THERE WILL BE NO MEDAL--BUT YOU WILL ENJOY RIDICULE
If you were here for the last two installments of the screed, you know that we've been ranting about an internationally famous cult brand that is sexy and enormously profitable.
That brand is filled with azure blue waters, white-sand beaches, suntanned, nearly naked customers, and the Caribbean's best pizza.
Here now, something else.
Here now, an internationally famous cult brand that is unsexy.
It is unlikely to ever be profitable.
It is filled with sweat, blood, grime, thorns, blisters and ridicule.
Customers around the world clamor to do business with this brand--and few ever get the opportunity.
AND IF THEY DO GET THAT OPPORTUNITY?
They can be guaranteed to endure pain, exhaustion and mockery.
Welcome to the Barkley Marathons.
Never heard of the Barkley Marathons?
You've certainly heard of the Boston Marathon.
It's the world's oldest annual marathon, established in 1897.
It is also notoriously difficult to qualify. And its economic impact on the city of Boston is estimated at over $170 million.
The Boston Marathon is the mac daddy brand of organized running.
Everyone who runs wants to get to Boston.
But maybe that's not you. Maybe you're just thinking of getting off the sofa and reaching for your running shoes instead of another slice of pizza.
SOMEWHERE, THERE IS A RACE FOR YOU
And if you want an "epic" distance, you can probably find a Rock & Roll Marathon near you. They presently run more than 30 events in nine countries.
The owner of the Rock & Roll Marathons was sold to a capital group in 2014 for $250 million.
Their races support you like crazy.
They have water, sports beverages, energy foods, aid stations, live bands, encouragement and cheering all along course.
And whether your distance is a half marathon or a full marathon, at the finish, there is always a medal waiting for you. (I should know. I usually finish in the middle of the pack, yet I have medals from half a dozen half marathons, one full marathon, and five triathlons.)
Organized road racing is a national phenomenon. Running USA tells us that in 2015, over 16 million people competed in an organized road race.
ALSO IN 2015, NOT A SINGLE RUNNER FINISHED THE BARKLEY MARATHONS
So what the hell?
The Barkley Marathons has become known as, "The race that eats its young."
Founded in 1986, it has been finished only 19 times by 15 runners.
The brainchild of a former ultra-marathoner in Tennessee, finishing The Barkley is almost impossible.
In fact, it's almost impossible to enter.
There is no official information anywhere about how to enter, how to contact the organizer, when the race is--and after you've entered, there isn't even an official start time. It's all at the whim of race organizer Lazarus Lake.
If you do figure out how to enter, the entry fee is $1.60. Your entry fee must be accompanied by an essay: "Why I Should be Allowed to Run in the Barkley."
AND IF YOUR ESSAY PERSUADES LAZARUS THAT YOU ARE BARKLEY MATERIAL?
He sends you a condolence letter.
"Dear Runner's Name, it is my unfortunate duty to inform you that your name has been selected for the Barkley Marathons."
He suggests that while you could spend the next several months in rigorous training, that time would be better spent putting your affairs in order and updating your will.
Or, you could come to your senses, bow out and he'll pass your entry to some other "unfortunate fool."
He will never tell you what time the race starts.
He will never reveal the course until the day of.
He will merely require that you and 39 other unfortunate fools arrive in Tennessee's Frozen Head State Park at the appointed time, at the infamous yellow gate, and wait.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN TO START?
Sometime between midnight and noon of race day, Lazarus Lake will blow on a conch shell.
That signals one hour until the start.
One hour later, he signals the start by striking a match and lighting his Camel cigarette.
Then, you and 39 others will be off.
It's a little different than starting the New York Marathon with tens of thousands of joyful goofballs shuffling along to a big-ass PA system belting out Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York."
IN THE BARKLEY, YOU WILL RUN A LOOP THAT LAZARUS CLAIMS IS 20 MILES LONG
Runners who've done it claim the loop is 26 miles.
You will attempt to run that loop five times in 60 hours.
Over those 60 hours, you will attempt to run the equivalent of five full marathons with an accumulated elevation gain of 54,000 feet.
And you will fail.
There will be no organized support, no aid stations, no live bands.
And there will be no medal.
But you will have survived areas of a course with names like Rat Jaw, Little Hell, The Bad Thing, and Testicle Spectacle.
YOU ARE IN THE BARKLEY
How did this all happen?
Why do hundreds of runners from around the world annually compete for 40 slots in this barely organized madness?
And of those hundreds of runners, who do so many of them shoot for the one, single slot open to the "sacrificial virgin," the one entrant deemed to have no hope at all of completing even one loop?
Welcome to the cult.
No prize money.
No 15 minutes of fame.
At best, you get a hearty handshake.
Lazarus Lake is relentless.
If you come in from one loop of the race and even look like you're going to drop out, he will goad you into doing more.
IF THAT FAILS, YOU THEN GET TO ENDURE THE BUGLER
The bugler announces your failure in the Barkley by playing taps.
Most years, taps is played at least 39 times.
Frequently, it is played 40 times, once for each failed runner. Once for every man and woman who made the attempt and went down in flames.
Like in 2015--when more 16 million Americans competed in an organized road race, and a year after the Rock & Roll Marathons organizer was sold for a quarter billion dollars--nobody completed the Barkley Marathons.
Somehow, there is one runner, a guy from Salt Lake, who has never heard taps played for himself. He's finished the race three times.
His name is Jared Campbell. And his blog is really interesting.
In talking about the Barkley, he uses words like "quiet," "introspective," "exhaustion," "exploits," "heroes," and "tireless. He also uses phrases like, "dark challenges," "preventable disasters," "swallow the pain," and "The Final Hallucination."
YES, THE RACERS WHO GET FAR ENOUGH WILL HALLUCINATE
And in a world of overprotective fussing in the big business that is organized road racing, Mr. Campbell's blog elucidates the appeal of the Barkley Marathons.
He refers to it as less a running race and more a psychological and social experiment.
He says it has taught him lessons about life, himself, and others.
That it has shaped who he is and how he looks at life.
And I get it.
As a guy who has twice crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a sailboat, who has spent nights alone on deck in the dark while the wind is blowing stink, having heated, one-sided conversations with the deity, and who has occasionally wondered whether This Is It, I get it.
It's a test. And it changes you.
The Barkley is something most people will never experience.
It is Everest.
NOT THE PAY-YOUR-MONEY-AND-BE-LED-UP-THE-ROPES EVEREST
It is the Everest of Hillary.
It is the Everest of the psyche.
It is the Everest of the soul.
It is a tight-knit group, a brother- and sisterhood, a dare, a genuine and immense challenge in an age marked by coddling and prefabrication and the inanity that is social media.
The Barkley is something that is becoming ever more difficult to find.
The Barkley core customer is a runner who craves a test of the mind, body and spirit.
And the one way that core customer should feel is that the Barkley is unabashedly authentic.
In the social, psychological and physical insulation of the 21st century, authenticity is dead.
Long live authenticity.
Condolences for entering the Barkley.
You will enjoy ridicule.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
WANT OVERNIGHT FAME AND FORTUNE BY BUILDING AN INTERNATIONALLY-KNOWN, SMALL-BUSINESS CULT BRAND?
Then get busy.
The brand we're going to use as a model for your overnight success is very sexy.
Your brand will also be years in the making. That's the reality of most overnight successes.
Cruising easy-breezy into the international spotlight is simple: do a lot of planning, a lot of leg work, get repeatedly hot and grubby, and be intensely focused.
Simply put: be prepared to just work your ass off.
Our model brand here is built by a smart, good-looking couple working in a stunning environment. Azure blue waters. White sand beaches. Muscular, suntanned yachties as customers.
This couple is a living, breathing, made-for-photos-and-TV example of small-business brand focus.
And if you're equal parts courageous and crazy, you can do what they do.
THEY ARE EXACTLY WHAT YOU'D EXPECT FROM A PIZZA BUSINESS
Yes, pizza. Really.
On TripAdvisor, their brand has become the #1 restaurant in St. Thomas, USVI--which is saying something for an island destination whose lifeblood is tourism.
That #1 rating is out of 204 restaurants rated by TripAdvisor users.
Here's the catch: to get their pizza, you need a boat.
The pizza is being served to boaters in St. Thomas from a sailboat anchored in beautiful Christmas Cove at Great St. James Island.
The business has garnered international attention in the press, and became an overnight sensation.
It has been covered by the press internationally, and has become a bustling operation that serves about 70 pizzas a day. (That might not seem like a lot relative to, say, any other pizzeria anywhere. But how many of those pizzerias are on a boat in a remote location?)
And who is this happy couple and what is their bustling little business bobbing away at anchor in paradise?
MEET CHEF TARA AND CAPTAIN SASHA OF PIZZA PI
These two are certified Smart People.
Capt. Sasha graduated from MIT before going to Wall Street and working for Standard & Poors. That lasted about six years, until he "chucked it all" to become an instructor at the New York Sailing School.
Of course, as great as sailing in New York Harbor is, it has little on sailing in the limpid, cerulean waters of the Caribbean. So Capt. Sasha lit out to the Caribbean, where he began captaining boats.
That's where he met Chef Tara.
A special education teacher from Indiana, Tara was spending her summers in the British Virgin Islands as a scuba instructor.
