Monthly Archives: March 2009

2 Learning from Mad Men: Old-school advice on choosing the right message for your ads.

Life in an advertising agency makes for great TV drama. And sometimes the powerful men of those fictitious agencies can even teach us a thing or two.

Donald Draper in Mad Men

Donald Draper in Mad Men

Take Donald Draper of Mad Men. That character is based on a real-life ad man of the 50’s — Rosser Reeves. As chairman of the Ted Bates Agency, Reeves produced some of the most memorable slogans of all time, like “M&M’s… Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.”

Creatively, Reeves’ TV ads were formulaic and boring. He had a blatant contempt for public intelligence and many of his spots were banal and insulting by today’s standards. But by God, they worked.

If you ever find yourself staring at a blank screen wondering what to say in your next ad, Reeves and/or Draper are not a bad source of inspiration. See, even though the media landscape’s changing faster than you can say “Twitter,” the fundamentals of good message development still hold true — 50 years after Reeves coined the phrase “Unique Selling Proposition.”

He defined the USP as “The quality by which a given product is demonstrably different than all others.” He could look at a product, size up the research, and extrapolate a USP that no client had ever considered. He was an expert at positioning, 30 years before the term was ever invented. Strategically, his work was brilliant.

Here are the rules that Reeves lived by:

• Stick to one idea only. Reeves was adamant about adhering to one simple sales message the viewer could easily absorb. The U.S.P.

Back then, his unique selling propositions really were unique. For Colgate Reeves devised the claim “Cleans your breath as it cleans your teeth.” In reality, every toothpaste does that, but Colgate was the first to make the claim. Reeves hammered that idea home over and over and over again on network television. He never deviated from that message, and it worked.

Takeaway For Today: When it comes to a USP, less is more. Your pitch needs to be honed down to seven words or less. Like you’re doing a billboard… You can’t have two or three ideas on a billboard.

images-1• Leverage the drama of television. Back in the 50’s product demonstrations were a required element of almost all television advertising. Reeves understood that, and he used Television quite effectively.

The whole idea of a USP was to be demonstrably different. If it couldn’t be demonstrated for the world to see, it wasn’t a USP.

Takeaway For Today: Don’t just tell people about your product, show them. Take a lesson from Reeves and demonstrate something! Find the drama in your business, and feature that in your ads, on YouTube, or wherever you have an audience.

• Be Relentlessly Repetitive. Back in the Mad Men days, ad agencies got paid on commission. More frequency translated to more revenues, so their media budgets were generous to say the least. They never abandoned a campaign that was working.

Takeaway For Today: With today’s fragmented media environment, it’s harder than ever to get your message across consistently. So its even more important to define your core brand message and stick with it. If you have your value proposition (USP) nailed down, and a campaign that’s working, don’t quit. Milk it for all it’s worth.

• Make your ads sound good. The human ear is an amazing thing. The latest brain research proves what Reeves knew intuitively… that audio mnemonic devices aid recall. He used sound cues and catchy jingles to help people remember the product. His slogans would repeat certain sounds or words, to great effect. Like this: “Only Viceroy gives you 20,000 filter traps in every filter tip to filter, filter, filter your smoke while the rich, rich flavor comes through.” (Bad example, but you get the point.)

Takeaway For Today: Pay close attention to how your spots sound. On TV or on the radio, every syllable should be scripted for its sound quality. Is there anything in that 30 seconds that’s memorable, or does it sound like everything else out there?

• Credibility. At the Ted Bates agency most TV spots featured official looking men in white lab coats demonstrating products and proving product claims. It was authoritative salesmanship. It was science. During that period in American history, it worked.

Takeaway For Today: Credibility is still tremendously important, but now it’s about transparency. People want honest, user-generated reviews and third-party testimonials. Not pseudo-scientists or celebrity spokesmen.

Reeves focused exclusively on product-oriented USPs, like all those filter traps in the Viceroy cigarettes. But these days, we usually have to dig a little deeper to find a pitch that resonates with people.

Case in point… When Goodby, Silverstein started working on the California Milk account, they learned that the health benefits of milk didn’t resonate with anyone. Just because healthiness is a benefit of milk, doesn’t mean it’s THE benefit to put in your ads. “Milk. It does a body good” simply wasn’t doing much good for milk sales.

Instead of focusing on what happens when you drink milk, the account planners at Goodby decided to take the opposite approach and focus on what life would be like without milk. Much more provocative.

This insight was based on two universal truths revealed in the research. One, that milk is hardly ever consumed on it’s own. It’s always milk and cookies, or milk and something. And two, that everyone has opened the fridge at least once only to find the milk carton empty. So the idea was this: Stay stocked up on milk, or else!

No other organization was taking this approach, and the creative teams at Goodby did a superb job of executing the seemingly negative idea in fun, memorable ways. “Got Milk” will certainly go down in advertising history as one of the all time great campaigns.

Takeaway For Today: When it comes to your advertising messages, don’t settle for the obvious. You can’t just take your sales presentation and put it in a 30-second radio spot. You have to dig deeper than that. You have to step out of the bottle and approach it from an entirely different perspective. You have to take time to sift through all the trivial little details that come up in focus groups and sales meetings and hone in on one resonant truth.

One main benefit. One compelling message. One thing you can — and should — hang your hat on. The Donald Draper, Rosser Reeves USP.

Once that’s done you have to find a way to communicate the USP more creatively than Reeves ever could.

2 Now, more than ever, you need to quit running those recession ads.

I pay attention to ads. When I read the morning paper or one of my favorite magazines, I notice who’s running what and I thoroughly study the ads that catch my eye. For better or worse. Lately, a lot of headlines lead with the preamble: “now, more than ever…”

Now, more than ever, you need this new Ford.
Now, more than ever, you need to put your money in a little, local credit union.
Now, more than ever, you need a financial planner.
Now, more than ever, you need a vacation to warm, relaxing 5-star resort.
Now, more than ever, you need to support your local non-profit.
Now, more than ever, you need this coupon for pest control services.

Arghhhhhhh! What do carpenter ants and termites have to do with economics? Do pests eat more wood when times are tough, or do they diet? I just don’t get the connection.

Seriously. Why do so many companies want to remind us of the recession? Why would anyone want to associate their brand with lawbreaking bankers, government bail-outs and the desperate plight of laid-off workers?
It’s just not a good idea. Everyone knows about the economy, so don’t waste your ad space on the topic. Do us all a favor and delete all copy that reads like this…

“We know that times are tough right now, but”…

Not long ago I saw a full-page newspaper ad for a small local bank (that shall remain anonymous.) They used the “open letter to the community” approach. Put the bank president’s sorry-looking mug shot in the ad too.

Wow. What do you think the 10-second take-away was from that ill-conceived effort? More bad news about the economy. Local bank in dire straights. Another shady banking executive trying to sell us a bill of goods.

Nothing good can come from that knee-jerk approach to advertising. The minute you start letting circumstances beyond your control dictate your marketing messages, you’re in trouble.

Instead, stick to the message that you had developed before the bottom dropped out. If it was working then, it’ll work now. If you feel compelled to add a discount offer of some kind, fine. Do it tactfully. Don’t dwell on your motivation behind it. Don’t remind a guy that he just got laid off, and then ask him to shell out for a new pick-up truck, no matter how good the terms may be.
There was another full-page banking ad not long ago that featured a scary-looking photo of a dead tree and its root system…. “Now more than ever, you need a bank with long-standing roots in the community.”

Sometimes the best advertising strategy is to just shut up.

One company that has leveraged the economy in a reasonable way is the Korean car maker, Hyundai. Hyundai didn’t abandon their core message, they added to it.

The Hyundai Assurance program is a sincere and substantially different offer that no serious car buyer can ignore… if you lose your income, they’ll make your car payments for 3 months. Hyundai can pull it off because it fits with their brand. They’re the underdog. They have momentum right now. They can do stuff like that.

If GM tried the same thing, it’d be a disaster.

One other ad that’s worth mentioning… a small-space ad that said, simply: Now What? Great headline, and relevant question for a financial planning firm.

So now, more than ever, think twice before you start running ads that are reminders of our current misfortune.

1 Just a little trim around the ears — How to cut your marketing budget without hurting your brand image.

By John Furgurson

When it comes to belt tightening, most marketing managers have it all wrong. At the first sign of an economic downturn they go to the list of tactics and start trimming off the bottom of the spread sheet. Or worse yet, they go for a military-style buzz cut and just chop it all off.

images4First thing to go is ”image” advertising”… anything that doesn’t have a coupon or a response vehicle of some kind is out the window. Brand building, it seems, can wait for better days.

Next is community support… those feel-good event sponsorships that help non-profit organizations but don’t return any discernable ROI. (It’s too easy to say no to those poor beggars.)

Website upgrades are also on the chopping block. As long as the site still comes up when you type in that URL, it’s all good. Right???

Wrong. The website should probably be the most sacred of all cows, but that’s another story.

What’s needed is a more strategic approach to cost cutting. You need more than just the bosses’ orders to “cut 20%, but don’t touch this, and don’t cut that.” You need to eliminate dangerous assumptions from the process and work with objective criteria of some sort.

Here’s an idea… why not start with the message?

In my experience, it’s often the message, not the medium, that’s the problem. Print ads say one thing, the web site says another. Sales presentations go off in one direction, while promotions head somewhere else. Radio commercials, new media, good old-fashioned direct mail… it’s all scattered around with no coherent theme.

So before you do any budget cutting, use the opportunity to think about what you’re saying. Reevaluate every marketing message and every “touch point” in terms of consistency, clarity and brand worthiness.

Then scalp all the wild hairs. If you can just quit saying the wrong thing, you’ll save a ton of money.

Most marketing managers assume the budget was allocated in a logical manner to begin with. But that’s simply not the case. Most marketing budgets are handed down, year after year, and are based simply on “how we’ve always done it.” No one ever questions the underlying assumptions.

It’s also easy to neglect the messaging process. In my Feb. ?/ post I wrote about an ad for Wales. A classic case of saying the wrong thing. As one British reader commented… “Golf Wales is an oxymoron.” Even if you accept the strategy of selling Wales as a golf destination, the message was all wrong, so cutting that ad is probably the smartest thing they could do.

The fact is, Wales probably needs a lot more than just a quick trim. They need to rethink the entire hairdo. But who’s going to do that?

Any decent marketing person can choose tactics that will drive traffic and buy media that will reach the desired target audience. But revamping the strategy and nailing down that core brand message is something else entirely. Strategy and message development are the hardest parts of the job, and unfortunately, many marketing managers aren’t up to the task. And even if they were, many bosses wouldn’t listen.

A well-crafted, comprehensive brand strategy book eliminates that problem and makes cost cutting a lot more logical. It’s like a brand bible that provides guidance and inspiration on every decision. So when push comes to shove, there’s no doubt about what should stay, and what should go.

That’s what my firm does… We help clients flesh-out their brand story and we put the strategy down on paper. Once it’s sold internally — and all the department heads are on the same page — then we help execute on it.

And by keeping that brand book close at hand, our clients eliminate waste and save money, without sacrificing their hard-earned brand image.

1 Three ways to hone-in on a better homepage.

By John Furgurson

These days there are a lot of nice brands that exist only on the internet. They don’t have a presence in the local mall. They don’t advertise in mainstream media. And they don’t have a rock star CEO who gets a lot of press.
Most of those companies have just one way to connect with potential customers. One Chance Only to convey their brand message and entice people to do business.
It’s the homepage of their website.
The homepage is the modern-day business card, storefront window display and company brochure all wrapped up in one. But for some reason, many people have adopted a real estate analogy to help explain homepage planning and design. Like a developer working within a tight urban growth boundary, they believe every square inch is “valuable real estate.” Not to be wasted. So they cram as much as they possibly can into that little 800×600 screen. To them, white space is just as useless as a vacant lot.
I’d like to offer a more constructive analogy.
imagesThink of your homepage as the cover of a magazine… That magazine is sitting on the newsstand, next to a dozen others on the same topic. Somehow, it has to stand out. The cover alone needs to entice people to skip over the competition and take a look. In a nutshell, the magazine cover has to sell magazines.
The same can be said for your website homepage.
So let’s look at the techniques that magazines use to move product off the newsstand shelves. Each of these is directly applicable to good homepage design.
Choose one delicious visual.
Photo editors spend weeks getting just the right photo for their next magazine cover. They look for images that tell a story and convey genuine human emotion. They sweat the details because they know that good eye candy pays off at the newsstand.
Seems like most webmasters use whatever they can find on Google images. Or they do the E-bay thing, and snap a quick photo of their product with a cell phone. How many homepages have you seen with a stock photo of a smiling, happy telephone operator, standing by? It’s ridiculous.
Here’s a homepage that’s worth studying: Patagonia.com. Long before the internet, Patagonia established strict guidelines for their catalog photos. They must be real photos of “Patagoniacs” using the products, pursing their passion or living the life. Thankfully, those same high standards now apply to the Patagonia website. One glance and you know what that company’s all about. It’s a clean, compelling reflection of the brand.
Narrow the strategic focus.
Magazine editors know their readers, and they choose a cover article that will be relevant and compelling to a large portion of their audience. Not all, but most. Then the art director designs the cover around that article. One idea. One main visual element, with just a couple of teasers regarding other content.
On the other hand, most homepages have all sorts of products and links and windows and flash and specials and banner ads and photos and videos and nav options. Unfortunately, all that clutter causes confusion and muddies your brand message.
You only have a few seconds to answer a prospect’s most pressing question… “will this website give me what I need.” “Does it have the content/tools/products I’m looking for?” Trying to sort through a hodgepodge of elements and endless choices doesn’t help answer that. In fact, consumer behavior research shows that when faced with too many choices, people often just disengage.
Limit the number of choices on your home page, and you’ll have better click-through rates. Besides, people don’t judge your entire operation by the homepage, but the DO judge your website from that. So you better make a good first impression.
Tease. Tease. Tease.
The objective of the homepage isn’t to make the sale, it’s to open the door and lure them in. It should entice people to click in and poke around, just as a good cover entices people to thumb through a magazine.
The art of the tease is about leading people deeper and deeper into your site, until they find just what they’re looking for. You want to build in a sense of discovery and drama, revealing a little more at each level. Far too many websites just lay it all out, right there on the homepage. Wham bam thank you ma’am.
Here’s another way to look at it… Imagine you’re a tenant in the world’s largest mall of the future. Your front window display is the equivalent of your homepage. You don’t show everything you’ve got in store, you choose a few really tasty items, and tease them like Victoria’s Secret. You want shoppers to stop in their tracks, admire your presentation, and then walk in the door. That’s all.
But back to the original analogy… It’s ironic that many successful magazines have had a hard time making the transition to the web. They have the content. They have the design sense and the writing staff. But something’s getting lost in translation. They seem to be letting the technology dictate their product. They aren’t employing their own rules of cover design to their homepages. So don’t do as the magazines do on line. Do as they do on the newsstand.