Category Archives: Advertising

Examples of Advertising

Reebok, Self-Reliance, and Individualism.

In the summer of 1990 in New York, while working at Ogilvy & Mather, Bill Hamilton told me not open my mouth for the next 10 years. It wasn’t directed at me personally, just all of the account executives in the company. I did not observe his monastic recommendation, but I always admired the voice he created for his clients.

You may not remember Bill like I do, but he was the creative genius behind the iconic U.B.U. campaign for Reebok in the late 80’s. Described by Philip Dougherty in his 1988 New York Times article as filled with “generally weird segments” including “a fairy godmother type in a crowd emerging from a subway exit, all white and bouffant with her crown and her Reeboks; a surreal shot of a Greek chorus in amphitheater surroundings; a bevy of wood nymphs tiptoeing through a forest glade, and, in baseball cap and raincoat, a three-legged man.” Here is the ad below:

The visual chaos of this 80’s infused spot overshadowed copy that will live well beyond the time anyone remembers Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber. That is because Bill Hamilton didn’t write it. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote it. It was borrowed. And, it is perfect:

  • Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.
  • A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
  • To be great is to be misunderstood.
  • There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion.
  • Insist on yourself; never imitate.
  • God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.
  • Discontent is the want of self-reliance: it is infirmity of will.
  • Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.
  • Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.
  • To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius.

The Fellini visuals of the U.B.U. spot mask a brand voice that seems to have found its way back into the Reebok brand. The new global marketing campaign called “Live With Fire” brings back the themes resonant in Emerson’s essay entitled “Self-Reliance” that provided copy for U.B.U. in 1988. Here it is:

The loss of the NFL contract and the impact of the NHL labor dispute have challenged Reebok, but sometimes there is opportunity in loss. Michael Jordan once said, “It’s not what you have at the beginning of the game, but what you have at the end.” In the case of Reebok, it seems that taking a look back at what they had at the beginning might illuminate their way forward.

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Filed under Advertising, Brand Strength, Branding, Culture Change, Marketing

There’s No Crying in Investment Banking, or Don’t Take a Ride on a Snake’s Back

So there’s this mouse who wants to cross a river, and a poison snake who offers the little fellow a ride. “Will you bite me?” squeaks the mouse. “Of courssse not,” replies the snake. The mouse gets on the scaly back of the helpful snake, and they begin crossing. The snake flips around and mortally bites the mouse. “But you said you w-w-w-wouldn’t bite me,” cries the mouse, as darkness descends around him. The snake merely replies, “I’m a snake.”

I feel bad for the mouse.  And, I feel sort of bad for Gregg Smith formerly of Goldman Sachs, or anyone for that matter who spends a quarter of their career traveling down a path they never should have been on. All of our careers have been on the road to Abilene at one time or another. (To paraphrase a bit…Let he who has not imagined smashing a cheeseburger in the face of a horrific boss throw the first Big Mac.)

So Gregg…you rode on the back of a beast that uses “Atlas Shrugged” as its owner’s manual, and sharpens its claws on the bones of its competition. Did you really expect a culture rivaling that of Habitat for Humanity? These are not people looking for win-win situations. They are fierce competitors, and ultimately most of their clients remain fabulously happy, or they don’t remain clients. It regulates itself.

Looking past the press memes and poor career choices, it is fair to ask whether Goldman Sachs should learn from this. The answer is yes and no. Reputation is everything, as evidenced by the $2.2 billion drop in Goldman’s market cap, but I’m sure no one in the company is going to respond well to sensitivity training.

There are 14 principles already embedded in the corporate culture at Goldman, which are as good as any out there. Perhaps, though, it is time to revisit them. I believe there are two principles (#13 and #14) that seem to be most at odds with each other, and perfectly capture the conundrum of having to act like a shark with table manners:

13.  Our business is highly competitive, and we aggressively seek to expand our client relationships.

14.   Integrity and honesty are at the heart of our business.

It is the word “Aggressively” that bothers me here, especially in the context of Integrity and Honesty. Aggression contains a Darwinian nastiness that permits sharks to eat each other in utero. I think the word they were looking for was actually “Assertively.”

It is a fine point, but with vastly different connotations. On the one road, your client is at your side, and on the other your client follows you. With your client at your side, you’ll always know where they are and where you should be headed. With your client traipsing behind, you may one day turn around and find them gone, and the road you’re traveling paved with fool’s gold all the way to Abilene.

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Filed under Abilene Paradox, Advertising, Arrogance, Culture Change, Employee Engagement

The Power of Tension and Trans Fatty Acids, or why 2012 is like 1984.

