Yes, it is July 4, 2017. In the United States, we are celebrating our declaration of independence from the United Kingdom.
Last week, our neighbors in Canada celebrated their sesquicentennial (that's the 150-year anniversary for all you civilians) of their independence from the UK.
No doubt, many Americans today are wishing they could move to Canada for more than just celebration.
But we here at the Mountaintop Marketing Fortress are not going there.
We will not make this a political screed. We never have. We never will. Because politics is just too divisive.
We are inclusionists.
We like to invite everyone to celebrate.
Which explains today's celebration.
WE ARE CELEBRATING A BRIT WHO CHANGED THE SHAPE OF AMERICAN ADVERTISING
Indeed, as creators of advertising, it's hard for us to not appreciate a man who famously said, "Talent, I believe, is most likely to be found among nonconformists, dissenters, and rebels."
And is there anything more American than an appreciation for nonconformity, dissent and rebellion?
Well, yeah, there is the national pastime of banging the drum for nonconformity, dissent and rebellion while making sure it conforms, agrees and complies.
"Let's all be different by dressing alike and indulging fanatical groupthink about the same stupid idea! Woo-hoo!"
But I digress.
REBELLION IS THE GAME THAT GAVE THE U.S. ITS INDEPENDENCE
And this Brit, the son of a Gaelic-speaking Scottish Highlander, was fascinated by the American character.
Back in the middle of the 20th century, in the days before the mayhem and the menace of the over-communicated digital culture, this man was an iconoclast, a subversive, a revolutionary.
He came to the U.S. banging the drum for a sea change in advertising.
In an age of the hard sell, he made a convincing pitch for the soft sell.
And his soft sell built brands with ferocious intensity. He won more major advertising accounts than any ad man before or since.
He never won any advertising awards for creativity. He didn't believe in them.
The idea of an industry's creative people giving awards to each other left him cold. He always maintained that if something didn't sell, it wasn't creative.
I COULD ARGUE THAT IF IT DOESN'T SELL, IT MIGHT BE STILL BE CREATIVE--IT JUST ISN'T RELEVANT
But why parse words with a genius? He'll always run rings around you logically.
And this man's particular genius is responsible for so much of what we do in our business that wins friends and influences people.
He changed advertising using his soft-sell methods combined with research.
Yes, that pox, research, always a nuisance, a bother and a misery to so many creative people.
In a famous quote, he said, "Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals."
BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN HE LOOKED DOWN UPON CREATIVE
Remember, he was all about the talented nonconformists, dissenters, and rebels.
In fact, despite being an enormously successful businessman, he disdained businessmen who lacked the ability to be creative.
This man famously said:
The creative process requires more
than reason. Most original thinking
isn't even verbal. It requires "a groping
experimentation with ideas, governed
by intuitive hunches and inspired by
the unconscious." The majority of
business men are incapable of original
thinking because they are unable to
escape from the tyranny of reason.
Their imaginations are blocked.
BLAMMO! TAKE THAT, BLOCKED BUSINESSMAN!
Talk about potentially biting the hand that feeds you.
Who makes the decision to hire an advertising agency?
But then, don't Americans like to imagine themselves as the outlier, the nonconformist, the rebel?
"He's right! Let's be rebellious and hire the creative guy! Yay, we're nonconformists! Let's start dressing like nonconformists and pretending we're the new originals!"
But one of the most significant pieces of ad think propagated by this rebellious Brit regards branding.
And interestingly, "branding" is not a word that you hear him use a lot.
But when you look at his track record of iconic brand development, he was a king.
HE SPECIALIZED IN MAKING THE PROSPECT FEEL ONE WAY ABOUT THE PRODUCT
In fact, he called it essential to winning. He said:
There isn't any significant difference
between the various brands of whiskey,
or cigarettes or beer. They are all about
the same. And so are the cake mixes and
the detergents, and the margarines...
The manufacturer who dedicates his
advertising to building the most sharply
defined personality for his brand will
get the largest share of the market at
the highest profit.
We at Slow Burn might argue that this thesis becomes shaky when applied to various small-businesses with whom we work. Because many of them really are different than the competitors.
Nonetheless, the core concept--that the most sharply defined and most attractive personality wins--is one with which we have no argument whatsoever.
Hands down, we have seen it work for our clients. We have even seen it inspire the competition to scramble and regroup in an effort to redefine their own personality--with laughable results.
AND, THIS BRIT EVEN USED AN EXPRESSION NEAR AND DEAR TO THE FABULOUS HONEY PARKER'S HEART
He said something which is not only similar to a phrase she uses repeatedly, but is an idea which is uniquely American.
Honey loves a good sports story, and likes to talk about helping our clients "Knock it out of the park."
And lemmetellya, that is fun to do.
And this Brit liked to say, "Don't bunt. Aim out of the ball park."
And then he said, "Aim for the company of immortals."
Aim for the company of immortals.
I just got chills.
And interestingly, the Brit was also realistic about this.
He wasn't about winning at all costs. He had perspective and balance.
He also said, "Play to win, but enjoy the fun."
WE HAVE A RULE HERE AT SLOW BURN MARKETING
We've repeated it here before.
We will do business only with people whom we'd look forward to joining for dinner.
Life is too short. We will not take a client just for the money.
It has to be a good fit.
They, like us, have to play to win but enjoy the fun.
Interestingly, this describes not only the person who hired us, but every single person we met when we were engaged in a branding effort for a division of Wells Fargo.
HARD TO IMAGINE--BUT TRUE
And finally, one of the most practical quotes from our British invader.
It is just as piercing and relevant now as it was then.
And it speaks to a mindset seen too often in the hucksterish sales messages that come at us over the airwaves and through the ether.
This man was adamant that, "The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife. Try not to insult her intelligence."
On this Independence Day, a salute to you, David Ogilvy.
Here's to being fascinated by Americans, to burning it up with the soft sell, and to nonconformity, dissension, and rebellion.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Last week, that of June 17, 2017, a portion of the advertising world was focused on the south of France. The Côte d'Azur. Promenade de la Croisette. Le Carlton et Le Majestic.
Yes, the Cannes film festival is long over.
But we've just seen the passing of this year's festival of creative selling: The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
Why should we care? The Cannes Lions is big. We are people interested in the small.
Well, let's remember one of the Slow Burn Marketing mantras: brand your small business like a big business and you can make great things happen.
And forgetting a lot of the advertising nonsense that comes out of Cannes (it is a festival of creativity after all, which sometimes becomes creative for its own sake and serves purposes other than ours), Cannes still has a prize category that is near and dear to my heart.
MEET THE CANNES GRAND PRIX IN CREATIVE EFFECTIVENESS
Yes, even the great global advertising creativity dog pile, or pile de chien, in the south of France has an award for effectiveness.
So, are you one of those people? The ones who love to say, "Advertising that wins awards never produces results!"
If so, back off, Jacques.
There's plenty of award-winning advertising that produces results. And as it happens, I've even created some myself.
But I've produced nothing of the magnitude that anyone at Cannes would care about.
Nonetheless, the beauty of the effectiveness award is twofold.
One, it fires a bazooka right at the guy who loves to say, "Advertising that wins awards never produces results!"
AND TWO, IT PRESENTS GREAT IDEAS WORTHY OF STEALING
Well, maybe "stealing" is too acute a word.
How about, the category presents ideas that can inspire.
Because again, this category provides documentable results. It shows the world creative and inventive advertising that made stuff happen.
But on a huge budget, right?
The category's winner this year was a campaign for the Art Institute of Chicago that ran on Airbnb.
The campaign was celebrating the first-ever visit to the US of the iconic Van Gogh work, The Bedroom. Or, if you prefer the proper French title, La Chambre à Arles.Or, since Van Gogh was not French but Dutch, Slaapkamer te Arles.
The Bedroom campaign gave people an opportunity to sleep in a life-size recreation of the room in Van Gogh's painting by renting it on Arbnb.
THE PERFORMANCE OF THE CAMPAIGN WAS IMPRESSIVE
ADWEEK reports that the campaign attracted 133,000 visitors to the Art Institute, and generated $2 million in revenue.
And this happened with an investment of just $500,000.
I know what you're saying.
You can't recreate Van Gogh's bedroom in life size, and half a million bucks is your annual revenue if you're lucky.
Plus, didn't I tee this up with a promise of full authenticity and zero media budget?
