Saturday, December 31, 2011

Cherchez la femme.

         Political correctness being what it is, the goat of commercials these days has to be a man. The husband has to be dumb, illogical, and always the learner, never the teacher.

         I have to admit it took me a long time to get it through my head that the pronoun of choice is "she". A lot of my early experience in advertising was in Detroit, where men are men and everything was "he". According to the auto guys, "he" chose the make, the model, and of course, the engine. "She", on the other hand, chose the color of the car and maybe the upholstery.

         This male orientation, along with the blindness to foreign competition, is probably responsible for the American car companies going off the road and getting in such serious trouble. Contrary to the auto makers' beliefs, the average man doesn't know any more about cars than the average woman.

          I still don't know what rack and pinion steering is and I was co-creative director on Chevrolet. When I was appointed to that job, the first thing I did was go to a bookstore at lunch and buy a book that could teach me all that stuff. It was called "A Woman's Guide to Automobiles", and written carefully enough to explain things to me. There were no books like that for men. It was supposed to be in our genes. I kept the book on my desk in case of emergency.

         At that time, I think there was only one woman at the agency working on Chevy in a prominent way, a Vice President and account executive. Her name was "Hap" and she was an expert on auto racing. I met her only once; she was always out on the racing circuit.

         Today, of course, women might outnumber men at ad agencies. Several agencies are headed up by women.

         I also think women are better than men at interviews. In my experience, women do their research, ask relevant questions, and are ready to land running. Some men, on the other hand, just want to know what the job can do for them --- benefits, salaries, days off, vacations, potential for raises. When I did a lot of recruiting, several men put their feet up on my desk, sighed audibly, and asked what an ad agency did. Not only didn't they do their homework, they never went to school.

        One time, I couldn't decide between two art directors. Both had the same degree of talent and experience, both ready to jump in and contribute to the agency. One, however, sent me a thank-you note after the interview, and that broke the tie. I hired her immediately.

        The guy, I guess, was being politically incorrect.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The skinny on my friend Roberta.

           Roberta Seid teaches at University of California/Irvine, and is one of my dearest friends, although I don't get to see her often enough. Her book, "Never Too Thin", is a fascinating look at "why women are at war with their bodies".

           The book is an enjoyable and rewarding investigation into the complex sociocultural background that influences women and their view of themselves. If you're at all interested in marketing, you'd better read it.

           For example, according to Roberta, "the democratization of fashion was not merely a vertical movement though the classes, but also a horizontal movement in which the standards and looks of the urban centers spread out and affected a growing uniformity of behavior and dress."

           As media spread these images, women began to believe they could resemble the "beauty professionals" they saw. When a woman read Vogue, she saw women she wanted to be like, even though she knew they lived in a different world. She saw TV stars and even Playboy bunnies put in living situations similar to her own.

           Roberta is an historian, and a diligent researcher. "The proliferation of popular magazines displaying the female figure reinforced larger trends. It dissipated the unsavoriness once associated with displaying the body for public judgement and with starkly physical criteria of  beauty, and so encouraged 'nice' middle-class girls to adopt these attitudes and behaviors," Roberta writes.

          She points out that the feminist movement, in encouraging women to go out into the professional world, tended to accentuate the concern for how they looked.

         At the same time, medical research into such subjects as longevity turned the spotlight on obesity, and when this became popularized, the problem turned from psychology to simply curbing our appetites and diet.

         Roberta's conclusion is worth ingesting. "We have been victims, not of a conspiracy, but of a confluence of developments that created a taste for shrunken, fat-free bodies, and that unleashed a war on one of humanity's most basic needs and delights: food."

        She suggests we take another look at Breugel's painting, "The Wedding Dance." You'll see the same kind of bodies we all see at the mall.

         And those, dear friends, are ourselves, our relatives, and our customers.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Are we about to converge?

         We were brought up on television, and even if the Internet eventually takes it over (the word is "convergence") we'll still be watching commercials. Nobody has found a better way to charge for original content, although they certainly are trying.

          One question is to what degree will advertisers be able to influence where and how their commercials will be seen.

          For example, many airlines stipulate the their commercials cannot be run right after an airplane crash. Beer and wine advertisers won't let their commercials be shown on any program depicting drunks. Food advertisers don't allow their commercials run adjacent to advertising for heartburn or upset stomach medication, and Chevrolet doesn't want bad guys driving Chevys, and doesn't want Chevys to be driven recklessly or crash.

         To advertisers, this "protection situation" seems completely reasonable. Problem is, sometimes content producers "tone down" the content to make it more acceptable to those paying the bills. There are actually firms whose business is screening shows with this in mind.

         This is important to all of us as citizens, because how we view the world --- and how our kids will--- is influenced by television programs. Do we really want our view of the world pre-screened by advertisers?

          I believe children should be taught how to watch commercials and how to read ads. They should be informed of the methods used, such as exaggeration, as well as how to distill accurate information.

          It's not always easy. Unfortunately, techniques carried over from propaganda are used by some every day. The "bandwagon" technique (everybody's switching to our product); "New and improved" (compared to what?); "name calling (brand X and "ordinary" products); and more. There are also the visual associations of cowboys and cigarettes, life in the Hamptons and preppy clothes; sexual symbolism and fragrances. What are the unspoken promises?

          These are just some of the techniques advertising shouldn't use, but sometimes does. So is the use of evasive language. "Fights tooth decay"certainly doesn't mean eliminating it. "Two out of three people prefer" could be a survey of three people. An insecticide that "kills bugs dead"isn't any better than one that kills bugs, period.

          These are abuses of good advertising, and we should all be aware of them.

          I've been in advertising my entire adult life and I certainly don't want to knock it or bite the brand that feeds me.

          I respect good, honest advertising's ability to sell things, and I don't want anything to cheapen or diminish my profession.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How to manage the menagerie.

         Yesterday I was reading some research quoted by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman in their book, "The Extraordinary Leader".  They interviewed 20,000 people and from them, compiled 200,000   evaluations of managers.

         They found that if a manager was perceived as having one strength, her rating went up to the 68th percentile. If the leader had three competencies, her rating went up to the 84th percentile.

         In other words, to be an effective leader, you don't have to be exceptional at everything, or even 10 things. You'll be regarded as exceptional at three or four things.

        Just between us, I think that explains both good managers and managers who are jerks.

        In my experience with advertising agencies large and small, and clients small and gigantic, the best managers are those who are good at managing. They don't present themselves as being all things to all people.

       There's an Eastern European folk expression than can help me explain: "When you're rich, you're tall and you're handsome and you sing well, too."

       We tend to attribute all kinds of gifts to our bosses and managers, and they're very good at attributing these gifts to themselves. Make a financial person the head of the company and all of a sudden he makes decisions on what he knows little about, such as quality, design, marketing, manufacturing; he immediately delegates the financial responsibility to someone less qualified, because he's been promoted.

        We've all known about fashion designers who have made decisions that have driven their companies to the brink of disaster. The same thing is true in every industry. The smarter designers find a business partner to do what they're not good at. That was a part of the success of Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, eventually Donna Karan and ultimately Tommy Hilfiger.

        Peter Drucker, the founder of the Harvard Business Review, put it best: "It takes far more energy and far more work to improve from incompetence to low mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence."

        In other words, let's all stick with what we're good at.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A friend in Cleveland is a friend in need.

         Did I tell you about the time I quit my job in Chicago to work at my friend Tom's new ad agency in Ohio?

         Tom had been my creative director when I started in Detroit, and was my mentor. Tom had great faith in me and carefully watched what I was doing, giving me counsel on everything from how to face an assignment to how to face a dour account executive.

          One day Tom's friend Austin, who was a top rep for the Readers' Digest, got a call from Firestone. They asked if Austin wanted to start an advertising agency and pitch the Firestone account. Austin called Tom and off they went to Hudson, Ohio, half way between Firestone's headquarters in Akron and Cleveland, rented a mill for an office, and that was that.

          Hudson was quite an unusual town. As you remember from high school history, Ohio was originally the Western Reserve, a territory of Connecticut. Hudson was a New England town, everything white and wood with a big town square. A town where "Century homes" (a hundred years old) sold at a premium, and there were only two places for lunch. The place that served beer, and the place that didn't.

