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My thoughts on advertising today.

Simply put; You don’t need a bigger hammer. You need a sharper nail.


It’s true of creative budgets. It’s true of production budgets. It’s true of overall advertising budgets. The fundamental truth is, bigger isn’t better. Smarter is better.


Yet all too often companies are bamboozled into thinking they’ve got to spend all kinds of money to reach customers in an increasingly cluttered messaging marketplace.


So they chase every hot new media platform or social networking craze and slap their logo on as many tchotchkes, gimmicks, and schemes that are served up to them.


Now while hot fads do work for the first pioneers who try them, the last ones on board are simply adding to the media clutter that continues to bombard a bewildered audience and elusive customer.


In his monumental tirade against advertising idiocy in 1970, “Up the Organization”, Robert Townsend who was the director of GM’s massive advertising effort noted that little Volkswagen (at the time) had more memorability and more brand recognition with its relatively miniscule advertising budget than the mighty GM, whose ad budget for each of their vehicle brands, alone, dwarfed all of VW’s.


The simple answer was VW didn’t have greater recognition and awareness by outspending. They achieved it by outthinking. They simply created smarter, more effective, and more memorable messaging and content. Content that reached. Content that connected. And content that stuck. (And not just for a day or two but with enviable recall and impressions that lasted decades.)


Today, companies are mesmerized by the myriad media opportunities that abound in a frantic attempt to reach out to increasingly elusive and fragmented customers (who became more elusive and fragmented thanks to the explosion of outlets like cable and the Internet which is like cable with a trillion channels). Internet banners. SEO algorithms, you name it. Social media sites like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and whatever else the kids out of Stanford will dream up next. Each works like gangbusters for the first thousand or so companies but soon yield diminishing (and questionable) returns on an increasingly cynical audience who become savvy to their tactics as a result of overuse). Circles. Email blasts. Guerilla tactics. Building wraps. Experiential cocoons. The list goes on and on.


Yet all too often companies so desperate to get their names out to customers will sign up for anything…ANYTHING they hope will work. And in most cases these tactics are about as effective as putting on a blindfold, raising a shotgun to the sky, squeezing the trigger in hopes that a duck may be flying by. (Yes, it’s THAT scattershot. And, sadly, THAT effective.)


Why have companies and marketers become so frantic? Hey, fewer and fewer people are buying newspapers and magazines and the ability for traditional broadcast media like radio and TV to reach customers is shakier than a Chilean village. (And as I mentioned earlier, the Internet is like cable with a trillion channels.) The smart phone (nee cell phone) has become the last reliable means of mass communication because at least with that technology you can reach customers with your messages directly (and maybe even get them to download your app).


People! The human condition hasn’t suddenly changed since the advent of the Internet. It hasn’t changed in 10,000 years of evolution. People still want things. People still desire things. People still get hungry for things. People still crave things. And, most importantly, people still react to smart, insightful messages. Messages that engage. Messages that connect. Messages that stick on some deep, emotional level. Leaving customers with an indelible understanding of the value of a product or a service and how it stacks up against other choices they may have.


So put away your laptops and your tablets and your smartphones for a moment and do something you haven’t quite done in a long, long while.




Think about what you want to say and, more importantly, how you want to say it. And even think about where you may want to say it. YES, consider the media your message will appear and ask yourself can your message take advantage of that? That is, can what you want to say utilize the context of where it will appear? And not simply be there because everyone else is.


Consider what it is about your brand and the identity you’ve crafted for it that makes sense for you to have a message there. And consider how you can take advantage of the context in which the message will appear.


Like placing a message for a bladder control medicine on a water delivery truck and making a cogent point about it (I know this is pushing things a bit but hopefully you'll get my point!) or intercepting shoppers going down the detergent aisle in a grocery store and sending them to the paper goods aisle thanks to the smart idea of placing a compelling message on the floor telling shoppers that maybe they don’t need a better detergent but a better napkin.

Also consider your own behavior. Like, if you ignore the little 'haiku' ads on Google (appearing at the top and along the right hand side of the the search results) multiply your reaction by 7.2 billion. Because if you're ignoring them you can pretty much bet the rest of the planet is ignoring them, too.


That’s what I mean by being smarter and sharper. That’s what I mean by not needing a bigger media hammer to hit customers but crafting a smarter, sharper message to do the job.


And that’s what I do for clients.


By helping them become smarter and sharper.


With sharper, more insightful messaging and content that takes full advantage of the human condition and links it to a brand’s advantages and attributes for that “A-HA!” moment along with advertising that may also take into account the context of where that message may appear is the kind of advertising that’s so sorely needed today to cut through the confusing, cluttered morass of messaging out there.


Because in my experience, "sharper" gets an insightful, compelling message through to your customers far more effectively, memorably and enduringly than any amount of bludgeoning will ever do.

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