At our house, we watch some delightfully dumb TV shows.
Among them is Beat Bobby Flay. This is another silly competition show on The Food Network that doesn't make a lot of sense. No doubt, it's profitable. Just 25 seasons and counting. It's maybe not as profitable as Worst Cooks In America. We're talking 20 seasons of a show that could be called Shameless Kitchen Idiots Bang Spatulas On Their Heads And Cry. But we don't watch that. For some inexplicable reason, we enjoy watching Bobby Flay get thrashed.
What's that? You don't know this icon of "unscripted" food-TV goodness?
Here's how it works: for 20 minutes, two frenzied challenger chefs conduct a kitchen haboob against each other using an ingredient chosen by Bobby. The winner of that first round gets to face off against Bobby in round two. In that round, Bobby and the challenger have 45 minutes to cook a challenger-specified "signature dish." Three professional judges (who are clearly not smart enough to figure out which dish came from one of the most famous chefs in America) choose the winner in a blind taste test. All throughout, there's trash talking against Bobby. Benign hilarity ensues.
Bobby's got a 62.5% winning record. There's almost 100% universal desire to see Bobby get spanked on national basic cable television. Whee!
Anyway, here's where the marketing fun comes in...
In a recent new-to-us rerun of this guilty pleasure, Bobby had to face-off against a chef who challenged him to make cacio e pepe.
Whassat? You no know how to say? Pronounce it like "catch-eeo ay pay-pay" and you're close enough. It's a traditional Roman dish of spaghetti, pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper. It was once a staple food of Italian shepherds because it's practical and easy. The ingredients keep well for a long time. Besides being stupidly simple to make, it offers the bonus of being really tasty. You can use it to impress a first date with your kitchen prowess. (Just keep your time amongst the sheep out of the story.)
It was clear: this challenger was ready to crush Bobby with her signature dish.
She was cocky in announcing the cacio e pepe challenge. During the bout, she was over in her station making fresh pasta. She was making a special parmigiano-Reggiano stock for cooking the pasta. She was making special parmesan cheese toast crisps to go with.
What was Bobby doing over in his station with his 45 minutes? Making a traditional cacio e pepe with dried spaghetti. Three basic ingredients. It doesn't take 45 minutes to make. So he did something interesting: he made the dish twice. The first time was a test run to make sure his dish was sound and competitive. The second time was his dish for the judges.
Fresh, fresh, fresh means win, win, win! Right?
The clever version of the dish had all kinds of problems for the judges-not the least of which was: it doesn't taste traditional.
And the fancy stock made for cooking the fresh pasta? It made the fresh pasta gloppy.
The parmesan toast crisps, well...did the Italian shepherds make those, too?
But Bobby's simple, pedestrian edition of a favorite staple food was admired by the judges.
Bottom line: the chef who didn't get clever and ran a test run of his dish crushed it.
So, are your advertising dishes getting too clever?
Or are they sticking to a proven model? Are you doing test runs against the proven dishes? Maybe most important, are they accused of being too clever? Are you just not listening to that feedback and testing it anyway? I've done that. Sometimes, the ad you'd thought would work simply doesn't. And sometimes, the ostensibly too-clever ad outperforms the proven dishes by 4:1.
Bottom line: there are good ideas, and ideas that aren't as good. And occasionally, there are going to be ideas that crush it by a factor of four to one. Sometimes, you don't know you've made a gloppy, over-fancy cacio e pepe. And once in a while, you'll know you've made a classic. But only the judges will confirm it when they vote with their dollars. Let them judge.
Now, about that free book and a few other things...
The Fabulous Honey Parker and I have a new book called, Lightning Branding: How To Generate Revenue Faster With An Electrified New Brand. It's yours free by clicking here.
For information about our new Lightning Branding courses, both do-it-yourself and we-do-it-with-you editions, click here.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
"Logic is not as powerful as intuition."
Here at Slow Burn Marketing, we love good advertising. Classic advertising. Advertising that enters the zeitgeist. Advertising that goes down in history. Advertising that sells, but does more than be salesy.
That kind of advertising often defies logic and is born of intuition. Some of the most potent advertising it's been our pleasure to create has defied logic and generated huge ROI--sometimes in the face of powerful people saying it would fail because it wasn't logical. ROI is the bets revenge. [Insert winky emoji here.]
"There are three responses to a piece of design: Yes, No and Wow! Wow is the one to aim for."
