Monday, June 30, 2008

Where Are The Creatives In The Dead Heat Of Summer?

It’s the dead of summer here in Georgia and this weekend was damn hot and humid.

We are now in the midst of those summer days where you welcome the late afternoon thunderstorms, even on the weekends when it forces you to move the BBQ onto the porch.

Six months ago, just after we ushered in 2008, I wrote about interesting brands I came across in our Sunday newspaper FSIs (free standing inserts).

This morning, I got up early, grabbed my Sunday morning AJC (Atlanta Journal Constitution) and drove my MINI down to the local neighborhood Starbucks to relax before cleaning my house.

The AJC is the local Atlanta rag. I can usually “read” through it (note the quotes!) in about 10 minutes or less.

Same thing happened this morning. That was until I got to the ad inserts.

One of the first ones I tripped over was titled “Coffee anyone?” (this is the actual way it was scripted and capped). Underneath the headline was the line “(Brewed Coffee Card Inside.)” Again, this is exactly the way the subhead was scripted and printed.

Also on the front cover were two clear cups of Starbucks iced coffee complete with straws.

When I opened it up… there was another cup of Starbucks with the headline “Love coffee?” with two short sentences on the next page with another headline that read….”Let us treat you to a cup.” And underneath the two-sentence copy was a simple card for a free cup of regular Starbucks coffee.

Back cover was plain. Nothing except this very hard to read line “Have an idea for us?”

Starbucks is at a very interesting junction point…right at the top of the brand’s market “S-curve” peering down at the steep incline below.

The ad insert had to be produced in-house…although thinking out loud…I guess if an ad agency did it and Starbucks said here is what it needs to look like and here is the copy our marketing manager wrote…I bet the agency did what they were told because having the Starbucks brand logo on the agency’s website looks like they do cool things for the BIG brands.

Agencies really get off on having those brand names on their websites.

Just like most other companies that get really BIG and ORGANIZED and bring in the MBA Management teams…Starbucks is just plain in need of a good psych about now.

The insulation sleeve on my coffee cup featured the original Starbucks logo…you know…the one with the mermaid and her exposed breasts. It’s dark brown type printed on a cream-colored recycled paper stock.

Underneath the logo on the insulation sleeve is the line…”Roasting coffee since 1971. The best coffee then. The best coffee now.”

If the line in the ad insert is “A” and the line on the coffee sleeve is “B”…which would you choose if Howard Schultz called you for your expert advertising counsel because the first insert he paid the bucks to run did not drive any increase in same store sales?

Starbucks is a great brand that is struggling right now…but doing stupid ads that fail to project the brand experience is not going to drive business.

I know that when the economy gets slow, many, many CEOs pick up the phone and call their marketing team and tell them to cut their ad budgets, fire the ad agencies and do the ads in-house.

Here in Atlanta, Match, one of the great ad shops, went under in part because Flowers Bakery decided to do just that…and the jury is out right now about just where the Flowers brand is heading.

(Hey Flowers…don’t call Starbucks for ad counsel!)

Starbucks wasn’t the only advertiser doing something stupid…

Today marks the end of June. There still is the whole month of July plus the first two weeks of August before the kids go back to school.

Parents are still up to their eyeballs in church camps, afternoons at the pool, late nights watching Cartoon Network and kids getting ready for the summer vacation trip.

Parents and kids are not in the back-to-school mindset yet… especially as it relates to Larabar, The Original Fruit & Nut Food Bar; Clairol Nice ‘n Easy Gray Solution; John Frieda Weather Works Shampoo, Conditioner and Sealant; and Speed Stick Anti-Perspirant Deodorant.

This is not a joke… these are the featured items on the cover of an insert that Publix (the grocery store chain) is running with the banner title “Back-To-School Savings!”

This insert features other products like Gold Bond Anti-Itch Cream, Kotex Pads, Playtex HandSaver Gloves and Deep Heating WellPatch.

Despite the fact that a set of young kids are featured under the headline, maybe this is actually targeting the teachers that are already having nightmares in the middle of the night thinking about managing the kids in the classrooms.

Publix’s ad agency is 22squared, formerly named West Wayne. Their website leads off with the line “Marketing Isn’t Communication. Its Behavior.”

And that line is demonstrated beautifully with this “Back-To-School Savings Ad”… It certainly isn’t communicating anything that makes reasonable sense…its just another stupid ad.

Maybe Publix’s CMO and the agency’s creative department were all out on summer vacation when the junior A/E decided to be the creative director.

