Dec 29, 2007

What Is Digital Advertising?

While the rise of digital advertising seems to be the only thing anyone in the business is capable of talking about these days, I often find myself wondering what digital advertising really is.

Is it a "viral" video like Dove "Evolution" or Smirnoff "Tea-Partay"? Or are those really just TV spots that run on the internet instead of NBC and aren't required to be exactly 30 or 60 seconds long?

Is it an online game that pops up in a banner but gets judged by the number of people who actually click on it as if it were a DM piece? Or is it a banner that just creates awareness, like a billboard?

Is it a microsite that people go to either because they're really bored or because they want to "interact with and have a meaningful experience with" a brand?

Is it a blog that a CEO (or more likely, his PR team) writes? A message board that allows people to talk about a product most people have no interest in talking about in the first place? Or one where "conversation" is already planted?

Is it a Facebook page that's a place for serious conversation and "brand fanatics" or maybe just a place for the merely curious?

Is it a full-on website like NikePlus that creates a real retail experience and actually provides value? Or is Nike an anomaly and are most websites designed to be merely functional and well-designed for clients who don't see their ad agency as the people to come up with new business models?

Is it an optimized keyword search that probably does more to drive traffic to a website than a dozen award-winning banners, people being quite content to do their own research, thank you, or is search just the digital version of running an ad in the Yellow Pages?

Is it a virtual store in a virtual world that's going to become relevant when all the elementary school age Webkinz users hit adulthood? Or are virtual worlds just online versions of "Dungeons and Dragons" and appropriate only for things like the Sci Fi Network?

Is it a brand new playground where creatives will get to run wild or is it a metrics-based medium that's going to make creatives obsolete while making stars out of account and media planners?

Depending on the wind, I can be convinced of either side of these arguments. But I think the greater truth here is that we are all talking about something that few of us can accurately define and that even fewer of us have anywhere close to the same definition of.

And that's dangerous.

So I'll throw the question out to all of you: What is digital advertising?

Dec 27, 2007

Who Says Long Copy Is Dead?

Who says long body copy is dead? A long delay recently left me with nothing more to read than the SkyMall magazine that sits in the front pocket of every seat of every major US airline. There I discovered something called the “Gravity Defyer Shoe” from a man who goes by the moniker “Alexander Innovation Wizard.” Alexander (which it turns out, is his first name) has a double page spread in the magazine, filled with copy whose tone will instantly transport you back to the 1930s and 40s.

Here’s a sample:
Ease Joint Pain And Pressure On Your Spine
It’s almost as if Aelous, the Greek god of wind, himself has taken his powerful wind out of his bottles and put it into each pair of Gravity Defyer Shoes. Your entire body will receive an energy burst when you slip on the Gravity Defyer Shoes because your joints and spine will no longer feel the full impact of your high impact life. The basic findings by the scientists of the Impact Research Technology Lab were that the combination of lightweight rubber and lightweight, durable springs will reduce the impact and force of gravity on your entire body much the same way that a suspension system helps reduce the impact on an automobile and airplane.

Jump Higher and Walk Faster
These ethereal shoes will transport you through life with such vigor that your friends and family will hardly be able to recognize you. The Gravity Defyer Shoes will power your step, making your steps longer and your jumps higher. You might find that you are walking faster and you may even find yourself showing up to those important meetings at work early! You might even find yourself joining a local basketball league.

Look Like A Million Dollars
We all have them, an expensive pair of dress shoes for those “special occasions.” The shoes that world famous secret agents wear to the black tie party where they end up doing some reconnaissance before they are chased around a European city by evil henchmen. The kind of dress shoes that show class, style, and sophistication but are so uncomfortable you can’t wait to take them off. Designed by the best shoes designers from three continents, the Gravity Defyer Shoes provide you will all the sophistication and comfort needed to keep up with the best of the world famous secret agents.
While it’s easy to poke fun at everything from the name of the product to the “Research Technology Lab” to the “expensive” shoes that hurt, what’s telling here is that there’s clearly a market that’s still taken in by this sort of hyperbole, a market affluent enough to fly and to buy $120 dress shoes. As we allow ourselves to focus on The Real Digital Revolution and the end of advertising, it’s wise to remember that there are still plenty of Americans who don’t share our skepticism to being sold.

Dec 24, 2007

30 Seconds of Fame

Sometimes it takes a posh TV shoot to remind yourself why the industry is so addicted to the 30 second TV spot. But for agency and client alike, it’s a chance to go Hollywood, to vicariously experience the glamor of the film industry. I mean just being on a set is an incredible contrast to sitting in an office, as is watching the whole process of actors bringing your ideas to life. Add to that the usual perks of 5 star hotels and 5 star meals and suddenly doing a really cool microsite seems hopelessly dull. Especially if you’re a marketing client at a company that doesn’t give marketing a whole lot of respect to begin with and the week you spend in Los Angeles making TV spots, spotting celebs at Shutters or the Four Seasons, and having dinner at the Ivy is the only thing you have to look forward to all year.

Now all this is clearly not a reason to adopt a TV-centric policy. But it does help explain why so many clients- and agencies- are so addicted to the medium. And (as I’ve mentioned on here before) it plays a big part in whether we, as an industry, will continue to attract the type of top-rate talent we need once the glamor is all gone.

One solution is going to be bigger budgets for web videos, be they viral-wannabes or video that lives on a website. But we do need to bear in mind that despite the allure of things like social media, it's the high production video work that makes advertising into a glamorous business, one that attracts people with a strong creative bent. The video work we do for clients- online and off- are mini-movies at best. Social media solutions, well-designed websites: those are another skill set, the sort that attracts people with a very different mindset. That's something too many people tend to forget as they blow the battle cry for the brand new post-TV world.

Caveat emptor and all that.

PS: Merry Christmas to all those celebrating it.

Dec 21, 2007

Up, Up And Away

So I’ve been doing a lot of airplane travel these past few weeks and I’m coming to the conclusion that the airlines are pretty much doing themselves in. Not all that dissimilar from the way American car manufacturers did themselves in.