Last week, the world lost an advertising and marketing great. Milton Glaser, the legendary graphic designer, died of stroke and renal failure on his 91st birthday. Mr. Glaser's most enduring work is probably the "I Love NY" graphic. He admitted that even he was surprised at its durability over the decades. He had sketched it in a taxi cab and given it to the State of New York as a gift the survives to this day.
One of Mr. Glaser's more "Wow" pieces would be the famous 1966 poster for Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits. Six million copies of that poster were distributed. It sells as a collectible for hundreds of dollars. And to hear Mr. Glaser himself discuss it decades later, he can be critical of his own work.
Less famous but arguably more "Wow" is Glaser's poster for The School of Visual Arts. It was designed to coincide with the United Nations World Summit on Poverty in 2005. It shows an image of a black hand bearing fingers the colors of the five races. Advertising Age said that the poster "expresses the need for empathy and a change of consciousness to deal with the overwhelming problem of political and social indifference to poverty."
In the same article, Glaser said, "For all of us in the communication business, the thought that another generation would look back at us and say, 'How could they have been so indifferent and callous to human suffering?' drove me to respond."
Is it any surprise that another of one Glaser's personal favorite quotes is, "Tell the truth."
"You can only work for people who you like."
We've all experienced trying to work for people we don't like. When I was working as a Creative Director in radio, there were times when a client was just unlikeable. Those clients rarely enjoyed the fruits of good work or good results. And sometimes, a client just has to be fired.
The faithful reader to the Weekly Screed knows that Honey Parker and I made a significant change in our own business the day we decided that we would only ever work for people with whom we'd look forward to having dinner. We get to do good work for people we like. It's better than paying the bills. It's fun. And you sleep well.
"We are all born with genius. It's like our fairy godmother. But what happens in life is that we stop listening to our inner voices, and we no longer have access to this extraordinary ability to create poetry."
We all live and work in an enormous sandbox--and often don't know what to do with it. Creativity is normal. It is also hammered out of people by The System. Whatever it is you do, you've seen it in your line of work. You probably aren't a victim of it yourself. If you were, you probably wouldn't be reading this. But you've seen it around you.
Honey Parker and I have spoken to huge audiences about branding for small business. Our work is so obviously the result of play. We play on the stage. We make people laugh. We show how brand changes businesses and lives. And afterwards, someone from the audience will come to us and say, "That was great! But really, branding's not for my business, is it." [Face palm.]
Hunt down that inner voice and let 'er rip.
"We were excited by the very idea that we could use anything in the visual history of humankind as influence..."
When Milton Glaser started working professionally in the 1950s, he had been soaking up art influences from across Europe. When he returned to New York and began working for The Man, there was nothing about him that fit in a pigeonhole. Anything visual was an influence and informed his work as he saw fit. As the New York Times said in his obituary last week, "Mr. Glaser brought wit, whimsy, narrative and skilled drawing to commercial art."
Forget the "commercial art" part of that thought. Hone in on the wit. The whimsy. The narrative. The skill. Those things are in short supply. You're either in advertising or using advertising. Or both. You're allowed to access wit, whimsy, narrative and skill, whether your own or that you borrow from others. Feel free to bang the drum for them a little more. Feel free to use them when following Mr. Glaser's directive to "Tell the truth."
And while you're at it, you might enjoy banging the drum for intuition and how we're all African. And if you're drinking your morning coffee right now, join us in a toast to the late, great, modest Milton Glaser. His legacy represents marketing at its best--transcending offer and call to action to raise the bar for art and humanity, wit and whimsy.
If you'd like to see more of Mr. Glaser's portfolio, click here
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
We spend so much time talking brand, we don't spend a lot of time talking copy...
And recently, your relentless scribe had the opportunity to write a piece of direct response copy that was 100% successful.
Please understand, I'm not patting myself on the back. Had I failed at this, it would've been inexcusable.
Instead, I'm offering it as an example of how anyone can write a good advertisement for almost any product or service.
Personally, I have never in my life written an advertisement for a motor vehicle or a motorhome. So, that makes me unqualified in that area, right?
Of course not--but a lot of so-called "pros" will try to tell you that.
First, some backstory. As you may know, the fabulous Honey Parker and I have a podcast called CoupleCo: Working With Your Spouse For fun & Profit.
