Tuesday, January 31, 2012

You can use sex to sell anything . . .

The Dream from Jerome Genevray on Vimeo.

. . . even bug repellant.

Via Illegal Advertising.

Monday, January 30, 2012

I'll give you a dollar. No, wait, 50 cents. Oh, OK, make it $1.25.

We sent out an e-mail about budget discussions and how to agree on a price for a project. Maybe you saw it.

Putting it together led us to talking about pricing models in general. And there are both good and bad points to just about any we can think of.

Compensation via commissions and/or markups. This is a dated concept. And bad for a whole bunch of reasons. For one thing, it doesn't really apply to digital or social media. For another, it turns an agency into a bank, taking on financial obligations for clients and depending on them to pay their bill on time. Been there. Didn't like it.

For another, an agency shouldn't make more money because they selected an expensive printer or photographer or recommended a costly media outlet. I mean, that photographer or that media outlet may well be the best, but if the agency has no financial interest in it, the client can be sure of the purity of their recommendation.

Compensation based strictly on an hourly rate. OK, there at least two things wrong with this. Why should I make more if it takes me forever to solve your problem? And on the other side of the coin, why should I make less if I solve your problem quickly?

Performance-based compensation. This is an idea that has been bandied about for a few years without being really embraced by clients or agencies. On the surface it seems like a good idea - the better the agency does its work, the more they make.

But determining that measurement yardstick can be tough. If you base it on sales, for example, does the agency have any say in the price or the selling process? And if you base it on drawing traffic to a web site or 800-number, how do you determine if the traffic drawn is qualified?

A variable price based on usage. This is the same sort of model that photographers, illustrators, voiceover talent and others have used for years. Personally, I don't like it. While there's a real good argument to be made for paying for the use of an idea someone else owns for as long as you use it, it just seems to be unnecessarily complicated.

Besides, some of the most unpleasant discussions I've had with clients over the years have been around explaining to them why they have to keep paying for something that somebody finished working on several months ago. If clients don't like it for photographers, they aren't going to like it any better for their agency.

A fixed fee based on a perceived value. I think we like this the best. Circling back to our e-mail, if you're a client, you must have some idea of how much a project is worth to you. So share it with the agency and get them to tell you how they will solve your problem for that amount. (Or, if they don't think they can solve your problem for that amount, if that's the case.)

I mean, what the hell? You pay for other things based on your perception of their value to you, right? Dinner in a particular restaurant, a particular kind of jewelry, a room in a particular hotel and designer coffee all come to mind. It's not an alien concept is it? (And - ahem - this where a brand comes in. But that's a discussion for another day.)

Anyway, if you want some sort of performance-based incentive in there, perhaps settle on a lower initial fee with a bonus for agreed-upon results.

But then, as I said earlier, you have to agree on the measurement device. This could be its own blog post. I mean, if I'm going to be judged on how well a weekend room package does for a hotel, for example, I'm going to want to have something to say about the rate and where it's promoted. And I'm going to want a lot of control over the creative. Don't offer to pay me a bonus based on how well I do something and then tell me how to do it.

I'm not saying you can't reach an agreement on how to judge "performance". I think you can, and I think this is the best simplest model of those that I know of. I'm just saying that it takes some thought.

There are very solid clients and agencies operating under all of these models (except, I hope to God, the first one), so it's entirely possible to make any of them work for all parties involved. And a larger discussion - or even an essay - on pricing could get really long. This one certainly has and I've re-written it several times.

But I think the bottom line - at least for us here at Nasuti & Hinkle Creative Thinking - is that we'd prefer some sort of value-based pricing. We think we bring value to our clients, and we'd like to be paid based on that value. Not how long it took us to do the work, how big the media budget is or how long they plan to use whatever the hell it is we produce.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

On political "advertising"

Well, it's officially 2012, the year of the presidential campaign. My guess is that we'll all be sick of it by, oh, this time tomorrow.

And speaking for everybody everywhere, I'll go ahead and say that what we'll be sickest of is the advertising. Which brings me to my point today.

Not too long ago, some quarters in the Washington ad community got all worked up claiming that, if political agencies were included, this was one of the largest centers of advertising in the country. Like third or something, I think.

That annoyed the hell out of me. Unfortunately, this being an election year, it's probably going to come up again. And when it does, it's going to annoy the hell out of me then too.

The DC ad community shouldn't be embracing political agencies in order to pump up our perceived size. Rather, we ought to disassociate ourselves from them.


I mean, does any segment of the advertising industry do more to paint us all as congenital liars and sleazeballs that these guys? I don't think so.

