Collaboration, Innovation, New Media

Advertising needs a new name

I love going to dinner parties. It’s easy to strike up a conversation with the ubiquitous question, “What do you do?”, because when the question is turned back to me, all I have to say is simply, “Advertising”, the conversation then immediately turns to that television show MadMen. Often people want to know if the drama still goes on today. Do we still smoke and drink and plot to stab each other in the back? “Why, yes, of course”. From there I can entertain my new friends with at least one story of intrigue and drama in the effort to serve my clients. I light a cigarette for effect.

A good friend has pointed out that MadMen has pulled back the curtain on what goes on in an advertising agency. It’s actually teaching media studies to hundreds of thousands of people—that and how it pays to be a pot smoking, backstabbing egomaniac. Yet what they are teaching is a kind of advertising that is shrinking in size and importance. The days of presenting a television only campaign to a client are far behind many of us. Unfortunately, so is the three martini lunch.

When my dinner companions ask me what sort of campaigns I’m working on, my answer gets them a little deflated. Almost none of it sounds as sexy as a TV campaign. And arguably what my company does today isn’t advertising. Event marketing, social media, iphone apps, guerilla marketing, brand creation, innovation, public relations––none of this is advertising in the traditional sense but they are the tools we are using with increasing frequency.

Basically, I don’t really think I’m in “advertising”. The word advertising just doesn’t cut it anymore. Problem is, there isn’t another word that works any better without being a little too try-hardy. A few examples: Marketing Communications (too milquetoast), Branding Agency (too amorphous), Next Generation Advertising (whatever), Full service Solutions Agency (including kitchen sinks?). Whenever I hear someone say that they are a Digital Branding Agency, I joke, “Well, we are an Atomic Agency”.

Folks, we need to come up with a new word for advertising. Because advertising itself has been redefined. We need a better word that describes what we do in the 21st century—a word that is just as sexy as the word it is replacing. I’ve spent time on it myself but the best I could come up with was something like Adfurnugen. I need help.

So I propose a contest. I need you to help dream up a new word for advertising. You can enter as many times as you like. A short sentence or two to support your idea would be welcome. The prize? How about a nice dinner for two at Le Pigeon in Portland or Union in Seattle, two of the best restaurants in America. Let’s start a revolution in advertising by giving it a new name altogether. Good luck. And I’m not kidding.

The Give Advertising a New Name Contest
email your new name to with the subject: Advertising Contest
Deadline March 12th
PAF will declare the winner and bestow the prize at the March program event.

Community, new economy

Attack, attack, attack!


There is a lot of hand wringing about the economy right now. And for good reason, credit is tight, the stock market has tanked and I don’t even want to look at my 401k. Yet the economy will survive and those of us who have lived through rough economic seas know that now is not the time to scale back—now is the time to attack. We plan on being more aggressive than ever. You can call me a contrarian but the data favors those who are aggressive and take risks during a recession. But don’t take my word for it:

Penn State’s College of Business
Research: Proactive Marketing During Recession

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA (March 29, 2005)—For well-positioned companies, an economic recession should not prompt marketing cutbacks, but rather an aggressive increase in marketing spending to achieve superior business performance according to research authored by Gary Lilien and Arvind Rangaswamy of Penn State’s Smeal College of Business.

“Turning Adversity Into Advantage: Does Proactive Marketing During a Recession Pay Off?” is forthcoming in the International Journal for Research In Marketing. The study finds that firms entering a recession with a pre-established strategic emphasis on marketing; an entrepreneurial culture; and a sufficient reserve of under-utilized workers, cash, and spare production capacity are best positioned to approach recessions as opportunities to strengthen their competitive advantage.

“Athletes often choose times of stress to mount attacks: strong runners and bicycle racers may increase their pace on hills or under other challenging conditions,” the authors write. “In a similar vein, proactive marketing includes both the sensing of the existence of the opportunity (a tough hill and fatigued opponents) and an aggressive response (possessing the necessary strength or nerve) to the opportunity.”

Conversely, the study finds that firms without these strategic marketing traits are unlikely to derive economic benefits from a proactive marketing response during a recession. Such companies are better served by not increasing marketing spending until conditions improve.

“Those firms with a strategic emphasis on marketing have already put in place the programs that help them derive value from their marketing activities (e.g., well-recognized brands, differentiated products, targeted communications, good support and service, etc.),” the authors add. “Thus, Wal-Mart would more likely benefit than the much weaker K-Mart franchise if they had both chosen to increase spending during the most recent recession.”

To arrive at their conclusions, Lilien, Rangaswamy, and their co-author Raji Srinivasan of the University of Texas (a former student of theirs at Smeal) surveyed more than 150 senior marketing executives from a variety of industries including semiconductors and electronics, manufacturing, and telecommunications. Using the most recent recession as the context, the authors collected data during the second and third quarters of 2002.


Rant: Finding uniqueness is making us the same

Hunting unique is the bane of our industry. There is no mystical unique tree, there is no guru on top of a mountain and it isn’t possible to track unique through the underbrush only to bag it at the watering hole. Clients don’t want agencies staffed with Unicorns. We all need to wake up and realize that the race to be different has only succeeded in making us all more the same.

It has become so bad that we are diluting the meaning of the very terms we use to define ourselves. When global agency networks, who churn out 15 TV spots a week, are claiming to be ‘media agnostic’ the term has lost its value. It is no longer a descriptor of any meaning. And when IBM, big blue itself, comes out with a sardonic campaign staring “Innovation Man” who ideates, innovates, incubates, invigorates and implements, we should take the hint and stop coping, following and hunting unique before we become the industry that cried wolf.  Our attempts to stand out are only working to erode trust.

Now, I want to be clear that I am not arguing against actually being different, just the cheap façade of difference. I worked for a shop in New York whose capabilities list was five times longer than their client list. Bullshit.

Don’t say you’re media agnostic if you earn millions from placing media.  Don’t claim to have innovation experience if you had a good idea in the shower a couple months ago.  Don’t claim you’re not an ad agency when 80% of your revenue comes from making ads. Don’t turn your website into some strange, LSD inspired video game.

Just figure out how you’re truly different and say it.


Collaboration, Community

Invest in community and you get ROI. Amazing.

In one of my favorite episodes of “The Simpsons” Lisa asked, “Dad, did you know that the Chinese use the same word for crisis as they do for opportunity?” Homer quickly responds, “Yes! Crisitunity!”

And despite the fact that the Chinese character for crisis, does not, in fact, also mean opportunity.  Homer’s proclamation of “Crisitunity!” remains a powerful call to action. During this economic downturn, we as marketers need to seize this Crisitunity to optimize our communications and build more meaningful connections with consumers before dwindling budgets handcuff us.

Community marketing is the perfect way to build those connections. It is the more effective sibling of buzz, word-of-mouth, viral and network marketing that targets communities of people with shared interests instead of demographic cross sections of the populace. This optimization creates opportunities for the ‘right’ people to positively interact with the brand.

For example, a member of the California BMW Lovers Club is much more likely to trust the recommendation of a another member about a great new car wax than he would from some random, Honda Civic driving, paid-under-the-table buzz marketer in a bar. That same California BMW lover would, in turn, be much more likely to talk about that great new car wax with other club members than with other people in his life – people who may not be as obsessive about car wax.

Done right, community marketing is a cost effective strategy that guarantees ROI. The meaningful connections that are built between consumer and brand go on to create brand disciples; those great brand advocates who become a free marketing army.

During these lean economic times, we should all look to community marketing as the most effective way to positively connect people with brands – and seize this Crisitunity.


Branding, Innovation, new economy

Adventures in fanfiction

Poke around the Internet world of fanfiction and you very quickly come to see that TV shows and movies don’t belong to their owners anymore: They belong to the people.

Where communities of fans congregate to share their love a particular show or movie, one thing they do is post fanfiction. Since the mid-90s, X-Files and Xena have had hundreds of amateur writers posting to multiple fansites. Producers of X-Files moved to stop the fanfiction posting, claiming intellectual property infringement, much to the dismay of fans. At the same time, Xena producers not only allowed fanfiction to proliferate, they read it, learned from it and let it influence show content. They even hired one of the fanfiction authors to write for the show. In the end, they developed a huge and rabid fan base. The lesson? Corporations who embrace fanfiction often experience a boost in sales.

