Playing through the pause: marketing never stops.

pause_button

There was a phrase that was popular in the late 20th century that advised “no one ever got fired for buying IBM.” It was a meme that implied you were making a prudent choice in your technology partner, because IBM was so ubiquitous and so darn reliable, you couldn’t possibly go wrong if you chose to pay the extra fees and engage with such an established leader. (And talk about a GREAT branding platform for IBM!)

Here in 2020, it appears there’s a new version of that old trope as it relates to marketing. It would read “no one ever got fired for being cautious during the COVID-19 crisis.” And if you look around, all you see are brands being cautious. Brands stepping back. Brands holding on to their marketing spend. Brands putting their agencies in lockdown “until further notice.” CMOs, VPs of marketing, brand managers, and other senior executives are in full wait-and-see mode, and some of them have quickly pivoted to warmer and fuzzier messaging platforms in the short term.

If you own or represent a brand right now, it’s likely that you or someone in your organization has ordered a “pause” on some or all of your marketing activity. After all, it’s expensive to “keep the lights on” an operation that isn’t (or can’t be) visibly returning results. And you’d be more than justified for being cautious and for demonstrating prudence with your precious budget.

However, you’d also be violating one of the immutable laws of marketing. And that is to find competitive strategic advantages over the other producers in your category. Hint: now is absolutely the time to do it.

While your competition is sitting on the sidelines, you gain zero ground by sitting on the opposite sideline. Competitive marketing never stops – even when it looks like all marketing has stopped.

Irrespective of your brand category, or what position you own in the category, here are six cornerstone marketing efforts you can put to work right now (without spending tons of money) to gain an edge on your competition:

Focus on or improve your core product/service
Can you add a key ingredient, or replace a less-than-desirable one in your product formulation? If you’re a more service-oriented business, is there a new policy you can put in place that would give you an edge over your competition? (Think longer warranty period, free upgrades, adding value in new or unorthodox ways.)  Put some structure on this.  Give it language.  Give it a name.  Start talking about it.

Add new products or extend your line
If you’ve ever thought about why you’re not gaining ground on your competitors, maybe it’s because you offer limited choices. Think about adding new flavors, new varieties, or new services to your practice. Hiring a new subject matter expert into your practice is almost the same as acquiring a new company, so consider how you can go “wider” in your business, and give consumers (existing or new targets) more opportunities  – and reasons – to interact with you.

Re-evaluate or re-negotiate your distribution deals
Following on the heels of having new products or an extended line, this is a great time to read the fine print on all your contracts. Especially your distribution deals. Can you get more lineal inches in your current deal? Maybe you can reduce costs in some way, since third-party resellers are taking it on the chin right now. They’d be hard-pressed to avoid losing your business, so take advantage of the opportunities while you can. It’s also a great time to hear proposals from new distributors or brokers or affiliates who are also innovating to stay relevant.

Do some research/learn more about what consumers really want (or who your consumers will actually be)
It’s very likely that consumer behavior will be altered in many ways as we either return to normalcy or forge whatever the “new normal” will look like. This is the crucible of competition – find out why consumers may have chosen a competitor over your brand, and see if you can accommodate their desires. Is it price? Is it a personal touch? Is it the ingredients? Is it your location? You’ll never know if you don’t ask, and paying people for their opinion right now makes you look magnanimous as well as appealingly curious.

Think about a new approach to your advertising
We’ve seen many brands pivot to a more “we’re with you” approach in the last several weeks, and it’s likely we’ll see even more message morphs in the coming months. But maybe it’s time for a new thousand-foot strategy. Maybe it’s time for a new tone. Or a new face. Or something classic and familiar. The point is to zig when the rest of your competitive set is zagging (or lagging. Or sagging.  Or gagging.  This is fun.) At the very least, you’ll get more attention, and that’s always a good thing.

Develop at least three strategic marketing plans for your brand
It must be said that no marketing strategist is ever right 100% of the time. So make contingency plans. The marketplace will be different, so make sure you have plans to address whatever those differences might be. For instance, it’s possible one or more of your competitors may fold. So have a talk with your bank (or investor group) and be ready to acquire at a favorable cost (if that makes sense,) or to at least swoop in and grab the lion’s share of that brand’s customer base. It may not be so rosy, so consider what some worse-case scenarios might look like, and script responses to those as well. With so many unknown variables, you can keep your team focused and motivated by creating pre-coordinated plans and putting them in place for virtually any outcome.

