Category: Uncategorized

Don’t ask.

Roman Thumbs down 2
Wanna buy a toothbrush?

Here’s a hot tip for you ad-makers: Don’t ask for the sale right off the bat.  Really good salespeople already know this. Really good marketers also know this. Normal human beings know this. But whoever’s been producing the bulk of advertising lately don’t seem to know it. They apparently think they have to start off by asking for the sale. “Looking for tires?” “Tired of paying high prices for catheters?” “If you die, have you planned enough for your funeral?” “Wanna buy a toothbrush?” (this latter isn’t an actual lead line in an ad, but a punchline in an old joke about marketing, which I think you can reconstruct yourself.) All of these may sound like perfectly innocent questions, but we all hear them as sales pitches.

It’s a well-known fact that nobody likes being sold to. Even when we’re in the actual market to buy something, we don’t like being pitched. It feels pushy. It feels like the sales person only sees us as a mark. And forces us to have to answer something unpleasant back, “No.”

And yet, generation after generation of marketers, who themselves don’t like being sold to, seem to think other people aren’t like them. They just charge right in asking a question that they know they don’t want the honest answer to. They force an answer before we have a chance to even consider their offering.

Even as I’m writing this, I just received an e-mail ad with the subject line: “We haven’t heard from you lately, what’s wrong?” Nothing’s wrong, Bucky; now go away. The first line of this e-mail put me on the spot by asking why I hadn’t clicked on any of their recent e-mails lately (or, in my case, never). “No. No. No. Go away.” I felt like shouting. Did the poor guy who is responsible for this e-mail marketing think this approach would work? That starting off defensively, negatively, would somehow win me over? It’s like a person whom you work with asking, “How come you never want to go out with me?”

Never Ask a Question

Years ago, when I was in art school taking an advertising class from one of the industry’s great copywriters, he told us a maxim: Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever ask a question in an ad. Even if it’s a rhetorical question. The reason is that the person reading or hearing the question will, in their mind, automatically answer it.  And, more often than not, the answer is “no.”  He pointed out, that once they’ve said “no”, even to themselves, they’ll shut you out. “No” is the most negative of responses. And people don’t like saying no. It makes them feel negative. I even felt bad sending that e-mail I just got to the spam bin. I feel like I just cost that poor guy a commission, or his job. I’m an awful person. A monster. And I hate that guy for making me feel that way. I want him to die. And now I even feel worse about myself. I’m a seething mass of negativity. And I have to lie down now.

Later…

I’m okay now.

But I’d go further than the No Questions Maxim. I’d advise you never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever ask for the sale anywhere in an ad, not even at the end. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a CTA (call-to-action) in it . It’s okay to let people know what you’d like people to do after they read the ad; go to this URL for more info, think about us next time, ask your doctor, etc. But it shouldn’t be to ask them to make a decision about whether or not they’ll buy. Leave that open. Because once you’ve forced the decision, that’s it. Once they’ve said no, heard themselves say no, they imprint that in their memory and condemn you and your low-priced catheters to the spam bin forever. So don’t ask.

Besides. They know you’re trying to sell them something. It’s an ad, for crying out loud! Just don’t sully the mood by asking them to part with money out in the open.

The Metric System: From the Wonderful Folks Who Brought Us the Guillotine

Exécution_de_Marie_Antoinette_le_16_octobre_1793
What would you say; is that 5 meters high? And what would you say Marie Antoinette’s head weighed? 3.2 kilograms?

I’m going to rant about the Metric System now. It’s something that’s been gnawing at me for years. What’s this got to do with marketing? you might well ask. Well, nothing. Or rather, adhering to the 9th Unbreakable Rule of Marketing, that everything is marketing, including the Metric System, everything. Also it just bugs me.

I could just toss this argument off with the circulating joke that says that the world is divided into two types of countries: those on the metric system and the country that walked on the moon. But that would be too glib.  Also, kiljoys would note that Myanmar and Liberia are also holdouts, and neither of them, to my knowledge, has walked on the moon.

There is actually a logical reason why the system the United States uses (as well as most of the Anglo world in everyday practice) makes more sense than the metric system. The latter, as I will show, is based on something incredibly unintuitive, nerdy, and snobby. At least in linear measurement.

The origins of the Metric System go way way back to 1799, when it originated in Republican France  just after they had sated themselves with their orgy of hacking off the heads of tens of thousands of innocent people and had just started their  program of world conquest under the new dictator, Napoleon. Napoleon, in fact, heartily endorsed the metric system because he was bad at math and liked the idea that he could use his fingers to count stuff.

Tired of so many different standards of measurement throughout Europe (not to mention the rest of the world, but they didn’t matter then), the French reasoned (and they considered themselves the paragons of reason) that a single, standard, interconnected system of base-ten measurements (since humans have ten fingers) was the most rational.   This they proceeded to impose on all the other countries they conquered–as well as the Code Napoleon,  croissants, and Jerry Lewis. The British, whom they never conquered, told them to stuff it. And the Americans didn’t care what the French were doing.

Ten hour days. That’s gonna work.

Messidor_commence_le_21_ou_22_juin
The month of Messidor (June-July) from the Girls of the Enlightenment Calendar,, hanging on the back wall of every gas station in Revolutionary France. I think this was my favorite month.