Meeting Capt. Sasha put a voluntary end to the teaching career, as Tara decided to "Chuck it all to follow [her] heart & boyfriend into a life of sun and sailing."
Which led to a new career as an award-winning chef aboard charter yachts.
BUT SMART PEOPLE OFTEN NEED TO DO CRAZY THINGS
That's my analysis, not theirs.
But let's face it: what they did seems just a little crazy.
They decided they needed to open a food truck.
Except they're in the islands.
So naturally, the food truck had to become a food boat.
And that food boat would fill a void so glaring, it seems almost painfully obvious that someone should have filled it--except that most sensible folks would say, "Nah, that's crazy!"
Understand, I say this not just as some branding geek sitting high atop a mountain outside beautiful Park City, Utah.
I say this is a guy who used to work on sailboats in the Caribbean, who loves pizza, and was one of many people in the same job who would sit around a boat at night, drinking a few beers or some excellent cheap rum, saying, "Damn, if only we could get a pizza delivered."
None of us did anything about it, of course.
IT TOOK TWO SMART, POSSIBLY RECKLESS, STARRY-EYED DREAMERS
Again, my analysis, not theirs.
They don't actually look starry-eyed or reckless.
They might be dreamers.
How else do you explain finding an old hulk of an abandoned 37-foot aluminum sailboat, refitting it as a pizza kitchen, and opening up shop in a tropical island anchorage where the only guaranteed traffic is from people with boats?
And if the dream seems reckless, it helps to back it up with some good old-fashioned smarts and responsibility.
I asked Chef Tara what kind of pizza they serve. She says, "Sasha is from NYC. I had no choice in the type of pizza we would be serving."
OK, sell what you know. And as a Yankee who has eaten a lot of NYC pizza, I cannot begrudge the good captain his preferred pie.
Tara continues, "We went to the Pizza School of New York to learn the art of NY style pizza and sauces. As a bonus we were also given a crash course in restaurant management and accounting."
OK, EXPERT TRAINING IN ALL ASPECTS OF RUNNING THE BUSINESS HELPS
It makes things seem a little less reckless.
And if the results are any indication, their dream has been enormously realized.
From Day Zero three and a half years ago, they've ramped up their business to the current slinging of 70 pies daily.
They've also ended up as media darlings. There are dozens of news stories and videos about PiZZA Pi. They've even been covered by business-news giant Bloomberg.
And, of course, their business is booming.
I didn't pry into the financials of PiZZA Pi, but just doing some quick math, let's assume that nobody orders just a pizza. (They also serve soft drinks, alcohol, ice cream and nitro cold-brew coffee.)
Let's just assume 70 tickets at an average of 30 bucks.
THIS COULD EASILY BE A MILLION-DOLLAR-A-YEAR OPERATION
But again, I'm just making a wild guess. Let's say it's half that.
How many new businesses wish they could pull off even that?
A wildly popular local brand, ranked #1 in their category by the fans, making a better-than-living-wage in paradise, winning friends and influencing people from around the world by serving pizza.
This is such a tremendous small-business story for so many reasons.
Wanting to know more so this small-business freight train of a brand could be shared with the Hot Shots faithful, I reached out to PiZZA Pi with questions. Chef Tara was good enough to reply.
I asked her what she believes is the secret to their success.
Chef Tara says, "The more I think about it, the more complicated this question becomes. PiZZA Pi has experienced success on many levels for a variety of reasons and together they equal success for the entire business & brand."
"HERE ARE SOME OF THE MAIN POINTS THAT I FEEL HAVE REALLY HELPED US."
"In national media, the notion of quitting your day job to pursue life in paradise has been trending in the past couple years.
"When production companies hear about us they go nuts because we fit within their story line (left Wall Street to open a pizza boat), as a couple we don't look terrible on camera, and our business setting is visually stimulating enough to attract attention.
"Being featured on national television, big-name print, and online publications has elevated our brand across the board and spread awareness and excitement to tourists traveling to our area."
AND GUESS WHAT ELSE: THEY HAVE A MISSION STATEMENT!
Believe it or not.
As the faithful fan of the weekly screed knows, that's exactly the kind of thing that we here at the Mountaintop Marketing Fortress love to harp upon: have a clear and defined mission.
And you want a good example of why that mission matters and how it informs the success of your brand?
Chef Tara continues: "Our mission statement has been our guide as the company grows. It keeps us true to the initial reason for our existence."
Oh, look. A guide. As the Fabulous Honey Parker would say, it keeps them good, right and true.
Chef Tara says, "Consistency is key to surviving in a small-town atmosphere where your reputation is discussed everywhere from the bars to government offices."
Oh. My. God. Consistency! If we do nothing else consistently here, we bang the drum for consistency.
And never discount the significance of your reputation on the coconut telegraph. In a place as small as St. Thomas, a reputation is easy to acquire--and you better hope people like you. Bars to government offices, indeed.
BUT WHAT'S THE MISSION?
"Our mission statement is as follows: 'PiZZA Pi is a hip and wholesome "food truck on the water" that is out to have fun while serving up the best pizza in the Caribbean. We cater to day-trip, term-charter, and local boaters and are dedicated to surpassing expectations by serving small-batch, high-quality foods sold at a reasonable price by friendly, knowledgeable staff.'
"Though our story is portrayed as having moved straight from NYC to owning a pizza boat, in reality it has been a ten-year adventure. Sasha and I left mainstream and worked as professional yacht crew in the Virgin Islands for a number of years and became intimately familiar with the marine industry and the surrounding communities.
"It was with this base knowledge that we developed our business plan, chose a location, spec'ed out requirements for our boat, and assembled a team to help secure appropriate licensing.
"We did open PiZZA Pi on a wing and a prayer, but we also (sort of) knew what we were getting into."
WHO EVER REALLY KNOWS WHAT THEY'RE GETTING INTO?
But being prepared, doing your homework, learning your craft, and anticipating the unknowns all contribute to the potential for your success.
And without ever once having stumbled across the Slow Burn Marketing mantra about brand, they knew intuitively what they needed to do: make their core customer feel one way about their business.
They want their customer to feel that PiZZA Pi is hip, wholesome and fun with the Caribbean's best pizza.
And that alone is something you can take to the bank.
But wait, there's more.
And we're going to have to continue it next week. Because there's a lot more ground to cover with the hip, wholesome and fun couple behind this sexy, island-time cult brand.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
WHAT DO SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH AND LIMP BIZKIT HAVE IN COMMON?
They together stand as a shining example of why, if you focus group your marketing work, you will hate life.
OK, so what does this actually mean?
If you've been paying attention to the news over the last week, you know that Boaty McBoatface is about to make its first ocean voyage.
I was not paying attention to the news. I learned this tidbit while listening to Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me! Which is a much more distinguished source of news than The Daily Show, lemme tell ya.
Anyway, the wisdom of sourcing world news from comedians aside, Boaty McBoatface first surfaced in the news about a year ago.
It all started at Great Britain's NERC.
"NERC" IS THE KIND OF NAME YOU GET WHEN BUREAUCRATS ARE IN CHARGE
It's not catchy. Doesn't have a good beat. Can't dance to it.
It stands for Natural Environment Research Council.
NERC ran a contest to name its new ship, a 410-foot research vessel that cost close to $300 million.
Intended to replace the RRS James Clark Ross and RRS Ernest Shackleton, my first question is: If it's replacing two ships, will it have the ability to defy time and space and be in two places at once?
NERC does not appear to have considered this question.
Anyway, NERC announced an online contest to name their new vessel, their presumed pride and joy.
THE INTERNET, PREDICTABLY, WENT NUTS
Everyone is a comedian.
People were floating names like, Clifford The Big Red Ship.
One of my personal favorites is RRS Usain Boat.
And a PR guy named James Hand (who certainly has endured his share of name jokes over the years) saw it all, laughed, and threw his hat into the ring with Boaty McBoatface.
The internet lost its mind.
THOUSANDS OF VOTES LATER...
RRS Boaty McBoatface was leading the pack as the internet's favorite name.
Was NERC really going to give a stupid name to its $300 million research vessel?
After all, the wisdom of crowds is a verifiable phenomenon. There's even a book about it.
And look at all the other hugely successful crowdsourced names over the last few years.
The nation of Slovakia crowdsourced the name for a new cycling and pedestrian bridge.
By a landslide, the internet's winning name was Chuck Norris.
There is no Chuck Norris Bridge in Slovakia.
It is called the Freedom Cycling-Bridge. Again, the kind of clunky name you get when bureaucrats are left in control. The "Freedom" part is very poignant, honoring the memories of people who tried to cross to freedom, but gets upstaged by "cycling bridge."
But I digress.
THEN THERE'S THE CITY OF AUSTIN
In a brilliant hybrid move of political correctness and keeping weirdness, the city's Solid Waste Services Department asked the internet for a new name.
I might've suggested the name Barry.
But they didn't ask me.
The internet suggested all kinds of interesting acronyms. Like The Department of Filth, Litter, Outreach, Abatement, Trimmings, Education and Recycling--which would be known as FLOATER.
One guy got his 15 seconds of fame by suggesting the waste management department be named after the front man for rap-rock band Limp Bizkit.
By a landslide, it was a favorite.
About 30,000 people voted to change the department's name from Solid Waste Services to the Fred Durst Society of the Humanities and Arts.
