February 09, 2010

Super Bored with Babies and Puppies

This hilarious Stop Babies and Puppies campaign from the AICP (Association of Independent Commercial Producers) comes just in time for the post-Super Bowl ad hangover. In it, they implore marketers to stop resorting to trite cliches in the name of pushing product. The site is packed full of goodies, including a Cliche Ad Machine that lets you create your own spot using stock footage of blankets-swaddled babies,  puppies frolicking in meadows and the like.

And make no mistake about it - while babies and puppies are singled out as the  scapegoat here, screaming zoo animals, frat boy beer humor and random hot chicks in bathtubs are just as guilty.  But let's switch gears and call out a few spots that didn't put me in the mood to break some bottles (your beer sucks anyway Budweiser), stomp a chicken (I wouldn't eat a Dennys Grand Slam even if they paid me) or boycott the sponsor once and for all (good thing you're so cheap, GoDaddy). 

Dodge Charger - good. Google - very good. But my favorite spot of all came from a most unlikely source, the video game Dante's Inferno. I saw nary a mention of this little gem in all the post-game coverage, but its surprising union of brilliant, fiery graphics with a soulful Bill Withers classic made it rise above all the clucking, roaring competition that surrounded it. Just like that 3rd quarter onside kick, it's an excellent example of how beautiful (and successful) an unexpected move can be.

July 30, 2009

I've Gone Mad

Well, I went and Mad Men'd myself. Shameless Draper-hag that I am, I couldn't resist the opportunity to inhabit that whiskey-soaked world, if only virtually. Alas, it wasn't nearly as much fun as I thought it would be. They do a good enough job referencing the show and the period: the background music, costume choices and Dyna Moe's now famous illustrations are dead on. But for the time it takes to complete the process, I wish that my martini-swilling avatar got to have a little more fun. I was hoping for a Jib-Jab style vignette, starring Mad Me tearing up the town with Joan, horseback riding with Betty, climbing corporate ladders with Peggy then pantsing smug little Pete in front of the whole S-C crew...right before riding off into the sunset, smoking cigarettes from the shotgun seat of Don's big Cadillac.  

Alas, what I got was this downloadable image (you get the choice of this full body shot, a headshot only or a wallpaper featuring you in the scene of your choice), and even she looks a bit perplexed by the whole thing. 


Oh well. All in all, the site is just one part of a robust social media push for Mad Men and 8 o'clock coffee. I applaud the breadth of the campaign, and look forward to taking the "Which Mad Men Character Are You?" quiz when that releases...I fancy myself a Joan but suspect reality will peg me as a Peggy.

June 12, 2009

Holy #####!

Speaking of new iPhones, here's a great little campaign that could just score you one. For those of you still wondering if there are any smart, powerful and transparent ways to use Twitter to drive business awareness, here's your answer. Bravo, Squarespace.

June 10, 2009

Apple puts iPhones on sale, but at what price?


Forget the 3GS's speed and video capabilities. The real news out of Apple this week was that they were cutting the price of the 3G model to $99.  I get it. We're in the middle of a recession. The market's flooded with cheaper alternatives and a lower price point will lure in buyers who would have settled for one of them. Sprint's about to launch what many have declared to be the iPhone's first real competition. In this climate, the decision does make sense. But in the long run, does Apple stand to lose more than they gain?

The announcement stunned so many people because it doesn't seem like an Apple move. Other companies may hold fire sales to jettison old inventory, but not Apple. They may release a vastly compromised version of something and sell that on the cheap (yeah, I'm looking at you iPod shuffle), but to take the old gold standard and simply throw it in the bargain bin? Not Apple. So why is the company that trained us all to think different suddenly acting like everyone else?

I will admit, the stubborn refusal to drop their prices used to annoy me. I've owned 3 iPods, each twice the capacity as the one before it, and I paid $299 for all of them. When the 80G came out, I remember wondering, what happened to all the 60Gs? They don't go on sale, they don't go to Overstock, they just seem to vanish, replaced by something twice as nice at the same exact price.

But in the end, the decision was never about price. It was about value. And I'm not talking bytes for your buck. I'm talking brain value. Heart value. Apple appealed to best-hunters, not bargain hunters. People who believed these products were so special, so different, so much better than everything else out there, that they were worth the extra money. True or not, Apple successfully burnt this impression in the minds of millions. In fact, pre-price cut (and pre-Pre) they were shattering their own records with international iPhone sales, recession be damned.

Will a $99 price tag lure in new buyers at the expense of a loyal base who's been willing to pay any price all along? Will all those Apple-philes, who have been trained to never wait for the sale, hold off on the 4G in hopes the the 4GX will bring about a big discount?  Worse yet, will more mass-market friendly pricing  eventually cheapen Apple's cachet overall?

June 05, 2009

The agency is thy shepherd.

Now that Current TV is inviting viewers to create commercials (VCAMS) for big name brand partners, Ad Week has called for traditional agencies to rethink their role: “from serving as creative drivers to brokers and brand shepherds.” In a sense, this is what we do already. Agencies don’t simply churn out creative in a vacuum. We work in partnership with the client to develop campaigns that define, promote and protect the brand. What’s changed is the number of different platforms on which to execute these campaigns.

