Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Ad Men Get Bitch Slapped, The Cable Guy Tweets

In today's NY Times, Stuart Elliot reports that the attendees of this year's American Association of Advertising Agencies (Four A's) leadership conference found a very different event from previous years. Instead of the usual agenda of drinks/golf/and self-congratulatory bullshit, the attendees were dished a series of verbal whuppings followed by workshops on digital media. If this sounds like agency-abuse, it was actually self-inflicted. The conferences of the past several years were so thin on content and relevant information that, Elliott reports, some wanted to do away with it altogether. So this year, the format was changed.

Tom Carroll, TBWA Worldwide president and ceo, laid it on the line:

Mr. Carroll acknowledged that it would be hard work to “change the way we do our business,” but called it a necessary response to the profound shifts in media, consumer behavior and technology that are remaking the advertising landscape.

“All industries recalibrate themselves,” Mr. Carroll said, illustrating his point with a rhetorical question, “How’d you like to be in the CD business?”
My hero, Lee Clow, showed even less mercy and here's where the bitch slapping started in earnest:
“Stop whining,” Mr. Clow told the estimated 380 attendees. The new realities “shouldn’t be scary,” he said, because they offer “a huge opportunity for us” to become far more useful to marketer clients as they seek more effective ways to sell products.

“If you want to participate, you’ve got to start hiring young people,” Mr. Clow said, “and don’t tell them what to do — ask them what to do.”
Apparently, the crowd received their flogging enthusiastically and flocked to the digital media demonstrations. All of this warms my heart to read, but it makes me wonder, if agencies were so hot to find out about transforming their business and really integrating digital media in meaningful way, what in god's name have they been waiting for???

Today's Social Media Insider Blog by Catharine Taylor, reports about the opposite end of the spectrum - a company that doesn't need to be bitch slapped in order to wake up and smell the coffee. Comcast has appointed a customer service rep, Frank Eliason, to be their Twitterer, under the name Comcastcares. Taylor writes:
The fact that Eliason’s job even exists illustrates the serendipity required for most companies to get with the social networking program today. His emergence on Twitter is the result of his own long-held interest in tracking customer sentiment — along with a nudge from a Comcast executive a few months ago to check out what people were saying about the company on the micro-blogging service. Eliason just observed Twitter at first before tentatively wading in. But earlier this month, his dalliance with Twitter burst into the blogosphere, when he noticed a tweet from Michael Arrington, who runs the highly influential blog TechCrunch. Arrington was complaining that his Comcast Internet service was inexplicably down. Eliason reached out to help, and Comcast soon dispatched a team to Arrington’s house to fix his Internet connection. It was, Eliason says, a turning point, but not in quite the way you’d think. Sure, Arrington’s experience with Eliason turned into a lengthy post on TechCrunch, but what seems to have interested Eliason more is how his Twitter followers rallied around him when some said that Comcast had only helped Arrington because he was Arrington. No, his supporters said, he’d helped out many other people too. Comcastcares was forming relationships.
So does this mean Comcast has succeeded, where agencies have failed, in molding themselves to operate and succeed in a digital interactive world? I'll bet anyone who's called their customer service lately would vote no. But, as Michael Arrington blogged about his experience:
But wow, they’re doing at least one thing right. Well before most people, they have identified blogs, and particularly Twitter, as an excellent early warning system to flag possible brand implosions.
Maybe next year the 4 A's should be held in Philadelphia.

advertising, 4 A's,consumer behavior, customer service,interactive

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Creating The Met 2.0

Last week's premier performance of Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment at the Metropolitan Opera proved that rock stars can be found in every genre of music, even opera.

Juan Diego Florez, a young, sexy, and devastatingly handsome Peruvian tenor, rocked the house and brought the audience to its feet with his brilliant delivery of an aria that has nine high C's. (For those of you who aren't opera fans, this is the basketball equivalent of Michael Jordan shooting his six 3-point field goals in first half of the first game of the 1992 Finals.) And he did it twice. That's right, when he finished the aria and the audience rose, applauding and screaming, Juan Diego did what very few artists have ever done in performance at the Met. He sang an encore. This show-stopping repeat, antithetical to the historically staid character of opera, was the idea of the Met's other rock star, its General Manager, Peter Gelb. Slight, balding, and bespectacled, Mr. Gelb appears more CPA than R&R. But anyone who wants to see a brilliant case study in brand rejuvenation, pay attention. This man can also rock the house.

