Monthly Archives: June 2014

Tell a Story. Isn’t That How To Communicate?

Visual from the collection of James Tworow
The centenary of the start of WWI was on July 28th. In one space of 150 days a million were killed. This shot is of Ypres in Belgium. Visual from the collection of James Tworow.

You’re in England standing on the Channel coast in 1916; when the wind is just right you can hear it faintly.

The heavy crump of shells exploding on the Continent.

In just five months two armies exchanged 30 million shells at the Battle of the Somme.

In the four years from 1914 to 1918, 1.45 billion shells were fired.

Deadly mustard gas was contained in 66 million of them.

The cost of producing all those munitions nearly bankrupted all the countries involved.

In one space of 150 days, a million were killed … Germans, British and Canadians.

90,000 British soldiers from the Ypres salient alone have no known grave.

This is World War I, of course.

It’s now a century since the beginning of the war on July 28, 1914.

All of the above comes as a narrative from a local taxi driver in Belgium.

Taxi driver – yes. But he’s also a professional tour guide of WWI battlefields. His real ability is as a master storyteller.

He learned WWI history from his ‘storyteller’ father.

More to that, war history has been passed down in his ‘tour-guide family’ for generations after the armistice.

Since then families have made WWI an occupation that brings alive the events of Ypres, Vimy, Passchendaele, the Somme, Verdun and more for visitors from all over the world.

So with all the above facts still sinking in, you settle yourself into a taxi as your driver continues the narrative.

An all too realistic account of trench warfare makes you feel as vulnerable as a day-one recruit in a rain of bullets.

Your nerves fray with stories of the cold, the snow, bloodied trench knives, night scouting missions and gas mask alerts. They all inflict unease.

You’re drawn in to the atmosphere of a mud-caked front as you see the trenches and hear about gas attacks, bayonet charges and a world bisected with barbed wire and redoubts housing lethal machines guns.

You get a mental picture of the muzzle flashes of howitzers; equally you can almost hear the whine of bullets arriving to penetrate flesh.

Men fall, pierced by hot metal. They’re kids really, some as young as 16. One lad, John Condon, buried near Ypres was supposedly 12 when he enlisted.

You’re with a medic as he staunches wounds and you’re with officers as they peer over the top of sandbagged trenches with periscopes to evaluate enemy strength.

White phosphorus shells burst overhead; three young men are blinded for life. A life that unfortunately lasts just minutes more in a melee of bullets and shells.

You can readily imagine cowering against an earthen wall and reading a Bible that changed hands each time its previous over was killed.

It’s a Bible that’s ‘many-men-old’, the taxi driver adds.

You hear about the unexploded shells that are found to this day. Farmers plowing fields regularly turn them up.

In fact, a huge tonnage of ammunition has been unearthed over the last thirty years.

In 2004, 3,000 unexploded German shells were discovered at a site near Ypres.

Strange that the present should contain all that.

Where there are now tranquil woodlands, you’re shown war photos of the same spot in 1916 with not a tree to be seen.

Shellfire leveled everything.

As you listen, you can visualize the arrival of coal miners who had just finished tunneling under London to build the new Underground Railway.

To initiate a breakthrough, they dug under no man’s land to reach the German trenches to pack the tunnels with tons of high explosives and set them off.

Of course, the Germans tunneled just as enthusiastically and when shafts met, so did opposing armies.

With these stories, the driver also relates happier moments.

Soldiers were known to pack colorful womens’ party dresses and wigs to bring into the trenches.

In the ruins of war they’d sing and dance for weary soldiers in a caricature of high-kicking chorus girls.

It helped. ‘Remarkably so’, says the taxi driver.

So all this is a taxi ride?

Actually it’s storytelling at its best even if the sight and sound of it is gruesome.

It made us think about marketing and advertising and the way we communicate with our customers and prospects.

The problem with most ad campaigns? People don’t have the time to ignore them.

Too often this is because marketers see their brand one way while the target audience sees it another way.

But a story gives you a better chance of gaining pulling power and engagement.

Instead of advertising you have something both meaningful and enduring.

You’re drawing your audience in.

Just like a Belgian taxi driver who knows how to make you listen to every word.

The power of stories. Are you using them to fuel your messaging? Leave your comment below. Thanks for reading Regards, Steve Ulin LinkedIn:



Want More Impactful Communications? Make Words Collide.

The Foreign Office, London. where Ian Fleming worked during the war and gathered real life experience for the books and movies you've loved -- the James Bond series.
The Foreign Office, London. Here’s where Ian Fleming worked during the war and gathered real life experience for the books and movies you know well — the James Bond series. Photo: Christian Guthier.

When words and ideas collide you can develop a fresh, new take on things; it can be the beginning of a new narrative.

Often you benefit with emotion, the power to put feelings into people.

For example, in our office we have an expression for dull content.

The flabby, unfocused, inert stuff you see too much of these days.

We call it ‘topnotch mediocrity’.

It’s an expression that tends to drive your critical abilities harder; it makes you reassess what you’re doing in a clearer way.

More to that, nobody wants to be mediocre or even the best of the ordinary because we all know what success feels like.

Equally, we know Millennials aren’t going to fall for ‘ordinary’ because, how authentic is that?

So why approve iffy material in the first place? Send your agency back to the drawing board to take their thinking farther.

Another example of words and ideas colliding is ‘Rescued By Hitler’.

Meant to be ironic, it’s Ian Fleming’s comment about himself.

As you know he’s the author of the James Bond books.

Before WWII Fleming led a comfortable existence as a stockbroker and playboy.

Yet in his private mind he was adrift, going nowhere, unfulfilled.

But with the Nazi invasion of Poland he was ‘rescued’ with a posting in the Foreign Office to do vital war work . (Many thanks, Adolf.)

No doubt in this capacity he was a spy.

It’s thought he was engaged to ‘Set Europe Ablaze’ according to Churchill’s orders, as defined by those three famous words.

Ka-boom … armaments factories exploded, railway lines, bridges and dams in the German industrial heartland were attacked — disrupting the Nazi war effort was his trade.

What’s more, Ian Fleming was sent to Washington DC to organize a collaboration between the British and American intelligence organizations.

There he also assisted American covert operatives by laying out plans to create and run the CIA.

All this gave Ian Fleming purpose and eventaully benefited us all when he began to write — in his words — ‘fairy tales for adults’. The James Bond books.

He used his Foreign Office experience to give authenticity to the 007 material.

Maybe this is why people loved Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Moonraker, From Russia, With Love and more.

It’s a compelling expression, ‘Rescued By Hitler.’ But it’s just a writing technique.

Use it to create your own messaging that will stop and engage your customers as well as your prospects.

Because when words collide, it often means you’re no longer doing advertising but engaging audiences with something better.

Namely, new interest that works for the moment someone buys.

Sainsbury’s, the supermarket people, did just that in an ad for their cakes.

The copy gives you a compelling two-word reason to shop at Sainbury’s  – ‘delicious confusion’ when it comes to their huge choice of cakes.

Making words collide courts the customer without the usual ‘widest choice’ claims while building appetite appeal in a new and emotional way.

Of course, this kind of advertising is non-linear thinking; it’s tough to do. But worth the effort.

Anything less and you risk one thing.

Chocolate cake that’s little more than ordinary.

Share your take on marketing thinking with us. What other techniques do you use to stop and engage an audience? Thanks, Steve Ulin

Why Sponge Off Someone Else’s Idea? Get Your Own.

The flow of time takes nothing away from the 1960s design of the Sydney Opera House. It’s stunning. But the idea of recreating it in a Paris suburb? Ouch! Photo: trescientossl.
The flow of time takes nothing away from the 1960s design of the Sydney Opera House. It’s stunning. But the idea of recreating it in a Paris suburb? Ouch! Photo: trescientossl.

Ah, Paris …

If the photo to your left heightens your senses, the real thing is alive with even greater verve, dimension and allure.

But you already knew that, right?

Still, Paris isn’t all breathtaking lights and echoes of Empire, art and culture.

It’s not all the Louvre, the Champs-Élysées, Les Invalides, Café Les Deux Magots, or Sacre-Coeur sitting high above Montmartre.

Against all this is an unspectacular Paris suburb by the Seine called Grevilliers.

When Nicholas Sarkozy was President he had a mind to do something about it. He wanted to improve the French capital.

Proposals flooded in, including one by architect, Roland Castro, who suggested building a replica of the Sydney Opera House to overlook the river at Grevilliers.

The reasoning here?

If this breakthrough creation sparked world recognition for Sydney – and in fact, for all of Australia – it would give a boring Parisian suburb a much needed injection of panache and culture. It would attract millions of people.

The copy-cat way to success.

So here’s a question about copy-cat work. How effective can you be if you don’t differentiate yourself from the rest?

Equally, how is that authentic? Could a copy be as mesmerizing as the original, a building designed to be viewd in the strong light of a sunburnt county.

But more imortantly, doesn’t this flat-line the appeal of Paris, turning it into a kind of a Las Vegas-like side-show?

For something specifically designed in the 1960s to transform Bennelong Point, overlooking Sydney Harbour, you have to wonder about this ‘me-too’ thinking.

Similarly in marketing terms, if your strategies and creative work are no different and no better than your competitors’ work that’s the definition of mediocrity.

Commonplace and unremarkable work is the lot of too many marketers these days. Maybe the need to set themselves apart hasn’t sunk in.

To that point, gut instinct says you can always do better; you can always broaden your appeal. After all, original thinking is fatal to being ordinary.

So to acquaint yourself with authenticity and difference, go to the website of architect Daniel Libeskind.

Stunning ideas await you.

You’ll see the kind of architectural realizations that abound with impact, surprise value, freshness, relevance and emotional resonance.

One tends to stare in wonder. Chances are you will too.

Had Libeskind been contracted to create an opera house in Grevilliers it would have probably become a world-class example of differentiation.

If that’s the kind of distinction you want for your brand, start by inspiring your agency to achieve more by showing them the Libeskind website.

‘Why are we looking at this?’ they might say.

Let them look and look. They’ll see more than enough brilliance and originality to answer that question for themselves.

Share your take on marketing thinking with us. How do you and your agency go about developing original strategies and creative work? Thanks, Steve Ulin



A Very Clever Marketer We Met …

Sold? Yes, but how do you sell in the digital age? How do you go beyond the commonplace and ‘likes’? Well ... technology delivers the message. But isn’t this true? It’s effective ideas that deliver the sales.
Sold? Yes, but how do you sell in the digital age? How do you go beyond the commonplace and ‘likes’? Well … technology delivers the message. But isn’t this true? It’s effective ideas that deliver the sales. Photo: Sean MacEntee.

A very clever marketer we met this week came up with a thought that could benefit you when it comes to the value of ad agencies.

He pointed out that boring content and brilliant content usually costs you the same.

In other words, the agency’s stuff that falls flat on its face and bores you to death costs you in all ways.

Of course, that marketer wants what you want – to maximize his budget and take the risk out of investing marketing dollars.

One way to lower the risk is to hold on to existing customers while attracting interest from those who may not be looking for you.

Nothing new about that.

But how do you get to those who don’t know you and those who are buying from of your competitors?

You could start by ditching the yakking-on about yourself. That incessant ‘we’ has to go.

Instead, come up with fresh ideas to replace self-involved content that’s impenetrable because it’s not about the person who might buy your product.

Why get lost in a story that’s solely about you and ignores the very real problems, needs, desires and opportunities of your target audience?

As they say in Australia, that’s as dry as a kookaburra’s khyber*.

To get your audiences’ attention, engage their interest and change their behavior one thing’s for sure, you’re better off with strategies and content of the brilliant kind.

On balance, they’ll make you better able to compete.

But in the digital age, what is it that can convince someone to pay more for something that may be no better than an alternative?

How about this? Content that goes beyond the mere features of a product to dramatize its benefits to the user.

It’s the kind of content that has enough wit, charm and reasoned arguments to make what’s familiar about your brand seem brand new.

To achieve this, there are your solutions as well as other possible solutions.

So why be easily satisfied? Keep looking, keep thinking. Be judgmental.

As you evaluate what’s right and wrong, make sure you’re not creating strategies or content by habit.

Those without the flexibility to absorb new viewpoints and adapt to change may not be doing enough to fulfill their brand’s potential.

After all, well-judged strategies and thinking helps you avoid drab, inert, wearily familiar content that puts no premium on engagement.

Amazing how many people ignore this.

In the digital age, technology and new media channels are great. Actually, make that super-great.

Reaching out to prospects has never been more exciting. Technology certainly delivers the message.

But strong ideas  deliver the sales.

So keep asking yourself this … ‘is your content working to create the moment someone buys?’

Content from the smartest agencies usually does that.

At probably the same cost of content from lesser agencies.

Share your take on marketing thinking with us. How do you ensure your content is working for you? Thanks, Steve Ulin

*Khyber Pass is rhyming slang for ass. But that gets shortened to ‘Khyber’ as you see above. It comes from the fact that a pass that splits the mountains can make them look like an ass. And ‘pass’ rhymes with ass.



かrあdゔぇrちしん (Or As the Japanese Say, ‘Car Advertising’.)

Too many commercials these days hit you like a powerful anesthetic. But not Jerry Seinfeld’s Acura spots. They’re a hoot with deliberately bad car commercial copy of the 1960s. Photo courtesy of Brad Hanna, Guelph.
Too many commercials these days hit you like a powerful anesthetic. But not Jerry Seinfeld’s Acura spots. They’re a hoot with deliberately bad car commercial copy of the 1960s. See them: Photo courtesy of Brad Hanna, Guelph.

Our expression here in the West is ‘the customer is king’.

In Japan they go one better.

They say, kyakusama wa kamisama – which literally means, ‘the customer is God.’

One thing’s for sure, nothing happens until the moment your customer buys.

So, as you know, there are more than a few ways to address a customer’s importance.

With CRM programs, perks, points, clubs, priority status, events, discounts, help lines and the like.

To this, add advertisements that don’t insult the intelligence of the prospect.

But …

But the problem these days is that too many ads and far too much content hits you like a powerful anesthetic.

They’re definitely on your anti-bucket list.

Except Acura. It wins in the fab vs. drab stakes.

Mullen Advertising, teaming up with Jerry Seinfeld as copywriter, changed the game.

The 1960s language and claims in the commercials sound so deeply imperfect to our ears they’re funny. Bloody funny.

They cast Acura as a great alternative.

The spots treat you in the kyakusama wa kamisama manner for watching deliberately bad advertising that’s now suddenly good.

 The commercials spark your intelligence rather than insult it.

 The underlying message? if you’re smart and funny, this is the car you should look at.

Acura could be alone in the car market to get this thought across.

But a quick poll at the gym last night revealed that the VW Darth Vader spot was pretty good, too.

So if you’re in the car business competing against Acura, what’s your next move?

How can you avoid the inquest of wondering what you should do to be more successful?

How do you make buyers choose you?

How do you go up against Jerry Seinfeld, get noticed, change market behavior to your advantage and earn greater brand share?

Of course, there’s the old joke about solving problems like this.

Solutions … too often they’re the point when people got tired of thinking.

So, do you have the insight and energy to think further? Do you have wide-awake ideas to compete in a better way?

How do you come up with strategies and content that lengthen attention spans and make what’s familiar about your brand seem brand new?

Share your ideas and comments with us.

Meanwhile for Acura, a brand that’s clearly emerging, there’s one thing better than success.

Unbroken success.

And for that, here’s a last question.

How can you ensure you stay firmly on the kyakusama wa kamisama road?

 Thanks for reading. Steve Ulin