B-G-B (Bonus Guest Blog): Forget That Bad Copy Meeting: Advertising Is Saving America

Guest Blogger: John Fraser

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John Fraser is a marketing machine with a mind finely-honed for the key detail and meaningful insight–to wit, he is our first guest blogger to use footnotes.  Following the classic media department training in Burnett, he worked on brands like Kellogg’s, Kraft, GM, and eventually Philip Morris.  What few realize is during these early days, he also moonlighted weekends exploiting his silky baritone voice by announcing beauty pageants.  Moving to Bayer, Bess, Vanderwarker to pursue sports marketing, he began working on the Gatorade business.  He moved with Gatorade first to FCB and eventually Element 79 back in 2001, where he was a founding partner and served as Executive Vice President of Business Development.  John has probably forgotten more about sports marketing than most people know; his proprietary exposure analysis for Gatorade sponsorships helped the brand win its first Gold Effie.  He left the agency world to become Chief Sales and Marketing Officer for Rosa’s Horchata to scratch a persistent entrepreneurial itch.  An inveterate raconteur, a frighteningly powerful golfer and a quick to laugh father and coach, John builds brands and relationships with equal skill.  We fully expect to be two bottle a day rice milk consumers when he introduces Rosa’s to the Chicago market…

Advertising as a profession and practice has been taking it on the chin lately. As pressure mounts, clients expect more and more while returning less and less for an agency’s efforts, including civility (See: Marc Brownstein, 5/21/09, Advertising Age). While it can be a struggle to maintain a positive outlook, it is important to keep the big picture in mind. As we approach another Independence Day in America, advertising professionals have something to celebrate: our role in preserving the American “way of life”.

 Advertising to the Rescue

It is well documented that advertising helped drive the cycle of increased consumption, production and affluence even in the darkest of times in our nation’s history.  Ernest Dichter, consumer research guru from the mid 20th century, suggests that because “our economy would literally collapse overnight [without a continuing high level of consumption] defenders of a positive outlook on life, the real salesmen of prosperity, and therefore of democracy, are the individuals who defend the right to buy.”[1]

Several specific events during the 20th century prove this point. During The Great Depression, which many people, including economist John Maynard Keynes, believed was caused by underconsumption, advertising was used to spur purchasing. Private sector activity, along with New Deal programs, played important roles in preserving democracy and delivering on President Roosevelt’s promise of “Freedom from Want”. Next, as American democracy was threatened by the totalitarian regimes in Europe during World War II, advertising was called on to urge Americans to stop consuming essential resources needed for the war effort. “To persuade Americans to save rather that invest, the government embarked on an unprecedented marketing campaign, selling common sacrifice so that, as Lawrence R. Samuel has noted, it became a ‘secular religion’ which promised to minimize class consciousness, promote pluralism, revive democratic capitalism, and foster postwar affluence.”[2]

The next challenge for advertising was to get Americans spending again following World War II in an effort to prove democracy’s superiority during the early days of the Cold War. “From the late 1940s through the mid-1960s, businesspeople, politicians, the mass media, and many leading intellectuals trumpeted the benefits of the American way of life. They celebrated democratic capitalism, which, in contrast to Soviet totalitarianism, had produced ever-growing prosperity and in turn provided the foundation for an egalitarian and harmonious society.”[3]  

Early in the 21st century, advertising was once again called on to catalyze consumption following the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01.  As Daniel Horowitz summarizes, “An external threat of unimaginable dimensions, the possibility of a recession, massive corporate scandals and bankruptcies, and a declining stock market prompted Americans to perceive consumption as a critical factor in the nation’s health, and even its survival. We have to spend our way out of this danger, millions of Americans believed, so that the enemies who had attacked us would not have won. The consumer was it the saddle. Unlike in the situation the nation faced during World War II or the energy crisis, this time there seemed no turning back from a full embrace of affluence and a commercialized consumer culture.”[4]

Where Do Things Stand Today?

