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The Power of an Artful Pitch

On day as we both pushed our young daughters on the swings in a neighborhook park, Raymond McKinney (a CD at The Martin Agency) told me “Good work that is presented like shit… is shit.” Luckily our daughters were both too young to pick up on the colorful language that gave flavor to that GREAT advice. I often recall those wise words, and I usually flip the quote around 180 degrees. It then takes on a little different meaning:  “Any work that is presented real well… is better work.”

Learn how to present work from the master, Peter Coughter.

Getting people to buy an idea takes two important things:  1) a good idea, and 2) a good presentation. Too often we focus so much on the idea an how the idea looks, that we forget to make sure the work is presented well.

One of the best presenters in the ad business is Peter Coughter, a colleague of mine at VCU. For years he has been inspiring young minds on the art of the presentation in his class called “Persuasion” (MASC-664) at the VCU Brandcenter.

I have never sat in on his classes, but it’s been a wish of mine for years. His work is that good. In January we’re all going to get the opportunity to learn from this master. Buy his book now, and it will make all of your work a lot better.

“The Art of the Pitch: Persuasion and Presentation Skills that Win Business”

by Peter Coughter

Release date:  January 3, 2012


VCU Basketball Will Do Remarkable Things Off The Court.

The success of the VCU basketball team has inspired the university.

The success of the VCU basketball team is growing the VCU brand in all areas. This phenomenon is exactly what Seth Godin talks about in his book “Purple Cow.”  Godin says to be successful, a brand must be remarkable. How does “Purple Cow” connect with VCU and the basketball team?

Joey Rodriguez celebrates victory over Kansas. Photo of Richmond Times-Dispatch on 03/28/2011

For those not familiar with VCU, it’s a big university with big university accomplishments and with a community college brand. The alumni are minimally active. The students wear t-shirts and hoodies from other colleges more often than VCU t-shirts and hoodies. But, this week VCU students are wearing yellow and black like never before. And I bet the VCU development directors (fundraisers) are having crazy success.

Shaka Smart (VCU head coach) and the basketball team finally has captured the imagination of the nation. The black-and-yellow VCU Rams are a purple cow. The basketball team is remarkable – something to talk about.

The basketball team is giving VCU a national reputation. In turn… The team is finding jobs for alumni who are out of work. The team is increasing the number of admission applications next year. The team is hiring more faculty. The team is providing more scholarships. The team is funding more research. Purple cows inspire amazing things.

Can the VCU basketball team create a VCU football team?

The success of the VCU basketball team has added more fuel to the argument in favor of a VCU football team. A remarkable basketball team does not mean a remarkable football team. The buzz created by the basketball team comes from their success in the NCAA Tournament. If the university was going to invest in a football team to the extent that the team would be remarkable — competitive at the national level (like Virginia Tech, Florida State, Texas, and Michigan) — then it makes sense to talk about VCU football in the same conversation with VCU basketball (this year).

Unfortunately, VCU will not invest the $50 million – $100 million needed to have a nationally ranked football program. And so the VCU football team will not be remarkable (like VCU basketball this year). While there are many good reasons why VCU should have a football team, using the success of the VCU basketball team to argue for a football team is not a rational argument. However, rational thinking is not why people do things. People (including university officials) do things for emotional reasons. The basketball team has inspired everyone associated with VCU. And so those in favor of bringing football to VCU should capitalize on the moment. Now’s the time to make an all-out blitz to push for Rams football.

Football isn’t the best investment for VCU right now. A smarter investment is put more money into getting the basketball team back into the Final Four. Invest in coaching, facilities, and recruiting for the basketball team. It’s a lot less than starting a football program, and it will be more purple (as in the cow).

Learn more about purple cows in this wonderful TED Talk.

Go Rams.

The Best and Most-Favorite Super Bowl Commercial

The Chrysler spot with Eminem was my favorite. The long-format spot does a fantastic job of making Chrysler relevant again — something that hasn’t happened in years (or even decades). I also like how the ad is focused on something bigger than Chrysler. The ad makes Detroit look cool. The spot is beautiful, it’s forward thinking, and it’s cool. The music inspires thinking of what’s next (rather than what was). Eminem’s only line wasn’t as strong as it should have been:  “This is the motor city. And this is what we do.” Since this line appears at the end of the spot, it feels like Eminem is saying that “what we do is… fade to black.”

The music builds to what feels like the next movement will be bigger and stronger. Maybe that’s the feeling that Eminem’s line is supposed to do, too. The spot is emotional, the spot is fresh and current, and the spot transform Chrysler (and Detroit) into something to be proud of.

The ad had me wanting to see more. Bravo, Chrysler!

Super Bowl Commercials: Analyzed

This will be an analysis of the commercials as they air during Super Bowl XLV…

The first ad I saw this year was the Doritos spot when the people like to eat the crumbs. This tries to be funny, but doesn’t really do it. And it kinda creeped me out a little.

Great ads happen during the Super Bowl. This year I'm going to watch them as they're shown during the game. These are my initial reactions. Share your reactions!

The Chevy Cruz spot with the old folks was trying to be funny, but wasn’t. It reminded me of those old-time ads when the writers tried to repeat the name of the brand 12 times in 30 seconds.

Bud Light came in with a great spot with the product-placement movie scene. Not the greatest Bud ad ever, but a good story that connected nicely with the brand.

It’s always good to connect with culture. Chevy Truck created a great spot with a spot that connects with Lassie. The truck is the hero that helps in many different situations like when a little boy falls down a well. Bravo, Chevy!

So far there have been two Pepsi Max spots. Both try to be funny, but the aren’t really nailing it.

Doritos is running a lot of spots so far in the game. They did a great job with the commercial in which a guy uses Doritos to bring things back to life. It ends with a grandfather coming back to life – really funny. I’m not sure what it strategically says about Doritos (they add life to anything?), but it’s a funny spot.

Kia produced a great epic commercial for Optima. It was a big production in a 60 second spot to make a big splash. It’s a great way to position Optima as a car to be proud of. Nice job, Kia.

Brisk ran an animated spot with Eminem. the animation was cool, but the story and the message were weak.

Everyone fears sending an email as “reply all” when you’re intending to send the note to only one person. Bridgestone creates a great ad that connects with this phenomenon. the brand fits nicely into the story. Bravo!

Chevy Volt ran a spot around the theme of “great moments in history,” and they presented the introduction of the Volt as a great moment. They presented the story very well. Great spot.

Go Daddy’s commercials have always been focused on sex. They have been predictable, and they have been getting old. This year Go Daddy made fun of themselves by casting Joan Rivers as the newest Go Daddy girl. Unexpected, and it shows that Go Daddy has a personality (other than that of a sex-craved 16-year-old boy). Bravo Go Daddy.

Bud nailed it with the Tiny Dancer spot. It was a huge production, it was funny, and it had talk value. I’d already like to see that one again.

Teleflora had the recipe for a good Super Bowl commercial. They cast Faith Hill. They made it unexpected. They went for funny. Unfortunately, it wasn’t well written, it wasn’t funny. It wasn’t good.

The Transformers (the movie) spot was a wonderful huge production. I’d like to see that movie just for the production values.

BMW presented an epic-type story around their plant in Spartansburg, SC. BMW needs to watch the earlier spots from Kia Optima and Chevy Volt. It’s not often that BMW is schooled by the likes of Chevy and Kia, but tonight it happened.

Motorola did a great job of positioning Xoom against the iPad (from Apple). This spot was similar to the great 1984 Apple spot which positioned little Apple against the huge IBM. Great job, Xoom.

The diesel BMW spot redeemed the brand from the weak ad earlier in the game. The diesel commercial reminded me of the award-winning “Hate Something” ad from Honda (aired only in Europe).

Coke is expected to do great things during the Super Bowl, and they lived up to their reputation. The huge epic animated spot was fantastic. Right on target strategically (it really hit on the essence of the brand). Bravo, Coke!

A little boy dressed up like Darth Vader is a funny idea by itself. VW used this set up as the baseline for a cute story for their Passat. I can se moms all over the country wanting to drive a Passat based on this nice spot.

Snicker dusted off their successful concept from years past:  “You not yourself when you’re hungry.”  I still love watching those old spots with Betty White, Liza Manelli, and Aretha Franklin, et al. And this year’s story was equally as funny. Selfishly, I’d like to see a new concept or a more-fresh spin on the old idea. But, this was good.

CareerBuilder.com has made some smart (and funny) spots in previous years. This year they used the monkeys again, but gave it a totally fresh spin. Not as funny, but it carried a strong message.

Chevy Cruze makes it easy to update your Facebook status from your car. This spot starts off as an interesting story. Unfortunately when the writers forced the brand into the story, they screwed it up. Lame-o.

For the last few years, Carmax has had very weak TV spots. I think most of them (if not all of them) have been made inhouse. Carmax has a relationship with a new agency (I think it’s Gotham), and the fresh thinking is really good. Carmax finally has a commercial worth running on TV… and this one is worth running no the Super Bowl. Good job.

The second half began with a rarity:  a commercial from Mini Cooper. And it was real nice. Mini was showing the storage space of the trunk (or boot) of the Mini Wagon. The fake TV game show called “Cram It In The Boot” is real funny. An dit does a great job of showing the audience that the Mini Wagon has a big boot (or trunk).

During the first half of the game, CarMax presented a fresh, smart spot. Something happened in the locker room for CarMax. This spot, focused on customer service, is lame, not funny, and lame (repetition intended).

Eminem appeared in the first half in an animated spot for Brisk Tea. He appears in this year’s Super Bowl again – this time for Chrysler. In this long-format spot, Chrysler does a fantastic job of making the brand relevant again. The spot does something that hasn’t happened in years (or even decades). It makes Detroit look cool. Bravo, Chrysler!

Pepsi Max began the fourth quarter with another fairly weak spot. It used sex to try to make the commercial funny, but it was just an indifferent ad. In the Super Bowl, I expect more from Pepsi.

Bridgestone presented a cute story with a beaver. The commercial didn’t seem to really highlight the brand as much as the cool beaver.

In the first half, CarMax presented a good commercial, and they presented a dud in the second half of the game. Go Daddy did the same thing. The second-half spot reverted to the silly sexual titillation of previous years. Weak.

VW used the adventure of an insect to captivate and to maintain the audience’s attention during this new spot where a bug is running around everywhere. The commercial is a teaser to introduce a new model of the VW Beetle. I don’t agree with the strategy of not showing the new car in the spot. Since the Super Bowl is the biggest stage, it seems like the Super Bowl is the best place to debut the car. Maybe they have something bigger planned. I hope so.

A fun and interesting story is used to present Chevy Camero. The often-used idea of an ad inside an ad is a bad idea, but this time it was fresh. There were great images of the car. The story had many fresh turns throughout the spot. And the ending was unexpected and good. Bravo!

The Fox TV show called House had a couple of great spots during the Super Bowl. They recreated the famous Mean Joe Green Coke commercial from the 1979 Super Bowl. It was funny, smart, and right on the House brand.

Whew!  The packers just won. I can finally visit the rest room!

Because of Super Bowl parties, I have not been able to watch the commercials during the Super Bowl for the last few years. There were no parties for me this year, so I planned to watch the commercials and to comment on them as they were run. To ensure fresh eyes on the spots, I made an effort to not see the spots before the game. This year there seemed to be a lot of Super Bowl ads released (either online or on TV) before the big game.

Side note:  This evening was also my father-in-law’s birthday dinner. We planned to eat and get home before the game, but it didn’t work out that well. I missed the first few minutes of the game. Maybe next year I can see all of the ads.

What was your favorite Super Bowl commercial?  To see all of the great spots, visit AdAge.com.

Guides to Going Digital

This week Ad Age ran an article that was a guide to going digital for ad agencies. This article reminds me of a famous quote, “Better late than never.” Titus Livius said this in around 2,000 years ago.

When thinking about going digital, remember what these smart people said.

In the digital age that we live in today, it’s interesting that many businesses are still un-digital.  It’s especially interesting for ad agencies for two big reasons. The first is that this is an industry that’s supposed to lead in the areas of culture, commerce, creativity. All of the trends in those areas are digital… and have been digital for years.  The other reason why un-digital ad agencies are interesting is that the advertising, marketing and media industries have suffered terribly since the economy tanked. Across the board, the only sector that has shown growth in the last couple of years (and maybe in the last decade) has been related to the digital side.

So why are there still ad agencies that have yet to jump into the digital pool? It goes back something that Sir Isaac Newton said around 300 years ago. It’s called Newton’s First Law, “A body persists in a state of uniform motion or of rest unless acted upon by an external force.” In other words, some agencies won’t change unless they have to. Change is hard for everyone. But change is here and has been for a while. The external force affecting un-digital ad agencies is profitability. This reminds me of another famous quote. This one is from Claudian (around 400 AD), “Change or die.”

The Ad Age article has real good ideas for taking an agency digital with links to other smart articles on the subject. Check it out here, and don’t forget what Titus, Isaac, and Claudian said.

Can MySpace be cool again?

After being in decline for 20 social-media years, MySpace is finally waking up and doing something about it.  Please note that a social-media year is equal to two dog years, and a dog year is equal to seven people years.

Here’s a little history lesson that goes back a half century (in social media years). MySpace used to have twice the traffic of Facebook. Then Facebook became more relevant while MySpace didn’t. In the middle of 2009, the traffic numbers on Facebook flew past the number of visitors on MySpace, and Facebook continues to grow in popularity. In October 2008, MySpace had over 60% of the social-media market; now it’s only 30% of it. Facebook is now top-dog with over 58% of the social-networking traffic (all according to Hitwise).myspace

The Wall Street Journal reported today that MySpace is trying to “recover its cool by becoming an online hangout that connects friends around entertainment.”  There are many things that I like about this. First is that MySpace is finally doing something to revitalize the brand. It’s about time!  Secondly, this strategy connects with consumers (they love entertainment) and it connects with a core aspect of MySpace — music. MySpace has always been a great place for bands (big and small) to showcase their music. The musical niche is about the only strong suit MySpace has held onto during its free fall.

The article says that MySpace is ramping up its technology initiatives to create new products that let users share entertainment content (music, games, celebrities, videos, and blogs) with friends is an essential part of its strategy. “This is not an all-things-for-everybody portal,” Mr. Hirschhorn says. “This is a social entertainment experience.”

MySpace has hired several key big-time executives to support this effort — a new CEO and a new chief revenue officer (focused on ad sales). They are looking to create opportunities for big brands to create ad sponsorships in the new MySpace. It will be interesting to see if they can invite advertisers to the party without alienating the guests (the MySpace users).

Who will be ahead in the next social-media year? Nobody knows. Social networks have been hit by a fad component that Yahoo, Friendster and AOL can tell you all about. You can also ask Twitter about fads. I’ll put my money on the network that figures out how to seamlessly tie into cell phones (customer convenience) AND make it easy and natural for brands to connect with people (monetization).

Volkswagon makes the world a better place.

Successful brand become bigger than their products. They become ways of life for their loyal fans. VW has a new viral campaign doing a nice job of this. It’s called The Fun Theory. Through the site and the viral videos, VW engages people in wonderful ways — giving the audience a VW brand experience. This also shows that VW is a positive part of our community — socially aware. Check out the videos that have been seen by over 1 million people in just a matter of days.

The website says that it is “dedicated to the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better. Be it for yourself, for the environment, or something entirely different, the only thing that matters is that it’s change for the better.”

To encourage further interactivity with the site (and with VW by extension), visitors are encouraged to “take part in the competition to find fun ways to change behaviour.”  Winners receive cash prizes for finding fun ways to get people to exercise and to get people “to pick up their dogs doings.”

VW is has a subtle presence with a logo smaller than a dime and the line, “An initiative of Volkswagon.”  Bravo VW!