Monday, October 24, 2011

I couldn't have said it better myself. But that's not going to stop me from trying.

My friend Rich Siegel –– one of the funniest guys in advertising –– writes a blog called Round 17. A couple of weeks ago, he did a post about an issue people in advertising face constantly, but rarely manage successfully: Idiotic requirements that solve the wrong problem.

I'm going to quote his entire post here because it's about not being treated like a professional and for me to edit, paraphrase, or sum up what he wrote would make me guilty of exactly what he decries. 

Rich? Take it away.

Last week I ran into my old partner at temple. I didn't recognize him at first because I didn't know he was a member of my congregation and also because there are business colleagues I only associate with business. It's a matter of context.

In any case, he's now some bigwig with one of the holding companies. No need for names because, well, I don't need to give anyone a reason to blacklist my name for any future assignments. I'm sure I'm persona non-grata in plenty of places, thank you very much.

Years ago I was working on a freelance assignment at this unnamed agency. The art director and I presented a bunch of concepts to the previous Creative Director. He liked many of them but selected three for further development. Then he told us that the agency had been very successful beta-testing a new software program called Alpha One which tested creative ideas for efficiency and message resonance.

"Really?" I said.

"Really." He replied.

So, he added, can you go back and rewrite these ideas and mention the client's name within the first 7 seconds of the commercial?

"You're shitting me, right? I said.

"Not shitting you." He replied.

Adding, it would be better if you could mention the client name in the first 5 seconds.

It's funny how little we have learned from Steve Jobs, the greatest marketing visionary to ever wear a client hat. Imagine if the "1984" spot had been put to the Alpha One test. We wouldn't be talking about it. Same thing for the Apple's 1998 "Think Different" campaign. In fact, the same applies to every commercial that has ever made its way into your memory vault.

Had I a set of balls and not a looming mortgage/car/tuition/insurance payment due I would have simply followed the Creative Director's logic to its logical conclusion and brought him back an
Alpha One-friendly script like:

Open on art card of (Client's name).

Cut to a man and woman talking at a restaurant.

MAN: Client's name client's name client's name?

WOMAN: Client's name!

MAN: Client's name client's name client's name Client's name client's name client's name Client's name client's name client's name.

WOMAN: Client's name.

SUPER: Client's name.

Cut to plane dragging a banner across the sky.

BANNER: Client's name.

WOMAN: Oh client's name.

TAG: We're not just (insert industry type), we're Client's name.

Friday, October 21, 2011

On borrowed interest, mashed potatoes, and flowers

When I was in fifth grade, I rode my bike to school. The route I took went past a bottle brush tree –– at least that's what we called it. It had soft bark that came off in sheets like thick construction paper and white flowers that looked like, well, a bottle brush.

When the tree was in bloom, it smelled like –– and no, I'm not making this up –– the mashed potatoes at the school cafeteria.

We didn't have mashed potatoes every day, but the tree was in bloom constantly, for weeks. Maybe months. And eventually, I came to think that the mashed potatoes smelled like the tree.

What does this have to do with communication, you ask?

Well, I'll tell you.

One of the easiest ways to get consumers to infer certain characteristics with a brand is to associate your brand with another entity that already possesses those characteristics. A classic example is Grey Poupon. In order to be perceived as a luxury mustard, the advertising consistently put it in the hands of rich people.

If a guy with a snooty accent driving a Rolls Royce ate Grey Poupon, the unspoken logic argued, then Grey Poupon would be perceived as equally as luxurious as the snooty accent and the car.

But as much as a Rolls Royce can bestow attributes to Grey Poupon up, the inverse is true as well. Grey Poupon will inevitably bestow attributes to Rolls Royce.

So now let's talk about Timberland.

Timberland used to be all about chopping through the woods, living in a tent, wearing flannel. Then in the 90s, the brand was discovered in the inner city. Urban youth –– maybe being ironic, I don't know –– took it on as kind of a status symbol. And even though Timberland continued to associate itself with woodsy, northwest imagery in its advertising, Timberland increasingly got associated with rap-listening, bling-wearing images in real life.

Ultimately, consumers saw more Timberland products in real life than in advertising, and the brand became disassociated with what it tried so hard to cultivate.

This is the hazard of creating an aspirational brand. SUVs appeal to soccer moms for their rugged safety, but when you see an SUV on the road, do you expect the driver to be an independent, rugged individual? Nope. She's in her mid to late 30s and on her way to Chuck E Cheese's.

Nike keeps hyping its association with elite athletes, but when you see a huge swoosh on a T-shirt, is your first thought, "Hey, here comes a pro tennis player?" Nope. It's usually a fat person carrying a 32-ounce soda.

What marketers so often fail to realize is that advertising is only a piece –– and a very small piece –– of the message consumers get about a brand. Advertising is the part you can control. But you can't ignore the other stuff. The other stuff is more often than not what really defines a brand's perception.

Ignore the other stuff and you run the risk of having your flower turn into mashed potatoes.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Something to think about.

We live in an age when CEOs are fairly universally reviled, and yet so many of us are mourning –– deeply –– the death of not just a CEO, but a billionaire CEO who had a reputation for ruthless perfectionism and outsourced what? 100% of his company's manufacturing jobs overseas? 

Are we hypocrites? Or is the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field so powerful that it transcends even death?

I posted this on my Facebook page and got some thoughtful responses. I'm posting it here because I'd like to hear more.