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Another note to readers -- April 2008

OK, I'm done writing notes about how I'm going to keep this page up to date.  If you browse down you'll see I get anxious about once or twice a year and start apologizing and making pledges to be more diligent.  No more.  Still, I'm aware that some folks actually DO check into this page from time to time, so I'll try to keep things as up to date as I can. 

If you're looking for information about our collection of poetry ("Between the Lakes:  The Poets of Linden Hills") contact me: wilhide@skypoint.com.  You can use the same email address for info about the Southwest Poetry Project.

If you're a student and have a question, or want to get in touch, again: same email address.

Below are a couple new (as of this spring) marketing-related pieces.  The first was published in the St. Thomas online newsletter, Acumen, so it may sound familiar.  The second was one of a series of "marketing notes" I send out a few times a year.

Marketing and Checklists -- April 2008

The word “checklist” sends shudders down my spine. So do the words “template,” “marketing committee,” and “copy review meeting.” They signal something gone horribly wrong with a marketing program— something that could possibly be fixed but probably not in this lifetime.

I’ve been an advertising “creative” most of my career—copywriter, creative director, art director, idea-generator. A creative’s natural instinct when confronted with a marketing challenge is to say, “Turn it over to us and get out of the way.” Sometimes we look at any variation on that approach as a prelude to disaster. Many times we’ve been right.

But sometimes we’re wrong to just skip the review process. Recently the idea of using control measures has gained quite a bit of buzz thanks to the research of Peter Provonost, a critical care doctor at Johns Hopkins. He has demonstrated through a number of well-controlled experiments that the simple act of using a checklist for procedures in intensive care units can produce amazing results—thousands of lives saved, hundreds of millions of dollars saved, complete turnarounds in infection rates.

Provonost’s work—minimally funded, often belittled, and usually resisted—has “saved more lives than any laboratory scientist in the last decade.” The story, written up in an article in the New Yorker (December 10, 2007), draws a number of interesting comparisons between medicine and other fields. In aviation, the “expert audacity” of early test pilots was instrumental in moving the field into the jet age. But it was high-risk, erratic work, and eventually it gave way to flight simulators and standard operating procedures—not as dashing but not as risky either, and very effective.

One of the enduring conflicts in the marketing world is that agencies want to sell “expert audacity” while the clients feel more comfortable with checklists and committees. It’s an issue even within agencies as any account executive who has had “differences” with a creative team will tell you. Both sides tend to go further down their respective paths than they should and the result is one of the reasons so many marketing programs fail. The procedure works, but the patient dies.

Templates, for instance, are a lousy way to create exciting brochures— marketing pieces that may actually attract interest in a world where attention spans are limited and the fight to court them is highly competitive. But using some kind of template is a very good way to build a company-wide collateral program that helps keep the graphic design and copy approach consistent. This can end up as a battle between inwardly-focused company policy and outwardly-focused customer service, but it doesn’t have to.

Marketing committees are usually oxymorons. You can’t do effective marketing by committee. Too much depends on instinct, daring, quick decisions, and timing. None of these is a typical result of committee processes. There are a lot of people who can hedge and critique, and a lot of people who can say “no.” The one thing most committees lack, which is absolutely essential to good marketing, is someone who can say “yes”—an expert with both audacity and authority.

The New Yorker article cited another factor that makes a difference in both medical operations and marketing: the involvement of senior executives. These are people who can make things happen because they can get decisions implemented and because they have a stake in the results. A copy review meeting that doesn’t include both an engaged copywriter and a manager who can give final approval is a waste of time. But if you bring both of them together—two audacious experts who care about the results—you can be quite successful. The writer knows that what he or she says counts, and a smart executive will keep in mind David Ogilvy’s line about dealing with creatives: “Why buy a dog and bark yourself?”

Provonost’s work on combining checklists and expert audacity sounds obvious and simple, basic common sense—like most good marketing. He claims it would cost very little (a fraction of one percent of the National Institutes of Health budget) to quickly get his processes into every ICU in the U.S., saving huge piles of health care dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives.

The best marketing campaigns I’ve worked on had several things in common: budgets that were not large, but sufficient for the job at hand; control processes (e.g. checklists) that were accepted because they produced better results; and experts who knew what they were doing and acted both audaciously and effectively.

About the Author

Doug Wilhide is president of Wilhide & Company, a consulting firm for advertising and marketing communications. He has been a copywriter and creative director for three Minneapolis ad agencies and has worked with over 150 clients in a variety of industries. His professional work has been recognized locally and nationally with over 50 industry awards and he received the Business Excellence Award for Creativity and Innovation in Teaching from the University of St. Thomas. He has taught graduate students in the Master of Business Communication program at UST since 1986 and also teaches in the Mini Master of Business Communication.

Marketing Notes -- March 2008

One of the great joys of teaching a class of graduate students is that they bring in all sorts of information I wouldn’t otherwise run into.  Recent revelations include:

-- Still measuring web-based ads on the basis of clicks?  Recent studies should give you pause.  Half of all web display ad clicks come from 6% of frequent web surfers.  They have an annual income less than $40,000 and account for less than 15% of online spending.  (source: Businessweek, 3/10/08, citing a comScore study.)

-- Like the Wendy’s campaign featuring those weird Pippi Longstocking red wigs?  You’re one of the few.  The ads have been roundly panned by critics, though CEO Kerri Anderson seemed to be a fan:  “It feels like Wendy’s again,” was her comment.  Then sales for Q4 2007 dipped 0.8% after rising 3.1% in the previous Q4.  “It was a love it or hate it spot,” said Bob Holtcamp, Wendy’s  VP of brand marketing.  One piece of data that may become relevant here:  the average tenure of CMOs is 23.9 months.  CEOs manage to hang on for an average of 53.8 months (source:  Joe Jaffe, author of “Life after the 30-Second Spot,” in a talk to the Boston Ad Club.)

-- If you’ve heard of Mark Penn at all, it’s probably because he’s a political advisor for Hillary Clinton.  But he’s also the co-author of “Microtrends:: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes.”  One of his revelations is that there are all kinds of small demographic segments that matter – to marketers and politicians.  These are groups that may represent only a fraction of a percent of a universe, but still account for hundreds of thousands of people.  Name a U.S. segment with a 70+% married rate that votes 82% of the time:  moderate Muslims.  What’s the fourth fastest growing sport in the country?  Archery.  Want to target a small, but important segment? Look at soccer moms whose kids have gone off to college and are seeking new leisure activities.  Use a bow and arrow.

-- Other interesting stuff from Mr. Penn (source:  New York Times, 9/16/2007):  China and India combined are graduating nearly a million engineers a year.  Meanwhile math and science scores are dropping in almost every U.S. category.  Of the 6700 undergrads at Harvard last year, only 77 were math majors.

Seeing Old People
For years I’ve been arguing that one reason marketers so often fail to get it right is that they are young and their markets are not.  Ad agencies and design firms tend to be heavily populated with 20 and 30 somethings who have a hard time empathizing with a marketplace that is increasingly (and literally) full of people old enough to be their moms and dads.

A recent student report on marketing to “tweens” cited statistics on how much wealth they control – they spend something like $51 billion a year directly and have another $170 billion spent on them.  Sounds like a lot.  Then you look at the data for the over 50 crowd.  In 2001 they /we accounted for $2.3 trillion (that’s with a “T”) of consumer spending. It’s gone up from there and will continue to do so.  Do the math. The 50-plus demographic spends almost 50 times what the much-advertised-to younger segment does. (source:  AARP reports.)

In a noisy bar recently I engaged in a heated discussion with a young retail buyer who seemed convinced that all marketing is about people like her – under 30, fashion forward, trend conscious, a-historical, math-challenged.  She noted that her peeps are making and spending more than ever before – “hundreds of billions of dollars.”  Big whoop.  There are many more of us old folks and we control as much wealth as all the other demographic segments and account for more than half the consumer spending in the U.S. 

Of course we are not really one segment.  The range of experiences, attitudes, beliefs and wealth of the population over 50 is extraordinarily varied – another fact often overlooked by amateur (young) marketers. They seem willing to differentiate between tweens and teens, but not so much between those whose war was fought in Europe and the Pacific and those whose war was fought in Vietnam.

The Boomers, for instance, constitute about 77 million people.  That’s not likely to be a single marketing segment. For some of us the 1960s offered choices between mind-altering drugs and Budweiser.  For other the choice was between cloth diapers and Pampers. As the oldest of us turn 62 this year, it’s useful to remember that the youngest are turning 44.

I don’t like to pick on young people too much.  It’s a tradition as old as Aristotle (“the kids in Plato’s academy these days can’t spell and don’t know their Astrology from their Euclid!”), but in the end they’ll be here when we’re gone.  Our job is to try to help them see that, when it comes to big things like understanding a marketplace, it’s the little things that matter.   (The discussion in the bar with the young retailer ended amicably. I paid for the beer.)

Women and Money
Interested in what may be one of the biggest marketing opportunities of our times?  Consider selling financial services to women.  One of my students presented some interesting data on the subject:  Women control over 80% of retail purchases and yet 90% of them feel financially insecure.  They are graduating from colleges at increasingly higher rates than men and, in spite of wage gaps, in the future they will be managing more individual wealth.

But the current challenges they face are substantial.  Over 33% of women have less than $25,000 in retirement accounts, compared with only 18% of men.  Only 27% of women have over $100,000 in retirement accounts, compared with 43% of men. But (here’s the kicker) women have longer life expectancies.  At some point in their lives 90% of them will have sole responsibility for their finances.

More than ever before, women need to understand financial planning.  But 30% of them have never begun a retirement plan. Over 70% of women have no financial advisor and the statistic approaches 80% for some minorities. Tom Peters says, “I have never tripped over an opportunity of this size.”

There is plenty of fodder for sales pitches.  Women who have met with a financial advisor are 50% more likely to have “financial security, clarity and satisfaction” about money.  They are 50% more confident and optimistic.  And they are 200% more likely to teach their kids about managing money responsibly.

Why don’t more women take their financial futures in hand?  Some feel like they should be cared for by men – especially in the financial area.  Some are out of the workforce for extended periods and, because they have less money, spend less attention on managing it.  Some have math phobias that get in the way. 

But what an opportunity! The first financial services company that decides to focus on this audience could be in for a huge, pleasant surprise. One requirement is recruiting financial advisors with whom women are comfortable – people (men and women) who are empathic, not pushy, customer service-oriented and reliable.  The bigger requirement is commitment.  Dove soap reinvented its brand and gained international attention by promoting “natural beauty.” We’re anxiously awaiting a financial services company that will launch a public service campaign on financial planning for women – and back it up with smart positioning, good products and female-friendly service.

Favorite New Word
There have always been salesmen.  Then we had salesmen and saleswomen.  Then salespersons. Now, thanks to New Yorker writer Patricia Marx, we have a term for those ridiculously young (and frequently clueless) people who staff the floors of Apple stores and Best Buys.  Saleschild.

Parting comment
This is my last class at the University of St. Thomas College of Business.  I’ve been teaching advertising and marketing for nearly 30 years – copywriting to undergraduates at the University of Minnesota and, since 1986, advertising strategy to graduate students in the St. Thomas Master of Business Communication program.  It’s time to care about stuff other than marketing.  This may not be my final “marketing note,” but I have hopes.

Note to readers -- March 2007

Hi.  Thanks for visiting this page.  It contains short articles and links to articles on a variety of subjects.  Most of them have something to do with marketing.  I apologize for not updating it more frequently, but life gets in the way, dontcha know.

In the future you may find more entries that have to do with poetry.  That's because I started a publishing company last year, Trolley Car Press, and we published a book of poems, "Between the Lakes: the Poets of Linden Hills." (It's available by contacting me at wilhide@skypoint.com.  $20 -- includes taxes, shipping and handling.)  I'm also the Poet Laureate of Linden Hills and have recently been named poetry editor for the Southwest Journal in Minneapolis.

I'll try to do better keeping this page up to date.  If you're interested in a specific subject, get in touch at the above email address.

Marketing notes -- October 2006

The Noun Gap

One of the crimes committed against language these days is dropping nouns from conversations.  Listen to kids talking and they, like, just ramble on around the, like. whatever. There is no subject.  Or object.  Or point.  Except whatever.  I’m speculating, but perhaps one reason they can’t come up with a noun is because they only know process and they’re afraid of, or ignorant of, content. 

Nouns are content.  That person, place or thing-ness quality is what anchors the world in a reality beyond the subjective.  Nouns are the gears that mesh and drive the machine.  Without them communication just sort of whirrs pointlessly. Our ability to perceive the persons, places and things that nouns represent  -- and to engage them, both in sentences and in life -- is what allows us to get outside ourselves and become more than our own, limited consciousness.

