Ideas

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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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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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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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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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