Atomic Direct’s Blog

Thoughts on Marketing, Advertising, Media, DRTV and Technology


Lessons from DirecTV’s Success for Consumer IoT (Internet of Things)

When it comes to innovative products, DirecTV is a fascinating case study. And I was part of an ad agency that worked with DirecTV in the mid 1990s as they brought their product to market. IoT innovators need to pay careful attention to DirecTV’s trajectory.

DirecTV pulled out the “this is how its done” tech marketing playbook when they were founded. That meant initial communication was classic “early adopter” tech marketing – all about digital picture and lots of channels. It reflected an engineers view of innovation – not a consumer view.

In fact, their first Time Magazine story featured a customer who built DirecTV into a 20 foot wall of electronics. Consumer values? None. It was a wasted national media opportunity.

Quite soon their use of an early adopter approach became a problem. What they thought attracted early adopters drove away the next wave of consumers. Why? It made the product look like a tech “gimmick” and those innovations simply weren’t important to the mass market. (The majority of mass market consumers fear new tech that is throw-away gadgetry. It’s a serious problem that too many tech companies ignore when they adopt an “early adopter” strategy.)

When my company entered the picture, we took DirecTV to consumers in research and heard they didn’t find value in the product. (iT isn’t innovative unless the consumer cares that it is.) This seriously challenged DirecTV’s team.

And DirecTV’s success can be attributed to the fact that they rose to meet this challenge. The marketing team sobered up and learned from our work, among other influences, that they had to discover a different innovation magic than engineering gee-whiz.

And they did. They discovered programming. Gadgetry isn’t a good enough reason for consumers to buy. But unique programming is incredibly compelling.

So DirecTV created their sports “Ticket” packages – high demand programming unavailable anywhere else. And they turned to long form TV (:60, :120, and 28:30) to get the message out about their programming and product. It worked brilliantly – and they grew fast.

If you are entering the consumer IoT market, pay close attention. An early adopter tech pitch might woo investors but it won’t make you successful with consumers.

Your success is only possible by creating products with highly meaningful consumer value AND by communicating that value to consumers in ways that break past their skepticism about gadgets.

And don’t reject TV. Despite marketer hype, TV remains your most effective route to driving success of innovative products in the mass consumer market. Why? It drives market action that is far larger and far more cost effective than any of the options.

So embrace the consumer and your innovative products. Package and advertise them well. And enjoy  the ride. There’s nothing more fun.

Copyright 2016 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Is Jane Right…That It’s Time to Rethink DRTV?

I recently read a post on the WARC website called “Time to Rethink DRTV” which summarizes thoughts by Jane Christian, the head of business science at MediaCom UK. In it, Jane describes changes she believes need to happen in DRTV.

It’s interesting to see an article about DRTV pop up on WARC. Usually the content ranges from excellent analyses based on solid statistics to articles that are general cheerleading for digital. But what we don’t often see is anything about direct response television.

To my mind, DRTV definitely needs a change.

Our business has been run according to incredibly limited measurements of impact since its inception. And despite over a decade of primary focus on retail impact, most media companies remain stuck in these old ways (despite extensive claims about attribution and clever retail analysis).

Yet DRTV is a powerful medium because it influences direct sales as well as all your sales channels – retail stores, distributorships, web distribution of all flavors as well as phone sales.

That said, I think Ms. Christian’s got it wrong.

This article reminds me that almost everytime a traditional TV creative or media planner works with DRTV they start with “you DRTV people have been doing it all wrong – you should be more like us”. As a result, lacking sophisticated understanding of the medium, here’s what we encounter in the article.

She claims DRTV people “plan for high frequency.”

Actually, the frequency at which a spot airs is an accident of following the best direct response. So there’s no “planning for high frequency”.

And her belief that there’s frequent consumer viewing of the spot is also flawed. “Airing often” is not the same as viewers exposed often. DRTV doesn’t run as much on big networks – it’s on low viewership stations. And research (from Ehrenburg-Bass among others) tells us that audiences on lower viewership stations are in a constant state of flux. So even if a campaign is presented on station X quite often, it’s unlikely that the ad is generating high per viewer exposure rates on that station. 

She suggests “DRTV spots in peak airtime can be super effective”.

This one is funny. First, considering direct response, peak airtime is rarely effective. This doesn’t mean there aren’t other impacts that direct response measures miss.  

BUT… I have a guess about why she reaches this conclusion – if it’s based on quantitative analysis. In attribution work, statistical analysis ALWAYS rewards higher priced airings more than is justified by their impact per dollar. Given that she is from the traditional world, neither Ms. Christian, nor her analysis partner ThinkBox, have a background that would lead them to detect this error.

Think about it this way:  1,000 small airings may be your absolutely most cost effective media. But you could also spend that same money on 5-10 large airings. Each of those large airings will create a statistically convenient clear spike. But none of the small airings will create that statistically convenient spike. And yet, the combined impact of all the small airings will be bigger than combining the few large spikes of the bigger airings.

Unfortunately, statistics cannot be manipulated to find the small impacts. And so heavy reliance on statistics rewards the inefficient.

In fact, Ms. Christian’s suggestion is not new. I’ve heard the same from attribution operations who are careless or lack DRTV experience. In the US I’ve heard Google, among others, make this exact error in their vaunted “we can tell you everything” projects. And I’ve seen clients seriously harm their overall business by following advice like this.

Ms. Christian suggests that 95% of the impact of an ad is “achieved within a consumer being exposed to an ad twice, and effective ad saturation being reached after just three exposures.”

The question of ad exposures has been around for ages. And for all the things we don’t know about how exposure levels work, I do know that it’s impossible to determine the optimum exposures to achieve peak DRTV effectiveness. Where are you going to do this? Surveys? Consumer recall on this issue is extraordinarily weak. Statistics? Can’t determine it with stats either.

Finally, she suggests “Consumers are much more likely to go online and research a product in response to seeing an ad during content in which they are less engaged.”

This is broadly true. Ads that air during NBA finals (for example) create relatively lower immediate response but can still be highly effective at driving later web and retail response.

How SHOULD DRTV media buying change? 

To achieve best total media impact, advertisers and buyers need to be willing to accept somewhat worse DRTV trackable cost per sale or cost per acquisition. But they’ll also find that the slight loss in trackable sales is more then made up by the increase in poorly trackable retail or web sales.

At Atomic, we ask buyers to follow a multi-pronged set of goals that achieve more total impact. For us this is merely the first step but we’ve seen it drive dramatic results (like driving millions of units out the door with 2-3 month campaigns).

But we’ve been surprised at how few media buyers are able to work with complicated planning and execution metrics. The majority of buyers fall back on traditional methods – either response measured or traditional Nielsen demographics and CPM style buying. Neither delivers optimal impact from DRTV.

DRTV is a Specialty – We Shouldn’t Forget It 

It is good that WARC and Ms. Christian see DRTV as important enough to write about it. But it remains sad that they failed to recognize those things that make DRTV particularly powerful.

But let’s not let that stay away from what IS true:  DRTV campaigns do need to mature the way they buy media.

Copyright 2016 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Target “Misses” It’s Online Projections. And We Care…why?


Saw this story on RetailWire titled “Does Target have a problem online?” (click here).

The gist is that analysts are worried about Target because they exceeded the national average of 15% online growth. But their online growth at 20% was less than the 30% that had been projected. (Same thing happened at WalMart.)

And we care…exactly why?

The theory of “omnichannel” is that the consumer doesn’t care about our silos. So why should we be reporting and analyzing numbers based on those same silos?

Even more, we should be listening to the weak numbers from Macy’s and Nordstrom’s and wondering why their new profits are suffering so badly despite their huge online investments.

So is it any surprise there are weak online categories at Target? At Walmart? Absolutely not.

Yes, a healthy online business is important for a retailer to be overall healthy. And certainly it’s good that online growth doesn’t appear to be tailing off. But a consistent 11% growth of 7% of sales is nice but not hugely exciting (Census data for eCommerce growth).

Perhaps 10% is a natural limit. From all my experience, I’ve come to believe that web sales for retailers will stick below 10% of total revenues. We are seeing similar numbers from most industry analysts and prognosticators (despite the fact that back in the late 1990s many analysts bought into the idea of brick and mortar going away).

Even if the census indicated average growth of 11% remains constant (and it’s impossible for it to so do forever), it would be 20 years before online sales made up half of a retailers sales.

The fact that we’re seeing struggles like these from Walmart and Target seems to confirm this. The weak numbers despite Macy’s and Nordtrom’s investments online also lends credibility to the 10% idea. (And, we saw recently that eBook sales had a very weak recent quarter. It might be an anomaly. But it also makes sense that there’s a stability point where book sales and ebook sales are in balance.)

Maybe, in fact, we are finding that if a company has brick and mortar, then the natural place for online sales to be is around 10%. (A brief look through results indicates Apple’s retail stores run in the under 15% range. But while there are going to be exceptions, this rule seems to work for general or specialty retailers.) This chart from Census data currently shows eCommerce overall to be at 7.4% of retail sales.

Watch out for the “disruption” arguments of the digerati. One reason that any of this discussion seems a surprise is that stock analysts and the national press tend to give prognostications of “industry disruption” coming out of Silicon Valley far more attention than they deserve.

We have plenty of experience now to know that digital things happen and have great power. But they aren’t changing “everything” like the digerati like to tell us. Note, for example, that despite a full 2 decades predicting the demise of television, TV remains the single most powerful medium for driving retail sales.

Companies, analysts and the industry should NOT be focusing heavily on these silo numbers. They should not be criticizing companies for “missing” online silo numbers. I say let the numbers fall where they may.

Because here’s the really critical truth: The incredible investment required to perfect online sales looks to be wasted. The majority of that investment would produce far higher return INSIDE the stores. You know. That place where consumers spend the most money, put more incidentals into their basket, and where they browse and shop far better than they do online.

Perhaps more critically, L Brands CEO Leslie H. Wexner (Victoria Secret, etc.) recently observed “that a muscular brand will bring web sales naturally, and that focusing on web sales is, essentially, backward.”

There’s tremendous truth in his observations. Seems to me it’s time for retailers to choose to embrace their significant competitive advantage…their stores…and quit chasing digital rainbows. Online growth will happen. But only if your stores thrive and your brand remains strong.

Copyright 2015 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

I Want My TiVO! Cutting the Cable on Cable Cutting

Tech industry investment money has generated what it wanted – a perception within the TV biz that “old TV” is dying as people cut the cable. And they’ve titled this trend “cable cutting”. (Statistics show it’s still a relatively limited trend so far.)

And with all this hype over the past decade I’ve been bothered by a fundamental logical flaw:

  • Enormous amounts of money are required to develop programming people want to watch (there are a few exceptions – but they don’t translate into a reliable low cost approach).
  • Yet the enthusiasts for cable cutting have made it all about low cost (usually nearly free) subsistence viewing.
  • If no one can afford to develop the programming to satisfy consumers, consumers won’t be satisfied.

In streaming we now see financial reality rear it’s ugly head.

Program streaming has become pretty widely available. But this streaming programming now includes huge (2 to 4 minute) advertising pods that you can’t skip, can’t fast forward, and which stop if you switch windows. (See Colbert’s Late Shows streams for a good example.)

This is particularly frustrating since on small devices I have a rule of halves:  A video of 15 seconds on a small device feels like a 30 second video on a full size HD TV. So 2 to 4 minute commercial pods are an eternity…

So you know where I’d rather watch my programs? On Comcast programming DVR’d with a TiVO.

And that’s not what people predicted – that I’d rather subscribe to Comcast’s evil empire than seek out my viewing in streams.

Pretty effin’ amazing. It takes a lot of work to make Comcast the good guy. But the digital folks are doing it.

Copyright 2015 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Kickstarter Mythology Needs Some Retail Reality


Kickstarter mythology has outgrown reality.

(But let me be very clear. I’m NOT talking about Kickstarter art, music, and movie projects. It was designed for these and they seem to be running pretty well overall.)

I’m Talking About Kickstarter Campaigns that Raise Money by Directly Selling new Products that have Never Been Built – and Selling Lots of Them. In the computer business we used to call this selling vaporware and selling vaporware businesses led to the dotcom crash. Segway and Google Glass were both massive vaporware disasters.

And, true to form, by selling vaporware with Kickstarter we’re seeing amazing train wrecks among the most highly successful money raising campaigns. These train wrecks are all made possible by the mythologies that drive Kickstarter.

The Mythology of Kickstarter for Inventors. Inventor mythology starts with a belief that it’s enough to come up with a good idea and some money to build it. And Kickstarter appears to “unshackle” inventors so this can happen.

On Kickstarter the belief in this myth continues far past when other funding opportunity would have confronted projects with reality. But who cares? If all Kickstarter projects did was help raise small amounts we probably wouldn’t.

But on Kickstarter, there’s no limit to selling vaporware – no control on how it works. So when someone goes out to raise, say, $50,000 to get started they can end up getting orders for 62,000 units while raising $13.3 million. (See the Coolest Cooler article link below.)

Unfortunately, an inventor prepared confront manufacturing of 2,500 units is almost guaranteed to fail when they have to START their manufacturing with an instant delivery of 62,000. (At this writing, manufacturing reality has caused Coolest Cooler’s estimated MSRP of $200 to jump to $485 and they still haven’t delivered product but promise they will…soon. And their Kickstarter site says we should trust them – in June they built a production run of about a dozen.)

The Mythology of Kickstarter for Investors. On the flip side, many Kickstarter project investors want to believe they are on the leading edge of getting new things. Some fall prey to a mythology of helping the “little guy” against “the man”. Some also embrace a mythology that “big” companies are unfair and arbitrary and seek out ways to make it hard on the little guy.

For investors, there’s an implication that success on Kickstarter only comes to those who deserve it. Yet the sponsors behind your favorite project may be at Kickstarter because big time investors felt they didn’t have the chops to pull off a long term success. Those investors may not be right – but they’re probably right more than half the time.

Or, the people behind your favorite project might really be big money guys leveraging a Kickstarter campaign for easy money – investing heavily in promotion designed to drive up the amount of money raised. (Sony has to fund raise with Kickstarter? Really? See below.)

In Retail, There’s a “Gauntlet” of Hurdles to Prevent these Train Wrecks. Having spent my entire career with new products and the past couple of decades introducing new products at retail, two things are clear:  First, of ALL marketing endeavors, new product success may be the hardest to come by – it’s very hard. And second, that success requires far more than a convincing video on Kickstarter pushed out via a cool social media campaign.

Before reaching the store shelf, new retail products pass through a gauntlet of cross-examination. Retail merchants and buyers are key role to this process. Each merchant has responsibility for bringing hundreds of products into a retail “mix” and ensuring that those products sell. This gives them a detailed view of issues like price, inventory and distribution as well as a big picture view of the competitive field for any product.

The Retail Gauntlet vs. Kickstarter. The gauntlet driven by merchants in retail starts where Kickstarter starts, but digs far, far deeper.

Product Appeal: At the top level, success reaching Kickstarter funding levels seems to confirm product appeal. That said, failing to succeed on Kickstarter doesn’t necessarily mean the product has no appeal. In order to succeed on Kickstarter your product must fit into a very narrow category of new products that pass virally – fit the social media model of promotion. Many, many good products don’t fit this.

Product Saleability: Beyond appeal, products need important high level features that consumers evaluate before purchase before they’re able to be sold. Success at reaching Kickstarter funding level probably tells us about this.

Product Satisfaction when Delivered: Even if you can sell a product, there’s no guarantee people will be satisfied once they have it in their hands. A retailer has to look far beyond mere saleability (which is hard enough) to whether the product is designed right & has the features needed for the vast majority of consumers to be pleased when they buy it. (There will always be people who don’t like a product – but that number needs to be very low.)

The question about “does it work once its delivered” is quite serious. I’ve worked with a few manufacturers who’ve bought products from inventors. But in every case the product needed a complete re-design before it could succeed.

Quality Once Manufactured. No matter how clever your design, delivering a manufactured product that meets expectations is tricky. There are thousands (tens of thousands?) of things where the reality of manufacturing can compromise a product. And all along the way the manufacturer is weighing added cost to avoid the compromise vs. the damage of compromise on saleability.

Company Ability to Manage…well…Everything. A product is not separate from the company making it. And while one company might succeed exceptionally with a product, that same product can fail badly were another company to attempt to release it. Why? Let’s call it “management” – the ability to get this specific product successfully to market. Merchants continually evaluate the risks in company management.

Company Financial Capability. There’s huge financial management required to bring $13M worth of product to market in one huge shipment. Not all companies have the ability to do this – and certainly it’s unlikely that a small company can ever make the jump easily.

Obviously, Kickstarter investors are in the dark about the vast majority of what it takes for product success. And the truth is, nobody should be able to receive $13M in orders before they begin delivering a product. Kickstarter has tried to avoid taking any responsibility in this process. But even if they don’t share responsibility legally, seems to me they share responsibility societally.

Where Retail’s Process Fails. Kickstarter clearly has a vaporware problem. And let’s be clear: not everything is perfect at retail. The biggest problem is that bureaucracies hate risk. So where Kickstarter projects are often crazy risks, bureaucracy can make a retailer so conservative that nothing interesting ever makes it on their shelves.

At retail it is also difficult to predict the demand that can be generated for a new product until it’s on the shelves. When picking the initial order size optimism can lead to ordering too much but caution can lead to ordering too little and losing the new product profit opportunity. Consumer research helps – but instinct, judgement, and luck are still required for success. (My agency is often engaged at this point because demand is far more reliable if you back the introduction with a strong, product oriented advertising campaign and the right spending. Supported this way we’ve seen some astounding new product successes – selling millions of units within the first 2 months of introduction.)

As a last note, even with a cautious retail process, some products will still leak through that have serious consumer problems or fail to deliver what consumers believe they should. But this is quite rare compared with the challenges at Kickstarter.

My Kickstarter Recommendation. Getting a new product to market needs to be tough – it’s how the market ensures a robust offering. I see a lot of product ideas that never make it to market. And the majority definitely shouldn’t. There are a few that are very disappointing because funding, management, manufacturing, advertising and retail didn’t all come together for the dramatic success that should have been.

But the big issue with Kickstarter is their vaporware problem – and Kickstarter should take steps to limit the money projects can raise prior to delivering the first significant orders. This would be relying on a truth from venture funding. When pursuing multiple rounds of venture funding, company valuation needs to increase with each additional round. So it’s important that the first valuation be realistic and grow as the company proves itself.

Kickstarter should put smart limits in place if they want to continue to play an interesting role in the success of new products. Until then, both inventors and investors need to watch out for the subtle seduction of Kickstarter mythologies. And each mythology should be balanced with an appropriate dose of common sense.


Articles on New Product Introduction Failures at Kickstarter

Oregon based Coolest Cooler raised $13.3M but had missed delivering in the promised summer 2014…and it’s still not on the market. (They are promising to deliver some in July 2015 – but as of early June they had just over a dozen assembled. Oh, and the cost has ballooned from $200 to $485. This is all looking bleak.) http://www.geekwire.com/2014/coolest-cooler-shipments-delayed-setback-record-breaking-9-2m-kickstarter-campaign/

The ZPM Espresso machine looked like a sure bet – except they can’t build them in quantity. This is an excellent New York Times article digging deep to look at the project. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/03/magazine/zpm-espresso-and-the-rage-of-the-jilted-crowdfunder.html?_r=0

Space Case Suitcase. This product is only beginning. But I’m very, very skeptical. Why? Because the video production values are too high and it’s far too much of a gadget for the brutal world of a suitcase. My guess? It’s going to be a bust. But the video sure is sexy… Space Case Suitcase

A Board Game Gone Bad. This inventor trusted a middle man to run their Kickstarter campaign. $120,000 was raised. And now the FTC has filed charges against the middle man because the product was never delivered – even though the inventor completed the design. http://www.katu.com/news/problemsolver/Case-of-Kickstarter-campaign-gone-wrong-plays-out-in-Portland-307072081.html Apparently he has now settled the case and admitted wrongdoing. http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2015/06/11/man-settles-with-ftc-over-crowdfunding-case/

Here’s the “World’s Thinnest Watch” that is so thin it doesn’t actually exist. Raised over $1M http://www.pcworld.com/article/2938992/the-worlds-thinnest-watch-becomes-another-cautionary-kickstarter-tale.html

Here’s a summary article from 2012 that looks at the top 50 products – of which 84% were late. Here in 2015 the numbers appear to be getting worse. http://money.cnn.com/2012/12/18/technology/innovation/kickstarter-ship-delay/index.html

And these “Nine Reasons” gives substantial insight into why Kickstarter ships late…and other problems. http://money.cnn.com/gallery/technology/2012/12/18/kickstarter-ship-late/2.html

Here’s a Gizmodo article with a summary of another pile of failed projects. My (least) favorite quote: “Out of the 717 backers, only about a dozen have gotten the clocks. Apparently the guy has all the materials sitting in his house and is no longer working on the project.” http://gizmodo.com/7-crowdfunding-fails-that-will-make-you-think-twice-abo-1639106912

And Sony? Just because it’s interesting, here’s discussion of Sony using Kickstarter to raise money for video game development. Even here, all is not easy. http://www.gamechup.com/shenmue-3-kickstarter-picks-up-steam-after-ps4-physical-copy-announce/

Copyright 2015 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Consumers Buy Products, Not Brands: How This Should Change Your Advertising

“Whenever you can, make the product itself the hero of your advertising.”
– David Ogilvy, Ogilvy on Advertising

We live in a grand age of “brand advertising” – where most ad agencies believe that their role is to build brand by directly advertising the brand. Except they’re wrong at so many levels. But their error starts by ignoring a critical truth:

There are far more advertising options for building a brand than so-called “brand advertising”.

Quite often, these options end up building stronger brand, faster and at less cost.

Sadly, clients are rarely given other options. Agencies have generally responded to “I want to build my brand” with “Great, let’s advertise your brand completely disembodied from the product”. (It’s a bit ironic that agencies tend to think this way since one fundamental creative truth is that a linear approach to subtle things like building brand are often the least effective.)

After All…Consumers Buy Products – Not Brands. There’s a wide range of loose language used in advertising books and press to imply that consumers “buy the brand”. But they don’t.

What does a consumer walk out of the store with? A product. What does a consumer purchase from a service company? Services that end with a result. What drives the biggest part of consumer choice? Consumer urgency, commitment and willingness to pay for the product or service. (From this point I’m going to use the term “product” to include all range of products – physical ones, software, apps, services, retail stores, catalogs, political candidates – whatever you’re trying to sell.)

In smart marketing, products have brands. And depending on the situation, those brands are of greater or lesser importance in a purchase. But the brand is not the prime driver of the purchase. A lot of other factors have a bigger impact on the consumer than brand – like immediate consumer need/desire, the product specifics, how the consumer is reminded about the product, access to the product (channels, etc.) and more.

As a result, attitude toward a brand doesn’t come primarily from “I like their ads”. The most powerful attitudes about a brand come from things like “I do/do not like their product”.

And, this suggests that to have the most powerful communication about your brand, your advertising needs to work within the entire consumer situation. But most importantly, your advertising needs to include far more product value than brand advertising does today.

Advertising Focused on the Product Can Build a Stronger Brand. At my agency we specialize in product-based advertising to build brands. It’s an outstanding approach when you are building a new brand or trying to rebuild an old brand. That’s because your advertising gets added brand power by focusing on the product(s) you deliver.

Product-based advertising is also outstanding when you have exceptional products (like Apple) that build brand strength. We can look at Apple’s advertising while Steve Jobs was alive to see advertising that featured products and the value they deliver to consumers. These ads also used smart creative approaches that re-enforced brand through the product. Throughout Apple’s amazing growth this type of advertising took their already strong brand and drove it to astounding levels.

On the other hand, the smartest path for building demand for consumables is quite often what’s traditionally known as brand advertising. But not always. I’ve felt for the past few years that Snickers was missing a piece of effectiveness by focusing only on the energy value of their bars without reminding consumers of the powerful emotional reality of tasting a Snickers bar. (What’s more powerful than jokes about Betty White? The taste of a Snickers.) I think Snickers could get across both in the same ads and would see better economic results.

It should also be said that a combination of product-based advertising and traditional brand advertising can be a smart choice (if your budget allows). The brand advertising plays a role helping synthesize the product/brand messages into an even more powerful consumer truth. My experience in situations like this is that you’ll get the most strength by making the brand spend a minority of your budget – with over half the budget reserved for product-based brand building.

Product Reality Rests on Powerful Truth about People. Simplifying what Byron Sharp suggests about brands; advertising drives brand success by causing the brand to remain in the consumer’s consciousness, and come to mind at the appropriate time. For example, having Snickers come to mind as you enter 7-Eleven. Or having Kobalt Tools come to mind when confronted with a new home project.

For product-based advertising to do this it should point the consumer — showing them the way your brand attributes are revealed in your products. This creates far more important brand connections than disembodied claims about brand, or merely showing happy lifestyle people that supposedly represent the consumer.

If you do your product-based advertising well, the cognitive impact of product experience will set your brand up for powerful recall characteristics. Without this advertising, the product experience may be powerful but consumers aren’t likely to generalize the experience to your brand. Or if you use only traditional brand advertising, the weak product connections aren’t likely to lead to the same powerful level of brand recall.

It’s worth noting that getting product into consumer hands quickly has extra power in building a brand – more power than spending millions on brand advertising. This is one reason good brand direct response advertising can be important. Good brand response shows broad brand values in such a way that it leads to immediate sales while building brand connections. And these sales aren’t just the direct ones.

Our experience with omni-channel impact from DR is that it drives sales at retail faster than traditional advertising — as long as the advertising is crafted with the right DR/retail savvy.

In the right situation product-based advertising delivers brand faster and with more economic power than brand advertising. Perhaps not too surprisingly, we’ve also found it to deliver better long term brand recall characteristics at a far lower cost.

Copyright 2014 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Is Disruption the Most Important Model for Innovation?

The theory of “Disruptive Innovation” is an idea that has come to dominate business. Why? Business pundits and consultants would tell us it points the way to the strongest business success. iStock_000017829020Medium

Except I think there’s a different truth. The thing the disruption theory does most reliably is give you a great way to sell your business to funding sources, to the press (who LOVE a great disruption story), or to that narrow niche of customers who passionately hate the “old ways” and don’t care if the new way is really any better. The theory of disruption is even being used to sell changes designed for wholesale destruction of our public school system in the US (with an odd leap of faith hoping that whatever replaces it will be better).

Using theory to promote an idea isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But truth is important for businesses to succeed. Is there really a strong connection between disruption and long term success? That’s far more tenuous. At least that had been my growing sense of the theory.

And now I see that battle has been joined on exactly this issue. Writer and Harvard American History professor Jill Lepore fired the first shot with an excellent article in The New Yorker (“What the Theory of ‘Distruptive Innovation’ Gets Wrong”).

Responding to Lepore, the forces behind the theory (religion?) of disruption quickly fired back in many places including a rather grumpy interview with disruptive general-in-chief Clayton Christensen (author of “The Innovator’s Dilemma”) which is found here Clayton Christensen Responds to New Yorker Takedown of ‘Disruptive Innovation’.

And I found this really interesting post considering both Ms. Lepore’s article and the Christensen response – Christensen’s Disruptive Innovation After the Lepore Critique.

Please don’t misunderstand. I believe that development and innovation sometimes disrupt markets and competition in surprising and unusual ways. And I believe that, when it happens, it is sometimes, but only sometimes, a very creative force. Yet I find that Ms. Lepore’s article offers solid insights – grounding insights – that bring reality back into the discussion. Specifically:

…Disrupting entrepreneurial efforts are often quite short-lived…and very often end up purchased by the companies they sought to disrupt. Only history and distance can show us this reality.

…Many of the companies which both consultants and Christensen describe as “disruptors” are actually long term market competitors leading the way in discovering innovation.

…Many of the case studies featured in Christensen’s original book which looked like classic entrepreneurial disruption at the time of publishing show a much different truth after 20 years further history.

…Lepore suggests Christensen bases his disruptive theory on “handpicked case studies”. That’s quite a charge – but she offers some good evidence. And if you’ve read Rosenzweig’s “The Halo Effect” you shouldn’t be surprised that yet another highly popular business book is based on very flawed research. (Rosenzweig shows, for example, that neither Tom Peters’ ideas nor “Good to Great” live up to the claim that the ideas are based on solid research.)

What should we take away from all this? Here’s my sense…

1. Disruption does happen.
2. Disruption happens far less often than we are told.
3. In fact, I’ll suggest that out of every 10,000 companies claiming to “disrupt”, only 1 will cause anything that might be called “disruption”.
4. Disruption is often near term with the old industry players dominating in the long run — by learning from (or buying) the disruptors.

So let me consider an area I watch closely – Television. We’re being told that digital endeavors will disrupt TV (usually told this by the companies who hope to disrupt).

But what will really happen in the long run? The truth is that there are digital innovations that have affected cable companies – but no clearly evident disruption so far. (Maybe it would be better to look at online activity to see disruption. For fun, read this post “Online Usage Has Dropped 7 Times Faster Than TV“.)

No competition to cable has established vast strength. And that isn’t after just a few months.

…DirecTV has spent 20 years trying to disrupt cable. And after two decades it’s built a solid business for itself serving a few niches that cable doesn’t want to serve. And cable companies have responded to DirecTV’s competition with services like Comcast’s NFL Redzone.

…TiVO has spent 15 years and failed to be adopted by any of the cable or satellite companies. Those companies have succeeded with far less effective DVR technology bought at far lower prices. (Here are my thoughts on “why”… Latest TiVO Results Illustrate the Impact of Communication Failure.)

…Netflix has been around for 17 years now (yup, founded in 1997) and people talk a lot about them being “disruptors”. Except, it’s a funny thing. They are one of the survivors of disruption. Disruption theory would have had streaming movies put them out of business. Except Netflix sorted out a smart response and survived quite nicely.

…Netflix’s saga continues. Now it’s suggested that they will disrupt cable. The fact is, they merely disrupted the video store. And now they’ve wandered strategically into strangely limited territory with their programming development. If they were to disrupt anything right now it would be HBO rather than Comcast.

So what’s my guess about TV & disruption? In the end, love them or hate them, the cable companies will learn from the disruptors, buy a few (perhaps), and remain the big dogs in the TV business for decades to come. Will they be changed by disruption? Absolutely. And they will change in ways we can’t envision right now. But are Netflix and Amazon about to replace Comcast or Time Warner Cable? I don’t think so.

So the next time some new venture proudly shouts “disruption” in a crowded market…maybe we can all just keep our eyes focused on the job at hand rather than dashing for the exits.

(For related reading… “TV and the Myth of Disruptive Internet Technology“.)

Copyright 2014 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Is Disruption the Most Important Model for Innovation?

The theory of “Disruptive Innovation” is an idea that has come to dominate business. Why? Business pundits and consultants would tell us it points the way to the strongest business success. iStock_000017829020Medium

Except I think there’s a different truth. The thing the disruption theory does most reliably is give you a great way to sell your business to funding sources, to the press (who LOVE a great disruption story), or to that narrow niche of customers who passionately hate the “old ways” and don’t care if the new way is really any better. The theory of disruption is even being used to sell changes designed for wholesale destruction of our public school system in the US (with an odd leap of faith hoping that whatever replaces it will be better). (More on schools here.)

Using theory to promote an idea isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But truth is important for businesses to succeed. Is there really a strong connection between disruption and long term success? That’s far more tenuous. At least that had been my growing sense of the theory.

And now I see that battle has been joined on exactly this issue. Writer and Harvard American History professor Jill Lepore fired the first shot with an excellent article in The New Yorker (“What the Theory of ‘Distruptive Innovation’ Gets Wrong”).

Responding to Lepore, the forces behind the theory (religion?) of disruption quickly fired back in many places including a rather grumpy interview with disruptive general-in-chief Clayton Christensen (author of “The Innovator’s Dilemma”) which is found here Clayton Christensen Responds to New Yorker Takedown of ‘Disruptive Innovation’.

And I found this really interesting post considering both Ms. Lepore’s article and the Christensen response – Christensen’s Disruptive Innovation After the Lepore Critique.

Please don’t misunderstand. I believe that development and innovation sometimes disrupt markets and competition in surprising and unusual ways. And I believe that, when it happens, it is sometimes, but only sometimes, a very creative force. Yet I find that Ms. Lepore’s article offers solid insights – grounding insights – that bring reality back into the discussion. Specifically:

…Disrupting entrepreneurial efforts are often quite short-lived…and very often end up purchased by the companies they sought to disrupt. Only history and distance can show us this reality.

…Many of the companies which both consultants and Christensen describe as “disruptors” are actually long term market competitors leading the way in discovering innovation.

…Many of the case studies featured in Christensen’s original book which looked like classic entrepreneurial disruption at the time of publishing show a much different truth after 20 years further history.

…Lepore suggests Christensen bases his disruptive theory on “handpicked case studies”. That’s quite a charge – but she offers some good evidence. And if you’ve read Rosenzweig’s “The Halo Effect” you shouldn’t be surprised that yet another highly popular business book is based on very flawed research. (Rosenzweig shows, for example, that neither Tom Peters’ ideas nor “Good to Great” live up to the claim that the ideas are based on solid research.)

What should we take away from all this? Here’s my sense…

1. Disruption does happen.
2. Disruption happens far less often than we are told.
3. In fact, I’ll suggest that out of every 10,000 companies claiming to “disrupt”, only 1 will cause anything that might be called “disruption”.
4. Disruption is often near term with the old industry players dominating in the long run — by learning from (or buying) the disruptors.

So let me consider an area I watch closely – Television. We’re being told that digital endeavors will disrupt TV (usually told this by the companies who hope to disrupt).

But what will really happen in the long run? The truth is that there are digital innovations that have affected cable companies – but no clearly evident disruption so far. (Maybe it would be better to look at online activity to see disruption. For fun, read this post “Online Usage Has Dropped 7 Times Faster Than TV“.)

No competition to cable has established vast strength. And that isn’t after just a few months.

…DirecTV has spent 20 years trying to disrupt cable. And after two decades it’s built a solid business for itself serving a few niches that cable doesn’t want to serve. And cable companies have responded to DirecTV’s competition with services like Comcast’s NFL Redzone.

…TiVO has spent 15 years and failed to be adopted by any of the cable or satellite companies. Those companies have succeeded with far less effective DVR technology bought at far lower prices. (Here are my thoughts on “why”… Latest TiVO Results Illustrate the Impact of Communication Failure.)

