Monday, December 14, 2009

There truly is big risk in "one man brands."

Following up on the Tiger Woods story - good piece in NYT on the relationship - or should I say former relationship - between Tiger and Accenture, the big consulting firm that invested big in Tiger. While most of the other sponsors are "standing by" Accenture is the first to withdraw completely.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Chrysler responds to criticism over Italian-made 300 spot.

We get pretty prickly here in the U.S. when we taxpayers bail out a major U.S. automaker, then find out they’re spending money with an Italian ad agency to create ads for the 300 instead of putting some bucks back in the home economy. Well, just when we all thought, “here goes another Chrysler blunder” a peek at the Carscoop blog reveals the automaker has set the record straight.

Olivier Francois, President and Chief Executive Officer - Chrysler Brand, Chrysler Group LLC and Lancia Brand, Fiat Group Automobiles, submitted a letter in response to the AdvertisingAge article, stating basically that the spot didn’t cost them a penny and they have, in fact, hired a U.S. shop to handle new creative and media executions.

I wonder what Lee Iacocca thinks about all this.

Tiger sponsors have no choice but to "stand by."

As the hubbub over the Tiger Woods scandal continues in the background, a couple of his endorsement partners have put together statements that are politically correct, but so predictable, they almost seem unnecessary. Gillette said Saturday it would be "limiting" golfer Tiger Woods' role in its marketing programs. They say this is to give him the privacy he needs to work on family relationships after disclosures of his "infidelity." Further, Gillette says it supports Woods' decision to take "an indefinite break" from professional golf.

This is priceless. What other option do they have? Woods has put every one of these companies – Nike, Gillette, Gatorade, Tag Heuer, AT&T and I’m not sure how many others – in a real pickle. And now he decides the best thing to do is sit it out while all of professional golf suffers in the vacuum.

On his Web site Friday, Woods admitted to infidelity and said he was taking a break from the sport to focus on his family. Again, politically correct. So where does that leave the sponsors? Do they “cut and run” (to use a tired old W-ism)? Do they “stand by their man” (to use an even more tired Tammy W-ism)? Gee, we’ve put millions behind this guy’s image, and now, guess what – he really is an oversexed egomaniac after all! Golly, we didn’t see that coming. How dumb we must be!

Nope, aint gonna happen. So now their only option is to “stand by.”

Monday, November 23, 2009

Black Friday: Check fine print, beware of zombies.

A CNNMoney story by Parija B. Kavilanz conveys a Black Friday reality check – that of the hordes of pre-dawn shoppers who line up for hours outside stores on the day after Thanksgiving, most will not score those incredible bargains advertised in the circulars.

Now I know it seems like I’m always bashing the retailers, but they are such an easy target. When are they going to stop being their own worst enemy?

Retail experts quoted in Kavilanz’s story and others agree that advertising items as “limited quantity doorbusters” is bad for business, and I think that’s right in many ways. First, many of the deals advertised will not result in consumers getting the deal they think they’re getting. In consumer electronics, for example, where the term “buyer beware” was invented, retailers advertise big flat screen TVs at incredibly low prices. The experts say that’s because they offer “derivatives" - models that have a few less features than a standard model in that manufacturer’s product line. Less features? Then I guess you didn’t get the $1,200 TV for $799, did you? Is it cheating? Not if it’s a different model than the $1,200 unit. The motto is – be a smart consumer. You wouldn’t give a second look to that "no money down, incredible low monthly payment" offer in the car dealer’s ad without checking the fine print at the bottom of the page, would you? Keep your eyes wide open, pay attention to those model numbers and specs, and don’t take anything for granted.

Here’s another thing. The American consumer has been conditioned to go completely insane on the day after Thanksgiving. Kind of like the zombies in “Night of the Living Dead” but without that flesh-eating thing. Again, the retail consultants say this is a no-win situation for the retailers who hope to rebalance their books on that day. It’s also proven to be quite dangerous. A stampede at a Wal-Mart store in New York last year on Black Friday led to an employee's death. Burt Flickinger, managing director of consulting firm Strategic Resource Group, said, "The stampede happened because so many of the deals were advertised as limited supply." I think that statement is half right, Burt. Maybe another reason for the stampede is that a large number of consumers allowed themselves to get so caught up in that “get ‘em while supplies last” mentality, they completely lost their civility. They interpreted “get ‘em while supplies last” as “get yours before the other guy does.”

