Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Blockbuster gets busted.

The lameass "No More Late Fees" scheme at Blockbuster is now costing them in court. Amazingly, they still have the cojones to claim that it's really helping their business. Personally, this was the straw that broke my back and finally pushed me into the welcoming arms of Netflix.

The dumbest thing? Instead of changing their business policy, they're changing their advertising policies. Setting up info centers and putting qualifiers on receipts and whatnot. I still can't understand why they just don't say that if you have two movies out, you can't rent another one until you return them.

Would that be so hard?

Business vs. Entertainment.

Recently, a reader emailed to ask whether I thought a company blog should exist only to "reinforce the brand" or if it could be a vehicle designed strictly to entertain.

The reader was enountering clients who wanted pure entertainment blog content that was unrelated to their business. The sole relationship to the company would a logo that indicated sponsorship.

Now I happen to think that, going forward, we're going to see sponsored programming become more and more important to brand communications. And I think that straight up boring communications are a waste of time.

But there's a problem if you make a company blog just about entertaining people. It will have to be unbelievably, incredibly, amazingly entertaining. Because there are already countless really entertaining options available to people, both online and offline.

If I thought I could create pure entertainment content on this blog so compelling that people would come back again and again and still want to work with our company, I probably would. But I think accomplishing that in a few minutes every day would be a pretty damn tall order. (In fact, if I had such a talent for entertainment, I would be working in Hollywood and fine tuning my fabulous tan on the deck of my place in Malibu.)

So keep it relevant to a particular topic. Don't make it dull, but don't fool yourself into thinking you've got the skills to be the life of the party day in and day out. Information, transparency, personality — provide these things in a company blog and you'll turn consumers into fans.

For more thoughts on smart business blogging, check out Rick Bruner's thinking. He's been at this longer than I have.

Soon you won't be able to call me a newbie.

I've always said I'm a content guy and not a tech geek. But the inescapable fact is that using Blogger compares to my father-in-law's insistence on sticking with AOL. My lack of links, photos, etc., is pretty pathetic, but I just don't have the time to figure out how to make it happen.

So we're going to be moving to a new blog platform in the next few weeks. Wait, I better hedge that — sometime in the next few months. I'll keep you posted on our research and our plans. Wherever it ends up, you'll always be able to link to it at our site.

Thanks to Gerah over at Baby Poop and Business Suits for helping me in my struggles with Blogger. Her insight was great, but in the end, I'm just too damn impatient. And then she let me know that she's switching to Typepad. Check out her blog before she moves it. Blunt, honest and a great read if you've got young kids.

At the end of the day, I need technology to be as easy as possible. I take pleasure in writing, not in analyzing code. I'd appreciate it if anyone shares their thoughts on the best platforms for Mac users.

Livin' the VC Life.

If you've ever wondered just how enjoyable it would be to exist as a ridiculously wealthy venture capitalist living in New York City, check out a blog that is basically a diary of this guy's life.

It strikes me as being pretty damn enjoyable.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Direct mail doesn't have to be bad. Except that it usually is.

Seth Godin wrote about being interviewed by a magazine that caters to direct mail marketers. Let's just say being the interviewee sounded pretty tedious. The interviewer kept pestering him for advice on shortcuts to success and asking about what to do if there just wasn't anything interesting to say. His answers were, basically, that there are no shortcuts and that if you don't have an interesting story there's no direct mail piece that's going to solve your problems.

Which led me to wonder why so much direct mail is so persistently bad. The deception just kills me. The Scales of Justice art on the envelope with the Dated Material Enclosed statement. The Please Do Not Discard messages. It all seems to be some sort of attempt to make a credit card solicitation feel like news of an IRS audit. I know the direct mail types will have gobs of research to prove that all this chicanery is incredibly effective, but, intuitively, I'm just not buying it. I just can't believe it's still a good way for a marketer to spend money. If I actually do get freaked out by the Scales of Justice (I'm a new business owner and thus, live in constant fear that I've somehow run afoul of the IRS) and open the envelope, I'm so pissed to find out that it's another credit card solicitation I vow never to do business with the offending company.

That goes double for you, Capital One. Enough already. I've got a damn card.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

What a wireless network does to internet usage.

I've seen a lot of research focused on how a broadband connection significantly changes individual internet usage, but I haven't seen much reporting on the effect of having a wireless network in the home.

My personal experience is that a wireless connection really boosts usage. Look at me, right now, typing out this post at my kitchen island at 10:30. As one of my business partners noted, once you have a wireless network you don't really have to make time to use the web. It's just there.

Has anyone seen any good studies on this subject?

Am I Just a Big New Media Loser?

Recently, I noticed that Craig Gillespie had directed a new Altoids commercial. I'm always interested in what he's doing because he's the director who shot my very first real commercial (Arby's, way back in 1995, a decidedly mediocre idea that he made better than it really deserved to be). It was also Craig's first paid gig as a director. He's since gone on to considerable fame and, I imagine, fortune, in the world of commercial directing.

