Monday, October 31, 2011

They're my social media, not yours.

        It seems to me that the search engines and social media sites aren't competing just for users or for advertising. They're competing for something much more valuable. They're competing for our time.

       Even for college students, there's only so much of it.

       For a long time, it didn't seem like too much of a worry. It was common knowledge that teens and college students were great multi-taskers. They could do everything at once. Listen to music, watch TV, do homework, check their Facebook pages, and eat Cheerios. Time was not such a big deal.

       Recent research has shown that these people are not multi-tasking at all. They're simply very good at quickly switching from one thing to another --- much better than people over 30.

       If they're also going to be relating to their friends on Google Plus (which already has millions of users on an invitation-only basis), that would leave a lot less time on Facebook.

       Or maybe not. Maybe a lot less time, too, on TV and magazines. Or perhaps the victim will be real, live face-time with other people. As a former supervisor once told me, time, like old underwear, isn't elastic. He was speaking of the 30-second length of television commercials, but it applies here.

       Ultimately, the big factor is relevance. We're not going to have any time for anything we're not interested in. Actually, that's always been true. We'll always be interested in relationships, though, and we'll certainly be interested in ourselves.

       If you're in advertising or marketing today, these are key. What's interesting to the customer? How can I help her?  How do I get her to spend some of her valuable time thinking about me and what I have to offer? And how in this world, where advertising is everywhere and so is Tivo, do I get her to remember me?

       The things you don't like about ads and commercials, and the things you don't care about on Yahoo or Facebook, are in exactly the same category: what does it have to do with me?

       We're not selfish, we're human. And it's human nature for us to want to be treated that way.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reject my baby, but not me.

        When you go into advertising, maybe you should check your feelings at the reception desk. Rejection is part and parcel of the craft.

         Good bosses know how to reject the work without rejecting the person. "I can see how you came up with this but it needs some work on this part here." Not "you don't think this is funny, do you?"

         In my career, rejection has come in many forms.

         "That's cute. I hate cute."

         "You did something too different."

         "If you get off strategy again, I'll have to talk to the c.e.o."

         "I think we're going to have to get Merle in on this."

         "Guess I'll have to do this myself."

         Even "I hate purple."

         One creative director  I worked for threw a dart at one of my ads after a client rejected it. That really smarted. It also hurts when someone writes right on the layouts.

         What's an advertising creative person to do? Do the professional thing. Go back to work and do something even better. If others don't separate you from your work, you have to. There are a hundred ways to solve an advertising problem, and there's a good chance you'll find one you like even better than the first.

          Most advertising agencies have policies about clients rejecting their work. At Young and Rubicam in New York, they used to say that if clients don't want our best idea, we'll give them our second best. If that doesn't do the trick, we'll give them our third best. Might as well, or they'll get something not as good from somebody else.

         Of course, some agencies take much tougher stances. At DDB in Toronto, account executives were told that if they couldn't sell an ad, to keep it in the trunks of their cars until they found a way to sell it. An ad couldn't come back to the agency unsold unless it violated a client company policy or was factually incorrect. Liking or not liking an ad was not a legitimate reason. Sell the ad or your fired.

        Actors get "flop sweat", comedians bomb out, novelists see their best work on the remainder table.

       Ad people get a choice. Write another ad, or rewrite your resume.



Saturday, October 29, 2011

Scaring up some business.

        Does the economy have a ghost of a chance? Here's some important information from the Wall Street Journal.

        According to the National Retail Foundation, the top adult Halloween costume this year is the witch, followed by the pirate, the vampire, the zombie and Batman.

        On Halloween we Americans will spend nearly $7 billion this year, an average of $40.81 per person. Candy alone accounts for $22.05 of that. Interesting to note that the recession has had an effect on those numbers. The 2005 family average was $45.

        Why do we love Halloween so much? For one thing, dressing in a costume, a disguise, lets us be our alter egos and hidden fantasies, the person we generally hide most of the time. For others, it lets us be heroes, or be brave, or live in a simpler time or place, such as a farm.

         Of course, sometimes our alter egos and our friends' alter egos collide. A lot of relationships break up over Halloween. On the other hand, some relationships begin when the masks go on.

        Halloween is one our top holidays from a commercial point of view, which is easy to see with all those pop-up stores taking up the large mall spaces that other retailers ran away from.

        In advertising, Halloween is a great chance for rookie writers to do something embarrassing, especially at the car ad agencies. "We're scaring the wits out of competition!" and "All treats and no tricks at Hometown Chevrolet".

        Actually, it's starting to sound like a lot of fun. I think I'll go as Don Draper this time!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Every ad agency can use a Jerry.

       My friend Jerry was one of the most talented filmmakers I ever hired to be a copywriter. Actually, he was the only one.

       I had a policy never to hire friends, but Jerry was special. He was head of the film department at the University of Illinois, Chicago campus, and called me when he was about to go on sabbatical. He said he would be interested in spending time in an advertising agency.

       Jerry was also a documentary filmmaker. He won a medal at the Vienna Film Festival for "Marco", about the natural childbirth of his son before it was legal in Illinois. He was also a founding partner of Kartemquin Productions, the group that made "Hoop Dreams". You can see why I was so excited he called.

       Most advertising writers get restless when they have to work on long projects that involve research. Jerry loved them. I assigned him to write a documentary film for the American Optometric Association, explaining to role of the optometrist in vision care. He did a brilliant job, and the film was the kickoff of a multi-million-dollar communications program our agency created.

       Jerry was also very witty, and would regularly put signs on his office door. One of my favorites was:

                                            "He who speaks wisdom
                                              will never be forgotten."
                                                             -- Anonymous

        He did so well as a copywriter that we put him on some of our most difficult, involved accounts. Clients loved Jerry because he studied their businesses and their markets and stuck with it, coming up with ingenious ad campaigns for their trade journals.

         I loved having Jerry around because he was an intellectual in an ad agency, a rare commodity. He was trying to understand advertising, often challenging its underlying philosophies as he searched out the good in everybody.

         Jerry never did go back to teaching at the University. He stuck with advertising, eventually starting his own small agency in Chicago. His clients included the University of Illinois, who never wanted to let go of him.

         He wanted to go into advertising and found his own niche, doing things others weren't good at. Something for you to keep in mind.

Baby, when are you going to call?

       The first paragraph of a front-page article in the San Francisco Chronicle on October 25 really startled me.

       "Nearly half of babies under age two in the United States watch an average of two hours of TV every day, and 10 percent of children that age have used a smart phone, tablet, or other mobile device at least once in their young lives, according to a survey released today."

       The survey results were compiled by Common Sense Media and, added the Chronicle, "come just a week after the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that children under age two watch no TV at all, even 'second hand TV', when parents or others watch TV while children are nearby".