         I was at Foote Cone and Belding in Chicago when Tom asked me to join him. I had to go.

         When I got there, the marketing director at Firestone, Scotty, explained why they switched from J. Walter Thompson in New York to a newborn agency in Hudson. It seems that at every meeting at Firestone in Akron, the J. Walter crew started looking at their watches around 1:30. They didn't want to miss the 5 o'clock plane back to LaGuardia. No matter what was on the meeting agenda.

          So Scotty called Austin, Austin called Tom, and Tom called me.

          I had a good time at the agency; the people were talented and terrific, but being a Chicago boy, I couldn't live in Hudson. I needed anonymity and nearby chicken soup. So I lived in Shaker Heights, an hour up the interstate, which was a Cleveland suburb with a great deli.

         I got itchy to get more clients for the agency and went after new business. We quickly got one of the big banks in Cleveland, and the NBC-owned TV station there. But Tom and Austin got worried that I was changing their bucolic life too quickly, so I went back to creating commercials.

        That Harvey --- can't he ever leave well-enough alone?

Monday, December 26, 2011

She wears her identity like a jacket.

         In marketing, we know that many brands are badges. They say something about us. My Marlboros say I'm macho and rugged, a cowboy-like hero. My Dos Equis says I'm a very interesting man; my Cadillac says I've arrived, and so does the Louis Vuitton bag I gave my girlfriend. My smartphone says I'm connected.

          This obviously goes way beyond a product's physical makeup. It actually gets into our cultural makeup, and beyond.

          That's what branding is all about. Brands have character. He drinks Budweiser, she drinks Beck's --- will they ever be a couple? It's not so much about hops as it is about hopes. Hoping to be recognized as part of something, attuned to something, valuing something.

           I don't think it's a coincidence that so many college students wear North Face jackets, even though they won't be anywhere near Mount Everest over the holidays. They make a statement. What's the difference between Levi's here and Levi's in London? Here, they're the basic all-purpose denim. In England, they're an American icon, completely cool.

           There's a new wrinkle to all this. The Internet and social marketing. They're helping us be more picky, more choosy, more personal. We all have a desire to be more of an individual, more special, and our choices are now greatly multiplied --- and so are the advice and pressure from our friends and those we'd like to identify with.

            Why do some women want the same boots J.Lo wore in her last movie? Because with those boots they could (a) identify with a beautiful celebrity; (b) have the assurance of being in style; (c) know the boots would make them different and stand out; and (d) have the pleasure of knowing they're special in a way not everybody could be. Not bad for $89.

             That's why it's important for a brand to stand for something, and why branding is probably advertising's greatest contribution to marketing.

             As for me, I just have a store-brand raincoat. I enjoy going incognito.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Season of Greetings.

Today I could write a blog about how Coca-Cola helped to introduce the modern Santa Claus.

Or we could all get together and untie the bows on the cars in a Lexus dealer's showroom.

We could all email Macy's to tell them we believe already, so stop running those ads that tell us to, along with telling us about all the gifts-with-purchase in the fragrance department.

We could have a field trip and look at the store windows while the holiday displays are still up.

I could tell about the ad I did for the radio station that played Christmas music for four weeks straight.

I could interview six psychotherapists for advice for those of us who are still in shock from the crowds on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and are trembling at the thought of dealing with those January clearance sales.

But I won't.

Instead, I simply want to wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanzaa, and a Joyous New Year.

Stay warm, and I'll see you here tomorrow.

                                                        --- Harvey

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Some creative ways to be creative.

         One of the biggest challenges in being a creative director at an advertising agency is dealing with all the characters you work with. You have to be creative.

         My friend Norman was probably the best writer I've ever known in the business. He could write anything well, including speeches for clients, for which he was quite in demand. His advertising copy could make you laugh out loud or weep silently. The laughing is easy; the weeping takes real talent.

         Norman, however, was a bit of a contrarian. Ask him to write a long-copy ad and he'd do a campaign with only a headline that remains constant in every ad. Ask him to write short copy and he'd come back with something just short of A Tale of Two Cities. After a while, I stopped giving Norman directions and just prayed I could sell what he wrote.

         Seymour was the opposite. He'd do precisely what you asked --- 20 times over. He'd give you every possible minute variation, and then announce they were all bad and storm out of the room, taking his work with him. You got everything and nothing.

        Shiela was one of my favorites. She always did a good job but took 40 minutes to recite the marketing research, her rationale, and her explanation for rejecting other approaches and strategies. When she got around to her masterpiece, you knew you had to love it or she'd go through everything all over again. Fortunately, she was able to bully clients the same way.

        Daryl was probably the best presenter of ideas that I've ever met. He charmed everybody. You were rooting for him from the minute he started speaking. I asked Daryl what his secret was. I needed to know, because I was always nervous.

        "Just be jaunty," Daryl told me. I tried it out and it worked. "Jaunty" seemed to get me into a performer frame of mind, and reflects a kind of confidence that's contageous. If you ever see me being jaunty, you'll know I'm a little jittery inside and trying to calm down.

        I learned patience from Jerrold, who never could think of anything until four minutes before the meeting, and consistency from Bev, whose answer to everything was two women in the kitchen.

        Dealing with all these folks filled my days, so I always had to do my own creative work after dinner. When there was nobody around I had to be jaunty for.

Friday, December 23, 2011

I wish I could learn to reject rejection.

           Rejection is a terrible thing. It can reduce a full-grown man to tears. It's something I have a really hard time with. But there's one thing even more debilitating to creative people. The fear of rejection.

            If your ad is rejected by a client, especially for no good reason, it's up to you to defend it, which I gladly do. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don't.  But if you're afraid of rejection, it can throw you into more than a deep funk. It can keep you from doing your best the next time.

            A lot of professional salespeople go through this rejection stuff all the time. The hardened ones even have a set of words for it: "When you're hot, you're hot. When you're not, you're not." Those are the days you find them playing alone on the golf course.

             Harvey Mackay, the salesman's salesman who wrote the best-seller, "Swim with the Sharks", says you can't escape rejection, but you can learn from it. Here are some of his suggestions for dealing with rejection:

             1. "Dissect your thoughts under the microscope." Mackay suggests paying attention to what you tell yourself. Thoughts like "I'm no good" or "This is too hard" can defeat you without your saying a word.

             2. "Identify realistic fears." Mackay believes knowledge is power. Having answers to feared objections will prepare you for your presentation, and help you feel in control again.

             3. "Focus on the moment." There is a moment of rejection but the feeling lingers. Accept the feelings but internally answer the criticisms. Mackay points out that athletes have ups and downs all the time, but don't wallow in defeat. They make it work for them the next time.

             4. "Be more assertive." Most fears of rejection are based on the desire for approval from others. Who made them the Supreme Court of your abilities?  "People respect peers who stand up for themselves," he says. Of course, you need substantiation and a basis in reality for your self confidence.

           Early in my career, my work was rejected quite often. Fortunately, I was able to separate myself from my work. When someone got personal in their criticism, it hurt a lot more than when they critiqued my work.

           From that I learned to trust my taste, my judgement, my own insight, my own convictions. In my work.

           Of course, if you think my singing is bad, that's a whole other thing.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The customer is always right (here).

          Are marketers paying too much attention to getting new customers and not enough to the customers they already have?

          There's always a cost in converting a non-user to a user. We have to promote, advertise, and use special offers and discounts. We have to sample or give free trials, throw in extras, give gifts with purchase.

           Our present users have already made their decision and it costs far less to keep them. Yet we're always so busy talking about conquest sales and share of market that we tend to take for granted people who already love us.

           It's probably human nature to try to want what we don't have already.  Or get what the other guy has.

           Even so, we should probably spend more time going the extra step to please our present customers. They can leverage their support for us by telling their friends, often in the same target market economically and psychographically. Our present customers can also be persuaded to visit us more often, bring people with them, and spend more when they do.

           Think about the first time you bought something on a new Web site. Once you went through the whole procedure, you felt comfortable navigating the site. You knew the ropes. When your order arrived promptly and in good condition, and you were pleased with it, you didn't have reservations about shopping there again.

          Pete Blackshaw, the author of "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends", calls that the "lovespot". That "critical moment of experience with a product or a brand that makes positive feedback and word of mouth slide off your tongue like kids off a waterslide."

