2002 My Client, The Bait-and-Switch Sleazebags

...................................................................................8 Why Few People Respect Advertising in the Morning
.................................................................10 Are You Targeting Me? Are You Targeting ME?
...........................................................................12 I Got Your Account Planning Right Here, Pal
...............................................................................14 I’m Not Lying To You Right Now
.................................................................................................16 This Agency's For You
...................................................................................................................18 The Creative Teamsters
.................................................................................................................20 Hey, Luke, Squeeze This
...............................................................................................................22 The Enemies Down The Hall
.........................................................................................................24 “60 Minutes” and a Brilliant Marketing Minute
............................................................................26 Advertising For Columbine
...........................................................................................................28 On Killer Books and Hard-Hitting Executions
..............................................................................30 Screw Unto Others…
.....................................................................................................................32 This Column is Gold, Baby
...........................................................................................................34 2003 Chapter 11 in The Book Of Advertising
........................................................................................36 Geezertising
...................................................................................................................................38 Leaping to The Dark Side
..............................................................................................................40 Getting Embedded With the Client
................................................................................................42 In The Belly Of The Beast
.............................................................................................................44 Jumping The Shark
........................................................................................................................46 Can’t We Just Be Friends?
.............................................................................................................48 Majority to Minority
......................................................................................................................50 Telemuckraking
.............................................................................................................................52 Paging Richard Simmons
..............................................................................................................54 Queer Eye for the Ad Guy
.............................................................................................................56 Just Sue It
.......................................................................................................................................58 Consult This
...................................................................................................................................60 Random Questions
.........................................................................................................................62 I'm the Best Columnist Ever
..........................................................................................................64 This is Your Holding Company on Drugs
.....................................................................................66 Slippery Jelly at the Helm of a Dubious Idea

The Soul of Soles
...........................................................................................................................70 2004 A Super Lesson
..............................................................................................................................72 Trump and Chumps
.......................................................................................................................74 Brands Flying Blind
.......................................................................................................................76 From a No Show to the One Show
................................................................................................78 FBI, CIA, AAAA, and CYA
..........................................................................................................80 Subservient Agency
.......................................................................................................................82 The Bastards Among Us
................................................................................................................84 Word-of-a-Whole-Lot-of-Mouths-Advertising
.............................................................................86 I Cannes Tell You Exactly What Happened
...................................................................................88 Clear Problem, Clear Solution
.......................................................................................................90 Advertising Week (or maybe it’s Advertising Weak)
....................................................................92 Corvettroversy
...............................................................................................................................94 In the Land of the Fee
....................................................................................................................96 Black, White, and Spot Color
........................................................................................................98 Living Under the Bus
..................................................................................................................100 Addicted to Advertising
...............................................................................................................102 New Words for the New Year
......................................................................................................104 It’s All About the Benjamins--or the Bernbachs
..........................................................................106 2005 Wardrobe Malfunctions and Advertising Dysfunctions
..............................................................108 H-P and the Bigger Picture
..........................................................................................................110 Boeing and Banging
....................................................................................................................112 Desperate Housewives and Desperate Senators
..........................................................................114 Maximizing Our Skill Sets to Enable Synergistic Crap
..............................................................116 Installing an Upgrade to Ad Industry 2.0
.....................................................................................118 Madison Avenue, Main Street, and the Arab Street
.....................................................................120 If You’ve Been Injured by an Ad Agency...
.................................................................................122 The Home for the Strategically Challenged
................................................................................124 Taking Size 14 and 36DD Risks
..................................................................................................126 When A.D.D. Adds Up to Crapola

Stuck on Stupid
............................................................................................................................130 Directly Speaking, Can We Control Ourselves?
..........................................................................132 The French Evolution
..................................................................................................................134 Polluting the Mental Environment
...............................................................................................136 The Bald Midget and the Furniture Store Owner's Daughter
......................................................138 I Want My CA, and I Want My MTV
..........................................................................................140 The Super Critics
.........................................................................................................................142 2006 Scrubbing Bubbles and Flubbing CEO's
.....................................................................................144 Living In the Echo Chamber
........................................................................................................146 Oh, the Humanity
.........................................................................................................................148 **This Column is Not Valid in Indiana
.......................................................................................150 7-Layer Ads
.................................................................................................................................152 Safe, Shit, and Everything Else That Happens
............................................................................154 This Column Brought to You by People For Stuff
......................................................................156 This Land was Hand-Crafted for You and Me
.............................................................................158 The Interactive Ghetto
.................................................................................................................160 HeadOn--and Production Values Off
...........................................................................................162 Hardback Books and Hard Truths
...............................................................................................164 The Consumer is Not a Moron. Or am I?
....................................................................................166 The Tale of Retail
.........................................................................................................................168 Be Borat or Be Boring
.................................................................................................................170 Righting the Writing
....................................................................................................................172 Rescuing Lost Brands
..................................................................................................................174 Of So-Called Rock Stars and Stage-Hogging Poseurs
................................................................176 2007 Dinosaurs, Cockroaches, And Guerrillas
.....................................................................................178 The Law of the Advertising Landscape
.......................................................................................180 The Agency Internal Combustion Engine
....................................................................................182 The Sanjaya Principle
..................................................................................................................184 Surrounding Yourself With Breakthrough Nonsense
...................................................................186 Harry Potter and the Obtuse Client

A Diverse Set of Problems
...........................................................................................................190 Turning Chinese
...........................................................................................................................192 Shuffling the Deckhands
..............................................................................................................194 Getting Back to Your Agency’s Roots
.........................................................................................196 When Bad Ideas Happen To Good Agencies
...............................................................................198 A Carbon-Neutral Pile of Manure
................................................................................................200 The Importance of Filtering Actionable Jargon Into Buckets
.....................................................202 Striking it Rich, or At Least Striking It Profitable
.......................................................................204 Outsourced Outside The Box
.......................................................................................................206 Year-End Closeout Thoughts
.......................................................................................................208 Primary Lessons, And Secondary Ones Too
................................................................................210 2008 Chasing a Moving Target
.............................................................................................................212 Obamarketing
..............................................................................................................................214 Some Free Thinking
.....................................................................................................................216 Where Adweek Meets Businessweek
..........................................................................................218 When Weird Works
......................................................................................................................220 Digitally Divided We Stand
.........................................................................................................222 Back to the Future of the Past
......................................................................................................224 Interactive Agencies and Passive Mentalities
..............................................................................226 The Defense of the Offensive
......................................................................................................228 The Loyal Treatment
....................................................................................................................230 Cutting Off a Campaign’s Legs
...................................................................................................232 Read This or Else
.........................................................................................................................234 From Wasilla to Madison Avenue
................................................................................................236 The War On Talent
.......................................................................................................................238 A Cheap High and New Lows
.....................................................................................................240 The Fantasy of Reality-Based Advertising
..................................................................................242 2009 The Advertising Industry Stimulus Package
................................................................................244 ROI: Advertising’s Dirty Four-Letter Word
................................................................................246 Why Asking May Be the Answer

Couples Counseling for the Agency-Client Relationship
............................................................250 Read Globally, Be Pissed Locally
...............................................................................................252 Nothing is Dead, So Let’s Bury that Idea
....................................................................................254 The Path To Empathy
..................................................................................................................256 But Wait, There Really is More
...................................................................................................258 Are You Smarter Than An Ad Student?
.......................................................................................260 Wherever You Go, There You Advertise
......................................................................................262 Brands and Stands
.......................................................................................................................264 Life is Not a Two-Page Visual Solution Spread
..........................................................................266 Capitalism: An Advertising Story
................................................................................................268 From Cliff to the Abyss
...............................................................................................................270 Giving the Usual Routine the Boot
..............................................................................................272 In Ad We Trust
.............................................................................................................................274 Tiger, A Little Tail, and the Marketing Beast
...............................................................................276 2010 Houston, We Might Could Have a Problem
................................................................................278 Thirsting for Originality
..............................................................................................................280 The Bigness of Small, Powerful Targets
.....................................................................................282 Your Attention, Please -- If You Can Spare Any
..........................................................................284 Brand Building, Now 30 Percent Off
..........................................................................................286 Spilling the Brand Promise
..........................................................................................................288 Tracking the Rise of Tracking
.....................................................................................................290 The Irregularity of Regulating the Ad Biz
...................................................................................292 News You Might Not Want to Use
...............................................................................................294 More Advertising Needs to Smell Like Fun
................................................................................296 Can One Agency Really Do It All for a Client?
..........................................................................298 Happiness in Advertising? Now That’s an Idea Worth Counting
................................................300 It’s Still the Economy, Stupid -- So We Need to be Smarter
.......................................................302 Looking for Transparency in Marketing? Sorry, There’s Nothing There
....................................304 Want Less Government? Then You Might Get Less Advertising
................................................306 Surely, Ads Can Still Influence Popular Culture

Branding. Religion. Censorship. Office politics. Global politics. Sexual politics. Good ads. Bad ads. Ageism. Sexism. Racism. Art. Science. ROI. CRM. BS. CYA.
Think of a topic related to advertising. Chances are you’ll find it in here. I started writing this column on TalentZoo.com in 2002. And since then, I’ve always been the first to tackle controversial, newsworthy and provocative issues that advertising professionals confront on a daily basis but rarely discuss. Why? Because I believe that advertising, and the ad industry in general, suffers because of the cumulative effect of thousands of dimwitted decisions made every day. I’ve witnessed quite a lot of good advertising business practices. But I’ve also witnessed quite a lot of dysfunction. And it’s healthy to talk about both of those. Advertising is a business based on communication, yet so often ad agencies do a poor job with their own internal communication. Advertising agencies believe they are the “stewards” of their clients’ brands, yet advertising agencies do a lousy job managing their own brands. These are just a couple of the numerous ironies and idiosyncrasies of the ad industry. Most editorials written by advertising’s so-called “creative superstars” generally lapse into "let's fight and push our clients to break the mold" pseudo-inspirational bullshit. If it was that easy to create and sell great work, the One Show annual would be 5000 pages long. So I decided there was a need to question everything about the way the ad industry conducts business. In my columns, I ask tough questions. I don't claim to have all the answers, and I don’t think anyone else does, either. But I’m happy to be the one who starts the conversation. I possess the ability to see and understand how even the smallest details comprise the big picture. That’s why I call my column “View From the Cheap Seats.” I’ve heard from hundreds of people who appreciate what I write. I hope you enjoy reading these columns. And because I believe in the power of constructive communication and feedback, please let me know what you think. Send your comments to dgoldg@mindspring.com.
© 2002-2011 by Dan Goldgeier. All rights reserved. Articles contained herein originally appeared on TalentZoo.com and have been reproduced with permission from Talent Zoo Inc. Please feel free to make photocopies of the contents of this publication and tack up favorite columns on your cubicle wall. Just don’t sell this book to some dude in SoHo who’s peddling movie scripts and bootleg DVD’s from a card table. Wow, you’ve read this far? Amazing. Who says nobody reads body copy anymore?


My Client, The Bait-and-Switch Sleazebags
Why would honest agency people work for dishonest clients? All advertising people eventually own up to a certain amount of self-loathing about the ad business. Hucksters, whores, sellouts--we question whether the world really needs this advertising shit. For the most part though, ad people perform a service that helps clients and greases the wheels of capitalism and hey, capitalism is a good thing. But what happens when we work on something that makes us truly loathe the ad business? I started thinking about that question once when I worked on a particular project. Not to get into specifics, but my clients were truly bait-and-switch con artists. They (with my copywriting help) wanted to advertise a service for a certain price. Then they admitted to me that 90% of the time, customers pay 4 times as much for the work if it’s done properly. In other words, I had to promote a $100 deal that that usually ended up costing $400. All this to a blue-collar target audience who needed to keep their hard-earned money. The whole assignment made me want to puke. Okay, fine, these people had a history of working with my agency, no big deal, I just did the work and kept my mouth shut. Then, poking around the Internet one day, I did a search on this company and discovered they had been profiled on a weekly newsmagazine show and investigated by the Better Business Bureau in several states for deceptive practices. To make matters worse, my clients really were not nice people. The account represented only a tiny sliver of our agency's billings but consumed huge amounts of time because they were so high-maintenance and demanding. The account was unprofitable, and the creative was awful, too. I wish I had the power to tell this client to take a flying leap, but I didn't. I was just a lowly CW and there’d be hell to pay if I actually spoke the truth. I couldn't understand why my boss ever gave this client the time of day. Why he never told them that running deceptive ads was a horrible idea that, while it might drive short-term traffic, would kill them in the long run. Why he never pointed out that brand loyalty erodes when they continually screw their customers. No, he just went along with all of it--even though our agency would do just fine without them. Did this mean our agency was as scummy as our clients? Clients like these are all over the place. Agencies, too. As I found out, even legitimate, honest ad agencies run by honest people are all too happy to service the business. But as professionals, we need to draw a distinction between puffed-up language and dishonest claims. Too often, we know when our clients want to cross the line yet we’re reluctant to call them on it or suggest a higher road. Is this why so much advertising stinks? Is this why consumers have such a low regard for advertising and the people who make it?

All the truly good work our industry does gets neutralized in the face of crap like bait-and-switch advertising. Regrettably, faced with my own bait-and-switch client, I didn’t do shit. Maybe I won’t do shit next time either, or maybe I’ll take a stand. Maybe now is a good time to begin taking a stand against clients that promote their products and services with deceptive marketing. Who’s with me?

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 9


Why Few People Respect Advertising in the Morning
(Or any other time of day) As an industry that assaults the public with unwelcome messages, advertising has a responsibility to do more than just make, or take, money. So, when I see a high-profile campaign that sucks, it really pisses me off because everyone sees the greed and shallowness of the ad industry. The consequences are harmful when a high profile campaign misses the mark so widely. I’ll pick one example. You’ve all seen the latest anti-drug ads or at least you’ve heard about them. Teenagers saying overly dramatic soundbites like, “I helped kidnap a Columbian judge” or “I helped slaughter a Venezuelan family.” You’re supposed to believe these teens are somewhat responsible for the treacherous state of today’s world just because they smoked pot or popped Ecstasy. Give me a fuckin’ break. I’m not going to spew a long-winded political diatribe on the subject. This column isn’t “Hardball.” No matter what I think about the war on drugs or the war on terrorism, the fact remains this ad campaign is an untruthful, irrelevant, giant steaming pile of crap. However, I’m willing to be a good, compliant American. If the Government’s new ad strategy involves using the threat of terrorism to fix our nation’s ills, I’m on board. In fact, I’ve even concepted the second round of the campaign. Here’s my thinking and the execution: -What has funded our recent terrorism more than drug money? America’s dependence on oil. -Who in America uses the most oil? Folks who drive SUV’s and minivans. -Who drives SUV’s and minivans? Soccer moms. So I say the next batch of ads feature soccer moms behind the wheel of their Expeditions and Land Rovers, saying their gas-guzzling vehicles encourage terrorism and worldwide carnage. Now, why won’t you see those ads? Simple. Soccer moms vote. Teenagers don’t.

The current ads point fingers at teenagers, a group of people who don’t have a registered voice to talk back, and it’s a cop-out to lay the terrorist problem at their feet. Yes, the anti-drug campaign is controversial. It’s being talked about. Fine. Stopping terrorism and drug use by linking the two won’t put a dent in either. Good advertising has at least a nugget of truth, believability, or entertainment. The anti-drug spots fail on all three accounts. I picked this campaign because it isn’t a Macaroni & Cheese or feminine hygiene account. We expect those categories to be filled with bad work. I don’t intend to piss on this one campaign and the campaign’s creators. Simply put, I want to illustrate that bad thinking on a high-profile account in a public servicetype category like this is truly harmful to the advertising industry. Admittedly, I feel slightly sorry for the ad folks who worked on the campaign. I know it sucks to work from a ridiculous creative brief, having done it many times myself. Plus, the client is the Government. Uncle Sam is well-stocked with guns and search warrants. What are you gonna do, look your powerful client in the eye and tell them they’re wrong? Would your agency (or any agency, for that matter) turn down lucrative government cash on principle alone? I will venture a guess that most ad professionals see right through public service campaigns that do nothing to truly serve the public. Ad people have a knack for detecting bullshit even while we are slinging it. If we as ad professionals don’t believe it, why do we think millions of people will believe it? Recently, the outgoing Chairman of the Board of Directors of the 4A’s said that the general public doesn't respect the ad industry "as much as they should." Well, duh. I think the anti-drug campaign is a high-profile example of why. Advertising can be a powerful tool to advance businesses, organizations and certainly causes. Advancing those entities successfully means strategic thinking and execution that comes from an honest place. It’s not too late to maintain some credibility of the craft of advertising. First, however, we need to stop whoring ourselves to anyone who waves a buck in our face, and then ask to be respected.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 11


Are You Targeting Me? Are You Targeting ME?
As long as they don’t know too much about me, I'm all for 1-to-1 marketing Someone in the ad business recently told me, "In a few years, all marketing will be direct marketing." I think that's a likely proposition, and a very scary one. Selling a client on things like CRM and one-on-one marketing is easy. Clients salivate when you mention services that “add value,” and those services tend not to involve breakthrough creative ideas. Clients are attracted to any rational way to justify their companies’ marketing expenses to their boss. They hunt for quantifiable results wherever they can find them, and they're quick to value data over mass marketing. Most of us are familiar with direct marketing in the classic sense. Publishers’ Clearing House. Ron Popeil’s Spray-on Hair. Telemarketing calls at dinner. However, the notion of creating a one-to-one relationship with every customer is slowly creeping into every segment of marketing, and taking shape in new ugly ways. So far, I've been resisting grocery stores' so-called "loyalty cards." It's really not loyalty--more of a Pavlovian method of jacking up prices and lowering them again the next week. The hope is consumers will be attracted to weekly sale prices they can only attain by using their handy loyalty card. This perceived “savings” supposedly increases store loyalty. But true brand loyalty lies in the trust a consumer places in a brand. I don’t trust these cards, so these stores sure as hell don't have loyalty from me. If I applied for a “loyalty card,” I’d need to supply my name, address, phone number and other personal info. The card would have a unique ID strip to identify me when I buy something. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but I thought of a scenario that doesn't seem too far-fetched to me. If I go in and buy Twinkies, cigarettes, and beer every week, they know. What if my HMO found out about my slovenly purchases? Would I get a "lazy bastard" surcharge on my monthly premiums? Could an insurance company deny me health care coverage altogether until I start buying rice cakes and bottled water? Yuck! Even drugstore chains are introducing loyalty cards. Can personal hygiene habits be tracked? That's even scarier. Maybe technology lacks the sophistication to link people directly to the merchandise they bought. How do I know that? I don't. There’s no telling what information is being collected and how it’s being used.

What would happen if a grocery store chain went out of business and sold its customer database to someone else? Sounds to me like that’s a more valuable asset than the shelving and freezers. Every week a news story appears about our increasingly tracked lives. A certain mega gigantic software company can track documents written on its software. TV recording devices make note of what you watch. Websites record where you’ve surfed. Even courts can subpoena bookstore purchases to find out what you read. Every day, databases around the world collect more and more information about us without our direct consent. Although much of our industry embraces these marketing techniques, I’m confident it will come back to haunt us. The public may not revolt against marketers in protest, but as consumers ourselves, each one of us will face a day when we realize someone out there knows too much about our habits. The ad industry always struggles with the battle of art vs. commerce. We know that the ad business will always be an inexact science, and there’s no precise method of predicting consumer behavior. The pursuit of data enhances our capabilities, and yes, it often adds value to our services. But at what price? Have we entered an era where the only way the ad industry can increase its value to our clients is to resort to Big Brother tactics? As an industry, we have responsibilities to the public as well as our clients. Just because technology allows us to track this stuff, does that mean we should? We’ll never again see an area where a simple TV or print campaign is all a brand needs. Would our industry ever decide that certain one-to-one marketing techniques and research methods should be off-limits? I wonder if it’s too late to have that discussion. If it isn’t too late, well, I’m here, and I like Cheez Doodles. Or did you already know that?

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 13


I Got Your Account Planning Right Here, Pal
Do we really wanna know what consumers think? Admit it: whenever you tell someone you work in advertising, they turn into an instant critic. At a family gathering last year, my uncle came up to me and started complaining about commercials. In this case, he was bitching about a couple of Wieden and Kennedy’s Miller High Life spots. We didn’t have a long conversation. Me: “Do you drink beer?” My Uncle (who’s about 60): “No.” Me: “Then what do you care?” Sure, I could have talked his ear off about target audiences, the advantage of entertaining ads, the lack of USPs in beer advertising, but I would have been wasting my time. My uncle wouldn’t care, he only knows he doesn’t like/get/understand the ad, and “how can a commercial like that possibly sell beer?” Wait a minute. Didn’t the Miller High Life campaign win awards? That means it MUST be brilliant, right? How come my uncle doesn’t recognize that brilliance? If I have to try and defend award-winning spots to people, I will definitely have trouble defending the real crappy ones. What bothers me is I know my uncle is not an anomaly. A lot of “breakthrough creative” goes over consumers’ heads. Not because they’re the wrong target for the ad, or because they’re stupid. Consumers just don’t analyze advertising the same way ad professionals incessantly do. Ad people sweat the details most folks don’t notice. But often times, it falls on deaf ears: I had someone tell me once, “I’ve never seen an ad that made me buy anything.” And then she drove off, to Pottery Barn, in her Lexus, stopping at Starbucks along the way. You know people like this, right? We ad pros have convinced ourselves that the kind of advertising consumers say they respond to in a survey or focus group does not always correlate to a purchase. It’s an ever-so-subtle way of thinking we know what’s best for consumers. In order to bridge the gap between what people say and what people do, we’ve invented all sorts of methods to get “inside consumers’ heads.” My question is: Do we really want to know what’s in there?

For all the talk about understanding our audience and identifying with their lifestyles, why don’t we get some of them to judge award shows? Boy you’ll get a wake up call then. Let them get in a room with all the work spread out on long tables. Pump them with coffee and let their eyes glaze over. Let’s see what they come up with. Who would take home Best of Show at a People’s Choice advertising award show—the AFLAC duck? The 1800-COLLECT commercial with Carrot Top? The Dell ads with that punk kid? (Actually it might be those truly funny Bud Light “Real Men of Genius” radio spots—I’ve heard many non-ad people rave about them. Is there anyone on the planet that dislikes those?) We’re living in a time where clients are trying to maximize the effectiveness of their advertising dollars, and clients don’t correlate effectiveness with what ad people deem to be creativity. Advertising, therefore, has become more pervasive and more ubiquitous. We’ve turned up the volume to 11, but it’s the same old song. Is that what consumers, like my uncle, want? I would’ve asked him, but by then I’d had a few too many Miller High Lifes. Hey, I’m trying my best to consume the products of One Show winners. It’s the least I can do.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 15


I’m Not Lying To You Right Now
Did corporate America learn the art of lying from advertising?

The last few weeks have been rough. See, I’m a WorldCom shareholder. Or, uh, I was. And I’m pissed. Some people need to go to jail. Hell, I want to make a citizens’ arrest. WorldCom is only the latest in a long line of corporate clusterfucks. Seems that many executives think it’s perfectly fine to lie straight-faced to the media, stockholders, customers, and most importantly, their employees. What MBA program teaches that lying is an acceptable practice? If profit and greed were the motives for all this illegal activity, then the executives who made these decisions were simply in pursuit of serious wealth. More wealth than anyone really needs, which I wouldn’t ordinarily have a problem with. Except in this case, screwing over other people in pursuit of this wealth wasn’t an obstacle. Which led me to think: Did the advertising industry legitimize lying for the rest of the country? Any student of advertising knows that back in the early days, stinky breath, B. O., and lifeless hair were all touted as sure tickets to living a life without friends and no chance of ever getting laid. (Those facts haven’t changed, but it really is a little subtler now). Over the years, however, the ad industry upped the ante. Advertising promotes the good life. Nicer homes, nicer cars, nicer stereos, nicer wrinkle-free faces, etc. It didn't matter if a person couldn't afford the lifestyle, that's what credit cards and second mortgages were for. But corporate executives had other methods of acquiring wealth: cooking the books, ludicrous stock option packages and golden parachutes. It’s possible the corporate thievery and greed we're reading about these days have been perpetrated by people who were hell-bent on living the lifestyle that advertising told them was possible. I really hope advertising isn’t the root cause of the current malaise. I like to believe that advertising serves a good and valuable service in a capitalistic society. We send the messages, but we don’t coerce people to take action. If a person has a fundamental sense of right and wrong, and some self-control, no amount of advertising can make someone dishonest in the pursuit of wealth or nicer goods. Reading the headlines, however, makes me wonder if anyone has self-control these days. Our actions have come back to haunt us. The ad industry is in a deep recession because we’re now on the ass end of a boom our marketing imagery helped create.

As a society, do we need to pull back on the relentless pursuit of more and better stuff? Can advertising agencies and clients survive a change like that? Or are we resigned to a culture of relentless consumption and greed? The problem is that the more drastic the economic situation is and the tighter competition gets, the more marketers will do to skirt the rules to sell as much as possible. As a result, the fine print gets longer and the little white lies get bigger. To promote the corporate image, companies will pass themselves off as healthier, more viable businesses than they really are. We can find a middle ground. I believe the advertising industry can promote its clients’ products in an engaging, informative way without causing consumers to overextend themselves. I believe corporations can market themselves and pursue their profit motives without doing it at the expense of the rest of the population. Of course, I also believed WorldCom stock was a good investment.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 17


This Agency's For You
The industry’s sucking wind--maybe advertising agencies should try advertising Agencies are cutting costs. Cutting people. Freezing salaries. Hocking the foosball tables. Getting rid of the free bagels. All of which are symptoms of a bigger problem. Every week, a new article appears about how advertising is dying or becoming irrelevant. In general, the industry can’t seem to stop the slide. Most agencies do good work for clients, but that message isn’t getting out. So why aren’t ad agencies promoting themselves by advertising? Besides the cutesy masturbatory ads you see in Creativity magazine or a local awards show annual, you never really see ads for ad agencies, do you? I actually saw an agency in Texas advertise itself. The shop took out full-page ads in a slick regional magazine. One had a photo of a bull in it with the line “Great ads without the bull.” I think another one had a donkey with the line “kick ass advertising.” I know, I know, but they get an A for effort in my book. At least someone’s out there doin’ it. This agency kept up the selfpromotion for a long time, too—every month was a new ad. Then I read recently that they had to lay a few people off. You’ll never see advertising agencies advertise themselves often. Is there a secret fear that advertising doesn’t work, so agencies don’t ingest their own medicine? Can agencies simply not afford the media? I would say “no” to both those questions. Here’s the real reason why you won’t see ads for agencies: creating those ads would be the most politically charged, fucked-up assignment anyone ever worked on. Donating a kidney would be a more pleasurable experience. Most agencies sound alike in their self-promotion materials. Want proof? Look at the mission statements you see on agency web sites: “We’re passionate about the power of creative ideas to get business-building results for our marketing partners.” Or some shit like that. I’ve found that most people in agency management don’t have a vision for their business. (And no, making a shitload of money and screwing employees in the process doesn’t count as a “vision.”) And the fish rots from the head down. Without a point of differentiation, agency self-promotion efforts devolve into the very kind of advertising we loathe-- full of non-offensive double-talk and empty platitudes.

If you filled out a creative brief to sell your agency as a brand, what would it say? And what kind of creative work would result? Until ad agencies get better at building their own brands--promoting their own services, defining what they stand for, and defending their point-of-view and their work, clients will find other ways to spend their marketing dollars. After all, brands either live up to their promises, or they die. Right?

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 19


The Creative Teamsters
What if advertising people had a union? As a baseball fan, I get really sickened at the prospect of yet another players’ strike. Then I get really intrigued at the same time. If baseball players, actors, and screenwriters can form unions, why can’t advertising professionals? Advertising doesn’t require heavy lifting, and unless your boss has an X-ACTO knife fetish or full-time PMS the work isn’t dangerous, but our industry struggles with all the hot button issues that unions have traditionally tackled: job security, hours, benefit cutbacks, blatant age and sex discrimination, fill-in-yourgripe here. Me, I’ve written TV and radio campaigns that were so effective they were still being aired long after I’d left the agencies I wrote them for, with not an extra penny or drop of credit to show for the effort. If I had been a union VO talent on those spots instead of the copywriter, I might have been more properly compensated. Let’s also address the current state of staffing in the ad business today. Nothing is more pathetic than ad people who blurt out “I’m slammed” when you ask them how they’re doing. Seems that nobody has the means to hire additional help, yet “slammed” is a sorry-ass way to live no matter what kind of work you’re doing for a living. So what if we all did something about the industry’s current sorry state of affairs, like unionize and strike? A strike would test the notion of how much impact a “superstar” employee has on the end product, how interchangeable ad pros really might be, and how much of a vendor-like commodity advertising is. Just imagine, if you will, an advertising creatives’ strike. While ad people are off picketing (or hanging out at the bar or Starbucks), agency owners and holding company executives could hire scabs. Maybe the scabs would bring back the puns that were so in vogue 20 years ago. (“Makes Pasta Fasta” lives again!!) Maybe every ad would feature dogs, babies and big-ass logos. I imagine the work at Wieden would suffer tremendously, but nothing coming out of Grey would be any worse.

The weird part is, the more I think about an advertising union, the more, uh, anti-American it sounds. I mean, unions seem like such an Industrial Revolution throwback kind of thing, a 20th century solution to a 21st century problem. However, as the ad industry becomes more centrally controlled, with more work being done by less people, and technology making it virtually impossible not to spend all of one’s waking hours thinking about work, I wonder what the solution might be. Two high-profile books coming out soon are predicting “the fall” and “the end” of advertising. Well, maybe some radical thinking could save the business. Although Hollywood no longer employs the “studio system” that kept people bound for years, the screenwriters, actors, directors, and other groups still receive some form of protection for their labor. The ad industry loves to compare itself to Hollywood, with our politicized work environments, our “creative superstar” system, and constant art vs. commerce battles. So, why not follow Hollywood’s lead and unionize? Hey, at least we’d have picket signs with killer headlines and art direction.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 21


Hey, Luke, Squeeze This
A plea for some useful advice If I see any of the following phrases again I'm going to scream: "Push the envelope." "Good enough is not good enough." "Tell the client what they need to hear, not what they want to hear." "Get your book together and quit your measly job if you're not getting into CA." I don't fault ad people for the volumes of books and op-ed columns they write to inspire us. I’d just like to see some advice for those of us who spend our days at agencies where greatness is in short supply. At shops struggling to get to “the next level,” which are the majority of agencies, the hurdles to producing great ads are much more fundamental. Recently, I was thumbing through my well-worn copy of Luke Sullivan’s Hey Whipple Squeeze This. It’s a great book. Luke's a genius. I personally just can't seem to use much of his advice. Here are a few of Luke’s tips: “Insist on a tight strategy.” Good one. I’m a big believer in strategic thinking, and on a few occasions, I’ve been allowed to contribute to the process. So what happens when you don’t have a strategy at all, much less a tight one? What should you do when you don’t get a creative brief, and you’re not in a position to change that? Insisting on a tight strategy is futile when "increase sales and increase awareness" is all the insight you get. “Cast and cast and cast.” Luke’s talking about radio here. I love writing radio, and I know that casting is essential. So what do you do when a client wants to record new radio spots, but doesn’t want to pay for union talent. Or pay for non-union talent. He simply looks around the room at the two thin-voiced writers and says “You guys have nice voices. Why don’t you do it?” “If the client says he has three important things to say, tell the account executive the client needs three ads.” In my experience, this tends to go over like a lead balloon. I could tell an AE that all day long,and the AE might be sympathetic, but I’ll still end up with ad that has a snipe on the top, a snipe on the bottom, and a starburst in the corner.

“Don’t let advertising mess up your life.” Well, it’s too late for that, I’m afraid. Sometimes I think the sole purpose of advertising is to mess up people’s lives. In a perfect world, we could all throw out a choice Luke Sullivan, David Ogilvy, or Bill Bernbach bons mots and our fellow co-workers and clients would instantly see the light of day. But the world isn’t perfect. There’s a legion of ad professionals who aren’t doing two-page spreads with near-invisible logos. Who only have $20,000 to do a TV commercial. Who have clients that would rather art direct or rewrite an ad than approve one. Who work in agencies that are understaffed or improperly staffed, which compromises strategic thinking, planning, concepting and execution. Where’s the advice for us? I’ve heard the statement that "90% of all advertising is crap." Lord knows, I’ve done my share. But it’s been my experience that producing “crap” is a group effort, requiring the collective efforts of clients, agency management and staff. I’m only one person, with no power over anything other than this column. How can I overcome the poorly trained yes-men and yes-women who lurk in every facet of the ad making process? Help me, Luke. I need you. Together, we can bring that “crap” percentage down. We should be able to get it to 89% in no time.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 23


The Enemies Down The Hall
Can't the various disciplines all just get along? Even in the year 2002, many agencies keep people of different disciplines isolated from one another. While espousing "integrated communications," we have segregated agencies. Maybe you’ve worked in a shop like that. I have. I'd only been at the agency a week or two when an assignment came in to write headlines for a new campaign consisting of 15 ads or so. So I wrote a bunch of headlines and taped each one to the wall of my office. That way, I'd take a look, get some reaction from my co-workers, and get a sense of which headlines were the strongest. Perfectly normal, or so I thought. Not at this shop. Before me, no one had ever publicly displayed ideas in their gestation stage like I did. I was treated like a sideshow freak. "You really need to decorate your office better," one AE smirked. I'd stumbled into a nether-nether world where no one collaborated and ideas were not shared until it was time to actually present something. Everyone, in every discipline, keeps their cards close to their chest. The distrust runs far and deep. Does your agency keep account service, media, and creative people separated in different parts of your office? Or on different floors? I suggest an agency structured so dysfunctionally runs like a prison. You know, where the white-collar criminals stay separated from child rapists. Physical barriers become mental barriers. I've heard many creative directors say, "Well, if we don't do such-and-such, we'll look bad to account service." As if someone in the agency is keeping score. We couldn't even pitch rough ideas internally without fear of having it killed. Bill Backer once said ideas need "care and feeding." Well, I suppose that means I've worked at the advertising equivalent of an abortion clinic. The "us vs. them" mentality of account service and creative people still exists in many agencies across the country. Hell, at many places, the media people stay even more isolated than the rest of the agency. Terrible. I've always believed that the many of the best creative executions have involved a unique media placement. Knowing when and where an ad will appear, and using that info to custom tailor a message, is a powerful tool. Unfortunately, media people aren't involved in the creative process. And vice versa.

There's no law that says AE's can't write a headline or media people can't think about creative executions. There's no law that says a copywriter can't help write an account plan or a creative brief. Ideas can come from anywhere, and they can be improved by anyone. We all have our respective jobs to do, and areas of expertise. Advertising, however, is a collaborative business. A business where no two products made are alike. In order to be successful, an agency needs to welcome an open free-flow of ideas. Let the bad ideas die on their merits, not because of fear, ego or politics. Stop the infighting. Stop the isolation. Start working together on every project, from the beginning. I believe an ad agency can operate this way and still make money. Besides, we all know who the real enemy is. It's the client. Right?

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 25


“60 Minutes” and a Brilliant Marketing Minute
How Donny Deutsch Made Advertising Relevant Again--For a Moment A few weeks ago, “60 Minutes” ran a segment that focused on network TV and advertising’s perpetual fixation with youthful target audiences. They interviewed Donny Deutsch and also showed some clips from the Mitsubishi campaign. When the segment was over and they went to commercial, guess what the first spot in the break was? Yup —a Mitsubishi spot. Brilliant move, Donny. This media buy might have been a coincidence, but I’m willing to bet it was intentional. Seems to me the audience of “60 Minutes” doesn’t reflect Mitsubishi’s target demographics on an ordinary Sunday. In this case, however, the fit was perfect, and the subject matter of the story put me in the right frame of mind to see the commercial moments later. I use this example because the impression I get is not that Deutsch has savvier media buyers (though they might be) or that Donny Deutsch is a whiz at his own PR (though we all know he is), but that his agency overall is a more creative and effective agency in terms of what they do for their clients. So much talk focuses on why PR is more effective than advertising these days, but ad agencies don’t have to become irrelevant. Perhaps we can learn from Deutsch’s example—an example of why he’s an effective brand steward for Mitsubishi. The fundamental premise of advertising is built on paid airtime or space—agencies and clients control what the message is, who sees the message and when they see the message. Do ad agencies utilize the benefits implied in that premise? Hell no. We have so much control over a brand’s communications, yet most advertising is still dull, irrelevant, and in ever higher quantities that numb the senses. Can one person, or one creative team, one AE, fix this problem one ad at a time? Sure. While we determine how brands should fit into a consumers’ lifestyle, we should also determine how a brand’s advertising more closely matches the media environment. As a creative person, I have always made it a point to find out when and where an ad will appear before I begin concepting, because all information pertaining to an assignment, including media placement, is powerful. I keep all the information in mind so I create a more creative and effective ad.

If I know the ad is going in the sports section, I write an ad relevant to the people who read the sports section. If an ad’s going to air primarily late at night, I write with insomniacs in mind. I thought this logic could be easily applied at smaller agencies where it’s easy for every department to work closely together, and small clients could appreciate the added value of strategic thinking that blends creative, media and PR. Unfortunately, in my experience, small agencies, in particular, seem ill-equipped to implement such a process. Every assignment for a brand fits into The Big Picture. Every point of communication can further build a brand. Any client can benefit from integrated ideas (and in Mitsubishi’s case, sharp thinking and good timing) that make budgets go farther. But many agencies don’t encourage their employees to embrace interdisciplinary thinking. Nor do agencies strongly advocate to their clients the benefits of that approach. In the haste to simply get work out the door, people fail to consider the big picture, big ideas go unrewarded, and our clients’ money gets wasted. Maybe that’s why people are beginning to think advertising has decreasing relevance. Maybe that’s why small ad agencies stay small. Maybe that’s why Deutsch went from a small agency to national prominence in only a few years. So here’s to you, Donny. Your PR stunt, backed with paid advertising, worked on me. Just don’t get a big head because I’m giving you props, okay?

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 27


Advertising For Columbine
The message we send to consumers: Be afraid--be very afraid Okay, I won't make this a movie review, but I recently saw Michael Moore's new movie "Bowling for Columbine." The film is a study of violence in America, and a culture of fear that seems, in part, to be fueled by media hype. It's a great movie, and whether you agree with Moore’s views or tactics, he makes you think. At least he made me think--because advertising, though not a central culprit in the movie, plays a supporting role. Has advertising created fear as the primary reason to buy something? Is preying upon that fear the best method of marketing? As advertisers, can we sell our client's goods and services to an audience that's too scared to buy? Where I live, the nightly local news is a litany of stories about murders, car accidents, robberies, school violence and health alerts. How can an advertiser transition to happy news of "STOREWIDE SAVINGS!" at a commercial break and expect their audience to be receptive? We preach about understanding consumers’ mindsets, but have you ever seen a creative brief that describes a target audience as “scared shitless?” When people are afraid, advertising loses relevance by assuming everything’s OK. Take the recent D.C. sniper shootings. I don't live in the D.C. area, but I really would love to know how gas stations or convenience stores could advertise as if they were conducting business as usual-sending the message of "hey, come in for gas and soda" when people were afraid to get out of their cars. The release of “Bowling for Columbine” couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. In one scene, Moore flashes a montage of reports of the nightly news about everything that we should be concerned about: contaminated food, poisonous snakes, polluted water, killer bees, etc. As if the world was safer and healthier 200 years ago. All the bad news has a cumulative effect. If you believe what you read in the paper or see on TV, the world is a very scary place. Whether the threat is legitimate or imagined, the fear becomes real. And as ad people know, perception is reality. The distorted view becomes the norm. If you’re suddenly afraid to leave your house or pump gas because a random sniper’s on the loose, your abnormal behavior becomes normal.

And advertising preys upon that fear. The solution, we say is to buy more--security systems, fences, child safety seats, bacteria-killing handi wipes—to protect against any threat. This, on top of the daily fears of not appearing sexy enough, smart enough, rich enough, or confident enough in the eyes of friends and neighbors. I think fear is a core tenet of the advertising business. Internally as well as externally. Look at your agency. Are you surrounded by fear? Fear of ideas being rejected, losing clients (who are also fearful), losing jobs, losing money. So the tendency is to fall in line and not make waves. There’s safety in mediocrity. If you speak your mind, or go against the conventional wisdom, you could easily be fired-especially in this economy. Consequently, much of the work panders to the lowest common denominator— fear. If more advertising were life-affirming, and less fear-inducing, would the world around us feel safer? Would the rest of the culture reflect our positive changes? “Bowling for Columbine” doesn’t have the answers, and neither do I. Unfortunately, I don't believe that ad agencies, ad people, the media or consumers are going to stop perpetuating the cycle of fear, because fear sells. That's what scares me the most.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 29


On Killer Books and Hard-Hitting Executions
The bizarre vernacular of the ad industry As a writer, I’m perpetually curious about the power of words. Like any profession, advertising has its own vernacular. However, since we’re in the business of communicating with the general public, I find the language we use internally to be very bizarre. Let me show know you what I mean. “Shop” Ad agencies are commonly referred to as “shops.” This term has an old-world feel, as if ad people were artisans like cobblers or blacksmiths, crafting great ads in our “shop.” But in my experience, clients tend to dictate what they want, and get it exactly how they want it, the way Meg Ryan ordered food in “When Harry Met Sally.” Maybe we should refer to an ad agency not as a “shop,” but as a “diner.” “Killer” Describing any great ad as “killer” always perplexed me. If an ad is a killer, well, does it mean the ad’s “target” would be rendered dead by watching or reading the ad? Are we talking about advertising or quail hunting? Killer diseases are bad. Killer bees are bad. Serial killers like the Son of Sam are bad. Why are killer ads good? “Hard-hitting” I once had a client who continually requested that ads be more “hard-hitting.” This meant inserting more exclamation points, more use of warnings like “DON’T MISS OUT!” and of course, more starbursts and snipes. The result? My ads were hard-hitting, but they weren’t killer. Many clients believe hard-hitting ads work and I think I know why. Ads deemed to be “hard-hitting” leave the audience staggered, but still physically able to buy something. However, an audience killed by “killer” ads is dead and can’t use their credit card. “Executions” In advertising agencies around the world, thousands of unsuspecting, innocentlooking ads are executed every day. An “execution” of an idea means a finished version of the idea. Just like variations of the death penalty, there are many ways to execute an idea, which brings me to a similar term: “Produced” An idea “produced” means that the ad actually appears on-air or in print. Producing an ad means you’ve brought it to life. What confuses me is in some cases, “execute” means “to put to death” while “produce” means “to bring into existence.” In advertising, though, it’s perfectly acceptable to use the two words together, which makes for some bizarre English--more on that later.

“Edgy” Somebody (Dan Wieden I think, but I’m not sure) already addressed this term pretty effectively. He said that when something has an edge, someone is bound to get cut. The moral here is that if you go to present an “edgy” idea to a client, bring some tourniquets. Remember: edgy ideas are not always killer ideas. And if you fall on your sword for an edgy idea, you might be the one who gets killed. Or fired. “Book” This word has a strange dual meaning: It describes both a creative portfolio and, more oddly, a magazine. The first time I heard a Creative Director refer to home improvement magazines as “shelter books” I nearly pissed in my pants from laughing so hard. A term like that sounds ridiculous, but it’s a common usage. If magazines are “books,” what do we call actual hard-bound books? Confused about the way people in your agency talk? Don’t be. Just remember these tips: --Any ad can be executed, but killers are usually executed well. --To “kill” also applies when an ad isn’t going to reach the public. You can have a killer ad killed by a client before you get a chance to execute it. --Killer ads tend to win more industry praise than hard-hitting ads. Especially in your book. --An ad that is produced may not be the best possible execution, and your executions may not be well-produced. --At any moment, your executions may be killed at random by people you’ve never met for reasons that don’t make sense. --If an idea has legs, you may be able to produce many executions for a long time. And putting all those produced killer executions into your book may land you a great gig doing edgy work in a hot shop. Got it? Good. Now let’s all go out and communicate with our audience.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 31


Screw Unto Others…
Religion and Advertising: Two very similar, and sinister, concepts I was setting up my Beanie Baby Jesus nativity scene when it struck me that no one should get too worked up or too surprised about the increasing crass commercialism of the holiday season. In fact, I think Jesus, Moses, Allah and Buddha would all be ad people if they were alive today. What do advertising and religion have to do with one another? Plenty. Advertising and marketing are borrowing basic tenets of religion to increase customer loyalty and sales. Nike created a belief system around its brand. So did Ben and Jerry’s, HarleyDavidson, Saturn-- all established a set of values their brands were based on. On Sunday morning, you can go to church to feel a sense of enlightenment and community. You can also go to Starbucks and feel the same thing. A few years ago, an ad agency declared that “brands are the new religion.” Human beings are tribal beings —joiners at heart. Everyone wants to feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves. If Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc, won’t do the trick, maybe driving a Saturn will. Is it a spiritually empty way to embrace a brand instead of a god? Maybe, maybe not. But advertising has legitimized thinking of brands as having value systems one can believe in. Consequently, many consumers have bought into this. What’s dangerous is that positive messages in both advertising and religion always come with negative implications for disbelievers. You can easily intertwine similar ideas about religion and advertising. I'll do it in the same sentence: If you don’t believe in this deity or buy this product or live this type of lifestyle, then you are damned, you will go to hell, you are not a complete person, you are not sexy or successful, you will never get laid. Simply put, "you are not one of us"—that’s the inherent premise of most fundamentally religious people-or brand-conscious people. Too much belief in a certain religion, or brands that represent status, turn rational decent people into intolerant and critical ones. Don’t believe me? Think back to the cliques you saw in high school—if you didn’t look or dress a certain way, boy you’d get a lot of crap.

This isn’t just an abstract concept, it affects our daily relationships and the people we work with. Someone who proudly preaches "I'm a Christian" and someone who says "I only date people who wear Prada" share the same holier-than-thou attitude, and look down upon those who don't. Think back: Did you ever have a client tell you to do an ad based on the message, "our product is the best"? You’re not really given a solid reason why that product is the best--it just is. Myopic clients believe in the basic superiority of their product--no matter what the truth is. That's also what each religion believes about itself. We, as a society, prefer believers. Take the flip side: In mainstream America, people who don’t believe in organized religion and people who encourage others not to buy stuff or conserve resources are treated like outcasts and pariahs. Both religion and advertising risk losing credibility. The perception is out there that they are responsible for badness as well as goodness. While unwavering belief in a religion contributes to the destruction of certain groups of people, mass consumption contributes to the destruction of the earth's resources. I know, it's a heavy topic. It's just what I think about when I get stuck in traffic on the way to the mall.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 33


This Column is Gold, Baby
Your guide to entering awards shows Grab the spray mount! Fire up the interns! It’s awards show entry time again. You’ve got forms to fill out and ads to trim. What’s that you say? You didn’t produce any worthy ads last year? Don’t fret. I’m here to help. There’s always a decent percentage of authentic, truly good work that wins. But here are some tips for the rest of us who don’t work on stuff like that: Get your Creative Director to be a judge in the show. Your agency will be guaranteed to win a few awards just as a quid pro quo. If your CD can’t be a judge, then volunteer to do the insidead-joke “call for entries” piece. That always gets at least a merit award. If you went to a portfolio school, chances are you did a whacked out, visual solution, two-page spread for a product that doesn’t need to advertise—like say, the “Connect Four” board game or marshmallows. You can enter ads like that in the real world. Just credit your agency as being located in Singapore, Malaysia, or South Africa. Don’t enter any ads with store locations, phone numbers or contact info to get more information. That’s all extraneous and never gets read. Besides, consumers don’t need that stuff--the logo is all they need to go find the brand and buy the product. No body copy should be longer than two sentence, unless it’s a 400 word treatise on the centuries’ old tradition of hand-crafted Norwegian truffles. Stencil something on the sidewalk outside your agency and take a picture of it. That’s your "Guerrilla Marketing" entry. Don’t submit ads for cigar bars, hot sauce, or sex toy shops. They’re too easy. But organic dog food stores, discount coffin warehouses, and lesbian bed-and-breakfasts are all fair game. In every awards show, there’s always one good carnivore-oriented steakhouse or BBQ restaurant campaign. Give it a whirl. All newspaper ads must be four-color, full-page, and have minimal copy. Just like all newspaper ads are, right? Judges respond to brand names. Wanna do a Nike ad? Wanna do a Miller Lite ad? No problem— instead of putting the brand logo in the corner, just stick in the name and phone number of a local store where they sell those products—that’s your real client.

It doesn’t matter what your ad’s target audience really is—ads that speak to older or less affluent or small-town audiences never win awards. At awards show time, your audience is a group of 38 year-old white guys (and a token woman) wearing lots of black and acting hipper-than-thou. Concept your ads accordingly. (There is a caveat, however: Be leery of anyone in your agency who walks down the hall with a tissue comp saying, “This ad is a gold winner” or anyone who evaluates ad concepts based on “What would show judges think of this?” That’s a sure sign of a loser—in more ways than one.) So there you have it. Good luck, and have a good time. By the way, if you take me up on the discount coffin warehouse idea, be sure to ask ‘em if they sell coffins big enough to fit you and all your awards. Remember, the only true measure of a person in the ad business is how many awards they’ve won, and only gold pencil winners go to heaven.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 35


Chapter 11 in The Book Of Advertising
Is a client's business failure our fault? I read recently where a former client of mine filed for bankruptcy. Among the reasons cited was the failure of its recent "repositioning and advertising" efforts. This client I worked on was a household name, having been in business for 50 years. The client had just come to my agency looking for "fresh thinking," in spite of the fact that this client's business model was truly dated, and in danger of facing extinction. While the work I did for this now-bankrupt client won an award, it was a mere drop in the bucket of this company's marketing efforts. Still, I was surprised about the bankruptcy, and a little sad. Companies go out of business all the time, but this one was a new experience for me. During the dot-com boom of the late 90's, I was working on low-tech old-school clients, so my portfolio is not littered with campaigns for bad business ideas like justgolftees.com. Still, if ad agencies aim to be "marketing partners" and not merely vendors, do we share the blame in our clients' business failures? You can't attribute a cataclysmic clusterfuck like Enron to its advertising, but there are scores of other clients who advertise and are dependent on that advertising to increase sales, awareness, and keep their businesses flush with cash. Increasingly, agency compensation is being tied to a client's sales goals. So exactly what is the agency's responsibility and/or fault if the figures don't come out well? What's beyond our control? Agencies are naturally wary of performance-based compensation, because there's just no exact method of determining an ad campaign's influence on sales. Whether a campaign works or not, the fact remains ad agencies love to take the credit and hate to take the blame. Agencies love to produce case studies based on a client's increased sales and awareness. Agencies rarely talk about the clients that spiraled downward--or out of business altogether. Successful or not, the fortunes of a client always affect the agency. Certainly, agency principals and account directors hear about it when their clients' businesses aren't doing well. But what about the "rank-and-file" employees of agencies?

If working on one particular client represents most of my average workload (essentially meaning one client pays my salary), do I have a responsibility to not only do great ads, but also care about how their business is doing overall, and help influence their marketing strategy? I have the fantasy that if I had still been working at the agency, knowing what I do about advertising and marketing, I could have been a voice of reason that might have steered this nowbankrupt client back on the right path. (I have other fantasies about me and Catherine Zeta-Jones, but that's another story.) When a large client faces bankruptcy, it is often public knowledge--lately I've been reading about major retailers and airlines that are fighting for survival. These companies need more than great ads to fix their problems. I don't think ad agencies should be blind to this. By incorporating business-building ideas into our brand-building ideas, we may well boost the image of the ad business. There has to be a way to build this into an agency's ad making process. If we allow our clients to spiral into bankruptcy, we'll find ourselves losing clients, and becoming creatively bankrupt as well.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 37


Will we adjust advertising standards for an aging population? I read recently about a group of ad industry veterans who started a new agency to do the style of creative work they used to do—15 and 25 years ago. It was hard to read the profiles and quotes of these dudes without hearing Grandpa Simpson’s voice in my head—“And in those days, type was hand kerned…” For a moment, I thought it was a silly idea—but then I realized these guys might be just the ones to fill a niche that’s becoming larger by the minute. Americans are living longer, and we’re at a point where senior citizens (and those about to be) are everywhere, and while they still count their change slowly and carefully at the checkout counter, they’ve got more change to spend then ever before. The reality will hit us all-just because the baby boom generation is getting older, their vanity won’t make them healthier. They’ll need their Metamucil and their adult diapers and their reading glasses and their sensible shoes. Will advertising adjust? How will our industry sell these products to an aging population still obsessed with youth? For most people, tastes in pop culture are formed in, well, their formative years—teens and early twenties. It’s not that they won’t change and experiment with new brands— but there’s less impulsiveness. Brands don’t define older people in quite the same way brands define teenage life. However, the ad industry will still have to find ways to position brands to appeal to an ever-older audience. An even bigger dilemma looms. Stylistically, much of today’s “edgy” advertising may not resonate. These consumers will seek out what’s familiar. MTV style quick editing doesn’t work for generations that weren’t weaned on it. 12-point body copy doesn’t work for aging eyes. Ironic humor? Probably not. It’s possible the disparity between breakthrough creative and marketing effectiveness will get wider and wider. For young creatives (and ad people across all disciplines), bridging the learning gap will take a lot of work-people of Generation X and Generation Y can tell when ads that purport to speak to them don't ring true, and older generations are no different.

It’s no secret that for the most part, long careers in advertising are rare. Will the industry retain more older workers because they understand the needs of this audience or will youth prevail like always? I suppose if there's enough profit in a certain type of ad technique or market segment, the ad industry will chase it full force. That’s the one thing that never changes.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 39


Leaping to The Dark Side
Why aren’t more ad accounts serviced in-house? I once worked on an account where, every week, a new rumor or thinly veiled threat floated around our agency, stating our client wanted to “pull the business” away. We never lost the business, but the fear was always there, affecting everybody. And it’s standard operating procedure in many agencies. Read Adweek or Ad Age, and you’ll constantly see the news: Another day, another agency fired or another account in review. I can’t imagine other professional services face this turnover as much—corporations don’t switch accounting firms or lawyers every 2 years to get a bigger tax refund or lawsuit judgment. With a lack of trust in agency/client relationships, profitability margins of agencies getting ever thinner, and clients reviewing their accounts more and more frequently, problems seem to stay pervasive. It may just be that the traditional agency model doesn’t satisfy the needs of many advertisers. So why don’t more companies set up in-house ad departments? Many companies do have in-house ad departments—particularly retailers. But often times, these departments are for mostly fast-turnaround, unglamorous work. Maybe these companies should consider a department not just for the newspaper inserts or signage—but for the whole shebang. It strikes me as strange when I read about a client that has an in-house ad department, yet calls a review to parcel out the high-profile glory “branding” assignments. It sounds as if the company has no confidence in their own people, and I suppose if I were working in that kind of department I’d be pissed. Setting up an advertising department that is capable of doing high-level creative work would take some effort. There seems to be a stigma for many ad people about the idea of working in-house at a corporation, the implication being they’re not good enough to work at an agency. I believe it can work, though. Would working in a corporate environment inhibit creativity? No more so than working in a bureaucratic ad agency run by fear. Could an in-house agency attract the highest level of talent? If there were sufficient enough high profile assignments, talent would flock there.

Given a little flexibility to be creative, and removing the strains common to so many agency/ client conflicts, the results could be wonderful. Going in-house would eliminate the notion that agencies only look out for their own interests, not the client’s. As long as companies don’t perceive ad agencies as being valuable, they’ll continue to look for alternatives to improve their marketing—be it product placement, branded content, PR or consulting companies. The solution may be right in a client’s own office.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 41


Getting Embedded With the Client
What advertising can learn from a televised war I always take public opinion polls with a grain of salt. But it startled me when, in the first week of the current war, the percentage of people who agreed with the statement “the war is going well” fluctuated DAILY. According to the Pew Research Center, here are the percentages of Americans who agreed that “the war is going very well” during the first week of fighting: Friday 3/21

71% Saturday 3/22

69% Sunday 3/23

52% Monday 3/24

38% Two days of a less-than-rosy outlook sent public opinion spiraling down. The constant stream of war news (and the endless spin of cable news taking heads) and our short attention span led to false expectations of instant victory. I shudder to think how 24/7 news coverage would have affected World War II, when bad news lingered for months at a time. I believe the ad industry can learn a lot from the war coverage and its effects on the public. As advertisers, we are the ones who can shape public opinion for our clients. We have to be the ones to ensure that a brand, at every turn, puts on its best face every day. That means being proactive, especially in the face of forces beyond our control. Public perception is fickle, and advertisers have to prepare for that reality. Every piece of information about a brand contributes to the cumulative effect of perception. A sale can be jeopardized by bad customer service or rude salespeople. A person talking about a bad experience at a store will influence his/her acquaintances. A bad, misguided, insulting ad can turn consumers off for good. What ad agencies also need to accept is that we are ultimately responsible for the consequences of our campaigns once we’ve executed them, and we must define for our clients what constitutes a “successful” campaign.

For every client and every campaign, success is perceived differently. Does your agency effectively manage your clients’ expectations or does your agency promise them the moon and stars? Do your clients get nervous if one ad or one month’s ads don’t work as well as hoped? Are your clients ready to bail on you at the first sight of trouble? Reaching for the panic button is quite common when an ad campaign does not roll out as well as hoped. But look at the war situation--our military didn’t give up after one week, nor were they ever planning on giving up despite the polls I quoted. Adjustments were made because of the enemy’s shifting tactics, not the shifting mood of public back home. If our military leaders take intelligence data and then ultimately make decisions by trusting their instincts, shouldn’t advertising agencies be allowed to do the same thing? I actually heard a retired general on TV this weekend say that war is an art (I guess Sun Tzu was right.) Well, if war can be considered an art, advertising certainly is. No test, simulation, or focus group can adequately predict the effectiveness of a campaign. We should not pretend otherwise. By the time you read this, the war might be close to ending. Or the war could be a long way from over. No doubt, public opinion will continue to shift wildly. However, our leaders are confident that the mission will be a success and right now, that’s what counts. As advertisers, we can learn from our military’s example. As brand stewards, we’re in it for the long haul, and must think long-term. We have to believe we’re doing the right thing for our clients. We need to start with good raw data. We need to formulate a good plan. Most of all, we need to trust our instincts and stick with them. Otherwise, (bad cliché alert) we may win the battle, but we’ll lose the war.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 43


In The Belly Of The Beast
What I learned by spending a few days at Talent Zoo Three weeks ago, I decided to hand-deliver my column to the receiving desk on the 34th Floor of the Talent Zoo Tower. With a rare few days off, and being a little too old for spring break in South Padre Island, I asked if I could hang around a while. As an ad agency employee and sometime job seeker, I wanted to view life from the other side. After signing a confidentiality agreement, as well as enduring a 20 minute interrogation under a bare light bulb (outsiders are treated with suspicion), I was given permission to observe the inner workings of the Talent Zoo empire. I learned a lot. I'd like to share my observations with you. There are a buttload of job seekers and not nearly enough jobs for all of them. Given the state of the economy, that really shouldn't come as a shock. But when you're actually confronted with a constant influx of emails, resumes and books, you see how overwhelming it can get, and how tough the competition for every position truly is.

The only resumes and books that really stand out are the great ones and the really shitty ones.
Being a naturally curious creative guy, I looked through a bunch of books. Most people fall somewhere in the middle between genius and hack. After flipping through 5 books in a row everything looks the same (and for all the non-creatives, all resumes look the same.) Any ads done before 1995 look very dated now. Nearly everyone has a spec campaign or two thrown in, and some are quite obviously spec. Sticking a book in a metal case won't make a difference if the ads suck. Dealing with PDF's, CD-ROMS and online portfolios is a royal pain in the ass. And by the way, there's no 3/4" machine at Talent Zoo, so I'm sure I missed a lot of good (and bad) TV spots.

Everyone thinks they're God's gift to advertising. Every job seeker claims to be hardworking, passionate, and dedicated. Every creative is conceptual, thinks outside the box and is never content with mediocrity. Job seekers love to pile on the positive attributes. Believing in yourself and your abilities is truly important, but listing those qualities on a resume doesn't make a lasting impression.

Everyone thinks they're perfect for every open job. People who are not qualified for a
particular position apply anyway, thinking that a shot in the dark is better than no shot at all. These candidates are easy to spot because their name is constantly recycled, and they're just wasting everybody's time. I noticed one guy had applied for copywriter, art director, creative director, and a traffic position--and was not qualfied for any of them.

Agencies take their sweet time making hiring decisions, and no amount of prodding from Talent Zoo speeds the process along. Calling every two hours won't
help you get anywhere.

Everyone sends emails with grammatical mistakes. Even the copywriters. But some
copywriters send books with grammatical mistakes and ads with greeked body copy, and nothing makes this copywriter cringe more than sophomoric mistakes like those.

