Sunday, December 21, 2008

Iran's hottest brand? Shoe thrown at Bush, of course.

According to Mark Bentley's Bloomberg story, the biggest brand in Iran these days is the "Model 271" shoe, the brown, thick-soled projectile hurled at President Bush by an Iraqi journalist at a December 14 news conference.

The Turkish manufacturer of that shoe has received orders for 300,000 pairs since the attack - that's up four-fold. They plan to add another 100 staff to meet demand, and - this is my favorite part of the story - have hired an agency to look into television advertising. So after hearing that the next big brand was born I fired off an e-mail to Mark  - I’m going to tell all my clients this is a fool-proof strategy to propel their brands to new heights. It requires only that the product be small enough to be hurled at a Head of State!

SMPS white paper says cutting business development activities is like stepping on your own oxygen hose.

Advertising trade associations like the AAAA have been saying for years that it is not a good idea to make deep cuts in advertising, marketing and business development activities during a recession. Furthermore, they've pointed to studies that have shown that marketers who've stayed aggressive during a recession see major improvements in the market dominance of their brands when the economy has rebounded.

Now a marketing colleague in my city who is the CMO for a major commercial construction company in Southwest Florida points to a study by the SMPS (Society for Marketing Professional Services) that suggests the same thing. Warren Simonds of Willis A. Smith Construction Inc. said in his guest column in the bi-weekly SRQ Journal that cutting marketing and business development activities in a recession is like "stepping on your own oxygen hose." I love that analogy. And he's absolutely right.

The worsening economy calls for more, better, smarter marketing efforts. This is no time for retreat. The significance of the SMPS study, and Simonds' statements, is that they are coming from people on the client side of the desk, not a bunch of advertising industry people on self-serving, business preservation autopilot. It's the people who buy marketing and advertising services. More info at

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Black Friday trampling death at Walmart store is the result of Idiot Consumerism

Walmart, one of the most well known and most often mismanaged brands, has once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and shown how they really feel about the American consumer.

The Black Friday trampling death of a temporary worker at a Walmart store in New York is a bleak reminder of how insane one aspect of branding has become. I've chosen to call it "idiot consumerism." In normal consumerism, the smart consumer looks for good deals on the goods they want to buy - for themselves or for gift giving. Manufacturers turn up the volume and supply distributors and retailers with all this stuff. Retailers lure customers with low prices. So far, so good. The smart consumer shops around, checks the circulars and makes the purchase.

Now here's where it all goes horribly, horribly wrong:
For the past several years now, the American consumer has been conditioned to begin the holiday shopping season on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. The idiot consumer believes the retailers, in an effort to "get back into the black" after a lackluster year, will offer once in a lifetime deals on all the stuff he wants to buy. And by the way, it's perfectly normal to go out to a shopping center at midnight, in your pajamas. It's the idiotic side of consumerism, and retailers are more than willing to pander to this dark side of human nature.

Here's what happened this weekend at the Mecca of idiot consumerism, Walmart:
According to the NY Times account of the incident, a crowd of more than 2,000 had gotten out of control, and banged and pressed against the doors. Six to 10 workers inside tried to push back, but the doors shattered, and the shrieking mob surged through in a blind rush for holiday bargains. One worker, Jdimytai Damour, 34, was thrown back and trampled in the stampede that streamed over and around him. Others who had stood alongside Mr. Damour trying to hold the doors were also hurled back and run over.

In idiot consumerism, the consumer apparently loses control and any sense of common decency. Forget about being polite, these Black Friday buffoons will literally trample you to death for standing between them and a good deal on an X-Box or Tickle Me Elmo. I could see the scene somewhere in the vicinity of that Walmart this Christmas morning as the Long Island soccer mom says - "Merry Christmas, Billy. Looks like Santa got you just the video game you wanted. Unfortunately, some poor bastard was trampled to death so this year we're going to church so we can feel a little better about ourselves. Come on, get dressed!"

Right about now you might be wondering - what was Walmart's response to this tragedy? Predictably, it was a typically inadequate boilerplate corporate statement -

“The safety and security of our customers and associates is our top priority. Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families at this tragic time.”

Your top priority? Really? Then why was this man killed? I'll tell you why. Again, according to the NY Times story, the Nassau County police said the store lacked adequate security, called the scene “utter chaos” and said the “crowd was out of control.” The police said criminal charges are possible against those who were responsible for physically crashing through the doors and trampling the man, but I think it would be much easier to indict Walmart in this matter. They are the ones who are criminally responsible for this man's death.

And the Black Friday idiot consumers? Let's hope they shop online next year.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

2008 Sarasota International Design Summit was really something

Kudos to Larry Thompson, Mary Craig, Christine Meeker Lange and all the people from Ringling College of Art + Design who put together the International Design Summit this year. My firm was a sponsor of the 2008 edition of the Summit, and it was well worth the investment. I also got to meet and hear from some brilliant minds in the world of design and technology: Jennifer Magnolfi of Herman Miller, Tom Wujec of Autodesk, Franco Lodato of Pininfarina Extra and Michael Alexin of Target Corporation, just to name a very few. Great event. Very thought-provoking.

