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Sorry for the serious drop in the frequency of our agency blog of late. However, it can be a not-enough-hours-in-the day challenge to generate content for yourself when you are also generating content for others. The old shoemaker’s kids going shoeless dilemma.

Several stories this week resonated in an intertwining way to touch nerves for me as someone in the creative business. The problem is that too many creatives don’t run their businesses as businesses (emporiums of wit and awesome graphics, maybe) and too many businesspeople who purchase creative services realize that and take advantage accordingly.

This Advertising Age article about a panel from a Mirren New Business Conference on agency compensation contained an all-too-familiar anecdote from one of the panelists, Christine Fruechte, CEO of the Colle & McVoy agency. She recounted about having gotten to the last round of a pitch, but losing to another agency because Colle & McVoy elected not to lower their fees in a race to the bottom. The winner of that race went out of business within a year of getting the business. Ironically, the client approached Colle & McVoy again and Ms. Fruechte got the account (and in a rare turnaround for this industry) plus even higher fees than what cost her the nod in the original pitch process.

That story made me feel smug about the agency side of the business for all of a few hours until reading an amusing interview with the Black Keys by Danny McBride in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly. In an especially ironic turnabout, it seems agencies have been blacklisting the Black Keys when it comes to licensing of their music. The reason is appalling — once the Black Keys and their infectiously memorable hook-loaded music became omnipresent on radio and music services, they had to go to court on multiple occasions to stop brands, agencies, and jingle houses from using obvious knockoff versions of their songs.

So, this is an especially galling case of pot, kettle, black. Creative shops have no business whining about clients not wanting to pay them for original creative when they turn around and borrow a popular sound or look from other creative artists but conveniently don’t pay them for it.

Fortunately, some brands are thinking in different ways. It was refreshing this week to see Adweek report on how Chipolte has figured out a new way to attract business by featuring original content from Real McCoy big name writers like Toni Morrison and Jonathan Safran Foer on the restaurant’s cups under the theme “Cultivating Thought.” Hell, I might even pay a little extra for something pithy or witty from a favorite writer while enjoying a taco meal. And that little extra multiplied by the business it brings in might more than compensate Chipolte, Toni Morrison and other featured writers, while building brand loyalty for the chain (and new readers for those writers). Hallelujah. A rare win-win in the creative compensation department.

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Just as today’s musical artists resurrect the gems of giants from yesteryear (like Jack White’s cover here of Buddy Holly), graphic artists find unique ways to revitalize works from an earlier time.  An especially exciting locally based resource hit my radar when I was Christmas shopping in a local book store last month and so I bought a gift for myself — Fading Ads of Philadelphia by Lawrence O’Toole. This great coffee table chronicle captures some of the city’s surprisingly still vivid outdoor ads from another era. O’Toole has focused on ads painted on brick, some of which have not completely stood the test of time. But others are more than holding their own.

Fading Ads of Philadelphia

Fading Ads of Philadelphia by Lawrence O'Toole chronicles much of the city's advertising past.

Ironically, the same week I picked up his book, I happened to be paying a pilgrimage to Franklin Fountain for ice cream following a family outing to the Philadelphia Orchestra’s exceptional holiday concert. Returning to a rare available parking spot on North Front Street, I noticed some still prominent painted messages about metals on the white columns of the building near my meter. Turns out it had been home to Nathan Trotter Metals, a company that is still in business and operating in Coatesville and featured on pages 50 and 51 of Fading Ads of Philadelphia. Small world.

Just in case you have any difficulty tracking down a copy of O’Toole’s book published in 2012, the great news is that he has been documenting old ads on buildings in this city online for some time via a blog at GhostSignProject.com. Like all good branders and designers, O’Toole gives you many ways to follow the project, including Twitter, Facebook, and even soon an iPhone app that will let you capture your own sightings of old building-based outdoor ads. But I particularly encourage you to read the book, because there are a couple of very good Forwards, one by John Langdon that devotes a lot to typographic history, including somewhat recent history in this city at Armstrong Typography, and another by Frank Jump that touches on early national ad history contributions at Philadelphia’s NW Ayer. It is very cool that old Philadelphia ad history is new again.

One final thought — I am tired of hearing digital-only folks declare that print is dead. As great as digital is, its pixels are a lot more ephemeral than the inks used for books, magazines, billboards, and even outdoor murals. Thanks to Lawrence O’Toole for reminding us and finding so many amazing supporting examples.

