Oct 04

Prostate cancer needs a Susan G. Komen

Pink-pimp-3-20102One would have had to be color blind to miss the splashes of pink adorning every NFL player and stadium this past Sunday. The same goes for the bright pink worn by countless walkers, runners and cyclers participating in National Breast Cancer Awareness Month events. And, that is as it should be.

But, did you know that September was National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month? I sure didn't. And, I didn't see one NFL player or stadium sporting light blue, which is the initiative's official color. Nor did I see any walkers, runners or cyclists supporting the cause.

A quick check of Zero: The Project to End Prostate Cancer (insert link) revealed these sobering facts:
– One in eight American women is diagnosed with breast cancer. But, ONE IN SIX American men is diagnosed with prostate cancer.
– Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed disease among men and is the second leading cause of men's cancer.
– 240,000 men contract prostate cancer every year.
– Sixty percent of men who contract prostate cancer are African-Americans.

According to Zero, '…Significantly more federal dollars, more attention and more support are being afforded breast cancer.' They don't say why, but I can hazard a guess: the Susan G. Komen Foundation. It has to be one of the most powerful marketing and fundraising machines of our time. Sadly, though, there is no male version of Komen; no prominent, well-healed victim who can strike a chord and rally a cause.

I think the NFL has bowed to political correctness and wrapped itself in pink for two reasons:

– Perhaps one simply doesn't say no the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

– It's smart marketing. The NFL already has the full attention of every red-blooded American male. By embracing breast cancer, the NFL is doing some very smart target marketing towards women. It's a no brainer.

I should note that, unlike the NFL, Major League Baseball hasn't ignored prostate cancer. Indeed, MLB has declared Father's Day, June 18th, as prostate cancer awareness day.

So, why can't the NFL launch its season with a prostate cancer awareness month and adorn its players and stadiums with light blue wristbands, socks and bunting? There must be a reason. While it's probably not the case, perhaps the Komen folks demanded exclusivity with the NFL?

It's high time the NFL lend a helping hand to its core male audience. It's also clear that prostate cancer desperately needs its own Susan G. Komen to jump start a long overdue need.

 I'd love to help. I'm a big supporter of the Young Survival Coalition and would gladly lend my support to Zero or any other organization that, unlike the NFL, won't turn its back on half the American population. Besides, powder blue has always been my favorite color.

 

Sep 26

There’s nothing gray about this name

Grey Healthy People is the horrendous name chosen for the new, combined healthcare unit of Grey Group, one of hundreds of agencies within WPP (insert link). 

Abc_blue_man_080731_mnThe global division will specialize in advertising for health-related products and services. But, let me ask you something, would you retain the services of a communications company that so badly bungles the naming of its own health care unit?

When I hear Grey Healthy People, I think of any number of things:

– happy-go-lucky octogenarians frolicking at a Del Boca Vista poolside.
– a group of people who, despite their sickly skin color, are somehow healthy.
– albino exercise and nutrition nuts who refuse to set foot outside.

This naming disaster wouldn't be so bad if Grey weren't an advertising agency that specializes in image and reputation. I mean, if it were Grey Healthy Squirrels, I'd nod my head and think, “I'm happy for you rodents. It's about time you started marketing yourselves.” Or, if it were Grey Healthy Bathtubs, I'd think, “Well, I'd probably still opt for the classic white model but, maybe, there's something special about this particular tub?”

But, Grey Healthy People? Good night nurse. This name is DOA which, as healthy and unhealthy people alike know, is a bad thing. A really, really bad thing.

Aug 04

I wouldn’t pitch ‘The Pitch’ either

Looking to cash in on its breakout hit, 'Mad Men', AMC is scrambling to create a new reality show called 'The Pitch'. It's intended to be a behind-the-scenes look at real ad agencies pitching real   pieces of new business.

No pitch There's only one problem: AMC can't find ANY agencies to participate in the reality show. Securing marketers hasn't been a problem though. Two tarnished brands, Yahoo! and Kodak are champing at the bit to get some positive exposure.

