The Advertising Apprentice

November 20, 2011

Don’t Hate Unhate

Filed under: Advertising — adamlauzon @ 2:18 PM

These days everyone seems to be talking about Italian fashion company United Colors of Benetton’s controversial new campaign, Unhate, that shows images of different world leaders kissing:

Is this really controversial? Yes and no. We must consider the source; if it was any other company than United Colors of Benetton, you’d be justified in criticizing this campaign and saying it’s in bad taste. But since it is Benetton, we must not forget that their advertising has a history of creating shock; something I’ve discussed in a previous entry on shock-value. For example, here are a couple of their ads from previous campaigns:

Let’s put it another way: take Howard Stern, he’s often accused of being a misogynist and people are often offended by what he says on his show. Yet we’ve come to accept the outlandish commentary from him and his guests. Society has become desensitized to his humour. And that’s exactly how I feel we should be responding to Unhate; it’s just another Benetton campaign that’s meant to elicit a reaction from people. By discussing the campaign as much as people have across the globe have, Benetton is getting exactly what they wanted.

Whether or not this leads to an increase in clothing sales for the company ultimately remains to be seen. But ultimately this campaign has been successful in getting people all over the world to talk about Benetton. Unpaid exposures are an advertiser’s dream.  And as the adage goes, there is no such thing as bad publicity.

June 13, 2011

Power in Political Persuasion?

The great David Ogilvy was never fond of political advertising. In a word he called it dishonest. In Ogilvy on Advertising he wrote, “There is one category of advertising which is totally uncontrolled and flagrantly dishonest: the television commercials for candidates in presidential elections.” A bit further in Ogilvy’s discussion of political ads, he referenced an analysis of the commercials used by John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, where the author of the analysis (Robert Spero) concluded that the spots were “the most deceptive, misleading, unfair and untruthful of all advertising.” That’s a pretty powerful statement; to use words such as deceptive, misleading, and untruthful to describe political ads is pretty damning. Given his strong view on political advertising, it should come as no surprise that Ogilvy refused to have political candidate/parties as clients.

Whereas Ogilvy was vehemently against political advertising, Phil Dusenberry, former executive creative director of BBDO in New York, embraced it. In fact he was very involved in the 1984 Ronald Reagan reelection campaign. To Dusenberry’s credit he, along with Jerry Della Famina and the other advertising specialists that were called “The Tuesday Team” (named for election day), ran a campaign that focused on the positives. He said “positive beats negative every time in the ad effectiveness book.” Here’s an example of a spot that focused on the positives that Dusenberry and company created:

Part of what enabled Dusenberry to be successful in creating some powerful political ads, was that he believed in the importance of the RAISE matrix which states, “Good research demands brilliant analysis which inspires blazing insights that lead to groundbreaking strategies and award winning executions.” I think this is a principle that can be effectively applied in not just advertising, but all disciplines; in order to achieve great results (execution) you need to have really strong research and solid analysis.

Consider the following: in 2008, the year of the last American Presidential election, approximately $2.6 BILLION was spent in the United States on political advertising. Let me repeat that for emphasis, 2.6 billion dollars was spent in 2008 on political advertising alone. Needless to say it’s a huge business for the advertising industry. It’s the reason why political consultants like Frank Luntz, a man I first introduced you to in my entry on PBS’ The Persuaders, are in business. You’ll remember that Luntz said, “It doesn’t matter what you want to tell the public. It’s about what they want to hear.” He’s been quite successful in importing techniques from market research into the political sphere by conducting focus groups for clients and honing in language that triggers a reaction in people. He tries to find the works that grab hold of us and force us to act on an emotional level. To read more about Frank Luntz and his use of language testing, I highly suggest you check out the following profile from The New Yorker. Not only is it a valuable read for people in advertising, but anyone in the larger field of communications will benefit from the knowledge it imparts.

At the end of Ogilvy on Advertising, a book that was originally published in 1983, Ogilvy predicted, “Candidates for political office will stop using dishonest advertising.” Was he accurate in his prediction? To find out the answer to this question, I go to advertising commentator, Bob Garfield. In PBS’ The Persuaders he says, “Political advertising is a stain on democracy… Year after year it gets worse… (it’s) just the assembly of nominal facts into hideous, outrageous lies.” So not only does Garfield take a much more extreme position against political advertising, but you can extrapolate that he believes the nature of this advertising has got worse since Ogilvy made his prediction nearly 30 years ago.

We’ve heard the criticism of political advertising, namely that it is not truthful. But is this form of advertising effective? Does a political ad that’s filled with inaccurate statements persuade people to vote for the given candidate? Well the answer depends on who you ask; scholars attempting to answer that very question have conducted countless studies and the results vary. Some suggest that attack ads have the effect of alienating voters to the point where people vote for one of the other candidates. While other studies have revealed that negative political ads are effective in persuading undecided and uninformed voters to vote for the particular candidate. So really the answer depends on who you ask.

The $2.6 billion spent on political advertising in 2008 is indicative that regardless of its lack of honesty and its effectiveness, or lack thereof, political advertising is here to stay. Despite Ogilvy’s optimism that the defining trait of these ads, the dishonesty, would disappear it appears that for the foreseeable future, during elections we’ll continue to be subjected to mostly negative ads. However, we as voters, hold the power to decide in how we respond to such ads.

May 22, 2011

Interview with a Journalist Ad Man

Filed under: Advertising — adamlauzon @ 7:12 PM
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Before we get to today’s entry, I strongly recommend that you all get out and see POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. It’s a great behind-the-scenes look at product placement in the entertainment industry from the same guy that brought you Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock. I saw it last week and was thoroughly impressed by the way Spurlock documented making a movie on product placement, that was funded entirely through product placement.

