The zeitgeist is a knucklehead.
There. I said it.
From politics to pandemics, masking to mayhem, opening to closing, turmoil abounds. One of the best ways to handle it? Ignore the 24-hour news cycle and turn off the talking heads. It changes everything.
So, what's wrong?
Or better yet, what's right? How's your world? What's good? Bad? Nagging? Nifty? In short: How is the new normal affecting your business? We want to know.
Reply to this email and tell us what's on your mind, what new intel you want to offer, or any piercing question you might have in the COVID age.
We'll talk about you right here.
Not yet downloaded your free copy of Lightning Branding: How to Generate Revenue Faster With An Electrifying New Brand, there's still time. Just visit http://www.lightningbrandingbook.com.
For information about our new Lightning Branding courses, both do-it-yourself and we-do-it-with-you editions, click here. (There's even a video of us!)
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
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.