But, Madison Avenue's top players have shown no interest in becoming a real life Don Draper. To date, BBDO, TBWA, DDB, GSD&M, Mullen, DraftFCB, Carmichael Lynch, Gotham and Hill Holiday among others have all turned thumbs down.

Agencies say they're worried about having their creative ideas stolen or an existing client catching them pitching a larger, conflict brand (yes, Virginia, these things do happen).  Then, of course, there's the issue of allowing the entire business world to witness the utter chaos that is a new business pitch.

The latter would be my greatest concern. While most advertising and PR firms would like clients to think they have a definitive, proprietary, state-of-the-art new business creative process, the facts are quite the opposite.

New business presentations are almost always an 11th hour, all hands on deck fire drill that sometimes come together beautifully at the last second, or completely crash and burn. We've had classic examples of each:

– For a large technology company, we were scrambling right up until the last moment, changing creative strategies, arguing with one another about approaches and even disagreeing about who should be on the presentation team. I still recall Ed saying, “This is going to be a disaster.” But, it wasn't. We rallied, came up with a great idea, made a superb presentation and won the huge account.

– For a leading retail brokerage company, we were heading to the Midwest for the final presentation knowing we'd totally impressed the prospect through the early stages (a fact later confirmed by the CMO, who said we were “the firm to beat”). But, we were beaten because the final presentation was completely overhauled during the flight and was so jumbled that we ran out of time during the pitch. We lost.

I love the thrill of the chase. And, there's nothing more satisfying than beating an Edelman or Weber for a significant piece of new business. But, there's no way I'd ever open Peppercom's doors to a behind-the-scenes reality TV show. I know I speak for most PR firms (and ad agencies) when I say the process for arriving at a final presentation is a steaming pile of sh*t that is best kept under the covers.

Jul 26

Baggage carousels. The final frontier.

As if we weren’t already being bombarded by endless advertising every single second of our day, Waiting for luggage a company called DoubleTake Marketing has found a brand new venue: airport baggage carousels (insert link). That’s right: baggage  carousels. Now, there’s a brilliant idea.

According to DoubleTake, more than 70 percent of travelers check luggage every year. (Not this blogger. I need to be physically forced to check my bags.) Furthermore, DoubleTake says the average time for a bag to arrive from a plane to the carousel is 17 minutes. I’d say 45 minutes is more like it. (Note: that doesn’t include the time spent by TSA agents and baggage handlers rifling through your valuables and taking what they please or, as was the case with some disgruntled union workers at one airline, actually urinating on checked luggage).

DoubleTake says “…brands are finding baggage carousel advertising (allows) them to tell a story in a unique and captivating way.” Ha! That’s laugh out loud funny. I buy the captivating part since passengers are literally being held hostage by the airlines as they endlessly wait for their luggage to come cartwheeling down one of those chutes. But, c’mon, there’s no friggin’ way passengers want to see advertisements at, say, baggage carousel #2. Just think back to the emotions you felt the last time you were at baggage claim. I can tell you how I felt: frazzled, angry, tired, grungy and anxious. The latter emotion, of course, was being caused by a steady stream of everyone’s bag but mine barreling out of that black hole at the top of the carousel.
What type of advertiser honestly thinks a pissed off, beaten up, tired as hell passenger will spy their ad and think to themselves, “Hey yeah. I do need to buy that right now!” To wit:

-    It’s been 30 minutes since you arrived at baggage carousel #3 when you suddenly spy an ad, slap yourself in the head and exclaim, “Man, I could have had a V-8!”
-    Some 45 minutes after landing, you notice an ad for Cialis circling around and around baggage carousel #1. You stop worrying about your bag and, instead, think, “You know what? I really was in the mood back at gate 13A. If only I’d popped one of those 72-hour Cialis pills, I’d have been good to go.”
-    You’re at Newark’s baggage carousel #7 when you spot an ad for the New York State Lottery and take note of its signature tagline, “Hey, you never know.” The irony is rich as you think to yourself, “The same could be said for my bag. It could be in Houston, Boise or Phoenix. With Continental, hey, you never know.”

