Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Can I show you something in a bathing suit?

         Is the persuasion gone from advertising? Is advertising becoming little more than a window at Macy's, just showing the merchandise to all who pass by, without any selling?

        Could be.

        It seems that a lot of us in marketing today are so transfixed with the new media these days, we're letting the content slip by unnoticed. If Marshall McLuhan is being interpreted correctly, and the medium is the message, his day has come. With all the action on social media and YouTube, advertising agencies are covering all the bases. But what are they covering them with?

       Let me explain. There's always been, in my mind, a difference between advertising and sales promotion. Advertising builds brands; sales promotion's job is immediate sales and trial, based on a special offer or occasion.

       Public relations has an important role here, too, of course: building a bond between the company and its products, and the many publics it deals with.

       Various media are particularly good, in varying degrees, at each of these. Mobile advertising seems particularly suited to sales promotion. We can target our offers to specific groups of people, who we know are interested in what we're selling, and even distribute our savings or rewards over the phone. It remains to be seen how well mobile works as a branding medium, but more and more marketers are trying all the time.

       Television and radio have proven themselves as brand builders. So have magazines and in many cases, newspapers. But what about social media?

       We've learned that if we're too slick on social media, or try to sell too hard, it's a turn-off. Social media are very personal, very interpersonal, a great way to learn from your customers. Smart companies do that first, and then try to be helpful, with tips, suggestions, blogs, groups, and so on.

       That's why it's important to learn what each medium is best at, without asking everything of every one. But your goal is ultimately selling something.

       Remember that a salesperson has to be a lot like social media sometimes. Good salespeople say that listening is as important as talking, so when they do speak, they know what to say.

       Today, advertising is everywhere, because everything is media. Don't let your products get cold just being in that department store window.


Monday, January 30, 2012

How to write a radio commercial that sings.

        One of the toughest challenges in advertising is to write a good radio spot.

        Toughest and loneliest. Even in the heyday of the "Golden Age of Advertising" --- the '60s and '70s --- Doyle Dane Bernbach had to run a want-ad in Advertising Age, looking for a radio writer. They had great writers, but they didn't want to think about radio. Radio commercials don't get the attention they deserve, or the creative energy. It's such a difficult area to get enthusiastic about, that there are companies like the Radio Ranch and Chuck Blore  in Los Angeles that will write and produce good radio spots for ad agencies all over the country, and get paid well.

        Ad agency writers and art directors much rather work together on TV, where the sky's the limit on ideas and, often, the production budgets. Even print ads seem better to work on.

       But radio? What can you do on radio? The answer is that you can do anything you can do on television, and then some. Radio has been called "The Theater of the Mind", because the pictures are in the listeners' minds. Your job is to create those pictures. That why many agencies assign art directors to work with writers on radio jobs.

        Think of all the amazing things you can do on radio. You can interview a guy hitting baseballs off the top of the Empire State Building. You can sink the Queen Mary, and then raise it up and relaunch it. A football player can pass a bag of potato chips all the way down the field for a touchdown. A symphony conductor cab lead an entire orchestra on bicycles. You can discover life on Mars, or in Cleveland, for that matter. All at a small fraction of the cost of TV.

         But you have to forget all that announcer talk, and loosen up. Here are some ways:

         1. Pretend you're writing a television commercial. Think of the story, the hurdles, the characters. Then try to create it just in audio. Sound effects, actors, music, conversations shrieks, whatever.

         2. Try playing "What If". What if George Washington used the product. Or a mermaid did, or a magician? What if we staged "The Great (Product Category Goes Here) Debate?

         3. Stay conversational. Listen to the way people talk. Nobody's perfect. We don't use complete sentences, we overlap while people are still talking, and sometimes say ain't.

         4. Use sound effects.Lions roar, trains whistle, planes whine, trucks rumble, taxicabs rattle. Use SFX (that's what they're called) to make the points you want.

         5. Be surrealistic. One of the beauties of radio is that it doesn't have to mirror real life. Go a little nutty once in a while.

         If you can do radio well, you'll be a hero in advertising. So write some commercials right now.

         I'm all ears.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Stories from Tommy.

           My friend Tommy's career seemed to run in and out of mine for years. I first met him in Detroit at Chevrolet's ad agency, where we were both writers. It was during "Mad Men" days, and Tommy's suits were always shinier than mine.

           His suits were shiny not from wear, but from the material Tommy picked out. He was always a class act and every year, when a certain Hong Kong tailor came to town and set up shop in a suite at the Hilton, Tommy was first in line. Tommy loved the clothes, and kept his jackets on all day at work, his white shirts sparkling and his cuff links gleaming. We all wore suits in those days, with ties with stripes or those squiggly little things on them.

          Tommy saw every ad as an opportunity for immortality. If he was doing an ad about brake linings, he would interview engineers, study the manuals, question mechanics, visit the proving grounds, and practically camp out at the client's offices.

         But if you wanted to go to Tommy's office, you had to consider it carefully. He had a ten-minute story for every occasion, and loved to share.

         Tommy left the agency two years later and became the copy director of a new small agency headed up by Sy Lachusa, a brilliant art director. About a year later, Sy left his own agency after a dispute with his partners. I was recruited to replace him. And when I arrived, there was Tommy, ready to regale me with a hundred stories about the place.

         I stayed at that agency long enough to help them get some new clients, and then left because a recruiter tempted me to move to the Pontiac and Cadillac ad agency in the suburbs. Tommy quit, too, to start his own ad agency. Later he told me that once in the early days of his agency, he was making a presentation and when he reached up to write on a chalkboard, one of his suit sleeves fell off. He said his shiny suit was good, but the thread was bad.

        Over the years, Tommy became an expert at what was called "community banking", and had banks all over the state as his clients. He also became an important member of the Bankers' Association, and told great stories as a speaker at their meetings. He also arranged for his company to be the overflow agency of choice for Chrysler, when their regular agencies got overwhelmed with work.

         Tommy is retired now, and playing a lot of golf. He called me from Chicago last summer, and before that from Hilton Head.

         And boy, did he have stories.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Looking up at the constellation Leo.

            The only time I met Leo Burnett, the founder of the huge Chicago ad agency, was at an industry luncheon where he was the speaker.  I've sat through many lunches where some of his creative people were complaining about him.

             My friends who worked there were terrorized by his agency's C.R.C., the Creative Review Committee. Every campaign for every Burnett client had to go through that torture-by-committee test, with Leo himself brandishing a big black pencil whenever he showed up.

            The complaint I used to hear most was, "The old man was there." It drove my friends crazy, but I always felt sad for Mr. Burnett. He had built this large, international ad agency with a client list that included Kellogg's, Allstate, and Green Giant. And his people called him "the old man". They joked (and trembled) telling how his lower lip jutted out when he was displeased with the work.

           Leo Burnett always championed creative people, because he loved good copy and good ideas. And with one of his thick black pencils he wrote this in a memo. I've left out a verse or two, and I pass it along to you because in its own way, it's an educational experience:

                                               When the day's last meeting is over,
                                                   And the V.P.'s have left for the train,
                                               When account men are at bars with the client,
                                                   And the space men have switched off the brain,
                                               We shall work and by God we shall have to---
                                                   Get out the pencils and pads,
                                                For finally, after the meetings, someone
                                                   Must get out the ads!

