What is the trump card in effective media messaging? (And no, "message" should never have become a verb. So it goes.)
GOING ON THE OFFENSIVE WITH THE POWER OF A FLOWER
It is considered the single most successful attack ad in the history of political advertising.
It promises that your vote is now more important than ever.
If you don't vote this November, it's highly likely that the United States of America will end up being led by a notorious and ignorant martinet at the helm.
The world could even be looking at nuclear annihilation.
And you, the faithful reader of this weekly screed, probably know exactly which advertisement we're talking about.
(You also know that somehow, this ridiculousness is all going to be tied back in to your own marketing, don't you.)
THE COMMERCIAL IN QUESTION IS NOT NEW
It does not come from any of today's ever more exciting and distinguished presidential campaigns.
It's the 1964 political advertising classic, "Daisy."
An anti-Barry Goldwater message from the Lyndon B. Johnson campaign, "Daisy" is widely regarded as the most controversial political advertisement of all time.
(If you don't know the commercial--which seems unlikely--it is simply this: a little girl in a field, plucking petals from a daisy as she counts them up. The audio segues to a mission-control, launch-pad countdown. Freeze-frame the little girl. Cut to a series of uber-violent nuclear explosions. LBJ's voice says, "These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God's children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die." An announcer VO says, "Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.")
"Daisy" is considered to be one of the main reasons for LBJ's landslide victory over Goldwater in the presidential election--even though it only ever aired once as a paid spot. (It was broadcast several more times in the context of news reports. Thank you, earned-media credits.)
What's interesting is this: if you ignore "Daisy," and look at the other attack ads that came out of that campaign, know what you see?
AN OPPONENT'S WORDS BEING USED AGAINST HIM
Absent "Daisy," the TV commercial "Eastern Seaboard" is considered the quintessential attack ad:
A hand saw is cutting through the east coast of the United States. VO: "In a Saturday Evening Post article dated August 31st 1963, Barry Goldwater said, 'Sometimes, I think this country would be better off if we just sawed off the eastern seaboard and let it float out to sea.'" The saw finishes cutting and the east coast floats away. "Can a man who makes statements like these be expected to serve all the people justly and fairly? Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home."
But really, one of the most shocking, fear-mongering anti-Goldwater messages is the infamous "KKK For Goldwater" spot. We'll refrain from quoting it all here. We'll simply say that it's a series of Ku Klux Klan newsreel clips (klips?) shot at night, filled with white hoods and burning crosses. The VO quotes a series of racist, hate-filled sentiments from KKK Grand Dragon Robert Creel--along with Creel's statement, "I like Barry Goldwater. He needs our help."
SOUND VAGUELY SIMILAR TO WHAT'S HAPPENING TODAY?
Just do a Google search on "best anti trump advertising."
There is a slew of work out there featuring idiotic things Donald Trump has said and done in front of a TV camera.
And publications like Mother Jones are proud to trot out Clinton-produced anti-Trump videos and hail them as brutal masterworks allowing the candidate to hoist himself with his own petard.
Here's the problem.
They're not masterworks at all.
Yes, sadly, they are accurate representations of what has come out of the man's mouth.
THEY ALSO WON'T WORK
They are entirely too complicated. They cut together all kinds of clips from all kinds of different sources. They become dizzying in their effort to prove the candidate is a buffoon.
In short, they lack focus.
Combine that with an unfocused media landscape that is vast and fragmented beyond anything anyone could have imagined in 1964, and the problem is further compounded.
When there were only three national TV networks and no other video media besides your local stations, focus was the default position.
And messages like "Daisy," "Eastern Seaboard" and "KKK For Goldwater" were clear, succinct and had POW RIGHT IN THE KISSER impact.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ANTI-CLINTON ADVERTISING?
Well, if you do the same kind of Google search for "best anti-clinton advertising," you're going to find something different.
Yes, the candidate's own words are being used against her.
But they're being done with much more brevity, clarity and punch.
That doesn't necessarily mean they're going to work.
There's still the challenge of the fragmented media landscape (among others).
But the messages are often doing a much better job of hitting a single, resonant note.
Of course, none of this is to say it couldn't all change overnight. We're talking about life at the speed of digits.
But it all goes to underscore a long-running challenge with the Clinton campaign, to wit...
A LACK OF FOCUS AND CLARITY
This is nothing new.
As far back as a year ago, there were news stories about the erstwhile Secretary of State's inability to develop a cohesive brand.
