Monthly Archives: February 2014

How Do You Keep Up With the Competition?

When you get voice talent in front of the mike, be critical. It results in better videos that makes you better against the competition.
When you get voice talent in front of the mike, be critical. It results in better videos that makes you better against the competition.

How do you battle your competitors? How do you compete more effectively?

Equally, how do you go beyond your automatic picks for strategy and content to leave your competition behind?

Well … you could always go off-script and try to hire the ex-marketing director of Apple or Samsung.

The Samsung success is remarkable for the fact they’re a multinational with a list of important subsidiaries as long as your arm.

They didn’t begin to globalize their electronics business until the 1990s.

Samsung Electronics, I’m told, is now the world’s largest information technology company.

Or … you could hop on the bandwagon of a hugely innovative media event, the Lego Movie, and create your next video or commercial entirely out of plastic building blocks, available in 51 engaging colors.

The name, Lego, comes from the first two letters of the Danish words leg godt, meaning ‘play well’.

‘Play well’ takes on a whole new meaning in a ‘rescue-the-business’ sense as the 78-year-old company almost went bust in 2003.

But a new CEO, Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, stepped in to completely turn that around.

Here’s a fascinating interview with him that explains how he did it. It’s from Meet the Boss TV.

Or … you could get Kia to redesign your product and Website. Have you noticed their cars? Stunning.

Even better, their concept cars give you the feeling that human achievement is in no way limited.

Kia’s Chief Design Officer, Peter Schreyer, could run a master class on courting customers who previously wouldn’t have noticed your product; customers who might also have been prejudicial towards it.

Or … maybe you could get Morgan Freeman to do the voice over for your next video.

Of course, all the above is fanciful.

Except maybe for the voice over thought.

So many commercials and videos spare no effort when it comes to strategy, creative ideas and production. They’re mostly up to speed in these areas.

But, have you noticed? Often the voice over could be better.

A great effect is often diluted with a presentation that can be huckster-ish, flat or underpowered when it comes to wit, charm and persuasion.

Sadly enough, some voice overs are determinedly superficial, making great content sound dull.

A useful benchmark for strong voice talent can be heard on radio’s NPR.

That’s Lynne Rossetto Kasper, host of the cooking show, The Splendid Table.

Listen to her to set your standards for clarity of thought, empathy and the ability to deliver detailed information with a poise that is rarely equaled by actors.

You could say that if Lynne Rossetto Kasper read out the instruction sheet for assembling IKEA kitchen cabinets it would be riveting.

Her delivery creates a picture in your mind of her subject matter, and with that power you’re one step closer to changing the way people think.

A voice like this can help to sling-shot your videos ahead on YouTube and bolster engagement when you showcase them on your Website.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper probably doesn’t do VOs. But use her voice as a model to make the content you worked so hard to create communicate better.

Use it as an added element to ensure your videos work to differentiate you from the rest.

It can be worth a lot to get more involved in voice casting and be picky. As picky as you are with strategy, creative ideas, on-camera talent, choice of director, art direction, music selection and production values.

Get involved, and in that way you can ‘play well’ with your customers as well as the customers of your competition.


How Does Your Brand Speak?

Papua New Guinea. Where Pidgin English could inspire you to think differently about how your brand speaks. Photo courtesy of Eric Lafforgue.
Papua New Guinea is strange and beguiling. You’ll find the language the same. Photo courtesy of Eric Lafforgue.

Ah, the charms of Papua New Guinea.

It’s a place that encourages you to inject more than a syllable of originality into your vocabulary – something that’s bound to help in enlivening the way your brand speaks.

Razor sharp mountaintops soar 11,000 feet above the jungle floor to welcome you to a country that’s a kind of a language lab. A paradise island where inventive expressions abound.

It’s Pidgin English, of course, that provides a lingo that’s rungs higher on the ladder of invention than most everyday communication.

Take note, as you spy a helicopter threading its way between mountain-peak coffee plantations. Pidgin for helicopter is ‘mixmaster him blong Jesuschrist’.

Well naturally … you have Sunbeam and their whirling cake mix beaters to thank for this example of unaided recall. A brand name – or at least a product model name — enters the vernacular with a new and imaginative usage.

‘Throw ‘em away leg’ describes what you did the last time you got up and crossed the room. You literally threw one leg in front of the other and ‘walked’, as they say in Roget’s Thesaurus.

‘Man him write big English in newspaper’ is Pidgin for a journalist. Something to do, no doubt, with the font size of page one newspaper headlines.

