To Market or Not to Market

I’m teaching an online course in Advertising Copywriting for FIT which is part of the State University of New York.  For those of you who don’t know what copywriting is the easiest way to explain it is that it’s a sales pitch without the human salesman.

Copywriters sell products, companies, imagery, personalities, causes, movements, virtually anything that requires the recipient of the message to take an action after absorbing the communication. We do it on TV, over the radio, in magazines, through emails, Instagram posts, Facebook banner displays, mail delivered to your home, on billboards, invasive marketing, almost anywhere a consumer can receive a message.

It’s a tough, tough business. Everyone thinks they can sell.  Heck, if you’ve seen a commercial or print advertisement or an ad next to your Facebook posting of your latest cooking concoction you most likely think you can do it, too.  And you probably can.  As to whether you can do it effectively so people actually do respond to it — ah, that’s a whole other proposition.

Any business that spends money on advertising and marketing expects one thing:  ROI, Return on Investment. For every penny spent on marketing a business expects to see at least two pennies returned in terms of sales.  That’s the bottom line.

The big question facing a business used to be “where should I market?”  Digital media and particularly social media have made targeting a specific consumer for your specific product has been made much more efficient thanks to algorithms and a bunch of other technical stuff I don’t claim to understand.  Today, it is much, much easier to reach the exact demographic and psychographic profile that is a perfect fit for your product.

BUT…and this is the big, big problem facing marketers today…more and more consumers today are totally turned off by marketing messages.  People, especially young people, no longer watch TV for two reasons. One, they want to be able to watch the TV programs they want when they want.  And two, they don’t want to be interrupted and bogged down by watching commercials.

It’s not called “streaming” viewing and listening for nothing.  A stream flows. It’s something you can float down in peace. Commercials are like logs or rocks in the middle of the stream that you have to stop and navigate around. They make the experience less than tranquil. The viewing consumer knows it and they don’t want to be bumped off course when they’re watching/flowing with their programs.

So what should a business do?  Not market their products because consumers are bothered by marketing messages? Look for new places to put their marketing messages that consumers won’t find bothersome?

Shouldn’t consumers have the right to be made aware of products and services that can improve or enhance their lives?  Of course!  But what do you do when consumers don’t want to hear good news?

Imagine you have a new widget and you put out a message that says, “Oh boy, are you going to be happy. I have a new widget!”  And the response from consumers is “Don’t tell me about it. Don’t you realize you’re interrupting my binging or twittering or social media plunging?”

I’ve been asking experts in advertising, marketing, social media, traditional media, consumers of all ages, and trust me no one has a rational answer to this dilemma.

Fact: A business needs to market in order to grow and thrive.

Fact: A consumer needs to receive marketing messages in order to get the best deal and benefits possible so that business can deservedly grow and thrive.

But what happens when you are trying to do all this in an era of consumer doubt and distrust due to over-promise, traditional-digital-social-media clutter, and marketing message mediocrity?

Honestly, I don’t have a clue.

And that boys and girls is a very true story.





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When Neil met Rudy

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in June of 1993.  I was walking on East 79th Street in Manhattan with a group of friends.  We had just come from a church basement after attending a meeting of an internationally known support group.

Our small group was heading to a coffee shop on the corner of East 79th Street and 1st Avenue to sit together and shoot the breeze.  It was just friends going to spend a little while talking about this and that.

As we neared the intersection we saw a small group of men gathered.  What made them stand out was what they were wearing — suits on a summer Sunday!  Who were these guys?  Were they police looking for someone?  A religious group preparing for some passionate proselytizing?

What also made them noticeable was the film crew that was gathered nearby.  A camera operator and a sound engineer were leaning against a wall, smoking cigarettes, and waiting for something to happen.

As we got closer the film crew pushed themselves away from the wall and got their gear ready. The group of men in suits looked in our direction and seemed to be preparing themselves for our arrival.

What was going to happen?  “We” were going to happen!

One of the dark-suited men broke away from his group and walked towards us with his hand outstretched and a big, toothy, beaming grin on his face.  The film crew gathered right behind him, aiming their camera and microphone at us like fishermen focusing fishing poles toward a particular spot in the water, expecting a trout to jump out and gobble the hook.

I stuck out my hand to shake the hand of the grinning suit because I’m courteous and I have to admit I was curious who this person was who seemed so eager to meet us.

“Hi, I’m Rudy Giuliani and I’m running for Mayor of New York City”, the smiler declared to me and our group. “How are you guys doing today?”

Holding his hand in a tight handshake, I matched him smile-for-smile and said, “I’m doing absolutely great.  I just came from an AA meeting!”

Suddenly the smiler ripped his hand from mine, frowned ferociously, turned his back on me and made the “cut camera” motion with his now-free hand to the film crew. The men in suits scuttled away from us as fast as possible, followed by the crew, presumably to find less tainted subjects to sidle up to.

At first I was dumbfounded but then it dawned on me what I should do next.  It became as clear as the blue Sunday sky on that June afternoon.

