Tuesday, March 31, 2009

80 years in the corner

For more than 80 years, Tiffany & Co. has occupied the page 3, upper right hand corner ad position in the New York Times. A commitment that has paid a handsome brand equity for the 172 year old company. Tiffany has become a commonly used word for the best quality that a product can attain and they own a unique shade of the color turquoise.

So, when I read recently that Tiffany profits were down 75% in the fourth quarter and luxury shoppers were more and more hesitant to carry high-end retail packaging on the street, I thought it wouldn’t be long before Tiffany canceled their coveted position in the Times and join the ranks of other marketers willing to throw their brand in the trash while the economy languishes.

They have not.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tell the whole story in 5 words or less.

For 30 years my neighborhood garage, Merriman Park Automotive,  had been completely hidden from customer view, set back nearly 100 yards from the street. After many invisible years, they decided to construct a major 14'x48' billboard at the entrance in hopes that their awareness would increase. The board had excellent visibility from as far as a half mile away in two directions. After a year of the billboard’s presence (see example above left), I stopped in one day and casually asked if their business had increased as a result of the billboard. In unison, the entire crew exclaimed, “Not at all!” 

I suggested that we do something that might attract a bit more attention (see example above right). They were baffled as to what could be more attractive than what they had done but reluctantly agreed to put up my sign anyway. 

After a few months I stopped in to see if anything had changed in their business as a result of my idea. They said that “nothing had changed for the past three months.” My heart sank. “But, they continued, last week 8 new customers came in because they said they saw the sign and never knew they were there before.”

Disaster averted. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cheerios introduces unique barber school promotion

Let me begin by saying I did not make this up. It really is a free haircut promotion on the front of the Cheerios box. 

What the *%$#&* were they thinking! Maybe, make the most of your cereal bowl. Who knows? But, I’ve been in enough ridiculous marketing planning meetings to know that any idea can become genius if enough morons start nodding their heads.

Here’s to hair in your cereal bowl!   

One more thing before we put this to bed.

In todays New York Times comes yet another story about Shepard Fairey’s Obama Hope poster. In this account, the reference photo that was the starting point for Fairey’s poster is now, itself, elevated to fine art status. Hanging next to the now infamous Hope poster in the Chelsea Gallery is Mannie Garcia’s photo that started it all. And for $1200, a print could be yours.

As a graphic designer, the Hope poster phenom is fascinating. We human beings are unique organisms able to abstract complex ideas into visual symbols that can be imbued with great value. Sometimes it’s social value, sometimes political, sometimes religious, ad nauseum. When that symbol connects with its audience, its power can be titanic.

In the mid-80’s, instead of heading off to Wall Street, Obama began his political career as a community organizer in Chicago rallying students against President Reagan’s then attempt to reduce government aid to disadvantaged college students.  It was hard work based in the streets. An experience that clearly shaped our new president’s political values.

Fairey began his career in much the same way. Instead of heading off to a prestigious international design firm, for which he could have done based on his raw talent, Fairey headed for the streets. He created a character based on Andre the giant, called it “Obey’ and proceeded to tag the earth with variations on the “Obey” theme. Each of his executions imbued with the spirit and symbolism that makes quality grass roots movements so exciting.

Fast forward to the election of 2008. You know the story. Obama did not commission the original poster. In an almost mystical and, I think, coincidental way, his people saw it and re-commissioned another version of the same poster. Ultimately, Obama makes the phone call personally to Fairey thanking him for his work and expressing  how accurately it portrayed the arc of his campaign. From one community organizer to another.

Image created. Enduring symbol established. Artist, subject and audience connected. Case closed. 

All graphic design should work so well.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

When print outperforms the web

If you are an art director, this will not be news. So, bear with me. 

Let’s say you need a photo of chimp directing traffic. With a click of a button, I can unleash a torrent of images all conforming to the search attributes “monkey directing traffic“. Some good some, well, not so much. Probably none of them that cost more than $300, royalty-free. Photographer: anonymous. Job done.

But try doing a search for “beautiful photographer’s images with their names exquisitely printed in a lovely little book” and you will not get what I just got in the mail.

I think I’ll keep it. 

Kick tires, not ads

My dear friend and adman extraordinaire Allan Rosenberg, may he rest in peace, used to ask his unsuspecting clients, “Did you notice how many tire ads were in the paper today?” “Of course not”, they would always say. “That’s because you’re not shopping for tires today”, would be his standard reply.

The wisdom of that remark is simple and profound. If you sell tires for a living, you better have an ad for tires somewhere everyday. Because everyday someone, somewhere blows a tire then immediately starts looking for good deals on tires. 

Of course today, finding the right place for your tire ad becomes a daunting task. web, radio, newspaper, cable TV, tire spam. But the truth remains. If your tire customer doesn’t know you are there with tires to sell, you are probably not going to sell any tires. 

Friday, March 20, 2009

Walk. On Us.

This is the kind of brilliant marketing thinking that happens when your life is at stake. Johnston & Murphy’s recent promotion offers those men who have always wished they could wear a new pair of shoes for a few days before they buy them, the chance to do so. That’s right! Wear these shoes for 10 days, if you don’t like them, bring them back!

I love the idea. But not the ad.  It’s too slow and doesn’t express this great promotional idea simply or quickly enough.

So I slightly re-wrote it. 


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Marketing has always meant dinnertime

When I was a kid, my mom never went grocery shopping. She went marketing. At the market. To buy stuff to eat. So we would grow up strong and take care of ourselves.

But today it seems like the eating part of the business of marketing has gone out the window. Now it means unnecessary corporate spending, flash, sizzle and endless meetings about how little to spend to achieve impossible objectives. And its always the first place to cut when sales go down.

The job would be more accurately named CGO-Chief Grocery Officer rather than CMO-Chief Marketing Officer. Then, when top management slashes the marketing budget, they may remember that they’re cutting out the corporate groceries.

What do you think?

What now?

Recently, a good friend and client started a new business under the unusual name, What Now?. She is a talented designer with many successful ventures under her belt. It was not as though she was just starting out on her own for the first time. But the name struck me, at first, to be quite strange. As a branding professional, I immediately went into analysis mode. I asked myself, “What is she trying to say and to who is she trying to say it to.” It seemed a bit defeatist. Maybe too dark. But clearly, it was a response to the surreal business environment we all find ourselves in today. 

But then it occurred to me, what if  “What Now?” did not have a question mark at the end. Suddenly, the name  presented a totally new set of options for its potential meaning. It was hopeful and innovative, while at the same time, acknowledging this reality of economic uncertainty. 

The more I thought about it, the more I liked what it meant. And how I could use it as a way to re-think my own business and WHAT  I was going to do  NOW.