Archive | May, 2011

Advertising–Science or Voodoo?

30 May

Taglines can be extraordinarily powerful.

The best are so powerful that they enter the language, and even get spoofed.


So it’s not surprising that advertisers and agencies invest spend a lot of time prospecting for the next Think Different or Where’s the Beef?

And like any prospecting, a lot of dry holes can get drilled before you hit a gusher.

Or things can just click.

Just do it.

Is probably on most people’s top ten list, it’s certainly on Ad Age’s.

With good reason, the line was one of the marketing forces of the 80’s and 90’s driving Nike’s global sales from $ 877 million in 1988 to $9.2 billion in 1998.

So what if it was the result of happenstance rather than hard work.

The documentary Art & Copy (essential viewing for anyone with even the slightest interest in advertising history) cites Dan Wieden referencing convicted murderer Gary Gilmore’s last words “Let’s do it” as the inspiration.

Morbid serendipity or not, Just do it was still an inspired piece of account planning.

Because it addresses a simple truth anyone who exercises regularly will acknowledge; there are days when you feel like just not doing it.

But what makes the line such inspired sales psychology is that 80% of athletic shoes aren’t used for sports at all.

Nike isn’t really in the athletic shoe business it’s in the sneaker business.

Just do it is an amazing piece of positioning because when Joe Sixpack drinks beer in front of the TV he is also basking in the reflected glow of athleticism.

He’s not a bombed couch potato, but an athlete on his day off.

The brilliance of this is undeniable, but so is the fact that any sneaker company could have used it.

Reebok, Adidas, Puma, anyone.

Because in spite of the brilliance, the resonance and the sales, Just do it is utterly generic.

True Wieden and Kennedy executed the campaign flawlessly.

And Nike lived by Just do it, famously signing an amateur Tiger Woods to a $40 million deal in 1996 before he had played a round of professional golf.

But no client ever says to their agency we need a good generic tagline, more likely the reverse we want a tagline that’s so integral to our brand that only we can say it.

Of course that can work too.

We try harder.

Is Number 5 on the Ad Age list.

Back in 1963 when DDB came up with this it was revolutionary.

Perhaps equally impressive is that it’s still in use today.

Except DDB didn’t actually come up with the line, Bob Townsend the president of Avis did as this 1964 article from Time attests.

Again, it may have been happenstance, but DDB had the savvy to recognise, craft and run with it.

And they needed every ounce of that savvy; Avis had lost money for the preceding 13 years.

{you’ve probably seen this}

And it was risky because back then nobody questioned that bigger was better.

Being number one was everything.

Being number two could be seen as weakness.

But being number two and trying harder, to grow, and perhaps one day become number one.

That was seen as a plucky underdog fighting for the American Dream.

And it worked.

The next year Avis made a profit of $1.2 million on revenue of $38 million and market share increased from 11 percent in 1962 to 35 percent by 1966.

The idea of trying harder because you’re number two is clearly not generic, for a start you have to be number 2, being number 3 wouldn’t work nearly as well.

And Avis really did try harder.

{you may not have seen this}

And when they screwed up they berated themselves for it – publicly.

Can you think of a brand that would run this mea culpa today?

I can’t.

I like that happenstance, serendipity, coincidence and luck play a bigger role in the industry than we like to admit.

I like that an accident can beat a New Coke.

And I love that advertising is a potent mixture of science and voodoo.

And that the best, is more voodoo than science.


Opportunity Knocks, Just Say No Toronto

17 May

Toronto doesn’t make your jaw drop like New York, Paris or Sydney can.

It lacks that killer architectural app like the Statue of Liberty or the Sydney Opera House or the Eiffel Tower.

{not a killer app}

Instead, it creeps up on you the way Melbourne or Amsterdam or Singapore might, subtly in layers.

I like this low key cutting edge approach.

I live here.

In February 2011 the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Toronto 4th of the world’s most liveable cities.

Helsinki came in 6th so I’m guessing weather wasn’t a criterion.

OK I can just about buy it; liveability being kind of a loosey goosey concept.

This month the accolades continued.

A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers named Toronto a city of opportunity.

Amazingly, according to the 10 indicators used, Toronto is the number 2 city of opportunity in the world, second only to New York.

{watch out MoFo}



More opportunities than San Francisco with its proximity to Silicon Valley and access to all that venture capital?

Or Singapore, with their explosive 14.5% GDP growth in 2010?

