Creativity

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I am about to piss off 1,200 CEOs. Or I will if any of the participants in the “2013 Global Marketing Effectiveness” online survey read this blog. A short article in BtoB Magazine summarizes the results of that study with a gut-punch headline reporting that “78% of CEOs say ad agencies not performance-driven enough.”

But first some advice to ad agency CEOs — get off your asses and start educating prospects and clients what it is that we do. I know you are already spread thinner than private label peanut butter, but prepare to add proselytizing about the power of advertising (not just your agency’s credentials) to that daily to-do list. Advertising is the business of great ideas. Ideas that stop people in their tracks. Ideas that inspire people to take action (including making purchases). Ideas that build brand loyalty. Ideas that cause other shops to subsequently copy and ultimately water down what was original and ground-breaking. Ideas that often scare C-level execs looking for immediate results. Clearly, when 936 CEOs (or 78% of 1,200 for those CEOs who think agency people can’t quantify) believe our business does not focus on generating quantifiable business results, we all have our work cut out for us.

The survey went on to add that 76% of respondents believe agencies are not business-pragmatic enough, 74% think agencies are disconnected from short and medium-term business realities, and 72% say agencies are not as data and science-driven as expected. To that I would add 87% of the same CEOs believe agencies are as worthless as chewing gum (or worse) on the bottom of their shoes. The study noted that the 1,200 CEOs represented small, medium, and large companies globally. So, it doesn’t matter whether they answer to a board and investors or to themselves as entrepreneurs, these CEOs don’t believe agencies have anything much of value to bring to the table. What would John Wanamaker say, who recognized that 50% of his advertising budget was wasted but was satisfied because the other 50% was working wonders?

Don Draper would answer a call for performance results with storyboards that tell stories.

Don Draper would answer a call for performance results with storyboards that tell stories.

More importantly, what would MadMen’s Don Draper do? I think he would turn the tables and ask tough questions of today’s CEOs. Clearly, we are living in the age of data and with so much of it at their disposal, CEOs have become know-it-alls. Miserly, risk-averse, short-sighted, attention-deficit, know-it-alls. Here is a list of additional questions that the Fournaise Marketing Group might have added  to their survey if Don Draper had gotten his hands on it.

Have you ever truly partnered with an agency before? Explained what your unique business challenges are, helped educate them about your business and industry and competitors, and made them an integral part of your team?

Do you realize that if you devalue marketing and entrust it to junior people inside your own company, who parcel out parts and projects to a variety of firms, your branding, corporate identity, and overall messaging will likely suffer and deliver sub-par results?

Can you chart a direct correlation between how little you budget toward branding, marketing, advertising, and PR and how flat sales are?

Are you satisfied that your marketing content and materials look and read like your competitors’ and do you expect commoditization or would you yourself prefer to be excited by on-target creative work that elevates your brand?

How well do you know your own prospects and customers? Are you capable of putting yourself in their skins or do you believe that they will naturally gravitate to the greatness of your products and services? And become aware of them through osmosis (thought I’d throw in a gratuitous science term)?

Do you recognize how truly fragmented the media universe is today? How few shared experiences remain out there from a mass audience standpoint? How much power has shifted to purchasers and how critical it is to hire the best communications people you can find to build awareness, communicate your messaging, your unique selling propositions, and your overall brand value to them?

Can you truly appreciate why the world of advertising is characterized by mad men? Creative geniuses who don’t fit into MBA textbooks? Graphic artists and videographers who can tell your story visually, compellingly, and uniquely? Agency types who willingly work long uncompensated hours because they appreciate clients who put their faith in them?

Are you willing to settle for mediocrity and short-term blips in profits because striving for greatness is scary and carries with it greater public attention and pain in the event of failure?

Does your company’s current advertising/branding/marketing carry your stamp or is it legacy work whose coattails you are riding on?

Are you the market share leader in all of your markets? Any of your markets? Are you a follower of competitors in your marketing efforts or do you blaze your own trails?

Do you honestly believe that most agencies don’t want to deliver performance? What is more important to you, the ability to measure the results of every expenditure or to be surprised and excited by creative that no one saw coming?

What are you going to do with all that additional data? Will it pay for an expansion of your business? Will it convince you that cutting more costs and staff was the right thing to do? Are you constantly checking your smartphone in today’s meeting because someone is telling you something that truly rocks your world or are you just bored?

Are you like 78% of the CEOs out there and the world of advertising makes you uncomfortable because it doesn’t fit easily into a spreadsheet? Where are the visionary entrepreneurial CEOs of other eras who built great products and understood they still needed great advertising and they insisted upon it?

