Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Myth Of Big

A lot of companies right now are dealing with the issue of rapid downsizing. This particularly affects marketing communications companies. Maclaren McCann let 53 people go. A lot of talented people gone from Cossette. Even Taxi had a purge.

But did these companies have to be that big to begin with? Several years ago, I was touring the offices of ChumCity Television with John Gunn, one of the executive producers. He showed me the studios, the post production area and “Over there,” he said “That’s Space Television, the sci-fi station.”

It was 2 desks. Just a Creative Director and an Executive Producer.

I suspect that if CBC or Bellglobemedia were to start a scifi station, there would have been 30 employees within a week. But do they really need them?

I create campaigns for national clients. I work with a hand-picked, incredibly talented team of art directors, graphic designers, producers, media planners, web strategists, interactive designers, photographers, PR people, event producers, music composers and dozens more. I know them all personally and they come through with amazing work again and again.

And not one of them is employed by my company.

How big do you need to be to create the best product possible? It’s probably smaller than you think.

Ford Motor used to hire shepherds to tend Ford sheep on Ford land to create Ford cotton to weave into Ford seats on Ford Cars. That, of course, seems insane today.

What’s keeping you the size you are right now? Do you really need the scale or is it tradition?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hurry up, you'll be dead soon.

"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds."
Albert Einstein said that. I carry around a little blue sticky note in my wallet with that written in faded pencil. I may not be the greatest spirit. I may not have the greatest ideas. And the opposition may not be the most mediocre minds. But there's always opposition.
The point is, you've got to try. New business, new career. Whatever you're going to start, start now. Think it through but don't weigh every consequence. You have to be at least a little willfully naive to try something big.
What would you do if there was no possibility of failure? Try that idea on for size. It takes fear out of the equation and puts the focus on the positive.
I just had a young art director call me. He wants to start an ad agency and wants my advice on how to do that. Sure it may be the worst time in the history of advertising if you're big an entrenched. But it may be the absolute best time for the small, creative and nimble. There's no guarantee. But it is fun (along with unnerving and sleep depriving).
I often ask people who are unhappy at they're job why they don't try something new. The reasons they give are usually pretty lame. "We are born free and live in cages" to paraphrase someone way smarter than me.
So give it a shot. They can't kill you. The worst you can do is fail. You will never lose as much money as Bernie Madoff or General Motors or MC Hammer.
There is only now. So get on with it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Greening of Brands.

A little TV chat about GREEN as the latest product benefit for brands.
How it works for some brands and is a really bad idea for others.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Talking Head Talks About How Advertising Has Changed.

I was recently asked on CP24 to talk about how companies should market their brands in today's media environment. And how advertising has changed in that environment. Huge topic. Here's my 4 and a half minute answer.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

You've got a lot of balls.

James Patterson, obscenely successful thriller writer and equally successful ad guy has a nifty little metaphor about life.
He says life is like juggling 5 balls: Work, Family, Health, Friends and Integrity.
Drop Work and it'll be okay. It's rubber, it bounces back.
The others are made of glass. Drop one and it will be irrevocably, scuffed, nicked or even shattered.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Spreading the Plague: A handy dandy guide to all things viral.

Well the results are in:
Every minute of every day another 8 hours of content is downloaded onto YouTube--yes you read that right--8 hours.

So the odds of your clever creative making so much as a ripple against that tsunami of content are about as good as Galen Weston Jr. winning an Oscar for lead actor.

But despite those odds, the possibilities are incredibly tempting. The opportunity to make a brand famous over the web and create an army of newly converted consumers at shockingly low cost is hard to pass up.

And let’s face it, you do have to get with the program. There have been years of willful ignorance about what the online world has to offer marketers. But there’s no way to maintain that denial because finally (drum roll here) the tipping point has arrived. According to Deloitte & Touche (and they should know) North Americans now officially spend more time on the internet than watching TV (15 hours online vs. 14.5 hours in front of the tube). And for those watching TV those habits too have changed. TV is becoming background noise—less that 10% of us are just watching TV while the TV is on—we’re doing all those other things we do(like chatting online) as Hiro struggles valiantly to Save The Cheerleader.

So you want, in fact, you need to create viral campaigns. What’s next? First, you should know what everyone else is doing. Creatively, it really comes down to 3 types of video—UG (User Generated content), SPUG (Semi Professional User Generated content) and PUG (Professional User Generated content). To get an idea what that would look like I’ve provided this YouTube-like example:

1. UG—Cat Coughs Up Hairball

2.SPUG—Cat Coughs Up Hairball with music track.
3.PUG—nicely lit Cat Coughs Up Hairball with music track.

And how do consumers grade this content? To them it doesn’t matter. All 3 of these levels of quality work, so quality isn’t really an issue. It can look awful or look like Ridley Scott was behind the camera. It’s completely beside the point. There are only two things that matter and if you take only one thought out of this article it is to memorize these 2 subjects when evaluating any online marketing content: relevance and ideas.

If your info is truly relevant people will seek you out. If you are an expert on the Central American long-eared Agouti and you make an absolutely appallingly amateurish video featuring the most comprehensive insights and dramatic footage on said Agouti those interested will seek you out no matter where you are. If you are imparting important relevant knowledge, they will find you. You are completely relevant to that group of people and they will make sure their community of Agouti lovers know it. You will become an Agouti god.

If, however, you are tasked with selling something that may or may not be the most relevant item in human existence, like a chocolate bar, you should start looking for an amazing idea. If you want to know what one looks like, look up Gorilla Drumming on YouTube. You will see the best most totally viral ad I’ve seen in years. What it lacks in relevance for Dairy Milk chocolate bar (no drippy chocolate shots, no happy masticating consumers) it more than makes up for with an incredible idea. As someone once said, great ideas are like a Neutron Bomb, they don’t have to be dead on target to get the job done. What makes it so viral? It’s short and it’s really weirdly funny. Viral just loves funny.

Which brings us to the question on big ideas: why exactly do we need them? This may seem like a rather unnecessary question, but given the amount of dreck that ends up online, it apparently begs an answer. The answer is simple: because your target is in charge of the virus. They decide whether to look at it and whether to pass it along. There’s a reason why it’s called a Target Audience and not Target Zombie Slaves Forced To Memorize Your Message. They decide whether it’s going to move forward of die. And they don’t want to send their friends sales pitches. However (as in the Gorilla example) a sales message framed in a wonderfully funny idea will move forward. With astonishing speed.

Another thing about ideas is novelty. You may be considering an idea in front of you but there’s this voice inside you saying “I know I like it, but it’s kind of dumb.” Now, as no other time before in the history of mankind, is the time to embrace those big, dumb novel ideas. I just got a viral piece prepared and sent to me by a close relative showing his face on the body of a frantically, spastically dancing Ebeneezer Scrooge. This relative is a university professor, medical scientist, Order of Canada member and recipient of two honorary doctorates. In other words, a fairly bright bulb. But he sent this along because it’s just wonderfully stupid. And he’s proud of it.

So you’ve created a great perhaps mind-alteringly stupid viral piece that will mesmerize and captive your target, so what’s next? Well, you send it to YouTube and it gets discovered and becomes instantly famous. That’s how Dove did it, right? Burger King? Axe? Build it and they will come. It worked for Kevin Costner so why not you.

Don’t be so naïve. You know better that that. Even the greatest viral campaign needs all the help it can get. It needs a great PR campaign. A great sales promotion campaign. Guerilla marketing. And very often, yes, a paid advertising campaign to get it to the level of success we dream of. Will it bring fame? Probably not. Very few attain that level. But if you aim low and try to bunt one out of the park, you will guarantee failure.