I’ll be avoiding the Black Friday zombies again this year by sitting home and shopping online.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Facebook getting uncool for the 18-24 crowd?

In its early days, Facebook was made an overnight sensation by a college-age crowd that sought it out as an exclusive sanctuary in which to connect with their peers. For that market, it was an attractive alternative to sites deemed to have lost their cool -- like MySpace, which had become a haven for pre-teens and high schoolers. To me, this Adweek story sounds like deja-vu all over again.

Could it be that Facebook is now officially "uncool" for the 18-24 crowd? According to comScore, as it has gained a broader audience, the older teens and twentysomethings that drove Facebook's initial popularity are using it less. We all know Facebook has become a tool for professionals like photographers and marketing consultants, many of whom could (God forbid!) be the parents of the core demo Facebook was intended to serve.

I love this quote by Huw Griffiths, evp and global director of marketing accountability and research at Interpublic Group's Universal McCann:

"When you start getting friended by your grandmother, I think that's when it starts to lose its cool."

Gee, do ya think? According to comScore, the average number of minutes spent online with the site among 18- to 24-year-olds fell in September for the third consecutive month compared to the same period a year ago, with the drop-off rate increasing each month.

This reminds me of the October '06 Chronicle of Higher Education story about how many college students, preferring to correspond via text messaging, felt that e-mail was “for old people.” Is anyone at all surprised by this? I know that my children, who are now 19 and 24 years of age and attending large universities, would agree that Facebook ceases to be hip, cool or attractive to them in any way the instant one of their parents is on it. And yes, they do feel e-mail is for old people. Good luck getting either one of them to return an e-mail message. Marketing and media always strive to quantify and categorize target demographic groups in an attempt to monetize. I get that – let’s see how big or how affluent the audience is, so we can determine how much to charge advertisers targeting that audience. But here’s the problem - Did anyone really expect the 18-24 crowd could be categorized and cataloged so broadly? Talk about a moving target; they are all way too cool for us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Selling Detroit - The biggest branding challenge ever?

According to Stuart Elliot's NY Times piece on 11/15, a new multi-agency effort is about to be launched in an attempt to attract young talent and creativity to what has got to be America's most downtrodden city.

I'm speaking of the once mighty motor city - Detroit. And if ever there was a city more desperately in need of a re-branding, that's it. I'd say

Newark or Paterson, NJ would come under that same category (the latter being place of my birth) but the weather is better in Jersey and Detroit is in far worse shape. One look at the houses, factories and other infrastructure literally crumbling before your eyes would be enough to frighten away the most dauntless of entrepreneurs among us.

I read a story recently about the last little company moving out of the old Packard plant. The place has been falling apart for years - from a combination of constant vandalism and neglect - and no cars have been built there in more than fifty years. In the meantime, VW is spending over a billion dollars on a new plant in Chattanooga. I guess if the domestic carmakers can't make the numbers work in Detroit, then why expect a European company to give it a go?

Anyway, the the yearlong “Assignment Detroit” project is being sponsored by the Time Inc. unit of Time Warner and involves reporters and editors from Essence, Fortune,

Money, Sports Illustrated, Time and related Web sites. Several advertising agencies with offices in the Detroit area were asked to develop campaigns. The five who agreed to take part are Campbell-Ewald, McCann Erickson, the Troy office of Leo Burnett, and Doner and GlobalHue, both in Southfield, MI.

Time Inc. is devoting an estimated $400,000 in ad pages in Fortune to the contest. An ironically-named spokesperson, Mark Ford, president for the news group at Time Inc. in New York, said the contest springs from the group's belief in the renewal of the city. The campaign will be targeted more to the 18-to-34-year-old demographic.

I'll be watching this one closely. Who knows - maybe the situation isn't as hopeless as it seems. And maybe advertising really can make a difference. I applaud those agencies for having taken a stake in the resurgence of a great American city. Maybe the same thing could work for Newark and Paterson.

