19 September 2013

Social Media Connect People with People, not People with Products

Twitter brought a coincidence to my professional life yesterday, and it made me think about how brands use -- and misuse -- social media.


For me, Twitter is a way to learn about #Marketing and #Advertising and network with people who do the same.  Somewhere along the way I met David Schwartz, a.k.a. @1ad_dad, a consultant from Nashville, Tennessee.  David is an enthusiastic networker, connecting groups of people in #FF (Follow Friday) groups, and I’m in one of those.  Occasionally I’ve spoken with a couple of marketers in the group.


Yesterday one of my colleagues said we were scheduled for a phone call with Justin Campana of JC Decaux.  Justin Campana?  That name sounded familiar.

Sure enough:  It was @Justin_Campana from the #FF gang.


We are so totally networking right now!
It was a fun phone call.  Building on the friendly hellos from social media, we realized we went to adjacent high schools and both like the New York Yankees.  Not incidentally we had a productive business conversation that will surely lead somewhere for both of us.

What are the lessons for marketers?

Connections are authentic.  Neither Justin nor I were really “selling” each other, and if we had been, neither one of us stalked the other on Twitter as part of a prospecting plan.  David had already introduced us, and we made the connection.  Frustratingly, though, many marketing messages barge right in on your social media experience with messages like "Isn't it time you cleaned your toilet?"  Social media connects people with people, not people with products.

People + People = Networks.  An early epiphany working with social media was that individual people rely on their networks (read: groups of friends) as gatekeepers.  Thus, the job for marketers is to figure out how you are going to connect with  -- be relevant to -- these networks.  Most marketing on using social media just tries to break through and rack up Likes or Followers.  

Connection first, conversation second.  In the same way, most social media conversation topics ("Did you know today is Talk Like a Pirate Day?") are just borrowing interest.  Your favorite brand of cookie has more fans or followers than the population of Venezuela because people like the product.  That allowed their genius to shine when the clever messages went out later.

Be patient.  Wait for coincidences like the one that arrived at my door yesterday.  You can artificially drive up Likes or Followers, but that won't cement any connections between people and your product.  That kind of relationship can only develop by being the best product you can be, and showing a genuine interest in others.

16 September 2013

Small Media Agencies Far from a Dying Breed (UPDATED)

Last week's news about KSL Media going bankrupt sent one trade publication jumping to conclusions.  AdAge.com blared:  "KSL Bankruptcy Calls Into Question Marketer Appetite for Indie Media Shops".  The gist of the story was that KSL had to go out of business because it was losing clients to big, holding-company media agencies.  Indeed, Bacardi left KSL for Mindshare this year.  Could one client loss really kill a small media agency?
If only it were just $8,000

It's actually a much more dramatic story:  Former KSL controller Geoffrey Charness is accused of embezzling tens of millions of dollars.  (We hasten to add he's innocent until proven guilty.)

It’s no crime, however, to be an "indie media shop".  Independent media agencies serve clients that the big agencies overlook, and do it well.

There's no question that scale counts when negotiating low CPMs on a big budget.  But scale isn't everything in media.  

“Media” and “Creative” aren’t mutually exclusive

Media has become more creative in recent years, driven by the development of hundreds of new ways for brands and consumers to connect with one another.  In other words, media isn't just about scale, it's about innovation.  

Large media agencies have no more of a monopoly on innovation than do large creative agencies.  It's interesting to note that TurboTax recently awarded its creative account to Wieden + Kennedy -- and then, two months later, also gave them the media planning and buying assignment.

We'll find out how the KSL-embezzlement-bankruptcy storyline plays out over the next few weeks.  It won't be pretty for the employees who faithfully executed their duties every day, coming up with ideas to build their clients' businesses.

But it’s safe to say that we'll still have "indie media shops" far into the future, continuing to build clients' businesses in ways we can't even imagine.

UPDATED 11 October 2013:

The plot thickens.  Today MediaPost is reporting that KSL Media loaned millions of dollars to senior execs, even in its waning days.

10 September 2013

Digital Out Of Home Media is All About Engagement

This past week the Digital Screenmedia Association held a symposium which captured the big trends in -- well, a kind of media that goes by several names.  Digital Out Of Home, or DOOH.  Digital Place-based Media.  Digital POP.  If there’s no consensus on what to call it, you know it’s a dynamic part of the media universe.  Watch this space!  (Literally and figuratively.)

What is Digital Out of Home?

