Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Coke says, "CMO? Like we need one of those."

So Coke doesn't have a CMO anymore. But they do have someone who seems to be sort of in charge of most of the marketing efforts. Perhaps this way, their marketing will be led by someone with responsibility but no power. Or something like that. I'd love to see the internal memo announcing this shuffle.

It's an interesting saga down there in Atlanta. Myopic, really. They always talk about recapturing their magic American icon status while failing to understand that the public just may have moved on. It seems that people now associate Coke with obesity as much as good old American values. (American values, of course, being different according to whatever socio-economic/regional/Blue State/Red State group you happen to be trying to reach.)

If I sold fizzy water laced with sugar or aspartame, I think I would want a Chief Marketing Officer. Probably someone who wasn't going to say, "Hey, you know what was a great commercial? That one with everbody singing on the mountain! I loved that one! Why can't we get something like that again?" I might want someone who realized that another piece of 30 second film might not be the only thing required to help the brand regain its footing.

If I were the Coke CEO, I would dangle a powerful, highly-compensated position in front of the biggest, most progressive marketing brains I could find. Fast.

Times have changed. Coke has not.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Marketing to children.

I usually don't include anything on this blog that's especially personal but I've decided to make an exception here.

Two quick things about me — I have a two-year-old daughter and a fairly unhealthy obsession with golf. Along with all the usual parenting stuff that I do — the reading, the encouraging, the diapering — I have spent just the tiniest amount of time marketing the game of golf to my daughter. Don't be alarmed. I have been very subtle. Nothing I have done would raise the eyebrows of any members of the FCC.

Apparently, however, my work has been quite effective. One morning this week, my daughter was awake earlier than usual. While I struggled to brew coffee, I put on Sesame Street.

Now, the odd thing about my daughter is that she has very little interest in television. Considering the current state of television and the fact that she can't really be expected to stay up until 11 PM for The Daily Show, her lack of curiosity in this area thrills me. But, on this particular morning, I needed to buy myself five minutes — enough time to spike my body with a healthy jolt of caffeine.

After about two minutes of Sesame Street, however, my daughter had lost interest. Suddenly, she turned to me and blurted, "Want to watch golf!"

Who am I to deprive my child? Filled with quiet pride, I switched to Channel 39.

Golf Channel: 1. Elmo: 0.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

David Droga decides the top is not so hot.

Last week, Publicis announced that David Droga, resident boy wonder and worldwide creative director, was leaving. His tenure at Publicis has been, by most measures, a success — a burnished creative reputation, some new business, the requisite awards.

This is a guy with the kind of job most creatives once dreamed about — power, independence, gobs of cash, perhaps an assistant hired largely to deflect underlings and apply suntan lotion while sitting poolside at Cannes — and he's decided that it's, er, not so great.

More telling is the fact that he's leaving to start a "non-advertising business." As in thoroughly unrelated to the current advertising agency business model. You know things are amiss when a guy who can pretty much write his own ticket takes a walk.

Droga said, "I'm having a great career, but I've spent it working under other people's models."

In other words, "I'm smart enough to see there's not an especially exciting future as the global creative director of a company restricted by a business model that has reached the point of diminishing returns. In fact, I'm too smart to waste my time hanging out here and trying to make it work."

Perhaps even more interesting is that Publicis is backing his new venture, which he called, "...a hybrid of a lot of things." Maurice Levy is no fool. He realizes that supporting intelligent and creative people just might lead to something that would let him ditch the business of being an ad agency holding company czar.

I've written enough about this subject — the traditional ad agency business model — and I'm going to let it rest for a bit. Let's see what Mr. Droga does. And let's look forward to seeing new models for effective communications develop.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Deep thoughts from the high north.

Flip-flops replaced by laceups.

Yes, sensible shoes were a poignant reminder this morning that my week of vacation was officially over. (Of course, I could wear flip-flops in our office — dress codes are not really the thing around here. It's just that I'm unable to work while staring at my bare, slightly hairy toes. Feels like business-casual gone wildly awry.)

