Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Baseball, Oscars, and apple pie.

          The ratings are in, and 39 million people watched the Academy Awards on Sunday night. It was a wonderfully nostalgic show, celebrating the joys of watching great entertainment on the big screen.

           Movie attendance at theaters is down, and more and more people are watching films on their computers and mobile phones. But the Oscars made us forget that for a couple of hours, as "The Artist" was rewarded as the best film. Appropriately. It does a wonderful job of demonstrating the artistry of the movies.

           Another news item caught my attention. The Los Angeles Dodgers are for sale and bids exceed 1.2 billion dollars. That's right, billion.

          What do the Oscars and the Dodgers have in common? At a time when almost 20% of TV shows are being Tivoed, for viewing later, often without commercials, there are exceptions. Special events, sports, and news. People want to see them while they're happening, not later. Which makes them more valuable to advertisers.

          Generally speaking, events like the Oscars aren't sold to advertisers on the basis of ratings. But good ratings do make next year's program easier to sell, and being able to reach 39 million viewers at a crack is very appealing.

          As I was watching the Oscars on Sunday, I was struck by how much more enjoyable the commercials seemed than on the Super Bowl. I think there are a couple of reasons for that.

          First, my expectations were probably lower. For the Super Bowl there's so much hype about the commercials. There's competition to do the best job, advance peeks get shown on YouTube, and some companies do a lot of commercials and pre-test them to get the winner as their Super Bowl pick. We have come to expect every spot to be exceptional. On the Oscars, we don't. Commercials are what they normally are --- interruptions. And the interruptions this year were very good.

        Second, I think, is the mood of the viewer. During the Super Bowl, we're tense. Competitive. On edge. We may have favorites on the Oscars, but we don't grind our teeth if they drop something. We're in the mood to be entertained, and pretty mellow. That's a better frame of mind. We're more receptive to being sold stuff.

        Even though we may be texting like crazy, or checking out friends' reactions on Facebook or Twitter, there's something comforting about settling in for a while in front of the TV. It's sort of "old shoe", like some of Billy Crystal's jokes.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

And the winner is --- Angelina Jolie's thigh!

          While a lot of us who are interested in fashion would much rather talk about the Academy Awards, we really should be watching J.C.Penney.

           Since Ron Johnson, the retail genius from Apple, took over as c.e.o. of Penney's, he's been making significant changes. Penny's lowered all their prices 40%, and changed to an "everyday low pricing" policy. They also ended the practice of having sales three times every week, after Johnson learned that customers weren't coming back three times a week. Now we have to see what happens. These changes are costly.

           Johnson wants to make J.C.Penney a place where people want to gather. He's turning valuable first-floor selling space into an open area where people can relax and socialize. (In Chicago, merchant Marshall Field used to tell his staff to "give the lady what she wants". Now Johnson's doing it.)

           To find out what's going on back at Apple these days, I stopped in at the beautiful new store in Berkeley. I had told them on the phone my "Time Capsule" wasn't working, and they said just bring it in and they'd check it out. They said it would only take 20 seconds. When I got there, they confirmed it would only take 20 seconds, but that those 20 seconds were by appointment only. This was Friday around noon. The next appointment was available Sunday at 12:15. I came back; the said my "Time Machine" was fried. I've got to hand it to Apple, though. They were very courteous during the entire 20 seconds. Ron Johnson's common sense is needed back at the Genius Bar.

           I don't live that close to a J.C. Penney's store, but I think I'll check one out soon. What they're doing is gutsy. I don't see Macy's lowering prices across the board, and Sears isn't trying very hard, either. Target's eyes are fixed on Walmart. I wish more merchants kept their eyes on customers, but that seems too much to ask.

          What Ron Johnson is doing is pretty dramatic. Maybe not as dramatic as Angelina's right thigh, but still, maybe they should give him an Oscar.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Where is Sidney Joseph Perelman when we need him?

          "I think humor in America has greatly declined and may disappear entirely," S. J. Perelman once told a writer. Perelman wrote humorous scripts, articles, and books for 50 years. His work was often to be found in the New Yorker, so he should know.

          "I work very slowly," he said. "I'm a bleeder. It's a good day when I get a page done. I think easy writing makes hard reading."

          I've never been a big fan of Perelman's fussy and over-studied writing, but I have been very impressed that he was a friend of Groucho Marx. Groucho would've been perfect in an advertising agency creative department ---his humor came in short, sharp spurts, perfect for the attention span of today's young customers; his visual humor made his life a series of ideas for commercials. Perelman, on the other hand, was rather shy and retiring. He used a typewriter to shield him from the culture he observed.

        Is he right? Is humor disappearing in America? I must admit I see very little in the new media. When was the last time Facebook made you laugh out loud? Read any silly blogs lately? Has Twitter ever made you titter? Social media may be making us a nation of people taking ourselves too seriously.

           In advertising however, humor is golden. Commercials reward their viewers with a laugh quite often, and our commercials and viral videos frequently are the most-watched on YouTube. If advertising ever loses its sense of humor, it's finished.

           What kept S.J. Perelman so funny? Reading. "On Fridays, growing up, I'd go to the Providence, Rhode Island, library and take out 11 books and spend the weekend reading trash," he told a writer. "Adventures, detectives, romance. They help fertilize the brain, like mulch."

          S.J. Perelman wrote lines like, "I have Addison's disease and he has mine." Wouldn't he have been great writing Lunesta commercials?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Laughing on the outside, crying on the inside.

         I was always envious of Art Buchwald. He was a columnist for the International Herald Tribune. He wrote his column in Paris for 14 years. What a life!

