A cool site from Mekanism and Element 79. I have no idea how they got the load times to load so fast but I assume someone discovered magic over there.

NOTE: Littlejohn will be posting tomorrow for anyone keeping score at home.

Doing any kind of great advertising is very, very hard.

In a recent exchange between Littlejohn and me, he wrote the seemingly obvious statement above.

It got me thinking. The phrase “great advertising”, whatever we mean by it, gets bandied about quite freely. Most of us who labor in advertisingland aspire to it. Very few of us ever accomplish it. Even if we spend our entire careers working “very, very hard” to create something great.

Some of us have had a “great idea” at some point. I think I have. I remember the distinct physiological reaction when it happened. Adrenalin. Chills. (Of course, I’ve had that reaction with what were really only “very good” ideas as well.)

If you’ve ever experienced the conception of a great idea, you know how rare it is, how hard you have to work to put your brain in the position to conceive the idea, and, how unlikely it is that you will be able to bring that great idea to fruition in the real world.

Fewer of us have successfully conveyed that potentially great idea to our partner, if we have one, or to our CD.

Of those who have done that, fewer still have then been able to execute the idea, even at the conceptual stage, so as to capture or retain the greatness of the idea.

And far fewer yet have proceeded to present and sell the great idea to our clients.

And keep it sold long enough to get it produced.

Finally, for those fortunate few who have sold, and kept sold, a great idea, only a fraction of those people have been able to successfully retain the greatness during the process of realizing the great execution of the great idea.

It is this creative/political minefield, in which the odds are so lopsidedly stacked against even the most talented creative, to which, I think, Littlejohn alludes.

Which, once again, underscores the wisdom of Chairman Jimmy’s advice: “Enjoy the process. The result is usually a letdown.”

Of course, he doesn’t tell us exactly HOW to enjoy navigating this nearly impossible obstacle course. Anybody have any insights into this “how?” question?

constraints and innovation

Often great innovations come from (seemingly) tough constraints. In the web world, twitter and tumblr come to mind as two examples.

Twitter strips down the blogging experience and constrains users to type their message in 140 characters or less and tumblr makes sharing anything (text, video, pictures, quotes, etc.) easy and central.

So how do constraints help?

They focus the problem. No longer is it possible to consider every scenario. Constraints introduce focus, which is needed when trying to innovate.

They speed up the process. By constraining the options, there is less to consider which allows faster production and failure. Without rapid failure and iteration, there would be no innovation.

They help define the strategy. Constraints allow us to make trade-offs in strategy by defining "the not". Strategy is not only about what you will do, but also about what you will not do.

They foster collaboration. When constrained, teams generally work more closely together to overcome. Collaboration becomes a necessity and innovation the outcome.

Understanding that constraints typically lead to innovation was counterintuitive to me and hard for me to grasp, but now that I do I'm a firm believer.

The birth of open source advertising: Please spread the word

A colleague of mine at Columbia College asked me about an article he recently read claiming that the Obama campaign was the first organization to perfect the use of “open source advertising.”

While I can’t find the source of that article (if you know where I could read up on it, please let me know), it got me thinking.

The cynical side of me started wondering about how long it will take for an agency to claim a specialty in this area, how long will it take for one of the “hip” marketing firm will name its first Director of Open Source Advertising, and how many weeks it will take before I receive my first direct mailer for an upcoming trade show that is featuring this topic in their keynote. Perhaps one—or even all three—of these have already happened.

And, the then opportunistic side of me began wondering if I could turn this idea into a book deal. Then, I’d be the one giving those keynotes. But I’m already working on two upcoming books as a co-author and I have to keep making sure my most recent book continues to find a life. So if I were to take on a book project about open source advertising, the time would be gone before I complete it.

Seriously, the concept of open source advertising sounds sound. Rather than relying on the whims of consumers to get the brand right, open source advertising (as it was explained to me) ensures that consumers get the brand right when they create their own communications about a product, service, or person. Inspired by the principles of open source software development , people are allowed to adapt and improve the original material in order to better communicate the material. How this can be done for toilet paper and other low involvement products, I am not sure.

But I guess I’ll leave that to the new Open Source Advertising Gurus and Directors of Open Source Advertising. After all, isn’t that how our industry works? Because if we can’t hype ourselves, who can we hype?

Why I do what I do

I’m not one of those copywriters who is just dabbling in advertising until I can publish the next great American novel. I’m not even working on one, and have no plans to. I have no interest in writing a screenplay. Conceptually speaking TV bores me. Modern art makes me laugh. The point is advertising isn’t some sort of back up career. I looked at every creative job out there and I chose this one. Why?

Well it probably has something to do with that fact that fiction, in general, usually feels like a fluffy, imaginary waste of time. And art, for the most part, is as self-indulgent and pretensions as a glorified personal cat blog, framed and hung on the wall. (Some artist out there probably thinks that’s actually not a bad idea).

Yes, like a true ad man I look at the novel and think to myself, it’s been done to death, what’s next? The same goes for movies, TV, and music. (Some art feels slightly original but it loses points for being massively pointless. On the other hand, art that has a point is always just bad.)

