Ideas

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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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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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The definition of advertising has gotten stretched in some weird digital ways lately and it is only getting worse.  When I received this e-blast yesterday from IBM company, Coremetrics, my head came very close to exploding in the style of David Cronenberg’s 1981 sci fi flick “Scanners.” There isn’t much that gets my attention in the way of templated assembly-lined e-mails, but this one broke through all the clutter. Unfortunately, it was not in a good way. This isn’t Big Blue’s finest hour.

Coremetrics confuses with this e-mail that has little to do with true advertising.

Coremetrics confuses with this e-mail that has little to do with true advertising.

The word, Advertising, drew me in strictly by way of association, because I am in the profession, and only because it was the largest font on the page. That’s not setting the bar very high. I skimmed the copy to see what Coremetrics was selling. The promise of a free white paper led me to the following instructive title: “Appropriate Attribution: Addressing the Dramatic Inaccuracies Associated with Last-Based Campaign Attribution in Digital Analysis.” Now, I admit I am not an online media metrics wonk, but I know a few and if they were ever confronted with this phraseology, their craniums would self-immolate, too.

Granted, complex tech topics depend on audience knowledge of industry trends, jargon, and conventional wisdom and methods. However, this is the very antithesis of what advertising and marketing stand for — copy and design working together to dramatically and effectively convey a single simple idea. Eventually, if anyone ever gets that far, there is a Voice of Reason web site that explains this e-mail campaign and the Coremetrics value proposition in great detail.

And that in a nutshell is my main gripe with online advertising — it may be measurable, it may be metrics-rich, it may be analyzable, but it is seldom anything I would describe as advertising.  Similarly, Google deserves special derision for naming its PPC program, Adwords. Random search words on a web page do not an ad make. They may fall under a marketing budget and they may generate a lot of revenue for Google, but they are not ads.

As the economy and business continue to flop around on the deck like a fish desperate for H2O, many companies (including some in the Fortune 500) seem to miss basic truths and common sense approaches. I recently saw the chief marketing officer of a large global chemical company proudly quoted about the transformation of his employer into a company now known for science instead of chemicals. The problem is that the products his company manufactures and sells are chemicals. The products that his customers buy are chemicals. He can market science all he wants, and thought leadership is important, but he ultimately risks confusing prospects.

As Coremetrics’ approach ably demonstrates, clarity is in short supply these days. I’ll take the measurability of a revelatory, idea-and-results-driven print or broadcast ad’s two-by-four upside the head Eureka moment over any click-through rate any day.

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Flush with success is taking on an unfortunate meaning.

Flush with success is taking on an unfortunate meaning.

Something is seriously out of whack. Why do so many average Americans (those with full-time jobs) seem to be unenthusiastic about their work? When is the last time you heard anyone talking about becoming a millionaire instead of just scraping by? The focus in the current economy seems to be on downsizing and unemployment instead of wild success or even just growth. No one speaks, let alone thinks, of rewards anymore. Who dares to dream about starting their own business these days? Where are all the entrepreneurs?
Incentives? Carrots have become sticks. Visions of sugarplums are gone, replaced by fears of inflation, foreclosures, and punitive taxes. Retirement plans are pushed back. Class warfare is far too commonplace. Even young guys like Facebook founder Marc Zuckerberg who achieve beyond their wildest dreams talk about giving away half their fortunes. More on that in a minute.
It is easy to blame a difficult global economy and a world of low cost competitors. But the answers lie a lot closer to home. America has lost its way. This is still the land of opportunity built on free enterprise and initiative. However, decades and decades of perpetual government growth adding more and more unelected bureaucracies and departments and officials and regulators, all funded by a tax system that is Byzantine and designed to punish and disincentivize the achievers and job creators.
As the Wikileaks scandal(s) and the latest TSA controversy illustrate, the U.S. government is doing a pretty lousy job of protecting itself and its citizens. So, why is anyone still buying the concept that going after the rich, French Revolution style, is a winning strategy for economic recovery. How is giving the government more funds to waste a help to anyone?
Both major political parties and all citizens of this country have their work cut out for them in re-engineering government at all levels in the coming years. Socialists need to take a basic economics class so they understand that it is not desirable for government to take on nanny-state responsibilities for an entire nation of adult-size Depends wearers. A healthy private enterprise sector is vital to American economic vitality and global economic vitality. Capitalists need to wake up to responsibilities far beyond short-term profits and start investing more in American-based operations and communities. That includes examining government largesse toward big business and specific industries through lobbying, healthy subsidies, and tax breaks — the system is currently unfairly stacked against small businesses where so many Americans are employed and so much innovation begins. Government needs to learn to spend less and spend wisely.

