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Last night was the big game for advertisers, the most eyeballs all year on screens anxious to watch commercials during the Super Bowl.

Companies paid five million bucks for thirty seconds of real estate, and sad to say, most flushed their money down the toilet.

Never before has so much been invested for so much borrowed interest and attention deficit spending. It was an endless parade of celebrities and iconic songs and huge production value computer generated razz-a-ma-tazz, which all added up to little.

I’m not snarky here. I’m honest. Was this the best our industry could do? Renting someone else’s fame, borrowing their popularity for a lame joke and slapping a logo on it? Apparently so. That was the formula for the majority of spots.

It’s a sad commentary on the state of advertising.

Where were the spots investing in an idea, elevating a brand? There were a few–– Persil laundry detergent and the Colgate ‘don’t waste water’ spot come to mind, but these were hardly great moments in advertising. Just simple messages that had some product relevance.

I haven’t looked for the USA TODAY scorecard this morning. I will, but it won’t change my opinion of what I saw last night. The spots had little humanity, empathy, or relevance to the products; it was depressing. It made me wonder if corporate America’s marketing was more focused on social channels.

That’s small change for a five million dollar investment, not to mention production costs.

Fortunately, there was a pretty great football game being played, to cleanse the mental palate of the awful commercials.

Now I’ll read USA TODAY and see how wrong I am.

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Super Bowl Sunday is four days away, and scads of brands will be ponying up a cool five million clams to advertise in the game.

That tab is just for the time. Not the production. Not the agency fees. Not the production markups. Not the talent and residuals.

You get the drift–– it’s a buttload of money. Which begs the question, is it worth it? I think so, especially if you have something worth saying or seeing or sharing.

But if you’ve noticed, the hoopla about the ads is not as strong this year as in past ones. Advertisers used to ‘leak’ their Super Bowl spots early to generate some buzz. Now those that do, barely get a vibration, let alone buzz.

News flash–– my son just informed me that KFC will be introducing a new Col. Sanders. Well, that’s big news, and a brave client to change the actor playing its iconic spokesman for the third time, ON PURPOSE!

It takes something out of the ordinary to get attention these days, and the venue of the Super Bowl is as big as our marketing game gets. There will be lots of talk after the game critiquing the spots. USA TODAY owns the popularity polling for SB spots.

Super Bowl Sunday is four days away, and scads of brands will be ponying up a cool five million clams to advertise in the game.

That tab is just for the time. Not the production. Not the agency fees. Not the production markups. Not the talent and residuals.

You get the drift–– it’s a buttload of money. Which begs the question, is it worth it? I think so, especially if you have something worth saying or seeing or sharing.

But if you’ve noticed, the hoopla about the ads is not as strong this year as in past ones. Advertisers used to ‘leak’ their Super Bowl spots early to generate some buzz. Now those that do, barely get a vibration, let alone buzz.

News flash–– my son just informed me that KFC will be introducing a new Col. Sanders. Well, that’s big news, and a brave client to change the actor playing its iconic spokesman for the third time, ON PURPOSE!

It takes something out of the ordinary to get attention these days, and the venue of the Super Bowl is as big as our marketing game gets. There will be lots of talk after the game critiquing the spots. USA TODAY owns the popularity polling for SB spots.

As for me, I refuse to look at sneak peeks or press about the spots that will air (except for my son’s text dispatch). I want to see all the commercials with virgin eyes and in their environment, one right after another–– customers plunking down five million bucks for thirty seconds of a Hail Mary pass for attention.

It’s going to be a dogfight, but of this I’m sure–– the best spots will be the ones that make an empathetic human connection, jab a funny bone or tap our emotional wells. And the worst ones will insult our intelligence and stink of flop sweat and desperation.

You’ve got to love this game.

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My last post was about what makes a bad client. Here’s the flip side: the traits and characteristics that make agency people get weak-kneed and googly eyed.

Honesty. Good clients have no B.S. If they don’t like an idea, they kill it and tell you why. If they see potential in an idea, they help make it better. They set clear expectations and expect you to live up to them. They avoid ambiguity–– the deadly quicksand of the communications biz.

Intelligent. Great clients know their stuff. They know the product, their corporate politics, the competitive environment, and the cultural landscape. They are curious, interested and interesting, and want to absorb the world. They ask questions, enjoy vigorous discussions and are passionate about the potential of great ideas.

Trusting. The best clients give trust when the agency earns it. They don’t micro-manage. They expect a lot and are happy to provide more responsibility if merited.

Creative. Terrific clients are open-minded. They do not take problems at face value, they explore options and appreciate different perspectives. Their goal is to create something fresh, exciting and rewarding.