Just to give it a little more definition, DOOH includes electronic billboards, stadiums, in-store video, and place-based networks reaching into doctors’ offices, gas station pumps, public transit, ATM machines, bars, malls and many other nooks and crannies of daily life.  Penetration is especially high in Europe and some Asian cities, and increasing in North America.

Now THIS is consumer engagement!
These screens are popping up everywhere because the technology behind them is getting cheaper to build and install.  Moreover, people are on the move so much that marketers are looking for new ways to engage them.  Still, there’s a sense that marketers under-utilize digital out of home.

That may change when some of the following trends start to materialize.

Engagement is the future of digital screens

Throughout the two days, engagement was a constant theme.  Technology permits not only a million screens, but ways for consumers to use those screens to get more information, get entertained or get some useful information.  Many of you know about R/GA’s interactive billboards for Nike.  In the future it might look like this scene from Minority Report, which Tom Fishburne delightfully sent up with one of his cartoons.  We’ll know the technology jumped the shark when Jaws 19 comes out.

Mobile is the tool

Here and now, Mobile will propel consumer engagement with DOOH.  It’s been clear to me for some time that Mobile isn’t a way for brands to reach consumers, it’s a way for consumers to reach brandsIf they think you'll help them shop, save, win, laugh or learn, you’re in.  DOOH gives brands another opportunity to earn consumers’ invitations to their mobile devices. 

DOOH Engagement:  What’s Next?

QR codes are teaching the behavior of holding up your phone to a scannable image, but there are new, easier ways for the consumer to invite you in.  What’s next?

In Chicago, elevate Digital is deploying truly interactive displays in and around the Loop that encourage participation via social media, connecting with consumers via their own experiences.  In New York, Perch Interactive designs point-of-purchase displays that encourage interaction with a product -- and deliver information about it in the ten seconds that a shopper handles it.  Numerous companies, like Ocutag, GroundCntrl and ShopOne, are developing new ways for CPG marketers to connect with shoppers in the grocery and mass retail channels.

In-store is Out-of-Home

DOOH also happens in the retail environment.  Jennifer Nye, retail channel manager for Kohler, pointed out that “the store isn’t dead; it’s where customer loyalty can be built.”  To be sure, she added, “It’s not just a matter of putting up screens.”  There must be a strategy.  

Lindsay Wadelton, the Flagship Customer Experience Manager at AT&T’s new store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, described a store where they don’t dramatize the product, but the experiences the product delivers.  Digital, interactive signage makes it possible.

Hello, Mr. Yakamoto, welcome back to The Gap

We may be a long way from Minority Report, but DOOH is showing us the way there.  Especially in an era of consumer privacy concerns and enhanced government snooping, the key for marketers will be to earn consumers' invitations into their lives.

24 July 2013

What I Learned from a Real-Life Mad Man

“He loved watching Mad Men.  He lived that life.”

That’s what Dick Mincheff’s daughter told me.  The only thing is, Dick’s story has a happier ending than Don Draper’s.  But more about all that in a moment.

Tribute to an Ad Man

Dick Mincheff
Dick Mincheff, a Leo Burnett veteran who started at the agency in 1961, died recently at age 74, survived by his wife, Monica, four children and five grandchildren.  He earned a journalism degree at Miami of Ohio, served in the U.S. Army Reserves psychological warfare battalion, and went to work at Burnett, spending many of his years on the Philip Morris business.  He had a hand in building the Marlboro brand and repositioning Virginia Slims.  He retired from the agency in 1999.

When I joined Burnett, Dick was in the autumn of his career, running the Unocal (Union 76) and Dewar’s Scotch accounts.  One day I was promoted to AE and found myself reporting to him directly.  This would prove to be a formative period in my career, which was a good thing because I could benefit from his experience, his seen-it-all sense of history, and his personal integrity.  Not only that – he was so cool he made the Rat Pack look like a bunch of nerds.  No, really.

If you called Central Casting looking for an ad man, Dick is what would show up.  Tall, tan, always dressed in an impeccably tailored suit.  When we went to Los Angeles, staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel or the Bel-Air, he was in his element.  Equally, though, in the conference room, his command of client business information showed the substance behind the style.  Substance – that’s what truly reassures clients that we’re professional enough to be trusted with their reputation.

He had a way with clients.  They sensed he had their best interests in mind, and on top of that, his power of persuasion was formidable.  My first major TV production project was the annual package of four or five commercials for Unocal – the old Murph campaign.  The price tag was a little higher than usual, and Dick made the phone call to sell it.  I was told to be patient:  “Dick is in there ‘Minching’ the client.”

