Here’s why, “In Emails and Texts I don’t trust”

From November till the first of the year my email inbox and text folder was swamped by scammers, hackers, cons, crooks and thieves.

I had never been so deluged with n’er do wells trying to get ahold of my money.

For seven consecutive days I received an email from someone calling themselves a bank telling me that my account was being pillaged by maruaders.

I called the bank in question, which is the bank I have dealt with for years, to find out whether or not I was suddenly broke. The Customer Service representative was courteous and helpful and after checking out my account activity reassured me that all was OK. My money was still safe.

Whew! When I asked the representative what was going on with all the emails that were supposedly being sent by the bank, the rep told me that many of the bank’s clients had called and complained about the same thing. For some reason it wasn’t very comforting knowing that I wasn’t the only one being invaded.

When I asked the rep what to do the response was basically, “Don’t open any emails you suspect. It could lead to unleashing all sorts of digital creatures on your bank records.”

Jeez. Then the rep said, “Same thing with texts. Don’t open up any if you are unsure where they came from. Your phone could be put in jeopardy.”

Terrifiic. Since no one actually answers their phones anymore when you call, we are at the mercy of emails and texts to communicate. Take those away and what are we left with? Back to two tin cans and a piece of twine between them?

Now every time I open up my email I automatically delete any email whose source I don’t recognize or have the slightest suspicion about who at the other end sent it. The same goes for texts.

So if you’re trying to get in touch with me, or attempting to market a product or service I could actually use and you’re using email or text as marketing media all I can say is, “Good luck.”

If you want to talk to me just give me a call or try the good old magazine or TV commercial approach. You might be a great business or company but if I don’t know your name I’ll never get to see your message.

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Now this is scary…ooooh!

Last night on my on-demand menu I was stopped dead in my binge-watching. I saw that one of my all-time favorite movies was playing on Turner Movie Classics.

It has all the elements of cinematic brilliance — isolated scientists, UFOs, propeller airplanes, wonderfully scary music, a UFO and an 8-foot monster that combines vegetarianism with vampirism.

What can I say? Watch it on your TV, phone, computer or tablet. Be sure to pay attention for the most memorable line in the movie…”Watch the skies! Watch the skies!”

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What’s in a name…everything!

I was going to treat myself to a new razor since it is a new year. (Yes, I’m easy to please.) I went to my local drugstore and saw a display for Dollar Shave Club. I had heard their advertising on the radio. Saw a TV ad or two. Noticed display ads as I browsed through the web. But I never actually bought one because there was no immediate need to be fulfilled. My old Gillette scraped my whiskers just fine thank you very much.

But the Dollar Shave Club caught my interest because of the name. Since razors are a commodity item, at least in my mind, I’m not ready to spend much on a functional tool. Just check out the price of razors and razor blades. Makes me want to grow a beard.

So the Dollar Shave Club concept appealed to me — until I checked out the sale price. It’s back to my old trusty Gillette razor. The Dollar Shave costs $7. What’s in a name? At the point of sale, a great deal.

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Sometimes you need a shot of subway

Since Covid I haven’t been getting enough subway. I’ve only been able to come into New York City a couple of days a week so my time is cut down considerably walking down the stairs to the transportation I like.

Shocked? I enjoy the subway. No, I don’t like the dirt, the noise, the delays, the quasi-acrobats swinging on the subway poles and the furry visitors you see scurrying on the tracks.

So what in heaven’s name could I possibly like about a transportation system that can take me almost anywhere in New York City for only a couple of dollars?

The folks who join me on the ever-changing show that tells a new tale with every stop and in every borough. Every time I walk onto a subway I come across a new group of happy, sad, exhausted, fearful, anxious, bored, rushed faces.

On the subway each journey is an experience and when I don’t get to swipe my MetroCard through the entryway at least once a week, I feel a little bit less New York-ish.

Example. A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to go to Lincoln Center for a ballet recital. The performance ended at 10pm which meant fewer subway trains because of the late hour.