For two years, we've been driving across the country in the CoupleCoach, a 25-foot C-Class motorhome. We've been interviewing entrepreneurial couples about crushing it in business without crushing each other.
We usually show up with two black bags. One contains good microphones. The other contains good wine. (People are scared of microphones. They are not scared of wine. It helps loosen up the conversation and makes the subjects very happy.)
COVID-19 sent our transcontinental travel plans were sent into a sideways skid. Nobody really wants strangers showing up, regardless of whether they're toting microphones and wine. So, we decided to sell the CoupleCoach.
Step One: Take the CoupleCoach and have the outside professionally cleaned by a commercial truck washer, complete with Armor All on the tires. (BONUS: You feel really cool sitting in line, waiting with all those tractor trailers.)
Step Two: Park the RV someplace pretty. Take a comprehensive range of photos using the phone's camera set to HDR. Use a photo editor to crop the images, deepen them and boost the color.
Step Three: Write the copy.
Here's where the fun begins. (If you fail to see the merriment in this mission, you'll probably just want to go hit the unsubscribe button. That's OK.)
Creating this copy requires understanding: a) your Core Customer, b) the benefits of your product, and c) your copywriter's voice.
CORE CUSTOMER: This motorhome is smallish at 25 feet, but it's also expensive. It's also built on a Mercedes Sprinter chassis, which is an object of desire. So the Core Customer presumably knows something about Mercedes, and has some money to burn. The customer will have a decent level of income and sophistication--and little to no experience with RVs. We'll call the customer Sophisticated Newbie. So, while a first motorhome might be a daunting prospect, Sophisticated Newbie has accomplished things in life. This person also wants to have fun.
BENEFITS: The key benefits are a) the Mercedes chassis, b) the rig is really clean, c) it is loaded just enough, d) it is well maintained, and e) it's a great size for a newbie.
VOICE: Did you know that I'm a smartass? (Don't answer.) We'll have to reign in the smartassery for Sophisticated Newbie, but just enough. This person is buying a fun machine, so we still need to have some fun. We have to project confidence with a smile, and be reassuring to the our Sophisticated Newbie.
Now, about the competition...
Just for the fun of this exercise, I found two competing ads for a comparable rig. Same maker. Same chassis. Same model line. Here's the first ad:
"Approx. 8900 miles, two slide outs, Mercedes diesel, kitchenette, rear queen size bed, Onan generator, propane range, microwave, electric/propane fridge, A/C, propane heater."
Twenty-three words! Zero character! Buy now! (The minimal photography and drab images are especially persuasive.)
The other ad has more photography. It's somewhat better. At the same time, it manages to make the RV look like a mobile prison cell. Even on the outside. And the owner's stuff is still all over the place--in the RV, in the closets, in the storage compartments.
His ad also has more copy. It's about 300 words long. Here's an outline of what each paragraph details:
So, here now, your relentless scribe's copy for the CoupleCoach...
The Coachmen Prism 2200LE is the best of both worlds: the legendary Mercedes Sprinter 3500 chassis, and a roomy, comfortable C-class coach. (A friend with a much more expensive Sprinter-based C-class peeked inside this one, and was really bummed out. His rig was just more expensive. This one was more roomy.) The Sprinter is a pleasure to drive. And once you park and open the slide, the coach has plenty of living space. We've had 8 people inside and felt perfectly good about it. (Not sure you can do that in a van.)
The walk-around queen bed features the upgraded mattress. It's surprisingly good by any standard, not just RV-bed standards. The entertainment center features a 32-inch flat-screen TV and a surround-sound bar, as well a stereo system with CD/DVD. Kitchen features a combination microwave/convection oven, a three-burner range, and a dual-fuel refrigerator (electric/propane). Works great. Always had ice for our beverages.
Bonus: we bought this rig new. That means we handled all of the road trials so you don't have to. And (for real) we've never pooped in the toilet. This is one clean rig. We've lived and worked in it for extended periods. The swiveling cab seats are great for that. We've always had plenty of storage. There's also a custom made black walnut dinette tabletop, and a custom sink cover/cutting board. Both are handcrafted artisan product by Boone Creek Farm in Missouri. (The original factory components are also still in the rig.)