Kids aren’t the only ones who are noun-challenged.  I also see it in my peer group as we get older.  Sometimes that’s because we can’t come up with the right word to represent the thing we’re thinking of.  But sometimes it’s because we, like our kids, don’t want to commit to content either.  Taking a position -- defining a thing, stating an opinion, asserting what we feel to be a truth -- these are the work of nouns and they involve risk.  What if someone disagrees?  What if we break the flow of a social moment?  What if we turn out to be wrong? 

Kids can be forgiven, at least a little, for not using nouns.  They are young and their talk (and writing) is like a breeze passing through them.  Adults need to accept the responsibility of nouns.  We have made choices and built structures. We cannot get away with claiming ignorance any more than we can honestly remain innocent.  We can be forgiven if we can’t remember the exact word, but surely we must try to engage the people, places and things -- the nouns -- that are the fabric of our lives.

Liar Liar Pants on Fire.

If you’re looking for good writing on varied subjects, try Masterfile.com.  It’s a site sponsored by the stock photo outfit, but it features articles picked out of little-known periodicals, many of them Canadian.

One piece, “The Truth about Lying” by David Hayes (9/28/05), has some relevance to this pre-election period.  “It is a creeping assumption at the start of a new millennium that there are things more important than truth.” says Jeremy Campbell in his book, “The Liar’s Tale: A History of Falsehood.”

Research shows that we lie an average of 13 times a week and that some kind of lying happens in two-thirds of our conversations.  Men and women lie differently -- women create “false impressions” to smooth over social situations while men tell “whoppers,” often for self-aggrandizement.  College students lie to their mothers in 50% of their conversations.  We have created a number of euphemisms for lying, some of which (“misspeak,” “spin”) are now in the Oxford English Dictionary.  Donald Trump is credited with coining “truthful hyperbole.”

If you’re interested in this topic (and if you work in marketing, you probably should be),  check out Princeton professor Harry Frankfurt’s essay (published last year as a small book) “On Bullshit.”  Surely a must-read for those of us in the promotion business.  And if you’ve had it up to here with chicanery in political ads, it may be time to go back to the grandaddy of all clear thinking on the subject, George Orwell’s 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” easily available on line.

Stories from Create-An-Ad

This spring Chevy Tahoe had a web site that allowed visitors to put together various pieces and create an ad for the vehicle.  It’s become semi-famous among advertising wonks.  For one thing it was kind of fun: you could actually make a halfway decent ad and view the finished product (complete with sound track).   It also opened the door to a large number of critics who made up their own negative (and often funny) ads about the Tahoe’s oversized, gas-guzzling qualities.
Giving people an easy way to respond to your product and/or brand is valuable if you know how to use what you get. One of my favorite web sites, Chiefmarketer.com, suggests encouraging “loyalists” to participate in online exercises.  They like you; they are willing to share their reasons; and they have the force of “authenticity” because they aren’t on your payroll.  At the very least they can balance the critics.

There are lessons in this.  I’m always frustrated by “service” companies with web sites that are opaque to feedback.  Every web site should have an easy-to-find, easy-to-use, open-ended “contact us” button.  Responses should be tracked daily and those that offer meaningful content should be answered and put to use.

The main advantage is that you allow people to tell their stories about your brand -- for better or worse.  The most important trend in branding right now is linking your brand’s story to those of your customers.  The trick is getting the stories.  As one communication expert, Nicholas Bowman, puts it: "The quickest way to get what you want in the world of business is by metaphor and story." PowerPoint fades fast; 'once upon a time' is forever."

Marketing at the Ballpark -- August 2006

I was at a Twins game with my daughter and she was trying to get my attention about a marketing problem. This was unusual in so many ways. Since when does my daughter care about business matters, let alone marketing problems? How often do my kids seriously seek my opinion on anything? And why now, in the middle of a game on one of the rare occasions I actually get to see the Twins play?

Call me old and out of touch (it wouldn’t be the first time), but I go to the ballpark to watch the ballgame, not to multi-task and get deep into the mazes of some organization’s marketing shortcomings. I go to enjoy baseball. Radke was pitching and hitting his spots. Mauer had hit two balls hard already. The Twins were trying to keep a five-game winning streak alive. Things looked positive, but the score was still tied.

My daughter is nothing if not persistent. She kept talking; I tuned in. It seems that the organization she was discussing had made a lot of classic mistakes:

* They had hired a design firm when they needed a marketing firm.
* They didn’t have a good copywriter in their corner.
* The internal marketing team had control of budgets but no control of (or interest in) the audience, the issues, or the objectives.
* The people on the front lines were out of the loop and everyone else had his own agenda.
* There were a lot of territorial games going on.
* A “pro bono” commitment from the outside was driving what should have been controlled by internal people.

Sigh. One of the drawbacks of having been involved with marketing for so long is that you see the same mistakes repeated over and over again. They become what you expect, the background noise. The brilliant insights and excellent executions stand out, but over time they seem like lamplights descending a foggy street behind you. You know exactly what is going wrong and exactly how to fix it, but no one will listen.

I tell my classes that strategy and execution are very much the same thing when it comes to marketing. It doesn’t matter what you plan to do, how many meetings you have, or how many buzz words you throw around in them. It’s what you actually lay before an audience and what that audience does that count.

The “product” of marketing is the message and getting that message right depends on skills that are as old as Aristotle. I would argue that creativity is less a function of innovation and more a function of knowing what’s been done before and what might work in the situation at hand. It’s not that being “new” or “different” isn’t important, it’s just that being ignorant or naive is a real drawback if you want to do this stuff well.

This isn’t an especially popular position these days. Some think I’m old and out of touch, which I can understand. There ARE innovations that matter in the field—new kinds of media, new technologies and their applications, new ways of appealing to fragmented audiences, new urgencies about measuring effectiveness... though all of these have been experienced and addressed by marketers before.

By and large, the biggest hurdles to doing good marketing are failures of common sense and organizational structure. We hire people with poor marketing instincts and put them in decision-making positions. We set up structures—both internal and with outside agencies—that make it virtually impossible for good ideas to reach fruition, let alone an audience. The old joke—ready, shoot, aim—describes too many marketing efforts. It’s the execution that fails and makes the best-laid strategies irrelevant.

Take my daughter’s situation. If you need a solution for a marketing problem, I wouldn’t start with a design shop.  They tend to think aesthetically rather than persuasively.  I’d go to a good copywriter—someone with talent who will commit to the challenge, understand the product and the audience and find ways to link them. A good copywriter doesn’t just want to talk to the front line people, he or she insists on it.

The way to set up a good internal marketing structure is to put the people responsible for results in charge of the marketing budgets, then hope and pray that they can find someone with good marketing sense to run things. These people can be young or old, male or female, left-brain or right, with a written word or visual sensibility, but they “get” it. Just as you can’t teach a 95 mph fastball or a .380 hitter’s swing, you can’t expect ordinary corporate politicians to be natural marketers.

Pro bono marketing work is one of the great scandals of the industry. Far too often, work done for “free” ends up being useful for the donating agency, but off-target, poorly evaluated, and costly to execute for the receiving organization. If you need good marketing, pay for it; or if you can get a useful pro bono offer, manage it.

I’d have told my daughter all of this, but the game heated up. Rondell White hit two home runs and a double. Mauer had two hits. Radke pitched into the 7th. Call me old and out of touch, but I elected to get another beer rather than try to talk marketing in the bleacher seats.

The Twins extended their winning streak, people were laughing and happy as they were blown out the doors of the Metrodome, and conversations dissipated in the rhythms of a couple of guys playing on a bunch of plastic drums and a couple of cowbells.

We could talk about marketing later.

About the Author
Doug Wilhide is president of Wilhide & Company which provides consulting and creative services for marketing communications. He has worked as a creative director at three Minneapolis advertising agencies and in marketing for Honeywell and American Express. He has won many awards for his work locally and nationally and received the Business Excellence Award for Creativity and Innovation in Teaching from the University of St. Thomas. Doug is an expert in B2B advertising and direct marketing and has taught in the UST Master of Business Communication program for 21 years. He is also an instructor in the Center for Business Excellence’s Mini Master of Business Communication  program beginning September 21, 2006.

Branding the Truth -- May 2006

Tommy Thompson, a long-time CEO of the Colle & McVoy ad agency, once found himself in the midst of a military coup in Venezuela -- lead not by generals but by sergeants.  He told stories about it for years, each time differently.  It became harder and harder to separate fact from fiction, but that was part of his charm.

He was an amiable guy who had a knack for putting clients at ease while he convinced them that C&M was exactly where they wanted to do their advertising.  He was very good at Ag advertising and a true expert at ad campaigns aimed at distributors and franchisees.

Tommy was also a mentor.  One of the things he taught me was a phrase he used repeatedly in pitching new campaigns:  “you gotta be who you say you are.”

Years later, and after way too many discussions on brands and branding, that phrase still echoes when I hear people talk about the subject.  A batch of recent student presentations brought this home. 

JC Penney seems to be hot among MBA students these days.  Penney’s is trying to become “cool” -- to reposition itself with younger audiences for everything from fashion to home furnishings.  The campaigns owe more than a little to Target, but they seem to resonate with professional 20- and 30-somethings.  They also seem to be working.  Sales of Penney’s house brands are up way over projections and the “it’s all inside” ads have increased preference of Penney’s as a place to buy clothes. Last year Penney’s registered a very decent 4% revenue gain.

Wal-Mart also seems to be trying to jump on the cheap-but-also fashionable bandwagon.  A new campaign, “look beyond the basics” has replaced the smiley-faced cost-slashing icon with ads that link basic products like candy bars and eye drops with flat screen TVs and trendy women’s clothes.  The ads are pretty much a rip-off of Target ads from the late 90s, and have been criticized as a pure hijacking of a Sears campaign from the early 90s.

It’s not a good thing when you find yourself plagiarizing 15-year old Sears ads, but the real problem with both campaigns is the follow through.  A trip to local Penney’s stores reveals poor lighting, crowded displays and very few sales people who know the merchandise or speak English.  The experience of shopping at Wal-Mart is even worse.  And the products -- from towels that fall apart in the washer to fashions that can be worn only once -- belie the ad campaigns.  Dismal stores, poor customer service and shoddy merchandise is not cool or fashionable.

There’s an old advertising adage: “good advertising will make a bad product fail faster.” And Tommy’s admonition to be what you say you are in your ads has never seemed more relevant to branding groups and their self-appointed “tzars.” 

Building a brand has got to be an organization-wide undertaking.  If the advertising gets too far out in front of the reality -- or customer expectations -- then it’s bad marketing strategy.  I find that one good test for this is to talk to employees.  If they buy into the brand, then the time to start advertising is at hand.  If they’re cynical or critical, then it’s time to fix the product/service, not launch an ad campaign. 

Branding is about creating stories: your story and your customers’ stories and how they interact.  If the stories disconnect with employees, they will probably not connect with customers.  Consistent graphic design, new media choices, fancy web sites and ads aimed at  younger, cooler, hipper audiences won’t work if the pay-off isn’t there.

In one version of Tommy’s “revolutionary” experience, he commandeered a boat and rescued himself and his associates by cruising down a river, gunshots ringing out behind him.  We all knew he was creating a Hemingwayesque version of reality, but he could get away with it because he was, in a sense,  his own brand and he was true to what it represented. 

He managed to guide a quirky agency through some difficult times and made lots of people quite wealthy, including many clients and himself.  He wasn’t young, cool or hip.  But he was often right.

On-Site Story Telling -- April 2006

March may be dreary and long, but it was an exciting month in the world of classroom marketing discussions.  Paul Frett of PopularFront.com, gave a guest talk about “web-centric integrated marketing.”  His key point was that advertisers are in trouble: they don’t know how to allocate their budgets in a world of fragmented audiences and media.  Agencies (and consultants) are having a hard time keeping up with the changes.

His basic proposition is to make the Web the driving force for marketing programs.  This takes more creativity than most companies can muster.  It also requires a paradigm shift to thinking of the Web as a “new medium” that’s as active and involving as broadcast and print used to be. 

How do you do that?  Paul showed a case history for “Groovy girls,” a company that makes dolls and accessories for young girls.  The Web site, promoted only on tags attached to product sold in stores, is a “story” experience.”  Girls create a character and go online to join in dancing sessions, talk rooms, and other activities.  they can customize their character’s hair style, clothing, rooms, etc. -- all with products sold by the company.  But there is no selling on the site.  Security protocols keep a careful eye on misuse and self-policing catches any suspect activity.

The result?  In less than a year over 3 million (million!) visitors, most of them repeat users.  Paul went online live and encountered characters from all over the U.S.  The site doesn’t sell, but it does build loyalty and awareness and lets the company track user patterns:  visits increase on weekends and holidays.

