Saturday, March 31, 2012

The agony of deciding.

          Alan King, the comedian, was asked the secret of his long and happy marriage. King answered that he and his wife agreed to share decision making.  "She makes the small decisions, and I make the big ones", he said. His friend asked what the small decisions are. King said, "Where we live, whether to have kids, and so on". The friend asked what the big decisions are. King replied, "Whether to send men to the moon again, whether to attack a rogue nation..."

           In advertising and marketing, there are always a million decisions, big and small. If you don't like decisions, don't become a top executive, because decisions are what you're paid for.

           I think my good friend Marty Puris had to make one of the toughest decisions in business. Marty's agency created the BMW "ultimate driving machine" campaign. It was an incredible success and put BMW right up there with Mercedes.

           When new BMW management came in, they decided it would be prudent to hear presentations from other ad agencies. To Marty, it was a slap in the face to his people, some of the very best in the business. Marty decided not to present, for the good of his company.

            Marketers and advertising people are in the business of decisions.

            Every advertising copywriter has to decide whether her ideas are big enough; whether she's expressing them in the most powerful way; whether the ad is persuasive, the commercial compelling.

            Every art director has to decide what kind of visual is needed to get the most attention; what kind of layout best tells the story. Should we visualize the problem or the solution? Should the product be heroic or small; should the logo be prominent or should the name come as a surprise?

            Strategic marketing decisions can even be bigger. Should we raise the price in order to be perceived as more valuable, or lower it to be competitive? If we come out with a line extension will that dilute our reputation as the experts? If we come out with a flanker product will it cannibalize our business?

             I believe that problem-solving, like advertising itself, is an art. It's a big part of the fun of being in the business. There are constantly new problems to solve, new puzzles to figure out.

             If you don't have problems, you're out of business.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The ad as a person.

        Remember Jay Gatsby, the sensitive young guy who lived in a mansion on Long Island and idolized wealth? Here's how F. Scott Fitzgerald described him:

        "He had one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced, or seemed to face, the whole external world for an instant and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself."

         Who could resist such a person? No wonder he was played by Robert Redford in the movie. This is also the description of a potentially great salesperson --- and the attitudes good advertising should project.

          Advertising should concentrate on the customer, nothing else and nobody else. It should reassure her she's not alone, and should show how the product can support her in achieving her goals. And it should do it in a clear, human way. Maybe she wants to make her day more satisfying, her home more comfortable, her kids more well-rounded. Maybe she needs help in getting more time for herself, or looking younger if that's what she wants, or keeping her car another year, or stretching her budget.

          The marketer should know these things, and the advertising agency should enable the marketer to communicate his truth.

          Fitzgerald said Gatsby created his own identity, his own branding we might say, to achieve his goals. That's what every marketer and agency must do. Out of the hundred things you can say about a company or its products, what are the most important to the customer? How can we make them believable? How can we help her remember them?

          You may not like Jay Gatsby. I never have. And I'm certainly not suggesting you be like him.

           But he does have certain qualities that you can learn from and put to good use in the ads and promotions you create.

           And he does throw great parties.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Right and wrong in advertising.

         The ethical questions we deal with in advertising and marketing are certainly not new. Ask St. Thomas Aquinas.

          He addressed the topic of "Cheating Which Is Committed in Buying and Selling." He answered such questions as "whether it is lawful to sell a thing for more than its worth", and "whether the seller is bound to state the defects of the things sold". He even dealt with "whether in trading it is lawful to sell a thing at a higher price than what was paid for it". He  must have known the guy who sold me my last car.

          Today we frame those kinds of questions differently. Usually they're not even questions --- they're insults.

          "Advertising makes people buy things they don't need!" Of course we do. We already have food and a place to live and enough clothes to never have to go to H&M again. But what's wrong with simply wanting something? Anyway, if we in advertising  had the power to make you buy it, we'd be millionaires many times over.

          "Because of marketing, the price of some things is twice what it costs to make them!" That's true, too. Some products wouldn't sell without promotion because how would you know they exist and why they're good? Who would pay the stores and salespeople? Without advertising, only a small quantity would be sold, and economies of scale would be lost.

          "Some products that are advertised sell for a lot more than they're worth!" Who's deciding what they're worth? Be sure to measure the confident, independent feeling a woman gets when she puts on Chanel No. 5. Or the winning feeling when a guy puts on his Nikes and gets in the game. The market decides on worth, not you or me.

           Now to the seller's responsibility to disclose what's wrong with a product. Essentially I agree it is her responsibility. "Batteries not included" for instance, or "Not intended to cure any disease". Those seem okay to me, but I'm not sure the ad has to tell you that some people don't like the taste or that we used some artificial flavoring. The buyer has some responsibility, too. Such as not letting their kids eat too many fries, or reading a package.

           Today we don't expect a store to sell something for just what they paid for it. We know that profit is a good thing. It pays our employees, our rent, and enables the owners to get paid for their risks and to improve things.

           But it's also crucial that we don't overlook ethics in our work as professionals. We know what's right and wrong, and we also know our futures depend on it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Your annual spending should only be this good.

          Advertising Age's annual spending issue revealed some very positive data. For one thing, advertising spending in the U.S. in 2011 was about $122-billion. Overall, there are 177,200 jobs in advertising agencies, up over the year before.

          When you combine the number of advertising and marketing jobs in the U.S., the sum is 720,000 jobs, down 5,000 from the year before. But Internet companies added another 110,000 jobs. So once again, advertising is a growing field, not a shrinking one.

           Where are most of the open jobs these days? Think digital. Internet media and portals added 16,800 new jobs in 2011.

           Ad agencies in New York are complaining about the scarcity of good people. There are never enough, and starting salaries are good. Chicago has jobs, too, especially the bigger agencies.

           Here are some more numbers to think about from Ad Age. First, the amount spent on advertising in measured media last year:

                                        Walmart Stores    $903 million
                                         Macy's                $890 million
                                         Target                 $650 million
                                         Verizon               $ 1.5 billion
                                         McDonald's        $888 million

             Next, some media numbers. National spot radio advertising, up 18.6%. Outdoor, up 9.6%. Spot TV, up 23.6%. Internet, up 9.9%.

             Remember, too, that most of the advertising and marketing jobs aren't in ad agencies --- they're on the client side. Every major advertiser has an ad department, and some companies even have people inside that make and place the advertising.

             Above all, keep this in mind: although advertising is a big field, there are never enough big ideas.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

And now, for my next act...