If more of us were this rich, we could afford to give away half our fortunes to charities. And that's a good thing.

If more of us were this rich, we could afford to give away half our fortunes to charities. And that's a good thing.

Doubling back to Marc Zuckerberg, he has announced plans to give away half his fortune to charities, part of a campaign started by Warren Buffet, who is appealing to the consciences of the uber-wealthy. That is different from the idea espoused by another high-profile millionaires group, which has come out in support of boosting the tax rates of the very rich. Nothing is stopping these extraordinarily well-off folks from contributing more of their fair share of taxes directly to the US Treasury now. Unless it is the nagging doubt that such a generous act would be akin to flushing those funds down the sewer line.
The rest of us need to start dreaming big again. It would be great to be so successful in business that we can become like Scrooge McDuck, dancing hip-high in currency in our own private vaults, knowing we will still be comfortable and well-provided for after donating half of everything to help others.

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Sign of the Times: Will Market for Food

Sign of the Times: Will Market for Food

The harsh economic reality is that during this prolonged economic downturn, most companies are spending as little as absolutely possible on marketing. Chief marketing officers are under intense pressure to show measurable results on marketing dollars allocated. Companies are willing to spend on technology, such as marketing automation systems, if it enables them to track and tweak every program in every marketing channel. Meanwhile, media spending is way down. A lot of good people have been cut loose and are on the street. There is constant grumbling about sales numbers.
What is missing, besides funding of marketing, is any anticipation of, or excitement over, a great idea. With everyone thinking small and smaller, we are all losing sight of the big picture and transformative thinking. When everyone is fearful of losing their job, there isn’t a long line of managers waiting to take a chance on something that doesn’t resemble wallpaper to blend into.
Standing out is what marketing used to be all about, before the appearance of one-size-fits-all templates. Today, I heard a radio spot for the UPS Store promoting their easy 1-2-3 marketing materials (instant brochures, business cards, etc.). UPS does terrific branding, marketing, and ads for its own global delivery services. Why are they trying to sell the opposite (cookie cutter answers) to Main Street businesses?
Great branding and advertising can make a huge difference. People anticipate the Super Bowl every year as much for the Super Bowl ads as for the football game. Why not make coming up with a Super Bowl level idea a daily pursuit instead of just a one-and-done event. There is nothing exciting about current economic numbers and I suspect the bean counters are running out of ways to cut costs and make them more palatable. Those who understand the value of superior marketing, then support and fund it will be the ones coming out ahead when the economy improves.

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Preference Central

Preference Central has a great solution for targeted ad control.

I try to avoid webinars for online marketing products and services, because too many fall into the categories of broad pie-in-the-sky over-promising or arcane technical details that only Internet technologists or media strategists can get vaguely excited about. However, I made an exception this week with PreferenceCentral, and I’m glad I did.
I learned something encouraging — that someone is trying to get out in front of the consumer privacy or privacy controls debate and that someone is PreferenceCentral. What’s more, PreferenceCentral has developed a terrific solution for targeted ads, which balances the needs of consumers, advertisers, and ad creators, customizers, and deliverers (agencies, media companies, behavioral data folks, etc.). The solution also takes into account the input of interested parties at the Federal Trade Commission (the recipients of consumer complaints over privacy issues) and industry marketing associations whose members include CMOs at the big national brands. This is the way the marketplace is supposed to work, although it doesn’t as often as it should. The alternative is often government regulation that is full of intended (punitive) and unintended (a whole bunch of unexpected and unfortunate) consequences.

Privacy concerns are huge for consumers and brands.

Privacy concerns are huge for consumers and brands.

The back-story behind all this is the use of browser cookies to collect information on the kind of web sites each of us visits on a daily basis (our ongoing interests and our immediate needs, also known as our current and future purchases of products and services). That data is increasingly mined, collected, analyzed, refined, and used to send targeted ads of interest to each of us, especially when we are regularly visiting e-commerce sites (close to a purchase). The obvious privacy concerns of this are being voiced by many consumers, and within this larger group are the “I hate all advertising” elements that further muddy the waters. Most everyone recognizes the role that advertising places in commerce, but you can’t discount the ways that technology is changing and challenging all of us in how we create and deliver effective and respectful ad messaging.
The PreferenceCentral solution is to add an icon to every targeted ad that enables consumers to learn who is sending this ad specifically targeted to them, then providing the recipient with sensible controls to take action from there. Most consumers will recognize that the advertiser is a reputable business and will select preferences on the kinds of products they are interested in receiving targeted ads about. They can also select other ways to receive information (web site feeds, e-newsletters, direct mail, etc.). Control in the hands of consumers who up to this point haven’t felt like they had any. As for the people who don’t like the concept of targeted ads at all, they will be able to opt out completely from receiving future targeted ads from this company.