                                                Oh, it's night after night we ruin dinner,
                                                   And although our wives reprimand us,
                                                Somehow we keep right in the rat race
                                                   And somehow our wives understand us,
                                                For no matter the departments and experts,
                                                   The slide rules and business school grads,
                                                All the surveys, reports and researches ---
                                                   Can't stay down and get out the ads!

                                                But after all isn't ad-making
                                                   For print, radio, and TV,
                                                The best possible life for an ad man,
                                                   The full life for you and for me?
                                                Let others have gray suits and homburgs,
                                                   We'll stick to black pencils and pads,
                                                The life, core and heart of our business,
                                                   You're right --- it's making the ads.
          That parody of Kipling, entitled "Finally somebody has to get out an ad", was written in 1955,  before my time in advertising, and today we'd make it gender-neutral. But you get the idea.


Friday, January 27, 2012

What's an ad guy like you doing in a place like this?

          I teach in two departments at our college, and every once in a while advertising students elect to be in one of my fashion marketing classes. That's when the class warfare between the two disciplines begins.

          At first, the ad students rebel. "Marc Jacobs? Who's Marc Jacobs? Who's Forever 21? Nobody's forever anything. And why are we talking about Victoria's Secret? I'm strictly a Jockey guy."

         When we turn to a subject more neutral, such as Starbucks' branding versus Dunkin' Donuts' (to show how marketing principles apply almost everywhere), things calm down and everyone contributes. Both majors are happy to discuss Levi's, and how they're regarded as a luxury brand in Europe and fairly common in the U.S.

         But should the discussion wander into something such as Vera Wang's brand on mattresses, the ad students sulk. Sometimes first with mattress jokes, then admitting they don't know Vera Wang and what's she doing on a mattress, anyway?

         Then what happens is interesting. The fashion marketing students sort of adopt the ad students, taking them gently under their wings and easing them into the world of style and change and merchandising.

          When the ad students laugh at the fashion ads I show, my fashion students are quick to defend the ads, expressing the view that words would cheapen the identities of Versace and Gucci. Here I often find myself on the side of the ad students, who are dying to get their hands on a fashion ad to improve it. We often use Bebe ads as examples, and rewrite and redesign them.

           By the end of the quarter, the group is closer and each discipline has learned much from the other. The ad students are dressing better (or at least more carefully) and their work is more emotional, while the fashion students are more accepting of the notion of persuasion in fashion advertising.

           Maybe someday Vogue and Harper's Bazaar will be filled with ads that are more informative, more engaging, less predictable and more effective. And commercials on TV and the Internet will be a little less brash, more stylish, more human.

           That's the hope and the prayer, anyway.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

What is a good ad?

           I was looking through a recent issue of Better Homes and Gardens last night, and I was shocked. Usually I'm shocked these days when I see a good ad. Last night I was shocked to see so many bad ones.

           When I critique ads in my classes, students ask why I don't show more good ones. Truth is, I find that you can learn a lot more from weak ads, because it soon becomes clear how to strengthen them.

            Here, in my opinion, honed by years of making the same mistakes everyone else does, is my idea of what it takes to make a good advertisement, on television, online, or in print:

            1. It has to be good for the customer. If it doesn't help her, tickle her, or interest her in some other way, all is lost. Great writing and great photography won't save you.

            2. It has respect the audience. Viewers aren't dumb, or numb. Your mom is in the audience, and so is your dad --- and so is that brainy person you date. And your brother and your sister Sue. If your ad shouts at them or talks down to them, they won't give you the time of day.

            3. It has to be involving. Years ago, Pepsi ran a campaign telling people to "Say Pepsi, please". A non-idea, to be sure. People kept on saying "Coke, please". When Pepsi woke up and discovered there were young people who were not yet loyal to Coke, the "Pepsi Generation" campaign was born, "for those who think young". People identified with Cindy Crawford and Michael J. Fox, and wanted to know how the stories in the commercials turned out. Big difference.

          4. Relying on "sure things" is a sure way to get a ho-hum reaction. People like to look at dogs and babies and babes. But if they're just there to get your attention and have nothing to do with what you're selling, they are borrowed interest, distractions that take people's attention away from the product.

         5, Yes, salesmanship is still the other name for advertising. Salesmanship in the media. Ever hear the expression "it isn't creative unless it sells"? That's Procter and Gamble, one of the biggest advertisers in the world, speaking. You have to promise something different, important and believable, and then you have to deliver.

         Maybe you should print this page and tape it to your computer. I don't have to. It's already etched in my brain.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why my students are always on Target.

       Why is it that so many college students love Target, but aren't that crazy about Walmart? In fact, why do they joke about wanting field trips to Target, and scrunch up their faces when I suggest Walmart instead.

         Who's the better merchant, giant Walmart or much smaller Target?

         To answer that, we have to explore the beginnings of each of them.

         Walmart's beginnings are the stuff American legends are made of. Sam Walton, proprietor of a small general merchandise store in Bentonville, Arkansas, was convinced that the road to success lay in saving money for people in his town. He set out near and far to find bargains for them. Business got so good he was determined to replicate it in other small rural towns, offering them merchandise at far lower prices than the other local merchants. Making money by saving people money energized Sam, and he built the largest merchandising operation in the country.

          Target was born of a department store heritage, much of it serving the carriage trade. Target was the beautiful baby of Dayton's in Minneapolis and J.L. Hudson's in Detroit. The company went to add Chicago's legendary Marshall Field and Company. Fashion, quality, and flair were the distinguishing characteristics that also gave birth to Target, and that point of view endears Target to its customers today.

          Target became so big and successful, thanks to its identity and lifestyle image, that the company sold the department store division to Macy's, so they could concentrate on Target, the new big earner.

          You can tell the difference the moment you walk into the two stores. I enter Walmart and I feel like I'm on a mission. Find what I want, save money, don't step on any merchandise, and get out.

          I enter Target and I'm eager to find new things that I'd like to own. I know everything is reasonably priced, so I'm not in dangerous territory. I'm on a trip of discovery, and I'm rarely disappointed.

         Recently, because of the economy, Target has had to expand its grocery operations to keep growing. Walmart is adding smaller stores, some under different names, to appeal to big city officials who don't want big-box stores. Two different paths, each evolutions of their beginnings and their cultures.

        Who's the better merchant? Walmart is generally cheaper, Target to many people is more appealing.

        It's like the hold-up man in the B movies: your money or your life?


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Should we be more open to open source ads?

          This morning I woke up to an email asking about open source advertising. In other words, what do I think of having viewers write the commercials?

           To me that's a lot like an advertising creative person saying, "I've got an idea! Let's have the customers do our work!"

            I know that a number of companies have tried it, and yes, some of the commercials are good and if we see one on the Super Bowl it will probably be very good. But those will most likely be for potato chips or snacks, quite a different problem than most advertisers face.

