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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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At many ad agencies, the most creative work people do is composing their time sheets.

I once worked at at an agency that billed in six-minute increments. I was never good at math, or thinking in a linear manner, so my calculations were wild ass guesstimates. At best.

Sometimes ideas happen in a snap, and sometimes they require the gestation period of a wildebeest.

The more I worked in agencies, the more I saw they liked banging the ol’ billable hours. The worst thing you could do was doing your job too fast (not much profit in that).

And if you billed too many hours, the poor account person had to figure out how to bury them or slather the overage on to other jobs. More creativity!

It’s a shell game that became even worse when procurement departments began negotiating ad agency compensation. Blended hourly rates became critical for selecting agencies (it works when looking at per unit costs of pencils, right?). So naturally, agencies have experienced heavy hitters on pitch teams, and when they win, a crew of juniors man the oars to keep expenses down.

A profitable billing machine is launched–– high margins, ho!

A Fortune 100 client told me that at the end of every quarter, his big intergalatic agency would bring him large binders of time sheets demanding an increase in fees, as justified by all the extra hours worked. The client countered that the additional hours were because new agency people were constantly cycling on to his account, and some people just didn’t understand the business. The account head pointed to the thick tome of time sheets and cried his case.

It drove the client nuts, but his company eventually blinked and the agency ante was continually upped.

The founders of Ames Scullin O’Haire Advertising saw how the game was played and decided not to play. We thought clients would hire us for our thinking, our work, not the time it took us to do the voodoo we do.

So, we decided not to keep time sheets–– and we’ve never gotten into tussles over money. We talk openly with our clients and get an understanding of what’s needed. Then, we put a price on deliverables. It’s up to us how we get the job done. Inefficiency doesn’t work for our benefit, or our clients.

And we don’t have separate parasitic profit centers of different disciplines looking for a receptive host to feast upon. Clients get what they need, not what the holding company needs

We’re beholden to no one but our clients.

We believed that if communications are good, it’s in everyone’s best interest to be efficient. If our thinking is smart, if we deliver empathetic messages that motivate, clients becomes a heroes and we continue cashing checks (it’s a beautiful thing, capitalism).

No one argues a rising sales curve. Which beats the hell out of arguing over billable hours.

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I’m a reluctant entrepreneur.

When I worked for others, I collected paychecks at a slew of agencies across America–– everything from a two-person shop, to the world’s largest agency under one roof. I worked at industrial B2B shops, retail shops, creative hot shops and package good shops. Bureaucratic shops, dictatorial shops.

I was crappy at office politics. Too much the stubborn Irishman.

My agency travels taught me that our business attracts smart, talented people. But talent often comes with petty infighting, neurotic behavior and insecurity running amuck.

The enemy was us. But clients, clients I understood.

I empathized with them. Client issues with work were usually based on fear of failure. We creative people were potential land mines to CMO careers. If our thinking was self-serving, creative for creative’s sake, we were dangerous.

But if we created work that connected with a client’s audience–– work that worked, work that engaged, informed and entertained, sales would go up, clients would be heroes and we’d all live another day.

No one argues a sales curve going north.

Yes, clients were easily understood, but agency people? Not so much. There were too many psychologically damaged souls, Shakespearean characters ranting on the peat. Turf wars, petty battles, pin cushion backstabbing.

So, in 1997, I helped form a new agency. One where strategy, media, and creative people played together nicely, working directly with clients to solve real marketing challenges.

We kept drama low, passion high, and worked toward making good things happen. Beholden not to office politics, but to the client’s sales curve.

That was almost 18 years ago. This business has changed a lot since then. Now we do what we always did, plus a slew of new media and new tricks.

But one thing hasn’t changed. We’re still communicating with human beings. And until they change, we believe empathy and creativity will be the keys to any marketing success.

So that’s what we’re about–– connecting with people.

That, and not acting like an ad agency.

