A prophet is not without honor…
On April 12 it will be my privilege to be the featured speaker at a meeting of the Reno chapter of the American Advertising Federation.
I enjoy speaking, and I take seriously and appreciate every opportunity. I have been lucky enough to present in Orlando, New Orleans, Houston, New York City, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Chicago ... and let’s not forget Tooele, Utah.
But Reno holds a special place in my alleged heart. My family moved to Reno from Syracuse, New York, when I was 11. I am a Reno High School alumnus. Before finishing up at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City — where I have lived ever since — I put in two years at the University of Nevada, Reno.
It’s one thing to swoop into a new city and assume the persona of expert/published author in front of total strangers. It’s quite another when half of your audience could be sitting there remembering the time they stomped on your glasses.
This biblical axiom springs to mind: “A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house.”
I will speak on how direct marketers and branders can play nicely in the same sandbox, and why they should. Having taught branding at direct marketing conventions, and direct marketing at branding conventions, I know a thing or two about my topic.
I'll let you know how it goes.
I just couldn’t tell this bumbler “no”
This morning I received a call from one of the most inept salespeople I have ever had the pleasure of hearing from. The call ended with his securing an appointment to present to us in person.
How did that happen?
Stammering, uncertain, rambling, this man appeared clearly out of his element. I soon learned that he was. His college-student son had created a purportedly new online service. This man, intelligent but not in the least sense a salesperson, was doing his dadly best to help get it off the ground. So there he was, naively calling ad agencies, about which he knew nothing, and without a clue as to how to organize and present his thoughts.
As he groped his way, I felt … compassion. I began asking questions designed to help him get to the point. I asked clarifying questions. Each time he wandered from the path, I guided him back. I listened closely to ferret out what the devil he was trying to get across.
When I saw a glimmer of relevance in what was for sale, I connected him with my associate Joe, who handles online media purchasing. Joe’s experience with him mirrored mine. So did his reaction. He found himself exercising patience and trying help the poor guy through his discomfort.
Were I to receive daily calls from equally bumbling, would-be salespeople, the need to get some work done around here would demand dispatching them as nicely but as fast as possible. But as a solo act, this utterly humble, unassuming dad was a refreshing change from too-glib salespeople at the other extreme of the spectrum who try to snow their way in.
Corporate dogmatism isn’t positive thinking
Wise business leaders value their skeptics.
This is not to say that they must necessarily buy everything a skeptic says. It means they listen and weigh before acting.
Do not confuse a skeptic with a naysayer. A naysayer (or cynic) disagrees for the sake of disagreeing. A skeptic looks at the evidence and where it leads, like it or not.
The antithesis of the skeptic is the dogmatist, who decides in advance upon a desired conclusion, and then twists or ignores the evidence in order to cling to it.
Too many business leaders are corporate dogmatists, but they call it “positive thinking.” That way, they can dismiss the skeptics as being negative and visionless, and even scold them for it.
Be your own ruthless editor
If you want your writing to shine, subject it to the scrutiny of a great editor. Namely, you.
You, that is, from a distance.
Earlier this week I dashed off an article that I was convinced represented nothing short of sheer brilliance. This morning I took another look. From a fresh perspective, I noted a significant problem with the piece. Briefly: it sucked.
Out came the red pen. I ruthlessly gutted and rebuilt it. And vastly improved it.
At least, I think I vastly improved it. Just to be sure, I shall set it aside and look again in a few days.
One of my frustrations with many freelance writers is that their work often appears to have been denied that vital self-editing. Or, if you will, self-policing.
Caution: The better you get at beating up and improving your stuff, the less your clients will realize how hard you work at it. Effortlessly-read writing appears effortlessly written. Among other ironies, that can make your bill seem unduly high.
The editor of a national magazine I write for often rationalizes giving me too-short deadlines with, “I never have to edit your stuff. It always arrives perfect. So I know that if anyone can whip out this assignment effortlessly and in no time, you can.” Er, no. The reason my stuff arrives in good shape is that I fuss over it ad nauseam before you ever see it.
I take some risk talking about that here. Doubtless an astute reader will find ways this post could have been improved, had I only put in a bit more effort.
