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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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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Advertising during a pandemic?

I sit in quarantine and turn on the TV. While being pummeled with news reports of death, dying, desperation and depression, I’m bombarded with bright lights and cheery marketing messages.  “Drive this car and enjoy life.”  “Drink this soda and you’ll smile.” “Eat this burger and happiness will fill your belly.”

Feel bad-feel good. Frown-smile. Cry-laugh. We talk about roller-coaster emotions but this is ups and downs with built-in commercial breaks.

Unemployment has exploded. An economic depression is looming. Images of mass burials in the middle of New York City assault our senses.

As a marekting professional, teacher of advertising, and a consumer, I undertand perfectly the necessity for businesses to sell their products and services, even in these horrendous times.

But as a human being I feel violated by the pursuit of profit. I make my living creating advertising and instructing students on composing effective messages.  I am conflicted.

I can’t stop watching the news if I want to be a responsible citizen. I can try to ignore the advertising but that would be acting irresponsibly as a professional marketer.

Talk about a disconnect. Yes, I am conflicted.


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Bad Luck

No, this isn’t about the coronavirus.  I’m sure you’ve heard and read enough about it at this point — and I’m certain much more will be heard and read daily.

This is about a friend of mine who told me a tale yesterday that is the definition of bad luck.

Tom, my friend, is a sweetheart of a guy. He’s the kind of person who will help you and smile while doing it. Maybe you’re lucky enough to know someone like him.

Tom is retired and has his son,daughter-in-law and grandchildren living with him right now. He loves having his family with him and he’s grateful that everyone is healthy and they all get along.

A few years back Tom’s wife left him for another man.  I don’t know the particulars about the break-up and for the purposes of this true story they aren’t important. The one specific I do know is that Tom was heartbroken over her departure. To his credit he didn’t sit around moping and moaning. Tom jumped into community work helping neighbors and friends with projects and simple everyday tasks.  He felt that by not thinking about himself and thinking more of others then others might think more of him.  (He’s right.)

For the past few months Tom has been debating and agonizing about — maybe, perhaps, possibly — looking for and starting a relationship. He thought it over long and hard. Could he do it? Should he do it? How would he do it? Where would he meet someone?  In other words he went through start-up relationship agony.

A couple of weeks ago Tom decided to go ahead. He was going to ask a lady out who he knew, enjoyed speaking to, and shared a common interest with in being helpful.  This was not an easy or simple decision. It took a monumental amount of courage-building.  If there was such a thing as a Confidence Enhancing steroid Tom might have taken it.

Tom picked a specific day to ask her if she would like to join him for coffee. He figured that was a non-threatening gesture and what the heck he had a 50/50 shot at success. The night before he checked his phone to be sure he had her number and even her email if his courage faltered at the last moment and his throat constricted making him incapable of speaking.

As he was checking his phone he noticed a news alert on the TV screen. He turned up the volume and heard the newscaster say, “The Governor has declared a statewide shutdown starting tomorrow due to the coronavirus.”

Tom thought, “Tomorrow?  Tomorrow!”

Just when Tom was ready to step out into the social world again he was pushed back inside by doctors and politicians and the quarantine.  And a 6-foot social distancing get together wasn’t going to cut it.

Now he would have to wait until the “all clear” until he could make his move.  Or should he call now and start a discussion?  More will be revealed.

True story.




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Best Coaching Advice Ever


This morning I went to my local gym where I watched the start of a 6-10 year old kids’ basketball game. The boys and girls were in matching uniforms, playing on a true hardwood floor basketball court, and bouncing with energy.

Before the opening buzzer the coach gathered the kids around her.  The young players stared at her expectantly.  What advice was she going to give them?

Kneeling in front of her team the coach looked them each in the eye and said, “Don’t forget: Run….Dribble….Pass….Hit the Open Man….Rebound….and most important, don’t throw up on the court!”

Can’t beat that advice.

True story.

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So Why Do I Teach?

