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
THANKS FOR ALL THE CHRISTMAS WISHES!
Apparently, the Johnnie Walker spec spot by the two Germans kids struck a nerve.
We received all kinds of thanks accompanied by delightfully weepy missives about being "alive and by your side."
And despite the flood of email, not a single one of those tear-stained memos came from a female reader.
Each message came from a gentleman of a certain age, each a businessman, each accomplished, each with disposable income.
ANY GUESS WHO THE JOHNNIE WALKER CORE CUSTOMER MIGHT BE?
But I digress.
If you've read this far and are scratching your head, a quick recap: two German students created a spec spot for Johnnie Walker that is very on-brand, infinitely watchable, and as one reader commented, he "Could have seen that during the Super Bowl and not blinked...Truly artistic."
If you wish to read it (or read it again), you'll find it by clicking this link.
If you're a text-only reader, copy and paste http://tinyurl.com/hq5r4h5
Here now, as promised, Part II of the screed about "Dear Brother" in which we examine the art in support of the brand.
"AWA' N BILE YOUR HEAD, LADDIE!"
That's the kind of thing the DR hounds would likely say to moi in my praise of this commercial as a fine piece of advertising--if those hounds were Scots.
(If you haven't read the line aloud in a brogue and don't quite get it, the phrase is, "Away and boil your head," a traditional Scottish insult.)
The problem with Brand vs. DR is that many, many DR hounds don't understand that direct response advertising doesn't exist in a vacuum.
Of course, they're not alone. Most people besides you, the faithful reader, don't understand brand.
And the real tragedy here is that if you're doing direct response advertising, the challenge is often much easier when doing DR within the parameters of an established brand.
BECAUSE BRAND, LIKE DR, IS ABOUT EMOTION
A brand is about the one way the core customer should feel about the product or service.
And DR is about selling the product or service by hitting the emotional triggers necessary to make the customer respond.
In fact, ALL decisions, buying or otherwise, are about emotion.
As you know from hanging around here, all decisions are fueled by emotion.
People who've lost the emotional areas of their brains live unmanageable lives.
They can't make even the simplest life decisions and everything goes off the rails.
And while we are obviously fans of both brand and of direct response (we really love measurable ROI), it's possible to go so far as to say that the Johnnie Walker message--despite any obvious DR components like offer and call to action--could be potent enough to garner response.
"DEAR BROTHER" IS SO EVOCATIVE, IT COULD PROMPT TRIAL BY NEW CUSTOMERS
When a message is so distinctly on-brand ("Keep walking,") and it tugs so poignantly at the heart strings (see also: weepy-eyed men with cash to burn), it can create a situation where a guy standing in a liquor store deciding what to buy next might actually turn to a bottle of Johnnie Black.
But no, that doesn't make it a DR commercial.
Now, if there'd been an offer and call to action, that would be different.
Something like a title card at the end of the commercial saying, "Want to keep walking this Christmas? Visit www.DearBrotherJohnnie.com."
And the URL would take the visitor to a page that recalls "Dear Brother," has additional poetic copy, and some manner of offer.
BUT HERE'S THE BIGGER PROBLEM
It's about understanding that there's a difference between branding a company and running brand advertising with no offer or call to action.
Most of the time, brand advertising (which "Dear Brother" is--it is on-brand and artful with no hard offer, and no call to action beyond the tagline) makes no sense for the kinds of products and services sold by the DR hounds.
They don't live in a world where multi-million-dollar marketing budgets are used to promote international brands to existing customers in an effort to stay top of mind with those customers so they keep buying the product.
They live in a world where Joe's Plumbing says, "I need 30 new customers this month. What can we do about that?"
BUT BRAND--NOT BRAND ADVERTISING--MATTERS A GREAT DEAL
And brands like Rooter Man or ACE DuraFlow or Benjamin Franklin are going to have a leg up on Joe's Plumbing because the national brands are established and resonant.
