Don’t Bet on the Consumer


Consumers (Photo credit: lagaleriadeARCOTANGENTE)

Being in advertising, I have a love and hate relationship with consumers. “It’s complicated” doesn’t begin to describe our feelings towards each other.

In part, I believe (or want to believe) that consumers are truly smarter and more informed than ever before. That with information at their fingertips, that decision-making should be a cakewalk for many of them.

In other parts, I am repeatedly proven wrong.

I love the consumer, but they gotta meet me halfway.

I have talked about this before, but there is a popular behavior theory out there called the Prospect Theory. In short, it suggests that people value losses more than they value gains. For example, if you have a chance of winning $10, or the chance of losing $10, consumers would give a higher value to the chance of losing $10.

Consumers then, are naturally risk-averse.

Which makes sense- that’s why word-of-mouth is still, and will continue to be, the most effective form of marketing; it shows that the product/service recommended is a low-risk venture.

When my agency compiled research about the consumers’ perception of advertising, the majority thought that more information was good. But after digging deeper into the data, they didn’t quite understand why it was good.

This is my gripe with “big data” and crowdsourcing. Will you get data, yes. Will it show you what the consumers want? Maybe. But should you base your strategy on what the consumers tell you they want?

It depends. You know how your product or service works. You know what moves you need to make to improve your product/service. Consumers don’t like risky moves, so if you’re venturing out to do something different, something a little unusual, I wouldn’t bet on them to be sage advisers.

Listen to your consumer. But don’t bet on their advice.


The Blurred Line of Advertising and Publicity

Advertising, or the way of transferring information from an identified party to a specific audience, can take many forms. “Traditional” advertising usually refers to TV advertisements, radio, print ads in newspapers and magazines. New and online media would include online ads, banner ads, ads before online video, social media advertising, and the like.

Native advertising includes promotional messaging on your own sites and property. Advertorials are advertisements that look like editorials, which, knowing our lovely nation, many people get duped by.

Advertising campaigns can take all of these activities, and roll them together. Which is a good thing. An “integrated” campaign is becoming more and more common.

That means the industry is catching up. But those of you who regularly read this stuff, already know that.  Why are we going over this again?

Because many business owners don’t see the relevance. Case in point: BrewDog.

BrewDog got some noted publicity because the owners said they would rather “set their money on fire” than invest in advertising.

Yet they do publicity stunts. Invest in outrageous packaging and product development. And get this: they are going to host their own TV show about beer.

Did we miss something? You see, the BrewDog owners meant traditional advertising, because its true, many craft beers do not need to have the big production TV commercials. Their money is better spent on the nonconventional stuff.

But please refrain from acting high and mighty, saying that you wouldn’t spend on advertising. Because you definitely are.

I think that is the thing that ticks me off the most, the people who don’t call their advertising activities, advertising.

Stop it. It’s advertising. Deal with it.



People Like Advertising, so Why All the Hate?

“Contrary to popular belief, Americans don’t hate advertising.”
-Roy H. Williams

Americans love watching the Super Bowl for the commercials. People who don’t even watch football watch the game so they don’t miss the ads.

Magazines and trade publications have seen a rise in advertising, and there seems to be no real complaint.

Yet, when you talk with people- especially in a large setting- there seems to be a negative light shone on advertising. Why?

I believe that there are several reasons why people may say they don’t like advertising, but aren’t sure why.

-Misleading ads
-Advertising done poorly or done by non-advertisers
-The lack of advertising/marketing advocates in the foreground
-The abundance of popular advertising “haters”
-The popular Adpeople that make everyone look bad

I am not alone in saying that there are a few professionals in advertising that aren’t exactly ethical. But I would also say that the ethical professionals in advertising and communications far outnumber the bad ones.

But unfortunately, society only hears about the bad ones.

Oh, irony.

The media and government love to run with the news when the FCC cracks down on a misleading advertising campaign. On one occasion, I could have swore I saw Al Franken frothing at the mouth during one such instance.

A story of how an AdPerson kept to their ethics, and pioneered truth in advertising would never hit the headlines.

A story about the Ad Council, and how many of those campaigns are given thousands of dollars from advertising agencies, would never be highlighted during a congressional campaign. Why?

The Ad World knows why. It’s not a sexy story.

Someone told the truth? Who cares.

But then the US gets all up in arms when brands have to correct themselves.

But that isn’t the part that bothers me. What bothers me are people like Frank Luntz. Or maybe his visibility.  He is the marketing researcher who helped coined the phrases ‘death tax’ (versus ‘estate tax’) and ‘War on Terror’ (instead of ‘US Global Man Hunt’, I guess).

Genius? Sure, he has the amazing talent to use words and phrases that resonate.

Ethical? Now that is an interesting question. Perhaps it is my political bias that I simply cannot stand the man and every time he opens his mouth I get angry.

Or perhaps he is his own worst enemy. People categorize what he does for the GoP with what advertising and communications people do for brands- create words, images and phrases that force them to act the way they want.

Are people in the wrong for thinking so? Maybe, but then again, maybe not.

Perhaps it’s his method; using fear and scary words to manipulate the populace. (I’m trying to figure out my displeasure of them, so please bear with me).

