It's official: I'll be attending Innoventure 2007 on March 27 and 28. (I'm pretty excited about it.) Muchas gracias to the fine, brilliant and pretty darned dapper hombres at Orange Coat for inviting me and making it really easy for me to register today.
InnoVenture is an annual conference of innovators and entrepreneurs building personal relationships to enhance products sold to existing customers, improve the productivity of existing processes, or create new markets

In the 50,000 square feet Innovation Hall, trade show style innovation displays highlight opportunities for collaboration

Who Should Attend?

* Innovators in large organizations seeking expertise and resources to grow revenue or enhance productivity
* Entrepreneurs leading high-impact companies in the Southeastern Innovation Corridor.
* Researchers and inventors seeking business partners
* Venture capitalists and angel investors seeking investment in high-impact companies in the Corridor
* Experts and professional service providers seeking to do business with companies commercializing game changing innovations
See? Pretty cool stuff.

The main site is here. Go check it out. Oh, and don't forget to visit the event's blog, (which is really John Warner's Swamp Fox blog) here.

The weather is super nice here, so I'm going out for a run. Have a great Tuesday evening, everyone. :)



Our very first slightly international print ad.


It's something we don't do often here because we aren't much into self promotion (at least not here) and there are far more interesting things to talk about out there than... what F360 is doing, but I will make a quick little exception today.

The background: F360 started out a little over two years ago as a collaborative project between a handful of Greenville, SC-based creatives with a passion for photography. Several of us had either been pro photographers at one time or were doing some commercial shooting on the side, and we thought... hey, why don't we get together and start a little side project and see where it goes?

Well, it went.

Right from the start, our clients started asking us... "hey, do you guys do graphic design too?" The answer was yes. "Copywriting?" Yep. "Can you guys design catalogs?" Sure. "Do you do ads?" Why not. "Websites?" Well... we can help you with the look and feel, but we can hook you up with folks who live and breathe code. Before we realized what had happened, the side project had turned into a full-time gig, and commercial photography had become just one among many of the things we do.

The thing is... we're small. Tiny, actually. Sure, some of our work has had national and international exposure, but for most of what we do is local or regional. Believe it or not, we kind of like it that way. Every one of us at F360 came from the corporate world, and yeah, we used to work with big brands... but, you know, we all kind of needed a little break from the madness, I think. We were getting a little burned out with the ties and the cubicles and having to work with plain-jane, vanilla, safe-by-default marketing strategies. Bleh. We wanted to work with passionate little companies. The struggling little diamonds in the rough who either couldn't afford big ad agencies or had been burned by them and were looking to make some changes.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Truth be told, we actually like working with small businesses. The lack of bureaucracy, nepotism, and the occasional big C.E.O. ego allows us to connect with them better, and our work reflects that deeper connection. And it's more fun. We all like it a lot.

But back to the point of this post: Our first international print ad. Two months ago, Set-Up Events (the country's largest triathlon race production company) asked us to design an ad to introduce the 2007 South Carolina Triathlon Series in Triathlete Magazine's 2007 "Event Guide" issue. We met with them, and they told us what they wanted: A very simple, slightly gritty ad with a few postcard-looking photos of their races, the schedule, and some sponsors.

Easy enough.

The result was... a very simple, slightly gritty ad with postcard-looking photos I shot at some of their races last year, and a few sponsor logos.

We thought about pushing for stronger and edgier creative, but the client knew what they wanted, and were super happy with the piece, so we left it alone.

The March issue of Triathlete Magazine and the ad are on booksellers' shelves the world over right now. (Yipee.)

And yes, we did buy the very first copy that flew in to Greenville, SC.

Since we never expected to go in that direction, we're kind of excited, and we thought we'd share the love. 2007 is only getting started, but it's off to a pretty good start.

Below: A piece put together by Jason Crosby, one of our favorite collaborators. (We just supply the photos, and he turns them into art. Genius.)

Have a great Monday evening, everyone. :)



Question: Is there a reason why commercials shown during the Academy Awards are better than those shown during the (overhyped) Superbowl?

And I am talking about better by a fairly large margin here.

Even the McDonald's ad was good.



The most absurd headline of the year so far...


This morning, I found this headline in my morning paper: "Man sentenced to die in ant-breeding scheme."

Once I got past absurdity of the ant-breeding scheme part, it hit me: This is for real. Somebody is actually going to be executed for having committed fraud. Wow. Here's the article:

Beijing - AP -

"A chinese executive was sentenced to death for swindling $385M from investors in a bogus ant-breeding scheme. Wang Zhendong had promised returns of up to 60 percent for buying kits of ants and breeding equipment. he sold the kits (which cost $25) for $1,300, the Xinmin Evening News reported. Ants are prized for medicinal concoctions."
Sentence to death. Forget ten years of hard time with full restitution to the defrauded investors and $20M in fines. Forget minimum security country-club prisons. Forget cable TV in your cell, kosher meals in the cafeteria, and weekly unsupervised conjugal visits. Forget house arrest and community service.


This guy is going to die because he sold $25 ant farms for $1,300 and managed to convince enough investors to give him $385 Million for... a bunch of ants. It would be pretty funny if it weren't so tragic.

I can't help but wonder what the penalties are for false advertising, securities fraud and accounting fraud in China. But... more importantly, I wonder how the business/corporate landscape would change in the US if laws here suddenly became as tough and unforgiving as they are in other parts of the world.

Would anyone at Enron or at any of the companies on the seemingly endless list of corporate scandals that have rocked our nation's economy in the last ten years have dared to cook the books or rip-off investors and shareholders had the death penalty been a very real possibility if caught?

Hmmm. Food for thought.