While there was a stack of about a dozen other ads posting in the AJC that make you wonder if the economic turmoil is actually all part of God’s plan to shake the shit out of the business hierarchy to get back on track again, I thought I would keep this Blog short and only feature three.

The third ad is from a company that I really never heard of before…Mednikow.

That’s not a typo.

At first I thought it was a healthcare company that had a typo in its name called Mediknow. No where in the headline nor the copy does it mention what they do until you read the very fine type below their logo that says “Fine Jewelers Since 1891.”

Wow. I have lived within 5 miles of this place and have never heard of them!

While the ad layout is boring…out of all three of these brands, I give Mednikow the best credit for at least thinking “beyond the MBA boxed-in case-logic.”

Here we are in the middle of the summer heat and the headline reads “MEDNIKOW presents Christmas in July” … hang-on…

And the copy on the back of the page reads… “Summer is sizzling, but we’re thinking of snow! Because everything you buy at Mednikow in July will be FREE if there is one inch or more of snow on Christmas Day!”

That is then qualified as being snow that falls between 12:01 am and 11:59 pm on December 25th 2008 at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

I have to tell you that in a time of Global Warming, a media-driven economic recession, sky-rocketing gas prices and 95 degree plus Summer sizzlers… that is one bold move.

Similar to Publix’s, the Mednikow CMO and the agency’s creative department were all out on summer vacation when the junior A/E and the CEO of Mednikow sat in their office drinking martinis and coming up with a summer promotion idea.

Sunday newspapers are quickly moving from the news genre to a similar real-life entertainment genre like TruTV and Spike.

When I see stuff like this… all it does is spell good news for BrandVenture.

Coming up this week is the 4th of July holiday.

Enjoy those hot dogs, Buds, potato chips and macaroni salad. Get out and take a hike or play a game of softball. Sit back and watch those fireworks.

Then get ready for a wild second half of 2008 and keep in mind, that even the companies that have the cash or claim to know their stuff do stupid things that open the door of competitive opportunity!

Celebrate the independence of American Free Enterprise…

And come… let’s journey!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Is Your Brand About Making Dreams Come True?

This past Sunday afternoon, I took a break and watched MTV.

I was there when MTV launched in 1981. Back then, it was all music videos.

Believe it or not, there is not a single show on MTV that features videos like “back then in the old days.”

The show that I was glued to yesterday was MADE. Have you ever seen it? If not, you need to.

Here’s the description of the show on…

An ugly duckling transforms into a beautiful prom queen. An overweight couch potato becomes a model. A sci-fi nerd morphs into a hardcore rapper. Well, maybe its time to stand up and get MADE! That’s right, MADE is about making dreams come true!

MTV’s core viewership base is made up of lot’s of Millenniums… that generation whose age spans across late-teens through late-20s.

Millenniums sport a true “go-getter” personality.

According to the Yankelovich Monitor, 77% of Millenniums feel more energized and enthusiastic than ever about the possibilities of life ahead…11 percentage points higher than total adults!

And if you are a TV addict like I am…most of the top hit shows on TV today are all reality shows centered around individuals competing, achieving and doing things that personally move them forward.

The genre of television tells us a lot about the mindset of America and the generational group fostering it!

Boomers spurned the sit-coms that got us laughing at ourselves again. GenXers thrived in the high-action dramas and investigative shows that brought back a sense of control and rational thought as terrorism became a part of our daily lives.

And now Millenniums, after losing trust in everyone from the politicians to the CEOs to the news broadcasters, are following their instincts and empowering their own sense of self-invention.

From the top-ratings hit, American Idol on Fox to Moving Up on TLC to Cash Cab on Discovery Channel to Ice Road Truckers on The History Channel…the top TV shows center around the determination to write one’s own lifestyle script.

And while the Millenniums are fostering this mindset, consumers across all generational groups are adopting it.

According to Yankelovich, the importance of each of the following personal characteristics is up versus 2004…
• Being in control of your life… up 4 percentage points to 78%
• Standing up for yourself… up 9 percentage points to 77%
• Claiming a sense of self-reliance… up 8 percentage points to 71%
• Having a positive self image… up 5 percentage points to 71%

According to the press, America today is in a “gloom and doom” mindset.

According to the politicians, Americans need assistance and guidance from Washington to better their lives…something that they cannot as individuals achieve.

According to many marketers, their product is the missing answer that Americans need to fulfill their dreams.

I’ll put money on the table that none of the news anchors or the politicians or MBA-marketers watch MADE on MTV or Ice Road Truckers on The History Channel.