There are bad business ideas. Then, there are stupid business ideas. But, DoubleTake’s belief that advertisers can “…reach both the business and leisure traveler” using baggage carousels plumbs new depths of depravity.

I would never, ever consider purchasing a product or service when I’m in the foulest mood possible. And, I cannot believe any other victim of our nation’s horrific air system would feel any differently. But, that won’t deter DoubleTake from collecting some unsuspecting advertiser’s money.

What’s next for DoubleTake? Advertising along death row in a state prison? Now, that would qualify as unique and captivating (oh baby, would it ever).

I can envision DoubleTake’s trade advertisement now: “Death Row advertising. Why wait? With the rise of DNA evidence overturning so many death penalties of late, there’s a very real possibility some of today’s death row inmates may be tomorrow’s customers. Act now while there’s still plenty of institutional white space available at the Big House. DoubleTake: advertising where you least want to see it.”

Jul 08

Ignorance is gender neutral

Dumb-and-DumberEver take note of the steady drumbeat of male bashing in print ads, TV commercials, sitcoms and  movies? It's not overt but, like death and taxes, it's something you can count on.

Here's a quick case in point. Doubleclick on this current State Farm commercial and tell me what you see. What I see are three separate examples of absurdly stupid men who spend the savings from their low-cost State Farm policies on such idiotic items as falcons. Note how the clever, level-headed wife uncovers the mystery of the missing money, who spent it (her hubby) and on what (the bird).

I wouldn't be writing this blog if the State Farm spot had included even one dopey woman. But, it doesn't. All three morons are men. In fact, if Madison Avenue creative directors and Hollywood screenwriters were asked to describe the average American male, they'd use adjectives such as: clueless, idiotic, helpless, befuddled and overwhelmed. Ask the same influencers to describe the average American female and you'd hear such superlatives as: bright, engaged, sensitive and multi-tasking (re: the latter, journeyman comic Darryl Salerno likes to ask, “If women are such great multi-taskers, how come they can't have sex and a headache at the same time?” His words. Not mine).

Want another insurance sector example of subliminal male bashing? Look no further than Geico's brilliant caveman campaign. How come the tagline doesn't state, “Insurance made so simple even a cavewoman could understand it”? The answer is obvious: we've been programmed to just accept the fact that men are stupid. So, ipso facto, cavewomen were smarter than cavemen.

I've been around long enough to know there are just as many ignorant women as men. But, our entertainment gurus have decided otherwise.

It doesn't bother me. But, it SHOULD bother you if you're a mom or dad of impressionable boys and young men because it's reinforcing a negative stereotype in their minds. And, conversely, girls and young women are being told they're superior to boys and, aside from procreation, really don't need them for much of anything.

Feminists might argue that men have no one to blame but themselves for the negative stereotyping. But, for every Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer and Tiger Woods, there's a Casey Anthony, Tonya Harding and the former governor of Alaska. Ignorance is gender neutral. But, the perceptions of our nation's future leaders are being shaped to believe otherwise.

Too much of anything is bad. It's high time for some responsible (and balanced) marketing and entertainment content from what Ad Age used to refer to as the 'intersection of Madison and Vine.' Let's call for a cease-fire on male-bashing.

Jul 05

Evil spirits

I perform stand-up comedy as a hobby.

Every time I sit in the green room awaiting my turn on stage, I listen as my fellow comedians struggle to maintain the fine line between the irreverent and the obnoxious. Some succeed. Some bomb. And, those that do bomb are not only greeted by boos but, even worse, by dead silence. And, trust me, the latter is far worse. Silence tells a comedian, an actor or a brand for that matter, that they’re not worth the time of day.

And, frankly, the new Spirit Airline campaign isn’t worth the time of day either except that it serves as a textbook example of how not to use humor in marketing.  In case you’ve somehow dodged the endless barrage of unsolicited spam from the low-fare discount airline, their sleazy promotions have run the gamut from scantily-clad, pole dancing ‘flight attendants’ who strut their stuff in flatbed trucks going from market to market to frat boy, promotional riffs on the latest political scandal.

For example, during the endless Anthony Weiner scandal, Spirit blasted this very unfunny e-mail:Weinerone And, when the Governator’s reckless ways with his house maid generated front-page news, Spirit jumped on the bandwagon with an ad entitled, ‘Hasta la vista to high fares!’ The text was predictably accompanied by a photo of an attractive young lady in a French Maid’s costume.

Spirit supplements these breaking news one-offs with an endless barrage of daily e-mails sporting such witty titles as: ‘The Red Light Special’ (a trashy tome that trumpets $9 one-way and $17 round-trip fares).

I have three fundamental marketing problems with the Spirit campaign. The first two are obvious:
1.)    Sophomoric humor isn’t funny (unless you’re a sophomore in high school).
2.)    Since they’re neither clever nor witty, the ads end up being nothing more than offensive and stupid. The latter may work for Godaddy.com and Howard Stern, but not for an airline.
3.)    Airlines are a very serious business. Each day they transport thousands of people to and fro in their planes. If, God forbid, something tragic should occur on a Spirit Airline, these ads will be dredged up by the media and used against them (remember how the media savaged BP with its own advertising after the oil spill?).

Reputation management is fundamentally critical because it helps build a reservoir of trust and credibility in the minds of end users. That’s why, despite endless product recalls, J&J continues to finish at, or near, the top of the Fortune and Reputation Institute lists for most admired organizations. The company spent decades making itself synonymous with trust. BP, on the other hand, changed the meaning of its initials (from British Petroleum to Beyond Petroleum) before it had built a reservoir of trust. Then, adding insult to injury, BP didn’t back up the change with quality assurance programs. Hence, when the oil hit the fan, as it were, pundits and comedians had a field day (‘i.e. Did you hear what BP stands for? Beyond Pathetic.’).

I’m not sure what the polar opposite of reputation management is, but Spirit Airlines is pioneering the craft.

Smart, insightful humor can be a powerful weapon in any organization’s marketing arsenal. And, it can work very well in serious industries too. Just look at Geico (life insurance) and Southwest (airlines). But, crass, offensive junk like the kind being served up by Spirit is akin to whistling past the graveyard. They know they’re over-stepping the boundaries of common decency in an attempt to sell tickets. What they don’t know is how the media will use these very same ads to destroy Spirit’s reputation if, and when, something goes south.

I think the new motto for Spirit Airlines should be: ‘An accident waiting to happen.’”

Jun 02

The death of an agency

Modernista just died. Rip

For those of you unfamiliar with the firm, Modernista was founded in 1999 and within a very brief period of time, became a white hot advertising agency that, at its peak, boasted 130 employees and clients such as Gap, Hummer, TIAA-Cref, Converse and Cadillac.

I remember reading and hearing all about Modernista, their daring creative and sterling reputation from clients and prospects alike.

And, then something changed in 2006. That's the year Modernista's Gary Koepke said, "We felt like we arrived." But, for Koepke & Company, arrival signaled departure because they stopped doing all the little things that had made them successful in the first place. He says Modernista lost its mojo after 2006 and simply became too comfortable.

They tried to stay abreast of change, particularly social media, but nothing worked. Koepke says the 2008 recession and client bankruptcies made managing the business tougher and tougher. Tensions grew and, somehow, they found themselves being labeled as '…that old stuff.' (Read: a traditional advertising agency).

You can scan the rest of Koepke's sad tale in the attached article, but he does pass along eight warning signs that are worth reading whether you toil for an impersonal, global holding company or a hip, Modernista-type start-up:

1.) Nobody wants to admit things are bad.
2.) Staff begins to depart for other agencies.
3.) Your eight-year-old daughter asks, 'What's wrong?' every night.
4.) Projections aren't met and overhead is tipping greater than revenue.
5.) In pitches, other agencies tell the client you're going out of business (note: I couldn't imagine a sleazier thing to say or do to another firm).
6.) When you do win the business, it's often only the smaller fish, not the big ones.
7.) You start having conversations about M&A or bank loans.
8.) You have this nagging feeling things aren't getting better and it doesn't go away.

