Wednesday, November 27

GoldieBlox and the Beastie Boys

This story is a little sad ... sad because a great brand seems to apparently have made a not so great decision.

GoldieBlox:  "a toy company on a mission to inspire the next generation of female engineers."  The brand seeks to "level the playing field" in terms of the number of women who pursue careers in science, technology, and engineering, by getting them young via constructive playtime.  This video asset is amongst the most innovative and entertaining I've ever seen in the toy space:

As a marketer and father, I'm inspired.

As I teach my students at NYU all the time, marketing is all about making good decisions.  This is a great concept!  So sure, you have to define who you are as a brand and align your brand with an interested target market.  Check.

You also have to stick with who you are as a brand, and make consistently good decisions along the way.  At every step along the brand's journey.

Now I don't know the ins and outs of the alleged controversy over the use of the Beastie Boys song in this video, but I do know it "feels" wrong.  To parody someone else's work without compensation is against code in our industry, if in fact that's what they did.

This is not a non-profit company by any means.  It also looks like the brand allegedly went into attack mode upon the Beastie Boys first inquiry.  I'm not sure that's right either ... as professionals we should work things out.

It's a shame, because I love the concept behind the brand and what it's teaching young kids and their parents.  But I don't like how it's all going down.  I'm not a fan of "any publicity is good publicity" ... I worry that without this controversy we wouldn't be talking about this brand right now.  I'm worried that the real message is getting lost in how the brand chose to execute it, and the resulting side effects of that decision.  Marketing is all about making good decisions and I'm not sure that this was a good one.  I worry that we have to uphold the standards of our craft.

Makes me sad to see a good concept take a wrong course.  It's a shame because the kids intended to hear this message may hear something else entirely.

What's your experience?  Jim.

Tuesday, November 26

Much Ado About Content Marketing

There's been much written and said about "content marketing" lately -- the new marketing buzz word du jour.  So much so that I think "content marketing" has replaced "integrated marketing" as the "it" phrase of the moment.

The funny thing is that, as marketers,  I'm not sure when we weren't in the "content" business.  Just like I'm not sure when marketing wasn't supposed to be "integrated."  Isn't that what marketing is all about ... adding value to consumers' lives?  Content is how you add the value, beyond just what the product actually does.  And when your product is in a category filled with other products offering the same functional benefits, then the content becomes even more important to differentiate and add value beyond what the consumer can get elsewhere.

It's still a fun and lively discussion, nevertheless, so I am happy to be a part of it.  There are many interpretations and explanations for content marketing, and that's what makes marketing in general so much fun.

Like you I'm sure, I've read a ton of articles that attempt to explain it all.  Here's one that I think captures it best so far, with a really good example ... the best way to learn.  As I say, "marketing is a spectator sport," after all!

Click here to read it ... featuring Coca-Cola and their new content marketing strategy as it relates to their corporate website.

What's your experience?  Jim

Monday, November 25

Target "My Kind of Holiday"

There's a new holiday television advertising campaign that takes "program integration" to a new level.

The retailer Target has partnered with three abc programs -- The Middle, Back in the Game, and Modern Family -- to create a series of television spots that use characters from the three shows to weave a holiday story of gift giving.  Perfectly timed to run during the actual shows, to give an appearance of continuity from programming to commercial break.  So well done.

Here's the first part of the series, featuring The Middleclick here.  That character from The Middle just cracks me up!  Classic character acting, both on the show and in this piece of advertising.

And here's the second in the series, featuring the new show Back in the Game :  click here.  I'm imagining that the network is using the success of The Middle to try to build an audience for this new show.

Finally, my favorite of all with my favorite character from Modern Family, the little Frenchie:  click here.  That little dog is by far the best character on tv right now, in my humble but extremely biased opinion.

What I love about all of this is the creative partnering that is bringing new meaning to what could otherwise be considered standard fare holiday advertising.  Not necessarily the most creative advertising this season, but a great example of a network partnering with an advertiser to benefit both parties somewhat equally. 

What's your experience?  Jim.

PS - Full disclosure,  I am a Frenchie lover.  Here's a shot of my little Sophie ....

Thursday, November 21

Flexibility is Key to Personal Planning

 Here's the 9th post in my series over at Entrepreneur ... all about personal branding.

This one is about flexibility, something not so easy to come by when planning out our lives.

Give it a read here if you'd like.

What's your experience?  Jim.

Tuesday, November 19

Toys 'R Us Field Trip

This piece of marketing is the last of four featured brands that we spoke about in my class at NYU this week, and it's from Toys 'R Us.  I asked my graduate students to break down each brand's product management and brand marketing, making for quite a lively discussion.

It's worth noting that this particular video asset is yet another example of the "marketing du jour" movement called "prank-vertising," where brands pull a prank on consumers and catch it on film.  Many of these happen to be slightly scary or somewhat negative, shall we say, but this one from Toys 'R Us is sheer joy.