It’s unfortunate because then they might better understand how the American public today is bonding with individuals, resources and brands that facilitate, enable and confirm their sense of personal authenticity.

As we tell our clients REPEATEDLY… don’t tell your customers about you… tell them instead about them!

By the way, the gal on MTV MADE yesterday decided that she was tired of being a nerd and was going to be on the high school dance team.

And you know what… she did it.

And if she can achieve her dream… so can you!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Put Your Creative Energy To Work!

For some, my yesterday would have truly been a money-spending day.

I put more than 200 miles on my car driving home from my mountain cabin about 90 miles north of Atlanta and then driving from Atlanta to an antique auction in a small town about 70 miles to the east of the city.

Aside from some friends of mine that would have bid away the contents of their wallets at the auction, driving that many miles in a day right now is racking up the dollars at the pumps.

But for me, the driving was not quite as painful.

About two weeks ago, I signed the papers on a new BMW MINI Cooper that gets 35 miles a gallon in the city and 40 miles a gallon on the highway.

In some ways it was an economic move… in other ways it was my own personal demonstration of environmental responsibility.

During the weekend, I had a chance to listen to a good share of radio while in the car and also a chance to catch up on the stories of our local newspaper rag, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution or AJC.

Yesterday morning I listened to one of the talk show hosts interview a sociology professor from the University of Georgia that specializes in understanding rural, small town America.

A professor specializing in small town America is kind of like painting a picture of an oxymoron.

The story was all about the rising costs of gasoline.

The professor took the position that small town America was feeling the crunch more than its suburban and urban counterparts. He talked about how far the average small town guy has to drive to go to work every morning.


My second-home log cabin is located in North Georgia in a little town of Cherry Log… an area that was actually featured in the housing section of Sunday’s AJC.

Ellijay is the nearby city and county seat.

Some of my local neighbors up there rarely leave the county. Some have never even driven the 90 miles to the “big-time city of Atlanta.”

While a number of small town residents drive into the cities to work, there is also a significant number that actually work the farms or have jobs in the local towns.

They also dine, shop and find entertainment, albeit simple selection and choice, in the same local towns.

This UGA professor talked about how the BIG OIL companies dominate the competitive landscape in these small towns and jack up the prices that leave these poor people digging even deeper in their pockets to survive.

Yeah…there may be a BP or Exxon logo on the gas station sign, but the guy or gal running the pumps probably graduated from the local high school and attends church with others from the community.

I don’t think academics fully understand the consequences of not following along with the concerns and rules of served communities… especially those in small town America..."Shotguns and Pickups" kind of towns.

To be honest, the biggest hit that small town America is facing with the soaring gas prices is probably tied more to the fuel it takes to plow the fields and harvest the crops. And rising food prices are examples of it.

In the 2006 BrandVenture Trendcast, one of the trends cited is termed “The Emerging Main Street of Authenticity.” With the rising costs of gasoline, everything from small towns to town squares to city centers to live/work is becoming hot.

Companies and businesses will have to change the way that they evaluate site locations and markets. Communities and associations will have to rethink how they physically operate.

Great case in point…

Harris County, Georgia and their economic community development group is a BrandVenture client. We have worked with them on creating a five-year growth and development plan to capitalize on the largest automotive plant in US history that Kia is building and the consolidation of US troops at Fort Benning…a base located just south of their county.

As part of their plan, they have worked to pass a new set of regulations that permit live/work and cluster housing.

Great thinking… something that too few do today!

In this Sunday’s AJC, there was an article about Milton, Georgia… a new “small town” created in North Fulton County… an area populated by those that fled the city growth for the purity of the farm land.

But “many of the Milton residents are determined to protect the rural charm of the estate homes and horse farms”… and believe that septic tanks as a requirement will “keep the bulldozers” at bay.

For those not into the mechanics of sewer systems, septic tanks mean that individual homes will have to have acreage around them in order to get their toilets to flush. As a result, condensed housing is out and sprawling housing is in.

God forbid the idea of cluster housing and the environmental push for keeping the vast farmland environmentally green!

And even more so… the cars stay in the garage and the bikes hit the street to live, work, shop and play!

At BrandVenture, we are very fortunate to live in an historic, urban, planned growth community. From our offices we can walk to restaurants, retail stores and the Atlanta rail line. Several of our employees walk to work. A scooter store shares space in the building where we have our office.

Organizations, entrepreneurs and brands that embrace this change will be the winners… old school political leadership, thinkers and academics will fade away and pay the price.