Fear is an emotion that is extremely powerful. Fear is our anxiety for what we don’t know. Uncertainty. Tying policies to “death” and “terror” then, would (and did) prove to be extremely impacting. Dare I say, Luntz was impressive.

So communicators have Luntz, the media, and the government against them. That’s fine. But I also see professionals against the profession.

For example, making up words that are against the industry (see ‘unmarketing’, and ‘change agents’). And I find it funny because those words get so popular because those professionals are really really good at marketing.

So what is the point of this post?

1. People like good advertising and communications.
2. Media and government like to point out the bad in advertising to make themselves look like they’re doing something important.
3. Advertising professionals must do a better job highlighting the good folks. Not separate themselves from the industry altogether.
4. Luntz, and people like him, are jerks.

Let’s get our act together, Ad-Brethren. The US is a consumption-based society, so as long as that’s the case, we’ll be around. I don’t care if we’re not liked, but some appreciation couldn’t hurt.

Wanted: Mentors

A good exchange always helps

Mentor- n– a trusted counselor or guide
(fun fact: In The Odyssey, Odysseus had a friend named Mentor who was responsible in seeing that Odysseus’ son Telamachus received an education)

In the advertising and communications world, for the past few years now, the industry has been quite vocal over the need for mentors. The young and restless professionals are taking the industry by storm (except the minorities, it seems) and with all this new blood, there seems that the people who are supposed to pass the torch are no where to be found. In a relay race, the team that mishandles the baton exchange will likely fall behind- or worse- be disqualified. Likewise, if the industry doesn’t get its act together, it too will face falling behind, or losing the race for talent to other industries (blast you finance!).

In AdAge, there was an article about what is best for new talent: small agency or big agency. The article points out that small agency gives the new talent an opportunity to not only wear more hats, but to also have closer interaction with those decision-makers in the shop. In a large agency, those kind of opportunities may not be as plentiful. Either way, the article sums up, if you’re in a big shop or  a small one, if you have a good mentor, the young pros are set.

Then the article goes on about where to find these mentors, and as always, no real answer was provided. It said that the burn-and-churn nature of the industry doesn’t provide an atmosphere for mentors. The Burnetts, Ogilvys, Boguskys, Kennedys of the past are gone.

As a young entrepreneur and marketing geek, I too have searched for mentors. Some more promising than others, but nothing really concrete. It’s been an interesting experience for sure. What I have come across:

-Old supervisors seeing me now as competition (flattered, but seriously?)
-Older professionals who have no interest in mentoring
-Pros stuck in their ways and show teachings that are no longer relevant; or don’t understand today’s way of communicating
-Pros who haven’t had a mentor themselves

Or we would go to the table, asking completely different questions. The experienced pro would want to talk about the joy of new media, while I want to learn about building a cohesive account team. Nice.

Fun right? Sometimes it’s been amusing, other times quite frustrating. But my business partner and I carry on, watching documentaries, reading whatever we can, and learning from the successes and bumps in the road we experience.

So for those 40+ professionals that are complaining about the talent today, how about you take some time, step off the pedestal, and listen for a bit?


Dunbar’s Number: Does it matter in the Social Media World?

A social network diagram

Image via Wikipedia

This topic has been nagging at me for quite some time. It is a matter about the next phase of social media, and how humans interact with each other. Perhaps, the latter should say “how humans are happiest when interacting with each other.”

I have no formal background in sociology. I do not claim, in any way, that I am a sociologist. However, I’ve studied consumer behavior, behavioral psychology, economics and briefly behavioral economics (that study is still ongoing). I am fascinated in how people choose to interact (or not to interact) with each other, with groups, and especially with goods and services, and those who provide them.

We all have the innate desire to belong. If we go back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the sense of belonging is a crucial for becoming a “whole person.” The fantastic element about social media is that it makes belonging to a community so much easier, and makes our communities so much bigger.

Hmm. Now we’re getting to the meat of the conversation. Is the fact that our communities and connections are getting bigger, with weaker connections, but more interactions, a good thing?

Every networker and social media practitioner would give a resounding “Absolutely!” to that question. I can see both sides to the argument, and think that there is no right answer to the question. It is a matter of perspective. Let’s dive into the sides.

Con: Maintain strong relationships; real community

First, let’s take the side that social media is giving people a false sense of community. This theme of communal consumption helps people connect with those who share similar experiences, but when it comes to bringing a group together, social media cannot be depended on alone. It takes stronger bonds- stable social relationships- to make a real community. That brings us to Dunbar’s number.

Dunbar’s number talks about “stable social relationships“. The number is said to be between 100 and 230,but commonly projected at 150. Groups around this number, it is said, is the limit the human mind has when it comes to remembering quickly the kind of relationship it has with others.

Now the other side.

Pro: Social media all the way!

The way social media is helping us connect is awesome. Whether it strengthens bonds or helps us form weak bonds, it doesn’t really matter. The point is, it is helping ideas get shared, it is helping people get organized, and is providing ways for information to be shared and gathered at a viciously fast pace. A writer from social media today went into great detail, and provided very good commentary about this very argument. They posed that Dunbar’s number, when it comes to social media, is irrelevant because social media is more about having a network than for building strong social relationships.

