Monthly Archives: February 2012



There is subtext in every marketing piece.  For instance, today there is a big hubbub (and rightfully so) about a Mad Men outdoor billboard showing Don Draper in free-fall high atop a building on the West Side of Manhattan.  (The board is 95% white space.) To show watchers it’s an iconic visualization of the show and Don Draper’s life.  To New Yorkers and others who lost friends and loved ones 9/11, it’s an insensitive punch in the como se llama. 

Visuals, more than words, tell immediate stories. We need to be mindful.  Pictures that show danger may be eye-catching but convey danger which research shows can transfer that feeling subconsciously to the brand.  Imagery that conveys happy (Coke’s happiness factory) can transmute smiles.  Visuals that depict chaos or disorganization similarly hurt an organization story.

Ergo, think before you select a visual.  Not everyone sits around a computer for hours trying to select a visualization to match a brief.  Most pass marketing pieces with nary a glance.  So look up. Stay true. Be sensitive. Peace.

Advertising’s Drivel Fest.


I enjoy simplification.  Almost daily I refer to marketing and branding as consisting of claim and proof. Organized proof. Why is it that so many marketers don’t use proof – preferring platitude?  Health care organizations that can cut your brain open, re-jigger the synapses, cauterize a bleeder but only capture that in an ad with some drivel about “uncompromising care” or “unparalleled treatment?”

Most advertising today is a drivel-fest.  Who is writing this stuff?  Who is approving it? Is an algorithm doing it?  Ads used to make you feel.  Now they inform and if we’re lucky make us laugh. But they do very little else. 

I learned a lesson at AT&T in the 90s.  Build a book of proof.  Find the proof that is most evocative and convincing and celebrate it.  If we find our claim, organize the proof and acculturate it into the company, drivel is easily illuminated and becomes quite unacceptable.  Peace.


Context in Marketing and Planning


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’.)


Sears Big Opportunity


I’m no demographer but it doesn’t take a numbers nerd to know that a growing and sizeable portion of America is populated by Hispanics and Latinos.  Name a national retail store brand that caters to this group?  In NY we have independent bodegas, but that’s about it.  Among the retailers that index high for the Hispanic and Latino communities, the one I think should attempt to corner the market is Sears. 

The company is talking about selling off its most profitable stores to generate cash but the bold move – the future-forward move – would be to go “all Spanish all the time.”  Find the high density markets, tailor the skews, hire the right sales associates, alter the layout and colors.  Celebrate Spanish culture in a store retrenchment that will not only save the company but make it thrive. The Sear Roebuck Catalog was a cornerstone of America marketing. Sears can create another transformational marketing moment by following our changing demographics. Be bold, be brave… as they might say at David & Goliath.

Peace (in Syria)!

Promises vs. Deeds


I’m all about the deeds.  In marketing, promises are like air. Deeds on the other hand are few and far between. Okay, bringing coffees to a sale call is a deed. So is lunch.  But they are not brand-meaningful deeds. For a great reference on meaningful marketing check out Bob Gilbreath’s bookThe Next Evolution of MarketingDeeds are about putting your money where your mouth is.  About delivering proof that you care. Words are important. Deeds are marketing currency.  Deeds make one believe the words.

The first print ads were no doubt all type.  Words. Then came the ability to reproduce pictures in ads so marketers could pair products and usage with the words. Advertising now is in end-benefit land.  Yet it still feels like “me” advertising not “you” advertising. When we market through deeds rather than promises we connect.  We create muscle memory for our brand ideas.

One good deed can support months and months of promises. And I meaningful it.  Hee hee. Peace!


Google as advertiser.


Google is advertising now.  On TV, in The New York Times.  Using BBH. On the Super Bowl.  Hmm….this advertising stuff must work.  Oh yeah, that’s where most of their money comes from.  Money they will soon be throwing into a dark hole known as the hardware business (Motorola purchase).  Hopefully, the hole won’t be too deep so it can learn, correct and prosper.

