pearl jam

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I’ve been thinking about two brand strategies lately. One for the Madison Square Garden the other for James Brown. Madison Square Garden’s is “The World’s Most Famous Arena.” James Brown was “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.”  These two sentences are brand claims.

A claim is only good when it’s believable. If you’ve ever seen James Brown, you know his claim to be true. As for MSG, the same, but you may have to take their word for it to a degree.  There have been 4 Madison Square Garden’s and none in Madison Square since 1925. There have, indeed, been some amazing events in the 4 gardens, but it’s no Roman Coliseum. What The Garden is is a well-tended brand. At every major sports event the announcer welcomes one and all with “Welcome to Madison Square Garden, the world’s most famous arena.” The halls are bedazzled with black and whites of Ali-Frazier, George Harrison, and Mark Messier.   Hanging from the rafters are aging championship banners from the NY Rangers.

MSG works hard to prove its claim. James Brown used to sweat his claim.

Claims are the basis of brand strategy. With claim in hand, all that is left are the deeds and the proof. Peace.


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Strategy Bounty.

I’m in a hurry this morning. Heading to Orient Point for a ferry to Connecticut then on to see Pearl Jam at Fenway Park in Boston, MA, It’s great being human.  Anyway, I will only post a short one today (as if they aren’t all short.) 

Apple has decided to offer bug bounties to hackers for any software glitches found in their software. Very contrary to Apple’s position of bug-free software it has been lauding over Microsoft for so many years. Still it’s a good move.  

I’m going to riff on the idea and ask companies to offer “strategy bounties” to brand planners. I’d love to look at a brand strategy for a company and ID any anomalies for money. Who will my first payor?


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Just as Wyoming is transitioning from a coal mining state to a wind farming state, so will change the advertising business. I was one of the first people who poo-pooed the death of the TV Advertising commercial. When HubSpot came out proselytizing inbound marketing would replace advertising, I giggled. It wasn’t too much longer that they were investing in TV ads themselves to build business.  But conversely, back in the 90s, I asked Bob Cohen “Where are the online spending predictions?” His answer? “Too small to track at this time.” Bob was a McCann employee and the world’s leading ad spending economist.

The not so simple fact is advertising has been change irrevocably by online. And by the algorithm. Putting active queries into the marketing mix has up-ended everything. I’m not exactly sure what the 21st century ad unit of choice is but it will be somewhere between a video ad and a data-driven delivery system. And Google will not hold on to all the business the way it has today.  As Pearl Jam says “It’s evolution, baby.”

So we must begin to plan and ready ourselves for the future.  I’ve been writing and getting some traction around the comms planning tool Twitch Point Planning. I’d love to work with a smart brand to develop a Twitch Point program. It would be merely a step but as a mentor of mine once said “The idea to have an idea is sometimes more important than the idea itself.”

Let’s go! Peace.           


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scott-weilandI went to see Scott Weiland the week before he died. It was his second to last show. I suggested my son go to see him; Scott being one of the great rock voices of all time. Mr. Weiland’s gravelly pipes and larger than life presence on the rock scene couple of decades ago was an American dream.  His Stone Temple Pilots were right up there with Nirvana (Kurt Cobain), Soundgarden (Chis Cornell) and Pearl Jam (Eddie Vedder) as vocalist-centered superior bands that walked Grunge to the fore of the American consciousness.

But Mr. Weiland’s voice was not the same toward the end of his life. My son scratched his head a little when hearing Plush and other songs sung in a higher register. Sans gravel. Sans primordial ooze.  

Mr. Weiland’s voice was his brand. Addictions aside, it must have been hard to lose his most important performance asset. Pitchers lose their fast ball, football players lose their legs, finger-pickers lose their dexterity. So when we refer to people as brands (it’s a thing) we aren’t being fair. People age and their skills diminish. Beauty Kim Novak aged. Patty Smith aged. Some do so gracefully and allow their sso-called brands to do so as well.

People are not brands, however. I just wish Mr. Weiland had realized it and allowed himself to evolve and reinvent before his final act. He was a great. A historic great.



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Avoidance Planning.

Readers know I’m an advocate of Twitch Point Planning; a twitch being is a media move from one online device to another. Typically in search of clarification. Under closer inspection, I’m willing to expand the definition of a twitch to include a move from the real world to a device, e.g. “Who was the lead actress in Vampire Diaries, with the funny name?” Twitches can also happen on the same device, a la “How do you spell “hor d’oeuvres?”, a twitch while writing on a laptop to a Google search.  Twitch Point Planning is a comms planning rigor that ask your to understand, map and manipulate a consumer closer to a sale by interrupting twitches with value brand related content.

This post is not about Twitch Point Planning. It’s about Avoidance Planning. A way to reach consumers when they’re avoiding typical media plays. For instance, I couldn’t read the sports section yesterday or today after the Mets loss. I watched the game and there wasn’t anything anyone could say about it to console me. I also stayed away from sports talk radio. And may for another day. My Mets mind has shut down.

A friend, Cory Treffiletti, started an avoidance planning group a number of years ago on Facebook called, “After Pearl Jam Tour Depression.” Cory gets it.

To properly take marketing advantage of avoidance behavior, you need to figure out a secondary or replacement behavior. Most likely this is an experiential marketing undertaking. What’s the opposite of a World Series celebration parade? How to you deal with a lost election? A poor health diagnosis? How does a marketer comfort consumers and show empathy? The answer: avoidance planning.

Tink about it, as my Norwegian aunt would have said. Peace.

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Poor poor advertising. Woe is Advertising. It really doesn’t get much respect. As a kid growing up in the business (before Cable TV and Mad Men), ad agency peeps listed just above car salesmen in term of trustworthyness and job stature. God knows where they stand today. Advertising needs a PR company to remold its image.

Where do you think Google gets its bank? Its campus? Its engineers and PHDs? And, and, and. From ad dollars. Sure AdWords are McAwful. Not creative and mostly DIY. But its advertising. Advertising is a gazillon dollar business.

Advertising needs a boost. It needs a strategy. It needs an event. An event to end all events? How about something that makes South By look like child’s play? How about we fill NYC or Brooklyn with the top creative people in the world? Not an awards show like Cannes, but a celebration of creativity like never before. “Banksy, would you mind lighting the opening bond fire?” “Pearl Jam, could you play at the closing event?” “Steven Colbert, might you emcee a live stream art face-off from McCarren Park?”

I’m not talking Advertising Week where we parade the Jolly Green Giant and Clara Peller? I’m not talking Lee Clow in a duel of words with Rich Silverstein? I’d love to celebrate and inebriate the city with the biggest creative names, people, brands and sponsors of the day. (That day being tomorrow…not yesterday.)

We need a strategy. I smell money.

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There is an old marketing textbook maxim that states as a brands gets older and more mature, it requires less money to promote.  This promotion argument is based on awareness levels. A consumer aware of a product, needs only a fast reminded and product value pitch to engender a sale. So if a national product introduction through TV costs $7M, then a reminder flight of advertising 2 months later may require only $4 million and deliver the same sales results.  

Beyonce’s launch of her new album, using the web, social media and her millions of followers blew the textbooks out of the water. She did not spend one penny to promote the album and 365,000 units (full albums, not songs) sold in a day.  Her legions of fans did the awareness and value work.  Pearl Jam is the same way; they needn’t take out ads. Pent up demand, loyalty and social remove the need for an investment in promotion for big, big brands in certain categories.   

Not everyone is Beyonce or Pearl Jam. And the wedge between the marketing Haves and Have Nots is a wide one. But the economic impact of social media on overall advertising spending will be massive.  Total advertising spent in the US in 2012 was $140 billion (Kantar Media), and smart marketers with followings like Beyonce are going to pocket a good portion of that money…by being more social and not spending it. As my Norwegian aunt would say “tink about it.” Peace.  

UPDATE:  Kantar disclosed 3Q TV spend was down 6%. Read here:



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Here’s how I do it.

1. Observe. As a consultant, observation happens before an engagement and during. Before, observations are used in biz/dev. What’s going on in the culture? What’s going on in the selling culture? The buying culture? These nuggets are the grist for the emails that start a dialogue. Emails explaining what I do for living are “me” focused not “you” focused.

Once engaged, observations are the ebb and flow off the business tide – contextually set up by business fundamentals provided by senior client management. Research, both qual. and quant. come in at this stage, budget permitting.

2. Commune. Unlike anthropological fieldwork, in brand planning we need to commune with those we study. Plumbing, probing, storydoing (thanks Ty), making of friends. This is how we add dimension and luster to our hunting and gathering – talking to people. There are no wrong people.

3. Cull. A cull rack in Great South Bay parlance is the rack that catches the clams of legal edible size. With all observations in (one can observe forever), the cull begins. What to save. Knowing what is important is personal, subjective, objective, scientific and artful. Basically it’s a brain thing. Can’t really be explained. No algo for this.

4. Organize. In my work I often talk about brand planning as an organizing principle. Today I’m thinking about the root word organ. Yes, organ. The business winning elements of the strategy are like organs. They give life to the brand plan. I use 3 brand planks and there are three really important organs. (My brand plan contains one claim, three support planks.) With this structure, the puzzle pieces come together.

5. Package. Brand strategy doesn’t package well. It’s like an early Pearl Jam song, when they weren’t good at endings. The big reveal of a strategy (remember it’s not creative) often feels soft. It feels right, everyone is nodding, but it’s often a soft landing. If I may be crass, it’s kind of blue ballsy. Unlike creative which is more artful and has a hook, brand strategy is only a beginning. It needs great packaging to make it feel more creative. A touch of poetry helps.

This is how I do it. This is how brand strategy at What’s the Idea? is made. Have you a different approach? Peace!

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Engage Maslow.

Is it easy to engage the angry? Of course it is. Toss a match. Is it easy to engage Zen-ed out lovers of life? Sure, toss a petal or feather.

Talking sports with a sports guy, Pearl Jam with a Ten Club member, Common Core with a teacher – these are topics about which people can easily engage; even people who don’t know one another. When it comes to selling, however, engagement is not so easy.  That’s why the word “engagement” is such a popular topic in marketing.  Fred C. Poppe, often wrote about engagement in the 70s and 80 and it did him well, but today engagement is almost a cult-like pursuit. 

People are not always consumers.  Sometimes, they are just people. When you treat people as consumers you treat them differently. And they can smell you a mile away. Pop marketing suggests we need to give people things of value with our marketing and communication to earn their interest. True this. But everyone’s definition of value may change by time of day, stage of life, and as Robert Scoble will talk about in his upcoming book situational context.

The best marketing is based on a full-duplex model. A two way model. One way marketing is over. The days of things sticking to the wall are over. Today we are talking to people. People who are twitching away from our messages with increasing speed.  Planners who search for people value – think Maslow – are the best searchers. Peace.

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Ego is the root of all brand planning evil. Okay, will maybe not evil but it can still screw up a good insight. (For returning readers, it can also screw up a good incite.)

When you read your briefs and decks and find this nuggets that sounds and feel motivating you must ask “Is this me talking?”   Is this my point of view?  Or is it a fair and unbiased observation – supported by fact.  NY ad agencies have often been ridiculed for making ads that don’t sell between the wickets, the wickets being the east and west coasts. Are we including everyone when we observer trends, when we ideate?  That’s why testing and researching outside of the big metropolitans areas is important.  

Good planners are paid to think beyond the ego. To think beyond the subject before them. Planners catalog a lifetime of experiences and observations and use them when sorting through their day jobs and assignments at hand. They drop the ego. They drop the leash (Pearl Jam reference).

Remove the ego, the self-projection and you can begin to truly see. (It’s hard.) Peace!


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