I knew who I wasn’t going to get, and didn’t get, my vote for Mayor in November of 1993.

True story.




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It worked for Izzy

I’ve been watching all the outrage about the use of social media data and the targeting of people through demographics and psychographics to persuade them to one particular political point of view.

Putting aside the legalities and morality of using personal data without the permission of the social media subscriber, I must admit I’m amused at the outrage by journalists about using techniques that have been used by marketers for years.

Imagine wanting to find out what a particular group of customers might want and prefer before sitting down to craft a message.  What a shock! Please! If someone didn’t sit down and do just that they would be a lousy salesperson. Do we give people what they need or what they want?  What do you think?

I was taught many, many years ago the art of salesmanship by a very wise man known as Izzy.

When I was 19 years old I worked as a salesman in a men’s retail clothing store on Fordham Road in the Bronx, New York. I would watch the salesmen in action to learn the selling ropes. Some of the salesmen would pounce on a customer the moment he walked in the store. Other salesmen would allow the customer to browse through the aisles and shelves for a bit and then they would approach.  Each had their own style and demeanor. Some salesmen were gray-haired, frumpy veterans. Others were young, stylish and energetic. But one of them stood out to me — Izzy.

Izzy was in his 60’s. He stood 5′ 8″ tall, smoked whenever he got a chance, wore pants that sagged and bagged and ties that had seen better decades.  He was everything you would normally think wouldn’t be appropriate in a men’s apparel store. Yet he was the best salesman in the place. Maybe it was the yellow tape measure he always kept draped around his neck like a second necktie.

When Izzy had his eye on a customer he would watch the man eyeball the clothes and maybe pull out a shirt here or a pair of pants there before he approached.  Izzy wasn’t being lazy or uninterested. He was sizing up the customer – like a cobra sizing up the mouse that was happily munching away on a nut or berry, totally unaware of the snake laying in wait just inches away.

Izzy would be evaluating and determining the customer’s apparel taste as well as his patience.  As long as the customer was looking at the product, Izzy would hang back. Once the customer raised his head Izzy would be the first thing he saw.  Brushing back his always un-combed hair and wiping the cigarette ashes fro his dangling tie, Izzy would smile and say, “Need help?”

Izzy was the data analyzer of his time.  He knew what the customer would ultimately buy before the customer did.  He was a genius at measuring and evaluating from behind his cloud of cigarette smoke.  All Izzy had to do was steer the customer in the direction he was already going.

That’s exactly what the data analyzers of today are doing.  Nothing new is at work here. They’re just doing it using fancy terms like demographics, psycho-graphics, etc.  Except the slick group doing it today are working in the faceless digital world and pirating other people’s information to create their profiles.

If Izzy was around today I bet he would be smoking, or probably vaping, in Silicon Valley and making a fortune in commissions.

True story.

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High caliber teachers

The other day it was suggested that teachers be armed while working in schools.  Yes, that’s what I heard — arm teachers with lethal weapons to ward off potential mass shooters in schools.

I thought this was a spoof or a very bad joke. But the speaker appeared to be serious.  Very serious. So I took it seriously.  Not because the message made sense but because it was coming from the President of the United States.

Do you remember a President ever suggesting that teachers be armed?  Teachers actually carrying guns into classrooms and through the school halls?  Being a military veteran and a teacher I was amazed — and disheartened.

So I contacted the head of the department in the college where I teach.  The first question I asked was, “So where are we going to keep the gun rack?  And the ammo magazines?  And the gun cleaning kits?  And the gun holsters? And the practice targets? And the phone numbers for the lawyers we’ll need when someone is shot or killed accidentally?”

He didn’t have an answer.  Neither does the person who came up with this suggestion in the first place.

True story — unfortunately.

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pexels-photo-685674.jpegThis morning a group of us had a discussion about happiness.  One person wasn’t happy and couldn’t figure out how to be happy or at least find some sliver of happiness.  He was doom and gloom personified!  Long face, grudging smile, sagging shoulders, you get the picture.

Various suggestions were offered to cheer him up — go out, meet someone, take a trip, indulge a personal desire, eat good food, etc.

Then someone offered a novel perspective. She said when you take the word, “blame” and remove the “me” then you’re left with “bla…bla…bla”

In other words the only one, at the end of the day, we can point at a finger at for our unhappiness is ourselves.  Unless there is some sort of organic, congenital or chemical reason at work, happy or sad is largely a function of attitude.

So how does one shift the attitude?  One way I have found is to shift the word “me” to “we.”  Go out and help someone else and see what happens.

I can’t guarantee much in life but I can guarantee one thing and it’s from personal experience. Money can’t buy it.  Status can’t acquire it. Fame or celebrity isn’t going to collect it.

Helping someone other than yourself is a sure-fire cure for the self-imposed blues.

Works every time.  Really. Truly.


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Today is January 18, 2018 and it is cold.  34 degrees cold.  Not quite freezing but it will be frigid later after the sun goes down.

