Monthly Archives: August 2014

Your Competition Is Willing You To Fail.


See more, see better. Like a dolphin who sleeps with one eye open. It's the kind of vigilance that's bound to help you when it comes to countering your competition.
Self-preservation lessons start with dolphins. They sleep with one eye open. Think of it as a model for the kind of vigilance that can help you counter your competition.

When it comes to warding off the competition, self-preservation lessons start with dolphins.

They sleep with one eye open. Odd, but true.

It may not be the dreamiest way to go through the night but it helps to ensure you’ll be there at the beginning of another day.

It’s a reminder for you and everyone on your team to approach commercial life with vigilance.

No professional would do anything but, right?

Still, there’s something you may have overlooked.

One way your competition is willing you to fail is by hiring the best ad agency they can find.

We’re talking about the kind of agency that puts a premium on originality with work that infuses you with emotion.

An agency whose solutions have surprise value.

It’s an agency that has a good neurosis when it comes to going beyond the usual category approaches.  An agency that can change consumer thinking to your advantage.

This is an agency whose messaging can become part of the cultural fabric, maybe even getting a mention in the nightly news.

Like Got Milk? and The Crazy Ones.

It’s an agency whose creative director comes to work riding a camel … no, just kidding about that.

But it’s reflective of an individual who’s a past master in alleviating boredom, someone who is imaginative, restless, searching and  the first to reject drabness.

It’s someone who can take an imaginative possession of your product category.

An agency with all this is bound to give you a shot at the competition before they can take a shot at you..

More to competing, this is the age of Big Data … as you well know, technology makes a marked difference.

But it will always be ideas that separate you from the rest.

Of course, the best agencies lead the way because they have the best ides.

They put more preparation into a better result for you by hiring the best people.

BBDO, NY is an example.

Have you seen their Guinness spot? The one where disabled guys play wheelchair basketball?

It’s a spirited, fight-for-the-ball tussle with wheelchairs being knocked down on their sides. No quarter is given.

At the end you have a twist.

Everyone gets out of his chair. Except for one.

He’s the guy who is actually disabled.

The depth of the story then sinks in – friends will do anything for their wheelchair-bound friend to show he’s an equal.

In the end they all have beers together as the Guinness message comes across:

The choices we make reveal the true

nature of our character.

This spot is exactly like other beer commercials when it comes to the ‘friendship strategy’.

You’ve seen it 100 times before.

Still, here you have  storytelling that’s vastly different.

It’s the opposite of bogus emotion and the faux camaraderie in other beer spots.

It walks away from inauthentic staging.

A spot like this may encourage you reassess the advantage of hiring the best ad agency you can find.

It could make you a bit like the ‘one-eye-open’ dolphin when it comes to your competition.

That way you can wink knowingly in the satisfaction of your own security.

Share with us. In these get-real times how are you and your agency coping with the competition? How are you planning for success in the marketplace? Scroll all the way down and leave your comment in the box provided. Thanks, Steve Ulin



Reinventing Tired Brands, A Simple Story.

Just a reminder ... adding a touch color and freshness can give a tired brand new life.
Just a reminder … adding a touch color and freshness can give a tired brand new life and a new ability to compete.

We once knew a woman who slept in her make-up.

Mascara, lipstick, the whole lot.

In the morning it left the pillowcase a disaster but it was changed every day.

So there was always the opportunity to make a mess on a fresh basis.

Why was this?

She lived in mortal fear of meeting people in the middle of the night due to some sort of unforeseen problem.

A fire, a burglar, sleepwalking that would send her strolling out the front door … she feared being seen without make-up.

It happened to her mother.

During the war an air raid warden in the East End of London awakened the family in the middle of the night.

Bombs were not dropping.

But warning sirens wailed on.

Wardens were sent out to ensure everyone was in the shelters.

So there was an urgent, hard-knuckled ‘rap-rap-raping’ on the door.

On seeing her mother in night attire with no lipstick, dark circles under her eyes and sallow skin, the warden gave a startled gasp. He was shaken.

There wasn’t a skerrick of make-up on her while her hair was a rat’s nest of tangles.

More frightened by this than by the thought of the Luftwaffe overhead, the warden backed away.

Years later her mother was still remorseful she had terrified the man.

She felt she hadn’t done her part for the war effort. She was stung by it.

For this reason and maybe a bit of vanity, her daughter took to wearing a touch of lipstick to bed.

