Category Archives: Uncategorized

Slow Dynamite. Don’t Look Now But You’re Sitting on a Stick of It.

Tennessee Williams wrote 34 plays, Sweet Bird of Youth being one of them.
Tennessee Williams wrote 34 plays, Sweet Bird of Youth being one of them.

Slow dynamite is the way Tennessee Williams characterized the ravages of time.

It’s a gradual explosion that changes everything.

The expression comes from his play, Sweet Bird of Youth.

As slow dynamite applies to marketing, how are you coping? How are you dealing with changes over time?

It’s a fair question as many agree, change is the biggest challenge we face today.

That’s change in consumer attitudes and the way brands are seen.

It’s the way people view social media and the intrusions that have come with online messaging.

As to the last, we’re thinking of pre-rolls, page take-overs, pop-ups and ads that pursue you around the Web.

Pesky stuff.

Little wonder ad blocking is seen as a new form of self-defense.

There’s also change in technology, the marketplace and development of new products.

There’s change in the way your competitors operate.

More to that, change can extend to old companies that suddenly get re-energized or merge to become a threat to your sales efforts.

American Airlines, General Motors and now maybe Kodak fall into that category.

It includes overseas companies that come to America to take brand share as well as start-ups like Uber and Airbnb that emerge to change the economic landscape.

It’s all part of dynamite that doesn’t seem so slow these days. Moore’s Law is one reason why.

But for too many people — those in management, marketing and sales  — change is little more than an academic issue.

They talk about it; they put the idea of it on a pedestal.

But they live in the comfort of routine.

Could that be an inescapable human trait? That was a question a TED Talk speaker asked his audience recently.

One thing’s pretty clear, as security feels better than risk many people do things by habit.

It’s easy to slot in to convention and uniformity as you operate under the illusion you’re forging ahead.

Adding to that, the American writer Paul Auster has suggested:

Failure is measured by the

number of routines you have.

He could have a point there. Maybe he should expand on it in a TED Talk.

After all, when you give yourself over to habit you may miss the way consumer thinking and competitor efforts are changing.

The world can pass you by.

In that situation slow dynamite isn’t the worry.

It’s fast dynamite that’s the challenge.

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Just the Thing for Marketers. Poetry.

When he first came to America the name Dylan was mostly unknown. So Dylan Thomas coached the press on the pronunciation with the line, It's Dylan as in Penicillin.
When he first came to America the name Dylan was mostly unknown. So Dylan Thomas coached the press on the pronunciation with the line, It’s Dylan as in Penicillin.

When the celebrated Welsh poet Dylan Thomas came to the United States in 1953 he was met at the airport by the press.

They mobbed him and wanted to know if he’d written new poems.

He said yes he had some recent ones.

As he was swept out of the airport on a tide of photographers, blinding flash bulbs and badgering reporters he said he also had written some decent ones.

Then he turned to all assembled, stopped them in their tracks and gave them an effortless account of his writing:

‘I’ve written some recent ones,

some decent ones

and some recent decent ones’.

The press broke up laughing.

They were delighted with the answer. The impromptu performance surprised them.

Surprise value also serves marketers well when communicating with a target audience.

You could say it’s the most important thing about commercial messaging.

That and the fact that brands should always be presented anew.

Saying or showing something surprising, new and unexpected is what stops people and extends attention spans.

It makes it easier for a brand to compete.

Put another way, it helps you become a real problem for your competition.

Southwest Airlines has a handle on that.

Remember the line, ‘Ding. You are now free to move about the country’.

There’s bags of character in that. It’s both surprising and unexpected.

It’s the opposite of the ‘try-hard thing’ which gives it surprise value.

Of course, Southwest is still at it with funny flight attendant announcements and safety briefings that are near enough sidesplitting.

You’ve seen them. And no doubt you laughed.

Why bother to create work like this, why go the surprising route at all?

As Dylan Thomas would have told you, you have to give people something if you want them to remember you.

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A Quiz for You.