The authenticity here is questionable, and the budget is way above zero.
This is not the campaign to which I was referring. But it is fun.
THE CAMPAIGN THAT WAS AUTHENTIC AND CHEAP DID NOT WIN
It was an also-ran.
But it is really cool.
You may have heard about it when it was running.
It was a social media darling.
The campaign is called, The Swedish Number.
How's this for affordable: a media budget of zero.
No media was purchased for this campaign. None.
And it generated $147 million in earned media through international news coverage.
SO, WHAT IS THE SWEDISH NUMBER?
Sweden is a country with a grand tradition of tourism.
Swedes are a gregarious people who love to welcome visitors.
They also don't have any standout tourist attractions that make people say, "Hey, let's go see the Swedish fill in the blank!"
IKEA? Meatballs? Lutefisk?
And Sweden's tourism marketing budget is tiny. They don't have a lot of money to tell you, "We're so much more than IKEA, meatballs and lutefisk."
Enter Swedish PR firm INGO.
Their solution? Simple: a phone number for Sweden.
Anyone in the world could call Sweden on the phone, and a random real live Swede would answer.
Yes, I know. This conjurs up images of 12-year-olds dialing Sweden and saying, "Sven, is your refrigerator running?"
IT MAY HAVE HAPPENED
But far more consistently, random people from around the world called random people in Sweden and had very nice conversations about what it's like to live there.
Over 180,000 calls were made to Sweden.
They totaled over one year of talk time.
35,000 volunteer Swedish telephone ambassadors fielded calls from 180 countries.
The longest call lasted almost five hours.
And the media budget was zero. The Swedish Number was promoted with a couple of online videos and some PR, and news outlets worldwide picked up the story and ran with it.
Radio and TV programs everywhere picked up the phone and called random Swedes live on air. That included Good Morning America and the largest TV news channel in China.
If you search The Swedish Number on YouTube, you can see a Swiss TV host calling Sweden and asking about how all Swedes live in an IKEA and eat free meatballs, and Switzerland and Sweden always get confused for one another. (But only by Americans, apparently.)
AND TALK ABOUT AUTHENTIC
It doesn't get much more real than talking to a truck driver, a school teacher, a farmer, a pharmacist, a designer...
The list goes on.
Even the Swedish Prime Minister took a phone call. It was videotaped for YouTube.
It's safe to say that more people around the world were suddenly attracted to the idea of visiting Sweden than ever could have been accomplished with an under-budgeted TV campaign.
Why did this campaign work?
And why did so many people from around the world make so many phone calls to speak with people they didn't know?
ONE WORD: CONNECTION
Simple, human connection is a powerful thing.
The sound of one voice speaking to another.
Two people making contact.
It's just that simple.
And in a world where advertising contrivance runs amok, where everyone clamors to get your attention with offers and absurdities and craziness and scarcity and discounts and yelling--
A simple, human connection cuts through.
It shouldn't be that surprising. Some of the most effective advertising campaigns of all time have been based on simple, human connection.
At Slow Burn, some of our most powerful advertising campaigns have capitalized on just that. Last week, I was recording Dr. Sam Giveen from New Hampshire for yet another series of radio commercials where he speaks simply and candidly about having a better life with better eye care. Straight talk. Better vision.
SIMPLE, PLAIN-SPEAKING, UNGLAMOROUS DR. SAM IS A LOCAL CELEBRITY
He has never once made an offer in any of his advertising.
He has never pitched product.
He has never been a huckster, nor has he hired one.
Dr. Sam has always worked for a simple, human connection with his patients.
Throughout my career, I've created dozens of campaigns just like that. Recently, in fact, I was asked to record more announcer wraparounds for the legendary Sonny Sardo, an interiors specialist in Southern California.
Over a decade ago, I created a campaign that now numbers well over 100 commercials--all of them Sonny talking candidly, telling stories about things like re-upholstery, drapes and custom furniture.
He, too, is a local celebrity. He makes bank on making a simple, human connection with the radio listener.
BUT THE SWEDISH NUMBER STRIPS THE SIMPLE, HUMAN CONNECTION TO ITS RAW BASICS
And with zero media budget, zero actors involved, zero funny copywriting, and zero trendy art direction, a dinky nation of 9 million people got $147 million in free advertising around the world.
Pick up the phone.
Talk to a Swede.
How much simpler could it be?
You often don't need huge budgets, fancy production, or The Next Big Idea.
Sometimes, all you need to do is be human. Be real.
It's all good. And it all works.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
As the faithful fan of the weekly screed knows, we here at the Mountaintop Marketing Fortress are big fans of Jonathan Goldsmith.
We've previously discussed the success of The Most Interesting Man In The World.
The famous and much-parodied campaign for Dos Equis beer was everything one hopes a good ad campaign will be: entertaining enough to become a meme while producing results enough to make the brand a smash.
It's also safe to say the campaign rivals "Got Milk" for the number of stupid parodies being used by other advertisers. Just recently, we heard a local radio station do a lame parody that said, "I don't always listen to radio, but when I do..."
BUT HOW SUCCESSFUL WAS GOLDSMITH'S CHARACTER?
Yes, the world can be entertained.
But are people buying the product?
Hard numbers for the success of the Dos Equis campaign are difficult to come by. But by all accounts, it has been a raging success.
Various reports peg the results at anywhere from a 22% sales increase in the US (in a time when imported beers sales are slumping), to increasing Dos Equis sales 300% in Canada.
So, why did they shoot Goldsmith's The Most Interesting Man In The World into outer space last year?
Why did they replace him with giant and less-interesting Augustin Legrand's Most Interesting Man In The World?
That, friends, is anyone's guess.
SURE, THERE ARE EXPLANATIONS FROM PARENT HEINEKEN
An article in Advertising Age from March 2016 quotes the USA's Chief Marketing Officer for the parent company saying, "If you just plug the current campaign in the context of college football, there is something there missing."
He said that the then-current version of the campaign is "Looking backwards...You need something a bit more contemporary and something a bit more in today's world."
The article then went on to comment how The Most Interesting Man In The World campaign was an odd fit for, say college football.
The article concludes with the CMO saying that research had revealed that, "We could go further with the campaign--if we would become more active" and "more present-day."
AH, THE POWER OF RESEARCH
Research is used to justify all kinds of proactive steps that don't seem to make sense.
One of the first and most useful things I ever heard about research came in a marketing meeting from a radio program director.
He was talking about doing research to determine the programming direction for the music station in his charge.
The first thing he said--or at least, the first thing I remember--is this: Research is never predictive.
Yes, in a way, it sounds like he was trying to get off the hook in case his programming decisions failed.
But here's the important take away: you truly can never predict how people will behave tomorrow based on what they did or said yesterday.
Speaking as a guy who's heard people say, "I'd buy that!", and opened a business selling that, and nobody bought it, I get it. What people will do is never predicated on what they say.
AND WHAT WAS THE BEER CMO SAYING?
Basically, that their research had predicted the change for Dos Equis was good.
Getting rid of Jonathan Goldsmith and replacing him with that French guy and making the stories more contemporary would sell more beer to more people.
Go ahead. Ask your friends how they feel.
"Nah, he's not as interesting."
Cut to the beginning of June this year, and Dos Equis is changing advertising agencies.
Usually, that means that the advertising isn't working.
But it sounds like the advertising is indeed working--just not as well as they want.
Sales are still up for the younger but less-interesting Most Interesting Man In The World.
But sales for Corona and Modela Negra are up higher. People are finding their beach and looking for beer brewed with a fighting spirit.
SO MORE CHANGE IS GOOD, RIGHT?
We don't know.
We're just disappointed.
We miss the wit and personality of the Jonathan Goldsmith edition.
And it's one of those classic advertising legends where the guys who created the campaign admit they were clueless. They developed the idea half an hour before the meeting, figuring they'd never sell it.
All they were doing was making themselves laugh.
BUT WHY ARE WE EVEN TALKING ABOUT THIS?
Because, Mr. Goldsmith is back.
Not for Dos Equis.
And not as The Most Interesting Man In The World.
He's back looking a lot like that most interesting guy.
A Mexican-tinged guitar is heard playing in the background.
He has some gorgeous women sitting with him in a dark room.
Liquor is poured into glasses.
The glasses clink together.