Visitors to the Web sites will be able to vote for their favorite among the five campaigns. The winner is to be announced on Dec. 2, during an annual awards ceremony in Detroit known as the D Show.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tool makers' merger might be a real stinker.

The Wisconsin Tourism Federation, or WTF, was founded in 1979, long before WTF was universally accepted as an abbreviation for a vulgar expression of surprise and confusion. In July, After having found itself with the dubious distinction of having its logo featured on the 'Your Logo Makes Me Barf' blog, the WTF changed its logo and name to TFW, or the Tourism Federation of Wisconsin.

Some say it's an unfortunate acronym, but not worth the trouble and expense to change it? Sure, it's bound to give a few snickers, but is it really that big of a deal? After all the World Taekwondo Federation, undoubtedly another fine organization, shares the same unfortunate acronym but I’m not aware of any controversy over their ID system.

I might take it up a notch – okay maybe eleven notches – and run a TV campaign with people faining surprise and saying “WTF??” You're right. The folks up in Wisconsin who administer the visitor and taxpayer dollars paying for this stuff probably wouldn’t approve it. Bummer.

Now tool makers Stanley and Black & Decker have announced a merger. Could this be another WTF? The new company, to be called Stanley Black & Decker, may present another challenging acronym – SBD. Yep, Silent But Deadly. I’m certain that if this deal means a major consolidation and elimination of American jobs, those who are restructured to the unemployment line will agree that it really stinks.

Clients want agencies to keep a sharp pencil on fees - so what's new?

A recent Ad Age story covered the "news" about agencies have been under pressure to deliver a sharper pencil on fees. We all know that clients don’t want to leave money on the table. Has someone been sleeping? The eighties - that crazy time when some of the big brands spent lavishly and the big suits in the ad business like Phil Dusenbury bragged about having unlimited budgets - are far behind us. Clients have been squeazing agencies for some time now. In fact, next to "make the logo bigger," isn't the next thing the client says, "do it cheaper?" In the world of small agencies in smaller markets or vertical specialty industries, this has been a reality for quite a long time.

Two sides to this argument, of course:

On one hand, clients are expecting agencies to apply some of their creativity to the process of delivering the work at a lower cost, so they can lower their cost of doing business. Seems perfectly reasonable, especially these days when technology gives us all many ways to do things more efficiently.

On the other hand, I do believe that clients who treat agencies and their unique creative product like vendors who sell commodity items like floor wax and file folders are being unreasonable. If a client is convinced that a particular creative approach or strategic plan is right for them, and will increase their sales, they should be willing to pay a premium for it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ikea betrays design community and its own brand personality with use of an ugly, stupid font.

According to a recent story in TIME, the design community feels betrayed over Ikea’s switch to the Verdana typeface, and is ranting about it. Some may find it hard to believe that changing a type font is worthy of a global backlash, but when you think about it, graphic designers the world over do have a legitimate gripe. Verdana? That Microsoft font? The one used everywhere for the text on every Web site in creation?

Ikea’s signature typeface, a customized version of Futura, has long been an integral part of that brand. But effective with its recently mailed 2010 catalog, they’ve switched to switched to what it sees as a more functional typeface: Verdana. In the process, it has provoked an instantaneous global backlash, the kind that can only happen on the Internet. Ikea fans from Tokyo to Melbourne have ranted - "Ikea, stop the Verdana madness!" "Words can't describe my disgust" and "Horrific." Carolyn Fraser, a letterpress printer in Melbourne, Australia, sums up the problem quite well. "Verdana was designed for the limitations of the Web — it's dumbed down and overused. It's a bit like using Lego to build a skyscraper, when steel is clearly a superior choice." 

Ikea spokeswoman Monika Gocic was quoted - "It's more efficient and cost-effective. Plus, it's a simple, modern-looking typeface."

Efficient? Cost-effective? What about remaining true to your brand’s personality? I have news for you Ms. Gocic. Verdana is an ugly font, period. And a font created by Microsoft? Yuk. Don't you feel like you have to take a shower, Ikea?