 

The first thing that the French Revolutionaries tried to decimalize was time. In 1793 they divided the day into 10 hours (each of a hundred minutes) and weeks into 10 days (décades–yeah, yeah, I know). Clockmakers were frantic.  But the months they left at twelve (changing the names of them to conform to more rational connotations like Thermidor and Fructidor) and each had exactly 30 days divided evenly into three ten-day “weeks”. But that left five days leftover at the end of the year. So the system was already running into problems due to  uncooperative Mother Nature.  The decimal system just didn’t apply naturally to time on this planet. The earth, vexingly, takes 365.25 days to revolve around the sun and isn’t neatly divided by 10, or even 30. The Creator was not sufficiently revolutionary, evidently. So by 1805, when Napoleon made himself Emperor, he abandoned decimal time and told everybody to go back to the old system. And Frucitidor went back to being just August.

Not so other measurements.

But what  could be more logical than the meter…or metre?

All the Enlightenment people liked the idea of a length based on some rational, decimal standard. At first the meter (or metre, to be French about it) was supposed to be one-ten millionth of the distance from the equator to the pole. Now there’s a concept everyone can feel. I mean who hasn’t walked from the Amazon to the North Pole and counted to ten million? When, sometime in the middle of the twentieth century, they found out that they didn’t have that distance as accurate as they thought, they changed the definition of the meter to the distance of  1,650,763.73 wavelengths of the orange-red emission line of the element krypton-86 in a vacuum (in honor of Superman, I imagine). Can you feel that? It’s so logical. It’s yea big.You know, a meter. Like a yard, only better.

Finally, somebody had an even more natural standard for the meter, it was the distance light traveled in a vacuum in 1/288,792,458th of a second. Yeah! That makes so much sense now! It’s so…uh…visceral. You turn on the flashlight and I’ll use my iPhone stopwatch, set to 1/288,792,458th of a second. Go!

The meter was supposed to replace the ancient and unenlightened yard, which was roughly the distance from the tip of a grown person’s nose to the tip of their outstretched fingers.The meter was supposed to be about a yard, but more scientifically derived. The yard was just not precise. Not scientific. But it was pretty easy to visualize. A meter is, by contrast, roughly the distance from your finger tips, past your nose and halfway (not quite) to somewhere between your nose and your shoulder.  Now given the wide variety of human physiques, this old measurement of a yard is mighty crude. But there is a standard yard somewhere (like in at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, England, for instance). So it’s been regulated for a couple centuries.  And it’s defined to three feet or 36 inches for ease of computation. It’s a very easy measurement to work with.

The  other old measurements of length–the inch, the foot, the mile–also have origins in human physiology and experience. An inch is about the width of a grown person’s thumb, for instance. A foot, roughly the length of a man’s foot (size 11).  During the sixteenth century a village would take sixteen random men, measure their left feet, take the average,and that would be the village’s standard foot. But even that became standardized throughout the British empire.  I even miss the old cubit, yessir, the distance from your elbow to your middle fingertip. Eighteen inches (half a yard). Couldn’t have built this here ark without it.

What have the Romans ever done for us?

And a mile? This is the best one. A mile comes from the Latin,  mille passus, or 1,000 paces.  Back when most people walked everywhere, this made perfect sense. As a Roman legion went on a march, it would designate one poor sap (presumably as administrative punishment, like peeling potatoes) to count off 1,000 paces of his right foot hitting the ground. He was like a human odometer.  And since an average grown man’s pace was a little over 2.6 feet, counting for a thousand times when your right foot comes down means you’ve walked a mile, or 5,280 feet (1,760 yards).

Roman milles passus counter

I’ve actually tried this and measured it against my sophisticated, digital, geo-calibrated pedometer on hikes and found this method was 99% accurate (even though I’m slightly taller than the average Roman soldier).  Another convenient thing about the mile is that at normal walking speed, it takes just about twenty minutes to walk one, since we average 3 mph. You can’t do that with a kilometer.  You walk somewhere between 4-5 kph so, that means. it takes..well, you figure it out.

So, see? At least for distances and measures of length, the old inch-foot-yard-mile system is far more intuitive and human than the meter. Of course the American military has gone over to metric system, mostly as a concession to our sensitive allies in NATO.  Where a “klick” is military jargon for a kilometer (real Americans can’t bring themselves to say “kilometer”). And the U.S. scientific community seems to talk in meters and kilometers and nanometers; that is, until they get to really big measurements like AUs (astronomical units, the radius of the earth’s orbit), light years and parsecs. None of these are tied to the metric system.

And yet we still use the ancient Sumerian sexigesimal (base 60) system for radial and time measurement; 360° in a circle, 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in both an hour and a degree, 12 months in a year, and so on. Nobody seems to want to make that metric.

“A pint’s a pound the world around.”

Of course with measures of liquid and volumes, both systems are logical. A pint of water (or beer) weighs a pound (“A pint’s a pound the world around.”) and a liter of water (or chablis)  is a kilogram (come on, you know the mnemonic jingle, “A liter’s a kilogram in every place but the United States …and English speaking countries, Burma, and Liberia…but that’s it.”). So it’s hard to argue one over the other in terms of reason. And the volume of a liter is 1000 cubic centimeters. How convenient. Everything in a dec-chauvinist neat little package.