           When I first became a creative director at an advertising agency, I was quickly confronted with many presentations. I often had to present the ads and commercials, but also had to present the backgrounds, the strategies, and the rationales.

           I loved writing everything, but was scared to death of standing up, waiting for their attention, and then acting out every part in the script or ad. Always without prepared notes visible by the client --- who's often just across the table from you.

           Our president knew I was scared. One time he took me aside and joked, "Harvey, if you faint, be sure the ads are facing up".

           Over time, I got better at the mechanics of presenting, but remained semi-paralyzed every time I was called upon to speak. Until I watched Ron Hoff.

           Ron was the Senior Vice President who joined us at Foote Cone and Belding in Chicago from Ogilvy in New York. He actually thrived in client presentations and blossomed before your very eyes as he started speaking. I was in complete awe. He was working on a book about public speaking, entitled "I Can See You Naked". That title was Ron's secret for not being uptight: he tried to visualize the people in the audience with no clothes on.

           I asked Ron for a tip for me; I had a meeting with Hallmark coming up the next day, and wanted a way to get through it alive. "Just be jaunty" he told me. "Be jaunty. Enjoy yourself. You know everything to say, you know that you can answer any question. Act confident. Take it lightly."

           I did, and it went well. I jaunted through everything. The meeting was light, the discussion was calm, and the client loved the work. We were a big hit in Kansas City.

           From then on, jaunty was my style. I acted out the TV commercials with drama, and an occasional wink or eye-roll. I presented each ad as if I were personally delighted with the way it turned out.

          Ron Hoff was the reason. He wasn't very jaunty, though, the day I quit Foote Cone to become creative director of another agency. He was furious with me. Said I embarrassed him by quitting. But whether at a presentation or teaching in a college class, his gift remains with me.

          And I can see you naked.

Monday, March 26, 2012

New c.e.o. in the drive-through lane.

          The big business news here in Chicago is that McDonald's has a new big cheese. The chief executive, Jim Skinner, is retiring, and Don Thompson will be taking over. Everyone's worried that McDonald's will be taking their eyes off the fries.

          As someone put it in the newspaper, nobody coming to McDonald's wants new fries. They want fresh fries. Don't change too much; just keep improving everything. Under the previous c.e.o., the mission was to emphasize quality, not quantity. Not growth. It's resulted in 10 straight years of growth anyway.

           A previous marketing director claims part of the growth has been due to the chain's tagline, "I'm lovin' it". He says that line speaks to the customers' desires instead of the company's. It think it speaks to nobody.

           When "I'm lovin' it" was introduced as a new slogan, they said the beauty of it was that it could go at the end of any commercial. That's its weakness. It says nothing. It refuses to offer a unique promise about McDonalds. It's what we call transferable --- it could be used for any product, from BP gasoline to Drano.

           When McDonalds first started advertising, they had a big idea. "You deserve a break today." McD was the perfect place for it: quick, economical, and offering tasty food.

             Today, that tagline may not work. The ex-marking director says that today we know we need a break, but why go to McDonald's? I don't think that you'll want to go there because I'm lovin' it. Who am I to put words in your mouth when you really crave fresh fries?

             Good luck, McDonald's. We're with you as you go to healthier, more nutritional items on the menu. Just don't take your eyes off the fries.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Why the Gap has trouble filling the gap.

          Today I'm in Chicago, and I stopped in at at the Gap flagship store on Michigan Avenue. Plenty of customers were looking around because the sandwich-board sign outside said "New Items on Sale". I was curious, too, trying to figure out what I would do to turn around the brand if I were in charge.

           The woman who greeted me informed me that the men's section was on the second floor. I got on the elevator and the button panel said men's was on three. It was wrong. I got off on three into Body Gap. So I waited for a down elevator.

            As soon as I got off, a salesperson asked what he could show me. I said chinos, slim fit. He immediately corrected me and said what I wanted were khakis. He told me they had wonderful new colors. Trouble was, they weren't in one place. The khaki ones were here, the olive ones over there, the grey ones back here, and the light blue ones a few feet behind the olive ones. He reminded me that Gap sizes run big, and then vanished.

            When I did have a question (why the sign said "Everything here $22 or less" and these pants were marked $54), there was no salesperson within sight. I went over to the registers, and the woman agreed to come and look. She said the sign was meant to be very general. I told her no, the sign is very specific. $22 or less. She said what the sign meant to say was that many things in that section were $22 or less, but not all. She decided I was a crank and drifted back to her register.

            I did choose a sweater to buy as a gift, and there was a long line at the register. When I got there, I wanted to be sure the sizes ran a little big. The cashier said definitely not; Gap sizes are accurate. I asked if I could return it in San Francisco if it didn't fit. She said she couldn't see why not.

             I can see why not. Everything seems a little jumbled, a little out of control at the Gap. My fashion marketing students could get in there and straighten everything out in an afternoon. They could tell the Gap what it needs, how to accomplish it, and how to win customers back. But the Gap isn't run by merchants these days, and I'm not sure they'd understand. What they're doing is a lot like the joke about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

             The Gap isn't the store of the future, because the future isn't what it used to be.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Wanted: a new kind of retail exec.

         Natalie Zmuda, writing in Advertising Age, says retail marketing officers are coming of age. "It's no longer enough to be creative", she says. They "must be data-driven customer advocates able to deliver a consistent brand experience across platforms". In other words, they have to be experts at branding.

          In the early days of department store advertising, it was Macy's versus Gimbel's. Macy's ad manager. Bernice Fitz-Gibbons, had a motto: every time you sell the merchandise, sell the store. In other words, every store sells handbags; why should you buy one at Macy's?

          That's exactly where Sears and Kmart fell off the cliff. They believed that if they had the goods and the prices,  people would love them. They have the goods and the prices, but people aren't crazy about the experience. In addition to the look and condition of the stores and the service you get from the employees, the marketing is part of the experience.

          At the other end of the spectrum is Target, with its warm and witty, "expect more, pay less" emphasis on design and designers. The whole look and feel of their stores and their ads is why Target is different --- and a success. We've even given it a French-sounding name, "Tar'jhay". (Target  even came up with a new line of clothes they called "Targe".)

          Branding is an art in itself, and if retailers don't understand how it works, they're going to lose.

          Another thing to keep retailers up nights is the changing media scene. Not just the technology; the psychology, too. Everyone's using social media these days, but are they using it to enhance the brand experience --- or just to boast?

           We're in the era of transmedia storytelling now, and retailers have to realize they need to be good not only at buy and selling, but have to be good storytellers at the same time.

            Maybe that's why both Kmart and Target have been trying to recruit Chief Marketing Officers for a while.

            A Bernice Fitz-Gibbons isn't that easy to find these days.

Friday, March 23, 2012

You run the company, I'll wash up.

         My friend Dick used to have a sign in his office: "Everybody could do everything if that's all they're doing". I've thought about that many times as I progressed from copywriter to copy supervisor to associate creative director to creative director, and so on.

         At each stage, people conspired to get me involved in more and more things, when all I really wanted was to be left alone to make ads and commercials. Even today, as I teach advertising and marketing, I often slip back into my role as ad maker, and I love it.

         I'm still not perfectly clear about why I love it. On one level, it's problem solving. An assignment to do an advertising campaign is like being handed a puzzle. How do all the pieces fit together --- the market, the product, the strategy? And, of course, what you do with all this?

         On another level, it's the creativity that's so appealing to me. The fun of doing something that hasn't been done before. And spending the whole day playing with the toys the kid inside of you loves: words, pictures, colors, surprises, jokes, visual humor, burlesque humor, shocking truths.

         On a third level, it's the entertainer in me that comes to life. The amateur magician performing the magic of television and the art of persuasion, to the delight of the audience. Even as I write this, I'm conscious of your potential response, and I want to please you.

          Some people run away from being creative. They're turned off by the playfulness of creative people, and the endlessness of questions that are raised, and the daily requirement of having ideas.

          For a person with a rich inner life like mine, an inner-directed person screaming to get out, creative work has been satisfying ever since I studied advertising in college.

          It's been a dance. A dance with a problem to be solved, and a very smart viewer daring me to convince her.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The placebo effect in advertising.

         There are scientific studies that show that placebos actually work, when a particular mind-set or belief about one's health may lead to changes. Placebos even seem to work in some weight loss treatments. I believe these "fake treatments" also work in advertising and marketing.

          At an agency I used to work at, the client would have the creative group produce an expensive commercial every year. It had to be ready for the company meeting, so he could show it to the sales force. The sales people loved it, and got enthused. However, the commercial never saw the light of television. The client cancelled the schedule after the sales meeting. But the salespeople got so excited about it, sales went up. The placebo effect.

          Another case. The client who dictates a very bad idea, insists that it be developed, produced, and run on TV. The commercial doesn't do anything for sales. But because he was the "father" of the idea, the client blames the economy, the competition, the weather --- everything but the commercial, which he loves. The placebo effect.

          I had a client like this early on in my career. He was a top executive of a distillery. He told the agency he was the "quarterback", and would call the plays. He did, for a year and a half. Then the distillery got a new quarterback.

          A third case. The client cuts the ad budget. But not the sales goal. When the new budget doesn't produce the increase in business, the client blames the agency and fires them. The client gets the placebo effect instead of results. The agency gets the shaft.

          There are other placebo effects in advertising. When the agency hires a hot new guy from Cleveland and it turns out his work only seems to appeal to people in Cleveland.

           Or when an executive is given a new office, with a window. Not a raise; a window. Next year he'll be a vice president. Or when an executive gets promoted to be in charge of "business development", and when no new business develops, he gets deep-sixed.

            I read in the San Jose Mercury-News that men seem to be getting the majority of new jobs. Are they more capable? I think not. Just an easier sell to some Neolithic bosses.

            Please pass the placebos. I have a headache.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"How was your weekend?" he shouted.

         There are some people who are just being polite, and others who really want to know what you did over the weekend and how it went.

         I assume that most of us don't really want to know. We just want to make a mild connection. So we all know we're safe.

         A lot of advertising talks to me that same way. They're being polite, maybe even somewhat entertaining, but they don't really expect to hear from me. They won't.

         Every day, Macy's tells me their having a super sale. They're just being polite. If they were really interested, they'd tell me what that suit could do for me. How it could open doors, make me look better, even make me look slimmer. Instead, in bold letters in red ink, they're telling me what everybody knows. They're having a sale for a change. They wanted me to know. They were just being polite.

          Macy's has the chance to remind us what we loved about department stores years ago. They had the real Santa Claus. We dreamed of being locked in the toy department overnight. But they don't tell their story. In fact, do they even have a toy department today, or have they taken that away,too? Toys R Us has never been the adventure that department stores were. The department store had, in one building, everything you could want in your lifetime. And they blew it.

          Today it's hit and run. Buy something on sale and run for the specialty store you love. In a way, that's how Nordstrom competes with Macy's; by feeling like a big specialty store. Stuff to die for, and service that responds while you're still among the living.

         Getting back to advertising, the "polite" kind doesn't seem to work. Who wants to buy a polite car? Who wants to look polite at a party? Do we really want to wear a polite fragrance? Advertising is trying to be polite, while that other side of you is screaming to be noticed.

         A lot of people starting out in advertising try to be polite. They try to make ads that look and talk like ads. When someone tries to get them out of the box, they look for another box to drive into. They go from the pizza box to the toothpaste box to the family around the dinner table box.

         My advice is simple. Don't be so polite any more. Be tough, or romantic, or provocative, or even silly. Make your marketing too appealing to pass up.

         In other words, the next time someone asks about your weekend, tell them the truth. That'll get their attention.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Isn't a hotel where you stay when you're away from home?

         I'm writing this on BART, the rapid transit to San Francisco. Staring at me in the face is an all-type poster for InterContinental Hotels. It says,"Not on every corner. Hotels around the world". I'll need my Green Hornet secret decoder ring to figure out what they're trying to say.

          What I think they're trying to say is that they're not your common, everyday, cookie-cutter hotel. Fine. But what hotel is on every corner? I can't think of one, certainly not in Intercontinental's class.

           Now tell me about the "hotels around the world" part. Here I am on a fixed-rail track going to work, and they're telling me something about all the wonderful places around the world they have hotels. I'm looking around and I don't see anyone likely to be going around the world today. I could be mistaken. They look pretty much like working stiffs like me, but you never know.

           I'm always taken aback when I see advertising that seems so out of touch with reality.

           What do I care if they don't have a hotel on any corner? Actually, someday I might be on a corner, desperate for a hotel, and they're not there. Pretty inconvenient. But I doubt if I'll be going around the world one day soon. There they have hotels. Can't they tell me something that could be of use to a normal person?