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You’d think social media would bring people together, and it does–– often as an angry mob.

Sadly, cyber-bullying is a rampant problem for teens. Trolls are common online, and rage spouts and spews ugliness everywhere.

What’s become of polite society? It’s usually there face to face, but in the digital world, many people sharpen daggers, drop their manners and let emotions fly. We unload, click, unload, click and unload some more.

Everyone’s a critic and we’re anxious to criticize. We insulate ourselves by traveling in the same political/religious/societal packs. We have our support network. Our crew. Our mob.

We curate perfect digital lives on Facebook for our friends. “Amber scored the winning goal, we’re so proud of her incredible achievements. We’re going to have to build supports for her trophy shelf–– she’s collecting awards so fast and it’s just a matter of time until she wins a Pulitzer and Nobel Peace Prize…”

What’s this behavior show? It shows each of us is the hero of our own movies. It shows that given a megaphone, we demand to be heard. It demonstrates that many of us are sharks and will attack at a whiff of blood. It shows that pettiness is easy, and resisting the urge to pass judgment is difficult.

Sorry, that was judgmental. Forgive me. Or slam me.

For marketers, online behavior means this: the conversation is not yours. You can try initiating it, but you cannot control it. And trying to control it is brand suicide.

Social media is a bitch because for some reason, digital people often lose their empathy with technology. Social media can become a toxic caustic battlefield.

Be advised, marketers, and be careful out there.

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This ad is the reason I’m in advertising.

As a kid, the Doyle Dane Bernbach Volkswagen campaign was a sensation. People talked about VW ads like they were beloved children. The funny looking German cars began popping up everywhere. Kids played “punch-bug” for kicks. Hey, we were easily amused and video games were a long way off–– thanks technology for failing our generation.

What caused the VW ad sensation?

Honesty, pure and simple.

In an age of overblown bullshit advertising, the Volkswagen campaign was surprisingly different. It had a human voice–– not some bombastic bore spouting superlatives while thumping his chest, like all other car ads.

VW was humble, contrite and told its story about why it did what it did building its funny-looking cars, and why that might possibly be of interest to people in the market for reliable, sensible transportation.

To bastardize a favorite Raymond Chandler line, VW’s ads stood out “like a tarantula on a wedding cake.”

Does truth still work? Yes. Witness Dominos re-launch of its brand a couple years back, the current Arby’s work and Newcastle Brown Ale.

There’s drama in truth. We connect with those who admit flaws. It’s human to like underdogs.

Truth is like listening to vinyl, it has warmth because of its imperfections. Regular ads are like CDs, there is a shrill harshness to their perfection.

The truth may not always set you free, but it usually warrants attention.

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Millennials are now the largest generation, 75 million strong, and people seem miffed by them.

They’re curious as to what makes them tick. Or tick differently than other generations.

Are millennials more self-obsessed, apathetic, rambunctious, immature, egocentric, politically inactive, ambitious, unrealistic, liberal, socially inept, adventurous, spoiled, disrespectful, techno savvy, delusional, naive, angry, intelligent, narcissistic, conservative, creative, depressed, industrious, sexually active, relationship adverse, and so on and so on and so on?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Depends.

Millennials are human beings, and like all humans, they seek attention and acceptance. They want to be recognized. And heard. And understood. And appreciated.

They fear loneliness, they seek connection, they crave love.

They can never get enough love–– who can?

In other words, millennials are like the humans who made them, and the ones that made them, and those who made them, and so on and so on and so on.

So, what’s the trick for successfully marketing to millennials? Shhh–– here it is: respecting them and their time, and giving them something of value in return for it.

Remember when you were millennial-age? Isn’t that what you wanted?

(Isn’t it what you still want?)

It’s not a mystery. They are not an alien life force. Understand and empathize with millennials. Realize and appreciate that they have more distractions than ever, and more ways of being distracted.

They’re doing their job. You do yours.

Respect your audience and reward them.

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