I just think it's pretty lame that we've come to this: Countries having to impose desperately harsh penalties to discourage executives from being dishonest and ripping people off.

It's just sad.

Ultimately, creating remarkable, positive, enriching products and experiences for your customers and clients seems like a much better game plan. Especially in the light of this nonsense.

Have a great... honest weekend, everyone. :)


"Ride first, work later."


Some brands have a hard time making clear statements about what they're about.

Others don't.

For the most part, I don't think I am going out on a limb by saying that brands that embrace specific lifestyles (to the point of embodying them) tend to be a lot stronger than those that don't.

Why? Because they mean something. And people like to look for meaning in things. Their coffee. Their cars. Their clothes. Their toys. Their food.

Nike knows this. So does Jaguar. And so do North Face, RayBan, Apple, Stetson, Levi's, Thule, Opinel, Smith & Wesson, Tivo, Gucci, Fossil, Starbucks and DKNY, for starters.

No, Specialized's little declaration of independance from desk jobs isn't enough to steer me towards a purchase, but I understand the company a bit better now - and I like the fact that they take their work seriously: Designing bikes and gear for folks who know what to do with themselves when they're off the clock... and demand a certain level of passion for design from the people behind those designs.

What you have to ask yourself if you're a brand manager or work as a brand planner, is this: Does your (or your client's) brand embody a particular lifestyle? Does it mean anything to anyone? (If not, don't you think it should?)

And if you could print your brand's mantra on a T-shirt, what would it say?

have a great weekend, everyone.


Happy Valentine's Day


Still trying to get a few projects wrapped up here this week, which is why the posts have been a little light so far this week.

Have a wonderful Valentine's Day, everyone. :)


Design Goodness - The absence of logos.


My last post (see below) showcased some pretty smart and exciting product designs, but upon looking over the images just a minute ago, what struck me was the complete lack of brand marks/logos on these products... which makes sense since they're just concepts and haven't actually been thrown into the market yet.

As soon as I realized this, my brain started filling-in the blanks, and I ended up with a short list of brands that these products and the way they are designed would be good fits for. It's actually kind of a fun exercise if you want to take a few minutes to play along.

My list looks like this:

Eraser: Staples
Cutting board: Cuisinart or Architec
Interactive timepiece: Nike or Adidas
Party plate: Pfaltzgraff
Hourglass Timepiece: Casio
Cookie mug/cup: Rubbermaid
Locker organizer: Rubbermaid
Lego ice cube maker: Lego & Rubbermaid (co-branded)
Zen Disc player: Bose or Tivoli
Heels: (Mass market)

What does your list look like?

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And now for some design goodness...


I'm a big fan of Core77, and especially since I have discovered IdeaList, which is probably one of the neatest sites I've run into in a while. (First of all, I love the name. Second, the ideas and design concepts being posted there are just too good not to share.)

This is more of a collection of my favorite among the product concepts posted on IdeaList than a post, but hey, a little change never hurt anyone.

The first idea/design (shown above) is an eraser. (You know... for pencils?) Brilliant. Below, a cutting board that doubles as a scale.

Above: A new take on the way we interact with time and tasks. Below, a party-friendly design somebody should have thought of a long time ago.

Above: My kind of timepiece. Below, a mug worthy of a cookie. (Finally.)

Above: A magnetic locker organizer. Below, make your very own Lego ice cubes.

Above: The coolest CD/DVD player I think I've ever seen.

Some design notes:
Why is the spinning disc, the most dynamic element of a CD player, hidden from a listener’s view? The simple, but energetic function of a CD player can and should be visually acknowledged. This CD player elevates the spinning motion of the disc and its linear potential for movement to an iconic and understandable form. The player embodies “something we know but rarely notice,” and “something we understand but cannot define.”

The spinning CD, displayed as a table saw blade slicing through a rich piece of walnut, draws our attention to an element of elegant activity within a simple, tranquil object. Appropriately, the perforated walnut speakers are equal to the size of planks that might be cut by the spinning blade. As in a lumberyard, they find their resting place, leaning motionless against a vertical surface. Battery powered and wireless, the system is clean, unencumbered and unfettered. To further emphasize simplicity and integrity, the player’s controls have been reduced to three white buttons. Intuitively aligned with the CD itself, the center button acts to play and pause, the left button tracks backward and the right tracks forward.

Movement, scale and functionality expressed in a simple, knowing form.
Below, customizable heels.

If you find yourselves wondering... "why didn't I think of that?" ... well, you're probably not the only one.

Go check out more brilliant designs like these at IdeaList. Remember: Design is everywhere. Create something today.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. :)

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The evolution of creativity.


It's Friday and I am trying to get some things finished up before the weekend, so here's a piece on the evolution of creativity in the business world from David Armano's Logic+Emotion blog (published in June of '06). It is relevant to some of the conversations we've been involved with this week, and even if it weren't, it is well worth reviewing once or twice per year:
Are you a Planner who thinks about design? Maybe you are a designer who obsesses about the business impact of your designs. Or you might be an Information Architect who thinks about motion, transitions, multimedia, and uses tools like storyboarding and visual scenarios. Or how about a Developer who comes up with the “big idea”?

If you haven’t noticed, creativity is evolving.

The perception of creativity itself is slowly but surely transitioning into a mutated and adapted life form. In the traditional world, a “creative” person usually meant someone with savant-like talents excelling in a specific creative discipline defined by fairly concrete parameters. Copywriters wrote copy. Art Directors directed art. There are still talented visual designers who can make anything look good. Brilliant copywriters who can come up with that magnificent tagline which stops you in your tracks. And don’t forget about smart, methodical Information Architects who devote their existence to usability and being an advocate for the end user.

