Don’t be afraid to be young and free
Monday March 16th 2015, 11:23 am
Filed under: advertising,stephanie fierman

I am so happy to be starting the week talking about an ad I genuinely like!

Delta: On the Road” is a new commercial from Wieden+Kennedy that I think absolutely nails it, and takes risks while doing so.  Here it is:

They get so much right here. The ad captures the sense of dislocation and the exhaustion of international travel without discouraging the opportunity for personal exploration and discovery. The agency styles actor Daniel London as a bit of a shlub, heightening the aura of awkwardness and making moments like when he’s almost hit by a London cab more comical, while still preserving his executive competence. His aloneness is obviously here, but we also see our hero videocalling his family: unmoored, but attached. And, of course, there are the inevitable hurdles like language all around him, but they work in scenes where he seeks to overcome; he gets good service everywhere he goes, and he works to earn it. Good behavior all around.

It’s so hard to communicate vulnerability in advertising without it being either for comic effect or the opposite: serious and uncomfortable. This ad strikes the perfect balance: we see someone “like us” doing what he needs to do and doing it well, even while managing the little absurdities around us (like whether the traffic moves on the left or the right). And the soundtrack? “Love You” by The Free Design:
  Give a little time for the child within you
  Don’t be afraid to be young and free
  Undo the locks and throw away the keys
  And take off your shoes and socks and run you

The more I see the ad, the more I realize the perfection of the song and its juxtaposition to all this adult world stuff. Now whether a million-hour flight on Delta will be the remedy to all that ails is a different question entirely (you most definitely do not want to “take off your shoes and socks and run you,” even in first class), but – hey – beautiful ad.

Well done.



And on to a new year
Tuesday December 31st 2013, 4:19 pm
Filed under: stephanie fierman,women,women online

So I was in a hospital yesterday with my mom (because holidays and hospitals: that’s just how I roll) and I thought one of her doctors was cute.

I was trying to be entertaining, so I said to my mom, “Hey, who knows? Maybe I’ll make my dead grandmothers happy, and still end up with a rich DOC-tuh!”

She looked at me and said, “I don’t think they gave a shit.  They wanted YOU to be the successful one.”

Well played, grandmothers, well played.

Another year. 2014. What are you going to do with it? I’ll tell you what I’m thinking about, at least.

Get rid of the fools and assholes in your life… or give them a lot less credence than you do today. Don’t sweat absolutely everything.  Realize that just about anything that feels horrendous and impossible is something you’ve already lived through at least once.  Make sure to find joy even when that seems highly unlikely.  And doing great things is good, too, but those of us who work our asses off do it because we want to and/or because we can’t help it; I’m a little tired, frankly, of all the messages about “winning” and resolutions about what we’re supposed to accomplish. Being a person you like and respect is a whole hell of a lot more important. If you can do both, great, but don’t do the former at the expense of the latter.

Be all you can be? For whom? How about… be all you want to be in 2014.  Do what you want to do.  Be brave.  Having heard Diana Nyad speak at TEDWomen this year, this year-end Microsoft ad really got me.  Nyad’s message was… find a way.  Whatever it is.  Find a way to do what you believe needs to be done.

 



Goofy Ads With Which I Am Currently Obsessed
Thursday May 24th 2012, 10:21 am
Filed under: stephanie fierman

Overriding emotion during viewing: confusion
INTERNATIONAL DELIGHT ICED COFFEE.  Hold on: I will enjoy the product because going out for coffee is too dangerous?  As one of the commenters on YouTube says, “International Delight Iced Coffee: For when you’re too much of an idiot to be allowed in public.”

I agree with the ad: #FAIL.





Overriding emotion during viewing: love
DIRECT TV CAMPAIGN
Don’t Sell Your Hair to a Wig Shop

I am going to stick with my “love” assessment here because I am so grateful to see some good storytelling, but I wish there was a little tighter grounding in the product (the endings go by in a flash).

Other executions in the campaign:
Don’t Wake Up in a Roadside Ditch
Don’t Have a Grandson with a Dog Collar



Behold The Evil Ear Worm
Wednesday September 14th 2011, 11:07 am
Filed under: stephanie fierman

A lot of advertising has caught my eye lately. Sometimes, I like an ad right away and it stays that way. But there are other ads that get in my good graces, only to have my thoughts of them turn dark and menacing.

Such is the case with tv commercials that produce evil earworms.

earworm (ˈɪəˌwɜːm) – n:  an ear worm refers to any song that is so catchy, and at the same time so extremely annoying, that it feels like a worm has crawled into your ear and eaten the intelligent parts of your brain so that you hum the song all day long, no matter how much you hate it. [From the German word, “ohrwurm,” which literally means earworm.]

So, because wormy misery loves company… Enjoy!