…Netflix has been around for 17 years now (yup, founded in 1997) and people talk a lot about them being “disruptors”. Except, it’s a funny thing. They are one of the survivors of disruption. Disruption theory would have had streaming movies put them out of business. Except Netflix sorted out a smart response and survived quite nicely.

…Netflix’s saga continues. Now it’s suggested that they will disrupt cable. The fact is, they merely disrupted the video store. And now they’ve wandered strategically into strangely limited territory with their programming development. If they were to disrupt anything right now it would be HBO rather than Comcast.

So what’s my guess about TV & disruption? In the end, love them or hate them, the cable companies will learn from the disruptors, buy a few (perhaps), and remain the big dogs in the TV business for decades to come. Will they be changed by disruption? Absolutely. And they will change in ways we can’t envision right now. But are Netflix and Amazon about to replace Comcast or Time Warner Cable? I don’t think so.

So the next time some new venture proudly shouts “disruption” in a crowded market…maybe we can all just keep our eyes focused on the job at hand rather than dashing for the exits.

(For related reading… “TV and the Myth of Disruptive Internet Technology“.)

Copyright 2014 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

The Brick & Mortar Advantage

We founded Atomic on the premise that DRTV drives sales through all channels – what has now become known as “Omnichannel”. After all, customers will buy through the channel that is most comfortable and convenient for them – quite often at a physical store.
iStock_000017829020Medium
Yet since 1997 we’ve been pestered by waves of enthusiasm for the idea that digital commerce will destroy brick and mortar. But that didn’t happen in 1997. Or 1998. Or 2001. Or 2007. And it isn’t happening today – despite the next wave of e-commerce mania in the press.

So we were pleased to read a recent blog post by Steven Dennis (former Senior Vice President of Strategy, Business Development and Marketing for the Neiman Marcus Group) on the important strengths brick and mortar can leverage. While many believe the virtual world will overtake retail stores, Dennis observes “…assuming that physical retail is going away any time soon is just plain wrong,” After all:

• Brick and Mortar enhances value proposition: i.e. the ability to see and try before you buy
• Many companies that started off as purely e-commerce have been forced to open physical stores
• Consumers still exists who enjoy buying in store vs. over the internet
• Consumers need the confidence to know they can buy wherever they want. Many hop back and forth between online and in store – meaning frictionless commerce is essential

Dennis doesn’t deny that the format at retail needs a change. He suggests that retailers can get away with fewer and smaller stores (we’re not entirely convinced with this specific – but it’s an intriguing idea). And consumers respond to physical shopping.

The key is to blend your channels: utilize branding and distribution across all channels while making things easy for the consumer. As Dennis puts it, “The blended channel is the only channel”.

So while retailers are dumping huge resources into building their digital capabilities (important investments), here at Atomic we believe it is critical to remember that consumers (yes, of ALL ages) still enjoy going to the store and will continue to enjoy stores for decades to come.

It is ever more important that, while investing in digital, retailers take care not to throw out their single biggest advantage: physical stores.

Copyright 2014 – Atomic Direct – All Rights Reserved

Big Data. Big Promise. Big Caution.

Big Data imageBig data claims to be the new salvation for all businesses. Because, we’re told, big data will discover amazing new truths. Time will tell.

But in the meantime, most big promises should also be accompanied by big cautions. Which one’s are most important as we approach big data? Recently, on the Financial Times website, Tim Harford wrote a blog post on the topic: Big Data: are we making a big mistake. It is one of the few really thoughtful big data discussions we’ve come across in a while.

Critically, he notes that a great deal of “big data” is actually “found data”. With found data we don’t know what’s missing, so it can’t deliver conclusive results. If we want conclusive answers, we need to look beyond found data.

On the broader topic, Harford suggests four essential things to remember when analyzing big data:

1. It’s easy to exaggerate found data effectiveness if we talk about the successes but ignore the risk of false positives. He cites Target’s detection of pregnant women here. While we’ve heard plenty about the one woman they successfully identified, we’ve never heard how many women Target mistakenly thought were pregnant. A big oops.
2. Figuring out “correlations” from big data is cheaper than finding causation. But correlation without causation is generally meaningless – and often leads to destructive choices.
3. The reality of sampling bias still matters as much with big data as it ever has.
4. Those who believe numbers can stand-alone ignore the reality that random, unexplained patterns usually outnumber true findings.

We highly recommend this blog post. And will add our two observations:

1. Service providers are reaping huge profit by getting companies to jump into the “big data industry” – including data suppliers, consultancies, analysts, and ad agencies. If you end up amongst the vast sea of big data evangelists, remember that most of them have embraced big data to make money. The valuable few are the ones who’ve found ways to tease unusually valuable insight from the data, not the ones who’ve drank the big data Kool-Aid.

How big are the profits? Recently printed in Fast Company, “the sales of big-data-related products and services grew to more than $18 billion in 2013.”

2. So far, the “learnings” we’ve seen from big data have tended to be tiny factoids that are interesting, but offer little marketing power. Like any data, the only answers you need are the “actionable” ones – answers you can rely on to create profit.

Copyright 2014 – Atomic Direct – All Rights Reserved

Big Data. Big Promise. Big Caution.

Big Data imageBig data claims to be the new salvation for all businesses. Because, we’re told, big data will discover amazing new truths. Time will tell.

But in the meantime, most big promises should also be accompanied by big cautions. Which one’s are most important as we approach big data? Recently, on the Financial Times website, Tim Harford wrote a blog post on the topic: Big Data: are we making a big mistake. It is one of the few really thoughtful big data discussions we’ve come across in a while.

Critically, he notes that a great deal of “big data” is actually “found data”. With found data we don’t know what’s missing, so it can’t deliver conclusive results. If we want conclusive answers, we need to look beyond found data.

On the broader topic, Harford suggests four essential things to remember when analyzing big data:

1. It’s easy to exaggerate found data effectiveness if we talk about the successes but ignore the risk of false positives. He cites Target’s detection of pregnant women here. While we’ve heard plenty about the one woman they successfully identified, we’ve never heard how many women Target mistakenly thought were pregnant. A big oops.
2. Figuring out “correlations” from big data is cheaper than finding causation. But correlation without causation is generally meaningless – and often leads to destructive choices.
3. The reality of sampling bias still matters as much with big data as it ever has.
4. Those who believe numbers can stand-alone ignore the reality that random, unexplained patterns usually outnumber true findings.

We highly recommend this blog post. And will add our two observations:

1. Service providers are reaping huge profit by getting companies to jump into the “big data industry” – including data suppliers, consultancies, analysts, and ad agencies. If you end up amongst the vast sea of big data evangelists, remember that most of them have embraced big data to make money. The valuable few are the ones who’ve found ways to tease unusually valuable insight from the data, not the ones who’ve drank the big data Kool-Aid.

How big are the profits? Recently printed in Fast Company, “the sales of big-data-related products and services grew to more than $18 billion in 2013.”

2. So far, the “learnings” we’ve seen from big data have tended to be tiny factoids that are interesting, but offer little marketing power. Like any data, the only answers you need are the “actionable” ones – answers you can rely on to create profit.

Copyright 2014 – Atomic Direct – All Rights Reserved

Advertising Awards: Protecting the Creative Status Quo

As a strategist, creative director and student of advertising’s impact, I love to see advertising that’s challenging and interesting – when it comes to it’s impact on marketing. But we’re not seeing many impactful ads like that when you look at “award winning work”. And by that I mean agency style awards like Clio’s, New York Festival or Cannes (industry specific awards are usually far more interesting).

Yes, agency award show winners exhibit tremendous creative values – like clever film making, design, or writing. But despite all this art, from the point of view of a marketer, award winning work has become pretty dull, predictable and uninteresting.

How did it come about that all this extraordinary creativity could end up delivering bland marketing impact? How could this happen in a business that never ceases to tell itself how clever it is with myths like “thinking outside the box”?

We can blame, at least in part, the award shows themselves. After all:

The primary value of agency driven award shows is maintaining the creative status quo.

And when advertising is driven to satisfy the status quo it loses its ability to deliver brilliant results.

But You Might Ask “Don’t the Really Edgy Ads Win More Awards?” Perhaps. But nowadays edgy IS the status quo. And 99% of edgy ads are statement art – shocking to create positive reaction among advertising peers without creating economic gain for clients.

And why would we ever think that “pushing the envelope” creatively is also pushing the envelope with smart marketing? For anyone who thinks carefully, that logical leap is quite baffling.

I Was Reminded of How Awards Work at a Recent Local Show. My agency, as well as two other nationally recognized direct response television agencies, submitted work in the ‘Direct Marketing’ category. That means that three of the top six or seven national DRTV agencies submitted work. That’s an exciting field for a local advertising award show.

And then the “traditional” advertising judges chose not to recognize any winners in the direct marketing category. Why? I haven’t been able to get an explanation yet. But based on past experience, I’m sure the judges didn’t feel any of the work “rose to the level of great creative”.

This is shocking since I know the marketing impact of the work we submitted. It drove extraordinary results that approached levels of Apple product releases. But time after time the highly effective advertising (that works because it informs people and directly asks them to take action) doesn’t get awards in these shows.

From what I have been able to uncover, these judges lacked the experience and savvy with direct response advertising to understand what they saw. Unfortunately, instead of admitting they lacked the experience, they fell back on very narrowly defined creative criteria – criteria that leave their own beliefs about “great creative” unthreatened by advertising with huge market impact.

What’s Up, Judges? It’s useful to know that in shows like this, the award sponsoring organization recruits judges who are senior agency creative professionals from the general advertising business. (Only about 1/2 of advertising fits this description.) These creatives have been senior for long enough that they’ve created a reputation (i.e. joined the status quo).

Merely belonging to the status quo wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the judges would look at “marketing” in addition to “creative”. But the way advertising works these days, these creative professionals honed their skills far from places where they’d learn marketing – perhaps in portfolio schools. So it’s a rare judge who is able to envision how a 45-year-old, Walmart employed, middle class father of five, sitting in the living room of his suburban Des Moines home might perceive the advertising.

In reality, these judging teams use “creative correctness” as their judge of the advertising’s quality (link here for more on Creative Correctness). As a result, most can’t see truly ground breaking marketing work – just whether it passes their aesthetic values. (Note that one of the easiest aesthetic values to meet is “edginess”.)

So Let’s Call These Award Shows What They Are: Curated Art Shows. Even shows that claim to be different are essentially curated art. For example, the American Marketing Association claims their awards, called the Effies, are about marketing effectiveness. But check out my post on how badly the Effies respect “effectiveness” (link here). And the DMA has measurable results to work with. Despite a miserably complicated application, their Echo Awards consistently reward big-agency style over marketing impact – at least in the TV category.

By contrast, let’s consider curation. Art museums are honest about how they judge work. They hire people (“curators”) who specialize in specific aesthetics and are hired for their individual opinion within that aesthetic. Both the aesthetic limits and the personal skew are well accepted to be important in that selection and are admitted to be a known, accepted and overt skew.

Whether or Not They Believe It, Agency Award Shows are Basically Art Shows Like Those at a Museum. Except agency award shows claim to identify effective advertising. That simply isn’t true. There is no connection between work winning awards and marketing effectiveness.

And this isn’t new. Thirty years ago (in 1983) David Ogilvy wrote:

“Harry McMahan drew attention to the kind of commercials which were winning the famous Clio awards for creativity:

Agencies that won four of the Clios had lost the accounts.
Another Clio winner was out of business.
Another Clio winner had taken its budget out of TV.
Another Clio Winner had given half his account to another agency.
Another refused to put his winning entry on the air.

Of 81 television classics picked by the Clio festival in previous years, 36 of the agencies involved had either lost the account or gone out of business.”

Ogilvy on Advertising, From the chapter “How to Produce Advertising that Sells”

The truth is that what’s required to win these awards is to fit the status quo’s ideals. Yet there are probably more effective ad approaches OUTSIDE the status quo’s ideals than there are inside them. But that’s the thing about a status quo – it really doesn’t care to be challenged by reality.

But There Is Good News – Great News in Fact. Those agencies who learn to focus on interesting business results for their clients produce the most interesting and unusual work. And they produce work of unusually high impact for their client’s business.

And impact is what’s most important: If you deliver strong economic results for your clients, you’ll build a strong business for yourself. But you’ll have to learn to put up with getting shut out at the agency award shows.

Copyright 2014 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Advertising Awards: Protecting the Creative Status Quo

As a strategist, creative director and student of advertising’s impact, I love to see advertising that’s challenging and interesting – when it comes to it’s impact on marketing. But we’re not seeing many impactful ads like that when you look at “award winning work”. And by that I mean agency style awards like Clio’s, New York Festival or Cannes (industry specific awards are usually far more interesting).

Yes, agency award show winners exhibit tremendous creative values – like clever film making, design, or writing. But despite all this art, from the point of view of a marketer, award winning work has become pretty dull, predictable and uninteresting.

How did it come about that all this extraordinary creativity could end up delivering bland marketing impact? How could this happen in a business that never ceases to tell itself how clever it is with myths like “thinking outside the box”?

We can blame, at least in part, the award shows themselves. After all:

The primary value of agency driven award shows is maintaining the creative status quo.

And when advertising is driven to satisfy the status quo it loses its ability to deliver brilliant results.

But You Might Ask “Don’t the Really Edgy Ads Win More Awards?” Perhaps. But nowadays edgy IS the status quo. And 99% of edgy ads are statement art – shocking to create positive reaction among advertising peers without creating economic gain for clients.

And why would we ever think that “pushing the envelope” creatively is also pushing the envelope with smart marketing? For anyone who thinks carefully, that logical leap is quite baffling.

I Was Reminded of How Awards Work at a Recent Local Show. My agency, as well as two other nationally recognized direct response television agencies, submitted work in the ‘Direct Marketing’ category. That means that three of the top six or seven national DRTV agencies submitted work. That’s an exciting field for a local advertising award show.

And then the “traditional” advertising judges chose not to recognize any winners in the direct marketing category. Why? I haven’t been able to get an explanation yet. But based on past experience, I’m sure the judges didn’t feel any of the work “rose to the level of great creative”.

This is shocking since I know the marketing impact of the work we submitted. It drove extraordinary results that approached levels of Apple product releases. But time after time the highly effective advertising (that works because it informs people and directly asks them to take action) doesn’t get awards in these shows.

From what I have been able to uncover, these judges lacked the experience and savvy with direct response advertising to understand what they saw. Unfortunately, instead of admitting they lacked the experience, they fell back on very narrowly defined creative criteria – criteria that leave their own beliefs about “great creative” unthreatened by advertising with huge market impact.

What’s Up, Judges? It’s useful to know that in shows like this, the award sponsoring organization recruits judges who are senior agency creative professionals from the general advertising business. (Only about 1/2 of advertising fits this description.) These creatives have been senior for long enough that they’ve created a reputation (i.e. joined the status quo).

Merely belonging to the status quo wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the judges would look at “marketing” in addition to “creative”. But the way advertising works these days, these creative professionals honed their skills far from places where they’d learn marketing – perhaps in portfolio schools. So it’s a rare judge who is able to envision how a 45-year-old, Walmart employed, middle class father of five, sitting in the living room of his suburban Des Moines home might perceive the advertising.

In reality, these judging teams use “creative correctness” as their judge of the advertising’s quality (link here for more on Creative Correctness). As a result, most can’t see truly ground breaking marketing work – just whether it passes their aesthetic values. (Note that one of the easiest aesthetic values to meet is “edginess”.)

So Let’s Call These Award Shows What They Are: Curated Art Shows. Even shows that claim to be different are essentially curated art. For example, the American Marketing Association claims their awards, called the Effies, are about marketing effectiveness. But check out my post on how badly the Effies respect “effectiveness” (link here). And the DMA has measurable results to work with. Despite a miserably complicated application, their Echo Awards consistently reward big-agency style over marketing impact – at least in the TV category.

By contrast, let’s consider curation. Art museums are honest about how they judge work. They hire people (“curators”) who specialize in specific aesthetics and are hired for their individual opinion within that aesthetic. Both the aesthetic limits and the personal skew are well accepted to be important in that selection and are admitted to be a known, accepted and overt skew.

Whether or Not They Believe It, Agency Award Shows are Basically Art Shows Like Those at a Museum. Except agency award shows claim to identify effective advertising. That simply isn’t true. There is no connection between work winning awards and marketing effectiveness.

And this isn’t new. Thirty years ago (in 1983) David Ogilvy wrote:

“Harry McMahan drew attention to the kind of commercials which were winning the famous Clio awards for creativity:

Agencies that won four of the Clios had lost the accounts.
Another Clio winner was out of business.
Another Clio winner had taken its budget out of TV.
Another Clio Winner had given half his account to another agency.
Another refused to put his winning entry on the air.

Of 81 television classics picked by the Clio festival in previous years, 36 of the agencies involved had either lost the account or gone out of business.”

Ogilvy on Advertising, From the chapter “How to Produce Advertising that Sells”

The truth is that what’s required to win these awards is to fit the status quo’s ideals. Yet there are probably more effective ad approaches OUTSIDE the status quo’s ideals than there are inside them. But that’s the thing about a status quo – it really doesn’t care to be challenged by reality.

But There Is Good News – Great News in Fact. Those agencies who learn to focus on interesting business results for their clients produce the most interesting and unusual work. And they produce work of unusually high impact for their client’s business.

And impact is what’s most important: If you deliver strong economic results for your clients, you’ll build a strong business for yourself. But you’ll have to learn to put up with getting shut out at the agency award shows.

Copyright 2014 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

“The Best Ideas Come as Jokes”… But the Best Quotes are Sourced

The Quote
OgilvyMemeRecently, at Atomic we came across a funny meme on DigiDay. The piece was a blend of clever quotes attributed to David Ogilvy, mixed with a couple pictures from Mad Men. A great comment about finding ideas through creative process stuck out:

“The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible.”

If you look closely, you’ll notice that the quote doesn’t say “the best ideas ARE jokes”. But in this advertising world, many people would prefer to interpret the quote to mean the best ads are “funny”.

Rather than just assume that Ogilvy’s only meant the creative process, Doug asked me to locate the context of this Ogilvy quote. Seems like an easy Google search, right? Wrong.

The Search for Context
After searching through countless blogs, books, and consulting with wikiquote (which had some of Ogilvy’s quotes, but not this one) I came up dry. The pages all listed the quote, but none gave a source.

Finally, a citation of the quote in QFinance: the Ultimate Resource came through. I visited the library to flip through QFinance, and found this reference: “Don’t Get Taken, Take Control” (Tom Sabella, 2006).

I found this citation odd for two reasons: The first; Ogilvy died in 1999 (so how could his quote come from a book written in 2006?). The second: Neither of these books quoting Ogilvy, “the advertising genius,” are about advertising.

With no other leads, I flipped though an edition of Sabella’s book. The quote was there, but there was no reference as to where it came from. It came as one big quote that read:

“The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible. If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”

But Wait….
Now, I’d heard the second part of the line before, but not the two together. A quick search on the kindle showed that second portion — “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative”—can be found without the first part in Ogilvy on Advertising.

Except, Ogilvy didn’t say it – it is a quote from another advertising agency: “Benton and Bowles Agency holds that ‘If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.’ Amen.”

Confirming that I’m not alone in this quest, I found a blog post that also notes that it was a Benton and Bowles quote. Even worse, while Ogilvy attributed the quote correctly he changed it. The actual quote is: “It’s not creative unless it sells”.

Now this was all spinning out of control. I found two Ogilvy quotes with issues: One clearly botched quote. Another that people attribute to Ogilvy, but I’m nowhere near an answer as to whether Ogilvy actually said it.

Some Sort of Silver Lining
Quote Investigator recently wrote a blog post about a similar situation. He wrote about a phrase from Dr. Suess. The Investigator found that the original quote was much longer, and that over time, various people had condensed and reworded it into what it has become today. Is this what happened to my Ogilvy quote? That would certainly explain why I haven’t been able to locate its origin. But Quote Investigator also regularly finds quotes and quote attributions that are entirely bogus.

We Need to Care About Accuracy and Clarity
This whole process has left me somewhat frustrated. Ogilvy was an advertising genius. But without knowing the context of his comments, it is easy to misunderstand and misinterpret his meaning.

And then? We enter that modern sport of inventing quotes and tying them to important figures just to make our ideas sound legitimate.

I didn’t find the answer to my question – I just got tangled in even more questions. The most frustrating part for me is not knowing the truth – despite all the bounties of the internet.

I’m not saying it is impossible to find; or that the answers aren’t out there. Someone with more available resources, who has access to more extensive document search engines, may come to find my quote quite quickly. But why does it have to be that complicated? Shouldn’t it be easier to uncover where and when something was said?

At Atomic, we believe good work requires honesty and validity. But until we find better clarity on that supposed Ogilvy quote, we’ll take it for what it seems to really mean: Humor offers tremendous power during the creative process.

A guest post from Atomic employee, Cydni Anderson

Copyright 2014 – Atomic Direct – All Rights Reserved

“The Best Ideas Come as Jokes”… But the Best Quotes are Sourced

The Quote
OgilvyMemeRecently, at Atomic we came across a funny meme on DigiDay. The piece was a blend of clever quotes attributed to David Ogilvy, mixed with a couple pictures from Mad Men. A great comment about finding ideas through creative process stuck out:

“The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible.”

If you look closely, you’ll notice that the quote doesn’t say “the best ideas ARE jokes”. But in this advertising world, many people would prefer to interpret the quote to mean the best ads are “funny”.

Rather than just assume that Ogilvy’s only meant the creative process, Doug asked me to locate the context of this Ogilvy quote. Seems like an easy Google search, right? Wrong.

The Search for Context
After searching through countless blogs, books, and consulting with wikiquote (which had some of Ogilvy’s quotes, but not this one) I came up dry. The pages all listed the quote, but none gave a source.

Finally, a citation of the quote in QFinance: the Ultimate Resource came through. I visited the library to flip through QFinance, and found this reference: “Don’t Get Taken, Take Control” (Tom Sabella, 2006).

I found this citation odd for two reasons: The first; Ogilvy died in 1999 (so how could his quote come from a book written in 2006?). The second: Neither of these books quoting Ogilvy, “the advertising genius,” are about advertising.

With no other leads, I flipped though an edition of Sabella’s book. The quote was there, but there was no reference as to where it came from. It came as one big quote that read:

“The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible. If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”

But Wait….
Now, I’d heard the second part of the line before, but not the two together. A quick search on the kindle showed that second portion — “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative”—can be found without the first part in Ogilvy on Advertising.

Except, Ogilvy didn’t say it – it is a quote from another advertising agency: “Benton and Bowles Agency holds that ‘If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.’ Amen.”

Confirming that I’m not alone in this quest, I found a blog post that also notes that it was a Benton and Bowles quote. Even worse, while Ogilvy attributed the quote correctly he changed it. The actual quote is: “It’s not creative unless it sells”.

Now this was all spinning out of control. I found two Ogilvy quotes with issues: One clearly botched quote. Another that people attribute to Ogilvy, but I’m nowhere near an answer as to whether Ogilvy actually said it.

Some Sort of Silver Lining
Quote Investigator recently wrote a blog post about a similar situation. He wrote about a phrase from Dr. Suess. The Investigator found that the original quote was much longer, and that over time, various people had condensed and reworded it into what it has become today. Is this what happened to my Ogilvy quote? That would certainly explain why I haven’t been able to locate its origin. But Quote Investigator also regularly finds quotes and quote attributions that are entirely bogus.

We Need to Care About Accuracy and Clarity
This whole process has left me somewhat frustrated. Ogilvy was an advertising genius. But without knowing the context of his comments, it is easy to misunderstand and misinterpret his meaning.

And then? We enter that modern sport of inventing quotes and tying them to important figures just to make our ideas sound legitimate.

I didn’t find the answer to my question – I just got tangled in even more questions. The most frustrating part for me is not knowing the truth – despite all the bounties of the internet.

I’m not saying it is impossible to find; or that the answers aren’t out there. Someone with more available resources, who has access to more extensive document search engines, may come to find my quote quite quickly. But why does it have to be that complicated? Shouldn’t it be easier to uncover where and when something was said?

At Atomic, we believe good work requires honesty and validity. But until we find better clarity on that supposed Ogilvy quote, we’ll take it for what it seems to really mean: Humor offers tremendous power during the creative process.

A guest post from Atomic employee, Cydni Anderson

Copyright 2014 – Atomic Direct – All Rights Reserved

Using Response Measured Advertising in an OmniChannel World

I’ve spent my advertising career in the most immediately measurable of TV disciplines…direct response television. Through that career I’ve seen the tremendous economic power that DRTV offers. Used in the right situation, DRTV delivers far more economic impact (including brand value) than traditional TV.

At the same time…in contradictions we find truth. And here’s the response contradiction.

Response measurements are exceptionally powerful at helping make campaigns more effective.

But if response becomes your ONLY focus, campaigns become less effective.

How’s that happen? We must remember that even the best metrics (response, audiences, targeting, etc.) can never measure the total impact of a TV campaign. They are helpful guides but don’t tell the entire story.

So it’s important to respect the numbers for the extraordinary help they offer as we make media dollars go further (up to 4x further). And it’s important to respect that response numbers are only one window in to the impact of our work.

This reality doesn’t only apply to DRTV. It applies to online ads (especially), direct mail, catalogs, search, and many more areas where we are able to measure response.

Here’s a recent article I called “Seeing the Forest Despite the Trees” (link here) that appeared Response Magazine’s December 2013 edition. It digs deeper into how to work with response measured media in the highly (and extraordinarily profitable) market you enter when your product is sold through the omni-channel world of phone, web, and retail store.

It’s no surprise to find DR marketers obsessed with response to the exclusion of all other reality. But it has been a surprise to find that experienced audience measured advertisers also too quickly lose sight of the fact that response measurements are indicators – but not the whole story.

It’s surprising because many of these are advertisers who have lived in a world their entire careers where they had NO measurement of response and where impact is projected by guys in the back room with pointy hats and crystal balls reading Nielsen reports. (For clarity: I do love audience numbers. But while there’s tremendous learning to be found in audience measurement, projecting sales impact based on audience remains an area for alchemists.)

So embrace response measurement for what it is: An extraordinary measurement that can help us spend client media money far more efficiently. And then lets use that measurement to drive campaigns where the total impact surprises us all.

Copyright 2014 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved.

Using Response Measured Advertising in an OmniChannel World

I’ve spent my advertising career in the most immediately measurable of TV disciplines…direct response television. Through that career I’ve seen the tremendous economic power that DRTV offers. Used in the right situation, DRTV delivers far more economic impact (including brand value) than traditional TV.

At the same time…in contradictions we find truth. And here’s the response contradiction.

Response measurements are exceptionally powerful at helping make campaigns more effective.

But if response becomes your ONLY focus, campaigns become less effective.

How’s that happen? We must remember that even the best metrics (response, audiences, targeting, etc.) can never measure the total impact of a TV campaign. They are helpful guides but don’t tell the entire story.

So it’s important to respect the numbers for the extraordinary help they offer as we make media dollars go further (up to 4x further). And it’s important to respect that response numbers are only one window in to the impact of our work.

This reality doesn’t only apply to DRTV. It applies to online ads (especially), direct mail, catalogs, search, and many more areas where we are able to measure response.

Here’s a recent article I called “Seeing the Forest Despite the Trees” (link here) that appeared Response Magazine’s December 2013 edition. It digs deeper into how to work with response measured media in the highly (and extraordinarily profitable) market you enter when your product is sold through the omni-channel world of phone, web, and retail store.

It’s no surprise to find DR marketers obsessed with response to the exclusion of all other reality. But it has been a surprise to find that experienced audience measured advertisers also too quickly lose sight of the fact that response measurements are indicators – but not the whole story.

It’s surprising because many of these are advertisers who have lived in a world their entire careers where they had NO measurement of response and where impact is projected by guys in the back room with pointy hats and crystal balls reading Nielsen reports. (For clarity: I do love audience numbers. But while there’s tremendous learning to be found in audience measurement, projecting sales impact based on audience remains an area for alchemists.)

So embrace response measurement for what it is: An extraordinary measurement that can help us spend client media money far more efficiently. And then lets use that measurement to drive campaigns where the total impact surprises us all.

Copyright 2014 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved.

Using Response Measured Advertising in an OmniChannel World

I’ve spent my advertising career in the most immediately measurable of TV disciplines…direct response television. Through that career I’ve seen the tremendous economic power that DRTV offers. Used in the right situation, DRTV delivers far more economic impact (including brand value) than traditional TV.

At the same time…in contradictions we find truth. And here’s the response contradiction.

Response measurements are exceptionally powerful at helping make campaigns more effective.

But if response becomes your ONLY focus, campaigns become less effective.

How’s that happen? We must remember that even the best metrics (response, audiences, targeting, etc.) can never measure the total impact of a TV campaign. They are helpful guides but don’t tell the entire story.

So it’s important to respect the numbers for the extraordinary help they offer as we make media dollars go further (up to 4x further). And it’s important to respect that response numbers are only one window in to the impact of our work.

This reality doesn’t only apply to DRTV. It applies to online ads (especially), direct mail, catalogs, search, and many more areas where we are able to measure response.

Here’s a recent article I called “Seeing the Forest Despite the Trees” (link here) that appeared Response Magazine’s December 2013 edition. It digs deeper into how to work with response measured media in the highly (and extraordinarily profitable) market you enter when your product is sold through the omni-channel world of phone, web, and retail store.

It’s no surprise to find DR marketers obsessed with response to the exclusion of all other reality. But it has been a surprise to find that experienced audience measured advertisers also too quickly lose sight of the fact that response measurements are indicators – but not the whole story.

It’s surprising because many of these are advertisers who have lived in a world their entire careers where they had NO measurement of response and where impact is projected by guys in the back room with pointy hats and crystal balls reading Nielsen reports. (For clarity: I do love audience numbers. But while there’s tremendous learning to be found in audience measurement, projecting sales impact based on audience remains an area for alchemists.)

So embrace response measurement for what it is: An extraordinary measurement that can help us spend client media money far more efficiently. And then lets use that measurement to drive campaigns where the total impact surprises us all.

Copyright 2014 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved.

Succeeding Despite Bad Choices. Thoughts on “The Myth of the Media Shootout”

Quite often businesses succeed in spite of specific choices – not because of those choices. Yet most never stop to consider which it is – choosing to believe they must have been smart rather than admit what they don’t know.

Take the idea that media buyers for DRTV ad campaigns should be chosen based on direct, head-to-head competition between media vendors.

Constructing a valid media vendor test that accurately judges each firm’s abilities is far, far harder than it seems. So here’s The Myth of the Media Shootout (link here), an article I wrote for the October edition of Response Magazine. It looks at a popular competitive testing myth in direct response television.

The myth suggests simple head-to-head tests will choose the best media vendor. But the truth is that an enormous test budget (hundreds of thousands to each media vendor) over an extended period of time (six months would be about right) would be required to make the test valid. And even then, the margin of error is roughly +/-15%.

Since that’s too expensive and takes too long, no one spends that money. Instead, they use the same approach but cut the budget. In practice DRTV advertisers will dedicate a whole $25K to $50K over 2 to 4 weeks and tell everyone it’s valid. Since this invalid test gives the appearance of smart management methodology, everyone will also congratulate themselves on being smart.

Hence they fall back on one of the most popular moves to avoid costly testing: “We can’t afford the $60,000-$100,000 it takes to accurately research that topic. So we’ll put out an online survey using Survey Monkey and tell people we learned just as much as if we spent the $60K to $100K.”

“But we succeeded.” There are people out there who have used this type of testing and will tell me how well it’s worked. So let’s return to my opening idea… “Did you succeed BECAUSE OF that testing or DESPITE that testing?” I have yet to see a case where the success came BECAUSE OF flawed testing methodology.

This reality is not just a DRTV issue. This problem runs rampant in advertising as well as business. Companies regularly create selection processes where the criteria and methodology used have no validity.

Many, many choices in business cannot be made analytically without spending far more money on the test than it’s possible to save by making the “best choice”.

So read & enjoy. When you can, spend the money to make smarter choices. But when you can’t spend the money, don’t lie to yourself.

And no matter what you do, ask the question: Did we succeed because we made smart choices…or despite making poor choices? It’s a challenging question in business but one which leads to tremendous success.

Copyright 2013 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Succeeding Despite Bad Choices. Thoughts on “The Myth of the Media Shootout”

Quite often businesses succeed in spite of specific choices – not because of those choices. Yet most never stop to consider which it is – choosing to believe they must have been smart rather than admit what they don’t know.

Take the idea that media buyers for DRTV ad campaigns should be chosen based on direct, head-to-head competition between media vendors.

Constructing a valid media vendor test that accurately judges each firm’s abilities is far, far harder than it seems. So here’s The Myth of the Media Shootout (link here), an article I wrote for the October edition of Response Magazine. It looks at a popular competitive testing myth in direct response television.

The myth suggests simple head-to-head tests will choose the best media vendor. But the truth is that an enormous test budget (hundreds of thousands to each media vendor) over an extended period of time (six months would be about right) would be required to make the test valid. And even then, the margin of error is roughly +/-15%.

Since that’s too expensive and takes too long, no one spends that money. Instead, they use the same approach but cut the budget. In practice DRTV advertisers will dedicate a whole $25K to $50K over 2 to 4 weeks and tell everyone it’s valid. Since this invalid test gives the appearance of smart management methodology, everyone will also congratulate themselves on being smart.

Hence they fall back on one of the most popular moves to avoid costly testing: “We can’t afford the $60,000-$100,000 it takes to accurately research that topic. So we’ll put out an online survey using Survey Monkey and tell people we learned just as much as if we spent the $60K to $100K.”

“But we succeeded.” There are people out there who have used this type of testing and will tell me how well it’s worked. So let’s return to my opening idea… “Did you succeed BECAUSE OF that testing or DESPITE that testing?” I have yet to see a case where the success came BECAUSE OF flawed testing methodology.

This reality is not just a DRTV issue. This problem runs rampant in advertising as well as business. Companies regularly create selection processes where the criteria and methodology used have no validity.

Many, many choices in business cannot be made analytically without spending far more money on the test than it’s possible to save by making the “best choice”.

So read & enjoy. When you can, spend the money to make smarter choices. But when you can’t spend the money, don’t lie to yourself.

And no matter what you do, ask the question: Did we succeed because we made smart choices…or despite making poor choices? It’s a challenging question in business but one which leads to tremendous success.

Copyright 2013 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Seven Dysfunctional Ways Ad Agencies Learn the Wrong Lessons

In my last post I wrote about agency feedback loops – how important they are and the three tiers of feedback that drive the best improvement. (Link here.)