Minch – that’s what we called him – knew and worked with Leo Burnett himself.  In fact Leo asked Minch to write a point-of-view on copy strategy, which turned into a six-page memo that I was privileged to read one day.  The memo was titled “Stratagem” and had Leo’s notes all over it, written in his trademark green ink.

You know from watching Mad Men that in the ‘60s cigarettes were common in agencies and the advertising they produced.  While researching this article I found this document detailing his role in a Philip Morris marketing seminar.

Requiem for a Mad Man

That brings us to the Mad Men part of the story.

As of this writing, Mad Men just finished its latest season with the calendar set at November 1968.  Don Draper’s lot in life seems dismal, the result of his own bad choices.  It’s too early to say whether his story has a happy ending, but it doesn’t look pretty.

Dick Mincheff’s life turned out way better.  Sure, he made some bad choices of his own.  Dick would be the first to admit those.  Unlike Draper, however, Dick helped others.  He had a knack for encouraging, cajoling and pushing colleagues to do their best.

Helping others continued in his retirement.  Dick counseled business owners and recently laid off senior executives via SCORE, the Service Corps Of Retired Executives, a program of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Lastly, and most importantly, Dick kept his family together.  He and Monica were married 54 years.  Three of their children lived nearby in the Portland, Oregon area; the other lived in Chicago.  That’s where I last saw him, when he was in town visiting his daughter.

3 Lessons from a Real-Life Mad Man

This blog is about embracing the future.  So what can we learn from a real-life account guy of the ‘60s?

Genuinely love the ad business.  Dick took great care with the creative process, not only knowing how to recognize a strategy, but how to make it inspiring for the creative team.  He was a student of the business, always observing newly-released campaigns and what they meant.  He made a habit of checking out what was in development around the agency, constantly curious about what friends were creating.

Genuinely care for your client’s business.  Minch knew that clients innately understand when someone at the agency doesn’t respect them.  He set the tone for me and others by showing enthusiasm for the client’s business and interest in learning everything about it.  This is far from the cynicism you see Sunday nights on AMC, and way above the crank-stuff-out mentality of today’s project management culture.

Genuinely respect your co-workers.  To be sure, some co-workers annoyed Minch.  But he never ranted about them or saw himself a better person; he tried to be patient and kind.  He also showed respect by setting high standards.  Expecting great things of people communicates that you believe in them.

Minch wasn’t famous, but he was respected, and my hope is that you find some inspiration in his story.

31 May 2013

"Value" Messages Will Return, So Get Ready

Think back four years.

Your boss, your client or your agency was on the “Value” bandwagon, or asking you to climb aboard.  Typical trade press headline:  “How Your Value Message Can Be Heard Above the Din”.

Well, get ready, because inflation is coming back, and value messages won’t be far behind.

U.S. Inflation:  Delayed, Not Denied

This occurred to me while reading an insightful economic analysis explaining how easy money policies at central banks will eventually lead to 2% inflation in 2014 and 3% in 2015.  True, those are single-digit numbers but they will make a difference to consumers struggling with reduced take-home pay and rising transportation and housing costs.

Put differently:  Your $5 air freshener is going to be a much tougher sell.

What is Value?

Too many marketers think Value = Price.  In QSR, for example, most “value” campaigns are about 59-, 69- and 99-cent items.  In reality, Value = Price + Benefit.  What do I get for what I paid?  That equation is in consumers’ minds no matter what the economy.  (Here are a couple of smart posts on this topic from Bob Gilbreath.)  Our job as marketers is to figure out how we make that $5 air freshener worth it to the consumer.

Your task gets even tougher when prices in general are rising, even if you offer a discount, which is why we should worry about 3% inflation.

Dust off those recommendations from 2009

Rather than just cut prices, which admittedly may be a part of your strategy, think longer term.  The trick is not just to survive tough times, but position your business for better times.  If your competition isn’t ready when consumers start pulling back, you can aggressively steal market share, making you stronger when the economy improves.

Now THAT'S added value!
For example, if you have been looking for a way to claim ownership in the consumer’s mind of a particular category benefit, this is the time to seek it, when your competitor is more worried about short-term survival.  Perhaps it’s time to introduce a new benefit – that is, improve value by offering something new or something more at the same price.

Back in 2009, Hyundai made a brilliant offer:  Buy a Hyundai, and simply return it if you lose your job.  That wasn’t just “value”; they were telling consumers that they understood how uncertain things were, and made a bet that built longer-term brand equity.  (Unfortunately, they blew a lot of brand equity this year via a U.K. ad depicting a failed suicide attempt.)

Think ahead to 2015

The point is, think about the long-term opportunities in a short-term crisis.  And start thinking about them now, before the crisis hits.

28 May 2013

Crowdsourcing and Pandora's Box

The cartoon above comes from The Marketoonist, one of my favorite blogs which always features a cartoon as well as a smart post.  The topic in this case was crowdsourcing, or the practice of inviting the general public to participate in your marketing communications.

Not just any marketer can or should try crowdsourcing.  The post mentions some failures, like Justin Bieber asking where he should kick off his upcoming world tour, only to learn that his "fans" thought he should start in North Korea.

Like any other advertising tool or technique, crowdsourcing must attach to the right brand, product — and strategy.  Personally, I thought this Ford Focus ad, a race car event filmed by onlookers using their smartphones, worked well.

An important corollary: No advertiser should try crowdsourcing unless they have some experience listening to consumers. I’m not talking about focus groups, maybe social media, but no matter what the listening post, a demonstrated ability to understand their public.

By the way, there’s a crowdsourced agency, Victors & Spoils, that invites moonlighters and freelancers to submit ideas. It’s fun to be on their mailing list even though I haven’t (yet) submitted anything.

In the same way a sound strategy gets you to the right creative result, it's important to have a brief for crowdsourcing.  You can't just throw open the lid of Pandora's box.

30 April 2013

Learning Never Stops

Yesterday was the first of three days I’m devoting to helping train account management people at our agency.  Three days?  Yes, it’s that important.  Especially after I opined loudly on the subject back in November.

Two instructors present material and we apply it in a series of mock meetings where some senior account people, including me, pretend to be clients, and the account people portray themselves.

Today’s curriculum, starting in the right place with something foundational, focused on what the instructors called Immersion (doing your homework) and Discovery (having done it well enough to ask smart questions).

Learning Is Day-to-Day

An important point made in the classroom was that both Immersion and Discovery are ongoing.  We talked about them first, not because they are the first stages in a process, but because you can only do your job well if you do them first – and continually.

In other words, you have to learn, and keep learning, your client’s business.  Not just the facts and figures on your own dashboard but the overall industry in which the client competes, the state of their business overall, and of course their marketing.

To learn the client’s business, however, you also have to learn your client; to establish a relationship with them based on your genuine commitment to their business success.  That relationship permits you to keep learning.

Advertising has so many new specialties and disciplines that we've written often about specialists and generalists.  None of that tradecraft matters, however, if you lack an understanding of what the client needs from you.

Learning Is Year-to-Year

Do the above lessons sound basic or obvious?  If so, it doesn’t make them wrong.  In fact it makes them all the more important.  I don’t mind admitting that I gained a lot from reviewing them in my role as a trainer.

Learning never stops.  Reviewing the basics always helps me refresh what I do instinctively, and thus do it better.

26 April 2013

Book Review: Work Like A Spy

Work Like A Spy: Business Tips from a Former CIA Officer
By J.C. Carleson
Portfolio/Penguin, 192 pages

There’s an industry blog called Agency Spy that purports to be “deep inside” your agency.  

They’ve got nothing on the CIA.

Work Like A Spy explains how CIA practices might work in the business world.  It’s been reviewed on that general premise (here and here) so this post concentrates on how practices at “The Agency” might work at your agency.  In what ways are secret agents and advertising agents similar?

What’s It Like to Work Like A Spy?

J.C. Carleson (a pseudonym, of course) was both a CIA case officer and a corporate executive.  If you’re squeamish about taking advice from the CIA, start by reading the last two pages of the book, which summarize her advice – and her ethical standards.  Her advice in one sentence is that getting information important to your business “is a matter of asking the right people the right questions in the right way.”  Is that “right way” ethical?  According to Carleson, “It is possible to use clandestine techniques to get ahead in the corporate world while still maintaining your integrity.”  If you don’t believe her, then put down the book. 

Those who press on will get Carleson’s advice in three parts:  an introduction to the clandestine world; how to apply clandestine techniques internally; how to apply them externally.  Sprinkled throughout are CIA stories generally less exciting than James Bond – but one of her main themes is that typical CIA work resembles typical corporate work more than it resembles the typical Hollywood treatment.

It’s important to point out that, like any book by former CIA employees, Work Like A Spy had to be vetted by “The Agency”.  This may account for generally bland tonality, occasionally ham-handed editing, and overly-obvious appeals to ethics.  On the other hand, this book is virtually free of business jargon.

It’s also a relatively short book, worth one airplane ride to the client.

Secret Agents and Advertising Agents

Here are the passages most applicable to the advertising world.

Hiring People (pages 89-98).  Advertising depends on the right people on the right teams, so we might derive some lessons from the government agency with the disproportionately largest budget for recruiting and hiring.  One amusing line is that the ideal CIA candidate is “a Boy Scout with a latent dark side” – admit it, you work with some of those.  Some of the strategies ring true for agencies:  encourage frequent rotation, make room for lone wolves, etc.  Others sound obvious, but do we really practice them?  For example, mixing groups that don’t normally interact could be done more regularly in large agencies.

Keeping Clients (pages 185-189).  As clients continue to stray from the AOR model, bringing in multiple agencies on the same brand, agencies will feel freer to poach each other’s business.  Carleson’s advice is to study the competition’s M.O., exploit their major changes (we all have them these days), and fight back against their attempts to spy on you.  Not everyone in this business is ethical (ha!) and you can be sure some skullduggery is afoot.  Earlier, in Chapter 3, Carleson gives good advice on protecting your agency’s secrets – doubly important because these are often also your client’s secrets.

Winning Business (pages 144-156).  The author knows something about “Making a Sale” (the name of this chapter) given that her job was to convince someone to betray their own country – with really bad consequences if they got caught.  There is a ton of great advice; each one of the eight techniques listed merits some consideration.  Taking a step back, though, the real value of this section is that it reminds you we are in a relationship business.


A key theme of this book is “elicitation”:  You gain information and insight not by dirty tricks, not by interrogation, and not even by direct questions.  Think about consumer research.  Don’t you love focus group questions like “Just why do you like this layout better than that one?”  The idea is that you can get the answers you need from listening and patience. 

Indeed, these are also the foundations of good relationships.  “A good CIA officer,” Carleson writes, “is charismatic without being flashy, inquisitive without being nosy, friendly without being boisterous, smart without being pedantic, and confident without seeming arrogant.  Above all, a good spy is a great listener.”  

That sounds like the kind of person I’d like to work with in an ad agency.  As long as they’re on my side, of course.

14 April 2013

50 Excellent Ad Agency Blogs Worth Reading

Ad Majorem is #7

Recently, MonetizePros.com published a list of 50 Excellent Ad Agency Blogs Worth Reading.  Astoundingly, Ad Majorem was #7.

We're in good company.  The list includes blogs published by global agencies, boutique agencies, and -- importantly -- PR agencies.

They missed some good ones, which you can see by looking at our blogroll in the right-hand column.

08 April 2013

Advertising People Must Be Both: Fox and Hedgehog

Are you a fox or a hedgehog?  What would your client say you are?

This question has come to mind a couple of times after reading The Signal and The Noise by predictive science guru Nate Silver (here was my review of his book).  According to Silver, there are two types of prognosticators.  Hedgehogs believe “in governing principles about the world that behave as though they were physical laws.”  Foxes “are scrappy creatures who believe in a plethora of little ideas and in taking a multitude of approaches toward a problem.”
It’s not a new idea.  The Greek poet Archilochus wrote:  “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”  Western Civilization kind of ran with the concept; it appears in literature a number of times over the centuries.  Foxes:  Aristotle, Shakespeare, Pushkin.  Hedgehogs:  Plato, Dante, Dostoevsky.  If you ever read business books, James Collins, who wrote Good To Great, is clearly a hedgehog.  Silver is a fox.

In fact, Silver believes it’s better to be a fox, at least when it comes to making predictions, because there are really no hedgehog-like governing principles that lead to a sure thing.

Fox, Hedgehog & Associates

What about when it comes to making advertising?

Hedgehogs like big, enduring ideas, governing principles they can cite time and again.  Despite all the changes in advertising, some of these principles endure.  For example, “Nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising” is doubly true in an era when word of mouth travels faster than ever.  Plus, given all the uncertainty we all face, it’s kind of comforting to know some truths are constant.

But not all principles survive the test of time.  For example, “Good advertising is written always from one person to another.”  I thought this old Fairfax Cone idea would not only survive, but thrive in the digital era where marketers and consumers connect with each other directly.  I had an epiphany at Hyper Island, however, leading me to realize that networks of people are the base unit of communication.

That’s where foxes come in.  Foxes don’t just know “many things” but they are always open to learning new things.  They embrace, not ignore, new information that conflicts with what they already believed.  This doesn’t describe the so-called “open mind,” accepting everything as true, but a critical mind, willing to think through new information and see how it applies.  That’s especially valuable in advertising.

Personalities are part of the profile, too.  Silver’s discussion in the book started with pundits you see on U.S. political talk shows like The McLaughlin Group.  In his view, they’re all hedgehogs, because big, bold, proclamations make fantastic television, even (especially?) when they turn out wrong.  Foxes are boring because they analyze various probabilities.

Similarly, hedgehogs make meetings spectacular; bold and daring.  They draw you in with simple messages.  They sell.  This is how Hollywood dramatizes our business and it has a grain of truth to it.  Foxes – well, I won’t say they are a buzz kill, but their thoughtful approach is usually more restrained.

Clients Need Both

Advertising today – and it’s all advertising – needs both foxes and hedgehogs.  Foxes help us get to the right answer; hedgehogs see it through.

It's possible for any one of us to be both a fox and a hedgehog. The fox in you should have good peripheral vision, seeking new ways to move business forward. Your inner hedgehog should compare these new inputs to larger principles, and act accordingly.

Clients, too, will want a fox to help them sort through the complexity of modern marketing – and a hedgehog to seek simplicity and propel things forward, fast.

02 April 2013

Disintermediation III

“Disintermediation” is a fancy word that means “cutting out the middleman.”  The actual economics definition is “the removal of intermediaries in a supply chain.”  No matter what words you use, it’s a concern for agency leaders – more so in recent years.

Not-So-Secret-Agent Man

Uh, sorry -- which one of my
agencies do you represent?
If you think about it, the very concept of an agency is that of a middleman.  The word “agent” literally means “a person who acts on behalf of another.”  That’s how ad agencies began, as purveyors of media space on behalf of their clients.  Creative development became part of the bargain.  During the 20th Century the business evolved into more of a partnership, the best agencies working hard to move their clients’ businesses forward.

Not far into the 21st Century, however, we’re losing sight of how to move our clients’ businesses forward, and clients are responding. 

Relationships are Too Transactional

Yes, agency-client relationships are shorter.  That’s not news.  Now they’re shallower.  Clients juggle an array of resources at any given time, and not just additional agencies.  They hire content creators, data scientists, startups and even agency people as in-house resources.  Some of this results from a need to connect with consumers in ways that only newer, specialist agencies can deliver.  But there’s a more fundamental reason.

Clients eschew the AOR model because agencies made it easy for them.  Labor-based compensation focused agencies on making the ad, shelf talker or website, distracting from the need to bring business-building ideas.  The relationship got more transactional.  Clients can hire almost anyone to get “fresh thinking”.  Monogamy is dead.  Is there any wonder someone started an agency search consultancy named “Madam”?

Agencies Can Cope In a Couple of Ways

One is to respect reality.  Rather than just walking on eggshells, do the best work you can for existing clients.  Bring them business-building ideas, which is something different and something more than delivering the scope of work.  It builds trust with a client who will think twice about straying from an agency that proves how much it cares about the business.

The other is to approach prospective clients with the same attitude:  How do we solve your business problems?  You’ll start to turn the tide, at least in your corner of the world.

What not to do:  Chase all the services your client is buying from other agencies or suppliers.  If it’s something you’re good at doing, then by all means sell it.  If you think you can develop it as a core competency, keep at it.  Even then, however, it means little if you don’t also bring business-building ideas.  Without those, you’ll be disintermediated.  (According to spell check, I just made up that word.)

Previous posts on this subject:

16 March 2013

Walmart Tweets -- Axe to the Rescue! A Tale of Shopper Marketing and Social Media

This week when I was speaking at a conference, someone in the audience asked what Shopper Marketing is. 

I gave my standard definition: a strategy where marketers and retailers develop together an offer that not only sells the marketers’ products, but also increases store traffic and cash register ring for the retailer.  I also cited one of my favorite examples.

Today I found another interesting example – in my Twitter feed.  Walmart sent out a promoted tweet touting the line of shave products from Axe.  Here it is:

Shopper Marketing doesn’t have to happen in the store.  Remember that one of its key objectives is to drive store traffic, so media like radio and out-of-home are very useful.  Social Media increasingly overlaps with Mobile on the Gigantic Venn Diagram, so this tweet is a logical tactic for Shopper Marketing.

Only one possible missed opportunity is that @Walmart could have mentioned the brand as it appears on Twitter, i.e., @Axe.

06 February 2013

Adobe's Pre-Roll Ad Mocks Unwise Super Bowl Investments

My Monday morning quarterbacking of Super Bowl XLVII advertising asked whether all the advertisers remembered that they were selling something, and if not, whether their media investment was wise.

"Spend wisely" is the advice given by Adobe in a pre-roll ad they're running on trade websites this week.  It comes wrapped in an amusing send-up of Super Bowl attention-grabbing tricks.

Click the video below.  It's a fun 30 seconds.

Related posts:

04 February 2013

Super Bowl XLVII Advertising: What Worked

How did a Super Bowl advertiser know if she spent $4 million of her media budget wisely yesterday?  And what about that production budget?

The answer doesn’t depend on popular opinion surveys, like the USA Today Ad Meter declaring Budweiser’s Clydesdales the winner.  In the end, clients want results, and while some seek popularity, all advertisers look for sales, share and brand equity.

We can’t share any internal documents stating those goals and whether the ads achieved them.  But the universal laws of strong communication still apply.  Based on those, we can pick some winners.

Universal Laws of Advertising Still Apply on Super Bowl Sunday

Every commercial has to be memorable, persuasive and well-executed.  Most Super Bowl commercials are memorable, even if it’s a memorable failure, and even if it resorts to stupid attention-getting tricks like featuring babies, animals and/or celebrities.  And most are well-executed.  Or at least well-funded.

No, really. Where's the
copy strategy for this?
It’s the persuasive part that many Super Bowl commercials miss.  In many cases that’s due to a lack of clear objective.  In most it’s because the brand, product and story aren’t all present or linked together. 

I’m not prescribing a claim or product feature, although those are far and few between during any Super Bowl.  It’s more simple:  Did you remember the advertiser?  Did you remember what they told you?

Super Bowl Advertising Also Has to be Epic

There’s one more rule that applies to big events like the Super Bowl:  Advertising has to be epic.  That could mean making a special emotional connection, launching a (truly) revolutionary product, or even a celebrity.  Think of the Super Bowl as a premiere.  It would be silly to run an ad everyone has already seen.  (Oh.  Wait….)

The problem is, epic falls flat if there’s no story being told – not just the story on the screen, but the advertiser’s story.

Super Bowl XLVII Advertising: What Worked

Based only on the above thoughts, here were three that worked well.

“Morning Run” (Milk).  Milk’s marketing works best when it focuses on the “healthy body” claim.  In this case they turned the “Got Milk?” storyline into the promise of  “Protein to start your day.”  Dwayne Johnson’s role reinforces the product benefit.  And it was epic.

“Farmer” (Dodge Ram).  I admit that the Paul Harvey speech drew me in.  Which was necessary because I’m not in the market for a pickup truck.  Doubly necessary because of Dodge Ram advertising’s sophomoric track record.  Yes, it amounts to a product usage suggestion (“great for farming!”) but they effectively used the brand to herald a cause.

“Miracle Stain” (Tide).  I had to go back and watch it again this morning because I apparently missed the “Go Ravens” line while feeding tortilla chips to the children.  Kudos to Procter & Gamble for resisting the urge to feature a claim and/or a demo until the very end.

What didn’t work so well?

None of these spots had all four ingredients (memorable, persuasive, well-executed and epic).

“Crackin’ Style” (Wonderful Pistachios).  Even the star of the most viral video ever can’t compensate for lack of a point or an unmemorable brand name.  In fairness, salty snacks is a tricky category.  Past Super Bowl nut-vertising offers a cautionary tale.  The billionaire Resnicks should heed it.

“Effect” (Sodastream).  My in-game tweet on #AdHuddle:  “SodaStream verdict: The pre-game controversy did way more for them than the in-game #Advertising.”  They could have made a much more clear connection to saving the environment, or even saving money, than this botched attempt at a side-by-side comparison.

“Party” (Pepsi Next).  At first glance this is classic Pepsi: a situation comedy where young people raise Cain and get away with it.  But wait, it’s not classic Pepsi, it’s a line extension, and they don’t get away with it.  The entire situation is contrived to fit around a product usage occasion where the dad recites the brief:  “This is real cola taste.”

What about you?

I’ve only chosen a few commercials here, so please put your own reviews in the comments section below.  Which commercials did you think were memorable, persuasive, well-executed and epic?

09 January 2013

Book Review: The Signal and The Noise

The Signal and The Noise:  Why So Many Predictions Fail -- but Some Don't
By Nate Silver
Penguin Press, 534 pages

Can you go to jail for promising your client great results?

Ask the Italian seismologists found guilty of manslaughter for underestimating the risk of what turned out to be a magnitude-6.3 earthquake that killed over 300 people.  They're one of the cases analyzed in The Signal and The Noise, a new book about successful and failed predictions.  Advertising isn't (usually) a life-or-death matter, but it is a major line item on your client's P&L.  You might not go to jail for a bad prediction, but you could get fired.  That's why I recommend this book:  It helps us understand the impact of so-called Big Data in marketing today.

The Signal and The Noise: Summary

In electrical engineering, “Signal to Noise" describes the relationship between signals that report a useful reading and random noise that makes signals hard to identify.  Similarly, as we drown in data, generating 2.5 quintillion bytes every day, it's harder to separate signal from noise.  Compounding the problem is our own subjectivity:  human beings, more than any other species, are wired to see patterns, and often in the data we see patterns that aren’t real.  Worse, we use those non-patterns to predict future events.  The solution is to embrace our subjectivity and test hypotheses, getting “closer and closer to the truth as we gather more evidence.”  Examples are drawn from pro baseball, politics, earthquakes, economics, epidemics, gambling, global warming, and terrorism.  The author, Nate Silver, knows whereof he speaks.  Years ago he built a reliable tool forecasting baseball player performance, and later gained wider fame for correctly predicting the state-by-state results of the last two presidential elections.

True to the topic, Silver’s analyses are sincere and (generally) objective.  It’s not the type of book, however, so common on the business shelf, that outlines 7 key findings or 10 ways to improve your predictive power.  In fact, buried on page 195 in one of the most hopeless cases – economics forecasting, which will destroy whatever confidence you had left in economists – are what I saw as his three keys to success:  (1) Improved computer power, (2) Better data collection, (3) Old-fashioned hard work.  Comically in a book that keeps reminding us that “to err is human”, there are some unfortunate typos like this one on page 379, quoting a NASA climate researcher:  “I finally realized the definition of rocket science is using relatively simple psychics to solve complex problems.”

Why Advertising people should read The Signal and The Noise

The book is relevant to marketing today because we have far more data than ever and, increasingly, the expectation that we can predict results.  If you think about it, our day-to-day decisions are predictions about what will succeed.  We launch that new product (and hope it isn’t in the 90% that fail this year).  We choose those three animatics for test (and pray that one of them scores).  We buy this medium over another (and look for which half of the ad budget we wasted). 

Silver points out that Prediction and Forecast are two different things.  A prediction is definitive, e.g., "this new product will achieve $60 million in Year I sales."  A forecast is probabilistic, e.g., BASES may tell you Year I sales within a +/- 20% range.  This once frustrated a CPG CEO who didn’t realize how his brand managers were jacking up the assumptions that went into the company’s BASES forecasts.  Of note, the U.S. Geological Survey explicitly states they can’t predict earthquakes – they work hard (and fruitlessly, to hear Silver tell it) to forecast earthquakes’ probability.  (Small comfort to Italian seismologists.)

Likewise there’s a difference between Risk and Uncertainty.  Risk is something you can put a price on, a calculable estimate.  Ipsos/ASI may report a persuasion score as having an 80% or 95% level of confidence.  That means there is a 20% or 5% risk the copy won’t be persuasive.  Uncertainty is risk that is harder to measure.  Silver’s example is the gross miscalculation by credit ratings agencies as to how risky collateralized debt obligations really were.  (The chapter on the 2008 financial meltdown, “A Catastrophic Failure of Prediction”, is worth a read if only to understand that fiasco in 28 simple pages.)

Three Lessons for Marketing and Advertising

All data is not created equal.  Silver admits that some things are easier to predict than others.  Baseball happens to have a rich set of data, whereas predicting earthquakes is virtually impossible because we can’t actually observe and record the subterranean shifting of tectonic plates.  The same lesson has historically separated direct response (did version A or version B have a higher response rate?) from advertising (which half of the budget am I wasting?).

Calibrate your crap detector.  The book is a treasure trove of ways we should not interpret data.  You’ll cringe at some of the mistakes – and realize you’ve made some of them yourself.  One of the more intriguing discussions is about “unknown unknowns” – what is it we don’t see because we would never dream of it?  Which leads to my last point.

Use your imagination.  We’re human and our subjective POV is inevitable, so why not use it? 

Silver’s personal template for prediction is called Bayes’s Theorem.  It’s essentially a way to apply the scientific method:  observe a phenomenon, develop a hypothesis to explain it, formulate a prediction from the hypothesis, and test the prediction.  To be clear, this is not a left-brain analysis that a computer could perform.  It requires human imagination.  Computers just help us calculate the possibilities.  

In other words:  It’s up to us to distinguish signal from noise.