From this... this!

Now that I’ve been outside agency walls a short spell, I’ve had time to reflect on some things that challenged me most when it came to true integration and moving from good to great. Oddly, the following observations are seldom discussed. I’m not sure why. They’re true, more or less, for all advertising agencies. Solving for them strikes me as critical in terms of which agencies compete and win.

1. The myth of good work at all costs. Unfortunately, that simply is not possible. First of all, “good” is entirely subjective. The agency’s most successful campaign may be a dog at award shows and vice versa. In addition, as we all know, some clients are less willing to take risks with creative than others. Forcing them to drink from the well never works. You might get one “good” piece of creative but the client will most likely hold a resentment and eventually move their business elsewhere. Few agencies are flush enough to call their own shots, especially now, during times of economic instability and seismic changes in media. None of this is new. But when agencies rhapsodize about doing brilliant work and then don’t the disconnect hurts inside the agency as much as out. For example, an account that does so-so work but generates millions develops a dysfunctional personality within the agency.

2. The myth of 360 campaigns. Rare is the client that wants all its marketing from one agency. Despite our much pimped credentials to do it, we have precious few clients that want 360 marketing campaigns from us and us alone. This is a bigger deal than one might first think, impacting the people, the place and the work. For example, if an agency has a sizable client that only does work below the line, say direct marketing, catalogue and digital, then the agency has to staff accordingly. Those employees tend to be specialists, whether they like it or not. I say that because though the employees may be virtuosos at creating direct mail campaigns chances are they want to expand their skill sets, doing TVC’s for example. Because the agency has allocated them primarily for doing this work on that client, these individuals can feel pigeonholed, which frankly they are. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had my hand slapped trying to use some of these people on other projects. “They are not paid by that client. You have to look elsewhere for help.” Your staff becomes resentful and demoralized. “I thought this was an integrated shop,” one might say. “But this is all I ever work on.” In the long run nobody is happy with this arrangement. Employees complain and/or defect. If they stay their work becomes rote.

3. The myth of digital nirvana. The proverbial elephant in the room, so-called digital shops have begun to recognize that even their best and brightest people want to do something other than online campaigns. If these staffers perceive their shop to be digital-only they get antsy. This is why so many of those shops are exploring ways to build out their advertising capability. They want to make fabled 360 marketing campaigns just like everyone else, and not just because of increasing revenue streams but because their people want it, too. The creative staff craves the permanence of print and the notoriety of TV. Ask any headhunter. Despite all the talk of digital platforms killing TV, TV is precisely what many so-called digital specialists want to be making!

I’m reminded of the Dr. Seuss fable, The Sneetches, whereby the plain-bellied Sneetches (traditional creative) desperately want stars on their bellies like the star-bellied Sneetches (digital creative). Midway through the story the tables turn and, well, everyone feels slighted.

Many people, including me, have written about future creative departments containing hybrid personnel, capable of working all channels. However, we won’t get there if agencies keep holding onto old ideas about who works on what. Caste systems have always existed in agencies and now the matter is exasperated. Breaking down barriers in creative, production, and account services is the only way to true integration. And not just on our beloved, bloated agency credentials but in our hallways as well.

We Heart Advertising!

A version of the following recently ran in AdAge. I was very pleased :-)

In the olden days enduring a sweep of commercials in order to receive free TV seemed like a fair deal. Some of us even liked the commercials, or loved to hate them anyway. Either way, we were acutely aware of advertising and easily motivated to consume. I remember my mother actually bought Vogue magazine for all the ads it contained.

It doesn’t work like that anymore. The Internet age and the subsequent customization of everything have changed our world forever. And people don’t have to endure anything but their mother-in-law.

The profound problem with online advertising is that in a search driven world, the advertiser’s target is totally accustomed to navigating through sites to get to what he or she is looking for. No matter what age or demographic, we all learned to use the Internet by navigating it. Therefore, online advertising –be it banners or anything with a ‘close’ box- are all merely hurdles to be navigated.

This may seem like 101 type stuff to many of you but it bears repeating: No medium was designed so thoroughly around its user than the Internet. Radio, TV and print are all projector mediums, meaning an active participant created content so a passive one could receive it.

While such a paradigm certainly exists online, the reality is people are “attached” to whatever it is they do online in ways those other mediums can’t touch. Therefore, not only is online advertising completely annoying to the user it is also completely avoidable. All he has to do is follow his new best friend, Skip, as in “skip intro.”