Now it’s time for the fun stuff – the agency dysfunctions that come from poor feedback loops – starting with seven strange abnormalities that agencies rely on to decide what makes up good work.

Seven Dysfunctional Feedback Loops.

1. The “Aren’t We Revolutionaries?” Loop. One thread of creative education teaches that edginess and destruction are the hallmarks of creative genius. Yup. It’s crazy. But in this feedback loop the creative team feels good about it’s work as long as that work is offensive. Or edgy. Or impossible to understand. With a certain beautiful irony, this leads creative teams to consider negative feedback itself to be the goal. Strange behavior.

2. The “Agency Love” Loop. Here the work that is rewarded is that which is loved most by agency management or agency colleagues (often loved because the style brings that agency more work). Powerful stuff – the accolades of close colleagues…except this has nothing to do with actual market impact. (I should note that this feedback type starts early. It’s exactly the intentional training supplied at portfolio schools…and has nothing to do with advertising impact. A good CD friend of mine refuses to hire portfolio school grads because they’ve never faced true feedback on their work.)

3. The “Creative Award” Loop. Some agencies use award shows to drive feedback. Sadly history shows that awards don’t reflect effectiveness – even those that claim to be all about effectiveness (see post on Old Spice’s Effie here).

4. The “Portfolio” Loop (aka the “My Next Job” loop). This feedback loop leads creative teams to believe that the work that builds their portfolio is also the “best work”. Of course it isn’t true. But this idea is insidious – covertly leading agencies to opt for approaches based on it’s portfolio quality. Even worse, this work often justified with tortured arguments that claim it to be effective. (“The focus group participants said they’d change the channel after 2 seconds and that proves that we’re getting through to them!”)

5. The “Client Love” Loop. In these agencies…if the client loves the work it must be good. End of story. And, let’s not measure anything…please.

6. The “Client CEO Neighbor” Loop. This may be my favorite. If the client CEO’s neighbor or wife likes the campaign, then it must be good. Not that they’d ever consider buying the product. But it’s a kind of Sallie Field “You like me!” moment.

7. The “Response Worship” Loop. This one’s more subtle because it takes a good idea and makes it bad by taking it to the extreme. And it’s running rampant in digital media right now with “click worship”. Immediate responses (clicks, phone calls, web site visits, direct sales, etc…) reveal a very important part of advertising impact – just not the whole story. Yet response is relatively easy to measure and other hard data isn’t, so too many agencies and clients obsess about only this one dimension of impact. Consider DRTV (direct response television). Today over 90% of sales driven by DRTV come from brick & mortar stores. But traditional DRTVers make it all about response. The result? They kill campaigns that should run and run campaigns they should kill.

The Impact of Feedback Dysfunction

These dysfunctions aren’t benign. They’ve created an ad business where audience style enjoyment of work has become more important than actual communication – communicating meaningful things to consumers so they buy more product. This dysfunction is now entrenched in portfolio schools and J-school ad programs around the world – where students aren’t taught advertising as an endeavor with a business impact but as an audience based mass media entertainment.

Still, for the perceptive agencies, there is a better way. Take the time to create a feedback loop that is primarily objective. And create one where the necessarily subjective input is identified for what it is. And you’ll be surprised. Because you’ll start driving economic results that are far more powerful than merely pleasing an audience.

Copyright 2013 – Doug Garnett – All Right Reserved

Seven Dysfunctional Ways Ad Agencies Learn the Wrong Lessons

In my last post I wrote about agency feedback loops – how important they are and the three tiers of feedback that drive the best improvement. (Link here.)

Now it’s time for the fun stuff – the agency dysfunctions that come from poor feedback loops – starting with seven strange abnormalities that agencies rely on to decide what makes up good work.

Seven Dysfunctional Feedback Loops.

1. The “Aren’t We Revolutionaries?” Loop. One thread of creative education teaches that edginess and destruction are the hallmarks of creative genius. Yup. It’s crazy. But in this feedback loop the creative team feels good about it’s work as long as that work is offensive. Or edgy. Or impossible to understand. With a certain beautiful irony, this leads creative teams to consider negative feedback itself to be the goal. Strange behavior.

2. The “Agency Love” Loop. Here the work that is rewarded is that which is loved most by agency management or agency colleagues (often loved because the style brings that agency more work). Powerful stuff – the accolades of close colleagues…except this has nothing to do with actual market impact. (I should note that this feedback type starts early. It’s exactly the intentional training supplied at portfolio schools…and has nothing to do with advertising impact. A good CD friend of mine refuses to hire portfolio school grads because they’ve never faced true feedback on their work.)

3. The “Creative Award” Loop. Some agencies use award shows to drive feedback. Sadly history shows that awards don’t reflect effectiveness – even those that claim to be all about effectiveness (see post on Old Spice’s Effie here).

4. The “Portfolio” Loop (aka the “My Next Job” loop). This feedback loop leads creative teams to believe that the work that builds their portfolio is also the “best work”. Of course it isn’t true. But this idea is insidious – covertly leading agencies to opt for approaches based on it’s portfolio quality. Even worse, this work often justified with tortured arguments that claim it to be effective. (“The focus group participants said they’d change the channel after 2 seconds and that proves that we’re getting through to them!”)

5. The “Client Love” Loop. In these agencies…if the client loves the work it must be good. End of story. And, let’s not measure anything…please.

6. The “Client CEO Neighbor” Loop. This may be my favorite. If the client CEO’s neighbor or wife likes the campaign, then it must be good. Not that they’d ever consider buying the product. But it’s a kind of Sallie Field “You like me!” moment.

7. The “Response Worship” Loop. This one’s more subtle because it takes a good idea and makes it bad by taking it to the extreme. And it’s running rampant in digital media right now with “click worship”. Immediate responses (clicks, phone calls, web site visits, direct sales, etc…) reveal a very important part of advertising impact – just not the whole story. Yet response is relatively easy to measure and other hard data isn’t, so too many agencies and clients obsess about only this one dimension of impact. Consider DRTV (direct response television). Today over 90% of sales driven by DRTV come from brick & mortar stores. But traditional DRTVers make it all about response. The result? They kill campaigns that should run and run campaigns they should kill.

The Impact of Feedback Dysfunction

These dysfunctions aren’t benign. They’ve created an ad business where audience style enjoyment of work has become more important than actual communication – communicating meaningful things to consumers so they buy more product. This dysfunction is now entrenched in portfolio schools and J-school ad programs around the world – where students aren’t taught advertising as an endeavor with a business impact but as an audience based mass media entertainment.

Still, for the perceptive agencies, there is a better way. Take the time to create a feedback loop that is primarily objective. And create one where the necessarily subjective input is identified for what it is. And you’ll be surprised. Because you’ll start driving economic results that are far more powerful than merely pleasing an audience.

Copyright 2013 – Doug Garnett – All Right Reserved

Does Your Ad Agency Learn from Hard Results?

It’s fundamentally human. The feedback we receive (intentional or unintentional) shapes our actions in the future.

Unfortunately, there’s a pile of cheap phrases around that come out of this reality — like the dully bureaucratic phrase “teachable moments”.

But there’s a critical reality: We all respond to those things that feed back to us as we take our next actions. And as companies and agencies, we need to think deeply about the feedback loops that shape our team’s future actions.

Consider a Truly Objective Feedback Loop…in a Machine Shop.

Having relied on feedback to improve our work, I was interested by discussion of workplace feedback in the book “Shop Class as Soul Craft”. The author notes the destructive subjectiveness of the feedback in most of today’s white collar work world where one succeeds by keeping the boss happy – without an objective way to make that happen.

He contrasts that with the objective feedback in many blue collar jobs with an example that is instructive. When a machinist makes a part and takes it to their supervisor, the supervisor gets out the calipers to measure it. Then the discussion is very productive: “The spec says it should be 10.5mm’s. The calipers say it’s 11. Fix it.”

What a strikingly different feedback than we find in the agency world – feedback is often driven solely by some version of a highly political sense that the powers that be “like” or “dis-like” the work.

The Three Tiers of Smart Feedback

So let me recommend that every agency create an intentional way they deliver feedback. And the right basis for that feedback isn’t a mystery – it should be based on three tiers starting with objective data.

The first tier is obvious: hard economic data. In other words, the specific market impacts of advertising (profits, market share, retail space, sell through, sales volumes). I hear agencies (even media directors) who tell me it can’t be done. But that’s a cop out. It’s not always easy – but hard economic impact data should always be the starting point for learning.

The second tier is market research. Because of the vagaries of advertising, economic results need to be augmented with market research – well constructed and executed primary market research like well executed focus groups or smart & savvy survey data. I’ve heard some creatives object strenuously to this research. And some agencies abuse the research. But usually, I find creative teams fear objective feedback. That’s not acceptable. Just make sure you ask consumers about what matters (the impact of the advertising) and not about creative choices (like color or font selections).

The final tier is instinctive judgement. Instinct is critical in business and advertising. And instinct delivers tremendous power when it’s guided by data and research. So embrace instinct as a valid 3rd source for feedback. And, do this with caution. Because no matter how good one’s instincts, there are times when instincts are wrong – very wrong.

But Don’t Make it Bureaucratic.

Organizational management could quickly clutter the discussion with standards, benchmarks, absolutes, and language so thick that all the value in feedback is lost. And sadly, creating this clutter that interferes with solid feedback is a focus in HR textbooks and magazines where structures are recommended that over-ride insight and attempt to eliminate the need for professional judgement.

Don’t let that happen. Feedback supplies motivated professionals (because that’s who should work in agencies) with information they can use to make their work better. So keep it intelligent so that everyone becomes engaged in understanding the feedback.

Feedback Loops are Powerful.

In my own agency’s work, I’m still learning. Fortunately, our work causes such large immediate economic impact that we’re able to learn from all three tiers – and learn well from them. That said, as CEO I am still learning where my own unspoken feedback puts out messages I don’t intend – something I suspect is a lifelong challenge for us all.

Still, my own experience is clear: By creating ways to learn from the results of our work we deliver far more for clients (and sometimes for far less money). So look around your agency and embrace the idea of the feedback loop. Then go create better work.

Copyright 2013 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Does Your Ad Agency Learn from Hard Results?

It’s fundamentally human. The feedback we receive (intentional or unintentional) shapes our actions in the future.

Unfortunately, there’s a pile of cheap phrases around that come out of this reality — like the dully bureaucratic phrase “teachable moments”.

But there’s a critical reality: We all respond to those things that feed back to us as we take our next actions. And as companies and agencies, we need to think deeply about the feedback loops that shape our team’s future actions.

Consider a Truly Objective Feedback Loop…in a Machine Shop.

Having relied on feedback to improve our work, I was interested by discussion of workplace feedback in the book “Shop Class as Soul Craft”. The author notes the destructive subjectiveness of the feedback in most of today’s white collar work world where one succeeds by keeping the boss happy – without an objective way to make that happen.

He contrasts that with the objective feedback in many blue collar jobs with an example that is instructive. When a machinist makes a part and takes it to their supervisor, the supervisor gets out the calipers to measure it. Then the discussion is very productive: “The spec says it should be 10.5mm’s. The calipers say it’s 11. Fix it.”

What a strikingly different feedback than we find in the agency world – feedback is often driven solely by some version of a highly political sense that the powers that be “like” or “dis-like” the work.

The Three Tiers of Smart Feedback

So let me recommend that every agency create an intentional way they deliver feedback. And the right basis for that feedback isn’t a mystery – it should be based on three tiers starting with objective data.

The first tier is obvious: hard economic data. In other words, the specific market impacts of advertising (profits, market share, retail space, sell through, sales volumes). I hear agencies (even media directors) who tell me it can’t be done. But that’s a cop out. It’s not always easy – but hard economic impact data should always be the starting point for learning.

The second tier is market research. Because of the vagaries of advertising, economic results need to be augmented with market research – well constructed and executed primary market research like well executed focus groups or smart & savvy survey data. I’ve heard some creatives object strenuously to this research. And some agencies abuse the research. But usually, I find creative teams fear objective feedback. That’s not acceptable. Just make sure you ask consumers about what matters (the impact of the advertising) and not about creative choices (like color or font selections).

The final tier is instinctive judgement. Instinct is critical in business and advertising. And instinct delivers tremendous power when it’s guided by data and research. So embrace instinct as a valid 3rd source for feedback. And, do this with caution. Because no matter how good one’s instincts, there are times when instincts are wrong – very wrong.

But Don’t Make it Bureaucratic.

Organizational management could quickly clutter the discussion with standards, benchmarks, absolutes, and language so thick that all the value in feedback is lost. And sadly, creating this clutter that interferes with solid feedback is a focus in HR textbooks and magazines where structures are recommended that over-ride insight and attempt to eliminate the need for professional judgement.

Don’t let that happen. Feedback supplies motivated professionals (because that’s who should work in agencies) with information they can use to make their work better. So keep it intelligent so that everyone becomes engaged in understanding the feedback.

Feedback Loops are Powerful.

In my own agency’s work, I’m still learning. Fortunately, our work causes such large immediate economic impact that we’re able to learn from all three tiers – and learn well from them. That said, as CEO I am still learning where my own unspoken feedback puts out messages I don’t intend – something I suspect is a lifelong challenge for us all.

Still, my own experience is clear: By creating ways to learn from the results of our work we deliver far more for clients (and sometimes for far less money). So look around your agency and embrace the idea of the feedback loop. Then go create better work.

Copyright 2013 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

The Emotional Impact of Facts

Facts used in advertising leave behind emotion.

I ran across this thought provoking idea in the Jaques Ellul book “Propaganda” (published in 1965, I read this book in the 1980′s and recently decided it was worth a re-read). 20130114-191437.jpg

Rational and Irrational Communication. Ellul considers the difference between information and propaganda and the tendency to believe that “information addresses reason and experience … where propaganda addresses feelings and passion”. He concludes: “It’s not that simple.”

Ellul Finds Information Uniquely Important to the Human Psyche. “Modern man needs a relation to facts, a self-justification to convince himself that by acting in a certain way, he is obeying reason and proved experience.”

Ellul is, of course, primarily looking at political propaganda. But he also knows this to be true in advertising.

Suppose someone sees a car ad about a new engine. Ellul notes “All those technical descriptions and exact details will form a general picture in his head, rather vague but highly colored – and when he speaks of the engine, he will say: ‘It’s Terrific!’” (this dated term confirms that Ellul was a sociologist and not a copywriter.)

Truth is that too much emotional advertising leaves behind vague feelings of emotion where more persuasive advertising leaves behind conviction – for example a feeling of “that tool is amazing” along with an emotional tendency to purchase.

Ellul concludes that after factual communication “What remains with the individual affected by this propaganda is a perfectly irrational picture, a purely emotional feeling, a myth.”

Ellul confirms my marketing experience. In dashing for advertising “simplicity” most agencies decide to include fewer facts. But Ellul suggests that “The more facts supplied, the more simplistic the image.”

Of course, this isn’t true if they are disconnected facts thrown at the receiver of the communication. Simplicity results when a series of facts (often apparently disconnected) build toward the same conclusion.

And Ellul gives us an interesting insight into extremes in emotion. “It has even clearly been proved that a violent, excessive shock-provoking propaganda text leads ultimately to less conviction and participation than does a more “informative” and reasonable text on the subject. A large dose of fear precipitates immediate action; a reasonably small dose produces lasting support.”

I’m struck by Ellul’s similarity to Byron Sharp’s observation last year that “It’s rare that the hot-blooded emotions create strong brand loyalty.” Link here.

Why do I find this so compelling? I find my agency’s work unusual in the ad business. We take Ogilvy’s admonition quite seriously that whether the ad impresses someone as “creative” isn’t critical but that the ad makes them want to buy the product.

As a result our work paints pictures about a product with a rich combination of visual clarity, people, and ideas all sitting on a base of facts. And we know the net result is that people (consumers) get excited about the product and retain superb brand connections. And, we know this work drives immediate sales while creating strong brands. (Link here.)

That said, I’ve found it takes tremendous discipline to continue this work when many agencies and potential clients need creative work to, primarily, entertain themselves — skipping the question of whether this work is meaningful to consumers in ways that are profitable.

This Truth about Facts is Supported by Experience. While selling supercomputers in the late 1980′s, my mantra was to sell “heart and mind”. Far too many ad agencies can see no further than to appeal to the heart. (Sadly, the portfolio school farm team approach seems to entrench an attitude that rejects the mind as fertile territory for advertising.) By contrast, far too many engineers move into marketing only to sell to the mind.

The supercomputer example is an extreme when somehow we’d expect emotion plays little part. But emotion played a central role in even these big purchases. And, after 20 years in consumer advertising, I’ve found that whenever we exercise a disciplined approach leveraging both heart and mind then sales happen faster, the brand loyalty is stronger (and lasts longer), and the consumer is more satisfied.

Back to Byron Sharp. Just today he posted about emotional vs rational advertising (link here). And he nets out that this dichotomy isn’t a critical dichotomy for advertising because both play their role (an idea with which I suspect Ellul would strongly agree).

Similar to Ellul’s observations, in his post Sharp suggests examples of highly emotional facts such as “baby dolphins are dying because of plastic bags you throw away”.

I think there are far more subtle emotions around facts like those describing a car engine or a new wrench. Yet these facts also generate emotions, and in the right situation are far more powerful than more abstract brand storytelling.

Sharp suggests we consider persuasion oriented vs entertainment oriented advertising as a more useful dichotomy. I think that’s one smart breakdown. There are probably many more. I’ve suggested in this blog that considering the client profit horizon is often a useful approach for looking at ad choices. And I’ve found that early life cycle products or brands have far different needs than those in later life cycles.

The key take-away from Ellul should be that facts have a surprising results; that their primary value is emotional. And both Sharp and Ellul show that the human psyche is far more complex than advertising agencies often expect. We need to respect both these learnings. Because great advertising takes advantage of every tool to deliver the most powerful work.

Copyright 2013 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

All references from pages 84-87 of “Propaganda, The Formation of Men’s Attitudes” copyright 1965, Vintage Books Edition 1973, Vintage Books (A division of Random House), New York, NY.

The Emotional Impact of Facts

Facts used in advertising leave behind emotion.

I ran across this thought provoking idea in the Jaques Ellul book “Propaganda” (published in 1965, I read this book in the 1980′s and recently decided it was worth a re-read). 20130114-191437.jpg

Rational and Irrational Communication. Ellul considers the difference between information and propaganda and the tendency to believe that “information addresses reason and experience … where propaganda addresses feelings and passion”. He concludes: “It’s not that simple.”

Ellul Finds Information Uniquely Important to the Human Psyche. “Modern man needs a relation to facts, a self-justification to convince himself that by acting in a certain way, he is obeying reason and proved experience.”

Ellul is, of course, primarily looking at political propaganda. But he also knows this to be true in advertising.

Suppose someone sees a car ad about a new engine. Ellul notes “All those technical descriptions and exact details will form a general picture in his head, rather vague but highly colored – and when he speaks of the engine, he will say: ‘It’s Terrific!’” (this dated term confirms that Ellul was a sociologist and not a copywriter.)

Truth is that too much emotional advertising leaves behind vague feelings of emotion where more persuasive advertising leaves behind conviction – for example a feeling of “that tool is amazing” along with an emotional tendency to purchase.

Ellul concludes that after factual communication “What remains with the individual affected by this propaganda is a perfectly irrational picture, a purely emotional feeling, a myth.”

Ellul confirms my marketing experience. In dashing for advertising “simplicity” most agencies decide to include fewer facts. But Ellul suggests that “The more facts supplied, the more simplistic the image.”

Of course, this isn’t true if they are disconnected facts thrown at the receiver of the communication. Simplicity results when a series of facts (often apparently disconnected) build toward the same conclusion.

And Ellul gives us an interesting insight into extremes in emotion. “It has even clearly been proved that a violent, excessive shock-provoking propaganda text leads ultimately to less conviction and participation than does a more “informative” and reasonable text on the subject. A large dose of fear precipitates immediate action; a reasonably small dose produces lasting support.”

I’m struck by Ellul’s similarity to Byron Sharp’s observation last year that “It’s rare that the hot-blooded emotions create strong brand loyalty.” Link here.

Why do I find this so compelling? I find my agency’s work unusual in the ad business. We take Ogilvy’s admonition quite seriously that whether the ad impresses someone as “creative” isn’t critical but that the ad makes them want to buy the product.

As a result our work paints pictures about a product with a rich combination of visual clarity, people, and ideas all sitting on a base of facts. And we know the net result is that people (consumers) get excited about the product and retain superb brand connections. And, we know this work drives immediate sales while creating strong brands. (Link here.)

That said, I’ve found it takes tremendous discipline to continue this work when many agencies and potential clients need creative work to, primarily, entertain themselves — skipping the question of whether this work is meaningful to consumers in ways that are profitable.

This Truth about Facts is Supported by Experience. While selling supercomputers in the late 1980′s, my mantra was to sell “heart and mind”. Far too many ad agencies can see no further than to appeal to the heart. (Sadly, the portfolio school farm team approach seems to entrench an attitude that rejects the mind as fertile territory for advertising.) By contrast, far too many engineers move into marketing only to sell to the mind.

The supercomputer example is an extreme when somehow we’d expect emotion plays little part. But emotion played a central role in even these big purchases. And, after 20 years in consumer advertising, I’ve found that whenever we exercise a disciplined approach leveraging both heart and mind then sales happen faster, the brand loyalty is stronger (and lasts longer), and the consumer is more satisfied.

Back to Byron Sharp. Just today he posted about emotional vs rational advertising (link here). And he nets out that this dichotomy isn’t a critical dichotomy for advertising because both play their role (an idea with which I suspect Ellul would strongly agree).

Similar to Ellul’s observations, in his post Sharp suggests examples of highly emotional facts such as “baby dolphins are dying because of plastic bags you throw away”.

I think there are far more subtle emotions around facts like those describing a car engine or a new wrench. Yet these facts also generate emotions, and in the right situation are far more powerful than more abstract brand storytelling.

Sharp suggests we consider persuasion oriented vs entertainment oriented advertising as a more useful dichotomy. I think that’s one smart breakdown. There are probably many more. I’ve suggested in this blog that considering the client profit horizon is often a useful approach for looking at ad choices. And I’ve found that early life cycle products or brands have far different needs than those in later life cycles.

The key take-away from Ellul should be that facts have a surprising results; that their primary value is emotional. And both Sharp and Ellul show that the human psyche is far more complex than advertising agencies often expect. We need to respect both these learnings. Because great advertising takes advantage of every tool to deliver the most powerful work.

Copyright 2013 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

All references from pages 84-87 of “Propaganda, The Formation of Men’s Attitudes” copyright 1965, Vintage Books Edition 1973, Vintage Books (A division of Random House), New York, NY.

Don’t Test Whispers

Key to marketing success is a disciplined approach to testing ideas and action. After all, marketing writing and consulting is filled with tremendously attractive and detailed theories about action “X” causing result “Y”. Yet all these theories were developed based on specific experiences under specific circumstances. So there’s no guarantee that taking them and applying them in your world will create the same result.

So we should test, test test. And yet…testing experience shows that far more things are tested than are found to conclusively help or hurt. Why? One quite common testing error is to “test whispers” – small changes that simply can’t have a large enough impact to drive measurable change.

I once watched Rubbermaid test whispers in focus groups where a series of 5 statements of brand differentiation were evaluated. But rather than vary the statements with ideas that were truly significant to consumers, the statements traded off tiny wording changes. (I found it ironically enjoyable to watch the focus group participants quite frankly explain that all the statements said the same thing.)

Focusing on testing important things is even more critical in retail markets. In part, a mature market is extraordinarily noisy. And changes in the retail world are never isolated enough to be perfectly separated from other actions – often actions we might not even be aware of like promotional choices made by a local retail store manager.

In part, the statistical variations in normal day-to-day activity are quite often far larger than the size of change we’re hoping to test. We hired a statistician to evaluate some results a decade ago or so for a tool client who sold through Sears. The size of change that retail merchandising efforts produced (e.g. appearing in the Sunday circulars) far outpaced any of the changes we’d see from advertising spending (which was a long-term & constant effort). The statistician identified impact from the advertising, but in order to damp out the impact of the merchandising efforts he could say no more than “there was impact” because he had lost all valid ability to quantify the size of the impact. (Reminded me of my qualitative vs. quantitative chemistry work in school…)

One might think testing becomes far different when we shift to direct response marketing. It doesn’t. Even in DR one has to be careful to test actions that are significant enough to generate a change you can measure with confidence.

So read on in my direct response television based article from this month’s Response Magazine. (Link here.)

Testing offers tremendous organizational advantage – especially responding to political attack with knowledge gained from testing. So embrace testing. And focus your testing efforts where you can successfully evaluate the test results.

Copyright 2013 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Don’t Test Whispers

Key to marketing success is a disciplined approach to testing ideas and action. After all, marketing writing and consulting is filled with tremendously attractive and detailed theories about action “X” causing result “Y”. Yet all these theories were developed based on specific experiences under specific circumstances. So there’s no guarantee that taking them and applying them in your world will create the same result.

So we should test, test test. And yet…testing experience shows that far more things are tested than are found to conclusively help or hurt. Why? One quite common testing error is to “test whispers” – small changes that simply can’t have a large enough impact to drive measurable change.

I once watched Rubbermaid test whispers in focus groups where a series of 5 statements of brand differentiation were evaluated. But rather than vary the statements with ideas that were truly significant to consumers, the statements traded off tiny wording changes. (I found it ironically enjoyable to watch the focus group participants quite frankly explain that all the statements said the same thing.)

Focusing on testing important things is even more critical in retail markets. In part, a mature market is extraordinarily noisy. And changes in the retail world are never isolated enough to be perfectly separated from other actions – often actions we might not even be aware of like promotional choices made by a local retail store manager.

In part, the statistical variations in normal day-to-day activity are quite often far larger than the size of change we’re hoping to test. We hired a statistician to evaluate some results a decade ago or so for a tool client who sold through Sears. The size of change that retail merchandising efforts produced (e.g. appearing in the Sunday circulars) far outpaced any of the changes we’d see from advertising spending (which was a long-term & constant effort). The statistician identified impact from the advertising, but in order to damp out the impact of the merchandising efforts he could say no more than “there was impact” because he had lost all valid ability to quantify the size of the impact. (Reminded me of my qualitative vs. quantitative chemistry work in school…)

One might think testing becomes far different when we shift to direct response marketing. It doesn’t. Even in DR one has to be careful to test actions that are significant enough to generate a change you can measure with confidence.

So read on in my direct response television based article from this month’s Response Magazine. (Link here.)

Testing offers tremendous organizational advantage – especially responding to political attack with knowledge gained from testing. So embrace testing. And focus your testing efforts where you can successfully evaluate the test results.

Copyright 2013 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Agencies Need to Be Good Stewards of Their Own Brand

I’m often amazed at how poorly agencies manage their own marketing – especially their own brand. Look across the ad biz and you’ll find a cacophony of agency names in an ever changing landscape.

You might assume these changes reflect agencies going in and out of business. That’s not usually the truth. There is a tendency in the agency business to chase name fads – a practice that leads to annual or biannual name changing as a matter of course (as in “this year the coolest agency names are based on…insects…so we’re changing our name to FleaBag”). In an amazing act of euphemism, I’ve heard this called “re-branding”.

Truth is, re-branding is the agency version of the announcement of the annual Pantone color of the year which tells us the color for 2013 is Pantone Emerald 17-5641 TCX (link here). I’ll bet if you watch closely this year some agency will use “Emerald” in their agency name and more agencies will add green to their logo’s (or convert all together). Then, keep a keen eye on it and you’ll see them flip to another color in a couple of years.

Except. We ask to become stewards of the world’s largest brands. Those brands need to evolve carefully according to shifts in the market so skirt chasing after fads is destructive. (It’s no accident that the brand names Claude Hopkins’ discussed as important his 1923 book “Scientific Advertising” generally still exist as top brands…and with their same names.)

The agency brands we build need to survive the fads – not flap in the wind with them.

Even International Conglomerate Agencies Make this Mistake. Consider Euro. Last fall Euro RCSG announced that they’re renaming themselves to various flavors of “Havas”. (Link here.)

Read the release and you might think this is pretty reasonable. But I’ve been following names at this global ad giant ever since they bought my former employer in January 2000. It’s been fascinating to watch the amazing, wandering brand…

Step 1 (Jan 2000): My former employer was Tyee. So when they were bought they were named “Euro RCSG Tyee”.

Step 2: After a couple years of operation, Euro bought a media buying company named MCM, combined them, and named the result “Euro RCSG Tyee MCM”. A mouthful, but a reasonable evolution.

Step 3: After a couple more years, they quite publicly announced they were “simplifying” this complex name and changed it to “Euro RCSG 4D DRTV”. Riiiight. Much simpler. Oh, and I couldn’t figure out the 4D part. But what else do bureaucracies do but print business cards?

Step 4: Given a couple more years, it was time for new letterhead again. So under the auspices of simplification they re-branded the operation “Euro RCSG Edge”. Ah, one less word.

Step 5 (Fall 2012): Another couple years have passed and clearly letterhead needs to be replaced. So now their operation will be named “Havas Edge”. Riiiiiiight. That’s really helpful.

Five different names in 12 years. And now a very dramatic change because truthfully they were always just known as “Euro” in the direct response television business. Shifting “Euro” to “Havas” will take years to be effective (I’ve lived through these kinds of name changes before and they’re not pretty).

Observing from a distance my guess is these names are chosen to keep global agency management happy and help accountants allocate expenses to the right pool. They certainly aren’t market focused brands.

Agencies Need to Better Manage Their Own Brands. There are times when a name change makes sense. Unfortunately, I find that agencies love to make radical jumps in naming rather than the brand evolution that is usually far more successful. And some agencies have a 2-year itch – needing a new name every 24 months.

And that leads me to a thought. Through all the agency RFP’s I’ve seen, agencies are never asked to discuss the strategy behind their own brand. This might be a very revealing query since it should be important to uncover inadequate brand management from a company who specializes in… well… brand management.

On the other hand, it would take a very savvy client to review the responses since managing an agency brand is strategically different than managing a CPG brand or a high tech brand. Clients would need to focus on the strategic thinking behind the brand – not seeking something that “looks just like what we want”.

Still, for a smart client, how an agency handles its own brand is critical. And after all, should you really put your billion dollar brand in the hands of a company that can’t keep its own simple brand house in order?

Copyright 2013 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

The Brand Building Power of Product Advertising

Funny how names are. A specific type of advertising was labeled “brand advertising”. So the myth developed that in order to build brand, you need to use brand advertising.

Except, it isn’t true. And with billions of dollars of revenue on the line, it’s time advertisers got smarter. Because here’s the real brand truth:

1. All types of advertising build brand.

2. The type which is most effective changes – depending on your company, brand, consumer, profit structure and product or service situation.

3. Quite often a mix of types is most effective – a mix which may or may not include “brand advertising”.

The Brand Building Power of Product Advertising Given this truth, it’s sad that one particularly powerful tool is also one of the least understood by agencies & the ad biz — advertising which uses the product to build brand.

When I bring this up with colleagues I hear three objections:

Many protest “But wait! Product is at the core of all we do”. Except they usually aren’t being very honest with themselves. Looked at critically, they’d find that product is barely present in their advertising.

Others suggest that communication that isn’t about brand can only be about product features. But what consumers want to know about products doesn’t start with features and it certainly isn’t some brand “I want to be your friend” communication. Consumers want to know why the product is meaningful to them. (The ad biz needs to developed a far better sense of the richness in how consumers relate to products.)

I also repeatedly hear “there’s nothing to say about the product”. Sometimes that’s true (sadly). But far more often this comment reveals that the agency isn’t interested in the product or the fascinating consumer realities that surround it.

Truth is that much of today’s brand advertising treats the product as little more than a flavor while the front and center communication follows some theory about the brand that may or may not relate to the product.

Just check out the 2012 Audi and 2011 VW Superbowl ads. There are shots of the cars (yawn). But the primary product communication from Audi is that their $90,000 car has nice headlights. And the Volkswagon Vader ad, while brilliant emotionally, merely observes the car can be started remotely (an exceptionally dated feature common on American cars since before 2000). Product flavoring. (For another theory that misses the consumer mark just Google “brand lovemarks”.)

Yet, Product is At The Core of The Neural Reality of Brand. The brand reality that drives economic power resides in the brain among the neural connections and how they respond to stimuli like situations, problems, and emotions.

Byron Sharp has noted that advertising needs to help form these connections so that your brand rattles out of the consumer brain in ways and at times when that brand recall can lead to purchase. (My common sense interpretation of his far more sophisticated work.)

Sharp is absolutely right. And starting from Sharp I diverge from many of my agency based brand co-religionists – because I combine Sharp’s truth with experience as a salesman (that’s right, bag carrying, feet in the street selling).

What the school of hard knocks has taught me is that economically powerful brand neural connections must start with the product – because product is at the core of all brand. That makes communication which is driven by product oriented messages exceptionally powerful.

There are clearly times when there’s not much way to use the product (think Budweiser ads). And in this case more abstract brand messages which tap general emotions are the right choice. Unfortunately, creating this type of advertising is so fun and profitable for agencies that it has become their PRIMARY ad recommendation – to the detriment of their clients.

But no amount of brand storytelling can outpace the power of the two fundamental product experiences – purchasing a product and using it successfully. Nor can brand storytelling outpace the power of product based communication when the situation calls for it.

Apple is One Company that Understands Product advertising. Watch Apple ads. There’s no strange attempts to show that they “get us”. There’s no convoluted attempts to force humor into supporting their products. Instead, they feature the product and what it does for you. Unfortunately, since Steve Jobs’ death Apple’s ads have seemed to lose this product focus – and are becoming far less interesting and meaningful as a result.

20130114-191437.jpg

The Edison award winning Kobalt Double Drive is a good example of advertising leveraging product to build brand.Click this link to view the product core of our :120 second spot. (It is broadcast as a direct response spot with both :60 and :120 second versions. Some internal commercial information has been edited out of this YouTube version.)

My Agency’s Work for the Kobalt Brand is Another Example. Starting in 2010, a series of highly innovative hand tools have been brought out under the Kobalt brand — the Lowe’s private label tool brand. We’ve been fortunate to be the agency developing advertising for these outstanding products.

The result has been outstanding product introductions combined with excellent brand growth for Kobalt which has even begun to appear on the Landor Associates study of emerging brands as a “brand to watch”. (Link here.)

A Quick Synopsis of Product Advertising’s Brand Building Value. If you have a product situation and embrace product advertising, it will bring to the brand building process a tremendous power.

