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 "AwfulCommercials.com) 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 IAOCblog.com" 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.

Oct 5, 2007

Arenas' New Shoes

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had an article on the potential dangers of celebrity blogging: Washington Wizards star guard Gilbert Arenas has a blog on nba.com (for those of you who aren't sports fans, he’s a well-known basketball player) and decided to post a critique of the Adidas shoe that was to bear his name.

His critique was pretty harsh:
"I'm sitting there looking at the shoe like 'I hope you guys aren't serious. Because I'm not going to wear this shoe. ... Nobody is going to wear this shoe," said the blog post. He said parts of it reminded him of a "ballerina."
Adidas was understandably upset, although after the public airing, they resolved their differences and now have a shoe that Arenas loves.

So is this a reason for companies to shy away from blogging? Not at all.

First off, it reinforces the notion that Arenas is honest and outspoken: that he’s not going to put his name on any old shoe just to get the money. This gives the consumer confidence that their hero actually vetted the shoe himself and was involved in the design process.

Companies need to realize that what consumers crave is authenticity. That we’re able to see through the PR fronts and fake personas they create and that all we ask of them—and their spokespeople-- is plain talk and honesty. It’s why ad campaigns that speak to an actual truth are so effective, even if that truth isn’t 100% flattering to the client: people value a company that speaks the truth far more than they value a company that has no faults.

At a time when even TV commercials featuring real people are routinely assumed to be shot using actors, a real person being him or herself on a blog is definitely going to help, not hurt.

Oct 4, 2007

Lunchtime Entertainment

Until they take it down.
Another brilliant Saturday Night Live Digital Short from Andy Samberg and friends with landsmen Jake Gyllenhall and Adam Levine making cameos.

1984 All Over Again

In what's sure to become a legend among ad folks, Arnold focus-grouped an "board-o-matic" of the classic "1984" commercial with real live people (who'd presumably never seen it) and then created this video, which includes "recommendations" from the focus group for the Hatch Awards, a well-known Boston-based award show.

As you may have guessed, the reason this will become legendary is that the focus groups hated the spot, generally considered one of the best TV commercials ever made, and their recommendations on how to improve it are universally awful.

Thanks to Catherine Taylor and her most excellent Adverganza blog for bringing this to our attention.

I've always wanted to take a bunch of famous movie scenes-- Rhett and Scarlett in Gone With The Wind, DeNiro in Taxi Driver, Cruise in Risky Business, Bogey & Bacall in Casablanca-- and make them into animatics, with agency people providing bad voiceovers. Just to show how absurd the whole notion of testing TV commercials in this format is.

Oct 3, 2007

Mad Men No More

AMC via NY Observer

Two recent articles, one in Ad Age, the other in the New York Observer focus on how advertising has lost its mojo and try to explain why.

They both get it wrong too, the Ad Age article focusing on the exclusion of women and minorities during that era (true enough, but not sure what it has to do with anything) and the Observer focusing on the types of clients (big pharma) the industry now uses to pay the bills.

The articles were so off, I actually posted a comment on the Observer article, which went something like this (NB: It makes more sense if you read the Observer first.)

Interesting article but you skipped over the main reason advertising agencies lost their glamor: in the late 80s and early 90s, the major agencies were all acquired by 4 major holding companies: WPP, IPG, Omnicom and Publicis. These holding companies have come in, cut staff dramatically, demanded stricter accountability on expenses, and, most importantly, cut salaries dramatically, even at the very top levels.

What's left is a much more corporate, much less creative environment where no one sticks around because there's no way to get rich or even close to it. Lupinacci is dead-on in his take that the sort of people who were once attracted to the ad business are now all working for Google.

If there are small hot start-up agencies like Anamoly, they are quickly snapped up by the holding companies as soon as they show any signs of growth. And given the holding companies deep pockets who can blame the owners for cashing out for millions.