       What are the effects? According to the paper, it's too early to tell, but certainly more study is needed.
Psychologists tell me that younger children exposed to media stimulation are more likely to develop ADD and ADHD because their capacity for concentration and postponement of gratification is compromised. Nevertheless, I'm rocked by the fact that our newest media are being adopted by little kids. (I can imagine their Facebook walls, with dirty fingerprints and Gerber's mashed peas all over them. Do they tweet about their favorite cartoons?)

       In any case, the survey found that the kids spent twice as much time as reading or being read to, and that's alarming to me.

       It also stands to reason that little kids are being exposed to more and more marketing messages, including commercials. I believe it's time we start having media education classes pretty early in elementary school. Kids have to learn how companies are trying to persuade them, through videos and commercials and even in some of the shows themselves. They should be taught what to look for  and to question what they see. We adults know that there's a certain amount of puffery and persuasive imagery in advertising for a reason. Children have to be taught to be discerning.

      I even think it would be a service to advertisers if the TV  networks themselves would sponsor this education, both on the air and in our schools. It would serve them well with their critics, too. I don't think advertisers have anything to fear. It would help make them better understood.

     Good advertising is always directed to smart people. Let's just help make them smarter younger.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Oui, oui, oui all the way home.

         In looking at photos of the Paris Fashion Walk, the thing that knocked me out wasn't Prada's on-fire wedges or Fendi's perforated navy tote. It wasn't Kanye West's womenswear show, and it wasn't even the fact that several benches collapsed at the Belenciaga show, forcing Anna Wintour and Catherine Deneuve to stand.

         The thing that did it for me was Chanel's conch shell evening bag. It's spectacular. And it was introduced in an sensational way at Carl Lagerfeld's show. Florence Welch emerged from a giant conch shell singing "What the Water Gave Me".

         I don't know of any company in the world that has a better understanding of its branding. Chanel is steeped in the tradition of Coco, and the way she led the charge for the independent, stylish woman. Everything Chanel does today is rooted in this heritage.

         Nike is the standard bearer for its sports culture and much of its marketing is based on this. But there are other sides to Nike, too; the playful, colorful, stylish sides. Even Ralph Lauren gets off its high horse once in a while. But Chanel is always extraordinary, always Chanel. Just look at this video for Chanel nail polishes:

         Branding is considered advertising's great gift to marketing, but we're not always very good at sticking with our branding. If we were, Xerox would be the biggest name in printers, and Kodak would've been the king of digital cameras long ago. By focusing on copiers and photo paper instead of going where their brands led them, these two companies each flirted with bankruptcy at one time.

         Thank you, Coco, for the little black dress, the red lipstick, and the brand that keeps on giving.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The creative test.

         When I was at Chevrolet's advertising agency in Detroit, we were the biggest thing in town. Those were the days when automotive clients made Detroit second only to New York in advertising volume, and no brand in America spent more money on advertising than Chevy. Every art director and copywriter within 5 hours' drive wanted to work on those big-budget, splashy ads and TV commercials.

          A lot of the job applicants had never been in advertising, but knew they had the ability because their relatives told them so. Many had done their homework and knew something about our agency and who our clients were. Others simply showed up in their Sunday best, hoping somehow to luck into a job.

          We had a way of helping us decide who had promise. Our "creative test" was about three pages of opportunities for greatness --- challenging problems to be solved creatively. Here is my attempt to reconstruct and update one of the hypothetical problems:

          "The 2011 Chevy Big Sur is a wonderful family car. It seats six comfortably, has easy-to-clean leatherette upholstery, a solid oak steering wheel, extra-wide sunroof, and the most spacious trunk of any sedan in its class (to accommodate skis and eight good-size suitcases). It new Turbolite cast aluminum engine conveniently runs on water. The Big Sur comes in 17 Eurogloss colors, including two-tone versions in the school colors of every Big Ten and Pac Ten school. Right now there's a "College Reward" rebate of $3,000 for those who have graduated in the last two years, so don't wait. You can't find a better combination of features and benefits! Create a two page, full-color magazine ad for this car."

         Can you do an ad based on the above?  Everyone who took the test did. Most didn't do well. There is a specific solution we were looking for.

         Here's an approximation of another problem. We showed a picture of an 11-year-old boy sitting on the front porch (the stoop) of a small apartment building. We asked the applicants to use this picture for an ad for any product or brand they chose, and write the headline. One applicant did particularly well on this one, with an ad for Polaroid film. We hired him. He went on to become Chairman and Creative Director of an international ad agency, with his name on doors throughout Europe and Asia.

        Most of the people who did well thought the test was fun. Those that didn't thought it was hard. I graded about 75 of these and it was reasonably easy to tell who had it and who didn't.

        As the New York policeman answered when the tourist asked him how to get to Carnegie Hall: "Practice, sir. Practice."

        (Old joke, but appropriate.)

Monday, October 24, 2011

This commercial is perfect in every way but one.

         This TV spot for Combos is a joy to watch. It's very, very funning, the casting and directing are superb. In fact, after you look at it, look at a couple of others in the campaign. They're just as funny, or more so.


           Every time I watch it I laugh. Every time I show it to people, we all laugh.

           Then why did I have to try all kinds of tricks to remember the name of the snack? And why, having seen this commercial over and over again, haven't I bought the product, or even sought it out? You've probably seen a quarter of a million commercials in your life; tell me what's going on.

           I believe the selling idea is very funny. "What your mom would feed you if your mom were a man." It comes as a surprise that makes the commercial "click" in your mind. But I believe the basic strategy is flawed. It's reminding us that our mothers wouldn't want us to have this, but dad --- overweight, self-indulgent dad --- likes it.

          Is the dad in this commercial the authority on snacks? Do you want something he recommends, when your narcissistic father really doesn't care much about you? Not me, thank you.

          There's a danger in humor, and we in marketing should watch out for it. Humor can be irresistible. It knocks us out, and can make us forget about things like strategy, persuasion, and good marketing sense.

           To be effective, humor should come right out of the strategy, not obliterate it. Even if obliterating it makes you laugh.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The most important person on the organization chart.

         In one of my fashion marketing exams, I used to show an organization chart. Every box was filled with the name of every position, from workers in the mailroom to the Chairman of the Board. But there was one box on top with nothing written in it. It was for the most important person.

         I asked who that person is.

         Happily, I got the right answer most of the time. The most important person is, of course, the customer. Everything else depends on her.

         Without a customer there's nothing to make, nothing to package, nothing to sell. Nothing to advertise, nobody to do PR for, nothing to ship. Nothing to keep records of, nothing to put in the bank.

         Actually, without a customer, you have nothing to worry about, and that would be a pity.

         I want marketing and advertising students to understand that there are two places you can start to think about an idea. You can start with the product, figure out its most unique and appealing features, and frame your strategy.