Product Stories are Quickly Recalled at Critical Sales Points. The time brand matters is situational – at that point where it can motivate action that leads to a purchase. When someone knows where/when/why your product is outstanding, it’s far more likely that your brand will be the one that comes to mind when they need it or are searching for a solution (at the store or online).

Products Showcase Brand Value. Product is the strongest way to personify brand values. So when you are building a new brand or need to cause a dramatic shift in perception of your brand, you’ll create the largest change – fastest – when you bring products to the forefront to lead that charge.

Products Are Humanly Powerful. People are people. And they don’t buy visions – they buy products. Too much brand advertising offers a brand vision that never sinks into viewer consciousness because it’s delivered without evidence. But when you show how the product showcases the vision, then it’s easier to remember and easier to believe.

Product Builds Consumer Perception of Value More Than Brand Ever Can. Perceived brand value generally adds between 5% and 25% to the price of the product with a few instances as high as 50% (and some big luxury exceptions). By contrast, clearly articulated product value easily adds 100%, 200%, or more to this price. (And the highest perceived value comes when product value and brand are combined.)

Emotions Close to a Product Are Most Powerful. Account planning has led traditional advertising into a wilderness of obscure emotion. But in truth, it’s the emotions close to the product that drive purchase and drive brand power.

Products Establish Trust In Your Brand’s Promises. Brands build trust through a cycle of promise and delivery. Consumers who see product promises, buy the product, and see the value it delivers become more loyal than any who might buy a “hot brand product” without clear sense of expectations.

A Product’s Story Is Naturally Memorable. Brand ads work hard (often too hard) to make memorable statements. But messages centered on a product are easier for consumers to remember – making them the ones that drive consumer action.

Product Advertising Brands While You Sell. So far, I’ve focused on the issue of branding. But there’s an added power to product oriented advertising – it sells far more product while branding. This is critical in the early phases of brand building or in major brand re-orientation phases where the nuts and bolts of driving product out the retail door is so important.

Creating a Communication Mix Including Product Advertising. The “relationship” analogy is the most commonly used way to talk about brand communication. (It’s not that I believe brand relationships are as strong as life partnerships – Sharp reminds us consumers are polygamous when it comes to brands. But the analogy is interesting.)

Strong, meaningful life partnerships are filled with a range of experiences. They include fun flights of fancy and spontaneity. But they also need far more time building from daily living – working and solving life’s problems together.

Strikes me that brand advertising is really quite one dimensional – reflecting only those moments of spontaneity. These moments are important, but only a small portion of the total engagement that makes a strong brand relationship. By contrast, product based advertising relates to the rest of a relationship – the majority of the experiences.

As a starting point, if you can afford a broad mix, consider putting 20%-30% of your resources with brand advertising, 40-50% with product based advertising, and the remainder in hard working promotional, drive to store, in-store, online, or in digital display reminders. Certainly there will be situations where 60% should go to brand advertising. But as a starting point I have found this weighting to be smart.

Driving Advertising Power. Hopefully this post begins some conversations. I do not think all advertising should be what I’ve called product advertising – merely that the ad biz defaults to brand advertising while ignoring product advertising’s power.

And I don’t have vast piles of traditional statistical analysis to back up this discussion – just 20 years driving brand growth with product oriented advertising. So I know it works. And know that there’s more to do to better understand the conditions under which it flourishes or the specific trade-offs with brand advertising.

Still, far more companies need product oriented advertising than are using it today. So take the leap – separate from any drive to create the next work of “brand art”. And give product based advertising a look. You might be surprised how far you can take your brand…and how your consumers will thank you.

Copyright 2013 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Challenge the Myths of Internet TV with Reality

There’s huge money to be made, apparently, for consultants who project radical future change. In TV, that means suggesting TV becomes a variant of online video. (Really? We need better produced cat videos?)

But the rest of us have to earn our money based on reality. And lately there have been some interesting truths to help anchor TVs future in reality.

TV Works Because of Subtle Market Benefits Hidden in the Economics of Cable. A recent Atlantic article (link here) discusses how the economics of TV work for advertisers because of casual station viewers.

Unfortunately, the author in the Atlantic is dismissive of the wide range of viewers. The situation is far more interesting with committed viewers (probably 20%), periodic viewers, casual viewers, and drive by viewers. Who will pay for an internet subscription? Only the first group. So with 80% fewer viewers, ad revenues go down by 80% (or so). That’s not going to pay for good content.

Internet Subscription Fees for TV Would Have to be Far Higher than Through Cable. HBO recently discussed the economic return they get from the cable ecosystem – economic return that allows them to offer $10 to $15 subscriptions.

Shift to the internet and each individual subscriber would have to pay those costs. That means HBO subscriptions so high that they believe people wouldn’t pay for it. Truth is that cable aggregation lowers consumer prices for the package of networks.

My prediction is that if cable disappears, the days of “only” $100 monthly cable bills would be gone. And we’d enter a world of $200 to $300 monthly bills – just to get the same stuff.

“There’s Nothing On” is Mostly Human Condition – Not a Solvable Problem. New TV providers are claiming that by shifting to the internet we’ll always find something on we want to watch. But we won’t.

In the mid 1990′s I did research for a provider who thought offering 200 channels would solve the “nothing to watch” problem. Guess what we found out? Consumers told us that the jump from 4 to 60 channels didn’t ensure there was something to watch. So they didn’t believe jumping to 200 would be any different. It was brilliant consumer honesty.

Periods of entertainment dissatisfaction are human – perhaps reflecting a fundamental ennui. So unless technology solves the existential human condition, we’ll alway fight the problem that nothing meets our expectations for viewing.

The Future of TV is…Television. I was reminded of this in a recent AdAge article (link here) by Thomas Morgan. Morgan should know given the wide range of future TV approaches he’s been involved with. His conclusion? “It’s the programming, stupid.“)

At this point in history, TV is more vital and alive than ever. And unless you embrace that reality —- what I call the circus of TV – your new TV approaches aren’t going to fly. There can be evolution. But, whatever happens, TV as it exists today is THE starting point.

Many New Media (esp. TV) Studies are Inherently Flawed. In a recent blog post (link here) I noted several ways people mis-interpret data. A major error that’s driving us crazy with new media is when writers fail to distinguish between “I once did this thing” and “I do this thing all the time, every day”.

Take Netflix. It replaces the video store (and always has). But dramatic headlines claim that huge numbers skip viewing TV to view something on Netflix. In reality, the numbers show that a lot of people every now and then view on Netflix instead of on TV. But that’s not new behavior.

I’m so old I can even remember the days before Netflix. And I can remember many evenings I watched something from the video store instead of watching TV. I even knew some people who disconnected from cable and decided to live off what they could rent at the video store.

Truth is, there’s no proof that these studies measure anything beyond the behavior we’ve known for decades. Nor is there proof that the behavior is happening in larger numbers. We need some clear research on Netflix, but certainly aren’t getting it yet.

A Cultural Elitism Drives Anti-TV Fervor. Can’t say I have a study or article to back this up. But I do have a pile and a half of comments about the future of TV – often in reply to ideas I contribute. Sorting through all that commentary there’s a clear cultural elitism at work. All too often we hear “I can’t wait until it’s all internet TV and we won’t have all the crass stuff that’s on TV”.

But let’s check out reality. Internet TV is nothing if not crass – horribly crass. In fact, the idea of “TV as cultural decline” has survived for decades. And its put forth by an elite who hate the circus that most people love. But has that elite taken a serious, clear-eyed look at the internet? Apparently not – it’s far easier to pick up the same old canard.

TV Will Change. But Beware the Snake Oil Salesmen. The productive future for TV (that is also productive for the internet) will maintain TV’s eco-system and deliver:

– Consumer satisfaction.
– Advertiser health (leading to GDP growth)
– Cost effective distribution
– Content developer financial success

Only then will the evolution keep TV’s interest and power while moving ahead.

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Apple & Application Software…iOS6 Maps Debacle Looks like Final Cut Fiasco

I wrote my letter today to Tim Cook (CEO, Apple) informing him that, as a result of the Final Cut Pro/FCP-X debacle, starting 11/1 my company will create no new FCP projects.

As I wrote, it hit me – the iOS6 Maps fiasco and the Final Cut Pro debacle have eerie similarities…

– In both cases, Apple believed they were developing a dramatic innovation. (And in both cases, they might be – but who can tell given each product’s tremendous weaknesses?)

– In both cases, Apple was tinkering with application software – not systems software.

– In both cases, Apple ignored how dramatically software changes would impact their customer’s lives.

– In both cases, Apple replaced successful mission-critical software with software that can’t be relied on.

– In both cases, Apple hurt their brand trust among users who adopted their software and trusted that Apple would be smart enough not to screw up mission critical software.

– In both cases, Apple originally succeeded with professional quality software that was developed elsewhere. (I understand they inherited the FCP fundamentals and we all know Google delivered the original iPhone Maps.)

It May Be That Apple’s Innovation Skill Doesn’t Extend to Applications. Apple brings stunning innovation to integrated systems/products. But Apple’s successful clever applications generally work only for low demand users and products that aren’t mission critical – like iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, Pages & Numbers. All are inadequate for professional users.

Even Keynote (probably best suited for professionals) has significant flaws for those of us who would like to rely on it for all our work in that format. For example, it only allows landscape mode. But sometimes we need to create presentation material in portrait mode. Also, the transfer from the desktop to the iPad is so poor that we have to re-edit every presentation we take to the iPad.

For a Decade, Final Cut Pro Delivered Quality. FCP was so good that by 2005 we had jettisoned all Avid system work for FCP. (Avid was the dominant editing system.) And FCP worked well – bringing power through flexibility.

Then Apple announced FCP-X – a remake of Final Cut Pro that looked surprisingly like iMovie and lacked the professional features demanded by the TV advertising we create. Was it innovative? Who could tell. A lot changed. But it was so ineffective for our work that we still (18 months later) can’t clearly identify the innovation.

So I wrote a letter to Cook last year and an Apple representative called me. They suggested that FCP-X was great (no matter what I thought) but that also Apple would continue to support the old Final Cut Pro.

Then over the past 18 months, each successive operating system upgrade has delivered new and mysterious crashes to the FCP setups we rely on while FCP-X remains severely hampered in basic features. In the past month, those crashes became so severe that we determined we would start no new projects on FCP. Our hand has been forced.

Which Apple Hubris Causes These Failures? Here’s my guess. Apple has relied on bravado, vision, discipline, and brilliance to deliver ground-breaking integrated products like the iMac, MacBook Air, iPhone, iPod, and iPad.

But when it comes to application software, it looks to me they kept the bravado – but forgot all those others.

Also, having designed software used by mechanical engineers in automotive and aerospace earlier in my career, I think it’s possible that Apple is mis-led by Jobs’ vaunted Zen aesthetic sense. The same simplicity that benefits novices can impede the success of experts. That means expert software often requires complexity that clutters that aesthetic beauty.

Why Did I Write Tim Cook? While our next step is clear to me, I believe companies should know the impact of their actions. And should internalize feedback from product users to make future work more effective.

With that in mind, I have a habit of informing companies of my dis-satisfaction – hoping they can use the feedback to grow and learn.

Will Apple change? Who knows. Their eventual response to the Maps fiasco will show us whether the size of that mistake will finally cause the organization to come to grips with its application software weakness.

Clearly Apple could change – god knows they have the cash reserves. But only time will tell if they will.

Note: Apple followed up my letter with a phone call. In this call, with admirable honesty, I learned that they don’t support dual versions of software and FCP-X is where they put their work. While I dislike the answer, it is encouraging that this year the call I received was honest. Now we will move to Premier without hesitation. And, hopefully we can continue to thrive on Apple systems – because this problem fortunately seems limited to Apple application software.

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Kobalt Tools Becomes a 2012 “Brand to Watch” (An Atomic Client)

Landor Associates has just published their top 10 “Breakaway Brands” for 2012 and the list isn’t too surprising. Facebook leads off followed by Keurig, Skype, Amazon, Vizio, Samsung, YouTube, Netflix, the US Marine Corps, and Apple. (This study is published in Forbes each year. Link here.)

It gets more interesting in the “Brands to Watch” list. Leading the three “Brands to Watch” is Atomic client Kobalt Tools (followed by Foster Farms and Symantec/Norton).

Did That Really Say Kobalt Tools? That’s right. Hanging in there amongst these technology superstars and food brands is Lowe’s private label brand for tools. The Kobalt presence becomes even more interesting after we note a few specifics:

Kobalt Tools is the only private label brand in the bunch. And, aside from the Marine Corps, it’s the only non-tech and non-food brand in the bunch.

While the article discusses only Kobalt’s NASCAR connection, the Kobalt reality includes far more pieces than just that one element.

Supporting superb merchandising and other brand marketing work, Kobalt is being driven heavily by that lowly medium of Direct Response Television (DRTV).

Brand Progress Comes Through Many Parts. A tremendous number of things come together to create this kind of brand power. And we’re glad we’ve been able to do our part.

One very important reality that is missed far too often in the brand literature: A major part of this growth comes because Kobalt Brand products are of superb quality and they deliver excellent, meaningful innovations.

Kudo’s to the entire team at Lowe’s. This is impressive brand growth and it is the result of a lot of smart choices and hard work.

DRTV Deserves a Place at the Table. I’ve noted elsewhere that I think it’s time for DRTV to take it’s place at the brand table among other forms of advertising. (Of course I’m referring to brand DRTV – not the yell & sell stuff.)

Lets hope that honors like this can help make that happen — and wake up advertisers everywhere to the reality that DRTV can play a powerful role in building brand for those who use it well.

Note: Here’s some background on Landor’s process (taken from the link above): “Brand strength is determined using three years of consumer survey data from the BrandAsset® Valuator (BAV) U.S. database (we compared results from 2008 to 2011 for this study). Landor analyzed data for approximately 2,500 brands across industries, based on interviews with more than 15,000 consumers annually, evaluating against 48 different measures of brand health.”

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

New Confirmation that Offline Advertising Drives Online Success

Just about 2 years ago I wrote a post looking at how online success required offline advertising. (Link here.) But there is a lot of hype about the rate of online change – so that opinion must be stale, right? After all, among the “cyber hipsters” (as I saw them described today) everything off-line dimishes and fades. But cyber hipsterism doesn’t often reflect reality.

A new study about TV shows nothing has changed and that “TV Ads Lift Online Sales Conversion” (Link here.) The study clearly showed an increase in both traffic and conversion that resulted from TV advertising. This is no surprise for those of us who work in TV. But it is confirming to find that there’s hard data to back up what we all experience.

Unfortunately, many online companies struggle to leverage TV. In my experience, this struggle starts with the problem of scale. The Web’s beauty is that it offers an inexpensive way to reach a small universe. That makes it extremely low risk to test things. But with low risk comes low revenue. So being unwilling to go beyond this comfortable low risk testing also means you won’t tap into the far greater profit that might be available for you.

The online companies look at the an offline opportunity like TV and begin to see a big potential in a big universe. Even better, they find that TV’s extraordinarily inexpensive per person to reach people. But, then the “get started” costs hit. There’s simply more risk required to get started (as is common with bigger business opportunities).

So an online marketer might be used to spending $500 to create a banner ad then spending $2,000 in media to test it. But to jump to TV, they’ll need to commit somewhere between $75K and $200K to testing (creative, production and media). (BTW… Those are conservative costs. Many ad agencies will charge $300K to $1M for creative and production and demand a $300K media budget to test. I don’t use those numbers because I don’t think those are smart first steps when you’re building your way up from the online budget size.)

Even at my low end of $75K, there’s risk involved that make many online marketers quite uncomfortable. But there are also huge revenue dollars that can’t be generated without offline marketing. And that means taking those risks is required if you’re to reach the opportunity found in your business.

One result worth considering more deeply: A top level review of these new results shows very low conversion of all search generated leads – and that the free search leads converted roughly the same as the paid search.

Now this research doesn’t compare click volumes – so we don’t entirely know what to do with these results. But they do suggest some caution when running paid search along with TV – you might be paying twice for a lead.

My advice to online marketers? Dig in. Look at the risk. Look at the offline media that’s critical to your business while knowing that there’s marketing power beyond what online work can deliver.

Then take the risk – and proceed wisely with partners who know how to deliver results. When it works you’ll rise to a level you had never imagined.

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Web Advertising and the Myth of “Lean Forward Media”

The companies promoting various forms of online advertising spend vast amounts of time pointing out well understood challenges with off-line advertising. But those very same companies are blind to the tremendous weaknesses in online advertising.

And the truth is that there are tremendous downsides to web advertising – downsides that may explain the extraordinarily low CPC’s that can be charged online. (More on these costs later.)

The Myth of Lean Forward Media. In the 1990′s advertising agencies claimed that the web had a huge advantage because web surfers were “active and engaged” – that they were “leaning forward” instead of “leaning backward” like with TV. And an entire industry leapt to the fully irrational conclusion that if someone was leaning forward to, for example, read an article, they’d also be more active and engaged with an advertisement.

Fast forward to 2012 and it’s clear they were wrong. In fact, when you consider the way people work, the opposite is true. The more engaged I am with a news story or on the web video I’ve chosen to watch, the less I’m able to open my mind to take in what an advertisement offers.

It’s so bad that when we’re engaged with seeing/searching on the web, we may well be LEAST able to receive advertising messages of nearly any media.

Making the Web Worse: Fragmentation. The web weakness is made worse by the dramatic fragmentation of web audiences. TV aggregates audiences – brings people together so we can reach large numbers.

But the web – shatters them into minuscule pieces. That shattering fundamentally limits the web’s ability to deliver large power.

The New Myth: Targeting by Web Behavior. Still seeking an advantage that can make web valuable for mass campaigns (instead of it’s marginal value known today), websites everywhere and a wide range of venture funded advertising companies are now touting amazing advantages by pinpointing your audience.

Truth is, they’re wrong once again. It’s just as impossible to target on the web with laser-like focus as it is anywhere else. (Explaining this deserves an entire post I’ll get out in a few weeks.)

These Web Weaknesses Explain the CPC Contradiction. I’ve noted for quite some time that if the web theories about advertising were true, they’d be charging far more per click than other media types charge for equivalent action.

But the truth is the opposite: Even when you have a highly targeted audience on the web, you’ll pay far, far less per click than you would for action equivalent through other media.

A Tremendous TV advantage. By contrast, TV ads hit us when we’re relaxed and open – able to hear about new things that interest us. (We’ve heard this in research with consumers about when they’ve called in response to DRTV advertising.)

Even better, rather than fragment the audience, TV aggregates an audience so that advertising reaches far more people and reaches them at a time when they’re relatively open to new messages.

(I focus on TV because that’s the area I know best. Magazines offer similar opportunity to reach consumers when their minds are open as does radio, outdoor, and often newspaper.)

Plan Your Campaigns with a Clear Head. I’m a strong proponent of integrated campaigns and firmly believe the web is part of those campaigns. But it needs to be balanced with an accurate awareness of web weaknesses. And those weaknesses seem to shake out meaning that the web will only deliver a power of 10 where TV delivers the power of 100.

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Store Brand? Manufacturer Brand? The Real Issue is Telling Consumers Something Meaningful.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about store brands competing with manufacturer brands – mostly talking about how store brands are thriving. This is to be expected – both due to retail evolution and the recession. But I don’t think we have to consider the brand preference a zero-sum game — reality is far more interesting.

Both types of brand play important roles for the consumer. And the consumer market is so robust there’s plenty of room for all types of brands – if they deliver something meaningful to consumers.

What’s missing in the current discussion, though, is any coherent discussion of the reality that it takes outstanding communication to make both types of brands thrive.

How Consumers View Manufacturer Brands and Store Brands. MediaPost recently discussed a survey about store brands and manufacturer brands (link here). Reading the article got me thinking – that consumer interaction with manufacturer and store brands goes something like this:

Consumers start by seeking the product that is most meaningful them – regardless of brand type.

So when a manufacturer brand offers good reason to buy, consumers act. And when they buy a product based on value (whether store brand or manufacturer brand), they’re happy to pay a fair price without needing it to be “low price”.

But far too often they don’t know WHY a brand product offers any advantage because it’s not been made clear. Lacking communication that provides meaning, they fall back on price – and in that case the store brand wins a great deal of the time.

Since store brands usually have a bit of a price advantage (or at least no price dis-advantage), a manufacturer brand suffers most without communication.

The Desperate Need To Communicate. Companies understand what I’ve suggested and spend millions building meaningful difference into the products within the brand line.

But remember the old philosophical thought experiment? “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear does it make a sound?” There’s a marketing equivalent: “If you add value to your product but nobody hears about it, did you really add value?” Of course not.

The Need for Product Advertising. This is why product oriented advertising – that tells consumers meaningful things about products – is also most effective at building brand. Because there’s no better statement of your values than product. And when your advertising shows your value through product time, after time, after time – you build a strong brand and you build it quickly.

So there’s this ironic truth: Focusing your advertising on the idea of a brand is often the least effective way to build the brand.

It’s worse because the modern evolution of brand advertising rarely offers meaningful reasons to choose brand products. Instead, we’re regaled with absurdities that are supposed to get our attention and lead us to “love” that brand. Quite often merely cool production or “edgy” social media executions are claimed to increase “engagement”.

(If you want “engagement” to build your brand, shouldn’t you try to lead the consumer to buy & use the product? I can’t imagine more powerful engagement than that.)

Brands Thrive When They Tell Consumers The Value of Their Products. We’ve been doing brand DRTV advertising for Kobalt brand tools from Lowe’s for a couple of years now. What’s striking is how powerfully advertising drives product sales while building this store brand.

And that leads to the most fundamental truth: it doesn’t matter much whether you have a store brand or a manufacturer brand. Brand strength is built when you communicate the value and meaning of your products.

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Research Shows that Smart Phones HELP Retail

The tech theorizers have suckered us into a mythology – the one where the Four Virtual Horsemen of the Tech Apocalypse destroy whatever they touch.

So, as soon as someone saw the first retail store shopper pull their smart phone out, tech titans started taking credit for the destruction of retail. But, new Deloitte research (link here) suggests we might want to keep our retail outlets open after all.

Turns out that shoppers with smart phones are 14% more likely to purchase within the store than those without these devices. And while this has generated a few shock waves of dis-belief among the adherents of technological destruction, it makes sense – human sense.

What do YOU do with your smart phone in the store? Here’s my own short list (I’m sure many people do other productive things with their smart phones).

Make sure the price is “reasonable”.

Check the features of the product in front of me against others.

Browse a review or two.

See if a different variation is available at another location.

The end result? Instead of having to LEAVE the store to do my homework, I can make a decision quickly and at the point of purchase. In other words, my smart phone browsing makes me more likely to buy right now rather than postpone the decision.

And interestingly, “check for the absolutely lowest price on the thing in front of me” isn’t on my list very often – because it’s not that meaningful.

This is superb news for stores since the minute someone leaves the store, their likelihood of purchase drops dramatically. So we shouldn’t be surprised to learn, over time, that stores benefit more and more from smart phone usage. We also should begin looking at smarter ways to construct apps to assist consumers (not just bombard them with offers). Those apps can pay off with more consumers purchasing and more purchased each time.

Perhaps more importantly, it means that stores should not panic at rumors of show rooming. Instead, focus on two things. Deliver a value added for consumers who shop in your locations. And streamline the connection between your online store and your physical store. (It’s no longer reasonable to let online live in a silo.)

Tech Needs a Better Sense of Humanity. Seems to me that the tech titans skew off-track because they have difficulty handling anything more than a one-dimensional theory of humanity. One common way we see this is a suggestion that price is all that matters.

This price theory led to amazing GroupOn hype – for a useful service but not the broad industry game changer we were told it would be. It’s some nice automation of coupon shopping for those who are coupon shoppers.

The more human reality is that we live complicated lives. Sometimes price is critical & sometimes not. If I can find a $100 product $10 cheaper elsewhere, it probably isn’t worth the extra hour it’s going to take to get it. Or, the week I’ll have to wait to get it from an online source. Or hassling to remember the Groupon & to have it ready when its needed.

(As an aside, Apple seems to have the best sense of humanity in the tech biz. And that confuses their competitors when Apple products succeed where others have failed or with technology that’s not “bleeding edge”.)

This is old news. I’m also struck by how often tech titans tell us they are once again “destroying” something…only to learn the technology actually HELPS the thing they promised to destroy.

Remember the DVR? It was going to lead to complete TV ad ineffectiveness? Funny story. Turns out the DVR has INCREASED ad effectiveness. (More here.)

Anyway, the good news is that shoppers have retained their humanity despite tech’s attempt to turn us all into robotic price shoppers. And that means shoppers spend more in your store if they’re carrying a smart phone. Not a bad situation at all.

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

The Power of Low & Consistent DRTV Spending

A potential retail oriented DRTV client once opened our meeting with “this needs to be a top 5 show”. I responded “Why? What is the difference for your business between a top 5 and a top 30 show?” He was speechless. They’d never really wondered. It was just a goal set by their traditional DRTV media buying group.

In truth, all advertising is far too often driven by lore and anecdote – even when it comes to media spending. And DRTV is no different. So I’ve been fascinated by DRTV’s obsession with massive spending – especially when the product is at retail.

That made it refreshing to read Byron Sharp’s latest post “A Little Advertising Goes a Long Way” (link here). Sharp focuses on campaigns with huge media bursts and finds that far too often they’re tremendously inefficient.

If you recall, Prof. Sharp is the head of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute which studies advertising with really smart leveraging of statistics. And they develop their findings until they reveal truly scientific learnings.

Media Efficiency vs Media Spending. Sharp and his team focused their efforts on efficiency — contrasting bursts with a consistent & lower level of mass-reach media over a long period of time.

When compared with intense bursts, they found “…low weights of advertising on high reach media are very efficient. Generating a lot of sales per dollar.”

Hmmm. A lot of agencies aren’t going to like this. Agencies and clients, relying on lore and anecdote, have developed a dis-like for spending smaller budgets on mass reach media (e.g. TV). (The sad reality is that burst campaigns have the ego satisfying result of leading neighbors to say “I saw your campaign last night”. Too bad “neighbors” aren’t your dominant target!)

Why This Finding? Sharp’s team looked specifically at reminder campaigns – designed to build and keep fresh the memory pathways needed to bring the brand back to the forefront in order to drive purchase.

“The most memory refreshing dollar spent on advertising is your first. Decay in returns start immediately unless the 2nd dollar hits purely new people. And in the modern media environment the amount of pure additional reach you can get decays rapidly.”

DRTV/Retail Experience Agrees with This Finding. While Sharp was discussing reminder campaigns, I was thinking about our many 30-minute retail oriented direct response television campaigns – ones that drive long term sales and brand development while introducing new products to new markets.

These aren’t the types of campaigns Sharp studied. But consistent with his results, we often run our 1/2 hour infomercials at low levels for very long periods of time. And we find this approach develops massive retail and brand impact – in fact it’s usually the best use of the media dollar.

We’ve delivered these results for both the Kreg Jig and the Drill Doctor. Our Drill Doctor client eventually sold nearly 3 million drill bit sharpeners, at an average of around $100 each. And, in the meanwhile, developed a thoroughly recognized brand for themselves where it mattered – among dedicated tool users. Pretty powerful given their relatively low media investments.

While we’ve lacked Sharp’s statistics, we concluded this works for a couple of reasons:

1. The messages hit fresh new minds without wasting too much money repeating the message to those who have already bought or rejected the messages.

2. These fresh/unexpected messages are given time to sit before potential consumers see them again – giving new ideas time to gestate in the consumer mind. Then, when they hear the message again, the consumer hears it with new confidence or can find the new things that they want to know to decide if they’ll buy.

Media Bursts Aren’t Always Wrong. What this leaves open is the question of when bursts are right. Sharp’s post clearly leaves the door open (intentionally) for bursts.

Some new product introductions need to be executed in bursts – especially when DRTV supports some styles of retail introductions. We’ve done some very powerful 8 week campaigns for Kobalt brand tools from Lowe’s. In these cases, they had to be big & short to support the retail execution. And, they worked with exceptional power.

Some bursts are seasonal – driving sales volume at a time like the Holidays when a massive spike of shoppers are in the store and when those shoppers are buying larger volume. Or when a product has a specific seasonal cycle.

Bursts can also be strategically smart. Sometimes it’s an important strategy to influence your sales channel. So, for example, a heavy-up campaign that hits when new product reaches the retail floor can deliver the sales needed for manufacturers to become trusted suppliers.

Allocating Media Budget Takes Skill, Strategic Insight, and Experience. Far too often, the idea that integrated campaigns are more powerful causes companies to spread small marketing budgets across far too many media options. My sense (and I’d love to hear from Sharp’s team on this one) is that these campaigns lack the consistency in any one media to build true strength.

Of course only bottom line that matters is this: What is your situation and what allocation of media achieves your business result. But we should all take away from Sharp’s post a fundamental caution about the burst approach and add to it a caution about spreading too little money across too many media outlets.

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

The Power of Low & Consistent Mass Media Spending

Advertising is far too often driven by lore and anecdote – even when it comes to media spending.

So it was refreshing to read Byron Sharp’s latest post “A Little Advertising Goes a Long Way” (link here). Sharp focuses on campaigns with huge media bursts and finds that far too often they’re tremendously inefficient.

If you recall, Prof. Sharp is the head of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute which studies advertising with really smart leveraging of statistics. And they develop their findings until they reveal truly scientific learnings.

Media Efficiency vs Media Spending. Sharp and his team focused their efforts on efficiency — contrasting bursts with a consistent & lower level of mass-reach media over a long period of time.

When compared with intense bursts, they found “…low weights of advertising on high reach media are very efficient. Generating a lot of sales per dollar.”

Hmmm. A lot of agencies aren’t going to like this. Agencies and clients, relying on lore and anecdote, have developed a dis-like for spending smaller budgets on mass reach media (e.g. TV). (The sad reality is that burst campaigns have the ego satisfying result of leading neighbors to say “I saw your campaign last night”. Too bad “neighbors” aren’t your dominant target!)

Why This Finding? Sharp’s team looked specifically at reminder campaigns – designed to build and keep fresh the memory pathways needed to bring the brand back to the forefront in order to drive purchase.

“The most memory refreshing dollar spent on advertising is your first. Decay in returns start immediately unless the 2nd dollar hits purely new people. And in the modern media environment the amount of pure additional reach you can get decays rapidly.”

DRTV/Retail Experience Agrees with This Finding. While Sharp was discussing reminder campaigns, I was thinking about our many 30-minute retail oriented direct response television campaigns – ones that drive long term sales and brand development while introducing new products to new markets.

These aren’t the types of campaigns Sharp studied. But consistent with his results, we often run our 1/2 hour infomercials at low levels for very long periods of time. And we find this approach develops massive retail and brand impact – in fact it’s usually the best use of the media dollar.

We’ve delivered these results for both the Kreg Jig and the Drill Doctor. Our Drill Doctor client eventually sold nearly 3 million drill bit sharpeners, at an average of around $100 each. And, in the meanwhile, developed a thoroughly recognized brand for themselves where it mattered – among dedicated tool users. Pretty powerful given their relatively low media investments.

While we’ve lacked Sharp’s statistics, we concluded this works for a couple of reasons:

1. The messages hit fresh new minds without wasting too much money repeating the message to those who have already bought or rejected the messages.

2. These fresh/unexpected messages are given time to sit before potential consumers see them again – giving new ideas time to gestate in the consumer mind. Then, when they hear the message again, the consumer hears it with new confidence or can find the new things that they want to know to decide if they’ll buy.

Media Bursts Aren’t Always Wrong. What this leaves open is the question of when bursts are right. Sharp’s post clearly leaves the door open (intentionally) for bursts.

Some new product introductions need to be executed in bursts – especially when DRTV supports some styles of retail introductions. We’ve done some very powerful 8 week campaigns for Kobalt brand tools from Lowe’s. In these cases, they had to be big & short to support the retail execution. And, they worked with exceptional power.

Some bursts are seasonal – driving sales volume at a time like the Holidays when a massive spike of shoppers are in the store and when those shoppers are buying larger volume. Or when a product has a specific seasonal cycle.

Bursts can also be strategically smart. Sometimes it’s an important strategy to influence your sales channel. So, for example, a heavy-up campaign that hits when new product reaches the retail floor can deliver the sales needed for manufacturers to become trusted suppliers.

But, You Might Say, Ads Become More Powerful When Seen a Lot (or Seen In Different Media). I think this argument starts with a fundamental logical flaw. If I spend $x to reach someone once and $3x to reach them 3 times, it’s unlikely that I’ll get 3x value out of reaching them that often. It simply isn’t reasonable unless you know you have a problem to solve where that repetition is make or break.

There are messages that need to gain the respectability power that comes from a single individual seeing them in multiple places or seeing them often. But you’d better be certain about that. Because if your message doesn’t NEED those additional consumer touches, then you’re wasting big media dollars because of the decreasing returns identified by Sharp.

Perhaps, also, this suggests why 1/2 hour infomercials do so well at constant low levels of media – a 1/2 hour message is so thorough it doesn’t benefit nearly as much from multiple viewings.

Allocating Media Budget Takes Skill, Strategic Insight, and Experience. Far too often, the idea that integrated campaigns are more powerful causes companies to spread small marketing budgets across far too many media options. My sense (and I’d love to hear from Sharp’s team on this one) is that these campaigns lack the consistency in any one media to build true strength.

Of course only bottom line that matters is this: What is your situation and what allocation of media achieves your business result. But we should all take away from Sharp’s post a fundamental caution about the burst approach and add to it a caution about spreading too little money across too many media outlets.

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Cable Cutting? Census Suggests Just Sharing Households.

Much was made of Nielsen numbers released recently that suggested a small drop in homes with multi-channel TV (cable, satellite, etc.).

Of course, those wishing to become rich in a new digital world told us, once again, that this was the harbinger of the death of TV…just like newspaper is dead (which it isn’t) and magazines are dead (which they aren’t).

But truth is often quite complex. And today I came across this release (click here).

Guess what? CENSUS data shows that we’ve lost nearly 2 million (or more) households – real physical households – as a result of the recession. But Nielsen theoretical loss is only 1.57 million multi channel households.

Hmmm. So it’s entirely possible that the Nielsen cable numbers are mostly the result of demographic change due to the economy and NOT a sea change in TV consumption. And, there has clearly been a natural cost cutting in households due to the recession.

In other words, Nielsen may NOT have measured a drop in demand for cable, satellite and telephone service provider delivered TV. But just the recession – affecting the number of households and household budgets.

