Monday, July 23, 2012

Just another pretty face.

Social psychologist Elliot Aronson asks this question: Imagine you are on a blind date. It is the end of the evening and you are wondering whether or not you want to go out with this person again. Which of your partner's characteristics will weigh most heavily? Warmth? Sensitivity? Intelligence? Compassion? How about good looks?

          You guessed correctly. Good looks. In a study at the University of Minnesota, people say that beauty is only skin deep, but blind dates went for good looks for a second date.

          In another study, at UCLA, physical attractiveness was important in long-term relationships, but in a different way. Similarity of attractiveness was crucial to staying power. Those who were well matched in terms of rated physical attractiveness tended to stay together.

          Professor Aronson says we are carefully taught. Disney movies and  storybooks teach us what it means to be good looking. By college, we all seem to agree not only on what is attractive, but what are the qualities of an attractive person. Television and magazines sustain these cultural standards.

          Which brings us to advertising. If you want to know why so many actors are attractive, I just told you. Who would you more likely believe --- an actress who could play Snow White, or an actress who could play her evil stepmother? According to Aronson, the one you would believe in is the one you'd rather be like.

           Now who are you likely to cast in a TV commercial? An attractive model or an unattractive model? And don't say it's a matter of fairness. Social psychologists say there's no such category.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Don't put your shoes on so fast.

       There was a four-color ad in the paper last week that really got my attention. For the wrong reason.

        The ad was for Ermenegildo Zegna. It was a cropped photo of a man beautifully dressed in a grey suit, sitting on a white block. His briefcase was expertly designed, and his elegant loafers matched.

        The tagline in the ad was, "Passion for Details". So what was my problem? The dude wasn't wearing any socks.

         Yes, that got my attention. I admired the suit, craved the briefcase, and I even considered the shoes. But no socks? Why?

          To me, it would be hard to take a businessperson seriously if he forgot to put on his socks. Even less if he didn't wear them on purpose. It seems like this ad could turn off a lot of customers who would say "Obviously this store is not for me."

          I decided to call the Zegna office. The marketing person I spoke to on the phone was very helpful. He explained that whenever they run an ad in the Wall Street Journal, they try to "push the envelope". I asked if a lot of businessmen wear suits without socks. He said "Not in the United States." I asked him where they were likely to do this. He said in Europe.

         Men's fashions have sure come a long way. The suits have looked the same for decades, and so fundamentally have the shirts and shoes. We've been throwing away or ties for a few years, and now we can start throwing away our socks.

         Why don't we really push Zegna's envelope and tatoo our ankles?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

High marks in PR

         Ira Neimark, the former c.e.o. of Bergdorf Goodman, says he learned this lesson about public relations:

          "Whatever the type of business, the financial press, fashion press, entertainment press, and so on are always looking for new products as well as new concepts and new ideas to interest and to stimulate their readers. It is critical to recognize which reporter at which publication is sympathetic, supportive, and very interested in your business concept or model."

           That's a quote from Neimark's second book, "The Rise of Fashion".

           I learned that about the press at a very young age. Growing up in a high-rise in Chicago, I was constantly looking for something to do outside. In the summer, my bike was my key to freedom, riding miles through the parks, zoo and rookery . The Chicago winters meant sticking close to home.

          One snowy day when I was 10, I talked my friend Michael (who lived in 6A, not far from my 11C) into building a snowman. We labored but got nowhere. Fortunately, right on the corner was a huge, round boulder from some earlier age, four feet in diameter. I talked Michael into helping me simply cover it with snow to resemble to body of a snowman, and topping it of with a snow head, a hat, scarf and corn-cob pipe.

          We were proud. I called the city desk of the Chicago Tribune and reported a huge snowman stopping traffic on Lake Shore Drive. They sent a photographer, and I was hooked.

           I was constantly looking for things to call the paper about. Every time, they sent out a photographer. Over the next few years, they got to know me. They covered my puppet shows at the Chicago Public Library, a musical I wrote to support the Red Cross, a teen-age nightclub my friend Jay and I started, and even the humor magazine I started in college.

          I learned exactly what Neimark noted. The key to getting good press was figuring out what the editors were interested in. I'd always call them first and ask them. Then I came back with a story they could use. That was a lesson I've used my entire career, every time I worked on PR for a client or a charity.

         Just remember: your first audience for your PR isn't the reader, it's the editor. If she doesn't like it, nobody else will see it. Help out the editor and you've got your public relations.

Monday, July 16, 2012

How to clean up in the U.S.

        The c.e.o. of Clorox has a strategy different from his big competitors. In an interview in the Wall Street Journal, he said his target for growth is the United States --- not Brazil, China, or India.

        Clorox is doing just fine here and in Latin America. Better than P&G and others.

         Don Knauss has gleaned insights from his customers, especially on "natural cleaning" with products such as Green Works. These insights include, "It's about my world, not about the world". Or, "I don't want my kids around traditional chemicals", or "my child has asthma".

        He also believes one of the most important lessons of marketing: "Consumers aren't very good at articulating what they want. They are usually very good at telling us what doesn't work. We're getting much better at talking to consumers about the issues they have, rather than asking them to design solutions."

        I wonder how that would go over in the fashion business, especially with designers. Should designer brands do a lot more consumer research to understand their customers and glean insights from them?

      Or, instead of research,  should designers perform their art and then offer their products and see what happens? If all designers care about is their art --- art that people seem to be buying to wear, to impress, to feel good in, to attract, to fit into a group or stand out from a group, or for a hundred other reasons --- the designers' chances of pleasing people will always be, well, chancey.

      Of course fashionistas will fly to Paris or Milan to see the shows, but will most people go downtown to see their apparel in the store?

    Fashion designers should try to find happiness with marketers. That way they can become as successful as Clorox's fast-growing Burt's Bees.


Friday, July 13, 2012

The naked closet.

       Annette Tapert, writing for the Wall Street Journal, asked fashion designers how they would create a new wardrobe from scratch. It's the minimalist's ultimate fantasy --- starting over.

       Here's what some of them said, in part:

       Donna Karan: You don't need a lot of pieces, just the right ones. So think versatility.

       Caroline Herrera would immediately replace the item for which she's famous, the white shirt. "It's an easy element for anyone to her own way."

       Vera Wang: "I would immediately buy leggings, t-shirts and sweaters. I'd be heartbroken if I lost my cartigan collection."

       Nanette Lepore thinks having to replace everything is a unique opportunity for self-reinvention, according to Tappert. "First buy what you're obsessed with, then break the mold," Lepore says.

       What would you do? Would you cry over spilled jeans, or love to start over? My own closet has two sections: stuff I wear and stuff I might. Occasionally I wear something from the "might" section and I'm always sorry. The sleeves are too wide, the pants too wide, the pattern over and done with, the lapel on the jacket too thin, too wide, or absent. You'll know me when you see me on those days, especially if I put on my angora sweater.

        I wish I had the willpower to empty my closet into garbage bags, call Goodwill for a pickup and then, in my one remaining pair of Sevens, head for the one store I would let do a makeover.

        J. Crew. The only trouble is, it would look a lot like what I'm wearing right now.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Skinny is no longer in Vogue

           Vogue magazine has announced that they wouldn't use any models under 16 years old,or any that looked like they were suffering from a disease,such as anorexia or bolemia. Obviously, these models were attractive to some people, in some way, or they wouldn't have been used as models.

            What are some of the things we've learned about attractiveness in social psychology studies, and what affect should they have on marketing? According to social psychologist Elliott Aronson, when we see a young football player holding up a can of shaving cream,and recommending it, we know he's getting paid to do this. And yes, it makes him less trustworthy. But less effective?

            Not necessarily. A majority of heads of households said they didn't trust football star Joe Namath---but they bought what he endorsed.What made up for the untrustworthiness? He was attractive and likable.

            A beautiful weoman could influence an audience on a topic unrelated to her beauty. And she has greater influence when she tells you she's trying to influence you!

            Sound scary? Don't worry. The research shows this only works on trivial issues, not moral or other important ones. Research also shows that our opinions are most influenced by people who are both trustworthy and expert. That's what we in marketing` should go for.What's more, trustworthiness and effectiveness can be increased if the communicator argues a position opposed to her own self interest. Somewhat harder to pull off.

           In any case, we're all being influenced all of the time. Even the influencers are being influenced. That's the power of being attractive.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Higgs Boson and the rest of us.