My friends from the EDC of Sarasota County were there to run the registration tables. Sitting with Dr. Thompson at Lunch on the final day, I was reminded that the Design Summit concept came out of a discussion of the EDC's creative services cluster group. This successful event is a reminder for us all of the importance of these ongoing discussions.

Why I hate politics

My previous post about the Obama campaign not withstanding, I should say that I have always hated politics. At the same time, however, I confess to being fascinated by the whole damn process. The media. The campaigns. The bloggers - especially the deluded ones on the far right - it is all so crazy. And sometimes so far removed from reality. It occurs to me that perhaps one of the reasons for Ad Age's pick of Obama as Marketer of the Year is that the McCain campaign has been so incredibly lame. When you think about it, it has been nothing more than predictable - the typical fear mongering and hate mongering that panders to the far right, then as the polls began to go against them, some moves and messages that seemed so defensive, they could only be called desperate. No wonder he continues to slip, and even in traditionally conservative states like Florida, Obama is basically kicking his 72-year-old ass. A powerful brand indeed, that Senator Obama.

Makes you wonder - now that we're less than 48 hours away from election day - what the state of McCain's campaign would be if he had used the kind of forward-thinking tactics that Obama has used, or if he had been able to raise - and spend - the kind of money the Obama campaign is spending in the media.

Barack Obama is Ad Age's 2008 Marketer of the Year

Ad Age recently announced that its pick for 2008 Marketer of the Year was Barack Obama. Their story points to the campaign's fundraising prowess - the ability to spend $2.5 million per day - forgoing public funding and able to outspend the McCain camp by miles and miles.

Obama's campaign has been a phenominal example of using online media and social netwroking - not just to augment the old fashioned means like direct mail, but to use social networking as the very core of their efforts. That's significant. To quote the Ad Age story, his campaign team has had a firm grasp of branding, messaging and old-fashioned political ground organization. It's also been able to balance mass marketing with social media and niche marketing. The team has also gotten a boost from the kind of consumer-generated media that mainstream marketers would die for. In fact, much of this consumer-generated material has been produced by professionals. When entertainer put together a music video featuring celebrities reading an Obama speech, it climbed to the top of YouTube and sat there.

Recently, one of the advertising/branding editors compared Obama's brand to Target - style, substance, etc. I think that's a pretty fair comparison. As for McCain - he was compared to AOL. That pretty much fits - generic, dumbed down for the masses - I would go a step further and compare McCain-Palin to Wal-Mart. Nuff said.

Trojan breaks from traditional media, takes message online

Trojan is in the midst of its largest-ever online campaign, which represents a fourfold increase in spending over the previous year, according to Craig Lambert, chief digital officer at Colangelo, Trojan's lead digital agency. Trojan hopes to overcome the stigmas that prevent condom use among teens and young adults with a wide-ranging online push that leans heavily on shareable content.

For its "Evolve One, Evolve All" push, Trojan has partnered with various up-and-coming artists to create a dozen pieces of unique content that address situations and excuses for engaging in risky sexual activity. It is cataloging the content on, which is part of Viacom's network, but the content is designed for embedding throughout the Web.

Trojan wants to align itself with the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. But it's previous reliance on traditional media has run into twin problems in reaching the important youth demographic: many media outlets won't run its spots, and young consumers are spending more time elsewhere. It is hard for me to reconcile that traditional media has been so slow to accept condom advertising when the very same channels are filled with sexually charged content. You will note that I didn't say I was surprised, I just can't put it together. Indicative of the kind of hypocrisy that plagues American society and prevents us from being all we can be. It's unfortunate that, in traditional media, we often have to look overseas to be enlightened by the possibilities. Maybe this online attempt is a great thing, and I wish Trojan well, but when will those traditional media outlets wake up and get it together?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Use this lousy economy to make your brand dominant!

It’s time to re-think how we approach marketing.
How we get things done.
How we talk to our consumer.
How we demonstrate value.
How we are different.
How we will succeed.

The spillover from the sub-prime mortgage crisis is weakening both consumer confidence and consumer spending. But that doesn’t mean people have stopped buying things altogether. It just means that it is more important than ever to know how your consumers are redefining value and responding to the new realities of this economy.

Okay, so you don't need the Smith On Branding Blog to tell you how screwed up the economy is, but maybe Smith on branding can offer a little perspective.

During slow economic times, many companies reduce what they consider non-critical expenditures. Unfortunately, one of the cuts is often advertising. Cutting advertising to weather difficult economic times is like bloodletting to cure a sick patient. And it's about as short-sighted as the "instant gratification, let's get rich today, hell with tomorrow" attitude that has prevailed on Wall Street. We've all heard many times that numerous studies over the years have shown that maintaining or increasing advertising during tough times yields greater results than advertising during the good times.

During a recession, advertising activity generally declines, which means that for advertisers who can maintain or increase their advertising investment, the impact of their advertising is much greater. Clutter is reduced. Your message stands out. Think of Warren Buffett snapping up under-priced stocks in a down market.