This mess reminds me of an old episode of “This Old House” in which Bob Vila was observing an old school plaster craftsman on a job. He asked the man if he was going to finish it off with a little sandpaper to smooth it out. The perturbed man simply replied in his New England dialect – “Sandpaper, Bob?”

 So it would be appropriate to ask, in this case, “Verdana, Ikea?” What were you thinking?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

VW says goodbye to Crispin - can boring VW ads be the result?

As reported in AdAge , VW will say goodbye to Crispin, Porter & Bogusky after a four-year run and is reviewing to find a new U.S. agency of record for its $200 million-plus account. Automotive News reported that VW saw its share of the U.S. market climb to 2% from 1.6% through July. The fact that VW’s sales declined only 13.5%, compared with an overall industry nosedive of 32% says they must be doing something right. Has it been Crispin’s work? Hard to say, since they seemed to be trying so many different things – a bit confusing, even for a big VW fan like me.

I see so many VWs on the road these days, it’s hard to believe they only have 2 percent of the U.S. auto market. And after more than fifty years in the U.S. market, VW is still perceived as a “quirky” brand in this country. Has Crispin’s work contributed to that image, or has it attempted to “mainstream” the brand?  

I’ve been driving VWs for several years now. I can say that all they have to do is get people in the driver’s seat – let them experience a bit of that “fahrvergnugen” – and when they realize how comparatively antiseptc and non-driver-like the Japanese products feel, the purchase decision will be a no-brainer. Hard to beat them in the overall driving experience / quality / value ratio, no matter whose cars you're shopping. With the exception of some reliability issues - mainly with Beetle and Toureg – the VWs have been solid. The Jettas and Passats are slam-dunk winners and excellent values – BMW/Mercedes-like driving experience at a Joe Lunchbox price. 

It will be interesting to see if "mainstreaming" the brand, as it seems the VW corporate folks want to do, will help VW or hurt it in the U.S. Since the U.S. only represents about 5% of their global market (remember they are the biggest car company in the world) it may not make much of an impact. But please, VW, let's maintain that Bill Bernbach tradition of creative, thoughtful advertising. 

Saturday, July 25, 2009

David Ogilvy's best advice for business.

David Ogilvy, arguably the most influential advertising man in history, died 10 years ago this month. Patricia Sellers of Fortune remembered Ogilvy in Postcards and talked about the seven bits of essential advice he offered to businesses, including the well-known Ogilvy-ism, “Bear in mind that the consumer is not a moron. She is your wife. Do not insult her intelligence.” That one is particularly significant because Ogilvy, a pioneer in many ways, realized early on the immense purchasing power of women and that advertisers who talked down to them, as many did back in the early days, did so at their own peril. He was a class act. If you haven't done so in a while, get up off your ass, go to the bookshelf and crack open Ogilvy On Advertising. You'll be glad you did. 

Ad CEOs say downturn's bottom appears at hand.

According to a couple of the ad industry's biggest biggies, we have nowhere to go but up. Spoken like a die-hard optimist, right? As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Global ad Omnicom Group Inc. and Publicis Groupe SA reported significant declines in revenue and profit, but indicated a bottom may be at hand in the global advertising downturn.

"We don't see a recovery, but we feel we've hit the troughs," said John Wren, chief executive of Omnicom. He added that it will take a couple of quarters to cycle through the current downturn, and a couple more before growth comes.

"We believe the worst is behind us," said Publicis Chief Executive Maurice Lévy. "


Twitter Explains how businesses can use it - finally.

Twitter has been talking about offering special paid services for businesses for quite a while. According to NY Time Bits Blog, on Thursday night, the start-up took one step closer. Twitter has unveiled Twitter 101, a series of Web pages and a downloadable slideshow that explains what Twitter is, and how businesses can use it, along with case studies of a few companies that use Twitter.