For today’s entry I interviewed Globe and Mail marketing and advertising reporter, Simon Houpt. In the interview he reveals some great insight on how you can become a better writer, the perpetual marketing machine that is Richard Branson, and the importance of social networking websites. You can check out Simon’s articles on the Globe’s Marketing page.

For over ten years you covered arts and culture in New York for The Globe and Mail, then in the summer of 2009, you said your goodbyes and moved back to Toronto to become the Globe’s resident advertising and marketing expert. What was that transition like?

Probably easier than I had any right to expect. You have to remember that. two years ago, both media and advertising were suffering terribly from the recession and a tectonic shift in media consumption patterns. Some people, though, were energized rather than scared by the changes that were afoot: In the same way that smart ad folk saw the new environment as a place to take risks, I came back from New York to a Globe newsroom that understood the need to experiment, to try lots of new things. You could say that assigning an arts reporter to cover marketing is an unusual move. I think it was an inspired one that recognized what marketing has become.

In addition to being a writer for The Globe and Mail, you’re also an author. Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft was published in 2006. What are some of the things people can do to improve their writing?

That’s tough: Every person has his or her own process. But in general here’s what I think works: Reading great writers. Writing a lot. Reading what you write (that sounds obvious, but it’s not). Writing a lot more. Editing yourself like a hellcat. Writing some more. Also? Be scared of being satisfied with your own work; you’re probably missing something.

In November 2009, you spent a day observing Richard Branson, a man that you described as “a perpetual marketing machine”. Talk a bit about that experience and describe for us what it’s like to be in the presence of such an icon.

In a job like this, every so often you’ll meet a person and grasp immediately that you’re in the presence of a genius, someone with a God-given gift of marketing greatness. Richard Branson is not one of those people. He’s shy. He’s not a natural orator. At this point, I’m not sure anybody ever disagrees with him, which strikes me as dangerous: how can you be innovative in that environment? At this stage of his career, Branson frankly seems like an actor who’s tired of playing the same role over and over but can’t say no to the money. So his days are filled with variations on the same themes: charity, business, casual sexism, mildly outrageous behaviour.  I think he’s bored by it, actually.

Conversely in the fall of 2009, you were able to escape the hectic pace of Toronto for a day and visit scenic Prince Edward County where Ian Mirlin, Geoffrey Bailey, and Brian Harrod reminisced about agency life in the 1960s and ‘70s. Between Mad Men and advertising legend Jerry Della Femina’s From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor, what is it about that era of advertising that makes us yearn so much for it?

I’m not sure we yearn for it as much as we have a deeply ambiguous relationship with it; I don’t know anyone – man or woman – who actually wants to return to that era of casual racism and pathetic gender inequality. Still, we’re all nostalgic creatures, and we like how the advertising game was far less complicated back then, even if we didn’t know it at the time. And watching from a remove of four decades allows us to revel in the sense of certainty and discovery of that era, as well as the dramatic irony of knowing how it all turned out. Also? I hear they used to make the drinks strong.

You seem to have a pretty active Twitter account, in that you post several tweets a day. Is it now integral that advertisers use social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to reach an increasingly fragmented audience?

If you want to have a conversation with your consumers – sorry, your fans; er, I mean your friends – you need to do that through as many channels as you can manage. But each channel needs to have a unique voice. I don’t envy a CMO who has to navigate that environment.

I’m going to put you on the spot with this one, but what does the future have in store for the age of persuasion? If you were a gambling man, what is the one trend you’d bet the house on?

Are we still in the age of persuasion? I thought we were in the age of discussion / dialogue / conversation / content-swapping / mashability / consumer empowerment.

Finally, in the nearly two years you’ve been covering advertising and marketing, you’ve had countless interactions with people from all walks of the industry, based on these interactions, what advice do you have for the future advertisers and marketers out there who want to break into the industry?

Thoroughly educate yourself about the industry – not just about the trade, but about what’s going on in the industry, every day – and be enthusiastic about any and all challenges or opportunities that might come your way. (This may seem obvious, but I meet lots of students who don’t even regularly read industry coverage.) If you do get a job, you’ll work for slave wages at first, but you should view it as part of your continuing education that happens to come with a small salary. And you’ll count yourself lucky, because there’ll be a dozen people who wished they were in your position.

March 23, 2011

Ode to the Adbusters

Filed under: Advertising — adamlauzon @ 9:35 AM
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Let me start off by saying that Adbusters is definitely not an advertising magazine! The closest connection to Adbusters and the advertising industry are the spoof ads scattered throughout each edition. You need to have an open-mind when reading this magazine. This definitely is not your copy of Advertising Age! But that’s not such a bad thing. After flipping through the pages of Adbusters and clicking through some of the content on the Adbusters website, one of the words that comes to mind is hipster. In turn I get the sense that ad agency people most likely to be reading this magazine are wet behind the ears, copywriters and not the tenured creative director.

With its shock value-esque covers that scream “pick me up”, like the one above of Obama and the image below of March/April’s cover, Adbusters is the perfect addition to your coffee-table. Visitors won’t be able to resist the urge to flip them through the pages and comment on all that’s contained within the front and back cover.

In addition to eye-catching covers, Adbusters offers well-executed spoof ads, great articles (I really enjoyed the article from the April/May 2011 edition on bipolar disorder; Adbusters offers its readers a different perspective. It’s the “outside of the box” approach that has become such a cliché in the advertising industry. This is a magazine that challenges your traditional way of thinking on bigger picture issues dominating headlines like WikiLeaks and the unfolding situation in Libya. Their views often cause moments of reflection where you pause and reexamine your position on the issue. Quite honestly, I appreciate Adbusters for facilitating this process. I most certainly don’t always agree with their position, but I’m open-minded enough to consider it and also critically examine my position on an issue when a strong argument is made.