In a recession, rather than making deep, arbitrary cuts, adjust your strategies for maximum competitive advantage. That creates opportunity. For advertisers, it’s an opportunity to inject a new perspective into their programs. For consultants like me, it’s an opportunity to strike up a relationship that is brimming with potential profitability and shared success. So instead of discussing where to cut spending, think about how you can use this lousy economy to make your brand dominant!

Has creative been an afterthought in your marketing?

Advertising Week just wrapped up in New York and something said by one of the speakers there makes an excellent point. As reported in MediaPost’s MediaDailyNews, Babs Rangaiah, the director of global communications planning at Unilever (Lipton, Hellman’s Dove, Axe), said if the creative does not drive demand, a strong media plan is not likely to save the day.

Rangaiah is responsible for media planning across all Unilever brands in the U.S. He said if the creative appears banal, it's time to yank the media spend and use it somewhere else. "We have to penetrate the culture," he said. And the way to do that is through ads that effectively jump off the page or out of the screen. Top-notch creative is even more important in a fragmented world. As a creative director, I couldn’t agree more. And how often do a creative director and a media planner agree on anything?

Mr. Rangaiah’s statements underscore how it is more important than ever to craft a sharp message. A message that is carefully crafted to truly differentiate your product may require an assertive push, rather than a pile driver, to penetrate the consciousness of your target consumer.

Think of it this way – that 30-second TV spot or quarter-page print ad costs the same regardless of what occupies the space. Why fill it with something bland? Or worse, something that comes off as if you’re talking to yourself? This applies equally to consumer and business-to-business campaigns.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ad Age calls State Farm's foray into reality TV a "tricky branding task."

State Farm may be the second-biggest ad spender among insurance marketers, but an aggressive new media strategy is putting it at the top of the branded-entertainment pack.

The insurer recently had its debut as the integrated sponsor of "Jacked: Auto Theft Task Force," a new reality series airing Thursday nights at 10 on A&E, in which New Jersey-based State Farm agent Tom Tobin also appears. So the series apparently is like "Cops" but specializing in car theft and located on the bad-ass backstreets of Jersey. Yes, the insurance rates are pretty high there, and one of the reasons why The Garden State is such an expensive place to live.

The advertising manager for State Farm says insurance isn't always the easiest thing to brand when it comes to product placements, so when "Jacked" was pitched to State Farm and their media agency, Omnicom Group's OMD, they saw a rare branding opportunity.

Looks to me like the kind of opportunity that could certainly be tricky, but it makes sense for State Farm to jump on it. It's important for them to help consumers understand that even good drivers pay high rates for insurance because of all the bad people out there who make a living jacking cars. I suppose you can also think of it as somewhat of a reaction to the way car theft has been glamorized in those "Grand Theft Auto" video games. As the saying goes, "it's all fun and games until it happens to you."

Check out the Ad Age story here:

2008 Sarasota International Design Summit is October 27-29

The 2008 Sarasota International Design Summit is coming up. Scheduled for October 27-29, the 3-day event is presented by Ringling College of Art and Design and Sponsored by Target Corp. The Summit will feature presentations from a diverse mix of influential business and design leaders about how design is shaping the way we communicate using visual, social and mobile media.

It's only fitting that Target should sign on as the presenting sponsor for a prestigious event as this. I admire Target's brand personality very much. They are firmly committed to being a retailer who sends an intelligent, well-constructed message to consumers that design is important, and that consumers should look for well designed products, not just low prices.

Target will be well represented, along with others like Autodesk, Microsoft, Herman Miller and more.

Here's a partial list of speakers:

Michael Alexin - Target Corporation, Walter Bender - Sugar Labs, Chris Bernard - Microsoft, Duane Bray - IDEO, Tom Crawford - VizThink, Bruce Damer - Digitalspace, Dave Gray - XPlane, Josh Hallett - Voce Communications/Hyku, Steve Hamm- BusinessWeek, Jody Haneke - Haneke Design, Matt Jones -, Franco Lodato - Pininfarina Extra, Jennifer Magnolfi - Herman Miller, Dave Meeker - Roundarch, Teckla Rhoads - GM, Ryan Stewart - Adobe, Susan Sznesay - Metropolis Magazine,
Larry R. Thompson - Ringling College of Art and Design, Charles Warren - Google, Tom Wujec - Autodesk.

Stephen A. Smith & Associates Advertising has signed on as a sponsor and has produced a promotional video designed to increase registrations for the event. The video is a lot of fun to watch so take a look and consider registering for the event.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Problem behind adolescent, unfunny ads is about maturity rather than political correctness.

On 7/21/08 Bob Garfield of Ad Age posted an open letter to Omnicom President/CEO John Wren, telling him that three of his agencies - BBDO, TBWA and AMV BBDO, have produced homophobic TV spots, and that it's time for him to intervene.

Before going further , here are the three spots to which Mr. Garfield refers...

BBDO, Detroit, 2006, the spot for the subcompact Dodge Caliber (in his story, Bob refers to the vehicle as the 'macho subcompact' Caliber. Bob, I can assure you that thing doesn't have an ounce of 'macho' in it) It featured a burly tough guy snorting the words "silly little fairy" at a Tinkerbell-like pixie, only to be magic-wanded into a mincing, sweater-draped girly man.