These skills, talents and abilities are needed—no doubt about it. But what’s also needed is the evolution of them—the next iteration. But what does this look like? An Information Architect who completely grasps Human Computer Interaction but can also think fluidly—can do things like rapidly create prototypes, facilitate user testing, understand visual design and occasionaly write copy. This kind of individual possesses a multi-dimensional creative brain that has evolved over time.

This type of mind is capable of creating customer experiences which provide competitive advantage in a fast moving world where customers are increasingly calling the shots.

With consumer behavior evolving toward a more empowered status—the definition of creativity has shifted from one-dimensional skills to a four-dimensional type of creativity that blends logical thinking with creative problem solving. Individuals possessing this “New Creative Mindset” blend Analytical, Expressive, Curious and Sensual qualities into their thinking process. The result is a holistic approach to creativity that is effective across multiple touch points and experiences.

Can an Information Architect embody this kind of mindset? What about an Account Director? I think as human beings we are all capable of thinking like this. But as designers, communicators, marketers and creators of experiences—for us, it’s even more critical to become multi-dimensional creative thinkers and problem solvers. I’m not the only one talking about this. Tim Brown from IDEO evangelizes “Design Thinking” and “T-shaped People”. Both principals are related. Design Thinking encourages Designers to think past aesthetics and design simple solutions for complex problems. T-shaped people have a core competency but branch out into other areas and can do them well (thus forming a T). And of course there is the new kind of collaboration that comes with this—where we combine people with diverse skill sets who often times speak very different languages but need to come together to make their collective and diverse skills work together. This kind of collaboration sounds easier than it actually is, because when you get a few T-shaped people together, they tend to “play in each other's sandbox”. Translation? Ego’s need to be unlearned. In short, it’s not just about T-shaped people.

It’s about how we work together to create something that people will want to use, experience and ultimately—compel them to take action.

I don’t think that any of this is very new. It’s been happening for a while. In my time spent at, we developed pageless prototypes, pushed technology like Flash + Ajax and created human-centered “web applications”. But with the rapid and pervasive nature of Web 2.0 going mainstream—it’s becoming mandatory to be able to think and execute like this. Need proof? Take a look at this collection of thoughts + work from a recent grad of the IIT Institute of Design. Notice anything about how he approaches his work? He’s a “designer”, but aesthetics are only one small part of how he exercises his creativity. In fact, this brand of creativity is more like creative problem solving vs. the way many people still traditionally view creativity. And what about the teams? Aside from this evolved creative individual, what kind of team is needed to drive the next generation of communication, interaction and marketing engines? There’s not a clear answer to this question, but signs are heading toward smaller interdisciplinary teams composed of individuals possessing complimentary skill sets and overlapping talents.

So where does this all go from here? If you feel like you fit the bill, you’re probably thinking about how marketable you are right now. And remember, we’re not talking about a “jack of all trades” here. “Creativity 2.E” is not about doing everything and learning every application under the sun. It’s about being curious, empathetic, analytical, insightful and expressive all at the same time. It’s about being willing to do anything to get into the heads of your customer/user. It’s about adopting new tools, techniques and artifacts to help make your case for creating the right kinds of communications, interactions and experiences. So what to do if you’re feeling left out?
Resist the urge to become defensive and territorial—put that energy into developing an acute sense of curiosity and optimism. Become like a child.

Participate in the emerging media. Start a blog, update your site or if you don’t have one—set it up. Dive into the digital social communities and be willing to do what your customers do. Try methodology that you might not ordinarily consider. PowerPoint isn’t just for presentations. Flash isn’t just for motion. Move past boxes, arrows, colors, layouts, charts, funnels, and metrics.

Creativity 2.E is both old and new—and like evolution, will continue to change and modify over time. The question is will we?

Have a great weekend, everyone. :)

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From David Burn, at Ad Pulp:

Hal R. Varian, professor of business, economics and information management at the University of California, Berkeley explains "Kaizen, the practice of continuous improvement," in today's NYT.

Kaizen doesn’t just mean a business should keep trying new things. Rather, it refers to a disciplined process of systematic exploration, controlled experimentation and then painstaking adoption of the new procedures.

The most successful online businesses are built on kaizen, though few of those who carry out the testing would recognize the term, since many of those who created these online businesses were in grade school in the 1980s.

The online world is never static. There is a constant flow of new users, new products and new technologies. Being able to figure out quickly what works and what doesn’t can mean the difference between survival and extinction.

Aside from the "painstaking adoption of the new procedures" part, Kaizen has the right idea: Inject every aspect of your business with purposeful evolution. To actually make it work in today's world though, the adoption portion should be fluid and painless.

Kaizen also needs to completely drop the word "procedure" from its vernacular and find something a little less rigid. Getting bogged-down with ever-changing procedures and associated bureaucracies end up being frustrating, confusing, and will work against a process that favors and encourages change. In today's world, flexibility of execution is more vital than ever to a rapid evolutionary process. A business must be able to anticipate, react and adapt to changes in its environment (consumer tastes, emerging technologies, evolving design) quickly and painlessly. I am not advocating the elimination of procedures altogether, but merely suggesting that they should exist more as a foundation and backdrop for most operational and tactical functions within a company rather than being front-and-center.

IDEO-style rapid ideation/prototyping/testing/production is a great example of how some of Kaizen's key principles can be adapted to an accelerated product development/upgrade cycle. The underlying system is in place, but while the main lines of the product development process rarely change, flexibility of execution is at the core of its effectiveness. Welcome to the next step in Kaizen's evolution.

If you happen to be in the business of actually making widgets, this puts a lot of pressure on manufacturing and quality control operations - which tend to favor tried-and-true procedures and safe A-Z systems to an ever changing landscape - but that's just part of the challenge if you want to play with the big boys (and girls). If not, flexibility of execution tends to be a lot easier to get comfortable with.

