Friday, October 28, 2016

Don't Believe The Hype; Storytelling Is Not Dead

Radney Foster performing at The Blue Door
in Oklahoma City on October 20, 2016
Recently, I saw a story detailing the success of MasterCard's branding update. While this type of self-congratulatory "news" is nothing new in ad industry magazines, what caught my eye was the photo that accompanied the story, which showed a Mastercard official standing before a presentation slide proclaiming "Storytelling is dead. Long live storymaking (sic)." While I'm happy to congratulate MasterCard on their higher brand favorability score, let me also add that, for most of America's businesses, the pompous pronouncement that storytelling to enhance one's brand is dead is a total and complete pile of crap.

Granted, I'm taking that slide at face value, but my guess is some Madison Avenue visionary/guru/ninja/chief disrupter conjured up the term "storymaking" to give an edgy, "non-storytelling" definition to Mastercard's brand awareness campaign (where they "make" the stories by giving away things to cardholders, then un-ironically "tell" those stories in their marketing). Plus, declaring one approach "dead" while trumpeting your own, "new" process is a popular and cheap way to generate controversy and get attention (sort of like my own headline here!). However, if your business doesn't have the wherewithal to give away thousands of dollars or pay big name celebs to show up for "surprise" meet-and-greets while the camera rolls, then you still need to rely on storytelling as the foundation for your marketing campaign.

While I've talked about the power of storytelling and engaging with your customers before, last week I attended a master class in the concept of branding through storytelling at its most basic level. Far from a flashy presentation spewing catchy buzzwords, the featured speaker at this seminar was a singer/songwriter named Radney Foster and the venue was the Blue Door in Oklahoma City. In other words, I went to a concert (Full disclosure: I am an unapologetic Radney Foster fanboy and I regard the Blue Door with the same reverence that one might hold a house of worship).

As I listened to Radney tell the stories behind his songs (which are, obviously, stories unto themselves), I saw a man engaging an audience as he described music based on his own life. He told stories about his own experience stepping out into the world, the fear he felt over his son moving away after his divorce, and his anger at the current political climate. For Radney, this created a more personal connection between his music and the audience, which also helped him sell albums and t-shirts after the show and, hopefully, more albums and concert tickets in the future.

The icing on this storytelling cake was Radney's opening "act," author Tamara Saviano. Tamara opened the evening by telling stories from her outstanding new book, Without Getting Killed Or Caught, a biography of legendary singer/songwriter/storyteller Guy Clark. More than a generic author's reading, Tamara told personal stories about Guy Clark and his wife Susanna and about the connection to places she'd visited in Oklahoma City that were pivotal in the book. The result of that engagement was a good number of people who came for a concert but also wound up buying a book (printed books aren't dead either, btw). And the storytelling didn't stop with Radney and Tamara, as I found myself in the role of brand ambassador for the Blue Door several times, telling first-time visitors about its colorful history, its tilted walls and perfect acoustics, and the many notable performers who've played there.

Now, your business may not have songs, a biography or even a colorful history, but you still have stories to tell that will help you connect with your customer base. It may be new products, benefits, or uses for what you sell. Maybe it's success stories, community involvement or different ways customers can use your products or services in their every day life. Or, it could be putting names and faces to the employees behind the scenes or those who work with your customers. Any and all of these stories can help promote your brand though print materials, emails digital media, broadcast, podcast, direct mail, blog or social media.

Whether it's a camp fire or concert hall, books or blogs, storytelling will never die. The method you use to tell your stories may change, but the goal is still the same; engage your audience to build trust and promote brand awareness so that, when they're ready to buy, your business will be top of mind with your customers. Make that connection and you can share your very own success story.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Don't Make It Up As You Go Along

TourdeFranceFroomeQuintanaWelcome to the 2016 installment of What The Tour de France Can Teach You About Advertising. As regular readers of this space know, this is my annual post using the Tour de France, professional bicycling's greatest race, as a metaphor for you how can improve your company's advertising. (If you want to get caught up on some of the previous entries, you can do so herehereherehereherehere and here.)

For mostly the wrong reasons (thisthis and this, primarily), this year’s Tour de France has been one of the more entertaining Grande Boucles in recent memory. But as wild and wooly as it has been, for most of the contenders, the tactics involved in the race have remained the same. In general terms, it plays out as; Keep yourself in a good position to not lose time, be ready to take advantage of an opportunity when it presents itself, and then be ready to run down attacks to protect your position.

While it may not seem like it, in a broad sense, most of these actions were planned months in advance. The teams and riders scouted the course of each day’s stage ahead of time and, most likely, knew the stages and particular points on a given day’s course where they would make their moves. Then, as the race has unfolded, each team and each rider has adjusted their strategy based on the events of the Tour so far.

So, how does this all relate to advertising? Well, if you’re running a business, you should plan your advertising strategy in advance, know the most advantageous times to market your goods or services and be flexible enough to adjust on the fly. Just as a Tour rider may be stronger in the mountains or in time trials and will plan their attacks at specific points in those stages, it’s important that you plan ahead to take advantage of the best times and approaches to market your business.

