poppe Tyson

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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. 





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I like to write about trends that impact marketing. One such, is the craft economy. It’s an exciting movement that is slowly taking hold and can be seen in craft beer, home-made pasta, woodworking and the neat site Etsy.  What makes the craft economy a trend worthy of notice is the bigger phenomenon that has lived here for too long: the junk economy.  Junk food, junk games, mass produced-low quality gear. When ladies can go to Target and pick up a blouse for $6.00, something is wrong.  When it makes more sense to buy a new laptop than fix the old one, something is wrong. When a TV only lasts 5-6 years rather than 15, something is wrong.

I love old stuff.  I am old stuff. I have tee-shirts older than my 20 something kids.  My old Poppe Tyson softball tee just ripped.  Pissed I didn’t buy a better weight of cotton Hanes back in the 80s.

Junk is bad, craft is good. Market with that thought in mind and the messages and customers will follow.  Eric Ripert has built an empire on fighting the junk economy. He is an inspiring hero.  Lose the junk. (Not that junk Terrence. Oh, and Terrence, Pearl Jam is coming to Philly.) Peace.



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One of my first insights as a young planner while working at Poppe Tyson on a brand called Ravensburger, maker of wooden puzzles and educational games, was the insight that competitors who were flooding the market with what we called “junk games” borrowed from the term junk food. 

Some might disagree with me on this, but I’m afraid a good deal of the products we consume today can be classified as junk. Products for most of the populace are not build to last. Clothes, sneakers, outerwear purchased for under ten dollars at discount stores start unraveling on the way home. But what the heck, they didn’t cost anything.

Carlota Perez, an economist interviewed by Fred Wilson at Web 2.0 last year, says the way forward for our planet is to make products that use less raw material, last a long time and can be serviced by real people earning a wage. This mentality is what I’m calling the Craft Economy.

If we make and consume craft products, we’ll take better care of them.  Craft beer isn’t swilled the way mass market pasteurized beer is.  It’s savored.  Refrigerators that last 25 years, a pair of shoes that are resoled rather than tossed – these are the things of a craft economy. Let’s lose disposable everything. Razor blades. Paper towels. Let’s use more natural products and think sustainability.

The craft economy is coming. And as a trend it will grow faster as economists start building cases for the inherent savings. More Etsy, less junk. Peace!

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Ben Benson’s Steak House is a classic New York steakhouse.  Meat, potatoes, spinach and big drinks.  In the 80s I used to do some fun advertising for Ben, when the “steakhouse wars” were the rage. Lots of creative print advertising in the city with Poppe Tyson, my dad’s agency, and creative director Fergus O’Daly in the bull’s eye.

One of my best marketing ideas at the time, which I pitched to Ben, was to offer captains of industry who frequented the establishment on rainy days a free Ben Benson golf umbrella, if they left theirs at the office. Follow the color scheme, make the logo big but delicate and provide best customers with a meaningful spiff.  Oh, and the advertising walking around midtown wouldn’t hurt. I could get the umbrellas for about $19 a piece, printed. 

“You know how many steaks I have to sell to pay for one of those umbrellas?” asked Ben.   “My sirloins (remember, if was the 80s) retail for $24 and cost me $18.   I’d have to sell 3 steaks to pay for one umbrella.”  This, from a guy running a multi-million dollar steakhouse with a $100,000 ad budget. Still, in Ben’s mind steaks jumping across plates was context.  Understand the context of your customer before you sell them and you have a higher chance of success. Peace.

(Psst Ben.  Your sirloins are $50 today and an umbrella is still about $19 – just sayin’.)


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My father, Fred C. Poppe, built a business on engagement.  It was a word he used back in the 70s and it meant the same thing it does today — but back then he was talking about ads that were engaging. He parlayed this word (his word) into articles in Ad Age, then a few books and finally into a well-respected agency brand Poppe Tyson.  Engagement was my pops’ thing.


Engagement today, thanks to the web and digital marketing, goes way beyond ads and includes brands, communities of buyers and brand experiences. I’m a fan of engagement — so long as there is some selling taking place.

Readers know I write a lot about Yahoo!.  Yahoo! was like my first pretty babysitter…she taught me new things and opened my eyes to the possibilities.  These days I engage with Yahoo only during fantasy football season where, BTW, they’re doing a fine job of pursuing a content strategy. Elsewhere? I’m not finding Yahoo particularly relevant.


Here’s an engagement measure. Let’s call it word usage. If you could Google all the words you use over the course of a day, week, or month and quantify them, how many times would you say the word Yahoo? Engagement starts with awareness, moves to meaning, relevance, utility, usage and purchase. People aren’t talking about Yahoo any more. And if they are, it’s about money making or money losing. Yahoo has a content strategy but it’s not serious. Someone at Yahoo will write me and tell me it’s the #4 most trafficked website and makes hundreds of millions in ad revenue per quarter and they would be correct. But Yahoo is no longer the pretty or handsome babysitter – it’s more like the friend of your grandmother who babysits for a week and cooks cabbage for dinner. Yahoo is no longer engaging. And it needs to be. Peace!

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Back in the day, I met my pops at a NYC restaurant his ad agency (Poppe Tyson) worked for…Mike Manuche’sMeetcha at Manuche’s was the ad line. My dad introduced me to Red the Bookie.  Red gave me some advice which has saved me lots of money over the years: “Kid, don’t ever bet on anyone but yourself.”

I had a meeting this week with a high-up marketing executive at a professional NY sports team. The exec asked me if I had any experience consulting in the sports and entertainment business.  I did my normal hominah hominah, told him about work for the St. John’s Red Storm, then jumped into a discussion of the NY Knicks silly marketing line “You. We. Us. Now.”

But what strikes me about the marketing guy’s inquiry, and what is perhaps part of the problem for this and other franchises, is the notion that they are partly in the entertainment business. Franchises that market like entertainers become so. It’s a trap one falls into when there is a history of losing. Similarly, marketers who talk about ROI all the time are the marketers who aren’t getting any.

Sport is sport. Ask an excitable parent hollering at a grade school volleyball game. Who else would pay good money to see a circus where the tricks and stunts didn’t work or a Broadway play where the key characters die?  My marketing executive knew his team’s wins and losses define the product, yet he still tried to put fannies in seats using entertainment tactics.

Sports have changed over the years. Player loyalty is a thing of the past. But sports brands are built — even as living breathing things.  They are competitive in nature and their outcomes are driven by coaching, teamwork and players. If you root for the players as you root for your friends and family and you have a brand. Sports are different. Peace.

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Back with a flourish.

Back in the day, so the story goes, Smith and Wollensky’s Steak House was about to close its doors for lack of business.  Poppe Tyson and creative director Fergus O’Daly created an ad for them – a full page in The New York Times – with a life-size picture of a Smith and Wollensky’s matchbook in the lower right corner atop a small headline: “Finally a match for the Palm and Christ Cella.” The rest, as they say, is history.

Steak for Stock

Today in that same New York Times Smith and Wollensky continues its great run of print advertising with “Steak for Stock.”  Not sure if Alan Stillman (CEO) is still behind the advertising but it certainly feels like him. The “Steak for Stock” ad invites you to bring in valid stock certificates in exchange it for a juicy, aged and perfectly charred sirloin.  Can’t you just smell the certificate paper?

Smith and Wollensky has made a living with its wit, its wine, its relevance and its meat and spinach. I’m probably borrowing this from Ben Benson’s, another brilliant NY steak house, but Smith and Wollensky’s is, indeed, the quintessential NY steak house.  Great to see them mixing it up again.  Peace!

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