So what’s an advertiser to do? Experts agree the solution is one of two things, likely a combination: offer financial incentives or entertainment too irresistible to avoid. There is ample evidence this works.

But, dare I ask, is the Internet ultimately advertising proof? What if the end game is simply that small screens –be they laptop, desktop or mobile- just don’t support advertising very well, and in fact, never will? And is it possible early online marketing success stories were false positives? I’m not just talking about the hot button cases like “Whopper Sacrifice” and “Subservient Chicken.” I’m referring to all of them, every “fan,” every “like” and every “follower.” Likewise, all those views on You Tube. Especially all those views on You Tube. What if none of it makes a bit of difference at the cash register? There is evidence to support this view.

That would suck for us ad folks, wouldn’t it?

On the other hand go back to the criteria I listed for successful online marketing: financial incentives and/or irresistible entertainment. Are these not the same two options that constitute all successful advertising from the lowliest bench ad to glossy Super Bowl commercial?

I do think, however, extreme utility (Amazon) and customer service (Zappos) usurp the vast majority of online marketing shenanigans. At least that’s how it works for me, when I’m in a buying mood.

This summer I attended the Hyper Island Master Class (digital training for creative professionals). There, I learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t in terms of online marketing. “Useful,” stated Saatchi creative director and class presenter, Tim Leake “will be the new cool.” I completely agree.

Bob Hoffman, The CEO of Hoffman/ Lewis recently wrote an essay on the “fantasy” that people like talking to brands. My favorite line: “Most days, your sensible consumer doesn’t have the time, patience, or inclination to have a conversation with her husband. Why in the world would she want to have a conversation with (a brand)?”

Clearly, the modern creative will have to respect utility as much as high concept. Back when, the best creative ideas needed to sell as well as they amused. We now call the combination “engagement.” Apparently, the old cliché still applies: the more things change the more they stay the same. Sort of.

What if, however, people became desirous of advertising? Like my mother buying Vogue for the ads, what if consumers made it a point to seek out advertising and even share it with their friends? My agency’s celebrated office in Paris, BETC created a film for Evian, Water Babies that quickly became the most downloaded commercial ever –over 135 million views at last count! What this means at the cash register I don’t know but it sure as hell couldn’t have hurt! Still, that’s an exception. What I’m talking about is a cultural sea change whereby we all come to look forward to and even embrace marketing messages. Is it possible? It better be.

This past summer the Antwerp Zoo in Belgium created a social media campaign in anticipation of the birth of a new elephant. For the 8-month gestation period of this Asian elephant the people of Belgium were riveted to their computer screens and, ultimately, the zoo. That’s eight months of elephant-sized marketing to a captivated nation, and all of it in real time. No other media could have accomplished this, not for all the Euros in Europe.

In a free marketplace one inevitably has to advertise. The fear of being left behind is too strong. In many ways the Internet makes advertisers downright paranoid. With attention spans diminishing as everyone chews through content, a brand could wake up irrelevant. Whether this app or that online game actually generates sales is a conversation for the sidelines. Advertisers clamor for the new, new thing and we agencies, vendors and the like scramble to deliver it.

Let’s be honest, direct marketing has always been overshadowed (if not dismissed) by its more glamorous older brother, Advertising. Building brands via great stories has defined our industry for years. So-called “junk mail” and “infomercials” are considered stepchildren. Forget how much revenue DM creates, our industry has always given the love to its darlings. Consider the Superbowl or Cannes. DM has nothing remotely like them in terms of sizzle and prestige. Even the trades favor advertising. After all, the prefix to Adweek and Adage is “ad.”

When agencies merged and got swallowed by holding companies, ad firms and DM shops were thrust together, often unsuccessfully. The battles waged between above and below line practitioners became legend in our industry. Many were and still are contentious, resembling class wars or high school shenanigans. The tumultuous marriage between Draft and FCB is perhaps the best-known example.

Not long ago a new baby came along. Colicky to the extreme, ‘Digital’ demanded everyone’s attention. Even advertising took a back seat. (Baby needs her momma!) Digital quickly grew into a demanding and sexy young woman. She was the bomb. And still is. During these last few years, one could argue direct marketing went from being a stepchild to the middle child. Not to mix metaphors, but never the bride’s maid…

Enter Social Media. Try as we must, social media cannot be “owned” by advertising or digital agencies. It’s as if word of mouth became viral. Call it “world of mouth.” Regardless of your definition, if marketers aspire getting into these conversations we’re going to need tactics and schemes resembling those used by direct marketers. For every commercial downloaded enough times to matter, there are countless millions of deeper connections capable of being monetized. Can you say Search?