People have just gotten to the point where they expect air travel to be a completely horrible experience, filled with long delays, lost luggage, interminable lines and surly staffers.

And we are almost at that point where there’s really not much the airlines can say to make people like them again. So what I’m seeing is people rejiggering their vacation plans to avoid air travel all together. I mean it’s become that unpleasant. Combine that with rapidly rising airfares and you’ve got some big trouble ahead as people permanently write off flying or cut back on it severely.

Now the Bush administration—as well as local authorities-- have been making noise about having the FAA cut back the number of flights and all that but I wonder if it’s not too late. There’s a real risk that like the aversion to American cars, the aversion to domestic air travel is a behavior that’s become too ingrained to break.

Dec 20, 2007

Still Here

Sorry for the absence of posts the past week. End of year craziness got the better of me. But I will be resuming tomorrow and through the end of the years.

Your patience is greatly appreciated.

Dec 10, 2007

Välkommna Svenskar

I've been getting a lot of traffic from Sweden these past few days, thanks to shout-outs from two Swedish blogs: åkestam.holst and APG Sweden

I have a soft spot for Swedes in advertising, so I'd like to welcome you all to the site.

Design Is The New Advertising - on MP Daily Fix

The other day, I came across a t-shirt that read “I’ll pay more for good design.” Now granted, I found it on a site I’d gotten from CoolHunter as I was looking for Hanukkah gifts, and the store was in Brooklyn and all that.

Read the rest of the post here

Dec 6, 2007

Dell Weighs In

Check out the Comments section on my post Dell and The Real Digital Revolution

Bob Pearson, Dell's Vice President, Corporate Group Communications, has weighed in and explained the company's dedication to design and their plans for the immediate future.

Very cool of him to stop by here and comment.

Dec 5, 2007

Added Value

Ever since the demise of the 15% commission, agencies have been looking for ways to monetize what they do and to add revenue. Because, as has been noted here many times previously, all too often, we're giving it away for free.

Anomaly, a fairly new agency in NYC, and generous sponsor of LikeMind has come up with a way to get some of our value back by going beyond the old print-tv-radio-digital paradigm for their clients and actually moving into the in-store experience.

Or, in this case, in-flight - the video above is a brilliantly done in-flight safety instruction video done for (now former or project-by-project, depending on who you listen to) client Virgin America.

And since in-store experience is what made Starbucks and Whole Foods what they are today, it's not a bad place to be.

Dec 3, 2007

Dell and The Real Digital Revolution

So the ad world is, predictably, all aflutter about Dell’s decision to award their $4.5 billion account to WPP, with the understanding that WPP will create a brand new global agency whose sole purpose is to service Dell.

Many have pointed out why having a one-client agency is folly, so I won’t go there, because in my view, it’s really irrelevant.

What’s going to be relevant, in the wake of The Real Digital Revolution, is how good Dell’s computers actually are. Specifically how good they are in relation to their competitors similarly-priced computers.

Because no matter how good the new Dell ads are, consumers are going to go online first before they buy one. And if CNET tells them that the HP machine is the better one, then that’s the one they’re going to get.

Dell is a perfect foil for The Real Digital Revolution because they’ve built their business by having the best machine at the lowest price, relying heavily on bulk corporate sales for profit. Corporate sales guys being far more influenced by facts and figures than by clever advertising.

In consumer land, they’ve only had one memorable campaign, the unintentionally brilliant “Dude, You’re Getting A Dell” series that lasted from 2000 to 2003. And I say “unintentionally brilliant” because I get the distinct sense that the casting of Ben Curtis as Steven, the “Dell Dude” was a happy accident. At a time (2000) when millions of tech unsavvy parents were going out to buy their children a computer, the Dell Dude promised them that their kid wouldn’t get stuck with the dorky machine, even if it was the cheap one.

But back to the new agency: the most they can hope to do is to maintain brand consistency. As McCann’s efforts for Microsoft have shown, there’s not much you can do when everyone thinks your product is crap. Apple’s ads work because their products do: people really like iMacs and iPods and the like. So the product lives up to the promise.

The ball is now in Dell’s court. If they want their advertising to be great, they need to ensure their products are great too.

Nov 30, 2007

Transnational Blueblood

click to view entire cartoon at host site

Hey. So a friend just turned me on to this hilarious series of cartoons from a guy named Pete Johnson who has a blog called "Transnational Blueblood."

They're brilliantly done snapshots of very recognizable types in our industry. The one above perfectly nails the relationship between general agencies and their online siblings.


You can find the series here
and here
(NB: There are probably others on his site as well, they're not overly organized.)

Falling On Their Face(book)

So Facebook has been getting all sorts of not-very-good press these days thanks a new feature that lets you know what your friends are buying online. The bulk of the objections have been around the invasion-of-privacy aspect of it (it was all about opting out, rather than opting in, until they decided that wasn't working) and while I think that’s definitely crucial to its high annoyance level, there’s also the fact that 99% of the purchases my friends make online aren’t the least bit surprising. Someone bought a book at Amazon? Get out! A movie ticket on Fandango? You don’t say. And when I find out they’re downloading music from some place called iTunes? Wow. Knock me over with a feather.

Point being, all these messages are going to wind up reading like so much spam. There’s nothing interesting or newsworthy about them. And so there’s no reason for me to pay any attention. Which makes it a lose-lose situation. You’ve invaded my privacy AND you’ve provided me with a trough full of useless information in return.

Now I’m not actually sure what the purpose of Facebook is anymore, what with the zombies and werewolves and all those movie quizzes that somehow make it impossible NOT to send a challenge to everyone on your friend list, but I can tell you that this is not doing the whole idea of social media any favors. As it once again proves, Your Brand Is Not My Friend™.

Even if your friend is buying my brand.

Nov 29, 2007

Toad's Friday Fave - Holiday Edition

And so the season begins.

To celebrate, I'm posting this promo video that MTV ran last year. It's brilliantly funny (still) and the propping and casting are genius. Ditto the lyrics.

And to start it off on the right note, I'll remind my UK readers that in the US, a "cupboard" is a cabinet used to store food. (I think y'all call it a "pantry.")