All of this was done through viral marketing -- girls discover the site and send the info on to their friends.  They come back because it’s fun.  And it’s theirs.  They create their characters and customize them.  They interact as they choose (within proscribed limits).  The fascination is driven by interactivity -- “the ego of authorship.”  Users are creating their own stories and using the web to share them.

In another case, Paul showed a “snowflake” site that was used as self-promotion for PopularFront.  The site has a sheet of paper and a simple cutting tool driven by a mouse.  Participants can make thheir own snowflakes then send them on to friends.  Each is unique and some carry short messages.  The original emailing was to 300 people.  The site now attracts over 2.7 million visitors from all over the world (including soldiers in Iraq) and has spawned Yahoo user groups and “flakers” who monitor the site for objectionable use.  It also leads to regular RFPs for the company.

“Consumers are social.  Shopping is a social activity. Social networking is what the Web is all about,” says Paul.  He thinks the key to success is leveraging the Web as a media channel that lets people create their own content -- and their own story -- when and where they want to.

A follow-up presentation by a student backed this all up with an in-depth discussion of Web measurement metrics.  There are four basic ways to measure Web activity.  You can measure the “hierarchy of traffic”like number of hits, unique and repeat visitors.  You can measure “technical” information like geography and source (browser links) and adapt your technology to the lowest significant common denominator (Internet Esxplorer accounts for about 85% of Web traffic; Netscape 7+ is about 4% -- older Netscape versions are quickly dying ; Firefox accounts for about 7%).  You can measure “marketing” metrics like advertising that drives people to the web, keywords, banner ads, and ROI from web visits that lead to sales.  And you can measure “behaviors” -- scenario analysis that shows how people navigate a site, where they drop off, where they linger , etc.

Emerging technologies are quickly becoming important facts of internet life.  Orange is the leading cell phone provider in most of Europe.  It offered free Wednesday night movie tickets to users who text messaged. (The European cell phone market is pretty much saturated so “stealing” customers is the only viable strategy to increase share.)  Results?  With virtually no additional advertising, Wednesday went from dead last to the third most popular movie night. 

The next trend may be “collaborative content,” where inernet users -- via computers, cell phones, pods, and other devices not only engage in communications with other customers and companies, but participate in designing the products they want.

All of this is pretty heady stuff -- at least on the tech end of it.  The creative part is what interests me, though.  No matter what the tehcnology -- or the medium -- the key is engaging audiences. 

Every performer knows that if you can get the audience to sing along you’ll get bigger applause.  If you can engage a class in a participatory activity, they’ll sit up and pay attention.  Workshops integrated into seminars are much more effective in terms of interest and retention.  “The ego of authorship” needs to be a part of our thinking.  It’s not just our story that we need to be telling now.  It’s giving our customers permission to integrate what we’re offering into their own stories. 

That takes a customer-focused appproach, real empathy with the audience and a level of fun and creativity that is too often missing from both advertising and marketing communications.  But that’s the future.

A few more data bits:

Is brand loyalty still a viable concept?  According to Frank Reicheld’s “The Loyalty Effect,” U.S. corporations lose half their customers every 5 years, half their employees every 4 years and half their invesotrs every year.

According to a recent DDB study, the likelihood that people in the 20-29 demographic will stick with a brand has declined from 66% to 58% since 2000.  With the over 75 age group the decline was from 69% to 60%.

How important is “buzz” and “viral marketing?”  Again, from “The Loyalty Effect:”  credibility for word-of-mouth recommendations is about 90%.  Credibility for messages in ads is just under 30%.
My recommendation:  Make your brand mean something valuable to your customer.  The most valuable thing you can have is the belief that your story and your customers’ stories are related.  That has to be true... and it has to be communicated frequently, authentically and through a wide variety of media channels.

"Between the Lakes: The Poets of Linden Hills"

It's not marketing, but it is interesting.  We've just published a new book -- a collection of 75 poems by 11 poets who live in, or have close ties to, the Linden Hills area of Minneapolis.  These poems will make you laugh, make you think, break your heart and give you hope.  It's a great gift or souvenir.  You can order online by going to bibelotshops.com, or contact me directly: wilhide@skypoint.com.

Marketing Around the World -- March 2006

* A correspondent in Birmingham, England recently visited the large Minster in York. She  writes: 

“Of course, most of the stimulation in the Minster is visual.  They have the largest collection of Medieval glass in the world in their stained glass windows, and in some cases the glassworkers used horns and antlers instead of glass.  Apparently if you soak horn in hot enough liquid for long enough, it becomes pliable and, more importantly, translucent. The guide pointed out to us that the windows were not considered decorative as much as they were considered tutorial because of course the common people could not read. 

“Everything is symbolic, and every window tells several stories.  In addition to people and situations in the Bible that are depicted, the glass craftsmen also set in little symbols to promote their businesses.  Ha!  One guy who gave money for a whole window was actually a bell maker by trade, so every panel has several bells in it.  So if the clergy or merchants were looking at the window, they might think, “Bells are cool, aren’t they?  I think we should have another bell!”  Then, low and behold, the bell maker would have had his name written in the window. 

“Anyone who thinks the strategies of marketing, cross-selling, promotion, and advertising are recent phenomena is wrong!” 

* Target was not an official sponsor of the winter Olympics, but it had a presence in Torino anyway.  It wrapped  commuter trains in large supergraphics featuring downhill skiers and snowboarders wearing Target logos.  It also sent a team of “experiential marketers” who recruited a couple dozen good-looking young Italians to wander the streets dressed in Target colors and skiing bibs.  They answered questions, promoted the brand and found their way on to telecasts.

We were in Hollywood a couple years ago during the Academy Awards and saw a similar strategy.  The Independent film awards celebration was in a couple of large tents out near the beach in Venice.  People dressed in Target colors and riding cute red and white motor scooters were everywhere... zipping along, gathering at intersections, greeting people.

It’s an admirable, out-of-the-box way of thinking about media placement.  And it seems to have grown from a guerilla marketing tactic to a regular part of Target’s opportunistic branding program.

*  My graduate class at St. Thomas had our third annual debate on the pros and cons of branding last week.  A lot of interesting data surfaced, including a good critique from “Beyond the Brand” by John Winsor.  He decries the co-opting of the word to apply to everything from “branding” countries and locations (Bermuda, Puerto Rico and now Oregon, Mongolia and Slovenia) to ordinary activities (HR advice on “what’s your personal brand?”).  One student recounted the tale of a non-profit committee set up to raise funds that decided it needed its own brand and  logo before it could get started.

For all the foolishness, brands and branding are still worth attention.  A few years ago the value of the Coca Cola brand (just the name and identity) was estimated at $69 billion.  The value of the Apple brand was worth more than the market value of the company.  Nortel’s brand was recently valued at $25 billion. 

Market leaders tend to have more valuable brands as well as dominant market shares .  A rule of thumb: the #1 brand holds 50% of the market; #2 holds about 25%; #3 about 12.5% and everyone else splits the remaining 12.5%.  Another rule of thumb:  the value of a leadership brand is roughly equal to twice annual revenues.

For the record:  the “Pro” team squeaked out a narrow victory because they had better arguments and more supporting data.

*  Attempts to replace the #10 package as the standard for producing DM results continues.  A recent test promoting trade shows had postcards returning a 5% response while #10s delivered only 3.5%.

* Little things matter.  In a recent test to increase magazine subscriptions the offer “Save $12.00; Subscribe for only $10” pulled better than “Save $12. Subscribe for only $10.00.”  Every retailer knows that a $9.99 price point will sell better than a $10 one.  But in a recent DM test, $9.97 pulled better than either.

* A couple final factoids to leave you with:

-- Reuters, the European news agency began as a series of posts for carrier pigeons.  It’s a long, long way to the world wide web! 

-- Remember as you’re targeting your markets:  there are 77 million baby boomers in the U.S. and the over 50 demographic controls 20 times the wealth of the 18-35 one. It’s not exclusive to older folks, of course, but the market for replacement hips and knees last year was $3 billion.  Every hour, 330 people in America turn 60. 

Things Done Well
-- February 2006

The History Forum is a series of lectures by prominent speakers on the subject of america in the 20th century.  Topics have included WWI and its effect on American culture, the Cold War, the polio epidemic of the 1940s and 50s and, last month, the decade of the 1960s.

The speaker was Thomas Sugrue, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.  He missed some of the essence of the period  -- he was 6 when Woodstock happened -- but he had some interesting observations.

Nostlagia, he pointed out, is more about what we forget than what we remember.  In some ways it’s the “enemy of history” because it romanticizes events and ignores their complexity.  The 60s are a prime example.  We remember the radical, liberal movements such as hippies, free-love, the civil rights movement, feminism, war protests, campus activism, going to San Francisco with flowers in  your hair, etc. 

But we forget that there was an equal and opposite conservative movement.  Goldwater carried more southern states in 1964 than at any time since the Civil War;  Reagon was elected governor of California in 1966;  televangelism began big time operations; California passed its first anti-tax measures and voted against civil rights for immigrants.  The NAACP didn’t grow between 1960 and 1970 and there were as many Young Republicans on campus in 1970 as there were members of the SDS.

Sugrue’s main argument, though, was that most of this really didn’t effect mainstream America.  In the 60s, the “defining” movements were on the fringes and were seen that way by most middle class and blue collar families.  For them, the 60s was a kind of continuum with what went before.  They watched events on TV, but they really didn’t respond to them.

I’m not so sure, and, unlike Sugrue, I WAS there.  Sugrue does claim that the media was arguably the most important “player” during the period, with the unprecedented reach of TV (and color TV at that) and the extraordinary journalism of the period.  This was back when war correspondents weren’t “embedded” with military PR people or afraid to leave a Green Zone... and local news wasn’t all so vapid and sensational.

I think the media played a major role -- especially in the Civil Rights movement and building anti-war sentiment.  When those images appeared of civil rights activists being sprayed with fire hoses, set upon by dogs and beaten by cops, they changed something fundamental in our beliefs about American fairness and the rule of law.  When we saw the pictures of military action in Vietnam, wounded soliders and body bags, it made it very hard to trust our leaders who were telling us we were “winning” the war and just had to “stay the course” (sound familiar?).  And when we saw Mayor Daley give a one-fingered salute to a speaker at the Democratic Convention, it seemed like he was violating what we thought was a legitimate electoral process (30 years before a conservative Supreme Court did essentially the same thing)..

But Sugrue leaves out what I would call the most important definer of the times:  the music.  From the bubble-gum rock and roll of the early 60s to the psychedelic innvoations of the San Francisco scene, music was the heartbeat of the 60s.  It’s a long way from “I want to hold your hand” to Sergeant Peppers, and an even longer journey from hootenannies to Jimmy Hendix, and we tracked every step with an interest that can only be called religious.  And this was way before Ipods.

You could argue that any era has a majority of people who aren’t involved in societal change.  But I would also argue that what defines an era is precisely what Sugrue discounts (or doesn’t mention) --  the activity on the fringes that changes our views of who we are and/or should be.  Sugrue may be right in pointing out that the decade had more complexity than we sometimes credit, but the seeds of a radical conservatism are not the same as its fruition. 

The 60s, in America and around the world, were a time of great hope and great change. Those of us who came of age then were both patiiotic and idealistic, energized by Kennedy’s call to ask what we could do for our country.  It was also a time of great scientific and technological change, much of it driven by JFK’s goal to put a man on the moon.  I wonder how historians will look back on the early 21st century.  It’s certainly another period of great scientific and technological change, but it’s also a period of anti-science and societal stasis.  It seems to lack the energizing idealism that Sugrue missed in his talk.

I remember arguing with a professor about this a few years ago.  He was complaining that the 60s were a terrible time for teaching because authority was being questioned on every front.  “Yes,” I replied, “but it was a great time for learning.”

The best thing about these lectures is that they take place at all.  The auditorium has seats for about 350 people.  They have been sold out since last fall.

Is Online Worth It? -- January 2006

As we start 2006, online appears to be where it’s at.  The forecasts keep getting rosier, with the latest data I’ve seen indicating that online advertising will generate close to $17 billion dollars in revenue this year.  The surveys say that marketing decision makers plan to increase online spending anywhere from 25 to 70%. 

This, of course, means banner profits (so to speak) for companies like Google and Yahoo and more worries for “legacy” media like television, outdoor, newspapers and magazines.  The big winners are sponsored ads on landing pages and graphic banner ads, with “rich media” (animated mini-commercials) quickly catching up.

What is all this doing for clients’ bottom lines?  Real data is remarkably hard to come by, though I suspect it’s lurking in the file folders of people who know what they’re doing.  According to marketingsherpa.com (an interesting and sometimes useful site) 43% of 2005 survey respondents said that results for paid search advertising were “very good.”  That’s an increase from 34% in 2004.  And it beats satisfaction with email marketing, which was just 25% in 2005.