Stay in touch with all stakeholders
Speaking of all of this, it’s a great time to have renewed and refreshed conversations with all your stakeholders. Let them know that you’re thinking ahead, and thinking positively. Let them know that they may be called on to think outside the boxes of convention. And most importantly, let them know that they will play a role in kicking the competition in the teeth, and getting ahead when all this uncertainty is behind.

 

Coronavirus CMO Checklist

marketing_thingy_checklist_image

As we’ve turned the calendar to another month of dealing with the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of brands and agencies are wondering what’s next.  While many brands have pivoted to pandemic-related messaging (see a regularly updated list here,) most are taking a breath, and working hard to plan their next move(s.)

Believe it or not, this forced time-out can be an incredibly useful opportunity on many levels.  Whether you’re the CMO of a global brand that spends millions or an owner/manager of a small to medium-sized business that’s trying to edge out your competition on a regional level, this may be the best time to evaluate your brand and make structural moves to re-position it for success when the world wakes from its medically-induced commercial slumber.

Here’s a quick dos and don’ts checklist of items to consider while we’re all waiting for the refs to say it’s time to get back in the game:

ON POSITIONING

DO reinforce your strategic position, whatever it might be. If you’re the low-cost leader, then now is the time to forage for ways to maintain and even strengthen that position, perhaps by having new discussions with suppliers and distribution agents.  More importantly, if you don’t have a strategic position (or perhaps don’t know exactly what yours is,) you’ve now been given the gift of several weeks and even months to figure one out.  Huddle with your team – or better yet, a consultant or agency – and learn how to articulate who you really are in ways maybe you haven’t before.

DON’T waver.  If you do have a position and it helps the consumer/customer understand what makes you different, do not veer from your course.  You might hear of brands trying to “strategically pivot” into new areas and try to replicate what competitors do in an effort to grab short-term revenue gains or “narrow their gap.”  We’ll probably see a LOT of price manipulation once the markets begin to wake as competition for consumer attention will spike – but don’t be tempted.  If your position is built on quality, or prestige, or speed, or technology, or safety, or any other attribute that you can effectively “own” in the mind of the market, stay the course.  The consumer segment that desires your position will be more motivated than ever to seek it out when this is all over.

ON STAYING IN TOUCH

DO stay in touch with consumers/customers and stakeholders of all kinds. Be a friend in some way.  Be a lifeline if you can.  One of the most compelling aspects of this pandemic is the psychological toll it’s taking on people from all walks of life.  Routines are disrupted.  Rituals interrupted.  And we cannot forget that brands represent constancy and normalcy for so many Americans – perhaps the only two commodities that are in shorter supply than toilet paper. As long as your brand is reminding consumers that you’re still there, and will continue to be there to support them with what they expect of you, you should come out of this national hibernation in pretty good shape.

DON’T brag.  Even if you’re doing the most amazing things right now in your community or in your industry, no one wants to hear how great you are.  Do what you can to serve in this crucial time, but do those things quietly and let the results speak for themselves. Grandstanding is not a good look in a crisis.

ON ADVERTISING AND STAYING VISIBLE

DO advertise if it makes sense and you have something valuable to say. In my last post, I advocated strongly for advertising, and provided several reasons why it’s more important than ever.  I continue to recommend that you stay visible and adjust your messaging to take the current consumer environment into account.

DON’T disappear.  Find ways to stay relevant, even if you’re conserving major expenditures (like media costs.) This is a great time to get more social, expand or enhance your app, send timely email updates and so on.  AND DEFINITELY DO NOT use your advertising presence to take shots at competitors.  You should notice that there’s no “feuding” going on now, even among the largest brands.  No cola wars.  No chicken sandwich smackdowns.  Competitive advertising in the current climate is not only a waste of valuable ad dollars, it’s in poor taste. Consumers are paying rapt attention right now, so behave with your brand as though momma was watching you.  ‘Cause she kinda is.

ON PLAYING THE LONG GAME

DO be prepared (financially and otherwise,) to ride this situation out well into 2021.  It’s clear that some brands will falter during this time as consumers are also re-evaluating their priorities and allegiances.  Staying true to your brand ethos (and reinforcing/refining your position, see above,) can a.) cement the relationships you’ve already worked so hard to forge and b.) make you look darn attractive to those defecting from other brands.