         Art grew up in Queens, served in the Marine Corps, and went on to U.S.C. His columns were hilarious, but his humor came from a deeper place. He had been a lonely foster child.

         He told writer Maralyn Lois Polak that "I probably am the perfect case for a psychiatrist. Because all these people who are doing things in show business and everything, are people who are trying to make up for unhappy childhoods."

         That's long been a commonly-held belief about celebrities, and I've always wondered how much truth there is in that. "I never let anybody know what was going on", Buchwald said. "Obviously, there was hurt and pain there...I was very much a loner, so I had a lot of time to fantasize."

         Buchwald's story intrigues me because it sounds a lot like my own. I wasn't a foster child, but my childhood was very rocky. It was that "fantasizing" --- somebody once told me I have a rich inner life ---that got me started writing. In elementary school, I wrote and performed marionette shows at the Chicago Public Library on Saturday mornings. In high school, I wrote a musical comedy which raised money for the Red Cross. I created and edited a humor magazine in college. Then my career became writing and directing advertising.

          Who knows, if I had been a happier kid I maybe I'd be an anthropologist or economist today.

          What I'm trying to tell you is that no matter how you got to be creative, a hard childhood or a love for late-night television comedians or just plain hard work, it's a gift. Honor it. Your job now is to nurture your ability, exercise it every day, reinforce it with knowledge, sharpen its edges and let your own humor and humanity shine through.

           When Art Buchwald finally left Paris to do his column from Washington, D.C., he became depressed. And the more depressed he became, the funnier his work became.

            His writing was his child, and he made sure it was happy.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

How to achieve more than over-achievers.

          During my entire career in advertising and marketing, I've been completely turned off by over-achievers.

          You know them. The ones that go to meetings with 30 ideas, not two or three. Those that work all weekend and let you know that they finally got done at three this morning. Those that not only dig into the research but use words like "undercover participant response" and "multivariate analysis" to rationalize their ideas, even though their ideas are totally off-strategy.

           Then one day I realized I'm an over-something, too. I'm an over-committer.

           When I take on an assignment, I over-commit to doing a good job. I make sure I dig deeply enough to come up with something that distinguishes a product from a competitor. I dig even deeper to make sure that difference is meaningful to the customer; that it's important.

           Then I make sure I can support this with a reason why it's believable. A reason that will dissolve the natural cynicism of TV watchers, magazine browsers, and social-media butterflies --- and those that have Pandora on at the same time.

            In other words, when I work on a project, I'm my own best enemy. That's over-commitment.

           Or maybe not. Maybe this is the kind of commitment it takes in these competitive times. In an era when fascination with technology seems to be trumping an interest in substance.

           Of course, I started in this business long before there was Facebook. I never asked anyone to tell the world they "liked" what I was doing. I just wanted to keep my job.


Friday, February 24, 2012

You are what you write.

         Every once in a while, an advertising writer gets an assignment that looks overwhelming. There are a hundred facts and every one seems important. All the technical data sounds like it should be told; every detail in the brief you're given screams to be included.

         My advice: put it in a drawer and forget about it for a day or two.

         Soon your brain, which has been unconsciously working on it, begins to sort things out. You do what you've always done as a professional. You begin to look at it from the reader's point of view. What's important to her. And your inscrutable problem morphs into a good ad.

         Here are some suggestions from a creative director who's been in this place time after time.

         1. When you're given an assignment, listen. Try to absorb all you can. Even if it's information overload. You never know what will come to the rescue later.

         2. Try not to come to a conclusion too early. That may be the very conclusion you'll come to later,
but don't shut yourself off from a full exploration.

         3. Think hard about the target market. Remember, people who buy a 3" drill don't want a 3" drill --- they want a 3" hole. Think benefits, not features. Think about the stage of the buying process they're in.
They may or may not want all that information at this early point. Maybe you should go for awareness of the product, for instance.

        4.  Explore a universe of ideas. You're a writer, not an editor --- at least not at first. Write 12 headlines, with visuals for each. Write 5 taglines, each pointing in a different direction. Now go do something else.

        5.  Come back with an art director and go over them. These ideas might spark one that's even better.

       6.  Now give it the "will this really do the job?" treatment. Look at it again from the customer's point of view. Is it convincing? Who will it convince to do what?

       You'll see. Even these complicated "everything's important" assignments can turn into great advertising.

        If you give them room to breathe.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Some apps I might actually use.

         A young woman complained to me: "Too many apps! I've got too many apps!" We talked and decided her problem wasn't too many apps. It was too many apps she never uses, staring at her every time she uses her phone.

          There are close to a half-million apps for phones these days, and they all sound like they're going to solve all your problems. They don't. For my friend, apps is a four-letter word.

           So I'd like to suggest that instead of waiting for someone to invent the perfect app for us, that we tell the app people what we want, and tell them to go make it. That's marketing at its best.

            I'm perfectly willing to start the ball rolling. Here are some apps I can use when I teach my college courses:

            1. The Instant Medical Exam App. This one is for students who email that they'll be absent because of a sore throat. This app will diagnose immediately, and write a doctor's note and a prescription for Halls Cough Drops.

            2. The Texting Under The Table App. Instantly projects the student's message on the room's movie screen.

            3. The Homework Truth Serum App. Immediately texts the student a question about the author's strange dream alluded to on page 102.

            4. The Impromptu Quiz App. For every possible subject, this app will assign a 750-word paper on the meaning of life.

            5. The Fire Drill App. It tells you whether it's a fire drill or a real fire, so you know whether to take your grade book or not.

             6. The Break Breaker App. Automatically resets the schoolroom clock to give you a longer coffee break.

             7. The Know-It-All App. Connects you 24/7 with a Harvard professor who will explain any part of your course that you really never understood.

