When is an idea not an idea?

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I went on a bit recently about the new Audi TV spot and its lack of an idea. After reading the new Audi “launch” print ad, I can confirm that there is, indeed, an idea in the new Goodby Berlin and Partners advertising. “Truth in Engineering.”  And if your care to spend a few minutes, you can find hints of the idea in the ad in today’s Wall Street Journal
 
I say hints, but maybe I should say clues. You see, the two page contains copy that is so pasted together, in such a haphazard method, that the “true” true engineering story is left untold. The agency and client try to tell the whole story in a long copy format, and unfortunately tell none.  
 
There are probably five great ads in this one average ad. Real engineering stories are hinted at, but they are buried and glossed over.  Proof of an idea, demonstrations of an idea, are what makes compelling selling stories, not recitation of lists.  The writer needed to do more research and develop each engineering truth, not topline it.  Mercedes actually had a great fractional campaign on this strategy – articulating the little engineering feats that made a Mercedes a Mercedes — but those ads, too, were under-researched and scantily written. Finding the “idea” in marketing and advertising is hard. But delivering on the idea is where brands are built.
 

One bloody nose?

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Is it me, or did David G. Neeleman the CEO of JetBlue Airways go down faster than a Sears radial? One bad snowstorm, the highest fuel prices ever, and a little schmootz on his suit and he steps down?
 
Under pressure from the board? Come on. 
 
JetBlue was the most successful airline launch ever and one bloody nose later Mr. Neeleman is on the tarmac? I thought this guy was supposed to be feisty. I don’t know Dave Barger, but if he’s an airline insider and not a change agent like Neeleman, Jet Blue is going to come back to the pack. Fast.
 
Mr. Neeleman is a guy who punched the airline industry right on the nose during its most difficult of times, and now he’s allowing himself to be pushed aside. Typically this type of announcement is health related, I don’t think so. Strap on a pair, Mr. Neeleman, and tough it out. How else are you going to learn? 
 
He’ll be back in 18 months.
 

Toyota – Moving Forward

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Does anyone disagree with the fact that the automobile industry, as it is, is failing?  Have you not scratched your head while reading about the billions in losses of Ford and GM? Are you expecting Jetsons-like flying transporters to be the conveyance of choice in 2009?
 
Something has to give here.
 
What company do you think will lead us out of this amazing auto industry funk? My bet is Toyota. Though the Tundra effort has been a mis-step, I think Toyota is the only company with the foresight and R&D money to crack the code on gas-guzzling and emissions. Will we be riding in hydrogen cars? Fuel cell cars? Bio-fuel? I don’t know.
 
I do know Toyota isn’t hemorrhaging money and they are still funneling profits into finding a better way. 
 

PSFK London Conference

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I wrote a while back about the PSFK Conference in New York and how “kind of” has become the new “um.” My point being that newer marketers tend to equivocate when talking by peppering their language with “kind ofs” and “sort ofs.” Marketers are less definite today.  Go into a meeting sometime with someone who knows what they are doing, and you know right away. They use language with little wiggle room for interpretation.

 

Part of why we equivocate in marketing today is the emergence of digital marketing. It’s so new, relatively speaking. It’s the wild west. Digital marketing is supposed to be more definite, more predictable — a click is a click, a purchase a purchase. Yet there are only a few handfuls of experts and more questions than answers.

 

Some experts in digital marketing that I’ve had the pleasure of listening to were at PSFK in NY. Bloggers. Community builders. Art builders. For me, what made them experts was that they focused on their art, not on the business model. Those speakers who focused on the business model, failed. Their discussions sounded hollow. And though there were only one, maybe two, speakers of this caliber, it provided a great foil for the real visionaries.

 

Focus on the art and the business will follow.  If you have a chance to get to the PSFK London Conference, go.  And listen carefully.    

  

 
 
  
 
  

Audi Rings the Bell

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Audi is launching a new advertising campaign using San Francisco’s Venables, Bell and Partners. I saw an Audi TT ad last night and hadn’t a clue what it was all about. Good thing I read the newspaper this morning. Apparently the Audi TT, a very cool car, is so fast the agency shrunk all of its features and beauty shots into a 2 second segment, which must be viewed using a DVR in slow motion. The whole spot is :15 and thoroughly unintelligible.

 
It’s no wonder the ad was a slurry of creativity; the strategy was unfocused.  If you follow Audi’s new marketing executive, Scott Keogh, whose explanatory quote in today’s Wall Street Journal, was “We are putting our foot in the ground and saying this is who we are,” I’m betting we are in for one long strange Audi trip.
 
What’s the idea? I’m not really sure. The new tagline is “Truth in Engineering,” which as any marketing student knows is every German company’s strategy. And though impressive engineering can be a strategy, from everything I’ve read and seen so far this campaign is all tactics with not even a hint of an idea. Stay tuned.
 

DVRs

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Digital Video Recorders, now reported to be in over 17% of homes with televisions are often vilified for making it easy to fast-forward through commercials, and deservedly so. I admit to shrinking shows I’ve recorded to 44 minutes, or so. But sometimes, I forget to fast forward and watch, especially if they are good commercials. Not many are, though, and that is a problem.
 
There is a DVR phenomenon worth noting that not everyone talks about, and that is multiple viewings of a program by different household individuals on different schedules. My house may watch “24” three times in a given week. And some people, my son for instance, like to keep shows on the hard drive and watch them over and over. “Kill Bill” Volumes 1 and 2 have been on the hard drive, along with the commercials, for months. These are cases of DVRs actually adding to commercial viewership, Mr. Nielsen. 

Has Starbucks met its match?

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It appears as if Starbucks, the marketing juggernaut, has met its match in Ethiopia.  Getachew Mengistie, Ethiopias’s director general of intellectual-property, has asked Starbucks to sign a licensing agreement which will allow Starbucks to use some (pending) Ethiopian trademarks associated with 3 regional brands of coffee. Starbuck has fought back, gotten a little stink on itself, and seems to have agreed  to terms. This is some real “first world” shit Ethiopia is pulling. Brilliant!
 
My coffee already costs $3.50 at Starbucks and it may go up a few cents, but I’m addicted. I can’t help but feel that Starbucks is a dressed version of the East African khat dealers who sell their leafy stimulant on street corners.  It’s more than a fad. We American’s really need our stimulants. And for the record, khat is believed to have originated in Ethiopia. Are you listening Mr. Mengistie?

Partners in Care.

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A while back I interviewed for the director of marketing position with Partners in Care, the private care division of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, and was edged out by a traditional marketing executive.  My background is agency. 
 
There should be more advertising people in marketing positions.  The good ones really understand how to communicate with and motivate consumers. They don’t over-analyze. Traditional marketers who approve advertising, often try to put too much into ads, or too little, for fear of pigeon-holing themselves. 
 
Anyway, I’m thumbing through the newspaper this week and see a Partners in Care ad. As is my way, I ask “What’s the idea?”   Here’s the headline:
 
“Our aides provide exceptional care. Then again, we’re
exceptionally careful about how we choose them.”
 
The headline sits beside a picture of two smiling women: one or a certain age, the other of a certain age in reverse. The copy goes on about commitment and skill and fla fla fla. What the ad does not say is that Partners in Care is a fee service, not covered by insurance. So what is the idea of this ad? They are exceptional? They hire well? Come on. And even if that is an idea, where’s the proof?  Where are the demonstrations of the idea?  Where’s the consumer?  

Partners is a great organization. It needs to take better care of its message.

 

Paint the planes? OMG

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 Delta emerged from bankruptcy yesterday with a big new financial plan, some product and service modifications, a politically inspired ad campaign, and new logo and color scheme. I’m not sure this latter part translates to “paint the planes,” but I certainly hope not. 
 
When USAir changed to U.S. Airways (don’t forget the periods after U and S), they painted the planes. If memory serves, the cost to paint each plane was $2 million and it took the equipment out of the sky for a number of days. Arguably, the paint job in that case was needed as was the name change. People were referring to USAir as US Scare. What was needed more than a paint job, however, was newer planes, a consolidation of plane types, and improved safety standards. (Oh yeah, they went bankrupt, too.) 
 
The last thing Delta needs is to change its color scheme and paint its planes. That’s not a demonstration of sound fiscal management to the public – especially, when gas is $3.15 a gallon. Demonstrating sound financial management is the objective. Proving it is the story. A new color scheme is off message.
 

Viagra

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An ad agency in Canada – Taxi — has developed a unique TV commercial for Viagra in which all verbal communication between the protagonist men is nonsensical gibberish. The only discernable word in the entire spot is the brand name “Viagra.” Thanks to a law, drug companies do not have to list side effects so long as they don’t mention the condition a drug is treating. Pfizer, therefore, feels it can parlay Viagra’s high brand recognition and consumer understanding into what it calls a “reminder” ads, conveyed in :15.
 
What I like about the idea is how hard the visual impression of the ad, i.e., the actors’ performances, must convey product benefit. Without words, all eyes are on the story. Perhaps every TV commercial should be considered through this lens. Does the spot, without words save for the brand name, convey the sales story?  If we deconstruct our ads and look at the components are they working hard enough to sell product? Food for thought.