The word for scuba diver is ‘man him blong puff puff’. Nicely inventive, even if it is gender blind.

To coin a phrase, it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. In addition to strategic thinking, it’s a way to make your brand stand apart from the rest – especially when yours is a parity product.

As you well know, brands now have less and less when it comes to tangible assets. Me-tooism reigns in the way products are manufactured and in the way they’re marketed.

So why is this often forgotten? After all, innovative content helps to elevate you above the generics.

But too much messaging out there is startlingly banal. Limp when it comes to differentiation and interest.

You’ve probably come across this sort of work; it just sits there, inert on a web page with all the energy of depleted uranium.

Happily, there are a few creative agencies bent on changing all that. They have the knack of relevance and engagement. They work to insert emotion into prospects’ lives.

You can trace their efforts back six decades to a kind of commercial Pidgin – a vocabulary minted by ad agencies to communicate the end benefit of a product.

With that you have the ‘ize’ words.

Personalize and customize are Madison Avenue inventions. As are glamorize, sanitize, motorize, vitalize, finalize, tenderize and comfortize.

Could the car polish brand, Simonize, be a legacy of this thinking? Probably.

You wouldn’t be wrong to say the ‘ize’ words are now superannuated and toothless. They reached their use-by-dates (or, amuse-by-dates) long ago.

These days a few campaigns are still trying to speak their own language. ‘Got Milk?’ is one. ‘Like A Rock’ is another. Why did they dump it?

As an extension of this, names of companies can carry this freshness. Even if you don’t need them, it’s had to forget Roto-Rooter.

It’s a name that takes the brand right out of the ordinary business of plumbing and establishes it in a category all its own.

We all sense the power in that –  after all, take away the competition and you’d sell a zillion.

It’s not exactly news that people warm to fresh expression.

A  sign we saw outside a  Carolina mountain village bar read, ‘Tomorrow Beer Is Free’.  So you’re drawn in for the humor and you pay happily for your frosty mug.

Thank goodness for a bit of quirkiness.

Invention adds scope and individuality, or as Jean-Marie Dru, author of Disruption: Overturning Conventions and Shaking Up the Marketplace might say, the best messaging stands out because it ruffles the status quo.

But what if you need to decimate the status quo? Kill it dead.

For instance, in the world capital for skin cancer, Australia, how do you get ad-phobic, skeptical teenage beach addicts to apply sunscreen?

Melanoma can be fatal. But that’s not about to make a dead-set, live-for-the-moment Aussie surfboard rider blink, is it?

That’s why, a few years back, creatives reached further to come up with ‘Me No Fry’… an inventive, fresh execution of a ‘be smart’ strategy. Teenage Pidgin, you might call it.

Great stuff.

But if you were on Sydney’s Bondi Beach you might notice ‘Me No Fry’ took on extra power thanks to an unexpected interactive quality.

The target audience caught the spirit of the message and added two words of their own.

‘Me No Fry My Arse’ is the complete thought for protecting yourself against a ferocious Australian sun. Suddenly you have a weapon to bludgeon the status quo.

You could say our business is pathologically addicted to novelty. So it wouldn’t be a step in the wrong direction to create a vernacular of your own.

In tandem with a strong positioning it’s a fresh way to stand out and differentiate your brand from everyone else in your category.

Moreover it’s a sure way to drive memorability and defeat boredom.

Well, what are you waiting for? ‘Throw ‘em away leg’ and visit your agency. Have them start working on more inventive content.

Share with us. Do you have examples of inventive writing that made a difference for a brand? Thanks for reading,  Steve Ulin





Borderline Terrific? Or Totally Terrific?

Hound Dog. Just one of the songs that put songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame.
Hound Dog. Just one of the songs that put songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

What’s the difference between winning and second place?

It can be very little. A hair’s breadth. Or as they say in Australia, even if you win by a ‘skerrick’ you’re still the winner.

The slot between fantastic and something slightly less impressive can be narrow, but impossible to bridge without big ideas.

That’s why the name, Elvis, is on the tip of your tongue but the name, Big Mama Thornton, probably isn’t. 

The legendary 1950s song writing team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote Hound Dog for Big Mama Thornton. Hear it and I think you’ll agree, it rocks.

Certainly Elvis warmed to it. Maybe that’s why as a young man he pestered Leiber and Stoller for permission to record a version of his own.