As I’ve alluded to throughout this entry, Adbusters is definitely not for everyone. It is a socialist movement whose priority is to challenge consumerism. In their own words, they are “a global network of culture jammers and creatives working to change the way information flows, the way corporations wield power, and the way meaning is produced in our society.” Their spoof ads exemplify this mantra. No company is safe: Visa, Nike, and McDonalds have all been the victims of these spoof ads. Given that Adbusters challenges consumerism, which advertising is a key part of, the advertising industry has even been featured in an Adbusters campaign of spoof ads.

The notion of what Adbusters is, a voice that challenges our ideals should be embraced. We should be open-minded to what people on the other side of the argument have to say; accept their ideas, as they can be insightful.

The political landscape in Canada is trending towards a spring election being called in the very near future. So with the likelihood of Canadians heading to the polls, I’m putting together an entry on political advertising. The entry will focus on how these types of ads have become very aggressive in nature through attack ads and the entry will look at some memorable political spots.

February 9, 2011

Super Bowl XLV: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Filed under: Advertising — adamlauzon @ 8:45 PM
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Another Super Bowl is in the books. The Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25. Several hundred people are upset they didn’t get to watch the game from their assigned seats and are now filing a lawsuit against the NFL. And the advertising industry showcased its best talent to the hundreds of millions of people watching all over the world.

What can $3 million buy you? Well in Super Bowl XLV it gets you 30s-seconds of airtime. Below I present to you the commercials I thought were the best, those that I thought were downright bad, and a few that I thought were just ugly from this year’s batch of Super Bowl commercials. Enjoy!

The Good

1. Teleflora – Help Me Faith

I liked this commercial for several reasons: it made me laugh, Faith Hill, and most importantly, with Valentine’s Day being a week away from its airing, the timing was fitting.

2. Pepsi Max – First Date

I laughed out loud when I heard the guy ask, “Wait! Which one?” This was a great commercial with a simple and well-executed concept. On a side-note I will neither confirm, nor deny, whether or not all men share the same thought process while on dates!

3. Bridgestone – Carma

Everyone, myself included, will remember, the beaver in this commercial. But let’s try not to forget that the spot did a good job showing off the product. I’d consider buying a set of Bridgestone tires for my car; as long as they come with a cute stuffed-animal beaver!

Honourable Mention: NFL.com – TV Favorites

Wow, so many familiar faces! Consistently is the theme of this ad. Nicely used transitions. This commercial is effective as a one-off. I would hate to be exposed to this commercial repeatedly.

The Bad

1. Stella Artois – Adrian Brody

Ten seconds in I realized I needed a Bud Light! Stella took a risk with this spot in trying to reach the viewers of the Super Bowl. Did it pay off? I don’t think it did. It might’ve worked had the commercial been shorter, but it took too long to get to the point.

2. Skechers – Kim Kardashian

Kim Kardashian is a beautiful woman. But did I really need to see her in a commercial for Skechers? I thought this spot was too over the top and served better at boosting Kim’s ego than boosting the sales of Skechers shoes.

3. Doritos – House Sitting

The reason this commercial is on the Bad list is because of my perceived cockiness on Dortios’ part in portraying product as having the God-like powers to bring living things back too life.

Honourable Mention: CarMax – Service Station

By the time I understood the message, I didn’t care. I can’t speak about all gas stations, but whenever I go to full service gas stations, the attendant will clean my front and rear windows as well as check my oil. That’s why I wasn’t crazy about CarMax’s portrayal of good customer service being so ancient.

The Ugly

1. Go Daddy – The Contract

I honestly did not know who the woman alongside Danica Patrick was. (If you’re wondering the same thing, it’s fitness guru Gillian Michaels.) It’s not a good thing when people don’t instantly recognize the celebrity in your commercial. I’m also not a fan of Go Daddy blatantly encouraging people to visit their website to see more.

2. Career Builder – Chimps

I envision the creative brainstorming session for this ad going along the lines of the creative director, or maybe even the client, saying that a great idea would be to use a bunch of chimpanzees in the commercial, and everyone agreeing it was a good idea out of fear of losing their jobs. I understand the concept of showing a person “stuck between a bad job and a hard place”, but I think the execution failed.

3. Chevy Camaro – Red Head

Let me start off by saying I’m fond of the Camaro, so it wasn’t an easy choice to include it on this list; however, I don’t think this ad is effective in showing off the Camaro. The ad is all over the place. It really needs to take its Ritalin and calm down!

Honourable Mention – Snickers – Logging

I understand quite a few people were fond of this spot. Maybe it’s because they’re all excited about seeing Roseanne Barr getting hit with a massive log!

January 25, 2011

“The Secret of All Persuasion…

Filed under: Advertising — adamlauzon @ 10:30 AM
Tags: , , ,

…Is to induce the person to persuade himself.”

– Stuart Ewen, Professor – Hunter College

There you go, I just shared the biggest insight revealed in the hour and a half PBS Frontline documentary The Persuaders. If the consumer takes action without first being prompted by your ad, then you’ve succeeded. However getting to that point is a very tedious process that sees a lot of failure. Why? Because simply put it’s not easy coming up with a brand or a campaign that will induce people to persuade themselves. Countless people have tirelessly researched ways to convince people to buy more, with no luck. The Persuaders introduce us to several brands, ideas, and people that have tried to come up with ways to achieve the ultimate secret of persuasion.

Before I get any further into today’s entry, I want to give a shout-out to Terry O’Reilly and Mike Tennant whose hit show, The Age of Persuasion, recently began its fifth season on CBC Radio One. Starting this year anyone who isn’t able to tune-in on Saturday mornings at 11:30 or Thursday afternoons at 2:30, will be able to download podcasts of season five through iTunes. Now you can listen to The Age of Persuasion while you workout, commute to work, or as you tune-out your boss! (Please note, the producers of the show will not be held responsible for anyone fired for tuning out their boss!)