To do that, look at every marketing opportunity you have ahead of time and plan your advertising campaign and budget to play to your strengths and to keep your wheels turning during the slow periods. Then keep track of the return on your advertising and your spending and adjust as needed as the year progresses.

Note that, when I say “plan your advertising strategy in advance,” that doesn’t mean Post-Its with “buy advertising in June, July and August” on your annual planner or patiently waiting for a special offer from an ad rep. Long story short; Don't make it up as you go along! Instead, map out where and when you’ll spend your budget ahead of time so that you can save time, save money and keep your business in front of your customers and ahead of the pack all year long.

Further, just as each Tour de France contender and team has a strategy for each stage of the race, make sure you have a strategy for each medium where you advertise. For instance, your digital strategy (Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, Snapchat, PokémonGo) should be separate from your broadcast, print and promotional strategy. Yes, there are those times when you may hit with an across-the-board media blitz, but remember to use each medium to complement the other.

Finally, just as a rider’s or team’s strategy may change based on the results of the previous day’s action, or even based on what happens during the stage, monitor your return on investment (ROI) in all your media and don’t be afraid to adjust your strategy as you go. If one component of your overall ad strategy isn’t performing to your satisfaction, apply those resources to the elements that are helping your business.

Tour de France riders and teams start planning their race strategy as soon as the organizers announce the route in October, well before the race the following July. They’ll study each stage, train on many of the routes and plan what they’ll do at a given point well in advance of the Tour each year. Then, they stand ready to tweak that strategy as the race dictates. And, if you’re advertising your business, you need to develop a comparable strategy with your yearly ad plan. Plan your expenditures in advance to maximize your budget, make sure every media in which you advertise is playing to your strength and, as the results and ROI dictate, be ready to make changes along the way. Doing so may not put you in the yellow jersey, but it will certainly go a long way toward keeping your business rolling toward more green in your bank account.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The 2016 Super Bowl Ad Awards For The Non-Poetic

Super Bowl adsWelcome to the 2016 Super Bowl Ad Awards For The Non-Poetic! Super Bowl 50 is done, the Denver Broncos are this season's Super Bowl champions, Peyton Manning managed to survive to endorse even more products and it's now time to reveal our judging panel's (me and Office Dog) favorites from this year's crop of Super Bowl ads.

Note that, while everyone has their opinions of the best and worst, funniest and failures, award winners and money wasters, noteworthy and not worthy, our honors may stray wildly from the standard Super Bowl advertising award fare. Our goal is to recognize the ads that stuck, the ads that sucked, and the ads resonated with the guy or gal who watched the game first, the commercials second, and had a beer or two while actually enjoying the entire show (from the viewpoint of an advertising guy who worked Super Bowl promotions in bars for 15 years). So, without further non-poetry…

The Office Dog Honors Award
This award honors the best use of animals (preferably monkeys) in a Super Bowl ad. Monkeys seem to be passé in Super Bowl advertising these days, so Office Dog, being a yellow Lab, really liked the new Subaru ads featuring the Barkleys, which ran during the Puppy Bowl. The Super Bowl also gave us some more dogs this year, including the Doritos spot featuring dogs going to great lengths to get Doritos and the weird Honda spot featuring singing sheep and a singing dog. But the best use of dogs this year was the Heinz Wiener Stampede spot featuring dachsunds in hot dog costumes charging toward people in Heinz condiment costumes. I thought it was one of the more humorous and original ads of the night, even though it was only a :30 spot. The ad also scored extra points for the nice touch of little kid dressed as a Heinz ketchup packet.

The A For Execution But...Award gave us Jeff Goldblum and a gospel chorus singing the theme from The Jeffersons as Goldblum and his piano were hoisted by crane to the top of an apartment building to be greeted by… George Washington and Lil' Wayne (nicknamed Weezy, get it?) grilling on the roof?  A teaser was released on the 'net that would have added context, but even that wouldn't have saved this one. Wacky incongruity doesn't always lead to buzz and, even if it does, buzz doesn't always lead to brand awareness. This was superfluous, silly and another in a long line of B-list websites that have laid an egg on Super Bowl Sunday.

Best Schizophrenic Super Bowl Advertiser Award
Jeep made two nice spots. "Portraits," which ran during halftime, was a retrospective of the the company's 75-year history interspersed with portraits of Jeep owners and celebrities with various affiliations to Jeep that ended with a powerful tagline. The second spot, "4X4ever" ran in the fourth quarter and was also a nice spot (though a bit clichéd), that promoted the qualities that have made Jeep synonymous with off-roading. While both spots emphasized the 75th anniversary of the Jeep brand, the tone and tagline of the two spots was almost diametrically opposed. This was primarily because they were created by two different agencies. That's not a bad thing but, in my mind, the schizophrenia of the two spots lessened their impact a bit.