             Those are my suggestions. What apps do you need? Maybe between us we can get some apps we can really apply.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Love in the marketing mix.

         The Wall Street Journal is my favorite source of marketing news. I started reading it regularly after a senior Macy's executive tipped me off. But still, yesterday a front page article in the "Personal Journal" section surprised me.

          It was headlined, "Show Me the Love or Not". Apparently the Wall Street Journal is a different paper away from the office.

          The article said "some people are hugger-kissers who crave a lot of affection, and others are reserved and feel smothered or embarrassed by too much affection". It went on to give these questions from a researcher at Columbia University to help assess your "attachment style":

           1. Do you tend to shut down during an argument? You may be Avoidant.

           2. Do you feel your partner keeps you at a distance emotionally, physically, or both? He or she may be Avoidant.

           3. Does your partner devalue you, jokingly or otherwise, say by getting irritated by the way you eat or joking about your weight? Again, he or she may be Avoidant.

           4. Do you feel that you love your partner more than he or she loves you? Looking for rejection is a hallmark of the Anxious attachment style.

           The reason I bring all this up is that I believe it relates very closely to marketing and advertising. In our fields, it's been shown again and again that if you offer a little love, welcome, and positive attachment to somebody, they're going to love you back.

            Showing care and concern to your customers by producing only quality products and services that are worth the money, and presenting them in  helpful, rewarding ways, is the path to a customer's heart.

            Walk into a Sears store and compare it to Target...which store cares more about you? The cold, impersonal Sears, or the warm, inviting Target? No wonder you can always get a parking space near Sears.

             Check out some ads in your favorite magazine, or on TV or on Facebook. Are the ads that talk down to you and the ones that shout at you the ads that win you over? Or do you warm up to ads that treat you like an intelligent person, with brains and a sense of humor? Which kind do you want to welcome into your home?

              Even if, as the WSJ says, our styles are different, we're all human. Not just those of us doing the marketing, but the rest of us on the receiving end. In a way, that's the difference between good marketing and so-so marketing.

              How much love you put into the mix.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Security in an insecure world.

          Not too long ago, students were worried about being able to get into college. That was the extent of the anxiety. The rest would take care of itself.

           It didn't, of course. Today students are also worried about what happens when they get out of college, and they have to get a job. I didn't say a great job; just a job. And of course, millions of people with jobs are worried about keeping them.

            I once asked my mentor and friend, Tom Murray, where the security was in the advertising business. It seemed to me you could be a hero one day and a bum the next.

            Tom took a long, slow puff on his pipe and looked me straight in the eye. "The only security in advertising, Harvey, is right here," he said, tapping his chest. "Inside of you. What you can do is your security."

             I've thought of that a lot over the years, and in some strange way that's hard to hold onto, that's true. Your abilities, your talent will be your security. With that, of course, comes responsibility.

             First, you have to keep nurturing those capabilities. You have to become a scholar of your craft, your profession, and the world around you. You can never stop caring about what's being done, who's doing it, and why. You have to keep up.

             Second, you have to learn all you can about people. Advertising and marketing are all about psychology, sociology, and anthropology. It's also about talking to customers and what their lives are like, what's important to them, and how they make decisions.

              And third, it's about working hard. Your first idea probably won't be your best. Neither will your third. Good enough is never good enough. What someone else did has been done. Everyone has ideas. Yours have to be rooted in a keen understanding of people, the product, the competition and the business. It sometimes takes 15 ideas to get it right. Go back to work.

             That's it. Security comes with your attitude and your ability, and both are your responsibility.

             You'll get a job and it will be up to you to make it a good one. Security isn't a perk.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Is there a Target on your back?

         Did you know that Target has a Guest Market Analytics Department? Don't you want to know why it's the cover story in yesterday's New York Times Magazine?

         Target apparently assigns a Guest I.D. Number for every shopper, and keeps track of everything you buy. Target can also buy additional information about you --- your age, ethnicity, job history, even the magazines you read.

         Then they do "predictive analytics".Which means making sense out of all this data so Target can predict your behavior and make the most of it, such as knowing if a woman is pregnant in the second trimester. With that information, Target can offer her promotions for herself and her baby, with a chance of making the mom a customer for life.

          It's not just Target. Think of that savings card you use at the supermarket. By now, the store knows if you have a pet or kids or live alone, what you drink and how much, if you get heartburn, are a vegetarian, whether you like fresh food, frozen food or canned, and how often you shampoo and clean your home.

          You don't have to think of this as being extremely nosey. It can also help the store know what coupons to send you and what kinds of products to stock. But it is pretty nosey.

          On top of all this, your social media entries contribute to the public information about you. What Google and Facebook do with your personal stuff is currently being looked at and debated.

          Research has shown that most of us would seem willing to give up our personal information if we get something in return. That's exactly what's happening. You get discounts and offers in return.

          And all you're giving up is your privacy, your identity, and maybe some freedom.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

"George, be careful."

          We don't hear much about him on "Mad Men", but the most vocal art director of the day was George Lois.

           "If you're not a bad boy, if you're not a big pain in the ass, then what you are is some mush, in this business", George said. He had very low regard for mush.

           George Lois started his career at CBS, where graphic design was king. He moved from there to the advertising agency that started the Creative Revolution, Doyle Dane Bernbach. He worked on the Volkswagen "bus" account and did remarkable work stressing its practicality. George created ads that compared it to a shoebox.

