APPARENTLY, THERE'S FEAR AND LOATHING IN FRANCE
The entire advertising industry is at the epic Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
And in Cannes, every big advertising agency in the world is confronting Facebook.
Facebook is there, dominating the landscape with their huge trade-show erections along the pier and on the beach.
They're saying, "Oui, oui! Look at us! We are also a dominant force in the world of advertising! Drink up!"
Cue the popping champagne corks and high-priced moaning from ad-agency executives.
Let them drink Zuckerberg's Dom Perignon even while they bemoan his marketing megalith.
AT LEAST, THAT'S THE IMPRESSION ONE CAN GET FROM JIM RUTENBERG
He's the Media Columnist for
The New York Times.
He's at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity looking for The Big Story.
And his Big Story for the NYT on June 26, 2016, is that top advertising executives are "talking about existential threats to their business," mainly from Mark Zuckerberg's social-media juggernaut.
Apparently, the view among industry executives is that "Facebook's 'walled garden' makes it a new intermediary between brands and their customers, and between newspapers and their readers. That gives Facebook the potential to steal them all away if it ever chose to do so. (It says it won't.)"
Ha! One of the most classically pointless two-word phrases ever to pass the lips of an ad salesman...
And who really trusts Facebook at all except for the chronically naïve and the hopelessly addled?
That such fear extends to the ad community is pah duh surpreez (as the French would say it phonetically).
"We'd never steal your clients!"
Again I say, "Ha!"
But here in the weekly screed, what does it even matter? How is this of any relevance to the small-business owner?
If you read this screed on a weekly basis, it is 100% certain that you've never been in a position to go to the Cannes International Lion Orgy Of Champagne Cork Popping On Behalf Of Catering To Epic Consumerism.
It's entirely possible that your annual ad spend is dwarfed by Facebook's one-week budget for spilling Dom Perignon in the white sands along La Croisette.
HOW DOES ANY OF THIS AFFECT YOU?
Have you ever even bought a Facebook ad?
And if you did, did Facebook advertising work?
Because here's how it looks from over here, on the mountaintop outside Brigham Young country where the state legislature makes it difficult to even buy a bottle of Dom Perignon, much less spill it into the slipper of an overpaid, private-jet flying global ad agency CEO.
IT LOOKS LIKE FACEBOOK JUST DOESN'T MATTER
There. I said it.
In the world of the small, local business, Facebook advertising isn't even a blip on the radar of media mix.
Even for our most wildly successful clients, the idea of advertising on Facebook elicits peals of hyena-like laughter.
You know what paid advertising media they've found to be most effective?
Local sports sponsorship.
Yes, seriously. We have a client who would pour money into putting his logo on a local stock car before he'd ever buy a single Facebook ad.
AND HIS BUSINESS IS CRUSHING IT
Why is this?
And why, as a branding & marketing agency that bangs the drum for what small business can learn from Big Brands, do we eschew the Zuckernaut of FB advertising?
For the same reason we would tell you to never buy a spot in the Super Bowl.
It might be really effective for the right advertisers.
But most small businesses simply do not have deep enough pockets to make it work.
If you're a local business, where is your local customer?
Yes, she might be immersed in the social-media miasma that is Facebook or Instagram
BUT IS SHE PAYING ANY ATTENTION TO THE ADVERTISING?
As opposed to when she's driving in the car listening to her favorite local talk radio station?
And an actual, relevant message comes out of her car stereo reminding her that your local business is right there, in her town doing the things that matter to her?
If she's paying attention to the radio and the local businesses that support her radio station with salient messages, doesn't that make a whole lot more sense than an easily ignored ad on Facebook?
The problem with Facebook advertising for the small budget advertiser is similar to the problem described in the Jim Rutenberg article about Cannes.
Mr. Rutenberg talks about a shift happening in the advertising industry "to mobile phones, where more and more digital advertising is going.
