Friday, June 29, 2007

iTold you so.

A few posts ago in The iPhone, will it be for U? I asked if the iPhone will be on brand for Apple. This morning I came across a story in the NY Times with this headline: "Chiefs Defend Slow Network for the iPhone." At least at its inception, the iPhone will run on AT&T's older, slower network. The article states: "Early reviews of the iPhone, while positive, have faulted the slower network because it will limit the palm-size wireless computer’s greatest strength — making the Internet easily accessible on the go."

Of course, this news lead AT&T chief executive Randall L. Stephenson to sound like a twelve-star general during the Viet Nam war. “It doesn’t concern me,” he said. Perhaps "It doesn't concern me" should be AT&T's new tagline. It's certainly their positioning.

This is bad news for Apple. It reflects a lack of customer focus. Which is fatal. Bad. Off-brand.

And as they used to say in Maoist China, "When you sleep with dogs, you wake up with fleas."

Joan Lunden on anal leakage.

Not too many years ago I was asked by my ECD to work on a pitch for a pharma product. I blurted out the title of this post, and he took the hint and he let me off the hook.

With the billions now being spent on pharma advertising, it stuns me that essentially, no matter what medicine you're hawking, you do the same commercial.

I used to have this, so I couldn't do that, so I asked my doctor and he told me about blank. [Diarrhea disclosure. And people pushing kids on swings or sitting on the sofa with an attractive person of the opposite sex or an attractive couple walking on the beach. With a super that says see our ad in Cooking EZ.] Name of product and tagline, usually "Take back your life." Or "Tomorrow is your future."

Pharma commercials suck because the people involved in them have an illness. It's called "Conference Room-itis." The ads all work in a conference room. On forced exposure people nod and say "that's me." And the sales force loves hearing their product name. But on TV or in the real world they just are not seen.

Wasting billions. That's sick.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

With apologies to everyone.

I think I have insomnia.
Am I afraid of another
Do I fear a dirty bomb-nia?
Perhaps it's the bad econom-nia?
Or a pair of too tight pyjam-nia?

Thomas Friedman on Advertising.

Thomas Friedman already has three Pulitzer Prizes and a couple of award-winning books to his name--those accomplishments in and of themselves make him a must-read. Today, however, he must be clipped, taped to bulletin boards and discussed widely, both within agencies and with clients.

His column, "The Whole World is Watching" discusses a new book called "How" by a guy called Dov Seidman, the CEO of a business ethics company. Here's the gist (I'm quoting Friedman here): "Seidman’s simple thesis is that in this transparent world “how” you live your life and “how” you conduct your business matters more than ever, because so many people can now see into what you do and tell so many other people about it on their own without any editor."

In other words, if you screw up--like Dell did with their customer service--it can destroy your business. Friedman continues:

“The persistence of memory in electronic form makes second chances harder to come by,” writes Seidman. “In the information age, life has no chapters or closets; you can leave nothing behind, and you have nowhere to hide your skeletons. Your past is your present.” So the only way to get ahead in life will be by getting your “hows” right.

Ditto in business. Companies that get their hows wrong won’t be able to just hire a P.R. firm to clean up the mess by a taking a couple of reporters to lunch — not when everyone is a reporter and can talk back and be heard globally.

But this also creates opportunities. Today “what” you make is quickly copied and sold by everyone. But “how” you engage your customers, “how” you keep your promises and “how” you collaborate with partners — that’s not so easy to copy, and that is where companies can now really differentiate themselves."

That's it. That last paragraph. That's all about the changing role of advertising--about inviting people in, not shoving messages out. That's what agencies and their clients should be discussing.

PS. Friedman is a "Times Select" writer, meaning you can't get him for free online. So pick up a copy of the paper for a dollar.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Passing the Buick.

Buick and GMC, two divisions of General Motors, have just shifted their advertising accounts from McCann and Lowe to Leo Burnett. This comes not long after Cadillac shifted its account from Leo to Modernista! (The exclamation point is in Modernista's! name, and it's so awful and pretentious, I feel obliged to include it.)

Somehow, this consolidation is supposed to "further unleash the power of the Buick-Pontiac-GMC channel and also support our efforts to create three strong, fully differentiated brands within this channel," said Jim Bunnell, general manager, Buick-Pontiac-GMC. Oh, puh-leeze. If anyone is minding the store at GM, they'd fire Jim Bunnell's golden-parachuted ass for such blather. "Unleash the power"? Come on. Buick's sales are down 27% since last year, and they are roughly 80% lower than they were a decade ago. I don't think there's any power here to be unleashed.

