Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Young Whippersnapper You Need to Better Understand. The 23-Year-Old Internet.

Keep up with the young whippersnapper. Develop a good neurosis when it comes to avoiding the commonplace, inert content that can pull your website down.
Keep up with the young whippersnapper. Develop a good neurosis when it comes to avoiding the commonplace, inert content that can pull your website down.

Now that ‘the future’ is here with digital communication, what do we plan for next?

How about better content on websites.

If you’re anything like most people, you’d rather set fire to your own hair than endure boring websites.

You’d be right to say many are indifferent; they’re often process oriented, leaving you with the feeling you’re on a hopeless journey.

Too often you’re presented merely with the features of a product or service – and there communication stops dead.

Where are the benefits to the user? Why do some sites continually fall down by not addressing the needs, worries, and desires of their target audience?

Isn’t this like the interruptive, old school command/control style of communication that translates as ‘here’s what we’ve got, you should come and buy it’.

Of course, for that ‘real and rapid growth’ we’ve all been taught to aim for these days, you’ll want to do more.

So to develop benefit-oriented content and go from intention to better results, you might want to read the books of direct response writer John Caples.

After all, what is digital today if not direct response powered by technology.

Caples’ know-how can acquaint you with strategies designed to lengthen attention spans and help you address those needs, worries, problems and desires of your customers.

You’ll gain a focus on how to make what’s familiar about your product seem brand new.

You’ll learn how to create the kind of content that continually produces fresh interest for your product.

You’ll begin to understand how to avoid messaging that’s boilerplate.

You’ll realize that while you’ve created the goal posts on the field, your customers and the marketplace move them continually.

You’ll learn how to make a customer and keep a customer with the power of story telling to get your message across.

More to the last, I recall a lineage ad I believe David Abbott* used to educate copywriters on how to tell a complete story in the most economic fashion.


Call the owner’s mother when

the owner isn’t at home.

 Clever stuff.

With all the above, there’s one thing more you can do for yourself.

Change your attitude about the function of a website.

A website isn’t a suitcase you pack to the point where the hinges groan under the strain.

Instead, make what you have to say sharp and pointed.

Use videos that communicate with wit, charm and reasoned persuasion.

Videos are fatal to boredom.

The Internet is just 23 and has fundamentally changed business as we know it.

By 24 we might have to change and change again to keep up.

But then would you expect anything less of a young whippersnapper.

*In case you didn’t know, David Abbott could well rank as one of the greatest advertising minds. The only creative person to have learned directly from Bill Bernbach and David Ogilvy. Sadly, he passed away just days ago in London, aged 75.




Illusion and Reality. Can You Always Tell the Difference?

It's almost part of the job description for C-level people -- pulling rabbits out of hats. Making something out of nothing.  But as the business world becomes ever more complicated maybe we need more powerful magic -- like the trick of turning a rod into a slithering snake.
You know about magicians pulling rabbits out of hats. But how about the trick of turning a rod into a slithering snake? Photo by permission of Kevin Trotman.

It’s one of the oldest illusions in the world.

The trick that turns a rod into a snake that slithers away when it’s thrown on the floor.

Read about it in the Bible, Exodus VII, 10-12. It tells the story of Aaron in the court of the Egyptian pharaoh.

Surprisingly enough, you might be able to manage this trick yourself.

First cool down your snake on a block of ice and then pull it absolutely straight.

Next, clamp down hard on the snake’s head with your thumb and index finger.

The snake goes rigid like a rod, thinking it’s being eaten by a predator.

You can wave it around over your head in rod fashion, but when it’s thrown on the floor the snake revives to slither away.

With that you can take a bow as a master magician.

Of course this is all about illusion and reality.

And in that sense, it holds a lesson when it comes to the way things appear and the way things really are.

Unhappily, many in the business world often make decisions on how things appear to be.

The cost of this? It can be a misapprehension that makes you think you’re on the right track when in fact you’re adrift.

This was true for companies like Pennsylvania Railroad, A&P Supermarkets, Smith Corona Typewriters, Kodak Film, Polaroid, Bethlehem Steel, Pan Am and more.

Add to this companies that are now faltering, like Red Lobster, Williamsburg Tourism and JC Penny.

Once powerful, where are they now?

You might say there’s a cautionary message here.

When you solve problems by habit — without taking a ‘what if’ approach — you could be on thin ice.

It’s why the last thing you want to hear from new hires is the bleating retort that goes something like this, ‘but we always did it this way in my previous company’.

