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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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In my brand briefs the Living Breathing Target provides a layer of consumer insight many briefs don’t have.  The line after the target is Core Desire, a building block in the logic flow that leads to the idea. The difference between Living Breathing Target and a typical target is one of psychographic Vs. demographic. And the difference between the Living Breathing Target and the Core Desire is often depth and context. The target, typically described with a fun memorable name like Weberterians or Kings of the Castle, is a “grouping of people bound by a single shared attitude or belief.” A bit of a macro collective or people. Perhaps a bit cultural.

The Core Desire  dives into the consumers “most deeply held desire or belief that the brand can best meet or fulfill.” So it’s more product centric.  And don’t undervalue the word “deeply.” Analysis here is often quite instructive.


Great planners get people. Likely, they’ve had psychotherapy or studied it. And I’m not talking school psychology stuff, I’m talking Freudian balls-out therapy. Remember, Margaret Mead while at the Museum of Natural History wanted all employees to experience psychotherapy.  

Get inside the head of your target, understand what binds members to others, and you will have wonderful groundwork for your idea. Peacely.

PS. This brief was learned, borrowed and slightly modified while I was at McCann-Erickson in the mid-90s. Its author, as best I can tell, was Peter Kim, then Chief Strategy Officer.

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Simple leadership.

I wrote an email this morning to someone in the health insurance space referencing an axiom I love “leaders educate.”  I learned it while working at McCann-Erickson on the AT&T business.  AT&T had some seriously smart marketers back in the day. Post-monopoly.

When consumers are confused and change is in the wind, they can make bad choices. Uninformed choices. The sturm und drang favors upstarts and competitors.  It is for this reason that leaders need to step up and organize the explanation. To remove the confusion. Simple is memorable. Simple stories, simple examples, simple “if—thens” are what consumers need.  With this out of the way, marketers can then provide the ability for a deeper information dive. (Think iPhone. Not iMultipleDevices.)

Some businesses benefit from complexity. Law. Finance. Privacy. Accounting. And insurance.  Nothing is too hard to explain and make understandable.  Sometimes marketers are too close and can’t see the simple explanation. This is why technology companies have a hard time branding.


As for the use of education in advertising and marketing, we need to do more. A Dorito chip bouncing around a room on a Super Bowl ad is not educating anybody.  It’s much like sitting in the same class over and over again. Leaders educate. Let’s lead. Peace. 


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As a young account supervisor at McCann Erickson working on the AT&T private data line business, I visited a tradeshow called InterOp.  In the land of B2B, trade shows are a great place to learn what’s up? They still are, to a degree, for tasting, touching and gauging the veracity of people with whom you’re speaking.  But the web has taken a little wind out of trade show sails.

At InterOp in the 90s, I trod the show floor asking lots of questions, meeting AT&T product people, competitors, chatting up salespeople and visiting presentations. When I returned home I had to do a write-up on what I learned.  The paper was my first real “good doggy.”  It contained an insight about InterOp that had to do with name badges. Every third badge said “consultant.”

At the time data interoperability was such a mess (think the opposite of open systems) that the business was in crazy turmoil. There was no leadership or firm technology consensus.  So many geekuses were making a living solving individual problems, on an island kind of problems, and demand for consulting was great. It was getting messier and messier.

AT&T knew near term that if they fed the mess they would make some nice money. But if they solved the mess, they would make even more money. “Reducing the complexity” was a brand strategy that resonated in the market.  So, you don’t always get your insights by talking to people; sometimes they can be found in the strangest places. “Hey, eyes up here.” JKJK.



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I was judging at The Beautiful Minds Event last weekend, a wonderful BBH-sponsored celebration of the life of Griffin Farley, and was struck by how rose colored my glasses have become.  Not sure if it’s all the find the pain point pop marketing books the kids read in school or what the media hath wrought, but most of the young were wrapping their strats around problem solving. (Beautiful Minds, BTW, is a competition among tyro brand planners.)

The brief the competitors were chasing was about Citibikes. Imagery of sweat, commuter angst, cramped subway cars and ornery taxi drivers abounded.  Where was the happiness factory? Readers know I love Coke strategy and have been a little contrary when it comes to the happiness strategy. Growing up at McCann and seeing how “refreshment” can be optimized for Coke sales, I’ve not been “feeling” the happiness thing.  But then I watched the lovely “Small World Machine” video designed to bring closer together Pakistani and Indian youth. I cried then said to myself “that’s refreshing.” A different kind of refreshing.     

With all the negativity in the world, all the cop/killing TV shows, movies about aliens eating cities, religious wars and hate mongering, it’s not hard to stick out with some positivity. Let’s not just fix problems with our strategies, let’s surround and celebrate the good.  And let’s teach the youth to do so as well. Check all your briefs at the door people. Peace.

RIP Aunt Irma. The Poppe matriarch.

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I favor the poetry inherent in good brand planning, so in various places on the web you may have seen some of my references to “redistributing marketing wealth.” Redistributing marketing wealth is a great calling if you can do it. It is one goal of great strategy. The only thing that trumps it is “creating new wealth.”  The most exciting work in marketing is not taking a market that currently exists, say a $2.4B market for nutrition drinks, and rejiggering it to get more share – though that is fun.  It’s taking a static market and growing it. Finding new uses, new custies, and new (I can’t think of a third thing)…  

That’s not redistributing marketing wealth, that’s creating new wealth. A smart boss at McCann once asked me, “Where will the money to pay for this product come from?” In other words what will someone not buy to pay for this product? Carbonated soft drink dollars are flowing into waters. So Coke owns both. Now Coke is getting into protein – another reapportionment. But what if Coke took money away from the gyms?  Or created a product that took consumer budget from the gas budget?

Rational consumers only have so much money to spend.  Figuring out how to get them to spend it with you is a planners MO. New money?  Or old money? That is a big planning  question.

Peace be upon you this Friday!     

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One of my favorite interview questions when hiring is “Tell me about me.”  It often creates quizzical looks. Perplexed looks. I usually reserve it for half way through the interview and sometimes step out of the interview for a couple of beats so the candidate can look around my office.  If I am shined on, that’s telling.  If the response is “I just met you.” Another ding. 

In the advertising and marketing business, people with good observation and interpretation skills are very valuable.  The ability to process information quickly and tell truths, even more so.

One time I almost got into trouble asking the question.  For some reason a young lady thought the question bordered on harassment. She lost her cool for a second. I didn’t recommend hiring her, but since as they used to say at McCann she was a “special” (friend of a client), hired she was. She turned out to be quirky indeed. 

Try the question out sometime, it’s pretty cool and provides a nice cull of the candidates. Peace.

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McCann-Erickson’s “Priceless” campaign for MasterCard is arguably one of the most respected credit card campaigns to come along in decades.  “It’s everywhere you want it to be” was a great ubiquity campaign for Visa, but that’s long gone.  The problem with advertising is that sometime the advertising becomes more important that the product.  Priceless is an example of an advertising idea that overshadows the card.  Emotional attachment to a brand is important in terms of tone — and that’s what the campaign does so well.  But it is an advertising dimension. Products that tie their horse to an emotion (Coke are you listening?) rather than product benefit or quality are using advertising to get attention.  Or remind us to pay attention.

MasterCard, has done some very cool innovative things like PayPass and smartphone apps yet is sadly still famous for its priceless advertising. No matter how much it tries to make PayPass priceless, the ads are still about a smiling kid in a baseball hat.

Today MasterCard’s tagline is “That’s MasterCard. That’s Priceless.”  The “That’s Mastercard” portion takes a register mark so it looks as if they are beginning to think about evolving away from Priceless and straddle two ideas.  But “That’s MasterCard” smells like an empty vessel. This is a tough category, but for far too long it has been managed by ad people not marketers. It’s time for that to change.  Peace.  

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My first real exposure to a marketing segmentation study was with AT&T Business Communications Services back in the 90s.  AT&T created 23 different product offerings, or packages, to meet the specific corporate telecommunications needs of various large customer profiles.  The revenue stream was in the billions.  That’s a lot of segments.

Segmentation is a great marketing undertaking.  It forces sellers of product and services to drill into customer usage and see patterns.  Creating packages of products to meet that usage, surrounded with specially focused levels of care, and pricing tailored to that package is what segmentation is all about. Pay only for what you need — because one price and level of service does not fit all.

A brand plan goes the other way.  It does have to fit all.  So while segmentation people need to see patterns among discrete users groups, brand planners need to see commonalities among all user groups.  When Peter Kim, a chief strategy office at McCann-Erickson in the 90s, talked about brand targeting he used the word “remassify.” His targeting rigor started by understanding all of a brand’s targets, one by one.  Get to know them intimately, he suggested. Understand how they use the product. When? Why?  After amassing all the different targets, he put them back together to see what traits and care-abouts they shared.  Remassifying into a segment of one. From this learning emerged stimulus for the brand brief claim. For brand action or what some today might call brand activation.  So you tell me, what comes first the segments or the brand plan?  Peace!

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