All regular maintenance has been performed by Mercedes Benz of Draper. We've also had warranty work on the coach performed at the Coachmen factory. Additionally, we had Coachmen install tank heaters so the rig can be used in colder weather. The Onan generator has very low hours. There's a Zamp portable solar panel, which is really convenient. When you park your rig under a shade tree, you can still put your solar panel out in the sun. (The coach came pre-wired for solar as a standard feature.) The receiver hitch is great for your bike rack. All six tires are fairly new, and still have plenty of life left in them. When not in use, the rig has always been stored under cover in St. George.
Here's a link to the full specs...
Is this genius copy? Heck no. It's just fun and authentic--and it did something really, really useful...
It attracted the right people. Everyone we spoke to was a pleasure. (The scammers notwithstanding, of course. Everyone tries to get a piece of you. Hint: a text message sent at 2am is a dead giveaway that you're not really an interested buyer in Arizona who doesn't have ready cash but will provide a cashier's check, sight unseen.)
Everyone who reached out was new to RV'ing. They were all happy, interested and interesting. By day four, we had a conditional offer over the phone from a retired college professor and his college professor son. They drove four and a half hours to come pick it up, we went to the credit union to confirm their cashier's check, they drove away, and I had to tell four other people whom I would've liked to meet that the RV was sold.
And why did this happen? The buyer said exactly what we'd hoped: the photos made it look attractive, the copy made it sound attractive, and talking on the phone immediately confirmed that this was just the seller and the deal he'd hoped for.
And this is not that hard to do.
Yes, I write better than some people. Yes, I have more experience turning a phrase than many.
But everyone has a voice and a command of the language. And something I don't have that you do is your story.
Whatever you're selling, you have a story that goes with it. That story needs to be attractive. What is it that makes a prospect desire what you have? Hint: it is not saying, "Don't try to scam me, wait until I get around to you, and here's just one of the problems you're going to buy when you buy from me." It's saying, "Wow, isn't this great!? We've had our fun with it, and you can, too!"
The easiest way to do this is write a letter to someone you know about what you're selling and what they'r like about it. Then, don't mail it. Turn it into an ad.
You can write an ad for almost anything and make it better than the other ads for similar products. Just tell me a) your story, and b) what's in it for me.
If you'd like to see the classified ad (with all the photos) at KSL.com, click here.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
WARNING: This seems like it's about radio--but it's about writing anything you want.
The radio scripts came from a radio station group that wants writer coaching.
From reading these scripts, it's clear that they were written by very nice people. And the writers are all Canadian. Sorry, my fellow Americans.
From reading these scripts, the potential is obvious. Which is good. So many scripts that cross my desk reek of a fear of the blank page. (There's a whole other screed on that.)
One of the scripts is for a tow truck service that will move just about anything you want to move, whether it has wheels or not.
This is a great conceit. From the script, the tow truck company doesn't obviously have a brand. But they like to do good work and be useful. There's a brand campaign buried in there.
Let's brand backwards by starting with ideas for more advertisements.
But how am I going to create those ideas? Where are they?
In this case, I go to Google, click the "images" tab, and search phrases related to tow truck drivers. Two examples: "happy tow truck driver" and "tow truck driver humor."
Scanning the images, I make spontaneous notes about any ideas that pop into my head. Here, in the order they popped up, are 10 ideas born in 10 minutes:
The happy tow truck driver who moves anything you want moved
OK, cheating. This is based in part on the existing script. But it was fueled by an image of a tow truck moving a tow truck. It can be a series of ads about a guy who keeps calling the towing service to move all kinds of weird things. Garden shed. Garden gnome. A surplus space shuttle. Another tow truck. This could go on for years. What do you want towed today?
Tow truck with a bud vase
This just popped into my head. No idea why. But tow trucks are so grubby and greasy. The delicacy of a bud vase is a lovely contrast. (When something like this happens, pay attention. Write it down. Great brands have happened this way.)
The woman with a crush on the tow truck driver
She keeps calling so the nice, patient man will come to handle her problem du jour. A flat tire. A dead battery. A lockout. Each advertisement features a different service. (Again, not inspired by any particular image, but it popped into my head and I wrote it down.)
The reliable tow truck driver who lives to assist
Everyday situations feature an always-helpful guy. He helps an old lady cross the street. Rescues a cat from a tree. Puts his cloak down over a mud puddle for a stranger. And by the way, he's also a tow truck driver.
The tow truck driver who wears a cape
This superhero tow truck driver is very casual about wearing a cape. The conversations with stranded motorists are always entertaining. What conflicts does a cape bring with it? Can you get it past airport security?