Oh well. I don’t expect reality from the VC powered digital TV lobby. So I don’t expect to hear about this from too many sources.

But these numbers should remind us all to be careful – even (or especially) with Nielsen research. And most certainly these numbers should tell advertisers to take care with any plans to shift away from TV.

Regardless of all this hoo-hah, here’s reality. Video distributed over the web produces minimal results compared with TV. And TV continues to drive business growth like nothing else.

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Future TV Skepticism: Why I Don’t Think Apple will Conquer TV

It’s been a crazy week of reports on TV. It started with the extremists predicting nothing less than complete destruction of TV. They report this, of course, with tremendous glee – after all it’s good for your career to predict the demise of TV.

On the other hand, we’ve been fortunate to read responses from savvy TV watchers who observe TV with more clarity and better awareness of history. In particular, check out this post by Wayne Friedman of Media Post. (Link Here.) And I highly suggest you read this one about why internet HBO would cost far more than cable HBO cable – far more than anyone would pay. (Link Here.)

But that’s all prognostication. We’re told, now, that TV’s future will come from a predicted (but not confirmed) announcement of a TV set from Apple. But, as an Apple TV owner, I’m skeptical.

The Theory. Those who predict great things about Apple undertaking a TV revamp observe, rightly, that Apple has taken highly complicated worlds and reduced them to simplicity.

Agreed. And, that agreement comes from experience. I’ve worked with Apple IIe’s, Lisa, and Mac. I lugged a Mac luggable then bought one of the very first Apple laptops. And I own iPods, iPads, iPhones, and even several AppleTV’s (home and office).

From experience, if Apple delivered TV that worked with similar aplomb to many of those products, it would be a really nice product. But, I ‘m skeptical about this potential. Consider…

Apple works without serious use of market research to learn about the market they’re selling into. This has been irresponsible. But it hasn’t been a big problem for them…yet. Why? They’ve succeeded because they were the prime prospect for the products they created. So designing to their own wants delivered all that was needed.

This is true of the iPad, the iPod and the iPhone. And it’s true of every Apple success.

At the same time, each of those products has weaknesses built into the Apple blind spots – because they are poor at projecting what people “not themselves” need. And that leads to an Apple arrogance.

Apple arrogance. Apple arrogance is seen most clearly in how the former head of Apple retail is driving JC Penney’s into the ground (partly by eliminating their group that listened to consumers to evolve their strategy).

Sadly, this arrogance is becoming quite obvious inside Apple. Consider that graphic and video material have been critical to Apple’s success and drive consumption of their biggest products.

Yet, they dashed headlong into a Final Cut Pro disaster that has those of us who create TV for a living beginning to adopt “anyone but Apple” strategies. My own attitude here is formed by my experience after writing to Apple CEO Tim Cook about FCP. The letter resulted in a call from some low-level PR guy (I assume) whose goal was to tell me “we’re right and you’re wrong”. Horrid, absolutely horrid.

Why I’m Concerned About Apple TV Success. This combination of research ignorance and organizational arrogance is a bad mix for any company – look at what’s happened to Sony. In the area of TV, I think it leads to Apple failure for two reasons.

1. Apple designers are far, far different from the majority of TV viewers. TV succeeds on the viewership of people who are the antithesis of Apple designers and executives. So their research ignorance leaves them entirely incapable of creating something that meets the needs of the average 27 hours per week TV household.

In fact, when I listen (as I do very actively) to tech people talk about TV, I find that internet TV fans adopt the intellectual elitist TV attitudes we’ve seen for a half century. Primarily, they hate the circus of TV. But it’s exactly that circus that makes TV successful. Until designers learn to love the circus, they’ll never create a great TV.

I say this from experience that started when I was part of the process that led DirecTV from selling technology to embracing the circus mid-1990′s (via the NFL) and watched TiVO lose their opportunity for massive success when they never figured it out.

2. TV is a shared experience; None of the Apple products are a shared experience. Fundamentally TV is about a large or small audience sharing entertainment together. And that’s a far different design problem from an individual watching video or browsing YouTube on an App.

This reality was WebTV’s limit – none of us wants to read our email on a 56″ public TV screen unless we live alone. Can Apple learn to design for audience viewing? I doubt it.

This is Skepticism – not a Prediction. Stranger things have happened than for Apple to succeed despite its weaknesses. But it doesn’t happen often.

Apple makes some tremendous products. And if they really did find a way to get past their own limitations and create an exciting new version of a TV set, that would be really neat – I’d buy one pretty early.

But I’m skeptical. And it’s not just Apple. As a whole, the tech biz doesn’t understand the TV viewer and the TV reality. Until that changes, we’re all going to be poorer for it.

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved.

Goldman Sachs Resignation Letter Could Have Come From an Ad Agency

Recently, a Goldman Sachs executive departing the company authored a letter that was republished by the New York times. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth a serious read. (Link Here.)

What surprised me most, though, about the letter is that it covers issues that could just as easily come from an advertising agency.

The Goldman Sachs author’s fundamental arguement is:

We have stopped putting our client’s investment interests first. And we are making choices with their money solely to drive OUR financial success without consideration for theirs.

How easily this becomes an ad agency problem. In our search to make money, it’s far too easy to deliver answers that are best for agency profit and our own careers. And, to recommend shifts in client spending because we make more money there – not because it’s wise for the client. (A tremendous amount of new media spending develops for this reason.)

Even more sadly, a culture has developed where clients willingly accept (or are forced by agency politics to accept) work that is at best ineffective and at worst hurts their companies.

Advertising’s struggles start with creative departments which, in most agencies, are far separated from results. For decades the ad agency strategy has been to dismiss all measured results as “impossible to tell” in order to justify all range of dumb ideas. While there’s an element of truth buried in this approach, it’s rarely valid to confront proof of failure with “but it’s good for your brand”? (Just check out this recent quote: “The BK ads from CPB may not have moved the fast food middle child ahead in sales but the work was interesting and conversational.” WHAT? Consumer’s weren’t moved but it was still great advertising? Disgusting.)

There is also a more serious omission in agency management. Most agencies keep creative departments separate from a feedback loop where they can learn by doing. They never know (from consumer reality) which things work, which aren’t bad but aren’t important either, and which things get in the way of advertising success. Without a feedback loop, creative becomes untethered from reality producing an ethereal product that gets the team their next job (“Great portfolio piece!”) but hurts the client’s business.

In fact, the only feedback loop they have lacks any objectivity. Does my boss like the creative? Do his bosses? Do my colleagues at the agency? And does the Ad Director at the client like it? If so, then, consumer be damned, the ad must be fantastic!

Account teams are generally closer to the client goals and have a much better sense of success. And these teams should be a critical element in the feedback loop. Unfortunately, most of the time account teams lack the strategic ability to analyze what’s happened. Even worse, in many agencies the account teams are ignored when they offer feedback. (A friend of mine once observed that the quickest way to kill a good idea is for an AE to give it to the creative department.)

So read these letters and think deeply about them. What steps do we need to take in our service businesses to ensure that client interests come first?

I believe, along with the Goldman Sachs writer, that when we are clearly aligned and put client goals first, profit will follow. Perhaps not as easily. And it always takes longer to build that profit because it’s a matter of delivering on trust.

But when we put clients first, profit is delivered through loyalty and long term client relationships. And in this age of agency churn it seems that agencies everywhere would benefit from more client loyalty.

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

The Tyranny of Creative Correctness in Advertising

Let’s define a new term: Creative Correctness. In other words, the tyrannical pressure from a specific view of artistic perfection that turns advertising from a powerful advantage into failure.

Creative correctness is a disease. And it’s one the ad business needs to fight. Because forcing advertising to live up to any one group’s specific flavor of art takes advertising away from truly human communication.

To be clear, being concerned about creative correctness in no way lets up on the drive for advertising excellence – it enhances it. Creative correctness is dysfunctional – focused on a specific and one-dimensional vision of artistic purity rather than a rich understanding of moving humans to action through communication.

Interestingly, this means advertising’s new radicals – those seen as “out of step” with best practices – are those who defy the call of creative correctness to create, instead, campaigns that are far more powerful by delivering meaning in ways consumers receive best.

This year’s Superbowl ads were littered with creative correctness. Where to start? Audi’s fantastic zombie movie makes the point that this $80,000 car has nice headlights. What a fantastic waste of money. But it is fully acceptable under the tenets of creative correctness.

Or Chevy’s “Happy Grad” ad with a bunch of meaningless celebration from which it was extraordinarily hard to get the message followed by a full negative close when the celebrant finds out he didn’t get that yellow blob in the back of the picture. (Was it a Chevy? Maybe a Camaro. Maybe a Corvette.)

And that’s just two that I can remember – the vast majority don’t even stick in my brain.

Another good example of creative correctness surrounds the Burger King ads. Check out this quote justifying these ineffective ads:

“The BK ads from CPB may not have moved the fast food middle child ahead in sales but the work was interesting and conversational.”

In other words, this elite individual is able to savor the work just like an art exhibit and then tells us that means it is good work. They claim it has clear impact because it is “conversational”. Too bad conversations aren’t profit.

Burger King had, in fact, only one reason to advertise: “move ahead in sales”. I’d agree that there’s tremendous grey area between moving ahead today and moving ahead over 5 years. But either way, profit is the only way to evaluate advertising.

Creative correctness thrives because too few people believe you can identify advertising’s business impact. The agencies who suffer most from creative correctness also quite often back their clients into corners where nothing significant is measured. And generally this is justified with the argument that nothing can be measured.

Worse, quite often they bully their clients into accepting their ads arguing, essentially, “if you don’t put this ad on air, you don’t have the guts to be a big time marketer – so don’t force us to fire you as a client or go to AdAge with our displeasure”.

But ad impact can be measured and estimated. It’s tough. And it always involves estimates and hunches. But it can be done.

Creative Correctness drives creation of “A” grade artistic values which cover up communication that gets a “D” to “F”. And that leaks out in interesting ways today.

Humor. Far too many ad professionals believe that the best ads are humorous. Interestingly, the most effective ads are generally not humorous. But there are studies showing that generic ad recall is high with humor. Yet, ads which say something meaningful are remembered WITH their product.

Edginess. Creatives are told to “push the edge”. And, we see the results in things like the Audi commercial noted above – edgy and extreme, but all the focus on edginess means complete loss of meaning for the consumer. In fact, the new edgy is to avoid edginess. Funny, huh, how edgy becomes the norm and, frankly, quite boring.

Beauty. I hate living rooms that are so beautiful you don’t feel comfortable sitting in them. Ad agencies need to remember that with consumer communication. A friend of mine observes that “neatness prevents engagement”. It’s very, very true.

Just like it’s political correctness counterpart, creative correctness started for good reasons (here, to raise the quality of advertising). But it has ended up killing exactly what it hoped to create.

One knee jerk approach fights back with “call this instant” aggressiveness that poisons any good long term value that could come from the ads. On the other hand, the airwaves, internet, and magazine pages are filled with highly creative drivel that achieves very little.

But there is a third way that fights creative correctness without losing long term impact. This approach starts with the messages & meaning that drives business results rather than the drive to make movie theater creativity. Interestingly, I’ve found that one of the things creative correctness has killed is product. The vast majority of advertising focuses on nebulous brand values that are usually devoid of connection to the product.

Worse, when product shows up it’s with earth shaking ideas like “an Audi has headlights” or “a VW can be started remotely” mentioned 10 years later than the rest of the world. In other words, features without significance. But because of the best creative wrappings, this pathetic work becomes the examples the creative elite worships.

This is very unfortunate – brands ONLY build through products (or services) and product experience. After all, it’s product that consumers experience – not brand.

So, go forth and advertise. But do so with a true independence – willing to shake off the shackles of creative correctness in order to deliver more long and short-term business impact for your clients.

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved.

Setting Reasonable Expectations for Online Video Power

New media has found one more shiny new bauble – this time it’s online video. Let the exaggerations and over-statement begin! (Oh, wait, they have…)

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a video enthusiast. And our work ranges from TV spots for Kobalt brand tools from Lowe’s to 1/2 hour infomercials, web videos, in-store videos, and video send by direct mail.

But I think that gives me a reasonable position to suggest we shouldn’t sell online video services by dramatically exaggerating their potential impact.

What Is Being Said. Right now we’re bombarded with promises that you can “beat your competitors with online video” and that you need to jump onto the bandwagon now so you’re not “left behind”. We’re even told that online video is the solution to all your communication needs implying that online video will take the place of traditional TV. (And who can count the number of lists we’re seeing of 10 things or 12 things that are the “keys” to online video success.)

We’ve heard these messages before. First, when we were told that the internet would destroy retail (it didn’t). Then, when we were told that online advertising would be more powerful than traditional (it isn’t even close). And lately it’s been all about how social media would be a powerful playground for brands (except most consumers don’t want to be your friend – no matter how “engaging” your brand might be).

My 2% to 8% View. Let me suggest that for planning, “2% to 8%” is a realistic estimate of the maximum average power (best of circumstance) that online video brings to companies. (These percentages increase dramatically if you create video that might be used online, but is also pushed out through direct mail, television, point of purchase, and any other medium you can find.)

Improvement in this range is not to be ignored – that’s why I’m a strong proponent of wise online video efforts. But this is not “beat your competitor” strength.

The Challenge for Online Video. There are many challenges to online video success and plenty of experts who will tell you they’ll solve them all with a list of 10 steps. But here’s some challenges that don’t often appear on their lists.

1. You have to create your own audience. Traditional TV’s strength is that you can reach out to a known, very large audience. But online video has no guaranteed audience – and creating an audience is YOUR job. I can’t put enough emphasis behind this truth.

2. Few agencies know how to make online video valuable. Agencies create online videos that are little more than extended TV spots. And, for consumers, these are generally yawners (with few exceptions). Even if the online agency video’s are funny/quirky (aka Old Spice), the push to drive viral connection usually washes out all communication value so their end impact is to create an audience of non-consumers.

3. Video Impact vs. Video Clutter. Some companies are cluttering their consumer world with vast databases of video. While more might seem to be better, that’s often not true. A smaller collection of the “right” video’s will have far more power than a huge library of ineffective ones. (Certainly, there are those who love nothing more than to browse these big libraries – but it’s generally a tiny portion of your consumers.)

4. Significant Video is a Rare Find on the Web. Vast quantities are posted. Little proves valuable enough to be watched. In truth, you generally need outsiders to critique your video to determine whether it makes a different or just consumes your disk allotment.

One Important Myth to Debunk: Saying it in Video is more Emotionally Powerful. This argument sounds quite persuasive. But we need to stop. Because there’s a more complex set of truth.

If consumers don’t get hit emotionally the minute they arrive at your website then you’ve blown it in a way that video can never recover. (Note how fully this “emotion” argument ignores the ways great printed/web work delivers emotional experiences.)

Even worse, video whose primary goal is “emotional” had better be damn short – 10 to 15 seconds. Because video online requires higher commitment from consumers than your web page. So they demand that video deliver more value than merely emotion.

Step, but Step Cautiously. Online video has fortunately arrived. But TV, video, and film producer’s are aggressive salesmen. And now they’re turned lose with the venture backing that always accompanies an online advertising effort.

So take care. Set realistically aggressive expectations. Make sure you know how you’ll create an audience. Go create the important video. Then execute. And enjoy the extra juice the right online video work brings to your marketing.

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Award Show Skepticism: An “Effie” for Old Spice?

I wasn’t entirely shocked to see that the Old Spice social media video campaign had won an Effie – a lot of people in the ad business seem to have decided this campaign was the grand epiphany of social media effectiveness. Except, I’d done some reading about the effectiveness of the campaign and found its results entirely unclear.

So let’s consider the “Effie” award from the American Marketing Association. Their website tells us:

“The Effie Awards were founded in 1968 by the American Marketing Association, New York Chapter, as an awards program to recognize the most effective advertising efforts in the United States each year.”

Great description. They must be better evaluated than the curated art shows that most other awards have become (like Cannes, Clio’s, and most others).

What led to awarding the 2011 Old Spice Campaign? Here’s a link to the Effie PDF about the campaign (click here). The PDF regales us with statistics claimed to reflect effectiveness. Mostly they are the usual big online numbers. And I notice:

1. They claim the total cost of the campaign was less than $500,000. Guess they didn’t think it was important to mention the $3M to $10M spent creating the first spot and airing it in spring of 2011 starting with the Superbowl. (TV is highly effective at driving social media action.)

2. Old Spice sales for the product line had already gathered tremendous momentum in 2010. Their brief claims sales were up over 60% in 2010 vs. prior year. Hmmm. That’s a nice starting point for more growth.

3. They report all the expectedly big social media numbers. But I’ve written elsewhere my skepticism about accepting big numbers just ’cause they’re big. (Link here.)

4. Then there’s complete chaos. They claim Nielsen says UNIT sales were up 125%. But they offer a graph with units on the side but which labels the 125% increase as “YouTube Responses”. Huh? Which was it? What’s really going on here? That’s far too sloppy to evaluate “effectiveness” and I’d drop one of my students most of a letter grade for that kind of mistake.

5. The last line caps it all off. Question: “Anything Else Going On That Might Have Affected Results?” Answer: “No other factors”. No mention of the TV campaign, the coupon campaigns, co-op ads or specials at the store? Riiiiiight.

Except, there is this article in AdAge. (Link here.) This article concludes that the Old Spice Q2 sales increase was attributable to the coupon campaign – not social media.

While the social media campaign was on, P&G also mounted a significant coupon campaign for the product (guess they forgot about that when submitting for an Effie). In the end, the Old Spice increase was roughly the same as increases of competitors who had mounted the same type of coupon campaign. And competitors (like Axe) who hadn’t used coupons hadn’t grown.

In other words: Coupon appear to be responsible for the product line growth – not social media efforts. And this means any claim of superior effectiveness needs a huge asterisk right next to it.

What Can We Conclude About the Old Spice Campaign? Clearly:

1. The brief is wrong when it suggests there were “No Other Factors”. Old Spice is part of a highly robust market with co-op ads, coupons, and a lot of retail action. Nothing – NOTHING – operates in a vacuum.

2. The brief is meaningless without a picture of the competitive environment and relative growth during this period.

While I don’t know what process led to the award, it seems realistic to suggest that the award should have caveats – if its not pulled entirely. At least, this is what an award show that cared deeply about effectiveness would do.

What Can We Conclude About the Effies? Not much. This is a single award and campaign. However, they didn’t do serious fact checking (it’s not like AdAge is a tiny and unimportant advertising publication). And they published a write up that is factually incorrect.

So do Effies have any connection with effectiveness? They might not. The Old Spice campaign was very clever, highly unusual, a new application of social, etc…. But none of that matters when you call your award an “Effie”.

The Sad Award Truth. Effies aren’t alone – they just claim to be better. Truth is, there is NO way to create an award that credits effective advertising.

Awards start to fail at one of advertising’s first critical steps: targeting. Effective advertising targets an end consumer. Judges are NOT those consumers and they never view award submissions within the reality in which consumers consider the ads. (Only industry associations for vertical markets can have any hope of judging target market impact.)

Once this failure starts, there is no way for awards to be anything more than they’ve always been: the more carefully crafted ones are curated art shows and the less well crafted are mere popularity contests. To create an award that is anything else would require judges to dedicate hundreds of hours of their time and be supported by a staff dedicated to developing independent judgement.

Still, the Effies could have done better. This campaign might still get an Effie if they’d had a complete submission that showed more effectiveness insight. And perhaps there was data submitted that wasn’t made public. But the public release showed egregious gaps. There’s no way those should be rewarded.

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

There Is No “ROI vs Brand” Dilemma When You Know Your “Profit Horizon”.

Far too many “smart” (aka self-conciously cool) agencies these days proudly seek talent from anywhere EXCEPT business backgrounds. They believe, they say, that these fundamental skills for understanding arcane concepts like “profit” get in the way of true creativity. (More on this mis-direction in a future post about an ad biz culture I call “creative correctness”.)

But this outright avoidance of business skills in the agency business has led us to the endless (and frankly silly) discussion about deciding between “ROI” and “brand”.

Bunkum. There’s no contradiction between these two – not when you think like a business. The needs of your business must be met – and that means creating advertising which brands AND delivers ROI.

ALL advertising must return an ROI. Brand is meaningless if it doesn’t generate profit. I don’t care when you need it, at some point brand MUST return an ROI or you shouldn’t be building a brand.

Sadly, this means that all those arcane sociological wonderment theories surrounding brand ONLY have value if they help create profit. Otherwise, they are lovely little theories that agencies use to get their next work – but which clients should ignore.

Of course, it can be tricky to craft an ironclad calculation of ROI. And the reality of a vitally active market makes it difficult to separate an unchallenged advertising profit out of numbers affected by a wide range of efforts. But that’s no excuse. You must create a reasonable approach for estimating ad profit.

ROI Proponents are Also Wrong. It seems that the primary reason we talk about ROI these days is that online enthusiasts are desperate to find a way to steal budget from brand efforts.

As a result, massive venture capital investments have funded a plethora of content claiming that ROI oriented efforts trump long-term brand work. But they don’t. Brand building is extremely valuable.

“Profit Horizon”. A More Useful Construct. As agencies, we need to plan our every activity with a clear understanding of what I’ll call our client’s “profit horizon”.

In other words, if they spend $X today, when and how must profit from revenues driven by that spending cover the cost of the advertising and how much additional profit must result?

There are different types of simple approaches to this…

1. A few companies must have an instant profit horizon. Think of the traditional DRTV phone sales plays. Or, the direct mail instant profit needs. But also, a great many retail situations require advertising to drive immediate sales via store traffic.

2. Quite a few more companies will have a 6 to 24 month horizon. If they spend the money in this year’s budget, it must turn a profit soon. Not in 5 to 10 years, but in the next x months.

3. Very Large Companies May Be in a Position to fund long-term brand development. In these cases, full profit may not need be returned for 5 to 10 years. But even in this case, we should be developing ways from the first day to estimate profit created through advertising.

More Complicated Profit Horizons. Agencies and their clients will be far more successful if they can look at more complicated scenarios – perhaps like this:

Must recoup 30% of advertising cost within 6 months.
Must recoup another 30% of ad cost within the following 12 months.
Remaining ad cost plus a 40% profit on the revenue driven by advertising must be recovered over the following 2 years.

The advertising business serves companies with a 6 to 24 month profit horizon worst. These companies know that their long term health will be better if they step away from hard sell advertising. But as soon as they offer this wiggle room, agencies snooker them into failure. Perhaps agencies refuse to accept business reality. Or, too many agencies may know only one type of advertising. In either case, agencies recommend to these companies the same type of work they’d deliver for Budweiser and Coke – long term branding. And if the company agrees, then they usually go out of business.

Regardless of Approach, Agencies Must Learn Business. I heard a former W+K guy speak a few years ago and suggest that the problem in advertising is clients don’t “get” creative. So he recommended that clients need to learn all the creative subtleties he espoused. In truth, he just sounded frustrated that clients won’t approve just anything – that they ask for results.

I think the opposite: Agencies need to learn how to plan and speak in business terms. And, they should modify their operations in two ways:

1. Add “Profit Horizon” to Creative Briefs. It’s not always easy to describe or calculate. But it must begin to live in the mind-space of your creative and account teams. And that means adding it to the brief.

2. Start Hiring Trained and/or Experienced Business People. Your agency will never succeed at viewing Profit Horizons unless you can engage a healthy discussion about business, with businessmen and women. And that requires being able to read a P&L while talking in terms that the business understands.

Fortunately, when your advertising returns better business results, your agency business should grow. And that helps us all.

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

“Dude. It’s Not Our Problem”: ThinkGeek.com Blows their Brand This Time

It would make sense that oddity website ThinkGeek.com would be intimately familiar with de-motivator posters from Despair.com. It’s just sad that today’s customer rep picked the one that says “We’re not satisfied until you’re not satisfied”.

I just got off the phone from my worst customer service experience in…well…a long time. And this catalog that tries to look advanced and clever made the most fundamental customer service mistake: they rambled extensively out of their way to dodge responsibility.

The Order. Planning enough pad for shipping time, my wife placed an order with Think Geek on December 14th which included Minecraft T-shirts for my son and my nephew – both Minecraft enthusiasts. Think Geek finally processed money from our account on order December 19th. (Huh? Five days later AND a Sunday? Clearly a bad sign.)

By late evening of December 21st we hadn’t seen the order so we went to track it. Except, it wouldn’t track. The US Postal Service website gave us a message saying essentially “We have no record of physical contact with that order.” This was…um…somewhat concerning so I called them.

Calling Think Geek’s Customer Service. I was encouraged when the phone was quickly picked up. But that was the end of encouragement.

After explaining the situation, the representative put me on hold. Then he comes back and tells me they don’t know anything about the order. Because: “The Post Office loses orders all the time so it’s their fault. I work in shipping and know they’re pretty bad.”

My Head Starts to Explode. It’s the holiday. Things happen. Everyone is stressed. And we manage similar customer service on behalf of branded clients. The idea of an order problem isn’t foreign to me and they probably couldn’t have had a more understanding customer on the phone.

Except they responded with: “not our problem”.

Of course its your problem. If it’s true that a shipping company loses orders all the time, then you shouldn’t offer that option. Or, you could warn that “using this shipping option may cause your order never to arrive because we use a really unreliable supplier”.

The Explosion Goes Nuclear. I ask, “What are you going to do.” Here’s the various levels of the response:

“We can resend most of the order. But, between when we told you we sent an order and now, we ran out of Minecraft t-shirts. So, we’ll just refund your money and call it good.”

“Hey, look, it’s the Post Office that lost the order. So it’s not our fault and that’s all we can do. Why don’t you call the Post Office.”

I responded: “I know how shipping happens and this tracking information doesn’t guarantee it ever reached the Post Office. It might have fallen into a crack in your facility or off the palette before it reached the Post Office. So it is quite concerning that (a) you blame the USPS and (b) all you want to do is give my my money back.”

To which my representative replied “what do you want me to do”. When I explained that most operations offer something to indicate that they really value their customers, he replied “we don’t do that and this is all I can do”.

At which point I resort to: “What part of ‘these are Christmas presents’ don’t you understand? Their value is far higher than their cost.”

The B52 bomb bay doors open and, in my best Major ‘King’ Kong impression, I climb onto the bomb and yell “yee haw” as it sails into the air. (This nonsense might make more sense if you, check this link. Or not.)

Let me suggest two rules to help your customers avoid exploding heads:

1. Never ever say its not your responsibility. Your company made all the choices. Therefore, it IS your responsibility – no matter what you may want to think.

2. Brands build when you have a clear policy for making customers happy when the process screws up. There will be problems. And you can’t make everyone happy. But nuclear fallout was easily avoided in this situation had he immediately acknowledged responsibility and suggested Think Geek go slightly out of their way (not hugely – just something to show they took responsibility).

Instead, “Think” Became “Don’t Think”. I will be cautioning my son about purchasing any more items from Think Geek. They proved unreliable and – yes – flakey. (Maybe it’s branding – aren’t Geek’s are supposed to be flakey?) My wife and I will never again purchase from them for a birthday or holiday – because we can’t rely on delivery.

In the end, they are sending the in-stock items with some level of expedited shipping (snarkily referred to by my rep as “more reliable than USPS” – like it was our fault for choosing one of the options they offered). They will refund payment for the two Minecraft t-shirts (the things we cared most about). And, will give us a $7.95 gift certificate which is the amount of the standard shipping. (It took an extended argument on my part to get this to happen – an argument that cost them hourly wages and loss of brand value.)

My rep fully executed the Demotivator. He seemed happy. And I’m definitely not.

But I don’t think the story is over. My experience may have been an aberration. So I’m going to send them a link to this post and offer them the option of replying with a comment. And I’ll even amend this post if there’s something useful to offer.

So stay tuned…

Addendum December 26, 2011. I have received new information from ThinkGeek.com. Jamie Grove (listed in his signature as VP, Evil Schemes and Nefarious Plans (aka Marketing)) send me a solid response on Christmas Eve after my complaint was forwarded.

His email responds well for a company under these circumstances. Apparently what I was told on the phone was wrong. Rather, the order was submitted after the date for last Christmas delivery with standard shipping (a reality that wasn’t clear to my wife when she placed the order).

For the moment, we await it’s post-Christmas delivery. I’ll update my thoughts further once we have confirmed this is the case.

Addendum #2 January 2, 2012. So, we have received the items that were re-sent by the phone rep. The original order may be lost in the ozone. As a patient consumer, I’ll wait until the end of the week and wrap this up. But, the hope offered in Mr. Grove’s email is wearing thin at this point.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Cable Cutting & Self Righteous Attacks on TV

I get pretty miffed when the “cable cutter” enthusiasts try to argue that online video will drag society out of the depths of depravity found in TV programming.

After all, what are most teens watching online? You can bet it’s NOT Masterpiece Theater or Nature. More likely they’re watching video’s of guys becoming eunuch’s when skateboard tricks land them on handrails.

This attack in TV is nothing new. I remember making it a few times in youthful enthusiasm while in college. Still, proponents of new media too often sound like sci-fi books — promising a “glorious future” where the internet changes mankind. (They are, of course, merely the latest to claim to remake humanity in thousands of years of such movements.)

What they forget is the history of human entertainment. Let’s do a quick review, shall we?

– 1900 years ago, the penultimate entertainment venue was the Coliseum – do you prefer Christians eaten by lions, life & death ship battles, or live gladiatorial murder? Yup. Pretty enlightening.

– During the middle ages, public execution seems to have been quite popular. I don’t have the Nielsen’s, but from what I read most families found it difficult to skip such gruesome events.

As life progressed, public entertainment continued in this vein until quite recently (when you consider mankind’s long history).

In other words, TV might just be the PINNACLE of mass human entertainment – NOT it’s nadir. After all, it’s clear humanity can find some pretty base things entertaining.

Today’s TV isn’t so bad (unless you want to suggest Glee is similar to live gladiatorial contests taken to the death). Certainly we continue to see life/death drama – except now it’s without loss of life or limb.

Is the web better? Or is it worse? You can find some enlightening viewing on the web just like you can find enlightening viewing on TV (I’d argue TV economics create more of it and of better quality).

But the web lacks the constraints of network, government oversight, and societal moral imperative – so far too often it turns back the clock to real life loss of life and limb.

Maybe literature is far more enlightening. Have you looked at what passes for “sophisticated” reading these days?

Cormac McCarthy novels like “No Country for Old Men” revel in brutality that can even include cannibalism.

The highly popular Dragon Tatoo series is filled with sadistic rapes and other brutality (primarily toward women).

The most popular reading for younger (and older) women these days is Twilight where vampires are featured in teen love and full blood baths.

I think I’d rather watch some episodes of Grimm.

So… American Idol is horrible programming? Riiiiight. Everyone gets to dis-like things as a matter of taste (I particularly dis-like gore). But none of us should get high and mighty. After all, Survivor, Glee and Pawn Wars are far healthier for humanity than the vast majority of the video on the web.

And that means, never (EVER) try to tell me that “web entertainment is better”. 5 billion cat video’s. Kids nearly killing themselves. Horrible disaster filmed first hand. And people claim that web entertainment is healthier than 30-Rock, XFactor and The Daily Show?

Call me once you come down off your high horse. Until then I’m turning on the TV.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

New Book: “Building Brand with Direct Response Television”

With the October edition of Response Magazine, we have released my book “Building Brand with Direct Response Television“. This book takes an unusual look at DRTV – focusing on it’s biggest potential power: building brands while driving immediate sales (at retail as well as direct).

This book is the result of the past decade when I’ve written extensively about direct response television (DRTV) and it pulls together a comprehensive view of how DRTV can build brand, drive retail, and, in the process, dramatically change the marketing game.

Underlying the writing are the “Six Degree’s of DRTV” developed at my agency to focus on getting far more impact from DRTV campaigns than either yell & sell or soft brand DRTV delivers.

Starting with the fundamental value & continuing strength of TV, the book progresses through critical topics including campaign strategy, creative, and campaign execution. There is a special chapter devoted to the common retail problem we call the Shelf Potato and which I write about in my other blog (link here).

To find out more about the book and for links to the order page on Amazon visit this link.

Enjoy the read.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

GoogleTV: “More Returns than Sales” (Logitech)

I was skeptical of GoogleTV. It seemed Google fell prey to corporate hubris – believing they could build anything and make the marketplace think it’s valuable.

And from the start Google revealed they had no coherent strategy to deliver value to consumers. Instead, announcements made it clear they were in a desperate ploy to steal ad revenue away from traditional TV.

Trying to create something from nothing, Google claimed that you’d love web searching for TV programs – and it would be soooo much easier than changing a channel, choosing from your TiVO, or looking at an onscreen TV guide. Right.

Now we find that even Google’s partners are badmouthing the effort (link here). According to Logitech, the product’s are so buggy they’ve taken more returns than they have sold. Yikes.

And this week, Logitech’s CEO suggested their Google TV-powered launch was “a mistake of implementation of a gigantic nature”.

Other tech companies should take note. Too bad the various Silicon landscapes (valley, forest, desert,…) seem impervious to finding significant learning from failure of consumer products.

In part, success selling to businesses far too often convinces technologists they can succeed with consumers, too. But the marketing required for consumer success is far, far different from the marketing that leads to success with businesses.

Most critically, successful consumer products MUST offer significant value – and consumer’s won’t work very hard to find it. That requires developing a clear eyed vision that can tell the difference between important and insignificant value. And it requires that companies become sophisticated at ways to tell consumers about that value. Google failed at both.

Truth is, Google’s announcements of its TV work have been from Shakespearean — “full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”

The lack of coverage of GoogleTV suggests the press wants so badly for the anti-TV story to succeed they’re willing to ignore reality. Still, GoogleTV’s hollowness reminds us of Eliot – “This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper.”

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

A Baker’s Dozen Truths About Brands and Brand Advertising

Brand has become the marketing religion of our time and takes on outsized importance in every decision. And that leads to a bunch of lists – each claiming to reveal “the” absolutes of brand building.

The following makes no claim about summarizing absolutes. But the more lists I see, the more I love the far more humble and practical sense of brands found among this bakers dozen. And, the more I think they reveal important things that enthusiastic brand enthusiasts seem to have forgotten:

1. Brands build through YEARS of consistent efforts.

2. No, really. Brands build far slower than anyone wants to think.

3. Building a brand requires not only years, but consistent execution throughout that time.

4. Convincing consumers of a product’s unique value creates brand far more quickly than does lifestyle communication.

5. There are many ways your business can leverage advertising to drive profitability other than “Brand Building”.

6. There are many flavors and types of advertising – all will build brand. That means so-called “brand advertising” may be exactly the wrong way to build your brand.