Nice people don't always finish first, but they stay at the top of the list. Judging by
the correspondence I sampled, most candidates are pleasant and polite, even if they don't get a job via Talent Zoo. However, some candidates are rude and full of attitude, and everyone at Talent Zoo knows who those candidates are. So play nicely, kids. Not a bad education for a few days of lingering. The staff at Talent Zoo are truly good people who would love to help everyone find a great job, but the law of supply and demand says they can't. So keep that in mind. And don't send them any bribes--it still won't help you land a job any faster. Although a little chocolate never hurts.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 45


Jumping The Shark
Why are some shops hot, cold, or dead? Wells Rich Greene. N.W. Ayer. D’Arcy. And now maybe Bates. All these agencies, at some point in the last 10 years, went from being billion dollar companies to out of business. How does this free-fall happen? Why are some ad agencies able to stay in business for a long time, while others have the half-life of Uranium? I’m certain the people who ran the agencies I just named did not sit down one day and say, “We’re gonna do shitty work, treat our employees like crap and run this place into the ground.” So what happened?? Can we pinpoint any specific times when ad agencies “Jump The Shark?” (If you don’t know what I’m referring to, go to www.jumptheshark.com and then continue reading this column) This phenomenon doesn’t only occur to big behemoth agencies. In my days as an ad school student, I distinctly remember there were some shops, mostly boutiques, everyone talked about. If you were one of the lucky few to land a gig there, you would be handed the keys to the kingdom. These days, some of those shops are long gone, and some are still around and doing good work. But they’re not hot anymore. They’ve been replaced a by a new crop of “It” shops, who possess whatever the “It” factor might be that gets students to drool over them. Did the once-hot shops stop entering awards shows? Did they give up on press releases so you never read about them anymore? Did they take on accounts that lowered their creative standards? Did management changes affect the momentum of the agency? It is true that a shuffle in management personnel can result in a new philosophy, better (or worse) work, and affect the company profile or morale. After all, the fish rots from the head down.

I’m sure you have, as I have, encountered agencies that want to become “the next hot shop.” They want to become gold pencil winners. They want to take the work to the next level. They want to pursue more high-profile, national accounts. All of which is very easy to say, and incredibly hard to do. Invariably, those things rarely happen when a shop’s cultural DNA prevents it. You can’t polish a turd. But there’s always hope, or another open ad assignment, or another great account up for review. That’s why no two days in this business are ever alike. I firmly believe any ad agency, given the right conditions, can improve itself, make more money, grow, do great work, win awards, and be the kind of agency people would kill to work at. Your agency can be one of those agencies. Just make sure your agency never hires Ted McGinley to be the new Creative Director.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 47


Can’t We Just Be Friends?
Dealing with friendly, and unfriendly, co-workers in the ad business I have a good friend who works at an accounting firm. He’s been there for 8 years, and he’s doing pretty well for himself. However, his work life is pretty uneventful. So when I told him about a “liquid” job interview I once went on, he couldn’t believe it. I’m referring to an interview I had with a Creative Director where we spent several hours talking in the office, and several more barhopping later that night. I truly felt that if I wanted to get this job, which I did, I had to match this guy drink for drink to prove we were compatible co-workers. In advertising, the line between personal life and business life gets extremely blurry. So how do you determine the boundaries that are acceptable in your agency, and in your life? Late nights, TV shoots, concepting sessions, client schmoozefests--ad people spend lots of time with each other both in and out of the office. Combine that with a fairly open, casual ideaexchanging business, and you have some tricky situations to negotiate. Can you really be friends with your boss, who can rule over you with an iron hand if he/she chooses? Can you confide in someone who works for you? Can male and female co-workers share time, personal stories and innuendo without the specter of a lawsuit? Some agencies like to promote the fact that they have a “family atmosphere.” Others don’t. I once worked for an agency where a prospective employee came to interview for a media job. She told the president that she valued an agency where the employees were friends. The president said, “Well, I’m not going to be your friend.” Needless to say, the media candidate didn’t want the job after he said that. Agencies are never truly like family, no matter how much you want to think they are. In a business where people move around quite often, your co-workers can be your first, and most vital, social network in an unfamiliar city. But don’t get too attached. Maintaining contacts and personal friendships are important but the impact of a firing, resignation, or layoff can cut off a friendly relationship abruptly and permanently. Were you ever once good friends with a co-worker only to stop talking with that person when one of you left the agency?

Working in the ad business means you have to maneuver around the Bermuda Triangle of office politics, emotional intelligence and the Golden Rule. Oh, and you probably have a life, family, and friends outside the business, too. Some people have the ability to make this juggling act look effortless, while others can’t put their socks on straight with all that pressure. If you have tips on maintaining successful friendships through the choppy waters of the ad business, I’d love to hear them. Sometimes I have been good at it, sometimes I haven’t. By the way, I didn’t get the job after the “liquid interview.” But I did make a friend out of that creative director, and an enemy out of my liver.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 49


Majority to Minority
Are middle-aged white ad guys facing extinction? The year was 1999. The place: Texas. You couldn’t turn on the TV or walk by a newsstand without seeing a certain male Hispanic singer’s face. Everyone was Livin’ La Vida Loca, or knew someone who wanted to be. Everyone, that is, except my hayseed 40 year-old agency Creative Director. “Who’s Ricky Martin?” he asked. I realized that there’s a bigger issue facing our business than just staying in touch with trends. We’re in the middle of a seismic cultural shift. You’ve heard it all before—the face of America is changing, blah blah blah. A report just came out saying that Hispanics now represent America’s largest minority group. And advertisers know they spend lots of money. But our industry still faces a major problem adjusting to demographic shifts. Advertising, and Corporate America in general, remains largely in the control of middle-aged white guys or other conservative people who act like middle-aged white guys. Will the faces in the ad biz ever really reflect America? Will the faces of our clients? For all the talk of the need for diversity, and one-to-one marketing, advertising lumps people into groups. Demographics, psychographics, target audiences, whatever you’d like to call it, we don’t have a grasp on the wide-ranging makeup of our audiences. Once again, it comes down to cash. If your client only has the money for one TV spot, or one photograph in a print ad, what are the odds they’ll want to choose a really fat Tanzanian lesbian couple to portray their typical consumers? (You can tell I’m really not trying to offend anyone…my readership is really low among fat Tanzanian lesbians.) Most likely, clients who need to use people in their ads gravitate toward using a pseudo-diverse looking crowd shot—with at least one African-American, one white, one Hispanic, and one Asian. Or even better, a few who look ethnically vague.

When I see these types of ads, I automatically imagine the conversations held during the casting sessions-where everyone expresses the need to cover all the possible ethnic bases. I bet you can, too. Inevitably though, the efforts look hollow. The reality is we will never truly treat consumers as individuals in our efforts to reach them. It simply costs too much to create a dialogue that’s uniquely relevant to each consumer. So we target just enough different groups to make it cost effective. But even when large clients parcel out portions of their accounts to so-called minority agencies, the creative that gets produced may differ widely from the “general market” creative. Segmenting the messages conflicts with the widely held notion that all communications related to a brand’s need to reflect a singular tone and vision. Ultimately, it may hurt the brand. But advertising will have to find, in both the people entering the industry and the work we produce, an effective way to stay culturally relevant, manage accounts with ever-changing audiences, and still remain profitable. I’m not sure white guys like me will be up to the task. I’m not middle-aged, but I feel the creep of cultural ignorance starting to wash over my brain, which may affect my future in the business. I’ll leave you with one example. As a writer, the gradual incorporation of hip-hop language into everyday media is not something I can ignore for long. 20 years ago, such language was not considered appropriate English. Now, I might have to start writing killuh adz 2 B successful in da biz. And doesn’t that make me sound really white?

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 51


Want consumers to respond? Tell them you’ll leave them alone A couple of weeks ago, I woke up at around 6:00, turned on the news, and learned about the FTC’s new telemarketing “do not call” list. 2 minutes later, I was on the Internet, and signed up. Does it make any sense for a guy who works in advertising to not want to be advertised to? Have I turned my back on my direct marketing brethren? I was not alone. In the first two weeks, 23 million Americans signed up for the “do not call” list. To me, that suggests two things: 1) Direct response marketing works—when consumers directly respond to the idea of NEVER getting telemarketing calls again. 2) The amazing PR blitz behind the list (it was mentioned in every paper and on every newscast) worked like a charm. I was getting three calls a week from a company, I won’t say their name, I’ll just mention their initials— AT&T—trying to get me to sign up for their service. Like surly children clamoring for ice cream, they wouldn’t take no for an answer—time and time again. This kind of marketing is what vexes consumers the most—and makes the entire ad industry look bad. Like junk mail, spam, promotions, and sweepstakes, telemarketing is part of what’s termed “below the line” marketing. Why do they call it “below the line?” Simple—the majority of it tends to be below the line of acceptable taste, class, responsibility, and creativity. Still, every discipline has its staunch defenders. In various interviews, Tim Searcy, Executive Director of the American Teleservices Association, has claimed that this new FTC list is a violation of the First Amendment-and infringes upon commercial free speech rights. And his group is suing the government for that very reason. I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know if he’s got a case. But it’s a piss-poor excuse to justify intrusive marketing that people generally don’t want. And that’s the problem with our industry as we constantly struggle for respect. Just because something is possible doesn’t make it a good idea automatically. Spam is not a good idea. Corporate logos and ads on every inch of public space, Internet pop-up ads, gratuitous product placement, so on and so forth. Many people are sick of this kind of marketing, and when they get an easy chance to stop it, they will.

Most ideas that attempt to “break through the clutter” merely add to the clutter. It seems the only original ideas left in the ad industry involve marketing tricks and techniques that consumers will eventually loathe. If you’re in the position to green light an idea that you as a consumer would rather not receive, simply do one thing: Opt out.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 53


Paging Richard Simmons
Why are some ad agencies still considered soft and flabby? There’s an epidemic of obesity in the advertising world. No, I’m not talking about the media department after a gift-basket filled holiday season. Ad agencies, in particular the large intergalactic ones and conglomerates, have come under scrutiny for their lethargy. This time the accuser was C. J. Fraleigh, Executive Director of Advertising and Marketing at GM. In a recent speech, he described agency conglomerates as “soft and flabby,” which also could describe the handling on my dad’s old Buick Regal. You know things are really fucked up when GM calls you big and slow. So in the latest trend-of the-moment, clients like GM, Coke and Sun Microsystems are parceling out accounts and projects to smaller agencies and boutiques—the same types of agencies who were thought to be facing extinction a few years ago. Remember? The conventional wisdom held that boutiques didn’t have the resources to compete with large, global, integrated agencies. What Fraleigh said doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Holding companies are more concerned with the bottom line than great advertising, because shareholders are in control, not ad people. Plus, agencies large and small have cut their staffs and expenses to the bone. Obviously, agencies want to maximize profits, and clients want to get the most for their money, so where’s the flab? Is there flab in the costs of simultaneously putting 10 creative teams on a TV assignment? The media commissions? The paperwork? Layers of intra-agency approval processes? The free coffee? Maybe the flab is in the executive pay at the holding companies. You know, the folks who’ve never touched an ad in their lives, or at least in decades. The only things integrated in a conglomerate are the payment checks the officers and board of directors collect from their subsidiary agencies. Perhaps Fraleigh woke up and realized that the holding company honchos responsible for the stewardship of his car accounts ride in the backs of limos everywhere they go. I worked in an agency owned by a holding company, and there was plenty of mid-level and senior-level flabbiness walking through the halls every day. So from where I sit, holding company execs make an easy target. But I don’t think they’re the primary problem, because if they were, they wouldn’t last long.

The truth is clients can’t have it both ways—bemoaning the lack of “senior-level” talent in the ad business while refusing to pay their agency enough to keep that talent while nurturing younger talent. The higher up people get on the agency ladder, the less time they’re likely to spend sweating the details of a layout in a print ad, the sound design of TV spot, or the nuances of the media plan for the Des Moines market. But does that mean they’re part of the flab? Later in his speech, Fraleigh borrowed a quote from Linus Pauling, saying, “The best way to have an idea is to have lots of ideas.” Well guess what, having lots of ideas requires lots of people and lots of time to find that elusive great idea clients like Fraleigh want, or say they want. Plus, moving an account from a large, slow agency to a small, fast one doesn’t solve problems automatically. Complex accounts are high-maintenance, requiring lots of resources to be properly serviced. It makes many more man-hours to spend $5 million to implement an alternative or below-the-line marketing idea than it does to produce a TV spot and a media buy worth $5 million. So if layers are eliminated, and work is parceled to smaller, nimbler agencies, will the ideas get bigger and the work get better? Time will tell, but the holding companies aren’t getting any smaller—they’re continuing to gobble up smaller companies even as we speak. I can’t wait to see what GM does if it ditches some of these big agencies. I’m looking forward to all the marketing innovations they’ll spur by demanding efficiency. Knowing GM, it’ll be revolutionary. You know, like taking a Chevy Cavalier, adding leather trim and calling it a Cadillac Cimarron.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 55


Queer Eye for the Ad Guy
What do we do when our clients, or consumers, don’t want to be cool? Essentially, there are two types of people in America: Wal-Mart People and Target People. Odds are, you’re a Target person. Most ad people are. Target has stylish, affordable merchandise in a clean, upscale environment—it’s the perfect place to stock up on knick-knacks, bric-a-brac, and other little necessities of life. In my town, the nearby Wal-Mart is crowded, noisy, cluttered, and full of seemingly shoddy products. Given a choice between the two, I’m inclined to think everyone would prefer shopping at Target. I’d be wrong. According to Fortune Magazine, “Wal-Mart is the nation’s biggest seller of groceries, toys, guns, diamonds, CDs, apparel, dog food, detergent, jewelry, sporting goods, videogames, socks, bedding, and toothpaste — not to mention its biggest film developer, optician, private truck-fleet operator, energy consumer, and real estate developer.” If you’ve never been to Wal-Mart, you need to go. Most people I know hold their noses at the idea of a trip there. If you live in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, or LA, you might not live within 50 miles of one. But I’ll bet your clients go pretty regularly. Why do I mention this? Advertising, and pop culture in general, doesn’t always mirror the reality of mainstream America. Our business is a very insular business. We tend to surround ourselves with other like-minded agency types. We think everyone is young, hip, edgy, trendy—or wants to be. Yes, tastes of the masses have become more sophisticated over the last few decades. It’s true that you can walk into the baseball stadium in Pittsburgh or Cleveland and order sushi. And you can get a cappuccino almost anywhere. But most people still prefer their hot dogs and brats at the ballpark, and McDonald’s still serves more coffee than anyplace else. Yet, our business continues to latch onto trends and assume everyone else does, too. No doubt you’ve seen Bravo’s “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” Or you’ve heard the buzz about it. Basically, 5 swishy guys prance around Manhattan looking for the perfect products to spruce up the appearance and apartment of some poor style-challenged schlub.

There’s a big dose of product placement on the show. As a result, cable audiences across America learn about hip, Manhattan boutiques. We’re exposed to exotic cheeses, obscure hair pomades, and the best tips to make a 300 square foot apartment look like a Eurotrash showplace. In one hour, the radical change of the “straight guy” has been accomplished. Of course, the “after” always looks better than the “before.” You’d think everyone in the country would be motivated to toss out their pink flamingoes and ratty furniture. But in America, not every straight guy has a queer eye. Not every family seeks to upgrade their image. We are a nation of people with diverse tastes, and yes, some of that taste is downright horrible. No amount of queer eyes will ever change that. And no amount of great advertising is likely to change that, either. Which might explain why The One Show or the Clios represent a tiny fraction of all the advertising that gets produced. Plenty of clients don’t want subtle wit in their advertising. Or big words. Or sophisticated thoughts. They just don’t want to be edgy and cool, at least the way our industry, or our awards shows, would define it. In other words, they want Wal-Mart advertising for a Wal-Mart world. I know, I’ve been there. I’ve worked on ads for many products and services that were “family-friendly” (read: conservative and lowbrow.) We did good work, and we pushed the envelope as far as it would go, even though the envelope was always addressed to Main Street, U.S.A. For its intended audience, the work was quite fresh and intelligent— we knew that lack of sophistication did not equal lack of intelligence. Yet I’d show the work to creative directors in bigger cities, and these CD’s often didn’t get it. They’re not part of the audience I wrote for, and they don’t understand how Middle America thinks. But these CD’s could certainly tell me where to stay in Santa Monica the next time I’m on a shoot. We have to confront our own sense of snobbery while maintaining a sense of creative integrity. Otherwise, advertising will become increasingly irrelevant if we continue to talk to ourselves. And it will become increasingly irrelevant if we don’t find ways to talk intelligently to consumers—gently planting new ideas into the heads of people who still desire a comfortable, non-threatening existence. For most of us in the ad business, learning about consumers in Middle America means trotting out to unfamiliar territory. So if you’re looking to get out of your comfort zone, I suggest that you head down to a Wal-Mart in some faceless suburb or small Mellencamp-esque town. Get a look at who American consumers really are. Get a look at what your clients already face. Do it this Sunday--after church, of course.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 57


Just Sue It
Two ad-related lawsuits you need to know about Two major lawsuits concerning the ad industry were in the news this past week. Interestingly, both cases were appealed many times, and one was settled out of court—so there’s no clear-cut conclusions one can draw from these cases. But you’ll no doubt be affected by them. (I’m not a lawyer, I don’t play one on TV, either—so if I don’t have all the facts exactly right, well, don’t get your panties in a wad—remember, in the ad business, perception is reality, and here’s the way I perceive them) #1: Lasky vs. Nike The basic plot: In recent years, Nike has been accused of labor abuses in overseas factories. An activist (Lasky) sued Nike, claming that Nike’s press releases, ads, and responses to defend itself against the allegations were untrue. The question is whether such corporate PR efforts are commercial speech; if proven untrue, those efforts would be considered "false advertising" and therefore not protected speech. If PR is found to be similar to editorial content, it is free speech and protected by the 1st Amendment. California courts agreed with Lasky’s argument, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. Nike settled the case out of court. What scares me about this case is it seems, on the surface, as an attempt to prevent Nike from saying anything, good or bad, about how it makes its shoes or treats its workers. Which means, in effect, a watchdog organization can make all sorts of wild claims about Nike’s sweatshop practices, take out ads against Nike in protest, and the company could not publicly respond without fear of being sued. I’m not defending the right of slimy corporations to defend themselves with more slime, but I do think companies have a right to be heard. I’ve dealt with many clients who were dishonest marketers, if not outright liars. They look upon advertising as a way to lie or perversely twist the truth, not promote a brand. And they should be challenged in the court of public opinion, not a court of law, so consumers get to be judge and jury. Plus, in an age of Enron, WorldCom and the rest, companies need the opportunity to be as forthright and public as possible, without fear of idiotic lawsuits like this. If they’re lying about their practices, they’ll be exposed. Let the companies hang themselves with their own rope. And, it’s good business for corporations to be open about their values. Ben and Jerry’s, REI, Whole Foods-they enjoy a large amount of consumer goodwill and loyalty because of the causes they publicly champion. I suppose this lawsuit could mean consumers wouldn’t know what positive values a company stood for. After all, those kinds of PR efforts could also be deemed "false advertising."

#2: The Taco Bell Chihuahua Case Two marketing executives sued Taco Bell, saying they originally presented an idea to the company which featured a Chihuahua as a spokesman...er, dog. After several rounds of negotiations with Taco Bell, the idea was scrapped. Two years later, along came Chiat/Day and the "Yo Quiero Taco Bell" campaign, which I’m sure you all remember. Taco Bell defended the suit by maintaining the guys at Chiat who did the campaign came up with the concept entirely on their own, which is most definitely plausible. It’s not so ingenious a concept (Mexican food=Mexican dog) that two parties couldn’t have independently thought of it. The difference is: the Chiat guys sold it, produced it, got the credit, the glory, and the money. Until last week, that is, when a jury awarded the two men $30 million, saying that Taco Bell did indeed steal the Chihuahua character. That’s a buttload of burritos and gorditas. (As I write this, the story is still being played out. Now Taco Bell is even suing to get Chiat/Day, no longer their agency, to pay the $30 million. Talk about passing the buck.) Man, if there’s a precedent being set here, I’m on the wrong end of the ad business. I’ve had a number of ads in my book that bore more than a passing resemblance to ads that were produced years later by other agencies. I’ve sent copies of my book to dozens of people at dozens of agencies, so I have no clue if anyone saw an idea of mine that influenced them to produce similar ads at some point. I’m somewhat of a conspiracy theorist, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened. But I’m not suing anyone. Copycat ads are everywhere—no idea is truly original anymore. The difference is that some people just execute them better, produce them slicker, or with bigger budgets, get in Adweek and Creativity with PR more often, or win more awards with the campaign. In advertising, ideas are floated constantly. What sounds like a great idea one day sounds horrible the next, and vice versa. Timing and luck play a key role in selling creative. There’s just not much a person can do to protect his/her ideas from being pilfered. It’s no wonder agencies run on fear. When it comes to great ideas, the legal department may become more valuable than the creative department.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 59


Consult This
My new career begins right here, right now After literally days of soul-searching, I have finally decided to leave my agency job and pursue the path that will ensure a six-figure income with minimal work, constant demand for my services, and the instant respect of corporate and agency CEO’s everywhere. I’m now Danny G: Marketing Consultant. Of course, I needed a business model first. So I went to the place all business plans are born: Starbucks. I finished it in just 3 lattes. But it’s a work in progress, so dear readers, I will give you the first look. I welcome your feedback. __________________________________________ DG: The Consultancy Now more than ever, given the fractious relationships between agencies and clients, there is a need for a new paradigm for the conduit of constructive dialogue and process application. The mission of DG Brand Consultancy is a simple one: We are dedicated to increasing the holistic, integrated synergies between marketers and their audiences at every point of contact. (I say “We” to make it sound impressive. It’s really just me--a one-person operation, like all consultancies are.) What DG Consultancy offers you and your clients: EXPERTISE: At DG Consultancy, we have over 30 years’ experience in product testing and sampling, purchasing, media consumption, experiential experience, and idea generation. All of which has been meted out in real-world, real-time applications both in the United States and abroad. DIRECT INVOLVEMENT OF SENIOR STAFF: DG is committed to providing maximum personal attention to all clients. You will always deal with our Senior Consultants. To demonstrate this principle, when you call DG, you are immediately connected to a principal of the organization, thus also proving our dedication to client service. While DG consultancy searches for suitable office space, we are fully prepared to bring our services directly to you or hold off-site consultations at various Third Place locales (i.e., Borders or Starbucks).

COMPREHENSIVE MEDIA MARKETPLACE ANALYSIS: The parsed media landscape demands that all parties involved be fully apprised as to the vehicle options available for further communication dissemination. To this end, DG specializes in cross-platform Internet observations (i.e., “surfing”), and a complete daily intake of all niche network and cable television programming (i.e., "TV watching"). Given proper lead-time, the consultants at DG Consultancy will also compile competitive clippings in printed media (i.e., "a stack of magazines"). BRAND OBFUSCATION™: Brand Obfuscation™ is DG Consultancy’s proprietary process. By combining our proprietary process with our proprietary knowledge, DG Consultancy will provide insight into all situations affecting client/agency relationships and/or current market challenges. DG Consultancy will make recommendations as to sources of conflict and remedies. With DG’s independent, third-party, impartial and neutral input, all parties involved will benefit and recognize the superiority of DG Consultancy’s expertise. Brand Obfuscation™ will prove invaluable to client and agency teams as they attempt to maximize value and pursue successful marketing strategies. MULTI-MEDIA PRESENTATION: Using the latest version of sophisticiated digital technology including PowerPoint, DG consultancy will produce a matrix of recommendations for further review. All rationales will be substantiated by a series of charts, graphs, and bullet-pointed conclusions using a wide palette of colors and multiple font sizes. FEES: As DG Consultancy is a “Marketing Consultancy,” fees will be, of course, substantial. Since DG Consultancy streamlines the marketing process for all full-time employees of agencies and clients, it's wholly appropriate to allocate funds for our consulting services from the budgets previously earmarked for employee raises, bonuses, and health-care benefits. IMPLEMENTATION FLEXIBILITY: The best part of DG Consultancy is our flexibility in the implementation process. Once we have properly analyzed the market situation and have made appropriate recommendations, it is incumbent upon our clients to pursue the best course of action that maximizes their input and synergies. It is at this point in the process that DG removes itself to allow all parties involved to combine energies to produce great results. DG Consultancy’s strength lies in analysis generation, not the substantial human error that often mars the real-world application of such recommendations. __________________________________________ Well, that’s where it stands. I hope I’ve differentiated myself from all the other consultants out there.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 61


Random Questions
Just some things keeping me up nights When it comes to pondering the state of advertising today. I’m smart enough to realize that I don’t have all the answers. And I’m wary of anyone to claims to know all the answers. But maybe you know a few of them. So here are some random thoughts I’ve had lately: I just saw the shrill, ever-annoying Gilbert Gottfried starring in a new ad campaign. Who are the nimrods that keep casting this guy in commercials? Can someone forward me a focus group research study that explains his appeal as a spokesperson? Why do some clients complain that “no one reads copy,” then 5 minutes later ask for more product info in their ads? Why are Human Resources people generally the crabbiest, most unfriendly “human resources” in an ad agency? Exactly what is different in a Saturn? Who is “loving it” at McDonald’s, and just what exactly is “it” that he/she is loving? Kmart recently awarded their $270 million account to Grey. The world’s dullest retailer has turned to the world’s dullest ad agency to revive its bankrupt company and its moribund brand. Can someone explain this to me? Could a group of ad executives, given complete and total creative freedom and using the best principles of brand building, take a Presidential candidate and get him elected solely on the strength of great paid political advertising? If a fat person can sue McDonald’s for causing obesity, can a debt-laden person sue an ad agency for causing them to max out their credit cards buying stuff? What is the click-through rate for women who get spam e-mails for penis enlargement pills? Why do higher-level people (ECD’s, CEO’s) answer their phones more often and return voice mails faster than most middle managers? Will American ad agency jobs ever get outsourced to India like computer programming jobs?

How can a client-side marketing director with 20 years’ experience still not understand the difference between a rough cut of a commercial and a completed version? Has there ever been a paid product placement in a porn film? How come I’ve never once been chosen to be a Nielsen ratings participant, or been part of a public opinion poll? Have you? Is anybody reading this?

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 63


I'm the Best Columnist Ever
Why am I so superior? I said so, that’s why I believe I’m the best columnist you can read on the Internet. No other columnist is as insightful and witty as I am. Because when it comes to Internet columnists, only one has proven to be consistently original and in tune with today’s advertising marketplace. That’s me. Which means you wisely spend your time and expand your knowledge when you read my columns. Do you believe that shit? No, of course not. I don’t expect you to. But I’ve got a reason to be so pumped-up. You see, I’ve been fortunate in my advertising career. My clients have included the best casino, the best hotel, the best vacuum, the best all-you-can-eat buffet, the best homebuilder, the best wireless phone service, the best mover, the best construction equipment, the best convention center, and of course, the best used car dealer around. How did I know they were the best? Simple. The clients told me they were the best. So “we’re the best” was part of the strategy for the ads I created for those clients. Regardless of their marketplace position in terms of sales, quality or innovation, these clients simply believed they were the best. Just by claiming superiority, we’d make the phones ring or move product. That’s what they wanted me to write. And the creative briefs basically called for a clever regurgitation of that position. But inevitably, a strange thing happened once I wrote the ad. These clients realized they didn’t want me to write that. Because they were afraid that their competitors, assumed to be inferior, might get upset when they’re actually called inferior. “Well, we still want to make the superiority claim, but without the chest-beating. And we really can’t make a definitive superiority claim because it can’t be substantiated. But we are better. So let’s find a way to say ‘we’re great’ without saying ‘we’re great.’” I’ll bet you’ve heard that from one of your clients, too.

Client-side marketing people live and breathe their product. That’s the environment they’re in. So I guess it’s easy to drink the Kool-Aid and assume everybody in the world is just waiting for that product or service to change their lives. Clients are stubborn that way. Conversely, advertising people live and breathe advertising, and often socialize with other ad people. We believe our unfettered vision for advertising will change the world. Ad people are stubborn that way, too. So it goes without saying that these two worlds often clash. One of the worst assignments a creative team can take on is one where the client chooses simply to boast without any semblance of wit, intelligence, tongue-in-cheek humor. Because it's impossible to say anything meaningful. And such ads always ring hollow. So how do you convince a client that simply claiming “we’re the best” is not enough? In an era when consumers have better bullshit detectors than ever before, how can we sell a more relevant strategy? Can a client admit that his/her product is not the best, yet still make a convincing argument for someone to buy the product? I’m still trying to figure out the answers to those questions, because I keep running into clients like this. They’re everywhere. And they’re breeding rapidly. If you can help me solve these dilemmas, let me know. Thanks. You’re the best.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 65


This is Your Holding Company on Drugs
Why do sister agencies end up in new biz catfights? Let’s role-play for a minute here. You’re 8 years old. Your dad comes up to you and your two brothers and says, “Okay, you guys are gonna rake leaves today. But we’ll make it a contest. Whoever rakes the most leaves by dinnertime gets $500. The other two of you will be grounded for a month.” Doesn’t sound like an appealing idea, does it? But in a sense, that’s what happening to some of the biggest agencies and the biggest accounts in the ad world. Advertising, much like the rest of media world, is feeling the effects of major industry consolidation. The top 4 ad agency holding companies control a large percentage of the dollars being spent. The actions of these companies affect everyone in the industry, be it directly or indirectly. So I think it’s only proper that these companies get their fair share of scrunity. I’m not out to bash the holding companies. They have every right to exist and legally pursue their quest for world domination. But I did see something recently that could use an explanation. A while back ADWEEK, in a haphazard editorial decision, juxtaposed a photo of the CEO of IPG, (you know, the head shot with the shit-eating grin they always trot out) next to the caption: “IPG Suffers Quarterly Loss of $327 Mil.” Nothing to smile about, in my opinion. Hell, I could run IPG better. In fact, I’d be willing to take $2 million less in compensation so under my watch, the company would only lose just $325 million dollars. But OK, every company gets to have a shitty quarter now and then. Time to regroup, take a few “charges” against the balance sheet and get the finances in order. I figured IPG would start being more fiscally responsible. However, the next week, ADWEEK ran an article about the finalists in the Tylenol account review, worth about $115 million in billings. Here’s a snippet: “The finalists, which emerged from a field of six, are all IPG shops: The Martin Agency in Richmond, Va., Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos in Boston and Deutsch in New York.” What?

Wait, let me clarify. What the fuck? Why are these so-called “sister agencies” fighting over this business? These agencies are not working together to win Tylenol. Most likely, they’re conducting separate market research studies, creating separate marketing strategies, producing separate spec creative, and kissing separate butt. Do you want to take a stab at how much money and time each of these agencies, owned by the same company, is spending pursuing this account? And what kinds of financial hits do the losers take for a fruitless effort? Now, take the investor point of view: Why is a company that lost $327 million in 3 months pitting 3 of its divisions against each other? Does that sound like a well-run company worth investing in? Yes, some accounts are divvied up by a holding company so that sister agencies work in tandem to produce integrated marketing. But for the Tylenol account, we have sibling rivalry. And a fairly high-profile example of why the holding companies seem so flawed. Let’s see what I’ve just talked about: Holding companies, quarterly loses, revenue, sound investments, internal competition, flawed business models. Did I leave anything out? Oh yeah. The creative work. But that doesn’t seem to matter much these days, does it?

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 67


Slippery Jelly at the Helm of a Dubious Idea
Wanna work at Wieden? Pay up, sucker Ever hear about David “Jelly” Helm’s famous “check” self-promotion he did when he was an ad school student? He sent a box to The Martin Agency. On the outside of the box, it said, “I understand The Martin Agency is hiring art directors for $22,000.” Inside there’s a check for $22,000 made out to The Martin Agency, along with a note that said, “When do I start?” Very clever. It made the One Show annual. And it helped Jelly get a job, so the story goes. But now he wants students to pay to work in advertising--for real. He’s starting a program called “12.” It’s a 13-month experimental ad school program, to be headquartered at Wieden and Kennedy’s Portland office. Twelve students will be admitted per year, hence the name. According to an article in ADWEEK, tuition will be $13,000. When I saw that number, my eyes popped out of their sockets. So what does the $13,000 tuition buy them? “They’ll do everything from answering phones to shipping materials, creative, strategic development and media work,” Helm told ADWEEK. In other words, students will pay to do things other people get paid to do. With no guarantee of a full-time gig at Wieden, or anyplace else, after completing the program. Is it just me, or does this program sound completely sleazy? This seems quite different than a typical unpaid internship—lured by the promise of running their own ”agency-within-an-agency,” it sounds as if students are selling themselves into a year of indentured servitude, from which W&K and its clients may profit immensely. Wieden & Kennedy seems to be taking a lesson from its largest client, Nike. Some of Nike’s shoes are made in Indonesia by workers who earn $2.50 a day. But even that’s $2.50 more than the Wieden kids will get.

It’s reported that over 1,000 people expressed interest in joining 12. Yes, buying your way into the advertising industry has become an attractive option. We all know that attending an ad school is, for creatives at least, a method of getting to the head of the line. Hell, even a college degree comes with the unspoken promise of a better life. But accredited ad schools (full disclosure: yes, I went to one) offer flexibility so students can get part-time jobs to defray the cost. Would anyone want a part-time job after working all day (and possibly night) at Wieden? What about living expenses and room & board—other than sleeping on Dan Wieden’s couch, how does Jelly expect students of “12” to pay for it all? Would any right-minded parents want their kid to do this? And does the tuition (assuming this is not an accredited educational program, student loans aren’t an option) mean only rich kids could afford this? I can’t think of any other industry that recruits young people this way. Maybe Hollywood still reeks of a “sleep your way to the top” system. But even working in the mailroom of the William Morris Agency is a paying gig. No, agencies don’t train creative people anymore, and no they don’t have time to waste on juniors who can’t hit the ground running. But one man’s real-world educational experiment is another’s cheap help. Which means that Jelly will now be leading the newest legal form of slave labor. And since it’s Wieden, not some direct-mail shop in Indianapolis, he can get away with this nonsense. I hope there’s more to this “12” program than what has been publicized so far. I’ve met Jelly Helm, and I know he has a deep passion for advertising and a true desire to see advertising have a positive impact on society. But this idea smacks of manipulation. Convincing hungry ad-industry wannabe’s that they’re “fearless, reckless, passionate and prolific” (as W&K’s website suggests) when they’re merely gullible, ambitious, desperate, and most of all, wealthy. Perhaps Jelly should return to what he started out doing: making ads. He could art direct a sequel to his “Good vs. Evil” spot. And cast himself in both roles.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 69


The Soul of Soles
One brand breaks all the rules—and the results are wonderful It’s the first thing they teach you in ad school: No puns. Puns bad. Puns very bad. In advertising, puns went out with the manual typewriters. I do my best to avoid them like lepers. Nevertheless, I’m fascinated with Kenneth Cole and his new book, “Footnotes” (get it?). It’s a biography/ corporate history/ad campaign retrospective/ego-boost book. With a shoelace as a bookmark bound in the spine. To look back on his advertising as a whole, Kenneth Cole has broken nearly every rule and thrown out most of the conventional wisdom that creatives tend to follow. Kenneth Cole’s advertising is chock full of bad puns, bad wordplays, bad art direction, controversial thoughts and very little detail about the merchandise. And you know what? The work is unbelievably effective and cool. I won’t make this a fawning book review—I just want to highlight some lessons I wish we could apply to our often-fearful clients. 1) Be consistent. The fashion world changes constantly. But generally, Kenneth Cole ads have changed very little in 20 years. Most have one line of copy, which is made to look as if it’s a quote from Kenneth Cole himself. A singular voice, literally. But from fashion to politics to new store openings and holiday sales, any point can be made with that singular voice. And usually, one ad=one thought. 2) Be relevant and topical. Yes, Kenneth Cole errs on the side of political correctness, but he makes you think. His ads have addressed AIDS, homelessness, the aftermath of September 11th, political campaigns, abortion, gun rights, crime, etc. All with a dash of wit and intelligence. Much of the ads can be open to interpretation—and in some cases, misinterpretation. But when was the last time an ad moved you to think about anything? What do your clients’ brands stand for?

3) Be great. In the book, he says something brilliant: “A bad ad is at best embarrassing and, at worst, damaging to the business; for all practical purposes, a mediocre ad is no better than a bad one: you define yourself as a mediocre company, compromising the relationship with your customer and worse, you spend money to do it.” Don’t you wish you had a client who would say that? I don’t believe shoes, in general, are any different from vacuum cleaners, soap, lawn mowers, or health insurance. However, the Kenneth Cole brand reflects Kenneth Cole’s personal beliefs. The advertising expresses those beliefs. He displays the kind of courage we keep wishing other clients would have. At most agencies, if you proposed a campaign that was as simple, direct, and potentially controversial as Kenneth Cole’s, you’d be laughed out of the room. And if you weren’t laughed out of the agency, you’d be laughed out of the client’s boardroom. It’s very sad that when it comes to being courageous most marketers have, well, cold feet. Kenneth Cole wouldn’t stand for that.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 71


A Super Lesson
Football, the ad biz, and no talk of commercials There will be plenty of discussion about Super Bowl commercials. But not here, not now. I’d like to talk about John Fox and Bill Belichick. They’re the two coaches whose teams, Carolina and New England, are playing in the Super Bowl this year. In football, each team has the same goal: to make it to the Super Bowl. Thus, Fox and Belichick have led their teams to the pinnacle of success this year. And they’ve achieved their success through motivation, hard work, discipline, and knowledge. Yet, neither of them ever played a day of professional football. But both of them are widely assumed to be great at their jobs. Fox and Belichick both graduated from college and went straight into coaching careers. Both men have dedicated their entire professional lives to bringing out the best in other people. The success they’ve achieved has come solely through the performance and output of their players. So basically speaking, a coach who never played pro football may have the skills to coach in the Super Bowl, but a Super Bowl MVP may never have the skills to coach a team to the big game. If success comes under those terms in football, why does the advertising business assume that talented performers would make successful managers? Why do we think that prolific or award-winning copywriters and art directors would automatically make great creative directors? I’ll bet you know the kind of people I’m talking about. Smart, yes. Talented, sure. But many great creatives can’t manage their way out of a paper bag. Or serve as a mentor to anyone. There’s no correlation whatsoever between concepting skills and people skills. The archives of ADWEEK and Ad Age are filled with stories of folks who got promoted into positions they weren’t suited for—yet they had nowhere else to go but be “kicked upstairs.” That’s how you get more money, fame, and boost your ego—you go into management, whether you’re skilled at it or not. Then there’s the opposite scenario: Some CD’s are great motivators, delegators, judges, yet completely unworthy as writers or art directors. And they’re either phased out because they’re not contributing to profitability, or they’re derided as hacks and get no respect.

If you know someone who is both a great creative and a great manager, then get him/her cloned. Now. Those people are rare. If you manage people, you’re no doubt pretty busy. Too busy to have read this far, I’m sure. But are you getting the best work from your people? I bet you don’t know. Odds are, you won’t ask those people you manage, and they won’t tell you. Many managers and workers simply don’t possess the ability to be so straightforward. And issues that are unspoken stay unresolved. It’s a shame that the ad business throws money at all sorts of consultants—new business consultants, pitch consultants, marketing consultants, yet few managers take the time to consult with the very people they’re working with. For an industry whose main objective is to communicate with people, we do a lousy job of it internally. So enjoy the Super Bowl, but this year, pay attention to the game in between the commercial breaks. Watch John Fox and Bill Belichick wear their emotions on their sleeves. While they’re not the ones throwing, running or blocking, they’ll be basking in victory or wallowing in defeat alongside their players. But on Monday, when you’re sitting around your shop complaining about how lame this year’s spots were, see if you can start a team rebuilding effort. No matter what position you play in your agency, you too can be a better coach. And maybe you too can go all the way.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 73


Trump and Chumps
For a moment, advertising got a glimpse of reality I’m sure by now you’re familiar with the Donald Trump reality show train-wreck “The Apprentice.” It began with 8 young men and 8 young women forming “corporations” to compete doing various business tasks. In their second business assignment, the two groups competed to create spec ad campaigns for corporate jets. I believe they had a few days to complete it, and the use of some of Deutsch’s New York office to help produce the concepts. And with someone’s “job” with Trump literally on the line, the two groups presented their concepts right to Donny Deutsch himself. The ads the women created were primarily penis jokes aimed at men. The ads the men made used boring stock photo yuppie business imagery. It is revealing that these campaigns reflect how tough smart advertising is to create, particularly with 8 bright minds (and egos to match) in the room. But what scares me is that these Apprentice contestants are all supposedly successful, bright people who have a solid future in business. In other words: they’re our future clients. Be afraid. Be very afraid. To be fair, I know that a few days is not enough for any group of people to familiarize themselves with the nuances of good advertising and marketing. But in spite of all the industry discussion of how jaded/cynical/skeptical most consumers are of advertising, the contestants on “The Apprentice” resorted to familiar clichés. And these were bright 20-and 30-something people—the very generation widely purported to be so jaded. In many ways, resorting to clichéd thinking is what lots of clients do. What’s familiar is safe. Since they pay the bills, clients tend to get their way.

I’ve seen many ad people (myself included) walk out of client meetings amazed at how seemingly unqualified some clients are to judge marketing concepts. But for many marketing managers and other client decision-makers, judging and approving ad concepts represents a tiny fraction of their time—their jobs are often more wide-ranging than we think. Nevertheless, the decisions they make about ads affect both the brand and the agency. So how do our clients learn about great advertising? Can you actually train a client if they lack expertise, or is that idea too self-serving? Colleges and MBA programs don’t teach good real-world marketing practices to students. And on-the-job training is scant if any. The ad industry has to find a way to educate clients and earn their trust. We have to assert that marketing creativity and profitability aren’t mutually exclusive. And that the safe route isn’t the best route, no matter what consultants and the bean counters think. One thing’s for certain: If the next generation of clients is as ignorant of marketing as the contestants on “The Apprentice,” well, for the ad industry, reality is going to be harsh indeed.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 75


Brands Flying Blind
When advertising seems like a waste of cash I recently did a lot of flying, and found myself facing a delayed flight and the likelihood of a missed connection. I was pissed off. At that point, I’d have ridden in the cargo hold of a FedEx plane if I thought I’d get to my destination. Fortunately, I got another on flight on a different airline, but it occurred to me that no amount of feel-good airline advertising can offset the unnerving and unpredictable experience of flying. Flyers face all manner of hurdles: security screeners playing grab-ass at the checkpoints, the roulette of airfares that change daily, weather delays beyond anyone’s control. Flying commercial just isn’t pleasant, and that’s not solely the fault of airlines. So how does advertising help? Are there some industries and businesses that simply shouldn’t bother to advertise? I dealt with very nice employees at the airline that night, and the positive experience was worth all the advertising in the world. Plus, I find technological innovations, like the ability to skip check-in and print out boarding passes from the Internet, extremely useful. I really wonder if any ad agency would tell a client noted for bad customer service, “You’re better off taking your ad budget and training your employees better.” Or suggesting a way to make a brand experience better that wouldn’t involve advertising. Can any ad agency be an impartial advisor? Of course, I understand the desire for airlines to differentiate their brands through advertising. But on my trip, it simply didn’t matter. More powerful forces were at work. I’ll use another example. Where I live, there’s a TV spot running for a local—and I’m not making this up—“Funeral Home and Gift Shop.” Who knows, maybe the competition in that industry is, uh, cutthroat. But it seems they’ve got a guaranteed customer base, even if there’s not a lot of repeat business. I can’t imagine any “Funeral Home and Gift Shop” that advertises on TV would specialize in compassion and empathy, which is what I’d be looking for during that time. So what advertising professional would be interested, or even excited, at the prospect of servicing that account? I wonder if the people involved enjoyed winning the account, making money off the account, or putting that spot on their reel.

When advertising simply doesn’t match the real world experience, or promotes a business in a crass manner, the entire industry gets a bad rap. Because the really awful work sticks out in consumers’ minds. And we don't need to perpetuate the negative opinion consumers have of most advertising. This is a creative business; perhaps we should focus our creative energy on other ideas to help a client when it seems ads won't be a big help. If ad agencies want to position themselves as “marketing partners,” then we must be willing to accept that advertising is not always the answer. More importantly, as individuals and agencies, we must be evaluated, paid and rewarded for the kinds of ideas that don’t easily fit into a category at The One Show. But that’s wishful thinking. I don’t think it’s gonna fly.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 77


From a No Show to the One Show
A tale of two creative superstars who weren’t always stars Ad people are nothing if not judgmental. Few other industries have such a cult of personality—a well-read person can learn which ad people are doing what campaigns at a particular shop. And if you’re not fortunate enough to regularly appear in the trade press, ad people will judge you more harshly, and think less of you. That can be a problem, because for most job seekers in the ad business, a quick glance at a resume or a few samples will be the only way a prospective employer determines if a person is a superstar worth hiring—or a hack worth ignoring. Is history destiny? I don’t think so. And to prove it, I’d like to introduce you to Mr. X and Mr. Y. (I will conceal the names and agencies to protect the innocent, the guilty, and the fact they don’t know I’m writing about them.) I met Mr. X and Mr. Y many years ago at when they worked as copywriters in the Z agency, a second-rate shop in a second-rate ad town. X and Y were hired by creative directors who were looking to raise what was obviously a fairly low bar. Despite their talents, X and Y couldn’t overcome a culture of mediocrity at this particular shop. Their efforts were futile. So they didn’t last long (and neither did their CD’s), and were gone after a year or so. A career of mediocrity, however, was not the destiny of Mr. X and Mr. Y. Their careers have been simple to follow. That’s because Mr. X and Mr. Y are now true creative superstars, doing award-winning work. Mr. X went to a shop that was just beginning to make waves. Now it’s arguably the best shop in the country, and Mr. X is a Creative Director there, doing awesome stuff. Mr. Y took a more circular path. He went to a couple of shops, making progressively better moves, until he landed at one of the top creative shops in the country. Both X and Y are now doing the type of work they could never have done at the Z agency.

How did they catch those breaks? What did Mr. X and Mr. Y do to convince people that they could rise above their time at the Z agency? A little luck, a little timing, and a lot of persistence I’m sure. I know how frustrating it can be to work at a shop that prevents people from producing the kind of advertising they’re capable of. I’ll bet the majority of creatives and even other types of ad folks feel the same way. That’s why I keep an open mind when I encounter frustrated ad people at second-rate shops. So many of us work under circumstances seemingly beyond our control. What happened to Mr. X and Mr. Y works in reverse, as well: Many great ad people left wonderful agencies to take jobs at mediocre agencies. And then weren’t able to produce equally good work. These people haven't lost their talent, but still they can't recapture the magic. It happens. For better or for worse, the people in our industry should be tagged with the disclaimer most investments come with: Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Just ask Mr. X and Mr. Y when you see them. You’re bound to find them at the One Show.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 79


How both the government and the ad industry play the blame game Today I’m going to share with you the findings of the September 11th commission. I’m not a committee member, and as I'm writing this they're still holding hearings, but I’ve already figured it all out: • There were a number of warning memos and reports that were poorly written and not specific enough. Therefore, the memos didn’t scream for immediate attention or call for direct action, and there was no follow-up. • Top officials didn’t meet, share information, agree on a plan, and then communicate that plan down to the lowest levels— the airport workers, INS officials, border patrols, and even ordinary citizens who could look out for danger. • No one person will be held solely responsible. A number of people in wide-ranging departments ignored the warning signs, choosing to do one or all of the following:

Make political points for themselves and get money for their departments Concentrate on matters that seem trivial in retrospect Punch out at 5 p.m. and go home

• Loads of people are now looking to place blame and point fingers. We’re hearing “I told you so” and “It’s not my job, it’s so-and-so’s job.” And we’re hearing complaints about being overworked, understaffed, and poorly trained. Everyone is covering their own ass, choosing to throw other people under the bus while trying to look good doing it. That’s the way our government works. In other words, our government works like a typical ad agency. Think about it: Most of the work we do comes in fast and goes out the door fast. Research is limited. Timelines are short. Corners get cut. Major ass-covering happens. And shitty work often results.

How many times have you heard, “Let’s just get it out the door”? And once an ad or a project leaves the agency, it’s gone. We foist it on the general public and we breathe a sigh of relief that we never need to deal with it again. That is, unless someone (like a client or distantly removed CD or CEO) isn’t happy with the way the work turned out. Then the finger pointing begins: “The creatives dropped the ball on this one.” “The AE’s brief wasn’t tight enough.” “The production artist inhaled too much spray mount, so he passed out and we missed the deadline.” But the odds are, bad work is not the fault of one person or one missed step. Agencies that struggle with problems tend to make the same mistakes over and over again, even on radically different assignments. That’s because agency management doesn’t take the time to collectively understand how the process breaks down and how it can be fixed. They just look for scapegoats. Why? It’s just easier that way. The advertising world faces a daunting future: Not a week goes by that the trade press doesn’t report some major level of client dissatisfaction with the performance of the ad industry. And, just like we won’t return to the world that we knew on September 10, 2001, the ad industry won’t return to yesterday’s world of fat network TV commissions and three-martini lunches. We’ll continue to be pressured to perform, and fast. We’ll still have to unearth truths to produce world-beating great ideas. The doomed ad agencies are the ones that are stuck in the past. Many ad agencies today continue to be managed (and mismanaged) under a structure and process that looks the same as it did 20 years ago. So if your agency is full of blame games, office politics and finger pointing, try to rise above it. Be forward thinking. You can’t change the past. How can your agency be a better place tomorrow? Or next week? Or next year? Do people in your agency ask those questions, or do they prefer to point fingers and find scapegoats? I truly hope we’ll find the right answers. Because there’s a whole load of consultants, PR firms, and other folks ready and willing to hijack our clients’ marketing dollars.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 81


Subservient Agency
How do some agencies get away with stuff that others can’t? OK, I promise this column shall not worship at the altar of Crispin Porter & Bogusky. They get reams of PR as it is. But I would like to use them as an example. Unless you live on Pluto, or in a McDonald’s stockroom, you’ve no doubt seen the “Subservient Chicken” web site. And you’ve told the chicken to do the Riverdance or hump the couch or whatever. Yes, it’s completely weird and a great “viral” marketing idea, but that’s not what impressed me initially. I wonder if anyone else shared my first reaction upon hearing about the site:

How on earth did they convince the client to use the word ‘subservient’?
I immediately flashed back to all the clients I’ve ever dealt with, and thought how they’d react had my agency presented a similar title. “I think the word ‘subservient’ is a little too sophisticated for our audience.” “Uhh…how about ‘Funky Chicken’? That’d be fun.” “Let’s call it The BeaK—you know, BK? We could give away dolls.” “We should do a focus group and test the word ‘subservient’ against some others.” The point is that CP&B could’ve easily acquiesced to a client request to dumb down the website name. In other words, they could’ve been subservient. And the site would have still garnered attention. However, some of the goofy bizarre charm would’ve been lost. In cases like this one, the small details mean everything, don’t they? Even as you read this now, some client or nervous agency person is asking for a concept, an ad, or even a word to be changed. Right now, something is getting toned down to be more expected and conventional. It’s those gradual, habitual patterns that make most advertising so boring. Not one big decision—the hundreds of little ones. As a copywriter, I’ve been known to trot out the SAT words on occasion, and even in agency meetings I’ve gotten quite a few blank stares using language that at first sounds unconventional. And I’ve dealt with more than my share of clients who steadfastly believe consumers are simply stupid. But I find it nearly impossible to defend work in the face of such ignorance.

Yes, we sometimes snicker about the perceived simplemindedness of the “average” consumer. Everyone in advertising is guilty of that; however, it’s not a license to produce bad advertising. So with due respect to the late David Ogilvy, I’d like to adjust one of his maxims: “The consumer is not a moron. And even if the consumer is a moron, she doesn’t think of herself as a moron.” If more agencies and clients could keep that in mind, we might be able to turn out smarter, more provocative work that gets results. Burger King customers are as broad an audience as you can find. So you’d think all the work has to be pedestrian--and until CP&B took over, it was. But 47 million hits in 2 weeks to subservientchicken.com can’t be wrong (hell, you’ve gotta know how to spell it right to get there!) So I want to congratulate CP&B and Burger King for not being subservient to the least common denominator. And I’d love to figure out how more of us can have it our way.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 83


The Bastards Among Us
Can ad people act like true professionals when we’re encouraged to push boundaries? Have you ever taken a picture of your client’s sweaty ass crack? I haven’t, but I know someone who did. I’ve seen the photo. And yes, it was quite frightening, but not for the reason you might imagine. As the story was related to me, the agency once had a client who was a large dude. Like 6-foot-1, 350 pounds. A lumbering, stumbling man. That frame, coupled with his perceived lack of marketing knowledge, earned him the nickname “Fat Bastard” around the agency. Well, “Fat Bastard” had to attend a TV shoot in Orlando. Outdoors. In July. This recipe for perspiration caught up with the man, so much that the dripping sweat was visibly apparent through the rear of his khaki shorts. Thus, an embarrassing moment turned into a Kodak moment for an agency lackey with a camera. This client’s reputation for heft, and sweat, was the subject of frequent agency coffee klatches. What’s more, the agency staff was egged on by the agency CEO and Creative Director, who not only tolerated but also encouraged the mocking. And “Fat Bastard” never had a clue what was being said about him. What’s more, with his trusting nature, he thought so highly of this agency and its people that he continued to give the agency marketing projects even when he switched jobs. This agency is still in business, trying to woo more clients and develop a reputation for great ideas and superior client service—despite a corporate culture that openly disparages the personal appearances of others, including the very clients who pay their bills. I’ll bet a lot of agencies function with this kind of culture. Yet we wonder why the advertising industry doesn’t get more respect. So what kind of behavior is out of bounds? How can some of our dealings with co-workers and clients be deemed “professional” when at other times we act so unprofessional? I’ve worked in agencies where routinely, I’ve heard comments that would make for ready-made harassment and discrimination lawsuits in any other corporate environment. I’ve always accepted that an almost anything-goes environment is a part of the Faustian bargain one makes in order to work in a comparatively freewheeling industry.

We work in a business of ideas and thoughts, where bad taste is often celebrated, even financially rewarded. We cross the line (whatever that is) with glee. But crossing the line, as the ad industry sees it, doesn’t just apply to ads and concepts. It’s part of daily agency office life, isn’t it? We’re always going to have co-workers and clients who get on our nerves. Since advertising depends on a high degree of interpersonal collaboration, friction is inevitable. Add time crunches and less-than-ideal clients to the mix, and you’ve got a recipe for an environment of petty squabbling, subtle backstabbing, and frequent bitching. It seems like a primal rule of agency politics that you have to tear someone else down in order to build yourself up. Everybody is susceptible to these base instincts. And if the future of advertising is so-called branded entertainment---i.e., “The intersection of Madison and Vine,” we’ll be pretending like the ad business is more Hollywood that it really is. We’ll be taking more of our behavioral cues from “Swimming With Sharks.” That’s not a future I’m looking forward to. Are you? What’s it gonna take for us to curb this behavior? We’re all guilty of it at one time or another. Me, all I can say is I’m working on it. Trying to stay positive whenever I can. What about you, and the people you work with? So your ass isn’t sweaty today. Doesn’t matter. Perhaps someone right now is calling you Skinny Bastard. Or Bald Bastard. Or Gay Bastard. Or Jew Bastard. Or Irish Bastard. And unless we all change, the public perception will always be that the ad business is nothing but a bunch of bastards.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 85


These days, the world is just one big-ass focus group Ever been to a traditional focus group? With the one-way mirror, the bottomless bowl of M&M’s and the roundtable of “average” consumers? It’s a completely artificial environment, which in many cases leads to artificial results. There’s a group dynamic that leads people to keep their true feelings to themselves. Yet our industry still throws billions away at focus groups trying to pry the truth out of consumers. Now, the truth is everywhere. The Internet has given people the freedom to mouth off. Whenever they want, about anything they want. I once wrote ads for a client who made household appliances. One of the glorious perks of the job was that I got a free sample to take home and test. I was quite pleased with it, as it worked fine for me. So I became a believer. And our client, of course, was convinced it was the best product in its category. Then I went on Amazon.com, where they sell my client’s products. Amazon has a feedback section for every product where people can rate and comment on stuff. Here’s a sample of the comments I saw for my client: “I contacted ***** about my problems and they said ‘we don't deal with problems, your only recourse is where you bought it.’” “Needless to say, I'll never buy another ****** again!!!” “Now I'm looking for another brand, I don't recommend this product.” “I would recommend this ****** only at a discounted price.” Now, in fairness, there were some really good reviews, but in the aggregate, my client’s product was considered below average. And the amazing thing was, as a consumer, I’d trust these reviews more than any advertising or PR. The Internet has turned the world into one big focus group. Thanks to bulletin boards, blogs, and things like Amazon.com reviews, every consumer has a soapbox. Anyone can praise or scorn something to their heart’s content.

If your client has a bad product, or bad customer service, they’ll likely never admit it to your face. But now you can find out for yourself. And the ad industry, as well as marketers, had better pay attention. Because changing consumers’ perceptions about a brand starts with finding out exactly what those perceptions are. And, with “traditional” advertising getting continually flogged for its ineffectiveness, there’s now a cottage industry pushing the merits of viral marketing, buzz marketing, and any form of wordof-mouth. Savvy marketers are figuring out that trendsetters and influencers can get a product noticed in the right places, and by the right people. If a woman sidles up to you in a bar and buys you a drink, chances are she could be a paid shill for a liquor brand. But you’d listen to her, wouldn’t you? Consumers are so cynical they believe anonymous, faceless strangers before they’d believe anything they’d heard in an ad. So, not wanting to miss the bandwagon, ad agencies and marketers are now starting to manipulate public opinion on the Internet. Marketers are starting their own discussion forums, blogs, and even surreptitiously entering chat rooms to talk up their products. Anything to skew perceptions in their favor. But adding some positive spin to the mix can’t stop consumers determined to tell the world about bad experiences with a brand. Ordinary people have the power to define and shape brands—as much, if not more so, than ad agencies or marketers. Can we muzzle people? Of course not. But what ad agencies can do is bring these consumer perceptions to the attention of clients, no matter how negative or controversial they might be. Perhaps we can create ads that confront these issues head-on. It’s one way the ad business can stay relevant—especially when so many marketers complain that agencies aren’t receptive to their business needs or problems. So the next time you’re Googling yourself and your ex-lovers for shits and giggles, try doing it for your agency and your clients. Read the good, the bad, the ugly, and what people aren’t telling the focus group moderators. It’s all out there. And it won’t even cost you a bag of M&M’s.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 87


I Cannes Tell You Exactly What Happened
A report from the south of…uh…France, I think (CANNES, France, June 26) – Well, what can I say? It’s truly been a whirlwind week. My camera got confiscated by airport security in Nice, so basically all I can do is gather what’s left of my alcohol-soaked memory and report to you the highlights of this year’s Cannes Advertising Festival: --7 Moroccan tourists were reported running and screaming in horror upon the discovery of a gaggle of beached whales. They were relieved to be told it was only a few pudgy, pasty middleaged American Creative Directors out for a swim. --This year’s press Grand Prix (print best of show) contained no words. This year’s television Grand Prix contained no dialogue. The copywriters credited for the ads, however, reported significant ego swelling. --Although many countries were represented at Cannes, the language barrier was not a problem. According to international translators, 99.2% of all conversations at Cannes were summed up as: “You’re great.” “No, YOU’RE great.” --1,897 unwanted sexual advances and innuendo-laced remarks were made by advertising men towards various women attending the show. No reverse scenarios were noted. --29 client representatives reported feeling “cool” for the first time in their corporate careers. --Of those 29 clients, 23 reported that “cocaine and hookers” were not acceptable line items in an expense report. However, they pledged to triple their “research” budgets in the next fiscal quarter. --After some triumphant award wins, ad agencies in Malaysia and South Africa expect a flood of books from American creatives seeking job opportunities. The Kuala Lumpur Ad Club is now touting itself as “The Minneapolis of the Third World.” --Interns and Executive Assistants all across America are now being told to provide hourly doses of Aloe Vera and Solarcaine to their bosses. Approximately 39 pounds of peeling, molting skin will be collected in wastebaskets throughout the Omnicom, IPG and WPP networks.

--Despite speculation to the contrary, no one at the Cannes Advertising Festival was reported to have actually said, “The ad industry is doing just fine! As long as I can continue to con my agency into sending me to this all-expenses-paid, week-long, alcohol-fueled, ego-stroking, selfcongratulatory masturbation, the advertising business has no real problems whatsoever.” Okay, okay, so I wasn’t really there. But I’m pretty sure I didn’t leave anything out.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 89


Clear Problem, Clear Solution
When the 800-lb. gorilla says there are too many ads, we should pay attention Yesterday was a cold day in Hell. I read that Clear Channel, monolithic owner of radio stations and other media goodies, announced it would soon place a ceiling on the number of commercial minutes per hour and put a limit on the length of a typical commercial pod. The news release didn’t get into specifics, but it’s an attempt to curry favor and “increase value” among advertisers who fear their messages are lost amidst a sea of clutter. I love listening to the radio, and as a copywriter, I love writing radio spots. Yet so much of what I hear on my radio dial, the commercials, talk, and music, is utterly banal and depressing. So I appreciate that Clear Channel, in a small way, recognizes that they can do better. And they’ve got serious influence. But for both radio fans and media professionals, Clear Channel ranks somewhere between Charles Manson and chlamydia on the likeability meter. Which means until we actually hear a difference, nobody should jump for joy. Making an entire medium more palatable for listeners and advertisers is a start. But increasing value by cutting commercials only goes so far. To me, they’d do a lot better tossing out their cookie-cutter playlists and the seamless use of a couple of faceless DJ’s pretending to localize their patter for hundreds of cities. More than anything, it’s the sorry state of radio programming that’s driving radio listeners to embrace iPods and satellite radio. But if an outfit like Clear Channel takes a “less is more” philosophy towards commercials, will other media outlets embrace the idea? This isn’t simply an issue for the media department. It doesn’t matter what your title is, clutter directly affects what all advertising professionals do on a daily basis. Because for many clients, “breaking through the clutter” doesn’t mean, “be more creative.” It means, “be louder, be more intrusive, be more annoying, and be everywhere.” And use lots of exclamation points to create excitement!!!!!!!!! Collectively as an industry, clutter is something we ourselves created. It’s not the fault of some sinister cabal of anonymous agencies and clients. We’ll be more effective at our jobs if every agency and client each does some small part to reduce it. Yes, we need to reach our consumers, and yes, it’s harder than ever, but spreading ads like weeds doesn’t advance the cause.

