All Advertising is Branding

February 7, 2013 Leave a comment
Advertising Word Cloud

Branding Is The Sum Of All Your Activities founder Jeff Bezos defines a brand as, “what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”  Whether a corporate brand or a personal brand, everything you or your company does, whether intentional or unintentional shapes the perception of that brand.  

Brand is more than just your advertising

Vacuum cleaner magnate, James Dyson sparked debate in advertising land about branding versus product advertising when he stated he didn’t believe in branding, that the term wasn’t even permitted in his company.  The article goes on to point out Mr. Dyson’s advertising is the perfect example of branded selling.  Along with the features and benefits of the product, you always remember the product name.  Regardless of intent, the Dyson name, products and even Mr. Dyson himself are iconic and instantly identifiable with the company.  Regardless of what Mr. Dyson believes about branding versus product advertising, he has successfully created a strong brand identity.

I have spent much of my career working with local and regional retail accounts.  Budgetarily, we lacked the luxury to do what is commonly perceived as “brand advertising” – advertising solely for the purpose of name identity.  Every dollar spent on advertising had to perform double duty by both selling a product and establishing our name in association with that product.  Even though we were aggressively driving sales, we were just as aggressively, although more subtly linking our brand with our products.

Car dealers are a case study in how to do this both well and poorly.  One need only look at advertising from a variety of dealers selling the same cars, with often the same offers and ask yourself based on the tone and content of the advertising, “Would I do business with this dealership?”  My discipline is media planning and buying, rather than creative, but I have observed the most successful clients I have worked with are the ones that give you reason to like them and not just the product.

Brand is more than just your product

Mixing religion and/or politics with business frequently ends badly.  Ask Ckick-Fil-A, Papa John’s or Applebee’s how that worked out.  All have endured brand blowback as a result of mostly self inflicted issues.  As measured by the YouGov BrandIndex, the fall in perception was swift and deep.  In the case of Applebee’s, they did it to themselves twice, which is inexcusable.  Sadly, some brands don’t know when to stop talking when they find themselves in the center of a controversy.

The perception of all three is now inextricably linked to something other than their core product.  By getting involved in charged issues, they alienated a large segment of customers and potential customers, and it will take more than ads to bring them back.

The internet amplifies everything…good and bad

Before the internet and social media, brand perception was largely driven by mass media.  Today, everyone’s a reporter and “news” travels around the internet at light speed.  No matter how quickly you take down that awkward Facebook post or tweet, some search  engine cached it or someone pulled a screen grab and preserved it for posterity.  A brand must constantly monitor not only what is being said directly about their brand but also trends and sentiment on social media.  A single misstep can have lasting consequences, as a UK company learned when they failed to check the context of a Twitter trending topic before tweeting a sales message related to their product line.  They tried to cover it up by stating their PR was not based in the US.  In the global marketing world, location is not an excuse for failure to perform due diligence before putting out a message.

Best practices for companies

  • Give people a reason to like you – People are most likely to do business with the company they like and trust.  If your message comes across as dishonest, people will buy somewhere else, even if the price is a little more.
  • Situational awareness – Even though your brand is what people say when you’re not in the room doesn’t mean you should remain blissfully ignorant to what is being said.  The attitude that “I don’t care what anyone says as long as they spell my name correctly” doesn’t work in the digital and social media arena.  It doesn’t mean that you have to eavesdrop on every conversation, and under no circumstances should you automatically jump in on every one, but a general awareness of the tone is essential.
  • Think before you speak – Much self inflicted damage may be averted by a few minutes to understand something and its long term implications for your brand before making a statement.  Regardless of what some in the “news” business believe, it really is better to be right than to be first, when being first is damaging.
  • Know when to stop talking – As Winston Churchill famously said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”  Sometimes, it’s better to say nothing than to make it worse by continuing to talk.

What is said about you when you’re not in the room?

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Should You Advertise in the Super Bowl?

