Monday, November 21, 2011

America's worst brand: Congress

I usually try to avoid politics here, but just can't resist. One of the discussions I'm following on LinkedIn concerns unique brands - the ones that stand out - good or bad. Today's anti-climactic news of the failure of the so-called congressional "super committee" to reach an agreement on a deficit reduction plan is one for the "bad brands" column, for sure. The United States congress has a lower approval rating than even the IRS! Now that's a bad brand.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Can we imagine Apple without Steve Jobs?

The passing of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs presents us with one of the most intriguing branding questions of our generation. Can Apple continue to be perceived as the great innovator, the “must have” products that have changed not only an industry, but the way we live?

According to this morning’s mainstream media, Apple has so much momentum now that Jobs’ absence won’t really be felt for quite some time. Consider, however, that Apple, one of the world’s most recognizable brands along with Coke and McDonalds, is a publicly traded company. Wall Street, and the consumer, both have very short attention spans. And Tim Cook, who made his first public appearance announcing the iPhone 4S just a day before Jobs died, has the weight of the world – and even more – the weight of one of the world’s most recognized, most beloved, most admired brands squarely on his shoulders.

Let’s hope Apple keeps on innovating. Let’s hope creative visionaries like Jobs, not bean counters and knock-off artists, continue to shape our world and build brands.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Reviving the Pan Am brand - stylish retro romp, or contrived crap?

As Pan Am, one of the world’s most iconic brands is revived in a new ABC TV series, it will be very interesting to see if it flies with audiences. Will it be perceived as a wonderful retro romp, or contrived crap? According to a piece in Advertising Age, the brand’s owner, Pan Am Systems of Dover New Hampshire, bought Pan Am out of bankruptcy in 1998 and plans a return to air travel via South American routes in 2012. Whatever the future holds in store for the Pan Am brand, I sure hope the execution is better than this show.

Pan American World Airways, circa 1963. Wow, what a brand. When you think about the 1960s, you think Viet Nam, cool cars, curvy women, the British invasion and those 707 jet planes with the blue Pan Am logo. Back in the day, those ladies were called stewardesses, not “flight attendants.” They were supposed to be feminine. They, in fact, were required to be single, and to wear girdles along with the high heals, stockings, white gloves and hats. Sure, even those of us who are a bit too young to have actually experienced air travel’s “golden age” know there was a time when going anywhere by plane was a special occasion. Air travel these days is a complete drag. Since deregulation, it’s been downhill all the way.

Funny thing, on the morning of Pan Am’s premiere I caught the Mad Men episode where Don Draper, on an overnight trip to see the clients at London Fog, beds a stewardess (yep, she was also wearing a girdle, briefly). So try as I could, the comparisons with Mad Men were unavoidable. Sure, Christina Ricci is great. Sure, there were some good parts. But it’s pretty contrived. The only really cool scene was Christina Ricci being flown by specially arranged helicopter from the roof of the Pan Am building in midtown Manhattan (it’s the Met Life building now) to JFK to make her flight in time. I saw that one coming a mile away, but still enjoyed it. Actually, that would have been relatively routine in 1963. Pan Am had regular helicopter service right from that rooftop to all three metro airports via helicopter until a 1977 accident shut down the heliport permanently. Check out Clint Eastwood’s 1968 film Coogan’s Bluff for an actual, non-CGI look at that. And it was a clever way to remind us of just how prominent that Pan Am brand was – back in the day.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Missing Amy

Every once in a very long while there comes along a recording artist who really makes a difference. Amy Winehouse released only two albums in her brief lifetime. But the music industry reverberates with references to her brilliance as an artist who made a significant contribution.

Even though my radio career lasted only about 20 minutes, I’ve followed the music industry most of my life. It seems like most pop music seems to be mass-produced crap. The industry is notorious for making crap sausage. If something sells big, then let’s recreate it – even if it’s crap – many times over until an entire generation is mesmerized by moronic, Auto-Tuned garbage. The dumber, the better. If the singer can’t really sing, just use more Auto-Tune. Why was Amy such a big deal? She came along at a time when pop music was stagnant, not so much like a breath of fresh air, but like cigarette smoke-infused lounge air escaping from a just-opened sixties time capsule. It’s no wonder AMC used her “You Know I’m No Good” for the Mad Men promos that first season.

It’s ironic that someone who was referred to as a sixties retro artist was actually a real groundbreaker.Don’t like the “retro” sound? I don’t care. If you grew up at any time before Brittany Spears, you were familiar with the Motown sound, the Muscle Shoals sound, and Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound.” Her sound, enabled by a band called The Deptones (how cool is that?) took you back to Ray Charles and Dusty in Memphis, then took you forward at the same time.