         Or you can start with people. Understand them and what they want,  draw the line back to the product, and come up with an idea about how people's wants can be satisfied.

         Start with the product, and your ideas will soon run out. But you'll never come up dry if you start with understanding people, their hopes and dreams and fears and worries.

         Steve Jobs understood this. All great marketers do. Come up with a great gadget and it's just a gadget, unless it does something for somebody, in a way that appeals to them.

        Business schools teach that you don't have a business until somebody buys something.

        You're a customer every day. I hope you know how important you are.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Are you sure you're a born leader?

          For the last few quarters at the Art Institute, I was invited to speak to the Leadership class about a subject I am eminently qualified to talk about: bad leaders.

          I guess everyone's had a bad leader from time to time, but I seem to have had a string of them in the advertising business. Nice people perhaps, good intentions generally, but bad leadership.

          There was my first copy supervisor, for example. Probably a nice gentle guy at home where he lived with his mother, but passive aggressive at the office. He assumed that if you worked fast, you did the job wrong. My personal modus operandi is to tackle an assignment the moment I get it, something I learned in high school Latin class, in self defense. Finishing quickly, for this guy, was proof I was sloppy.

           As soon as I showed the copy to him, his red pencil reared its ugly lead, and he re-wrote it. Guess I'm a fast learner, because after a couple of these, I simply did the work, put it in my desk drawer, retrieved it a few days later and presented it. "See how much better it is when you spend the time," he said. "I knew you had it in you." Oye.

          My second copy supervisor was also leadership-deprived. He had been an account supervisor and only knew what he read. Everything I did was "fine", "okay", "get it typed", or "show it to Gilbert", the head art director. The only time he inspired me was when I showed him my copy for a wine ad. He put down the paper,  looked me straight in the eye, and said, "Harvey, there's a fine line between bullshit and too much bullshit." For that, I loved him.

          My next non-leader was a very scared man, afraid to make a decision. Show him an ad and he would twist his neck, wrap his hands together, and ask if he could hold onto it overnight. My guess is that his wife wrote good critiques.

          My champion in this category was Boris, whose first words to me when he hired me as creative director were, "I don't want to be a nursemaid. Do whatever you think is right." If there were times you wanted a second opinion or had a worry you'd want squashed then and there, Boris was out. Boy, was he out. He was also having an affair with an art director who worked for me, and whose work he always recommended to clients, which, naturally, upset the other creatives on staff.

         Fortunately, early on I did have a mentor to empathize with me, or I probably would've become a pharmacist or something.

         Good leaders are hard to find, I guess. Sometimes you have to train them yourself.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The care and housing of creative people.

        When I became Group Creative Director at Chevrolet's ad agency in Detroit, the place went though a massive redecorating and renovation program in every department --- except the creative department.

         I was shocked at the discrepancy between the bright new contemporary look for account management, research, media, and even accounting, and the dark, dentist-office quarters that we writers and art directors were laboring in. I went to the president's office to complain.

         He was a nice, ruddy, man's-man kind of guy who always looked like he just rushed here from the gym without showering. He had been a top executive with Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh, and had a reputation for being an astute marketer.

         "Harvey, I'm surprised you don't understand," he said. "After all, the great creative people in history, the great artists and poets, worked in humble, dark rooms. Their ateliers were sparse, unadorned. Creative people do their best in austere spaces," he added.

          "Not by choice", I answered. "All this new decoration is making us look like poor relatives. The back room, the factory." I felt like Rodney Dangerfield.

           Others expressed their feelings, too, and within months, work began on a new creative department. It was spacious, with built-ins for all our stuff, with indirect lighting and modern furniture. And the output of our department: it went up, as you knew all along.

           When you study the history of business, you learn of an early research study done in a factory in Illinois. The researchers were trying to find out if productivity was related to the amount of light in the factory. The results amazed them. Yes, productivity went up with more light. But it also went up when the light was turned down. In fact, every change in the light resulted in more productivity. Why? Because the workers, like all of us, liked the idea that finally someone was paying attention to them.

            Creative people are in an anonymous business and while we claim we crave being left alone to "do our thing", what we like even more is being noticed, appreciated, and sent a valentine from time to time.

            Even for creative people, roses are red and violets are blue.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

If everybody could write advertising, they probably would.

        When I was growing up, there were little ads in the backs of magazines, usually for books, camps, or jobs you could do at home. One of the most frequent ones was, "Can you draw this girl?". It was accompanied by a drawing, and if you copied it and sent it in, they would tell you if you were qualified to be trained as an illustrator.

         Another common ad was from the Famous Writers School of Westport, Connecticut. It said, "You might have a God-given talent for writing". You sent in for the test and if you passed, they offered you a correspondence course taught by a professional writer. I never applied.

         The one that got me was another ad with a much better headline: "Make big money writing short paragraphs." Now that was a promise! This little ad said that catalog houses needed writers, and that for an agreeable fee, they'd train me. I never responded to this ad, either, but the idea that I could make a living writing short paragraphs stuck with me.

         I get the feeling that some advertising copywriters see their job the way that ad did. Good money, soft job, a few short paragraphs and it's happy hour. Sorry, folks, it just doesn't work that way.

         Creative jobs in advertising can be a lot of fun and very satisfying. You work with bright people and get to be creative all day, something you probably haven't done since you played the triangle in the nursery school rhythm band.

         It's also a lot of work. Research and digging. Studying products and people. And then the agonizing days and sometimes weeks of trying to come up with an idea that satisfies you, your art-director partner, the pretty receptionist, your boss, and the client, who happens to be paying for all this. And sometimes, honestly, his wife.

         If it gets the okay, and nobody has done anything like it before (keep your fingers crossed), your work may go into test. Research, to make sure the audience understood the intended message. More research to measure persuasion. Recall research, to see if people remember the product and the benefits.

         Even if your idea survives, it might need some reworking. Then it needs to be produced; fun, but usually harder than you think.

         My thoughts: you have to really want to go into advertising. If you love it, there's no other place for you. Scholarship is involved, too. Advertising has been around for a hundred years, and there's a lot to learn.

         It's no longer like it was in "Mad Men". The competition's a lot tougher. But where else could you make good money writing short paragraphs?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Half-baked ideas: take them home and cook them longer.

        I can always tell when I get a student's first solution to a problem. It usually isn't all that good.

        Somewhere in our education we've learned that once we've solved a problem, we're done. Like solving a math problem. When we've done it, we've succeeded, and can now go on to something else. A true mathematician carefully reviews her solution to make sure it's the best one possible.

        There are lots of ways to do an ad, and our magazines and television demonstrate that most of them are just plain dumb. Or certainly cheesy.

        You're familiar with the quote, "Sorry about this long letter but I didn't have time to write a short one."