So I went to Ad Critic to check out the Altoids spot. Pretty nice spot. But what struck me was the sheer volume of spots on the site that I had never seen before. I wondered if I've just become this internet nerd who doesn't tune in TV anymore. I still watch TV, but probably not nearly as much as I once did. I started to wonder if Ad Critic was just a site for ad creatives to show other ad creatives that they're really clever.

Go to Ad Critic and let me know how many of the spots you've actually seen in the traditional broadcast environment. I'm worried I'm becoming a guy who reads about commercials in the trades but doesn't actually watch any.

Monday, March 21, 2005

My last word on the Addys.

It seems my post on the West Michigan Addys raised the ire of some people. Frankly, I'm excited that people are reading my thoughts.

My aim with my Addy criticism wasn't to personally offend anyone. It was meant to spark debate in an industry — ours — that many in the business world believe is out of touch and resistant to change.

One comment on this blog was disappointed that I didn't have the kindest things to say about the interactive categories and noted that I probably had not really investigated the work. Point taken. I was basing my opinions mainly on what I'd seen at the show. I did visit the work that I could find and must say that my opinion of the work improved. It didn't blow me away, but it was better than its representation during the awards presentation.

I'll end my thoughts on the Addys with an interesting opinion I read some time ago on an industry forum page. It noted that awards shows were once an effective vehicle for work that did not get wide release due to small media budgets, narrow audiences, etc. And for that reason, they helped agencies that were doing good work gain deserved recognition. Today, any agency can post all of its work on its web site. The author's point was that this change has made awards shows less relevant. In some ways, I agree. While it's nice to receive praise and notice from our peers, the sad fact is that our glut of award shows and the sheer volume of award categories makes us appear self-absorbed to most business people. This isn't just my opinion — you only have to read the research about the credibility of ad people right now.

At the end of the day, I just think we all need a little more honesty about ourselves and our work.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

You can find love in advertising.

It seems our print ads for Robinson Guitars in the Robb Report led another business to consider us. Brian Alex is a musician who creates custom love songs -- in other words, he interviews you, learns about your relationship and then writes and records a song.

There will be a new ad that we created for Brian's company in the next Robb Report. The headline is, "I'll touch your wife in places she's never been touched before."

Brian's songs aren't cheesy. Ergo, they're not cheap. Expect to pay $7,500.

Brian is also a hell of a nice guy with a wicked sense of humor. Don't worry, it won't be like you're phoning a wannabe Michael Bolton. But if you have someone really special in your life or you're in the doghouse or you've just got $7,500 burning a hole in your pocket, contacting Brian would be a really good idea.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Adweek vs. Adfreak Death Match

Sometimes it might be possible to do something too well.

I always read Adweek over the years. Even looked forward to it. But now that the erstwhile trade journal has introduced a blog at adfreak I've come to rely on the magazine a lot less. Let's face it — the old pub was always struggling to rehash the "Account Goes into Review" story in a new way. Even through my cold, impersonal laptop screen, I can hear the giddy voices of Adweek writers who now get to write instead of just gossip about which CD is going to be hired by which shop.

It seems like a trade journal might be better in a real time publishing format. After all, who needs sober analysis of things like another Office Max review?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

You're getting sleepy. Very sleepy.

This past week has been enough to make me think that the words "moribund" and "listless" should precede virtually any article on the ad business these days.

It started last Thursday with the West Michigan Addys. Nothing against the well-intentioned, hard working folks at the West Michigan Ad Club who put this show together, but this thing was a snoozefest. (And this is from a guy who has always been a show whore. Actually cried when my former agency was a One Show finalist and got all goosebumpy when I saw my name in CA.) Our agency just recently opened and we produced just one piece last year. We entered it mainly to show we support our local industry. It won a Gold Addy. Whatever. The thing was that the show just felt like a bunch of people talking over salmon rolls while the ground outside was shifting violently. The broadcast was a joke. An award for a lame video about an agency moving its offices? If we're giving awards for internal agency videos, we are truly lost. The Best of Show — Broadcast award (What's up with all the different Best of Show and Judges' Choice categories? I can say this because I've won Best of Show and Judges' Choice awards in recent years at this event. Shouldn't there just be one damn Best of Show? Period?) went to a perfectly good piece of perfectly crafted film that was perfectly free of a breakthrough idea. Were the interactive categories enough to pull things through? Hell, no. They pretty much sucked, too. Lots of brochureware and whatnot. Anyway, the net result was that I left feeling like I worked in an industry that's really lost its mojo.

Then I read in the The New York Times about Mitsubishi awarding its account to BBDO/LA even though BBDO/Detroit handles Chrysler. Love the competitive fire in the business these days. Oh well, Mitsubishi cars suck. Advertising won't help them.

And finally, they're writing on Ad Pulp that BBDO and DuPont Stainmaster are parting ways. Basically because nobody gives a crap about DuPont Stainmaster advertising and BBDO couldn't figure out how to make any money on the account without getting DuPont to spend more money on advertising that nobody would notice. I just built a new house a year ago, I love advertising and I never gave a single thought to flooring choices based on a commercial or print ad I had seen.

