Archive for January, 2010
So many times I hear the words: “What are the chances of this happening?” And I think to myself: “Well, zero, if that’s the way you want to look at it.”
What could be more devastating to a person’s ambitions or dreams if the first thought is “I doubt it” or “That could never happen to me”?
In a world that is up for grabs, so to speak, it seems that anything is possible, but so many of us lead our lives thinking this isn’t the case for us. Too many times these types of thoughts and words limit our success, yet we continue to allow them.
These days, it’s almost impossible to display optimism and a belief in yourself without being called an egomaniac. We are constantly qualifying our statements with the negative response to a positive idea. Do we do this because we fear failure, or because we ultimately fear success?
Personally, I tend to err on the side of being way too positive and optimistic. So much so that people sometimes see me as naïve and unrealistic. Certainly I’ve been called a dreamer! And sometimes it does make you pause when you see that “Are you serious?” expression creep across someone’s face, just as you are pontificating about the possibilities and opportunities you see in front of you.
It’s a wonder that anyone achieves any of their dreams. Even as the president of the United States gave his State of the Union address last night, I saw him plead with our country and its leaders not to create excuses for doing nothing.
What fun is life’s adventure if you already know the journey? Do you want to know the ending to a movie before you watch it?
I’m convinced that if we see a positive outcome in front of us – visualize it with all our might – we will succeed.
Great planners can take a client’s business apart, then put it all back together again, except in a new way that makes it better. Any old fool can take someone’s business apart, but very few can put it back together in a different and better way. And clients respect that hugely.
Great planners can connect the intellectual challenge posed by a brand with a brief that offers the most compelling and inspiring way for creatives to turn it into a real cultural expression.
Great planners take really complex issues, process them equally complexly in their heads, and then talk about them so simply that my mother (who isn’t a planner) can understand them.
Great planners have the confidence to search for the right answer, not necessarily THEIR right answer.
They often wear Bape trainers.
They see themselves as communicators more than intellectuals.
Great planners never sit on bean bags, ever.
They have the confidence to say when something is off brief.
They get to very good, very fast.
They believe in effectiveness and will poke around at quant methodologies for hours to prove it. (Only for the client to refuse to give them the data! But they try and try again.)
Great planners see the world as not round but triangular.
They are more connected than anyone else on line in the agency.
Great planners like Charlie Mingus and may well have appeared on a children’s quiz show when they were very young. And they probably won a prize, like a holiday.
They have more patience than account people.
They look scruffier than creatives.
Great planners provide the marketing credibility to be in the boardroom and not the playroom.
Great account directors operate at the very heart of the agency and the very heart of the client. At the same time. They find ways to harmonize both agendas without compromising either. And they gain the trust of others to let them do this. It’s a fundamental skill. And their colleagues should demand it.
Great account directors make things happen, creatively and strategically. They are not there to carry bags or back slap. (Most of us have two arms and hands, and using them is not such a special skill.) They know about craft, about directors, about music, about photographers, about designers, about who is hot and who is not. They know about research and strategy, and they know about client business issues that need fixing and know exactly how the agency is going to do it.
Great account directors are interesting to be around. People are always pleased to see them. They are extremely well briefed about the industry and life. They have clear, interesting views. They are never dull.
Great account directors can play in a team but will always step up and take the shot if needed. And if the team gets stuck , they get it unstuck through their own ideas and creativity. They inspire others to think on. They take responsibility and keeps things moving forward. Always.
Great account directors use relationships for the greater good of the creative work, not the bank balance.
They lead, never manage.
They refuse to believe things can’t be done. “Life is more malleable than you think. It’s amazing what you can get away with.” (Bono.)
Great account directors never account manage people internally – they just talk straight. In fact, they rarely account manage anyone. (Most people find it insulting.)
“100% confident, 0% arrogant.” (Jean-Marie Dru.)
Great account directors hire truly bright people because “they are progressively more valuable.” (Michael Heseltine.)
They are generous with their time to those beneath them.
They can be invisible one moment and ten feet tall the next.
They do what is right for the brand. Nobody ever got shot for that, and if they did, it’s not a place where you want to work.
