Maybe you’ve heard consumers are in control these days.

Now there’s a new study published by some brainiacs at the University of Central Florida that proclaims consumers dislike assertive ads.

It’s not too surprising, no one likes being told what to do.

The interesting part of the study is consumers especially dislike assertive selling from brands they like and are loyal to.

Guess it’s like finding out your friend is a creep.

I have always despised the “So…” wrap up in ads, where the writer presents a logical, lawyerly case of why a product or service is terrific. (Copywriter’s secret: the case is usually all the bullet points from the creative brief, gussied up in full sentences and then strung together like pearls on a necklace.)

Then, the lazy writer rests his/her case–– the last paragraph has the “So…” close.

“So, hurry down to Zeke’s CarsZensation, and grab a great deal on your dream car!”
“So, next time you’re at the grocery store, pick up some nutritiously delicious Smelbar’s Melba Toast! The toast that’s toasty-tasty.”
“So, drink Bedster Bourbon. A really good drink!”

It’s as if the writer is tired of writing, now it’s up to readers to do their jobs–– BUY!

Assumptive/assertive selling is obnoxious. And surprise, people don’t like it.

One of the study’s leaders, Dr. Zemack-Ruger, reports assertive ads affect spending decisions, too. The pushier the ad, the less likely people are to purchase the product.

The best ads in the study were those that were “informative and hint at action.”

There’s an inverse relationship between pushiness and effectiveness. It appears people like freedom of choice.

Dr. Zemack-Ruger writes that little tweaks can make a big difference. “Buy now”–– not good. “Now is a good time to buy”– much better.

Howard Luck Gossage, my advertising hero (I have his ’63 trading card), used to say, “When baiting the trap, don’t forget to leave room for the mouse.”

In other words, let the audience be a part of the process, and make up its own damn mind.

So, there!

You’re working on a strategy or creative execution, and you’re crushing it!

You’ve clearly created a brilliant battle plan that will succeed in achieving your business objectives. You know exactly what you want people to do after they’ve been exposed to your genius.

On paper, you’ve solved the problem. In discussions, you’ve won the war.

It’s all over but planting a flag and leading an army of dedicated loyalists and new customers.

Bam! Victory–– glorious victory!

Not so fast.

I used to work with a client who at these planning moments would sound a bullhorn of reality with one simple statement: “I think we’re smelling our own breath here.”

That was his way of saying we were too close to it. We were talking to ourselves, getting ‘too insider’ and blowing smoke.

Why do so many marketers spend so much time, energy and money talking to themselves?

Because it’s easy.

Marketers have a clear vision of the results we want, but we don’t have an honest assessment of what people are really thinking, feeling, believing, doing.

We know what we want, but do we have any idea of what they want?

Are we giving them a compelling and believable enticement for believing us?

If we don’t gut check ourselves, we’ll talk to ourselves and waste marketing dollars.


Don’t be afraid to call “bullshit” when you’re discussing strategies, creative briefs, and action plans. Embrace vigorous and honest debates.

Ask for substantiation and research that illuminates consumer beliefs and behaviors. If you don’t have it, why not?

Isn’t what your audience thinks kind of important?

Also, know that people are unpredictable and that the stimulus we create may or may not entice the behavior we want.

That, my friend, is why marketing is more art than science.

Be brave, be empathetic, be human.

And always remember it’s not about us, it’s about them–– and if we leave them out of the process, we’ll only be talking to ourselves.

When that happens, we don’t usually have minty fresh breath.

Taking pleasure in the misfortune of others (schadenfreude) is not the noblest emotion, but sometimes it’s justified. But being raised a good Catholic boy, I have some guilty feelings about it.

So, bless me, Father, for I have sinned–– I feel schadenfreude for Pepsi’s colossal fail with the Kendall Jenner video and spot.

Why? Because the company did it to itself.

Pepsi made a big deal when it announced it was launching Creators League, an internal creative services company. And this same think tank brought us the idea that made a huge splash in the Pepsi punchbowl.

Two years ago, the marketing head of Pepsi lambasted the agency world in dramatic fashion.

Fast forward to this catastrophe.

As Plato or someone smart once said, “Kharma is a bitch.”

I know, different religion.

So, yes, I confess I am a petty agency person who takes delight in seeing a client shoot itself in the foot because I’ve spent a career protecting ideas from clients who had “concerns” and “issues” when they played “devil’s advocate” in protecting the public.

I have sat behind two-way mirrors and witnessed the artificial environment of consumer focus groups as they reviewed creative work and improved the hell out of ideas by making them more like other ideas they have seen.

I have seen fresh ideas bludgeoned, bastardized, sanitized and transformed into lesser ideas by clients wishing to protect the innocent public.

Somehow, Pepsi created this Kendall Jenner atrocity all by itself. Didn’t they ask any consumers about this concept? Or, did they strategize a creative brief that made business sense–– “associate the Pepsi brand with the diverse Millennial audiences and fuel their intrinsic passions while satisfying their extrinsic refreshment needs”… then, create this phony pile of crap?

I suspect they created it in their artificial bubble. A prime example of marketers smelling their own breath.

Pepsi deserves to suffer for this work. It was a child playing with matches, and it got burned.

And in an ironic twist, when the outrage flooded all media, Pepsi withdrew the work and issued an apology to the public and Kendall Jenner! The company’s primary concern seemed to be protecting its relationship with its celebrity endorser.

I know the client-agency relationship is at an all-time low in trust. Over 60% of national advertisers in a recent Roper poll said they’d be conducting agency reviews.

And frankly, our sins are many and deserved. But I will still walk through fire to work with a good client.

I’ve believed it has always been the job of a good ad agency to act as a conduit to consumers. To be empathetic and understanding to their needs and create a message that would interest and satisfy them.

To make truth resonate.

Maybe I’m a dinosaur and our industry is dead.

No one knows where the marketing business is going, but one thing is for sure–– consumers can still detect bullshit in an instant. And they don’t like it.

Now, Father, how many Hail Marys and Our Fathers do I get sentenced?

Marketers have told themselves that social media gives them a great opportunity to engage consumers in conversations.

Yes, it does. But sometimes, you should keep your damn mouth shut.

Witness the recent on-line video boner and spot by Pepsi.

The work was created and produced in-house (thank God, I’d hate to blame an ad agency for this). The work features model Kendall Jenner and a cast of hundreds. Oh, the drama!

It opens with an Asian cellist atop a skyscraper working out some jams.

Next, we see a Muslim Woman Wearing Hijab photographer struggling with her artistry — she’s not satisfied, she crumples contact sheets and throws them away like flu season Kleenex.

Then we see sexy model Kendall Jenner in a glam get-up and make up. She’s being styled and photographed for a fashion shoot.

Kendall makes loves to the lens, but we can tell she’s just not that into it.

All this artistic conflict is playing out and intercut with a major march happening in the streets. A multi-ethnic crowd is protesting (there is even diversity in headwear!). The crowd is attractive and carries art directed signs!

Now, the cellist is back in his apartment. He opens an ice cold Pepsi and sips the elixir. This magical moment ignites something in him!

The photographer notices the marchers going by and grabs her camera, inspired by an artistic spark!

The cellist is marching, too, but wait–– now he’s playing on the street with other musicians.

Holy crap… now some hip dudes are breaking it down! There is dancing in the streets.

Kendall takes the march in with her big puppy dog browns. She senses she’s missing out on something big! Hey, there’s the Asian cellist walking by and he gives Kendall a knowing nod as if to say, “Come join the hijinks of our orderly ethnically-diverse social disorder.”

Lickety-split, Kendall rips off her hair (fortunately, it was a wig). She wipes off her lipstick (it was really red). Next thing, she’s out of the glittery silver dress and has slipped into some skin tight jeans, a tight white top, and designer denim jacket.

Whoa–– who knew she could kick it old school?!

AND NOW, now there is a tub of Pepsi products on ice (DUH– everyone knows protesters like to hydrate with carbonated beverages while they support their various causes). Kendall grabs a can of Pepsi and she carries it through the crowd.

The people are loving this. She’s making it real!

Kendall walks to the front of the line where some boys in blue (it’s the fuzz, man) are lined up to keep those protesters in order.

The hip music track comes to a crescendo and breaks.

The shutterbug raises her camera.

Kendall hands her Pepsi can to a cop.

The photographer snaps the shot.

(Fortunately, no one shouts, “Shots fired”.)

The cops drinks.

The music starts again. Kendall and crowd raise their fists in air and cheer.

There is joy in the streets as we see the cop nod approvingly to his fellow officers. His nod seems to say, “This Pepsi quenches the thirst I have for Millennial protests of whatever’s getting under their diverse skin tones.”

Cut to the crowd marching on as bold titles proudly proclaims:
(Pepsi Logo)

From the moment this sucker was released, it caused a storm of ridicule and protest. People saw it for what it was–– a whitewash of the emotions behind protests.

A blatant attempt for a commercial product to insert itself into genuine outrage.

There is a reason people protest, Pepsi. Emotions are high. Emotions are real. And you are not a part of that conversation.

If you can’t be empathetic, compassionate and understanding, sit down and shut up.

NOTE: Pepsi withdrew the awful ad shortly after the publication of this. Obviously, Empathetic Adman has incredible power.

There’s precious little marketing I look at with envy. We live in a world where marketers ensure messages are safe and devoid of anything that might offend anyone or they’re bombastic strategy missives lacking empathy for the audience.

We’re served chest-thumping hyperbolic diatribes of how the product will improve humanity and make our drab lives worth living… or we get borrowed interest advertising razzamatazz with little relevance to the product.

The Marcom landscape is like a bowl of lukewarm oatmeal. Expected and bland.

So when a drop of red paint appears on the gray marketing canvas, I take notice and cheer, and I’m loving the new campaign for Emerald Nuts from Barton F. Graf.

The campaign is based on an actual Amazon review the product received. “Yes Good” someone wrote.

Yes. Good. Any questions?

The smart people at the ad agency saw a bone with lots of meat on it and feasted. Two simple words that slap one upside the head with their honest sincerity.

And, go!

They created a TV spot that stands out visually and verbally for its simplicity and candor.

They also created a passel of videos inspired by other reviews. Some are too-too, but I give the creative team props.

And I cheer the anonymous writer of “Yes Good” for calling it like he/she tastes it.

This is a refreshing campaign that’s really good (hmm, too much?).

Writer/director Jordan Peele describes his new hit movie “Get Out” as a societal thriller.

Produced at a budget of $4.5 million, chump change in Hollywood, the film has already done $133-million at the box office and has a 99% positive Rotten Tomatoes score.

What’s the secret to its success? Empathy.

Jordan Peele is biracial and understands what it’s like living in a black and white world. As half of the very successful comedy team of Key & Peele, he helped write and act in some of the smartest comedy sketches produced in the last ten years.

With “Get Out”, Peele has written and directed a film that is informed and intelligent. The movie lets white people get an inkling of what it’s like to live as a black man in our alleged post-racial American society.

Oh, but this film is not preachy or heavy-handed. It’s fun, funny, thrilling and surprising, and makes its point that we live in a divided society where race determines behaviors–– for whites toward blacks, and blacks toward whites.

In an age where blockbuster movies are usually driven by CGI effects and proven pop culture properties, “Get Out” stands as a testament to great, original storytelling and compelling performances.

See it.

Pictured above are a couple of libations my business partner Tony O’Haire, and I shared recently celebrating 20-years of leading an advertising agency.

They’re Manhattans–– old school madmen drinks, the appropriate cocktails for playing two decades in Don Draper’s game (without all the smoking and sex).

When we started Ames Scullin O’Haire Advertising, our name was also our employee list. We had no accounts, no business–– just an idea we could be a better agency for clients who believed the best work came from strategy, creative, and media working in unison with marketers, using empathy and creativity to connect with people.

Our philosophy was a zig when the business was zagging. 1997 was the age of specialization and globalization. Media separated from the agency mothership, as did other disciplines.

New profit centers were born!

Ad agencies were playing a game of Pac-Man–– they’d pop up, and many were soon gobbled by large holding companies.

Broadcast, print and direct ruled the day.

The internet was called cyberspace, and AOL installation discs were like “Star Trek” Tribbles–– somehow reproducing and popping up everywhere.

Social media happened in chat rooms. And yes, like today, there were lots of creeps lurking in the shadows of anonymity.

Google hadn’t begun yet (I had to Google its start date: September 4, 1998).

It was seven years before Facebook showed its face. Mark Zuckerberg was working on getting through puberty.

There was no DVR. People recorded shows on things called VHS tapes. There were Blockbuster stores all over the land, teeming with thousands of movies–– every movie you could imagine.

Except for the one you wanted to rent.

It was a different time, and fortunately, our personal approach to multiple disciplines working directly with clients had appeal. Our business grew fast, and we added smart, entrepreneurial people to our team.

Although much has changed over the past twenty years, some things haven’t. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:

Breaking up is hard to do. I have been amazed that clients will be loyal to agencies that nickel and dime them, abuse them, deliver bad service and work, and move at glacial speeds. Apparently, the fear of the unknown is more upsetting than the pain of the known.

