Monday, December 23, 2013

"Noah": A Fresh Approach To Storytelling

I was a little surprised today to see an article in the current online edition of AdWeek about the short film “Noah”. It made its first appearance at the Toronto International Film Festival back in September and drew a lot of positive attention. But if it’s not too late for AdWeek to cover the film, then it’s not too late for me either.

“Noah” was the senior thesis of two Ryerson University film students and is an impressive little film at 17 minutes. It tells the story of the online breakup of two teenagers, Noah and his girlfriend Amy.

What makes this movie so unusual is that it takes place solely on the computer screen of Noah, through his interaction with IM, Facebook and Chatroulette. With only Noah's typing and mouse clicks we feel his distraction and desperation, and towards the end, his possibly new perspective on his situation.

Many commentators have been fascinated by its insight into the the use of social media by teenagers, and if that's one of the things you take away, that's great. But I encourage you to not think of it only as some ethnographic study. "Noah" is a reminder that there are always new ways to tell a story, and as marketers, as story tellers, we're limited only by our imagination and preconceptions.

Here's the link to the AdWeek article, and below is a link to the movie itself. Just a fair warning: the film has a few brief moments which may not be completely safe for viewing at work.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Comedians In Cars Writing Commercials

Have you had the chance to catch any of the episodes of "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee"?

Its a TV series produced by and starring Jerry Seinfeld. The basic format of the show opens with Seinfeld out for a seemingly casual drive making a seemingly spontaneous call to one of his comedian buddies. "Hey, its Jerry. Wanna go for a coffee?" followed by an off-screen voice "Sure. I'll meet you downstairs". The subsequent car ride and coffee is only an excuse for unscripted banter between the host and his guest about comedy and life. Its like "My Dinner With Andre" but with Jerry, and its only for coffee. And its funny, mostly. The show will begin its third season in January on Crackle.

Have you had the chance to try Crackle?

Crackle is the fourth horse in what is turning out to be a one-horse video streaming race. Its somewhere near Amazon Instant Video, way behind Hulu, and way, way behind Netflix. Like the other three, Crackle has gotten into the business of producing its own original series, one of which is "Comedians In Cars".

And while its service is free, like Hulu, in-show advertising is part of the Crackle experience. "Comedians" is sponsored by Acura, and each 15 minute episode begins and ends with a 30 to 40 second ad for the car brand.

For the upcoming season, all the spots have been written by Seinfeld himself. The concept of each spot is to show a beautiful Acura car wrapped in a clumsy ad created by what we imagine to be a third-rate ad agency. In one spot, the camera slowly savors the car in close ups while Seinfeld's voice-over romances the features: "all metal exterior", "easy grip door handles" and "real nylon carpeting".

The show has gotten some mixed reviews, with lots of raves and a good number head scratches. Even when its funny, its not very funny. But I don't think that's the point. To me its like eaves dropping on a conversation between two clever people. Sometimes the stories are interesting, sometimes its just interesting to observe their minds at work. David Letterman, Alec Baldwin and Michael Richards were great. Chris Rock and Don Rickles made even 15 minutes seem too long.

I expect the Seinfeld-penned commercials will not please everyone either. But again, that's not the point.

Every Hallmark-sponsored holiday special also featured Hallmark advertising produced for that special. Every ad on the Super Bowl is either produced only for that game or breaks during the game. Advertising developed specifically for a show is not unusual. What makes these Acura spots different is that I can't remember an example of the concept of the spots being tied so closely to the concept of the TV show. If someone likes a TV show "from the mind of Jerry Seinfeld" they may the love ads "from the mind of Jerry Seinfeld" and be more likely stick around and watch them. It will be interesting to see how these new spots perform in comparison to the previous spots.

Not too long ago my colleagues in the industry proclaimed the impending death of TV advertising. But as the way we consume TV content has changed, so have the opportunities for advertising, with the next episode coming to you over the internet, not over the air. And this episode is available only on Crackle.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Business to Business Marketers Talk Past Their Customers

The results of a new study by McKinsey indicate that business to business marketers focus their communications on messages which are irrelevant to their customers.

In fact, not only do B2B marketers tend to focus on irrelevant messages, they are also likely to ignore the points which their customers care about the most.

For example, two of the characteristics which customers most valued, "honest, open dialogue with its customers" and "specialist expertise" were least likely to be part of a B2B marketer's positioning. Marketers were likely to focus their communciations on "low prices", "sustainability", and "diversity", the three points that customers care about the least.

Based upon my experience, many B2B marketers do not fully understand the needs and motivations of their customers, instead seeing them as "buyers" who are concerned solely with prices or specs.

Every business product is delivered in a service wrapper. This wrapper, composed of pre-sale consultation, implementation advice, and problem resolution, allows the product to quickly fill the customers needs. B2B customers have greater expertise in the things they sell than the things they buy, and that's where their suppliers can add value.

Of course the sales representatives of B2B companies understand the importance of the service role in building sales and loyalty. It's up to the marketing team to comunicate their companies service capabilities long before the first sales call is made.

You can read the article or download a PDF at

Monday, February 15, 2010

It's Alive!

Dear readers, today we offer you a special treat: a post not written by your Tio Tito.

The Mambo diaspora spreads far, and one can never be sure that there is not a Mambo next to you in a bar, at a fish fry, or at the library at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. You see we have a cousin in that snow-bound state, Davido, with whom we have often shaken both head and fist at the industry in which we once toiled. He is now preparing himself to teach the arts that he once practiced.

The business of advertising has fallen from the high perch it once occupied. Unfortunately few inside the industry ever realized or acknowledged how precarious that perch had been for the past two decades.

For those of you who don't follow these matters...lucky you...many advertising agencies spun off the media planning and buying discipline that once once part of the many services they offered their clients. The idea was to create larger media companies that could get better prices from newspapers and networks through their increased buying power. You see, ad agencies had always considered media the unskilled labor of the ad world, basically a commodity that could only be better by being cheaper. As the complexity of media has increased, so has the power of these new media giants, but at the expense of the ad agencies of which they were once a part.

But Davido never gave into this second-class thinking. He was brilliant because he combined human insight and a touch of creativity into his ideas. I was brilliant because I recognized this in Davido. We were brilliant together.

And Davido has recently written a post on his blog, Kerfuffle, about the role of media skills in the careers of today's advertising students and tomorrow's leaders. But what he has really written about is the recent past and immediate future of the advertising business. It's a story with underlying themes of money and arrogance, fate punishing vanity, and the ultimate triumph of the creation over the creator.

Please enjoy.

Don’t look now, but the media people are taking over the advertising business. (post link)

It would seem, based on popular culture, that the advertising business is all about the creative. Indeed, as noted in a post [on Mediated Communication, the J-school blog] earlier this week, over 100 million people tuned into the Super Bowl, as much for the ads as for the game. Consider one of the most-mentioned things about those Super Bowl ads: the price. Was it worth $3 million for one of those :30 ads? Hard to say; that would depend on the advertiser’s media strategy.

Three times in the past two weeks I have been approached by undergraduate students in the J-School who said they hoped to land a job as advertising media planners. As one who spent a few decades as a media planner, I couldn’t be happier. For too long, it seemed media was next to no one’s preferred ad agency job. For whatever reason, media planning — the mix of art and science that guides the strategic deployment of advertising dollars –still seems to be overlooked or flat out dismissed by young people looking to enter the advertising business. And yet, in the 21st Century advertising industry, it’s not the creative product that gets all the attention from clients.

Clients care most about making their money work as hard as possible. How hard that money works is closely tied to the media strategy, which is why these days the media strategy informs the creative strategy instead of the other way around. Broad-based, mass reach media is rapidly becoming a wasteful marketing luxury, and simply shoveling a budget in the direction of the television networks doesn’t cut it anymore. Media plans are far more targeted, measurable, transactional, experiential and flexible. Advertising is about changing behavior, and nearly all behavior is circumstantial to some degree. It’s the job of the media strategist to find the optimal circumstances to try to change that behavior. The best ad in the world won’t sell a damn thing if it isn’t exposed to the right person at the right time in the right circumstances, whatever those may be.

Given the increasing importance of media strategy and its precise execution, it’s no surprise that media agencies are growing and diversifying while traditional advertising agencies are withering. Client relationships with media agencies are more stable than relationships with their creative counterparts. Creative assignments may be divvied up among several shops, but media planning and buying tends to be consolidated with viable long term partners. To the entry-level advertising job seeker, this should make media strategy and execution a whole lot more appealing, especially since that’s also where the job growth seems to be.

Core media planning and buying functions — what the old agency model lumped into the “media department” — are only one part of the today’s media agency model. Specialty media agencies have emerged to handle a wide variety of client media needs, often at the expense of traditional creative agencies. A look at Omnicom’s OMD Media network provides a good example. Among OMD’s strategic business units are agencies that specialize in sports marketing, entertainment marketing, digital direct marketing, branded entertainment, programming and content creation, and search marketing to name a few. These are media agencies that lead the development and implementation of media-driven ideas, sourcing and managing ancillary support elements (like creative) along the way. Clients have come to realize that while it may be fun to make TV commercials, the vast majority of their marketing dollars are spent on media, not creative. Clients are focused on the money.

If I had my way — which I don’t… yet — I would like to see our J447 course, Strategic Media Planning, be required of all students who wish to major in advertising. Since it’s not, I can only suggest most enthusiastically that if you are an undergraduate, and you think you want to work in the advertising business, be sure to take J447 and learn as much as you can about media strategy. Don’t stop there. Read the media trade publications and web sites. Develop opinions about media campaigns you admire. Know what goes into a good media plan, and be able to identify media strategies that miss the mark. Recognize that nearly anything can be a media opportunity… and not just by slapping an unsightly ad on it. Be knowledgeable about industry leaders and innovators.

In today’s world of rapidly converging media channels, user-generated content, and multi-platform entertainment options, creative is no longer the undisputed king of the advertising hill. Clients have limited marketing resources and great expectations. They place a very high value on feeling confident they are spending their advertising money wisely and effectively. And that money is entrusted to the media strategists.

[Originally posted on Mediated Communication, the blog of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.]