In “Tears Dry on Their Own” you hear, very distinctly, that Motown influence – Starting out with an arrangement that instantly brings to mind Marvin and Tammi singing “Aint no Mountain High Enough.” That baritone sax really takes you back. But it’s more than just nostalgia. It’s talent. It’s good music with a timeless quality that is hard to describe and even harder to get out of your head.

Jenny Eliscu really nailed it in her piece: “Winehouse was already an icon: a badass little Jewish girl with a cartoonishly massive beehive and exaggerated swooshes of eyeliner who found room between all the tattoos and scars from cutting to wear her heart on her sleeve. Moreover, there was just an undeniable power in her voice -- husky and sultry and sad, like a broken heart marinating in whiskey and cigarette smoke. It was a voice that sounded like it came from another time, echoing Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin.”

I’m not so sure about the Janis Joplin comparison, but I get it. She was a real badass. And I’m really going to miss her talent.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Can Chrysler pull off a Motown Miracle this year?

According to The Detroit News, Chryslers’ new strategy to convince American consumers that it is still viable and even worthwhile as an investment begins with a 70% increase in its advertising budget, to nearly $2.9 billion this year.

Still newly out of bankruptcy, this battered brand has a lot of image mending to do. Chrysler’s been all over the place. They had great mini vans, then everybody else made theirs more affordable. They had the Viper, then they didn’t. They launched some great cars, including the rebirth of their Dodge Charger and Challenger, then came out with some that just made you scratch your head.

So can Chrysler be competitive again after two years in exile?

To mastermind it all, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, who is also CEO of Fiat, asked Fiat marketing chief Olivier Francois to head Chrysler's marketing, as well.

One of Francois' first moves was to cancel longtime contracts with advertising agencies, including BBDO Detroit, replacing them with new players hired for specific tasks — such as national branding or multicultural ads — rather than the old way of aligning agencies with individual brands.

Another new Chrysler strategy is the return of Fiat to North America after 27 years, starting with the tiny Fiat 500. Yes, I did say FIAT, as in “Fix it again, Tony.”

This will be very interesting to watch, indeed. I hope Chrysler is banking on the fact that many of today’s car buyers are too young to remember how terrible the FIAT cars of the 70’s were. Based on my experience with Fiat and Alpha Romeo cars of that era, the most diplomatic term I can muster is “quirky.” How will the Fiat 500, or some re-badged Chrysler car based on its platform, compete against the likes of Honda, Toyota and Hyundai?

If they can pull this off, it’ll be nothing short of a Motown Miracle.

Finally, proof that Tuesday has no "feel."

A recent post by Paul Sutton on his blog, TheSocialWeb, brought to mind quite vividly a Seinfeld episode in which, during one of those classic exchanges of nothingness between Jerry and George, George pronounces emphatically that Tuesday is the one day of the week that has no "feel." Now along comes Sutton with actual proof, sort of, about Tuesdays.

He says we should avoid announcing anything significant on a social network on a Tuesday. Don't publish blog posts, don't launch anything on Facebook or upload a YouTube video. Just let Tuesday pass you by because of a basic lack of social network engagement.

Why? His theory on Tuesday basically “sucking” for social media is that Tuesday is the day when people get their heads down in the office. On a Monday we get into the office wanting to get back up to speed. We devour information in blog posts and tweets. Have we missed anything over the weekend? This is followed by Tuesday, the day that we get down to business.

My take on this is a bit different, and probably just as unscientific. I’ve spent many Mondays putting out fires, trying to get computers and printers to work, wading through worthless e-mails, and the list goes on and on. Monday is followed then by Tuesday, when if you’re lucky, half the time you will actually have a productive day. So are you more focused on productive activities on Tuesdays? Could this be why Tuesday “has no feel?”

If that’s the case, then give me more Tuesdays!

Monday, January 31, 2011

At Super Bowl time, remembering the spot that changed everything.

Steve Hayden's recent piece in Adweek recalls Apple's "1984" spot launching the Macintosh personal computer. Hayden describes how the piece was made - by no less than film director Ridley Scott - and how it almost didn't get made. Then he goes on to describe how Apple's board of directors hated it, and wanted to vote, right then and there, to fire the agency.