What about Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai, major players in the world’s biggest marketplace — ever?

Hey, I’m as susceptible to flattery as anybody, but for flattery to effectively massage the ego it has to be vaguely grounded in reality.

And I’m not convinced this is.

At any rate here are some opportunity indicators the report evidently missed.

The opportunity to cheer for really bad sports teams and pay some of the highest ticket prices in North America.

The Leafs make the playoffs so rarely that even a last-minute charge ending in heroic failure will send the city delirious.

The hockey religion is strong here.

How else do you explain legions of fans that have given up on excellence but won’t give up their season tickets?

The opportunity to experience really bad gridlock, at least you can enjoy a nice view of the city while you’re stuck on the Gardiner Expressway.

If you’re stuck on the Don Valley Parkway, better get in touch with your inner Zen.

And don’t worry, with a commute time that averages 24 minutes longer than Los Angeles, you’ll have plenty of time to cultivate it.

Not only are the highways jammed, but the condition of roads in and around the city is the worst it’s been since I moved here from London in the early 1990s.

As another summer of re-surfacing delays looms, take it from me, they have better roads in the Yucatan than we have in Toronto.

Agreed, the climate is kinder on infrastructure but it’s Mexico; in the middle of a drug war.

The opportunity of paying large electricity bills while enjoying frequent power outages.

The ageing delivery system frequently fails to deliver, plunging areas of the city into darkness on an almost weekly basis.

And not only have rates increased by maybe 40% over 5 years, but the Supreme Court of Canada found Toronto Hydro guilty of gouging on late payment charges.

The solution — a rate increase to pay off the $7.7 million in legal fees gets rubber stamped by the Ontario Energy Board.

No I’m not kidding.

Kafka must be pissing himself laughing.

The opportunity to travel on North America’s most expensive public transit, the only major transit system in the world to receive absolutely no central government funding.

Clearly successive Federal Governments know something about transit that’s escaped the rest of the world.

And let’s not forget the opportunity to subsidise the rest of Canada to the tune of $8 billion a year.

While the city’s infrastructure crumbles around us the taxes we pay get spent somewhere else.

Predictably certain sections of the media are cranking up the hype wagon.

The Grid, a re-launch of a free listings magazine formally known as Eye Weekly, ran a story on the PWC study saying we won.

Actually what they said was, “The good news: We won! We won!”

The basis for this pronouncement being that NYC is unbeatable, so coming 2nd is in fact winning.

Note to Leafs.

For reasons known only to them, The Toronto Star ran a story headlined, Forget Paris.

{you toast}

I’m not sure if they have a beef with Paris or are randomly referencing a 1995 Billy Crystal movie that three people saw.

Did I mention I’m as susceptible to flattery as anybody, but for flattery to effectively massage the ego it has to be vaguely grounded in reality?

I just don’t think this is.

And if you live in Toronto I hope you don’t either because what this city needs is less, not more complacency.


2 May

Text Abbreviations the Industry Could Use

  1. MLB – Make Logo Bigger

    Three sadistic little thumb strokes guaranteed to plunge a knife in to the heart of any Art Director.

  2. TCAD – The Client’s a Dork

    TCAW –The Client’s a Wanker (UK)

    Naturally never applies to any of my clients.

  3. IWIDT – I Wish I’d Done That

    Last year’s IWIDT was indubitably the sweet smell of Old Spice.

  4. NAFG – Not Another Focus Group

    A less profane form of SNAFG and a perennial for those working on P&G brands.

  5. SYIC – See You in Cannes

    Particularly gratifying when sent to ex partners or bosses you know for sure aren’t going.

  6. IWAGL­– I Won a Gold Lion.

    Under no circumstances hit send. They’ll find out and hate you anyway, but they may hate you just a little less if you don’t spam your entire address book.

  7. DYSAA – Did You See Ad Age?

    DYSC – Did You See Campaign? (UK)

    Only used when the story you’re referring to is so glaringly obvious it requires no further explanation, like the agency you work for going belly up.

  8. AIWSTDD – As I Was Saying to David Droga

    In the interests of credibility please use sparingly and ensure what follows is not completely lame.

  9. ICGZ – I Can Get Zack

    Invariably used by someone with absolutely no chance of persuading Zach Galifianakis to do your commercial.

  10. ISMOA ­­– I’m Starting My Own Agency

    Maybe you are, but 999 times in a thousand it’s just the Grey Goose honking.