But I have become accustomed to how much a pound feels from enjoying a pint in a pub. A liter of beer is a little much.  I don’t know the heft of a liter pitcher. And I also think the idea of the liter is a marketing trick on the part of Europeans to make you think you’re not paying as much for gas.

My forehead’s a balmy 310° Kelvin.

When  it comes to temperature, it also seems perfectly logical that zero degrees C should be the freezing point of water (vs 32° F) and 100° for its boiling point (vs 212° F). The only trouble I have is probably that I’m just used to Fahrenheit over Celsius (or Kelvin, in which absolute zero, the most logical of all starting points, is in fact zero, not −273.15° C or −459.67° F). But I am used to my normal, non-feverish body temperature being 98.6° F, not 37° C (that just seems too cold) or 310° K (too hot). I like it just right. Like Goldi-whatsername.

But that’s just me. In fact, I’m fine with people who want to use the metric system. It’s just that Americans who do are generally such self-righteous pricks about it, wanting to force it on everybody, like gluten-free cookies. They are so committed to the intuitive feel of how far light travels in 1/288,792,458th of a second (in a vacuum) that they can’t see any other way. To which I’d say I’m committed to how far light travels in 1/315,823,432nd of a second, i.e. a yard.

So I guess  that my preference is for the natural and human scales measured by inches, feet, yards and miles.  And the pound of a pint of bitters in an English pub. However, I’ll give up rods (5.5 yards),  furlongs (220 yards or half a high school track), leagues (3 miles or how far you can walk in an hour), and toises (6 feet).

See? Didn’t you learn something? In spite of yourself?

And I didn’t bring up marketing. Well…hardly at all.

 

Eeeeew! The Risks of a Spokesperson

Jared Fogle pants
“Hey, you know what? I’ll bet two people could probably fit into these jeans.”

When your whole brand becomes identified with a famous personality, it’s sort of like getting married to someone with a secret STD. Case in point: Jared Fogle, Subway’s spokesbeing for the past five years. Looks like he was just sentenced to over 15 years for trafficking in child pornography and having sex with underage prostitutes, plus a stiff six-figure fine.  Oops. Apparently he had been doing this for years without Subway ever knowing it…apparently. Now, whenever you go into a Subway and watch the underage employee cheerfully assemble your sandwich, you’re going to think, “Eeeeeew!”

This is the trouble with attaching your brand to a celebrity spokesentity. Companies like Nike and Gillette have long been aware of this and yet, like addicts, continue to get hitched with athletes who end up getting caught abusing their wives, their dogs, their kids, random women, or just blurting out offensive things in public. There’s a whole industry of the law involved in bad-behavior indemnity on such endorsement contracts. I’m betting that Jell-O is internally cringing at all of those years they had Bill Cosby as their pitchman, and so relieved they retired him some time ago.

The spokesperson doesn’t even have to be an outside celebrity; they can be the boss. Companies like American Apparel, Abercrombie & Fitch, Carl’s Jr., Chik-fil-A, or Trump expose their brands to embarrassment when their self-pitching CEOs start acting like asses in public. They become boycott bait. To be fair, it’s not just male bosses; Martha Stewart and Leona Helmsley, the late hotel queen, also Titanicked their brands when they behaved badly (though Stewart has served her time, repented, and somewhat recovered her company’s brand image).

The risk is that human beings–particularly celebrities–are frail. They succumb to temptation at some point in their lives. And when they are raised onto pedestals or inflated with financial success, like Jared Fogle was, that temptation becomes too overwhelming to resist. And then they become liabilities. Euripides and Shakespeare wrote way too many plays based on that cautionary theme of hubris.

frozen_a
Seriously. Next time you’re tempted to sign a celebrity spokesman, watch this movie.

And when you hire somebody, like a Jared Fogle, or a Bill Cosby, or a Lamar Odom, or a Sarah Palin to flog your product, maybe hire a private dick first and look into them a little more closely. Don’t just get all googly-eyed and hand them a contract on the first meeting. Didn’t you see Frozen?

I think the lesson I’m trying to teach, in my pompous, know-it-all way, is that rather than taking the seemingly easy route and hiring a celebrity spokesperson to represent your brand, concentrate more on what your brand stands for and make that thought the symbol. Really successful brands do that.

Or, if you’re really feeling the need for a spokesman, make it an imaginary one, like Jack of Jack-in-the-Box, or Tony the Tiger, or Betty Crocker, or The Michelin Man. Then you can control him, Or her. Or it. Then if it’s a self-important, condescending jerk, like the Geico lizard, it’s your fault. At least the lizard isn’t going to get arrested for slurping Jell-O shots out of the bellybutton of an underage naked mole rat. Eeeeew!

I shall leave you with that nightmare image.

 

 

 

 

Was Herman Cain Right?

SimCity1One of my many vices is an addiction to the old Maxis game, SimCity. I play SimCity 4, which I think is about twelve years old, but I love it for its elegant game engine

As games can be instructive, SimCity is very much so. I think it should be used in high school curricula to teach civics, and economics, and tax policy. And would that more candidates for public office played it. They might not blurt out so many inane sound bytes at state fairs.

Also the music is so cool. I often just let it run in the background and not play the game.

