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People have always been suspicious of marketers. We are the sideshow barkers preaching our promises to the masses, inviting them to buy our wares and realize the incredible benefits our clients’ products and services provide.

And our audiences have always taken our messages with a grain of salt. A boulder of salt today.

Fair enough. We know the game and somehow have to build credibility, hence our focus on social media and comments and reviews. But now, even that is suspect.

It’s easy enough to fake reviews or give products away for favorable words. People are catching on to that sleazy game and are becoming suspicious that maybe the alleged real people are just shills.

Carnie barkers always had shills–– right?

Yes, our problem gaining credibility with a suspicious public is worse than ever, and it’s compounded by the fact that today truth is whatever people want it to be.

And that should scare the hell out of everyone.

Think about it: whatever you’d like to believe, you can find support for it. It’s easy. Google it, go down that rabbit hole, and you’ll find like-minded people.

You can also question any alleged ‘truth’ and find counter points-of-view. Oh, and to make matters easier, social networks like Facebook will ensure you have an enthusiastic crowd in your echo chamber and feed you all a steady diet of fake news to stoke your passions and get those clicker fingers itching.

It’s all about the clicks, babe.

Technology has made it possible for each of us to construct a worldview cocoon and narrowcast perspective. Since human beings crave attention and love affirmation, we can give ourselves thumbs ups and pats on the back when people agree with us.

And why wouldn’t they? They’re your tribe, your people, and when you’re shouting into a canyon, your echo is rich and fulfilling.

And what of the news itself? Well, what flavor would you like? Conservative? Liberal? Alt right? Socialist? Green Party? Neo-vegan with a twist of Whig?

You can find your like-minded news feed; that’s easy. But sadly, people today have such short attention spans, and all media has had to cut back on real journalism because it requires lots of time and money, so most of what passes for news is just pundits spewing talking points and feel-good puppies-lost-are-found-type stories.

It’s hyperbolic bombast or fluffy puff pieces.

Sigh.

In the “X-Files,” Mulder and Scully were always in search of the truth. Now all of us are on that journey, and we’re on our own.

Me? I believe that the aliens who landed in Area 51 are sequestered in a small office adjacent to the Oval Office, and they command our president and are our true overlords.

I know this for a fact because I read it on the internet.

Good luck on your journey for finding truth, and know your audience is doing the same. Be empathetic to their struggles and suspicions.

A sideshow barker’s job isn’t getting any easier.

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We live in an age of worshipping at the altar of big data. We want the numbers to tell us the story, and the biggest numbers rule our decisions.

It’s stupid, and it’s dangerous.

Look at what happened in the recent presidential election–– the numbers had Hillary as a shoe-in to the oval office, the only question was by how much she would dominate Donald.

But surprise! The numbers lied. More accurately, people lied, or at least didn’t disclose their true intentions.

The media narrative became that the flyover states rebelled against the liberal elites on the coasts–– that it was rural people versus city slickers.

People’s passion for candidates was missed or not measured, or, voters didn’t want to tell pollsters their true intention to vote for Trump because they thought they would be labeled in judgmental ways.

Whatever happened, it was a big fail for big data. The pollsters historically blew it.

Well, guess what? The same thing is happening in marketing where there is an overreliance on analytics, metrics, numbers.

Many marketers are terrified to trust their instincts and get caught making a gut decision. Nope, that can be trouble and most CMOs don’t want to make an artistic choice based on empathy, creativity, passion, and understanding of humanity.

Instead, they want numbers to tell them what to do. Test, test, test, test, and may the highest number win.

“GIVE ME MY METRICS, ANALYTICS, GRAPHS AND AN EXTRA HEAPING HELPING OF PIE CHARTS!”

Do that–– and the numbers will cover your ass.

Relying on numbers alone is a fool’s game.

Yes, use numbers to learn, but don’t use them as a crutch for making decisions. All great ideas are leaps of understanding and imagination; they are not made great in continual 1% increments of improving a decent idea over and over and over again.

You are human. You have experiences, emotions, intellect, and creativity. Those are the tools you need to help communicate with other human beings in meaningful ways.

What is going to pique someone’s interest, spark curiosity or ignite his/her passion about trying your brand?

WHAT?!

I believe the reason so little marketing work today connects emotionally and shines is that it has been incrementally improved to score a number. The life and humanity have been sanitized out of it.

You’re a person, not a computer. You’re trying to communicate with other people.

Act more human. And do so 100% of the time.

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I think we’ve all had our fills of politics. We somehow survived the never-ending presidential race and were pummeled senseless with negative political ads and forecasts of impending doom (with a healthy side of gloom).