Maybe I’m crazy, but it seems to me if you want people to use your service, or invest in your company, publishing some kind of explanation about what the heck it is, and how it could benefit you, would be a good place to start. Why has it taken them so long to figure this out? Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. The software companies have been releasing half-baked versions of their products and expecting the public to figure out how to use them for years!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Remembering 3 celebs who really knew how to pitch

There is a kind of "back story" to the histories of most major brands, and the dialog is spiced up by the various celebrities or non-celebrities who pitched those brands over the years. With this week's passing of three major advertising pitchmen - well two men and one very memorable woman - it is worthwhile to recall some of their work. Everybody knows about Michael Jackson's Pepsi ads that were produced by ad hall-of-famer Phil Dusenberry. I don't believe that he had an unlimited budget, but it is clear they set the guy's hair on fire. And of course Ed pitched for Alpo and Budweiser back in the early days, then American Family Publishers

Media coverage of Jackson's death completely overshadowed Fawcett and McMahon, so enough about the so-called King of Pop.

Some of the best, most memorable ads from the 70's featured Farrah in some of her early appearances before being cast in TV series like "Harry O" with David Jansen.  Farrah's spots for Noxema shaving cream and the 1975 Mercury Cougar were great. No wonder I bought two of those cars.

A final note about McMahon - he was a great pitchman - possibly the greatest ever if you consider pitchmen in the purest sense. He wasn't famous, or infamous for being famous or dangerous or flashy. There was no "borrowed interest" other than the connection with Johnny Carson's show. He was a regular guy who made good because he had a very effective way of delivering the clients' pitches. He was as good or better than Billy Mays, getting his start on the old boardwalk in Atlantic City, NJ.

TV still a good way to reach teens, according to Nielson

Contrary to popular uninformed opinion, teens are not avoiding TV in favor of Internet. New research from The Nielsen Company says teens spend 11 hours, 32 minutes per month on Internet usage -- far less than adults. The overall average is 29 hours,15 minutes.

The Nielsen study also reveals that TV usage by teens has increased 6% over the last five years, belying a common misconception that teens watch less TV these days.

Could it be that TV is alive and well because young viewers have better ways of picking what they want to watch? Or is Nielsen just being Nielsen? I think it is the basis for healthy debate, but my observations as a parent reveal a healthy appetite for TV. So if you're reluctant to recommend the tube in media strategies targeting teens, think again. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Ad Age's Bloom says don't repeat history by building silos with social media

Ad Age’s Jonah Bloom thinks agencies are making a big mistake by creating dedicated social-media departments. I think he’s right. Not knocking social-media at all, just looking at history. His story makes a lot of sense. He points out that every time an apparently foreign object is identified in adland, those who are excited by it “annex” the object and create their own nation around it. This leaves everyone else to breathe a sigh of relief and go back to doing whatever they were doing -- albeit with just a few nagging fears about the ambitions of the fledgling country being built next door.

Before digital media it was media planning; before media, it was direct marketing. And if we want to go back in history to the Mad Men era and further, we can see that the same happened with TV and even radio. On each occasion, the newbies create their own jargon, their own law-making associations, their own cultures, their own ways of measuring success.

There are, of course, good reasons for separating new and old, but in the end, it is integration that nurtures success. Bloom points out that the new and old states cannot exist successfully without the other, a fact they realize after they have set up separate and often competitive fiefdoms that barely speak the same language. I've worked in larger shops where the urge to departmentalize things has gotten way out of hand. Something in the water? I’m also just old enough to have been around when direct marketing was the rage. DM was splintered off, taking important data-driven processes and analytics expertise with it. Then it struggled to reintegrate itself with the mainstream industry and its creative forces. 

It's happening again with social media. Bloom points out that marketers are constructing social-media departments and social-media agencies are popping up everywhere. Here's a wild concept: learn from history and integrate social media into your media department. That plan may be lacking in "gee-whiz" factor, but agencies should know by now that when you take away the silos you can deliver more effective results for clients.

Mixed feelings about pending Hummer sale

On the pending sale of GM's Hummer brand to the Chinese - seems the Chinese will gain access to a dealer network and a foothold in the U.S. car market. Now, will they be a good corporate citizen and create lots of American jobs? Pretty unlikely. Are you uncomfortable with a company from "Communist China" as Lou Dobbs ALWAYS calls them, acquiring an iconic American brand? Or, is it a good thing to give GM the cash infusion they desperately need?  

