Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What Do You Do When Your Garage Is Empty?

(OK, so the title sounds like self-help/motivational drivel, but in this case, there's an actual point, so play along!)

A couple weeks back, I was stopped at a traffic light and, as I waited for it to turn green, I glanced over at the quick-lube/oil change place situated on the other side of the intersection. What caught my eye was the sight of a manager and employee walking out to the corner in front of their shop, each with signs advertising $10 off an oil change to the next ten customers who came through. When my light turned green and I drove past the shop, every stall was empty, though I figured they wouldn't be empty for long.

Later that same day, I was perusing my Twitter account when I came across a re-tweet from a busy local hair salon noting they had appointments available that afternoon. Though I can't be sure, it's a safe bet their quick little advertising Tweet filled their chairs just as quickly as the oil change signs filled the garage.

See a pattern? Both of the above businesses took matters into their own hands and, when things got slow, they advertised! They didn't wait to see a pattern, they didn't wait until their cash flow was low and, most importantly, they didn't have to spend money to promote their businesses!

While the oil change shop's method was definitely old school, it was executed perfectly. By waving an oil change offer at people in their cars, they appealed directly to their target audience, offered instant gratification (no waiting!) and, by offering nice savings to a limited number of customers (along with the urgency of an empty garage stall), they finished with a nice call to action.

The hair salon effectively did the same thing electronically. Though not offering savings, by advertising available appointments, they broadcast directly to their target audience (their Twitter followers), they instilled urgency, and encouraged potential new customers who may not have come in otherwise.

Now, ask yourself, what do you do to drive business when your (insert business facility) is empty or the phone or cash register aren't ringing? While the goal of a yearly ad plan is to keep your business steady all year long, the two examples above show that, on a micro scale, you can make an immediate difference every time you have the opportunity. While many businesses don't lend themselves to standing on the corner with a sign, the Internet makes getting a message out to your customers a snap!

Seeing new trends in your business? Write a blog about it. Got in a new product line? Put the word out on your Twitter and/or Facebook account. Got a new project that will showcase you or your company's skills? Put out a press release. Are your production lines quiet? Update your website so your customers can see what you can do for them.

While micro-advertising may not be a long range strategy, it's a fast, easy way for you and your business to keep the doors swinging and the phone ringing. Just remember to make sure your message stresses to your customer how your product or service can benefit them. It can be a 140 character tweet or a 140 word blog, but (self-help/motivational message alert), if the goal is to fill an empty garage, just remember that you can make it happen on your own.

And, if you want a long range strategy that will fill your garage, or you simply need help with a quick blog or press release, drop us a line. We can keep your doors swinging and your business rolling, all year long!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Good Advice From The Grateful Dead (No...Really!)

(Important note: I'm not a Grateful Dead fan nor do I own a Grateful Dead album, digital download, anything tie-dyed, and I've never, ever enjoyed a hallucinogenic substance). The following was inspired by a chance listen to a classic radio station (thank God for satellite radio!) that happened to be playing one of the three Grateful Dead songs on their playlist that they repeat endlessly.)

As one who is self-employed, I've found it's easy to find myself in a vacuum, where the only voice I hear is my own and my only input is instinct. And that's the problem with working a vacuum, sometimes you get sucked in! And I was recently reminded of that potential when I heard a line from the Grateful Dead song, Truckin' (if you've never heard it, you need only listen to your local classic rock format radio station. If it's not playing, it will likely be on within five minutes or less): "Get out of the door, light out, and look all around."

That advice hit home when I saw this print ad for Summer's Eve Feminine Wash that essentially said the first thing a woman should do when preparing to ask for a raise is make sure her nether regions are clean and fresh! In keeping with the Deadhead theme of this post, my thought is, "What were they smoking?"

But aside from the insulting premise of the ad, my next question was, "Who actually thought this ad was a good idea?" The Summer's Eve brand manager made the public response (apologizing and yanking the ad from circulation) in the aftermath of the ad breaking but then later posted (to the ADWEEK Adfreak blog), "We never made the connections..."

While no one is saying if the ad was done in-house or by an agency, that it actually got produced and in print tells me there was a significant lack of objectivity in the approval process. And that highlights the need for my adaptation of the advice from the Dead: Get out of of your office! Find out what other people think of your ads, your products, and your services! Get outside input! Market research can be as simple as asking someone who doesn't work for you what they think!.

No one knows your business better than you. But occasionally (and I'm often guilty of it myself as I sling out my non-poetry), we can lose sight of the forest for the trees around us. We can assume people will know what we're talking about in our marketing message but, just because you're well versed in your business doesn't mean the next person on the street will be. The things you take for granted could be just what a new customer is looking for. Bounce your ideas off someone else! To make it even easier, your Facebook and Twitter network offers a quick and easy survey/research opportunity. Remember, if you're comfortable in your office chair, odds are your marketing messages won't make your customers get out of theirs.