Last one I can truly put in that category was Steve Jobs. Do you want to be like him?

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Seaside's Casino Pier, post Sandy.

Seaside's Casino Pier, post Sandy.

Hurricanes have a way of disrupting your normal routine even when they barely affect you personally. I am one of the many blessed losing only power (for a half day) and a few shingles vs. losing an entire roof overhead and a warm place to live and a lifetime of memories. Words fail when you see the devastation caused by Sandy last week.  Boardwalk businesses and memories snapped like so many matchsticks. Entire communities in densely populated North Jersey and  the NY and CT portions of the metropolitan NYC area. All of us have our work cut out to offer relief to those who have been devastated by Sandy.

But being at a loss for words over this horrific situation led me to take note that on a very different subject, some writers are absolutely inspired to get their thoughts and feelings across on paper.

Inspiration is in your hands (brain cells?)

Inspiration is in your hands (brain cells?)

The late Linds Redding, author of a remarkable take on creativity.

The late Linds Redding, author of a remarkable take on creativity.

Ad Age’s Matthew Creamer captured my attention first with this lead — “The Best Piece of Advertising Writing You’ve Never Read.  Irresistible, yes, and when you read it, unforgettable, especially if you have worked in the creative services industry.  Creamer’s blog links to the late Linds Redding’s essay online, which captures the drive to produce work that causes others to say things like “Whoa” and “Wow.” It also nails how others easily exploit that drive to get writers (and artists) in advertising to sell their blood, sweat, and tears for pennies on the dollar.

Defender of liberty, Mark Levin.

Defender of liberty, Mark Levin.

There is a certain amount of hubris, however, that allows advertising creatives to falsely believe that we have cornered the market on creativity and ideas. During my drive home one night, I had the pleasure of hearing the impassioned patriot (and Cheltenham graduate) Mark Levin read this remarkable essay from the late Leonard Read on his radio program. It explores what makes production of the humble pencil possible. It is an eloquent case for the free enterprise system as a means of creating commerce, jobs, and work for so many. Those who want to limit use of the world’s many resources, the operation of factories that too many believe are just pollution mills, and the pursuit of entrepreneurial opportunities might reconsider their obstructionism. If we ever want to see a vibrant economy again, we need to allow people to pursue dreams and to use creativity to develop new products and make good products better.

Those who were devastated by Hurricane Sandy need help to rebuild their lives. Creativity and free enterprise make great foundations to get that process moving successfully.

 

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Gillette spends a lot of money on big budget well-made razor and blade advertising.

Gillette spends a lot of money on big budget well-made razor and blade advertising.

In a digital marketplace crowded with marketing channels and marketing messages, businesses are faced with the age-old question — How do you cut through the clutter to get attention? With awesome creative, of course!

I just watched a late-night tv commercial from Gillette for ProGlide shaving cartridges that promises to last 5 weeks before dulling. It was aimed at the young male 20something demographic. It featured global travel, exotic locales, and the idea of around the world on a single blade. It was excellent in a big budget epic way. I’ve recently seen another well-done Gillette commercial for the Fusion ProGlide Styler featuring noted music and acting personalities with facial hair, André 3000, Adrien Brody, and Gael Garcia Bernal. A fresh approach in a competitive category. I’ve also stopped by the men’s shaving aisle during a grocery run and been overwhelmed by blade choices. Survey Gillette’s product lineup here for what I mean. Add in Schick’s offerings and it can be genuinely stupefying to remember what brand and version is in your own medicine cabinet. What’s more, razor blades now all come in plastic lockboxes that need to be opened at checkout in order to prevent shoplifting of these increasingly high-priced personal care necessities.

I’m guessing Michael Dubin found himself similarly challenged to buy and pay for a razor and blades when he conceived his new start-up DollarShaveClub.com. A blade of the month club? Sounds like it may have been something tried and failed during the dot.com boom and bust period. Wrong. This enterprise is 2.0 conceived, built, and rolling.

I dare you to watch this YouTube viral gem without chuckling multiple times at how well-crafted on a micro budget it is. This isn’t Victor Kiam “I liked the shaver so much I bought the company” — it is Michael Dubin taking you behind the scenes at his entire start-up operation to cheekily demonstrate why his blades are so inexpensive and such great values at the same time. The clip is so entertaining that it has already been featured content on Mashable , All Things D, and Huffington Post and is already over one million views on YouTube.