Questions, questions, questions. But those who have in-depth marketing knowledge from listening to their target audience are often immune to not knowing.
Questions, questions, questions. But those who have in-depth marketing knowledge from listening to their target audience are often immune to not knowing.

Start thinking in a Jeopardy sort way. But in reverse.

The answer is ‘What is Marketing?’

Now, what’s the question?

You’d be surprised at some of the responses at a recent seminar.

Some were War and Peace in length, only slightly abridged and minus a plot.

You need a sabbatical after enduring  a long-winded explanation like that.

Other answers were half-baked and tinpot ideas.

They were enough to put you in mind of a fifth grade teacher who writes ‘Must try harder’ on a  D-student’s report card.

One bright spark stood up proudly and said ‘marketing is marketing your product across all channels including Facebook’.

Another said something like, ‘It’s the process whereby certain products are given prominence against a pre-determined budget and target audience activity with ROI in the forefront and …’

Had you been there, you would have had to sit tight as another 76 or so words followed. Some of the words had more than four syllables.

In our office, marketing is defined in four words.

‘Helping people choose you.’

Isn’t it that simple?

That straightforwardness should lead to  more organized minds, better focus and messaging that can extend attention spans.

More to ‘organized minds’, many now agree we all need  to avoid one disorganized thought about content today.

Too many marketers presume their target audience is attentive and interested. They’re chauvinists when it comes to their brands

But do people really give a fig about brands? They’re not  living  just to connect with products on Facebook, are they?

No way they are, says the intern who comes into our office two days a week.

You have to work hard to earn market attention.

To ensure people choose you takes focus. And skill.

The kind of skill that sees marketers and agency people open to lifelong learning and keen to listen to the target audience.

Surprisingly some marketers and agency staff aren’t great listeners.

Too many fall down in this area and operate with assumed knowledge and opinions.

Opinions … what are they in a constantly changing marketplace but iffy thinking without data.

With that said, let’s double back to the thought on ‘skill’.

If the answer is ‘What is skill?, what’s the question?

How about this?

The opposite of half-baked, tinpot ideas. And four-syllable words.

Share with us. Have you found books on marketing that give you the skills to compete in a more effective way? Scroll down and leave your comment. Thanks, Steve Ulin

User-Written Reviews. Now You’ll Have To Start Listening to 12-Year-Olds.

When kids travel with their parents where can they go ice skating? Where can they find an old-fashioned soda shoppe? Where can they fly a kite? Where can they find kids’ meals that are yum?
When kids travel with their parents where can they go ice skating? Where can they find an old-fashioned soda shoppe? Where can they fly a kite? Where can they find kids’ meals that are yum?

TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor.

It wouldn’t be surprising if you logged on multiple times to arrange your travel plans.

As we all know, TripAdvisor is more than useful when it comes to reviews and Travelers’ Choice destinations.

If you’re an adult, that is.

If you’re a kid, forget it.

No kids write reviews on TravelAdvisor.

If you happen to be 12 you’re too young to register.

So while parents can look forward to reading about the thread count of sheets in a smart hotel, nobody is writing to warn kids about lumpy rollout cots.

Or those uninviting kids’ meals of warmed up chicken tenders.

Or the babysitter who is more focused on a visit by her boyfriend than her charges.

TripAdvisor won’t tell kids anything like that.

But if you were a kid you’d want to be in the know, wouldn’t you?

You’d want to know, is there’s an ice skating rink near your hotel?

How do you find the Sheep Meadow in Central Park to fly a kite?

Is there’s a doll museum nearby?

Is there a firehouse in the area that does tours for kids?

What can kids do in places like San Diego, Philadelphia or Nashville?

Until now there were no answers.

But was invented by a 12-year-old Australian girl called Bella Tipping.

You might say it’s like TripAdvisor but with a refreshing difference.

The reviews are written by kids for kids.

They make for great reading.

Bella Tipping says adults have a better travel experience than kids because their online reviews make hotels and airlines work for continuous improvement.

Right enough.

So Kidzcationz is bound to prompt improvements for kids to make family vacations better.

Meanwhile, Kidzcationz is an ambitious startup.

