Tuesday, December 31, 2013

WSJ looks back at best and worst ads of 2013.

At the risk of being predictable, I thought it would be appropriate to wrap up the year with a look at best and worst advertising executions of 2013. Suzanne Vranica's Wall Street Journal piece points out a few surprises and a few others maybe not so much.

Among the very best - the Dodge Ram spot featuring the late Paul Harvey reading from his 'So God Made a Farmer' essay.

How good was the Dodge Ram spot? Viewed online more than 22 million times, and according to a Chrysler spokesperson, the brand gained nearly a point of market share between January and October. Now that's moving the needle, and doing it in a genuine, original, heartfelt way. As much as I dislike using religious references to sell products, you have to admit this one makes you feel something, and certainly appeals to the core truck buyer. This is the kind of spot Hal Riney used to make, and seeing it brings to mind the "Morning in America" work Riney did for Ronald Reagan's re-election campaign in 1984.

Let's hope 2014 brings us a lot more advertising like this.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Tongue-in-cheek holiday ads shake off the sugarcoating - is this a surprise, or just good advertising?

"We were surprised that a majority of Americans said they like to see Scrooge-like themes, or the naughtier side of things, in holiday ads." That was the statement by Becky Jones, vice president of marketing and research at Viamedia, the Kentucky-based cable advertising sales firm that conducted a recent study on the matter of holiday advertising. Her comments were included in an interesting LA Times piece about holiday ads.

I don't know if this makes me sound like a Scrooge, but is anyone surprised by this? Isn’t this what good advertising should be doing? Being disruptive? Entertaining? Amusing? If it isn’t doing any of these, how will it break through the clutter? How will it get people talking about the brand? And we know there is plenty of clutter around the Christmas shopping season.

Will the "naughty" Jingle Balls spot from K-mart actually make the big K a more interesting place to shop, as suggested by Syracuse University professor Ed Russell? I think that's a bit of a stretch. My local K-Mart could be described in many ways, but "interesting" is not one of them. But in the LA Time piece, he very accurately states this is an ad you would not expect from K-Mart. And that's the whole point. It makes you say, "Hey, that's K-Mart doing that. Maybe they're not so boring these days."

Read the LA Times story - you'll enjoy it.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Year-end venting, bad acronyms and brand fails

It's that time of year again - for well wishes? For glad tidings? New Year's resolutions? Of course not, silly. It's time for me to vent again about how crazy this world of branding has become.

Adweek's 25 biggest brand fails of 2013 is an entertaining look back at a bunch of blunders - some obvious and others much more subjective - by marketers such as JC Penny, Hyundai, Barilla and others.

The sidebar on this is the most revealing misuse of the English language by so-called marketers - "fail." I guess if we accept the use of the word "leverage" as a verb, then why not drag a few verbs down the same linguistic rabbit hole? The comments thread on this one is priceless.

Along the same lines, Valerie Pritchard's 12/18 item on Health Care Communication News was a great summary of pesky jargon that we could really do without in the New Year.

Valeria, I agree whole-heartedly that "learnings" is not a real word, and "tent pole" is a horrible, almost painful metaphor.

I also got a chuckle out of her "worst acronym" example - PANK. Having done a bit of work in two industries that use far too many acronyms - healthcare and telecommunications - I can tell you this was a spot-on example of a genuinely stupid acronym. Go to the story to see what "PANK" stands for.

Happy New Year. Let's hope it's one with fewer acronyms and more learnings.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Microclimates of Exclusivity – the latest product of a society that no longer makes anything.

Frank Bruni’s NYT Op-Ed – ‘The Extra Legroom Society’ describes just how tier-obsessed - and in some cases ridiculous - our society has become.

Bruni begins the piece by describing how his family’s simple plan to visit a well-known Los Angeles amusement park quickly became an adventure in Status Symbol Land (as coined by the Monkees in their song Another Pleasant Valley Sunday).

Americans have long been disciples of status. It is apparent in the things we own, the clubs we join, the fashions we wear and the cars we drive. It’s how we make a statement. It’s how we say, “I’ve made it, and screw you” or, I’ve made it, but I care about the planet” or, I’m too sexy for my Escalade.”

It’s nothing new, so what’s the big deal? Bruni says that lately, what he calls “microclimates of exclusivity” are popping up everywhere, and in an economy that doesn’t manufacture very much these days, we sure know how to create distinctions.

You don’t just buy a ticket and get on a plane – there are ‘levels.’ Want that extra legroom? You’re gonna pay. Want less hassle? You’re gonna pay some more. Want a shorter line at the theme park? Just pay to be bumped up a few rungs on the status ladder and you’ll get a second go-round, even cutting right in front of some poor slob who’s been waiting in line 40 minutes for his first. That one kills me. Instead of making the product better in the form of a shorter wait, these guys increase revenue by exploiting your inconvenience (Bruni didn’t say whether they actually ordered the ‘platinum’ service, or whatever the hell Six Flags calls it).

I realize this is something that's been around for a long time – niche marketing, personalized service, new product extensions created by cubicle dwelling marketing geniuses, swamped in saturated markets. But this kind of elitism makes me a little queazy. Are we in the 80s again?

You really should read this one.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Celebrating 20 Years of 'Got Milk?'

How time flies. This is the 20th anniversary of one of advertising’s most enduring - and unfortunately most copied - taglines. I refer to the ‘Got Milk?’ campaign, commissioned by the California Milk Processor Board in 1993, then adopted by the National Milk Producers Federation.

The agency that got the job - Goodby, Silverstein and Partners.

According to the ‘history’ page on the agency’s website, around that time they also introduced the less memorable but quite creative Budweiser lizards (Bud-Wise-Er). So it would appear that they had the beverage category creatively covered.

ADWEEK recently featured Jeff Goodby’s recap of this classic campaign.

Goodby says his research shows that "got milk?" has become the most remembered tagline in beverage history, outstripping those of beer and soft drink companies with much larger budgets.

There have been many great food and beverage taglines over the years – ‘Have a Coke and a smile”, “Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee”, “It’s Miller Time” - but this little piece of culture was a real trend setter back in ‘93. It’s probably advertising’s most competitive category, and one that spawns many examples of much less memorable advertising, indeed.

Far be it from me to dampen this celebration, but no discussion of this great campaign could be complete without mentioning the downside. In this case, the downside is the fact that every low-budget, non-creative thinker on the client’s side of the desk thought it would be a great idea to do a ‘got _____?’ to immortalize their product, and simultaneously celebrate their complete lack of creativity. For me, all those hacks kind of tainted – spoiled if you will – what was honestly a brilliant concept.

When you look back at all those celebrity milk mustaches, you can’t help but smile. And all those ‘got milk’ imitators? I’ll bet you can’t remember a single one.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Words of branding wisdom from SRQ BBQ genius, Nancy

Here's an interesting little item on branding that makes perfect sense from my friend Nancy Khrongold, who operates the best little Bar-B-Q joint in Tampa Bay - called Nancy's of course.

This piece was featured in the Biz(941) Daily a few days ago, and I though it was blog-worthy:

Nancy’s Keys to Building a Brand

1. Read these two books: Trading Up by Michael J. Silverstein and Neil Fiske, and Michael Levines A Branded World. They are my business Torah and Talmud, each dog-eared and marked up. Go to Bookstore1 Sarasota, or some other local bookstore, and buy these books.

2. Be consistent. Once you've positioned your product, represent it and deliver the experience the same way every time, all the time.

3. Be gracious. If you're the personification of your brand, be tolerant of those who want to talk shop in any venue or access your cell phone 24/7. Embrace their engagement; it's their valentine to your brand.

4. Be persistent. Overnight sensations are exceedingly rare. If what you're doing is working, keep doing it, however difficult. Any successful salesperson will remind you: If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.’”

5. Never settle for mediocrity. Word of mouth is not built on Go here, it's ordinary.’”

FYI - I have not read either of the two books Nancy recommends - So if anyone has read Trading Up or A Branded World, please let me hear from you.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Managed correctly, content marketing can enable nonprofits to take their brand storytelling to new, measurable heights.

I recently had the pleasure of exhibiting at the American Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Florida Caucus’ annual event called Planet Philanthropy.

One of the hot topics there was Content Marketing (CM). At Consonant Custom Media we know a thing or two about CM, and we help nonprofit organizations maximize their storytelling every day.

While at the conference, I was pleased to find that the current issue of AFP’s own magazine, Advancing Philanthropy, included a great story by Elaine Fogel about how nonprofits can use CM to engage their donors more effectively. Many nonprofits think they always have to be asking for donations. Sure, they do, but it’s “how” they do it, and even more importantly, the “why” that matters.

The wonderful thing about CM – as in Branding – is that if you ask 12 different people what it is, you’ll get just as many different definitions. For the record, I define CM as a conversation. By offering valuable content – the kind that is conversational, human and doesn’t constantly try to sell you – nonprofits can set themselves apart as thought leaders and experts, planting the seeds of future donor relationships, getting the conversation started and keeping it going.

In her story, Elaine offers 5 tips for using content marketing effectively, and I’m going to give you my two-cents’ worth on each…

1. Develop a CM strategy:
Great, that’s very important. You need a blueprint.

2. Ensure metrics are based on desired outcomes:
That’s smart. Decide what you will measure – and how. That way, everyone will know whether the CM strategy is paying off, and how to make adjustments going forward.

3. Use well-written, high-quality content:
On the surface, this one was music to my ears. After all, at CCM we’re all about creating high quality content. However, Elaine suggests that in-house staff can be trained to write high quality content. Perhaps they can be, as it applies to SEO, but let’s face it – most people are just not good writers. And in-house training, however well-intentioned, is rarely successful because the time to train the already overworked staff simply cannot be found.  

4. Coordinate your content:
It makes perfect sense that CM themes, topics, etc. should follow your organization’s events and fundraising and marketing campaigns. That’s why you develop an editorial calendar that takes all of this into consideration and allows time for relevant content to be developed around your key events and activities.

5. Assign a CM gatekeeper/overseer:
Here’s where you need to be careful. To ensure content is accurate, free of grammatical errors (see Tip #3) and avoid duplication, there should be a gatekeeper/overseer. But that’s what we call an Editor. As brands become more like publishers (see my previous post about how Banana Republic is doing this) the Editor’s job is crucial. Without the efforts of this essential player, your CM team could be in for major embarrassment, or worse.

For some, or all, of these important CM strategies, consider working with an outsource team. That will give you access to very highly experienced talent – writing, editing, design, project management, etc. – without having to overburden your in-house team or hire additional staff.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Catherine Sadler wants Banana Republic to "think like a publisher."

According to a recent Ad Age story by Natalie Zmuda, Catherine Sadler, the new global chief marketing officer for Banana Republic, is charged with “establishing a singular brand voice and more consistent brand experience around the world.” That challenge is even bigger than her title.

Just when I thought this was going to be an unremarkable story, it was revealed that Ms. Sadler wants BR to become a more content-driven organization that can "tell stories" and “think like a publisher.” To that end, she’s brought in outside resources, including editors from several major women’s magazines. That’s precisely what my team at Consonant Custom Media have been encouraging marketers to do (we, in fact, have a former Ladies Home Journal creative director on the team).

The days of blanketing the marketplace with paid ads and mailers to try to synch up with consumer buying habits are numbered. Content marketing is a better, more sustainable way to build a brand. The only point on which I question Ms. Sadler is her statement that the new BR magazine, “a central hub for Banana Republic marketers responsible for various aspects of the marketing plan…” will never see the light of day as a print vehicle. Why not?

Kudos to Mr. Busch for his anti-NRA stance.

I know we're all sick and disgusted of hearing about the NRA (see previous post) but this little bit caught my eye. After the National Rifle Association so vigorously opposed expanded background checks for gun buyers, Adolphus Busch IV, heir to the beer fortune, resigned his NRA membership. Here's what he said: "The NRA appears to have evolved into the lobby for gun and ammunition manufacturers, rather than gun owners."

I think he meant to say "devolved."

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Auto market forecast is hot for 2013, but VW’s advertising now officially sucks.

Here I go writing about automotive advertising again. Ad Age is reporting that 2013 will be a great year for the car business, thanks to a perfect storm of market conditions -good resale values, good access to credit and very low rates. And the carmakers want you to know this is a good time to buy a car.
Representatives from GM, Hyundai, VW and others were interviewed at the big New York Auto Show as it kicked off at the Jacob Javits Center. They spoke of increased ad spending. Yeah baby, great news. One interviewee that stood out in the Ad Age piece was Kevin Mayer, VP-marketing for Volkswagen of America. He says he’s looking toward a bigger ad budget to take advantage of the “pent-up demand” as newly confident consumers finally sell or trade in their old vehicles in favor of new ones.
The Ad Age story mentions that Mr. Mayer raved about the work of his ad agency, Deutsch L.A. Really, Mr. Mayer? Are you referring to the Jetta spot in which the dorkiest people on the planet go nuts over how “safe” the new Jetta is? Or maybe the spot where the new Passat owner, borrowing a Sarah Palin catch-phrase, tells an envious neighbor not to believe the “lamestream media.” Okay, I know you're not actually trying to insult our intelligence, and this stuff is probably intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but really, VW? Is there some new research indicating that right wing nut-jobs should be VW’s new target demo? I’m thinking not. I'm thinking this is the kind of garbage that sells Toyotas and Hondas to people who know nothing about cars. I'm also thinking - well, it's official: Volkswagen’s advertising, which once and consistently set the standard for creativity and uniqueness in the auto category, now officially sucks.
My conclusion - and it's a sad one - is that in their quest to increase U.S. market share, they've not only made the cars more like their plain vanilla competitors, they're creating advertising that's just as bad.
I swear I can feel the vibrations from Bill Bernbach whirling in his grave.