        It takes time, patience, and practice to come up with both a good idea and a good way of expressing it.  For example, in coming up with an airline's faster flights to Europe, anybody can quickly write, "Our flights to Europe are now a lot faster". It takes experience and work to communicate that more memorably by showing a photo of an ocean being ripped so it's smaller, with the headline "We just made the Atlantic Ocean 20% smaller."

        That might have taken days of thinking and experimenting with all kinds of visuals and headlines. Probably did.

        One of the ingredients in coming up with good ads and marketing ideas is the freedom to fail. If we were lucky, our parents gave us this kind of unconditional positive regard. Even if we got it, we tend to lose it later on. I can almost promise you that your first idea won't be your best. That's why I give my students the opportunity to improve their work at any time.

       Leo Burnett, the founder of the famous Chicago ad agency, used to say it's never too late to improve an ad until it's sent to the magazine. David Ogilvy, the New York agency founder who went from research to copywriting, said you have to write at least 10 --- and maybe 100--- headlines to be able to tell you've come up with a useful one.

      I have three suggestions of what you should do before you even begin. One, make sure you know what a good ad is. Two, make sure you know all the product has to offer. Three, know your customers inside and out.

      Now put all the ingredients in a bowl, mix well until an idea forms, then flip the pancake and see if it sticks to the ceiling.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Designing the way to success.

               Much has been said about the importance of product design in Apple's success. Every product they've designed in the last few years has been embraced because of the way it looks and feels --- and the way it makes you look and feel. And yes, "embraced" is the right verb to describe it.

               Design is so important today that many business schools are offering joint programs with schools of art and design.

                In Lisa Johnson's book "Mind Your Xs and Ys", she devotes a chapter to this subject of brand candy. She talks about how, when Motorola introduced the Razr cellphone a few years ago --- it was super thin and sharp looking, with a hidden antenna --- it achieved the company's sales projections for the entire life of the product in just three months. You know the story of the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, so you're probably not surprised.

                Strange as it sounds, design actually creates relationships for us with products and their makers. Motorola instantly went from ordinary to cool. That's because we humans are sensory beings. We gravitate to things that look good, smell good, feel good, sound good. And we like things that work intuitively.

                Actually, good design sends out messages for us. It's a badge we wear, saying we have good taste and we appreciate wonderful things. Somehow, Macs are wonderful things. PCs are equipment.

                This kind of good design doesn't have to cost more than ordinary design, but you have to rethink everything in terms of the customer. Starbucks, for example, redesigned the neighborhood coffee shop into a place where we like to hang out. It's gone from a place to an experience. The names of the coffees, the language of the baristas, and more. Good design conquered all.

                 Procter and Gamble redesigned mops into Swiffers. OPI's nail polish names make them forms of  self-expression, as Revlon did before it with "Fifth Avenue Red" and "Fire and Ice". Rethinking and design have transformed cereals into portable candy bars. There are bandages we can spray on. And television shows we don't need TV sets for, just computers.

                  It's what comes from the desire to stand out, rather than fit in. Want to discuss this some more? Meet you at Starbucks.


Monday, October 17, 2011

What memories are made of.

         "It does seem that, as a general rule, we remember emotionally-charged events better than boring ones." That's a quote from Mempowered, a Web site that deals with this sort of thing.

         They tell us that memories are treated differently if they're pleasant or unpleasant, and it's the emotion aroused that makes emotional events easier to remember, not the importance of the event.

         I'm guessing that's why you can't remember many of your early birthday parties but can recall that fabulous Halloween costume that made such a big hit.

         It also explains why we can or can't remember most TV commercials, almost all print ads, and most of the stuff we get on Facebook and Twitter.

         One thing we've been learning about the brain is that we react much more quickly to feelings than to facts. Psychologists tell us that affect trumps reason. We need reasons to back up our belief system and our attitudes, but these come later. That's why we in advertising and marketing know that if you don't get someone's interest in the first few seconds, it's hopeless. Your message is lost.

         The best ways to get attention are emotional: humor, surprise, joy, fear and anger --- something that gets you involved. Stories are a wonderful way to do this, if they're captivating and intriguing enough for you to want to know how they turn out.

          In print, we can't really control the order in which you see things. Usually you'll  be attracted to the visual first, which is why it's so important. A pleasing picture, followed by a tough headline, creates the emotional pulling power that works best.

          In television commercials and Web videos, we have complete control over the sequence. We have to start with something emotionally charged, so the viewer will want to stick with it.

          Emotion is a valuable way of making a product advantage memorable. "Aren't you glad you use Dial? Don't you wish everybody did?" and Hallmark's "When you care enough to send the very best" are two of the most memorable taglines in advertising history. "Fly the friendly skies" did a lot for United until their policies and pricing got unfriendly.

          Try using emotional appeals in your marketing. It's the rational thing to do.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

If the product's the same, the service shouldn't be.

         With a difficult economy and more and more products becoming more and more alike, service has become even more important.

          Not just good service. Exceptional service. Here are some examples from the Wall Street Journal:

          At a Mini Cooper dealer in Plano, Texas, they're installing a dog wash, to give you something to do while your car's oil is being changed.

          Beauty shops are adding arcade games. Companies are equipping waiting areas with computer tablets and free WiFi. Those are to minimize the "waiting feeling" that we hate.

          One car dealership expanded its waiting area to four times its normal size, to include a "quiet area" with computers, a place for kids to play, and a "lounge" area with an arcade area. As a result,  the dealership can have a smaller loan fleet because more customers are willing to wait there during service.

         A Los Angeles car dealership group has a Starbucks Cafe, with Starbucks-trained baristas. Customers who wander in for coffee get to see the new cars. The car salespeople are not allowed to talk cars near the coffee section.

         In a completely different area, an orthopedic surgeon launched a smart phone app with color-coded wait times, so people can go out and shop and know when to come back. Once back inside they offer Internet tablets so patients can surf the Web.

         The WSJ also talked about Halo, a Chicago hair salon for men, with a living-room-like waiting area with free beverages and big leather chairs and TVs. The men are sorry when they're called for their styling.

          Whatever the industry, service can be the big differentiating factor. We often pay more for a product knowing the service is superior. And yet banks and some supermarkets and drug stores are taking services away, shifting more of the work from employees to their customers --- more online banking, more self-checkout at stores.

           One of the great things about Oregon --- you're not allowed to pump your own gas. But actually, when self-service was launched in other states, the oil companies were worried about asking people to get out of their cars and get their gas. Research showed most people didn't mind; it was better than waiting for the attendant.

           Sometimes good service is doing more, sometimes it means doing less. But the only way to find out is by knowing your customers.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

On the art of creating cliches.

       Why do those ads for luxury condos always show a woman in an evening gown, shoes off, slinking on a sofa?

        Why do those luxury fashion ads typically show a beautiful woman standing (a) in an exotic setting or (b) in limbo, against a blank background?