EXHIBIT A: ST. IVES (VIEW HERE)





EXHIBIT B: NEW YORK LOTTO (VIEW HERE)



Trey Pennington, Social Media And Real Life
Monday September 05th 2011, 8:06 pm
Filed under: stephanie fierman

This past weekend, a leader in the marketing and social media community, Trey Pennington, committed suicide. He went to a church parking lot in Greenville, SC, refused to heed police and shot himself.

Trey left behind a wife, six children and a grandchild.

Since then, Twitter and Facebook have both lit up like Christmas trees on crack.

What I find remarkable is how surprised some are because Trey was so active, positive and popular on the social networking sites. But he had over 111,000 followers on Twitter and an unbelievable number of Facebook friends!  He was on the Web almost right up to the end, sending someone a tweet saying that he’d see the person in the UK in just a few days!  He was all over the place, encouraging and applauding others for their work and ideas!

This has caused many to write that he “seemed fine,” and still others to beat their chests and howl, “If only he’d reached out to me…” (though it turns out that he was actively leaning on a few of his friends in the last couple weeks).

My goodness: when did people begin to think that all their online “friends” are actually real friends? That connecting to someone online and reading whatever they choose to show you means you actually know something about them – that you know what they are thinking and feeling?

Or perhaps that, somehow, the Web allows us to skip any communication altogether but still somehow be connected?  One woman wrote “I didn’t know  you, but I care about you…” on Facebook.

All this strikes me as not only arrogant, but also just plain weird.  And deluded.

I love social media – I am very active online and it’s helped me both personally and professionally. It’s brought some wonderful people into my life whom I otherwise would not have met.  But I have no illusions about what the macro phenomenon is and isn’t.  When I see people congratulate themselves for, say, reaching the 5,000 or 10,000 or 20,000 follower mark on Twitter, I wonder if they think that actually means something in the real world: how great they are, or how wonderful it is that they know so many people and so many know them.

The only thing it means on its face is that 5 or 10 or 20,000 folks want somehow to be aligned with you, or are interested in whatever you are willing to say publicly on a social networking site.  And if you follow one another, you have entered into a pact to read each other’s pre-packaged messages and spread them to others who might want to hear your pre-packaged messages, too.  Your deepest feelings, emotions, problems, worries? Seriously? Not applicable for 99% of the players involved.

Trey Pennington himself wrote on Facebook that “one of the worst things about social media is we can be surrounded by so many and still feel completely alone.”

Now, do stay on social media – I highly recommend it.  But if you care about someone and want him to know you care, don’t write dumb tweets like [quote]  “if you’re sad and think you’re alone, please reach out to someone, and know you’re not alone.”

Newsflash: such a tweet absolves you of nothing. The depressed person is alone if he feels alone, and may not run to the phone to tell someone about it.

Instead, it’s up to you to be a friend in the real world – through thick and thin.  Write him (a real card or letter). Call him. Make arrangements to get together.  Build actual friendships. Don’t spend all your time listening to yourself talk (or tweet).

In Trey’s case, some of his friends apparently understood this and were trying to help. I am so glad. They knew there is no substitute for human connection.  Never excuse or pacify yourself into thinking there is.



Beyaz Creepy As Possible
Monday February 28th 2011, 8:59 am
Filed under: advertising,stephanie fierman,women

Birth control ads are strange. Exhibit A: the Nuvaring ad (see HERE) where the gals take off their clothes and climb into a hot tub with their yellow bathing suits on. Each woman has a… each has a number… one has a bathing cap… and then the hot tub spins like a ride at Disneyland… and there’s, like, a song that makes me hear Satan’s voice urging me to kill (Mommy!).

I don’t know what’s going on, other than understanding that I better use Nuvaring because remembering to take a pill every day is just too much for me. At least I think that’s what is says. 

So in a land of weird, one must rise extra high to be noticed – and I think Beyaz overshot by a mile.  Check out the ad (see below or HERE):

The “it’s good to have choices” is fine, but to put women in a shopping setting, where they can simply choose the men, educations, homes and discretionary incomes of their dreams off a shelf at any time – with as much thought and planning as picking a box of cereal – is offensive.  And what was the general idea here: that because women understand shopping the best, we can make birth control a section of a department store to help the message hit home?

Then there are choices themselves. The home the female shopper chooses is a sweet little purple house, with a car out front that looks to be from the 50s. Is that where women belong, or when women were “best”– in the 50s? Have we already failed if we don’t want the picket fence?

And the stork: the only “selection” that tries to literally follow the woman once it is rejected (a stalking stork, if you will).  All the women in this ad are still in their 20s: are young women supposed to have babies… or else?  Note there are no “and” equations in this ad.  It’s all “or,” as in grad school or a baby. None of the shoppers leave with more than one item.