ROI is the holy grail and all businesses feel the pressures or hitting quarterly numbers. Naturally, metrics and analytics are more important than ever, but they shouldn’t be the only factors in making decisions. They need analysis and context.

Media is ubiquitous. Messages are everywhere, space and time are portioned out and sold. We have more ways to reach people than ever, and we do. It’s a matter of time until someone monetizes death, selling space on coffin lids.

Creativity is more important than ever. Because people know the tricks advertisers play, you’d better find intriguing and interesting ways to get people to notice you and your message. Otherwise, you’re invisible.

Attention spans are condensing. Patience is in short supply. People are frazzled and distracted, making all communications hard as hell.

Speeds accelerate. Fast will only get faster still, and if your website needs time to load, don’t expect people to wait. They won’t.

There are more choices and more parity. Success breeds imitators. More competition means more confusion about product differences and why something is better than something else. Marketing messages become critical. You’d better have a reason to believe and buy.

Money isn’t worth your soul (unless you’re soulless). Horrible clients will kill morale, eat your innards and poison your agency’s culture. Fire bad clients, walk away and preserve your integrity.

Trust is everything. Marketing is still a relationship business, one where trust is critical. Trust must be earned every day. Once it’s gone, you’re a step closer to death. Be truthful, candid and trust-worthy.

Product loyalty rules. The best new customer is your current one. Keep them happy and know how to delight them. Build a tribe of advocates. Treasure them, always. That’s your insurance going forward.

Don’t surrender your brand to your audience. While customers are critical, you still need to engage them and give them reasons why your product is best for them. You cannot turn the voice of your brand over to them. They will have their say–– praising you or trashing you, but you need to maintain your voice and be a participant, not an idle bystander.

Narcissism is rampant. The result of living in front of screens is that it can turn each of us into a god. We select what we want to see, when we want to see it, the people in our lives (our tribes), our news feeds (creating our truth bubbles of like-minded points of view), activities and interests are only an app away, and anyone has the potential for fame if something he/she does on the internet goes viral. All of this self-centered control makes it easy to become egomaniacal and tune out the world. Is there anything sadder than seeing a family in a restaurant with each member staring at his/her smartphone? As a marketer, you must appreciate the mindset of your audience and the challenges you face.

Security is an illusion. Once, advertising was one of the few totally mercenary careers. We always knew our existence was predicated on the thin veneer of an account’s relationship with the agency. Now, that’s true of every business. They’re all mercenary. If a quarterly number must be made, bodies will fall. We’re all freelancers. Accept it, embrace it.

More for less only goes so far. While “more for less” is a command all businesses give their suppliers, know that eventually, physics take hold. Lower prices will eventually cost you. To quote Click & Clack of “Car Talk” radio fame, “The stingy man spends the most.” Don’t be stingy.

“No” is often your best defense. You must decide what you’re willing to do and for how little money you’re willing to do it. Someone will always do it for less. ALWAYS! Be fair and charge for the value you bring.

Covering your ass can be dangerous. Playing it safe is risky. Doing things only to maintain status quo often leads to failure. Not having a point of view will eventually convince people you’re adding nothing and are therefore expendable.

Stretch and experiment. One of the beautiful things about analytics is you have the chance to test different concepts and messages. Do so, be bold. Learn, adapt, create, repeat.

What you don’t do is often more important than what you do do. Because there are so many ways to reach people, and, potentially aggravate them, there are many ways to waste money. You need a smart plan and messages designed for your audience.

Fun is in short supply. Our business, all businesses, used to be much more fun. Today, unfortunately, people are overworked, stressed, nervous. That’s why it’s more important than ever to try and have some fun along the way. It’s not brain surgery (unless you’re a brain surgeon).

Meetings can kill progress. All too often, gathering a group of people is the quickest way to dull the edge of ideas, kill momentum, and grind progress to a halt. Only meet when essential, and with a clear and concise outcome expected.

The message is still king. Calling all work content belittles it. Churning out crap is still crap. Most digital films suck because there is no time limitation. What are you trying to say? Say it with some style, and get on with life.

We’re still talking to human beings. If you can’t bring compassion and empathy to your audience, you’re failing. Your first job is humanity. Don’t expect technology to have all the answers. Look within yourself. Once you surrender your humanity, rest assured technology will replace you.

I could go on, but I’ll respect your time and attention–– maybe you have a Manhattan waiting. Cheers, and thanks.

Good creative people are like felines–– always on the prowl, on the hunt for good ideas.

They are curious creatures who thrive on feeding their insatiable curiosities. Curiosity does not kill them, it feeds them. They hunger for knowledge–– as much as they can find.

Exceptional creative people know that the more seeds they plant in their heads, the more likely they are to have a bountiful harvest.

They’re also honest enough to admit there’s no such thing as pure creativity. One cannot create from nothing. You need something bumping into something else, giving the creator the opportunity for rearranging, juggling, and reconnoitering.

Voila! The creative process. From something, something ‘new’ is created. Naturally, creative people want to stock their brains with lots of fertile material.

If you have creative people working on your business and they’re not reviewing all available research or customer background materials, be concerned.

If they’re not researching the industry and your competitors and their campaigns, be afraid.

If they’re not asking questions, start running.

These are surefire signs that you have crappy creative people working on your business. They’re going through the motions and doing business as usual. Their lack of curiosity and exploration will result in lackluster efforts.

Beyond being curious, what determines a good creative person? He or she must be empathetic and interested in the human condition. A good creative person understands the role of marketing communications but from a compassionate and respectful place.

“What’s in it for the consumer?” they ask themselves, then brainstorm to figure out.

I also look for something else in creative people. I want people who have interests beyond marketing–– I like artists, musicians, poets, playwrights, novelists, illustrators, scrapbookers, movie fanatics, bookworms, whatever.

Why? Because an outside creative passion gives them a place to call their own, where they can let their imaginations roam free and feed their appetites, and nurture their souls.

Let’s face it, the marketing world has much more rejection than acceptance for creative people, and I believe it’s important for them to have a patch of mental land to cultivate.

We all need our sanctuaries to stay fresh and recharge.

I believe the rules above apply to all marketing people, and not just those labeled ‘creative.’

Today it’s too easy to insulate yourself, to self-select a tribe of like-minded people and create your bubble of complacency.

That’s not good.

It’s human to want to stretch and be curious, to prod, poke and explore. We all are creators, and if marketers are to succeed, they must understand and nourish the insatiable need within us all to know.

When we filter our messages through our human lenses, we will naturally make them richer and more rewarding for our audiences.

Here’s to staying curious and appreciating humanity. Who’s ready to write some haiku?

I’ve dried the tears from watching last night’s Super Bowl Roman Numeral Something Game, and now I’ll grab a tissue and discuss the commercials that aired in it.

I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow for all 51 spots. That would be too depressing.

But I will say most advertisers pissed their money away. That’s a shame considering thirty seconds fetched a cool five million clams.

Where to begin this analysis? How about the basics–– why advertise in the first place?

The easy answer is to get your product better known. Great, no event brings more eyeballs huddled to screens than the Super Bowl. So, all an advertiser has to do is perform.

Few did. Super Bowl advertising has become the Super Bowl of advertising and every sponsor looks to outdo everyone else. In an effort to do so, many rely on celebrities, stunts (like live commercials!), bold statements, gags, animals, famous music, babies, patriotism, cynicism, etc.

Unfortunately, most of it is not in service of the product that is supposed to be the star of the show. It’s just borrowed interest intended to get buzz for buzz sake.

Which would work if every other sponsor did boring product-centric spots–– but they don’t. It’s spectacle after spectacle after hoopla spectacle.

It’s exhausting. It’s boring.

One of my pick hits of the night was a spot for AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD. Open on a football on the field. A voiceover explains football season will soon be over. A bat wrapped in barbed wire comes violently into frame and deflates the football. The announcer says but a new season of THE WALKING DEAD is coming. Short, sweet, simple, true, relevant.

If you’re a fan of WD, you know that bat is Lucille, badass Negen’s trusted companion for discipline. If you don’t know WD, you may have had your curiosity piqued and wish to tune in and see what’s up with a barbed wire-wrapped bat.

In advertising, this is considered a score.

This spot was probably the cheapest production budget of any that aired last night, but it was rooted in truth and relevance to the product. Something few other spots achieved.

They weren’t all misses. The Kia spot with Melissa McCarthy was a fun ride with a simple message–– Kia has an easy way to care for the environment. The commercial was entertaining and delivered.

The Skittles spot was fun enough. Hardly in the top tier of Skittles commercials, but a worthy entry into the category of showing extreme passion for the candies.

I liked the Terry Bradshaw Tide spot. The commercial was clever and made the simple point that Tide gets stains out. Plus, there was a kicker fifteen-second spot later to refuel its fires. A worthy entry into the ridiculous-lengths-someone-goes-to-for-the-product-benefit category.

