With the announcement of Yahoo’s $1.1B acquisition of Tumblr there has been a lot of speculation as to how Tumblr will begin to monetize its 93.1 million monthly unique users. With that speculation comes fear among Tumblr’s loyal user-base that Yahoo could ruin the experience by junking the site up with a bunch of display and search ads, as well as promoted content. A little over 1 month into the deal and we are starting to experience the first inklings of how the new “Promoted” posts in the dashboard are going to look, and I have a few tips for Marissa Mayer and the Tumblr team:

1)     Creative is key: this seems simple, but it is the one and only thing that can really ruin the user experience. Right now the Promoted Posts are sold at a minimum $250,000 buy, which narrows down the type of advertisers that can take part. Mrs. Mayer has said that David Karp “wants [digital] ads to really create that aspirational feeling.” That is a direct reference to the creative product…so if it was up to me, I’d sell advertising based upon approval of high quality creative, not media budget. Tight control of the paid content that appears on Tumblr is one of the only ways that Yahoo doesn’t “screw it up.”

2)      Deliver relevance: for all of Tumblr’s “social” aspects it doesn’t have all of the user data that other social networking sites have, so their ability to target advertising is not as strong as say Facebook (although it’s arguable whether their targeting system delivers any better results). So, it will be important for Tumblr to aggregate and analyze user data (follows, likes and re-blogs) to determine the most relevant advertising content to deliver. For example I was recently served a promoted post from AT&T showing some sort of online reality show with a bunch of annoying Type-A California teenagers. No only am I not the right target…it actually got on my nerves. Not the experience I want to have on Tumblr.

3)      Create the “Dopamine Effect”: Digiday has a nice article on the effects of native advertising, and the basic conclusion is that people like social networks because of the rush of dopamine we get from seeing/experiencing/learning something new. This is the essence of Tumblr…see awesome thing, share it. If Tumblr can use it’s user data to deliver advertising for new/interesting things that we would like, and share, it could crack the code for 2 major hurdles for digital advertising: 1) delivering advertising “content” that people want to read (versus interruption) and 2) creating digital advertising that works on the demand-creation aspect of advertising (most digital advertising is simply fulfillment: ex: search).

4)      Tumblr the advertising agency? A possible future for Tumblr could be to develop an internal branded content capability. There are so many different advertising venues, especially digital, that it’s hard for any one agency to be an expert in all of them.  If Tumblr could use their knowledge of their network to create better, more relevant content I’m sure many companies would sign up. You already see things like this happening at media outlets live Vice.

It’s too early to conclude if the Yahoo-Tumblr deal is going to be successful, but it’s going to be interesting to find out.

(I’m going to ignore the fact that the data was self-reported, which we all know screams “bullshit,” in order to critique the other conclusions in the study.)

In a recently released study Syncapse has determined the value of a Facebook fan to be $174. That’s great news. So all a brand has to do to grow revenue is get more Facebook fans. But wait, their research shows that almost all of these brands “fans” have already used the product before becoming a fan (about 80%). Interesting.

So Facebook is not necessarily a primary demand creation vehicle, fine. But I’m sure brands can mobilize these fans to both spend more on their products, and recruit new customers. This is where the conclusions get a bit dodgy. Their research shows that a brand’s Facebook fans spend $116 more per year than non-fans (on the brand and in the category), but there is no discussion of causality…as in did they spend more because they’re a Facebook fan, or are they a Facebook fan because they spend more? And they have shown that fans are more likely to recommend the brand (25% more likely), but they do not make any connection to actual behavior and sales. But those aren’t the most egregious oversights.

In all of the hoopla around the 28% increase in fan value and “doubling or tripling” of brand fan sizes they never mention that maybe some of these numbers have to do with the fact that Facebook’s user base has grown by 57% from around 600 M to over 1 B. Nor do they even consider that maybe this growth has nothing to do with Facebook as the “hot new thing,” but a simple societal shift away from physical loyalty programs and coupons to digital versions hosted on sites Facebook. (The #1 reason people interact with companies on social sites is TO GET A DISCOUNT – Harvard Business Review, May 2012 via How Not to Fail)

So, what do I think? I believe that Facebook is similar to the findings about loyalty programs and price promotions in Byron Sharp’s “How Brands Grow”. They found that loyalty programs produce very slight effects and do nothing to drive growth with a resulting negative effect on profits. This occurs because loyalty programs skew heavily toward buyers that are already heavy brand and category purchasers. And price promotions can generate a short-term increase in revenue, but there is no correlation with long term sales (non-users go back to their previous behavior) and they serve to lower the reference price for consumers, devaluing the brand.