And when the dust settled, the victory of Donald J. Trump taught marketers a few important things about American life in the twenty-first century.

1. Many citizens are not happy with business or politics as usual; an outsider is appealing

2. A lot of people are suffering

3. Many people are tired of being ignored and marginalized

4. Fear is rampant, and fear is cancer–– ease fears

5. People like easy answers and the promise of simple solutions (the ol’ KISS formula)

6. Trust is critical, and trust is relative

7. Humans want to believe, have to believe in something

8. We like being heroes and told we’re exceptional and superior to others

9. We yearn for the certainty of the past and are leery of the uncertainty of the future

10. Media wants a good show because media is show business–– it’s all about attracting an audience and selling its attention

11. Don’t always believe the numbers, over-relying on data is a fool’s game

12. Data rarely captures emotion effectively

13. Internet technology enables whatever version of truth you like, and it’s easy to affirm beliefs (see #8)

Those are just a few of things to keep in mind in preparing your messages for the modern marketplace. If you assume it’s business as usual, if you think that rational reasoning is enough, you do so at your peril.

Humans are emotional creatures, and you must appreciate the emotions of your audiences, and be empathetic to them.

The upshot of this election was pretty clear: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

How are you going to help people make their lives better?

cvvgfqowyaaawgsWe have just witnessed a World Series for the ages: The Cleveland Indians playing The Chicago Cubs. Two perennial losers going toe-to-toe for their long-suffering fans.

And both teams won.

Congratulations to The Cubs for earning the trophy and doing it in true underdog fashion, coming back from being down 3-1 games (just like the Cavs did earlier this year–– oh, irony, you’re something else!).

And Congratulations to The Indians for having an incredible post-season after being riddled with injuries.

Both teams played with heart, were scrappy, and exhibited true sportsmanship throughout. Both are managed by masterminds. And both epitomized the absolute best of America–– optimism, work ethic, determination, and willingness to succeed.

It’s sad that the purity of beautiful games had commercial breaks showing negative political ads foretelling doom and gloom and slinging mud. Since 9-11, we have become a fearful people.

I won’t get political, but I will say that we need to cheer up and celebrate what’s great about America: the character we saw exhibited on the field by two great baseball teams, and the purity and timelessness of our beautiful sport.

Thanks, Tribe and Cubbies, for restoring my faith in humanity. Now, can we get this damn election over with and get on with life?

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I want to go to Mars.

I want to be on the spaceship with the original, the one and only Dos Equis “The Most Interesting Man in The World.”

He’s the guy I love. He’s the bearded cat behind my favorite campaign of the last decade. The brand decided to put the old spokesman (he’s 77) out to pasture last year.

Mars in one hell of a far pasture to be cast to, but, I guess they decided he was too old to get the job done.

Rather than do the right thing and just kill the campaign, the brand is trying to maintain its momentum by re-booting it with a new younger “TMIMITW.” So far, he’s appeared in two commercials. The first was a teaser. Well, the bartender was interesting, but the new guy? Hmm. I reserved judgment to see where it was going.

The second commercial re-launching the campaign just broke, and it epitomizes everything that’s wrong with our business today.

TMIMITW’s originality and fun have been sanitized, and heavy doses of marketingese have been clumsily injected.

The new younger man is shown racing a beautiful woman in airboats across desert sands! Active lifestyle, got it!

Then, get a load of this–– he and she spar with Samurai armor!!! Whereas the old TMIMITW was admired by beautiful women, the new one competes with one.

But you’re not going to see who wins these battles of the sexes. Wouldn’t be right, might be perceived as sexist, and hey–– women drink beer, too. Can’t alienate a market.

Check the box for political correctness AND expanding brand appeal.

BUT WAIT! The couple competes again throwing knives. This time, he splits a knife in two with one of his throws–– and she is impressed. Ah, but they were not competing. The camera reveals the couple was working together making knife art depicting a whale!!!

See that, men and women CAN work together!!! Uplifting visual message, got it.

Then, this year’s model takes a helicopter to tailgate on the Serengeti where he carves a coconut into a football and kicks a field goal between two giraffe necks!!! The marketing people tell us Dos Equis has some big football sponsorships. Brand association with the events sponsored, roger wilco!

Cut to quick shot of a Dos Equis draft pull handle as the amber nectar glides into a frosty glass, (does this Serengeti rock, or what?). Then a suitcase is kicked open and what’s this? A television set is inside, and a football game is being broadcast. Kooky!!! People are excited by the game and cheer. Time for the wrap-up, folks.