So that’s it. Take these tips, exploit those big insane ideas and build yourself a great viral campaign. And here’s to your plague being of Bubonic proportions.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The worst possible time in the history of mankind to start an advertising agency. Right?

I’ve heard it everywhere. The agency model is dead, dead, dead. The internet is burbling through like a tsunami killing all in it’s path. Clients are hacking budgets. CMO’s don’t get any respect from their boards, so agencies can barely get a seat at the card table with the kids.

So why start new now?

Call it willful ignorance, naivete or psychotic delusion but I couldn’t possibly think of a better time to start an agency. There are business reasons of course. Unlike plastic or I suppose, other forms of surgery, I don’t need a government license. The actual running of the business is about as complicated as running a shoe repair hut in the mall. And much of the staff, at least the junior ones, are pretty inexpensive because they get to work downtown, wear nice clothes and can tell people in bars they work in “branding communications”. That, I’m told, has some social currency and can on occasion, with the aid of several $13 martinis(plus tip), get you laid.

But those aren’t the big reasons.

The real reason to start now is because the business is so profoundly changing. And that, my friends, means opportunity. For decades, in spite of some extraordinary creative, Canadian advertising campaigns have pretty well been done by rote. Why? Because everybody had the formula to success: Media departments would buy a lot of TV, supplement it with a sprinkling of things like newspaper or radio, mix and stir. Creatively, a TV spot was formulaic: an unusual opening, a bit of demo business with the product in the middle and ended with the logo and tagline. Everybody happy? Ok, let’s go for lunch.

But all that’s changed. Some changes happened at a glacial pace. Some, it seems, overnight. The proliferation of media has caused costs to skyrocket. That in turn caused advertisers to whittle down the number of brands they advertised just to get the same impact with the same target group. Remember how many beer brand there were on TV just 10 or 15 years ago? How many now? Nobody’s got enough money to saturate the market anymore. Except maybe Bell or Rogers.

And then there’s the (cue sinister music) internet. It’s all out there, it’s uncontrolled and most of it’s free. It’s making big ad agencies crazy. They’re learning how to work it, they’re learning how to make it effective but they can’t for the life of them figure out how to make any real money out of it.
So they try to ignore it. But they can't because even the card-carrying Luddites among their clients are waking up to it.
Up until a few years ago, clients could pretty well ignore the internet as a fringe phenomenon without any mass impact (all outrageous business media claims to the contrary). But now his daughter is spending 2 hours a night on Facebook, ripping off music on Limewire and not doing what she is supposed to—which is watching TV. And when she is watching The Hills, it’s been PVR’d so she’s seeing the commercials for about a nanosecond as she happily skips along. Uh oh. It’s easy to ignore the evidence on a media spreadsheet but not when it’s sitting on your couch.
All this is why advertising may actually become cool again. Why? Nobody knows where advertising’s going tomorrow but most are coming to the realization they have to take much greater risks to make it work today. You can’t just carpet bomb consumers with media anymore. What that means to me is this: greater risk means greater creative opportunity. Get noticed. Get people engaged. Get liked. Get famous. That’s what brands want. That’s what our industry wants. That’s what I want.

And you know what? It’s actually fun. About a year and a half ago, I wrote a three and a half minute horror movie for a VOIP client in San Francisco. The film ran online. We ran “trailers” for the film on The Daily Show and Fox News and the like. I never, ever thought I’d get an opportunity to do something like that. And given the various ad Nazis and censors it never would have run on television. It could only run online. And only because of the new landscape and a new need to embrace risk would a client ever approve an idea like that. I had the time of my life. The minimovie was good. The client got a big jump in subscribers. Their brand got great positive notoriety. And I got to write a supernatural slasher flick. Something I always wanted to do.

So I’ve started Wild Mouse. A small group of smart people naïve enough to believe they can make great things happen. I'll let you know how things go. Right now I have to go out and buy a stapler.