There were some things that struck me while on my week of decidedly retro break in northern Ontario.

I missed a high-speed Internet connection more than I missed television.

Even with a dial-up connection, I gathered more news from the web than from the daily newspaper.

Canada is really ticked off — and I think with good reason — about the refusal of the United States to budge on softwood lumber tariffs. To Canadians, it comes off as NAFTA when it works for the United States. Of course, here in the United States, we hardly even know about it.

There are some truly inane pitches being made on product packaging. My father had an anti-perspirant that boldly announced, "New and improved applicator coming soon!" I wait with bated breath.

One of the world's worst weekly news magazines — and there are no great weekly news magazines — was scathing in its criticism of blogs, expressing the opinion that most were absolute crap. Absolutely true, of course. If only they had noted that their news magazine has also been absolute crap for years.

A toy better than beach sand has yet to be invented.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

What stinks? Oh, it's that holding company business model again.

Regular readers of this blog know my opinions on the holding company model for ad agencies. So I was happy to see Wade Sturdivant over at Ad Pulp pile on. Well done.

It's timely reading. This week, the New York Times covered the resignation of Bruce Nelson, the grand poohbah on the Bank of America business at Interpublic. He quit after BofA launched a review. Bruce claimed that IPG, a holding company, wasn't actually committed to the holding company model.

Right. That's why the Bank of America advertising wasn't as compelling as it could have been. It was Holding Company Light. Holding Company Full Strength would have been so much better.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Blogs and cool and why cool isn't the story.

Over at Ad Pulp, they're covering talk about how blogs have jumped the shark now that they're mentioned in a Dell commercial. People are saying that blogs aren't cool anymore so they're going to start to wither and die. There's been similar talk on the podcast front lately as well.

It all just so wildly misses the point. Blogs — and podcasts and vlogs and whatever other new mediums are out there — aren't about cool. They're about being, as Jeff Jarvis has said, the cheapest, fastest, most efficient publishing tool ever. That's it. It's not about blogosphere codes or blogger writing style or any of that. It's about being able to create something and get a significant amount of people to read it, hear it or see it almost immediately.

Sure, most blogs are going nowhere fast. But it's not because they're not cool. It's because they're not good or interesting or compelling. That doesn't mean blogs that are good or interesting or compelling won't last. Fact is, they'll grow.

Funny how everyone talks about blogs in such general terms, as if they read one and decide it's all crap. If I turn on the television these days, it's pretty easy to see that it's pretty much all crap as well. But I'm not about to say that TV is a fad that's going to die any day now.

It's not about which mediums are going to last. It's about which content people will care about.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The bland leading the bland.

A senior marketing executive recently shared some thoughts with me about my entry on Roald Dahl and the need to create an audience of enthusiasts. His company — a multinational that's on an extraordinary run right now — defines a product effort that attempts to be all things to all people with a great term.

They call it bland leadership.

Nice. Quite cutting, isn't it?

Whenever we create, we soon find ourselves rounding off the sharp edges in a desperate attempt to make something that no one will find unappealing. In the process, of course, we take away the very things that just might make a product stand out. We lose any point of difference and, with it, any chance of creating intensely loyal fans.

Consider modern car shapes, all seemingly poured from the same jelly bean mold. When a car — the MINI, the 300C — dares to break out, people sprint straight past their credit card debt to buy it. (The Pontiak Aztek, unfortunately, proved something else entirely — flat out ugly is still just flat out ugly.)

Or beer. The big brewers, with their dull bubbly water and their frat boy bah-da-boom advertising, can't grow. Craft beer, even in the face of the emerging thirst for spirits, continues to find new fans. No, a Busch Light drinker will never seek out a Bell's Porter. But millions of others will.