BUT THE INTERNET'S OPINION IS NEITHER BINDING NOR FINAL
If you live in the Lone Star State's capital city, your trash is now picked up by Austin Resource Recovery.
That's the kind of name you get when imaginative, politically correct bureaucrats are left in charge.
And the kind of name you get for your $300-million research vessel is not Boaty McBoatface, but RRS Sir David Attenborough.
A respectable name for a deep-ocean research vessel to succeed a proud ship like the RRS Ernest Shackleton.
Yes, Boaty McBoatface is going to sea. That's the name of the lead submersible aboard the Attenborough.
And PR guy James hand publicly apologized for creating internet mayhem by suggesting the name.
Interestingly, if you research Mr. Hand, in his Twitter bio he calls himself "The reason we can't have nice things."
EVERYBODY'S A COMEDIAN
Or everyone's earnest.
Or everyone's a clown.
Or everyone's sincere.
Or everyone's the wrong people to be doing this with.
Asking anyone else their opinion on the creative work you're trying to do is a bad, bad idea.
Unless you are certain the person you're reaching out to is in the right demographic, has the right sensibility, and you ask the absolute right questions, you get mayhem.
WE NEVER CROWDSOURCE ANYTHING
We also don't do focus groups until we are at an impasse and we need to know something specific.
Recently, The Fabulous Honey Parker and I were at an impasse.
She had designed a logo that I thought was too distinctly reminiscent of a certain portion of the female reproductive anatomy.
So finally, I said, "Focus group it."
Which meant sending it out to a handful of individuals we know who happen to be representative of the client's core customer.
And there was no, "Hey we're arguing about this. Help us decide."
We just looked for reactions.
AND IT WAS JUST AS I HAD SAID
It was evocative of human female biology.
And it was just as Honey had said: the women who is the core customer loves it.
Because a middle-aged woman of a certain income level I am not--and that is who we need to reach.
When you start just throwing your branding or your advertising or anything else out to people who aren't the right people, you set yourself up for a soul-crushing experience.
YOU'RE ASKING, "WHADDAYA THINK?"
They're hearing something else.
If they're a bunch of comedians, you'll get Boaty-McBoatface suggestions.
If they're a bunch of friends, they're hearing, "I need to solve this."
There will be comments and suggestions and opinions and (yes) mayhem.
If you're ever going to solicit input from anyone, you need to pick your critics wisely.
Recently here in the screed, we talked about a radio guru who asked listener opinions about radio commercials.
The top criticism of commercials? They're too long.
But if you scratch just below the surface, it looks like they're too long because they're loud, annoying and boring.
BUT SOMEBODY WITHOUT ANY IMAGINATION WHO'S LOOKING FOR A QUICK FIX?
They're going to stop at "Too long."
"We need to make these spots shorter!"
And if they continue to be loud, annoying and boring, listening to the crowd hasn't solved the problem.
We once had a client who went from thrilled to mortified over 72 hours. The exciting brand options we'd presented on Friday afternoon were so much horrifying oatmeal by Monday morning.
We're convinced the client did an ad hoc focus group. And all these people who lacked any sense of context but wanted earnestly to help explained what all the problems were.
That's why we now make every client sign an agreement that includes a promise to not focus group their material with "friends, family, neighbors or pets."
WE ALSO PROMISE TO TALK PANICKED CLIENTS IN OFF THE LEDGE
We explicitly state that we will administer adult beverages and/or dark chocolate as necessary.
You don't want people who aren't creative problem solvers trying to solve your problems for you.
But you do want to know what the person who fits your core customer avatar feels about something.
That can be really useful.
It's how a logo I thought was inappropriate went on to be the client's favorite and makes her feel really enthusiastic about her business.
The wisdom of crowds is a powerful thing.
Beware the wisdom of crowds.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
WHO'S BEEN MESSING WITH THE PRESETS ON MY RADIO?
Someone had switched the #5 preset button from the local 600-pound news talk gorilla to a local Hot AC station.
I am not a Hot AC kinda guy.
Dance pop. Power pop. Adele. One Direction.
Mmm. No. Not me.
But there I was, bathed not in the music, but a whole new sounding stop set.
And that was where I was exposed to a branding and advertising lesson that made me go, "What the?!"
DOCTOR, HEAL THY MARKETING
I was drinking bulletproof coffee and almost did a spit take on my monitor. Mmm. Buttery.
The commercial was for a business called The Wisdom Teeth Guys.
And if you happen to live in Utah, there's a double spit take in here.
Utah brought the world the piano supergroup The Piano Guys, and Utahns love them their Piano Guys.
Anyway, The Wisdom Teeth Guys are a dental clinic specializing in...guess.
Yes, extracting wisdom teeth.
The radio commercial is voiced by the doctor himself. Not the smoothest voice talent. But he sounds like a real guy, probably a nice guy, who's doing something that isn't his specialty: reading ad copy on the radio.
BUT HE SOUNDS CONVINCING ENOUGH, APPROACHABLE AND NON-THREATENING
And he's offering to extract all four wisdom teeth for $899.
And despite my disbelief that there's a brand called The Wisdom Teeth Guys, I have to know more.
So, hello, Google!
Google, of course, serves me a bunch of dental advertising which is going to come back to haunt us later.
But right now, I gotta know more about The Wisdom Teeth Guys.
I click on their website and I am greeted by...fun.
'CUZ NUTHIN' SAYS FUN LIKE ORAL SURGERY
But there it is: a nice, friendly website with a fun, retro logo that says, "The Wisdom Teeth Guys." And there's a smiling, clip-art man in surgical scrubs pushing a hand truck that's loaded down with a giant, sparkling tooth.
I cannot believe I'm seeing this.
In the home page banner is a familiar, friendly font spelling out, "Safe affordable wisdom teeth removal in one appointment." There's a Unique Selling Proposition for ya. It's stated immediately and consistently.
And there's a slideshow photo of the doctor and his team, a happy, smiling man and three happy, smiling women.
The slideshow flips through images of the happy, smiling doctor and his equally happy, smiling patients. (Including a 20-something guy with a man bun, so you know: if you're a hipster, you will not be judged--and you may even infer irony with regard to the retro logo and the little clip-art surgeon wheeling the gigantic wisdom tooth. It may even make you say, "This is the place.")
THE WEBSITE COPY IS JUST WHAT IT SHOULD BE
It is pithy and relevant.
It says things that matter.
If you click on the local doctor's bio (I say "local" because they also have offices in Texas), you get the story of The Man--starting with his Boy Scout merit badge in dentistry, his life-changing experiences with grateful patients, his dental missionary work, and his love of family and bowling.
I am surprised and pleased.
I bet his patients love him.
And here's something else I'm going to bet. Not long after this screed goes live, I'm going to get an email from a very smart ad guy in Pensacola, telling me exactly who created this brand and the advertising. It's got a certain wizard's fingerprints all over it.
And I salute it.
THIS BRAND IS SIMPLE, MEMORABLE, EVOCATIVE, AND MOST LIKELY PROFITABLE
Who wants wisdom teeth removed? Nobody.
Who loves the dentist? Nobody.
Who has ever said, "Hey, that's a fun & friendly oral surgeon!" Nobody.
I guarantee you, The Wisdom Teeth Guys is penetrating the clutter of 21st century psychic noise pollution and making the brand known.
AND IT'S A KILLER EXAMPLE OF SMART, HOLISTIC BRANDING AND MARKETING
At Slow Burn Marketing, the fabulous Honey Parker and I helped create a million-dollar juggernaut of a dental implant brand in Phoenix.
Prior to that, while working radio, I had done a lot of local dental advertising in California.
And in every case, the way we were successful was by making the dentists human and approachable, and making the brand evocative and relatable and comfortable and inviting.
But The Wisdom Teeth Guys? That takes it to a level I've never seen in dentistry, much less oral surgery.
And here's the thing: if you compare that brand to everything around it, the problem of so much marketing comes right at you like a hypodermic needle full of mind-numbing anesthetic.
Think about it: what's the first thing someone's gonna do when they want to know more?
The same thing I did.
Remember those Google ads I said were going to come back to haunt us?
Google knows that I'm doing a search related to wisdom teeth.
The first ad it serves me (after The Wisdom Teeth Guys) is for a guy in my area.
The title of the page is, "Wisdom Teeth, Dental Implants, Most Insurance accepted."
Well, I wasn't searching for implants.
But I click on it.
The first thing I see is banner images of the local mountain ranges. In the upper left corner is a logo (evoking mountains), with the name of the clinic, which includes a) the geographic location and b) the phrase, "oral & maxillofacial surgery clinic."
NOPE, IT'S NEITHER SEXY NOR FRIENDLY
But, let's give the guy the benefit of the doubt.
I scroll down.
It tells me that "Dr. John Smith is a Board Certified Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon who practices a full scope of oral and maxillofacial surgery with expertise ranging from wisdom tooth removal to corrective jaw surgery. We also specialize in a full range of dental implant and bone grafting procedures, diagnose and treat facial injuries and TMJ disorders."
After another long and droning paragraph containing run-on sentences of facts about oral surgery, I'm told that his staff is trained within their state of the art office setting.
I wonder if the doctor's bio is any less stiff, banal or frightening.
Well, seems he was born, raised, graduated, post-graduated, tooth removal, bone grafting, IV anesthesia, implants, pathology, trauma, corrective surgery, board certified. And snowboarding.