The footage has caused quite a stir on social media, and the brand has also edited it down into consumable segments for broadcast advertising.  Perfect timing for the holidays, I am sure as planned.

I asked my students to analyze the branding, and they came up with what I believe is the true spirit of the marketing approach.  Witnessing the surprise and delight on these children's faces is nothing short of awe inspiring ... exactly the moment you want when your children open the presents you give them for your holiday celebration.  Whatever your holiday celebration.  It's these exact emotions and moments you want to create as a parent.  Watching these little kids makes you want to replicate the feelings for your own.

Most likely the point the brand was trying to make.

Does it separate out Toys 'R Us from its competitors?  Well my students were not completely sure, but it did make for a memorable brand experience.

What's your experience?  Jim.

KMart Jingle Bells

Jingle Bells indeed, better watch the spelling!  We talked about this new ad from KMart last night in my grad class at NYU.  I actually split the class into four groups and each group analyzed different "holiday" marketing ... KMart, Shinola, Volvo, and Toys 'R Us ... advertising or video assets that had just recently debuted and are getting a lot of buzz.

Of the four we looked at, this was by far the hardest to decipher from a marketing perspective ... but is on fire in social media!

We came to the conclusion that KMart is trying to differentiate via "attitude" and "personality," rather than through price or trendiness, as its competitors do.

This spot for Joe Boxer at KMart follows a string of viral videos turned main stream marketing for the brand over the course of the year, starting out with "I Shipped My Pants."  A chuckle at the time when we perhaps needed it most, right in the dead of winter.

This video is drawing a lot of criticism, I must add, for being inappropriate and in bad taste.  That I don't see, neither did any of my students.  Just some good holiday fun, and a reminder of where we can all go buy a little part of it.

Me?  I applaud the creativity.  It's not saying much strategically, and it's not very compelling on why I should shop there.  But it is telling me to have a little fun along the way, and when the holidays get hectic I don't mind that message at all.

What's your experience?  Jim.

PS - This week I'm covering all four of the featured brands we discussed in my class ... tomorrow will be Toys 'R Us to finish up the round up. 

Volvo Epic Split

I've written a lot lately about "prank-vertising" and the rise of the stunt as a way to attract consumer attention.  It's a tactic of high risk because it may alienate the viewer or potentially bore the viewer.  But not if it's strategically aligned with the brand, at least in my book.

Here's a very recent "stunt" caught on advertising film that I think is a perfect example of strategic alignment, not only between the stunt and the brand's core positioning, but also with the talent they used to pull off the stunt and tell the story.

If you listen hard to the messaging, you'll see what I mean.  So well written!  Makes me want to buy a Volvo truck!

It's a great strategic stunt that is not only bringing the core functional and emotional benefits of Volvo to light, but also revitalizing "celebrity" brand for what he too was once known for.  Brilliant.

Have you seen another truck (or celebrity for that matter) differentiate itself so well?

What's your experience?  Jim.

Monday, November 18


When I first heard about this brand, I felt immediate respect.  Then I saw the products, and I felt immediate interest.  And then I saw the brand and products merchandised at retail, and felt immediate desire!  I want to be a part of this brand!

Shinola ... a new brand coming out of Detroit, with the goal of bringing watch-making back to Detroit, a city long known for manufacturing.  100% American made.

Watches, journals, leather goods ... even bikes!  The product line is fabulous, and segmented for women and for men, although honestly it has a distinct "male" feel.

Shinola is not only a great product line, but also a great brand with a purpose -- bringing the mojo back to American made goods, using Detroit as symbolic of a great American city in need.  And using the watch as symbolic of returning a artistry back to America, where it was once strong.

The brand is the beginning, I hope, of a movement to bring not only revitalize manufacturing in Detroit, but also style, prosperity, and talent to a city that was once filled with all of the above.  And making "Made in America" relevant again and again.

Shinola ... "Where American is Made."  The retail stores are equally as fabulous, with flagship locations in Tribeca, NY and Detroit of course.

I just hope Santa is reading this post so he knows what to put in my stocking this holiday season!

What's your experience?  Jim.

Friday, November 15

A Personal Gap Analysis

 Here's the next (8th to be exact) in my personal branding series at Entrepreneur.  I'm basically following the pathway I wrote in my book, in a series of short blog posts.  It gives a flavor for what the book covers more fully.  Hope you get something out of it!  You can click here.

What's your experience?  Jim.

Thursday, November 14

Holmes Report Global Summit

I've been at the Holmes Report Global Summit this week ... an amazing conference where Communications professionals from all over the world gather to talk about how to advance our craft.

It's been a great experience networking, sharing, and learning.  That's what these things are for!  And every time I make new friends that make the industry, well, a nicer and more friendly place, which means a lot to me.