To ingratiate himself he used all the southern charm he could muster, addressing them as Mister Leiber and Mister Stoller. Elvis was a gent.

Of course, we all have a weakness for superlatives, but somehow the Elvis version is more primal, gutsy and more ‘who-dat-man’ as it pushes your mood buttons.

Most of us won’t argue if you rate it as totally terrific.

The point is you can always do better. Improvement awaits you.

Even when you think you couldn’t do more.

That brings to mind an old joke. A teacher asks her third grade class, ‘what is the smallest room?’ The answer is a mushroom.

Then she asks, ‘what is the largest room?’ The answer is telling. Room for improvement.

In marketing terms this is where Honda’s car commercials are such a stand out.

There are many able car ads that go beyond the usual grandstanding opportunism of contrived emotion and faux enthusiasm. They have ideas that work.

But …

But then there are the commercials for Honda.

You probably know the ‘Cog’ spot as well as the ‘Hands’ commercial which encompasses a range of Honda products.

As my youngest would say, they both have zero suck factor.

Lesser known is the ‘Sound of Honda’ racing spot. It recreates the engine sounds of Ayrton Senna’s 1989 Suzuka pole lap as a way to announce Honda’s 2015 return to Formula One.

Few would wish commercials were any longer than they are but these spots are maybe an exception.

And therein lies that small difference between borderline terrific and totally terrific.

You’ll remember the cynical name for the second place finisher is ‘the first loser’.

After all, when you’re second you’re the best of the ordinary.

In our office we call that top-notch mediocrity.

So why settle for ordinary when it could be a drag on your sales and revenue stream.

Which is why you need the best creative people you can find working for you.

To find them, search for an agency that can say ‘no’ to good ideas.

Because somewhere out there, there are ideas that are just a bit better, stronger and more effective. Right, Elvis?

Tell us your story. Have you found better creative people?



Did You See This Issue of Life Magazine?

We're all owned by a need to do better. This 1989 issue detailed how technology would help. But there was no mention of the Internet.
We’re all owned by a need to do better. This 1989 issue detailed how technology could help. But there was no mention of the Internet.

Life, February 1, 1989.

Did it come your way?

Featured is a 30-page preview of the year 2000 showcasing laser holographic TVs, Dick Tracy-type wristwatches, the news that we’ll be living to 101 and more gee-whiz predictions.

The future is scripted in bright, technological achievements. It’s science class on steroids.

But in this 1989 Life issue there’s nothing about the Internet and nothing to predict the new economy and the explosion of business online.

How could they have missed the Internet? Are we developing that fast?

You know things are speeding ahead each time you use your mobile.

Everyone is head-down evaluating everything from 1000 thread-count sheets to little-known Australian Cabernets (try Vasse Felix) and responding to games and events designed to engage you at specific locations and time periods with an offer.

Google ‘the future’ and you’ll see this progress is set to accelerate wildly.

We’re in for synthetic meat, new propulsion systems for space travel (Jupiter in just four months, instead of 13), invisible suits for the military and the end of aging by around 2065.

You don’t need me to tell you current technology has left more than a few marketers wondering.

Many are unsure of what’s working in the digital age and what’s a dud.

Instead of technological certainty there’s ‘room for interpretation’. (Those last three words came from a so-called social media guru trying to explain to his client where $83,000 went.)

Ironically, isn’t this a bit like the bad old days of traditional advertising? Wasn’t that the perennial complaint, not knowing what’s working?

But take heart, some things haven’t changed.

Like the ability to test your communications. Those adept at Direct Response are past masters of this and know the power it affords you.

Google analytics are here to help. They’re a bit like a blood pressure cuff for the state of your efforts, as you benefit with solid numbers.

Equally, people haven’t changed. They’re still human, they buy on emotion from those they’ve learned to trust and they can’t be bored into parting with their cash to purchase your product.

More to unchanging things, what persists is the need to have an idea to stop people and change their behavior. Nothing beats an idea.

Thinking like ‘Here’s To The Crazy Ones’ and ‘When Banks Compete, You Win’ proves it.

Without a strong original, engaging idea, technology is a bit like raw filet mignon, promising but incomplete.

As you are no doubt aware, the best ideas come from knowing your customers and listening intently when they speak.

So tune in further. Find out about their worries, needs and desires. Better yet, find out what lapsed customers think.

One of those invisible military suits could help.

It’ll put you unobtrusively at the center of things to hear revealing things about  your brand.

Have customers revealed things you previously didn’t know? If so, share your story with us.