LET'S GO BACK AND CLICK ON THE NEXT AD, SHALL WE?
Interestingly, it's another wisdom-teeth-only brand.
It doesn't have nearly the finesse and clarity of The Wisdom Teeth Guys.
But they're trying. Sort of.
"You can trust your surgery to our experienced team!!"
Two exclamation points!! It must be so!!
Friends, using exclamation points in no way compensates for the banality and pointlessness of your ad-speak.
"Our skill, training and years of professional experience means you can trust us!"
Well, maybe. But if you show me that I can trust you, if you illustrate it instead of getting chirpy and exclamatory and empty without any actual story, I'm more likely to pay attention.
BUT HEY--AT LEAST IT'S A BRANDED VERTICAL
Unlikely to win against our wisdom-tooth leader, but in the ring.
Next ad: the page is called "Free Pano X-Ray" with the dentist's location.
If you don't know that a pano X-ray is in your wisdom-tooth-extraction future, this doesn't mean much. But I click.
"Healthy smiles! The whole family! Advanced technology! Convenient scheduling! Flexible financing! Your busy schedule! New Patients Welcome!"
That last one is my favorite.
Because I'm so used to dentists saying, "Go away, we can't take you."
Another tip: Blah blah blah blah blah doesn't become relevant or meaningful just because you've added exclamation points.
BUT MY FAVORITE GOOGLE AD?
The one that says, "[CITY NAME] Dental Office" and the very generic domain name.
"Oops! That page can't be found!"
Ya know, based on a cursory search in Google AdWords, my one click probably cost that dentist about 8 bucks.
His brand doesn't say anything.
And the page he's paying to advertise is dead.
Imagine paying for a radio commercial and broadcasting 60 seconds of dead air.
Welcome to the Google equivalent.
ANYWAY, ALL THAT ASIDE: HOW'S YOUR BRAND?
Does it say anything that matters?
Is it remotely memorable?
Does it make the prospect feel something relevant and inviting about your business?
Does the marketing have a voice that sounds like a true, actual, sympathetic human being who cares about the customer?
Is the unique selling proposition clear and have actual value?
Does the advertising speak to the needs, fears and desires of a customer who has a problem and is possibly even in pain?
Or is your brand just going through the motions?
Does it make you feel "safe" and "professional" because it doesn't tread too close to anything resembling surprise and humanity?
If so, maybe it's time to muster a little marketing courage. It's not nearly as complicated or as painful as a wisdom tooth extraction.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
WHAT'S ON YOUR WRIST?
The 2017 Oscars telecast is forever going to be known for its Best Picture award announcement.
If you haven't been paying attention to the Oscars because you're too busy searching for signs of intelligent life in the universe of the president's twit stream, here's what happened.
Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty were tapped to present the Oscar for last year's Best Picture. Which makes perfect sense. A fter all, the two of them starred together in Bonnie & Clyde, a landmark film from 50 years ago, nominated for Best Picture because of big violence, sexy anti-heroes, candid sexuality, and the bloodiest, death-scene carnage in the history of cinema.
Of course, Bonnie & Clyde lost to In The Heat Of The Night.
Seems the tale of overcoming racist hatred between Mississippi redneck cop Rod Steiger and black Philadelphia homicide detective Sidney Poitier was more resonant to voting members of the Academy. And maybe that's because they were able to focus wholly on overcoming redneck racism as a social benefit instead of the social benefit of sexy redneck bank robbers with a dysfunctional sex life dying in a hail of bullets at the hands of other pissed off rednecks with badges.
BUT I DIGRESS
Back to the 2017 Oscars telecast.
Warren hands the winner's envelope to Faye, who opens it and says, "Best Picture goes to La La Land!"
And the entire La La Land entourage hits the stage to accept an award that actually went to Moonlight, an important film that nobody has seen. ( La La Land cost $30 million to make and has grossed about $400 million worldwide. Moonlight cost $1.5 million to make, and has grossed about as much as La La Land's production budget. Divine justice? You decide.)
Seems the accountants from PricewaterhouseCoopers who are responsible for the mix-up have been receiving death threats, have had to hire bodyguards, and will never be allowed to work on the Oscars again.
And in the heat of all this awards mix-up stupidity, one of the true winners of the Oscars telecast has been lost in the sauce.
POSSIBLY BECAUSE THEIRS WAS SIMPLE ART AS OPPOSED TO CRAZY SPECTACLE
Everything they did went right.
What they did was create a 60-second homage to Hollywood film that should make any film lover sit up and take note.
We're referring, of course, to the one-minute Rolex commercial, "Celebrating Cinema."
Yes, Hollywood is an industry with $10 billion in annual ticket-sale revenue. Rolex is a luxury watch company with almost $5 billion in annual watch-sale revenue.
Why should the small-business marketer even think about these two behemoths?
Simple. The Rolex "Celebrating Cinema" commercial is a sterling, Swiss-crafted example of how affinity sells, and how a really good brand with a really good advertisement can be aspirational, and make the prospect want to be part of the club.
60 LITTLE SECONDS, 19 STUNNING FILMS, LOTS OF ROLEX WATCHES
The commercial opens with a classic scene from The Pink Panther, with Peter Sellers saying that it's time to synchronize watches. And to do so, he lifts his Rolex-clad wrist.
In rapid succession, 18 astonishingly lengthy, emotion-packed clips flip across the screen. They are from:
The Color Of Money
I Love You Philip Morris
The Fugitive Kind
Dead Man Down
The Usual Suspects
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
The montage ends with Charles Bronson looking at his watch--er, his Rolex, and saying, "Just about...now."
FADE IN TITLE: It doesn't just tell time. It tells history.
FADE IN: ROLEX LOGO.
This montage is a stellar piece of filmmaking in its own right. Two dozen actors. Nineteen emotionally evocative scenes. Nineteen Rolex watches. A poetic tagline.
AND IF YOU ARE THE RIGHT PERSON, YOU CAN'T HELP BUT WANT A ROLEX
If you love good filmmaking and fine jewelry, this commercial leaps off the screen and makes you feel only one thing: the desire for a Rolex watch.
Both the Fabulous Honey Parker and I had the exact same reaction: Damn, that makes it sexy. I want one.
And part of the reason it works is because the watch is never forced.
Instead, the watch surfs on the credibility of the performances.
Powerful actors are doing evocative work and displaying the watch, which becomes a quiet costar.
It is hot.
THIS IS A CLASSIC CASE OF POTENT AFFINITY ADVERTISING
Affinity advertising is in no way limited to a multi-million-dollar telecast for a multi-billion-dollar industry paid for by multi-billion-dollar sponsors.
Ever been to a kid's soccer game and seen the local sponsors' signs on the fence?
That is a simple example of affinity advertising. Soccer moms will feel really good about supporting those businesses that help make their kids' sport possible.
Our client in rural New Hampshire, Dr. Sam's Eye Care, sponsors local auto racing. Auto racing fans flock to him.
In radio, any station with a cult following is bound to generate an affinity bond between its listeners and its advertisers--if the advertisements are properly executed. I've seen it happen in genres from Christian radio to political talk to alternative rock.
TAPPING INTO THE LOVE OF A FAN IS POTENT INDEED
Granted, if you are a small-business marketer, you are unlikely to ever have the power of millions of dollars of filmmaking at your disposal.
It's even unlikely that you'll ever do anything half as artful as this potent minute of film. It's almost cheating, because Rolex is riding on the coattails of other people's art.
But, you can have impactful advertising that is artful. That is well-crafted. That makes your prospect say, "Wow, I want one."
It has even been done with Rolex watches.
Years ago, Wizard of Ads Roy Williams wrote a commercial that opened with you standing in the snow, "five and one half miles above sea level, gazing at a horizon hundreds of miles away. It occurs to you that life here is very simple: You live, or you die. No compromises, no whining, no second chances."
Mr. Williams was putting the listener into the boots of Sir Edmund Hillary summiting Everest and taking a peek at his Rolex.
The commercial ends by saying, "In every life there is a Mount Everest to be conquered. When you have conquered yours, you'll find your Rolex waiting patiently for you to come and pick it up at Justice Jewelers. I'm Woody Justice, and I've got a Rolex for you."
A single storyteller's voice. The heroic Kiwi standing at the very top of the earth. The Swiss timepiece on his wrist. You and your own conquests.
It is a crystalline moment of impactful storytelling and vivid imagery relating to one of mankind's epic deeds.
KABLAM! YOU WANT A ROLEX!
I sure did.
Never before in my life had I wanted a Rolex--until hearing that message.
It's irrational, for sure.
It is simple desire.
I have no need for a Rolex. I no longer race yachts professionally. My budget skews more towards Rolex's lesser Swiss cousin, Tissot.
But the power of that simple radio commercial, which cost less to make than it cost to even think about producing the Oscars commercial, is extraordinary.
It was so powerful and so effective, it put Justice Jewelers on the map--and on the radar at Rolex, who was wondering how this jeweler in the U.S. heartland surrounded by cows and mobile homes was selling so many multi-thousand-dollar watches.
AFFINITY IS YOUR FRIEND
It comes in the form of sponsoring the right events.
It comes in the form of telling stories that the customer can identify with.
It comes in the form of understanding aspiration and sinking an emotional hook deep into the psyche. It has to be emotional because that is how the brain makes decisions.