         We all know about the God Particle by now. It's this mysterious particle that scientists described and hoped to find, because it might be a key to the beginning of the universe.

         Well, now scientists believe that they found it. As my friend Paul pointed out, it's the center of one of the most successful marketing campaigns in history. Millions of dollars are pouring in for further research on the sub-atomic particle that nobody can see, nobody is sure exists, and nobody knows what it does.

         Phase Two of the marketing campaign is undoubtedly about to begin. The gimmicks and trinkets based on the particle in question.

         First, of course, will be the classy cedar box, rhinestone-adorned, to keep your God Particle in.

         Then the tee-shirts roll out. "Higgs Boson has nothing on me." And "Kiss me, I know Higgs Boson." Or "Haven't you seen the God particle before?"

         Next, the bumper stickers. "Higgs Boson on board." Or "Back off, I've got the God Particle".

         They'll probably charge millions to rename an athletic facility "God Particle Park".

          I'm told that originally the scientists called it "the God-damn Particle" because it's been so elusive. If the promotion goes the way I think it might, we all might be be calling it that.

Friday, July 6, 2012

I wish I had high cheekbones.

           I've been scouring the fashion magazines to get up to speed for some of my summer classes. I've been struck by one thing: high cheekbones.

           Not all models have them, of course, but the ones that do seem to get special treatment. Special lighting, for example, to make those cheekbones into the fashion equivalent of Mt. Rushmore.

           Charlize Theron has them in her Dior ads. The photographer made sure the light source created a canyon beneath them. 

           Even the Wall Street Journal Magazine, in their section on "Getaway Glamour" swimsuits the models have high cheekbones. They're so pronounced you could high dive off them.

           Did Elizabeth Warren start all this, in her run for the Senate in Massachusetts? She considered that her own high cheekbones could be evidence of a Native American heritage.

           Fortunately, in advertising and marketing recruiting interviews, nobody cares about your cheekbones, high or low. They want to discuss how you think, what you've done, and how you can make their lives easier. How you would fit into their organization. If you're good, you can probably get a job without cheekbones. 

           That's different, of course, from being cheeky. Being cheeky can be a good thing. A lot of my work has been called cheeky (although I personally never use the word).

           I'm looking right now at an ad for the Trump Hotel Collection. The headline says "Own New York". The copy says "Most hotels give you a room. We give you the entire city."

          The visual is a couple frolicking in a fountain. The man is in a tux, the woman has high cheekbones.

          The ad is stupid.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The ultimate creative machine.

            I have to hand it to Marty Puris. Of all of us in our group of Campbell-Ewald alumni, Marty turned out to be the biggest success in business.

            I can reel off a list of ad biggies that were in that group: Marvin Honig, Vice Chairman of Doyle Dane Bernbach; Jane Warshaw, a top writer at Wells, Rich and Greene; Bruce McCall, who now does covers and stories for The New Yorker; Dutch Leonard, of crime novel fame; Carl Ally and Emil Gargano, whose agency made FedEx famous; Ross Van Dusen, creative director of Chiat/Day, San Francisco; Bill Bratkowski, head of Coppos, one of the most famous film companies in L.A.; and more.

           All great. But Marty went for the gold. He and his art-director partner, Ralph Ammirati, went out on their own with the BMW account. "The ultimate driving machine" and some marvellous TV commercials were born, and the rest is advertising history. Interpublic bought their agency and renamed offices all over the world as "Ammirati Puris Lintas".

           On a trip to Italy, I picked up the phone and called Marty from the House of the Poets, the mansion (now a hotel) which the Medicis gave to Dante and friends. Marty wasn't in the Florence office that day, but boy, did I fluster the receptionist.

           I remember Marty on his first day on the job at Campbell-Ewald. He had previously been at N.W.Ayer, writing ads for the Plymouth Barracuda. At our place he was assigned to the Chevrolet Dealers Account. His group had to prepare newspaper ads for 6,000 Chevy dealers across the country. Within six months, Marty was upsetting the status quo. He and his partner Bill Bratkowski had created a campaign positioning Chevy dealer against Chevy dealer, to give you a better deal. The first ad said something like "With Chevy dealers, it's dog eat dog." Another ad read something like "With friends like Chevy dealers, who needs enemies?" The ads made people in our agency nervous. Which made Marty upset. He quit shortly thereafter and went to Young and Rubicam in New York.

           After that, Marty would call me on Saturdays from New York, urging me to join him. I never did. The town wasn't big enough for both of us.

Friday, June 29, 2012

I feel bad about Nora.

          A gifted writer I admire has passed away. Surely you've heard of Nora Ephron.

          She is the author of bestsellers "Heartburn" and "Crazy Salad", and "I Feel Bad About My Neck". Nora received Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay for "When Harry Met Sally", "Silkwood", and "Sleepless in Seattle", which she directed as well. She wrote "You've Got Mail" and the play, "Imaginary Friends".

          Few people have brought so much joy to so many. Here's a bit of what she wrote about handbags: "I hate my purse. I absolutely hate it. This is for women who hate their purses, are bad at purses, who understand that their purses are reflections of negative housekeeping, hopeless disorganization, a chronic inability to throw anything away, and an on-going failure to handle the obligations of a demanding and difficult accessory. The obligation, for example, that it should, in some way, match what you're wearing."

           I loved the way Nora Ephron wrote,the way she thought. She was sharpened to a precise instrument. If she was famous for anything, it was her vulnerabilities.We have that in common. Not being famous, being vulnerable. She said that when she was young, she wanted to write like Dorothy Parker.

           I hope you don't think it's inappropriate, but I'd like to end with this Nora Ephron comment, which I've laughed out loud about for years: "Sometimes I think that not having to worry about your hair anymore is the upside of death."

           Goodbye, Nora. We should've told you long ago that we loved you just as you were.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

To hop or not.

         A headline in Advertising Age got my attention: "Intelligent job hopping now the best way to achieve job security". I guess that depends on how you define "intelligent job".

         My entire career in advertising was based on job hopping, I don't ever remember being secure. I hopped just about every time someone offered me a new job. It always sounded better than where I was at. Suddenly my present job seemed a lot less good than it did the day before.

          It wasn't just the money. It was the scope of the new position. The authority, the budget, the "opportunity".

          According to the piece in Ad Age, there are four big advantages to changing jobs:

          1. Experience. "Every agency works with different brands that require distinctive thinking and ideas." So I guess you get experience but the client doesn't. That's silly.

          2. Networks. "It's all about who you know." I've known a lot of great people in the ad business. Every time you leave an agency, you kiss them goodbye, usually for good. Except for your now-ex-boss, for whom you've created a lot of problems by leaving.

          3. Salary bump. "Probably the best way to increase your pay." And your unhappiness, unless you're very lucky.

         4. Creative fertilizer. "Most people need change and a chance to reinvent themselves." True, most do. The good people are already reinvented.

          By now you get my point. I've job-hopped a lot, and it's a lot like falling in love with anyone who sends you a valentine or asks you to dance. I would've been just as well off staying put all these years. And if you're the type of person who's willing to continue learning all the time, you'll keep learning while staying put.

           I must admit I don't know how job-hopping gets you more security. It's always taken mine away, and taken about a year or two to get it back.


Monday, June 25, 2012

It's been a (long) year.

        For those of you who haven't been counting, I've written 365 of these pieces in the last year, one a day no matter what. "No matter what" covers a lot of ground.

        When I first started, my nephew Jeremy urged me on. Jeremy is in L.A., where he's the Mac technician to the stars, and a very good guy. His company name is Macman. But even his familial loyalty gave out after a month or so, and I haven't heard from him since.

         All of these pieces have been written for educational purposes. Writing them is how I educate myself. My students of advertising and marketing say they like them as well. Maybe I should give them a quiz.

         The other morning one of my colleagues told me this blog has a lot to offer. I asked how she happened to read it and she said it was recommended by a friend of hers who teaches in the United Arab Emirates. He emailed her that he recommends it to his students.

         An average of a thousand different people read this every month. That's scary. It really whips up my anxiety level.

         On days I commute from Berkeley to San Francisco, I write these in the morning on BART, the trans-Bay train. The other days I write them at  PIQ, the wonderful Italian coffee house in Berkeley. Then I edit them in the evening and post them first thing in the morning. It's become an obsession.