For me, though, the most disappointing episodes take place over in the Significant Other section of the store.  First of all, the store only carries men in inventory. Being gay is not a choice in this retail establishment.  But my favorite part has to be a woman standing in front of a man, only to have another female come along with a smirk on her face and snatch the man off the shelf.  

Nasty.

The site TresSugar.com does a great job breaking down the ad, scene by scene, object by object.  Take a look if you get the chance.

Even in the fantasy world of flying snacks, sodas that never make you fat and perfect hair – this ad is over the top in its disdain for women.



I Guess It Depends
Monday January 10th 2011, 8:11 am
Filed under: advertising,branding,market research,retail,stephanie fierman,women

Disclaimer: I am shooting my mouth off here and have seen none of the research that, no doubt, Kimberly-Clark completed and relied upon before launching this product extension.  Please proceed accordingly.

I saw a couple new television ads recently for “Depend Underwear in colors.” We’re talking about the product that provides an “underwear-like experience” for those who maybe need a little more protection for whatever reason.

Fine, no problem.  I’m looking at this product, its attributes, benefits and other market characteristics as I would any other.

My curiosity focuses on this new product line, in particular, and its supporting advertising.

When I saw the ads, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at, although what I was seeing was certainly derivative.  The ad targeting women looked exactly like a tampon (or “feminine wash” - ick – ad), with gals frolicking and going about their carefree lives, confident that they no longer worry about something going awry.  And the men’s ad looked a lot like a Viagra commercial, with men smiling knowingly at each other on the street, strutting along as if the result of using this product was most certainly going to be an intimate experience.  One of the men actually winks at the camera.  Winks!

My question is this (here comes the “shooting my mouth off” part): assuming the “engineering” in the product is identical to the existing Depend SKUs, how much more market share can K-C expect to gain by creating a Depend line in colors and prints? 
1. It would seem to me to be a product that you buy because you need them (not want them), so how many more units could or would an existing user really buy?
2. Because of the seemingly non-optional nature of the purchase, how many people who would benefit from an adult incontinence underwear product – but who do not currently purchase any – would suddenly be motivated to do so because there’s an option that comes in colors?
3. How much market share is there to be stolen from other manufacturers? K-C claims to be the global leader in the adult incontinence category (a $1.3B category in North America), prices don’t appear to be crazily strewn across the board, and it seems to me that a user of a non-Depend incontinence product isn’t likely to switch just because s/he can now get her protective panties in stripes.  Seems like it could be a high-involvement, potentially scary switch to make.
4. Are you that much more likely to be comfortable taking your clothes off in front of someone else (or your own mirror) because your underwear is blue instead of white?  And how many consumers would view an estimated 50% price hike as being worth it? 
5.  K-C believes that boomers’ product expectations are “much higher than those of past generations.” Good enough, but that doesn’t change the “rational” buying characteristics of the marketplace.
6. An article about the launch says that new packaging provides a more “dignified shopping experience,” but I’m not going there. If that’s the issue, they could have transformed the old packaging.

The company’s VP of North American feminine and adult care brands says that consumers want to stay in their own underwear, so “we want to make our Depend products as much like underwear as possible.”  

That’s nice.  And it’s possible that the “irrational” or emotional elements of the buying process are far stronger than they would appear to be.  There are also reasons that companies develop line extensions that don’t require the new product to be a home run to be successful.  K-C clearly has some reason to believe that its new fashionable line will help it – as the company likes to tell men – “control the room.”



Making A Weird Situation Worse At McDonald’s
Monday September 20th 2010, 9:48 am
Filed under: customer service,Reputation Managment,retail,stephanie fierman,US economy

by Stephanie Fierman

I like McDonald’s.  I do.  Always have.

Recently, though, I’ve noticed something annoying on my receipts: either an “eat in” tax (if you eat at the restaurant) or an “eat out” tax (if you take your order to go).

Either way, there’s a “tax.” 

A tax??  McDonalds is taxing us, literally coming and going? 

This makes no sense.  Corporations can’t just invent their own taxes.  What is this?
 
Turns out it’s just plain old state tax.  In Connecticut, where I dined recently, the tax is 6%.  6% in, 6% out, 6% if you take your fries and you shake ‘em all about…

The 8.5% “eat in” (aka state) tax in San Fran at the time of this purchase

6%. Period.  [Note: State sales tax laws on prepared food are notoriously kooky, but whatever they are in the state in which you’re ordering is what you’ll end up paying]

So why would a marketing icon like McDonald’s turn a charge that it is forced to apply into a fee that looks like an assessment from the company? I am flummoxed by this.

A Google search of “McDonald’s eat in tax” and “McDonald’s “eat out tax” yields lots of other folks with their “britches in a bunch” over this (like HERE and HERE and HERE).  A couple of them actually posted the “tax” to sites like ripoffreport.com.