Ad Choice Icon opens Preference Central's preferences control.

Ad Choice Icon opens Preference Central's preferences control.

Of course, this only affects the targeted ads a company is using and not the general media ad choices in the marketplace. For instance, just because you opt out of targeted ads from Microsoft doesn’t mean you won’t see a Microsoft banner when reading the tech section of the Wall Street Journal. And even now, without PreferenceCentral’s solution, consumers already have the less sensitive control that they need to opt out (their own browser preferences and “empty cookies” command).
I encourage you to visit the PreferenceCentral web site to learn more about how their Solomon-like, technology-agnostic approach works for both consumers and brands. Currently, the alternative tool is the only one to be found in the government toolbox and that’s a hammer.

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Making lemons from sour lemonade stand story

Making lemons from sour lemonade stand story

Chalk this NY Times story up as a “Things that make you go hmmm?” (Perhaps I’m dating myself, as I vaguely recall that being a song a decade or two ago). Attempting to enforce a license on a 7-year-old selling lemonade is akin to many of the other nuisance ‘laws’ certain municipalities set forth. The ‘Peddler’s License’ (when is the last time you saw a peddler?), for example. Now the media frenzy comes, after the little girl was forced off the complex for pushing her wares (sent away crying, no less), she already has the morning shows lining up to interview her. Will the full-length feature film follow? I just wonder where people’s common sense lies. It’s one thing to have rules and stricly enforce them for the good of the community. It’s quite another to know when to draw the line and ask — Is this endangering the lives of the members of the community? Perhaps you’ll think twice before plunking down 50 cents for a cup of lemonade, even though the young entrepreneur does’t have a license, those who are afraid to try usually keep asking “What if?” I’m willing to risk it.

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Inc. magazine goes "office-less"

Inc. magazine goes "office-less"

Inc. goes “office-less”

Interesting to note the entire staff of Inc. Magazine is vacating their lower Manhattan offices for entire month as part of a pilot program to assess their productivity away from the traditional office. The staff will be scattered about coffee houses, home offices, and any place with a WiFi connection and communicating via email and web conferences. They plan to tell all in their April issue. What a cool project. So much time is wasted in the “office” dealing with what Paul in IT did at the holiday party, making sure you make the coffee correctly so Betty in purchasing doesn’t have a canary because it’s too strong, and sundry other critical issues du jour. While everyone needs the right mindset to be productive on their own, so much time is wasted not only while we’re at the office but also just getting there can add three hours to your day. Looking forward to reading the results….

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Mad Men. Where some of the best ideas begin on cocktail napkins.

Mad Men. Where some of the best ideas begin on cocktail napkins.

I am enormously appreciative to Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men, for reminding everyone what the ad agency business was (and always should be) about. No, I am not referring to excessive drinking and office sex-capades, although that is what gets Mad Men most of the press. I mean the focus on ideas, the sparks that go off in creative sessions at the agency when Don or Peggy hit upon something so absolutely right that no one else has thought of before. And the selling of those ideas, such as The Carousel episode that ended Season One.

The Carousel

There are related moments when clients deflate some of those ideas (such as when Conrad Hilton walks out genuinely disappointed that Don didn’t take seriously his comment about having a hotel on the moon someday). Listening remains an unappreciated art.

Mad Men does a great job of underscoring for all of us still in the agency business that ideas matter above all else. A lot of descriptors get tossed around these days as marketing gets put in a blender of new technologies — traditional agency. . .interactive agency. . .SEO agency. . .social media agency. None of that matters if branding and campaigns are not grounded in well-thought-out strategy that serves as a foundation for superb creative.

There is too much reaction and over-reaction in business today and not enough thoughtful reflection and planning. Those light bulb moments require a lot of groundwork and careful nurturing. But the ideas that result often have lasting brand-defining impact and value.

It is with genuine appreciation for the importance of inspiration that prompts us at Newton Associates to launch this agency blog. We aren’t about to over-promise this will be a perpetual fountain of great ideas. But we are an opinionated bunch, passionate about advertising, so it should be a useful and interesting place to turn for commentary about getting attention, making sales, and retaining customers in a tougher-than-ever global economy.

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