And, of course, there's advertising. The century-long commitment to mediocrity is remarkable — 95% of ads are still so innocuous they're invisible. It's a force so powerful that not even a steady onslaught of black turtlenecks and Prada pants has been able to quell it.

The list of product categories where banal is losing while captivating is winning goes on and on. Coffee. Magazines. Consumer electronics. In fact, Josh Rubin publishes a list of fascinating products every day. They're probably not all going to succeed. But most will enthrall at least a few people.

So why is there such a relentless, dogged pursuit of bland? Sometimes it probably happens because we simply run out of good ideas. We're only human, after all. But my friend pointed out something else.


Turns out Mr. Research — in his short-sleeved dress shirt with his tie clipped just so — says that when you make something more interesting, a smaller number of people will find your product appealing. So get rid of those sharp edges! Dial down the flavor! There, now you've got a product that everyone will like.

What Mr. Research can't see through those thick lenses he favors is that nobody will love it. Nobody will seek it out. Nobody will tell their friends about it. And nobody will remember to buy it unless they're really into mail-in rebates.

After all, nobody wants to be in like. At least once, we all want to be in love.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Why it makes good sense for companies to have good blogs.

I try not to use our blog for blatant self-promotion since, of course, I generally favor thinly veiled self-promotion. But following my post about the flaws of the typical agency business model, I want to feature one our less than typical services.

We develop and maintain company blogs and blog/podcasts. Sometimes it's part of web site development, but it certainly doesn't have to be that way. A blog can be easily — and inexpensively — linked to any existing web site.

Blog content is the kind of work that suits us. We know how to develop templates that match the needs of the audience, we know how to manage dialogue with consumers and, perhaps most importantly, we know how to create the kind of content that will bring a specific audience back again and again. We charge monthly fees based on the number of blog entries (we believe two blog entries per week are best, but some companies could benefit from daily entries) and the complexity of the topic. Right now, we're about to launch a podcast for one of our clients that is designed to drive traffic to an online store. I believe the investment versus the return will be extraordinary.

Why do blogs make sense as a way for companies to reach consumers? Well, consider your own interaction throughout a day. Do you enjoy talking to salespeople when they're making a pitch? Or individuals when they're discussing something that interests you? Blogs reach out to a specific group of readers or listeners and forge connections. They make a brand more human than even a great thirty second spot ever will. They're a vehicle for dialogue instead of a delivery system for an ad message.

As an agency, we now run two blogs and one blog/podcast of our own. We've invested in them so we'll understand how to make the medium most effective for our clients. We use our Urchin application to measure audience growth and to find out how changes affect behavior.

Our own blog — the one you're reading right now — averages about 2,000 readers each week and continues to grow. It's never been promoted by any means other than word-of-mouth, whether it's been in person or via the web.

Our blog at Local 59, started just a few weeks ago, is demonstrating how blogs make sites sticky. The numbers indicate that visitors to the Local 59 site spend between 9-10 minutes on our blog. Since there are only two entries right now, it means that people are either very interested or very slow readers. We'll go with the former.

The Curling Show, our first podcast, demonstrates the value of this medium. We've relied solely on web forums and viral email efforts to promote the site. After just three interviews, we're averaging nearly 1,200 unique listeners each week — and this during the sport's off-season. If I was a network TV or a radio guy in a sharp suit and tie, I would quadruple that number and claim that nobody listened to the show alone.

Interesting? We think so. When one considers the cost of entry against the return, blogs and podcasts are investments more companies should be considering. No, they won't deliver the sheer volume of mainstream media and they're not a replacement for larger brands. But if an interview show focused on the sport of curling has over 1,200 weekly listeners after a month and a half, there is surely opportunity for all kinds of companies with interesting products to sell.

Done well, blogs and podcasts create incredibly dedicated fans. Whether it's for a multinational or a smaller regional brand, these enthusiasts deliver the word-of-mouth that advertisers truly crave. A few years from now, I believe the companies that commit now to communicating through blogs will have audiences that others will envy.