"But the industry hasn't quite figured out how to make us regularly watch more than three seconds of a telephone-based video ad, or to click on a mobile display ad on purpose."
THAT'S KEY: WE CONSUMERS DON'T PAY ATTENTION!
The industry hasn't figured out how to make us consumers CARE about ads on our cell phones.
Just like it hasn't figured out how to make us consumers CARE about Facebook ads from somebody without enough money to spend.
Just because you build your ad there in Facebook's cornfield doesn't mean they will come.
Prospect behavior is key.
And it's very difficult to change how people use their phones and their social media.
AM I WRONG?
I know I do not in any way speak for the small-business ad industry at large.
But I have a suspicion that my allegations ring true for the small-business advertiser.
Or am I just like one of those nitwits who walks around saying, "I tried radio once and it didn't work!
"And therefore, radio is a waste of money."
A does not necessarily beget B.
So, what is your experience?
Has your business ever effectively used Facebook advertising to attract customers?
Have you ever actually received a return on your investment in FB?
Do you have any evidence to blow these snarky allegations out of the water?
If so, send your reply to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will present it here while your faithful scribe wallows in humble pie.
Is it really all that crazy--or is it just one more way to compete when you're a David in a sea of Goliaths?
"IF EVERY WEEK WAS LIKE THIS ONE, I'D NEVER CLOSE THE DOORS."
So said the Fabulous Honey Parker last Friday after an especially productive and gratifying series of client presentations.
These presentations brought tears (for the right reasons), laughter, and lots of "Oooooooh, I like THAT."
There was a lot of fun, a lot of gratitude, and a lot of virtual high-fives. (Most of our work lately is done over the phone.)
No, this is not a typical week for Slow Burn Marketing.
But we do tend to have fewer problems than most people experience in a business like this.
And in part, the reason is simple.
NOW, OUR CLIENTS CONSIST ONLY OF PEOPLE WITH WHOM WE'D ENJOY HAVING DINNER
Yes, it's a rule you're probably not going to find at a joint the size of Grey Advertising.
One does not become the biggest ad agency in the world by being so discriminating.
Fortunately, we don't have any designs on being so big.
Early in our existence as Slow Burn, we realized that the only clients causing us trouble were the ones we really didn't enjoy to begin with.
They were the kind of people who thought they were smarter than everyone else, including us. They ended up creating problems that didn't need to happen. They looked to others for opinions and approvals rather than having the courage to make their own decisions.
SO WE DREW A LINE IN THE SAND
On this side of the line: people we'd enjoy having dinner with.
On the other side, people like the guy who said to us after a presentation, "I know that's the right way to do it, but I don't have time for that."
Since drawing that line, business has been a lot more fun.
Being more discriminating about who becomes a client has been really helpful.
But there's also another, more unusual reason why we end up with a week like last week.
It's about not being afraid of the Crazy Ivan.
YES, ROY WILLIAMS TALKS ABOUT THE CRAZY IVAN
In fact, it's one of the terms contained in the fabled Dictionary of the Cognoscenti of Wizard Academy.
The Dictionary defines Crazy Ivan thus: "a random element added to get attention."
I once heard Mr. Williams say he'd borrowed it from radio astronomy.
The term has been used to describe unusual, intermittent radio signals coming from a body under observation.
For instance, it could be a pulsar blob that "peeks" out from behind another celestial body and skews observation of that body.
Since the game of radio astronomy includes figuring out how to eliminate irrelevant background noise, a Crazy Ivan is just one challenge of the game.
A MORE COMMON USAGE COMES FROM NAVY SUBMARINERS
Once upon a time, Soviet submarines couldn't use sonar to "see" if a U.S. sub was following them in their baffle, which is the area immediately aft of the stern.
A kind of hydro shadow, that area is blind to hull-mounted sonar.
In order to find out whether they were being followed by an enemy sub, the Russians would perform a "crazy Ivan."