It might make Mark Zuckerberg wonder why he wasn’t doing something equally impressive at age 12.

Kidzcationz is niche thinking to be admired, whether it’s started by a 12-year-old or a few 21-year-olds.

More to that, a CEO client of ours wants to be advised the minute Bella Tipping turns 18.

He wants her to come work for him … ahem, Mark.

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Just What You Need in the 21st Century. 17th Century Thinking.

Isaac Newton, 1689, by Godfrey Kneller. It wasn’t until 1705 when Newton was knighted by Queen Anne. From then on he was Sir Isaac Newton.
Isaac Newton, 1689, by Godfrey Kneller. In 1705  Newton was knighted by Queen Anne. From then on it was Sir Isaac Newton.

You can’t beat Thursdays. Dinner with friends is on the calendar.

Chosen restaurants are usually in the back of beyond — somewhere in the Five Boroughs of New York City.

Join us and you might find yourself having Italian on Staten Island, seafood in Far Rockaway or Ethiopian on West 135th Street.

You won’t go begging for variety.

While we’re all good friends, our group still sets ground rules. Nobody talks about himself/herself.

The me-me-me-thing is out.

So the conversation is often more than passable.

Recently a quote from Sir Isaac Newton came up.

‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’

That dates from around 1689 or so, early in the Enlightenment.

To us the message is clear: ‘pay attention to those who know’.

As dinner friends we do just that.

We stand on each other shoulders, so we reckon we’re something like 42-feet tall when together.

Of course, you can stand on the shoulders of giants when it comes to your communications.

You can learn from the giants of marketing and advertising.

That should encourage you to make your messaging less about your company and product and more about your target audience.

Bill Bernbach took that approach.

Those like Bernbach — Howard Gossage, David Ogilvy and John Caples — would probably say, you need to concentrate on your customers’ needs, wants and problems.

Why haven’t all marketers learned this? Where’s the enlightenment?

After all, your prospects’ perceptions outweigh a CMO’s opinion about his/her brand.

That opinion often equates to what people already know or believe. Will that quicken heartbeats? Not really.

You don’t have to be Isaac Newton to understand that the answer to marketing problems — both online and brick and mortar — lies in the way customers think.

They’re the ones who dip into their wallets for you.

So write accordingly.

Instead of beginning Web content or an email, with words like ‘We’, ‘I’, ‘Our’, ‘My’ or ‘Here at the XYZ Company’, put your customers first.

Ban the ‘me’ words.

Make your first word ‘You’, then craft your customer benefit message from there.

That way you’re on the shoulders of giants instead of struggling somewhere below.

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What Do You Drink After You’ve Won the War in France?

General Eisenhower.
General Eisenhower.

The guns fell silent; France was free toward the end of WWII.

Paris was liberated in August 1944.

In the cellars of the world-famous champagne maker Moët & Chandon in Epernay they had a special visitor.

The Supreme Allied Commander of Forces in Europe, General Eisenhower.

The Wehrmacht didn’t loot all the stocks of champagne.

Great vintages, hidden from marauding Nazi units, remained.

So the General was asked what he wanted to drink.

‘A Coke’, was his instant reply.

There you have it.

Not just a product endorsement, but a natural preference. Believable and true.

It’s a preference that rates some of the world’s best and most expensive bubbly as a distant second to Coke.

How’s that for publicity?

It reminds us a bit of Wheat Thins, those humble little crackers.

They benefitted with an unexpected boost on The Colbert Report.

You might have seen it.

Colbert yakked on about Wheat Thins for seven minutes or so. A windfall for a product.

Funny stuff … droll and whacky as he crammed 17 Wheat Thins into his mouth in one go.

Try it yourself – you’re bound to get more than a few laughs.

The segment was targeted at millennials, who research says, hardly knew Wheat Thins existed.

As a product endorsement you’d have to say this stands apart.

It’s well ahead of the usual try-hard efforts that deserve an Olympic medal for feebleness.

With Colbert, Wheat Thins suddenly came into their own and became famous.