            When the advertiser has a very simple strategy, such as "it's fun" or "it's delicious" or "it's good", viewers have a chance of writing a good commercial. And it can be as funny as any home video on YouTube.

            But what about something more complicated? What about what we in marketing call "considered purchase products", things such as cars which people want to think about before buying? It takes a different kind of selling than, say, candy bars.

           Some ads, even from professionals, are really dumb. It's a matter of batting averages.

           I remember years ago, on my first ad agency job, our wine company client was bought by Coca-Cola Wine Division. For something like a hundred million dollars.

           A month later the former owner of the winery asked the head of our agency for a job. Our president said no. The former winemaker asked, "Why not? You have to admit that starting a wine company out of my basement and then selling it for a hundred million dollars is a good idea!"

          "Of course,"said our agency president. "You had one great idea. But my people have to have a great idea every day."

          I think people's interest in open source advertising is natural. Everyone wishes he or she could be an advertising person, and is convinced they could be good at it. But advertising takes training, talent, some scholarship, empathy, skill, common sense, and an uncommon understanding of people.

          Convinced you can write a good commercial? Here's today's assignment. Write one to get more college students to read the newspaper every day.

         Or forgo their Facebooks for a week.

         Now you get the idea.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Set 'em up, Joe. I need to buy a jacket.

         Guess what the "health and wellness" topic in the Wall Street Journal was. Shopaholism.

         According to the paper, 6% of Americans exhibit out-of-control spending in their lifetimes. Most compulsive shoppers earn less than $50K a year, and the compulsion starts in the late teens and early 20s.

         The Internet hasn't helped. According to a psychiatrist at Stanford who was quoted in the article, "Transactions move so quickly, it's hard to pause to reassess the buying urge." In addition, he said "Online money is no longer anchored to reality, so what do we do? We spend more."

          A professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa put it simply: "Usually the idea is, 'I see it, I like it, I want it, I'll buy it ---and damn the consequences.'" Apparently some shoppers suffer from low esteem, and think the perfect item will help overcome it.

          I remember hearing people say, "When I'm down in the dumps, I'll buy a hat." I never knew they had so many hats for sale in the dumps.

          On the radio this morning the news reported that 300 million apps were downloaded the day after Christmas. They also reported that three million Android devices were sold for Christmas. Good training for our shopaholism, I presume.

          What does all this portend for our future? Already social psychologists are worried about what we and our kids are learning by spending actual money for non-existant gear and equipment on online games, as we engage at higher and higher levels.

          Do we in marketing have any responsibility for this over-buying? Are we over-selling? Are we over-promising? Or do adults in a free society have the responsibility to make their own good decisions?

          Maybe we should give this some serious thought in-between multitasking on our cellphones, iPods, iPads, and computers.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Do we really have to land?

         I'm writing this on an airplane, on my way to a meeting. This trip made me realize that some people may be afraid of flying, but I'm not. I'm afraid of airports.

        Inside an airport I feel like a high school student does on the second day, when he can't remember the combination to his locker. That what-am-I-supposed-to-do feeling takes over the minute I step foot on airport property.

       I don't know why airports are so alienating. Maybe because they change things around all the time. Maybe it's all the fake smiles from people who really see you as part of an unwelcome herd. Maybe it's because after you've spent $4 for a cart and make your way to security, the attendants look at your cart as if you're trying to take contraband on board. "Just leave your cart right here." After which you take the long part of the journey to the gate, collapsing under all the weight of your stuff. You pass all the newsstands and coffee counters because you know there will be more closer to your gate. There aren't. You go back to the newsstand for Lifesavers and they're $1.45 and they have only butterscotch. You go back to the gate, get in  the line for your zone, board, and squeeze into your middle seat.

       Well, at least now I'm safe. I'm on the plane.

       You'd think that with all the marketing mavens flying around the country, they'd figure out a way to make airports more hospitable. The problem is that you're a customer of the airline, but you're really not a customer of the airport. They look at passengers as sort of a necessary evil, but not as the people who pay their salaries. If you don't like, say, the Atlanta airport, what are you going to do? Drive to  Louisville?

       Back in the day, Mary Wells of Wells, Rich, and Greene made flying a theatrical experience with her "End of the plain plane" campaign. She even sold her client on painting the planes different pastel colors and had Gucci design the outfits for the attendants. Why don't airports hire good ad agencies to help them figure out what would make passengers happy?

       How about smartly dressed airport representatives giving you free carts the other side of security? Or a cup of coffee and Oreos. The passengers have had a lot of anxiety by that point. They could offer free coloring books for the kids, magazines, or water before you board the plane, or at least some help finding your gate. There are undoubtedly dozens of other ways they could ease you back into a good mood.

      I left for this flight from a gate at Los Angeles International Airport that was under construction. I was confused. But before I could ask an attendant where to go, she said "I'm only going to answer one question." Now does that seem like your first days in high school, or what?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Cyberthrift: shopping but not buying.

         Ever hear of the U.S. Thrift Index? It's new and it reveals that Americans are becoming thriftier. As if they had a choice during the Great Recession.

         The organization that commissioned the Index is the John Templeton Center for Thrift and Generosity, which might be a confusing place to work.

         Anyway, their study measured six components of thrift: valuing hard work over luck, entrepreneurship, personal savings, avoiding credit card debt, municipal recycling, and charitable giving.

         Guess what. The study found we're stretched thin and lack the income to give or give what we'd like to charity.

         That explains a lot of my shopping behavior lately. Like many people, I enjoy online shopping, especially at sites such as Gilt that let me feel vicariously rich. And Amazon, which lets me discover new books and even read pages in them.

          But yet when the time comes to check out, I often mentally check out, putting my fabulous choices on the wish-list or simply abandoning the site.

          It's not only me. It happens with millions of shoppers, and merchants are trying all kinds of things to get us to follow through.

          Land's End, for example, can tell when you're indecisive on their Web site. If you linger a little too long, a photo of a representative comes on as she asks you if you have any questions. Hopefully she can nudge you into purchasing.

          Good salespeople know how to ask for the order and make it stick. But the Web often seems more show and tell than salesmanship.

          There's been a lot written about the different roles of advertising and the Internet. A number of experts think advertising persuades you to buy a product, and the Internet makes it easy to purchase.

          That's simple enough, but too simple. There are other things going on at the same time, a lot of them on our computers and phones. We can compare products and prices and find out what our friends think and what the experts recommend.

          If you're in marketing or advertising, you have to think things through. You have to start with the customer, put yourself in her shoes, and then work out what it would take --- the product, the price, the experience, the process --- to encourage her to buy.

         Without starting with the customer, you might as well push the delete key right now.

Friday, January 20, 2012

More humor in advertising? That's pretty funny!

         One of Madison Avenue's New Year predictions is that more brands will shift to humor as an antidote to bad times. So reports the Wall Street Journal. I don't believe a word of it.

         In tough times we can all use another chuckle, but advertisers aren't really seeing themselves as entertainers these days. They're too hard-pressed to sell things, and more apt to shout at you than tickle you. Except on the Super Bowl, where tickling is traditional.