          When a marketer converts that lovespot into getting users to participate and talk about it online, on a Web site or in social media, they can vastly multiply the good messages about you and your product.

          Blackshaw points out that a marketer has to create those lovespot experiences. Dell did it when they empowered customers to configure their own computers online. They sold $15 million of computers a day and nurtured loyalty. (M&Ms strengthened emotional ties with their customers with their Global Color Vote.)

          Listening, experiences, participation, loyalty, recommendations, sales: the new coda for how to enliven marketing to your customers at a time when attracting new customers on the Super Bowl can cost $3 million for 30 seconds.

         In this economy, everyone can use all the lovespots they can find.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Time to take off the gloves.

            Yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle reported that Dos Equis beer sales jumped 17% in the last quarter. During the same period, its owner, Heinekin, has seen its namesake beer drop in sales. What's going on?

            Let me ask you another question. You know Dos Equis' is "the most interesting man in the world". But what is Heinekin's advertising premise these days? That's what's going on.

            We all know and watch the Dos Equis commercials, and even though Heinekin beer spends much more, we don't even know what they're telling us. Some of their commercials are good, some ordinary, but the unifying message escapes us. And maybe escaped their ad agency.

             I've seen this kind of problem happen over and over again, often with dramatic results. Miller Lite changed their ad campaign around the time Bud Lite was introduced. Miller's new advertising couldn't hold a candle to their original one with former famous athletes talking about "more flavor, less filling". Sales began a death march. And Miller's regular beer fell off the charts when they dropped their "Miller Time"ad campaign.

             When Avis stopped telling us they're "only #2, so we try harder", they got beat up by Enterprise. So, by the way, did Hertz with its invisible advertising.

             I've seen good advertising increase sales by 20%, 40%, and more. It's not a matter of money. It's a matter of ideas. Enterprise's was that their rates are cheaper and they'll pick you up.

              What did creative directors tell the Art Directors Club of New York in a recent survey? They want ideas, not just ads. Big ideas, the kind that can change your mind. It's not traditional media versus new media. It's ideas that can work in every medium. 

               All this is not new. George Lois did it with "I want my MTV". Marty Puris did it with "the ultimate driving machine".  Even Daffy's discount clothes in New York did it with "The $68 Bullshirt". So did Volvo with "drive it like you hate it".

              Look your competition right in the eye, and realize they're the enemy. Then take aim. Come up with an "umbrella" idea and execute it 40 ways. For example, Chevrolet can take a position such as "Who says Americans don't make great cars anymore?" And then do a campaign that compares the Cruze, the Camaro, and the Corvette to their foreign competition, in as forceful, edgy way.

              Yes, you can do it. You can't always be Mr. Nice Guy.





Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"Harvey, you're going to really like Marv Honig."

             That's what the Executive V.P. of our agency told me about the new writer at dinner that night. "Marv was the head of the humorous card division of American Greetings in Cleveland," he continued. "He's funny."

             Marv may have been working in Cleveland, but he was 100% New York. He moved to Cleveland for the job, and now he was joining our agency in Detroit. He traveled light. The first thing he told me was that he had a policy of not owning more than he could fit in the trunk of a Buick.

             We got to be the closest of friends. We had lunch every day, usually with four or five other regulars. I'd order a small sandwich or salad, and Marv had Yankee Pot Roast or sauerbraten or spaghetti and meatballs. He was a bachelor and refused to cook dinner for himself, so lunch was the big meal. We shared our views of the people in the ad agency, advertising, a woman he had noticed in accounts receivable, and the world.

             I took Marv under my wing and became his mentor. I told him everything my friend Dennis had taught me, about Doyle Dane Bernbach and the new kind of intelligent advertising being done. He joined me in clipping out every Doyle Dane ad and pinning it up on the wall.

             One day Marv came into my office and said he was worried. He said he had run into the president of our agency at the elevators and told him he had water on his chin. I asked Marv why he was worried. "He didn't have water on his chin," Marv said. "I just made it up." That was Marvin's need for response, in a nutshell.

             One day about a year later, he came into my office and sat down. He showed me a want-ad from Advertising Age. It said "Doyle Dane Bernbach is looking for a writer who goes right for the jugular". Marv was answering the ad --- with a greeting card he just created. On the front it said "I hear you're looking for a writer who goes right for the jugular." Open it up and there was a drawing of Count Dracula, and the line, "That's me."

            A week later Marv was back on my chair. "They sent me a plane ticket. I'm going tomorrow." That night I helped Marv put together his book of samples. They hired him on the spot. I was crushed.

            In New York, Marv was put to work on the Volkswagen account because, he said, "The older people don't want to work on it. The campaign's all set." For a while, he called me every Saturday and urged me to come join him. I never wanted to move there, but I saw him every time I flew to New York on business.

           This went on for years. Marv became Vice Chairman for Creative at Doyle Dane. Then on one visit he said "I want you to meet Bill Bernbach, before one of you dies." Mr. Bernbach, who had changed advertising forever, looked like a rosy-cheeked pediatrician. I told him how much I admired him, and he said, "I've heard about you, Harvey. How come Marv listens to you but he doesn't listen to me?"

           Bill Bernbach died a month later, and then, so did Marvin, from a rare disease. He left a wife and two daughters.

           And me.


Monday, December 19, 2011

I can talk to you a marvelous new way: in person.

         A friend of mine is worried. She says nobody is really talking anymore, or really listening.

         Person One texts Person Two. Person Three puts something on the wall of Person Four. Person Four gets upset with something Person Five put on her wall, and unfriends her. Person Six friends Person Two, who she only knows through Person Three on Twitter. Person Two she asks Person Three to recommend her on LinkedIn. Person Three asks Person Two for  advice on what to say. Person Two advises Person Three to Google "recommendations" to see what comes up.

          One wonders what the world will be like when it's all social media and we get too busy to be social. I'm even more concerned with what will happen when we all get sick of online relationships at the same time, and have to learn about personal communications all over again.

          Will there be online lessons in how to talk to a friend on the phone? Are there withdrawal symptoms from giving up texting? What will you say in person when Madeline asks you what you think of Harold?

           Will there be special iTherapists to wean us off Facebook, and help us stay off for three weeks? Will hypnosis be effective in helping us refrain from re-tweeting?

            I had lunch at a Mexican restaurant last week with 11 people. At a certain moment, all conversation stopped. I looked first at my watch, but it was no special time. Then I looked around. Everyone was checking their smartphones.

           Maybe things will get worse when there are more ads on our cellphones, and our friends are evaluating discount offers all the time.

           Then again, things would probably get better if nations could simply unfriend each other instead of having wars. Or if lawsuits could be settled in six or seven texts.

           All I know is that I'm glad my phone isn't smart. Or is it?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I'm connected, you're connected.

         There's a name for those of us who spend a lot of time on the Internet and social media. The Connected Generation.

          It's a very useful name. All of us in marketing and advertising can use it as a constant reminder.

          First, it can remind us that there's far more to get involved in than shiny magazine ads and dramatic television spots. Our audiences are connected to social media and the Internet with a passion we never had toward TV and print. This passion is what creates the Digital Divide, between those who embrace the new media and those who don't.

          Second, it reminds us how the people in our markets are connected to each other. They consult, compare, request, personalize, and demand. Their strength is in numbers and know-how. No longer are people at the mercy of sellers to meet their needs. The Connected Generation helps each other in ways that could never be done before.

          If you offer them something valuable, word gets around fast. If you don't, word gets around even faster. Restaurants with mediocre food or service have been killed in days. Manufacturers who trim corners on quality or don't keep up with the latest innovations are dumped.

          Add to this the pace at which things are changing these days and you can see why it's essential to push the refresh key on your marketing so often.

          Change isn't easy on anybody, the marketers or the customers. That's why, for example, supermarkets know that if they reorganize the store too much they'll lose customers. And manufacturers know if they change the package without warning, people will think they changed their favorite product inside.

          When new things such as new media come into the picture, those who understand them first become the experts and specialists. That's what happened with television in the '50s, and is happening today with social media. Soon more and more people will climb aboard and we'll again have an army of generalists.

          So much to learn, so much to do all at once.

          It's a good thing we're the Connected Generation, with plenty of relationships and support.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

A career change right in my little office.