And Señor Goldsmith says, "I told you, I don't always drink beer." He toasts to you through the camera. "Astral. Tequila."
A FINE LINE BETWEEN LIQUOR ADVERTISING AND LAWSUITS
Astral Tequila has not crossed the line that could get them into trouble, but they are dancing right on it.
And while it's nice to see Mr. Goldsmith back in his most interesting chair, it's just a gag.
We really can't see it continuing.
But as regards flipping the bird to a previous advertiser, it's so much more preferable than the now long-running Sprint campaign featuring Paul Marcarelli, Verizon's former Can You Hear Me Now guy.
Yes, we here are in a minority.
We find Paul's pitch disingenuous and annoying. Research shows some people agree with us. But it also shows that more people are on board with him.
The point is, know your audience and know what they like.
Those of us who miss Jonathan Goldsmith's Fernando Lamas character, and who don't appreciate Paul Marcarelli as an unappealing shill, are in a minority.
And as a minority of a certain mind, we can be profitable.
As a small-business owner, you don't have to worry about the mass market.
You have to worry only about the market you serve--which is much smaller than the nation's entire beer-drinking public.
For instance, let's say you're a local craft brewer.
EACH YEAR, YOU PRODUCE LESS BEER THAN DOS EQUIS SPILLS EACH MONTH
It does not behoove you to worry about whether your brand and your marketing play to the nation's college football market.
You need to worry about whether your brand and your marketing play to the local specialty market.
For example, here in Park City where we live, we are an active-outdoor sports mecca.
Skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, paddling, fly fishing--beer drinkers here get out and do stuff. Constantly.
And local Park City Brewery aims right at that market.
Their beer, ostensibly, "Pairs well with your next outdoor adventure."
The names of their beers evoke the activities pursed by their customer.
THEY DON'T GIVE A FLYING CHUPACABRA'S PATOUTIE WHAT DOS EQUIS IS DOING
That doesn't mean they should ignore it.
It just means they should understand the difference between Dos Equis and themselves, and proceed accordingly.
They're never going to be marketing on a mass scale.
They're never going to compete with a national brand.
They are going to compete with other local brewers like Wasatch and Uinta and Epic.
They need to understand how to stand apart and how to be more desirable.
Yes, it helps to be piercing and attractive and resonant like Jonathan Goldsmith's character.
BUT IT ALSO NEEDS TO BE DONE IN A SCALABLE, RELEVANT WAY
It needs to be done in a fashion that resonate locally.
And in many regards, their most interesting man should be their own core customer.
At Slow Burn, we've always maintained that if you brand your small business like a big business, great things will happen.
And we stand by that.
We're not dissuading you from doing things correctly.
But you also need to understand how to scale it down for your market and your prospect.
You can and should look big.
But you just need to make sure you keep the reigns on it.
And so does your approach to maintaining local interest.
Can you hear me now?
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Recently, I was asked to rewrite an advertisement for a client
The client is in a very, very sexy category.
Yay, construction materials!
Here's the thing.
This stuff doesn't sell itself. Even construction materials require advertising that hits the mark.
No, it might not be sexy.
But it's an 8-figure business that's selling its product from New England to New Zealand.
AND THEIR BRAND IS ROCK SOLID
No pun intended.
In their category, they have a brand that stands apart, stands out, and stands up to the competition.
They're also just fun to work for.
The product they sell is a permanent cold asphalt that saves the user around 50% over the cost of traditional asphalt repairs.
Traditionally, a road repair is done twice: first with a temporary cold patch, and then later with a permanent hot mix.
You've seen the temporary pothole repairs. They're the ones that never last, destroy your suspension, and blow the chrome spinner wheel covers off your Smart Car.
This product eliminates the second, hot-mix repair. You just come in, make the repair once, and you're done for good. Guaranteed permanent.
They had an ad going out to the trade, and wanted the copy refreshed from a previous version.
AND THE HEADLINE WAS NAGGING AT ME
The headline, which they were happy to continue using, was "Patch once. Save money."
I looked at it.
It sat there on the page, mocking me.
What is missing, headline?
Why are you irritating me?
What is it about you that makes you incomplete?
I left it.
Instead, I went through the body copy and freshened it up.
And the answer to the headline dilemma punched through.
That's what it needed.
The headline had said, "Patch once. Save money."
What it was supposed to say was, "Patch just once. Save big money."
All of a sudden, the proposition is more distinctive and acute.
You're going to do even less work and save even more money.
I sent the headline over to the client.
His reply was something like, "Oh. That's better."
Apparently, the headline had been nagging at him, as well.
And this points to something all too common in writing advertising.
THE WRITER QUITS TOO SOON
Sometimes it's laziness.
Often, it's a time deficit.
Sometimes, it's just plain ignorance.
Occasionally, it's arrogance.
Regardless. Whatever you're creating, whether it's print, digital, broadcast--from a TV commercial to a website to a one-sheet--copywriting is a puzzle to be solved.
You can be the writer. You can be the client. You can be a middle man. It doesn't matter who you are.
If the words are nagging at you, the copy isn't finished.
Of course, this requires that you have the conscience to let those words nag at you. I've known too many ostensible pros whose bar for "Good enough" is way too low.
They suffer from an arrogance of ignorance and indifference that shoots everyone in the foot.
Those cases aside, there's a simple rule to remember about copy.
IF IT'S NOT ON THE PAGE...
It's not in your advertisement.
Or your website.
Or your brochure.
Or your commercial.
Or whatever else it is you're using to communicate with your customer.
And if you care, you will likely get that feeling, the one that says, "This isn't quite right."
The "Good enough!" attitude is necessary. There comes a point where you have to stop cutting bait and start fishing.
That notwithstanding, one MUST be scrupulous about one's words.
METICULOUS ATTENTION TO DETAIL RULES
A willingness to parse the copy and figure out what's missing matters.
At the very least, it's how a customer is enticed to pay attention.
At the very best, it's how you change the world.
Somewhere in between those two places is the bank.
It's where the advertising generates more response and makes more money.
And a good copywriter is going to sweat the details until vowels and consonants are dripping from his pores.
Example: last weekend, the Fabulous Honey Parker and I were running in a trail race.
(Notice I said, "running," not "competing." Saying that either of us is competitive strains credibility. But we always beat the people who never start.)
Someone running ahead of me was wearing a T-shirt from a local university.
The message on the back of the shirt, under the university's logo, was this copy: "Envy the past. Fear the future."
MY FIRST THOUGHT WAS: "WELL, THAT'S STUPID."
A university is about educating and enlightening with the goal of building a better tomorrow.
Who would teach anyone to fear the future?
Then, I thought, This must be something from the sports department. It's intended to taunt the competition.
A cursory Google search reveals that this is a message that has gone onto the T-shirts ever since the university's football team joined the PAC-12.
Here's the problem with me running behind a guy wearing a shirt like that.
There is entirely too much time to parse the words. I spent several minutes breaking it down and trying to decide whether it made sense.
As a message to the competition, which it undoubtedly must be, it's a couple of things.
One, it's arrogant, which is dangerous. Those are words that you may find being spoon fed back to you. They will not taste good.
Two, it's slightly off target. The words are wrong.
As I was running through the dust and rocks, I kept looking at that shirt and rewriting it.
I KEPT ASKING MYSELF, "IS 'THE' THE CORRECT WORD?"
At the risk of sounding a little too much like an erstwhile U.S. president who, under questioning, said that his answer depended upon what the definition of "is" is, you need to think about these things.
Because really, this message is not about a general past or a general future, but about one party's specific past and another party's specific future.
A past in which the university's team has reaped the glory of victory.
And a future in which the university's team is going to eat the opposing team's lunch.
So maybe the message should be, "Envy our past. Fear your future."
Because technically, that's really what it's about.
It's about you, on the opposing team, looking on our record with envy, and in tomorrow's game, being forced to go headlong and eat dirt.
PERSONALLY, I CAN THINK OF A FEW LINES THAT ARE MORE FUN AND LESS RISKY
"Fear not. Death will be glorious."
"It's a good day to die. Ready?"
"What's in your wallet? And do they take it at the ER?"
"We'll carry the torch. You enjoy the flames."
"Our mascot will look even better from down there."
"Come feel the pain."
OK. Are they good lines? Mainly, no.
But this is the process.
I wrote all of that in slightly more time than it took to read it all.
Too many people stop writing at the first idea.