The Turbo Tax Humpty Dumpty spot was creepy in an I-can’t-look-away way. I loved the voices and acting. Weird, but sticky and good.

While I loved the technique of the Honda spot, the message seemed irrelevant to the product. Yes, famous people were nerdy and no one in high school knows how they’ll end up, but I don’t think the general public thinks of Honda as the nerd in the back of the class who has suddenly made good.

Do they?

As for all the quasi-political statements, well, they were brave but foolish. I think the nation today is so polarized, so caustic, that the efforts were noble in the abstract and dangerous in practice. Sure, you’ll get buzz for being edgy, but you’re also getting put through the buzzsaw with many people for touching the third rail of politics in the Twenty-First Century.

And, by the way, were any of these messages relevant to the brand message or why someone should buy it?

If you haven’t seen the official popularity scorecard, here it is.

All-in-all, not a great night for Atlanta Falcons fans, or advertising fans.

Where’s the damn Kleenex?!

When I was 23-years-old, I ran away and joined a circus.

I was not a lion tamer, sword swallower, daredevil, roustabout or acrobat. I was the guy in charge of getting all those people seen by as many people as possible.

I was an advance man. I traveled ahead of the show and pimped it hard, living for three weeks at a clip in the cheap motels of the small and medium-sized towns the circus played.

My responsibilities included negotiating all media buys, blanketing the market with paid media (negotiated half cash/half trade for tickets), and arranging promotional media (ticket giveaways), publicity, public relations, and media relations.

I also ordered hay for the elephants and arranged for the cleaning of porta-potties (“donikers” in circus-speak–– toilets mounted on truck flatbeds).

Sounds pretty glamorous, right?

Before I joined the circus, I had been a copywriter at a couple of ad agencies where I learned I wasn’t very good at office politics. I felt a job traveling America promoting a circus would improve my writing chops and be good for my advertising career.

So, was it? Absolutely. (Please, refrain from clown jokes.)

When I returned to the copywriting life after a circus season, agency people looked at me like I had six heads when I told them about my advance man past (I wish I did have six heads–– that would have been a surefire circus attraction, and those extra noggins would have helped in brainstorming ad concepts).

What valuable nuggets did I learn from my big top days?

I learned to be independent. In the circus, I was on my own when I arrived to work a new market. I was always the stranger in town.

Like working on a brand people have never heard of–– we each have to establish our identities.

My calling card was a circus. For some, that held excitement, romance, and adventure. Others viewed me as a sleazy carnie–– someone looking to fleece the locals, pick their pockets, and skip town without paying bills.

Like any aspect of marketing communications, gaining trust was difficult, but critical.

The circus gig taught me a better understanding of people. I was always the outsider, unknown, suspected, and distrusted. I empathized with the suspicions and trepidations of locals and worked to gain their confidence.

In my travels, I learned that every person wants acknowledgment and appreciation for who he or she is.

Geography changed, humanity didn’t.

There are marketers who still haven’t learned this. They want to communicate what they want, not what the audience wants.

I learned the importance of simple, consistent messaging. Because a circus plays limited time engagements, every message had the show dates, location, times, ticket prices and where to buy them.

In marketing, we must remind ourselves what we want our audiences to do, and show them how they can do it.

My best circus dates seemed to be the result of coordinated efforts. I always tried getting local businesses to lend their name to our show with co-op promos. I engaged the local media for performer interviews and participation in circus activities.

Like with social media, I learned it’s important to build a tribe and let them help you spread your good word.

I learned the power of emotional hooks. People remember their first circus. For parents, there’s emotional power in exposing their children to a circus, a four-thousand-year-old art form.

It’s like the pride parents take bringing their children to Disney World. In marketing, emotional drivers beat rational reasons every time.

I also learned there were no sure things.

There were towns where the messaging was strong, clear, and unified, where the P.R. and publicity were incredible, but the crowd sizes were meh.

There wasn’t always a correlation between my efforts expended and the results achieved. Some towns weren’t circus towns, or, maybe the location or dates were bad.

Who knows the problem? Things happen.

The same is true in marketing. Sometimes you can do everything well, and it still doesn’t work.

Learn what you can and move on. It’s best not to obsess over failures. Humans are unpredictable.

The circus I worked for folded its big top last year. And soon Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey will be calling it quits after 146-years.

I suspect some day all circuses will vanish. But I’ll always treasure my circus days–– when I was a mustached stranger in a bad suit, new in town and scrambling to establish trust.

It’s what I’ve been doing ever since for advertisers.

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