And I also see and hear a lot that stretches my mind, which is also the point.  Thought I'd share a couple of nuggets here.

Brand as a Verb.  The notion that a brand as a "noun" is basically dead.  A brand is no longer a "thing" that consumers merely just buy.  Brands should be a verb.  Brands should be all about action ... engaging, sharing, discussing ... all verbs.  It's an interesting notion to think about branding this way, and I kind of like it.  It forces us to think about our brands as being much more action oriented. 

We need to be more confident.  During Martin Sorrell's discussion with my CEO Donna Imperato, he encouraged all of us to be more proactive and more aggressive when it comes to advancing integrated marketing and adding more value to our clients' brands.  I'm summing up a lot of what he said, but basically he said we come to the table ready to take action and push our clients' business ahead.  I guess we should be verbs too!

UN Women Campaign.  During one of the panel discussions on creativity, the participants showcased some really cool global campaigns.  There's nothing more inspiring to me than dissecting good creative and strategic messaging.  One campaign featured really struck me ... the UN Women campaign, which highlights the need to continue to fight for women's rights around the world.  It's shocking that we even have to continue the dialogue at this point in our human evolution.  I did a little digging and realized that the campaign extends beyond just women's rights, to include anyone/everyone fighting adversity.  Hopefully campaigns like this one help the cause.

While I know many worry about the cost and time, conferences are such a great investment ... the networking and sharing of information is invaluable as we each build our careers and our businesses.  Thanks to everyone at the Holmes Report for a great week!  It was all very inspiring!

What's your experience?  Jim.

PS - if you want to follow any of the commentary from the participants and from the Twitter chat, just go to #PRSummit

Wednesday, November 13

The Empty Nester's Parents' Weekend

Tis the season for Parents' Weekend, at least if you've got kids in college.  With two kids in college and an empty nest, it's been quite the season!

Here's a little blog post I wrote for Huffington Post that captures the sentiment.  I'd love to hear your stories!

What's your experience?  Jim.

Tuesday, November 12

Your Cyber Monday Strategy

 Just in case you hadn't noticed, the holiday season is starting to kick in.  Retailers are ramping up their messaging, getting ready for the biggest shopping weekend of the year, right after Thanksgiving.

We've got Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday.  What on Earth are we doing with Sunday?

I wrote this article for Entrepreneur this week ... every business should have a strategy for Cyber Monday.  Give it a read here, if you'd like.

What's your strategy?  What's your experience?  Jim.

Monday, November 11

Veteran's Day Offers

Today is Veteran's Day ... a day when we celebrate those who serve and protect us, past and present.  It's a day that doesn't get enough attention, to be honest, and really should be celebrated as PTO to really give it justice.  We are all so busy going about what seems like a "normal" day that I don't think we give it enough respect.

But many of the brands are ... I am thrilled to see so many brands jump into action this year, giving free food and services to our active military.  I first noticed Applebee's, who has a huge advertising campaign offering a free meal to our military.  Yesterday, they were advertising "see you tomorrow" quite heavily on all the programming, including sports.

But happily the list is long:  Olive Garden, TGIFriday's, Outback, etc etc etc all have free food offers.

At Great Clips, veterans get a free cut OR if any of us get a cut we get a coupon for a free cut that we can give to a vet.  Well played.

There are also free car washes, coffee, doughnuts, and even a free bagel and shmear at Einstein's bagels.

It looks like a day when brands are giving back ... which should be what this day is all about.  I believe it's part of a much larger trend in marketing, where brands are trying to show a purpose and trying to find ways to fit into the community, giving back to those who are loyal to them.  I like this trend.

Thanks to our veterans who have kept us safe and our active military service people who continue to do so!  We appreciate it.

What's your experience?  Jim.

I will leave you with one of my favorite spots from the Super Bowl this year ... Jeep.  I've been using it ever since in my presentations and class work at NYU.  It's amazing.

Friday, November 8

Survey Coercion

Last week in my class at NYU we discussed consumer surveys as a market research technique.  They are a tried and true approach to getting feedback or getting to know your customers ... the online world has opened up many an opportunity to get this kind of data.

The discussion reminded me of a recent experience when I was asked to fill out a feedback survey after making a large purchase.  It was an online survey to basically assess the skills of the sales person and to rate the overall customer service experience.

The sales person pushed hard to get me to commit that I would in fact take the survey when prompted by email.  He even had a hard copy print out to show me the dozen or so questions that I would be asked, on a scale of 1 - 10, based on my satisfaction.

He went on to tell me that his "boss" doesn't accept anything less than a 10, and basically said that he wouldn't accept anything less than a 10 from me.  He even circled the column of answers with all 10's and told me that this is how I should answer the questions.  And then dramatically crossed off the options of 1 - 9.

