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It used to be that a brand planner or strategist could easily sway corporate officers as to the need for a brand plan – or at least a campaign idea – by taking all company ads and pinning them to the wall.  For good measure one could display brochures, direct mail and other printed pieces. 

Today, the biggest culprit in creating brand disharmony, especially true at small and midsize companies, is the video.  In this social media age, most agree – and you heard the drum beat at Advertising Week in NY the last 4 days – visual selling through video is more engaging and powerful. 

The problem stems not so much from the quality of the videos, e.g., editing, audio, effects, it’s the content.  It meanders. It is not blocked out in serial, logical chunks.  With ads, if you didn’t have a tight strategy you called Ernie the montage artist. With a loose video, you just rely on fast cuts and louder music.

So who is making these videos?  Mostly, it’s inexpensive freelance, 20 something, fresh-out-of college kids with iMacs.  One such young man, who is more than capable, said he’d been to many meetings with large agencies like Ogilvy, where he was instructed to “just do something that gets noticed, that goes viral.”  No direction, no brief.  This is not how big agencies normally operates, but at those agencies on the digital creative side, it happens more than you might think.  As for smaller shops, or in-house marketing departments it’s even worse.

Marketing videos need to do a job but they also much convey a positive, organized brand imprint. With half of marketing videos either case studies or tutorials, brand strategy has a way of slipping away. Branding is always on. Approving videos without a brand planning oversight — and it happens thousands of times a day — is like writing bad checks.  So executive, turn down the lights in your conference room, fire up the interactive projector and start watching all your vids. Then ask yourself what are they trying to say about the company?  Peace.



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I love a good cause.  Clean water, sans parasites , in the developing world (Africa) is one such. Levi’s jeans, as part of its “Go Forth” campaign, is sponsoring a Facebook program that ask people to click their support for Water.org, and once a 100,000 clicks are gathered Levi’s will donate money.   This is “good’s work” (thank you Bailey’s Café) and it will make a difference. I support it and suggesteth everyone go forth and donate. That said, Levi’s still needs a brand idea and “individualism and independence” ain’t it.


If Levi’s cares about the environment, and I know it does, they should jump on the durability wagon.  Buy one pair, don’t get one free, you don’t have to buy another pair for 3 more years.  That’s environmentalism.  And stop with all the stone washing stuff that wears the jeans out a year early.  The worn-in patina of a pair of Levi’s is the badge.  Faded knees, faded pockets, holes in the crotch.  This is life. Not art imitating life.  Don’t pay some schmekel to pre- tear your jeans…get up on the life cycle and wear them out yourself!

Levi’s is one of the great American brands and it has lost its way.  FCB got it.  BBH got it a bit and sexed it up. Wieden and Kennedy, a brilliant shop, has found a core, but it’s the wrong core.  Individualism and independence a brand plank, not “the idea.” 

The Water.org project should be left to the PR dept.  Fight the durability fight (it’s American) and get mad credit for the environment – on so many levels. Peace!


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Albert Lasker, a seminal advertising figure and CEO of Lord and Thomas (a predecessor agency to FCB) and a copywriter by the name of John E. Kennedy had a discussion in 1905 about a Kennedy theory suggesting advertising is no more than “salesmanship in print.”  Smart dudes Kennedy and Lasker.

If the goal of salesmanship is sales and the goal of advertising is sales, then shouldn’t this notion still be applicable? Sure. But more often than not, advertising today is a loose federation of benefits and features packed together in designer wrapping paper, with a promotional bow.

The sign of a good salesperson is you believe them, trust them and are convinced by their expertise. You may remember the salesperson but you are more apt to remember the product. Similarly, the litmus of a good ad is its ability to be remembered for the product selling idea, not the ad execution.  And to be remembered the day after it was seen.

Messrs. Lasker and Kennedy were right back in the day and they are even more right today. They knew the best ads are not about “me, me, me,” but about the consumer. Sales people know this, ad craftsmen often forget. When done correctly, advertising in print, broadcast or digital is salesmanship not packaging. Peace!

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I’ve been ranting for years about companies large and small that don’t have a brand idea. They think they have a brand (logo) and an idea (tagline) but were you to look at the body of marketing work, you would see lots of stuff – no idea.  An ad campaign is not a brand idea. A typeface and style guide are not brand ideas. A web engagement…nope. 

Often the most powerful brand idea a company has is its name.  It may be a “we’re here” idea but it’s an idea.  Bed Bath & Beyond is one such example. The name conveys what they do – so it works.  If you don’t define what your brand means, consumers will. And they are not that good at it; they’re busy.  Without branding context, consumers default to product (taste, utility, reliability), price, and convenience.

A number of years ago, Brendan Ryan president of FCB NY taught me a valuable lesson. Rather than getting up to speed on a client by asking for a full-on brand review with pie charts and competitive matrixes he suggested pinning all the work up on the wall. His goal? “What’s the idea?” If the work didn’t convey an idea, more work needed to be done.  

One Hour Promotion

I’m putting together a promotion to help companies identify their idea.  My plan is to offer up a 1 hour “idea audit” whereby I go into a company conference room and just as Jack Bauer might, sixty minutes later walk out the door with a “yea,” “nay” or “fruit cocktail” (Google whatstheidea+fruit cocktail).

Here’s what I propose: Put me in a room with all current marketing material: brochures, ads, last 3 promotional emails, newsletters, top 10 search terms, press stories, etc.  Let me speak to your human resources person (5 minutes), senior marketing person (10) minutes, and best sales person (5 minutes.)  Then provide me with your URL and sign me in to your Google Analytics page, if you have one. In one hour I will tell you if you have an idea, many ideas or, worst case, no idea. Then I go home. But I’ll leave my business card.

(Before I create this offer and promote it I’d like to hear readers’ thoughts. Please post here or email me at steve@whatstheidea.com) Thanks and peace!

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