Now this probably brands me as a policy wonk–let me amend that; it definitely brands me as a policy wonk–but I have fun noodling with all the various tax rates the game lets you play with. They have rates for high income residents, middle income residents, low income deadbeats. Also rates for commercial activities, farming, heavy (high polluting) industries, light manufacturing, and high tech (low polluting). This is fun to jiggle with to see how it affects growth and the environment.  For instance, if you give a tax holiday to high tech industries and tax high polluters back to the swamps from which they crawled, you can raise jobs and revenue and keep the air and water quality clean (and the Sims happy and healthy and approving of your job as a Mayor). But you also need a lot of schools in your city to attract those high-tech industries.

The game comes with all of these rates defaulted at 9%, which is where Herman Cain got his “9-9-9″ tax plan when he was trying to win the Republican primary back in 2011. I’m sure he just played the game without changing any of those rates, and also probably grooved to the cool music as I do. But the fun is applying your own economic theories to the game as an experiment to see what happens to your balance of payments and economic growth. Of course, the game algorithm was originally conceived by Will Wright, who must be a Keynesian, because the outcomes definitely favor a more actively managed fiscal policy. If you cut all the taxes to zero and let the Free Market frolic, your city soon comesto resemble the scene of a post apocalyptic Cormac McCarthy novel. And cannibalism will reign.

The other thing I like to do is lay out my city with all the dream services you’d expect in a socialist paradise: a rich infrastructure, lavishly funded schools, universities, sanitation, big hospitals, public transportation, police and fire services, recycling centers, clean power (wind turbines mostly), parks , public pools, playgrounds, cool beaches (a shoreline is helpful), museums, libraries, seaports, airports, and theaters. I put all these in place before I start the city. (No stadiums, they’re just a money drain. Put them down. I don’t care what “The Citizens demand.”) All this cost a fortune in Simoleons and will probably drain your starting budget to zero, but wait…

Enter the Cheat

Then, before you turn your city on to let it grow, you do one more important thing; you activate a cheat.

The cheat for Windows is Alt-X “weaknesspays” Enter (I don’t know what it is on a Mac, look it up). Applying it repeatedly magically floods your budget with money from nowhere. Frankly, I don’t know why this is a “cheat” and not a tool in the game because, when you think about it, this is exactly what the Fed does in real life. It’s what the IMF and the European Central Bank does for countries in default like Greece; making capital out of nothing, allowing for sovereign default, bailing out. It’s also the same as when a country or a municipality issues bonds, or, hell,  just runs deficit spending.  Nothing bad ever happens except more growth, on and on, just like in SimCity. The only time anything bad ever happens is when somebody decides, based on the Bible or something, that deficits are bad and a country can’t just print money whenever it needs more. Can it? The 14th Amendment to the Constitution says it can (look it up).

A popular sophistry is that a country like the United States should balance its budget like a family does; not spending more than it takes in. But doing that would never allow for growth, or jobs, or prosperity. And if your tax rate is zero (as is also popular with the same people who like the country-as-a-family-budget analogy) you get nuthin’. No roads, no Internet, no airports, no power grid, no jobs, no hospitals, no public transportation, no police and fire, no schools, no water filtration plants. Just desolation, with zombies roaming the streets moaning for “Brains!”

Also, families don’t get to print their own money like countries can. They can’t use an Alt-X cheat. But the government can.

What’s this got to do with the Unbreakable Rules? Nothing. (Unless I can invoke the catch-all Rule #9: Everything is Marketing.) I just wanted to write about it. I am addicted to SimCity, as I’ve said. And tax policy.

 

Moderate to Severe Pharma Advertising

Woman, walking in the park and talking: “I’m a moderate to severe brain cloud sufferer. I’ve been living with the heartbreak of brain cloud symptoms for years. If you’re like me, you know that heartbreak.

“But now there’s Enteraxol, a new medical breakthrough in managing the symptoms of moderate to severe brain cloudism. And it’s made all the difference in my life.

Montage of patient enjoying an afternoon of tiger petting at the zoo with her grandchildren, jitterbugging with her second husband, laughing at nothing with friends, and other non-sequitur lifestyle shots…we don’t care…you don’t care…you’ve already gone to the bathroom to manage your moderate to severe whatever.

Announcer VO: “Enteraxol has been shown to cause massive organ failure in some patients.

“Do not take Enteraxol if you are taking any medications for anything else, have heart disease, occasional indigestion, constipation, are menstruating, are in a committed relationship, live alone, live with anyone else, are sexually active, are sexually inactive, have diabetes or glaucoma.

“Do not use Enteraxol near pets or children.

“Do not expose Enteraxol to an open flame.

“In rare cases, Enteraxol may increase the likelihood of some epidermal liquefaction.

“If blindness or unprovoked murderous rages continue after taking Enteraxol for more than four hours, consult a doctor.

“If slight eyeball melting occurs, such as illustrated in the climatic scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark when all the Nazis had their eyeballs melted by looking into the open Ark of the Covenant, discontinue taking Enteraxol.

“If pterodactylism occurs, such as the sudden growth of webbing between the fingers and extremities, discontinue use of Enteraxol.

“Enteraxol may interact negatively with certain foods, like animal protein, carbohydrates, some nuts, fruits, vegetables and most pudding. Do not take Enterax with alcohol or hot chocolate.

“Do not attempt to operate any machinery more complex than a pencil while taking Enteraxol.

“It is inadvisable to write a blog or interact on social media while taking Enteraxol.

“If a head of state, do not sign any nuclear non-proliferation treaties if you have taken Enteraxol within 24 hours.

“Store Enteraxol in a cool place out of the reach of children, animals and ants.

“Some zombieism as well as seeing the world overrun by zombies has been associated with prolonged use of Enteraxol.

“Enteraxol can lead to cessation of all life functions. And in rare cases, death.

“The effectiveness of Enteraxol in the treatment of brain cloudism has yet to be proven.

“Enteraxol may be illegal in some states and the rest of the civilized world.

Back to Woman walking in the park: “Enteraxol has made it possible for me to enjoy my life again. Ask your doctor about Enteraxol. If he or she does not immediately prescribe it, look for a doctor who will listen to you. It’s time someone did.”

Announcer VO: “Take back your right to a brain-cloud-free life. With Enteraxol.”

Out.

Why do drug companies even bother to advertise at all?

 

 

 

Think Small Yourself, Julian Koenig

volkswagen_think_small
The greatest ad of the last century. A dirty lie?

In his waning years, advertising legend Julian Koenig, whose claims to fame included what has been ranked by Ad Age as the greatest ad of the last century, the 1959 “Think Small” campaign for Volkswagen, gave an interview in which he discounted his enviable career in advertising by saying he was ashamed of having devoted his god-given talent to spreading lies. He concluded that all advertising is a lie. Then he died.

Okay. Maybe the disillusioned rantings of a cranky nonagenarian. But I say, speak for yourself, Julian.

At this stage of my own career, which has been now as long as Koenig’s was when he was active, I can categorically state that I have never lied in an ad I’ve written, art directed, creative directed or had any part of. I may not be the legend that he was. But I’ve been pretty proud of my campaigns, some of which have won international awards, some of which have hung in the Smithsonian, some of which have even been phenomenally successful in terms of increasing sales, many of which have been just as funny. But all of them the truth.

Koenig, too, spent way too much of his later life in a personal feud over who really came up with the Volkswagen campaign, he and art-director Helmut Krone, or notorious self-aggrandizer, George Lois. These names would only mean something to deep advertising geeks. Old advertising geeks. But Koenig wouldn’t let it drop. His own daughter, This American Life producer Sarah Koenig, did a show on how obsessed her father became with his vendetta about credit, long after the world acknowledged that he was right and George Lois was a poseur. But who cares?

Get over it.

I myself (in fact, probably most people who’ve made a living as a creative professional) have known people claiming credit for my work.  It happens. The world is full of pilot fish pretending to be sharks. But it’s just advertising. It isn’t like James Watson getting the Nobel Prize for “discovering” the double-helix structure of DNA when he caught a lecture on the subject by the real discoverer, Rosalind Franklin. (Don’t get me started.)

But getting back to the claim that all advertising is a lie. That’s a lie itself. It has long been a meme circulated by smug cynics. And when one of the greatest practitioners of the craft, like Koenig, sputters it in an interview at the end of his life, those cynics loved to jump on it and say, “See? We told you!”

But saying that is like saying that all music is the same crap. Or all surgery is butchery. Or all plumbers are crooks. Or all politicians are corrupt. Or that everything the government does turns bad. It’s too easy. And it’s especially easy for people who aren’t copywriters or composers or surgeons or plumbers or politicians or government employees. I want to ask those critics, “What is it you do for a living? You know, to rip people off?”

I myself felt that Koenig was full of crap in “admitting” that advertising is based on a lie. He may have felt guilty himself about knowingly writing a lie at some incident in his career. But that’s his problem. It’s not something I’ve ever been tempted to do. Telling lies is not only not required of good advertising, it’s actively policed by the industry. Good advertising–great advertising–not only tells the truth, it tells it elegantly, a truth that touches at the core of people’s lives. People are really good at smelling bullshit. But they’re also really good at knowing what’s true.

Most people anyway. The ones I party with.

Introducing: the Death Word

Introducing

Don’t use this word. Ever.

When “introducing” is used in a headline,  it takes the average reader less than 14.2 nanoseconds to recognize that you’ve got nothing interesting to say. (I made that datum up to impress the engineers among you. Let’s just say it doesn’t take much time.) And since, in every reader’s mind,  all ads are perceived with disdain and irritation to begin with, to flag one with the death word, “Introducing,” is to insure that it will never be read…not unless it’s part of the sentence, “Introducing the best way to stick your elbow in your ear.”

(Admit it, you just tried to do that. Didn’t you?)

“Introducing” is also a gerund. Which means it’s passive. Of course, this is covered in the first hour of any community college copywriting class. But it doesn’t seem to have sunk in lately, at least judging by all this year’s crop of $4.5-million-per-30-second Super Bowl spots. If you want your ads to be read or listened to, don’t use the passive voice. Don’t use other gerunds like “celebrating” (as in  “Celebrating 50 Years of Excellence”), “innovating,” or “leveraging.” The passive voice sucks all the life out of your ads. It makes them dull. It makes them ignored. It makes you waste the $4.5 million you just spent on your Super Bowl spot.

“Introducing” betrays an amateur copywriter, without even a hint craft or talent. No professional copywriter would ever use such a lazy, lifeless verb like “Introducing.” Not in the headline. Not in the copy. Not in the script. Not in the content of a website. It’s a dead word. And it screams, “I’m a hack!” Such a hack would also not hesitate to use a phrase like “passion for excellence,” “formula for your success,” or “the difference is in our people,” in their copy.