Sometimes, that idea is brilliant.
More often, it's not.
OFTEN, THE WAY BRILLIANCE OCCURS, IS BY WRITING TONS AND TONS OF CRAP
Writing not nearly enough crap, and thinking only half way, is how too many people approach the problem.
Immature copywriters want to be like Zeus, hurling lightning bolts of genius down from Mount Olympus and then prancing off to the next erotic escapade.
The experienced copywriter knows: One is not Zeus. One is the erstwhile King of Ephyra, better known as Sisyphus, forced to roll that immense boulder up a hill for eternity.
And in case you didn't know, Sisyphus was sentenced to this endless task for...
How fitting. All of us committed copywriters are doomed to pay the price for our youthful copywriting indiscretions of ego-driven, crafty writing by pushing the copy boulder uphill for eternity.
We are doomed to participate in trail races where we run along, analyzing the copy on the back of the shirt of the guy in front of us and rewrite it while trying to not go flailing headlong in the scree and end up with a face full of pebbles.
DON'T LET YOUR WRITING GO ONLY HALFWAY
Whether you're writing for yourself or for someone else, or someone else is writing for you, the job needs to be complete.
It doesn't need to be art. Most of the time, good copy is not artful.
But all the time, when it works, good copy is a product of competent, thoughtful craftsmanship.
It is not the product of ego-driven cleverness.
And it's definitely not the product of lazy thinking.
And when the right words are on the page, magic happens.
And they become customers.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Driving along the interstate highway system from dawn to dark can make a brand-thinking ad guy crazy.
The Fabulous Honey Parker and I were just taking turns, sitting in that seat, on a long haul from Florida to Utah.
As writers in such a situation, we get to write a lot of silly comedy--usually by appropriating other people's unwitting silliness.
Example: there's a billboard along the highway somewhere in Missouri. The headline is, "STRIPPERS."
The sub-headline is, "Need we say more?"
Then, the billboard says about a half dozen more things.
THIS IS OUR NEW ALL-PURPOSE TAGLINE
It replaces our previous all-time favorite written by a radio account rep in California: "It doesn't smell like urine."
Granted, that wasn't written as a tagline, but as a feature about an assisted living facility. But we adopted it as an all-purpose tagline anyway.
Think about it. Where doesn't that line work?
"Applebee's. It doesn't smell like urine."
"The Law Office of John Smith. It doesn't smell like urine."
"Slow Burn Marketing. It doesn't smell like urine."
Works almost every time.
NEED WE SAY MORE?
Even if you DO need to say more, and add another half dozen things, "Need we say more" fits all of your all-purpose tagline needs.
"Ford Trucks. Need we say more?"
"One-Eyed Carl's CrossFit. Need we say more?"
"Amazon. Need we say more?"
See how easy it is?
No thought required at all!
"Welcome to Nebraska. Need we say more?"
YAY, INTERSTATE HIGHWAY ADVERTISING!
But all-purpose taglines aside, one of the other media with which you are routinely confronted on the interstate are long-haul semis.
Many trucking lines use their vehicles to deliver messages to the driving public in general, or to truckers in specific.
And one of those trucking companies is Kelle's Transport Service.
For years, I've seen their trucks on the road here in the west, and I've always wondered: what's the deal with that logo?
It obviously means something to someone.
ALL HAIL THE SKUNK!
The 18-wheelers from Kelle's Transport Service have a logo of a grinning skunk in goggles, leaning forward into the breeze, and carrying a flapping Jolly Roger. You know, the skull & crossbones pirate flag.
So, a speeding skunk and a pirate flag.
Stink up and steal?
No idea what it means.
But spend enough time on the road staring at those speedy skunks, and eventually the curious among us get driven to Google.
Oh, look. Kelle's Transport specializes in refrigerated and frozen food delivery.
NOTHING SAYS "GOOD FOOD" LIKE A SKUNK BEARING SKULL AND CROSSBONES, THE INTERNATIONAL SYMBOL FOR POISON
So, what the heck is this really all about?
The interwebs knows all!
If you dig down deep enough, you find that the Kelle Simon behind Kelle's Transport Service is the son of another trucking entrepreneur.
And that man, Dick Simon, used to haul a lot of perfume in his trucks.
Those trucks smelled sweet.
Thus came the nickname, "Sweet Simon."
One day, Sweet Simon turned a truck over to a highly respected detail painter who was so good, he was given carte blanche by truck owners to paint whatever he wanted.
SWEET SIMON'S TRUCK CAME BACK WITH A SKUNK
Apparently, Mr. Simon was not so sweet on the skunk.
But his wife thought it was cute, and he had a load to haul, so the skunk truck hit the road.
A logo legacy was born.
Nobody seems to know the origin of the pirate flag. Maybe it was just an adolescent goof.
But eventually, Mr. Simon's pirate flag was changed to a flag of hearts and flowers--a move that some applauded, and others found just creepy.
Either way, that provides some explanation for why the son has a trucking company whose logo is a goggle-wearing skunk speeding along with a pirate flag.
It's backstory. It has history.
But what does it actually mean?
AND IS IT A GOOD IDEA?
It doesn't seem to do much beyond be silly.
How should the core customer feel about the pirate skunk?
Well, if the core customer is someone waiting on a big frozen-food delivery, doesn't the logo convey a feeling of stench and poison?
But is the skunk an effort to speak to that person?
Or is the skunk an effort to speak to the prospective employee?
If you read trucker lore in online forums, drivers seem to have an affection for the skunk.
MAYBE THE SKUNK APPEALS TO THE CAREER DRIVER WHO WANTS MORE
Maybe the skunkster promises something better to the right trucker.
The messages on Kelle's trucks (and on many others) are telling truckers that they're hiring and they're good to work for.
We're not going to examine the veracity of those claims. That's a whole other screed.
But maybe the stink-meister and his piracy pennant attract the right driver.
Somehow, I doubt it.
It just feels too adolescent and without relevance.
It's a little like the people who love to go out on their bass boats waving pirate flags.
"Ha! Get it?! It's a boat! We're pirates!"
Mm-hm. You bet. Good joke.
AND THE STENCH-FEST GRAPHICS CERTAINLY DON'T SAY, "MMM-MMM, GOOD FOOD!"
More like, "Hey, here's a truckload of flash-frozen botulism!"
But here's something I can guarantee: people know the brand.
Regardless of what feelings it engenders, the business is identifiable.
If a brand is the one way the core customer should feel about the business, this has a couple of things going for it.
One, some truckers get a feeling of a legacy employer.
Two, trucking customers get a feeling of recognition.
It's not deep. It's not even necessarily correct.
But in a realm where many brands have nothing, it is at least something.
MANY OF THE COMPETITORS HAVE ZERO IDENTITY
Many of the competitors are known for...having big white trucks.
They might be equally reliable.
They might be even better--both as frozen-food haulers and as employers.
But really, we'll never know.
Unless we start to dig and do a lot of research and ask a lot of questions.
And who's that proactive?
A brand? Yes.
A flawed brand? Probably.
A good brand? Not really.
But it might be better than nothing.
Yet, in a perfect world, if it were my business, I'd do everything in my power to appeal to a higher calling and erase all scent of stink and pillage.
But that's just me.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
IS YOUR PROBLEM NOW YOUR CUSTOMER'S PROBLEM?
Once upon a time, the Fabulous Honey Parker and I were doing a home re-fi.
We were living in Los Angeles, and were buying a cute little cabin in the mountains of Utah. We had enough equity in our home that it seemed smart to use some of that equity on another investment.
The timing ended up being tight.
Three days after closing on the loan, we'd be closing on the cabin.
We would have the cash in hand just three days before being required to hand it to the sellers.
The loan docs showed up for our signatures, and...
The cash-out amount was 33% short.
We got on the phone with the mortgage broker.
We explained the situation.
He was stunned.
First, he apologized profusely.
Next, he said he was going to jump through every hoop possible.
He would attempt to fix the loan before the closing on our cabin.
And then he said, "If I can't make it happen in time, I will cover the shortage. I will write you a check from my personal account. You will be able to close without delay."
THAT WAS IMPRESSIVE
This man had made a mistake and was prepared to write us a five-figure check to cover his error until the error could be corrected.
He is not licensed to write home loans in Utah, where we now live. If he were, he'd have our undying loyalty for all our mortgage business.