It's been nearly two years since Gelb stepped into the GM role at the Met, where, from day one, he knew he was taking on some formidable challenges, namely declining ticket sales and membership, and a rapidly aging audience. But Gelb came prepared with a plan to rebrand not just the Met, but the entire opera category. He would make it modern, relevant, and accessible to younger, sophisticated, art-going audiences. He would turn the Met into a content distributor, opening up new channels of delivery. He would roll out a brash and daring brand makeover that would transformed a fusty, aging institution into a hip, technology savvy, arts marketing organization. He would create the Met 2.0.

Many people thought Gelb's plan was too audacious and risky. Clearly, those folk had never read Peter Drucker whose writing may as well have been the blueprint for it: "Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two, and only these two, basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs."

The marketing and innovation strategies that Gelb instituted were all designed to position the Met as a modern and hip component of the New York cultural scene, and to create a broader awareness of the entertainment value of the Met's operas among people outside of the metropolitan area. To do this, the Met focused on three main initiatives:

1. Rock the Brand.
Pre-Gelb, the Met's brand imagery was an iconography of opera house cliches: chandeliers, silhouetted 70's-era patrons, and a logo that evoked a proscenium arch were used on brochures, the Met's limited advertising, and communications. Gelb wanted to communicate a new Met brand - an organization that wasn't simply an opera venue, but one that was bringing its audiences innovative interpretations of classic operas envisioned by name film and theater directors, as well as new, avant-garde works by modern composers.

Thomas Michel, who had been the head of marketing for the Public Theater, was brought in as the Director of Marketing. Michel turned to Pentagram, a design firm he'd worked with at the Public. The results were a very simple and contemporary serifed-font logo that emphasizes the words "Met" and "Opera", and powerful, stylized photography that conveys the passion and drama of opera with a very modern and hip sensibility.

2. Advertise.
If this seems like a ridiculously obvious solution, up until 2006 it hadn't been so obvious to the Met. Advertising was anathema to the organization and the one other ad campaign they ran in their entire history wasn't meant to appeal to anyone who wasn't already an opera fan. The campaign that was launched in 2006 had a different target in mind - non-opera goers. To reach them, the campaign was spread throughout the city transit system with ads at subway entrances, station platforms, on the sides and backs of MTA buses, at bus shelters and on telephone kiosks.

3. Find New Channels and Distribute.
Bringing an audience to the opera is important, but Gelb understood that it was equally important to bring opera to an audience. If the Met was going to expand awareness and create new opera lovers it needed to find new distribution channels that could communicate the drama and excitement of a live opera.

In December 2006 they launched the Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD series that brought digital HD transmissions of six live operas to 100 specially equipped movie theaters around the world. The program has been wildly successful. In many theaters live performances sold out and encore showings were added. The 07/08 season expanded from six to eight opera transmissions and the number of participating venues worldwide increased to 600 and the 08/09 season has plans to feature eleven transmission in up t 800 theaters. By the end of this year the Met will have reached an audience of close to 900,000.

Other initiatives and channels include a subscription-based Metropolitan Opera station on SIRIUS Satellite Radio, selected open dress rehearsals, simulcasting opening night to the Jumbotron in Times Square, and streaming live operas to the Internet.

It may be a bit too early to evaluate the success of this program. While the HD transmissions are successful beyond anyone's anticipation, they're not yet making money, although are on track to do so. Met ticket sales are up more than 10% from a year ago and, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, revenue will probably be up by $10 million. Whether the momentum can be sustained and profits made remains to be seen. But what's certain is that not doing any of this would have doomed the Met to a slow and sad demise.