There's a whole wide world out there but (to co-op some more advice from the 60's), it's up to you to make sure your message will make them tune in and turn on. However if you can't see how your goods and services are received by your customers, odds are they'll drop out.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Don't Make The Zima Mistake!

Though I consider myself a beer snob, somehow my mind recently troweled up Zima from its' dark recesses. Anyone remember that stuff? If you've managed to repress your memory of it, I'm sorry to bring it back up (although, if you were like me, "bring it back" up was exactly what you wanted to do after tasting it!). If you don't remember it or weren't around during its' heyday, consider yourself lucky.

Zima was what manufacturer Coors described as a "refreshing malt beverage." In reality, it was essentially Coors Light mixed with Sprite. Coors took their lowest grade beer, filtered it through charcoal to remove color and flavor, then added lemon and lime flavoring to create that malt-based, clear, ummm, beverage that was far more disgusting than refreshing.

To provide a bit of context, during the early 90's a bar with a "big beer selection" offered Coors, Coors Light, Bud, Bud Light and, for the connoisseurs, an import or two such as Heineken or Fosters. Needless to say, a clear malt beverage suddenly stood out from the crowd and it was that difference that encouraged curiosity and sampling.

As it turned out, getting people to try Zima was the easy part. Marketing it to a wide audience to encourage repeat consumption proved more difficult and this is where things went from bad (Zima) to worse for Coors.

Problem one came when Coors conducted follow up research for see who was actually drinking Zima. To their dismay, Coors found that women were the primary consumers. That disappointment came from the fact that Coors wanted to position Zima as a lighter alternative for men who didn't want to chug beer all night, not women (who traditionally consume less than men). Sadly, establishing the first real "chick beer" didn't make Coors happy...No, they had to market it to a wider audience the same way they'd done their other products...via television.

That was all well and good, save for the fact that Coors chose to market Zima using a character/spokesperson that no man aspired to be and no woman wanted to be with. In fact, this vaguely ethnic, hat-wearing 90's hipster (who pronounced all his "S'" words with a "Z", get it?) apparently didn't appeal to anyone at all (although the "stars" of MTV's would seem to indicate that he somehow did manage to reproduce). In a word, it zucked...

Needless to say, after the initial curiosity wore off and even the people who did like it didn't want that much more, Zima's sales nosedived. And, though the company later changed their TV to show young 90's hipsters of both sexes enhancing their trendy lifestyles with delightfully refreshing Zima, it only managed to grab any market share among women and gay men.

So, what's the lesson here (besides not trying to schlep novelty, crap beer to men)? Four words: Know your target audience! The first mistake Coors made was assuming men would like Zima as a lighter option. The second was still pursuing the male demographic even after their research and sales numbers showed more women were drinking it than men. Their final mistake was not testing their TV to see that no one, target audience or otherwise, liked their spokesperson.

If you're like most businesses, you don't have the money to spend on a national campaign like Coors did. That means you have to make every dollar count. And that means taking the time to know who your audience is to insure your marketing hits its' target.

Not sure who your buying public is? Start by looking at who buys your products and how it's used via observation or surveys. Ever notice how many stores offer incentives to fill out their surveys after your purchase? Whether they offer a free sandwich or five bucks off your next purchase, it's a small price for a vendor to pay to get accurate information on who their customer is (and it guarantees a repeat visit).

If an incentive-based survey isn't for you, there's plenty of demographic data available on the net, some free, some for a nominal cost. Find your product or service, narrow down your largest consumer group, and tailor your marketing message to them.

Finally, don't overlook the analytics available for free via the web. See who's visiting your website, track where they came from and where they're going once there. Consider a website-based survey of your visitors. And don't forget Search Engine Optimization. Look at the keywords your website visitors used to find your website and make sure to incorporate those terms in all your marketing materials.

Knowing your target audience is easy, but marketing to them is essential. Need help finding your target audience and the right marketing message? Give us a call and we'll talk it out over a beer. And I promise, no Zima!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

And Then…It Clicks!

Bicycling long distances is all about cadence, or that pace at which one can comfortably turn the pedals at even speed. It's different for every cyclist and, for people like me who inevitably lose fitness over the winter, it can take time to find that comfort level on the bike in the spring. For me, it's always difficult because when the Oklahoma spring finally does allow me to get back outside off the indoor trainer, I have to ride in windy, unpredictable conditions, and I'm usually carrying whatever weight I put on over the winter. Hence, rebuilding the stamina to maintain a 20 mph pace usually takes a couple hundred miles on the road. However, the upside to all that struggling is, one night, it just clicks. I look down and realize the strength to ride my normal cadence has returned and I feel like I've got an extra gear or two to get me over any hill or through any sprint.