Great account directors have a nose for the future. They have a sixth sense about where consumers, brands, technology, and media are all going next.
Great account directors don’t make – but they make a difference.
I have been reading with interest the ongoing debate over P&G’s introduction of the new Pampers Cruisers with Dry Max.
No, really, keep reading.
Yes, I am into diapers. Really into diapers. I have two children ages 3 and 20 months. But I am also in corporate PR, and any time loyal consumers get riled up and launch a Facebook page to complain about corporate marketing practices over one of their favorite products, I feel greatly divided.
One side of my brain (the mom and consumer and spender of large amounts of cash on Pampers Cruisers) says: You Go, Informed Consumer, Speak Your Voice! The other side of my brain (the marketer and corporate PR gatekeeper) says, Yikes. What Would I Do?
To sum up: P&G launched a great new diaper technology (Dry Max) that is more absorbent, thinner (i.e. more comfortable and better for packaging), and more environmentally friendly than their traditional Pamper Cruisers brand. The product was endorsed by President Clinton at the recent Clinton Global Initiative. The problem? The new Dry Max Pampers were introduced in existing packaging for Pampers Cruisers – with no marketing or other method of informing consumers about the change.
Parents opened the familiar purple box and saw a thinner and (what they assumed was) cheaper and less comfortable diaper. It was missing a whole layer! Never mind that tests had proven Dry Max to be more absorbent, with a superior technology. Never mind that Dry Max diapers were thinner (meaning you could stuff more into an exploding diaper bag). Never mind that they made less of an environmental impact than traditional Pampers Cruisers. And did I mention Bill Clinton loves them?
Hell hath no fury like a Mom spurned by a Corporation. Consumers reacted strongly. Many felt they were outright deceived; some were just angry or confused; while others went so far as to launch a Facebook page in support of the old Cruisers.
Ad Age’s Jack Neff did a great job reporting on the story here.
You can get the short version at the parenting blog, strollerderby, here.
P&G says the complaints and feedback were within the ranges of what they expected, and that marketing communications for Dry Max, including sampling, are set to launch this month. Fine. But at this point, the PR becomes an animal hard to control. That beast has got to eat.
Personally, I’ve tried all the diaper brands out there (well, not me personally but you know what I mean), and the Cruisers are the best. To me, as a mom and a marketer, there is only one way to address my current questions, and that’s the holy sample. I’ll be looking for mine in the mail or at my favorite retail outlet. I just think, as does Neff, it should have arrived about 6 months ago.
And the forgotten voice in all this? I’ll ask my kids what they think. They’re the final vote.
There is a massive difference between being successful and being a true hero. Last night a black tour bus pulled up outside the Paradise club in Boston. In it was Johnny Marr, currently playing with the Cribs. Context: Here is a guy who is accepted by any guitar player of taste as a true original genius.
The easiest way to extend life expectancy would be to create a religion that insists that before you can enter heaven you have to be able to play a Smiths song on the guitar. Heaven knows we would all be miserable now. We would live for 200 years trying. It’s that hard. Noel Gallagher points out that even Johnny Marr can’t remember how to play all of Johnny Marr’s guitar parts because they are too hard.
By my guess Marr has also sold over 15 million albums with the Smiths alone. He is not on tour, playing in front of a few hundred kids in Boston on a rainy-snowy night in January, because he needs money. He is there because he defines himself simply as a guitar player. Not just in some cliched sense of cool. Because it is the essence of him.
Marr is not a rock star, poser, legend, or tortured soul. He is a guitar player first and foremost, and he is with the band and on the road to do that one thing. I expect that none of the other hundred thousand things that surround us in life could divert him from remaining connected to what he is fundamentally about.
It’s hard to think of another musician of Johnny Marr’s stature who so single-mindedly embraces the 100% proof concentrate of what he is about. It’s glorious.
So to quote a classic Smiths song: “Please please please, let me get what I want.” 100% concentrate.
Recession…recovery…the decline of ad spending…the explosion of mobile….the death of print…the savior of search…when you need to get your footing in this crazy industry, sometimes it helps just to check out mentally and go somewhere else.
