Sunday, July 31, 2011

Warning: The following post contains "soul-baring" content. Note that I usually don't post that kind of stuff because:
a) I'm a guy

b) I've worked in advertising for 25 years and have become cynical and jaded (though, in all honesty, how much of that can truly be blamed on my chosen profession is up for debate)

c) I'm pretty sure I sold the last remaining pieces of my soul to the devil the first time I had to write for the National Rifle Association account

d) Erika Napoletano bares her soul with more gusto (and more profanity) on her blog than anyone I've ever seen and I'm afraid she'll come stab me if I venture onto her turf too often.

As you might have noticed, I spend a lot of time on bicycles and, as such, I spend a lot of time worrying about bike tires. I have a love-hate relationship with bike tires in that, I love the feel of a fully inflated bike tire as it grips the road as I lean into a sharp turn at speed and the feel that I can roll forever with just a few pedal strokes. However, I hate the fact that bike tires are so expensive (you can spend more than the price of an automobile tire), considering their size (a cross section of a 700c x 23 road bike tire measures around 3", with about .9" of that in contact with the road) and lifespan (1,000 miles on average if you're lucky).

Given all that, many of my phone conversations with my brother and fellow cyclist Ray (pictured above) revolved around finding deals on good bike tires. One of his favorites was the Fortezza Tri-Comp tire made by Vredestein. My bro liked that tire because, "you can gas 'em up to 145 and go!" For the non-cyclist that means you can inflate them to 145 psi, which make them rock hard and reduces rolling resistance. Ray also liked the fact you could often find these tires on sale for about $25 apiece which made them, in his parlance, "practically free!"

Though he swore by these tires for several years, it was only last summer that I had occasion to try a set, after picking up a pair on sale during a visit to Colorado to see Ray. Not surprisingly, as soon as I put them on and gassed 'em up, I was blown away by their performance. I felt like I could fly on them during sprints and slice through turns on sharpened ice skates...

Sadly, my brother Ray passed away last September, just four months after he was diagnosed with two inoperable brain tumors. And, though I carry many wonderful memories of him, it's when I'm riding my bike, watching my wheels spinning, and doing anything and everything I can to not think about the 100° heat that I think of Ray and his words, "Gas 'em up and go!" While he often said that to describe his enthusiasm for a silly set of bike tires, I've realized it can apply not only to cycling, but in life and advertising as well.

Getting the benefits from nice bike tires you can gas up to 145psi takes a bit of work since, once you decide to spend the money, you still have to install them on the rims, slide in the tube, gas em up and, most importantly, pedal the bike. Coincidentally, advertising your business requires time and effort too and, like a bike tire, it can be costly and seemingly not last very long. But once you get an ad plan ready to roll, be it an email campaign, direct mail piece, social media strategy, public relations, print, TV or radio (and/or some combination of all of the above) you still need to push down on the pedals to get the campaign rolling and keep it rolling. And just as the bike ride you take today will aid your fitness on down the line, the ads you run today will pay off in the future when your customer is ready to buy.

In this year's Tour de France as marketing metaphor post, I wrote, "If you stop pedaling a bicycle, ultimately the bike stops rolling. And if you stop peddling your business, sales stop rolling in." However, just as a bike won't roll very well if there's no air in the tires, your sales won't roll without the right vehicle or vehicles to keep your numbers pumped up. Knowing that you need to advertise is one thing. Actually doing it, and doing it right, is what can make or break your company's success. It may take time but, once you find the advertising venues that are right for your business, don't forget to gas 'em up and go!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

How To Make A Sonic Bust

During my non-poetic college years, one of the electives I took in my copywriting studies was Radio/TV Copywriting. The instructor was a local advertising pro, and I really enjoyed the course because we spent class time actually practicing and learning to write radio and TV scripts. Plus, our homework was to simply write scripts, we didn't spend a lot of time plowing through a text book, and it met only one night a week for three hours, which gave me more time to pursue my other studies. For whatever reasons, I remember our assignment one week was to pick some national brand and write two 60 second radio scripts to be sung to the tune of a current or fairly recent pop song. I also clearly recall I chose Weight Watchers(?) and wrote my scripts to the tune of Greg Kihn's Jeopardy (keenly changing "My love's in jeopardy" to "My weight's in jeopardy") and Eddie Murphy's Party All The Time (where I non-poetically turned "My girl wants to party all the time" into "You don't have to diet all the time").

The night the assignment was due, we read all the spots in class and, aside from the girl who wrote her spots to tunes by contemporary Christian singer Sandi Patty(?), everyone else's were about as hokey as mine, which is pretty much what one would expect when adapting someone else's song into an ad jingle. Granted, there are certain songs that just beg to be used in ads, but most don't lend themselves to jingles, especially if they gained any airplay.