EOP class

If it’s true that a “picture is worth a thousands words” the photo above explains why I started teaching advertising and marketing 18 years ago.

I never set out to become a teacher. I was, and still am, an advertising copywriter. For close to 40 years I have been creating and crafting advertising strategies and messages for businesses and services of all sizes and for products in virtually every category.

What is it like to be a copywriter? Creativity is challenged. Strategic thinking is demanded. Brevity and clarity of verbiage is mandatory.

When I was first asked to teach copywriting I wasn’t sure if I could do it. How do you translate what you do on a daily basis in a 2-hour classroom setting? How do you convey the emotional and mental turmoil you go through trying to craft a marketing message that will live up to objectives? How do you make students feel the anxiety you undergo when presenting an idea and then the crushing self-doubt you feel when your concept is rejected? But on the flip side how do you explain to a class of novices the joy and relief you feel when an idea is accepted, produced, launched and embraced by the public segment you want to reach?

There is no greater challenge. But seeing students go from kids who don’t know what to expect when they walk into the classroom to realizing what they are capable of creating is tremendously awarding for both me and those smiling creators.

I’ll let a former student of mine tell you…“I want to thank you for your role in preparing me with the skills, education, and most importantly the confidence, that has led me to where I am today, and where my business venture will lead me in the future. “

That’s why I teach.









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To Vote or not to Vote

It seems that whenever news correspondents quote polls regarding the upcoming elections they use the term, “People say…”.  What people?   Are they talking about people who could vote or people who actually vote?

I started doing some digging from a marketing perspective and I discovered something that cheered me up because it presents a compelling problem.

TotalIf you look at the chart you will see that only 64% of the people who could register to vote are actually registered. That is 88 million people who could vote who don’t vote.  88 million!

So why don’t they register? Here are the reasons they give.

Not RegisteringThe #1 reason for not registering, by far, is a general lack of interest in the political process.  Simply put, 36% of the US population of voting age can’t be bothered with politics.

That is fine.  I’m not interested in gambling, fashion, home heating sytems, and a slew of other things that are important to millions of people but don’t provoke a scintilla of curiosity on my part.

But should peopole be interested in the political system?  Well, it impacts taxes, education, healthcare, national security, the roads we ride on and the bridges we cross. In short, politics, whether we like it or not, has a bearing on almost everything in our daily lives.

Then I was curious as to why so many of the people who are registered to vote don’t actually go out to vote.  I thought there would be some compelling reason like disgust or mistrust with the system and process. But I was wrong.  Here’s what I learned.

Not VotingThe main reason, and growing fast, for not voting is dislike for the candidates running for office. From the spike in dislike from 2012 to 2016 it is obvious that people REALLY dislike the two candidates for office the two major political parties were offering.

So you have people who don’t bother to even register to vote because politics doesn’t interest them — although it should and in a big way.

Then you have people who registered to vote but didn’t because they viscerally disliked the two people competing for office.

So as marketers what does this say?

It tells me that people have to be persuaded to take political policies personally. We take eating, dressing and recreating very personally so why not politics? Eating affects our health. Dressing affects our self-perception. Recreating affects our emotional well-being. Politics? It affects the very lives we lead in a variety of ways.

As for the people we elect to office it is obvious that we take this aspect of politics very personally. We won’t go to the trouble of taking ourselves to a polling station which means spending personal time and effort, unless we are going there to give an individual our most precious democratic possession — our individual vote.  We have to like the candidate personally. There has to be something about her or him that we find attractive, personable and relatable.  There has to be a positive chemical reaction when we see and hear this person.

So if I were marketing the upcoming Presidential election I would approach it as a two-step process:

  1. Convince the non-registered 36% of the US population to go and register. Make them see how important their individual vote is to the health and welfare of the country.  Yes, politics is important and we all need to care.
  2. Present the candidates in a manner that will make them appeal to a mass audience rather than a market segment in spite of what political consultants espouse today.

I hope we all go out and vote. Our future depends on it.  Truly.

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