Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Oh, how they hate advertising

It’s pretty much accepted as true that sane, free thinking individuals despise advertising. Gee, was it the container loads of horseshit we have piped into your dens since the dawn of commercial TV? Picky.

Here’s something else that is true.

Thousands of those same commercial-haters pack out the Walker Art Center every year here in Minneapolis to watch the British Advertising Awards.

The show runs five sittings a day for the entire month of December, and it’s sold out every slot, every year. In fact, it’s the single biggest source of traffic and non-grant income for the Walker. People pay $10 a pop. They sit, willingly, through ninety wall-to-wall minutes of commercial activity. And they love it.

I’d never been before, but I started to wonder, who ARE these people? Students from one of the umpteen local ad schools? Indigent copywriters? Mike Lescarbeau and his mum?

So, yesterday, I went. Judging from the number of grandmas and teenage girls… these were ordinary ‘non-industry’ citizens. Giving time out of a gleaming Monday afternoon, to watch, laugh at, be moved by COMMERCIALS.

Some possible takeaways:

A lot of grandmas and teenage girls actually do work in Minneapolis ad agencies.

People hate advertising except when it’s done for products they can’t buy, in accents they can’t understand.

People hate advertising except when it’s surprising, funny, moving, shocking, beautiful, or silly.

I suppose I’ll get no arguments on the last one there. But - just remember that theater full of delighted faces next time you hear someone sounding off about the forever damaged relationship between advertisers and audiences.

It’s just not true.

Image by nick_s_hoban

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How to speak authentic

People have asked me what I think about Foster’s returning to an advertising campaign I helped create many years ago. They wonder if I’m pissed, if I feel vindicated, if I feel I should get royalties.

None of the above.

What it makes me think about is how much has changed, how Foster’s squandered its place in pop culture, and what it all means for today.

Let me say first though that I think the people behind the latest Foster’s advertising did a good job revisiting the original spirit of the advertising. It was always hard to ‘get’ what Foster’s was about… whoever did the latest work is either Australian, or channeled their inner Hugh Jackman.

But here’s some history that leads to a criticism, not of the advertising but of the brand.

When I first worked on Foster’s, it was the beer of choice for Wall Street workers commuting home to Connecticut or Staten Island. It was one big can, big enough to last the ride home, small enough to tuck discretely into a brown paper bag. Though those guys all wore suits and ties, a little piece of their self-image connected with the larger than life macho nature of a huge can of fantasy Aussie.

That’s what we focused on. And back in those days of ‘advertising campaigns’, it didn’t matter all that much to us or to our customers that Foster’s was moving from a cool tin can to a new, sleek, but still large, aluminum one. Nor did it matter terribly, though the fact made me queasy, that the beer was actually brewed in Canada (so it could still say ‘imported’ on the can, y’see).

We just went all out at doing short, sharp, tough guy advertising.

It was a huge success. Big sales increases. Pound for pound the most effective beer campaign of its time. Years later, men in focus groups still mentioning Foster’s as their favorite beer advertising.

Funny thing happened, though.

As much as Americans loved the imagery, Australians hated it. HATED IT. Though all of our senior clients were either Canadian or American, they answered to people who answered to people back in Australia. And at a time when Australia was trying to brush off its outback imagery and set itself up as a glittering, modern, cosmopolitan society.

We managed to fend off the complaints. But then, a new regime of marketing people inherited the brand. They looked at the customers - the urban white collar professional. They looked at the communications - blokes in dusty denim. And they said, hey, we have to show our customers in the communication. That would make the work so much more effective.

You know what happened next. The whip-cracking, croc-wrestling imagery disappeared, to be replaced by sophisticates at cocktail parties.

Fantasy over.

For a decade, Foster’s wandered from one excellent agency to another, trying to get its groove back. Trying to re-capture that tiny slice of pop culture relevance. And, up until now, assiduously avoiding any hint of neo-neanderthal outback shindigs.

Here’s the problem, though. “Advertising campaigns” don’t work like they used to. Unless they’re absolutely accurate depictions of the brand’s heart and soul, they’re dead in the water. And they smell that way, too. In fact, I doubt we’d have gotten away with that original campaign today, pretending to be an authentic (fantasy) Australian experience when on the back of the can it said ‘brewed in Canada’.

So, the problem does not lay with the new advertising. It’s the brand itself that’s gotten lost in a series of sensible, efficiency-driven decisions.

Unless your brand has efficiency at its center (say, Intel), efficiency is the enemy of authenticity. And authenticity is everything today.

Now, one of the greatest beer drinking countries in the world, with a legendary drinking culture, has no mass representative in the US market. (With the possible exception of Cooper’s. Limited distribution, great AUTHENTIC beer. But really… is there anyone who’d like to make a fortune importing and distributing VB? Let me know.)

And if you look at the back of a can of Foster’s today, you’ll see it’s no longer brewed in Canada. Whoah! Did common, modern sense win out?

No, Foster’s is now brewed in Tennessee. Dear oh dear.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Delight is in the timing

Fresh on top of a project we’re currently working on - to make devoted fans of casual customers - comes a real life and quite delicious demonstration.