Newsweek 1It is clear from the two recent Newsweek covers that, once again, consumption fueled by advertising will be critical to preserving our economic and political system in America. [5]

Unfortunately, though, the economic downturn is making this more difficult by reducing the advertising resources available to drive consumption and help dig America out of this current deep recession. Ad spending declined 12% during the first quarter of 2009 and VSS, a leading media tracking firm, now expects advertising expenditures to decline 7.4% overall in 2009. Following a corresponding dip in 2008, it was the first back-to-back years of advertising recession in 75 years.[6] This pullback in spending comes amid yet another study showing the effectiveness of marketing during down times. According to a new Ad-ology Research study, Advertising’s Impact in a Soft Economy, more than 48% of U.S. adults believe that a lack of advertising by a retail store, bank or auto dealership during a recession indicates the business must be struggling. Conversely, a vast majority perceives businesses that continue to advertise as being competitive or committed to doing business.[7]

Newsweek2Compounding the problem for advertisers are indications from the new administration and Democratically controlled congress that government may be intervening more in the industry. Increased regulation is first on the list, with tobacco and advertising to children in the crosshairs. As Dan Jaffe, EVP, governmental relations at the Association of National Advertisers, points out, “Advertising is the engine of our economy. But the whole movement is toward greater and greater regulation in all areas and all at once.” He quoted FTC Commissioner Jon Leibowitz, who has reportedly said: “Industry needs to do a better job of meaningful, rigorous self-regulation or it will certainly invite legislation by Congress and a more regulatory approach by our commission.” Commissioner Leibowitz also suggested that advertising could be taxed in the near future. He pointed out that with the projected deficit this year of $1.2 trillion, lawmakers on both the federal and state levels would look at taxes on advertising as a way to garner revenue. “There are ways taxes could be imposed: from across-the-board ad taxes [which would] garner as much as $160 billion in the next five years, to specific taxes on unpopular categories, such as tobacco, direct-to-consumer pharma, and certain food categories.”[8]

If the federal government is serious about consumers spending their way out of the current recession, then they need revisit history about the important role of advertising in making it happen. If they do, then they will find that restricting advertising through regulation and taxation will be counterproductive to their efforts. Instead, I would argue that incentives should be given to companies who advertise in a down economy. Further, I believe that the federal government should increase its budget to include a pro-consumption advertising campaign of its own (what’s another $100 million on top of $1.2 trillion?). It worked during the depression and it worked following World War II. Why not now?

I was recently comforted to find that advertising seemingly remains at the corporate grown-ups table and at the forefront of preserving our capitalist economy and our democracy. Over the past month, CNBC has been airing a primetime, limited interruption panel discussion “Meeting of the Minds: The Future of Capitalism.” As CNBC promotes, “The worst economic downturn since the Great Depression has made the American taxpayer an owner in some of the most storied companies in the United States, and in the process, have given the government unprecedented influence in the free market system.”[9]  The program “assembled some of the country’s most influential leaders to explore and make sense of this new reality”. Seated among such captains of industry as Jack Welch (former CEO of GE), Vikram Pandit (Current CEO of Citi) and Marc Morial (CEO of the National Urban League) was Shelly Lazarus, Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. Not only does her presence on the show suggest advertising still has an impact on capitalism in this country, but it suggests it may help retool our economic system for the future.

The weight of evidence suggests that over the past century and a half, advertising has emerged to become one of the foremost economic engines of American prosperity. Further, in times of economic, political or military crisis, advertising has been called upon to promote, maintain or even reduce consumption in support of the nation’s critical interests. So, I say, the next time you pass a weary ad man or woman in an airport…thank them for their service to America. 

by John Fraser, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, Rosie’s Horchata


[1] Horowitz, Daniel, The Anxieties of Affluence: Critiques of American Consumer Culture, 1939-1979, University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst & Boston, 2004, p. 60.

 

[2] Horowitz, Daniel, p. 37.

[3] Horowitz, Daniel, Introduction, p. 7.

[4] Horowitz, Daniel, epilogue, p. 256.

[5] Newsweek

[6] Mandese, Joe, “’09 To See Lowest Growth Rate For Media In 30 Years”, Media Post News, Marketing Daily, Tuesday, February 24, 2009

[7] Loechner, Jack, “Advertise or Die”, Media Post Blogs, Research Brief, Monday, May 25, 2009

[8] Freidman, Wayne, “Congress Pushes Tobacco Marketing Restrictions”, Media Post Blogs, Research Brief, Wednesday, March 4, 2009.