Howard Gossage, the San Francisco ad legend, once said, “I like to imagine a better world where there will be less, and more stimulating, advertising.” Amazingly, he said it 35 years ago. Did anybody listen? Perhaps there will be a gradual awakening to the consequences of our industry’s addiction to message overload. When a media giant like Clear Channel takes action, others are bound to follow. After I read about Clear Channel, I wanted to celebrate this newfound embrace of common sense. Then I saw another news article. This article mentioned that to “break through the clutter,” a new marketing company is placing ads on hubcaps. And yet another is hiring models to walk around cities wearing a specially designed T-shirt featuring a built-in 11-inch video screen and speakers, in essence creating a walking commercial. Suddenly, Clear Channel looks like a paragon of restraint. Yup, it may be a sweltering summer day outside your office, but it’s a cold day in Hell.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 91


Advertising Week (or maybe it’s Advertising Weak)
Think you’ll get an accurate depiction of the industry next month? Sorry, Charlie I’m sure you’re all as psyched as I am about “Advertising Week in New York City” next month. Because what the ad industry really needs right now is a 5-day opportunity to pat itself on the back and celebrate all the good it does for humanity. The schedule of events is quite a packed one, I’ll admit. Many major industry-related organizations, legendary agencies, and large brands are sponsoring all sorts of panels, luncheons, receptions, etc. At first glance, it looks like a nice representative sample of the ad world. But a few folks won’t be there. Local auto dealers won’t be sponsoring a retrospective like “50 Years of Tent Sales, Screaming, and Tacky Graphics.” Attorneys won’t offer a panel discussion on the effectiveness of the phrase “Have you been injured in an accident?” And political consultants won’t give advice on how to distort facts and use negative language to elect their candidates. In other words, much of the work that drags down our industry and society (and yet, has the most influence on the public’s perception of advertising) won’t be celebrated during Advertising Week. However, there is something the entire public can enjoy. Right now there’s a contest where famous ad characters and critters are competing for the title of “America’s Favorite Ad Icon.” Yes, everyone can vote for this. Charlie the Tuna and the Michelin Man are heavily campaigning as we speak. Remember, these icons are the most impressive, uplifting, influential symbols of our industry. Although I’m guessing that Joe Camel’s invitation got lost in the mail. But since part of the reason for Advertising Week is to encourage young people to pursue careers in the ad biz, shouldn’t we be touting our rank-and-file employees as icons, too? They’re the real symbols and heroes, I think. I’d love to see Tony the Tiger share the spotlight with “Ashley The Scantily-Clad Creative Summer Intern” or “Rhonda the Token African-American Employee Who’s In Either Media or Accounting, I’m Not Sure.” Or maybe accuracy isn’t quite the goal of Advertising Week.

Perhaps I’m being too cynical about this. After all, Advertising Week is a celebration of the entire advertising industry and the people who make a living in it. So I believe it’s important that all present and future ad stars attend. I highly suggest you go. Surely the head honchos at your shop will gladly pony up reimbursements for all the staff, right? Especially in New York City— land of the $200-a-night hotel rooms and $15 cocktails. Or maybe accessibility and inclusiveness aren’t the goals of Advertising Week, either. But while Advertising Week is New York-centric, and perhaps rightfully so, any true depiction of the ad industry should start with the simple truth that Madison Avenue isn’t the center of the ad world anymore. And yesterday’s silly animated characters aren’t the answer to today’s marketing problems. Maybe during Advertising Week, ad agencies across the country should set up webcams and videoconferences to show what advertising’s really all about—hard working people creating ideas, collaborating on commercials, ads and brochures, greasing the wheels of capitalism every day in the face of nervous clients, reduced timelines and budgets, and bizarre office politics. Yet somehow still having a lot of fun doing it. It'd be more valuable to show the business world how great agencies solve real marketing problems than to have Aunt Jemima give Mr. Whipple a hand job in Times Square. Although during Advertising Week, those two icons might provide a good demonstration of today’s typical agency-client relationships.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 93


When an ad or idea gets muzzled, is it act of responsibility or censorship? Last week, GM pulled a Corvette ad off the air. The ad depicted a young boy staring at a parked Corvette and dreaming of cruising through New York City so fast he gets the car airborne. Now, I’m sure most people who drive in Manhattan think that even reaching 30 MPH is an unattainable dream. So this spot was obviously not grounded in reality, just another car ad with some cool-looking footage. There was even a prominent disclaimer on the bottom of the screen that said, “This is a dream. Do not drive without a license.” Still, several auto safety and child advocacy groups complained to GM. And GM acquiesced. Is it bad business to do creative work that garners complaints? Is it so irresponsible that it’s construed as a form of malpractice? And if it costs the client extra time and money to deal with the trouble, should agencies be held liable? I think it’s too flip to just say “Oh, those spineless GM corporate weasels bent over because of a few paranoid soccer moms.” Or “GM planned to get all this controversy and they love all the free publicity.” The issue is a little more complicated than that. I can speak from experience here. I’ve written 2 radio spots that actually generated complaints. We certainly didn’t set out to get that kind of response, nevertheless I received copies of the letters and tacked them up in my cubicle as a sort-of badge of honor. Our client dismissed it as “well, at least the spots are getting remembered.” However, our client was in the gambling business, and there’s not a lot of moral high ground there. No matter what business our clients are in, we have to live with the notion that advertising simply can’t win a popularity contest. Like music, movies, books and other forms of pop culture, we always run the risk of pissing off somebody. And since most advertising is unsolicited, people are most disdainful of ads they don’t like. But here’s the paradox: In advertising, there is always a constant stream of new ideas and concepts. That’s where the reward—and the risk—lies.

New ideas are always controversial simply because they’re new. We have no prior history to judge them against. And new ideas seek to alter the status quo, which means someone’s current position of power, wealth and status gets challenged. Or, if an idea challenges conventional wisdom, someone will perceive it as a threat, and try to muzzle it. Just ask Salman Rushdie or Mel Gibson. Every piece of advertising has some consequence and influence—be it positive or negative. The only alternative would be to produce ideas that are completely milquetoast. In other words, guaranteed non-offensive. Tried-and-true. Safe. Dull. Which will lead to messages that are roundly ignored. And creating advertising that’s roundly ignored is a waste of our client’s money. You’ll have to draw your own conclusions about whether showing an 8 year-old dreaming of speeding in a Corvette is a dangerous idea that may encourage reckless or copycat behavior. To paraphrase William Hurt in ‘Broadcast News,’ "It’s hard not to cross the line. They keep moving the little sucker, don't they?" Maybe GM knew the risks when they approved the spot. Perhaps they thought that the disclaimer was legally correct and nothing else needed to be done. (The spot, by the way, was directed by Guy Ritchie, who’s married to Madonna--who Pepsi dropped after seeing her “Like a Prayer” video. Guess it runs in the family.) There will always be controversy over ads. There will always be resistance to new, unfamiliar or risky ideas. We simply have to keep doing them, and ad agencies have to provide a framework to encourage them. Because the moment we stop, that’s when the ad industry will truly be dead.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 95


In the Land of the Fee
Consumers keep paying more, but it doesn’t mean less advertising Who’s more rabid in their devotion: Green Bay Packers fans or TiVo customers? If you’ve met anyone who owns a TiVo, they begin preaching the gospel the moment the topic gets broached. And I’ve got a friend who raves about XM satellite radio. They both sound neat to a media junkie like me, but I won’t get them because they represent 2 more monthly bills that I don’t need. Can you buy your way to an ad-free existence? Now that we live in an era of ad-free TV and adfree radio, just how many consumers will pay to live a life without advertising? Advertising as we know it has traditionally subsidized the media. It’s the reason why newspapers still cost 50 cents or so, a magazine only costs a few bucks and you can watch network TV for free. But little by little, things are changing. New media and new technology have led to new costs and new charges. Let’s face it, radio without commercials and TV with instant fast-forward are luxuries. One of the great paradoxes of this is that anyone who readily ponies up for services like a TiVo or XM has lots of disposable income—not to mention they’re early adopters of technology. In other words, they’re an advertiser’s wet dream. But if these consumers are avoiding commercials now, budget-conscious consumers are the ones watching ad-supported media —and no audience gets condescended to more by the ad industry than a downscale demographic. It’s why Mercedes ads are always more intelligently written than Hyundai ads. Subscription plans are changing in print media, too. As newspapers and magazines keep losing classified and other print ad revenue, many now offer content online and charging for access. But paying monthly fees for online news doesn’t mean you won’t see ads. Most times you still have to contend with banner ads and pop-ups. Plus, revealing your email address, home address or other information puts you in their database—making you a target for other services, with, of course, more monthly fees. And guess what--there’s a need for traditional advertising to advertise these services to consumers. But the clients want to avoid customer “churn,” so all the advertising is focused on hammering the latest deal or monthly price into your brain. Doesn’t it leave you numb?

Or maybe you won’t be numb—just broke. “Making ends meet” isn’t what it used to be. Never mind the rent and water and electricity. If you’re a modern, plugged-in person, chances are you’re up to your eyeballs in assorted services with monthly fees. Cell phone, Internet access, Cable TV (or satellite), NetFlix, OnStar, TiVo, XM, any number of premium Internet sites, etc. Don’t forget that many of these services feature multi-tier pricing levels which mean higher monthly charges. If you’ve got 3 or 4 people in your household, the monthly bills multiply if you want to keep them all safe and happy. (Don’t forget the home alarm system with the monthly maintenance fee). Just thinking about all these options (and the bombardment of ads for them) is giving me a headache. When will enough be enough for consumers? Can be there such a thing as having too many choices? I keep waiting for a minimalist movement to take hold. For the masses to revolt and say, “No. I’m going outside to ride a bicycle.” But it’s not happening. Instead, they’re watching Lance Armstrong on satellite TV. Or getting race results delivered straight to their Blackberries. Every new way of getting information, paid or not, is now a vehicle for advertisers to penetrate. For example, some marketers are trying to get their messages through on TiVo or in text messages. Restraint is simply not in the lexicon of the ad business. Consumers will begin to realize that no amount of money thrown at personalized media content will allow them to orbit the giant advertising hairball. And people will hate advertising more than ever if they believe they’re paying to view it. You’ll be glad to know, however, that I promise never to charge a monthly fee for this column. Now if you want to send a donation, well, that’s another story.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 97


Black, White, and Spot Color
Will advertising agencies ever reflect a diverse America? Amidst the little brouhaha of last month, I received an email from a Cheap Seats reader that I couldn’t get out of my head: “I'm an African-American with a Masters in Marketing. I have been in the advertising industry now for about 6 years. I've been interviewing at many of the larger agencies in New York City for an Account Services position for sometime now with no success. At every interview Human Resource personnel and Account Service people constantly tell me of their commitment to diversity in the industry and within their own agencies. But when I look around these agencies everyone, aside from the janitors, is white. My question is why is it so difficult for so many people of color to get ahead at a general market advertising agency? With Latinos counted as the largest minority in America and the combined spending power of African Americans and Latinos, is this pigment less trend bound to change? And why is it like this in the first place?” I felt rather honored that he chose to tell me his story. But how could I respond? Because I, Whitey O’Cracker, am only a few years and a few cheeseburgers away from a being a fat old white man myself. As much as I can sympathize with the guy’s job-seeking frustrations, I just can’t put myself in his shoes. I didn’t have any easy answers for him, but I did pose a few guesses. First, consider the history of the ad biz. Advertising agencies in the early days were founded on relationships. In Randall Rothenberg’s “Where the Suckers Moon,” he illustrates how the old shops like J. Walter Thompson resembled country clubs--sort of WASPs only, so that their clients would feel comfortable that their account was in good hands. All of which began to change in the 60's with agencies like DDB, started by Irish guys and Jewish guys. So as corporate America evolved, advertising did, too. But it's still a relationship business--read ADWEEK and you'll see lots of higher-ups change jobs to work with people they worked with in the past. Which tends to keep outsiders, uh, outside. It’s a cycle that keeps perpetuating itself over the years.

I was also under the impression that the largest agencies, especially the big NYC ones, would have the most resources to find, recruit and train more minorities. But according to this reader, that may not be the case. And if NYC is the most diverse city in the world, what hope is there for ad agencies in, say, Denver or St. Louis? I’ve never been in the position of having to hire anyone. I have participated in interviewing people, and I’ll never forget after an Asian art director came to interview and my Creative Director said later, “Well, there’s your diversity.” As if one Asian could balance out 30 honkies. But you have to start somewhere, right? Plus, a more diverse workforce in an ad agency will result in a major change to its internal culture. Advertising people tend to be very loose-lipped and politically incorrect in meetings and conversations. Which is easier to do when you’re not afraid of offending anyone in the room. In other words, more diversity means more sensitivities to watch out for. Kinda takes the fun out of stereotyping people all day long, doesn’t it? The bottom line is, well, the bottom line. Ad agencies are too tightly staffed to go out of their way to recruit minorities the way FORTUNE 500 companies and others might. Plus, there is no job security for anyone--and agencies who layoff people on a somewhat regular basis might be opening themselves up to discrimination lawsuits if those layoffs include minorities. There may be some good old-fashioned CYA happening there. Agencies these days are not proactive--they're reactive. If clients demand that the agency staff reflect the makeup of their audience, then you might see things change. But it won’t happen just because some agency CEO makes a speech at an industry conference or some equal opportunity line gets thrown into a classified ad. It’ll happen one person at a time, one interview at a time, one position at a time. Like I said, I don’t think the answers are easy ones. Our society, and our industry, may simply never be able to truly look past someone’s looks. But it’s important to keep the conversation going. Because when it comes to matters of black, white and any other skin color—it’s all one big grey area, isn’t it?

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 99


Living Under the Bus
When people disagree over creative concepts, does anyone really win? Somewhere in between receiving awards in Cannes, France and writing on-hold messages in Dubuque, Iowa, there’s The Never Never Land of Subjectivity Hell. Many creatives spend a good deal of time there. The collaborative, creative process is a messy affair. We’re in the business of solving marketing problems, yet there is never “THE” answer, never a definitive right and wrong way to approach a problem. A receptionist can have an earth-shattering idea and an Executive Creative Director can have an awful one. But all ideas are not treated with equal attentiveness. So how do you maneuver your way through an agency where your work must get through a layered maze of approvals and egos? I found myself in a particularly hairy circle of Subjectivity Hell a while back. My partner and I had a brief freelance assignment at an agency in the throes of regime change: They had a new Executive Creative Director who in turn brought a Creative Group Head along with him. Stick a piranha in a tank full of goldfish and guppies and you’ll get a sense of the unease and unspoken tension I felt at the shop. So my partner and I do a few rounds of concepts. The Group Head likes our work and gives it his blessing. Naturally our work involved getting approvals up the totem pole, but my partner and I were feeling good about things. The next day, we present to the ECD. He was too busy to see the work until the last possible minute (at which point our freelance time is almost through.) Sure enough, the ECD hates what the Group Head liked, and decided that my partner and I were given bad strategic direction. So in front of everyone, the two creative directors start arguing over the validity of the creative brief. In the midst of this, my partner and I get blamed for not “solving the problem” and boy, are we screwed. As my partner and I sat there afterward, my partner said, “We were set up to fail.” While it smacks of the Nuremberg Defense--'Ve vere only following orderz'--what other options are available? A couple of freelance outsiders calling 2 CD’s on the carpet are about as welcome as cockroaches. Are incidents like the one I encountered a big deal? Of course. Because they’re the kind of situations that occur at agencies every day. Especially the second-rate ones, where doing great work gets lip service, but the butt cheeks of the creative directors get the lip prints. Do the math: take one dysfunctional assignment that you’ve personally encountered, multiply it by many times a year in hundreds of ad agencies, and it’s easy to see why most advertising sucks the big one.

(I found out later, after my partner and I were done with our assignment, that the agency ended up presenting some of our initial, panned concepts. So yes, I got a paycheck and a tiny sense of redemptive satisfaction.) You have to be careful when you’re in Subjectivity Hell. There may be an instinct to pursue creative concepts that aim to please everybody. The problem is, those types of ideas always end up satisfying nobody. That’s coupled with everyone having their own personal agenda. Plus, there’s no way to read anyone’s mind. Bringing fresh ideas to the table is challenging enough without having to tap dance through a minefield of office politics. And, because every assignment is different, there’s very little emphasis on wanting to improve the process, or fix communication snafus. If work goes out the door, well, it’s almost never talked about again, unless you have a RCD--a Retroactive Creative Director (“Oh yeah, that ad you did and I approved 3 months ago? I never liked it.”) Sometimes, when I read about the genesis of successful campaigns, I’ll see a quote like, “Well, so-and-so really hated it but we kept it in the mix.” I wonder how the creative team managed to get their ideas past the hairball of differing CD’s, or differing AE’s and clients for that matter. Frankly, I don’t want to read useless profiles of the people who come up with successful campaigns. I’d love to hear how the little battles to produce those great campaigns get fought and won. Bill Backer once said that ideas need “care and feeding.” But in Subjectivity Hell, ideas can starve, and people become roadkill when they’re thrown under the bus. It’s getting to be a rough neighborhood— especially in a business where there’s increasingly less time to think things through. So let’s be careful out there.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 101


Addicted to Advertising
Is pharmaceutical marketing benign—or is it a cancer on society? (Warning: reading my column may cause drowsiness, fatigue, and severe nausea. But it definitely won’t cause a four-hour erection.) Seems like the advertising industry has become addicted to drugs. The marketing of drugs, that is. But slowly, the intervention is being staged. A few weeks ago, a Viagra spot (the one featuring the creepy blue-horned horndog) was pulled off the air because the spot didn’t mention side effects. And recently Vioxx, an arthritis drug with a $160 million ad budget, was pulled off the shelves entirely because apparently, its side effects included an increased risk of heart attacks and death. Pharmaceutical advertising is a huge niche—spending on direct-to-consumer ads alone is over $3 billion a year. It’s perhaps the highest growth sector of the advertising and marketing business. So is the ad industry truly the nation’s pusherman? We all know that from a creative perspective, most drug ads are bad to the point of self-parody. You’ve seen the spots—montages of blue skies, meadows, happy old couples and a voiceover reeling off a list of scary side effects. Even The One Club had to create a separate award show for pharmaceutical ads— probably because the creative bar isn’t as high as it is for other types of clients, but the awards (and the entry fees that come along with them) are equally as alluring. Now, I’m not suggesting pharmaceutical companies are evil. They’re not—at least not any more evil than any other industry. Simply put, modern living has given us more of everything— including more sickness, and more ways to treat that sickness. So are we living longer because of more drugs? Or do we need more drugs because we’re living longer? I wonder if the ad industry is helping drug makers create false demand, and in this case, really messing with people’s lives. I’d like to think that working on medical services clients would bring some inner satisfaction, at least more so than working on a car dealer account. Once, I wrote some ads for a company that made medical devices. As I read through the marketing objectives, I started thinking that there was an altruism to the work, and that I was helping people live better lives. But at the same time, I was helping a company suck up to doctors in order to become the “partner” of choice, to the exclusion of other alternative treatments.

Which begs the question: Do doctors share the responsibility for this mess? I never thought it was my job to ask my doctor about a certain drug. I’ve always assumed it was my doctor’s job to tell me about one if I needed it. Now, however, I’m not inclined to believe what a doctor tells me any more than I’m inclined to believe what an advertisement tells me. All you have to do is take a look around any doctor’s office. The pens, the prescription notepads, the clock on the wall—they’re all emblazoned with the logo of the drug du jour. And that’s only what you see. You don’t see the stacks of trial samples in the closet. Or the free trips, dinners and other kickbacks doctors get in consideration for recommending the drugs and writing the prescriptions. What’s dangerous is when the advertising morphs into a professional opinion: Say you go to a doctor for medical services, yet your diagnosis and the doctor’s recommended treatment are influenced by an advertiser. How would you know? We trust that years of medical school and training won’t be compromised by an all-expenses paid weekend trip to a golf resort. It doesn’t matter what industries your clients are in; you can use the drug industry as example of how far marketing can, and does, go to reach consumers from every vantage point. Because the budgets are so large, every media tactic possible is used to promote prescription drugs. Marketing directors in other industries must be insanely jealous. You simply can’t ignore the sheer amount of branding. It’s everywhere. Not only is the marketing everywhere, sometimes it’s not easy to spot. One of the hallmarks of advertising has always been that you could spot it—you knew what was an ad and what wasn’t. Now of course, it’s fashionable to advertise in more stealthy ways—so you don’t know a message is actually an ad. Which could be relatively innocent if you’re a video game maker, but with pharmaceutical marketing, the stakes are obviously higher. In an industry where clients are shrinking their budgets, drug advertising is a virtual Brinks truck full of greenbacks dumped at an agency’s front door. And very few agencies would turn that kind of business away—even ones that would turn away tobacco clients (another legal drug, by the way, but one that many agencies proudly shun.) Don’t count on the government to regulate drug ads out of existence, either. The making and marketing of prescription drugs is extremely profitable, and the ad business is going have to live with it. I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel a little queasy.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 103


New Words for the New Year
Because sometimes writers invent ‘em when they’re tired of using all the old ones Every year, Merriam-Webster adds new words and terms to its dictionary. In 2004, for example, they added “MP3,” “information technology,” and “pleather.” I decided to get a head start on proposing some new ones for 2005. Of course, I write about what I know, so I’m suggesting these from the wonderful world of advertising and marketing: BrandGasm—A term applied to any ad agency’s proprietary, trademarked process for doing research, strategy, and planning for an account. Highly touted on websites and in credentials books but never really used. BrandGasms were invented to fool clients who don’t want to know their million-dollar ad budget is riding on an idea that popped into someone’s head while taking a shower. Any agency can have a BrandGasm, and some even have multiple BrandGasms. But all agencies are faking them. Award Loser—This applies to anyone who hasn’t won many awards, yet likes or rejects concepts based on guessing what an award show judge would think of the idea. Award Losers are notorious for saying things like “That concept’s not an award-winning ad.” “What would show judges think of that?” “That’s a bronze, but we really need a gold.” Often times, Award Losers will pull a One Show book off the shelf or find a great TV spot on the Internet and say, “This is what we ought to do.” Tagline Dependency Syndrome (TDS)—Describes any highly conceptual, often visuallyoriented ad that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever until you read or hear the brand’s tagline. Symptoms of TDS include a justification of the idea such as, “Consumers often like to complete the circle themselves.” Books from ad school graduates are often infected with many cases of TDS. But just like cholesterol, TDS comes in both good and bad forms. Retroactive Creative Director—Synonymous with the phrase “Monday Morning Quarterback,” the RCD doesn’t offer much feedback or creative direction on concepts—until they’re produced and out the door. Then the RCD comes along a few months later to blame the underlings responsible for the concept by saying, “Oh, I didn’t like that campaign you did,” even though the RCD approved it. Creative Diaper—This applies to any creative brief that has way too much shit in it. Like 7 or 8 primary objectives. Or a “single sentence” that feels like 3 sentences. Creative Diapers should be thrown away immediately in favor of a fresh, uncluttered one, but like all diapers, no one wants to touch it.

Conceptiwrap—A quick summary of what just transpired in a writer/art director concepting session. Often used to validate a 3-hour pool playing session where a few notes got scribbled on a sketchpad. Example: “We got a good start. I think there are some good nuggets here.” Marketing Subhumanager—A client, typically entry-level or mid-level, who possesses the authority to kill any work he/she doesn’t like or “get,” but lacks the authority to approve any work. Often they’ll say, “I need to go present this to so-and-so,” which means the concept won’t be presented with any enthusiasm or skill at all, and will die a horrible, premature death. Pity Patter—The awkward small talk you have to make with the people in your office you don’t know well —and don’t really care about. Like the nerdy IT guy or the accounting person who sits at the other end of the hall. Pity Patter takes place largely in the office kitchen or during holiday parties. It tends to involve forced, inane discussions simply because awkward silences are even worse. Common Pity Patter topics include: sick children; last night’s game; how tired you are on Monday and how glad you’ll be on Friday; and “What’s that stench coming from the microwave?” So there you have it. Now I’m off to go buy a new pleather case for my MP3 player. It’s perfectly acceptable to say that now.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 105


It’s All About the Benjamins--or the Bernbachs
Are making good ads and making good profits mutually exclusive? I once worked on a very retail-heavy account. Lots of weekly newspaper ads. Once a week, we had to send the ads went to 3 different newspapers, each on its own Zip disk. Being that our agency marked up production costs, we marked up the costs of the Zip disks a few dollars apiece. So one day, our client showed up at our office with a stack of brand new Zip disks, saying she was tired of paying our surcharges. But her stinginess didn’t stop there. She didn’t want to pay union talent costs for radio spots. And why hire real actors in her TV spot when “my employees can do it free?” 35mm film for a commercial? Just shoot on video, she said, it doesn’t make a difference. Taken individually, the little demands don’t seem like much. But taken as a whole, you can see that there’s very little money to be made from a client that counts the pennies. And very little concern for the production details that enhance the creative product. In one form or another, I’ve seen this behavior countless times. So how do you actually make profits in the ad biz? Money matters affect everything and everybody in agency life. Once I told my creative director I wasn’t happy with a couple of radio spots I had written and that I’d spend a couple of hours that evening fine-tuning them. “You don’t have any time left,” he said. He was referring to whatever hours were estimated for writing on that particular job—before any idea was even generated. If it was estimated that an ad would take 5 hours to write, that’s what the client gets billed. After 5 hours, I was told, it’s either done, or the agency starts losing money. Or does it? That kind of clockwatching argument goes against everything I’ve ever been taught about creative work—that you work on something until it’s right and you’re happy with it. And as a full-time employee, I’m a fixed cost. Whether I spend an hour on an ad or all day, I get paid the same. The quality of the end product is what I care about most. More and more, accounts and ad campaigns come down to matters of dollars and cents. Accounts are getting awarded based on what the client’s procurement division decides is the best (read: cheapest) offer. During some recent account reviews, there were clients who asked the agencies to disclose the salaries of everyone who would work on the account.

It’s not a surprise, because clients themselves are getting squeezed. In a world where you can comparison shop for anything on the Internet and Wal-Mart’s path to world domination comes from “Always Low Prices,” profit margins all over corporate America are shrinking. Consequently the expense of advertising, along with the value, is being called into question. Agencies, in turn, have to squeeze their suppliers as well. Use the cheapest paper for a brochure. Lowball a photographer with the promise that “we’ll make it up on the next job.” And so on. I’ve heard many ad people grumble about all this. I bet you’ve heard it too: “Lawyers don’t negotiate their hourly rates. Doctors don’t discount their fees. We’re professionals, so why are we so willing to do it?” And most agencies are perfectly willing to cave when a client tries to pay as little as possible for the work. Mostly, it’s out of fear of pissing off the client and losing the account. So whatever it takes to keep the agency lights on, it gets done. The trouble is, no one wins. The agency gets underpaid, which causes the staff to work ever harder on ads that can’t be produced right. The client won’t be happy because they’ll always be looking to haggle over the bills and if they can’t do that, they’ll search for a cheaper agency. I suppose it would take some sort of industry-wide agreement or standard to ensure that agencies get paid enough to avoid skating on razor-thin profit margins. In other words, it would take a freakin’ miracle. If you’ve got any insight into how to do great work and be profitable in this ever-squeezed business, please chip in your two cents’ worth. That is, if you can spare them.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 107


Wardrobe Malfunctions and Advertising Dysfunctions
Can advertising still surprise people when real-life is even more jarring? I was channel-surfing during last year’s Super Bowl halftime show. That’s right, I missed seeing live Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction, or “Nipplegate” if you prefer. Of course, I saw it replayed many times on talk shows. It has become the primary memory people have of Super Bowl XXXVIII. So, despite the pre-and post-game hype, and the creative triumphs like a farting horse and toilet paper sticking out of a quarterback’s butt, the commercials didn’t leave a lasting impression. Hundreds of millions of advertising dollars took a back seat to the spontaneous display of a tit. Because of the uproar over last year’s halftime show and the crass TV ads, the early word is that most spots this year won’t be aiming to out gross-out each other. I think that’s a step in the right direction, but not because last year’s spots were bad. Simply put: Nothing’s shocking anymore. At least nothing the advertising industry can come up with. I mention this because of the spec Volkswagen Polo TV spot that made the rounds last week— mentioned on blogs in addition to landing in my e-mail box. In the spot, a would-be suicide bomber pulls up to an outdoor café in a VW, and then, from a POV across the street, we see an explosion confined to inside the car—the bomber dies, but the VW survives intact. “Small but Tough” is the payoff tagline. When I first saw it, I just didn’t have much of a reaction beyond a nonchalant “Oh that’s kinda clever.” While it’s possible a small QuickTime movie diminishes the impact of the spot, I just didn’t find an ad poking fun of a suicide bomber all that funny. But I also didn’t find it shocking, offensive or in bad taste. No, my reaction was worse: I simply wasn’t affected. The ad guy in me says it’s because years of flipping through award shows annuals mean I see fewer and fewer ideas that are truly original, provocative, or stimulating. But the human in me has a different take. I’ve become desensitized--my brain numbed over constant exposure to realtime tsunami footage, a mudslide, a few Amber Alerts, a lingering war, basketball players who punch out fans, Paris Hilton’s scandals and Fox’s “Who’s Your Daddy?” And even though I’ve got my own problems to deal with, these events invade my senses— because I am a reader of magazines, a viewer of TV, a surfer of the Internet. Which means I am a prime target for many advertisers and their messages.

So when Mother Nature is the one that’s pushing the envelope, and real world events are happening outside the box, what the hell is so edgy about advertising? Our industry is facing a time where commanding an audience’s attention will require more than simply making ads that are shocking or outrageous. No, I’m not suggesting a move towards dull or milquetoast work. But we might need to redefine what constitutes cutting-edge work. Maybe writing ads with intelligence can be considered pushing the envelope. Or maybe telling the truth will now be viewed as edgy. Still, I’m looking forward to seeing what this year’s Super Bowl brings us. We’ll see some funny ads, some clever ads, maybe some gross ads. But we may not recall them a week later if reality proves to be more memorable. Oh, you want memorable? The next time you’re told to push an idea farther to make it truly “breakthrough,” rip your Creative Director’s shirt and expose a nipple. That’ll cut through the clutter for sure.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 109


H-P and the Bigger Picture
What happens when a great campaign can’t help a troubled client? Miss the business news for the past 10 days? Let me summarize: February 7: Adweek gives Hewlett-Packard its “Campaign of the Year” award. February 9: Carly Fiorina, Hewlett-Packard CEO, gets fired. February 14: Alison Johnson, Hewlett-Packard SVP of Corporate Marketing, resigns. Lest you think an honor from Adweek is a jinx, this is just a case of coincidental timing. Other business magazines have been hinting at a CEO change for months. And it seems the ad campaign played no role in reflecting Fiorina’s overall performance. However, any change in top management usually foreshadows a change in the direction of advertising and marketing. Which would be a shame, because the ad agency (Goodby, in this case) did what it was charged to do and did it well. So do recent events mean, in the end, that the campaign didn’t work, or that the campaign wasn’t the right idea for the company? Once again, we’ll see soon whether an ad agency is treated like a partner or merely a vendor—by whether the H-P retains the agency and solicits their advice as management forges ahead with a new corporate strategy. Positioning H-P as a leader in digital imaging and printing wasn’t a panacea—the company has deeper problems that ads can’t fix. This paradox is one advertising agencies have wrestled with for decades. A successful, highly praised ad campaign doesn’t mean automatic success for an agency—or the client. The converse is true as well—a highly loathed, bland ad campaign can prove perfectly okay for a company whose balance sheet is healthy and whose investors get a nice return on their stock. These are some of the reasons why many CEO’s don’t place a high value on their advertising. So if agencies are so disposable, even after producing successful work, does this mean advertising people should still care about how their clients’ business is doing? I say of course. But I’ve met and worked for numerous people who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about their client’s business, so long as they got a nice TV spot out of the deal. Many creative folks wear their ignorance like a badge of honor. And in the ad world, a nice TV spot can take your career a lot further than finding other, unglamorous ways to improve a client’s business. The clients go away, the ad people move on to something else, and wheels of commerce keep turning.

But our industry needs to change—or perish. We love to bitch that our clients don’t understand advertising—say, when clients are presented with a humorous concept and take it literally, or they simply don’t get it. Well, the ignorance works in reverse—we advertising people often don’t understand their business or their industry. Although it’s often our detachment that can point out the opportunities and problems a client has, and we can use that to their benefit to help them. If only we had the opportunity, or took the initiative to seize it. It’ll be very interesting to see where H-P goes from here. And they’re not the only company facing this situation. Every high-profile account review seems to reflect something beyond a client’s dissatisfaction with its advertising. Ad agencies must adjust to a restless business climate. Maybe soon we’ll see the day where “the board of directors” and “stockholders” are listed as the target audience on a creative brief. Boy, that’s not a rosy picture, is it?

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 111


Boeing and Banging
Boeing’s CEO had an affair and got fired. Maybe a career in advertising would suit him better This week, Boeing CEO Harry Stonecipher was fired for having an affair with a female company executive. And once again, corporate policies, ethics and conduct are under scrutiny. Affairs among high-powered people and their business associates are nothing new. Jack Welch of GE had one. Rudy Giuliani had one as mayor of New York City. Some people are just drunk on power. But in the advertising industry, it seems, such behavior is more pervasive up and down the totem pole. If there’s anything the ad industry produces more of than TV spots or junk mail, it’s salacious gossip. And I’ve heard, as I’m sure you have as well, any number of tawdry rumors of CEOs getting their swerve on at a Christmas party, or other employees doing it in or out of the office. Our business has all the ingredients for a stew of sexual tension: Long hours, frequent travel, loose ethical standards, young horny employees, heavy drinking, and the general freedom to say almost anything on one’s mind in the spirit of “ideation” or “concepting.” Even some ad industry lingo is suggestive: “Can you mount that?” “I think you need to push that further.” “We have 2 good ones. We need a third.” It’s no accident that a disproportionate number of people in the ad biz are married to other ad people, or creative types in general. Some are legendary: in 1967, Mary Wells married Harding Lawrence, who was her client at Braniff. Now that’s superior account service. There are no across-the-board ad industry standards about these kinds of issues (just like there are no standards for anything else.) Interestingly, I actually know of a few agencies that have a policy of not hiring two spouses. And there are some agencies that were started by husband-andwife teams. But it’s also possible that something is seriously out of whack in our society, or in our industry, when there’s no work/life balance. When so much of our energy is spent on our jobs, and so much time is spent with our co-workers, our families and friends don’t get the attention they deserve. So it becomes hard to meet people outside of work if you’re single, and way too easy to get involved with people at work if you’re married.

There are other potential consequences to a sexually charged work environment. One former writer’s assistant on “Friends” is suing for harassment because she was subjected to hearing “coarse, vulgar and demeaning language” in the writers’ room. The defense maintains that such talk is part of the creative process. And I’ll buy that argument, but still, some people have less tolerance for sex talk and we need to be cognizant of that. So in the interest of self-preservation, companies like Boeing, which have more conservative environments, will probably re-evaluate their personnel policies and trying to maintain a zerotolerance stance in the wake of the Stonecipher incident. But I don’t think we’ll see a lot of stricter fraternization codes in ad agencies. After all, it’s one way of ensuring where the next generation of ad talent will come from.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 113


Desperate Housewives and Desperate Senators
If cable TV gets fined for indecency, will advertising be next? Last month, Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska proposed that cable TV, satellite TV & satellite radio —things you pay for--be subjected to the same “indecency” standards that broadcast programming is held to. Which means, much like what the FCC did to Howard Stern, the government would be empowered to impose fines on pay services. “The problem is most viewers don't differentiate between over-the-air and cable," Stevens said. "Cable is a greater violator in the indecency arena...there has to be some standard of decency." Frankly, I don’t think an 81 year-old Senator from Alaska has the clarity of mind to make such presumptuous statements or determine what a standard of decency would be. His TV diet probably consists of Andy Griffith reruns and “Antiques Roadshow.” Hell, he is a one-man antique roadshow. But more and more, attention is being turned toward entertainment and the values it reflects. A growing chorus of people are claiming that Hollywood doesn’t represent the values of mainstream America. We’ve seen plenty of recent examples of how Congress wants to stick its collective noses into the private lives and choices of people—and this is not much different, pay services being a choice consumers willingly make. And if “Madison” and “Vine” are truly converging, it won’t be a far leap to go from enforcing decency in broadcast programming to enforcing decency in broadcast advertising. So let’s think for a minute: What values does the advertising industry reflect? There’s no simple answer—our industry is a bizarre confluence of both progressive dreaming and ass-backwards reality. Whether you live in a city or out in the ‘burbs, on one of the coasts or in Kansas City, chances are your ad agency is housed in an urban area, or at least the busy part of town. And although I’ve met a handful of backwards thinkers and puritanistic Bible-thumpers in the ad business, most of us deliberately explore the edges of the popular culture—because in the constant quest for new ideas, advertising often co-opts edgy culture and mainstreams it for mass consumption. In the end, the work we do reflects the conservative culture of Corporate America more than our personal tastes. Because our clients are the ones we have to satisfy. And many clients fear great ideas simply because they’re afraid of consequences---like angry phone calls from consumers and idiotic statements from politicians such as Ted Stevens.

So the values of advertising are rooted in mainstream business. But you don’t need to be a Boeing, Enron, or ChoicePoint stockholder to realize that corporations, no matter how small or large, are not the keepers of a virtuous value system. Which begs the question—what’s indecent, anyway? Mickey Rooney’s bare ass? Or is indecency something more subtle—like selling supersized fast food meals to blubbery teenagers? How about convincing people to take out a second mortgage to buy a new Hummer to drive to the grocery store? Advertising is, of course, somewhat regulated right now. There are claims we can’t make and competitors we can’t bash. Plus, a media outlet has the right to refuse to run an ad it doesn’t deem appropriate. But if we don’t keep advertising on a higher ground, treating people with intelligence instead of condescension, and protecting the industry from outside attack, folks like Ted Stevens will turn their sights to more regulation of advertising. Because the more desperate we and our clients get in our tactics, the more desperate the government will be to do something about it.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 115


Maximizing Our Skill Sets to Enable Synergistic Crap
Why advertising people speak like idiots Today’s deliverable is a best-in-class solution. So why aren’t you psyched about reading more? After all, business people the world over get paid big bucks to spew that kind of nonsense. That’s what I realized while reading a great new book called “Why Business People Speak Like Idiots.” A quick and easy read, it implores people to use their own voice at work—because that’s what people like and remember, as opposed to using jargon and doublespeak that makes you sound like everyone else. Of course, that argument made perfect sense to me as someone who writes with a distinct voice. But then, reading the book’s real-life examples of corporate bullshit, I got chills down my spine as the ugly truth dawned on me: Advertising professionals and marketing people use as much meaningless jargon as the most PowerPoint-addicted management consultants. And even the supposedly best creative boutiques are guilty of this. I once sent my portfolio to such an agency—one that had a cleverly written web site that even poked fun at unnecessarily complex marketing jargon. After an initial inquiry and a few work samples, the Creative Manager sent me a cheery note that said, “Send it all! We are looking and I'd love to see the rest of your work. Any format you have. Look forward to seeing the rest of your stuff!” Yes, she tossed in the exclamation points for added eagerness and perkiness. Two weeks later, I got a clearly generic cut-and-pasted reply stating, “At the moment we do not have any openings that match your skill set. However, we will keep your information on file and contact you if something appropriate arises.” I politely replied, inquiring for specific feedback, but got no response. It was as if aliens swooped down and replaced a human Creative Manager with a robotic corporate drone. But even worse, such language ran directly contrary to the agency’s brand “philosophy” as demonstrated on their web site. And that’s the point. Ad agencies as a whole, are brands unto themselves, the people at the agency (and their correspondence) an extension of that brand. Treat your employees, co-workers, clients, and all the other people who come into contact with your agency like human beings and only then will you have an authentic, respectable brand. Pepper your communication with jargon and your agency will sound like an insurance agency, not an advertising agency.

There’s no excuse for an advertising agency to hide behind corporate doublespeak. In fact, it’s completely hypocritical given what we love to preach to our clients about the simplicity of powerful, direct language. Now let’s contrast that ad agency with a different service business, a company that gets it. Southwest Airlines doesn’t even accept e-mails from their customers. Because, as it’s stated on their website: “Our Customers deserve accurate, specific, personal, and professionally written answers, and it takes time to research, investigate, and compose a real business letter. We answer every letter we receive in the order it arrives…to keep our costs low, our People productive, our operating efficiency high, and our responses warm and personal.” And Southwest is in the airline business (or the ‘freedom business,’ for you GSD&M fans.) Perhaps that attitude is one of the reasons Southwest is making money while nearly every other airline is losing money even as you read this. Southwest may not be a glamorous brand, but at least it’s an authentic one. We need some of that authenticity in our business. Advertising is a self-critical, self-reverential, self-absorbed business. We spend so much time talking about advertising to other advertising people you’d think none of us working in the business would be able to tolerate jargon, much less spew it ourselves. But we embrace it, toss it into our agency website “philosophy” sections and cram it into new business presentations—even when we know that what’s being said is meaningless. I’d love to hear if you’ve been able to resist the temptation to couch your words in meaningless drivel. But please don’t reinvent by wheel by ideating a paradigm-shifting holistic manifesto. The ability to swallow that kind of crap simply isn’t in my skill set.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 117


Installing an Upgrade to Ad Industry 2.0
How to make sure you evolve—even if your agency and your coworkers don’t It’s been a month full of upgrades. First, I got a new cell phone. Then I upgraded to the Mac’s new “Tiger” OS. And then the folks at Talent Zoo launched a massive upgrade to their website which needed my assistance. Every one of these was time consuming and sometimes a pain in the ass, but I’m better off for doing them. Technology is not the only thing that needs regular updating. You have to continually improve your skills to stay current. So are you upgrading your mind to make yourself a better ad professional? Is your agency upgrading itself? I suppose there are some professions out there that don’t change very rapidly. Not advertising. Even if you’ve been in business for just 10 years, you’ve seen it change completely. (I always wonder whether David Ogilvy, if he were alive today, would send a PDF of an ad to a client for approval.) Some ad people need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the present day. I can recall being an intern in 1993, when I helped a 50-something art director use a Mac for the first time. He resisted getting a computer in his office for the longest time—-and was shocked when I showed him how easy it was to move margins in Microsoft Word. Later on I encountered the CEO who had no clue how to go about buying and installing an internal agency e-mail system. The Luddite CD who never read his e-mail. The other CD who frowned upon office use of the Internet—except when he used it to poach concept ideas and look at porn when he could get away with it. So when these agencies’ competitors (and their clients’ competitors) make forward strides or embrace new technologies and ideas, they were left dumbfounded. Part of the problem is so many ad professionals devote a lot of time to do their job— and try to have a life outside of work. There’s little time to improve your knowledge to make yourself aware of current trends in business or culture. In contrast, young people & college students have free time, open minds, campuses usually stocked with the latest technology, and friends who are into discovering new things. That’s the power of junior-level talent. People entrenched in this business or comfortable in their positions are, for the most part, notoriously reluctant to change. As a result, they quickly become dinosaurs.

Staying relevant pays off—look at Bill Gates. It’s known that twice a year, Bill Gates spends a week at a secluded cabin where all he does is read. Magazines, books, and reams of internal Microsoft paper and reports. Tons of stuff. And that’s the week when he thinks hard and makes the crucial decisions that affect the company’s direction. Does your agency’s CEO do that? Are the people in your shop abreast of how fast the ad world is changing? Are they aware of what’s going on inside their own business? Or are they still thinking they’re one great 30-second network commercial away from fame and glory? Like all human beings, ad people are creatures of habit. However, that’s no excuse. If you want to remain relevant, you have to keep yourself up-to-date. Discover new influences. New technology. New methods of problem-solving. And if you’re in a powerful position in the ad biz, change can’t simply be something you talk about. Your agency has to actively find new ways to hire people, manage the business, deal with clients and stimulate everybody to produce better work. Otherwise you’ll face a downward slide—maybe not a quick one, but a gradual decline for certain. I plan to keep upgrading myself. Because I know contented people in advertising are everywhere —and if you’re one of them, send your resume over to N.W. Ayer. I heard a while back they might be hiring folks to work on Eastern Airlines.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 119


Madison Avenue, Main Street, and the Arab Street
To win hearts and minds, or merely wallets, perception is everything We’ve all had tough clients and tough brands that gave us a good marketing challenge. But could you successfully market a brand people hate? Recently, on behalf of the Council on Foreign Relations, Charney Research conducted 14 focus groups among college graduates in Egypt, Morocco and Indonesia to determine sentiments about America in the Arab world. Of course, Anti-Americanism sentiments were rampant, but what surprised me were the whacked-out misconceptions that served as the basis of their hatred. The focus group participants fervently believed, among other things, that up to 85% of America’s citizens are Jews (it’s more like 2%) who also control nearly all of Congress. In addition, the focus group participants were unaware that America has given billions in foreign aid to their countries and other nations. They thought the figure was only in the millions. Remember, these were university-educated people. How could their view of the US be so incorrect? Their perceptions have been shaped in a society that only presents to them a skewed vision of reality. They know only what their government and religious leaders tell them, or what they read and hear in government-run media. As a result, America is not a brand they can experience or comparatively shop—they can’t kick the tires, so to speak. Our country’s actions are far from perfect, but as long as the positive attributes remain ignored in Arab countries we don’t stand a chance to win their “hearts and minds.” Now what does all of that have to do with our job as advertising people? Plenty. In America, even deodorant makers have an easier time selling themselves. That’s because we live in a world where access to information, positive and negative, is infinite. Consumers don’t rely on advertising messages to make purchasing decisions. They’re free to buy the products or reject the products. So advertising people have to be incredibly skillful—and truthful-persuaders. But we’re paid to present one side. Our client’s side. Through, empathy, or comedy or fear, clients pay us to move product. Sometimes, all we consider is our client’s vantage point, and not consumer perception. That’s when advertising sounds like bullshit.

Maybe you’ve written an ad saying your client’s product is the ultimate “solution.” Or your client asks you to emphasize their “superior customer service.” Even if everyone quietly knows what you’re shoveling doesn’t smell too good, you have no choice. At least, not if you want to keep your job or your agency wants to keep the account. The problem is, people believe what they choose to, whether based in truth or not. As advertising professionals, we must be aware of these perceptions in order to change minds. This is not merely a political or marketing phenomenon. The perception battle is even fought within our industry. I’ll give you another example. Adweek recently took an editorial cue from a high school yearbook and published a reader poll of “Best & Worst” ad agencies in a number of categories. Grey took the dubious honor of “Worst Agency Reel.” Now, I’m sure most of the voters (ad people) don’t know what Grey actually had on its reel, but since the industry perception of Grey is that they’re a perennial poster child for creative mediocrity, they took the title. To combat this, Grey put up a website called worstagencyreel.com, where you can actually see the reel and decide for yourself its degree of wretchedness. Maybe Grey can win some “hearts and minds” by actually getting people to watch the reel. Or maybe Adweek readers are as prone to preconceptions as a focus group of college-educated Indonesians. The lesson of all of these example is simple: We can only do our best work, influence consumer perceptions, change minds, and increase sales if we and our clients know what consumers really think—good and bad. The truth isn’t always pretty, but it’s the starting point for any good strategy or creative brief. Some minds will never be changed—not in the Arab world, the business world, or the advertising world. But any advertising or marketing person who doesn’t understand the power of consumer perception, especially preconceived notions, lives in a world of their own.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 121


If You’ve Been Injured by an Ad Agency...
Can there be malpractice in an industry with no standards and practices?

“Can we revisit the copy? The headlines and body copy are a little too creative for the brand.”
That was the change request I received one day while writing ads to promote a bank’s sponsorship of basketball teams—newspaper ads created specifically to run in a special basketball-themed insert. Keeping that in mind, I artfully weaved bank services with basketball verbage. Now, I wasn’t going to practice a gold pencil acceptance speech because of these ads; in other words, the ads weren’t pushing any envelopes and they were well inside the box. So being called “too creative,” in this instance, was laughable. I have no idea how this decision got made, but I believe the ads were deemed “too creative” by a young AE—without showing it to anyone else, least of all the client. Thinking about it later, I wondered what would happen if a client ever found out that its agency was intentionally making ads that were “less creative” by design. Isn’t that a kind of malpractice? Yes, that’s a loaded word, malpractice—it conjures up armies of ambulance-chasing laywers, subpoenas in hand. The last thing any ad agency needs is an accusation of malpractice—but is there such a thing? Should there be? The spectrum of advertising is a very simple one. At one end is a compliant agency of ordertakers, giving the client exactly what they request, clichéd word for clichéd word. At the other end is an agency of arrogant, self-appointed experts shoving a concept or an ad down the client’s throat. 99% of all advertising in the world falls somewhere in the middle. The best of us hope a client will recognize that we are using our expertise to make appropriate recommendations. But if an agency, internally, knows that it is intentionally watering down a creative concept, or not giving a client its best thinking for one reason or another, can that be proven? Or is it always subjective?

We live in strange times—even in the last 2 weeks, we’ve seen pharmaceutical companies voluntarily holding back the advertising of new drugs, yet BusinessWeek ran an article suggesting that Toyota is pursuing a strategy to insert itself into the editorial content of magazines. Any ad agencies involved in these decisions are likely working to the best of their abilities—yet one is pulling back, and one is venturing into unchartered territory. Who can judge what’s truly best, or even ethical? The problem isn’t merely that no one can define what great advertising is. No one can define what advertising is, period. So “malpractice” would have to be in the eye of the beholder. Advertising will never have the equivalent of medicine’s Hippocratic Oath. There will never be a set of guidelines and principles to aspire to that would be universally accepted. And fear of creative and provocative concepts will always be there, whether it comes from our co-workers or our clients. We can only hope that the market is self-correcting, that bad agencies, and bad people in those agencies, will be rooted out of the business. Because we certainly don’t want teams of lawyers deciding what constitutes good advertising practices. Lord knows, they would deem almost anything except the 5-point mandatory fine print as “too creative.”

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 123


The Home for the Strategically Challenged
Can you ever make a great ad from a bad strategy? When my client, the CEO of a well-known widget company, started banging his fist on the table, I knew we were in trouble. “Power,” he said. “That’s what we need to hammer home. We’re the leader in power. Power, power, power.” Only we knew it wasn’t true. His competitors had equally powerful widgets. And a new widget manufacturer had just entered the market with impressive technology and a design that oneupped everyone else. But no one from the agency who was in that meeting that day, not the AE, not the Creative Director, not the agency president, not me or my art director, challenged him on this assertion, which would become the new strategic direction for our ads. Oh, yeah, and he wanted one more mandatory element: Babies. “Our target audience is women,” the CEO said. “When we’ve used babies in our ads before, the focus groups remember those ads. We have brand equity in babies.” So off went my art director and I, to concept ads with babies that would reinforce a position of power. There wasn’t any recourse. At that point, what the CEO asked for became sacrosanct to the AE. When reviewing the concepts, it was her mantra. “We don’t hit the power message hard enough. We’re not hitting the babies hard enough.” (Okay, she didn’t say that last sentence, but she implied it.) Like all other aspects of advertising, strategic thinking has evolved. From the idea of a USP, to Ries and Trout’s idea of “Positioning,” to now, when we capture attention by any means necessary, be it entertainment, interruption, or sheer weirdness. More, and more, consumers reject what simply doesn’t ring true or relevant to them. So why do so many clients keep resorting to cliched thinking? Why do agencies continue to accept those mandates? Is there a place in agency life anymore for well-thought-out strategic thinking? See if these platitudes ring a bell: “We don’t give the clients what they want. We give them what they need.” “We always show the clients something that’ll scare them.” Somehow, when the CEO is in the room, it rarely happens.

Ad agencies can only survive if they offer a service no one else can, and be the impartial thinker that aims to make the client’s business succeed. It’s a reason why I believe creative people, the ones doing the work, ought to have a say in strategy as early as possible in the process. (If they want a say, that is. Many creatives simply don’t care, and they’re only screwing themselves if they can’t think strategically.) Because when you’re the one making the product, you want the raw ingredients and blueprints to be the best possible. And you need the option to revisit the strategy if the process doesn’t yield great concepts. Otherwise, you might end up with something like, say, “Fried chicken is part of a healthy diet.” Unfortunately, many agencies still operate on an assembly line approach, where you do only one thing, and don’t dare suggest how to do anything else. When Henry Ford did it, he made cars a commodity. Now, many ad agencies have let their strategic thinking, and the work that follows, become a commodity. In other words, for you all who love buzzwords, an agency with a multidisciplinary approach needs multidisciplinary people. With the freedom to weigh in on something even if it’s not reflective of the title on their business card. If an agency’s employees only know how to do one thing, an agency won’t succeed at anything. And, when your client starts banging his fist on the conference room table, no amount of photogenic babies can save you.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 125


Taking Size 14 and 36DD Risks
Two new ads show some skin—but do they show any guts? Just when the summer was passing by uneventfully, leave it to the ad industry to shove some T&A in our faces. I've got two recent examples I'd like to compare and contrast. The first ad, an ad to promote Advertising Week, featured some prominent cleavage with the headline "Advertising. We all do it." The second is a campaign for Dove Firming Lotion featured some real women (not models) showing off their not-supermodel-firm bodies and being proud of them. There’s a bit of, ahem, naked honesty in both ads. The Advertising Week ad reminds us that everyone promotes his/herself in some way (the other ads in the campaign, while less overt, have the same takeaway message). And until the Amish look comes in vogue, women know dressing scantily will command the attention of men. Like George Costanza once said, "It’s cleavage. I couldn’t look away!" The Dove ads affirm that its product works for the benefit of so-called “real women” by using real women in an un-airbrushed form, as opposed to the models so prevalent in typical beauty product ads. So are either of these campaigns likely to get in CA or win a One Show award? Practically speaking, I know neither one seems likely to win—at least the way shows are judged these days. Now, the Dove campaign might win an "EFFIE" for its effectiveness but to creatives, EFFIEs are the bastard stepchild of awards shows. But think about this: Which campaign took more risks? Which one defied conventional wisdom? Which one reasonated more with its target audience? Which campaign brought a new level of attention to its respective category? The middle-aged-white-male-overgrown-frat-boy-ad-award-show judge mentality says the Advertising Week ads would be more worthy of a trophy. But even though they're funny, they seem tame in the world of advertising self-promotion efforts. Advertising people like to push the industry inside jokes pretty far, so there’s essentially nothing too shocking about a little cleavage. In contrast, Dove certainly has put itself, and the women promoting it, out there for the world to see. Backed by an all-out PR push, The Dove campaign has people talking. Not just ad people. News articles, columnists, bloggers, people on the street, everyone's got an opinion. The billboards have even been defaced in subway stations. Nothing's more successful than an ad campaign so provocative it’s both loved and hated in mass quantities. Plus, it's an integrated campaign—with a significant web component as well as traditional media.

So why wouldn't it be worthy of a significant creative award? No catchy British-style witty headline? No Singaporean visual solution? Would an ad for something called ‘Dove firming lotion” be better if all you showed was some freaky visual, like a porcupine with silky smooth skin? All the creative directors who preach the importance of advertising that contains "simple human truths" ought to be applauding the Dove campaign. And anyone who babbles about the importance of an integrated, consumer-engaging, more than just ads, old-plus-new media campaign should be on board, too. Even if they'd never dream of concepting these particular ads. So little advertising actually commands anyone's attention anymore, yet Dove's campaign has been provocative—good and bad. Hallelujah. That's the kind of risk-taking we rarely see. Yet award show judges will avoid it—in much the same way they'd avoid the fat chicks near the pool at Loews Santa Monica. Like I said before, don’t go looking for either of these campaigns to end up in next year's award show books. But if you judge them with truly high standards, you should look beyond the surface. Because it's not just women that come in all shapes, sizes and forms. In advertising, risk-taking does too.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 127


When A.D.D. Adds Up to Crapola
Can short-lived campaigns and small projects lead to long-term success and big ideas? I once worked on an account where our agency wasn't considered the “agency of record” for the particular client. Instead, we did quite a lot of non-glamorous advertising while another, more high-profile shop took the big-budget work. Our AE’s were always hoping the lead agency would screw up an assignment so we could get a crack at the sloppy seconds, hoping that doing a great job at the last minute would convince the client we could be trusted with all the work. I bring this up because of the growing phenomenon of clients and marketers who are “adding to their agency roster” by parceling out projects to various agencies. On one level, it’s truly wonderful that great smaller agencies are getting a shot at some impressive pieces of business. But it is healthy for a brand to spread the work around in small morsels, or does it hurt the brand and waste money? Inevitably, project work creates consistency problems. Every agency wants to create a unique look and feel for a brand without regard to what was previously done. Or better yet, agencies want to use their oh-so-special “proprietary branding process” to impress the client. Agencies who share an account rarely share creative briefs or research. So a multitude of messages spill into the marketplace. Different strategies, different tones, even different taglines. Half of a brand’s advertising can easily be great, and half of it can be hackwork—at the same time. For better or for worse, we all think short-term now. To do project work for a client means the advertising needs to cause a quick, sudden splash, even if it’s completely forgotten in a month or so in favor of some other campaign. Results? Effectiveness? No one in the ad world gives a crap, because we move on to some other project so quickly. Agencies who work on a project basis are essentially freelancers. And hired-gun freelancers care about the end result for only as long as they’re paid to care. Just as A.D.D. has permeated all parts of our society, it’s an inherent part of the way the advertising agency world does business. We don’t spend time developing coherent strategies. Any body copy longer than a paragraph ends up being changed to PowerPoint-esque bullet point pablum. The production artists have to get the work out tonight—or else. Technology has forced us to produce work far faster than we can process the information that enables us to do it properly.

Clients know we’ll jump when they ask us to. Because often, they face the same pressures. Never mind end-of-fiscal quarter results; clients now focus on monthly sales figures or even the daily ones. And in their desperation to move product, they’ll try their own ill-conceived shortterm solutions--like bringing Lee Iacocca and Snoop Dogg together to push backlogged Chryslers at steep discounts. (I’ll bet that once the price-break promotion is over, Chrysler sales will, uh, fizzle, fo’ shizzle.) I don’t see any way that the cycle will get slower. Ad Agencies will have to get faster and cheaper, or else clients and marketers will yank an account from an agency take their business elsewhere. The trouble is, if the clients don’t plan for long-term success, and agencies aren’t conditioned to care about long-term account lifespans, the quality of the advertising drops and the consumers tune out. And if the consumers stop responding to advertising altogether, well, that’s when we might start paying attention once again.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 129


Stuck on Stupid
Advertising and PR don't work well if they don't jibe with reality When the gloriously badass Lt. General Russel Honore rolled into New Orleans to oversee military operations a couple of weeks ago, he was asked why the response took so long. "This is a disaster," he said. "This isn't something somebody can control. We ain't stuck on stupid." Well, there are few Russel Honores in the advertising industry. If we think we have absolute control over public perception anymore, we're stuck on stupid. Watching TV the last few weeks reminded me that any PR or advertising initiative, when it simply doesn't match reality, can indeed look stupid. Nowhere was the vacuum so clear than in the news coverage of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. The Bush administration choreographs the President’s every piss for maximum image appeal. So the contrast between deteriorating conditions in New Orleans and the official attitude of government officials turned into a lesson we advertising people can heed. As the situation got obviously worse, people got mad. And often, raw emotion took precedence over objective news reporting. Anchors like Anderson Cooper and Shepard Smith rediscovered their testicles amidst the Gulf Coast debris. Elected officials and TV pundits had a hard time putting on a happy face when they were confronted with reality live on the air. Even President Bush needed a DVD compilation of news reports 4 days after the storm hit so he could actually see what was happening. It's once again a reminder that advertising and marketing people need to get out of our collective bubble. Our ability to size up a situation from a somewhat neutral position the only advantage we have if we want any influence over shaping the images of our clients. More and more, we're living in a transparent age. Just because an ad says something, a marketing VP says something, or a PR campaign says something, doesn't make it true. Some recent examples bear this out: Dell's advertised its "award-winning service and support" for years but when a prominent blogger got the runaround from Dell's customer service reps, he told the world of his troubles and found many folks who've had similar experiences. In the spring, while Wal-Mart opened its corporate headquarters to the press in a charm offensive, in Arizona they authorized an ad comparing a new store's opponents to Nazi book burners. And Kaiser Permanente has enlisted Bob Dylan in an image-burnishing ad campaign to insist "The Times They Are A-Changin'" while consumer-generated websites tell horror stories of their experience as Kaiser HMO patients.

