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For many in marketing and procurement some ads will seem great … only because they’ve never seen a great ad.

Too many haven’t taken the trouble to study the last 50 years of advertising.

They’re content to take advice from themselves without reading or study. 

As a result they don’t insist on ads that stop people, ads that are memorable.

The opposite of controlling, humorless and workmanlike. Go on to YouTube for spots that are risky, ballsy and memorable.

The idea that brilliance is compulsory doesn’t guide the development process.

So, are they the best for briefing agencies and evaluating their work?

Maybe not.

But a bit of time spent on YouTube could change that.

Look up the great spots Doyle Dane Bernbach did in their heyday.

See the Wells Rich Greene ‘Driving Instructor’ spot for American Motors Corporation.

Take in the Scali McCabe Sloves Volvo work.

Get the Collet Dickenson Pearce spots for Heineken.

Find the Boase Massimi Pollit Guardian ‘Points of View’ commercial.

That’s all you need to understand that people respond to emotion, warmth, wit, charm and reasoned persuasion.

The public haven’t changed in this – they’re still human in the digital age. 

It’s only that marketing and procurement people have changed.

They’ve been sold the idea that technology is a silver bullet.

Yes, well …

If technology is a silver bullet then wit, charm and reasoned persuasion is a bullet of the Cruise Missile kind.

An attention-getting headline.

Phil Gaimon, pro bike racer, but let’s start with Yul Brenner.

Know about Yul Brenner, the actor?

He died of lung cancer.

No surprise there, it was fully expected.

He was more than a pack a day smoker from when he was a kid.

Maybe from when he was 9.

The doctors told him he could count his days on one hand.

What was a surprise was a commercial he made to convince young people to quit.

It opened with Yul Brenner to camera saying, ‘If you’re seeing this I’m already dead from lung cancer’.

A voice talking to you from the grave about the dangers of smoking.

Will you find a more effective anti-smoking advertising message? Probably not.

The strength of this approach is being used again.

By Phil Gaimon, a professional bike racer.

He isn’t dead, but he could have been many times as careless drivers put him in peril while he was on his bike training.

He did a video to tell the story,

It comes with a stopper of a headline: “Please share this when I’m killed by someone driving a car.”

Have a look at the video and the story by Bob Mionske. And yeah … have a care when you see cyclists on the road.

Two headlines. Which one would you use to kick cancer’s ass?

We’d rather see you for regular mammograms than regular chemotherapy.


One of the best cancer centers in the Mid-West.

Let’s turn the tables on cancer and have more lines like
‘I Kicked Cancer’s Ass’. Photo by kind permission of Linda Bowman who
you see above.

Both lines were presented to a marketer whose brief read: ‘the best hospital for cancer care.’

But we’re not talking famous hospitals like the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic or Indiana University Hospital.

His hospital wasn’t among widely known cancer care facilities.

Still, he went for the second headline because he said, for him, it hit the nail on the head.

It encapsulated everything his hospital hoped to be.

Yes, there’s a necessity for regular mammograms, he granted, but the headline that pressed the case for that was ominous.

He said it could scare his target audience.

So he ticked a box and eagerly moved on to the next business of the day.

That was a content assignment for his hospital’s biggest revenue maker, the heart and vascular unit. That held the greatest opportunity for profitability.

This story, related at a seminar last year, points up one fact.

An important ingredient for creating effective content can be ‘worry’.

There are more than a few marketing solutions to a brief. But why skirt the fact you have a frightening subject in cancer.

The best cancer headline still sticks with me after a ridiculously long time. I’m thinking it goes back 20-odd years or so.

It might have been done by the Martin Agency.

You have cancer. Let’s start by removing that lump in your throat.

Healthcare marketers aren’t ‘Gatoraded’ on the field like a triumphant football coach. They’re not drenched in victory that way.

But maybe they should be if they can choose a headline that can save a life.

Fighting Settles Everything.

Fighting Settles Everything. It’s the tag line for a gym that trains boxers for championship bouts.

Dwight D. Eisenhower said war settles nothing.

He should know. Personal experience as a General and as President endorses his view. 

But then you have the reverse: Fighting Settles Everything.

Eisenhower might have bridled at that until he realized one thing.

It’s a tag line for a boxing gym that trains fighters for title bouts.

It encapsulates just the right attitude for up-and-comers with lofty ambitions. 

Fighters and fight fans revere it as it whips up excitement for championship events.

Given that, maybe even Eisenhower would approve.

More to compelling thinking, you have 100 Pipers Scotch.

100 Pipers is a middling Scotch, it’s okay but not in the running for a prize.

To give it character, tartan authenticity and memorably we get this line: 100 Pipers 

Scotch. Makes Bagpipes Sound Like Music. 

There’s a nice turn of phrase for you, one that sticks in the mind.

If only you could trot out lines like that to amuse your drinking buddies.

On to restaurants.

One we like is called That New Mexican Place.

From day one the name was a stopper. People poured in.

That New Mexican Place stands out because it uses the language of the customers it hopes to attract.

Let’s try that new Mexican place … that’s how people talk, right?