Joe is a nobody and his tagline is "For all your plumbing needs."
But what if Joe can truly brand himself?
What if he can make himself visible in a way that is equally or more resonant?
He's more likely to win a buying decision away from the 600-pound gorillas.
Locally, here in Utah, there's a plumber named Neering's.
TO BE KIND, IT'S NOT MUCH OF A BRAND NAME
Until you consider this: they've been around since 1935.
So there is a degree of name recognition.
But what if you can't remember the name?
What if, like me, you always forget it?
If you can't remember the name, you will almost definitely remember the tagline: "My dad can fix that!"
All the trucks have a huge picture of dad and the kid, and the kid is saying, "My dad can fix that!"
The "My dad can fix that" brand is indelible, and resonates in a market where family is beyond important.
LET'S FACE IT: THE LITTLE KID REALLY HAS ZERO TO DO WITH PLUMBING
But he does strike an emotionally resonant chord with a local demographic that has deep feelings about children and family.
And when doing DR advertising in an effort to get new customers right here, right now?
Neering's Plumbing is going to have a leg up when it comes to Rooter-Man or ACE DuraFlow.
But relevant and effective and ROI-producing branding?
AND ANOTHER THING...
Traditional DR advertising almost always relies on a feature/benefit model.
It's very difficult to build a feature/benefit model around liquor.
I can think of only one offhand: Tito's Vodka.
Tito's is a homegrown brand from Texas. The labeling is awful.
It's also about half the price of the top-shelf imports like Grey Goose and Belvedere.
I remember the first time I tasted Belvedere. I was stunned. It was an excellent tasting product.
I also remember the first time I saw an ad for Tito's, touting its achievement of besting Belvedere and its ilk in blind taste tests at big, international liquor competitions.
Suddenly, I was a fan of Tito's.
It's a bargain AND it tastes better? I'm in!
THIS IS AN EXCEPTIONAL CASE
Most of the time, you're never going to be able to build a case like this for a brand like Johnnie Walker.
But what you can do is give the emotions a way to latch onto the brand by casting the product as a central character in a storyline that matters.
This is the key to wild commercial success through product placement. See also: E.T. and Reese's Pieces.
Successfully executing such an effort requires good chops and a thorough understanding of why it works.
If you can realize such an effort, you've done an incredible thing for a brand of any size.
I've done it for everything local automotive services to local churches.
Understanding how to create a link between the product and an emotionally evocative scenario--and doing it on-brand--gives you power like you can't imagine.
THE SAD IRONY FOR THE GERMAN LADS
The "Dear Brother" commercial was very much on-brand when they started creating it.
There is also virtually no chance that Johnnie Walker will ever pick it up.
Because recently, after 16 years of "Keep Walking," Johnnie Walker changed the brand direction.
"Keep Walking" has been replaced by, "Joy will take you further."
Seems JW had recently experienced a 9% slip in revenues (due in part to fluctuations in world currency markets).
They came to the conclusion that "Keep Walking" had walked on. It was no longer resonating with their core customer the way it had been.
IT SEEMS JOYFUL IDEALISM IS NOW WHERE THE CORE CUSTOMER'S HEAD AND HEART ARE AT
Personally, I see that brand direction being more relevant to a sunny, warm-weather tipple like a Bacardi or a Cuervo than a Johnnie Walker.
I mean, really. Scotch and joy?
Don't they go together like pickles and chocolate?
Nonetheless, Johnnie Walker is pursuing joy with a full-on commitment.
The good news for Dorian und Daniel is that they've achieved worldwide recognition for their efforts.
They will get work from this artful directorial debut.
And as for Johnnie Walker, only time will tell how they feel about the joy direction.
IN THE MEANTIME...
Here's a proposal for a New Year's resolution: let's all try putting more art into our work for 2016.
A business well branded is an artful thing.
And raising the bar on art does good things for revenues.
It also does great things for one's being.
It feels really good, and makes the world of commerce a slightly better, more joyful place.