The tow truck driver who always stands arms akimbo
This is a little like the superhero cape idea. Maybe too silly. But worth trying.
The tow truck company with a red phone
Conversations in the tow truck company offices about why there's a red phone. Much is made about the hotline mystique. It's only for fellow Canadians in need of roadside assistance. Maybe each commercial features a call, one-sided. We hear only the comedy of the guy answering it. (Think classic Bob Newhart standup.)
The endlessly patient tow truck driver
It doesn't matter what happens to him in the field, he is helpful and unflappable. Vicious dog? A locked car full of magpies? A car that squirts jelly every time you try to jump start it? Doesn't matter. He's always smiling.
The "I can do that" tow truck driver.
This is beyond a can-do attitude. This is crazy optimism run rampant.
So, are all these ideas great? Nope. But they have something important.
They're on the page. Each has a specific direction. Each offers the potential for development into an ongoing campaign.
And they each offer the potential for developing a brand image. Each one can be buttoned with a tagline that feels good and right and true and catchy.
But what is a brand? A brand is the ONE way the core CUSTOMER should FEEL about your business.
Any one of these ideas can be developed into a consistent campaign of consistent advertisements with a consistent message that creates a consistent feeling with consistency.
That's my rant. Hope it's useful.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
"You don't need to be perfect, you just need to be right."
The point was about advertising staying relevant during upheaval.
It was said by a panelist on an advertising industry Zoom call.
She's one of those smart people who often has a three-letter job title that begins with the letter "C" and ends in "O."
Don't be perfect, just be right.
I heard this and thought, Well, that starts to describe some of the advertising creative out there right now: not perfect, and an effort to be right.
The Fabulous Honey Parker and I were discussing this. I said, "That's not really the end game. You can be right. But are you being useful?"
Lately, there are all kinds of advertising messages that aren't perfect.
They might even be technically correct. But are they useful? See also: the avalanche of race-conscious messages pouring into the email.
They come ad infinitum from a range of senders, from sporting goods companies to ride sharing services to restaurant review platforms.
They're not perfect.
Technically, they are right.
Are they useful?
Sometimes, they come off as a misguided way to assuage feelings of guilt and helplessness.
Too often, they come off as an effort to say, "Look at us, we're righteous!"
But the worst message in my mail box so far has felt beyond righteous.
When it arrived, the subject line prompted incredulity. Were they really doing this?
Reading the email, I thought, Why am I getting this? Why are they trotting out this dog and this pony during the national horror show?
The body of the message was all about them. In an effort to talk about the problem, they made the message about their own problem with the problem.
It came off as braggadocios, self-important, and an effort to ride on the coattails of tragedy for business gain.
The best message so far was much different.
The subject line was intriguing. It drew me in. It made me say, "Tell me more."
The body of the email did not disappoint.
I thought, Wow. This is good. It's not telling me the same telling about the problem. It's showing me real, focused stories behind the problem. It's authentic and human. Instead of an empty rind, it brings the juice
To borrow from The Bard, it's as if the mirror were being held up to nature (You know: social proof.)
The most ironic part of all this?
That worst message and that best message both came from the same brand.
Maybe someone asked them if the first message was useful.
Last week, in an effort to be useful, the screed posed this question: "What specific marketing or advertising challenges are you facing during these times of Uncertainty Rhetoric?"
A reply came from the screed's most interesting and challenging reader. This person pulls no punches and throws words like darts. We'll call this reader Q. I hope Q is a copywriter. I've never asked.
Q says, "My challenge is not losing my temper with all these brands/businesses who are suddenly so on our side as poor, downtrodden, soon-to-be murdered, ignorant Black people. Not losing my temper with all the stories about how the Millennials are the most downtrodden generation in history when in fact History shows that great fortunes are built during the time of most upheaval. And how to reach people without letting my temper show....
Q signed off saying, "Have Fun with that...I am."
The screed always tries to be useful. But a week later, that message still haunts me. And it does so precisely because as I question my usefulness, I'm feeling bombarded by self-serving blather from brands who are suddenly battling injustice when yesterday they were just selling soap.
Are you right? Great. Please don't continue telling us about the problem.
What's useful? Can you show us something that matters?
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
This video is certain that uncertainty commercials are beyond certain
I'm sorry. I have to do this. Do not hate me. (Or do. Up to you.)
