Thursday, April 21, 2016

How Do We Trump Loyalty?

     Trump has caused the smarter Republicans to think about their loyalty.
     I sympathize. Years ago, someone wanted me to do something that I wasn’t comfortable with and tried to pull the loyalty card. He couldn’t understand how I could possibly be disloyal. Which only made me more un-comfortable. Eventually, I figured out that instead of thinking in terms of loyalty, I should change the context. I should make it about right and wrong. Once I implored a higher morality, my decision, suddenly, became easy. Of course my friend still didn’t understand how I could be disloyal but I could now live with myself.
     Recently, there are republicans who don’t believe that Trump is a trustworthy candidate and yet are feeling pressure to be loyal to their party. So, what’s the right thing to do?
     The only way to counter such a powerful force is with a more powerful emotion, an emotion that beats loyalty to the team with a higher calling, something that turns defection into a positive: Courage. And once you see the opportunity to make a courageous decision, the rationale follows almost effortlessly.
     Emotion is a powerful thing. It can over ride reason. In my opinion, it can be the only explanation for Trump’s popularity. It’s a lesson for all brands.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Emotions Trump Facts

    So far, the presidential race is being won and lost on emotions. It’s like who can get Americans the most stirred up. The candidates who are most effective are sparking emotions that have gasoline on them; and the audiences are so stirred up, they aren’t using their heads.
    When the Democratic race became tight, Hillary’s team was accused of not having taken Bernie Sanders seriously. But Hillary’s problem wasn’t Bernie, per se; it was –– marketing-wise –– her lack of attention to her target. Bernie, understanding their deep-down frustration, just struck a chord with the audience, got them fired up and tapped into an idealism that most people felt had been buried.
     It’s not so different with the Republicans. The contenders didn’t know how to discredit Trump, which shouldn’t be difficult, given that he doesn’t address the issues so much as he riles people up about injustices. But it’s not a reasonable contest. Millions of people have attributed him with virtues and principles that he clearly doesn’t have. So how do you bury the guy? In the New York Times, Ross Douthat wrote this:

"…don’t tell people that he (Trump) doesn’t know the difference between Kurds and the Quds Force. (They don’t either!) Tell people that he isn’t the incredible self-made genius that he plays on TV. Tell them about all the money he inherited from his daddy. Tell them about the bailouts that saved him from ruin. Tell them about all his cratered companies. Then find people who suffered from those fiascos –– workers laid off following his bankruptcies, homeowners 
who bought through Trump Mortgage, people who ponied up for sham degrees from Trump University."

    In other words, if Trump followers are feeling angered and ennobled, make them feel duped, as if he is some used car salesman pulling one over on them. Expose him as a con artist, a sleezeball who’s former advisor, after all, had ties to the mafia. Target the emotion. Identify it in the brief. Did you know that neuroscience tells us that it is emotions that change our minds? So don’t start with the issues or the ideas or the RTP. Attack the brand.
    Pleeease, someone, attack the brand.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Little thinking

        I’m kind of tired of everyone worshipping the innovation gods, as if every innovation is a sign from above. Of course no one knows if the innovations will be good for us –– that’s irrelevant. All we need to know is that this is the innovation age. Go with it. Be optimistic. Have faith.
     But the Doubting Thomas in me seems to remember that hydrogenated oil, at its inception, was an innovation. So was the Ford Pinto, Betamax, Subprime Mortgages, DDT, Tanning beds, Crocs and Phone Fingers (remember them!). So was Foursquare. 
     Emerson wrote, “The foolish man wonders at the unusual, but the wise man at the usual.” He was referring to the really big stuff, the timeless, universal meat on the bone.
     I can't help but think that a preoccupation with innovation blinds us to wisdom and simple truths, limits us to the general surface of things so we never reach the heart. It's created the assumption that something is better because it comes from tech, thinking that doesn't give us a chance to ask if, you know, it’s just better for us.
     I think we need to remember what a big idea is.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

If it’s not advertising, WTF is it?

    “I’m a little afraid,” an ex-client of mine recently confessed, “to use the words “brand” and “advertising.” He made it sound like he tip toes around them, concerned that a growing number of people use “brand” interchangeably with product, while “advertising” connotes something leftover from the dark ages. Mind you, this isn’t just any client saying this; this is a client that has spurred a lot of great work with Weiden, Crispin and BBDO.
    I’m not entirely sure what’s happened to “brand.” Perhaps everything is now a product. Maybe our content is on level with the widget on the shelf, so if consumers like the communication, they will like the widget, as well. And, if there are only products, there doesn’t need to be a distinction, right? Or, maybe it’s being confused with the identifying mark burned on cows. Regardless, shouldn’t the communication have some different specs from the actual product? If it doesn’t, what about it will change consumer behavior, assuming that changing consumer behavior is what we’re paid to do. As it has been defined, “brand” is what the consumer thinks and feels about a product, and as such, it labels what we’re supposed to be working on. I think it helps to know what one should be working on.
    And what about “advertising?” Admittedly, for most of my career, I’ve preferred to use “communication” over “advertising,” because I wanted my work to communicate, genuinely, if not sincerely. For me, “communication” was just a way to separate the wheat from the chaff –– like, I hate advertising but I don’t hate good advertising. The fact that it was meant to shape a consumer’s attitude toward a product was assumed. Hey, we’re accountable for the brand; maybe we’re in accounting.
    What if we call it “persuasion?” To my way of thinking, if our work were formulaic and feels “traditional,” it cannot be persuasion. The word may be a little antiquated but at least it states a purpose. And, as Bernbach wrote, “Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.” Without the art, the communication can’t make people feel something powerful and if you can’t be artful, you can’t compel people to change. Without the art, it’s dreck.
    This is not a picayune argument about semantics. Words are symbols; symbols motivate; and symbols actually direct behavior. We ought to know that.

    Wait a second. Isn’t advertising “any paid for communication intended to inform or influence one or more consumer?” What’s wrong with that again?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Google searching for life

    A Sunday or two ago, The New York Times Magazine reminded me how much Cartier Bresson affected not only the way I view the world, but my perspective on how I can communicate better. It was a short article called “Perfect and Unreahearsed” by Teju Cole that alluded to Bresson’s book, The Decisive Moment.
    It’s a simple notion: we need to closely observe life in order to capture something true and resonant. And Cartier Bresson stalked life. With his “tutored instincts” he could compose, adjust his settings and click at just the right millisecond to capture a moment that rippled with resonance. In life, at just the right instant, he could create incredible art. It’s a philosophy that can guide all “style, content and construction:” for great ideas, look at life.
    Even if it’s only in our memory, look at life. At one time, this was perhaps obvious. But right now it needs reminding because we’re not looking in the right places and discovering personally wonderful things. For that, we need to set our computers aside and look beyond the screen –– to the heart in our head.     
    When you discover things on your own, the discovery has impact and that impact makes you feel something powerful, so powerful that you want to capture it, share it and somehow convey it to others. You also want to figure it out, because it is in that figuring out, that search to explain the ineffable, that we land on originality. We can’t get that from inside the internet.
    Granted, on the Internet, we can troll for ideas more quickly than ever. At our fingertips, we have tons of research. But just because we can find zillions of facts, mash two of them together and create an idea in no time at all –– however tempting and however good it makes us feel to be so quick –– it doesn’t mean that we are at our best. Without the self-discovery, there isn’t that same impetus that comes from life. There isn’t that intensity or, ultimately, real originality. (Freelancers know this better than anyone because they have to work at super human speed and only have time for the mash ups, as opposed to the discovery.)
    So, lets distinguish between ideas and powerful ideas. It’s not about connections; it’s about strong, meaningful and important connections. To create that, we have to turn down the screen and push the laptop aside. That’s our first decisive moment.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A general market creative director says, Hola!