This is a maneuver in which a suspicious Russian captain would wheel the sub around in a kind of underwater power slide to "clear the baffle."
Frequently, the Russians would find themselves facing a surprised U.S. sub that was saying, "Oh, hey Ivan. Dude. Didn't see you there. Za zdaróvye!"
THAT'S HOW HOLLYWOOD DELIVERED THE CRAZY IVAN TO THE MASSES
It's a bit of business from the Alec Baldwin/Sean Connery thriller, The Hunt For Red October, based on the Tom Clancy blockbuster novel of the same name.
So, a pulsar blob, or a submarine maneuver. Or a problem in competitive paintball. (Not going there.)
All Crazy Ivan.
And none of them Slow Burn's Crazy Ivan.
But our Crazy Ivan is similar to both Mr. Williams' usage and the naval usage.
Because the former involves an element that's peeking out and taking your attention.
And the latter is about learning to pay attention to something that's following you around.
Both of those things are applicable in performing creative work.
THE TRICK IS IN FIGURING OUT HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM
Most people will ignore the nagging sensation that there's a Crazy Ivan tapping them on the shoulder, trying to command their attention.
One thing we've learned to do is embrace that sensation and try to flush out the culprit.
The result is that, when we present new brand names to a client, we usually have one Crazy Ivan in the mix.
This is the brand name no one saw coming.
The name that hits you right between the eyes.
The name that says," Go ahead, try to ignore me now."
One of the most unusual of our Crazy Ivan names has probably been Salt.
NOT THE FIRST NAME YOU'D THINK OF FOR A DENTAL PRACTICE MANAGEMENT CONSULTANCY
But we threw that into the brand presentation as the Crazy Ivan (mainly at the behest of Honey, who recognized its power much more quickly than did I--ironic, as I had blurted it out as a joke).
The result of rebranding the consultancy as Salt Dental Practice Management was an almost immediate doubling of the client base.
Last week, we had two presentations in which we presented respectable, usable, evocative names--
And a Crazy Ivan.
In both cases, the client reaction was enjoyable.
In the first, there was a gasp, followed by an, "Ooh, I like that!"
In the second there was a moment of silence, followed by a minute or so of breathless laughter.
SADLY, I'M NOT AT LIBERTY TO TALK ABOUT THOSE BRAND NAMES YET
We cannot let the brand cat out of the bag.
These are nascent undertakings and revealing them is the clients' prerogative.
But we can tell you each Crazy Ivan is surprising and unexpected and a cause for delight in two business niches in which delight is unusual.
In fact, both of these businesses are about solving big problems.
One of the efforts is even life-altering, speaking to people who are in pain and under extreme duress.
And the names of both businesses are cause for at least some degree of happiness, joy and hope.
SO WHAT IS THE POINT OF ALL THIS BABBLE, ANYWAY?
The point is this: listen for the Crazy Ivan.
If you come up with a crazy idea, NEVER say, "Well, that's really good, but we can't use it."
Yes, sometimes that idea might be rough.
The idea might require some refinement.
And one must be smart enough to recognize where the power comes from and what must be done to harness that power while sloughing off the baggage or any other impediment.
And one must be able to recognize whether it's an appropriate Crazy Ivan.
CALLING A MORTUARY "FUNERAL FUN!" IS PROBABLY A BAD IDEA
So would be calling an investment advisory, "Fountains Of Filthy Lucre."
And compliance would never allow it.
But don't be afraid to act like an upstart--especially if you happen to be an upstart.
Which, by definition, describes most people reading this screed.
Watch and listen for Crazy Ivan.
Whether it's a business name, an idea for a promotion, the name of a product or service, or even a headline for an ad, don't fear the Crazy Ivan.
Handled properly, he might help you make crazy money.
Yes, I borrowed that line from Hans & Franz. And in a way, that's exactly the kind of misguided thinking that this screed is about…
DISMAY. ANGER. DISAPPOINTMENT.
Just a few words to describe how the new Sprint campaign makes me feel.
Well, not on an epic scale or anything like that.
More like on the scale of, say, realizing you're holding mismatched socks and need to go back to the dresser drawer.
Nonetheless, if how one feels about a particular business's advertising determines how a prospect is going to feel about the business, Sprint has made a blistering miscalculation.
Don't know what we're talking about?
In a nutshell: Sprint has hired the former Verizon Test Man, the "Can you hear me now?" guy, to talk about how Sprint's network is now better than Verizon's.
It's a real slap in the face to the Verizon faithful--and it drags down Sprint.
IN ONE FELL SWOOP, BOTH SPRINT AND THE VERIZON GUY BECOME UTTERLY UNLIKABLE
Because for years, Verizon's friendly, "Can you hear me now guy" was always there, making us like Verizon and being the affable, friendly face of the brand.
Yes, Verizon moved on from Mr. Can You Hear Me Now in 2011.
But he remains an indelible part of the advertising landscape and, to a degree, a part of the culture. "Can you hear me now" continues to be a catch phrase for all kinds of people in all kinds of situations.
And IMHO, it's a serious miscalculation on the part of both Sprint and Paul Marcarelli, the actor who plays Test Man.
Here's a character, iconic in his own right, who was a part of the zeitgeist.
AND BOTH HE AND SPRINT ARE SHOOTING THEMSELVES IN THE COLLECTIVE FOOT
What if suddenly, Poppin' Fresh, the Pillsbury doughboy, appears as the face of Sara Lee?
"Don't bake it yourself. Double-blind taste tests prove that everybody doesn't like Sara Lee--including your family!"
What if suddenly, Tom Bodett, the iconic personality and pitchman for Motel 6 for over 30 years, suddenly started appearing in TV commercials for Holiday Inn Express?
"I just saved a bunch of money at a Holiday Inn Express--and it was a lot more comfortable than that barebones Motel 6."
What if suddenly, Steve Jobs (rest his soul), the iconic human being who changed the face of personal computing, suddenly appeared in an ad with Michael Dell?
What if Mr. Black Mock Turtleneck said, "Ya know, Dell's machines cost about a third of what Apple computers cost, and they are every bit as good. Reliable. Solid.
"No, they're not as sexy, but really--who are we fooling? You're just going to use the damn thing to send email and watch cat videos anyway. Who really needs a MacBook Pro for that?"
EACH BRAND HAS WORKED FOR YEARS TO ESTABLISH A FEELING
Each of those advertising icons has been an integral and calculated part of that feeling.
Each icon has been created by people tasked with making it the personification of the brand.
An icon well managed becomes a welcome guest in our homes.
For an extreme (and highly unlikely) example of the betrayal that is taking place, consider this: there are people who are die-hard Disney fanatics.
These are the people who buy season passes to their theme parks and collect the memorabilia.
The Walt Disney brand is so calculated and so controlled, each character is so well defined, that Disney has a bible for each character.
We're talking thick, thick books of detailed notes about what each character will do and won't do.
WHAT IF DISNEY CHARACTERS SUDDENLY STARTED STUMPING FOR SIX FLAGS?
What if they went completely off-character and started drinking heavily and sexting?
How good is anyone going to feel about Disney--or Six Flags?
No, that's not the degree of betrayal we're talking about with Verizon v. Sprint.
But in a world gone mad, it's the ultimate slippery slope death spiral of marketing undone.
In a way, Sprint has committed one of the worst possible acts of borrowed interest possible.
They're trying to draft off of a competitor's ad campaign without doing anything at all to be actually original and relevant.
THERE ARE SO MANY WAYS TO MAKE THIS POINT--AND DO IT IN A PITHY, RELEVANT WAY
If we're talking about giving a big ol' middle-finger salute to Verizon, do it in a way that recalls "Can you hear me now?", but takes actual ownership of the message instead of just being tangential to it.
Need a character? Create your own.
Need to take down the Test Man?
Then mock him and take him down.
But just parading him out and letting him make snide comments about his old employer merely makes everyone involved look lame.
It certainly doesn't make anyone involved look good.
As a friend of ours said about that campaign, "Have you seen that? It is so stupid."
This is not an ad guy. This is a guy who, like most people, has a non-analytical, visceral reaction to advertising.
IT'LL BE INTERESTING TO SEE HOW THIS PLAYS OUT FOR SPRINT
It might just be a stunt, a way for them to get a lot of press quickly, and they'll abandon it shortly.
But until then (if it even works out that way), it's not witty, it's not interesting, and there's very little reason to pay attention to it.
In the meantime, it reflects the experience we've had around these parts: it's just a bunch of BS.
Several people who've moved to our neighborhood in the sticks say that a Sprint rep told them the coverage here was fantastic.
Of course, they get here with the new phone and suddenly find that, until they drive back into a coverage area, they're trying to talk to people through an incredibly expensive digital paperweight.
Can you hear me now, Sprint?
IT'S NOT EXACTLY A PLACE WHERE EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME...
Nor do they have wine in cans.
When they're not serving "snake juice," the place isn't rented out for children's parties and substance abuse meetings.
It's cooler than that. It's also not a TV bar, like all the ones above. (Those bars would be Cheers from Cheers, Paddy's from the ever-twisted It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and the Snakehole Lounge from Parks & Recreation, if you don't know your half-hour episodic sitcom bars.)
Located in Central America, we're talking about a bar known around the world, with big fans in places as far flung as Canada and Utah, New Zealand and South Africa.
And this bar is the cult-brand product of relentless marketing.
SAY HELLO TO BIG WAVE DAVE'S--"WHERE STUFF HAPPENS"
No, that's not the actual tagline.
I just wrote that.
But it fits.
Stuff happens there, especially if you let it.
Before we get to the part about the relentless marketing, please allow latitude for a story.
As the faithful reader knows, the Fabulous Honey Parker and I recently ventured to the tropics--specifically to Nicaragua's San Juan Del Sur, a town popular among surfers and North American expatriates.
WE HAPPENED TO GO DURING AN INCREDIBLY HOT SPELL
So, within an hour of arriving in this tropical surf mecca, we wandered the streets of the town looking for a respite from the heat.
We stumbled upon a bar I'd read about in my research of San Juan Del Sur.
The place is called Big Wave Dave's.
At 3pm on a Sunday, it was unsurprisingly empty.
Walking into the place, there's a large seating area near the front, and a big, U-shaped bar flanked by pub tables at the back.
AND IS IT EVER TROPICAL
Not in the sense that there are tropical plants or anything like that.
In the sense that it feels really third-world. (That is not meant as a pejorative--and in this case, can be considered a compliment.)
Big Wave Dave's is dark inside. Fans blow air around in the shadows. The sides of the bar are bamboo. There's the general, enjoyable rustic creakiness of a building that's been there a while and knows its place.
We sat at one side of the U-shaped bar and ordered "dos Victoria Clássica," a beer ubiquitously available in Nicaragua.
Across the bar was a Canadian couple, and one large gentlemen nursing a beer and smoking a cigarette. (Lots of smokers down there.)
As the cold, sweaty bottles were delivered to us by the woman behind the bar, we struck up a conversation with the Canadians.
The woman said something about having been living in San Juan Del Sur long enough that Dave had begun to tolerate her.
WHICH LED TO THE OBVIOUS QUESTION
Was the bug guy next to her Big Wave Dave?
Yes, it was him.
The publican. (In the sense of owning a pub, not in the sense of collecting taxes for the Roman empire.)
Small talk ensued.
And finally, Dave said something like...
"GOT BATHING SUITS? I'M IN A BELLY FLOP CONTEST.
"I have a big van. You should come."
And within minutes, we found ourselves going from knowing nobody in Nicaragua, to riding in a van with the town's most noted expat bar owner and his family to a locals' party at a jungle resort.
Well, actually, before riding in the van, we had to help his family push start said van.
Seems the battery was dead.
All part of the charm of tropical San Juan Del Sur.
It was all great fun and an excellent entrée into the community that is SJDS.
But there is one question...
What is a Harvard-educated economist hockey player and education psychologist doing with an expat bar in Nicaragua?
I HAVE NO IDEA
But thank God he's there.
Because he provides an excellent model for the relentless marketer-entrepreneur.
For more than a decade, Dave Grace has been a fixture in the SJDS expat community, serving cold beer and good food to anyone who wants it--but most often to expatriates from around the globe. (There are some Nicaraguans, too--like the gregarious pool sharks who like to come in after work and rip up the table with their tricky brand of billiards.)
Dave's weekly trips to Managua for kitchen provisions are well-known. And really, some of the meals we had in that tropical dive bar were exceptional. Never saw those Thai turkey meatballs coming.
And then, there are the events.
Dave hasn't just let his tribe happen.
He has fueled it.
IN A MAÑANA CULTURE, HE MAKES IT WORK TODAY
He has frequent, interesting, even "foodie" menu specials that one would not normally expect to find in this little town.
Monday night at Big Wave Dave's is Trivia Night. The place fills up with teams of expats who struggle to answer Dave's uniquely challenging trivia questions. The winning team gets a bottle of rum--which they are encouraged to share with the rest of the bar (and which is magically never empty until everyone gets a shot).
Tuesday night is Texas Hold 'Em, with serious card players buying in for 20 bucks and playing for hours.
Wednesday night used to be Blues Night. Sadly, that night stopped holding its own. So, rather than cling to it for emotional reasons as so many business owners might, he axed it.
But he does have live music on Sunday nights. Really good live music.
AND SATURDAY MORNINGS, HE HAS A FARMER'S MARKET
Yes, a Farmer's Market in his bar.
The front seating area of the bar is big enough that he can get close to a dozen merchants into the space with big tables.
There's fresh produce, fresh baked goods, barbecued meats--all kinds of things provided largely by other expats. (We had some of the best mixed greens anywhere, and the most excellent barbecue ever--the latter provided by another expat with an interesting brand: Pelon. That's a Spanish slang word for "bald." Embracing his hairlessness, this bald gentleman from Washington state smokes ham, pork shoulder, ribs and chicken at Casa Pelon, his bed and breakfast, and sells them at Dave's on Saturday mornings.)
There are plenty of special events, from Thanksgiving dinners (both Canadian and U.S.) to Christmas dinners. Pool tournaments to St. Patty's celebrations.
BIG WAVE'S DAVE'S IS MORE THAN JUST A BAR
This man--this education psychologist who was no doubt an imposing force on the ice back in the 1980s (I'm fairly certain he helped take Harvard to at least one Beanpot championship)--now runs what looks like an expat bar.
In reality, it is the nexus for the expat community in that part of Nicaragua.
How much of a destination is it?
We met one expat couple there who had come over from Costa Rica. They were making their "border run" to renew their visas, and were on their quarterly pilgrimage to Big Wave Dave's.
"Big Wave" Dave Grace is a smart man and a relentless marketer.
He could just kick back and let his bar run itself.
BUT THAT'S NOT HOW A BUSINESS ACHIEVES LEGENDARY STATUS
And legendary status is exactly what he's accomplished.
His is a cult brand in a remote location that's not easy to reach--and the brand has fans around the world.
The faithful reader knows that Slow Burn Marketing defines brand as "The one way your core customer should feel about your business."
Dave might not know that particular definition.
But he is a psychologist.
So he knows something that is approximately the same.
And he unleashes it daily upon his tribe.
Accordingly, his tribe feels one very important thing: "This is the place."
And they ride that wave.
Be like Dave.
And you can create a big wave of your own.
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.