Suprise! The same principle applies to advertising. Advertising to build a customer base, or to simply establish a brand, takes time. Just as any bicyclist can hop himself up for an incredible ride, an ad blitz to promote an incredible sale can get your register ringing. But it won't establish a brand or a customer base, especially in these tight economic times.

Instead, consider the Rule of Seven, which says that your message must have made an impression on a customer, be it print, TV, radio, banner ads, or even social media, at least seven times to get them to act on your ad. The Rule of Seven makes it very important to establish and maintain a budget and advertising plan. By planning your advertising, you eliminate the temptation to jump into the first sweet sounding ad concept that lands on your desk while at the same time maintain a steady cadence that will keep your message in front of your target audience throughout the year, not just just every now and again.

While that sounds simple, it's unrealistic to stop and say, "OK, I've advertised seven times, I'm good!" Why? Because you can't assume that everyone in your target audience is going to see those ads or be looking for your goods or services at a given time. That's where the importance of a steady, diversified 12-month ad plan comes to the fore again.

Just as in cycling, finding your advertising cadence won't happen overnight. Getting your company (and your advertising) on the fast track requires time and patience and, occasionally, a long ride into a head wind. But once you've put in the time with your advertising, and (using the Rule of Seven as a guideline) made enough impressions on your target audience, keeping the advertising wheels turning can put your business into high gear!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Van Morrison And The Doors Of Misperception

Many years ago, I was sitting in a meeting of a client discussing what to do for their first anniversary. This client was a brewpub (then a hot, new concept) in a warehouse entertainment district and all the club's managers, owners, and investors were present. One of the options being considered was to hold a concert, either in the brewpub or outside in their parking lot. And one of the acts being considered was Van Morrison. This would have been quite a coup for the club as, at the time, Van the Man wasn't touring much and wanted what few shows he was doing in support of his new album to be in smaller venues.

The show's asking price somehow fit into the meager budget and, needless to say, I figured this was a no-brainer, done deal. (WARNING: Gratuitous Dream Sequence Approaching!) Immediately my mind began racing with thoughts of Wild Nights with the Brown Eyed Girl who would be ever so grateful for the backstage pass that I would inevitably bestow upon her. Plus, this would be my entrée into the world of rock and roll and, from now on, my business card title would be "Rock and Roll Promoter" (which, you must admit, is much sexier than "Non-Poet Copywriter").

My Moondance as the burgeoning Bill Graham of the Bible Belt quickly ended when one of the investors spoke out. I don't recall his exact words, but it was something to the effect of, "I saw that movie about him, and all the drugs and drinking he did, and I don't want that kind of element here." I was too stunned to respond and shocked even further when no one argued this assertion and, without further debate, rejected the opportunity to have Van Morrison play their anniversary celebration. When I gathered my senses, the only movie I could recall Van Morrison appearing in was as a performer in The Last Waltz, the film documenting the The Band's final performance. And when I had the opportunity to ask the investor (an older man, then in his 60's) what movie he was talking about, he said, "That Oliver Stone movie that was out a couple years ago." It wasn't until later that I realized he was referring to The Doors, Oliver Stone's overindulgent chronicle of The Doors and their lead singer Jim Morrison, who did indeed live a drug and alcohol fueled lifestyle...before his death in 1971 (which was vaguely featured at the end of the film)...

So what does any of this have to do with advertising? It's all about perception! Remember that everything you do to market your business should be about influencing your customer's perception. Whether it's demonstrating that you offer the solution to their problem, convincing them you've got the best price and service, or just positioning your brand as one consumers can trust, the impression you make today can go a long way toward enhancing how your customers view you, your business, or your goods or services, tomorrow. As the story above demonstrated, one bad perception, even an incorrect perception, can carry quite a ways, since a customer with a negative impression of a business will tell far more people about their experience than those who hold you in a positive light.

Another part of influencing your customers' perceptions is addressing their objections. Consider what's keeping them from patronizing your business or buying your product and tailor your message accordingly, whether it's via Twitter, television, radio, banner ad, and yes, even newspaper. By resolving their objections, you can more easily display how you provide the solution, and thus enhance your customer's perception.

Finally, remember that your brand is your image, and your image is how you're perceived. And, though many people balk at the cost of marketing their business, know that the price of attaining and maintaining a positive perception is a fraction of what you'll have to spend to repair a negative perception. Need an example? Two letters: BP.