Instead of celebrating the increase in value of a Facebook fan, it’s time for all marketers to be even more critical of how they are utilizing Facebook (and all social media). Is it worth spending time and money appealing to customers that are already loyal/heavy users? Is it worth offering coupons and discounts to generate short term sales and get a few more Facebook fans if there are no long-term benefits? And the real question for all of us marketers:

Can you think of a better way to use Facebook?

As I was scrolling through NewsFeeder’s list of the top Facebook posts from brands I happened upon this comment from Ted Royer, Executive Creative Director at Droga5:

 It’s great that Facebook can really bring back what was so nice about print, before people stopped caring about print.

That simple statement carries a lot of truth, and irony about the best way to utilize social media. In all the hype about “conversations” and “relationships”, many top brands have realized that in spite of the changes in media, what we actually “do” as advertisers hasn’t really changed at all.

- Attention: you still have to break through the clutter of news, entertainment, personal stories and other advertisements

- Information: you still have to get across a piece of information that will be appealing to your customers

- Delivery Method: the tried and true tools of the trade are still valuable: storytelling, wit, irony, hyperbole, metaphor, personification and the good old fashioned pun

- Reason to believe: we still have to leave our audiences with a reason to remember, and eventually choose our brand; these can range from a feeling that “this brand gets me” to a rational product benefit

Even brands that have been sneaking ads into Instagram (via Adage) look very similar to that out-of-style medium called print.

And with the growth of visual social sites like Pinterest, Tumblr, Pheed and Facebook’s new Newsfeed visual messaging is going to be more important than ever. So, ladies and gentlemen, meet the future of social media…the “print ad”.

For all you young kids, if you want to learn about this thing called “print”, look into an agency called DDB, they did it pretty well back in the 60’s:

DDB VW Print Ads

*Now, we’re all aware that the medium does affect the impact of the message, so this new “print” orientation of social media is not a direct translation of the print advertising of the 60’s. I’m working on an idea I’m calling “Print+” or “Traditional+” that I will tackle in a later post.

Outrage Marketing


“Louis Vuitton Video Sparks Outrage Amid Prostitution Allegations.”

That was the headline in my RSS reader that enticed me to click through to the article, and subsequently watch the video. I was immediately angry at myself. Why? Because I fell victim to one of the oldest, most overused and in my opinion most manipulative of all advertising tricks…manufactured outrage. In our world of constant media bombardment there is a war for our attention, and a little intrigue, sex and public outrage seem to always do the trick. We can’t help ourselves. And the brands that create the outrage and the media outlets that get paid based on page views benefit.

The question is how long can this approach work?

In the days of analog media a brand had to actually do something to generate outrage, like run an expensive risqué ad or stage a publicity stunt with a lot of media present. Now, in the “democratized” landscape of social media all a brand has to do is post an ad or video on a single website (very inexpensively) and then have a PR person send the “offensive” ad to bloggers who are likely to write about it. The outrage isn’t real; it’s purposefully created for the sake of free PR and advertising. (Trust Me I’m Lying is a great book that shows this process in-depth). Should we be angry at the brands that perpetrate these shams? Maybe, but I personally believe that we, the consumers, are to blame. Until we quit clicking on every salacious link and develop a hunger for media outlets that call bullshit on these hucksters we’ll keep being bombarded with “outrageous”, “banned” and “censored” ads.

I’d like to think that we can change and some day sleazy corporations won’t be able to get away with these stunts, but let’s face facts, when Dolce & Gabbana does an ad depicting gang rape you’ll click through, and so will I…wait they already did. 6 years ago (via Adrants).

The New “Me” Generation

In the early 70’s Clairol introduced us to the “Me” generation with their Nice ‘n Easy hair color that “…lets me be me.”