A glossy ad or a shiny happy PR campaign can't completely wash away those contrasting realities. I've often heard creative directors say they like ads that reflect little "human truths." But here's the problem: There is very little truth anymore. Everyone has their own version of the truth, and when it comes to brands, consumers will decide what the truth is. Maybe they'll experience something firsthand. Maybe they'll learn it in school. Maybe they'll find it on the Internet. Or maybe, just maybe, they'll get the truth from ad or a news report spun from a PR campaign. And marketing and advertising can still make an impact. With thought-provoking work that bears some relevance to the real world or provides comic relief that lets people escape the harshness of the real world. And by losing the clichéd thinking and marketing buzzwords. Stopping clients from insisting they offer "great service" when they don't. Or pushing the notion that a client's product or service is a "solution" when there really is no real problem to solve, only something that needs selling. We have a messy media landscape right now. With plenty of challenges and opportunities for smart marketing and advertising. There's plenty of cleanup work to be done and I think we'll be able to see the results. That is, as long as we can see for ourselves the reality that's on the ground —and we're not stuck on stupid.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 131


Directly Speaking, Can We Control Ourselves?
If you're personally affected by bad advertising, maybe you'll think twice about foisting it on the public

My bank reminds me that I'm "special" to them through their TV ads. But I'm not feeling so special. I left town for 9 days. When I returned, I found 2 disturbing things in the mail from the bank: 1) A "CheckCard" I never asked for. Sitting in an envelope so any moron, just by touch, could feel the thick card enclosed. And waiting to be "instantly activated” any time of day or night. 2) A letter containing my PIN number. Printed in bold. Yes, my PIN number. The one that's supposed to be a freakin' secret. Had anyone other than my trustworthy neighbor collected my mail, a pilferer could've taken #1 and #2, cleaned out my bank account and trashed my credit rating. So I cut the card & the letter up and threw them away. But 3 days after I got back in town, the piece de resistance came: 3) A solicitation from the bank to subscribe to a $9 per month "Identity Protect" service that would supposedly protect me against identity theft and credit fraud. Well, guess what. Companies like my bank, and their direct marketing gnomes, cause the problem in the first place by sending Direct Mail crap that can directly result in identity theft and credit fraud. Because all this happened to me the very same week the ad industry had a little New York City love-in, I was reminded how far our business can sink. There’s no restraint. Anywhere. At least it feels that way. We walk a very thin line in the advertising industry. Consumers tolerate the bombardment of messages, because they like cheap magazines and newspapers and sometimes-cheap TV. And occasionally, advertising becomes an invited part of the culture. Yet at the same time, there's a whole world of advertising that we rarely celebrate, but we do it because our clients demand it. We write it, bill it, and get it off our desks, never to be seen again. That is, until it shows up in the mail with your PIN on it.

Unless Direct Mail gurus and Direct Marketing wankers get their act together, the advertising industry as a whole will never get any respect, no matter how many icons parade through Times Square. And if it seems I'm being particularly harsh on that medium, well, you're right. Because Direct Marketing is the one area that’s most rife with abuse, with its addiction to intrusive data collection as well as its utter banality. Target me directly, and I'll respond directly, like it or not. Besides, since I work in the ad industry, I know this wasn't a faceless backroom operation. Someone high up at my bank had the idea to send out unsolicited CheckCards. Someone thought the PINs should be disclosed. Someone had to write and proofread the DM letters. Someone had to cross-check the customer database. Someone had to coordinate the printing, the mailing, etc. Dozens of people had a hand in approving this marketing clusterfuck, starting with the client. And no one seemed to think it was a bad idea. I spoke to one of the bank’s truly pleasant customer service representatives to make sure I never got anything like this again. She gave me the corporate BS: "We sent a mass mailing out to all our valued customers..." Well, if my account had been cleaned out, the value would have been jack squat. And it would've been directly the fault of the bank's irresponsible marketing nimrods, not an unsuspecting branch manager, bank teller, or phone rep who usually take the brunt of the consumer complaints. Fortunately, no one wants to be me that badly, so for now, I'm safe. But that could change in an instant. In the pursuit of more demographic and psychographic information, we've built a beast with far-reaching tentacles. And the more data we collect, the more we attempt to find out about consumers and store that information on hard drives and servers somewhere west of Omaha, the more things could potentially spiral out of control. If you're in a position of authority over an advertising account, particularly anything to do with DM or CRM, you ought to start paying attention. Because if you're not, one of your peeping tom neighbors might be. You know, the ones who wait for the mailman every day. And then, you’ll get screwed. Directly.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 133


The French Evolution
Unfettered hero worshipping in the ad biz? Now that’s crap This week, the advertising industry had a public relations problem. Neil French’s resignation from WPP became a news story that was picked up by newspapers worldwide. Hell, I even saw it covered on Fox News. The singular face of the ad industry was a middle-aged white guy puffing on a stogie. Reading the press’ descriptions of Neil French was quite entertaining. “Guru.” “Legend.” “Celebrated Figure.” “Expert.” (The UK Sun used the phrase “Motormouth Brummie.” I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. I have no clue what it means.) Frankly, Neil French isn’t the problem. The problem lies with the starstruck suckers who treat his every utterance like it was the word of Moses or the Dalai Lama. And then insist his comments are above reproach simply because, well, he’s Neil French and we’re not. The cult of personality that surrounds certain people in advertising is silly at the very least, and in the case of Neil French, dangerous. It was bad for business at WPP where he worked, and it’s bad for the ad business as a whole. I’m always amazed at the aura that surrounds the people who have the ability to match some decent words with a picture or two and a product shot and then convince a client to say “yes.” In an award show book, they’re perfect. Genius. Untouchable. Then, inevitably, they open their mouths. They get quoted in Adweek or give an interview in Creativity. Rarely is there any real brilliance in anything they utter. Which makes me think, “that person’s full of shit.” Or more appropriately, “that person’s just as full of shit as I am and why did he end up in Creativity?” I have a friend who’s met many of these people, whereas I haven’t. Usually when I inquire as to what these “superstars” are like, the report goes something like this: “He’s unimpressive.” “She’s really not that bright.” “You’d be disappointed.” And yeah, I am disappointed quite a bit when I hear that. Because, starting in ad school, we looked to certain people and certain agencies whose work we admired like: They have the secrets. They know something we don’t. We have to be just like them. But it was beyond admiration. It was hero worship.

I’ve now been in advertising long enough to see many of the agencies we admired go out of business. To see the particular people we admired end up doing incredibly average work or leaving the business altogether. With very few exceptions, the people in advertising that impress me are not the ones with the most trophies. They’re the quieter ones. The ones who use their talents boosting their clients’ businesses, not boosting their egos. So let's keep things in perspective. Neil French will keep pontificating on “crap” females and sucking on his big brown cigars. Just maybe not on WPP's dime. The rest of us have jobs to do, bills to pay, and clients to serve. And we face a consumer public where women—at least in America, according to American Demographics magazine—control 85% of the household spending. That’s $3.5 trillion. Oh yeah, and a lot of them try to balance career and family just like female creative directors do. Here’s hoping advertising’s next expert legendary guru understands the audience our industry needs to be communicating with. I’ll save my hero worship for him. Or better yet, her.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 135


Polluting the Mental Environment
Why TV advertising's effectiveness is melting away like the polar ice caps On Sunday night, I sat down to watch a Fox News special on the threat of global warming. In a very Fox-like way, all the information was quickly edited, highly graphical and had a great soundtrack. But in a very un-Fox-like way, the point of the program was to present the viewpoint that yes, global warming was real, and yes, human beings are actively contributing to its advance. So what kind of advertisers would dare to put their commercials on such a controversial show? During the first commercial break, I decided to keep a list of all the spots I saw during that hour. First off, there were 32 commercials in this one hour. Thirty-freakin'-two. I wouldn't have recalled a single one of them if I hadn’t written them down. That's 16 minutes worth of commercials—not counting Fox's own promos. Simply put, there's too damned much advertising for any of it to be effective. When will TV networks get the hint? But quantity of ads is an easy fix. What intrigued me even more was that as I was confronted with melting icecaps, fragile ecosystems and some very dire predictions, not one marketer thought this program and its subject matter deserved any special attention or special message. The first commercial of the hour was for a new one-use plastic dental floss device that's already pre-threaded. So right off the bat, I'm hit with a product whose main benefit is that you can use it once and throw it straight into the garbage. Which, in turn, goes to some landfill somewhere, never to decompose. While this product may have an interesting benefit, the first thought I had after seeing this commercial was how wasteful the product is—and how wasted the client's money was placing it on this show. 5 car manufacturers were brave enough, or foolish enough, to advertise on Fox's global warming special. 3 of them touted cars with V8 engines. And one was specifically promoting a car with an "air-cooled glove box" - which I'm guessing simultaneously keeps your stuff cool in our now extra-globally-warmed environment and spews more crap into the environment because of the extra needed refrigerant. More wrongheaded media planning. The only oil company that advertised on the show wasn't advertising its cleaner gas, alternative fuel sources or new environmental initiatives, it was pushing a credit card for its gas stations. Another dubious media placement. The rest of the spots seemed incredibly random—beer, investments, assorted pills, delivery services, an electric shaver, a couple of dot-coms, wireless service, a diabetes meter. And a couple of hideous local TV spots for extra suffering.

After I reviewed the list of advertisers, I wondered: Where's all this supposed creativity in media? Where's the planning? Is anyone responsible for these ad placements paying attention? Why was I watching a TV show on global warming and no one tried to sell me a hybrid car or a bicycle? I was in the mood to listen. Whether a product represented a major lifestyle change or a little eco-friendly gesture, any advertiser seeking to appeal to an environmentally conscious audience had their chance—and blew it. Now, I'm not a media planner. So I couldn't tell you if there’s a way to always ensure that appropriate messages match the appropriate TV programming. But as TV ratings come under increasing scrutiny, the key to television advertising's future effectiveness may not come through numbers, but through the relevance and appropriateness of when and where people see that advertising. Of course, you can’t convert that idea into an equation and slap it into an Excel document to justify your 15% commission. So thanks to Fox, I learned quite a bit about our environment—both the physical and mental ones. If you don’t believe me, do what I did. Sit for an hour and watch TV uninterrupted. Pay attention to what pops up during the commercial breaks. The power of television advertising won't die, but it's melting away. And while it's partially a function of time and technology, it's also partially something the ad industry has brought upon itself. And the time to take action is now. Otherwise, all of our careers could be facing extinction.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 137


The Bald Midget and the Furniture Store Owner's Daughter
As media splinters, what will become of local advertising? I once worked on an retail chain account that had a very simple marketing plan: They spent about $1000 total to write and produce 2 radio spots, then ran the shit out of them in a handful of markets, spending about $2 million in the media buy. That was it. And boy, were they known for those spots. In spite of all the discussion about branded content, web movies, and other assorted "medianeutral" stuff agencies-of-the-moment brag about pursuing, the local and regional advertisers are steadfastly sticking to the old game plan. You know who I’m talking about: The local bank that claims to treat you special. The furniture chain that has a 'going out of business' sale every month. The spa/billiards/dartboard outlet. The local hospitals. The car dealers. The funeral home shameless enough to flaunt itself in a cheesy, bouncy jingle. Will they ever change? Can they embrace new media? After all, these are folks who aim for quantity in advertising, not quality. But if traditional media gets less effective, what will the local clients do? Most every agency that is now doing award-winning national work starting out pushing local advertisers into new creative territory. Some agencies got famous doing local work for free and entering it into awards shows. But local advertising is rarely sexy. Creative directors never want to see it in a portfolio. Yet there's real money at stake; it's the bread and butter of our business and incredibly, incredibly tough to do well. Taking on local clients means you either deal with marketing people who aren't very sophisticated, or you deal the owners who want to star in their own ads (and put their annoying kids & dogs in ‘em) no matter what. These clients don’t have large budgets, and consequently their ad agency can't devote the resources needed to produce a campaign that's as nuanced as national advertisers do. So it's mass marketing, plain and simple. Ultimately, much of it is wasted money. Because the President’s Day Sale is competing with Nike. The local shoe outlet is competing with Lexus. No matter who you are, your ads still battle for the same limited attention, the eyes and ears of the consumer. And it doesn’t help that on most cable stations, the local commercials always look like they're on 4th generation videotapes, and they’re never seamless with whatever the national channel is showing. So a commercial will often get cut off too soon and you’ll see the last frame or two of some other spot. Messages can get completely lost when that happens.

Someone once proposed that if TV stations wanted to retain viewers, they should reduce their rates when they air more creative TV commercials. Don’t hold your breath. First off, the commission system is alive and well in local media, so the incentive exists for stations to sell quantity advertising time, not quality. Plus, how can you tell the carpet outlet owner that his lispy, pie-faced granddaughter just won’t cut it in today’s media world? Or that there’s really no brand equity in a jingle that screams, “great people, great prices?” I assume there will always be a need for local advertising, and by extension, the local TV, radio stations, and newspapers. So weep not for the chick lying seductively on the bed as the camcorder pans across the furniture showroom. Or the bald midget willing to get hit the face with a cream pie for a pizza joint. Their jobs, like those of all the other local yokels, are secure. Ironic, isn't it? Because in the higher-stakes world of national and global advertising, everyone else is so insecure.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 139


I Want My CA, and I Want My MTV
Is it fair to compare today’s work to what was done in the past? Recently, the Communication Arts Advertising Annual showed up in my mailbox. Like it does every December. I've been a subscriber since 1993. With each passing year, though, I find myself spending less and less time looking through it. The work that's showcased this year is…well, it’s all pretty good. Nice art direction, a few clever things, some cool visual weirdness, a fairly thick "integrated" section I don’t recall seeing much before. But like I said, just pretty good. Nothing more, nothing less. Is it me? Why am I not blown away by today's work? Then in a flash, I suddenly realized why. It's Huey Lewis' fault. Or maybe it's Michael Stipe's fault. Or maybe Bryan Adams'. You see, I'm a huge fan of music - and I started buying records when I was 7 years old. To me, nothing will ever replace the music I heard in the few years when I was 13, 14 or 15 - smack in the middle of the 80's, which many older people considered to be a musical wasteland at the time. But damnit, I wanted my MTV, and I still wish they had World Premiere Videos. It's not that I don't like new music. The White Stripes, Franz Ferdinand, Madeleine Peyroux - all are good, but none of their CD's get under my skin the way "Life's Rich Pageant" did. Or "The Joshua Tree." Hell, I'll even cop to being a fan of "Reckless." Likewise, no recent ad has gotten under my skin the way Nike's "If You Let Me Play" or the beautifully black & white Norwegian Cruise Lines ads with the non-linear, poetic copy did. For me, those were the seminal ads that showed me what was possible in advertising. I vividly recall seeing those ads, reading them, re-reading them, and aspiring to write something that would rise to that level. I suppose this is why some people get downright maudlin when talking about DDB's Volkswagen ads of the 1960s. Those ads were unlike anything else that was being done at the time, particularly in car advertising. The ads launched a creative revolution in the industry. But, let’s face it, they look quaint now (for God's sake, you actually have to read the body copy to understand what the ad is saying!) Getting nostalgic is hazardous to your career. The key to staying viable in the ad business is to stay current. I've worked with, and I'm sure you have, veterans of the ad industry who've simply rusted, whose skills are outdated, who attack every problem the way they did 20 years ago.

This is a wild time to be in the ad business. Technology is pushing us into places, physical and others, we’ve never been. Some people, and some agencies, will get left behind. And the new work in CA, well, it reflects where we're going, not where we've been: less words, more visuals. Showing more and saying less. Ideas that don’t quite fit a 4-color, consumer magazine spread. Ideas that are worthy of recognition, even if they don't come in instantly recognizable forms. Perhaps the new CA is disappointing 'cause no new ads could ever stack up to ones done in the "good old days" - and those are whatever days one considers good & old. Perhaps it's unfair to compare today’s work to what was done 10 years ago, or even 40. The ad industry, like the rest of the world, has changed since then, and we better keep up. Oops. My "Best of the 80's" mix just stopped. Does anyone know how to rewind an iPod?

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 141


The Super Critics
The ad world’s biggest showcase is everyone’s turn to weigh in This column is being posted less than 3 weeks before Super Bowl XL. Just think how appropriate the Roman numerals seem to be this year. Because in the ad industry, the Super Bowl is always an extra-large sized serving of hype, hope, craft and crap. I no longer believe Super Bowl advertisers pay $2.4 million for 30 seconds because they have a large captive audience. Like any other day, the commercials compete for the viewers’ attention amidst a host of other distractions. I’ve even been to Super Bowl parties full of advertising industry people, who supposedly would be the most interested audience, where few people are even paying any attention to the ads. Instead, the $2.4 million buys hype—in the weeks leading up to, and after, the game. Most ads are revealed long before the game starts. It’s the added publicity that justifies the price. But with added publicity comes added scrutiny. Go watch TV over the next few weeks. Instant advertising experts and prognosticators will pop up everywhere. The ads will be regularly played on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, followed by banal punditry. And your local Eyewitness News crew, no doubt, will also have their opinion. Financial analysts on TV and in the paper will weigh in on who’s advertising during the Super Bowl and what their stock will be worth based on how good the ad is. In other words, everyone in America turns into Bob Garfield for a week. The Super Bowl is big business, but the Super Bowl ad business is a cottage industry as well. USA Today has turned their Super Bowl “Ad Meter” into an annual ritual. Supposedly, they get a bunch of “average” consumers, strap them in, stick a dial in their hands and let them move the dial up or down based upon how much they like the spot. (According to USA Today, the technical term for this is a “continuous real-time focus group.”) CEO’s and Marketing Directors at the companies who advertise do pay attention, though. With so much cash laid out, no CEO wants to wake up on Monday after the big game, already nursing a hangover, only to find out their commercial has been roundly panned by the focus group. But for the ad industry in general, the Ad Meter doesn’t mean squat. Because deep down, most creative people really don’t want to know what regular consumers think. Regular consumers like Jared from Subway. They like the AFLAC duck. They like talking chimps and dressed up chimps and people imitating chimps. Think of the Super Bowl and its ad winners and losers as the People’s Choice Awards for advertising.

That’s OK though: the ad industry quickly shakes off the Super Bowl in order to serve up the annual season of self-gratification, the ADDYs, ANDYs, CLIOS, One Show, and other award shows. The people strapped to the USA Today Ad Meter go back to being comfortably ensconced in their insurance sales and forklift operating jobs so the self-appointed geniuses of the ad world can tell us what rightly deserves to be rewarded. Usually, the USA Today Ad Meter winners don’t get Pencils. I’m willing to bet this year’s One Show will be Clydesdale-free. Both the USA Today Ad Meter and the ADDYs have their place in the advertising world. Because we should always strive to be the most unique communicators we can be. But we also should never forget that that the majority of the audience we communicate with doesn’t care if the logo is too big, the headline’s a pun, or the visual’s been done before. Pretending that the ads consumers like on Super Bowl Sunday don’t matter is the game we play. And that’s probably a good thing. Our industry can’t handle too bright a spotlight from the rest of the media. We hate to subject ourselves to vocal public scrutiny. We can’t deal with a world where everyone’s a critic. Perhaps that’s because we’re self-critical enough as it is.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 143


Scrubbing Bubbles and Flubbing CEO's
Strong advertising reflects corporate culture—and outsiders need to beware When William Perez was unceremoniously dumped at the CEO of Nike after only a year on the job, speculation was rampant that he didn’t fit in with the Nike culture. But as was mentioned in BusinessWeek, Perez committed a greater sin: He didn’t get the ads. An article reported on Perez's viewing of a Nike basketball spot: His concern: The ad explained nothing about the product, and it had minimal brand presence. "I came from a rational world of communications," Perez said. Perez’s background included a 36 years SC Johnson & Son, the home of Pledge, Ziploc, Scrubbing Bubbles, and Raid and all sorts of other household products. So he knows a little something about getting people to buy mass quantities of product. But he didn’t understand the Nike brand, or so it seems. For argument’s sake, let’s assume that the difference between Nike and S.C. Johnson can be easily shown by their marketing. So how do two successful companies both achieve major success utilizing two very divergent ad strategies? Well, the answer is simple—no one in marketing or advertising can definitely say whether emotional beats rational; whether entertainment value beats product benefits. There’s no one right answer and there never, ever will be. And if the Perez case is any indication, some people simply can’t change from one mindset to the other. Most agencies don’t have iron-clad beliefs in this debate. Agencies tend to do what clients want, and therefore end up producing ads and strategies that are a muddled combination of benefits and emotional appeal. The research people get a say, the creative folks get a say, the clients get a say, and soon the ads face strangulation by committee. A feel-good approach with benefit copy points uncomfortably crammed in. Combine both successfully and you’ve got a miracle. And miracles, as we all know, are rare. One wonders what would happen if Raid pursued a pest death-is-glory “Just Kill It” strategy, and if Nike pursued a benefit-oriented “now with more cushioning, making you 15% faster than those other sneakers” approach. While they could do those types of ads, both SC Johnson and Nike would be messing with what, for each company, is a tried-and-true formula. We simply don’t expect to form an emotional bond with Ziploc or Pledge and we don’t expect to learn why Nike would be better than its competition. At least not in the TV ads. But go to Nike’s website and you’ll find more product benefit information than you ever wanted to know. Maybe Perez wasn’t willing to give consumers that much credit. We’ll never know.

With companies like Nike out there, and companies like SC Johnson out there, both successful, we’ll continue to see advertising that stretches from one extreme to the other. The hard-sell will get harder, the soft-sell will get softer, and the debate over what’s more effective will never end. But don’t worry about William Perez, though. Somewhere, there’s a benefit-oriented marketer who needs him. And for his 12 months of not fitting in at Nike, he’s scheduled to get $8 million in severance. That’ll buy a few mansions’ worth of Scrubbing Bubbles and Raid for sure.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 145


Living In the Echo Chamber
Meet the new clutter—same as the old clutter Over the past few weeks, quite a number of ad people and press people have turned their attention to the new Volkswagen campaigns being put out by Crispin, Porter & Bogusky. Since expectations are so high, it’s quite a hot spotlight for any agency or campaign to be in. The funny thing is, I didn’t see any part of the campaign on TV or in print first, or anything that be considered my normal daily media diet. Just on blogs. Ad blogs. PR blogs, business and automotive-related blogs, etc. I consider reading them just keeping up with my job and my industry. Being a contributor to an ad industry blog myself, I have to admit I’ve lost some perspective with exactly what many consumers actually do see or hear. I mean, I see the Ditech.com guy more often on my TV than anyone else, but no ad industry blog would give that dude 5 seconds of attention. It’s now becoming quite common to “seed” ad campaigns or websites through word of mouth— say, on marketing industry blogs & related websites. And the latest TV spots and print ads get leaked. This often happens before consumers see the work. If this is the new face of viral advertising, I suppose I’m developing immunity to it. But a bigger problem looms. The ad industry echo chamber is growing louder and louder. New campaigns get judged—and given praise or scorn—in just a few days, and before any media dollars have been spent. No campaign gets a chance to build momentum. It either comes fully launched or it gets soundly trashed by online pundits. Which gives campaigns bad early word-ofmouth that's hard to overcome. In addition, today’s campaigns are more integrated—and convoluted. Is that what consumers want? I’m inundated with ads designed to lead me to seek out more information, or play an advergame, or direct me to a site that entices me to give out my email address or other information in exchange for the privilege of being entertained. But are the messages we’re trying to send—the advertising messages—really that complicated, or worth that much trouble? How many people truly want to seek out more advertising? How many people yearn to visit ad campaign-related websites? All of them attempt to provide a modicum of entertainment value, but it seems like there are a few sites that are hits (with a lot of hits), but a whole bunch of misses. After a while, keeping up with all the microsites and viral efforts is mentally exhausting, even though it’s an occupational hazard. What, then, is it for people who don’t care much about these sites in the first place?

Since the Volkswagen work has been hyped quite a bit, far less attention is paid to the hundreds of other, similar efforts that are cropping up every month. All marketers are exploring them now, whether they’re German car makers or Texas salsa makers. We’re seeing efforts that are truly integrated—but often, very convoluted, costing a lot of time and money to create. Are marketers getting their money’s worth from all these sites? I may indeed make friends with my “Fast,” but I’m taking it slow. I generally don’t like to express an opinion about an entire ad campaign based on what I read on a blog, or a small QuickTime video. For the benefit of Volkswagen and any other marketer’s campaign, I prefer to give it some time to build momentum, or fade away if there truly is no momentum. That’s what consumers will do, after all. They simply don’t care as much about advertising as we wish they would. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for finding new solutions to marketing challenges. But maybe it’s time I spent more time out of the echo chamber. Because now more than ever, the noise is deafening.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 147


Oh, the Humanity
Has the advertising business losing the human touch? Recently a friend of mine, a marketing manager, was forced to acquiesce to her panicked boss, who asked her to send out an e-mail ad blast to a group of customers at the end of the business day, in a hurry. So it got done, fast. Only the wrong database received the e-mail. The group of customers who got the message was a large group, and they received a special promotional offer that could potentially cost the company millions because it went to the wrong audience in haste. But this is what the experts call Loyalty Marketing. Or Customer Relationship Management. Or the age of Integrated Communications, circa 2006. Any marketer who isn't onboard will fall behind, so it seems. We have the ability to create ad campaigns and communication pieces, online or offline, in a matter of hours, and send them out to millions of people without ever seeing a human face or a human reaction. Is that a good thing? One of the knocks on big budget, traditional advertising is that you can buy $10 million worth of TV, radio, and print, and it’s too general, too non-specific, and it misses the new audience and their fractured media habits. But I think advertising, in a rush to embrace everything that is new in new media, is slowly losing the human touch. We produce work, in ever-larger quantities and at an ever-faster pace, that contain the tone and type of messages we’d never use if, say, we had to sell our products face-to-face or door-to-door. Going virtual can lead to impersonal, which can in turn lead to antisocial. I have some personal evidence of this: I’m a contributing blogger on AdPulp.com. Sometimes we offer praise for ads and the ad industry, and sometimes we dispense criticism. We also have an open comments section. Invariably, the nastiest, most mean-spirited comments come from people who hide behind anonymous names and e-mail addresses. Can we say the same thing about ads that are produced in haste, and behind a mask of anonymity? But both online and offline advertising can lack a humanistic quality. You can hear the genesis of this in agency and client meetings. Advertising and marketing professionals get in conference rooms and rarely talk the way normal people would, discussing ad strategies without considering the desires of the audience on the receiving end. The groupthink kicks in:

“I think we need to focus on a service-oriented message… “We’ll just get consumers to visit the website…” “We failed to mention carpet fiber quality…” All the market research, focus group testing, and other planning methods don’t help. We still have trouble communicating in a human way. No wonder so many ads seem so irrelevant. But it’ll only get worse. Advertising is an industry that operates at warp speed. We need the Web to conduct business. And every ad agency is rushing headlong to make sure campaigns are integrated on the Net, and hiring accordingly. I understand. I can't imagine a life without Internet. In the process of moving cities recently, any time I spent without a fast connection nearby gave me panic attacks. Seriously. Without Internet access I felt out of touch, left behind, and at a disadvantage, career-wise. Do accountants and doctors have this problem? I know I’m not alone in feeling discombobulated despite being so plugged in. This week’s Time Magazine had a cover story on today’s teenagers and college students who multitask with their computers and cell phones, and how this phenomenon is changing life at both school and home. Oh, I didn’t actually see the magazine. I read the story on-line. Which you can do, if you watch an ad first. Don’t ask me what the ad was for, because I can’t recall. I was multitasking at the time. I don’t think the inability to process makes me a bad person. It just makes me human. I just hope the copywriter in me remembers that feeling the next time I’m writing an ad to someone.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 149


**This Column is Not Valid in Indiana
What the fine print really means for marketers "The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away." -- Tom Waits Someone recently asked me what the official rules are for legal marks and disclaimers. “Is it OK to put an dagger right next to an asterisk? Because if you have 2 separate disclaimers, you can’t just put 2 asterisks side by side because it would be confusing, right?” I didn’t know the official rules, and if there are any, I don't want to know them. But I do know if a client has to invent new Sanskrit-like symbols to accommodate a laundry list of disclaimers or legal information, they probably have nothing interesting to advertise, or don't want an interesting way to say it. Once upon a time, 5-point type wasn’t a click in Quark or InDesign away. These days, it’s simply too easy to bury the bad news at the bottom of a page. Of course, legalese is nothing new to certain industries: financial, insurance, automotive. And contests and promotions all have strings attached, because they’re trying to give something away but as we all know, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But on the radio, it’s getting ugly: There’s a new trend in car dealer radio commercials—put the disclaimer up front, before the yelling and selling. Some car commercials begin in a hailstorm of fast talking legal jibberish that used to come at the end: “Nointerestnopaymentsuntil2007onallnewmodelsseedealershipfor details…THIS WEEKEND WE’RE STACKING ‘EM DEEP AND ‘SELLING ‘EM CHEAP!” Apparently, talking indecipherably fast is the audio equivalent of small type. Once again, we see the mass marketer’s bad habit: not speaking to customers the way we’d speak to our family and friends. I say, make the disclaimers the same point size as the headline or the regular body copy. That way, no one—not even the client—can escape the absurdity of whatever it is they’re attempting to bury in 5-point type. And whatever the deal or the promotion is, it’ll be more transparent.

Don’t count on that happening. In a world where “buzz marketing” means a stranger can sidle up to a bar and pretend to be your friend while selling you a new brand of vodka, perhaps all advertising, or better yet all ad professionals, should come with a disclaimer. Because no matter what anyone in the ad industry tells you, on any given topic, some restrictions will always apply.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 151


7-Layer Ads
How do ad concepts survive the chain of client approvals? I once worked on a boutique hotel account. Every month or so we’d send a PDF of a few different ads to the general manager which he could choose from. Then, we’d get him on a conference call to present and explain the ads. He’d usually like our work, but invariably, during the call, he’d put us on hold. To go show the ads to the concierge. He trusted the concierge’s opinion. One time, he took a poll of the entire front desk staff. We’ve all heard the canard that it’s really the client’s wife (or husband, these days) who makes the decisions on creative work. But the truth is, whether a piece of advertising actually runs not is nearly always out of the hands of the people who create it. Let’s face it: when you work for an advertising agency creating ads, you’re spending someone else’s money. And I don’t believe clients have it easy when it comes to approving or killing work. They face any number of pressures, from shareholders (who love profits) to pushy salespeople (who love bullet points) to their own bosses (who love themselves). Plus, in other cases, it may be a focus group that decides ultimately what work lives or dies. If an account’s approval process means that you have to present and re-present work gradually up the chain, from marketing managers to the CEO, a strange phenomenon occurs: All of them have the power to say no, but only the top person can say yes. Plus, technology hasn’t made the approval process easier; technology has made it harder. Because you can send work to someone you’ve never met, and never get a chance to see their visceral reaction to advertising—which every human being has. And that client can, in turn, show the work around to other people you’ll never meet. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be a spouse or child. Work can get killed by people you’ll never meet for reasons you’ll never know. I don’t think there’s anything more frustrating for ad creatives than putting the fate of their work in someone else’s hands. Even many ad agencies have layers of internal approvals that need to be met. Sometimes you’re lucky to get a nugget of an idea through before some higher-up decides to put their personal conceptual stamp on it.

Despite the supposed streamlining and downsizing of corporate America, the advertising approval process remains more convoluted than ever. But at some point, there needs to be less layers, and more trusting of intuition. Because consumers tend to make their purchasing decisions emotionally much more than rationally. I’m not suggesting that advertising be reckless or foolish, merely that ideas often have a primal power to move people—and we should pay attention when we see that power. I’d love to hear from some of the client-side people out there. Do you feel pressured by the ad agency to say ‘yes’? Did you ever regret saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a piece of work? Are there times when you’re just not sure? I understand. Try getting 4 creative people to decide where to go for lunch. Trust me, you’ll never get an approval. Ever.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 153


Safe, Shit, and Everything Else That Happens
Life isn’t pretty. So how do people handle advertising that isn’t pretty? It’s amazing that, in this age of warp speed pop culture and instant blogosphere controversies, media events of nearly 4 weeks ago are almost forgotten. But two of them popped up concurrently that are still on my mind. I’m talking about the movie “United 93” and the Volkwagen Jetta “Safe Happens” campaign made by Those Dudes In Miami. The movie and the ad campaign have quite a bit in common, I think. When the trailer for “United 93” came out, and when the movie subsequently opened, quite a number of people objected. They didn’t want to think about what happened on 9/11, nor did they want to see it replicated on screen, whether they had a personal connection to the victims or not. Even after nearly 5 years, for some people, it’s ‘too soon.’ And it may always be too soon. Yet the movie has been widely praised, and Oliver Stone is working on his own interpretation of the day. Once again, the machine of pop culture will continue to prod our sensibilities, whether we’re ready or not. The media (of which advertisng is a component) makes the tragedy a part of the collective consciousness, inescapable for anyone who watches TV or reads a newspaper. Which brings me to “Safe Happens.” Not the first ad campaign to show car crashes, but the spot is jarringly well-made. Too much for me. See, my brother died in a car crash. And every time I hear about a fatal accident on the news, or see the remnants of one when I’m rubbernecking on the highway, my mind goes right to my brother. I can’t change that. It’s been 4 years, but it’ll always be too soon for me. Given a creative brief to promote Jetta’s superior crash ratings, I don’t know that I would’ve written a TV spot with a car crash. And if I were the client, I don’t know that I would have approved the spot. But I’m not saying that the commercial shouldn’t have been made, or shouldn’t have aired. Conversely, I imagine that there are other commercials that provoke people in various ways when I remain unaffected. Maybe you have one of your own; even jaded advertising professionals have personal taste boundaries that can be crossed. “Safe Happens” typifies what many in the advertising business doggedly tout: ads that show “simple human truths.” In the case of the Jetta spots death, or the fragility of life, is one of those simple human truths. Which certainly differs from most car ads. “Zero down, no interest and no payments until 2008,” well, there’s probably not much truth to that.

On a grander scale, we’re just beginning to see what happens when the pursuit of “simple human truths” evolve from silly examples (say, what women really talk about when they go to the bathroom in pairs) to the new ‘shit happens, but Brand X understands’ examples. While more reality may make for more compelling advertising, I believe the ad industry has a responsibility to not be gratuitous just to sell product. We shouldn’t be eager to shove too much adverse human truth in the face of consumers, who get bombarded with all sorts of messages they weren’t seeking out. A constant barrage of simple human truths may ultimately be the downfall of advertising, and our culture in general. Particularly if the messages are more provocative than entertaining. Pay any attention at all, and you’ll notice the media pushes one shocking pop culture event after another. And by pushing one shocking ad campaign after another, our industry is following trends rather than creating them. Will consumers find it disconcerting that movies like “Flight 93” and campaigns like “Safe Happens” hit the culture with intensity and disappear just as fast? Ask yourself: could you handle the intensity of that movie or ad campaign, along with the controversies surrounding them, on a regular basis? We need to ask those questions sooner rather than later. Because people may decide, for the sake of regaining their sanity, to cut off their media consumption altogether. And the ad business won’t survive if that happens.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 155


This Column Brought to You by People For Stuff
Is there anyone willing to advocate for advocacy advertising? Today, I plan to ask the oil companies what I can do help them. Yep, it’s on my to-do list, because right now there’s a commercial airing, full of ordinary citizens looking to oil companies for guidance and thought leadership during this period of energy instability. I guess I wouldn’t be a good American if I didn’t comply. In the advertising world, advocacy ads and trade group marketing occupy a sort of nebulous territory where almost any fact can be twisted to promote a biased point of view. And often, the real sponsors aren’t mentioned in the work. You know this category of advertising is trite because it’s so easy to parody. “They’re Happy Because They Eat Lard.” So says a bogus Cold War era-ad that was circulated on the Internet, showing a contented WASP family at the beach. Supposedly, it was sponsored by the “Lard Information Council.” For a while. I thought the ad was real. I can easily picture a old-time breakfast board meeting of the Lard Information Council brainstorming more ways to get lard into a 50’s era diet of Twinkies and biscuit mix. The trouble is, the ad feels authentic because over the years, we’ve been subjected to so many preposterous selling messages that aren’t the handiwork of one company, but of advocacy groups—cartels of companies or special interests that often operate under names like “Americans for America” or “People for Truth.” Sometimes advocacy groups promote entertaining messages—like the “Got Milk” ads, which were originally sponsored by the California Milk Processors Board, essentially a group of dairies. Many commodity products have groups that pool ad dollars together to get the word out, and at least when you see the work you know where it’s coming from. With advocacy ads that tend to be more controversial, the source isn’t so obvious. These days however, if you do a little digging, you can find out who’s behind the ads. Drug companies, oil companies, religious groups, and insurance consortiums are big time spenders. Every group has an agenda to promote, and often those agendas are promoted though ads that have an ambiguous origin, especially if politics or current legislation are involved. But the power is increasingly in the hands of people, who have the ability to sort out the truth, and often don’t rely on one source for their information. In this age of increased transparency, I wonder if advocacy advertising will catch up.

And at the moment, no issue is more transparent than our dependency on oil and the effects of high gas prices. The oil companies tell me I can go to one of their websites to get the “facts.” But like any other consumer these days, I’ll decide for myself what the facts are. Which is bad news for the entire ad industry, especially if we want our work to be believed on any level. There’s a lesson to be learned from blatant advocacy advertising. By creating messages that simply don’t resonate or have any truth to them, we’re burning up any credibility we ever had.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 157


This Land was Hand-Crafted for You and Me
Perhaps we should rename this country the United States of Advertising As this column is being posted close to July 4th, it occurred to me that if there’s anything as American as baseball and apple pie, it’s advertising. Oh, I’m sure the Egyptians may have thrown a coupon in with all their hieroglyphics. And the ancient Greeks probably had some sort of corporate sponsors for their comedies and tragedies. We Americans, however, have made self-promotion a national institution. Most likely, it started with Christopher Columbus. Try getting boatloads of people to travel to the edge of the earth without some sort of unique selling proposition or clever tagline. You know, like Royal Caribbean does: “Get Out There!” But it didn’t take long until settling the land in the New World gave birth to all new forms of shady hucksterism. It’s alleged that British and French soldiers gave Native Americans smallpoxinfested blankets. Can’t you picture that? “Here’s your free gift. Yours to keep with no obligation. It’s our way of saying thanks.” And so we created a republic blessed with freedom of the press. Anyone could crank out a political screed or daily paper, so long as you could afford the equipment and paper. Thus, to generate needed revenue, was invented the classified ad. If you were a metalsmith or a cobbler, you could advertise your wares. If you were a slave trader, you could, too. Hey, it’s a free country, after all. Through wave after wave of immigrants, one of the promises of America is still that anyone can come to this country and start a business. Which, of course, means people have to know about your business before they can become a customer. Despite the sophistication of globalism, technology and media, and despite all the, uh, foreigners that win One Show pencils, I firmly believe advertising as a basic human ritual has remained uniquely embedded in the cultural DNA of America for 230 years, unlike in any other country. Look around you. Red, white, and blue blend perfectly with any Pantone palette. We live in a land where anybody can stand in front of a camera dressed up like George Washington, cherry tree in the background and say, “I cannot tell a lie. I’m chopping prices on all sofas and loveseats in the store.” Try doing that in North Korea dressed as Kim Jong-Il. We live in a land where it’s a summer habit to cook meat over an open flame much like humans all over the world have done for centuries. Yet we tell ourselves we’ll improve our self-image if the cooking’s done on a $3000 grill with bun warmers and built-in refrigerator so the neighbors in the cul-de-sac drool with envy.

We live in a land where terrorists will come here to attack symbolic American buildings in an attempt to destroy our way of life and commerce, but spend the night before shopping in WalMart and eating at Pizza Hut, which as brands are just as symbolic of our country as the World Trade Centers were. American advertising, much like the country itself, has long promised the good life to the rest of the world. A shiny new car, whiter teeth, a greener lawn. Every day, thousands of people risk life and limb to cross our border with Mexico to pursue that dream. Perhaps we’d do a better job of planning America’s future if we recognized that we’re a nation that markets itself to the world. Of all the brands we’ve created for businesses, America itself is also brand. Every action our country takes advertises the brand internally along with the rest of world. Let’s think of America in those terms: Is our country one that provides service after the sale, or are we a bait-and-switch nation? Maybe that’s a discussion for another day. In the meantime, I hope you have a wonderful July 4th. Go get all the fireworks and BBQ fixins you’ll need to celebrate with friends and family. If you go to the grocery store, don’t forget your frequent shopper “loyalty” card. You could save up to 20%. And what’s more American than that?

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 159


The Interactive Ghetto
Agencies are scrambling for talent to produce web work—and are determined to segregate them I recently ran across a classified ad from an ad agency that’s so highly regarded they rarely have to advertise to find people. The ad was odd. Here’s a snippet: “We are not looking for someone who thinks ads are the end all be all. Or who are really just trying to get their foot in the door of the (DELETED) advertising creative department. What we are looking for is a writer's writer…They must be wildly creative. In other words, a bright, articulate visionary.” When I mentioned this on AdPulp.com, we got an anonymous comment (well, not so anonymous, the commenter’s IP address gave away the fact that they were at the aforementioned agency.) In the course of defending the agency and the ad, the commenter said this: “They want a good writer, but not one who is more interested in working in the creative department than the interactive department.” Based on these insider comments, I infer that at this world-class agency, the interactive department is separate from the creative department. I can imagine the interview: “OK, bright articulate visionary web writer boy, clamp your iPod earbuds in your lobes and don’t bother the people writing the TV spots. You won’t do what they do, after all.” I dug a bit deeper, and found a press release about 2 of this agency’s recent hires, which touted the team as “a unique combination of enormous creative talent who think Web-centrically.” Oh really? I wonder which department they’ll end up in: the interactive department or the creative department. All of this may sound like a matter of semantics, but I think it’s very telling that even the most lauded ad agencies have no intention of truly integrating their departments, and make that fact plain to jobseekers. Or perhaps they simply don’t want to integrate, for fear of alienating the prima donnas who wouldn’t dream of writing a banner ad or a page of web copy. I liken it to copywriters who love to write TV but would avoid radio like the plague. Once again, agencies are asking their creative departments to hire one-trick ponies, or once they hire them, agencies are determined to keep them that way. I'm not suggesting that writing ads and writing for interactive don't involve different writing techniques. Clearly, writing for the web, and working in rich media, are skills that must be learned and refined. But slowly, the dividing lines are being drawn. In other words, like their direct marketing cousins before them, interactive people are now occupying their own ghettos in traditional ad agencies.

Conversely, in primarily interactive shops, creatives with more traditional experience are shunned. It’s now gotten to the point where you can't move from traditional to interactive work (or vice versa) without prior experience, or without an employer questioning your motives. So I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise the two rarely work together. Trust me, all this territorialism will backfire. Agencies who specialize in “above the line” work are very protective of it and hate to give any of those assignments away to “below the line” shops. More significantly, though, a similar distrust exists between the people who work in these different disciplines at the same agency. Yes, there still is a line—and interactive is somewhere in the middle, but climbing with a bullet. And the more traditional shops know this, so they’re desperate and scrambling to compete. They’re forced to advertise for interactive creative people, only to stick them in the ghetto. Marketers are scrambling for anything—anything—that will command the attention of the evermore-elusive consumers. They want ads, they want microsites, they want buzz, and they want it all at once. But they need coherent brand strategies to do this. Which means they need coherent work from their agency or agencies, who right now are not staffed or structured properly to deliver. Great ideas need to be expressed in all types of media—which can only happen when no one is designated as strictly working in the “creative” department or the “interactive” department. Perhaps if we liberate the ghettos, we’ll all work together in a truly collaborative environment.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 161


HeadOn--and Production Values Off
The growing popularity of badly made ads and viral videos By now, you’ve no doubt seen the commercial for a headache remedy called “HeadOn.” To most advertising creatives, it’s the epitome of a bad spot. It defies everything we’ve ever believed goes into a great ad. It’s monotonous, repetitive, and poorly filmed and edited. And after you’ve finished watching the spot, you’re still not exactly sure what the product is, or what it does. Turns out, the elements of the HeadOn ad were completely intentional. Focus groups who were shown the concepts remembered this one the most. Apparently, repetition works. And repetition works. And repetition works. In addition, what makes this spot so memorable (or impossible to get out of your head) is that it feels so out of place on television, in a commercial pod surrounded by big-budget, big-brand spots and slick network promos. It looks like something cooked up in a cable-access TV studio circa 1986. Even local furniture dealer ads look good in comparison. Trust me: There’s more work like HeadOn coming. To your TV screen and your computer screen. That’s because as a society, we’re getting used to badness. The rise of consumer-generated media on sites like YouTube is an indication that we’re getting accustomed to seeing low-level TV & video productions. A cheesy backdrop and a little picture fuzz doesn’t faze anybody anymore. It’s more than a trend—it’s part of the democratization of technology. I believe it started with "America’s Funniest Home Videos." And then spread to the hand-held faux spontaneity of reality TV. Anyone with a camera and a computer has the power to spread a message to the world. And on the web, it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between professional and amateur video. Even great ads with great production values can look inferior with compressed computer video and smaller viewing screens. Which can diminish the impact of a message or concept even as exponentially more people get to see it. These days, on television, you either have no production values or lots of ‘em. Woe be unto any creative who’s had to produce a TV spot on a medium-sized budget, somewhere in the middle. Those spots always look cheap next to expensive, big-budget spots, and they doesn’t possess the coolness factor you can sometimes achieve with spots whose concepts get enhanced by a homemade look & feel. At a time when TV as we traditionally know it has a diminished effect but video content is exponentially increasing, ultimately we need to decide what matters. The idea? The production? The form of distribution?

Creatives can still get great jobs if they have a reel of TV spots featuring million-dollar budgets and 5-cent ideas. I don’t know how long that may hold true, because outside of our insular advertising business, the buzz no longer centers on the wow factor of slickly produced TV ads. HeadOn commands attention. The wacky history-of-dance guy. David Hasselhoff’s new video. And so on. Maybe it’s good news that the rise of the web is finally showing us that content matters more than production values. If it really takes hold, I have a recommendation. HeadOn. Apply directly to your creative director.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 163


Hardback Books and Hard Truths
What can you learn from a book about an ad agency? If you look on the web at advertising agency websites, you’ll notice that every agency has its own manifesto. Some take it a step further: their manifestos are printed in hardback and available at Borders. Take “Lovemarks,” a book written by Saatchi & Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts. Now, I don’t know if every Saatchi employee walks through the door each morning with love on their brain and in their hearts, but it was recently revealed that JC Penney’s CEO was so enamored with the idea of his brand becoming a “Lovemark” that Saatchi got the entire account. Books written by and about ad agencies keep coming. Pat Fallon recently wrote one called “Juicing the Orange,” highlighting the accomplishments of his shop. And soon, a fly-on-the-wall account of life at Crispin Porter & Bogusky called “Hoopla” will be hitting the bookstore shelves, too. Frankly, I’m an admirer of anyone with strongly held convictions about advertising or business. I’ve read dozens of books about the advertising business and learned quite a bit from each. I’ve recommended quite a few to friends and colleagues. Unfortunately, CEOs of mediocre shops all over the land will buy many of these books by the boxful. They’ll give out copies to management. They’ll Xerox significant pages and distribute them to the staff. All in an attempt to duplicate Fallon or Crispin’s success. Save your money. Save your copy paper. It can’t be done. I did a little research. Crispin has been around as an agency since 1965. For at least 30 of those years, the only thing hot about the agency was the climate outside its building. It took time to build a great creative agency & a culture. More importantly, it took the right people—and the right clients. Could reading one book make that kind of difference at your shop? Could you pull off a major transformation in one year, or two? I once interviewed at an agency that claimed it wanted to be “the next Cole & Weber” –back when wanting to be Cole & Weber was something agencies wanted to be. Only this agency was 3,000 miles away; from a mindset standpoint, it was even further removed from a west coast ethos. Instead of focusing on what the agency could become, they focused on what they would never become.

All agencies should strive to improve and to help its employees and clients achieve something unique and special. But that begins with an honest assessment of where you are today: What makes your agency unique, if anything at all? What makes you a unique advertising professional? Here’s a hint: you can’t be unique by trying to imitate someone else. Simply put, you can’t hire someone who worked at Crispin and expect them to spread the pixie dust at every turn. Much like in football or baseball, a superstar on one team can be a bust somewhere else. Right now, many agencies are working to redefine themselves for the new media landscape. Yet they still utilize processes that are outmoded—in everything from the way they hire people to the way the work flows through the agency. Even in a business like advertising where everything evolves rapidly, new is always unfamiliar—and scary. It’s easier said than done, but I’ll say it anyway. Your agency could be the next…well, whichever agency you admire. But it won’t be the same; it won’t feel the same and it won’t look the same. Create a great culture at your agency. Allow the people around you to be their best. And don’t try to become something you’re not. Then maybe you’ll have a story to tell that folks will pay $24.95 to read about.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 165


The Consumer is Not a Moron. Or am I?
If you work in advertising, can advertising work on you? After nearly 150,000 miles, my car is finally starting to act like a decrepit senior citizen. Time to start thinking about a replacement. With no particular car I really want, I’ve become an impressionable customer, open to looking around. So here I am now, playing Mr. Target Audience. But am I too jaded to pay attention to car ads? When you work in advertising, can you ever really turn off the work valve and act like a true consumer? Does advertising work on you? Having worked on automotive advertising at the local, regional, and national levels, I never once worked on advertising that actually talked to consumers in a humanistic tone. Mostly, it was clichéd babbling about the car, the dealership, or the year-end closeout event. Like a good media junkie, I started leafing through the auto section of the newspaper. I poked around on the web. Even halfway through listening to some local idiot yelling on the radio, I’d perk up my ears and see if this weekend was the best time to head to East Bumble to get a incredible deal on an ’06. None of it worked. No one was really influencing me. Then I grabbed a couple of car magazines, just to see if anything caught my eye. I jotted down a list of all the taglines I saw in the ads. Some of the brands imploring me to do certain things: Acura: Advance Audi: Never Follow Hyundai: Drive your way Lincoln: Reach Higher Nissan: Shift_2.0 (getting clever here with the webspeak) Some talk about their cars: Chrysler: Inspiration Comes Standard Saab: Born From Jets Hummer: Like Nothing Else.

And many are just meaningless chest-beating anthems: Suzuki: Way of Life! (Yes, there really is an exclamation point!) Chevy: An American Revolution BMW: The Ultimate Driving Machine Cadillac: Life. Liberty. And The Pursuit. Toyota. Moving Forward. Volvo. For Life Buick: Beyond Precision Ford: Bold Moves. Mazda: Zoom Zoom Maserati: Excellence Through Passion Mercedez-Benz: Unlike any other Now, I don’t necessarily believe automotive advertising directly correlates to sales. Friends, family, Consumer Reports, the area of the country one lives in—all play a role in what you drive. But now I see the vast amounts of cash automakers are spending--and wasting--trying to convince me to life the lifestyle their brand says I should. Would buying a Ford Focus really be a Bold Move on my part? Can I truly Advance in an Acura or Never Follow if I’m in an Audi? Hyundai tells me to “Drive Your Way,” but I sure can’t do that, because I’d like to run red lights when no one’s at the intersection and drive 85 down a sparsely populated highway. Frankly, as both an advertising professional and a consumer with disposable income, I will readily admit I have been swayed by advertising in the past. I don’t think I’m above its influence —nobody is. Yet my foray into car buying, and car advertising, has convinced me that our industry regularly loses sight of how we really should be speaking to people. We’re pretty good at identifying and profiling our target audiences, but we rarely seem to find the right message and tone to communicate to them. If you want to know whether an ad campaign is on the right track, just ask yourself this: Would I really want to be talked to that way? Believe me, we are part of the audience. And if we ever find a way to rid ourselves of the chestbeating, condescension, and other nasty habits that permeate most of what we produce, advertising will be vastly improved. Now that really would be an American revolution.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 167


The Tale of Retail
The buzz may be online, but stores with doors still need our help Retail-wise, it’s been an interesting month in my city. Trader Joe’s in. Tower Records out. Since quite a lot of transplants live in my city, Trader Joe’s has been a long time in coming. It’s not the biggest grocery store, nor it is the cheapest. And most of the packaged goods you’ll find there come under their own private label brand. But it’s got a product mix and a vibe to it that draws people there. Amazing for a chain that, as far as I know, does little advertising except for its cleverly written monthly flyers. They’ve built a loyal customer base by building a business few others can duplicate. Conversely, Tower Records is now going out of business. Once, Tower was the place you could go where you’d be able to find whatever obscure CD you might want, and discover a few things you’d never heard before. But in the end, Tower didn’t have enough customer loyalty. Everyone knows the confluence of forces that joined together to put the squeeze on music stores. Here’s the rub: I’ve rarely bought anything at Tower in the last few years, but I’m sorry it’s closing. Advertising and marketing professionals are falling over themselves to increase their presences online. So what can we do for our retail clients to help them survive? In 2006 if you truly want to avoid shopping altogether, you can. Most everything is for sale online, and even groceries can be delivered. But retail stores won’t go away. They do, however, have to offer something not found on the web. Humans are tribal beings, and we like to get together in groups and engage in commerce in a social setting. We like to see the merchandise and touch it before we buy. Or we like to watch other people as they do those things. Strange to say, but I’ll often go out to a mall the day after Thanksgiving just to observe the sheer lunacy that is Black Friday. There’s no question, though, that many people simply hate shopping. They hate finding a parking spot in a crowded lot, rude or inattentive sales clerks, and the frustration of not finding what they're looking for. If we’re truly a creative business, then we can help fix this.

I believe the ad industry can play a role in helping clients in the retail business improve their customers’ experiences when they shop. Bad ads aren’t the problem, bad stores are. Yet most ad agencies would rather have their creative teams chained to their cubicles and concepting in a vacuum, rather than walking around their clients’ stores to see if there are ways to make shopping more pleasant. Any research that’s done gets summarized in a PowerPoint deck, and we all know how much creative people pay attention to those. The issue, of course, is that ad agencies make money from advertising, not by suggesting retail improvements. A store could take half its advertising budget, allocate the money towards improving its customer service (or training & paying employees), and make itself more appealing to customers. But if you work in ad agency, don’t you dare suggest that. The agency needs the cash. Perhaps a creative approach to retailing could have saved Tower Records. Perhaps not. But as I walked in there last week, perhaps for the last time, it occurred to me that the store hadn’t much changed from 15 years ago—only with more DVDs and less cassettes. I’ll definitely toast the memory of many hours spent of Tower Records, and I'll make the toast with a glass of Two-Buck Chuck. Those of you in the know will know exactly what I mean. What’s most interesting to me is that if you look for Trader Joe’s products online, forget it. They don’t have much of an online presence. Rather, you have to go there, get your groceries, and to pay—you stand on line. Which plenty of people are perfectly willing to do at Trader Joe’s. Proving that while our industry gains online experience, we can’t forget the value of the customer experience.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 169


Be Borat or Be Boring
Can we ever convince our clients to stop being so literal? I once had a client who made exurban starter houses. Our audience was first-time homebuyers, people who’ve saved and budgeted and are ready to make an investment. When an ad I wrote referenced the term “401(k),” our client said, “A lot of our customers are truck drivers and schoolteachers. Schoolteachers don’t know what a 401(k) is.” Coming from a family of teachers who’ve built up some nice pensions, I most assuredly knew our client was mistaken about the savvy of her customers, whether they had a 401(k) or not. I was reminded of this as I went to see “Borat,” as I’m sure many of you have. Among others, the film makes fun of Kazahks, Uzbeks, Gypsies, Jews, feminists, homosexuals, Pentacostals, and drunk frat boys from South Carolina. I’m quite aware that people don’t see the humor in that, which is fine. It’s not a movie for everybody. But there are deeper controversies surrounding the movie. Before “Borat” even hit the theaters: The Anti-Defamation League released a statement which said: “We are concerned, however, that one serious pitfall is that the audience may not always be sophisticated enough to get the joke, and that some may even find it reinforcing their bigotry.” In other words, while people at the ADL think they’re smart enough to get the joke themselves, it’s the rest of the population that’s stupid--they’ll walk out of “Borat” thinking Khazakstani cheese is made from human breast milk and they’ll be eager to sponsor their own “Running of the Jews.” (For heaven’s sake, don’t ever take them to see “The Producers” or “Blazing Saddles.”) It’s this same sense of “concern” expressed for “Borat” moviegoers that we’ve seen time and time in again in advertising: Clients who demand ads to be dumbed down so no harm is done if the ads are interpreted literally. “Don’t complete the circle for them,” I often heard in ad school. “Consumers like to complete it for themselves.” Advertising, like music, movies, or any other creative endeavor, is often subject to interpretation. To me, the Mona Lisa is just a painting of a chick with a smirk. But other people have spent their lives figuring out what she’s thinking about. (Oh, and if you think I’m comparing the ad on your desk to the Mona Lisa…keep dreaming.) This isn’t about being edgy or risky or taking big creative chances. It’s about giving people the satisfaction of drawing their own conclusions. It means that people will actually take the time to think about something if their curiosity is piqued. Tell them something in a straightforward manner and they’ll hear it, to be sure, but they won’t think about it ever again.

Many successful ad campaigns have an element of exaggeration, tension or dissonance—not to be taken literally. On the ‘80’s TV show “Night Court,” when Mac, the court clerk found out his Vietnamese-born wife Quon Lee was running up a huge credit card bill. He asks her how that happened, and she holds up an American Express card. “Don’t leave home without it!” she says. “I thought it was a law.” Now, imagine if that campaign had been killed by a moronic Marketing Manager who thought consumers would think there were legal consequences for leaving home without an AMEX card. Frankly, any ad professional or client who makes decisions based upon some version of the notion that “people are stupid” or “our audience won’t understand that” are themselves the stupid and ignorant ones. The smug self-righteousness of the ad industry is only one of the reasons much of the work we turn out is so bad—we’re not nearly as sophisticated as we think we are. And consumers are often able to see an ad or an idea and understand that creativity means not taking it literally. There’s always the safe route. The ad or idea that clients know they can sell to their bosses because it’s been done before and it’s non-threatening. So long as dollars and jobs are at stake, anything open to interpretation is a risk many clients won’t take, and many agencies won’t advocate. And the safe route isn’t limited to advertising. You could tell that right from “Borat’s” opening weekend at the box office. It was #1. “Santa Clause 3” was a distant #2. I’ll interpret that as a good sign.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 171


Righting the Writing
When clients insist on bad copy—by writing it themselves I once had a client who e-mailed me some copy—not for any specific ad, just some would-be headlines and paragraphs to stick in somewhere. Looking at the e-mail header closely, I realized she forwarded me something her college-aged son had written. The copy was bad. Freshman Advertising 101-level bad. I couldn’t really use it anywhere. And I knew she’d resent me if I told her how bad it was. I also knew that later, when she re-wrote a radio spot having sat on it for 4 months after I’d originally presented it, that I couldn’t win. Of all the things in the advertising business, nothing irks me more than having an ad or a piece of copy sent back to me by the client, re-written. Because inevitably, the result is a half-assed, watered-down, cliché-ridden mess. I don’t mean asking for changes such as modifying an odd word or sentence, adding appropriate technical info, or moving some paragraphs around. On the whole, those are OK. I’m talking about instances when the client looked at what I wrote, opened up a new Word document, and began re-typing. Clearly, it’s the one bugaboo that writers have to put up with more than art directors. Because clients can often ask for idiotic suggestions in designs or layouts, but they can’t whip out Quark or Photoshop and make it happen. Everyone, however, knows how to use a word processor. Now, we all know that advertising, marketing and business communications in general do not conform to the grammatical rules a high school English teacher would enforce. Writing effectively or provocatively for a commercial art such as advertising takes a different perspective on the use of words and language. But in the last twelve years or so, we’ve seen a massive sea change in the use of English. The Internet, e-mail, blogs, IMs, and text messaging have led to an explosion in writing—bad writing. For instance, some people misspell words on purpose. Apparently, it’s just cool to do it. Ya know? A whole generation that grew up with digital communications is changing the standards that typify conversational English, and continue to do so as they assume positions on America’s corporate ladder. So inevitably, the carelessness and callousness creeps into business writing. Emails become shorter, less formal and punctuation-free. Microsoft Word can spell-check but can’t tell the difference between “there’s” and “theirs” when it counts. Speed is essential, so we click “send” without reading what we’re sending.