I feel really bad for Koepke and Modernista. I can't pinpoint exactly why they failed. But, I do know why we've survived and why we're on track to post our best results in at least five years. We keep changing. We keep asking what's new and what's next. And, if we don't have the core competency to meet client needs, we strike strategic partnerships, acquire other firms or hire non-traditional talent.

Business success is all about staying one step ahead of change. It's also about NOT sipping your own Kool-Aid, reading your own press clippings or, as Koepke admits, growing too comfortable.

Modernista: 1999-2011. R.I.P.

May 25

Advertising’s early warning system

WynfordVaughn-ThomasbbAdweek is to ad agencies what radar was to the Royal Air Force in September, 1940: an early  warning system.

Adweek, and its peers, Advertising Age and The Delaney Report, never hesitate to warn agencies about badly behaving clients. Consider Adweek's April 25th column entitled, 'Is Heineken the Worst Client Ever?'

According to Adweek, nine agencies have represented the beer brand in just six years! Talk about a revolving door. And, get this, the $60 million account is once again up for review, and Publicis and Wieden are pitching it. Why are they wasting their time?

Adweek did some digging to better understand Heineken's heinous habits and cited churn in the leadership ranks (four CEOs and four CMOs since 2005). Yup. That'll do it. The new sheriff almost always boots out the incumbent, regardless of how good the team or how effective the work. That happened to us no fewer than three times in 2008 and '09. New sheriff. New agency. Sure as rain.

Now, as part of our due diligence in new business, we warily check the prospect's churn record. If it's anything like Heineken's, we run away faster than you can say pop top bottle.

Frequent agency churn not only damages the firms, it hurts the client's marketing efforts. As Ken Robinson of search consultancy Ark Advisors says of Heineken, “…how can you possibly put together a cohesive positioning when they switch agencies so often?” Amen, brother.

All of which prompts a question from this blogger: how comes PR trade journals don't provide a similar watchdog service? How come they can't (or won't) 'out' serial prospects as their advertising brethren do?

The client coverage I read in the PR trades is limited to:

– Case studies
– Personnel announcements
– Updates on the latest crisis du jour and accompanying statement (“Pigglesworth & Swine take these allegations very seriously,” said Jane Hare, VP of corporate communications)
– A fawning profile of the VP, Corporate Communications (“His peers at Toxic Chemical say Jim Electron is strategic, creative and positively unflappable; rare qualities indeed in a Fortune 500 executive.”)

PR trades could do a tremendous service to their tens of thousands of agency readers by tipping us off to a serial prospect on the prowl (akin to British radar's alerting the R.A.F. of yet another Luftwaffe sortie).

Radar saved Britain. The ad trades are aiding ad agencies. So, how come the PR journals aren't stepping up to the plate? If they did, I'd be the first to step forward, quote Churchill and proclaim, “This was their finest hour.”

May 23

Judgment Day is every marketer’s dream

HeaderI don't know about you, but I had a blast in the minutes, hours, days and weeks leading up to  6pm, Saturday May 21, 2011 (AKA Judgment Day). Sure, nothing happened. But, so what? There were so many great tweets, blogs, status updates, videos and new comedy bits that it made the whole non-event a mega happening.

That's why I think President Obama should declare May 21st Judgment Day. And, it should be treated as an annual national holiday. I know marketers would absolutely love it. Retailers, for example, could own Judgment Day Eve. Just imagine the TV commercials:

– “Special end of the world prices like you've never seen! You'll agree Best Buy is positively otherworldly!”

– “You want some rapture? Check out our Judgment Day Eve prices at The Gap!”

– “Radio Shack's prices are the absolute lowest you'll find in this life.” 

Sales on Judgment Day Eve would totally eclipse Thanksgiving's Black Friday (and, give a whole new meaning to the color black as well, thank you very much). As a matter of fact, Valspar, Dutch Boy or some other paint brand should create a special 'Grim Reaper Black' shade for the occasion).