By the way, if you are really, really addicted to those testosterone SUVs… MINI Cooper is launching its own gas-efficient MINI SUV in 2010!

Now how much cooler can it get!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Summer Heat Wave Of Change!

It's a simple fact…summer is here and it's hot.

When I went online this morning to check out the Weather Channel’s website, it seems that the only place not in the 90s is up in the Northwest.

I know what is going through your mind.


The press has been rather quiet about it.

Course the Obama-Hillary race has dominated the news media. I think part of the heat is the after glow of Hillary’s speech yesterday when she exited the race and threw her support behind Obama.

Whatever the reason for the quiet, I think that that the Environmentalists are coming back on stage.

It’s amazing what a dollar bill can do.

$3 per gallon might have made the price wheels spin faster on the pumps, but it didn’t do much to slow down the SUVs.

But $4 per gallon is quickly changing the landscape.

Fact is there’s little likelihood that the price at the pumps is going to be lower any time in the future. In fact, I put $5 down on a bet that a gallon of unleaded gas will hit $5 before Labor Day.

Two weeks ago, I parked my pick-up truck and SUV in the garage and went out and leased a Mini Cooper. The dealership is moving 10 Mini Coopers off the lot per day.

At 40 miles per gallon, it just makes sense.

But it’s not just what kind of a car we drive that is going to change. And even the word “change” sounds way too gentle of a description.

The “Eco-Nuts” and “Green Freaks” may be the voice crying out in the wilderness.

I know that the religious right will not like this, but in many ways Al Gore has been kind of like John The Baptist in his declaration of the Messiah.

Lots of change is in the works.

Corporate travel is going to become a rarity. Videoconference calls will become a norm.

Proximity to mass transit is going to become the most important pre-requisition to “A Class” office space.

The idea of retail “trade areas” is going to expand to how a business in general sees the world when it comes to hiring… and for some… sales as well!

Weekend travel jaunts are going to be defined by the distance there and back based on one tank of gas.

Television entertainment, board and card games, bicycles and local diners are likely to experience a surge.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Putt-Putt golf courses, drive-in theaters and local bowling alleys celebrate a born-again experience.

SUVs, Luxury Imports, Five-star Restaurants, Coastal Resorts and Frequent Flyer Clubs may soon be history.

For some of us…and many in the press…the glass on the table today is half empty and getting lower every day.

But, in all honesty, I actually get excited about the changes and challenges of the pump price hikes!

This week’s issue of Forbes Magazine has a couple of great articles.

One by Ken Fisher who writes the column Portfolio Strategy with the current column titled “A Stock For Eco-Nuts”…

“If you’re an Eco-Nut, you need to invest some dollars in France’s Veoloa Envronnement which is postured as the quintessential green company. Even if you think global warming is a hoax, you need to put dollars in this company. The political and social forces behind the movement to combat global warming and turn energy green are, to me, a form of paganistic spiritualism displacing conventional religion. But, they are real forces nonetheless and I believe that green investing will soon become a hot trend throughout capital markets on a scale that socially responsible investing never began to approach. The cost of guilt will translate into a premium price on green stocks.”

No question that guilt can generate ROI. Just ask any priest or rabbi about the funds they are able to generate during Lent and Rosh Hashanah-Yom Kippur.

The other Forbes article is titled: “Waste? Not!”

It’s about two tree-huggers – actually a brother and sister – that have started up a company that produces paper made from elephant dung.

Emily Lambert is the author and here are a few of her words about this company…

“Michael and Tun Flancman make a line of paper products out of elephant dung. The paper, which is turned into wrapping paper, wine bags, journals and Christmas ornaments, is thick, textured and occasionally flecked with small stones and hair-like fibers because 70% of what an elephant eats can pass through its belly undigested.”

Wine bags made out of elephant poop…is this not creative or what!

Last year, Atlanta faced one of the very worst draughts in history. All outdoor water use was banned and rationing was employed in a number of communities.

The “half-empty” proclamators were out in force…. But so were the innovators and inventors.

Everything from Rainwater Collection Barrels to artificial silk mums that required no watering appeared on websites overnight. This spring, both Home Depot and Loews sell plants that naturally like very, very dry soil.

Innovation and invention applies to both what we do and also how we define the scenario of what we perceive.

Here at BrandVenture, we thrive on challenge. We get high on seeing opportunities where others see bad news.

Isn’t it only natural to work the sweat-shop of creative thinking during the hot days of June?