TBWA, New York, 2007, the Snickers Super Bowl ad: two auto mechanics, chewing on opposite ends of a candy bar till meeting in an accidental kiss.

AMV BBDO, London, another Snickers spot, in which a butt-wiggling race walker is just too effeminate for Mr. T's liking, so Mr. T chases after the guy in a pickup and the terrorized wimp is mowed down with a candy-spewing Gatling gun and admonished to "Get some nuts!"

Okay, so now let's consider Garfield's charge of homophobia. He accuses Mr. Wren of being insensitive, shallow, mean. He wants the "dehumanizing stereotypes" and cruelty to stop. The article has yielded 88 comments so far, most of them blabbing on about whether Garfield wants the ad business to go down the PC highway.

I say the issue isn't whether spots like these are too politically incorrect. No, I say they are the unfortunate byproduct of an industry that has let it's standards slip. The real problem here is a lack of maturity on the part of the young creative geniuses who spew this stuff out. Now I'm the first to acknowledge that advertising targeted to young audiences for products that are consumed by young people is perhaps best developed by people who understand the younger demographics. Trouble is, the creatives who come up with this stuff, and presumably the account types who pitch it to the clients, just haven’t grown up yet. Apparently their sensibilites are barely above 15-year-old boys at summer camp. And I don't think creativity has to be sacrificed a bit when maturity is brought to the process.

My open letter to John Wren would say something like this: Unless your clients are specifically targeting 15-year-old boys at summer camp, Mr. Wren, I suggest you do some house cleaning. And Bob, once again you've done a great service to the industry by pointing out the stupidity of this kind of advertising. I think the clients at Chrysler and Mars Inc. who manage the Dodge and Snickers brands should be ashamed of themselves, and why not pen an open letter to them? It's not about political correctness, it's about maturity.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Can a 30-year old tagline move a brand forward?

In a June 9 ADWEEK story, Gregory Solman asked, Can a return to popular taglines of yore help restore a brand's luster?

Citigroup just revived its "Citi never sleeps" tagline, part of a new global campaign for Citi (formerly Citibank) launched last month.

The tagline was written in 1977 by the Wells, Rich, Green agency. The reason for its resurrection, according to sources, was straightforward: to remind consumers of more robust economic times and distance the bank from the recent spate of credit crunch-related bad news -- most notably, its declining revenue. Bob Moore, CCO of Publicis USA, the bank's agency, says Citi's CEO, Vikram Pandit, asked for the return of the old tagline.

The "Citi never sleeps" tagline "heralded a return to the brand's core value of customer service," says Moore. "And instead of being nostalgic was, in fact, a way to move the brand forward."

Solman points out that the dusting off of old taglines has accelerated in recent years. Other brands that resurrected taglines include The New York Times Media Group, Finesse and Red Lobster. Now I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I think these old taglines are being brought out of retirement because they make sense and they resonate with consumers. Somewhere along the way, marketers and their agencies got too smart, or too trend-obsessed to create simple, meaningful positioning lines that anyone can understand. Do we have to look back 30 years to find really good branding? Certainly not, but if a 30-year old tagline can do a better job of reassuring a bank's customers in these frighteningly uncertain economic times, then by all means bring it back.

Getting back to basics - that certainly is a good way to move a brand forward.

Season two of Mad Men is almost here - but has JWT missed the boat on this branding opportunity?

Season two of AMC's Mad Men is almost here, and I couldn't be more pleased to see the show being given a chance to find an audience. Now I here that JWT is running a branding spot on the Mad Men DVD set.

I can think of a lot of reasons why this is a bad idea for JWT. Who are they trying to reach? Are their potential clients watching?

On a positive note, however, maybe now that we have a TV series about the ad business that is actually believable and intriguing, more real agencies will want to hitch their wagon to Sterling-Cooper's stylish sixties ride. And that could be a good thing. Properly executed, a self-promo campaign from one of the big agency holding companies could remind consumers and business types alike that the advertising agency is not extinct yet.

Broadcast TV runs into trouble when it tries to program like cable

Broadcast TV networks are swimming in dangerous waters trying to develop and air high quality programs with compelling themes like the shows on premium cable networks such as Showtime and HBO. According to a recent Ad Age story, The CBS show "Swingtown" is, perhaps predictably, running into hurdles. "Swingtown," the CBS drama set in the mid-1970s is filled with characters who enjoy the occasional skinny dip, wife swap or threesome -- not to mention pot brownie or snort of cocaine.

I'd say they are, very predictably, running into some major hurdles - in the form of the predictable right-wing morality police.
The Parents Television Council, an advocacy group that rails against sex, violence and profanity in entertainment, has urged CBS affiliates to "pre-empt the raunchy new show."

The conservative cry babies all know the remote and its buttons were made to change the channel, but CBS should know, along with the other broadcast networks, that perhaps they should stick to the crime dramas. The more adult content is best left for the cable guys.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Right-wing blogger flap over Rachael Ray's scarf is just sad.