A final factor in the death of Madison Avenue is that clients are no longer particularly New York-centric. The hot agency of the moment, Crispin Porter Bogusky (Burger King, VW) is based out of Miami and Boulder. Goodby Silverstein (Hyundai, Comcast, Sprint, HP) another powerhouse is in San Francisco and Wieden and Kennedy (Nike) is in Portland, Oregon.

As for Richard Kirshenbaum, he's not exaggerating: he really is the last famous ad man left in New York.

Oct 1, 2007

Your Brand Is Not My Friend

I mean when you think of it, it's kind of creepy. Facebook is the 21st century diner or malt shop. It's where teens and young adults go to hang out.

And the last thing they want is some salesperson coming up in their face and trying to have a "conversation" with them while they're figuring out when they're going to the movies. They don't want to talk to you. They want to talk to their friends.

There's a prominent real estate family here in New York City called the Lefraks. About 10 years ago, they decided to change the family name to LeFrak. And I remember thinking to myself at the time "Who do they think they're fooling? I mean do they really think that all these society types are going to see the new name, slap their foreheads and say "Oh, so they're French! All this time I thought they were Jewish, but they're really French! Muffy, quick, now we can invite the LeFraks over to the club."

Well I get the same feeling about advertising agencies these days. We're sales people. We sell our clients products. But suddenly nobody wants to be a salesperson anymore. They're into "conversation." And consumers, I've now learned, aren't consumers anymore. They're "friends." But really people, who are you fooling? Your Brand Is Not My Friend™.

Look. When I was 23, a site like Facebook would have been my second home. Keeping track of the daily comings and goings of my 100 closest friends? Check. Comparing our tastes in music, movies, books, photos, and travel destinations? Check. And when I wasn't on Facebook, I'd have been Twittering everyone I knew that I was going to the store. And then leaving it. With a middle Twitter to let them know that the cashier was being way too slow.

And while I was busy Facebooking and Twittering, the absolute last person I'd have wanted to hear from is an advertiser. I mean when you think of it, it's kind of creepy. Facebook is the 21st century diner or malt shop. It's where teens and young adults go to hang out. And the last thing they want is some salesperson coming up in their face and trying to have a "conversation" with them while they're figuring out when they're going to the movies. They don't want to talk to you. They want to talk to their friends.

The whole appeal of social media sites is their independence from corporate advertisers. People like the fact that they can say whatever they want to their friends without any interference from anyone or anything that seems "official" or "corporate."Yes, they'll tolerate banner ads or search ads on the page, the same way that in the diner they tolerated placemats with ads on them or a Coke sign on the soda machine: that sort of advertising is innocuous and quickly becomes part of the scenery.

So I'm not sure where we've developed this conceit that people want to hear from brands. Because they truly don't. At least not in settings where the primary objective is to talk to and interact with your actual friends. (And your brands, people, are not our friends.)

On a blog or message board dedicated to a particular subject, they might listen to someone from a company, especially if that person is someone whose name they all recognize. (In other words, if Steve Jobs himself were to post on a computer message board, people would be thrilled. But a generic post from Apple or from some unknown VP at Apple would be at most, unwelcome.)

Now there are some brands–I call them Prom King Brands–that people don't mind "conversing" with, so long as they can do it in the brands own space (as opposed to MySpace.) These are the brands that have somehow managed to build a better mousetrap, but there are no more than a dozen of them and you here on DailyFix can probably name them all by heart (I'll start: Nike, Apple, Starbucks, Virgin, Whole Foods– ) Sports teams, TV shows, rock bands and movies fall into this category as well.

The rest of you are out of luck. You're not a Prom King and people aren't lining up to hang with you. So while Starbucks could probably start a Frappuccino Lovers Group on Facebook (for all I know, they already have), no one's going to be joining a Maxwell House Lovers group anytime soon. So if Your Brand Is Not My Friend™, does that mean you should run screaming from Web 2.0 and Social Media?

Absolutely not.

