Category Archives: Blog

A Fresh, New Start for Anxiety.

David Abbott created advertising that people  loved. See his work for The Economist, Volvo, Chivas Regal, Sainsbury’s and an account executive recruitment ad for Doyle Dane Bernbach.

Yep, it seems anxiety over creative work is set to enter a fresh, new phase of grumbling.

The worry is we treat technology like gold and ideas like scrap iron.

There’s a grievance for you.

More to that, industry people are stewing over the fact too many ads deserve to be ignored.

The same is true for content in all its forms.

Much of it requires improvement just to reach the boring level.

Small wonder then that advertising is often snubbed/ignored/rebuffed/ridiculed.

Well, nobody wants to put up with guff, do they?

Proof of that is ad blocker usage; it surged 30% in 2016 alone.

As a marketer you’re an ad blocker, aren’t you? It turns out most are.

So maybe we should reflect on the business of putting up your guard.

To get through to people wouldn’t it be an idea to view technology as just one part of the  process?

The other part is to create ads and content people warm to. Sol et’s start by making creative brilliance compulsory.

Let’s work to ensure advertising doesn’t come across as a blunt instrument.

Let’s stop taking advice from tech boffins who wouldn’t know the difference between drab, wearily familiar ad speak and a teacup.

That teacup jibe may be a bit much, but ask yourself … do tech companies have a real and abiding interest in looking after your customers and prospects? Probably not.

With that ‘not’ response comes a question: without ideas imaginative enough to stop people, what hope do you have of converting them?

As someone who probably knew more about imaginative thinking than even Bill Bernbach, David Abbott valued ideas. They were key.

He worried about boring content and had doubts digital technology alone could be effective.

‘Shit delivered at the speed of light is still shit’ … that was his take on it.

Happily the last chapter on all this has yet to be written.

As David Abbott might have said, there’s sense in combining amazing digital technology with creative work that has value.

That way you’re more likely to stop customers and leave anxiety to those who deserve it most.

Your competitors.

Head-On Collision.

Sergio Zyman, Chief Marketing Officer for Coca-Cola in the 90s.

The head-on collision of ad agencies and clients has been written up more than a few times.

You don’t need me to tell you there’s moaning on both sides.

The unease puts you in mind of McGregor vs Mayweather.

From marketers we hear agencies aren’t responsive to change, they haven’t diversified and they’re overstaffed with management types.

They gripe about ad fraud and whinge about agencies that charge like the proverbial wounded bull.

Moreover, marketers say agencies aren’t knowledgeable about business, agility is iffy and  agency holding companies are focused more on quarterly returns for investors than on shaping the future for brands.

What’s all that if not bruising.

But it’s not as bruising as hearing the agency model is broken, that’s it’s dead.

From the other side, agency people say marketers are sidetracked chasing the latest tech.

We hear ad managers think tactics are everything. They’re wedded to fix-its, not strategy.

We hear the importance of brand purpose is overstated and digital technologies are seen as solutions rather than platforms to deliver content.

We hear fee cuts are a threat to agency viability.

We hear bureaucracies reign and those in Procurement lack marketing vision.

Equally, it’s said too many ad managers don’t know a creative idea when they see one and their briefs carry all the inspiration of an empty bookshelf.

Right enough there’s a rift, agencies and clients aren’t exactly chums.

Maybe we need an advertising and marketing version of Julian Assange to get to the bottom of it.

Only joking on that account but until we see something positive it’s the work that suffers.

We have to put up with drab content and ads that are wearily familiar.

You wouldn’t be wrong to call them advertising chloroform.

So, what’s the cure?

It might be an idea to quash the infighting and begin improving strategies and creative work.

Maybe more sales-focused marketers are required.

We’re thinking of CMOs like Sergio Zyman who was at Coca-Cola in the 90s.

When everyone thought you couldn’t sell more Coke — the market was  saturated — he rose to the occasion.

Zyman increased sales by 50% worldwide over five years.

With that, the stock price went stratospheric. It quadrupled.

Where are the marketers now who are as shrewd, gritty and unwavering?

How about creative work?

Axe the conflict with clients and agencies might have a better chance to produce ads like this one for the Economist.

Can ads can be something the public welcomes? This interactive billboard for the Economist is hope for that.

