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The Language of Brand Irrelevance

It’s been 26 years since the comic strip Dilbert introduced us to the Pointy-Haired Boss. And 16 summers have passed since the movie “Office Space” asked us if we got that memo. (Yes, and we’ll read it right after stapling that cover sheet to our TPS report when we come in on Saturday.) Yet, if my social media feeds are to be trusted, people who work in corporate America have yet to tire of mocking corporate America. I can almost hear their mighty, collective chuckle as I write. And, with good reason, one of the most enduring targets of the nation’s cubicle jesters is jargon. But not just any jargon. Whereas the New Oxford American Dictionary defines jargon as “special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand,” the jargon of which I speak consists of words or expressions used by many within a company or industry yet is truly understood by exactly no one. This is a very specific, yet all-too-common kind of jargon most often labeled as corporate speak. And when corporate speak leaks out into the real world, it becomes something that empowers consumers with outside-the-box thinking guaranteed to leverage their core competencies through transparencies maximized to deliver robust scalability. Kidding. It becomes something obviously even more insidious – marketing speak. Whenever marketing speak creeps into your brand communications, your communiqués stop communicating with much efficacy. They fail in the mission to persuade or endear. They are more than the opposite of inviting – they are repulsive. If you need a more concrete example than... read more

The Secret Sauce of Super Success

I hope the overly alliterative title tipped you off to the fact that I will not, except possibly in jest, be divulging the recipe to any sort of magical marketing elixir (patent pending). And it’s not because I’m keeping all the sure-fire, sales-inducing snake oil to myself. Unlike your spouse vis-à-vis the last box of Thin Mints. You see, from the rise of psychoanalytics in the 1950s to today’s emphasis on Big Data and its avalanche of uber-granular personal information, marketers have been and remain fascinated by what makes people buy the gadgets, groceries and sundry geegaws lining retail shelves and Amazon Wish Lists. Yet despite the tireless push to crack marketing’s Enigma Machine, it turns out the formula for great, effective advertising contains nothing but variables. And as I recall, most of us marketing majors went to business school to avoid algebra. Nonetheless, formulas, schemes and promises of sky-high ROI abound. Yet the great failing of all such formulas – aside from the resultant formulaic marketing plans and creative work – is that they assume consumers behave in rational ways. Ways that can be measured, predicted, influenced and repeated. Which, if you’ve ever met an actual consumer – who is almost always a person – seems pretty far-fetched. Another counter school of thought posits that people really base purchase decisions on pure emotion. Which might explain the CEO’s new Boxster, but less so your recently acquired case of Flonase. As suggested by veteran ad man Bob Hoffman (co-founder of Hoffman Lewis and author of The Ad Contrarian blog) in Quantum Advertising, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.... read more

Many Happy Returns

What is the point of marketing in general and advertising in particular? This is not a rhetorical question. While the jaded among you might say it’s to employ the lower third of graduating MBA classes, the answer is neither so cynical nor complex. The point of all the PowerPoint decks, research, ill-advised focus groups, handwringing about engagement, and knee-jerk directives to make the logo bigger is to sell stuff. Usually a physical thing or service, and at other times a cause or idea. But we don’t spend all this energy and money to just give folks a warm fuzzy during “Judge Joe Brown.” We do it to get them to act. Which leads to the second-most often asked question between client and agency: How’s this [the work] going to help my bottom line? Or, if you were in the upper third of your MBA class, what’s the ROI? (And in case you haven’t guessed, the most-asked question is “how much is this going to cost me?”) Attaching a return on investment number to advertising does several things, some good and some less so. It sets a measurable goal against which to judge success. It helps the non-marketing types in the C-suite understand why marketing should be done at all. It calms nerves by assigning a tangible data point to what is commonly seen as a black art and budgetary black hole. But it also assigns a data point to something that may not be geared to achieving that outcome (Do you want sales or awareness? Activation of affinity? All of the above? With that budget? Seriously?). It places easily... read more

The Obligatory Super Hole IX

Why am I here? Oh yes, to elucidate this year’s crop of Super Bowl broadcast advertisements for upwards of two dozen mildly enthused readers. I shall endeavor to deliver adequate amusement. The guidelines: I only review ads shown during the four quarters of the game, so no pre- or post-game spots. And no movie trailers, TV show promos, NFL ads (PSAs excepted) or local ads. Spots are arranged in alphabetical order according to brand. I may have missed a couple. You’ll live. As always, if you had a had in creating one of the ads that I ream, don’t forget who actually got a spot on the Super Bowl and who had to write a blog about spots on the Super Bowl. You win, Chachi. — Always, “#LikeAGirl” – I realize I’m supposed get all verklempt over this spot since I have a totally awesome 7-year-old girl of my own whom I believe will someday beat the bejeepers out of any person embodying one of the 50+ genders Facebook claims exists. I just wish the spot had been more about the goodness of being a girl and less about a phrase most people grow out of by college. (I hope. But then, I don’t work in Silicon Valley.) In fact, I wish the spot had been more about being an awesome individual. I don’t tell my daughter that she can do anything because she’s a girl (or my two sons similar things). There are many great and wonderful things about being a girl, but it is not her girlness that will make her unstoppable. No, I tell her she... read more

Sell Softly and Carry a Big Brand

In that specific world where only closers get coffee and WKRP’s Herb Tarlek is spoken of in reverent tones despite being 30 years past his pop culture sell-by date, there exists a special something known as “The Ask.” It most often occurs after a salesperson has given their spiel, answered questions, deflected objections and has still managed to keep either the proverbial or literal door from being slammed in his or her face. They ask for the sale. They ask what can be done to get you into that car today. Or that new wireless plan. Or even if you want fries with that. Done correctly, “The Ask” can push a potential customer over the edge. Done poorly, it can do the same thing – just not in a good way. As advertising is at best one-and-a-half Kevin Bacon acquaintances away from sales, “The Ask” has become a staple of everything from TV spots to direct mail postcards to lettering on the side of plumbers’ vans. Only it goes by a different name, one you probably already know – “the call to action.” “Act now, supplies are limited.” “Julie your Time Life operator is standing by to take your order.” “Call or click to like us on Facebook.” “Follow us on Twitter.” Here’s the thing. In most cases, the “Call to Action” is superfluous, a waste of space, unnecessary and, wait for it, redundant. Why? Thanks for asking. Because the call to action isn’t just contained within the ad, it is the ad. People know what ads are. People know why brands advertise. No one is ever confused by the motivation... read more
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