First let me say this: No one should judge advertising under the influence of Cheese Whiz and Funyuns. Now that thirty days have passed, and I’ve worked off nearly a third of the calories that I consumed during our Super Bowl party, I’ve rethought my opinion that there was no “1984” ad moment. There was, but it just took longer to realize. I blame what obviously was a trans fatty acid induced stagger towards Abilene. Don’t worry. I’m good now.

Much has been discussed already about the lack of great advertising during Super Bowl 2012, and so I don’t need to spend any time here rehashing that. One ad though has continued to remain in my thoughts well past the others: Wieden + Kennedy’s Clint Eastwood Half-time ad.

My previous definition of a “1984” moment is when ad is so astounding that while watching you could be induced to join Scientology. This year it didn’t happen for me. In fact it hasn’t happened for me since 1984. Then I began thinking: maybe my definition is flawed. Maybe.

Well, here’s my new and improved checklist for determining the existence of a “1984” moment during Super Bowl, and how “Half-time in America” fairs:

  1. The production value is astonishingly good. Check.
  2. The writing is perfect. Check.
  3. The message inserts itself into an acutely felt cultural tension. Check.
  4. The ad gives me goose bumps or a lump in my throat. Check.
  5. The tone of the commercial is distinctly different than all others playing during the Super Bowl. Check.
  6. It only needs to run once, and the world continues to discuss it. Check.
  7. It pisses off “The Man,” (or at least Karl Rove). Check.

Not that you haven’t seen it a dozen times, but please take another look, and see if it doesn’t hit all these attributes squarely in the face like Hillary Swank in Million Dollar Baby.

Oddly enough, when I first watched it I thought it was a rip-off of Ronald Reagan’s “It’s Morning in America” spot, and in fact it seemed very conservative to me. Clint is my favorite gun lover. On the other hand, those in politically conservative circles viewed this as pay back for political patronage (to put it mildly). In this case, both sides are right, and that’s the beauty of the spot. It allows for multiple, intensely felt interpretations. It’s like that joke about the psychiatrist who is accused of sharing dirty pictures, even though he keeps explaining to his patients they are just inkblots.

Even if you think that Chrysler will never produce a product as significant or wonderful as Apple can, one thing’s for sure. The Chrysler ad did what few ads will ever do. It continued to move our jaws well after we were done gnawing on buffalo chicken wings, giving us pause long enough to look down to make sure our feet are pointed in the right direction -180 degrees away from Abilene.

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Filed under Abilene Paradox, Advertising, Brand Strength, Branding, Super Bowl Advertising

Introducing a Breakthrough in Advertising Measurement: The Abilene-O-Meter

As you have probably figured out by now, I believe the truth is best told with a heavy dose of humor. In fact, in Shakespeare the fools always told the truth before others realized it (and often too late). With this in mind, I would like to share with you my great advancement in measuring advertising effectiveness, The Abilene-O-Meter. It came to me during the Super Bowl last night, as I watched millions upon millions of advertising dollars evaporate like the dreams of Patriot fans. Poof!

In the mere 18 hours of its existence, it has proven more reliable than the free Scientology Stress Tests you can get at the mall, and more accurate than 90% of mutual fund managers. Here is how to read it. First, you must understand the unit of measurement, as it is quite groundbreaking. All are animals that can be found in Texas. (A State that I adore, btw.)  At one end of the scale is the devilish poison armadillo, symbol of that wonderful place great corporate minds come together to produce mediocre results, i.e. Abilene. At the other end of the scale is the proud bald eagle, representing the rare and inspiring actions of brave business people who create the icons we measure our lives buy (oops…I mean “by”). Think of this as a “brand menagerie,” if you will, with each lovely vertebrate standing for a certain metaphorical distance from Abilene. Eagle, good. Armadillo, very bad. Cow, meh.

In order to calibrate the Abilene-O-Meter, I first measured the Fiat commercial that aired on the Super Bowl.

This charming spot for the struggling vehicle sent the needle rocking with the first slap from Romanian supermodel Catrinel Menghia. Within seconds the secret love we have for all things Italian was reawakened. Of course, The Richards Group who created the ad relied on the age old truth that sex sells, but who cares. In this case it really worked. In fact, reported that Fiat had the highest cumulative increase in web traffic after airing, with a rise in activity of 138 percent. I’d say that’s soaring with the eagles.