[9] CNBC, CNBC.com, Maria Bartiroma, May/June 2009.

On Twitter, Social Immediacy, and the Recurring Non-Death of Jeff Goldblum

We seem to have hit a rough patch for celebrity deaths this past week: Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and just yesterday, pitchman Billy Mays.  The demise of Michael Jackson in particular captured worldwide interest and led to all sorts of tributes and memorials, from BET to the cover of every major newspaper.

As is now the case with any breaking story with such magnitude of human interest, online usage spiked as people sought to learn what happened as it happened: for a short while, Twitter actually shut down and Google returned error messages for searches related to “Michael Jackson,” assuming that the volume of inquiries indicated some sort of automated attack on its servers.  For one hour last Thursday night, over one of every five tweets referenced Michael Jackson.

The interval between when TMZ announced his death and when more reputable outlets followed suit will provide fodder for journalists to debate for years; what caught my attention–courtesy of our ever aware planner Lance Hill–was the corresponding rumor that Jeff Goldblum had also died.  Oddly, Mr. Goldblum seems to be a more modern version of Abe Vigoda: rumors of his death first popped up ten years ago.  Picture 3If you check the chart at left, courtesy of the Twitter trend monitoring service  Twist, both Goldblum and Harrison Ford shared temporary obituaries late last week.  The ever-useful rumor-quashing site Snopes reports that these rumors originate via an automated prank; some ‘comedy’ websites encourage you to enter a celebrity’s name into a ‘fake news generator’ and then spread the story–similar rumors spreada few years ago about both Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks.  And apparently these fake story generators favor Hollywood deaths that involve the ‘victim’ falling off a mountain during a location shoot in New Zealand.  Go figure…

Social Media provide untold value–not only to enable us to connect more frequently in our time-starved culture, but also to provide a first person outlet for critical news as it breaks.  The recent coverage of the massive post-election protests on the streets of Iran would have been far less-comprehensive without the first-person details passed along via Twitter.  But as author and social media commentator Clay Shirky points out, having this vast distribution network accessible to everyone makes it all but impossible to define what constitutes a ‘journalist’ anymore.  Further, without being bound to the principles–and legal ramifications–of traditional journalism, false stories spread much further, much faster.  On the upside, ‘wiki’ principles hold true in these case as well; the majority of social media users want to know the truth and will quickly rise up to correct erroneous stories as they find them.

It takes a village indeed.  And online, that village is very, very large.  And loud.  And occasionally wrong.  But inevitably corrected.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The New Marketing Challenge: Mastering Perpetual Beta

Picture 1Last week, a post on iMedia Connection with the incindiary headline “Why Twitter Will Soon Become Obsolete” , caused a bit of a stir. Jason Clark, a creative director at VIA Studio, made a rather compelling argument that despite the hype surrounding this platform, people shouldn’t consider it a final destination as a social network.  Referencing the constant stream of new platforms that have sprung up on the net these past twenty five years, Clark argues that all have been social networks of one form or another, from the late 70’s bulletin boards and usenet groups, to the rise of email in the 80’s and then the increasingly rapid iterations and adoption of blogging and AIM to the more contemporary platforms like Friendster which begat MySpace and eventually Facebook, along with all the recent graphic networks like Flickr, YouTube and Vimeo.  The only constant throughout has been change; as soon as one platform captures the attention of a large group, a technology and needs-driven iteration develops and if it proves useful, the herd quickly adopts it as well.  Or more depressingly, once the signal-to-noise ratio becomes unbearable with marketers spamming the platform and chooching up the interface, people look for something new.  He points to Google’s Wave as a potential next destination.

Despite the pugnacious headline, Clark’s argument makes fundamental sense, even as iMedia simultaneously posted a story on how Nielsen measured Twitter’s user base growth at an astounding 1444% this past year: as of May, 18.2 million accounts had registered on the service.  Marketers now must evolve their tactics to keep up with internet time, creating an uncomfortable cycle of constant reinvention to keep pace with engaged audiences.

Our business challenge now is to sustain a constant sprint, to keep tabs on critical consumer markets that migrate with quicksilver speed in a constant movable feast.  This is the phenomenon guest blogger Tim Mauery wrote about this past Tuesday: today, Fastest/Smartest wins.