As marketers scramble to “get social” I found the similarities between SM and DM irresistible to point out. I may have come from the advertising side but I’ve always respected the rest. Is SM the great equalizer, leveling the playing field between Direct, Digital, Data and Advertising? One thing is certain; the agency of the future must pay heed to them all.

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Michael Myers takes out the trash!

Though I am an ardent fan of horror films, and the work of Rob Zombie in particular (The Devil’s Rejects is awesome as it is gruesome), his upcoming remake of “Halloween 2” does nothing for me. For the most part, I find slasher films such as Halloween grueling and monotonous. I wasn’t crazy about the original and, despite Zombie’s directing, I’m indifferent to the remake.

Rest assured, Gentle Reader this post is not about that film, but rather the marketing of it. Of all things, it’s an online banner campaign I’d like to call out. In these inspired creations, the infamous serial killer, Michael Myers grabs and murders an assortment of banner-ad spokespersons. The victims are the worst sorts of online clichés. The dancing mortgage lender. The sexy single that’s waiting to meet you. Myers emerges from off screen and wastes them. Boo yeah! We relish seeing these cretins destroyed. It’s a cravenly delightful merger of message and medium.

Like pond scum, Banner ads and the like have bloomed fast and furious on the Internet, and 99.5% of them stink. Having Meyers take out the trash is truly inspired.

Quality advertising online is rare for myriad reasons. For one thing, it interferes with a very personal experience. Thankfully, they are also easily dispensed with. Like flicking mosquitoes, we rid our screens of these annoying pests. Subsequently, the click-through rates are abysmal. As an ad-man I’m worried. As a consumer, not so much.

Yet, with this campaign I (both ad-man and consumer) am surprised and delighted. By “eliminating” the loathsome banner characters, the killer beats me to the punch. Not only do I appreciate the service (even if only in jest), I am also reminded of the prurient pleasures awaiting me at the multiplex.

When advertising syncs with media good things happen. Obviously, it’s easier said than done. Not this time however. Credit goes to digital agency, Heavenspot. And many thanks to Adfreak for finding these gems:

Adfreak post

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Online motives are deceiving

The more I know about digital marketing and communications the more I realize how important motive is.

In the olden days (say 10 years ago), most everyone could cipher the motive behind an ad. Whether it was moving products off the shelf or building brands or both, the intended audience always understood the motive. It was selling. Back then we might call something a hard or soft sell but no one was in denial about its motive. Nor were we particularly upset about it. Consumers understood the reason they got TV for free and paid only nominal fees for newspapers and magazines was on account of the ads. We understood their motive. We accepted the deal.

New deal. And it already has many liens on it. Consumers are balking left and right. They are questioning motive in the communications they receive. And rightly so. Online, advertisers are abusing their privileges. And it isn’t just one or two culprits; we are all guilty to some degree. We influence (pay) bloggers to discuss (sell) products. We use Twitter to attract and herd consumers. We create Facebook pages for brands. We leak films on the Internet. Our new briefs are about starting conversations. Influencing popular culture. Creating fame.

The problem is that all of the above still has one primary purpose: selling. And yet that motive is now hidden, imbedded or disguised. People think they are having an online conversation when, in fact, they are being duped into a sale. People are frustrated because they are being manipulated if not lied to.

It is increasingly hard to tell the difference between the message and the messenger. Facebook and My Space were not supposed to be commercial. But with My Space selling music and Facebook touting brands social networks are starting to look a lot like Walmart. And bloggers, the epitome of personal opinion and fierce independence, are all but begging to be paid to write.

Here’s where it gets tricky. After all, laws aren’t being broken. In some respects it’s hard to blame content providers. Bloggers gotta eat. The more they commit to their blogs the more they need revenue from somewhere. And advertisers recognize the potential. In this light the question is not how collusion could happen but how could it not?

Lest I be accused of calling the kettle black I, too, have muddied the waters. Not only have I pimped my novel, The Happy Soul Industry (even now!) I have also used this forum to talk about my agency, in theory making it more attractive. In addition, I sent my novel to other bloggers, hoping for and getting reviews.

Whether that’s good or bad is not altogether knowable. Who’s to say? But I do think having and presenting a clear motive online (if not everywhere) is a significant step in the right direction.


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