June 2012

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There is a new story today that suggests tomatoes have no taste because they’ve been genetically engineered to look good.  Brilliant red tomatoes with nary a color blotch, piled high in our grocery stores because of a gene mutation that has said “buh-bye” to flavor, sweetness and aroma.

I wonder if advertising has been genetically engineered to look pretty, the result of which has been impeded selling. Have we removed the important selling component of thoughtful copy in favor of pretty pictures?  Has the flavor gone out of our copy. The sensual response that good copywriting can evoke?  I fear the answer is yes.

To sell one must do more than convey, one must connect and inspire.

At Cannes, mightn’t we instate a copywriting award?  RU listening creative leaders?  (David  Lubars?) Let’s loose the robo-copy and build more artful selling. Put that on you BLT with light Hellman’s.  Peace!

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Many pop marketing discussions today revolve around narrative. Campaigns are bought and sold based on the word. Agencies hired and fired. Social media has cornered the market on brand narrative.  I like the word, in fact.  It’s a much better word than “sell.”  In fact. my brand planning rigor is steeped in narrative.  But it’s over as a selling mechanism…ish.

Deeds are the new narrative.  Old schoolers might call it “putting your money where your mouth is.” Story tellers tell stories. Leaders use deeds.  What are deeds? Tangibles. Things. Actions. Hands on stuff. Story tellers sit about the camp fire.  Deedists, make the campfire.

A soldier with lots of medals on the uniform has performed not chronicled. A marketer with a claim and lots of proof to back it up is a marketer whom narrators can get behind.  Similar to my Posters vs. Pasters opine – target the Posters, the Paster will follow – marketers should concern themselves with the deeds and leave the narrative to others.  Puh-eace!

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I don’t know exactly why it is, but I love well-written restaurant reviews.  Good food writing does what ads are supposed to do “make you feel something, then do something.”  I sometimes feel the same way about Cathy Horyn, The New York Times style writer.  When reading Ms. Horyn, typically during Fashion Week, I find myself wishing for a touch of style. The do something part of the “feel then do” may be to go out and buy another pair of 501 jeans, but at least someone is benefiting.

Copywriters need to treat ads as food writers treat food.  They need to persuade through a love of the product.  A juicy scallop grilled perfectly, described loving and attentively, can make a person hungry.  A JPMorgan Chase Mastercard piece in a #10 envelope should be similarly treated.  It wouldn’t surprise me if there were robo- copywriting going on out there with the amount of direct response dreck being published. In fact, some of the robo-copywriting might be better than that of the human variety.

Hey copywriters, find the time to love the products about which you write. Savor them. And love  the craft. If you don’t, it’s time to step away from the keyboard and take a sabbatical. Peace!   

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The amount of learning Microsoft has done over past 25 years is Hard to fathom.  The company MO was to hire the best and brightest out of school and set them to work to change the world.  The company created a culture of achievers, many of whom felt they were the smartest people in the room — and when the room was all softies they competed with one another. Vigorously.  Many were smart enough to understand what it meant to be an overdog. They understood the concept of humility. But not all.

Hence the products and services they envisioned were overly complicated. Over-engineered. And frankly, over-visioned. You can do that with software and get away with it, but you can’t with hardware.  Microsoft learned those lessons with the Zune and Kin.

Lately, Microsoft has mellowed. Like a fine wine.  They developed feelings and more of a human instinct. That is why I believe their Surface tablet will succeed.  Hardware is hard to over-complicate and this product design is a good move for Redmond.  Its success will provide balance for the company. Even the name Surface suggests a cultural change for a company that has otherwise prided itself on being deep. A breath of fresh air, this. Peace.  

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I check out my blog analytics regularly and one of the search terms that gets me a lot of traffic is “naming.” So playing to the algorithm, I post today on naming. But what to say? Names, like brands, are empty vessels into which we pour meaning. The best names are organically tied to product, feature, function or target. A good name gets you credit for what you do without you doing it. My friend’s company Gotham Seafood has a great name.  He sells seafood in NYC and his company has scale.  He sells lots of fish.

I wanted to name a web start-up for which I was marketing director Mashpan.  It was a website creation tool based on drag and drop technology that let anyone design and build a site. It put a wrapper around objects on the web and let anything, yes anything, be dragged and dropped or copied onto a page.  Quite a mash-up. Of everything. A mash pan is also a place to start home brew, but that’s a story for another day.  The boss decides Zude sounded better. No context, not a great name.  Though it did ultimately work (as a name).  Our vessel-pouring was pretty good.   

For those of you with kids, you know how difficult naming can be. It’s even more difficult for companies. Don’t make it easy. Embrace it. Find the perfect name. It’s important. Peace! 

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I interviewed for a dream job as a brand planner at BBDO on Gillette a couple of years ago.  Had a great non-lunch, the interviewer told me my views were unique and had ballast (my word, it was 2 years ago.)  The next step was to send some planning samples and creative to the boss, which I did.  It was, sadly, a poor digital package.  Not BBDO-like.

Today, I’m reading about a reality web series being sponsored by Schick razors in Andrew Adam Newman’s NYT ad column and all parties are saying the wrong things, so the effort will no doubt be lackluster.  Clean break is the idea. We know they are talking clean break from Gillette, but they suggest the strategy is otherwise.  It got me thing about Gillette’s strategy. And all I can come up with is the word “man.”  And an assortment of new products.  I shave with a Gillette 5 days a week, and I am a man.  Beyond forward thinking expensive product, I haven’t a clue what their idea is.

Since I did not get the job, I’d love a chance to talk to the person who did to discuss and plumb the idea.  Could it be just to let Schick waddle forward?  I doubt it.  Branding is about claim and proof. Organized.  Man, product innovation and I’ll throw in some smooth are okay planks, but without an idea to bind them, they lose muscle memory. Peace.

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“Make it matter” is the new HP tagline.  The first ad I’ve come across with the line appeared in the paper today touting a sub-$900 laptop, wireless printer and Beats headphone package.  Aimed at school-bound kids and their parents, this bundle will matter to kids who typically may ask mom and dad for Apple machines. It will give both parents and students pause.

Meaningfulness is what good marketing and good brand plans mean to achieve — so why not put the idea right in the work? “Make it matter.”  Were I riding point on this idea, I’d make sure every ad served up to the general pop mattered. All product ads would need to provide a definable point of difference with a rational or emotional tug. It’s going to be hard to live up to. 

Make it matter is bi-directional.  It tells the reader to make it matter, but also suggests HP makes it matter. When you tagline is “Setting new standards in healthcare” every ad needs to show a new standard.  Brand ideas matter. Words matter. Good luck BBDO. Your day just got a lot longer.  Peace.  

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I was in the Bronx Friday night at the Met Yankee game. Don’t ask.  And for all the falderal it was quite civil. I didn’t fly my Met colors, nor did I instigate.  I just did the late 1960s Fillmore West clap and watched me some hardball.  One thing I took away from the game, though, was an insight that for all of people’s preferences, divides and loyalties – if you find a point of common ground more important, you can create dialog. 

At one point during the national anthem I felt a 9/11 moment resulting from the video.  It brought the entire stadium together as one (in my mind). It pointed to something bigger than a baseball rivalry. And on two other occasions during the game I spoke with a couple of guys  who noticed my Pearl Jam shirt.  We connected on something that was perhaps even more important to us than a baseball game. As I walked along River Avenue leaving the game, a guy quietly said in passing “Yellow Ledbetter.”  I only half heard it until it registered, then I looked back and “peaced” him with a knowing smile. A brother.

The insight is this: You can always ladder up common ground or affinity with someone you don’t necessarily agree with. It takes work, and thought, and open-mindedness.  It’s a hunt worth pursuing. So marketers and planner dig in.  Peace!     

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Where does creative inspiration come from? Dreams? Brain storming? Pictures and stories? Sure. I find mowing the lawn provides a level of focus for me. Maybe it the repetitive action. If I listen to the radio driving to or from work, I tend to ingest words passively. That said, if the radio is on topic I perk up and it feeds the creative motor.

In the ad agency business, I had seen lots of good creative people flip through art direction magazines and awards books looking for ideas to have an idea. But often they did so in their office. I’m a fan of getting out of the building. Observing the target. Observing the target’s target. Trying to think like they think, or better, feel what they feel.

Creative inspiration results from immersion in the target, dabbling in sights, seeing or projecting patterns… and monitoring your blood pressure. If an idea makes you feel something, you are nearing the zone.  If it bores you push on. 

I was writing a college paper once while on a field trip to see Margaret Mead speak in DC. I was sitting in someone’s kitchen and not moving any ideas.  There was a speed bag in the kitchen so I starter punching. It wore me out but opened the mind.  Sitting in chairs is not the way toward creative stim. Peace! 

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