Incidentally, even after 10 years the name made the restaurant feel new. How’s that for a first?

Now, an ad for Cheese of Holland. 

The visual is a wheel of Edam. Simple.

Here’s the headline as it appeared vertically:

Paté costs more than liverwurst. 

Bisque costs more than soup. 

Stroganoff costs more than stew. 

This cheese costs more than other Edam. Life is short 

No apology for the price, just three truths about food, starting with lowly liverwurst.

Life is short, why not go for the Stroganoff of cheese … there’s an appeal.

This ad from the 1960s is relevant today.

Because we continue to face the challenge of getting people to pay more for premium priced products.

That raises a question … how adept are you in getting customers to put value ahead of price? 

Now, to a car that’s indecently quick, the BMW 5-Series.

It’s the Ultimate Driving Machine, right enough.

But a bright spark of a copywriter lifted the 5-Series even more with this headline: The Hot Rod of Polite Society.

Memorable, isn’t it? A souped-up idea to define performance and differentiate the brand.

Ideas like the ones above were needed in the past to gain public trust and sell products.

They were the mainstay in building brand share and shading the competition.

They still are.

Ideas are bound to come in handy the next time you embark on a new campaign. 

Without strong thinking, content comes across as thin gruel, something that’s little more than drab.

Which is why it might be an idea to fight for better creative work.

Because with that, fighting settles everything. 

A Short History of Phony Applause.

We were at the ballet recently, the Bolshoi.

Where did phony applause come from? Quite possibly Emperor Nero. He hired thousands to applaud and cheer his speeches.

It’s was a live-from-Moscow performance beamed in to local cinemas.

Special only begins to describe it. 

It might have been on screen but that didn’t stop us wanting to applaud like mad.

As you’d guess, Bolshoi performances are not without rapturous applause. 

But it wasn’t always that way

In moments of uncertainty a company founded in 1776 hired claquers.

That’s French for an organized body of professional applauders. They’re paid for their efforts.

In 16thcentury France, playwrights called on claquers.

They bought blocks of tickets to give away on the promise that there would be applause enough to sway the critics and attract audiences.

But phony applause wasn’t the only trick, you had specialists.

Rieurs, laughers, were paid to laugh loudly at punch lines. 

Pleureurs, criers, were paid to sob into their handkerchiefs in moments of despair.

You also had Bisseurs. They were paid to shout ‘Bis Bis’, a request for an encore.

You might say there was as much of a performance in the audience as there was on stage.

There’s something of a digital version of this these days with video click farms.

From New York Magazine, Max Read gives us this with a link: 

On some platforms, video views and app downloads can be forged in lucrative industrial counterfeiting operations. If you want a picture of what the Inversion lookslike, find a video of a click farm: hundreds of individual smartphones, arranged in rows on shelves or racks in professional-looking offices, each watching the same video or downloading the same app.

No shrug of indifference to that, is there?

Phony views and sham data … maybe it’s why P&G’s Marc Pritchard pulled back from social media.

He cut $200m in 2017.

Video click farms are enough to turn us all into pleurers … with proper tears, of course.

But for many there’s a more pressing issue. The state of content and commercials.

Too many content efforts feel drab against the promise of something bright and appealing. 

Equally, for many commercials nobody’s wishing they were a split second longer than they are.

Too many of them are non-starters compared to spots from Snickers, Geico and Old Spice.

Small wonder then that trust in advertising has dropped to a record low of 25%.

This comes from Unilever CMO Keith Weed,

Of course it’s easy enough to be a pessimist, but it’s not as if we can’t apply a little reason.

Many believe we need to improve creative work. 

Among the many are Google and Apple.

They’re built on creativity; their TV spots brand with an emotional intelligence.

Their commercials have an ability to put feelings into people.

More marketers could do with that.

Maybe they should stop taking advice from themselves and read something about the power of ideas and branding.

Because to motivate people you need more than algorithms.

After all, what use is gee-whiz technology if what’s delivered is crap messaging.

Nobody’s about to applaud crap messaging, are they?

The Agency/Client Relationship is Just Fine. (We’re toying with you on this, of course.)

After a 106-day pitch process the marketing director calls one evening at 7 with good news.


A marketing director is on the line at 7PM with the good news.

You’ve won the pitch for a project and they want the campaign up and running. Ideally tomorrow.


After a 102-day search process the marketing director is in a rush.

The next minute isn’t soon enough.

There’s no time to re-assess the work together. No proper de-brief.

You wonder, where’s the breathing space for questions.

At 7pm it’s impossible to research creative ideas further, beyond asking the cleaners.

But sadly, they’ve tidied away the coffee cups, hoovered the carpet and gone.

By the way, asking the cleaners is never a bad idea.

If they’re unsure about your work you may want to think again.

Should you have brought up more questions in the pitch process?

You did of course, but in taking the brief you were at arms length.

More to that, the marketing director did the talking — you were reduced to scribbling notes.

Steve Jobs had a comment about that sort of thing. He said, “If you open your ears instead of your mouth you make more money”.