            From DDB, he carried the torch of Bill Bernbach's ideas to three ad agencies of his own. His clients included MTV, Maypo, Naugahyde, Tommy Hilfiger, Harvey Probber furniture, and a number of airlines and cosmetics. He's the one who did a pantyhose commercial with Joe Namath. George was also hired by Esquire magazine to create its covers each month, which he did for two years. He approached the project as "ads for the articles inside"; very provocative, they're on permanent exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

            Here's what George wrote in 1991: "Advertising, an art, is constantly besieged and compromised by logicians and technocrats, the scientists of our profession who wildly miss the main point about everything we do---that the product of advertising, after all, is advertising."

            Another quote from Mr. Lois: "Advertising has no rules. What it always needs more than 'rules' is unconstipated thinking."

            You can see him and actually get to appreciate him even more in the documentary film, "Art and Copy."

            When George first went into advertising, his dad cautioned him to be careful. Today he's one of the reasons every ordinary art director better be careful and get out of the way of those who want to make great advertising.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

How not to treat a lady.

         In a study by the Boston Consulting Group, financial services is the category of business that is "least sympathetic to women."

         Here is a vast and growing pool of revenue  --- even during the recession, says the Group. The financial services business is expected to be $1.6-trillion this year, with women as the greatest opportunity for growth. That's because they control half the wealth in the U.S., and in most households, manage the finances.

          But it seems, as Rodney Dangerfield used to say, they "don't get no respect". Women are let down by the quality of service and advice they get.

          The study goes on to say that it's during times of transition or crises that most women want financial services --- at the very time they're stressed for time and everything else. And most vulnerable.

          Women need help with a financial plan, insurance, and banking possibilities, and they're not getting it. (If you're saying that men also need this kind of help, I agree. I'm one of them.) They get form letters instead of support.

           Men apparently see money differently than most women. Men want to accumulate money. Women see money as a way to take care of themselves and their families, improve their lives, and ensure security.

            It seems to me it wouldn't take much, from a marketing point of view, for a bank to position itself as "the bank for women". You could set up a separate department for them. You could help them keep track of family finances. You could provide financial education, perhaps in the evenings. You could help women with long-term planning, perhaps with a kit that includes a relevant questionnaire. You could help educate their kids about money. And, importantly, you could be someone they can turn to with answers to their questions.

            Instead, according to Boston Consulting, women say financial services companies talk down to them, stereotype them, and aren't looking for their business. Some get nervous having women make their own financial decisions.

           Most financial services places don't even understand marketing. It's costing them a lot of money.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Why this p.r. firm bought an ad agency.

        Are the tables finally turning? There was a small story in the news today that a Washington, D.C., public relations firm bought a small New York ad agency. It was equivalent to the proverbial "Man Bites Dog" story.

        The p.r. firm is APCO Worldwide, which has about 30 offices around the world and has worked for such clients as Dow Corning and Procter and Gamble. The advertising agency is Strawberry Frog, which bills around $10-million and works for Procter and Gamble and alcoholic beverage marketer Beam, Inc.

        This is quite a switch. Not long ago advertising agencies were buying up the biggest public relations firms right and left. Today the reason for a p.r. firm buying an ad agency is that, thanks to the Internet, the two disciplines are sort of merging. Public relations firms are being called on more and more to create media content for their clients, which advertising agencies do well.

        For years, a different kind of "convergence" had been predicted. The thought was that the television set and the computer were going to merge into one piece of equipment, moving everyone back into the living room. While that still may happen, there's another merger going on. Today we're able to get the content we want in all sorts of media.

        We can get television shows on Hulu; hear the TV shows "Face the Nation" and "60 Minutes"on the radio; see our favorite old TV shows and TV commercials on YouTube; get original shows on Comcast and soon on Netflix; and watch live radio shows being simulcast on the Internet. Everything's converging and you can advertise and do public relations everywhere, from Facebook to mobile phones around the world.

        With so much content needed for so much media, it's only natural that there will be more and more joining of advertising and public relations.

         There won't be less for creative people to do. There will be more.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Okay, everyone out of the limelight.

            I've been told by the people who grade the famous Myers-Briggs test of personality types that I'm a  introvert but right on the borderline. I'd rather be a full-blown something, introvert or extravert, but no such luck.

            What brought this to mind is a new book called "Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking". That's my world, for sure. According to the author, Susan Cain, in a world where men and women who are big and brash and tend to dominate, introverts are great.

             Ms. Cain says we think more, we're more careful, and we focus on relationships and meaningful work. On the substance, rather than on the gloss and glitter.

              I guess being barely on the introvert side of the border, I can get easily pulled off the bag and become as reckless as the next guy. Especially when I'm trying to concentrate.

              Maybe that's a good thing in marketing and advertising. Maybe we shouldn't concentrate so hard on what we want to do that we become oblivious to what our customers and even our competitors want and care about.

               There are people in the business that are convinced that good ideas happen in their heads. All they need is a pencil and paper, or these days an iPad. On the other hand, I operate more like a camera, quietly taking in the people, the conversations, and everything around me. Sure I talk; even cameras click every once in a while. But a lot of my talking is questions, not answers.

               As a wannabee introvert, my motto is "Stay off the conclusion couch voicing your opinions and you'll learn a lot more." Being something of an introvert has its advantages. Your work can be a tad more thoughtful. You ponder rather than pounce. Although all through elementary school teachers wrote on my report card, "Harvey is very reserved".

               Little did they know I was taking pictures.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The man who wrote in his drawer.

         When I first arrived at Chevrolet's advertising agency in Detroit, there was a blonde fellow in the office next to mine who had an unusual way of writing. He wrote on a yellow legal pad inside his top right-hand desk drawer.

           After a while, I got to know Dutch better and asked him why he always shut the drawer when someone came into his office. He smiled and said it was his own personal writing. Dutch spent a lot of time in the agency library those days. Turned out, he was writing short stories about the West on his pad in the desk drawer. That explained his trips to the library, doing research.