In addition to making a product that can't compete in a world market, Buick and GMC spend over $400 million on :30-second spots that I challenge anyone reading this blog to recall. That's a lot of money to shoot a bunch of cars on a wetted-down winding road.

There's got to be a better way to spend $400 million. And I have to believe that if Leo Burnett is going to succeed with these GM brands they had better do something different than what they did with Oldsmobile (defunct) and Cadillac (before they lost it.)

Unleash aweigh!

Not made in China.

It seems like virtually every day there's a story in the news about something that's made in China that falls apart, is full of some toxin or causes an unseemly, almost medieval illness that most people in the West regarded as all but eliminated some decades ago. Today's news item is about the recall of almost half-a-million tires that are of the "shred it yourself" variety.

Here's the point: cheap is cheap. Whether it's crap you buy at Wal-Mart or an advertisement, you get what you pay for.

During my career I've often been told by clients that the agency I represent is too expensive. Generally, when agency account people or finance people hear such an accusation, they respond by squeezing prices, ie. they mark down what they sell. Marking down prices, selling cheap is the best way to make your product or service a commodity. And before long, if it isn't happening already, some sharpie in a well-tailored suit and a Harvard MBA will start saying how ads can be constructed much more cheaply in Bangalore. Now, this is fine, if you're in the commodity business. But unless you suck, you're not a commodity.

Not all that long ago when I was at Ogilvy I wondered what would happen if we created and ran an "Ogilvy ad" for Ogilvy: "Why it makes sense to choose the world's most expensive ad agency." It makes sense because it winds up that expensive agencies are, in the long run, cheaper. Ads are more effective, sales and a company's position in the marketplace are enhanced. Of course, such an attitude is contrary to how business works today. "Look," says the junior brand manager, "I schtupped the agency and saved $xxxxx." Somehow that attitude is supposed to result in effective work. I'll believe that when it snows in August or when I buy Chinese radials.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The iPhone. Will it be for U?

I don't know anyone who doesn't covet the impending iPhone. Even I, who eschew virtually all things material (I am typing this post on a 1991 KayPro 200 computer) would like to have one to fiddle with. Positing all that though, I have a question. Will the iPhone be off brand for Apple?

Here's what I mean. When something sucks, Apple usually finds its place in the market by making that suckiness better, or eliminating that suckiness altogether. Certainly that was the case with the Mac and with their Airport. But with the iPhone, they are hopping into the sack with the devil: AT&T.

"Record your message at the tone...When you are finished recording, hang up."

Wow, thanks phone company for that compelling information and customer service. Thanks to that automatonic voice, I now know how to leave a message.

Now if I were Steve Jobs, I'd have insisted AT&T eliminate that banality. And if I were AT&T, I'd eliminate that crap and build a campaign around having done so.

Personally, I believe the iPhone will succeed. But it would succeed even more if big, dumb companies like AT&T took a page from smart, smaller companies like Apple and learned how to treat customers with respect.

Cannes IV.

The international advertising masturbation festival at Cannes is finally over and it seems like the nabobs there are teetering on the brink of entering the 21st century. Ogilvy Toronto's Dove Evolution work took top honors in both the Cyber and Film categories. That's good news --acknowledgment that Cannes judges and other advertising potentates are realizing at last what every consumer under the age of twenty-five has known for ten years, our on- and off-line worlds have collided.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


My fifteen-year-old is, like me, a bit of an old movie nut and tonight we watched Citizen Kane together. It is a treat for someone who has seen the picture 100 times as I have to watch it with someone who hasn't seen it before--particularly someone who was born a full fifty years after Citizen Kane was released.

There was a lot of technique in Citizen Kane--Toland's cinematography, Hermann's music, etc. but it's not technique that makes Citizen Kane stellar. It's the story, the script and the acting. Going back to an early post called An Homage, Citizen Kane imparts useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way.

It is a fabulous piece of work and if you haven't seen it for a while, buy the DVD. Watching it will be good for your career. If nothing else, it should raise the level of your ambition.

The first time I got fired.

The first time I got fired was in part because I said that FedEx's "fast-talking man" commercial was the best direct spot ever created. That made my boss furious. There was no phone number! No repetition of the offer! No call to action! Boom. I was canned for what she regarded as my lack of understanding and heresy.

Since then, I've continued my private onslaught against the tyranny of didactic definitions and rigid classifications. If you read AdAged regularly you know that I believe in advertising and that all these sub-categories (like direct, interactive, health care, whatever) are so much nonsense.