I bet you’re thinking this is going to be a piece about how much I hate the cold weather.  Nope. I actually enjoy the winter and the cold and the wind that slips up your jacket sleeves and down your overcoat collar and chills you like a frigid caress.

The cold makes you walk faster — which is good for your heart.

The cold helps you burn calories faster — because your body needs more calories to generate heat.

The cold is a good reason to duck inside stores to warm up and maybe do some browsing since you’re now inside — and that’s good for the store’s business.

I like the cold.  In fact I’m going to head out into it right now. And maybe duck into a bookstore to warm up with a hot coffee and blood-pumping which warms the body, mystery book.

Really. Truly.


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How to get a shark to bite!

I was watching the show “Shark Tank” the other night.  A fellow came on with a product that at first seemed crazy.  He had developed nose plugs that look like small oval band aids that cover your nostril openings.  They allow air to pass through while at the same time filtering out germs, bacteria, fungus, pollution, all types of harmful elements. And according to the creator of these nostrils covers they are 99% effective in filtering out pollutants.

The group of “sharks” who he was making his pitch to all chuckled and were on the verge of dismissing his invention as a who-needs-it-this-is-a-crazy idea shrug when he suddenly hit them with one detail:  He had already obtained a $7 million purchase commitment from a company in Saudi Arabia.

Whoa!  The sharks sat up straight.  $7 million purchase up-front and all the inventor was looking for was $500,000 to fund the making of the nose covers and for that he would give the investor a percentage of the company plus a 10% royalty until the shark’s investment was paid off.

The sharks all started circling him but they weren’t looking to chomp him into bits. They were looking to throw money at him like fishermen throw chum to sharks in order to bait them, hook them, and haul them on-board.

It was an amazing transformation from disinterested to mesmerized. What caused the shift?  Once they heard that the inventor had already acquired a $7 million sales commitment they were ready to open their wallets.

And what does this prove?  All the hype…all the talk…all the brand building and brand imagery in the world doesn’t mean a thing unless it can generate results. And when you can talk about results — “Over a billion served” — you will allay doubts and drive people to your product or service like a, well, a shark to chum!

True story.

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How Can You Confuse Black Coffee?

One morning last week I turned on C-Span TV network. C-Span has a morning show where people call in and talk about some issue or another in the news. On this particular day the subject was the new healthcare program being proposed by the US Senate.

The callers were divided into three categories — Democrats, Republicans, Independents. Each caller was allowed a reasonable amount of time to make their case for or against the bill.  Some made sense. Some made no sense.  But one stood out.

An older woman called (no faces are seen but voice tone is a pretty good indicator of age) who had the most amazing opinion. She asked for how long we have been  trying to find a cure for cancer.

The TV moderator estimated research had been going on for 70 years or so.  The caller then asked if we had found a cure yet. The moderator said no.  The caller then declared, with the utmost sincerity, that we had wasted millions and millions and millions of dollars trying to find a cancer cure.  According to her we should immediately stop throwing away money on cancer research and re-direct it to taking care of sick people. Doing this, in her mind, would save the healthcare system.

Between the TV moderator, myself and I’m sure everyone watching there was a coordinated rolling of the eyes and laughing out loud at the proposed cure for our ailing health system.

I thought to myself are people really and truly that dense?

Well, I got my answer later that day when I met a friend of mine for a business meeting. We were sitting at a casual outdoor coffee shop in the Flatiron district of Manhattan to go over a TV show proposal.  Before we got into the details we called one of the wait-staff over to order.   My friend asked for tea. When the wait-staffer turned to me I said I would like a cup of coffee.  I was then asked how I would like my coffee and I said, “Black.”

The charming, cheerful, eager, bubbly wait-staffer smiled at me and asked, “Would you like milk with that?”

I couldn’t believe it!  Two dense-confirming, eye-rolling incidents in less than 24 hours.

True story.


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Just minutes ago I was evacuated from my office due to a fire in the building basement. Right now I’m in the cafeteria of another building just a block away that my firm uses for administrative office space.

All evacuees are safe. But I’m loopy. Which shouldn’t be surprising since it doesn’t take much more than a change of daily routine to do it.

I guess you could say I suffer from the curse of unstructured time. I am a list person. Lists on legal pads. Lists on paper scraps. Lists on my cell phone. Lists are the anchor that keeps me from getting squirelly.

When I don’t have a list to structure my day I feel adrift – like going around and around in a loop.

So while I wait for the fire department to give an all-clear signal to return to my office I guess I’ll make two lists. One of the things I still have to do today. The other of the things I could do if they shut the entire building.

Know what? I’m just going to make a list of the could-do things and go do them.

Not loopy anymore.

True story. 

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A good-hearted guy asked me to help him with a pproject. He wants to make a documentary ir TV series about his business which helps children with “special needs.” But first we need funding. Never having done this before I’m entering unknown territory. So I will be keeping the world posted about the process.  And in keeping with the theme of this blog every step taken and written about will be true.

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