           One of the early stories Dutch wrote became a movie: "Hud", starring Paul Newman. My friend Elmore "Dutch" Leonard was out of advertising and on his way.

           These days Dutch is often acclaimed the greatest crime writer of our time. You've read his books or seen the movies, including "Get Shorty". His new book is called "Raylan". The television show based on Dutch's characters is "Justified", a big hit.

           Just as interesting to me is "Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing", which appeared in the New York Times. One is, "If it sounds like writing, I re-write it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can't allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the negative."

          Another rule is never open a book about the weather. Still another is never say "all hell broke loose."
His book about the rules of writing will be out soon.

           The last time I caught up with Dutch was at a book signing in San Francisco a few years ago. I told him I didn't have a lot of English teachers watching my commercials either.

           In writing anything, you always have to know the rules in order to break them. When Dutch pulled open that right-hand drawer, he certainly knew how to break them.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tea for two?

         A new study has finally told us how to have a successful relationship. The study was conducted by Wakefield Research and was sponsored by Seattle's Best Coffee. So what did the survey tell us? Have another cup of coffee.

         Now that you know the startling news (you thought it was either luck or your personality, didn't you?) I'll let you in on some more.

         To quote from a report, the study revealed that "39% of coffee drinkers recommend coffee with a significant other as the best way to have a healthy relationship." It even beat out flowers and jewelry.

         For new couples, here's a little sweetener. Some 28% of the coffee drinkers said "staying for 'morning after' coffee is the first sign the relationship is getting serious". Even more than keeping a toothbrush there or updating your status on Facebook.

         And what if you skip coffee together? According to the study, 31% of the people not satisfied with their relationship would rather end the relationship than  give up their coffee.

         This is really serious stuff. Especially on Valentine's Day. I can imagine all the new greeting cards coming out:

                             Roses are red, violets are blue,
                             I'd rather be on a caffeine binge with you.

                             I'll be your grande if you'll be my vente.

                             One more coffee together and it will be
                             grounds for marriage.

                             Dear Valentine: Join me for coffee.
                             The cup is disposable but I'm not.

                            Just knowing you, Sweetheart,
                            my mocha runneth over.

            But what do you do if your sweetheart doesn't drink coffee? Chai, I presume. And save the green  tea for Saint Patrick's Day.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Mirror, mirror on the wall.

          A psychologist asks this interesting question: if slim models in ads make women feel bad about their normal-weight bodies, would plus-size models make us feel better about our bodies?

          That can be extended to another question: do advertisers show slim models because they make the clothes look better, or because they're making an unspoken promise of what you'll look like?

          These questions probably have sophisticated psychological nuances, but maybe not. Maybe fashion advertisers are merely playing follow the leader, or waiting for Simon to say hands on hips. I suspect that's the case.

           I was told that Kate Moss is so popular as a model because she is "the perfect hanger to put clothes on". Everything looks great on her.

          Maybe we give the media too much power over our own self regard. And stereotypes undoubtedly play too big a role.

          A recent Newsweek magazine study of 202 corporate hiring managers revealed that 57% felt that qualified but unattractive candidates had a harder time landing a job. More than half of the hiring managers said candidates should spend as much time and money on looking attractive as on their resumes.

          So where do we get our ideas of what's attractive? From the media, I would guess. Should recruiters have signs in the lobby explaining what they find attractive? "I tend to hire more blondes". "Plus-size bookkeeper wanted for accounts payable. Must have childhood issues." "Short brunettes need not apply, even with great programming skills". Of course that's silly, but it appears that looks do count.

          I've been told that the Fox News Channel always seems to have smart female anchors --- who happen to be beautiful. Hey, rating points are rating points! I hope the other networks adopt the same policy.

         The news is so ugly these days.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The dating game at your fingertips.

        The other day I assigned an advertising class their homework: create three ads for an online dating site. The next day,  in The Wall Street Journal, appeared an article with this headline: "Is Online Dating Hurting Your Prospects for Love"?

         Reporting on a comprehensive review in The Journal of Psychological Science in the Public Interest, the WSJ article says that it's "a great way to meet people but not for leading you to the partner of your dreams". Apparently online dating is not a great way for meeting Mr. Right, but fine for meeting Mr. Right Now.

         The study's author is Eli Finkel, a psychology professor at Northwestern University. He says "Internet dating sites can expand the dating pool, which is especially helpful to people with limited opportunities to meet others, such as working single parents without a lot of free time."

         On the Internet, you instantly know who's available, without going through the "Do you come here very often? --- Do you like the band?" preliminaries.

         But Professor Finkel says that on the online dating sites "it's hard to judge chemistry or rapport --- so-called experiential information". You have to meet face to face. Some dating sites encourage you to look for similarities, but that apparently isn't good at predicting long-term suitability, either.

         I like giving my students assignments for products and services that they or their friends might use or consider. In the real world of advertising and marketing, that's often what you strive for. The very first client I was assigned to as a copywriter in Chicago was Jim Beam Bourbon. That evening after work,  the account executive arranged for me to meet the client for a drink. I naively ordered a scotch and soda. The client was gracious enough to say, "That's okay, we make scotch, too". You can imagine how I would've botched an online dating site client. I probably would've asked him if he could introduce me to a tall blonde.

         To let the good professor have the last word on online dating: "Don't spend an extensive amount of time scouring profiles and interacting electronically. Instead, use the profiles to find people who look interesting or appealing, then relatively quickly try to meet that person to assess whether the spark is there in person."

         Come to think of it, did I ever ask you what your sign is?



Saturday, February 11, 2012

Good enough for a parody.