         Why do those ads for expensive handbags usually show a model, with or without clothes on, holding a bag large enough to carry lunch, wine and dinner for a week, looking at the photographer as if to say, "Who let you in?"

         Why do they? Because the writers and art directors on those accounts think they have the luxury of following each other in a well-worn circle. They must think affluent people don't think and don't feel --- they just buy.

          Of course, affluent people have lives as complex as the rest of us. They worry, they have sleepless nights, have dysfunctional families,  go to movies and yoga lessons and watch TV and have dreams just like the rest of us. I don't think the people who create and approve those ads are really in touch with the people who plunk down six dollars for the magazine. What are the customers looking for in those slick four-color pages? Who do they want to look good for --- and why? Are they really buying art, as some designers believe, or is there something they want to reveal, or cover up?

          We're aware that clothes, jewelry and cosmetics make a statement, and that statement can change for different people and different groups.

          People who are truly into fashion are not superficial. They're into something historical and universal. Anthropologists tell us that we humans have been adorning ourselves the best we can since prehistoric times. Psychologists and sociologists tell us why we dress up and why we dress down. Freud even told us why we dream about shoes and gloves. Our values, senses of worth, and lifestyles involve fashion.

          No, the ones who are superficial are the people responsible for those dopey ads that try to make every brand the same as every other brand. They hire a fashion photographer, select a skinny model, fly to a desirable, sometimes remote, location and get out of the way.

          Way out of the way of a lot of the people they're trying to reach.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Keep this in your back pocket.

         Like a lot of advertising writers, from time to time I've wondered what would happen if the ideas for commercials ceased to flow. Because of this, I've accumulated my own bank account of ideas for getting started, so I can make a withdrawal at any time.

        They're not real advertising ideas, based on insights. Rather, they're for-emergency-only executional approaches to get my brain going quickly. You're welcome to try them if you want to, in the privacy of your computer.

        1. The detective story. Everyone loves mysteries they can solve themselves. First, invent your own gumshoe. Then have your hero solve the "crime"(such as money lost by paying too much), with clues.

        2. Teacher/learner. This is used all the time by the Procter and Gamble crowd.  The manicurist who teaches hand care. The woman in the laundromat, who tells the younger woman how to get fresh-smelling clothes. It's a great device for selling, once you set up the problem and keep the language realistic.

       3. The psychiatrist. What's wrong with the patient on the couch? Maybe guilt, for spending too much or not knowing what's best. Or not being able to say no --- or yes. After the humorous analysis, the answer is always your product or service.

       4. A  Woody-Allen-type guy and his girlfriend. You know how they talk, how timid and naive she can be and how nervous and guilt-ridden he can be. Aways good for a laugh or two. If all else fails, have the guy quote Kafka and she counters with Spinoza.

       5. The cowboy movie. Easily enough cliches to fill up 30 seconds. The guy in the black hat always loses and the good guy and the sweet young thing ride off into the sunset, knowing the product works like a charm.

       6. Gangsters. There are never enough of them to go around. But don't make them too ethnic. Whether they're playing poker or planning a heist, they can win or get foiled by the product.

       7. The celebrity. If all else fails, call for a star. Find the one appropriate to the product, and write your ads and commercials. Your client either won't like or can't afford the star, but it will get you  through the next meeting, and by then you'll have thought up a real idea.

       Two important notes: First, the world is full of good ideas; just study your customer and his or her problems. You don't need this list. And second, if one of my students uses this list for an assignment, he's in big trouble.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Facebook, Facebook, where art thou?

          My doctor-friend Donna had an interesting observation as she manipulated my left leg. She said the story of Romeo and Juliet would've been quite different if they could've texted each other.

           That comment really took my mind off my leg. How different history would've been, as well as literature, if the Internet and cellphones had been around back in the day. 

            Would Socrates have avoided the hemlock if he blogged instead of asking all those provocative questions right out there on the Acropolis?

            Would Julius Caesar have figured things out and been better prepared if Brutus had unfriended him?

            Would Cleopatra have found a soulmate more her type than Marc Antony if she went on

             Would Lincoln have gone to the theater that fateful night if the play had received bad reviews on Yelp?

              Perhaps the Internet and social media aren't changing history this dramatically yet, but they are changing our behavior. Is there a student in America that doesn't check her Facebook page before doing homework? My students email me if they miss a class. My doctor emails me reminders of my appointments. Directory Assistance texts me the phone numbers I want. 

             We rarely seem to talk anymore. We don't get to see the subtle looks on each other's face, hear each other's voice, question each other's silences.

              When I was in college I was on the phone with my girlfriends every night I wasn't with them. We developed much more intimate relationships on AT and T than we could've on Safari. Come to think of it, the words "I love you" are usually whispered. How do you whisper on the World Wide Web? I don't think a tweet would be the same, either.

               Like most of us I do check Facebook a few times a week to keep in touch with people. 

               But keeping in touch and touching are quite different.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The art director who refused to say yes.

       One of the most rewarding parts of being a creative person in advertising is creating campaigns pro bono for  charity. Big non-profit organizations such as the Red Cross and the United Way know they are asking for much time and effort and appreciate good work when they get it.

       The first United Way job I worked on was for a full-page newspaper ad featuring Joey, the year's poster child. Joey's photo showed him on crutches. He had spina bifida.

       I was a beginning writer, and this was the first assignment where my art-director partner Bill and I were told, "Do whatever you want". A piece of cake, right?

       Every day Bill and I would meet for five or six hours in Bill's tiny office, with me sitting cross-legged on his file cabinet. I'd suggest something, and Bill wouldn't like it. Bill would suggest a visual and I would ask why. I would suggest a visual, and Bill would say it's been done --- the kiss of death in advertising. This went on for two weeks. At the end of each day, one of us would say, "Let's look at it in the morning", and in the clear light of the morning, there was nothing we could use.

      One morning around ten, I showed up in Bill's office with two coffees in hand, an unmistakable peace offering. Bill was deep in thought and asked me if I would give to the United Way. I said I gave already, in the agency's drive. Bill asked me what are some of the other reasons people would use for not giving now. Together, we listed them. And so we did an ad:

                                        "I gave at the office."
                                        "My wife gave at home."
                                        "It's been a tough year."
                                        "My kid gave at school."
                                        "I gave last year."
                                        "Maybe next year."
                                        "It's been a very tough year."

And then the photo of Joey and the line: Tell it to Joey.

       Bill did a great job on an elegantly simple layout, with all the excuses in different type faces, and I wrote some short copy about Joey, and the United Way. When it ran, United Way got many compliments, and collected record amounts. We were heroes. A huge blow-up of the ad appeared in our lobby overnight, and it was featured in the agency newsletter and in press releases. The ad won a national Addy award, and Bill and I got calls from headhunters.