In fact, we hadn't spoken to him in a couple of years, and we recently reached out to him for some re-financing advice.
Despite the fact that there was no business in it for him, he was happy to consult.
THIS MAN IS HIS BRAND
His business has a name that speaks to his values without being on-the-nose about it.
The brand is infused with his personality and ethics, and he lives up to it all in a way that engenders devotion and repeat business from legions of faithful clients.
When we had a problem, he went well above and beyond to correct it.
He had created the problem, and never expected us to pay the price.
It was impressive.
With that as a yardstick, something different just happened to us.
IT WAS EQUALLY IMPRESSIVE FOR THE WRONG REASONS
As part of a new business venture, Honey and I are buying a new and rather large vehicle.
We've been working with a dealer here in Utah.
There's one particular unit we need, and the last one was sold off the lot while we were looking at our options.
The last one available to us was with the dealer's outlet in Florida.
There was little room for negotiation, as the price was already rock-bottom. Extensive research showed that, at 35% below sticker, and what two-year-old models were selling for, we could probably buy the thing and resell it immediately at a profit.
We tried to grind the salesman, but we knew there wasn't much point.
WE ALSO FINANCED ABOUT 60% OF THE PURCHASE THROUGH THE DEALER
Our research showed that there were no better rates to be had out there.
So getting financing through the dealer would be more convenient for us, and would make the deal a little sweeter for them.
Then, we had to arrange the pickup in Florida.
We looked at the calendar.
Hmm. It's the end of the month.
Not only were we anxious to get the vehicle, but management in Florida would like a sold unit off the lot.
And the unspoken part? The sooner we got the rig off the lot, the sooner our sales guy would get paid.
If we didn't take delivery until next month, he wouldn't get paid until next month.
SO WE INCONVENIENCED OURSELVES
We paid more in airfare by buying plane tickets a week out instead of waiting two or more weeks, when the fares would be lower.
In sum: we'd paid close to the asking price on the vehicle, done the financing with the dealer (which just happened to be through the same credit union we would've used anyway), and expedited pickup to get there the last day of the month.
They're making money.
At least they told us the dealer in Florida would pick us up at the airport. That was convenient.
Until it wasn't.
Our sales guy called.
"I have bad news. They can't pick you up at the airport. It's the last day of the month and they're too busy. You're going to have to take a cab or an Uber."
I PULLED OUT ONE OF HONEY'S FAVORITE WORDS
It's the "D" word.
I said, "I'm disappointed. We didn't grind you on the price, we arranged financing through you, we paid twice as much for airfare to get there by the end of the month to get it off their lot because it's better for them and, presumably, better for your commission check. So now this? I'm disappointed."
He began talking a lot, explaining all kinds of things about business already gone by, and I stopped him.
I said, "Please don't explain it. You're not making it better."
He said, "Let me call you back."
A FEW MINUTES LATER, THE PHONE RANG AGAIN
He said, "If they can't pick you up at the airport, we'll pay for your Uber."
As it should be.
Unfortunately, it may have been too little too late.
Welcome to a culture of cheap, and a culture of self-centered focus.
Those are not good qualities for anyone to reveal to a customer.
One of the last things any business should ever do is tell a customer, "We know you spent more than you had to, but we have to renege on this tiny portion of our agreement, and inconvenience you, so we can make more money."
THEY MADE THEIR PROBLEM OUR PROBLEM
Think about the mortgage broker who was going to write a five-figure check out of his own account to cover his mistake.
He didn't have to do that--but he was really smart to say he would.
We had a deposit on a house, we were preparing to close, and we could have easily lost the deal. The seller could have been unwilling to cooperate. Other people wanted the house. We just happened to get there first.
But after being a good and agreeable customer for the vehicle dealer, they could've queered a five-figure deal by not offering to pay $35 in car fare after deciding it was inconvenient for them to provide transportation they'd said was possible.
"It's the end of the month. We have to make more money. We offered to do this for you, but now we realize it's inconvenient for us. Sorry."
WHAT SHOULD THEY HAVE DONE?
The first words out of the sales guy's mouth after saying, "They can't pick you up," should have been "But, we'll pay for your Uber."
It would cost them less than .0005% of the entire deal, and buy them unmeasurable amounts of goodwill.
Instead, it's just a disappointment.
Maybe it was an honest mistake.
Maybe it was a lapse in judgment that doesn't reflect the true colors of the company culture.
One can hope.
Because right now, we're feeling just a little stung over the idea of not being worth $35 to these people who have taken an enormous chunk of change from us.
A BRAND IS INFUSED WITH A COMPANY'S CULTURE
A brand is a living entity pulsating with the company's behaviors and attitudes and beliefs and its respect for the customer.
There will always be problems inside the brand. It's a fact of life about doing business with human beings.
But when those problems become the customer's problems, that's when both the brand and the customer lose.
The moral of the story is: When your company has internal problems, make them your own.
Eat your problems.
Don't feed them to the customer.
You'll do better, and they'll come back.
"WHAT AM I SAYING?"
No, not me, your faithful rantmeister.
You. As the advertiser.
What are YOU saying?
And TO WHOM are you saying it?
Does your message make a point?
Does it evoke an emotional response?
Or does it just lie there, like a dead fish, lacking any purpose in the world?
HMM. SOUNDS LIKE ADVERTISING EXISTENTIALISM.
"Oh, man. Existentialism? There he is, going all long-haired and philosophical on us. What a waste of time!"
Because this is ultimately about not flushing advertising money down the commode.
But maybe we need to ask, what IS existentialism, anyway?
Besides a fulltime pursuit for intolerable bores and miserable people (as one philosophy major I know once described existentialists), existentialism is fundamentally about one thing: meaning.
For a little backstory, let's visit Demark in the 1800s , and a young gentleman who is a philosopher, theologian, poet and social critic with a fondness for irony, parables and metaphor.
His name is Søren Kierkegaard. (Yes, I know a smattering of Danish. I sound like one of those newscasters of Hispanic heritage who speaks perfect, unaccented American English until they say their own name.)
KIERKEGAARD IS CONSIDERED THE FIRST EXISTENTIALIST PHILOSOPHER
And he proposed that each of us--you, me, Mom, the milkman, their child--each of us is personally responsible for giving authentic and passionate meaning to life.
To dumb this down for the overtaxed mind of us 21st century marketing folks, let's turn to Existentialism For Dummies.
Yes, I have a copy in front of me. It's easier than hiring a philosophy professor. And it was written by two philosophy professors.
The first paragraph of the first chapter of the book is exactly eight words long.
"Existentialism is the philosophy that makes life possible."
HOW'S THAT FOR SIMPLE?
The philosophy that makes life possible.
So, by that measure, what is advertising existentialism?
Advertising existentialism is the philosophy that makes sales possible.
I just wrote that.
So, now what?
What does that mean?
Well, advertising is a sales message.
A philosophy is an idea, an attitude, a viewpoint, a way of thinking, even a way of life.
So, advertising existentialism is a way of thinking about sales messages that go out into the world
To make that sales message worthwhile, it must have purpose and meaning.
AN ADVERTISING MESSAGE HAS TO MEAN SOMETHING
Unfortunately, most advertising messages are an exercise in meaninglessness.
This not a swipe at small-business advertising.
It is not a swipe at big-agency advertising.
It is a swipe at meaningless advertising.
Look around you.
There are messages without meaning coming at you every minute of every hour of every day unless you live like Ted Kaczynski, in a remote wilderness shack without electricity or indoor plumbing.
And the height of his anti-social behavior is a whole other brand of existentialism we will not visit here, other than to say his message was clear. Kaboom.
MEANINGLESSNESS DOES NOT ENGENDER A SENSE OF WORTH OR VALUE
And ultimately, advertising has to convey some sense of worth or value.
It can be as simple as guaranteeing the lowest price of any national chain motel while making you feel special.
Or it can be as lofty as being entrusted with delivering excellence and value in the form of a $350,000 car that belies a vision of changing the world.
Motel 6, meet Rolls Royce.
That's quite a range of worth and value. Many, many others fall in between on that vast spectrum. Your business is probably one of them.
So, here now, an example of a common kind of co-op advertisement.
A PHOTOGRAPH OF A PRODUCT
The product might be a refrigerator. Hard to be certain.
Above the photograph is the local advertiser's name, which you may not know.
Beneath the photograph is the manufacturer's name, which you also may not know.
And that's all.
If the need for worth and value are a given, does this advertisement measure up?
What is it saying?
Who is it saying it to?
Does it make a point?
Does it evoke an emotional response?
IT'S EXPENSIVE AND IT'S UNCLEAR
Some manufacturer probably paid a lot of co-op money.
And the local advertiser probably paid more money.
And the only message is a Post-It Note that says, "If you know who we are, and what this is, we sell it."
As a bonus, this ad is on a billboard.
So the person reading it has very little time to process it.
And there's almost nothing to process.
Especially in the context of 70-mile-an-hour traffic, if you don't give the reader some reason to pay attention, the advertising has no reason for being.
SO HOW ABOUT THIS...
Instead of the advertiser's name at the top of the ad, how about a headline?
"This Swiss refrigerator is cooler than your German car."
And then, at the bottom, the brand name and the advertiser's name.
What is it saying? What point is it making to whom?
It's saying, "You are a certain kind of person with a certain kind of taste. Even if you've never heard of it, this product is for you. We have it here."
And does it evoke an emotional response? Of course it does. Suddenly, for the person who likes precision cars and enjoys a luxury lifestyle, it evokes intrigue, curiosity, amusement, interest, maybe even desire.
SUDDENLY, THE MESSAGE CONVEYS A SENSE OF WORTH AND VALUE
And all it took was took nine words.
I wrote in less time than it took me to explain it.
Of course, I'm conditioned. I am immersed in a mindset of advertising existentialism. I see or hear a meaningless ad and I want to apply meaning.
I also write these kinds of things daily.
But I wasn't born this way.
I've learned to think this way.
And the extent of my training and my learning by doing might make me faster at it.
But it doesn't make me special.
And anyone who creates advertising or buys advertising or sells advertising is able to ask the question...
DOES THIS MATTER?
Does this message tell the reader anything?
What is the message?
What does the reader take away?
What are we doing this for?
Having seen the message, how should the reader feel now?
And what should they do next?
One of the problems with really good advertising is that it seems effortless.
And when something seems effortless, people often don't think very hard about doing it.
YOU HAVE TO THINK HARD ABOUT DOING IT
Because if you don't, the advertising is good money spent badly.
Talking about a billboard (which, in this case, could've just as easily been a print ad) is pretty simple to do.
Talking about this in the context of radio or TV advertising is a bigger challenge because of all the moving parts.
People think websites are immune to this problem. Website frequently exhibit this problem, possibly more so than any other medium.
Pay-per-click advertising. When was the last time you saw a pay-per-click ad that made you care? Most of the time, you just gloss right over them.
For everything, it's still the same, fundamental problem.
Radio especially is crawling with immature writers who don't understand how to craft a relevant message.
But you find those people everywhere, even in ad agencies. As an advertising copywriter, the Fabulous Honey Parker was once teamed with an ad agency art director whose only goal was not to create advertising that sells, but create advertising that wins an award.
THAT IS NOT THE MISSION
The mission of any advertising professional is to craft a message that resonates with the prospect in a way that turns him into a buyer.
The advertising professional is presumably trained in this.
To have any other goal is corrupt.
To not know that's your goal is negligent.
To be a small-business owner who isn't trained this way is a fact of life.
Learning to think this way is actually pretty easy. It's harder to find someone who will tell you as much.
So here it is: a guy telling you as much.
Be an advertising existentialist.
Ask what and why.
Your advertising will thank you by sending you more customers.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
When we were doing a lot of live presentations, this is a refrain that the Fabulous Honey Parker and I would repeat from the stage.
The reason that we would say it is because, for the small-business owner, it was true.
We also used examples of people who had changed their businesses by rebranding, and had changed their lives.
We even had videos of them, saying things like the new branding "taught us how to be out in the world."
That might seem like a strange thing for a grown adult to be saying--until you realize that the person who said it is also a professional actor.
And who knows better the need for cues about "How to be out in the world" than someone whose performance upon a stage requires an objective third party providing direction?
AND OF COURSE, "ALL WORLD'S A STAGE...
"And all the men and women merely players..."
We'll not be going far enough into that old chestnut to get to the less popular line about "mewling and puking."
Instead, we'll just point out that the Bard of Stratford Upon Avon himself gave us the metaphor about the world being a stage.
And an actor on a stage benefits from direction by a third party.
And last week we, as de facto directors of brand, had an in interesting experience out in the world.
We did something unusual.
We visited a client business, and personally presented the new brand to 45 employees.
Understand, we have no problem visiting a client's business and making such a presentation.
It's just that, for many small-business owners, the branding budget is micro-sized.
GETTING ON A PLANE FOR SUCH A VISIT IS A LUXURY
Especially if a client is in hard-to-reach rural New Hampshire or tropical-paradisiacal Cebu.
But when a client is as big as this one, and the plane flight is only 90 minutes, why the heck not?
Besides, this was a big deal.
After 38 years in business, this family retail superstore was changing its brand name.
The original name, if uninventive and unsurprising, was clear. Which is fine. Building an empire over 38 years is one heck of an achievement.
If you can do that by giving yourself a clear and obvious name, have at it.
BUT THIS IS THE 21ST CENTURY
It was deemed time for this business to evolve its brand to meet the 21st century.
They need to compete in a way that brings retail customers in out of the internet and into a brick & mortar store--especially to a store that's family-owned and flies in the face of the institutionalized and mediocre experience at its big-box competitors.
This brick & mortar store is superb.
Theirs is a retail experience unlike any other in the category.
It's the kind of place that makes you glad family-owned retail stores still exist.
Populated by good people and excellent products, they make you feel welcome, they make you feel at home, and they make feel like you're doing something really good for yourself.
Those kinds of things are really important to this brand.
And they weren't being reflected in the branding.
SLOW BURN'S JOB WAS TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT
Over the last few months, we'd been interviewing the management team, key staff members and select customers.
We'd been putting the information gathered through the Slow-Burn branding processor.
And the results that came out the other end?
They have made the management team giddy.
It was now time to unveil the brand to the people who make the business happen every day.
So we stood there, in the store, in front of about 45 people. This included the founder, the owners, management, sales staff, office staff, warehouse staff and truck drivers.
Everyone who impacts this brand, and is impacted by it, was sitting there, eating bagels and drinking coffee and waiting patiently.
I HAD A LITTLE TREPIDATION
Not about speaking to a crowd.
After all, Honey and I have stood on stages as far flung as Los Angeles and Kuala Lumpur, speaking to audiences of thousands of small-business owners, explaining brand and how it can make their businesses stronger.
But this was the first time that we had ever stood in front of four dozen people whose lives were about to be impacted by a new mission statement, a new goal, their first-ever core customer definition, and a designation for the one way that core customer should feel about their business.
How were they going to take it?
Would they be glad to have new, de facto rules?
Or would they resist?
Would they say, "Who are these carpetbaggers and why should I heed their directives?"
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN?
Cue the PowerPoint!
It took about 20 minutes.
Technically speaking, our performance went well.
But watching the audience--watching everyone from the founder to the truck drivers--it was clear that something was happening.
It was clear that a new brand name, new signage, new truck graphics, even new business cards--along with a new tagline--had flipped a switch.
You could see sales people nodding their heads.
You could see warehouse workers and truck drivers lighting up.
You could see the founder getting choked up.
As the manager said to me afterwards, "I really like the buzz in here this morning."
YES, THEY ALL APPLAUDED WITH ENTHUSIASM
But something more important happened in those moments.
Everyone on the staff became galvanized.
They were suddenly able to rally around a new name and a new brand and a new way of being in the world.
And they also had new business cards.
That might sound insignificant.
But this business card is sexy. It looks--and feels amazing. Grown men have been seen fondling it beyond what is considered a decent interval.
And when you drive a truck for a retail store, and you've never had a business card?
THIS IS A GAME CHANGER
Afterwards, one of the truck drivers came to the founder.
He said, "So, if I go on a delivery, and I give that woman my business card, and she feels happy enough that she gives it to someone who comes into the store to buy something, what do I get?"
All of a sudden, the truck driver was ready to up his game.
His participation in the circle of retail life had more impact.
He was ready to drive more than just a white box truck.
He was ready to drive business.
He was ready to make that customer feel one way about the store he works for.
It was gratifying that salespeople came up individually and thanked us for the work.