The new Interesting dude proudly holds a can of Dos Equis and delivers the old “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis” line.

Cut to product shot of Dos Equis in all its available containers: a can, a bottle, and a draft glass with logo. Brand I.D. with all forms the beverage is available in–– check, check, and CHECK!!!

Here’s the big idea finish. The old fart who was interesting used to say, “Stay thirsty, my friends!” But our new hip guy says, “Stay thirsty, mis amigos!”

He’s bilingual!!!!! Brand appeal across cultures– got it!

Spike the coconut, let’s dance!!!

The agency spin on this new campaign evolution is that the new Most Interesting Man is a man of action, with fast pace situations and more energy. And because this YOLO cat does not look back, there are no flashbacks as in the old TMIMITW.

Apparently, the past is for old losers, man.

Heineken USA Chief Marketing Officer Nuno Teles, said this about the new direction: “The temptation of a marketing director is to kill good ideas. Since the beginning of this project, I said, listen, the idea is good, it just needs to be executed in a better way.”

Well, the writing of the campaign is still pretty good, but the rest of it looks and sounds like a team of MBAs created it in a ham-fisted effort to yank at the wallet strings of the beer consuming public.

The new man has no soul, no heart. He’s not interesting. He’s a marketing wolf in sheep’s clothing, and I suspect he’s not long for this world.

Or Mars.

Unless this campaign shows some backbone, some originality not designed to resonate with legal age beer drinkers, he will die.

And should die.

Was anyone smart enough to put a camera in that spacecraft carrying the original TMIMITW?

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There’s a good reason most people hate politicians–– they’re full of crap.

Politicians assume know-it-all roles. They always claim to have the answer and sell it as gospel. It’s the absolute best way–– the ONLY way–– forward.

Until they shift positions and announce a new tact that is the absolute guaranteed perfect solution. For sure!

Amazing. Solving complex problems is easy!

Imagine how refreshing it would be if a politician acted human and occasionally said, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure. We’ll have to see.” Or, “Beats the hell out of me.”

Marketers often behave like politicians. They use status quo as a blueprint for future success. They dance with the one that brung them, and dance until their feet fall off.

Ad agency people usually do the opposite. When invited to pitch an account, we ignore the past. We’re convinced there’s a better way (why else would the account be in review?).

Long ago, I worked at a huge agency when the Federal Express account came up for review. Our agency was one of a few invited to pitch. The entire creative department (hundreds of people strong) began conceiving brilliant FedEx ad campaigns over a long holiday weekend.

And over three days, every team working on the creative exploratory felt it had the answer for how to make FedEx’s business really take off. We were confident we had mined the secret formula for turbo-charging overnight shipping success.

Imagine that!

Our agency didn’t get the account. The winning agency created a campaign that lived about as long as it takes a cup of hot coffee to cool down.

This business is apparently a lot harder than it looks.

But it’s like that in every new business pitch. Agencies swagger as they try and divine quicksilver golden success in them thar hills. Hey, it’s what we’re paid to do–– swagger, strut and dispense brilliance while you wait.

Of course, it’s preposterous. But it’s equally asinine for clients to expect agencies to have brilliant answers in new business pitches with the guarded knowledge they share and the cryptic feedback they give.

It’s like trying to guess a number between one and ten, and later finding out the answer is a fraction. (I had a feeling it was 4 and 7/16ths.)

The truth is that thinking we have the answer almost never leads to the answer. The best approach is to attack the situation with genuine curiosity, questioning things, maintaining our empathy and humanity in search of truth and illumination.

Don’t leap to answers, be curious and envelope yourself in knowledge.

Get lost. Good and lost. Hansel and Gretel without any bread lost!

Then, maybe then, we have a chance of finding our way.

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In honor of Nobel laureate Bob Dylan, I cribbed from the master for this post’s headline because in five words he perfectly captured the results of a recent marketer poll. The results were published in AD AGE.

The poll was conducted with leading advertisers and registers their discontent with their marketing service firms.

Get a load of this:
– 66% plan creative agency reviews
– 65% plan to review search agencies
– 64% will review media agencies
– 61% are ready to review digital agencies

Can you say, “Ouch?”

Right now, many marketing services people are headed to the bar to drown their sorrows, or the bathroom to slash their wrists. How did we get to this pitiful state?

Like a marriage gone bad, it all comes down to trust. 48% of advertisers said their agencies were not open and transparent on costs. 34% confess they don’t trust their agencies.