As my story exemplified, one negative image (Jim Morrison) can overpower a positive, but lower profile image of someone else (Van Morrison). That's why your image, your brand, and how it's perceived is so important. And if the perception of your brand is perceived as an unknown soldier then you might want to do some marketing that can light my fire!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Of Bikes And Butt Advertising

If you've looked around He's Not A Poet, you may have noticed me occasionally waxing non-poetic on bicycling and pro bike racing. And now that the 2010 Tour de France is almost upon us, it's time for my annual post on what pro cycling can teach us about advertising (OK, this is only the second year I've done it but, after this it will be a yearly post, deal?).

To review, the Tour de France is essentially one giant, rolling advertising vehicle. Everything has an official sponsor, from the official drink to the official timekeeper, to the podium girls who present the flowers and trophies to each day's jersey winners. Even the towns that host the start and end of each day's stage pay to show off their civic attractions to the world. And just like in Nascar, pro bike riders and their bikes are covered in logos. How much you pay for sponsorship dictates where your name goes and how big it is. Smaller sponsors get a logo on the jersey and maybe on the bike. The name sponsors get their name on the team and, most importantly, the jerseys and the butt of the shorts...

The "Butt Sponsor" is valuable position to have, since most bike race stages feature a breakaway of some sort with some riders going ahead of the pack, and much of the TV coverage of those riders is shot from the TV motorcycle that stays behind the lead riders, transmitting images of their butts. Thus, since advertising is all about impressions, if your rider gets out in a breakaway, there are more chances for your brand to be seen repeatedly by the millions who watch the Tour. Even if a rider or team has no chance to win the overall race, just having a rider lead or even win a day's stage can generate enough exposure for a given brand to justify the expense of the sponsorship. And that's why, for the companies who sponsor the Tour de France and its' riders and teams, this race is essentially the Super Bowl of cycling, a once a year opportunity to market your brand to the biggest target audience possible.

So what does any of this have to do with your advertising? Well, though you may not be a cycling fan, or even French, odds are your company has a chance to be a butt advertiser, or one opportunity where you can drop a big hunk of your advertising budget to make a really big splash. The question is, is that opportunity worth it? Will the money you spend in July translate to business in November? Is your brand strong enough that one big, butt advertising opportunity will create enough impressions to generate a return all year round? Or, should you let that big opportunity ride away and instead concentrate your ad money on a 12-month marketing plan that will keep your sales rolling throughout the year? Just as every bike rider and team has different strengths and weaknesses, every business has different marketing needs. So remember, a butt advertising opportunity can make a big impression but, it won't do you any good if it's not still turning your sales wheels at the end of the race...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Is Your Marketing And Advertising An Expense Or An Investment?

Recently I was comparing two clients. Both are multiple outlet retailers, both are in similar markets, and both had initially pursued comparable marketing plans. The difference was, one (we'll call Company A) was thriving and one (Company B) was struggling and will likely have to make drastic changes, like closing stores, cutting personnel and even bankruptcy, in the near future.

As I considered their situations and wondered what might have been done differently, I realized the most significant difference was their outlooks. Company A approached advertising as an investment in their company, knowing that it can ultimately provide a return. Company B, however, always looked at advertising and marketing as an expense, or a necessary evil.

While they both started out in similar fashion, Company A set up a solid marketing plan and stuck to it in good times and bad, knowing the money they spent each month would likely be recouped through increased sales and visibility. Company B also set up a marketing plan and stuck to it…for awhile. However, when slower times came along, Company B started cutting expenses and their advertising budget was the first to go under the knife. The problem is, now that their business is struggling even further, Company B doesn't have the money to put towards the "expense" of advertising, and they'll likely be unable to generate new business to increase their sales.

Now, consider your advertising and marketing outlook. Is your advertising budget money you're putting back into your business to help it grow even more? Or, do you see your advertising as a cost of doing business that could be better spent elsewhere? While there's no set formula for how one feels about advertising, if you want to change your business fortunes, you might have to change your outlook.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Forget "Where's The Beef?" Where's The Benefit?

Regular readers of this space (and God bless all of you who aren't actually related to me!) know that I am an avid recreational bicyclist. During my bike rides, I often find my mind wandering as I try to pass the miles and forget about the wind and/or the heat. While I still concentrate on the road, my thoughts often turn to business, clients, and projects of days, and even years, gone by. And tonight, I drudged up an issue I had with a client several years ago that is still relevant today.

This particular client sold high end, over-the-counter remedy creams targeted primarily for diabetics. All was well until the day came to create a new retail brochure for this client's foot cream. I wrote my typically non-poetic copy that touted the benefit of the product, while reinforcing that with the science and company behind it. One problem: this client was a bit of a control freak who insisted that copy about the company be front and center with actual product copy secondary. (Did I mention this was a retail brochure for a specific product?)