More Starbucks

So the commercial I referenced in my earlier post is finally up on YouTube.

Pretty, pretty treacly.

Clearly not going for the Beverly Hills/Upper East Side/wannabes crowd with this one, which is pure heartland.

Nov 27, 2007

Sometimes You Don't Need A Headline

click to enlarge

I really like this Audi ad, done by fellow blogger Simon Veksner, a/k/a Scamp, who works at BBH in London.

And while I'm sure the chicken-crossing-the-road thing has been done before, I like the juxtaposition of the downscale-joke-chicken with the upscale-big bucks-convertible.

The "get" is nice too- it makes you feel smarter somehow, for solving it. Kudos to Audi for not making them put in a headline or a copy line to explain the joke to the truly dumb. Having to figure out the not-very-difficult-to-figure-out joke on your own somehow adds to the upscale feeling of the ad and the car.

Nov 26, 2007

Dove Gets The Axe Effect

It was sort of inevitable.

At some point, people were going to figure out that Dove was made by Unilver. And that despite the high-minded messaging of the Cannes-award winning Dove viral videos, Unilever, the parent company, still made a whole mess of products that perpetuated the "beauty myth" the Dove advertising bemoans.

Now Axe is certainly one of those products, though it's clear (to me anyway) that the message is pretty tongue-in-cheek. I'm far more bothered that Unilever makes a skin-lightening cream for women in India. (Or so sayeth my fellow blogger, High Jive, who is very up on these sorts of things.)

So Exhibit A is the YouTube video above, a mash-up of Axe ads and the latest Dove video, "Onslaught." It was put together by a planner at the Martin Agency and it's already logged over 40,000 hits.

Exhibit B is this article in Ad Age, about the backlash, which, it seems, has even included editorials in newspapers like the Boston Globe.

My take: It's too easy for us to forget that the megabrands we deal with come with a history. And with a parent company. Dove is Unilever. It's not some homemade soap that's only sold in Whole Foods. There's a lot of history, a lot of older ads featuring the very same unrealistically airbrushed models they're now whining about, and (of course) a parent company that's one of the prime villains behind "The Beauty Myth."

And while I very much appreciate the sentiment behind the Dove campaign, it was foolish of them to think they could launch that positioning without acknowledging their parentage and their past.

Nov 24, 2007

Thanksgiving Break

Should have posted this on Wednesday, but I'm taking the Thanksgiving holiday off.
Just to recharge and relax and all that.

See you on Monday.

Nov 17, 2007

Starbucks Goes Over To The Dark Side

One of the key pillars of faith of Web 2.0 is the fact that the most successful companies of recent years (Starbucks, Amazon, Whole Foods) succeeded despite (or because of) very limited use of advertising, relying instead on things like word-of-mouth, store experience and the like. Or as Starbucks founder Howard Schultz noted “the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart… not an ad campaign.”

So it comes as something of a shock to the marketing community that, according to today’s (unlinkable) Wall Street Journal, Starbucks is planning to launch a major advertising campaign. Developed after years of relationship cultivation by Portland's Wieden and Kennedy, the first round of commercials are described as whimsical, roughly animated holiday spots where “a bearded skier and reindeer are stuck on a ski lift, and the skier offers the reindeer a cup of coffee.”

Simple enough, but the whole idea of running national TV commercials goes against much of what Starbucks stands for. The company has tried to retain its image as the friendly "corner coffee bar" through community involvement and lack of any strong national media campaign. Observers feel the impetus for the new campaign was the news that U.S. sales were actually down last quarter for the first time ever, coupled with increased competition from both McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts.

Whatever the case, it’s worth considering whether Starbucks is in fact, deluding itself, whether the company stopped being considered a local brand years ago or if the lack of national media presence coupled with low-key community activism did indeed allow them to escape the imprimatur of “faceless global corporation.”

Ubiquity aside, Starbucks does have a sterling reputation for being a generous employer, and the stores locations in upscale communities allowed them to blend in quite seamlessly with their surroundings. But as they rapidly expand (3,000 new stores in the past two years) and move out into the mainstream, that approach may no longer work. For what appears to be “just another store" on the Upper East Side or Beverly Hills stands out in stark contrast to the chain stores lining the highways of middle America.

So it seems to me that Starbucks has to decide what they want to be when they grow up: the coffee shop of choice for upscale Americans and wannabes, or a national brand that brings top quality coffee to the masses. The former company wouldn’t need to do much advertising—just less expansion. The latter would come to rely on it. And if they choose the latter route, do they risk alienating their core base, who (let’s face it) still like the fact that a Starbucks cup carries more than a bit of snob appeal cachet, something a more mass-market company wouldn’t have.

Curious to see where they go with this.

Nov 16, 2007

Toad's Pre-Thanksgiving Friday Fave

Props to Cathy Taylor at Adverganza for finding this gem of a spot for J.C. Penney via Saatchi/NY. Another entry in my ongoing Friday custom of spotlighting noteworthy TV commercials.

It runs a full two minutes, so I'm not sure where it actually runs, but that's besides the point. It's a wonderful little movie, perfectly cast with the sort of real looking children so rarely seen on television. Even the location, in an old-fashioned blue collar neighborhood with back alleys and Radio Flyer wagons is perfect: there's a timelessness to the setting that enables the fantasy.

There are lots of great little details (check out the signs on the fence) that it's worth watching twice, just to pick up the nuances.

I haven't been to a Penney's in a while, but if the in-store experience can match the magic of the commercial, they'll have a very merry Christmas indeed.

Nov 15, 2007

More Perspective

So like everyone else, one of my first reactions to the news that award show magician Tony Granger was taking over the CCO job at Y&R was "Damn, they must be paying him zillions."

But upon reflection, it hit me that they're probably paying him around $2-3 million a year, which is likely the pinnacle of creative salaries. Which is what numerous not-very-impressive 20 and 30something Wall Streeters make come bonus time. And what numerous writer/producers of network TV shows can make in just one season. And what numerous engineers and other mid-level employees of hot 2.0 shops walk away with in stock options.