Creatively, also, it’s a powerful thing when a bunch of strangers with varying levels of skill can nonetheless equally capture the characters of a show with respect and affection. And contribute thousands of pages of new stories that push the bounds much farther than is possible in a 22-episode TV season. These days, the original show (or “canon,” in fanfic-speak) is only the tip of the iceberg.

…And, yes, I’m a fanfic writer, too.


Branding, Innovation, new economy

Brand Doctor: Pontiac RIP?


I once owned a Pontiac GTO. To some of you out there that really means something. You understand the thrill of watching a muscle car from the early seventies—imagine what it was like to drive one on a regular basis. 1977: That was a wonderful summer, I bought the GTO from a friend who was joining the Navy. It was red with an all white exterior. I put pillows on the back bench seat. Unfortunately, I wrecked the car a few weeks before I started college. Fortunately, the car was totaled and the guy who hit me paid cash to keep it out of insurance claims. It helped pay for tuition.

What I remember most was the feel of the engine at a stop light. That was when the car felt most powerful, when it was sitting there, with all the promise of what could be. GM lost that promise a long time ago. It always mystified me as to why GM let Pontiac wither. As a brand it could have continued to stand for muscle, so what if Toyota and Honda had fuel efficient cars, Pontiac could have stood for fast and lean and sinewy. In fact it still can. If it were up to me, I’d take the brand and make the fastest street legal electric cars. The electric muscle car—now that would be something.

They should have called the brand doctor a long time ago instead of denying something was wrong.

Here’s a fine piece on the loss of Pontiac broadcast on NPR.

Branding, Internet Strategy, New Media

News is a commodity. We can fix that.

If Newspapers Die, Can Democracy Survive? This was the subject of a recent City Club Friday Forum in Portland. The subject was provocative enough to pack the ballroom but few of the attendees were under 40. Younger audiences simply don’t care, they view newspapers as an old technology that is irrelevant. That is the fault of a newspaper business who clung to the delivery system of ink on paper until it was too late. It is journalism that is suffering as a result.

There is plenty of hand-wringing going on about the demise of newspapers. The Rocky Mountain News, The Seattle Post Intelligencer, The San Francisco Chronicle are the poster children of failing media. Of course, the internet is to blame. At least, the internet was the enabler. As Peter Bathia pointed out in his address to the audience in Portland, newspapers blew it, they had two decades since the invention of the web and one decade since the invention of Google to figure things out. They didn’t.

The internet has been the great democratizer of information. We can source information like never before and most of this information is free. However, good solid journalism is not free. It requires reporters to ferret out truth, to go behind the scenes, to shed light on the unknown unknowns. In the past, this has been paid by advertisers and subscription but that model is crumbling.

If we can get past the idea of the loss of newspapers and look at the problem from a marketing point of view, one can easily see that news has become a commodity. Google news, Huffington Post, Alltop are all aggregators who re-report news as it is uploaded. The effect of this is that the brand of the source of the reporting has become part of the slipstream of bits and bytes. Who cares if it comes from the AP, The New York Times or The Oregonian? It’s just news.

This is where effective marketing can save journalism; by showing the value and benefit of good reporting. News organizations need to do a better job of communicating their value to consumers—and charging for it. It’s a simple as that. This can help open the door to the new models that will come for news gathering, whatever they are going to be.

So the marketers toolkit says, if a product is over commoditized, then:

  1. Create scarcity—do not allow over saturation of the market.
  2. Communicate the value of the offering by showing the benefit
  3. Solidify emotional relationships with the brand

Tactically there are ways to go about these strategies but I’ll leave it to you to figure those out (If you need help, give us a call).

In answer to the question of “If Newspapers Die, Can Democracy Survive?” The panel gave a persuasive argument for the need for good journalism. What it looks like in the future is anyone’s guess. What’s certain is that eventually we’ll all come around to the need for effective reporting on a national and local level. How long that will take is decidedly uncertain.