Tom Wolfe cemented the idea in popular culture with his New York article that said:

“… The new alchemical dream is: changing one’s personality—remaking, remodeling, elevating, and polishing one’s very self … and observing, studying, and doting on it. (Me!) …”

At the time I’m sure there was a feeling that society couldn’t get any more self-absorbed. Clearly they didn’t see the internet coming.

In “The Internet ‘Narcissism Epidemic’,” The Atlantic demonstrates the many different ways that social media has enabled us to be more self-centered than ever before. This conclusion is probably not shocking to most people since almost all of us are on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr sharing pictures, stories, opinions, thoughts and data about ourselves. The one new trend that makes today different from the “Me” Generation of the 70’s is that now we have to manage multiple “lives”: our real life, and our many virtual lives on social media. There has been a lot of research into how these online lives affect our real lives and some of the conclusions are mixed. Social media allows us to stay in contact with friends, share experiences with family and even get a job, but the negative effects can range from loneliness and sickness to depression.

So, as marketers are creating content and using social media to grow their brands the question is, what responsibility do brands have in this space?

There are two choices: brands can capitalize on people’s vanity, fears and insecurity (see most political and fashion advertising), or they can add real value to their lives. And “value” can take many forms, from “making people think” like Chipotle’s Back to the Start, or “addressing a societal problem” like Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty or simply providing a little “entertainment/laugh” like Old Spice’s The Man Your Man Could Smell Like (responses). Both approaches can be successful and both have different effects on the people that interact with them; the question that has to be asked is:

What kind of brand do you want to be?

Roy Lichtenstein: A Lesson for Marketers

Roy Lichtenstein, one of the most popular artists of the 20th century, and an icon of the Pop Art movement was a master of simplification. Standing in front of a Lichtenstein painting it is amazing how much emotional content can be carried by thousands of little Ben-Day dots. The simplicity is the beauty. It’s a refreshing break from our hyper-complex world to see an emotional and action-filled situation (like the one shown above in Drowning Girl) represented in this way.

(While surrounded by dozens of his paintings at the retrospective at The National Gallery of Art I kept feeling the urge to sit down, take a deep breath and crack a smile.)

As marketers we strive for the same thing. I once heard a strategist from McGarryBowen describe it: “Simple ideas, powerfully told.” I agree wholeheartedly. Too much of what our industry puts out is over-designed  over-messaged and the media strategy so complex that no person will ever really feel the intended impact.

But we do need to be careful to avoid the pitfalls of constant over-simplification. What Chuck Klosterman calls the “Real World-ization” of people. Sometimes we have to forgo the convenience of viewing people (and companies) as single-attribute archetypes and embrace the complexity of everyday life. Our world is complicated and that can be beautiful too.

Is this the laziest ad on TV right now?

While consuming endless hours of March Madness over the weekend I saw the above ad for Jeep.  And after seeing it for about the 6th time I decided that I had to say something about it: This is possibly one of the laziest ads I’ve ever seen.

So, someone from the marketing department (or ad agency) stays up late one night watching TBS and catches a rerun of Any Given Sunday and they are reminded of how inspirational that Al Pacino halftime speech was (probably the best part of that movie).  But instead of using the speech as inspiration for a new ad, they just drop the actual speech into a Jeep commercial…lazy.

- Using an out of context clip from speech about self-sacrifice, teamwork, living for the moment and achievement through adversity to sell an SUV…lazy.

- Pairing that speech with some generic stock footage that portrays “hard-working”, “blue-collar”, “Americana”, and “diversity”…lazy.

- Trying to make some lame connection from that speech to your product by saying that you’re “chipping away” the inches to greatness (car greatness?)…really fucking lazy.

This ad is so lazy and the connection between the Pacino speech and the product so weak that they essentially had to smash together two 30 second spots to try to make it work, and it still doesn’t  I know that some of the highest rated spots in recent Super Bowls have been emotional (God Made a Farmer, Halftime in America, etc.), but co-opting emotion from an unrelated movie is pretty damn weak.

And Jeep, in case you’re wondering how to take a speech from a movie and make it into an ad, courtesy of Apple, here you go (see page 5 of the story).

Inspiration vs. Theft

As a society we like to award originality and innovation, but the simple fact is that most of what we qualify as original or innovative is neither. All ideas are a “remix” of everything that came before them. The same can be said for advertising. As a planner I love to draw inspiration from all different types of experiences, from fine art, music and history to popular culture and other ad campaigns. The problem with using other ideas as inspiration for advertising is that there is a fine line between something that is an “homage to” or ‘inspired by” something else, and something that is stolen.

As I was reading this year’s Communication Arts Advertising Annual I happened upon two executions that we’re clearly inspired by…and maybe stolen from, fine art. Below are a poster for Valspar and a banner for Coke:

Doing this exercise also reminded me of a brochure that my agency created for a development named Del Ray Central with the tagline “On Mainstreet. Off Mainstream.”:

As you can see the Valspar artwork was clearly inspired by the piece of art from the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (I took the photo, but can’t remember the artists name), the Coke piece clearly inspired by Chuck Close (photo taken at National Gallery of Art) and our work inspired by the work of Stefan Sagmeister (I own the book). The question is, are any or all of these theft?

I’m sure if I surveyed a dozen designers I’d get a dozen different answers, but my personal belief is in line with Jean-Luc Godard, recently re-popularized by Austin Kleon: “It’s not where you take things from; it’s where you take them to.” So, don’t be afraid to be inspired by other work, just use those ideas to come up with something better and more relevant to your brand.

Two thoughts for the future of advertising:

1)      Quit holding originality and innovation above all other values, although the mediums have changed, what we do has stayed the same since the first newspaper ads ran in the 1700’s.

2)      Realize that in the internet/social era, the time for bullshitting people is over, you cannot get away with theft or plagiarism anymore, and you and your clients will pay for it.

And as for the work shown above…I’ll leave the judgment up to you.

Jargon of the Week

Reputation Management

Meaning: Let’s spam the shit out of the world wide web with a bunch of crappy posts, photos, articles and videos about or product so potential customers won’t see all of the negative reviews of our products and customer service on Google.

Many times companies hire people/bloggers give this bullshit authenticity (see “Trust Me I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator”)

Guerrilla Research and the Advantages of Being Small

As I read through this great presentation from Martin Weigel (via Slideshare), I started thinking about how we, as small businesses, approach research.

Small businesses and advertising agencies are constantly struggling with the lack of budgets to generate primary product and target market research. And as I took the lead on strategy and planning for many of my agencies new projects, I saw this lack of upfront research as an obstacle to success. I had a built-in excuse for every single job we did. But, as I got tired of telling myself why a job was doomed from the start I began to have a feeling that the world I was pining for wasn’t all that great. We actually landed a few larger clients and began to experience how confining a focus group can be in the wrong hands, or how limiting concept testing, copy testing and A/B testing of headlines can really be. It made me realize that working in a small business with no real restrictions can be totally liberating while still generating better insights than the methods used by the big guys. I call this method Guerrilla Research.

Why do I call it Guerrilla Research? Because it sounds kind of cool and it’s better than “seat-of-my-pants” or “bullshit” research.

Guerrilla Research is the process of taking all of the informal things that we as small businesses do to “research” our environment, formalizing them and turning them into an overall research strategy with real goals and deliverables. For example, my agency works with a lot of real estate developers, so I like to go to the new neighborhoods they are developing and observe (photos and notes) the architecture, people, their fashion and cars as well as local retail outlets. I like to walk around for a few days, eating at the café’s and grabbing a drink at the local bar. I may even start a conversation with one of the employees of these places as a person looking to move to the area to see what they think of it. (This is just one example of a multi-step process. There are other steps like client surveys and interviews.) But instead of just keeping this information to myself in order to write the creative brief, I create a packet for the creative team and a presentation for our clients demonstrating our research process and our findings. And while all of the findings are informal (qualitative) they are no less valuable than an expensive ethnographic study from a research firm. We are capable of generating product, competitive and target insights that are better than larger companies because we have the freedom to do whatever is necessary.

They keys to successful guerrilla research are to:

1)      Set the goals up front

2)      Formalize the information collection methods/process

3)     Use a mix of qualitative primary research and quantitative secondary research

4)      Involve the client (partners) throughout the process

5)      Clearly connect the findings to the creative strategy

6)      Refer back to the findings throughout the development and roll-out process

By turning a weakness into an asset small businesses should be able to deliver better products and small agencies should be delivering stronger thinking (and getting paid for it).