Now, this fellow claims that it’s because some states (e.g. California) actually have a take-out tax, so an establishment doing business in that state must be able to discriminate a meal served at the restaurant vs. one taken elsewhere.  His supposition is that it would be cost prohibitive for a company to use software that could apply the tax rules state by state, and that it would be hard to administer.  

I would be surprised if it’s a matter of cost.  McDonald’s had $6.8 billion in U.S. operating income in 2009: how much could such a system cost?  And how does that cost shape up against the reputation cost of such bad publicity?

Is there something else going on here?  Anyone?



Stephanie Fierman Gives Her Seat To Darth Vader
Sunday July 25th 2010, 4:07 pm
Filed under: advertising,branding,Internet,social media,stephanie fierman,word of mouth

Branding gets a bad rap.  I’ve always thought this was fascinating because – without branding – there would be little else in the world of consumption.  That’s because a “brand” can be defined as what a product, place or person means to you: it’s the place in the mind occupied by our real or anticipated experience with that person or thing.  And it drives many of our decisions. 

Think of it this way.  You get up in the morning.  The soap and toothpaste you use, the cereal you eat, the car you get into or the subway stairs you descend, the maker of your briefcase or backpack or handbag, the coffee shop you favor (or avoid), the newspaper you pick up, the particular vacation spot you research when you get to your desk: your real or perceived experience with each of these things drives your choices.  That’s brand.  You can’t (and don’t) live without it.  It’s all over, all the time.

And man, there’s a lot of competition.  And distraction.  And price pressure.  And etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

So if this is the case, then it’s the job of a brand owner to create positive associations – a positive experience – associated with the person, place or thing in question.  Life is hard: great experiences are priceless and they’re something  you want to share with others.

Thanks to my Twitter compatriots David Ansett (@brandamentalist) and Story Worldwide (@storyworldwide), I came upon this wonderful NY-based company, Improv Everywhere,  which describes itself as an organization that “causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places.”

What does that mean, you ask?  It means that Improv Everywhere creates “missions” that create an attention-getting public event that creates positive buzz – a positive experience – that is very unexpected and equally as impactful.

Here’s one that got a lot of press in NYC: “Star Wars Subway Car” (if  you cannot see the video below, click HERE):

The one that made the biggest impression on me was “High Five Escalator.” The video was shot literally on the escalator/stairs of New York City’s E/V/6 subway stop at 53rd Street and Lexington Avenue.  Now, this stop is a friggin nightmare during the morning commute: you’re squished, it’s hot, it’s unpleasant… just a major potential misery at 8 or 8:30 in the morning.  But on this particular morning, a few Improv Everywhere “undercover agents” got 2,000 people to smile and give a “high five,” and many more just had a great experience on their way to work (if you cannot see the video below, click HERE):

Here’s an interview with Charlie Todd, the founder of 9-year-old “prank collective” Improv Everywhere (if you cannot see the video below, click HERE):

Improv Everywhere says that it takes on commercial clients only here and there, and that this is what allows them to keep doing what they’re doing.  But while Improv Everywhere “works to live,” if you will, hasn’t it cracked the very essence of the brand manager’s job?  What if your brand was associated with such a positive, memorable experience? 

This guy’s on to something.

P.S. I’ve signed up to be an Improv Everywhere undercover agent, so – the next time 200 people freeze in the middle of Grand Central – look around…



Stephanie Fierman’s Choices Stay Close to Home

Yet another result of the flailing economy:  truly new brand launches are faltering while brand extensions are succeeding. 

In 2008, less than 10% of new products were “net new brands,” even though the pace of product introduction was about on par with the last five years. Take a look at the top food and non-food brand launches of last year:

stephanie-fierman-2008-non-food-brands.jpgstephanie-fierman-2008-new-food-brands.jpg

If you remove the pharma/DTC products (which are in a psychic/regulatory/financial class all their own), all the products on these lists are extensions or reformulations.

In the best of times, launching a truly new product is extremely difficult and expensive.  Manufacturing, distribution, marketing – starting from scratch is daunting.  In a recession, success is even more difficult to achieve.

Then there’s the consumer psyche to consider: what are the monetary and non-monetary risks of trying something truly new?  Who hasn’t been curious enough about a new launch – let’s say something perishable that cannot be returned – to try it out?  But when money is scarce, the news is full of stories of imprudent spending and people are making trade-offs among the smallest of purchases, the price of “wasting” money suddenly becomes very high. I will feel foolish if I buy this and don’t like it when there are existing substitutes that I know are good enough.

The other thing that’s noticeable about these lists and others is that the “closest in” extensions win: an existing brand holds a space in the consumer’s mind, a range of functionality and messaging in which that brand has credibility.  Hershey’s can launch new candies, Porsche can introduce a “wireless racing wheel” for gaming, Mr. Clean can (sort of) try out the car washing business.