As the ad agency for Wheat Thins said, ‘the brand went from off the radar to off the shelves’.

Not surprisingly Colbert’s seven minutes of Wheat Thins antics did well on social media. Maybe you caught some of it.

Those lucky, lucky, lucky Wheat Thins brand managers.

Let’s hope they celebrated. With a glass of Moët, of course.

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Drinks After Work. They Help You Evaluate Your Work.

PJ Clarke's in New York. Maybe you've been there.
PJ Clarke’s in New York. Maybe you’ve been there.

Every marketer worth his or her salt demands great work from their ad agency.

They want the best.

‘Highly creative stuff’ tops their must-have list.

But can they recognize breakthrough work when they see it?

That was the topic of conversation among creative people packed into a bar after work.

Just about everyone had a story about a campaign that was killed. Work that was given the heave-ho by a marketer.

We heard about rejected campaigns that were unusual, powerful and loaded with surprise value.

Those in the bar said the killed ideas were ‘light years ahead of the limp, safe, so-called acceptable’ work that finally ran.

When worthy campaigns are turned down most agreed … opportunities to take the brand further are lost.

‘Too different’.

‘Too unusual.’

‘I’ve never seen anything like this before.’

They were all reasons for rejection of work that was on strategy.

It was agreed that education could help.

If marketers were savvier about creative work, it would make them better able to compete.

To that end it was decided MBA programs should teach more than courses like ‘Corporate Strategy’, ‘Entrepreneurial Finance’ and ‘Managing Human Capital’.

Business schools could also offer courses on creativity and its value in the marketplace.

After all, a company’s appeal rides on making informed and correct content decisions.

This reminded us of a reading assignment at ad school years ago.

The book was George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The assignment wasn’t to read the book.

Or even the first chapter.

It was to read the first sentence — 14 words.

Here they are:

‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks

were striking thirteen.’

The opening is a lesson on how to gain attention … to stop people right from the start.

Orwell turns his back on what’s ‘ordinary’.

In its place you get something that’s different, dramatic, challenging, involving, engrossing.

It’s an example of giving your audience more than they expect. A jolt.

Equally, it reminds you that to get people to read the second line of any kind of writing, the preceding line better be damn good. And so on throughout the piece.

As you know, making people read on is crucial when you want to change minds and drive sales.

If these points about differentiation and sales aren’t enough, here’s another thing about that night.

It took place at PJ Clarke’s in New York. Maybe you know it.

They have a tagline that makes the place stand out.

‘The Vatican of Saloons’.

There’s a thought that stops you.

Maybe it should become the title of a creative course in business schools.

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In Advertising You Face Many Challenges. Now Add Bed Bugs.

Somewhere out there you may find and unwelcome surprise. Bed bugs.
Somewhere out there you may find an unwelcome surprise. Bed bugs.

We just had a brand project that involved travel.

Two cities over a few days for focus groups.

The client booked the hotels.

Then we discovered a Website that signaled a problem.

Bed bugs. had the details. One of our hotels was on their list.

More than few appearances of the little critters were reported over a period of time.


This hotel isn’t a creepy place like the Bates Motel.

It’s not obscure and it isn’t a roadside eyesore in decline since 1980s.

It’s part of a large upmarket chain. Pictures online reflect taste and comfort, if not a bit of luxury.

Still, even with a polished look you’re not about to check in, are you?

Further research reveals some of the best hotels in America have, or have had, bedbugs.

The highest priced, most swish places can be infested.

Sorry for that depressing news.

But you can see the problem for yourself. Just troll through the listings on

Check TripAdvisor while you’re at it.

As you’re probably well aware, it’s the site that keeps hotels on their toes with content written by customers.

To us, the power of the customer is never better exemplified than on this site.

It’s an education to read the good and the bad to get into the mindset of people and their expectations.

Call it a useful exercise in studying personas.

Another option for you could be Airbnb.

They’re claiming 1,500,000 unique listings in more than 190 countries.

You can even rent a castle if Ireland is your destination.

Impressive for a 2008 startup.

But apart from finding accommodation, if you have a focus group in another city use the power of the Internet.