With sophisticated creative and production tools now readily available to anyone who wants it, agencies aren’t the only ones putting material out there anymore. We’re not even the only ones putting out good material. The winning VCAMS look 100% professional and polished—and they cost peanuts compared to typical agency fees.

So, agencies can feel threatened by the loss of control or get excited by the opportunities it presents.

This creative explosion is less about Joe Public usurping the role of professional agencies and more about, as the folks at Digg put it,  “teaching brands to borrow from the grammar of the experience.” (Case in point: Digg's new advertising model will allow viewers to Digg up ads, thus controlling impressions and CPC the same way they determine news readership.)

On a network built around viewer generated content like Current TV, why wouldn't advertisers  communicate via viewer generated commercials? But whatever “grammar” you’re using, everyone must still speak the language of the brand. And that’s where an agency comes in. Someone still needs to write the language. But instead of doing all the talking ourselves we have to find ways to teach the language to others. And get them excited about speaking it. And in the end, be open to all of their translations.

Of course, the other alternative is to invent the platform. That way, you're guaranteed control of the creative that lives on it. At least until it catches on. 

April 21, 2009

Social Media Mania

Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, YouTube, Blogging. Clients often ask what role social media should play in their marketing programs. Some ask the question with skepticism and doubt. Others with the anticipation that this is the magic bullet they’ve been looking for. Both are wrong. Social media is as important to a business’ marketing plan as any other media might be. That is to say, if it reaches the right audience, if it allows you to communicate a message in a clear and engaging way, if it fits with your brand and mission, then…what are you waiting for?

But be aware, unlike more traditional media, there are some new concerns with this new media:

  1. You can’t necessarily market in the social media space the same way you do in traditional advertising. As a marketer, you probably see opportunity. Here are groups of self-defined, like-minded people. Communities with similar interests all congregating in one space. Smells like prime real estate for focused, targeted marketing, right? Think again. Social media mavens are savvy and outspoken. They see these as community-building tools. Opportunities to connect with folks who share their interests. These are social applications, not commercial. Breech their trust and you won’t be forgiven easily. Be inauthentic and you will be excommunicated quickly.
  2. If you think that it’s free to join these social media communities, that this is free advertising, think again. Marketing in the social media realm is more similar to a public relations program than a paid advertising campaign, and likewise, it would benefit you tremendously to use professional marketers to help you navigate the media, explore the opportunities and craft an appropriate strategy. Then, it’s up to you or someone in your organization to continue to make the investment in posting, tweeting, blogging or responding. Go dormant and your audience will go away…with a bad impression of you and your organization. So don’t jump on the social media bandwagon just because you think it’s a cheap way to advertise. Jump on because it’s right for you and you’re willing to make the appropriate investment of time and budget.
  3. One thing that I caution everyone about is that in the social media world, there is a fine line between the professional and the personal. And often, I believe there is no line at all. With the accessibility of information on the Internet in general, it is getting harder and harder to market your company without prospective clients or customers getting to know an awful lot about you personally. In the social media space, this is even more of an issue. If you twitter everyday and your goal is to promote your professionalism and credibility as a businessperson, keep your tweats from venturing into the personal. If you’re going to have a presence on Facebook, it will be hard to separate your professional from your personal, hard not to intermingle the two. The bottom line is that if you’re into social media, people want to hear from you as a person, not your company or organization, so there has to be personalization, but know where to draw the line and be careful not to step over it.

Here’s what I do think social media is great for:

-       Letting people hear your unique voice

-       Opening the lines of communication so you can hear directly from your customers, clients and constituents

-       Showcasing your point-of-view and your in-depth knowledge of your industry

-       Allowing people to get to know you before they work with you

-       Generating name awareness and broadening your referral network

-       Demonstrating your willingness to share your “gifts,” your knowledge and insight for the benefit of anyone willing to tune in

-       Showing that you and your organization are in tune with how people communicate and congregate these days. That reflects positively on your progressiveness as an organization

-       Getting in front of prospective employees

So, what are the next steps? Start playing. Check out all the different social media opportunities. See what your colleagues and competitors are doing, talk to professionals. (Diane is a great person to call!) And then, like with any marketing effort, formulate a plan and follow through. Also, remember, in most cases social media doesn’t replace other marketing vehicles it supplements them. Just be sure to maintain a connection and continuity within your plan and between the various media, and you’ll surely find what you’re looking for.

April 01, 2009

Make thirst, not love.

I’m in love with another man. There I said it. And not just any man, but The Most Interesting Man in the World. It’s been two years since Dos Equis debuted their dashing new spokesman. I’ve seen him presiding over “the real” happy hour amidst a bevy of cleavage baring admirers. Having an awkward moment just to see what it feels like. One night in a bar, I even found a coaster bearing the tale of the time he won a costume contest when he wasn’t wearing a costume. Like everyone else, I fell for his charm (so contagious they had to develop a vaccine for it). I couldn’t help it. The campaign was everywhere. And it was excellent. It drove me to arm-wrestle Stalin, to update my Facebook status with stolen one-liners (better believe I’m living vicariously through myself), and even, on a whim, to apply online to be his personal assistant. The one thing it didn’t do, however, was make me drink more Dos Equis*. All those entreaties to “stay thirsty, my friends” left me thirsting more for another commercial than anything else.

