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

Politicians are know-it-alls. They claim to have the answer and sell it as gospel. “This is the absolute best way–– the ONLY way–– forward. Trust me!”

Until they shift positions and announce a new tact guaranteed to be the perfect solution. For sure!

Solving complex problems is easy! Amazing.

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

Marketers sometimes behave like politicians. They develop a marketing attack plan and stick to it, no matter what. They dance with the one that brung ‘em… 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 business. Over a long holiday weekend, the agency’s entire creative department (400 people) began conceiving brilliant FedEx ad campaigns.

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

Imagine that! Bada bing–– easy peasy.

Our agency didn’t win the Fed-Ex business, and the winning agency created a campaign that lived about as long as it takes a cup of hot coffee to cool down. 

This marketing business is apparently much harder than it looks.

But it’s like that in every new business pitch. Agencies swagger as they try and divine quicksilver solutions for golden success.

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 create brilliant answers in new business pitches when they share little accurate business information (out of fear) and give cryptic feedback on work (keeping their cards close to the chest). 

Trust and collaboration are crucial. And usually absent.

The artificially contrived nature of most new business pitches is like trying to guess a number between one and ten–– and later discovering 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, discover, learn, and envelope yourself in knowledge. 

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

Then–– maybe then–– we’ll 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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AD AGE published an opinion piece article this week proclaiming the creative director’s role of today will be obsolete in a decade. In the author’s brave new world, artificial intelligence will be critical to marketing success.

The creative director will be a shepherd corralling all those 1s and 0s to build the voice of the brand and serve the right message to the right person at the right time.

The author of the article gives the example of Starbucks serving a digital message to potential customers in Dallas with the headline, “Hey, Dallas!”

A pretty profound marketing insight there. I think that digital ad would probably pull better than one that read, “Hey, St. Louis!” running in Dallas, but a simple A-B test would hopefully give the definitive answer.

This article is another canary in the coal mine proclamation for our industry. It’s the point of view that continually marginalizes creativity for the importance of technology.

At the root of this is the belief that advertising communications are more science than art.

I don’t buy it. Most of what the author wrote about was basic modern marketing. We get it–– customize, geo-message, opportunistic analysis of search data, blah blah blah.

That stuff can and should be done by computers. There is little nuance, psychology, human understanding involved. It’s number crunching.

Get to it computers, crunch away, and no breaks!!!

But the real value that a marketing firm brings a marketer has always been ideas. Human ideas that will pique interest and engage an audience, then create preferences for products and yes, ideally trigger an action resulting in sales.

That’s a tall order, especially when there are 32,498 different media channels available in reaching a consumer. You need more than messages tailored to the geography. Somewhere along the line, there has to be a human connection.

Great campaigns are ones that do that; they are based on insights, empathy and understanding the human condition and how a particular product can benefit it.

Because people are involved, it’s unpredictable. Great creative is playing 3-dimensional chess; there are countless variables and many roads that lead nowhere.

That’s why there are so few great campaigns. As a friend once said, “If it were easy, it’d be easy.”

Or, as the philosopher Ringo Starr said, “It don’t come easy.”

I’m sorry to all those who want technology to solve the dilemma of marketing in the 21st century. I don’t see that happening, not as long as our audience is people.

But maybe if we could implant chips in their head, then the technocrats might have a chance to win.

“Hey, Dallas, buy this–– NOW!!!!”

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I recently attended an interesting panel discussion with industry experts on the subject of social media.

Here was the overriding takeaway: people don’t like ads, so make messages that are entertaining, engaging, educational and uplifting.

Millennials especially hate being assaulted with boring advertising, so give them some sugar, baby!

Who knew?

Look, no one likes bad ads, no matter what the media. You know who zaps commercials most often? The people who make them. We have very low tolerances for inane, insipid, boring, stupid, borrowed interest concepts. (We’re picky that way.)

But all human beings are attracted to entertaining, educational, enriching messages.

Some of the messages I’ve seen in social media are so soft, I wonder how they got approved and produced. The product has minimal relevance to what’s going on. It’s there only to foot the production bill and slip a product or logo in there somewhere.

These films are like a granddad who gives neighbor kids crisp dollar bills to get them to like him. Sure, he may smell like stale tobacco and sour breath, but he’s a pretty popular guy.

Another thing I heard at the conference was the need for brands to keep their content fresh. Apparently, the more units you produce, the more your engaged audience will appreciate them.

This insight came from someone representing a major brand. This same brand runs the same thirty-second spot ten times during the same sporting event.

Game after game after game. For weeks on end.

What’s the logic of that?

Online, fresh is best–– but on air, it’s one and done! Keep hammering that sucker into their thick skulls, eventually, they’ll surrender!

They have to.

We live in strange times, people, but never forget that people are people and they require some empathy in communications in all media.

Please feel free to share this on social media, this is my crisp dollar bill.

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I just read a fascinating article about the importance of touching.

The upshot of the post is this–– humans need human interaction, human touch. We crave it.

Hugs, kisses, hands held, touch, massage, cuddles–– it’s all good. All natural. All perfectly human.

It’s how we’re wired, baby.