January 31, 2013 Leave a comment
SuperBowl Big Game Television Advertising

A year ago, I examined the question, “Are Super Bowl Ads Worth the Cost”.  The answer was, and is, “yes if…”  As we again approach the “big game”, advertisers, even big ones, are still divided over the wisdom of spending $4 million ish for 30 seconds of our attention.  Some of the largest sports advertisers are sitting out the game, while viewers say the ads are their main motivation to watch.  Is one group more correct than the other?   Does it matter?

Liking ≠ Buying

It’s a fact people “like” the cute, funny, edgy ads created for the game.  It’s nice when people like” your work, it’s a justification and pat on the back for long hours.  However, what you really want is for them to buy your product.

How Many Ads Will We Still Be Talking About By Valentine’s Day?

Here’s a thought exercise.  Without using your Googling Machine, name and summarize one ad from last year’s broadcast.  Bonus points if you can name the advertiser and what exactly they were selling.  If you’re like me, you’re hard pressed to name and summarize many ads from last week or even last night.  Quirky ads generate buzz.  A rare few may even sell a little of the product.  But for how long?  Sure, everyone will be talking about the ad Monday morning.  They may even still be talking about it Wednesday.  By the weekend, events in the news will relegate a one-off spot to yesterday’s news.  Recently on the NPR Business program, Marketplace, the topic was recall of past ads from the big game.  People remembered the Chrysler ad featuring Clint Eastwood, but few could recall the auto nameplate it advertised. “Ah yes, I remember that ad. That was the car ad,” says attorney and sports fan Kyle Louder, while watching ESPN at a New York sports bar. “I think it was Chevrolet or one of the major car companies, but I don’t exactly remember.”  

A one off versus frequency

I have never been a proponent of “one-off” advertising.  It’s not the way I was taught by my media buying and planning mentor and I have not had cause to change my opinion.  True, the “big game” is one of the last remaining bastions of vast media reach, however I understand the reluctance of the big advertisers to play.  When you’re already spending $100 million or more on sports advertising, you’re attaining a sizable reach.  At that point, the incremental reach of advertising in one big event, may not be worth the cost.  I have advertised for clients in the Super Bowl before, and I would do it again if the circumstances warranted.  It is always part of a broader, integrated advertising initiative, and not a one off to impress.

To Make The Investment Or Not

I work mostly with local and regional advertisers, so the concept of spending $3.5 million, or $3.8 million, or $4 million or whatever the rate is on a single 30 second ad is not the issue.  Regardless, there are local breaks on your local CBS station (or whichever network carries the game) within the broadcast and pre and post game hype and hoopla.  While the investment is not network level, it’s a substantial figure – five and six figures even on local stations.  For a local marketer, the amount makes a notable dent in the media budget.  I believe the question to ask is, “Will this advance my marketing effort, perhaps by unveiling a new campaign, I can capitalize on beyond the day of the big game, or am I doing this as a one-off stroke to ego?  If it’s the former, it may well be worth the investment.  If it’s the latter, it’s an awful lot of money for an ego stroke for an ad no one will remember in a few days.

Hillbilly TV Then and Now

January 24, 2013 Leave a comment
Free Digital

Free Digital

“This is the age of the Southern crazy character,” media critic Michael Levine told ABC News. “There’s no question about it.”  Cable TV is inundated with them.  As recently as a few years ago, they were mostly relegated to CMT.  Now, they’ve spilled over onto History, Discovery, TLC and other networks.  Times have changed since the 1960’s and so have the hillbillies.  Like their 60’s counterparts, they are ratings gold – for now.

When Hillbillies were Hillbillies

Way back in the day (when we walked to school five miles, in the snow, uphill, each way), southerners on television were totally fictional and programs depicting southerners fell into these categories:

  • Andy Griffith as the folksy Sheriff Taylor, the “straight man” in the loopy town of Mayberry.  As Andy Griffith famously said of his television show, “We wanted people to laugh with us, not at us.”  For the most part, we did indeed laugh with them.  OK, Barney was sometimes just too stupid to live.  Bless his heart as they say in the south when making a comment like that about someone.
  • Jed Clampett and Oliver Wendell Douglas on the Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres respectively, playing “fish-out-of-water” characters as an Ozark Mountain man transplanted to posh Beverly Hills and a Manhattan attorney who becomes a gentleman farmer in a small rural town.
  • Bo and Luke Duke as the law breakin’ shine runnin’ good ole boys outsmartin’ Sheriff Roscoe (a pretty low bar) and the even more crooked and scheming county political boss.

