Category: How To

The Courtesy of Seduction

Ever feel that irk, right in the middle of an especially intimate conversation you’re having with someone at a restaurant–say you’re about to ask them to to marry you (or move out)–when the perky waiter pops in to ask if you’d like your iced tea refilled or if you’d like to see the dessert menu? Magic gone. Moment lost.

Of course, the waiter doesn’t know you were in the midst of a life-altering conversation. He’s just doing his job (though I think he really does know, mischievously). But this isn’t about the bad timing of waiters, it’s about empathizing with your advertising audience’s feeling of being interrupted.

Whenever you run an ad, you’re interrupting somebody. They may be reading a fascinating article. Or watching a nail-biting movie. Or trying to watch a viral video of some stupid idiot falling off a roof. Or listening to an infuriating conversation on talk radio. Suddenly, at the worst possible time, in you pop, like that interrupting waiter, to tell them they may be paying too much for their wireless data plan. So chances are pretty good that your ad you’re so proud of has more than likely just pissed them off. Not a good start.

All advertising is just plain rude.

I  remember taking my very first ad design class at Art Center College of Design from veteran art director Ray Engle, and the first thing he said on the first day was, “All advertising is an interruption. It’s rude.”  He went on to say that when you conceive an ad, say a TV spot, you need to empathize with that person sitting on the couch . He isn’t waiting on the edge of his seat for your commercial. He’s watching a show. And you’ve just interrupted him and broken his concentration, and, more than likely, ruined his mood. Worse, if he was watching some program he was not that into, he’s much more likely to change channels. Or worse yet,  just turn the damn thing off to go out and enjoy the beautiful day. We can’t have that! Civilization as we know it would collapse.

The crits of our amateurish concepts in that first advertising class all started with Engle’s primary criterion, “Is this this worth the interruption?” If not, it got ripped off the wall (Art Center is a harsh school).

So it had better be worth it.

But what can we do?

But if all advertising is an interruption and is just going to piss people off, what can we do?

Well, for one thing, you can try a little old fashioned seduction. Make sure that if you do run an ad, it’s not dull. Or irritating. This is where creativity comes in.  Ads that entertain are not being gratuitously funny at the expense of the advertiser. Entertainment serves a vital function.  It holds the attention of the viewer just long enough to keep them from fast forwarding, changing channels, or clicking “Skip Ad”.

It also makes a peace offering, rewarding the person you’ve just interrupted with a joke, or at least something of interest…so they’re not as irritated. It’s sort of like the slab of steak the cartoon cat offers Butch the Bulldog so he can sneak past him to get to that evil mouse. Think of your intended audience as the bulldog and the mouse as his inner desires…and you’re the cat. Or pick your own metaphor. I don’t care.

In short, don’t sell, seduce.

Skip-proofing your message

Nowadays technology makes it is easier than ever to filter out advertising. And the only way to fight against that if you’re an advertiser is to make sure people don’t want to filter it. This is the role of entertainment. It’s the slab of steak. Or the cheese. And you don’t crave the steak or the cheese because you need protein and calcium; you eat them because they’re delicious. (If you’re a vegan then, of course, this doesn’t apply and you are impervious to seduction).

You’d think marketers would realize this. Instead I’ve read so many posts and heard so many advertising professionals denigrate the role of entertainment in their advertising, that it’s somehow just useless, existing only to keep childish creative people employed. Or that it isn’t professional. And that the new marketing all depends on getting to the psychometrically targeted customer, so you can close that sale as efficiently as possible. The new marketers have water glasses to refill and dessert menus to proffer and tables to clear. But since they don’t seem to appreciate that the people they want to sell to don’t necessarily want to be sold to (even if psychometrically targeted), they’ve forgotten the simple courtesy of seduction.

There’s nothing wrong with seduction.

Seduction is a good thing. It’s respectful. It’s at the heart of all brand marketing. It may be quaint and old fashioned but it’s still a part of human behavior.

Compare these two marketing techniques:

The quaint, old-fashioned, brand marketing way: You take somebody out for a nice dinner. You make witty conversation. You make them laugh. You laugh at their jokes. You listen to them and show you care about them. You call them the next day to see how they are. You make another date (if you both had fun on the first one). You repeat, cultivating the relationship into something meaningful and mutually fulfilling. You get married and have beaucoup kids.

(At least that’s how I think seduction is supposed to work. Hm. Maybe that explains something in my own life.)

The new, hot, direct marketing way: You find a targeted qualified lead with an online SEM tool and hit them with, “Hey, have sex with me! There’s a chance for dinner at a moderately priced restaurant. But wait, there’s more, if you’re willing to do some ‘other things’ (wink, wink) there might be a movie in it for you, too. But only if you act in the next hour.” You then add them to your CRM and invite them to “like” your Facebook page.

Which technique would work better on you? (See how I care about what you think.)


The Unbreakable Rules

Correct the oversight.
Order now.

We didn’t make up these Unbreakable Rules. We’ve just always known about them. They’ve always been there, like the Law of Gravity. Newton didn’t make up that law; he just discovered it. Same with these 9 ½ principles. So just in case you wanted to know what the 9 ½ Unbreakable Rules of Marketing were but were too cheap busy to buy the book…well…here they are:

1. Consistency Beats Ability

The sad truth is, when you’re only consistently good, you’re still going to beat somebody who’s only occasionally excellent.

2. Perception is Reality

It’s what people believe that motivates them, not the facts. Control that perception and you’ll influence behavior.

3. Be Creative or Die

Nobody ever bored their customers into buying their products. If you’re not creative in your marketing, you’re invisible.

4. The Medium is Not the Message

If your message is strong and memorable, it doesn’t matter what medium you use to send it, it will find its own wings.

5. Work Hard to Keep it Simple

All marketing should be simple. But you need to work obsessively to keep it that way.

6. Give Love to Get Love

Success in anything is ultimately reciprocal. It all boils down to the fact that if you love your customers, they’re more likely to love you back…and want to do business with you.

7. Emotions Rule the World

By the time a person is weighing their options rationally, they’re only looking for reasons to back up what their heart has decided in a millisecond.

8. Go Big or Go Home

There are no shortcuts in marketing. No magic spells. Unless you go all out with your marketing, you won’t go anywhere. Put in all your effort, and you’ll be unstoppable.

9. Everything is Marketing

Marketing is not a separate department of your business. Every little thing you do leaves an impression. Everything is an ad for your business, yourself, your cause.

1/2. Know the Rules and Know When to Break Them

Any rule can be ignored, even unbreakable ones. But before you break one of these rules, think hard about why you’re doing it. And make sure the upside far outweighs the down.​

How to write a Creative Brief

A Creative Brief is one of those things that can make or break a successful ad or marketing campaign. But in my experience, few know how to write a useful one. And the reason seems to be that the people tasked with writing it (whether account executives or clients) seem to be unclear on whom the brief is for, or what its function is. So I’m going to clear this up, as service to mankind and to countless unborn generations.

What is it supposed to do?

The Creative Brief is a kind of work order, a blueprint, for the function of the piece that is to be created. That piece is a device designed to persuade somebody to do something you want them to do. Doesn’t matter what; an ad, a commercial, a poster, a blog post, a website, any marketing tool. The very reason you’re doing an ad, say, is not to do an ad (that would be silly, though I’ve seen so many briefs start with “to do an ad”); it’s to change somebody’s mind. So make sure this is in the brief; what you want them to think or do after they see the thing.

Whom is the Creative Brief for?

The clue is hidden in the title. The creative team. They’re the ones who have to actually create the ad, the website, the brochure, the piece. Hence the adjective, “creative.”  And in order for them to have the best information to make an effective ad, website, video, brochure, or thing, they need a useful brief–written for them.

The Creative Brief, contrary to what most seem to think, is not for the client, or for the account executive. That would be another brief, not the “creative” one. It’s for the creatives.

But doesn’t the client have to sign off on the creative brief?

Of course! (Notice I used a bang. Because someone’s life is at stake.) The client (or if you happen to be the client writing the brief, you) needs to sign off because this brief is the thing you’re going to use to see whether or not the wacky ideas your creative team comes up with actually do the job you set it to do.  That’s why it’s fundamental to the brief to define that outcome.  So if your creatives come to you with a left-field concept, instead of reacting to it based on whether you simply “like” it or not, you can hold it up to the criteria in the brief and see.  And the creative team can hold it up themselves to see, even before they take it to you. Makes it a much more professional, efficient, and objective process.

How long should it be?

The clue to this answer is also in the name, Creative Brief. A good brief, even for something as complex as an integrated marketing campaign, should be no more than one page. That’s right. If your strategy is so complicated that it won’t fit on one page, go back and think a little more. You don’t get points for word count.

A Template for a Creative Brief

This template was first created by Dave McAuliffe at McCannErickson years ago, one of the most brilliant account executives I ever worked with. I have ported it with me ever since, sharing it with every AE at every ad agency. It is, as far as I’m concerned, the quintessence of how a good Creative Brief should be designed. And because I’m on a mission to improve advertising in the world (rather than join the cranky myriads decrying how evil and bad it’s become), I’m sharing it with you here. Feel free to copy and paste it under your own company’s format. It’s my gift to you.

The Creative Brief template is set up as a questionnaire. Answer the six simple questions and you’ve done a useful brief. Of course, add all the housekeeping stuff, like client info, job number and name, delivery dates, media etc.–do I have to do everything for you?

Now go to lunch.


What is the purpose of the ad?

What outcome do you want to see after the ad has run? Increased brand awareness? Lead generation? Product preference? Direct sales? Indirect sales?

What is the single main thought?

Describe the single most tangible thing about this product or service that the customer would care about. What problem does it solve?  This is the main thought that a reader should get right away, even if she doesn’t read or hang around for the rest of the ad.

What supports this?

Stick to the provable facts. “Because we said so” or our own claims to leadership won’t hack it.

Whom are we talking to?

Describe the person who will most likely act on this ad (not the client).

What else has to absolutely be included in the ad?

Charts? URLs?  Product images? Award medallions? Phone numbers? Promotions? Disclaimers?

What do we want the audience to do?

What action do we want them to take? Call? Go to our website? Buy? Sign up? Walk their dog? Stop smoking? Just keep us in mind?

How not to brand your business

Recently there was a scandalous story in Portland, Oregon about a bakery owner that not only refused service to a same-sex couple trying to order a wedding cake for themselves on the grounds that the very idea offended his religious beliefs, but proceeded, apparently, to personally berate the patrons to the point of tears.

This reminded me of a similar, larger story last year involving Chick-fil-A’s CEO Dan Cathy making anti-gay (pro-traditional marriage) remarks on a nationally-syndicated, radio talk show. Or years earlier, Carl Karcher, Carl’s Jr CEO, taking a similar, very public, anti-gay stand. Karcher, Cathy and the bakers in Oregon all said that the issue was about their 1st Amendment rights to practice their religion and voice their beliefs.

But the real issue is brand suicide.

When you’re in business, everything you do is marketing. And everything you do colors your brand. I don’t want to get into the constitutionality or  rights of anybody to practice and proselytize their personal religious doctrines. (There are already far too many self-appointed constitutional experts in the world.) But what I do know is that, constitution or no constitution, when you publicly make a spectacle of yourself, it can’t help your business.

Following the Chick-fil-A incident, thousands of people flocked to the fast-food restaurant to show their pro-traditional-marriage (or anti-gay, depending on your point of view) support. But then the story and the cause subsided and what was left was a bad taste in millions of other people’s mouths about the Chick-fil-A brand, millions of people that didn’t need to be offended. Millions who otherwise really liked the taste of Chick-fil-A.

What good does it any business to go out of its way to offend a significant percentage of its customer base? The foot-traffic bump the chain got from Dan Cathy’s public opinions and Mike Huckabee’s call for a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day was more than offset by the long-term damage to its brand and sales. In fact, in the months following Cathy’s remarks, CfA, which had been rated quite high among QSRs (Quick Service Restaurants) by the market research BrandIndex, plummeted by 60% of its previous high ranking in measured brand perception. What good did that do anybody? Especially innocent, leave-me-out-if-it CfA franchisees.

In the brand CfA’s defense, Cathy only uttered his anti-gay (or pro-traditional-family) opinions when directly asked on a Baptist-oriented call-in show. He didn’t go out of his way to offend customers, as the Portland bakery owners did. And my hunch is, that in a city as indigo blue as Portland, the  brand-hit on a tiny business like this little cake maker will be far more harmful than that on Chick-fil-A.

In another example, here’s a case–not publicized at all–of a company, long known for its strong, socially-responsible, community-sensitive positions, allowing one of its stores to unthinkingly offend customers: Starbucks. I have old friends, Palestinian-Americans, who were shocked one day when they patronized a Starbucks in midtown Manhattan, only to find that it was running a little one-store campain to raise money to support Israel’s right to build settlements on the West Bank. I’m sure the manager had his heart in what he thought was a good place, but what he ended up doing was alienating a whole lot of otherwise loyal customers who will never, ever go into another Starbucks–even ones completely unaware of what happened at the one in New York.

I can’t imagine Starbucks corporate headquarters knowing about this, or allowing it. And I was at pains to explain to my understandably offended friends that it probably wasn’t the company’s policy. But the bell had been rung, and they didn’t want to hear reason. They were pissed. And Starbucks needlessly lost customers for good.

Can’t I just eat a hamburger without making a federal case out of it?

Now, admittedly, it’s getting so everything is so polemical lately that you can’t even buy a bag of sweat socks at Penny’s without making a political statement. I’ve never seen so many angry mobs trying to boycott this and rally around that. Most of us are just reasonable. We want to enjoy our soy Frappuccinos, our iPads, our bacon-chipotle cheeseburgers, and our organic, gluten-free kale chips in peace.

But if you’re in a business that depends on customers from a wide cross section of humanity, you might want to think twice about going out of your way to use your brand to flog a controversial cause. Some causes are, equally admittedly, strong enough to warrant the flogging, even with the risk. But consider the risk and calculate; can your brand take it?

And if you’re more offended by the lifestyle, sexual-orientation, race, religion, body-mass-index, gender, age, politics, citizenship, or ethnicity of your patrons than their money, then maybe it’s time to think of selling your business.

Here’s my advice to people trying to run a business: Its success depends on your customers. And every time you are dealing with customers, you are marketing not just to them, but to their entire network of friends. So, while you may not approve of some aspect of their lives–or even like them personally–remember, they are still your customers.

Just think first.  That’s all.