IT WAS UNEXPECTED THAT TRUCK DRIVERS WOULD EMBRACE IT EQUALLY
For years, we've had clients tell us how new branding galvanizes their teams.
One even spoke about how it was like flipping a switch.
When she presented the new brand and its new language to her staff, they immediately rose to it.
It changed the performance in her office that very day.
But this was the first time we had the privilege of watching the result with four dozen people in attendance.
And it changed everyone's demeanor that very day.
Management is now deciding how they're going to incentivize and reward truck drivers (and anyone else not in sales) for driving business to the store.
And the owners are feeling something they haven't felt in a while.
THEY FEEL THE STRUGGLE MELTING AWAY
An outdated name.
An outdated and incongruous look.
To hear them describe it, it was almost as if there were a millstone around their necks.
Rebranding is an act of courage, especially after 38 years.
And now, they have a brand new suit of clothes.
They have a new way of knowing how to be out in the world.
We feel a little like Stacy & Clinton from What Not To Wear.
Do not underestimate the value of what your brand does for your psyche.
The right focus on how to be out in the world is a powerful thing.
And it can make everyone in your business raise the bar and do better for themselves--and for you.
Change your business.
Change your life.
Change your brand.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
The famous local radio host (who is obviously pretending to be live, since he's not on the air for another three hours) says something like this:
"You hear a lot of mortgage advertising here on [the name of this radio station], but one I've recommended for years is National Loans. [Not their real name.] They get you the lowest interest rates available. And the best loan for your situation. They have all kinds of loans. Right now, they have 3.875 percent on a 30-year fixed. And if you want to pull out some cash out for home improvements, they can do that, too."
Blah blah blah blah.
I don't even remember if there was a tagline.
There sure wasn't any effort at focus.
Low rates. All loans. Cash out re-fi.
It's an exercise in throwing a handful of stuff at the listener and hoping some of it sticks.
But it won't. Because nothing is sticky. It's calculated to make the listener glaze over and start thinking, "Do I need to cut my toenails?"
THERE MAY BE NO OTHER CATEGORY THAT BETTER DEMONSTRATES HOW NOT TO ADVERTISE
The word "Mortgage" is French for "death note." And that is a really apt metaphorfor much of the category's advertising.
It's so bad, I once wrote a book about it.
This was back in 2004.
It set a first-day sales record for Wizard Academy Press.
The book explained how bad the advertising is, and how to make it better.
Routinely, I'd get emails from advertisers who'd read the book. They'd say, "I loved your book! Here's my new commercial!"
And I'd listen to it or read the script, and I'd think, "OK, seems the only part you read was how not to do it."
Why don't these guys pay attention? It's not complicated.
The book was called Million-Dollar Mortgage Radio.
YES, IT SOUNDS REALLY BORING
It's also mercifully short.
And as one reviewer said, "If I only owned one book on Radio it would be this one. I'm a little bummed the title says Mortgage Radio since truly this is a radio copywriter's secret weapon...no matter what the product."
But if what we do here in the screed is learn from other people's mistakes, the mortgage category is a brilliant learning tool.
Let's take the message mentioned at the beginning of the screed. Let's forget the category for a second.
What advertiser on a radio station wants to hear himself lumped in with all the other advertisers in the category that aren't endorsed by this host?
"THANKS GIVING US YOUR MONEY, BUT YOU'RE NOT AS GOOD AS THIS GUY!"
There's a way to win friends and influence people.
Now, the jab at the other advertisers aside, here's the problem with advertising, "Low rates!"
It's the price of entry.
Nobody wants to pay high rates.
What customer wants to pay more? None.
You also can't throw a series of bullet points at a customer and expect it to mean anything.
You. Need. Focus.
You need to pick one thing to talk about.
You need to make it matter to one person.
DO THAT, AND ONE PERSON WILL CARE
And then, that one person will call.
Along with a whole bunch of other individuals just like him or her.
This works. That simple.
But, I was thinking, Am I being too hard on the category? Should I cut them some slack?
So I started by looking at that advertiser's website.
No, I'm not being too hard.
"Welcome to National Loans, one of the leading mortgage companies in the city."
How's that for a meaningful introduction?
"IT'S ALL ABOUT US AND NOT ABOUT YOU!"
The site's copy was blossoming with words and phrases listed in the Little Boy's Big Book Of Hackneyed Copywriting.
"Lowest rates ."
"Level of service."
"In business for XX years."
"Better Business Bureau A+ rating."
"The best loan program for every individual situation."
"You won't find better rates or lower costs anywhere else."
"Trained and experienced."
AND JUST FOR FUN?
The copy shifts the narrative voice.
It starts by talking about "You," as a customer, then suddenly starts talking about customers as "Them."
And here's the kicker.
Buried way deep in the copy that doesn't demand to read, there's a feature that actually makes sense.
It could have been used to inform a brand direction.
It could have made the prospect feel good about the purchase.
It could have made this company matter.
And it was hidden down in the depths of banal words and lazy phrasing.
BUT STILL: AM I BEING TOO HARD ON THE CATEGORY?
So I continued searching the category.
National Loans (not their real name), meet State Loans (also not their real name).
But the names might as well be real. They're both close enough.
"Begin Your Dream of Home Ownership."
"Trust. Experience. Knowledge. Commitment."
"All loan programs available."
My favorite: "Do you qualify? Find out now in 60 seconds."
Is that now?
Or in a minute from now?
"Buying a home?"
"WE DO EVERYTHING AND WE STAND FOR NOTHING! WELCOME!"
I kept digging.
There is a bevy of brand names so generic, they could be interchangeable and they make the prospect feel nothing useful.
There's endless banal phrasing.
"Setting a higher standard."
"Putting customers first."
"Get started on your journey to home ownership."
"Becoming a Homeowner In This State Has Never Been Easier."
"One of the state's premier mortgage lenders." With the name of the state spelled wrong. Nice.
Here's my favorite, which does actually take a stab at differentiation and giving the prospect a reason to care--but in doing so, shoots itself in the foot: "We are a 100% referral-based business. 100% of our business comes from folks like you."
THEN WHY ARE YOU ADVERTISING?
The copy goes on to proclaim they don't need any of the elements of good branding. They actually profess to be immune to things that help the prospect recall them and feel good about the business.
I dug through pages of Google search results and plowed through paragraphs of trite and trivial copywriting hoping to find something that matters.
And I did.
It wasn't brilliant.
BUT IT WAS AN HONEST AND THOUGHTFUL EFFORT TO MATTER
Many of these websites have generic videos offering words, and the company names are tacked on.
But this guy (whose company name was not grand and stately, but small and folksy) brands himself as "A better way to mortgage."
And down the page is a video, not fancy, not slick, just very real and honest, in which the guy explains "Four simple steps to your best loan."
And the website reinforces that simplicity.
Yeah, it has some typical mortgage website stuff. Loan calculator. Rates.
But ultimately, it's very simple, very clear, and wants you to have "A better way to mortgage" through four simple steps.
IT'S JUST NOT THAT HARD
Stand for something.
Matter to your customer.
Make it simple.
Don't tell me you're honest and you put the customer first. Show me. Demonstrate your worth.
Define your core customer, and deliver one coherent message that makes the customer feel one right thing about your business.
We can all do this. The size of the business doesn't matter.
Yes, mortgage advertising has rules and regs that most of the rest of us don't.
They also have a much higher-value customer than most of us do. They can afford to hire advertising people who Get It.
If you can't or won't do it yourself, hire a real pro. Not the guy with the lowest fees. Someone with obvious proficiency.
A real pro understands how to tap into the advertiser's psyche, the customer's psyche, and bring them together in a place where magic happens and the phone rings.
That's today's soapbox. And please, do not go buy Million-Dollar Mortgage Radio.Check it out on Amazon, and if you really think you want it, I will send you a hard copy for free. Just send an email to submissions at slow burn marketing dot com. This offer is good until May 15, 2017. Which you can remember because it's also everyone's favorite holiday, Relive Your Past By Listening To The First Music You Ever bought No Matter What It Was No Excuses Day. Really
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
YOU CAN NOW LISTEN TO THE WEEKLY SCREED!
It's even in the iTunes store ! (Against all odds, the staff at Apple listened to it and still , they accepted it.) To obtain the audio from your preferred source, click here. And remember, play it loud for maximum sonority.