          I just saw the parody of the Chrysler Super Bowl commercial on YouTube. I'm not going to link it here because it's quite opinionated and political. But how many commercials get parodied?

          The Chrysler spot was the big topic of discussion in advertising this week. It was two minutes long and Clint Eastwood was, well, terrific. So was the writing. The commercial was created by Wieden+Kennedy in Portland, Oregon.

          The question on the table is whether the commercial itself was political. About "America at Halftime", was it a a big thank-you to President Obama, whose administration bailed out Chrysler and hustled it through bankruptcy. I don't think it was, although I have to admit that idea did flash through my mind when I saw it during the game.

          I think the commercial was a natural follow-up to the one Chrysler ran during the Super Bowl last year. They had Eminem tell about hard-working Detroit's passion for automobiles and the guts, the talent of those in the Motor City. Detroit has made an amazing comeback.

         All the controversy stirred up this year has probably helped Chrysler. The viewings on YouTube and elsewhere are around five million, and the company reports renewed interest at the dealerships.

         If anything, the commercial was patriotic, I think, and patriotic commercials at the right time do stir things up a bit. Years ago, my creative team did the advertising for Zenith color television sets. We were battling Sony and Panasonic. We created a print and TV campaign celebrating the American worker, and how American craftsmanship earned Zenith the highest honors in survey after survey. Sales climbed even in the face of the new competition.

        Today, it's hard to find Zenith television sets. They're sold to hotels and you'll find them in some big appliance stores. I don't know who makes them or where they're made.

        The American worker is still to be celebrated, and our interest in making things well is still with us.
Clint Eastwood stated it forcefully.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Which commercial won the Super Bowl?

         Did you like the Super Bowl commercials this year? I must be getting corny because I enjoyed the one where Jay Leno outwits Jerry Seinfeld to get the first new Acura. It had the fun and pizazz that a Super Bowl spot should have.

         I said fun and pizazz. Not salesmanship. Super Bowl ads have come to have a different objective. They're sort of a big contest to be "most-liked". Sort of like Miss Congeniality at the Miss America pageant. Humor and name recognition are the name of the game. We all know this and we all play along.

         One of the commercials was open source. Crowd source is another term for it. The Doritos spots originated in a consumer contest; amateurs wrote them. I personally found them a little creepy, and professionals I talked to were disappointed, but the public absolutely loved them.

        Maybe the most provocative was the Teleflora commercial. The "give and you shall receive" message from the Victoria's Secret model, coupled with the wish for a "happy Valentine's night" got mixed reviews. It upset a lot of women, and got the attention of more than 50 million men.

        The Chrysler commercial with Clint Eastwood deserves a blog of its own.

        Probably the brightest idea of the year was the decision by some sponsors to put their commercials on the Web the week before the Super Bowl. The curiosity they created got an extra 5,000,000 people to watch them.

        Pick your own favorites. In a year I'll ask you which ones you remember. I suspect there will be a number of them --- they were designed to be "high concept" commercials.

       I'll also ask how many times you sent flowers via Teleflora.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Are they watching us more than we're watching them?

              A few days ago, I read about the cyber attack on Zappos. The retailer said that millions of customer accounts were breeched, but c.e.o. Tony Hsieh said that credit card and payment data weren't touched.

            At the same time, Stylesight has reported that "shoppers are more willing to share private information". They were reporting on an IBM study of 28,000 people in 15 countries.

            According to IBM's global retail leader of  business services, Jill Puleri, people  "are willing to share more information if there is perceived benefit. It doesn't have to be monetary benefit".

            What's going on? Thefts of customer information at the same time people say they are willing to share?  Ms. Puleri thinks that "what it tells us is that they really want a personal experience. They don't want to find advertising in their mailbox or in their email about things they are never going to buy."

            I imagine that having your private information stolen results in a definite personal experience. Am I overly suspicious, or has social media got something to do with this? Are we getting used to sharing so much personal information ("Here's what I found out about Irma") with people we hardly know?

           Is what we used to call "private" now so public that nothing but the code on the back of our credit card is sacred?

           The major issues of privacy are now being debated in Congress and various bars across the country. My point is a slightly different one. Not about our right to privacy (unassailable), but about whether we still care.

           Obviously, online merchants will be thrilled if we don't object to being contacted by all kinds of people selling all kinds of things. And maybe you don't care who knows what or does what, if there's something in it for you. But you should care. Your individuality is at stake. Your freedom to do things nobody has a right to know anything about.

          Once your privacy is gone, there's no getting it back.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The art director who loved words.

            My best friend in Detroit for years was Marty Lieberman. He was not only a good art director; he was the answer to a copywriter's prayers. He believed in the power of copy.

            I first met Marty when I was approached to leave Chevrolet's agency and join the agency that worked for both Pontiac and Cadillac, as well as other clients. The agency was located in Bloomfield Hills, the beautiful suburb of rolling hills and lakes and the famous Cranbrook school of art and architecture.

           To make things interesting, the agency had set up a "creative think tank" to work on all of the agency's clients in Bloomfield Hills, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, and London. Marty was the art director; they wanted me to handle the copy. We would both be Senior V.P.s.

           The think tank was called Group Eleven. It was across the street from the agency in a lovely townhouse. Two bedroom, two baths, a fireplace in the living room and ping-pong in the basement.

           I wasn't really ready to make a change, but it was Marty who convinced me. The Saturday after my first interview, Marty roared up to my house in his British Racing Green GTO, and talked me into it. I can't remember how, but going out of his way to make me comfortable did the trick. Two weeks later I moved from a beautiful contemporary office to a bedroom in the 'burbs.