Still, if you want to innovate, change behaviors in your marketplace, present your brand anew and be better able to compete, how do you go against the accepted strategy of the day?

How do you pursue a vision that may not be the CEOs vision?

In a corporate sense it can be tough to go against the flow without looking naive or uncooperative.

But imagine this.

What if in the 1950s someone at Pennsylvania Railroad realized they were not just in the passenger train business but their calling was something greater. The transportation business, for instance.

Maybe this cash-rich organization could have hedged their bets and invested in the fledgling airline companies that eventually grew up to put them out of business.

Had they thought differently they might be around today with a fleet of Airbus 380s and an international service instead of existing as a footnote of industrial history – and maybe they’d be stronger than ever.

Of course, there’s an old joke about avoiding this sort of myopic view.

You put your contact lenses in backwards so you can see if there are any new ideas in you brain.

Failing that, the idea of taking time just to think about your direction could help in your planning.

Why not set aside a period each week for thinking that’s not limited to the realities of day-to-day operations.

Independent thinking helped Chrysler come up with the Minivan. It helped 3M create Post-It-Notes. It helped Banner Pharmacaps develop Softgels for faster delivery of analgesics.

It’s how Warby Parker is redefining the prescription glasses and sunglasses business. It’s how Philz Coffee is becoming a stunning success. It’s how Beyond Meat developed chicken-free strips you would swear are chicken.

It’s how a company started in 2009 is putting other yogurt brands in the shade. That’s Chobani.

Isn’t it time for you to follow suit?

Maybe your next off-site could be a kick off for thinking about R&D, new products, new ways to market existing products and fresh ideas to change minds and engage your customers as well as the customers of your competition.

Get your people to begin contributing new ideas. Or visions.

After a hard day of brainstorming, you might want to reward them with a bit of entertainment.

Chances are somewhere online you’ll find a magician who can turn a rod into a slithering snake.

Share your take on marketing thinking with us. How do you ensure you’re making the right decisions? How do you innovate?’ Thanks, Steve Ulin






Fill Out Yet Another Survey? Ugh!

Remember 5 O'clock Charlie from M*A*S*H? Abysmal bombing always got a laugh from the 4077th.
5 O’clock Charlie.  Abysmal bombing always got a laugh from the 4077th.

Remember this scene from M*A*S*H?

The drone of an airplane overhead.

Then eventually … a distant ka-boom!

A flood of laughter erupts from those in the 4077th in response to a bomb blast.

Of course, this is 5 O’clock Charlie, the North Korean plane that flies over daily at the appointed hour and drops a single bomb.

It’s always off target, hopelessly so; it’s a laughable attack and then he’s gone for another day.

Oddly enough, 5 O’clock Charlie’s clumsy efforts are alive and well in marketing.

I think of Hawkeye and company chuckling manically every time I get a request like this:

Fill out a survey it will take just 10

minutes of your time. We thank

you in advance as it helps to serve

our customers better.

 Yeah right, I’m jumping to attention to do it. How about you?

It’s a bossy command, there’s nothing in it for me and it’s a stretch of the imagination to believe anyone is thankful for it. Gratitude on their part? Zero.

Moreover, I don’t care about their customers. Why should I? The only customer I care about is myself.

So wouldn’t it be more intelligent to say we’re doing this survey to serve you better?

In an era when technology lets you personalize communications this message doesn’t take the trouble to address you by name.

It’s the opposite of 1-2-1 relations and for that I’m not warming to the idea of being made to feel anonymous.

That’s why I won’t be answering 10 questions about paper towels or tell an un-named car company the first make and model of a vehicle that pops into my mind.

By the way, shouldn’t marketers be giving prospects something for taking the time to fill out a questionnaire?

Shouldn’t they prove they’re grateful by rewarding respondents with a chance to go into a draw to win something, get a value coupon, become a member of a priority club or receive a gift?

Isn’t this an opportunity to build a relationship with customers?

More to that, shouldn’t companies be asking for permission to write to you with news about product improvements or deals?

If marketers want more customer information wouldn’t regular qualitative research be a more useful route?

Wouldn’t it be better to let trained professionals dig deeper to uncover customer beliefs, prejudices, worries and needs? And in doing so gain a more accurate take on the marketplace, your product and the appeal of your competitors’ products.

This also helps avoid the answers people think companies want to hear.

With a little more commonsense, research could help formulate more effective creative messaging.

That’s messaging based on the customer version of your brand rather than the idealized boardroom version.

