Please. Make It Stop.

Gawd help us.

 

If you’ve watched any television this holiday season, you’ve been subjected to this commercial, or some version of it. And odds are, you’ve cringed.

Social media is atwitter (get it?) with “I’ll never buy a Honda” and “Honda, these are the most annoying commercials ever” and “I was thinking about buying a Honda but that commercial killed it for me. Toyota, here I come” — all because of Michael Bolton. Turns out he doesn’t necessarily appeal to Honda’s chief purchasing demographic.

The smart marketers at Honda know that. I’m sure they meant this whole campaign ironically – they meant it to be aggravating and maddening and over-the-top and downright annoying. They are delighted at the outpouring of exasperation and displeasure.

Because everyone is talking about these commercials. Everyone is deriding Honda’s decision to use Annoying Man for its Songperson this holiday season. At my annual holiday gathering with girlfriends, “Honda” was mentioned over and over and over as women clutched at their hair and wished laryngitis upon Michael Bolton. Facebook is covered with nasty memes. As horrible and dreadful and awful as this Honda commercial is, it put Honda in the shining spotlight this Christmas.

But it is horrible and dreadful and awful and there is absolutely no solid reason for that. Advertising that is memorable, creates a buzz and makes people talk shouldn’t be uber annoying. That truly defeats the purpose.

A positive message, something that makes people feel good about the product and its benefits is always always always a better choice. Those good feelings create a happy bond with the audience and positivity just lasts longer, meaning the happy audience turns into a happy customer, which is exactly what truly good marketing is supposed to do.

We Know Where You Live

My sister-in-law is a perfect target for many companies. She’s educated, in an executive position and loves to engage in commerce (um, buy things). She is mother to a 6-year-old and is a responsible parent, making good choices for and teaching good choices to Daniel.

Julie is not on Facebook, she does not read the paper and the only live television she watches is football. She only listens to country music radio, surprisingly out of stereotype. When she shops online, she never clicks the paid advertising as she doesn’t believe it’s what she really wants. She trusts the organic results.

Because Julie is “typical” – there are many, many, MANY people not on Facebook, fewer and fewer every day get a newspaper delivered, and DVR is becoming the only way to watch regular television – we recently had a detailed conversation about how she can be reached.

The way to get in front of Julie and those like her? Get right into her home, right in her face, with an offer she can’t refuse. Julie said it. “The best way to reach me is to send me something in the mail.”

If you use every fraction of demographic available to you – Julie subscribes to health and fitness magazines, she has a 6-year-old boy, she makes a certain level of income, she is 44 years old, she lives in the northwest suburbs, she drives an SUV, she buys many many many pairs of shoes, she is married, she lives in a single-family house, she is college-educated, she works out of her house (and this is just the tip of the iceberg) – you can find Julie and others like her, craft a message just to her and get her to respond to your advertising.

Many, many people who want to buy your product are “disconnected” in terms of online, print and broadcast advertising. But they always get the mail.

Be an Anti-Social Failure: ATT’s newest campaign

Have you heard the new radio spot for a telecommunications company? It’s a man, describing how he had lunch with a TV star and was taking a hot blonde from an action show to his afternoon meeting.

At first, you are intrigued (good) so you listen carefully (very good). And then you understand (excellent!). And then, if you’re like most of the people I’ve talked to, you are afraid. You are very afraid (and that is not good at all).

The whole idea of advertising is to make people want your product. You want to hit pain points, tell them how their life will improve if they purchase your product, you want them to understand the benefit of adding this product to their life.

The goal of this particular commercial (I think) is that the service will entertain you nonstop. You will always have comedy, drama and more right in your pocket, avaiable to you 24/7. But what comes across is creepy and unsettling and just plain wrong.

The message that everyone is really getting is this – you don’t need to have lunch with a real person, because your smart phone is a much better companion. You don’t need to think or carry on a conversation because your phone is smarter than you anyway. You don’t need to listen to human beings at work, because your smart phone will keep your mind engaged somewhere else, somewhere in a virtual world.

No one wants to put themselves in these shoes. No one wants to be the loner at lunch, becoming socially awkward and conversationally retarded. And while we all recognize that meetings can be boring and monotonous, we also realize that watching television during one does not put your feet on the fast track to career success.

Who wants technology that blocks any and all human interaction? Who wants to be this idiot? Who wants to even be friends with this idiot?