Political advertising has become, for the most part, the reality of anybody's worst criticisms of our industry. While most of the rest of us are focused on presenting the best benefits of our clients' products or services, these jokers are focused on smears, fact manipulation and out-of-context garbage. I don't see how they do it. I mean, we expect that kind of B.S. from politicians, but I have always considered advertising people a higher life form that politicians of any party.

(A note here: I don't care which party you belong to, who you voted for last time or who you might vote for this go-around in a national, state or local election. If there is anything in this country that is truly bi-partisan, it's the shaky character of the vast majority of our politicians. And, unfortunately, this is nothing new. Ask Mark Twain.)

I don't mean to suggest that 100% of all political advertising is slimy and based on half-truths. Just 98% of it. And I hate to see the Washington ad community embrace it for the sake of inflating our own self image.

There are some damn good agencies around here. Design Army, Smith+ Gifford, Arnold, Adworks, August, Lang, LM&O and others. Thumb through an Addy showbook and see if you don't agree.

So I don't see any reason to associate our industry with those who tar the good name of advertising with everything they do.

I think the ad community ought to be judged on the quality of the work it does, not the number of firms engaged in it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A few thoughts on Super Bowl commercials

Reading today how Ferris Bueller is "trending" in the Twitter world because of the buzz about his appearance in a Super Bowl commercial made me think about Super Bowl commercials for a minute.

(For the dazed and confused out there, the picture at right is Mean Joe Greene in a classic Super Bowl commercial. It is not Ferris Bueller. Or Matthew Broderick. That should be obvious. Neither one of them has a beard. But we soldier on . . . )

For some reason, I find myself resenting all the attention lavished on Super Bowl commercials - by ad folk and civilians alike. And I'm not exactly sure why.

Maybe there's a bit of "so the only time we really care about these things is in early February?"

Or maybe I feel a bit like advertisers ought to work as hard on their spots the other 11 months of the year.

Could be I just get annoyed at how many spots seem to be just gratuitous bullshit creativity designed to get people talking about the spot (not the product) the next day.

Then again maybe it's how often execution takes priority over concept in these things.

I don't know.

And maybe I'm just becoming a curmudgeon - in addition to being an idiot, as we all know.

But if I go to a Super Bowl party, when the commercials come on, look for me over at the punchbowl. Away from the TV.

Just don't ask me why.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Two common advertising failures

I just posted this on Twitter: "Advertising is like a singles bar -- loud, busy, lots of competition, and the audience has a short attention span. Creativity helps. A lot."

Then a few minutes later, I linked this from Ad Age about Super Bowl commercials where I had added this comment: "My guess is that the most frequently heard comment around the water cooler the Monday after the Super Bowl goes something like: 'Did you see that funny commercial with the monkey on the Super Bowl? I can't remember who it was for - but anyway . .' "

They might seem a bit contradictory - one arguing for creativity and the other pooh-poohing creativity in Super Bowl commercials. But not necessarily. Drop down a couple of posts and read this.

I think there are two common failures that can doom any sort of advertising to irrelevance.

One is just what the post says - the mindless production of stunningly creative advertising - advertising that sometimes seems to me to be little more than (and I apologize for the language, but it is what it is) masturbation for the creative department. That's one.

The other is not applying creativity at all. This is the kind of all-we-have-to-do-is-show-the-product-and-customers-will-flock-to-the-door approach as practiced by many. That singles bar analogy holds. If nobody notices you, nobody is going to know what the hell it is you have to sell. And if you look like everybody else in the category, nobody is going to notice you.

The trick is to be creative and demand attention from the target audience, but to have the creativity built around a product attribute. "Tastes Great. Less Filling" always comes to mind. So does "Think Different", and the wonderful new commercials Samsung is running for their smart phones.

It's pretty easy to just be "creative". Hell anybody who ever did a "Think that's crazy? It's not as crazy as buying a car anywhere else!" approach was creative. Being creative in a way that promotes your client - that's harder.

Of course, the easiest thing is to not be creative at all. I'd give you example of something, but I tend to blot those out of my mind. Read today's paper, watch television tonight or open the home page of your local newspaper's web site. You'll see what I mean.

There's a difference between creative and creative for a good reason, and not everybody knows what it is.

Perhaps that's why God invented copywriters and art directors.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Grits, Lasanga and Won-Ton Soup. And Red Velvet cupcakes for dessert.

Five chefs make a meal together.

Each one is on his or her own, with his or her own ideas about what makes a good meal. And his or her own particular strengths, specialties and abilities.

