Monthly Archives: May 2008

Free your mind and your ass will follow

Working as a copywriter and later CD in Germany, I lead quite a few major pitches. Once my team received the brief, the first thing they did was grab all the available Luerzer Archives and annuals. And for the next few days, all the creative power was wasted on rummaging through old annuals, trying to be inspired by genius. In the end, none of it resulted in any innovative ideas, just recycling brilliant ideas into second-rate advertising.

But what would you expect from a society that thrives on copycats? Food Network is based on the idea that people don’t trust their own instincts, rather copying experts. Andrew writes brilliantly about his own cooking experience on the Northern Planner blog. Just spend a few hours with HGTV, home improvement magazines or healthy lifestyles shows. It’s all about copying what other people have done.

Average marketing is done by reading a lot of advice. An average life is lived by consuming a lot of advice. Real life starts when you get the basics down, learn everything you can from your parents, family, friends, books, movies, music, etc. and then shut all the outside influences out and create your own life. Your own convictions, your own style.

All the people that ask for another viral video or a widget or more bright shiny objects, didn’t take the time to process information. Just like the creatives reading annuals after annuals. Get the creative brief and let it sink in. Don’t give in to the noise and create more noise. Then use the product/service. Push it as hard as you can. Use it as you. Use it as your neighbor. Use it as Joe Blow. And let that sink in. Your job is to keep the noise level down to a minimum. Your mind needs silence to develop inspiring, innovative ideas.

These are hectic times: Ad clutter, nervous marketing departments, anxious agencies to sell the newest fad or sticking to the old :30s because the rest is so confusing.

It’s not that hard.

Instead of relying on the pied pipers of old/new/emerging/whatever marketing, trust yourself first. Or as Funkadelic brilliantly sang: “Free your mind and your ass will follow.”


Trust yourself

Confidence is sexy. Confidence in your positive traits and being able to deal with your negatives. Pretending you’re somebody else doesn’t work. Not in your personal life. Not as a business. If you are confident, if you love yourself for who you are, the majority will feel the same way about you.

The brand landfill is littered with brands pretending to be something they’re not: Brand extensions such as Hooters Air or Trump Cologne come to mind. Or the well-reported flogsof Wal-Mart and PSP. 

A long time ago, Avis lead the charge in showing their confidence in being #2. They didn’t try to claim to be leader in everything (Unlike almost all car companies – just look at their performance claims.), they made their customers feel confident in buying from the #2 rental company, giving all others another reason to try them out. Because they tried harder.

Just look at today’s airline branding disaster: Yes, all the traditional airlines (AA, United, Delta) still have their Crown Rooms, their pre-boarding for Medallion and Platinum members. But, once seated, you still in an aging plane with grumpy employees and grumpier passengers. (Overheard on an AA flight a few days ago – Purser: “We know you have many choices of bankrupt airlines.” – Now there’s somebody being honest.)

In the new marketing reality, brands need to be authentic. They might need to confront negative truths but there are ways of turning these negatives into positives. No, I’m not talking about spin. I’m talking about using your weaknesses as strengths in your communication and conversations. Just like Avis did.


Filling spaces vs. Filling time

Advertisers are used to filling spaces: spaces before/between/after entertainment, spaces on freeways, spaces on sites, spaces in papers. Media buys the spaces, Creative fills them with life. Hopefully.

This old advertising paradigm is slowly disappearing. People trained their brains to oversee these spaces. The information age has forced the human brain to avoid these irrelevant messages and focus on the task at hand. Unwelcome messages are considered disruptive and will change brand perceptions negatively.

Conversational Marketing requires decorum, a good handle on etiquette and an understanding for the challenges of everyday life. Announcing your openness to a dialogue with a marching band and fly-over won’t do you any good. Who wants to start a dialogue in that environment?

Instead, brand need to move away from filling spaces to filling moments: Those moments when you stand in line, you’re bored and you watch an engaging show on a screen in the coffeeshop. Moments when you wander around the city and discover a pop-up retail store. Moments when you’re sitting in the airplane, waiting for takeoff.

People have only so much time. The ROI of getting their attention when they are busy is declining rapidly. We need to engage them when they’re open to be entertained, open to new experiences, open to be wowed. Everything else is just waste.

The second wave iPhone hype

I just found out where I’m going to be on June 9: at the local Apple Store. The second wave wave of the iPhone hype made me think about Apple and where their success comes from.

Great brands are based in passion. Passion for performance: BMW. Passion for customer service: Four Seasons. Passion for design: Apple.

Outstanding brands extend this passion to everything they’re doing. The passion for design can be felt at any touchpoint of the Apple brand: In the store, the site, email communications, user experience. This passion for design makes it almost inevitable to create a good product. And that’s the corner stone of every remarkable brand. The next step great brands take is to observe people use their product/service and then listen to them.

This continuous evolution process is something people are expecting today. Most people that bought their first iPhone the first day will be back in the store on June 9. They understand that yesterday’s iPhone was the best Apple could do at that point. They expressed their need for improvement and Apple answered. This ongoing production process, supported with a hungry media machine and brand passionistas fuels the second wave of the iPhone marketing machine. Other brands should listen. And learn.


This is what great brands do. They have passion for what they make and that passion helps them start out with a pretty good product to begin with. Then, they go out and spend time listening to people who use their products and find ways to make them better.