And what idiot came up with this creative?

A Communicator’s Responsibility

I want to make it perfectly clear that this is not about blame. The tragedy of the Arizona shooting was immediately used as a political platform, fistfuls of fingers pointing at extreme conservatives and the imagery used in their language as the cause of the attack. Then just as suddenly, the politically correct crowd went the other way, excusing any language at all completely and blaming the attack on a sadly unhinged young mind. I agree that the person responsible for the attacks is the severely disturbed soul who pulled the trigger – I hope that is very clear. This is, I repeat, not about blame, but about the enormity of communication.

When you watch that new TV commercial featuring the woman who transfers money seamlessly while in a complex yoga position, the voice over doesn’t shout, “close all your accounts NOW and come bank with us!” That voice merely relates the benefits of the product and how it will help your life. But the goal of that communication is to indeed get you to close those accounts and bank with the advertiser. And because of that commercial, many, many, many people will. They are listening to and responding to that communication.

In a larger, much more important framework, positive messages get a great of credit for inspiring people to act. John F. Kennedy addressed 10,000 University of Michigan students in 1960, inspiring them to consider serving in foreign countries –  to make the world a better place. Fully one in 10, over 1,000 students, signed a petition that day saying they would be willing and became the seeds of the Peace Corps, which recruited thousands and still thrives today.

Martin Luther King spoke of having a dream and civil rights legislation was advanced in Congress while thousands of Americans of all colors joined him to march “in peace.” These messages, these communications, this use of language, moved hundreds of thousands in a positive way. These messages changed this very country.  Think of the Bible – just words, thousands of years old, that still hold sway with the vast majority of the human population, controlling thoughts, attitudes, actions, family relations, business and government procedures.

So can we, in the name of political correctness and manners, discount the power of communication because horrible things happen when negative communication is taken too far? Think of Jim Jones and that purple Kool-Aid. His communication caused nearly a thousand (obviously troubled) people to take their own lives. There are “leaders” all over this planet today that have convinced their constituents that genocide is a perfectly reasonable, moderate way of life.

There are ramifications to communication and we must recognize that. Communication is the most powerful tool we have. It is more powerful than armies, than any weapons. Communication changes the course of civilization, it affects millions, it’s what makes us believe or scoff, act or be inert, become patriots or traitors.

The communication of our leaders, our authority figures – on all levels, from preschool to the pulpit, from private homes to public office – should be measured, responsible and, most importantly, positive. Cry out for change, but cry out without malice for the other side. Rouse the masses, but rouse them to help, to aid. Fight, indeed fight! for what you believe is good, but fight without making the other side a monstrous villain.

Communication, this awesome and terrifying tool, must be respected. Positive communication must be demanded of all who have any influence at any level. If we can’t convince them it’s best for our families, and our schools and our towns, our states, this country and this planet and all its people right now, we should point again to history.

Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech – about 5 minutes long – remains relevant, is introduced to new audiences constantly and continues to inspire people all over the world after nearly 50 years. Jesse Helms, on the other hand, filibustered Congress for 16 hours – yes, 16 hours – to block the approval of a federal holiday to honor Dr. King.

And no one remembers a word of that.

A Truly Unconstitutional “Plan”

In your home, there sits a television that can receive literally thousands of channels. It was designed to get those channels. You purchased it at a store, be it big box or small electronics boutique. You brought it home, unpacked it and plugged it in. Then you made a choice.

You chose to use an antenna, which doesn’t cost you a dime, or a cable or satellite company. You picked what you channels you get and decided how much to spend in order to get what you need. No matter what the television was designed for, you get to choose how to use it.

In my desk drawer, there sits an older iPhone. (I recently upgraded to receive my mail faster and to, much more importantly, use the improved and quicker GPS/map when I’m driving in unfamiliar territory.) This old iPhone works perfectly; there is nothing wrong with it.

My daughter’s cell phone was stolen Monday. But instead of just giving her this old iPhone and getting a SIM card that will work with her phone number, I was told that, if I wanted to reactivate that phone, I’d now have to purchase a monthly data plan that gives the phone email capabilities, internet access and GPS. When I told the rep that I just wanted the iPhone to make phone calls and text (exactly what I was paying for on the stolen phone), he told me, “It’s a smart phone. That’s not what it’s designed for.”

Excuse me?