By putting a premium on engagement it’s winning the battle against creative boredom .

Not surprisingly the public loved it. You heard about it in pub conversations.

Work at this level changes the way ads are viewed, doesn’t it?

Instead of an intrusion, a billboard becomes a memorable part of your day.

There’s a turnaround for you.

Time spent studying great stuff, like the Economist, should blanket marketers and agencies with discomfort.

Discomfort about all the dreary efforts produced these days.

But maybe more agencies and marketers will rise above the bickering and do something about it.

PS. Sir Martin Sorrell exits.

Just read about it in an article by Tom Doctoroff. Don’t miss it:

Docotoroff has a good point: ad agencies should be more than producers of low-end TV spots and print ads … the ones that do little to make brands less anonymous. Doctoroff says agencies should regain their value as a source of ideas. Because to improve and enlarge a brand they are the only place to attract both creative and strategic minds.

Some may quibble with that as there’s a case for say, the creative talent in Dyson’s in-house team. They’re strong.

But you can say the best agencies are active and imaginative in their approach – hugely so. They work to counter fixed outlooks. They go beyond conventional solutions in dealing with recurring problems. They question accepted thinking, they’re not just reactors, they have the creative ability to position a brand well beyond the reach of competitors. And they operate with an autonomy that’s rare in a corporate environment; they often give you a more searching view of your brand outside the four walls of your boardroom.










Learn From Airline Pilots.

Pilots are planners. In a cruise they’re often discussing emergencies that are improbable … but possible.

For long-haul flights like Dallas-Sydney or New York-Johannesburg the pilots take on a special focus.

While in cruise mode they discuss emergencies that are improbable … but possible.

Like engine fires, sudden decompression or turbulence that could lead to a critical situation.

You don’t just fly the plane, it seems, you make the best use of flight time by planning for possible dramas.

So the captain and first officer put together emergency scenarios.

They pinpoint alternative airports.

They judge the suitability of those airports with respect to the kind of difficulties that could arise.

Call them Darwinian in this respect.

They’re planning to put the plane down safely, no matter what.

How about marketers these days, how Darwinian are they?

Fair question as there’s turbulence when it comes to digital.

According to Cnet only 38% of traffic on the web is human.

Marketing Week says only 9% of digital ads are viewed for more than a second.

They go on to say the vast majority of digital advertising is not being viewed at all.

The research firm, Lumen, found that only 4% of ads received more than 2 seconds of engagement.

Marketing Week sums up the problem with this thought …

Many marketers are still failing to apply effectiveness techniques learned from print, direct response and out-of-home to new channels.

They’ve forgotten how to sell.

Well, amazing technology is our genie, but what use is it if your messaging is little more than tripe.

Tripe may be harsh but one thing’s clear …

Too much creative work needs to improve if only to reach the dull level.

More to fraudulent web traffic, Business Insider predicted it would double in 2017.

They went on to say …

According to a new study commissioned by WPP the amount of global advertising revenue wasted on fraudulent traffic, or clicks automatically generated by bots could reach $16.4 billion.

Maybe this is why Procter & Gamble’s Marc Pritchard pulled back from digital.

You might say he’s not unlike long-haul pilots scoping out alternative airfields for a safe landing.

Because when you’re the world’s biggest advertiser — or any advertiser, for that matter — the last thing you need is an engine fire.







What’s Wrong With Algorithms?

Bill Bernbach

In 1947, two years before Bill Bernbach opened Doyle Dane Bernbach he wrote this:

“There are a lot of great technicians in advertising. And unfortunately they talk the best game. They know all the rules. They can tell you that people in an ad will get you greater readership. They can tell you that a sentence should be this short or that long. They can tell you that body copy should be broken up for easier more inviting reading. They can give you fact after fact. They are the scientists of advertising. But there’s one little rub. Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”

Today’s marketers might want to print out these 97 words and tape them to their office walls.

They’re a reminder.

Advanced techniques in computational sciences have yet to produce one thing that’s key for marketers.





Irredentist. Does That Describe You?

Irredentist. Is that some special kind of dentist?

What’s an irredentist?

It came up the other day.

A non-native English speaker in the next office wanted to know.