Remember that in most cases, improving any business function isn't necessarily about making things better or faster or easier, but simpler. Focus on making things more simple (for you, your vendors, your customers, etc.) and better, faster and easier will happen on their own.

Have a great Thursday, everyone. (Hey, I got the day right today. Maybe I haven't been hitting the sauce after all.)

Photo by Tom (doyoulikeit/buzznet)

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This is where the magic happens.


Combat. Marketing. Product development. Movie directing. Playing live music. Driving to work. Racing triathlons. Going on a date. Meeting with a client. Filing your taxes. Surfing. Brand planning. Writing copy. Public speaking. Rock climbing. Fixing an engine. Sailing. Developing a campaign. Opening new doors. Starting your own business. Project management. Acting. Winning the Davis Cup.

That zone between planning and improv, that's where the magic happens. That's where your best ideas and insights come from. That's were you will always do your best work. The ability to find this place and dwell there is what differentiates people who are moderately good at what they do from those who are exceptionally good at what they do.

Food for thought.

Props to David Armano for the diagram.



You must keep asking why.


Before I begin, I want to congratulate Kristin and the folks at Pulse for having organized another great event last night. As usual, I ran into some of my favorite people and entrepreneurs in Greenville, including Orange Coat's Mr. T and Fluor's Paivi (above), which is always a treat. (We don't deal in John, Steve and Bob here. No sireeee.)

(Don't let the pretty smiles fool ya. These two will purposely drink you under the table, handcuff you to a radiator, steal your cash, and randomly crank-call total strangers from Istanbul to Kyoto all night with your cell phone if you let them. Oh yeah. Sharks they are. Praying mantises. Tse-Tse flies. The whole works.)

Anyway, some of the things we talked about tonight reminded me of this post on Marc hancock's Holy Cow blog. It's about planning - you know... as in account planning and brand planning... but I find that it applies to a lot of other situations you're likely to run into on a daily basis in your little corporate ecosystem.

More importantly, it makes the argument for keeping the reality check alive and well in everyday situations: "You must keep asking why." Especially when people or companies around you are about to make really bad decisions.

And boy, do they ever - in the name of ego, greed, ambition, and in some cases, just plain cluelessness. Oh yeah.

Here it goes:

You must keep asking why. Why? Because it's just not (planning) when:

1) Everyone is talking and no-one is listening

2) Intellectualism is feted more than simplicity in your dept.

3) Research is used for support not illumination

4) You talk about 'consumers' not people

5) You have information not insights

6) The boss is always right

7) All your powerpoint decks look the same

8) There are rational reasons for why people buy things on your briefs

9) You still believe in purchase funnels

10) Ideas are the job of creatives

11) Data is seen to be more important than behaviour

12) The client is always right

13) You don't know the role of communications for your brief

14) The account team thinks the client isn't 'strategic'

15) Everyone analyses rather than synthesises

16) Dialogue is more important than conversations

17) You judge creative work rather than create it

18) The 'brand' conversation is owned by another agency

19) You think there is one answer

20) People around you believe that efficiency is more important than effectiveness

21) That it is ok to think incremental improvements are a long term solution

If you have absolutely no idea what this list is about... don't worry about it. Consider yourself lucky to be working for a company that is managed by able, well-adjusted, effective people. (Or congratulate yourself for having made the jump to the fun world of entrepreneurship.) If, however the list is a diagnostic of what goes on daily at your company, it's probably time to start looking for greener pastures.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. :)

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And now for some constructive advice...


Okay, so our last post was a bit harsh. I understand. Feathers were ruffled, egos were bruised, and some agencies were called out. I feel your pain. Really, I do. So as a gesture of good faith (and to balance the cosmic scales a bit), I thought it wouldn't hurt to pass along this great constructive advice from David Polinchock over at the aptly named Brand Experience Lab (which was named 2006 Agency of the Year by Media Post Publications by the way). These guys obviously get it... and already have a head-start on most of their "contemporaries" (that means you) so pay attention. Some of the insights in this piece are pure gold, so I hope they will inspire you to take your agency/firm/PSF to a whole new level:

What should an agency of the year look like? In my eyes--in this era of the rising "you"--an agency must embody ten critical attributes and capabilities:

1. Foremost, agency staffers must be passionate about acting in the interest of consumers as much as they are in the interest of paying clients. You must do good things in the world and reciprocate with others. Tolerance for anything else is waning.

2. The agency must drop tactical communications from its core positioning and instead embody the value of creating great experiences, with tactics following. (Emphasis mine. This is something that we've been saying to agencies since we started the Lab and something I've been preaching since the mid-90's. Maybe now people will start listening! DBP)

3. The agency must embrace a world where paid media placements lose overall traction, and instead master the new currency of word-of-mouth, where reputation and propensity to recommend are earned. These latter factors increasingly determine your ability to communicate and be noticed; they are the new media pipeline.

4. The firm must strive for everlasting client partnerships, not because of insatiable desire for ongoing revenues, but because it understands that programs which achieve deep, ongoing customer experiences and loyalty are incompatible with a start-peak-end model. It's all about a transition from campaign to platform mentality.

5. An agency of the year should be one that first evaluates the client's internal processes and culture, to ensure those dimensions optimize opportunities for greatness, not hamper potential.