Turning to sporting events, I envision:

– Judgment Day doubleheaders at baseball stadiums (the Anaheim Angels would, of course, be featured on the national game of the week)
– 'End of the world' World Cup soccer matches (India vs. Pakistan would make for a neat opening match)
– And, how about a special pre-season college football game pitting the University of Notre Dame against Brigham Young University? I'll bet even He would tune in for that contest. And, I guarantee a mega sponsor would snap up the rights faster than you could say Adam and Eve. I can see it now: 'Ladies and gentlemen, and viewers around the world, welcome to the 2012 Quiznos Judgment Day Bowl.' And, just imagine if the Fighting Irish and Cougars end up tied at the end of regulation? Talk about sudden death overtime. Wow. The Batesville Casket Company should think about that particular branding opportunity.

But, wait, there's so much more marketers could do on Judgment Day. K-Mart, Wal-Mart or one of the other big box chains should copy Macy's and sponsor a parade. Harold Camping could be named honorary marshall in perpetuity. Cities could compete for hosting honors (a la the Olympics). And the winning city would earn the right to rename itself Sodom or Gomorrah for the day. The sponsor could hold an online contest to select Lot and his wife (and, wouldn't the latter search be a superb branding opportunity for Morton's Salt?).

Judgment Day could be the new crystal meth for marketers. Like eternity itself, it has limitless possibilities.

It's the mother of all days, and deserves to be repeated year after year after year until, god forbid, it actually becomes the REAL Judgment Day. Until then, I'd like to hear from each and every member of my flock. What branding opportunities am I missing?

May 18

We need the Navy Seals to take down the bin Laden of Burgers

Some 55Presentation10 leading health care professionals and organizations have signed their names to a  full-page advertisement running today in six national newspapers. It's a call to action pleading with McDonald's to stop its sleazy, subversive marketing to kids and to retire their damnable corporate icon, Ronald McDonald.

Fuggedaboutit! The ad won't work because McDonald's won't stop marketing to kids. They can't. The impact on future sales would be too horrible to contemplate. (Could you imagine life without plus-sized families wolfing down Big Macs five times a week? How positively un-American.)

Instead, America's health groups should get serious, mobilize their monies, marshal their troops, and declare war on McDonald's. And, public enemy number one of what I'm calling 'Operation: Waistline' should be Ronald McDonald himself.

In my mind, Ronald's the bin Laden of Burgers, the Pol Pot of Poor Diets and the Hitler of Healthy Living.

And, I'd engage the same elite Seal 6 team that took out bin Laden in his Abbottabad compound for this surgical strike. Why not? They've got a proven plan and are ready to roll.

I'd have the Seals initiate a midnight raid on Mickey D's Oakbrook, Illinois, headquarters. I'll bet they'd catch Ronald watching the tube (hopefully nothing worse than PG-13 content). I picture him lying in bed, wearing just his red overalls. He'll have an arm draped around one or more of his morbidly obese wives while puffing on a cigarette and scarfing down some fries and a chocolate shake.

As was the case with bin Laden, I'd tell the Seals to take him down ASAP. Who knows what a cornered corporate icon might do in a moment of desperation? Waste him. Plus, no one wants Ronald McDonald alive and put on trial. The guy's a real charmer and that red and yellow costume might just sway a jurist or two. No, I'd tell the Seals to put one bullet just above Ronald's eye.

Then, let's bury him in an undisclosed location in Lake Michigan. We don't want McDonald's fanatics making a shrine out of Ronald's final resting spot.

The Mob likes to say if you 'cut off the head, the body will die.' I think health care professionals need to adopt the same strategy with McDonald's. Whack Ronald and watch our nation's obesity epidemic (and waistlines) slowly, but surely, contract.

One caveat to the Seals, though. Do yourselves a public relations favor and don't adopt an American Indian code word such as Geronimo for Ronald. There's no need to undermine the results by alienating an important minority.

So, let's get to work. Let's infiltrate Ronald's inner circle, use some advanced terror techniques to determine his daily habits, get some spy satellites to focus their cameras on his compound and get this deed done. If Obama doesn't want to issue the final execute command, I will.

Ronald McDonald must die if America is to live. It's go time!!!!