After an evening at Miami Ad School, I met up with star Miami alum Bobby Appleby for a bite. (BTW, Bobby is fresh out of Fallon, and one of the best hires I ever made. He’s damn good. Hire that man!)

We went to Black Sheep Pizza on Washington. My first time. Great coal oven-fired pizzas, short and sharp beer list, sassy service.

At the end of the meal, our waitress brought over the bill, and with a flourish and a grin, she announced that it was the restaurant’s first anniversary, so the pizza was on them.

Maybe it was the amount of beer I’d consumed, but I was suddenly madly in love with the place.

They had kept their anniversary a secret all evening. There was no sidewalk sign hawking celebratory deals. They apparently hadn’t even announced it in advance to regular customers. It was just a gift they loved presenting to whoever was lucky enough to be there that night. And who knows what effect it had on the wait staff - and consequently the atmosphere - knowing that at the end of every meal, they were going to get to be Santa.

How cool is that?

Advertising a special night would have no doubt crammed the room full of bargain seekers. (They were packed anyway, late on a Tuesday.) It would have been a hectic and perhaps not very comfortable customer experience. They’d have given away tons of free pizza. And everyone would have gotten exactly what they were expecting - freebies.

Instead, they made it a surprise. A secret shared between me and them. They won a fan. All through timing.

So, if you’re considering using offers to entice new customers, cool. But see if you can keep a little something in reserve, and drop it on your new customers when they least expect it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Thinking strategically

As per previous posts about learning from those more experienced…
As per Dave Trott’s urging in the comments to pay it forward…
I’ve finally gotten off my arse and volunteered some time to Miami Ad School. I taught there regularly after leaving Fallon, and enjoyed it immensely, but growing family and work commitments took me away.
It’s good to be back.
As the theme of the class I’ve been asked to teach is ‘Thinking Strategically’, I put that into an opening night primer for my class. And then, on the kind invite from Tim Brunelle, I shared that same thinking with his class over at MCAD.
Take a look, let me know what you think. One thing I discovered is that after putting 90% of it together, my thoughts lined up in a spooky way with a presentation given by Simon Law. So I cribbed a couple of his thoughts to make the mind-meld complete.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The two immutable conditions for purchase

These are the two conditions under which I will buy your product. Either:


I notice it,

I need it,

I can afford it,

I like how it looks/feels/smells/sounds/tastes,

I like how it makes me look/feel/smell/sound/taste,

I haven’t been disappointed by it in the past.

I like the people who made it better than I like the people who made some competing product.



I just feel like it.


Image by jeezny

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Big, yes. But dumb

In 1966, Hertz ran one of the toughest counter punches in advertising history.

For a few years, they’d watched Avis claim ‘we’re number two, so we try harder.’

Hertz eventually decided enough is enough. Or maybe it was that they finally figured out how to respond. The gist was this:

“For years, Avis has been telling you we’re number one. Here’s why we’re number one.”

The ads went on to absolutely steamroller the Avis argument. Hertz is number one because Hertz has more cars to choose from, at more locations, with a better service guarantee, etc etc.

Avis stuck with their message, but it never again had that same valiant tang to it.

So to Big Dumb Agencies. That’s what little companies like ours are supposed to call the big guys. But we don’t.

Not because we don’t think there’s room for improvement, there and everywhere else. Everyone agrees on that.

It’s just that to call time on the most successful machines in the industry is to misunderstand what they do for a living.

Here’s a quote from Ad Age, regarding the rumored split between Chrysler and their agency. Chrysler is “cutting back on the broad scope of services BBDO provides, including dealer training, call centers, point-of-sale materials and database management.”

Dealer training and call center management. Let’s call an all-agency meeting in the kitchen and get right on that, yeah?

The fact is, big agencies are big for a reason. Because big is the right answer for a lot of marketers. Someone has to do all that heavy lifting.

Now, is big the only answer? Can big and small co-habit? Those are different questions. First things first… let’s understand and appreciate why the big agencies are the way they are.

Image by ethomsen

The only thing worse than being talked about is…?

Did you see this banner on adweek.com recently?

It leads to this somewhat overwrought expansion on the argument.

There are theories as to why Kleenex is spending good money on such an arcane message - essentially, creating a platform from which to launch any future trademark protection cases.

It set off a few other thoughts, though.

The people at Kimberly Clark are right - there’s a generic quality to tissue. Tissue is tissue is tissue. They want you to know that only Kleenex is Kleenex. (Sorry, only Kleenex Brand Tissue is Kleenex Brand Tissue.)

But, wait, we work hard to win our clients’ a place in culture. That’s supposed to be valhalla.

And here is a company wanting their name to be withdrawn from the conversation.

Is there another way at this for Kleenex?

Instead of lobbing the same old ’softness’ message at your customers. Why not involve the customers in this language debate? They care enough about the brand to use it as a descriptor in every day conversation. And the subject of brand name usage might just have enough pop cultural weirdness to it.

It contains that same little cultural/corporate/consumer collision that KFC had with their secret recipe, or that Lifesavers had with sparks in the dark.

When looking for cultural ideas, the place to start is with what people are already talking about - especially if it’s your product they’re talking about. Here is a twist on that story, and Kleenex is letting it go to waste.