This Is Reality?

Today, there is a whole new spin on hillbilly TV.  It’s all about “reality”.  Producers think we just can’t get enough of denizens of the backwoods, back roads and bayous.  Like their cousins from the 60’s and 70’s, they come in distinct flavors:

  • The “game show” is filled with trumped up, manufactured pseudo competition and high-drama conflicts.  Thom Beers’ “Original Productions” is the undisputed master of this formula genre which brought us Ice Road Truckers, Black Gold and Ax Men.  The characters are as fake as the “competition” and the fights.  I suspect they are cast similar to the formula for other “game shows” in which over-the-top characters are chosen to fit a type – the cocky asshole, the know-nothing newbie, etc.
  • Then there is the “real life” show.  I love that term.  These purport to take us inside the world of moonshiners, gator wranglers, swamp dwellers and other assorted critters of the backwoods.  In past iterations of hillbilly TV characters like Jethro Bodine were over the top caricatures. In real life hillbilly TV, they still are caricatures, but they actually exist, God help us all.

Always Follow The Money


There’s a good reason for the proliferation of Hillbilly Reality TV, and it’s not just the fact that for all our derision of these shows, they pull in the viewers.  In reality (pun intended), it’s all about a show that’s relatively cheap to make.  The $2,000 or $4,000 or $10,000 or even $20,000 per episode they’re paying some of these casts is a hell of a lot less than the cast and writers of How I Met Your Mother, or Hawaii Five-O, or even cable dramas like Burn Notice and Suits cost, so in the end  these “reality” shows are a bargain to make and in many cases, perform as well or better in the ratings, the key determinant in setting advertising rates.  The various production companies producing these shows get all kinds of tax breaks for filming in economically depressed areas.  If I ran one of those companies, I’d be making as many of them as possible too.

Cracks In The Formula

MTV is hoping Buckwild will be the new Jersey Shore.  I’m not sure that’s much to aspire to.  Governor Chris Christie (R-New Jersey) was an outspoken critic of the way Jersey Shore portrayed the residents of his state.  Senator Joe Manchin (D-Virginia) isn’t any happier about the way Buckwild makes West Virginian’s look.  Who said ‘bipartisanship” is dead?  If the initial ratings are any indication, MTV’s audience may be giving this project a thumbs down.  The fact there was no MTV press release breathlessly  touting the ratings triumph speaks volumes.  I realize it was up against a football game which was sucking considerable amounts of oxygen from the room, but I still expected more.  The second week’s ratings are telling.  When you get the crap kicked out of you by syndicated re-runs of Big Bang Theory on TBS, and the best a ratings cheerleading site manages to say about you is that you were “the top cable original” of the night, your show has a limited run.  It may be an outlier and an indication MTV has a more urban audience which isn’t all that interested in the doings of a bunch of West Virginia hellraisers.

Rural Purge 2.0

This much is certain; television is a cyclical business.  Following the first “rural purge” of 1969 – 72 when as the late Pat Buttram (Mr, Haney on Green Acres) famously observed, “It was the year CBS cancelled everything with a tree—including Lassie“, television was suddenly populated with smart, urban sitcoms including All in the Family, The Jeffersons and Maude.  With the success of Dallas, we were treated to a full line up of prime time “soap operas” showcasing rich people behaving badly.  At some point in the future, programming executives will decide hillbilly TV has explored all the acceptable and unacceptable topics and there will be Rural Purge 2.0 which will make the original look meek.

Pandering to an Advertiser or Self Preservation?

November 23, 2012 Leave a comment

When I saw Condé Nast had Windows 8 cover wraps on 14 different Condé Nast publications, I was shocked to say the least.  To say this is a departure for Condé Nast is an understatement.  Back in the 80’s I worked for a publisher’s representative that represented several Condé Nast titles for advertising sales.  Such was the separation between editorial and advertising that at the first sales meeting I attended for The New Yorker, Ring Lardner’s son, James Lardner, a writer for the magazine sneeringly referred to us as “The Business Department” during a writer’s panel.

Times have changed.  Some of the titles I represented (House & Garden, Gourmet) are long gone.  Others (The New Yorker) have drastically evolved in many ways.  Across the media universe, the lines between advertising, entertainment and editorial have blurred to put it mildly.  In a way, it’s easy to see this move which is not labeled as “Advertisement” as a further step down that road.

Conversely, I believe with venerable titles like Newsweek now set to exist only in digital form, Condé Nast may be merely acting out of self preservation – preparing their readers for the future by offering a preview of what the magazine will look like on new Windows 8 devices.  As the old saying goes, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

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Groupon: The Last Gasp for Newspapers?

June 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Tampa is one of the last markets with two semi-competing daily newspapers – The Tampa Tribune and the Tampa Bay [nee St. Petersburg] Times.  For at least the past 30 years, the Times was always the larger of the two papers.  However, in recent years, the Tampa Tribune, owned by Media General has fallen on increasingly harder times to the point they have dropped off the Audit Bureau or Circulation list of top 25 daily papers.  For years, there have been layoffs at the Tampa Tribune and Media General in Tampa as the company struggled to balance costs and revenues.  This culminated in the sale of 63 dailies and weeklies in the Media General portfolio to Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway company.  The only paper not sold – The Tampa Tribune, quite possibly the largest money loser of the entire portfolio.

I subscribe to the local Groupon; mostly to monitor how local advertisers are using this deep discount service.  Most days, Groupon’s daily email is bulk deleted along with the rest of the junk email.  Recently, however, one caught my eye.  The subject line was “Newspaper Subscription”.  That was worth a click.

Is Groupon, the deep discount, daily coupon service the savior of newspapers with declining circulations, or is it a case of two sinking ships struggling businesses finding each other and choosing to go down together?  The very concept of deep discounts like Groupon has always struck me as a somewhat desperate move on the part of an advertiser.  It devalues the brand by making the tacit admission that a product isn’t worth what a marketer is charging for it and conditions consumers to never pay retail again.  Couple that with the issues Groupon has had regarding customer complaints, the overall working environment at the company and Groupon’s “lackluster” performance since their IPO in November 2011 and I’m left wondering why even a struggling company would do business with them.

In a way it’s painful to watch as I have done business with The Tampa Tribune and placed advertising in their paper on behalf of clients for 30 years.  I’ve worked with a lot of great people with a true passion for print advertising and providing solutions for my clients and I as opposed to just selling us a square of space.  I realize Media General, the parent company is trying to bolster circulation to make this product attractive to a potential buyer, but is Groupon the best way to do that?


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Strategy Isn’t Good For Much If Your Objectives Aren’t Solid

May 17, 2012 Leave a comment

These days most of the chatter in the marketing world is about “Strategy”.  A good strategy, while important to any marketing effort is only as good as the objectives preceding it.  The simplest questions are frequently the most difficult to answer – and so it is with stating objectives.

If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up somewhere else

It’s a great quote from Yogi Berra, a man known for his incongruent observations.  It’s also true in creating a marketing plan.  If you don’t know what you want to do, you’ll end up doing something else – possibly something wrong or even bad for your business.

Early in my media career, my mentor drilled into me the importance of spending a high percentage of the planning phase determining and stating the objectives.  He believed if objectives were clearly defined, the rest of the strategy and execution became self evident as there was one clear way forward to achieve all the stated objectives.

What do we want to achieve?

I know it sounds simple, but it’s amazing how many client meetings I’ve been in where that question was ignored or at best glossed over.  Whether it’s an annual marketing plan or an advertising campaign to support a sale, it’s vital to know what the investment of marketing funds is intended to accomplish.

Who is our audience?

Again another simple question that too frequently is one of the most difficult to answer.

