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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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We’ve written before about the importance of jingles in broadcast for brand building. However, most tv and radio spots don’t use original music. They borrow the appeal of popular recordings. Some find hits played a billion times that have an obvious tie-in to the marketing message (back in the 80s, Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” for AT&T; the Beatles’ “Help” currently pushing customer service for HH Gregg).  Others unearth really catchy gems, some from the archives and some current, not-yet-widely-known talent (Apple sold a lot of iPods and iTunes with great “Who did that song?” spots).

talbots

Currently, a new tv commercial from Talbots, the women’s clothing retailer, is effectively using music to stop everyone dead in their tracks and push “timeless” fashion and style. It is more than a catchy hook — it is propelled by a great vocal performance in sync with the visuals, spanning black and white to color of a confident Talbots customer parading down the street in her Talbots ensemble, with her Talbots bag, all in slo mo. If “History Repeating” by Shirley Bassey doesn’t help Talbots jumpstart sales, it will have at least succeeded in earning Talbots some serious brand awareness and recognition.

Ironically, Shirley Bassey came to fame in the 50s and is perhaps best known for her James Bond theme songs in the 60s and 70s, but “History Repeating” only recalls this period — it is actually a 1997 collaboration with British electronic music producers and ensemble, The Propellerheads. Here is the original video.

The music industry has long had a love-hate relationship with the advertising industry. Rock artists especially have had to weather taunts of sellout for taking fat royalty checks for licensing their music. Remember the outcry when the Beatles’ “Revolution” was used by Nike to sell sneakers?

So, it is only fitting to close out this week with a “live” opposing opinion on this subject from rock’s most notable, go-your-own-way guy, Neil Young.

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PNG Screenshot of President Obama's Long Form Birth Certificate

PNG Screenshot of President Obama's Long Form Birth Certificate

Last week’s look at two humorous political videos triggered an appreciative response from Philadelphia Republican mayoral candidate, John Featherman, whose campaign produced one of the videos (we can’t wait for the next). This week’s post is about President Obama’s birth certificate, but I don’t expect him to weigh in since his release of the long-form was intended to put the matter to rest. It did. For one day. And that is why we are wandering from a marketing opinion this week, but staying within the fields of graphic arts and public relations.

The afternoon after national relief that the matter of the President’s official birth place had been settled once and for all, my business partner and our art director, Gerry Giambattista, heard a caller to Michael Medved’s radio program, who identified himself as being a graphic artist and was expressing amazement that the long sought document, digitally delivered from the White House web site in PDF file format, when opened in Adobe Illustrator is actually a layered file. A many layered file. Michael Medved quickly dismissed the caller with a combination of skepticism and the realization that none of this translates well to radio.

It most definitely piqued our curiosity, however. Gerry opened the digital version of the President’s birth certificate on his computer in Adobe Illustrator and sure enough saw a multitude of layers. What does this mean? With all the glitches and weird results in the digital world, that is hard to answer with complete certainty. However, when a print document is scanned, with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) active, it should, to the best of our professional knowledge and experience, create a PDF file with just two layers, one for text and one for background. I am immediately reminded of the oft-quoted Marx Brothers line from Duck Soup, “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

In trying to get our heads around this, and realizing that the Medved caller was maybe not the first person to explore this, we Googled the terms “Obama birth certificate” and “layered file.” If you do the same, you will see a long list of sites that have already created tutorial videos and detailed technical examinations of this.

When an artist does digital imaging work on a photograph in Adobe Photoshop, or builds a complex illustration in Adobe Illustrator, he or she adds a variety of layers to the image. The existence of more than one layer here raises question whether this document was created or changed in one of these programs vs. merely being scanned from a print document. For instance, saving the scanned document as a jpeg format file might have avoided this issue (more on that at the end of this post).

Here are some examples of what Gerry and I saw and found perplexing about the President’s multi-layered birth certificate file:

What is going on with left margin and upper left corner of the certificate?

What is going on with left margin and upper left corner of the certificate?

Box in upper right shows all the different layers; this layer has a few things missing.

