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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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Our business practices get uglier and uglier.

Witness the recent actions taken by Christian Meunier, the new sales and marketing chief for Nissan in the U.S. AD AGE reported he gathered his team and the brand’s agencies together in a room and told them their work for the company “was shit.”

He gave them a week to make it better. They humped, showed him their efforts, and he still declared it “shit” and demanded more work. Ándale! Ándale!!!

They humped some more and created something that finally satisfied their demanding overlord.

Look, this guy has every right to be upset with his agencies if he doesn’t like the work, but to report his macho man actions to AUTOMOTIVE NEWS (and later AD AGE) is an ugly, cruel, and dare I say, even dickish move. How is that good for anyone’s business?

Nissan’s agencies are publicly shamed. The auto brand is tarnished. And he, he comes off looking like a total jerk on a power play.

Why didn’t he go and give the CMO he replaced a quick one to the crotch and some rabbit punches to the kidney for leading Nissan’s agencies, then approving their “shit work” for the brand?

On the plus side, which Will Burns of Forbes has pointed out, Meunier did not do what most new marketing chiefs do: call for an account review. Then, the incumbent agency gets to jump through rings of fire before being cast into hell, where the poor pathetic bastards can search for the snowball’s chance they had of retaining said business.

Yeah, for not doing that, the guy’s a real prince.

Where’s the empathy, professionalism and decency for one another?

People, our business is tough enough–– can’t we, at least, be civil?

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For nine years, he gave me hope for our business.

“The Most Interesting Man In The World” campaign for Dos Equis is my favorite on air and has been since its introduction. But the client/agency recently announced they are taking The Most Interesting Man out back and burying him.

Sending him to Mars, actually, so we won’t be regaled with his tales of infinite interestingness.

I don’t always cry in my beer, but when I do, I prefer to cry into Dos Equis.

The brand says the campaign will continue with a younger “Most Interesting Man In The World”–– good luck with that. It’s not like finding a comic to occupy Col. Sander’s white suit. We’re talking a legend here!

Are they killing the elder Most Interesting Man because the actor Jonathan Goldsmith is 77? Is this pure ageism? Does the brand think millennials can’t connect with an elder statesman?

Someone tell Bernie Sanders–– the kids are faking feeling the Bern.

Does anyone recall Bartles and Jaymes? Hal Riney created the top wine cooler brand with a couple of old farts on a porch and sold millions of gallons of the stuff for Gallo.

Still, The Most Interesting Man In The World is getting canned and will be replaced by a newer model. It’s a sad day in adland.

While he pimped the brand, TMIMITW put up some impressive stats: Dos Equis sales almost tripled, and case sales were up 10% last year, plus the dude became a pop icon, internet meme, boss daddy god.

And for these successes, he got two in the skull.

The beautiful thing about the campaign was this: it could have been for just about any brand. You can debate this point, but the reason the effort succeeded was that it knew it was b.s. from the beginning. The campaign wasn’t rooted in the product (he could have worked for many products), but he became the embodiment of what the brand became. It was brilliant writing, casting and execution, played straight with the ultimate humble, truthful and disarming almost-but-not-quite-call-to-action, “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.”

No talk of barley, hops, artesian craftsmen or bespoke brew. Just a man we loved because he was better than us and always will be.

I don’t think for a minute he’ll be growing potatoes on Mars. He’s dead, but like The Swedish Bikini Team, he will live on in pop culture and our memories.

Howard Gossage said, “People don’t read ads, they read what interests them. And sometimes that happens to be an ad.” The same is true of commercials–– we’ll watch what’s interesting. And The Most Interesting Man In The World was pretty damned interesting. He will be missed.

Stay thirsty, my friends.

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Everyone agrees that most advertising today is pretty damn awful. It’s boring, cliched, sophomoric, confusing, insulting, moronic, self-serving, and pointless. And that’s on good days.

Why is that, how does advertising get so bad?

Was it the strategy? Was the communications objective bogus–– wishful thinking based on “hoping” for desired action?

Was the account management team to blame? Did they not speak up and engage in vigorous discussions because they were more interested in having ‘good meetings’ and kumbaya client interactions? Were they afraid to be consumer advocates?