          Marty showed me the ropes. Lunch at nearby watering holes, afternoons at the Bloomfield Open Hunt Club, shopping trips to nearby Birmingham --- but mainly long days making ads.

          He always encouraged me to write down everything I thought of, which got me into the habit of creating ads and commercials at home after supper. The next morning, Marty and I would go over my scribblings, and he would pick out the ones he loved most. Then he and his assistant, Bert, would divide up the layouts to be done while I went to my bedroom to write the presentation.

          When Marty couldn't think of a visual, he would say something like, "This headline is so good, it doesn't need a picture. Let's just make it big."

          Life in the townhouse was good. We were joined by Elaine Jackowski, a research supervisor from Doyle Dane Bernbach in New York, when her husband was transferred to Detroit. She was amazing, always providing Marty and me with insights and answers. And fruit for us to snack on.

          I sometimes think I did my best work with Marty. He loved what I did, and that made me do better.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The magic of television.

          Want to create a TV commercial where a football team you're watching on television comes out of the set and smashes through a wall into your dining room? Don't worry --- it can be done. In fact, we did it.

          Whenever I work on a television commercial, I have to think about costs, but not so much about whether it can be done. My friend Ross, a brilliant art director, taught me that. Whenever I asked him how we could do that, his answer would be "the magic of television". And when clients asked the same thing, that's what we'd tell them.

           The football-players-in-the-dining-room commercial I described was for a video game. The client said pull out all the stops. The commercial required a lot of the magic of television, plus three specially-constructed walls (two for re-takes). We shot and edited it in San Francisco with one of the best directors in the business.

           And it was anything but cheap.

           Another time, Ross and I wanted to do a commercial where a man get hits repeatedly with custard pies. In the spot, they were symbolizing the unexpected problems we face every day. Ross found an ex-Hollywood engineer in New Mexico, who built a special rig for us --- a pie-throwing machine!

           I'm telling you this because I don't want anything to inhibit your creativity. At least at the early stages, before the cost estimates come in.

          Thanks to the magic of television, cars have hung on museum walls, mayhem falls from the sky, and fountains of color paint whole neighborhoods. There is a caution here, however. Your commercials should start with ideas, not pyrotechnics.  Football players coming to life in your home is great for a football video game, but not just for the fun of seeing it happen.

         A lot of bad commercials start with the magic, instead of sprinkling it on later.

        And those are the biggest wastes of money there is.


Monday, February 6, 2012

The Starbucks Five.

         Here at Starbucks on Wilshire and Third in Santa Monica, there's a long wooden table. Every morning at around 6:30, five old-timers arrive and order their tall coffees. Then they empty their pockets of pens, pencils, erasers, and a protractor. These are men who have been there, done that.

        One was a former opera singer, one a composer, two are still writing screenplays, and one says his whole claim to fame was being varsity quarterback at Santa Monica High. Today they're looking at a book of Leading Men, published in 1960. They're circling the ones they've worked with in films. Seventeen are circled.

        I love old-timers. They're steeped in the wisdom of the real world, and appreciate even the subtlest form of creativity.

        When I got my coffee this morning and sat down at a nearby table, they were ready to make a new friend. Seeing my notebook, one of the screenwriters said, "Watch out, he's a writer!" "And a lefty", said another.  A third gentleman asked me if I was from Vienna. He said I looked like an Austrian psychiatrist.

        It's not the old-timers I'm concerned about these days; they've got their talents and their memories. It's the young-timers that I think about. Young people who want to go into marketing and advertising. Yes, they have to be creative, and yes, our school has been very successful in placing them in good jobs. But there's more.

       In today's economy, you have to be resourceful. Putting words on paper doesn't make you a copywriter any more than moving them around on a page with a photograph makes you an art director, or saying "one free with two" in a meeting makes you a marketing maven.

       It takes an uncommon understanding of people, what they really want and need. And then coming up with an idea that draws them to the product. What's more, today's ideas have to travel. Which means they have to work on four screens: TV, computer, movie, and mobile phone.

       One of the gentlemen at the long wooden table, the opera singer, told me he sang for Elizabeth Taylor at one of her prenuptial parties at the Bel Air Hotel. A few seconds later, he called an older female customer over to the table and said she looked like Esther Williams. (Google her). She thanked him. She said she was a dancer.

       Today, perhaps the whole world is show business. It's just hiding beneath all that technology.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Making Yves Saint Laurent see red.

           Okay, Scarlett Johansson and Halle Berry, bare your soles. You, too, Beyonce and and Christina Aguilera. This is serious.

           Christian Louboutin is trying to prove the China red soles he put on his shoes should be his alone. Yves Saint Laurent disagrees and won in court. Now the case is being appealed.

           YSL's attorneys say "artists need the full palette of colors available...In order to compete fairly, we need red."

           Louboutin's attorneys said "Louboutin turned a pedestrian item into a thing of beauty...We don't claim anything but the trademark as registered." Calling the soles of shoes a  "pedestrian item" is certainly appropriate. But should a company be able to own a color?

          If so, what are the precedents? I'm pretty sure Tiffany's must own the specific PMS color blue that they use. I know from my work in advertising that companies do own the particular colors they have had formulated just for them.

          It's interesting how bottoms of shoes can become so important. For one thing, can't YSL choose their own shad of red? Does it have to be China red? Or would any red cause confusion?

          The Federal Appeals judge, Victor Marrero, made the distinction between colors made to identify the brand, like the pink Owen Corning uses for its insulation, and where color "performs a creative function; it aims to please or be useful, not to identify and advertise a commercial source".

          I guess UPS is safe with its brown. Maybe Louboutin should say its color is used to identify the source of its shoes. But would that detract from Mr. Louboutin's creativity and his customers' enjoyment of the shoes? Would fashion-conscious women no longer want them because red soles become the equivalent of the Nike swoosh?