DON’T rush your expectations.  Although confidence is virtually nonexistent at the moment, consumer motivation will be high and will likely surge for many months as the commercial rebound begins.  Expect a tentative but large wave of consumers re-entering the market with fresh perspectives and open minds.  Rushing to grab profits and short-term gains (in an attempt to recoup some recent losses) may preclude your brand from the much more substantial rewards of sustained success and new fans.

The brand cure for coronavirus: advertising.

The weeks and months leading up to and following March 2020 will go down in history as an incredibly important and impactful time period in the history of the United States. Between the COVID-19 pandemic itself, the economic ramifications of a roller coaster stock market, and the drastic measures being taken at the federal, state, and local levels, nothing seems normal. Virtually all major sports shut down. All major gatherings shut down. Schools closed for mandatory periods of time. Bars and restaurants closing. Social distancing. Self-quarantining. And of course, the dreaded toilet paper shortage. (Ugh.)

The citizenry of the United States is in a near-total lockdown. Without engaging in the regular retail experience – one of America’s favorite social and commercial pastimes – except out of pure necessity, what is the appropriate path for brands during this time? What should brands be doing? What should brands be saying?

I_WANT_YOU

At the risk of sounding insensitive, I say advertise. There are a million reasons to be doing it right now, and to be doing it well. Here are my top five.

Advertise. Because American consumers are concerned and confused, and there’s no precedent for anything like this in recent history. (Zika, Ebola and some of the other outbreaks never reached this level of penetration or panic.) There’s never been a time when we’ve been virtually forced back into our homes to sit and wonder what will happen next. Brands have the unique opportunity to reassure consumers (of course that depends on your brand, and the category in which you compete,) or at the very least, entertain them. If your brand can be a voice of reason, or a voice of compassion, or better still, a voice of comfort through generous offers, then that voice will get valuable attention when Americans have more of it to give.

Advertise. Because with Americans huddled at home for weeks (and potentially months) at a time, there will be record HUT/PUT numbers. National brands can leverage near Super Bowl-sized audiences at what would be considered regular airtime rates. Every advertising dollar will go twice, thrice its normal distance, especially during this time in the broadcast programming calendar, which is typically a lull bridge between the large audience events of Jan/Feb and the scripted series finale season to arrive in April/May. Ratings will be unusually high for the foreseeable future, simply because more people are home with more time – and more opportunity – to consume television.

Advertise. Because programming diversity will actually be an ally during this time. Sure, people will be binging on streaming services. But after three or four hours of catching up on the hottest shows, people will turn to both local and national news. My guess is that media buyers are in a feeding frenzy right now with MSOs to snap up relatively low-cost cable buys, and especially around news programming.

Advertise. Because your competitors are sitting on the sidelines right now, and this gives you a greater potential share of mind. Every brand is thinking about the opportunities they currently have, and what to do with them. But while most of them contemplate, they’ve probably held off on filming anything new, or producing any spots with context to the national psychology. And yes, while you can suffer a great deal for a misstep at this time, the potential also exists for exponentially greater gains if you can connect. Take a look at this spot Guinness released online regarding their brand (with high context to both the pandemic and the upcoming St. Patrick’s day,) and a message that is just wonderfully articulated and perfectly timed:

Advertise. Because we will get through this at some point. Although it’s hard to imagine it today, life will return to normal. Concerts will be staged. Stadiums will be filled with 80,000 fans screaming their heads off for their favorite teams. Schools will be open. Bars and restaurants will be flooded with people who no longer want so much social distance. And most notably, shopping malls and supermarkets will be flush with consumers looking for their favorite foods, clothes, drinks, sneakers, cars, electronics, beers, and so much more. And if you were smart enough to advertise to those consumers during this time, and your message was a strategic one, (or at least a kind one,) you just might have made a valuable impression (while making valuable impressions) to new fans for years to come.

 

Super Bowl 54 Grins and Groans

Another Super Bowl in the books, and I’m sure all the fine citizens from Kansas* are still floating after the Kansas City Chiefs rallied in the 4th quarter to beat the San Francisco 49ers in a pretty entertaining football game.  Interestingly, the ads had a little late-game heroics, too.  The first half was a little flat, but the ads started getting a bit more entertaining right about at halftime.
(* See the President’s tweet.)