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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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Lots of things happen for a reason that isn’t always clear at the time (more on that later). Earlier this year, Mike Bodnar, GM of Security Partners, a Lancaster-based central monitoring station and security services provider, reached out to me to ask if I’d do a presentation on security marketing at their first-ever dealers conference. Impulsive me, I said sure. In April, when I visited their hospitality suite during ISC West in Las Vegas, I asked Joseph Mitton, Marketing Director for Security Partners, more about the event. He told me that they had done a survey of their dealers and marketing was the topic that the majority were interested in. That both surprised and encouraged me.

As the event drew closer, Debbie Stremmel, who was coordinating the conference for Security Partners, shared more details and I was struck by something obvious — the complete event package was a terrific way for Security Partners to market to, and solidify relationships with, its existing customer base.  Smart guys.

Marketing Security to a Short Attention Span World

Marketing Security to a Short Attention Span World

Generous, too — Pat Egan, Principal of Security Partners, paid for accommodations for 50 plus of his dealers from across the nation at the very cool Lancaster Arts Hotel, had presentations and a second day mini products expo at the Lancaster Barnstormers minor league ballpark, wined and dined them at Lombardo’s one night and on a murder mystery dinner excursion on the Strasburg Railroad the next.

The view from the Lancaster Barnstormers' main hospitality suite

The view from the Lancaster Barnstormers' main hospitality suite

Security Partners hosted their dealers conference in one of the Lancaster Barnstormers hospitality suites.

Security Partners hosted their dealers conference in one of the Lancaster Barnstormers hospitality suites.

Scenes from the Accelerate dealers conference of Security Partners

Scenes from the Accelerate dealers conference of Security Partners

Everything was neatly tied with a branded bow under the conference theme of “Acclerate” as in accelerate your business — from PowerPoint templates, to printed conference materials, to even welcome and sponsor messages on the Barnstormers’ digital scoreboard.  There was a nice blend of presentations: from “Trends and Overview of the Security Industry Landscape” by Shannon Murphy, VP of Sales and Marketing for Electronic Security Association; to “Business Growth Strategies” by Rob Pianka, Coach, of ActionCOACH; to “Attrition Management” by John Brady, Principal, TRG Associates; to me with “Marketing Security to a Short Attention Span World.” Day 2 featured that mini product exposition followed by several roundtable discussions with Noah Bilger (Alarm.com), Dean Mason (AlarmNet), Tad Lamb (2GIG Technologies), David Donovan (Honeywell Alarm Security), Alicia Pereira (Video IQ), and Ed Warminski (Videofied). Over the years, I’ve been to a lot of these kinds of events and this was one of the best, which is saying a lot given it was a first time for Security Partners. It surely resonated for all of the dealers who participated locally and from across the country.

A murder mystery dinner on the Strasburg Railroad was a great way to cap off a day of sessions at Security Partners dealer conference

A murder mystery dinner on the Strasburg Railroad was a great way to cap off a day of sessions at Security Partners dealer conference

EC Key, makers of a smartphone controllable/Wiegand compatible access control add-on, was a sponsor of Security Partners' dealer conference

EC Key, makers of a smartphone controllable/Wiegand compatible access control add-on, was a sponsor of Security Partners' dealer conference

The Lancaster Barnstormers' scoreboard is a great promotional addition to events held there.

The Lancaster Barnstormers' scoreboard is a great promotional addition to events held there.

The value for me was sharing a lot of agency history and experiences in security marketing: over 18 years with Linear, several more with SafetyCare, more recently with 2GIG Technologies, Secure Wireless, and Time and Parking Controls; plus, the way that the marketing landscape keeps changing dramatically on all fronts, creating new opportunities, especially through technology. But there is also the benefit of getting feedback from dealers. It was useful to hear how hard it is on the sales side to get access to quality leads, especially in quantity, to do phone sales for a product that most homeowners need but few currently have — a security/home automation system remote controllable from anywhere by smartphone (yes, there’s an app for that). On the business-to-business side, it is equally tough to find the right marketing message and media to reach decision-makers with current needs.

Ironically, the one thing that has stayed with me the most since the conference was a point I made that came back to haunt me the next day. I stressed that when you are building a web site today, you should avoid Flash because most mobile devices do not support it. Of course, a dealer came to me the next day to tell me something I already knew, that our main web site uses a lot of Flash videos that do not play on iPhones. It is a nagging problem we have lived with in recent years, but I decided to see if anyone had developed a recent workaround. A Google search led me to a promising conversion application, so I posed it to George Rothacker, Renaissance artist/marketer, long-time agency friend, Flash expert, and collaborator on our web site. George, problem-solver that he is, saw the process through to a semi-gratifying conclusion. While this app can’t convert large complex files like our web site videos, it can be used to convert smaller Flash-based files that DO play on mobile devices and are consistent cross platform and across all web browsers. George has been able to perfect the technique for a series of Berenstain Bears online games for a credit union client of his. Lemons into lemonade. If anyone out there would like to use Flash on mobile devices to do animation and effects, talk to me. The answer all began with a conversation at another highly effective marketing technique — a dealers conference.

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Sometimes in life, you just get lucky.  You are in the right place at the right time and someone gives you your first break at doing what you love. That was the case with me when I answered a classified ad for an advertising copywriter at Bofinger and Associates, a local agency in Glenside, PA. I was a recent graduate of Susquehanna University with a seemingly useless degree in English (seemingly useless for getting hired for a journalism job unless I wanted to try my hand at writing obituaries part-time for the Quakertown Free Press). However, I submitted my resume and I got a call from the agency owner, Charlie Bofinger. He asked me to come in for an interview for the entry level PR job, also in the same ad. He told me on the phone he was looking for someone with a little experience for the copywriter post. And so, I went for my first agency interview and got hired to write for a living.

Charles Bofinger, former principal of Bofinger and Associates ad agency

Charles Bofinger, former principal of Bofinger and Associates ad agency

I was saddened to read Charlie’s obituary last week, but glad that he lived a long fulfilling life to age 88. Reading it brought back a flood of memories. His agency was small by Madison Avenue standards, but I quickly learned that Charlie had a lot of talented people working for him, each one of which I learned different skills from, including: Herb Smith, Account Service; Bernice Slosberg, Media; Marc Ellis, Copy Chief; and Pat Burns, PR.

As a graduate of the Milton Hershey School, Charlie Bofinger learned how to leverage his considerable artistic talents and business acumen through various connections he had made in Hershey. The result of that was a solid core of accounts from Chocolate Town, USA. The agency handled advertising for Hersheypark, all of the Hershey resort properties (Hotel Hershey, Hershey Motor Lodge and Convention Center, Pocono Hershey Resort), the Milton Hershey School, various HERCO projects, as well as some Hershey Foods assignments, such as San Giorgio brand pasta. On this solid base, Bofinger and Associates built additional account business, including CRC Chemicals, Van Sciver furniture, Malo marshmallow cup candy, and a number of other clients.

Bofinger handled all of Hershey's resorts, including the Hotel Hershey

Bofinger handled all of Hershey's resorts, including the Hotel Hershey

Heady for me was the chance to learn PR on behalf of CRC, whose various cleaning chemicals were staples for degreasing. It is where I learned about brand extensions with one line of formulations for automotive, another for marine, and another for industrial use. One of my earliest assignments was writing regular news releases about CRC’s various market-specific products. Things got a lot more interesting when the decision was made to raise awareness of the automotive line by sponsoring a NASCAR driver. CRC didn’t have a huge budget, so it was looking for a top 10 driver who might crack the top 5. They settled on a good one — a guy who did manage to make the top 5 a few times, but also made a bigger name for himself later on as the head of one of today’s premier racing teams — Richard Childress.

Richard Childress as a driver sponsored by CRC Chemicals

Richard Childress as a driver sponsored by CRC Chemicals

Bofinger press kit for CRC automotive chemicals

Bofinger press kit for CRC automotive chemicals

My recollections of Charlie was a guy who was very hard-working and often out of the office, spending time with his clients, learning their needs and their business challenges. When he was in his office, he was always working hard on ad designs.

I remember doing some of my own market research at Hersheypark in the spring with my college roommate, Bob Nisley, who lived in nearby Hummelstown and had had a thankless summer job during school working as a park mascot in one of those heavy character costumes. We tried out various park rides, including the old wooden coaster and the newest one called the SooperDooperLooper. My own kids just returned from a band trip to Hersheypark on Friday and announced to me that those are now the kiddie rides. I also toured the hotel properties in town and was impressed by how well all the tourism synergy works together there.

"Hersheypark Happy". . .one of Bofinger and Associates' many accounts (and jingles)

"Hersheypark Happy". . .one of Bofinger and Associates' many accounts (and jingles)

I worked for Charlie Bofinger the better part of a year and even got promoted to that ad copywriter job when the original person hired didn’t stay past the first few months. Then, one day, I came into the office and learned a tough but valuable lesson about the capricious nature of the ad business. Van Sciver Furniture, a big broadcast account for us, had decided to take its account elsewhere because sales had been down. Although I never worked on the account, I learned that job security was a lot like the LIFO accounting method (last in, first out). On Friday of that week, I got layed off from the agency and discovered unemployment insurance. Charlie was very sad to have to deliver that decision personally, but was very fair in how he handled it.

I can’t complain because, thanks to the Bofinger experience, I soon landed another advertising job at Provident Mutual Life Insurance Company, where I got to work with a lot of other young hires and eventually met my wife Drina. One day I was pleasantly surprised to read in the Inquirer that Bofinger and Associates had been acquired by Spiro, one of Philadelphia’s largest agencies at the time. Smart businessman that Charlie.

After two years at Provident Mutual, I got hired at Newton Associates, by two other great mentors, Jon Newton and Harry Streamer, who gave me many more opportunities (all of which is future blog material). During the early days of Newton, I would occasionally hear of Charlie. I knew he had loved painting and the Jersey shore. Somewhere I learned that there was a gallery in Stone Harbor that carried his work. Drina and I stopped in one weekend and bought one of his serigraphs. Another is hanging near the front desk at Newton and came courtesy of Charlie’s brother Ken, who used to call on Newton regularly representing many of the area’s printers.

Besides his agency career, Charlie Bofinger was also a talented fine artist.

Besides his agency career, Charlie Bofinger was also a talented fine artist.

Thanks, Charlie. You helped a lot of associates and clients over a long career in the crazy business of advertising. Including a young wet-behind-the-ears kid who now co-runs his own agency and tries to follow life lessons learned from some great mentors, you being the first.

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A fascinating advertising media story broke this morning courtesy of the Philadelphia Business Journal and City Paper.  It encapsulates many of the problems faced by city newspapers struggling with print sales, but has a particularly Philadelphia spin. The brief article in PBJ raises lots of questions, but obviously doesn’t answer all of them, because the issues are far from resolved.

Philly.com has long carried free Inquirer and Daily News content. Now, controversy is brewing.

Philly.com has long carried free Inquirer and Daily News content. Now, controversy is brewing.

Longtime readers of digital content from the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, both owned by the same newspaper group, have conditioned themselves for years to go to Philly.com. In March, without a lot of fanfare, separate sites for both newspapers were launched, Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com. Now, reporters from both papers are upset because people are still going to the more sex/entertainment/sports-driven content of Philly.com for Inquirer and Daily News stories co-carried there for free. That last point sounds like either a clear contractual sore spot or a grey area mess for lawyers to sort out. Philly.com has been a long-running web site intended to meld content from both papers. Now, with each paper wanting to establish a separate online identity (separate from each other and from Philly.com), the plot is definitely thickening.

Drop down to the very bottom of the page on Philly.com and you see that the site is owned by Interstate General Media. Under About Us and Contact Us, there are many editorial contact numbers for both the Inquirer and Daily News news and sports desks. There are also separate banks of links for The Inquirer and the Daily News, as well as links to additional media partners, Philadelphia City Paper, Philly DealYo, and Parade Magazine. The former links take you directly to the new Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com home pages; the latter open new tabs to the partner sites.

On Philly.com, there are advertising links to the Philly.com advertising media kit. On Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com, there is no advertising information or media kit link. In fact, there are no ads (possibly there are beyond the home page, but I am not a digital subscriber, so I don’t know with absolute certainty). Ads  appear prominently on Philly.com, however.  All three sites carry the copyright lines for Interstate General Media, LLC. How’s that for the ultimate separation of editorial and advertising? What a mess!

Inquirer.com is the new online Inquirer site (playing second fiddle to much of the same content free on Philly.com)

Inquirer.com is the new online Inquirer site (playing second fiddle to much of the same content free on Philly.com)

So, reporters at the Inquirer and Daily News don’t like to have their content or brand diluted through Philly.com. But yet, for years, subscribers have been conditioned to go to Philly.com for Inquirer and Daily News co-content. And Philly.com is where all the advertising resides, along with ancillary sex/entertainment/sports content that seems to be helping to attract additional visitors who are neither Inquirer nor Daily News subscribers.  To that off-kilter branding/business model, you can roll in print versions of both papers. Current cost for an annual 7-day delivery of the Inquirer is just under $250 (while well under a buck a day, it is still a big number on the subscription side).  There are also digital subscriptions for both papers, which can be separate or combined with print subscriptions. When you attempt to go beyond the home pages of the new Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com, you are prompted to either log-in to your digital subscription or to sign up for one. Yet, that same content can be found on Philly.com for free. Confused yet? As a subscriber or an advertiser? Subscribers can enter promo codes to reduce their costs.  Who knows, maybe there is even a special offer on Philly DealYo.

PhillyDailyNews.com has its own look, but also shares content (free) with Philly.com

PhillyDailyNews.com has its own look, but also shares content (free) with Philly.com

Not sure why the new Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com sites now exist in their alternate ad-less universes (alternate from Philly.com). All I know is that it currently equates to either a great media buy on Philly.com, where most of the visitors are (because of free and additional content), or a questionable digital subscriber buy on either Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com where editorial is purer and ad-free but a lot more expensive. This sounds like it was a business model concocted by the best minds at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

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A Branding & Advertising Evolution: 5 in a Series of Musings Sparked by “The 100 Greatest Advertisements,” Julian Lewis Watkins, Dover Books, 1959

Had lunch with Ted Regan again Friday, this time to return his generously loaned books on Ayer and on the 100 Greatest Advertisements. Next time we get together, I’m bringing my notepad and planning to grill him on his days pitching, winning, and retaining the U.S. Army account. He has shared lots of tantalizing details, but it is an amazing and important story that deserves a full treatment.

I told Ted I was good for one more blog post  in the 100 Greatest Advertisements series and that it was going to be about packaging and retail. There were two examples in particular that sparked some sharp contrasts. And not surprisingly, one of them is another Ayer story.

For everyone who has eaten at a Cracker Barrel restaurant, did you know the origins of the name? That country stores and early groceries, at turn of the century (pre-FDA) America, used to sell crackers, as well as just about every other item, out of wooden barrels or open boxes? A.W. Green, Chairman of the Board of the National Biscuit Company, is credited with pushing for a concept that was likely the forerunner of the packaged food business in the United States — selling branded crackers in neat, sanitary, exact quantity packages. Crackers that would always be clean and fresh and protected from moisture, dust, germs, odors, and whatever else that could find its way into an open barrel. Incredibly, Green’s board did not share his vision, did not want to disturb grocers or their barrels, thought the idea would fail, and did not get behind it.

U-Need-A-Better-Place-To-Keep-Crackers-For-Sale-Than-An-Open-Barrel!

U-Need-A-Better-Place-To-Keep-Crackers-For-Sale-Than-An-Open-Barrel!

Fortunately, one of N.W. Ayer’s top execs, H.N. McKinney, saw Green’s vision and raised it with a brand, a plan, and a campaign to entice the public via newspaper and magazine ads, streetcar cards, and posters/signage. And so, UNEEDA Biscuits in boxes were born and promoted by a little boy in a rain slicker (the art director’s nephew).  U-Need-A-Biscuit may be a corny name, but it worked. All of it worked. Together (integrated marketing communications anyone?). It all worked so well that National Biscuit had to build additional bakeries in different parts of the country in order to supply the huge demand that the Ayer campaign and the Green packaging concept created. You can bet that a lot of copycat packaging followed on and that little by little groceries and retail stores, and packaged goods companies, scrambled to entice customers with bright packaging, from folding cartons, to tins, to labeled bottles, cans, and tubes.

The irony is that today, the drive is in the other direction, toward less packaging and a more sustainable future. There are a lot of positive stories, but also mindless zealotry. Packagers keep trying to source reduce to lowest possible but sometimes absurd levels. I’ve had water bottles spring leaks because they have been rendered so weak and flimsy. I have found toilet paper now being marketed as eco-friendly because the cardboard roll in the middle is gone. Many landfills are at a point where they are actually looking for more trash in order to feed trash-to-energy projects.

The Catalog Side of Sears, Circa 1949.

The Catalog Side of Sears, Circa 1949.

The drive is also in the other direction on many retail fronts. I was struck by a couple of things on this page from the 100 Greatest Advertisements, which featured the cover of the Spring/Summer 1949 Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog (where have all the Roebucks gone?). First, the cover didn’t obviously feature merchandise, unless worn by kids and teacher in the classroom setting depicted. Second, in that classroom setting, circa 1949, the emphasis was on Safety with a capital S.  There is a never-ending quest these days to make this the safest of all possible worlds (and that’s a blog for another day), but few people associate 1949 as a safety-focused year. Third, Sears’ message on the front cover talks candidly about higher prices being the norm, then casually delivers good news that many prices inside are lower than the prior fall.  Finally, the catalog came by way of Roosevelt Boulevard (I can still picture one of the Great Northeast’s classic landmarks).

Just as video killed the radio star, e-commerce has been making life very difficult in the retail bricks and mortar world. Sears is still there (but with a lot fewer stores), as are Macy’s, J C Penney’s, WalMart, and a host of others, especially individual specialty stores. While Amazon seems to be online’s 800 lb gorilla, the most successful retailers today are those who successfully bridge physical stores, great shopping experience web sites, and well-targeted catalogs. Know thy customers and reward their loyalty with many options, stellar customer service, and promos, discounts, and freebies. No one said marketing, sales, and advertising are easy.

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A Branding & Advertising Evolution: 4 in a Series of Musings Sparked by “The 100 Greatest Advertisements,” Julian Lewis Watkins, Dover Books, 1959

This week, President Obama made one of those statements he probably wanted to retract as soon as he expressed it. He was lauding Kamala Harris, the Attorney General of California, for her many accomplishments and her legal experience, when he did something guys of another era used to do all the time — he complimented Ms. Harris for being attractive. Instantly, attractive women felt marginalized (He only admires her for her looks.), unattractive women felt even more marginalized (I bet he’d never say that about me.), attractive men were confused (What’s wrong with that?), and unattractive men were also confused (What’s wrong with that?).  Surely, the President got a later earful from the First Lady and his two daughters. All around it was an awkward moment that momentarily tilted the world off its access.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=EQTyxNTQTtk&noredirect=1

Meanwhile in the world of advertising, super models are the daily norm and sensitivities be damned. Attractive people have always been used in commercials and catalogs to build brands and sell products. When that dynamic is tampered with, as GoDaddy did in their commercial during the last SuperBowl, having super model Bar Refaeli soulfully kiss computer nerd Walter, to illustrate the blending of sexy and smart, something doesn’t feel right (maybe having Danica Patrick announce the moment?). In this case, the situation was meant for comic effect, but there was something cruel about it. I know the young man wasn’t complaining about having to do take after interminable take to get the camera angle right, but he was clearly the butt of a joke in front of that audience of 108.4 million viewers. At times, we are overly sensitive, while at others like this one, we aren’t nearly sensitive enough. Take Target this week and their “manatee grey” plus size dress. Did they think anyone (everyone?) was going to miss that inference?

The Lonesome Girl learns how to make a dress.

All of which brings me back to the “100 Greatest Advertisements” collection, which features some ads that play on sensitive subjects, especially on women’s insecurities. “The Diary of a Lonesome Girl” makes every other copy-heavy ad seem like haiku. But it is worth a read to get a sense of the pitch for the Woman’s Institute, which is a mail order teaching curriculum. In this case, the course is on dress-making and it is the salvation of the Lonesome Girl from the headline. The ad is a diary account of a young lady who is practically destitute, living at home, sequestered in her room because she can’t afford to go to her neighbor’s parties, tormented because she can hear those parties and knows that her neighbor is dancing with Tom, and embarrassed that she only owns that old blue crepe dress. Since President Obama wasn’t around at the time to lift her spirits by calling her attractive, the narrator of the ad has to turn to the Woman’s Institute, which she does, discovers the art of dress making, and eventually she throws her own parties and wows Tom and her neighbor. I’ll never worry about over-promising in one of my ads again.

You may be attractive, but it's actually your breath that's stopping traffic.

You may be attractive, but it's actually your breath that's stopping traffic.

There are two ads that follow, further unnerving women readers who are unattached. An early ad for Listerine reveals why one woman is often a “Bridesmaid but Never a Bride.” Evidently, because she cannot smell her own breath, the thought of halitosis has never occurred to her. The ushers’ shriveled-up boutonnieres from the last 8 weddings never raised a red flag?

Pepsodent was on teeth film long before white strips.

Pepsodent was on teeth film long before white strips.

Meanwhile, if we think teeth whitening strips and treatments are a recent obsession, Pepsodent can remind us that we’ve been concerned with dingy-colored teeth for a very long time. Once again, a woman’s appearance is hugely important to her. And sometimes it is a matter of Presidential importance.

Diamonds. Attracting women since forever.

Diamonds. Attracting women since forever.

Finally, this N.W. Ayer ad for DeBeers was one of many to launch a long association between diamond jewelry and advertising (1939-1947), and the famous slogan, “A Diamond is Forever.”  One thing we can all agree upon when it comes to the word “attractive,” it is safe to say in public that women find diamonds very attractive.

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A Branding & Advertising Evolution: 3 in a Series of Musings Sparked by “The 100 Greatest Advertisements,” Julian Lewis Watkins, Dover Books, 1959

Today’s digital/Internet/mobile/social media world is indeed a modern marvel, but we have a tendency to lose sight of how far technology has come in the last century plus.  Data, data everywhere at the drop of a hat, with apps that entertain and inform and guide is remarkable and ever-morphing, although it has the capability to trigger an ADHD epidemic as youth gets used to multi-tasking  by multiple devices and disengagement from the real world grows.

A trip through some of the 100 greatest ads reminds us how enormous a part transportation played in growing industrial America, connecting our vast country, and helping to create the global economy we all enjoy today.

A car card promoting the elegant travel of the coal-powered Lackawanna

A car card promoting the elegant travel of the coal-powered Lackawanna

For those who have a hard enough time remembering when air travel was a pampered, glamorous experience, and that coal once enjoyed a heyday powering transportation and heating our homes, this car card for the Lackawanna Railroad will seem very mysterious indeed. There was a time when train travel was the epitome of sophistication and a dramatic way to see the country. I doubt Joe Biden’s boosterism and California rail subsidies can ever take us back there.

A ride on Boston and Maine. Take it or leave it.

A ride on Boston and Maine. Take it or leave it.

Eventually, as this ad for Boston and Maine shows, train travel was so prevalent that weather and usage demands created real world problems and PR issues. The ad is an acknowledgement, but an underscore that in spite of it all, Boston and Maine always runs.

This tribute to the young men serving in America's armed forces in WWII really resonated with the public.

This tribute to the young men serving in America's armed forces in WWII really resonated with the public.

Overbooking of train berths took another wrinkle during World War II when the nation’s young men received orders to report for duty on short notice. The Kid in Upper 4 for the New Haven RR was one of the earliest and best of ads in support of our military — everyone who read it had a young son or brother and they could instantly relate to the ad’s poignancy.

The Ford Model A was rolled out without any images of the car, but a lot of selling copy.

The Ford Model A was rolled out without any images of the car, but a lot of selling copy.

Moving to America’s roadways, it is hard to imagine being able to sell a new car with 1,500 words of text, no image of the vehicle, but a head shot of its inventor and manufacturer, Henry Ford. However, this announcement of the arrival of the Model A in 1927 was one in a series of five such ads produced by the N W Ayer agency. It must have been pretty heady stuff to have Henry Ford himself arrive in Philadelphia to approve the low-key copy in a series of low-key meetings. It must have resonated because within a few weeks of the new campaign orders for the new car reached over 800,000.

It's a bird. It's a plane. Oh, it IS a plane!

It's a bird. It's a plane. Oh, it IS a plane!

Ironically, one year later, N W Ayer and Ford collaborated on another series — for Ford Air Transport. Lift Up Your Eyes was the first ad in the first ever campaign to sell air transportation to the general public. It included tributes to the Wright Brothers and Charles Lindbergh. The dramatic shadow over the landscape emphasized that American transportation was about to change in a big way.

Ask the Man Who Owns One

Ask the Man Who Owns One

By 1938, another car company exec made some history of his own. J. W. Packard not only built a sought-after automobile, he penned one of the most famous ad slogans of all time — Ask The Man Who Owns One. Young and Rubicam were smart enough to recognize that it doesn’t matter where great ideas come from, so long as they’re great. They concentrated on the nostalgic copy and the rest was history.

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A Branding & Advertising Evolution: 2 in a Series of Musings Sparked by “The 100 Greatest Advertisements,” Julian Lewis Watkins, Dover Books, 1959

It never ceases to amaze me how many brands that began in another time in America are still intact with relatively few changes. Belief in brand graphic symbology and associations is unbending.  No one wants to mess with brand DNA for fear consumers will get confused or annoyed or attracted to a competitor.

These examples of unbroken brand equity jumped out at me from the pages of  the “100 Greatest Advertisements” book loaned to me by Ted Regan during our Ayer discussions leading to this mini-series.

First, a comment on the book’s title circa 1959. When is the last time you heard anyone use the term Advertisement? Did it disappear when print buys began drying up in favor of online options? As the industry keeps changing, the word digital seems to precede a great many things, including advertising. As a purist, I am even troubled by the pay-per-click phraseology of Google Adwords. I’m sorry but a text link may be a form of paid media but it is so far from a great ad that it is itself a horrible bastardization.

The Cream of Wheat Chef continues to represent the brand long after this awkward racial moment from another time.

The Cream of Wheat Chef continues to represent the brand long after this awkward racial moment from another time.

Other forms of advertising change are even more dramatic. There is no date on the following ad for Cream of Wheat, but it is clearly of another time. Seeing it through the present prism of 2013 when we have a re-elected African-American President in the White House, and after a racially incendiary film like Django has been an Oscar Best Picture Nominee, it is surprising to encounter an Uncle Remus type figure proudly beaming at an outdoor board featuring the Cream of Wheat chef and proclaiming “Ah Reckon As How He’s De Bes’ Known Man in De Worl.” These kind of “statements” and “snapshots” of their time tend to make a lot of people in the present uncomfortable.

The Cream of Wheat chef remains the enduring face of the brand today.

The Cream of Wheat chef remains the enduring face of the brand today.

The real story behind the Cream of Wheat chef, according to Julian Lewis Watkins’ account, is its own testament to racial progress. The enduring image began when Colonel Mapes, one of the founders of the company, was having lunch at Kohlsaat’s Restaurant in Chicago in the early 1900s. His waiter was a handsome man with a winning smile. Mapes asked this anonymous man to be the face of the Cream of Wheat hot cereal brand. By the time the ad ran, this gentleman’s visage had become famous and had sold a lot of cereal. By 1959, when the ad was featured in this volume, he had become of the top three or four best-known trademarks in advertising. Ironically, just about every year in between, the company had been approached by various gentlemen who said they were the original chef. Colonel Mapes was able to disqualify all of them as fakes; ironically, the original model must have preferred anonymity, because by 1959 and the publication date, he had not contacted the company. According to Wikipedia, a chef named Frank L. White who died in 1938, claimed to be the original model. Wikipedia also notes that the chef character on the original packaging was given the name Rastus. Sounds like a bad minstrel show sketch. Remarkably, in 2013, the “bes’ known man in de worl” is still incredibly well known because his welcoming smile continues to grace all of Cream of Wheat’s modern packaging.

Elsie the Cow interestingly enough began life as a trade ad campaign in medical journals.

Elsie the Cow interestingly enough began life as a trade ad campaign in medical journals.

A recently revived brand icon is Borden’s Elsie the Cow. This article explains the current CEO’s plan to tap into all that equity. I was surprised to learn through the “100 Greatest Advertisements” that Elsie has only been around since the 1930s. Even more surprising is that she began life in a trade ad campaign for Eagle Brand condensed milk and other Borden dairy products featured in medical journals.  The ads were such a hit with doctors that proofs were posted to office walls. As Elsie’s popularity grew, she went from B2B to consumer, first with small newspaper ads, then radio spots, then a World’s Fair appearance, and finally in 1939, four-color national magazine ads. Elsie became so popular she even finds herself competing against other cows, which is no laughing matter.

The Campbell Kids got their start in 1899 on car cards.

The Campbell Kids got their start in 1899 on car cards.

The other brand sagas are tame by comparison. Local (Camden, NJ) food giant Campbell’s has been using kids (and later twins) to market soup since they appeared on car cards in 1899. This particular Saturday Evening Post ad is from 1935. The current Campbell’s web site and soup packaging seems to have gotten away from the vintage illustration approach. However, the twins are featured prominently on this Campbell’s blog.

Wonder whether the Smith Brothers, Trade and Mark, ever married brides named Copy and Right.

Wonder whether the Smith Brothers, Trade and Mark, ever married brides named Copy and Right.

The Smith Brothers (Trade and Mark) are also of that vintage era, predating Campbell’s kids by 47 years (1852 was first appearance in a “Cough Candy” ad that ran in Poughkeepsie newspapers. The founding members of the ZZTop fan club can still be found on cough drop product packaging as evidenced on the current web site.

Who says dogs never listen? RCA Victor's enduring brand suggests otherwise.

Who says dogs never listen? RCA Victor's enduring brand suggests otherwise.

Who let the dogs out? RCA still does.

Who let the dogs out? RCA still does.

Another of the most iconic brand marks of all time is the infamous fox terrier listening intently through the Victor Talking Machine to “his master’s voice.”  He began life as the real life dog (Nipper) of the painter Francis Barraud, who noticed his pet hunched over the horn. A star was born. Take note that the ad featured here listed the address of the Victor Talking Machine Co. as the Stephen Girard Bld., Philadelphia. A visit to today’s RCA web site shows not one fox terrier, but two. Does that count as a brand extension?

 

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