Category: Uncategorized

Introducing: the Death Word


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.


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.


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:




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

HR1410 HRI Ad 03 Remember final
Click to read

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.”

Click to read

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

HR1410 HRI Ad 01 final Mercury
Click to read

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.

Dr. Jeff, Professional Neurosurgeon

The Dremel is the perfect tool for DIY neurosurgery.

I love living in this new golden age of possibility; where anybody can–poof!–proclaim themselves an ad professional or an ad agency without any experience, training, credentials, or a resume in actual advertising.

So, I’ve decided, even though I do have experience, training, credentials, awards, and a resume in actual advertising since sabertooth squirrels scampered in the treetops, I’m going to change my profession, too.

Poof! I’m now a neurosurgeon.

That was so easy!

Easier than advertising, in fact. And pays more.

What qualifications have I to be a brain surgeon? Good question. That shows you’re a smart shopper when it comes to researching neurosurgical services. You don’t let just any plumber poke his latexed fingers around in your septum pellucidum.

First off, I have an unbridled passion for excellence…in brain cutty stuff. And a relentless drive for innovation. With Dr. Jeff, Professional Neurosurgeon, the patient comes first. And that’s a promise you can bank on. Also, I have a Dremel Tool with a whole case full of attachments, handy for removing the tops of skulls, but also perfect for all those delicate jobs within.

We’re a Comprehensive Neurosurgery Center

Got a nagging tumor pressing on your optic chiasm? A hard-to-reach itch in your cingulus gyrus? An unsightly lump on your temporal lobe? Call Dr. Jeff, Beloved Neurosurgeon to the Stars. We’ll even manicure your pet rat’s claws while you wait to emerge from your coma.

Rat manicure
This Dremel Tool is handy for so many career choices

Tired of paying through the nose for pre-frontal trans-orbital lobotomies? You’ll love all the money you save with Dr. Jeff’s competitive rates. And this month, buy one, get one free! In fact, bring in the whole family, and Dr. Jeff will do all of you together. We’ll make it a lobotomy party.

But wait, there’s more!

And to celebrate our Nation’s Independence from oppressive British medical licensing laws, we’re also having a special on trepanning all through July. Release those noisome demons causing you so many disturbing urges. Don’t delay, call today!

If you’re thinking,  “Hold on there! How can I be sure Dr. Jeff, Professional Neurosurgeon, will observe the highest standards of professional care with my valuable cranial assets?” Rest assured. I always wash my hands before every surgery. Dremel attachments, too! No extra charge!

Surgical Center
A State-of-the-Art Neurosurgery Facility



I know. It sounds too good to be true. Don’t worry about that. Just concentrate on the “too good” part. After one of my surgeries, you won’t worry about whether anything is true ever again.


That’s Dr. Jeff, Professional Licensed* Neurosurgeon.

Call today.

*Oregon driver’s license valid until 2019.


Giving Bad News

inkjet-hypodermic-needle-2Be honest. Do any of you ever read those agonizingly composed letters from marketers that begin with the deadly phrase, “Your business is important to us…” (YBIITU)? In the first place, even if you open the envelope or the e-mail, you know what this means. It means bad news coming. They’re raising their rates; they’re closing your local branch; they’re discontinuing a service you’ve enjoyed; your frequent shopper points have expired…something bad. In other words, YBIITU means the opposite; that “your business isn’t important to us,” at least important enough to be honest upfront. And if it were that important, why would you do this bad thing to me?

YBIITU letters are examples of marketing that shoots itself in the foot. We have all, as good little Pavlovian dogs, become conditioned to regard this phrase as the buzzer before the electric shock. It’s the commercial equivalent of the equally deadly phrase in a romantic relationship, “We need to talk.” Somehow, you know that the “talk” isn’t going to be about something positive, like whether the Kings have a shot at the Stanley Cup this year. “We need to talk,” is the bell that announces the bad news coming; “I’m seeing somebody else,” “This isn’t working,” “I’m moving out,” “You’re moving out,” or “I’m going to have to raise my rates for you sleeping with me.” YBIITU is the same. It’s the wrong way to deliver bad news.