Like the title says, it just gives all those late nights a little perspective. But more importantly, it tells me how undervalued our contributions are -- not just us creatives, but the industry in general. Now that we've lost the 15% commission, we need to find a better way to get remunerated for our ideas. Because that's our real contribution and it's not a minor one. We provide real value and benefit to our clients and we need to find a fair and equitable way to monetize it.

Maybe those Hollywood writers are on to something.

Nov 13, 2007

Consumer Reports Bashes Gift Cards

Consumer Reports, the original keep-'em-honest consumer advocate and the forerunner of today's review sites, ran this full-page ad in today's New York Times. An unusual move for them-- they rarely advertise-- but the $8 billion fact they put out in this ad is certainly interesting enough to spark a lot of conversations about the value of gift cards and the number that go unused.

I know it did at the Toad household, where I'm estimating we've got a few hundred dollars of unused cards sitting in a desk drawer somewhere.

Curious to see if this sparks a backlash of any sort, or even just a lot of conversation on marketing/consumer sites. And if CR picks up any new subscriptions because of it.

Nov 12, 2007

And Yet Another Proof Point For The Real Digital Revolution

Today's Adweek has a fascinating story called "Shoppers Want More Customer Reviews" that offers statistical evidence for something I've been noting anecdotally.

What's particularly interesting is that the reviews in question are for things like toys and smaller consumer goods items-- not just the high ticket items (cars, electronics) that gave consumer reviews their initial boosts.

Consumers will go into the store, select a few items they are interested in, and then turn to review sites for their final decision. This means that advertising can do nothing more than get the product into the consideration set (possibly-- we have no idea how much influence the in-store experience and packaging have vis-a-vis advertising). And that's very important because it completely changes the nature of advertising from a purchase-oriented communication to a consideration-set oriented communication.

And places the onus back on the manufacturer to make a product that people actually want to buy. Which is one of the key components of The Real Digital Revolution

Here's a relevant snippet for those disinclined to follow the link:
In other survey findings, many people said they shop seamlessly back and forth between physical stores and Web sites, and they do not examine customer reviews until midway through the shopping process. Most of the respondents said they start their shopping process at retail stores and then seek out online reviews as they near their final choices, looking at the reviews of only a handful of possible purchases. Specifically, 81 percent use customer reviews to decide between two or three products or to confirm that their final selection is the right one and only 40 percent actually start the shopping process using reviews, according to the study.


Today's Ad Age informs us that:
Consumers aren't buying Wal-Mart's new "Save Money. Live Better" ad campaign, according to a survey to be released today by Wal-Mart Watch, which found that only 4% of people believe that Wal-Mart saves the average family $2,500 annually.
Not a real surprise and I suspect the number is artificially low, given the source. But still, even if in reality five times as many people believe the claim, that's still 80% who aren't buying it.

Add to that the fact that I suspect Ad Age isn't going to be the only publication that picks up on a juicy tidbit like that (4%!!!) along with the tortured mathematical formula for getting there, and you have a great example of The Real Digital Revolution in action once again.

Nov 11, 2007

Lasting Effects of the Great Freelance Boom

Back in the late 1990s, hiring freelancers, which had previously been something big agencies did as a last resort, became far more commonplace, and, as the Dot Com Boom overtook us, it became more or less de rigeur.

For a vast majority of my friends, it was a goldmine. It seemed like anyone with a halfway decent book who’d done a stint at a good agency could more or less double their salary by going the freelance route. Heck, I know I did. We could make up numbers and still find people to pay us a big fat day rate. Double dipping was not uncommon, especially in the throes of dot com madness when agencies needed all the bodies they could muster.

And while the party came to a crashing end on September 11, 2001, the aftereffects are still being felt throughout the industry.

You see it in who holds creative director positions at big agencies. With one or two exceptions where turnover has been high (JWT comes to mind) big agencies are led by people who’ve spent a goodly part of their career at that agency. Which is not to say that they’re a bunch of hacks— but the fact remains that the people who were winning awards and setting the ad world on fire 10 years ago are now the ones whose names come up when I go looking for freelancers. And I can’t help but wonder what today’s big and mid-sized agency scene would be like if most of these guys had stayed and were actually running groups or running shops rather than bouncing around helping to lay out print campaigns or landing pages for last minute pitches.

And despite dropping day rates and a rapidly contracting pool of agencies to work for, the freelance road is still the career path of choice for many of the top talents in our business. They’ve realized how easy it is to work for themselves, to feed off the big agency trough without ever having to be a part of it. Or having to go out and actually start their own agency.

Not that I blame them. Except for a certain lack of control over your schedule and uncertainty over the next paycheck, freelancing is a pretty sweet gig. You don’t deal with politics or personalities or long term issues. You just go in and make ads. Your goal is to make the CD who hired you happy and to make sure everyone at the agency knows he’s happy so they’ll keep you around or bring you back soon. Period. End of story.

It’s not a bad life, but it’s not one that leads the industry to a better place. Imagine if the top players in the NBA were free agents who moved around a few times every season. Mostly to fill in for injured players or to shore up the team for an important series.

But that’s exactly the position our industry often finds itself in. It’s demoralizing to the people on staff, to have these highly paid superstars jump in and show them how it’s done, all while collecting nice sized day rates. And yet agencies aren’t reaching out to the freelance talent pool either, and trying to figure out ways to bring them on board. Now it may just be that they don’t want to: someone who’s been a freelancing for 10 years may not have the mindset necessary to succeed at a big agency. And then of course there's the salary requirements: agencies can rarely match what a hard-working freelancer brings in per annum.

So then the question that remains is how do we save the next generation from falling into the freelance trap? Should we save them? And if so how?

Curious to see if anyone has a theory. And if my UK and other international readers have seen a similar trend in their markets.

Nov 8, 2007

Defeating The Armies of "No"

My post on Defeating the Armies of "No" -- all those people outside the marketing department who have the power to maim, kill or destroy an ad campaign-- is the featured post on Marketing Prof's Daily Fix today. Check it out.

Nov 6, 2007

Geico Does It Again

This is from the same series as the Flintstones commercial. Featuring a Cabbage Patch Kid, it makes me laugh every time I see it. (Which, if you watch Nets games on YES, is pretty often.)