Along with the bad grammar comes inane content. When clients write, they talk to themselves. They’ll substitute the word “solution” when they can’t define what it is a company actually makes or does. They’ll take simple phrases and obfuscate language so as to inhibit undue legal or professional consequences. In other words, they prefer copy that covers their asses. Clients feel an instinctive need to make their own mark on advertising they approve, and sometimes that includes writing the ads. They do it to try to prove their worth, and they do it because they think it’s fun—anytime you do someone else’s job without consequence or measurement or having to live up to standards, it’s fun. But if you can’t assemble a clear, coherent paragraph that passes some amount of grammatical muster, what business do you have telling professional communicators how to do it? How did advertising get to this point? It’s simple. We don’t present ads in person anymore. We email the copy in Word docs for client approval. We’ll send the copy again and again and again if the client needs to approve every change. And once clients get in the habit of making endless bad changes, there’s no turning back. I suppose mediocre writing is a by-product of our modern life, where everything needs to be done immediately, and you can make a thousand tweaks in Word before you ever decide you’ve got it right. I once had an instructor at the Creative Circus who was a writer and a passionate linguist. We were discussing some copy I’d written that needed re-writing. “What did writers do before computers?” I asked in jest. “They did more thinking before they wrote anything,” he replied. Good answer. We all need to do a little more thinking. The advertising industry has quite a few problems, but we’d be better off if our clients thought more about doing their jobs better instead of trying to do ours. Then, consumers may decide the writing might be worth reading. Ya know?

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 173


Rescuing Lost Brands
What happens when brands stray from their core values? Last month at a Home Depot in Texas, a store manager called a customer a c…well, let’s just say he dropped the 4-letter C-bomb. It’s a nasty word. How do I know about what happened? Because I read about it on her husband’s blog. He happened to be a witness. He also works in PR, so he had both a personal and professional take on the incident. As the story was recounted later on consumerist.com, I noticed that across the Internet, customers and former Home Depot employees have posted a myriad of “yeah, I hate Home Depots, too” comments. Doing more research, I realized that the Home Depot brand has problems—a customer service problem, a PR problem, and even an investor relations problem. It wasn’t always this way, as the Home Depot brand was built with an early emphasis on helpful service and its down-to-earth founding executives. So what happened? How did the brand lose its way? I should say this phenomenon is not limited to Home Depot. The recent Wal-Mart/Julie Roehm salaciousness demonstrated how far that brand has strayed from Sam Walton’s original vision. Other companies, like Starbucks, Borders, Nike and The Gap, have been attacked for typifying corporate America imperialism and facelessness despite the fact those companies were founded by passionate individuals in fairly progressive communities. Nor is it limited to massive chain stores or monolithic conglomerates. Ever been disappointed in a restaurant where the food went downhill thanks to a new owner or chef? Quite a number of companies, and the brands they make, ascribe themselves “core values.” While nearly every company promotes those values internally to its own employees, companies that deal with the public like to tout those values as an enticement to do business with them. Sometimes you can read these core values on a company’s website. Sometimes you see them on product packaging. But core values are meaningless unless the actions of the company, the way it conducts business, and the behavior of each of its employees match those values as closely and as often as possible. As advertising professionals, we often have to make sure our work reflects our clients’ core values, even if those values are only words on a page. Sometimes, advertising invents those values. Many years ago, I saw some Timberland ads that read like a corporate manifesto, a raison d'être. The ads were passionate and well-written. They were also bullshit. I noted to myself that in all likelihood, these ads would run for a few months and then the brand would be on to the next thing. And sure enough, the corporate manifesto advertising and its key message disappeared almost overnight, as if it had never existed.

To me, that’s dangerous. The core values of any brand or any company should be solid enough to transcend one ad campaign, not concocted and discarded on a whim. We’re living in a very interesting age—where companies such as big-box stores grow ever bigger because of mergers or consolidation, yet consumers have the power to voice their dissatisfaction via the Internet, reach a worldwide audience, and find like-minded people. Brands and consumers don’t necessarily engage a two-way conversation or dialogue, but both sides now have large megaphones. So it’s up to us to ensure that our clients adhere to their core values in their advertising, marketing, and PR efforts. We know how to detect bullshit since we’re so good at creating it. But beyond that, we’re not helping our clients by promoting their “great customer service” if that service is notoriously lousy. Whether our clients are small businesses or large multi-store chains, the perils are the same: When a brand loses its way, customers won’t follow. So let’s make the adherence to core values a core value of our industry. And by doing this, hopefully the ad industry won’t lose its way, either. An update from Danny G.: I wrote and posted this column on 12/30/06. 4 days later, the CEO of Home Depot, Bob Nardelli, resigned. Perhaps this brand can be rescued after all.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 175


Of So-Called Rock Stars and Stage-Hogging Poseurs
Can we lower the volume of ego-inflating industry hyperbole? “Musically, we're more talented than any Bob Dylan or Paul McCartney. Mick Jagger can't produce a sound. I'm the new Elvis." - Rob Pilatus, 1990 I’m not sure if Rob Pilatus was either “Milli” or “Vanilli,” but he clearly thought he was a rock star. So, are you the Milli of the advertising world? Are you the Vanilli of marketing managers? Or are you more like Mick Jagger? How would you know the difference? According to one trade magazine, you shouldn’t waste your time answering those questions. Ad Age recently ran a front-page headline proclaiming “Death of the Rock Star CMO.” Oh wait, excuse me. It read, “DEATH OF THE ROCK STAR CMO.” The all-capital letters mean they’re serious. But you know what the article fails to mention? That the fawning, sycophantic, journalism-free coverage publications like Ad Age bestows upon those people makes everyone think they’re rock stars. Isn’t it long past time our industry stops referring to marketing and advertising people as "rock stars"? I mean, some people really deserve the moniker. Bono is a rock star. Mick Jagger is a rock star. Middle management marketing executives or group creative directors, however, aren't rock stars. Since I work in advertising, I don’t claim to be a rock star. If you’re reading this column, then I’m your biggest fan, but odds are you’re not a rock star, either. Now, there’s nothing wrong with saying someone has extraordinary skill or talent. Heck, even an extra helping of charm and good looks can help you succeed in the ad biz. But to elevate someone to “rock star” status is sheer lunacy. In a business where we seek “universal truths,” the embrace of such poseurs is universal bullshit. What’s even worse, it sets up unrealistic expectations for the person considered to be the rock star. Let’s face it, it only takes a little time spent working for a bureaucratic corporation, dysfunctional agency, or hack Executive Creative Director to kill off that reputation. And in corporate America, where nearly everyone has a leash-like electronic entry badge and a lengthy employee ID number, some things are simply beyond the power of one person to change--no matter how much that person thinks of him or herself as a “change agent.” But marketing and advertising’s anointed so-called rock stars have bigger problems than inflated egos and pumped-up bios. It’s simply not an illusion that can be sustained for any length of time.

Everything a rock star says is said to shatter current paradigms. Every ad they’re involved with is purported to be genius. Which gives such stars a license to be mediocre because no one dares call them on their mediocrity. Therein lies the real danger—they don’t truly improve the profession, they perpetuate the downward slide of it. Perhaps it’s why so many of these stars are shooting stars as far as the press is concerned—and why there’s a new round of stars crowned every year. Do you buy into the mythmaking? I hope you don’t. By calling someone a rock star, you not only elevate them falsely, you lower yourself in the process. It makes you sound immature. It makes you sound star-struck. “The hallways in my agency are filled with rock stars.” “She’s a real marketing rock star.” If that’s what you think, then take the metaphor and make it real. You’re a groupie. You might as well take that rock star aside and offer up a tongue bath in the conference room or have him/her autograph your breasts. It’s OK to admire people. It’s OK to have heroes, although I generally believe someone who’s chosen advertising as a profession isn’t all that heroic. Much like creatives are told never to stop after having their first idea when concepting, don't go bowing down before whoever is on Creativity's cover this month. You have to drill down deeper to find real ad people worthy of admiration. Unfortunately, reports of the death of rock star CMO’s, along with those on the agency side, are greatly exaggerated. There will be more trumped-up press releases, more marketing managers promoted to demigods, more agencies-of-the-moment and their leaders labeled “hot.” It sells magazines. It gets people talking. Just don’t take it too seriously. And for God’s sake, if you are or become of one of these stars, don’t take yourself too seriously. All the adulation could disappear tomorrow. Girl, you know it's true.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 177


Dinosaurs, Cockroaches, And Guerrillas
Advertising is all the same—to the public, anyway Lately, I don’t think I’ve been doing my job well. Because my ads haven’t pissed anyone off recently. In case you haven’t been keeping up, here’s a brief recap: When the Cartoon Network decided to get some buzz for an upcoming movie, it hired Interference Inc., a company known for guerrilla marketing and street-level buzz generating tactics. So Interference put up some lit displays of cartoon characters in a number of cities. In Boston, a few went up on bridges and overpasses. Someone confused these lights with bombs, authorities were called in, and some of Boston’s streets and trains were brought to a standstill. City, state and federal officials got pissed off about having to investigate a few glorified LiteBrites, and rightfully so. Then came the Super Bowl. A Snickers ad pissed off some gay people. A GM spot pissed off some suicidal people—or at least some people who try to help the suicidal people. And the mediocrity of the rest of the spots seemed to piss off everyone else. When advertising becomes news, there’s always a “Who’s responsible?” witch hunt in the general media. In the case of the Boston terror scare, Time Warner paid restitution, the President of the Cartoon Network resigned, but the CEO of Interference Inc. went into complete hiding. (Talk about true guerrilla marketing.) And it’s fascinating to watch how clueless the rest of the world is. In the ensuing media overdrive after the Boston incident and the Super Bowl, so-called experts were called in for their opinion on TV shows, talk shows and in newspapers. Business journalists and reporters glaringly failed to learn the facts—or follow the money. Reminding me, once again, that most Americans simply don’t know how advertising agencies or marketing firms operate: how they’re hired, who pays them, and how ideas get conceived and executed. I’m sure you’ve seen it: whenever you hear talk show hosts or pundits bloviate on advertising, it always boils down to the fact that all this offensive, nasty marketing is the fault of “Madison Avenue.” Those evil people on Madison Avenue, meeting in those Madison Avenue boardrooms, foisting their Madison Avenue puffery and hucksterism on the American public. This, despite the fact 99.99% of advertising professionals don’t live or work on Madison Avenue anymore. In lieu of finding out the real story behind dubious ads, we get the trite treatments: Cartoon Network: A NoHo based guerrilla marketing firm terrorizes Boston on behalf of an Atlanta-based client—and it’s all Madison Avenue’s fault.

GM: Deutsch's Los Angeles office films a TV spot for a Detroit-based automaker—and it’s all Madison Avenue’s fault. Snickers: A commercial for the Hackettstown, NJ client made by TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York —which, truly, is located on Madison Avenue. So yes, in this case, it’s all Madison Avenue’s fault. In other words, we’re all in this together. It doesn’t matter what advertising or marketing agency you work for—if you produce some form of paid communications, you’re a part of the machine. And you’re painted with the same broad brush. A groundbreaking Nike TV spot, a junk mail piece for AT&T, a billboard for the local Waffle House—it’s all a part of one large mass, as far as most people are concerned. And for the most part, it’s an unwelcome interruption of daily life. When you tell people you work in advertising, they’ll inevitably offer their opinion of their favorite or least favorite ads. If you’ve ever tried to defend, or even explain, bad advertising you didn’t create to someone who doesn’t work in the ad industry, you know what I mean. Which is why bad work, whether it’s a national campaign or a sleazy guerrilla marketing tactic, always pisses me off. It makes us all look bad. It implants, in the minds of clients and consumers, the idea that bad advertising is acceptable—because it's so commonplace. You can rail against big, dinosaur-like agencies, but it’s a part of us. You can roll our eyes at guerrilla marketing stunts, but our industry embraces it most of the time. You can advocate better, more responsible advertising, but when people in our industry are called to account for what they do, they tend to scatter like cockroaches. So it’s best to keep in mind that the work you do may piss off some consumers, or some organizations. But it also may piss off the rest of the ad industry, who’ll look bad as well. We’re all in the same ecosystem. We can either evolve together, or we’ll all go extinct.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 179


The Law of the Advertising Landscape
How much government regulation do advertising and marketing need? Fred Flintstone once said, “Winston is the one filter cigarette that delivers flavor 20 times a pack. Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” Really, he said it. Of course, if you’re like me, watching a Flintstones cigarette commercial (which, thanks to YouTube, live on) is a completely surreal experience. Congress banned broadcast advertising of tobacco products in 1971—before I was born. Now, 36 years later, there’s a serious effort in Congress to enact more restrictions on tobacco marketing, this time on point-of-sale signage, print ads, promotions, and other tactics. Which leads me to ask—how regulated should advertising and marketing be? When television and radio advertising for tobacco was banned in 1971, the overall spending didn’t drop. Instead, the broadcast ban had a secondary effect: tobacco marketers moved their budgets into print ads---along with direct mail, product sampling, promotions, and special event sponsorships. In other words, cigarette makers found more direct, sinister ways to get their products in people’s faces. And it worked, big time. In college, I had friends who would literally stop and pick Camel Cash out of a crack in the sidewalk if they spotted some. So I’d say that the broadcast ban on tobacco products had some pretty serious unintentional consequences, and helped fuel the anything-goes below-the-line morass we’re currently surrounded by. (Hey, maybe we should allow cigarette ads back on TV. After all, if the 30-second spot is dying, and today’s kids are a part of the TiVo/MySpace/iPod generation, well, they wouldn’t pay attention to cigarette commercials, would they?) It doesn’t matter who’s in power in Washington—there are both Democrats and Republicans who want to impose the additional tobacco regulations. It seems we are living in an ever-growing nanny state, and there are other types of advertising in the regulatory crosshairs, most notably fast-food, pharmaceutical, political advertising, and anything that kids could potentially see. That’s just for starters. Now, I’m no fan of excessive government regulation, and I find it deeply strange to ban advertising of any product that’s perfectly legal to make and sell. But every time the threat of more regulation emerges, the leading trade groups for marketers, manufacturers, and advertisers along with their attendant lobbyists always say, “We don’t need federal regulation. Self-policing is the best way to go.” Bullshit. That’s letting the fox guard the henhouse, and frankly, our industry has never displayed much capacity for trustworthiness or self-control.

Another weaselly argument that’s used is the free speech defense. “These regulations would be trampling on the First Amendment. This is censorship.” There is a free speech issue here—sort of. Advertising, as it relates to products and services, is commercial speech and not entirely protected by the Constitution. Nor should it be, and I’ll tell you why. Political speech—and as a result, political advertising--is the most protected form of free speech there is. And with that nearly unfettered freedom, political ads are predominantly negative, misleading, insulting, and do absolutely nothing to advance political discourse or encourage informed voting. Now, how far would the ad industry sink if every product had that same leeway? I mean, would Scottissue run ads claiming that Charmin causes butt rash? So we have to walk a fine line, and be careful of anything lawmakers propose. And use the 1971 tobacco broadcast ban as an example of both good and bad consequences. Ban pharmaceutical ads on TV and drug makers might take that money and throw it into more golf junkets for doctors—so perhaps you’ll never know exactly why your doctor is pushing a new pill on you. Ban fast-food marketing on TV and you’ll see more toys, product tie-ins, and marketing directly to schools. Advertising and marketing is full of smart, dedicated professionals with few scruples, little job security, and sales targets to hit—so we’ll find a way to circumvent any regulation that gets passed in order to get results. Of course, there is another way: It’d be nice if the ad industry, and the clients we serve, could truly learn to regulate ourselves. To practice a little bit of restraint. To have the gumption that even if an idea is doable and an intrusive tactic might be effective, a brand and perhaps society in general would be better off if we don’t pursue that idea. Don’t count on that happening, though. In our industry, the pursuit of money is the law of the land.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 181


The Agency Internal Combustion Engine
Is your shop chugging along smoothly or choking on the fumes? For well over 100 years, one invention has propelled our world forward, literally and figuratively. And now many people want to eliminate it. It’s the internal combustion engine. Cars have ‘em. Planes have ‘em. And ad agencies have ‘em, too. It’s an ingenious idea. Take a high amount of energy, put it in a small enclosed space, and ignite it. You might get a lot of forward motion. You might also get nothing but noxious fumes. The same mechanics apply in the agency world: Depending on where your career fits into the corporate machine, you may be in for a wild, fun ride, or you might get run over. In the engine that makes up an advertising agency, the parts don’t always work the way they’re designed to. Because we’re in the business of generating ideas—and generating money. And most ad executives can’t agree on the best ways to do one, the other, or both. Nor do all the parts work together seamlessly with one main thrust. Most advertising agencies aren’t meritocracies. The best idea doesn’t always win. Rather, ideas and concepts are prejudged, judged and filtered in all sorts of ways, from the rank and demeanor of the person presenting the idea to the monetary and or emotional cost of doing (or not doing) an idea. Sometimes, you can pinpoint those moments where you know the engine isn’t built to run smoothly. I once worked in an agency that simply never presented work internally. No “let’s put it all up on the wall and take a look.” I mean, if two creative teams were given the same assignment, never did they put campaigns side-by-side to compare. Until one day, when it finally happened. Everyone from the account director to the new business guru championed the idea me & my art director (the less experienced team) presented. The other team, consisting of 2 creative directors, got upstaged and knew it. But later on they insisted, “well, ours is a slam dunk.” Which left me & my partner thinking, “What meeting were you just in?” The engine sputters because everyone in advertising is in the business of self-preservation—and career preservation. Particularly when you’re a creative it’s easy to feel threatened by the success of others around you. Because ultimately, you’re judged by your output—what you produce that the marketplace and the industry can see and value. So when it comes time to prove your talent and worth, you’re judged not as a part of a team or agency, just as an individual. Unless you have a stake, like a financial one, in the success of your agency, you’ll always have to look out for yourself. As much as the parts of our agencies are interdependent, it only takes one malfunctioning part to bring it to a halt. A Creative Director that green lights everything without much comment looks weak, and a Creative Director that decides to rewrite and redesign everything is a megalomaniac. Account Executives try to please everyone, which often pleases no one. And the CEO often has no idea how well the engine’s running on a day-to-day basis.

It’d be nice all the parts of an agency work smoothly. Some parts need a little extra greasing. The fuel has to be the right mix. And the conditions outside have to be as optimal as possible. It’s hard to get an agency going if everything’s frozen over. But, as we crank up the advertising engine every day, we need to keep some things in mind. The agency will stall if it’s dominated by naysayers and devil’s advocates whose mantra is, “the client will never go for it.” The agency will spin out of control if there’s always a last-minute scramble to change campaigns because someone important didn’t see them early enough. The agency will grind to a halt if one part lacks the ability to effectively work with the other parts. With every week comes a new conference or survey in which it’s said that the advertising industry and its professionals aren’t keeping up with the times. It may be time to face that an agency's attempt to push new thinking or new marketing ideas are subject to old processes, posturing, and personal prejudices. Maybe that’s why, if you think you’re an integral part of your agency’s internal combustion engine, you never want to see it dismantled. Can we eliminate the internal combustion engine? Maybe, but we’ll have replace it with something else. Something more efficient. Cleaner, maybe. New fuel. Less moving parts. Something that isn’t designed by the engineers who came up with the last version of the agency internal combustion engine. It may take our work to new places we never thought we’d go.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 183


The Sanjaya Principle
Why does bad advertising, like bad singing, work so well? As I’m writing this, we’re in the middle of the 6th season of the marketing juggernaut that is “American Idol.” But the search and the voting for America’s best undiscovered singer has been turned on its ass by one of the top 12 finalists, Sanjaya Malakar. He’s the centerpiece of the show. His success is the lead story all over the media that cover “Idol.” Why? Because he sucks. Sanjaya’s just not a very good singer. Everyone agrees. The judges stopped criticizing him because it doesn’t make a difference. Somebody, indeed millions of somebodies, keeps him in the competition week after week. And no one knows exactly why. He may be getting votes because of an attempt to subvert the show by Howard Stern or “VoteForTheWorst.com.” But maybe there are hordes of little girls who have a crush on him and gladly take style over substance. I think the advertising industry, too, has a Sanjaya problem. As I look out into the ad landscape, I wonder: Why does so much shitty advertising succeed so well? Let’s begin with the premise that if a certain type or style of advertising didn’t work, it’d be abandoned. If screaming car dealer radio ads didn’t work, they’d be history. If magazine subscription direct mail pieces with multiple inserts and form letters containing lots of underlining, bolding and a “P.S.” at the end didn’t work, you wouldn’t have them in your mailbox. Pop-up ads and banners that invade your computer screen are universally loathed, but they’re still prevalent. If they didn’t work, they’d be rare. Anyone who insists that advertising is rapidly dying isn’t paying attention. It’s still alive, bad as it can be sometimes—because many clients still want it out there and gladly pay for it. Even some politicians recognize how much bad advertising pisses off their constituents. In some states, there’s been a recent movement to establish a “Do Not Mail” list for junk mail, similar to the “Do Not Call” list for telemarketing. Why the drastic measure? Because flooding mailboxes with direct mail works—even if it’s 2 or 3% of the time, that’s good enough for many marketers. This isn’t a battle over the aesthetics of art vs. commerce. Bad advertising works because we, as a society, are used to it. We’re comfortable with it, even if we don’t particularly like it. And in a world where fears seemingly lurk everywhere, we gravitate to that which is familiar to us. Our clients like the familiarity of bad work too, because it usually means they get to keep their jobs for another month.

“If you present 20 concepts, 19 of which are awesome and one that’s safe,” a teacher told me in ad school, “the client will always pick the safe one. Every time.” And for creative people, safe equals bad. But in the ad industry, who decides what’s bad? Who decides what’s good? As we head into the self-indulgent advertising awards season, we’ll see the coronation of a few ideas or concepts that are not Sanjaya-like. In other words, we’ll see award-winning ideas that don’t necessarily reflect the taste of the masses, just ideas that reflect the sensibilities of a handful of people. These ideas may be concepts that didn’t run, or hardly ran, or didn’t lead to any significant awareness or sales increase for its intended client. We have to convince ourselves that better or unconventional work is always possible, even if it rarely sees success on a mass scale. Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to produce better work. Quite the opposite; I believe in the power of differentiation. Never mind trying to sell a One Show-worthy idea: It takes courage to simply try to convince a client that tried-and-true formulas aren’t the best solution, because much of the evidence suggests they work. It takes guts to tell a millionaire car dealer that he can actually be selling without yelling. The truth is America still embraces bad advertising—much like America votes for Sanjaya. Mediocrity triumphs, even if many of us wish it wouldn’t. However, Sanjaya could sell a million records, and make a lot of money for himself and Simon Cowell. Is that bad? If the critics, the pundits, and the self-proclaimed experts were in charge, American Idol wouldn’t have Tony Bennett week. It’d have Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen week, and do you think anyone would watch? If Sanjaya becomes the next American Idol, there may be a lot of happy little girls. The rest of us will roll our eyes and pray for the day the rest of America develops better musical taste. Ah, but that’s the trouble of it. The rest of America are also consumers. They’re our target audience. As long as they put up with bad advertising, and respond to it to any degree, we’re compelled to keep making it. That is, if we want to get paid to come back next week and do it again. UPDATE FROM DANNY G. 4/22/07: Okay, so Sanjaya got voted off a few days ago. It's about time. Now, I watch American Idol pretty much every week, but I can only name you one of the final six contestants. For Sanjaya, there's just something about being amazingly sucktastic that people seemed to gravitate to. It's too bad so much of advertising works the same way.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 185


Surrounding Yourself With Breakthrough Nonsense
Are you communicating with customers or violating their space?

That’s it. I’ve declared jihad on certain marketing terms and phrases. Sounds ludicrous to you? Well, if you’re battling for wallet share or implementing guerrilla tactics to reach your target, then I can declare jihad. We’re all combatants now, or so you’d think if you were to spend a day in the ad industry. I once went to a client meeting where the Marketing Director talked about how to improve her company’s “one-to-one” customer communications, and make her brand more “customerfocused.” So this pleasant-looking woman in her mid-forties said, “I want to surround our customers with messaging. I want to break through to reach them.” It was right there and then that I knew she’d never be successful communicating with anyone in a one-to-one capacity. She wanted to “surround” and “break through.” We have other terms for those concepts in our society: “assault” and “trespassing.” Simply put, you can’t use the language of war or criminal behavior and expect people to like you. And you can’t spew that nonsense in meetings if you want to be taken seriously, or have your agency or your client’s brand to be thought of in a positive light. I know, military expressions are pervasive in our lives. I’m not sure if it originated with Sun-Tzu, or World War II veterans returning home to become The Men In The Grey Flannel Suits, but somewhere along the line the language of war became the language of business and marketing. You hear it every day in your ad agency or company, I bet: “It’s all hands on deck. We need to add some creative firepower. That is, if we want to execute some really killer ads. Got it? Alright everyone, lock and load!” Am I overreacting? Is it okay to embrace war language? After all, they’re just figures of speech, right? Wrong. It’s too easy to use war as a metaphor for business. It gives everything a false sense of urgency; it implies that in every business decision there are outright victors and losers. There’s a great cartoon by a fellow named Hugh MacLeod and it has a very simple caption: “If you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they’d punch you in the face.” He’s absolutely right. So why do we legitimize such language in advertising? More insidiously, why do we use that language in PowerPoint presentations, RFPs, and creative briefs? Why do we allow our clients to say it with a straight face?

Even in this age of digital and video, words still mean things. It doesn’t matter if you think, the way so many people are now conditioned to believe, no one would read a two-sentence headline or three sentences of body copy. Wanna buy a house? You don’t sign a picture of the house. You sign a lengthy, binding legal contract, of which most every word is carefully crafted. Yet in everyday life, in meetings, emails and everywhere else, we’re perfectly content to throw around needless hyperbole masquerading as forceful language. It makes simple matters seem more important than they are. And it lessens the impact of really dangerous situations. I’ll give you an example. Right now, we have 200,000 soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many are spending their days finding and rooting out enemy combatants and insurgents. Sometimes, they have to go door to door, house to house. So what are they really doing at those houses when they're forced to? Surrounding. And breaking through. I promise you, our soldiers aren’t door-to-door salesman. What they’re doing is really fighting for their lives. What you’re doing is just advertising. There’s a difference. We have the ability to be uplifting—in the words we use and the work we do. We have an obligation to help our clients communicate better with customers. So when we start saying things in more credible ways, we’ll have a much more positive effect on our business and the world. I hope you agree with me. But I’m not looking to emerge victorious in this crusade. I just want to change some minds.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 187


Harry Potter and the Obtuse Client
So who really are the ones with the short attention spans? Almost 2 months from now, on July 21, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will hit bookshelves. Already, stores are taking pre-orders and planning midnight release parties. Fans are craving every nugget of plot detail they can find on the Internet. According to Amazon.com, it’ll be a 784-page book. Who has time to read all of it? Who has that kind of attention span? Who reads anything these days? Apparently, lots of people do. Combined, the books in the Harry Potter series have sold over 250 million copies worldwide. Somebody’s reading all those words. Words that are typeset on pages. Pages that are bound in book form. So why the hell do my clients think a paragraph with 3 sentences of copy is “too long” for their audience? It’s not consumers who have the short attention spans. It’s the clients. Because today’s clients aren’t concerned with brand equity, customer relationships, or long-term initiatives. It’s a projectto-project, deliverable-to-deliverable existence. They’re worried about their jobs—and surviving in those jobs for one more month. For a CMO, the figure that’s popularly kicked around is 18 months—as average tenure on the job. Add to that all the underlings who report to that CMO. They all need to kiss ass and meet their numbers, whatever those numbers may be. Marketing’s middle managers subsist from PowerPoint deck to PowerPoint deck. So it’s no wonder that they’re smitten with bullet points, three-word sentences and immediate gratification. Context? Forget it. Storytelling? No time. Patience? “Fuck that, we have to get this piece out ASAP.” These days, you can’t even explain to a client the importance of a well-written or well-designed ad. Why? Because they’re not paying attention. They’re checking their BlackBerry or stare into space, preoccupied with that afternoon’s meeting with the boss. That’s why they don’t believe consumers read. Most of us, and our clients, can no longer remember what it’s like to be on the receiving end of an ad message. The problem isn’t that consumers don’t read. It’s that they don’t give a fraction of a shit about the products or services our clients make. Our client’s product is not the solution to some perceived problem. It’s just another widget on the shelf. No one cares, and bullet points aren’t the answer.

The problem isn’t that consumers don’t read. It’s that creatives rarely give them anything worth reading these days. No clever turns of phrases. Nothing to make a reader or viewer think, pause, or reflect. Nothing to make them even go, “What the fuck are they talking about?” No, the message is dumbed down to the same dull copy points every time. The problem isn’t that consumers don’t read. It’s that we’ve given up on them. The idea that people won’t listen to us has become a self-fulfilling prophecy in the ad industry. They won’t read or listen, so we won’t try to say anything interesting. In turn, the work increasingly stinks, consumers increasingly turn away, and our work becomes increasingly ineffective. Quite a death spiral, if you ask me. Actually, not everyone believes today’s conventional wisdom. Here’s one example. StrawberryFrog recently placed an ad for itself in Fortune magazine. An ad with no whacked-out visuals or Web 2.0 components. Just a simple headline that asked a question and 3 paragraphs of body copy that answered the question and explained the agency’s core beliefs. It feels so retro it actually seems daring, even more so given that they bothered to advertise themselves. This from an agency often cited as one of the “new breed” of agencies that’ve cropped up lately. Obviously, they’re out to find that rare CMO or CEO who does read. Of course, technology has truncated everyone’s timelines and attention spans. That won’t change. The massive stream of information has given us all a bit of A.D.D. But it’s especially brutal in the ad industry, because technology plays such an integral role in how we create the work we create—and how our work is seen or heard by the public. But beyond our profession lies a world full of people who are living, breathing, eating, shopping and yes, reading without the innate desire to be plugged in to the latest gadget or the latest craze at every waking moment. I wonder if we still know how to reach them. Harry Potter and the PowerPoint Deck? Sure you could sum up a book with bullet points, but it will be shortly forgotten. Nor will it seep down to readers’ imaginations. And of course, you won’t sell 250 million copies. Because to do that, you’d truly need to be living in a fantasy world.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 189


A Diverse Set of Problems
We’re still in an age of mass marketing—and mass mediocrity Let’s try an experiment. I want you to form a mental image of “Joe Sixpack.” Advertising people talk about “Joe Sixpack” all the time. But what does he look like? Picture him in your mind. Look away from the screen until you’ve got him pictured…then come back and read the rest. Got a picture? OK. Now…let me ask you a question: Is he black? I’d be willing to bet the “Joe Sixpack” you pictured in your mind was a white dude. With a beer belly, sitting on the couch, holding a beer, watching NASCAR or something like that. Right? It’s not a particularly flattering image, but I’ve heard numerous clients and ad professionals refer to the imaginary “Joe Sixpack” as some sort of average typical consumer–and proceed to commit millions of dollars to messages targeting that very type of person. But in reality, we have no idea who “Joe Sixpack” is. It’s just another condescending stereotype. And stereotypes and prejudices have a special place in the advertising industry. We call them “demographics.” We’re living in an age in which marketers are desperate to reach disparate audiences. Whether it’s using CRM, segmentation, targeted marketing, or whatever you’d like to call it, the search is on to know as much as we can about every single customer. But it can’t be done. The problem is, most marketing is mass marketing. Even if you break your audience into 200 different segments for some direct marketing initiative, you’re still mass marketing. It will never, ever be truly one-on-one marketing, lest you unleash an army of door-to-door salespeople. We have to make assumptions. We have to make guesses. Because human behavior isn’t as predictable as we wish it could be. And we don’t have the budgets necessary to create ideas and programs that truly treat people as individuals with different backgrounds, tastes, ideas, or hot buttons.

Whatever attempts our industry makes at including different audiences is invariably a token effort, an afterthought to fill some perceived obligation. That’s why any ads that promote a company’s commitment to “diversity” always depict a carefully blended group of freshly scrubbed, differently hued people. For example, there are always some African-American people —just not ones that look “too black.” Other things are lacking in those “diversity” group shots: No midgets, no wheelchair-bound co-workers, no really fat chicks. Just a happy rainbow coalition—oh wait, no gays or lesbian couples either. Advertising, far from taking any risks, is determined to stay as old-fashioned as possible. Of all the ads I’ve seen on TV that show a typical nuclear family—a mother, a father, and children—I don’t think I’ve ever seen one with a mixed race couple, adopted kids from a different ethnicity, or a father with a prosthetic leg. It’s amazing how so much advertising seems so disconnected from the real world. Just like software programs such as Excel, Photoshop, or PowerPoint, our industry has default settings, the images clients are most comfortable with. In this business, white is the default setting, not black. Young is default, not old. Same goes for thin, straight, married, Christian…all preferable to whatever the alternatives are. Anything that deviates is different. And different makes people, particularly clients and agency executives, nervous and uncomfortable. While we fret over how best to communicate with new generations and new media, we need to also concern ourselves with what we communicate—and how we attempt to portray those we’re communicating with. I don’t think there’s an easy answer. Real life simply is too imperfect, too messy, too disordered, and too unpredictable to accurately portray in advertising. We can’t account for the nuances found in everyone’s lives. So we’re going to get more generalizations. More middle-of-the road. More work that tries to appeal to mass audiences with massive doses of mediocrity. Sounds to me like Joe Sixpack isn’t just the target audience. He’s also the client.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 191


Turning Chinese
The world of global marketing is flattening, but ad agencies are in for a bumpy ride While the judges in Cannes were fawning over Dove’s “Evolution” video, another ad for a beauty product came to my attention. This ad was for a product called “Fair & Lovely,” a skin-whitening cream that’s heavily marketed in India. The commercial showed a young girl who dreams of being a TV reporter, but as she narrates, “the obstacle to obtaining my dream job was my skin.” Her skin was too dark for her to get hired. So in the ad, she proceeds to whiten her skin, land that dream job, and even score a date with a studly cameraman. What’s the problem? Turns out, both Dove and Fair & Lovely products are made by the same company: Unilever. The Dove video (part of a campaign which I praised in a past column) shows the effects of makeup and retouching and says, “no wonder our perception of beauty is distorted.” The Fair & Lovely ad suggests if you whiten your skin, you’ll get your dream job. So how does a company like Unilever justify distorting the perception of beauty in India but celebrating “real beauty” in North America? Can you really just chalk it up to differing cultural mores, or two divisions of a huge company that don't interact? I put the ads side by side on AdPulp.com, where people could see the dual messages for themselves. Then, a reporter for Radio Sweden interviewed me about the Internet’s role in exposing the variations of global marketing. So what is an American guy doing on Radio Sweden talking about a company headquartered in Britain and The Netherlands who approved both a video created in Canada and celebrated in France along with a condescending ad created for India? I demonstrated that the world is getting too small for global companies to hide contradictory business practices. The advertising industry better wake up to this reality. Global advertising is far more complicated than doing a 2 page visual solution spread ad for laundry detergent. I know very clearly that every day, my clients are impacted by decisions being made on the other side of the world. Your clients are impacted, too, no matter what category they’re in. You’re personally affected, too. But only if you buy toys. Or dog food. Or shrimp. Or tires. Or toothpaste at the dollar store.

Have you heard the news recently? When the U.S. Food & Drug Administration decided to warn Americans against the use of imported Chinese toothpaste because it contained a chemical found in antifreeze, officials in China excused it away saying, "So far we have not received any report of death resulting from using the toothpaste. The U.S. handling of this case is neither scientific nor responsible." That’s a great USP to advertise: “Cooldent Fluoride. No one’s died brushing their teeth with it. Yet.” Sorry to say, you can’t use that line for dog and cat food imported from China, which has caused at least 16 pet deaths in America. Oh, and do you have kids? So far this year, 24 toys have been recalled for safety reasons. That’s one toy a week. They were all made in China. Or try this one: 450,000 Chinese tires sold here in the U.S are being recalled due to the possibility of tread separation. Of the recall, a spokesman at the Hangzhou Zhongce tire company said, “This is concocted out of thin air.” Someone needs to give the Chinese a good PR lesson. More and more goods being made in China are becoming health problems. And since more and more goods are being made in China, the problem will get worse and American companies and brands will get affected. Is your agency mostly catering to clients in service categories? Doesn’t matter. Those little custom imprinted tchotchkes you order for your client’s trade shows likely come from China. This isn’t just a health problem. Or an outsourcing problem. It’s a brand management problem. Nothing kills a brand faster than a few toxic ingredients. Imagine if someone had died in a car crash due to those faulty Chinese tires. There would be a major uproar faster than you can say “Firestone.” Believe me, I’m not picking on China or India alone. American companies, importers, regulators and retailers are all complicit. There’s nowhere for global brands to hide. Unsafe products, abusive employment practices, and condescending advertising can’t get swept under the imported jute rug. And thanks to the speed of global business, along with the power of the Internet to instantly communicate, consumers can find out what’s going on for themselves and make purchasing decisions accordingly. Whether its distinct cultural mores, lopsided trade imbalances, or simply language barriers, companies who do business around the world will now get quickly exposed for duplicity when it exists, like Unilever and their brands. As advertising and marketing professionals, we have an obligation to serve our clients as best we can, and yes, that often means we must focus on the details of small projects or short-lived ad campaigns rather than fixate on whatever impact we’re making on the world as a whole. But like the viral sensation Dove’s “Evolution” video became, every piece of work we do for our clients reflects on us, on them, and the values of our society. We can have a positive effect, and we can have a negative one. Our industry is all agog over new media and the power of images and messages to reach critical mass in the blink of an eye. As a result, the whole world is now paying attention. Are you?

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 193


Shuffling the Deckhands
Can agencies and clients move forward by moving people around? I once worked on a big, global client who used to rotate its marketing executives on a regular basis. Like every year or two. They’d take someone in the corporate PR department and then put her in charge of direct marketing. They’d take a brand advertising guy and put him in charge of sales training. From the client’s standpoint, it wasn’t a game of musical chairs--it was what they did to invest in their people, to give them a more well-rounded business career. Not coincidentally, many people stayed in that company much longer than people do at ad agencies. But from our agency standpoint, it was chaos. We constantly dealt with people with little to no background in their current positions, and we were at the mercy of their personal learning curves. So what’s the best policy? Should ad agencies make concerted efforts to help their employees learn all facets of the business? I say this because the ad agency business seems as siloed as ever. Among account, media, creative people, and everything else, there’s still a major lack of integration or knowledge sharing. It’s even worse now that interactive is so much in demand. Interactive people are often stored away in their own corner—or at one agency I worked at, on the basement floor. So what would happen if your co-workers switched places? Could media planners suddenly become Art Directors? Could Copywriters become Account Executives? Could your interactive team understand brand-building or point-of-sale if they had to? Even for a day or two, just to do a little role-playing exercise? I’m not suggesting agencies should hire people unqualified for their positions. Some folks simply are better suited for a particular discipline. I know a fair amount about media, but I’m not the guy you want negotiating spot broadcast deals. However, I’ve always tried to learn as much as I could about advertising, business, media, etc., in addition to learning about my clients’ businesses. I want to be able to hold my own in any client or industry-related conversation. But to most people, it makes me a freak, not a valuable resource. Why are there so few really well-rounded people in this business? For one thing, the skills successful ad people need aren’t taught early on. Colleges and universities don’t prepare undergraduates for an advertising career other than offering lessons in binge drinking. Portfolio schools focus on creativity, but primarily for creativity’s sake, not to build businesses.

Then there’s the actual hiring process. Agency HR people have little ability to discern who might be a great addition based upon a resume or a 10 second glance at a book. They look to see the blanks are filled in for whatever job specific checklist they have. The agency business has changed radically over the last 10 years—but the hiring process remains fossilized. But let’s say you do get started in an agency. Do you think you’re set from then on? Ask yourself: Does your agency care about your professional development? Or do they just want your butt in a cubicle for as long as possible every day? How honest could you be with the people you work with that you’d like to spend some time developing your skills—even ones that might be outside your job description? If ad agencies are going to have any relevance in the future, we have to make sure everyone understands how the big wheel of capitalism turns. “Great ideas can come from anywhere—or anyone.” I’ve heard that countless times but I’ve rarely seen an agency turn that notion into some daily reality. We work in a business that, let’s face it, anyone can attempt. Consumers are offering up their own ads and spreading brand buzz. Management consultants are writing brand strategies. Printers are writing copy. Everyone’s getting in on the act. So we have to do it better. One secret is knowledge, and the collective knowledge that exists in any agency. That’s why I have little patience for art directors who don’t care about words, or media people who care little for the account plan. Or anyone who doesn’t care about a client’s business or industry trends. Ignorance is not bliss--not anymore. Maybe we could take a page from clients who like to shuffle people around, at least to give people a taste of every job in an agency. We may be able to do better work. It’ll take some understanding, patience, and dedication to training—three things sorely lacking in the agency world. But don’t wait for your agency to start moving people around or helping you out in becoming a better advertising professional. Because if you’re just sitting on your ass, it’ll get kicked to the curb sooner or later.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 195


Getting Back to Your Agency’s Roots
Staff turnover is inevitable in the ad biz—but downcycles don’t have to be “One generation plants the trees, and another gets the shade.” That proverb went through my mind as I walked in the lobby of a recent AAAA conference to see hundreds of copies of AdAge and Adweek laid out across a table. Both magazines featured stories about the Chairman of A Certain Minneapolis Agency (let’s call them “ACMA”) on the cover, lamenting the agency’s supposed fall from grace. I distinctly remember seeing the same guy pictured in the New York Times a few years ago. Back then, he was basking in success, the recipient of a profile so fawning that my dad called me and said, “He sounds like a great guy.” So what happened? Although the pump-and-dump hype cycle of the business press sells lots of magazines, it masks the bigger phenomenon that occurred at ACMA and other agencies who were hot one year and not the next: the tree planters left, and shade lovers took over. For those of you who are students of ad history, you know that in the early days, ACMA didn’t hire well-known people who had already won creative awards out the yin yang. No, the agency made people famous along with the great work, reveling in the pseudo-fame that is creative advertising superstardom. You know who they are. But those people, having planted the trees, hired a new generation of people content to rest in the shade. That’s not to say there aren’t talented, hard-working people at well-established agencies like ACMA. But somewhere in the hiring and promotion cycles, something goes haywire. I’ve seen history repeat itself at agencies near and far: people do great work in relative obscurity and get acclaim and fame for themselves and the agency. The agency gets recognized, earns a great reputation and starts hiring people who’ve already earned the fame elsewhere. A sense of entitlement takes over, because the shop, in essence, gets to pick and choose people to work there. This next generation of leaders decide that since they’ve become famous for planting the trees, they can show up with a gold or silver shovel in their hands, choosing to spend much of their time enjoying the shade. Meanwhile, the agency gets too full of itself and loses accounts and people, and along comes another group of tree planters at another agency to steal the thunder. The cycle infects the work as well as the hiring process. Agency HR people and hiring managers look for people with “pedigrees,” the ones who’ve already planted the trees—but have no real incentive to keep doing so. Inevitably, turnover and turmoil ensue—and that’s news everywhere from Adweek to BusinessWeek to industry blogs, as it has been recently at ACMA. So is your agency full of tree planters or shade lovers?

I’ve always believed the best advertising people have an element of hunger and discontent in their personalities. It’s rooted in a simple desire to improve upon what’s been done before. Which is not the same as being disagreeable or arrogant, although those qualities are easily confused. Most people enter the ad biz hungry. But at a certain point, after initial success, contentedness take over: an impossibly cushy gig, a desire for more family life or merely the belief that one’s shit doesn’t stink. And in the course of an advertising career, that contentedness coincides with promotions to managerial positions. Many great Copywriters, Art Directors or Account Executives have no business managing other people as Creative Directors or Supervisors. Look, it happens in many fields—take music. Bands start off young, pissed, inspired and raw. They make great music, sell CDs and get rich. Then they’re not so pissed and inspired anymore. So their subsequent albums aren’t all that good. But they still have their fans, and there are plenty of state fairs for those bands to play at for the rest of their careers. But in the ad industry, we’re in an age in which the trees are getting cut left and right, and new ones are planted all the time. The fame, the glory and the reputations that are made can quickly fade. The Web has given rise to a new dimension in marketing ideas, thinking and executions. Plus, it’s given our industry a whole new level of transparency. We see new campaigns, hear news and call bullshit on poseurs so much faster these days. To thrive these days, agencies should look for the tree planters. They’re the ones who ensure an agency can grow strong and healthy, provided the roots remain in place. Don’t wait to make sure your agency is doing the right things with the right people. Start digging.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 197


When Bad Ideas Happen To Good Agencies
If you think ad people love a good confrontation, you’re wrong So last week, Steve Jobs caused quite a stir by dropping the price of an iPhone by $200 only 2 months after it was launched. After hundreds of people complained, Steve issued a mea culpa 24 hours later and offered a $100 credit to iPhone owners. As one of those people who stood in line for 2 hours on iPhone launch day to get a phone, I have to admit I wasn’t pissed off about the price reduction and I’m pleasantly surprised at the $100 credit. I’m glad he admitted a mistake and tried to make amends. That’s rare in corporate America. But I have a couple of bigger questions: Did anyone tell Steve Jobs that he’d be pissing off Apple’s most loyal customers and damaging his brand? Can an Apple employee ever tell Steve Jobs that an idea of his is a bad one? Power struggles, and fear of retribution after those struggles, are pervasive in business and politics. And they’re especially pervasive in advertising. Ever been in a client meeting where you’re hearing a client spout a really bad idea or suggestion, but no one speaks up? You know, something’s being proposed, an ad is being changed, or a committee of clients hacks an idea to pieces, but no one in the agency says a word. It’s all smiles and niceties, and then the minute you get out of earshot of the client you look at one another and say, “What the fuck was that????” I’ve been witness to many a capitulation. Because in the face of a client’s demands, no one, not a President, Account Director, Creative Director, Junior Account Executive, or even me, was willing to speak up. And I know why it happens. People don’t like to be told they’re wrong. Or even that they might be wrong. No one will ever thank you for telling them they’re wrong, even if it’s to avoid a costly mistake. In advertising, our clients are our customers, and we’re often afraid to make them upset. But clients routinely do things that are not just a waste of the agency’s time—they’re a waste of the client’s own money. Or they push ideas that damage their own brand.

It’s easy to say “give the client what they need, not what they want.” But it’s hard as hell to do it. If you want to keep your job, that is. Standing up to a difficult client is one of the few big risks you can take in the ad business–because you risk the chance of unemployment, foreclosure, divorce, bankruptcy, and your dog pissing on your leg in disgust. Occasionally, some people are willing to take that chance. The example this year has been Cramer-Krasselt. Faced with the prospect of a mindless and unwarranted account review, the CEO told its CareerBuilder client to take a hike. Later, the C-K CEO said, “There are a few times in your life when you have to tell someone to fuck off and mean it.” This was such a rarity in the ad industry it became front page news in Ad Age. Lest you think it would signal to the marketing world C-K's arrogant, unprofessional attitude, the agency continues to win significant new business and increase its profile. Not to mention it’s an attractive quality in an agency workplace, where employees feel so rarely respected by clients. I’d gladly work for someone with that kind of courage. Of course, the CEO of an independently-owned agency is empowered to tell a client to fuck off. You, however, might want to think twice before trying it. But it does give a hint of what might be possible if more ad agencies had the backbone to tell clients when an idea is bad. The best advertising people have innate instincts to know that superior thinking and great creative work can make a real difference for a brand. But you can’t measure an instinct. There’s no trackable ROI for a gut feeling. And many of us, and our industry as a whole, haven't earned the trust of clients to truly tell them when they're off-base. I’d love to believe more businesses will learn from people like Steve Jobs and his moment of unchecked ignorance of brand loyalty. I’d love to believe more ad agencies will follow CramerKrasselt’s example and express their objections, develop some courage and tell clients what they really think. Yes, I’d love to believe it. But I’d be wrong. I’ve been wrong before, but I’m confident enough to hear you say it to me.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 199


A Carbon-Neutral Pile of Manure
Brands are going green—because there’s money in it, naturally Ordinarily, I might take environmental problems seriously, but lately, I can’t. Because the only people imploring me to are advertisers. Every marketer, it seems, wants to prove how “green” they are. As usual, our industry just follows the herd. And because of the eco-awakening, we’re now lecturing consumers that they need to be “green,” too. How? By buying more stuff. In Georgia, for example, the state is promoting environmental awareness via an “Energy Star” tax-free weekend. People are getting a sales tax break when they buy new energy-efficient refrigerators, dryers, etc. In other words, we have to consume more in order to consume less, throwing away perfectly good appliances in the process. Is consumption always the best answer to the our problems? Is advertising the best voice of reason? I’m not old, comparatively speaking, but at a certain point I recognize when I’ve lived through a particular cycle in the pop culture. And environmental awareness, yes, I’ve lived through this before. In the late 80’s, Earth Day got hip again. We banned CFC’s from hair spray and Styrofoam boxes from McDonald’s because of a hole in the ozone layer. We started recycling newspapers and plastic, thinking we were saving the planet. That lasted a couple of years, then the Ford Explorer came out. Concern about CFC’s gave way to a feeding frenzy for SUV’s. Ironically, all this greenwashing is a result of how wildly successful advertising and marketing is. Ad agencies came into their own in post-WWII America, where our industry routinely sold a dream of suburbia: shiny chrome-infused cars, vinyl siding, shag carpeting and frost-free refrigerators. Comfortably ensconced in our air-conditioned lifestyle, our massive consumption has put a undue strain on the world’s resources. But now, other countries who have fed our largesse (think China, India, etc) want a piece of our energy-thirsty lifestyle for their own. And that’s compounding the problem.

So now global warming and fate of the planet is on our front burner, and as consumers we’ll do almost anything to show we care. In lieu of a real change in the way we live, our clients are more than willing to hire us to sell the solution. And what's really perverse is that brands are charging a premium for the privilege of feeling good about helping the environment. Brands like Method cleaning products or beauty products from The Body Shop cost significantly more than other brands, and organic produce commands a higher price than conventionally grown. Frankly, many families whose budgets are stretched to the breaking point can’t afford to buy green when price is their primary motivating factor. Which is a shame—even if families want to make a difference, they can’t afford to and we make them feel worse for that shortcoming. The ultimate load of environmentally-fueled nonsense, however, is coming via good ol’ corporate brand-polishing TV spots for companies who have spotty histories. It’s hard for me to believe that global monoliths like Chevron, BP, Dow and GE are going to lead the environmental awareness revolution, despite their multi-million ad campaigns dedicated to concepts like “ecohumanology” or whatever they’re calling it this week. But agencies, many of them good ones, are perfectly content to shovel this compost on the public. It’s hard not to view all this greenwashing with a jaundiced eye. But maybe there’s a solution. I’d love it if the advertising business was more environmentally-friendly. And I know just where to start. I’m sick of clients that demand rounds and rounds of pointless changes to their work--changes that require more printouts, more mockups, more electricity for the computers, and more gasoline to drive to and from client meetings. How about we cut out all the layers of client approvals and the mass quantities of comp materials needed for those presentations? Of course, I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen. Because the ad industry never takes its own advice. We’ll save the real action for someone else. We’re into empty gestures. Which is why I’m thinking about purchasing a carbon offset for the electricity I’ve used writing this column. Maybe I’ll go plant a tree. But since there’s a total watering ban where I live due to a record-breaking drought, it’ll likely die. Hey, it’s the groupthought that counts, right?

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 201


The Importance of Filtering Actionable Jargon Into Buckets
More bizarre vernacular of the ad industry I was getting downloaded on some new deliverables that’d be coming into the shop soon, when suddenly I had an epiphany: It seems that folks in advertising and marketing have lost the ability to communicate simply. Somewhere on the road to ideation and proprietary Brandilization™ processes, agency folks collectively decided that the only way to gain respect amongst the legions of management consultants and branding gurus was to imitate their BS. We speak a very unique language in our meetings and daily interactions. It’s a mash-up of business double-speak and artistic self-importance. And some of the terms are simply laughable. For example: “Killer book” - A killer book is neither a “killer” nor a “book.” It’s a great portfolio. Calling it a “killer book” doesn’t make the work any better. A biography of Charles Manson is a killer book. A bomb-making manual is a killer book. Your portfolio isn’t one. “Buckets” - Sometimes, during a brainstorm, the downpour of ideas becomes such a vast pool of genius that someone needs to mop it all up and place it into a number of “buckets.” Hopefully without spilling any of that brilliance. “Widows” and “Orphans” – More morbid terms. Real-life killers often leave behind many widows and orphans. You’d think a so-called “killer book” would have lots of widows and orphans. But if you’re a designer, your work can’t be killer if there are widows and orphans. “Brief” — Never seen one that was. “Loyalty program” - Sorry, there’s no such thing. I save 30 cents off a gallon of milk at Kroger because I have a plastic card on my keychain that says I’m a member of a “loyalty program.” Nice discount, but it doesn’t make me loyal. Any store that’s cheaper, closer, or better will get my loyalty, at least for the day. “Viral” - I don’t know who first looked at their marketing budget and said, “Now, if only we could be as successful as AIDS or herpes. Let’s do something the great unwashed consumers could spread without more media dollars.” And alas, viral marketing caught on. No actual viral campaign has spread quite like the mere concept of doing a viral marketing campaign has. There are even people who refer to a viral campaign’s “infection rate,” defined as the ease at which it can be forwarded and spread. I’m developing an immunity to viral marketing. I suspect most consumers are, too.

“Change agent” – Change doesn’t need an agent. Or an advocate. Most people don’t like change. But things just change, whether you like it or not. Go with it. “Direct marketing” – This is a cute euphemism for “junk mail” or “spam.” Somehow it’s more directly targeted to me because my name is on a list of double-jointed, PBR-drinking cable subscribers. Your emails and junk mail may have my name directly inserted into them, but they’re still mostly auto-generated, and I throw them directly into the trash. Why is it that a 4% response rate on a direct mail piece is terrific? Directly speaking, it’s usually because the creative is crap. “Thought Leader” - Back in high school, if you told people you were cool, you weren’t. Same goes for calling yourself a “thought leader.” If you have to go around telling people you are one, you aren’t. “Deliverable” - Actually, this is a bad one. A really bad one. Agencies aren’t paid for their thinking, or to propose ideas that might improve a client’s business, like beefing up customer service or retraining employees. No, ad agencies get paid for deliverables, like a pizza parlor. Would you like a direct mail piece with everything in it and extra logos to go? Because you can bill a client for that deliverable. People are under the impression that it’s more indicative of gravitas to use polysyllabic terminology to underscore the imperative nature of an initiative. But it’s not. If you spend any portion of your day in meetings or presentations, then you’re accustomed to hearing doublespeak. The problem is when it becomes a game of one-upmanship. Someone in the room uses jargon, then it’s up to someone else in the room to either agree with what’s been said, or increase the level of BS. How do you let the air out of a roomful of windbags? There are two good ways. When somebody says something so confusing, so intentionally pointless, give them a quizzical look and say, ”Huh?” And the other one, when someone uses overwrought language to explain the most simple of ideas, or says something painfully obvious, just reply with a happily sarcastic “Duh!” Those two words will say a whole lot more than any marketing doublespeak ever could. Try it. Who knows, you may find an breakthrough, actionable way to cut through the clutter at your next ideation engagement.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 203


Striking it Rich, or At Least Striking It Profitable
The ad industry isn’t Hollywood, but we’ve got the same money issues Being a creative, I’m curiously following the news about current Hollywood writers’ strike. I’m simply amazed that this particular group of creative people has the actual power to shut down production on nearly every major television program. A lot of the dispute, naturally, is related to issues of money. The rise of new media outlets is conflicting with old pay methods. The advertising industry is facing many of the same issues. Every ad agency has a different method of dealing with finance, but it all comes down to one basic question: Are agencies, and in turn their people, getting paid what they’re worth? The stock answer would be “no,” or rather, “no, you dipshit, of course not,” but the reality is more complex than that. When it comes right down to it, every ad agency is a factory with an assembly line that produces a different product every time. We don’t truly how much each assignment will cost to make and how much we should ideally charge for it. Agency accounting and revenue is one of those areas that management doesn’t want rank-andfile employees to go poking around in. I remember working at an agency when they discovered a former employee was cooking the books, making it look like the agency was taking in more money than it did. So to remedy the shortfall, a 10% pay cut was instituted for all employees. At the meeting to announce this, when one person brought up why the revenue was short, the CEO said, “Well, we don’t charge enough for our services.” His was the name on the door. So whose fucking fault was that? Or perhaps you’re at an agency that has an efficient job tracking and billing system. Does your agency live and die by accurate timesheets? Great. You’re screwed, no matter what you do. I’ve seen it myself. In the past, I’ve been told to put more hours towards a job I didn’t work on so the agency could make money. And I’ve been told to decrease the number of hours on I put towards a job on my timesheet so the agency wouldn’t lose money. Which in reality makes absolutely no sense. Because either way, whether the agency makes or loses money on a certain job on paper, I’m a fixed cost. My salary stays the same.

If you spend extra hours working to make an ad great because you’re not satisfied with it, in most agencies that’ll be looked at negatively. Because the more hours you work on a job that’s over what was estimated, the more it looks like the agency is losing money on the job. Creative quality? No one generally gives a fuck about that, because that usually costs more money. Try telling the agency CFO about the merits of overcharging a client for an ad that you rewrote 5 times because you or your Creative Director weren’t happy with it. Since there’s no legitimate quantifiable method to determine the financial impact of a brand’s ad campaign, performance-based models don’t work so well. Because we simply don’t know how well our work works. So there’s no real incentive to do effective work in advertising. The creatives who work for ad agencies don’t get paid based on a campaign’s effectiveness or longevity. To most hiring managers evaluating creative talent, an award for an ad that never ran is of a higher value than an effective ad campaign that ran for years. I’ve created ads, taglines, and websites were used for years—long after I was gone from the agencies I did them for. But that is of little comfort to me. Advertising creatives don’t get residuals or royalties; hell, most of the time we’re never even thanked. It’s no surprise that the entire industry is in a downward revenue spiral. Clients are squeezing their budgets in an increasing WalMartian fashion, and squeezing their vendors in the process. There’s not much profit to be made slapping a viral video together and posting it on YouTube or seeding it on blogs. We once made money on media and production markups—and those are dwindling. We can, at least fleetingly, look to the Writers’ Guild for some signal of what’s to come in advertising. If they can’t improve their fortune in the new media age, there’s little hope for ad agencies to make more money doing more work in the interactive space. And big, brand-building ideas that have lots of legs or touchpoints or integrated media components or whatever won’t be worth much. If we don’t fix the compensation issues our industry is facing, the picket line won’t be our fate. The unemployment line will.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 205


Outsourced Outside The Box
What might happen if creative jobs go overseas en masse? This holiday season, as you’re cruising the malls and big box stores for lead-free Chinese toys and child labor-free Gap clothing, let me caution you: ad jobs are getting outsourced, too. Not all of them, and not immediately, of course. But it’s happening. A recent article about one of the monolithic holding companies touted the benefits of workers in Costa Rica and the Ukraine dedicated to resizing and reprogramming interactive ads. I have a sneaking suspicion these offices are a little light on the Herman Miller furniture and foosball tables. Look, it makes perfect sense—more importantly, it makes money. When something stays online for a few hours or days, does the craft and creative really matter? Labor is one of the reasons that agencies, particularly small ones, really face the interactive disadvantage— but not for lack of labor, just lack of ability to hire the labor. I’ve met more than my share of senior management at small agencies that are completely clueless as to how to implement a major interactive initiative in a quick timeframe. While their clients are asking for microsites, banners, e-mail blasts and widgets, these agency folks barely know how to register a domain name. “Can we do it in Flash?” is the new “Can you fix that in post?” I’m not saying that foreign outposts are incapable of doing quality work. They are. But you outsource work, you outsource responsibility. Consider this quote from an agency head in the article I mentioned earlier: "I've got more heavy-duty stuff coming down the pipeline, on a scale bigger than we would do in-house. Now I don't have to have people crunching out 300 Web pages or 50 banner ads." Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but he does have people doing the work, just not in his Manhattan high-rise. People in Costa Rica and the Ukraine are people too. However, between America and the other side of the world, something will fall through the cracks. I imagine that anyone who has to change or resize hundreds of ads from 10,000 miles away won’t think twice about changing or cutting a visual or a headline to fit a condensed space. In other words, doing their job, and doing whatever it takes to get the work done and uploaded. Which means the meaning of an ad could be radically changed—and what that happens, particularly when it involves specific, offer-driven retail-type ads, there could be serious legal and financial consequences for errors. But digital marketing is largely a commodity. There’s more labor-intensive work, and more volume involved, than we’ve seen in print or broadcast advertising. Clients demand it more and faster; and right now, ad agencies don’t know how to deliver it all, nor are they prepared to pay American talent for it all.