With all that said, I usually try to keep my criticism of other ads to a minimum (aside from my annual Super Bowl Ad Awards For The Non-Poetic. Oh, and here...) and I mentioned my first jingle forays because I recently saw a new TV spot for Sonic that featured a jingle that was apparently written as a college TV writing assignment and somehow got produced and aired:

So, where to start? First off, if you're unfamiliar with it, the jingle in that spot is sung to the tune of You Can Do Magic, which charted for the band America in 1982. As such, it's not a song that many of Sonic's target audience was alive to hear when it was a hit and thus, any connection is likely lost.  Further, the agency couldn't come up with their own original jingle? Yea, I get the subliminal "magic" reference but apparently Heart, The Cars, The Police, Genesis, Lovin' Spoonful, Steppenwolf, ELO, Olivia Newton John, and many more didn't feel like whoring out their songs with "magic" in the title to schlep fast food. (Note, don't blame America (the band, not the country), as You Can Do Magic was written by English singer-songwriter Russ Ballard.)

Then we have the actual line, "This is how you Sonic!" As a tagline, it's nothing special, bordering on lame. Apart from a weak attempt to turn "Sonic" into a verb (which is, no doubt, an attempt to enter it into America's everyday vernacular), this almost feels like the agency already had the rights to the song and literally jammed Sonic's tagline (with an extra word!) into it. And again, this was the best they could do? We had to turn to a 30 year old song because we couldn't come up with anything more original?

Next, there's the takeaway, "You can have everything your heart desires!" There are plenty of ways to say that, and it's pretty simple and easy to work into some form of an original script, right? But no, this feels like the song was purchased specifically to use that phrase and every other square peg was jammed into a the round hole. And, if the message they want to convey is, "Come to Sonic and get your food, your way," the best way they could say that was to buy and modify a song with the lyrics "anything your heart desires"? To me, that says "We shot our wad on the tagline and we're so unoriginal that we'll just buy a song that says your heart desires and write around it." And don't forget that Burger King basically said the same thing, and said it better, in the 70's...

By now, you're probably saying, "That's great, but can you do it any better, non-poet boy?" Well, Sonic has already beaten us to the punch, as you can go to and make your own Sonic TV trailer and win prizes! They don't let you do your own jingle, but I guarantee any one of us could do better than what they've got now!

With all that said, the design and production of the spot is sharp and eye-catching (though to my eye, the daydream sequence is somewhat derivative of the NSFW dream sequence in The Big Lebowski, though that may just be me...), but it's overshadowed by the bad jingle that should have never gotten past the brainstorm stage. Instead, we're left with a forced tagline, a bland, unoriginal takeaway line that, though it offers "everything your heart desires," actually leaves a lot to be desired.

The moral to this story is, you can be creative but not be original. However, if you're not gonna be original and force your concept into someone else's original idea, you certainly need to be creative. Put it all together and Sonic's This Is How You Sonic spot makes me want to show the world This is How You Vomit!

(Oh, and just so the folks at Sonic and their agency won't feel singled out, here's another violation of America (in this case the country, not the band) from Old Navy. Like Sonic's spot, this one should have been shot down long before it got to the launch pad... And yea, you heard that right! There's no better way to celebrate America's independence than singing "Old Navy tis of thee...")

Monday, July 18, 2011

It's A Race To The Finish

As this year's edition of the Tour de France is entering its final week, it's time for my annual non-poetic rambling on the Tour as marketing metaphor (though I know most of you have them committed to memory and posted on your refrigerator, if you want to catch up on my previous entries, you can see them here and here).

Probably the number one thing I find myself explaining to the non-fan is that, though the Tour de France is indeed a three week race around France concluding in Paris, it is also a series of 20 or 21 individual races called stages. And the ultimate winner of the Tour isn't the rider who wins the most stages, but rather the cyclist who completes all the stages in the shortest elapsed time.

As it meanders around France, each Tour also features three distinct stage types: flat stages, mountain stages, and time trials. Flat stages generally go from point A to point B, allow the cyclists to stay together as a pack, and most often favor the rider who excels as a sprinter (one who has explosive power and the ability to go really, really fast to blow ahead of everyone else at the finish). Mountain stages, obviously, take place in the Pyrenees and the Alps, and favor the cyclist who's proficient at climbing and, secondarily, descending those same steep hills. Finally, time trials feature riders racing alone against the clock and are often won by the cyclist who can generate the most consistent speed and aerodynamic position for the duration of the stage. In addition, there are races within each stage, awarding points or time bonuses for the first rider to reach a certain point or plateau on the course.

It's not unusual to see a sprinter win several stages, yet be nowhere near the podium (first, second, or third place) at the end of the race. Converesly, it can often happen that the rider who wears yellow on the Champs Élysées (the yellow jersey indicating the leader of the race) does so without ever winning a stage. Hence, the sprinter who wins today's stage by five milliseconds or the climber who wins by five minutes may win the day but, at the end of the race, they're forgotten behind the Tour de France champion, the cyclist who can both climb and time trial to ultimately reach Paris in the least elapsed time.

