Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saab was different

What has happened to Saab over the last twenty years is a lesson in authenticity, or lack of it, in this case.

I had the good fortune to work on Saab for a few years back in the early 90s. None of us really knew it at the time, but Saab's glory days were already well and truly behind it. Though GM had bought in, the initial 51% ownership gave Saab enough control to stay Saab.
So we chose to ignore that GM influence. Okay, so they were taking an Opel platform and putting it into the new Saab. It seemed a smart business move. Didn't hurt at all.
The big brand work we did back then (which never saw the light of day - that's another story) was themed 'Saab is different'. Because it just plain was. Different in where it came from, how it sounded, looked, felt - and yes, where you put your key in to the ignition. The Saab drivers were 'rugged individualists' as one of the senior writers would say, the non-joiners, the contrarians. They saw themselves in the car.
Well, it turned out those first GM operating efficiencies were kudzu sprouts. Before long, the car became a mishmosh of parts, and, in one case, entire other vehicles.
The essence of Saab was completely lost. It was no longer authentic. It was no longer different. The brand was as much of a facade as the sheets of metal they were wrapping around someone else's technology.
The auto business is brutal even in the best of times. Saab would have struggled even if it had remained on story - and to be fair would have likely gone out of business if it weren't for GM's investments.
It's just a good reminder to me - stay true, stay true.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Know what you don't know

In our never-ending quest to swim upstream, to help our clients as much as we possible can, us advertising people can forget one very important detail:
we do not know what is at the head of that stream. We have no idea what it's like to sit at the head of that table.
Consider this: most advertising creatives are marginalized, either by choice, or design, or inertia, into solving communications challenges.
The people inside an agency who more reliably know their clients' businesses spend a lot more time on the corporate campus.
They, in turn, know far less about the business than the head of marketing. Yes, there are exceptions, but the chief marketing officer knows much more about the ways in which her company makes money and pays her bonus.
And then, the shocker of shockers - the position of CMO is not even on the fast track to true P and L responsibility. Meaning even our most respected ally on the marketer side isn't given the credibility to run the company.
That puts even your above-average agency, let alone your above-average creative, at a crippling distance from the nuts and bolts of a client's business.
Closing the gap is essential. Humility is a good place to begin.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

We've hit the edge of the future

I wanted to call out a New York Times op-ed piece from Douglas Coupland, titled "Back On Walton's Mountain" .
It's been stuck in the front of my brain since I read it last week. It's such a short, succinct provocation: many of us have wanted to consume less for many years, and now that we've accomplished it (through no choice of our own, largely) we're alarmed by the knock-on effect our swerving emotions are having upon our economy.
Will we adjust, how, and what to? Or will we hold our breath and wait for a return to our old ways?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Obligatory Super Bowl Opinion Piece

"There was nothing special on this year's Super Bowl. It was not a classic."
Expect to read that a lot over the next day or so. Similar sentiments are shared every year, and are often the fall back position of the insecure observer, but this year, I'd have to agree - overall, it weren't no classic.
Like every other person who breathes in and out, I have my favorites. But just like weather isn't the same as climate, one or two commercials do not make for an industry showcase.
Why the collective 'meh'?

Are our expectations way too high? Yeah, that could be. I was asked at a dinner party on Saturday night by a professor of chemistry if the Super Bowl was a big deal to advertising types. I hope my laughter conveyed just the right blend of irony, pride, dread and excitement.

Are we jaded? As connoisseurs of sparkly ephemera, that goes with the territory. I'm one of the few that believes the overall quality of TV creative has risen over the past decade - inevitably, that makes the peaks harder to see.

Or is it not perceptual, but an actual fact? If so, then maybe the heart of creativity, the 'I gotta gotta gotta do better or I'll die' soul, has gone off-air.
Witness Big Spaceship's Pretty Loaded. The digital practitioners appear to have more creative snap in their pinkies. Or, in this case, preloads.
(Speaking of interactive, I was surprised how few advertisers leveraged the Super Bowl's unique position in pop culture to launch compelling on-line efforts. Shoot me for saying so, but Go Daddy lead the way. Ow that hurts.)
And let's not leave aside possible economic reasons. If we're all hanging on to our clients for dear life and project fee, then no wonder the flights of imagination are stifled.
Here's something else I'm wondering about:
It's true there are more avenues for commercial creativity than ever. And our generous, optimistic natures would believe that there's an endless supply of creativity to meet the demand. Not so. For talent, channel expertise, brand experience, and the wise voices that make sense of it all, there's only so much of the raw material to go around. The Super Bowl, at $3 million a slot, is one heck of a place for the shortage to show.
Okay, that's my opinion. What's yours?