May we never live through another week like the last one.

We saw unspeakable acts. We shared grief, rage, and pangs of hopelessness.

People retreated to their political camps and shrouded themselves in like-minded crowds.

But how many of us actually put ourselves in another’s shoes? Did we feel the pain others felt? Did we try and imagine and experience what they must be going through?

Unfortunately, these days our minds are more closed than ever. Blame it on social media and human nature to cocoon ourselves in the comfort of those who share our points of view.

But until we can truly try and feel what others are going through, until we can comprehend and appreciate their emotions, we are doomed to stay the same.

And after a week like the one past, that’s tragic.

Remember what a wise man said in 1858, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

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The restaurant chain Chili’s just broke a new ad campaign and it’s really good.

The campaign is rooted in Chili’s roots, going back to the ancient time of 1975, when hamburger hippies still roamed the planet and they had simple ideals and values–– to serve good burgers, fries, chili, beer, and good times.

Sounds like a winning recipe, right?

It was. The Chili’s chain grew like kudzu on a diet of Miracle-Gro, water, and eternal sunshine. Chili’s popped up everywhere, and unfortunately, over the years its menu also grew. Like many restaurants, they had The Cheesecake Factory menu envy.

Chili’s started adding everything but tequila-grilled sushi to its offering of simple staples: eggrolls, flatbreads, wings, queso, fried-just-about-anything, three soups in addition to chili, a slew of salads, burritos, tacos galore, mango-chile chicken, fajitas, ribs (“I want my baby back, baby back, baby back…” you know the rest), steaks, fresh Mex bowls, a sandwich board of sandwiches, warm quinoa & wheatberry (?), shrimp, salmon, enchiladas, tostadas, quesadillas, pastas, chicken crispers, mango-chile tilapia–– you get the drill, a menu the size of the IRS 1040 filing instructions, and almost as confusing.

And guess what? With the ever-expansive menu, the food quality dropped. I used to be a big Chili’s fan. I loved them when I lived in Dallas in the 80’s. Back then, the menu was simple and consistently delicious. Chili’s chili was terrific.

I recently ate at a Chili’s in Atlanta and tried a bowl of the original red. They’ve even screwed up their signature chili. The burgers now taste processed, and the atmosphere is artificial (how many pieces of flair can you wear?). The restaurant felt like the front end of some distant commissary in an industrial park; an antiseptic place churning out soulless fare.

As much as I like their new ad campaign, I know it’s a lie. The Chili’s experience is not the one depicted in the “hamburger hippies” TV spots. Today’s Chili’s feels like the “product of a boardroom” and managed by “a bunch of stiffs”–– the ones these new spots use as the antithesis of the restaurant’s humble and idealistic beginnings.

Unfortunately, now Chili’s is a monolithic factory manufacturing high caloric processed foodlike mouthfeels.

Which is a damn shame. I loved Chili’s and I want them to be the restaurants with the spirit of the hamburger hippies spots. It’s a great story, a terrific legacy, but it doesn’t hold true today.

Bummer, man.

Bill Bernbach said great advertising will put a bad product out of business quicker. The reason is the ads will set high expectations, and if reality delivers disappointment, well, people know the score and won’t be back.

I wish advertising could fix operational issues, but it can’t.

There’s a lesson for all marketers to remember. We’re only as good as whatever it is we’re putting in the spotlight, and unfortunately, sometimes our ads are better than what’s being advertised.

And that’s dangerous.

I was born and raised in northeastern Ohio, back in the days when steel mills belched plumes of smoke signaling a vibrant economy and fueling a healthy middle class.

BRB–– Before Rust Belt.

The people there are authentic and back their sports teams in good times and bad, and as any Cleveland sports fan will tell you, there have been many more bad years than good. And those times when a championship has been within grasp, the teams found a way to let it slip away.

And clutch the hearts from their loyal fans.

But now, 52 years after the Cleveland Browns took an NFL championship, LeBron and the Cavaliers did it–– bringing home an NBA Championship with an epic comeback over an incredible team.

Nike produced the spot above that captures the emotion of the final seconds of the game perfectly. Although Cleveland fans are passionate, they’ve been hurt too many times before.

What I love is the honesty of the spot, the depiction of rabid fans on the cusp of glory but reticent to show their emotion for fear of having their dreams dashed, yet again.

But this time, this time losing was not meant to be. It was a storybook ending to the storybook return of the hometown kid making good on his promise to bring a championship.