I could have buckled under and given in, but I refused to stand by and be party to a very bad move. While I fully understand the benefit of selling yourself or your company in order to sell your product, in this era of short attention spans, selling yourself before you sell the product just isn't going sell product, especially in print. I argued till I was blue in the face but ultimately, the client refused to accept the theory that the solution should come first, and the company that offers the benefit second. In the end, said client and I parted ways very soon after (me with absolutely no regrets, but that's a blog for another day).

Now consider your advertising and marketing message. Are you advertising the solution your company's goods or services can provide your customers or just advertising your company? If your answer was the latter, then maybe it's time to reassess your advertising message. Just as Wendy's made a huge impact asking Where's The Beef?, make sure your message puts the solution your service or product can offer consumers at the forefront, so that your ad doesn't leave them asking, "Where's the benefit?"

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

When DIY Is Not A-OK

First off, know that this post was inspired by another blog I frequent, Redhead Writing, written by Erika Napoletano. In Tuesday's post, she went off on all the cheap crap some professionals use to market themselves, such as junky logo pens or those little stress balls, do-it-yourself/print-them-yourself-on-your-inkjet-printer business cards, and generic, stock logos to represent one's company. The gist was, if you want to be perceived as a professional, why would you let the materials that market you or your business make you look like an amateur?

The Redhead's post made me reflect on what I see everyday in advertising that is just so bad and so easily preventable. Though I've touched on some of these issues before, Erika's post stirred up some new thoughts. So please indulge me, and enjoy some non-poetic ranting about some of the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) advertising tactics I see that are just plain b-a-d...

Just because your IT guy can use Adobe CS or your child owns a Mac, doesn't make him or her a graphic artist. I see it everyday; shoddy looking ads, horrid layouts, font overdose, and no consistent look or theme from ad to ad. I understand that times are tight and it's quite tempting to produce in-house, but remember that your ad is a reflection of your company. If you can't take the time to get the details right in your marketing message, what does that say about your company?

That nifty inkjet printer? It's not for printing your brochures! Enough said!

• He may own a very expensive digital camera, but that doesn't make your sales manager a qualified product photographer. I must say this is a tough one, as I've personally found a nice SLR digital camera on Auto can make even me look like a competent photographer. But that doesn't mean I know how to use a strobe and reflector to properly light a person or product in a studio setting. Take it from me, lighting an inanimate object (or inanimate person) isn't as easy as it may seem. And, if you have goods to sell, the photos you put out go a long way towards making the sale. So why would you risk the first impression of your product by advertising it with second rate photography?

Professional looking home videos and ability to use Final Cut Pro do not a video director make. It's easier than ever to get digital video from the camera to the computer screen. But that doesn't mean the person with the camera is qualified to turn it into a TV spot or company video. There are plenty of video issues to consider, such as lighting, composition, and editing, and I promise you, the guy with the camera who doesn't understand that is not qualified to be your video producer! In a world of professionally produced TV spots, a bad, self-produced commercial will do nothing but make your business look just as bad.

• Writing code does not equate to creative writing. As a writer, I see this one every day. There are some immensely talented web designers out there. But the ability to write the code that creates impressive websites doesn't always mean someone is qualified to write your web copy (or any other kind of copy for that matter!) It seems like for every killer website I come across, I see at least two more examples of brutally bad copy obviously written by someone who wasn't a copywriter. And, though I'm singling out web designers as the chief offenders in this crappy copy indictment, the fact is, plenty of companies leave the copywriting to employees who just can't write all that well. That may work fine for an internal newsletter but, for anything that your customers see, you need to make sure your words make an impact. SEO anyone?

Now consider your company's advertising. Who's responsible for developing your marketing material and, more importantly, who's responsible for creating it? A DIY advertising campaign will work fine if qualified people produce it. But, if your DIY advertising involves your company's CPA, then odds are, your message (and your sales) will be DOA with your target audience.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Great Quote That is, Sadly, Too True

Bob Garfield has been writing the AdReview column for Advertising Age for 25 years. As he signed off from the gig this week, his final article listed his highs and lows, hits and misses, reasons for hanging it up, what he loves about the ad business and his frustrations about the same. Of the latter, he commented:

"I continue to be awed and humbled by the best of what the industry produces. But I also think billions of client dollars every year are being squandered by narcissists, conmen, naifs and a number of blithering morons."

I couldn't have said it better myself and, unfortunately, what has been true for Garfield over the last 25 years will likely still be true 25 years from now...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

When Good (Fake) Ads Go Bad

As I write this, April Fool's Day 2010 is almost over. And, though I've never been much for April Fool's shenanigans, April 1st always brings to mind a piece I did during my term as Copywriter/Advertising Coordinator for Glamour Shots. This was during the heyday for Glamour Shots, when they couldn't sell franchises fast enough, every mall wanted to lease them a corner location, and going to Glamour Shots and having a professional stylist and photographer bring out your inner beauty in glamourous photos was seemingly a must for every American female between the ages 18 to 80.

