Land of No.



    Advertising is a young person’s game.  If you are really, really good at it you might keep your job until you are 50.  That said, I’ll go on record here and say there is an advantage to being older and experienced. You have lived in and learned from, a career of a thousand “nos.”  If you hear no a thousand times you develop a special king of savvy armor.

    When younger in the business I rarely had a chance to have a boss, client or researcher say no to my work. And I learned very little. But as you move on and up, your decisions and insights are judged. And the more you hear no, the more you learn.

    Fast forward to today. Like The Beatles who practiced in nightclubs in Italy for 10,000 hours before doing anything meaningful, an experienced practitioner starts to hear less nos. Advertising is not always scientific. A lot of yeses fail. But nos are the true impediments.

    When you are mindful of all your past nos. When you understand their logic. When you are not paralyzed by them. You are experienced.

    There is a little enclave on Fire Island, NY called Ocean Beach. AKA the “Land of No.” It’s quite a fun spot once you learn its navigation.





    Mission Health headquartered in Asheville, NC and owned by for-profit hospital group HCA out of Nashville has been under fire for a couple of years since its purchase.  Quality of care issues have arisen, as have the cost of care, and physician attrition. Mission has some image work to do.

    Hospitals are notoriously bad advertisers. The occasional big brand hospital invests in a good ad agency and the work turns out well, but that’s the exception.

    The ad herewith from Mission Health is an example of poor ad craft.

    The one-word headline “Commitment” is lazy. Even with the subhead “That’s my mission,” an obvious play on the brand name, the line is meaningless. These are the words of trauma Nurse Jackie, the ad’s visual:

    “I am deeply committed to this community. I’ve lived here all my life and have also been a part of the Mission family for more than 20 years. Now, as Assistant Chief Nursing Officer, I play a direct role in ensuring Mission remains the top trauma center in Western North Carolina.” 

    Below this quote are the words “Dedicated to our patients. Committed to our employees.

    Let’s parse the communications. Nurse Jackie is committed. That’s the claim. But the only proof of this (commitment) claim (better known as reason to believe) is that she has worked at Mission for 20 years and been promoted.

    You can’t make a claim in an ad and not prove it. It’s a waste of money. And commitment is just about the most common ad strategy for hospitals since “care and caring.”

    I really, really want Mission to succeed.  They do a lot of good medical work in the community. But when it comes to advertising (and branding) they’re not committed.






    Spam Words.  


    The unsub button is set you to allow you to stop unwanted emails. The first options is

    __ Too many emails.  The second is

    __ Not relevant to me.  The third is

    __ Too promotional.   And the fourth is

    __ I don’t know why I’m receiving these emails.

    They put the first one in that position to increase the chances of it being elected. Then the email company can argue spam emails are not so bad there are just to many of them…and stay in the spam business. Just with a bit less frequency.

    Spam is to email what TV commercials are to broadcast TV. Unwanted intrusions.

    Brand planners are all about relevance. And salience. Advertisers are about attention. Email marketers are clicks. And marketers are all about selling…and all of the above. The problem with most of the above, is that it negatively impacts relevance and salience. Consumers are conditioned not to believe certain words.  Certain claims: better, faster, tastier, cheaper. These are spam words.

    Brand planners have to weed out the spam and identify new ways of conveying value. New strategies to garner interest, desire and action.

    I like Spam on sliders, not in my copy.



    East Fork Pottery Ad.


    “East Fork makes plates, bowls, mugs and more, with regional materials in Asheville, NC to support our most private rituals and bear witness to the full breadth of our domestic life. To hold the mess and tidiness and joy and anger and grief and boredom contained within the walls of one’s home.

    Founded by potters Alex Matisse and John Vigeland we’re now a team of about 100 and growing, together building a more person-centered and equitable approach to making objects in the U.S.”

    East Fork is a pottery manufacturer in my home town of Asheville. I first took notice when they did a full page add in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Quite an expense. The words above are copy from another ad, this one from last Sunday’s New York Times national paper.

    I don’t know what to make of the ad. The visual of organic greens and plates is wonderful. And they even throw in a vinaigrette recipe. But the copy, while poetic, is a bit over the top.  I’m not sure I use plates to organize my messy life. (Or do I?) Nor am I sure they are there to contain my boredom. (Or are they?) As for private rituals? Umm.  I guess over time tableware can become part of the family but can a pottery company be my confessor. My shrink?