The power of the spot is restraint. Realization. Then, release.

The creators of the spot have an empathy and understanding of the psyche of Cleveland fans, and it pays off emotionally.

Congratulations to all the Cleveland fans who weathered the storm. Let the celebration begin.

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People today are stressed. They believe they’re overworked and underpaid.

Many are struggling, many drowning in a sea of debt.

They’re pissed.

For a glimpse of the psyche of America, read the comment sections online.

They’re ugly, angry, and scary.

This rage reflects people who feel they have little control in a rigged system. What they do have is the megaphone of social media to find like-minded people and raise pitchforks as they storm the countryside.

That’s the mindset of many in your audience–– now then, CMO, what’s your message?

You must acknowledge the stress and anxiety brought on by modern life. You need to appreciate the damage done to psyches consuming a steady diet of fear-inducing news stories. You have to accept the challenges faced appealing to attention spans whittled by obsessive addictions to screens.

And ultimately, you must give people some relief, some respite, and not add to the din and fuel the fury.

Otherwise, all is lost.

Chin up, CMO. Let’s have some empathy and cheer them up, maybe get them to lay their pitchforks down.

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Over the years, I’ve been asked to judge many ad award shows. I’m honored, and curious to see work created in other markets.

Award show judges used to dread reviewing the radio category entries–– where sixty seconds can seem like a death sentence, but that’s changed. Now the dreaded category is online videos.

This category is a hateful wasteland. At least radio spots are created within the limits of time. Videos, unfortunately, are not.

They drone on and on and on. Videos become dumping grounds for inane corporate factoids, spoken over cliched images of business people shaking hands, farmers mopping their furrowed brows, little children running to embrace their daddies returning home from work, construction workers walking in slow motion toward the camera, and mothers with loving eyes looking upon sleeping infants.

You get the drift.

It’s all there, piled into a never ending video created with no time limit and little creative discipline. Proof of the danger of digital elasticity.

As a judge, one is left to wonder after a minute or two what the point of the video is, and why anyone besides the client, writer, art director, and editor would possibly care.

Oh, right–– it’s content and content is all rage. Can’t get enough of that content stuff.

Yes, consumers like videos, but if you’re creating videos, please be disciplined and empathetic to their attention spans.

Although there are no time constraints on digital videos, a disciplined marketer must remember there’s always an ‘interest’ constraint.

And if you lose their interest, you’ll lose your audience.

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Political advisor James Carville shepherded Bill Clinton into the White House with the simple directive, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

We all need some focus, even marketers. So allow me to get all James Carville-y.

Numbers are all the rage these days. Everyone wants some of that big fat juicy data. Crunch those figures, spit out those reports, and carry those metrics like jewels to superiors and wait for the “attaboy” or “attagirl.”

Yes, numbers are important in our brave new world, but I think today’s numerical obsession misses the biggest potential for your marketing success–– an interesting, engaging, and compelling message.

One rooted in empathy and an understanding of human nature, and where your product or service fits into satiating a need or desire.

That doesn’t come from science; it comes from art.

Look at all the damned messages out there–– they’re everywhere–– we are pummelled with marketing at every turn, and every day, it seems there’s some new way to reach people.

But how much of it connects?

Can we agree that once we muck our way through the thick jungles of messaging it’s a wasteland of motivating marketing? Most of it is empty calories. Annoying pestering and chest thumping.

But even vacuous messages can put numbers on the board, so we continue the assault.

What if we spent more time learning about the people on the other end of the medium, and creating more engaging dispatches?

What if we spent more energy thinking about our audience rather than analyzing its reaction to our messages?

Well, then we might get some real kick-ass numbers.

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It happens. One day you look at your marketing partner and think to yourself, “It’s not working, I’m not happy in this relationship.”

What are the warning signs that a marketer should begin looking for a new agency?