Do your research online.

That way you can stay home and sleep as you’ve always done. Without critters.

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Struggling With a Problem at Work? Wander Through An Art Gallery.

GalleryWe shopped for a wedding present this week.

Each store we visited got the same question, ‘is the purchase returnable?’

Because you never know, do you?

We heard a story about a London couple whose marriage lasted five days.

But that’s ‘ages’ according to the Guinness Book of Records.

Britney Spears beats all-comers having stretched things out to a few hours after a Vegas wedding.

The five-day couple had a blazing row on honeymoon in Paris and went back to London on separate trains.

They had to return the wedding presents.

So back went the lot, including all the usual stuff like crystal wine glasses and Le Creuset ovenware.

But there was also a glass sculpture by the famous artist, Dale Chihuly.

It got us thinking about an original work of art as a gift.

Luckily a friend and talented cartoonist, Geoff Stevenson — see his work: — steered us to the Saatchi Gallery online.

If the idea of discovering magnificent things pleases you, you’ll want to have a look.

We spotted just the right drawing in far less time than Britney Spears stayed married.

Unlike the Chihuli piece you don’t need to be a Rothschild to afford something unique.

But that didn’t end things.

We kept on looking for our own enjoyment. An hour or so later we were still at it. What a pleasure.

Wandering through an art collection gives you ideas. Somehow it opens your mind and works as a seedbed for better thinking.

Years ago when art directors and writers in London got a creative brief they’d often read it once then head to the Tate Gallery.

They said things happened as you experienced the art, you relaxed. Your creative abilities were all the better for it.

When you returned to the office there was never a shortage of ideas that were ‘different’.

How this works is a bit of a mystery. But it works.

Maybe when you take this kind of break your subconscious does the heavy lifting.

Next time you have a difficult marketing or advertising problem try it.

Your life in the office could improve by logging on to the Saatchi Gallery.

On the social side of things, if you need a wedding present you’ll be golden there, as well.

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The Know-How To Create Better Content. Where Do You Find It?

See the Internet for what it really is. As Malcolm Auld tells us, it's a pure Direct Marketing platform.
See the Internet for what it really is. A pure Direct Marketing platform.

Some marketers seem to be better analysts than problem solvers.

They can sense difficulties in the marketplace but they’re not as cluey in dealing with them.

A case in point is getting customers and prospects to respond in the Digital Age.

Too many marketers and traditional agencies say they’re struggling with content.

Which is why you might want to turn to the experts … those who can help you avoid a sluggish, uneventful life in the office.

One in particular is Malcolm Auld.

Malcolm Auld defines the Internet as ‘a pure Direct Marketing platform’.

How right he is.

But this surprises many marketers and those in traditional agencies.

They’re oriented to the ‘here and now’ of Digital thinking, not Direct Marketing.

More’s the pity.

Because they miss proven techniques and ideas that can drive response in any age – Digital or otherwise.

Direct Marketing ideas are effective because while technology has changed, people haven’t.

They’re still human with their particular needs, desires and pain points.

They make decisions based on emotions.

Here are five Direct Marketing books that only need a bit of skimming to convince you of their value.

Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing – Drayton Bird

Tested Advertising Methods – John Caples 

Scientific Advertising – Claude Hopkins

How to Write a Good Advertisement – Victor Schwab

The Robert Collier Letter Book – Robert Collier

Use these books to put an end to wasted potential.

They can help you take the guesswork and false starts out of creating content and emails.

They’re effective in developing messaging that can change attitudes.

They’ll give you ideas on how to overcome the indifference of the public and avoid suffocating people with boredom.

You’ll gain the ability to tell a motivating sales story.

You’ll learn how to convince customers your business is operating for their priorities, not just your own.

You’ll begin to understand how to build a relationship with people so you can communicate on a regular basis.

You’ll develop the skills to lengthen attention spans and create the moment someone buys.

We are in the Digital Age; technology is a huge advantage.

But with the ideas in these books you’ll become one thing better than a marketer.

A Direct Marketer who can get people to respond.

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