Here at Slow Burn Marketing, we are busy working on an exciting package for the small-business owner who wants to brand a new business or re-brand an existing business to generate revenue faster.
It's going to have all of the flavor and none of the guilt.
It will be like two mints in one, without containing a drop of Retsin.
It will never promise to deliver in 30 minutes or less or your pizza is free.
It is a much stronger and more lucrative alternative to that greasy kid stuff.
However, even with all of that going on here in the Mountainside Branding Bunker...
We are still having loads of fun with one thing: The Unfortunate Certainty.
Specifically, The Unfortunate Certainty of COVID-19 advertising messages by brands big enough to know better.
And Bruce Barker, a faithful reader of the Weekly Screed, shared this bit of near excellence.
Bruce happens to be one of the hardest working men in show business doing voiceover. Of this video, he said, "Here's every commercial I've voiced in the last month, all at once."
Every Covid-19 Commercial is Exactly the Same
If only this video had been just a little shorter. But it does point to the insane amounts of money big brands can spend on aimless, me-too messages. (That in contrast to last week's message from the evil empire known as Facebook.)
And this leads us to a question...
What specific marketing or advertising challenges are you facing during these times of Uncertainty Rhetoric?
What marketing question might you like answered?
Whether serious or silly, go ahead and hit reply and send it to us. We will do our best to answer it in a subsequent screed.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
I had an email from a famous novelist who reads this screed.
Why does an author educated in philosophy at the hallowed Wellesley College read these rants?
Who knows. Maybe it's my snarky existentialist bent. But for some reason she's a fan.
And it's not as if she's suddenly lost her judgment after being locked inside the house for several weeks.
(I've told this to several friends: a writer during a lockdown barely notices. We were signing up for social distance when they issued our writer license. If we're judgment impaired, it happened long before COVID measures.)
Anyway, this famous novelist mentioned a particular national TV commercial.
Seems it stopped her in her tracks.
She asked what I thought of it.
Ironically, The Fabulous Honey Parker and I had just been discussing this very same commercial.
It opens with a plaintive piano under black & white photos of a newborn.
It quickly segues to a collage of vintage with current images intercut. They're all of mothers and newborns, doctors and nurses, and photos of the moment, then and now.
An elderly woman narrates.
"I was born during a quarantine. I don't remember it, of course.
"But for my mother, it was a very difficult time. She told me, 'It was just you and me for many months.'
"But she wasn't alone. Everybody tried to do what they could to help. But she was also a very strong person.
"And then it was over. We came out into a new world, my mother and me.
"We can get through this. We all have the strength to do it. I'm a hundred years old. And you just take care of that little miracle."
We also get to see the woman speaking. She looks fantastic.
A title says, "Anita Simpson, born in 1920 during the influenza pandemic."
Another title says, "For all new moms in quarantine, you're not alone."
The closing title is, "FB.com/parentsupport";
The name "Facebook" sits very quietly at the bottom of the frame.
If you haven't seen it, you can watch it right here...
And the question is...
Why is Facebook touching this nerve?
Or maybe a better question is, HOW is FB touching this nerve and what can the rest of us take away from it?
Facebook is a much used and widely reviled product.
It's also a piece of the zeitgeist, which (if they're smart) gives Facebook a certain responsibility.
And in the wake of the third rails they enjoy touching, like privacy breaches, phone number exposures, Cambridge Analytica, shadow profiles, and well...
Let's just say Facebook has some image problems.
That's probably one reason they hired New York-based Droga5 last year as their ad agency.
And if you visit Droga5's website, you can see an ad agency moving quickly. There's a page called, "Helping brands navigate COVID-19 in real time." The copy reads, in part:
"As the coronavirus pandemic reached around the world, it has never been more important to stay connected, especially when we must stay physically apart. It has been inspiring to see how people are using Facebook's family of technologies to come together, and as a result, we fully pivoted our approach and reoriented our strategy, go-to-market and communications plans for the Facebook company's first brand marketing effort."
OK, well, it sounds like it was written by an ad agency. "Fully pivoted." "Reoriented our strategy." "Go-to-market plan."
But next, it says of the work they're doing, "In a matter of days, we pulled together a new film to demonstrate solidarity during these uncertain times--"
AUUUUGGGGH! "Uncertain times!" They said it!
OMG, D5 for FB! What're you doing?
OK, we all have lapses.
But, the more important word that they use here is "demonstrate."