         Starting today, I hope to go on a different schedule. Mondays-Wednesdays-Fridays. But since there are hundreds you haven't read, you're still invited to come here tomorrow. That would be good.

         When I first became an ad agency creative director, I was a wreck. The title was great, but what if all my time was taken up doing administrative stuff? So I decided to take advantage of my new position and assign all the interesting jobs to myself. People started grumbling, but then I decided it was not only fine but appropriate. Those kinds of tough problems deserved my thinking.

          Besides, every writer has to write. Thus, my blog.

          I'd like to hear from you, so please keep commenting. That way, I won't run out of ideas. Hopefully, neither will you.

         See you Wednesday.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Changing the odds in "The Pitch".

          Biographer Walter Isaacson quoted Steve Jobs: "There's a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by e-mail and iChat. That's crazy."

           Jobs knew that creativity came from people meeting spontaneously and having random discussions. That is, when ideas don't come from one brilliant creative person just thinking by herself.

           When I was Creative Director at Chevrolet's ad agency in Detroit, we called it "a 360° walk around the problem". It was a technique for revealing every useful concept, and I've used it successfully for many new business pitches.

           I realized early on that expecting a potential client to hire your agency based on one or two ideas was almost like daring them to hire you. The odds were terrible.

          So we always told a client that we started off by looking at ideas from every point of view. For cars, for example, an historic point of view, a woman's point of view, a family's point of view, a technological point of view, an economic point of view, various social and psychological points of view, and so on.

          Once we introduced our "walk", we got over 80% of all the accounts we pitched, large and small.The ultimate test was a few years later when we made our presentation to the Mexican Tequila Producers' Association. Their marketing committee came to visit us at Interpublic's offices in Chicago for their $10-million account and I presented an elaborate version of a "360° Walk Around Tequila". It took a good 45 minutes and the next morning we were awarded the account. That's when I was first told how great that was, because nobody on their committee spoke or understood English.

          Steve Jobs was right again. Our agencies' ideas were arrived at nose to nose, pencil to paper. Nothing phoned in, texted, or Skyped in.

          I'll drink to that.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Lonely enough to face Facebook?

           The Atlantic is worried. In their May, 2012 issue, the magazine asked, "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?"

           The article by Stephen Marche says that we never have been lonelier or more narcissistic. "This loneliness is making us mentally and physically ill." He calls it an epidemic.

           Marche's condemnation is flat out. "We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are. We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sacs and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information."

          He admits that while solitude can be lovely, crowded parties can be agony. "Loneliness is not a matter of external conditions; it is a psychological state," he says. 

          The article quotes the UCLA Loneliness Scale, which shows loneliness rising drastically over a very short period recently. Is social media to blame, even partly?

          Research shows that today we meet fewer people in person, as we increase our "friendships" in social media dramatically. To discuss our real problems, we hire 77,000 clinical psychologists, 30,000 social workers, 400,000 non-clinical social workers, 50,000 marriage and family therapists, 105,000 mental-health counsellors, 220,000 substance abuse counsellors, 17,000 nurse-therapists, and 30,000 life coaches.

          And being lonely is bad for our health. Marche says technology is enabling our tendancy for isolation. Here are some things to think about:

          1. Does Facebook encourage more contacts outside of family, at the expense of family contacts?

          2. Do lonely people spend more and more time on Facebook? Is it a substitute for personal relationships?

          3. Does "Liking" substitute for expressing yourself fully?

          4. Is wandering through Facebook a lonely task or a social task for you?

          The article concludes that loneliness is not something that social media is doing to us. It's something we're doing to ourselves.

          Whatever is going to become of solitude?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Threatened by a little bug.

           I owe you an update on my Volkswagen Beetle. You've heard how thrilled I was to own one, and I haven't had a moment's trouble. From the car.

          The Beetle I bought is a beige convertible. Car people call it a camel ragtop. It is what it is.

           I think it should be re-named the Rodney Dangerfieldmobile. Driving it, I get no respect.

           People in every other make and model are passing me up, cutting me off, going around me, and generally letting me know that their Dodges and Subarus are much more important than my Beetle. Much more stature and substance.

           It's something I've never experienced before, and I certainly wasn't prepared. Of course I'm evolved enough to understand that it's just envy. Piston envy, I guess.

           These so-called other motorists have undoubtedly been wanting a VW Beetle since they were in high school, at home studying for their drivers' license eye tests. They've always wanted a car that gets in small parking places, has a trunk big enough for a loaf of bread, and no ego. In other words, a car that either says they're cool or on the runway for take-off to their midlife crises.

           I really don't know how to get even with them. My driving is pretty normal and I want it to stay that way. I certainly can't tell grown men that they wasted their youth, that love makes the world go 'round, and that they should stop and smell the roses instead of cutting me off at the corner.

           Incidentally, it's always men who are this rude and ruthless. The women are too busy on their cellphones to notice.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Here's Johnny.....

           Ed McMahon had a great quote on a recent TV documentary about Johnny Carson. He said, about being a sidekick, "You had to be good, but not too good".  I've been there, done that in advertising.

           I've paid my dues as the sidekick to a variety of creative directors, each with their own priorities and their own schtick. It wasn't easy.

          As Associate Creative Director, I worked for one CD who simply left it up to me to get all the department's work done. He knew I could be depended on to get everything done, even if I had to do a ton of it myself. He said I was "the perfect combination of the Protestant work ethic and Jewish guilt". He spent most of his time at lunch.

          Another creative director loved my work, discussed his problems with me --- until his envy finally emerged. After a meeting he threw a dart into one of my layouts he had presented in the meeting. Being the strong, silent type, I never did tell him why I quit.

         Still another creative director I worked for simply over-creative-directed. Everything had to be exactly his way. He came to every meeting equipped with two red pencils and two red pens. He re-wrote people's copy on the spot. When I left he offered me a huge raise to stay. But it was blood money.

         Throughout these tenures, I learned to be "good but not too good". It had its rewards. Good pay, a good title, a good amount of respect. I agreed to be second banana in return for less responsibility. I could always duck and let my boss take the fall for unpopular decisions.

          But I also had less authority to do things my way. I eventually let myself become the top banana and took the bad with the good. It had its painful moments (such as when you come in second on a new account). Ultimately it felt more honest.

         My advice to you: go for it!

(Footnote: Top banana and second banana are burlesque and vaudeville terms. The second banana takes it in the kisser with the soda water. The top banana is the comic who does the spritzing.)


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

If it isn't denial, it's self-justification.

           The more I read about social psychology, the more I know we in marketing and advertising have a lot to learn.

           One big area is self-justification. We humans are constantly trying to convince ourselves we're doing the right thing.

            In a study of smokers who lit up between one and two packs of cigarettes daily, 60% considered themselves "moderates". These people were very aware of the long-run dangers of smoking. They just took a subjective way out. Social psychologists say we are not only motivated to want to be right, we are motivated to believe we are right.

            Here's another example. Let's say you're trying to decide between two cars --- a small VW Jetta and a full-size Acura SUV. You read the research, talk to people, and decide on the Acura. Why? You identify more with SUV owners. You conclude you'll keep it far longer than the Jetta. You'll think about how majestic it makes you feel, and all the amazing weekend trips you'll take now that you'll have the proper wheels.

            All rationales, of course, and you use them well. Even after you own the Acura, you'll read the Acura ads more carefully than ever. They'll help stave off buyers' remorse.

            According to UC Santa Cruz professor Elliot Aronson, this sort of thing is natural. After we spend a chunk of money, dissonance sets in. This is because nothing is 100% perfect, and the alternative we rejected is never 100% awful.

           A safe way to reduce the dissonance, Aronson says, is the advertising. It can be counted on not to disparage your choice. In fact, new buyers of cars steer clear of ads for other makes; they don't want their decision to be shaken, as we de-emphasize the negative attributes of what we've bought.

           Do we ever think of this kind of thing when we prepare our marketing plans? Nope. Should we? Yes. We should try to decide if it's relevant, and if so, how we can put it to good use.

           The psyche is a wonderful thing. And each of our customers has one.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tumbling ads.

The c.e.o. of Tumblr, David Karp, has been concentrating on growing its user base, and is doing quite well at it.  There were 58 million unique visitors in March, compared to 26 million a year ago.

         But he doesn't want to sell ads on users' blogs. Even though Tumblr as over 53 million blogs on the site, Karp said the company was "pretty opposed to advertising". He said that "it really turns our stomachs".

