Thursday, December 3, 2009

Save the Agency: A Contrarian View of the Ad Biz

As a student of culture, I've always been drawn to the account planning side of my industry. And as a creative, that knowledge is crucial in being able to motivate people. As a marketing professional that knowledge is also crucial in being able to motivate people to the point of opening their wallets, falling in love with a brand, changing culture, etc. But let's be frank. Some see this as sleazy manipulation and have come to hate advertising as a result.

As a cultural observer, I know how difficult it can be for businesses and brands to gain momentum and market share in this very savvy, sensitive, and cynical world we live in. But every business needs to grow (and grow fast) or we'll all be in big trouble. So in the greater sense, I know that advertising and marketing is not evil. It serves a purpose. It's still a service. Yet not everyone agrees, and some agency execs are going to great lengths and expense to get inside the hearts and minds of consumers to influence and persuade buyer behavior to gain a competitive edge. You can dress it up any way you like, but that's what it is.

In my opinion, if I possess the power and knowledge to change culture I want it to be used in a socially responsible way; not just to move more hamburgers in a nation with escalating health care costs. But that's the beauty of free will. I don't have to sell myself out. There are plenty of noble business and/or non-profit pursuits to promote and market with the skills and talents I've been given. I can use my power for good in order to make the world a better place, or I can keep pandering to the highest bidder and just pad my pockets. I'm sure lawyers have the same dilemma, except their compensation structure is much different. The term "starving artists" has some truth to it and creatively dominate people all have to do what they have to do sometimes to feed their families. Many of us at times have compromised our values and ideals just to survive in life. But no one forced us to. Again that's the beauty of choice. We all get to choose, just as we can choose to judge or not to judge. Those big agencies with even bigger critics provide something far more valuable than mere target practice. They provide paychecks; paychecks with good pay to creatives who desperately need to work right now in this blistering economy.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Common Sense or Emotion?

I'm a Stella, Heineken, and Modello sort of guy. It's all about taste for me. Stella also fits with my perfectionist personality. But it's not something I sit around and think about it all that much. So when I see those commercials with the Miller High Life delivery guy rant, I almost want to go out and buy a pack–well, almost. My own common sense kicks in and says, "It's still the same cheap beer your dad used to drink." But then again, I'm not the target demo for that beer. I have discriminating tastes, and lofty aspirations. Yet at the same time, there's a practical side of me that appreciates value, and the emotional power of this campaign taps into that hidden, unseen realm of pet peeves I harbor about inflation, excess, and wasteful spending. The delivery guy speaks to me, and inspires me to champion his cause. This is yet another Saatchi success. With Kevin Roberts and his Lovemark philosophy behind them, they understand what psychologists and sociologists have known all along. Your heart tells your brain what to do, not the other way around. This is also why I continue to believe that long-term emotional connections beat out short-term ROI for the vast majority of consumer goods and services. Consumers connect with and are persuaded by what's behind the brand, what's behind the promise.

This campaign also does a great job of relationship targeting. As I've always said, "know your customer," and matching your brand to a small group of consumers may be the most important thing a company could ever do. If you're the common man, (and most of us are) then these ads are scratching you right where you itch. In addition to being funny and a great piece of storytelling, the ad is the brand. High Life is an economical beer, and there is no reason to apologize for it. Instead, they embrace the mantra of the working man to perfection and make me want to follow. I know I'll eventually buy, and for reasons my head can't rationally explain. It's a heart thing.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Antisocial Media

I think we can all agree that relationships are the essence of any successful business. And in today's world, many business relationships are forged, developed and sustained online – via email, discussion forums, social networking sites, blogs, Twitter and the like. But then there are those who don't get it, don't want to get it, and won't ever spend enough time online to ever get it. Should they be ignored or disregarded as out of touch, old school, or behind the times? Perish the thought, please. To do so would be irresponsible and yes, even snobbish. Whether or not we'd like to admit it, these individuals are everywhere and not just in the over 50 crowd. They too have buying power and prefer not to follow like sheep into cyberspace in order to interact with the world. They prefer meeting face-to-face; not on Facebook. They're out-of-home, on the move, and living life, in their own way. They will still respond to traditional forms of marketing and advertising because from their perspective, social media is more of a paradox than a preview of things to come. Do I understand it or even advocate their point of view? It doesn't matter. What matters is that as a marketing professional I must listen to them, and recognize their right to be heard, and thus be able to recommend ways for my clients to retain them as customers. Everyone is different, unique, and as valuable as the next person, even if that person is seemingly taking communication to another level. In the quest for brand loyalty or market share, no one can be ignored in this economy whether explicitly or implicitly.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Selling the experience: Are you relevant?