          It's a tricky business and I sympathize with Louboutin. They're the "red sole shoes". On the other hand, what if his competitors got the rights to blue shoes, or black, or purple, or sand?

          Obviously I'm too indecisive on this to be a judge. I believe artists should be able to protect their work. I also believe there should not be this kind of restriction on creativity.

         I think I'll just go and have my VW Beetle undercoated in China red.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Blondies arrive in Santa Monica

          I'm back in Santa Monica this February morning, and life at Starbucks is star-struck.

          They're featuring the new Blondie blend, and most of the women seem to be complying. The baristas should ask, "Natural Blondie or Streaked?"

          Admittedly, everyone here seems more fit than I am. Carrying ventes around builds muscles. Four people are working on their computers. I wonder if simultaneous invention will result in four screenplays exactly alike, with Scarlett Johansson playing all the roles. Boy meets girl; boy goes to Starbucks, meets other girl; first girl decides to only go the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf from now on.

          The woman on my right is actually reading a newspaper, even though she looks much too young. She's at least on medium behind.

           There are advertising agencies up and down Wilshire Boulevard; Honda's agency is in the next block in a tall white building overlooking the ocean. I wonder if my commercials would've been different if my offices overlooked the ocean. Most of the time me offices overlooked other buildings.

           Los Angeles doesn't seem to have the same electricity New York does, but the people look more relaxed. Less crushed, more relaxed. Maybe they're better at faking it, I don't know. Starbucks is wired but these people aren't.

          An evolved couple just got together for a discussion two tables away. I know they're evolved because she's wearing heels with her jeans, and he's wearing penny loafer with his. They're in an animated discussion. I don't know which is the seller and which is the sellee. They're talking private jets.

          In a couple I've be back in the San Francisco Bay Area, where cars are older, Starbucks less blonde, and the people are texting.

          But for now, I'm enjoying the change, constantly wondering, what do they know that I don't?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Who's on the couch in the corner office?

         In a December issue, the Economist wrote a piece on retail therapy. The headline in red, "Sex and Advertising", was a bit of a over-promise.

         The article was really about behavioral research. How "humans, it turns out, impressionable, emotional, and irrational". It quoted studies showing that when a store plays soothing music, "shoppers will linger longer and often spend more." Stuff we either knew or presumed.

         Going beyond the contemporary, the article told of psychologist Ernest Dichter, who spun Freud's insights into a million dollar business advising marketers.

         The c.e.o. of the first Chicago ad agency I worked for was a big fan and friend of Dichter. In his book, "The Strategy of Desire", Dichter wrote that "marketplace decisions are driven by emotions and subconscious whims and fears, and often have little to do with the product itself." He introduced what he called "motivation research".

         Suddenly, psychology became a shiny new tool for ad agencies to engage in and merchandise: revealing depth interviews that were not unlike therapy.

         For Ivory soap, Dichter found that bathing was "a ritual that afforded rare moments of personal self-caressing and indulgence, particularly before an important date." A brand was chosen, he said, because of the personality or gestalt, of the soap: young, flirty, or conservative. Ivory was deemed the mother-daughter soap.

        For Chrysler, he found that a convertible symbolized "youth, freedom, and the secret wish for a mistress". On another occasion, he told Chryler that its theme, "Different from every other one you've ever tried", was scaring people. They were afraid of the unknown.

       Today, many of Dichter's ideas are part of conventional research. The focus panel, the in-depth interviews, the psychological interpretations.

       Personally, I loved the whole idea of motivation research. Everything afforded an insight into the human psyche. Every ad needed more than a claim; it needed a storyline into the unconscious. And I thank Dr. Dichter for leading the way.

       Today we seem to be preoccupied with technology, and for technologists, that's fine. But advertising is all about people, and that's a whole different code.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

To know if it's a good commercial, turn off the sound.

         When a new advertising writer sets out to write a TV commercial or a video, she usually begins to write the words. Words are actually the last thing to think about. Television is not radio with pictures.

          The first thing you need, of course, is the idea, the concept for the commercial. Then, because television is a visual medium, the place to start is with the picture. You have to think through the whole story visually. It has to be so interesting that people will be able to enjoy it --- and get your point --- even with the sound turned off.

          Once you've got the whole scenario worked out, write it out. A scenario is like the way you describe a commercial you like, to a friend. "This great-looking young couple is on the balcony outside a ballroom while a wedding party is in full swing. Just then the girl's mother comes out, urging her to come back inside to meet..." And so on.

          You can write it in a few minutes and know whether or not you have a good, complete idea. Before you write all the words and do the illustrations. Now write the script.

          Early on in my career I had a creative director who used to look at a script I had written and say "nice language". For months I thought it was a compliment, until I realized it wasn't. It was the "faint praise" that damned my scripts. It's not about language.

          Because I'm a writer, it took me a long time to stop thinking about words and start thinking visually. In fact one of my early TV spots for Hush Puppies shoes started with a simple idea: reward your feet for all they do for you by buying them comfortable shoes. I had the idea at home one night and wrote out the whole script in about five minutes on a sheet of canary typing paper ---  but I couldn't think of a visual. The next morning I read it out loud to my art-director friend Marty and he knew exactly what to do: show a pair of bare feet going through the things the voice-over described. Without a great visual, the script would've ended up in the wastebasket. Instead it ended up winning us our first Addy awards, and went on to win more.

         Once you've become accomplished at writing for television, it's hard to go back to print. TV is just so much fun.  But actually your print ads get better because you've learned to think visually, and better understand the relationship between words and pictures.

         Get the picture?