Empathetic. Empathy is the critical trait that allows a client (or any human) to make connections. Unfortunately, today empathy is experiencing a global shortage. But the best clients have it. They understand the pressures of the business and the mindset of their consumers. They are intuitive to their wants and needs and know where their product or service can help.

Collaborative. Wonderful clients want to be involved. They interact with the team, ask questions, help shape direction. They love bringing ideas to life and take pride in doing so.

Loyalty. When clients see the value their agencies add, they remain loyal. Like any good relationship, you never want the good thing to end.

Appreciative. Great clients, the one’s that agencies will kill for, are demanding but appreciative. They push us to be our best and enjoy the process of creating work that matters. They’re not dictatorial; they enjoy healthy debate and differing points of view. And at the end of the slog, when the scrumming’s done and the ball’s advanced, they show gratitude and appreciation for all involved. And we raise a glass in their honor.

If this sounds like you, please, please, PLEASE call me. Let’s make some magic together. Thanks.

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The adage goes that clients get the advertising they deserve. While I don’t believe that’s always true, I do know some clients make it hard to do good work on their behalf.

What makes a client bad? Here’s a grab bag of traits.

Bullying. Just because you pay your ad agency, it shouldn’t entitle you to abuse it. Don’t threaten your team, pitch temper tantrums and act like they’re your enemy. This business works best when it’s collaborative and constructive. Trying to motivate through fear ensures you will not get their best thinking or your best results.

Mollycoddling. Being too nice and protective isn’t good, either. If there are ghosts in your corporate machine, tell us, so we know where the land mines are. If your agency disappoints, let people know. If you don’t like an idea, kill it. Now! Don’t let the poor thing suffer, being revised into oblivion then dying of neglect. Be candid, forthright. If you’re not, you’re wasting your time and your money. Our business is hard and the only way we’ll get better is by understanding your expectations. Marketing is a communications business. Please, communicate.

Fearful. Ever tried to drive by only looking in the rearview mirror? Fear blinds clients who only look to past successes in determining what to do in the future. There are no certainties, and if history has shown anything, it’s that blockbuster campaigns are different. So should you willy nilly toss the dice? No. But you should be open to the new thinking and trust your gut. If your only criteria for grading work is checking boxes based on the past or sanitizing the life out of a creative idea for fear of it offending someone, chances are you’re not doing anything great. Be brave, and encourage your agency not to be afraid to make you nervous.

Unaccountable. One of the worst things a client can do is being absent in the creative process and deflecting responsibility. Marketers who take a hands-off Teflon approach to their agencies because they don’t want to be held accountable are irresponsible. Ad agencies want to help, want to succeed, but we can’t do it alone. And it’s disheartening when we sense our client is intentionally absent, or only there to throw us under the bus. We need an active partner. You.

These are bad traits for clients or any businessperson, including ad agency people. I’d love to hear from clients–– what makes ad agency people bad?

Unload! If I don’t hear any, I may have to write a post on that subject.

Thanks.

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Ads have always been viewed with skepticism. Claims taken with grains of salt.

Then, people began trusting social media, online reviews and word of mouth. But that’s changing as more and more truths (alleged “unbiased” opinions) are found to be sponsored (“shills”–– the technical term).

It’s amazing the glowing reviews you can get when you pay for them.

And recently the FTC lowered the boom on native ads, those editorial-looking puff pieces that blend seamlessly into journalistic environments cloaking themselves as unbiased endorsements.

And now, in our money-fueled political season, politicians preach their truths that if the Pinocchio syndrome took effect, would shatter our TV screens and blind us all.

But it doesn’t matter. The audience self-selects its news portals, where talking heads support and reaffirm pre-existent points of view.

We don’t consume media to learn, we consume media to confirm our beliefs.

The internet has made it easy to find whatever flavor belief you want. Conspiracy theories abound–– you’re always a couple clicks from support of any hair-brained notion imaginable. As Abraham Lincoln famously said, “You can’t believe everything you read on the internet.”

This is our marketing environment. This is the mindset of consumers. Each of us is master of his/her domain, certain of some things, confused and distracted by many others, and time-crushed and too harried to root out the facts (if that’s even possible).

So, what’s it mean to you, marketer?

It means you’d better make sure your messaging is empathetic to a skeptical, yet certain mindset.

Make sure your story is worth telling, and told well. And, that it can withstand our notion of truth–– whatever the hell truth is.

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In 1904, Canadian adman John E. Kennedy coined the term “salesmanship in print” to describe advertising.

Over a century later, people plying the trade resist calling what we do as advertising, let alone salesmanship.

And print? Well, everyone knows that print’s dead, right?

Over the years, our industry has done its best to distance itself from the idea of selling–– it seems so pushy, so blatant, so crass.

At its worst, advertising and marketing is just that. We interrupt and hump the legs of innocents until they’re black and blue.