Overall, the ads seemed to come from a different source than in years past.  While we’re used to car, beer, snacks and financial services ads, this year the ads seemed to be coming from various (and some new) directions.  It was balanced, but almost none of the ads will have anyone saying “did you see that (brand) ad?”

Here are the ads that made us grin, and alas, some that made us groan.

First, some honorable mentions:

Amazon/Alexa – some funny and interesting musings about “what people did before Alexa?”

Discover Card – a good use of airtime, sandwiching two spots around another, one for “YES” (we take Discover) and one for “NO” (hidden fees.) Shout out to the media team!

Tide – they’re kind of on a roll with the Super Bowl, this time running several spots around the theme “stains can wait.”  Even crossing over with (the now defunct) Bud Light knight.  Smart smart smart.

Porsche – the “theft” of a new electric Porsche turns out to be a “drill,” and turns out to be a wonderfully crafted ad.

Bud Light Seltzer – no snark here, but who knew Post Malone was such a good actor, and surprisingly effective pitchman?

Sodastream – big budget ad around a low-budget gag, but it was very well done.  Any time I make a huge gaffe (and it happens on the reg,) I’m just going to say “I thought it was Mark’s water.”

Doritos – anytime you can get Sam Elliott to do something funny, (and a mustache dance-off with Lil Nas X is friggin’ funny,) you’re winning.  This ad was cute and wholesome and entertaining, and probably the best branding spot of the night.  A lot of people this morning will remember that it all happened on a “cool ranch,” and that’s a victory.

GRINS:

CHEETOS Popcorn – “Can’t Touch This”
A series of situations made infinitely better because the main character “can’t touch” a stack of paperwork, a screaming baby, a couch when the movers need help, and so on.  Cleverly refrained by MC Hammer, it humorously highlights a happy outcome of eating the treat – cheesy fingers.

HYUNDAI SONATA featuring Smart Park – “Smaht Pahk”
Massachusetts natives Rachel Dratch and Chris Evans look on as Massachusetts native John Krasinski tries to park a Hyundai in a tight spot.  When he reveals that the car does it robotically using a new feature they call “Smaht Pahk,” the New England accent jokes prove a perfect explanation.  The ad, also featuring a cameo from Big Papi (David Ortiz) was indeed wicked smaht.

DASHLANE – “password reminders”
This was almost the ad of the night for me.  So funny, so well-executed, and so in tune with what so many of us struggle with every day on nearly every website where we have a password. A really good reminder that advertising, when done simply and smartly, can be very  effective indeed.

WINNER:

JEEP – “Groundhog Day”
By far, the best ad of the evening was Jeep’s sendup of the classic movie featuring Bill Murray reliving his iconic role.  This time, it’s super fun, because he gets to enjoy a new adventure in his new Jeep Gladiator.  (By the way, that is one badass vehicle.). Yes, it relies heavily on having seen the movie.  Yes, it relies on a series of animal gags.  And yes, it worked to great effect.  That it was aired on Groundhog Day makes it even cooler.

GROANS:
Some ads just make you go, “huh?”  And there were plenty of those this year as well. Wal-Mart’s “famous visitors” could have been a grin, except that they’ve executed on this concept already with last year’s “famous vehicles” ad. Hulu probably relied on Tom Brady too much (while he’s universally recognized, he’s not universally liked.) Some ads just relied too heavily on the celebrity aspect (I’m talking to you Coke, P&G, Hard Rock Hotel,) and some were just old gags executed pretty well (Reese’s Take 5.) And for future reference, let’s not sour Super Sunday with political ads, okay?  Maybe save that for The Oscars, when everyone is going to make a statement that evening anyway.

HINT WATER – “pie eating contest”
This ad was smartly conceived, well executed, and makes perfect sense for the brand.  (It’s water with a hint of fruit.) However, something in it was just un-funny and gross.  And the grossness makes you (okay, makes ME) want to avoid the brand.

OLAY – “space for women”
There were several ads that sought to highlight female empowerment this year.  (Note – God Bless America, the national anthem and the halftime show kind of proved that women rock.) But this ad kind of backfired when it made women look, um, less than brilliant.  “There’s tons of space in space” is not brilliant.  Inelegant, I think this was a miss.

PEPSI ZERO – “paint it black”
Another ad featuring two recognizable women (hip-hop/R&B stars H.E.R. and Missy Elliott,) pitching soda for Pepsi Zero.  I guess they used this song because a.) the cans are black and/or b.) the Rolling Stones let them?  Otherwise, what?

AUDI – “let it go”
For years, Audi was ruling the Super Bowl, until 2017’s female empowerment spot grossly missed the mark.  Here again, the ad uses a song that has no context, and seems to be aimed at teenage girls (-ish.)  A real head-scratcher this.

GENESIS – “young luxury”
Can we all just admit that the Chrissy Teigen experiment should be over now? I really like the concept that there’s a “new kind of luxury” that Genesis offers.  That, in itself, is a wonderful encapsulation of the brand’s strategic position.  But the devil is in the details, and Chrissy pointing out partygoers who have had plastic surgery and are hangers-on was probably not the best way to articulate that.  John Legend was kind of an afterthought here. Bummer, too, because the SUV itself looks like a gorgeous vehicle.

So…what did YOU think?

Until next year!

 

 

 

20 for ’20

20_for_20Okay, it’s a new year. Some say it’s a new decade (we’ll argue that later, since it’s technically the last year of the 2010’s, but we can all agree it’s the start of the 2020’s.) And while the “resolutions” ship has already sailed, we do want to get the year off to a strong start.

With that in mind, here are 20 ideas, both strategic and tactical, that you can use to kickstart your brand into the new year. Whether you’re a consumer brand, a consultancy, a business-to-business brand, or a non-profit, just giving these a good think should help you improve your marketing efficiency, clarify your plans, and get you in motion.

1. Give your SEO a refresh.
While we all know the value of SEO, a lot of brands tend to “set it and forget it.” And unfortunately, that can actually hurt your long-term chances for optimization. Search engines like to see activity on your site, and this is a great time to reevaluate your keyword plan, write some new (and rewrite some old) content, and add or update both internal and outbound links.

2. Get more interested in data.
Especially your website analytics. Find out who’s visiting, when they’re visiting, and from where they visit. It may give you some good new promotional ideas, or better yet, it may help you reconnect with some customers you haven’t heard from in a while.

3. Reconnect with prospects – even the ones that seem “cool.”
Got a form on your website? Use a call center?  Send something interesting to every person who called or filled out a form last year. They may just be waiting to hear from you again!

4. Get more social.
Sure, everyone says this every year. But for good reason. And it doesn’t have to be agonizing to create relevant posts or content strategies. Try advertising on social, too. The targeting parameters keep getting better, and Your. Prospects. Are. There. All. The. Time.

5. Advertise!
It’s time to stop sitting on the sidelines, or waiting for some magic “perfect moment” to come around for when you’re going to run that “magical” campaign. The truth is, prospects tend to remember the brands who tend to advertise. Start by evaluating your core positioning, and then articulating it simply in a series of adverts.

6. Serve your community in some way.
We all live somewhere, even those of us who are remote service providers. Is there a way you can serve your local community this week, or this month? Perhaps a way you can devote a little of what you do this entire year to a worthy cause? It doesn’t have to be monetary donations. Volunteer your time, or your talents, or organize a board who can tackle an issue. It’s what all the cool kids are doing now.

7. Try a strategic partnership.
Of course, this depends on your brand and what it does. But think about partnering with another (non-competitive) brand. How can your COMBINED offering serve your consumers in a way that you can’t now? And look for a partner who can benefit from what your brand does, too. Hint: think across categories for the really cool partnership opportunities.

8. Do a customer survey.
Do you know what your current customers/consumers think of your brand right now? Ever wonder what they would ask for if they could just get in front of the CEO? Just ask them. It may help you recognize some holes in your offering, and it may help your consumers form a stronger opinion of your brand, too.

9. Refresh your packaging.
Even if you’re not a “packaged good,” your brand is packaged in some way. What you call it, how you dress it, and how it gets delivered – all of these are “saying” something about your brand to the world. And if you haven’t done a refresh in at least five years, definitely give this some thought. It doesn’t have to be anything dramatic, like a full identity refresh, but maybe something simple that speaks to the times, like a typography refresh, or the addition of an icon. Maybe add some color.

10. Add or develop a new product or service, and then market it.
You already know a lot about marketing. But sometimes, things just are the way they are with your current brand, for various reasons. Why not launch something new? Even if it’s a spinoff, or a subsidiary, or a new variety, or a specialization of what you already do. Think about it as a brand, position it carefully, give it a great name, package the snot out of it, and then promote it. You get the added bonus of measuring your success from a zero baseline. It might even get you excited enough to try new products beyond that.

11. Hire a professional to review your marketing.
This is a tough one for a lot of companies. It’s like going to the dentist when everything is fine with your teeth. But if things aren’t going great, and they’re not going terribly, it may mean you’re just standing still. And eventually, that’s going to turn sour. It could be any kind of professional – a branding expert, a media pro, a designer. Just have someone tell you what they see from an objective point of view. Bonus: you don’t have to act on their advice if you don’t approve.

12. Hire an intern.
Even if you don’t need one. There’s a student out there who is desperate for some real-world experience, and they might just get it at your place of business. You get the added bonus of helping/mentoring someone, if that’s your thing. And if it’s not, you may be challenged just to explain your business, and how and why you do things, to someone who has never heard of you. (Hint: that can be very good for your brand in the long run, too.)

13. Expand your geography into a new/specific area.
If you’ve been saying to yourself, “boy we could kill in Topeka,” well, maybe it’s time to take a first step. Explore the competitive set, and see if your brand/service/organization could thrive in a new area, or with a new location. Besides, rents are great in Topeka.

14. Create some new (and valuable) content.
You can always use new, up-to-date content. Even if it’s something simple, like your instruction manual, or your how-to video. Technology is always changing, and techniques are always evolving. If your video is outdated, think about re-shooting for a 2020 look and feel. Take that intern you hired, and have him or her try to put together a valuable infographic that represents your business in some way. Then use your new content to help in your SEO refresh strategy. (Item #1 in this list.)

15. Do something face-to-face.
Put on an event. Run a seminar. Not sure how to serve your community (item #6 in this list?) Organize a charity golf outing, or a run, or a motorcycle ride to raise money for those in need. Find a way to contextualize your brand in a personalized way. Invite everyone – even your competitors.

16. Review your policies.
If you’ve got any kind of policy (payment structures, privacy statements, rules, etc.,) give it a refresh. These are the kinds of things that often get overlooked, because we think no one pays attention to them. But remember – everything about your brand is contributing to what people think of you. Every. Thing. Also, this is a great job for an intern!

17. Get rid of something that’s holding you back.
Maybe it’s that outdated policy. Or an old piece of equipment that you keep delaying to update. Maybe it’s your office space. Heck, maybe it’s your partner(s.) But it’s a new year, and you’re determined to take control of your marketing. So find the thing that keeps “getting in the way,” of your success, and get rid of it. Even if it means doing things in a new way, or changing some core componentry of your business. It might be “the thing” that pushes you forward this year.

18. Add a dash of technology to your business.
What could you automate, or integrate, in some way, to streamline your operations? Do you have an app? Could you increase productivity by moving software to the cloud? Could you use software to predict future needs or expenses to help you account more efficiently? Even if it’s as simple using software to schedule your social posts, adding technology into your day-to-day goings on can help your brand move forward.

19. Decentralize.
If you’ve ever said to yourself, “boy we could sure use more talent in this office,” you might be a candidate for decentralizing. While we all love the idea of personal interaction, the truth is that you can find amazing talent just about anywhere. Why wait for the perfect bookkeeper to move into your ZIP code, when he or she might be looking for work in Topeka? And since you’ve already decided to add technology to your business in some way, setting up your business to enable remote workers is a great way to start.

20. Review (or actually create) your marketing budget.
We love to talk about marketing, but we often hit the brakes right at the starting line, because “that’ll cost too much.”  Too many brands fail to budget for marketing in their strategic planning, and so every marketing opportunity seems like an “expense.” It’s not an expense.  It’s part of doing business.  Decide now that you’ll invest (a minimum of) 5% of your gross revenues to marketing.  You’ll be amazed at what you can buy with that.

Here’s wishing you a great, well-positioned, clearly articulated, successful year in 2020!

Gillette doubles down. And wins big.

A little over four months ago, I wrote a post about the “toxic masculinity” commercial released by Gillette. You can see that post here.

Now, Gillette is back with another ad, and all I have to say is BRAVO.

Bravo for deciding to CONTINUE to engage in an important national conversation about masculinity, and now about gender issues, and now about inclusivity.

Bravo for focusing on a narrow audience, and demonstrating that there’s room for all kinds of conversations around seemingly simple daily routines.

And bravo for – especially for – not abandoning the position the brand assumed in January. To do so would have been cowering, and cowardly. This takes guts at the highest levels of the brand, and it may very well alienate more people…but it’s an important statement at an important time.

In my previous post, I wrote that the “toxic masculinity” commercial was good, but that it stopped short of being great for various reasons, including:

“I wish this spot also involved gender and sexuality issues – toxic masculinity is especially reprehensible towards non-heterosexual males and the LGBTQ universe in general.”

And

“The real test now for Gillette is where they go from here. If they continue to embody this refreshed perspective, and if all their forthcoming ads are aspirational (where we show men aspiring to be better men, especially with and around their female counterparts,) and they continue to use their brand to inspire action and help shift attitudes, then we can look back and say, “See? This was the moment they became aware of who they were as a brand, and the responsibility they bare as a consequence.”

But if they don’t?

Then the market can have at them – and Gillette will deserve every criticism they will likely suffer, not to mention probably losing market share to a host of upstart razor companies ready to eat their lunch.

No pressure, Gillette. But the world is now watching. And you invited us all to the party.”

You can see the new ad here:

 

What some might be missing here is that this ad is NOT about a transgender’s journey, the “transition” as he calls it. (Although most detractors are focused on this singular point.) In fact, if you didn’t know the back story, you might miss it altogether.  The editing and the dialogue shroud this point just enough that it’s not jumping up and down and calling for attention.

This ad is really about teaching old dogs new tricks. And showing how those old dogs teach their offspring their old tricks. This ad is (quietly) a lot more about Dads than it is about their transgender children.

A man teaching his son to shave is an incredibly important milestone in the father-son relationship. (Irrespective of how that son identifies his own gender.) It signals so much about the passage of time, and ushers in an opportunity for the passing on of experience. [And yes, it’s also the perfect contextualized moment to introduce emotion into a discussion around promoting a specific shaving blade.]

One of the core tenets of advertising is “Show. Don’t tell.” In other words, don’t tell people how to use products. Show them how it works when you do. And similarly, don’t tell people how to be an accepting father. Show them what it might look like if you were.

Is it Gillette’s job to poke their noses into national behavior and tell men to accept their transgender children? No, of course not. But it is always a good policy to show how it can be done. Even in an idealized way. And this ad does that very well indeed.

There is a lot of divisive discourse in America today. As the lyric goes, we seem to be “stuck in a moment, and we can’t get out of it.” But it will pass, and it may even get a scant bit better. And maybe, just maybe, ads like this will be part of that transition. (See what I did there?)

Again, Gillette has us talking about these issues, and more importantly, talking about Gillette. That’s a win.

Bravo.

Super Bowl 53 Grins and Groans

Super Bowl LIII Logo

If you watched the national yawn that was last night’s Super Bowl, you already know there’s not much to talk about. Following an NFL season that set all kinds of records for offensive output, the game was the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in history. So yawn. The Maroon 5 halftime show, despite the lead singer removing his drapery-patterned tank top to reveal his monotone-tattooed midriff, was a nice opening act for a medium-sized dance club. Even the guest rappers didn’t elevate the performance. So yawn. Oh, and that team from New England, who apparently bought 90% of the seats in the house, won. Again. Yawn.

But perhaps the biggest yawns came at virtually every commercial break. For the third year in a row, the advertising at the Super Bowl was almost entirely unremarkable. With a few exceptions, the ads were mostly safe, predictable, and worse, platitudinous.

So here are your grins and groans.

A couple of themes emerged throughout the evening, and some of them are troubling. First, we absolutely have to stop equating Martin Luther King, Jr. with anything related to NFL football while the league (and the nation) wrestles with its own ability to formulate a realistic response to the racial inequality that Colin Kaepernick and others have tried so earnestly and intelligently to highlight. (Remember that Ram trucks tried it and failed miserably last year.)

Second, we have to get some context with the celebrities.  It’s great to have big names in your spots, but it really helps if they were relevant in the last, I don’t know, decade or so.  Li’l Jon for Pepsi, Bo Jackson for Sprint, Sarah Michelle Gellar for Olay doing her old horror movie stuff.  It just seemed like I was watching Super Bowl 43 by accident.

And what’s with the robots?  TurboTax, Sprint, and Michelob Ultra all featured robot characters, while Pringles gave a hat tip to Alexa-style AI and Mercedes-Benz touted its new AI in its new A Class.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Honorable mention to Bumble for their inspired and dead-on messaging with Serena Williams. “The world tells you to wait. That waiting is polite. But if I waited to be invited in, I never would have stood out. “ Perfect synopsis of Serena Williams and her meteoric career. And for a platform that is based on women making the first move, this is perfect copywriting.

HULU – Handmaid’s Tale season 3. The ad starts off with the familiar refrain of “It’s morning again in america,” the magical phrase written and narrated by advertising legend Hal Riney, which is an absolute dog whistle for any ad geek. It turned out to be a trick (and a good one) to get you to pay attention for the upcoming season of Handmaid’s Tale.

Stella Artois uses celebrities Sarah Jessica Parker and Jeff Bridges in their iconic roles as Carrie Bradshaw and Jeff “the Dude” Lebowski. They are both known for their particular choices in cocktails, and the ad shows that “changing can do a little good.” The reason I’ve added this in is that the ad also featured a previously-unreleased cameo from another famous beer drinker, “the world’s most interesting man.”

GRINS

Mint Mobile uses their basic positioning (wireless service for $20 a month,) and the typical consumer reaction of “that’s not right” to highlight something that is REALLY not right: “chunky milk.” The ad cuts to a commercial parody of a family enjoying chunky milk, which is gross, and funny, and camp enough to make the point. This is exactly what Super Bowl advertising should be: funny, weird, and super memorable. While I’m not sure about the nerdy fox mascot, I am sure that this spot got my attention.

Bubly is a new flavored sparkling water drink that comes in a variety of flavors. It’s bubbly, and the name is Bubly. And so who better to get to promote it than a guy named Bublé? Perfect. It’s funny. It’s simple.  And it’s smart.  A great deadpan performance by Michael Bublé feigning offense. And the best part? The name of the brand (if you include the Bublé mispronunciation,) is mentioned 11 times, along with several close-ups of the product. It’s Advertising 101 done to the highest order, and is probably the best all-around ad of the night.

My favorite spots of the night, however, came from T-Mobile. They went low-budget (not counting the $20 million+ media buy, of course,) with simple text messaging interchanges. The first spot features an exchange with Cathy. The texter (not sure if it’s a male or female,) simply asks “hey what’s up?” Cathy responds with a miles-long response about her life, and how she’s searching for meaning. If you read it through, it’s an absolutely hysterical rant in a very comedic and non-threatening way. And something we can all relate to.

T-Mobile followed it up with three more spots, including an exchange between a dad and his daughter, where the dad is texting the daughter, but is using his mobile phone like a search engine. Daughter responds “Dad, this isn’t Google!” (My guess is they underwrote some portion of this spot.)

Another features an exchange between a couple trying to figure out what’s for dinner THAT TURNS INTO A CO-PROMOTION WITH TACO BELL. And another between Mike and someone else that turns into a hysterical miscommunication THAT TURNS INTO A CO-PROMOTION WITH LYFT.

Again, this is simple, and funny, and entertaining enough to hold your attention throughout. And since the other wireless carriers were gallivanting off into honoraria of first responders and dredging up Bo Jackson, T-Mobile wins share of mind this year. A huge bounce-back from their letdown of last year.

GROANS

Weather Tech seems to have lost its focus. After coming on the scene a few years back, and making a simple statement about American-made quality, they made the mistake this year of trying to cram two ads into one with their new Pet Comfort products. Just bizarre, and unfocused, and not great advertising.

Bud Light seems to have lost focus also. For some strange reason, several of their ads chose to center on this notion of not including corn syrup in their beer. Which is fine, I guess. Except that several other beers don’t have corn syrup either. (And if you’re on Twitter, you found out in near real time.) And did they really do a Game of Thrones final season tie-in? Just weird. Especially for a brand that always seems to get it right, especially during the Super Bowl.

Speaking of weird beer commercials, Michelob Ultra Pure Gold missed the mark with their attempt to please .0002 percent of the population with an ASMR-inspired spot. ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridien Response, and gives some people a tingly feeling in their scalp and down the back of their necks when they hear certain sounds, like whispering.  So yes. They did a whole spot of whispering. During the Super Bowl. For the 42 people who have ASMR.

This is the third year in a row of wondering where the big spots were going to be. As the other 31 teams in the NFL say, “there’s always next year.”