Beware if there happens to be a difference between the two.

That’s all from me now. I gotta go.

I have to get busy ignoring an inane survey about a recent hotel stay. Rate the pillows, 1-10.

Then I’ll be turning my back on something from a supermarket announcing a new product, grass fed beef. How can I evaluate it if I haven’t as yet tried it?

And finally I have to throw away questions from a picture framing company. They want me to pen an essay on ‘my experience’ by attaching a sheet of my own notebook paper.

It’s 5 O’clock Charlie all over again with these surveys.

Hawkeye, where are you when I need a laugh most?

Share your take on marketing thinking with us. What telling information have you uncovered from querying your customers? Thanks, Steve Ulin










LOL. Does Humor Have Any Place In Your Selling Message?

Last Wednesday, hump day, Elon University had a camel on campus to help kick off their Fun Fund. It's designed to lighten up things on campus before final exams. Of course, it takes a leaf from the Geico Hump Day commercial. Unsuspecting students coming out of class were initially stunned then burst into laughter when they realized the Geico connection. More to that, you could have called the event a 4-hour commercial for Geico. Beats the 30-second variety, doesn't it?
Last Wednesday, hump day, Elon University had a camel on campus to help kick off their Fun Fund. It’s designed to lighten up things before final exams. Of course, it’s a reminder of the Geico Hump Day commercial. Unsuspecting students coming out of class were initially stunned then burst into laughter when they realized the Geico connection. More to that, you could have called the event a 4-hour commercial for Geico. Beats the 30-second variety, doesn’t it?

Camels and Geckos.

In both instances you might think of an auto insurance brand. Geico.

No doubt you’ve seen the Geico commercials and enjoyed them for their caricaturist’s ability to capture a strong sense of personality. Funny stuff.

At an Elon University function last week a live camel made an appearance. A ten-foot tall example of roam-the-desert massiveness in the midst of unsuspecting students coming out of classes.

They were knocked out by it.

Why? It was Wednesday, hump day.

Some bright spark decided to rent a camel to add to the festivity of the Fun Fund, an Elon effort dedicated to raising the enjoyment of everyone on campus.

How appropriate to celebrate hump day with a nod to the Geico commercial, one that has a camel walking through an office interior — on a Wednesday, of course.

People love the spot.

Small wonder, Hump Day could be Geico’s best effort and as they say, you laugh your ass off.

Does humor work in sales messaging? Well, at the Elon University gathering it worked well during the course of the afternoon event. You had to think about Geico.

These days we have plenty of new technological approaches, but have we forgotten the old objective?

That is to create a story telling element to stop people. It’s an element  that’s often improved by humor.

If you’ve read Ogilvy you know he advises against humor in advertising. Many agree, if only for the fact that creating something funny isn’t the easiest thing to do.

But we all crave humor, don’t we? The Super Bowl commercials put you in that camp.

Maybe it’s because humor is good for your health. In advertising terms it’s a harpoon that doesn’t hurt.

Laughter produces brain waves that reduces stress hormones like cortisol. Cortisol plays havoc with your neurons.

Humor promotes the release of endorphins and dopamine that results in a sense of pleasure. You feel rewarded.

You experience beneficial neurochemical changes, your blood pressure drops, there’s an increase of blood flow and your mood state is elevated.

So, could funny commercials benefit the health of the nation? Maybe Michelle Obama should address that after getting our kids off junk food in schools.

You can debate humor all you like but it’s a sight better than the mass of under-imagined, inert online efforts that are as interruptive and annoying as traditional TV advertising.

You could call them ambitious failures.

They have a deadening ordinariness about them … something you might want to keep in mind when choosing an ad agency.

You won’t go far wrong if you select one that has the power to put emotions into people. So go for an agency that’s in the boredom alleviation business.

After all, we need to go beyond being technology slaves, don’t we?

To that end your agency should contribute ideas that build a genuine connection with audiences, change behavior, create social influence and shape the moment someone buys.

And do it all with wit, charm and enduring appeal.

But I digress …

Maybe it’s time to try a bit of humor …   or a human quality at least, as that’s a bit like a rock drummer who throws in an occasional rim shot to change things up,  to wake up your ears and announce the fact that nothing about life should be formulaic.

For inspiration enjoy a hit of endorphins and dopamine by viewing the Cheese Nips commercial.

If you laugh remember one thing.

It’s good for your health.

Share your take on marketing thinking with us. What about humor? How do you feel about it in messaging? Thanks, Steve Ulin