I often write “Campaigns come and go, a powerful brand idea is indelible,” which makes people think I don’t like campaigns. I do.  Campaigns are organizing principles.  Google, a company that has made bazillions on a search algorithm that is an organizing principle, has finally come off its slightly elevated soap box and decided to advertise.  But it’s relatively new to the practice. Luckily, it has the aforementioned ad agency BBH to guide it.

The TV is emotional and beautiful.  The print is whimsical, fun and smart.  I’m not feeling a campaign idea as yet and, frankly, that’s quite fine.  This is new territory for Google. And for BBH and its labs. There will be some reinvention going on here no doubt. And one day (before trivestiture) Google will become a top 10 advertising spender.  Zero to 60 in…  Peace!

Find or Form


In brand planning there are typically two approaches.  Find  the brand Idea, which is a bit like a truffle hunt or form the brand idea, more akin to gestation. They are both fun and both hard. 

Find usually takes the planner through the grasses and woodlands of the brand’s past. Readers know I’m not a rearview mirror planner, but the past contains many clues. Hard and soft.  It helps to know where you’ve trod in order to know where you are going. But going forward you are. Understand the product, people, place, price and promotion fore and aft – and those of competitors — and you should be able to locate a brand idea that suits your business strategy.

Form focuses on new products and services; those that have never seen the light of day. Form brand ideas require mad context.  Who, with what, and where will this new product be competing?  If in a completely a new category, what person, place or thing will this new product replace?  A rich new rich jungle tea might, for instance, compete with coffee not other teas.

And remember be it find or form, your idea needs organized support planks — planks that prove the idea.  Lastly, do not confuse a brand idea with a campaign.  As we all know, campaigns come and go. Peace!

A Moment of Silence.


“I’m so sorry for your loss” is what most people say at funerals to bereaved family members.  We say it because it works for people we’re close to and also for people we don’t know well.  Sometimes, though, words are weak — especially words everyone says.  Gestures, on the other hand, are strong.  A silent hug. A sympathetic frown. A teary, quarter smile. These things often say much more.

Words are not feelings.

As marketers, we often live our lives through words.  We type, we text, we speak, we present. The words we create are used to develop pictures, videos, audio and interactive media.  But often they are still just words. I’ve noticed a trend in TV drama lately where the best shows cut down on the number of words.  Shows where the white space between the words is amplified.  It makes our minds work harder. Anticipate. Ruminate. Feel.

Good marketing and marketing communications do not heavy up on useless chatter. Great art director know this. I believe it was James Farley of Ford who said “Great advertising makes you feel something then do something.” Word! (Oops)  Peace. 



Ads are not stories.

And that’s the problem.  Ads are selling schemes.  They are attention grabbers first — at least those coming from good agencies.  (But many ads fall into the “We’re here!” category, simply telling people what the product does and where to buy it.)  After grabbing attention, most ads tout claims: “me, me, me, me.”  The claims tend to emanate from the executive suite and marketing department.  If the ad creator is any bit the craftsman the ad will also contain some sense of consumer insight.  But you’ll really have to dig for it.  Often it remains on the brief.

Were ads stories, they would have a beginning, middle and end.  A plot, storyline and moral. There would be a harmony of parts and characters.  And that’s a good thing. People hang around for stories. People remember stories. And though sometimes people remember ads, more often than not they don’t recall the products accurately.  If you are a category leader and a competitor does a great ad, many times you get credit for it.

So let’s story it up Dan Draper. Everything  — that’s everything — can be storified. Peace!

Microsoft Tiles


The more I see and hear about the Windows 8 Operating System by Microsoft, the more I realize Steven Sinofsky should have named it “Tiles.”   Language is a funny thing.  Market research is great, ideation is great but user ballast is greater.  We don’t really have the foresight sometimes to see the words the general population will adopt surrounding a product, so we try to force language on them.  But organic user language, the linguists will tell you, trumps marketing.

I believe in this name so completely, I predict it will be adopted by Microsoft and replace Windows as perhaps the most known brand names in technology. (And BTW, Stop Brand Diaspora!)

Short post. Big claim. Peace.