7. Most brand theorists seem to love exotic and abstract theories of brand. But you’ll only see profit if they generate a practical advantage.

8. The emotions that create economic power for a brand are not usually hot blooded emotions.

9. Creating passionate connection is only possible for a small percentage of brands – and then only with a small percentage of their consumers.

10. You can create tremendous profit advantage from brand – without succumbing to the pressure to drive for artificially passionate connections.

11. Most consumers don’t want to be friends with your brand.

12. Brands, companies, and products have life stages – each requiring very different types of brand advertising, brand communication, and brand development. Sadly, most brand theory is driven by the experiences of mature consumable brands at companies like Pepsi, P&G or Johnson & Johnson. There are many life stages where these lessons don’t work.

13. Brands follow the Double Jeopardy Law postulated by Ehrenberg: “Brands with less market share have far fewer buyers and these buyers are slightly less loyal (in their buying and attitudes).” (Byron Sharp, How Brands Grow, Page vii, Oxford University Press, 2010). In other words, brand loyalty is less important to building a brand than is bringing new consumers to purchase the brand.

These are few absolute rules of branding. Each situation raises unique brand realities. But that is also no excuse for ignoring the brand laws and guidelines that experience AND statistical analysis can show us. (Read Sharp’s “How Brands Grow” for a great set of laws derived from statistical analysis of brand results.)

And now the real bottom line. Far too many suppliers (agencies, consultants, production companies) want to use work on your brand to get their next job.

So stay grounded and don’t get lost in the wilderness of brand theories. The ultimate goal of a brand is to increase profit by driving the same or more sales with less cost. How do your brand efforts stack up?

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

How is it that Television Keeps Getting MORE Vital, Not Less? (Including Some Surprising Thoughts from Jobs.)

There’s something in the water of technology centers in the US that drives an idea that digital media always means revolution. It’s been there a very, very long time. And it makes pretty outrageous claims about technology’s impact.

But when it comes to “revolution”, more often than not, human reality keeps getting in the way. Nowhere is this more true than with the digirati myth that TV will diminish and fade into the past.

Steve Jobs offered us a dose of reality in 1996 – and reveals a wisdom about technology that should become more widely embraced. (It’s reprinted in the new Wired special edition about Jobs.) In this article, two quotes about current topic stand out.

What’s the biggest surprise this technology will deliver?
The problem is I’m older now, I’m 40 years old, and this stuff doesn’t change the world. It really doesn’t.”

“These things can profoundly influence life. I’m not downplaying that. But it’s a disservice to constantly put things in this radical new light – that it’s going to change everything. Things don’t have to change the world to be important.”

“The Next Insanely Great Thing”, Originally Published February 1996, Wired Magazine

Nielsen offered dose of reality on the TV issues this week –  with new numbers on time and place shifting. (Link here.) The message from Nielsen? Time shifting and place shifting (e.g. mobile access) of TV programming is primarily EXPANDING TV’s role in our lives.

Funny thing is there has always been an elite in the US that looks at TV viewing with smug & self-righteous satisfaction. They usually claim to “never watch TV”. More recently, the claim we hear is “I skip all the ads”. (Funny thing is that, while there have always been some people who ignore or skip, experience suggests these statements project behavior people want to believe about themselves and ignores the tremendous influence of both TV and TV advertising in their lives.)

And there is a great love of anti-TV myths – from telling us over 50 years ago that sitting too close is bad for your eyes (false) to telling us more recently that infants who watch too much TV have weaker language skills (quite a silly idea which studies don’t confirm).

Despite all this TV antagonism, why doesn’t it die?

Perhaps TV gives the mass of people what they want. Yes, everyone complains about TV – but it’s simply human to complain about something as pervasive as TV. Besides football, what else would fill water cooler conversations? Of course, none of this complaining decreases TV ratings.

Interestingly, Jobs discussed TV in that same interview. His thoughts suggest he was also anti-TV – but reveals some interesting wisdom.

“When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, your realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. … It’s the truth.”

(In the ommitted area, Jobs observes that this is far more depressing of an idea to him than the idea of a network conspiracy.)

And all this means…? First, there’s nothing to suggest Jobs’ has it all right. I disagree with his depression. The Roman’s had the coliseum. In the middle ages, even more macabre things were high entertainment. And public executions remained entertainment throughout the 19th century.

Looked at against history, TV gives us a wide range of refreshingly harmless entertainment. Of course, every individual will give us a different viewpoint about which TV is good and which is bad. And that’s one of the beauties of TV.

It’s time for the tech biz to grow up and learn some key things about TV:

1. TV delivers viewers tremendous value today – WITHOUT digital revolution.
2. TV will thrive in a state not far removed from what it is today.
3. Digital enthusiasts should be cautious about upending the TV ecosystem because it will be far easier for them to screw up TV than to make it better.
4. Successful digital companies will respect TV’s value then enhance it rather than replace it.

TV will always evolve. I wonder what it will look like in another 10 years? Probably a lot like TV, but different. After all, in Jobs’ words “things don’t have to change the world to be important.”

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

More Confirmation of Traditional TV’s Advertising Strength

The “radicals” who envision an internet take-over of the entire advertising world have been telling us for years that TV was dying. But not only won’t it die — it just keeps getting better.

The radicals loved the idea of TiVo killing off all TV advertising. So we heard about it – endlessly. As a result, advertising agencies exerted tremendous angst re-structuring their lives without TV. And then, after more than a decade, it turns out TiVo has made TV advertising even more effective. (Link here.)

Now, news today in this MediaPost article (link here). Here’s a few high points…

Traditional TV ad spending has increased every year since 2009 and is projected to increase through 2013 (the last year projected).

TV’s shift is an outstanding increase for Cable (12%) and a small, but significant, decrease for broadcast (2%)

TV’s alter ego (online video advertising) will get 2 out of ever 5 dollars of local online ad spend – or somethint like that.

I’ll agree with anyone who wants to challenge me on the logic of “if advertisers are putting their money there it must be effective”. We need always be cautious of putting too much into these spending numbers. The last 10 years have been filled with advertising lemmings following other marketers into massive spending online just because it was the thing to do. (And, yes, online ads can be exactly the right choice in certain situations.)

But I think these TV numbers are a bit different because (a) TV is well established and therefore pretty well understood and (b) those of us in the TV business know that only TV can drive massive change quickly when you need communication.

So follow Apple’s lead. (And now Amazon’s.) When it’s right for you, TV builds your business like no other medium.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Larry King. A TV Endorsement Sell Out?

Watching TV last week, my family was surprised to see an ad come up with Larry King in what looks like an interview format with an 800# underneath. Surprise turned to gasps of horror as it became clear he was hawking BreathGemz. Sadly neither King nor BreathGemz come out winners.

The problem for Larry isn’t that he took money to endorse a product – there’s a thousand ways he could succeed in a endorsement that would leverage his credibility without hurting it – even in direct response television (DRTV). But here he sold his credibility in a hack execution of the spot – complete with microphone so we don’t forget who he is and his young wife sitting limply beside him. (I only identified his wife later because it wasn’t the least bit clear in a real world experience watching the spot.)

When he was in the interview chair on CNN, everything about King was credible. He reflected us and asked the questions we would have wanted to ask if we’d been there.

Now, he’s in the chair again, but this time telling us how BreathGemz makes it possible to “get close to the people you’re interviewing”. (Creeeeeeeepy.)

The problem for BreathGemz is that this is such a tacky ad that I think they are wasting a part of the money they paid to get Larry King (or the piece of the company).

I know the company will say “he sells a lot”. But the key question is: does he sell as much as he should? My estimate would be that they are getting less than 1/2 the impact of the endorsement that should have been.

(Interestingly, coverage from last April tells us the people starting this company brought out BreathAsure in the 1990s then went bankrupt after losing a claims lawsuit and BBB action. Here’s a thought provoking discussion of their situation and he links to the court findings including admission of the fact that scientific evidence showed their product wasn’t effective at fighting bad breath.)

And it’s bad advertising. The ad gives no motivating reason to buy BreathGems instead of, well, any of the other hundred choices at the retail counter. (Oh, that’s right, it has a liquid core of parseley seed oil. Do I care? There’s no reason given in the ad and I’ve never heard of this oil’s magical halitosical properties.)

Reading the settlement of the prior lawsuit, my guess is they’re trying to imply what they really can’t claim. So, that makes the spot quite soft and unclear.

What’s with the CNN team after they retire? It’s not just Larry King. Bob Losure has started to appear selling gold and skin care. Bella Shaw had tremendous potential, then moved to hosting a range of infomercials where the producers mis-used her talent and credibility.

I pick out this group because they start with sterling credentials that should deliver great advertiser value without destroying that reputation. But then, creative failings at the advertiser (or their production company/agency) drain the solid credibility from the endorsement appearance.

It doesn’t have to be. But whatever system is drawing in the CNN team is taking them in questionable directions – they need to be more careful.

Out of all this, I’m saddest for Larry King. When someone retires I hope they make it through their retirement with money, but also with their credibility intact. Unless this is quickly cancelled, King won’t.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Six Degrees that Deliver Maximum Impact from Direct Response Television (DRTV)

Over the past year, I’ve written a series of articles in Response Magazine that look at ways to get more out of your DRTV campaigns – to deliver maximum impact.

These are the result of an adventure that started when I founded Atomic Direct in 1998. From my work at Tyee, I knew DRTV’s power to create tremendous positive change for clients. But, clients weren’t getting that power. And as a salesman & marketer I knew it was a matter of balance. Because too often our work was primarily A-grade production that masked C-grade communication.

Looking around, this problem was industry wide and clients faced two less-than-satisfactory choices:

Yell & sell campaign producers created shows that might drive immediate phone sales, but these same campaigns were deadly for brands. And, net out, these campaigns left tremendous retail opportunity untapped.

At the other extreme, brand DRTV producers (like Tyee) created very, very long :30 second spots – driven by clever creative ideas but never delivering the sales power that would transform client businesses.

As Atomic took risks and innovated with this medium, I started to gather lessons and look for a way to unify those lessons. The result? Atomic’s Six Degree’s.

Here are links to the three articles that lay down this foundation for achieving more with DRTV.

Part I: Execute for Direct Sales Without Hurting Other Channels (especially Retail).

Part II: Taking Maximum Advantage of Longer Ad Lengths and Inexpensive Media

Part III: Achieve More By Communicating Heart AND Mind – All While Building Brand

Enjoy…

…Doug Garnett

The Good and Bad of Steve Jobs’ Market Research Legacy

Have you heard the “Jobs Excuse”? When someone introduces a bad idea with “well Steve Jobs says” or “…just like Apple…”. It’s an old name dropping game that hopes to make even horrid ideas sound good.

In the world of market research, we hear it most often through one popular quote from Mr. Jobs:

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” (BusinessWeek, May 1998)

The Good. You have to read this quote carefully because what it says is:

– Focus groups aren’t good places to design products.
– Only you know what’s possible thru technology
– People can’t project ahead to tell you what to build.

He is absolutely right. Far too often, focus groups are asked to answer things consumer participants don’t know and can’t imagine. It’s an exceptionally poor use of research.

In advertising, this type or research often asks consumers to decide the colors used in ads or to project what a finished ad might look like based on storyboards or sketches (it’s hard enough for experts to do that – much less consumers). In the extreme, it can even lead to asking consumers to design their ads – as ill considered as asking consumers to design products.

The real reason for these research abuses is to avoid responsibility for bad decisions in engineering, design, or marketing (“but focus groups said…”). But if you are letting focus group participants make your decisions then you will get what you deserve.

So, yes. What Steve Jobs said is absolutely correct.

The Bad. Unfortunately, nobody uses this quote for what it says – they use it for what they wish it said. And what they wish it said was “don’t use focus groups”.

I hear this lie regularly from agency types and creative teams who simply don’t like the answers they get from research. And I hear it from design teams who just want to be left alone to design the usual meaningless innovations that come from humanity-free engineering. So they invoke the name of Jobs to try to avoid research altogether.

Research and Innovation. In fact, research is an exceptionally strong tool for finding consumer realities that can make the difference between innovation success and failure. But you can’t use the kind of responsibility avoiding research I noted above. And, sadly, many researchers (especially those in the large firms) lack the unusual set of skills needed to work early in the innovation cycle.

But research creates the foundation for successful innovation:

– to learn about consumer lives so you can deliver the best human value.
– to learn about whether/how the innovations you have designed fit with humanity.
– to learn how to pull together the messages that will lead people to buy your innovation.
– to learn how communication changes as you move from the earliest buyers to mass markets.

(My Shelf Potato blog discusses cases where failure to communicate caused innovation to fail – or where communication rescued innovations that were sitting on the shelf and unloved.)

Jobs’ Research Legacy. I don’t claim to know what Jobs thinks – others might. But what he had said publicly, while usually perceptively true, has left behind a sad, mixed legacy.

And those who attempt to avoid research with the “Jobs excuse” should be identified for what they are: people who don’t want to find out how badly their product or advertising misses with the people who buy their products.

Postscript: I wrote this post just over 3 weeks prior to Steve Jobs’ death. The world will miss his brilliant innovations.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Why I Don’t Use Dial Testing (Perception Analyzers) to Research Infomercials

I’ve spent nearly 20 years improving infomercial sales based on audience testing our shows in research. To do this, we don’t use dial groups. That surprises many of my colleagues so I’m regularly asked “why”.

Two critical reasons.

Dials don’t reveal the truths that make the difference between success and failure.

Dials primarily reveal minute-by-minute detail that’s unrelated to sales success. And pre-occupation with those details leads production teams to avoid dealing with things that are far more important.

What Is Dial Group Research? Dial research facilities have been around for decades – eking out a living with the theory that turning a dial reveals what consumers could never tell us if they had to speak it out loud. And dials remain fairly popular for looking at politician’s speeches, new sitcom ideas, and 1/2 hour infomercials.

In case you haven’t observed dials, here’s how it goes.

Everyone in a group is given a dial with markings from 0 to 10. Sometimes there’s a keypad with the dial for entering numerical data.

Basic demographic data about the group is input using the dials & keypads.

Then, they are shown something to evaluate and asked to turn the dial up to indicate “good” and down to indicate “bad”. (Good or bad what? That’s something you have to very carefully decide before doing the research.)

And after all that, there’s a very short focus group.

In the end, clients and their producers are given a tape with a line graph of average numbers superimposed and a report filled with details. And its what directors and producers love – microscopic minute-by-minute feedback about all those little choices they made. But does that matter? Not really.

Case Study: Dial Readings Don’t Correspond to On-air Success. Early in my DRTV career, Tyee’s production team made a new version of an existing 1/2 hour infomercial. The new show failed where the old show succeeded. Since the client had used dials to evaluate the old show they chose to test the new show the same way – same facility, same moderator, same dial approach.

And we found… Nothing. No difference. The dials went up and down at roughly the same times. The same topics drove dial movement. And the dials always dropped when the viewer was asked to order.

In the end, even after group discussion, all we knew was that the new show generated half as many sales but looked just like the old show on the dials.

But, Isn’t a Dial Reading Unbiased? Some defenders suggest dials are unbiased (link here). What they probably mean is it’s just a device and there’s no way to read a “3″ as anything but a “3″. Well, that part is true. But having a computer accurately read the device setting is a minuscule part of potential bias areas.

The first bias in dial groups happens because participants notice the action of those around them and this influences their dial choices. How bad is this bias? I’m sure the dial salespeople will tell you “not at all”. But, it’s human nature that your dial action will increase if you notice more dial action around you. And that inherently suggests a significant risk of “herd behavior”. (Herd behavior is a risk in focus groups, too. But a perceptive moderator can quickly detect it in the discussion and break it up. That is impossible during dial viewing.)

Major Bias is Introduced When Trying to Figure Out What the Numbers Mean. Let’s assume the average dial reading changes at a certain point. What kind of things might influence the change? An amazingly rich breadth of human possibilities:

Was it the voice used for the voice over?
Was it the words being said?
Was it the idea behind the product?
Do they own something that solves this need already?
Do they dis-like your brand?
Was it the color?
Did the product remind them of something from their childhood?
Was it indigestion from the dried out sandwiches the facility served?
Were they momentarily distracted by something earlier in the day – like when their boss said something that sounded mean?

So out of this wide range of possibilities, what do dials record? A series of single numbers – but we don’t know what influenced them.

That means dial numbers are mere shadows of what’s really going on with people. They can never be more than that and that’s a very serious problem. Remember the shadow puppet game we played as kids? If all you can look at is the shadow, a hand quite easily looks like a rabbit, a moose, or an eagle.

Interpreting shadows of the viewer experience makes the dial research process an amazing Rorshach test – one that reveals most clearly the prejudices of your producer, director, and agency.

Studies Show That Dial Testing Reveals Only a Slice of Reality. A few years ago a team evaluated a set of commercials with dials as well as other moment by moment methods of research. They found there was no correlation among the methods – ups and downs on each method were not predictive of ups and downs on the others. Further, discussing dials and another method one researcher concludes:

While both of these commonly used measures are telling us something important about the commercial, it has been shown repeatedly that each is measuring something different about expected ad performance (See Kastenholz et al, 2004.) (Link here.)

In other words, dials are now proven to record some slice of human reality. Do you know which slice that is? Is it a reliable predictor of sales impact?

Incidentally, all observational research has this interpretational bias problem. For more, here’s a post about Paleontologists and how observation can massively mis-lead even the best scientists.

THE REALLY SERIOUS PROBLEM: DIALS DON’T DELIVER INSIGHT. If we knew the answers, we wouldn’t need research. So, research must find the unexpected – the things that make a big difference.

The true catastrophe of dials groups is that I’ve always ended up at the same place: detail without insight. Those few times when the report reveals something useful, it always comes from the discussion afterward and not from the dials.

So why risk mis-interpretation, producer distraction, and outright mis-communication with dials? At my company, we never waste our client’s money using dials.

We Use Focus Group Audience Tests to Improve Results. Over the past 20 years I’ve regularly used focus group audience testing to increase sales. For finished infomercials, we’ve doubled, tripled and even jumped results by much more. We’ve successfully analyzed what worked, didn’t work, and decided what should be changed. And we use groups to review rough cuts – learning key things that help focus final changes.

All this works because within focus groups we learn what matters – those things that generate profit or help you avoid costs that aren’t going to drive sales.

But What About The Focus Group Skeptic? Skeptics will trot out the old focus group canards.

“People influence each other in groups.” Of course they do. Once we’ve watched the entire show, that’s the whole point. People reveal deep things far more within a discussion format than they’d ever reveal by themselves or with dials.

“People don’t reveal their true feelings in focus groups.” Of course they do – if the group is run by an experienced moderator using appropriate and thoroughly prepared stimuli. In fact, groups reveal far more about true feeling than dials ever could.

For more about the strengths of focus groups check out this blog post and this one.

Drive Infomercial Success with Research – the Right Research. Infomercial success requires the big things: a product we lead people to care about, demonstrations that convince viewers, testimonials that are credible and meaningful, and a “deal” that adds up to a great value.

Unfortunately, too many creative and production teams are far better at getting the details right than they are at delivering on the big picture. The most detail oriented teams are also those who fall in love with dial groups – because they feed their mis-perception about what’s important. And that leads to what I find the bane of our industry: A-grade production values that mask C-grade or D-grade communication.

And that’s why you need to avoid dials – so that you can find, and focus on, the issues that matter.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Mediocrity: The Biggest Danger to Advertising Research

A recent AdAge article quotes Bernbach as saying “The more you research, the more you play it safe, and the more you waste money. Research inevitably leads to conformity.” (Link here.)

It’s sad that the creative community all too often comes to this conclusion – only to use the idea of non-conformity to justify all types of advertising sins.

Yet I understand what might lead Bernbach to take this position: too much research is born in mediocrity. Truth is that a great deal of advertising research is a bureaucratic ploy – designed to deliver bureaucratically controllable success.

This research becomes no longer about finding the keys to exceptional success. It’s cautionary research to help people keep their jobs and help executives develop “plausible deniability” for failures.

This research is no longer about weeding out bad ideas in order to put money to more productive use. It’s about killing ideas that might threaten the status quo. Or it’s about killing any fresh new understanding that might challenge the organization’s carefully crafted (but inadequate) theory about the consumer. (It’s my experience that every organization can discover new insight about consumers with exceptional research.)

Bureaucratic research is born in mediocrity & hides behind statistics. What’s most destructive about this research is it looks just fine and has all the bells & whistles. Beautiful reports are generated from (expensive) blue chip research firms. Statistical analysis claims to show exact margins of error and large staffs execute a bureaucratically perfect job.

But while statistical margins of error are extraordinarily important they mean very little. Hugely more important than margins of error is whether the survey participant answered the question we thought we asked. Because if they answered the wrong question, the research is 100% wrong – even if it claims a +/-3% margin of error.

This type of research may be needed within a corporation. But it leads to…nothing productive. It doesn’t find unexpected profitability. And it kills many good ideas just to find a few bad ones (that were probably already obviously bad). And it leads companies to eventually fail because it allows companies to stay within their safe zone.

YET, Creative Teams Err When They Echo Bernbach’s Quote. I seriously doubt if this quote reflects the depth of Bernbach’s true opinion – he’s much too savvy to have minimized research across the board. Still, I have heard exactly this thought parroted by creative teams across the world.

Partly, some creatives suffer a kind of research trauma – having heard consumers questioned closely about things like the colors in the ad. (First rule of good research: Consumers are NOT creatives. Don’t ask them to critique creative choices.)

But that’s no justification to avoid research. I find that most often creative teams don’t really want to learn – they might find their work isn’t influencing consumers the way they thought it was.

Exceptional research is quite threatening and challenging – it reveals the unexpected. Embrace that truth and we find amazing power. But, its much more common for creative teams to circle up in the safety of non-conformity and write off all research.

Exceptional research is about learning. Research cannot, and will never, deliver the laser-like accuracy that too many executives hope for. But that doesn’t mean it’s a “failure”. Rather, research is about learning. Because if any creative team tells you they know all the answers you should fire them on the spot.

Let me try an analogy for research from my reading of history in the American west.

Suppose it’s 1850 and you’re in Oregon wanting to go to Sacramento. There are no roads and there aren’t even established trails.

The successful strategy is to do research. Read everything you can on the territory and search out all the maps. Then talk to anybody who’s been over even part of the territory – guides, pioneers, Native Americans, and farmers. And then, build a strategy – a plan – based on everything you’ve learned – complete with alternative courses in case the plan has flaws. Then continue to re-investigate your plan as you proceed. And be brave, but savvy.

Unfortunately, agencies too often just pick up a compass and head south only to starve in the wilderness, be killed by outlaws or be killed after encroaching on Native American lands.

And the most safety seeking corporations would prefer to sit and wait for 130 years hoping someone develops a camera to get a satellite image of the territory.

Marketing success takes the courage to look the truth in the eyes. Over the course of my career I’ve become more and more convinced that marketing courage is critical to success. But as any soldier will tell you, the courageous train and prepare themselves for action. And when the time comes, they act with little concern for their safety – because that’s what it takes to achieve their goal.

Unfortunately, I find the creative call to “non-conformity” is all too often the call to safety. What takes far more courage is sitting still and listening to consumers so you communicate with them in ways that get their attention better and lead to more action.

Do you use research courageously? If not, you’re leaving tremendous profit for your clients untapped.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved.

Brand Begins and Ends with Your Products (Or Services).

I once sat in a meeting discussing a highly successful TV campaign. Underlying the discussion there’s this funny unspoken question from the brand side of the house: “How can it be good branding if it sold so well?”

The truth is that product is your best way to build brand. But this has been lost by the billion dollar brand consultancies and amidst the plethora of marketing PhD dissertations – with collusion from creative teams who learn the hard way that their best opportunity to get the NEXT ad job is to ignore product in THIS one.

Consider the brand ecosystem chart Forrester tweeted today. (Link here.) I challenge you to find product in this brand activity chart. Oh, yes. It’s there…somewhere…amidst all the complexity.

It took me a while to find it. But the product seems to be hidden in the upper right in touchpoint #5 – “Use”. That’s funny, this chart gives it one word. But “using the product” is 95% of a consumer’s interaction with the brand. (If consumer interaction with product is below 95% be afraid. That means you’ve got a quality problem and they’re probably pretty mad at you.)

I’m not picking on Forrester because I mis-understand their intent. I think the intent of this chart is to look at the wide range of activity within a company where brand might be able to be strengthened. Kudo’s to ensuring that your entire company supports brand.

But regardless of its intent, this chart is an accurate representation of the fuzzy thinking in too many ad agencies today – fuzzy thinking which loses track of product amidst amazing sociological gymnastics justifying brand theories.

Consumers don’t buy a brand. They buy a product. Consumers buy a physical thing. If you offer software or a service, they buy a process or an outcome. But in either case they buy something.

In this purchase, the brand impacts their decision and can be a tremendous benefit. So the brand promise desperately needs to have worked it’s way into every far corner of the product or service.

But never forget that when spending their hard earned money, consumers want to buy a something – and not a theory. Brand’s are no more than theories – important theories, but theories none-the-less.

Communication can enhance the power of a brand. But not when that communication becomes so dis-embodied that the product becomes merely a faint aroma slightly flavoring your advertising.

How important is product? Consider Apple and Nissan. Apple has an exceptionally strong brand – because of their products. Despite angst about Apple fanboys, the vast masses of consumers wouldn’t buy iPods, iPhones, iMacs, or iPads if they weren’t highly effective products.

The limit of the Apple brand is shown by the recent Final Cut Pro X release. It was announced one week. The next week my operation began evaluating replacing FCP with options that are NOT from Apple. Why? Apple claims FCP X has brilliant innovation consistent with their brand. That’s nice. But their “innovative software” is imposed in a way which forces Apple’s customers, like us, to make big changes in the way they work and throw out all projects from prior FCP versions. In a situation like this, suddenly brand doesn’t matter. At all.

Consider also Nissan. They’ve benefited from 30 years of highly innovative brand advertising. But their product has never quite made it over the top. So Nissan remains an also ran Japanese car brand. Brand advertising can’t turn lemons into lemonade.

When you sell products effectively, consumers, your bottom line, and your brand will be happier. The better we are at selling products, the better will be the short term, and long term, profits to our clients.

The campaign I mentioned at the start sold well because we used product to define brand. This also gave consumers an immediate reason to connect with the brand and take action. And they did. That’s why it sold so well.

In fact, there’s lots of fluff these days about whether people are “engaged” with advertising. What’s missing is that product is the ultimate engagement point. And I can’t imagine a more powerful brand engagement than purchasing the product.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Want Consumers To Pay Attention To Your Ads? Make Them Meaningful.

A few weeks ago I ran across this article titled “Four Reasons Why We Choose to Watch Ads”. Seemed like a smart read because I always love to see simple lists about advertising.

So I click the link and jump to the four reasons. The first thing the author claims is that we watch ads when “They look and feel like content.” Uh oh. The bait and switch version of advertising: Let’s fool the consumer into watching our ads. A very, very poor start.

Maybe there’s some good value in number two. So I read: “They’re Engaging”. Okay, I’ll buy that. It is important that ads be watchable, engaging, interesting, nicely paced, etc.

On to reason three: “They’re (relatively) brief”. Hmmm. Having created a highly successful half hour infomercial about drill bits that drew 1.0 ratings (ratings mind you – not share) and drove sales of a few million units, I’d have to disagree. Much better to use the analogy I read on a LinkedIn board. When asked how long a man’s legs should be, Abraham Lincoln is reputed to have said “long enough to reach the ground”. How long should an ad be? Long enough to succeed – not one second longer or shorter.

Let’s finish off with reason #4: “They’re Viewable.” His point is that there are a great many avenues for distributing ads right now (like YouTube) where you can put a lot of work into an advertisement and never have anyone see it. Agreed. If no one sees your ad then no one can be influenced by it. This is a BIG problem.

Two out of four may not be bad. But then I get thinking. Something’s missing. Something rather critical. What could it be?

That’s Right…Saying Something Meaningful!! (How Could We Forget?) This is the single most important reason (by far) that consumers pay attention to ads. But meaning is not only missing from this list, it is missing from most advertising today.

It’s scary that we’re so bad at it – but not unexpected. Consider advertising education. Most J-schools don’t talk about meaning. Advertising programs are often part of “media studies” – not business. That means students are taught that cultural relevance is more important than consumer value or solving business problems.

I don’t think portfolio schools help either. A creative director friend of mine refuses to hire portfolio school grads because they have never been critiqued by a consumer or a client. The feedback that trained them came from their peers (a bunch of other artists) and their instructor (most likely another artist). And none of them evaluate ads the way a consumer does – looking for value.

No Wonder Consumers Hate Advertising. The advertising elite claim that people hate ads because they interrupt them. I have listened to a lot of consumers talk honestly about advertising and I disagree.

What bugs people is being interrupted by meaningless things. In a way, consumers have a BS meter that detects genuineness and meaning – even if that meaning is only useful to someone else and not themselves. We’d rather be interrupted by an ad that’s clearly meaningful than an ad that’s designed to win a creative director a Cannes Lion.

When You Deliver Meaning It Is Noticed. At my DRTV agency we have a process that demands meaning in our ads (in part because you can’t get measurable direct response without it). We are constantly reminded how important this is to consumers.

My executive producer got talking with someone and John casually mentioned something about Kobalt Tools (a client of ours). This guy launched off on a story about this ad he’d seen the other night. It showed this tool and it explained it – answered his questions, made him care about it, fit it into his world. Best ad he’d ever seen was what he called it.

What he’d seen was our spot for the Kobalt Speedfit. What got him so excited? Our ad told him things he cared about. But even more, he’d spent a lifetime bombarded with entertainment oriented drivel – meaningless to anyone. So seeing something meaningful excited him – a lot!

The best ad – a DRTV spot. Take that sexy Old Spice hunk!

Problem is That Entertainment is More Profitable for Agencies. It’s much easier (and more profitable) to hire a bunch of young creatives that put out “hot ideas” than it is to hire savvy teams that deliver meaningful messages. Too many clients to accept this meaningless work so there’s little hope of client pressure correcting the error that profits and laziness put in place.

But that shouldn’t matter. It’s our jobs to change the world one campaign at a time. So, the next time you’re evaluating your creative brief, creative concepts, scripts, production plans or finished work, ask the really important question: is this meaningful? If not, head back to the drawing board.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Is Classic “Brand Advertising” Right for Your Brand?

The advertising and marketing industry has let the term “Brand Advertising” come to mean “the only advertising that builds brand”.

This is VERY wrong. All advertising will build brand just as all marketing efforts need to build brand. Even worse, depending on your business needs, the emotional advertising specifically called “brand advertising” may be exactly the worst type of advertising to use.

So how do you determine if its right for you? One good starting point is the way brand advertising works financially.

Key Truth About Brand Advertising. The profit from today’s investment in brand advertising returns to you over a 5 to 10 year period. For massive multi-nationals, this may be just fine and brand advertising is often a smart choice. But most advertising clients can’t afford to spend millions today then wait for the profit years later.

Advertising Clients Should Be Classified According To Their ROI Horizon. Tonight in my Advertising Campaigns class I suggested we look at companies according to the point in time when they need profit from their advertising. Here are the three categories I gave them:

Short-term: Those companies who need advertising to pay for itself the first year. (These are often companies with less than $200M in annual revenue.)

Mid-Term: Those companies who need advertising to pay for itself within two to four years.

Long-Term: Those who can invest today without breaking even for 5 to 10 years.

Each Classification of Client Needs a Different Type of Advertising. I suppose there are some who would claim that if the client can’t wait 5 years, they shouldn’t be advertising. But that isn’t true and my agency has a bevy of case studies to prove it.

What was exciting tonight was that after laying out these categories, my undergraduate students had very clear ideas about how they would change advertising content if they were working for a short-term ROI client. Four stood out:

They needed the strategic goals to change to reflect this ROI horizon. (Strategic thinking that made this part-time professor happy.)

They suggested that the advertising required a stronger call-to-action – reflecting the truth that when you ask consumers to take action, they will.

They would create more product-oriented advertising – because product drives immediate action better than broad brand promises.

And they suggested that shorter term ROI clients would benefit from choosing media that is more promotional in nature.

And all this came up in a 15 minute discussion. Imagine the insights we’d get if the advertising business turned its full brilliance to this challenge.

ROI Horizon Should Start All Advertising Discussions. I’m sure I’ll get a few comments saying “it’s always in the brief”. But I don’t agree. Briefs often describe goals with words that, when you drill down, say little more than “do good things”.

Every advertising campaign should start with serious discussion of client needs, how they will measure ROI, and how much risk they can take before learning that the ROI will materialize. Unfortunately, it’s an exceptionally rare agency that knows how analyze a client situation this way then execute an advertising campaign that returns the right business result.

Education is a big part of the problem. Our Portland State advertising program is, fortunately, part of the Business School. But in today’s agency world, too many people (whether AE’s from J-school or creative’s from portfolio school) have essentially art or social science educations and are intimidated by business analysis. (In fact, some agencies reject applicants just because they have business training.)

Regardless, let me suggest that the next time your agency defaults to “brand advertising”, it should be your job to ask if that’s a good idea. And then open that discussion to all ranges of advertising and the business results each delivers.

All advertising builds brand. The key is to create advertising that delivers the business results you need while building brand.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Mid-term Status on Web Delivered TV – Chaos Only a Geek Could Love

My family upgraded to a beautiful new 55″ flatscreen, moved over our Comcast and TiVO, then added an AppleTV and upgraded our sound system. And, so, in one grand swoop, we became a modern TV family.

How is this new world? No longer needing to go to the video store for old movies is quite nice. But prepare yourself for four types of chaos.

Content Chaos

You’d think that a monthly Netflix subscription would deliver everything we need. But Netflix streaming has massive content holes. Even worse, there’s no way to predict whether the content you want will be available or not. Besides, Netflix only has old stuff. Old movies. Old reruns. And Disney isn’t on Netflix – at all.

So how about Hulu? The Blazer’s playoff game bumped 30 Rock. Of course, this season isn’t on Netflix. I find it on Hulu – the paid version (cha ching). We have a monthly now, but we really don’t need Hulu. Our cable/DVR combo is much better except for those few times there’s a problem with the cable feed.

Ah, but what about new movies? They are not available on Netflix. That means we have to either seek them at Redbox, TiVO them from the HBO feed, or pay through Comcast OnDemand or AppleTV. Hmmm, $4 a pop.

