Apr 05

Can you spot the ancient ad that’s more relevant than ever?

Pic19912Pic17035This blogger’s older brother constantly bombards me with videos, tunes and other memorabilia from the distant past. I’m not sure exactly why he sends me these things, but most end up in my virtual wastebasket. This one containing the ads pictured, however, struck a chord.

As you’ll see, it contains a number of print advertisements from a bygone era. It’s hard to say which is more politically incorrect. But, there’s one ad that, sadly, is as relevant today as it was when it first appeared a half century ago. Let me know if you agree about the ad in question, and we’ll go back-and-forth on why this particular ‘wrong’ is more ‘right’ than ever before.

One other observation: these print ads from yesteryear are amazingly patronizing and condescending towards women. I find it fascinating that today’s advertisements and commercials have come full circle with many, if not, most, equally demeaning to men (i.e. portraying us as dumb, helpless creatures always in need of a woman to show us how to Pic25667survive, etc.).Pic14771Pic01869Pic26299Pic21726Pic23811       Pic26299  Pic11538

Apr 01

When the franchise account walks

Wave_goodbye_to_the_boss_button-p145449526970885710t5sj_400Burger King just fired Crispin Porter Bogusky as its advertising agency of record after a seven-year run. This is seismic news for a number of reasons:

– Within advertising circles, Crispin is arguably still the hottest thing since sliced bread and remains, to the best of my knowledge, the only ad agency to ever grace the cover of BusinessWeek.
– Along with its Mini Cooper work, CPB's edgy BK creative helped put it on the map and become the envy of agencies near and far.
– BK's $300 million budget loss will be a significant hit to Crispin's bottom line and slow down, if not halt entirely, its plans for a rapid global expansion.

Losing a franchise account is a big, big deal in the advertising and PR world. And, despite the best spin from agency management, it does a real number on internal troop morale. I know. I've been there.

I was at Hill & Knowlton in the 1980s when its franchise account walked. And, I was with Earle Palmer Brown in the early 1990s when the cornerstone client there said, 'Sayonara, Sam.'

We've been fortunate in our 15-plus years at Peppercom. We've never really had a franchise account that totally dominated our billings. We've had a few instances where a single client accounted for more than 30 percent of our fees, but we've always been fortunate to have three or four large accounts and multiple 'midsized' clients. That's enabled us to suffer a significant loss without having to take immediate, Draconian measures.

I can only think of only a few PR firms that have bona fide franchise accounts. Waggoner Edstrom is certainly one. It grew to become a huge, independent agency based upon its long-standing relationship with Microsoft. I've no idea how large a percentage Microsoft is to overall W-E billings, but a sudden departure would have to register a 9.0 on the Crispin/BK scale. Golin Harris is another PR agency with a franchise account: McDonald's. G-H has been Mickey D's AOR from day one. And, I couldn't imagine one without the other. But, then, who could have predicted BK's deep-frying of Crispin?

Collecting too many dollars from a single client is akin to making a pact with the devil. The client knows they wield enormous power over the agency, and the latter knows its fate could depend on the health and longevity of the current direct client contact (note: according to Ad Age, CPB's demise was caused by poor sales and constant senior management turnover at BK).

Crispin is a superb agency that will undoubtedly bounce back from losing this whopper of an account. But, just the same, it's a cautionary tale for any small, medium or large-sized firm in any professional services field: don't rely on one client to make your image and reputation and never put too many eggs in one basket.

Mar 07

Boy, you’re going to carry that weight a (short) time

Article-0-0D776455000005DC-938_468x392It came as no surprise to me that Blair River, the 29-year-old, 575-pound spokesman for the  Heart Attack Grill died last week of '…complications caused by pneumonia.'

I first blogged about the Heart Attack Grill www.HeartAttackGrill.com a few years back. At that time, I was simultaneously appalled and attracted by their bald-faced campaign.

I was appalled for all the obvious reasons: The Heart Attack Grill featured dishes such as the Triple Bypass Burger that were served up by waitresses dressed as scantily-clad nurses. They also had multiple stretchers and gurneys on hand and an ambulance waiting in the parking should any patron actually suffer a heart attack. And, The Heart Attack Grill promised free meals to any patron who weighed more than 300 pounds.

Disgusting, yes? But, but it's also as transparent and authentic a marketing campaign as I've ever seen. Unlike so many other organizations, the Heart Attack Grill didn't serve up a set of false promises in its marketing only to disappoint customers with the actual experience. On the contrary, The Heart Attack Grill is THE poster child for properly aligning its brand and marketing messages with what we communications types call the 'end user experience.'

While I may detest everything the Heart Attack Grill stands for, and lament the loss of their 29-year-old spokesman, I applaud their honesty. The branding folks at BP, Toyota and The Catholic Church could learn a thing or two about transparency from the Arizona eatery's diabolically direct messaging. It's as simple and stark as, well, a heart attack.

Tip o' RepMan's hat (and a large order of fries) to Jimmy Moock for suggesting this post topic.

Feb 09

What’s the biggest difference between the advertising and PR trades?

The very best advertising agencies do one thing incredibly well for their clients. Having gleaned Leonardogillesfleur_Irreconcileable_differences_43_904 insights from an end user's wants and needs, they'll create a compelling campaign that creates an emotional connection between a brand and its target audience. When done correctly, it's positively magical.

To their credit, though, ad agencies never, ever, attempt to advertise their own services in the industry trade media read by clients, prospects and peers.

The same cannot be said for PR firms. Our industry trades are littered with myopic, self-congratulatory ads that provide no insight whatsoever on the client's or prospect's world but, instead, focus squarely on what the PR firm feels sets it apart from the competition. And, that dear reader, is a cardinal sin.

Advertising should be about you. Not me. It should prompt a visceral reaction that leaves you nodding your head and mumbling, 'Yeah. That's me. That's my need. I need to know more about how they can help me.'

Instead, a sampling of recent PR agency advertising headlines seem more like a print version of the old grammar school trick of seeing who could attract the teacher's attention fastest. “Oh, pick me, Ms. Dresner. I know the answer. Pick me!”

To wit, check out these headlines:
– 'Real. Creative.'
– 'Two campers see a bear. Yada. Yada. Yada.'
– 'Telling the story of innovation.'
– 'Go. Ahead.'
– 'Who's in your circle?'
– 'Way more effective'

With the possible exception of the penultimate headline, each and every ad is self-serving. None create an emotional connection with the end user (Note: I'd include our own inward-facing advertisement in my criticism. Doctor: Heal thyself.).

That said, there are a few exceptions to the abysmal state of PR firm advertising. Carmichael Lynch Spong's campaign is both unexpected and client-focused. Their most recent one is entitled, 'They loved the launch. So what about the next 364 days?' That's spot on. It tells me, as a prospective client, that CLS knows I need to keep showing results to my senior management.

Another campaign from an earlier generation of management at Ogilvy PR was just as effective. It depicted a harried corporate communications executive, checking his watch and looking for a cab. The headline read something to the effect, 'We know you live in a 24×7 world and need a partner who does the same.' It's promotional to be sure. But, it also told me that Ogilvy PR ‘got' the prospective client's pain.

The worst PR agency ads are the ones listing the various awards won by the firm in the previous 12 months: “Best Workplace,” “Best Young Professional,” “Best Industry Blog”, “Best Use of Artwork in a Hallway,” “Cleanest Restrooms,100 Employees or Less,” etc. Enough already. Clients don't care about your awards. They care about their challenges.

I think the editors and publishers of PR trades should do more than accept insertion orders and checks from agencies. They should provide some sort of counsel on advertising effectiveness.

There's a reason ad agencies don't advertise. They know it's next to impossible to create an emotional connection with a harried CMO in one page of copy. If only PR firms would wake up and realize the same truth.

Jan 26

Why not toss in a ’64 Chevy Impala as well?

I delete most spam. Some, though, are bizarre enough to warrant a response (i.e. The Nigerian lawyer who wanted to wire me $150mm immediately, but needed my account information first. I thanked him profusely for his generosity, but noted that I never accepted less than $151mm from strangers).

Your Plaque Preview Then, there are the spam e-mails that unintentionally tarnish the sender's image and provide fodder for Repman columns. I like those.

I recently received this notice from American Registry which, if nothing else, certainly sounded legitimate. The spam alerted me to the fact that, if I hurried, I could still order a drop dead gorgeous plaque recognizing my firm's excellence in sports and leisure in the year 2009!?!?!

To begin with, we do very little, if any, sports or leisure work. So, I seriously doubt we ever won an award for excellence in the category. But, why in god's name, would I order a two-year old plaque? To remind people of what once was? To be able to stop strangers in the street and, after asking for spare change, interject, “So, guess who just got an American Registry plaque for excellence in sports and leisure in 2009?'

But, why stop with selling two-year-old plaques? I think American Registry should go all the way with its retro offerings and include:

– an owner's certificate for a 1964 Chevy Impala. Who wouldn't pay top dollar for that?
– an authentic lock of Arthur 'Fonzie' Fonzarelli’s hair from a 1978 episode of 'Happy Days'
– a mint condition Pan Am flight bag circa 1985.

I'm trying to understand the motivation for the e-mail in the first place:

-Did someone in the American Registry warehouse do some winter cleaning and find the old Peppercom plaque lying in a corner? “Hey Jim, there are some really old plaques back here. The boss ain't gonna be happy.”

– Did someone at A.R. find an old softball tournament plaque, slap our name on it and try to re-sell it as an industry award? I'd give them an 'A' for creativity if that were the case.

– Or, do they practice a bizarro world version of just-in-time manufacturing in which it takes two full years between the time a plaque is made and finally reaches the market?

I'm just glad the company's name is American Registry and not American Dentistry. Imagine receiving an e-mail alerting you that, in 2009, you had advanced gum disease? If nothing else, it would give a whole new meaning to the word plaque.

Jan 19

Latest H&K turmoil is sad to watch

As a proud Hill & Knowlton alumnus, it pains me to read the latest upheaval at the firm's upper ranks. (Founders Donald Knowlton and John W. Hill are pictured, below.) It seems that, since the late 1980s, H&K has been the industry lightning rod for turmoil, controversy and unrest.

Gallery It wasn’t always that way, though. I had the good fortune to land an H&K entry-level position in 1978. At that point in time, H&K was the gold standard of the profession. Sure, Burson was growing rapidly. But, Carl Byoir and Harshe-Rotman & Druck had already started to decline, and firms such as Porter, Ketchum and Golin were still in their nascent stages. H&K was unquestionably the “…shining city on the hill.”

It was a thrill to work there. In those days, giants walked Hill & Knowlton’s hallways.  We had former newspaper editors, syndicated columnists, press secretaries and industry insiders by the scores. H&K also had a curious new business policy. The firm refused to proactively pitch prospective clients, believing it to be demeaning. Instead, blue chip organizations approached Hill & Knowlton, hoping to be added to its uber-prestigious client list.

Our power brokers were the powerfirm’s upper ranks. It seems that, since the late brokers. Bob Gray, who ran H&K’s Washington, D.C. office, was the ultimate Beltway insider. If a client needed to influence Congressional votes, Gray made it happen. I had the pleasure to work alongside two of Gray’s subordinates, Sheila Tate and Colburn Aker, to support the American Trucking Association’s efforts to prevent new anti-trucking legislation in scores of states (note: Tate later became Nancy Reagan’s press secretary and founded Powell-Tate. Aker had his own influential lobbying firm for decades). I traveled to New Hampshire, Oregon and the state of Washington in 1980 to help the team ensure voters turned thumbs down on increased trucking taxes. It was an unparalleled experience for a green-as-grass, 24-year-old account executive.

H&K’s decline began in the late 1980s, when a senior management struggle resulted in the firm’s representing highly controversial clients such as The Church of Scientology, The U.S. Catholic Bishops and, most notoriously, the government of Kuwait. With the latter, H&K was accused of staging a genocide of Kuwaiti kids (an event that later inspired the Hollywood movie, “Wag the Dog”).

H&K seemed to have stabilized its image and reputation free-fall by the end of the 20th century. And, quite a few industry trades rightly lauded Paul Taaffe and Marylee Sachs for their fine work in righting the ship. Now, they’re gone with the wind and the firm, once again, seems to be in adrift. It’s really sad to say this but, once a firm sells to a larger holding company, all bets are off. Some survive. A few even thrive. But most, like H&K, begin a long, slow downward spiral.

Jan 11

Dynamic duo or desperate divas?

I am not a fan of celebrity endorsements. Never have been and never will be. I’m Meat-dress-lady-gaga-02 anti-endorsement for two fundamental reasons:
1.)    I’ve seldom seen one where a celebrity’s image and reputation perfectly aligns with those of an organization.
2.)    There’s simply too much organizational image and reputation downside in this age of naughty celebrity behavior (think: Tiger, Brett, Mel, Lindsay, Britney, etc.). I realize some of those celebs don’t double as product endorsers, but you get my gist.

So, I winced when I read the AdWeek article about Lady Gaga’s unholy alliance with the Polaroid Corporation. The legendary, if beleaguered, brand apparently inked a deal last year with the train wreck of a pop star to have the latter endorse Polaroid’s new line of digital cameras and trinkets. She was also ‘appointed’ Polaroid’s chief creative officer. To which I respond, Ha! Could you imagine attending a brainstorming session with Lady Gaga in which target audience demographics and psychographics are discussed? I think even Snooki could provide more coherent input.