Part of the Glamour Shots advertising strategy at the time was to include a small "before" and large "after" shot. In addition, the copy highlighted what was euphemistically called "a professional makeover and photo session." This was, in reality, a long, three to four hour ordeal where a woman's face was essentially spackled over to hide any and every flaw, and wardrobe was chosen to hide any further flaws and/or accent any positive characteristics. Then the woman got to enjoy a professional photo shoot, where she was posed, positioned, prodded, and otherwise contorted in an effort to capture her best side (with big hair and layers of makeup), her inner beauty, and to sell her a bunch of photos.

So it was in 1992, at the suggestion of the owner of Glamour Shots and his wife (who, though not a GS employee, was essentially our Creative Director), we designed and produced an April Fool's Day joke ad for the amusement of all of our store owners. The gist of the "ad" (seen below, click on it for a larger version) made fun of the whole, arduous Glamour Shots' process, used a pic of a dog as the "Before" photo, inserted not one but four asterisks to correspond with fine print copy, and then loaded the fine print with everything we all secretly felt about Glamour Shots. And, at the very end of all the fine print, we even tipped our hand and wished everyone a Happy April Fool's Day.

To make it even more obvious, we sent out a cover letter with the faux ad dated April 1st, where we delineated how we came up with the "perfect Glamour Shots newspaper ad" by watching "Wheel of Fortune" reruns while closely observing only the shots featuring Vanna White. We even mentioned the factors we considered in developing this ad, including "the relative bigness of the model's hair in her before photo compared to her after photo." Ultimately, everyone thought it was pretty funny and we received plenty of compliments from amused Glamour Shots owners. Except for...

The Glamour Shots location in Laredo, TX was fairly new and, being in a mainly Hispanic market, they were trying very hard to tow the company line and essentially translate the Glamour Shots experience into a different culture. But, what they didn't do was read the fine print. Or get the irony of our cover letter or the ad. And, you guessed it, as they were blindly following what they'd learned during their Glamour Camp training, they ran the April Fool's ad in their local paper without a second look.

We got wind of it when a Laredo gay/lesbian newspaper called the corporate ad department looking for comment. While they didn't get much from us, they still had plenty to run with, and their story ran quickly thereafter. In the end, other than the store owner and manager's pride, no one was directly hurt, though the harsh truths we pointed out in the ad likely did serve to dissuade some customers who might have been on the fence about coming to Glamour Shots.

So, what have we learned? While it would be quite easy to let this be a puritanical lesson on the perils of April Fool's Day tomfoolery, instead, just remember that everything you put out for public consumption, be it a newspaper ad, TV or radio spot, direct mail piece, press release, or even a Twitter tweet or Facebook posting, can come back and bite you if you're not careful about what you say and how you say it. Don't assume your customer will read the fine print or the bold print for that matter. Don't even assume your customer will "get it." Craft your words carefully and make them count, so that you get the most from your advertising message, on April 1st, and every other day of the year!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Has Your Marketing Seen The Light

My brother was in town last weekend and asked if I wanted to go for an after-dark bike ride. Normally, though I might make an occasional run to the store after dark, my bike riding is most often confined to daylight hours, essentially for reasons of safety and timing. Tonight however, since I don't often have a chance to ride with my bro, I accepted and off we went.

We didn't ride that far and stayed in and around the neighborhood, riding the roads I've ridden for years. And, though I knew the location of just about every bump and pothole along the way, and had the benefit of a small headlight, street lights, and full moon overhead, I still managed to discover things along the way I've never noticed. Whether it was a house's nighttime accent light shining on a certain element of a home I'd never noticed before, the way moonlight filtering through the trees danced over roofs, yards, and streets, or just the way different sounds filtered in through the calm evening air, it seemed that, in the darkness, I noticed something new around every corner of the roads I've literally ridden hundreds of times in the daylight.

So, what does my exercising enlightenment have to do with advertising? Well, consider how you market your business and how people view your business. You may have made hundreds or even thousands of impressions with your advertising but, if you want to grow your business, you still need to reach those customers with whom you haven't made an impression. Further, unless you blanket all forms of media with your ads for years on end, there are still plenty of customers who may not be fully or even partially familiar with your business.