The Persuaders is a PBS Frontline documentary that was released in 2004. It was written and narrated by Douglas Rushkoff. The same mind that brought us another PBS Frontline doc, and the subject of the last Advertising Apprentice entry, The Merchants of Cool. The Persuaders looks at the different ways marketers are trying to stand-out of the vicious circle of clutter, in order to get their message heard.

Outside the profound insight highlighted above, there are three other people/ideas from The Persuaders that I’d like to discuss:

  1. Song Airlines
  2. Lovemarks and Kevin Roberts
  3. Dr. Clotaire Rapaille and Market Research

Song Airlines

Song Airlines launched in 2003. It was a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, and was meant to serve as a low-cost carrier to compete with Jet Blue. Delta was taking a big risk with this endeavour as Song began operations at the worst possible time for the airline industry, post 9/11. Its flight was short-lived and a little over three years after it began, Delta ceased Song’s operations and the fleet became integrated with the rest of Delta’s fleet.

The reason I’m discussing Song Airlines isn’t to talk about a small blip on the American airline industry radar, but rather because of the following quote from the man in charge of Song’s marketing:

This is a business, this isn’t an art form. We must ensure that it’s communication that drives commerce not just makes people feel good.” – Tim Mapes Marketing Director, Delta Airlines

What I love about this quote is that it shows the client’s take on advertising, “We must ensure that it’s communication that drives commerce…” If their campaign happens to win a CLIO or a Cannes Lions, that’s great, but first and foremost the priority is to increase sales. And of course, at the time when Song was about to launch, it was essential for their advertising to have a positive impact on sales.

As I mentioned the airline didn’t last too long, perhaps with the help of Lovemarks, they’d still be around.

Lovemarks and Kevin Roberts

A lovemark is “A brand that has created loyalty beyond reason. That’s infused with mystery sensuality and intimacy. And that you recognize immediately has having some kind of iconic place in your heart.” – Kevin Roberts, CEO, Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide


Lovemarks is turning any product into an object of devotion. It’s the movement from brands to the experiences (of our five senses).

The creation of Lovemarks was Saatchi & Saatchi’s way of differentiating themselves from their competitors. An interesting paradox when you consider that advertising (copywriting) traditionalists when conceptualizing an ad for a client try to hone in on the product or service’s unique selling preposition.

The introduction of Lovemarks was also a way for the agency to revive itself following the loss of a major client ($185 million in billings from Johnson & Johnson, including the Tylenol account which Saatchi & Saatchi had held for 28 years.).

I see Lovemarks as being simple brand-loyalty. The goal is to create a strong connection with the customer, get them to the point where they don’t consciously have to think about making the purchase; it’s an automatic. But where the concept of Lovemarks is different from brand-loyalty is that whereas brand-loyalty is a process that can take some time, Lovemarks attempts to create that loyalty beyond reason in a short amount of time.

You can read more about Lovemarks here and here.

The jury is still out on whether Lovemarks is here to stay but perhaps with the market research services of Dr. Clotaire Rapaille, the concept would have been better developed.

Dr. Clotaire Rapaille and Market Research

Good marketing research works. It means that marketers understand the real need of the customers. Sometimes unspoken. And they deliver. Give me what I want.” – Dr. Clotaire Rapaille

This quote shows that in order to successfully reach your customers you must understand what they want. When you see some brands clearly missing the mark in reaching their audience, you wonder if they really knew whom it was they were supposed to be targeting.

After viewing the segment on Dr. Rapaille and doing some research on him, I think he would’ve been well respected by the late great Phil Dusenberry who emphasized the importance of research in his book One Great Insight Is Worth a Thousand Good Ideas. He wrote, “The first thing you do in dealing with any business problem is research. You collect data so you can understand the problem, or at least approach it more knowingly. Before you can deliver a message to customers that incites them to buy more…”

(Research was the first principle of Dusenberry’s RAISE model, “Good research demands brilliant analysis which inspires blazing insights that lead to groundbreaking strategies and award-winning executions.”)

In addition to being a marketing research guru, a label given to Dr. Rapaille, by Douglas Rushkoff, the doctor must have done some research when choosing his career-path. His research at the start of the twenty-first century, focus groups were a favourite tool of his, focused on the hunt for the luxury code. Rapaille believes that consumers are drive by unconscious needs and impulses. We hunt on the basis of primal urges, which is part of his theory on the reptilian brain. This type of specialized research helped his bottom-line as clients from the insurance, automobile, and fragrances industries have together paid Rapaille several hundred thousand dollars for the luxury code in the hopes it will provide them with a competitive advantage no matter what they’re selling.

A further example that business is good for Dr. Rapaille, is his fees:

“$225,000 for a study like the one on paper products; $25,000 for a 45-minute lecture; $125,000 for a group session (for companies like P&G and IBM) on an issue such as America-bashing in Europe.” (The preceding text is courtesy of Forbes.)

There was a fourth person/quote from The Persuaders that I found noteworthy. “It doesn’t matter what you want to tell the public. It’s about what they want to hear.” – Frank Luntz

As it seems that a Canadian federal election is right around the corner, I’ll save my thoughts on this quote for an upcoming entry on political advertising. Also watch for an entry in the near future on the British Columbia based anti-consumerist magazine, Adbusters.

October 3, 2010

Hail to the all Powerful Teenager

Filed under: Advertising — adamlauzon @ 8:16 PM
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Author’s Note: Originally this entry was going to include both PBS documentaries The Merchants of Cool and The Persuaders. But as I began writing this entry I realized there was more than enough content for it to have its own entry. This means that the next Advertising Apprentice entry will focus solely on The Persuaders.

Thanks to YouTube, and PBS for not claiming copyright infringement, the entire documentary has been posted online for our enjoying pleasure:

I credit the topic for today’s entry as being the reason I’m in advertising. I first saw it about five years ago while I was a second year Communications student at the University of Ottawa. I was taking a Pop Culture and Communications course and the professor decided to show us this documentary. I was excited because it meant I could have a nap! So it starts playing and I pay attention for the first little bit, we were told a question on the final exam would cover this documentary, but as they started spewing out all these facts about how teens with all their disposable income dominate the marketplace, my curiosity was piqued. The young capitalist in me wanted to be apart of the industry responsible for influencing the purchasing decisions of the 12-19-year-old market-segment.

Some of the facts that caught my attention:

  • At 32 million strong, this is the largest generation of teenagers.
  • They spent more than $100 billion themselves and pushed their parents to spend more than $50 billion on top of that.  This money is guilt money that parents give their kids for not being able to spend more time with them.
  • A typical American teenager will process over 3,000 discreet advertisements in a single day and 10 million by the time they’re 18.

Since the documentary was made in 2001, these numbers might not be completely accurate, but they still do a good job in illustrating how big of a segment teenagers, with all their disposable income, really are. Between their part-time jobs and the guilt money they receive from their parents, they almost literally work to play. Those numbers above are the reason why Bob Bibb, a television-marketing executive, states, “teens run today’s economy”.

With all the money on the line it should come as no surprise to see the amount, and the extent of market research companies do. Between holding focus groups, stopping people on the streets and conducting informal interviews about their likes and dislikes, and even going to the “average” teenagers house to learn everything about them (an ethnography study), marketers work really hard to understand this segment inside and out. So in order to win the loyalty, read: money of the teens, marketers believe they have to speak their language the best. Rob Stone, a teen marketing executive sums it up quite well, “If you don’t understand and recognize what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, and be able to take that in and come-up with a really precise message that you’re trying to reach these kids with, you’re going to lose.”

Does this guy look familiar?

Here’s a hint, he’s the best selling, Canadian, author of The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, and What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures. That’s right it’s Malcolm Gladwell! Now what does he have to do with this topic? I’m so glad you asked, in addition to being interviewed in The Merchants of Cool, while he was a writer with The New Yorker, he wrote an article on cool hunting, which you can read here. (I know it’s a long article, but just like everything else written by Gladwell, it’s well worth the read and you’ll learn a lot.)

The Merchants of Cool also discusses sex in teen programming. The whole concept of which is heavily debated. Kids tend to mirror what they see on TV, yet the argument is made that the programming reflects real life. It’s really a vicious loop. This debate is very similar to the two schools of thought about teaching sex-ed. Do you preach to young people the importance of abstinence or do you teach them all about safe-sex? We all know that sex sells, I’ve discussed it’s role in advertising in a previous Advertising Apprentice entry, but should sex be included in programming and marketing aimed at teens? That’s a great question that continues to be debated. Feel free to weigh-in on this and let me know what you think.

For the student readers, you should definitely check-out this article from the July 30th edition of Marketing Magazine. Tony Miller, creative director at Anderson DDB in Toronto, offers some really good tips for both students working on their portfolios, and the creative directors whom the students looking to break into the industry will be showing their books to for feedback. Keep what Miller says in the back of your mind when you find yourselves in front of a creative director and they’re flipping through your book.

As I mentioned above, the next Advertising Apprentice entry will focus on PBS’ advertising documentary The Persuaders. That entry will come your way in the next two to three weeks.

September 15, 2010

A Refreshingly Real Approach to Advertising

Filed under: Advertising — adamlauzon @ 2:20 PM
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Has it really been almost three months since my last post? That has to change! Well nothing says welcome back like an entry on a topic that makes men cringe almost as much as this:

The next worst thing for most men to seeing someone get hit in that part of the body is, in my opinion, when their spouse, in a slightly irritated tone, says, “Honey can you go buy me some tampons?”

While this entry won’t focus on the act of physically going out and buying tampons, it will focus on an ad campaign, U by Kotex, that hopes that when women, and men, are out buying these products that you consider Kotex. The reason for focusing on Kotex is the unique way they’ve set themselves apart from the competition in this new campaign.

For your viewing pleasure I’ve selected three of my favourites of the campaign. If you’re interested in seeing more from this campaign, the links are posted at the end of the entry.

The main reason I like this campaign so much is because they are a refreshing change to the spots we are accustomed to seeing from this product-class, like this one:

The ads in the Kotex campaign go outside of the norm for commercials for feminine-hygiene products. This “real” approach is as if they’re having a real conversation with their consumers, void of the clichés normally seen.

The first spot does a really good job at conveying this real, yet quite honestly cynical message. The line “The ads on TV are really helpful because they use that blue liquid and I’m like oh that’s supposed to happen.” That is then followed by the text on the screen, “Why are tampon ads so ridiculous?” The second spot is consistent in its criticism of commonly seen tampon ads, especially with the question at the end, “Why are tampon ads so obnoxious?” Finally the third ad is great because it shows how squeamish and put-off guys get when asked to buy tampons for a woman. I really love the hidden-camera element because it’s able to fairly accurately show men’s discomfort level with buying tampons. Notice how one guy even says, “Can I just buy you toilet-paper?” This ad is consistent with the previous two ads in how it breaks the mould. It is also consistent with the question text at the end of the spot, “Why are 40% of people uncomfortable buying tampons?”

Do these commercials work? (For the purposes of this discussion I’m interested in the ability to quickly recall the brand, some time after seeing the spot.) Last night I was telling my 16-year-old brother about the topic for this week’s entry, telling him I was writing an entry on a tampon ad campaign that seems to have taken an unconventional, yet welcome, new approach. He replied instantly, “Oh you mean those Kotex ads?” Granted he’s not a consumer of this product but the fact that the ads are memorable enough for him to retain and easily recall the brand-name is a positive sign. Because when his girlfriend sends him to the store to pick her up some tampons, being the confused/lost man that he will be, chances are pretty high that he will quickly gravitate towards the brand he can quickly recall, Kotex!

My next entry, which I promise won’t be published in three months, will focus on two PBS Frontline documentaries, The Merchants of Cool and The Persuaders.

Here are other Kotex ads from the U by Kotex campaign:

Trip Along the Shelf

Barely There

Easy to be Different

Break the Cycle

Rorschach Test – Social Experiment

Job Interview – Social Experiment

Help Me Choose – Social Experiment

To read more insight on this new approach by Kotex, Andrew Adam Newman of the New York Times wrote an article on the U by Kotex campaign, which you can see here.

June 18, 2010

Interview with an Adman – James P. Othmer (Part Two)

Filed under: Advertising — adamlauzon @ 10:00 AM

Today in part two of my interview with James P. Othmer, author of Adland – Searching for the Meaning of Life on a Branded Planet, we learn about some of the dynamic individuals you can encounter in advertising, the controversial practice of pharma marketing, and we get to read about Othmer’s views about a New York agency that has developed their own unique approach.

Sit-back, grab a nice warm beverage (may I recommend a Starbucks Latte), and prepare to be enlightened…

It seems like you had, for a lack of better words, an interesting relationship with Mark Fenske. We’re first introduced to him in chapter 4 and then we get reacquainted with him again near the end of Adland in chapter 15. What can you say about the impact Mark Fenske had on your life (professionally)?

Before Mark came to take over the creative department of NW Ayer, I was a huge fan of his work.  He’d already done a bunch of award-winning stuff and had directed that much heralded and copied Van Halen “Right Now” video.  But when our CEO told me he was coming to our venerable agency, the first and oldest in the country, it didn’t make sense to me.  Not because of his creative skills, or even his management skills, which were interesting to say the least.  I was skeptical because his approach and our client list – AT&T, Folgers, Kitchenade – were not at all compatible. His first day he gathered us all in a conference room and basically told us we all sucked, that we were “all lost in the Nincompoop Forest” and he was the only one who could lead us out.  The younger creatives ate this up, but I was 35, didn’t feel particularly lost, and didn’t appreciate the condescension.  The funny thing is, despite my resistance to Fenske’s frequently boorish tactics, his presence did give my career a real kick in the ass.  I wrote some of my best ads ever for Mark and some of the most creative things I’ve done in or out of advertising.  Unfortunately none of them ever sold.  We lost AT&T and a lot of business around this time.  Fenske left soon after.  And within three years America’s first and oldest agency was no more.

When I visited Mark and sat in on his class at VCU I saw him with fresh eyes.  He’s an amazing teacher.  He’s still talented, original and demanding, and I only realized after hearing him drop one amazing bit of life and career wisdom after another on his students that he was in the perfect place, molding students in his image to go out and shake things up, to find places and clients that wanted to do their kind of work.  That night we had dinner and drinks and looked back at the time we spent at Ayer and for the first time I heard his side of things. Someone recently polled a bunch of ad creatives and asked if they’d rather work for a pleasant hack or a brilliant tyrant, and the tyrant won hands down, a fact that I found encouraging.

(The following question is based on your experience with KFC while you were with Y&R.) Why do you think that so often than not the client blames the advertising for sales not being up, and yet it’s a basic principle of any Intro to Marketing class that all it takes is just one of the marketing 4Ps (product, price, place, promotion) to throw the others off?

KFC was not doing well at all when I was asked to work on their business, and after 25 or more years it was primed to jump to another agency.  For the review, my team created a quirky campaign that I liked, but thought the clients would never buy.  Of course, they did.  I’d never participated in the franchisee experience until then, and it was an amazing and frightening phenomenon.  Once produced, our work was presented to the franchisees in Louisville, and they were not happy.  Not enough chicken.  Not enough price.  Bigger numbers.  Bigger logo.  Every week I sat with my team around a speaker phone only to be chastised for the company’s diminishing sales.  I protested to the client and to the agency heads but we were determined to retain the business.  So the new ads were slight variations on the old.  Sales continued to slip and soon they jumped ship.  When you lose an account, it’s a horrible feeling when you see the new work from the new agency and it kicks ass.  Not surprisingly, this hasn’t been the case with KFC.

In the chapter entitled Thoughts on Impressions, you discuss your views on pharma marketing. In this discussion you come to the conclusion that pharmaceutical ads should be banned. Briefly summarize your thoughts for those that have yet to read Adland. (I think it’s great for people to hear an adman’s views on these types of ads.) Can pharma marketing ever be a good strategy? (Similarily, I think sites like WebMD are also having negative consequences as people are misdiagnosing themselves before going to see their doctors and describing their symptoms.)

The US and, for some strange reason, New Zealand, are the only countries in the free world that permit direct to consumer pharma ads.  This may not be a popular stance in Adland, because there’s enormous money to be made making ads for boner pills and restless legs, but I think it’s out of control, the legal copy, the disturbing and absurd side effects, the questionable FDA situations and findings that come to light years later.  If I’d written an ad for a pill that ended up doing more harm than good, or, to your point, lead to misdiagnosis, or the unnecessary prescribing of medications, I’d need a prescription for anti-depressants.  I’d much prefer ads, paid for by pharma or the AMA, that simply say, If you don’t feel well, see your doctor.

On page 192, with reference to the purpose of research, you quote Ben Kline, chief strategy officer for Leo Burnett Worlwide/Arc, as saying on the topic, “We’re basically trying to figure out what people want and connect them to it in the most meaningful way.” Isn’t this the, albeit simplified, ultimate goal of advertising, to create a connection between the consumer and your client’s product/service?

In Terry O’Reilly and Mike Tennant’s informative new book The Age of Persuasion, the authors recount an anecdote from 1904 where ad pioneer defined advertising in three simple words:  “Salesmanship on paper.”  Today, the authors rightly note, that definition would have to be expanded to include all form of media, and perhaps a broader definition of salesmanship, but yes, despite all the guru-speak, it’s pretty much the same game.  The biggest differences lie in how it is played out with an ever-evolving set of rules and tactics.

I’m intrigued by your statement on page 227, “Nothing influences, shapes, and reflects the state of the global psyche more than advertising”. This view seems to reiterate a quote earlier in the book by Mark Fenske, who said, “Advertising may be the most powerful art form on Earth.” These views hold advertising to a high standard. Despite such advertising vehicles as spam, telemarketing, and direct-mail (junk-mail) advertising, do you think advertising can and does uphold this standard? Is it equipped to enough to continue to “reflect the state of the global psyche”?

I think advertising does reflect and, for better or worse, shapes the global psyche.  Internationally, our country is identified by our entertainment and branding content as much as it is by its ideology.  Indeed, some might argue that entertainment, branding and consumerism is our ideology. Brands are much more ubiquitous and as influential as any philosophy or intellectual pursuit.  From LA to Kabul, they have the ability to transfix, seduce and enrage.

Whether advertising is art is a separate issue.  Advertising might be the most persuasive medium in the world, but sorry, Fenske, it’s far from the most powerful art form.  And with modern art co-opting and integrating logos and branding to make ironic or satirical statements, the matter  blurs even more. I used to cringe when Fenske contended that we were making art.  At the time I was getting my MFA in creative writing at night at NYU, writing stories for EL Doctorow and Peter Carey and Susan Minot, and striving to make my own kind of art.  So the thought that an ad, no matter how entertaining, for a sneaker, or a long distance calling plan could be considered art, let alone a more powerful form of it, seemed preposterous to me.  Since then, I’ve come to realize that what matters most is whether the person creating the ad or the story or the art thinks it’s art.

Jamie Barrett, and the rest of executives at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners come across as a bit of an enigma, on pages 270-274. In an industry that’s so bent on figuring out what’s next, they seem to go about business as usual and when a response is required they come up with an intellectual, yet “street-smart” approach for overcoming the challenge, and in turn are rewarded marvelously. In your opinion, why don’t more agencies follow a similar approach in terms of stop worrying about the future and focusing on the now?

What impressed and continues to amaze me about Goodby is that they’ve been so good for so long and have grown and adapted under an enormous spotlight and on an increasingly large scale.  It’s one thing to implement change at a boutique and quite another to do it in the heat of a half dozen pitches while working on behalf of dozens of the world’s premiere brands. Rather than go off and buy some expensive and risky digital play, or farm out the things they don’t get, they seem perpetually determined to figure things out for themselves and to have confidence, as Jamie told me, in their ability to think originally and independently. The world would be a better place if we all did.

June 16, 2010

Interview with an Adman – James P. Othmer

Filed under: Advertising — adamlauzon @ 12:09 PM
Tags: , ,

After an unexpected two-month sabbatical from the Advertising Apprentice, I’m back. (In case you’re wondering, the sabbatical was the result of me starting an important new job. So my attention for the last two months have been almost exclusively on making the most of this opportunity.)

A few months ago after reading James P. Othmer’s Adland – Searching for the Meaning of Life on a Branded Planet, I decided to try and contact the author and see if he’d be willing to do an interview with me. Sure enough, he was quite enthusiastic about the interview request, and below we have part one of my interview with James P. Othmer.

Othmer, by the way, has been quite busy lately, on June 1st Adland hit bookshelves in paperback form, and just yesterday Othmer’s second novel, Holy Water: A Novel, was released.

As I learnt from reading Adland, Othmer was not only a great adman, but he is an amazing story-teller. I have yet to get my hands on Holy Water, but I’m almost certain that it will be one of those books that you start reading and you’ll be hard-pressed to put it down until you’ve read the last sentence on the last page!

Without any further ado, here is part one of James P. Othmer’s interview with the Advertising Apprentice. And watch for part two of the interview, which I plan on publishing Friday morning.

Phil Dusenberry wrote, (the aptly named title of his book) “One great insight is worth a thousand great ideas”. What’s the greatest insight you had in your career?

I wandered along quite the non-traditional path before getting a job at a mainstream agency.  I worked as a sports writer at The Boston Globe and as an editorial assistant for a wine magazine. For Dell Publishing I wrote jacket copy for tawdry paperback books and was Kurt Vonnegut’s publicist for 18 blissful months.  My first screenwriting assignment was a freelance gig for a film for the NYC Hospitals called “Creating a Sterile Surgical Field for Gallbladder Surgery.”  All great experiences for a young writer, but when I started at NW Ayer I had a crude portfolio of book publishing and odd PQ (pre-Quark) spec ads I’d cobbled together without an art director.  I knew little to nothing about the way a big agency worked.  Strong writing and decent conceptual skills helped me get by, but after a lot of creative throat clearing I realized (painfully obvious insight alert!) that if I was every going to break out, I needed to trust my creative instincts and take more chances.  Rather than mimicking the work of risk takers in advertising and literature, I began to mimic the way they approached the work.  This didn’t come suddenly, and I imagine people starting out today are aware of this coming out of the gate.  But I wasn’t sure I belonged at first.  Only after letting it all hang out and doing work that made people squirm and laugh and think differently, did I get noticed, and more confident, and take even more risks.  My insight, or epiphany, was to simply have confidence in my ability. It took a while for me to recognize this with advertising, and even longer with my fiction.

Talk a bit about the one person in your advertising career that had the biggest impact, good or bad. What was it that made their impact so memorable? Do you still keep in contact them?

There have been a lot, including Mark Fenske, whom I’m sure we’ll discuss later.  But other than Mark I’d have to say my sister Karen and my wife Judy.  Karen was the first person to take the time to think about what an 18-year old wise ass with horrible grades might do with his life.  In ADLAND I recount the kitchen table conversation we had, and I have some fun with it, but the truth is she took the time to recognize some latent ability in me as a writer and cared enough to push me in that general direction.  When I got out of college and was having trouble finding a job as a writer of anything, my wife Judy refused to let me settle.  To make ends meet I agreed to listen to my father and get my union bricklayer’s card.  While waiting in the car on a cold winter day, my wife looked at the dozens of men hunched and waiting on line and told me if I got out of the car she’d never speak to me again, because I was a writer. Plato wrote in The Symposium that one of the greatest privileges of a human life is to become midwife to the birth of the soul in another. My sister Karen and Judy, my wife of 26 years, changed my life by taking the time to cultivate my soul and urge me to reach higher and one of the things I enjoyed most with younger creatives and now with emerging fiction writers is to pay that gift forward.

You spent 20 years in the advertising industry and then you experienced a paradigm shift when you landed the book deal for your novel, The Futurist. How much of an adjustment was it going from a hectic, very stressful life in advertising and barely seeing your family to enjoying the leeway offered by being an author being able to spend exponentially more time with your family? Similarly, while doing the research and conducting interviews for Adland, did you at all miss “what has been such a large part of your life for so long”?

Working as a full-time writer has been incredibly fulfilling and terrifying.  Creatively it’s everything I want for a career because, in addition to fiction, I’ve been writing journalism, non-fiction and, recently, some TV projects.  Seeing my kids and coaching Pony League and softball and all that is great, too.  But working alone, sentence to sentence, book to book, all essentially on spec, or dependent upon the acceptance of complete strangers, is a different kind of situation, a different kind of stress.  As good as the reception has been for my work, and as confident as I am that there soon might be a feature film version of The Futurist, I’m still in startup mode, and, truthfully, for this very reason I never did completely walk away from advertising.  I still do creative and strategic consulting and still enjoy it, under the right circumstances, very much.  The first thing I tell clients or agency CDs is, I promise I won’t write about it, unless you want me to!

Midway through Adland it seems a shift takes place from you discussing your experiences in advertising from a first person point-of-view to you supplementing information on certain topics by referring to other authors or by interviewing people and quoting former colleagues or people still in the industry. This seems like an interesting, and uncommon, storytelling technique.

Hah! Uncommon or terribly flawed.  Here’s my rationale for the structure: I had a nice but far from legendary career.  What I thought I could bring to the ad book canon is a sort of classic middle manager creative’s tale.  Not the tale of a guru or a legend or a CEO.  Oglivy or Della Famina or Mary Wells. Those books, while insightful, entertaining and valuable, tend to look down at the business from 37 thousand feet, or are intended to preserve one’s legacy, rather than offer a clear-eyed view of the industry.  I wanted to write something fun and provocative that someone coming into advertising might read and say, ‘So that’s the kind of shit that goes down…Those are some of the moral and ethical choices I might have to make…That’s one writer’s tale of what it was like, at least at a big agency.’

The other type of ad book seems to be from an outsider’s perspective, the event driven narrative of an embedded or dedicated journo, such as the amazing Where the Suckers Moon.  For the second section I decided to go back to the scene of the crime and take a look at advertising circa five minutes from now.  I wanted to satisfy my own curiosity and to look more closely, years away from my last full-time gig, at how the industry continues to shape and reflect our culture.  I also wanted to get away from the big dinosaur shops and Some people dig both approaches. Some wished I’d stuck with a straight adland memoir and had skipped the more journalistic pieces, and others could care less about my career but ate up the look at the idea factories and present day issues.

In the final chapter of Adland you state that during your “final years of advertising the most rewarding aspect of the job was trying to help younger people who you liked make sense of the process, telling them what (and whom) to watch out for and what steps were needed to make their idea better and maybe even the one that wins. (A large part of the reason I suspect you agreed to do this interview!) So for the young people reading what advice do you have?

Not just young.  I get more letters from people who have given many years to advertising and now find themselves on the outside looking in, or feeling that it’s passing them by.  Or they are disillusioned.  Some got depressed at while still at VCU’s Brandcenter or Creative Circus.  Others got inspiration from everything.  I recently spoke to the students at VCU and it was interesting, because the most brilliant ad execs in the world go down to Richmond to speak to them and, of course, to recruit.  The students had the best teachers and were surrounded by passionate, hungry and talented colleagues.  The thing that struck me about all this was that coming out of such a perfect creative/strategic environment, how would they deal with a serious dose of the incompetence, compromises and disfunction that plagues advertising (and most) industries?  I paraphrased a bit from the introduction to the book and asked, Would you work on a tobacco account? A military account on the eve of a controversial war? A petrochemical account?  A fast food account?  Does obesity run in your family?  Cancer? I told them, since they clearly had oodles of talent, that they should write the brief for their career before it starts because there will come times when they will be asked to do deception, evil, or worse, mediocre work.  I told them sometimes it will be easier to say no than others, depending upon your bank account, your age, your moral strength, and your place in the agency pantheon.  At one time or another I was asked to work on all of the above, and during my twenty years as a creative person I went from wide-eyed junior to golden boy to star to veteran to disillusioned has been, back (briefly) to golden boy and then finally to savvy and wise in-house poet.  Things change.  Some people are meant to be stars and some are meant to thrive in the middle and there’s no shame in that.  I scared the shit out of more than one student that day but a lot appreciated the candor.

(Come back on Friday, as in the second part of the interview I ask Othmer about the unconventional relationships formed in the advertising industry, the hot-button topic of pharma marketing, and his views on an agency that comes across as a bit of an enigma.)

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