       Bill is now the head of one of the most successful television production companies in L.A. and I thank him. If he hadn't been so good and so hard on me, I'd probably be a different creative director today. A lot softer on myself, I suspect.

      And in advertising, sometimes soft is death.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Brand loyalty: it works both ways.

         Yesterday I read an intriguing suggestion from a marketing consultant. He said that if we are to expect loyalty from our customers, we have to be loyal to them.

          I think this twist is important. It helps us focus on customer service through a new lens. What can we do to deserve a customer's loyalty? I don't mean a free smoothie when you buy ten. I mean something that adds lasting value to the relationship.

          What can a marketer offer to engender loyalty in customers by being loyal to them?

          Trust: consistently giving your customers honest quality and good value.

          Confidence: serving your customers with the same quality and taste level they've come to count on, and the kind of products and services that keep up with their growing and changing needs.

          Excitement: offering them a continuing sense of discovery.

          A sense of belonging: that "this place is for me." The environment, the people, the selection and assortment. Acknowledging their loyalty and your gratitude for it.

          Belief in your customers: you are here to serve them because they are important. You respect them, appreciate them, and honor them with the products and services that are best for them.

          If we don't show our allegiance to our loyal customers, we don't deserve their loyalty. If we have the attitude that all customers are alike, they'll prove us wrong.

          The same is true with an ad agency.  In my experience, it's not free lunches that keep an agency's client in the fold. It's much more personal. It's having people she can trust to be on her side, and her company's side, through tough times as well as good. It's knowing you won't try to sell her on something that's not in her own best interest.  It's understanding and empathizing with both her business needs and her personal needs. Knowing what she needs to do her job well and get ahead; helping her achieve her goals.

         It's cautioning her when she's wrong as well as complimenting her when she's right. Honesty in all things, and doing your job of presenting her with new ideas and superlative work. These are the things that bind a client to an ad agency.

          In short, if you want someone to love you, you'd better not wait till February to send that valentine.


Monday, October 10, 2011

I believe in Santa Claus (and not just at Macy's).

         According to reports, Christmas won't be all that merry for retailers this year. Already the early forecasts are out, and the Wall Street Journal says we can expect two things: (a) shoppers will make fewer trips to the store this year, and (b) when they do, they'll head right for the bargain racks.

         ShopperTrak, which counts foot traffic in malls and combines that with economic data, predicts national sales will rise 3% during November and December. That's less than last year's 4.1%. However, if you look at it the way good package-goods marketers do, those predictions may be keeping your eye on the wrong ball.

         Most package-goods marketers aren't interested in increasing the size of the whole market.  Rather, the goal is to increase their share of market, their percentage of the total. Not the total.

         Shoppers will be spending over $453 billion this Christmas season. With those big bucks on the table,  retailers should be concerned with increasing their share of that. They have plenty of room for dramatic growth.

         But good marketers wouldn't stop there. They'd figure out what they could do about (a) and (b).

         Every quarter in my Sales Promotion class, we work on how to get shoppers to visit a store more often. My students discuss the tried-and-true ways (such as Gap's discounts for coming back the following week), and create some ingenious in-store events and programs. It's a traditional marketing problem; retailers should try to solve it as well as my students do.

         The worry about everybody heading for the bargain racks may be a high-class problem. At least customers are heading into your store. What can a merchant do while they're there? How can customers be kept longer, and encouraged to look around? Maybe to visit another department or buy more than they had planned.

         Every marketing problem is an opportunity. Marketers should be concerned with getting the most out of business that does exist, instead of worrying about business that doesn't. They should involve the entire staff; get everyone together to deal with these measurable opportunities.

         There's nothing like a home run for the holidays.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

The typewriter and drawing board revolution.

       The creative revolution in advertising, which we see Don Draper fighting so fiercely in "Mad Men", had an historian. He was copywriter Jerry Della Femina, who described the seventies as "bringing chaos out of order".

        It was about time. The preppy ad business, filled with repp ties from all the best Eastern schools, suddenly changed to "Dress British, Think Yiddish". The people who were stereotyped, Italian art directors and Jewish copywriters, made it happen.

        Della Femina describes the big, establishment ad agencies of that day as structures of fear, constantly in danger. The buttoned-down executives were completely out of touch with the creative people.  "Advertising is the only business in the world that takes on the lamed, the drunks, the potheads, and the wierdos, " he wrote. He was referring to us creatives who wanted freedom to dress as we wanted and do what we did best. The opposition was formidable.

        George Lois, at the time becoming a nortorious art director, put it this way: "If you're not a bad boy, if you're not a big pain in the ass, then what you are is some mush, in this business." Lois was enraged. "Advertising, an art, is constantly besieged and compromised by logicians and technocrats, the scientists of our profession who wildly miss the main point of everything we do. The main point of advertising, after all, is advertising."

        For us in creative departments, it was as simple as that.

        Before the creative revolution, we'd go to meetings, watch an account exec present our work, get a polite thank you, and be dismissed, to wait a couple of weeks for a memo on the results. "The client wants these changes. Please have them back by Tuesday. We have a meeting Friday."

        All we were really demanding were adult privileges. We got them because of a quiet, gentle New Yorker with rosy cheeks who looked like a pediatrician. His name was Bill Bernbach and his new agency did the early Volkswagen ads. They treated readers as smart, thinking people with senses of humor. We all cheered. And for the first time, ad writers and art directors became stars instead of "the factory".

         You can watch some of that happen on "Mad Men". Ask me nicely, and I'll show you the scars.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

I should've thanked Steve Jobs years ago.

         Since Steve Jobs died, people have been saying wonderful things about him, and they should. He has been called the great innovator, the great inventor of our time, and the ultimate entrepreneur. He has been considered the modern-day Thomas Edison, or Alexander Graham Bell, or  Leonardo da Vinci, but I think he was much more.

         We benefitted greatly from Edison's lightbulbs, but we didn't feel uneasy to go anywhere without one. His phonographs enabled us to bring great and popular music into our homes, but we didn't run our hands over them lovingly, or search out rumors about the next new model. Bell's telephone changed the world dramatically, but nobody compared instruments or talked much about their new Princess phones. When Leonardo created airplanes or a giant crossbow, people didn't have emotional reactions about them.

          No, Steve Jobs' ingenuity went deeper into our psyches. People have said he could see the future before the rest of us did, or at least knew what we wanted before we did. Much of that is undoubtedly true.

          I think Steve Jobs' great gift was understanding us so well. Our thirst for information, our need to communicate, our appreciation for thoughtfulness, our delight with good design, our excitement for the new, our love for adventure, our unquenchable inquisitiveness.

          Steve Jobs recognized the child in all of us, and honored it. He was never satisfied, and we are never satisfied.

          Entrepreneurs have certain qualities. The willingness to take risks. The need for independence. The desire for control. As I write this, we have just lost the great entrepreneur of our time.