Nov 5, 2007

Facebook and the Case of the Unnatural Degree of Intimacy.

While Facebook’s stock continues to soar, I thought I’d share this (likely familiar) story of Facebook’s major problem: creating an unnatural and artificial degree of social intimacy between two people who barely know each other.

So there’s an art director I work with who asked to “friend” me on Facebook. Now I keep an account under my real name mostly for research purposes: I joined up with a friend of mine about six months ago and the only people I’ve added are those who have found me-- about three dozen altogether.

Now this art director seems like a nice enough guy, his office is not far from mine and I say hello to him in the hallway. But honestly, friends, all I know about him is his name and the state he hails from (long, not-very-interesting story). I don’t know what accounts he works on, who his friends are, where he’s worked previously: none of that.

But now, due to Facebook, which he is quite active about updating regularly, I know all sorts of things about him. That he has a new girlfriend (thus ending one mystery), where they’ve gone on their dates. What her pet name for him is. What movies he and I both like. What books we’ve both read. Which “Friends” character he is most like. His zombies and werewolves have attacked me, and he’s written somewhat amusing messages on my “FunWall.”

All fine and good, except he’s not some long-lost college roommate. He’s some guy I work with and when I see him in person, it’s extremely awkward because I now know all these somewhat intimate details about him and yet we’ve barely exchanged more than “hello.”

I mean what am I supposed to do – go up to him and say “Hey relative stranger. I saw on Facebook that you went to Lars And The Real Girl the other night. Since I also know that you and I appear to have similar taste in movies, did you like it? And what about this new girlfriend of yours—she sure looks hot in her profile pics—did she like it too? Oh, and how was her trip to Michigan to see her sister? Sounds like you really missed her.”

Creepy, right? But thanks to Facebook I can know all sorts of bizarre details about people I barely know in real life.

And that's the problem. Why would I want to put any of my business contacts on a site like that? And don't tell me that all they have to do is give you a mechanism to sort your friends into levels of intimacy. Because the second you label someone who thinks he's your good buddy a "business contact" you've got a world of hurt feelings to attend to.

Solve that, social networking site builders, and then maybe you can get a money-making model in place. But until then, you're not providing me with a whole lot of value.

Nov 2, 2007

Odd Sponsorship

So the Continental Airlines Arena is the New Jersey Meadowlands, home of the New Jersey Nets is now known as the Izod Center.

And I'm trying to figure out who decided that a brand that aspires to exclusivity and class (especially vis a vis its archrival Polo) should put its name on a basketball arena. In a swamp. In New Jersey.

Unless of course Izod is putting its logo on the Nets uniforms or something.

Which would definitely be even more puzzling

Oct 31, 2007

R.I.P. Robert Goulet

Sad news today that Robert Goulet is dead at age 73.

In tribute, I'm posting this spot from the classic Emerald Nuts campaign via Goodby, which was my personal favorite Super Bowl spot this year. The absurdist humor may not have been universally appreciated (the other YouTube posting was from something called " but it still cracks me up.

Oct 29, 2007

Marketing In The Time of Cholera

I’ve been thinking a lot these past few days about what our role is in the new world created by The Real Digital Revolution. That’s the world where consumers don’t rely on the bullshit we tell them to make their decisions, but rather go online and learn the truth for themselves.

In the old days, we could take whatever crappy product our client was pushing and somehow find a way to make it sexy. We’d invent a point of difference, and if we couldn’t do that, we’d invent an attitude. And it worked wonderfully for many, many years, allowing us to take a dangerous, poorly made car and make it a sexy, must-have sports car. Or portray a sugary brown carbonated beverage as a significant generational marker.

But those days are gone and what we have left is a world where experts and amateurs alike can join forces to tell the world what a piece of junk the sexy car is and no matter how “fun” and “viral” our ad campaign is, we can’t will all those nasty web pages to go away.

So what do we do at a time when the logical reaction is to tell our clients to either make a better product or not bother leaving the house at all?

More than anything, we need to be honest. To tell consumers the truth without bragging and with the realization that they’re going to fact-check us. So that lines like “it’s got the best rear bumper washing system of any car in its class” won’t cut it if that’s because it’s got the only rear bumper washing system of any car in its class because all the other cars in its “class” have bumpers that never need washing.

It means acknowledging that consumers have choices. And that our product is not the only game in town. It means admitting, if only to ourselves, that our competitors may have features some consumers find more appealing. And that there’s nothing we can do to convince them otherwise.

It means our brands need to start apologizing when something’s gone poorly, and then promise to try and do better. Because that’s the only way to silence all the critics, the ones who will howl loudly outside the window about our mistakes.

Finally, but every bit as importantly, it means acknowledging that we no longer control the conversation. That people will tell the truth about our products and that truth may not be what we want to hear. But we can no longer drown out their voices with the sound of our advertising.

The net result will be a new era of advertising that’s a whole lot more authentic. The good news is, it should also be a lot more fun.

Oct 28, 2007

Second Life On TV

In case you were wondering what the world outside of advertising and marketing thought of Second Life, it featured somewhat prominently in a recent episode of NBC's hit show The Office. And as Jim is explaining the game to Pam, he notes that "there are no winners or losers. (PAUSE) Okay, there are a lot of losers, but..." (or something like that, but you get the gist.)

Point is, SL is now the punchline for jokes in a network sitcom. Not a place you particularly want to be. Again, I think the technology has potential, but the fact that dozens of companies followed each other like lemmings onto the platform, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece, is nothing short of astounding.

UPDATE: So today's Adweek reports that CNN is launching a news gathering site in Second Life. And relying on the Dwight Schrutes of the world to gather news for them. So many "beat/beet" jokes. So little time...

Oct 24, 2007

Your Employee Is Not Your Enemy

My blogging friend Jetpacks has a post today about his stint working for the in-house creative department of some nameless corporation deep in Red State country where he lives.

And how this company has installed something called Websense, whose purpose is to stop employees from using the internet for personal reasons. So here's what he has to put up with:

Most blogs I can't see from work, especially Wordpress blogs, where I am met with:
Category "Social Networking and Personal Sites" is filtered.