Happy New Year from the Mountaintop Marketing Fortress.
It's possible that you've already seen this. It has been making the rounds in social media.
And even if you have seen it, it's unlikely that (a) you caught all the words, or that (b) you looked at it through the lens of brand.
And (c) you certainly never thought about it in the context of your own brand. Who would?
This gift comes in the form of a spec commercial for Johnnie Walker.
The title of the commercial is, "Dear Brother." Before we look at this masterpiece together, a little backstory...
If you've been at all cognizant of the Johnnie Walker branding campaign over the last 16 years, you know about the long-running "Keep Walking" theme of the messages.
IT'S A LONG ROAD FROM THE PEAT BOGS, LADDIE
Possibly the most well-known of the "Keep Walking" commercials is the near 6-minute epic featuring Glaswegian actor Robert Carlyle, whom you might remember from The Full Monty and Trainspotting.
In a foggy highland landscape, a bagpiper plays a mournful tune as Mr. Carlyle walks down from the high road. He reaches the bagpiper, says, "Piper! Shut it!", and continues walking while relating the story of Mr. John Walker.
Over a single, five-and-a-half-minute take, Carlyle recounts 200 years of Johnnie Walker history while all sorts of incongruous props and set pieces appear along the way.
It's a very nice piece of filmmaking, and is part of a long-running campaign that grew the company's sales based on the notion of personal progress. (What one way do you want your customer to feel about your product?)
Now, if you're unfamiliar with the craft of the spec spot, it's a "speculative" piece of work that has never actually been sold to the advertiser. It has been conceived and executed on spec.
IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME IN RADIO
Account reps (usually ill-advisedly) whip out spec spots for prospective clients to whom they've never actually spoken about advertising.
(Yes, that is--and has been--a subject for an entirely different rant, and certainly not at Christmastime.)
Sometimes, ad agencies will produce spec spots in an effort to sell a client on a new direction.
And usually, advertising students will build a portfolio of spec advertising work so they can get a job when they graduate.
After all, when you've never actually be hired to do the work, you must do something to showcase your talents.
And that latter example is what we have here.
THESE GERMAN LADS HAVE LATCHED ONTO "KEEP WALKING" AS A PLACE TO HANG THEIR SPEC HAT
And boy, do these guys raise the bar on creating student spec work.
It's hard to know how much money they actually spent doing this, but it certainly cost much less than Johnnie Walker would have spent making it--and it looks every bit as slick as anything to come out of a major advertising agency.
In fact, when I said to The Fabulous Honey Parker, "Look at this," and clicked the play button, she stood there in silence for a minute and a half, and then said, "Wow."
As a woman who was the youngest VP Creative ever at the world's biggest ad agency, she is not easily impressed.
This commercial is impressive.
Here now, the gift from German students Dorian Lebherz and Daniel Titz...
AYE, PUT THAT IN YOUR DISTILLERY'S BURNING KILN AND SMOKE IT!
If you didn't catch the entirety of the VO, here it is:
Walking the roads of our youth
Through the land of our childhood, our home, and our truth
Be near me, guide me, always stay beside me
So I can be free
Let's roam this place, familiar and vast
Our playground of green frames our past
We were wanderers
When every place was fenceless
And time was endless
Our ways were always the same
Call my demons and walk with me, my brother
Until our roads lead us away from each other
And if your heart's full of sorrow, keep walking
And promise me from heart to chest to never let your memories die
I will always be alive and by your side
In your mind
ART IN SUPPORT OF BRAND
It's really very difficult to sell a product like whiskey using a features/benefits model.
And certainly, plenty of direct response dogs will tell you that this commercial is crap.
And we will happily discuss why.
We've gone on long enough, and you certainly have better things to do this morning.
Christmas is coming. Share "childhood," "home" and "truth" with those who matter.
Cheers to you and yours.
Even if Christmas means taking the whole mishpucha to the movies and eating Chinese food.
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.