           Thursday in our entrepreneurship class, a student told me about a note a customer left on the wall of the Apple store in San Francisco.  It simply said, "iSad". It was later used in an ad.

          Thank you, Steve. The fire you started will burn brightly in our hearts for a long, long time. You have changed how we relate to one another.



Friday, October 7, 2011

My life as a blogger.

          According to Google analytics, this is my 100th blog. That's 100 straight days of writing to you about things on my mind. Most gratifying of all is the fact that I have readers.

          One day I checked the statistics and found that I had 27 readers in Norway. How did that happen? I'm flattered, but what do they get out of reading this? If you're there, Norway, let me know.

           You, too, Russia. The week after I found out about Norway, I was told I have 47 readers in Russia. Our mutual fondness for Maria Sharapova, apparently.

            A few people have asked how I can write a blog a day. It requires real concentration because on the days I teach in San Francisco, I write these blogs on BART. (For those of you in Norway or Russia, that's our rapid transit system.) I start in Berkeley and I'm usually done by Montgomery Street. If not, I finish on the way home.

             Other days, I write during my morning coffee at a cafe, Pane Italiano Qualita. It's easier there than on BART, because the constant parade of interesting people keeps me writing. And it doesn't screech to a stop.

             Often I can't think of anything to write about, and then a student asks an interesting question in class, or I get an idea from an article in a magazine or the newspaper. My focus is always on making this a learning experience for all of us.

             A friend in Toronto emailed that he reads my blogs aloud to his wife while she makes breakfast. Now there's a considerate husband for you. A former student now in Chicago started reading my blog and said she spent one whole morning reading it. Obviously a slow day at the office.

            The colleague who got me interested in blogs commented that she's grateful for my enthusiasm for teaching. I'm grateful for her comment.

            Some people write that they read these blogs every day. That's gratifying, too.

           There's something I can use, though, if you want to send me a gift. That gift would be hearing from you with a suggestion or two about what you'd like me to write about. I'm here to serve, as they say. One person suggested I never mention the Kardashians again. Oops ---  I just did!

            Thanks and a big hug for reading this. My goal is to write a blog a day for a whole year. With friends like you, maybe I'll make it. And maybe even longer.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Why TV is still the happy medium.

        Fewer people are watching television these days, and yet advertising on TV keeps getting more expensive. What's up?

        What's up is the fact that there are so many media sites these days; audiences are splitting up. Instead of everyone settling down to watch television after supper, everyone's doing their own thing: Facebook, YouTube, Hulu, email, television, Pandora, Twitter, you name it. As a result, TV audiences are getting smaller every year.

         However, all this segmentation makes television about the only place an advertiser can reach millions of people at one shot. It has what media buyers call "reach" that's unmatched elsewhere.

         Alex Feldman, a manager of global forecasting for Magnaglobal, a unit of the Interpublic Group (my former employer), put it this way in the Wall Street Journal: "Advertisers are paying more for lower ratings; still, it is the best thing out there." Advertisers are expected to spend $174 billion this year, and the percentage spent on TV keeps rising.

         More confusing is the fact that while Internet usage is growing, Yahoo and and AOL are barely treading water.

          In addition, according to the WSJ, "People are spending as much time on their mobile phones as reading newspapers and magazines combined, yet the mobile-ad industry is a fraction of the print-ad market." They attribute that to the laws of supply and demand. "Those laws are increasingly pulling ad dollars toward two poles, TV and the Internet."

         It seems TV and the Internet are good at different things. TV at getting you to want something, and the Internet at taking your order.  Much more research needs to be done. What's the role of social media in all of this, for example, and how can an ad on Google actually persuade people to prefer, say, a Ford Fusion over a Toyota Camry?

         In the meantime, there will always be a need for savvy people to create the advertising, and some super-savvy media people to figure this all out.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A good business with no clients.

          Norman was a copy supervisor who worked for me and had it all figured out.

          "Everyone says an advertising agency would be a great place if it weren't for the clients," Norman told me. "Of course," he added, "when I worked at a university, they said it would be a great place without the professors. And when I worked for a medical center, they said it would be a great place if it weren't for the patients."

         Why is it that many would be happy if it weren't for the people they are there to serve? Personally, I love working with clients. I've told you how John DeLorean wanted us to do Pontiac commercials that parodied Bonnie and Clyde. And he was at conservative General Motors!

         A great friend and client was Henry Feldman, who had been the marketing director of the Playboy Clubs and became the head of the Claremont Resort in Berkeley. One day, in a meeting, Henry asked me where I get all my ideas. I told him that after supper, I sit down at the kitchen table with a bottle of Jack Daniels. I was putting him on of course.  The next time we got together, Henry presented me with a gallon of Jack Daniels.

          Toby Tobias was the advertising director of Reynolds Aluminum. He was a great conversationalist, and I loved my trips to Richmond, Virginia, and his trips to Chicago. Toby was a staunch defender of the brand and their pioneering role in recycling. He also was a student of readership research. At our first meeting, Toby railed against reverse type, white type on a black background. He knew it was so hard to read, and people would give up on an ad that used it. I assured Toby that I agreed, and he wouldn't see any reverse type in his ads from then on. We became friends that minute.

          At Procter and Gamble, Thane Pressman and I never became pals, but his understanding of creative and championing of good work made him a leader in his company. (I also shared his love of Michelin 3-star restaurants in Cincinnati.) Thane was brand manager of Pringles at the time, and we accomplished a lot together for the world's most misunderstood potato chips. What touched me the most was the call I got from Thane after I quit the agency. He wanted to know why. What made me unhappy? I would never bad-mouth an agency, but I certainly remember his concern for me.

          One great client is Dr. Ed Revelli, the head of the Eye Center at the University of California.
For years now he's had the patience to teach me what I needed to know about vision care,  the professionalism to keep me on track, and the support that keeps me devoted to working with them.

         Of course, I've had difficult clients, too. One who became hysterical if I ever veered off strategy. One who threw pencils at the account executive if he didn't like something. Another who complained to our president that I was "too far out". And still another who threw a tantrum when he thought that two of my people were whispering about him at lunch.

          Without clients, though, advertising would be a lonely business. Norman knew that. And he also knew that it would be no business at all.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Why Louis Vuitton hired a yogurt guy.

       LVMH has appointed a new c.e.o. for Louis Vuitton, and he's spent more time in the dairy section than looking in the closet. Jordi Costans is the little-known Spanish Group Danone executive who will be taking over one of the biggest jobs in fashion.

       He's not the first package-goods exec to be hired for a top fashion job. A few years ago, Gucci hired a c.e.o. from Unilever's popsicle division. The Louis Vuitton move is raising eyebrows anyway. Why is a company so famous for its initials on handbags going this route? Is it jeopardizing a business that generated $8.21 billion in revenue last year?