    The copy is Asheville crunchy.  I get where they’re going. And I applaud it. But perhaps a bit less glaze in the future???  Nah. Keep it up.




    Truth and Conspiracy.


    Brand planners pay close attention to popular culture in an attempt to massage their ideas and selling schema into it. One hugely impactful, popular cultural construct today is demand for disinformation, especially related to politics and conspiracy.

    Disinformation, it seems is much more interesting than typical truthful information. And when I say truthful information, I’m here talking about advertising. Nobody needs to hear me talk about advertising bombardment, it’s a given. And add to that, eighty percent of advertising is bad.

    Bad advertising shares commodity claims with little proof. “Fred Anderson Toyota offers the best customer service,” for instance. Is that misinformation? Prolly. Multiply that by 100,000 and you begin to see why consumers are not real believers in the craft. But in today’s environment, uncover a little conspiracy and you have a person’s attention.

    In a recent strategy written for a potty training company, I uncovered a conspiracy worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Diaper companies were productizing and strategizing ways to keep children in diapers longer. And it worked. Fifty years ago kids were out of diapers by 18 months. Today it’s closer to 36 months.

    Manipulative, greedy marketing is the worst type. People don’t want to be pushed around.

    We are still up to our asses in diapers (hee hee), but this conspiracy has gotten more than a few mothers angry and we’re moving in the right direction. Truth Well Told.

    Not every advertising and market campaign can be a movement, but it won’t hurt planners to dig a little deeper and give the people the drama they crave.



    New Foxtrot Market Campaign.


    So I came across what looks to be a fairly new retail brand in Chicago called FoxTrot. Nice name, great logo, smart targeting (urban millennials) and a good deal of energy. Also, some marketing peeps with good provenance. They offer some small, welcoming, design-forward brick and mortar stores and a very fast delivery system. All supported by an app.  One hour delivery, in fact. Sales were growing nicely before the pandemic, but now I’m sure they’re scorching.

    Foxtrot just launched a new ad campaign entitled “Good Stuff Delivered.” Not a very high bar they’re setting, with that line though.  And I dare say calling your up-market products “stuff” is not the best of positioning ideas, even with a little millennial je ne sais quoi.

    An article discussing the campaign references a “surprise and delight” strategy. Yet, searching for evidence of same I couldn’t find any. A free gift card? A gratis cup of coffee?

    This is an example of a strategy work that appears to be lead by the ad agency not the brand people. Perhaps, this is my bad for relying on a trade magazine for information, but my antenna go up when I hear surprise and delight.

    I love the business idea. It has legs. But the ad campaign feels a bit helium-based, rather than foundational. Give millennials more credit.



    Kill Off That Low-level Dull Tone.


    We have a mole problem in our neighborhood. A couple of families across the street planted some pinwheel and noise devices in their grass that make a low-level tone that hums for about 7 seconds every half minute. It’s not easy to hear but when it’s quiet, it’s there. I guess it’s not as loud as, say, playing the Rolling Stones with the window open but it’s there. And it’s annoying. After a while, I wonder if it’s worse than having moles. I kinda think it is.

    Marketers and advertisers suffer from this dilemma. They find a low-level selling noise and publish it. Over and over. Over and over. Repetition or frequency are said to be good things in advertising. But when the message is unwanted or uninteresting, it is not a good thing. In my last three posts I wrote about strategy, simplicity/clarity, and stimulation. Good values all. But let’s not forget that we have to overcome boredom. And disinterest.

    When I develop a brand strategy, it is based upon proof of claim. The job of the brand manager is to constantly seek out new proofs of claim. And share them in interesting ways. New proof is the elixir of brand building.Tired and retread proof create brand disinterest.

    So awake lads and ladies. Keep mining your brand proofs. Build a book of them. Cultivate them. Kill off that low-level dull tone.




    Burger King’s Impossible Whopper.


    Thanks to high cholesterol I’m a fan of plant based-meats. There’s just so much chicken a man can eat before he grows man boobs. The Impossible Whopper at Burger King is a creature comfort that’s popped up on the landscape for which I am extremely happy. At a certain age you are dealt health cards where you can eat and drink less of the things you love. It sucks. Meat, for me, is one such. (Scrapple please.)

    I’ve eaten hundreds of cheese whoppers in my lifetime but stopped cold turkey about 10 years ago. Thanks to Impossible and Burger King, I’m back. I’m so back.

    (Picture not linked to video.)

    Here’s the thing though. One of the coolest things about Burger King is the brand value “flame broiled.” What’s The Idea? readers know how I feel about the aroma of flame broiled burgers wafting along America’s streets and what a hunger aphrodisiac it is. Flame broiled is a killer differentiator for BK. But my gut tells me Impossible burgers — though they may have conquered the red blood thing with the heme additive – is manufacturing the grease thing a la George Lucas. I’m not sure coconut oil gets them there. The Impossible Burger TV spots do great job of presenting the whopper in a luscious light. But is the “glisteny” juice sprayed on? If so, they should stop. It’s disingenuous. Food stylists live and die by the spray bottle. But the Whopper, Impossible and flame broiling deserve better.

    Glisten to me. I know of what I speak.



    Marmot’s super bowl spot.


    (This post originaly appeared February 10, 2016, then was taken down die to a hack.)

    I love the Marmot brand. I ski in Marmot, I sleep in Marmot, I do outdoors stuff in Marmot. I want to own more of it.  The gear is well-designed, engineered-to-the-max and good looking.  They’ve done a wonderful job with branding and marketing. (I have tend pole that bent, and it doesn’t even bother me. Why? Because Marmot is like family.)

    Then, before the Super Bowl, I saw a Marmot teaser ad campaign and knew I wasn’t going to like. Super Sunday I saw the real thing.  It’s a Goodby, Silverstein and Partners spot, focusing around, you guessed it, a marmot. Were this toilet tissue or insurance, maybe. But cuddly talking Marmot? Oy. I can only imagine the 2 other campaigns the agency pitched to beat this one. It should never have been presented. Lazy ass trade craft. It is so unfitting of the brand.

    I can just imagine the engineers in the goose down research center, breathing feathers all day, watching the game on TV with their friends. “A talking marmot, really?” No wonder advertising and marketing people have a bad name in engineering focused companies.

    As a brand strategy guy and Marmot fan it was a sad day. Even if the spot tested off the charts with the teens and tweens – the next generation of buyers – it was a brand mistake. A 5 million dollar mistake. And that’s a lot of feathers.





    United Technologies and Dick Kerr.


    As a kid growing up in advertising I was lucky enough to work on a piece of the United Technologies account. Comprised of Sikorsky helicopters, Otis Elevator, Carrier air conditioners, and Pratt and Whitney, this juggernaut was a fairly unknown master brand. And a master brand saddled with a pretty poor name.

    To elevate the United Technologies brand they turned to a copywriter named Dick Kerr. They could have gone to Ogilvy or JWT but somehow Dick got his foot in the door and became the creative agency of record.

    Dick wrote all-type ads. Wonderful ads. Ads not about helicopters and elevators, but about people. Places. Things. And behavior. At the time these ads ran – as full-pages on back covers of The Wall Street Journal — this type of corporate advertising was unheard of.  At the bottom of each ad, composed of a single top-to-bottom column of type, sat the United Technologies wheel logo. Captains of industry began to read these babies and understand that  holding companies could be much more than the sum of their parts and balance sheets.

    At one point, readership studies showed that 7 of the top 10 “best read” ads ever to run in The Wall Street Journal, were penned by Dick. By United Technologies. UTC make a book out of the ads called Gray Matter named after Harry Gray, then CEO.

    Dick is gone now but in its waning days United Technologies is still benefiting from his writing, his wit and his strategy.

    Below is copy from the first ad in they series, as I remember.

    Keep it simple.

    Strike three.

    Get your hand off my knee.

    You’re overdrawn.

    Your horse won.



    You have the account.


    Don’t walk.

    Mother’s dead.

    Basic events require simple language.

    Idiosyncratically euphuistic eccentricities are the promulgators of triturable obfuscation.

    What did you do last night?

    Enter into a meaningful romantic involvement
    or fall in love?

    What did you have for breakfast this morning?

    The upper part of a hog’s hind leg with two oval bodies encased in a shell laid by a female bird
    or ham and eggs? 

    David Belasco, the great American theatrical producer once said, “If you can’t write your idea on the back of my calling card, you don’t have a clear idea.”