But a $1,200 Disney Sleeping Beauty fountain pen or Kellogg’s hip-hop streetwear? Not so much.



Stephanie Fierman’s Peers Are Whining – And It’s Not Attractive
Sunday July 26th 2009, 11:01 pm
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,cmo,stephanie fierman,US economy,Wall Street Journal

Pity the downtrodden marketing services community.  That bad economy-thingy appears to have smacked it right in the face.  No surprise.

And since price pressure should be no surprise, either, I’ve been startled by the snarly response emanating from the ad industry.  I’ve already forgotten a few instances I noticed recently, but the WSJ late last week offered an ok example.  In an article titled “Thrift Darkens [Ad] Industry’s Hopes,” Maurice Levy of Publicis sniffed, “The reality is that clients want more for less.  It’s something that is unfortunately becoming quite common.”

Is that right?  Really? Clients want more of the same quality work that you’ve been giving them all along for a lower price?  For some, this may be the case.  Then again, many of the large agencies in my experience became too big, spoiled and overpaid through the years.  Too many clients have been pithed by the senior staff, and left with inexperienced AEs.  You were supposed to fork over 15% just – I dunno, because.  Because advertising is magic.  Or whatever. 

Times used to be great, no question.  I’ve enjoyed some wonderful agency relationships and learned a lot of my craft from my partners in those shops and others.  We all have.  How many AdAge headlines have screamed about client cutbacks and layoffs in the last year?  More with less? I’d say there’s plenty of pain to go around.

AdAge really lit this match for me whenb I first read an editor’s reaction to a set of business decisions recently made by P&G: business decisions that – for a reason that cannot be justified -touched off a cascade of immature, naive and nasty remarks from this person’s bully pulpit.

According to this editorial, P&G’s decision puts the “still-moist notion that it’s possible to do interesting things for huge, unglamorous marketers” out of its misery.” That’s just embarrassing.  And my personal favorite – that the changes give “the best talent yet another reason to leave the industry… buh-bye, innovators and creative geniuses” – is pathetic.  Wow: talk about turning on someone when times get difficult.  What does this solve?

The editorial concludes by toasting P&G for killing one of the “final drops of joy” (*gag*) left in the industry, and for making the business – and I quote – a “little bit shittier just because it can.”  I’m actually still appalled just typing these words weeks later.  This isn’t about freedom of the press: if the writer has her own blog, she should knock herself out.  But AdAge is a publication read by professionals and aspiring professionals on all sides of the business.  Such bitter statements are grossly unproductive and, frankly, more than a little silly.

I wonder if AdAge believes that this kind of vitriol will help the industry attract the “creative geniuses” whose absence it so mourns.  I doubt it will.

The fact is that agencies and vendors work at the pleasure of clients and – in AdAge‘s case – report on them.  I also believe it’s safe to say that both agency executives and marketing journalists fancy themselves articulate thought leaders… and they should be.  Clients would like them to be.  Throwing oneself on the ground and having an unattractive hissy fit helps no one and only makes a difficult time harder and needless (or at least more) contentious.

Grow up, people.



Stephanie Fierman Hovers Like A UFO

I have no idea if they’ll sell even one tampon, but P&G’s Tampax is the stealth sponsor of a series of viral videos that tell the story of a 16-year-old boy who wakes up with – uh – “girl parts.” And at least from an art point of view… they’re good. Click HERE if you do not see the ad below.

Leo Burnett created the campaign at Zack16.com.  Its big link to the brand thus far is when our hero, Zack, gets his first period in French class and sneaks into the girl’s bathroom looking for a Tampax vending machine.

P&G calls it “a learning lab out on the net” that’s “not very heavily branded at all.”  Hmm.  And so far the videos aren’t a huge hit, with about 10,000 views in the past week on YouTube and elsewhere. 

I really wanted to dislike this campaign and – if I were a P&G stockholder – I probably would.  I also wonder if the best way to pitch tampons to young women is with stories about young men baking brownies, but what do I know? I hope it sells something. 

The title character, Zack Johnson, wakes up one morning to find his 'guy parts' gone.In the meantime, I’m enjoying the work of a good copywriter and have started following Zack on Twitter at @ZackJohnson16.  He appears to be trying to figure out how to manage menstruating while at soccer camp.

 Note: the “hovers like a UFO” comment is from the Day 3 video.  Really – these are pretty humorous.



Stephanie Fierman Applauds A Tone Deaf Ad That Got Its Hearing Checked
Wednesday June 10th 2009, 6:46 pm
Filed under: stephanie fierman

In January 2009, I started a new feature called “Tone Deaf Ad of the Week.” Since every financial services firm out there felt like it should advertise but had little to no idea what to say, there was a vast selection.