         Good for him. He may be right that bloggers won't like ads on their works, but maybe he should give them an income-sharing option the way Google does. Google gets a lot of takers, and nobody's the worse for it.

         So far I haven't accepted the notion of ads for this site. I use this space to critique ads, and don't  want to feel inhibited. Maybe that's a mistake.

         Ads are everywhere these days. Because newspapers seem to be slowly fading and social media are taking up so much of our time and attention, advertisers are looking for places to promote their goods. Ads are atop taxis, and inside. You can't even go to a hotel bathroom without seeing ads.

         Tumbler will probably give in over time. They'll do well. The question for advertisers is whether Tumbler is a good place to advertise. Will they get a good return on dollar spent? Will they get quality responses?

         Tumbler says it will try to sell a small number of ads on its directory and dashboard pages.  Instead of getting nauseous over advertising, Tumbler will have to get serious before advertisers will take them for a tumble.

         I hope they do. I like Tumblr, especially with all the "e's" I don't have to type.


Monday, June 18, 2012

The flavor line in advertising.

            When I started out in advertising in Chicago, there were such titles as Executive Art Director and Copy Chief. They each reported to the Creative Director, and had their own area of expertise. Sort of.

             Our agency was trying to emulate the model of Doyle Dane Bernbach, the agency that changed everything. Writers and art directors were encouraged to work together on a problem, but we were small (six of each) and art directors always seemed to have more to do. As a result, we writers often had to start alone. "I'll catch up with you" was the call of the art director.

             It could be frustrating. By the time the A.D. was free, the writer had come up with a concept she was in love with, but had to humor her partner to come to the same conclusion.

             One of the brightest people in our agency was the copy chief, Carl Lyren. He joined the agency from Leo Burnett Co. and was thrilled to be at a small agency, free of any bureaucracy.

             Carl was a foodie before that word was invented, and spent a lot of time on the Wish-Bone Salad Dressing account. I loved the way his mind worked; always going for what Mr. Burnett had called "the inherent drama" in a product. Carl found that drama in the Wish-Bone "flavor line", as he called it. Where the oil and vinegar separated, and the spices collected. He was constantly trying to find new ways to tell that story of that Italian authenticity.

              I was assigned to the Jim Beam Bourbon account, but there was very little to do. The client just wanted the slogan, "The World's Finest Bourbon Since 1795" and a big bottle. Carl had me experimenting with new ways to tell that story, but after a few months, turned me loose on Healthknit underwear, Corina Cigars, Carling beer, and other accounts. I was a happy camper.

           Carl quit and moved to New York. He had received a big offer from Grey Advertising, and wanted to prove himself of Madison Avenue. He did very well and then suddenly quit there to write a cookbook. It was called "French Cooking for the American Table" and Carl wrote it with Rene Verdun, the famous White House chef.

            After the book, Carl became a sought-after freelance writer, and when I had a chance I was able to hire him on Bank One, in Chicago. Carl was terrific, but commuting to Chicago became too hard. I haven't seen him since.

           I'm grateful to Carl for the opportunities he gave me and all he taught me. We all need someone to show us the flavor line between good advertising and great.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Breakfast at Subway's.

Yesterday I watched another episode of "The Pitch" on AMC. I found it scarier than any episode of "24" ever was.

           It sort of hitchhikes on "Mad Men". "The Pitch" is a reality show about two advertising agencies pitching a new account. One wins the account, the other gets a "thanks for your hard work" and goes away.

           The episode I watched was about two ad agencies --- one in Los Angeles and the other in North Carolina --- presenting their ideas for promoting a new breakfast menu at Subway's. The stated objective was to convince people 18 to 24 to get their breakfasts there. A pretty tough audience. The younger ones are strapped for money and for all of them, a good breakfast isn't what it used to be.

           The North Carolina ad agency presented two ideas that were pretty close to the ground.  One was about talking breakfast items (I forgot what the sandwich said to the scone) and the other a rap.

           The L.A. shop's presentation was snappier, about "Breakfast Zombies". I won't give away who won, in case you want to watch it on But what made me nervous was the tension of it all. How many times have I been there, 100% into the game.

           The managers at the agency in North Carolina seemed hard-edged competitive. Shockingly so. Nervous and negative. The L.A. people were very laid-back, confident they knew what they were doing. At least on the outside. Inside they were probably jelly, because jam don't shake like that.

           Yes, an all-or-nothing game. Advertising is a tough business. Win or lose,though, none of the people looked like they'd trade it for a good accounting job.

           As someone said, advertising is the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Cosmic Blonde in all of us.

In his book, "On Paradise Drive", David Brooks shares this insight:

           "The inescapable fact is that the universe is divided between Blondes and Brunettes. This is not a matter of the color of one's hair. This is a cosmic trait. The Cosmic Blonde floats through life on a beam of sunshine, from success to success. The Cosmic Brunette obsesses and reflects, frets and fumes, turns inward...writes and reads books, worries, condemns and evaluates, judges, discerns and doubts. The Cosmic Blonde water-skis."

            Brooks admits there are "brunettes of the soul, and vice versa." Regardless of our hair color, we have to admit there are these two types of people in the world.

            As marketers, we probably have both types in our target markets. Because there are so many kinds of people, we have to understand them if we are to sell to them.

            There are, of course, "universal benefits" in many products. We all want to look attractive and smell good, for example. We all want to be healthy, and know what we need to achieve our goals.

             For most products, though, we have to learn how to satisfy people's needs before we can interest them in our product. (For example, with perfume, we need to know if someone would buy it to smell good, to attract a lover, or to be like everybody else.)  When we don't, we risk leaving out large numbers of people. Today we can't afford to leave them out by neglect. Even though their norms and desires may be completely different than your own.

             For example, would the Cosmic Blonde want a Vespa for the same reason a Cosmic Brunette would? How do we know for sure? The Cosmic Brunette may worry about her Vespa being stolen while she's at work, while the Cosmic Blonde wants to make sure she is seen in it. 

             I don't feel comfortable with how Brooks categorizes people, but the biggest danger in advertising is to think everyone is exactly like you, and feels the way you do. They don't. We can't become myopic. 

            I'm a greying Cosmic Brunette, myself. I wonder what I mean by that?

Friday, June 15, 2012

A pushover for briefcases.

Dunhill ads really have class. This morning's paper has an ad for their Bourdon document case. It features a  quote from "The Secret Agent", by Joseph Conrad:

            "I'm afraid that if you want to go down in history you'll have to do something for it."

            I want that briefcase. Everyone will know it contains secret documents, and that I'm on a mission for the Queen. I'm cool, confident, and beautifully groomed. We leave tonight at midnight.

            That's saying a lot for a briefcase. A student of mine said his father told him that if he ever wanted to amount to anything, there are two things a man should have: a good white shirt and a good watch. I'd give the shirt off my back for this document case.

            I've seen a lot of ads for briefcases over the years, and they're all pretty much the same. Pretty much the same as this one, in fact. They all seem to have distinguished men in pin-striped suits holding the love object.

           But what makes this ad different is the quote. It puts the Bourdon document case in a class by itself. There's a story there, a romance. It becomes a badge of importance, gravitas, enviable worldliness. You have to admit that's a lot for a few words to add.

          The Dunhill people also assure you that it's chrome tanned leather (whatever that means) with stainless steel hardware. Nice to know, but who cares? This case can take you into history.

           For the price of a briefcase, even a Dunhill briefcase, that's not a bad bargain.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The business side of social media.

Most U.S. companies now use social networks. Do they use them well, or just use them? Here's the research.

            A study by InSites Consulting indicates that 66% have a Facebook page, 51% have a Twitter account, and 44% have a Linkedin page. Here's the rub: only 16% say their social marketing efforts are "fully integrated across the organization".

            Most companies are using social media tactically, rather than as a part of a well-orchestrated marketing program.

           Those who are fully integrating it say they are getting results in three important ways. More effective marketing communications; higher consumer satisfaction; and stronger financial returns.

            So, you ask, what does it take? According to the study, three types of changes are needed to integrate social media into the organization. Personal change, structural change, and cultural change.

            Employees have to be open to technology --- and new technologies. The company has to be ready to educate employees in social media, have social media training programs, and the top execs have to be active in social media themselves.

           Companies  have to have a clear view of how to use social media. They have to include them in the media plans and understand how to use them. And what not to do, as well. Companies should encourage their people to freely use social media personally, to get involved in it.