Ideas are what got me into this business.

The chance to do something that’s never been done before (even though everything has been done). To be a part of a creative class that doesn’t limit itself to one stale medium, but looks at the world as a great big giant idea canvas. The freedom to make websites, board games, new products, ring-tones, and to plaster your creations on bus shelters and buildings. And to do work that doesn’t take itself too seriously (at least shouldn’t). That’s what got me into this business.

When I think about it. I’m probably more of an idea man than an ad man. But advertising is the best home for people like me. And I love it. However, if I ever find some magical place that will pay me to come up with ideas all day and then shell out the cash to produce them, with the sole purpose of making people smile––you’ll know where to find me.

The best links

We're all used to agency wide emails. Most of the email chains I'm on have links to various sites done by other agencies, most recently it was the White Gold campaign done by Goodby (I think we all got this email). But on occasion I'll get sent a link that isn't like the usual agency wide email fare. This link came from a guy in our design department. Not sure who did the site but it was for Nokia. Anyone know the creators?

UPDATE: farfar is the agency behind this site.


Please tell me it’s not true. Tell me that Goodby, my very favorite ad agency in the world, doesn’t do ALL of Comcast’s print advertising.

Because I just saw an ad from Comcast featuring, big and bold, arguably the single most overused, stupid, worn out, hackneyed clich├ęd headline in the history of advertising.

“Comcast Means Business.”

I know. I couldn’t believe it either.

No irony. No wink. No clever insider reference or self-mockery.

How can this happen? I know that not every ad out of Goodby is an immortal gem, but come on. When I think of Goodby and risk, I don’t think of the risk of having created possibly the most obvious, banal, lazy, stupid, loathsome ad in memory. It’s one thing to let a stinker sneak by once in a great while. It’s another thing altogether to let the Stinker Of The World out into the world.

In 1990 or so, an article ran in one of the advertising trade journals railing against this exact same headline. Above the article there was collage of ad headlines, probably at least a dozen of them, all starting with the name of the brand, followed by the two words, “means business.” Kind of like polio, just when it looks like we've rid the world of it, it rears its ugly head again.

(There was a similar article during that same period complaining about the ubiquity of ads with headlines that began, “The Art Of _____” or “The Science Of ____”, which I’m now dreading seeing in the next Comcast ad I confront.)

Wait a minute. What am I talking about? Shame on me. I know perfectly well that this ad could not have come from Goodby. They are simply too good of an ad agency. I owe Goodby an apology for doubting them, even for a second.

A far more likely explanation is that some piece of Comcast business resides with some other, lesser agency that is responsible for this abhorrent ad. That, most certainly, is the explanation (though how ANY agency could have allowed this ad to happen remains beyond explanation.) Whew. I feel better. I scared myself there for a minute.

advertising as a cover up

I've been shopping for a car as of late and can't help but be struck by how all the great advertising I've seen melts away when I have a poor dealer experience (which is pretty much every time).

And what about restaurants? I'm in Tahoe right now and was lured in by advertising for a bar & grill on the Lake. The service was terrible, though, which made the whole experience less than desirable.

What's my point?

  1. Don't use advertising as a cover-up.
  2. Stop all your advertising until you fix the customer experience.
  3. Think of your customer experience (shopping, test driving, browsing your website, etc.) as the most important and expensive advertising you have available.
  4. Think of the dollars spent on advertising to attract new or repeat customers as coming out of the same budget as dollars spent on the customer experience.
Word of mouth (not the manufactured kind) is still the most persuasive form of advertising and typically it comes from having a great product and superior customer service. Not from killer advertising. The ideal is to have a killer product, killer customer service and killer advertising. They work together, not independently.

Your brand is a conversation. Make it a good one.

A brand is a conversation between a company and its customer tribes. That’s a simple idea, yes, but it’s also one that’s very difficult to deliver on. And just what do we mean by a “conversation”?

First a trip in the way-back machine: For a very long time, businesses focused on products and sales. And they thrived. Their marketing flowed in one direction, from company to consumer: selling, advertising, and generally imposing their brands on a hungry audience of consumers. A one-way conversation.

Then: Change. Markets became crowded with competitive choices, and interruptive advertising became pervasive. Businesses no longer thrived. The marketing techniques that grew out of their sales-and-product focus stopped working. Today, the volume of product choice is enormous, and the media is saturated.

Something new is demanded of businesses. They can no longer force-feed their messages to consumers. The conversation is no longer one-way. But businesses have found that it’s a Herculean effort to start listening to consumers and asking permission to talk to them. Where do you start?

The following is a list of essentials that we’ve used to help companies find their brand voice and engage in meaningful conversations with their customer tribes:

•All brands, big and small, tell a story. People love to tell stories, and stories spread. We advise our clients to be extremely clear about their brand stories, and to be smart about how they communicate them. A brand like Harley-Davidson calls to mind stories about the open road, freedom, rebellion. They’re rich stories, and they spread. We get our clients to ask the question: what story does our brand tell? What do you want it to tell? Then we help them craft a story that people will feel, and then tell, about them.