       I don't think so. I think the company is setting its sites on a different kind of future. Louis Vuitton has been listening to Bartok in a Pandora kind of world. Its staff was always formal, dressed to the teeth.  Mr. Constans may have to button his shirt and wear a tie, but he's a contemporary leader. He told the New York Times he values "openness, rapidity, and agility." He replies to emails personally and promptly, and piloted the yogurt division skillfully during tough times.

      Mr. Constans has said his philosophy of innovation is "avoiding the production of useless items". He looks at times like these as "an optimal time to innovate. Innovation comes from good conversation."

      It won't be easy for him; obviously a major shift, with a tough act to follow. Louis Vuitton has managed to remain a luxury brand --- "yet affordable for aspirational shoppers", says the Wall Street Journal. And rumors abound that Marc Jacobs will be leaving, and designing for Dior.

      Take off your silk stockings and put on your Nikes. I think this new c.e.o. is going to just do it!

Monday, October 3, 2011

I saw the Gucci ad but didn't clip the coupon.

          My students verge on the hysterical when I suggest they experiment with putting a coupon in a fashion ad. They're horrified at the thought that a Marc Jacobs or Guess ad might have a 2-for-1 coupon or a coupon for 20% off. Even though, when asked, they say they'd definitely use them.

          What do we have against coupons? Or maybe I should ask, what do we have against people who use coupons?

           People redeemed 3.3 billion coupons in the U.S. last year. Advertising Age reports that 70% of those were redeemed by "coupon enthusiasts", people who have redeemed at least 188 coupons in the past year.

            In fact, coupons are becoming a problem for some retailers. Target, for example, has a new policy: two buy-one-get-one-free coupons cannot be combined to get both items free. Rite-Aid has new rules on multiple coupons for the same item, and Walgreens follows suite with a policy that says "management reserves the right to limit quantities". Chains don't want to appear stingy, but they don't want people to stock up for a lifetime, either.

             Coupons for fashions? Perhaps only from stores, and only very generally, probably not for specific brands. But before we rule coupons out for luxury brands, shouldn't we at least do some research? Will it hurt the brand? Will there be repercussions, and if so, what kind? Are you sure?

              On the whiteboard in class during a discussion like this, I created a full-page coupon ad for Neiman-Marcus. It said, "Only once in a lifetime will there be a coupon in a Neiman-Marcus ad. Please use a sterling silver scissors to cut it out." I would love to see an ad like this tested. It might sell a lot of merchandise at a 20% discount, and it might even help the store's identity. I don't think it would hurt one iota.

               Stanley Marcus, once the company's Chairman of the Board, was a quality fanatic. Many times, quality has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. A coupon might help accomplish that.

                I once had to do a newspaper ad for a chain of women's specialty stores. Their buyer had purchased about a thousand expensive sweat shirts with etchings of animals illustrated on them --- lions, tigers, elephants, hippos, and so on. They were desperate to sell them, and I talked the president into letting me run a coupon ad for them. I showed him an ad with the headline, "$20 off on endangered sweat shirts." He was nervous. They sold out.

                No, I never saw a Gucci coupon. But never underestimate the power of something your customers will love, even if you don't.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Maybe they'll pay me to not wear Calvin Klein.

        A few weeks ago, the news came out that Abercrombie and Fitch would pay the cast of "Jersey Shore" to not wear its clothing on television.

         Apparently, a cast member had been showing off his abs while wearing their apparel. "The association is contrary to the aspirational nature of our brand and may be distressing to many of our fans", claimed the company's press release. (Apparently having half-naked guys to welcome you at the doors of their stores and employees spraying everything with fragrance is within the aspirational nature of their brand.)

          Sounds like "pay to not wear" could become a terrific new scam. We can create a television show with all kinds of questionable characters. Then we'll contact Mercedes, Ritz Carleton, Chanel, Boss, and some others and promise not to mention them on the show --- for the right kind of money. "Jersey Shore" would never do this, but I'm tempted.

          What do you think about Abercrombie paying to have TV characters not use their products? It sounds extreme, but is it any worse (or, indeed, any different) from a company paying a show to use their apparel? Or giving celebrities their clothes to wear, for the publicity?

          I don't think there's any difference at all. A company has a right to protect its brand, and promote it as it sees fit, within the law, of course.

          Would Tommy Hilfiger give blazers and shorts to everyone on "The Biggest Loser"? I don't think so, any more than Chanel would sponsor Animal Planet. They're not, in my opinion, a good fit for the brands.

           A brand is a precious thing, to be nurtured and cherished, and meticulously grown strategically. Over the years, significant amounts of money --- billions --- are invested in brands. The wrong steps can endanger all that.

           A recent economics study showed that the Coca-Cola brand, by itself, is worth far more than all of the company's bottling plants, factories, buildings and trucks all over the world put together. Just the brand!

          That's why it's so important to take care of a brand, and protect it. As they say, never bite the brand that feeds you.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

The William James School of Marketing.

         It was William James who said it: "The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook." I think that's an interesting description of the marketer's task.

         So often we get so close to a product, so emotionally involved with it, that it's hard for us to believe that everybody won't feel the same way when they hear all the details. Such as a car's rack and pinion suspension, for example.

         Truth is, people don't care about most of the details. They aren't buying a product's features, they're buying a product's benefits. The only features they care about are the ones that make the benefits possible.

         Nobody goes to the hardware store because they want a quarter-inch drill. They go because they want a quarter-inch hole. The drill is just the means to the end. A friend of mine, Chuck, once told me he really didn't want to own shirts. He simply wanted to wear shirts, and wished Hertz would deliver seven of them to his house every week.

         There are exceptions, of course. You might have heard of a woman who collects Christian Louboutin shoes and never wears them. She keeps them neatly arranged on a shelf in her walk-in closet. That woman isn't really that different from the sneakerhead whose preserved collection of Nikes is rapturous, and predicts they'll be worth a fortune some day. Or from me, when I collected Nicole Miller ties.

          Those are exceptions. For those people, the benefit is having, not using. Most of us, on the other hand, want to look well dressed or attractive, professional or scholarly or whatever, and clothes help us achieve the identity we want. Our closets aren't art collections; we're just reluctant to give our past glories to Goodwill.

           William James would've made a good advertising person. He was a pragmatist as well as the great  psychologist of his day. He'd understand that Dior isn't Gucci, and certainly not Guess. He'd know exactly what to put in a Dior ad and what to leave out, to convince you of what Dior can do for you that the others don't.

            Demosthenes, the great ancient Greek orator, would pick up a rock from the shore and study it for hours, until he knew what made that rock different from every other rock on the beach. As a marketer, that will be your job, deciding what to put in and what to leave out in order to sell your product's benefits in the most memorable, convincing way.

             It's that capability that will separate you from every rock on the shore.