Big Data. Big Promise. Big Caution.

Big Data imageBig data claims to be the new salvation for all businesses. Because, we’re told, big data will discover amazing new truths. Time will tell.

But in the meantime, most big promises should also be accompanied by big cautions. Which one’s are most important as we approach big data? Recently, on the Financial Times website, Tim Harford wrote a blog post on the topic: Big Data: are we making a big mistake. It is one of the few really thoughtful big data discussions we’ve come across in a while.
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Advertising Awards: Protecting the Creative Status Quo

As a strategist, creative director and student of advertising’s impact, I love to see advertising that’s challenging and interesting – when it comes to it’s impact on marketing. But we’re not seeing many impactful ads like that when you look at “award winning work”. And by that I mean agency style awards like Clio’s, New York Festival or Cannes (industry specific awards are usually far more interesting).

Yes, agency award show winners exhibit tremendous creative values – like clever film making, design, or writing. But despite all this art, from the point of view of a marketer, award winning work has become entirely dull, predictable and uninteresting.

How did it come about that all this extraordinary creativity could end up delivering bland marketing impact? How could this happen in a business that never ceases to tell itself how clever it is with myths like “thinking outside the box”?

We can blame, at least in part, the award shows themselves. After all:

The primary value of agency driven award shows is maintaining the creative status quo.

And when advertising is driven to satisfy the status quo it loses its ability to deliver brilliant results.

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“The Best Ideas Come as Jokes”… But the Best Quotes are Sourced

The Quote
OgilvyMemeRecently, at Atomic we came across a funny meme on DigiDay. The piece was a blend of clever quotes attributed to David Ogilvy, mixed with a couple pictures from Mad Men. A great comment about finding ideas through creative process stuck out:

“The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible.”

If you look closely, you’ll notice that the quote doesn’t say “the best ideas ARE jokes”. But in this advertising world, many people would prefer to interpret the quote to mean the best ads are “funny”.

Rather than just assume that Ogilvy’s only meant the creative process, Doug asked me to locate the context of this Ogilvy quote. Seems like an easy Google search, right? Wrong.

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Lego Takes the Life Out of Its Own Party

20130114-191437.jpgThis past weekend, there was a Lego expo here in Portland and my youngest son went with my wife. We’ve been to these kinds of shows in the past – and they can be really exciting.

Sure, these shows have had Lego brand goods. But far more interesting are the aftermarket products – specialized figures, unique model sets created by innovative designers, amazingly innovative models created by Lego enthusiasts, Lego topical shirts for sale, etc…

Did you know you can buy aftermarket Lego figures painted with specific WWII uniforms and holding replica guns to match? Or aftermarket Halo figurines? Or rare collectible sets no longer on the market? Or unique sets creating interesting new Lego creations? Read more of this post

The Emotional Impact of Facts

Facts used in advertising leave behind emotion.

I ran across this thought provoking idea in the Jaques Ellul book “Propaganda” (published in 1965, I read this book in the 1980′s and recently decided it was worth a re-read). 20130114-191437.jpg

Rational and Irrational Communication. Ellul considers the difference between information and propaganda and the tendency to believe that “information addresses reason and experience … where propaganda addresses feelings and passion”. He concludes: “It’s not that simple.”
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Don’t Test Whispers

Key to marketing success is a disciplined approach to testing ideas and action. After all, marketing writing and consulting is filled with tremendously attractive and detailed theories about action “X” causing result “Y”. Yet all these theories were developed based on specific experiences under specific circumstances. So there’s no guarantee that taking them and applying them in your world will create the same result.

So we should test, test test. And yet…testing experience shows that far more things are tested than are found to conclusively help or hurt. Why? One quite common testing error is to “test whispers” – small changes that simply can’t have a large enough impact to drive measurable change.

I once watched Rubbermaid test whispers in focus groups where a series of 5 statements of brand differentiation were evaluated. But rather than vary the statements with ideas that were truly significant to consumers, the statements traded off tiny wording changes. (I found it ironically enjoyable to watch the focus group participants quite frankly explain that all the statements said the same thing.) Read more of this post

At Walgreens: An Amazing Abuse Of the Customer Satisfaction Survey

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about how fed up I am with customer satisfaction surveys (link here). Truth is that companies are out of control – thinking it’s the job of consumers to fill out a constant stream of surveys.

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Sign at a drive-thru pharmacy inviting drivers to fill out a survey—inside the store!

So I’m going to pick on Walgreens here – not because they are the worst. But because I have recent Walgreens experiences that show how messed up this constant survey abuse is.

What Happened at Walgreens. At the time of my prior post, Skye Weadick sent me a photo of what she saw at one drive-up pharmacy window at a Walgreen’s.

The desperation evident in that sign seemed bad enough. Really? Asking customers to come around, park, and walk in to the store to fill out a survey?

Except… I was at a Walgreen’s this week – a different one – and heard an amazing employee discussion with two people in line.

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Agencies Need to Be Good Stewards of Their Own Brand

I’m often amazed at how poorly agencies manage their own marketing – especially their own brand. Look across the ad biz and you’ll find a cacophony of agency names in an ever changing landscape.

You might assume these changes reflect agencies going in and out of business. That’s not usually the truth. There is a tendency in the agency business to chase name fads – a practice that leads to annual or biannual name changing as a matter of course (as in “this year the coolest agency names are based on…insects…so we’re changing our name to FleaBag”). In an amazing act of euphemism, I’ve heard this called “re-branding”. Read more of this post

The Brand Building Power of Product Advertising

Funny how names are. A specific type of advertising was labeled “brand advertising”. So the myth developed that in order to build brand, you need to use brand advertising.

Except, it isn’t true. And with billions of dollars of revenue on the line, it’s time advertisers got smarter. Because here’s the real brand truth:

1. All types of advertising build brand.

2. The type which is most effective changes – depending on your company, brand, consumer, profit structure and product or service situation.

3. Quite often a mix of types is most effective – a mix which may or may not include “brand advertising”.

The Brand Building Power of Product Advertising Given this truth, it’s sad that one particularly powerful tool is also one of the least understood by agencies & the ad biz — advertising which uses the product to build brand. Read more of this post

A Yard Sign Advertising Lesson From The Onion

My nephew recently pointed out this bit from joke news site The Onion. (Link here.) It’s a pretty funny article – suggesting that the act of putting up one lawn sign has changed a losing candidate into a leading candidate.

Was going to pass it along just for the humor. But as humor does, it got me thinking. Of two things…

How Often Do We Expect Too Much Impact From Too Little Advertising Investment? Read more of this post