I tend to be a bit suspicious of phrases like “very good” when it comes to advertising results.  Too often that means nobody actually measured anything, compared it to goals and tracked it through to ROI.  But somebody (with a job review coming up?) thinks things are going well. 

I’ve done my own very informal survey and failed to come up with real case histories. This could be because nobody wants to share data, or it could be that nobody really has any. One respondent, when asked if they had hard data replied “of course we do,” but provided no specifics.  Another indicated that a campaign involving an online strategy had “exceeded goals,” but they hadn’t broken out the online component.  Online and multichannel retailers appear to have had a good holiday season, but, again, I haven’t seen specifics yet. 

A few bits of real data filter through, and they’re not encouraging.  One source indicated that click through rates for sponsored ads dropped from 3% to 2.6% between 2004 and 2005, while the cost per click for these ads on Google increased from $1.29 to $1.61.   Another source shows declining click-through rates for rich media, with the “industry average” in 2004 being 0.39%.   A 2005 B2B campaign that tracked results from emails sent to house lists reported click through rates of 0.5% to 2.0%. Another B2C source claims that “conversion” rates (another term with varying definitions) for people who click on banner ads is usually in the single digits, though it’s slightly higher for email programs sent to house lists.

Maybe that $17 billion will be worth it.  The internet is a powerful medium and getting more so every day.  U.S. web searches grew to over 2 million in 2005, a 27% increase over the previous year.

But I find it remarkable that data is so hard to come by, especially in a medium that is relatively easy to track.  It may be true that dollars spent for online marketing are generating positive results, but this wouldn’t be the first time that “very good” is an advertising euphemism for “we have no idea.”

Images and email

Marketingsherpa.com did an eye-tracking study on how people read email.  The results indicated that an image -- any kind of image -- increases readership:  “What's interesting is most people looking at this email didn't actually spend a lot of that time on the picture itself. The picture was such a frequently-seen image they could register it in almost peripheral attention mode. However, its presence raised their engagement level with the email, and willingness to read much more of the copy.”

Design and layout played an even more important role, but the lesson here is that making your message visual is as important as ever.  It’s always been true in traditional advertising, of course, but now we have some proof that it’s also true on line.  Whether it’s a print ad, a brochure or an electronic newsletter, adding pictures helps both readership and retention.  The most effective pictures?  Use people.

From copywriter to coach

One of the newer trends in the business is the assumption of the title “marketing coach.”  I know of at least three copywriters who now also advertise coaching services. It’s an interesting development.  Copywriters (good ones) are often well situated to assume a leading role in the development of marketing communications.  We’re the ones who have to understand the client’s business, product and marketing strategy, as well as the audience’s situation, needs and desires -- all before we sit down to write.

Does that enable us to be coaches?  Maybe.  With the fallout after 9/11,  a lot of experienced people left the business, making way for a new generation of younger, less knowledgeable marketing people.  This isn’t always bad, in fact it’s a natural part of the ad world, but it does open up opportunities for new ways to bring in the experience that may be lacking. 

FYI, we don’t offer coaching services (at least not formally) but we do offer training sessions and customized seminars for marketing communications groups.  Let me know if you have a need or an interest.

Party On -- Excellently -- December 2005

“The more things change, the more they don’t.”  It’s an old bromide but that doesn’t make it any less applicable. 

“In Search of Excellence” by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman was the one truly must-read business book of the 1980s .  It was a collection of “lessons from America’s best-run companies” backed up with mini-case histories about companies like IBM, Disney, Hewlett Packard and McDonald’s. 

In the late 1990s, Leonard Barry published “Discovering the Soul of Service,” which translated the search for excellence to service industries using examples like Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Charles Schwab and the St. Paul Saints.

Now we have a pat-on-the-back article by Dale Buss called ”Branding, A Job Well Done.”  It highlights excellence in customer service by Ritz-Carlton, Costco and the Cheesecake Factory.  Buss want to make the point that companies don’t need advertising to build a brand.  Excellent service built by intensive training (and treatment) of employees will be enough to “become household names by alternative means.”

The ideas are solid, if not new.  Cheesecake Factory treats its employees like “internal customers” to build a culture that features a competitive drive to providing each guest with top level service.  Costco works hard at turning employees into “internal marketers” who build networking relationships through churches, civic organizations, unions, etc.  Unadvertised low prices drive word-of-mouth so well that one in every 10 American carries a Costco card. 

Ritz-Carlton uses a 20-point list called “The Ritz-Carlton Basics” to encourage every employee to become “attendants to our guests... (and) actors spreading our brand.”  If a guest makes a complaint, the person who receives it “owns” it, records it and resolves it to the guest’s satisfaction.

Calling this “branding” brings home the point -- so often missed -- that branding is much more than creating graphic standards for a cohesive collateral program.  But it misses the point that building a brand also requires a sound advertising strategy, lead generation, promotion, PR and other marketing efforts. Still, you gotta be what you say you are  (as one of my mentors used to proclaim) and good branding efforts begin with employees who believe in the organization’s idea and walk their talk.

The similarity to earlier commentaries about service and excellence brings home another point.  Business ideas tend to go in cycles.  Some remain valid, some don’t, but
much as we like to look to the future and start fresh, it’s useful to have some history in the mix.

Especially in marketing, if we know even a little about what’s happened before we can avoid reinventing the wheel with every initiative.

Some things do change, of course.  We used to know how to party.

Back in the ancient days of the Minneapolis advertising community (how fast a quarter century flies by!) this time of year events piled on top of each other.  There was a gala party hosted by media representatives from Chicago, photographers’ parties, typesetters’ parties, color separation house parties, paper company and printer’s parties, design studio open houses (and open bars) and agency shindigs with loose invitation policies.  Clients used to invite their agency teams to marketing group celebrations.  Even copywriters were included! 

The good news is that 80% of America’s companies are planning some kind of holiday party this year.  The bad news is that 75% of those say their budget for such events is the same or less than last year.

One of the great advantages of the old style of partying was that you got to know each other better.. People knew people they had met under pool tables.  Art directors and copywriters fell in love (sometimes figuratively, sometime literally). Client-agency relationships were deepened, even when things got out of hand (as they often did).  Guilt, like deadlines, can be a wonderful driving force for producing good work -- on both sides of the desk.

If you wanted to you could schedule a free lunch almost any day and come back at happy hour to rejoin the group.  One might think the work suffered.  I think the opposite was true.  The work, at least creatively, soared.  This was when this town made its name for creative firepower and built a national reputation that still attracts talent and clients.

And gifts were exchanged.  My favorite:  One year we were doing work with a very classy design firm whose principals had roots in Iowa.  On Christmas Eve one of them showed up on my doorstep with a large box.  He handed it to me, wished us a happy holiday and bustled off.  Inside was a 12-pound slab of custom cured bacon!  It took us until late summer to get through it.

Happy Holidays. We hope to join you in a busy and prosperous New Year!

Estonia, Bullshit and Gutter Trees
-- November 2005

While I normally prefer truth over trends, I have to admit that some recent trends have caught my attention.  For instance, there appears to be a growing interest in “serious” subjects presented through the medium of lectures.  The recent Nobel conference in St. Peter celebrating the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s publication of the special theory of relativity attracted over 5000 people for two days of heavy and heady lectures on subjects ranging from string theory to Einstein’s development as an outspoken social critic.

A recent talk by Salmon Rushdie as part of the Westminster Forum in Minneapolis was standing room only.  Rushdie spoke eloquently about the role of fiction in presenting the “stories we live in,” and the conflict between truth and lies in fiction and politics.  He talked about the “intimacy” of reading as opposed to watching TV or movies, how it happens “inside our heads” and how the act of writing is completed by the reader so it’s always different.  (Interested?  Send me an email and I’ll send you my notes on this lecture.)

The Minnesota Historical Society has sold out a series of lectures on various historical topics.  The most recent was about the polio epidemic of the 1930s,40s and 50s.  David Oshinsky, a University of Texas professor, discussed the competing development of the Saulk and Sabine vaccines.  The most moving part of the talk, however, was the story of the March of Dimes.  Founded by FDR and his law partner, it established new paradigms for non-profit fund raising and fulfilled its mission:  half the money went to research and promotion, the other half made sure that everyone (every one!) who contracted polio got the best possible medical care.  That’s one reason FDR ended up on the dime.

But my favorite trend is the popularity of the essay, “On Bullshit,” written over 20 years ago by a Princeton professor, Harry Frankfurt, and recently published as a book.  It’s a semi-serious study of the subject that gets into the distinctions between lying, telling the truth and not caring which is which.  Frankfurt on advertising: 

“The realms of advertising and of public relations, and the nowadays closely related realm of politics, are replete with instances of bullshit so unmitigated that they can serve among the most indisputable and classic paradigms of the concept. And in these realms there are exquisitely sophisticated craftsmen who — with the help of advanced and demanding techniques of market research, of public opinion polling, of psychological testing, and so forth — dedicate themselves tirelessly to getting every word and image they produce exactly right.”

I’ve always been a fan of bullshit.  It’s something I believe is both a more complex form of “Truth” than the usual pious homilies, and an essential part of our survival as a modern species.  Bullshit is never the complete truth, but usually contains partial ones.  The mental act needed to separate the two helps us discover what we think is the “real” truth and makes us better critical thinkers.

By the way, Frankfurt points out that the term didn’t originate with cow manure.  It dates back to the spurious Papal “Bulls” of the Middle Ages when you could buy everything from saints’ bones to eternal forgiveness of sins.  The association with livestock didn’t come about until the late 19th century.


-- The hottest travel destination these days is Capetown.  A little more than a decade after the official end of apartheid, the city is building a reputation for style, fashion, and tourism.  It’s also completing what will be the third-largest movie production studio in the world.

-- Estonia (Estonia?) is the only nation on earth where every aspect of the government is on line and internet access is a constitutional right.

-- Want a new definition for what you do?  Try this:  “Marketing is an actionable conversation about the future.”


There’s a tree growing out of my gutter.  It’s not a big tree but it’s been there for some time, so when a recent newspaper arrived carrying a Post-it note on the front page advertising a gutter cleaning service I called.  They scheduled.  Then they called back to cancel.  Too many responses, too few trucks and service people. 

It’s a classic problem: advertising that works too well.  It’s not the most serious of problems and ad people tend to worry about it more than they should.  Most advertising struggles to produce results -- better to worry about that first.  But occasionally you get a response that exceeds expectations and, rarely, you get a response that swamps your capabilities.

The solution is to learn from the experience.  Next time, control the distribution of those Post-it notes better and plan based on previous response rates.  In the meantime I think I’ll hang Christmas lights on my gutter tree.  It should be big enough by then.

The Legacy of Einstein
-- October 2005

Notes from the 2005 Nobel Conference.  Lots of stuff on the special and general theories of relativity, string theory, Einstein’s “education,” and how Einstein’s 1905 papers change the way we understand the universe.  If you’re interested, link to the notes:  TheLegacyofEinstein.doc.

Forgetting the Fundamentals -- October 2005

I was checking out at the grocery store when a box of laundry detergent wouldn’t go through the scanner.  The checkout person examined the box carefully.  Bright yellow color. Multiple red logos.  Slogans -- “Powerfully Clean” “Naturally Fresh”  “The Arm and Hammer guarantee” “Complete Triple Action Formula”-- were proudly proclaimed in both English and Spanish.  

But nowhere on the box did it say what the product was.

She rang it up as cat litter.

It seems to me a good example of the failure of our current emphasis on branding and promotion.  We leap to establish a branding “look and feel” before we have a place for the brand in the minds of customers.  We promote all kinds of often meaningless slogans in an attempt to differentiate what are essentially commodity products.  In the process we forget the basics, like including on the packaging what the product actually is.

The problem goes beyond packaging.  I’ve seen B2B marketers get so entangled in their efforts to establish brand “standards” that they forget to consider what the customer might actually want.  They jump over the marketing building blocks that should precede branding:

-- establish a customer need/desire
-- define it carefully and keep it current.
-- design and market a product/service that meet the customer’s need/desire
-- build preference based on delivering value.
-- create a group of market advocates that champion your product’s value.

THEN begin efforts to build a brand with a consistent look and message.  Be what people expect you to be and keep delivering the value.  The brand identity, packaging, promotional strategies and marketing ideas will flow from that.

Trying to build a brand in advance -- before people know who you are, what you stand for, what your product is, what it does, how it provides value and why they should care -- is misbegotten marketing. 

It’s like washing your clothes with cat litter, or putting detergent in the litter box.


