Monday, December 31, 2007

Nuts, Part Two. Sort of.

We had some discussion in the office this morning about the previous Emerald Nuts post. Mainly because one of us loved the Robert Goulet spot. But even she didn’t understand the “E-N” approach.

In any case, maybe I ought to explain a bit more exactly what it is about that kind of advertising that annoys me. It’s the non-relevant humor. The “joke” seems to be there for its own sake, not to help with the concept.

Like all those radio spots you hear that are genuinely funny ― until they get to the “sure that’s crazy, but not as crazy as our year-end pricing . . . ” kind of thing. You’ve heard them.

Relevant humor is a do-able thing and a powerful creative tool.

For example, “Got Milk?” and “Tastes Great. Less Filling” are both successful campaigns that employed relevant humor.

August Lang here in Bethesda did a “get off your ass and take care of your body” spot for an orthopaedic surgeons’ association that featured a fat kid calling his grandmother on his cell phone to ask her to bring him "another grape soda" ― from the next room. That was funny ―and relevant.

Years ago Goldberg Marchesano in D.C. did a great series of commercials for Ikea about product testing that was relevant and hysterical. If you’re old enough, you might remember “Mom can I have a cookie? Mom can I have a cookie? Mom can I have a cookie? Mom can I have a cookie? Mom can I have a cookie? Mom can I have a cookie?”

My friend Paul Safsel did the spot embedded here with some friends for Boylan’s Birch Beer that is genuinely funny ― around a concept. “Finklestein” is another in the campaign that you can find on YouTube if you search “Boylan's”.

And I’ll blow our own horn with the spot we did for a dog spa so nice that "everybody wants to be a dog". A parrot brings his "master's" slippers and offers up a leash for a walk. Marc Ryan at Third Story Films brought that one to life.

No, it’s not the use of humor I have an issue with. Or even the use of offbeat, goofy humor, like Addicted to Love video girls or Norwegians. It’s the use of humor that has nothing really to do with what you’re advertising. It’s like anything else in an ad or a spot. If it doesn’t help, its hurts.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

But I've been wrong before

Tough night at the Emerald Bowl last night. And not just because Maryland took a thumping. No, the Terps’ loss was only part of the agony of the evening.

The worst of it was having to watch the Emerald Nuts commercials.

Holy Mother of God. These guys have enough money to sponsor a freaking bowl game but don’t have the good sense to do decent commercials? If you look at their web site, they seem like a good, socially responsible organization and God knows they sure are proud of their campaign ("from the 'got milk' ad people" they say), but, I mean, really.

Here’s one: A guy with a Scandinavian accent is standing next to a target urging on whomever is shooting arrows at the target. And (get this, it’s really a scream) one of the arrows hits him in the thigh! But he carries on! Of course, he’s eating Emerald Nuts all the while and a VO tells us that “Encouraging Norwegians love Emerald Nuts.” Get it? Encouraging Norwegians? E-N? Emerald Nuts? Wow.

There’s a whole series of them on their (pretty good) web site. Some tell us that because So-and-So Next Door doesn’t eat Emerald Nuts, around 3 p.m. every day, the "Addicted To Love" video girls (see: Robert Palmer) try to turn him into one of them! Whoa! The "Addicted to Love" video girls! How hip is that? Then there’s the one about “Egomaniacal Normans” (get it?).
I could go on, but I just can’t.

These are the guys who bought Super Bowl time to tell us that if you don’t eat Emerald Nuts, at 3 in the afternoon the late Robert Goulet (still alive at the time) will sneak into your office and mess with your stuff.

I’m sorry. These are just jokes in search of a concept. I mean, this sells nuts? You got me. Maybe it does. Personally, I’d never knowingly eat Emerald Nuts just because of the advertising. But I would do this: Whatever Emerald pays their agency for this stuff, we'll do it for 1/2 the fee. And if they don’t like it and it doesn’t work, we’ll give them their money back. "Got Milk" made sense. This makes none.

Of course, the Emerald Bowl was the game played in a baseball stadium with both teams on the same sideline, a goal post that nearly touched the stadium wall and a play clock that stopped working in the fourth quarter.

So that ought to tell you something.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Who says you have to show the product?

These ads for late-night at Burger King are great, I think. Very cool art direction.

I mean "The King" ain't going to grab the all-night crowd, you know?

I especially love that they didn't take a short-cut and use the same bag shot for all the ads.

From Bleublancrouge, Montreal via Ads of the World.

Think globally. Or something like that.

There are any number of good reasons to hire an ad agency from out of town. The local shop isn’t automatically always the best choice. Geeze, one of our clients is 1,200 miles away, but I’d like to think that the quality of the work, the service and the relationship is why they take a pass on the dozens of good agencies between here and there.