        When the economy was going great guns in the '60s, humor flourished. Here are some examples:





          Let's hope things pick up fast.

          Some other predictions by the WSJ include turning TV into a "virtual community event", with apps like "Get Glue" that let you have conversations with others also watching the show.

          More "foul-mouthed ads" on the Web and certain cable TV channels.

          New approaches to sampling, such as the vending machine being tested by Kraft that uses facial recognition to pass out samples of Jello.

          A new big addition to Black Friday called "Mobile Thursday". The paper quotes Glenn Cole of  agency 72 and Sunny: "Mobil devices are now the place where you can have your most meaningful, most valuable, and even most inspiring relationship with a brand."

         Predictions even include new kiosk machines that remind you what you bought the last time, such as the color of paint you used for the bedroom.

         Tell me the truth. Are you ready for this?


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Putting the Ford into overdrive.

         When my own advertising agency had as a client the country's second-largest history museum, one of our goals was to get people talking about it. We knew it could multiply the effects of our budget.

          That was before social media marketing, of course, but the marketing director of Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village was an expert on word of mouth. His name was Don Adams, and he spoke on the subject in colleges across the country, including Hawaii.

          Don was also completely up to speed on all the latest research on museum marketing. But word of mouth was close to Don's heart, and he loved when we worked together to do something that would generate conversation.
          The president of the museum, Harold K. Skramstad, Jr., was an intellectual, and keenly interested in ways of applying history to everyday life. You couldn't ask for better clients. They were great teachers and like most great teachers, they were intrepid learners as well. They loved the possibilities that the Internet offered.

          For example, as far back as late 2007, a Nielsen study showed the consumers placed more trust in brand Web sites than they did in testimonials. A huge 55% of the 70,000 consumers surveyed said the first place they would go for information was a company's Web site.

          What a great opportunity to get people excited, with stories about how Henry Ford bought and physically moved Thomas Edison's Menlo Park, N.J., laboratory to the 200 acres of Greenfield Village --- along with the boarding house where Edison's workers lived. And he recreated the bicycle shop where Orville and Wilber Wright built the airplane they flew at Kitty Hawk.

           Henry Ford had been worried about America changing too fast, and wanted to preserve some of his youth for future generations. He also brought the Salem, Illinois, courthouse where Abe Lincoln practiced law, and a one-room schoolhouse where you'd better behave or get a rap across the knuckles by the teacher who was busy teaching all the grades at the same time. He even moved his friend Harvey Firestone's Ohio farm to Greenfield Village, where the museum still operates it. And a nickelodeon and stores and blacksmith shops and much, much more of the America Mr. Ford cared about.

         The museum had a relatively small advertising budget, but we all loved working on it. We tried to be as provocative as possible and woodcuts, old photos, funny stories, satire --- anything to start a conversation.

        Today, of course, we would invent apps and all kinds of American and industrial history-related mobil sites, and I'm sure that on Facebook and Twitter we'd be doing ingenious things about the development of American transportation. And because of Don and Harold, we'd be finding ways to reach out on Linked In to high tech and not-so-high-tech innovators, and celebrating American invention.

       Henry Ford's Model T was available in "any color so long as it's black". Today, with social media, we even make that colorful.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What to wear when passing Go and collecting $200.

         I've just read the news on Stylesight. Hasbro, the game maker, is expanding into the fashion industry. Hasbro makes Transformer robots and Nerf footballs, as well as Parker Brothers games. Now they have eyes on my tee shirts.

         According to Stylesight, a pair of Nerf-themed sneakers that Hasbro has made with Nike sold for $1,600 a pair. The company has teamed up with Junk Food Clothing to launch fashion tees based on the Monopoly game.

         "Their whole philosophy is to go into the archives and freshen it up and make it relevant for today," said Elizabeth Miller, Hasbro's Director of Strategic Marketing and Innovation.

         Hasbro's next project, Stylesight says, is a capsule men's collection with Rocawear, combining some of Jay-Z's song titles with images from the Battleship game.

        This opens the door to a wonderful world of fashion ideas.

         I imagine it won't be long before we start wearing Candyland bathing suits and Clue underwear. "Colonel Mustard did it in the library with a Transformer."

         Maybe we can have Risk jeans, Sorry tops, and Scrabble socks. Uncross your legs and you a get triple word score.

         Those would go nicely with my Spill 'N' Spell cargo pants and Tinker Toy sneakers.

         Am I being too skeptical? I think I'm just envious of the Hasbro people who came up with the idea. Fashion is supposed to be fun, and they've turned it into fun and games.

         Want to join me and come up with more fashion and game ideas? I'll be landing on Boardwalk on Monday afternoon.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My first freak-out in advertising.

         When I was starting out in advertising in the "Mad Men" days, I made way too many assumptions.

          I assumed, for example, that the other creative people in the agency were much better than I, never dreaming that with hard work, experience, and a little scholarship, I could do as well or even better than they were doing.

         The thing that convinced me was working with Bradley. Bradley was "Mr. Taste",  whom everybody said was the most stylish, most evolved, most design-conscious art director in the agency. His office was carefully plastered with photos by Victor Skrebneski and Richard Avedon, and ads Bradley adored from Vogue and Harper's Bazaar.

         One day our creative director asked me to meet with Bradley to do an ad for Seventeen magazine. Our client Healthknit made stockings for teenage girls, and this was to be my first full-color ad. My first fashion ad!

         Bradley invited me into his office and offered me a chair and a cigar. I took the chair and pulled out a cigarette. He said he was anxious to get started on the Healthknit job because he had an idea he always wanted to use. He set the stage: "We're selling stockings, right?" I agreed. "Well, what if we do this," he continued. "We have a close-up of a girl's skirt and legs, and instead of two legs, she has three."

        I knew I should've taken that cigar. I urged him to go on.

       "That way, we can have a different stocking on each leg. An argyle on the left, a stripe in the middle, and a solid on the right," Bradley pointed out.

       I nodded, the sheepish response of a neophyte listening to a real pro. Bradley instructed me to go back to my office and write the headline and copy. To this day I don't know what I wrote. But it must've been okay with Bradley and the client, because the next week Bradley had to go to New York to shoot the photo. Apparently there were no models with three legs in Chicago.

       When my first four-color ad came out, I was proud. For about two days. Then the evening news on TV had a story that sank my heart. Doctors just announced that an approved medication for expectant mothers was resulting in a birth defect. Kids were being born with three legs. I was mortified. What had I done! Against my better judgment, I had gone along with what turned out to look like making fun of a horrible birth defect.

       I was shaken, and I could never use a proof of that ad in my sample book, of course. I guess that's when I learned to trust my own judgement and stick to my own instincts and speak up.

       An ad can be too far out, too bizarre for Bazaar. Goofy does not mean interesting. Different does not automatically mean good.

       Stick to your own experience, your knowledge of the product and the customer, and stick up for your own values.

       Two legs at a time.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Science on Sundays.