The news about the flap over Rachael Ray's scarf in a Dunkin Donuts online ad still has me shaking my head in disgust.
After conservative bloggers suggested the scarf she wore in the ad looked like a keffiyeh, a traditional headdress worn by Arab men that some associate with jihad, Dunkin Donuts pulled the ad. I don't know whether this is a case of shame on the right-wing bloggers who seem to live in a world that is as black-and-white as the scarf itself, or the advertiser, who in this case demonstrated a clear case of spinelessness.

In her post of May 28, right-wing blogger and Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin stated, "The keffiyeh, for the clueless, is the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad. Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant (and not-so-ignorant) fashion designers, celebrities, and left-wing icons."

Apparently the suggestion is that if you didn't think, "hey, that's a terrorist scarf" when you saw the ad, you are clueless. Forgive me for attempting to be "fair and balanced" here, but it's just sad that right-wingers like Malkin equate a particular piece of clothing with terrorism. Ms.Malkin has since been reminded by more broad-minded media types that the scarf happens to be quite popular among our own U.S. troops in the middle east because it does quite a good job of keeping the sand out of one's eyes. Put your arrogance aside, Ms. Malkin and admit that you've really put your foot in it this time.

Here's the statement issued by Margie Myers, senior VP-communications for Dunkin' Brands: "In a recent online ad, Rachael Ray is wearing a black-and-white silk scarf with a paisley design. It was selected by the stylist for the advertising shoot. Absolutely no symbolism was intended."

Almost as sad as this right-wing, "terrorists are under the bed" pandering is that Dunkin Donuts didn't honor their spokesperson by issuing the statement and then letting the ad stand. Rachael Ray is the only one coming out of this looking good - cute as hell and smart too - she's made no comment at all.

Not to be belabor the point, but here's a thought, maybe Sharon Stone should have taken some advice from Rachael before she made her irresponsible comments about the Chinese! Now there's a case where you can put the blame firmly on the celebrity. Beautiful, but apparently not so smart.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Blowing the dust off the lion and crown

I attended a program last week by the Tampa Bay chapter of the AMA. This one was on a topic that I've written about before - the new branding effort by the Ritz-Carlton. Tanya Khuu of Saatchi & Saatchi's Team One was the speaker. She's the Senior Strategic Planner behind the new R-C effort. Tanya gave a very interesting talk about how Saatchi was able to win the business back in 2004 when it came up for review, without having previous hospitality industry experience.

My take-aways from this program -
First, it was refreshing to learn of a client who was willing to go "out on a limb" and hire an agency with genuinely fresh ideas, not cookie-cutter approaches that are safe and utilitarian.

Next, the agency's approach to the business was exactly what I would have done. Khuu described how the agency made a distinction between consumers who are status seekers and a group she describes as "Discerning Affluents." The latter is a group of people who have made luxury accommodations part of their lives. The established model of hotel advertising, using beauty shots of the facilities, doesn't resonate with this audience. They know the hotel has a nice looking lobby and the guest rooms are well appointed. They want to know that the hotel "gets" them and wants to be a part of their lifestyle. In the face of increased competition from the new crop of "boutique" hotels - the Delanos, Mandarins, W's, etc. - this is crucial.

Khuu ran down the R-C brand architecture for us, and that was also quite interesting, if not unique to the R-C program.

The star of the show, of course, is the series of three short films the agency and the R-C produced in partnership with American Express. They decided to take the money Amex was offering and, rather than using it for e-mail blasts, produce something truly unique. Unfortunately, due to some technical limitations, she couldn't show us the films in her slide presentation - probably some PC related thing - but most of us had seen at least one of them before. The plan, so far, is to keep them on the web only, and Khuu says they have indirectly generated over $1 million in new revenue for the R-C. That's right - it's not just creative for its own sake; the films, print and other executions of this campaign have increased the R-C's sales significantly.

So, let's review - a very hip, intelligent agency, a client not afraid to step outside the box and some very good work that is generating increased sales and turning heads all over the industry. Not too shabby. And, no wonder Ms. Khuu is so busy going around talking about the program. It's a win-win for Saatchi and the R-C and a big win for branding too.

I left with renewed enthusiasm, but also wondering how we can we get more people on the client side of the desk to think outside the box - something they ask us to do every day - and take a serious look at hiring agencies that can take a more objective approach to common problems. In this case, Saatchi developed some very sound strategies and strategic creative solutions. They really did blow the dust off a brand that was getting kind of stuffy. And they didn't wreck it. They made it even better.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bring on the "design boom" in branding.

Did you see that story in ADWEEK (3/10/08) about how agencies are waking up to the fact that design is actually an important element of the branding process? After I stopped laughing I realized how sad it is that there actually is a culture in which the technical aspects of branding have overshadowed and marginalized the design process.

Here's a little piece of that story -
"The desire to imbue all touch points of integrated campaigns with a common aesthetic is leading to a design boom at many top, traditional shops. The growing emphasis on design at the front lines of communicating the "big idea" is the reason agencies and design recruiters from Aquent, The Creative Group, 24 Seven and Gale Executive Recruiting said the designer's star is on the rise, and that salaries are stretching to meet it."

Alert the media! Someone has discovered that it takes good design to create an effective brand!