As a marketer I send Mr. Gelb a big Bravo. As an opera lover, I say, "Encore".

advertising, brand makeover,branding, innovation,marketing, Metropolitan Opera, Peter Gelb

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Good Fakes, Bad Fakes, and Frigtards

My first encounter with the disappointment of a fake masquerading as the real thing came early in life. My parents bought me a cheap knock off of the short lived but very popular Patty Playpal doll- a 35 inch tall composite of petroleum byproducts, nylon hair, and combustible clothing. My fake-Patty was the right height, but everything else about her screamed "imitation". Her eyes didn't blink, she didn't "walk" when I held her hand, and while real-Patty's mouth turned up slightly in the hint of an adoring smile, fake-Patty had the bee-stung pout of a porn star and the blank, wide-eyed stare of catatonia.

Even though this unfortunate experience led to a lifelong aversion to imitations, every once in a while I come across an imitation that is so amazing in its own right, it becomes something else entirely. Case in point, the Fake Steve Jobs blog. Written in reality by Forbes journalist Dan Lyons, this blog ("The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs - Dude, I Invented the Friggin iPhone. Have You Heard of It?") is not only a brilliant and affectionate caricature of our man in mock turtlenecks, it's insightful commentary on current technology and business news, delivered with a healthy dose of profanity and irreverence (and he coins spectacular words, like frigtard). It's a great fake and I love it.

Which brings me to the new Chevy print/online marketing campaign, which is the bad fake. As part of their efforts to promote their "greenness", they've begun what they call a "dialog" with consumers. This consists of a micro-site attached to the NY Times' website where viewers can pose questions relating to "fuel solutions", and, in response, Chevy delivers answers to some of the questions in a 1/3 page ad in the Friday and Saturday NY Times Op-Ed page, as well as on their micro-site.

All I can say to them is, it's a fake-dialog, you Nettards! Do they really think that in 2008, when the Pew Internet & American Life project reports that 1 in every 10 adult Internet users has a blog, and where social interaction is the lingua franca of every demographic online, that "ask me a question and, perhaps it will be posted online (as of this very minute there are exactly 10 questions posted online) and answered" constitutes a "dialog"? My "fake" radar (fakedar?) is beeping like mad. Do we all look that dumb and easy, or is it that neither Chevy nor their agency has a clue? Answers welcome.

But, as proof that there is a god of interactive integrity, yesterday's Chevy "Op-Ed" ad was placed directly next to Gail Collins' extremely funny and biting piece on "The Fat Bush Theory", which satirizes GW's transparently insincere vow to curb global warming. Better yet, Collins' piece includes another gem in the catalog of clueless Bushisms, "Climate change involves complicated science.", which parallels so nicely with Chevy's answer to a consumer's question on why the technology to develop new fuel economy standards costs so much: "Technologies such as cylinder activation, Variable Valve Timing, and hybrids do exist, but these technologies add complexity." Bravo, Alan R. Weverstad, Executive Director, Environment, Energy, and Safety Policy for General Motors. You've managed to deliver a spot-on imitation of the one person on the planet with the least amount of environmental credibility. My fake-Patty started disintegrating not long after she arrived in our household. I only hope that Chevy's fake-dialog does the same.

Chevy, Dan Lyons,Fake Steve Jobs, Forbes,interactive marketing, Frigtard, Gail Collins, microsite, Social Interaction

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth

This past Monday I was invited to a cocktail reception for the new Brandcenter at Virginia Commonwealth University. The VCU Brandcenter, until recently called the VCU Adcenter, is a graduate program in marketing communications. What makes the program unique is its approach. It has structured its curricula to reflect a marketing communication vision that ad agencies have been paying lip service to forever, but never really accomplishing - organically integrating the business and strategy bits with the creative and interactive bits. Led by ex-Ogilvy Chief Creative Officer Rick Boyko, the program plans on expanding its online/digital focus by adding a full-fledged interactive track in the fall semester.

In a conversation with a recent graduate of the program though, I got the sense that her job search in New York was turning out be a rude awakening. Because despite the fact that most of the advertising behemoths have interactive capabilities, these are generally balkanized organizations with no real seat at the grown-ups table.