        When I was about four months into my first job in Chicago, another young writer, Dennis Altman, came into my office and changed my career. He showed me the difference between "making ads" and advertising to people.

         We've all grown up with advertising, and researchers say that by the time we're adults we've seen about 250,000 commercials. We know exactly what the cliches and conventions are.

         Dennis had a wad of magazine ads in his hands and pinned them up on the cork board in my room. They were different than others. Volkswagen Beetle ads, Clairol ads, Bekins Moving ads, Avis ads. He said,"Study these. I'll be back." Then he left, I studied, and I was charmed.

         When Dennis came back he said this was happening in New York, and I should learn it. Ads with wit and humor. Ads that talked to smart people, because all people are smarter than we think. Ads that are fun to read, so they must have been fun to write.

          I never went back to writing addy ads again. The ads Dennis showed me were all done by Doyle Dane Bernbach, the New York agency that launched what has been called "advertising's Golden Age." The layouts weren't zany, they were clear. But you couldn't understand the headlines without looking at the visuals, and vice versa. The copy was written as well as anything in the New Yorker magazine.

          The idea was Bill Bernbach's, a writer from Brooklyn. The impact was spectacular. Soon every agency tried to do "Doyle Dane ads." They copied all the easy things, like the typefaces and the periods at the end of headlines, and the picture-caption layouts. But these agencies didn't get it; their ads fell short. The mind-changing ideas were missing, and so was the confidence in the reader.

           Doyle Dane liked to put their ads in the New Yorker, so I was down at the cigar counter in our building each Wednesday afternoon when the magazine was delivered. I ripped out the ads and pinned them up in my office. Everyone in the agency stopped in during the week to see my new collection. A few people were interested; others just shook their heads and left.

           Those ads taught me a lot about advertising. First I copied them, then I emulated them, then I was able to think in a similar way so that people could  enjoy and be persuaded by them.

            It took 25 years for me to finally go up to Doyle Dane Bernbach and shake Bill Bernbach's hand and tell him how much he meant to me.

            I got the feeling he was used to it.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Emergency room for entrepreneurs.

          The Wall Street Journal noted something new at the mall: "New clinics that let patients skip the emergency room." These privately owned clinics are popping up at a time when there's been a 43% rise in patients seeking emergency care and a 27% drop in hospital emergency room departments between 1990 and 2009. They offer good service, fast service, and convenience.

           They're an example of opportunities that do exist even in difficult times. People still want things, complain about things and do without exactly what they need. Every day there's a new app for something we didn't know we were missing.

           In advertising, the move to mobile opens up new ways to reach and motivate people. In fashion, new lines and new line extensions are finding their niches. There are new things to microwave, new courses of study and other services for the unemployed, a newspaper just for the iPad, new ways to maximize gas mileage.

           Necessity is the mother of invention, ingenuity is the father. In 1906 the head of the U.S. Patent Office wrote a letter to the President, saying the Patent Office might as well close because everything's been invented.

           Entrepreneurs keep entrepreneuring. They can't help themselves. They see how technology often leaves something undone, or creates the need for something to be done.

           All over the country, business schools are putting new energy into entrepreneurship courses. At a time when people are out of work, they're teaching how to create businesses that put people to work.

           I bet you can come up with a money-making idea. My students do just that every quarter, and one of their ideas found its way into test at Whole Foods.

           Surely there's something you'd like to fix.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Target markets don't buy things. People do.

         In advertising and marketing, we always seem to be talking about our target markets. "Male heads of households." "Women with children 5-14." "Baby boomers who work."

         I've been observing the scene for a long time and I've never seen a target market walk into a drugstore and buy shampoo. It's important to remember that we're talking to people in our messages. Individuals.These people are all different, and they've all got a lot more on their minds than big sexy hair.

         They're worried about their kids needing braces and their partners' new boss and whether the car will hold up another winter and that nagging pain in their left knee. And we're spending our days trying to figure out how to sell them a new smooth dental floss.

          I'm not saying our new smooth dental floss isn't important, because it is. It can save a person's teeth, and maybe their gums. And the manufacturer has a lot riding on it; the workers, the new equipment, maybe its future. But the people in the target market, bless their hearts, have other things on their minds besides flossing.

          How should we in advertising deal with it? Honestly. Appropriately. We should describe it and tell why it's worthwhile. We should be interesting and informative, and maybe have a little fun in demonstrating it. But one thing we should not do is introduce it like it's the most fascinating thing since Lady Gaga.

          A chain of restaurants here in the Bay Area just announced they're closing. The places are called "Cafe Gratitude". From the moment you enter, they try to make customers think about how grateful they should be to have all they do. I have a hunch they're closing not because their customers aren't grateful people, or because gratitude isn't important --- it's very important. I have a hunch there weren't enough people who were crazy about raw food, which is what they served, or the service.

          Just maybe their customers wanted to put their worries aside for a couple of hours, and not spend the time contemplating their moral fiber.

          In advertising and marketing, we're selling to people. People with bills, bosses, and backaches.Their  time is important to them, and we owe it to them to be on their side and not irritate them. Because if we're not on their side, guess what. We make ourselves invisible.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bring paper, pen, and crystal ball.

       It's not easy to be an entrepreneur. You not only have to understand the present market's needs and wants, you also have to be able to look into the future.

       Peter Drucker, who practically invented the philosophy of management, believed a manager must constantly ask, "What will our business be?" He said the answer depends on four things.

       1. What's the market potential and the market trend? You have to be able to predict the size of the market five and ten years from now --- and the factors that will influence the market then.

       2. What changes in the market structure lie ahead? What changes in values or taste? How will the economy affect the business?

       3. What innovations will change the customer's wants, or create new wants, or change her concept of worth?

       4. What wants and needs does the customer have that won't be satisfied by your product or any other that exists today?

       Although these things are difficult, or even impossible, to predict, you have to be on the lookout for clues. Professor Drucker would say you should organize your operation for constant innovation.

        The passenger railroads in this country were never really prepared for changes in people's views of transportation. In fact, they never considered themselves in the transportation business. They were in the railroad business, and when they could've added airline service, well, that wasn't their business.

        What value does American Apparel add today? How did the Gap miss their opportunity to buy Lululemon?

         Being a little bit removed from the fray sometimes helps. Lululemon is Canadian, and they saw yoga as too big to miss. Now they, too, have to innovate fast to keep from being passed over.

         "Babies don't belong in the living room," cautioned Drucker, "they belong in the nursery." Innovations not only have to be born, they have to be carefully and constantly nurtured, and when necessary, reborn. The entrepreneurship course I teach is adventurous, full of twists and turns as students grapple with the present and the future. A few ideas are abandoned along the way. The surviving ideas change.

         And, of course, once you're allowed in the living room, you have to know how to behave.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Will the creative class please come to order.

          A big topic of conversation these days is the creative class in our society. There's a belief that creativity is the most valuable business product that America offers today. Authors have become obsessed about who the creative people are, where they live, how to better educate them, and how to introduce them to your daughter.

          A large number of these people are on the tech side of things. We need these people so much that politicians are talking about how to import more of them and give them green cards before they reach their baggage.

          Others are "content" creators, including authors, writers, illustrators, animators, Web people, game designers---as well as architects and engineers of all kinds.

          One of the most important parts of the creative class is designers. Design has become a crucial part of everything everyone makes.

          The obvious example is Apple. The designs of the iMac were captivating, and were followed up with the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad and the MacAir. Design, including the intuitive way these products work and even feel, is why we know Dell, appreciate HP, but love Apple.

           Advertising has rewarded creative people quite well since New York headhunter Judy Wald put art directors and copywriters on the star system. They've stayed well paid because without them, ad agencies would have nothing to sell or distinguish themselves.

           But design improvements are everywhere. Compare interior design at Starbucks with local coffee shops. Compare some of the original things you can get on eBay with goods in a department store. Compare the Apple store with Radio Shack. Even the wine bottles and labels that look so impressively traditional have been designed to look that way.

          Design helps brands look special, makes manufacturing more efficient, makes customers feel important and catered to, makes products more practical, and makes Web sites look contemporary and substantial.

          Breakfast cereal in candy bars, yogurt in tubes, soup in microwavable cups --- design affects everything today.

          Who would you rather work for, Apple or IBM? Welcome to the creative class.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Becoming an entrepreneur for anxious times.

       Research out of Princeton now shows a direct correlation between mortgage foreclosure rates and physical illness. They found that 100 foreclosures correspond to a 7.2% rise in emergency room visits and hospitalization for hypertension. This horrible statistic makes complete sense and I have great empathy for those in foreclosure.

        You'd think that during an economy causing this much stress would be a bad time to go into business. Chins up, entrepreneurs. For some, it's a great time.

        Think of Groupon and Living Social. I'm not even sure they would have taken off the way they did in calmer economic times. Nothing seems to be stopping Facebook, either, although Google+ is certainly trying to.  Google+ now has over 25 million users.

         In more traditional areas, American Eagle is doing exceptionally well, and finally, so is Abercrombie and Fitch. Both have adapted to consumers' changes in behavior. Saks Off Fifth is also adding stores, in the U.S. and overseas. Starbucks sales are way up, too, since c.e.o. Howard Schultz personalized their way of making coffee, took Via into supermarkets, and added boxes of lunch.

        The secret is a determined focus on the consumer,  planning the marketing around her needs, not the company's. Find out what your customer wants and what she's prepared to pay, and then go back and design your product and your distribution to match.

        Heres an example: backpacks. At L.L. Bean, their fastest growing backpack measures 2,400 cubic inches. It has the capacity of a college dorm refrigerator. Not good. The American Occupational Therapy Association says that a loaded backpack shouldn't exceed 10% of a child's body weight. A 100-pound teen should carry only 10 pounds. There's your challenge as an entrepreneur. Find out what kids have to carry around these days, and why, and perhaps you can invent a new kind of backpack that would be more efficient and healthier, at a reasonable price.

        Opportunities for entrepreneurs are everywhere, even in times like these. You know there's an obesity problem with kids; invent something that will help.

         Whether it's hard to find reasonably priced denims for very tall women; the opposite of Red Bull to help college students relax; a cell phone with larger type and keyboard for aging baby boomers --- you can create a way to be successful.

       Just look around. Somebody's always complaining about something!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

If the medium is the message, what's this?

         Yesterday morning on BART, the rapid transit system here in San Francisco, I noticed a poster for That's the home delivery department of the supermarket chain. What a good idea!

          It seems like the perfect way to reach an audience that either doesn't own cars or prefers not to drive. Except for the fact that the poster was so bad most riders won't notice it.

          Using the right media at the right time is always a challenge. When I supervised the advertising for General Motors' Delco batteries, we had ads ready and on standby at about 650 Northern newspapers. We scheduled them to run on the first morning the temperature would go down to 20 degrees. Sold a ton of batteries at the end of a tow rope.

           A few years later I got Gatorade to try the same thing, only on the first day the temperature was predicted to go over 90 degrees. The supermarkets got on board and put up case stackers that morning, and loved the results.

           When I was teaching a special graduate advertising course at Michigan State (I was the V.A.P. --- the visiting advertising professional), I ran into this media challenge again. A student was upset because in another class, the professor trashed her media idea.

            Her assignment was to promote an all-rock radio station that had an ad budget of only $2,000. Her idea was to promote a poster contest on the station, and spend the budget posting the winning design wherever rock music was sold. Her professor said she should've spread the budget around. I said she was brilliant. She went right to where the potential listeners are.

             Today, of course, social media plays a major role, and that student could've been doing things on fan groups and creating an inexpensive viral video that would have created free publicity that would snowball. Example: Lady Gaga's fans sending in videos of themselves singing her latest hit, and the best edited together on YouTube.

             Of course, you have to do everything well. No one responds to a bad ad. And as I point out to my classes, a bad ad costs as much as a good ad.

              A cool media plan can make the results multiply. Have some Gatorade and go at it.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

In the shadow of David Ogilvy

         I think the creative director I learned the most from was also the toughest. His name was Ron Hoff, and he came to FCB in Chicago non-stop from Ogilvy and Mather in New York.

         Everyone was nervous for weeks before he arrived, as we watched the building people remodel a huge office for him and put down the world's plushest kelly-green carpeting. We knew David Ogilvy ran his agency by his own rulebook. Ron, a creative director there,  knew the rules and we didn't. We devoured copies of Ogilvy's "Confessions of an Advertising Man" for clues.

         On his first day, Ron held a meeting of the department and made the usual speech about how glad he was to  be there --- and that everybody would have to prove themselves.

        As the first few weeks went by, several on our staff quit. Ron managed to intimidate everybody except Pat, his secretary. Any time someone made a declarative statement about a client, a client's business, the market, a product, the agency, their own work or advertising in general, Ron's response was simple and direct: "How do you know that?" Ron wanted to see the research. Obviously they asked that question a lot at Ogilvy. If you didn't have a good answer, Ron mopped the floor with you.

        At the time, I was knee-deep in working with one of the agency's most demanding clients, "the quality goes in before the name goes on" color TV people at Zenith. The ad manager there had just come back after recuperating from a heat attack, and was already throwing pencils and erasers at our account management people if he didn't like something. Fortunately, I stayed in my quiet and reserved mode, and he liked me. He didn't know I was quiet and reserved because I was scared.

        For a long time, Ron didn't know what to make of me, nor I of him.  Then, when an agency producer and I were leaving to go to L.A. to produce 11 commercials for Zenith, Ron called me into his office. "These have to be the best color TV commercials ever done", he ruled. It took 14 weeks to complete the job, but they turned out so well, Ron was thrilled. I could relax, and he trusted me from then on.

        Trusting me meant I got difficult tasks. A campaign of 15 long-copy financial ads for the Wall Street Journal. Sears tire commercials demonstrating their strength. A competition with other ad agencies for a $20-million television campaign for Kraft's 75th anniversary (we won). The Christmas campaign for Hallmark. All had to be "the best ever done".

        Ron and I became good friends and used to go out to brunch and a movie on winter Sundays. In summer he played tennis. A couple of years after I left FCB, Ron died in surgery during a heart operation. The doctor's knife slipped.  Everyone who knew him was stunned.

        I still miss Ron Hoff deeply. A good leader is hard to find. So is a good friend.


Friday, December 9, 2011

What are all those BMWs doing at Target?

          This economy is getting harder and harder to figure out. We all know we're either in a recession or recovering from one, depending on whom you talk to. But surprising things are happening.

           According to the New York Times, Brazilians are invading Miami with money. The favorable exchange rate encourages them. According to Roma Cohen, the owner of the store Alchemist, "Literally they will call us from the airport asking 'Do you have the latest Celine or Proenza Schouler bag?'" And they're prepared to pay $3,300 or more.

           That's not the half of it. What are all those Mercedes' and BMWs doing at Target? Who are all those well-dressed young people filling up baskets at the dollar stores, rejoicing about 25-for-$1 paper party plates?

           And who's got the money these days to buy the new Armani jeans that tennis champ Rafael Nadal is posing in for the Macy's ads? Maybe the same people who save money by buying store brands at the supermarket.

            What seems to be happening these days is that more and more of us are careful about spending our money--- on things we don't care that much about. For the things we do care about (golf clubs for some, sweaters for others) we're willing to go full boat.

           Consider Pottery Barn and Martha Stewart. Napoleon chairs and higher thread count. Martha has been a staunch advocate of the good life for some time; Pottery Barn helps you sit in it. Both have raised our taste levels and our passion for more quality products that add to our lives every day. Even if some of it comes from Kmart.

            If we can't afford Saks Fifth Avenue, we'll buy it from Sakes Off-Fifth. And we're willing to give up on other things to do it. Old Navy for t-shirts, Coach for a belt.

            It's called bifurcation, and social media are spreading the word. The implications are turning marketing on its head for hundreds of manufacturers and retailers.

            Which is okay as long as I can still find a parking place for my Beetle at Cosco.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Look a gift horse in the mouth today.

          P.J. O'Rourke wrote that one of the good things about overcooked broccoli and burnt squash on Thanksgiving was that he could halt his young daughter's incipient vegetarianism with three words: eat your vegetables.

          To a lot of people, including me, Thanksgiving was the best American holiday. No gifts, no hoopla, just family and turkey and the wonderful warm glow of gratitude. Maybe football, too.