She’s forever curious to learn.

Does it have something to do with drilling teeth?

We looked it up.

Irredentism is reclaiming and reoccupying lands you believe belong to you.

It’s re-establishing your control over a territory.

In 1982 Argentina’s junta demanded the Falkland Islands back from Britain.

That’s irredentism.

Of course, Mrs. Thatcher thought otherwise.

She sent the fleet to the South Atlantic and sunk the battleship General Belgrano.

Bad luck for the Argies, but understandably everyone wants back what they feel belongs to them.

Including creative people in ad agencies.

Many want to re-take control from business types, financial gurus and planners.

Reason for that comes down to holding company supremos and agency business managers. They seem to be chasing what clients say an ad agency should be instead of defining it.

Misguided, right?

Shouldn’t an ad agency’s identity be driven by brilliant strategies and creative work?

Instead, you get the feeling agency CEOs are often hamstrung fighting rearguard actions against improprieties.

Like supposed over-billing on digital advertising.

Like complaints from marketing companies having to pay for online ads that consumers don’t see. (Is it only robots who see them?)

Like Facebook’s admission last year. They inflated the average time people spent watching video ads.

Plenty of grumbling on those points, but what about great creative work, when will it make a resurgence to become the talking point?

Not soon enough according to some, like the Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman.

Have a look at his presentation ‘Marketers Are From Mars, Consumers Are From New Jersey’.

Others critical of drab work and mistakes marketers make (like ignoring the most lucrative demographic today: the over 50s) say we’re writing for search engines, not people … search engines that can’t detect emotion, subtlety, irony or humor.

You often hear gripes about that in seminars that go something like this : ‘too many strategies have no force of personality’.

‘Too many ads are dim and wearily familiar.’

Ads like that are the daydream of those who haven’t bothered to read about, understand and use tested advertising methods.

Equally, more than a few marketers take direction from only one source: themselves.

That kind of insularity ensures you’re limited to what’s merely passable instead of what’s exceptional.

One wonders, how do you get away with creative work that’s fallen off a cliff when it comes to anything emotional, gripping and breakthrough?

With ad agencies, isn’t brilliance supposed to be compulsory?

If your selling message isn’t read, what hope do you have of making an impression, let alone a sale? Bill Bernbach was of that mind.

But a new kind of ad agency could help.

Especially if it’s an irredentist one.




The Aztecs Were Shortsighted. Some Marketers Are The Same.

It was here, but it vanished. The Aztec empire.

You may know a bit about the Aztecs.

National Geographic has had more than a few articles on them.

Then there are the conquistador movies. Netflix has some.

If you studied the Aztecs at school you know human sacrifice featured in a big way.

Chests were slit open with obsidian knives and still beating hearts were plucked out to be held aloft to appease the gods … there’s an image for you.

The ritual was to ensure the crops flourished and women didn’t die in childbirth.

Something about it must have found favor with the gods as the Aztec empire was no small affair.

It was a union of three powerful city states controlling Mesoamerica in the 15th century.

Still, the civilization was defeated quickly with the arrival of the conquistadors.

Surprisingly enough it was only a small force, less than 700 soldiers.

Anthropologists tell us the collapse was the result of naiveté about war. A blindness to a more worldly, European view of battle.

The Aztec approach was to take prisoners — that was the measure of victory.

The more prisoners the better as captives were needed for human sacrifice.

Call it a cultural necessity

But against the Spanish it led to a bloodbath.

Aztec beliefs blinded them to the menace.

Which brings us to the way some marketers can be vision-challenged.

That stems from seeing technology as a silver bullet, the answer to all their problems.

Of course, gee-whiz delivery systems, new platforms and big data are a breakthrough, but less so when they blind you to the importance of ideas.

Shouldn’t ideas come first if you expect to change minds and win hearts?

Without ideas messaging is a about as effective as a dog with no nose.

There’s little chance a hound like that will hunt.

More to that, why invest in technology when the messaging you deliver can only intensify boredom.

That has to be mush-headed and self-defeating, right?

We regularly hear what’s needed is persuasion.

But what about brilliance, shouldn’t that be compulsory?

It was in the past.

We’re talking about a level of brilliance that comes with messaging that’s strong on wit, charm and reasoned arguments.