Great brands always consider themselves to be in beta – even if they don’t use that term. They’re always looking for ways to improve and be more meaningful to the people who use them. In return, this makes the people who use them even more passionate about them. In my book, that’s never a bad thing.

Advertising Agencies are Coal Miners

Russell Davies compares the big agencies to the coal-mining business. Growing up close to coal mines, I think his analogy is brilliant:

“Mining died in the UK because it was uneconomic, not because all the coal suddenly disappeared. In many parts of the world it’s still a thriving business, it’s still economic. That seems quite like the ad agency business.

Extracting attention using advertising agencies isn’t suddenly impossible, it’s just gradually becoming uneconomic in the West. This is predictable and it’s possible to prepare for it – through retraining and re-skilling. Whether that will actually happen is debatable. There may be for a future for some specialist businesses and for a few heritage ones, but that’s about it.”

I was a kid when the coal mines started to close down in Germany. I never understood why miners demonstrated for months without any pay to keep their horrible job: Generations worked in the mines and died pre-maturely. I understood the idea of tradition but I also believed in the power of progress. The German government had to subsidize the mines for years (up to $200k per employee) to stay competitive and keep the miners union quiet.

The same is about to happen to disruptive advertising models. Yes, they still work but the costs are astronomical  Disruption models will start become inefficient and brands will move on to models to guarantee higher ROI’s. Corporations might be slow moving but they react quickly when the ROI is not working anymore. Agencies, just like the coal miners, will hold on to old business models as long as they possibly can. And that might be too late for most of them.

Why I don’t like old movies

No, it’s not the artificial dialogue. Not the predictable story lines. Or the lame special effects. The main reason why I don’t like old movies is being confronted with a linear story in a non-linear world.

And, as you can imagine, these linear story lines are not limited to movies: Almost all campaigns are linear, same is true for books, magazines, radio programs. The majority of our entertainment industrial complex is based on linear storytelling.

In the new marketing reality, good advertising is non-linear: It’s relevant, personal, exploratory, weird, interesting, bizarre, different. Budweiser UK gets it in above commercial: Building an emotional environment, an intellectual platform to communicate to people is all they were looking for. A story that starts to build, a story intriguing enough to make me look again for the next storyline

Providing a non-linear storytelling experience will satisfy the desires of people (who hunger for these kinds of stories) by connecting their actions, channel choices and media snacking to the unfolding story directly. Game developers have understood the potential of non-linear stories a long time ago and the IGDA offers a few good pointers to make the complexity work.

Since our lives are increasingly non-linear, the stories that surround us need to adjust: When TV started to develop programs, they showed mostly theatrical plays because they didn’t know what to do with the medium. It took a long time to develop soaps, sitcoms, etc. We still try to transfer the TV format to the digital medium. That’s not a solution. It’s a pity.

In 20 years, we’ll look back at these stone-age attempts to digital storytelling and in our memories will be black and white. And grainy.

Marketing is about delivering value

We’ve said it many times: Businesses would be better off not spending a dime on marketing for year and re-investing all these funds in their product/service/brand experience. And a new study by Nielsen CGM/Homescan Buzzfacts makes exactly that point:

“Advertising and promotions, whether in traditional media or online, play only relatively small roles in driving consumers to post content about products and services.

This is the somewhat humbling reality, according to survey data from Nielsen CGM/Homescan Buzzfacts. Asked what motivates them to post such content on a Web site, blog or message board, just 18% cited seeing a promotion for the product, 12% cited seeing an ad on TV or in print, and 7% cited seeing an ad or video clip on the Internet.

So what is driving product/service consumer-generated media/CGM? In two words, “product experience.”

Over half (55%) of consumers said they posted because they had used and liked a product; 28% because they’d used a product and didn’t like it, or wanted a refund; and 27% said they’d read a comment about a product on a site, blog or message board and responded to it.”

Pete Blackshaw, EVP of Nielsen Online’s Digital Strategic Services (DSS) group continues:

“It’s vital that agencies and marketers understand that when you put all the data in a blender, the root causes behind why consumers talk are product quality and process issues,” Blackshaw said in an interview with Marketing Daily. “Advertising and marketing generate a certain amount of word of mouth, but by and large, brand reputation rises and falls based on the quality of the product and the service wrapped around it.”

Marketers, he says, tend to “over-romanticize” the power of tactics like “sensational viral campaigns.”

At heart, marketing is about delivering values. Now, everybody defines values differently. It could be money, time, the little things in life, a racing heart – whatever you define as value is valuable to you. Marketing’s job is to deliver what’s missing in the value chain and fill that gap.

If your product is mediocre, has design flaws, offers people not a lot of value and doesn’t fill an immediate need – do you think a mass marketing campaign will convince people to buy it? You have so many gaps to fill, your marketing dollar is better spend exploring the real needs of people, how they define value, redesigning your product/service and offering something that kills the competition. Or starts a new market.

If your product is amazing, offers flawless design, has immediate value and fills a desperate need in people’s lives – Go ahead and mass market your product. The only gap to fill is to make the world aware of your awesome product. That’s the point where marketing/advertising delivers value. Because people will appreciate to find out about your product.

Marketing/Advertising is a gap filler. Just like R&D, Product Planning, etc. Use it wisely. Or, rather save your money.