Some blogs I can get to, but following a link about a "ghostly cup of coffee," I am met with this message:
Category "Non-Traditional Religions and Occult and Folklore" is filtered.

The Best Page in The Universe is blocked with this message:
Category "Tasteless" is filtered.

Anything on YouTube gets you this:
Category "Illegal or Questionable" is filtered.

The website Something Awful, where the Your Band Sucks feature is pretty fun, is a serious non-no:
Category "Adult Content" is filtered.
Now as I posted on his blog, the inadvertent censorship is the least of my problems with this. Because what we have here is the perfect illustration of the corollary to my tirads "Your Customer Is Not Your Enemy."

Let's call it "Your Employee Is Not Your Enemy."

Seriously, when you treat your employees as if they were they enemy, they are going to pay you back in spades. And JetPack's (temporary) employer is treating its employees as if they were kindergartners or juvenile delinquents. I mean who wants to work for someone who assumes that you are a slacker and a layabout and that you will cheat them by goofing off any chance you get.

Even the idea that an employee surfing the internet is doing a less than optimal job is ludicrous. A five minute visit to YouTube does wonders for the psyche. An online shopping trip can replace a 2 hour trip to the mall. Not to mention the well proven value of happy employees who feel their bosses trust them.

It's all part of the same mindset though: employees are out to cheat you, customers are out to rip you off, if I gave everyone with a bill for $4.01 a dollar back instead of 99 cents worth of change, I'd lose two dollars a day.

Now why this sort of attitude is so prevalent is mysterious. It just seems so counter-intuitive. The only good news is that if affords plenty of opportunity to those who take the opposite path. Sites like Monster and HotJobs-- as well as all the "here's what it's like to work at Company X" sites can help spread the word for the good guys. The bad guys? Well, no one ever believes it's really ever that bad.

Plus they need the paycheck.

The Other Side Of Whipple

If you've ever wondered what the rest of the world thinks is good advertising, check out this post (and the ensuing comments) over at the Daily Fix blog. (Full Disclosure: I am now one of their regular posters.)

Despite Luke Sullivan's exhortations in "Hey Whipple, Squeeze This" there's quite a lively discussion of the merits of the original Mr. Whipple and why he sold so much darn toilet paper. Said discussion being ocassioned by the reintroduction of a new Mr. Whipple this week.

Still, the very fact that he has fans among the marketing execs (aka clients) and marketing professors who read Daily Fix should serve as a reminder that not everyone shares the prevailing view in adland that Whipple sucks.

New Trend Alert

It's called "Boo-ing"

A new Halloween trick which I was exposed to tonight. (Well new to me, anyway. I suspect that like Crocs, this is one of those trends that spreads from the heartland out to the coasts.)

The doorbell rang, there was giggling, and I caught sight of two kids disappearing into an SUV.

The eldest Tadpole rolled his eyes, grabbed a small shopping bag full of candy off the porch and, in one of those "parents are so thick" tones announced "Oh, it's just someone boo-ing us. That's the third time tonight."

There was a note attached to the bag that read:
You have just been booed and now the curse of the Halloween Phantom is over your home! To be relieved of this curse you must boo 7 more people and if you don't by Halloween night, the curse will stay over your home until next year!! To make sure that this does not occur again this year, please post this sign in a visible spot in the front of your home, so the Phantom does not strike again. To boo someone, fill a bag up with candy and this note with the sign, knock on the victim's door or give them a ring, and run away as fast as you can. GOOD LUCK!! And don't get caught!!!
Just thought I'd fill you in on it. A trend's a trend, right ;)

Oct 22, 2007

Toad of Arabia

Oman, actually.

Where my blogging friend Arun Rajagopal lives.

He's been writing another blog for the "Night of the Adeaters" award show which is being held in Muscat this year, and asked me to contribute this article on the "10 Best TV Commercials of All Time."

No easy challenge that.

I went for the all-inclusive route, getting a broad sampling from the past four decades and I included some UK spots in there as well. Nothing you'll find surprising or controversial.


Cliché Of The Day

If I had a dollar for every time an unimaginitive (how's that for kind) magazine or ad writer descibed a white shirt as "crisp" I'd be able to hire a team of servants to write this blog for me.(Just saw it twice last night and it's been bugging me.)

Oct 21, 2007

Face Toad

So I've gone and done it.

I'm officially on Facebook as Tangerine Toad. (I've been on there as the real me for a while now.)

It was Tim Nudd's doing.

He's one of the editors at Adfreak and he and David Griner invited me to join a group they were forming for ad bloggers and I figured that it was probably a sign that I should get myself a presence on there.

And that presence is taking the form of a Toad Stool group. I've already got about 20 people to join - lots of other ad bloggers, so you'll recognize some names, but I'd love it if as many of you as possible join up to.

Here's the link.

Once we get some critical mass going, I can figure out a purpose for it, but your input, as always, is quite welcome.

Oh, and feel free to "Friend" me too. The more the merrier.

Buy Jaffe's Book

So Joe Jaffe has a new book out "Join The Conversation" and he's doing something called "bumrushing" Amazon-- getting as many people as possible to order to book on the same day so as to raise his rank in Amazon's listings.

I'm participating because I like Jaffe-- as many of you know, I've known him for over 10 years and he's a good person. But also because I find his approach fascinating: it exposes the fallacy of all those lists and rankings and whatnot and proves how easy they are to manipulate.

Anyway, here's the link to his book on Amazon.

UPDATE: Seems the book made it all the way to #26 - out of all books. That's pretty impressive for a book on a topic just a small audience actually cares about.

Oct 19, 2007

Another Friday Fave

Saw this the other night, and on Adverganza today: very charming spot from Cutwater for the new Jeep Liberty. Talking animals and all.

The spot also gets major, major props for its appeal to a much broader audience than the usual hipsters, who, truth be told, will probably snub their noses at it.

Oct 18, 2007

Not Everyone Is An Upscale Urban 30something White Male Hipster now up on Daily Fix

This week's column is something you've heard me go on about before: the tendency of the ad industry to judge everything by the aesthetics of the creative directors who judge award shows. It's where we get our definitions of what constitutes "great" advertising.