I bring all this up, because over the years, I've encountered an untold number of clients I could call "sprinters." And, given that their primary objection goes something like, "We spent big bucks to advertise on the radio for three weeks and it didn't do anything. Why should we advertise more?" the comparison to the sprinter or climber who might win a stage or two but not contend for the overall title is fairly apropos.

When it comes to advertising, anyone can "win a stage," in that you can spend money on a radio flight, newspaper ad, direct mail piece, or email blast, and make one big splash. But when your customer reaches the finish line and decides to act on his or her need, will your business still be in the race? Will that message you sent out six months ago still resonate in his buying decision? If you've only advertised, in any form, once, then the answer is likely "no!"

As a general guideline, remember the Rule of Seven, which says that you need to make at least seven impressions on a potential customer before they act on your message and buy your goods or service. When you consider the noise most consumers "hear" these days, from email, banner ads, mobile app ads, TV, radio, direct mail, and more, as well as the fact that most prospects likely aren't sitting around waiting for your ad, following the Rule of Seven is even more important.

Another crucial factor in following the Rule of Seven is to remember that, like the Tour-winning bicyclist who excels in every discipline, you need to advertise in more than just one medium. An email blast may work in the short term, but too many of the same messages may get tuned out, or filtered to spam, by your potential customers (especially if you buy an email list!). Instead, vary your message by adding another tool or two to your marketing tool box, be it radio, TV, direct mail, email, or even social media like blogs (information marketing), Twitter, Facebook, and now, Google+.

Finally, remember that successful marketing is a race to the finish that's won by a well executed, 12 month plan. Advertising only "when you have the time" means your customers may not have your business top of mind when it's time for them to buy. Yes, it takes time but, a consistent marketing plan will build a solid base of impressions (and trust) with your customers and prospective customers. And that can keep your business rolling all year.

Just as you need to be a well rounded cyclist in every stage to win the Tour de France, it takes a diversified, year long marketing plan to crank out your message to your customers through every stage of the year. If you stop pedaling a bicycle, ultimately the bike stops rolling. And if you stop peddling your business, sales stop rolling in. Hence, think of your marketing and advertising as a race that's always running. Anything else will just leave you spinning your wheels.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

How To Get A Lot Of Bang Out Of One Bottle Of Beer

In addition to my obsessions over beer and bicycling, I'm also an avid follower of the National Hockey League's Boston Bruins and when the Bs won their first Stanley Cup Championship in 39 years last month, I was a real happy boy!

Needless to say, after their Cup win, the Bruins and the entire city of Boston were pretty happy too. And, to celebrate, the team had a victory party at a nearby casino. Nothing too surprising there, other than the fact that the party ran up an alcohol bill of over $156,000 (at right)!

Three things emerged from that receipt. First, there was amazement that any group of people could drink $156,000 worth of alcohol and still remain standing. However, when you take out the $100,000 bottle of champagne (that was comped by the casino) and the service charges and taxes totaling over $31,000, the final alcohol bill was actually in the neighborhood of $25k. That's still a lot of money for anyone, but peanuts for a professional sports team that just won their first championship in almost 40 years.

The latter two products of that bar tab were pure public relations genius. Whether they had anything to do with it getting out or not, Foxwoods Casino reaped well over $100,000 (the casino price of that bottle of champagne) worth of free publicity in the weeks after the receipt went viral on the web and on the airwaves, as well as the implied endorsement of "Visit Foxwoods Casino, where the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins come to party!" You can buy that kind of publicity, but it will cost waaaayyyy more than $100,000!

Finally, plenty of credit must be given to the folks at Amstel Light, who saw (based on the receipt) that only one bottle of their beer was consumed by someone at the party. Though lone bottles of Corona and Heineken Light were also consumed, it was Amstel Light who ran with the opportunity, making public their desire to know which Bruin ordered that Amstel Light and offering to supply free beer to said Bruin's Independence Day celebration and day with the Stanley Cup (for you non-hockey fan readers, each member of the winning team gets to spend a day with Cup and most usually take it to their hometown and turn it into a city-wide party). Between the speculation and the offer, Amstel Light got thousands, if not millions of dollars worth of free publicity and enhanced visibility, all from a single bottle of beer and a single press release.

The lesson here is, you don't need to win a Stanley Cup to generate free publicity for your business. It's as easy as distributing a press release and making the most out of an event that's newsworthy, like a new product, company anniversary, award, or charity sponsorship. It doesn't take big bucks (or a big bar tab). Simply take advantage of the promotional opportunities that become available and you can give your business a whole lot of bang, for less than the price of a beer.

(And if you need help with your PR strategy, give us a call. We'd be happy to get together and map out a plan...and the first beer is on us! Even an Amstel Light...)

Postscript: The person who ordered the Amstel Light turned out to not be a member of the Bruins at all, but rather a socialite party girl who attended the event at the behest of Foxwoods' publicists. She too took advantage of the opportunity to grab some free publicity...