          It's Sunday morning and the vibes at my favorite Berkeley cafe, PIQ, are relaxed. The baristas are more talkative, the customers more sleepy, the fresh pastries more limited, the coffee a little stronger, and the music thumpingly louder.

          I just finished reading a paper by art historian Alexander Eliot entitled "The Sense of Truth". "Just as much as science needs poetry, so does poetry need science," he writes.

          "The sad fact, however, is that only a handful of scientists find time to read Blake or even Shakespeare, and only a handful of poets 'find time' to acquaint themselves with the rudiments of physics or biology. The rest let lack of time turn them into half-minded men," Eliot concludes.

          Marketing and advertising are no place for half-minded men and women. How can we expect to understand our customers if we only know 50% of them? People have both heads and hearts, and they buy with both.

           "Who are the contemporary poets?" Eliot asks. "Mostly script writers, copywriters, song writers, speech writers, and columnists...They look backward. They conclude."

           That's why Eliot advocates adding science to the equation. He says, "the enduring poets of the Twentieth Century have been men of science. Dante's 'Divine Comedy' is a poem which he intended partly as a treatise. Freud's 'Interpretation of Dreams' is a treatise which, despite the author's intent, becomes poetry. Man's greatest discoveries are always made in nature --- in living nature --- by men for whom knowledge and feelings merge."

           The learning never ends for the marketing or advertising person. Our careers are an ongoing search for more understanding, more insights.

           One simple question --- why do people buy clothes?  --- opens the door to science, to philosophy, to social psychology, to art, to history, and to connections rich with emotion.

           I agree with Eliot that we copywriters are the poets of our time, and poets live in far more worlds than just the world of our craft.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

I'll persuade you if you'll persuade me.

         Advertising is defined as salesmanship in the media, and salesmanship, of course, is persuasion. Everything a company makes, distributes, prices and promotes is intended to satisfy people's needs and wants. The promoting part is the persuasion.

         Actually, all of us are walking around talking, Facebooking, and Twittering each other with persuasive conversations. When we ask in a commonplace way, rather than with sincerity, "How are you?", we communicate our interest in people so they will like us. That's persuasion. If a woman dresses with a touch of masculinity, to show she is authoritative and strong, that is persuasion. When we recommend a movie or a restaurant, that's implicit persuasion, too, and quite powerful.

         In the midst of everyone persuading everyone else, there's advertising and marketing. So you begin to see the problem. Competition for your persuasive messages. The American Association of Advertising Agencies says we're each confronted with over 3,000 commercial messages every day.

        Fortunately, only about 16 sink into our psyches or we'd probably go crazy. As humans, our brains have a lot of protection against persuasion.

        One is our social relationship system. We each have our own groups to use as a reference for what fits in and what's out. Our culture dictates to us, too. What college students should be like, what accountants should dress like, and so on.

        Our emotional experiences also help regulate the revolving door of persuasion, keeping out some messages even from ourselves.

        That's why marketers have to work very hard to understand their target markets. What we need even more than facts and information is insight. For example, what's the secret of selling disposable diapers? Is it comfort for the infant or convenience for the mom? Are you sure which is the most persuasive?

        And if you want to sell fashions to females 35 to 59, how do you do this? Are they buying clothes for the same reasons, with the same hopes and dreams as a 23 year old?

        You can't be persuasive until you have the insights, and even then it's not easy. We have to understand the customers' decision-making systems. Then we have to find the thread that leads them to our products.

        That's what marketing and advertising people do for a living.







Saturday, January 14, 2012

Please give me a report card.

          To be in advertising and marketing, you're being judged constantly. If you like report cards, it is the perfect place for you.

          In advertising, you're being judged even before you get an assignment. Your boss is deciding whether you're the right one for the job. Then you start doing the ad or commercial, and you're judged again. Not just your work; you. How well did you do? Then you're judged on how you present it, how the ad is produced, how the client feels about it, and if it gets a response from customers.

         Even though sales depend on a lot more than the advertising --- the price and the distribution and the competition, to name three things --- you're judged on how the advertising sold the product. It never ends.

         It's not just that you're judged, it's by whom you're judged. Your bosses, your clients, your peers, and even your family.

         And when it's all over and you've done a great job, you're still in an anonymous business. The people who create the advertising don't sign their names. So the public can't even give you credit.

         That's why, if the work was good, you'll be judged again. This time by your peers in one of the many awards shows, including the Lions, the Clios, the Addys, the Caddys, the New York International Film Festival,  the Silver Microphones, the Tellys, the Webbys, and more.

         The first time my work was nominated for a Clio, my art director partner Marty Lieberman and I were sent to New York by our agency. The ceremonies were at Lincoln Center, and then it was very fancy. The formalwear companies were bigger winners than the creative people. Marty bought a designer tux; mine was a rental.

         The Clios tried to be like the Oscars, opening envelopes and so on. In fact, the Clios had to change their trophy because they looked too much alike.

         When I got back to our hotel that night, the phone in my room was ringing. It was Marty, laughing hysterically. "I'm all blue", he said. The dye from his tux apparently bled all over his legs.

         I tried not to be too judgmental.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Conventional wisdom in Oakland.

           When I first moved to the Bay Area and set up our ad agency, the first account I was invited to pitch was the Oakland Convention and Visitors Bureau. We got in because of our experience with the Detroit bureau, winning awards and getting incredible results.

           On the day of the presentation, I put on my suit and tie, tucked my slides under my arm, and headed for the Marriott Hotel suite where I was to be the second to present.

           I explained who we were, made a joke about us being located in the Claremont Hotel because we got room service, and showed our ads and commercials. I told how we had the experience they needed, and expressed our philosophy that the world isn't about advertising, it's about people.

           I finished by discussing the strategy that would get more conventions and visitors to Oakland. The applause was hearty.

           Then the president of the Bureau thanked me for coming, but that the account would have to go to an ad agency in Oakland. I explained that we were in Oakland, in the Claremont Hotel which is one of their largest members.

           The president responded: "We don't want a transient agency, we want a permanent one." I got to my feet and answered, "Transient? Do you think we're in a hotel room, sitting on the king-size bed writing ads? We're in offices? Want to see our lease?!"

           One of the more astute members of the Bureau's board asked me to join him outside. In the hall, he said, "Your presentation was thorough and good, but very East Coast. Here in California it's different. First, you talk a little wheat bread. Then a little business. Then a little wheat bread. Then a little business. Slow and easy." I thanked him for the hint.

           I went back to the office and explained to our group what happened. Two weeks later we won another account,  the job of doing all the television commercials for Charles Schwab. But I still wanted the Oakland Convention and Visitors Bureau as a client, because I knew we had the right strategy.

          Two years later, their account went out for bids again. I added a little wheat bread to our pitch and we got the account. The ads we did got the results I knew they would.

          Advertising is still a matter of too many personal opinions.You just have to keep on doing what you know is right. That is true in life.

          I still love Oakland, and I'm glad I told them what I had told the Detroit bureau: every city is great if you crop it right.



Thursday, January 12, 2012

Who's cleaning the glass ceiling?

         If women spend most of the money, why are there so many men in prominent roles in marketing and advertising?

         It's a question I've asked myself since I started out in the business. At my first ad agency job in Chicago, we had two female copywriters. Marion worked on Helene Curtis products and Betty worked on Gossard lingerie and Sealy mattresses. Nobody asked why we didn't have any female art directors, any more than they asked why male copywriters worked on Jim Beam and Corina Lark cigars.

        Over the years, I've created advertising for Mr. Clean, Wish-Bone salad dressings, Kraft cake mixes, Nathan's Coney Island hot dogs, S. C. Johnson floor finishes, and many other products purchased mainly by women.

        I've come to the conclusion that the gender of the creative person isn't really a concern. Women aren't born knowing about kitchen floors any more than men are born knowing about cars. Most men don't know much about cars, and I'm sure women could do far better advertising for them.

        True, the learning curve may be different. I remember spending a Saturday morning in the kitchen and laundry room doing the floors and cleaning appliances to get some experience with the products I was working on. It wasn't rocket science, but my mom never taught me these things. It would've been helpful.

         The most important thing, I believe, is understanding the psyche of the buyers and the users of the product. In other words, the basic principle of marketing: knowing the customer.

         Women have done amazing work on Gatorade and yes, on car accounts. On every kind of account. Marketing everything involves a lot of experiencing, thinking, talking, experimenting, studying, and researching --- in addition to talent and business acumen.

          Today, there are probably as many or more women than men in marketing. So ultimately, it's all up to you. If you're willing to do the work, your sex doesn't matter.

         Just be willing to do the work,

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Fun is the hardest work of all.

         At the end of one of my advertising classes, a student thanked me for making it so much fun. I probably blushed.

          I work pretty hard at making learning fun. Probably because when you create advertising as a profession, you learn quickly that if an ad or commercial isn't fun to create, it won't be fun to look at. And if it isn't fun, it may not get much of a response.

         One example is a jewelry store chain here in the Bay Area. The owner does his own commercials and is on the radio constantly. Or it certainly seems like it, as he drones on about his buying trips to Antwerp and how he's your friend in the jewelry business. He's so dull and uninspiring, the firm even made a jingle about that.

          Now, I ask you: do you need another dull friend? Does dullness equate to honesty or authority? The familiarity of his name probably makes his business known, but instead of driving to him, most people I know are driven away. He probably does okay with the engaged-in-high-school crowd; the guy sounds like everybody's brother-in-law.

         On the other hand there are commercials we love to see and hear, and we even go to YouTube to see again and again, and tell our friends about. The commercials actually become, in some strange way, a part of the product --- a part that you feel good about.

          Take Progressive Insurance, for example. We love Flo! She talks like a friend at work, she's bright and has great emotional intelligence. We'd buy anything from her, and she sells a ton of insurance.

          So does the Geiko gekko. We adore him, too. He's smarter than the boss, he's humble, and he really tries. He's sure more likable than that questionable guy named Mayhem at Allstate who creates problems everywhere. Of course, you're not supposed to like Mayhem.  You're supposed to avoid him.  But you do notice him, and the commercials are fun to watch.

           Most commercials say everything that needs to be said, show the product in a good light, and still you know they aren't going to win anyone over.

           These commercials probably take themselves too seriously. As a copy supervisor once told me, "Remember it's only advertising."



Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The coffee wars are percolating.

         The coffee wars are about to open a third front. Dunkin' Donuts is getting serious.

         They already have 57% of the fast-food coffee market in New England and New York, and they're planning to expand throughout the U.S. this year and next.

          So now there are the three powers: Starbucks, McDonalds, and Dunkin' Donuts. But don't expect Dunkin' to take much business from Starbucks.

          A recent survey showed that Dunkin's customers don't think Starbucks is for them. "Couches? I'm here to eat, not to sleep". The Italian words, the marble, the little tables --- "it's cold". And no real cakey donuts. Looks like a lot of people aren't hankerin' for what Starbucks calls "the third place to be".

         It works both ways. Starbucks customers don't think that much of the Dunkin' Donuts way of doing business, either. No big flurry of activity at the expresso machine, no leather arm chairs, no maple oat scones; just coffee, donuts, and a other things.

        Is Dunkin' the anti-Starbucks we've been expecting? To do to them what they did to all those mom-and-pops? I doubt it. I think Starbucks has spoiled most of us. We're not going to give up the cafe and go back to the coffee shop. We like those moments of feeling special each morning, with our Starbucks' rituals and knowing that our coffee doesn't have to be commonplace.

       What would be an even better experience?  Here in San Francisco we have Cafe Trieste and the other coffee houses in North Beach. Italian singers often brighten things up and have everyone smiling.

        In Seattle, Starbucks is testing beer and wine to anchor their after-work and evening business. They'll be even harder for Dunkin' to catch up with.

        I'm guessing Coca-Cola is going to come up with coffee ideas of their own, possibly using some of the ideas they use in their vending machine coffee in Japan.

        All of us should turn on our entrepreneurial brains and come up with a way to make millions in the coffee business.

       But first I'll have a grande double shot soy caramel macchiato.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Why you should be a writer if you're not.

         Lou Holtz, the legendary football coach who is a commentator on NFL games these days wanted to play football in college. Trouble was, he was skinny and had to wear glasses. He was a fourth string guard, but decided to learn all the other positions as well, to increase his chances of playing when someone got hurt.

         Harry Mackay told this story in his latest book on salesmanship. It is also a great analogy for why students who want to be art directors should also perfect their copywriting skills.

         You never know when you'll have to jump in.

         It won't be long before you'll be asked for your ideas for an ad, and a layout without a headline probably won't do the trick.

         Even more important, it's a matter of self-defense. What if you're teamed up with a writer who can't cut it? What are you going to do? Tell on him? Do a bad ad? You can't, because your boss and everyone else will think it's the best you can do and judge you by it. And you'll have another ad you can't put in your book. No, you'll have to write it yourself.

         It works the other way around, as well. I began my professional life in advertising as a copywriter, and to this day I could be perfectly happy sitting at a table coming up with ideas and writing advertising. But as a creative director, I not only had to make judgements about ads and commercials, but had to  direct the layouts, too.

         When you show your portfolio of work to a creative director, she'll be reacting to the ads and ideas, not just the layouts. It's human nature. If your work is any good, it's hard to separate the two. It will be judged either very good, or not, and you may never be asked which part is yours.

         One caveat, however. When you apply for a job, don't say you'd like to be either a writer or an art director, you don't care. The agency will be in need of one or the other, so say what you're the best at, and explain what else you can do.

         As a creative director, I've won a number of awards for art direction, but that was because of default. De fault of an art director who wasn't very good.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

I'll be tweeting you, in all the old familiar places.

            For a long time, people were making fun of Twitter. What can you say in 140 characters? How can it be substantial? What's a person who tweets called?

            These early critics have long been proven short-sighted.  Evolved observers of the social media scene call it "social influence marketing", and Twitter has great influence.

             In a recent test of the advertising power of Twitter, Sephora bought more than 15 ads to promote a contest that awarded products to fans of the TV show "Glee". The response rate beat projections by 700%.