6. The agency must gain expertise in areas of innovation, product and customer service--versus solely on marketing communications. When the client fails to deliver those fundamentals, the agency must recognize that any advertising or marketing communications will only threaten or erode the client's brand, or simply waste money. Yes, sometimes the client's baby is ugly, and it needs help beyond advertising or marketing communications. (Again, something that we've been saying since day one. It's why we created the Experience Audit, so companies can see whether or not they're actually delivering on their messages. It's also why we created our university program, to help explore the innovations that will be driving our storytelling in the future. Of course, it goes without saying that we always explore those innovations from the consumer side first! DBP)

7. The firm will value institutional customer-listening as a core competency far more than institutional speaking.

8. Enterprise creativity will stem not from a creative department, but collectively from a group of staffers with diverse disciplines, each with the ability to think creatively, abstractly and from different vantage points. These passionate staffers will often have backgrounds in digital, science and algorithms, multimedia, social sciences, history, arts, culture and more.

9. The agency may get out of the advertising business, for the most part, and perhaps outsource the more tactical aspects.

10. The agency increasingly will recognize and organize around you, the individual.

And that's how the Brand Experience Lab got to be Agency of the Year in 2006. Welcome to a whole new world of possibilities. Spike, I invite your comments on this one.

Have a great weekend (errr... Tuesday - thanks for your cunning, Spike), everyone. :)

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I was going to wait until next week to post this, but in light of last night's lackluster lineup of multi-million dollar ads during the Superbowl (most of which were utter wastes of money), here is perhaps the most biting commentary on the relationship between many traditional ad agencies and the role they think they play in building brands... or in some cases, the role they play in hurting the brands they get paid good money to elevate. (I just had a vision of an elephant stumbling through a china store.)

Mike Myatt, Chief strategy officer at N2 Growth posted this gem last week about ad agencies and their typically failed brand building endeavors.

Note: Mike doesn't say all advertising agencies are this way. He says that many are. And as much as it pains me to say it... he's right. Here's a little something to gently eeeeeeease you into his ever so subtle point:
"I would go so far as to say that many advertising agencies are almost obsolete in their approach such that they add very little value to their client’s brands. In today’s post I’ll share my insights on why most advertising agencies just don’t get it…"

Ahhhh... You know this is going to be good. Now... In case you're already so incensed that you're seeing red and preparing an epic response, remember that Mike is talking about building brands. He isn't suggesting that these certain ad agencies don't get advertising, but rather that in these cases, advertising is really all these agencies actually get. (Though after having seen some of the crap that tried to pass for advertising last night, I have to take my own comment with a big fat grain of salt. Read my previous post to see what I am talking about.) I'll just shut up now and let Mike clarify his point:
"It is the CEOs responsibility to set the brand vision and then to evangelize and champion that vision. I have observed far too many CEOs and entrepreneurs who abdicate their responsibility by just turning over their brand to advertising agencies and hoping for great creative output. The problem lies in that the concept of “branding” has moved far beyond communicating product differences and building “image.” In order to improve brand performance, marketing experts need to consider product re-design, reengineering the supply chain, refining distribution, reducing costs, introducing loyalty rewards for customers and many other variables. While advertising will certainly retain an important role as a component of branding, it is clearly not the driver of branded businesses that it once was.

"Put simply, ad agencies create brand advertising. They don’t create brands…Put even more simply ad agencies create, buy and place media they don’t develop brand architecture and modeling which are used as a blueprint for all activities and communications for the brand. It is rare that you’ll find ad agencies that will even have the diversification of competencies that will allow them to provide strategic brand direction across mediums. While I have rarely observed a lack of willingness by agencies to dive into a project, I have often observed a complete inability to execute.

"Even within their purported areas of domain expertise (media and mediums) the marketplace is littered with agencies who have huge gaps in competencies in PR, direct marketing, blogging and other forms of social media, interactive media, search marketing, word of mouth marketing and any number of other areas. However it is their lack of experience and ability to deliver on brand strategy, business intelligence, knowledge management, innovation, corporate venturing, competitive analysis (and by this I don’t mean whose TV ad is better), intellectual property and other items that make ad agencies the worst possible choice to take brand direction from.

"Okay, let’s call a spade a spade and bring the ad agency agenda out into the light of day. Ad agencies get paid to sell advertising not to build brands…Reflect back upon your last agency pitch and you may have been wowed by creative talent, and yes even a bit of brand-speak, but at the end of the day you were pitched on buying advertising. Ad agencies speak to your advertising budget, not your brand equity."

Read the entire post here.

Many ad agencies think, wish, and in some cases truly believe that they are in the business of building brands... yet few of them actually invest in the development of true brand planning teams (and among those who do, even fewer staff these teams with folks who have actually worked outside of the agency world). Big mistake. Huge, in fact. Most of these agencies don't work with their clients' designers to actually create the products. They don't work with customer service or sales teams to design fantastic customer experience. And worst of all, they never have. They simply aren't equipped to work at that level - nor do they care to be. It just isn't part of the account service/creative team/media buying formula they know and understand.

Sure, go ahead and feel outraged by Mike's post, but... you know, if the truth hurts, I'm sorry. Sometimes, the truth is just a hard, unforgiving kick to the huevos, but that's why it's so powerful. Unless none of this applies to you, you can either take it at face value and change, or bury your head in the sand and pretend that he doesn't know what he is talking about.

Your call.

As far as I am concerned... Mike, your website needs a major facelift, but you've kind of hit the nail on the head with this one.

Agencies and firms that are making the transition to full service PSFs or have T-shaped brand planning groups get it. Traditional agencies who stick to their half-century-old model will probably continue to thrive... but will soon find themselves pigeon-holed in a shallow creative service no-man's-land.

Sad but true. Deal with it.

PS: Don't worry, my next post will be much, much.... nicer. Stay tuned. ;)

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Advertising: Did Super Sunday deliver?


Pre-Game: Ah, it's Super Sunday in the US again. Football, hot wings, beer, and yeah, the TV ads.