          For instance, do they offer any special guest services? Do they have any good restaurants? (You know what they say about hotel restaurants.) Are they in touch with the needs of frequent business travelers? Any special services for business women? Are their fitness centers anything more than a windowless room in the basement on the way to the garage? What about their concierge, and in-room dining. Free Wi-fi? Do they allow kids? Cats? Are their swimming pools big enough for laps? Airport shuttle? How can I get an upgrade? What business services do they offer? How do I find out?

          I know, you can't put this all in a ad, but what's their promise, their attitude? And they could at least show me a picture so I can see what I'm missing. Maybe one of their San Francisco hotels is a better place to spend a weekend than in the paint section of a hardware store.

          Who is InterContinental's ad agency, anyway? Maybe they're busy checking out that hotel in Kuala Lampur.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Putting the art director on a pedestal.

         What does it take to be a good advertising copywriter? A good advertising art director. I should know; I've been blessed with one after another.

          The first great art director I worked with was Gene Mandarino. That was at my first job in Chicago. Gene worked his magic with pastels, and it was prestidigitation. A whirl of hands, a cloud of yellow, blue, and red, and a good ad appeared on his tabaret. One day, before dusting himself off to go home, Gene tore four pages out of a stock photo book. On each page were 16 small photos. "If you're a copywriter," Gene said to me, "write a headline for a Jim Beam bourbon ad with each of these pictures." I did. Gene opened my mind.

           The next great art director I worked with was Bill Bratkowski. He was from Vancouver and itching to get back out West the whole time I knew him in Detroit. We came up with each idea together but after that,  Bill wouldn't lift a finger until I wrote a good headline for it. Then he would kick me out of his office so he could design a good layout for it. Bill made me realize the value of working with an art director who cared about copy.

            I'm convinced Marty Lieberman talked his agency into hiring me. He wanted a real partner who would get things done. Marty was at his best working on television, and whenever I wasn't sure of something, he would make it better for sure. He was prolific and goaded me into doing work at a consistently high level. At least three Clio nominations came off his drawing board.

            Paul Grisson understands how to get to the heart of the matter --- and into the hearts of viewers and readers. Everything he did surprised me --- and I learned the value of surprising your audience. He did the ad that won us the Gutenberg Award for the Power of Print; with a human eye peering out of a bust of Augustus Caesar. His surrealistic ad campaigns for Delco batteries must have haunted thousands of drivers on snowy mornings. Paul's head of his own agency in Toronto now and can't stop doing fantastic work.

            The art director who taught me to do ads that make you laugh out loud was Ross Van Dusen. He wouldn't do an ad or commercial that wasn't funny. He taught me that humor is a sure way to make your work human. Funny thing about Ross --- he couldn't do a bad ad. Once he had to create crummy ads for a presentation, and try as he would, every one of them looked charming. That's Ross.

            Grab an art director and do an ad today!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Forever Dichter.

         I've written before about Ernest Dichter, but the article in a recent issue of the Economist brought it all back. From my unconscious, he would say.

         Dr. Dichter was a psychiatrist and a very big subject when I first went into advertising. He was the prime mover in "Motivational Research," which explored the role of the unconscious in the Freudian tradition, applied it to advertising, and got paid for it. Handsomely. The Economist says his income was $1-million a year, equivalent to $8-million today.

         From his couch in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, Dichter applied depth psychology to some of the best known products in the country.

         "Freud argued that people are governed by irrational, unconscious urges over a century ago," the Economist pointed out. Dichter's "genius was in seeing the opportunity that irrational buying offered for smart selling".

         For Ivory soap, Dichter offered that bathing was a ritual, and made this observation: "One of the few occasions when the puritanical American is allowed to caress himself or herself is while applying soap".

         For Chrysler, Dichter observed that when convertibles were placed in car dealers' windows as bait, more men came in. He said the convertible symbolized youth, freedom, and the secret wish for a mistress. Of course, when men came back with their wives to make the purchase, they bought sedans.

         He suggested that typewriters be modelled after the female body. He said people smoke as a sign of virility and a moment of pleasure, "comparable to breast feeding".

         On my first job in Chicago, motivation research was fascinating to me. Our agency was all caught up in it because the president of the firm was on the board of the Chicago Institute of Psychoanalysis and made Dichter's thinking a central part of the agency. So I guess I started out as a hidden persuader.

         Nothing much came of motivational research in advertising, but I am still convinced that the more we in marketing know about psychology, the better our work can be. Just as Dichter knew how to get close to the customer.

         Which is my unconscious motivation for writing about it today.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Who do social media belong to?

          Along comes social media and everybody's claiming it's on their turf.

          Some advertising people are saying it's just another medium to carry commercial messages. They are the experts.

          Those in an integrated marketing practice shout that it's theirs. "We've been saying all along it takes more than advertising. This is just another shiny box on our organization chart."

          "Wait a minute," say the public relations people. "Social media is all about relationships. Relations is in our name!"

          "Are you kidding? It's different from everything," say some of the digital people. "Social media is digital, which means it's in our ballpark. That's what we do."

          So it goes. Perhaps the most transformative change in communications since cave drawings is here, and nobody seems to agree on who's in charge.

          Well, the people are in charge, not the professional communicators and persuaders. Social media does have an advertising component. Facebook is making millions on it. It's also true that public relations firms were the first to see the potential in it and how to employ it for their clients. And of course it's digital ---but it's far more than a technique; it has a psychology of its own. And integrated marketers, yes, there's more for you to integrate with.

          But in my opinion, one thing remains glaringly true. While communications have changed both quantitatively and qualitatively, the creative energy of the idea will be the key to success, no matter what.

          Our opportunities have multiplied with social media. Social media help us listen to our customers, get close to them, help them on a personal basis. And when they're ready to buy, we can be right there with them, to help them make their decisions easier and with confidence. And, yes, persuade them.

         That's all advertising, no matter how media may morph.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The secret of advertising.

         A while back, I wrote an ad for the agency I worked for. It was about an advertising philosophy that puts people ahead of products.

         I've learned that there are two places to start when you create anything in marketing. You can start with the product, it's features and benefits. Or you can start with the person, the customer, and what she cares about, worries about, and hopes for.

          Start with the product and the solution will be fairly rational. "Our bank pays 1.5% interest." If you start with the customer, your ad will probably be a lot more emotional. "You're worried about money, aren't you?"  Which ad do you think you're more likely to read?