For Lady Gaga, though, the Polaroid gig provides some much needed, real world credibility. Indeed, her statement says as much:

"The Haus of Gaga has been developing prototypes in the vein of fashion/technology/photography innovation – blending the iconic history of Polaroid and instant film with the digital era – and we are excited to collaborate on these ventures with the Polaroid brand. Lifestyle, music, art, fashion: I am so excited to extend myself behind the scenes as a designer, and to as my father puts it – finally, have a real job."

The Haus of Repman doesn’t buy this collaboration at all. For one thing, Gaga is a ticking time bomb. And, no matter how badly Polaroid needs to re-position itself and appear cool to Millennials, partnering with Gaga is anything but authentic. Desperate, yes. Authentic, no. I could see Polaroid partnering with, say, Keith Richards. But, Lady Gaga? C’mon.

In fact, if memory serves, Polaroid had great success in the 1970s partnering with actors James Garner and Mariette Hartley for a long-standing, highly successful advertising campaign. Garner and Hartley were established, trustworthy and, unlike Gaga, highly professional. More importantly, the campaign ‘rang true’. It represented the Polaroid that consumers had come to know and love.

This past week, Lady Gaga was on hand at the Consumer Electronics Show to help Polaroid launch a new product. Her appearance created enormous buzz, but she dropped the F-bomb right in the middle of her remarks and the Polaroid CEO was actually booed when he appeared on-stage before the pop princess. Do the brand guardians at Polaroid actually enjoy seeing their boss booed and hissed before a major press conference? I know I sure wouldn’t. And, I’ve known more than a few CEOs who would fire an entire marketing or communications department for anything that disgraced him or the brand.

Polaroid’s unholy alliance with Lady Gaga may be driving a momentary sales spike. But, based upon her outlandish ways (a la her dress made of raw meat), I predict this is nothing more than an accident waiting to happen. Soon enough, we’ll read reports of Polaroid and Lady Gaga parting ways because of ‘creative differences.’ What that will really mean is someone at Polaroid finally woke up and said, “Why in god’s name do we want to entrust the brand’s image and reputation with a celebrity train wreck who’s gone off the tracks in the past and could drag us along with her in the future?”

Nov 29

A holding company by any other name would still be a holding company

I chuckle whenever I see, hear or read the latest double talk from one of the advertising world's Puppet2.s600x600 holding companies.

On the one hand, they try to convince anyone who will listen that size trumps all. They'll pontificate at length about the importance of breadth and depth, and the need for 35 offices around the world to service global clients.

But, because their traditional advertising models are relics of the past, they'll also try to convince you they're as lean and mean as any independent midsized firm in the world. Ha! Baloney.

Monday's advertising column in the New York Times is a classic example of holding company double talk. BBDO, one of the true monolithic, mega agencies of the advertising world, just created a small, 20 employee consulting unit called Batten & Company.

It's named after George Batten, one of the 'B's' in BBDO. BBDO said it chose Batten, as opposed to Barton, Durstine or Osborne (the other 'B,' 'D' and 'O' in BBDO, respectively) because Mr. Batten was more entrepreneurial. Double ha! As if a holding company (or a unit thereof) could ever be truly entrepreneurial.

The dirty little secret about holding companies (and their units) is that they serve two clients: the holding company and the client (and woebetide the holding company employee who doesn't recognize the holding company is the more important of those two clients).

Clients are billed twice. There's one invoice for the work provided and, as I can personally attest, a management fee that's added for the holding company in London, Paris or wherever.

When one serves in a senior management position at a holding company, one is consumed with meeting the financial and administrative needs of the holding company (and, oh yeah, also providing occasional counsel to the largest client).

Holding companies try to lure our people away by using lines such as this: “Hey kid. You've done well. But, now it's time to play in the big leagues.” Triple ha!

What they don't tell you about the big leagues is how totally devoid they are of true George Batten-like entrepreneurship. A BBDO may carve out a small, nimble, client-focused consultancy. But, trust me, that little consultancy has to play by the same rules, and tack-on the same overhead fees, as any other member of the holding company. It would be akin to the old Soviet Union spinning off a small republic, saying it had the same freedoms as any democracy, but still had to toe the line with the Kremlin.

I wish Batten & Company well. But, I also wish the holding companies would stop trying to be all things to all people. They should embrace their worldwide footprints and be done with it.

I'd like to think George Batten would agree that, suggesting a holding company's new unit will be as entrepreneurial as, say a certain blogger's PR firm, qualifies as false and misleading advertising.

Nov 19

You are what you watch. Except when you aren’t.

Dog watching television According to psychographic ad targeter Mindset Media, the television shows we watch provide a  unique insight into our personality and can help brands better target their marketing spend (insert link).

For example, modest people, says Mindset Media, are more likely to watch 'Deadliest Catch' while altruistic types, such as Ed Moed, dial up cooking shows like 'Rachel Ray.'