The story quotes John Butler, partner and ecd at Butler Shine Stern & Partners, Sausalito, CA -
"We believe that design is branding. It starts there before advertising and controls the look and feel of it," said Butler.

It really doesn't take a major ad industry guru to know that advertising is not a science - yes, George Lois is right on this one - it's an art, and it always will be. The technicians are necessary, but good, talented designers, even interactive designers, should be designers first, and technicians second.

Remembering Hal Riney.

Hal Riney, the San Francisco advertising man whose iconic and memorable work helped establish the city as a leading creative center for the industry, died last month. He was 75.

Whether his client was an automobile manufacturer, a wine cooler or the committee to re-elect President Ronald Reagan, no one could put as graceful a spin on Americana as could Hal Riney. He made likable, engaging advertising in a career of nearly 50 years.
Some would say he is best remembered for creating the brand and image of General Motors' Saturn automobile division. Others would argue he is equally famous for the codgers Frank Bartles and Ed Jaymes, who sing the praises of the Gallo wine cooler that bore their names. That campaign had such a profound affect on me that I still go around saying "thank you for your support."

Followers of political advertising - not one of my favorite subjects - would say that his best work came in 1984, when he wrote soft-textured, 60-second montages of Americana to make people comfortable about re-electing Reagan. The ads - titled "It's Morning Again in America" - assured the public it would be folly to return to the days before Reagan's tenure. Okay, so nobody's career is perfect!

George Raine of the San Francisco Chronicle said Riney's advertising campaigns had a unique and relaxed Western feeling to them and stood in contrast to so much in a New York-dominated industry. Importantly, Riney's ads prompted marketers to pay attention to the San Francisco ad scene. He narrated many of them himself, and his gravelly voice is as memorable as the products he promoted. His work stands out among lots of, shall we say lessor, advertising created in the '80s.

Riney's proteges, Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein, who started with Hal Riney & Partners, left in the spring of 1983 to establish what is today one of the country's top agencies, and they in turn encourage the next generation of San Francisco creative advertising people. In fact, Riney's disciples went on to found no fewer than 28 advertising agencies. Not too shabby.

Yes, Hal Riney was an advertising legend, and one of the guys responsible for shifting the equilibrium of the U.S. ad agency business further to the west. In case you're wondering, he is a member of the Advertising Hall of Fame, inducted in 2001.

My not-so-funny valentine.

Regular visitors to the SOB blog might be wondering why there were no posts from me during February - or March for that matter. Let's just say I had an unscheduled vacation that took me out of action for about a good six weeks. Those of you who know me already know the situation, so pardon my reluctance to blast my medical history all over the Internet. Good news is - I'm doing great, feeling great, and very happy to be back in the groove!

Toyota's Scion brand allows owners to create DIY logos.

As much as I cringe when I hear the words "Do-It Yourself" used in conjunction with creating logos, Toyota's latest idea to promote its quirky Scion brand admittedly amounts to a semi-brilliant stroke of loyalty-inspiring product personalization.

DIY logo design? Not quite. As the NY Times story (published 3/24/08) describes, it's actually a marketing campaign with an underground vibe that is intended to show just how much their chosen transportation reflects their personality. With an eye to the social networking ethos that has made Facebook and MySpace wildly popular, Toyota will let Scion owners design their own personal "coat of arms" online, a piece of owner-generated art that is meant to reflect their job, hobbies or whatever else happens to blow their hair back.

I guess this is the Generation Y version of sidepipes, mudflaps and the other stuff old-timers like me used to customize our cars with. Now that the cars - even the cheap ones like the Scion - are too complex for their owners to do much mechanical work themselves, going to a Web site and designing a personalized accessory is just the ticket.

You can check it out at But if you think Toyota is doing this just as a merchandising gimmick, think again. They want to make a few bucks. The design Web site,, is free, but Scion enthusiasts must pay for the auto shop renderings of their design, an indulgence that can cost thousands of dollars. Remember, Toyota can't be making much of a profit on the cars.

Give me a good pinstriper any day.

Traditional agency business model - viable, or needing change?

This is one of two stories I chose for the spring 2008 edition of our agency's "Advertising & Other Creative Stuff" e-Newsletter. I think it's an interesting look at how the big ad industry players are rethinking, or atleast talking about rethinking, their role in the modern world of brand marketing.

Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Levy and Dentsu Chairman-CEO Tateo Mataki told the International Advertising Association's World Congress that traditional ad agencies will have a role in the advertising world for years to come, but their role is going to change.

So what will the advertising agency of the future look like? The two executives presented somewhat differing views. Mr. Mataki said Dentsu is increasingly looking to become entrepreneurial in ways that allow both it and advertising clients to capitalize on brands and then share profits from developing new revenue streams instead of just relying on fees from doing traditional advertising. "The business model in which the agency's sole function is to create advertising and buy media is no longer viable," he said. "We need a new model. We need to develop relationships where both parties share risks and rewards equally. Rather than just accepting assignments, we must be proactive. To manage change, we must take risks."

What's wrong with that way of thinking? Often the folks on the client side of the desk want the agency to take a bit more risk than they should. Will this usher in a trend of advertisers asking agencies to become more like "principals" or "partners" in their business? Probably.

My take on this? I want the advertising industry to evolve, rather than clinging to a business model that may be quickly becoming obsolete. However, as an advertising agency owner I can see some rough sledding ahead, with advertisers choosing an agency based on its risk-taking potential rather than its true qualifications.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

DTC advertising by medical marketers continues to come under fire.

I was reading something the other day from my home state of New Jersey that was quite thought-provoking on the subject of Direct-to-Consumer advertising by medical marketers. The category is huge, and lots of very good people are doing very good work to help the drug companies and medical device manufacturers take their products to market. But the practice is being criticized.

As reported earlier this month in the Star-Ledger (that's the Newark Star-Ledger for those who are Garden State-savvy) Richard J. Scott, an orthopedic surgeon from Red Bank who is also president of the Medical Society of New Jersey, said patients have begun asking for specific brands of artificial hip and knee replacements after seeing advertisements on television, in print and on the Internet. To me, that sounds like a good thing. Well, Dr. Scott doesn't like it. Here's what he had to say -

"The advertisements substitute Madison Avenue for science, and talk to consumers who don't understand that every new device is not necessarily better."

Consumers have grown accustomed to TV, print and online ads promoting cholesterol-lowering drugs, sleeping pills, anti-impotence medications and heartburn remedies. Now there is a trend toward surgically implanted devices such as prosthetic hips and artery stents. According to the rather negatively-slanted story in the Star-Ledger, since the late 1990s, prescription drugmakers have "flooded the airwaves, newspapers, magazines and now the Internet" with ads, spending more than $5 billion annually on direct-to-consumer marketing. Critics like Dr.Scott have complained the ads don't provide adequate warnings and have unnecessarily increased drug usage.

Echoing long-standing complaints about pharmaceutical advertising, some critics like Diana Zuckerman, head of the nonprofit National Research Center for Women and Families, say they find the ads for implanted medical devices even more troubling.

Zuckerman said the medical device ads tend to "have a lot of personal storytelling but very little information about the risks."

But wait, there's more. The medical device industry is under scrutiny by the U.S. Justice Department over how it markets to doctors, and by the Food and Drug Administration about its manufacturing practices. Just last week, the FDA cited Stryker, a leading maker of knee and hip replacements, for manufacturing problems at a plant in Mahwah, N.J.

I've heard this argument before, and I have to say that I know plenty of people who's lives have been improved by direct-to-consumer advertising for medical products of all kinds. I developed a DTC campaign for one of those hip implants over ten years ago, and I have to say the people who turned out to our seminars were truly appreciative of the information being presented. New awareness was being created. Doors were being opened. The average Joes and Jills, many of them elderly people with serious orthopedic conditions, were able to make educated decisions, rather than "deer in the headlights" decisions based on a rushed copnsultation with an impatient surgeon.

Remember when it was considered unthinkable for doctors to advertise? You Gen-Xer's will just have to trust me on that one. It just wasn't considered ethical. Well as the marketplace has changed, healthcare professionals have gotten - and I'll put quotes on this - "creative" - with marketing to drive more patients into their pipeline. I know because I've created a lot of that advertising too. So how then can some physicians presume to criticize the manufacturers for helping to inform consumers about their products?

I think DTC advertising is good for you. Here's why...

DTC advertising helps to make the average Joe or Jill aware that a problem they may in fact be experiencing is a recognized medical consdition. They in turn become more comfortable discussing it with their doctor and are no longer reluctant - or in my case just plain too stubborn - to make an appointment.

And, no they can't just march down to the corner pharmacy and get it over the counter.

As for the "not enough warnings" argument - there are plenty of warnings, perhpas too many, as the drug companies try to keep up with the FCC and cover their backsides. The doctors know the risks, the contraindications, the drug interactions - or at least they should.

No, I still think DTC advertising is a good thing, and it's here to stay.

Fox Super Bowl advertising revenue to reach $260 million

This reported yesterday by MediaWeek -
Fox is expected to take in a total of $225 million in advertising revenue on Super Bowl Sunday, according to sources familiar with the situation. Sources explained that this will include the network's four-hour, pre-game show; Super Bowl game telecast; and hour-long episode of its hit drama, House, which leads out of the game. In addition, the Fox owned-and-operated TV stations are expected to take in about $35 million in ad revenue locally for the similar schedule of programming, bringing the total take to $260 million.

The Super Bowl telecast itself, which contains 63 ad units, is expected to bring in about $170 million, with the average spot selling for $2.7 million. Some of the multispot advertisers in the game paid less per unit; however, about five advertisers who bought individual units with ad time close to sellout, paid as much as $3 million per unit.

Pepsi wants to make the biggest Super Bowl splash

PepsiCo Inc. plans to run spots for no fewer than five of its brands this Sunday, including an ad featuring 60 seconds of silence.

The spot, which will actually run during the Fox network's pregame show on Feb. 3, was conceived by a PepsiCo employee, starring him and three others, including two who are deaf.

Considering how many seriously bad Super Bowl commercials we've seen over the past few years, this one might have a chance to be one of the real bright spots. One of the spots that really breaks some new ground.