          Black Friday's noisy creep into Thanksgiving Thursday changed all that. Workers pushed away from the dinner table to go to work. Shoppers took naps before going to the stores. Those that did neither booted up to shop online --- starting on their way home on their cellphones.

          The retail ads aren't very joyful either. The auto companies are settling for bows on their cars. Bows on cars in the Lexus commercials, bows on cars in the Lincoln commercials. Cadillac seems to be coming to the party bowless, but there are still two weeks remaining.

          This year Macy's is asking us to "Believe". Somehow that makes me more suspicious than ever. What do they want me to believe? Believe Macy's has the best stuff? Believe Macy's has the best service? Macy's has the best prices? Why do advertisers tell us what to do rather than give us the ammunition to make our own decisions?

          One campaign I do love is Lord and Taylor's. They show great fashions and then tell how affordable they are, with the headline "Oh my Lord and Taylor!" It has just the right light touch to it, reminding us that Lord and Taylor hasn't lost their sense of humor.

         Hermes continues to present its merchandise as art, and prices it that way.

         I'm usually not impressed by fashion ads that do little more than show the goods and a good-size logo. Somehow the J. Crew ads strike me differently. The models look so interesting, so aware, that the ads communicate a degree of confidence that's quite appealing.

        On the other hand, aren't we getting tired of crashing all those Hilfiger events? Look at all the red plaid. This is one clan I wouldn't mind being unfriended by.

        Which brings us to Banana Republic. Who are those two people? Are they twins separated at birth? They don't even seem to like each other. I'm scared to go to the store. That couple might show up and I'll have to make small talk.

         Whatever happened to branding? Whatever happened to selling the store every time you sell the merchandise? Away for the holidays, I guess.




Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Is advertising easy or hard?

         Once again I've asked a question that has too many answers. But  it's a question a lot of my students fret about, so I think I should respond.

          Parts of advertising are clearly hard work. Doing the necessary research to understand the consumer is hard work. Working out a media plan and budget with a lot of variables is hard work. So is putting an edge on a marketing plan, or working night after night to come up with a big idea, or executing everything for a big meeting, or deciding make-it-or-break-it issues --- hard work all. Not just physically, but mentally as well.

          I think the hardest part of advertising, though, is the emotional part. For the creative people, there's stress you feel way down inside every time you get a new assignment. They say you're only as good as your last ad and here, on a platter, is another chance for a couple of weeks of immortality.

          There's stress, the inner excitement kind, while you work out the solution to the creative problem you've been given. After all, you just have to do something nobody has ever done before, better than anyone who does the same kind of thing, and please the target market so much they put out good money for the product.

           There's stress in presenting your work to others in the agency, as your boss fiddles with his red pencil. My stress level probably went off the charts the time when my first copy director handed my copy back to me and said, "Harvey, there's a fine line between bullshit and too much bullshit".

            There can be even more stress when you present your work to the client, who may or may not see things your way. One client I worked with in Chicago threw pencils at the account managers if he didn't like their plans.

           In fact, there may not be an easy side. Advertising people work hard. But there is something that makes it all worthwhile. The joyful side.

           The personal satisfaction you get knowing each time that you've created something entirely new, and it solves the problem you've been given, perfectly. The sheer fun of working with others, who are perfectionists like you, and coming up with one idea after another. The camaraderie of teamwork when you're under the gun and everyone's a little scared like you are. The beam of light that seems to illuminate you, when your work is applauded and when it succeeds, and maybe you win an award or a mention in the trade papers.

           Just don't call it the ad game, because it isn't a game. But it is your chance to be a winner, and win big.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How to write out loud.

       One of the hardest things I have to do in both my fashion marketing and advertising classes is getting some students to write the way they talk.

       They're absolutely fabulous in class discussions, with opinions on everything, comments on everyone, and colorful language punctuated with metaphors. Ask them to write an ad or critique, and it's a whole other story.

       I understand. By the time they get to college, students have read and seen thousands of ads and commercials, and written a dozen papers. That's the problem. They know what these are supposed to look and read like, and they try to copy those styles.

       I'm asking them to write conversationally, the way they think and speak. Advertising and persuasion are often best when they are (to use an old term) person-to-person. One to one, me to you. Friend to friend, mother to kid, boyfriend to girlfriend.

       The difficulty is partly tone of voice, partly what you say, partly how you say it. I think we're good at the extremes ---- the way we were told to do term papers and how we text. I'm asking for something in the middle: clear, honest, spare language without the flowers or the thorns.

      It's curious how simply we can say "I love you", and how complicated our language can get when we want to describe our target market as flirty women 24-35 who want to look professional without looking dull or predictable.

     Here are some suggestions for writing more conversationally.

     1. Read good stuff. I recommend the "Talk of the Town" section in the New Yorker. To me, it's the most reliable source of contemporary writing every week. Go to the library, find it, read it. For online writing, I like The Daily Beast.

     2. Don't be so hard on yourself. Edit after you write, not before or during. Let the ideas come out, the words flow. Then come back tomorrow and cut and chop and season.

     3. Trust your voice. When you've chosen the voice you want, stick with it. That way, you can be trusted and your reader will stick with you.

    4.  Don't worry about length. At least not up front, if you've got something worth reading. If the problem is that it's not compelling, go back and fix it.

    5. It's better to be clear than cute. Trying too hard to be different can obscure what you're trying to say.

    6. What you say is more important than how you say it. Period. As the comedian says, underneath all that phony tinsel there better be real tinsel.

    Try it. Writing like you talk will soon become second nature to you. Just listen to it in your head as you write. Soon you'll want to talk the way you write.

Monday, December 5, 2011

You ought to be in pictures.

         A couple of nights ago, before the movie about Marilyn Monroe, the theater showed a few commercials. The moans were audible.

         One of the spots was a beautiful, poetic ode to travel. Perfect music, marvelous photography, and language that melted the heart. Then a bag with "LV" initials came into focus, followed by "Louis Vuitton" titles. The audience gasped --- then booed.

          The commercial was quite beautiful, and has won awards, but was being shown to the wrong audience at the wrong time.

           It's one thing to charge ten bucks or more for a film, six dollars for a small popcorn,  and another to ask people to pay even more by sitting through a commercial. In that context, the LV commercial was regarded as flat-out manipulation.

           On television, we consumers have made a trade. We get free programming if we put up with commercials. In social media, smart advertisers try to reward viewers with information and help in exchange for their time.

           At the movies, Stella Artois stays in sync with why people are there: entertainment. The movie previews are, of course, commercials as well, and the good ones are enjoyable to watch and provide information to encourage people to see the films.

          A commercial that tries to woo you by pretending to be a travelogue is anti-advertising. It sets the whole industry back. We have to learn to think harder.

           A few years ago, a bright marketing director came over to my office to announce that she found a great way to reach people in their 20s. She placed her whole budget on ads on the sides of the soft drink cups at movie theaters. She was more than a little upset when I pointed out that people wrap their hands around those cups and carry them into dark auditoriums, where they eventually discard them.

           If we're going to do ads for movie theater audiences --- or any audience --- we have to think of them and not us. Why do they go to movies? What mood are they in? What do they want to have happen? How can you help them? How can you reward them?

           Marketers should figure that out way before you're asked to turn off your cellphone.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

I admit it, I'm an I.S.T.J.

         When a friend and colleague went to a seminar on the Myers-Briggs personality test, I was intrigued. It's based on Carl Jung's typology of personality types. I found a free test on the Web, so I took it.

          The test results said I'm Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging.  It surprised me. I had always thought of myself as a sort of introvert-extravert sandwich. Kind of quiet at first, then when I get to know you, more open and friendly, then I get kind of quiet again.

          Myers and Briggs went on to say I'm a moderately expressed introvert; a moderately expressed sensing personality; a moderately expressed thinking personality; and a slightly expressed judging personality. At least I wasn't completely moderate.

         They said that five Presidents were also I.S.T.J.s. George Washington was one. In literature, Eeyore. So that's me, a cross between the father of our country and a donkey. I needed more information.

          "I.S.T.J.s are often called inspectors", they said. "They have a keen sense of right and wrong...noted for dedication to duty."

          "More", I said to myself, "I need more."