We recently attended the 41st Nobel Conference in St. Peter, a remarkable event that attracts 5000 people to sit on hard chairs for two days of esoteric scientific lectures.  This year’s theme was “The Legacy of Einstein,” celebrating the hundredth anniversary of his publication of the Special Theory of Relativity.  There was a lot of theoretical physics, discussions of string theory, an update on what we now know (or think we know) about the structure of the universe and insights into Einstein’s growth as a person as well as a physicist. 

If you’re interested, let me know.  I’ve written up my notes as a Word document.


Some favorite recent samples of wearable slogans:

* A t-shirt on a teenager:  “Sarcasm:  just one of the services I provide.”

* A kitchen apron for sale in a catalog:  “Don’t make me poison your dinner.”

* A bright red t-shirt at the Nobel Conference:  “If this looks blue to you, you’re moving too fast.”

The Musee Publicite in Paris -- September 2005

The Musee Publicite (Advertising Museum) is located just off Rue Rivoli in Paris, at the northwest corner of the Louvre.  It’s a temporary location, while the larger museum space undergoes renovation. 

When I stopped by a month ago the place was a trendy, modern installation with lots of brushed aluminum, dark areas and careful lighting.  The featured exhibit was “metro,” a series of large photographs of Paris subway stops.  They were notable for the classic balance -- green and black tile at Saint Lazarre; yellow and red glazed brick at Raspail;  houses and tree tops at La Chapelle.  The photos also highlighted subway advertising -- very large posters, mostly for movies, cosmetics and retail stores.  They looked erie with their blazing images and colors in the deserted stations.

The museum featured more nudity and risqué ads than you see here:  a perfume ad with a young man in the background and a models long legs in the foreground with the headline:  “Stop Thinking;”  an ad for olive oil with a naked woman lying in a pool full of olives. There was an Yves St. Laurent ad with a retouched (I assume) photo of a guy hanging by his feet from a helicopter to kiss an attractive young woman standing at the top deck of the Eiffel Tower.  (Ogilvy on outdoor and poster advertising:  it should create “a visual scandal.”)

There were displays of 100 years of Coke and Perrier bottles and TV screens playing commercials before deep, comfy couches.  In a classic Pledge ad, a cleaning lady closes the door to an office, sprays on the product, then takes a running leap to slide down the conference table on her stomach.

What wasn’t there was missed:  the classic French posters from the period 1890 to 1940.  Beginning with Toulouse Lautrec and continuing through the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods, those posters set the standard for “visual scandal” that I miss in today’s advertising art.  More on this subject later this month, when a new “Observations” will be ready.

Direct mail note: We recently tested a B2B mailing where the offer was golf balls.  Half the list was offered a sleeve (3 balls) of top quality golf balls, the other half was offered a box (12).  Results?  The box offer outpulled the sleeve by nearly two to one and drew five times as many qualified leads.  I see two lessons here:  First, Offer Big!  After the list, the offer is the most important part of a direct mail effort, so don’t skimp.  Offer something you would really like to have if you were part of the target audience.  Second, go for response.  Some folks think that it’s better to trim the list and offer to get more qualified respondents, but in test after test I’ve found that if you get more raw inquiries you also get a disproportionately high number of qualified leads as well.


Friends and colleagues --

A note about availability:  We’re not taking on any new projects until September.  Our son, Sam, is getting married in southern France in a few weeks and we’ll be out of the country for much of August.  If you have a project or campaign where we could help, please get in touch after Labor Day.  And if you know someone who could use our help, or might like to be on our mailing list, please let them know about us or refer them to our Web site, www.wilhide.com. 

See you in September!



Branding is the hot marketing trend at the moment and has been for the past several years.  But in spite of claims to the contrary, it’s hardly a new phenomenon.  Consider Duke Ellington.  His “famous orchestra” was promoted in the 1930s in a way that could be  a classic case study of brand-building.  Irving Mills was his impresario and in 1933 he published a manual for publicity agents at venues that had booked Ellington and the band.  It included, among other things:

*  The correct way to list Ellington, the famous orchestra and Mills Artists on all promotional material, including line art of Ellington in top hat and tails.

* Suggestions on how to get media outlets (radio stations and local newspapers) interested in interviews.

* Availability of photos for “autograph stunts.”

* Newspaper “tie-ups” for charitable causes such as “ shoe fund, boys camp, crippled children, aged persons or hospital shut-ins.”

* A collection of sample press stories, “punch lines” and “trailers” to be used at movie theaters.

The manual also included what we would now call “message points:”  “In your campaign do not treat Duke Ellington as just another band leader... Sell Ellington as a great artist, a musical genius whose unique style and individual theories of harmony have created a new music.  Sell his orchestra as a class attraction, a group of stellar artists whose performance has stimulated international interest...”

This comes from, “Reminiscing in Tempo: A Portrait of Duke Ellington,  an excellent biography by Stuart Nicholson.  It’s almost entirely written in direct quotes from Ellington and his associates, which gives it both narrative drive and a wonderful sense of immediacy.

We now think of Ellington as a legend and one of America’s national treasures, but in the early 1930s he WAS just another band leader.  He was “controlled” for instance by mob interests in New York (who also offered valuable protection in Chicago and Los Angeles), and he faced the same problems while traveling in the south as other black entertainers. (Many of those problems were solved by leasing private Pullman cars for the band to use as sleeping and eating quarters).

Radio broadcasts from Harlem’s Cotton Club, and appearances in movies helped elevate Ellington to national recognition.  And Mills’ branding guide helped keep the momentum going throughout the Depression years.

There’s a new creative group in town, composed of writers, novelists, copywriters, poets, editors, graphic artists, movie and commercial directors and others who engage in creative activities.  The group calls itself “Algonquin Hotdish” -- a play off New York’s Algonquin Roundtable of the 1920s -- and meets most first Fridays at someone’s house.  The food is excellent, the wine is plentiful and the conversation is varied, interesting and often hilarious. 

I’m also continuing to help stage and promote poetry “salons” in my role as Poet Laureate of Linden Hills.  Both efforts are attempts to bring people together to talk about things beyond the weather, the cabin and our health (though we certainly cover those subjects as well).   It ain’t New York or Paris, perhaps, but it ain’t Fargo either.

One of the things I like about direct mail is that there are rules of thumb that have been tested for decades and still apply.  They don’t guarantee success, but knowing them helps separate the amateurs from the pros. 

For instance, there’s a hierarchy of things that determine results.  The list -- who you mail to -- comes first.  Spend most of your time getting a good list, working with it, maintaining it and turning it into a database.

After the list is the offer:  what’s in it for the recipient?  The offer should be something you would want if you were on that mailing list.  Good offers entice people into taking action, not just reading the piece.  The worst offers are things like “request a sales call” or “for more information...”

After the offer is the format.  A “blind #10” package is usually the most effective.  It’s an envelope with just the logo and return address on the front, a 2-page letter and a response device.  Five-part Cornell packages also work well.  Postcards usually don’t unless they’re announcing a sale or an event.

After the offer is the “creative” -- how the message is presented.  At this level (and only after you’ve really spent time on the first three) pay attention to things like how the piece is worded, the tone, whether you call out, indent or bold face parts of the copy, how soon the reader gets to the offer, what goes in the P.S., the motivational quality of visuals, etc.

Every part of a direct mail  package is important -- both what you include and what you leave out -- but some things are more important than others if you want to generate response.  Once you find a package that works, test it until something else beats it.

Recent research -- May 2005

Well it’s May, but the weather here in Minnesota sure doesn’t seem like it.  It’s been gray and rainy forever and it snowed as recently as a couple weeks ago.  This is why the great majority of the world’s population lives south of here.  Nonetheless, life is still interesting.  Here are some recent tidbits and factoids that you may be able to use.

And please remember -- if you have a project or campaign where we can help, get in touch.  If not, tell your friends.  If you know people who might be interested in these periodic marketing notes, let me know and I’ll add them to the list.  (If you’re interested in other subjects, or in finding out more about Wilhide & Co.’s services, go to our website:  www.wilhide.com.)

*  Why do people go into this business?  One of my students did her master’s thesis on childhood influences as determinants of careers.  She surveyed nearly 1000 business communications pros and asked them about key career traits like leadership, teamwork, communication skills and confidence.  68% of them said they learned leadership skills when they volunteered as kids.  93% attributed teamwork skills to youth team sports.  81% attributed communication skills to volunteer activities. 87% said that individual sports (especially tennis) helped them build confidence.

Surprisingly (or maybe not), very few followed in their parents’ career footsteps -- 78% never considered it.  The most important determinant of a career choice in biz comm?  English classes in high school, college or both.

*  Another student did a class project on the use of images and copy in advertising.  She found conflicting results about the efficacy of long and short copy -- half the “experts” prefer one, half the other.  I’m still convinced that your copy should be as long as your audience’s attention span for the subject -- which is NOT the same thing as everything you think you want to say.

*  75% of the tickets for Broadway road shows are purchased by women.  The promotional efforts in this category, however, are way behind the curve in terms of media, budget and creative.  They seem to be fixated on icons (the Phantom’s mask, the little girl for Les Miserables, etc.)  This works when the icon stands for something but not so much when the icon doesn’t carry the emotional attachment ot the show.

* There is evidence that a “likable” spokesperson can counter unfavorable response to a brand.  This is not the same as saying that if people like your ads they’ll like your product -- in fact there is evidence to suggest the opposite.  The Mr. Whipple (“Don’t squeeze the Charmin”) ads were frequently cited as the most annoying campaign around, but the product maintained its number one position for more than a decade. 

*  Another master’s degree thesis focused on the use of technology in K-12 classrooms.  The study showed wide and enthusiastic acceptance of it among both teachers and students. (The role of linking parents to schools via technology is still up in the air.)  76% of students have access to key technology (computers, cell phones, etc.) and two-thirds of them have internet access at home.  Surprisingly (or, again, maybe not) the early acceptors of technology in the classroom seem to be older teachers (16+ years of experience) not the younger ones.

* Speaking of old folks, a friend is finishing a book on marketing to the AARP audience.  One of the useful discoveries is how diverse this audience really is.  People who lived through the depression and WW2 have different views from those who “matured” during the 1950s and they differ from those who came of age during the Vietnam era.  The divides are widespread and important, so if you’re marketing to “seniors” be sure you know which ones you’re talking to.  We have more money and spend more than any other demographic segment, but we’re not a homogeneous group.

* My favorite recent bumper sticker:  “Frodo failed.  Bush has the ring.”


Tips from the front lines -- April 2005

*  Paul Frett, who does Web marketing for Target, talked to my St. Thomas graduate class a few weeks ago.  Target is using carefully delineated “micro-sites” to serve its various customers and reinforce its brand.  One site is aimed at new and recent mothers and features links to healthcare resources that deal with pre-and post-natal subjects.  Another site is aimed at 13-18 year old males and features online videos about extreme sports.  The content of each side is radically different, of course, but they both do a nice job of positioning Target’s brand. 

Paul thinks the next major trend will be using wireless capabilities to link retailers to customers.  Cell phones, for instance, offer a widespread medium for providing marketing information, but a way must be found to prevent spamming.

*  Should you use a self-mailer or a piece contained in an envelope for your direct marketing?  For several years we’ve found that a “blind number 10” package is the most effective format for most DM efforts.  It’s an envelope with the recipient’s name and a return address, a 2-page letter and a response card, and it outpulls every other format -- including postcards and most dimensional packages. 

Now there’s new supportive evidence.  A client recently wanted to collect voluntary email addresses from its newsletter mailing list.  The newsletter was mailed out with an offer to those who would provide their information.  Half the list got the newsletter as a self-mailer; the other half got it in a 9X12 envelope with a short letter.  Over 1000 people provided email address and 90% of responses came from the enclosed package.

*  One of the great things about e-marketing is how fast you can get results.  The normal response curve for a direct mail package might be a couple weeks.  For an email it’s about 48 hours.  In a recent test Best Buy offered a desktop computer system for “$400 off.”  Response was below norms after 24 hours, so Best Buy changed the offer to “Systems starting at $299.”  Response increased dramatically.  Within 36 hours the offer was made, tested and changed to be more effective.

* Are brochures becoming obsolete?  Well, no.  Recently a student argued persuasively that brochures do things online media can’t:  they are dimensional so people have a tactile connection to them.  They can be carried to meetings and shared in a way that URLs can’t.  They provide consistent color and layout.  And they slow down the process of communication so people engage more.  Web sites and email may be easier, but they are not necessarily more effective.

The principle holds on a broader scale as well.  While its becoming second nature for many of us to count on web-based media, it’s not true for everyone.  There’s still an acceptance spectrum out there.  In some ways it mirrors the red-state, blue-state political divide.  In urban centers and with highly educated and younger populations, online is where it’s at.  But the further you get from cities, campuses and coasts, the further south you go and the further west, the more you find resistance to computer-based communication. 