Welcome to the way brands break through today. Through Experiential Marketing. Experiential marketing is more than a PR stunt or special event. It's the fundamental philosophy behind the next evolution in branding. Today's consumer is savvy, selective and yes, cynical. To reach them, requires a connection on multiple levels. Of course as we all know, the world is cluttered and fragmented. Shortened attention spans put higher demands on brands to make a quick impression, or money is simply wasted. While thirty second spots on radio and television once had a great impact, modern technology has changed the playing field. Yet the needs and desires of consumers remain relatively the same. Selling an experience becomes a sense of rapport between product and consumer which only serves to reinforce an individual's values, goals and ideals.

Appealing to a variety of senses, experiential marketing can tap into that special place within the human heart that fosters inspiring thoughts about what could be, without ignoring practicality. Understanding what the consumer is likely to think and feel, is a great tool in evaluating a brand's relevance, because the impulse to purchase is short-lived. An enduring brand must relate to both lifestyle and worldview. It must appeal to prevailing beliefs and personal agendas to capture more than just attention, but admiration, and ultimately, adoration.

Yes, this means looking at what you say and how you say it. But more importantly assessing where you engage your customer and at what levels. It makes all the difference--between who buys today, and who will continue buying tomorrow.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

So easy, a 3-year-old can get it.

Recently while driving down a busy street close to home, my daughter recognized a new billboard from Geico. It's the one featuring the stack of money with eyeballs, not the infamous gecko. Nevertheless I was amazed as it's the first advertisement my not yet literate three-year-old has noticed and pointed out to me that I can recall. Then I thought, "Wow, so easy, even a toddler gets it." That's the beauty of the Geico brand. It's simple, straightforward, and unassuming. It doesn't cater to your intellect, but rather your emotions, and that's what successful brands do. They intimately and relevantly create connections with consumers that are not easily broken. We can identify and relate to them in meaningful ways.

Human psychology shows us that people make more decisions with their hearts than with their heads, and that's never going to change. I for one, am bit of an intellect and can't stand the stack of money with its accompaniment of annoying tv spots. Yet they are unforgettable, and reach a great swath of people with a very specific message. Geico saves you money, which in this economy is a very emotional issue. Yet for all us intellectuals out there, Geico is still smart enough, as it were, to keep around our very witty and clever talking reptile friend with the British accent. The Geico brand remains a good fit for just about anyone, even if you're a caveman.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Branding 2.0

The other day, my wife asked me a compelling question about a McDonalds spot she saw on television. It featured a select demographic group enjoying the new "McCafe" product line and to my surprise, she was asking if this particular ethnic group liked coffee more than another. Of course my rational mind responded a bold and resounding no. But it started a dialogue which perhaps echoes the thoughts of any lay person without a marketing background. She wondered why McDonalds had chosen to run an ad like this, and I told her that there are any number of reasons. Yet the most likely explanation would be found in any Marketing 101 handbook. If you want to speak to a certain demographic, you use that demographic in your ad. What we don't consider is what goes on within the minds of everyone else who sees it. But is that important? Does it matter that it makes people form certain opinions, ask certain questions or even jump to certain conclusions. The answer is, of course. You can't ignore it. That's the psychology of advertising that contributes either to the life or death of a brand.

If you're trying to reach everyone by appealing to everyone, then that probably won't work. History shows us that. The world we live in is diverse and integrated. If you run an ad focusing on one demographic today and then another tomorrow, no one is fooled. Anyone knows, you can't be everything to everybody. But if you cater to one group over another, you have a greater chance of winning the heart of that people group. It's called exclusivity.

Positioning yourself against competitors in your category has traditionally been the focus of building business and differences are significant. Otherwise you run the risk of becoming a commodity rather than a brand. Know your customer and cater to that customer, I always say. Did McDonald's exclude in the aforementioned commercial? Absolutely, and if I never saw another ad for that product line, I would conclude that they purposed it that way. There's nothing wrong with that. It's when you don't know your customer that problems arise. Undeveloped brands often stumble by convincing people how great they are rather than working out what people are interested in and letting the chips fall where they may.

In other words, it's not always a popularity contest, and the brand with the most friends at first doesn't always win.

Look at Apple computer. They certainly didn't get where they are today, because of mass appeal. Look at Top 40, across the board, CHR formatted radio stations as another example. They are rarely if ever the leader in any market. Standing out in the crowd means that you are not a part of the crowd. This has been the key to every successful trend throughout history. Being all things to all people is the oldest of all marketing ploys, and is not the way to build your brand.

Another mistake I believe young brands make in advertising is starting a bunch of fires to see what takes. This is an ineffective and often expensive luxury businesses no longer have in this economy. The psychology behind advertising is a powerful one which is still capable of targeting with pinpoint accuracy and control. Especially in today's crowded and competitive world, if you don't know your relevance, then you simply become irrelevant. And again, if you want to be all things to all people you better take a trip in the way back machine. Those days are over. Marketing has become a two-way conversation within a cultural space far richer, deeper, and diverse than we could ever imagine. Cultural and social value translates into commercial value. Having a great product or service today, no longer guarantees you'll be around tomorrow. Brands are evolving, and the very DNA, of the we do marketing must necessarily follow suit, or risk extinction.