Since I'll be skipping most of the game tonight, I'll have to catch the ads on YouTube later. I hope they will be better than last year... and the year before that... and the year before that too.

And I hope they will be a little more adventurous than the half-time show's lineup. (Don't get me wrong, Billy Joel and Prince are great performers, especially live... but whatever. It's 2007. Nuff said.)

Fortunately for people like me, the folks at AdFreak have set up a website specifically to review the ads. Guest reviewers include Seth Godin, Chris Wall, and Joseph Jaffe, so I expect the reviews to be pretty dead-on. The site is called superadfreak and you can get to it by clicking here. I will definitely be checking on it throughout the evening.

Adrants also put together a fine listing of the TV ads with reviews. Click here to go check them all out.

Enjoy the game everyone, and have a great Super Sunday evening. :)

Post Game: Congrats, Colts. No congratulations for most of the agencies who took their clients' money and threw it down the proverbial drain, however. The best Superbowl ads this year were average at best, while the rest languished somewhere between lame and horrendous. But hey, that's just my opinion. What's everyone else saying?

Joseph Jaffe:
"Almost nothing has stood out...not even the return of eTrade from the grave (a duet with Orville Deadenbacher perhaps?) Perhaps the line of the Bowl is from Go Daddy: 'Everybody wants to work in Marketing' (Maybe) at your company, but for every other marketing Veep at this year’s Bowl, you’re going to be trolling Careerbuilder come Monday morning... If you’ve got nothing newsworthy to say ... don’t say anything."

Marc Berman:
"I just overheard my older daughter (she’s 15) say to my 12 year-old son, 'the ads on The Super Bowl really suck.' And, sadly, that pretty much expresses my sentiments. The spot was clever, and Coke was...well...unusual, but nothing stands out as creative or worth remembering. "

Mark Wnek:
"Overall, a sense of disappointment. The Coke animation was gorgeous, the Bud Light stuff a good group, the Emerald Nuts stuff with Robert Goulet ...nutty in a good way, Fedex consistently funny. Where was the genius of the Apple “1984” spot? Feels like the genius is going into different media nowadays."

Jim Ferguson:
"So far, I think the game is more entertaining than than the spots."

Tim Arnold:
"Note to anybody considering an advertising career: talking animals have no automatic, built in relevance to anything resembling a real idea. (And it’s still ideas we’re supposed to be about). You’ve seen half the world’s living species so far in this game, and God knows what’s to come. But do not let the industry’s brilliant ability to re-create these speaking creatures on camera confuse you: you still need an idea, despite the evidence to date. And somebody still has to clean up after them, one way or the other."

Seth Godin:
"I quit.

After watching GM run a 2 million dollar commercial that consists of a robot getting fired, walking the streets and then committing suicide, I’m so confused, so clueless and yes, so ashamed to be even peripherally involved in this line of work, I have no choice but to quit.

If your company was breaking records (in losing money) and was so adversely affecting the lives of thousands, why on earth would you run this ad?

I give up."

All quotations courtesy of SuperAdFreak.

Personally, I was mildly amused by the Coke Grand Theft Auto, Bud Light Crabs, the Sierra Mist beard combover and the Career Builder spots. Guilty pleasure: The Bud Light monkeys. Nothing imaginative, but the French in me is a sucker for talking monkeys. (Hey, I grew up watching Jerry Lewis flicks. Eh.) The rest was so insipid that I really don't need to waste any more time writing about it.

Oh, okay. Twist my arm. I can't resist. In my humble and completely personal opinion, the absolute worst ads of the night (in no particular order):

_ Snickers' kiss: a) for being creepy, gross AND dumb all at the same time, and b) for ruining Snickers bars for me for at least two weeks. WTF?!

Note: A Snickers bar actually saved me from passing out last week at the end of a very cold and very long bike ride. I was utterly spent and out of power gels, so I stopped at a convenience store, bought a Snickers bar, and devoured it right there. No, really. It was intense. People were staring. And let me tell you something, that was THE BEST Snickers bar I have ever had. Hell, it was the best candy bar I've ever had. Since that afternoon, I have been jonesing for another one and was looking forward to grabbing one for my next long ride. It would take a lot to ruin Snickers bars for me right now... but that ad did it. That's all I have to say about that. It sucked that badly.

_ Sales Genie: At least, the Menthos commecials were cheesy on purpose. That ad was crap. Pure crap. Most of the other ads were obviously trying way too hard - but this one could have tried a little harder. Boring, unimaginative, lame, outdated and smug to the point of being almost creepy.

_ GM's suicidal robot: Don't get me wrong - I liked the robot. I liked the way it started. I even liked the way the ad was shot. But it ended in suicide. Hello! Besides, the editing was so horrendous that the finished product made no sense. Yeah, okay, I get it, the bot offed himself because he was sad and all... But taking us through that cheerful little journey of self destruction deserved a little more time, don't ya think? I'd like to see the full length version someday. I'm sure the director's cut was better. This one was hacked down to nothing, and that's a shame.

While we're on the subject of the suicidal robot, here are a few little pointers for GM... and advertisers in general:

Rule #1: If you can't tell your story in 30 seconds, find a different medium than the 30 second spot for your concept.

Rule #2: If you're going to go through the trouble of creating a cute, likeable character, don't kill it off aimlessly.

Rule #3: Try to avoid suicide as a theme for a 30 second spot. Maybe it's just me, but it's generally kind of a mood killer. Unless it ends well... Like... where the suicide attempt fails and something good or cute happens.

One last thing, GM: How many people did you lay off this past year? And your ad was about... what again? Doh. A bit insensitive maybe? Ruh-roh.