Naturally, each of them wants to be the Big Dog in the Kitchen.

Sounds a lot like marketing efforts I've seen. There's an ad agency for the ads, a graphic designer or firm for the collateral, a digital firm (or maybe just a "web guy") for the web site, online ads and e-mails, and someone doing the public relations - maybe a firm and maybe just somebody internally who isn't too busy.

That's a lot of competition. And it's easy to see how each of them could sincerely believe that their particular channel is the best for the client. (Just look how often you read some digital agency executive proclaim that print is dead or television is dead or social media is the only thing that matters anymore.)

Marketing by Committee can be a lot like those five chefs making a meal. Together, but apart.

I'm not really sure of the reasons for this kind of approach, but I would guess there are many. One certainly would be that it would appear to be cost-efficient. Which it most certainly is not. Then again, how often do you run across a firm that can provide all of those services in an affordable manner?

One thing that happens is that the client might turn to their web firm for collateral and advertising. Mistake. A web design firm can't do advertising as well as an ad agency as a general rule. Nor can an ad agency generally design and program a web site as well as a web firm. So that's a mistake too. Sometimes clients will get their PR firm to handle the advertising, web and/or collateral. Many PR firms offer it, but most simply farm it out to a freelancer or another firm. So where's the savings?

Almost nobody does everything well, so there's a real good argument for having a team of experts working on your behalf. Certainly I know of at least one network of specialist firms who know how to work together and can do it in an non-competitive environment.

But in any case, one very simple way to make sure everybody is Rowing in the Same Direction is to have a very clear brand position. Actually, this is a hell of a good idea whether you have one agency or five. Or even if you do the work in-house. A clear brand position can ensure that everybody involved in the effort is Reading From the Same Sheet Music.

(While they are all Rowing in the Same Direction, of course . . . )

Almost nothing can be as cost-efficient as a clearly defined brand. With that in hand, it's not hard for those separate-but-equal team players to work together. With the same goal in mind. Investing in brand development or brand clarification is what's known in the biz as a "Hell of a Good Investment."

So OK guys. Let's get it together. Tonight we're all doing Chinese.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The mindless production of stunningly creative advertising

I think I missed something.

The Martin Agency is one hot-shot agency indeed. But I don't get this at all.

Agency: "So here's our idea. Pig flies down a zip line. Comes even with a human who looks at him in surprise. Pig says 'Pure. Adrenaline'. And that ladies and gentlemen, is how we're going to sell insurance."

OK, I will admit that I am perhaps tragically unhip at this point of my life (although I'm still a real looker with a firm handshake and a quick wit), but I don't get it. Not at all.

I can't shake the feeling that there is some joke going on here that I'm not in on. But then, are all Geico prospects in on it? Several years ago, I wrote a piece for our web site entitled, well . . same as this post. And maybe it's time to revisit the subject.

Don't get me wrong. This is a very creative spot. Babe was a very creative movie too. And neither one of them is going to get me to buy Geico insurance.

You get the feeling sometimes that the really good, really creative agencies lose control of themselves. And the clients figure, "Well, these guys did come up with that gecko thing, so they must know what the hell they are doing. But I gotta tell you Bob, I don't get it."

"I don't either Rod. I don't either."

My guess is that at the meeting when this thing was presented after all laughter died down, nobody had the balls to speak up and say "OK, it's funny as hell. Pig on zip line. So fucking what?"

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ah, the good old days . . .

Well, not those good old days (although I remember being accosted by all sorts of people selling all sorts of stuff on 42nd Street years ago).

I'm talking about the good old days of really cool Daffy's advertising. Like what you see below.

I don't know who's doing it these days, but this (via the Denver Egotist) is pretty much fun. And effective.

Friday, January 13, 2012

So you can use sex to sell non-alcoholic beer too?

Who knew?

What was that? I can't hear you for all the noise!

(I resisted the temptation to title this "can you hear me now?" )

Imagine a roomful of people. Let's say 25 of them. All talking at once. Can't hear a damn thing, can you?

OK, let's say that 24 of them suddenly stop talking.

The one person still talking can be heard loud and clear.

That's exactly the opportunity that presents itself to a business in a down economy when people cut their advertising budgets. Or, said another way, when they decide to stop looking for new customers.

When the economy gets tight, many of your competitors will hunker down, thinking they can ride it out, planning to kick that marketing program back in when times are better.

That's your cue to step in and snatch their customers.

Slow and steady isn't going to win this race. Not in this economy.