When you think about it, how ridiculous was it for GM to bring Hummer into the family in the first place? Can you think of a better example of the conspicuous consumption mentality? 

What's the right approach for GM's rebirth? There are many

The social networking gadflies are abuzz - telling anyone who will listen that GM should be using social networking media only - yes, that's only - to spread positive messages about their rebirth. My question is - who in their right mind would think GM or any other big brand would limit the distribution of their messages this way? With Hummer being sold off to the Chinese and Penske or somebody else buying Saturn, the four remaining GM badges - GMC, Buick, Cadillac and Chevy - will still appeal to a highly diverse consumer base. So they need to reach the female Gen-Nexter looking at the Chevy Cobalt and the 70-something male shopping for his 7th Buick with equal effectiveness. Let's also look at it this way - that older demographic is likely to know nothing of Twitter, Face Book or You Tube, but he does watch a lot of TV. And GM will make a bigger profit on the Buick he buys. So you can be sure they will keep traditional media in the mix for a long time. And event sponsorship for that matter.

Case in point: The only GM car I've had as a daily driver was a '98 Buick. Before you label me a geezer, let me clarify this was a Regal GS - supercharged V6 - very impressive when the right foot was lowered. How was I, who previously had driven  a string of imports, converted? I had an opportunity to look at the car up close and personal at a golf tournament, then I went to a dealer and drove one. So in my case, Buick's big dollar commitment to the PGA and Mr. Woods did get them some ROI.

I think better days are ahead for GM, and the people who plan their media are very very good at reaching a diverse audience - from highly mobile twenty-somethings, to the AARP crowd.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Use of "stimulus" in ads is anything but stimulating.

In reading Stuart Elliot's NY Times piece about the word "stimulus" working its way into ad copy, I was shocked that he would even dignify the practice by putting it on the page. We all know the word "stimulus" or the phrase "stimulus package" are being splattered throughout the marketing landscape to an alarming degree. 

It is appalling to me that major advertisers - Ford/Volvo, CBS, Carmike Cinemas and others Elliot mentions - are sinking to this level of copy-cat nonsense. Industry analysts may dignify it by labeling it "borrowing interest" but that's just more crap. And clients - shame on you for taking the path of least resistance. Do you want something unique and different, or just derivative, unoriginal crap?

What to call the new, post-bankruptcy Chrysler Corp?

On the subject of what the name of the new, post-bankruptcy Chrysler Corporation might be, how about an amalgam of the various brands associated with Chrysler over the years - something like "ChrySotoJeepPlymNashEagleDodge." 

Considering the rather absurd condition of the American auto industry these days, I submit to you that doesn't sound absurd at all!

So-long to The Chief.

Now that it's official, GM will be shedding the Pontiac brand after a hundred years (acquired by GM in 1909, no kidding), I must say the news is not at all surprising, and it is long overdue. Sure, there are many car nuts out there who love the marque, but as a brand, Pontiac never really found itself. 

Way back in the day, Pontiac was at Ground Zero of the muscle car trend when Mr. Delorean stuffed a big motor with 3 carbs on top into a Tempest. In the following decade, the Firebird Trans Am was all the rage. Looking back on that disco-era monstrosity with a giant bird decal on the hood, four tailpipes and acres of plastic chrome, it's no wonder this brand has been in so much trouble for so long.

What did the Pontiac brand stand for? In practical terms, it was the move-up brand from Chevy. Problem was, model year after model year, consumers bought the Chevy or went straight for the imports.

Styling used to be a strong point for the Pontiac brand, but in recent years, the GM stylists were either half asleep - check out the G-6, G-8 family's styling - just boring - or on psychodelic drugs. For a while there, the cars had so many bumps, spoilers and other 'boy racer" doodads that you would have thought they were targeting 13-year-olds.

I guess that's what killed the Pontiac brand. Damn those 13-year-olds for not being old enough to drive!


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Target's seven steps to innovation - a roadmap for any brand's success.

The seven steps to innovation practiced by Target Corp. could be put to use very effectively by just about any brand or organization seeking excellence, growth, relevance and resonance with its audience...

1. Observation. Keeps you close to the source and helps accurately identify the white space that exists in the market - the problems people want solutions to, but may not even know it yet.

2. Imagination. The unique ability of the human mind and spirit to envision possibilities as yet unimagined and unrealized. Imagination is an intuitive process that generates ideas.

3. Creativity. Using originality to defy habit; defying convention to achieve greatness. Creativity channels imagination and begins to propel ideas on their road to realization. This one is not as easy as it looks. Everyone thinks they're creative, but few really can step outside the box of convention. 

4. Great design. Here's where Target stands head and shoulders above the other mass merchandisers. Great design has inherent beauty, but it also delivers a fun experience and must always be functional. it's the practical side of innovation as well as the aesthetic.

5. Simplicity. The challenge of innovation is to approach highly complex problems in the simplest fashion. Not every innovation requires a radical paradigm shift; big leaps have come from very simple ideas. Further to this point - think about it - few of the things that have become timeless - cultural icons, works of art, architecture, etc. - are complex. That's why my approach to advertising creative has always been - the simpler the better. And why Mr. Ogilvy said "K.I.S.S."

6. Speed. Businesses must be able to turn on a dime, like never before, to react to ever-changing market trends. Consumers - they are a demanding bunch. They know what they want. They want it now.

7. Collaboration. Innovation is a team sport. One person might have a brilliant idea, but it takes a whole team to distill and execute it. Collaboration is the process that distills wild ideas into marketable innovations.

Thanks to Michael Alexin of Target and Biz941 magazine for featuring this in their April issue.

Monday, April 6, 2009

I expect much better from Nissan

Remember when Nissan was a real innovator? When their TV ads for cars like the 350ZX and Maxima made your pulse quicken? When their launch of the new jelly bean-shaped Altima back in the mid-nineties was the envy of the industry? Well if you do, this will make you quite nauseous indeed.

As reported in the NY Times 4/5/09, with the auto industry on its ass, Nissan's apparent solution to excite the young car buying public is a new box called the Cube. I refer to this car as a new box because it has been, no doubt, inspired by Scion's original box, the xB. Back to the Cube, the marketing geniuses At Nissan have chosen to forego the "car" label and call it a "mobile device." Borrowing all kinds of terms from Web 2.0 - type technology, the folks at Nissan have apparently lost track of the simple fact this is a car. I seriously doubt if anyone will want to risk attaining "dork of the year" status by actually referring to the thing as a "mobile device." Can you imagine any self-respecting, iPod-toting twenty-something saying, "come on gang, let's all pile into my mobile device!" Okay, maybe George, our IT guy, but he's actually just a myth, and therefore will not be purchasing a car anytime soon.

Sorry Nissan, you're just playing catch up ball here, and all that Web 2.0, "let's appeal to the young folks" gimmickry  is not going to sell a single box - sorry, Cube!

What marketing sins have Nissan committed here? Borrowing technology terms to advertise a car and a shocking lack of originality in the name of the thing are just the beginning. And have you noticed what this thing looks like? What dorks.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Now you can follow this S.O.B.

If you want to follow Smith On Branding, just click on the little Follower Gadget in the upper right of the blog. It's fun, and might just be good for your reputation.

Computer screens surpass radio as second most common media activity.

Here's a media quicky - the average American is exposed to 61 minutes of TV ads and promotions a day. Some may think that amount seems excessive. Others, like me, would say it falls short. Adults are exposed to screens - TVs, cell phones, GPS devices, for about 8.5 hours on any given day, according to a study released by the Council for Research Excellence, an entity created by Nielsen Company.

A couple of findings that won't be very surprising - TV is still the dominant medium for both media consumption and advertising, and computer screens have now surpassed radio to take over the number two spot. Print media ranks fourth.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Advertising still the best economic stimulus.

In a recent Fortune contribution, Bob Pittman points out that the government's stimulus plan won't work if we don't get consumers spending again. He says the government needs to provide help for American businesses to advertise their products and services.  they sell.  