The DollarShaveClub web site is very focused and offers good, better, best choices.

The DollarShaveClub web site is very focused and offers good, better, best choices.

But the terrific creative doesn’t end there. The DollarShaveClub.com web site itself is a model of smart sales copy, good/better/best consumer choices, terrific graphic design, and ease of e-commerce. In other words, creative and commerce are in collusion for maximum results. Big package goods corporations have a lot invested in brand identities and line extensions, including big ad production and media budgets to feed the sales pipeline. Michael Dubin doesn’t have those luxuries. But he does have a winning concept and an awesome creative vision.

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My wife is a daily reader of obituaries because she always learns some interesting bits of local, national, or personal history about the decedent. I am the opposite. Reading obituaries causes me to check my pulse.

Some weeks, however, the pace and nature of the obituaries can’t be ignored.  I’ve been intrigued for days about the passing of  conservative firebrand Andrew Breitbart, who died very suddenly at age 43 walking home from a local bar. I was glad to see this account because it could help nip conspiracy theories in an election year that is already generating its share of sideshows. Breitbart was a Zen master at driving the Left crazy and exposing their worst practices. When I heard that Matt Taibbi, Contributing Editor of Rolling Stone and a firebrand in his own right (left?), had written this provocative headline and account (very bad language alert), I was prepared for the worst of where this country was in terms of politics and personal destruction. To his credit, Taibbi captured why Breitbart successfully got so far under his skin and offered grudging admiration for his fearlessness. For that (and because too many never read beyond the headline), Taibbi (and his family) were repaid with digital mischief and angry death threats. It is a sad coda, because it underscores how badly we continue to treat each other over political disagreements.

If you need further proof, just plug in “Rush Limbaugh” as a search term on Twitter. This week, Rush has generated a firestorm of anger, hate, and threatened advertiser boycotts following his taking the Congressional testimony of “reproductive rights activist” Sandra Fluke to its logical economic and marketplace conclusion, converting $3,000 in annual contraception costs into sex as an occupation. While I am agitated myself at the transparent attempts to spin the Obamacare provision of requiring religious institutions and employers to pay for health benefits that is against their religious tenets into a personal right to have an employer pay for contraception, and the use of this young woman as a political prop, I am troubled at how this has now devolved into a war of insults and righteous indignation. I may not agree with Sandra Fluke, but how is calling her a “slut” and a “prostitute,” even in exposing the absurdity of her case, going to advance the strong “on its own merits” case against this provision? Here is Limbaugh, in his own unapologetic words, making his points again. As Taibbi and Limbaugh learned this week, it is painful to be a lightning rod.

Co-creator of the Berenstain Bears with late husband Stan, Jan Berenstain passed away this week.

Co-creator of the Berenstain Bears with late husband Stan, Jan Berenstain passed away this week.

That brings me to the first obituary of the week, which is the local loss of Doylestown, PA-based Jan Berenstain, creator with her late husband Stan, of the wonderful, long-running Berenstain Bears children’s book series. There was a time when our older kids were younger that I under-appreciated the Berenstains’ books, because there were just so many of them.  I had the impression that they were cheap and mass-produced and Mr. Rogers corny. Then, I read a few of them to my boys at bedtime. Each one was lovingly and intricately illustrated in a style whose graphic consistency corporate brand managers could learn a ton from. Didn’t hurt that they had a Random House editor and mentor by the name of Theodor Geisel. The stories were always engaging , humorous, and each one taught meaningful, universal life lessons and the importance of  family, friends, neighbors, and respect for one another. The inherent decency is easy to dismiss, but as evidenced above, we are in desperate need of it in the adult world. Jan Berenstain will be sorely missed, but thankfully, she and Stan, in addition to building a model marriage, a joint career, and an entire industry, managed to also balance a family life, and have two sons, Michael and Leo, who are carrying on the Berenstain Bears brand and business.

I was also amazed to learn of another local loss. First, I was amazed to hear about the sudden passing of Davy Jones of the Monkees fame, then to discover his long-time local connection.  This link will take you to a phone interview by the King’s College radio station in Wilkes-Barre, on Friday, February 24, just days before his passing.  Jones talked about his PA ties, having seen a house for sale in Beavertown (Snyder County) in 1986, where he split much of his time between there, Florida, and the road (touring). Mike Sisti, who works with Newton on new business development, confirmed all this, having run into Jones in a Selinsgrove “pub” but didn’t know it was a brush with fame at the time. He wondered who was this guy in the heart of PA Dutch country calling everyone “mate” and was stunned to learn he’d met a Monkee. Biography just reran an earlier feature that included Jones’ purchase of an old country church in Beavertown. He wanted to revive the beautiful building and said “Everybody has to have a dream.” From his King’s College interview, you can tell that Jones was full of life and still living his dream until his heart gave out last Wednesday.