Read it here.

A Vicious Cycle

Not that it should come as any surprise, but brands that treat their customers as enemies, that create advertising based around what they want to say, that view the public with a level of disdain, repeat these same mistakes when they show up online. Regardless of whether they’re in a 1.0 or 2.0 mode.

That’s because 2.0 is not a magic pill that can make a company more likeable. If anything, it exacerbates problems that are already there by giving consumers a place to vent their frustrations, e.g. the WalMart/Facebook fiasco. It shows exactly how high-handed they are with customers and how little actual conversation they’re willing to have. And because traditional brand advertising is less and less important (and visible) in consumers’ minds, they can’t put out shiny happy messages to counteract that perception.

Now what will be really interesting to see is how this affects business over the next 5 to 10 years. Will consumer-unfriendly businesses go under as a new wave of consumer-friendly companies takes their place. Or will the marketplace focus only on the product delivered and not the way it’s delivered, preferring things like price and selection over service.

That’s not a question anyone can answer right now and I suspect that the actual answer will vary from industry to industry and segment to segment. And that consumer unfriendly brands with clearly superior products will survive, whereas those with parity or subpar products won’t.

Oct 17, 2007

Sharks, Zombies and Werewolves

So it looks like LinkedIn may have jumped the proverbial shark.

I’d noticed it over the past few weeks: invitations were coming in from people I had zero connection with. I mean like just about everyone else, I’ve gotten the occasional invite from someone I’d known years ago, someone it took a few hours to remember exactly how I knew them. But these were different: complete strangers who somehow thought being LinkedIn to the likes of me would benefit their careers.

And then yesterday I noticed a question from someone who was shocked by the idea that people he didn’t know but wanted to network with were turning him down. Along with two dozen or so answers in support of his position. Now granted the questioner and his supporter were all entrepreneurs for whom networking was a key part of their business plan, but still: their argument seemed to go against everything LinkedIn based its appeal on.

Let me explain: for me, and I suspect many others in my position, LinkedIn was a way to collect all the people who could vouch for you. And while I realize that LinkedIn does provide an actual separate recommendation mechanism, the assumption was that if John Smith and Jane Doe were “LinkedIn” you could safely reckon that they’d each have something positive to say about the other: in other words, no one was linking in to their enemies.

It was a great way to check on potential hires, to find old friends, and to discover connections between your various friends that you hadn’t realized existed.

But it was all based on the assumption that people actually knew everyone on their LinkedIn list. Once you take that away, you’re left with a not-very-valuable list of people with nothing better to do than waste time collecting scalps.

Now in their defense, LinkedIn has made it pretty clear from the get-go that connecting with random people in not the purpose of the site. They have little reminders all the time to only link in with people you actually know and the value of doing so. That said, I was surprised that no one from LinkedIn jumped into that answer thread to rebuke the promiscuous linkers, lest the site become as useless to business people as say Facebook or MySpace.

And speaking of Facebook, if you want any further proof of it’s lack of appropriateness for most business networking, you need look no further than the recent popularity of Werewolves, Zombies and Vampires. A fun thing to play with your friends, no doubt, but you probably don’t want to go biting someone you’re about to close a $50 million deal with.

Now none of this needs to be fatal to social media sites, but they do need to figure out a way to keep some value. Just a simple mechanism to divide between social connections and business connections and/or people you actually know and people you don't know.

That would be a start.

Oct 16, 2007

News Flash: Ad Creative Retires From Business At Own Choosing

It's true. And not in a satirical let's-imitate-the-Onion kind of way.

Grant Parrish, who worked as an art director at Ogilvy for over 30 years and is of an age when most Americans retire from their jobs, has actually retired from the business. Of his own free will.

Parrish, a true Southern gentleman, managed the remarkable feat of staying relevant and vital to the end of his career, never falling into the trap of getting set in his ways or stuck in a particular style.

He was the envy of many of us when I worked at Ogilvy for his ability to maintain such a long-- and fulfilling career.

We wish him well. Just as much as we wish that a creative actually retiring from the business wasn't headline news.

Oct 15, 2007

Odd Brand Extension

So on my way into work this morning, I was handed a bright red plastic dollar bill for something called "Virgin Money." I always take these sorts of handouts out of curiosity, and, recognizing the familiar red Virgin logo, I was even more curious to see what this was.

I was betting it had something to do with their cell phone service, but no, it turns out it is to announce to launch of Virgin Money. A "personal loan management" service from Virgin. With an emphasis on "personal" - if you want to get a loan from Mom and Dad, or lend your buddy Steve $250K to start his own business, they'll help set it up for you.

That's it. No bank loans, no commercial mortgages. Just arranging loans between you and your friends and family.

Quite an odd line extension for a company that's known for high profile service-oriented consumer goods, done well. Anyone have any notion what this is about?

I Really Hate Advertising. No Really, I Do.

Why is it that so many well-regarded creatives feel compelled to repeat the old canard about how they “hate advertising” and try and ignore it at every opportunity. I mean I get that at some level they’re saying that so much of what’s out there is crap and that they’re in the business to try and improve it. But what it comes out sounding like is “I really could care less about this stuff. So how cool is it that I’m so much better at it than all you suckers who really do care. I mean, I barely try and you all are busting your asses and yet who’s walking home with the Gold Pencils?”

There’s another unintended effect too, which is to convey to clients that “this advertising thing is crap. Look at me, I hate it and I’m the guy the industry is looking up to. What a sucker you are for wasting your money on it.”

Not saying we all need to become Award Show Junkies or watch hours of commercials every night, but a little respect for our business from those within it at a time when we get no respect from those on the outside might be nice.

Oct 11, 2007

Check These Out

Seni Thomas, a very smart, very ambitious young man, has started a blog about educating students in the ways of new media and advertising. This is a topic near and dear to my heart, as so few college-level programs do a good job of keeping up with the changing environment. Check out his blog, The Ad-Vocate, here. Lots of thought-provoking articles for both creatives and marketing types.