The trick however, is keeping an eye on the one marketing goal that never changes: building client brands.  You can lose hours of the workday, surfing the web and social ‘NOTworking’ under the pretense of understanding the market.  But the business of brand building has also become more time consuming, particularly today when the participatory Web 2.0 has essentially provided consumer opinion with a mass distribution channel.

Brands are opinions, and we need to continually shape, steer and improve those opinions with clever, strategic engagement across more consumer touchpoints than ever.  Against our shrinking timeframes, picking which touchpoints to engage given finite marketing dollars will decide who soars and who stumbles.

If anyone has any tips on doing that successfully, the comment board is open.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

“Social” Comes First, “Media” Comes A Distant Second—If At All

A lot of clients have their knickers in a twist over the profound changes brought on by the rapid adoption of Social Media like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, et al.  They want to know how to leverage these new media: what it takes to make a fan page or develop lots of followers by tweeting.

Courtesy of http://kyanmedia.com/about

Courtesy of http://kyanmedia.com/about

Unfortunately, the only people who consider these networks “media” are marketers— that woman in your book club who just friended you certainly doesn’t think that way.  To most users, these platforms simply provide a convenient way to maintain personal relationships in our increasingly time-starved lives.

Recently, the clipboard set at Yankelovich has been making the rounds with a presentation on Millenials and Social Media that echoes this perspective.  Their research suggests social networks present a unique forum for personal engagement that is very hard for brands to penetrate effectively.  Despite their surging popularity, Yankelovich contends that the social media provide lousy environments to sell people on brands.

For the most part, I agree with those findings.  Most brands do not offer anything particularly unique or compelling to consumers; few boast the passion-stirring qualities of a true badge.  But some do.  Two million fans signed on to follow Adidas Originals on Facebook.  Nike+ created their own network of runners and as of last January, they logged over 200 MILLION miles.  Tony Hsieh, the hyper-connected CEO of Zappos has 821,000 dedicated Twitter followers, an impressive number but still far behind celebrities like Shaquille O’Neal (1.35 million), President Obama (1.5 million),  and the shameless Ashton Kutcher (2.3 million).

Notice that none of those examples could even remotely be termed a ‘parity product’—each is unique and singularly devoted to something (a team, a lifestyle, policy) that millions of people can share.  The same can probably not be said for something more prosaic, like say the Swiffer.

Moreover, each of these successful social media brands deliver something unique to people: advice, insider perspective, first looks.  That is unique content people care deeply about, and passion has always created and defined social groups.  If your brand legitimately demonstrates and champions some passion that excites a group of people in your market, you stand a good chance to earn positive returns on social media investments.

But if your brand does not, you can and should still leverage social media, but instead of trying to talk and lead, watch and listen.  Twitter makes it easy to aggregate what people say about your brand and Facebook users are notoriously public with their opinions.  Flickr posts feature tags and comments and combing through Amazon customer reviews provides refreshingly unvarnished consumer opinions.  The Social Media provide a constant real time focus group for any savvy brand.

So, should every client be in Social Media?  Definitely. 

Should every client be there with Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts?  Not so much.

Because this forum is far more “Social” than “Media.”  Here, you don’t buy followers or purchase a captive audience.  You can’t demand attention; you have to earn interaction.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Greater Part of "History" is "Story"

A few of us from Element 79 came to New York City for an Omnicom program on digital platforms.  We spent the night at the Marriott Downtown in the heart of the still-bandaged Financial District.  After an al fresco pizza dinner at Adrienne’s, Brian Williams remembered once visiting ‘the oldest bar in New York City’ and so we set off in search of a pub called McSorley’s.

It’s obvious why writers love New York; every block holds a hundred stories (the Trinity Boxing Club behind our hotel with its brittle leather boxing gloves and fading poster of Rocky Marciano, the Volvo crossing the Brooklyn Bridge into Mannhattan with a canoe strapped to its roof), at least ten of which would make a compelling short story in the hands of Dorothy Parker or Robert Benchley or even Jay McInerney–this is after all, the financial district.  This town lives and breathes stories, and they came to vivid life when our taxis pulled up to McSorley’s in the East Village.