Was it the creative team’s fault? Were creative people more interested in doing something wild just to be different rather than creating something that would engage consumers? Were they lazy and created unexciting, expected work easy to ignore?

Was it the media team? Was the work seen in all the wrong places by all the wrong people at all the worst times?

Was it the clients who screwed the pooch? Did they force an unrealistic expectation for the work based more on corporate objectives than consumer need? Did they strangle the life out of a concept to avoid controversy (or being noticed)?

It could be any of those, some of them, and yes, sometimes all of the above.

Think about it. Call “B.S.” when you see trouble brewing. Discuss and work it out.

We all have a responsibility to the public we’re seeking attention from. And let’s all remember the wise words of Sgt. Phil Esterhaus of “Hill Street Blues”––

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Yesterday, I was talking with my business partners about the state of marketing communications today (yes, we’re that boring), and one partner made the astute observation that brand advertising is like religion–– you either believe in it, or you don’t.

Some people don’t believe brand advertising works anymore. It’s a dinosaur, dead, obsolete. They believe in science, the wonders of numbers–– metrics, measurements, and hard data.

These marketers think there must always be a stimulus-response mechanism. Or, they sincerely believe they can engage consumers on social media about their product or service and people will gladly spread the good word to others.

It’s a nice fantasy, and sometimes people will do what you want––if you have a truly unique and wonderful offering, or you give them an incentive, but the average human has better things to do than perform your marketing for you.

To bastardize Mark Twain, the reports of brand advertising’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

Yes, we’re beyond the shooting fish in the barrel days when there were only three networks and a handful of publications enabling a marketer to reach the mass of humanity.

Now, the media buffet is endless, and every day it seems the menu is expanded.

That said, smart and empathetic messages served to the right audience at the right time still have power. Brand advertising that gives people a good reason to consider a product on an emotional or rational level still works in the mass media.

And let’s face it, how many brands became famous without brand advertising?

Yes, sisters and brothers, listen as I preach from the pulpit. I ask you to believe, I WANT you to believe–– believe in the powers of brand advertising! Our industry is evolving, devolving, morphing before our very eyes, but do not underestimate the incredible powers of great brand advertising.

And if you’ll contribute to the collection plate going around, we’ll be happy to help you in your mission of spreading your word.

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Author and philosopher king Kurt Vonnegut was a master of empathy. He understood, appreciated and valued the human condition.

He knew the sadness fate can deal. As a young man, his mother committed suicide on Mother’s Day 1944. As a soldier, he was a prisoner of war who survived the firebombing that destroyed Dresden (read “Slaughterhouse-Five”). His sister Alice died of cancer within hours of her husband’s death in a train crash.

That’s a lot of tragedy for a young man to bear, but Vonnegut did and became a student of humanity adopting a Zen-like acceptance of all that life deals.

“So it goes,” he wrote. And so it went.

Like all great artists, he explored what it means to live and how we get through our days. He said, “A plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit.” And so he did.

One of his ongoing themes was the challenge of battling loneliness. He counseled, “Many people need desperately to receive this message: I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.”

He also asked, “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”

Vonnegut knew people craved connection. He preached the need for extended families. He felt a nuclear family alone couldn’t provide enough love for what humans demand.

“There is love enough in this world for everybody, if people will just look,” he said.

He had said all these wise things before there was such a thing as social media that made it easy for people to connect. Now we live with social media monkeys on our backs, but that is hardly the true connection we need.

It’s human nature to want to connect and share. Keep that in mind when creating your marketing materials. Are you providing something of value, or simply serving yourself?

Vonnegut believed we needed to share our experiences. He also said, “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion . . . I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.”

In closing, here are a few more Vonnegut quotes to live by: “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”

“I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.”

“Maturity is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter could be said to remedy anything.”

“There’s only one me, and I’m stuck with him.”

“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

“If you want to really hurt you parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.

“Science is magic that works.”

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.”

“Until you die… it’s all life.”

And now, a few words from the master of empathy on stories. Enjoy.

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