Okay, I'm done. I expected this, so I'm not too bummed about this year's lackluster lineup, but... I kind of wish someone had come up with something cool this time around.


Oh well.

Happy Monday, everyone. It's a whole new workweek. Let's try to make it count.

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The latest branding stats and insights from Interbrand


From the BrandBaker blog (I haven't found the BrandPlumber or the BrandButcher yet, but give it time and we'll have a whole village soon):
"It is better to be the real bricklayer than a half-tailor" -- Nizami Gandjevi, azerbaijani poet, 12th century.

"When you build your brand it is vital to keep your differentiation idea in all your communication channels. Website, flyers, posters etc all of them must tell the target your idea. It is like branding England as conservatism country with its tradions and lifestyle. Build your ow stronghold under the name of your differentiating idea or attribute that you took in your category."
I don't think anyone willl argue that differentiation is probably the most important element of any brand strategy. In his post, Michael (Brand) Baker points us to something he found on BrandMO: “Instead of being a something, become the something.”

Bingo times infinity.

By the way, if you haven't taken the time to catch up on the latest brand surveys, here they are, courtesy of InterBrand. Strangely, consistency scored higher overall than differentiation... which tells me that we still have a lot of work to do.

Have a great weekend, everyone. :)

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Why Designers Rule.


I found this nice little list of reasons why designers rule over at Design Stamp. (Thanks, Gagan.) While the argument in and of itself is saddly not proven in the world of business (Walmart being the biggest retailer in the galaxy kind of disproves the notion to some extent), it's hard to argue with Gagan's points:

Read the latest headlines or examine the recent product evolutions around us and you will soon realise that all major developments have one driving force in common. Design. From gook-less mustard caps to renewable toothbrushes, the power of design is being used in unlikely places and creating competitive advantage in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Design has the power to change (even save) lives and create a more functional economy. Here are 10 reasons why designers rule…

1. We are curious. The best designers are those that bring knowledge to a project but gather perspective from the end-user. Designers are trained to know that they don’t know all the answers and the best solutions to problems lie in examining context and defining the target. To design for a better future, a designer must uncover how the people lead their lives today. Ask questions, uncover truths and dig to find out who they should be designing for.

2. We create brands. Don’t hire a designer who uses the words logos and brands interchangeably. Instead look for designers who think logos are only as important as lipstick on a beautiful woman. Creating a brand means adding true market value that transcends features or benefits. I paraphrase and borrow liberally from the Brand Gap but the idea is that imagine Coke without it’s brand. It would be worth half its current market value:

3. We create distinction in crowded marketplaces. Clever design and niche products have made Apple successful again. Good design has always been the cornerstone of what Apple has been known for. Everyone knows that the soon to be available iPhone has nothing amazingly new about it. But we also know that Apple will make access to the features and the shear visuals so appealing that the iPhone will make other phones look like Stone Age tablets. Apple understands and leverages the fact that design is the ultimate competitive edge.

4. Designers are excellent translators. Got business goals? Got technological constraints? Designers can uncover user goals and then find the sweet spot where business goals and user goals converge. Even better, they can ensure that technology can be leveraged to meet those goals. Designers help business dream big and beyond what exists today and also ground those dreams by presenting a set of very real, tangible user goals. Sure you want to build a flying pig but no one wants one! Good design means building products and services that are useful. Less wasted time, less bad products.

5. Design = Innovation = Design. When Business Week wanted to launch a section on design their research told them that their readers assumed that the section would be all about architecture and interior design. So they renamed that section to be called Innovation. A sign of the times we live in. Design walks around wearing a veil called Innovation. Whatever you call it, you are dead in the waters without it. Design not keeps businesses alive, it helps them float to the top and be seen as victorious over their competition.

6. Design saves lives. My Treo’s tiny buttons have caused me to have many a close-call car accidents (I know, I know, no multi-tasking while driving). That said good design has probably saved my life many a time. From my steering wheel car stereo controls to the 3 point safety belt that keeps me from kissing my windshield. ABS brakes that don’t require me to do anything different than just use a brake like I always would. Designers dare to think different and when they do; they reward us with products that work. While your badly designed website may not kill people, it may contribute to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) or just good ol’ web rage.

7. Designers are user advocates. If you ever have the pleasure to be in a feature discussion meeting, they start to sound like a religious debate. I would never…I always…My mother has said…My girlfriend swears she would never…People use whatever anecdotes they possibly can to prove their point of view and ‘win’ the debate. A ‘good’ designer would bring good research to the table. Research based on fact, research based on user goals to validate direction. Use your designer as your stand-in for the user you should be designing for, and trust that they are the voice of the people. That’s who they want to please. That’s who makes you money and keeps you in business.

8. Designers make things pretty. Human nature: “If it looks good, it must be good”. We are highly visual creatures who make snap judgments on the basis of how things appear in that moment. This is how we survive, hunt and gather and marry people who will make use beautiful babies to carry forth our civilization. Designers understand this and use this knowledge to make us products that fit in with our idea of beauty. Beauty is not skin deep, it is the knife’s edge.

9. A design process is a good process. You don’t develop a brand, you design a brand. You don’t develop a software application, you design a software application. Having a user experience focused design approach means that the entire production cycle should have design validation at key points throughout the entire process. This keeps the focus where it should be. On the paying customer.

10. Designers love constraints. Tell a designer that they have complete freedom to do what they want, there is no target market and there are no financial or technical constraints. They go crazy. They literally go nuts. They become artists creating for themselves. Designers are defined by constraints and embrace them with open arms. After all, to design for a fixed target, to design for a set of rules and goals is what defines design. It’s what we do.

