Archive for November, 2010


David Lubars Thinks You’re Dumb

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I belong to a group on LinkedIn called “Re-inventing the Advertising Agency Business Model”.

Here is where my advertising and marketing brethren pontificate on the future of advertising. In my mind it’s a useful exercise if only someone would actually do anything about it.

Lately, this issue is one of the most widely discussed topics in the marketing/advertising community. Forrester has several reports on the matter.  Fast Company is planning to dedicate the December/January issue to the “tumultuous state of advertising.” As a part of this issue they recently asked the three top creatives of three very different agencies to visually demonstrate the future of advertising.

David Lubars, BBDO’s chairman and chief creative officer said this, “Everything will continuously change, but people will always stay the same.  Go back 70 years, go ahead 50 years, a human is a human. There are primal things that will always drive us: Will this product be better, will it help me succeed, will it make me more attractive? So the technology and the way we to speak to people will change, but those fundamentals will never change.” How he visually represented this is pictured above.

Herein lies the disconnect between the consumer and marketers.

One of my previous blog posts was about the chaos that is today’s consumer marketplace. These days we can’t even agree whether or not to call ourselves consumers. Alex Bogusky wonders if the term is a dirty word. Grant McCracken offers the term “multipliers.” No matter what, they’re far more diverse, sophisticated and interesting than we’ve ever given them credit for.  And while we try various new means of reaching consumers such as geo-tagging, QR codes, harnessing viral and so forth, at the end of the day on the whole, we default to the same old same old.  No disrespect to David Lubars. I don’t even know the guy and am not so sure they’d let me in the building but the same old same old is generally what agencies like BBDO produce. Advertising to the lowest common denominator.

Don’t get me wrong, BBDO has done some amazing work and continues to do so and the sheer size of BBDO globally is beyond intimidating. Nevertheless all too often it seems like big agencies are in protectionist mode as the biggest purveyors of disruption marketing.

Every day, the 30-second spot is becoming less and less relevant. Commercials are background noise. Banner ads have become plain beige wallpaper.  Brian Morrissey recently pointed out that click through rates on banner ads have stabilized. Phew.  Good. At .09 percent. Ummm Houston… we have a problem.

Grant McCracken has a wonderful section in his book “Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living Breathing Corporation” where he refers to the “American scholar Lewis Mumford [who] offered his vision of the world created by commerce.” It looks something along the lines of the set of “The Truman Show”.  As McCracken says, “This became the intellectuals favorite thing to say about popular culture: that culture touched by commerce must be diminished by it,” when in fact the exact opposite has happened. So while Lubars would have you believe that we as consumers are primal and simple the reality is we have evolved considerably.  Sure there are ways to simplify explaining consumer purchase behavior but in general consumers are extraordinarily complex.

In Mark J. Penn’s book “Microtrends: Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes” he says, “With the availability of choice has come a rise in individuality. And with the rise of individuality has come a rise in the power of choice. The more choices people have, the more they segregate themselves into smaller and smaller niches of society.” In his book he offers glimpses into 82 of these “niches”. To me, that’s relatively daunting.

We talk about the notion of true change but the reality is we continue to produce mediocre dumbed-down work largely at the request of the client.

Agencies are still effectively layers upon layers of management with peer-to-peer alignment with clients.  That being said, clients haven’t asked for it to change much.  When the ads aren’t performing, fire the agency!

In my humble opinion it’s going to take CEO/CFO level leadership on the corporate side to force their CMOs and marketing organizations out of their comfort zones to explore agencies with new business models and to change the way in which they interact with those agencies and who takes responsibility for idea creation. And to consider bringing some of those people who generate ideas in-house.

I don’t think there is one standard “agency of the future”.  I think there will be numerous solutions providers who all find unique ways to solve client’s problems and I think the more flexible and nimble those types of “agencies” are the better they will succeed.

And in fact according to Fast Company, Kraft appears to be on the cusp of doing it.

“For the enterprising client that can see clearly through the chaos, this new world holds promise. Kraft, for instance, has assembled a growing Rolodex of 70 new specialist partners. This isn’t some fringe brand — it’s Kraft, the country’s largest food marketer, which spends some $1.6 billion on marketing every year. The company is so open to new thinking that it recently hired a startup called GeniusRocket to develop a new campaign for the relaunch of its Athenos Hummus.”