But there seems to be much more hackitosis in advertising these days.

“Introducing” also embarrasses the client who would tolerate such a passive, lazy word in their marketing. It tells all of us, unconsciously (in 8.9 nanoseconds), that the advertiser isn’t all that enthusiastic about their product. So why should we be?

Do you ever, in normal conversation, use the word “introducing” as a predicate? When you are introducing two friends, do you say, “Liam, introducing Miyako. Miyako, introducing Liam.”? Do your e-mails and texts use that word? Then don’t write your ads using it.

Ever.

Unless, of course, you have a very good reason. And a note from your editor.

We’ve been doing it wrong all along

Just when you think mankind couldn’t achieve any higher heights of accomplishment, we’ve outdone ourselves again. Turns out, in going to the bathroom, we’ve been doing it wrong for thousands of years. But now, thanks to science and good-old-fashioned German engineering, they’ve invented a technology to facilitate elimination of Number Two, promote better colon health, reduce the heartbreak of hemorrhoids, and fight global climate change.

lady-on-toilet
SEE HOW HAPPIER SHE LOOKS!  THAT IS, UNTIL SHE REMEMBERS TIP 0: PULL DOWN YOUR PANTS.”

They found out you’re supposed to raise your knees when you…well…you know. Hence this amazing invention. easygopro stool

I know it just looks like a stool (ahem) , but it’s so much more;  it’s Euro-Ergo Design and made of high-tech, digital polymer (not mere plastic). It’s based on decades of intense concentration and colorectal research by real doctors. An arbitrarily assigned $34 value, but yours for only $25 (plus $8.95 shipping and…uh…handling… which brings it back up to $34). So don’t think you can just accomplish the same life-changing benefits by putting a $5 stool from Target in front of your toilet–one that hasn’t been euro-ergo designed.

Of course, there are several other companies marketing this paradigm-disrupting technology. But having seen the DRTV commercial for the easyGopro (which tells you what channels I’m demographically watching), I’m convinced that there’s only one choice: easyGopro. (Not to be confused with the GoPro helmet camera, which goes on your head, or the EasyGo PRO protein dispenser on KickStarter, which goes in your mouth,  this is the easyGopro, which goes somewhere else. This did cause some keyword search confusion.)

If you don’t believe me, just read the copy that easyGopro has to say about the company’s far-reaching goals.

  • “We set out to create the best toilet footrest possible! That’s why we hired Henner Jahns of Gecco-Vision located in the epicenter of Los Angeles’ Historic Art District. Henner’s passion and commitment is what makes easyGopro unique. Jahns’ award winning style and international flair, combined with a remarkable eye for great consumer products, sets easyGopro on a trajectory to fast becoming a household name.”

Look how they’ve taken this on as a mission. They even used a bang (!) to emphasize their earnestness as they set out on this quest. I mean, they trekked all the way into the bowels of “the epicenter of Los Angeles’ Historic Art District” to find award-winning euro-designer Henner Jahns of Gecco-Vision, with his “passion and commitment” to improving the way we poop. Don’t trust those other stool stool manufacturers with their feeble, non-euro designs, like the family-owned Squatty Potty  or The Original Step-n-Go (who have no cute euro-designers). Even though they say so, they’re not nearly as passionate , or committed, about the best alimentary elimination possible(!).

To add to the marketing punch, all of these companies feature state-of-the-art animations and graphics showing what your inner plumbing looks like when you sit on a toilet versus when you squat the correct way…the way God intended. If that isn’t inspiring to you, then you must be dead down there already.

EasyGopro‘s website also features a highly informative video with Henner talking in his charming, German-Engineering accent about BMs…for four-and-a-half intense minutes. You wouldn’t think there was that much to say about it. But you’d be wrong. His passion, his commitment (and his great hair) are infectious.  I know it looks like a satirical commercial on SNL, but it’s actual marketing! They’re serious.

Then, on the Squatty Potty site, they have these professionally produced and serious graphics to demonstrate how to “poop like a pro”, underscored with the professional typeface and industrial grade emoticons scientifically illustrating the transition of your emotional state:

I HONESTLY HAD NO IDEA I WAS SUCH AN AMATEUR.

 

I HONESTLY HAD NO IDEA I WAS SUCH AN AMATEUR.

And speaking of great marketing, I also love coy exhortations (as on the Squatty Potty site) to “Poop like a Pro” or “Go time just got easier” (on the easyGopro site). Those bring up so many doubts about how unprofessionally I’ve been getting through my life and how hard it’s been; these are truly existential questions about self-worth.  And, as we all know, creating self-doubt is one of the core rules of marketing: Do I smell bad? Am I not living up to my potential? Am I a terrible parent? How long has that thing been there? Am I in a dead-end job? Are my teeth not white enough? Will I not be able to perform when my wife gives me that “look”? Am I losing valuable nutrients by not juicing properly?

And now, am I not going to the bathroom like a pro?

Finally, I want to know how I can get a hold of some of easyGopro’s kickin’ T-shirts so I can be part of the easyGopro marketing mission. I especially like the “Go Big” message, and the “I [heart] 2 Go”. Who wouldn’t want to proudly wear those in public? You just want to walk up to an attractive stranger wearing one of these and say, “So tell me about your bowel movements.”

easyGopro t-shirts

 

In your face, Big Insurance

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Don’t you hate your health insurance company? Here you pay high premiums every month and when you get sick and need them to step up, they start welching on the bet. Or they won’t authorize a procedure or a test your doctor thinks you need. Or worse, they  just drop you. “Eeeeyew! Sick! Sick! Pre-existing cooties! Get away!” And good luck in those not-so-long-ago days trying to get new insurance once you’ve been ejected from the plane.

Then along comes the ACA (until the Supreme Court ejects it, that is) and not only are health insurance companies not allowed to reject you anymore, each state that wants it can set up a true-non-profit insurance company that’s focused on getting health care to people instead of placating grumpy shareholders with dividends. It’s a CO-OP, or Consumer Oriented and Operated Plan and their goals are to drive costs down without taking it out of the hides of the rest of us.

An Ad Agency’s Dream: A Social Good

It’s really rare when you have an opportunity to develop an ad campaign that is part of worthy social movement; something that might actually do some good and start to fix a broken system. We just had that opportunity with Oregon’s health insurance CO-OP, Health Republic. (Okay a blatant plug. But this is a marketing blog, for crying out loud! And I’m marketing…my agency and my client. So go read a more uplifting blog about kale or something.)

The idea of Health Republic (and all state CO-OPs  under the ACA) is to offer a true-non-profit health insurance alternative to the for-profit insurance giants who have been dominating the delivery of health care in our country since they figured out they could make much more money by denying care.

CO-OPs are run by their own members. They don’t have shareholders and the boards are elected by and sat on by members. They are also legally constrained from making profits, paying out executive bonuses and seven figure  compensation packages, shifting surplus revenues into offshore tax havens, or buying multi-million dollar sports arena sponsorships.

Which has made this campaign so gratifying to work on.

104 Grain Elevator night panorama 02
This is what greets fans as they come out of a Blazer game at the “Moda Center” Click to enlarge

One of the first ads to run in it is this gigantic (125′ x 60′) outdoor board hanging on the massive grain elevator on the Willamette River, right opposite Portland’s sports arena, the Rose Center. Last year this was renamed in a controversial $40 million sponsorship, the “Moda Center.” Moda is Oregon’s largest for-profit health insurance company. And there was a lot of outrage over them spending so much to stick their logo on it (not to mention all the corporate boxes inside, and the simultaneously leaked story about the CEO’s  inflated compensation package), especially when health costs had been skyrocketing in the country.Health Republic pdx 104-1

But now, as Blazer fans emerge from the Moda Center after each game (or “Who at 50″ fans from their concert), they’ll be greeted by this 60 foot tall message. This is particularly what I was thinking about from the last time I went to a Blazers game and heard all the cynical grumbling and editorial remarks from fans around me sneering about the “Moda Center.” To them, it had always been the “Rose Center” and will remain so, no matter how many millions some giant corporation dumps in smearing its logo all over it. Just like Ho Chi Minh City will remain Saigon. Damn it!

Health Republic pdx 114-3
East end of the Burnside Bridge, where tens of thousands struggle to get out of Portland each day.

So I was thinking about those cynical, angry fans when I was working on this campaign.

Earlier this year, at the end of the first ACA enrollment period, and soon after the brouhaha around Moda’s $40 million sports arena sponsorship, we ran the ad at lower left. It provoked an editorial hew-and-cry in the local press saying it was a direct slap at Moda, which had every right to use its profits anyway it saw fit. But Health Republic’s innocent attitude was, “What makes you think we’re talking about you, large, unnamed, for-profit insurance company? Don’t be so touchy.”

HR_Stadium_Oregonian
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But it served well to introduce the new concept in an atmosphere of public indignation over existing abuses in the traditional, for-profit, health insurance industry. Thousands signed up, even some who said they were doing it even though they hated the very idea of Obamacare (then call it Bushcare for all I care).

Rule #7: Emotions Rule

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Anyway, it is fun to run edgy advertising for a client that’s also the champion of a worthwhile social cause. And it’s so effective to tap into people’s gut emotions, especially when they’ve made them so clear. Our research showed that people resent their health insurance companies. Most people, do anyway. They think it’s unjust  that somebody seems to making a profit out of their misery and sickness. People have been yearning for a different system for decades.

So now along comes a different system, one that treats health insurance like a publicly regulated utility, one that can’t make a profit on your premiums. One that’s governed by its very members. And people have been snapping it up.

Nothing new in the advertising; just straightforward, old-fashioned, raw emotion. Unbreakable Rule #7.

HR1410 HRI Ad 02 final Mercury
Click to enlarge

And you’ll be okay, Big Insurance. This is for the best.

 

 

 

Ha! Ha! Old people are so stoopid.

esurance candy crush
She’s so dumb because, see, she thinks Candy Crush is a game you play with a hammer, and it isn’t.

Don’t you love those Esurance spots that show how dumb old folks are when it comes to modern inventions like social media and mobile gaming? Isn’t it adorable how that one old lady is crushing hard candies on her table with a literal hammer and thinking she’s playing Candy Crush?  Or the other old lady has taped pictures to her literal wall and thinks she’s sharing them on Facebook? They’re so funny because they’re so true; old people are dumb as walnuts.

Okay, now let’s do a mind experiment and recast those old ladies with black or latino people. Same script. Is it still as funny?

Actually, you don’t have to imagine because they did one with an old African-American guy who is so dumb he actually thinks you’re supposed to rewind rental DVDs. Ha!Esurance Larry Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!…Wait, what are “rental DVDs”?

The point Esurance is trying to make (I mean esurance, because the lower case “e” makes them seem so much more accessible) is that young, smart people know that if Geico claims you can save 15% in 15 minutes online, you can save even more in half the time with Esurance. What a brilliant strategy: First remind me of the competitor’s brand position (which is itself utterly weak to begin with) and then vaguely say we’re twice as fast. Yes, twice as fast. What’s that? Let’s see, fifteen, divided by two,  carry the one… SEVEN-AND-A-HALF! Ooo…that’s fast!

If you don’t believe how fast that is, call them up and wait on hold for seven-and-a-half minutes. You won’t believe how time flies. Unless, of course, you’re a Baby Boomer and those are seven-and-a-half minutes docked from your already dwindling time on the planet.

Rule: Don’t insult the people writing the checks.

Of course, we get it:  The intended audience isn’t composed of old people or aging Baby Boomers. The campaign is for very young (usually male) drivers who just want the minimum, catastrophic insurance required by state law to register their pickup truck. They don’t care how fast or well their insurance company takes care of them when they do have an accident; they just want to be able to show that they have minimum coverage when asked for their license and registration by Officer Muzzy. And besides, they don’t plan on having an accident. Duh!

The old people in this campaign, on the other hand, who would have had some experience with how the world actually works (and in particular, insurance companies) would know that it isn’t how fast it takes to get a quote, it’s how fast it takes the insurance company to come through with a claim, a tow, repairs, a rental car, and all that boring service part of the business.

The Baby Boomers would also be of an age where their own parents, or they themselves, are terrified of getting older, of senile dementia, physical infirmities, and the horror of Alzheimer’s. So they probably don’t see the humor in the jokes.

I’m surprised at Allstate (who owns Esurance), whose main commercials are otherwise so smart. Their agency since 2011, Leo Burnett, who did the terrific “Mayhem” campaign and the intelligent spots with Dennis Haysbert, also did this utterly witless and offensive campaign for Esurance.  Great idea. Baby Boomers are still the biggest market demographic in this country, and are the ones most likely still paying the insurance premiums for their kids and grandkids.

So, by all means, let’s insult them.

Rule: Don’t pick a weak position.

The other strategic boo-boo this campaign makes is thinking that the battle is over how fast it takes to get a quote. Did they run some focus groups on this? I always thought Geico’s own purchase proposition (15 minutes can save you 15%) was itself one of the weakest brand positions on the planet. They may be crappy in every other aspect of service, but…”oh, let’s see, what else have we got, Murray? Fifteen minutes? Fifteen percent? Okay…well…if that’s all, let’s run with that. At least it’s not as dumb as ‘so easy a caveman can do it.'” (A geriatric caveman.)

“But be sure to say ‘could save you’ and not ‘will save you.’ Don’t want to over-promise.”

Yet having to spend fifteen minutes, or even seven-and-a-half minutes, on a website getting a quote (much less fifteen) is itself interminable. Do nothing for seven-and-a-half minutes and tell me how quick that feels.  This week I had to contact my own car insurance company (USAA) and they took my claim (none of your business for what), set me up for repairs, and upgraded my policy. And the entire transaction took less than five minutes with a live human being. So I’m thinking, I have to wait seven-and-a-half minutes to get  just a quote from Esurance? And that’s supposed to be good because at least it isn’t fifteen minutes? And fifteen minutes was supposed to be fast? (I’m talkin’ to you, Geico.)

Rule: Don’t pick an unsupportable position

Here’s the other weakness of this “cheaper “position; make sure you actually are cheaper. I went through the exercise of going onto Esurance’s site in researching this post only to find out that getting the exact same coverage as I was getting from USAA was, in fact, about 36% more. So, in spite of the daily robo-calls, hourly e-mails, and irritating pop-up banners I get from Esurance now, they’ve completely lost me forever. They hung their hat on cheaper, and weren’t. End of pitch. (It did, I’ll admit, take under seven-and-a-half minutes; just six minutes ten seconds.)

Rule: Don’t remind me of your competition.

But wait! There’s more! Esurance compounds this marketing error by actually reminding us of their competitor, Geico. In fact, the first few times I saw their spots, they seemed so similar in message, lame humor, and production quality that I thought they were Geico spots. But that must be because I’m a dumb senior citizen.

Rule: Don’t set up non-existent problems to solve.

Really, Esurance, nobody thinks taping her photos up on her living room wall is the same as posting them on her Facebook “wall.” Nobody thinks you have to rewind DVDs, or that smashing candy on a table is a game, or that standing on your roof using a megaphone is a good way to search for roof repair. And nobody thinks that the problem with shopping for car insurance is that it takes fifteen minutes online (It doesn’t. Not unless they have weak-ass servers in Pakistan.) That isn’t a problem. And it doesn’t need a solution.

And no it doesn’t humorously highlight how modern Esurance is. Especially if they think you can still rent DVDs.