Without that you’re left with little more than a disagreeable intrusion.

So, do you know marketers who can’t see past technology to realize ideas are key?

If so, tell them they have a problem.

Like the one that undid the Aztecs.


Improvement. And Improvement.

One area where the Panthers are still up there. But next year on the field we're looking for one thing. Improvement.
One area where the Panthers are still up there. But next year on the field we’re looking for one thing. Improvement.

A third grade teacher sweeps into the classroom throwing out a question to her kids.

Good morning, children, tell us, what’s the smallest room?

Like a well-trained chorus the class responds as one: a mushroom.

Well, of course it is.

Pleased with the answer, the teacher continues.

Now, children, tell us, what’s the largest room?

The answer comes with enthusiasm as thirty kids shout: room for improvement.

There you have it in a story that comes from the English writer Laurie Lee. The point, of course, is that we can always do better.

The possibility of improvement never leaves us.

More to that, if your marketing and advertising is already excellent, you can always aim for one thing better.

The high side of excellence.

Just about every coach of a sport is probably drilling that into the heads their team. Making it second nature.

On the topic of sport, it’s been a few  weeks since the Super Bowl.

So let’s hope those marketers who bought spots — whether great, just okay or rubbish — are well into doing more.

Going for the high side of excellence, so to speak.

Not just with TV, but across all channels.

Let’s hope they’re planning to do wonders with everything from trade shows to emails, podcasts, Web, white papers, out-of-home ideas and more.

Even with the smallest job there’s always room for a big idea. Bill Bernbach said that.

Business sense tells us the Super Bowl shouldn’t be the one time of the year people get interested in brands.

Happily, that brief interlude can be extended with a bit of creative thinking.

After all, why limit improvement to just one cold Sunday in February.

Why not go for communications that rivet people no matter what date is showing on the calendar.

So, how about starting right now?

Aren’t you planning to impact your target audience before heading home from the office tonight?

You could manage it with an Instagram or a Tweet.

All you need is a brilliant idea; something to stop people.

Maybe you could use a happening that comes from today’s news.

The best agencies are always on the lookout for timely ad opportunities.

The Oreo ‘Blackout’ Tweet is an example of that.

The result of a timely ad benefits you in two ways.

You can outshine the competition and create a better brand experience for your customers.

Think about it for a moment. Isn’t there room for improvement on both counts?

Share with us. Leave your comment below. Thanks for reading Regards, Steve Ulin. LinkedIn:


Bright Or Brilliant? Smart Pills May Make All The Difference.

More aspects to the mind. Greater perspective. Can smart pill do that?
More aspects to the mind. Greater perspective. Can smart pills do that?

Many say techies and business people are getting brainer in Silicon Valley.

Or should we say Silicon Valley of the Dolls?

‘Dolls’ is code for pills as in Jacqueline Susann’s book, Valley of the Dolls.

But this time we have smart pills sling-shotting intelligence higher in the Bay Area and beyond.

One smart pill is Modafinil. Prescription only, it was developed for narcolepsy.

You could run across it as Alertec, Modavigil, and Provigil, as well.

Here the benefit is increased cognitive ability that comes with an impressive checklist:

Mental consistency.

Sharper memory and the ability to concentrate.

An easy way to solve complex problems.

Online reviews come with revealing quotes:

‘Brilliantly awake’.

‘You’ve got new purpose, direction and will.’

‘Brain 2.0’.

‘What’s interesting suddenly becomes fascinating. You’re in gear; any inability is airbrushed away.’

Those remarks make you wonder, don’t they?

The thing is with Modafinil, neurotransmitters in the brain gain an unfair advantage. Science becomes your genie.

Now for a definition …

Wikipedia says Modafinil is a Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitor, whatever that may be.

We’re thinking it’s an upper of sorts.

Maybe your kids can tell you.

By more than a few accounts high school and college students use Modafinil to ace tests.

Getting a 91 is good, but a 97 gets you closer to Summa Cum Laude.

It’s said the Army was smart-pill-empowered in Iraq.

We’ll, an Abrams Tank is mighty, however it’s even better when manned by a brilliant driver, right?

But hold on a minute, the lights are turning amber on smart pills.

The reason for writing today is to pass on a caution.