So, how can you show your business in a different light? It's by doing just that; use a different light to highlight your goods or services. Work within your budget and spread out your radio buys to different stations and formats. Buy TV in a different day part. Run newspaper (if you actually still believe in newspaper) in a different section. Do something new with your website, like adding a blog (which will engage your visitors and allow you to show a side of your company an ad won't) or changing the homepage layout. Buy an outdoor board. Update your trade show displays. Use your brochures to not only sell your goods or services, but to also tell the story of your company. Put out a press release highlighting new hires, company news, or participation or sponsorship of events. In other words, do whatever you can to shine a light on every facet of your business so that new and existing customers can always discover something new and different about your products or services. Embrace social media.

It's said that everything looks different by the light of day. That may be true but, just as my nocturnal bike ride showed me things I'd never noticed, to find new customers and retain existing ones, you might need to take a shot in the dark with your marketing to shine a brighter light on your business.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Super Bowl Ad Awards For The Non-Poetic

By now, the 40-some minutes of Super Bowl advertising have been sliced and diced a thousand different ways. And, while there are plenty of opinions of the best and worst, funniest and failures, award winners and money wasters, noteworthy and not worthy, I'd like to dole out a few accolades of my own that vary just a bit from the standard ad awards.

The Water Cooler Winner

The CBS Late Show promo with David Letterman/Oprah Winfrey/Jay Leno

This was easily the most talked about ad on Monday. For me, on first glance, I thought surely Leno's appearance was a digital trick, but further viewings showed it was Jay live and in person, which made it even more noteworthy. Some nice brand polish for CBS, The Late Show, Letterman, and for the guy who needed it the most, Jay Leno.

"A" For Execution But... Award

Google Parisian Love

The ad critics said "Wow!" but everyone else seemed to say "Why?" Execution-wise, it was simple, wonderfully done, and cut to heart of Google's content and function. However, most non-ad folks (and even some poets) were nonplussed and wondered why Google needed to even bother with a Super Bowl ad when they own 90% of the market. Fact is Google, in their quest for Internet domination, has their sights set on search advertisers and small business owners, as well as well-financed competition in the form of Microsoft's Bing. A little brand enhancement on a big stage couldn't hurt.

Honorable mention: The Intel spot featuring the moping robot. Well done, funny, and a Top-5 TiVo most watched ranking but, like Google, it left viewers wondering why the item that dominates the market felt the need to advertise.

The WTF Award

A tie between KGB, Boost Mobile, and TruTv/NFL Full Contact

Offering a pay-per-use text message question answering service (sorta like Google, but not free), KGB was well ahead in the WTF competition with their Sumo spot (that did little to fully explain what the hell they offered), until Boost Mobile rolled out their poorly produced Boost Mobile Shuffle spot that was a parody of the Chicago Bear's Super Bowl Shuffle video from 1985! The original Super Bowl Shuffle video was brutally bad and resurrecting it and some of its' principals 25 years later made me think Boost Mobile was selling a male sexual enhancement product. Finally, if you were late getting back to the TV after halftime, you might have missed TruTv/NFL Full Contact's spot taking off on the Punxatawney Phil groundhog ceremony that used a creature that looked like a sinister cross between Troy Polamalu and a troll doll. And I'm still not sure what in the world they were selling...

Best Pointless Celebrity Appearance Award

Vizio trotted out Beyonce to sing and look lovely...for a few precious seconds, until she was whisked away by a dark, menacing robotic claw and deposited into a giant industrial stew that contained zombies, dentists, and seemingly every Internet app icon known to man, as well as plenty of pop culture references past and present. By the time it was over, I found myself suffering from icon overload and had pretty much forgotten Beyonce was in the spot to being with...

Animated Animal Award

While I've always said, "You can't go wrong with monkeys on Super Bowl Sunday," chimps were strangely absent this year. Instead, this Super Bowl 44's best animated animal was Monster.com's fiddling beaver. Nicely executed, showed in plain terms that there's a job for everyone at monster.com, and more importantly on Super Bowl Sunday, it did it all while still being entertaining.

And finally...

The Please, For The Love Of God, Go Away! Award

This one was the easiest for our judging panel (me and the office dog) to decide and I'm not even gonna dignify it with a link: Godaddy.com's spot with Danica Patrick and her stripping (insert overly excited, well endowed female role here). The concept was cute and naughty when they first did it several years ago, but now it's just stale. I'm sure the only thing that's changed is the amount of nudity on the website you're directed to so one can see the "too hot for TV" content (not that I've even bothered). And if you're gonna look at naked women on the Internet, you're surely not gonna go to the godaddy.com site (errr...ummm...from what I hear). Granted, having Danica Patrick onboard as an endorser is big, especially since she's now making a run at Nascar, but godaddy.com would be better served in the future to fake the tease and use the opportunity to actually extoll their virtues, lest they risk becoming known more for their risque ads than their actual web-hosting and domain name registering services...