Today, I'd argue that the best of Apple advertising is direct. You know what you have to do and why you have to do it. My two cents says that iPhone ads will gain an ROI "direct" ads can only envy. No wonder TBWA/Chiat/Day (or wherever the virgules lay) keeps winning Effie after Effie for their work.

And that brings me to today's advertising verbal appendage. The word "interactive." I suppose there's a complicated technical definition, but the word in its simplest for means that people get involved and participate with whatever the stimulus is. Man, if your ad doesn't stimulate some kind of response, it sucks and you should start over. Because if your work ain't interactive, it ain't advertising.

Is there intelligent life out there?

In my original post on this blog, I quoted Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz who rather famously said "the information age is over. The participation age is here." That said, I have a question for all of you out in blog-land, where in god's name are your comments? This is not supposed to be me just ranting and raving. So, please, if you like what's going on here, say so.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A new world for Saturn.

Saturn, a division of GM, that was not long ago left for dead, is doing some smart work again. After a couple of years of successfully (and perhaps inexplicably) getting bad work out of Goodby, Saturn switched their business to Deutsch LA where, to be candid, I thought Saturn would get more of the same.

Instead, they got an idea that makes sense and, I think, will get Americans to start considering Saturn again, unless of course, Saturn is already too far gone as a brand. The idea is they've put a Camry and an Accord in each Saturn showroom, then throw down the gauntlet. Smart and convincing. Not just braggadocio like Ford's work where they compare their Edge to the BMW X5. Please.

In addition to some pretty good spots, Saturn's site is strong with both peer and third-part endorsements. It doesn't feel like a load of solipsistic ad-speak. It feels honest, human and confident. Qualities that have been absent from Detroit's advertising for the entirety of my lifetime. (The only bit I despise is the Rethink American crap. This isn't about America. This is about getting a decent car for the money. Stop trying to make me feel as if I'm unpatriotic because I want a car that works.)

Now, a word about Cannes and other award shows. This work will not win awards. It doesn't have the glitz, the contemporariness, the "new-ness." It's just smart and compelling and I think motivating. Why aren't there awards for that?

Part III.

Still no awards for the new Hot Pockets campaign. Once again, politics dominate.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

News from Cannes. Part II.

Because, as I reported yesterday, I didn't decide to jet to Cannes until the very last minute, I was unable to get my usual suite in the town I've jocularly dubbed "Asbury Park on the Mediterranean."

Not one to be daunted by such adversity, however, I rented a small skiff and held court there. With all the strife in the world today, I don't believe anyone should have a yacht that sleeps more than two dozen, but nevertheless, I couldn't find anything smaller than this 125-footer. That said, no one was sleeping last night as we partied till dawn. Fear not, friends, it wasn't all play. Work was discussed, arguments were heated and scantily-clad women sat in judgment. O tempore, o mores! As the Romans remind us. And as my Yiddishe Mama reminded me with a long and wagging finger, "where there's smoke, there's salmon." And so, I bade my winsome and lissome guests farewell and got down to the ever-pressing business of improving the state of "adverts," (as our bad-toothed English friends self-consciously call them.) More on this later, but for now, some hair of the dog that bit me.

Monday, June 18, 2007

News from Cannes.

One of the virtues of making money hand-over-fist is that, at the very last minute, you can decide to make an appearance at the sort of parties the hoi polloi can only dream of attending. So yesterday morning I stepped out of my stretch and slid into seat 1A (next to an impossibly leggy blonde.) Yes, dear reader, I am off to Cannes.

Here's what I've seen thus far. An account guy responsible for almost killing a great campaign wearing a Speedo.

Dirk and Carlotta, ever hopeful. This could be the year. And well it should be. After all, three juniors were downsized and seven were given only $2,000 raises so the "dynamic duo" could attend.

Finally, I saw this obligatory group shot.

Breakfast cereal for President in 2008.

One of the many vicissitudes of working for a living is that you must often work for who pays you. You get little choice in the matter. That being said, because one of the candidates (through a proxy, of course) has asked my opinion, I found myself early this morning comparing the websites of both Republican and Democratic candidates for President in 2008.

I have never seen such a sea of insipid sameness.
There is no innovation.
No point of view.
No difference in color palate.
No unique selling proposition.

To me that says there is no difference in the candidates. They're all a bunch of smiling, pandering manikins. (Or, thanks to Hillary, womanikins.)

Fortunately though, this isn't a blog on politics. It is a blog on the advertising industry and its incipient obsolescence. Yes, obsolescence. Because agencies are making the products they advertise and thus themselves commodities.

Gee whiz, when VW became great it wasn't a me-too. Nor was Avis. Or Nike. Or today, even Skittles. They each had an attitude, a passion, a point of difference.