Standing on the subway platform I looked at the Arrivals clock and saw I had 20 minutes to wait until the next train. Even though I was tired after a long day, I decided to take advantage of the time and walk the length of the platform just to check things out. Since the platform is two city blocks long, I had a fair amount of area to cover and observe.

Within 10 minutes I saw a man practicing his dance moves, a woman dozing on a bench alongside another woman arguing on the phone with her boyfriend/husband/partner (I’m trying to be correct here, folks), a well-dressed man looking for a hand-out, a disturbed person talking to the ceiling, a happy couple and I knew they were happy because they were actually holding hands, and finally at least a dozen people staring down the subway track looking for those two bright train headlights that would mean “Finally, the train is coming.”

Did I look down the track as well? Of course. Did I get anxious waiting for the train? Not with all of my interesting fellow passengers around me. Every one of them told me a different story and they never had to speak to me directly to get their point across.

When the train arrived and I finished my 15 minute trip downtown, I left the subway with a smile and it wasn’t because the ride was over. The NYC Subway System had lifted my spirits again.

All it takes for me is a quick shot of subway.

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Dear advertisers, you are what you post

A recent study revealed that over 70% of the Millennium generation “wants to be famous online”.

Not surprising of course. Has there ever been a group of young people between 16 and 24 years old who didn’t want to be famous in some way?

The question that isn’t asked is, “Famous for what?”

For marketers looking to attract today’s group of young consumers, gathering online followers is very often the measurement of success. The more followers a product or brand gains, the more they can charge for advertising space on their content page. Sounds just like tv, radio, print, and all other forms of media. The more eyeballs attracted the more can be charged for paid advertising.

For years, this simple formula has been used to develop media plans. But there has been a change that should disturb advertisers and any brand.

An article in the Wall Street Journal noted how Facebook has revised their guidelines to rankings of posts. Facebook found that the more extreme the posts the higher up in responses received. The sober and thoughtful postings and responses ranked lower and were not seen.

Advertisers who were just looking for eyeballs didn’t realize that their brands were now being seen in relation to social media posts that were not just extreme but downright false, inflammatory and sometimes even dangerous.

Facebook has now revised their policy to try to correct this situation. If a post is considered extreme then it can be rejected and never seen. We can get into a discussion about First Amendment rights but this is about business.

Does a brand or product want to be associated with extremism in any form? Don’t extreme views have the effect of washing over and staining the brand or product that is advertising in its presence?

When you lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas? And unless you are a pet care product, I doubt any brand wants to be associated with loathsome creatures.

True.

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Disconnected thoughts on marketing

I’m sitting in my garage office on a September summer Saturday that is beyond good. The garage door is open. There is no internet access in my garage, so I am totally disconnected. The sun and breeze are as drifting as my thoughts. It’s one of those days…oh, a butterfly just fluttered in, took a quick glide around, and fluttered out. She has more important things to do than watch my putter-think.

OK, let me concentrate.

I was reading a fascinating book the other day. The title is “The Brain Dead Megaphone” by George Saunders.  Mr. Saunders teaches in the creative writing program at Syracuse University and Time magazine named him one of the world’s 100 most influential people. 

Mr. Saunders made a comment on consumerism that triggered a thought in my, sometimes dead, brain. He wrote, “A human being is someone who joyfully goes in pursuit of things, brings them home, then immediately starts planning how to get more. A human being is someone who wishes to improve his lot.”

A certain segment of society and philosophy spends a lot of time condemning consumer consumption. Today’s consumer is branded as wasteful, voracious, avarice-laden creatures. With natural resources seemingly shrinking, climate change reshaping our world with every new season, and a constant daily barrage of marketing messages urging the consumer to buy and use more, the criticism seems correct.

However, Mr. Saunder’s observation caused to me to stop and re-think my position. What if the desire to “improve” one’s lot in life is not propelled by media and marketing manipulation but is as natural as the butterfly that just fluttered back into my garage, took a 2nd look around and didn’t find anything more interesting than before, and glided back out?