The first ad I picked on came from Bessemer Trust boasting the enormous headline, “We invest our money right alongside yours...”  First off, my portfolio is in the tank and you’ve kicked off an ad talking about yourself.  More importantly, hadn’t the gruesome Fall/Winter of 2008 proven that idiots and jerks may in fact invest their own money unwisely and take themselves down right along with you?  Next!

Next came yesterday, in fact, with a new full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal.  The headline? “Right now, you have two choices, sink or swim.”  Why yes, it’s about me, the investor, thank you.  And the text, while too long, is more thoughtful – more mindful of what’s occurred in the last several months.  The company still insists on that “we invest our money right alongside yours” thing but the ad is a solid player.

So hats off to Bessemer for having the most improved, formerly tone dead ad of the week.  Keep it up!



Stephanie Fierman Can Pick ‘Em
Tuesday May 26th 2009, 7:02 am
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,branding,financial services,stephanie fierman,US economy

Each year, the Financial Communications Society (FCS) recognizes firms in various categories for excellence in financial services advertising, collateral and (now) digital.  You can read the press release announcing this year’s winners HERE.

There are two reasons I wanted to write a quick post on this event:

(1) FCS named two of my faves as Best In Show.  The first is American Express, which was named Best In Show – Corporate Image advertising for its Martin Scorcese-Tina Fey “Timeshare” (my label) ad.  The post I wrote about this ad is HERE.    The second is E*Trade which was selected Best In Show – Consumer Retail for its “Baby” campaign – and you know how much I love this campaign.  I first wrote after its premiere at the 2008 SuperBowl, then again this past January when the second round of ads came out (“I wanna punch the economy in the face“).  And E*Trade has kept it rolling with two more greats, Singing Baby and Golf

(2) It’s a walk down memory lane. 2009 is the 15th year FCS has given its Portfolio Awards.  1995 was the very first year – and my team won an award for our ChaseDirect launch campaign.  ChaseDirect was the U.S.’ first national direct bank (even before Bank One’s Wingspan, which many remember), and we won that night.  It was a business that we all felt passionately about and my team from Chase and Wells Rich Greene were there to celebrate. 

Congratulations to all of this year’s winners.



Stephanie Fierman Says Her The Boss Is Best Ever! (On Twitter)
Thursday May 14th 2009, 10:07 pm
Filed under: blogs,facebook,Internet,stephanie fierman,Twitter,Wall Street Journal,web 2.0

So yes, this is another post about Twitter.  What can I say?  It’s the fastest growing, probably weirdest social media phenom thus far, and I’ve been sucked in.

One of today’s interesting tweety tidbits is a quite lengthy email that Rupert Murdoch – sorry, I meant the Deputy Managing Editor at The Wall Street Journal – recently sent to employees outlining “do’s” and “don’ts” for employees on Twitter or otherwise engaged on the “social Web.”

It’s sort of a doozy.

Don’t “friend” confidential sources, don’t criticize colleagues, and my favorite (verbatim): “Don’t engage in any impolite dialogue with those who may challenge your work — no matter how rude or provocative they may seem.”

Employees may cite (but not push) their own reporting and – well, that seems to be pretty much all they can do.  And even that rule, as you can see, comes with a murky qualification.

Some of the restrictions make perfect sense, such as not detailing how an article was edited.  Others are ripe for wrongful discharge lawsuits, such as the “don’t” that says you mustn’t recruit family or friends to promote your work.

In most instances, this particular restriction would be nearly impossible to dissect and prove.  If I retweet comments from a former colleague who then talks up my work, did I solicit that positive feedback?  And, I’m sorry:  if my mom claims that I’m just the cleverest person ever ever ever, there’s nothing I can do about it.oracle-twitter.jpg

So I was thinking that the whole thing seemed very 1984… until I spotted a blog post detailing real tweets that some knuckleheads have posted on Twitter.  A sample (with all grammar errors intact):
– “I just got to work (Oracle) and I am doing as little as possible”
– “Huh, with my boss on twitter, maaaybe I should take down that sexy picture of her… but her reaction will be priceless!”
– “hate my job!! i want to tell my bosses how dumb they are and how meaningless this job is, then quit, and be happy!”
– “Workin… This job sucks worse then [sic] the economy!”

The title of this blog post? “TwitterFired: The Top Ten Tweets to Get You Fired.”

Huh.  Maybe The Wall Street Journal Twitter police knows what it’s doing.



Stephanie Fierman Wouldn’t Ignore The Ladies

Man, it’s a tough time to be a media company.  What with News Corp.’s operating income dropping 47% (99% in the newspaper business and 97% in the TV division) and both Arianna Huffington and Jeff Bewkes declaring the death of big media, what’s a media mogul – or budding mogul – to do?