This is good. And it's important.
They didn't say, "A new film to tell about solidarity." They said, "A new film to demonstrate solidarity."
How many times can we be told about uncertain times and being in this together and blah blah blah blah.
Telling is feh.
Demonstrating? That's a win.
Demonstrate means to "give a practical exhibition" of something, "to clearly show the existence or truth" of something.
It's from the mid-16th century Latin word for "pointed out."
They're pointing at the truth without ever once speaking a single word of soggy oatmeal about uncertain times and how we're all in this together.
As a famous VO guy wrote to me recently about the endless telling, "Stop telling me how you're following CDC guidelines, stop telling me my safety is your number one priority, stop telling me I can order a car from the comfort of my own home, stop telling me things suck!"
Instead, the FB message does exactly what advertising should do.
It enters into a conversation the viewer is already having.
And it does it by pointing to a time and a people many of us haven't considered.
Then it offers a resource to those people and others like them who might need support.
Long live Facebook.
They aren't going to make the haters love them overnight. Changing their image is a glacial process.
But they are perhaps moving forward.
And for anyone who advertises, Droga5's work for Facebook is a good model to examine.
What are doing well, and how can we do something like it?
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
It's still dark out there.
I'm in my writer's garret.
Befitting a garret, the roof slope is steepish.
The skylight by my head is open. Forgot to close it last night. A faint breath of cool breeze drifts in.
It carries a chaos of warbling, chirping, peeping and quacking.
Dawn here launches gray, fresh and filled with avian audio.
Our fowl-feathered friends seem thrilled to be doing it all over again this morning.
Finches, jays, juncos, mallards-COVID-19 has changed their behavior not a wight.
("Wight." The obsolete word from middle English that was kicked to the curb by the snappier, sexier, more streamlined "wit." Nobody gave the birds the memo about obsoletion. They're still using it and just not giving a wight.)
As we transmogrify 21st century living, the planet is apathetic. It doesn't even know it's the 21st century. It just keeps doing what it does.
But few of us just keep doing what we do.
Mother Nature, coming out as an infectious agent, has slapped the contrivances of culture right out of our little human hands.
Since we're all doing whatever label you apply to your version of Staying At Home, travel is down by 90%.
Which means air pollution is also down.
Maybe that's part of the reason the birds are so jazzed this dawn.
We live at a ski resort. The biggest one in the US, in fact.
Besides the birds, nobody's here.
They're at home.
What are they doing?
If the situation at Walmart is a decent predictor, they're riding bikes and baking bread.
I was in there yesterday.
The grocery section is devoid of bread flour. Has been for weeks.
And in the sporting-goods section, no bikes. Well, a couple. Tiny, purple. The seat reaches my knees. Plastic flowers on handlebar baskets. (Suddenly, I want to don my Lycra and ride that baby down Main Street.)
Science Friday on National Public Radio let me know that people are cooking more than ever. Listeners are bragging about making all manner of fermented foods.
How's your sauerkraut coming?
Or is kimchi more your mojo? Yummy yogurt?
If you're looking for something new, you'll get a kick out of koji. That's the fabulous fungus that gives us soy sauce.
The thing is, we're not "in this together."
We're in this uniquely apart.
We're all doing our own things.
Just as we've always done. Only different.
My experience of the zeitgeist is different than your experience of the zeitgeist.
And in these uncertain, unprecedented, trying times of new normal, we are not in this together as essential social distance employees amid hot zone lockdowns sheltering in place making an effort at curve flattening.
Was that even a sentence? I can't tell.
Flail away at the fog.
Push through the mental mush.
Seek some clarity.
It's worthwhile. The birds may not care. But the person on the other end will appreciate a missive from somewhere beyond the buzzwords.
Not that this one was much help.
But it shows what can be done with zero direction other than writing something that Is. Not. That.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Who are you, and aren't you better than this?
There's a game I'm playing right now.
It's called Guess The Me-Too TV Advertiser.
Is it Google?
Is it Apple?
Is it Cotton?
Is it someone else who can't figure out how to look different in the calamitous face of the pandemic zeitgeist?
The word "zeitgeist" comes to us from those comic geniuses of 18th-century German philosophy.
It's most closely associated with that laughmeister himself, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.
Fact: Hegel was quite a dancer.
Hegel is best known for such quips as, "We learn from history that we do not learn from history," and "Whatever is reasonable is true, and whatever is true is reasonable."
It was always fun having Herr Hegel at the philosophers' cocktail party.
He'd quaff one too many weissbiers and start coming up with timeless banter like, "If you want to love you must serve, if you want freedom you must die." And everyone would laugh and laugh!
But I digress.
A word referring to the spirit of the age, "zeitgeist" translates literally as "time ghost."
Which is fitting.
So much advertising right now is the faintest ghost of its former, smarter self...
Granted, it's hard to produce new advertising at the moment.
You can't get a group of people together in a room to do much of anything related to commerce.
But that shouldn't prevent better writing.
Last week, we gave props to Budweiser. They've resurrected and then reimagined the "Whassup!" commercial for these uncertain times without ever using a phrase like "these uncertain times."
There has never been a time of certainty.
So that phrase should go into the dumpster of hackneyed copywriting and be lit on fire.
In a time when everyone's stressed out, it only makes sense to be sensitive to the zeitgeist.
But it's also good to remember that nobody needs ongoing reminders of how bad things are.
It's gotten so ridiculous, ad agency owner/Creative Director/cartoonist David T. Jones has created a new font: Times Uncertain. (You can download it here at his agency website: https://www.takethirdstreet.com/times-uncertain)
Better than reminders of the badness is reassurance of our badass best.
Maybe it's not a good time for comedy.
But it is a good time for humor.
At the very least, it's a good time for reaffirming the character and the spirit that defines good people in a crisis.
Without being partisan or political, I'm going to steal from the late, great Hal Riney.
It's morning in America.
It's up to us to decide what kind of a day we're going to make it.
And better writing will help.
Like Mary Heaton Vorse said in one of the best single quotes about how to do this thing with words, "The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair."
And so worth it.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
FINALLY, SOMETHING IS AS CERTAIN AS LIGHTNING
Lately, we're using the word "lightning" a lot, as in " Does this message have lightning?"
We've started using it in describing the creative work which delivers that potent little bolt of emotional juice.
Because, as you know, emotion is the engine that drives decision making.
And the emotional charge that comes from good advertising and branding is quick, potent and literally electrical.
Emotions are an electrochemical signals that tell the brain how to react.
And today's example of certainty comes from an unlikely sector
During this age of weirdness, it avoids all the hackneyed phrases of "these uncertain times."
It speaks to the zeitgeist without sounding like every other worn-out, trite and unimaginative wording that is coming at us from all corners.
BUDWEISER BRINGS IT IN AGAIN
Budweiser has long had a habit of bringing the lightning and jerking a few tears along the way.
And this is another glowing example of how big-agency/big-brand thinking can make you smile while informing the things we can do in our own small businesses.
The famous Budweiser Whassup? campaign ran from 1999 to 2002.
The advertising was much loved. It inspired a cross-cultural catch-phrase epidemic. Everyone was walking around saying, "Whassup!"
Today, a doctored version of the original commercial is here, introducing the idea of "jus' quarantining, drinkin' a Bud."
The joyful and infections silliness of the "Whassup!" action ends with the parting thought, "BUDS SUPPORT BUDS. CHECK ON YOURS."
It's just fun. And it jerks a little tear, all while underscoring an important message.
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE...
The original premise has also been adapted for today's spokesfolks and the weirdness of the moment.
There's a brand new commercial "Whassup!" commercial gives us former NBA stars Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, WNBA star Candace Parker, DJ D-Nice, and Wade's wife Gabrielle Union all getting together on a video chat.
They all do a big, rousing round of "Whassup!"
Then, Wade gets serious and asks, "For real, though, what's up with everybody?" His wife asks, "You guys staying safe?"
It all ends with the message, "Staying connected matters more than ever right now. Checking in, that's whassup. Need to talk? The Salvation Army has trained staff available." They provide the "HOPE" phone number.
FUN, TOUCHING...AND IMPORTANT
The entire, 90-second spot uses minimal words. It's enjoyable. It never uses any hackneyed phrase-of-the-moment, like "In these uncertain times."
Nobody needs a reminder that these times are uncertain.
In fact, when were the certain times?
They never existed.
They are imagined.
And nobody needs a reminder of today's lack of certainty.
What they need is a little bit of emotional lightning.
And Budweiser delivers.
Here's the revised original "Whassup" spot, presently airing in the UK:
And here's the new US spot, "Checking In, That's Whassup:
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.