At some point, when marketers ultimately look at the efficiencies they’ve achieved with thirdworld interactive servants, they may decide to that the writing and the art direction doesn’t matter so much as long as they’re mashed up quickly. The best and brightest will give way to the fastest and cheapest. If you think your job in advertising is immune to outsourcing, consider this: Many oft-quoted ad gurus are fixated on “engaging in a dialogue” with consumers. But every company already dedicates a portion of its budget to engaging its customers in a two-way dialogue. It’s called the customer service hotline. And despite its importance to customers, I leave it to you to decide where that call center might be located, and how well it works for many companies. What can you do to make sure you’re not on the ass-end of this trend? Perhaps you can get better at the stuff that can’t be quantified in a PowerPoint deck—the client butt-kissing, face-time, relationship-building skills that some people possess. So much of this business is about who you know, not what you know. You have to be careful, cautious, and courageous at the same time. Do something that makes you indispensable. Or help your agency provide the kind of ideas that a client would find indispensable. Don’t ask me what they are, I’m looking for some myself. But in the end, it might not matter. If holding company honchos are determined to squeeze every dollar out of a worker, they’ll end up squeezing their workforce right off the continent. Inevitably, the work will suffer. Clients will get the marketing equivalent of lead-painted toys. And we’ll watch as our industry gets outsourced to people who don’t care if it survives or not.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 207


Year-End Closeout Thoughts
It’s time to look back—but more importantly, look forward “So this is Christmas/And what have you done/Another year over/and a new one just begun...” I’m not big on Christmas music, but that John Lennon song is one I can stomach. That’s because it doesn’t implore you to deck the halls with tacky lights or credit card bills, it asks you where you are, existentially speaking, right here and right now. Advertising people, collectively, are a very self-examining and self-critical bunch. So while you’re polishing off the holiday leftovers, here are some things to ponder as you begin 2008: Is what you’re doing really worth anything? How do you contribute to the world? Is our industry making the world a better place to live? It’s not an easy thing to contemplate. We all make our little Faustian bargains to pay the bills. Advertising isn’t brain surgery, but it isn’t larceny, either. Every year, someone does a survey of the most trusted professions. And ever year, “advertising practitioners” rank down at the bottom near “car salesmen.” Believe me, we’re not about to shoot up the respectability rankings when they repeat the survey this year. Frankly though, I can’t think of a profession in the industrial world that’s a purely altruistic endeavor. With a simple educational detour, I could easily have been someone in a more respected field but with questionable motives. Like a doctor who crawls into bed with pharmaceutical companies and insurers. A duplicitous lawyer. Or a professor more concerned with my tenure track than with teaching. Still, it’s hard to feel that advertising really benefits the world. Clients don’t really appreciate it, consumers try to avoid it, and on the totem pole of commercial art, we’re pretty low. Yet, we’re part of the free market machinery, part of the cycle that keeps goods and services in demand, creating jobs and wealth for some portion of the world. Perhaps in 2008 we can all apply our skills for a good cause. I know I will. Recently, I did some work for a local organization that resettles political refugees. I wrote, shot and edited a video in 48 hours, having only used iMovie once before. I won't win any awards for this like I would if I'd slapped a sign saying "LUNCHBOX" on the side of a dumpster to raise awareness for homelessness. But that's OK. I got more satisfaction from it than anything else I did this year. A whole roomful of people clapped in appreciation when I showed the final video to the organization. That's gotta be worth something.

Does occasionally doing good make the day-to-day grind of the ad business a little easier to swallow? Perhaps. But inherently, I don’t think it’s all that healthy for ad people to walk around thinking they do a lot of good. It’s okay to self-loathe a little. Creativity is borne from a desire to make the world better with our art—our concepts, our words, our ideas that seemingly no one else can exactly reproduce. So there’s always a sense of discontent. That what fuels me, and I suspect it fuels most of you. For us ad professionals, I think the best thing to do is keep in mind that in 2008, everything can change, and nothing at all could change. It’s up to you. If you can’t move your ad agency forward or your client forward, move yourself forward—even if you do it in your spare time. You’ll go a lot farther without office politics, dramas, and processes holding you back. 2008 going to be interesting year. We’ve got an up-for-grabs Presidential election that promises to be wild and nasty. The Olympics will shine a light on Communist China—who makes most of our household trinkets and to whom we owe nearly a trillion dollars. And the economy is teetering on a precipice of subprime-induced chaos. When I think of it in those terms, the myriad of challenges facing the advertising industry seem relatively trivial. So, Happy New Year. Let’s hope it’s a good one. Without any fear.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 209


Primary Lessons, And Secondary Ones Too
A presidential campaign, if anything, is marketing in warp speed I’m a news junkie, so the Presidential primary and caucus results in Iowa, Wyoming and New Hampshire, along with the attendant message adjustments, are fascinating to me. In a Presidential campaign, politics is theater. It’s entertainment. And above all else, it’s marketing. Can the ad industry learn anything by watching this $1 billion spectacle? I think so. As of January 15th, here’s what I’m learning: A loved upstart brand can beat an unloved brand with deep pockets. Campaign money goes to advertising, but also to staff, supplies, phones, etc. They burn money fast, long before the first primary or caucus takes place. That’s a huge gamble with no way to predicting ROI. Already, we’ve seen some campaigns like McCain’s and Huckabee’s win without the most cash. People want something to believe in. Americans are an optimistic bunch at their core—we still believe that our government can work the way Schoolhouse Rock said it could. Which is why so many deeply cynical, apathetic voters are moved by Obama’s message. If you can’t close the sale, no sales pitch, emotional or rational, will help you. There is a difference, though: In politics, you only have to make a sale once or twice—at a primary or general election. On the night of the Iowa caucus, Obama and Huckabee made sure their supporters showed up. Otherwise, they’d have been screwed. Consumers don’t like being told what to do. When Clinton was considered inevitable, Obama won. Then Obama was considered inevitable, and Clinton won. Focus groups and polls can’t tell you everything you need to know. In a campaign, every word and phrase in every speech and ad is dissected and analyzed to determine its relative appeal. But as we saw in New Hampshire, the people will do what they want to do. Chuck Norris has very, very, white teeth. Consultants and PR gurus don’t know everything. Mitt Romney was the CEO of a management consulting firm. Hillary Clinton’s top adviser is the CEO of a worldwide PR firm. But the two candidates have had to change and retool their campaigns numerous times, perhaps due to all the overanalysis and calculation. Consumer-generated content can sometimes make or break you. I can sum that up in one word: “Macaca.” George Allen was supposed to be a Presidential contender this year, but he insulted a college student with a camcorder, and the whole world found out about it.

Style beats substance—much of the time. If that wasn’t the case, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and Bill Richardson would’ve had a chance. Sometimes, just one word can summarize an entire brand. “Change.” “Hope.” “Strength.” “Experience.” Could your client sum up its brand in one word? Timing is everything when launching a new brand. Would Barack Obama be better in 12 years? Was John McCain better 8 years ago? The market has a way of deciding when the time is right to launch a product. Make an emotional connection. All candidates have position papers, platforms, and websites where you can delve into what a candidate believes and what he/she wants to do. But people respond to emotion—swirling rhetoric, imagery, and even the occasional tear. Get an integrated campaign. Candidates blow a lot of money on TV, but they also spend for radio, papers, websites and emails, robocalls, and very targeted direct mail. It all works together. Of course, inundating your audience with too much advertising will turn them off. A small test market won’t prove success or failure. Watch as the people who didn’t do well in Iowa and NH go on to advocate a wide-open, national one-day primary. For the people who won, the system works just fine. We’ve seen different results in the two test markets. Rudy Giuliani isn’t test marketing; he wants a national roll-out. Will it work? Respond to customer concerns quickly and effectively. One big mistake and a campaign can blow out faster than a Firestone tire on a Ford Explorer. Brands run the same risk when they make missteps. Predictions aren’t worth much. We can make long-term plans for our brands, but situations change. A month from now, the Presidential race could look radically different. Similarly, agencies and marketers can’t predict the future of our industry or cultural trends. I’ll offer my Friendster profile as proof of that one. It’s easy to get sick of all the political talk if it doesn’t interest you. But consumers vote every day with their pocketbooks. Make sure you’ve got the right message you need to keep winning the races.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 211


Chasing a Moving Target
America just might make history this year, but advertising lives in the past I once worked on an ad for a baby product. As my art director was putting together some comps for internal review, she decided to put a stock photo of a black baby in one ad. There were no ulterior motives, no creative brief mandates—just that the black baby was cute and we rarely saw them in the publications the ad was going to appear in. We thought the ad would “cut through the clutter” as the cliché goes. As we presented the comps internally, our AE objected to the image. “Well, I don’t know if they are a large percentage of who our audience is.” The “they” being black parents. In other words, the AE was convinced that an ad prominently featuring a black baby would only appeal to black people. I bring this up because right now, our nation is challenging conventional race and gender notions, the kind of conversation which the advertising industry prefers to avoid. Part of the reason for advertising’s reticence, of course, is fear. By that, I’m talking about the agency’s fear of the client’s fear. In my career I’ve heard a few times, as excuses, that the client is a closet bigot. Or that the client is a man who doesn’t respect women. Or that the client is a woman who has a problem with men. Whatever the personal idiosyncrasy is, it means “they’re never gonna go for it.” And so, the agency can’t afford to raise the blood pressure of whoever pays the bills. It’s not hard to understand this mentality. People most identify with and relate to other people who look like them or share their backgrounds. There’s a comfort level there. But this is mass marketing. The world, and the marketplace, is an uncomfortable one. We have to sell products and services to other people who are not like us. Decades of market research and focus groups have killed off our ability to treat consumers as individuals, or humans. If the intended audience doesn’t fit into a convenient demographic category, we don’t know what to do with them. It’s not something can be solved with 50 versions of a microtargeted banner ad or e-mail. People simply aren’t predictable in their purchasing behavior, no matter how much careful research and planning we do. So how long will the advertising industry keep trying to sell work to people who think just like we do? How long will we keep giving awards and rewards for creative work that speaks primarily to us? The ad industry doesn’t innovate. We lag behind. You only have to watch the news to see the old delineations and definitions crumbling.

It’s possible the next President could be a Harvard-educated, half-white, half-black Christian son of an Kenyan Muslim man, who was raised by his white mother and grandparents in Indonesia and Hawaii. How would you market a product to him? Does he fit into any target audience description you’ve ever seen on a creative brief? Could you make any assumptions about him based on that profile? The best ad concepts require a leap of faith, and often a leap beyond logic. But most of us in the advertising industry are not prepared to be so nimble. That’s right – we’re not prepared. The overwhelming majority of advertising agencies don’t attract the best and brightest minds. Or the most innovative and forward-thinking. The small fraction of outstanding work we do is lost in the sea of mediocre work, which then permeates the mindset of clients and consumers. They’re accustomed to what’s conventional, and we’ve become accustomed to deliver it. But conventional thinking isn’t in vogue this year. I’ve heard, among other things, that today’s young voters don’t see “race” or “gender” in this Presidential election. Maybe, maybe not. But these voters are also consumers. And whether the majority of voters opt for change or not, it’s a daily reality for those of us in advertising and marketing. Markets are changing. Media is changing. And change isn’t easy. It’s not going to be enough for ad professionals to understand what changes are taking place. Rather, the key to our success will be knowing how to turn those changes into strategies, messages, and advertising that will benefit our clients. All of which brings me back to that black baby in the comp. I don’t know if that baby would be a more acceptable choice if America elected a black President or came very close to electing one. But I’d like to think so. After all, advertising professionals have been sometimes called “mirror makers” for our ability to hold up a mirror to the people. Yes, we have that power. But we can’t hold a mirror up to the people if we can’t keep up with where the people are headed.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 213


Lessons from a political campaign can be applied to ad campaigns Putting policies and positions aside for this discussion, Barack Obama has created the most sophisticated marketing program I’ve ever seen. Decades of GM, Coca-Cola, and Proctor & Gamble efforts can’t compare to what this guy’s done in one year. In the interest of full disclosure, yes, I donated a small amount of money to his campaign. And it gave me a window into a marketing operation that should be a case study in any college marketing textbook or agency account planning handbook. It’s a marketing program that’s both run from the top down and organized from the bottom up. Sure, he has a team of advisors and full-time campaign managers and staffers. But millions of people have become involved and engaged thanks in large part to sheer marketing savvy. I’d like to cite a few examples. Obama’s team created a website that not only links to a dozen social networking websites, it is a social networking website unto itself. Featuring a searchable database of local and regional groups. And where anyone can have their own “my.barackobama.com” web page, with their own personal blog and fundraising goals. A friend of a friend of mine had set one up, and that’s the page through which I made my donation. I’d never met this person—but he contacted me personally to thank me. A new connection made. After that, I’d get e-mails from the campaign, regularly. Yes, it’s weird to get an e-mail in my inbox that’s marked “From” Barack Obama. But they’re targeted, sophisticated e-mails. Less than 30 minutes after Barack Obama was declared the winner in Georgia’s primary, I got an e-mail thanking me for my support. When Hillary Clinton decided she’d loan her campaign $5 million, I got an e-mail from the Obama campaign trying to match the amount. The e-mail had a running total of the money raised. And every time I opened up that same e-mail again, the money amount would be changed and updated in real-time. Maybe I’m a bit naïve about rich e-mails, but that was a “holy shit, that’s cool” moment for me that no consumer ad campaign has provided lately.

Then there’s the citizen-generated content. YouTube videos, posters, songs – much of it generated by ordinary citizens, some created by professional musicians, artists, and ad people. This is the kind of marketing that’s being preached by the “let’s have a engaging two-way conversation with our customers-as-friends” crowd. With Barack Obama, it’s become fully realized. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the least impressive portion of the campaign appear to be the official TV ads. They’re good, but hardly different from most political commercials. In the face of all this hype, adulation and fast success, Obama supporters have been called a cult. That’s OK. So are Apple fans and Harley-Davidson owners. If you think this is bad for America and politics, remember: This is the world advertising created, one where a name or a product can be made to stand for more than its functionality. But product performance is still the key. Let’s say Obama gets elected President on the strength of this brand he created. He still has to give good customer service for 4 years. And people will be disappointed if the product doesn’t reflect the hype. I wish more agencies and clients would learn from the Barack Obama campaign. Yes, it’s an expensive, unique campaign – but it’s also well-staffed. There are lots of people doing the work, both at headquarters and in the field. It’s a fast-responding organization despite its size. Plus, it appears quite a few of Obama’s people, particularly the web staff, are empowered to react. They know how to move fast in a way that advertising agencies and clients don’t. Some of my clients sit on little jobs like brochures or emails for days or weeks before they approve or reject them. Some have taken a year or more to refine their brand identity. And we can’t convince them to quicken the pace for their own good. Is it any wonder people think ad agencies are out of sync with the pace of today’s world? Perhaps someone will create an advertising model that’s built on this type of campaign—one where a large, fast, intensive, results-oriented team takes a major marketer’s $75 or $100+ million annual budget and creates a national integrated campaign. Then that team disperses and reforms as needed for other major efforts. No, it’s not the most stable of organizational models, but that’s how political marketing works, and Barack Obama showed how it can be done to generate awareness and results far above and beyond what many ad agencies accomplish today. Too many advertising people hold their noses up at political marketing, and for good reason. For too long it’s been condescending, nasty and pedestrian, and perhaps we should get rid of it altogether. But it’s here, it’s being done well, and the advertising industry should examine the success of the Obama campaign for ideas and tactics. Maybe then we’d get some change we can believe in.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 215


Some Free Thinking
Can the ad industry survive the pressures to charge less and cut costs? I once had a job interview, arranged by a recruiter, at an ad agency in a city I wanted to live in. I had to fly myself in and put myself up at a hotel for an evening. Then, once I got there, the HR Director tried to haggle me down on my salary—something the recruiter had already settled upfront. Plus, if I got the job offer, I was told I’d have to pay for my own relocation. It became clear that this was an agency that had virtually no regard for, or investment in, its people. For the agency, the opportunity cost to hire me was practically free. I was the only one with anything to lose. Naturally, I was completely turned off. I bring this up because increasingly, in both the ad industry and business in general, we’re facing pressures to charge less for goods and services — and there’s a constant insistence on paying less for the goods and services of others. Even more drastic, we’re seeing a trend toward offering things free, or cheap, to entice people to want more. All this free stuff is gonna cost us, big time. As humans, we’re conditioned to want something for nothing. There are no strings attached to free stuff. But we live in an ownership society. And once you take ownership of something, you don’t want it taken away from you. You’ll pay to protect it. In recent years, there are people who bought houses with no money down. It’s no surprise they’re literally walking away from them now that they can’t afford the payments. The trend toward free and cheap is very prevalent in today’s information economy. The Internet hasn’t changed the need for people to make money, but it has changed our expectations in terms of what we’re willing to pay for. Knowledge is now becoming a commodity. Even art and music are becoming commodities. People who download songs from P2P sites or burn CD’s for friends don’t see the harm—but they’d never steal a CD from a store. As music becomes information to be moved between computers, people don’t ascribe to it the value they once did. And the music industry as we’ve known it is suffering. Lots of people praised Radiohead recently for offering music downloadable for whatever price people chose to pay. 60% of people paid nothing. Having sold millions of albums already, Radiohead can get away with this. An upstart band can’t afford to do it—well they can, but they have to find other means of income to support themselves.

We all benefit from this free and cheap world. We get to read all sorts of things on the internet for free—newspapers, magazines, other content we’d previously have to pay for. Wikipedia supplanted a wall full of Funk n’ Wagnalls encyclopedias. A free perusal of NYTimes.com replaced buying the daily newsprint. Why? because right now, advertising subsidizes most of it. (Interestingly, Wikipedia relies on the unpaid contributions of its editors and on donations. How often do you use it, and have you ever donated?) I write this column for free, but that’s because I have other means of support, and Talent Zoo has a means of income to pay for the website and hosting. A lot of web content is dependent on advertising, but advertising’s subsidy of new media may not last. Web advertising has very little time to prove its value or demonstrate its impact. As more and more money is being spent, the noise ratio goes up and the impact becomes less and less significant. Ad agencies need to make sure there’s value or impact in online advertising— because if people tune it out altogether, many businesses that depend on the web for income will be hurting. And the business of making advertising is also being priced as a commodity. There’s already been a litany of ad professionals decrying the notion of giving away ideas for free in a new business pitch, so I don’t need to rehash that argument. But if you’re willing to find them, there are web sites that feature already-made commercials that you can customize with a “slap your logo here” idea. And stock photos which now cost a few dollars as opposed to a few hundred. Ad agencies, our clients and our vendors are all feeling squeezed in the era of free and cheap. It’s a downward spiral. The ad industry, like other industries, exists to make a profit. The pressure to cut costs or charges has a ripple effect for everyone. Hopefully we’ll find ways to ensure we do good work and make money. You can’t sustain a business doing the former if you can’t do the latter. So don’t get tripped up by all the gurus who tell you free and cheap is always better. If you’re wondering whether a product or service makes a viable business in the new world of free and cheap, think of these two maxims: Somebody’s gotta pay for it. And somebody’s gotta profit from it. That’s just my 2 cents. Hey, advice is cheap, isn’t it?

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 217


Where Adweek Meets Businessweek
Can ad people ride out the economy’s ups and downs? If you watch the news, it’s hard to escape talk of a recession, or a downturn—and some people have floated the possibility of a depression. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a real downer. You don’t have to personally be in dire straits to feel the effects. Odds are someone you know, a family member, a friend, a co-worker, is having some difficulty. Our world is so interconnected these days that it’s hard to feel completely removed from the perilous state of our economy. There’ll be a recovery. There always is. But this time, it seems a complete comeback is less assured. We don’t manufacture as much in America as we used to, so those particular jobs aren’t coming back and often get replaced with lower-paying ones. But that’s only part of the problem, and the ad industry needs to pay attention. What makes our economy run now is consumer spending. “Consumer confidence” is a important metric. Both are, of course, fueled by advertising and marketing. We’re the patron saints of buying stuff. So it’s hard not to feel the pressure to keep our clients’ businesses humming. No matter who your clients are, that pressure exists. If gas hits $4 a gallon, people will spend less on dinner or entertainment in order to fill up the tank. That’s a small behavioral change. But there are even bigger concerns. As a country, we’re mortgaging our futures to buy stuff now. If consumers increasingly pile up debt, and more people lose their jobs or their homes, I wonder: Who will keep buying what advertisers need to sell? How much more can people spend? Most importantly, how much longer can we ask them to keep spending so much and so often? Some people believe there’s no better time for a business to advertise than during a downturn. Which may be true, but you can’t tell your client to pretend that everything’s OK. And it effects the nature and quality of the creative work we produce. Strategically speaking, what do you tell your clients to emphasize during tough times? Trust? Low prices? Value? Remember, clients are nervous and fearful by nature, and now the economy makes them even more so. “I gotta move product” is a refrain I’ve heard quite a few times. If you’ve been in advertising for a few years, then you’ve seen this before. Nothing seemed bleaker than the aftereffects of the dot-com bust in 2000 & 2001. Every economic downturn weeds out bad businesses—and ad agencies are no exception. A few agencies will merge themselves into oblivion and a few will go out of business altogether. It’s a powerful reminder not to be too content to coast or adopt a bunker mentality until there’s an economic recovery. Yes, it’s a time to try bold new ideas or reinvent the business. You’ll be perfectly positioned to ride the next upward wave.

On the flip side, we can’t be reckless, either. The ad industry must be careful not to shove too much money & resources into unknown technologies and unproven tactics. In other words, don’t pour money down the drain of Second Life if you don’t have your shit together in your First Life. Unfortunately, I think for most agencies, it’ll be business as usual. Because few agencies have the will to do something unusual, like tell their clients to improve customer service so they keep more of their current customers during a downtown. It’s always sexier to spend a client’s cash to get new customers than to keep the current ones happy. If you can’t be concerned with the big picture, you still need to protect yourself. Maybe you don’t have the power to change the agency you work in, but you can be aware of the business situation your agency finds itself in. Be cautious if you’re working at an agency dominated by one client or one product category. And be leery of working at an agency that only does traditional work and no interactive. Or vice versa. Clients need all sorts of creative work and tactics to get their message across in tough economic times, and they’re all too happy to move their account to the agency that can deliver the right mix. Above all, be ready. For anything. There’s no economist, trendspotter or futurist guru who can definitively tell you what will happen to the economy this year or next. We all find out the future at the same time. And if those thoughts don’t lift your spirit, you can always try a good antidepressant. At least you’ll keep pharmaceutical advertising going strong.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 219


When Weird Works
Is anyone ever qualified to work in advertising? I’ve been writing this column for 6 years. But I’m still not sure if I’m qualified to write it. Such is life in an industry like advertising, where no one, and everyone, is qualified for the job they hold. It’s no secret that the ad industry is full of misfits. Smart, yes; passionate, yes; but misfits nonetheless. We all belong because we don’t belong. To work in advertising, you don’t need a college degree. And you certainly don’t need some sort of board certification. Imagine if you will, a test to become a board certified AE, copywriter, or media buyer. What on earth would that test consist of? I bring this up because I’ve been reading more stories, disguised as agency puff pieces, of new hires that have fallen into agency life from some other unconnected job: folks who were stand-up comedians, blues musicians, cruise ship bartenders, roadies, etc. Whatever it is they were doing before, they’re now supposedly ideal for positions in ad agencies. Our industry embraces a certain degree of weirdness. In America, at least, advertising seems to attract the type of people who want white-collar jobs but eschew typical professions, such as medicine, law or finance. And some of us are would-be artists who sell out to the commercial arts. Consequently, you won’t find too many 1st generation Americans in advertising—doting parents tend to push their high-achieving children to pursue something more respectable. So it’s not a new idea that advertising professionals have oddball experiences in their backgrounds. What is new is that more and more, agencies are touting those experiences as legitimate qualifications, or even badges of honor, that give outsiders credibility as they become agency insiders. It’s rare to find a profession that embraces people who’ve likely never given it much thought before they landed in it. Can you truly be born to go into advertising? Can you practice it as a kid? Other commercial arts can engage young people. Take Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino. Both of them, even as small kids, were students of film. They lived it from an early age. Can future ad people do that? I do believe there are ways to prepare oneself for a career in advertising. But the path isn’t always linear. I graduated from a 4-year university with an advertising degree, and it didn’t help me one bit for the reality of day-to-day advertising agency life. Had I studied more Psychology and Anthropology I’d have been better prepared. Plus a class or two in Animal Husbandry for the days I’ve spent polishing turds. Why should anyone bother actively pursuing advertising as a career? After all, it’s commonly said of advertising, “Anyone can do it.”

Yes, anyone can do it. And anyone is doing it. Corporations give us millions of dollars to spend, and we turn around and let people who don’t know the first thing about a client spend it. I’ve seen too many ad people who don’t care much about, or for, their clients. Conversely, I’m especially amazed how few clients know the people who actually do their work. I mean the people who write and art direct the ads, program the websites, and resize the brochures. Maybe advertising is like sausage—you’re better off not knowing how it’s made. But I wonder if there’s going to come a day when marketers, and ad agencies, start deciding there’s no room for dreamers who do whacked-out work but can’t solve business problems. In an era of shareholder pressure, it seems that no corporation has the leeway to waste a penny—with the exception of CEO pay, of course. Hopefully, the makeup of this industry will remain somewhat iconoclastic. It makes life more interesting. And that’s why we work in the business. The late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” For ad pros, it seems, weirdness may be the only qualification that’s needed.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 221


Digitally Divided We Stand
We need to remember the people who aren’t as plugged in as we are I recently became acquainted with a new couple. They’re upscale, college-educated folks, both in their early 40’s. She’s a nurse and he’s a home remodeler. Successful folks by any measure. Except for one major, tragic flaw: They’re not wired. They barely use email, don’t use the Internet much, and needed me to help them hook an iPod up to their stereo and load their digital camera’s pictures onto their computers. It’s not that they wore their technological ignorance on their sleeves; rather, they were perfectly happy living their lives without the Internet and Web 2.0 and new media. To them, a “Twitter feed” means a bag of birdseed. I couldn’t believe it. How do they survive? I mean, my life, and my work in advertising, is so centered around technology that I can’t function much without it. Yet there are millions of people who do just fine without it. And yes, they’re our clients’ customers, too. When I hear talk of a “digital divide,” the discussion centers around rich vs. poor, or urban/ connected vs. rural/off the grid. I’m not sure that’s as true as it may have been a few years ago. Rather, there are occupations, lifestyles, and personal preferences that enable a person to say, “I don’t need all this technology to live my life.” We need to keep in mind that there are still some jobs that don’t keep people chained to a desk and a computer all day. And they’re not all bricklayers or short-order cooks. The same things we find so engaging about the web and other new technologies are the things others find so constricting--complexity, cost, incessancy, and the feeling of enslavement it all induces. Sometimes it gets to me, too. How did my wireless Internet connection become a leash? I suppose it’s a hazard of the job. It’s very easy to get seduced by technology. The ad industry is always in search of the newest new thing. And clients are clamoring for whatever new gimmick they just read about in the Wall Street Journal. I have a client that says “do it in Flash” so much he probably shouts it when he’s getting laid. In the rush to embrace the new, however, we can’t forget the old. No, we’re not going to be turning back the clock--not in our society or the advertising industry. But we need to recognize that reaching consumers on their own terms is always going to involve a whole host of methods —including such ancient ideas as radio and billboards and printed pieces of paper. And that powerful ideas, with arresting images and provocative words, are still going to be what move people to buy products. Unfortunately, as the new media gold rush spurs innovation, old media is risks becoming a dumping ground of bullet points, sale announcements and trite product features.

Where the advertising industry gets into trouble is when clients spread their marketing across a bunch of agencies who rarely communicate with one another. The notion of reaching consumers at “every touchpoint” becomes an exercise in futility if you (or your agency) only touch one or two points. Because ideally, we ought to be caring about the whole, not just our slice, no matter what part of the business we work on. Can we care about the people who don’t have internet or check their email? Conversely, can we also care about the ones who want to receive text message coupons? I think it's possible for advertising people to keep a foot on both sides of the digital divide. Because that's where consumers are. And my new friends are doing just fine without all this technology. Maybe they’re an increasingly rare breed. But it’s still important to remember the people on the other side of the digital divide. Perhaps all the money they don’t spend on ISP service, laptops, and other technology is spent on your client’s products. They’re out there. They’re reachable. But occasionally, we might have to unplug ourselves first, so we can think like they do. Now, if someone can just text my iPhone, e-mail me, or Facebook me and tell me how to unplug myself, I’ll be set.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 223


Back to the Future of the Past
Advertising, like everything else, is full of rich history. Is it relevant? Last year Dana Perino, the White House Press Secretary, admitted she didn’t know what the Bay of Pigs Invasion was. When I heard that, I thought, shouldn’t someone working in the White House have a basic knowledge of 20th century American history? Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. As a culture, Americans have very selective memories, and the past is soon forgotten. Advertising professionals are no different. A while back on AdPulp.com, I got into a discussion about Apple’s “1984” commercial and its lack of product information. The ad has been lionized for 24 years as a shining triumph of advertising and film. But few people remember that in addition to a great commercial, Apple also bought 40 pages of advertising in one issue of Newsweek to explain—with long body copy precision—exactly what the computer did. And even with all that, the Macintosh wasn’t an instant success. Should we care if our co-workers and clients, as the song goes, don’t know much about history? The history of advertising, pop culture, and business in general is quite vast. I’ve always believed more knowledge is always better, no matter what the subject. And it’s amazing how a few years of experience in advertising, coupled with a good memory, can hone your inner BS detector. Some people just entering the business world and the ad industry may not have a full recollection of the 1999-2000 dot-com buildup and meltdown. You can see it with new technology being hyped. When Facebook announced last year it was accepting advertising, its CEO heralded it as a revolution stating, “once every hundred years, media changes.” I wasn’t around in 1907, but I’m old enough to realize he was full of shit. Perhaps that’s why so few marketing concepts captivate me. I’ve seen them before, albeit probably in a more primitive iteration. And if you’re a student of history, as I sometimes am, I’ve begun to realize that even the most unique ideas today’s agencies produce are built on foundations erected by previous ad people. Advertising and promotion, in all its forms, has been around for a long, long time. The artist will.i.am caused a viral stir a few months ago by writing and singing a song for Barack Obama. As citizen-generated political marketing, born of genuine excitement for a candidate, it was a cool idea. But it’s not exactly a new one. In the Presidential election of 1840, someone wrote a song called “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” for William Henry Harrison, a war hero who was running for President. It was famous at the time, the “Yes We Can” of its day. And it got Harrison elected.

Okay, that’s an extreme example. But if you look hard enough, you’ll always find remnants of old ideas in today’s new concepts. The trick is to avoid using a library of knowledge to shoot down good ideas. And it doesn’t take long to find someone in an agency, usually a grizzled ACD or CD, who uses their memory to make you feel stupid. You don’t want to become one of those insufferable ad people who looks at every concept and says something like, “so-and-so did that ad back at Hal Riney in 1986 and it’s on page 35 of the CA annual.” There is a danger in recalling the past so much. I’m beginning to think my brain resembles a file cabinet. I fear there’s a large chunk of it where memories and history are stored, gathering dust and cobwebs, gradually leaving less and less room for new ideas and thoughts. Yes, advertising is a young person’s industry, and we live in a short-term memory society as it is. But history, when it comes to advertising and marketing or business in general, should serve as lessons for us. Not to discourage experimentation and innovation, but as a building block to always consider the possibilities and prepare for contingencies. Ultimately, we can use the past to avoid costly mistakes—and sell better work to our clients who can then sell more of their own products and services. So it’s a good idea to know a bit about the past. But even once you know it, you have to focus on living in the present and creating ideas for the future. Because if you’re not forward-thinking, your career in advertising will soon be history.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 225


Interactive Agencies and Passive Mentalities
To get the credit and the power, it’s time for interactive agencies to step up Last week, there was a kerfuffle over the credits attached to the Cannes Lion-winning HBO “Voyeur” concept. Seems the interactive agency Big Spaceship thought it deserved more credit than the lead agency, BBDO, gave it. Aside from a inside-the-industry squabble over trinkets and credits, the story exposes what is rapidly becoming the next battle in the advertising: Where do the interactive people belong? We all know the MO of lead agencies—and by “lead agencies” I mean the brand agencies, traditional agencies, “big dumb agencies,” whatever you want to call them. They want control. Over ideas, money, credit, over everything. They’ll control it all until they die. So it’s time for interactive agencies to step up. And open up. Or step back. How? Start hiring idea people. Hire strategic thinkers. Look at brands from a more complete perspective. And offer more services to clients. It’s gotten to the point where interactive shops hire people who’ve spent much of their careers doing online work. Which is doable given that marketing on the Internet has been around for 14 years or so. Those people are in demand. But there’s a host of people who aren’t given a second glance, and they could potentially be the most valuable people to an interactive agency with dreams of growth and glory. The idea people aren’t always still thinking in strictly old media—TV, print, etc. They’re more open to new media than you might think, and they're out there experimenting with everything from blogs to web videos to social media apps in their spare time. What interactive agencies and the hiring managers within them don’t realize is that most creative people in advertising don’t often control the media in which their ads appear. For most creatives, particularly in bigger agencies, it’s the client, or a locked-away-on-another-floor media department, who often determines that a direct mail piece is needed, or a TV spot, or a print campaign. Nothing precludes true creative professionals from thinking of ideas across all types of media if the desire and the budget is there. In the grand scheme of the business and marketing worlds, new media is but one niche tactic. Which makes interactive agencies niche businesses. Marketers need it all—in all media. If interactive shops don’t expand their horizons, they’ll always be at the kids’ table in the corporate boardroom. In 3 or 4 years, an agency that only does interactive work will be as relevant as an agency that only does radio.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a niche business. But niche agencies will always be dependent on others to set the agenda or share the wealth. And in advertising, the largesse of a lead agency to other shops working on an account is sorely lacking. Plus, if they want to, big agencies can gobble up the little interactive businesses or throw money at their people and suck them into the big integrated marketing vortex. But interactive firms, like small ad agencies, can be nimble, fast and survive with the right people and services in place. And in revenue terms, it’s a singular advantage of interactive that a client’s sales are only a few clicks away from any banner ad, microsite or Twitter post. Which means for most companies, interactive will always be an integral part of the marketing plan going forward. All of which makes interactive shops different from what have been long known as production companies that do film or video. It goes beyond, “here’s a storyboard, now film it.” Interactive agencies take ideas and make them work—really work. And the ideas have to work in multiple ways, with a number of methods of getting into them. Making a microsite or game does you no good if there’s no method—emails, blogs, press, ads, anything else—for consumers to find it, experience it, or link to it. In the end, marketers will go to whoever shows them results. You can either think it begins with tactics, or it begins with ideas. The most sophisticated tactics won’t be effective if the idea isn’t compelling. And the best ideas won’t be effective if they’re not executed with new media in mind. Clients don’t have time, or money, to waste on people who can’t do both. The rap on big agencies has always been that if something wasn’t TV, radio or print, it didn’t matter to them. Now, the same attitude exists in interactive agencies: If it isn’t digital, it doesn’t matter. Neither position is right. We’re all still learning. That goes for interactive people, too. As long as traditional agencies want to claim the “idea is king,” interactive agencies will always be the king’s servants. So bring the ideas. Beef up your long-term thinking. Recognize how online is affected by offline, and vice versa. You can’t go wrong. Because for a brand, the big picture can’t be measured in pixels.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 227


The Defense of the Offensive
Advertising is very effective–at pissing people off. Should we care? It’s a weekly occurrence. Someone raises a stink about an ad they found offensive. This week, it’s a spot featuring a potent combination of Mr. T, a tank, a Gatling gun, an effeminate power walker, and a rapid-fire candy bar assault. Which some people are viewing as a cornucopia of homophobia. You know the lifecycle of these debates: Someone gets offended and tells the world they’re offended. People attack the person who’s offended. Someone comes along and agrees with the first person. Then the issue goes away, until another offending ad appears. In the world of advertising, it’s never-ending. Is there a proper response? Let’s take a look at some of the most common responses: “You don’t have the right not to be offended.” That’s true. Way too many people say “I’m offended by that” in response to something they’d simply rather not deal with. But let’s talk about rights for a minute. The right to advertise isn’t a right that’s afforded complete protection by our Constitution (I’m talking about America, uh, no offense to you foreigners.) Advertising is regulated commercial speech, not “free speech” as the 1st Amendment defines it. If you have the right to make an ad that offends people, fine. Someone has the right to say it sucks or it's offensive, and say it to whomever will listen, including your client. “Grow up.” “Get over it.” Sorry, if those are the best counter-arguments you can make to defend an ad, you’re the one who needs to grow up. It’s a characteristic of little kids and teenagers that their less-than-fully developed brains lead them to believe their actions don’t have consequences. “It’s just an ad.” This one usually comes out of the mouths of people who’ll otherwise go to any lengths to defend bad work, particularly if it’s their own. In an industry where a gold trinket is a ticket to a pseudo-fame and not-so-pseudo fortune, plenty of people will jerk off over something they like, even though it’s “just an ad,” and treat it like the Hope Diamond. Often, the defense of offensive ads is just as irrational and nonsensical as the protests of the offended people. And for the ad industry, that doesn’t help our cause much. We ought to assume some responsibility for the messages and images we disseminate. The problem is, we are rarely forced to. We do what we do, then it’s off our desks. It gets produced, and then it’s out there. How often do we have to deal with the consequences? In particular, creative teams rarely find out the results of what they do—whether it’s in a measurable medium or not. Unless, of course, you piss someone off. Which I’ve done.

I wrote a radio spot where, with sound design, we recreated a mortgage burial and played “Taps” in the background. And we got a letter of objection from the widow of a WW II vet. Our client, one clearly not known for its morality, didn’t care. “Hey, at least it got attention,” was their response. This was before 9/11 and before the Iraq war. Would I write the same spot with that same song today? I doubt it. But I did it, and I still like it. It’s impossible to please everyone, particularly when you’re trying to do humorous work, where there needs to be some exaggeration in a scenario to make it funny. Plus, we all have our personal buttons that can be pushed. There’s even a group that protests the way straight white men are presented as buffoons in domestic scenarios. The constant uproar over offensive ads simply mirrors our general society. Compared to say, 50 years ago, groups like gays, minorities, animal activists and other forms of special interest groups are standing up for themselves, whereas before they were largely unseen or unheard. And with more media outlets than ever to get the message across, they’re hard to ignore. So if your agency is on the verge of producing something you think is cutting through the clutter, pushing the envelope and a triumph of “edgy,” ask: Is that the best ad you could’ve done? Could you have come up with a better concept? Is it a malicious ad? Did you do it to get a cheap laugh at someone’s expense? We ought to think more carefully before we produce an idea that might be misconstrued. And maybe bring more ideas to consider in the first place. At the end of the day, we’re spending other people’s money. We’re interrupting other people’s entertainment. We are the uninvited guests, the necessary evils. We should never take that too lightly. Perhaps we ought to concentrate on really offensive things—the bait and switch ads, the yelling car dealer spots, the special offer ads with too much fine print, the ads that are now in every inch of public space. Oh, wait. I just offended a whole bunch of ad hacks. But they’ll get over it. They always do.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 229


The Loyal Treatment
Do we have an obligation to promote and use our client’s products? It was recently reported that when Michael Dell went to go tour the office of his new ad agency Enfatico, there was a scramble to replace all the Macs on the desks with Dell computers. Now, we all know that creative departments in advertising agencies generally use Macs, but this dogand-pony show apparently had to be arranged to placate the top client’s ego. Many agencies have a policy of using their clients’ products. Like the Pepsi ad agency where you can’t be spotted with a Coke or a Diet Pepper in your hand (hint: pour the Coke into a travel mug). Or the Chevy ad agency where the people who drive Chevys or other GM cars get better parking spots. In some agencies, you can get fired for violating this strict loyalty code. But what happens when you leave work in the evening? In your outside-the-agency life, how much of an advocate should you be for your client’s products? I think people who work in advertising are more susceptible to liking or loving brands, not less. We’re all major fans of brands with great marketing and buy into their stories. Apple, Nike, Target, Starbucks, Method–there’s a whole cadre of brands ad people salivate over. So it comes naturally to want to be a brand advocate for your client, and buy into the brand’s attributes. (Funny how it’s easier to embrace your client’s products when they’re upscale, well-respected or well-made.) It’s not just good business to use a client’s product or talk it up. If we’re going to start saying word-of-mouth conversation is the new way to stay relevant, we are personally responsible for being part of spreading the word. Plus, I care if my clients do well. Because if they do well, I do well. Well, in theory that’s true. I’ve worked on dozens of different clients, most of which didn’t make products or services that I was in the target audience for. Nonetheless, I promoted them, and advocated for them. Until the point where I didn’t work on those accounts in those agencies. But in some cases, there were some clients that simply stopping earning my respect. There’s no loyalty in the advertising business anymore, if there ever was any. Clients are all too happy to parcel out pieces of business to eager agencies that kiss their ass. Or throw a 10-year relationship into review to “take a holistic look at our marketing parnerships to see if our communications objectives can be better met.” And so the agency/client relationship becomes a constant game of kiss and punch. I’ve never worked at an agency where, behind closed doors, a client wasn’t cursed, damned or burned in effigy--in many cases by the people whose names were on the agency’s doors.

Such behavior is not usually born of callousness, it’s born of frustration. To good advertising professionals, a certain type of brand advocacy comes in the form of wanting clients to become better businesses overall, regardless of the quality of ads that get produced. I’ve seen too many cases where a client’s wasteful spending and incompetence led me to believe that they don’t deserve anyone’s business, let alone mine. This is not a desire to bite the hand that feeds me. Advertising professionals are uniquely positioned to look at a client’s brand from a perspective unlike any other: up close, yet dispassionate. It’s important for me to learn as much as I can about a client’s business. But that doesn’t prevent me from being critical. In other words, I take the factory tour, but I don’t drink the Kool-Aid when I’m there. When you work at an agency, using a client’s product, or simply advocating for it, is often something that's forced upon you. Most people in advertising don’t much of a say in which clients they work on. And most agencies aren’t all that picky about clients if they’re profitable accounts. So you’re forced to be loyal to companies you might not like all that much. And that’s a shame. But maybe that will soon change. It’s getting harder and harder for marketers to hide behind a false facade. Consumers are savvier and have access to more information. Which means if brands don’t live up to their promises, they’ll be exposed. And that will seep over into ad agency life, because the same principle applies in agency/client relationships: if the transparency isn’t there, the relationship is doomed, and forcing agency people to use a product won’t help. Note to all marketing managers and marketing directors: The people who work in your advertising and communications agencies can be your biggest advocates. And if you don’t treat them well, or they can turn out to be your brand’s biggest denouncers. We know the good, bad, and the ugly; the big picture, and even some of the dark secrets. So clients and marketers who want loyalty need to reciprocate. By being loyal to good ideas. And being loyal to unconventional thinking. And being loyal to the agencies and people who strive to deliver those. Now that’s the kind of loyalty program marketers would really benefit from.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 231


Cutting Off a Campaign’s Legs
Will we ever see long-lasting ad campaigns anymore? I once worked for a Creative Director who, for every new account our agency won, set about redesigning that client’s logo. It was never requested by the client. But my CD just wanted to change the logo. And it was never an improvement; just an exercise in ego and a waste of the client’s money. The things that over the years have come to symbolize brands like logos--and in particular, taglines—are being changed to quickly and so often that it’s hard to keep up. Consequently, no one does. We all know how it works: Every time a new CMO comes along, he/she hires a new agency. And suddenly everyone at both the client and agency feel the need to piss on the marketing landscape and mark their turf. Which means a new campaign, a new tagline, a new logo, etc. It’s change for change’s sake. It used to be a real virtue to present an ad campaign idea that “has legs.” Now, it doesn’t matter so much. Today, it seems we’re committed to prematurely amputate any campaign that has legs. Is that a good idea? The result of this itchy trigger finger is that campaigns consist of short bursts of marketing that don’t make an lasting impact, or make much sense. I recently heard an Audi radio spot with the tagline "Truth In Engineering." I’d never heard it before. What does that even mean? What it means that we're living in The Age of Lame Taglines. Fine, Audi makes good cars, but “Truth in Engineering?” I suspect there’s little truth to be had there, just hyperbole. What’s worse, even as a consumer I have little interest in getting Audi to explain it to me. Taglines, like all other parts of advertising, are an art. And it’s becoming a lost art. Part of it stems from ad schools turning out students who suffer from what I call “Tagline Dependency Syndrome” (TDS). TDS occurs when an ad makes no real sense whatsoever until you get to see, hear, or read the tagline, which purports to explain all that came before it. So every ad in a campaign with TDS, in order to work, must absolutely focus on the tagline. There aren’t too many ads that can do this for any length of time, limiting the life of the tagline, and thus the short-lived campaign. If you think taglines aren’t a big deal, then you’ve obviously never had to come up with one, as I have many, many times.  It’s an assignment that inevitably devolves into a big, steaming pile of crazy.

But whether it’s a new tagline or a new campaign, the genesis is always the same. You know you’re in trouble when you hear this about a current campaign: “Consumers are tired of it.” Bullshit. We wish consumers cared about a campaign so much they’d get tired of it. No, it’s our industry that gets tired—the industry where new creatives, new shops and new campaigns feed the award-show and business press beast. That’s the problem: It’s not that consumers have the short attention span. It’s that creative directors and CMO’s have them. And by not allowing any continuity, taglines become more trite and more meaningless. Collectively, customers simply don’t ascribe to them any value, in part because they’re so short-lived. It’s only going to get worse. As more and more interactive work comes along, the only measure of success will be metrics like click-through rates, which rarely take into account anything beyond the immediate impact of a message. In all forms of marketing, the analytics nerds are taking over in an attempt to prove once and for all what works: “Let’s test these 50 banner ads with these 10 different taglines, and see which one works best.” Good to know, except that we still won’t know what works over a substantial period of time, just the execution that has the most immediate impact. Nothing has time to develop, or simply grow on people. Some of the most famous brands had campaigns and taglines than ran for years—decades in some cases. I’m beginning to think those days are long gone. Not because brands can’t benefit from long-lasting ideas, but as advertising professionals, our careers can’t be advanced by continuing someone else’s great campaign. In a few years, will there even be ad campaigns as we’ve come to know them? Will any idea be big enough to last more than a month? I suspect we won’t see too many campaigns with legs. Which is one more reason the best legs, attached to the best minds, don’t get into advertising in the first place these days.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 233


Read This or Else
Explaining the lasting appeal—or just existence—of negative ads If you don’t like this column, go screw yourself. And by the way, that’s an ugly shirt you have on. You can’t go outside looking like that. What homeless retch did you steal it from? Okay, calm down. I’m just trying to make a point. Or rather, what should be a pretty obvious point at this time every 4 years. Because right now, if you watch TV at all, negative political ads are inescapable. Yet so is the call for their elimination. So why do negative ads stay around? They work. They work because they hit a part of the human psyche we can’t ignore. Political consultants know this. But here’s the thing: as consumer advertising professionals, we know this, too. It’s worth remembering that modern advertising’s roots are in making people feel inadequate or preying on their fears. The phrase “often a bridesmaid, never a bride” was originally a headline in an ad for Listerine; the point being that bad breath would keep a young girl single and lonely forever. A psychologist could explore the pathology more in-depth than I could, but the basic fact is that negativity sticks in the brain. It has an immediate, visceral impact. Compliments are fleeting, but insults sting for years. You need not have been a high school outcast to understand the longlasting effects of an insult. While we may have gotten older, we still haven’t outgrown our kid fears. And marketers have done a tremendous job instilling in consumers a deep-rooted desire to do what it takes to conform themselves in order to avoid those insults or those inadequate feelings. Of course, not everyone buys into this, either strategically or creatively. There’s been a countermovement to appeal to people’s better instincts. To make friends with customers. To kill them with kindness, or love. To create communities around brands. The right clothes. The right household products. The right car. Of course, like every community, you’re either in, or you’re out. And again, we’re seeing that thinking echoed in the Presidential campaign, which is driven as much by personalities as it is by policies. Simultaneously, we’re seeing passionate supporters embrace their candidates while they slam the opposition and their supporters. As for John McCain and Barack Obama, I get a sense that if they could, they’d avoid the negativity. But they can’t. Political candidates have one shot at making one sale. So that’s why they throw everything at your face in the hope that something will stick.

But consumer brands have a longer shelf life, so they have other options. They can build over time. They can make their case. They can be positive, knowing that their time will come, at the right time. Provided that clients won’t panic. Clients, however, are very good at panicking. And in perilous economic times like these, they get desperate. Personally and professionally, they’re feeling inadequate, therefore they have no compunction about passing on that insecurity to the consumers via advertising. They’ll beg for a sale, insult their audience with condescending messages, or flat-out yell at consumers in their ads, and not worry about the consequences next month or next year. In advertising agencies, we help our clients make these choices every day. Will our ads make people feel good about a brand? Or will we make the brand the answer to their insecurities and fears? It’s part of the strategy. It’s part of the creative brief. And yes, it’s part of the executions. At its simplest, think of it this way: for every scenario featuring someone using a product, there’s the opposite: what happens if someone doesn’t use it. Like everything else in the ad industry, there’s no one right answer. Just like political candidates, you can get very successful going positive. You can get very successful going negative. The choice is yours. And if you don’t agree with any of that, you’re wrong. Wrong for advertising. And wrong for America. Right?

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 235


From Wasilla to Madison Avenue
Forget politics—Sarah Palin’s a natural born ad person Frankly, I think that when she’s done in the Alaska Governor’s office, or the White House, Sarah Palin ought to start an ad agency. She’s perfect for it. Because she’s living embodiment of what many people have come to expect from advertising and in particular, many of the people who make it. I’ve met my share of Sarah Palins in the ad business. The ones who succeeded despite being light on substance and thick on vacuousness. Funny thing is, many of them were men. The men don’t wink at me, though. Everyone over-analyzed the winks she gave during that debate. But spend enough time in agency meetings and you’ll understand. She winks not because she likes us, she winks because she’s bullshitting us and she wants people believe to believe her BS. That’s upper management material in ad agencies. So many of us would love the ability to pull that one off on our clients. I’m full of BS a lot, and I’m not always that convincing. I have an idea: Put her on the new business team! She’s got the ability to take a simple question and spin an answer that, when dissected, is nonsensical gibberish. That’s a highly valuable skill. Come on, who better could spout off on a “holistic approach to best-in-class, paradigm-shattering messaging strategies”? Or, we could put her in charge of consumer insights. Lots of people say they like Palin because she’s “one of us.” In other words, she connects with the target audience. But the reality is she claims an authenticity that she doesn’t really have. Does living in rural Idaho and Alaska your whole life give you the ability to inherent understand all of America? No. But neither does living in Brooklyn and working in a Manhattan ad agency. It’s a big country and a big world—and we need to see and experience some of it before we can effectively market to it. But in advertising, as long as you can fake authenticity, you’ve got it made. Palin also seems like she’d be a natural survivor in the minefield of office politics. She’s got a good screwed-on smile that masks the “don’t screw with me” attitude. We’ve heard some rumblings about her abuse of power as Governor. No problem. Many senior advertising executives are much more comfortable developing personal vendettas and secret shit lists. Like John McCain, the out-of-touch person at the top, there’s always a second-in-command or other underling who’s entrusted to wield the hatchet.

Now, you might be thinking, “But she’s not qualified—she’s never worked in advertising.” That’s OK. In the advertising industry, it’s not as if prior qualifications matter. Plenty of ad agencies are founded or run by people who are former TV reporters, jingle-writers, sales weasels, charlatans, and all sorts of other types. Palin is governor of a very significant state, and rightfully so. She’ll do fine in advertising. I’ve met many an ad exec who got promoted beyond his/her competency level. Like a mid-level copywriter suddenly promoted to Executive Creative Director. What could possibly go wrong? A lack of depth, coupled with a lack of facial blemishes, gets many people by the ad biz, just like in politics. It’s no accident Palin was chosen over many more qualified but homelier looking Republican women. Popularity, whether in politics, business, or high school, can propel people straight to the top. Maybe she’ll work. Maybe it won’t. We’ll find out November 4th. The Palin phenomenon is just like any advertising campaign we launch--we simply don’t know what the ROI will be. There is a target audience of loyal Republican brand advocates she’s being pitched to, and they’re eating it up. Many people, however, aren’t buying what Sarah Palin is selling. Just like consumers are slowly tiring of insulting work perpetrated by advertisers who don’t care about the consequences of their actions. Perhaps the notion that some people see through Palin is also a harbinger that consumers might welcome more intelligent marketing. Or not. Advertising, like politics, is a business where superficiality often triumphs. But still, our clients these days are much more eager to give ad agencies the boot than voters are to throw politicians out of office. So maybe Sarah Palin has the right idea. Maybe we’re better off taking a page from her wink-and-platitude playbook. Besides, what’s the difference between an advertising professional and a hockey mom? Lipstick —placed lovingly on the client’s butt.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 237


The War On Talent
Finding the right people requires people doing the right way of finding A friend of mine recently attended a conference panel entitled “How to Win the War For Talent.” Maybe you’ve seen this phrase used somewhere, too. I couldn’t believe people still use it in November 2008. It’s bullshit. If you read an article or attend a conference panel entitled “How To Win The War For Talent,” trust me: the last thing you’ll learn is how to win the war for talent. Because there is no war for talent. Not in this day and age, not in the advertising industry, and especially not in this economy. There’s a war ON talent. I roll my eyes whenever I hear some agency exec or recruiter say, “I can’t find good people.” If that’s you, I have news for you: Good people are all around you. Your problems are simple ones, and they’re solvable if you’re willing to solve them. Maybe you’re not looking in the right places or doing what it takes to recruit them. Or you’re not evaluating skills, resumes or talent properly. Or you don’t know how to find the right place for someone you can’t automatically peg. Talented people are creating content and developing skills that don’t jump out of a one-page resume or 12-ad portfolio. Some of the biggest innovations in advertising were literally and technologically impossible to do 10 or 15 years ago. New job types and new job descriptions are being created every day. Are you stuck trying to put new people in new jobs using old evaluation methods? Then there’s the lack of common courtesy. Sorry, HR people, creative managers, and hiring managers, but if you can’t return a phone call, an email, or a job inquiry, you’re not properly managing your human resources. You should quit the business, or be fired. Period. If you can’t treat prospective employees with the same respect your bosses treat prospective clients, you’re not helping your company. Perhaps nobody who’s truly talented wants to work for your agency. Maybe the work on your agency’s website is weak or outdated. Maybe the work environment isn’t uplifting and the word has spread in your community that conditions aren’t good. Maybe the people aren’t nice or your office is politically charged and everyone knows it. Or simply put, you’re not paying enough, although I believe that’s way down on the list.

Maybe you’re in New York, Chicago, San Francisco or other market people flock to. Yet your agency doesn’t fly people in to interview or pay even a minimum of travel expenses. Or you won’t pay to relocate someone. We’re talking about someone who’s willing to uproot their lives and their family to come work for you. Trust me, the money you spend on relocating the right person more than makes up for the otherwise billable hours you spend looking at the wrong ones. Agencies with bad reputations are known worldwide for their bad reputations now. Like disgruntled customers, there will always be a dissatisfied employee. But if it’s a consistent pattern, no amount of PR will help you. The word gets spread, and spread fast. If you wage war on talent, you don’t have the right to expect great people lining up to work for you. Now, for those of you who think this is a one-sided screed, let me now address the “talent”: As Hyman Roth said in The Godfather Part II, “This is the business we’ve chosen.” No one owes you anything. Like an auto worker in Detroit or a textile mill worker in North Carolina, you’re expendable. Agencies will dump people at the first sign of trouble, a pending account loss, an anticipated revenue drop, or merely if you look at someone the wrong way. That’s nothing new. It’s part of the business and always has been. There are still more people wanting to get in and work in this business than available jobs. And there has never been any type of job security, or linear path to success. It’s your responsibility to show up, be professional and do your best. But sometimes, that simply won’t be enough to keep you employed, and you need to prepare for that. Take it from someone who’s lived in 5 states in 12 years. Every day, whether by necessity or dream, people in advertising strike out on their own. If the manager of a Taco Bell can run a business, so can you. The cliche is true: if you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes. But entrepreneurialism isn’t for everyone. That’s why good people apply for jobs in ad agencies every day. No one works in advertising or marketing, working for someone else, to get wealthy. It beats manual labor, for sure. We do it for other reasons; because the work is interesting, the people are unusual, because the output of the work—an ad, a video, a website—is tangible. Some people safely push papers and balance spreadsheets all their lives. We opted for something else. Good people are everywhere. And it’s like not the ad industry has requirements. There’s no certification to acquire. No Bar exam to pass. Anyone who wants to get into the ad industry can try. Many try, but only some succeed. Consequently, it’s not a job seeker’s market and never has been. So if you’re looking for talent, believe me: You can do it. Finding the right talent isn’t easy. It requires diligence, time and effort. But it is most definitely not a “war.” Peace out.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 239


A Cheap High and New Lows
We’re addicted to low prices--and advertising has to cope Last week, a worker at a Long Island Wal-Mart died as he was trampled by the rush of shoppers when the doors opened at 5 a.m. on Black Friday. Somewhere in Bentonville, a marketing manager smiled. Mission accomplished—shoppers showed up in droves for the chance to save a few bucks. Look all around you. Advertising has won. We have finally convinced the public and our elected officials that consumption is the only way out of our current economic malaise. But we got too good at our job and too adept at mandating consumption. Now, if shoppers don’t show up and spend, the whole country is screwed. The problem is, cash-strapped shoppers won’t spend if they don’t think the price is right or they’re getting a deal. Welcome to the Age of Cheap. Brands don’t mean much anymore. Can any industry—especially the advertising industry—survive? Price is now everything, and companies are living—and dying—by the cost squeeze. About 6 months ago, I discovered a store called Steve & Barry’s. It was sort of an Old Navy-type store where all the clothes were about $8 or $10. I thought, “How can they possibly stay in business selling clothes this cheap?” Well, they couldn’t. Steve & Barry’s is now going out of business. They, of course, are not alone. Stores all over the place are closing for good. But price sensitivity is here to stay. And it has trumped the power of branding. Walk into the cereal aisle at the supermarket or pain reliever aisle at a drug store and you’ll see name brand products sitting next to generic products with similarly colored packaging. The message is clear: This is the same stuff, just cheaper. Even the one growth area of our business, new media, is a Trojan horse. The Internet has enabled global commerce, instant communication and easy shopping. But on the Net, brand-building takes a back seat to price. We turned the world into a third world bazaar, where prices on everything are driven down and the cheapest price is only a few clicks away. If you could wait a week for delivery, there’s no reason you’d pay $30 for an HDMI cable at a nearby Radio Shack when you can get it for $5 on eBay. This is the world advertising is left with. And we have to strategize accordingly. Every client will be looking to us to position them in the Age of Cheap. Naturally, the marketing consultants and strategic know-nothings will be quick to trot out the useless buzzwords: “Quality.” “Service.” “Save time, save money.” No matter what we try, the pressure is on to make the sale today, because there may not be a tomorrow.

We rarely have the luxury of getting consumers to like a brand. Forget about the nonsensical garbage like “we can engage your customers with the brand and make them friends.” Customers aren’t looking to make your product their friend. They’re looking for a cheap one-night stand. And that presents an even bigger challenge to brands: Customers aren’t loyal to stores or brands just because of low prices. If some other retailer undercut the Wal-Mart price, shoppers would go there as well. (It’s worth remembering that in 2004, Wal-Mart didn’t have Black Friday “doorbuster” specials and as a result few people showed up that day.) There are, of course, a few brands that can still command a premium price and rarely discount. But for most marketers, in other words most of our clients, they’re stuck—they can’t charge what they ideally would like to because their products simply aren’t worth it to consumers. Hence, they pursue strategies and concepts that consumers don’t care about, and the creative work sucks. Unfortunately, the mentality of cheap is now pervasive in the business world. It’s why clients are insisting you pull images from iStockPhoto that cost $10 rather than pay for a rights-managed exclusive image or actually hiring a photographer. It’s why agencies are scaling back bonuses and holiday parties. For consumers, cheap crap is here to stay. The challenge for agencies is not to produce cheap crap of their own and pass them off as good ideas. They certainly don’t have to be. A milliondollar idea doesn’t need a million-dollar budget. Agencies may need to learn to survive by producing great ideas on the cheap. I doubt it’s a sustainable business model. Don’t ask me how to do it, but it would certainly involve getting rid of layers of do-nothing, slow-thinking management.  But trust me, if you could do great ideas on the cheap and still manage to keep your employees happy, clients would be killing themselves in order to bust down your agency’s doors, too. 

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 241


The Fantasy of Reality-Based Advertising
How should advertisers cope with wary consumers? As nervousness pervades the news, Hyundai recently unveiled a commercial where they promised, "If in the next year, you lose your income, we'll let you return it." Wait a minute—are they suggesting the car won’t be sitting in your McMansion’s roundabout driveway with a big red bow on it, ready for you to cruise along the Pacific Coast Highway with no other cars in sight? Yes, Hyundai actually raised the specter that you may not drive off into the sunset for 7 years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. It’s either drive it back or get a visit from the repo man, and they’d rather not send a tow truck. But it’s a clever idea. In addressing the economic climate straight on, Hyundai got refreshingly honest. In recent years, we’ve seen a lot of reality TV. Are we going to start seeing reality advertising? Advertisers always put on the rose colored glasses. Our deepest fears, insecurities or unmet needs were solved in 30 seconds where everyone was smiling, looking sexy, and clothes came out whiter than white and cleaner than the leading brand. Whatever your problem, commercials had the answer. All you had to do was obey. That’s getting tougher right now because advertising subsidizes the media—and these days, all the news media drums up is bleak economic news. Consequently it’s hard for any advertiser to come out and push conspicuous consumption. Or is it? We certainly haven’t left our dreams or upwardly mobile aspirations behind, even if they don’t seem immediately attainable. Marketers are hardly altruistic, but a few of them like Hyundai are learning that people need some assurances right now. Brokerage firms are on TV telling people to stay the course with their investments and not panic. GM took out a trade ad to apologize for their past screw-ups and promising to do better in the future. You might think the majority of marketers will unveil a new understanding, a new empathy for these tough times. Forget it. Actually, you’re going to see more marketers do almost anything to move the product this year. There won’t be any subtlety in the selling. A Dodge dealer in Florida is offering a “Buy One Get One Free” deal on cars. Subway stopped talking about newly svelte Jared and now pushes “$5 footlongs.” If everyone is fearful for their company’s fate—and afraid to lose their job—they’ll do just about anything to boost sales, and the stock price, in the short term.

