guilty

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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Pity today’s chief marketing officer–– given the task of promoting a company or brand to the public. A public with a shrinking attention span who are overworked and over-hyped, and overwrought with fear mongering news stories played 24/7.
 
The CMO has his/her work cut out. But many marketers complicate matters more by doling out assignments and responsibilities to a cavalcade of vendors: the traditional ad agency, digital agency, social agency, design agency, minorities agencies, CRM agency, direct agency, media planning agency, media buying agency, P.R. agency, choose-whatever-flavor-specialty-you-like consultants and so on…
 
These unfortunate marketing souls are trying to build a strong brand by spinning plates with a variety of resources.
 
Every agency/partner/vendor is scrumming for more marketing dollars from the CMO; each vying for more responsibilities and revenue. It’s especially amusing when global network agencies battle each other to beef-up their P&Ls (there’s no “i,” “p” or “l” in “team”).
 
It’s like a brood of children trying to get the attention of their parent. With this eclectic crew of players, the CMO must act as the conductor striving to get the various notes blending beautifully together for harmonious brand messaging.
 
In short, it’s a nightmare.
 
As a creative director, I can attest to the difficulty of keeping brand messages ‘on brand’ within just one office, let alone many offices scattered across times zones. 
 
It’s human nature for every person involved to think and believe that he/she has the answer to every marketing challenge. People come with egos as standard equipment. 
 
And creative people? Creative people create. And they will re-create just to create.
 
All these factors make it a herculean task for the CMO to herd, cultivate and curate a consistent brand message.

So, where to begin? With a small team of brainiacs, ones you trust and like. A group with relevant expertise and proven empathy and understanding of people.

A team with deep digital expertise, not content to rest on the laurels of current analytics, but always pushing to improve scores. And beat those.
 
Working together with your team, map out a game plan. The marketing landscape is cluttered, there are many ways to reach consumers, but not all of them make sense–– and none of them are going to work with crappy messaging.
 
To bastardize a famous quote, “It’s the content, stupid!” Work to make sure the soil is prepared and plant the seeds of success. Then, be ready to improvise because things change.
 
Marketing would be so much easier if only humans were predictable.

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People know the stakes when their show stops for a commercial break, or their magazine article is continued on another page and they must pass advertisements to get to it.

That’s life. Advertising makes media cheaper, and in return, does its best to catch your attention and make the case for why you need the product or service.

It’s quid pro quo. We may not like seeing antacid ads when our tummies are calm, but the brand is banking it can make an impression you’ll remember in the aisle of CVS when it feels like you’ve had a fire appetizer with razor blade entree.

We know and accept the rules of traditional advertising. But pop-up ads and harvesting our digital trails to barrage us with messages based on our searches, that’s a different thing. Our patience wears thin, especially when we’re the ones paying for the data used to assault us.

Subjects that were once of interest suddenly become ravenous packs of annoying digital stalkers, interrupting us in ingenious ways, trying to trick us into going into their vortex of selling.

(click) WHOOPS–– DAMMIT, THAT WAS AN ACCIDENT! GET ME BACK TO THE PREVIOUS PAGE–– FAST!!!

Marketers must consider that the rules are different online. Time moves much slower (do you tolerate slow-loading pages?).

Your patience is much shorter (“get to the point!”).

Messages that use tricks and try to hijack people are hated and resented (what product or service needs that hurdle to leap?)

Be smart when advertising in the traditional media and especially the digital media. Be empathetic, understanding, and decent.

This public service brought to you by Ames Scullin O’Haire Advertising. May we be of service?

Thank you.

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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.

JackNicholson

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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