Pittman says he wants to see a tax credit for ad spending. Not a bad idea. Here in Florida, the cash-strapped legislature is in panic mode, and they're looking at eliminating some long standing sales tax exemptions. Yep, that includes advertising. It could happen, believe me. And the damage it would do to the industry, and to all businesses throughout the state who will cut advertising budgets even further, would be devastating. 

The Florida view comes from a rather unfortunate and widespread notion that advertising is a cost. Pittman points out that it is an investment. The guy is my hero this week because he's absolutely right. Advertising is the thing that will get the consumers who do have the money, but are sitting on the fence, to get in the game and stimulate the economy by purchasing the things they need. And yes, they will still be able to get the best deal while most retailers and service businesses are cutting prices.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

It's time to reconnect with consumers.

Recently I was invited to participate on a panel discussion for a joint meeting of the Advertising Federation-Suncoast and the Central West Coast Florida chapter of the FPRA. The overriding topic for this well attended session was best practices for small businesses in a recession.

To be successful in a weak economy, marketers have got to do three things...

Get back to fundamentals, reconnect with their customers, and instill confidence.

Let's start with the fundamentals. Whether a mom and pop or a big box retailer with hundreds of stores, look for ways to increase efficiency an cut costs. Be careful not to make broad, arbitrary cuts in marketing because that's, as a colleague of mine recently stated, like stepping on your oxygen hose.

Re-connecting with the consumer is simple, but it's amazing how many marketers do not take advantage of all the opportunities they could to make those connections. Get to know your customer - understand him/her. Establish what really makes them tick and you can develop offers that are tailor-made for them. This process starts, however, with a well-defined brand personality. Without this, everything you do becomes more difficult, more complex and more costly.

My last point is about instilling confidence in your consumers. We all know that as this recession keeps its grip, consumer confidence continues to slide. Make sure that every communication reassures your consumer that you will be there for them, for the long haul. A confident attitude, communicated with consistent, high quality techniques will reassure the consumer. The so-called economic experts in the media can talk about Wall Street all they want, but for most people, Main Street is the major indicator. If local businesses are keeping their heads up and reaching out to potential customers, that expression of confidence will be contagious.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Will 2009 be the year creativity makes a comeback?

A recent piece by Laura Petrecca in USA Today has brought up an interesting point. With predictions that 2009 will see an even bigger dercline in media spending - the conventional way to measure advertising industry activity - some advertising can rise above the bad times. Regarding 2008 advertising, there is much in her story that I don't agree with - Walmart's advertising - forget it. Free Credit and the singing waiter guy? Someone please teach him how to play better fake guitar.

The story points out that even during the Great Depression, advertisers advertised, and consumers consumed. It wasn't a post-apocalyptic, nuclear winter-like environment.  Actually some of the most creative advertising of that day was developed during those dark days. Advertisers had to develop new ideas for doing more with less, just like the consumers did. They had to come up with new ways to make their advertising work harder and be more memorable, to resonate with the consumer. Isn't that what good advertising should always do, even in a strong economy?

Does a $3 million Super Bowl spot make sense in such a down economy?

It's that time of year again - the advertising trades and their pundits are gabbing about the Super Bowl - the big one, in terms of audience and cost-per-30 sec spot.

So, the obvious question is - at $3 million per spot, does it seem crazy for corporate America to go there - with the economy in the dumper? 

A Super Bowl ad is always a biggy- reach the biggest audience. Make a splash. Get the buzz going around the water coolers. Great. Even in a bad economy, and some might say especially in a bad economy, a Super Bowl ad could work well. Especially one that is carefully developed, with sensitivity, sophistication and funny in a light way, without the mean-spiritedness that permeates some of today's advertising.

It's a big showcase for big ideas.

On the other hand, it's not surprising to see some big name advertisers, like FedEx and GM, backing away from the big game. A Super Bowl ad might send the wrong message to employees, customers and stakeholders. And it could, of course, create negative backlash if the company's just made a bunch of layoffs. I have to admit that I would feel pretty bad if my employer was spending that kind of money after giving me and a few hundred of my cohorts the boot.

If more advertisers stay away, will the cost go down? If more of the big guys stay out of the game, will some new up-and-comers emerge and win Rookie of the Year honors?

Stay tuned!