December 31, 2007

December 29, 2007

Top 10 New Year's Resolutions

My New Year's resolutions for 2008:

1. I will vote for the first presidential candidate who can complete a sentence without mentioning god.

2. I will strike dead anyone in my employ using any of the following words: engagement, branding, aspirational, counterintuitive, webinar, or quirky.

3. I will stop sending those pictures to Katie Couric.

4. I will buy a new Samsung TV because it is the official HDTV of the National Football League (who knew?)

5. I will have an open mind toward new ideas, new people, and new ways of doing things. (Pause. Laughter.)

6. I will rotate my tires and floss my teeth. Or the other way around.

7. I will ask my doctor whether Lunesta is right for me.

8. I will exercise less and eat more unhealthy foods (it's nice to have one resolution you know you'll keep.)

9. I will write a book called "Death By Branding."

10. I will not inject performance enhancing substances into Roger Clemens's ass.


December 25, 2007

Three Worst Christmas Songs

TAC is supposed to be on vacation but can't stop having tiresome opinions. Listening to the radio this week lead me to this list:

The Three Worst Christmas Songs Ever

1. Holly, Jolly Christmas -- Far and away the worst. A very annoying song sung by Burl Ives, a very annoying person.

2. O Holy Night -- I've heard this song a thousand times and still can't figure out the melody.

3. The Little Drummer Boy -- Not just bad, interminable. Not just interminable, ubiquitous.

Other Christmas song opinions

~ Up and Coming: Although first performed by Judy Galrand in Meet Me In St Louis (1944), Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane), seemed by unofficial count to be the most played Christmas song this year (ASCAP says it is number 3.) And if you haven't heard the James Taylor version, download it now.

~ The Power of Simplicity: White Christmas (Irving Berlin) has exactly 8 lines of lyrics.

~ The Other King: Sounds to these ears like Elvis's "Blue Christmas" was recorded at the same session as "One Night With You." Listen to the band, the guitar riff, and the backing vocals.


December 21, 2007

Guest Blog: The Disconnect

The following post was written by guest blogger John Joss

The disconnect between advertising claims and service to customers can cause deep dissatisfaction that may take immense effort to reverse, if indeed it is ever reversible. I refer in this guest blog specifically to a company that has been using the 'snide ridicule' approach to advertising in which is denigrates competition and claims superiority. If that is a mirage, not delivered at the point of sale, it engenders deep disillusionment in customers.

Orchard Supply, a Sears subsidiary, sneers in radio ads at Home Depot and claims that they offer in-store help to customers that Home Depot eschews. This is a mirage, a hollow joke. Recently I had to shop for bathroom lighting fixtures and chose to visit a local Orchard Supply, arriving at 8 AM opening time. Imagine my surprise when the only available lights of the type I wanted consisted of two open packages (I will not buopen packages and nor should you). No help was available. Finally an Orchard Supply staff person wandered by and, at my request, paged help in the electrical department. No result--I waited five minutes.

I went to Customer Service and asked, and finally got the help: "Out of stock. So sorry." At another Orchard Supply I went to the story was identical. At the third, a clerk finally managed to place a back order. Of the six staff people involved, only one knew the process. They were untrained and unmotivated, when I could find them. I only went back because the product they offered was precisely what I wanted, not available elsewhere. This failure to provide competent customer help at the point of sale is epidemic in the retail industry, an effort to cut costs by cutting staff.

Oh, sure, people who buy on price alone deserve what they get, right? Maybe. But companies that cut services below the bone and claim good service are committing business suicide. And agencies that pander to such claims and produce lying ads are party to the evil, inept co-conspirators.


December 20, 2007

It's Still Simplicity, Stupid

Have you tried to set the alarm clock in a hotel room lately? Have you tried to read a cell phone operating manual? Have you attempted to use the GPS navigation system on a rental car? Well, the same exasperating complexity that has infecting technology is creeping into marketing.

More than ever, the key to advertising success is a simple message.

Marketers have way too many messages and way too many options for delivering them. They are spreading their media dollars too thin and are not delivering consistent simple messages.

Thankfully, the people who understand that messages need to be simple also understand that technology needs to be simple. I no longer bother trying to set a hotel alarm clock. I set the alarm on my iPhone.


December 19, 2007

Brand Tinkering

As we mentioned in a recent post, tinkering with the brand is way more fun than solving real business problems.

Solving problems requires unpleasantness. Floors have to be swept and walls have to be painted. People have to be fired. Systems have to be changed. Products have to be redesigned.

Brand tinkering, on the other hand, is generally quite agreeable. All it requires is money and a bunch of congenial meetings. Hire some branding consultants. Appoint a task force. Interview "stakeholders". Conduct focus groups. Have an off-site or two at a nice hotel.

Then start reporting the "learnings". Fire up the PowerPoint projector. Share the results. But remember, everyone's point of view is valid!

Best of all, if there's any real work to be done, it'll be done by the consultants who'll give you a nice fat report to quibble over for months.

Unfortunately, after the money is spent and the naval-gazing brand babblers have gone home, someone still has to sweep the floor and paint the walls.

(For more on this see Everything You Need To Know About Branding On One Little Page)


December 18, 2007

Internet Chaos

Here's why your viral campaign went nowhere; why your video on YouTube is getting way fewer hits than you expected; and why your blog was a bust

The internet is chaotic. Success is random and unpredictable. Most success is the result of one person's good, odd idea and is very hard to duplicate or recreate. Creative strategy is less important than execution on the web.

You can make a hit record by making it sound like a previous hit. You can make a hit tv show by fashioning it on a previous show. But the internet is voracious. Look-alikes are not likely to be successful.

Chaos and oddness are difficult to plan or predict. There are, and will continue to be, a lot of one-hit wonders.


December 17, 2007

Web Films vs Bagels

I had a chance to stay at a Ritz-Carlton last week. The convergence of two recent posts -- Ritz Bits and The "Brand Problem" Problem -- came together in a perfect storm.

I stayed for 2 nights and had no turn-down service either night. I had horrible French toast for breakfast, made with stale bread. I sent it back and asked for a bagel. I got a stale one.

Meanwhile, Ritz is spending lots of time and money to enhance their brand by using a Hollywood director to create long-form on-line videos for their website. Here's some free advice. You want to enhance your brand? Cancel the films and serve some fresh bagels.

December 11, 2007

The "Brand Problem" Problem

There was a time in America when every problem was a "communications" problem.

If you couldn't get along with your husband, you weren't communicating. If your kid was incorrigible, you probably weren't on the same wavelength. If your boss didn't like you, you just didn't communicate well with him. There were no problems of substance, just problems of communication.

Well, the truth is, sometimes your husband is just a pain in the ass, and your kid is a nasty little brat, and your boss thinks you're a worthless shit. And all the communication in the world won't help.

Today we have the business version of this. Instead of communication, the problem in marketing today is always "the brand." So if your products are crappy, or your stores are dirty, or your service is lousy, or your business strategy is stupid, you -- my friend -- have a brand problem! Call in the branding consultants. Pay them a few hundred thou and let them study your brand for a few months.

They'll give you a big fat report filled with charts and graphs and the latest up-to-the-minute buzzwords and cliches. And if anyone asks what you're doing about the problems you can make a nice little PowerPoint presentation.

Tinkering with the brand is so much more pleasant than solving the problems.


December 08, 2007

Guest Blogger: TAC Needs A Better System

The following guest post comes from John Joss, a regular commenter here at TAC

Having seen, read and enjoyed the earlier TAC book, I willingly signed up to receive the new, expanded and improved edition. Imagine my disappointment, then, when after three attempts to execute the 'order' I found that there was no apparent, obvious way to send it.

This failure to devise a complete system that works end to end and would enable a person to become a 'customer' is symptomatic of the current trends in sales, marketing, advertising and communications in general: the failure to devise an effective, bullet-proof system for delivering to customers and assuring their long-term satisfaction. If there is any one single essential to business success, it revolves around the painstaking process of devising, executing and nurturing fully integrated systems for turning prospects into customers, recalling the age-old dictum that a customer is someone who buys again (first-time buyers are often mere tire kickers).

The agency bears responsibility in the creation of the sales system. The key account people, from the CD on down to the designer(s), the writer(s), the media buyer(s) and even the receptionist should have a close, involved understanding of the client's key staff, products, services, needs and SOPs. If anything is lacking, it must be identified and fixed (just as, in context, TAC needs to fix his book-ordering process).

This takes time, trouble and expense but the beautiful part about it is that it works, regardless of the client, the product or service, the market and the customers. It has been time-tested as the single most effective way to turn buyers into customers.

TAC appreciates and welcomes guest bloggers. It's hard writing this thing every day.

December 07, 2007

Now With 20% More Cranky Opinions

The new edition of The Ad Contrarian book is being printed and will be available shortly.

The difference between the blog and the book is that in the book we don't just whine about everything, we also give you ideas about how to make your advertising more effective. Also, the book burns easier.

And, it makes a great Christmas gift for people you don't really like.

Best of all, it's free. Just click here.


December 06, 2007

The Ignoramus Superhighway

For those silly enough to believe in the "The Information Age" and "The Information Superhighway" here are Yahoo's Top Ten search subjects of 2007:

1. Britney Spears
2. WWE
3. Paris Hilton
4. Naruto
5. Beyonce
6. Lindsay Lohan
7. RuneScape
8. Fantasy Football
9. Fergie
10. Jessica Alba

It's encouraging to see Americans getting so much useful information about so many important subjects on the internet

For more on this, see The Entertainment Age


December 05, 2007

Ritz Bits

People over 50 control 77% of the financial assets of this country and are the target for 10% of all advertising. The prejudice against older customers is so strong and so pervasive that even smart companies can't see beyond it (see Aiming Low.)

A few years ago, Saks Fifth Avenue decided their customers were too old. They embarked on a plan to attract younger, hipper customers. After two disastrous years, they came to their senses, fired their ceo, and got back to business.

Now Ritz-Carlton is taking the first steps toward the same dumb strategy. According to The Wall Street Journal, they are producing three long-form films that are aimed at repositioning them as "young and hip".

Here's what's wrong with this strategy:

1. Ritz is not young and hip. Why do they want to pretend to be something they are not?

2. There are plenty of young and hip hotels in every major city in America. Another y&h hotel is exactly what high end travelers don't need.

3. Remaining contemporary is important. It should be done with re-designs, re-furnishings, and new services. Ritz should take a look at some of the newer Four Seasons and Peninsula Hotels. They can get rid of the "fox and hounds" look without making a big "repositioning" fuss.

You can bet Ritz is doing this because they did some research that showed younger customers think they're stuffy. So what? I can tell you that as a heavy user of Ritz hotels, I stay with them precisely because I don't have to sit at the bar next to the leather pants, hat-on-backwards crowd.

You can also bet there a lot of 30-somethings at their agency telling them they need to get younger. It's impossible for these people to understand that they are not the world's only target audience.

The good news for Ritz? It sounds like these movies are only going to be accessible on their website, so no one will see them anyway.


December 03, 2007

In-Your-Face Book, II

According to The New York Times, Facebook is changing its "Beacon" marketing scheme after 50,000 people signed a petition protesting it.

As we reported earlier in "In-Your-Face Book", Facebook was playing with fire by paying only perfunctory attention to privacy sensitivities.

While consumers still don't fully understand internet privacy issues, TAC predicts that web-based marketing schemes -- and web sites trying too obviously to leverage user data -- are going to be facing more scrutiny and more unhappy users.

The scary part is that smart web marketers will get more skillful at utilizing user data in a more discrete -- one might say, sneaky -- manner.


Unreasonable People

One of the things web providers are going to have to get used to is the irrationality of everyday people.

This can be seen in the reaction of webbies to the fuss over Facebook's "Beacon" program (see In-Your-Face Book). They point out that people put their most intimate details on their Facebook page and then get all stirred up when Facebook publicizes what they've been buying. Isn't this complete hypocrisy, they say?

Darn right it is, and you better get used to it. And you better not argue about it with your customers either.

People are not logic machines. Their behavior is inconsistent, at best. It may take a while for software engineers to understand what marketers learned a long tme ago.