             I have a friend who runs a branding company. He tweets every day when he arrives at the office, sharing thoughts and observations to get his followers thinking about new ways to market. The last time I visited his office he was tweeting about a flaw in the way hospitals present themselves. He has about 2,000 followers.

             One reason my friend's tweets are well received is that he does it right. He makes every tweet an idea his followers can adapt to their own businesses. He makes them think, question, observe. He makes them better marketers, day by day, 140 characters at a time, and they look forward to his messages.

             Equally important is what my friend doesn't do. He doesn't use his tweets to sell his authority. He demonstrates it. He doesn't make trial offers. He offers a marketing point of view his followers value. They've told him so and stick with him.

             Students tell me nobody reads long-copy ads these days. I agree. We only read what rewards us --- with information, news, advice, entertainment, help, a chance to save money, a smile --- and most advertising today doesn't qualify, although it obviously should. Who wants to read a long-winded boast?

             Many short, sweet tweets have become viral hits, as users have retweeted them. Twitter offers "promoted trends". They're ads that appear alongside users' accounts, and cost $120,000 a day.

             The new year is a good time for people in marketing and advertising to go back to basics and figure out what's really interesting, believable, and convincing to our target markets.

             Social marketing, including Twitter, should be used intelligently and strategically along with other media.

             Or we'll continue to be talking to people who don't want to listen.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

You'll never believe who I discovered.

          The legend of Lana Turner lives on. It tells how the Hollywood star was "discovered" at Schwab's Drug Store in L. A., which is a very good strategy for hopefuls who like malts.

          I know what Lana's discoverer must have felt like. It happened the day Harry Parker, the human resources director of Chevrolet's ad agency in Detroit, asked me to go with him to Ann Arbor. The University of Michigan was having presentations by groups of senior advertising students competing for a grand prize. Harry wanted me to go along to help spot future talent.

         Harry was a very nice man who went by the book. He was a living embodiment of the agency's personnel policies. If a policy changed, so did Harry.

         The presentations were held at Rackham Hall, part of the graduate school. Five groups of students presented projects of their own choosing. This went on for three hours. At the end, Harry was the first on his feet, anxious to hit the road back.

         "Thanks for coming along with me," Harry said. "There's nothing here. Sorry I dragged you along."

         I told Harry he was wrong. I told him we should hire the girl in the red sweater in the fourth group, the one that did ads for a company that made GLM skis.

         He quickly looked in the program, circled her name, and said he'd offer her a job. I thanked him.

         Cathy accepted and after a week at her home in Dayton, she showed up in my office. I assigned her to the group headed up by my friends Paul and Norman. They were fun, adventurous, and the ideal pair of supervisors to show her the ropes and train her properly.

         She was a really good advertising writer but didn't stay long; about a couple of years, working on her comic strip idea in her spare time. The college girl I hired was Cathy Guisewite, and her comic strip "Cathy" went on to become one of the most popular in the country, with books and dolls to follow.

         I didn't discover her in a drug store, but she sure made the trip to Ann Arbor worthwhile.




Friday, January 6, 2012

When to change jobs gracefully.

         I was talking to a psychologist the other day about what I considered an almost universal feeling of loneliness: getting your lunch the first day at a new school, paying for it, turning around, and finding nobody you know to have lunch with. It can be a withering experience.

         There are a lot of first-day experiences I've had trouble with. Starting a new job was always a little rough for me. Although I put on my best "jaunty" mask, I was overwhelmed by all the new people, each with a new face and a new name and all those new forms and new systems. I couldn't wait to get home to my own stuff.

          Soon, I'd get used to it all, know the people behind the names, and learn that everything is pretty much the same wherever you go. That still doesn't stop us from being anxious about change.

          Sometimes that anxiety keeps us at a job longer than we should've been there. We hate saying goodbye and hearing those "let's stay in touch" promises you know will never happen. And we certainly don't want the aggravation of breaking in a new boss.

          On the other hand, I may have changed jobs a little too often, honoring what my friend Dennis calls my sense of adventure. Whenever a job offer came up, it felt like a valentine, and everything in my present job seemed far less satisfying. I probably would've wound up at the same place in my career, with a lot more profit-sharing, had I never changed ad agencies. But I would've missed meeting a lot of wonderful people.

          The jobs report that came out today looks encouraging. Although it's often hard to find good jobs in one particular location in this economy, there is a need for well-prepared people. You have to be flexible.

          If you have a good job in marketing but you're thinking about change, the first rule is cool it. Never quit a job until you have a new one. Never. When you're out of work, you're not regarded the same as when someone's paying you.

         In an case,  here's my own list of how to tell if you're at the wrong job at the wrong time. Print it out for when you feel trapped.

          1. You're at the wrong place when the work feels too easy. You need to be challenged, not coddled.

          2. You're at the wrong place when the raises stop coming. Either the company isn't doing well, or you aren't.

          3. You're at the wrong place if it starts to feel like work. It's supposed to be enjoyable.

          4. You're at the wrong place if all your work-friends have left. You probably need new challenges, too. But remember,  never ever quit your job before you have a new one.

          5. You're at the wrong place if you're promoted long after you should've been. It's flattering, perhaps, but they don't value you properly.

          What's the moral of all this? Life is too short to be in the wrong job. Work takes up far too much time. And another thing. Life is too long to just keep talking about changing jobs.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

When social media aren't very sociable.

          We were discussing social media in class, calmly and with respect, when one student couldn't hold  back: "Facebook is evil! Pure evil!"

         I asked him why he would say that. "They suck up your time! You come home and the first thing you have to do is check your Facebook. They fill your head with meaningless mush. Nothing important is ever on Facebook. And the rejection is horrendous. Can you imagine being defriended? Besides, a friend on Facebook is not a friend!"

        Was he right? Why was he so outraged? Why has he given Facebook such power over himself and his life?

         And if a friend on Facebook isn't really a friend, what is he? Or, even worse, is Facebook changing the definition of friendship? What do you know about your Facebook friends, and what do they know about you?

         Is friendship sharing your most trivial thoughts and most showy experiences with people who want to be your friend? Is it sending pictures of yourself holding a tall red drink, or with a tall boyfriend with a tall red drink? Is it telling people that (a) your trip, (b) the sights, (c) the food, (d) the shops, or (e) the tour guide who's just doing this while he writes his novel is awesome?

        Where's all the good stuff, the real stuff? And why are we so obsessive about Facebook and Twitter, checking them every ten minutes and responding immediately? They obviously are filling an important need in our lives.

         Maybe things will be changing this year. The Wall Street Journal has warned of "Facebook Fatigue". Users now spend six and a half hours per month, on the average. Daniel Knable, c.e.o. of Digitaria integrated marketing agency, predicts a slide. "IPO + privacy issues + your grandma joining + one redesign too many + general social network fatigue = Fonzi on waterskis," he says, referring to a desperate Happy Days episode.

        According to the WSJ, Blake Cahill, president of Banyan Branch, a social media agency in Seattle, believes consumers will be "driven away by an infiltration of ads as Facebook comes under growing pressure to make more money".