Box in upper right shows all the different layers; this layer has a few things missing.

In each layer, you can select individual items (like this date) and move them elsewhere.

In each layer, you can select individual items (like this date) and move them elsewhere.

This post isn’t about conspiracy theories or political motivations, but it is worth noting one other strange thing about this file. If it were doctored, it was done so in a pretty visibly obvious manner by an Adobe amateur. Anyone who wanted to cover his or her tracks could flatten the layers and the file would be left with one layer.

With so many dead ends to intriguing questions, it was time for me to phone a friend, so I posed this digital weirdness to my chums, Pete, Glenn, and Steve, whose professional credentials for this matter are that they cover the political, technical, and pop culture spectrum so completely that our team would every week win the weekly trivia contest on our college’s radio station. Now equipped with Google, they came back with a wide range of articles that provided credible answers on scanning, software, the President’s maternity hospital name, and Hoover’s hat size (a tip of the trivia hat to anyone who remembers the sitcom that reference comes from). For me, the most convincing ones are these from National Review and FoxNews, because they come from sources not usually considered friendly to President Obama’s agenda.

Nearly satisfied myself that the multi-layered mystery could be put to rest, I was troubled by one additional thing. The expert in the Fox article is a leading software trainer and Adobe-certified expert. So, what does Adobe, the company and the creator of the Creative Suite of all the software involved here (Illustrator, Acrobat, Photoshop), have to say on this subject. With so many graphic artists weighing in, surely the company would be all over this story on its software, because if ever there is a “teachable moment,” with a huge global audience, this is it. A visit to Adobe’s home page revealed silence on the subject. So did the News Center. But then, I found a link to Adobe Featured Blogs with nearly 20 separate Corporate and Product blogs. Amazingly, the term Obama birth certificate yielded zero results.

Adobe's silence on this subject makes them look like A dope.

Adobe's silence on this subject makes them look like A dope.

This is what I would call an epic fail by an otherwise highly reputable, creative product rich, digitally savvy company. I don’t know whether this was a busy week in San Jose. Or whether legal and PR concluded this is too hot of a hot potato, but silence is really not an answer. The reputation of the leader of the free world was being questioned because of nuances in your software, and you as a company have nothing official to say on the subject? Wow. Not a good week to be bogged down in debugging the latest version of Dreamweaver.

A last word (and image) on this fascinating subject came to me this morning in a viral e-mail forwarded from my cousin Donna.

Einstein = Monroe = Sanity Check

Einstein = Monroe = Sanity Check

It is visual non-holographic trickery, which works on a PC but not mobile devices and hopefully is not an indicator of middle age eyesight. Anyway, keep looking at this picture of Albert Einstein as you step back 15 feet or more and you will see him transform into Marilyn Monroe (how’s that for a new theory of relativity?). Don’t know how some graphic artist did this, but I guarantee it began life as a multi-layered Photoshop file and it’s now a jpeg. “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

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I belong to a number of LinkedIn industry groups, mostly to follow some intriguing discussion threads. Last week, Edwina Owens Elliott, an Illustrator/Owner of FASHION + ART, an e-commerce gallery, posed the mother of all topics to the “Creative Intensive Network – For All Advertising Creatives.” She politely asked “Should Art Directors and Designers be Licensed?” following Advertising Age’s Small Agency Diary post on “Should the Ad Industry Have a Certification Process?” You would think she had smacked a hornets’ nest with a Louisville slugger. The resulting daily (and nightly) dust-up has gone on for 17 days with no end in sight. Soapboxes have been stood upon. One liners have been unleashed. Jabs have made. Hoisting has taken place on more than one petard.

Should Art Directors and Designers Be Licensed?

Should Art Directors and Designers Be Licensed?

