rocky & Bullwinkle (one of my all time favorite shows) and asked him to develop a marketing campaign to sell the product. Ward and his team came up with the character of Cap'n Crunch, his crew of four kids (Alfie, Brunhilde, Carlyle and Dave) and a dog (Seadog). He also had an archenemy, Jean LaFoot the Pirate.

Captain Crunch art
Once Quaker Oats saw the first commercials, they fell in love with Cap'n Crunch and only then started producing Cap'n Crunch cereal. The kids fell in love with it too, because it flew off the shelf once it launched.

I used to look at this story as an example of the Mad Men era to show the power of the ad industry. I thought it showed that you didn't need a product to be successful; all you needed was a good commercial.

Well, I think I had it wrong. The Cap'n Crunch history shows something different:

If you create a compelling story, people will buy your product. If you intricately link your story and your product more people will get behind both the story and your brand.

I was one of those kids in the 60s who loved, I mean loved, Cap'n Crunch. It was like an extra dose of Saturday cartoons interspersed throughout the day. I loved the characters and their adventures and I couldn't wait to see the commercials. Of course, I forced my Mom to buy me the cereal, even though she wanted to buy me something healthier. The stories in those commercials, and the characters that played in them, were some of the best TV around, I thought.

Today, we don't need to hire an expensive studio, or rely on geniuses like Jay Ward to create our stories, although it helps. We have the means to produce our stories at our fingertips.

What we don't always have is the imagination, creativity, whimsy and focus to create compelling stories around our brands, products and organization. Many marketers are still stuck trying to spin stories around products, stories that feel contrived or disconnected. Imagine instead creating you story beforehand and building your product or service afterward. What an amazing world of marketing we'd have.

What story do you want to tell? How would you make your story fun, engaging and worthy of following?

There are a couple of key points, for me, in the Cap'n Crunch saga:
  • The initial impetus behind the project was to solve a problem or need: soggy cereal. That input came from actual customers.
  • Once Quaker Oats knew they could solve the problem, they took the most far-out gamble they could - asking Jay Ward to come up with a creative narrative. It was a solution that was way out of the box.
  • The narrative then informed product development. By building that into the product, Quaker Oats ensured that they could build an ongoing story and adventure.
It may feel frivolous, but a great task for your marketing group or agency would be to come up with your own Cap'n Crunch story for your next product or service. Talk about injecting energy into your day-to-day. The question is: are you ready to take a risk and create your story?
04/14/2010 Is iAd the Savior of Mobile Advertising?

Mobile advertising, the long expected messiah of the ad business, might be about to grow up. Every January the pundits spin "this is the year of mobile advertising" only to leave the rest of us disappointed come December. It's probably because mobile ads are only slightly more interesting than bad banner ads. But that may change with Apple's new iAd platform.

While information is still slight about the workings of the platform, it looks like Steve Jobs and friends have embraced a rich media strategy for iAds. If that's true, I think we have a lot to look forward to.

The first iAd examples show something very similar to good rich media banners. They function almost as a microsite within a site. The benefit for the viewer is that they can take short break from what they're really trying to do, engage with informative and interactive content and, without losing their place, go right back to what they were doing.

The implicit promise in rich media advertising is that the risk of ending up in the wrong place (site) is lower. You roll over the ad (or click in the iAd) and if you don't like it you can close it quickly and get back to the task at hand. In reality, people spend time playing around in those banners, when they have great content to offer.

It's a really smart idea to offer this functionality on mobile devices, like the iPhone or the iPad. The bigger challenge is going to be whether people will engage on the ads on the bottoms of their screens now that we've learned to ignore them. Again, I think the answer is yes, based on my own rich media experiences.

Online banner ads are usually pretty bad. In the last 12+ years, we've learned to ignore most of them. According to some larger ad networks, click through rates, the most popular measure of success, will trend toward 0.03% if you run your ad long enough or reach a lot of people. That's a very low rate.

But while we're used to not clicking on banners, we will roll over rich media banners. Anywhere between 3% and 10%. Compare that with banner CTRs. More importantly, we spend time playing around with the content. I'm running one rich media campaign right now where the average time spent inside the banner is 80 seconds per user. And there is absolutely no video running in it. It's all because the content is valuable and engaging.

Mobile rich media advertising could be the force that pushes mobile ads over the hump and finally makes it the winner everyone predicted it would become.

I think Apple is on the right track providing this technology. The rest is up to us digital creatives. We can use this to do good or to do evil. Let's hope we make this great.

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