Wednesday, February 28, 2007


In my latest Imediaconnection column I write about the importance of brand authenticity.
Clearly, we're more likely to tell our friends about an authentic experience. Authenticity is important.
But, how do we define authenticity?

I would argue it's about a deep-rooted point of view. Or, in marketing terms, a deep-rooted positioning. Without it, no brand can be authentic. Without it, you don't know what matters. Without it, you don't understand what you are. And what not.

In order to provide the most efficient service to his customers, Mr. Yeganeh (the original Soup Nazi) established a set of "rules" for ordering his soup:

Pick the soup you want.
Have your money ready.
Move to the extreme left after ordering.
Supposedly, if these rules aren't followed, the offending patron is denied service and sent to the back of the line.

Al Yeganeh personifies a deep-rooted point of view. A strong, coherent view of where his business needs to go is the bedrock of authenticity.
Chrysler was a stronger brand when Chrysler was run by a Chrysler whose opinions about Chrysler could overrule any marketing study.

Unfortunately, there are not that many authentic experiences out there. Virgin. Apple.
Starbucks? Oh wait.
No soup for you.

Best commercial I've seen this year

Emotional. Engaging. Intelligent use of Mozart's "Lacrimosa" and superb use of slow-motion.
Just a minor criticism: I'd like to see more of the shoe. Would be nice to have a brief glance at it.

Three thoughts

1) 'Thinking outside the box' might have been a good idea many decades ago. Now it's just an excuse for bad marketers to come up with lame ideas. Case in point - maybe the worst billboard ever pictured above.

2) From Jordan Ayan's, AHA!: "My wife and I went to a [kindergarten] parent-teacher conference and were informed that our budding refrigerator artist, Christopher, would be receiving a grade of Unsatisfactory in art. We were shocked. How could any child - let alone our child - receive a poor grade in art at such a young age? His teacher informed us that he had refused to color within the lines, which was a state requirement for demonstrating 'grade-level motor skills.'"

3. This building was designed by Albert Kahn in the 20's as the Detroit Post Office. The Post Office outgrew the building, moved downtown and subsequently sold it to the Detroit Public Schools as their main depository for books and supplies. It was finally abandoned in the 80's with a building full of supplies that have sat deteriorating and wasting away while the school system can't supply their students with the basic necessities.

I bet most of the school administrators claim to think outside of the box.

Forget the box. Questioning everything is an excellent way to not be the box. Crush the box, throw it away (Please recycle.) Thinking outside of the box has become just another long-term cliched container to keep you on a short leash. Because in the end, you have to get back to your box. Unless you eliminated it completely.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

You might learn something

Growing up in Small Town Germany, surrounded by mostly small minded fellow Germans, I always dreamt of exploring the world. People in small towns who never get outside of them are more likely to suffer from group think. If you don't see other cultures, you're bound to be ethnocentric in your notion of place.

We tend to look down on small town people because they don't venture out of their world, don't experience the world.
Unfortunately, there's more and more proof that we become insular as human beings, no matter if we live in McCall, ID, or Los Angeles.

We need to explore more, visit blogs that are not about our subject, read magazines alien to us, visit places that we wouldn't dream of, listen to music we pass on the dial.
The way it's going, we might become a society of million atolls drifting along.
Instead, we should look at the world, market with fresh eyes and ears to be open for new ideas. Every day of our lives.

Nokia -the lamometer strikes again

Anther lame advergame. This time from Nokia.
Coinciding with the launch of their multimedia car kit, Nokia launched videoadvergame called "The Passenger", featuring a video driving game around Paris.

A driver, a femme fatal and another mysterious man are the characters who support the user in the interactive experience. Well, let's not overpromise here: it might be an experience, but not a good one. Actually, a really bad one. It's a linear narrative. There's only one way to go, according to the video shoot. The streets of Paris look the same, you can't make a wrong turn or explore the streets. There's no discovery, no exploration, no adventure and the crappy video is pretty bad, too. Add to that a C-List actress with a bad French accent and you end up in the Lamometer Hall of Fame. Must have cost a bundle. Too bad they didn't invest in a good idea.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Why I hate the king

Yes, he's creepy. But that's not why I hate him. The king stands for everything what's wrong with marketing today. Instead of telling a story about the brand/product, advertising agencies make up stories.