The unscientific majority of responses tended toward either outrage or amusement over the concept of trying to certify (regulate) creative folks. Most posters saw it as  (a) Big Brotherish, (b) silly, or (c) a blatant revenue grab. I couldn’t resist posting a few times: to ask if anyone had ever seen a well-designed government form; to note that one’s art school credentials and/or one’s portfolio were each a form of certification;  and to mention that the University of San Francisco is already advertising a certificate program in online advertising. Some rightly noted that certification does not have to come from the government; it could be through a school, an industry association, or an independent auditing organization. Others pointed out that the government should regulate activities where someone could be physically harmed through negligence (doctors, airline pilots, architects, even nail salons).  Of course government intervention derailed the discussion into areas as diverse as climate change and artistic integrity.

Yesterday, I was talking with a printer who noted that even the Forest Stewardship Council is its own bit of certification strong-arming. There is pressure on printers to pay a lot to be dues-paying FSC members. However, non-members can pay nothing, still purchase FSC-certified papers on behalf of their clients, and do just as much for the environment.

After more than two weeks of fascinating posts to Edwina’s questions, I have been entertained, amused, and enlightened. Anything that adds cost, stifles creativity, encourages auto-pilot attitudes, while being nothing that the client is clamoring for is going to be unnecessary and unpopular. If you’re going to push for universal professional certification in this industry better have a thick skin, a lot of patience, a masochistic streak, and/or a bottle of bourbon handy at the end of the day.

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Part I took place in 2007 predating this blog, but it is familiar territory that all of us at at Newton Associates found ourselves sadly revisiting this week. It was the sudden unexpected loss of a graphic arts great, whom we had the pleasure of collaborating with as a resource and getting to know as a friend. It was déjà vu of the worst kind.

In Memorium: Peter Cowell, Package Design Pro

In Memorium: Peter Cowell, Package Design Pro

Back then, the news was if possible, more shocking, because of its totally unanticipated nature. A week after wrapping up a design project with frequent freelancer, Peter Cowell, we received a phone call reporting that Peter had passed away in his sleep after going to bed early the night before with a headache. It seemed beyond surreal given that the ever-colorful, always entertaining Mr. Cowell had just been doing his ever-reliable best to create some believable but fake brand labeling for a print ads, sales literature, and trade show graphics for one of our clients that makes dairy packaging machinery. The results were utterly convincing in English and in Spanish, thanks to Peter’s attention to detail (and as an international man of mystery).

The news was too shocking to be true. Peter couldn’t be gone. He was just here, cracking jokes. A few days before, I had met him at his home studio to pick up finished comps. Sadly, it was true — the way-too-young artist was gone in his prime, leaving behind a family he loved and a lot of shaken business associates.

Some of Peter Cowell's intuitive package designs

Some of Peter Cowell's intuitive package designs

Three years later, we find ourselves still missing Peter’s talent, professionalism, and great humor. But especially because we are experiencing that sad unexpected moment with the premature loss of another artist friend of ours, Pat Crombie. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Crombie family, just as they did for the Cowells in 2007.
Like Peter, Pat passed away very suddenly. In his case, it was a heart attack.

In Memorium: Pat Crombie, Instinctive Designer

In Memorium: Pat Crombie, Instinctive Designer

He was a devoted family man who managed to effortlessly balance his career and home life. But Pat had a very different skill set as a designer than Peter. Where Peter excelled at package design, Pat was a great organizer of content for literature and for web sites. What both shared was an elegant style, a sense of order, and an uncanny awareness of visual appeal. None of us ever saw either man ever shaken by a crazy deadline or a too-tall assignment. In fact, they both had a marvelous self-deprecating way of taking it all in stride.

When you are in the agency business, you are constantly exposed to wonderful portfolios, especially these days when great design and illustration and photography are but an e-mail or web site click away. There are so many distinct styles and talented professionals out there. However, not all artists are adept at managing the other aspects of this business, from customer service to always hitting the right notes for your client and the assignment at hand. In this sense, and so many more, both Peter Cowell and Pat Crombie were the real deal. I hope they are someplace better, sharing a drink, cocktail napkin sketches, war stories, and an awareness that they have left a huge void down here. Heaven doesn’t need more artists and friends, but we sure do.

Pat Crombie's designs were always seamless and striking

Pat Crombie's designs were always seamless and striking

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