Ask The Crowd. Crush Your Soul.
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
A surprising example of brand advertising that might help you get rich--if you have the courage.
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
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.