Who are these phone companies to tell me – or anyone – that I have to use something in a certain way? My Honda Accord has (as my husband often points out) a racing engine, which means it’s designed to go reallyreallyreallyfast. I don’t see the arresting police officer nor the judge who sees me in court buying my “it was designed for speed” argument. I have an 8 foot ladder that I sometimes climb only to 4 feet. You have that television designed to receive those thousands of channels, but if you prefer to use today’s equivalent of bunny ears and just get 2, 5, 7, 9, 11 and maybe 32 on a good day, you can!

The Health Care Plan is unconstitutional? HA! The required data plan for a smart phone is just as bad – and that money is going right into the pockets of corporate giants, not into the health of our country.

Does SEO Really Matter To You?

Earlier this week, I met with one of my long-time clients. We designed their website, oh, probably a decade ago, and it needs now to be updated, made more contemporary – freshened up.

“Dave” mentioned his concern about their Google results. “When you search a partner’s name,” he said, “we come right up, there on the first page. But if you Google (or is it google?) “middle market investments Chicago” we’re like on page 120. How can we change that?”

I rattled off ways to improve SEO; through directory listings, through social media, through blogs and updates and links. The web guru (the man who makes my designs “live” on the web) on the speaker phone agreed – that’s the type of things that will help move this client up the Google ladder. Dave paused then, leaned back in the big comfy chair and put his hands behind his head.

And the Big Moment struck.

This organization is built strictly and completely through referrals. Casual contacts and Looky Lous are not their target. They don’t want unsolicited proposals. Attorneys, bankers and others whom they’ve formed a bond with, met face to face – the referral sources they trust – are the people they want to educate and inform with their website.

We all get so caught up in more, more, more equaling better. Sometimes it’s just not. This client realized that their business model is about the finest quality, about personal service, about not being the guys at the top of that generic Google search.

For many businesses, SEO is indeed vital. For many, it can make or break a business. But for just as many, including many professional services, it’s just not that important. Those websites are resources for referral partners and referred clients.

Now, you just need to decide – which one are you?

Benefit versus Spin

Driving down the expressway, a new billboard caught my eye, as new billboards always do. Good advertising or design makes me smile and great creative makes me positively giddy.

I was not giddy about this one.

This billboard showed a plastic water bottle rising out of leaves, like a corn cob from the husks. The copy read “Designed to Make a Difference.” And it made me ill.

My mantra to clients is “show the buyer the benefit”, “we must communicate the benefit”, “it’s got to be about the benefit.” In all cases, with all my clients, I feel very good about what we’re selling, believing the products and services I help promote actually do help the buyers. We talk about the benefit.

But there is benefit and there is spin, which implies a lie, and this billboard falls solidly, with an almighty kerthunk, into the spin/lie category. Being rather (okay, really a great deal of) a treehugger, I am and continue to be absolutely appalled by the Greatest Marketing Evil Scam of All Time – that of selling bottled water.

Water – cleaned, safe and reliable water – comes to the vast majority of Americans via pipes, right into their homes. It’s what our frontier ancestors dreamed of! Unlike bottled water, it is regulated and tested. It is a fraction of the cost. Unlike bottled water, it does not absorb cancer-causing chemicals from a plastic container. Unlike bottled water, it does not require petroleum products to package, it does not require petroleum to delivery to the store and petroleum to be hauled home. (Feel a shake in the universe? It’s those ancestors slapping their foreheads at the behavior of their offspring’s offspring.)

Bottled water is not good for us. Period. It is bad for our health, it is murder on our wallets, it is catastrophic for our fossil fuel consumption and it is an absolute nightmare for the environment and landfills. There is no benefit. Marketing this “new” bottle as some kind of “good for the environment” choice is a lie, plain and simple.

Remember when cigarettes were promoted as a health product? For a substantial period of time, experts really believed that, so, in fairness, we can give those early ads a pass, a get-out-of-jail-free card. That marketing – prompted by laws – changed dramatically, albeit slowly, over the years. Now, there are fewer and fewer ads for smoking at all – and the graphic new packages try to convince smokers to quit.

Perhaps that’s what’s needed for bottled water – for legislators to quickly stand up for the environment and for our health. Perhaps we need warning labels about how future generations will be drowning in these ubiquitous containers, how teeth will rot from lack of fluoride, how cancer rates will increase. Perhaps the scariest warning would be a vision that gas (petroleum) could be $10 a gallon.