We’ve always had the short-term sales boost in some form: coupons, sweepstakes, etc. But those were occasional. I remember when Macy’s used to have a “one-day sale” on a Wednesday every few months. Now it seems they have one every week. That’s what shoppers are used to, and Macy’s has no other choice. The focus on moving merchandise immediately will get very tiresome very fast if it’s not done properly. Some of our clients do care about long-term business building ideas. Some don’t. I think the ad industry needs to be very, very careful about kowtowing to the clients who only care about this month or this fiscal quarter. Because if you’re asked for immediate results and you achieve that objective, you’ll be asked to repeat it constantly while getting better results each time. And if you don’t increase short-term sales at the client’s imperative, you’re fired. Either way, it’s not all that fun. One thing is certain: ad agencies and clients have to think fast, and react to the news and the economic climate. Even if you have an eye on long-term success, the reality of today can’t be ignored. Many people don’t feel like spending on big-ticket items. And they’re trying to cut back on small items that may be extraneous. We have to do everything we can to make sure our client’s product or service is not perceived as one of those. But don’t panic. And do your best to convince your clients not to panic. No one makes good decisions when they’re panicked. People still need a diversion, a laugh, a way of feeling better about themselves. Advertising can provide that. Or, if levity isn’t called for, and your agency floats a creative brief for an assignment that includes the words “reassuring” or “honest,” hold yourself and your client to that tonality by ensuring your concepts reflect the reality of today’s news and nervous consumers. Because if your clients hit the wrong note in this economy, you’ll both get a dose of reality, and it won’t be pretty. 

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 243


The Advertising Industry Stimulus Package
Congress won’t bail out the advertising industry--but we can do it ourselves The ad industry is going through a rough time—just like other industries. But Congress won’t throw us a bone in a $1 trillion stimulus package. So you’ll be happy to know that I’ve got a stimulus package to present. It’ll help us and it’ll help our clients. Best of all, it only took me a couple of hours and cost only the price of a Venti Latte. But here goes: Media outlets should start charging advertisers less for more creative ads. It’s been suggested before, but the time has come. People are tuning out TV and radio, and bad commercials aren’t helping. Look at the Snuggie commercial. It’s getting a lot of attention. It’s a weird spot, and weird product. In terms of media planning, the buy is heavy and the ads are ubiqutious. The ad is so bad, it manages to break through the clutter of “real” advertising agency work that gets watered down into mediocrity. Do you want more Snuggie-like commercials? If not, start rewarding the better ones. There’s little agreement on what constitutes “more creative,” but someone oughta try. Every advertising agency person should work at their client’s office for 2 days. If your agency positions itself as a “valued partner” for your clients, put your ass where your mouth is and try it out. Sit in a cubicle in some random office park or be an apprentice at the factory where they make the widgets. Just two days. You’ll survive. You’ll appreciate your advertising job more, and be thankful you’re not daily exposed to your client’s brain-sucking work environment. And you’ll get a good sense of why they don’t care about award-winning creative as much as you do. Go to the newsstand and buy 4 magazines you’ve never, ever read before. Support thy print media brethren and learn something new at the same time. Here’s a start: go grab copies of “Woman’s Day,” “Heeb,” “Smart Money,” and “Fine Woodworking.” At the very least, you’ll freak out the cashier with your unusual taste. Ditch the use of stock photography for a month. Hire a photographer. Take your own pictures. Or use an illustration or just type. It’s getting too easy to do a stock image search. And while some stock images are good, many are just humdrum and they always  get force-fitted into a layout. Make a note to yourself to do it some other way—and persuade your client to try it some other way, too. Make your next client meeting a session where you say: “You don’t need ads. You need X.” And make that “x” something your agency doesn’t do,  but something that would seriously help your client’s business. What do they need? Cleaner stores? Higher quality products made in America, not China? Better customer service? More attractive packaging? An employee appreciation dinner? If your client is suffering in this economy, ads may not be the answer. And if they’re not happy with what they’re getting from your agency, more ads isn’t the answer, either.

If you’re a client-side marketer, and your account is currently with an agency owned by a holding company, fire the agency and hire a new agency that’s independently-owned. You’ll get more for your money. You may or may not necessarily get better work, but you’ll definitely get more for your money. In other words, just eliminate the middleman and buy factory-direct. If you’re a small business that relies on a newspaper or magazine staff to design your ads, hire a freelancer. It won’t cost you a lot, and the result will likely be much, much prettier. You might even get some new ideas for your business. Spend one day roaming a large state university campus and another day in the clubhouse of a large Florida retirement community. Just get the hell out of your usual routine. Remind yourself that most folks—consumers, that is—don’t think like wanna-be hipster advertising people. But you still have to communicate with them. Remember, this is a stimulus package, not a cash bailout. It might stimulate your mind, your creativity, and your co-workers, if not your wallet. Oh, you want a bailout? Well, as screwed up as the advertising industry is, the amazing part is: we haven't screwed up nearly enough to get one.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 245


ROI: Advertising’s Dirty Four-Letter Word
Will we ever be able to prove advertising is effective? As if the advertising industry didn’t have enough problems, now we need to show more  and more demonstrable results. There’s little accountability for our government, our banks, car makers, or mortgage brokers—but damnit, the ad industry is asked to show some, or else. Why? Our clients want proof that advertising works. But here’s the not-so-well-kept secret: No one knows if advertising works. Actually, in its most base form, we know that advertising works. You can’t just open a business and not tell anyone about it, hoping they’ll show up. When you tell the world to do business with you, somebody will. So yes, advertising works. We just don’t know how it works. Which is even worse. Famously, John Wanamaker said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.” His department store is long gone, but that truism lives on. Personally, I think Comcast wastes more than half. Comcast spends hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising. I’m a customer, but still they bombard me. I get direct mail from them every week—and last week, I found two different postcards on top of each other in the pile. They’re on TV,  radio, the internet, etc. There’s even a “ComcastCares” Twitter guy who responded to my customer service inquiry. Comcast is flooding the zone. So far, they haven’t tempted me with any new offers. But let’s say I finally respond to a postcard. That one mailer gets all the credit. Boom! There’s your ROI--it must have been that shade of green on the postcard or that magic promotional offer that hooked me. Right? Number crunchers in advertising are looking for pinpoint accuracy. Someone figured out it takes several viewings before a direct response TV spot produces a sale. But if more people order a Slap Chop during 3AM reruns of “Iron Chef,” well then they know where the media dollars need to go. Never mind if anyone saw it on YouTube first. With the advent of new media, the formula gets even murkier. Sure, you can track how many people click through banners or visit web pages. Does a paltry clickthrough rate on a banner mean its useless. How about social media? Word of mouth? Blogs? Consumer generated content? Apps? All can play a role in the marketing mix—but no one knows exactly how.

And the quest for accountability is going even further—by analyzing your brain. Have you heard the latest buzzword--Neuromarketing? Millions of dollars are being spent hooking people up to electrodes and trying all manner of techniques to trigger their brain’s pleasure centers. It works— on marketers with way too much money. The idea of neuromarketing triggers your client’s pleasure center by attempting to prove how consumers get lured in. Are scientists going to perfect the art of advertising? Don’t bet on it. We have access to more data, more statistics, more slicing and dicing of numbers and tactics than ever. And has advertising gotten any better through the years? Hardly. Has the creative work improved? Nope. Less wasteful? Occasionally. Is it still mostly wasted money? Absolutely. But you will never, ever hear an agency exec get up in a presentation and say, “We don’t know if this’ll work.” They won’t even say, “Well, we think it’s gonna work.” They’ll say, “It will work.” Every proposed campaign is a can’t miss. The producers of ‘Ishtar’ probably felt the same way. If there’s one thing that doesn’t sell, it’s uncertainty. And that’s why the biggest charlatans in advertising act so confident. Of course, that absoluteness isn’t confined to the ad industry. In these days of Bernie Madoff, the permission to be a complete bullshit artist seems to come free with any order of 100 or more business cards. We have to prove our worth, because so much advertising is worthless. In a desperate attempt to prove ourselves, ad agencies and their clients turn to any analytics, no matter half-assed or incomplete. And in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Get used to it. We need find a way to take analytics and interpret them for the creation of better work—not be a slave to imperfect numbers. Or we could insist on conducting a real effectiveness test. Instead of what clients usually insist upon—watering down a concept and then blaming the agency for poor ROI--let’s compare results between two campaigns. One campaign produced exactly the way an agency recommends vs. one that looks the way it looks after the client messed with it. Would that prove the superiority of the agency recommended work? I doubt it. Oh, wait—I’m in advertising. Absolutely it’ll work!

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 247


Why Asking May Be the Answer
Clients come to agencies for answers—but we should question everything first I recently read about 2 motorists who drove off a road and onto a snowmobile path. Their cars sunk in the snow and they needed to be rescued. So what happened? They simply followed the directions their GPS told them to follow. Technology is making us smarter, quicker and more in touch with the rest of the world. It’s also making us dumber, lazier and more ignorant of our immediate surroundings. If you work in an advertising agency, you’ll see evidence of this every day. How many times have you read and accepted a creative brief unquestioningly? Does your agency treat focus group results or opinion poll statistics ask gospel? Do you believe what your clients tells you about the quality of their products or the health of their business? It’s time to get a little skeptical—and a lot more inquisitive. When I take on a new client, or a new assignment, I scour the Web for every related piece of information I can find—blog opinions, articles, customer reviews, news stories, PR releases and everything in between. However, I take it all with many, many grains of salt. I hope you do, too. I amass a body of knowledge, apply my own filters to all of it, then I get busy concepting. A little intuition goes a long way. Take Wikipedia, for instance, which is truly great. I use it every day, and I’ve come to rely on it. But since it’s updated and edited by a mass of people, it’s also inaccurate in some cases. So how do you know whether the information you’re getting is right or wrong? Just because something’s in writing, or appears to be the product of statistical analysis, doesn’t mean it can’t be questioned. Behind every piece of information you come across is a flawed source or a biased origin. TV networks will tell you commercials are effective. Direct mail gurus will tell you form letter sales pitches are effective. Everyone in the world has an agenda to push. And your co-workers or clients may be pushing a different one than yours when they declare their expertise on a topic. It’s not easy to be a skeptic or a doubting Thomas. If you’re in a meeting, and you’re the one who raises an objection or a question, you’ll might be silenced or shouted down if you don’t stand strong. Don’t underestimate the power of groupthink to get in the way of reasonable doubts. The herd doesn’t like to be challenged when one member questions the direction they’re heading in.

We need to ask the right questions. And the tough questions. Not just of ourselves, but of our clients and others. It’s a bit ironic that just before the company imploded, Enron ran TV commercials with the tagline “Ask why.” But no one did until it was too late. Only then did people ask, “How?” Or, more appropriately, “What the fuck?” Our economy is in a sad shape because not enough people did their due diligence and asked good questions. Perhaps that’s why the only person on television that seems to ask tough questions of influential people these days is Jon Stewart—and he’s a comedian. In advertising, the answers to marketing challenges don’t often come easily. You have to dig, to prod, to challenge conventional wisdom. And the beautiful yet exasperating truth is that there are always many, many solutions to a marketing problem. So be wary of anyone in the ad business who tries to dismiss a probing, inquisitive mind. People who are afraid of challenging questions might have something to hide—like their own incompetence. But be prepared for a letdown. Sometimes, even if you ask the tough questions, you have to accept and deal with the answers, no matter how illogical and nonsensical they are. Such is life. Especially in advertising, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense most of the time. So ask the questions. It’s healthy for you, for your agency, and for the ad industry. Be the devil’s advocate. Be the type of person that doesn’t accept everything at face value. Be skeptical. You know, like consumers do when they see advertising. They’re skeptical, and we’ve given them every reason to be. Am I right?

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 249


Couples Counseling for the Agency-Client Relationship
Marketers who want better work need to know the people who can deliver it Have you ever trashed your client in Newsweek? Unless you’re Peter Arnell, my guess is you haven’t. Because that’s what he did last week, in an attempt to diffuse a shitstorm over his Tropicana packaging redesign, which was quickly ditched after its launch. He said, "I have my own perspective on it. But it's not my brand. It's not my company. So what the hell? I got paid a lot of money, and I have 30 other projects. You move on." So what did Neil Campbell, President of Tropicana, say in response? According to the article, he’ll keep working with Arnell. So the ad guy publicly says he doesn’t care about the client, and the client doesn’t seem to care that the ad guy doesn’t care. I guess they deserve each other. But for the rest of us, agency-client relationships are under scrutiny as the economic climate forces everyone to rethink everything. It’s no secret that advertising agency folks love to gripe about clients. It's a push-pull relationship where both agency and client often work at cross-purposes. But agencies should strive to express some level of gratitude and dedication to the clients they serve. Particularly in public forums. Clients deserve that. What clients shouldn’t do is what Neil Campbell apparently did. Which is to accept and embrace the public trashing of his company by a well-paid agency executive who doesn’t give a crap about his clients. Clients have more power than ever to shape the future of advertising, and the agencies that make it. Why? It’s very simple. All across the economy the customer is in control, and clients are the customers. For example, price haggling was once limited to cars and flea markets. Now, it’s everywhere—appliances, clothing, etc. Everything is subject to negotiation, and advertising agency fees are no exception. But despite all that newfound power, story after story comes out about the dissatisfaction large clients feel with their roster ad agencies. Why are marketers, their CEOs and CMOs, still bitching about ad agencies and the quality of the work they’re getting? I have a guess. It’s because most marketers have no clue who's really working on their account.

Any time I worked at a big agency on sizeable accounts, I rarely met with the client. The other creatives didn't. The writers, art directors, production artists, traffic managers, junior AE's and other people who did the day-to-day work didn't meet the clients either. Client meetings involved a CD, an account supervisor, even the management of the agency who would show up just to get face time. None of that will change unless clients demand it. Agencies are perfectly content to keep their talent hidden away--no matter what the color. And it's true, some creatives are good with clients and present well, some aren't. Yes, the creative people are sometimes resentful, because clients are thought to be the enemy, watering down concepts behind closed doors and rarely meeting the ad makers. It’s also fomented by agency culture in some places, where the management is perfectly happy with that status quo, parachuting into clients meetings to complete the illusion of appearing concerned and engaged. Most clients just aren't interested in the workings of their agencies, even if the people doing the work can provide better insight on the business or the client-agency relationship--which they often can, just from living with the account. The ball is in the marketer's court. They need to ask--and demand--to meet the very people who do the work. Not just the agency people who serve as stand-ins during a new business pitch. Are you a client in a position of power over your roster ad agencies? Do yourself a favor: Scare the shit out of them—in a good way. Pop into their office unannounced one day. Collect the business cards of the people you’ve never met before. Ask who wrote a particular piece of work, or who produced it. You’ll learn some fascinating things. Like that the people working on your business aren’t rich, slack, or uncaring. They’re ordinary people. If you’re not willing to connect with them, it’s unlikely you’re able to connect your brand to your consumers. And you deserve the ineffective work you’re likely to get. But if you do it right, with an understanding that creativity isn’t always pretty, simple, or logical, you will build trust with the very people whose hard work can make or break your brand—and often, your own career as a marketer. Then, and only then, you'll know how much sunshine ad agencies are blowing up your ass. Plus, you won’t find your brand insulted in Newsweek by the very people you hired to be stewards of that brand. A successful relationship between an agency and client isn’t one that’s 50/50. It’s one where both parties give 100%. Just like every other relationship—so if yours isn’t working, a little therapy might help postpone a breakup.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 251


Read Globally, Be Pissed Locally
The Internet has turned little marketing stumbles into big, overblown headaches I was very young, but I do remember the Tylenol cyanide deaths in the early 80s—when every bottle of Tylenol in the US was yanked off the shelves, even though the deaths were only in Chicago. That was big, big news. The brand took a few years to recover in the public eye, but it did. Today, it seems like there’s some sort of brand or marketing controversy every week. I was reminded of this when a video of Domino’s employees doing god-awful things to pizzas made the rounds a week or so ago. And although no one died, it became instant news and fodder for discussion. The incident brought out all the marketing pundits: “Can Domino’s recover?” “Was the corporate response enough?” “How will this affect the brand?” The answers are: Yes, yes, and not much. The deal is, few of these controversies are that big of a deal. What happened at Domino’s doesn't affect you, unless you order pizza from that store. Pissed-off, underpaid restaurant workers were tossing snot into your dinner long before YouTube came along. Some incidents become overblown because of instant global communication. In Germany, a frozen food maker manufactured “Obama Fingers,” unaware of the stereotypical connection between African-Americans and fried chicken. Yes, it did, ahem, ruffle some feathers, but it blew over quickly. Prior to the Internet, we’d have never heard about this. Who really cares what they eat in Germany? I can hardly remember all the supposedly controversial crap I’ve heard about this past year. “Motrin moms” who got upset about a commercial. Something about a Skittles promotion on Twitter that I barely paid attention to. Burger King’s “Whopper Virgins” campaign. It goes on and on. If you’re a casual observer, or an interested observer, of these marketing/PR blowups, keep this in mind. Not everything that blows up on the news, Twitter or YouTube will do long-lasting damage. Very little of it will, actually.

Of course, brands can be adversely affected. But the new warp-speed controversies don’t need to last long, or cause long-lasting damage. They do, however, require marketers, their PR folks and if necessary, their ad agencies, to react fast--in a matter of hours rather than days. Make sure the right people are empowered to respond. Don’t waste days in meetings. Just defuse the situation, make amends if necessary, and move on. And it’ll work. Because our collective memory is quite short these days. Don’t forget that much of the public doesn’t pay attention to or care about these marketing slipups. It’s important for all of us 24/7 connected marketing and advertising people to keep some perspective. We think we’re in touch, but we’re often just touching ourselves. Plus, it’s a healthy thing to have some consumers get rattled, upset, and offended over ads and brands. Marketers need to develop a sense of right and wrong, and learn when the line of good taste gets crossed in the eyes of the public. Otherwise,  marketers will never show any sense of restraint whatsoever. But sometimes, brands and marketers do bad things. They treat customers poorly, they run unethical businesses, they make awful commercials. So what to do about it? Control what you can control. It’s a big world, but ultimately, we’re only accountable in our corner of it. If you want change, think of your own life. What matters is you, your family, your co-workers, your community. If you’re a consumer and want to get upset, start with how you’re directly affected. Did the Domino’s video make you nauseous? Fine. But what you should be concerned about is whether your local county food inspector’s office is properly funded and staffed. Is someone you know concerned about how Starbucks is affecting coffee growers in Bolivia or how Wal-Mart’s worldwide supply chain affects the environment? Tell ‘em to forget it. Tell ‘em to worry about who’s on the city council, whether zoning laws are followed correctly and what’s being dumped in the river across town. Unfortunately, big brands are sexy and controversies affecting them are ripe for endless discussion, chatter, and tweeting. So there’ll always be a group of busybodies or other people with too much time on their hands to make a big deal about some brand’s supposedly offensive commercial or leaked employee video. So maybe it’s no surprise that when it comes to making big deals out of little ones, people won’t go out of their way. They’ll only walk over to their computers and tell the world what they’d never tell their next-door neighbors.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 253


Nothing is Dead, So Let’s Bury that Idea
Advertising, old media, and cockroaches -- they're all sticking around for a while Last week at the CLIO awards, the worldwide Chief Creative Officer of an ad agency got up and pronounced, “advertising agencies are dead.” I’m sure the 16,000 worldwide employees and their blue-chip clients would be just delighted to learn that their million-dollar creative honcho thinks his agency is dead. Now, what this CCO went on to explain, once he got past the headline-grabbing nugget, is that advertising agencies need to think beyond print ads and commercials. Which plenty of agencies, including mine, already do. But to this CCO, hyperbole and bullshit are obviously not dead. Let’s take a look at what else isn’t dead: TV is not dead. No, Americans aren’t all glued to the same networks and screens at the same time, collectively taking in a sitcom like “All in the Family” the way they once did. But if you want your programs, you’ll have to pay for them one way or another, in money or attention. Even Hulu needs ads to stay in business. If you think TV isn’t still one of the quickest, broadest ways to disseminate information and make a sale, I’ve got a Chia Pet I’d like to sell you — and I’ll throw in a Clapper for free. Newspapers are not dead. Trust me, they’re not, although they’re paying a heavy price for not adapting sooner to the way we live and communicate these days. They'll survive, leaner and hopefully meaner. There’s still a need for investigative newspeople — who focus on actual events that happen, not some bogus lifestyle “news you can use” which, in most cases, is a front for corporate PR efforts. Awards shows are not dead. White male hipster Creative Directors still rule over what they deem is good, or whatever their friends did that supposedly deserves a golden tchotchke. Although these days, you don’t need their blessing; you can check out one of the dozens of websites that post and share ads from around the world and make your own judgments. Though you won’t get the same ego-stroking or participate in the latest trend – award shows that turn into week-long conferences (more on those in a minute.) Magazines are not dead. There are lot of good magazines out there. But there are too many, and too many similar ones. Go look at the ones at the supermarket checkout counter and see if you can tell a difference. The good ones will live, and maybe they’ll feature good print ads inside. I like magazines. Besides, I hate reading news on my iPhone in the waiting room at the proctologist’s office.

Banner ads are not dead. And for the same reason billboards on the side of the road aren’t dead, either. They point you in a direction or remind you quickly of something. Whether you obey or click through is another story, but your eyeballs are what counts. Direct Mail is not dead. Be they formulaic sales letters or cute mailers, they still show up in my mailbox every day. The internet was supposed to kill direct mail off. High postage prices were supposed to kill it off. Environmentalism and the desire to save paper was supposed to kill it off. No, direct mail is still around. And it still works to some degree. Just ask a DM expert about ROI and trust me, you’ll never get them to shut up about it. Radio is not dead. It certainly has a lot of competition, though. But when the power goes out or a hurricane blows through, it helps to have a radio nearby. Plus, local businesses need radio because they need some cost-effective method of telling people how they’re “stackin’ ‘em deep and sellin’ ‘em cheap.” Industry conferences are not dead. Every week, it seems like there’s some media conference or advertising summit or marketing wankfest. They all have this in common: Ridiculously high registration fees, mediocre speeches, panels full of self-proclaimed experts, bad PowerPoint presentations, and little being accomplished except the consumption of lots of bottled water by day and overpriced cocktails by night. Thankfully, we have people liveblogging and livetweeting these conferences to capture all the genius we’re missing. And yes, ad agencies are not dead. Not if they’re managed well, that is. There are hundreds of small and mid-sized shops that are holding their own, even expanding. They're nimble, in touch with all media, and ready to pounce on agencies that are too old-fashioned or slow to keep up. And for clients, they generally charge less than big ones. Of course, small agencies don't get covered or mentioned in Adweek or Ad Age, while blowhard comments like “ad agencies are dead” always do. Plus, there’s one agency that definitely won’t die when its owner does: Stan Richards plans to transfer ownership of the Richards Group to a nonprofit group that will hold the stock in perpetuity, making it impossible to sell. Perhaps newspapers could learn a thing or two from Stan. Now, I’m not even remotely suggesting that we ignore new, emerging forms of media and advertising. Ideally, it all works together—with the right creative, strategy and media people in place and on the same page. So ignore mindless blanket statements like “ad agencies are dead.” It sounds like a ballsy thing to say, but it's just stupid. And unless agencies kill themselves, it’s not going to happen. Because nothing in our media culture dies — it gets reshaped, reinvented, remodeled, and resuscitated. And if you’re at an agency that’s able to keep up with it all, then you’ll have a nice fat wallet, full of presidents. Dead ones.  

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 255


The Path To Empathy
In advertising, a little understanding goes a long way I once had a homebuilder client who complained behind my back to my boss that I shouldn’t work on her account. Why? Because I rented a loft the city, not the suburbs, and therefore couldn’t understand the mindset of a prospective first-time homebuyer. Which was nonsense, as most of my co-workers were already long settled in their McMansions whereas I more closely fit the target profile. This distant memory popped into my mind because of the recent national debate over Sonia Sotomayor and the idea of “empathy.” I have no idea if empathy makes a person a better Supreme Court justice, but it sure as hell makes you a better advertising creative. Just so we’re all clear, here’s the dictionary’s definition of empathy: “The intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.”  I think that’s also a pretty good definition for what’s involved in making effective advertising. Can we write ads for people who we don’t physically or psychologically resemble? Can we really understand people we don’t share common experiences with? Yes, but it ain’t easy. I have rarely had the pleasure of writing to people who fit my psychographic profile. Or my demographic profile. But I needed to understand them, identify with them, and find the right way to communicate to them. So I’ve read, and researched, and ended up talking to people at places I wouldn’t ordinarily go. In advertising agencies, empathy—in this case, the ability to understand an audience—is a skill, just like Photoshop prowess. It needs to be learned and honed for effective marketing. And yes, it should be an advantage for someone in advertising, at hiring time and on the job, if they come from a different background or upbringing than the majority of their co-workers. If creative people are judged by their unique talent, a unique background should be held in positive regard as well. And let’s face it, ad people are a fairly homogenous lot: College-educated, white-collar, urban dwelling, working behind computers in well-lit, clean offices. Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how many people in the world don’t fit that description. If you want a more accurate crosssection of humanity, go to the DMV or the security line at the airport. Might not be pretty, but it’s our audience.

Even if we don’t resemble our target, we can’t leave it up to other people to understand our audience. Yes, account planning was designed to do this—pick through the thoughts and behaviors of people unlike us to find some nugget of understanding. But it’s in our daily interactions—writer working with art director, account people working with creative and media, in brainstorming sessions and client meetings—that we need to keep in mind who we’re talking to. That’s where it’s difficult. We run into trouble when we get into a conference room full of similar people and the groupthink takes hold quite easily. Empathy is sadly lacking in much of the creative work that’s lauded. No wonder advertising often speaks to only us in the industry, not the general public. It’s no accident that portfolios of recent ad school graduates seem alike. They’re the product of students who’ve spent the last 12 or 24 months living and breathing advertising, and hanging out with the same like-minded people. And it’s no accident that awards show books reflect the perspective of the same small circle of judges and people who create ads specifically to impress those judges. Clients know their products. We’re supposed to know their customers. When the balance tips too far and the client gets their way, the result marketing that focuses only on the product and not the people who use it. Advertising people need to contribute something else. Which is why life experience, and the ability to relate to people who aren’t like us, are what makes good advertising professionals so good. It’s up to us to always be curious about others—and understanding of their lives. Fairfax Cone, the C of FCB, once said, “the inventory goes down the elevator every night.” Ad Agencies need to keep the inventory fresh. Which doesn’t necessarily mean new people, just a fresh understanding of the world and our clients’ customers. So despite what you might hear on cable news, empathy is a good thing. We all could stand to have more of it. After all, we’re in the business of communication. Do you understand where I’m coming from?

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 257


But Wait, There Really is More
Billy Mays is gone, but what can we learn from him? While much of the world spent time last week lamenting the passage of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, I’d like to pay a little tribute to Billy Mays. If you watched any amount of nonprime-time TV, you couldn’t avoid the dude with the dark black beard and the booming voice. OxiClean, Mighty Mendit, Kaboom!, The Hercules Hook--he pushed a lot of products. He wasn’t the first, and he won’t be the last. It’s easy to make fun of Billy Mays and the other infomercials of the world. They’re loud, they’re pushy, they sell stuff we don’t think we need. But they work—to the tune of billions in sales. They’re more successful than anything that crates home the awards we tend to covet. We love to pride ourselves on uncovering “simple, human truths,” yet a lot of self-indulgent creative work doesn’t reflect that. I think advertising people of all kinds can find some lessons in what Mays did: Present the problem, and then present the solution. All in under 2 minutes, too. I’ve had too many clients that promote their services as a “solution” when there’s no real problem, or when they can’t describe what their business actually does. Billy Mays made a career selling the answer to the perils of middle-class modern living—spills, messes, rips, and the trickiness of chopping vegetables. He offered real solutions, no matter how mundane they were. Make a promise, not an overpromise. Sure, the yelling and selling makes it seem like the product being hawked will save your life, but actually, the promises made in most infomercials are much more mundane. You’ll get out tough stains. You’ll fix those hard-to-mend rips on clothes. While a lot of advertising implies that consumers will be sexier, happier, more powerful or more self-fulfilled, the infomercials only promise something tangible and little else. Which makes them more honest than most ads. Give me something I can’t get anywhere else. It’s a world of product parity, so much of modern advertising has morphed from giving you a unique product to giving you a unique feeling when you use the product. There was always something different about the products Billy Mays pushed. Or at least he told us there was. It’s not true anymore that you can only get one of those products on TV, but the product was always portrayed as one of a kind. Can you still find that uniqueness for your clients?

There’s little need for long-term brand building. You could argue that Mays himself was a brand, that if you saw him (or heard him) you knew what type of pitch was coming. But the companies behind infomercial products are all about the sell—make it happen, right here, and right now. Which, for better or worse, is now the mindset penetrating traditional types of marketing. More and more clients are gravitating toward this short-term thinking, especially because they themselves have no long-term job security. Clients of all kinds have no patience for advertising that doesn’t boost sales. We need to get used to it. Be likeable. Even as Billy Mays yelled, he smiled. Yes, some people thought the whole style was abrasive. And sure, it gets annoying after a while. But look at how much other advertising is condescending, insulting, or makes someone the butt of a bad joke. Mays was generally likeable. He sold himself just as much as he sold his products. He was an asset, not an asshole. No one likes buying from an asshole. Infomercials are a classic mashup of naked salesmanship and basic psychology. And it works. Mays and his type of infomercial are a billion dollar business that’s kept many television stations in business. While we sweat the size of the logo or the subhead that waters down the headline, Mays laughed all the way to the bank. He’s gone, but there are dozens of pitchmen waiting to take his place. And there’ll always be some new product viewers don’t think they need until they see it. Most importantly, TV stations and cable operators are deliriously happy to have that direct response revenue coming in. Why do so many creative people loathe this type of work? Simple: There’s no comedy, no deft art direction or beautiful cinematography, no hipster sense of irony. The spots are formulaic and rarely deviate. You don’t need reams of creative teams to do that kind of advertising. But I don’t aspire to do that kind of advertising, and I bet you don’t either. So if you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em. We’re going to have to do better than Billy Mays and his ilk. So what can we do? Keep the work simple and uncluttered. Make TV commercials that are worth watching, or at least tolerable. Offer something solid and tangible on behalf of a client. Don’t promise the world in an ad. And while you don’t have to say “buy now” every time, make sure that when someone is ready to buy, your clients have a convenient time and place to make that sale. No, none of that is easy. It’s easier to yell for two minutes and jam a phone number down someone’s ears. We have to be better than that. Act now. Otherwise our jobs will be around for a limited time only.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 259


Are You Smarter Than An Ad Student?
What entry-level ad pros do, don’t, and perhaps should know

I recently taught a quarter-long a class at a two-year advertising portfolio school. The students were just beginning the program, so while other instructors focus on idea generation and concepting, I wanted to teach them about the state of the ad industry today and how it got that way. So their first assignment was to do research on agencies they might like to work for someday. Except I originally didn’t allow them to report back on Crispin or Goodby, figuring they already knew about those shops. I was wrong. “Crispin who?” they asked. “Goodby who?” “Modernista, how do you spell that? Where did you say they were again?” Nor they did they know the basic hierarchical structure of a creative department. Imagine starting law school and not knowing the difference between the Supreme Court and divorce court. Or starting medical school and not being able to name the body’s vital organs. That’s the kind of mindset I had to help change. I bring this up not to dump on my very bright and eager students, but to question the role of education in our industry these days. And most ad people don’t even get the extra benefit of spending time in a portfolio “finishing” school. What should advertising’s junior professionals know before they start their jobs? Four-year colleges and universities do practically nothing to prepare students for a career in advertising, particularly as a creative. Most of the professors at these schools have little in the way of relevant, recent industry experience, nor do they provide much insight into how today’s ad agencies work on a day-to-day basis. If you come out of college with a degree in advertising, odds are you could land a gig as a junior media planner or account coordinator. But no one, in any discipline of the ad business, receives any formal on-the-job training these days. Despite the precarious economy, there are still plenty of people who want to go into advertising. There’s no stopping them, and there’s no required degree or certification. While that’s little comfort to the experienced people looking for any way to hold on to their jobs and advance their careers, the juniors need help.

And I think we need to help where we can, because it affects us all. I cringe when ideas go to an Assistant Account Executive who doesn’t have an informed notion of what they’re helping to sell and who they’re selling to. It doesn’t benefit anyone to see a  junior creative team present a wonderful, well-crafted idea that just happens to be the completely wrong tone for a target they can’t seem to relate to. To be fair, students are quite knowledgeable in some areas. Many already think in terms of integrated campaigns with online, offline, mobile executions and everything in between. They have good instincts on how consumers these days live a completely plugged-in life. They’ll get very proficient on all the computer programs they need to know to bring any idea to life. So what else should students be learning? I can’t believe a $100 Advertising 101 textbook helps much. Perhaps a good amount of psychology and anthropology to understand how people think. Recent world history might help a little, too, to understand the global economy. In the post-Enron world, some business schools scrambled to add ethics classes. Ethics in advertising is clearly an oxymoron, so I don’t expect that to be part of the curriculum anytime soon. But clearly some amount of business knowledge is helpful, too. Throw in a little curiosity, empathy, and determination, which you can’t really teach but students should strive to have as well. Then again, maybe too much education and knowledge poisons the well. Maybe the less these kids learn about award shows, or agencies whose reputations run hot and cold, or why so much advertising is based on fear, the better off they’ll be. Maybe they’ll develop a better sense of what they like and don’t like on their own without the arbitrary standards and prejudices so drilled in to the rest of us. Maybe they bring a fresh perspective to the business simply by not knowing anything about it. But the reality is clients are demanding more from agencies—more accountability, more ideas, faster and cheaper. We can either lament this, or try to make sure everyone in our industry is prepared for it. The juniors will keep coming, and they’ll need our help developing the critical skills we’ll require of them. However, there is one skill they do learn at college: How to drink. And drinking skills can indeed get you far in advertising.  

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 261


Wherever You Go, There You Advertise
Do you have to be in the best ad cities to do the best ad work? I once judged the ADDY awards in a small market with only a few agencies of moderate  size. From the moment I arrived, it was clear that the awards, and the subsequent show evening, were taken very seriously. Contrasted with some major markets I’ve seen where the ad community isn’t all that cooperative or collaborative, it was a quite a surprise. They displayed a pride in their small city’s creative output, a trait missing in so many others. Advertising agencies are everywhere. But can you do truly great advertising from anywhere? Is geography destiny? Indeed, the Internet has made it easier to do work anywhere. You can work for clients you never meet. You can collaborate with multiple people without ever sharing a conference room. Yet there are still cities where there are concentrations of great agencies, and cities where the advertising market isn’t prominent. This year, The Rosey Awards in Portland created a promotional website that poked fun of the creative cultures in other cities. All in jest, but there’s a stinging nugget of truth in how the cities are portrayed. In the lifecycle of cities, our new connect-from-anywhere-to-anyone way of working is only beginning to make an impact. Richard Florida, the author of “The Rise of the Creative Class,” has made a career out of studying why some cities attract creative people and why others don’t. I always get a wide-eyed reaction when I meet someone who’s not from the Midwest, or not in advertising, and I tell them that Minneapolis is one of the best ad markets in the country. Because they don’t understand why talent gets concentrated in one city like that, and the power of a truly connected creative community. Despite the rise of chain restaurants and strip malls, America is not as homogenous as you might think. I got reminded of that on a recent trip to the other side of the country. Regionalism still plays a large role in defining our culture. And even if the ad agencies in a smaller market have their tentacles out far and wide for new business, many clients still display a provincialism in their outlook that can creep into the advertising they seek from their agencies. Outside the transient nature of the ad industry, where people move constantly, many people are perfectly content to live and work in or near the cities they grew up in. So there will always be regional agencies who have a deep knowledge of the businesses, cultures, and idiosyncrasies of their part of the country. They can, in many cases, deliver better, more effective work than an agency 1,000 miles away could.

The ad industry in some cities certainly has a lure. Walking the streets of Manhattan has a rhythm all its own. It’s true you can’t always replicate the culture of a dynamic big city, but if cities like New York and San Francisco become priced so far out of reach of 20-somethings, and advertising salaries fail to keep pace, you may see more great agencies (much like Crispin did) move to affordable college towns and make the culture come to them. As advertising people, we can’t lose our connection to the cities we live and work in. It’s very easy to connect with other advertising people around the world through sites like LinkedIn and Twitter, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the personal connections we can make through local ad clubs or other organizations. And we can’t simply work from behind screens in our apartments or alone in the corner of a coffee shop. In any city, the advertising community needs to stick together, bring people together, and work together. There’s often a lot of natural, healthy competition among agencies, but unless the industry promotes itself and its value in its own market, the city’s other business leaders won’t care. I believe the more an ad community is united, the better the work can be. Working collectively, a city can raise its creative bar or keep it low. I always find it worthwhile to attend ad club or other industry-related events, and I’ve done that in the many cities I’ve lived in. And I recommend others also get involved. Even if you’re in a small town or small ad market that’s not known for great advertising, you can find like-minded creative professionals. Because that’s the great thing about this business: you can concept by yourself, work by yourself, and drink by yourself, but in advertising, they’re always more fun with other people.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 263


Brands and Stands
Is it good for marketers to get caught up in issue-oriented debates? It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time before modern communication where people didn’t care much about brands. In the town people lived, they knew the butcher, or the cobbler, or the dressmaker. They knew their families. And they did business with them if they wanted to. These days, it’s rare to meet the grower of our food or the makers of our clothes. So what recourse do today’s consumers have if they don’t like the values or beliefs of the companies whose goods they buy? The health care debate, among other political issues, has racheted up the tension in America, and some advertisers and brands find themselves caught in the crossfire. Advertisers have been pulling out of Glenn Beck's radio and TV shows, in reaction to customer protests over some of his comments. And Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackey raised the ire of many of his customers by writing an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal that emphasized free-market solutions for health care reform. In the case of Whole Foods, assuming much of its customer base is left-of-center or progressive, does the CEO have any obligation to mirror their views? Clearly not. Is he damaging his company’s brand by not mirroring their views? That’s another issue. Mackey clearly doesn’t seem to bend his views to conform to those of his customers, and that’s fine. I’m sure he knows what type of people butter his whole grain spelt bread. (Mackey is also a guy who went onto discussion boards anonymously and badmouthed his competitors—a clear breach of fiduciary duty. So maybe the cheese fell off his cracker a long time ago.) Mackey has every right to speak his mind, and customers have every right to boycott Whole Foods in protest. Some people think it’s fine to protest a publicly traded company over the view of its CEO, even if the real impact may be on its customer-facing employees. It’s rare, but some companies do put their values front and center. Ben ‘n Jerry’s did (in the days before its founders sold the company), Coors, Chick-fil-A, and others make plain where its founders stood. And they leave it to the customers to decide whether to patronize those businesses or not. There was, for a time, BuyBlue.org, a site that followed the money and documented companies that donated to more progressive causes and candidates. But most companies aren’t very public with their views. And this is where the new “join the conversation” and “let’s be friends and have dialogues with brands” thinking starts to get tested. Because the conversation isn’t going to go as smoothly as marketers want it to. Many of the people protesting Whole Foods are big fans, and big spending customers, of the brand. And they’re mad because they do feel such loyalty, and the opinion of the CEO makes them think that loyalty isn’t returned in kind.

Conversely, many people think the boycott advocates are misguided. So this is what we’re seeing: Left-wing Whole Foods customers getting themselves in a twist and others writing letters to Glenn Beck’s advertisers. Right-wingers pledging extra support to Glenn Beck’s exadvertisers and praising John Mackey. Lots of noise. Lots of vitriol. And marketers getting distracted by having to step lightly around a vocal but small minority of their customers when they’d rather focus on increasing sales in a bad economy. But to some customers, boycotting is the only way they think they could make a difference. What role do ad agencies play in all this? Very little, if any. Most agencies wouldn’t dare interfere in the political squabbles of their clients for fear of getting fired. There’s very little upside to getting involved. It’s true ad agencies tend to foster more open discussion internally than most businesses. But you don’t want to spout off about politics without really knowing who you’re talking to. It’s easier not to discuss politics in any context, unless you’re really willing to put your balls on the chopping block. So that sort of advocacy doesn’t tend to show up in media plans or creative campaigns. What if there were more overt advocacy from brands? I’d actually like to see more companies take stands on controversial topics, and let consumers decide where they want to shop and what they want to buy. Every company – even most ad agencies – have “core values” of some sort. Whether they live up to them is another thing altogether. So let them be more vocal and transparent about those values, and matching their actions to the words. That sort of passion might sway customers, and then again it might drive them away. It would definitely liven up a world clogged with parity products. But it takes a lot to change consumer behavior. And so far, Glenn Beck and Whole Foods are doing just fine. Plus, as it happens, many businesses and industries lobby both political parties and hedge their bets to cover themselves no matter who’s in control. Perhaps if more consumers knew what brands and the people behind them really stood for and it turned out to be objectionable, those brands might see their sales nosedive. And that, above all else, would be the true death panel.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 265


Life is Not a Two-Page Visual Solution Spread
Preparing for the new demands of today's campaigns Like a lot of creatives in advertising, I keep a file of ads and printed materials I’ve seen that I thought were cool. It’s always a good reference to pull out every now and then. And while I still flip through magazines and newspapers, and I still get a lot of junk mail, I haven’t updated my file much lately. Now, it’s not because I don’t think there aren’t any great print ads these days. There are. Rather, it’s that I rarely come into contact with great advertising in an “organic” sort of way -- while reading the magazines I read. Instead, I see great print ads reproduced and mentioned on the web. I see them in blogs, I get notified of them in press releases, or they’re referenced on industry websites or in business publications. Is it just me, or does it seem that the best way to get attention and traction for an advertising campaign mostly involves other things besides traditional advertising? Now for me it may be an occupational hazard of staying informed about the ad industry, but I also believe it’s part of a bigger trend. We’re redefining what advertising is, how consumers see or interact with it, how well it works, and most importantly for people reading this on Talent Zoo, how it should be represented in both portfolios and agency credentials packages. It used to be, a “campaign” that you saw in a portfolio or in an award show annual often appeared in threes: 3 print ads. 3 radio or TV spots. The real world doesn’t work that way. Advertising in 2009 is much more tactically based: It’s the e-mail that introduces the iPhone app that resembles the TV spot that goes with the microsite that’s announced in the press release to launch the whole thing. There’s always something attractive and artful about a nice, uncluttered two-page spread or minute-long brand “anthem” TV spot. But the other elements of advertising are starting to do the heavy lifting—and clients know it. In this day and age, that’s what they need and seek. Even the most seemingly mundane tactics play a role in moving the needle for clients whether it’s through added sales or added attention. E-mails, sales training, banner ads, alternative reality games, and all sorts of other components are being added to the mix. And to top it all off, seeding the whole campaign in social media as well as the traditional media – which takes some planning as much as anything else. I think there are deeper questions we need to start asking:

Is a website any good if there aren’t any links to it or it’s not seeded with e-mails or tweets or on a Facebook brand fan page? Is an advertising campaign really a campaign if there are only one or two tactics involved? Is a campaign effective if it doesn’t garner any added publicity? Even in a sexy, splashy, big-budget ad campaign that’s produced these days, there will always be elements that seem a little mundane. But they’re all needed to get the job done. It’s forcing agencies to change they way they think, staff, and make money. Now, think about how this affects you and your role in an agency. Some people think it’s important to master one skill. Some people think you need to be more versatile than that. But I think doing it all, and well, is a necessity on the job these days. We’re entering an age where creatives need to be well-versed in all the elements that are needed to make an effective campaign. You’ve gotta be able to work on the print ad, as well as the email and the app. You need the creatives working with the programmers. You need the AE’s to make sure all the elements work together—and get approved by the client in a timely manner so the whole effort launches in concert. And someone needs to make sure that the press, blogs, and other media outlets learn about the whole thing. At the very least, all the players on an account need to understand how each piece contributes to the big picture. Some agencies already do much of this well, and some don’t. The ones that don’t are in trouble. Doing the smaller tactics as well as the ad executions, making sure they’re as good as they can be, and getting good PR for the client and the agency are the keys to working in the business now and in the future. Because in the end, dollar bills are roughly the same shape as a two-page spread, but they speak a whole lot louder.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 267


Capitalism: An Advertising Story
How does advertising survive if people voluntarily -- or involuntarily -- cut back? I have a friend who’s made his living in advertising for 15 years. But he’s a bit of an iconoclast. And at various times, he’s given up driving his car, watching television, eating red meat, getting fast food, and drinking (that last one didn’t take). And I know a number of urban-dwellers with white-collar jobs who are now growing vegetables in their backyards and raising their own chickens. Some of them are doing these things to save money. Some are doing it as a lifestyle experiment. These days, though, it’s getting hard to tell the difference. While it’s no secret that the ad industry has seen its share of cutbacks and layoffs this year, we have a bigger issue to face. Because what we do is always tied to the bigger picture—the economy in general. The American economy is dependent on consumer spending. And that’s the world we created. We’d better have a backup plan if the economy keeps sputtering. If people continue to lose their jobs, cut back on spending, scour for discounts, barter services with friends, find ways to grow their own food, or decide they just don’t want a new electronic gizmo every year, can we survive? Can we find new ways to sell stuff in a leaner, meaner, or greener economy? We don’t need Socialism with a capital S, but we do need the balance that maintains a vibrant middle class. A little spreadin’ the wealth helps the ad industry—not so we can sucker people into buying what they can’t afford, but to ensure people have the means to buy little slices of a life well lived—a nice dinner out, a new outfit, a vacation here and there, a new garage door on the home, a trip to the ballpark. It’s no coincidence they set “Mad Men” in the post-war boom years of the Fifties and early Sixties. That was a golden age of consumerism and upward mobility for a lot of people. But that era, for better or worse, is long gone. Our clients today—the brands we’ve surrounded ourselves with in modern living—won’t survive for long if current economic conditions continue. Big brands are particularly vulnerable. When cost is a factor, shoppers will opt for generic brands or less premium brands. And when cost isn’t a factor, there’s still a growing movement among some people to avoid big brands. I’m sure you know folks who insist on supporting local businesses or small brands even if it’s more expensive to do it. Adapting to these kinds of trends doesn’t come naturally to the advertising agency world. We’ve become conditioned to think globally. If it isn’t a big, global client, it doesn’t get mentioned in Adweek or talked about at Cannes. If it isn’t a household name, no one wants to see it in your portfolio.

So is there a way to for advertising to adapt and thrive? Are there tactics we can use to keep help brands stay premium in any economy? Are we destined to mostly push value meals and warehouse sales? There will always be big brands competing for global dominance. But as we saw with GM and Washington Mutual, no brand is too big to fail. Maybe though, the advertising industry shouldn’t be thinking bigger, but thinking smaller. Did you know over 43% of the American workforce is employed by small businesses, defined as 500 people or less? Many of these businesses are brands that could use some dynamic creative thinking. I happen to be one of those people who believe there’s serious money to be made—and good advertising to be done--in the development and marketing of new alternative energy sources, environmentally-friendly products, organic and local produce, microbreweries, and all sorts of other things you might think would be anathema to our industrial marketing complex. But it’s going to take a healthy economy to get it done, and an economy that’s oriented to small businesses as well as big business. We need economic stability so entrepreneurs can take risks, banks can extend credit to small businesses, manufacturers can make products profitably in this country, health insurance is affordable for a two-person startup company or a creative freelancer, and folks from all walks of life get back to work in meaningful jobs. And if that begins happening, the best part is that agencies and marketers can provide the jump start in promoting these businesses and initiatives with creative ideas. Our industry itself is the perfect example of this. Today’s big and mid-sized ad agencies didn’t start out big. Many started out with a few people working in a spare bedroom or around a kitchen table. Some of the best work is being done by small agencies you or I haven’t heard of. I’ll bet the same thing is happening in other types of industries. We can be the people that encourage new thinking in all areas of business. We can be the ones promoting real capitalism, not crony corporate oligarchies. Then perhaps we won't be talking about anyone cutting back. We'll be talking about a comeback.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 269


From Cliff to the Abyss
Can there ever be ad agencies with unique styles? When I was in advertising school, I wanted to work at Cliff Freeman. Lots of my classmates did. Why? The advertising they did was funny and memorable. Which meant working there was probably great fun along with hard work. Who doesn’t want to be part of that? The news that Cliff Freeman & Partners closed its doors came as a sad moment to lots of people in the ad world for some very simple reasons: The agency created some of the most memorable advertising ever, and was very uniquely identified by its humorous creative style. Both of which are incredible rarities, now more than ever. Can an advertising agency have a unique creative style and stick to it these days? For a while, Creativity magazine featured the “Cliff Freeman Comedy Corner” in every issue, a tribute to the shop’s regular output of goofy spots. Personally, I think the humor got a bit darker in an attempt to be “edgy” and that hurt the agency in the long run, but that’s another discussion for another time. If you want to call advertising a form of art (and I do, albeit a commercial art), then you can create an unique style just as other artists do. Architects can do it -- you know a Frank Gehry building when you see one. But rarely does an advertising agency claim its work to be of one style, something that’s so distinct you know who did it when you see it. While some agencies attempt stake out a position of one kind of another, like a specialty in B-toB or automotive clients or direct marketing, few agency vision statements say anything about the tone or style of the work they do. Agency vision statements are usually some version of “Being passionate about brandlytizing for our clients.” Or something like, “every day, we look for ways to forge more and better ideas, faster and more effectively, for our clients.” (Ironically, I wrote the former statement before I discovered the latter—which I found on the last version of Cliff Freeman’s agency website). It’s a shame, really. Ad agencies go to great lengths to preach the virtues of differentiation to their clients, yet rarely do it themselves. Part of the problem is, most agencies chase after any client they think will spend money, without regard to whether there’s a style of work that client may want. Anytime you see new business announcement PR release where agency or client says, “We really thought there was a culture fit,” they’re not talking about the style of creative work; rather, the level of mutual butt-kissing. Most agencies attempt to do it all, style-wise: serious-minded work, goofball humor, sophisticated humor, “edgy work” (whatever that is), and every now and then a real sentimental tear-jerker. Few, if any, agencies do it all equally well.

What would you need to create another agency like Cliff Freeman? Well, I’m not sure, but I’ll take a guess. It takes a leader, and style-setter who can then impart that style to the succeeding generations of talent. Someone who can define the sensibility and codify it somehow so others can adapt to it and improve upon it. A strong personality, but not so domineering because other people need to share in creating ideas around the vision. And someone who has a vision of how a style can translate in today’s different media. And through it all, acheive results. Don’t forget, Cliff Freeman was a great retail agency—much of its Little Caesar’s work featured a particular menu item, so there was always a selling objective of some sort. The agency would need a strong internal culture but also a vision that carries through to its client relationships. It needs a fiercely independent streak, and the wherewithal to pick and choose its clients, and cut off a bad marriage if one appears. While there are some very small agencies that can pull it off, larger ones have a tougher time. The higher the overhead, the higher the stakes. You gotta keep up the cash flowing, and often times that comes at the sake of being choosy about the clients you take on. And forget it if you’re part of a publicly owned company, like a holding company. You can hardly choose the cubicle colors if someone else owns you. This is the era of being everything to everyone, or anything to anyone, at any price. Hence, it’s not an era very conducive to an agency like Cliff Freeman. It’s why I keep thinking the future of advertising lies with smaller, entrepreneurial shops. Some of them can craft a vision and stick to it, if only because there’s not much at stake when they’re small. I hope there’s another Cliff Freeman, or a few Cliffs, out there. I think there are. Because now more than ever the advertising industry needs people who know where the beef is. And can bring a little Crazy! Crazy! at the same time.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 271


Giving the Usual Routine the Boot
Forget “thinking outside the box”— it helps to just get outside Sometimes it only takes a little reminder to realize the limitations of the virtual world and the impact of experiences in the real world. For me, that reminder came in the form of cowboy boots. Lots and lots of cowboy boots. A friend and I recently visited my alma mater on a college football Saturday, a school where football, and dressing up for football games, is a big deal for the students. As my friend and I got closer to campus, she noticed a group of young co-eds all wearing sundresses—with cowboy boots. “That’s odd,” she said. And I responded with an equally deep sociological observation. “Well, maybe it’s a thing.” That’s exactly what it turned out to be—a big thing. A big trend. Everywhere we went on campus, we saw scores of young women wearing skirts and dresses with cowboy boots. They didn’t sport that look when I was in school, and no, I generally don’t hang around 18- and 19year-old girls. So how would I have known about this trend? As a copywriter, I’ve always made it a point to stay abreast of societal trends, new technologies, and other shifts and changes that affect the advertising business. And the Internet makes it easy to research any topic you like. But you can only go so far from behind your desk. We’re all creatures of habit. Habits are comfortable. We have our favorite TV shows, go to the restaurants we know and like, and we gravitate towards similar people. It’s just human nature to embrace what’s familiar. But there’s an awakening that occurs when you go places you ordinarily don’t and experience things you don’t usually experience. Think about it: If you drive the same route to work day after day, you can almost do it in your sleep, right? (In fact, I think I might have.) But what would happen one day if they closed the road you take to work and you’re forced to take a detour? All of a sudden, you’re more awake. You pay more attention. You see new things, you experience new territory. And you grow as a result. Back to the cowboy boots for a minute. I’m not sure how the trend started. Maybe Miley Cyrus had something to do with it, who knows. (I’ll bet someone reading this does.) But how would a boot brand respond? A shoe store or e-commerce retailer? Does this cowboy boot trend have, uh, legs? Will it be around next year? 10,000 college co-eds buying cowboy boots is a big market— and probably a fickle one. Plenty of marketers have made, and lost, tons of money riding a trend like this one. I left the campus that day with lots of questions.

Yes, there are plenty of research services, Account Planners, ethnographers, trend hunters, and other companies that report and deliver information on what’s happening out in the world to the ad industry. And you can read their reports, visit their websites and get their e-newsletters. We’ve become accustomed to learning about life, and our target audiences, through Google searches. However, all the technology that’s opened up new possibilities for marketing also constricts us. You can immerse yourself in all the social media you want, but it’s amazing how the pressure to keep up it all, and the time it takes, can make you anti-social. Nothing replaces the feeling you get when you experience a phenomenon for yourself. The advertising business thrives on what’s new and what’s different. Sure, we’re often a step behind the curve on music, fashion, and other trends. We take trends and co-opt them once they’ve become popular. But we have to keep experiencing what’s out there. Without new stimuli, ideas get stale. Concepts feel dated. And that’s when advertising agencies and clients get restless. So if you’re feeling like life’s getting a little staid, that you’re not as productive or stimulated as you’d like to be, make the effort to get out of the office. And out of the usual routine. It’ll make a difference in how you look at things. Sometimes you just have to get out and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Or even better, their cowboy boots.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 273


In Ad We Trust
Should “advertising practitioners” really care about honesty and ethics? Last month, Gallup released its annual “Honesty and Ethics of Professions” poll. This is the poll where nurses usually come out on top and car salespeople come out on the bottom. It’s usually kind of a pointless poll, and this year seems to be no exception. But every year, just for fun it seems, they throw “advertising practitioners” into the poll. So here’s the result for us ad people:  “How would you rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in this field?”             Very high/high           11%             Average                      46%             Low/very low             38%             No opinion                   5% First off, I always wonder what survey respondents think of when they hear the phrase “advertising practitioners.” Because when you scroll down the list of professions, I’d bet most people have had a positive experience with someone almost every profession. Lots of people have a doctor, or know a teacher, or met some nurses they think are honest. Hell, I bet most people know at least one lawyer they’ll trust. But how many people even actually know an “advertising practitioner?” So it seems to me that most people taking the poll wouldn’t know anyone in advertising, and consequently don’t think much of them. There is good news for ad people: “Advertising practitioners” finished ahead of Senators, insurance salesmen, stockbrokers, Congresspeople, HMO managers, and you guessed it, car salespeople. Frankly, this survey doesn’t bother me all that much. Just as it doesn’t bother me when my uncle asks, “So what jingles and slogans have you come up with lately?” as if that’s all I do. But in a small way, it’s a shame: Most people in advertising want to feel that on some level, they’re doing some worthwhile work. Most of us aren’t out to deceive people on a grand scale. I think of the fact that most of the co-workers I’ve ever had in the advertising business were smart, hard-working, decent people. Besides, McCann’s slogan for years was “Truth Well Told,” and what could be so wrong with that?!? I always wonder if there could ever be a way we’d get these poll numbers up. Well, no matter how well-intentioned anyone in advertising is, or how good some advertising can be, our profession is always judged by the worst among us – the bait-and-switch markerters, ludicrously condescending commercials, spam e-mails, and so on.

Plus, I’m not sure current marketing trends will help the cause. While lots of people don’t care much for advertising, they generally know it when they see it, and that’s part of the bargain they make for having their TV and other media content somewhat subsidized. However, the tactics are changing fast. Ad students and young creatives are constantly being told to “do something that doesn’t look like an ad.” And that may actually be a problem. We have the technology to target people more individually, plus the creative ability to disguise marketing in the form of social networking, gaming and entertainment. It holds both promise and peril. The reality is advertising won’t become more trustworthy if the growth in the industry comes in savvier, more interactive but ultimately more Big Brother-ish ways. Just look at the experiments where advertisers use information garnered about people from their Facebook, Twitter or other social media outlets to market stuff they may be interested in. Sometimes it works well and yes, it’s welcomed when it for a brand that’s well-liked. But there’s a fine line between customization and creepiness – and you can count on unscrupulous marketers to cross that line with glee. If we continue to see more stealth marketing techniques, especially in places and at times people aren’t expecting it, consumers will feel duped. It’ll be easy for them to foment outrage at an easy target advertising and marketing. And then they’ll seek protections in the form of laws passed by Congresspeople and Senators – who, by the way, are ranked lower than advertising practitioners in the Gallup poll. And that's the last thing we need these days. Trust me.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 275


Tiger, A Little Tail, and the Marketing Beast
Are celebrity endorsements the best route for marketers these days? A study done by UC Davis economists suggests that shareholders of Tiger Woods' sponsors lost $5-12 billion in the few weeks after his car accident. At first, I thought that the losses were simply due to the simply the cyclical nature of stocks — but the study’s authors insist the losses are directly related to Woods. Either way, that’s a lot of lost cash because a man played with his putter away from the golf course. Some sponsors can dump Woods and be OK, some would have a tougher time disassociating themselves. Accenture’s services are, at best, only tangentially related to a pro golfer, but Nike has a line of products that feature Tiger’s name and image. And this recent turn of events isn’t what they signed up for. So what, if anything, do marketers in 2010 gain from endorsements and sponsorships by celebrities and athletes? Celebrity endorsements in advertising are a strange beast. They’ve been around forever—even Ronald Reagan pushed Chesterfield cigarettes as a Christmas gift when his acting notoriety carried a little clout. You gotta wonder about the origins of these campaigns and sponsorship deals. I don’t know if a creative team working on Chevy said, “You know, this is a good price/feature comparison campaign, but what it really needs is Howie Long.” Or if a team working on pharma ads said, “Let’s see if Sally Field is available to talk about postmenopausal osteoporosis. After all, life is like a box of chocolates, but at least there’s Boniva to wash it down with.” Some concepts work well for a particular celebrity’s personality—say, William Shatner’s ads for Priceline. I’m not sure what came first, his agreement to endorse the company, or a concept that needed a personality like his, but the quirks work. On some level, it’s definitely an ego-stroking move on the part of the marketer. Who wouldn’t want to sign up a celebrity to make a few pop-in personal appearances at company events along with the ads? I’ve had a few experiences with celebrities in my campaigns—one using a country singer, one using a NASCAR driver, a couple of others that never materialized. These were mandated by the client, so I had to make the ideas fit as appropriately as possible.