1. When their work doesn’t work
2. When they don’t know their stuff, your audience, your competition
3. When they’re more concerned with their business than yours (they’ve got to get those margins up to pay their global holding company overlord)
4. When their media plans are stale and demonstrate no innovation
5. When turnover is high and constant
6. When they’re more concerned with winning ad awards than winning you more customers
7. When they won’t play nicely with your other agencies/partners
8. When your agency takes you and your business for granted, and everything feels like a struggle
9. When their juniors are getting professional experience at your expense
10. When they are slow and unresponsive
11. When they keep raising rates or nickel and diming you with overages
12. When they’ve become account service-oriented instead of account management-oriented (they should be bringing more to the table than just pastries and coffee)
13. When they bully you or try going over your head
14. When their creative ideas are dull, stupid, or outrageous with no strategic purpose
15. When they don’t or won’t listen
16. When they become lap dogs–– your partner should be pushing you by bringing fresh thinking, not simply pushing pens and taking your order
17. When they add little or no value
18. When they don’t demonstrate empathy for you and the pressures you face
19. When you’ve raised issues in performance and they have not been addressed

Those are some of the reasons you may consider looking for a new partner. I’m sure there are plenty more. Please add yours in the comment section.

Our business is tough enough, find a partner you like and respect. One that adds value in ways that make your professional life easier.

You deserve that, don’t you?

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“We need more for less” is the mantra of business in the Twenty-First Century. We keep playing this game of financial limbo, “how-low-can-you-go?” and no one ever questions it.

Until it fails miserably and people get fired for producing crap.

The question shouldn’t be “How cheaply can it be done?”–– it should be “What’s the most affordable way to do something we can be proud of?”

This applies to everything. Everything.

Yes, you can get anything for a low price, but be willing to settle for what’s delivered and live (or die) with it.

If your marketing firm, ad agency, production company, or any vendor doesn’t warn you when the money’s too tight to deliver quality goods, if they simply nod their noggins like bobbleheads, do yourself a favor–– fire them.

They are not looking out for your best interest, they’re only interested in making a short-term sale.

If the people you’re working with are afraid to talk candidly about money, if they are just suck-ups petrified to say “no” or discuss the ramifications of cutting corners–– they are deadweight who will sink your career. Bank on that.

Look, the first question seasoned creative people want to know before conceiving a production is the production budget. Why? Are they planning the spread on the craft services table? Plain and Peanut M&M’s and caviar and shrimp cocktails!

No. They don’t want to birth a baby (their idea) that they’ll have to kill or mangle due to budgetary constraints. Creative people want to know money parameters so they don’t dream up something that can’t be done well for the money.

And, clients, beating up your agency over their fees will directly affect the caliber of people working on your account. As businessman Sir James Goldsmith said, “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.”

If you put 100 monkeys at 100 keyboards, you’re in for an excruciating experience that ultimately will bring you down.

You get what you pay for, people. Always remember the wisdom of philosopher kings Click and Clack (Tom and Ray Magliozzi), The Tappet Brothers of “Car Talk Radio” fame: “The stingy man spends the most.”

So true, so very true.

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Accenture just did a global study with some disturbing findings: 42% of people would pay to block digital ads.

Glass-half-full types will say, “Yes, but 58% wouldn’t pay to block us!”

True, but they aren’t exactly welcoming, either.

So, why do they hate us? Because there are too many ads that are intrusive and obnoxious, and many are not well-targeted with little relevance to the viewer.

We’re firing machine gun blanks at point blank range.

Of course, there are ad blockers, which more and more people have, especially youngers ones. Technology has solved the technologically-enabled problem of annoying digital advertising.

And for those who don’t block ads, well, they just make behavioral judgements on sites: if the contents’ value doesn’t outweigh the obnoxiousness factor of the digital pestering, they avoid the site altogether.

It’s a problem, marketers, and it’s only going to get worse. Are we helping people with potentially relevant, beneficial messages, or, are we annoying the crap out of impatient innocents who will grow to despise our ads and by extension our products?

We need to be smarter in where we appear, and more empathetic to our viewers with our offerings.

Otherwise, we’re royally and digitally screwed.

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If you’ve been around marketing or sales for more than forty-six minutes, you’ve heard the expression “What’s in it for me?” to describe the mindset of your prospect.

WIIFM is the human default signal. We process the world in selfish terms–– how does this product or service, this action, bring me something beneficial? It’s our survival instinct.

And WIIFM has never been truer, or the signal stronger, than today.

Because now each of us is not only assaulted with messages in media everywhere, we are also each our own media conglomerate.

We broadcast on our channels–– Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on. We build our personal brand’s marketshare, fan bases, loyal followers, and yes, even trolls and haters.

Naturally, when you’re running your own media company, you can get narcissistic and selfish with your attention. So, marketers must be selective and smart with their messages.

A distracted audience is extremely tough to win. Be empathetic to its needs and be certain you’re broadcasting messages to resonate with the only frequency they are tuned into 24/7.

And it’s tougher than ever getting advertising on that station.

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