Yet, sadly, most of us get precious little human interaction. We exist and interact on digital leashes. The article mentions that the average person touches his phone 85 times a day.

It appears our relationship with inanimate objects is far stronger than our relationships with each other. And given the way we incessantly grope our smartphones, we should clean their screens much more often than we currently do.

But we need more than smartphone play. I think deep down we are hungry, starved for physical interaction because it feeds our mental well-being and happiness. It nourishes our souls.

I firmly believe in the not too distant future, people will pay for human interactions, not sex–– people will always pay for that, but just human encounters that will get our serotonin levels juiced.

As we become further plugged into technology, further submerged and dependent on the grid for interaction, let’s not forget we are physical animals who like to herd.

Let’s run again with the pack. And we can blog and post about it later.

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Years ago, I made a disturbing observation–– people don’t have as much fun as they used to.

Think about it: is there less fun in modern society, or more? I posit there’s less, much less. In fact, I’d say we’re in a fun drought.

Tune in to Turner Classic Movies (TCM), and you’ll see people having a grand time, even in the depths of the Great Depression. Sure, it’s Hollywood, but the nation put on a happy face and people went along for the ride. “Dust stew for supper again, Ma? Aw, that’s swell, anyhow. Ain’t hardly nothing as comforting as a bellyful of your homemade dirt. Let me sing a song and play some spoons…”

Movies today? They’re comic books brought to life with impending evil always striking, and CGI catastrophes of all kinds befalling humanity. Manhattan didn’t know how good it had it back when King Kong was it’s only worry.

The news today? If it bleeds it leads–– murder, rape, death, disease, and destruction are on an endless loop. Pessimism and fears fester. There’s an ISIS terrorist hiding under every bed.

Goodnight, America, sweet dreams. Don’t forget your sleeping pill.

The digital age gives us endless diversions and opportunities for obsessions. The internet is a minefield of rabbit holes and black holes that will suck your time and lifeblood with every click. But any opinion or belief can be affirmed, any conspiracy theory proven, and any rant or insulting comment unloaded.

You can even do it under the cloak of anonymity. Snark safely in the shadows.

Then there’s reality, and frankly, reality is no longer good enough–– now it must be augmented.

Hey, look over there, is that Zapdos and Articuno?!!! Got to catch those elusive bastards!

We engage in social media and shun social interactions. Do you recall the last stimulating conversation you had? Is socializing a thing of the past? Read about salons, Hemingway and his crew in Paris, the Algonquin Round Table, bridge clubs, the Rat Pack, gatherings at Rob and Laura Petrie’s house, Warhol’s Factory, on and on.

What’s our equivalent today? A spirited Facebook string? A Twitter meltdown? Instagram hearts?

We’ve become overly-politicized, rigid in our perspectives with reinforced narratives that become our unshakable worldviews. When a different point of view is expressed, we react like Frankenstein’s monster reacted to fire, and we stumble away.

Americans also design their prisons with our workaholic 24/7 mindset. We check business emails at bedtime, work on weekends and vacations, conduct more than just personal business on toilets, and shush our kids so we can make the final tweaks to the PowerPoint presentation.

Modern people are in ruts, and we must force ourselves out. Marketers can help with empathetic engagements that enrich and lift spirits. We should at least try.

We must live again, laugh again and who knows, maybe even dance again. Why should the Twentieth Century have all the fun?

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Remember starting out in your career–– how hard it was because so few people spent time with you sharing their advice and wisdom, and how frustrating it was?

I remember. And it fueled my passion and commitment not to be like some of the people I met.

I recall one interview with a creative director at a hot creative agency in Cleveland. I had been trying for months to get an appointment with him. It was like getting into the Emerald City to see the great and mighty Wizard of Oz.

I finally got my day and was ushered into the grizzled adman’s office. It was decorated with various awards he’d won. He barely acknowledged my presence, he immediately asked for my portfolio–– no small talk or human interaction.

He flipped from page to page, barely scanning the contents. He was like an Evelyn Wood speed reading graduate on a cocaine bender. When he got to the end, he slammed the portfolio shut.

“What do you want?” he asked in an accusatory voice. I cleared my throat.

“Well, I was wondering if you had any copywriting jobs––”

“No,” he barked, shoving my portfolio away from himself as if it was toxic waste. “And if we did, we wouldn’t hire someone like you.”

He told me to get a job in the ad department of a large department store, work there three to five years, then go work at a small ad agency for three to five years, then, maybe then, come back to see him.

The last thing I ever wanted to do was see that miserable bastard again.

I left his office lower than whale turds. Yes, he was a decorated creative, his name would live on in award show books and etched on ad hardware, but he was a first class jerk.

I’ve thought about him throughout my career and have done my best to never be like him. If someone wants to see me, I’ll do my best to do so.

If I review work I don’t like, I explain why–– in a gentle but supportive fashion. Sometimes, to quote J.K. Simmons in the movie “Whiplash”, it’s just “not my tempo.”

Hey, it’s a subjective business.

But I try to be open, honest, and supportive. Our business, every business, is hard enough without dealing with assholes.

Please, be empathetic to those who seek your wisdom. It’s the right thing to do and it will be appreciated. And, it will pay rewards for your psyche and well-being.

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