So we thought we’d figured a lot out. But then the Bin Laden raid pre-empted The Amazing Race. But who wants to miss that episode. So, we dashed off into Digital TV. Where to look? Netflix? Nope. AppleTV? Nope. Hulu? Nope. CBS’ website? Not on my iPad. Ah, its on the website if we choose to access it with my wife’s laptop. And as long as we wait some period of time after it was supposed to have aired.

Format Chaos

Before content chaos we confronted format chaos. These devices bombarded us with format options. HDMi or RGB? Svideo or RCA? 720p or 1070p? HD or SD? And each device (except AppleTV) has a huge range of input or output settings. Which one’s work well together? My former network manager wife shook her head as we tried to sort out the alphabet soup.

Remote Chaos

After basic setup, we entered “The Remote Zone”. Our TV is surrounded by 5 devices – each with it’s own unique remote. Then, I remembered a programmable universal remote I’d been given. About 3 days of tinkering later and one remote carried the whole system. Whew.

Reliability Chaos

So we get this all cobbled together… And then there’s an unreliable signal. With Netflix at least once or twice per movie or rerun we lose lip synch and have to restart. At other times Netflix stops in its tracks and pops us out. This didn’t happen wtih – what’s do you call that not so old way – cable?

Not Ready For Consumers

This world is far, far from a consumer quality world. Why?

Too complicated. You REALLY have to want to watch something to figure it out. (And, no, this won’t be fixed by making it 100′s of times more complicated with Google searching on the web.)

It is waaay too expensive. 10 monthly bucks here and there. Then little bits of $4 to get one movie at a time. So right now we are probably paying $30 to $40 per month over our cable bill. But Cable offers more and is easier to use.

With all this in place, we still mostly watch Cable using our DVR – a simple system that is cheaper and delivers the vast majority of what we want.

My kids watch the most on these digital gizmos. It seems to fit their developmental stage interest in watching the same basic program over and over.

And yet, have the digerati claimed about all this digital so-called freedom? That it’s simple and less expensive. NOT IN MY EXPERIENCE!!!

A Call To Action: Fix It

It’s true – none of this was possible 6 years ago. But that’s not the point.

Right now Netflix is real, but Hulu and most of the other options are toys. For them to move beyond this stage, they must rise to mass consumer quality. Consumers won’t pay extra monthly fees without getting far more in a far easier format.

The way things are going I expect we are entering a period with 5 years of bankruptcies, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. Then, maybe someone will bring it together under one roof.

Who might that be? Love ‘em or hate ‘em, my guess is that it’s the cable providers (e.g. Comcast) who are going to create a unified system. And given their track record for making easy-to-use technology, that should probably concern us all.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Research Proves Netflix is the Internet Hawg. What Will the Angry Birds Do?

A recent report looks at all Internet bandwidth (upstream and downstream) and concludes that Netflix is now the single biggest consumer of bandwidth. (Report here.)

And so it begins.

What begins? That’s the big question. Fundamentally, the Internet universe we have come to know and love is threatened by the onslaught of movies online.

For example, in my neighborhood we can tell when our neighbors start watching movies – because our bandwidth slows down dramatically. And, talking with folks, it’s a pretty universal experience to lose Internet speed on Friday afternoon/evenings as well as weekend evenings.

Does this mean an apocalyptic Internet disaster? Probably not. But it looks like Netflix has stolen the internet eggs that we’d like to use for other things. And, from what I can see, the consumer, the movie business and the Internet business are all unprepared for the havoc Netflix is wreaking.

Netflix’s Loophole. I’m told that Netflix dominance is made possible in large part by a short term loophole. Right now, high speed Internet relies heavily on past investment in infrastructure that contributed to the dot com crash, then was bought for a song and expanded in the past decade. My guess is that this means that the current equation (you get all the movies you want to watch for under $10) isn’t likely to last.

So Netflix is using a type of bait and switch tactic: hook us with low prices and it sure looks like they’ll have to switch to high fees later. All this made possible because they don’t have to pay for the bandwidth they’re using today. The result will be that we end up paying more for Internet delivered entertainment than we ever have for cable.

There is an alternative outcome. Comcast (and other cable operators) seem to be the Timex watches of the entertainment business. Nothing exciting. Nothing particularly motivating. But they take a licking and keep on ticking. So in truth, Comcast may dominate and Netflix could be forced out of the picture.

I never believe companies who claim they have suspended fundamental economic truths. And Netflix’s statements about bandwidth lack economic truth. Fortunately we were reminded recently that economic laws can’t be broken when Blippy had to return to a sane business model.

So let’s hope that sanity comes back to the discussion of TV over Internet. Because right now it’s stuck in an imaginary economic universe where bandwidth performance is free.

And lets hope some of those angry birds get their eggs back so we don’t move back in time and end up with the neighborhood equivalent of dial-up because the Hawg stole the bandwidth.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

The New (Old) Truth: Mass Media is the Key to Building Brands

For some time, marketing has been dominated by the theory that the way to success is getting your most loyal consumers to buy more. As a result, it’s become popular for marketing “guru”s to declare the end of mass marketing.

There’s just one problem: it’s not true. The best discussion of this reality that I’ve seen recently is found in Byron Sharp’s book “How Brands Grow” (2010, Oxford). Let me share a few of the realities I found in this excellent, and challenging, read.

Remember the “80/20″ Rule? It’s Wrong. In the 1930′s an Italian economist named Pareto suggested that 80% of a country’s wealth come from 20% of its citizens. Since then, this suggestion has been applied where it shouldn’t and been turned into a “rule”. (One such rule might be that “80% of manufacturing errors come from 20% of the process” – something that is sometimes true.)

In marketing, the 80/20 rule has come to claim that 80% of a company’s sales come from 20% of its consumers. Marketers use this to claim that the fastest way to increase profit is to convince the 20% to buy more – an idea that glorifies niche marketing and loyalty programs.

There Are Fundamental Problems With the 80/20 Rule.

Sharp analyzed this rule with hard marketing numbers from a large number of client campaigns. Let me note three findings:

The most loyal 20% of consumers drive only 50% of purchases – not 80.

The top 20% are the most expensive (in marketing dollars) way to increase sales. I’ve found they are often fully satisfied and don’t want/need more from your brand.

Today’s loyal are tomorrow’s disloyal. Sharp documents the human animal’s polygamous brand tendencies – making purchases from a wide range of brands. One result of brand polygamy is that a very large number of today’s loyal customers will be less loyal in the future.

Net out: Loyalists may just be the worst place to invest a large portion of your communication dollars.

So How Do Big Brands Succeed? Sharp suggests part of the answer is in the Double Jeopardy Law:

“Small brands have far fewer customers and those customers buy slightly less often.”

So brands that grow big do so by reaching out and expanding their base of consumers. For a taste of what Sharp has to say, see his presentation in this Ted video.

Sharp points to Apple as an example. Tech competitors blame Apple success on fanboys. But Apple has become big because my neighbors have iPods, iPhones and now iMacs. (Just look at the vast amount of Apple hardware on airplanes owned by people you’d never expect to buy Apple.)

This is true of brands like Nike and even, I suspect a brand who makes loyalty the centerpiece of their marketing like Nordstrom. In a category close to my heart, it’s true for DeWalt drills. Yes, a lot of contractors buy them. But contractor sales don’t make DeWalt huge. DeWalt is huge because suburban garages are filled with DeWalt drills.

Doesn’t Social Media Show Niche Marketing is More Powerful? Not when you analyze the total communication picture around social media.

“New media success stories” are mostly mass media success stories given additional legs in social media. How so? In most cases, new media’s role is to create enough awareness to get mass media outlets to deliver coverage in TV, print, newspaper, radio, etc… Then, and only then, does the big impact start.

For two examples look at Susan Boyle’s record sales or Lady Gaga’s massive YouTube numbers – both are the result of traditional media exposure. (Just notice how much print space Gaga gets.)

And the recent Old Spice campaign generated untold millions of social media interactions – but only after a massive TV campaign that probably spent over $10m..

It’s time for agencies to return mass marketing to it’s appropriate place. Byron Sharp’s analysis makes it clear that the one thing your brand cannot thrive without is Mass Marketing. And mass marketing is the one thing you can never do with the web or other new media.

So where does that lead us? Back to marketing mixes where mass media build the foundation and where niche media (like new media) just sweeten the deal in a smaller role.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Do You Insult Consumer Intelligence With Entertainment Value?

I wrote recently about the advertising business’s mis-understanding of the idea of “likability”. I think we have a similar problem with the idea of “entertainment”.

Listen to many agencies and you’ll think that the only things that entertain are movies, concerts, comedy shows, and video games. That’s quite scary because movies, concerts, comedy shows, and video games FAIL TO ENTERTAIN far more than they succeed.

So the good news for the ad business is that people are more interesting than Hollywood thinks.

Does Advertising Need to Be Entertaining? Of course it does. But agencies need to stop looking at what’s called the “entertainment business” and start looking for a more robustly human sense of entertainment.

There are many things that people find entertaining – learning things, training pets, browsing the web, reading a book, watching a documentary, playing poker, shooting the breeze with friends, working out, running, hiking, fishing, sewing, woodworking, fixing stuff, writing blogs, …. The list is endless and varied. Heck, there are people who think it’s entertaining to lock themselves into a tiny capsule tied to a balloon then risk their lives floating around the world 10 miles above the earth (this one doesn’t make my list).

To see this wide ranging sense of entertainment consider infomercials (yup – the 30 minute type). Infomercials work because it is inherently entertaining for people to learn about products they buy for areas where they are passionate. What do they learn? How products work, what other people think about them, how they might apply to their lives. Because of this, the infomercial business is extraordinarily successful and has nearly universal influence (every TV viewer is influenced by them even if they don’t call to buy).

Intelligent infomercials succeed – like our half hour for the Drill Doctor drill bit sharpener which spent 30 minutes talking about drill bits and drove sales of 3 million units. Entertaining? You bet. This show received 1 ratings (not share) in local markets on early weekend mornings. Why? Because it’s entertaining to learn about tools.

Sadly, some infomercial practitioners insult viewer intelligence by using the same techniques on TV that they use on the Atlantic boardwalk. But infomercials aren’t the worst…

The Worst Insulters of Consumer Intelligence are Traditional Advertisers. Advertising agencies insult consumer intelligence constantly by assuming that (1) consumers don’t want to know anything or (2) saying something significant makes creative “boring” or (3) saying something directly is offensive. Consumers really want all of this – it’s the agencies who don’t.

In part, I find many agencies believe they are honoring consumer intelligence by keeping meaningful content OUT OF their work. Instead, the creative approach is “highly intelligent”. Except… Consumers aren’t artists and creative intelligence is primarily lost on the vast majority of people. There is only one truly universal thing that consumers DO care about: making smart purchase decisions with their limited resources.

The Agency Selection Process Helps Cause This Reality. When shopping agencies, clients view advertising in a portfolio or on a reel as if they were a theater audience. That means entertainment industry-style values play a huge role in agency selection.

But, consumers catch advertising as part of their everyday lives. Caught from the corner of their eye while cooking, glanced at while paging through a magazine with the TV on, or briefly considered while their 2 year-old pulls on their hair. If advertising is to be valuable to them, then, they need it to say something clear and direct that makes pretty immediate sense.

And notice what happens: Theatrical impact requires the creative cleverness to avoid saying things clearly, directly, and in ways that make immediate sense. Consumer impact usually requires clear and direct communication. It takes a brave agency to create advertising that moves consumers – because in so doing they are risking their ability to get that next job.

The Result: A One Dimensional Theory of Entertainment. Heart pumping, eye-catching, sexy, funny, outrageous – these are the terms agencies like to apply to their advertising. But how restrictive of the human animal. Yes, I know PT Barnum talks about how easy it is to foist things on the public. Perhaps that only matters when your primary product is Barnum’s taxidermically altered animalia shown at the county fair.

Fortunately, most advertising doesn’t involve that kind of junk. So why don’t we sell it intelligently – to the whole person, to the entirety of the human beast?

Respect Consumers As Fully Human, Fully Alive. Do this by telling them the things that have meaning to them. And tell them these things in ways that are understandable. Respecting consumers makes your advertising watched more often and successful more often.

Speaking of success, let’s revisit that “entertainment industry” model. The ad biz’s fascination with entertainment considers only the exciting potential while ignoring the dark side. In the entertainment business, failure happens at a massive rate.

Love that sitcom? They spent 5 years developing it and 100 others failed to be effective along the way. Can you spend 5 years developing your ad campaign and risk failing 99 out of 100 times?

Didn’t think you could. The really beautiful thing about considering the entire human animal: you can create advertising that is successful almost every time. But only after you reject the one dimensional view of how your advertising should entertain humanity.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

The Human Value of Effective Advertising

There are a lot of people running around right now with utopian theories of advertising that suggest it’s most effective when it doesn’t ask consumers to do anything.These theories are especially prominent in social media circles.

In reality, this is really just the further development of creative trends that started in the 1980s – trends that outlived the big hair. The result of those trends is an advertising business in 2011 that is pretty cynical. Many agency execs bring in large salaries while resenting anything so low brow as the idea their work needs to “sell”. The idea of asking a consumer to purchase a product seems crass (so it doesn’t happen). And there seems to be, among agency execs, a serious dis-like of the real business purpose of “advertising” (which you can detect by what’s omitted from their discussion – like any understanding of business).

What they’re really saying is “advertising is most effective when it’s least effective.” Right. (Oops. I forgot that every advertising sin is excused by the agency with the idea that it will at least build brand. And when will that brand turn into cash for the company? It has to at some point.)

Sadly, this trend’s added influence due to new media is quite dangerous. Because highly effective advertising is fundamentally very human and is fundamentally quite valuable to our social fabric.

Consumerism is as old as mankind itself. In fact, consumerism started when the first hunters found they could shop for rock types and find rocks that were more effective. Or when one animal skin was preferred over another for any number of reasons. I think brand also shows up quite early – like when weapon makers repetitively selected specific types of rock (e.g. flint) because they knew it made better weapons. In other words: exercising choice for the things that support us and surround us is a fundamental human activity.

Advertising helps consumers. Through advertising, they find products that enliven and enrich their lives – products they wouldn’t otherwise know about. For bigger decisions, advertising can help consumers choose between brands – more quickly and with more confidence than they could otherwise. For smaller decisions, brand established through advertising reduces their shopping challenge. Consider. A typical trip to the grocery store might involve looking at 500 items to choose 100. Using brand, we reduce those choices dramatically and make our lives more manageable.

Advertising creates jobs. We rely on the consumer economy to drive jobs. But if consumers don’t know a product exists, don’t know what advantages it brings them, or don’t know the ways it out-performs the competition, then they aren’t likely to buy that product. So strong advertising campaigns create strong companies – which means jobs at all levels of the company, jobs at retail, and jobs in all the suppliers who help manufacture the products.

Advertising creates economic stability. When companies have a potent method for driving their sales engine, then those companies become more stable. And stable companies create stable economies. Yes, technology enthusiasts spend a lot of time today preaching something like “chaos is good”. I disagree. Chaos happens. Out of chaos, good can come. But, economically we need long periods of stability while brief episodes of chaos reveal new things and keep us from becoming complacent. Advertising is critical to creating that stability.

Advertising lifts marketing out of the nasty, ugly world of the Dollar Store. Consider the Dollar Store. Without advertising, all retail would decay to the level of the dollar store – where every brand & product is manufactured solely to reduce cost. Is that what consumers want? Not at all. Is that what manufacturers want? Not at all. Advertising is one of the key economic factors that keep companies from ending up in the sinkhole of discounts.

What stands in the way of getting these benefits? Mostly, the advertising business. Let me mention a couple of ways the ad business is its own worst enemy.

First, consider the issue of “consumer interruption”. Ad agencies make a big deal about the idea that advertising interrupts consumers – then tell us they just care about consumers. That’s funny. Because the facts suggest that consumers don’t really care passionately about this topic. Ad effectiveness has increased in TV since DVR’s appeared (so obviously they’re not “skipping all ads”). And while newspapers are struggling to get ad dollars, that’s not because readers are revolting against advertising – they’re shifting to get similar content for free over the internet. And print is in a similar situation.

So why does the advertising biz talk so much about interruptions? Because it pays to. Truth is that ad agencies stand to make millions from offering dramatic changes in advertising – whether consumers want them or not (remember that agencies aren’t usually held to a sales goal anyway so what does it matter?). And new media entrepreneurs and venture investors stand to make billions if these agencies can convince clients to abandon old media and put their money in new.

Let’s look at another issue. For fun sometime, hang around an agency creative meeting then point to an idea and say “but that won’t sell anything”. Watch the fireworks as the creative team insists that selling isn’t their job and they refuse to work on any campaign where sales are measured.

Truth is that the ad business has become exceptionally skilled at convincing clients not to expect results from their work. In fact, as J-schools, then art schools & portfolio schools, and, now, agency schools have come to dominate advertising training, advertising has turned from commercial endeavor into a curated art exhibit. As a result, meaningful consumer messages have become nearly non-existent. That bugs consumers. If they are asked to put up with advertising, they’d rather have the ads be useful.

The Problem Isn’t Advertising Interruption, But Advertising That Delivers No Meaning. What advertisers need to focus on is useful consumer meaning: Why should a consumer buy this product? What is exciting, but hidden? What does it bring to a consumer life? What context shows the product value? What makes it better than the competition? What important truth wouldn’t someone learn at the store?

Why these kinds of truth? Because when you deliver meaning well you also deliver the full range of advertising’s human value.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Does “Likability” Create Advertising That Consumers Hate?

Long ago studies began to suggest that advertising tends to be more effective when it’s “likable”. And very quickly, likability became an advertising absolute.

So disagreeing with the concept of likability would seem to be advertising death. But I do disagree — with today’s interpretation. Because here in 2010, the way agencies have decided to make likable advertising creates advertising that consumers hate.

The Beginning of Likability. This concept starts from the simple truth that people want to like the people they buy products from. Since advertising reflects your brand, product, and the people behind it, it makes fundamental sense that likable advertising is more effective than unlikable advertising. Statistical studies confirm this as discussed by Dr. Bryon Sharp in his new book “How Brands Grow”.

Expanding our sense of likability, Dr. Sharp explains that “…the gentle, if complex, emotional reaction of liking increased sales effectiveness of advertising because it encouraged consumers to pay a little more attention.” (p. 204)

Likability Turns Ugly. Unfortunately, from these common sense and statistically proven beginnings, the idea of likability has mutated like the monster rising from the swamp.

The problem starts with agencies and creative teams who make likability their top goal. I’ve watched research teams investigate whether consumers like advertising while ignoring whether consumers find what the ad says to be powerful or meaningful.

Today, the ad business concept of likability goes even further. Far too many agencies seek primarily to create consumer passion about the advertising creative itself and ignore the brand or product.

And, so, our advertising swamp monster has severed its connection with reality in order to focus its energy on creating what portfolio schools/art institutes consider “entertainment”.

Yikes. Advertising needs to be likable so that people retain our messages better. But that means, first and foremost, that we need messages. Only then can you focus on likability (among other also critically important factors).

Then Social Media Blows it Out of Control. I won’t dwell on the absurdities of most corporate sponsored social media. Agencies love this new playground whether it benefits their clients or not. But I will note, as I’ve said before, most consumers don’t want to be your friend. And getting the advertising value from likability doesn’t happen because Facebook ether-friends “like” your brand or product.

Is Modern Advertising Likable? No – Consumers Hate a Lot of It. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to consumers talk about their feelings about advertising. And I’ve spent quite a bit of time digging into quantitative research about what consumers retain from advertising.

Some ads which agencies consider highly creative are truly enjoyed by consumers. More often, consumers struggle to recall the brand and/or product that is being advertised, are turned off by meaningless edginess, rebel at self-satisfied “high art”, and become frustrated that advertisers interrupt their media with meaningless drivel. The problem with modern advertising isn’t that it interrupts us, but that it doesn’t deliver meaning.

Understanding Likability in a Human Way. Let’s consider buying a car. I think it’s obvious that you’re more likely to buy a car from someone you like than from someone you dis-like. But also, most people are unlikely to buy a car from their best friend or someone who is “just like them”. Most people want to buy from someone who has solid knowledge about the type of car they’re considering.

So, no matter how much you may like the salesman, you’ll hesitate to sign a 5 year loan on a $40,000 purchase if the salesman can’t tell you why it’s a good car for your needs or explain the deal on the loan.

This suggests that likability isn’t broadly determined, but must be uniquely considered within the product or brand sphere being advertised.

Question is: Does Your Work Respect Humanity? The next time your agency is talking about likability, sit back on the fringes of the conversation and listen – really listen – to what’s being said.

Hopefully, you’ll discover a very human sense, respectful of the consumer’s true need for the product. Grab this sense and encourage it. Because your advertising can really only become likable when you understand the human needs of your consumers and explain to them the things you offer to meet those needs. And it’s even better when you do this in likable and entertaining ways.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Humanity, Humility, Statistics & Brands. Thoughts About “How Brands Grow” by Byron Sharp

For all the grand ad agency theorizing about brands, it’s ironic that the most human sense of brands that I’ve read in a very long time comes from an academic statistician reviewing what he learns from hard data.

But Aren’t We Told That New Media Glorifies the Human? I love new media and social media. And I think there will be some excellent and interesting communication opportunities through it. But the self-aggrandized Adbuster fed Utopianism surrounding social media reminds me of 1984′s doublethink and Newspeak.

George Orwell suggested “WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH”. Listen carefully to what’s said about new media and you’ll hear “Ad Clutter is Beauty; Message Bombardment is Peace; Corporations are my Friend”.

New media theorists seem think that a consumer loves nothing more than to spend their life searching for brand related content on Facebook while trying to learn the latest social media engine. Truth is that we spend a lot more time thinking about other things (like family, work, money, vacation, …) and don’t think about brands all that often

This is part of the humanity revealed through statistics in the book “How Brands Grow; What Marketers Don’t Know” (Byron Sharp (and others); published by Oxford University Press) It’s a highly challenging, terribly real, and refreshingly human read. For the most part it’s also tremendously perceptive and accurate. (Below I’ll note the two areas where I think his conclusions paint far too broad of a picture.)

Sharp offers us “laws” based in his research on behalf of the biggest advertisers around the world as well as a library with over 50 years of research found in the archives of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute. To be clear, humanity is the term I apply to what Sharp finds because he shows us a humbling picture of brands and a very real, human sense of their true role in consumer lives.

Sharp finds that brands don’t become big on the sales of their most committed customers. Rather, big brands are big because a lot of people buy a little from them. (Apple is a prime example here.)

He finds that statistics show the 80/20 rule is wrong. This rule suggests that 80% of revenue comes from 20% of customers. Research shows that isn’t true. And, he gives a thorough discussion of what the real situation is.

He finds statistically that mass marketing is the way for brands to grow.

And he finds that statistics show that what most marketers think of as “consumer loyalty” is non-existent. What consumers do is simply have a tendency to buy from a few brands. (In fact, his term is “polygamous” – that consumers are polygamous when it comes to brands.)

Why I love this humanity. As brand marketers we live our lives around our brands. But we often develop a myopia that is far off-target when thinking about consumers. Sharp’s observations are humbling reminders that our brands might be OUR jobs, but they’re not the consumer’s job.

I’ve felt this for some time. Last fall I tried to reflect humanity in my post “Most Consumers Don’t Want to Be Your Friend”. It’s true. Brands aren’t friends. They aren’t people. They aren’t relationships. Brands are commercial operations consumers come to trust to deliver something. So they buy a brand when the “something” they need is what the brand offers AND when buying that brand is convenient or available on their terms.

The myopia I most recently encountered at a presentation by Google. Their advocate talked about the glory of having Gmail read his emails to his wife and send ads based on the content of their conversation. It was surreal. The audience was shocked at the invasive nature of the advertising while he was blissfully unaware of audience shock. Google seems to have developed a surreal disconnection from humanity as it has drunk the heady Koolaid of success.

The Best Marketing Success Comes with Humanity. So, sit back and think: Do you treat consumers humanly? Or are you projecting advertiser fantasy onto consumers – perhaps even asking them to do your job? And then, read this book.

There are a couple of areas where I think Mr. Sharp’s enthusiasm for broad conclusive statements are a problem. I’ve written my thoughts about his persuasion conclusions (link here). In a future post I’ll discuss my concerns about his broad declamations concerning differentiation. Overstating his data in these two areas will lead some marketers astray who desperately need to focus on persuasion and differentiation.

Otherwise, his book is extraordinarily well researched, well thought out, and very challenging. And desperately needed if we are to return a solid sense of human reality to the advertising discussion.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

The Lost Art of Persuasion: Why Advertisers (Wrongly) Think Persuasion is Unimportant

Been reading this book by Byron Sharp (“How Brands Grow”, Oxford University Press). It’s generally an outstanding book and I’ll blog in the future about the truths that it offers which should dramatically change advertising (though I’m not certain anyone will seriously listen).

But despite a brilliant start, this book falls flat on its face when discussing persuasion. Sharp (et. al.) try to tell us that in the world of “new advertising” persuasion is unimportant.

Sharp is not alone. There is a movement among the most up-to-date advertising theorists who will tell you that persuasion is out of vogue and is a concept relegated to the dark ages of advertising (like the 1970′s).

This is bunk. While brands need to leave the right emotional connections behind, advertising is broadly devoted to only one of two outcomes: persuading or merely reminding.

For long established brands (like Duracell batteries or Dial soap) it may be enough for advertising to merely remind us a brand exists in order to cause us to purchase the brand a bit more often. But if you have a product that’s new, a brand that needs to evolve quickly, or a brand that’s being built, your advertising should be entirely devoted to persuasion.

In campaign after campaign, our numbers show that the action driven by persuasion is so big that it’s measurable without too many sophisticated statistical techniques.

So what happened? How could a researcher as perceptive as Sharp come this conclusion? Most of the campaigns he evaluates are reminder campaigns where the advertisers lacks any product or brand values that are significant enough to use for persuasion. And Sharp rightly notes that many branded attempts to persuade rely on minor advantages that don’t offer any significant value. These brands don’t honestly look at the insignificance of what they’re saying.

But also, on this topic his work might be self-predictive. In those campaigns where persuasion would be important, he’s testing campaigns from traditional agencies. And once we got past the 1970′s most agencies lost their ability to persuade. So what do you find when you test poorly executed persuasion advertising?

Seems that we learn that agencies who don’t know how to persuade aren’t able to make campaigns that persuade. No kidding. So what’s going on with agencies and persuasion?

Agencies think too narrowly of persuasion. Read deeply into Sharp’s book and what you’ll see is that the operating definition of “persuasion” is the attempt to persuade using ONLY words and logical arguments.

Yikes. That’s a pretty limited sense of salesmanship. Persuasion happens through a robust communication with the consumer’s heart and mind to create conviction that is far stronger than mere emotional “liking”.

Many agencies think they’ve evolved beyond anything so pedestrian as persuasion. For the past hundred years agencies have rushed to reject the past. Steroids have been added to this mix in the past decade. Taking a lesson from the Ted videocasts, the agency that gets the most attention is the one who promises to change everything.

Unfortunately, while promising massive change in advertising style may help agencies get new business, it’s mass marketing with traditional media that makes brands grow (as Sharp’s book clearly shows). So the agencies who attempt the most change are also the agencies serving their clients the most poorly.

Agencies aren’t designed for persuasion. When we demand persuasion, it makes our work much harder. We have to dig deeper than the superficial to find real meaning for consumers. We have to reject branding that is little more than ivory tower sociology and find, instead, truths that lead to consumer action.

But the ad biz isn’t structured to work this hard. Agencies make big money hiring art school or portfolio school grads and turning them loose while charging lots of money for their time. (Many, many clients tell me they are tired of having to deal with freshly minted art school grads who claim to know how they should run their billion dollar businesses.)

The Upside: Clients thrive with persuasion. Persuasion takes place when we communicate consumer truths that have compelling value. And, it’s even stronger when we put all of our communication tools behind the attempt to persuade – words, images, sounds, textures, ideas, logic, emotions, personality, music, and more.

When we do this, persuasion works. Although I always love honing our measurements with deeper analysis, with direct response television persuasion’s impact is big enough that I don’t need clever analysis to get see the sales results it delivers. And it delivers those both with direct sales AND a much more massive retail impact.

But I have been, here, too hard on Mr. Sharp. His book is fundamentally brilliant. Perhaps what we should take from his persuasion research is that effective persuasion is so rare that advertisers usually give up searching.

It’s too bad. And, I’d love to team with him for a serious look at persuasion. Because I think we’d both find surprisingly useful truths.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett, All Rights Reserved.

More Research Shows DVR’s (e.g. TiVO) Increase Advertising Impact!

Unless you’ve been isolated on a 15 year space mission, you know that the ad business has spend 15 years telling us that DVRs will destroy ad viewing.

But those who pay closest attention have long suspected this isn’t true. And there has been data showing that DVR’s haven’t decreased TV effectiveness. Now Nielsen’s detailed DVR tracking confirms what other studies have shown (click here for the MediaPost summary of the study).

It turns out that DVR’s actually help television advertising succeed: “Contrary to fears that DVRs would wipe out the value of commercials because of viewers fast-forwarding through ads, DVRs actually contribute significantly to commercial viewing.

Guess that makes it sorta too bad that the coolest of the cool agency creative directors have been writing off TV ads for over a decade. Instead, they’ve put their energy into “content oriented non-advertising that captures consumer attitude and turns it into osmosized action that results in higher revenue” or some such gobblety-gook.

What is TV’s Future? So it has turned out that TV advertising isn’t really that bad. Does that mean agencies will drop their new media follies?

Probably not. Since too few ad people had enough savvy to see that DVR’s weren’t actually destroying TV, technology is moving aggressively to change TV – and it’s doing so without the guidance of the savvy teams that really, truly understand what consumers want from TV.

So this effort labors under two mis-perceptions:

…First, they believe there’s some advertising free way that enough great TV content can be developed to get people a good 30 hours a week of viewing…without government funding.
…And secondly, they believe that consumers absolutely hate advertising and will always skip it.

It probably doesn’t matter that these are mis-perceptions. We’re seeing tremendous support for media approaches to television that very well might kill TV ad effectiveness.

It’s too bad. Because this study suggests that the consumers pretty easily put up with TV advertising as a trade-off in order to get the programming they like.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

What Happened To The Web’s Promised Land of Targeted Advertising?

In my introductory ad classes, students review two ad articles each quarter. And from the very first class I taught in January of 2001, an overwhelming number of reviews have extolled the glory of highly targeted advertising on the web.

These articles described a virtual eden – where advertising’s power is increased because ad dollars are spent only on communication with those who care. Just imagine, they say, targeting by interest, by their browsing history, by online purchase history, by selection of keywords in the past 10 years, and perhaps even by the genetic make-up of the consumer’s children

Ten years later, how is Eden?

The answer is decidedly “mixed”. First, response rates to web advertising are horrible. I was reading a book bemoaning how studies show that “only” 16% of TV viewers get the branding from a typical spot (although good creative makes it much higher).

Hmmm. So 1 out of every 6 people watching TV at that time both see the spot and remember the brand. That’s actually quite astonishing when compared with clickthrough rates. See, in CTR’s it’s considered good if you get one click for every 500 times the ad is presented (That’s a .2% rate).

Yikes. My agency creates TV campaigns that have gotten one out of every 200 viewers to PURCHASE from our direct response television ads! But it’s not just TV. Even today, direct mail typically gets one response for every 100 presentations (note that a response is much more significant than a throw-away click).

But a click is a throw-away thing – cheap and easy for a browsing consumer to give. Marketing fundamentals would suggest that if web advertising carried any value to consumers, response rates would be much, much higher – probably 10% or 15% instead of .2%. Clearly, something is broken.

And so, Adam and Eve fall prey to the serpent of “discounting”. Before anyone complains, I’m quite aware that the end cost is quite important and web clicks are very cheap so maybe it all evens out. (Maybe.)

Problem is that a strong industry typically doesn’t work this way. The more highly targeted the media, the more you should be able to charge for the media access. With the web, it’s almost the opposite.

And it all gets worse in social media. (I wrote recently about how average Facebook advertising CTR is 1 click for every 2000 presentations.)

So what? Clearly, the web’s targeted perfection doesn’t correspond with better effectiveness. But I don’t have the full answers for what this means – and nobody else does either. Let’s just walk through what we know about this issue:

– Once more, the hype used to foist the web onto advertisers isn’t supported by reality.
– Not only does it not jive with reality, but it falls very far short of what we should have expected.
– Web media outlets have dropped prices into the bargain basement and they can afford to because their sub-structure is pretty cheap.

This leads me to two important questions for future consideration. First, can web’s micro-audiences really be used to substitute for mass advertising? And secondly, why isn’t anyone talking about this as a problem?

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All rights Reserved

Reading the Fossil Record: Why Mobile Retail Tracking Can’t Replace Focus Group Research

There was a post on Retail Wire this morning that pondered whether retailers will need traditional research once mobile tracking is “in place”. The question is interesting because it reveals a very common flaw in how people think about research.

Developing conclusions from mobile data is the equivalent of scientists reading the fossil record. When I was a kid, scientists had been observing the fossil record for hundreds of years. So, they really thought they knew what the truth was. Dinosaurs were reptiles, they had reptilian skin, they were cold blooded, lived isolated lives, and modern day lizards are their direct descendants.

Fast forward to 2011. I’m no paleontologist. But it’s my understanding that fossil prognosticators now believe that some (many) dinosaurs had feathers, that some (many) were herd animals, they were pretty fast moving, that some lived in family based units, and that birds essentially evolved from dinosaurs.

The original scientists weren’t bad at their jobs. In fact, they were brilliant. The problem was in the observed data. They created solid, grand theories from the observed facts they knew.

The Key to Observed Behavior is What You Can’t Observe. Paleontologists erred in their theories because there were thousands and millions of fossil truths they couldn’t see – they hadn’t yet been discovered or analyzed.

Mobile data puts us in a similar spot. Ethnographic observers are in a similar bind as are direct marketers who rely purely on response. No matter how hard we work, observational research misses more data about human consumers than it captures. And without that data we mis-lead ourselves into error.

What’s fascinating is that as we create grand unified retail theories from this data, behavioral data becomes a type of departmental Rorshach test. Your company is likely to project onto the research the things that help individual careers. Or, it may project the results of your latest session with a highly paid consultant. What’s least likely is that it finds actionable consumer truths.

Wise companies will continue to rely first and foremost on data that helps us see motivation because motivation is the key to changing profit in big ways. Of modern research, its not just mobile that lacks insight into motivation. True “ethnographic research” is purely observational and is quite weak at discovering things that drive sales. (Perhaps that’s why so many firms claim to do ethnographic research but really do in-home one-on-one interviews).

To get to motivation, you have to use qualitative research of some form. It has to be executed by professionals. And it has to be interpreted with all the best care to avoid similar theoretical jumps to the errors noted above. But somehow, I find the challenges in qualitative data much more evident where the errors in things like mobile data are dramatically more insidious.

At the same time, I’m not suggesting we ignore the mobile opportunity! Mobile data offers opportunity for some fun and interesting bits of learning about store organization. But mobile data is limited and, even considering only in-store behavior, I’d probably get considerably more value from Paco Underhill-style teams of in-store observers.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett

Do Superbowl Ratings Identify Flaws in Online TV Theory?

Overnight ratings for the Superbowl are in – and they’re outstanding. (Click Here.)

Of course, this suggests that when internet TV enthusiasts tell us about huge groups of people “cutting the cable” they’re really trying to cash in their venture investments. Because there are apparently enough cables still connected that the 2011 Superbowl had more viewers than any TV show in history (111 million of them) AND appears to have had a 71% share – watched by over 2/3rds of all televisions turned on at the time.

Let’s use this as a starting point to think a bit more about what Connected TV theorists are claiming right now – namely that we can throw out existing TV with its cable pipeline. (NOTE: A comment from Peter reminded me that this Superbowl was available without cable on Fox network affiliate broadcast feeds. Correction appreciated. And I don’t think this fundamentally changes much. Those feeds are a by product (today) of the strong cable distribution in the US. Change that cable distribution and the economic support for sports broadcasting changes.)

Mass Market or Fragmentation?

As I noted in a recent post, the internet is a tremendous tool to reach tiny shards of audiences. Because online, people scatter to the ends of the web.

But the Superbowl showcases TV’s ability to reach the masses quickly. In fact, TV drives mass communication – the web doesn’t. The web’s inherent strength is fragmented communication.

Note that for all the claims that Facebook and Twitter drove awareness of the recent Egyptian demonstrators, it took 24 hour coverage on the TV networks as well as newspaper front pages to generate broad awareness. (Note that TV coverage of Egyptian demonstrations has given CNN it’s highest ratings in years.)

If All TV Arrived Via Internet, Would There Be a Performance Issue?

These Superbowl numbers also make me wonder if scattering on the web isn’t critical to good web performance. We know the web breaks down under high use. For example, yesterday I attempted to look up some information from Fergie’s online bio’s during the halftime performance. What % of the TV audience was I competing with? .05%? But EVERY site had crawled to a stop.

Would there be a performance issue trying to broadcast the Superbowl ONLY over the web? I’m not a tech guru enough to know. But, here’s the problem: When 50 million US households want the same HDTV programming at the same time, the cable pipe seems to be a much more convenient distribution mechanism than the internet.

There are clever staging, cacheing, and other network load management things that can be done for a predictable event to attempt to maintain performance for something predictable like a Superbowl. Maybe they’re enough. But what about when an unexpected event like 9/11 happens (god forbid it happens again)? Would we be able to get good coverage? News sites already slow down when a gas main explodes in New York.

Sports Are Critical to Americans

Sports are a good place to consider this issue because technologies can be made to live by offering new sports options (DirecTV). Or they will die without it (we’ve forgotten the names of all those interactive TV efforts that were meaningless).

American’s won’t put up with a Superbowl where the action looks and feels like a satellite report from Afghanistan. Sure hope someone’s got this figured out before VC money pays to mount the effort to destroy cable TV.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett

Facts, damn facts. Clickthrough Rates (CTRs) for Facebook Ads

Don’t you hate it when facts interfere with a good story? That must be the way Facebook feels today. Scoop is, somebody cared enough about where their money was going to take a hard look at the effectiveness of Facebook ads.

A dedicated Facebook user’s response just might be “Ads? They have ads on Facebook?”. (Yup, those clusters of 20 words or so that clutter the right hand side of the page – sometimes with microscopic images attached.)

And, that’s exactly the problem. We now learn that the clickthrough rate on Facebook ads is .051%. (Here is a summary of the study by Webtrends.) To be clear, that’s 5 one-hundredths of a percent. Or, one click through for every 2000 times your ad is displayed.

Heck, maybe this rate is pretty good since your ad is probably only noticed once out of every 1999 times it’s seen. But it is scary that this clickthrough rate is DOWN. That’s right, the click-through rate was an astronomical .063% in 2009.

And, there’s one more key concern. Facebook ads should be highly targeted – only put on pages of people whose profile indicate the ads should interest them. So your highly targeted ads have a click through rate of five-hundredths of a percent. Yikes.

A Serious Issue

A few years ago an article in Advertising Age noted that it used to be a measured fact that we’d see an average of 500 or so commercial messages in a day and remember one or two. But, we are now confronted with an average of 2500 (or more) messages a day of which…we still only remember one or two.

My analysis? New media has fragmented messages to the point where consumers don’t care about them or pay attention to them. Instead, we bombard consumers with millions of tiny attacks hoping, I suppose, to wear them down.

And that trains consumers to ignore us at higher and higher rates – like what has happened to Facebook.

Facebook’s Value Isn’t as Advertising

Internet advertising has proven extraordinarily weak at reaching out to people who aren’t already interested in your product. These numbers merely confirm what’s always been true elsewhere.

That doesn’t mean I think Facebook isn’t useful to advertisers. Instead, this indicates pretty clearly that advertising on Facebook conflicts with the reasons that we join Facebook as individuals.

At the same time, it’s all about price with this type of advertising. If you’re paying the right price for displaying your ad to 1999 people, then you’ve paid the right price for that 2000th who clicks. Maybe despite these miserable rates you can eke out a living with these Facebook ads.

But if you want your business to thrive, Facebook’s generally not the place to build it. To make big change happen, you need to leverage off-line advertising. Then once people know why they should seek you out, there’s a plethora of options for using the internet, retail, and other channels to lead consumers to purchase.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett

DRTV Finds What Nielsen Misses: An Audience That Will Take Action

Nielsen ratings are often attacked for a variety of problems with their statistical reliability and I certainly don’t disagree with those challenges. Yet, I give Nielsen credit for reasonably estimating what is entirely unmeasurable: random acts of private TV viewing by more than 300 million Americans in more than 100 million homes on over 250 million TV sets.

In truth, Nielsen critics should dig deeper, because there’s a more fundamental problem. No rating system, Nielsen or otherwise, can help you find the media that most cost effectively reaches an audience that will go out and buy your product.

Enter DRTV – the surprising modern media engine that drives big change more cost effectively than any other TV. How? In part, by measuring how effectively each time slot on your TV schedule reaches an audience that will take action.

Let’s Review Traditional TV Measurement. Traditional TV metrics start by giving us demographic descriptions of audiences (yawn) – and these descriptions dominate ratings. But the truth taught in advertising courses around the country (like my courses at Portland State) is that demographics are the least effective way to locate a target consumer that will take action.

This is a well known problem. So traditional media planners have developed much more sophisticated ways to describe and target audiences. They’ve been helped along this route by research firms and the networks themselves who analyze viewer psychographics, lifestyles, behaviors and geography. Traditional planners try to buy based on these criteria.

But notice what’s missing: there’s no way to know predisposition to take action.

By Contrast, Consider DRTV. In DRTV, we do some planning with traditional audience criteria. But within 2 weeks of starting a campaign, we’ve looked at phone and web results and adjusted our media buy by targeting the media that drives the most cost effective action. Later we evaluate our buy for the impact we’ve had in traditional media terms like reach & frequency, classic target market descriptors, and more detailed impact at the retail store.

For example, Atomic ran a cookware campaign where we found the most cost effective results on Lifetime Movie Network. By contrast, several “traditional planning” networks performed quite poorly – Oxygen was 250% less, Food Network 400% less and HGTV 800% less effective at reaching consumers who would take action. So after only two weeks, we removed those networks from the schedule.

The result? With a budget under $1M we drove the biggest cookware introduction at Linens-n-Things in their history. Let me say that again: we introduced a product nationally for a major retailer with under $1M in media spending and the result was the biggest cookware introduction in their history.

In fact, over a 20 year DRTV career, I’ve worked with client after client who turns to DRTV after getting minimal results from spending over $10M in traditional TV. And when they turn to DRTV, they usually drive 10 to 20 times the unit sales at retail with less than half the spending.

Why Does Predisposition to Action Matter This Much? Let’s assume we randomly select 100 people who fit your best and most in-depth target market description. How many of those are likely to be brought to action? A half? One? Two? Perhaps three? Experience shows that if 3 out of 100 people from a target market are ready to take action, you’ve got astronomical market potential.

Now remember that you are choosing how you spend millions (or even hundreds of millions) in media without knowing whether the people you reach are the same ones that will move to action. If we choose American Idol because “that’s what our target watches”, that’s also all we know. We know nothing about how cost effectively advertising on American Idol will reach people who are likely to take action.

A company with media money to burn can choose to ignore this reality. No one else should.

Use DRTV for Higher Impact from TV

If you want to cause change for your company’s fortunes – if you want to make something big and exciting happen, take a long look at DRTV.

In case after case, DRTV campaigns drive massive results at retail. These campaigns reveal that the media purchased based on traditional planning is often the LEAST cost effective. And when DRTV is effective at driving direct and retail sales, we find it is also highly effective building brands or changing brand perceptions – achieving more, faster and at lower cost than with traditional media.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett

Once More, TV Ratings Soar

Now that we’re thoroughly depressed by Bob Garfield’s most recent apocalyptic editorial mope, there’s an item of interest reported this morning. (Click here.)

Seems that ratings for the playoff games were at all time high’s – even getting a massively dominant 85% share in one market (Milwaukee).

I like to look at the data and see truth – not just what people have pre-disposed me to see. So, let’s ignore Bob Garfield. What do these playoff ratings mean? TV is very important and very compelling to the mass market. And, this may offer more confirmation that what consumers want is for future media is very different from what the media prognosticators want to give them. Seems that everyday folk rather like…well…um…TV.

But isn’t the internet king? Not really. Studies find that in consumer lives the internet seems to be replacing that 2nd fiddle role that radio used to play. An important role. A critical complement to TV. But without the emotionally compelling power of TV.

Consider the arrogance of the digerati. Watched the new Onion Sportsdome show on Comedy Central. For me, it was a bust. And watching, I was reminded of the fact that it’s much, much, much harder to make compelling 1/2 hour to hour long programming than to make off-color & offensive 3 minute webisodes. Besides, with programming you have to come close to hitting a home run every episode. But with webisodes, you can strike out two out of three times and if the third one is funny enough, you’ll get your web visits.

I think we’re fed a lot of internet hype by people who’ve never (a) felt the power of TV; (b) felt the power of TV advertising to move markets; or (c) had to create programming that satisfied a mass TV viewership.

So despite Garfield, I think TV continues well – though facing some major challenges of its own creation. Now we’ll have to see if the advertising and VC hype merchants will ever let us get what serves us best – or if they’ll destroy it in their lust for money and power.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett

Does HD Help TV Advertising? Not really.

Wayne Friedman noted in a recent article in MediaPost that advertisers have been slow to embrace HD for their TV ads. And that got me thinking.

I love HD programming – gorgeous, beautiful, watchable. And, good for many sports because they tend to operate horizontally.

But there’s nothing about HD that makes messages more powerful for advertising. I’m sure that aficionado’s would argue with me – claim that pixel densities deliver more information, etc, etc.

What I’ve found first hand is that’s meaningless. There’s some value in layering more things on-screen — as a DRTV practitioner we can use more type more to emphasize points so details are clear. But our results weren’t suffering before and the measurable impact of these advantages is negligible – probably so small it’s not detectable.

So HD doesn’t help us make messages clearer. There is, of course, an “anti-positive”. If a high tech company (for example) chose NOT to create their ads in HD, it would speak negative volumes about them. But that’s not the same as being able to use HD to enhance messages.

The 16:9 Aspect Ratio Isn’t Great for All Products. We work with tools (hammers, wrenches, drills, …). Some are long horizontally. But many require vertical action and to be displayed vertically. When we’re dealing vertically, the 4:3 window was preferable. So the impact of HD is it forces us to dress and treat a huge chunk of screen that’s immaterial to the communication.

Probably 1/2 of products work best vertically and 1/2 work best horizontally. Almost 100% look best when you mix up a combination of framings. But, some products can do okay forced into a 16:9 window. Net out, 25% to 35% of all products are hurt by HD.

These considerations are important because HD has made advertising production much more difficult.

About 60% of the TV’s where any ad is seen are still SD. So, we have to produce for a dual format – it must look great in SD and in HD. (Easy to say, complexity to do.) Merely editing in HD slows things down. Systems had become pretty much “render wait” free. But, now HD adds back into edit days a series of 20 to 40 minute blocks of time waiting for HD renders.

Once the ad’s done, we have to deal with trafficking tapes. HD dubs and distribution are massively expensive compared with SD (about 4X to 6X the cost). And, there’s not an HD standard. Each station/network has different requirements & different equipment – especially in local markets where equipment chaos and standards are a massive headache.

So why HD? HD is absolutely gorgeous when it works – which pleases the aesthete in us all. All the best camera’s today are HD (so we never shoot anything else). Advertisers SHOULD be doing more HD. And, we don’t really have a choice – consumers are buying new TV’s, we need to make use of them.

But back to Wayne’s point, it’s understandable that advertisers are slow to adopt the format. Our reality is that HD adds chaos without adding a corresponding benefit.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett

The Yell & Sell Approach to DRTV Decreases Retail Impact.

There’s no myth I hate more than the idea that DRTV’s primary role for companies is driving direct sales. Yes, I know DRTV stands for “Direct Response Television” and that we put “direct” into the medium’s title. But while DRTV is direct, it’s also much, much more.

Today, DRTV’s roles for companies covers a wide range of brand and sales objectives — roles that are critical for those companies strategic success. In delivering on these objectives, direct sales or direct responses are typically critical, but they are often only one part of the total picture.

For example, when a product hits the air and is at retail simultaneously, between 7 and 20 units are sold at retail for every single unit sold directly to consumers. DRTV’s biggest profit opportunity is at retail. But many yell & sell practitioners haven’t really worked this reality into their thinking.

When you stick with the 1980′s format for DRTV (like many still do), you make driving direct sales into your sole goal. But there is clear evidence that these approaches DECREASE retail sales dramatically. In other words, pulling out all the stops to get every last possible direct sale appears to drive away more retail consumers than it gains in direct sales.

Read my latest article in Response Magazine for more thoughts about the balance of direct and retail sales – two of Atomic’s Six Degree’s for Maximum DRTV Impact. Then watch for two more articles this year to cover the remaining 4 degrees.

While you’re there, check out what Response’s Editorial Board (including yours truly) says about the last 25 years and next 25 years for DRTV.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett

Is Coupon Clipping Social Media’s Primary Value to Advertisers?

Ad agencies seem unable to resist the idea that there’s a “killer media” out there to fulfill their every dream. And that creates a tremendously dysfunctional business – which dashes off for a night of new media partying only to end up hungover and broke when reality hits in the morning.

Right now, morning light has begun to appear for social media. Social attracted huge hype and some big corporate ad dollars with the crowd theory. This theory suggests that with so many consumers using social media it MUST be a worthwhile place to advertise.

That’s jumping a bit far, a bit fast and the crowd theory is rife with problems. Consider: If the crowd wants to talk with each other, why would they want to engage in any commercial conversation with you? Most consumer’s don’t want to be your friend.

Show Them the Money. Now we learn that consumers primarily engage with companies to get a good deal (research reported in this article from the Media Research Institute confirms other behavioral data). Note:

– Nearly 1/2 of women are primarily looking for deals through social media.
– Nearly 1/3 of men are primarily looking for deals through social media.

Uh, oh. Just as marketer’s were beginning to look forward to long soulful conversations with their consumers we find out they really only want deep discounts from us. Sigh.

The Web: Discounter’s Paradise. This isn’t bad or good. But coupon clipping with Facebook is far from the virulent & virally driven social media engagement conversations that the digerati tell us will drive the entire future of marketing (note that they can’t explain how these conversations are supposed to osmose into profit).

Social isn’t alone with coupon clipping. I just came from a Google presentation. Guess what common theme kept coming up? Using online coupons and discounts through Google, YouTube and its other properties.

All this suggests the web’s biggest advertising strength (I’m not talking about storefronts) may be the modern equivalent of Green Stamps. (History Check: In the 50′s, 60′s, & 70′s women like my mom collected Green Stamps that were awarded based on purchase behavior. Pasted into coupon books, the stamps could be redeemed for “free gifts”. There’s nothing really new under the sun – just digital ways to do it.)

New Media Hype Has Little Connection with Reality. I’ve written elsewhere about how the DVR, instead of killing TV advertising, now appears to have made it more effective. But the gap between ad biz/digerati hype and reality is a common theme in new media.

In the early 2000′s, article after article extolled the virtues of video advertising at the gas pump. We were told that Coke, Pepsi and a wealth of other traditional advertisers would thrive by capturing that lonely moment while the consumer pumps gas.

Fast forward to 2008. I live in Oregon where, by law, we can’t pump our own gas. So I experienced this advertising first-hand on a trip to LA. What did I find? Not a big brand in sight. Instead, the pump featured a brassy, loud, and continuous run of cheesy ads dominated by Phoenix University and low-ball direct response advertisers.

It Gets Worse for Social. All this helps place in context an article this morning about the current #3 Facebook advertiser. This article claims that the third largest Facebook advertiser is a scam designed to change your default search engine to Bing so that this third party gets a payment every time you search. You can read details at the above link.

Is this Facebook’s equivalent of the noisy and invasive advertising that now dominates banners online or my Los Angeles gas pump?

Let’s All Embrace the Light of Day. New media can bring important value. But it’s not found in these wild, unthinking dashes. Cooler heads must prevail and search for both the strengths and the weaknesses of each new media. Only when this happens will we finally learn how to leverage a balance of traditional and new media advertising to increase market power for our clients.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett

DVR’s Do Not Hurt Ad Effectiveness – And May Help It

Media Post reports yet one more study (link here) that shows that time shifting doesn’t hurt TV ad effectiveness. So after a decade of the ad business seeming to “wish” for the end of TV advertising, it clearly hasn’t happened. Even more interesting, the Advertising Research Foundation discovered a year ago that ad effectiveness may even have increased after the introduction of the DVR.

My own experience at home confirms this. When there’s an ad that matters to someone in my family, we can now rewind to make sure we know what it says (movie release date, specifics about a product, details about the upcoming news, etc…).

And it’s beneficial to advertisers to know that they can reach, for example, Daily Show demographic that can’t watch at the typical broadcast time. That just adds to the target audience.

And so, TV remains, for the forseeable future, the fastest and strongest way to introduce new products to a large market.

For more on this topic, read this article (link here) I wrote for Response magazine summarizing the ARF research’s TV findings.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett

People Ignore New Media – Much More Than They Ignore Traditional Media

Media Daily News recently published an article by Wayne Friedman covering key statistics about viewing of advertisements.

It shows a striking truth: 63% of people say they ignore all internet ads while only 14% say they ignore all TV ads. And even more interesting: young consumers (18 to 34) ignore banner ads much more than they ignore TV ads.

The statistics in the article are from a specific study (I’ll let Wayne’s article give you the details). These numbers are confirmed by those reported through observational research: Web ads are ignored at very high rates.

Truth is, it makes sense. Think about it – do you pay ANY attention to ads on the web, mobile, Twitter, or Facebook? (The only reason I do is as an advertising guy to see who’s losing their money by paying for that space.)

New media advocates are shameless in the things they claim for the web – even going so far as suggesting all anyone needs is the web. And they yell so often and so loudly that they often drown out sanity and reason at even the most sober of companies.

And if anyone suggests they’re wrong, they always fall back on the idea of change – that the young & hip ignore everything but the web so if you want a future you’d better do everything they say. But the statistics don’t support them. And practice doesn’t either.

Truth is that for all the unusual capabilities of new media, it isn’t strong enough to build and maintain mass markets. Two reasons…

1. New media are all specialized meaning they work best reaching smaller and smaller fragments of markets.
2. New media are very poor for reaching out to people who don’t know why they’d care about your message. Once they know about what you have to say, you might begin to have some web success even though they remain highly fragmented.

In other words, if you have a new product, it’s generally dead via web unless you can use the web to get…um…well…traditional media like the TV news guys to report on it.

If you want more proof, read my post about how online companies are increasingly turning to offline advertising – because they can’t get enough success otherwise.

Then look at your own balance between online and offline advertising. It’s likely that a return to using offline advertising in a smart way will improve your company’s economics.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett

Smart Choices Make Online Videos that Drive Web (and Retail) Sales

What video content does a shopping consumer need and want?

Marketers are encouraged to fill websites with exotic videos made with the most expensive production value. But too often those videos aren’t useful to consumers. And most manufacturers can’t afford them if they have extensive lines of products.

So how can you create online videos for your product line with today’s tight margins? Let’s focus on one critical situation: when online retail or online catalog sites display video to someone looking at your product. (This video is often perfect for in-store use as well.)

Learn What a Consumer Needs by Considering How They Find Your Video.

In the vast majority of cases consumers follow the same path. First, they browse the site to find your product or arrive at your product on the website with search (local or global). In other words, they’re focused on finding a product much like yours.

On that catalog page for your product they find a small list of important things about the product, photo’s, a range of specifications, and the price. Somewhere on the page they finally see your video after clicking an embedded link.

So think about it. Before the consumer gets to your video they already know a lot about your product and have made quite a few shopping choices. That means they need a very specific type of video. But fortunately, one that can be made on a smaller production budget.

How Do You Make Effective Online Catalog Videos?

A few simple rules should guide the content you create. But most importantly, choose what you show and say to respect the things your consumer already knows about your product. Other thoughts:

Focus on the things that need moving picture – not the things that are better said on the printed page. For example, specifications are better on your web page – not in the video. Instead, deliver visual demonstration that shows consumers what they’d never understand any other way. With tools and hardware, for example, the simple act of a hand picking up a product answers important questions for consumers because it puts key features in context.

Don’t ignore the simple demonstrations. Consumers often need to confirm what’s written with simple visual demonstrations. And don’t let your product teams cut them short just because the producers (who aren’t your customer) think they might be dull.

Use animated graphics to show how your product works and reveal what’s hidden. These animations are much more important than animated logo’s. (Yawn!) And don’t cut the animations short. Nothing bugs me more than an animation that only runs for 1 or 2 seconds.

Your online shoppers may be shopping for their business or for personal use. Don’t narrow your options unwisely.

How Do You Make Online Catalog Videos That are High Quality AND Cost Effective?

This is your the more difficult challenge. Trying to do too much on a budget that’s too small wastes your money. At the same time, many production options will break your budget on just one video. Here are some thoughts.

Avoid the “default” choices of production companies. Most video producers approach every project seeking to create the same thing: an expensive stand-alone video with lots of bells and whistles your consumer doesn’t need.

Hire professionals who understand how to create this specific type of video. The web is filled with video footage where we can’t see what’s going on or where the video doesn’t enlighten us. YouTube seems to have engendered a wealth of bad angles and bad lighting shot from too far away (or too close) with too much clutter in the frame. Remember, just because someone CAN shoot video doesn’t mean they should.

Focused on the visual demonstrations that drive sales. And make sure you know what sales points you need to make and what objections you need to overcome in the video. Then work with your agency or production team to find the best ways make that happen.

Make a baker’s dozen. One web video usually can’t cover the product lines offered by most manufacturers or retailers. So shoot many at the same time. With related products, my team has become quite skilled at combining shoot days, props for demonstrations and edit resources to create these retail videos at high quality but for much lower prices per video.

Having said all this, effective video isn’t cheap. If anyone claims they can shoot a group of effective, high quality sales video’s for much less than $4,000 per video, you’re not likely to be pleased with the result.

The Online Video Age Offers Tremendous Opportunity

With wise choices, manufacturers can get the effective and high quality video they need for very reasonable prices. Even better, these videos can make the different between failure and success. But you must stay focused on knowing the mind of your consumer and making the smart choices that delivers the video that leads them to buy your product.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett

“Free Internet TV” Will Hurt Consumers

Claims of “FREE!” drive purchases of cheesy TV products from Shamwow’s to those (supposedly) Amish heaters. But somehow, it escapes notice of the tech press that equally cheesy claims of “free” run deep amid marketing of the internet.

Free music, free newspaper articles, free magazines, and now supposedly free television. Everybody offers free. And it’s no surprise that consumers go for it.

In fact, this idea of making millions by giving things away was found in many of the irrational “business plans” that dotcom’s claimed would make their investors rich. It didn’t work then, but maybe things have changed.

How is “free” going for Wikipedia”? Wikipedia is the poster child for internet “free”. Except they are deep in the midst of a campaign attempting to raise $16M in donations just to keep their doors open. It’s a campaign that pitches quite hard. Makes me think that even for a donated content online Encyclopedia, “free” isn’t quite as powerful a business plan as we thought.

How is “free” working out for newspaper and magazine content? Bob Garfield wrote an AdAge blog entry recently about the incredible dark side of “free” print on the web.

He notes that print on the web is driven by sites that “aggregate” (bring together) content. Where do aggregators get good content? From newspapers or magazines. Except aggregator sites deliver content to you for free.

In a fit of business insanity, internet copyright anarchists imply that revenue from the hated banner ads on the site of the aggregator somehow trickles back to pay for the hard work it took to create that content. (Hard work is required to make well written, well researched, well fact checked, and well published content.)

Well, the revenue doesn’t trickle back. Garfield notes how “free” access has undercut the economic model that created good content in the US. But he also notes that even those aggregator sites are struggling to keep in business. Guess this model is so flawed that you can’t make money even when giving away content you didn’t make.

How would “free” go for TV content? Don’t expect too much. And note that it’s a double “free” idea that is being used to entice consumers to internet TV – payment free and advertising free. (Secondarily, there’s the idea that they can watch anything they want, anywhere they want, and on any device they want. But while consumers will pay for DVR’s, there’s no evidence of willingness to pay for it online.)

Double “free” is publicized with massive money from manufacturers of internet TV sets, creators of internet TV sites, the venture capitalists behind them, and the tech research agencies paid by the venture capitalists – all drooling at the idea of tapping TV’s big old vein of pure financial gold.

And, frustration with out-of-control cable TV costs means there’s very high consumer interest in cost savings. But do consumers really want what double free TV would mean? I don’t think so.

Double “free” TV over internet will kill content. The existing economic model supports an incredibly well developed, sophisticated, sometimes dysfunctional, but essentially effective eco-system – an eco-system that creates good TV, offers the single advertising medium which delivers the best economic impact and delivers most of what consumers want.

The net results for consumers would be the death of programming. Google claims they’ll stitch together YouTube content to make programming (of course, selling their own advertising time within that content). Don’t expect much. The existing ecosystem turns out everything from niche to mass hits – 30-Rock, The Daily Show, Survivor, Amazing Race, NFL Football, Antiques Roadshow, and CSI Miami on a big screen (I just can’t include “Darth Vader, Night Clerk” in that list). But it costs millions to deliver those shows – often over $1M per episode.

There’s some good news for TV. As Mark Cuban has pointed out, TV is different from print and music. Networks ARE aggregators. That means TV networks have been fighting this type of battle all along. They also seem to have learned from print and are being quite stubborn about protecting their right to get money in return for all the money they invest. Consider

– Hulu (funded by networks) started “free”, but is beginning to use subscriptions.
– The networks fight regularly with cable operators to maintain a viable economic model – even if that means people don’t get to see the World Series. We have to assume they’ll use all means to fight against a double free idea that hurts their business.
– An example of this seems to be that while networks work with Apple, they don’t work with GoogleTV. Maybe they know Apple wants to create viable media business models. But it seems the only reason to create GoogleTV is to try to steal advertising revenue that currently goes to the networks – revenue that pays to for programming.
– Now Hulu (funded by networks) has made it so that you can’t watch their programs on GoogleTV’s.
– Network testing seems to indicate that consumers are willing to watch online TV with traditional advertising breaks. In other words, the double free idea doesn’t even seem necessary for internet TV to work.

Internet TV should have a tremendous future and it will be stronger if the industry stops the promise of double “free”. Internet TV’s future comes with the truly exciting opportunity: integrating programming with interactive features that make the programming more valuable.

But sadly, companies aren’t talking about delivering more value. They’re getting wrapped up in dead ends – like removing advertising when there doesn’t appear to be monetized market power created by doing so.

So next time you hear someone talk about how great it is to get free programming on the internet, know that they’re really talking about a future of really bad programming. You may not like programming today (it’s fun to complain). But just imagine what it would be like in that free future.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett

Five Reasons Consumers will “Friend” Your Company.

In my last post, I noted six hard truths or axioms I’ve developed about social media. And while these are sobering thoughts, it’s only by facing a medium’s weaknesses that you can truly leverage its power.

So let’s look at another sobering set of thoughts today. If we’re going to look at the people who will be your company’s friend, what motivates them to become your friend?

Reasons People will Friend Your Company

The best starting point is to look at the value they get from connecting with your company. My team finds that there are five primary categories.

– Coupon Clippers. Many consumers “friend” companies to seek discounts and deals. In other words, they are the coupon clippers. Interesting. Coupon clippers are powerful short-term revenue opportunities. But historically they have less brand loyalty and are of lower lifetime value to companies.

– Party Animals. Many consumers friend companies because of clever “entertainment” (typically unrelated to product value). This is especially true for brands who make entertainment the focus of their online experience. Truth is that a significant portion of Party Animals are unlikely to ever use or purchase the product. One great example of Party Animal social work was this year’s Old Spice campaign. Their online campaign generated massive social media interaction and ad business hype. But, it appears to have had no detectable impact on sales.

– Groupies. There are some consumers who become professional “fans” – groupies. And, this happens for every company – not just the “hip” ones. The volume of groupies can be increased with effort. And, they are a lot like rock star groupies — emotionally significant to the company, but they won’t fill an arena and they won’t make your numbers for the year.

– Customer Care. Many consumers connect with companies to seek customer service. One article I read this year pointed out that this is akin to “protecting your investment”. If you own a Toyota and are concerned about this year’s safety problems, you are more likely to “friend” them just to be up-to-date on recall notices.

– Brand Engagers. Some connectors are truly engaged with your brand and will use social media to maintain contact. My axiom is that for broad based social media (e.g. Facebook) this last group is important, but unlikely to be more than 10% or 15% of your total social media connectors.

What does this mean?

I can’t tell you what portion of your social media “friends” will fall into each category. That will depend on many factors including the design of your efforts to attract friends and the fundamentals of your product, brand, and category.

But when you look at that group that gathers around your company, some generalizations are quite reasonable.

1. The hype surrounding social media far outweighs it’s economic value to companies. I think is quite common to find that no more than 5% of your target will even entertain a social media connection. The further fragmentation into five categories makes each segment quite small.

2. As a result, it’s quite easy to spend your money chasing around after your least valuable consumers.

3. If you want your social media relationships to be significant to your company, then you need to avoid the hype and the easy answers in creating social media connections. Instead, take some lessons from the direct marketing world and embrace the social media efforts that build solid & long-term relationships.

In no way do I think you should stay away from social media. But whatever your efforts, enter social media with your eyes open.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett

“Most Consumers Don’t Want to Be Your Friend”: Six Axioms of Social Media.

We’ve been sold the grand myth of social media marketing based on some rather flakey ideas. In particular, the ad biz has somehow convinced itself that the vast majority of consumers have a driving desire to be a company’s friend. Now a study by the Harvard Business Review and the Corporate Executive Board suggests there are significant limits to a company’s potential intimacy with its consumers.

This study started by looking at consumer relationships with qualified counter help – like the people at an airline counter. In studying physical behavior and shopping behavior they concluded that people very often avoid idle counter help and opt for automated systems (like ticket kiosks or supermarket self-checkout). Building from this work, they researched other consumer relationships with companies – including social media. In the end, they conclude that the majority of consumers really don’t want to be close to most companies.

I couldn’t agree more. Consider my own situation. We have a lot of brands in the house. But if I remove commodity brands, there are only 200 to 250 brands where a significant connection is even a consideration.

But you know what? I don’t want to be friends with any of them.

Why would a social media connection with Dial Soap benefit me? Or Cascade Detergent? Or Sony for my TV & my DVD? Or Levi’s for jeans? Or Ethan Allen, Sherwin Williams, Dania, Ikea, Nintendo, Lego, or… It simply isn’t worth the social media and email clutter. (No, I do not want most of your brand emails.)

But there’s an even bigger shocker: I’m pretty passionately connected with my Apple products yet don’t even want to “friend” Apple. Why? When other people write about Apple it’s fascinating. But, their corporate communication is brochure copy (like it needs to be) and so it’s really not very meaningful in a relationship. Besides, I will go get information when I need it (it’s right there on the web).

And this leads to a set of key axioms about people interacting socially with companies. My reading of the current research points clearly to these axioms. But research into social media has been conducted primarily with wide-eyed awe and avoided the tough questions. So I know some of these are based on intuitive jumps more than steely-eyed review of hard numbers.

The six (6) axioms:

1. Most consumers don’t want to be your friend. They may like you. They may even love you. But that doesn’t mean they want to be connected with you online.

2. Consumers who will be your friend on Facebook or any social media outlet are a very small segment of your target market.

3. Consumers who will be your “friend” are usually not those customers who generate the most money for you.

4. The influence of active social media consumers is overstated. There is no reason to believe that consumers who will be your “friend” are important influencers – nor your best influencers. (This conclusion comes from some excellent research on the “Million Follower Myth” that I’ve written about in another blog post.)

5. The vast majority of consumers have at most a handful of companies or brands where they will build social connections.

6. The most powerful social media connections are through narrow social media – like your company’s social media site. It’s always been true in marketing that focus delivers higher returns. Somehow, we need to re-build that understanding in social media.

What does all this mean?

Social media is exciting. And it’s here to stay. As companies evolve their marketing, it’s very smart to plan a social media strategy. But social media agencies are using classic “FUD” salesmanship – casting fear, uncertainty, and doubt on your future “unless” you spend a lot of money with them.

In fact, there is a big danger of social media work taking both energy and budget away from more highly profitable investment opportunities. This danger is made higher by the consuming nature of social media work. I find that staff who work on social media become quickly hypnotized by their new toy and lose their sense of perspective.

So after all this, the first and most critical step I recommend for your company’s social media work is choosing where and how you will limit investment until social media is proven to return commensurate sales.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett