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My wife and I were late to the “Mr. Robot” train, the USA Network program that’s the buzz hit of Summer.

So, we went to our XFINITY On Demand section (we pay Comcast a small fortune for this forest of entertainment). We found Mr. Robot: episode one, and hit PLAY.

A title informed us the program would contain commercials that couldn’t be fast forwarded or skipped. We were a captured audience.

The show began. It was captivating, fresh, unlike anything else on TV–– yes, yes, yes–– AND STOP! Commercial break.

A spot for a medicine that treats an ailment neither of us has. Apparently, the people taking this drug lead active, healthy lives and are ecstatic. Good for them.

Let’s get back to “Mr. Robot”… WAIT!

Another commercial, for a luxury car. Beautiful, shiny sheet metal driven by impossibly attractive people on wet streets at night. An announcer recited some gibberish (probably verbatim from the creative brief). The gorgeous couple smiled and exited the car as a crowd of pathetic fools looked on, miserable with envy. Super: logo, inane tagline.

Back to “Mr. Robot”!!! NOPE.

We had to watch another drug ad. We didn’t have that ailment either, but the people who take the miracle drug live very happy lives (maybe I’ll ask my doctor about the drug whose name looks like a bad Scrabble tray–– nah).

Mr. Robot finally returned, for a bit. THEN, there was another commercial break, and guess what? The exact same commercials played again.

So it went. Scraps of fresh and engaging “Mr. Robot” doled out, followed by the same boring commercials we’d seen. Over and over again.

By the end of this ordeal, I went to the iTunes Store and bought the other “Mr. Robot” episodes without commercial interruption. I vow NEVER to buy the luxury car or those medicines who sponsored our forced On Demand showing.

Those stupid advertisers paid money to get me to hate their products.

Be smart, marketers, media buyers. Just because you have a captured audience, you don’t have the right to torture them by showing the same spots repeatedly.

Maybe I’ll be like Mr. Robot and hack those companies who forced me to watch their crappy spots…

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Once, adgods Bill Bernbach, David Ogilvy, Mary Wells Lawrence, Leo Burnett and Howard Gossage walked the Earth.

These legends went belly-to-belly with CEOs and captains of industry, people with visions. The ad gurus were trusted advisors who built brands with insightful, empathetic and smart ad campaigns. Iconic campaigns that built companies, fueled economic growth and greased the wheels of capitalism.

“All aboard the gravy train express!”

Today, most big companies are run by financial specialists who forecast profits and cut expenses to make their projected numbers, pleasing Wall Street analysts and investors, and earning the corporate leaders lucrative stock options and incentive bonuses.

The vision of business today lasts one quarter… to the next.

When the company projections are determined, the dictate comes down from on high to marketing. The CMO is like Scotty in the engine room of The Enterprise as the command comes from the bridge: “We need more sales and marketshare with less marketing dollars. Get more for less!”

“It can’t be done, captain,” the CMO says (in a bad Scottish accent).

“Make it so!” the order is barked.

“Aye aye, captain,” the dejected CMO says. He/she then picks up the phone to deliver the order to his/her ad agency(ies).

What happened? Marketing is the Rodney Dangerfield in most corporations: it gets no respect, and is often looked at as an expense rather than an investment.

Why? Because number crunchers can easily see that eight is more than seven. Answers are obvious in fiscal black and white. But marketers deal in gray areas of motivating people, which is more art than science, so they’re viewed as snake oil salesmen believing their ideas will translate into gold.

No wonder many CMOs today are seduced by numbers, enamored with the science of analytics, and put stock in wishful thinking like turning their brands over to social media.

Unfortunately, marketing only gets results by changing human behavior. And that, that is rarely a black and white issue. Because people can be, well, damn complicated.

Remember the wisdom of Bill Bernbach: “We are so busy measuring public opinion that we forget we can mold it. We are so busy listening to statistics we forget we can create them.”

Let’s stimulate imaginations, make connections, motivate action and earn some respect.

The main casino floor of the City of Dreams is one of the largest in Macau.

Money down, hands up! Today marketers have more ways than ever to place their bets on how best to reach potential consumers.

And everyone is looking for the sure thing. We all want that repeatable winner, the slot machine that always pays. The bet that’s a lock. That surefire invest $1.00, get $1.87 return. Bam! Sweet, let’s do this.

Who doesn’t like easy money? If only it were that simple. There are no sure bets.

Your market, your potential market, has countless ways to be reached and communicated with–– some more efficient than others. But they’re all just pipelines to people. And just because you can reach them there, should you? More importantly, what are you giving them? What’s your story, why should they care, what’s in it for them?

Face it, we’re all selfish. We want things that make our lives better, richer, more fulfilling and enjoyable. We want problems solved, curiosities satisfied, needs met, passions fulfilled.

We want what we want–– how exactly does your product or service fit in?

Basic, right? Yet so many CMOs today are looking for sure bets, that magic media delivery channel to an audience they believe is itching to buy whatever they’re selling. They put their faith in the science of technology, the fad of the new, forgetting the art of communicating with empathy, understanding and humanity.

It’s delusional marketing thinking. In their desire to build a better mousetrap, they forget that mice can think. And mice never, ever think of themselves as rodents.

So, what’s your cheese, marketer? What’s your cheese?

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After almost 18 years of being a partner in Ames Scullin O’Haire Advertising, the most surprising thing I’ve found is the number of clients who are in miserable relationships with their agencies.

In fact, a recent Chief Marketing Officer survey showed only 33% were happy with their relationships. Which leaves 67% unhappy–– but staying put.

I’ve heard the complaints: “my agency is too slow”… “too expensive”… “doesn’t know my business”… “isn’t creative”… “is unresponsive”… “isn’t strategic”… “has juniors cutting their teeth on my account”… “just wants to rack up billable hours”… “only cares about their P & L”… “just wants to win creative awards”… “doesn’t know new media”… “nickel and dimes me to death”… “doesn’t understand my customers”… “is always trying to sell more services”… “doesn’t understand our corporate goals”… “only cares about paying its global holding company”… and on and on and on.

Still, these miserable marketers remain loyal to their whipping children. Why? I’ve heard their response many times: “The devil I know is better than the devil I don’t.”

It doesn’t make any sense. With that outlook, no matter what you do, you’re still in hell.

My advice to those two-thirds of CMOs in unhappy relationships? Test drive another agency. One that’s done work you like, with people you like. Give them a real project, not some branding assignment jump ball (AKA: “come-play-the-let’s-get-lucky-lottery”).

Be totally open and brutally honest. See how the agency operates under real world conditions. If they’re as good as they say they are (we all say we’re fantastic, right?), then give them some more work.

Or, give them a shot at your whole business. You may not find immediate salvation, but al least you’ll escape the hell of the devil you know.

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It’s not often when an ad agency gets to be a client, but there we were years ago–– the partners of Ames Scullin O’Haire Advertising in the market for an architect to help us plan our new office space.

A friend in the office furniture business gave me three recommendations for great architects, and we scheduled meetings. Each firm brought a small team and a portfolio of projects. The architects took us through samples of their work. Some we liked, some we didn’t.

Each firm explained their process. Our eyes glazed over. What did we know about architectural process? What did we care? We wanted their great ideas and designs, well-executed, on budget and delivered on time.

Finally, every firm expressed its sincere desire to work with us. The lapdogs were licking our faces.

It all felt familiar. So depressingly familiar.

Architecture, like advertising, is a service business. Our produced work is our wares, and judging work is subjective, dependent on the tastes of the audience. Results are nice, but results will not trump a person’s visceral reaction to the work. As for process, process is our business. The people who hire may ask about process, but does anyone make her/his decision based on process?

Doubtful. They want your magic, and process simply tells them your tricks can de replicated.

As for enthusiasm in starting a relationship working together, well, that’s a given for service firms. Of course we want to work together–– that’s how we earn money (and money comes in very handy when you’re running a business).

So how do we make decisions selecting a service partner? By gut instinct. Do you like the people? Have they provided services you think are valuable? Are you confident they’ll be there when you need them? Do you believe they’ll give their all for you? Do you trust them?

Those are intangibles, chemistry. But they’re the stew we use to make our decision.

All three of the architects we met with were terrific. We selected the firm we felt would give us the most attention when there were bumps in the road, because well, there are always bumps.

We chose wisely. They were great partners and we love the space they designed.

Our experience drove home how difficult it is to sell a service. The buyer doesn’t know how good the service will be until the firm is hired and test driven. Until then, all we have is our past performance, process, face-licking and our ability to make a human connection.

And that last criterion is critical. In fact, no matter what your business, you better be able to make a human connection, because when things go south, technology won’t ease anger and frustration.

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Before social media, people watched the TV shows they liked. If you tuned-in and didn’t find it amusing seeing Hillbillies in Beverly Hills, you changed the channel. If you didn’t like watching a soap opera with pretty people in a hospital E.R., you didn’t watch it.

But today, there is the phenomenon of hate-watching–– willfully viewing something you don’t like just so you can bitch about it and be snarky in social media. What’s up with this?

I confess, I’ve engaged in this practice. I hate-watched my way through the second half of the second season of True Detective, then posted my sly criticisms on the Facebook playground where other hate-watchers joined the feeding frenzy. We chased this show like it was our white whale, throwing harpoons and riding it to the horizon until it died.

What did this say about us? Nothing good.

It said we were cultural bullies, trying to win favor with others with our clever, snide barbs.

What does it tell marketers about doing business in the social media age? It says now everyone has a voice and a megaphone to broadcast it, and you better be prepared to take on all opinions–– even those of the comic book store guy in the weeds.

It’s not pretty. And the worst thing you can do is try and control the conversation. People are going to say what they’re going to say.

Oh, and going back to TV viewing habits, some of us were amused by Jethro Bodine with his rope belt and impressive fifth grade education who knew his guzintas. “One guzinta two, two times. Two guzinta four, two times…”

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Remember when viral videos were all the rage?

Suddenly, every client demanded her/his agency create a viral video. “Just give me one of those videos that gets fifty, sixty-million hits and becomes a worldwide sensation.”

Gotcha, coming right up! You want a microsite with that?

Unfortunately, most clients brought their rational marketing brains to the table, then dictated that their videos communicate selling points, product attributes and features– demanding the film be treated like a jumbo-sized commercial. The clients felt good because this satisfied their rational marketing brains.

The videos were produced and released. The results? Farts in the bathtub.

They didn’t go viral, they barely infected a small group of people internally, plus the friends and relatives of the marcom department.

What went wrong? Forgetting human nature. A lack of understanding that what makes anything worth sharing is its being out of the ordinary–– humans like things that are entertaining, provocative, outrageous or funny as hell. Something different, something that doesn’t satisfy the rational brain but feeds our emotional spirit and delights us.

It’s the sharing of the joy the video brought us that makes it viral.

Not marketing briefs brought to life. Not strategies and tactics. People don’t share videos with notes like, “Hey, check this out! The strategy is spot on for the marketplace and I’ll bet it gets written up in ‘The Harvard Business Review’ as a great case study.”

Not understanding human nature and our insatiable need to be surprised has doomed many a viral video. Along with many marketing campaigns.

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In the twenty-first century, it’s never been easier to stay in touch, on this planet or in outer space.

We are all connected all the time. Then why are we all so damned lonely?

Last year, The National Science Foundation reported one in four people said that they have no one with whom they can talk about their personal troubles or triumphs. Take immediate family members out of the equation, that figure jacks up to fifty per cent!

If we’re all so connected, how can we feel so isolated? Because we’re each masters of our domain. The average American is staring at a screen (TV, computer, smartphone, tablet, etc.) nine and a half hours a day. Over half your waking time is spent watching objects projecting life, instead of living it.

But what about our enhanced interaction through social media? Our 982 Facebook friends, our LinkedIn connections, Twitter chums, Pinterest pals, et al? Yes, they provide the illusion of social interaction, and you certainly know more than you want to about someone’s political beliefs or pet urinary tract problems, but they’re mostly empty social calories.

We’re starved for real human interaction and connection. People still want and need people.

Which brings us to your responsibility as a marketer. Are you helping people through your understanding and empathy to their situations, their need for connection–– or, are you adding to the barrage of noise they are inundated with?

Without empathy, you may be writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear.

Gossage

Although he was a contemporary of David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach and Leo Burnett, he is not nearly as famous, which is tragic.

Howard Luck Gossage was an adman who practiced his craft in San Francisco in the Mad Men era, but he was no Don Draper. In fact, he threw rocks at his industry and said things like, “Advertising is a multi-million dollar sledgehammer driving a 49-cent, economy-size thumbtack” and “To explain responsibility to advertising men is like trying to convince an eight-year-old that sexual intercourse is more fun than a chocolate ice cream cone” and “I long for the day when advertising will become a business for a grown man.”

He became known as “The Socrates of San Francisco”.

Gossage was a philosopher king and patron saint of bay area advertising creatives. Jeff Goodby, Rich Silverstein and Andy Berlin were Gossage disciples who paid tribute to their hero when they launched Goodby, Berlin & Silverstein in 1982 with an ad proclaiming, “Introducing a new ad agency founded by a guy who died 14 years ago.” They had Howard’s picture in their lobby for inspiration. Jeff Goodby said, “The best of Gossage is the best advertising ever done.” No argument here.

Although Gossage’s own agency existed for only twelve years and never grew to more than thirteen people, the work it created stands as inspiration for generations. Housed in an old firehouse in North Beach, the place became a salon for artists, freethinkers and gadflies. John Steinbeck, Ken Kesey, Marshall McLuhan, Stan Freberg, Buckminster Fuller, John Huston, Joan Rivers and Tom Wolfe were some of the regulars stopping by for lunch, cocktails and spirited conversations.

Howard Gossage did not create traditional ad campaigns. Rather, he painstakingly wrote an ad and included a way for readers to react to it. Then, he measured the results, the feedback–– and wrote the next ad.

Welcome to early interactive advertising and social media. Gossage created PR-generating campaigns, and foretold radical ideas like media buying specialists agencies and Pay-per-View. He also ignited cause-related marketing and the green movement.

I won’t geek-out more on Gossage. Suffice to say, he was an ad god and if you’re not familiar with him and his work, do yourself a favor and get to know both. Two essential books to read are “The Book of Gossage” and “Changing the World Is the Only Fit Work for a Grown Man”.

So, what was the pearl of wisdom Gossage said that was the smartest marketing quote ever? This:
“Nobody reads advertising. People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.”

This quote encompasses everything any marketer needs to know. You must start with an understanding and empathy for your audience, and create something that will be interesting to it (with relevance to your product or service). Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Then why is so much advertising so bad?

Babies

It’s harder and harder to make an impression these days.
“LOOK AT ME!”

We live in an ever-present culture of bombastic messaging.
“HEY, LOOK AT ME!!!”

You can’t escape it. Not in home, at work, or, sequestered in the bathroom. Someone’s always got something to say, and they’re going to say it.
“WOULD YOU LOOK AT ME ALREADY?!!!”

Because it’s so hard to get attention, it’s natural for marketers to get desperate, allowing their flop sweat to fuel their insatiable desire to get noticed.
“LOOK OVER HERE, I’M NAKED!”

So, you get seduced by pranks and stunts and gimmicks to grab attention, mistaking attention for persuasion and brand-building.
“I’M NOT ONLY NAKED, I’M DANCING, TOO!!!”

Silly marketer. Attention isn’t enough. In fact, grabbing attention only for the sake of getting attention could be detrimental to your brand’s health.
“I’M NAKED, DANCING AND LIGHTING MYSELF ON FIRE. WATCH!!!!!”

Mean-spirited pranks, phony gags and stunts, shrill blasts into the pop culture abyss–– they’re all desperation in search of direction and meaning.
“OUCH, FIRE HURTS LIKE HELL–– HELP!!!!!!!!!!”

A friendly reminder: before you use your voice, use your brains.

As Bill Bernbach said: “Be provocative. But be sure your provocativeness stems from your product. You are NOT right if in your ad you stand a man on his head JUST to get attention. You ARE right if you have him on his head to show how your product keeps things from falling out of his pockets.”

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