Hmmm. Color me skeptical about all this psychographic psychobabble.

In describing viewers of my favorite show, 'Mad Men', Mindset says it attracts creative types. (No duh. The show's about an ad agency.) But, the creative types who watch 'Mad Men' are also emotionally sensitive (Well, yes, that's me.) and intellectually curious types (Damn, right again.) who tend to be more often dreamers than realists. (Whoa. Back off, Mindset. That's not me!)

Mad Men watchers are also liberal (Gee, these guys are pretty good.) and prefer brands such as Blue Moon and American Express. (I order sauvignon blanc, but I do like a Blue Moon on occasion and carry an AmEx card.) Mindset says I wouldn't be as interested in Campbell's Soup or the Cadillac Escalade. (That's putting it mildly.)

Mindset analyzed viewers of other shows as well, including ‘The Office’ which, while it's gone steadily downhill, is still a favorite of mine. “Like Michael on the show,” says Mindset, “watchers of The Office think they are superior to others.” (Rubbish.) In fact, says Mindset, fans of ‘The Office’ believe they are extraordinary (Which I am.) and happily brag about their accomplishments. (I'm a shameless self promoter.) Viewers prefer Starbucks (Not me. The coffee's way too bitter.) and the BMW Series 3 (Now, this is scary. I own an M3.) They dislike McDonald's (The word 'loathe' would be more appropriate.) and the Lincoln Town Car. (I'll ride in one, but you'll never catch me behind the wheel.).

All in all, this psychobabble stuff IS pretty impressive. Their analysis of me based upon my viewing of ‘Mad Men’ and ‘The Office’ is eerily accurate.

BTW, in case you watch ‘Glee’ (which I can't stomach), you're “in touch with your own feelings and may even feel happiness or sadness more intensely than others.” I'll bet you didn't know that, did you? You also drink Evian and drive a Volkswagen. You dislike Quaker cereals (What's your issue with Quaker cereals?) and the Chevy Silverado. (Does anyone like that car?) Oh, and as reluctant as I am to add this in, Mindset says ‘Glee’ viewers are closest to viewers of ‘Mad Men’ when it comes to being creative. Not true. We ‘Mad Men’ types rule.

So, what's your favorite TV show and what do you think it says about you? I'd go on, but I need to DVR 'Eastbound and Down.' I'll bet Mindset would have a field day with viewers of that show.

Oct 07

“On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.”

Those are the words of legendary ad man, David Ogilvy, who added: "It follows that unless your Hobbes headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 percent of your money." Ogilvy’s words were true when he wrote them in the 1960s and even more relevant today. The New York Times recently ran an article about the egregious misspellings and grammatical errors found on billboards, road signs and storefronts in the city’s five boroughs. Some of the examples were simultaneously hilarious and nauseating. And, as an avid reader of all things social media related, I’ve come across a staggering number of headlines that either offended my grammatical sensibilities or completely befuddled me.

The slow and painful demise of the well-written headline has many causes: there’s the overall dumbing down of society, the rise of the 140-character universe and just plain, old laziness. I think it’s a dead heat for worst offender, though: there’s the award-crazed advertising copywriter who produces headlines intended to stop a reader in her tracks but instead befuddles the bejesus out of anyone with half a brain. Then, there’s the average public relations executive who confuses press release writing with brochure copy. So, instead of a brief, pithy headline that draws a reader in, one is instead bombarded with superlatives, hyperbole and 25-word-long monstrosities. This seems to be especially true for new product releases which, if one were to believe the headline, will literally save the planet.

I’ve been reading a phenomenal book called ‘Your Attention Please.’ It was written in 2006 by Paul B. Brown and Alison Davis. It’s one of the best ‘how-to’ guides I’ve read for writing brief, effective copy in an information overload world. The authors suggest no headline should see the light of day unless it addresses the most important question of all, “What’s in it for me?” I couldn’t possibly improve upon that definition or Mr. Ogilvy’s emphasis on the importance of a headline.

The New York Post and Daily News notwithstanding, the art of headline writing is receding faster than the polar ice caps. It’s incumbent upon leaders in the public relations, digital and advertising worlds to do something about it now. Otherwise, smart and strategic clients will wake up one day, realize their print ads, digital banners and press releases aren’t generating awareness, credibility or, most important of all, qualified sales leads. So, the next time you’re crafting a product announcement for a first-of-its-kind, fastest, smallest and lightest ever widget created by man, ask yourself the question, “What’s in it for me?” think first about the end user of the product or service. Then think about yourself. Save on the words and you just might save an account (and your job).