Monthly Archives: September 2014

A Cadillac Grows in SOHO.




I saw a new Cadillac ad on TV last night.  In light the announcement to move Cadillac corporate headquarters to SOHO, NYC, I was immediately taken by the backdrop of the red luxury car as it rolled through its paces. The streetscapes were def NYC…Greene Street, in particular. As much as the environs were urban and chic, the one thing most in need of style was the car itself. This nondescript Cadillac model was, yawn, nothing to write home about. Save for a few close-ups of the grill emblem, visually there was very little compelling about the ad with the exception of the atypical location.

Cadillac is moving to SOHO in search of style. And cachet. The first thing it needs to do is design some cars that don’t look like white collar dress shoes. I hate to use the words European styling because it suggests we Americans are not style-forward, but a little help from the continent wouldn’t hurt. Or, how about getting some of the Apple designers to lend a hand? The Cadillacs of 2-3 years ago were really, really bad. Now they are just bad.

I applaud the move to SOHO, but nothing is going to change until Cadillac exterior and body designs are smoking hot. The product is everything. Image secondary. Peace.


The Future of Marketing Analytics.


I wrote a piece a few years back foretelling the government’s breakup of Google. I predicted a Google trivestiture giving birth to a pure analytics company – to which marketers and ad agencies would pay lots of money. Well, the breakup hasn’t happened yet but Facebook may have just stepped into the analytics breach. Facebook is launching a new advertising platform, using all the data it collects about us, to sell ad space. And not all the ad space will be on Facebook. Many ads will appear on mobile sites, apps and other things digital.

This is going to be big. I repeat, from a revenue standpoint this is going to be big.

I’m afraid Facebook will have first mover market position on Google here and because it is a social network not a search company the government will allow it.  Google, I suspect, is going to want to tap into this new analytics revenue stream and siphon off a big chuck — and that may be where trivestiture kicks in. That said, by allowing Facebook first mover status it may prolong the period before trivestiture. Smart move.

Who else wants a piece of this analytics pie? Amazon. And Apple with its bold new ApplePay program.

Fasten your seatbelts errybodies, this is going to be fodder for some serious red state/blue state discussion over the next 10 year. Peace.

Yahoo! Treading Water.


Yahoo! is sitting on a bundle of cash and according to news reports stockholders are clamoring for a payout. The cash is from holdings in Alibaba which just IPO’d. Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO, is being pressured to not spend money on purchases of other tech companies a la the huge Tumblr purchase — stock owners want dividend checks. Can’t really blame them.

Yahoo is a media company and a technology company. And frankly, they are not excelling at either. David Pogue is not happening. Katie Couric, not so much. The new digital food magazine is not burning down the house. And mobile first – I don’t really know what that means other than make stuff work on smaller screens and invent fun phone apps – is not delivering differentiated value at this point.

Ms. Mayer needs to tell investors “snookie, shut up and get in your bed.” She needs to put the check book away and stop looking to buy side view mirror tech companies (companies fast approaching from behind). Yahoo’s new strategy is “be part of people’s daily habits.” A nice start. But weather, food, tech news and the Middle East have been done. Yahoo needs to invent in areas that are not saturated. And big data is a good place to mine for behaviors and habits. Focus on daily habits, innovate around them and deliver under the Yahoo brand. First understand the habits, then understand the pent up demand, then turn the engineers loose. I get the feeling the engineers are defining the need, which is backwards.

Too much company time is spent reinventing not inventing. Peace. 

Affordable Marketing Act.


The Affordable Care Act is working. Reports suggest hospitals are seeing more patients pay for their care. The new focus on tests and meds and outcomes is making it so that projections of overall healthcare spending will slow way down over the next 15 years. The current 18-19% of our GDP going towards healthcare will be a relic of this new healthcare era. Why is this? Good use of big data.

If we can herd all the crazy cats that are the healthcare industry, why can’t we do the same in marketing? I once oversaw an ad photo shoot of a mint on a pillow that cost $30,000 plus. How can one TV spot cost a million, another $40,000? One agency charges a $345,000 monthly retainer, another $60,000 (for the same staffing and creative output). Clearly there is elasticity in pricing in the marketing business. But is anyone tying outputs to effectiveness? Certainly marketers say they are. But are they really? Are marketers using big data tools to track ROI?

Where is the Affordable Marketing Act? Who is watching out for costs and effectiveness? AAAAs? AMA? I McDoubt it. Google is one great big data tool and may at some point have a horse in this race, but it’s not happening now.

Someone needs to turn up big data in a big way to help address the madness that is unmeasured spending. The madness that supports John Wannamaker’s famous line “I know half my advertising is working, I just don’t know which half.” Peace.


Slopping claims.


I was listing to Jim Nance read an Insperity radio spot yesterday, something I’ve probably done 30 times this summer, and for the life of me I still don’t know what Insperity does. I really made an effort to listen yesterday and think they may provide business services, whatever that means. HR services. Maybe payroll, financial, but not really sure.

Recently, I sent an RFP out to a company with the word “benefits” in its name. Their positioning and brand problem was that they weren’t just a benefits company, they were also financial planners. Another company having a difficult time explaining what they did for a living. (Explaining their Is-Does.)  

Insperity’s tagline (I just twitched over to their website) is “Inspiring Business Performance.” That didn’t help. But more importantly, in the radio spot Insperity used the 4 worst words in all of advertising.  The most over-used words in copywriting. Four words that almost always identify a bad ad: “…and much, much more.”

The problem with these words is they are typically used after a long recitation of claims. And when you are slopping claims around, your listeners or readers get lost. So find a claim and prove it. And prove it. Don’t encumber it with other claims. It gets messy. It’s bad for branding. It’s bad for advertising. Do it much, much less. Peace.

Great Stony Brook Children’s Hospital Spot.


Stony Brook Children’s Hospital is running an adorably effective TV spot in a category filled with generally poor work. While most hospital ads boast and claim or spout specialty capabilities, aka leading edge treatments and technology, this spot is about empathy. A smart aleck, young physician is talking to her patient on a gurney rolling toward surgery. The doc speaks to the child not in warm and fuzzy, sage-like tones, but as one kid might speak to another. The casting is terrific. The physician is young, female, pretty and a genuine wise-guy. The patient is a fast talking, trying-hide-her-nerves smarty pants, who is quizzing the physician for credentials. What’s neat about the patient is she’s clearly an A student, comfortable with adults, a digital age young ‘un – and not a needy, sorrowful victim. There are no pictures of the OR, no scanners, family member, or big building shots. Just a physician and her patient on the way to an appendectomy. Yet the spot is rich in context.

In day after recall testing, this spot will convey Stony Brook physicians are accomplished, confident, warm and empathic. And Stony Brook patients and parents are smart decision makers. Bravo Lewis Communications. Bravo Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.






Theory and Practice.


Astoria Federal Savings is spending a million dollars plus in a new marketing push. They’ve renamed the bank Astoria Bank because, so the logic goes, removing references to the gub-ment will make them less villainous in the post subprime mortgage fiasco world. Adding to the bank’s bill is a new campaign about customer-centricity.

Rather than use a strategy person who goes into branches and does field work, perhaps making a recommendation or two about the customer experience,” Astoria turned to a copywriter. Someone, who clearly doesn’t get out of the building.

Here is a copy snippet from an ad today:

“Astoria is not your usual bank. We love what we do and we love who we do it for. And that makes a difference – one you’ll feel the moment you step into one of our branches or use our mobile app or bank online.” (Do you believe this claim? Do you really think one step into a branch will make a consumer feel differently? This is Santa Claus stuff.)

More copy:

“We’re not here to just hold your money and sell you products. We built this bank one conversation at a time. We take the time to get to know your story, so we can give you the right business or personal decision.”

This copy is all theory. Not a lick of practice. Not a lick of proof. I apologize to any and all writers, creative directors and bank approvers involved in writing this stuff (the radio is the same), but this blather is what gives the ad craft a black eye. People remember substance. People remember proof. People do not remember copy. Let’s go Astoria. Get out there and start mining proof.




Wanna be my friend?


best friends

David Brooks wrote a great Op-Ed piece in the NYT today on friendship. He discussed its importance and necessity. He shared whys and wherefores of what makes a true friend. As great writing does, he makes you think about your best friend. Do you have one? And what makes them so? “Nothing inspires friendship like selflessness and cooperation in moments of difficulty,” he writes.

I had a boss once who I liked very much. He was interesting, full of life and inspiring. A potential friend. He told me he could never be a friend of an employee. He’d been burned once. Como se sad?

Remember when you were a child and a kid you’d never met before asked “Want to be my friend?” What was your response? For me, the question was off-putting. Instinctively, I couldn’t process it.  A lot has been written recently about a consumer backlash concerning friending brands on Facebook. Brands are getting too needy and aggressive and it is hurting them. It’s a very non-friendly behavior.

As much as I would like to suggest brand planners think about the components of friendship when making brand strategy decisions, I will pull back. But only a little. I’ve written before about the need for brands to provide help. And educate. Brands can never be friends, but it wouldn’t hurt them to act like one every now and again. Peace it up.

The thing about an idea.


In branding, the strategic idea (or claim) is the bank. The ads, promotions, events and deeds of marketing are the deposits. The bolder the claim the better the branding. The weaker the claim the limper. When Orson Munn and Peter Rabot created the tagline “Amazing Things Are Happening Here,” for NewYork-Presbyterian, they went bold. Really bold. If the litmus for every ad was “amazing things” then they had their work cut out for them. When they learned Deathstalker Scorpion venom aided in treating brain cancer, they made an ad. When a child with rampant abdominal cancer had all of her organ’s removed so she could be treated and live to tell about it on a TV commercial, she amazed the country…on the Super Bowl.

It’s hard to be amazing every day, yet Messrs. Munn and Rabot built a brand doing so, making way more deposits than withdrawals. Munn Rabot no longer works with with NewYork-Presbyterian and it shows. NewYork-Presbyterian knows they own a great idea and kept the tagline but to the new regime, amazing means buying a new hospital (Lawrence Hospital) and investing in new equipment.NYPres ad (Click on ad from today’s NYT.) I’m sure there are lots of amazing things happening at Lawrence Hospital that could have been brought to light with a little digging. That’s branding trade craft. Unfortunately, that was lacking.

Ideas need heroes. Ideas need management. Alas.



Herding Content Cats.


What’s the Idea? is soon fielding a piece of research to better understand the state of the state of content marketing. The survey should go live this week. It is partly the result of some consulting I’ve been doing this summer in the digital space on content strategy. Our feeling is that there is a lot of content marketing talk but very little codified strategy. I understand it’s a fairly new, pop marketing pursuit and as such heavily in tactics mode – a la, during World War II, build tanks furiously, we’ll figure out how to use them – but when it comes to marketing, too much emphasis on tactics sans strategy can dilute brand meaning. So our poll will quantify the use of content strategy on websites and social settings, especially in mid-sized companies. herding cats

Today I came across a new-ish title in the press: Chief Content Officer. I suspect it’s an outgrowth of this content marketing frenzy. Anyone tasked with herding the content cats with a chief title is okay by me. But is it a real chief title or just a director level title? And does the chief content officer have the same power as the chief marketing officer? I would hope not.

As a brand planner and someone familiar with the executive suite, it is obvious to me that the CMO should set direction for the chief content officer. A company with dueling chiefs in this area (healthy though the ultimate outcome may be), seems way dysfunctional. I love the function of a chief content officer, don’t get me wrong, but it feels a little affected and nouveau. I’ll do a little more studying and keep you posted. Peace.