There’s usually a limiting factor that makes working with famous people a pain: What if the celebrity is an athlete who can’t act? What if they’re only available for 2 hours on shoot day? What if they don’t want to say the one great punch line in the commercial? What if they just act like a general asshole all the time? When your marketing message is so directly tied to the appeal (and the limitations) of a spokesperson, you’ve hitched yourself to a runaway train, no matter who it is. Brands might want to adopt personas or be perceived as having a persona, but brands aren’t people. So why do brands continue to seek to identify themselves with a person? Are brands who need the crutch of a celebrity endorsement simply not strong enough to stand on their own? The concept of celebrity endorsements doesn’t reflect the type of thinking that’s common among marketing folks these days — the thinking that suggests consumers are savvier than ever, more willing to engage with brands, and less willing to simply accept a one-way appeal from a marketer. You might think that in this day and age, consumers are less willing to care or believe a message when a celebrity endorses a product. But it’s quite the opposite — and it’s more pervasive than ever. We are fascinated with celebrities and athletes and there’s the hope that if we do what they do, or use the products they use, we might be a little more like them. As a society, we gravitate towards celebrity. And it’s a worldwide phenomenon: many American movie stars pitch products overseas that they would never endorse here. I’m not sure I’d advocate for any brand to tie themselves into a celebrity so tightly. Take Hertz, for example. OJ Simpson was the face of that company for years. Then when he stopped running through airports and ran into trouble, they cut him loose fast. They’re still the #1 car rental company, but I can’t remember much of their post-OJ marketing efforts. Still, it’s a chance many marketers are willing to take. And Tiger Woods will survive, as will the companies that stick by him. But perhaps if more brands and companies invested in their own people and ideas, rather than throwing money at famous people, they’d have a better chance of staying atop the leaderboard in their categories.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 277


Houston, We Might Could Have a Problem
Why are some brands and companies committed to being non-committal? I once worked with a client who used an interesting phrase when he was non-committal: “might could.” As in, “we might could do this project later this year” or “we might could use that photograph.” As a colloquialism, “might could” is a stand-in for “maybe.” But whenever we heard it, we interpreted it as “probably not,” or more realistically, “don’t hold your breath.” These days, it seems like lots of advertising suffers from a case of the might coulds. In other words, we’re losing the ability to promise anything definite, or offer anything concrete. As an industry, we’ve become much more concerned with how people feel about a product or brand (or how the product makes them feel) than what they’ll actually get out of buying the product. That shift in strategy has been in place for a long time, and it brings a softer-sell approach which does indeed work well for many products. But heaven help you if you’ve ever worked on a service industry client or some type of businessto-business account where you’re often told to position whatever it is you’re selling as some sort of amorphous “solution” that carries no guarantees or tangible benefits—only a few might coulds. Spend a lot of time in that corner of the ad world and it’s really jarring to see a product, at least not in an direct response infomercial, that so blatantly makes promises. I recently saw a shampoo commercial that used the tagline, “7 benefits, 1 bottle.” They said it outright, which to my copywriter ears sounded a little disconcerting, like it was directly pulled from the client’s mouth or the creative brief. In that 30-second spot, they didn’t mention what the 7 benefits were. But sure enough, when I went to the product website, they list the benefits, quickly, simply, and definitively. No might could talk there. So blatant, it was almost refreshing. Quite often, it’s a question of what “legal” will let an ad say. Many a campaign has been born around a specific product benefit or claim, only to be killed at the last minute because a client’s legal department won’t allow it. Perhaps it’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission, but few clients risk their necks for that principle. So when we can’t make a definitive promise about our client or their product, we’re forced into the corner of possiblys and maybes. And incorporating that type of wording waters down the message into a soggy mess incapable of persuading anyone to do anything. I confess I fall into that trap too. Because whenever I write something on this column that sounds definitive, even when it’s only my opinion, someone will accuse me of generalizing too much. But that’s what advertising is. We’re a business built on generalizations. That why we group consumers into categories and assume we know how they’re likely to respond.

Businesses today don’t have the luxury of resorting to the world of might could. Sales, shortterm profits and immediate ROI are more important than ever. So now we’re inundated by ads where the pitch to buy comes fast and furious, but the reasons to buy don’t. Now, I’m not suggesting that more brands go out and promise what they can’t deliver. Simply pay a visit to vintageadbrowser.com and you’ll see decades of advertising offering consumers a view of the world through rose-colored glasses. Most people stopped believing definitive claims in ads a long time ago. But many clients still believe they need to make a claim—even when it’s half-assed. Perhaps there’s a way we can persuade more clients to define themselves and their products in more concrete terms. And accept that some customers will believe and buy, and some simply won’t. That’s the most rational argument you can make for a brand that lives more by rational messaging rather than emotional appeal. Who knows, we might could change the way lots of businesses communicate. And that would definitely be a change for the better.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 279


Thirsting for Originality
Does it really matter when produced ads or concepts are similar? Sometime last week, advertising’s fracas du jour erupted over the similarities between a CocaCola ad created by Wieden + Kennedy which aired in the Super Bowl and a Yotvata chocolate milk ad created by an agency in Israel nine years ago. Both spots feature a sleepwalker who goes great lengths to find Coke/milk with Ravel’s “Bolero” playing in the background. Although the Coke ad was a minute long, one person edited 23 seconds of both spots side by side, and in that context, the Coke spot looks like a shot-by-shot copy of the milk spot. It’s just the latest example of similar ideas being used in ads, which has long been a sticky subject among advertising creatives. So where’s the line between similarity and copycat? Is there a way to prove theft of ideas in the advertising business? What’s the real harm here? The Internet has allowed us to see and access a world of ideas and concepts. Literally. As a result, there are Web sites and blogs dedicated to finding copycat ads and commercials. It’s not hard to find similarities in ads these days. The simpler an ad is, or the less elements it has (say, a print ad based on a no-headline visual solution), the greater likelihood it may be thought of by many people in different points in time. Frankly, it’s not hard to look at any ad with images and copy and be reminded of something else, even if it’s a stretch. I have no idea whether the Coke spot was an intentional copy, or just an uncanny similarity. Frankly, when dozens of people are involved in the concepting, approval, storyboarding, filming, editing, and post-production of a million-dollar TV spot, anything is possible. To me, it doesn’t matter that a well-lauded ad agency is involved. People at great agencies like Wieden are as human, fallible, and capable of misdeeds as anyone else. I leave it to others to draw their own conclusions. In the world of commercial art -- advertising, design, music, TV, film, and architecture -- there’s very little that hasn’t been previously done in some form, at some point. In advertising, creative people look to those other forms of art for inspiration -- and yes, appropriation. Sometimes, big money is at stake in disputes over art. George Harrison was sued because “My Sweet Lord” sounded similar to The Chiffons’ "He’s So Fine.” In its decision, the court ruled in part: “His subconscious knew it already had worked in a song his conscious did not remember ... That is, under the law, infringement of copyright and is no less so even though subconsciously accomplished.” (Actually, that’s good. Try blaming your subconscious the next time your creative director tells you, "That’s already been done," when you present a concept.)

In the case of the Coke/Yotvata commercials, no one loses because of these similarities, or do they? Although they’re both for drinks, we’re talking about ads run in different countries in different years. Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that creative success -- in the form of awards, promotions, and money -- comes from getting proper credit for work done. Hypothetically, if an Israeli creative who worked on the Yotvata spot shows his or her reel to someone in America, it may be a problem when someone looking to hire that person is only familiar with the Coke spot, despite doing the milk ad 10 years earlier. Frankly, most clients don’t care about whether an ad contains some sort of truly original concept. They’re not the ones with an encyclopedic knowledge of what ran in California years ago or what’s running in another country. They’ve got their own problems, like sales, market share, stock prices, and their competition to worry about. Clients want answers to their marketing issues, period. As long as they don’t get sued, most won’t give a crap where the inspiration for an idea came from. There will be more instances like Coke/Yotvata in the future, not less. Timelines for producing ads are getting shorter, leaving less time for creatives to dive deeper conceptually. More and more advertising people find inspiration by searching Google images and other sites rather than their own surroundings and environment. Unless you cut yourself off from the Internet and other media, you're simply being exposed to more and more ads continually. Produced ads with similar ideas are out there -- and if you’re that determined to find them, you will. If you’re in an agency, the best thing you can do is encourage original thinking from yourself and your co-workers. The kind of thinking that requires more time to explore ideas and inspiration that doesn’t come ready-made from the Internet. With the understanding that more thought, nuance, and precision can help a good idea evolve into a great one. If you’re a client, insist on seeing things you wouldn’t expect, even if it’s just an unusual idea for your business category. However, that still won’t stop similar ideas from being produced time to time by different agencies. Fortunately, we live in a short-term memory society. Even as you read this several days after I’ve written it, any controversy over these two spots will likely be forgotten. That’s the wonderfully screwy thing about the ad industry. Even copycat ideas provide something new and original for people to obsess over.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 281


The Bigness of Small, Powerful Targets
Can today’s agencies handle microtargeted campaigns? Unless you’re a political or news junkie, you might not be aware of Lou Dobbs’ recent departure as the host of a CNN Headline News show. It's no big deal. News anchors come and go, right? There’s a bigger story here: Advertising played a big role in amping up the pressure on CNN to remove him or force him to quit. Typically, that means advertiser pressure, as in “call his advertisers and demand they remove their ads from his show.” No, this was different -- and damned effective. Advocacy groups who didn’t like Dobbs and his political views hired a firm who placed Facebook ads targeted specifically at CNN/AOL/Time Warner employees. Then they ran ads on political blogs who break political news first and in turn, reach reporters from all over the political spectrum. Combined with other PR efforts, the idea of Lou Dobbs and his future at CNN turned from an advocacy advertising effort into a news story. Are more consumer brands going to employ this strategy? Are most ad agencies even capable of pulling off this type of result? In today’s business and political climate, are consumers -- or people in positions of power -- the ultimate brand influencers? We’re going to see more of this type of marketing, not less. A recent Supreme Court decision paved the way for corporations and unions to spend whatever amounts they want directly on Congressional and presidential races. At first, it won’t be an overt effort. You won’t see a Senate campaign sponsored by Monsanto or GE. But it’s possible that a range of social change ideas, grass-roots ballot initiatives, and political candidates could have nearly unlimited corporate-funded advertising budgets behind them. Corporations and unions know that from a business standpoint, influencing politicians is often more vital to the well-being of their brands than influencing the public. Do most advertising agencies know it? Clearly, this type of work is not a core competency of most ad agencies, but what if you knew the most potentially effective or influential idea for your client was outside your area of expertise? Would you pursue it? Would your agency encourage it?

Yes, there are firms that specialize in issue-oriented advertising, but I’d say the effort to pull Lou Dobbs off the air would make a great case study in microtargeted marketing for any ad agency, even one that does consumer work. I’ve worked on any number of campaigns where our target was comprised of “decision-makers,” yet we were given scant little information about how to reach them beyond traditional advertising methods like a direct mail campaign. In contrast, the effort to reach Lou Dobbs’ colleagues and influential media/political types showed real savvy in finding the right audience where they live. An idea like that doesn’t need to involve an issue or cause to prove its effectiveness. We may also be looking at the future of pro-bono advertising. Agency folks love to do fancy probono commercials and print ads in the name of doing good or reversing the negative karma we feel pushing endless consumerism. But how many would pursue a strategy like the one that affected Lou Dobbs? There’s little that’s sexy -- or potentially award-winning -- involved in that kind of effort. That’s why small, microtargeted tactics may be overlooked. The way most agencies are structured now, orchestrating a small yet highly targeted effort like this would require a disproportionately large combination of digitally oriented thinkers, account and media planners, and creatives. Combined with the knowledge of what really makes a brand, and the company behind that brand, tick. It also requires a willingness on the part of the agency and its management to propose the most effective tactics to its clients, not the biggest, sexiest, or most profitable. Clients are looking for results, and in many cases, mass marketing isn’t what they need. They’ll turn to whatever type of firm -- SEO firms, PR firms, advocacy agencies -- who can deliver. In today’s political and business climate, they’re willing to do and spend whatever is necessary to gain an advantage. I’m wondering if ad agencies are willing, too. Otherwise, we may be targeted, too. For extinction. 

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 283


Your Attention, Please -- If You Can Spare Any
Is there a place for advertising in a distracted world? Are you going to read this whole column? Really? Bless you. Hell, I can’t even write this column in one sitting. I write them in bits and pieces. I’ve always had a notoriously short attention span. Now it’s miniscule at best. I can’t keep up with today’s information pace. I’ll be checking a Twitter stream and answering e-mail while my TV is on in the background at home. That keeps me plenty distracted, and I don’t even have a family to deal with. In this environment, how we can make ads that command people’s attention at all? And if we can’t do it with advertising, how do we disguise our marketing so people will pay attention? I actually did something last month that I hadn’t done in a long, long time: I stopped and read a full-page magazine ad. A real, long-copy, direct response ad for Rosetta Stone, the languagelearning software. Something about it just stopped me and commanded my attention. It was incredibly well-written, made its point perfectly, and sold me on its teaching methods -- well, it would have if I had the immediate desire to learn another language. However, I can’t help think I was one of the few people who actually read the ad. (Here’s a sign of the times: The advertising students I teach think a long-copy ad is one with three paragraphs.) Usually, you see a lot of those types of ads in in-flight airplane magazines. Of course, that’s because marketers know that fliers have nowhere else to go and nothing to do. Now with in-flight Wi-Fi becoming more common, even passengers stuck in a tin can above the clouds aren’t as captive an audience as they once were. ADD is everywhere. I’ve had dinner with six friends where we all kept looking at our phones constantly during the meal. It’s becoming normal, but it’s not natural. As human beings, we’re simply not physiologically wired for a constant stream of information and images the way we get them now. I think most of us are struggling to cope, no matter how much we say we embrace this type of change. The advertising agency business is struggling with it internally as well. I can’t remember the last client meeting I attended where someone didn’t surreptitiously look at their Blackberry or iPhone to see what other messages they had.

One of the gimmicks we’ve used at agencies in the past is when we presented an ad, say a print ad, we stuck it in the middle of whatever magazine it was scheduled to appear in as a demonstration of how well it stood out. Nowadays, when we can do business with any client anywhere, we often don’t have the luxury of face-to-face meetings, so when we send PDFs to clients for approval or get on a conference call to present an idea, there’s even less of a realworld representation. At those moments, no one’s thinking about whether folks will fast-forward their DVRs or click over to another Web site. There’s no context, just the urgency of getting it done. Clients think their ad, and the urgency of their sales message, is what matter most -- and rightfully so, for it’s their money -- but consumers don’t think that way. As a countermeasure, it’s also why advertising has become obsessed with being entertaining -- or becoming pure entertainment for its own sake. We know there are too many distractions in modern society, so we pursue the idea of making our marketing messages the distraction itself. Not all brands can command attention with entertainment, particularly service-oriented business or B-to-B clients. It’s simply to far removed from their core mission. Most of them have enough trouble making their core products, services, and customer service working well. Clients know they need to make an immediate impact. Consequently, their first instinct is to have each marketing message consist of some form of immediate “BUY!” right then and there. Marketing these days consists of the hard sell, the soft sell, and the no sell. Few agencies have the luxury of serving clients that stay committed to only one of those, but what won’t change is that most large clients, under pressure from Wall Street, are looking for immediate sales gains and profits. If their products are in big-box stores, they often have the data that reports sales on a day-to-day basis. They don’t have the luxury of waiting for ad campaigns and other marketing efforts to pay off in the long term. There is no long term for them. To be effective, we’re going to have to find ways that sell while providing some reward to consumers -- in the form of entertainment, knowledge, or something else of value, and we have to do it fast. That's not an easy task, and it's one that involves a lot of guesswork and no guarantees of effectiveness. Even as professionals in the ad industry, we are also consumers under the same information-andimage barrage. It helps to keep that in mind. Hopefully, our minds can stay focused through all the distractions.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 285


Brand Building, Now 30 Percent Off
Are marketers too dependent on discounts to get consumers interested? “You know the feeling, the thrill of the save. That secret high from stretching a dollar.” So began a recent Wal-Mart commercial. Apparently the prices were just too budget-busting expensive over there, so they needed a price “rollback.” Actually, getting something at a discount isn’t a secret high. Not anymore, at least. Consumers are addicted to discounting. It’s everywhere these days, and it’s permeating every aspect of the ad industry. Once we or our clients start discounting, can we ever stop? Does it help or hurt brands? Not too long ago, department stores like Macy’s used to have a “One Day Sale” three or four times a year. Now, they do it once a week. Retailers knew the quick-and-easy way to goose sales was to throw a coupon at shoppers. While coupon clipping is slowly going the way of the newspapers that hold them, discounts have adapted with the times. The newest, most dynamic ways of engaging consumers these days often involves some sort of discounted carrot. It’s a large part of what’s making social media tick. Groupon, Scoutmob, and other sites offer one-per-day localized deals en masse that you opt-in to buy, along with making it easy to spread the word to your friends. Add to that Facebook fan-page offers, Twitter offers, secret coupon codes -- everyone’s looking for a break, and businesses large and small are happy to oblige. As mobile marketing continues to gain traction, marketers are looking to lure nearby shoppers by geotargeting -- using new ways to use someone’s smartphone or other GPS-enabled device to send them messages when they’re in the neighborhood. That could be a smart idea, but it’ll definitely take more than, “Hey, come on in.” It’ll be, "Hey, come on in and take 30 percent off.”

With the rise of electronic-based offers and coupons comes the ability to track them. A recent article in The New York Times revealed what some in our industry already know: Coupons can reveal who you are, how you found the coupon, how long it took you to redeem it, and what might tempt you the next time. Generally, consumers don’t seem to mind -- as long as they don’t know what information’s being collected about them on distant servers. But the more publicity these techniques get, the more freaked out consumers become, so it pays to keep the back-end analytical capabilities a secret. Marketers don’t do well in a world of full, transparent disclosure.

It’ll be sad if the primary way new technology gets used in advertising is to offer an oldfashioned discount. Anyone who believes in the power of a great idea will always question whether the idea or the discount is the true lure for customers. When an offer does attract a response, it’s conveniently used as the sole reason that the ads work, never the creative idea around it. I remember an AE once told a client about a direct mail piece I worked on: “We got a huge response to the mailer, primarily due to giveaway of free USB memory drives.” It’s as if the concept and writing used in the piece were a pointless exercise compared to the incentive. At what point does the discount become the idea? It’s a creative dilemma: Once you get beyond the shiny gloss of the new tactics, discounts are not sexy. They clutter up the ads and messages in ways creatives hate. Only occasionally will you find a clever concept around a discount, a coupon, or some other offer (although Woot does have some good writing on its site). These days, however, few brands get away with charging full price and sticking to it. Apple does, generally (but those with connections to students or teachers can snag an education discount). For every high-fashion brand, a sample sale or sites like GiltGroupe or Yoox.com can be found to unload merchandise at a discount. If you want to save a little money on something, it’s not hard to find a way. The problem occurs when consumers come to expect them in a Pavlovian sort of way. Most brands, especially small businesses, can’t survive anymore without offering deals on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s the opposite. I bought a Groupon for a place that offered teeth whitening at half-price. They were overwhelmed with the response, and three months later the business closed. Be careful what you wish for, I suppose. In a world where ad agencies are continually having to prove their work is working, and one in which marketers need to produce sales, discounting is as close to a sure thing as it gets. Therefore, ad agencies will have to get used to seeing clients rely on discounts and special offers more and more. Let’s just hope we don’t have to sell ourselves short in everything else we do.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 287


Spilling the Brand Promise
We love creating brands that aim for higher aspirations. Are they sustainable? As I’m writing this, the situation in Gulf of Mexico is, well, fluid. We’re learning more and more that as BP spent hundreds of millions of dollars to reposition itself as an environmentally conscious company thinking “Beyond Petroleum,” they were cutting corners on safety and lobbying against tighter regulations. Now they’re stymied by a toxic mess while they point the finger of culpability at their business partners. At the BP gas station near me, though, it’s business as usual. No protests, no boycotts, and no sign the parent company has a problem. If consumers can’t get worked up over a massive oil spill that has a financial and environmental impact on a big chunk of America, you gotta wonder what they’re really passionate about. This makes me think BP’s problems won’t do as much damage to their own brand as it does to the advertising industry. If values don’t mean much, or we expect companies to break them, then why do we bother injecting unsustainable values into brands? What good are they? BP dared to tell us they were going “Beyond Petroleum.” Of course, we all knew they wouldn’t do it overnight, but their commitment to alternative energy was at the forefront of their message. The truth is that advertising and marketing pushed that message -- we shaped the image, promoted the image, and foisted the image on consumers in the hope it would stick. And until recently, it did stick. Now, not all brands have the high aspirations of BP. But in advertising these days, we act as if all our clients aim to serve a higher purpose. We want the brands we work on to have deeper missions than selling products. We want them to “engage in conversations” and “have a dialogue with customers.” We preach the new gospel of transparency and openness, but like a best friend who screws your girlfriend behind your back, it’s pretty easy to feel pissed off and betrayed when the actions don’t fit the words. I don’t think this spill is the end of BP, and it likely won’t do long-term damage to its reputation. Because even in the age of social media, consumers don’t have that much control over brands. That there hasn’t been a bigger outrage over BP’s practices, or boycotts of its gas stations, suggests to me that either consumers don’t think they have control, or don’t care enough about the brand to want to assert some control.

While it’s true that consumers have gained control over when and where they hear from a brand, they don’t control the internal machinations of a company. Few folks are interested enough to pay attention before something goes kaflooey. In BP’s case, we’re interested in damage control but we didn’t care about damage prevention. Now that they’ve got a problem, BP will try to engage consumers in some sort of conversation about this spill, but don’t be fooled: They’ll spend more time using their lobbying influence behind closed doors to protect their core oil business at all costs despite what their ads say. As advertising professionals, do we have any obligation to ensure that brands don’t promise more or aspire to something greater than they’re capable of delivering? We know when we’re lying about product benefits or claims, but when it comes to a brand’s values or corporate social responsibility, the truth is much, much murkier. As a copywriter, I’ve written a number of mission statements and manifestos for clients. I’m good at writing those. But the reality is that I make the brands sound they way I wish they would be and the way the clients want to sound -- but not as they actually are. Those grandiose, aspirational statements you see corporations spew across the “about us” page of their Web site or in a 60-second image spot don’t come from the CEO, the officers, or the Board of Directors -they come from ad agencies, branding firms, and marketing consultants. That’s why corporations rarely live up to those statements. I think this quest to inject meaning into companies and brands could backfire on the advertising industry, big time. Because if we continue to pump companies up by touting their corporate social responsibility, they’ll inevitably fall short. Consumers will soon tire of being deceived so fervently, because it’s the worst form of deception: You feel scorned the most by people you’ve opened your heart to once they’ve betrayed your trust. If you don’t expect brands to live up to unrealistic value systems, you’ll rarely be disappointed. Fortunately, entrepreneurs and start-up businesses are the ones that can live up to a high set of values. They can set out to change their industry, their market, or even the world. They have greater control over their company, their brand, and their destiny. That’s where the great possibilities are for marketing and advertising, and we need to encourage more of those businesses. Unless your agency is willing to ride the wave of uncertainty with small start-ups, you’ll inevitably work for a client whose brand isn’t very malleable. No matter how hard you want to rebrand them, or get consumers to change their perceptions, you have a extensive history to deal with and a firm set of business realities that you must face. Most clients are like BP. We drill to uncover the aspirational myth of the brand, but the truth spills out. So we shouldn’t be surprised when we have to clean up the sludge.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 289


Tracking the Rise of Tracking
We’re following consumers’ every move, but where’s it all headed? Recently I had to buy, of all things, a new suit for a friend’s wedding. Now if you know any copywriters like me, you know that it’s an anomaly of a purchase. Like a good consumer, though, I did a little online research in between scouring some local stores.   I started noticing that I was getting banner ads for e-commerce sites that I’d visited a few days before. Of course, what the forces behind these ads don’t know is that what I was shopping for, I’d already bought offline, with no plans to repeat the purchase anytime soon. So I’ll get banner ads for weeks -- and uncreative ones at that -- which won’t have an effect on my shopping habits.   Is this supposed to be smarter targeted marketing? Does more information really lead to better marketing? How does creativity play a role in a world where analytics trump all?   The recent controversy over Facebook’s privacy controls, among other news items, gives us a window into what people do -- and don’t -- care about when it comes to the dissemination, collection, and use of their personal information. And the increasing use of personal and geographic data shows us where the future of marketing is headed. Most consumers, myself included, have no idea how much information is collected on me. Frankly, I don’t mind until it’s used against me, abused in a criminal way, or until messages become uncomfortably familiar. Marketers determine my habits but can’t tap into my feelings. They know my needs but not my paranoia over my privacy.   American consumer culture is odd. Many who are up in arms about the increasing government intrusion into our private lives don’t seem nearly as concerned with what marketers do with their personal information, which is probably good, since marketers don’t believe in transparency very much.   Think for a second: Have you ever read a Web site’s privacy policy or terms and conditions? I’ve read them maybe once or twice, They’re intentionally hidden, often in small windows you have to scroll through, which every digital professional knows is the least convenient way to read something. It’s no surprise that if you do read one, it’s couched in legalese so confusing you don’t know what information is being collected or how it might be disseminated. Yet if you want to engage in any online activity, you’re not given much of a choice.  

In the advertising industry, we’ve convinced ourselves that more habit tracking and personal data is the key to better ROI. Few in advertising can get away with arguing that collecting consumer data is a bad thing. I’ve been in any number of meetings where the objective of a project was, in part, “so we can get information.” We’re pressed by clients to pursue ideas that collect e-mails, create forms that ask a few probing questions, and build that all-important database. The increasing ability to leverage consumer information is a technique that will get only more and more important. After all, it provides tangible data that clients can drop in to their PowerPoint decks.   However, there’s a double standard at work. Direct marketers have used data collection for years, and their work has always been looked down upon by many ad pros, especially creatives. Yet, we’re quick to praise brands that use things like CRM, geotargeting, or other information in the service of some cool concept, while we condemn the ones that feel too intrusive or creatively lacking. Frankly, some brands can get away with it, while other brands can’t -- much like pretty people can flirt and make it work to their advantage, while ugly people, not so much.   Collecting consumer information through digital tracking works primarily because it’s so impersonal, not a human two-way conversation. Many people aren’t comfortable revealing their grooming, shopping, dining, and Web-surfing habits. I could ask you, in 60 seconds, a series of personal questions that would make you squirm, yet I’d be prodding to get the kind of information that’s freely available on the Net, or for a price, in the databases of firms like ChoicePoint or Experian.   The promise of digital and mobile marketing lies in its ability to be savvier about its audience -sending messages with more relevance, customization, and engagement. We’ve heard it over and over again. That’s where the money’s going. Does the directness of the appeal affect our ability to be as creative as we’d like?   Along with the increase in the amount of information we collect, there needs to be a corresponding increase in the quality of interpreting that information. We need more analysis and more ways to turn it into more interesting, provocative, or witty creative, not just more targeted messages. Yes, it’s going to take creative people who care, in some form, about analytics and what they really mean. It’ll also require analytics people to understand that not all answers to marketing problems reside in a database, and leaders who can keep everyone focused on common goals.    Advertising and marketing requires more teamwork now than ever, and it requires more people in one discipline to understand how the others work, but most agencies don’t train or recruit people based on empathy, understanding, and cross-discipline knowledge, so if you know people who work well in this new world, keep an eye on them. They’re the ones whose behavior and habits deserve all the tracking we can muster.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 291


The Irregularity of Regulating the Ad Biz
Marketing and advertising come under regular lawmaker scrutiny. Do we deserve it? Did you hear the news? Congress is currently taking action on one of our most pressing problems.   Energy independence? Immigration? Housing crisis? No, not quite.   Congress is on the verge of passing the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (The “CALM” Act—apparently, some congressional staffer is a wannabe copywriter.) It’s designed to regulate the volume of TV commercials. Won’t you sleep better at night knowing this issue is getting resolved?   I’d like to think there are more important things to worry about in our country. However, the CALM Act is only the latest law affecting advertising and marketing. Does our industry deserve more scrutiny than others? Can we avoid more regulation? Advertising and marketing make a convenient target for legislation and regulation, from the volume of TV ads to product labeling, puffery claims and everything in between. To politicians who can’t seem to make progress on bigger issues, attacking marketing and advertising is lowhanging fruit. The constant regulatory battles are also a major reason why organizations like the AAAA, the AAF, and the Association of National Advertisers exist. It’s their job to prevent excess regulation and restrictions on marketing.   Most people in the advertising industry don’t think their work is the problem. It’s easy to believe, “I’m not part of the problem,” and that may be true. I never thought I was part of the problem, even as my clients pushed false claims and addictive behavior.   But taken as a whole, advertising and the people who make it are judged by the worst among us —the telemarketers, the junk mail, the spam, the bait-and-switch retailers, the misleading labels, and yes, the loud commercials. And that’s why it affects us all. Industry organizations like to say they can police their own kind, that laws are not needed. So they set “best practices” but they don’t have any control over the actions of their members or their non-members. They have no authority to clamp down on the worst offenders. And the opposition brews.   If advertising gets regulation, it’s because some, but not all, marketers have done something to deserve it. Of course, the problem with our government—federal, state and local—is that regulation is not uniformly applied and sometimes simply not enforced. Not in advertising or any other part of society. That’s how you get Enron, or Lehman Brothers, or the BP Deepwater Horizon.  

Look at the bright side: sometimes regulation stimulates creativity. Because as creative thinkers, we’re forced out of a comfortable box. I don’t remember a time when there were cigarette commercials on TV—they stopped in the early 70’s. But that spurred the tobacco industry to get more creative. By pushing dollars away from TV buys into direct mail, database marketing, events, sponsorships, and promotions, cigarette makers got closer to the target they needed to reach. And since then, every other client category has adopted those tactics to reach an ever more elusive customer base.   It’s not hard to see where the next big regulatory targets are. Just look at what gets people angry and what politicians can latch onto. “Big Food”—agribusiness, meat suppliers, fast food purveyors, and other parts of the food supply—will be next, particularly if obesity rates and recall rates rise and exercise rates don’t. Pharmaceutical marketing is never safe; it’s always teetering on the edge of taxation and more stringent restrictions. And anything that feels too invasive, too personal, or too deceptive will be scrutinized. In today’s world where marketing is pushed everywhere, even when consumers desire the kind of opt-in engagement offered in the interactive space, lawmakers will pay attention and grandstand against whatever they’re fearful of.   Frankly, if we can’t, or won’t, discourage bad marketing practices, we’re inviting more scrutiny. We can pursue the kind of creative ideas that don’t seem too intrusive, misleading or downright sleazy, and make sure those kinds of ideas still achieve sufficient results.   Advertising will survive the CALM Act, along with any other regulations lawmakers dream up. Let’s just hope the better ideas can drown out the volume of the bad ones.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 293


News You Might Not Want to Use
Now that marketers and agencies create content, are we replacing real news? Recently, a friend and I were discussing the nature of information and truth in today’s world. Or rather, the fact that no one can agree on the facts anymore.   We, as a culture, place increasingly less trust in media, government, science, industry, leaders, teachers, clergy, and pretty much any other cornerstone of society. If we do have a sense of trust, we trust only those sources that enforce our already-held views of things. Climate change, evolution, economics, health and disease issues, even historical events -- you name the topic: Just swing a chicken, and you’re bound to hit a skeptic.   What does this have to do with advertising? Plenty. Because now marketers are becoming sources of trust and authority -- and using all sorts of media tactics to do it. Ad agencies can either play a key role in this or hang on for a bumpy ride to irrelevancy.   We’ve moved from beyond just making and releasing ads to filling the media pipelines with all sorts of information. Whether it’s one-way communication or two-way dialogue, brands are putting more authoritative voices out there, with very little real accountability for the quality or accuracy of them.   Think about it: How many brands have ads that attempt to lure you to a Web site to “get the facts?" How many marketers sponsor sites, e-newsletters, videos, or plant stories in the news media to get their agenda across?   I read recently about an environmental information Web site whose main sponsors where multinational corporations. That doesn’t automatically dismiss the validity of the content, but it does make you wonder a little. Since that news and information, or the overused “C” word -content -- spiders out everywhere, to blogs, social media sites, old-school newspapers, and other sources, it’s simply impossible to know whether there’s any credibility to it or who’s accountable for it.   If you’re developing anything at all for clients beyond traditional print and broadcast ads, I’ll bet you’ve come across this client desire to push more information out to a semi-receptive public.   I’ve had any number of clients who desperately wanted to communicate some form of message like “trust us, we’re experts.” Some wanted to project an air of impartiality in their business category, or to use the catchphrase du jour, they wanted to be “thought leaders.” Yet they rarely wanted to take strong positions, or use powerful language to communicate the positions they were comfortable taking. These “thought leaders” simply never had any interesting, well, thoughts. You can guess how compelling their messages turned out to be.  

Some brands, however, are locked in a battle to win consumers. The battle becomes even more heated when it’s a product under serious criticism. Take high-fructose corn syrup, a cheap sugar substitute you’ll find in foods in every section of the grocery store. Many scientists believe highfructose corn syrup affects our bodies differently than refined sugar, but the folks who manufacture HFCS will argue otherwise -- on TV, in letters to the editor, and even on Twitter. The debate pits scientist against scientist and expert against expert, many of whom have their own agendas to push.   One of my favorite quotes comes from author Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.” In a world where facts are malleable, brands can step in and dictate the facts. We don’t believe experts anymore. We don’t know what qualifies someone to be an expert. Frankly, the door is wide open for marketers to exploit this -- because we don’t even trust our news media to tell us the truth. They tell us a version of the truth.   Advertising hasn’t had a credibility problem because it generally hasn’t had any credibility. Not to say it’s completely bull----, but when consumers see advertising, they know the drill -- they’re getting sold a point of view from the company that’s paying for it. Now, with branded content, news and information Web sites wholly sponsored by companies, the lines are getting murkier.   Brands manufacturing their own “news you can use” also means there aren’t a lot of rules and objectivity to adhere to, so we have plenty of chances to advocate for a company or its products. For an advertising agency willing to immerse itself in a client’s business, it’s a ripe opportunity if the agency is willing to hire the right people who understand how to put those types of programs together.   There’s also a risk: A world full of self-proclaimed experts and brands that proclaim ultimate authority will not actually have any credibility. When you attempt to establish an air of authority so quickly, it can vanish just as quickly. Think of how many brands launched strong “manifesto”like ad campaigns only to let them disappear months later.   But since advertising agencies need new sources of income and want to build more trust with clients, I think you’ll see more ad agencies get into the news, information, and content business, particularly as new campaigns have more interactive and social components. A lot of it is traditional PR work -- but advertising and PR hasn’t always played well in the same sandbox. Many ad agencies won’t let PR firms take over a huge chunk of potential revenue.   It’s going to be incredible. Even if it’s not credible. 

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 295


More Advertising Needs to Smell Like Fun
Serious times like these call for serious advertising. Or do they? I’m writing this a few weeks after the big Old Spice YouTube real-time response campaign. Clearly, the scent of the campaign will linger in the minds of advertising and marketing folks for a while.   Sure it was engaging, it was real-time, it was amazingly well-done, but it was also fun. Simple, pure fun.   It was funny without being corny, sexy without being offensive. No person, no group, or no stereotype was the butt of the joke as we see in so many ads.   If Proctor & Gamble -- notorious for analyzing each product down to the exact units sold in the West Sioux Falls Wal-Mart -- can have some fun, any client can. Right?   In advertising, why is it so hard to do work that’s fun? Why do so few ads set that kind of tone in a memorable way?   I’m not talking about so-called ‘edgy’ ads that make some people laugh but are off-putting to many. Those are everywhere. A lot of advertising humor, in its attempt to be really over the top, takes itself too seriously and pisses people off, and that’s not fun. Nor am I talking about games or other marketing tactics that people willingly participate in. That’s seeking entertainment, and fun, by choice. An overwhelming amount of advertising is still interruptive, annoying, and boring.   It’s true, the heritage of advertising isn’t one of fun -- it was serious hucksterism. The great David Ogilvy was quoting adman Claude Hopkins when he said, “People don’t buy from clowns.” (They probably weren’t friends with Ronald McDonald.) You can see an example back in one of the first episodes of "Mad Men": Don Draper is on the train, looking over at someone who’s laughing while reading a Volkswagen “Lemon” ad from DDB, and Don can’t figure it out. The work presented by Draper on the show, by contrast, seems so sadly serious. Most of it was then -- as much of it still is today.   These days, it’s hard to sell clients on fun ideas. They want results, and they want them now. And times are tough. The economy is still sputtering, we still have troops involved in foreign wars, oil is still lurking in the Gulf, and the stock market is on a roller-coaster ride. Not many marketers are willing to risk their jobs, or their brands, for the sake of a little levity.  

Plus, most clients don’t have much fun in their jobs, even if they work in marketing. I’ve been in countless client meetings where you can see the look of relief or jealousy in their eyes because they get to think about creativity for an hour, and it’s more fun than they have the rest of the day. A creative presentation might seem like a welcome break from sales spreadsheets or the Q4 planning PowerPoint deck. But it isn’t. Too many creative presentations only remind clients they have objectives to meet, and goofy, wacky, and fun creative ideas won’t move that sales needle.   It’s the little things in today’s marketing tactics, too, that leave the fun behind. Like Web copywriting that’s intentionally matter-of-fact because it needs the right keywords for SEO optimization, or make the offer within five words lest consumers click away to something else. Banner ads and other messages splashed across the Web that display a sense of urgency above all else. The ubiquitous use of stock photos that feel hackneyed, like the typical businessman/ woman looking over a laptop, or huddled with colleagues reviewing reports. There's simply more advertising out there, and more of it is fixated on instant clicks or making the message quick and to the point.   In advertising, being fun is hard work. In a world of straightforward versus fun, the fun headline, idea, visual, or ad will lose nearly every time. It’s so much easier to create matter-of-fact ads or work that conveys a sense of urgency, like, “We’re stacking ‘em deep and selling ‘em cheap!” Clients like them; they’re comfortable like an old pair of shoes. Indeed, when times are tough and sales need to be squeezed out of every last customer -- ads turn “hard-hitting.” Trust me, no one has fun when they’re on the receiving end of anything hard-hitting.   What’s unfortunate, though, is that hard-hitting ads can work quite well. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t see much of them That’s the rub: You can’t quantify the success of fun. For every study that suggests humor in advertising works, others suggest it doesn’t generate sufficient results.   But life is too short to create boring advertising, so one of the keys to getting more fun into your work is to set expectations early on in an agency/client relationship. Too many ad agencies gladly bend their work to fit the client’s comfort zone, whether it’s funny, serious, or hard-hitting.   If you’re planning on doing fun work, both agency and client need to agree on the definition of fun, the lines not to be crossed, and the tactical, visual, and verbal elements that contribute to the overall fun tone that's being aimed for. Otherwise, you’re headed for a sea of stony faces in a client presentation. You don’t want stony faces from your clients, and you don’t want them from consumers when they see your work.   I hope more agencies and clients take a cue from Old Spice and other fun work that’s out there. It’s a simple ethos: Leave ‘em with a smile. Make it a new version of a “monocle smile.”

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 297


Can One Agency Really Do It All for a Client?
The media world is fragmented, but some agencies want all the pieces I recently saw an Adweek blurb that spotlighted a TV commercial from an agency well-known for digital work. The spot was nothing earth-shattering, just a promotional spot for a contest. Yet the Adweek writer was pondering the deeper meaning of the spot -- specifically, whether a digitally focused agency like that could “add a compelling body of work in narrative messaging.”   That’s just a fancy way of asking, “Can one agency really do everything well?”   It’s a good question, because lines are getting blurred all over the marketing and advertising world. Traditional agencies are hiring digital people. Digital agencies are hiring traditional people. PR firms are hiring art directors, and everyone’s hiring social media people and web developers. (That is, if they’re hiring at all.) All across the industry, firms are grabbing as many pieces of the marketing pie as they can. However, there are real problems underlying all of this jockeying. Do agencies need to offer everything under one roof? Can they do it effectively? Is there any profit in trying to do it all?   Whether they’re part of a holding company or independent, a firm of hundreds or a handful, the “agency of record” or just one of many roster shops, firms all across advertising and marketing are scrambling to deliver whatever tactics clients need. Forget the endless debates about whether agencies of one kind or another are “ready to lead.” It’s about whether they’re ready to serve.   Theoretically, of course, one agency can do it all, but think about how it actually works. You need a budget or an assignment or an idea to get started, then a kickoff meeting with everyone in the room. Then a brief -- a what? A creative brief? An engagement strategy? A list of tactics? Someone has to make those calls. And you’d better hope there are people in the agency, preferably all of them, who know how all the pieces integrate -- they all need to understand social, broadcast, and user experience, and SEO. Plus, a PR strategy needs to be in place for seeding and publicizing the work when it’s ready to be launched. Someone has to manage the process, corral the creative elements, get the client’s hundreds of approvals on everything, and make sure it all gets produced correctly. Oh yeah, the agency has to make money on this when it’s done.   I leave it to you to answer how many shops can do all of the above -- in some semblance of order, without regular staff and process meltdowns, and with brilliance reflected in the produced work. It's no wonder so many agency brains are feeling scrambled these days.  

However, this type of integration is happening. Clients are demanding it, and agencies are hellbent on providing it. The blurring of the lines is a good thing for some. Right now, recruiters and hiring managers are looking for people with both traditional and interactive experience. As advertisements morph into content into apps into social into one-to-one marketing, we all need to get versatile or get gone.   As for me, I think I’ve been somewhat lucky in that regard. I’ve written everything from television commercials and print ads to websites and even one-to-one sales materials for my clients. I didn’t set out to become some sort of “generalist.” My versatility came naturally: I simply did the work that the client needed at the time, and it wasn’t always a print ad or TV spot. But there’s no question I like writing certain things more than others.   Agencies act much the same way. They all have a certain sweet spot, or a type of work that’s in their heritage: digital, TV, print, promotions, B2B, direct mail or direct response, shopper marketing, jingles, whatever. But they’re staffing to handle it all, and as a consequence, many agencies are a mile wide and an inch deep.   How can you tell when an ad agency really can’t deliver all the goods? It’s not easy to detect.   Here’s one suggestion. Listen for a line like this: “We begin with the idea. We’re media neutral.” More often than not, it’s bull. Because here’s the truth: Agencies operate to make money, and they’ll pursue only those ideas and tactics that they can make money on.   It doesn’t matter whether agencies mark up media or production, bill by the hour, or sign a retainer agreement. In the end, no matter how good an idea is, when you blow it out into unprofitable tactics, a lot of it won’t get produced. I’m no billing expert, but I get the impression that there might not be much money to be made in the endless stream of traditional and interactive tactics I see these days. If that’s the case, our industry is in big trouble.   Of course, many clients aren’t buying the all-in-one agency idea. They parcel out assignments across a bunch of agencies, some of whom may be specialized. But like the example cited by Adweek, all agencies see a spot on a client roster as a chance to grab more and prove themselves worthy.   Clients need a strong guiding hand to manage several agencies with competing agendas, and not many clients have that steadiness. Look for more agencies to grab pieces of the pie they can’t swallow.   Whether all the competition and chaos is good, well, I suppose it depends on your perspective. So many people needed, so much action going on. Perhaps we can think of it as a big orgy. Some folks are having a great time, but others are tired of getting screwed.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 299


Happiness in Advertising? Now That’s an Idea Worth Counting
A fulfilling career is possible -- but it’s different for everyone  THE SCENE: Don Draper’s office, after dark.

DON DRAPER: That’s the way it works. There are no credits on commercials. PEGGY OLSON: But you got the CLIO! DON: It’s your job. I give you money; you give me ideas. PEGGY: And you never say, ‘Thank you.’ DON: That’s what the money is for! You’re
young; you will get your recognition. And honestly, it is absolutely ridiculous to be two years into your career and counting
your ideas. Everything to you is an opportunity. And you should be thanking me every morning when you wake up, along with Jesus, for giving you another day.

That scene, from the Sept. 5 episode of “Mad Men,” sums up so much that is right, wrong, and downright screwed up about the ways creatives in advertising do their work and get judged and rewarded for it. It’s one of the few scenes from that show that truly depicts an aspect of the business that hasn’t changed much in 45 years.   Is there any happiness in advertising without recognition? Should money be enough? Do people in other professions need their work to be as fulfilling?   At first glance, the “Mad Men” scene seems simple: Peggy feels unappreciated. Don believes in some form of tough love, with a variation of “tough s---." But with his name on the door and a new CLIO to polish, Don shows that there’s a motivation beyond money that drives him, too.   Enough about the show’s characters. Let’s look at what the scene suggests in today’s ad world.   No credits in commercials? Bull. Maybe the viewers at home don’t think much about who worked on a spot, but people in this business do. Credits are everywhere, and they often list every layer of management on down the line that touched the idea.   Count ideas? You bet your ass you should. Because even that two-year mark is important for anyone in the business, where you’re only as good as whatever you’ve done lately. If Peggy wants to move up in her career, she ought to keep counting her ideas. Because in advertising, the ideas, more than her sparkling personality, will get her where she wants to be.  

Trust me, there are plenty of chief creative officers and other agency leaders who got there, in part, by being bolstered by the awards they won in the first two years of their career, and deservedly so in most cases.   Is the money enough of a “thank you”? For some, perhaps, but not for many. This exposes the central conflict of a creative life in advertising. The writers, art directors (and for that matter, most everybody else) serve their agency and client masters in an act of pure commerce. We want it to be commerce with a sense of soul or purpose. At the same time, we stake our careers, ambitions, and reputations on what we produce. To do that, we need the gratitude -- from our clients, our bosses, or our peers -- that money doesn’t necessarily buy. Gratitude is also a twoway street -- you don’t need to be thanking your bosses or Jesus every morning like Draper suggests, but no one in this business works alone. There’s always someone’s signature on a paycheck, and we should be grateful.   On the other hand, money can be a powerful motivator. There is, for some people, the opportunity to sell out and make more money, even if the quality of the work won’t be the highest. But that opportunity to sell out often comes because someone did great work in the first place -- and made a reputation on it. It’s rare to get the money without getting the recognition first.   Yes, we’re shifting to more collaboration, more encouragement of ideas by committee or the “crowd," an attempted movement to more sharing or shifting or eliminating of credit, but those notions won’t work for long. They simply take away much of the motivation that drives people in the advertising business. Without anyone to lay claim to a great idea, no one will take credit or blame for the lousy ideas, too. Getting credit doesn’t mean mere ego boosts, it means accountability -- and in business, accountability is expected in every department.   We spend so much time attempting to understand consumers’ motivations, and we don’t understand the motivations of the people we work with and for. And just like consumers, not everyone in the ad industry is motivated by the same one or two things.   Are you happy just to get paid for your work? Do you need some other form of motivation? Only you can answer that for yourself. Me, I once spent an afternoon driving a go-cart while being filmed in a TV commercial I wrote. I was pretty damn happy that day. Most days, the happiness doesn’t come that easy, but nothing in life is ever easy.   Many people in advertising simply can’t imagine doing anything else -- at least practically speaking. We’re the artists who know the commerce comes first, and that will always be a struggle. It might be best to find the happiness in the uncertainty of the industry, the ups and downs, the great campaigns, and the hack ideas. It all comes in one package.   Who knows if Peggy Olson or Don Draper truly are happy or appreciated. It’s just a TV show. For us, the pursuit of happiness, appreciation, or money might drive us to succeed -- or it might just drive us, well, mad.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

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It’s Still the Economy, Stupid -- So We Need to be Smarter
If anything is going to change advertising, it’s a sluggish economy While other people in the ad business fret over traditional versus digital, big agencies versus small agencies, advertising versus PR, I tend not to worry about such things. Advertising is in a state of flux, of course. I firmly believe, though, that advertising and marketing will mutate and survive -- like cockroaches.   What I do worry about is the state of the economy, which is, of course, a bigger conundrum.   Frankly, if anything is going to change advertising, it’s a perpetually sluggish economy. Because it forces all of us -- consumers, ad professionals, our clients -- to rethink our priorities, and make different kinds of purchase decisions.   In a sluggish economy, consumers gravitate to the cheapest options. And they’re choosing lowcost clothes, electronics, value meals, generic OTC drugs, and anything they can get on sale or by using a Groupon. It’s only a small percentage of people who can afford an iPad or anything that commands a premium price, and when they do, they make sacrifices elsewhere. Brand loyalty goes out the window when there’s a lower-priced item nearby.   There are also bigger media trends. I pay about $110 a month for cable -- and with a little effort I could cut that sucker out altogether. It’s not a major trend yet, but more and more people are bypassing cable to get their entertainment from their PC and/or a basic HDTV antenna. Remember, we’re raising a new generation who is used to getting everything at their fingertips -and not inclined to pay for it. If people are continually strapped for cash, cable and satellite TV could go the way of the music industry. And if media consumption becomes a la carte, advertising will be thrown into an even murkier sea. The audience will keep migrating, and we’ll be chasing them from way behind.   We’ll need to find some way out of this economic funk. People need disposable income, particularly because advertising helps tell people what to dispose it on. I’m not sure any politician has the answer anymore than a Fortune 500 CEO does. In an age of economic uncertainty, it’s not enough for advertisers to pursue great ideas. For ad agencies and their clients, great creative and ideas are only half the answer.   We need people to spend money, and not just on life’s basic necessities. We sell frivolity quite often in advertising; conspicuous consumption pushes the economy forward. Even something that feels like an “experience” more than a product is still something to sell -- and one that not everyone can automatically afford. While we pursue great ideas, we have to keep an eye on the basics.  

No matter the client or the idea, the traditional, interactive, and/or social media mix needs a path to purchase. Because clients will drop agencies that don’t think the sales process through and make it a significant part of a great idea. That doesn’t mean everything has to be a cheesy variation of “Get Yours Today.” It means that there needs to be action, not just conversation. I can hit the “Like” button pretty easily. The “Place your order” button is another matter altogether.   We’re trying harder to get attention for brands and help consumers spread the word. But it also means making it ridiculously easy for them to buy something and eliminating the impediments to those purchases. To facilitate that process, we need to be more comfortable being salespeople -and recognizing that our clients are salespeople.   Advertising people, particularly creatives, tend to gag at the idea that they’re salespeople because it feels so sleazy. Famously, it’s only the Willy Lomans, the Jerry Lundegaards, the “Glengarry Glen Ross” types who get all the notoriety as sales role models. Believe it or not, selling doesn’t come naturally to many people who work in advertising. It always helps to believe in what you’re selling -- and secretly, a lot of ad people don’t.   For every idea and every campaign we create, while we seek to get attention, or engagement, or conversation, or whatever buzzword of the day you’d like to stick in here, there needs to be some way for everyone -- both client and agency -- to make money. Add to that the need to make customers happy and like your brand, and you’ve got a tricky task for these times we’re in. It’s what we’ve got to focus on, though.   I have no idea if the current economic situation we’re in is some sort of “new normal” we’ll have to get used to. There’s very little reliable predictor of what will happen next year, or in five years’ time. All we can focus on is the here and now. And here and now, clients have goals to reach and sales they need to make. Hopefully, we can keep our creative aim high while we reach those goals.   It’s doable. If we’re not stupid about it.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 303


Looking for Transparency in Marketing? Sorry, There’s Nothing There
Consumers may want it, but marketers and brands will never reveal all If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about our hyperconnected world, it’s that things are getting really weird out there. You really need a strong filter to figure out what’s real and what isn’t, and the lines are becoming ever more blurred.   Amidst all this, people are calling for transparency -- in marketing, media, politics, and business. Good luck finding any.   In the last few weeks, we’ve seen articles claiming that Facebook sells user information to app makers. We saw millions of dollars being poured in to our elections -- and if the sources of the lucre weren’t completely anonymous, the money was filtered through some nebulous-sounding organizations. A putrid video circulated reportedly showing how chicken nuggets are really made. Those are just for starters. No one appears to know the truth, or if they do, they have their own version of it. There’s no transparency there.   Does there need to be transparency? How much is the full truth or full disclosure worth to you?    Many people think marketing needs to be transparent. We’d like it to be, but it’s not. For example, plenty of marketers play the news media for suckers and get free PR by feeding stories and promoting their wares under the guise of news. As consumers, we accept this.   Companies and marketers aren’t in the business of being transparent. In a lot of cases, they’re simply incapable of being completely truthful. Corporations will do what it takes to protect their images and their profits.   Think of the type of products you buy. Who makes your clothing? Who grows your food? Who assembled your iPhone? Chances are, you don’t know. That’s OK. Most people really don’t want to know. It’s also the kind of information that overwhelms people when they start contemplating it. They have other, more personally relevant things to worry about.   This lack of full disclosure may not appear to be a big deal, and it certainly isn’t going to result in any sort of consumer uprising. The truth is, it may not matter whether Facebook apps use your information or not. You may never be harmed by that. But what makes it so insidious is that you’re never sure what’s really happening behind closed doors in business or politics, and uncertainty is quite the opposite of transparency.  

And social media, that bastion of engagement and openness, is ripe with obfuscation. Hotel owners are threatening legal action over consumer-generated TripAdvisor reviews that may or may not be defamatory -- showing there can be real harm to business in the name of customer feedback. Also, BP’s PR division and the “new” Gap Logo had highly active Twitter accounts -ah, but they were fake accounts holding real conversations. Now, of course, most observers can see the facetiousness at work and they can play along, but it shows how social media can add a muddled layer of confusion to a brand. I’m sure neither BP nor The Gap were happy to see people play along.   As marketers, what can we do to promote transparency? After all, it’s true that consumers often appreciate the effort when it’s made. That won’t be good enough for corporations. We’ll need to prove that consumers want it and reward transparency -- and we’ll need to demand that our clients embrace it, not just in their marketing efforts but in their business practices as a whole.   Companies of all kinds need to increase the human contact with customers as much as possible. It’s harder to fake or obscure something when real people are the face of it. Keep clients, marketers, and the agencies behind their efforts accessible. And marketers should try, as much as possible, not to hide behind a singular, impersonal corporate voice. Comcast was reviled (and still is to many), but when Frank Eliason became the face of their customer service on Twitter, the facade of anonymity was shattered, and it helped the company.   I think it’s a good idea for companies to connect customers to the people who make or support the products. We’re seeing an increase in the extreme opposites of this phenomenon these days. More and more local,  so-called “artisan” types of foods and products get a higher profile. Companies that live and do business primarily on the Web can get real-time feedback and adjust their business accordingly. Yet for the world of products at large, the supply chain is getting longer and longer, and we’re more removed than ever from the people who make what we consume.   No matter what advertising and PR professionals try to do to increase transparency, it’s gonna get weirder. As digital media becomes more easily manipulated, and half-truths and falsehoods get instant, worldwide dissemination, we’ll see more videos get doctored and appear on the news. We’ll see more photos being altered. We’ll see people spin the truth to reflect any narrative they want. And while we’ll see some marketers embrace a transparent way of doing business, we’ll see more global corporations cover their tracks to protect themselves.   Well, at least that’s what I see happening. The future of transparency in our business just isn’t very clear. 

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 305


Want Less Government? Then You Might Get Less Advertising
Government subsidizes lots of industries—including the ad industry If there was anything drilled into our collective heads as a result of the election a few weeks ago, it’s that the idea of “government” isn’t very popular. Or it’s not effective. Or it’s just too big, too wasteful, and it’s in the hands of the wrong people who are screwing it up. And government needs to be fixed, shrunk, or just needs to get the hell out of the way.   Well, be careful what you wish for. Because the ad industry, like a lot of business categories, makes a lot of money off the government.   A recent article in The New York Times brought to light that Domino’s Pizza received $14 million from an marketing organization called Dairy Management Inc., to test market new pizzas with more cheese. One of the pizzas ultimately became the “Wisconsin Six Cheese Pizza,” which was promoted on TV by Crispin Porter & Bogusky. Dairy Management is funded, in part, by the Department of Agriculture. It’s also one of the organizations that has supported the “Got Milk?” campaign over the years. Their mission is to promote cheese -- and help chains like Domino’s and Taco Bell use more and sell more of it, too.   So to make some connections, what we’re seeing is a line of money that goes from our government to ad agencies like CP&B to market the idea of eating cheese. And the spending works -- Americans eat more cheese than ever. However, as a society, we’re also unhealthier than ever, and among other things, we eat more cheese than we ought to. Our government tells us that, too, by spending money to fight obesity. How do we reconcile these conflating ideas?   I’ll give you another fun example: a few years back, some money was put aside to promote American shrimp with an earmark that John McCain famously called the “No Shrimp Left Behind” Act. (I guess this means if you’re out enjoying a Lowcountry Shrimp & Cheese Grits entree, there’s a chance the government has infiltrated your menu choices through and through. Be afraid!)   Here’s the conundrum: By subsidizing industries to market their products, the money our government supports jobs in advertising -- writers, art directors account people, directors, Web designers, photographers, the whole gang. All these folks then stay employed, pay taxes, and continue the cycle. Same with the employees of Domino’s, the dairy farmers, the shrimpers, etc.   So are we better off without government money? Let’s say, to follow election trends, that we need to stop this spending, or drastically curtail it. What would you eliminate? The cheese marketing? The shrimp marketing? Anti-smoking and other health-related initiatives? And since states are having financial troubles too, would you cut a state tourism budget? A state lottery budget?  

Does government subsidize industries of all kinds? Yup. Does government waste money? Sure. The reality is that government-funded advertising initiatives, whether it’s for cheese, shrimp, lotteries, or Woodsy the Owl, spur commerce in some fashion.   Government subsidizes private industry so it can better market its offerings. Then when there are health, environmental, or other consequences, the government uses marketing to call attention to them. And since ad agencies promote products as well as call attention to the consequences of using them, agencies benefit coming and going.   If you’ve ever worked on a government-related account, federal, state, or local, you know that it’s an odd beast. There are rules and regulations surrounding everything, and yes, you could go to prison for falsifying billing records like some Ogilvy folks did a few years ago, but not many agencies are willing to turn down the chance for the stable money and prestige offered by a government account.    What’s the answer? Do we need to cut marketing initiatives out of the federal budget, other than, say, necessities like military recruitment? Would you want to limit the amount of profit an ad agency can make off of a government account? Some people want to cut the salaries of federal employees, so would you cut the salaries of ad agency folks working on federal advertising accounts?   There is the thinking that if government spent less, the private sector would have more money to spend -- and spend it on marketing among other things. But that shift would cost some ad people their jobs in the short term. I’m not sure too many agency executives will beat the drums calling for less government spending if it means less agency revenue.   These aren’t easy choices, and they’re typical of the American condition right now. It’s one thing to say “get government out of our lives” and quite another to make the decisions that would do it.   I have no idea where it’s all headed. It’ll be interesting to watch, that’s for sure. After all,  as Americans we get the government -- and the advertising -- we deserve.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 307


Surely, Ads Can Still Influence Popular Culture
In a fragmented world, can advertising still get talked about on a wide scale? If there’s one thing social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are good at, it’s spreading the news of celebrity deaths. Within minutes of learning about Leslie Nielsen’s passing a couple of weeks ago, my Facebook page and Twitter stream were flooded with “nice beaver” and other assorted lines from “Airplane” and “Naked Gun.”   At first, I thought it might be a generational thing, seeing as how most of the people I know were pretty familiar with Nielsen’s work and love to quote it. But then every news show for the next couple of days paid him a quick tribute, as if he was an acting icon of epic proportions. Nielsen was clearly part of our culture.   It then occurred to me that I don’t hear many quotable lines from recent movies anymore. Nor do I hear lots of quotes or bits from new ad campaigns seeping into the vernacular. So do we still have a mass popular culture anymore? Can advertising still pervade the culture like it used to?   There have been a few ad lines this year that I’ve heard quoted back to me – Old Spice “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like,” the GEICO Woodchucks commercial, the DirecTV Eastern European “I jump in it” mini-giraffe-kissing mogul are the ones that spring to mind – but I wonder if they’ll have the kind of staying power like older ads did. Hell, “Where’s the Beef?” got used by Presidential candidate Walter Mondale, even if he didn’t sound like he knew what he was referencing.   But that was a long time ago, in another media era. No doubt, things are changing. The audiences are fragmented and we can more effectively target smaller groups of people. So media buys cover less territory – which we means we don’t all see the same ads and it’s harder to establish share common cultural references. And of course, we’re transitioning from sending out messages and images customers can repeat to experiences that rely on a vague description. It’s not like the old Bud Light ‘Wassup!’ Now, it’s more like, “Did you check out that Arcade Fire Google HTML 5 thing?” A cool idea, but not an instantly understandable one.   There’s also simply more to spread around. New commercials, viral videos, or web sites can get sent virally around the world nearly instantaneously. But that has two effects: First, the sheer quantity of it all diminishes its collective impact. Plus, nothing sticks around for long. A viral sensation one week is often forgotten the next.  

That’s why there’s still some power when a campaign is sustained by a strong or lengthy media buy, and helped along by well-seeded PR. If it’s something likable, or memorable, then consumers will spread it and talk about it. A complete from-the-ground-up movement doesn’t have the same pervasiveness. But there’s no doubt that large-scale mass media efforts are becoming rarer. Marketers, and in turn their agencies, have less time or patience to build a campaign that lasts longer than a year or so. Short-term thinking, intended to build short-term results, seldom lets anything seep in to our collective consciousness.   For most, advertising is disposable popular culture. But it can always be something more. We all want to do that thing – a commercial, catchphrase, tagline, viral video, game, etc., – that gets everyone talking. If the goal is no longer to make that mark on the culture, then we’ll lose something special. And we’ll lose some powerful reminders of how big an influence we can be.   Our industry is still focused on making culture and new forms of it. But as we do that, we also run the risk of making it smaller and losing our place in the popular culture. I’d love to see advertising remain something people talk about on a large scale, or something that makes the news. I’d love to see the best of our work be as beloved as a Leslie Nielsen quote, talked about long past its initial launch. We’ve got a 50/50 chance of making it happen. Though there’s only a 10 percent chance of that.   But there will always be brands who aim to be a part of mass culture for years. It won’t be easy. Maybe you’re fortunate enough to be working on one of the campaigns that still have that enduring impact. If you are, well – I just want to wish you good luck. We’re all counting on you.

©2002-2011 Dan Goldgeier

View From The Cheap Seats By Danny G. • Page 309