To complete the calibration, I then measured the Old Navy ad for Corporado, a make believe brand designed to mock Dockers. As the logo emerged like a leak from what seemed to be the actor’s pant leg, I was afraid I might have pushed the Abilene-O-Meter to its limits. It took me three viewings to realize it was all a joke, which usually means it ain’t that funny.

Despite the Texas inspired satirical name “Corporado,” Old Navy came up all armadillos. I’m afraid the only way out of Abilene for Old Navy will be to take off the Corporados and do the walk of shame pant-less out of town.

If you would like to submit an ad for Abilene-O-Meter testing, please feel free to send it along.

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Filed under Abilene Paradox, Advertising, Brand Strength, Branding, Marketing, Super Bowl Advertising

To HP or not HP, that is the Distraction.

So HP’s new logo is not going to be their new logo. A company spokesperson definitively quashed the rumor by letting us know that “HP is one of the world’s most valuable brands and has no plans to adopt the new logo.” Honestly, I wasn’t comforted. Since April of 2010, the market cap of HP has dropped by 50%.

Well, it’s not the first time I got all excited for nothing. I am after all a closet optimist. That is to say, while sometimes I let go of a belly laugh when Olympic skaters kiss the ice rink floor after a quadruple axle to the melodies of Tchaikovsky, I actually think everyone who gets to the Olympics deserves a gold medal. (I know. I’m complicated and probably immature, but spandex, human flight, gravity, and classical music are hilarious when combined in appropriate amounts.)

So this brings me to HP, whose mission is to create  “…new possibilities for technology to have a meaningful impact on people, businesses, governments and society.” I’m a sucker for mission statements written to improve human lives, since I’m human and I get to benefit regardless of buying a printer. The almost new logo seems the very embodiment of these possibilities.  To my point, even though HP probably drives you crazy, I’m sure the better part of you saw that new logo and said, “Ooh, look. HP did something inspiring amid the slippery ice of leadership decisions and product launches.” It’s like, say, a gold medal for the Jamaican bobsled team.

As CEO of a firm that often designs logos, there is nothing more frustrating than good work that is not adopted, so I’m biased in my appraisal. They should have adopted the mark, and with some flair and a little PR deftness, they could have adopted it up until the statement by the spokesperson. The reaction to the “misunderstanding” contains something more insidious; that is, design is a distraction from the business at hand, which includes bringing the stock back and managing the tablet mess.

Design is always the business at hand.

Ironically, great design in many ways shares HP’s mission of creating new possibilities. Great logos are not merely symbols. They are catalysts.  As Professor Anthony Dunne, Head of the Design Interactions Department at the Royal College of Art in London points out…

“This space of probable, preferable, plausible and possible futures allows designers to challenge design orthodoxy and prevailing technological visions so that fresh perspectives can begin to emerge. It is absolutely not about prediction, but asking what if…, speculating, imagining, and even dreaming in order to encourage debate about the kind of technologically mediated world we wish to live in. Hopefully, one that reflects the complex, troubled people we are, rather than the easily satisfied consumers and users we are supposed to be.”

Beautiful. This perspective feels like a shaded Sunday stroll in the English countryside along the green shires near the River Rea.  And management decisions targeted at the “…easily satisfied consumers and users we are supposed to be?” Well, we all know this road. Its hot steaming asphalt leads only one place – right into the heart of Abilene.


Filed under Advertising, Branding, Management Theory, Marketing, Mission Statements

McDonald’s Sign Going Green, Or I Will not Eat Green Eggs and Ham.

I am not without sin when it comes to hamburgers. I don’t care if they are good for me, or for the cows, or for the environment. (Ok, I care a little bit, and I exercise four times a week.) I’ll even let my kids have a McDonald’s hamburger once in a while, and honest to goodness, they look happy when eating happy meals. Go figure.

I am not without sin when it comes to living green. I drive a german automobile that gets 16 mpg in the city, and I have a gas powered leaf blower that could clear out a freshly filled grave. (For the record, I have purchased a carbon offset for my bad deeds, and I don’t disturb the recently departed.) Honest to goodness, I’m happy when I drive my car, and especially when I use my satanic leaf blower. Go figure.

What I am most self-righteous about is that I’m honest in my sinfulness. I don’t pretend to be something I’m not, and I think that’s part of my brand, so to speak. This brings me to a sensitive issue. Can going green put you on The Road to Abilene?

I recently found out from a friend of mine in Germany that McDonald’s is changing a portion of their iconic signs green to signify their growing commitment to greener practices. According to the Huffington Post, this is a Europe-wide initiative, including the U.K. and France. This will include just a small portion of their 32,000 restaurants worldwide.

“With this new appearance we want to clarify our responsibility for the preservation of natural resources. In the future we will put an even larger focus on that,” Hoger Beek, vice chairman of McDonald’s Germany, said in the statement.

Oh for goodness sake. I just want to enjoy my burger, and not save the world for five minutes. Las Vegas is NOT a family destination, and McDonald’s is not a healthy part of anything.

Let’s get real for a moment. All companies need to work on becoming greener. This an indisputable axiom, as far as I’m concerned. However, please don’t try to make me feel better about trans-saturated french fries by making me feel that clogging my arteries will help the environment. This seems relatively manipulative. Let’s applaud McDonald’s for their efforts, but this attempt to wear it on their sleeve (signs) seems disingenuous.

To help my friends in Oak Brook, Illinois, here’s my new Mickey D’s Mission:

  1. We make food that is yummy, and convenient.
  2. It is part of a balanced way of living in which you treat yourself sometimes to yummy things.
  3. We promise we won’t try to make you eat here every day. In fact, you shouldn’t.
  4. We are not the answer to the world’s problems, but we will try to be a good corporate citizen.
  5. We know that pictures of kids playing soccer on a happy meal box does not encourage athletic activity in any way. We’ll stop that.
  6. We’ll work on the salads.
  7. We encourage all of our employees to exercise three days a week, and to eat a balanced diet.
  8. It’s alright to like us for what we are, and we’ll like us for what we are. A greasy, albeit iconic, burger joint that you can visit anywhere in the world.
  9. We’ll leave the signs red and yellow. The green ones kind of made us a little queasy anyway.
  10. We promise to make the roadside McDonald’s more accessible on the highway out of Abilene than on the way in.


Filed under Advertising, Arrogance, Branding

Arrogance and Opportunity, Or Fear the Rotting Apple

My multitouch Apple trackpad quietly stares up my nostrils with the malicious muteness of the Berlin wall. I’ve watched the Quicktime videos on how to operate my MacBook Pro with “simple” gestures. A single flick for this. A backwards triple swipe for that. A reverse axle double knuckle twist for something else. My hand looks like an epileptic octopus attempting to breakdance. I reach back for my trusty mouse with the speed of a gunslinger. Safe again. My little pointer finger is now back in control.

My first computer was an Apple that used a tape recorder to store data. As I type this I realize I might have to explain “tape recorder.” Here’s a link you young whipper snapper. With the emergence of the Lion operating system, I now hear Mac addicts saying things like, “Oh don’t worry. You’ll get used to it.” Really! I’ll get used to it. Yeah, like I got used to Vista. The whole point of Apple, its raison d’être, was to make me feel that I was born “used to it.” The products knew me better than I knew me.

Much has been made of the power of Steve’s visionary leadership. As he once said, “It’s not about pop culture, and it’s not about fooling people, and it’s not about convincing people that they want something they don’t. We figure out what we want. And I think we’re pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too. That’s what we get paid to do. So you can’t go out and ask people, you know, what’s the next big [thing.] There’s a great quote by Henry Ford, right? He said, ‘If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me ‘A faster horse.’’’ Hmmm…”We figure out what we want…” Let that sink in for a moment.

Technically speaking, I think the multitouch mistake was simple. The wild success of the iPad convinced Apple of the power of interacting with software through touch. So why not try to replicate that on laptops and desktops. However, the core of the problem is not technical, but rather the result of the cognitive dissonance that comes from being right a lot. Welcome to the world of AOL, Microsoft, Kodak, and Polaroid. Being right a lot can thoughtlessly send a company down a path it never would choose to go. The logic looks like like this “I’m right a lot, so therefore I must be right again.” And our customers will just get used to it…

Opportunity comes disguised in many forms. Giant killers are born out of the arrogance of those that are “never” wrong. Peering from under their garage doors, or working from their basements, they see a world that can be different. They are tired of being forced to live a certain way and decide to do something about it. Like those two young entrepreneurs Steve and Woz at 2066 Crist Dr. in Palo Alto, California, who were humble, eager, brilliant, and iconoclastic.

The Birth Place of the First Apple Computer.

The future success of Apple does not lie in trying to encode Steve’s fearless decision making. Rather it depends on building in the willingness to turn right when everyone is turning left, and that is much harder for a company with the largest market cap in the world. Not to worry though. Abilene’s bigger than it looks.


Filed under Advertising, Arrogance, Entrepreneurialism, Indie, Listening, Management Theory, Marketing