* How do you get the most from recruitment advertising?  One of the students in my class is an expert.  Among her tips and suggestions: Get marketing involved because HR people often don’t have the skills to do this right. Ask any group of people what they want to know about a new job and you’ll get a range of answers.  But they’ll almost always include location, hours and salary.  Job postings on the internet are increasing but newspaper classifieds are still slightly more productive.  Change features (company background, position requirements) to benefits:  here’s what we offer and here’s how the job matches your qualifications.

She also notes that branding plays a role in recruitment advertising.  Strong brands attract better prospects, so if you have one, make it prominent.  The want ads are a good place to show your brand name.  One recruitment firm ran ads with just the company name and a contact address.  It drew more responses than “real” ads with details of jobs.


Aristotle Now -- February 2005

There’s a California business called Aristotle International, Inc. that specializes in “political technology” -- the stuff used to do polling and analyze surveys.  Condoleezza Rice has been a client. In New Zealand there’s a business motivational firm called “Aristotle: your personal mentor.”  Aristotle Web Design is an award-winning design shop in (of all places) Arkansas.  “If Aristotle Ran General Motors: The New Soul of Business,” by Tom Morris, was an international business bestseller a few years ago. (In 1998, he gave over 100 keynote speeches to corporate audiences.)

Why is this dead white guy (and a Greek to boot) still prominent in a world where trends excite us so much more than truths?  I taught my annual class on Aristotle recently and the common response from students was -- “I couldn’t believe how much of what he says is still so important today.”

So what does Aristotle say?  Well, lots of stuff.  He was the son of the court physician for Philip of Macedon and the top student at Plato’s academy in Athens -- Plato called him “the intelligence of the school.”  As top students sometimes do, he rebelled against Plato’s ideas about universal truths and set up his own school to investigate the “real” world around him.  At one time he was directing 1000 researchers who set out to catalog all the known plants and animals.  He published over 400 manuscripts.  Then he became a celebrity tutor to Alexander the Great -- the world’s leading military genius, trained by the world’s leading philosopher.  Oh, those Greeks!

But none of this is especially relevant to most of us.  What we really care about is what Aristotle had to say about ethics and persuasion.  He was the founder of a system of logic used to discover truth and he was so good at it that what he said became accepted as Truth.  For 1500 years, next to the Bible, Aristotle’s Truth was the most definitive one around.

In “The Art of Rhetoric,” Aristotle lays out the system for how you go about persuading people.  He thought persuasion was an art, not a science, because it was not always true the same way (like scientific experiments) and because you didn’t have to have special training to do it.  He also thought that true persuasion didn’t rely on tricks (artifice) but on finding the inherent, convincing thing in an argument.  “Rhetoric,” he says, “is the power to observe the persuasiveness of which any particular matter admits.”  And he knew that persuasion depends on emotion as well as logic.

Aristotle thought there were three types of proof:  the character of the speaker, the disposition of the audience and the speech itself.  In modern marketing, we might translate these to the brand, the market and the ad.  Character is especially important, because if we trust the speaker we are more willing to accept whatever he or she says.  This is why Reagan’s administration was effective even while polls showed his policies were highly unpopular. This is why Clinton was less effective, even though his policies were popular. This is probably why Bush got re-elected. He used the word “character” four times in his recent State of the Union speech, each time with a different meaning.

But the heart of Aristotle’s ideas on persuasion is understanding the audience.  “The Art of Rhetoric,” in addition to being the first systematic study of persuasion, is also the first real study of what today we call behavioral psychology.

People seek pleasure, says Aristotle, and they seek to avoid pain.  This is the central idea behind almost all advertising.  People find pleasure in nostalgia, in winning, in revenge, in friendship, status, power, nature, physical exercise, successful offspring and flattery.  They are displeased by the opposites of all these things.

The root of all anger, Aristotle says, is a feeling of disrespect.  The basis of fear is “proximity of danger.”  People are envious of others’ wisdom, wealth and power and also when they are “small-minded, because all things seem great to them.”  Confidence comes from having succeeded, from overcoming obstacles, from having “assets,” and from being virtuous -- from having done no wrong.

Aristotle is a good target marketer too.  He discusses the three stages of life -- youth, age and “prime.”  The young are courageous, but foolish.  They are driven by bodily appetites and ambition.  They are magnanimous, value their friends and they “live in hope” for the future.  The old are wise, but cowardly.  They qualify their opinions, are more self-loving and pessimistic.  Those in their prime are balanced.  They are neither overconfident nor excessively fearful.  They balance courage with moderation. and they judge according to the truth.  Aristotle thought physical prime was about age 30-35 and the prime of the soul came at age 49.  I like to think we can move this last date up a bit -- as one of my students (bless her!) noted, “sixty is the new forty.”

All of this comes into play when we do advertising.  Character is important -- we trust a brand, especially when we don’t know much else about a product or service.  We trust politicians even when we don’t really understand their policies.  But the most important
knowledge we need is about the audience: How old are they?  What pleasure do they seek?  What pain do they wish to avoid?  What is the balance between emotion and logic that will move them to act?  How do we translate all this into an effective message?

So if you find yourself with a spare hour or two, browse through The Art of Rhetoric.  You don’t need to read it in Greek (as used to be required of all grade school students), and you don’t need to read the whole thing.  But I bet you’ll find useful stuff.  If nothing else, you can make an impression by dropping Aristotle’s name into your conversation.  And if you do engage the old guy, let me know -- it’s always fun to discuss the rediscovery of trendy truths.

-- Doug Wilhide

Miscellany -- December 2004

An update, and some items of interest, as we go into the final month of 2004. 

*  Does the quality of creative work make a difference?  Well, yes.  We recently completed a direct mail piece for Honeywell Federal Credit Union.  Same audience, same offer. We replaced a complicated package with unnecessary graphics and too much information with a much simpler piece in a blind envelope.  Results?  Response rates doubled.

*  Does integrating tactics work?  Again, yes.  We recently dropped a package for RSM McGladrey’s tax planning services to a list of about 35,000.  We added an email component, sent to a list about 1/3 as big.  Results?  The email produced 400 leads in less than a week.

*  I’m teaching a graduate class in Advertising Planning at St. Thomas this fall.  Three interesting discoveries:

-- Students reading a variety of books on “alternative” advertising strategies report that the alternatives are really mainstream ideas phrased differently.  Once you scratch the surface, you find that the same basic processes and premises make the difference between marketing that’s successful and marketing that’s not.

-- We discussed widely varying attempts at branding.  Target’s 2004 brand campaign was driven by “intuition,” with media choices that took advantage of unexpected opportunities and a budget that tripled.  H&R Block’s re-branding effort was researched to within an inch of it’s life, carefully monitored and produced less-than spectacular results.  Different strokes.

--  Guest speakers from Carmichael Lynch presented a case study on toilets -- specifically American Standard’s introduction of it’s new “Champion.” The new product intro featured demonstrations (the Champion can flush 29 golf balls at once!), a buzz-generating campaign to the trade using a full range of integrated tactics, and a consumer campaign using TV and print. 

* The Museum of Modern Art is reopening in New York after extensive remodeling.  It opened originally in 1929, just weeks after the stock market crashed.  The first exhibit featured a new group called “post impressionists,” and included 35 Cezannes, 26 Gauguins, 17 Seurats and 27 Van Goghs.  How would you like to have been there for that one (held in rented space on the 12th floor of an old building)?  Or been able to invest in some of the art?

* Finally -- a reminder: If you need help with marketing communications -- from planning a campaign to copywriting/art direction services to get it done right -- please get in touch. I d love to hear about your projects and perhaps could suggest some ideas. If you’re planning  for the first quarter of 2005, now is the time to call me, or email.    Tell your friends, tell your boss, keep us in mind when the subject comes up, forward these notes to others who may be interested.  Thanks!

Happy Holidays and best wishes for a prosperous 2005!

November 2004

“The Science of Aging” was the topic for the 40th annual Nobel Conference held in October in St. Peter, MN.  I took notes.  You can read them by clicking on this link: The Science of Aging.doc

You’ll find information about the state-of-the-art in gerontological thinking, as well as answers to some interesting questions:
-- What is aging and why is it a new and unique concern? (We’re the first species in the history of life on earth to have to worry about it.)
-- What is the difference between aging and age-related diseases and why is it important?
-- What is Alzheimer’s? How does it differ from other kinds of dementia? 
-- Should we be focused on the problems of aging or the benefits of long life?
-- What is “the positivity effect?”
-- Do microscopic worms hold the key to extending longevity?
-- Does reading and telling stories help “treat” dementia?

What’s Hot in July:  Marketing in the middle of 2004 --  7/5/04

1.  The hottest topic right now is metrics and measurement.  After the carnage of the last few years devastated marketing departments, budgets, careers and campaigns,  survivors are paying close attention to the business value of marketing efforts.  “ROI” lingers on everyone’s lips like an illicit kiss.  Advertisers want to know what they’re getting for their money and agencies are attempting to find new ways to show them. The result is a sharpening of pencils and of focus.

PR shops used to measure success by the number of media outlets that picked up a press release, or the value of PR exposure expressed in comparable advertising dollars.  Now smart PR shops are looking at which media pick up the story and how that influenced behavior among target audiences.

Ad agencies are mixing direct marketing and Web-based programs with ad campaigns to get quantifiable data to support claims of success.  It’s no longer good enough to say we reached X number of people X number of times.  Clients want to know what those people did and be able to relate that back to goals for which marketing people can be held accountable.

New techniques and technology are helping measurement-based disciplines like direct mail and Web-based marketing get data and analyze it faster.  Where DM people used to track raw inquiries, we now track qualified leads and sales data and relate them to list, offer, package format, geography, time of year and a dozen other variables.  Web efforts used to be measured in terms of the number of hits on a Web site.  Now we  track detailed information about who is connecting, what they’re looking at and how long they linger.

There’s a learning curve here, of course.  Most ad efforts still aren’t measured at all, people still claim success on a highly questionable basis and even direct marketers don’t always do the back end work well.  But the organizations that are picking up on this have an edge:  they can prove the value of marketing to management.

2.  Web-based marketing is moving to the center of integrated campaigns.  A couple years ago the Web part of a campaign was an afterthought, a “good idea” that often didn’t get funded properly.  Now companies are making the Web a key part of the strategy from the beginning.

Fallon’s groundbreaking campaigns for BMW featured short films created by “name” directors and shown only on the BMW Web site.  The results have been over the top, especially with the target audience of younger potential customers.  The campaign is entering its third year.  Target has been launching “micro sites” aimed at specific subsets of audiences, and collected under the umbrella of target.com.  The original idea was to bring Target’s Web presence more in line with its other branding efforts, but the results show that these sites provide useful data for promoting to specific interests.  There’s a micro-site aimed at teens that focuses on concerts, CDs and DVDs, and another aimed at expectant mothers and young families that includes links to sites with helpful advice.

Electronic marketing is also a hot area.  B2B marketers use it to support direct mail campaigns and to get easily downloadable information to prospects.  They also use email to promote special Web events -- webinars -- and to announce live training events.  Public Radio International (PRI) markets programming with an electronic newsletter and special flash emails that announce new offerings.

Again, there’s a learning curve,  but the organizations that are emphasizing Web and electronic marketing have a big advantage:  they can collect all kinds of data almost automatically and funnel it into spread sheets to sharpen future promotion.

3.  There’s a gap between entertaining an audience and selling them that isn’t getting bridged.  Too many ad campaigns go for the entertainment value and forget about the reason why organizations spend money to advertise.  The ads are often amusing and sometimes memorable, but they don’t do much for the bottom line.  The “Got Milk” campaign, for instance, was recently selected as one of the top three campaigns of the last decade, but it didn’t accomplish its goal, which was to increase sales of milk.  The Taco Bell chihuahua campaign won all kinds of awards, but it failed to bring in customers who were more interested in the food than the dog.

4.  There’s a serious problem with “going young” for many advertisers.  Most advertising is done by younger people and they tend to believe that what they’re interested in is what interests everyone.  While it’s true that young audiences (18-34) have more wealth than ever before, they’re a relatively small part of the overall universe and probably not the best target audience for many organizations.  AARP reports that the 50+ audience continues to be the fastest growing demographic segment, and it controls 70% of the wealth in the U.S.  It accounts for 40% of all consumer spending but is targeted in less than 10% of advertising messages.

5.  A related issue is the lack of experienced people in marketing departments and agencies.  Where we used to have a mix of new and seasoned pros, we now have mostly young people who are poorly trained.  They’re weak in both quantitative skills and writing and even weaker in understanding how their job relates to the purpose of the business.  They’re also less than expert at project management and long range planning.  They don’t know how to collect data, analyze it and communicate it so it can be used for the next campaign.