So I propose to you, get designers to rule the world and we will be happier, waste less by building products and services that we actually want to buy and use well. Fire your local self-serving politician, hire a designer and we will live in closer harmony with the planet which we happen to inhabit.

Yep. You'll get no argument from me. Have a great Friday, everyone. :)

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Life comes at you fast.



Cartoon Network scores again.


A week ago, most people in North America had never heard of Cartoon Network's Aqua Teen Hunger Force. By this weekend, everyone will have.

Like it or not, I think we can file this one under Mission Accomplished.

Tyler would be proud, Interference. Proof at last that - for better or for worse - when it comes to increasing awareness and grabbing headlines, the more Guerilla Marketing goes off-track, the more effective it is likely to become. (That's why it's called guerilla marketing. Duh.)

It isn't for everyone, but if all you are looking for is exposure, it obviously does the job.

If you've been living under a rock and have no idea what I am talking about, read all about it here and check out the photo stream here.

* * *

PS: I won't claim to be a bomb expert but... does this really look like a bomb to anyone? (Or rather, would Islamic fundamentalist terrorists take the time to decorate their IEDs with Cartoon Network characters to make sure that people will... um... notice them?)

The arrests surrounding this little episode kind of remind me of the elementary school kids who were expelled from school for bringing tiny little thumbelina-sized plastic Star Wars action figure "guns" to class back in the late nineties. (Besides, they're blasters, thank you.) Ridiculous.

Anyway, everyone knows that real terrorists would have used Nickelodeon characters. Pffft.

Update: If this whole thing didn't have "media circus" written all over it already, this ought to do the trick. Watch the culprits' press conference on Fox News via YouTube. Seriously, this whole thing is starting to look like an episode of South Park, only with real people.

Update 2: It's rude, it's crude, it's made in some guy's basement, but it makes some pretty good points.

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Hugh McLeod's simple branding exercise.


Via B.L. Ochman's Whats Next blog, here is Hugh McLeod's branding manifesto exercise for Stormhoek wines. I know some of you may still think that Mission Statements are the shiz, but... you know... wake up. Not to downplay the simplicity of a single-verse affirmation of your brand (a short and succinct mantra beats out a mission statement any day), but what Hugh has done with Stormhoek is tell the story of the brand and its reason for being: Who are we? What do we believe in? How are we different? How are we changing things? Why should we change things? Where is our place in the world?

What I like most about Hugh's exercise is that the result is simple, clear, engaging, and most of all, it doesn't start with "We shall strive to provide our customers with the highest possible level of customer service in the industry while maximizing shareholder profits and positioning ourselves for rapid growth in blablablablabla...*

This isn't the sort of thing that's likely to show up in an ad or on a bottle, but it doesn't hurt to have it show up in one way or another on a website, blog, brochure... or just on the wall by your desk if you work at Stormhoek. Here it is:

1. We're a small South African vineyard. We make the best South African wine for the money, end of story.

2. We believe in punching above our weight. In this regard, we've been pretty fortunate. We're known for trying out relatively "out there" marketing ideas. We do that for a reason. When you are a small company in a relatively isolated part of the word, thousands of miles away from your main customer base, you frankly have no other choice.

3. We believe that even a small company like ours can change the world, even in a small way. Why shouldn't a small wine company in South Africa see large international companies like Google and Microsoft as their competition? Why should the battle only be confined to other small South African vineyards? It makes no sense.

4. "It's not what you do, it's the way that you do it." There's more to life than wine. Sure, we love wine, we love making it, but it's a big world out there. We try to make allies not just with other wine geeks, but with other interesting people trying to do amazing things. This is why we're so drawn to the internet. That's where passionate people invariably head for.

5. On one level, we take ourselves very seriously. On another level, we try to keep a sense of humor about it all. We try to "keep it real", which is another way of saying, we try to keep it interesting, as much for ourselves as anyone else.

6. We believe the wine business can use a good kick in the pants. We certainly try to do our part. Burying oneself in the usual blanket of wine clichés to us is not a viable marketing strategy. With hundreds of thousands of vineyards out there, and only so many distribution channels available, you face two stark choices: Either rise above the clutter, or face a lifetime of misery and woe.

7. We live in extremely interesting times. The internet has changed everything. Our story is proof of that. Get with the program or reconcile yourself to entrepreneurial oblivion.

8. It's just wine, People. Sure, we make excellent product. But let's not get too carried away. At the end of the day, even the best Bordeaux is just fermented grape juice. What's more interesting to us is the conversations people have over a bottle of wine. There's a human element to all this we find utterly mysterious and fascinating.

9. You only live once, and not for very long. Try to make a difference while you're here. It isn't just about the money, and it sure as heck isn't about making "a good product at a good price". It's about doing something that matters. It's about doing something that resonates with both yourself and the people you care about.

10. We humans are incredible beings. Doing something that continually reminds us of this simple, basic truth is where the real fun is.
You can easily see how something like this could be beneficial to your company when it comes to understanding where it stands in the marketplace, how to explain it to people without boring them to death or overpromising on what you have to offer. And it helps you define what your company actually stands for - aside from profits and sales and the maximization of shareholder whatever. The details of your business' financial goals are inconsequential. Burger King makes great burgers. Yves St. Laurent designs the classiest fashion. Specialized makes the best bicycles. Apple makes the coolest mp3 players, computers and smart phones. Stormhoek makes" the best South African wines for the money, end of story." What's your company about?

It's a great exercise. Try it.

* Spied on my flight to Philadelphia last week. This mission statement was part of a 76-page powerpoint presentation from Dilbert hell that the suit in the aisle ahead of me worked and reworked incessantly the entire time we were in the air. Scary.

And yeah, I'm nosy. Sue me.

Have a great Thursday everyone. :)

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