           At the same time, a company's values have to be clearly defined, and they have to be as important as the business strategy. Everyone has to understand these values, to speak with a unified voice.

           Now you understand why so few companies have fully integrated social marketing. They don't really know how to use it. Social marketing isn't advertising, and it isn't public relations, and only sometimes it's sales promotion. And financial return can be kind of murky if you don't know how to measure it.

           There. Now I've got to check my Linkedin profile.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Is the town too small, or are you?

When I was Associate Creative Director at Detroit's largest ad agency, one of our best writers quit and left this sign on his office door: "I've gone to Chicago to become rich and famous".

           His name was Tom and I had lunch with him recently in Chicago. I must report he's neither rich nor famous. He's having a good time freelancing, and is known among a small circle of creative directors as being a large talent and good to work with, but not rich and famous.

           Do we all have to go to a bigger city to achieve our dreams in marketing? I think not. Nike got huge in Beaverton, Oregon. Fallon became a worldwide creative power in Minneapolis. GDS&M became formidable in Austin, Texas. The North Face is in Berkeley, California. Gatorade is from Indianapolis.

           It's not how big the city is. It's how big your ideas are.

           Everyone's got to start somewhere, and the advertising and marketing jobs are more plentiful in New York and Chicago. That's where the biggies are, for the most part.

           When Willie Sutton, a famous bank robber, was asked why he robs banks, he said that's where the money is. He said he goes where the money is, and he goes there often. That's a marketing plan that could work well for you.

            I always was trying to angle a way to get transferred here, to San Francisco. My bosses always said no, everyone wants to go to San Francisco, and we need you here. Many years ago, when Hal Riney left McCann here to work for Ogilvy, my friend Jerry Andelin got me an interview and I was chosen to be the new C.D. For family reasons, I turned it down, and it took until I had my own agency to find a way back.

            You can be a star anywhere --- Milwaukee, Baltimore, Kansas City, or New Orleans. One ad agency, CPB, made Miami an ad center overnight. Hill Holiday did the same for Boston. All you need is the talent.

            Just understand that when it comes time to move on you may have to leave town to get a good job. If you're very good, they'll come and find you.

            That's when you know you've found a career.




Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Should I offer 10%-off to read this?

          Amazon has announced that they will be offering coupons, to cash in on the demand that Groupon seems to have tapped into. The program is called Amazon Local, and its first market will be Chicago, Groupon's home base.

          Inevitable, I suppose. In our introductory course in Entrepreneurship, we talk about the value of having an "unfair advantage". Something that your competitor can't easily copy; expertise, a patent, and so on.

          I don't believe Groupon has an unfair advantage. They believe the style their offers are written in has an advantage. They say they have a distinctive humorous style. Groupon claims they choose their offer-writers on this basis, and say they have editors to protect this style.

          It's great that Groupon hires writers. It's hard to get writing jobs these days. But what's so funny about a coupon for a hike? And I've never found white-water rafting to be particularly hilarious. Hey, whatever tickles you.

          We Americans do love coupons. About 67% of all families use them. They've never gone out of style, regardless of what JC Penney says.

           Advertisers know there are two kinds of people who read the Sunday newspapers. The people who throw away all the coupon sections first, and the people who read them first. That's why advertisers know they have to reach both, and use both coupon ads and regular brand-building ads.

          The Internet is also big on coupons. I can't imagine opening my email and not getting coupons to try a new product or to stick with an old one.

          Groupon has put a little fun into coupons. So have Living Social and and the others. They have "rules", which makes a little game out of it. Amazon is big and trustworthy, and they'll have clout in bringing us some hefty offers.

          And you must admit, two hours of whale-watching is a hefty offer.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Who are you going to influence today?

          The Harvard Business Review recently asked this question: What's your influencing style?  To help you along, the magazine provided these questions to ask yourself:

          1. Do you use logic and facts?

          2. Do you rely on rules, law, and authority?

          3. Do you look for compromises and make concessions?

          4. Do you communicate a sense of shared mission and inspirational appeals?

          5. Do you rely on building support and building coalitions?

          The publication went on with some further questions. How is this working for you? Are you more successful with certain types of people?

          In marketing and advertising, we have the potential of using the same kind of techniques you're comfortable with in your personal dealings.

          Unfortunately, logic and facts are the first to go these days in advertising campaigns. In the interest of "fewer words" we drop them. Too bad. Reasons have always been part of a salesperson's tool kit. They disarm skeptics.

          Personal confidence is important. It's easy to spot, and when it's missing, devastating. Your position, your tone of voice --- everything communicates it.

         Negotiating has a place, too. Your offers reflect this: "Order now and we'll..." Are you willing to give a little?

         Stories and metaphors are the basis of most salesmanship. We all love stories, and the best ads tell stories about products. Check out the Chanel commercial that takes place on the Orient Express.

         Connecting is crucial on social media these days, and relationship-building is the name of the game. People would trust someone on Facebook they don't know more than they'd trust a corporation.  Put referrals and endorsements to work.

         No two companies have the same influencing style. Most have a combination. Maybe we should go over this list now and then, to improve on our own.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Always leave 'em laughing.

         In the '70s and '80s, when clients asked Doyle Dane Bernbach if they always did humorous commercials, the answer was no. "We don't do humorous commercials. We do human commercials."

         There's no way to improve on that answer. A client could question humor as a selling technique, but not human. Someone could say "I don't think that's funny" but funny wasn't the point. Relating to people was the point.

         David Ogilvy, another bigger than life figure in modern advertising, was clearly against using humor. "Nobody buys anything from a clown", he said. Perhaps he had a point there.If I answered my front door and there was a clown there with something to sell, I'd be scared out of my wits.

         But advertising is different. Humor gives us permission to be listened to. It enables us to give a little gift to a tired viewer who certainly didn't come home after a hard day at work to watch us talk about cars and candy. Humor helps us plant an idea memorably, and maybe even get our commercials watched again on YouTube.

         I've known a lot of funny people in advertising. One good friend had been the head of the studio card division at American Greetings. "Studio card" is greeting card talk for humorous. He went on to become Vice Chairman at Doyle Dane Bernbach. They obviously liked his ability to be human.

         Another friend of mine had been a lounge comedian in Indiana. That was before he became chairman of a large international ad agency.

         When I worked at the ad agency now known as Publicis, I became known for writing humorous commercials. To a fault. Creative people were constantly at my door asking me to add a funny "spin" on the end of their commercials. Which is usually impossible. As every comedy writer knows, in creating a joke you have to know the punch line before you begin.

         I'm having trouble ending this piece because by now you're expecting me to be funny and whenever that happens, I'm not. But don't worry. Tomorrow about 3 o'clock I'll think of something hysterical. Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Soap suds.

         I'm on my way under San Francisco Bay, on BART, and staring at a poster inside the train car. I have no idea what it's about. Maybe you can help.

        The poster says "Save 20% on your first order. Free 1 - 2 day delivery." Then the logo: That's all.

        Maybe they're talking to their present customers. No, it says "on your first order". I guess I could be interested if I knew what they do, but I don't. Do they sell soap? Just soap? All kinds of soap, liquid, powder, and bars? How much soap can a person use?

        Is there anything in the poster to encourage me to find out more? Nope. Just a picture of a splash of water. Makes sense when you're selling to people who use soap. I can't imagine one person on this train saying "I can't wait to get to my computer so I can order more soap. It's 20% off, you know!"

       Why do advertisers do this to themselves? Why can't they put themselves in their customers' shoes and figure out how to get them to their Web site?

        One of the first lessons that was pounded into me as a young copywriter was to ask, "Is it interesting to the customer?" Fail on this one and you fail everything.

        Very few people on this train are reading something. One is dozing. The rest are looking around. I'm sure they've seen the poster and are sure they don't need to place an order.

        Oh, look! On the back of the train there's another poster for the same company. It says "From floor wax to bikini wax at prices that aren't a rip off". Good to know. No just soap. Also wax.

        Sometimes marketers get a little too close to their products and forget that the world is not about soap, floor wax, or bikini wax. The world is about people.

        People who rather think their own thoughts than try to figure out what you do.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Charity begins with salad.

         On my very first real job with an ad agency in Chicago, there was a call to help solve a serious problem: starvation.

         The people in Bafra were starving and all the ad agencies got together to ask their clients for contributions of their products. One of our clients was Wish-Bone salad dressing. We couldn't believe it when we heard back that Wish-Bone was contributing 100 cases of Wish-Bone Low Calorie Dressing.
I don't know what the Corina Cigar people contributed.

         Working pro-bono for charities and causes has always been a big part of advertising agency life. Over the years I did magazine campaigns for the Community Chest using Peanuts characters. Charles Schulz even said I did a good job. I've also headed up the national United Way advertising campaign. We got Saul Bass to do their logo (the hand holding a family and topped with a rainbow) as well as all the ads and commercials.

         I got good at writing theme-lines for causes. For the A.R.C., I wrote "When you give help, you give hope" --- with a dove flying off the logo. For the United Way, "Thanks to you, it's working". It was the first time a cause had thanked people in advance. For the President's National Center for Voluntary Action, I wrote "If you want a better country, raise your hand".

        Doing this kind of work keeps everybody fresh. Agencies love it because it looks good on their client list. The creative people love it because it gives them something new to think about besides Charmin tissues or Lean Cuisine.

        My most enjoyable project was working with John Delorean, the car maven. He was head of Chevrolet at the time, and had learned about the Police Athletic League in New York and wanted to re-create it in Detroit. PAL was a great organization where the police, on their own, bought sports equipment for poor kids and helped them learn baseball and the rest. I went to New York with my friend Tom Murray to learn more.

        We stayed at the Sutton Place Hotel, on Central Park South. After a good breakfast, we'd get in a cab to take us to the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. But the cab wouldn't go farther. We had to switch to a jitney cab (they're usually purple) to get to our destination, to see how PAL really worked. After two days, we knew. When we returned I wrote four of the most emotional ads of my career.

         Sometimes the things you get to sell are worth more than dollars.




Thursday, June 7, 2012

Mad Boy hits the stalls.

          Richard Kirshenbaum has a new book out and I'm envious. It's called "Mad Boy" and it's about his experiences in the Mad Men days of advertising. I haven't read it yet, but I will.

          His ad agency is in New York, called Kirshenbaum and Bond. They're good, never really got big. They're the ones who did the wonderful (and inexpensive) ads that made Kenneth Cole famous.

          One I remember was simply a checklist of all the models, clothes, and locations they'd need for a big photo shoot (which, of course, never took place). Another was a graph of the stock market, explaining that while everyone was losing their shirts, it was good they were in the shoe business.

          The Kenneth Cole ads found their way into a book called "Footsteps", which every copywriter should read. It's amazing what you can do with a sharp pencil and paper.

           There was a time, before stock photography, when simple all-copy ads were quite common. Now, thanks to Getty et al, smiling faces are everywhere. They don't actually visualize anything, or serve any strategic purpose. They just look nice. And often distract from the message.

           When I was starting out, there were a lot of requests for low-budget or no-budget ads. My art-director friend Ross told me that when he was at Doyle Dane Bernbach in Los Angeles, he had to create a Volkswagen TV commercial with a $400 budget. He designed and sold the client on a very simple spot, grabbed a bunch of magic markers, and went to the TV station to do it himself. It was Ross' hands you saw drawing the outline of the Beetle, as he talked about it during the Rose Bowl telecast.

           Creating simple, inexpensive ads is hard work. Sometimes harder than big, elaborate ads.

            But they can be very easy to read.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Creative hiring.

         After years of recruiting creative people for advertising agencies, I still don't have a foolproof way of telling who's going to be great.

         Looking at my own "system", it tends to be a 60/40 proposition. Forty percent has to do with what's in their sample books. The 60 includes a lot of foo-foo dust.

         For one thing, a lot has to do with how the person will do in the agency culture. Are they fun and enthusiastic? Are they motivated to work on their own, or will they need a lot of hand-holding? Are they open and enjoyable to talk with?

         Importantly, do they easily share their feelings? Ad agency creative departments are little hot-houses of emotion. Some of it goes into the ads and commercials. The rest spills over. Or gets pent up.

         Another measure I've always used is strictly unscientific. Do I like them? I've rarely hired someone I didn't like, or at least wasn't prepared to. In advertising you practically have to live with your colleagues, days and sometimes nights. Nobody can avoid anybody.

         One quality that I've always looked into is the ability to process information quickly. I've found it a useful way to get a handle on a person's intelligence.

         I have to add that everyone is nervous on a job interview, and I try to discount that. That's where their portfolio of work comes in. Is it nervous, too --- or calm, confident, funny, and authoritative? Is it surprising and fun to look at, so you want to keep going, page after page? Do you secretly wish one or two of those ideas were yours? That's the ultimate test.

         Think of it this way. Creative directors don't need writers or art directors. They need two things: ideas and help.

         Be prepared to do more than you're paid for.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My two cents' worth on the one percent.

          A fashion marketing student of mine wanted to create a store for women to buy their Cotillion attire.

         He explained that the debutante season is really big in the South, and he wanted young women to come to him before they came out (as they say).

         The debutante season is a series of teas, parties, and dances where upper crust families formally announce the availability of their daughters. A Cotillion is the name given to the big party. It's actually the name of a dance, like the quadrille, where partners constantly change.

          No wonder the Great Gatsby had so many beautiful shirts. Even though he was from Long Island, you never know when someone will be coming out. One thing about the very rich, they do live in a style I'd like to become accustomed to.

          In my experience, when advertising people want to address the top tier, their work suddenly becomes more stilted and phony. They purse their lips, figuratively order a cup of Earl Gray and a scone, and lift their pinkies to pour.

         Their writing becomes stifled and sounds like a 1956 Cadillac ad. Words like "bejeweled" and "enchanted" pop up. Women in their ads become pale, men become old chaps, and cocker spaniels morph into toy Pekingese. 

          When I lived in Chicago, the people next door in my high rise had a daughter who was going through the debutante thing. She had to go for fittings and rehearsals, when all she wanted to do was walk her Manchester terrier. 

           Her parents were regular people.They had to dig their car out of the snow like everyone else, and were upset when someone tipped over their daughter's bike in the bicycle room. But they got into the social register, and that's what mattered. That became their life.

           I learned something I've carried with me my entire career, as I worked on ads for expensive cars and exclusive clubs, million dollar yachts, and hotels and resorts that charge an arm and a leg. This is it:

           There's no real difference between the rich and the poor. It's just better to be rich.


Monday, June 4, 2012

Have some coffee. We're going to the Gap.

         Yoki Katsura is quoted as saying, "Buying new clothes can be like giving yourself a new life". Yoki is senior vice president of global research and design for Fast Retailing's Uniqlo stores.

          As exaggerated as that claim of a new life sounds, ask anyone who owns a great leather jacket.  I know of no other single piece of clothing that can do so much for one's persona. By the time you put your arm in the second sleeve, you've become sharp, knowledgable, with it, and someone to be reckoned with.

          A denim jacket may come in second. A black North Face jacket, third.

           Uniqlo has only one U.S. store open right now, in New York, with a second to open soon in San Francisco. I have a hunch that once they become more ubiquitous, the Gap will have to wake up. Uniqlo takes updated traditional and actually makes it fun. Basic things, like t-shirts, sweaters, khakis, and even parkas. They have 1,085 stores in Japan, and no wonder. They get it right.

           The lesson here for marketers is to never stop experimenting. Never stop imagining, improving, going out on a limb. Once you stop, it's really hard to get the engine going again.

           Early in my professional life, I left the ad agency I was with to join a cosmetics company. It sounded glamorous. It was dull. A year later when the ad agency called me and asked if I would come back, I  jumped at it. But it took a while for my brain to get back to creative work. My first ads were dull, derivative. Then my brain clicked into gear. I was out of the box again, and thrilled.

          That's probably the story of the Gap. They couldn't get out of that box they're in, so they decided to sleep there. But it's become predictable, and the last thing you want is to look predictable.

          Put on your leather jacket, open the door, and be whoever you want to be.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Popularity isn't everything. Or is it?

          Every spring Bloomberg Business Week puts out their "popularity issue". I doubt if it's as popular as the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, but you can still observe a lot.

          For instance, trout flies (usually used for fishing) are now a big fashion item. On another fashion note, Tom Whiting, the world's largest producer of rooster feathers, now "harvests" more that 1,000 birds a week.

          For lasting popularity, the 20-year hero is "Law and Order". Producer Dick Wolf says,"It's the writing, stupid".