Then you have those boring Samuel Adams commercials about hops and brewery blah blah blah. I can barely remember what they said, much less repeat it verbatim. I have no desire to interact with the company in any novel way. But the last time it was my turn to buy beer, I decided to try some Sam Adams for a change.

So which is more effective – the ad that sells its product? Or the ad that sells itself?

*According to reports, the Most Interesting Man did successfully drive brand growth in core markets. 

December 12, 2008

We all scream (and one of us lays on the floor)

Coming to you with a totally cool (literally) and truly awesome (literally) holiday moment. We have this client who we absolutely adore - Molly, from Sodexo, with whom we've been privileged to work with all year on cool stuff like this. So, knowing that she is a proud Buckeye, a true foodie, and very into the natural, local foods movement, Dina stumbled upon the most perfect gift ever - Jeni's Ice Creams, gourmet ice cream and sorbet that is homemade in her home state. Since she was out of town we had her delivery scheduled for sometime today.  Today comes, and a Jeni's box shows up in OUR office. Naturally, we assumed it was some sort of terrible mistake. They flipped the addresses, or worse yet WE did. Then we opened the card. 
Jenis ice cream
At which point, Mark gasped, I screamed and Dina fell on the floor (literally, that's how she expresses extreme shock and amazement). The moral of the story? I think it's two-fold:
1. The best client/agency relationships tend to exist between true kindred spirits
2. Ice cream RULES!

May 07, 2007

Guerilla marketing gets personal.

Here's something I noticed. One of our new clients is a new dining/shopping/recreation complex in town. Restaurants, boutiques, coffee house specialty stores, etc. After we won the account, I mentioned it to a few friends. They reacted with a litany of things that they didn't like about the place. Too new. Too cookie cutter. Not enough choices. So, immediately, I see we have some work cut out for us, as far as changing perceptions goes. But that's not the point of this post. Fast forward a few days. A different conversation with almost the same friends. As a happy hour suggestion, I threw out a bar/restaurant in that same complex. Everyone agreed. Immediately. Enthusiastically. One even said he'd been meaning to check it out on his own. So I learned a lesson. One that probably applies to everyone who makes a living trying to get people to do things, buy stuff and go places. As an advertising professional, my opinions are suspect. As a friend, my opinions are golden.

April 26, 2007

Return of the Dragon

April’s Fast Company had a great article Less Hulk, More Bruce Lee which profiled the design firm JDK, starting with an anecdote about how they won the Microsoft Xbox account. 

"Our approach was to transition Xbox from this hulk of escaping power into this quiet power that is lurking, something still incredibly dangerous but with more of an elegance and grace."

That got me thinking. In a hyperactively evolving marketing/ad environment like today’s, maybe we could all use a little less Hulk, a little more Bruce Lee. This is not a cry for bare-knuckled board smashing and flying roundhouse kicks around the conference room table - though that would be a fantastic way to enliven a meeting. It’s simply a call to approach business –hell, maybe life itself -- a different way.

Let’s start with simple structure. Everyone says bigger isn’t necessarily better, but how many people still seek out the security of a big company when it comes to choosing who to do business with? I wonder how many times my own company has lost clients to the notion that small companies can’t handle big accounts. 

Well, to them I say this: Bruce Lee was 5’7”. If you’ve got the chops, you’ve got the chops. And I know we have that. What we don’t have is a lot of padding. But the thing with padding is that sometimes it slows you down more than it cushions you.   

Another thing. If you’ve got the chops, who cares where they come from? Bruce (in my head, he lets me call him Bruce) famously challenged the strict adherence to tradition practiced by other martial arts schools. He dubbed it “organized despair” and even had a miniature tombstone in his office carved with the epitaph:

In memory of a once fluid man, crammed and distorted by the classical mess.

In business, you’re just as doomed if you lash yourself too tightly to the established foundation. Best practices. What worked before. It doesn’t just become obsolete. It disappears. Bit by bit every day, and now, faster than ever. And if you don’t find some new ground to stand on you’re screwed.

Of course, the problem with new ground is that it has no name and some people are scared to death of it. For instance, my company is not an advertising agency. But we are tempted to call ourselves one because we do provide those services and it is a name that people (i.e. potential clients) understand. They don’t understand the notion of a collective. They can’t embrace a partnership of independent parties that can marshal whatever forces it needs to get the job done. The foreignness scares them. Even if it that’s what makes us better.

I dream of the day that we can sell ourselves on the fact that we operate like a good jeet kune do fighter:

He has not technique. He makes his opponent’s techniques his technique. He has no design. He makes opportunity his design.

When we can emblazon our website and collateral with a part zen, part kickass motto like:

The way of no way. To have no limitation as limitation.

When we can all be a little more Bruce Lee.


(For a great introduction/overview of Lee’s philosophies, check out The Warrior Within)