All it means is that if you're not a Prom King brand, you need to be smarter about how you use the space. Not to mention more authentic.

Let's take the Maxwell House example. The one thing we know about Maxwell House (other than that it's "good to the last drop") is that it's cheap. Very cheap, actually, in comparison to Starbucks. So you go on Facebook and find the Cheapskate Lovers group. And approach them as a salesperson. Not as a friend. Your script goes something like this: "Hey Cheapskates. Maxwell House knows how much you guys love saving money. And while our coffee is cheap enough as it is, if you go to this special Facebook Cheapskates site, we've got a dollar off coupon waiting for you."

There's a critical difference here: if you're a Prom King, you define the interaction. People come to you to talk about and be around Starbucks, to get some of the halo effect of a brand they consider very cool. And even though you're selling them big time, you can pretend it's all just a fun little "conversation."

But if you're a regular brand, you need to find a situation that fits your strengths. So if your strength is you don't cost a whole lot, you need to find a bunch of Cheapskates and then adapt yourself to their needs. And you absolutely have to do it as a salesperson. Because you can't ever pretend you're doing anything but selling them.

And if you do all that, they may actually start to like you for it. To let you hang around more often and maybe, just maybe, they'll start talking about you. Not to you, but about you.

Which at the end of the day, is a lot more valuable than having them talk about your TV commercial.

Hence the value of social media.

Originally published at MarketingProfs Daily Fix

Thinking About Hyundai

I have to say I'm really digging the new Hyundai campaign via San Francisco-based Goodby, Silverstein (can't assume everyone reading this is a creative anymore).

There are the TV spots above, the very nicely done website, and smart print ads with lines like “Shouldn’t a car have more air bags than cupholders?” and "Are car companies committed to quality, or to the phrase ‘committed to quality’?”

And while I really like the campaign on its own merits, it also gets Toad's Right Ads @ The Right Time Award.

Let me explain: 5 years ago, this campaign would have been laughable. Hyundais were crappy cars made in Korea and no one could pronounce the name of the company (and as Bill "Make The Logo Bigger" Green and JetPacks have pointed out, the logo sucks.)

But lately I've been hearing a lot of positive buzz about Hyundai. And I'm by no means a car guy. Various auto publications have liked Hyundai's cars better than the more expensive Japanese imports. Plus I'm definitely starting to see more of them-- the Santa Fe SUV in particular-- on the leafy, sun-dappled streets of my upscale burb.

Given all the positive buzz, the time seems perfect for a campaign like this, a campaign designed to move Hyundai into the space Volvo used to own (before they decided to try and become the Swedish Mercedes) and that Subaru kind of owns: the smart, safe car for people who could spend a lot of money on a car but choose not to. An anti-status symbol of sorts.

This is a perfect case study of how advertising can help build on buzz, rather than the other way around. Because the buzz here is authentic, e.g. the only thing Hyundai did to create it was to make better cars. And so the advertising can reinforce the buzz because it's based on truth, not smoke and mirrors.

Advertising. It's not rocket science ;)

(Side note: speaking of cars on the leafy, sun dappled streets of my upscale burb, I've noticed a dramatic increase lately in the number of Range Rovers. My suspicion is that this is largely due to the fact that Range Rover is the only luxury car brand that doesn't also have an undistinguised $28K model (yes, I know, but it's called a Land Rover, not a Range Rover.) That, and the Range Rover has a very noticeable shape which immediately lets people know you're the sort of person who can spend $80K on a car.)

Toad Debuts On Daily Fix

If you're really looking to avoid work today, you can read even more of me over at Marketing Profs Daily Fix. The editor there, Ann Handley, has a great mix of contributing writers who cover a really broad range of writers. She herself writes for The Huffington Post, which is about as good as it gets in terms of online journalism.

For me, it's a chance to reach a slightly different audience-- Daily Fix is mostly read by the people we creatives call "clients" -- and thus get a different point of view.

You can check it out here.