It’s a simple pub really, serving a few uninspired sandwiches and pints of either light or dark ale, neither of which is very heavy on the hops, with the light in particular displaying the brewer’s mystifying fondness of nutmeg.  Vintage photos and handbills cover the walls, the kind that Bennigan’s and TGIFriday’s reproduce with lifeless precision in their sanitized locations but here, they lay thick with the grime and dust of decades.  It is, after all, New York City’s oldest continually operating saloon, open since 1854.

Speaking of old, the clientele there helped me feel my proper age as they looked to average twenty-four or so, tops.  Gathered talking and flirting and joking around community tables, they smacked of first jobs and long hours, happily spending their paychecks at a watering hole they assured each other was ‘classic.’

Photo by Scott Beale, www.laughingsquid.com

Photo by Scott Beale, www.laughingsquid.com

And that’s what really hit me–these young adults with their wingtips and rep ties and work skirts were all enthusiastically reveling in the storied environs.  Three recent UVA grads at our table–two interning at law firms, one at Macy’s– were quick to share the story of the chicken bones hanging over a ceiling lamp above the bar.  Apparently McSorley’s served chicken dinners back around the Second World War and outbound GI’s would save the wishbones from their meals and balance them up on the light fixture, with plans to take them down when they returned from the front.  On that happy day, they would hoist a few pints and pull them apart, preparing for their post war life.

More than a dozen of those wishbones still remain on the light fixture, coated with a heavy rime of greasy dust, talismans for men who never came back from Europe or the Pacific.  The young law school grads pointed them out to us with a respectful awe, clearly caught up in the lives and drama of those soldiers of the great war who lived in an era so far removed from our own.

Why should these young people care?  In a world of 3G networks and text messaging and a million and one everyday miracles where everything is amazing and nobody is happy, why does a sixty year old tale still hold such a powerful sway on the imagination?  Why do legends still loom so large with young people who ostensibly have so many other distractions?

Because they are very good stories.  And in the end, though cities may crumble and our civilization may change in a million different ways, stories are what we hold dear.  Stories bring us together, demonstrating our common hopes and dreams and laughter and sadness in a way no other art form does.  Stories make us human.

Stories matter.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

B-G-B (Bonus Guest Blog): Fastest. Smartest. Wins.

Guest Blogger: Tim Mauery

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Until a few weeks ago, Tim Mauery was a Senior Partner and Director of Planning at JWT Chicago, but his career in advertising has taken him through a number of shops and more remarkably, a broad variety of disciplines.  After graduating from Medill, he began his career at Backer & Spielvogel as a copywriter, creating spots 1-257 of the Dave Thomas campaign for Wendy’s. He then moved to the account side with Ammirati & Puris, helping craft the strategy that led to the “Priceless” campaign.  Eventually, he moved on into business development with JWT, over to integrated and digital development at Euro RSCG and then back to lead planning at JWT before ultimately helping shut off the lights at that legendary shop.  Currently between gigs, Tim’s active curiosity and deep knowledge and experience in advertising keeps him lecturing at Northwestern, Kansas and Oberlin College, not to mention coordinating his three daughters’ active calendars in Park Ridge.  Speaking from personal experience, Tim’s also simply a damn fine fellow.

Due to the bizarre closing of JWT Chicago (fodder for another guest entry someday), I have recently been pounding lots of pavement in these economically challenging times.

Let me state the obvious:  “wow, things are different out there.” 

It’s been five years since I interviewed for a job, and those five years have bred mucho change.  Some more obviousness (is that a word?): the economy is a mess, particularly for advertising folks.  And yes, the new world of media – and the confusion around who does what – has left agencies scratching their heads while scrambling.  But it’s quite apparent to me that the intersection of those two factors will change the agency business forever – even after the economy recovers, and new media (whatever that is this week) is no longer new.

Each and every agency I have chatted with– from lumbering behemoths to scrappy start-ups — is trying to figure out how to make money in the face of rising client demands and lower revenue.  Not only has the economy caused clients to cut fees, the explosion of new media outlets has introduced said clients to new kinds of agencies – agencies that charge less and work on faster timelines.  These client-types wonder why they pay so much, and wait so long, for the work being done by “traditional” shops.  As a result, they are either re-assigning work to “cheaper faster” shops, or lowering their fees for work done by mainline agencies.

Now, this isn’t fair.  Because we all know that the traditional shops do lots of heavy strategic and creative lifting – from brand positioning to broad creative platforms, and everything in-between.  Without that strategic and creative acuity, the other agencies wouldn’t be able to perform so quickly or cheaply.  But life isn’t fair; the world is changing and agencies need to change as well.

Speed To Smarts

It seems to me that what these agencies need can be summed up with the notion “speed to smarts.”  Mainline agencies cannot give up being the smartest; they just have to do it more quickly.  When they are smarter faster, they will realize a higher margin.  And each time they’re the smartest fastest, they’ll get another chance to make a high margin, since clients will reward them with more work.  How are agencies going to get smarter faster?  Who knows, but I do know that those who get there first will win.

What does this mean to agency folk?  The ones who succeed will adopt an “impact mentality.”  They’ll actively seek to make a quicker difference; to see results faster.  They won’t just “work on” an account or “work for” an agency –nor will they float from meeting to meeting or project to project.  They will channel their energy, their restlessness, and their passion into making things happen.  And they certainly won’t be bound by the walls of their job description or their department; they’ll have the ability to play wherever, and whenever needed.  And at the end of the day, each and every day, they will be able to say to themselves, “this is what I made happen today”.

Smarter/Faster – first one in, wins.

By Tim Mauery, Planning Business Develoment, Kantor Wassink   

PS:  As of July 20, Tim began working with KantorWassink.  Proof again that talent never stays on the sidelines for long.  Bully Tim and good move KantorWassink.

Detroit Doesn't Need Ads, It Needs Documentaries. And Transparency.

So I was quoted in the latest issue of Newsweek

And I’m trying to be cool about it, but this kind of thing doesn’t happen everyday.  I considered spending the morning riding the El around the Loop with the issue open on my lap, saying things a bit too loudly like “Now here’s an interesting point of view” or “This fellow seems to have something to say…”

The Big Story Is On Page 29

The Big Story Is On Page 29

It’s flattering to be asked for commentary by a national magazine, but it’s also an inevitable compromise: you talk to a journalist for twenty minutes or so and from all that, they select a single sentence that supports the point they need to make.  It’s not that they misquote you; it’s simply that the story you hope to tell rarely matches the story they are telling.

Under the headline “Turn This Lemon Into Lemonade”, Newsweek writer Matthew Phillips asks six advertising people for their perspectives on the challenge of selling GM and Chrysler cars today.  My quote reads “Show me plants shutting down, let me hear from the workers…  That story’s powerful.”  I definitely said that; the sad reality that America has shifted from manufacturing to service sector jobs bums me out and the long list of sins by boneheaded corporate and union management that led us here is soul-suckingly demoralizing.

But the larger point I’d hoped to make was that Detroit doesn’t need another ad right now–and certainly not more over-produced anthems like the “Reinvention” spot currently airing.  This kind of clever speechifying, as much as it approaches a mea culpa admission of errors, still feels like more of the same: the requisite slowly-building rock track, the irrelevant NHL and NFL clips, the timelapse of seedlings sprouting, the barn raisings and sweaty-brow moppings–all of it reeks of yet another round of highly-polished obfuscation.

But as tough as things currently are, somewhere among GM’s 235,000 employees good people have great ideas and workable plans to change things: to improve fuel economy and engine reliability, to streamline production and lower mistakes, to ratchet up aesthetics and bend metal into forms that make pulses pound again.  Those stories need to be told, specifically and with rich detail.  We need to know what GM is doing right now, today, this moment, to change their fortunes and set their ship right.  These stories don’t require massive film crews and Panavision cameras to tell; in fact, they are far more effective without them.  The honesty of documentary storytelling focused on sharing a constant stream of new stories would be far more effective than a few super slick generalizations.

Detroit does still need the massive reach of compelling television commercials to get their story out–but they should be producing great television commercials that not only turn heads on air but drive people to deeper, more complete engagement online with opportunities to weigh in and share their own opinions.  Things like new car designs excite people–GM and Chrysler should share those and invite responses from the public, conducting polls and encouraging debate.

What Detroit needs now more than anything else is transparency.  The time of an all-controlling, monolithic monopoly has passed; that mentality simply can’t sustain in today’s information-saturated culture.  Moreover, truly leveraging modern manufacturing requires sharing and openness–unless Detroit starts to encourage their secondary suppliers to bring their own technologies to the task of improving performance, their cars will remain deeply compromised.  Detroit management simply must get over their outdated need to control all aspects of production.  That scene of the barn raising in their current spot brings to mind a very relevant Amish expression: “Many hands make light work.”  Detroit can get further faster by changing from a vendor to a partner mentality, but they’ll have to do that quickly before they drive those smaller partners out of business.

America doesn’t want our car industry to fail.  Sure many of us are angry and consider this crisis largely self-inflicted, but still, we want GM and Chrysler to be strong.  Whether or not the government proves to be the answer, radical reinvention will have to be part of the solution.  And that must start with the mindset first.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

 

PS:  I would like to thank all of the Element 79 contributors who kept collective-thinking fresh last week: Ryan, Lance, Kim, Todd, Amie and of course Brian, who was both incredibly generous and flattering in his comments and dead nuts right that I would have found a way to radically revise them had he shared his post in advance.

B-G-B (Bonus Guest Blog): The Warner/Reprise Loss Leader LP's

Picture 1Guest Blogger: Todd Crisman

Interactive Group Creative Director Todd Crisman, also known as Super Todd 5000, maintains an anachronistic low-fi, beer-swilling mystique despite his accomplished digital resume.  With his trademark 100,000 volts of heavy action at the ready for anyone or anything, Todd somehow leapt from an early career as a bank teller to the world of advertising, along the way helping birth such gems as Career Builder’s Monk-e-Mail and NOLAF.org.  When he’s not making fuzz-rock mix tapes, he’s probably working on your brand and conning others to do the same. All in the name of awesome wonderfulness.  He is, quite simply, the special sauce in interactive.

The other day, I left my office to go chill out in the large hallway that bisects Element 79, which the weirdos I work with call “the boulevard.”

More Than a Hallway

More Than a Hallway

Maybe I was looking for a new idea or trying to get away from a bad one. Don’t remember. Why the boulevard?  Because we have a turntable and stereo there to help people chill out and get away from the job for a while. All in the name of creativity, baby.

Hot Turntable Action

Hot Turntable Action

It didn’t take me long to select an album from our expanding collection.  I grabbed a record called “Songbook”– a double slab of wax released in 1969 to promote a group of Warner/Reprise artists. It’s a great compilation of music that would become the first in a series of record-buyer focused/artist friendly records called “The Warner/Reprise Loss Leaders.” This collection of mostly double album samplers would be made available to the record buying public for more than ten years.  These records sold for $2 per album and the label didn’t even charge postage!

Warner Bros. PRO 331, 1969

Warner Bros. PRO 331, 1969

These “albums about other albums” became the place to hear new artists, discover a hidden gem, collect an unreleased single or to hear a Van Dyke Parks original composition used to hawk Datsun automobiles.  “Songbook” features stuff from Neil Young’s first album, songs by Jethro Tull, The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix and some guy named Tom Northcott. I’ve never heard of him other than this compilation, but Wikipedia says he’s a Canadian folk-rock singer whose hits are played on Canadian classic rock stations. Whoa. When I was listening to this particular album at work, some people heard it and asked what it was. I said something like “Maaaaannnnn! Get lost if you can’t recognize the genius that is Tom Northcott!”  Maybe Warner/Reprise was hedging on Neil Young or something?

This got me to thinking about my first experience with Warner/Reprise Loss Leaders. I remember seeing the ad for all these $2 records on the inner sleeve of Black Sabbath’s Sabotage album. I remember reading that copy and laughing. I still have that album – complete with a heinous cut-out that’s over an inch long.

Loss Leaders… What a cool way of turning people on to new music – very sympathetic to both artists and record buyers.  But even better was what they wrote–their ad copy sounded exactly like you overheard it from some guy at a party.  Let me clue you in to a dose of the Warner/Reprise marketing “hype,” transcribed lovingly from the inner sleeve of my Sabotage album.

“Each Loss Leader is divinely packaged, having been designed at no little expense by our latently talented Art Department… Loss Leaders are compiled from new stuff, NOT old tracks dredged out of our Dead Dogs files. No selections are used on more than one album…  If our Accounting Department were running the company, they’d charge you $9.96 for each double album.  But they’re not.  Yet…  Still, if you’re as suspicious of big record companies as we feel you have every right to be, we can only tell you that Warner/Reprise is not 100% benevolent. It’s our fervent hope that – after hearing one of our Loss Leaders – you’ll be encouraged to pick up more of what you hear on these special albums at regular retail prices.  That’s where the profit lies.  We think.”

And, in a move that pre-dates “social networking,” the 1969 Warner/Reprise Songbook invites you to “…write directly to our Creative Services department, at 4000 Warner Boulevard, Burbank, California 91503. Or, if you prefer, pick up the phone and call us – Stan Cornyn, Hal Halverstadt, or Don Schmitzerle – at (213) 843-5115.”

Pretty cool, huh?  It’s hard to find examples of this type of self-aware, empathetic, and honest copy in today’s ad campaigns. I’m sure they exist but I can’t think of any. Can you?

If you want to dig deeper and learn more click on these links:

More on Warner/Reprise Loss Leaders

Album artwork and list of songs by album  

By Todd Crisman, Interactive Group Creative Director, Element 79

B-G-B (Bonus Guest Blog): Confidence Looks Like Generosity

Picture 1Guest Blogger: Kim Noles

As an EVP/Management Director at Element 79, Kim Noles juggles an inordinate amount of responsibility, overseeing our Cricket and ConAgra businesses and spearheading new business.  She’s spent all of her twenty years in advertising in Chicago, working for agencies large and small with a heavy emphasis on foods, beverages and travel. Kim has been a critical part of the agency leadership team, driving our recent digital reinvention.  She was instrumental in re-engineering our internal structure to focus on Inciting Interaction and taking a pro-active stance on two-way engagement between brands and consumers.  This demanding workload may also explain her equally passionate appreciation of fine wine…

A dear friend once said to me, “You know what confidence looks like?  It looks like generosity.”   What a lovely thought.  A truly confident person doesn’t need to tear others down to build themselves up, or hoard their talents, or refuse to help others.  A confident person knows who she is and lends her talents openly and willingly.  She is generous with others; with her expertise.

This is true of brands too.  As we look across the fragmented media environment and try to help our clients connect with their targets in meaningful ways, it becomes more and more important to find ways to add value to people’s lives.  In the old days, we talked about stopping power, disruption, and break through.  But today, consumers can find brands when and where they want; you no longer need to stop them in their tracks, but rather encourage them come to you.  However, consumer expectations are higher than ever – you better make it worth their while.  One of our colleagues at E79, Tom Napper, recently attended a 4A’s Conference on social media in New Orleans and he offered this great observation: “85% of all social media users want to have a conversation with brands. Not only that, but they expect brands to contribute, to give something to the conversation. They are seen as content experts.”

What Can You Offer?

What Can You Offer?

Brands are content experts and consumers expect way more than simply the product or service a brand offers for sale…  That’s a profound change.  To make it worth their time, consumers now expect brands to share their expertise: to educate or provide expert information, to facilitate community, to support causes, offer valuable tools or simply entertain.

At Element 79, we have always helped our clients define their brand’s mission. But lately, we’ve been having more pointed discussions with our clients about activating those missions in more engaging ways.  What is the brand good at? What can it contribute?  What else can we offer in exchange for consumer attention and engagement?  How much can we afford to give away?  And just how comfortable are we with the opinions about the brand out in cyberspace?

Fundamentally, we offer the same advice to marketers as we might to our friends:  be generous and confident members of the community.  That is, be generous with your expertise; it’s like bringing a hostess gift to a party. Whether it’s a better user experience on a website, a treasure trove of information, or a little mindless playtime, as long as what you offer links back to the brand mission, it adds value and contributes to the community.  And that’s helpful because a confident brand, like confident people, attracts others to its cause.

Instead of worrying about things like the changing media environment, losing control of the brand or the cost of sitting on the sidelines, brands should enter the world of social media confidently and generously — offering their unique talents openly and willingly.

In these crazy times, what’s more attractive than a little generosity?

By Kim Noles, EVP/Management Director, Element 79