Feb 27, 2009

Trust Me

So I just finished watching the first 5 episodes of Trust Me, the new TNT series about advertising written by two former Chicago area creatives, and I have to say it’s a very accurate-albeit-broadly-drawn portrait of life in the creative department of a large ad agency... circa 1997.

Now the problem with that is that the series is allegedly set in 2009. But it really doesn’t seem as if the internet’s been invented yet. I mean the creative director hero (played by Will & Grace’s Eric McCormack) is still sending out an actual physical book, no one seems to actually use email (let alone a computer) and everyone seems completely and totally focused on shooting TV commercials.

And while Mad Men uses advertising as a metaphor, Trust Me uses it as the backdrop for a series of fairly forgettable plot lines about wacky ad guys of the Nothing In Common variety. But if you can accept it as a not-bad-for-network-TV quality period piece with the occasional iPhone (or reference to "webisodes") thrown in at random, it’s not a bad show. Especially if you were working at one of those big shops in the 1990s. They’ve captured just about every big agency stereotype you can think of, from the full-of-shit Brit CD to the neurotic female copywriter to the overly chic and overly ballsy female president of the agency (complete with really bad rhinoplasty) to the Peter Pan Syndrome suffering copywriter to the decent-human-being GCD whose group gets all the crap accounts to... well, you get the picture.

If nothing else, Trust Me serves as a reminder of why big ad agencies were (and are) such horrible places to work. And about how right Brian Morrissey was when he wrote this piece about denial.

Feb 26, 2009

Project 100 Excerpt: Days of Dinosaurs and Roses

Jeff Caswell put together a book to benefit Susan G. Komen For The Cure, a foundation that supports breast cancer research. Called Connect: Marketing in the Social Media Era it features 400 words on the topic of “Marketing in the Social Media Era. Building Dynamic Consumer Relationships" from 100 of his favorite writers and bloggers. (Hence the name.) Some of the other writers I know who are participating are: (in alphabetical order) Adam Broitman, Adam Kmiec, Ana Andjelic, Ann Handley, Bill Green, Brian Morrissey, Dave Knox, Dirk Singer, Drew McLellan, Gavin Heaton, Greg Chistensen, Jacquelyn Corbett Cyr, Marc Meyer, Michael Hastings-Black, Michael Leis, Paul McEnany, and probably a bunch of other people because I've never been good about copying names from lists.

Anyway, he's got my piece up as an excerpt to lure you into buying the upcoming book, so check it out:

Days of Dinosaurs and Roses

The amazing thing about social media is that it’s totally destroyed the power of ads to sell things to people. Because seriously, why would I bother listening to an ad when I can listen to the reviews and opinions of hundreds of my fellow consumers. Most of whom are interested in providing me with the real deal on whatever product or service they’re reviewing. Not in feeding me a clever pun or wacky visual.

We’ve seen clever puns and wacky visuals for over 50 years now. It’s hard to remember which one is which. I mean every bank is friendly and caring. Every soft drink fun-loving and hip.

Read the rest of it here

Feb 22, 2009

Bound for Boise

If you're in Idaho, or know anyone who is, I'll be speaking on Thursday at "Three Courses and Cake" luncheon hosted by the Boise Advertising Federation, after which I'll be one of the guest judges for the local award show, The Rockies.

Stop by and say hello if you'll be in town.

Feb 20, 2009

Passion Play

Download & Print (PDF, 2.3 megs)

Sean Howard, a friend who runs his own Toronto-based consulting company, has put together the eBook you see above you, called "The Passion Economy" which is based on an article he read a while back that bestowed this term on the changes wrought by 2.0 and all that.

I take a somewhat contrarian POV (did you expect something different?) and the book contains some nice thoughts from Undercurrent's Mike Arauz, Viral Garden's Mack Collier, and The Thunder from Down Under, Gavin Heaton, among others.

A full list of authors, cut and pasted from Sean's own site:

Scott Suthren
Ellen Di Resta
Gavin Heaton
Charles Frith
Mike Wagner
Mack Collier
Mike Arauz
Katie Chatfield
Alan Wolk
Peter Flaschner
Matthew Milan

Feb 18, 2009

Shiny Happy Tweeple

(Okay, I hate the word "Tweeple" but it worked in the headline.) Because you see, I've noticed that people on Twitter seem far less concerned about the economy, far more optimistic about the future, than people anywhere else I look online. While most every blog, newspaper site, message board and the like is filled with "the sky is falling" rhetoric, Twitter is all about accentuating (and retweeting) the positive.

And while I'm not sure whether that's due to etiquette, ignorance, denial, prescience or some combination thereof, it sure as heck is comforting.

Which I why I think I've been spending a whole lot more time on Twitter lately.

It beats drinking.

"Field of Dreams" now up on Adweek

Been a busy week, at least publication-wise. I have a new column today over at Adweek. "Field of Dreams" is a variation on a post I did back in December about iPhone apps called "Lemmings," adapted for a more mainstream audience as per Mike Monello's suggestion.

There's a phenomenon whereby normally intelligent people at both digital and traditional agencies decide that people will embrace their new widget or app simply because they've built it. It's as if the Internet were a giant cornfield in Iowa and the mere presence of yet another branded widget or app is enough to get thousands of people clicking.

You can read the whole article here.

Feb 17, 2009

"Advertising After The Real Digital Revolution" now up at TalentZoo.com

The good folks at TalentZoo reached out to me to write an article for their well-trafficked web site, and it's finally up. Sort of a what-ad-agencies-should-do-next piece that dovetails nicely with a lot of what we've been discussing on here lately.
I’ve written quite a bit about the effects of The Real Digital Revolution, that transition of the consumer decision cycle from Ad -> Purchase into Ad -> Google -> Purchase and how it permanently altered the role of advertising in our society. But that doesn’t mean advertising is going away. Just that it promises to look and feel very different.

You can read the whole article here.

Feb 16, 2009

Does Creativity Still Matter?

There’s been much debate in the blogosphere this past week about the dearth of creativity in advertising these days, digital advertising in particular. So my ears perked up during a Social Media Week session on Friday, when Gary Vaynerchuk raised an interesting point: social media, or more specifically, digitally-enabled Word of Mouth had become such, that a really great product with a really lousy ad campaign will only be marginally affected. Eventually, Vaynerchuk asserted, positive word-of-mouth about the great product will take over and become the great marketing campaign the product deserves.

If Vaynerchuk is correct, and to a large degree, I suspect he is, then that doesn’t say much for the need for any sort of creativity in advertising. Or for the need for advertising in general.

Or does it?

Let’s start with what’s right about his assertion: there are many products that manage to overcome bad or forgettable ad campaigns. Subaru is a perfect example. While Detroit and most foreign automakers have been taking severe hits, Subaru is actually expanding its market. They’ve managed to slide right into the niche previously occupied by Volvo: the inexpensive utilitarian car for upper middle class professionals. All without anything even vaguely resembling a successful ad campaign.

They’ve done it by having really good products. And as the owner of two Foresters (our fourth and fifth, I believe) I can attest to that. Foresters may not be the world’s most beautiful cars, but they look distinctive and, more importantly, they don’t look cheap. They’re good in the snow, have ample cargo room and excellent repair records. Consumer Reports loves them to death.

Now we became Forester fans through old-fashioned Word of Mouth: my in-laws had one, loved it and sold us on its virtues. But social media means that you can now track word of mouth via search engines a quick visit with “The Google” shows lots of Forester love out there. So odds are good people are finding it these days without any help from their in-laws.

But Subaru isn’t alone. I truly feel that a critical mass of American consumers have become advertising-resistant: that is, they ignore the stylings of the ad and only pull out the substance: is there news in this ad that may be of interest to me? If so, I will act on it regardless of how I feel about the creative. In the real world that means that if I love strawberries and like having Cheerios for breakfast, an ad informing me of the introduction of Strawberry Cheerios will likely result in me trying the product. No matter how cheesy and awful and insulting and goofy I may find the actual commercial to be. All that I will take in is “Strawberry Cheerios. Yum.” (The reverse is also true: if I find Starburst revolting, it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve watched “Berries and Cream” on YouTube: I’m just not buying any.)

I’ve often said that the alpha and the omega of social media is to make a product people really like and/or want to talk about. As obvious as that sounds, it’s a concept lost on many marketers. But it may be all many products need today: create enough digital buzz, make sure your SEO is working right and you don’t need a whole lot of advertising.

But that doesn’t mean creativity is dead.

Far from it. To begin with, we need to expand our definition of creativity: a great package design, a well-done retail store are both “creative” endeavors that help “create” an aura around a brand and the way we feel about it. Serve Starbucks coffee in a harshly lit, badly furnished cafeteria and suddenly it’s not tasting anywhere near as good as it does in their cozy little stores.

But perhaps the most important thing good creative can do is make us feel even better about products we already like. You need not look any further than Apple for proof of how this works. Every time Justin Long scores another one on hapless John Hodgeman, Apple fan boys everywhere feel that much smarter about their choices. Not that a bad commercial would sway them from the Jobs-love, mind you. But a good one just pumps the joy level an extra notch.

Good creative also encourages trial. It can’t make me like a bad product. But it can get me to look into a new one. And if what I find on Google and Twitter and Amazon and Facebook is universally positive, then that good creative will also increase sales.

So here’s my takeaway: Vaynerchuk is right. Good products don’t need advertising anymore. Word-of-Mouth amplified via social media is enough to make them successful even in the face of bad agency-created advertising. But at the same time, good creative is not a neutral. It’s a positive and when combined with a good product with good WOM, gets consumers to “yes” a lot faster and a lot more often.

Which is a pretty big positive in my book.

Feb 11, 2009

Facebook Is The New AOL

Remember the 90s? Many of you reading this blog were likely adolescents during that period. So you won’t remember the ubiquity of AOL in the adult world during the Clinton era.

Suffice it to say that if you weren’t a technogeek, AOL was the internet for you. It had email, it had chat, chat rooms and all sorts of branded rooms where you could (oh so slowly) find out the weather, check sports scores and the like. You didn’t have “friends” but you did have much of your social graph on your chat list.

But it’s that first point that makes Facebook the twenty-first century AOL. Millions of people (literally) have joined Facebook in the past six months. People whose main exposure to the internet is checking email and visiting the occasional website. Facebook is, like AOL, a walled garden, where people can feel safe exploring all the new toys of the internet, surrounded by people just like themselves, people who aren’t the least bit technologically savvy.

These are people who don’t know what “social media” means. Or why anyone would want to be on Twitter (on the off chance they’ve even heard of it.) But here they are, and like AOL in the 90s, Facebook is now providing a near universal experience, defining a moment in time and bringing the next generation of internet, that thing we call Web 2.0 to the masses.

I have no idea if Facebook will be able to avoid AOL’s mistakes and remain relevant. If they’ll wind up blanketing the US with useless sign-up CDs (hat tip to Adam Kmiec for reminding me of that one). Or if we’ll slowly but steadily move on to the next new thing, following the hip crowd now that Facebook’s become too mainstream.

Time will tell.

Culture of Excess

The New York Times delights in retelling anecdotal stories of corporate greed, but this one, buried inside a Dining section article on who should pick up the check, struck me as particularly telling:
One wealthy woman, the wife of a securities company executive, said he and his work friends used to play a game at dinner they called “credit card lottery” to decide who would pick up the check.

Each man, she explained, would take a credit card out of his wallet and toss it onto the table. Then someone — usually their server — would be asked to pick a card and bellow the owner’s name so everyone in the restaurant could hear. The “winner” would pay the bill, which often tallied $1,000 or more.

“It was disgustingly awful,” she said. “The waitress hated it. The wives were uncomfortable. It was a guy’s betting kind of thing, you know, ‘I’m a macho master of the universe.’ Thank God, no one is saying let’s play that game anymore.”
Now I live in a town with many Wall Streeters and have never witnessed anything remotely close to this, but it's less about how common it is than how outrageous. There's a lot of anger at bankers and brokers and corporate executives that's starting to flow over into all things corporate and official, including brands. It's something marketers need to be acutely aware of over the next year or so, when missteps will be amplified and potentially lethal.

In other words, here's one more reason to make your marketing plan customer-centric.

Minneapolis Report

I had an amazing time in Minneapolis on Monday. The presentation went very well (or at least I had fun giving it.) Got to spend some quality time with Dion Hughes and Tim Brunelle. Finally met Paul Isakson and Adrian Ho in person after about a year of blog comment/Twitter exchanges. Met a whole bunch of smart people in Tim's class, at the MIMO event, and at dinner afterward. What's more, the weather was a balmy 35ยบ.

UPDATE: Five different people wrote blog posts about my presentation. You can find them at The Wah Report, the MIMA blog, The Image Lab Blog, YAYBIA and Greg Swan.

And of course there's the CATFOA hashtag on Twitter.

Thanks again to Tim Brunelle for making this all happen.

Feb 10, 2009

TV On My Browser

My kids are often quite happy to watch TV online, especially if someone else has dibs on the big screen HDTV and their other option is the 32” Sony Trinitron in the basement. And I’ve noticed that they don’t make much of a distinction between the two screens anymore: the laptop is just one more place to watch TV, and it doesn't suck because watching TV can be combined with checking email and NBA scores.

This is, I am quite certain, the wave of the future, where TV, rather than being dead or archaic, is just another thing you do online. People like watching TV. It’s a behavior that goes back thousands of years, probably back to the first variety shows with singing and dancing and music back in our cave dweller days.

And so when TV is just another part of the internet, how does that affect marketing? Hulu offers us a clue: free programming comes with built in commercials. The site tells you just how long the commercial block is and counts out the time. That concession alone makes sitting through a spot or two that much more tolerable. Add geographic and demographic targeting and you may even want to watch it.

TV-on-the-internet will enable transmedia advertising. That is, if we’re smart about it. So rather than expecting someone to click through to a product site before we find out who the killer really is, we might have a list of the show’s four advertisers during the final credits, so that if we saw something that intrigued us, we can learn more. We’ll also have more product placement in shows and tie-ins with online promotions for the actual shows themselves, since TV networks will have to advertise themselves a lot harder. (Without the “walled garden” of the cable box, it becomes a lot harder to find the Floor Refinishing Network.)

We may finally see the death of banners, too, as the dearth of click-through and availability of cheap and easy television access convinces marketers that there are more effective ways to annoy us.

TV-on-the-internet will enable some very cool news and sports sites, where long-form programming mixes with blogs, chat, Twitter, photography and print reporting to create a more complete experience.

And as we saw with the CNN/Facebook feed during the inauguration, the ability to bring our friends into the viewing process is going to prove quite popular, especially during events with equal amounts of drama and downtime (major league sports, entertainment industry award shows, reality shows.)

The biggest difference, looking ahead from 2009, is that TV will no longer be perceived as a separate medium, one to be alternately scorned and abused or praised and glorified, depending on which floor of the agency you happen to be sitting on.

It may not seem like much, but the effects will be breathtaking.

Feb 7, 2009

Minneapolis on Monday

On Monday, February 9th, I'm going to be speaking in Minneapolis as part of the "Conversations About The Future of Advertising" which is described thus: Hosted by Tim Brunelle, adjunct faculty member at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, CATFOA seeks to improve the quality of interactive marketing and advertising developed in the Twin Cities through enlightening presentations and their resulting conversation.

I really looking forward to it, since in addition to Tim, there are a number of people in Minneapolis whom I'm looking forward to meeting: Dion Hughes, Paul Isakson, Adrian Ho, Adam Kmiec, among them.

Paul Saarinen, who tweets under the moniker @taulpaul, had the excellent suggestion that I use this post to solicit questions. So have at it - I will do my best to get to all of them.

Feb 6, 2009

In The Interim...

Apologies for the lack of posts this week: the entire Wolk clan was laid sick (nothing serious, just a flu-like thing that's going around my kids schools) and as last man standing I was doing double duty.

Everyone is finally on the mend and things should be back to normal by Monday, but in the interim I'd recommend you read this post by my friend Brian Morrissey about the 200 comment article in Adweek about DDB and BBDO.

Feb 1, 2009

Super Bowl Ads—A Different POV

Instead of reviewing the good, the bad and the ugly, I’m going to take a different tack here and review the effects on the purchase decisions of one consumer: me.

Product I’m Most Likely To Use As A Result of Seeing A Super Bowl Commercial: The History Channel’s Ax Men series about lumberjacks. The commercial itself was pretty lame, but the series looked interesting, sort of on the order of Ice Road Truckers. I’d never heard about Ax Men until I saw that commerical and I’ll likely tune in.

Products I Already Use and Like:
Coke: I drink Diet Coke on occasion and don’t feel it threatens my manhood. So the Coke Zero spots were sort of pointless: almost all my Coke purchases are in restaurants and “Diet Coke” seems to cover all manner of non-sugary Cokes. (e.g a request for "Coke Zero" would likely be met with a blank stare.") The “Heist/Insect” spot, while charming and well done, just reinforced my perception that regular Coke was sticky and syrupy and something I didn’t want to drink.
Go Daddy: The spots were ridiculous and baffling, but GoDaddy itself is easy enough to use and quite reliable. Add to that the fact that I interact with it once a year and there’s no reason to change that behavior.
Hulu: I watch things on Hulu because it’s the only place to find old SNL clips and other NBC-owned content. That said, I wish I could download the videos—I’d pay for the privilege—and I wish their library was bigger. The Alec Baldwin spot was arguably the best spot from a pure entertainment POV, but while charming, will not change my opinion of Hulu.
Heineken: I occasionally drink Heineken. The spot with John Turturro was so pretentious however, I may actually not order a Heineken so as to avoid being associated with it. Probably not—it’s not that big a deal--- but the fact that it even crossed my mind can't be a good thing.
Budweiser/Bud Lite: I’ll drink Bud if there’s nothing else around. I prefer it over Miller. And all the corny Clydesdales in the world won’t change the opinion I’ve had of Bud since I was 18.

Products I Don’t Really Like:
Doritos: The “Bus” spot was very funny, in a slapstick, BBDO kind of way, but I don’t like the taste of Doritos and, as is the case with most all familiar packaged goods, a funny spot is not going to change the way I think something tastes or induce me to try it again.
Cheetos: Ditto. Not a big Cheetos fan. Funny spot (though the cheetah at the end was creepy) but again, I know what Cheetos taste like and a clever Super Bowl ad is not going to make me like them.

3 Things That Baffled Me:
• Why Adam Sandler in a Conan ad? If you did a Venn diagram, the circles of “people who find Adam Sandler funny” and “people who find Conan O’Brien funny” would not intersect. Ever.
• Why repurpose a bad SNL skit? “Macgruber” isn’t the least bit funny as a sketch comedy piece. Why would you think handicapping it with the need to sell Pepsi would alter that?
• Why did the Clydesdale in the Bud spot still have a Scottish accent after 4 generations in America? Did no one at the agency or the client catch that?

I'm no focus group. But the point I'm trying to make is that I rely on ads for information. If I already like a product, a clever ad will not make me like it more unless it gives me another good reason why I'd like it. Whereas (and this is particularly true of familiar packaged goods) if I don't like something, I may find the advertising delightful, but I'm not ever going to buy it.

Take Coke and Pepsi: I already know I like one better than the other. It's a taste thing. If the Coke team produces the lesser Super Bowl ad, I might be bummed about it, but I'm not going to suddenly decide I like Pepsi better.

Finally, if a really bad ad lets me know about something I might like, I'm not going to let the awfulness of the ad stop me from enjoying it.

Super Bowl ads are great entertainment, but unless you are providing all those people with news or new information, you're likely not influencing their purchase decisions.

To that end, I suspect the Hulu ad was also the most effective, since it introduced the product to many people who probably had no idea it existed. It's a cool-sounding proposition, cool enough that people will likely try it even if they didn't particularly like the commercial or Alec Baldwin. (Plus there's the whole idea of using television to sell the notion of watching more television to people who enjoy watching television.) Whereas the Doritos spots, funny as they were, will not get a whole lot of trial or a whole lot of anything other than "hey, that commercial was funny."

Let's not forget that the fabled "1984" was introducing a new computer to America. The fact that it delivered news about a cool new product is a big part of why it was so successful.