Once again, I think it’s all about perspective.

For example, a couple who met online will swear up and down that new and social media will be a part of their social fabric. A marketing professional will swear that though their on every social network imaginable, it’s because they need to be on it for business purposes. People use it to strengthen already strong bonds, or to incubate weak ones.

Can it be a generational issue too? It’s possible. I had a lunch with an older professional, and she posed the question of if there’s a negative effect of having too many LinkedIn connections, or too many facebook friends. Is there such thing as ‘too many’? Does the number show the reach you have, or that you’re a networking whore? I never looked at it that way before. But it seems to be many older professionals have that perspective. But I think that’s a totally different conversation.

I’d love to know your thoughts, though. Is there a certain number, or ceiling that humans will hit in social media? Is Dunbar’s number and it’s theory relevant?

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Do You Hear Me Now? Good.

Statue of Robin Hood, in Nottinghamshire, England.

Image via Wikipedia

It takes a while for an organization to find its voice. It must really dive deep and decide what values it will support, the kind of businesses it wants to work with, and the kind of client or customer it wants to serve. Then and only then can a voice be developed.

Has The Charlotte Agency found its voice in its 3rd year? I would like to think so.

First, we came out blazing, “Good Ol’ Boys rest here“,  “Charlotte get your s**t together there“,”we’re tearing down the streets with an army of midgets” there, and the messages about down with the Bourgeois continued.

Then, we noticed all the glares and “tsks tsks” from the ‘established’ marketing and communications arena, and decided that maybe we should play nice, and get invited to all the fancy events, have drinks over at the club (or Blumenthal, whichever) and then meet a Bank of America exec who loves “up-and-comers” that remind them of themselves.

We took a step back and realized…we’re not really the play nice type.

So entering into round 3. The gloves are back off, and we’re feeling good.

Really good.

The organizations that we’re working with are artsy, edgy, but full of heart. They love Charlotte, and the people in Charlotte.  Our people don’t worry about the status quo. Or, for that matter, status in general. If they blow up (which most of them will) it will be due to the fact that they’re better than their competitors.

We agree.

There’s something in the air here in Charlotte. We’re trying to figure out how we can breathe it all in. Charlotte does have a boys club of folks controlling the BIG ideas. Cue Center City Partners. Enter Arts and Science Council. Release the hounds in the Charlotte Sports Commission. Add a dash of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce.

But that’s okay. Because that means, the people need a voice. Small businesses need a business-savvy, creative front group that will tell, nay, yell what this group needs.

And business-savvy, creative front group practically screams us.

The Charlotte Agency doesn’t take any prisoners. If you’re with us, great, if not, get out the way. We’re like the Robin Hood of marketing, giving a voice to the small folks while exploiting the fat cats.

And we’re only picking up speed.

Do you hear me now?


Where Creativity Went in Advertising- A Modest Proposal

Sometimes the same tools and technology we herald as frickin’ awesome can become  thorns in our sides, pains in our backs, or the cause of many headaches.

Don’t get me wrong, innovative technology and the ability to communicate in a moment’s notice is awesome. And in this fast-paced business environment, that kind of ability is needed. But as an industry, marketing and advertising has not tackled the by-product of the rapid advancement of communications.

For background: let’s take the golden age of advertising, circa 1950-1985. The barriers of entry for the advertising world seemed to be almost insurmountable. To get into the big agencies, to do good work, and to have your good work be noticed, you had to be really, really good. Businesses looked for creativity and awarded those with it handsomely.

Let’s skip and go to the present. There are little to no barriers to enter the marketing and advertising world. Everyone is a “writer.” Anybody can blog. People, after work, can go home, open Publisher and voila! they can call themselves copywriters, designers, and the like. Businesses, small and large, no longer look to pay top dollar for the best talent. Now, unless I’m wrong, businesses today, small and large, are looking to get the best talent available for the most cost-efficient price- which is a very different approach. Because of the surplus of resources and people who claim they can use it-and use it well- businesses sacrifice the need of creativity for the comfort of doing marketing and advertising campaigns on a budget that they deem sufficient.

So what happens? Those creatives who good work and charge a price that matches, get pushed out by those who aren’t as creative and strategic, but fit the price tag.

What I’m saying is,  new and social media has started to turn creativity into a commodity. And this, friends and colleagues, is not good.

How do we fix this? I’m not sure. The “O’s and Ah’s” of advertising and marketing seemed to have left the building. With DVRs people would rather skip them, and with devices like the Flip, businesses rather do their own (albeit shoddy) video instead letting a Pro handle it.

In one of my previous posts, I mentioned the “creative exodus” that an Adage contributor talked about. It’s an important conversation to have. Our industry depends on creativity based on strategy and research, and once we lose that advantage, we being to compete solely on price…like butter.

How will this tale end? Will us creative pros leverage social media, traditional media, and other tools in a way that can weed out the “convenience  creatives”? Or is the advertising industry bound to end up competing not on ideas and implementation, but on Benjamins?