Of course, 48% of these marketers admitted they do not give their agencies KPIs, and 40% don’t share their sales data.

So, the client-agency relationship is guarded at best, cantankerous and combative at worst. And now, the folks with the checkbook have wandering eyes and dreams of better partners.

This is bad news for everyone. Agencies scrambling to defend accounts will divert attention from their other accounts, and probably create more dissatisfied clients.

And clients searching for relief will have to divert their attention to conducting time-consuming agency reviews and persistent leg-humping from every company with any marketing chops. “I know our firm says Four Aces Promotional Products, but we’re actually a fully integrated shop that can put your logo on pens and coasters! Need any digital or koozies?”

It’ll be a feeding frenzy with agencies bending over backward and diving through rings of fire to prove their worthiness, and then lowering their worth by doing the how-low-can-you-go limbo dance for compensation. Whatever it takes to get the business– got to have that sweet, sweet revenue stream.

Then, guess what? After the honeymoon period, chances are the client will be unhappy again because the agency can’t deliver what it promised as a result of the narrow margins it offered to win the account, and its need to divert the best brains to winning more profitable accounts.

Can you say, “Vicious cycle?”

It seems in marketing, the times they are not a-changin’.

Sorry, Bob.

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In 1968, Andy Warhol famously said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

Ever since, we’ve all been working on trying to prove Andy right. But it’s hard.

Even with computers, laptops, notebooks, smartphones, social media, seven degrees of separation and our constant relative proximity to Kevin Bacon, getting famous is a royal bitch.

And “world famous”–– well, that’s a very tall order.

But some people do it. They win the fame lottery. They have their moment and bask in their fifteen-minute spotlight. And others, like those named Kardashian, we know every little thing they do or say for ages and ages–– as if they are fonts of eternal wisdom.

God help us.

Years after Andy said his famous quote about fame; he said this: “I’m bored with that line. I never use it anymore. My new line is ‘In 15 minutes everybody will be famous.’”

And that’s where we are today, everyone striving to be famous. We write our posts, tweets, blogs, comments, rants, raves, bitches, reviews and churn out pictures and videos like Hollywood and Bollywood combined. We curate our lives of eternal happiness and perfection on social media and wait for the world to follow us as we stockpile ‘likes’ like they are currency, and we are broke.

In a world full of people starved for attention, you, dear marketer, must somehow pierce the veils of self-obsession on screens and make your brand famous.

Good luck with that.

If you need some help, call. We’ll use empathy and creativity to create some work that will do Andy proud.

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Over the weekend, I saw Dirty Harry’s movie “Sully” starring Forrest Gump.

You know who I’m talking about.

I highly recommend this film, even though I know you already know the story. This movie details what happened on January 15, 2009, after Capt. Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger made a forced landing of an Airbus A320 on the Hudson River, saving all 155 lives on board.

It’s the story of a mortal using judgment to override airline protocol because he believes his decision to be the best and only hope for a good outcome.

And then, that person’s judgment is called into question by bureaucrats using technology as a measurement tool, a proving ground, a whip, and a smoking gun.

In other words, it’s a humanity versus technology tale. The same battles that marketers face daily.

Do you go with your gut? Or, do you go with the numbers?

Ad god Bill Bernbach once said: “Safe advertising is the riskiest advertising you can do.”

Yet, every day marketers seek CYA numbers to make their decisions.

Maybe they shouldn’t.

See “Sully” and enjoy the ride.

As we come down the final stretch of the political season, I’m avoiding the news. I can’t take the endless stream of sensational stories designed to stir emotions.

The country feels angry, divided, in turmoil. And the internet makes it easy to justify whatever point-of-view you choose. We live in an age where we are all always 100% right.

It’s not good.

Enter artists.

Art has always been the salvation of humanity, providing us a relief valve for the pressures of life.

I was recently contacted by a couple of artistic friends in Baltimore, Wall Matthews, a music composer, and David Simpson, a commercial director and photographer. I’ve worked with these guys professionally over the years on a variety of commercial projects, and they’re terrific. They wanted to know if I’d be interested in working with them on a music video.

Wall is part of a band named Twisted Vines who have just released a CD. David was asked to direct a video for the band’s excellent rendition of the classic song “Keep On The Sunny Side.” David had an idea for a story, and he asked if I would help write it.

I jumped at the opportunity. We wanted to show the world through the eyes of a Vietnam veteran with a simple overriding message, one that hopefully will resonate for the times we live in.

The video is posted below. If you like it, please share the video and treat yourself to the entire Twisted Vines CD. Thanks.

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