The "1984" spot was a 60. Advertising lore has the spot being aired only once, during that Super Bowl in 1984, but Hayden says they ran it in movie theaters and cut a 30-second version that was run in several spot markets, including Boca Raton, FL of all places. Why? That's where IBM's PC business was based, and they just wanted to stick it to 'em.

The impact of that single ad - the blonde heroine running with the hammer, then hurling it at "Big Brother" - sent ripples through the entire industry, and established the Super Bowl as THE place to launch something new, regardless of the product.

Even if you're not a big Macintosh fan like I am, you have to recognize the significance of this breakthrough work from Chiat/Day. The vast majority of the work being created for, and aired during, the Super Bowl doesn't even come close to this.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Carolla's book is a real piece of work.

Adam Carolla's book, In Fifty Years We'll All Be Chicks, is priceless. Okay, so Amazon's got it for 15 bucks for hardcover or 9 bucks for kindle, but you know what I mean. I didn't pay too much attention to Carolla on The Man Show, but I became a fan when I saw his 2005 reality show, The Adam Carolla Project. It was great stuff, and a delightful comedic counterpart to all those formulaic "flip this house" shows.

I think this book, which my son gave me as a Christmas gift this year, is some of the funniest shit ever printed, and a must-read for any middle-aged guy who grew up before political correctness and the Internet totally fucked up our society. After seeing Carolla plugging the book in an interview on MSNBC one morning, I immediately began dropping the "hey this would make a great gift for someone" hints.

Want to know what's wrong with our society? Carolla will tell you all about it.

The jacket quotes alone are pretty funny. Here's one attributed to Alec Baldwin - "Reading Adam Carolla is akin to having a horrible illness. Alone with your thoughts, you struggle with whether you want to even go on living. When you're done, you're a stronger, better person."

Saying goodbye to Susan.

My wife and I attended a mass and Celebration of Life yesterday for the late wife of our friend and creative cohort Don Adamec. Admittedly, we never got to know Susan Adamec very well, but Don is one of my favorite people and we've been doing great work together, off and on, for many years.

I won't go into detail about yesterday, but one thing stands out. Anyone who knew Susan, or knows Don, also knows that light in their eyes. The light isn't caused by poor lighting or whatever they had for lunch. The light is their beautiful daughter, Ashleigh Brooke Adamec. On Saturday, we finally got a chance to see her dance, in a tribute to her mom, and it was very moving. I know Susan is very proud. And as Ashleigh continues to study dance, currently at Sante Fe College and soon at Florida State, I know that light will go on shining.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

AAF-Suncoast to present 50th Anniversary ADDY Awards.

It's hard to believe 50 years have gone by since the advertising professionals of the American Advertising Federation's Fourth District created the ADDYs. While ADDY may be eligible for AARP membership, he's certainly not over the hill.

Our local Ad Fed, now called AAF-Suncoast, will present the ADDYs at the Asolo Rep Theater on Monday, February 21. The call-for-entries, now closed, was brisk. A full house is anticipated, with a gallery showing of the entries, cocktails and live awards presentation. As a past-president, board member and ADDY entrant, I recommend attending, and also urge marketing professionals - whether creative-types or not - to join the Ad Fed. Tickets to the ADDY Gala are $50 each. Contact the AAF Suncoast for info. I hope to see you there.

Breathing new life into custom publishing for healthcare.

Stephen A. Smith & Associates announces the launch of Consonant Custom Media (CCM), LLC. The firm will focus exclusively on the development of custom content for healthcare and medical research institutions.

Responding to the demand for high-quality, strategic direct marketing that is “consonant” or in harmony with a health concern’s brand positioning, CCM mobilizes a highly experienced, award-winning creative team and a stable of medical and scientific writers to develop and distribute highly customized content across print, Web, video and mobile platforms for each client.

John Wark, an award-winning journalist, media strategist and Pulitzer Prize finalist, has joined CCM as consulting partner, and will assist in business development and editorial supervision. Mr. Wark is the founder of Florida Media Strategies, a successful strategic communications and public relations firm.

The enterprise met with early success in 2010 under the "SAS" banner, securing contracts with two major Tampa Bay healthcare institutions – the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute and Florida Hospital Zephyrhills. The magazine we developed for Florida Hospital Zephyrhills, called Better!, recently won two awards – for design and strategic marketing communications – from the International Association of Business Communicators.

Recent studies confirm that organizations are shifting dollars away from traditional advertising to new forms such as custom publishing or custom content that are more measurable and sustainable, and the forecast is for continued growth of custom content. Based on that, and our early success, we’ve decided to make this a stand-alone enterprise and put our strongest resources behind it.