So there you go, my take on Super Bowl 44's ads...with no Doritos, no Bud Light, and no poetry. Now, when does the 2010 football season start again?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Why Consistency Is Sometimes More Important Than Creativity

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." While that may be true, in advertising, we call being consistent a campaign. That is, a cohesive, organized series of ads with a single idea or theme featuring a consistent look, feel, and tone throughout all the media utilized. And, while I've always been an advocate of creativity in advertising, too much creativity can kill an advertiser's consistency.

For example, consider the case of one local hospital system. (In the name of full disclosure, I feel compelled to mention the hospital in question is where I was born. And yes, I know you're asking, "Why would they still be trying to advertise? After your birth, they'll never have such a significant event there ever again!" Quite frankly, I'm a bit baffled myself!) While they've mounted a consistent campaign over a short period of time, their long-term campaign message has been all over the map.

Let me first state that health care advertising is both easy and difficult. On one hand, it's easy because you're selling a service that essentially requires image advertising. This most often takes the form of shots of dedicated doctors, cancer survivors, newborn babies, triumphant moments of rehabilitation, and cutting edge medical technology. And, for those very reasons, it's also difficult, because it's tough to reinvent the marketing wheel for a service that isn't top of mind for most people. Which is why the hospital campaign I reference here sticks out.

A couple years ago, said hospital rolled out a campaign featuring TV, outdoor, and radio. The theme was "joyful medicine" and featured doctors, nurses, and hospital staff dancing to The Hustle. The fact that most of these people couldn't dance and several were morbidly obese (not the image you want to project for a health care facility) was secondary to just how completely off the mark these ads were. One would be hard pressed to have faith in a disco dancing doctor (he'll beat brain cancer in his white coat by day, then put on his John Travolta white suit and boogie the night away!) and needless to say, it didn't instill a lot of confidence in their medical prowess.

In less than a year, the disco dancing doctors were dead and the hospital moved to a campaign emphasizing "joyous healing." This campaign featured those warm, fuzzy traditional healthcare marketing messages and overall, wasn't too bad. And, though 180° removed from its' booty-shaking predecessor, it did at least manage to retain some elements that carried over from the old to the new message and helped connect the dots between the two campaigns.

Had they stuck with that direction, I likely wouldn't be writing this post. Instead, our message hopping hospital turned yet another direction with their current campaign. This one features doctors and nurses joining hands in prayer around an operating table, nurses praying with patients, an a cappella female's voice singing a weepy, faith-themed song, and pushes the viewer to a prayer-themed website, with the hospital's name and logo a secondary image. Once you go to the website, you find another theme, "We believe in the power of prayer." The website also offers one the chance to see and read testimonials from others on how prayer helped heal them, as well as the opportunity to post your own message and ask for prayers yourself. The website also serves as a social media portal, offering visitors a chance to follow the hospital on Facebook and Twitter.

However, to add another symptom to our current medical marketing malaise, said hospital is also running a more traditional TV healthcare spot, highlighting their laser scalpel and using yet another tagline (this one an established, powerful, easy to remember play on the facility's name). This leaves us with two completely different messages from the same facility, at the same time, which just isn't the best way to spend your ad dollars.

While a prayer/faith centric campaign will likely play big to many Oklahomans, and the prayer-themed website name has a cute, memorable little rhyme, by throwing away whatever impressions they made with their previous campaign efforts, our consistency-challenged care facility effectively starts from scratch with their new message (which offers the hospital's name and unique selling point only as a secondary element). And, though I certainly have issues with basing a healthcare facility's primary marketing message around prayer, my larger issue is the two wildly divergent themes running simultaneously (What's gonna cure me? The Lord or the laser?) and the lack of consistency in their overall marketing message over the years.

So what have this hapless hospital's advertising mishaps shown us? First, too much creativity isn't always a good thing. That the dancing doctors went away so fast speaks to the fact that someone's cute idea failed miserably. Further, that they've thrown most of their eggs in the poetic, prayer-themed website basket shows they're running with a cute little rhyme and idea and spending less time and money placing the larger emphasis selling the hospital on its' own merits which, in a competitive field, likely won't work either. And finally, that they've swung so wildly with their message over the last few years means a lot of money has been thrown away on overly creative concepts that didn't work and whatever impressions they did make with consumers were wasted. Add in that they're essentially running two campaigns with two themes at the same time now, and they're only creating more confusion.

Now consider your own advertising message. Has it been consistent so that your customers (and potential new customers) know what to expect from both your company and your marketing? Has it been cohesive and organized so that all your media, be it print, TV, radio, direct mail, and web, works together to complement the other, insuring you offer one, unified message that will make a positive impression with the end user? Finally, does the theme of your campaign emphasize the best points of your business? If you answered "no" to any of those questions, then it might be time to get a second opinion on the health of your advertising!