Hug your spouse and kids every day. Multiple times. Treat with respect even those with whom you adamantly disagree. Think and live large. Carpe diem!

Update: We all live in Internet time and before the day finished, Rush Limbaugh decided a personal apology was in order for Sandra Fluke. The blogosphere and twitterverse were buzzing about the squashing of free speech, but I really believe that Limbaugh recognized that he’d allowed his anger to get the better of him, losing sight that he had misdirected some pretty ugly invective at a young woman.

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The ad industry was once filled with imaginative writers, amazing artists, and exceptional salespeople. Today, it still is, but there are a lot fewer of them, with their thinning ranks filled by technologists. However, I’ve always been buoyed by copywriters who manage to write their way out of the agency business and into fame and fortune. After working on Detroit automotive accounts, Elmore Leonard launched a prolific career as a crime novelist — most recently, his lawman character Raylan has spawned the popular cable show JustifiedJames Patterson, author of the Alex Cross mysteries and now a hugely successful children’s book author, once toiled at J. Walter Thompson.  Even, more serious scribes like F. Scott Fitzgerald (you know, the Gatsby guy) first penned ad copy to pay the bills.

Closer to home, I once had the pleasure of a book-signing meeting with award-winning author of young adult fiction, Jerry Spinelli, who worked on the trade media side of the business as an editor at the long-gone Chilton publishing empire in Radnor. He put Norristown and the Elmwood Park Zoo on the map in the classic Maniac Magee. I also once interviewed with a very personable Jon Clinch, a creative director at Schaefer Advertising, who went on to write a remarkable first novel, Finn, daring to take on Twain’s story from the perspective of Huck’s dead father.

Unfortunately, for every fiction and screenwriter writing about advertising from the outside (MadMen, thirtysomething), there are many more writers in the advertising profession hoping to midwife the Great American Novel. Fortunately, a few are also putting their talents to work creating exceptional thought leadership tomes about advertising, branding, and marketing. Some are brand names themselves (Ogilvy on Advertising). Some are in-demand lecturers like David Meerman Scott.  And others are terrific practitioners of what they preach.

One of the latter is a friend of mine, Lori Widmer, who fills every day as a professional writer, freelancing for corporations and agencies like Newton, writing Words on the Page, a writer’s blog, co-moderating About Writing Squared, a writers’ forum, and now authoring an ambitious and ingenious e-book of ideas, Marketing 365.

Marketing365 is an idea-a-day business-building treasure chest for entrepreneurs

Marketing365 is an idea-a-day business-building treasure chest for entrepreneurs

This work is literally a year’s worth of advice, (plus a bonus for leap year), to help small businesses and entrepreneurs develop and retain their customer bases by making marketing an essential everyday agenda item. The guide is a quick-read at 108 breezy pages, but it is chock-full of great recommendations. Lori doesn’t want readers to implement one a day, or anything close to all of them. She just wants businesspeople to mine her book for things that fit their company culture and personal comfort level. It is a great reference source to skim through to trigger new thinking about an age-old subject. She manages to mix traditional methods and media with plenty of digital and social options, all without repeating herself January 1 – December 31. It would make a great addition to any marketing curriculum and SBA support center.

Marketing 365 can be yours via PDF download for the bargain price of $14.95. I hope the many readers of this blog will help make Lori rich (just not rich enough to leave the profession and give up occasional freelancing).

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Advertising awards are great. Advertising awards are overrated.

Advertising awards are great. Advertising awards are overrated.

Over the years, Newton Associates, like most other agencies have entered our share of industry awards competitions. And over the years, we have seen entry fees escalate, number of competitions proliferate, and an industry trend away from perceived value in awards. Clients are dazzled a lot less by hardware than they are by ROI. This post isn’t intended to make the case one way or the other for awards relevance (no, they don’t have the same luster that they once had, and yes, it is still better to win them  than to not be recognized for your work).

What captured my interest this week was the evolution of awards categories for The One Show, arguably the most prestigious of creative industry competitions out there.  The best-known advertising awards are probably the Cannes Lions because of prestige location, or perhaps the Clios, although they lost a lot of luster some years ago, when the stager ran into financial problems, the event did not run quite as planned, and in any ugly scene out of a Nathanael West novel, intoxicated ad execs randomly helped themselves to hardware on tables in the back of the banquet room. However, The One Show has always been known for tough judging by peers and for honoring cutting edge work. It has always meant a lot to join The One Club by winning one of its awards. Still on my bucket list and well ahead of running with the bulls at Pamplona.

My bigger challenge at the moment is how to interpret new award categories. The One Show long ago morphed into a series of One Shows, advertising being only one, followed by design, interactive, and now entertainment. Advertising hasn’t changed much, but under Multimedia, how would you define “Experiential Advertising”? Advertising that is so all-encompassing that you just don’t watch it, read it, hear it, you experience it? All right, skip that one. How about Cinema Advertising with a sub category of Integrated Cinema Experience? Experience seems to be a running theme. Five senses may not be enough.

This one stopped me dead — Brand Transformation Sponsored by Facebook. How do you begin to judge a brand transformation that took place on Facebook? By going from 5 to 50,000,0000,000 “Likes” overnight?

Even the category of Outdoor has gone way beyond billboards to now include “Transit and Street Furniture”. Are we talking about advertising on benches? Or awards for actually designing innovative ergonomic replacements for benches?

Interactive Advertising gets interesting with a category known as “Augmented Reality”.  That phrase doesn’t explain itself very well unless describing boob jobs and Jersey Shore.

Social Media also speaks its own language. The category of “Best Use of” social media is fine. But “Location Aware Services” sounds like people in constant need of GPS help. And while NewtonIdeas.net is blogging, a category we could almost enter, the actual category is “Microblogging”. Is there a space between normal blogging and 140-character tweeting that occurs inside some type of box designed to accommodate lawn gnomes?

After careful consideration of some truly creative creative awards categories, I think we’re going to skip The One Show entry this year. I have been officially creeped out by the actual creative used to promote The One Show competition. Our art director dubbed the hopefully Photoshopped model as the love child of Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno.

The One Show had gone from edgy to creepy.

The One Show had gone from edgy to creepy.

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Transport yourself back to kindergarten. When the teacher handed out coloring book pages to color in, there was always one kid whose finished product looked like it was fresh off an eight-color Heidelberg press. Perfectly colored in, no white show-through, and no stray crayon lines. This is not the future artist in the class. This is the completely buttoned-down kid who subsequently earned straight A’s and became a corporate president.

The future artist is the kid in the corner whose scribbling went all over the page. The black lines that formed the image of the pokey little puppy be damned. This kid’s work resembled Jackson Pollack after a five-hour energy drink. This kid saw boundaries then ran roughshod over every single one of them.

This profession is full of the latter kids. Creativity demands that you recognize the expected parameters, then do something totally unexpected. Advertising is full of what we call “borrowed interest” — sexy models, outrageous humor, music that bores a hole in your brain it is so darn catchy. The best campaigns never feel like the interest is borrowed; their attention-getting is right on target and always earned.

In the past week, I saw two such examples during time spent online. Both pushed the actual media they were appearing in, going way outside the lines, and engaging readers and viewers along the way.

Adweek's AdFreak column spotlights 10 boundary-pushing print ads.

Adweek's AdFreak column spotlights 10 boundary-pushing print ads.

The first is an entire collection of ads that get you to rethink print much in the way that the best outdoor boards demonstrate what’s possible beyond the application of ink to canvas. I encourage you to take the time to check out this excellent Adweek feature (courtesy of AdFreak columnist Tim Nudd) on 10 wildly memorable print ads that go way beyond trim and bleed specifications.

The other is a surprising T-Mobile spot from Barcelona created by Saatchi and Saatchi (global agencies are not always known for drawing outside the lines, so even the creator in this case is a surprise). The clip came to my attention from Kerry Antezana in my LinkedIn network, who posted it from Terry Doyle, whom she follows on Twitter, and now I’m blogging about it (see the cross-platform boomerang power of social media?).

You don’t have to be an Angry Birds player on your smartphone to appreciate this clip, but it helps, because the wildly popular but wonderfully eccentric game has had its boundaries expanded, still within a smartphone screen, but replicated in real life with the same Angry Bird characters to a town square set-up. The virtual digital world is suddenly the real world and slingshotted birds really do knock down silly structures. And the black ones really do explode and cause more well-timed damage. There are some great reaction shots from the people who step up to play.

The most hackneyed overused expression of our industry is “think outside the box” but occasionally you come across reminders that it is still possible to do so and still be wildly original.

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