But if we’re smart, if we’ve done a good job of analyzing who may have a genuine need for our product or service, and if we craft a compelling case that’s rooted in empathy and understanding presented in ways that are educational, entertaining, enriching, interesting and potentially beneficial to our audience, well aren’t we doing good?

I think so. Which is why it’s so aggravating to see so much work today that has no reason for being, no message, no benefit. It’s just marketers talking to themselves in public channels.

What an incredible waste of the public’s time and the marketer’s money.

Let’s bring dignity back to our craft. Sell well.

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Forget diet and exercise, this year I’m resolving to become a better person and more effective adman. Maybe you, too, can benefit from adhering to my resolutions.

1. Talk less, listen more. You learn nothing when you speak.
2. Don’t jump to conclusions. Past actions may lead to predictable outcomes, but the present is made fresh daily, where randomness and chaos are as natural as air.
3. Be more generous. Know that when you give you get.
4. Patience. I used to say, “I can’t wait until I learn patience.” A good joke, but a bad way to live. Things do work out. Always. Eventually.
5. Relinquish control. The firmer you grasp, the more slippery and more tentative your hold. Control is an illusion and one that will lead to frustration.
6. Do more. Rather than dream, do. It’s a simple way to learn what works and what doesn’t.
7. Respect all. It’s easy to be a jerk and look down on others, but you know nothing of them, their struggles, their challenges. Practice compassion and may it be returned.
8. Embrace failure. You don’t have to like it, but you can always learn from it.
9. Communicate better. You can trace 99% of all problems to poor communications. Be clear.
10. Smile more. Seriously, lighten up. It’s all good.

Oh, and eat right and exercise, too. Can’t hurt.

Here’s to a healthy, prosperous and happy 2016!

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Once upon a time, we had time.

Time to talk, ask questions, discuss, debate and illuminate.

Time to think, contemplate and cogitate.

Time to create–– blue-sky-spitball-creativity-run-amok-free-for-all-idea-moshpit-brawl.

Time to share ideas, poke and probe, refine and revise.

Time to produce–– unleash new creativity, energy and artistry.

Time to craft: nip, tuck, compose and score.

Time to finish, polish and perfect.

Once upon a time, we had time.

Now, we have deadlines that creep ever closer, timelines clipped–– chasing the present.

It’s time to stop. Time to breathe deeply. Time to look around at everything competing for our ever-shrinking attention spans.

Time to witness the proliferation of messaging everywhere–– 99.9% of it so easily ignored.

Time to say, “Couldn’t we do better, if we took more time?”

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It was a brilliant move, but also a depressing one.

Miller High Life announced that in December, in key markets, it will be re-airing three spots from its “High Life Man” campaign that ran in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

It’s a smart move because the spots are from an incredible campaign that wrapped itself beautifully in the mindset of its audience: regular guys.

It is the epitome of an empathetic campaign demonstrating wit, understanding and a compassionate point of view. The stuff great advertising has always done.

So, why is it depressing? Because seeing these wonderful spots magnifies the fact that so much contemporary advertising is weak and disposable.

Too much work today strives to be hip and ironic for the sake of being hip and ironic. It has little relevance to the product and doesn’t connect with the intended consumer.

It’s just there, occupying time and space. Just because. Most messages on TV are easily ignored because they are soulless.

Too many marketers spend way too much time, energy and efforts on stunts (witness this Microsoft spot) and publicity grabs–– hoping buzz will suffice for genuine marketing thinking.

Sigh.

It’s enough to make a guy reach for a High Life.

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When it comes to marketing, everyone’s a damn expert.

Why not? We’re all consumers–– we know what we like and we love expressing our opinions about ads that are good and ads that suck.

Companies know themselves very well–– their objectives, their internal politics, their daily realities. So naturally, many of them think they can market themselves. They bring their marketing resources inside to save money, reduce turnaround time and ensure messaging consistency.

Makes sense, right?

In theory, yes. In practice, no.

Clients who market themselves do an excellent job of navigating smoothly through internal politics and getting corporate bulletproof ideas out to the public–– where they’re met with indifference and are ignored.

Why? Because clients are people, and we all have blind spots. When you live in a bubble you can’t see your world clearly.

Clients who market themselves create work for internal audiences, where everyone knows the corporate objectives. The same work has no external impact because it didn’t take into account what consumers think and feel. Or, because the work is a logical expression for consumer behavioral changes to meet corporate goals.

If only people would comply.

Companies need an outside expert. Someone who knows the public, is empathetic and understanding of their needs, and has a proven track record of creating motivating work. The best relationships are open, honest and respectful, but not toadying.

Clients do not need a mirror, they need a light to illuminate truth.

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