These are generalizations, of course.  There are plenty of talented young people in marketing now, and they bring both energy and optimism to the job.  But they lack basic skills and sorely miss having experienced hands around to guide and mentor them.

6.  There’s a renewed interest in understanding the audience.  There’s more money being spent to find out what audiences want, how they make decisions, why they buy or don’t buy, etc.  The slow but steady growth of the “account planner” function in top agencies, for instance, is an effort to represent the audience in discussions with both creative groups and clients.

7.  Branding is becoming recognized as an organization-wide effort, not just a superficial design strategy.  Companies with strong brands (Target, Lee Jeans, Apple, Mayo Clinic, among many others) are reshaping their structure around the brand.  Target, for instance, used its “fun, fast, and friendly” brand strategy to select products, design stores, hire people and make alliances with community groups -- as well as in advertising and collateral design.  Just slapping a new logo on the letterhead, or producing a “brand guidelines” book with rigid typography and color palettes isn’t enough any more.

8.  The wars between advertising and public relations (sparked by the 2002 book, “The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR” by Al Reiss and his daughter Laura) seem to be abating.  Good organizations are integrating PR and ad efforts more closely, and combining them with event marketing, Web and electronic initiatives and direct mail.  It isn’t easy to cut across silos, but the top person is now a “Communications Director” not a PR manager or an Advertising manager.

9.  We need to be alert to new media choices.  NASCAR, for instance, is growing rapidly while pro football, basketball and baseball are declining.  Advertising in movie theaters is one of the fastest growing “new "media.  The Morris car campaign recently bought a section of seats at a college football bowl game, removed them and put one of the cars in with the spectators to “watch” the game and be seen by the TV cameras.

10.  Another hot area is internal communications.  Printed newsletters and blanket announcements from HR departments have grown stale.  Leading companies now give employees access to sophisticated intranets where they can do everything from tracking their company stock and 401Ks (hour by hour) to product training, do-it-yourself IT fixes and group meetings, all on line, at the office, at home or on the road.

11.  People are learning to write visually.  Rather than producing narratives, we’re writing hard copy the way we read Web copy.  The important stuff is up front then backed up with more detail if you want to “drill down” to it.  You can get a summary at a glance, and more detail deeper in the Web site -- or in the back of the brochure/ newsletter/ white paper/ etc.

12.  We may be at a turning point in the communications business.  The dichotomies are starting to resolve:  measured results vs unmeasured campaigns;  youth vs experience;  entertainment vs product sell;  Web vs traditional media;  segmented disciplines vs integrated marketing; branding vs product-specific advertising.  The good organizations will find ways to tie these together and the best ones will figure out how to use new metrics to prove that their communications programs are an integral and vital part of the overall business mission.

Miscellaneous marketing notes -- 6/8/2004

*  Advertising/marketing that produces measurable (and measured) results is hard to find, but it’s not impossible: 
-- The Aflac insurance campaign (with that annoying duck) has posted impressive numbers.  Name recognition has nearly doubled and Aflac has posted double-digit sales gains while the rest of the industry stayed nearly flat.  Pretty good use of an icon-based creative strategy.
-- In places where the California avocado industry campaign has run, the percentage of “heavy users” of avocados increased from 28% to 44%.  Sounds good, but that’s over 10 years and one wonders if the change is due to the advertising or broader changes in diet and cooking patterns that led to using more avocados.
-- If you’ll pardon the lack of humility, I’m still enjoying a small direct mail campaign we did last fall for a manufacturer of cabinet doors.  The package cost under $6000 and produced first year new sales over $131,000, with a three-year projection of over $400K.

*  My favorite recent ad -- for an organization promoting the healthy effects of eating more beans.  The visual is a baked bean on a fork.  The headline:  Live to be an old fart.

*  From a recent article by industry pundit Bob Donath, an old friend and, indeed, a fellow old fart (in the finest sense of the term):  “Two years ago... business marketers faced exceptional spending scrutiny from senior management.  Not that the big bosses demanded professional multivariate modeling of dependent and independent endogenous and exogenous marketing variables, they simply wanted persuasive evidence of what they were getting for the marketing buck.  Out of context ambiguous metrics such as lead counts, Web site hits, share of mind and dealer sales call counts, augmented by optimistic ‘they really love it’ platitudes rang hollow during a recession that cruelly debunked the ‘new economy’ fantasies of the 1990s.”

* In the same piece, Donath noted a survey by the Institute for the Study of Business Markets that listed the top challenges facing B2B marketers now.  Achieving profitable growth was #1, followed by “better organize and market the marketing function itself.”  This is part self-interest, of course -- if marketing people want to keep their jobs, it’s wise to pay more attention to marketing the value of what they do.  But it’s also a sound business strategy.  Good marketing is well researched, consistently supported by senior management and responsible for results.  Lousy marketing is poorly conceived, inconsistently supported and more about BS than ROI. 

* June is the month of choice for people looking to consummate marriage vows.  There’s almost as much love in the air as there is pollen.  Also money.  The marriage industry took in $70 billion (with a “b”) in revenues last year -- about twice what the movie industry did.

*  Good service never goes out of style and in many cases it’s the real basis behind a strong brand.  Over 100 years ago Sears Roebuck revolutionized the mail order business with this guarantee:  "Kind Friend," Sears warmly addressed its catalog prospects in 1900. "Any customer ordering anything from us and not finding it entirely satisfactory, even though it be exactly as represented, is under all circumstances at liberty to return it to us and we will promptly refund the money paid for it, and bear the freight or express charges both ways." 

Wonder if that works for marriages?

12 Tips for Better Brochures -- 4/12/2004

1.  Show off up front -- put your money into the outside of the piece, use heavier paper, big graphic elements.  Think about “plop value” -- give it enough heft so it feels valuable and makes a “plop” sound when you drop it on a table. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

2.  Give it a name -- this is the brochure about what?  Give it a title beyond the product name and think about what the audience is looking for.  It’s a good exercise to focus the piece and to move from features to benefits.

3. Provide an entrance -- a brochure is like a building.  You don’t want people coming through the front door directly into someone’s cubicle.  The inside cover is throwaway space -- don’t put important information there.  The first right hand page is for a short summary of the message.

4. The back door is for exit only -- use it for addresses, contact information, logos, etc.  Don’t put important information here.  The last inside page is a good place for a call to action -- what’s the next step you want readers to take?  The inside back cover is usually throwaway space.

5.  Be as visual as possible --  Use big pictures rather than small ones. Make sure every picture tells a story.  Try to create what David Ogilvy calls “a visual scandal.”  Don’t use the same stock shots everyone else in your industry uses.  Balance the visuals by spread -- emphasize the primary picture and  subordinate other graphic elements.  Put your best picture in the middle spread of the brochure.

6.  Organize the flow -- what should the reader see first (second, third, etc.) and why?  Outline each spread and use a headline -- this is the spread about what?  Use subheads so the reader can track the information.  If the piece will be used as sales support, think about using it upside down -- as a sales rep might do while making a sales pitch.

7.  Write short -- Write blocks of copy, not narratives (this is NOT a novel).  Use bullets.  Your brochure should echo your Web site. Use captions and callouts for important information rather than burying it in the copy.  Adapt the length to the audience’s interest, NOT what you want to say. Write informally -- use the second person. 

-- Pay for good copywriting.  Get the right writer -- Ad agencies, PR agencies, design firms, freelancers, etc. all take a different approach to brochures.  What’s the right choice for this piece?   Proofread at least three times -- and don’t use the creative team as proofreaders.

8.  Keep the focus -- Don’t include information that’s irrelevant to the purpose of the piece.  A good brochure is about ONE thing, not a “full line” or a collection of subjects.  It’s better to use several smaller brochures than cram stuff into one large tome.  Avoid pockets in the back -- use a separate folder instead.

9.  Brochures are about branding -- Get a good design and stick with it.  Try to “own” a typeface, color palette, general look, etc.  Try to develop a likable and consistent “voice.”  Develop a system for different kinds of brochures.  Give a brand manager time to review each piece.  But remember -- consistent collateral is just common sense marketing; it’s not ALL there is to branding.

10.  Get to know paper -- it’s the easiest way to get better brochures on large and small budgets.  Ask a printer or paper company for a presentation.  Know types of uncoated and coated stocks, finishing techniques, varnishes and coatings, etc.  Use heavier paper on the outside, lighter on the inside.  Paper cost is roughly 25% of the project so a move to higher quality is often cost-efficient.

11.  Set objectives --  Schedules, costs, usage, internal and external processes, etc.  How will you know if this brochure is successful or not?

12.  Other things to consider -- Differentiate between high, middle and low end printers and send brochures to the right place for the job.  Don’t print more than a 9-month supply -- too many things change and it’s better to reprint than use outdated materials.  Try to group projects so you can save on production costs.

-- You only need to use a trademark or copyright symbol once in the piece.  If you can deploy the information via the Web, do so.  Offer pdf downloads and/or print “on-demand” when you can.  Assume that a buyer will have only one piece in hand at key decision points and be sure all the contact info needed is in that piece.

-- The tri-fold is the most common type of brochure and it has its own rules.  Decide if it will be a self-mailer or not and use the space accordingly.  The inside right flap panel needs color, a bleed photo or some kind of border to set it apart from the spread behind it.  Use it to summarize the main idea.  The inside three panels are one visual spread, design it as such.

Remember:  every brochure represents you and your organization.  It’s how people see you and understand what you stand for.  Never waste an opportunity.

This is a very compressed version of what we talk about when discussing brochures.  Want more?  Have questions?  Get in touch.  I offer training sessions on this subject (and others) and can help you evaluate your current project or collateral program.


* From a United Way workbook on branding:  “A product or service does not become a brand until it has earned a significant place in the lives of its users.”

* Branding should be tied to a business strategy, an HR strategy and a rewards system

* From Scott Bedbury, CEO of Seattle-based Brandstream:  “Today, branding is everything -- and I mean everything.  Brands are not simply products or services. Brands are the sum total of all the images that people have in their heads about a particular company and a particular mark.  Brands absorb everything around them.”

* From Regis McKenna:  “Branding is overrated.  On average, U.S. corporations lose half their customers every five years, half their employees every four years and half of their investors every year (according to Fredrick Reicheld, author of The Loyalty Effect.) And I thought branding was supposed to keep people coming back for more.”

* Branding has been described this way:  “a company’s attempt to whitewash over third-world production, horrible labor practices, monopolistic distribution and consumer brainwashing... when we realize we have no space, no choice and no jobs, we will rise up and demand No Logo.”

* People spend far too much time saying “I want to build a brand.”  Forget about building a brand.  Build customers first.

* A brand must be believable; this is both a strength and a weakness of branding.

*  People prefer to buy what they know.  I buy the same toothpaste, laundry detergent, toilet paper, grocery products, etc. as my mother did.

*  Regis McKenna again:  “billions are wasted on this useless strategy.”  Pets.com spent over $100 million on branding-related activities, then sold the name to Petsmart for $1 million.

*  We have a “crisis of differentiation” among brands.  One recent study looked at the top two brands in 46 categories of consumer goods and found that in 44 of them the top brands were “more alike than different.”

*  What is the most valuable brand in the world?  The lists usually include Coca Cola (the brand itself is estimated at $70 billion), Microsoft,  IBM, Nokia, GE, Disney, Intel and McDonalds.

*  One study indicated that the most valuable brand today is the United States Marines. It’s powerful, differentiated, respected and conveys deep emotional values.  (One of my favorite lines, from Thomas Friedman:  you can’t have a McDonald’s in every country unless you also have a McDonald-Douglas.)

12/3/03 -- Happy Holidays!

Here's hoping you and the people you love have a wonderful Holiday season.  Keep us in mind of you have a marketing communications project (or problem) and be sure to check the latest Observations.

10/17/03 -- The Story of Life

We recently attended the Nobel Conference in St. Peter, MN.  It was two days of high-level lectures on the current research into evolution and related issues.  Some good talks on what paleontologists are uncovering in places like Alberta, Ethiopia, the Galapagos and China.  Proof that birds are descended from dinosaurs, that we're related to monkees and neanderthals but not descended from them (the governor of California notwithstanding), and that we are "serial homologs" -- we use a few basic toolkits of genes to construct the same architectural parts.  Also a good talk on how religions can come to grips with Darwin beyond the level of bumper stickers with fish.  I've posted my notes if you want to know more.  Nobel conference 2003.

9/29/03   Now appearing...