          The all-time best-selling garment is Levi's 501 jeans. Today, denim is a $14.7 billion industry in the U.S.  Marcus Wainwright, designer for Rag and Bone, says "Men's jeans have not changed, in effect, ever."

           The Alexander McQueen exhibit, "Savage Beauty, at the Metropolitan Museum, drew more than 650,000 people. The record Tweets-per-second is 7,000 --- July 18, 2001 at the FIFA Women's World Cup Soccer final. Zombies are all the rage in classic movies, and 41,860,000 pounds of mustard were produced here last year.

           Ever since high school, millions of Americans have been obsessed with popularity, and we should ask ourselves why. Certainly there's comfort in numbers. If everyone is playing "Story Cubes" at parties these days, you'll want to join in. One question is, should marketers be selling their products to people who want to fit in, or people who want to stand out? It depends --- on your product, your distribution, your prices, and everything else.

          But one thing is clear. In times like these, when it's so easy and fast to copy a product's features, differentiation depends more and more on branding. Branding in the larger sense. What does your brand say to people; what can it do for people? Keep building the brand and if you do it right, popularity will build.

          In England this year, the Middleton sisters have created a craze for sheer stockings. As a marketer you have to ask, how can I make sure it's my brand?


Saturday, June 2, 2012

Money is the root.

           George Santayana, in his book "Character and Opinion in the United States", said this about our apparent love of money:

            "The American talks about money, because that is the symbol and measure he has at hand for success, intelligence, and power; but as to money itself he makes, loses, spends, and gives it away with a very light heart."

            I believe he's right. Why else would we be so happy to part with our money for shoes with red soles, or $98 for a t-shirt that says "Prada" on a small label inside. Obviously there are things more important than money.

            Every time we pull out our smart phones to check Facebook before we go home, we're voting for social connection rather than money. When we buy a Grande Macchiato and slowly sip it with our Maple Oat Scone, we've decided that being there is more important than the money.

           For the most part, we in this country have our needs pretty well attended to. We spend our money on experiences and other benefits.

           In marketing, the sense of that often escapes us. We tend to sell our age-defying makeup perhaps a bit too hard, and often other things not hard enough. When we spend a lot of money to buy a top-shelf vodka or tequila, are we really buying vodka or tequila? Or are we, to some extent, buying a badge to let everyone know who we are and what we value?

           We all say "money isn't everything" but we worry about money constantly. And when we get it, we don't always bank it. We often reward ourselves or make ourselves prettier, or let people know that we know what's best.

            When we go to Las Vegas, we come back with clothes and accessories we'll never wear at home. Our "Welcome to San Diego" pillows will never hit the living room couch.

            The psychology of persuasion is fascinating. Marketers who understand it have a chance of becoming rich and famous.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Working for a living

          When we were both starting out in advertising, I asked my art-director friend Ross what he liked about the work. He said "I get to wear a clean white shirt every day". That was a luxury his dad never had.

           Almost every day I think about how lucky we are. While some people are working deep in a mine, I'm chatting at the coffee machine. While some people are putting doors on cars, I'm critiquing television commercials. While some people are ironing clothes, or drilling teeth, or drilling for oil, I'm writing words on paper.

          I'm grateful. Doing advertising and marketing, and teaching skills that students will use the rest of their lives, are wonderful ways to spend the day.

          I have to admit, when someone asks you what you did at work, it can be embarrassing. "I drew little pictures on paper."  "I came up with a headline at lunch." "We talked about why some men hate to go clothes shopping." It almost sounds like we didn't do anything that kids don't do --- we  played around with words and pictures and talked about stuff.

          But that's how creativity works. The demand on creative people to come up with something new every day can be a horrible burden if you let it. But if you just live with it, go with it, dive right in, it can be an enlightening experience. You'll even surprise yourself with what you come up with.

          When someone on "Mad Men" says copywriting is hard work, don't laugh. There is plenty of heavy lifting, but it's all in your head.

          One day Ross' father came in to visit him at the office. He asked Ross what he was doing. Ross said, "I'm drawing some people driving down a highway". His father said, "You're drawing at work? Don't let your boss find out!"

          It's wonderful to have a boss who encourages it.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ads for the great outdoors.

         Advertising is, ultimately, persuasion. It's not information, it's not news, it's not entertainment. Although all of those can be put to use if they help persuade.

         One of the biggest challenges, literally and figuratively, is the category called "outdoor". The big billboards we see on the highways and boulevards, the painted walls on the sides of buildings, and the smaller boards we see near supermarkets and on city streets.

         There used to be two types: paints and posters. Now most are actually huge computer print-outs, stretched between the frames.

          The first thing to keep in mind is that most billboards are see from cars driving by at 50 miles an hours or so. They have to be very simple. The Outdoor Advertising Bureau suggests using seven or eight words. The good news is that most people drive the same route every day, so they see your board often.

          Outdoor is often called the "reminder medium", because it's hard to introduce a new product so simply. The car companies use outdoor to show their new models, but use TV and magazines for the heavy lifting.

          The best outdoor advertising, like all print advertising, relies on how the words combine with the visuals. One of the all-time greats was a board for the VW "bus". It showed seven or eight nuns, in their habits, getting out. The headline: "Mass transit". When you put the words and picture together in your head, it was a delightful discovery.

          As a young copywriter in Detroit, I was called to a meeting about our client Chevrolet. It seems President Lyndon Johnson's wife felt that outdoor boards were spoiling the vistas of the great outdoors. Chevy was the biggest user of outdoor ads at the time, and wanted a response. What should we do?

         We had to create boards that didn't spoil the scenery, and maybe even contributed to it. We did beautiful designs that saluted the wide open spaces in words and pictures. My own contribution was a board that hat only the word Chevrolet atop the frame --- and everything inside cut out and removed. You would look right through it and enjoy the scenery.

         Somehow, the problem soon dissolved, but it was fun to try to solve it.

         Try writing some outdoor boards for a product you like, with no more than eight words. See what a good exercise it is.

         And it better be persuasive!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Creative directors aren't people.

          What I finally learned about putting my portfolio together was that my cereal ad wasn't there to sell cereal, my airline ad wasn't there to sell seats, and my whiskey ad wasn't there to help people socialize at the end of the day.

           They were all in my book to sell the same thing: me.

           Creative directors aren't going to read your portfolio the way your friends read a magazine. They look at it mainly because they have to. At the end of a long day making and critiquing ads for their clients, their job description says they have to look at more. They have a position to fill, have to help a young person start her career, or simply take the temperature of the available talent out there.

            Keep all that in mind. The creative director or recruiter is daring you to make them smile and even laugh. Your job has to impress. Break the ice. Demonstrate that you can land running. Your job is to convince them they need you. Not because you knew how to sell cereal, but because you can come up with ideas for them, to make the creative director rich and famous.

             Your work has to be the kind the creative director doesn't want to slip away.

             It doesn't always work the way you want it to, though. When I was in my 20s and in New York on a photo shoot, a headhunter made an appointment for me to show my reel at one of the top ad agencies. The creative director went nuts over one of my commercials for Hush Puppies shoes. He called all his art directors and writers into the conference room to "show you the kind of commercials we should be doing".

             After his department saw it and filed out, I asked to hear more about the job. "No", he said,"I don't think you're right for our agency".

             Two weeks later, that same commercial got me a job at another agency. It also sold a lot of shoes.

             Today your samples have to be online, and it's even easier for the creative director to push the delete button. You may not be there to explain the problem and what a nifty solution you came up with and how the client gushed over it.

              Your work will be there, all alone, with a creative director who has seen everything.

               And is about to look you over.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Is creativity a joke?

         This morning, I heard on the radio the results of a study involving Robin Williams. After listening to five minutes of his comedy, the survey participants suddenly became 20% more creative in solving problems. Speaking was Jonah Lehrer, author of "Imagine: How Creativity Works".

        I never would've suspected that humor leads to creativity. I've always thought it worked the other way around.  That creative people would be 20% funnier than non-creative people.

       The link between comedy and creativity has interested me for some time. In high school, I became a scholarly observer of comedians, comparing their techniques, their timing, their facial and body motions, and so on. I took copious notes. I thought that, somehow, that interest (and my long-lost ability to mimic them) contributed to my ability in advertising.

        Most of the advertising that we call creative tends to be funny. We love humorous commercials, quoting them to our friends and posting them on YouTube. It's the unemotional straight ones that we call boring.