•A brand story stays out of the way unless people seek it out. People are busy and have high expectations. Interrupting them in the middle of something (like a television show or reading a magazine) is annoying. Enterprise Rent-A-Car has gotten the message. They’ve signed on as the sole sponsor for the History Channel's 10-part series about the U.S.S. Enterprise aircraft carrier. As a result, the episodes will have 55 minutes of content instead of the 45 minutes typical of hour-long programs. The deal is indicative of a trend among broadcast networks and marketers toward reducing commercial "clutter" to retain their audiences, according to a recent New York Times article.

•A brand story that is present in places where people are looking for it is well received. That’s the reason for the rise of search engine optimization and the dominance of Google. It’s all about the content: education, entertainment, resources and community. Countless businesses of all sizes flourish due to search engine optimization, and storefronts on eBay, where eager shoppers seek specialty products or bargain prices.

•A brand story gets customer tribes talking, both about the company and to the company. Many companies claim that all of their business comes from referral. Even when their first awareness of a brand comes from advertising, many prospective customers take steps to explore the brand before they buy. Often that means asking a friend or colleague. The founders of Zilker ventures have built an entire business model on this concept. Their efax shopper comparison site lays out an ‘apples to apples’ comparison of products and services, making it easy for small business owners to make a choice. The company plans to launch a series of resource websites for small and middle market businesses, and expects to attract customers by search engine optimization as well as satisfied user evangelism, brought on by the satisfaction of having a single source for comprehensive buyer info clearly laid out.

•A brand conversation has integrity. Unilever’s dove natural beauty campaign took a hit with the company’s male deodorant product, Axe, and its sexist imagery.

•A brand conversation takes place anywhere the company touches its customer tribe, so is therefore about much more than the marketing media, but also the product offering, customer service, consistency and integrity. Thinkink! Provides negotiation training for large sales organizations. Their philosophy: how you negotiate deals is a reflection of your brand. If one rep offers a discount while another does not, your image becomes inconsistent in the marketplace. This can be confusing in the eyes of customers, or even damaging to the business.

There is a lot of pressure on marketers to be accountable for results. Seeing their brands as a conversation doesn’t make accountability any easier, but it does let marketers start a conversation, and that’s the path to long-term relationships with customers.

Kevin Masi is Co-founder, President, & Future Builder of Torque, a Brand Marketing Agency

Meet client needs, not necessarily wants

Back in March, fellow Peanut Gallery denizens Tom Tom and Littlejohn chimed in on the importance of viewing and dealing with clients as if they were actual human beings, because they are. This is a valuable point that merits revisiting often, in order to fend of the apparently inevitable tendency to one-dimensionialize, stereotype and often demonize clients. It’s tough to earn respect and trust from someone you disdain, dismiss or demean.

This does not, however, mean we should kowtow, suck up, subserve or patronize our clients. Much of the value an agency offers its clients lies in its independent thought and willingness to share that thought, along with a spirited advocacy for and defense of the creative process.

The difference between good to great ad agencies and mediocre to bad ones is not necessarily the level of creative talent. It is more likely to be that agency’s ability to guide, direct, explain, consult, push and sell to clients. This in turn is predicated on developing a certain level of trust, which can only happen over time, built on having mutual success.

Agencies, as a rule, are more likely to create great work than to sell it.

Perhaps it’s helpful to remind ourselves that our job is not to make client conversations as short and pleasant as possible. Rather, we need to recognize when the client needs some tough love. A good client understands that sometimes the agency has a better idea of what they need (versus what they want) than they do. Here are some things that I’ve found most clients need, but few want:

• To slow down

• To plan, spend and generally think about their brand proactively, not reactively

• To think harder

• To know their customers better, or trust that we do

• To use their marketing dollars more wisely

• To keep the brand top of mind (in their own minds)

• To stretch their comfort zone

• To trust our judgment and their own judgment over the results of an informal poll of six people they bump into in the corridor

• To get over themselves

Surely this list is not exhaustive. What else do clients need, but not necessarily want?

Blog on Vacation

We will be out all this week. But come back next week for ad snack time.

people, not labels

In advertising we study people. We attempt to understand what they want, why they want it and what we can do to convince them. Notice the language I'm already using: we and them. As if we aren't them.

We also attempt to group people together into targets against which we create messages and buy media.

Do these labels make it easier or harder for us to meaningfully market to people? Is a target group helpful or does it hinder our ability to actually persuade people? Is it possible to market to people, not labels? Should we drop the idea of a target?

So I've raised a few questions without answers. Here comes my opinion. I think labels (i.e. targets) are necessary for marketing. We can never capture the complexity of every human being so targets are an efficient and effective way of resonating (at least partly) with a large group of people. Having said that, I think awareness of the abstract and thus, inherently inaccurate, nature of targets is also needed. Without this balance we risk thinking that targets are real, which they aren't, people are real.

Balance the need for targeting with awareness. Awareness of the risk that thinking of people as targets can block your ability to actually perceive them as real people.