It definitely does not come in the form of shoving a sales message down the prospect's throat.
It's about recognizing who they are and where they live, and showing them a shiny jewel.
Other small businesses have done it. You can do it. And you can be immensely profitable.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
ARE WE A DAY LATE AND A DOLLAR SHORT?
Depends on how you look at it. The faithful subscriber to the screed knows: we almost never talk about the Super Bowl commercials the week after the Super Bowl.
We wait a week or two, then examine the fallout.
Who ran a commercial that was especially useful for the small-business marketer looking for a scalable idea?
What commercial was such smart advertising that a marketer can say, "I could do that."
And here, two weeks out, we have winner.
No, it's not 84 Lumber and their sprawling, calculatedly heart-tugging, pro-immigrant message.
It's not Peter Fonda half a century after the anti-establishment, anti-materialist idealism of Easy Rider driving away from a bunch of bikers in a $100,000 car.
It's not Audi's debatable "Daughter" commercial or Budweiser's Horatio-Algeresque, immigrant saga "Born the Hard Way."
THE WINNER IS E-COMMERCE AND CLOUD-COMPUTING EMPIRE, AMAZON
Were they the funniest commercials in the big game? No.
Were they the most entertaining or the most poignant? Hardly.
What they were was salient--and they used one of the single smartest tactics in the advertiser's toolbox.
Amazon gave an engaging demonstration of the product as a problem solver, and did so with frequency.
Yep. Sounds really un-sexy.
But again: we're not talking million-dollar stunt commercials, of which the Super Bowl offers plenty.
WE ARE TALKING ABOUT A TEMPLATE FOR THE COMMON MAN
We're talking sensible creative executions and strategy that make sense no matter what's in your wallet.
A big problem with the Super Bowl commercial paradigm as an example of good advertising is it's an aberration.
It's a stunt.
Rarely is does a big-game advertiser think, "This message will make people race into our stores."
Instead, the typical advertiser who spent $5 million on a single 30-second spot that cost a million bucks to produce is looking for what the Big Guys call, "Brand Lift."
UH-OH--SOUNDS LIKE JARGON
No matter. It is what it is and, for our purposes, is arguably as silly as a $5-million spot buy.
Brand Lift refers to improving how an audience perceives a brand.
For instance, 84 Lumber's story about a Mexican woman and her little girl trying to reach the United States and being blocked by a giant wall is not designed to make anyone think, "Look at that wall! Wow, they have good building materials!"
It's designed to make the viewer feel something else entirely. It is political, polarizing, and might even piss people off. So it goes.
It's still going to make a lot of people feel good about 84 Lumber.
It is not driving traffic for a specific product or service. It is not a sales message. It is an institutional message calculated to make you feel a certain way about the advertiser's behavior.
SO, WHAT ABOUT AMAZON?
An especially good question if you know that, several years ago, Amazon pulled much its marketing budget out of advertising.
They took the money they were spending on production and media and put it into free shipping.
It also paid off huge! Huge!
But obviously, they're still advertising.
And for the big game, they were advertising a specific product: Amazon Echo.
"ALEXA, WHAT IS AMAZON ECHO?"
As I was writing this, I thought, "Let's ask her that question."
She replies, "Amazon Echo is a device designed around your voice that can provide information, music, news, weather and more."
Not as much as much fun as asking her, "Alexa, what do you look like?"
Her reply is, "I look like lots of ones and zeroes."
So anyway, if you don't know the product, Amazon Echo is what they call a "smart speaker." It's a cylinder about 9 inches tall. And via the internet, Echo connects to Amazon's voice-controlled intelligent personal assistant, Alexa. She's a little like Siri. Only, she sounds prettier.
AND ALEXA WAS STARRING IN THIS YEAR'S SUPER BOWL NOT JUST ONCE, BUT THREE TIMES
Generally speaking, one spot is not usually enough to have an impact on a prospect vis a vis getting a sale.
A salient, surprising and evocative message delivered frequently is how an advertiser penetrates the prospect's psyche.
Which is probably why, instead of seeing a single 30-second spot for Amazon Echo, you saw three 10-second spots.
One was called, "Buster."
It's a single take of a shot of a coffee table.
The table is filled with a vast spread of game-day food. In the middle of it all is a Boston terrier, standing in the guacamole and chowing down. Off camera, a guy with a Boston accent yells, "Buster!" He sighs. "Alexa, ask Pizza Hut to place an order." Alexa says: "OK. What would you like to order?" Cut to product shot. Graphic: "Amazon Echo."
NOT GENIUS--BUT AMUSING AND MAKES A RELEVANT POINT
Alexa can solve your sudden dog-in-the-dip problem.
Another commercial was called, "My Girl."
It's another single take. Shot of a guy sitting on the sofa with his young daughter. They're watching a football game.
The girl looks frustrated and says, "They're relying on the blitz too much."
The guy looks at his daughter, then looks off screen. "Alexa, play 'My Girl." Alexa says, "OK." We hear the strains of "My Girl" by the Temptations. Daughter gives the barest hint of a smile. Dad nudges her with his elbow. Cut to product shot. Graphic: "Amazon Echo."
OK, THAT MIGHT TUG AT THE HEARTSTRINGS OF THE FATHER OF A DAUGHTER
The third commercial might be repellent.
It's called "Finger Lick."
Sound of the game on TV. A close-up shot of a mouth licking orange dust off greasy fingers.
Cut to shot of the guy committing this egregious act sitting next to a woman on the sofa. He finishes licking and digs his hand back into a bowl of chips.
The Woman looks askance and says, "Alexa, re-order Doritos from Prime Air." Alexa says, "OK."
Cut to shot of product sitting in a window. Alexa says: "Look for delivery soon." A drone with the Amazon logo flies into the shot. Subtitle: "Prime Air not available in some states (or any, really). Yet."
IS THAT BUZZ YOU HEAR THE SOUND OF A DRONE?
More likely, it's the sound of people eagerly anticipating Amazon Prime Air delivery.
Gross-out photography and mastication audio is usually a bad idea.
It's hard to ever excuse it.
That said, viewers paid attention.
There was a whole lot of online buzz about this commercial even though drone delivery seems a long way off.
And all three of these commercials are simple storytelling with a theme of problem solving.
They are frequent and consistent in their delivery of the message.
And this model neither began nor ended with the Super Bowl.
AMAZON HAD ALREADY CREATED MORE THAN 100 SIMILAR MESSAGES
Most of them have appeared as online videos.
Overhead, subjective camera shot of a guy loading up a plate with dozens of chicken wings. "Alexa, how many calories in a chicken wing?" Alexa: "A chicken wing contains 88 calories." Guy hesitates, and puts back one chicken wing. "Anyone know where the potato salad is?" Product shot of Echo. Graphic: "Amazon Echo."
Inexpensive to produce, clear and mildly amusing.
Close-up on frustrated man: "Alexa, ask Uber for a ride. For Todd." Cut to wide shot of a group sitting on a sofa in blue jerseys. Behind them, Todd is in a red jersey, jumping and pumping his fist. "YES!" Everyone else looks annoyed. Alexa: "There is an UberX two minutes away." A guy throws a jacket at Todd, who leaves. Product shot. Graphic: "Amazon Echo."
LONG BEFORE GAME DAY, AMAZON HAD ALREADY PENETRATED THE ZEITGEIST
These messages have been out there and making themselves known.
They've even been part of the advertising landscape during NFL broadcasts. Their first "Alexa Moment" aired in a game last November.
The commercial is called, "The Break Up."
It's about a sappy father using Alexa to comfort his teenage daughter over a break up with a boyfriend.
Then (SPOILER ALERT), he uses Alexa to turn his home's sprinkler system on the offending boyfriend.
THESE ARE SIMPLE MESSAGES DELIVERED CONSISTENTLY
There's a good chance they will not win any major advertising awards.
That's not what they're for.
They're for creating interest in a product that people are now buying in record numbers.
They are simple, relevant stories told with relentless consistency.
If you can take away anything from any Super Bowl advertising campaign, this is the one: stories, simplicity, relevance and consistency are your friends.
EXPENSIVE STUNT ADVERTISING IS NOT
For the small-business marketer, it makes little sense.
The sprint race of blowing a huge amount of money on a one-time ad message almost never pays off.
A marathon does.
Running the marathon with simple, relevant stories told with relentless consistency in an affordable medium usually pays off for the marketer with the patience and perseverance to commit.
To see the Amazon "Alexa Moments" campaign, including the Super Bowl commercials, click here. Or copy and paste http://tinyurl.com/zv592yl
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
WHAT DID YOU DO WITH YOUR 2-MILLION BUCKS?
Yes, it's that time of year. We're all busy vacuuming up crushed, salty corn products while lauding the winners and savaging the losers among the Super Bowl commercials.
But here in the rant, the critique for last weekend begins next week. We always like to take a week for the dust to settle and get back some reports on how it all shook out.
In the meantime, we're going to look back at the arrogance and the apathy.
Yes, it's the Super Bowl Advertising Hall Of Shame.
And perhaps the saddest advertising maneuver of all comes not from Groupon and Timothy Hutton diminishing the plight of Tibet for great restaurant deals, nor from GoDaddy and its endless parade of medically manipulated stripper cleavage, but from a business you have never heard of, and probably never would have heard of, were it not for this little screed.
REMEMBER SUPER BOWL XXXIV?
It was played on January 30, 2000. It's also referred to as the Dot Com Super Bowl. The dot-com bubble was blowing up big. Many of the commercials aired during the big game included companies whose names you simply cannot remember today.
One of those companies ran this commercial:
OPEN ON A YELLOW SCREEN.
PLAYING UNDER IS A BAD RENDITION OF CHOPSTICKS ON A LOUSY PIANO
TITLES THAT ARE WRITTEN IN A BLACK, SMEARED COURIER FONT, AS IF FROM AN ANTIQUE TYPEWRITER, BEGIN APPEARING OVER THE YELLOW.
"This is the worst commercial on the Super Bowl.
"But it might be the best thing you see tonight.
"We send highly personalized emails on topics you ask for. Free.
"How can we do this for over 7.5 million members?
"We're information experts. (geeks).
"But we don't know diddly about making ads.
"OF COURSE! LIFEWONDERS! HOW COULD WE FORGET THEM?!"
No, not Lifewonders. Lifeminders.
"Lifemenders! How could we forget them?!"
Not Lifemenders. Lifeminders.
"Lifewinders! How could we forget them?!"
Never mind. Don't know diddly about making ads, indeed.
What is Lifeminders?
Funny you should ask. I played the commercial for the Fabulous Honey Parker. Her first question was: "What do they do?"
THAT SHOULD NOT BE THE FIRST QUESTION SOMEONE ASKS AFTER SEEING YOUR BUSINESS TO CONSUMER MESSAGE
Especially not after you spent over $2 million to place that message one time on national television.
To find out what Lifeminders was about, I did some research.
After reading several press releases, I still had no idea.
Finally, in a release issued about three months before the big game, I learned that they offered email reminders.
You'd fill out a profile with your interests.
They would send sponsored emails to help you manage your life.
IN OTHER WORDS, IT WAS OPT-IN EMAIL INTRUSION
Can you imagine managing your life with email today?
You need a full-time assistant just to manage your email.
My in-box is flooded with spam about dating hot, lonely Russian women, or commanding me to browse psoriasis creams, or how it's time to learn how to talk to my cat. (Which would be a fool's errand. He doesn't listen.)
Anyway, how did Lifeminders decide they needed to be in the Super Bowl?
Hard to know. Maybe it had something to do with lots of venture capital. People will tell you that VC and egos go hand-in-hand.
But not long after the Super Bowl, with a stock price of $90 a share, a 12-month sales figure of $14 million, a 12-month income of almost $33 million, assets totaling almost $71 million, and liabilities of just over $10 million, how bad could things be?
"BUT WHAT DO THEY DO?"
Well, yes, there's that question.
But here's what they decided they didn't want to do: they decided they didn't want to be in the Super Bowl.
They'd bought the spot and later wanted out.
But then, they couldn't unload their $2 million investment.
So, with two weeks to the big game, they turned to their advertising agency, the illustrious Fallon Worldwide (then known as Fallon McElligot), and said, "Hey, we need to produce a Super Bowl commercial."
You can probably hear the riotous laughter echoing in the halls of Fallon's Minneapolis HQ. But they were probably very polite when they turned back to their client (whose account was worth an estimated $50 million or more to the agency) and said, "Ah, afraid we can't do that."
SEND IN THE FREELANCERS!
A big-agency freelance team known to the VP of marketing was called in, and the self-proclaimed "Worst commercial on the Super Bowl" was produced.
Further research reveals that about a year and a half later, Lifeminders.com was sold to Cross Media Marketing Corp for more than 68 million bucks.
And about two years after that, Cross Media Marketing Corp filed for bankruptcy.
Yes, you can hear the sad sound of dot coms circling the drain.
But back to the Super Bowl commercial. Big-money meets big arrogance for a big flop?
Again, hard to know.
Because Lifeminders did try to pull out. When they couldn't, they tried a Hail Mary.
And they eventually sold their business for a staggering amount of money.
Still, when you're spending two-million bucks on one advertisement, isn't a little clarity a good idea?
WHERE IS THE THINKING BEHIND THE MESSAGE?
Who was it for?
What was it trying to tell them?
I still have no idea.
And I'm guessing the freelance team (which had a big-agency pedigree) also wasn't sure. If they'd spent their careers working on creating big-brand advertising, and had never worked in direct response, it's entirely possible they never considered who they were trying to reach and what the specific message might be.
Or maybe they didn't even have the time to think that hard.
Or maybe the client wouldn't let them.
Whatever. It's all conjecture and nothing more. Monday-morning quarterbacking on this is impossible.
It's just tragic that, with a $2-million buy at hand, the best that could be done was a message that makes a savvy professional ask, "What do they do?"
AND IN A PROPHETIC NOTE FROM THE SAME SUPER BOWL...
We get another commercial.
The infamous chimpanzee dancing on a spackle bucket.
Two rhythm-challenged dimwits are sitting in a garage on lawn chairs. The chimp runs up, tunes the radio to a cha-cha, jumps on an upside down bucket, and starts dancing--while wearing an E*Trade T-shirt. After 20 seconds of this comes the message in two graphics:
"Well, we just wasted two million bucks."
"What are you doing with your money?"
ANNCR: It's time for E*Trade, the number-one place to invest online.
It's almost advertising art imitating commercial life.
SO, WHAT'S THE TAKEAWAY FOR THE SMALL-BUSINESS MARKETER?
Beware arrogance in advertising creative decisions. That big idea of yours might really be bad enough to fail.
If you've got pros around you who have a track record, listen to them. If you don't have any pros, find some.
Don't be fooled by bright lights and shiny keys. Being in the Super Bowl--or anywhere else--is not a goal for your advertising. The goal is for your advertising to generate results.
We literally know local advertisers who've said, "But they gave us a spot in the Super Bowl!" And if you ask what good that spot did them, they can't tell you.
We also know a guy who runs a venture capital investment company that specializes in funding tech start-ups. He says that routinely, companies who come to them are spending huge amounts of money on Google ads.
The ads aren't producing any results.
BUT THAT DOESN'T STOP THEM FROM WRITING $30,000 CHECKS EACH MONTH
Dude, you're spending someone else's money without having a plan of attack, without a strategy or tactics, and with no idea of how to craft a salient, resonant message that generates response. What are you doing?
We've worked with tech companies, and the ones who Get It are a joy to work with.
The ones who don't get it don't work with us because we aren't hip enough and we certainly aren't smart enough. How could we possibly be smart enough? They know tech!
Look at the company that inadvertently started the Super Bowl of Advertising.
Go back to Super Bowl XVIII in 1984.
Yes, that's when Apple Computer unleashed its brand upon the world with a commercial called, 1984.
THEY DIDN'T TELL YOU IT WAS GOING TO BE THE WORST AD IN THE SUPER BOWL
They also didn't tell you it was going to be the best.
They just lit people on fire.
And to inspire that kind of conflagration requires knowing about something more than zeroes and ones.
It requires knowing that you're not necessarily smarter than everyone else.
It requires knowing that being resonant has nothing to do with the delivery platform, whether it's Google ads or Super Bowl ads.
It requires respect.
It requires understanding the emotionally resonant core of your customer.
It requires finding that core, and then knowing how to light it up.
And having a little clarity.
"Don't know diddly about making ads," indeed.
Don't be like Diddly. Be like Bo. Bo knows Diddly.
(How's that for a shameless mashup of a advertising reference you're probably too young to remember with a shameless rock & roll reference you're definitely too young to remember?)
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
ARE YOU PUTTING UP STUMBLING BLOCKS BETWEEN YOU AND YOUR CUSTOMER?
Imagine that you have a fabulous business.
It has survived the administrations of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and continues going strong.
You compete in a brick & mortar retail niche that is being crushed by the big-box stores.
You are actually, physically as big as a big-box store.
But you are even bigger in that you blow them away with product mix, personal attention, customer service, after-sale follow-up, and overall friendliness.
You have sales people who have been with you for decades.
You have customers who've been with you since day one.
Sounds like a branding juggernaut, right?
Thirty years ago, a shopper would have been drawn into this store via a simple message.
They would have decided whether they liked the feeling of the store after walking through the door.
Today, doors have been replaced by windows. Small ones.
Ours is an age where shoppers do their research on handheld computers. They look at the store through a window the size of a deck of cards.
Or maybe they're using a bigger computer, one with a window the size of a small TV.
Through those little windows, they go shopping.
Instead of walking through the store, looking at the product, talking to the salespeople, and immersing themselves in the ambience, they stand outside. They look at the store through a window.
AND THAT WINDOW IS ONLY AS GOOD AS WHAT'S BEEN PUT IN IT
That website visit, peeking through that window, has to substitute for walking into the store and getting a feeling for the place.
In the case of our long-lived, family-owned superstore, here's what we're seeing through the window: A dated logo. A row of buttons. A column of product photos. A slideshow of products and national brand logos. An offer for email savings. A 90-day price guarantee. A suggestion to shop for package deals. A link to a 7-year-old magazine article. Information on corporate accounts. The news that they take credit cards. A scrolling row of national brand logos.
What does the shopper see through the window?
JUST ANOTHER BIG-BOX STORE
It's busy, it's full of product, it has lots of buttons...
And it feels nothing like the friendly, affable place where longtime consultants have made a home for the shopper who, instead of just a box, wants a relationship.
This website is the product of a template provided by a service that specializes in websites for independent retailers.
And this website is immense. It is robust. It is a feat of website development. You cannot argue the technical expertise that delivered this towering behemoth of web commerce.
Unfortunately, it looks a little dated.
And it is devoid of brand.
WHAT IS BRAND?
Once again, since you pay attention in class, you know the Slow Burn Marketing mantra for brand: it is the ONE way your CORE CUSTOMER should FEEL about your business.
Why ONE? Because focus is essential. Nobody can focus on two things. Multi-tasking is a myth.
Why CORE CUSTOMER? Because when you define a single person to whom your speaking, it lets you have a coherent and meaningful voice.
Why FEEL? Because emotions are key in making decisions. Without emotions, decisions are virtually impossible. Study your neuroscience and you'll find it's true.
So, this store's brand is almost nowhere to be seen or felt on this website. There's an "about" page that begins to hint at how it feels.
As an ironic aside, the company that built this website seems to have a really good brand. Visit their own website, and you immediately get a sense of what they're about and why you should like them.
SO, WHAT SHOULD BE HAPPENING HERE?
That's a complicated question with a complex answer.
But you don't come here for that. You come here for simple solutions!
So, very simply: as soon as I land on that website, I should feel a compelling reason to stay there and learn more about this retailer.
Why should I get off the sofa and drive down there?
Pique my interest!
Make me feel wanted!
Ask me a leading question!
Right now, this website is the online equivalent of walking into retail warehouse store that has bulk-stacked boxes everywhere.
And that is completely the opposite of what this store's brand really is.
THE WEBSITE IS AN OBSTACLE TO FEELING THE RIGHT THING ABOUT THE BRAND
This is not unique.
It happens all the time.
In some ways, it's a product of looking down the wrong end of the telescope. It often starts with a simple question.
"What media should we be using?"
"We need to have a big retail website!"
"No, we need to be in social media!"
"Social media doesn't produce! We need online videos!"
"We need to move back to traditional media! That's where our demographic is!"
The medium is perceived as the message.
The tail wags the dog.
THE REAL QUESTION REQUIRES TURNING THE TELESCOPE AROUND
It requires asking, "Who is our customer, and what should she feel about us?"
EVERYTHING related to branding and marketing boils down to that one question.
It's all about your customer and what you're saying to her.
How do you want her to feel?
How do you be evocative?
How do you not only be authentic, but convey it in a way that's magnetic?
Once you've done all that, then comes the executions and the media.
PEOPLE HATE IT WHEN I BRING UP THIS BRAND
I do it because it's insanely simple, everyone knows it, and the branding as we know it has been going strong for over 30 years.
Motel 6: "We'll leave the light on for you."
This is the sensible, budget motel chain that cares for you as mom would. They leave the light on for you!
That feeling is basic. It's a fundamental dynamic.
But their USP is something else entirely: the lowest price of any national chain.
That's not so squishy. It could be depressing. But the brand makes you feel better about getting a cheap room.
30-plus years of Tom Bodett's folksy voice coming to you out of the radio, telling you they leave the light on for you, that's what launched the brand juggernaut.
BUT THAT'S NOT ALL!
Radio made Motel 6 huge. It's a $2 billion company now.
But they're also on Facebook. Look at their posts.
"Top 6 Ways to Travel More in 2017." Hashtag: #ThrillsNotFrills. (Which was also the subject of a radio commercial, which is also available on YouTube, another form of social media.)
There's a link to the best hot chocolate in the country. "Nothing like hot cocoa to warm your soul and your stomach."
Ten winter driving tips. "Keep calm and drive safely."
In an appeal to a new generation: share your sing-along-in-the-car video for a chance to win a free night at Studio 6.
THEIR TWITTER FEED?
Feels exactly the same.
"Rates that aren't a gamble" for a Vegas escape.
AARP and Military discounts right up front.
The site is simple and clean and friendly--just like a Motel 6.
This brand is rock solid.
It is not fancy.
It will not appeal to the die-hard HiltonHonors platinum member.
But I know a hugely successful internet marketer who's also a penny pincher. He brags about how little he pays for a room.
Guess what he likes.
ARE YOU PUTTING UP OBSTACLES TO YOUR BRAND?
Or is it front and center, allowing your customer to feel the right thing and self-select?
Your brand matters.
Especially in an age of peeking through little windows and making snap judgments, your brand matters more than ever.
If you don't make the customer feel the same, right thing across all your touch points--in every place you have your marketing--you run a high risk of losing business to those who do practice that.
Know your brand.
And share it freely, widely, and consistently.
Emerson wanted us to know that "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."
But a strategic consistency?
That is the hallmark of a great brand.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
SON OF THE ATTACK OF THE BIG, BURNING, ROMANIAN BRANDING QUESTION...
In our last episode, we left Petru, our Romanian in Atlanta, hanging by a thread.
We'd answered part of his question about how to brand a small business.
We'd also answered two questions he didn't ask--keys to solving the puzzle.
Petru responded from the Peachtree State, saying, "IT IS AWESOME! I finally start to get it... Why does it have to be so confusing? I guess that the marketing GURUS must have confused me. :-)"
Never once did Petru bemoan our bastardized use of his mother tongue.
For that we thank him. More will follow.
IN LIGHT OF ALL THAT, WE REALLY WILL PROVIDE THE REST OF THE ANSWER
To recap for those among us who weren't here, weren't paying attention, or who've indulged in the recreational destruction of too many brain cells, our Romanian Man In Atlanta said he was confused about how to help a business brand itself.
He noted that many experts say small businesses should do only direct-response marketing and no branding at all.
And he wanted to know if there's a system that would help him figure out how to brand a small business?
SO, WHAT DID WE TELL HIM?
First, since aspires to have his own agency, we said it's important to be picky about who you work with.
At Slow Burn Marketing, we take a client only if we'd look forward to having dinner with that person.
Then, we answered the always burning, implicit question, "What is brand?"
And as you know, since you pay attention in class...
Brand is the ONE way your CORE CUSTOMER should FEEL about your business.
ONE because focus is essential.
CORE CUSTOMER because defining the person you're speaking to informs your brand voice.
And FEEL because emotions are inseparable from decisions. (Thank you, Neuroscience, for proving this.)
THEN WE WENT ABOUT BLOWING HOLES IN EXPERT DOGMA
Some marketing experts decree that branding is a waste of time and money, and small businesses should not do branding, only direct marketing.
That's just dumb. It's like saying, "Football players should not do weight training, only the inside run."
The football metaphor brought joy to the football fans out there.
There came a landslide of cards and letters saying things like, "Brilliant!" And "Solid!" One fan wished he could remember his Romanian. I told him that Google Translate is his friend.
Or, as a Romanian might say if he were as linguistically stunted and prone to sounding like a Cold-War era cartoon character as your relentless scribe, Google Translate este prietenul tau.
SO, WE'VE WASTED ABOUT HALF OUR AIR TIME IN RECAPPING
Simple: we show you the meat.
How do you help a small business brand, and is there a system?
Funny you should ask.
We believe there is no hard and fast system, not in the purest sense of systems. Too many soft and squishy variables.
Some actual, genuine experts, like the very famous Sally Hogshead, might argue. But we're not going to even try to argue with her because she went to Duke University, and her name is much cooler than mine.
So, if a system is a fixed series of steps that lead to a calculated outcome (like counting cards at blackjack), we do not use a system. The process of branding doesn't happen by the numbers.
BUT YOU CAN BLAZE A TRAIL TO BRAND
This is going to sound insanely simple.
Want to brand someone's business?
Start asking a boatload of questions.
The Fabulous Honey Parker and I joke that what we do is like therapy. We ask questions and listen to the patient talk.
We want to know everything there is to know about the business, ranging from, "Why do you do this?" to "What are some brands you love?" to "What's a really good day at work and how does it make you feel?"
LIKE I SAID: SOUNDS INSANELY SIMPLE
Again: It's not.
You have to listen to each answer-and then know what else to ask.
It's all about drilling way down and getting to the juice.
It's about figuring out what really makes a small-business owner love the work they do and feel a need to do it.
We want to hear the story of the business.
If they have any employees, talking to those employees is useful.
The employees get similar questions about why they love working there. (If they don't love working there, that's also worth knowing.)
We talk to a few of the client's best customers. We ask what feels so good about working with the client's business.
THEN, WE LEAVE
We go away. We start processing all the soft information, feelings, emotions, beliefs, the story of the business.
Here's an incredibly simplified example of how we work.
Once upon a time, we lived in Los Angeles and we needed a roofer.
We'd already called one roofer. It was a client of mine at the radio network where I was a Creative Director.
Honey called (without revealing my connection to the business) because the campaign we'd done for them was so good, so full of reasons to like them, I wanted to hire them.
Sadly, the visit from the guy who gave the estimate was unimpressive. The man inspired no confidence. And the price seemed really high.
So I asked a friend for a referral. He gave a glowing recommendation for his own roofer.
We called the guy.
IT'S A NICE, SUNNY, CALIFORNIA AFTERNOON
We're standing on the roof as the roofer looks around.
We explain the competitor's estimate.
He says, "That's really not necessary. It's a lot more than you need."
He gives us a quote that's 80% lower.
So we climb off the roof, sit down with him in the yard, have a beverage, and talk about roofing and marketing and advertising and shoes and ships and sealing wax.
(If you're from Romania and have never read Alice In Wonderland, "shoes and ships and sealing wax" comes from a poem within the book called "The Walrus And The Carpenter." It's nonsense. Or, as they'd say in your country, prostii.)
We also discuss integrity and performance and joy and doing good work.
We ask a lot of questions and listen to him talk. Which is fun for him. After all, we want him on our side.
And at one point, he suddenly says...
"WHEN IT RAINS, I SLEEP REALLY WELL."
The roofer suddenly rings the bell for a brand direction.
The roofer who sleeps well when it rains.
There would have been a whole lot more work to do on this brand.
But at its core, it's a really smart way to begin branding this roofer. It's a tough category. Horror stories abound. Homeowners never know who to trust.
The guy you want to hire is the guy who's happy and proud that his phone isn't going to be ringing on the days when LA turns into a mud river and everyone is swimming to and from their cars.
THIS IS ONLY THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG
This story greatly oversimplifies what we do in branding a business.
But it is a nice little, illustrative gem about how it begins.
You listen to people talk.
You ask them questions.
You let them wax poetic about their lives.
And eventually, suddenly, you find yourself with a bright and shiny jewel that becomes your lodestar.
(Petru, back home, lodestar would be Steaua polară.)
WE HAVE NO SYSTEM AS MUCH AS WE HAVE AN ORDERED APPROACH
You can have one, too.
Because a few years ago, we wrote a book about our approach to brand. The book explains the thinking and orders the approach we take, and illustrates everything with real-life examples, many of which you know.
Written by Blaine Parker (that's me) and The Fabulous Honey Parker, the book comes to the world via publishing giant Morgan James.
It's called, Billion-Dollar Branding. Subtitle, Brand Your Small Business Like a Big Business and Make Great Things Happen.
It looks like this:
Each chapter provides action items so the brand-curious reader can take steps to uncovering a brand.
If you'd like to know more about it, click here to visit the book's page on Amazon.
And bear in mind that there's work involved. This not some silver bullet. A brand does not miraculously pop into your head. It's real. It's understandable. It will make sense. As far as we know, this is the closest thing there is to a process for branding a business.
And know, too, that selling you a single copy of that book is going to make us wealthy beyond our wildest dreams. So you can feel good about that, too. Click that link today, and tomorrow we are on our way to retirement in Bermuda.
Go forth. Brand big.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
THE BIG, BURNING QUESTION ABOUT BRAND FROM OUR ROMANIAN CONNECTION...
Yes, the weekly screed has a reader from Romania.
It would be more remarkable if he were actually in Romania.
But he lives in Atlanta.
His name is Petru.
We could call him Peter, the anglicized version of his name, but staying faithful to his mother tongue is more fun.
And more on-brand.
Petru, in asking the Big Burning Question, indirectly points out that even if you are a faithful reader to the screed, you may not have been immersed in the ways of Slow-Burn branding think.
His question is also a reminder of a perennial problem...
WHEN IT COMES TO BRANDING, MANY "EXPERTS" HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THEY'RE TALKING ABOUT
So, we're going to circle back to a brand basic.
If you're a long-timer who's been here for the 12 years we've been doing this, it's a refresher.
If you're a newbie who's never been indoctrinated, this'll be new stuff.
Really important stuff.
You're going to learn something so insanely simple yet so deeply complex that almost nobody really gets it.
People working at big advertising agencies, working on some of the biggest brands in the world, don't even get it.
IT'S CERTAINLY GOING TO BE NEW STUFF FOR DOMNULE PETRU
("Domnule" is Romanian for "Mister." You've just witnessed almost the extent of my Romanian.)
Anyway, Petru says:
I am still confused on what
I need to do when helping a
business to "brand" itself.
Many people say that small
businesses should only do
direct response marketing
and no branding at all.
Is there any process/system
that would help me figure
out how to brand a
This is Petru's zi norocoasa. (That means "lucky day." That's about the rest of my Romanian.)
And based on how he cues up that question, he needs a three-part answer.
But first, I'm going to start by answering two, unasked questions.
THE FIRST UNASKED QUESTION
Since Petru at one time had his own agency, this one is worth knowing. When you have an agency, people always ask it.
"What kind of businesses do you work with?"
At Slow Burn, our answer is simple: We work for people with whom we'd look forward to having dinner.
Yes, there are a lot of specific kinds of businesses we like to work with. Lawyers are one of our favorites.
But we realized early on that we really have to work with people we like and respect and enjoy.
Life is too short to be shackled to someone who's difficult or who doesn't get it.
It's also much easier to do good work for someone who really enjoys and appreciates your expertise.
Be picky about the people for whom you'll work.
That's the answer to the first unasked question.
YOU PROBABLY ALREADY KNOW THE SECOND UNASKED QUESTION
"What is brand?"
Just to make sure we're all on the same page here, we need to get that out on the table.
Brand is the ONE way your CORE CUSTOMER should FEEL about your business.
Breaking that down: ONE because focus is essential. Nobody focuses on two things at once.
CORE CUSTOMER because once you define the individual to whom you're speaking, you then know how to speak to that person. You can give your brand a voice.
FEEL because emotions are central to the process of decision making.
All righty. Now, to answer Petru's three-part, explicit question.
We're going to start with Part #2 first, as it's relevant to every small-business owner
SMALL BUSINESSES SHOULD DO NO BRANDING AT ALL--ONLY DIRECT RESPONSE
What I'm about to say, I say as a lover of good direct marketing. Both the Fabulous Honey Parker and I have worked on killer direct marketing campaigns with huge ROI.
The directive to not do branding, only direct marketing...
Makes us crazy.
It's like saying, "In football, you should do no training at all, you should only do the inside run."
A football player trains to be stronger and faster on the field.
The inside run is a play, an execution, a tactical decision made in the moment.
THEY ARE TWO, COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THINGS
One has zero bearing on the other--except that a stronger player is more likely to execute a better inside run.
Training is a kind of preparation.
The inside run is execution that benefits from that preparation.
Branding is preparation.
Direct marketing is an execution that benefits from that preparation.
LET'S SAY YOU HAVE TWO EQUAL BUSINESSES
They are the same in all ways.
Except...Business One understands its brand and infuses all of their marketing with a customer-focused brand attitude.
Business Two just sends out, "Yeah, me too, we do that" marketing materials.
A great example from our own client roster is a guy in a very commoditized business.
Matt was an unbranded house painter.
He was tired of the struggle and decided he needed to brand.
So he came to us.
WE HELPED HIM DEFINE HIS CORE CUSTOMER
She's an upscale, status-conscious housewife who drives a Range Rover.
He renames his business for her. Instead of just being Matt Wolf the house painter, he becomes Wolf Custom Finishes.
Matt, who'd never had a logo before, gets a new, arty, sexy, upscale logo. It's in the same league as the logo for a luxury car dealer or an art gallery.
Matt's tagline is, "It's not just paint. It's how you look."
And if you call him to get an estimate, he looks good, too.
He shows up wearing a sport coat, and brings fresh bagels and coffee.
Matt has the exclusive, elevated brand of an artist--which he is.
So, speaking to an upscale, status-conscious housewife who drives a Range Rover, speaking to her with a name that says, "custom," showing her a very arty, sexy, upscale logo, telling her this job, "It's not just paint, it's how you look," showing up wearing a sport coat, and carrying fresh bagels and coffee...
DO YOU THINK SHE KNOWS HE CARES ABOUT HER HOME?
You think that all resonates with that affluent woman who cares what people think about her?
What chance does the unbranded guy have?
The guy has a logo featuring a clip-art painter rushing along with a bucket and a ladder.
His tagline says, "For all your painting needs."
He shows up for the estimate in a paint-spattered outfit stinking of BO from the job he just left.
This guy treats his craft as a commodity.
Matt treats his craft as an art form.
AND IT MATTERS TO THE CORE CUSTOMER
In the first year after he rebranded, Matt doubled his revenue.
He changed his brand and changed his life.
He's in a better mood all the time.
He has better clients who treat him well.
Who in their right mind would tell this man that he should ignore branding and just do direct marketing?
But you can be sure if he does do direct marketing, it's consistent with his brand.
He doesn't offer to paint three rooms for the price of two.
He offers to upgrade her lifestyle with the emotional power of color and style.
His marketing stays right in line with the idea that painting your house is about your status.
IT'S ALL ABOUT HOW YOU LOOK
And how you look is related to your brand and how you make other people feel.
That affluent housewife's house is part of her brand.
It represents her and influences how people feel about her.
Matt Wolf's brand is also about her house, and how people feel about her.
And this is all about feelings.
The decision process is inextricably linked to emotions.
Neuroscience has proven it.
Damage the emotional center of your brain, and you cannot make even simple decisions. Your life goes off the rails.
Branding is about feelings. It helps people like you and decide to buy you.
A small business is better off with brand than without it.
THUS ENDETH THE ANSWER TO THE SECOND PART OF THE QUESTION
Next week, we will look at answering the easier, more functional part of the question posed by our Romanian friend in Hotlanta.
We'll talk about how to brand a business.
And while there isn't exactly a system for it, we'll talk about some super-secret resources to help you do it.
Happy New Year.
Glad you're finally back in the saddle after the holidays and working on a kickass 2017.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.