Where’s my Effie?

Cynical me. I thought for sure Valentine’s Day was invented by Hallmark to sell greeting cards, which would absolutely make it one of the bigger, better integrated marketing ideas ever. Not only does it have a fabulous social component –it’s “social” by definition- the target is essentially everyone: old, young, gay and straight, black and white…everyone with a pulse, or should I say heart? Synergies with restaurants, hotels, jewelers, dating websites, florists and confectioners abound. The iconography (hearts, cupid, roses, etc) is worldwide and always relevant. They own the color red. Such marketing firepower! Valentine’s Day would win the Titanium Lion at Cannes any year it was entered.

Alas, I cannot give credit to Hallmark or any other modern marketer for this lovely campaign. According to Wikipedia, the day is named after one or more early Christian martyrs, probably Saint Valentine, and was established by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD.

In 1969, Pope Paul VI deleted the holiday from the Roman Calendar of Saints (not feeling the Summer of Love I guess), but Cupid’s arrow was not to be denied. Whether we like it or not (and I don’t) Valentine’s Day forces consumerism like Christmas but without segregation. Muslims, Jews and all manner of miscellaneous “others” had better not forget their significant others.

So, while I begrudgingly fight for suitable dinner reservations and order tickets to some odious Rom Com, I have to give it up to St. Valentine. A man of God, he would have made a hell of a CMO.

Let’s do the naughty ones first!

This time of year everyone is making lists: Who’s in and out? What’s hot and not? Winning and losing streaks. Brett Favre. Pop culture is a Petri dish of lists. Given that it’s December, let’s start with the penultimate list: who’s naughty or nice? Forget Santa, it is we who gush over this list. That most of us want to be on the nice list is a given. But yet we are obsessed by the naughty list, aren’t we? For without the naughty there is no line for which to measure the nice.

Judging from all the visitors and comments on my last post I should be making lists 24/7. There I chose my top advertising campaign for 2010: Leo Burnett’s “Mayhem” campaign for Allstate. Many of you liked the choice. Some of you didn’t. It’s terrific work and I stand by it. The point I’d like to make here is that by making a choice I was being provocative. And provocation is part of a writer’s job, is it not?

I’m pretty sure some aspect of list-mania is thriving in most ad copy. If it isn’t the ad probably sucks. I’m damn sure the dynamic is driving social media. Brands covet “followers” and “fans.” They want “likes” and as many as they can get. What is crowd sourcing if it’s not a compilation of choices? And is not Groupon the quintessential aggregator? Mom’s shopping list has been conceptualized and monetized. What about dad’s to-do list? Or junior’s wish list? Herein lies the opportunity.

Entities like Twitter and Groupon do it with aplomb. Advertisers are getting there. Crispin’s “Whopper Sacrifice” for Burger King is a great example: List ten friends you would ding from your Facebook and get a sandwich. There’s no coupon. Nor were they trying to build the brand. “Whopper Sacrifice” provoked people by allowing them to make a naughty list. That’s it.

Bubbling beneath the surface of their infamous Dominoes “Oh yes we did” campaign is a provocation to consumers to list what they hated about bad pizza. That drama is what fires the campaign. Without it the company would just be defending its crappy pizza.

Maybe that’s the big truth about SO-ME. Lists, for lack of a better word, fire us up. Therefore, the big question for all of us in marketing communications is how do we harness this human desire to ‘list’ in order to provoke consumers on behalf of our clients?


For all its awesomeness, the advent of social media has ruined at least one thing (albeit minor) I used to love: the end-of-the-year list.

There was always something highly addictive about reading my favorite columnist’s top (and especially bottom!) ten choices in music, movies, books and the like. Not anymore. Mostly because I don’t have a favorite newspaper or magazine columnist. And that’s mostly because I don’t have a favorite magazine or newspaper. Not anymore. Now I rip through websites, blogs and magazines like some sort of content zombie. I still get off on lists but not nearly as much as BTI (Before The Internet).

Besides, now I tend to aggregate the results. I look for patterns and tendencies as opposed to details and specifics. I learned this behavior from the web. Take the website Rotten Tomatoes, for example. Here you can peruse countless reviews for any given movie as well as get the cumulative score on its greatness or lacking there of. Big deal you say. Actually it is. Not only has social media diminished the power and value of any one critic it has also made critics out of us all. Reread that last sentence. I’ve emboldened it for you! It is no doubt the most important one in this essay. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, WordPress, Blogspot and countless other entities everyone, and I mean everyone, is now a critic. Therefore, I don’t think end-of-the-year lists are all that interesting, unless, of course, one analyses them for patterns and tendencies!

Reflect for a moment…Remember when you actually gave a shit what Roger Ebert thought about a movie? Or Richard Corliss? Or Rolling Stone? Who? What?

Exactly. Which brings me to my final point and it is not a little one: We have all become a focus group. God help us.

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Far be it from me to court controversy on a blog (!) but only a few days into the new decade and we have one. A doozy. Followers of this blog know I chose the American Express campaign, “Smiles” as my favorite advertising of the year. Over the course of two posts I praised this work for its craft, charm and simplicity.  On December 7th, I wrote:

There is sincerity about Amex’s work, which belies the rampant turmoil and cynicism gripping the financial (and advertising) world. Kudos to American Express and their advertising agency for giving us pause to smile.

Well, that sincerity has been called into question and I’m afraid the evidence is most damning. A commenter, “Jane” makes a hard case for plagiarism and offers film as proof.  First, her comment:

Yes, everyone has seen (these) happy and sad faces because Francois and Jean Robert have been producing books with faces since 1978. Francois and Jean Robert have helped all of you SEE the world in a different way because of their books. An original idea? Perhaps, perhaps not… but they have produced 4 books with copyrighted images.

Ogilvy & Mather Johannesburg approached Mr. Robert through his rep in NY in 2006 about using his faces for an Audi commercial, didn’t use him, but used the “faces idea” anyway… then Ogilvy & Mather uses “faces” for American Express in 2009. Coincidence? I think not.

The agency basically used Francois Robert’s book as a storyboard to create this commercial. The shopping bag, wallet, are headphones compared side by side are almost identical.

Here is the Audi commercial:

In addition, have a look at a recent story from Fast Company: Fast Company article

I hope it goes without saying that I was unaware of both the photographic source material as well as the Audi commercial. If I had been I never would have chosen the Amex campaign as my favorite advertising of the year. Quite the contrary. While much advertising is derivative one cannot abide blatant plagiarism. We are paid for our ideas. Stealing them is unacceptable. “Jane” puts it in more poetic terms:

The question is, who owns an idea? Is it OK to steal the idea for commercial gain in the case of Ogilvy & Mather? Is it OK because agencies do this all of the time? What if it were YOUR idea? YOUR music? Your industrial design? How would you feel?

I’d feel like shit. Therefore I’d like to offer my apologies to those wronged for furthering this charade. If the agency, filmmaker or anyone else involved cares to make a rebuttal be my guest. I was wrong once. Maybe I’m missing something yet again…

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