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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.

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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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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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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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