Telling a story is about treating the consumer with respect. Being interesting and interested in the customer. Telling a story is about delivering on the brand promise and doing this in a clever, charming and authentic way.

Making up a story is about disrespecting the consumer with Jackass-like gimmicks: You feel so excited in the beginning and sick after you digested the marketing garbage. Just like the large popcorn and red vines in the movie theater.

As Burger King, I want the public to talk about my fries, burgers, salads, whatever. A good agency should have the same objectives. I guess that's not hip anymore, not engaging enough, so 20th century.

I bet this print ad would be more successful than the creepy king. Especially today.

If you have no story to tell because your product doesn't deserve the story, don't make up a story. If you had the choice would you:
A) Invest in a better product?
B) Invest in a better advertising strategy?

Coke wins the Pepsi Challenge

One of the better blogs NeuroScience Marketing published this fascinating article about a new study presented at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA). The study shows that people presented with known brand images processed them in areas of the brain associated with positive emotions, while unfamiliar brands took more effort for the brain to process and activated areas of the brain associated with negative emotions:

The results showed that strong brands activated a network of cortical areas and areas involved in positive self-emotional processing and associated with self-identification and rewards. The activation pattern was independent of the service being offered. Furthermore, strong brands were processed with less effort on the part of the brain. Weak brands showed higher levels of activation in areas of working memory and negative emotional response.

Interestingly, Coke won the Pepsi challenge and has an edge in brand strength. It should be fascinating to explore the neurological response towards much weaker brands that didn't spend gazillions on advertising. If Pepsi and Coke, with their strong brand images, display major differences, how dramatic will the difference be when the brain responds to weak brands such as Hyundai, Rockstar or the always popular weak brand example, Zune.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

From good to great to perfect?

Is it realistic for us to expect businesses to be perfect? As customers, are we expecting perfection when perfection is unattainable? Are we being unfair?

Just to be clear: I'm not making excuses for when businesses and brands fail us. But failure is part of business life. No brand is perfect. Yet, we seem to expect perfection 24/7. One poor encounter with a customer service rep sets many of us off into a rage against that brand. A badly brewed coffee will make us think twice if we should return to Starbucks. A series of cancelled flights can trigger a major backlash. (Yes, we're talking JetBlue here.)

JetBlue screwed up BIG-TIME. No doubt about it. They failed their customers in unimaginable ways. We now know JetBlue is far from perfect. But was it realistic for us to expect JetBlue to be a perfect brand?

No business is perfect. NONE. Business is a game of progress, not perfection. No business will be perfect. It's an impossibly unattainable goal. But while that goal is unattainable, the most endearing and enduring businesses seem to always aspire to reach perfection. They always make progressive steps to improve their business and how their business connects with people. Sure, they will stumble along the way. But the true measure of a company is how they recover and forge ahead making progress along the way to overcome their mistakes.

No person is perfect. NO ONE. As people we also mess up BIG-TIME. We constantly make bad decisions that harm others. We disappoint friends. We betray people’s trust. We cannot achieve perfection. Doesn't mean we should give up and not try. The most endearing and enduring people I know make progress every day to improve themselves and their relationships with others. And when people see progress being made, they are willing to forgive mistakes.

Thank goodness people are so forgiving. Otherwise, I wouldn't have any friends. I've pissed off enough people in enough ways to not have friends. Lucky for me, people are forgiving. I still have some friends. Lost some along the way—but the ones I still have are great.

I think JetBlue can recover. I think customers have it in their hearts to forgive them for messing up BIG-TIME. It'll take time though as well as diligent focus from every JetBlue employee to make progress in earning back trust and friendship from customers.

In GOOD TO GREAT, Jim Collins says one factor that determines which companies go from being good to being great is how they deal with adversity. He says that many of the good-to-great companies he studied faced a company-defining crisis. According to Collins, what separates the winners from the losers is how they confronted and responded to the crisis …

“The good-to-great companies faced just as much adversity as the comparison companies, but responded to that adversity differently. They hit the realities of their situation head-on. As a result, they emerged from adversity even stronger.
JetBlue is considered a good airline. How they confront and respond to this crisis will determine if they can ever progress to becoming a great airline. The apology letter from David Neeleman was a good start. Time will tell if JetBlue can make the good-to-great leap.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

What a beautiful day

Automotive companies spend millions of dollars each year on car photography.
This picture was taken by James Neeley in Idaho. Just a snapshot. And you can get it for free on Flickr.