There is plenty of data to support this, too. During the recession of the 80's, McGraw-Hill found that companies that cut their advertising saw sales rise 19% during the latter part of the decade. Companies that maintained or increased their advertising saw their sales increase 275% during the same time frame.

I'm not saying that advertising is the be-all and end-all in making it through a recession. What I'm saying is that I can't imagine a better time to shout out your sales message from the rooftops than when damn near everybody else has quieted down. And there is no more cost-efficient way to reach large numbers of potential customers than through some form of advertising.

Cutting back on efforts to generate new business is saying "Business is bad, so we're going to stop trying to get new business until business gets better all by itself."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Seriously, you can trust me

It can be depressing to look at another agency's web site.

You check it out and say to yourself (as I did yesterday) "Holy cow! Look at those clients!"

Then you look a little deeper, and you realize that it's not all it seems to be. Chunks of the "Work" and "Clients" sections turn out to be not exactly completely really relevant to the current agency. I saw one recently that included a great deal of work produced by a predecessor agency. I've seen others where they included on their client list, clients of a way-back former agency where one of the principals used to work. Two jobs ago.

OK, so technically, it's not completely inaccurate. Bob actually worked at Bruise Brothers Creative Partners when Parabellum Projectile Potato Chips was a client, and he actually did work on the account. And the agency they bought the agency from had these clients and the three of us here now worked on them there, but still . . .

It just seems a tad dishonest to me to present work and/or clients as your own with no disclaimers or caveats at all, allowing the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. I don't feel that there should be any issue with stating that "This is not an agency client. Myrtle worked on this account at a previous job and Myrtle is a senior art director here, so it is representative of the work she does for us and will do for you." What the hell is wrong with that? Nothing.

It's the kind of bullshit approach to bullshitting that I think helps give us all a bad name. I mean, do we really want clients who visit our web site to feel like they have to take everything we say there - and by extension anywhere else - with a grain of salt? I don't think so.

It seems to be accepted that many agencies will misrepresent themselves or inflate themselves. Certainly billings are often inflated. So is the number of employees.

I remember a local agency a few years ago that was pitching a large account and hired a double handful of temps on the day of the Agency Visit and told them to sit in offices and look busy, like they were working. A few years ago, another local agency claimed on their web site that they had won "Best in Show" that year at the Addys for their web site, when what they actually had won was an Addy. An Addy is good enough, why BS about it?

There is an agency that even has (or used to have) a lobby display built around a successful campaign their CD ran in another city before he even came to town. A casual observer could easily be forgiven for thinking the local agency was responsible. (Besides, no CD ever does all the work himself, so claiming all the credit is kind of cheesy anyway.)

My point is, the advertising business and the people in it have enough of a credibility problem as it is. We're accused of fabricating claims in our ads and commercials, of trying to convince people to buy things they don't need at prices they can't afford and all manner of other less-than-desirable things. It doesn't seem to me that we ought to go out of our way to give anybody an excuse to see us as bullshit artists.

If you're a prospect reading this, ask the agency which staff members worked on the projects in their portfolio. And ask them if the clients they list are their clients or someone else's. It's a fair question. There's nothing really wrong with showing work or client experience that is only tangentially or distantly yours - if it fairly illustrates the kind of work your clients will get. Just be upfront and honest about it.

And before anybody calls or writes or starts to call me names, one of the things about being a small agency where one of the owners is the creative director and primary copywriter is that I can state with absolute honesty that every single bit of work on our web site and in our portfolio and everything we show clients, I had a major role in. Probably wrote every word too. For better or for worse.

I have always believed that one critical element of good advertising is that it has to contain an essential truth. An essential truth ought to be part of what we say about ourselves as well.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"Stand out or don't bother"

I'm reading "Social Boom" by Jeffery Gitomer, and it's a great read.

The title of this post is a direct quote from the book, and, while the book is concerned with social media, I think it applies to any sort of advertising and marketing you might do.

Actually I know it does.

Often, clients think the agency is pushing for a particularly creative or different approach just to satisfy their own jollies. And sometimes that's true. But the fact is, your agency is very aware of what is going on in the ad world (and that includes web sites, Facebook, banner ads, commercials and all the rest) and knows how much it can all run together. And they know that "all running together" is another way to say "invisible".

Your agency is usually pushing you to take a particular approach because they want whatever it is you're doing to, well, stand out. (Note: I'm not saying that gratuitous creativity - you know, the "joke in search of a reason for it" approach - is good either. But that's another topic.)

If nobody notices your message, nobody is going to get your message and you've wasted whatever resources you've applied to it.

So the next time your agency is making a creative presentation, keep in mind "stand out or don't bother."