The WTF Award
This one was easy! AstroZeneca's Envy spot showing us some poor guy dealing with constipation while everyone around him is noticeably regular pretty much made an entire nation lose its appetite. The takeaway is that there is help for opiod-induced constipation, but everyone will remember (and make fun of) that guy who can't poop, not the product or brand.

Honorable Mention: The Yin to constipated guy's Yang, Xifaxan told us how it can help with irritable bowel syndrome and diarrhea through an adorable little animated intestine with plenty of references to bowel movements. And it wasn't all just AdBowel, as Jublia added in some NFL celebrities to tell us how to cure our toe fungus!

The Please, For The Love Of God, Go Away Award
Thankfully, GoDaddy didn't advertise in the Super Bowl this year. Instead,  the winner for perhaps the most tawdry and lame, yet brazen attempt to create a Super Bowl buzzed spot was Mountain Dew KickStart, which gave us PuppyMonkeyBaby. It was, in a word, stupid. It was contrived and it was just sad. Yes, people will talk about PuppyMonkeyBaby on Monday morning, but primarily to discuss how weird and stupid it was. Will anyone remember the brand? Will it sell one can of Mountain Dew Kickstart (you know, the actual point of brand advertising)? No!

Best Pointless Use Of A Pointless Celebrity Award
This one goes to pretty much every brand that used a celebrity this year (Amazon, Skittles, Snickers, Buick, et al). Out of that sea of celebrities in mostly instantly forgettable spots, the Kia spot with Christopher Walken was stood out as the most brazen attempt to generate Super Bowl ad buzz with superfluous use of an "edgy" actor.

The Water Cooler Winner
For the third straight year Budweiser nails it (in my opinion) with its quiet #GiveADamn spot featuring Helen Mirren, some actual wit and a serious message. A quiet ad will make people stop and listen on Super Bowl Sunday, and this one also had the well-written copy to keep viewers engaged for the length of the spot. Throw in that it was stylistically opposite of Bud's other SB50 spots, and that it came in the fourth quarter after an entire game's worth of generally loud, trying-too-hard-to-make-a-buzz spots, and it was all the more memorable in my eyes. It's just too bad that it won't do a damn thing to sell beer and help get the Budweiser brand off life support.

So, there ya' take on the the ads from Super Bowl 50. Some good, some bad, some creative, some cliché. Feel free to leave your thoughts, picks, pans, favorites and failures in the comments. And, until then, when does the 2016 football season start?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

How DIY Advertising Can Leave Your Business DOA

PHCDIYDOAcopywritingI'm currently watching a company on its way out of business. The writing has been on the wall for awhile, it's not pretty, and the worst part is, it was completely avoidable.

Since the errors this business made along the way are too numerous to mention, I'll just provide a quick overview. Starting with a solid business model targeting an under-served target audience, this company quickly began shooting at a harder-to-reach target audience before it ever got established. When that failed, the firm changed its focus almost weekly in a desperate attempt to be any and all things to all people. In the end, the business was left with a brand it couldn't clearly define and a product it couldn't sell.

A big part of the reason this company failed to sell what it offered was the fact that its marketing and advertising changed as often as its focus. And, the reason for that was, this company, which directly employed no one with any advertising experience, was attempting to do its own advertising. In addition to poorly written and executed ads with obvious stock photos and social media that was often wildly off-brand, this company relied on an inconsistent, do-it-yourself ad strategy that was alternately ham-handed, half-baked or hilariously bad.

I've ranted about the perils of DIY before and, while it should be common sense, it still happens. That aside, there are companies who do their own advertising and marketing and do it well. Further, I've seen any number of businesses who have been quite successful doing their own advertising strictly on the web and social media. However, there are many more companies, like my example above, who wind up DOA directly because of their bad DIY advertising and marketing. Is it the only reason that business is failing? Probably not. But, poorly executed advertising and an undefined brand that didn't contribute one iota to the bottom line certainly didn't help.

So, how can your small business avoid a similar fate? For one, stick to what your business is focused on and, if you don't have someone in-house who can help out, let someone whose business is advertising help with the advertising. If your budget doesn't allow that, develop a consistent marketing plan and stick to it. DO make sure every radio, TV, print, direct mail or banner ad, Facebook post and Tweet you produce consistently defines and promotes the brand promise your company is offering your target audience. Keep track of what hits your goals and what doesn't and, at the end of six months or a year, adjust your marketing toward what works.

DON'T pivot your entire marketing plan (or your business plan for that matter) around just one element of the program or a blip in results. Instead, focus on keeping your brand message consistent and defined across a variety of channels to maximize the efficiency of your marketing plan.

Good do-it-yourself advertising won't kill your business. However, poorly planned and executed DIY advertising and marketing that doesn't consistently support your brand can leave you DOA, no matter how many Facebook Likes or re-tweets you might have.

Copywriting and design do matter. And, if you aren't a copywriter and/or designer or don't have someone in-house who can help you with your advertising and marketing, drop us a line. We can get your business on track PDQ!