          "I.S.T.J.s are easily frustrated by the inconsistencies of others, especially when the second parties don't keep their commitments," they added.

           I still wasn't happy. They reported "I.S.T.J.s often give the initial impression of being aloof...because they usually keep their feelings to themselves unless they are asked." They tried to make up for that by saying that I'm good at making tough calls and sticking to them.

           They also told me that feeling is inferred or expressed non-verbally, "through eye contact or an encouraging smile."

           No wonder a copywriter once said to me, "Harvey, if I had to live on compliments, I'd starve working for you." That was not good behavior on my part, so I had to change my m.o. But what do you expect from an I.S.T.J.?

           Don't you wish we could get all our customers to take a Myers-Briggs test? There's so much about them we marketers need to know.

           If we don't meet their needs, we can't expect to make a sale.  Eye contact and an encouraging smile aren't enough.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

How's your relationship going?

         Most advertising people understand that there's nothing more powerful than a personal recommendation. It can be more powerful than almost any advertising ever created, which is why the Internet and social media are so important in any marketing plan.

          Here's the rub. Too much advertising can actually hurt word-of-mouth. If all the information about a product is everywhere in public, what's the sense of talking about it online?

         What's a marketer to do? Take another approach to social marketing, perhaps. Instead of trying to use it to promote your product, be useful on social media. Create relationships. Use your expertise to try to be helpful to online groups. Find out what their members are interested in and be relevant. Empathize with their concerns and stresses. Give them new ideas, tips, and suggestions that have been proven.

         Above all, don't be intrusive. Forget about being that polished salesperson and start being a friend.

         According to findings I ran across from Forrester Research:

                                         - Most consumers agree there are too many ads today.

                                         - Most wish they got less direct mail.

                                         - Most emails are considered unwanted.

           The use of Tivo, spam blockers, do-not-call lists, and the rest attest to how too much advertising is getting to people. (Probably too much bad advertising.)

           We have to remember, though, that this is about advertising in general. Nobody has ever complained about getting too much guidance, empathy, or support.

            Leo Burnett, the founder of the huge Chicago ad agency, used to say that the job of copywriters and art directors is to make it easier for a person to read an ad than to turn the page. In other words, make it so interesting you actually start reading it.

            This is where too much traditional advertising is failing. And where Social media is succeeding. Can't we do as well in making ads?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Am I going "Mad Men"?

       I have to admit it. The "Mad Men" craze is starting to get to me.

       Last week I ducked into Banana Republic and checked out their new collection based on the TV show. It really didn't appeal to me, but I came home and dusted off a hat that's sort of a contemporary version of what I wore when I started out in the advertising business. Back then, I had to hold my hat on my head with my hand, or it would get blown across Michigan Avenue. These days, the few times I've worn it I feel like an overdressed anchorman.

       This week I dusted off the attache case I bought with my first paycheck as an intern. To buy it I had to eat macaroni for dinner every night for a month, but it was worth it. It was my official badge of being a professional.

       Yesterday I read in an advertising trade paper that one of the TV networks is trying to line up advertisers for a new reality show about how ad agencies prepare and present their "pitches" for new clients. Some agencies have already signed on; others refused. Is nothing sacred?

        Last year a TV musical show featuring jingles from commercials was tested. It featured a panel of "experts". It failed the test.

        Why all this interest in advertising all of a sudden? Doesn't everybody hate all these ads that bombard us? I guess not. Maybe it's nostalgia about the good old days, when tomorrow could be better than today, and everybody was hanging around the living room. And of course, "Mad Men" is basically a good soap opera that lets us vicariously enjoy the spoils of glamour.

        But I think it goes deeper. I think all this interest in advertising in the '60s and '70s is about a yearning for everyday heroes. There was a time in America when the glamour was on Wall Street, and students aspired to be brokers. Then it was advertising, and all the secrets of "the hidden persuaders". Later it was investigative reporting, after Watergate. Now what is it? High tech.

       Are high tech achievers our heroes, really? For all their technical and financial wizardry, they don't seem to be enjoying life, having fun, or making us envious about where they go to lunch. They probably don't even go to lunch.

       Today, even with "Mad Men", advertising doesn't have that same magic anymore, that glimmer of fabulous. Oh, well. Time to put on my hat and go to lunch.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Does Kraft have the right idea?

         When I learned in Adweek that Kraft had added a half-dozen small ad agencies in addition to their roster giants, I was thrilled. It's about time that more huge companies realized what contemporary creative work can do.

          Procter and Gamble demonstrated the value of this when they hired Wieden and Kennedy in Portland to work on Old Spice. The result was dramatic, lifting a tired old brand right to the top.

          I worked on both Procter and Gamble and Kraft early in my career, and I know changes like this aren't easy. Clients have to want bright, pokey work, and have to be prepared to think in an entirely different way.

         Why did Kraft actually search out additional ad agencies? According to Adweek, Kraft marketing leader Dana Anderson said, "We need to lift the quality of the marketing. It was functional. It was good. But with much more interaction with consumers, you need to be more transparent and make it more participative. We really wanted to lift the ideas."

         There's that word again. Ideas. Time after time, when clients change ad agencies, the reason is that they want ideas. If you want a place in advertising today, that's what you have to deliver. Not ads, not cute phrases, not kids and puppies in TV commercials. Ideas. Big ones. They don't come that easily.

         It's relatively easy to think of executions. Scenes, events, people doing things. But it takes more to change minds. "Just do it"  as a way to sell shoes. "1984 won't be like 1984" to sell computers. "The ultimate driving machine" to sell cars. Those are ideas that can work any time in any media.

         Do you know any big ideas like those from Kraft? That's why they're trying something new. Hold on and say cheese.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Leadership: it's lonely at the middle.

          I had a student a couple of years ago who said his goal was to someday be in middle management. I couldn't believe what I heard, so I asked him why.

          He told me it was safer in the middle. You got respect, a good salary, but you didn't have to make the big decisions.

          I understood completely. For years, I thought I was a born employee. Sure, I always thought I'd be a good leader, and had a million ideas for doing things better than they were being done. Yet there was comfort in having a boss. Someone to take all that weight off your shoulders.

          When I first became a copy supervisor at an advertising agency, I had eight writers working for me. I got a big office and my job was to make assignments to the creative teams and evaluate and sharpen the work they did. For a couple of weeks I loved the big white oak desk and the closet for my boots and overcoat. I even had a secretary (that was before they were reclassified as executive assistants).

          Soon I didn't like that I didn't really have anything to do. I didn't want to assign all the good jobs to myself because that would've upset my people, I thought;  and the regular ads I needed to assign to keep everyone in the group busy. Except myself. It was a perfect case of the Peter Principle. I had been  promoted to a job that wasn't for me.

           It wasn't long before I diagnosed my unhappiness. A bricklayer isn't happy unless he's laying bricks. I began assign jobs to myself, to do with Gene, the art supervisor. Soon I was having fun again.

           That's when I realized it is good to be the top dog. You get to make the decisions. If things aren't right, you can make them right. Your destiny isn't completely in the hands of others. I went on to eventually become Executive V.P. of a large Chicago ad agency, and a member of their executive committee, but I never stopped making ads and commercials. I need to do creative work every day or I get grumpy.

           What's the lesson of this story? Some people are perfect for middle management, but don't make it your goal too early in your career. Aim higher.

            As Chicago ad agency founder Leo Burnett used to say, "Reach for the stars. You may not get there, but you won't come up with a handful of mud, either."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The customer is always right, isn't she?

          If a woman comes into your store wanting a white top, should you try to convince her she looks better in a blue top?

          That's a key question in marketing. For years, the Chicago merchant Marshall Field's answer seemed perfect: "give the lady what she wants." Mr. Field was a pioneer in merchandising, a retail genius. Yet his philosophy was incredibly simple, and it worked.

         In the last few decades, stores were our purchasing agents. They bought what they thought we wanted and offered it to us. They and the manufacturers were in control, because they had the computers. They knew what they sold, in what quantity, at what time of year, and more about you than most of your relatives.

          Today, it's the customer who has the resources. With the Internet and social media, she can find alternatives, compare prices, go the store, note the price and find it cheaper on the Web, make requests, get advice from friends and experts, get reviews from strangers, and in many ways, get products customized to fit her tastes and needs.

