Friday, July 30, 2010

Ideas are everywhere

There was a great story of innovation a few days ago in the New York Times. It's the story of the creation of Post-it® Notes.

I'd heard that the creation of the product was an accident. That the original product was a failure, but I hadn't heard the whole story. And now that I have, it makes one thing clear. The invention of Post-it notes and the billions of dollars of revenue it created for 3M was no accident.

It's the result of a culture of curiosity, collaboration and innovation.

When Art Fry, a 3M scientist, used Spencer Silver's adhesive to create bookmarks for his hymnal, it wasn't by chance. He had a need (bookmarks that wouldn't stay put), he married that with a technology he knew existed thanks to 3M's open culture, and the idea for Post-it notes was created.

3M benefited from a system that allows scientists to share ideas, experiment and create without a lot of bureaucracy. Thus, when the need presented itself the opportunity was not lost.

What are you doing to ensure your opportunities aren't missed? Do your salespeople know everything you do and are working on? Do your R&D people share ideas at an early stage so others can help improve them or find new applications? If not, you might be leaving money on the table. Money that your competitors are more than happy to take.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tell it like it is

Even though the 2011 Hyundai Sonata has the styling, features and performance that many have said catapult it to the lead of the mid-size sedan segment, its communications, however, not so much.

The new Hyundai "Uncensored" campaign is just the latest in a long line of "real people" campaigns that seem to be growing exponentially in this, the digital generation. It's not just Youtube and the ability to have worldwide video distribution at the click of a mouse that's spurring this growth. 

If you wanted to shoot two people in a car years ago with broadcast quality images, you needed a rig that changed the car completely. Now digital cameras that can be discretely mounted anywhere provide excellent image quality. 

It's a technique we used a couple of years ago for Mercury Marine to get Yamaha outboard owners' reactions to the Verado engine. 

There's something wonderfully convincing about a consumer's genuine surprise that can't be duplicated in a scripted spot, so it's a great strategy for Hyundai. It's just not a new one.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Art of Advertising

For all the machinations about marketing research, the pablum about process, the struggles with strategy, sometimes art conquers all in advertising.

Such is the case with this poster recently created by my friend and former colleague, Mike Bass.

Mike is a master of manipulating found images and typography to create stunning, collectible advertising art. Art that communicates. Advertising that enhances the environment in which it's placed.

Even without reading the poster, I know a lot about the new boutique Zip-Dang. I know it's not offering cookie cutter fashions and accessories like The Gap, Crate and Barrel or Target. I know I'll find something unusual, something hand-crafted, something artistic.

In our digital age where old media like posters and newspaper ads are looked down upon as anachronisms, I'm glad there are people like Mike who care enough about the craft to do work like this on a regular basis.

Thanks Mike for keeping the flame alive.

Props to Bryan Judkins, another former colleague, for the most excellent verbiage.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Promoting Lies

There's an interesting article in today's New York Times about the on-time performance of the area's commuter trains. After hearing claims of 96% on-time arrivals by the railroads, the Times decided to do some investigative work.

First of all, on time doesn't mean on schedule. A train is considered on time if it arrives within 5 minutes and 59 seconds of the scheduled arrival time. So a train could be nearly 6 minutes late and still be considered on time.

Second, since peak trains run behind schedule more often than non-peak, the impact on riders is much greater than the statistic implies. Given that only 68% of New Jersey Transit trains arrive on schedule (with 94% arriving 'on time'), and most of those delays are during peak time, it's likely that over 50% of the system's riders experience a late arrival on a regular basis. No wonder most people have a negative impression of the performance of their commute.

What does this have to do with advertising and product development?

The way you keep track of your product's performance may not be how your customers do. Find out what's important to them and measure that. Improve your product based on their needs, not some legacy system that's been in place for decades. Six minutes late may have been acceptable with a generation that had analog watches and no cell phones. But as times change, so do expectations. 

If you're not getting ahead, you're running late.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The trouble with advertising

There are few that would argue that the Old Spice commercials featuring Isaiah Mustafa are the most entertaining and memorable spots on TV right now. The viral sensation that was created by the video answers to tweets and emails generated over 43 million views. The references to "the Old Spice guy" are everywhere in pop culture and there's even a television show in development featuring Mr. Mustafa.

If advertising is about creating buzz. This campaign is wildly successful.

But advertising is about more than that. It's about generating sales. And by that measure, while still a success, it raises the age-old debate. Does award-winning advertising sell products?

Over the four-week period starting June 13, when Old Spice was promoting heavily – with the drop of a high value coupon and a TV schedule that made missing Mr. Mustafa impossible – sales were up 106%. Not bad, considering the category was up just over 7%.

But Gillette body wash, which started the period with similar sales to Old Spice, has an ad campaign that frankly I can't even recall yet was up 277% during the same period. Notably they were offering a buy one/get one coupon at the time.

I'd argue that Old Spice would not have seen the bump it got when it dropped that coupon without the new campaign and its revitalized image. I just can't prove it. This is just one more example of how hard it is to measure the impact of a great campaign. 

To quote the Talking Heads, "Same as it ever was."