mccann erickson

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I was thumbing through old Quora posts and noticed I had made a ringing endorsement of Google Glass.  “How could it not work?” The medical field alone would be enough to keep it an exciting new product. Wrong!

Many years ago I worked for McCann-Erickson, a top 3 advertising global agency. McCann handled Coca-Cola. They had just brought on a new creative director, Gordon Bowen, who stood before the entire NYC office in the grand ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria and he smilingly told us, “It’s Coke, how hard can it be.” It practically sells itself, he implied. Coke was gone within the year to a group called Creative Artists. A west coast talent agency.

So here’s one for the prognosticators.  Expect to be wrong. Even when you know you are right. Don’t be paranoid, but keep an eye toward the future knowing there are no absolutes.

I love to position myself as a beyond the dashboard planner. It’s where, I believe, the successful marketers need to play. But you get a black eye every now and again. Expect it. Learn from it. Parlay it.

Peace.

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One of the challenges when writing a brand brief is knowing which insight to use to fuel the claim. (The claim is the idea at the top of the brand strategy, supported by 3 proof planks.) Often in a brief there are 2 or 3 really exciting insights, all of which offer enough power to motivate brand predisposition. But which to pick, that’s the question.

What I love about the brief I use, borrowed from McCann-Erickson’s Peter Kim 2 decades ago, is that it has a serial framework. One section leads to the next. Like puzzle pieces, they don’t always fit, but fit they must. Until they fit, you need to keep working. Until there is a linear story you are only bumping along the cobble stones. Chank a chank.

As I work the brief, key insights find their way into the story. But some must be let go. What’s funny is the outcome of the story – the claim – is often not known until the story plays out. Insights float in the back of the mind as you work toward the end, some more strongly than others, but the big finish is often a bit of a surprise.

There can’t be two endings. Enjoy the ride.

Peace.

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My first “real” big advertising job after 10 years at my dad’s shop Poppe Tyson was with McCann-Erickson, NY. The first assignment was on an AT&T network management service called Accumaster. The budget was 2-3 million. Poppe Tyson’s biggest account when I left may have been one million. I went to AT&T in Bridgewater, NJ for the briefing and took lots of notes. My next step was to make a recommendation as to how to handle the campaign. Stoked. My boss at the time was Eric Keshin, a 30-something on fast track to head the NY office.

“I think we need to do a series of 9 ads,” I suggested.  “There are 9 key things that this product does well and it will tell a nice long term story.  A story with lots of chapters.”  Eric responded after quickly reading my notes and recommendation was “Three ads. There are three functional groups here which we can hammer home over time.” BAM.

Eric understood the natural order of selling. He got frequency. He got the consumer attention span. But it wasn’t just the three thing, it was a natural order thing.

Natural order is what brand strategy is all about. It’s why my brand strategies are “1 claim and 3 proof planks.”   I create an organizing principle combining what customers most care-about and what the brand it good-at.  Natural ordering is a skill. It takes experience, instinct, a good ear and selflessness. 

Peace.    

 

 

 

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Sorry for my snark yesterday concerning the BBDO advertising for Hewlett Packard Enterprise. I’m sure the people who worked on the campaign are very nice. I worked on the Lucent Technologies launch in the 90s when AT&T and Lucent spun apart, and the execution was superb. From the logo design to the launch ads and the subsequent follow-on advertising — that was McCann-Erickson at its best. Lucent was only an $11B company at the time. Hewlett Packard enterprise is $53B.

Launching multi-billion dollar spin offs should be a big thing. Not a pedestrian effort. HP is an American brand of great import. It should carry itself that way. The company deserved fanfare. It deserved a great launch. A big budget.

An ad is an expression of a company. My hope is that moving forward Ms. Whitman and her executives put great effort into the new brand and company, and this “quiet period” will be over soon.

Peace.

 

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When a latent adult working at McCann-Erickson NY, I was lieutenant in charge of all the AT&T data products. These were the data lines, the network software services and whatever other B2B things that were not particularly sexy — during a very competitive time when phone companies were spending like drunken sailors. My services eventually became the internet so I had a grand time. And managed a great team.

Anyway, I had this idea that if ever the agency president (John Dooner) was asked to go to a meeting in Bridgewater NJ on some of these non-big sexy products (sorry Bartolo) he would need a primer. So the Fact Book was born. The idea was to put all the relevant facts into a binder that could be read in 60 minutes (on the way to the client), giving the reader a foundation of knowledge, e.g., overall market universe, market share, competition, product explanations, YOY sales trends and futures. I stole the idea from Marian Harper, a McCann and IPG CEO, from back in the 60s.

At What’s The Idea?, my current business, a key deliverable is the marketing plan. The first step in its development is a document called the 24 Question. It is much like the Fact Book. Anyone, at any company, in the marketing department should know the answers to the 24 Questions. They are the financial and marketing fundamentals of business. If you don’t know the answers as a marketer, you are a danger to the company.

If you are interested in seeing these questions, email me Steve@WhatsTheIdea.com. And we’ll talk.

Peace.

PS. Go see Steve Jobs.

 

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When I when I started my blog What’s The Idea? in 2007 I had a tough decision to make. Originally, I wanted to call it What’s The Big Idea?, thinking big ideas were better than regular old ideas. Eight years out, I’m happy with my decision to leave off the “big.”griffin farley beautiful mind logo

The reality is, as much I seek big ideas for my brand strategy clients, sometimes just getting them to agree to an idea is enough. Big, bold, brave ideas are currency of the planning realm these days. According to Suzanne Powers, chief strategy office at McCann-Erickson, it is one reasons Team Catfish won the Griffin Farley Beautiful Minds competition last night at Google. And she wasn’t wrong. But “big” can sometime be a synonym for brazen. (And I get it, most of my brand strategies contain one word that make CEOs and marketing officers uncomfortable.) But brand ideas don’t need to be huge, or poetic, or brilliantly layered — they just need to be clean. More importantly they need to be followed. Enforced. And enculturated.

Coke’s “refreshment” wasn’t a big idea. It was a smooth sailing idea. “We know where you live” for Newsday wasn’t a big idea, it was a comfortable idea.

A brand strategy idea (the claim) doesn’t need to be big to be effective. It must, however, be believable, relevant and easy to understand. Peace!

P.S. Great job last night Sarah Watson, Angela Sun and BBH.

 

 

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I think it was UnderCurrent or Nobl (Bud Cadell’s new consulting effort) who came up with the notion of an operating system for a company. It may be someone else…I need to dump the brain cache. Anyway the metaphor of an operating system for a company or brand is similar to language I use in brand planning “an organizing principle.”

One of the most overused words in business and brand consulting is “culture.” Just as companies that talk the most about ROI are the one’s who don’t have it, companies that speak of culture most often don’t have it. Back in the 90s John Dooner spoke of culture at McCann-Erickson. When I finally got through the blather about “entrepreneurship,” someone finally described it to me as “Do what you want until someone says stop.” Culture needs a motivation. It needs articulation. And it needs behavioral tenets. Culture is like the mama on your shoulder who tells you how to behave and what to do at any given moment.

Brand Culture may be a good way of repackaging what I do as a brand consultant. Brand strategy at What’s The Idea? is defined as 1 idea, 3 proof planks. (I find a motivation or claim — one that customers want most and that the brand does best – and arrange that atop 3 behaviors that are business winning.) Not a particularly sexy or in-demand sale, it works.  Yet it doesn’t often get past the c-suite.  I’m thinking of packaging it as a brand culture exploratory; it may clear up the misunderstandings around the words brand and culture. Operating system ain’t bad, but it’s a little bit like organizing principle.

Stay very tuned. Peace.

 

 

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Big World.

While brand planning for an educational technology company I had the pleasure of driving around the great State of NY and seeing a number of its secondary cities and suburbs. It’s an amazing state. The gravitational pull of New York City for Long Islanders and others in the tri-state region jades our point of view, however. And it’s unfortunate. It is not until you get to Florida, NY or Copenhagen, NY that you get the full picture.

As someone who grew up middle-to-upper middle class and also worked in the advertising/marketing business, I confess to be overly focused on brands. I worked at McCann in its glory days when Coke was still there. I worked on AT&T when it had the largest ad budget in the solar system. Brands were subsistence in this world. But outside of NYC and other NFL cities for that matter, the gravitational pull of brands was not that great. People made decisions based on the size of their wallet. It affected what they bought, what they could afford. Post college, while a house painter I was introduced to generic canned good in black and white cans. Eating bait fish at fish fries.

Brand planners don’t research the underclass. But they should. There is a lot of life and learning in this part of the economy.

My first brand planning insight – the reason I became a planner, was this: “Why does a Appalachian father, without a pot to piss in, insist on buying Castrol Motor oil for his truck when so many less expensive brands are available?” Brand planners – get out of the city. The office. Do what Heidi Hackemer did and drive the country. You will be refreshed in your thinking.

Happy Memorial Day…a celebration of Peace.

 

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Good Bias.

Eric Keshin, a friend for whom I worked at McCann Erickson, liked to use the word bias when describing good advertising strategy. Creating bias toward your product resulted in sales increases the logic went. In my younger years I always wanted to start and ad agency and name it “Foster, Bias and Sales.” Foster attention. Create bias. Generate sales.

I received an email this morning about an upcoming board of education election in town. A current board member endorsed a candidate, with the candidate’s introductory email attached. The note included paragraph after paragraph about years of service, kids in the district, the challenges we face, yada yada… all the good brochure ware you’d expect. Idiot that I am and in an attempt at humor, I debated hitting “rely all” and asking “Elizabeth _____ , what type of name is that?” Of course I’d have been run out of town, but it is very Steven Colbert. And certainly raises questions about bad bias a la something you might have heard in the 60s. 

Bias is a powerful. When it takes 276 kidnapped girls in Nigeria to get the women of the senate to cross the aisle and unite, that’s bias. But bias “toward” not bias “against” can be a positive marketing strategy.

Brand planners who favor strategies attempting to build preference are on the right track. Those who work harder to create bias toward a brand — where consumers become defensive about their choice – are the true winners. Tink about it, as my Norwegian aunt might have said.

 

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No to go all “memory lane” on you, but here’s a story with a moral. When I was an account supervisor at McCann Erickson on AT&T (the technology part, not the voice part), I developed a fact book containing all relevant and import business data — information needed to be conversant in this technical and important piece of business.  Gathering and presenting the data was a great exercise for the AE and AAEs, who were pretty much mushrooms at the time; smart, but not seeing a lot of daylight.  The book’s main purpose was to educate McCann’s president, should he be called to attend a meeting. It could easily be read in the hour it took to drive from NYC to Bridgewater, NJ.   

A story appeared in today’s NY Times suggesting that daily quizzes in college improve student learning when compared to traditional midterm and final testing. My fact book was more like a midterm than a daily quiz…but better than nothing.

Chief level executives at agencies may know their craft (see yesterday’s post), but it’s unlikely they speak the language of the client.  What my fact books did not possess was a section on key consumer and buyer insights. There was a target section, yet only am inch deep.  C-levels who cannot speak the language of the client are simply passing through.  Smart window dressing.  They need more frequent quizzes on the businesses they own, not midterms. Or worse, finals. Finals are when they have to defend and re-pitch the business.  Peace.

 

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