Friday, March 23, 2012

We're not that "Mad"

In honor of the return of MadMen and the debut of their new show "The Pitch" I'm reposting this piece from last July. Enjoy. 

AMC, the network that brought you "MadMen," wants to bring you a more modern view of the craft of advertising this fall with a new show called, "The Pitch."

The basic premise is this. An advertiser – they already have Kodak and Yahoo! signed up – gives two or three real ad agencies a chance to put together a pitch for real project assignment, all while being documented by video crews for the 10 days between the briefing and the pitch. The winning agency gets to execute their campaign and earns the revenue from the project. The losing agencies get nothing.

Not surprisingly, the producers of the show are having trouble getting agencies to participate.

New business pitches have been a part of advertising as long as there's been advertising. Clients are smart enough to know that they own the power in the relationship and often pit agencies against each other to see who has the best ideas, which team has the best chemistry, and who will give it to them cheaper. Even in private, its a grueling and demeaning process.

Aside from the fact that the show is asking the losing agencies to give the client their ideas for free, to commit significant resources to this pitch, and bring an even more unnatural element into an already unnatural process. It also exposes one of the industry's dirty little secrets...

There IS NO DIFFERENCE between agencies.

Every agency claims to have:
  • A "Proprietary Process" for coming up with great ideas.
  • A model for branding that will reveal your brand's true power.
  • A research methodology that will uncover incredible insights that no other agency can possibly duplicate.
  • A secret algorithm for effective media buying.
  • An integrated system that leverages all campaign elements to maximize impact.
  • A team of all-stars that you won't find anywhere else.
If any agency goes on the show it will make it clear to the world that J. Walter is just like Ogilvy. That Goodby isn't any different from Wieden. That Grey and Strawberry Frog have more in common than their names would suggest. And that would be bad for business.

As a friend of mine used to say as he was ready to jump ship to yet another agency in an effort to forward his career, "Same circus. Different clowns."

Oh, and if the producers are hoping to find alcohol fueled rages, office sex scandals, and a client getting his foot severed by a riding lawn mower, I hate to disappoint them, but that stuff went out with the '60s.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Happy Birthday #Twitter

Twitter is 6. Over 50mm users/day. lv tweetchats. h8 sponsored tweets. gr8 4 WOM. bad for pd mktg. hope u figure out how to make money soon.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Life imitates advertising

The world of news has changed. Newspapers can no longer survive just delivering papers to your home on a daily basis. They've had to expand to multiple media platforms and cultivate reader engagement to ensure advertisers will find enough value to continue to subsidize their content.

So how do you explain the complex world of new journalism in a TV spot? Use a parable.

It's an interesting concept and one that resonates especially today given the way the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman and Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law have become news since the shooting in late February.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Is Arby's future Burger King's present?

Yesterday it as reported that Wendy's passed Burger King as the second largest hamburger chain in the U.S. in annual sales – $8.5 billion versus $8.4 billion – even though Burger King has 1,500 more stores.

What does this have to do with the future of Arby's?

Recently Arby's hired Burger King's former marketing director, Russ Klein. He promptly fired BBDO, the advertising agency who's work contributed to five consecutive quarters of growth for Arby's.

With whom did he replace BBDO? CP+B, his former agency Burger King. They were fired after his departure and six consecutive quarters of declining sales.

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results, then Arby's executive team needs to spend some time on the couch.

Klein in talking about his decision to Adweek Magazine says. "CP+B is the most decorated agency of the last 10 years."

That's great. Awards are nice, but the true value of an agency/client partnership must be measured at the cash register. Subservient Chicken got a lot of views and praise from the ad industry, but how many chicken sandwiches did it sell? The Whopper Lust campaign got press, but giving away your signature product for free is not a recipe for profitability.

I realize that marketing isn't the only contributing factor in Burger King's decline, but unless Klein and CP+B are more disciplined strategically and focus on the things that truly drive business instead of clever but irrelevant marketing tactics, why should we believe the result of their partnership will be any different.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Are you ready to become more creative?

I just spent the weekend finishing up Idea-Links, a book on creativity written by my friend and colleague, Jim Link.

Jim is an innovation consultant who leads new product development programs for companies all over the world. I was lucky enough to meet him when we were asked to collaborate on a project for Sargento and we've stayed in touch ever since.

Unlike most books on creativity that tell you to unleash your inner child or think like da Vinci, Idea-Links presents a straight-forward, step-by-step process by which anyone can develop more, and more importantly, better ideas for the challenges they face.

The whole concept of Idea-Links is pretty simple. Observe what's going on around you. Analyze those observations so you understand why they work the way they do. Then store that information in a way that allows you to easily retrieve it when you're trying to solve a problem.

This made so much sense to me, because whether it's been commercials I've produced, products I've developed or songs I've written, the ideas, though hopefully original, never really came out of nowhere. They were always inspired by some bit of knowledge that had been rolling around in my brain. Idea-Links demonstrates how to do this in a more systemic and disciplined way, rather than just waiting for serendipity to run it's course.

I've read a lot of books on creativity – Gordon McKenzie's Orbiting the Giant Hairball, Robert Sutton's Weird Ideas that Work, Seth Godin's Purple Cow, etc. – and while they're all inspiring, Idea-Links is most useful book on creativity I've come across.

For more information, you can check out Jim's website or buy the book on