And I don’t believe that an agency in, say, New York is automatically better than one in Washington (although it stands to reason that an exciting city like New York will attract top talent in all fields― including finance, law and various segments of the adult entertainment industry).

But I am baffled as to why a local enterprise ― like a shopping center or a sports team ― that depends on local support will do their own spending with an out-of-town agency.

For example, Tyson’s Corner Mall has an agency from Pennsylvania. How many people from Pennsylvania shop at Tyson’s Corner? It’s not like they couldn’t or can’t find anybody local to do the work, and there sure isn't anything special about the work they are getting from up north. Rosenthal Partners and Adworks were their previous two agencies, and both of them did work that was far better than the current shop if you ask me. I don’t know why that piece of business went out of town, but I’ll bet if I lived in Northern Virginia and told the marketing manager at Tyson’s Corner that I did my Christmas shopping in Pennsylvania, he or she would hit me with a shovel.

The Washington Post works with a local shop now, but it wasn’t too many years ago that they had a New York agency. Sure, you can make an argument that the Post isn’t exactly just a local business, but how many of their advertising dollars come from the local business community? Most of ‘em I’ll betcha. If I had a local retail business and told the advertising manager of the Post that I spent my Christmas advertising budget on the D.C. edition of the New York Times, he or she would hit me with a shovel.

I’m not saying a local business should only work with a local agency. Not at all. Several years ago, the Ad Club ran some campaign about how your mother-in-law should be out of town, not your ad agency. I thought it was goofy, not just because of the trite headline, but because it didn’t present any substantive reason for hiring a local agency other than proximity. And there are plenty of good reasons. Like Arnold, Rosenthal, Adworks, Smith+Gifford, Redhead, August Lang, Design Army, and on and on. (Plus, of course, Nasuti + Hinkle Creative Thinking.) Pick up an Addy showbook and see for yourself.

Blind loyalty to a zip code doesn’t necessarily make good business sense. But if you rely on the local market for your business, why think about doing business with the local market?

So hire the best agency you can find. But don’t assume that the best are somewhere else. Or at least don’t get too bent out of shape if your customers take their money out of the market. Like to Pennsylvania.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

So, what's the head count over at the agency?

For the ooopty-ith time since we’ve been in business, we recently heard from a new client about a major research or branding project just completed by some large agency or firm that fell short. In this case, the reaction was along the lines of: “Branding, schmading. They didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.”

But it still came with your basic, bona-fide hefty price tag.

We hear this now and then. And, more often than not, in our experience, it’s one of the large, national PR firms that did the work. I don’t mean for this to be a knock on PR firms (I’m a card-carrying APR member of the PRSA) or big agencies (of course I know big agencies do great work; in our market Arnold comes immediately to mind.)

And I’d be stupid to try to make the argument that research, branding or any other kind of similar project isn’t usually worth doing. That’s not it at all. Besides, I’d like to think I’m not stupid. At least my mother never thought I was. Neither does my sister.

What it is, is that the only thing you can say with absolute certainty is that work performed by a big group is going to be more expensive than work performed by a small or medium group. You absolutely cannot say with equal certainty that it will be better work or more valuable advice. But often, credibility is shaped by the number of cars in the employee lot.

You know, the “Well, they’re a big company and they handle So-And-So, so they must be right” approach. When what is really called for is a cold, hard look at the work or counsel itself and let it stand or fall on its own merit. Speaking for smaller agencies and PR firms, I say that, as often as not, our work can stand up to that done by groups much bigger than we are. What’s that saying about it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog? Like that.

Don’t misunderstand. Big agencies and PR firms got there for a reason. Good work. They earned their growth and success. But that doesn’t mean that whatever they come up with is automatically sound or worth the money. They are easily as capable of dreaming up bone-headed ideas or boondoggle projects as anybody else. By the same token, the fact that an agency is small doesn't mean their ideas aren't big. Or that their advice isn't good.

So the next time your smaller agency or PR firm makes a recommendation or gives you an idea, don’t factor in the square footage of their office space. Don’t do it the next time your big agency or PR firm makes a recommendation or gives you an idea either.

Remember, Ford Motor Company is a pretty big organization. They developed the Mustang.

But they also came up with the Edsel.

Friday, December 14, 2007

It ain't so, Joe.

There are plenty of things I simply don’t understand. (The popularity of country music comes to mind. So does why I never learned to type with more than two fingers.) But one thing that baffles me is why people in business will invest thousands ― if not millions ― in a new company, a new product, a renovation or anything at all and then go on the cheap when it comes to promoting it.