My bet is that agencies will look a lot more like production companies and content will be king. I am also betting that audience segmentation will be far less about traditional demographics (age/race/HHI) and will be more about lifestyle/lifestage/interests. As we know Facebook is betting most heavily on “groups” and I guarantee you they will mine the data of the largest groups and offer up “access” to the largest groups at a steep premium. Social media in general has proven itself as a place where people with like interests congregate irrelevant of race or household income but don’t think for a second the consumer isn’t hip to what’s going on. We as marketers must be respectful and creative as to how we segment consumers.

May the best content win.

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In Defense of Print

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One of my previous posts was about how we view written content via mobile devices. It got me to thinking about the debate of whether or not “print is dead?” This too is a question pondered by Stephanie (@stooffi) from the Penn-Olson blog and in which I’ve borrowed some points of data from. It’s also contemplated by Steve Laube in another excellent post.

They both share my sentiments that they don’t see print going the way of the dodo however we differ somewhat in our rationales. What I’d like to do here is offer some observational reasons as to why I think print isn’t dead to augment Stephanie and Steven’s very good more data driven arguments.

If you subscribed to conventional wisdom you might think that let’s say that within 10 years magazines would be ancient history with books to follow shortly behind them. You might think that certainly about newspapers and there is a decent case for that.

Jeff Gomez author of “Print is Dead” would have you think that we’re on the dawn of a print apocalypse.

Some quick stats to initially contradict those who firmly believe print is bound for extinction (from @stooffi via Sketchee):

  • 93% of adults in the U.S. read magazines
  • 96% of adults under 35 in the U.S. read magazines
  • Book sales are up 11.4%
  • Sales for higher-education publishing have increased 27.4%
  • E-book sales have increased 204% (keep in mind this is a category that didn’t exist a mere few years ago so I’d take that growth with a grain of salt)
  • 60% of consumers say they plan to purchase a tablet device within three years (what isn’t known is if they say they will purchase that device in place of a laptop)

Considering the data alone, I’m not so quick to put a nail in print’s coffin. With this being said, I’d like to offer a defense of print that is more observational relative to behavior/culture.

The first is case for print is that print is tactile.  People like tactile.  People comment on things like paper stock and gloss or matte finish with reverence.

The second is people like pictures. Big glossy, shiny, pretty pictures.

To be fair, I think it’s necessary to place a distinction on content that can be read versus content that can be viewed. The former would be lifestyle/niche magazines and the latter being more business, news and to some degree sports publications.

Logic would tell me that business, news and sports news magazines very well might have one foot in the grave because I think there’s a dramatic shift occurring in how people consume that type of content as my previous post “Where I’d like to read it” would suggest. As I write this, US News & World Report announced it is shuttering its print edition. And to add even further support this consider this recent article from clearly indicating that among smartphone users mobile is exactly how they like to consume.

However, I think we’re highly unlikely to see the demise of magazines entirely anytime soon. In fact in July 2010 there were 68 new magazine titles added versus 34 in July 2007. The difference is that most of the new titles were largely specialty magazines or magazines to serve a certain niche (often content to be viewed).

Consider a reason why? Have you been in a teenager’s room lately? If you’re looking at BOP or Tiger Beat online via an iPad, you can’t rip out the picture of Justin Bieber or Katy Perry and put it on your wall. Or rip a picture out from eurotuner of that sweet tuned BMW M3. Or the rad picture of Shaun White flying out of a half-pipe.

In addition, I believe a good amount of people still appreciate the “coffee table” book. This and certain magazines are a way we brand ourselves.  For many they’re forms of “decoration” carefully placed around the home.

Chief among the reasons I don’t see print as going away anytime soon is that we haven’t changed how the youngest learn to consume print. Yes, my two year old niece can take out her Dad’s iPad, turn it on, flip three screens and start a game but how she learns to consume print will likely not change anytime soon. In fact, recent research would suggest that college students haven’t taken to eReaders as expected. And this might be a logical place to begin to see a cultural shift.  I’m still not entirely sure we’ve crossed the chasm with eReaders/tablets. There I said it.