This fall is a busy season for sharing expertise.  I'll be presenting mini-MBC sessions on Advertising Strategy on October 16 and 22 through the University of St. Thomas Management Center.  On October 30 I'll lead two sessions about Creative Approaches for Direct Mail presented by the printing company DPD.  And on November 13 I'll be part of a half-day seminar on "Measurement," chairing a panel discussion on the subject, offered by the Association of Women in Communications.  If you're interested, get in touch and I'll link you to the details. (Note: some of the sessions are open to anyone, some aren't.)

Coming soon:  6 reasons why advertising doesn't get measured properly and 6 ways to do the job better.
ALSO the new October issue of our newsletter Observations is out.  Contact us for a copy, or check out the on-line version.


In the land of the cheeseheads

In June I went on a 416-mile bike ride with a group of about 120 other masochists.  This is my ninth “Jaunt with Jim Klobuchar” ride -- and after each one I usually vow “never again!”  This year’s ride was the first in Wisconsin and it was actually quite enjoyable.  Beautiful country, not much wind, pretty good weather -- except for one afternoon when we biked on a very narrow shoulder in the rain with crazed truck drivers roaring by a few inches from our helmets.  Then there were the hills.  Northern Wisconsin is a lot more up and down than you might think.  It ain’t the Alps or the Pyrenees, but I ain’t Lance Armstrong either.

You can read my notes by clicking on this link: bike trip 03.doc

5/1/2003  Happy Mayday!

The recent Minnesota IABC annual conference in St. Paul featured an interesting session:  a debate about whether or not branding is “dead.”  Bruce Tait, founding partner of Fallon Brand Consulting,  took the position that building the brand is still the single most important thing a company can do with its advertising.  I maintained that branding is too costly, done poorly too often and the wrong choice for most companies -- a fad whose time has passed.

Here are the key points from my argument (Updated now -- 10/27/03).  If you want to know more, get in touch.  Or ask for a copy of our Observations newsletter from last September (click on the Observations page).

10 Reasons Why Branding Is Dead (or at least dying)

1.   It’s often done poorly.  People mistake consistency with building a brand.
"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," said Emerson.  Branding committees and brand tsars do a great deal of damage.  Having a consistent look and feel to your collateral materials is a good thing.  It’s basic, competent marketing.  But it’s not a big deal.  And it’s not branding.  Graphic design firms who establish standards for collateral programs can make more money by calling themselves brand consultants.  But it’s still not branding.

2.  Brand building takes precedence over creating what the brand stands for.
Branding used to be what cowboys did to cows.  Why did it become such a hot buzzword for marketers?  The essence of good marketing is still the same:  you find out what your customers want, you make it, tell them about it and sell it at a price that appears to be a good value to them and makes a profit for you.  You build an audience for your product or service.  Then -- and only then -- do you start thinking about establishing a brand.  Before you commit too many resources to branding, ask yourself, “where’s the beef?”

3.  Branding requires long-term vision, often not available in rapidly changing industries and companies.
The classic example is the dot.coms who set out to establish an image before there was any content to it.  Branding became a 6-month project after which the technology and the company behind the “brand” was often obsolete or out of business or both.  Even in the real world too many companies are focused on quarterly earnings and immediate sales -- not a good environment for building a brand.

4. Branding is company-focused rather than customer-focused.
It tends to be an internal discussion.  All those brand committees and brand tsars worry too much about who they want to say they are and omit the more important question:  who do their customers want them to be?  You have to be what you say you are -- in the minds of your customers, not just in the imaginations of your brand experts.

5. Branding can lead to boring messaging.
Forcing ad layouts into a brand “look and feel” can make them less visible, not more.  All those rehashed “key messages” and “brand statements” crammed into brochure copy make the brochures less useful to the audience, not more so.  Key messaging may be useful in getting your employees on the same page, but it’s not necessarily something you need to repeat to your customers.  They don’t work for you.  You can’t force them to believe, or even care about, your carefully crafted corporate-ese.

6.  Branding leads to a reliance on marketing rather than product/service innovation.
In a recent New Yorker article, James Surowiecki discussed the efforts of Nike to introduce a new golf ball.  It was really an old golf ball with Tiger Woods behind it.  Meanwhile Callaway invested in R&D to develop a better gold ball.  Golfers were not fooled and they stayed away from Nike balls in droves.  As Surowiecki concluded: “Where modern marketers have succeeded, wildly, is in selling us on the idea that marketing is all you need.  The numbers suggest a different, homier lesson.  The surest way to get stronger sales is to sell a stronger product.”

7.  The assumption of "lifetime brand loyalty" is often false.
The theory -- if you can call it that -- behind a lot of branding efforts is that if you can lock people in, especially at an early age, they’ll stay with the same brand forever.  Recent research by media companies -- notably CBS -- has disproved this claim, especially among older audiences -- which is where the money is.  The fact is that with more choices and new products and increased global competition, we are a lot less brand loyal than we used to be.  Who really wanted to buy “not your father’s Oldsmobile?”  How many of us will stick with a Nike running shoe if an equally good Asics or Saucony shoe is available for $20 less?  Will those 20-somethings clicking on to the BMW website to see the latest cool Web videos be loyal to BMW when they’re forty, have finally moved out of their parents’ home and can afford a $50,000 car?

8.  Branding leads to errors in positioning.
Brand experts forget the key lesson of positioning -- another term for branding.  As Trout and Reis explained 20 years ago, a position is something your audience permits, not something you determine (Positioning: the Battle for Your Mind).  Apple, for instance, had a specific niche in the minds of its advocates so it could do branding campaigns like “the computer for the rest of us” and "Think different.”  Most companies don’t have that luxury.  You can’t just leap out and brainwash people into believing what your brand stands for.  It’s something you reinforce, not something you invent.  You may want to be the world’s biggest computer company, but unless you’re IBM or Microsoft you can’t have that position, even if you are, in fact, the world’s biggest computer company (General Motors). 

9. Branding is costly, especially for new and smaller companies.
It takes money, commitment and time... all in short supply at most companies.  You don’t want to spend scarce advertising dollars building a brand when what you really need to do is sell the next version of your software or your new, better widget.  And you don’t want your CEO sitting in on brand meetings when what he should be doing is improving quality control on the production line or deciding to expand sales in a new market.

10.  Branding is a fad and it’s time to move on.
Marketing is a business of fads -- though now we call them trends.  (Speaking of misused terms, how about “trend marketing?  Can you market a trend?  Or do you discover it and adjust your product or service to fit?”)  In the 1950s it was icons -- think Betty Crocker, the Jolly Green Giant, the Hamms bear.  In the 60s and 70s it was unique selling propositions -- think Volkswagen (Think small)... or Federal Express.  In the 1980s and 90s it was positioning (Apple).  Then it was management by objectives, searching for excellence, team-driven organizations and star performers.  Then it was dot.coms and the “new economy.” Now it’s widespread unemployment -- especially among marketers.

Fads have their moment -- and their elements of truth -- but we outgrow them.  It’s time to outgrow branding and look for the “next big thing.”  I would nominate the one business concept that never seems to get outdated: common sense.  Branding is part of the marketing story, and for some companies a very important part (check out your basket the next time you go to a supermarket or to Target).  But it's not the whole marketing story and, for most organizations, probably not the most important thing they should be paying attention to.

--Doug Wilhide

It’s been a busy month and I apologize for not updating this page more frequently.  We’ll do better in the future, so check in often.  We visited Japan the end of March, spent time with our son, Sam, who is teaching English outside of Osaka, travelled around to Kyoto, Nara and a couple mountain towns, and were lucky enough to get to Tokyo right as the cherry blossoms were in full bloom.  What an experience!  It’s more than just beautiful, it’s like the air around you has taken on an exuberance and everyone is sharing it.  A first kiss... drinking champagne in Paris...sunset at Key West -- all come to mind as metaphors of the experience.
cherry blossoms (click for full-size!)  sam and jean doug in tokyo


I’ve been way too frequent a visitor at St. Thomas graduate business classes since our return from Japan.  I’m teaching my Advertising Strategies class on Tuesdays, sitting in on a marketing management class on Mondays and teaching/auditing the new mini-MBC classes on Thursdays.  And on Wednesday, 4/16, I did a guest lecture gig for Glenn Karwolski’s class on Management Priorities. 

The subject was using the CEO as an advertising spokesperson.  For those who might be interested, here’s the gist of what we discussed.  If you have questions, or comments, email or call.  I’d be happy to provide details.

There are two key questions:
You can help decide these questions by working through a couple of checklists:

CAN HE DO IT checklist:
1.  Does he look good, especially on TV?
-- note JFK vs Nixon; Reagan vs everybody;  Bush Sr vs Dukakis

2.  Can he act?
-- this requires real acting skills and not everyone has them
-- can he move in and out of a personna?
-- how about the voice? 

3.  Does he want to do it?
-- celebrity is not for everyone
-- note Ray Kroc ( a shy accountant)  vs Dave Thomas (an extrovert people person)

SHOULD HE DO IT checklist:
1.  Is this the right creative strategy?
-- what about your product, competition, marketplace, etc.?
-- what business are you really in and is this the business you want to promote?
-- what are your advertising objectives, near and long term?

2.  If a brand image creative strategy makes sense, is the CEO the right icon?
-- Dave Thomas... Lee Iacocca, etc.
-- look at it from outside... don’t get caught up in groupthink
-- will this icon help sell the product/message?
-- note Taco Bell chihuahua, Marlboro Man, Hathaway eye patch guy, Green Giant

3.  Is this the best use of the CEO’s time and unique talents?
-- is the company stable or in flux?
-- how strong is the management team?
-- does this align with senior management KPOs?
-- recognize that this is a major undertaking if done right.

4.  Other issues
-- this is always a short term branding strategy.  Does that make sense?
-- how do you plan to integrate CEO with other marketing communications?
-- is the CEO going to be around for a while?
-- are there skeletons in the closet (due dilligence as with any spokesperson)
-- how will this play with Wall Street and other stakeholders?
-- are you “selling the source” when you should be “selling the service?”
-- keep current skepticism about CEOs and ad spokesmen in mind:
    -- Enron, tobacco execs lying to Congress, fraud
    -- CEO salary controversies
    -- “( advertising) spokesmen are paid liars with straight faces.”

WHEN IT WORKS, the upside can be great
-- gives the organization a face and a personality
-- builds customer trust
    -- Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir as spokesmen for railroads in 1890s
-- gives the appearance of personal involvement with customers
-- helps counter crisis situations  (Michael Jordan vs negative Nike manufacturing press)
-- a good way to extend brands

-- "The only true measure of advertising is its ability to create the brand momentum that transforms an organization, ignites its bottom line, and deepens the relationship between a brand and its customers."  -- Jack Supple, Carmichael-Lynch. 

Can your CEO do that?


Monday 3/17/03

PAYING FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS -- some alternatives

I’ve been volunteering recently as a math tutor for 8th graders preparing to take their basic competency tests.  It’s an immensely rewarding activity, especially when you see you’re making a difference and helping a kid, and there’s something enjoyable about working in a discipline where the default setting is pure logic.

I met a fellow tutor, Joe MacDonald, who is working on a very interesting graduate thesis on “alternative funding” for public education.  Joe’s research is especially timely. He discusses a wide range of funding possibilities, ranging from for-profit management of public schools to cash management strategies that could add millions to school district budgets.

He uncovered a number of innovative ways school districts are supplementing budgets by working with businesses.  There are the volunteer+donation programs of large companies like 3M and IBM,  and Pizza Hut’s reading program. There are programs that link sports teams and celebrities with public schools.  And there’s the practice of selling exclusive pop machine contracts and advertising space on school buses, scoreboards and in schools.  The potential is large, but the ethical arguments are compelling and so far the results have been disappointing -- more promises than actual income, more resistance than collaboration.

My feeling is that schools need help from people like us who know how to properly price ad space in and around schools and sell it competitively against other media.  The cost-benefit analysis needs to include things like balancing the issue of exposing students to ads in a school context with the need to provide a high quality education.  The argument shouldn’t be whether or not we want Coke machines and signage in school hallways, but whether we want Coke machines and manageable class sizes or no Coke machines and 54 kids in a classroom (with 37 desks and 30 textbooks -- as cited in one situation).  

One school in Texas came up with an interesting compromise.  The school is near an airport and sold it’s roof space to Dr. Pepper.  The school gets money and the kids don’t get bombarded with ads.  The same school also leases out its parking lot when school is not in session.  This is imaginative, but the prices the schools get are low.  When you combine the benefits of brand-building to this target audience with point of sale promotion, the value is much higher.  We need some savvy marketing people to help schools and school districts negotiate better deals.

It’s not a perfect world.  In theory, public funds should pay for an excellent educational opportunity for every child.  But in the real world, schools need to incorporate better business practices so they can attract money  -- with legitimate, ethically-balanced, business propositions -- to supplement insufficient public funding.

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Copyright 2003
Wilhide & Company