And I don’t mean employing certain substances, although perhaps, in these times, they have their place. I mean stepping into someone else’s shoes. Someone who is as far from what you do for a living as you could possibly imagine. Like on Neptune. Or…the Middle East.
This week I received an e-mail from a friend whose godchild is in Afganistan, serving as a nurse in the Air Force. After two and a half years, she was finally “tasked to deploy.”
Just imagine this as your job, your challenge, the next time you have a frustrating client conference call or you didn’t win that account, or get nominated for that award….
One of the greatest books on how to be good at what you do is called Simply Brilliant: The Competitive Advantage of Common Sense by Fergus O’Connell. I read it years ago and it changed they way I looked at my job and how I operated. I think everyone should read it if they are in the business of marketing. It boils all the complexity and mumbo jumbo down to common sense. One of the many great points that O’Connell makes is to expect surprises. Nothing is linear, and things go wrong relentlessly because … because they just do. The skill is to not allow surprises to affect the quality of what you deliver.
Here is a real example:
A few years ago I was involved in a project that required us to shoot a scene in which a Formula 1 racing car lands on an aircraft carrier and a famous driver climbs out. Top Gun meets Days of Thunder. The shoot was complex to say the least.
We had begged permission from the Navy to film on the deck of one of their biggest aircraft carriers. They were helpful, although you could tell they wanted it over and done with as quickly as possible. It’s not really what they are trained to do!
I didn’t go to the shoot, but later in the day I bumped into the Account Director, who had just returned from it. When I asked how it went, he just shrugged his shoulders and said that all went well and they got what they needed. Wonderful, I thought, and carried on.
It was only later, when the creatives returned, that the true story emerged.
As it transpired, all had been going well. The massive ship was moored to the quay; we had got the F1 car onto the decks via a crane; and the first shot was being set up.
It was at this point that something “off starboard” happened.
As agreed, the lady in charge of providing the food for the day had driven her rather old and rusty, bright pink Fiat Panda onto the deck. Imagine this car with about 1,000 buttered bread rolls packed inside, all wrapped in foil.
She followed her instructions perfectly. She parked well away from the million-dollar equipment. All was normal … apart from one small matter of applying the parking brake to said Fiat.
As the camaras rolled, the Director noticed a strange pink square rolling into the shot in the background. It wasn’t an incoming pink MIG. The whole shoot turned to witness the somewhat unusual site of a Fiat Panda packed with thousands of bread rolls, plunging over the side of the giant ship.
The experience of watching it drop into the ocean has been described as happening in slow motion. The trunk of the car opened in mid air, and thousands of bread rolls flew out like tiny silver missiles scattering the ocean for a good 100 meters. The first pink Fiat submarine was witnessed as the car then sank beneath the waves to the bottom of the sea.
Unfortunately, and much to the annoyance of the Captain in charge of the ship, it also sank directly beneath the vessel. Which apparently was a massive problem, as it represented a real risk of damaging the ship.
There followed the second extraordinary incident of the day as the whole ship’s company was offloaded onto the shore and instructed to push the ship weighing several hundred tons. Slowly the crew managed to get the vessel moving, and soon it was clear.
Then the Captain ordered the crane to be used to recover the little Fiat and place it on the dock. The ship was then pushed back into place, and the shoot, although now running late, resumed. Understandably, the Navy took a dim view of the affair and threatened to charge us a huge amount of money for their time.
None of the bread rolls were ever recovered. The ad was finished and went on to become a huge success across China and the rest of Asia.
By the time my Account Director had returned to the office, they had indeed got all the shots they needed. All this for 15 seconds of rough footage, which then had to be treated massively in post-production. But that’s the job. He expected surprises. In fact, he’d seen so many of them that he’d barely thought to mention it. That’s advertising.
A week later the same ship was stationed off the coast of Beirut, evacuating people fleeing the invading Syrians.
The only downside for the Account Director is that he’ll never be able to join the Navy.
Many of you may be familiar with charity:water, the non-profit started by an ambitious entrepreneur, Scott Harrison, who after spending some time in South America and Africa and getting to know intimately some of the issues the poorest among the continents’ residents faced, began to understand that some of the world’s most crucial health emergencies, diseases, and more all stem from one specific source– lack of access to safe, clean drinking water. And unlike most, he set off on a mission to do something about it.
But now that charity:water is a few years in, the story of how and why it started is less important than why it still exists, and what it is contributing in the world. To start off the new year, they just sent out to all of their followers and loyal fans a roundup of what they have achieved in 2009, and it is truly impressive.
What I find most inspiring about charity:water is that its success is almost in full due to the passion of a small group of people who started something that they believed in, and its momentum is carried by the passionate crowds of people they have since inspired. Unlike some other charities and causes, they don’t fall back on old standards of shoving celebrity appeal in our faces to try and illicit reactions, but rather let the idea and the necessity for action speak for itself. Sure, now that the charity has taken off there is a bit more shine and even cameo appearances to it, but it’s almost never the main focus, nor do celebrities stand as the face of the movement (and importantly, they were drawn to it after the fact, not in an effort to launch it).
There are no crying babies with flies in their eyes, but rather images of hope, optimism, and communities getting the hand-up they need for a chance to live long and productive lives. Something that started as an under the radar idea by an ex-club promoter, in just a few years time inspired involvement the likes of which we rarely see- including the first ever twestival, a global gathering in cities around the world of everyday people, taking just a few hours of their time to raise money for a cause they believe in (over $250K was raised by this entirely community organized and planned event).
Given all of the economic turmoil in the developed world over the past 1+ year and the resulting decline in overall charitable giving, it’s truly inspiring to me to see a success story like this. And it’s a great way to showcase what happens when brands (charity or otherwise) allow passionate people to co-create experiences around an idea. Charity:water started getting noticed not because of actors talking about it in fluffy interviews or massive, big-budget TV campaigns, but because of the energized core of people who truly believed they had a chance to do something important in the world, and who willed it into existence.
To me, part of the success of charity:water to is that they quickly and naturally identified who the most active and engaged people were, and let them do much of the work on behalf of the cause. For them, Twitter was an invaluable tool, and as they started getting more and more interest from followers wanting to get involved, they turned the reigns over in large part to self-styled community organizers across the world, who built out their own networks and without whom things like twestival may have never happened.
And I think it also highlights the importance of focus in a fluid and dynamic world, where trying to connect with everything and everyone in the world simply isn’t feasible and in most cases could even be wasteful and counterproductive. Not everyone may believe in what you do or what you stand for, but I think if you can find that vocal and active core, things tend to take on a momentum of their own, and draw in more people than you could ever bring in on your own (as a brand, charity, individual, whatever).
Congrats to Scott Harrison and everyone at charity:water on a job well done. Can’t wait to see where things go, and help out, in 2010.
I must have met and interviewed over 100 new people in the last year, and it struck me today that the conversation with all of them, in some form or other, has been about whether TV advertising is dead or not. These days, is it even OK to admit that you like TV advertising? And if you do, are you subconsciously communicating to people that you drive a Datsun, your favorite suit is made of polyester, and your favorite band is the Osmonds?
I remember watching an interview with Barry Gibb from the Bee Gees, in which he described how they constantly battled a stigma regarding the band’s persona. How there were moments in time when it was impossible to admit that you liked them, and there was nothing they could do about it.
It feels like advertising is going through a bit of a Bee Gees period at the moment. It doesn’t have the newness of online and mobile. Interestingly enough, though, today I was talking to Patrick Morrison, our European Media Director, and he pointed out that beards are making a serious comeback. Perhaps TV advertising’s “bearded” appeal it also due for a renaissance?
Let’s admit it: TV advertising is still a magnificent form of communication, and it’s a phenomenal place to create and touch people and fulfill your dreams.
For example, I once got to make an ad featuring Martin Scorsese traveling around New York in a yellow taxi. The ad was directed by Tony Scott, who received clearance to use the original music from Taxi Driver. The experience blew my mind. I learned a ton of things, and I felt different afterward. TV advertising, in all its pomp and circumstance, still attracts some of the greatest storytellers and technical masters of our time.
When you look at the new big game changers, including mobile as a powerful distribution device and new technology that will dramatically increase the speed of uploading content, I can only feel that:
1. Everything is alive alive alive; nothing is dead. We have more tools and weapons than ever before to inspire and involve consumers, and that is why it is so exciting to be in this industry at this point. This includes TV of course.
2. We are moving toward an era of epic interactive experiences, and I am pretty certain that at the heart of some of these will be longer form, more-glorious-than-ever filmed content. The lessons we have learned and the skills we have developed in the last 50 years of TV advertising will never be more valuable.
3. Strangers will see brand content in short form on TV, and friends of the brand will see it in longer format in their iTunes library.
So I have resolved to not waste any more energy whatsoever talking about what is dead, or nearly dead, or possibly dead. It’s an irrelevant debate. Frankly, if it’s dead it might be interesting to resurrect it. (Airships anyone?) I want to be using all my energy talking about all the things that are alive, how they connect together, and how to use them better and bigger than anyone else for our clients.
For a lot of people, the rise and rise of reality-based entertainment helped define the most popular media experiences of the last decade. The phenomenon is beginning to seep into culture in ways we are only just beginning to notice. It has a cool bit: The power of open-format media can help us champion those with real talent who have somehow become lost in the system. The risk: The most interesting and original communicators historically exist on the fringes of culture, not in the center. The damage: Mass media formats only pay their way if they have instant appeal to mass audiences, and these require specific rules to help guide these audiences to participate. The result: Those on the fringes, the misfits, the odd ones, the potential geniuses, don’t make it because they don’t fit into the format. They don’t conform. Some may be mad, but others may be true originals.
But here is the “reality”: Lets take The X Factor as an example. Many of the most iconic rock stars of the last century would certainly not have passed the popularity linked to convention test. Let’s suspend reality for a moment, and imagine what would have happened if The X Factor had been going on since the birth of rock ‘n’ roll:
1955 X Factor: Elvis Aaron Presley fails to make it to the next round after he mumbles his words too much and appears to lose control of his hips halfway through the audition. Doctors insist that he be committed to a wheelchair until off the company premises.
1961 X Factor: Bob Dylan is soundly rejected by the judges for his appalling enunciation, scruffy looks, and insistence on playing his guitar during the audition when the rules firmly state that no accompanying instrument apart from the officially sanctioned banjo can be used.
1963 X Factor: James Hendrix fails to make it onto the live shows for regularly forgetting the lyrics and then setting himself on fire during every performance, resulting in a judge suffering badly singed hair and forcing Hendrix to perform standing in a bucket of sand as a fire precaution.
1968 X Factor: A contestant called James Osterberg from Detroit, who insists on being called Iggy Pop, is not put through to the next round after revealing his private parts during the performance and claiming he wants to be “the judges’ dog.”
1976 X Factor: The show is almost cancelled because so few contestants are deemed capable of reaching the required level. A young man called John Lydon, who insists on being called Johnny Rotten, is rejected due to his total inability to sing. Ian Curtis suffers an epileptic fit while performing. Joe Strummer fails to secure more than two votes due to concerns over his hand-painted outfit, his bad teeth, and the strange Jamaican tinge to his voice. The Ramones are not voted through in the band section due to their inability to dance and a sense that they don’t credibly gel as a boy band.
Here’s what worries me: As has happened time and again over the years, repeat behavior creates trends and shifts values. A 15-year-old now has ten years of powerful advice from the X Factor format that the most important element in being a successful pop star is the ability to sing perfectly. That’s from the age of 5 upwards. But this is a convention that only has validity in a TV format. And of course it’s a total illusion – it’s just the way TV happens to work. I wonder if popularity has been so powerfully and publically linked to conformity since the 19th century. Popularity linked to convention – what an uninspiring equation.
OK, so none of this X Factor scenario really happened, but I think it makes a point. Popularity is linked to originality. Popularity is linked to originality. Popularity is linked to originality.
It’s an obvious statement, but I am hoping for a renewed love and respect for originality as consumers, cultural commentators, voters, and brand owners increasingly realize just how reality can be misleading.
Note: For some other critiques of the X Factor convention machine, check out the following: