Category Archives: Thoughts & Musings

Integrity in Advertising and Strat-O-Matic Baseball

By Chris Blair

We often get calls from clients who think they need a particular type of promotional product or service, be it a new website, an instructional video, a print brochure, a television campaign, or a new logo. But many times after meeting and discussing their needs, it becomes clear the client needs something entirely different.

We’ve even occasionally recommended services that we don’t provide because they better serve the client’s advertising needs. After all, our job is to help clients communicate to their customers…not just take their money for something they think they need.

Unfortunately, not all advertising and marketing companies are that honest with their clients. I’ve seen it time and again during the 25 years I’ve worked in this business. Advertising agencies, TV and radio stations, newspapers and internet companies selling products and services that have little chance of helping their clients promote themselves.

I’ve never understood this mentality. It’s like convincing someone to buy an overpriced, overhyped product that doesn’t actually work as advertised. When the customer gets home and realizes they’ve bought a crappy product, they’re not only angry it doesn’t work right, they also feel like they were duped by the hype! This type of selling virtually guarantees clients won’t come back.  Continue reading

The NRA’s Response to Newtown: A Lesson in How NOT to Stage a Press Conference

We’re not a public relations firm per se, but we do a fair amount of PR type work for clients, from writing press releases, to occasionally staging press conferences. The NRA’s recent press event in response to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut was a classic lesson in how NOT to stage a media event.

From the tone of NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre’s speech to the physical setup of the stage, they did almost nothing right from a public relations perspective. And no, this is NOT another attack on WHAT the NRA said. But more of a review about what WASN’T said, and the combative tenor of the event.

But first, I need to point out that I am not a gun owner and therefore (obviously) not an NRA member. In fact, I’ve never shot a weapon and only held a firearm once in my entire life. But I also have no real beef with the NRA, its members or how it does business. I grew up in a town filled with people that love hunting and almost every family I knew (except ours) owned multiple firearms and used them often, either at gun ranges or while hunting.

But back to the NRA’ press conference.  In my opinion, the most shocking thing about it wasn’t what was written and said, but it was how it was said. LaPierre looked and sounded like a General preparing to go into battle. His second sentence in the speech was:

Out of respect for those grieving families, and until the facts are known, the NRA has refrained from comment. While some have tried to exploit tragedy for political gain, we have remained respectfully silent.

Really? Is that why you were silent? Until more facts were known? Let’s face it, almost no new facts have emerged since the days immediately following the crime. They were silent because of the beating they were taking in the press. And speaking of the press, LaPierre said this:

How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame — from a national media machine that rewards them with the wall-to-wall attention and sense of identity that they crave — while provoking others to try to make their mark?

That national media machine did what it’s supposed to do, cover a story that shocked a nation, if not the world. A story not unlike the horrific shootings in Norway in 2011, which also involved children. Never mind that the NRA could easily be considered an enabler of any type of copycat crime related to Newtown. This brings us to perhaps the NRA and Mr. LaPierre’s biggest PR mistake. Blaming the media for the event your press conference is addressing!

How did the NRA think that was going to go over in the press? Did they think anyone in the media was going to nod their head in agreement? Forget your opinion about either of the quotes noted above. Forget my interpretation of them. From a PR perspective, you don’t explain your unwillingness to comment on an event by claiming your opponents are being exploitive, especially when it comes to something involving young children. You likewise do NOT suggest complicity with the very people covering your event! It’s just going to piss the press (and just about everyone else) off.

This nation’s obsession with firearms and gun owner’s argument that gun control advocates are trying to take away their second amendment rights is widely seen as incomprehensible by people in almost every other part of the world. Doesn’t that say something to the NRA? What if we fervently held onto the literal interpretation of other parts of our constitution, like civil rights, or the right to vote? If we did, women wouldn’t be able to vote and there would still be slavery!

The NRA needs to remember that it’s called “public relations.” That means ALL of the public. Not just your members and surrogates.



The Value of Time and Experience in Advertising Design

In the last 25 years the growth of computer technology and the internet have both fundamentally changed how companies market themselves. The early to mid-nineties saw the birth of digital production. Then in the early part of this decade, digital television and the internet matured. And in the last three years, social media came of age.

Obviously this technology has had many positive effects when it comes to marketing and advertising, but in my opinion that same technology has had some negative effects as well. Most prominent is a tendency for people to think that digital workflows are inherently faster and more efficient.

When used properly, digital tools can certainly speed workflow and productivity.  But two things that are still key to selling people anything is developing great ideas and producing compelling stories. Getting these right STILL requires the two things the best digital tools can’t deliver — time and experience. Continue reading

Learning from Dick Ebersol’s Resignation

Dick Ebersol resigned as head of NBC’s sports division on May 19th and just a few days later Joe Posnanski wrote a piece on Ebersol in Sports Illustrated’s May 30th Point After column. What struck me about the article wasn’t anything about Ebersol’s vast list of credits, or any claim about his influence on modern sports or entertainment programming. It was what Ebersol told Posnanski about the most influential thing he ever learned:

“The most important thing to me, was to tell stories.”

Ebersol said it was a lesson he learned from his first boss, the legendary sports producer Roone Arledge. Ebersol told Posnanski that television seems to be turning away from storytelling, with everything  becoming fragmented and announcers making radio calls shouting about every play.

I had to chuckle and agree. I turned 50 this year, and while I can probably pass for 10 years younger (on a good hair day), I can’t help but feel a little old sometimes when discussing content for marketing and promotional projects with many clients. The idea of storytelling seems unimportant to most. Yet I still believe that a good story trumps style and glitzy design every-time. Great production values certainly never hurt a project, but a non-existent or poorly written story can kill one. Continue reading

A Guide to Advertising & Production Costs

How much will that cost? That’s a question I’m sure every business gets almost daily. With some products, like a television or computer, the answer is relatively easy. Go online, find the model you want, compare specs and prices, and choose your retailer.

But for most things, figuring out the cost is much more difficult. From buying a car to getting a fence installed, the price can vary wildly based on factors too numerous to even think about.

So what does advertising cost? How about getting a video produced? What about having a website designed…or an interactive kiosk created…or…well you get the idea. There are no quick and easy answers, but there are some guidelines you can use for many types of projects.

Let’s look at websites. If you’ve ever gotten estimates for having one designed, the differences in price can be cavernous. I’ve seen website estimates vary by tens of thousands of dollars based on the same specs. How can this be possible? Some of the disparity can be attributed to differences in turnaround time, differences in how the site is programmed and built, the experience level of the designer etc. But more often than not, if there’s a huge difference between the lowest bid and the highest bid, it’s a good bet you’re looking at one severely underbid estimate and another severely overbid one.

Certainly there are many types of websites with varying levels of complexity, not to mention the growing need to build separate mobile versions. But for most sites, you could use the following guidelines to figure a range of what it should cost. Continue reading

Annoying ads that Work

By Chris Blair

Remember the ad campaign for the product HeadOn? It’s probably the most annoying ad of all time.

It’s not even clear what the product is for and if you visit their website, the product description sounds like science fiction. Yet the product has been so successful, they’ve spun off other topical products like ActivOn, which claims to help arthritis pain!

Just so you know, independent chemical analysis of their roll-on products has shown the ingredients are almost entirely wax, and while most sane people realize it’s just modern-day snake oil, obviously many others think it works.

According to Wikipedia, chemical analysis has shown the three active ingredients are iris versicolor 12× (a flower), white bryony 12× (a type of vine), and potassium dichromate 6× (a highly toxic chemical used in some pain and wound treatments among other things). The “×” notation indicates that the three chemicals have been diluted to 1 part per trillion, 1 part per trillion, and 1 part per million respectively. This amount of dilution is so great that the product has been described as a placebo; with well-known scam-buster James Randi calling it a “major medical swindle.” The formula for the Extra Strength version of the product is the same as the Migraine except that it excludes the iris versicolor, so I guess you could say it’s “less flowery!”

Seymour Diamond, director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago has stated, “I see nothing in this product that has any validity whatsoever.” Consumer Reports states that no clinical-trial data involving HeadOn have been presented, and that “any apparent efficacy may be the result of the placebo effect.” If you don’t know what the placebo effect is, it’s the phenomenon related to the perceptions and expectations a patient has. If a substance is viewed as helpful, it can heal, if it is viewed as harmful, it can cause negative effects. It doesn’t matter what substances are in the product, the expectations of the patient causes the results they expect.

So despite the obvious fact that this product has nothing in it that can remotely heal anything…the advertising for it convinces people to buy the darn stuff! Obviously if a company came to us with a dubious product like this, it would put us in a difficult position. The folks that make Head On don’t make claims about the healing benefits of their product, so it’s tough to call them out for it. In other ads, they use testimonials from users to tout the product, so the company is never directly making statements about the product. But at the same time, it’s difficult to see how any company could produce a product so devoid of any substance (literally) and pawn it off on people seeking pain relief.

Ultimately, if you’re dumb enough to believe you can cure your headache by rolling a product onto your head like deoderant, then you probably deserve to have them take your money.

How Important is Creativity in Advertising?

By Chris Blair

Creativity is one of those things that’s hard to define, especially in advertising. Many ad agencies consider it the measuring stick for their work. So much so that they call the work leading up to production, “the creative.” But just how important is creativity in advertising and what exactly constitutes a creative ad?

This is a tough question and there are probably dozens of viable answers. But advertising history makes it clear you cannot judge an advertisement based solely on creativity. The reasons? Creativity is highly subjective and award-winning ads are not automatically effective ads.

A famous (or is it infamous) case in point is the 1996 Nissan ad campaign called “Enjoy the Ride. The ad that launched the campaign was an epic commercial titled “Dream Garage,” which first aired during the closing ceremonies of the 1996 Olympics and later during the 1997 Super Bowl. It opened on a group of kids playing baseball, one of whom was magically transported to a “dream garage” filled with vintage Nissans. The garage was helmed by a wise old Japanese character dubbed “Mr. K,” who along with his Jack Russell Terrier, became the face of the entire campaign. You can see the ad below: Continue reading

Sometimes the “Funny” Overshadows the Product

By Chris Blair

Just the other day my brother-in-law was visiting from Alabama. He’s a Baptist minister who’s well-published and highly regarded for the stories he spins in his sermons. He mentioned a television ad he liked and he recounted the concept, which was “what can we count on 10 years from now?”

He described the ad, which shows a grizzled Brett Farve accepting an MVP trophy 10 years in the future. Farve has some very funny lines and the trophy has an animated hologram of him on top of it…a BRILLIANT visual touch if I do say so myself! Notice he also has a pair of bifocals hanging from the collar of his t-shirt.

We both laughed about how creative and funny it is. Problem is, neither of us could remember what was being promoted or what the product was.

I saw the ad a few days later and made a point to look for both. It promotes the Hyundai Sonata along with the 10 year warranty offered on Hyundai automobiles. So is this ad creative and funny? Sure. Is it effective? I’m not sure. It certainly wasn’t if you consider me and my brother-in-law to be the measuring sticks.

Perhaps if you’re in the market for a car and warranties are a big issue for you, this ad would be effective. But with almost every major car manufacturer offering generous warranty programs these days, my guess is it’s probably not. Of course, Hyundai has a whole slew of top-notch ads that run all over the place, so as one part of a broad campaign, it probably works.

Most people love funny commercials. But producing truly funny advertising is difficult and it can sometimes overshadow what you’re selling. So be cautious about how much your ads focus on the fun and how much they focus on selling. It’s certainly worthwhile to get your viewers attention with an ad, but you also have to deliver a compelling sales message in the process.