As she got older she used more and more.

Then it escalated in a major way to full make-up.

Decades later she lived the part of a beautifully turned out woman from bedtime to 8AM, even when age challenged her.

She felt she reinvented herself continually.

A good thought for marketers.

If you’re owned by a need to do better, you’ll know it’s a smart move to continually present your brand anew.

You’ll be aware that being determinedly fresh in your thinking is the way to go.

After all, isn’t that how to capture audience attention and lengthen attention spans?

As they say, engaging people is fatal to being ignored.

More to that, it can resuscitate a brand that’s on a downward trajectory — even if it’s a long decline.

Old Spice managed a comeback with Isaiah Mustafa as The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.

Lego, Burberry and Carhartt are on the rebound, as well.

Even the British Royal family reinvented itself.

How about you?

Are you continually planning strategies and messaging to make your brand fresh and appealing?

Are you going beyond what’s acceptable to what’s exceptional?

Are you working to create responses in people?

If  not, you might want to consider this.

That’s a bit like getting caught in the middle of the night without your lipstick on.

Share with us. How do you go from success to unbroken success? How do you keep your brand fresh and appealing? Leave your comment in the box below. Thanks, Steve Ulin


Dear Miss/Ms/Mrs … Bring Your Brainy Self To Advertising.

Not Jane Doe. This is the writer Beryl Bainbridge, a strong role model. Her books reach far beyond gender with an intelligence and sense of place and character that makes you want to throw away your bookmark and read an entire novel all in one go. This is no accident as she researched deeply and was known to re-write the first chapter of some her books 50 times. And you thought you worked hard at your job?
Not Jane Doe. This is the writer Beryl Bainbridge in 1984, a strong role model for anyone. Her books reach far beyond gender with an intelligence and sense of place and character that makes you want to throw away your bookmark and read an entire novel all in one go. This is no accident as she researched deeply and was known to re-write the first chapter of some of her books 50 times. And you thought you worked hard at your job?

You’ll have heard this one before, I’m sure.

It’s a perennial plea since forever.

More bright women are needed in the ad business. Especially in creative and planning.

What’s required are those with the optimism, determination and insight to want to change everything.

Here we’re talking about avoiding thinking that’s wearily familiar and inert.

It’s sidestepping messaging that has just enough brilliance to rise to the mediocre level.

A model for this lies in the world of TV journalism.

It comes from Gerald Stone’s, Compulsive Viewing, a book about the Chanel 9 Television Network in Australia.

At one point he focuses is on a hypothetical TV newsroom assignment.

If the job is to create a film story on ‘anorexia’, a female journalist might showcase the problem in a particular and compelling way.

Instead of ‘talking heads’ droning on to camera, you’d get an engaging story.

Stone suggests a female journalist could take an emaciated teenager to a dress shop, turn her over to the staff and then stand back.

At this point … ‘roll cameras’.

You’d get footage of the sales people reacting to the harrowing sight of a painfully thin girl.

You’d witness their inability to find a size small enough for her withered frame. You’d feel their anxiety begin to build.

The frustration of the staff and ultimately their deep concern would seep in to you.

Suddenly you’d not just be watching TV, you’d be involved as part of the emotional trial of it all.

The point of all this?

According to Gerald Stone a man would never have thought of this idea. It would be beyond him.

Here you have an approach that seems so simple, so obvious, yet determinedly powerful.

Good ideas are often like that.

So, does it take a woman to think like this, to go beyond the expected?

Before you answer that, here’s more on the ability to push ideas further.

Take 79 seconds and watch a spot for The Body Shop in Malaysia.

It’s called ‘Unnatural Beauty’.

The commercial turns preconceived notions about role models for women on their head.

Grey Advertising, Kuala Lumpur, gets the credit.

To create an edginess a six-year-old girl speaks innocently to camera:

When I grow up I’ll be the prettiest girl.

I’ll have long legs and a tiny waist …

A closet full of designer clothes, shoes and bags.

If I put on weight I will not eat.

If my boobs aren’t big enough

I will get an implant just like the celebrities I look up to.

If this sounds wrong to you

Stop creating an unnatural image of beauty.

Stop telling me if I’m fat or dark or short

I’m not good enough.

Praise me for qualities that matter

Like honesty, courage and compassion.

They make me so much more than beautiful.


This is a message from The Body Shop.

           Be More Than Beautiful.