Granted my father-in-law is 74 and has had a Kindle since its inception. This inspired me to ask a few people with eReaders why they bought it.  Number one reason? Because they travel a lot and that way they don’t have to carry a physical book. Airport bookstores consider yourselves warned. However, this lumps those who purchase eReaders/tablets into a specific category. In this case the eReader fill a specific need that people are willing to change how they consume content.

I’ll offer one final example of how embedded the way we learn to consume written content is.

I have two daughters ages 7 and 4. The two of them participate in a program called the “Thousand Book Club”.

This is a program where at their elementary school there are some 200 bags of books.  Each bag has 10 children’s books. The goal of the program is to either read (or be read to) 1000 books by the time they finish kindergarten.  It’s a wonderful program as you might suspect but the point is that it’s a heavily quantitative experience with books.

At the end of the day we’ve only barely begun to change how we interact with written content and until that happens drastically, I don’t see print going away.

What do you think?

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Today, one can argue that the consumer marketplace is exceptional fractured. As a society we may do things in groups but what these groups look like has changed dramatically. Companies segment consumers all sort of ways but it generally involves falling back on household income, gender and race or ethnicity. For the purposes of any efficiency in marketing it is still required to find the greatest number of individuals to market to. But the reality is as most commercials will show, there’s really very little actual insight there.

Take a look at most commercials and they either simply push a product or play off a general consumer sentiment.  Beyond that there is usually very little there to actually connect with the consumer.

Not too long ago I was approached by the agency for New Era, the baseball hat and apparel company. They said that there was a flaw in their segmentation of customers and wanted help understanding what it was and perhaps a better way to segment their customers. They segmented them by “Urban”, “Suburban” and “Fan”. The flaw was simple. You could reside in suburbia, have urban sensibilities and be a fan. Furthermore it didn’t really tell you anything about their customers. We designed a segmentation based on how people wore their hats. The initial breakdown was as follows:

So how does this new possible segmentation inform?

It can inform in multiple ways.  It enables us to truly understand the consumer and what social groups they might belong to. Are they action sports kids? Maybe. But that’s not good enough. Because there are sub-cultures within action sports groups. Are they action sports hip-hop kids or action sports metal kids? BIG DIFFERENCE. Are they college frat boys? Are they girls? Are they “rad” girls or “bad” girls or “good”  girls or “emo” or “goth” girls or “preppy” girls?

If you map the types of hats to sales you can identify patterns or anomalies that will heavily dictate what and how much product you might supply to various retailers. You can identify where you might participate in or sponsor events. You can identify which radio stations you might advertise on or if you do at all.  The insights and variables are virtually endless.

As the consumer landscape becomes increasingly fragmented, it’s not something to be scared of or intimidated by but it is necessary to get out of your traditional comfort zone and start being creative with understanding your customers. And funny thing is, the more you actually show that you truly understand your customer, the greater loyalty you will inspire.

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As I gear up for tonight’s episode of AMC’s “The Walking Dead”, I was struck by something from last week’s episode.

If you haven’t been watching the new AMC series, the story is that a Sherriff awakens from a Coma to discover that the world has been overwrought by flesh eating zombies.  Simple premise however character development is really quite excellent as you’d expect from AMC.

In last week’s episode there is a scene where a young man in his mid to late teens is being asked to investigate if there is a safe way out a certain situation. In this scene he’s reluctant because he’s typically been by himself and ever since he’s been a part of a group all hell has broken loose.

The Sherriff defaults to be a natural leader and tells the kid, to speak his mind. An interesting dynamic is taking place here and isn’t to go unnoticed.

He basically says he’ll do it but if he’s going to do it, he’s going to do it his way.  The Sherriff agrees on behalf of the group. What happens next is interesting. With tactical precision this “kid” proceeds to say what he’s going to do and how and then gives precise orders to everyone else. Everyone has a specific job for a reason.

If I didn’t know any better, this kid has probably played a game or two of Halo or Ghost Recon.

This moment would not have struck me if I hadn’t actually witnessed something similar a several years ago (sans the zombies).