One obvious answer IMHO should be an enhanced, more enlightened focus on women, because their behavior is changing and not enough advertisers and media companies appear to be keeping pace.  36% of women claim to be reading fewer magazines and 39% are spending less time reading newspapers.  These are consumers – moms, in particular – who control 85% of all household spending and are worth more than $2 trillion in US spend each year.  That’s “trillion” with a “t.” 

A lot of these women say they’re migrating online.  The fastest growing segment on Facebook is women age 40-50 in the home; moms aged 25-35 with at least one child are heavy online shoppers (see chart); and twitter moms showed Motrin who’s boss in November 2008.  “Power moms” are also increasingly focused on video, and even upload their own on a variety of topics at sites like NewBaby.com

82200-powermoms_chart.jpg

The problem is, is anyone listening?



Stephanie Fierman Isn’t Taking Your Survey. That’s A Problem.
Wednesday April 08th 2009, 5:28 pm
Filed under: market research,stephanie fierman

I am hyper-sensitive to market research that is somehow flawed, or lopsided, or misrepresents the group being tested.  I’ve written a few posts on this very topic – here’s one on galvanic skin response, and measuring brand affiliation and a relatively new post on how Fuqua and the AMA mixed and matched some concepts on a questionnaire that IMHO compromised (some unknown percentage of the) results.

I’m into (a) crafting effective research vehicles and (b) making sure I’m talking to the people I think I’m talking to.

So I found an article in The Wall Street Journal today very interesting.  In an online poll, Cosmogirl.com and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy recently found that 1 in 5 teenagers have shared nude or nearly-nude photos of themselves on cell phones or the Web.  The article’s author, Carl Blalik, points out how this statistic has taken on a life of its own in the media.  20% of our teenagers are engaging in this dangerous behavior!! GAH!

The problem is… probably not.  Long story short, the research firm the two entities hired surveyed teens and young adults who had previously signed up to take online polls and surveys.  To many, this means that the survey polled individuals already predisposed to being on the Web a lot and engaging in technology-oriented activities. Then there are questions about who even in that group responded: the environments in which those surveyed could be dramatically different, for example (an 18 year old living at home may be different from one at college who might be different from one who is working full-time).  The research company did not normalize for the multiple factors that could affect the integrity of the research… with the biggie being that it’s highly unlikely that responses from a random sample of all teens in the given age ranges were captured.

Fascinating!

No one tried to hijack the research, no one had ill intent – there are no bad guys here – but this kind of thing happens.  And if the flaw isn’t caught, results fly into the universe and end up on the news every night.

Here’s a real-time, personal example.  Yesterday, I received an email from a company I don’t know anything about called Advertiser Perceptions (and a reminder email today). The email asked me to click on a link to take a “Media Influencer” survey for which I would receive an honorarium of $20.  I do take online surveys here and there, and $20 bucks is OK, so I started the survey.   And it went on FOR-EV-ER.  That’s when I noticed that the cheery email copy said that the survey wouldn’t take more than 30 minutes.  30 minutes??  A half hour for $20 so a bunch of advertisers could figure out what to sell me?  No chance, no how, not going to happen.research.jpg

So what kind of segmentation did Advertiser Perceptions do before they sent these emails?  Are they offering the same honorarium to an ad manager fresh out of college and a marketer with 20 years of experience?  I’d assume yes, and therein lies the garbage-in-garbage-out problem of the day.  If Advertiser Perceptions does not adjust for this bias, they’ll end up with a non-random sample of people who have the time and inclination to sit at their desks for 1/2 hour and take some third-party survey for $20.*

I can’t tell you exactly what that sample will look like, but I can guarantee it ain’t random or representative of the entire prospect list. 

And there you have it.  Caveat Emptor.  Ask questions.  Does something “sound right” to you?  Because maybe it is… and maybe it’s not.



Stephanie Fierman Sees More Of The Same. Again.

It is a good thing that bank and investment advertising no longer touts high-higher-highest (!) returns, Morningstar stars, 40-something couples retiring to their house(s) in paradise, and the like.   Outside of just a few stalwarts, such as Vanguard with its measured point of view and Bogle-esque approach, many of the siren calls in the newspaper, on television and online had all begun to (or already did) sound and look the same.  That’s not effective.

Now we appear to have swung all the way to the other extreme.  Take a look at a list of advertisers, all crammed into today’s Wall Street Journal, along with text pulled verbatim from their ads:

MORGAN STANLEY:  “To find the smart investments today, you need to be world wise.”

MERRILL LYNCH (aka Bank of America):  “Seeing clearly.  Acting confidently.”   “With personal insight into your goals and an understanding of the market…” “…Find a smart place for your money.”

CME GROUP: “Rise Above the Risk.” “For more than a century CME Group has provided competitive, transparent and safe markets.” “…protect customers and ensure financial integrity by guaranteeing the performance of every transaction on our exchange.”


TD AMERITRADE: “There’s never been a better time for a second opinion.”