It's been a little over a decade that agencies have been trying to figure this out. In all of the time since then, despite the multiple iterations of organization charts, agencies have never quite figured out the integration. Most likely because the people at the top still see interactive as banner ads, websites, and unequal to "legitimate" advertising.

Perhaps nothing articulates this as clearly as Allen Rosenshine's acceptance remarks at his Advertising Hall of Fame induction. This Chairman Emeritus of BBDO who has been called one of the 100 most influential people of 20th century advertising said, "Beware those who would have us believe that advertising has become irrelevant. It always was, and always will be, as relevant as we make it. The geeks will not destroy us. Only we can do that." In an interview with Ad Age's Rance Crain, Rosenshine added: "The internet becomes and is a brilliant resource for information. It isn't branding because it doesn't have the capacity to deliver the emotional content of branding."

Hmmmm. I don't know how much time Mr. Rosenshine has spent on the Internet in the the past ten years, but cumulatively, consumers have been spending hours online with compelling creative executions from brands like Audi, Dove, and Toyota, to name a few. So, if he really wants to go head to head, here's the choice for brands: create a rich, interactive, online experience that clearly articulates your brand, gives users value in the form of content or entertainment, and allows them to interact and engage in a dialog with you and with each other; or broadcast a :30 spot that most likely will be Tivo-ed out of the programming. Want to think about it?

In a piece about the Brandcenter in Creativity Magazine this past January, editor Teressa Iezzi quoted TBWA's Lee Clow: “Brands today cannot be sustained by what in the past has been called advertising…everything a brand does that connects to the consumer is media, is brand communication. If orchestrating the art of all those media conversations isn’t advertising, then perhaps the creativity of what we’ll do in the future needs a new name.”

Bravo, Brandcenter and lookout Madison Avenue, here come the geeks.

advertising, Allen Rosenshine,BBDO, Creativity Magazine,Interactive Technology, Lee Clow, marketing, Rick Boyko, TBWA, VCU Brandcenter

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

My April Fool

I actually love a day that gives everyone a chance to channel their inner frat boy. I mean, after the year (or eight) that we've had, isn't it nice to finally see the words "April Fools" appended to some of the roster of bad news?

Throughout the day, I've been sent or I've stumbled upon a number of amusing and sometimes elaborately concocted spoofs. From the c/net announcement of a Mark Zuckerberg appearance on Saturday Night Live, to Google's rather overly elaborate Mars collaboration with Virgin, Virgle, they've been an entertaining break from work.

But then, early this afternoon, an I got an April Fools email that changed everything. It was my Rosebud. What I'm about to tell you is a true story. And to answer the question that will no doubt be ringing in your head at the end of it, no, I'm not actually as dumb as I look. Let's just call it sweetly naive. In today's edition of my MUG newsletter, there was a link to a BBC hoax perpetrated in the late '50s. One look at the title, "Swiss Spaghetti Harvest", and I knew immediately, this was going clear up a lifetimes worth of self-doubt and humiliation.

You see, when I was a little girl, my mother, most likely believing she was instilling in me an early love of technology, used to plop me in front of the TV to keep me out of her hair. Being a bit of a bookworm and a geek, I loved documentaries, especially if they had British narrators with posh accents and sonorous voices. One day, I saw a documentary that fascinated me. I was young (probably somewhere between 7 and 10) and had no reason to believe it wasn't a real documentary. What did I know about spoofs? It was about the Swiss spaghetti harvest. The narrator (British, of course) described how the farmers would pluck the current crop from bushes and lay them in the sun to dry. And there they were, in authoritative black and white, lovely farm maids plucking strands of limp spaghetti from tall leafy bushes. I couldn't wait to share this exciting knowledge with my family and my friends at school. Indeed. Whatever you imagine the reaction to that news might have been, triple it.

Despite the resulting emotional trauma from the humiliation and the years of self-doubt that followed (But I really saw it! It was on TV!!), I grew up to be an only moderately neurotic, and mostly functional adult, with the understanding that if you speak with authority, radiate conviction, and present compelling evidence, you too can grow spaghetti on trees.