The campaign has never communicated one way the voter should feel about Hilary Clinton.
There absolutely is one way the voter should feel about Donald Trump.
It might be repellent and appalling, but it's firm and concrete.
Love it or hate it, you know what the Trump brand is.
No, there will probably never be any single online video or series of videos that have the same overall impact as the Goldwater attack ads.
But here's the useful take-away for the small-business brand.
FOCUS AND CLARITY RULE
The focus and clarity of the anti-Goldwater ads were hardly an accident.
The messages were produced by the same ad agency that gave us some of the most resonant, clutter-cutting advertising messages of all time.
Volkswagen's "Think small."
Avis' "Number two and trying harder."
Life Cereal's "Mikey likes it."
Ad agency DDB was a powerhouse of media messaging in the 1960s.
It's difficult to find much in the current, evermore cluttered media landscape that cuts through and resonates with Bill-Bernbach style simplicity and zeitgeist magnetism.
Except maybe, oh...
Advertising form Apple, which looks very Bernbachian.
TOO MUCH TOO MUCH TOO MUCH TOO MUCH TOO MUCH
There's just too much communication.
None of us have the luxury of unfocused branding and unclear messaging.
Clarity and focus.
Clarity and focus.
Clarity and focus.
Is that clear and focused?
Clarity and focus.
THEY MAKE EVERYTHING BETTER
Herb Kelleher's internal directive, "We are the low cost airline" for running Southwest Airlines.
Apple's "Think different" directive for the personal computer in your life.
McDonald's "I'm lovin' it" fast-food happiness infusion.
Consistent clarity and focus are the trump card. (No pun intended.)
And remember to be relevant.
Do all that, and whatever your campaign, you just might win.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
A Story Of A Mountain, A Molehill, And Big Money Stakes…(or David Vs Goliath In The Battle Of The Trademark)
A VICIOUS BATTLE HAS JUST ENDED IN PARK CITY, UTAH
Things in our little resort town have been weird.
Not that things haven't always been weird.
There's a reason Salt Lake City locals long ago dubbed the town "Park Silly."
But there has been nothing silly about the goings on with the gigantic Vail Resorts.
And it stands as a stark reminder to the small business owner.
You do not want to screw around with big corporations or city hall.
BEFORE WE GET TO THE DAVID VS. GOLIATH NATURE OF THIS BATTLE...
....a little backstory.
Vail is a ski-resort megalith of a company.
The faithful reader will recall that we've sung their praises here in the screed.
Among other things, Vail is responsible for changing the face of ski resort marketing in what is a potent lesson for the small-business marketer.
A couple of years ago, Vail descended upon our little town to much fanfare.
First, they began running Canyons Resort, a sprawling ski area here on the Wastach Back.
Next, they made a bid for the town's storied Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR).
AND THE CIRCUMSTANCES WERE ABSURD
Basically, Powdr Corporation (which owned PCMR), forgot to pay their rent.
Most of PCMR's skiable terrain was leased from another company for $155,000 a year with an option to renew at that rate for 20 years.
If that 155K figure sounds like the equivalent of the loose change you or I might find under our sofa cushions, you're right.
That was one hell of a sweetheart deal. The kind you'd like to protect, right?
Well, a whole other batch of silliness ensued.
Among other things, once they realized they'd missed their lease payment, Powdr Corp tried to make good by backdating their check.
When called out, they looked around wide-eyed, feigning surprise, and said, "Who, me?"
It was all very messy and involved lawsuits, but ultimately Vail (now running Canyons) was able to swoop in and take over PCMR.
And then, they combined both resorts.
THEY CREATED THE BIGGEST SKI RESORT IN THE NATION--MWAH-HA-HA-HA!
And certainly, this has entailed a lot of change.
Any time a big corporation gets involved in something, it usually means change.
And as you know, people hate change.
Especially in a dinky little mountain town.
We'll sidestep all that for the moment.
Except for one thing.
Yes, there has been a trademark battle afoot in little Park City, Utah.
Understand, Vail Resorts is huge. They operate more than a dozen ski resorts globally, with more than a billion dollars in annual revenue.
Vail has almost twice as many employees as Park City has residents--and a slew of them are probably lawyers.
Which is where the battle begins.
Vail Resorts was cast as the Goliath in an attempt to trademark the name, "Park City."
Understandably, this resulted in a hue and cry from Park City, the David in this showdown.
The residents of this little Park City--most notably the small-business owners--were haired off.
"HOW CAN YOU TRADEMARK A NAME THAT'S IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN?!"
Every business that had "Park City" in its name was afraid for its very existence.
Letters to the editor were sent in volume.
Petitions were circulated signed--often with muddy paw prints. (This is a town that loves its dogs.)
The former longtime mayor, who fronts a popular local band and is something of a celebrity, stumped against the trademark application.
The USPTO was flooded with dozens of protests against the application.
AND THROUGH IT ALL, VAIL KEPT TRYING TO BE "REASONABLE"
Vail flacks kept saying the company had no intention of preventing local businesses from using the name "Park City."
That this was all about protecting their brand as a ski resort.
Which, of course, was called as BS by everyone in town.
If you own a trademark, you are obliged to protect it.
And that means going after anyone who is infringing upon your trademark.
As in, anyone who uses "Park City" in the name of their business--especially if it's skiing related.
As soon as the USPTO granted that trademark, the cease & desist letters would begin flying like snowflakes in a January blizzard.
FROM PARK CITY POWDER CATS TO PARK CITY PSYCHIC, BUSINESS OWNERS WOULD BE SLAPPED BY VAIL LEFT & RIGHT
It's the nature of the beast.
It doesn't matter what Vail's PR people say they won't do.
They still have to do it.
It's what trademark protection is all about.
There's a lawyer in New Orleans who owns a bowling alley that features live music.
That lawyer also owns the trademark for Rock & Bowl.
There are bowling alleys all over the U.S. that have received cease & desist letters for using the name, "Rock & Bowl."
A lot of people think that this lawyer is a douchebag.
And he may be. But it doesn't change the fact that he owns the trademark. That means he's obligated by the law to protect that trademark and send those C&Ds.
IF YOU DON'T DEFEND YOUR REGISTERED TRADEMARK, IT BECOMES WORTHLESS
Understandably, the protests locally against Vail were vocal and visible.
The icing on the cake was the big hillside outside of town.
There's a gigantic white "PC" carved into the hillside. It's visible for miles.
Some enterprising soul went up to the top of the hillside and applied a "TM" bug to the letters.
It was enormously popular with the local media.
It was all over the newspapers, TV and social media.
There was also a rally outside city hall, with hundreds of protesters carrying signs decrying Vail as a bully.
GUESS WHAT HAPPENED...
After months of fighting this PR battle, can you guess who finally backed down?
Vail Resorts finally threw in the towel.
Over the weekend, they withdrew the trademark application.
It's been big news here in town.
People are very happy.
Here's the one thing a lot of folks don't know.
The trademark application was never filed by Vail in the first place.
Nope. It was filed by longtime local business Powdr Corp.
It's reported that Vail inherited it as part of PCMR's assets.
That's not to say that Vail wouldn't have made such a filing anyway. They've done as much elsewhere.
There are stories about how Vail filed to trademark "Breckenridge," and nobody caught on. Then, the second the trademark was approved, every business in town violating the trademark received a C&D.
But that's not the real lesson for the small business owner.
The real lesson is that you can't take trademarks lightly.
Trademarks are highly valuable, and they can cost you dearly.
But they can also certainly be handled profitably and agreeably with all parties.
WE'VE TOLD SUCH STORIES RIGHT HERE
The Spangler Candy Company is huge.
Yet they and a little Utah startup were able to come to a no-cash agreement over the use of Spangler's trademark for Pop Art Snacks.
There's a multi-billion-dollar international company that is named under an agreement with a dinky little restaurant on a mountain road outside Denver: Hard Rock Café.
Small businesses and big companies can get along with regard to trademarks.
But that doesn't change the fact that trademarks are like any other property.
They are worth big money.
Treat them accordingly.
THE ONE IN WHICH YOUR SCRIBE ADMITS HE WAS WRONG
As the astute and faithful reader remembers, last week your relentless scribe went on a tear about Facebook advertising.
Specifically, that tear was about how advertising on Facebook doesn't matter for the small business, especially in an easily ignored, over-saturated medium.
I then asked, "Am I wrong?"
One faithful reader replied, suggesting delicately that yes, yours truly has no damn idea what he's talking about.
His name is Joe Geoffrey, the famous voice guy from the Texas panhandle.
He reached out, saying that Roy Williams and I agree. (Interestingly, that was the second time in a row this very thing has happened.) Specifically, Mr. Geoffrey was saying that Mr. Williams and I are in concurrence that " Traditional 'cost per thousand' can't be beat in radio and TV ads placed locally."
AND REALLY, WHO DOESN'T LIKE TO BE ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE WIZARD?
But this is in no way about me trying to draft off of Roy Williams' thunder.
To mix a metaphor.
Rather, it's about having evidence to blow my snarky allegations about FB advertising out of the water.
Mr. Geoffrey says he is "Fortunate enough to have a client who likes 'to see what else might work.'"
And that "what else" happens to include boosting Facebook posts.
In particular, they worked together to boost a video prior to Father's Day.
THE BUSINESS IS A SPECIALTY RETAILER
This retailer happened to have an inventory of high-end French pocketknives.
They'd been collecting dust for a year.
Seems their core customer really wasn't all that interested in a gorgeous handmade pocketknife.
Probably because the core customer is a woman who doesn't carry a pocketknife.
And she probably wasn't thinking a lot about buying this pocketknife for the man in her life (which really was the point).
So these knives, ranging in price from 80 bucks to $600, needed to move.
The first thing Mr. Geoffrey and the retailer did?
They created a short video, less than a minute, showcasing the knives.
Nothing fancy, mind you.
Just some closeup shots of various knives in various settings, showing off their beauty and their luster.
Of course, this simple video included some nuanced voiceover by Joe Geoffrey.
The copy was simply written. It said nothing about "all your pocketknife needs." Instead, it played up the emotional appeal of these gorgeous, pocketsize French scimitars, hand wrought of the finest steel and rarest case materials.
They posted this video on Facebook five days before Father's Day.
After paying to boost the post, a few things happened.
FIRST, THEY ALMOST IMMEDIATELY SOLD OUT OF THE LESS EXPENSIVE KNIVES
That happened in two days.
By Saturday, they had moved practically everything, including the most expensive knife in the case.
This dusty inventory that had been sitting around for over a year represented several thousand dollars in product that was wasn't getting any younger.
In five days, it was largely gone.
And what was the media cost for this effort?
A whopping $75.
Didn't see that one coming, didja?
But here's something to take into account.
This effort was not dissimilar to the best of radio advertising.
Here's why: radio is a relationship medium.
The P1 listener has a relationship with the station.
If you don't know, a P1 listener is someone who has you (her favorite station) programmed to the first button on the car radio.
It's the first place the listener turns.
So, when an advertisement on that station catches her attention, she's more likely to feel an affinity for it.
FACEBOOK AT ITS BEST IS ALSO A RELATIONSHIP MEDIUM
In this case, the retailer was already using Facebook as a way to establish a connection with their "P1," so to speak.
They are posting personal stories (as well as ads) and boosting posts for specific categories or brands featured in the store.
According to Mr. Geoffrey, "That goodwill goes a long way."
And his Father's Day pocketknife promotion story is an example of how far that goodwill goes.
The core customer is already paying attention to the retailer's Facebook stories.
The video captured her attention.
AND SHE HELPED PROMOTE THAT PROMOTED VIDEO
Mr. Geoffery says, "The boosted FB video was viewed, shared, commented on and liked close to 12,000 times."
Yes, 12,000 times.
That's considerably less than half a penny per interaction with the video. These people were engaged and paying attention.
He continues, "The store sold knives that had sat in the case for multiple seasons.
"The takeaway; a relevant and clear proposal that we couldn't have afforded to boost via traditional radio or TV (we've tried) and FB gives us an opportunity to build relationship outside the store."
The Fabulous Honey Parker viewed that video, and not only echoed the thoughts about clarity and relevance, but said that she thought it also gave the product some caché--despite being insanely simple.
So what does all this mean?
THE SAME THING IT ALWAYS MEANS
That understanding your core customer is key to building a brand.
That building a brand happens over time, it is not a flash in the pan (says Slow Burn Marketing).
That relationships are key.
And that when it comes time to do a promotion, being clear, relevant and focused is imperative.
The video did not say, "Hey, we also have women's jewelry, handbags and widget waggers on sale!"
Instead, it was laser-focused and solved a problem for the customer in a new and exciting way, to wit: "What do I get him for Father's Day?"
And while solving the customer's problem is what this is always about, it never to hurts to also be able to solve your own problem. In this case, "How do I move these knives?"
All very smart. All very doable.
If you'd like to continue this conversation with Mr. Geoffery, he's happy to do so. You'll find him in the Texas panhandle at joe [at] 2voiceit [dot] com.
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.