What if your desire to have the latest tech device, fashion item, food dish, isn’t simply greed on your part to have the latest and greatest? What if your desire is just natural and part of your DNA I suppose.

Thinking about it a bit more I thought of bees.  Not because I like bees particularly although I have nothing against them.  It’s the time of year when bees are all over the place propagating, gathering the last bits of flower power, or whatever the heck they do when the fall season is close.

A bee does a marvelous job of building a hive.  Complex yet simple in its construction, the worker bees work constantly to build a structure that any architect would be proud of but does the bee ever think of improving the hive in some way?  They’ve been building the same style hive for millions of years. You’d think one of them would say, “Why are we busting our butts building this hive when it’s going to be our tomb once the cold weather shows up?  Hey, why don’t we build an insulated hive so we can all be around next spring when the flowers bloom again?  What do you think?  Any you bees have any ideas?”

No. The bee just keeps building the same old hive. Dies when winter shows up. Then the new bee crop go about building the same style hive. You would think one of them would watch a few episodes of HGTV and maybe put together an open-concept hive.

The bee isn’t concerned with improving its lot.  The whale, our biggest mammal relative, doesn’t swim all over the world looking for the perfect fishing spot and then stay there. Whales are constantly swimming up and down coastlines and across oceans, season after season, year after year, in search of the same old krill. Personally, I don’t get a thrill from krill but I’m not a whale.

Our animal and insect neighbors aren’t obsessed with making things better. They are content with the way things are.  Of course, we assume they are content because they can’t communicate with us.

But we humans, oh boy do we have a problem.  This urge, craving, passion to always be making things better is our blessing and our curse.

It’s a blessing because without it I wouldn’t be able to sit here in my garage office “disconnected” from the internet, which was created as a more efficient means of communication. (Where the internet has led us is the topic for another posting.)

Our improve-now gene is also our biggest curse. It leads to a constant and aching feeling of dissatisfaction.  Philosophers and theologians urge humans to “accept things the way they are” but not only is it tough it’s also, sorry all you Acceptance Prayer people, unnatural.

It’s not in the human make-up to simply sit back, put our feet up, and just let life happen. That is not what humans are about from what I have observed and experienced both personally and professionally.

For example, I know how to drive a car. I’ve been doing it for 50 years.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t drive it better. I also know how to fish.  Been doing that for 50 years. But a new rod and reel means I can do the act of fishing better. It doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to catch more fish but it’s going to make the entire process easier.

As a marketer and copywriter, I know how to present a product or service, inform the targeted market segment about it, and compel them to act on the message.  I’ve been doing that for 40 years. Media changes. Consumer attitudes change. Preferences shift. But the one thing that has remained constant in all the time I have been writing marketing messages is this:  The consumer always asks, “How is this product or service going to improve my lot in life?”

Communicate the benefit clearly and creatively and the consumer will transact with you.  If the marketing message doesn’t make it 100% clear how the item marketed is going to improve the consumer’s life in some way, then it will fail.  Period.

The fact is the consumer needs, and wants, to improve their life. That urge is as natural to us as breathing and gives the smart marketer a tremendous advantage.

That’s how to connect to consumers and turn them into loyal customers. There’s a lot of corporate breast-beating and horn-blowing going on in the marketing world right now. Forget you. Connect with the consumer, make their lives better with your product, and you will win.

Wait the butterfly jump flew back and brought two friends with her.  I’m going to join them in the garden and improve my lot right now.

Thank you for reading.

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Don’t kid around with commando marketing

How many marketers venture out into the competitive battlefield unarmed? Positioning, marketing strategy and target market segmentation are typically the first items added to the marketer’s arsenal. (Yes, there will be military metaphors so don’t get uneasy.)

Yet the most powerful weapon a marketer can wield is often ignored or given too little attention. We’re talking about the tagline — or slogan, theme, catchphrase if you prefer.

What is the one thing that consumers recall about a brand or specific product long after they have been exposed to the marketing? Let’s think. “Just do it” has been doing it for close to 50 years. “Diamonds are forever” seems like it’s been around forever, if you think of nearly a century as forever. “The Ultimate Driving Machine” has been driving sales for almost half a century. “If you see something, say something” is a relative youngster with a mere two decades of exposure.

The tagline is the foundation on which the brand and product rests and the marketing lives. Think of a house with a weak foundation. First big wind and crash!

Launching a marketing campaign without a clear, creative and potent tagline is like going “commando” into a snow storm. All it takes is one blast of cold air to make you regret your decision and freeze your &$#@ off!

A tagline lives long after the advertising is seen, heard or read. A tagline that works is one that delivers on a T-shirt, bumper sticker, envelope, website heading, guerilla marketing, virtually anywhere you want to get your message across.

What happens if you don’t have a strong tagline?

The other day I went to the gym in my town. The gym is contained in a large fitness center where they also conduct a day camp for 6 to 12 year old children in the summer. I was in the men’s locker room getting ready for my workout. At the same time a group of 6-7 year old boys were getting finished dressing after swimming in the center’s pool. The camp counselors were urging them to get moving so they could go and play dodgeball. Clothes were flying all over the place in between the kids playing tag, trading punches and raising a general ruckus.

I noticed one of the boys becoming visibly upset. He was standing in the middle of the locker room patting himself down with his hands, all the while with a look of despair growing on his face.

Suddenly he he let out a wail. “I forgot my underwear!”

In other words, he discovered he was going “commando” into the rough and tumble dodgeball arena — not to mention having to face his mom when he went home.

Advertising is not only a serious business. It’s also expensive and competitive. Remember the importance of the tagline. if you want to be a marketing and advertising commander and not just another forgotten commando.


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Squid Branding

Have you ever eaten squid? That slimy, rubbery, slippery sea creature that grows from one to 50 feet long?

Personally I’m not a big squid consumer — that’s big as in liking not size. I do like fried calamari once in a while but only if it’s cooked right and comes with a spicy sauce.

But this isn’t about eating squid. This is about purchasing squid to use as fishing bait. So don’t go looking for a recipe in this article.

Fish love to eat squid. There must be something about the scent of squid when it’s submerged in the water that just draws fish and makes them want to munch, nibble and ultimately bite. Squid makes a terrific bait for a variety of saltwater fish. To me throwing a hook with a big chunk of squid out into the ocean is like launching an advertising campaign. (This is where the marketing and branding message comes in so pay attention.)

I’m a surfcaster. Going down to the beach in the early morning and throwing a hook out into the ocean is always an adventure. You never know what might bite. You can try to strategize by measuring the ocean current, wave size, water temperature and tide height but these are all variables that change from day to day. That means there is no single approach that is guaranteed to catch fish. Fish are like consumers. They drift, swim and eat in different areas depending on the conditions around them.

The one aspect you do have control over is your bait. What will you throw out into the ocean to attract fish? Like advertising, what is the message you are going to throw out into the sea of consumers to attract and catch your fill?

In advertising and marketing we test our bait, or the message, before we commit. In order to arrive at sensible conclusions we fashion our messages based on the consumers we are trying to attract. Does one message work for every consumer? Of course it doesn’t. Every consumer has their own particular likes, dislikes and personal preferences. What we are looking for is a common theme that the bulk of our target market will at least attract. Hooking and landing them is our ultimate goal.

To catch sharks, skates, sea robins and bunkers, I use squid. Big fish like striped bass and bluefish will order squid but they’re lure lovers.

I noticed that the squid I was buying from my local fish store wasn’t catching anything. So I revised my bait and bought some squid from a supermarket. Same result. Zero bites, hits or even nibbles.

I was about to give up on squid when I decided to try one more source — an upscale market where the squid goes for $15 a pound. Was this squid any different than the squid from the fish store or supermarket? Of course not, squid is squid. From a marketing perspective it’s a commodity item.

The only difference with this squid is it’s association with an upscale brand name. I spent $2 to buy a single piece of squid and decided to try it out.

I put a piece on the hook, threw it in the ocean and “boom”, a hit. I reeled in a shark. I put on another piece and “pow”, another hit. I reeled in a skate. Another piece led to another shark and then even a bunker. The fifth piece led to a baby bluefish lying at my feet on the sand.

So what does this tell me as a marketer? Among fish there is a definite and demonstrative brand preference for squid.

That’s why we test before we cast our messages out there into the mysterious, unpredictable consumer ocean.

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Does creativity matter anymore in marketing?

I like data. I actually enjoy looking through statistics, studies, surveys, reviews, all the numbers that give us an idea of where the world is going and what the world is thinking.

However, as a copywriter, Creative Director and Professor of Marketing who teaches copywriting, I don’t live by data.

I think of all those numbers as ingredients in a recipe. Individually they each bring a specific flavor to a dish. But blended together the taste and appeal becomes something special, a mixture of sweet and sour, spicy and smooth, ying and yang for the taste buds.

What I have found is that so many marketing approaches currently appear to be one taste fits all. If data shows that influencers are popular, everyone uses influencers. If statistics reveal that one media form is overwhelmingly favored by a certain demographic, everyone marketing to that demographic jumps on to that media and ignores everything else.

While this makes sense from a business perspective it also leads to similarity (if not downright duplication) of messages and a media clutter that will be avoided by consumers.

Then there is the messaging itself. I don’t want to sound like an old and complaining codger but there was a time when creativity in marketing messages was valued and sought-after. The reason being that breakthrough creative was found to result in what every client and business I have ever dealt with demanded and expected — sales increases. I have never, ever met a business who doesn’t want their marketing dollars to deliver a strong ROI.

I’m not advocating a return to the “good old days” because there was a plentitude of lousy advertising back then. What I am urging is for creative thinking to extend beyond technology.

Let’s make every media form a platform of creative excellence. Let’s use all the media available to us marketers as a place where consumers can go to satisfy their appetite for new-exciting-breakthrough-need fulfilling products and services.

This will take much more than the latest statistics and data. Remember these are just ingredients. What will you do with these ingredients to create marketing dishes that go beyond simply filling you up but bringing a smile to your face and keep you coming back for more and more and more.

Will this be easy? Of course not, creativity that delivers never is simple to achieve. It takes knowing the product, knowing the market, knowing exactly what you want to say, and then letting the ideas flow. Whether it’s through testimonials, demonstrations, comparisons, or facts, creative messaging can persuade and motivate.

Think of how delicious that bowl of statistical, survey and test data can be when it all comes together in one amazing Big Idea.

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Responsibility

I never thought I would see it but corporations are showing courage and being responsible. By dropping their advertising spend on a number of news channels they are making news directors and publishers think twice about what messages and news stories they will promote.

Even more encouraging are the actions of a number of social media companies in acting to shut down the accounts of individuals and organizations who are dedicated to inflammatory statements.

In my teaching I have found that young consumers are more concerned with what a company stands for rather than what they are selling. Now more than ever a company logo makes a statement about the buyer and the seller. In marketing we talk about establishing and developing a profitable and productive seller/buyer relationship. This aspect of marketing and advertising is more important than ever right now.

Listening to or reading a certain news source says volumes about the user. Wearing a specific apparel tells the world the wearer’s views on everything from global warming to race relations.

Companies are learning that is important to not only stand behind their product but stand behind a specific issue or cause as well.

The days of sheep-like consumers are over. With so many information-gathering sources the buyer of today is smarter and better informed than ever. The consumer of today is looking for something more from a brand a company than the usual benefit we have all been selling for decades.

We can analyze the metrics. Mull over the media choices. Evaluate the ROI. Dig into every detail and specific of every marketing penny spent. But at the end of the day the decision to buy or not is in the hands of the consumer and today’s consumer has more power at their disposal than ever.

Where marketing goes from here is going to be my topic for 2021.

Can the consumer trust companies and their messages any longer? Many corporations made a good start in restoring trust with the actions taken this week. Let’s see where we go from here.

What do you think should be done?

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