When somebody tells you things haven't changed, just point them to this image.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Global Warming - Diesel Style

Diesel, my favorite jeansmaker launched their newest controversy aka campaign. Their video claims that "Global Warming Can't Stop Our Lives" and serves as the launch pad for the series of poignant and fashionable images: The tropcial paradise of Mt. Rushmore, warm oceans in Antarctica, a post-flood Rio, etc.

Gorgeous imagery from Terry Richardson, a big, provocative idea with a nod to the real issue: links to and the always popular connection to An Inconvenient Truth. Fashion Advertising at its best. (If you believe that PC is overrated...) Just one questions remains:

Since Venice already has flooding issues, wouldn't you rather expect the tower of San Marco sticking out than macaws replacing pidgeons? Oh well, it's advertising after all. Details, details.


Two words: pretty cool. You need a moving vehicle and the beamvertising technology to place your ads onto buildings.

In this case, "Sportslife" beamed a skateboarder along a busy street.

Please repeat, I will not clutter the world with advertising. I will not clut....damn, this is too cool. It's worth cluttering.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The difference between needs and desires

While Microsoft is absolutely satisfied with just meeting customer needs, Apple is ONLY satisfied by completely fulfilling consumer desires. There is virtually nothing desirous about Microsoft products. Well, maybe Xbox 360. Apple, on the other hand, is focused on desire. Every product they develop is desirous. And by tapping into consumers’ desire, Apple transcends the need to price products cheap.

Apple pursues what Steve Jobs calls BMW strategy: selling a product at a good premium to a core group of loyal users and not worrying about market share. If Apple wanted to be Dell they could release something boring and generic at low price, but this is the identity of Apple.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Screw it up

Now more than ever: Reward excellent failures. Punish mediocre success.

Or, as the Great One said: "You miss 100% of the shots you never take."

Too many brands don't bother even trying, they just go along for the ride, hope the consumers will continue to trust and buy them. In this world, if you don't take risks, you'll be forgotten.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Is it so hard?

My car had to go to the shop a few weeks ago. Was it too hard to call me back a few days later to find out if everything was okay?

My daughter had to get shots. Was it too much to ask to call me and ask if she's doing well?

Follow-up is a big deal but not many companies are focusing on that part of the business. Just contact me and let me know that you care. No strings attached. No upsell. Just caring.

Monday, February 19, 2007

President's Day

He wasn't a president, just the first social-democratic chancellor of West Germany.
He wasn't a perfect man. He cheated. He drank. He had skeletons in his closet.
He was not the best chancellor ever. He had problems maneuvering the party and country through rough times.

But one day in Warsaw, while West Germany still didn't want to acknowledge their part of the guilt for WWII and the Holocaust, he fell on his knee in front of the memorial for the fallen souls of the Warsaw Ghetto. His opponents hated him for that gesture. His supporters didn't like him to show weakness. But he didn't care. He did the right thing. For that one moment Willy Brandt wasn't a flawed human being. He was a giant.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The end

I've flown Jet Blue a few times, always liked the experience but never understood why friends of mine raved about Jet Blue or that some of my friends almost believed in a Jet Blue cult.
Not anymore.

Fascinating to see how a cult-like brand becomes another brand we purchase but really don't care for anymore. Not only did they leave passengers sitting inside their airplanes for up to 11 hours, their service response was horrendous. And that's being nice to Jet BLue. (Offering these poor people free roundtrip-tickets????) Not enough trained staff and ferocious expanding pace in the last few years caused this problem. Not responding appropriately to this PR disaster, caused their Jet Blue's final demise.

Will I fly Jet Blue again? Probably.
Will I try to avoid Jet Blue at any cost? Absolutely.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

My favorite coffeebar

My favorite coffeebar doesn't have baristas or venti coffee. It has a few employees that take your order, make your coffee and take your money. There's no delegation from one sales person to the cashier to the barista. The experience is more personable and enjoyable. Just what we all need.