        I think college students may be the last, though, to give up their Facebook time. Until they do, I guess my student will have to summon the willpower to keep Facebook from sucking up his time.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

How to make sure the product isn't the star.

          In a lot of my classes, some students want celebrities in every ad or commercial they create. Women's apparel? Celebrities. Canned soup? Celebrities. Cotton swabs? Celebrities.

          The problem? A celebrity is a substitute for an idea. You don't even have to think very much. "Camera opens on George Clooney getting out of swimming pool." What else do you need?

          The wrong celebrity can even detract from your product.

          I eventually tell my students that they cannot use famous people in their work unless the famous people are dead. Want to do a commercial  showing George Washington looking better crossing the Delaware in a Hugo Boss overcoat? Be my guest. But do something more inventive than Justin Bieber walking in a field.

          So if Justin Bieber isn't an idea (don't tell Selina Gomez), what is?

          It's an idea that Visa understands some things in life are priceless.

          It's an idea that Hallmark puts your feelings into just the right words.

          And that we should forget our excuses and just do it.

          And that one airline flies the friendly skies.

         And that some foods just aren't the same without milk.

         And that, as Gatorade says, there's a difference between mouth thirst and body thirst.

         Anyone with the bucks can hire a star. And what if instead of George Clooney you hire a star who behaves badly? What does that do to your brand?

         I've done ads and commercials with Brooke Shields, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Carson,Tom Selleck, Sammy Davis, Jr., Jerry Lewis, and a lot of other celebrities, for a lot of products. They were fun to do and look at. But I only used celebrities when they fit in with the client's marketing strategy.

       Start with the strategy, come up with an idea, and then, if you must, find a celebrity to support it by adding interest and credibility.

       And then if you have the budget, the camera can open on George Clooney getting out of the swimming pool.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Dundermifflinophobia: the fear of plain white paper.

         There's nothing more intimidating to an advertising writer than a blank sheet of paper, or a blank document on a computer screen.

         Young and Rubicam, one of the best advertising agencies, once ran an ad showing a pencil whose point was on fire. The headline read, "You're only as as good as your next ad." That's what's so scary.

         The solution for me is to write something. Anything, just to get over that hurdle. Then keep on writing --- more headlines, more word-thoughts, puns, idioms, and ideas. Lots of them, to come back to later and evaluate.  I said later, not now. Hold all judgement in check. Later you'll surely find something to love, change, or build on.

         About this point in the conversation, writers' block usually comes up. It's enough to burn a hole right through a creative director's duodenum when, a week after getting the assignment, a copywriter announces "I just can't think of anything good".

         One writer once verbally attacked me with, "What do you think I am, a machine?"

         Usually it means the writer is too tough on herself. Lots of thoughts and ideas, but none "breakthrough" enough. The better the writer, the more likely that will happen. It also can mean it's good but the kind of thing the writer's been doing for years so successfully. That's too easy for her, and not different enough.

          Once all this is explained, the problem usually dissolves.

          The people who need creative directors the most are the creative directors. They often succumb to the Peter Principle of being promoted to a job they're not good at ("I'm too busy managing to make an ad"). Or they think everything they come up with is great and precious. This is false.

           In addition, because advertising is an art, not a science, nobody can positively predict whether an ad will be a success. This is also crazy-making.

           Ultimately, every advertising person has their own secret weapon against the challenge of a blank sheet of paper.  Mine is quantity.

Monday, January 2, 2012

What, exactly, does sex sell?

         Fashion marketing students often tell me that sex sells. They say that's why many fashion ad campaigns are successful. I'm not sure I agree.

         In the first place, how do we know those fashion apparel ad campaigns are successful? I haven't seen the research, or the sales of the items that they show.  They're not published.

         Secondly, I do agree sexy ads may get attention and even contribute to interest, but sell? See above.

         When I see those Pirelli tire commercials with those pin-up girls, I do pay close attention. But sexy tires? To say Pirelli tires will make me sexy is, well, over-inflated.

          Sometimes when an advertisement tries to be sexy but the product isn't, it's impossible to take the ad seriously. Some of the Dolce and Gabbana ads, for instance, communicate almost too overtly, according to some of my students. I will allow that the ads do cast an aura over the brand that their target market probably responds to. But that's my point. Sexy ads do contribute to the success of sexy products --- but not all products.

         There's a new study called "Sex on the Brain" appearing in this month's issue of the Journal of Sex Research. The methodology was interesting. The 283 college students were asked to use golf score counters whenever they thought of life's three basic needs. Here are the median results: Men, 19 thoughts of sex daily; women, 10. Men thought as much about food and sleep as they did about sex. Women thought less about food and sleep.

         So would ads for men's clothes that show people eating pork chops or cupcakes do as well as beautiful female models? I leave that up to you.

         Also worth mentioning is a New York Times Magazine article entitled, "Is Generosity Better Than Sex?" The University of Virginia's National Marriage Project studied the role of generosity in the marriages of 2,870 people. People with generous partners were far more likely to be "very happy."

        A lot to think about before you say "sex sells". Maybe you should define "what" sex sells to "whom".

       Besides, if the research is right, maybe the Dolce and Gabbana ads would be even more successful if the models were all serving pancakes to each other.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The dangers of sitting down to work.

         Both the New York Times and Yahoo reported the news. Sitting for long periods is bad for your health. It slows the metabolizing of calories and increases the risk of some cancers, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

         Bad news for psychotherapists, good news for jackhammer operators. A Minnesota staffing firm now has treadmills instead of chairs in its conference room.

         Maybe before sitting down to work we should spend more time sitting down to think. We don't have to be in front of our computers or at our desks when we're solving problems. We can spread out on a sofa. Maybe we'd even get better results.

         Dale Carnegie, the "How to Win Friends and Influence People" guy, once told the story of Leon. Leon was tired of boring and frustrating meetings where everyone recited problems. He enforced a new rule: everyone bringing a problem to him had to submit a memo answering these four questions:

         1. What's the problem?

         2. What's the cause of the problem?

         3. What are all the possible solutions to the problem?

         4. Which solution do you suggest?

         Leon reported that suddenly, he didn't get problems any more. People used his questions to solve the problem themselves.

         Maybe we in advertising and marketing should tape those four questions to our computers. Or our TV sets or our dashboards. You have to fully understand a problem before you can hope to solve it. Half-baked solutions can create more problems than the original one.

        When Coca-Cola invented New Coke to please Pepsi drinkers, they forgot to test it on Coke drinkers before they removed the original from store shelves. That's why New Coke isn't around much any more.

       When Alka-Seltzer named its cold medicine Alka-Seltzer Plus, it suddenly made the original into Alka-Seltzer Minus, even though it was for headaches and upset stomaches.

      And when Wal-Mart decided to upgrade its fashions without thinking about its present customers, who were perfectly happy with the old, inexpensive line, their sales took a nosedive.

        The moral: There's no problem so bad as the problem a wrong-minded solution can create.

        Think of that while you're watching the football games. Happy New Year!