Well, maybe “go on the cheap” is a little harsh, so I’ll rephrase it. “. . . and then don’t devote the resources necessary to protect their investment by promoting it to potential customers.”

We had a restaurant client recently that spent nine months and spared no expense on the build-out of their new place, then lamented that they had “no money at all” to promote it. And this was a restaurant new to the market, on a street with very little foot traffic in a highly competitive restaurant district. A tough sell all around. Maybe the money for the stainless steel beaded curtain for the cloak room could have been better spent on advertising or public relations.

You may have noticed the use of past tense here. The restaurant went out of business in three months.

One can never know for sure if “we don’t have any money for that” really means “we don’t have any money we want to spend on that”. My guess would be that at least some of the time, that’s the case. And there is a real argument to made for characterizing that approach as short-sighted ― spending money on something but not wanting to spend any money to tell potential customers you did it.

Now, I’m a big proponent of the “the smaller the budget, the bigger the idea has to be” school of thinking. Our agency specializes in challenger brands, and that kind of thinking is inherent in our approach. But there are limits. You have to have some money to apply to the problem. There is an appropriate spending ratio of your investment to promoting your investment.

My point here is that advertising, promotion, marketing or whatever the hell you want to call it isn’t something you bolt onto a project when the construction is done. Protect your investment. Budget from the very beginning an appropriate amount of money to devote to telling potential customers how nice your new hotel is, how wonderful the renovations are, how great your new restaurant is, or how zippity-doo-dah your computer repair service is. Whatever. It’s not an afterthought. It’s as important to your success as hiring the right construction manager.

“If you build it, he will come” only works in the movies.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A thought on Do-Good work

Like many agencies, we do pro-bono work now and again. And finding people who can devote their time and talents to a good cause usually isn’t all that difficult, especially if there is an opportunity to do good work there.

The thing that usually hangs it up is getting those things that have dollars signs attached to them. Like media time or space. That’s usually the real drag of doing that stuff ― you have to find people to donate out-of-pocket to make it work. A great ad or spot doesn’t do the organization any good if nobody runs it. “Sure, we can do an ad or a spot, but where’s it going to run?”

Reading through a variety of papers over the weekend gave me an idea.

(Up front, this is one of those ideas that I really don’t know yet how to make work. So there’s that right now. But it’s an idea. And if the Ad Club or someone was to take it on, I’d be willing to be one of those working to figure out a way.)

Look through any newspaper ― the Washington Post and Washington Times, The Examiner, The New York Times and even the suburban weeklies ― and you’re going to see a certain amount of filler and self-promotion. And you hear a lot of broadcast self-promotion too. Especially radio.

I’ve also seen dioramas and bus tails that run past their pull date.

That's space and time that might could be put to good use.

Maybe there is some way to create some sort of public service clearing house to make good use of that excess of unused space and time. Charitable organizations would have to register in some way ahead of time and have to have their ads or spots done and produced and ready to go on short notice, but when a publication or station has some remnant space, they can offer it up for public service.

Maybe it’s web based. There would probably have to be some sort of order so everybody gets a shot at it and there would certainly have to be some sort of time window, so the pub or station would have time to use some filler if nobody comes forward. No question about it, there are plenty of details to resolve.

But it might be worth working out, it the bottom line was be a way for more good causes to take their appeals to the public.

Just a thought.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I love this.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Flavor of the Month

It’s getting a bit frantic out there.

FaceBook, MySpace, E-mails, web sites, Wikis, database and customer relationship management, ambient advertising, print advertising, blogs, Stickam, radio, television, direct mail, text messages . . .

It seems a bit like the various executions are driving the marketing communications effort. And as soon as a new one comes out, everybody rushes to embrace it. Until something else comes out. Did you see “The Wiz”? Remember the part where the Wizard decrees the “in” color and everybody’s down with it. Then he decrees a different color and they all love that one?

That’s kind of what it looks like to me as “advertisers” (and I use that word to describe anybody who has anything they want to sell or promote) run to and fro from the last Next Great Thing to the next Next Great Thing.

And it seems, as often as not, the message is crafted to fit the medium, rather than the medium chosen to suit the message ― a message that was developed to meet the needs and strategy of the product or service. And a lot of clients are being sold on a particular execution or medium because they think it’s going to deliver astounding results at a very low cost. (Usually because whomever sells that particular gee-whiz thing told them it would.)

And then when something else comes along . . .

I think there is a bit of tail-wagging-the-dog going on. Tactics are taking over and the brand is getting lost.

Maybe the message comes first, then the media and execution?