I know, I know. All this stuff is focus-grouped and tested and "vetted." (I hate the word vet like I hate the word robust.) So we wind up with this:
1. Flag.
2. Smile.
3. Shirt sleeves.
4. Blondes and dark children.
6. A hand-held microphone.
7. Dumb words like "A strong future for tomorrow." Or "have faith in families."

You get the idea. Just like a breakfast cereal.
1. Freckled kid.
2. Over-cranked falling strawberries.
3. Milk pour.
4. Gulp and grin.
5. Part of this complete breakfast.

That's why in 2008, I'm voting for corn flakes.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Close your eyes and think of England.

Levine, Huntley, Schmidt and Beaver.
Needham, Harper and Steers.
NW Ayer.
D'arcy Masius.
Benton & Bowles.
Ally & Gargano.
Geers Gross.
Geer DuBois.
Kenyon & Eckhardt.
Leber Katz.
Calet Hirsch.
Rosenfeld, Sirowitz.
Dancer Fitzgerald Sample.
Lord, Geller, Federico, Einstein.

Over the next fifteen years or so, which of today's traditional agencies will join the defunct ones listed above? The shops on my list didn't all of a sudden sink into suckdom but they did, for the most part, become obsolete because they failed to adjust to the changing world.

Now this comes in from England, the land of clotted cream and innovative agencies.

"Online media is set to transform the marketing services industry and will destroy the old model of agencies that base campaigns on 30-second television ads. In future, television, print and other executions are likely to be the extra sparkle on top of campaigns that begin online."

Here are some other quotations I've excerpted (with full journalistic integrity--if that ain't an oxymoron):

"Agencies producing mainly television ads will be "boutiques" and the digital agencies the mainstream shops."

"TV is no longer a lead medium for many brand owners and this is something established agencies fail to grasp. It is becoming a support medium, even for big brands. Its role is shifting rapidly towards digital."

You can find the entire Marketing Week article here:

Of course, this could be the laserdisc of advertising trends. In other words, it might never happen. One thing I know is happening though. It's the giant sucking sound of dollars heading online.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I'm a bit of a moron.

I'm having trouble with type sizes and faces this AM. See below.

Whiskey and copy.

A friend, who is the ECD at a big agency asked me (and some other "judgmental" people) why copywriting today is so mediocre.

First, I gave the expected response--the old guy's response: "There's not enough time to do it right. When I was at Doyle Dane we had eighteen months to write a single sentence. We took three weeks to choose between an m-dash or an n-dash." But that response left me cold. And it got me thinking about Dashiell Hammett.

In an early story, the Continental Op (Hammett's Sam Spade forerunner) observes a sign over a bar in
Tijuana. Here's what Hammett writes:

"I was reading a sign high on the wall behind the bar:


I was trying to count how many lies could be found in those nine words,
and had reached four, with promise of more."

Hammett's point is my point. We write lies and cliches.
They're comfortable. They're expedient. Clients (and creative directors)
have seen them before so they can be approved with little effort.

Well, to quote another great writer, Dylan Thomas:
"Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

Don't give in to scalable solutions, robust interfaces, 5 days only.
Don't give in to the expected. Like the phone center humatrons who,
after not solving your issue, mechanically ask:
Is there anything else I can help you with?

As a consumer when I get shivved with crap like that I run screaming.
Speak to me honestly.
Or not at all.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Now coming to a PC near you.

These days every CMO and account lead worth their golden parachutes talks about how we shouldn't be shoving messages at consumers. Instead, they tell us, we ought to be creating experiences. We ought to make it easy for the consumer to interact with and play with the brand.

Of course, these same CMOs and account leads are still allocating the largest portion of their budgets to creating television commercials that no one notices any more. Experience be damned, we have to create a spot.

Not long ago I started thinking that despite all the cosmetic integration between those spots, and online efforts and in-store efforts, etc., what is absent is intelligent communications integration. That's a high-falutin' way of saying it doesn't seem like we've figured out how to use each media to the benefit of the product or service we are trying to sell. So here's the analogy I started using. Good web experiences should be viewed the same way you'd view a trip to the Apple store. Part information. Part entertainment. Part commerce. An amalgam a 30 simply cannot capture. So what would happen if we said our site is the movie, the show, the experience. Other media, TV, print, banners, must intrigue and entice and drive us to the show.

That's a different way of looking at the marketing world. I'm not sure it's right. But I am sure it's worth thinking about.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Wouldn't you really rather have a Nothing?

I'm seeing a lot of new work lately for Buick. So let me start with a scenario:

It's 11:30 at night, you're home, your shoes are off, you're not going out again. All of a sudden a TV commercial comes on. It promises you a free Buick (the only catch is you can't sell it) if you come down to the Buick dealer in the next 45 minutes. Here's my question, would you get dressed and hop in a cab for a free Buick?

I for one would not. That's how tarnished the brand is in my mind. I don't think I'm alone in that assessment either. And you want to know something? Tiger Woods, Buick's spokes-shill or some long-copy blather about their new cross-over ain't going to do it either. Because the fundamental relationship between Buick and its dealers and the car buying public is broken. People simply don't believe they will be treated well by the dealer. They don't believe that the manufacturer is honest. They don't believe in the product. If there used to be an unwritten social contract between the car company and the car buyer, that's gone. Too many years of over-promise and under-delivery have killed it.

How you repair this? I think Ford started on the right path with a site that was meant to take you inside the company. Witness its mea culpas and its solutions. However, the PR around that site was short lived and canceled out by stupid advertising that showed, for instance, a car riding on a wall on two wheels. That was supposed to represent the edge for a car they called the Edge.

No, I think car companies (and their agencies) must do something radically different to replace the trust they spent so many billions destroying. A better spot, a better spokesperson and better technique is just bullshit. We've spent years lying. We'll have to spend years repairing.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Oy, the road again.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with advertising but I saw this license plate on East 82nd Street today. I will say that though Yiddish is no longer spoken, the power of the Yiddish brand seems to linger. Even in Arizona, the Grand Canyon State.

Friday, June 8, 2007

You don't have to be Jewish.

Yiddish for ad people.
ALTER COCKER: An old and complaining person, an old fart. “If you don’t pay attention to the Crispins of the world, you become an alter cocker.”
BISSEL, BISSELA: A little. “Your type looks like crap, kern it a bissel.”
BUPKES: Nothing. Or something worthless or absurd. “Three hours I spent in that brainstorming and I got bupkes out of it.”
CHAZEREI: Something awful, junk or garbage. “That brief was nothing but chazerei.”
CHUTZPAH: Nerve; gall, as in a person who kills her parents and asks for mercy because she is an orphan. “The account people have a lot of chutzpah bringing that chazerei they call a brief to the meeting.”
DRECK: Shit. Can refer to the ugliness of objects or people. “Dreck in, dreck out.”
FERBLUNJIT: Lost, mixed up. “The brief was dreck so I’m feeling ferblunjit.”
FERCOCKT: All fucked up. “This is fercockt. We got briefed yesterday and the meeting is tomorrow.”
FERMISHT: All shook up, as in an acute disturbance. “What a lousy meeting we just had. I’m all fermisht.”
FERSHTINKINER: A stinker, a louse. “The fershtinkiner account people drive me up the fershtinker wall.”
GAVALT: A cry of fear or a cry for help. Oy Gevalt is often used as expression meaning "oh how terrible."
GAY AVEK: Go away, get out of here. “Until you sell some work, gay avek.”
GELT: Money. “They don’t pay me enough gelt to do this dreck.”
GONIF: A thief, a tricky clever person, a shady character. In new business, sometimes a gonif or two can be invaluable.
HOK A CHAINIK: To talk too much, to talk nonsense. “A 158-page deck? Those Account people hok a chainik.”
KISHKA: Intestines, belly. To hit someone in the "kishka" means to hit him in the stomach or guts. “When I see a good ad, I know it in my kishkes.”
KVETCH: To annoy or to be an annoying person, to complain. “I wish he would stop kvetching and get down to work.”
LOCH IN KOP: Literally a hole in the head, refers to things one definitely does not need. “Ferstinkiner clients like them I need like a loch in kop.”
MACH SHNEL: Hurry up.
MACHER: An ambitious person; a schemer with many plans. “That new Account Woman is a real macher. She gets things done.”
MAVEN: An expert, a connoisseur. “He never did an ad in his life and he acts like a maven.”
MAZEL TOV: Good luck, usually said as a statement of support or congratulations. “You sold a new campaign? Mazel tov!”
MEGILLAH: Long, complicated and boring. “Don’t make such a megillah out of it—just give me the top-line.”
MENSCH: A person of character. An individual of recognized worth because of noble values or actions. “I’m lucky to be in her group, she’s a real mensch.”
MESHUGGE or MESHUGGINA: Crazy, refers to a more chronic disturbance. “Those Account People are driving me meshugge.”
MISHEGOSS: Inappropriate, crazy, or bizarre actions or beliefs. “What is all this mishegoss, I just want to do my work.”
NEBBISH: An inadequate person, a loser. “He tries, but when you get right down to it, he’s a nebbish.”
NOODGE: To bother, to push, a person who bothers you. “He’s such a noodge, I star-dee his calls.”
OY VEY: "Oh, how terrible things are". OH VEZ MEAR means "Oh, woe is me".
PISHER: A bed-wetter, a young inexperienced person, a person of no consequence. “I’ve got 25-years experience and no little pisher is going to tell me what to do.”
PUTZ: A vulgarism for penis but most usually used as term of contempt for a fool, or an easy mark.
SCHLOCK: A shoddy, cheaply made article, something that’s been knocked around.
SCHMALTZ: Literally chicken fat. Usually refers to overly emotional and sentimental behavior. “Oy, the ad is so schmaltzy.”
SCHMUCK: A vulgarism for penis, strong putdown for a jerk, a detestable person.
SHLEP: To carry or to move about. Can refer to a person, a "shlepper," who is unkempt and has no ambition.
SHMEGEGGE: A petty person, an untalented person.
SHMOOZ: To hang out with, a friendly gossipy talk. “Come over to my cube so we can shmooz.”
TCHOTCHKA: An inexpensive trinket, a toy.
TSIMMES: A side dish, a prolonged procedure, an involved and troubling business, as in the phrase, "don't make a tsimmes out of it."
TSORISS: Suffering, woes. “These hurricanes are causing real tsoriss.
: All choked up.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The power of words.

This magazine cover (designed, I think, by George Lois) hit newsstands almost forty-one years ago. I wish it weren't so relevant today. But regardless of my politics, what makes this cover special is the simplicity of its design and the power of its message. The fact that it probably broke all the rules of magazine cover design ever conceived is what makes it a meaningful post in a blog on advertising.

In an era in which we are inundated with technical possibilities, trillions of type faces, a virtually unrelenting torrent of self-conscious design and a readership were told no longer reads, this cover should stand out as a beacon and a reminder. Karaoke Kreative (where all work looks like someone else's work. Where all work uses the same photographic style, the same sardonic voice-overs, the same visual puns) doesn't work.

Simplicity works. Powerful simple words work. Technique is important, yes. As is technology. But your communication--whether it's a TV spot, banner or whatever--will be much stronger and memorable if it contains some truth. Truth can make work stand out too.

A view from below.

Here is another shot of my ceiling. I do have to get out more.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The price is wrong.

There are a few industries in the U.S. that, at least for some time, seem to be losing customers, bleeding money or flirting with Chapter 11. Let me pick on a couple of my favorites. The airlines, wireless providers and American automakers.

One thing I think planes, phones and automobile marketers have in common is this: they all rely heavily on price-promotions to drive their sales. In other words, they spend a good deal of money saying, "we're a commodity and it's all about price." That's bad. But what makes it worse is the prices they advertise are--way more often than not--bald-faced lies. You can never really get a flight to Miami for $99 or a cellphone for $49 a month or a car for anything close to the MSRP. So you dick around with the company, on the phone or in person or on the Web.

A smart client once said to me, "you never start a relationship with a negotiation." But that's exactly what these marketers force you to do. So they wind up having lousy relationships with their customers and then they plow money into customer relationship management programs that can, in real life, do little to fix the psychic damage already done.

You want proof? Try naming an airline, a wireless provider or an American car company you actually like.

For my art director friends.

Two art director friends have suggested I add photos to my blog. Here is a picture of my ceiling.

I read the news today, oh boy.

Although the New York Times online is actually a richer, better newspaper than the paper edition (it includes wonderful multimedia extras and blogs by some terrific thinkers that you don't get offline) the sensate pleasure I get from flipping through a physical paper is in my blood and irreplacable. Also, I like seeing the ads in the paper edition; you don't get the same ones online.

Now here's the thing. I went through the entire paper this morning and except for a Bloomingdale's ad showing a woman in a skimpy bathing suit, not a single ad stopped me.
Oh boy.

An homage.

Many years ago, I worked for an agency no one today has ever heard of. (This is the advertising equivalent of film majors never having seen Citizen Kane or Birth of a Nation.)

For a few brief, shining years you could make the argument that this was the best agency in the world--the agency that essentially created brands like FedEx, MCI, Dunkin' Donuts, SAAB, Volvo and others. And while I wasn't at this agency during its glory years, I did learn a lot there.

One thing I've carried with me since they closed their Gwathmey-Siegel-designed doors was the agency's mission statement. It was pretty simple and pretty profound: "To impart useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way." Chew on that for a while and you'll begin to grasp its depth.

Homage done, let's cut to outrage. Today we slice and dice advertising agencies. We compartmentalize them by adding words like "direct" or "interactive" to their names. Such words are semantic hogwash. All advertising should be direct in that the consumer should know what to do when they see the ad. All advertising should be interactive in that the ad engages and
involves you--even if you're only interacting with your brain or heart.

I guess my point is this: good advertising is good advertising. It imparts useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way. All these words we add to people or agencies ("he's a direct guy") are about discrimination and segregation--the opposite of marketing integration.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Gilgamesh and Web 2.0.

It might be heresy but I happen to think Web 2.0 or Web 3.0 or the Web turned upside down is so much hogwash.


Because such phrases are merely digital argot designed to make Web seem complex and inscrutable. Only web guys can get it. That's bunk. The Web doesn't matter. Good communication does.

Now not long ago I read (not in the original Sumerian) one of the first books ever written, the epic Gilgamesh. It's over 5,000 years old and it was pretty riveting. Gilgamesh got me going and here's what I concluded:

I don't think communication principles have changed since the beginning of time. Techniques have. Principles haven't. So to that end, and thanks to Gilgamesh, here goes:

8 Retail Principles
By Gilgamesh ibn Mahmoud, proprietor,
Gilgamesh’s Date and Camel Hut,
Sumer, Mesopotamia
3323 BC

  1. Be nice to everyone who enters the store. If you don’t know them by name, attempt to learn their name—and their interests—so you can greet them by name the next time you see them.
  2. Based on what your customers have bought before, make suggestions on what might interest them now. Suggest but don’t be pushy.
  3. Reward customers who come back. Often I give my best customers special service, my son. First dibs on the freshest dates from the greenest valleys over the high sand hills of Nod. You know what I mean. Quid pro quo.
  4. We sell a relationship. Not dates and camels. In other words, service the products and services you sell. If the camel you sold Mrs. Weintraub pulls up lame, give her a loaner until we can rehabilitate it. An expensive business practice, yes, but good for the long haul. My son, repeat business is what it’s all about.
  5. Hire the smile. Remember Annukaki, the bearded one with the scimitar in his belt? Not a good hire. The gestalt of our shop should be friendly, helpful, knowledgeable, my boy. A smile is your face to the world and must appear whenever a customer shops with us. Even Mrs. Weintraub and her lousy Bactrian.
  6. Choices lead to sales. Yes, dates and fish are an Emperor’s dish, but what if you have only Medjools and the Emperor wants Deglet Noors? A severe pain might ensue from where your hand once was. You cannot anticipate all, my son. You must provide choices.
  7. The customer is Caliph, my son. Make it easy for the customer. Thank the customer. Provide the customer with service and he will reward you with loyalty.
  8. Don’t point. Show. If a customer says, ‘what aisle are the dromedaries in?’ don’t gesture and say, ‘over there, buddy.’ Take the customer to the dromedaries. When you show the customer where the merchandise is, when make things easy to find, they’re apt to buy more.
Though all of the principles above can be applied to Web design, it's not Web 2.o we should worry about. It's People 1.o.

Orwell on Advertising.

If you've never read Orwell's famous essay, "Politics and the English Language," you really ought to go to the link below and do so. It will likely be good for your career.

Orwell is all about precise communication. Saying what you mean. Being honest. And clear. Not saying "troop surge" when you're in fact escalating a war. Not saying "extraordinary rendition" when you're really subcontracting torture.

Marketers wind up using a lot of similarly deceptive and flaccid language and images too. They're not as dangerous as the Bush-isms above, but they do breed distrust and cause consumers to stop paying attention. They're advertising bullshit. And unlike real bullshit, they're transparent.

Act now! New! Improved! Starting as low as! Perfect for Dads and grads!

Here's a link to Orwell and an excerpt.

"I think the following rules will cover most cases:
  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never us a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable."

Fasten your seatbelts.

This could be a bumpy ride, so strap yourself in. It's something I call the Brand Depreciation Theory.

Often the silos at clients/agencies involved with "measurable" ads add more and more to those ads in order to improve their metrics, their ROI, their clickiness. So in the guise of effectiveness, the consumer winds up seeing communications that are, instead, infected. They're infected with clutter, star-bursts, snipes, exclamation points, exhortations, you name it. Elements that often conflict with building a brand that is likable and honest. Elements that often cancel out the same client's "brand" messages.

Here's another way of thinking about it. Imagine if the Apple store looked like a Best Buy. The store's badness would cancel out Apple's advertising's goodness. And that's expensive.

What the Brand Depreciation Theory proposes is that the true cost of ads described above is never calculated. Because at the same time these ads are "driving response" they're tearing down the brand. They're canceling out other communications from the brand.

And like I said, that's expensive.

God does not play dice.

You might know of Einstein's remark, "God does not play dice with the Universe." That was his way of saying he believed there was an underlying order to things. Translating Einstein's universe to our marketing cosmos, I believe this: agencies (and clients) should stop playing dice with their brands.

Every day I see this. Evidence of clients or agencies who do beautiful "brand" work only to cancel out at least a portion of that work through "direct" ads, fsis or a website not suitable to wrap a dead fish in.

The silo strikes again! Artificial differentiations between (or metrics for) "brand" work, or "direct" work or "consideration" work ruin all work.

It's all one brand.

I guess Einstein would call that the Unified Brand Theory.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Franklin Roosevelt. John F. Kennedy. Joe Trippi.

FDR dominated American politics in the 30s and early 40s in part because he was the first politician to use the new media of the moment (radio) well.

JFK was elected over the more experienced Nixon in part because he used the new media of the moment (TV) better than his opponent.

I'm wondering then, if that means in 2008, John Edwards will be elected.

Joe Trippi, Edwards' senior campaign advisor seems to get the new media world better than anyone else. Which to my mind means Edwards is the candidate using the media of the moment better than anyone.

Naturally, it's too soon to say. But if I were a CMO, I'd think about how this quote from Trippi (as cited in Adweek 6/4) translated to my business:

"We're trying to build the Edwards community and all these tools, from You Tube to Facebook to MySpace, are all methods of growing community online. At this point, every single campaign is still underspending on the Web compared with what they will spend on TV."

Do Something Dumb.

I was thinking about Vonage the other day. And what I'd do if I were their advertising agency. I'd do something dumb. I'd tell them to spend their money elsewhere.

Last year, Vonage spent more money in online advertising ($185.7 million) than anyone else. Unfortunately for Vonage, they've had a churn rate of 2.11%. Meaning they lose about 30,000 customer a month. That's a lot of customers when you're working with a base of just over one million. Today their long-term viability is in question.

So here's my point. Vonage has been acting like a new age marketer with regards to its media spend. But they forgot that in the Participation Age, messaging is less important than performance. In other words, they messaged well--people were interested in Vonage and signed up, but they performed like crap. So people left the company.

So here's what I would do if I were their advertising agency. I'd say take half of the $185 million you spend on getting new customers and build the world's greatest customer service organization. Become the Nordstroms of telcos. Become a brand people love and recommend.

As an agency, my revenue would decrease. But my guess is, in the not-so-long-term, I'd make even more money. And so would Vonage.

When will you grow up?

Allow me to switch my agency focus from traditional to non-traditional. And to all those non-traditional joints I ask, simply, when will you grow up?

In other words, when will you wake up and smell the driver's seat you're sitting in?

Here's the rub. Historically, traditional agencies have been brand thought leaders. Digital agencies have been channel executors. But today, non-traditional channels are emergent. That ain't going away. Yet you non-traditional guys are still waiting for direction from the dinosaurs.

You're still asking for a seat at the table when, in fact, you ought to be at the head of the table.

OK, I understand. You're growing like mad singing the same old executional tune. But to lead clients and transform brands--you have to do more. You have to create platform ideas. You have to compete not against other digital shops but with the BBDOs of the world for the real gravy--greater share of client wallet.

Will Madison Avenue become Detroit?

Not long ago, I had General Motors as a Client and let me tell you, Detroit is scary. They make a product fewer and fewer people want. They've lost entire generations of customers. Their advertising is lies. Their dealers are liars. And they do nothing about any of the above that isn't cosmetic.

So here's the question. Will advertising agencies follow Detroit's route? In other words, will they ignore cheaper, faster, smarter as Detroit did? ("Japanese cars will never amount to much" was a prevailing Detroit-ism for decades.)

Cheaper, faster, smarter in the case of the advertising industry is, of course, non-traditional marketing. And so far, the agency behemoths I grew up with--those that are left--are still treating non-traditional marketing as "below-the-line," i.e. they'll add it to the media mix but they won't embrace it. Kind of like Detroit and alternatives to internal combustion, ya know.

Well, my two cents say, that unless Madison Avenue starts singing a new tune (or jingle) no amount of internet chrome is going to alter the underlying reality of their structural rot. Allocating a small bit of client budget to non-traditional so you can go on burping out increasingly ineffective and ineffectual 30s is going to be your death knell.

As Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz tells us--the information age is over. The participation age is here. Detroit--er, Madison Avenue, better soon understand that. And stop pushing out commericals and start inviting people to really participate.