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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 selfies, 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.

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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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