        Like ad people, comedians have to be quick on their feet. They have to think fast and respond fast, lest the humor be lost. Or they get hit with tomatoes. I believe this speed facility is related to intelligence, another ingredient of creativity.Yes, the Three Stooges were smart.

         Steve Jobs said creativity was the ability to connect things. To connect existing ideas in a way that creates something new. That, of course, is what creative people do. So do comedians, when you think about it. Creativity always seems like more than a connection, but Jobs certainly was a creative connector --- of people, of ideas and knowledge --- and the results were incredible products.

        This connection business can be misleading. I don't think you can just sit back and wait for your brain to connect things. It's probably more productive to try to solve a problem, and let the connections seep in.

        In advertising, we're charged with connecting people with products and services. I suggest starting with people, and working the connection to products. Starting with products is where all the uncreative advertising comes from.

        Come to think of it, maybe we all should start by listening to Robin Williams.



Monday, May 28, 2012

Is your client your real client?

          In many advertising agencies, there's the attitude that it's the client's money we're spending, so the clients should be whom we please. That kind of thinking can lead to disaster.

           Clients are often right, but not always. If they're wrong, they should be told. Or you're wasting their money.

           As marketing and advertising people, our job is to know the customer.  We're paid to know what she desires, fears, hopes for and dreams of. We're paid to put that understanding to work in helping people choose things and ideas and services.

           What a client does or doesn't like is irrelevant. "I don't like purple" is not a valid reason for changing an ad. "Our customers don't like purple" probably is.

           One of our clients was a chain of pet supply stores. We went through months of recommending they go on the Internet. They said no, their customers don't go on the Internet. Their customers were too busy playing with their dogs and cats.

           Finally, they admitted they were wrong, and decided to go on the Web. They insisted on doing it entirely by themselves. The day they launched, they thought they would go broke. They offered $25 worth of treats to everyone who registered. By 10:30 that morning, 8,500 people had registered. By 3 o'clock, 25,000 had registered. Packing and shipping the boxes would break them.

           We suggested they email coupons, instead. Had they listened to us earlier, we could've saved them a lot of grief.

           An art director who had worked for me became creative director of Doyle Dane Bernbach in Toronto. Their policy about likes and dislikes by clients was very clear. There are only three reasons a client could reject an ad: if it was factually incorrect; if it was against company policy; if it was a legal problem.  That's it.

           I asked him what happens if a client doesn't like it. He said it was the account manager's job to sell it. He said it should stay in the trunk of the account person's car until he finds a way.

           I'm not really as tough as I may sound. If a client doesn't like purple, I'll tell him why we used it. If he still hates it, there are plenty of other colors in the world.

           But ultimately, the only client is the ultimate customer. If she isn't sold, we can argue till we're purple.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Let's meet to decide on the meeting.

          With one exception, the most creative people I know in advertising love the work but hate the meetings. They see meetings as stressful, unproductive get-togethers where participants dance on their tongues.

           I once made a deal with one of the country's top art directors. He agreed to work for us at a greatly reduced rate if I would promise him he wouldn't have to go to meetings. I agreed and paid the price: I had to go to every meeting.

          Over the years I think I've mellowed and become more of a meeting person. I never used to talk very much (and not at all if somebody else from the agency would). Then I realized that it could actually be fun to present ads and commercials, and I became good at it. I remember a 9 a.m. meeting in Indianapolis where I had to present 18 television commercials to the executive committee of Gatorade. I didn't faint once.

           After presenting the work at a meeting, I want to leave the room. All the discussions, vacillating, bantering and posturing aren't for me. I'm not Judge Judy.

           But because I had to defend the work when nobody around could do it well, I became very lawyerly about it. I listened carefully and marshalled all my arguments.

           The better I became at meetings the more meetings I was invited to, and the more I bristled at them. I always wished I had a twin, separated at birth, who could go in my place and fill me in later.

           I did learn a lot, though. I learned how to yawn with my mouth closed. How to read upside-down when presenting an ad or a storyboard.

          And I learned at exactly what instant you had to say something or forever be known as a non-contributor.

           Ultimately, meetings are a part of business, so we have to get used to them. I certainly intend to.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The beautiful people.

          Why is it some people are perfectly dressed every day in every way for every occasion, and others look like they forgot to turn the lights on in their closets?

           I guess I can say I'm perfectly dressed for every occasion, too. If every occasion calls for a blue shirt, black pants, and black socks.

           But these other people, wow! Where do they learn all the subtleties? I can't believe it's instinctive.

           To answer my own question, most of our own fashion students are into fashion scholarship. You can fool some of the people with Forever 21 some of the time, but our students read and watch everything and see every movie on Netflix. Soon, I guess, it becomes second nature to them, and they know what Dolce is going to say even before he tells Gabbana.

          Why else would so many blondes pull their ponytails through khaki baseball hats and wear white shirts and khaki pants? I'm always looking around for a stray polo mallet.

          Other women wear only black. They look like they're in mourning for the Free People tops they wore in high school. They're always in black. If you go out for popcorn during the movie, you'll never find your date when you come back.

          Whenever there's a war on, military-inspired clothes come back into fashion. Epaulettes everywhere.  Last Wednesday on United Nations Plaza outside our school, it looked like the gourmet food trucks were circling in preparation for an ambush.

          The preppies hang out in the suburbs, I guess. Not too many in the city. It's the Laurens versus the Hilfigers, and may the best plaid win. Boat shoes but no boat.

          Personally, I'm not sure the clothes make the man these days. I think that today, the best iPhone case wins.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Don't settle for doing your best.

         Winston Churchill said, "Sometimes doing your best isn't good enough. Sometimes you need to do what's required."

          Good marketing never ends. There's no finish line. There are always changes, if not from the competition, then from the target market.

           The iPhone changed cellphones forever. But it also changed us --- our expectations of cellphone technology, our appreciation of design, our relationships with friends, family, and business associates. Now that Motorola has reintroduced the Razr as a thin smartphone, do we care about slimness anymore, or do we have a better, newer list of priorities? And how will Motorola change now that it's been sold?

           Economists are constantly being asked when things will get back to normal. Maybe they won't go back. Maybe there's a new normal, bifurcating between the highs and the lows. We in marketing can't keep doing the same old thing even if it's new.

          We've all been taken by social media. At the same time, new information is emerging about the limits of technology and the capacity of human nature to conquer all. We use social media and we love it, because it puts us more in control and keeps us more informed. Yet it may not be as persuasive in the ways we marketers had hoped. General Motors just pulled its $10-milliomn out of Facebook advertising, but kept its free pages.

          As marketers, we have to stay several steps ahead, and there's only one way to do it. Keeping up with your customers.

           Ford made a crucial mistake --- a classic marketing error --- in the 1950s. Research had told them they needed another full-size make to compete with Buick. But in the five years it took Ford to come out with the Edsel, the market had changed to smaller cars. The Edsel was dead on arrival. And today, Buick
barely has a pulse.

          It seems that doing your best isn't always the best you can do.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Do you need a time manager?

          I'm always interested in other creative people's work habits. They're usually so different from my own.

          One art director I know gets his best work done at home late at night, after his family's gone to sleep. He comes in to to office around ten the next morning with layouts that most people can't do from nine till five. He says he lives at least two lives, calls himself "the last of the speed livers".

         There are also the wee early morning geniuses. By the time most people stagger in to work, their day is about done. I'd get to my office and find the layouts or copy on my desk, with a note that says "Got in early, went home to sleep". Only thing was, they were never around when others needed to talk to them.

         Then there are the people I wrote about for Adweek. The ones who fool around all day because they're going to stay down tonight and work late at the office. I used to feel guilty for not staying and working with them, until I realized they were always too tired to come up with anything useful anyway.

         I'm your get-it-done-right-away kind of guy. As soon as I get an assignment, I tackle it. I could come back to it later and make it better, but at least it's done. Good to know that if I got hit by a bus, at least the ad for Gatorade in college football programs was written.

         We all develop our own styles of time management, and some styles must be designed to drive the boss crazy, because they do. Including the creative people who come in to meetings empty-handed, only to have a great idea four minutes after the client leaves the building.

         I knew one writer who must've been addicted to adrenalin. He could never start work till the night before the client meeting. The next day he'd be there, cool as a cucumber, with the tissues rolled up under his arm. But these things aren't fair to anybody, and why ad people get ulcers.

        I sleep better when I've got some ideas under my pillow.