I was at a bachelor party in Montreal and a bunch of 35 year old guys were going to try our hand at paintball.  We’re all smart, well educated guys with a passing interest in military and cop movies and so forth and we thought we’d do pretty well. Especially when we saw who we’d be competing against. A bunch of scrappy 16-18 year olds with pimples and ill-fitting pants.  We would fail to observe that they all brought their own equipment and that they were discussing strategy from the moment they got there.

The game would commence and ten well-educated 35 year olds would be “dead” within the first 5 minutes of the game. It was like shooting fish in a barrel for these kids.

How the hell did this happen?

It’s simple. Most of these kids grew up not having read one Tom Clancy book but have all mastered every one of the Tom Clancy X-Box games and had done it in “groups” via headset with other kids all over the world. Not only were they able to live out close quarters combat via first-person shooting games and mastery of strategy but they were able to live it out real-time as well via paintball. And they were good. After two games of getting our asses summarily handed to us we did exactly what you might expect. We bribed two of their best kids to trade teams if only to save our pride. Then we proceeded to let a 17 year old tell each one of us where to go and what to do.

This was hardly a life or death situation but we recognized that left to our own devices we didn’t stand a chance.  While it might seem counterintuitive for a bunch of type-A alpha males to default to some kid, it was the smartest thing we could have done.

We won by a hair.

So when the world is being overrun by Zombies… I’m looking for those guys.

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Where I’d like to Read it

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I’m on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. All three of which I access most often from my phone.

I read blogs. I read industry rags. I read magazines. I read the newspaper. About the only thing I don’t read very often are books. Often because I’m too busy reading other things. Or watching and observing TV, things or people.

Most of the things I read, I read digitally and a lot of the time I do that from my phone (BlackBerry Torch).

What I do most often besides make calls, email and text… is read.

I’ll occasionally look at a YouTube video but I really don’t foresee watching TV or a movie from my phone even if I could.

Twitter is a place where you can connect with people from various affinity groups at 140 characters a tweet. However, for me and I think many who utilize Twitter in a professional capacity it’s become my de facto clipping service. I can’t remember the last time I’ve actually held a physical printed edition of a newspaper in my hands.  I read the New York Times on my phone. In my opinion the New York Times mobile edition is best in class. Here are some others that get good marks in their mobile form (please feel free to comment and add to this list)

  • (Boston Globe)

To be fair there are others with good mobile versions but oddly enough all too often when I’m pushed content via Twitter I get dumped in to the full site. I clicked on thirteen various links and ten out of thirteen times was led to the “full” site.  Only, and brought me to the mobile site. This is especially true with blogs. This usually means trying to resize it to fit my browser page and to do this without having to scroll left to right and top to bottom. A frustrating exercise that usually leads me park the content via  Instapaper is a helpful tool but should be unnecessary.

Now some might argue, “Well that’s your phone’s fault.” I’m not quite sure whose fault it is but I can say that if you’re to believe most advertisers from wireless carriers I’d venture a guess that within three to five years the ONLY phones that will be available to consumers will be smartphones. Wireless carriers and manufacturers have us watching football games and TV shows on our phones and doing these elaborate searches and posting and sending pictures.

Consider some thoughts:

  • A recent tweet from @BrettGreene suggests that “Within 3-5 years, mobile devices will be the FIRST screen for users accessing the Web. #ProfsChat (via @davidoxstein @CKsays)”
  • According to the Twitter Blog, “Total mobile users has jumped 62 percent [April 2010-Sept. 2010], and, remarkably, 16 percent of all new users to Twitter start on mobile.” Roughly about half of all Twitter users do so from a third-party mobile app.
  • @jmoore700 who is the Chief Media Officer for the ad agency Mullen recently tweeted, “The power of mobile, 200mm people now use Facebook through its mobile app, a threefold increase since last year.”

Now most importantly consider the following two graphics from a recent study done by Handmark recently featured in a article.

Overall, it would seem to me that we have a long way to go before the way it’s portrayed that we’ll interact with our phones is actually how we’ll interact with our phones.

That being said, I think the data is a pretty big wake-up call that content providers need to be in lockstep with carriers and manufacturers. The companies that do this early and well (in addition to providing good content of course) will be the first to create the most significant brand loyalty in the mobile medium.

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Why Twitter Really Works

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Recently I came across the following Tweet:

“RT @MalikYoba: RT…Twitter makes me like strangers I’ve never met and Facebook makes me hate people I know in real life.”