Required Reading Before
Adopting a New Slogan
I wrote this piece for Deliver magazine, where it ran last year. A recent question from a client made me realize that it is high time to treat the marketing world to, as the networks call it, an “encore performance.” Please pay particular attention to the mini-study. It is instructive.
I cringed when I read an article on how to launch a successful business. The author claimed that after deciding upon a product or service, the next most important step was to come up with a “catchy slogan.” The article appeared in a national magazine. Heaven only knows how many more lame slogans you and I will have to endure as a result.
To be fair, there are good slogans. It’s hard to argue with, say, a mailer or TV ad that features a catchy line that also happens to be descriptive, believable and persuasive. Positive examples include a company that puts to charming use a double negative about nobody not liking their baked goods and, going back a few years, a watchmaker’s rhyme about its product’s ability to endure maniacal abuse and still function.
But needless and lame slogans abound, thanks to insecure marketers who fear a brand isn’t a brand unless they dollop it with one more flatulent boast. Often these slogans appear under the watchful eye of a TM or ®.
And thank goodness for that TM and that ®, too. Now marketers can sleep nights, secure in the knowledge that they have staked an official claim to the likes of “proudly serving you,” lest anyone suspect them of serving abashedly, or “a tradition of excellence,” which differentiates them from companies that brag about a tradition of mediocrity.
Not to be overlooked are myriad slogans using the word “people.” I came up with my own slogan for slogans with “people” in them: The Default Slogan.™ Or how about The Who Do You Think You’re Impressing Slogan.™ Sticking “people” in your slogan neither humanizes you nor endears you to your market. It will not set your business apart unless competitors start using slogans like, “Proudly hiring the dregs of society,” “Designed by feral cats,” or “Our employees don’t know which way is up.”
Bad slogans are not exclusive to amateurs. One of the reasons small companies come up with them is that large ones do.
But the real question is: Do slogans sell anything? For an answer, I conducted a mini study. I searched through a well-known magazine that carries an approximately equal volume of branding and direct response ads, and counted the number in each category that sported a slogan. As a Deliver® reader, you probably know that the effects of direct response advertising can be measured right down to cost-per-sale. Moreover, split-copy tests can tease out the effectiveness of individual elements such as slogans. (The ability to do split-copy tests, all but gone from magazines and newspapers, is still a major advantage of the direct mail medium.) By contrast, branding ads tend to be evaluated by indirect, inferential methods, such as recall, recognition and awareness scores, making it harder to link individual ad elements to specific results. So my underlying assumption was that if slogans help move products, brand marketers might know, but direct marketers would surely know — and use them.
Would you care to guess what percentage of branding ads versus direct response ads in my study featured slogans?
Every branding ad sported at least one slogan, some sported two, and one sported three. I suppose that last case doesn’t say much for the advertiser’s confidence in the first two slogans. As for the direct response ads, zero percent had slogans. I did not round the number down, meaning that not one direct response ad had a slogan. To paraphrase a famous, fierce direct response advocate: Between branders and direct marketers, who do you suppose knows more about what sells?
No law says your ad needs a slogan. History is full of successful, slogan-less advertising. But if you cannot restrain yourself, at least avoid the kind of self-serving drivel that impresses no one but the board of directors. Come up with a line that’s relevant, credible and compelling — from the market’s point of view.
Or, you could spare yourself the trouble, and spend your time applying already-proven tactics instead.
Flitting for Fun and Profit
You can’t multitask. And no, you’re not the exception. You may think you are. You’re not. If you think you can type while listening to someone talk, or drive while talking on your cell phone, you’re mistaken. What you can do is flit back and forth. For the moment your attention focuses on one, it ignores the other. That’s why while typing you miss crucial bits of the conversation, and while talking on your cell phone you drive no more safely than the alcohol-impaired. (I won’t prove it here. If you don’t believe me, read the highly informative and entertaining The Invisible Gorilla
, by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons.)
But if your job is to be creative, flitting can be productive. If, that is, you do it properly.
Can’t come up with the headline for that ad you’re working on? In his book :59 Seconds (also highly recommended),
psychologist Richard Wiseman presents tests showing that the wrong way out of a creative block is to let your mind idle. So don’t take a walk or sit on a window ledge dangling your feet outside. Instead, turn your attention to another mental task. Set that headline aside and edit a paragraph or two on, say, that web post you’re doing for a different client. When you return to the headline, there’s a good chance that a solution will more readily pop into your head.