          That top she wants can be cotton, silk, bamboo, nylon, acrylic, or a hundred other fabrics and combinations. It can button, zip or tie in every which way or not at all. It can be ridiculously cheap, average price, or outrageously expensive. You can see what it looks like from various angles, and have it shipped the regular way, the faster way, or the fastest way. You can have it held in your "wish list" till you get the money, or charge it to your credit card that still has room on it. And you will receive reminders that you have looked at it in the past.

          So if you want to go into the white top business, what should you do? Your research. Does the world really need another white top?

          Next, think of a way you can give your white top what venture capitalists call "an unfair advantage".  Which is to say, something that competitors can't easily copy, at least for a good long time. Maybe it's a unique way to shop for a white top, or a unique guarantee. Maybe you can come up with a unique way of selling it, or seeing yourself in it, or a white top app. In other words, in a world of white tops, yours has to be the most satisfying purchase.

          Shopping has to be a gratifying experience. Give your customer what she wants --- and if you're not sure, she'll tell you.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Do you think small talk is romantic?

         When I opened my laptop yesterday morning, the lead story on Yahoo had me smiling. The headline was, "Skip the small talk on your next date".

          It seems that "deep and meaningful" conversations are still important. That's according to a new study from the University of Arizona. It also revealed that happy people "have more substantive conversations than those who engage in small talk alone".

          The article on Yahoo says that while small talk will help you break the ice, your date doesn't find the weather report scintillating. Shallow equals unromantic, and separates Mr. Right from Mr. Right Now. The article suggests that you at least talk about the news, pop culture, what you're reading or movies you've seen.

          Then you can get into topics that are deeper, such as emotion. That involves risks, of course, as do real relationships. We social animals really want to connect, intimately.

           This is also a good way to think about marketing and advertising. If our communications are shallow (and most ads are), we can't hope to have a real relationships with our customers. We can lose their interest the moment a competitor demonstrates it can understand them better. Even worse is when we create shallowness in social media. Our customers are complex, with hopes and worries that go  deeper than attitudes about products. Listening and helping carry you a lot farther than boasting.

            Maybe we should look at marketing communications as dating. Potential customers are a first date, and of course you want to impress them. One of the best ways to do that is by showing your interest. Your present customers are farther along. You shouldn't be repeating surface-y stuff. You should be their partner, and act like it. But remember: someone more attractive may come along at any time, so don't ever take your customers for granted.

            We've been learning about all this dating stuff since we were in sixth grade, and it's time we apply it to what we do for a living.

              Oh, I meant to ask you: do you prefer Hindemith or Bartok?


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Why ads are too long but Harry Potter isn't.

         In class after class, with both my advertising and my fashion marketing students, the complaints seem to be the same.

         "That ad is too long."

         "Nobody's going to read all that."

         "Put words in a fashion ad? That would cheapen the clothes!"

         I wonder how these people got through all those volumes of Harry Potter a few years back. They were probably at the bookstore at midnight to get their copies and read all night. These days, three paragraphs pose an overwhelming barrier. What's changed?

        I think I know. For one thing, Harry Potter was fascinating. Most ads are hopelessly dull and banal. That's one of the reasons some people hate commercials and love Tivo.

        We only read and watch things that are interesting to us --- helpful, relevant, sometimes silly, often funny, hopefully useful. Most ads aren't, so why should we pay attention to them?

         When I was a young, $15,000-a-year copywriter, I made the mistake of telling my supervisor that the product he assigned to me, Delco shock absorbers, was dull. He made it clear: there were no dull products, only dull writers. He was right. Good shock absorbers make your car more comfortable, can help other parts last longer, and under some circumstances, could even save your life. Suddenly, they're not so dull anymore.

         Some people blame MTV for our lack of attention. All those quick cuts and fabulous visuals and music that we were brought up with. Other people blame all the new media, Facebook et al.

         I blame copywriters and art directors if people aren't reading ads today. The principles of advertising are the same. Research has shown that only about 20% of the people who see an ad read the text. But those are the people who are most likely to buy the product.

         My simple point: if the ad is dull, it's always wrong. If it's interesting, it can be as long as Harry Potter.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I'm Punch, you're Judy.

            One of the most colorful advertising people I knew in New York was Judy Wald. She was the super-powerful headhunter who single-handedly put us creative people on the star system.

            We used to joke that when Judy liked you it was worth an extra 25 big ones a year. She knew better than anybody how to recognize talent, and nurtured her people like your mother would if your mother were a therapist.

             Judy knew everybody, and everybody knew her. She could walk by every reception desk in town and no one would question her. She had a gift for getting large agency creative directors to trust her, because she was such a good listener and judge of creative talent. Then it was as if she became your business agent, and told you where to interview, what approach to use, and who to be sure to say hello to.

             Doyle Dane Bernbach used her regularly, and that was the best door-opener anyone could have in the '80s. I loved Judy. She was an Auntie Mame character, and I'd try to make time to stick my head in her door every time I was in New York, not always successfully.

             Two phone calls from Judy when I was in Chicago stand out. The first went like this: "Harvey, I need a heavy rubber writer."  "What's a heavy rubber writer?" "You know, a writer with a lot of tire experience." "Oh." "You know, someone like you." That was Judy.

             The other call I remember from Judy was when she was desperate for radio writers. Even Doyle Dane was looking for one. I asked Judy why. "Nobody in New York wants to do radio. It's too lonely.
You just sit in your office and type. " It was a real problem until it got fixed when one agency was smart enough to team an art director up with a writer for radio. After all, there are pictures in radio --- pictures in the listener's mind.

             My favorite Judy story was told to me by my friend Marv Honig, the Vice Chairman of Doyle Dane. Judy was always trying to meet with Marv to sell him on her creative people. But Marv didn't want to be cornered by her. Judy didn't know it but they lived in the same apartment building, on the same floor.  They would meet almost every night at the incinerator chute down the hall, but Marv would never let on who he was. That went on for years.

             Judy taught me at least two things. One, never quit your job until you have another one. No matter what you say, the sparkle is off when you're out of work. And two, it's okay to switch jobs often to get experience when you're young, but be prepared. The phone stops ringing when you're 40. Hang in where you are; advertising venerates youth.

             I'm sorry that when my phone rings these days, it won't be Judy Wald on the line, looking for a heavy peanut brittle writer. She sold her business, but she's still in New York.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The salesperson who refuses to speak.

           Every time I suggest putting words in a fashion ad, my fashion students look at me like I'm from another planet.

           They're horrified that I'm suggesting something akin to wearing Gucci loafers to rake the leaves, or wearing a Burberry blazer with pleated jeans. The looks on their faces tell me everything: it just isn't done. It reeks of low quality. When I ask why, nobody has a definite answer.

           To keep the conversation moving, I then suggest that inasmuch as advertising is salesmanship in the media, and since luxury goods salespeople do talk, it's okay for ads to talk, too. Not just whisper their Web addresses sideways in mousetype along the edge of the page.

            Kenneth Cole built his whole business on witty ads. In fact there's a book, "Footsteps", that's full of them, along with the story of how they helped him grow his business. In the retail store category, Ohrbach's broke all the rules. From catty to cool, they were wonderful --- including painting moustaches on the beautiful models on the billboards to announce the opening of their men's store.

           Also in retail is the current campaign, "Oh my Lord and Taylor!" as they announce great buys every week. The "diamonds are forever" ads for deBeers use provocative copy in a format that's almost all headline, except for a small photo of a diamond.

           This myth about copy lessening the perception of quality in fashion ads is a worrisome game of Simon says. I don't know why a company would pay over $100,000 for an ad in Vogue and not use one of the most effective communication tools in their toolbox. Language.

            When will Dior tell us the benefits of their French heritage? Or Gucci tell the advantages of Italian craftsmanship? Would that really lessen the perception of quality? Perfumes do it. So do private jet planes. What about Vogue itself; do luxury fashion buyers find the magazine low in quality because they use words?

            And please, please don't tell me fashion ads don't need headlines because they're works of art. Even Picassos and Cezannes in museums need those little cards with explanations next to them.

            Try it yourself. Turn to one of these copy-less fashion ads in a magazine and write a  headline for it. Or try something else. Find a BMW ad and take all the words out. Where did all the luxury go?