Raafi Rivero, a frequent commenter on here, is a director at Desedo Films. He has a fascinating post on Desedo's blog about Black Nerds and Halo 3. Very interesting look at a subculture. And while you're at it, check out his spec spot for a National Geographic/Hummer tie-in commercial.

Finally, David Reich, a noted blogger, has asked me to help publicize "This Week On" which he describes as "an educational program hosted by the International Association of Online Communicators (IAOC). IAOC is a nonprofit professional organization devoted to the sharing of knowledge and information among professionals, educators and students in the fields of online public relations and marketing communications."

All Tied Up

In another one of their infamous “let’s-invent-a-fashion-trend” Style section stories, today’s New York Times reports that ties are back in fashion. Not in investment banks and law firms, mind you. But at ad agencies and design shops, worn by young men who just find them to be ultra-fashionable. As evidence, the article points out Justin Timberlake’s three-piece suit get-ups as well as the rising sale of ties at Saks, Bloomingdale’s and other upscale stores. Now common sense tells us that there just aren’t enough tie-sporting young hipsters in New York City to impact the sale of ties at patrician Saks Fifth Avenue, and that said increase is in no doubt due to the oft-reported trend among more traditional businesses to do away with casual dress codes.

Besides which, I have yet to see anyone at my ad agency wearing a tie just for the fun of it. You?

Oct 9, 2007

More Toad On DailyFix Today

I've written another treatise on Social Media Is Only "Social" If You're Alone for DailyFix.

So if you can't get enough of me on here, go over and take a look at what the client-types and marketing professors are saying.

Oct 8, 2007

Your Customer Is Not Your Enemy

Few things baffle me as much as companies who insist on treating their customers as if they were the enemy. Yet despite the clear illogic of the premise, this treatment seems endemic to many of our nations retailers and service businesses.

A few weeks ago, Wall Street Journal editor Laura Landro published her story of being arrested at Kmart for accidentally placing a pair of flip flops in the wrong box. Landro and her family had just dropped $800 at the failing retailer, yet instead of allowing the cashier to point out the mistake and apologize for the flip-flops all being in the wrong boxes, Kmart chose to arrest Landro. To make matters worse, weeks later, when she’d identified herself to corporate management and PR, they were totally unrepentant, huffily telling her she should have told the cashier she wasn’t sure she had the right box.

The week after, iPhone auctioneer Joseph Jaffe reported on his ill-fated attempts to return some games to Toys’R’Us without a receipt. Given the number of toys given as gifts (sans receipts) you’d think Toys’R’Us would have developed some sort of system for dealing with this other than an unempowered sales clerk reciting the mantra “no receipt, no exchange, nothing I can do.”

We had our own taste of this a few days ago when one of the Tadpoles was buying basketball shoes in Kids Foot Locker. A salesman had helped him find a pair he liked, but as we went to pay for them, the surly manager appeared at the register to tell us that “we can’t sell you those shoes.”

My baffled look was met with an explanation that they didn’t officially go on sale for another few days. But that was all she offered: it was as if I’d gone back into the storeroom myself and pulled the shoes out of a secret unmarked room.

Now all she had to do was apologize a little bit. Something along the lines of “Oh, I’m so sorry sir. We made a big mistake! The salesman should never have shown those to your son! Can I throw in a free pair of socks to make it up to you?” Just a bone to reassure me that the store was at fault here, not me. But all I got was a surly “Sorry, that’s the rule” and “I don’t know why he showed them to your son. I wasn’t there.”

Needless to say, the basketball shoes were purchased in another store and it’ll be a cold day in hell before Kids Foot Locker sees another dime from my family.

Which sucks for them, because with the Tadpoles fondness for athletics, we easily spent several hundred dollars a year there.

There are countless other examples of businesses that treat customers like enemies: airlines who feel that rudeness is their right and feel no compunction about keeping passengers stranded on the runway sitting in cramped filthy airplanes with overflowing toilets for 12 hours at a stretch. (The situation is so egregious that even President Bush felt obliged to promise to do something about it.)

Health insurance providers are another frequent culprit, denying claims that are clearly covered and then responding with a coy “Oops, hey you’re right!” when caught. (It being just as clear that they’ve been banking on a certain percentage of us not catching on to them.)

And I’m sure many of you will have your own stories to add to the list.

But here’s the catch: every time one of these companies screws us over and treats us like enemies they lose us as customers. And not for just a few weeks, but for life. And whereas in the past, we could only gripe to our friends and family about it, today, we are far more powerful.

We can blog about it, post about it, make scornful YouTube videos about it. And since this sort of behavior is rarely a one-time occurrence, there will be lots of us loudly griping about it. And lots of people reading about it and realizing that there are choices out there and that companies who regard their customers as enemies are never the right choices.

A perfect example is American car manufacturers, who are learning the hard way that a customers scorned is a customer you can never, ever win back. With more and more 2.0 outlets for customer dissatisfaction, it’s a lesson lots of other companies are going to be learning as well.

What’s truly sad, however, is that it’s completely avoidable. Treat your customers with respect and they’ll return the favor. Because where would you rather shop? Candy Store A, which has lower prices, but signs all over the place warning that sampling is forbidden along with surly staffers to help enforce the ban; or Candy Store B, where prices are slightly higher, sampling is encouraged, and staffers are well-versed in the value of a friendly smile.

Yeah, I thought so.

Oct 7, 2007

Career Advice

I'm always amazed by the number of creatives I know who tell me that they "really ought to get around to doing some digital work" in the same tone and manner they use when they say they "really ought to get around to losing some weight."

I kind of want to shake them and say "if you're over 30 and all you have in your book is print and TV-- if you have a "book" instead of a website-- the future, my friend, is not looking very bright indeed."

Now making the leap isn't easy for general creatives, especially for art directors. But it's something you've got to do if you want to keep working in this business. And you've got to learn it for real too, really get it. So many people try and fake it and wind up sounding even more foolish, as they bring up technology that was last relevant during the Clinton administration.

It's not that digital is the be all and end all. But we're moving towards it, not away from it. In other words guys, it ain't going away.

Limited time only, act now, and all that.