If so, here's a thought for you: Disruption happens.
It happens much like another word that happens.
And that word is one which we will not state here in the weekly screed.
That is because, unlike many other mediocre harangues available on the internet, we here at the Slow Burn Mountaintop Marketing Fortress wish to project the illusion that our mediocre harangue doesn't merely fire for effect by using scatological BS language.
But boy, does anything have quite as much stink of BS as the faddish notion of being disruptive?
The whole idea of disruption is merely a repackaging of a quality that can indeed make you fabulously wealthy.
And we know the secret. We will teach you.
But first, some cautionary reflection.
Because at some point, someone is going to say to you...
"OOOH, IT'S THE 21ST CENTURY! WE NEED TO BE DISRUPTIVE!"
No you don't.
What you need to do is merely follow the ostensible tenets of being disruptive, which means doing things that the Fabulous Honey Parker and I have been doing in our respective careers in radio and in big ad agencies for decades.
First, let's recap the disruption BS.
If you missed our last harangue about this problem, which happened some months ago, we looked at the Wikipedia page about disruption and distilled it into a single top-line thought.
We walked away with this: "Being disruptive is about not being mediocre."
WHILE DISRUPTION HAPPENS, IT SEEMS THAT AMBITION DOES NOT
Whatever happened to the notion of being successful by being excellent?
I was recently reading an article about one huge, disruptive company that, in 2015, had been valued at over a quarter billion dollars.
A quarter billion dollars! More than that! By about 50% more!
I'd never actually heard of this company, but this disruptive beast was all the rage on college campuses.
Can you guess what happened two years after that quarter-billion-dollar valuation?
This hugely disruptive company was sold to another hugely disruptive company.
The sale price: a paltry 12-million bucks.
What the hell happened?
FOLLOW THE MONEY--WHICH FOLLOWED THE BUZZWORDS
It was all about social media!
Changing the world!
Apparently, one of the failed disrupter's employees is on record, saying that the company's mission is to "Empower the collective creation of the world."
Collective creation of the world?
What does that even mean?
Are we basing a quarter-billion-dollar-plus vision on bringing the entire world together in one big Color Me Mine finger-painting party?
If you look back at the postmortem of this company (whose name we will not state but whom we'll just call Fail), it sounds like a high-tech PT Barnum was leading a flock of pretentious and frivolous youngsters who were more interested in the company's internal culture of beer pong and hot-tub parties than in doing anything that really matters.
DOES THAT SOUND HARSH?
But a lot of allegedly smart people lost a whole lot of big money backing the blustering and fiery vision of Fail.
Unfortunately, it turned out that instead of having a man behind the curtain, there was little more at Fail besides more smoke and mirrors.
Recently, I stumbled across an article about the things that disrupter brands are doing and why their disruptive models work to make disruptive amounts of lucre.
The article had a lot of words about a lot of stuff that made a lot of money, but you can look at it all and boil it down to the F-word.
No, not Fail.
Yes, I'm sorry, but disruption is about little more than Focus.
AS THE FAITHFUL FAN OF HOT SHOTS KNOWS, WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN ABOUT FOCUS
And we have never once been about disruption.
Because focusing on disruption is stupid.
It propagates the notion that by somehow being troublesome and disturbing and distracting, you can rule the world.
In fact, one of the business ideas that the disruptive model rails against is old-fashioned, interruptive advertising.
"TV commercials and radio commercials are dinosaurs! Interruption advertising is dead!"
You know what the word "interruption" is?
It's a synonym for "disruption."
GET OFF YOUR HIGH, DISRUPTIVE HORSE, ZEITGEIST!
Come on back to the party and practice good, old-fashioned focus.
At Slow Burn Marketing, we have long preached focus to our clients.
One client wanted to just "run some ads" for a particular segment of their business.
We told them you could do that.
But then you'd be just another also-ran.
But if you focus, if you come up with a new brand that specializes in that segment of your business, and run ads for that new brand, you can then compete against the category leader.
And while you're going up against the category leader, your new marketing can focuses on your customer, and tell stories about the thrill that customer gets from doing business with you because your experience is better.
Can you guess what they did?
CAN YOU GUESS WHO STARTED MAKING A MILLION BUCKS A YEAR?
We had another client, a solopreneur, who had two brands in the same category.
One brand was business-to-consumer, and the other brand was business-to-business.
She was tied up in knots about having to re-brand and market both brands.
We said, "Why?"
Why do you need two?
They're in the same category.
Combine them into one brand. They both provide the same thing. You just have a pro version for B2B and a lite version for B2C.
She looked like a millstone had been removed from her neck.
Suddenly, with one sweep of her hand, she had one business she could focus on. It simplified her life and her marketing.
"OH, COME ON, IT'S NOT THAT SIMPLE! DISRUPTIVE BRANDS ARE CHANGING THE WORLD!"
No they're not.
Smart, focused people are changing the world.
"No! Disrupters rule!"
OK, let's look at the rules of disruption.
Focus, simplification, a business model delivering a desirable customer experience, and being what the staid and established competition isn't.
Those are key qualities.
By that measure, who was the first disruptive brand?
The Ford Motor Company.
DO YOU DISAGREE?
Well, Henry Ford disrupted the automotive industry.
He flew in the face of a business model that sold high-priced cars to people who had money to burn.
He did it by looking at the model for the meat packing industry, and reversed it.
A meat packing plant has a whole cow go in one end. It comes out the other end as packaged parts.
Henry Ford sent packaged parts in one end. A whole cow--er, car come out the other end.
Henry Ford also strived to make the automobile affordable to the common man.
Henry Ford also improved the customer experience by giving the common man the first-ever car with safety glass in the windshield.
HENRY FORD WAS A KING DISRUPTER
And he did it without ever having pretentious and pointless mission statements or throwing beer pong hot tub parties for his workers.
He also did it without ever being called "disruptive."
Today, one of the anointed kings of the alleged disrupter businesses is Dollar Shave Club.
How did it happen?
Two guys got to talking about their frustration with the high price of razor blades.
They started a focused, customer-centric business model: inexpensive, high-quality razor blades and razors by mail order.
They used their own money, and some startup funding from a business incubator.
They developed a fun, entertaining, engaging brand that connects with men.
They created an experience that let the customer in on the joke.
THEY MADE THEIR CORE CUSTOMER FEEL ONE THING
They gave a guy frustrated with the high price of razor blades a better alternative. They did it with personality and a sense of humor that is completely lacking in the razor-blade market dominated by Gillette and Shick.
They made getting blades in the mail an enjoyable experience.
And just by the way, their first YouTube video was hilarious. It stands up to repeated watching.
They also used old-fashioned, deader-then-dead interruptive TV commercials.
These two guys sick of the high price of razor blades launched their epic disruption in January 2011.
They did it using what amounts to pocket change.
In July 2016, a mere five and a half years later, Dollar Shave Club was sold to Unilever for $1 billion in cash.
WHY ON EARTH?
Why does a multi-national company with over $60 billion in annual revenue need to buy a feisty little company that sells a limited line of razors, blades and male grooming products?
To compete, apparently.
They want to take a slice of the pie owned by Gillette and Shick.
It seems that's the official story.
And Unilever already owns "disrupter" Axe, the men's body wash and (ick) body spray.
But there's another, less popular take on this purchase.
Some folks think Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club before someone else did it.
None of this is the point.
The point is that disruption is BS.
What wins in the marketplace is the F-word.
Focus is your friend.
When you focus your business model and your brand, great things happen.
When you focus on a single, well-defined core customer, you know to whom you are speaking.
Then, you can focus your marketing message in a way that makes your core customer feel one way about your brand.
Your brand becomes magnetic.
And your brand makes friends.
AND IT WORKS FOR ANY SIZE BUSINESS
It works for solopreneurs.
By focusing, Slow Burn helped one solopreneur double his revenue in a year.
Focus works for an established and thriving operation. That's how Slow Burn helped the business mentioned earlier launch a new brand and go from zero to a million.
And focus works for guys like Dollar Shave Club, who started a business based on a conversation at a party, tapped into the zeitgeist, and sold their business for a billion.
But disruption is not the goal.
Nor is pretentious and pointless mission statements or beer pong hot tub parties.
Focus is king. When you understand how to focus, you're on the way to being a brand that matters.
Even if someone else decides that they have to call you names like "disruptive."
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.