At the risk of giving away my secrets, this approach has worked for me many a time.—Steve Cuno
New Clients at the RESPONSE Agency
A reader recently chided me for failing to report new RESPONSE Agency clients in this blog. Indeed, I have been remiss. To make amends, here are two recent additions: • The RESPONSE Agency just completed creation of the “Make Your Tax Refund Even B-I-G-G-E-R Sale” for Shaw Floors.
What an honor for us! Shaw is nation’s largest manufacturer and marketer of flooring — carpet, tile, wood, the works. Moreover, their commitment to good business ethics and environmental responsibility sets them apart. The campaign comprises newspaper ads, direct mail and inserts. Watch for it nationwide. • I am delighted to announce that, just yesterday, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) appointed the RESPONSE Agency to create fundraising direct mai
l. My associate Joe Szymanski and I wholly endorse SUWA’s mission. Moreover, I love this kind of work. To me, selling a cause — as opposed to a tangible product — is the direct marketer’s ultimate challenge. Every fundraising effort we have created save one has succeeded. (Yes, “save one.” No one is invincible.) We looking forward to succeeding for SUWA.
I shall try to do a better job of keeping you informed as new clients come on board.—Steve Cuno
Starbucks has no words for its newest logo
Poor Starbucks. They’re not sure what they are.
Starbucks began as a single store, more or less unknown outside of Seattle, that roasted and sold coffee beans. When Howard Schultz became involved and eventually took over, he introduced the revolutionary concept of brewing coffee and selling it by the cup. His goal was to do coffee the same way baristas in Italy did coffee. For instance, there would no lattes made with nonfat milk. No self-respecting barista in Italy would do that, so neither would Starbucks. That changed — and this was wise — when Shultz witnessed, first-hand, customers deserting his stores for coffeehouses that were less snobbish about such things.
Meanwhile, Starbucks would sell donuts and the like, but never deli-type sandwiches. Schultz wanted customers to walk in and smell coffee, not pastrami. That changed.
Then the public began murmuring, with increased frequency and volume, that Starbucks seemed somehow, I dunno, expensive. In response, Starbucks did the worst thing an advertiser can do. It ran ads effectively telling customers, “No, you’re wrong. We’re not expensive.” Here’s the thing. Most people believe they can judge for themselves what is and isn’t “expensive.” You rarely get far telling the public they’re wrong in such matters.
With flagging sales and a brand that can never quite settle on what it stands for, what does Starbucks do? Why, they update their logo, of course. Hence today’s big news is that you can now go to Starbucks and get a cup with a picture on it sans the words “Starbucks Coffee.” If anything will boost sales, surely that will do it. Er, right?
This logo update comes on the heels of the company’s recent return to a retro version of its logo. The newer decision to remove “Starbucks Coffee” was motivated by the fact that Starbucks sells non-coffee drinks like tea, cider and hot chocolate, and non-coffee products like oatmeal, panini, breakfast sandwiches and pastries. Oh, and don’t forget the strawberry frappucino.
Earth to Starbucks: the logo ain’t the problem. Which means it ain’t the solution, either. It’s more like the fact that “Starbucks” once meant coffee, and that now, more and more, no one, not even Starbucks, is quite sure what it means.
To be fair, there are times to update or change a logo. General Mills has done a good job of keeping Betty Crocker looking current. (Unlike Marie Callender, Betty Crocker is a fictional character. So are the Keebler Elves. Sorry if either revelation spoils anyone’s fun.) And the old Bell System was wise to keep updating the look of its bell.
But too often, a new logo is the default of marketers who haven’t a clue as to what else to do. Another default is coming up with a new slogan. Don’t be surprised if Starbucks cups soon sport a would-be clever line. How about: “Starbucks. We know beans about coffee.” Or: “Spend your bucks on Starbucks.” Or: “We put the de in decaf.” (Or, for their decaf latte, how about: “We put the calf in decaf.”) Or, for major markets like New York City and San Francisco, how about: “Where only one store per major intersection isn’t enough.”
What slogans would you suggest? Have at it, readers.
Big whines from Big Tobacco
As some of you may be aware, there is reasonably reliable evidence that smoking isn’t particularly good for you. After decades of practices such as telling the public the opposite, covering up and falsifying data, upping nicotine content to make the product even more addictive and other nefarious acts, the tobacco industry now finds itself required to make government-imposed amends.
One such amend: the tobacco industry is to run an ad campaign containing “corrective statements,” such as:
- “A federal court is requiring tobacco companies to tell the truth about cigarette smoking. Here’s the truth: ... Smoking kills 1,200 Americans. Every day.”
- “For decades, we denied that we controlled the level of nicotine delivered in cigarettes. Here’s the truth. ... We control nicotine delivery to create and sustain smokers’ addiction, because that’s how we keep customers coming back.”
- “We told Congress under oath that we believed nicotine is not addictive. We told you that smoking is not an addiction and all it takes to quit is willpower. Here’s the truth: Smoking is very addictive. And it’s not easy to quit.”
- “Just because lights and low tar cigarettes feel smoother, that doesn’t mean they are any better for you. Light cigarettes can deliver the same amounts of tar and nicotine as regular cigarettes.”
Each statement would also include this wording: “Paid for by [cigarette manufacturer name] under order of a federal district court.”
Not surprisingly, the tobacco industry is whining. Among other whines, they allege that the statements are “inflammatory and inaccurate,” and “plainly designed solely to shame and humiliate” them.
As to “inflammatory” and “designed solely to shame and humiliate”: Yeah. So?
As to “inaccurate”: How, exactly? —Steve Cuno
White meat, yeah right … poor Oscar … Tacos … soft men … bailing on “Skins” … farewell to the tooth fairy
White meat my foot: Tomorrow, the pork industry will announce a new slogan to replace “the other white meat.” According to the pork mongers, the soon-to-be-erstwhile phrase “helped boost sales for about a decade.” That is the sort of non-specific claim that ad agencies love to make. Its vagueness makes it difficult to prove wrong. For thinking people, however, that also makes it difficult to take seriously. So I remain curious: how many people ever really bought the concept of pork as a white meat?
Poor Oscar: Pundits with nothing better to do (admittedly redundant) are whining because the commercials that aired during the Oscars were, for the most part, reruns. News flash: there is no law saying you cannot run a commercial more than once. There is, however, a common-sense law that says that if a spot is still working, only a moron would retire it simply because it has been seen before.
Taco Wars, Episode II: According to Taco Bell’s research, people who saw their aggressive “Thank you for suing us” ads “reacted favorably.” Speaking of vagueness, that’s another example of it. Meanwhile, Taco Bell plans to offer its Cruchwrap Supreme, normally $2.39, for 88¢. I admit it to loving that product. Regardless of what’s in the meat, every bite makes my arteries clog with joy.
A soft man is good to find: Research from NBCU’s Brand Power Index says that women like ads in which men show their “softer” or “feminine side.” Fine, except — vagueness is becoming a theme today — those terms are wide enough to drive a pink truck through. They are hardly falsifiable, which means they are hardly scientific, which means they are not particularly useful.
The skinny on “Skins”: As of this writing, advertisers who have bailed from MTV’s “Skins” include Taco Bell, L'Oreal, General Motors, Schick, Subway and H&R Block. It is no coincidence that the Parents Television Council has been pressuring parents to boycott the show’s sponsors. I take no stand on “Skins,” but I do take a stand on those who suggest that boycotts are un-American. “What about,” they cry, “freedom of speech?” Come on. The First Amendment forbids government from imposing prior restraints. Markets, by contrast, are free to wield wallet-power as they see fit, even to curb speech. (This is not to say that the United States government always resists the urge to impose prior restraints. When Thomas Jefferson published attacks on then-President John Adams, Adams signed legislation making it a crime to publicly criticize government officials. However, the bill allowed for one exception: it was OK to diss the vice president — who just happened to be Thomas Jefferson.)
A farewell to the tooth fairy: Dwayne Johnson is shedding his tooth fairy wings to resume his “The Rock” persona for World Wrestling Entertainment. To capitalize on the expected ratings surge, Kmart has signed up as WWE’s biggest sponsor to date. How much is Kmart spending? No one will say. All we know is that it’s somewhere between “several million dollars” and “less than ten million dollars.” For more information, try looking under WWE’s pillow.