“Our audience is Adults age 25 – 54,” you say.  That’s a good start.  It’s almost half the population too, so unless you’re selling a universal commodity like toothpaste, it’s probably necessary to define your market a little more precisely.  The better you are able to define whom you want to reach, the more evident it becomes as to the best way to reach them.  Thoroughly defining your customer and their purchasing habits gives you the best insight into their media consumption habits and therefore the best media mix.

What is our budget and is it realistic?

Just as bad as spending money on the wrong audience, is not spending enough money to make an impact.  The pricing of most media including print is negotiable and most media buyers are pretty good at getting the most out of a budget, but there are limits and having your spots bumped by higher rates doesn’t help you promote a one day event.

How long does this initiative run and how does it integrate with our other marketing efforts?

There is nothing wrong with running short campaigns if they support an overall annual marketing plan.  Everything in marketing should in some way support the overall goals.

What does it all mean?

Once you determine and commit to writing (it really does help when you see it in written form), the strategy and implementation become apparent.

Why You May Not Want to Cut that Cable / Satellite TV Cord…Yet

May 4, 2012 2 comments

Image: Jeroen van Oostrom /

A while back, I shared my thoughts on why television isn’t as dead as many digital evangelists and online content providers wish us to believe.  For all the talk of cord cutting, it’s been largely that – talk.

NBC has the broadcast rights to this summer’s Olympic Games and plans to offer extensive coverage across its portfolio of broadcast and cable properties.  This year, they also plan extensive live coverage of events via streaming.  The only requirement is that you subscribe to a cable or satellite TV service.  As the advertising community increasingly views television and online video content as complementary rather than as competing entities, arrangements like this will increasingly be the rule rather than the exception.  Fox in particular has apparently been aggressive in limiting its online content to cable and satellite subscribers.  Broadcasters and cable operators both have a vested interest in maintaining subscribers and for now, controlling the content in this way may be the answer.  It definitely has many advantages for both NBC and cable/satellite distributors.

Online and offline are NOT natural enemies

The proliferation of laptop computers and tablet devices have made it easier and more commonplace to watch TV while going online.  As ESPN has discovered via ESPN3 and SPEED has discovered via SPEED2, putting an event online doesn’t kill your online revenue stream and can even expand both.  In my real life, I watch ESPN3 frequently as I’m a fan of a class of sports car racing that is mostly available on that platform.  It’s not the ideal situation, but if I want to watch the race live rather than on a 90 minute “highlight reel” the following day, ESPN3 is the only way to do it.  If it was a particularly good race, I’ll sometimes watch the highlights again the following day.

The Olympics is a huge event and there is no way to cover all of it on one platform

A modern Olympics has myriad events happening simultaneously over the two week run.  There is no way to cover all of them even with the vast broadcast and cable footprint the NBC portfolio encompasses.

Not everyone has access to conventional TV at all times

NBC is going to discover there is an audience during the day for content streamed to laptops and tablets when viewers are not able to watch via conventional TV.  If there’s an audience, there’s a potential revenue stream.  It even opens the possibility during the coveted prime time to watch multiple events simultaneously.

Viewers will get the content one way or another

As stated in the article, NBC learned a valuable lesson in 2008 – viewers will find a stream somewhere and we need to insure it’s ours.  Free streams of both live sports and current content not yet available online are out there and viewers will find them.  Having looked for them myself, I’d rather log in with my cable provider ID than deal with the spam ware I got loaded up with and had to clean out when I accessed a pirate stream.

Lest anyone think I’m siding with either broadcasters or cable operators, I’m not.  I’ve had my share of scream fests discussions with my cable provider over ESPN3, why they moved SPEED 2 access to a ūber sports tier I’m not interested in just to get SPEED2, their stupid complicated sign up/login process for ESPN3.  It’s a long list.  Content providers like Hulu are not innocent in this and network websites are far from perfect either.  Available content is either incomplete or delayed to the point where the audience no longer cares.  Cutting the cord is still possible and may even become a reality, but will probably require some similar content agreement with providers like Hulu to make it totally viable

Have you, or are you considering cutting the cord?  If so, what are your experiences?

Image: Jeroen van Oostrom /