I couldn’t help but agree but I didn’t know why. That was until I received a copy of Grant McCracken’s new book, “Chief Culture Officer”. This is an excellent read named one of the best Innovation books of the year by Business Week and one of the best Big Idea books by CEO Magazine.

But I digress.

In “Chief Culture Officer” McCrackan references the old Nike ad “Tag”. I remember the ad vividly.

In it is a live version of tag played out in the middle of the day on urban streets. Mr. McCrackan offers a few theories on why this ad resonated and what it meant to us culturally. The third of those theories is what he calls the notion of the “generous stranger”.

Although referring to the ad, he might as well be referring to Twitter as well in saying,

“’Tag’ evoked a third trend we might call the ‘generous stranger’. For many of us first notice came in the form of a bumper sticker that read ‘Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty,’ a phrase so influential it now has its own Wikipedia entry. Several thousand years of cultural practice and religious teaching had encouraged us to think of generosity as a personal gesture that passed between known parties.  The ‘generous stranger’ trend suggested that it was better when things passed between perfect strangers. “

And thus Twitter suddenly makes perfect sense.

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Recently I was having a conversation with a colleague. She’s a director of marketing at a large .com enterprise. We’ll call her Julie.

She was describing to me how hard her job is these days and how little confidence she has in decision making.

When I look at advertising today and most marketing for that matter I believe that this is a sentiment shared by many a CMO/Director of Marketing.

We’d like to say there is tremendous innovation going on but if I’m not mistaken, didn’t the Super Bowl ads sell out a full three months ahead of schedule this year?

If you live in places like New England, around this time of year you’re faced with having to deal with leaves.  The once beautiful foliage is now dispersed all over your yard and to preserve your green grass you’re advised to do something with it. Techniques vary, my personal favorite is to pay someone else to deal with it but my wife has frugal sensibilities and thus there I am on a lovely Sunday with this 2-stroke contraption strapped to my back known as a leaf blower. This is hardly a precision instrument but useful.

As leaves are flying about it dawned on me, this is what Julie was talking about. This is what consumer marketing has become. An exercise in trying to corral leaves.

Once upon a time, they sat on trees and were easily categorized. Oak, Maple, Redwood, Japanese Maple and so on.

But then they all changed colors, fell to the ground and there was no order anymore.

And so is the job of anyone who works in marketing these days. To try and create a natural, efficient and sensible order to the chaos of these leaves being blown amok.

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Several years ago I was with a good friend and mentor Paul McKinnon. He used to run human resources for Dell. A job which he now does for all of Citigroup.  He’s a very smart and affable guy with grad degrees in behavioral science from MIT.

At the time we were talking about Mac vs PC and he said this… “You know the Apple market represents about 5% of market share for all personal computers. Always have and always will. We really don’t worry about them.” In other words, they kind of just let them have it.

Obviously Apple is a much different company from when I had this conversation but I think you’ll see the point.

Lately there’s been a lot of talk about Apple and Steve Jobs. Well there’s always a lot of talk about Apple and Steve Jobs. But in particular three things struck me.

Here’s the deal. Apple innovates. Period. The end. Everyone else essentially copies. Apple sets the standard and everyone else tries to reach an acceptable level to be adopted by the masses.

The question for Apple is if they’re content being that company. That’s where Steve Jobs’ comments perplex me a bit.

In my opinion, the best businesses in the world are the ones in which the CEO (and employees) know what business they’re really in. It’s not so much as knowing what to do but rather knowing what not to do.

In this case I think it’s for Apple to not even think about BlackBerry or Android or the other tablet devices and accept its position as a company of innovation.  There will always be a market for those that just have to have it. The key is for shareholders to recognize this as well and not pressure Apple to be something it isn’t. Yes it’s a trade-off but in my mind a critical one.  Author Kevin Maney does a great job talking about this in his book aptly titled just that… “Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On and Other’s Don’t”.

Because at the end of the day, as Harvard Business School Professor Yoffie said:  “Apple will lose its overall leadership, but maintain a share of the market that could easily be in the 25 percent to 30 percent range… That’s enough to sustain a very large and very profitable business.”

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