Friday, February 16, 2007

More Nine Inch Nails Buzz
On first glance, this is nothing more than simple, smiley propaganda. Another version of the truth is revealed (quite literally!) if you click and drag. Once new text is revealed, clicking a link takes you to a message board in which citizens of this particular setting are discussing many things about society, most of it being quite negative, scary, or depressing. Three audio files have been revealed so far:
- This appears to be a resistance site, linked to at the message board. This is pretty much open to interpretation as nobody seems to have any hard evidence as to what this is, who is saying it, or anything else; however, it details several stories that fit within this arc. It's much too complex to be summarized here, but the stories themselves can be found on the website.
-Soldiers of God under the US flag. Not much is known about this site as of yet. The angry sniper claims to be a sniper who served the 105th Crusaders.
The Church of Plano. Not much is known about this site of yet, either. It might be that the Church of Plano is a New Evangelical Church; one congregation of the New Evangelical Church donated land for the first base of the 105th and another took care of Fort Paul during a deployment.
-This is the site for what must be the main mail service of society (perhaps). It features a description of Opal stolen from a police officer and his reference handbook, as well as numerous crude drawings, including one of the Presence. It is definitely worthy to note that the page reads "ANGRY SNIPER sent you this message on Thursday, Feb 10, 0000." The title "angry sniper" is most likely a reference to the sound clip that features an angry guy shooting people with a sniper rifle. Interestingly, if you try to click any link on this page, it gives you a warning:

You are not the citizen assigned to this account. Close this window immediately and stay where you are. Authorities will be in contact shortly for appropriate reeducation.

Keep'em coming. Reminds me of the Beta-7 or Halo 2 campaign. It will be fascinating to see if users will take to it and build their own sites and UGC.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Nine Inch Nails goes viral

On the back of the new NIN tour shirt, some letters are highlighted. These highlighted letters all come together to form the clause "I AM TRYING TO BELIEVE."

The website and many others popping up with the same theme depict a very tortured, dystopic world.

Some things to bring you up to speed:
- The year is year zero. Most dates end with 0000 or something similar. When referring to the past, the years are in negatives. Example: Thirteen years prior to 0000 is listed as "-13 BA," or "Before Administration" (we think).
- Parepin, found on the first discovered site, is a drug used in the water system and drinking supply of the general public. Its first use was said to combat all disease, though there has been no proof of it. The Administration added it to the drinking supply to both combat disease and reduce the risk of any kind of biological attack on the people; however, many citizens are reluctant to believe this. Discontinued use of the drug reveals clarity of thought, which the government claims is paranoia. Things are not as they seem.
- Opal is a new drug distributed commonly in liquid form. This is supposedly "the new crack," as it is cheaper to distribute and more widely available. According to many underground news sources, this drug's main distribution source is America itself. Opal is said to be a religious experience for many people.

The prince of darkness reaches the heart and mind of his audience, creating an intimate, emotional connection. Kevin Roberts must be proud of Trent Reznor. Let's see where the story takes us.

A new agency business model

The traditional business model of ad agencies is being questioned and will change our industry dramatically in the next few months and years. Instead of selling colorful dreams, agencies have to help clients improve and maybe even develop products.

The holy grail of the new world of advertising is to connect the brand emotionally with the consumer. In the traditional business model marketers try to sell mediocre products with high-end commercials, ads and images. This model is coming to a rapid end.

Virgin America's agency Anomaly is just one example. But one that should make you think.

Read the Business 2.0 story about Anomaly and Virgin America

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

It's your choice

You have basically two choices when you market in this new era of advertising:

You can either ignore the needs of your partner (audience), don't listen to anything they say and live your own life without paying attention to your (former) loved one.

Or you can be attentive, listen to the changing needs of your partner (audience), try to understand him/her even though you don't know what the hell is going on. But at least you're trying.
These are foggy times, but as long as you're listening, the payoff is not far away.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Let's ask the focus group

Too many companies rely on focus groups for deep consumer insight.
Unfortunately, they were not invented to gather insight.

Focus groups help you to focus. A focus group shouldn't tell you what design you should develop, what ideas work with the consumer, how to connnect with your customer.

You will wholeheartedly agree with me once you attended or watched a focus group. There are at least two leaders fighting for their time in the sun, two or three silent types and 5-7 drones that just want to get out of there out of fear to miss American Idol.
Are you sure your cusomer or prospective customer would like to sit in a room with strangers, drinking stale coffee and counting the minutes until the 2 hours are up? Do you want those people to be your propective clients?

So, are focus groups worthless? Absolutely not.
Focus groups give you an unscientific look into the reactions towards your creative work. You might be able to understand what grabs attention and push the envelope even further. Don't get fooled into thinking this has anything to do with science. Or research.

Monday, February 12, 2007


Thank you, Seth Godin for this amazing post:

I define "sheepwalking" as the outcome of hiring people who have been raised to be obedient and giving them a braindead job and enough fear to keep them in line.

You've probably encountered someone who is sheepwalking.

The TSA 'screener' who forces a mom to drink from a bottle of breast milk because any other action is not in the manual. A 'customer service' rep who will happily reread a company policy six or seven times but never stop to actually consider what the policy means. A marketing executive who buys millions of dollars of TV time even though she knows it's not working--she does it because her boss told her to.

It's ironic but not surprising that in our age of increased reliance on new ideas, rapid change and innovation, sheepwalking is actually on the rise. That's because we can no longer rely on machines to do the brain-dead stuff.

We've mechanized what we could mechanize. What's left is to cost-reduce the manual labor that must be done by a human. So we write manuals and race to the bottom in our search for the cheapest possible labor. And it's not surprising that when we go to hire that labor, we search for people who have already been trained to be sheepish.

Training a student to be sheepish is a lot easier than the alternative. Teaching to the test, ensuring compliant behavior and using fear as a motivator are the easiest and fastest ways to get a kid through school. So why does it surprise us that we graduate so many sheep?

And graduate school? Since the stakes are higher (opportunity cost, tuition and the job market), students fall back on what they've been taught. To be sheep. Well-educated, of course, but compliant nonetheless.

And many organizations go out of their way to hire people that color inside the lines, that demonstrate consistency and compliance. And then they give these people jobs where they are managed via fear. Which leads to sheepwalking. ("I might get fired!")

The fault doesn't lie with the employee, at least not at first. And of course, the pain is often shouldered by both the employee and the customer.

Is it less efficient to pursue the alternative? What happens when you build an organization like Goretex or the Acumen Fund? At first, it seems crazy. There's too much overhead, too many cats to herd, too little predictability and way too much noise. Then, over and over, we see something happen. When you hire amazing people and give them freedom, they do amazing stuff.

And the sheepwalkers and their bosses just watch and shake their heads, certain that this is just an exception, and that it is way too risky for their industry or their customer base.

I was at a Google conference last month, and I spent some time in a room filled with (pretty newly minuted) Google salesreps. I talked to a few of them for a while about the state of the industry. And it broke my heart to discover that they were sheepwalking.

Just like the receptionist at a company I visited a week later. She acknowledged that the front office is very slow, and that she just sits there, reading romance novels and waiting. And she's been doing it for two years.

Just like the MBA student I met yesterday who is taking a job at a major packaged goods company... because they offered her a great salary and promised her a well-known brand. She's going to stay, "for just ten years, then have a baby and leave and start my own gig..." She'll get really good at running coupons in the Sunday paper, but not particularly good at solving new problems.

What a waste.

Step one is to give the problem a name. Done. Step two is for anyone who sees themself in this mirror to realize that you can always stop. You can always claim the career you deserve merely by refusing to walk down the same path as everyone else just because everyone else is already doing it.

The biggest step, though, comes from anyone who teaches or hires. And that's to embrace non-sheep behavior, to reward it and cherish it. As we've seen just about everywhere there's been growth lately, that's where the good stuff happens.

[I just reread this, and I'm betting some people will think I'm being way too harsh. That depends. It depends on whether you believe that people have a considerable amount of innate potential, that work is too time-consuming to be dull and that organizations need passion (from employees and from customers) if they want to grow. If you believe that the relationship between marketers and the people they touch is important enough to invest in. I think if you believe all that, if you believe in yourself and your co-workers, then this isn't nearly harsh enough. We need to hurry. We need to wake up.]


If you haven't experienced a sunrise on top of Haleakala in Maui, you haven't experienced life.

The folding chair

If it's worth watching, people will watch it.

The era of engagement

We all know how critical innovation is and how companies must become more innovative if they are to survive. We also know that the talented people in an organization are capable of solving the most complex of business issues and are a wellspring of great ideas. As the great Tom Peter said, "All the answers to our problems are inside the front line staff, if we would only bother to ask them!"

Here comes a recent Gallup research, studying the impact of employee engagement on the creation of innovative ideas. Here are the expected results:

When Gallup asked people to agree or not with this statement: " My current job brings out my most creative ideas," the responses based on levels of engagement are as follows:

Engaged Employees = 59% agree

Not Engaged Employees = 17% agree

Actively Disengaged Employees = 3% agree

No magic potion necessary.

Just follow these two golden rules:

A: Respect everyone as a person. A lot of us don't do this. If a person is not respected NO other thing will work.

B: We all need to have a clear objective and HOW we can help the company to achieve it. People need to feel they are USEFUL.

The more engaged employees are, the more they are able to generate creative ideas. How do we foster high levels of engagement? What keeps you engaged and what makes you disengaged?

Will we miss you?

I sent my last telegram more than 20 years ago. (Don't ask...) It was replaced by faxes, cell phones and email. I haven't looked back once and/or regretted that loss.

I haven't set foot in a flower shop in a few years. Online stores give me more options, don't ask me to park and I don't have to wait in line.

I haven't checked the stock quotes in my daily newspaper for many years.

None of these activities ever touched me emotionally and I didn't care a bit when they disappeared from my radar screen.

More importantly, what about you? What happens when you're gone? Will somebody miss what you do?
You have still time left to change the answer.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

What consumers don't want.

They don't want your products and services

They don't want poor or average customer service.

They don't want a bad experience.

They don't want to pay too much (or too little).

They don't want unkept promises.

They don't want to be sold.

They don't want to know what your products or services do (which isn't about them).

They don't want to know how your products and services do what they do.

They don't want to be asked for forgiveness.

They don't want excuses or reasons why you don't deliver.

They don't want to feel ordinary in your store or using your services.

And they don't want to feel like they have no other options.

What do consumers really want?

The same thing everyone else is having, but a tad different.

More attention than the person sitting next to them.

A new model, just moments before anyone else, but only if everyone else is really going to like it.

A seat at a sold out performance.

Access to the best customer service person in the shop, preferably the owner.

Being treated better, but not too much better.

Being noticed, but not too noticed.

Being right.

Being respected. Being accepted.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Share your obsession

New Line and Doubleclick developed live ads for the upcoming release of "The Number 23" (The main character, Jim Carrey, becomes obsessed with the number 23)by offering consumers the opportunity to share their obsession in a live ad.

It's good to see that advertisers are moving away from repurposing commercials and exploring innovative ways to optimize the interactive medium.

Read the NY Times article

See the Video Ad

Friday, February 9, 2007

We feel fine

Since August 2005 Jonathan Harris and Sepandar Kamvar have been harvesting human feelings from a large number of weblogs through their site We Feel Fine.

Several playful and intuitive interfaces allow the user to browse through a database of several million emotions and organize the information in one of six formal movements by reading blogs and looking for certain kind of phrases denoting emotions. Each movement adds a layer of understanding to the relationships in the data… Do women feel happier than men? Does the rain affect how we feel? What are we feeling right now? How does Afghanistan feel compared to Canada?

This site just floored me. And it reminded me of the old saying that 99% of the time, in my experience, the hard part about creativity isn't coming up with something no one has ever thought of before. The hard part is actually executing the thing you've thought of.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

From Web 2.0 to Video 2.0

Michael Welsh, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University, created this innovative video. Just like every good teacher does, he distills a complex topic into a digestible piece of information. Is this the future of learning and exploring the world? Does this spell the end of textbooks and boring classes? We can only hope.

He posted the same version on, allowing users to post comments and integrate those comments into the video. Or better, Video 2.0