          When I first walked in, I saw that Grupo Gallegos looked like a pretty cool advertising agency. Behind the receptionist, there was an impressive amount of hardware. I don’t know what I was expecting to see; I’m sure I wasn’t expecting the receptionist to be wearing a sombrero, but I didn’t see anything that made the place particularly Hispanic.  Past the workstations and the main conference room, I saw that not one creative person had a Che Guevara poster.
         It was a three to six-month freelance/consulting gig. An  “interim CCO”; that’s what they said I’d be. While I had never been an “interim CCO” before and hadn’t heard of anyone who’d ever been an “interim CCO,” I figured that working with people who know first-hand how the demographics of the country are changing would give me insight into one of the biggest challenges clients face these days. It would give me an edge. In addition, I expected I’d enjoy the easy commonality of being the minority among minorities. I didn’t, however, expect to learn that even if you don’t realize you need to be taken down a notch, it’s healthy to be the gringo once in awhile.
         During World Cup, to be one of the guys, I rooted for the South American teams over the European teams, which I unfortunately undermined each time I referred to a match as a game. I butchered peoples’ first and last names. I learned that saying “Hola” made me sound like a jerk. I learned I could be nobody but my gringo self.
         More importantly, I began to appreciate how difficult clients have it, as most of them come from the general market as I do, and, like I did, they have to confront their own preconceptions. On top of that, I imagine that they have the additional pressure within their organizations to prove that they are advertising to minorities. So, to make sure that the communication is speaking, indisputably, to the Hispanic consumer, there’s a yearning to see obvious, physical cues of Hispanic culture in the work. John Gallegos calls it being “overly ethnicized,” but I get it and I sympathize. When you don’t speak the language, you want a guarantee that you’re talking to the right folks, and having these cues, points to hard evidence. I hope that’s the case, anyway. I mean, I hope no one is thinking that Hispanics won’t recognize themselves unless they see a piñata in the family room.
         Of course, such cues aren’t always necessary for clear, compelling communication. Recently, when Gabriel Garcia Marquez died, the entire world mourned; the British reader mourned despite any Britishness in Marquez’s books, and the Japanese reader mourned despite any Easternisms. The fact is, all the time, works of art communicate across borders. My friend Juan pointed out that Nike was a great Hispanic campaign long before it went global. Juan has a point.
         I wonder, if a film projected only title cards and a soundtrack, like one of those charming Google spots, could it, potentially, resonate with the general market? So, why can’t the same be true of advertising to Hispanics? Cue-less is not necessarily clueless.
         I learned something else, too. To what degree it’s inherent in other multicultural agencies, I can’t say, but here at Grupo, I encountered an uncanny ability to find an insight, particularly one in fertile ground. I have a theory about this. While the rest of the world has been distracted by technology, data, holding company agendas and a host of other shiny objects, my friends, here, have kept their eye on the consumer. Clients have been coming to them for their knowledge about, and insight into, their target. That’s been their raison d’être –– I mean, razón de ser. Consequently, they tend to want to do more than connect with a consumer, because when you know someone deeply, as they do, you tend to want to forge a meaningful and important connection. And whatever muscle it takes to forge such a connection has only become stronger, while it has atrophied for others.
         Why isn’t our business being led by more Hispanic agencies? Certainly, force-fitting those cues can’t help. And relegated to a secondary role on a client’s roster, many Hispanic agencies don’t want to jeopardize their core business by competing with AORs. Meanwhile, the best and brightest among our junior talent enter our profession with the assumption that the big leagues reside in the general market. All I know is that a lot of potential is left untapped, and great work should be able to come from anywhere.
         Over the past several years, I’ve believed that the quality of our industry’s work has slipped. John Hegarty has been very vocal about this, and I agree. As I see it, the industry hasn’t been applying the new tools to the fundamentals and all that we know to be true about how human beings change. To do that, we have to be consumer-obsessed. I’m not saying general market agencies need to become Hispanic agencies, or vice versa. These distinctions are as superficial as the cues that profile the consumer. But the agencies that will rise to the top in this new demography will, I think, have a talent for connecting to people, their creativity in sync with their empathy.  If you have that, everything –– technology, data and innovation ––falls into place. And whether it’s intentional or not, the folks at Grupo put those things in that perspective, making Grupo inclined to tell the big, meaningful stories that move people –– like “Battle” for Milk, –– even though they don’t get nearly enough opportunities to see them realized.    
          Perspective is everything, I suppose. And to think I went outside the general market to find the inside track.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A killer name

  Everybody wants a Gaga, Apple or Swiffer name for their new product or company. In a name, we crave something unique, something eye-catching that captures our essence and points the way to success. Out of curiosity, I Googled “how to pick the perfect name” and a tsunami of guidance came at me, everything from how-to articles, best-way advice, steps, tips and processes –– page after page of the stuff. And if I were to go through each one, I bet there would be no evidence suggesting that this is a good name for a tanning salon. 

If you look carefully, you will see that Electric Chair went out of business. And if the name wasn’t entirely to blame, perhaps the method with which the owner chose to char the customers had something to do with its demise. God, I hope it was just the name.