FIDELITY: “Guaranteed income you can live with.”


GLENMEDE: “There’s no substitute for safety and stability.”


PNC:  “…It’s also a way of doing business that has strength and stability at its very core.”


Safe, smart, transparent and guaranteed: these are the adjectives financial firms are now scrambling to use, as they adjust to our new reality  The problem is – well, it’s the same problem as before – if you sound like everyone else, the messages essentially melt into one and stakeholders become unable to distinguish one from the other.  If I held a focus group tonight, and scrambled the names of the above firms and the quoted text, I would challenge anyone to re-match the elements correctly.


I’ll also say this:  killing your ads’ effectiveness may, in fact, be the most benign result.  Worse?  Just as when every firm claimed great returns – which turned out to be untrue and, in some cases, unscrupulous – everyone claiming safety now looks equally unlikely and untrustworthy.


All of these brands are more and are capable of doing more: the “more” being the hard work needed to determine exactly what it is about the brand that is unique and distinguishable from the competition.*


Without doing this work, going out with a “safety” message isn’t safe at all.


* I am aware that many of the above firms are in different businesses and are not competitors per se.  It does not matter, because it does not matter to the public. For individual investors (and Congress…), too much of the same becomes one, amorphous perception.



Stephanie Fierman Knows This Is A Tough Business
Tuesday March 03rd 2009, 10:54 pm
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,stephanie fierman

Phew:  pharma advertising.

One of the mini-economies that is thriving in New York City is healthcare/pharma ad agencies.  Always have, always will.  You can imagine the regulatory knowledge, the stamina, the patience, the detail that must go into such work – or I can, at least.

Case in point… Bristol Myers Squibb recently pulled the ad on the right (if you cannot see the ad, click HERE.   The ad was part of a print campaign that suggested HIV/AIDS patients “ask your doctor” about drugs that may have a lower incidence of diarrhea (a common side effect of certain drugs).  The ad was yanked under pressure from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest non-profit HIV/AIDS organization in the US.bms-ad-stephanie-fierman.jpg

And while declaring the ad “a blatant attempt to scare and mislead patients and… intimidate patients into switching to BMS’ own HIV/AIDS drugs,” the AHF is driving the point home with its own new parody ad, which it called a “public service announcement.”  The parody uses a similar image, with the words, “We don’t give a crap how you live as long as you buy our drug!” scrawled across the toilet.

The AHF says it sent a letter to BMS’s CEO last August asking the company to stop running “these types of advertisements,” but received no response.

As a total outsider, I can see that the ad clearly leverages fear to make its point.  But what are a drug company’s options?

A bit of research reveals that, in 2005, the AHF asked BMS to pull a campaign that the foundation claimed wasn’t serious enough: ads, the AHF claimed, that underplayed the risks of HIV.  A BMS ad showing two men playing backgammon on a beach under a headline of “The Word on HIV: Fight HIV Your Way” was faulted as delivering the message that “‘I don’t have to be that careful about getting HIV because I can go to the beach and pop pills.”

Let me be clear here:  (a) it’s a drug company’s job to get these messages right, and (b) they make millions of dollars on the sales of these drugs each and every year. 

But in a business that is all about life or death, about pain and caring and emotion, one could see how it might be difficult to balance all the messages required in a way that could satisfy all parties involved.



Stephanie Fierman Agrees With Woody Allen On The 80%
Monday March 02nd 2009, 6:37 am
Filed under: branding,stephanie fierman,US economy

The enormous matters of CEO and corporate trust and transparency – or the lack thereof – are everywhere these days.  The need for CEOs to be open and honest… to communicate with all of their stakeholders about what’s happening and what they’re doing to ensure their companies survive the recession.  Weber Shandwick, a very large PR agency that’s won many accolades, has taken a position at the front of the line on this topic.

Weber Shandwick has a practice called ReputationRx, and its site offers numerous press releases and papers, including “Seven Out of 10 Global Executives Fear For Their Corporate Reputations As Online Risks Grow” and “Company Leaders Not Communicating To Employees On Financial Crisis.” The agency’s CEO, Harris Diamond, penned an Op-Ed for The Washington Times in October titled, “A crisis of confidence, The lost art of communication.”  Etc. etc.   The place takes reputation and open communication seriously.

So I had to laugh at the inadvertent comedic timing of a just-received business school event newsletter [verbatim] :

THE C.E.O. SERIES: MANAGING AND COMMUNICATING IN ECONOMIC CRISIS
Tuesday,
3/31/09 at 12:00pm
Harris Diamond, C.E.O. of Weber Shandwick Worldwide, will share his thoughts on communicating to stakeholders when your company is going through a rough patch. THIS EVENT HAS BEEN CANCELLED!

After offering a trustmeister wince of sympathy (these things happen) all I can say is…

Come on: that’s funny.