The implication was that I would be hearing from him if in fact I scored less than a 10.

It was Survey Coercion in the purest of forms, an awkward moment as you can imagine that completely tarnished the entire purchase experience ... and this was a luxury good, not a pack of fries at McDonald's.

So of course I have ignored every single email and phone call that followed from the company, asking why I hadn't responded to the survey.  My attitude is to let them figure that out when they don't see me return.  The brand has now taken on a very different tone to me, one I dislike, from just a  simple little touchpoint like a customer survey and how it was handled by a sales person.  Such a shame, but powerful in its meaning.

Customer surveys are meant to provide a window of understanding into the attitudes and behaviors that shape your customers' decisions.  And to gather great feedback on how you can be doing better as a brand.  While they can be a measure of performance as well, they shouldn't be used to hold your employees hostage to the point where they use it as a weapon.  A weapon of brand destruction in this case.

And in fact, a customer survey can be another consistent touchpoint for your customers that builds toward loyalty.  When done correctly.

What's your experience?  Jim.

Wednesday, November 6

15 Inspiring Books

If you like to read books, there's a fascinating recap over at Entrepreneur showing the 15 most inspiring books for entrepreneurs.  The magazine asked a bunch of us what books we thought inspired us most and compiled this very unusual list.

You can read the article here

My pick was the classic Ogilvy on Advertising, which is probably the first business book I ever read.  Back in college, it inspired me to pursue a career in marketing so I owe a lot to that little ditty.  At the time, I loved reading all the rules about how to make great advertising and then how so many great brands had broken the rules.  I just found it fascinating.

My other choice was Atlas Shrugged, which is actually fiction so I decided to choose a more business oriented book.  It's an amazing account of seeking excellence in anything that we do.  Ironically, it's also the first book listed in the Entrepreneur compilation.

Years later, with three books of my own under my belt and a bookcase full of others, Ogilvy on Advertising still sits among the best of the best of nonfiction books.  Timeless and inspiring.  You should give it a second look.  And if you've never read Atlas Shrugged, give that a whirl too.  It's a biggie, so reserve a lot of time for you because you won't want to put it down.

What would be on your list?  What's your experience?  Jim.

Tuesday, November 5

American Horror Story: Coven

This weekend I jumped into a new trend in television programming:  binge television watching, or as some say marathon television watching.  I've honestly never done it before ... but I was dealing with allergies so I hunkered down on the sofa and turned on the tube.

I finally caught up on the series American Horror Story:  Coven.  It's a fabulous series, the third season, that is both phenomenal storytelling and superb acting.  It completely pulls you into the action, and doesn't let you go.  It was easy to sit in one place and keep on watching, episode after episode.

The show is written by Ryan Murphy ... perhaps one of the most versatile writers on the planet.  He's done Glee, Nip/Tuck, and The New Normal.  The man is a genius with a wide range of genres in his abilities, clearly.

I've been meaning to keep up with the new season, but in reality I quickly realized that it's best watched in a marathon session, much like a feature film.  Makes it so much more exciting.  Three episodes are almost like a movie, so I think I'll wait for three more to come on demand and then I'll do another session.

Next time without a head cold.   What's your experience?  Jim.

Monday, November 4

Where Do You Want to Be in 10 Years?

Here's the latest from my personal branding column over at Entrepreneur.  It's all about writing your own personal marketing plan ... starting with where you want to be in 10 years.  Where do you want to be?  Start planning now.  Give this a read!

What's your experience?  Jim.

Friday, November 1

YouTube Music Awards

While critics have panned this as "just another awards show," I actually think this is quite cool and very reflective of what's going on in consumer behavior and pop culture.

The YouTube Music Awards - YTMAs (presented by Kia).

Sunday night, November 3rd, YouTube will do a live stream from New York of their very first awards celebration to recognize those videos with the most views, shares, likes, and comments from the past year.  Sure, many of the usual suspects are there like Lady Gaga (who will perform live along with Enimen) and Katy Perry, but hey I am sure they racked up a lot of social media volume with their album releases so they likely deserve the recognition.

But there are some buzz-worthy categories too that only a social media outlet could credibly crown like Response of the Year (fan created video response to an artist) and Biggest YouTube Phenomenon --- acknowledging the huge impact that fans have on music trends, sales, and our sharing habits.

YouTube has been promoting the awards heavily, getting viewers engaged early with all of the voting, the playlists, and engaging with the nominees via video.  There's plenty of underground stuff here mixed right along side the mainstream work, IMHO.  Plenty to go around.  I also respect that they limited the categories to a few core areas, so as not to overwhelm and bore us to death like some of the awards programs end up doing.

I certainly plan to view - this is the first if its kind and sure to start an evolving trend so we have to check it out.

What's your experience?  Jim.