So why am I still in this business? Because I think we're about to embark on a time of truth in communications that will be exciting. More importantly, I'm still in it because it's so tough to figure out right now. And that makes it fun.

Kind of.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Look, Marge. It's those damn customers again.

Something I love is when new media helps prove a basic business fundamental. Back in January, I posted about not putting barriers between customers and your online content. Recently, I encountered a brick-and-mortar business making the same fundamental error.

My work often takes me to Detroit, which is about two hours away. When traveling as a group, a good meeting place is on the east side of Kalamazoo County — the Shell station at Exit 85 off I-94. That's the main East-West corridor in my part of the world. For years, we've piled into one car and left the others — always in parking spots far from the pumps and the Burger King/crappy coffee/doughnuts/etc. area. Gosh knows we didn't want to inconvenience anyone who wanted to dash in for a Whopper Meal and a carton of Parliaments. Usually, we'd return from business in Detroit in the late evening, collect our cars and head home. At some point, we probably also bought a cup of that crappy coffee, some bottled water and a bunch of that fossil fuel. Maybe a stick of beef jerky and some sugar-free gum. In short, we usually did some spending at that Exit 85 Shell station.

Well, it seems the proprietor has now decided to post 2-hour time limit signs at the spots where we usually left our cars. Naturally, they include threats of towing at the owner's expense. Now unless there was some really logical, logistical reason for driving away the people who parked their cars in these spots, this is one classically pigheaded business decision.

Fact is, the area where we usually parked was never full. And these days it's, well, completely empty. If I were the owner of this station, I would have put up signs that actually designated this area of the parking lot for car poolers. Remember, this is a service station with plenty of space.

In other words, I would have followed a basic retail fundamental and tried to make my location a very appealing place to stop and do business.

Maybe this kind of logic doesn't fly for everyone. As one of my business partners commented, the owner of the Shell station probably looked out every day, saw some cars parked in those spots and just got sort of pissed about it. Said something like, "They're gettin' somethin' for nothin'."

No, my friend. You're the one getting something.


Friday, March 04, 2005

Agency consolidation. The excitement continues unabated.

The New York Times had an article today on the new ad campaign for pork. The campaign seems smart enough, but what really struck me was this passage describing the travels of the account before its arrival at The Richards Group.

"Richards was awarded the account last August, taking over from the Chicago office of Campbell Mithun, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies. As part of a reorganization, the Bozell, Jacobs office in Chicago that created "the other white meat" had become the Chicago office of Campbell Mithun, which is based in Minneapolis; Bozell, Jacobs eventually became Bozell, with a single office in New York, which Interpublic merged into Lowe Worldwide."

Agency consolidation is just so damn exciting, isn't it? Really creates such credibility for our industry.

There is, however, a great ending to this whole thing.

The Richards Group is still an independent.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Government and Media Don't Mix.

Here are two closely-linked issues that I think should outrage more Americans, whether you're on the right or the left, a conservative libertarian or an old-fashioned liberal.

Jeff Jarvis covers the story of 81-year-old Ted Stevens of Alaska pushing to expand the scope of the new decency fines to cable and subscription services. Blame Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction for sparking the movement of lawmakers who think government knows best when it comes to what we watch and hear. More and more, it seems to me that the guys who say they want to get government off the backs of the people also want to make sure it's a looming presence in our homes and cars.

The other issue? The use of government money to get commentators to shill for Administration policies and the placement of phony journalists in the White House news corps. While Hendrik Hertzberg is clearly biased against the Bush Administration, he gives good reason for outrage in last week's New Yorker. Again, I don't think it matters if you're a Red Stater or a Blue Stater, any American should be furious that their tax dollars went to commentators who then spoke on behalf of policies without disclosing that they were being paid.

We all know the American media is hardly full of greatness. But just watch how much it sucks when it's controlled by the people in Washington. All this regulation and government manipulation is flat-out un-American. Why aren't more people upset about it?

Bob Liodice Gets It Sort of Right.

Bob Liodice has a piece on the sorry state of TV advertising on his blog. It's not exactly ground-breaking but it's interesting enough in a corporate-speak kind of way — even if Bob is one of those writers prone to the unfortunate overuse of exclamation points.

I agree with much of what he says about clutter, cost and measurement, but I think he's looking back through rose-colored glasses when he talks about creative. I think creative product is as good as it's ever been. In fact, if you look at spots from 20 years ago, they seem pretty mindless to me. The obvious strategies, the corny tag lines — sure, they worked but today's consumers are too sharp. They just won't suspend reality enough to believe something like, say, "When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen." At one time, that was considered pretty effective advertising.

The problem is that people don't pay that much attention to any commercial any more. Great spots are still being made, but with the fragmented media world we now inhabit, it's pretty much impossible to produce work that really generates water cooler talk. Too few shared entertainment experiences.