As part of the pitch process, you sent in 16 questions.

More than a few came back with a one-word answer.

Nobody would be quick to call that ideal.

The next morning … it’s ring-ring again.

But this time it’s you calling the marketing director with the good news.

You’ve been working since he rang and you have further ideas.

The kind of thinking that makes more of the brief.

So at noon a celebratory drink with the client turns into another presentation.

A beer together becomes a starting point, not a finish line.

More of that could be a good thing.

It could warm up the relationship between agencies and clients.





Can We Treat Customers Better?

As you no doubt know, bowing, Ojigi  (お辞儀), plays a strong role in Japanese culture.

A plane pushes back from the gate, backing into the taxi area.

It stops so the tug can be unhitched from the nose wheel.

Nine ground crew line up shoulder to shoulder facing passengers gazing from the windows.

As one, they bow deeply to the passengers.

It’s only then the plane trundles away to the runway.

In another little scene a man enters a jewelry shop.

He takes a few minutes to view gold necklaces in an illuminated glass case.

He doesn’t buy, but on his way out he is respectfully escorted to the street by a sales assistant.

On the sidewalk the sales assistant bows deeply and thanks the browser for taking the time to look.

You’ve probably guessed this is Japan.

It’s a little different from say, Zales Diamond Store in Manhattan or Best Buy in West Hollywood.

In our part of the world we say the customer is always right.

But the Japanese say, Okyaku-sama wa kami-sama desu.

It translates as the customer is God.

More to that, instead of the word ‘customer’ the Japanese opt for ‘guest’ as it connotes deeper respect.

We’ll never be culturally akin to the Japanese in Manhattan or West Hollywood but maybe we can do better in looking after our ‘guests’ and in managing CRM.

At a time when too many marketers believe algorithms are the silver bullet, (how can that be correct?), an effective way ahead might be to concentrate harder on customers.

Maybe we should start creating more memorable customer experiences.

After all, isn’t that how to bring your ‘guests’ back and back?

Without repeat business it could be you who’ll have to bow.

Bow to the superiority of competitors who streak past you.

PS. Let’s hear from you. How are you treating customers like guests? If you’re at Ritz Carlton, no need to answer. Everyone knows you have a lock on going above and beyond.



What’s Better Than an Advertising Award?

A million years ago Doyle Dane Bernbach had the Mobil Oil account.

Their ads, focusing on driver safety, didn’t read like ads.

They read like public service announcements.

Nothing in the category had ever reflected public safety so strongly.

A stunning advantage for a company selling gasoline.

The long copy convinced you Mobil wanted to be a guardian of your safety.

People liked that.

So the ads were read and read.

Everyone talked about them.

A wag we know suggested offices should have installed additional watercoolers.

That way more people could have gathered around them to yak on about the ads.

The art director Len Sirowitz said that the newspapers called the agency with a request.

The ads were so good, they explained, they wanted to run them for free.

Sounds better than an advertising award, doesn’t it?


Good News For the Police and the Public.

smart is different. That’s reflected in the way the name is spelled with a lower case ‘s’.

Good news for the relationship between the police and the public.

It comes via an ever more popular car, smart.

As you may know, the NYPD drive smart cars.

250 Went into service in 2016. 29 more are on order.

For Manhattan, what could be better.

Size alone gives police officers newfound agility and convenience.

If only the US Treasury Department minted something smaller than a dime. That way you could describe the coin smart can turn on.

Maneuverability is akin to a blob of mercury you can pour through the tightest angles.

And the design deserves hurrahs.

At the heart of the car is a steel cage that’s a wonder of engineering when it comes to protecting occupants. Life-saving stories abound.

We have Mercedes-Benz to thank for all this. smart is their baby.

Oddly enough Mercedes-Benz parentage doesn’t seem to be common knowledge in the States.

Yes, we’re praising smart to the skies, but maybe its greatest advantage has been wholly unexpected.

Somehow as smart drivers the cops seem friendlier and  approachable.

Overnight, law enforcement has become more sensitive than brutal.

Remarkably, the public have developed something of an affection for the police thanks to the smart image.

Well, cute describes it.

More to that, it has prompted dialogue between the law and the public. Suddenly you have cooperation and understanding.

There’s a turn up for the books.

When presented with a $115 fine for double parking, a new respect for the cops might even get you to say ‘thank you very much, sir’.

It’s said the car you drive says a lot about you.

smart proves that.

It proves it to the point law enforcement agencies nationwide might want to take a lesson from the NYPD and buy smart cars.

How smart would that be.


What’s Better Than An Advertising Award?  

In the 1960s Doyle Dane Bernbach had the Mobil Oil account.

Their ads didn’t read like ads.

They read like public service announcements.

Nothing in the category had ever reflected public interest so strongly.

The long copy convinced you the company wanted to be a guardian for your safety.

People liked that. So the ads were read and read.

Everyone talked about them.

The art director, Len Sirowitz, said the newspapers called the agency with a request.

The ads were so good, they explained, they wanted to run them for free.

Sounds better than an advertising award, doesn’t it?