The bottled water marketing that is happening now is not selling a benefit, no matter how “green” the bottle is purported to be. It’s barely even a spin. It’s just lying.

Advertising and Politics: An Unholy Alliance

I just got back from the Chicago Southland Regional Consensus Luncheon where candidates for a state-wide seat debated their positions and experience. This is not about those candidates.

At my table sat two college students, fresh and eager and engaged. They are involved in another candidate’s campaign, someone running for an entirely different seat. They did not want to make themselves known as they informed us they were really on a recognizance mission. The young men said that a debate this early in the campaign is unusual and the reason is simple: either side may make a mistake that the other side – and the media – will run with for the next four months. For them, it was about missteps and not about information.

Are you feeling kind of manipulated already? I did.

As an advertising professional, I’m about to make a statement many may consider traitorous to my industry: Political advertising should be severely regulated or perhaps outlawed.

In any paid printed or broadcast material, the only place an opposing candidate’s name should be mentioned is in small print on the bottom and that should read “John Doe is running against Jane Does for your (insert name of seat here).” And that’s IT. Any other reference to their opponent in any way, shape or form should be strictly prohibited.

You see, candidates and their positions, attitudes and beliefs don’t win campaigns. The better-funded marketing team, whoever has the most dollars to spend, is what defines and determines the winner. Who has the “cleverest” campaign – especially cast with a negative message –  seems to shape voter response much more solidly and surely than all the intelligent debates for months.

I believe it’s time voters weren’t spoon fed manipulations, half-truths and “missteps” to mold their thoughts into what the guy with the most money wants them to think. It’s time voters tuned into debates and meaningful conversations to make a truly informed decision – whichever side of the fence they land.

As a citizen, I want to know what my candidate is going to do to balance the budget while giving me a certain quality of life. As a citizen, I want to hear what makes that candidate the right choice. I don’t want to hear how the opponent is a lying, cheating ding dong who will take us into a financial nosedive while frequenting strip clubs and paying for it with my tax dollars.

Ethical marketing should be about benefits; how a product or service will help someone in ways big and small. It shouldn’t be about bashing your competition; it should be about building up your own brand.

I love marketing, I love advertising. I love communicating the products and services businesses are offering and how people can benefit from them. I love knowing that these businesses are more profitable and successful because, in a small way, I’ve helped. I believe in doing it positively, with integrity and ethics.

If candidates won’t do that of their own accord, I’d like to see ethics legislation and ramifications for breaking those ethics. Wouldn’t you?

The Paper Napkin Myth – Part I

Many people think that logos are created in one fell swoop, probably sketched on a cocktail napkin over martinis in a dark lounge. They believe that in the heady mixture of alcohol and dim lighting, inspiration hits and designs are born whole, perfect, and completely satisfying, ready to brand a company tomorrow.

This type of thinking frustrates a good designer’s efforts again and again. There are many business owners who understand perfectly how much hard work and thought and time are put into their own businesses, their products, their customer service. But because of that blasted cocktail napkin myth, these same intelligent people think that logos spring forth like Venus from the foam, or like Athena leaping from Zeus’ head.

Years ago, I worked with a company that provided security systems. They wanted a new logo and told me they had been unfulfilled with three designers before me. “They couldn’t give us what we wanted. They gave up on us,” said the client. Well, stupid me! Now, in my older and wiser years, I would have asked a few more questions. I would have realized that three designers in a row couldn’t possibly have been that unwilling to work. I assured them that I could help, that I would gladly see this project through to their complete satisfaction, I would give them a logo they could stand proudly as the representation of their brand.

They answered very few questions for me, leaving everything very open-ended. They were open to graphics, they were open to type treatments, they were open to colors and they were open to styles. “Show us what YOU think,” I was told. I thought I had hit the creative jackpot – I can present a wide scope, give them so many options – things they’ve never seen before! This would be an exciting project as we work together to accomplish our goal!

I went to work and researched and designed, sketched and tweaked, went off on tangent after tangent of concept and idea. At our next meeting, I enthusiastically presented about 10 completely different directions, explaining that these were drafts, jumping off points, not the finished articles.

Dead silence in the room. Concerned brows furrowed. “Well, we don’t really love any of these,” was the rather terse statement.

A little wrong-footed, I said, “Naturally, I don’t expect you to. Our next step is now to examine what you really dislike, find out what does attract you, talk about colors now that you’ve seen where we’d like to take this, really start pulling these ideas apart and putting them back together to arrive at your logo, something that will really brand your company.”

And their reactions showed me that I had seriously misjudged this situation. These are professionals, I had believed. They know how to communicate. After all, in their own business, plans are made, schematics drawn, products suggested in an initial proposal. Those plans must be tweaked, products changed out, systems changed and adapted until the correct elements of the appropriate package are accounted for and in place.

Or maybe not.

They stared at me blankly. They looked confused. They exchanged furtive “again?” glances with one another.

I started asking questions. “How does the red and black make you feel? What about the blue?” “Is this type too blocky, is this one too fragile?” “Do you like that we’ve included this eye? Or this camera? How about these rays? They are meant to signify being everywhere at once. Do you feel that?”

And again, they stared at me blankly. And then they made the statement that shifted into perfect focus why three designers before me had failed.

“We thought you’d just give us something that we’d just know was the right one.”

I managed to put on a cheerful face, managed to get through the meeting and glean a (very) few kernels of information, managed to muster up the confidence to tell them we’d make this work. I promised again to work with them until we found the graphic, the design, the logo that would represent their brand.

I went back to the drawing board with an extremely heavy heart. At this point in the process, there should have been a clear direction, a list of both objections and consensus points, a color palette, a feeling of a path through the woods. The hole in my stomach reminded me that I got none of that. They wanted me to shoot bullets completely in the dark, and hope that I hit on that one target that they didn’t even know existed. I did my best and tried to massage what input they’d given me and tried some new designs as well. The client wanted them emailed and I pushed for a meeting. I knew that if they were emailed, they’d click them open, say, “no, nope, nah, nope, nada and NOT” to each and every one. They refused a meeting, saying they were crunched for time. I hit the “send” button with a huge sense of dread – and failure.

And sure enough, when I called to arrange a time to meet and discuss the concepts, try to help evolve and form those ideas into a real logo, I was told the arrangement wasn’t working out. They really believed that someone would be able to hit a million-to-one shot in the complete blackness of their miserable communication.

These people believed in the myth of the cocktail napkin. They couldn’t fathom working through designs, considering different type faces, colors schemes, graphic elements. They really didn’t care about how the logo represented their brand. They didn’t see the value of making real decisions. They didn’t see the value of thought and strategy.  They had run through four designers now, and unless they changed their processes, could run through every one in the greater Midwest and still be unhappy. They need to change the way they think about logo design.

You see, for every story of a cocktail napkin, there are hundreds of thousands of logos that were designed the right way – strategically, with building a brand at top of mind, with thought, care and artistry going into its design, balance, typeface, color and theme with every step of its evolution.

A smart client communicates with the agency or designer to achieve a visual identifier of the brand. A smart client is strategic, a smart client thinks about relationships and typeface and impressions and above all, understands the evolution of ideas into final product. A smart client will result in a happy client, each and every time.

Want to know how it really works? Email rebeccapalumbo@sbcglobal.net and ask for the complete “Paper Napkin Myth”.

Show Us WHY!

I keep receiving emails from a man running for State Senator about “name recognition” and how that will help him win this election. It is accompanied by a link to his website where “eliminating wasteful spending” is one of his very few action points.

Really?

You think this is marketing? This gentleman is missing every point entirely and his strategy, quite frankly, stinks.

Am I really his market? Nope, I’m just someone in his email database. He knows nothing about my political leanings and is assuming that just because I recognize his name, I’ll vote for him. In today’s political climate especially, that just won’t happen.

What is his benefit to me? Wasteful spending? No one, conservative or liberal, wants to waste money. But are you targeting wasteful spending on war or education? On public safety or public health? Another point is “improve education.” Again, who wants it to worsen? But what is your plan? Are you selling larger class sizes or more teachers? New technology or old-fashioned reading, riting and rithmetic?

As the audience, I have no reason to vote for this candidate. His method of marketing is like a company renting a billboard and just putting “Buy This” under its logo. It’s insulting to assume I’m that gullible, that sheep-like, to just vote for someone because I know their name.

Tell me what you stand for, tell me how you plan on fixing things, tell me how you’ll improve my life, SELL ME YOUR BRAND and not just your name. I’m just not that stupid!

While readers know how much I hate political marketing and advertising (“gol darn it, there oughta be a law…”), I absolutely loathe it when it’s done so very poorly.