There are two copywriters here, Nadia McDonald and Jessica Wong.

But gender apart, one overwhelming fact is at work.

Grey Advertising succeeded with the ‘Unnatural Beauty’ spot because someone hired the right talent in the first place.

They’re individuals who are no doubt focused on doing the ‘next thing’ instead of the ‘usual thing’.

You don’t need me to tell you there’s a difference between ‘ordinary thinking’ and something that’s representative of an imaginative intelligence.

You get the latter in Gerald Stone’s anorexia film idea and in The Body Shop spot.

Both are awake to staging human values with cleverness, relevance and a graphic understanding of the problems people face.

It’s why you’re drawn in.

So, Miss/Ms/Mrs … are you ready to sidestep the usual thing and go for the next thing?

Let’s hope so.

Share with us. Sometimes it takes more than working late into the night fueled by take-away Chinese and Diet Dr. Pepper. For more engaging ideas it often takes a woman. Leave your comment in the box below. Thanks, Steve Ulin

PS. Thanks to the cartoonist Geoff Stevenson for the Gerald Stone book, Compulsive Viewing. It may be about a television network but there are lessons for people in advertising right through it.


You Can’t Bore People Into Buying Your Product, Right?

Adding a twist, that gets attention. If this copy of Moby Dick isn’t a visual twist, then what is? Design and photo courtesy Of Flavio Demarchi.
Adding a twist gets attention. If this copy of Moby Dick isn’t a visual twist, then what is? Design and photo by Flavio Demarchi.

Is there a twist in the plot of Moby Dick?

Does Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, weave twists into the narrative?

Were there twists in the OJ trial?

Is there a twist in Beyoncé song, Drunk in Love?

How about the last two minutes of an Oakland Raiders’s game?

They’re famous for nail-biting twists by scoring seconds before the clock runs out to win.

Answer ‘Yes’ in all the above cases and you get 100%.

Is it fair say we warm to twists? Well, they do keep you interested; they involve you.

They inject a bit of excitement into our lives, a freshness.

You don’t need me to tell you twists are the opposite of boring and same-old same old.

The American mythologist Joseph Campbell worked to define what people want most in life.

He wrote that beyond everything … material goods, family, wealth, health and security, people just want to ‘feel alive’.

It’s that simple.

Twists in communications help reinforce that. They send a vital a force through us. They start a thought process.

It makes you wonder.

If we appreciate the enlivening effect of surprise and unexpected turns of events, why is it that many marketers aren’t taking note?

After all, coming off as ‘dull’ doesn’t make you the smartest choice in your category.

You could say it’s akin to self-sabotage.

But with reversals of thinking and unforeseen visuals you avoid turning off your customers and prospects.

You show respect for the mentality of your target audience as you repay their interest and consideration with something engaging and emotional.

Still, for you and your agency a twist isn’t always easy to find.

It takes skill and creative experience, which is why you outsource to get the best people working on your communications.

You hire talented individuals to do the work you can’t do yourself.

It puts us in mind of a t-shirt that brands memorably with just three words:


In this case the creative team showcases an enduring truth as this is for a gym that trains prizefighters for title bouts.

It’s an old message done in a new way.

So is the Dizzy Gillespie jazz rendition, ‘Swing Low Sweet Cadillac’.

Those lucky GM execs … their car was hyped in a surprisingly cool and memorable way. At no cost .

Then there’s Wonderworks, the Museum of Natural Phenomena.

In keeping with the ‘natural phenomena’ theme, the building is designed to look like a Bahamian courthouse picked up by a tornado and dropped upside down on a warehouse in downtown Orlando.

It’s an eye-grabber,

We also have the Moby Dick graphic you see above.

If this isn’t a visual twist, what is?

It has power, dimension, veracity … all the appeal an 11th grade English teacher might find hard to verbalize when it comes to his or her class.

In a world where most marketing communications are okay-ish, this is more oh-my-gosh.

And with that there’s a thought for you.

The next time your agency presents new creative work let’s hope you can look at it and say oh-my-gosh.

Share with us. What do you and your agency do to fight boredom and engage your target audience? Leave your reply below. Thanks, Steve Ulin.

PS. If you’re anything like me you’ve mentally thanked David Ogilvy over and over for the kind of great advice he offers in his books. They’re a learning experience. With this post, I thank him once again as the ‘You can’t bore people …’ headline is a thought he pushed in a big way. How right he was.