Yet the writers of these communications, while they may stay up all night carefully composing their obsequious prose, don’t seem to get what starting off with these shallow clichés does to their audience. It immediately causes the defenses to go up. The same happens when they leaven the first few paragraphs with self-aggrandizing language that extols how much the company thinks of itself, of how many customer-service awards it’s won, of its commitment to excellence. Nobody gives a damn about your customer service ratings (those are rigged anyway, we all know). We’re only scanning for the bad news you’re about to hit us with; the broken glass in the sandwich.

Well, how do you give bad news to your customers?

Be honest. Be upfront. Since your customers are already going to be wary of the contents of this letter, just cut to the chase and say right out, “It pains us, but we’re going to have to raise your rates 1.5%” Then you can explain why. But the bad news is already over, and, usually, it probably isn’t as bad as you think. It’s like when the nurse gives you a shot. The good ones just do it quick and painlessly, before you can even tense up. The bad ones talk about how it’s not going to hurt, but may “sting a bit,” and then slowly push in the needle.

Relate to your own experience as you write these letters, too. When you hear someone yammering on about all the good things you should be grateful for in doing business with them, don’t you start thinking, “This is going to be bad.”? You brace for the pain. And that amplifies it when it eventually comes, way down in paragraph #4.

Likewise, make it short. Don’t fill up the page with cant about how great you think you are. We don’t care. In fact, it makes you look like an egotistical jerk. Bad news is worse when it’s verbose. Just opening a letter with bad news sets an “off” tone for the recipient. We can smell it. And if we see hundreds of words in 10 point type, you’ve added insult to injury by requiring us to sit down to do a lot of reading. Most of us won’t anyway. We see “YBIITU” and immediately start scanning below for the sting.

So if you have a rate increase to announce, or you’re closing a store, or you’re no longer supporting some popular software, don’t take more than 50 words at most to say that. Be deferential, of course, even apologetic. But be brief and honest.

And never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever say that my business is important to you. That just makes me think the opposite.


The Bill of Rights Explaned

bill-of-rightsThere has been a lot of discussion lately about the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution and what they mean. Since I took a Civics class in high school (and got an A) I thought, as a public service, I’d clear this all up.

The Supreme Court can use this cheat sheet, too.

1st Amendment

Right to say absolutely anything I want without anybody objecting or challenging me.

2nd Amendment

Right to have any kind of weapon I want and use it on anybody who challenges me…or even just for fun.

3rd Amendment

British soldiers can pound sand. They can’t stay in my house. They can check into a Motel 6.  And get off my lawn.

4th Amendment

Hands off my stuff.

5th Amendment

The Government can pound sand. I ain’t sayin’ nuthin.

6th Amendment

I ain’t sayin’ nuthin’ until I talk to my lawyer.

7th Amendment

If you say I stole $20, I get to have a trial by jury, which will cost taxpayers millions. You still wanna go there?

8th Amendment

Any punishment the Government imposes on me is cruel and unusual. But on people I don’t like, it’s justice.

9th Amendment

I have no idea what this one means…something about the exercise of my rights should not deny rights to other people. I guess that sounds fair. Unless it violates my rights.

10th Amendment

States rule, not the Federal Government. Unless I don’t like what my State is doing. Then I rule.

Okay. Hope this clears it all up.

Avis decides trying harder is just too hard

Avis girl
I know how this actress must feel being in this goddawful commercial.

What the hell happened to Avis? Oh, yeah, they got a new ad agency. And what’s every lumbering, Cretaceous-era ad agency’s mantra? If you get a new client, take everything they’ve ever done and lift your leg on it.

As every sentient being on this small, rocky planet orbiting a third-rate star must be aware, for the past fifty years  Avis’s brand position and slogan has been “We try harder.” One of the classic and most effective brand positions ever. First conceived at Doyle Dane Bernbach back when Kennedy was president, it has stood as a powerful brand message ever since. Timeless. Inspiring. Memorable. Self-sustaining. And brilliant. It stands for perpetual improvement, a hunger to get better, and making the customer first.

Enter the Keebler Elves

Now along comes a new ad agency for Avis, Leo Burnett (of Tony the Tiger, Jolly Green Giant, Keebler Elves, and Pillsbury Doughboy infame), who felt the need to chuck all that and come up with perhaps the dullest, most banal ad campaign so far this year. They’ve also added insult to injury by flushing Avis’s stalwart “We try harder” in favor of some focus-group-generated, lifeless tagline and a derivative concept that seems to come right out of Don Draper’s hackneyed, martini-soaked, Sans-a-Belt slacks.

This campaign, “The Professionals,” is part of a new (and I use that adjective with extreme irony) brand proposition called “It’s your space.” Of course, it’s just a humiliating attempt to imitate National Car Rental’s “Rent like a pro” campaign. Because National has been stealing Avis’s lunch money and dunking their heads in the toilet for years now, some marketing MBA at Burnett probably thought it would be just the ticket to emulate those bullies. That’s how you make yourself unique; remind your customers of the other guys.

The concept is pathetic on the surface. And in execution it’s even worse. Like you’d expect from every other bloated, obsolete ad agency, Burnett’s creative teams had the original idea of paying celebrities (but in this case, third-level celebrities) to shill their client’s product. I’ll bet that was a late-night, white-board session.  So the message is, if you’re a celebrity, Avis treats you like a celebrity.

Everybody in the commercials just looks bored to be there. And the jokes are so limp they would make a minivan full of preschoolers groan. (A Playboy centerfold/volleyball player says she’s going to slip into this “tight black number I brought with me,” but it turns out to be just her yoga leotard. Get it? Get it? Because you thought it was going to be a…oh, never mind.)

They even have the gall to post a “behind the scenes” video on Avis’s website, just in case you were curious to see what it might have been like to stand around all day, pigging out at the craft services table, and shoot this steaming mountain of Triceratops dung. What’s so great about this BTS video is that it’s message is, when you’re a near-celebrity, you really need to retreat to luxury (“your space”) to get away from all those sweaty little people who can be so annoying.

Back when advertising was creative, Avis used to do spots that amused, but, more important, identified with us, the “sweaty little people”. They told us they had to try harder to earn our loyalty. Now, of course, their message (at least from these ads)  is they would prefer not to have to deal with us at all.

Here’s a strong brand. Let’s kill it.

But the unbelievable and heartbreaking thing about what they’ve done is the cavalier dismissal of one of the strongest, tallest, oldest brand positions in the history of the world. Rather than seeing how they could creatively refresh and remind us what trying harder means, they’ve decided to not try at all and apply an advertising formula from 1959…and saw down this Sequoia of a brand.

But that’s what obese, senile ad agencies do: Kill brands.

Avis’s new CMO Jeannine Haas

Avis’s new, Gen-X CMO, Jeannine Hass–whose first act was to fire incumbent and longtime AOR McCann Erickson (as every new CMO must do to show everybody who’s boss)–explained her reasoning in dumping the brand position that has worked longer than she’s been alive, “Consumer-centric brands must always evolve in order to keep pace with ever-changing customer needs and preferences. Avis is evolving as a premium brand to better meet those needs.”* Inspiring words; right out of a Douglas Adams satire. One can see where “We try harder” doesn’t cut the butter where “ever-changing customer needs” are concerned. The new customers don’t want a rental car company that tries harder. They want a rental car company that gives them their own space…man.

Haas backtracked a little, though, when she said, “We firmly believe that after nearly five decades, ‘We Try Harder’ is fully embedded in the Avis DNA, and defines the spirit our employees embody to deliver superior customer service.” Yes, so let’s shitcan it. And, yes, she actually used the phrase, “embedded in the Avis DNA.”

Good luck, Avis, with your new marketing officer and your new agency. Don’t stop trying. I’ll still rent cars from you, even if your advertising sucks.

And if a headhunter approaches me about a sweet job at Avis or Burnett, this post never existed.

*From AdAge 27 Aug 1012 article:

Let’s make certain words go the way of the Passenger Pigeon

They once blackened the skies, but with diligence, we took care of that.

If I have to read one more Website, ad, brochure, PowerPoint slide, or e-mail that uses the following words…well, I don’t know what I’m going to do. Probably nothing more drastic than to immediately mark it as “spam.” As an activist, I’m a wimp. But these words fill the skies like passenger pigeons once did. They need a mass extinction event.

Here are some words I’d like to see terminated…yes, with extreme prejudice:


“Methodology” is a malaprop, at least as it’s usually used. It’s one of those misapplied Latinate words (okay, Hellenate) intended to make the user sound more cerebral than he is; a word with unnecessary decoration on it. Broken down, “methodology” means “the study of methods” not the methods themselves. There’s usually no “logy” at all. But you read “methodology” so often when “method” would do just fine…and usually more accurately.


This isn’t a word. In fact, anything “…set”: “toolset,” “mindset”…I can’t think of any more at the moment.   What’s wrong with just “skills” or “tools” or “frame of mind”? People who say “skillset” want you to think they are more credentialed than they are. It’s a mask. When they describe their “skillset” they usually have just one skill, like the ability to sort socks.


Did you mean, “talking to people”? I must admit, I’ve heard myself use this asinine word way too often, and I’m trying to stop it. Usually I think, right afterward, “I can’t believe I just said ‘engagement.’ I sound like an asshole.”

“Engagement” in the military sense is a euphemism for a fight in which people are killed—not a good thing—less than a full-on battle but more than an exchange of withering insults. Or it refers to that cooling-off period after you’ve rashly asked someone to marry you.  But in marketing and branding; it usually means the wishful thinking that your customer actually gives a shit about you when you’re not in their face,”engaging” them.


Meaning “business” or “company”. When you use the word “enterprise, ” however, you’re sounding like you have an MBA from some name-on-request, online university. Can you think of an enterprise that isn’t a business? (Aside from the aircraft carrier and the starship, I mean.) It doesn’t mean that “enterprise” can’t sometimes be used to describe the whole magilla that is a modern, commercial operation, but stop to think about another word for a change; you know, to liven it up a bit.


People do love to use words that end in “logy,” don’t they? But unless you have a defensible patent on it, it’s just a way you do things around here; it isn’t technology. It’s only a method (and not a methodology).

What’s even worse is “technologies.” Plural. What makes that thing you do plural? Does “technologies” sound more hi-falutin’ than simply “technology?”

And my problem with it is that both “technology” or “technologies” sound way too precious, like when people pluralize “water.” (Don’t make me demonstrate.) Years ago I needed to get a new shirt in LA and I went into this snooty store in the Beverly Center (let’s face it, a shopping mall), where the sales clerk described what he was selling as “shirtings.”  The signage over that part of the store also said “shirtings.” Shirtings are $300+. I went to Nordstrom, where they had shirts. For $40.


Do you think it makes you unique to describe your company as customer-centric? Can you imagine any successful company (aside from a derivatives trader) that is not customer-centric? And when you use this mule-of-a-word to describe yourself, you sort of invite closer scrutiny of how UN-customer-centric you really are. Especially if you keep talking about yourself: “At Dingbat Digital, we’re customer centric. We do this. We believe that. We, we, we. But enough about us. What do you think of us?”


Next time somebody uses the word “granular” in a PowerPoint presentation, ask them what they mean by it. Is it composed of grains? Does it promote regularity? Does it make you want to rub your eyes?

Full confession here: I also misuse this word. I’ve hired somebody to kick me under the table when I do, though. And my frame of mind when I do use it is, “Oh, shit! I don’t know what I’m talking about! Say “granular” quick!”


Usually used as an adjective for “provider.” “We’re a solutions provider.” What your customer, or prospective customer hears is “We still haven’t figured out why we started this company. So we’ll do anything you pay us to do.”


This just means rotund, fat, bloated, and beyond the reach of the law. It also means you use criminally negligent sweatshops in the developing world to pay little girls twenty-two rupees a month, working under life-threatening conditions to glue, sew, weld, dye, solder, or assemble your solutions providing technologies.

The Net

That’s a phrase I’d also like to see stuffed and mounted in the Smithsonian (preferably in a dramatic diorama showing prehistoric people driving herds of it off a cliff). But it’s also my exhortation. Seriously. Stop writing like this. Hire a writer. Or if your hired writer is writing like this, get another writer. At least get them to come back with simpler, fresher, more direct words.

I promise, I’ll try, too.



We all see what we want to see

Math won’t help you, little fella.


Last week there was a sad story in the New York Times about a respected particle physicist at the University of North Carolina, Paul Frampton, a PhD from Oxford, falling for one of the oldest scams in the book. He’s now languishing in an Argentine prison for drug smuggling (actually, he’s just under house arrest at a friend’s). You have to read the original story for details (the Physicist, the Bikini Model, and the Suitcase Full of Trouble). But the gist of it is, here was this brilliant scientist, undoubtedly a measurable genius, who believed he was having an online love affair with a gorgeous, European model forty years his junior. They never met in person or spoke on the phone; only chatted online or texted. When she wanted to meet him in Bolivia, of all places (she was going to be on a photoshoot in La Paz), he leaped at the chance. And then, after he flew to La Paz to meet her, she texted him that her plans got changed (OMG) but could he pick up a suitcase of hers at the hotel and meet her in Brussels, flying through Argentina? She said an e-ticket was waiting for him at his connection in Buenos Aires and…


How could a Beautiful Mind like this fall for such a blatant, old scam? Of course, any half-wit could see he was being set up as a drug mule. And of course, the Argentine authorities saw it as well. That’s why they were waiting for him when he landed in BA. But how could he not see what was happening? Even his friends were urgently shaking his shoulders that this was a scam; that he was being “catfished.”  But he wouldn’t believe it. Oh no, this twenty-something, gorgeous Czech model he’d met through online dating was madly in love with a 68-year-old particle physics geek. Why isn’t that plausible? What’s not to trust?

It’s because, genius or no, Professor Frampton was subject to the same tendency we all have when it comes to judgment; we see what we want to see. Don’t confuse him (or us) with the facts. It’s almost like we want to be rolled. So thousands of otherwise perfectly intelligent people every year still fall for Nigerian 419 scams. And college football players have what they think are real, online love affairs with young women they never met. And, of course, there’s snake oil we buy from DRTV ads, promising that our “Low T” can be cured by smearing this gunk on our armpit (just don’t get near any women or children).


Our hapless, lonely professor even used his prowess at math to “prove” he was right about his love object. This was the same person who had developed an algorithm to determine, to five standard deviations of certainty (99.99994%), that the experiments being conducted on the Large Hadron Collider were, in fact, seeing evidence of the Higgs Boson. He used (or misused) the same algorithm to determine that the probability that Ms. Czech Republic 2010 was in love with him had the same level of certainty. I’m not kidding.

Guess what. Math can’t prove everything. I got a C+ in Statistics 312 in college and I could have told him that.


In our book, The Unbreakable Rules of Marketing (now on Amazon! shameless plug), this almost self-willed blindness falls under Rule #2: Perception is Reality. People believe what they want to believe, and they see the world the way they want to see it. They’ll even select data and facts to fit their belief. This is a well-researched and proven behavioral phenomenon called Confirmation Bias. And it can be used for good. Or –as with the Professor and the Model–evil.

In marketing you obey this rule to cultivate loyalty in your customers, recognizing what they want to believe and gently reinforcing it or nudging them away from it. The application of the rule doesn’t itself constitute a scam, because you can (and should) use it to persuade people to believe beneficial things, or genuinely improve their lives. But you can use it to snooker people, too. Even PhDs.

The Second Unbreakable Rule is ethically neutral. It just describes how confirmation bias applies to marketing.


The educational level or IQ of the person you’re cultivating doesn’t have any bearing on whether they can be influenced or not. In fact, I would contend, through personal experience, that the higher the degree, the more prone they are to manipulation…er…persuasion. That’s because, besides hobbled like the rest of us with confirmation bias (seeing what we want to see), they also suffer from over-confidence in their perspicacity. I call it the Rock Star syndrome. Success in one, narrow field leads to the self-delusion that you are an expert in all fields. Just look at me.

I’ve sat in on marketing focus groups with PhDs, listening to them describe themselves as being unswayed by the blandishments of brands; they pick their instruments based on hard, cold data. Then we all watched them get emotional about why they hated (not just didn’t prefer–hated) this brand of scientific instrument over another. When presented with the cold, hard data about the brands they favored or disdained, they said they didn’t believe it. Or, they picked out the data that conformed to their emotional prejudices. We all do.

So I love advertising to scientists, bless their hearts. Wrapped up in their intellectual hubris, they tend to be some of the more persuadable people because they are completely unaware of the role (or, in the case of poor Prof. Frampton, the roll) of emotion in their decision-making. They tend to think they are all Mr. Spock.

I know a sales-engineer with one of my hi-tech, B2B clients who describes a technique he uses called “The Illusion of Data.” Stick a chart or a graph in your ad, load it with irrelevant numbers like Throughput Rates, Torque, AXT (Alien Crosstalk–this is a real measurement), or Noodles per Furlong, and engineers won’t even look carefully at it; they’ll just assume that, “OMG! Look at the stats on that baby!”

I would never do such a cynical ploy, though. No. I respect the intelligence of my audience.

Wanna be my girlfriend?