And here's another interesting Super Bowl advertising development - PepsiCo said today that it would air Super Bowl ads for five different brands: Gatorade G2, Amp Energy, SoBe Life Water, Diet Pepsi Max and Pepsi. The experts say this is a sign of just how much the beverage category has changed. In past years, the majority of this super-expensive ad time was typically devoted to "core" brands like Pepsi and Diet Pepsi. However, as consumer tastes continue to shift, promoting non-core energy drinks and non-carbonated beverages has become essential.

With the average price tag per spot of $2.7 million, I certainly think Pepsi is making a commitment here, and the stratgty, to me, is a sound one. In the past, deviation from the core brands would have been a mistake, but in today's marketplace, diversification is the way to go, and the non-core brands need that level of support.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Shat Rules!

The Los Angeles Times ran a story recently about William Shatner that was very interesting, pointing out that celebrities, however faded their popularity, can do wonders for a brand. Shatner is celebrating the tenth year of his association with It is his longest-running role, and you can't help thinking he's really having fun with it.

Interesting fact - Shatner beat Bill Cosby for the Priceline gig back in 1997. Shatner got the nod because he was "futuristic" in his persona, said Chief Marketing Officer Brett Keller, and because "anyone holding a credit card aged 18 to 95 had heard of William Shatner and knew who he was." The first spots were hits, parodied on Saturday Night Live. They "propelled Priceline from a second- or third-tier brand to a top-tier brand with extremely high brand awareness," Keller said, adding that company surveys found that people were as familiar with Priceline as with online shopping giant EBay, and more than 90% of people asked had heard of Priceline.

Auto insurer Geico is one company that has taken the concept to town with the likes of Little Richard, Burt Bacharach and James Lipton.

Shatner is a real piece of work. My hat's off to him. He's proven that you can be a has-been and still come back. I guess the point is that Shatner was a has-been only in terms of mainstream popularity. He's always had a big following among the baby boomers who remember him from Twilight Zone - "There's a man -- on the wing!" -- and Star Trek. Oh, and let's not forget TJ Hooker!

My Art Director, Scott Spear, takes great pleasure in playing the MP3 of Shatner's spoken-word performance of Elton John's "Rocket Man" from a 1981 episode of the John Davidson Show. It's classic Shatner, and even after some 1,400 in-office plays, never fails to get a laugh. It's a great tension-breaker.

Comments posted on the YouTube page of Shatner's "Bust a Move" spot indicate the commercials might also have helped his reputation with fans. "Shatner is GOD," said one. Two others were compelled to write, individually: "The Shat rules!"

Yes, The Shat rules, and thanks to, YouTube, Star Trek reruns and new episodes of Boston Legal, I'm sure he'll live long and prosper.

Looking back - looking ahead

Okay, that's about the best I could think of for a "Happy New Year" title for this post. It's been a very hectic few weeks and I'm getting back to writing after a very eventful December. Here's a sampling -

My son is running again for student government VP at the University of Central Florida - Go Knights! We've been making campaign signs every weekend, including Christmas day and New Year's day, and I've just returned from Orlando, where we delivered about 90 of them in two minivans.

Our cat Shredder passed away the week before Christmas, which was very sad. She was a great pet and will be remembered for behaving more like a dog than a cat. She was one of three felines who have been very much in charge of things around the Smith residence for years.

End of year business - happily, it was a very busy month, racing the calendar to deliver work before the end of the year. Did it make up for all the crappy months we had this year? I'm not telling.

End of year bookkeeping - did we make any money in 2007? Hell if I know.

Dusenberry's passing the end of an era?

I had planned to acknowledge the passing of Phil Dusenberry somehow, but wasn't quite sure how. That is until I saw Steve Hayden's story in Ad Age. Steve Hayden is vice chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide and worked with Mr. Dusenberry at BBDO from 1985 to 1994 before joining Ogilvy.

Hayden says Dusenberry's passing marked the end of the golden age of TV advertising, and called Dusenberry "the sun king" of that golden age. Others would say TV's Golden Age expired way before Dusenberry rose to power at BBDO and his big brand work wasn't really all that boundary-crossing. I have to admit he did some great work. And don't forget, he was responsbile for Michael Jackson's hair being set ablaze in that Pepsi spot!

His commitment to his clients at BBDO, including GE, Apple, FedEx and Pepsi, made him a modern-day Leo Burnett. I'm sure that, like Burnett, he was always working, concepting, creating, tinkering and all that on behalf of his clients and to the detriment of his personal life. Back in the eighties, he was one of the guys who made commercials more entertaining than the shows they sponsored, and transformed brands into pop icons with global reach. Yes, I agree with Hayden that some of the commercials were better than the shows on the tube back in the day. And if Phil Dusenberry was the guy behind that adverising, then yes, he was damn good.

Hayden says Dusenberry defined a good day as a day when the work was good. And vice versa. When I read that, I thought yeah, this was my kind of guy. He believed, as I do, that at the end of the day what matters is how the work holds up. So take a minute to think about the great work produced under the direction of Mr. Dusenberry, one of advertising's modern-day legends.