         The same is true with marketing in any medium. One of the online dating sites hired psychologists to help make their questionnaire go deeper, and increase your chances of finding someone who you'll find worthwhile. They're not asking about your features. They're asking about your feelings.

         A lot of people tell me they have "a passion for fashion". Now honestly, do all those ads in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar evoke passion? Some do; the Tom Ford ads and the Gucci fragrance ads. But most are dull, with the borrowed interest of an exotic setting or lurking difficulty.

        There's a reason people use Tivo. It takes those interruptions out of your life. If you're in advertising and believe your job is creating interruptions, become an accountant instead. You're not going to succeed in advertising by butting into someone's life. You're going to succeed by being interesting and rewarding.

        The word "advertising" comes from the Latin "turn toward". Not "turn away from".

        That's what we in marketing should be doing every day. Turning toward our customers, and what they're all about. And talking to the person deep down inside.

        That's the secret of advertising.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Time to Rethink.

         Rethink, a Canadian agency, came up with an idea I wish I had come up with. For its client, hair-restorer Panorama Hair, it placed mirrors on the ceilings of subway cars. That way, everybody can see who's losing their hair.

         It's a perfect example, I think, of using the medium to full advantage. It's not only a demonstration of the need for Panorama, but also great for conversation and creating word of mouth.

         Every time someone uses media in a bright, unexpected way, it can get a great reception. Years ago, when I was working with the General Motors Delco battery account, we had an ad on hold at a hundred newspapers in the North --- with instructions to run the first morning the temperature went down to zero.The headline said simply,"It's going to be 0 degrees today. Good time for a Delco battery." Later, for Gatorade in the summer, we did the same thing when the temperature first hit 100.

         We've all seen the terrific outdoor examples, usually on the sides of buildings. For example, for the electric company, a huge painted electrical outlet with a 3-dimensional cord extending into a window two floors up. Or beer pouring from a painted bottle into a large stein held out from a window.

          A church once did outdoor boards where passers-by would hear a booming voice asking where they were last Sunday morning.

          I once did a campaign for a radio station that used posters on the outsides of buses. Each one was different, and ended with ... (Continued on next bus.)

          Speaking of buses, have you seen the ones made to look like huge loaves of bread?

          I also did a radio campaign for Reynolds Aluminum that was "a minute of good news, for a change." A lot of items that could brighten up your day a little. We got lots of letters thanking us.

          So this afternoon, come up with a new way to use an ad medium. And don't look up while you're on the subway.




Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The story's the thing.

         Everybody loves stories. We tell them at the coffee machine, we tell them at dinner, we tell them to the kids. Then we look for other people to tell them to. It's been that way since the first cave man told his friend about his cave. Today, stories make the best ads and commercials.

         Those include the Kia commercial where a kid rides his bike into the factory, and sees not only people working but also amazing- looking robots. How about the VW commercial where a boy dressed as Darth Vader manages to get The Force to start a Passat?

          Every Dolce and Gabbana ad tells its own strange story; only in pictures, but communicating much about the brand. So do the Cosmopolitan Hotel ads, with their "just the right amount of wrong".

          The reality shows on TV are all about stories --- about families, fashion designers, bachelors, overweight people, cooks, and the rest of us. Even the news is stories.

           What was the story that kicked off the success of Subway? The story of Jared, who told a college newspaper he was losing weight on a Subway diet. An ad agency executive tracked Jared down and talked Subway into telling the story. Today Subway has more restaurants than McDonalds. And don't forget the guy from Verizon who asked, "Can you hear me now?"

           A popular commercial these days is for Tostidos. The bag is the spokesperson who interrelates at social gatherings. Next Tostidos will be finding new ways to use the spokesbag on Facebook and in banner ads.

          Social media are also storytelling outlets. You can see people, read a profile, and you sort of make up your own story. On dating sites you can get some data and decide whether to turn that data into more  of the story.

          In his book "Socialnomics", author Erik Qualman says, "Successful companies in social media will function more like entertainment companies, publishers, or party planners rather than as traditional advertisers". Advertisers will be telling stories, giving advice, holding meetings and most likely, paying for product placement in everything from TV programs to ibooks.

         And we'll all participate one way or another. We'll read, watch, chime in. We'll squawk when a company changes something without asking us. And most of all, we'll enjoy or reject or contribute to the stories of our lives.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Looking in on "Mad Men" again.

         Last night I decided to watch another episode of "Mad Men". It wasn't as much fun as I thought it would be. Guess I had to be there for the whole series straight through.

         One thing did bring back memories. As the ad execs were getting off the elevator, one of them mentioned David Ogilvy's "new" book. It was called "Confessions of an Advertising Man". Leo Burnett's book had been "Communications of an Advertising Man", but David always had to be more provocative.

         I recalled that Ogilvy's book had jump-started my career. I had recently accepted a job as a copywriter in Detroit, but before I left I had ordered the Ogilvy book from Stuart Brent's bookshop in Chicago. I saved it till I got to Detroit, and read it on the bus to work in the mornings.

         The book itself was a wonderful study in branding. The cover showed David, pipe in hand and very professorial. It immediately established authority. The glossy book cover, once removed, unfolded to double its size, and on the reverse a selection of the Ogilvy ads were reprinted. The book was printed on thick, expensive paper. Ad one early page described the paper stock and the typeface selection. Very classy.

          On my 30-minute bus ride, I pored over every word: David's beginnings as a chef in Paris; his work for Gallup Research in New York; and his idea to hook up with a successful adman-cousin in London and start an advertising agency here. Ogilvy and Mather became known at first for its research-based work, and later for its dramatic creative work for Schweppes, Hathaway shirts, and Rolls Royce.

         Aside from reeking of quality, the book taught me a deep sense of professionalism. Advertising is not hucksterism. It has an economic reason for being. And like any profession, it can be done well or poorly. Here is what the world of advertising looks like if you dedicate yourself to doing it well.

         I urge you to read, or perhaps re-reread, "Confessions of an Advertising Man". It's in paperback, because it's recently been re-issued.

         I wish I could say the same for David Ogilvy. We can use him.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Buying is changing, but what about selling?

          Should a student today go into advertising? Don't we have too much of it already? Isn't the future all about the Internet and social media?
          First, we have to clear up a few things. Saying the future isn't about advertising is like saying people won't be selling anything in the future.  Or buying anything anymore. Which, of course, is unrealistic. The law of supply and demand is a universal law.

          As long as people are going to be selling things or services, they're going to have to tell others about them. More than that, they're going to have to persuade others. Companies can't afford enough salesmen to knock on your door all the time. ("Hello. May I come in for five minutes to tell you about Minute Rice?")
They're going to have to use something more economical. That's advertising. Ever since before there was moveable type,  there was advertising. And advertising has supported media ever since.

           The media all have their plusses and minuses. Newspapers are timely but dying. Magazines are very  beautiful but expensive to produce and mail. Television attractive but expensive, cable growing but segmented, radio useful but being eclipsed by Sirius XM and Pandora, direct mail exacting but postage costly. Web sites are giving way to social media pages, movie screens huge but captive audiences diminishing, social media and mobile growing and great when used properly but yet unproven at selling package goods and so on.

            All of the above are media. Each has its own best practices. Advertising is not media, it's content. Persuasive content, no matter which media you use.

            Today, because of all the media choices, the content has to be more than integrated, and more than multi-media. Today, it takes transmedia storytelling, a new kind of advertising, to succeed. And remember, advertising's great contribution to marketing is the concept of branding, which no other method has shown it can do so well.

           That's why students of advertising who understand persuasion in all its facets are going to hold the future in their multi-tasking hands.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

History repeats itself.

          Barbara Tuchman, the famous historian, once wrote that "being in love with your subject is indispensable for writing good history --- or anything, for that matter". People always ask me about that.

          "How can you write an ad for a product or company you don't like?"  I tell them I can't do a good job then. The next question is how I manage to  be so positive about the products I do create advertising for. For years, Chevrolet is a wonderful car. Then Pontiac is the great one. First I convince people that Jim Beam should be your choice because it's steeped in American history, and then I ask you to drink Smirnoff because it's filtered so well. How is it possible to love Kraft, Gatorade, Hallmark and Pringles?

           The answer is, you as a marketing person have to know enough about a product or company to fall in love with it. It may not be love at first sight (or bite) but it's love.

           During the Vietnam war, of course one creative group at the agency refused to do commercials for Scrubbin' Bubbles, the bathroom cleaner. The product was made by Dow Chemical, the company that also made napalm, which our military was using to clear jungles. Unfortunately there were people in those jungles. The agency account director tried to explain that Scrubbin' Bubbles was for American bathtubs, and harmless. Nothing doing. Other creative people who weren't so passionately anti-Dow made the commercials. Had  the first group worked on it, the commercials would've been awful. I would not work on it myself.

           Leo Burnett, the founder of the huge Chicago advertising agency of the same name, once wrote a memo that he noticed some employees were smoking other cigarettes besides Marlboro, their client. In the memo he told them that for fine tobacco and real smoking enjoyment, there's nothing like bread and butter.

           Maybe loyalty is part of it, but I agree with Tuchman. When you love your work, it shows.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Is the best advertising conservative or radical?

         "Indeed, one of the ironies of the age is that the one realm of American life where the language of the 1960s radicalism remains strong is the business world." That's a quote from David Brooks, the New York Times columnist and author.

          As examples, Brooks quotes the Burger King ads: "Sometimes you gotta break the rules". The Apple commercials that saluted "The crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers."  He calls these companies and their leaders "the Counterculture Capitalists".

          This brings to mind the Volkswagen ads of the 1950s, which poked fun at our long, sleek, fin-brained American cars whose sales depended on becoming quickly obsolete as soon as the new models came out.

          I'm not as sure as Brooks that this insolence comes from '60s radicalism as much as advertising's ongoing quest to be different and provocative; to find the competition's weakness and go right for it with a passion. While ordinary advertising people still seek a "unique selling proposition" based on rational differences, the really good advertising people know you can't do good ads without an enemy.

         That's why Volvo asked, "Would you sell your present car to a friend?" Why Dove launched a contrarian "campaign for real beauty" using average-looking women instead of models. Why Mini Cooper,  a truly unique car, launched a campaign to "Watch out for counterfeits".

         To be mediocre in advertising, you simply have to get along at work and do nice ads selling nice products to nice people. To be great in advertising, you have to go right for the jugular.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Once I got to the office, the hard part was behind me.

           I used to drive 40 miles each way to work and back. I lived in a town called Birmingham, a beautiful suburb of Detroit, and drove on I-94 to Ann Arbor, where my advertising agency was. Through rain, snow, dark of night and everything in between.

           In the mornings, I had breakfast once I got to Ann Arbor, at the Campus Inn next to Harris Hall. Harris Hall once belonged to a church, and my partners bought it to house the agency. Our executive offices and the accounting department were downstairs. The creative department and our conference rooms were up a grand staircase on the next level, on what might've been a huge dance floor. On the stage were the account executives. We were probably the only agency with stained-glass windows.

           Later, as our ad agency grew to 40 people, we moved into the Almandinger Piano and Organ Company factory. We completely renovated the building; the brick walls and high, beamed ceilings were awesome. Because it had been a piano factory, the floors were four feet thick.

           Then as we got more and more Detroit business, we opened a branch office downtown in Renaissance Center, which is today the General Motors Building you see on TV during sporting events. We were on the 37th floor. We had three clients right in the building, and in horrible weather, I drove to the RenCen for the day instead of out to Ann Arbor.

           Everything's relative. These days I take the BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit, to work in San Francisco, and if the train is held up for four minutes, I get irritable.

           I love being in San Francisco, and after 23 years I'm starting to tear up when I hear Tony Bennett sing about it. But I miss my friends and those early, more innocent days in Ann Arbor when anything seemed possible and often was.

          Those white-knuckle rides on I-94 taught me things you can only learn when you're too young to be scared. Things such as going after clients too big for your agency.  And how, for some reason, I did better ads on the 37th floor than I did on an organ factory floor.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Making an ad? Watch that bottom step.

         Here's something every marketer should keep in mind. The statistics about accidents on staircases. Research shows that almost one-third of all stair accidents occur on the first or last step. Two-thirds occur on the first or last three steps. You should also know that 90% of the injuries occur going down the steps.

         I think those are good to keep in mind when creating advertising. I would think the same data would apply. Whether you succeed or not depends on how you start, and even more on how you finish.

         If you start by just staring at the product and thinking about what's so good about it, you're going to slip. The world is about people, not products. Your job is to find the insight into the role your product can play in people's lives. For example. people can quench their thirsts with any water, bottled or tap, or any soft drink or electrolyte beverage. So why do people prefer one brand over another? And why do different kinds of people prefer Coke over Pepsi? It's not just the taste. Why hasn't PowerAde been able to overpower Gatorade? What's so smart about Smart Water? Jennifer Aniston?

         Once you figure these kinds of things out, the hard part begins. That involves finding an idea that can make your story more interesting, more provocative than the competition. The idea for Coke in the winter was cuddly polar bears enjoying it. Happiness at the North Pole. The idea for Gatorade in the winter is replenishing fluids when the doctor says drink plenty of liquids. Once you have the idea, you're on your way.

          That is, until you get to the last few steps. Is your execution as compelling as it could be, or are you depending on the idea alone to do all the heavy lifting? Everything in your ad or commercial has to lead the viewer to the conclusion you want them to come to. Including a memorable tagline in conclusion.

           Be careful on all the steps. There's no express elevator to success in advertising.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The end of talking pictures.

         "Nice language" my boss said about my script for my first TV commercial for Mr. Clean. It took me the better part of a month to figure out how devastating that comment was.

         Television commercials are about pictures, not words, and it took me a long time to learn to think visually. I had finally figured out print advertising, by forcing myself to study all those ads in the New York Art Directors Club annuals, and making myself come up with a "writer's rough" --- including the image --- for every ad I wrote.

         I learned how the headline and picture go together in print.  Not by both saying the same thing, but by completing each other. The headline should make little sense without the visual, and vice versa. (Think of the famous Volkswagen beetle ad: a picture of the car with the caption, "lemon". What a way to introduce the story of a small scratch on the glove compartment frame in a car the inspectors pulled off the line.)

         I also learned that if the picture is nice and the headline is nice, the ad is boring. And if the picture is tough and the headline is tough, the reader will be upset and turn the page. But if the picture is nice and the headline is tough, you've got 'em.

         But writing for TV didn't come easily to me at first. I seemed to be creating radio commercials with pictures. I would do the "audio" section of the script first, and then scramble to think up pictures to go with the words. My art-director partners never knew how to handle this.

        Next,  I went on to creating the visuals first and then writing the words. That was better, but usually my visuals were never long enough. An art director had to bail me out.

        Finally, I learned that I should start with the idea, neither copy nor visuals. Just the idea. A television commercial doesn't have to tell you everything in 30 seconds. Then taking that simple idea and telling a story about it. Finding a way to dramatize it, symbolize it, argue about it, create a metaphor for it, or demonstrate it. Then letting the visuals tell the story, with the words helping it along and making the selling idea memorable.

       After a while, you'll probably be able to do a tv commercial with no words at all. Voila! You've just invented silent movies.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Look who's helping those corporations.

         One of the most amazing things about the Internet and social media is people's interest in connecting with corporations today.

          It's no longer the "what can you do for me" attitude that advertising has promoted by shouting product claims at them. No longer the "prove to me that you're better" stance that consumers have long challenged manufacturers with. Those are what led to those dreadful commercials showing how antacids work in your stomach and how that hideous mucus man causes distress.

          Today we're perfectly willing to help companies help us. Cooperation seems to be the rule on the Web and on social media sites. We're very open about our comments, our recommendations to potential customers, our critiques and suggestions. We send in recipes, tips for working mothers, ideas for raising newborns, sending in videos of themselves singing Lady Gaga's songs, everything.

          This new era of crowd sourcing has even resulted in customers doing commercials for companies. You saw the results with those Doritos commercials on the Super Bowl.

          Personally, I'm better at sending companies nasty letters that I am at making positive suggestions. Maybe because I give positive suggestions to clients and others all day long. Now when a company disappoints me, I let 'em have it.

         I wasn't always this critical. I remember when my friend Norm, a copywriter who worked for me, came back from lunch with a pack of Doublemint Chewing Gum missing the foil inside the wrappers. He sent a vehement letter to the president of the William Wrigley Jr. Company, and they sent him a huge case of Doublemint with their apologies. A lifetime supply. I was surprised and knew I could never do such a thing. But I was wrong.

        I think when you're in advertising, and people around you are convinced you exploit people all day and unfairly use the mysteries of psychology to manipulate them, you go maybe overboard the other way, bordering on self-righteous. You want your clients to always do the right thing by their customers, just as you are careful to do the ethical thing in your creative work. And when they don't, you set them straight.

       Today's spirit of helpfulness is progress. It makes companies better and consumers happier. I applaud that. And yes, every time I open a pack of gum I do hope the foil is missing.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Make friends with Bobos in Paradise.

           I'm glad I got around to reading David Brooks' book, Bobos in Paradise. It's about today's upper class, and it's a real upper.

           Among other things, Brooks writes of the young elite's Code of Financial Correctness. Here's Rule #2:"It's perfectly acceptable to spend lots of money on anything that is 'professional quality' even if it has nothing to do with your profession."

           He mentions all the jackets they buy that are capable of protecting us on Mount Everest. Even if they're not going to college to become a sherpa, they have one of these expedition jackets. Brooks also talks about how, instead of a $29 toaster, they bring home $300 industrial toasting systems.  Or, instead of an $11 hoe at Ace Hardware, they prefer the $55 version at the gourmet hardware store.

           I always wondered about the "Professional Grade" advertising campaign the GMC Truck has been running the last few years. The idea was the result of research by my former account planner Ilana Budanitsky, when she was at McCann Worldwide in New York. Brooks put it in context for me. Financial Correctness.

           Now you're ready for Rule #3: "You must practice the perfectionism of small things." Brooks points out that "nobody will accuse you of getting to be too big for your britches if you devote fanatical attention to small household items" such as the right pasta strainer, the distinctive doorknob, or one of those ingenious new corkscrews. Surely you know people who are into this.

           Here's something marketing people have to be aware of. In Rule #7, Brooks says the educated elite prefer stores that don't dwell on anything so vulgar as prices. They're not visible. But these customers do want to be able to discourse on what they buy.  That's why they like catalogs that describe the Celtic roots of tweed, and why the best lambswool is sheared in the first six months of a lamb's life.

            They also like catalogs that don't look like catalogs, and look like underground fashion magazines.

            I really think you should read "Bobos in Paradise". You should know more about the people Brooks calls "bourgeois bohemians". They spend a of money and may be your best customers. Then you can make a lot of money and become a curator of flea market paintings and become your friends' go-to expert on their ironic emanations.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Building your creative muscles.

         Ever hear of psychoneuromuscular theory? Neither had I. The theory is an attempt to explain how imagery works to facilitate an athlete's performance.

          The theory suggests that when an athlete imagines movements without actually performing them, impulses are occurring in the brain. Then, this "muscle memory" facilitates actual performance when the time comes to use the movements.

          This is an important part of sports psychology, and I have absolutely no reason to believe it has anything to do with marketing and advertising. Yet, I think it might.

           When I finally get around to creating an ad or commercial --- after studying everything I can about the product, the competition, and the market --- my mind seems to shift into another gear. It's sort of the "creative gear", in which different mental muscles seem to come into play.

             I believe there are different "rules" about creating something that's never been done before, and my brain seems to know them by heart by now. I sort of "swim" through ideas and impulses until I spot one that seems to be right. Then I seem to go into third gear, which is executing the idea, also on semi-automatic pilot.

            In fact, I had this theory tested. A psychologist friend of mine is into biofeedback, and he agreed to take a look at my brainwaves. He hooked me up to all the gear attached to a computer, put black goggles on me, and asked me to think about a creative task I had at work. The result: he said I went into a different brain-wave pattern.  He called it an alpha state, one in which the pattern is associated with light sleep, intuition, and meditation. But I wasn't sleeping, and neither was my brain.

           What does all this tell me? For one thing, I believe that when you do creative work a lot, your brain's "muscle memory" puts you in a different place, where performance is more productive and intuitive. At least, in my case.

           That's why I advocate spending a lot of time coming up with creative ideas. Over time, I think you'll develop a mental freeway to them.

           There's no cruise control, though. Be sure to observe all the rules of the road.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Good ads, bad ads, or no ads?

           Advertising isn't the best way for a company to persuade people. The best way is person-to-person. Unfortunately, most companies can't afford to send salespeople house to house, and the new media are often segmented into groups generally much smaller than television audiences.

          Advertising is the least expensive way to be sure your message reaches the most people, exactly the way you want your story told. Put an ad in Vogue, for example, and you can reach close to a million people for about $120,000. You do the math.

         Of course, it costs as much to run a bad ad as a good ad, and I've seen good ads that do 20 times as well as bad ads. Good advertising is a powerful multiplier.

         The next question is, what's the main difference between a good ad and a poor one. Essentially, it's the very thing that creative directors are looking for these days. Rob Schwartz, the c.o.o. of TBWA/Chiat-Day, told Ad Age, "We always look for the big idea. A lot of books (portfolios) have an integrated bunch of tactics, fleshed out from a mediocre idea. I'm thrilled kids are thinking of media arts, but media arts without an idea is like a lot of separate ingredients in search of a recipe."

         Susan Credle, c.o.o. of Leo Burnett Company in Chicago, added, "We have underestimated the need for brilliant writing and art direction...The last ten years, technology has been so all-consuming, we have been a bit distracted."

         So let's get back to basics. In advertising, the idea has always mattered most. The Volkswagen beetle as the honest car, defying an entire auto industry based on annual model obsolescence and cheesy salesmanship. Or Hallmark, separating itself from all other greeting card companies by communicating a person's feelings so perfectly, people know you care about them.

         Look around today. Can you find any advertising ideas as big as Apple's "1984" commercial or Avis proclaiming its predicament in being only #2 in car rentals? Very few. A few years ago, Chevy's restaurants convinced us how fresh the food was because the commercials were done the very day we saw them. That's a big idea. Urging us to keep more milk on hand because some foods aren't the same without it --- that's a big idea. McDonalds telling you that "I'm loving it"? I don't think so.

          Want to do a good ad? Don't do an ad. Come up with an idea.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Do we sell things or do people buy them?

         When I was Creative Director on the General Motors corporate advertising account, the GM people insisted they don't sell cars --- people buy them.

          At the time, I thought it was simply a conceit at GM. That their cars were so good they didn't have to be sold. A few years later, General Motors was in trouble. People seemed to be buying more Toyotas and BMWs and Hondas.

         To help their profit picture, GM started economizing. One way was to streamline the way they designed and built cars. All GM cars started looking alike, and it was hard to tell a Pontiac from an Oldsmobile or a Buick.

         Another thing General Motors did was to make sure each make had a big price spread, so no buyer would leave a showroom without finding something in their price range. You could get an expensive Chevy or a small Cadillac. You choose.

         This is all, of course, a lesson in branding. Soon all of GM's car lines stood for the same thing: nothing.

          Saturn was introduced as the American answer to Toyota. A lot of people liked it, and Hal Riney and his advertising agency did great work to introduce it. Then, a couple of years after Riney made it stand out, GM decided it should fit in. In other words, be guided by the same bland rules and economies as its other brands. Today, there's no Saturn, no Pontiac, no Oldsmobile. There was almost was no General Motors. And Buick's only alive because bigwigs in China are buying them.

          If a brand doesn't stand for something, it dies. If you try to make it stand for too much, it dies faster. When you work in marketing, your job is to build brands, not just sell products.

          I could've bought generic sunglasses at the drug store for $4.99. But someone sold me on Ray-Bans.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Rehearsing: it's all in the game.

          Many sports psychologists encourage rehearsing --- mentally. It's an idea that might come in handy if you're going to be making a presentation.

          In sports, they say you should relax before the rehearsal. One method advocates three deep breaths to quickly relax. Sometimes the athletes are encouraged to actually engage in the movements as they rehearse.  In other programs, all the action takes place in your mind. The psychologists say this facilitates imagery. Some advocate rehearsing with your eyes open. They feel certain eye movements facilitate the imagery.

          They often encourage rehearsing in "the performance situation"; a baseball player rehearsing in the on-deck circle, for example. In one program, athletes are encouraged to go through the entire situation, rehearsing the thoughts and feelings as they come up.

           I wish I had known this as I was getting ready to make an advertising presentation to a client. One time I had to present 18 different television storyboards to a Board of Directors.

           Usually, I used my prep time to concentrate on what to say when. How to dramatize a pivotal scene in a commercial, or how to act out a dialogue. I never spent time feeling the feelings. Even today it sounds pretty "California". Yet some sports psychologists say it's helpful.

           I'm going to give it a whirl. They say I can rehearse anywhere, any time, without any props. I just have to go through the entire presentation in my mind, with my eyes open or closed. In a chair, in the meeting room, or in my bed. If something makes me feel jittery, I should figure out why. Maybe, they say, I'll need sounder reasoning. If I'm rehearsing a rationale, I should make sure it's clear and concise, with bullet-proof logic.

           I have an idea. Why don't you try mental rehearsing for your next presentation, and let me know if it works. I'll be your mental audience.