A marketer we know purchased Modafinil on the Internet.

The result was nil, no effect.

He bought fakes.

But that’s not as bad as ingesting something that could play havoc with your health and wellbeing.

There’s counterfeiting with Modafinil and other pharmaceuticals. Forgeries extend to medical devices and hospital equipment.

Maybe the fake Rolex watchmakers are looking for new revenue streams.

Of course, there’s risk involved with fakes and maybe the real stuff. No long-term studies have been done on Modafinil.

Still, if Silicon Valley starts wowing us even more than usual we can hazard a guess at one thing.

Someone’s neurotransmitters are getting extra help.

Share with us. Leave your comment below. Thanks for reading Regards, Steve Ulin. LinkedIn:


First, A Little Music …

Ground Control to Major Tom Ground Control to Major Tom Take your protein pill and put your helmet on. -- David Bowie
Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pill
and put your helmet on.
— David Bowie

Nobody spits at the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

They’re pretty great no matter what your religion may be.

An American icon … that describes them.

But the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing ‘God So Loved the World’ is fully expected.

Nothing new about that.

It confirms what we already know and believe about them.

So to widen interest and engagement how about something a bit more surprising.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir doing Space Oddity, Ziggy Stardust or Life On Mars?

It’s the MTC meets David Bowie, so to speak.

With a bit of enlightened orchestration the Bowie pieces could be musically remarkable.

Well, don’t laugh just yet; the Daily Mail reported last week that the Archbishop of Canterbury is a Bowie fan.

The point here for business people is maybe we should begin to think beyond accepted beliefs and avoid what’s predictable.

Too many absorb the thinking in their work environment and run with it – no questions asked.

More’s the pity because those individuals aren’t exploring their own potential.

The likelihood of discovering something better remains pretty small.

What was it Steve Jobs said?

We don’t hire smart people and tell them what to do.

We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.

Of course, that can change everything for a brand.

So can ideas.

Remember ideas?

One negative of advertising today is that the technology is modern but the ideas aren’t always so.

Which is why those who go for the unexpected get attention.

Old Spice, Snickers and the Honda work in the UK succeed with strong ideas.

Space Oddity, which you probably heard several times last week, still gets your attention despite the fact it was written ages ago.

The reason is that it was a good idea in the first place.

It endures.

If you happen to be the choral master of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir you might want to make a mental note of that.

Share with us. Leave your comment below. Thanks for reading Regards, Steve Ulin LinkedIn:


Are You Looking in the Wrong Place For Digital Knowledge?

See the Internet for what it really is. As Malcolm Auld tells us, it's a pure Direct Marketing platform.
For knowledge about Direct Marketing and how to create more effective messaging, see the books below.

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 optimizing brands in the Digital Age.

More than a few marketing people and traditional agencies have said they’re ‘steering into the unknown’.

Or they’re ‘feeling their way’ through it.

If that frames the situation, one wonders … how do you correct it? How do you advance?

For that, it’s always an idea turn to the experts.

One in particular is Malcolm Auld. His blog is and it’s well worth bookmarking.

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

How right he is.

But this surprises many marketers and traditional agencies we know.

Their take is that Digital is futuristic, not something from the past.

Well, it’s true technology has changed, but people haven’t.

They continue to be human and they’re motivated by their emotions.

Equally, ‘response’ is what we value today as it leads to attitude changes and the moment someone acts or buys.

If that need for ‘response’ doesn’t define Direct Marketing, then what does?

So it stands to reason that a bit of knowledge about DM techniques can help.

Especially if it can take the guesswork out of creating content on the Web.

If you and your team value learning for gaining and renewing skills, there are plenty of books to give you a grounding in Direct Marketing.

It’s a grounding that benefits you with knowledge you can adapt for Digital communications.

Start with these five titles:

Common Sense 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

Time spent with these books should give you a clearer idea of how to get results you can test and measure.

By helping you create more effective messaging it can lower your risk of investing dollars in marketing.

It can make it easier for you to compete.

And at a time when you want to be a more effective it can help you become one thing better than a marketer.

A Direct Marketer who can get people to respond.

Share with us. Leave your comment below. Thanks for reading Regards, Steve Ulin LinkedIn: