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Ad People - You Will Laugh: "A Few Good Creative Men"

Hat tip: Jeff Brand Strategy and Identity Design

Election 2012: Commitment-Phobia

I'm a big fan of that show "The Millionaire Matchmaker" which used to run on Bravo. 

If you haven't seen it, every week Patty the Jewish matchmaker helped a socially challenged millionaire find "true love." 

The show was alternately agonizing and hilarious as we watched people who seemed functional in their professional life (mostly) let down their guard and reveal their personal variety of crazy. 

The natural conclusion from watching that show - it's amazing that two people can ever be together. And when a few couples really hit it off, that rare magic lit up the room.

I relate to Patty because I am Jewish, also raised in New Jersey, and my aunt is a part-time matchmaker for Orthodox Jewish people. My aunt thinks pretty much the same way as Patty.

In fact I think you can say that branding and matchmaking have a lot in common because what else are you doing but packaging a person so that another person will find them appealing? With the caveat that what's inside the package has to be real - otherwise the marriage won't last.

Most of the time when people approached Patty, there were three reasons they could not commit:

  • "Too crazy" - needed serious therapy.
  • The reality of commitment didn't work for them.
  • They weren't willing to settle. 
It's that last part that brings to mind Election 2012. I get the feeling that the marriage prospects here, on both sides - the electorate and the candidates - are not great. For all of the above reasons:
  • Serious therapy: Both political parties give the impression of being too extreme in terms of their influence on the candidates. My impression is that this has led a lot of people to declare themselves "Independent" or "Undecided" where normally they would clearly be on one side or the other. Frequently I find myself shaking my head at the things being said on both sides. Not necessarily by the candidates, but from a communication standpoint the supporter and the candidate are the same.
  • Commitment issues: I have a lot of demands in my life and I'm just a regular person. So I can understand if the candidates feel more pressure than a normal person can bear. But I can't ever remember an election where both of them seem weary during the campaign season. Is it me, or does it almost seem like neither of them want to be there, fighting this fight? The contrast between the candidates and their supporters points this up in a most striking way. You can love or hate Stephanie Cutter, but when she gets on camera defending the President, you can feel her energy and commitment and zeal. Same with Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan (the Republican communication types are not memorable enough for me to do a parallel comparison.) The energy should be with the candidates, and it doesn't feel there.
  • Don't Want To Settle: Do you remember that '80s show "Family Ties" with Michael J. Fox as Alex P. Keaton? How much he loved President Reagan? That's the kind of emotion people should be feeling for the candidates, but don't seem to. I can't tell you beans about President Reagan's policies, but I think rah-rah-rah at the mention of the name. Same with Hillary Clinton - I just want to do the happy dance at the thought of her ever running for President. Neither of these candidates generates a happy dance. Just that feeling of being tired - and like you're getting old - and like sometimes happens with single people, they choose the best one out there rather than be alone. (In this case, we have to choose.)
I guess at the end of the day, the bottom line is that you have to care. I feel like the candidates and the public do - but the difficulties are very great, and it's almost like we're in panic mode that we can't handle it. So we're getting numb. 

Everybody knows that the country has some serious challenges on its plate - to put it mildly. I don't think anybody feels like either candidate or either party has a monopoly on the answers. Or possibly, frighteningly, any real answers at all. 

This is not to say there are no ideas. The problem is that the public has to buy candidates' ideas in a set - not a la carte. And that ideology does not allow for the individualization that is mainstream America - the hyper-customized approach we need. Again, remember that we are people who can order fifteen thousand kinds of coffee with cream at Starbucks; we don't like a one-size-fits-all political approach. 

Furthermore, all of us are smart. We understand that ideas wrapped up in ideologies that become platforms and slogans are not a substitute for solutions. And during this frantic political season, what seems lacking most of all are people capable of being married. 

What I mean by this: Neither the candidates nor the public seem excited about the commitment this election represents. We're not going to get instant gratification either way; it's not going to be fun; and everybody is going to lose something based on the ideology and constituents each side represents.

May G-d grant us wisdom here...courage and the ability to see past old-fashioned thinking. So we can take care of each other, the most important priority of all.


Note: As always, all opinions are my own.

Presidential Debate as Word Warfare: 5 Observations

Here's my take on the October 16 debate. What did you notice?
  1. "Fight! Fight!" It looked like someone had coached the President to be more aggressive. This combined with the unfortunate physical setup - both the President and Governor Romney were free to roam onstage - led to a very close confrontation with hands upraised, aimed at one another. It did not seem personal to me, more like posturing, but the tension was too close. I noted that the President defused it by turning away. Either way, it seemed a bit out of control and I wondered what was happening. My sense was that Governor Romney felt besieged and cornered, and that he had to set the record straight; while the President felt pressured to show strength and appear forceful. It diminished both of them. I would not have lowered the candidates to the level of physically being so close to one another. Advice: Stand back. 
  2. Matching Pink Dresses: Did anyone else notice that the First Lady and Ann Romney both had a variation of the same dress? I felt like I was going to see this in Us Magazine over the weekend in the "Who Wore It Better?" section. The symbology was: Who's the better wife? Who's the more feminine? Who was going to rush the stage first after the debate. I also wondered whether someone had stolen notes from someone's fashion consultant. Advice: Dress uniquely but conservatively.
  3. "That's Offensive." When Governor Romney questioned the Administration on Libya, the President led with attacking the attacker. As CNN reported, the President used the same words when responding to accusations of leaking national security secrets. I also recalled (although I can't find the link on this) that Attorney General Holder used the same language while being questioned during his testimony about Operation Fast & Furious (acknowledged at the very least misguided; at worst a scandal). It brings to my mind in the movies when the cheating spouse, accused of cheating, says, "How dare you say that?" e.g., "That's offensive." The fact that I had this reaction tells me that responding to an accusation by saying "That's Offensive" is not the best communication tactic. Advice: Don't respond to an accusation by accusing the accuser. Say something positive instead about the good you have accomplished.
  4. Moderator as Participant: When Governor Romney accused the President of waiting two weeks to call the Benghazi incident a terror attack, the moderator corrected him. In fact he had referred to "acts of terror" in remarks the day after at the Rose Garden ("No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation.") This morning in Starbucks I overheard someone interpret this as Crowley jumping in to defend the President. Crowley herself, in a live interview on CNN after the debate, said the President had turned to her as if to ask her to correct the record. So she did, briefly, and then acknowledged Governor Romney's point, which was that there was indeed a two-week transition from an emphasis on the YouTube video to a full embrace (so to speak) of the terror narrative. This points up the issue of nuance. Did Crowley jump in because it was awkward, or because she is a reporter and technically Romney's words were incorrect? Did her interruption change the conclusion of the audience (either way) by making it seem the moderator was on the President's side? Advice: If someone misstates a fact about you, direct your objection to the moderator rather than to the audience in a manner that suggests you are concerned about accuracy.
  5. Numbers vs. Ideas: Governor Romney is clearly more comfortable in numbers territory. He used a lot of them, rapidly, fluidly. He was comfortable talking about functional benefits of electing him, like jobs and lower taxes. He was less comfortable articulating his ideas. Not because he lacked them - for example he talked about the two-parent family and work/life balance - but I think because the conservative Republican agenda is not viewed as mainstream. So he had to portray his idea platform in terms of economic benefit - e.g. that two-parent families end up costing society less. Versus the President was clearly less comfortable with numbers - using descriptive words like "sketchy" versus comparing and contrasting actual figures - but far more comfortable with ideas. Again, I think this is because most Americans agree with the broad concepts of equality, diversity, and helping the less fortunate as he outlines them. At the end of the day, in branding, emotional benefit tends to win out, but only if the functional benefit is credible; I'm not sure the President has that advantage. Advice: Stay with your strength but be able to frame your weakness at some level; don't focus only on a functional or emotional benefit. 
Disclaimer: This is solely a communication commentary, not a political endorsement or non-endorsement; all opinions my own.

5 Ways To Approach A Senior Executive

In response to my previous post on not wasting executives' time, somebody asked me how to approach one with a new idea. Here are a few tips.
1. Men - be assertive. Women - be aggressive. Executives don't realize how scary they are. Ask for their time. They won't kill you. I separate this by gender because women, especially older women, tend to be more insecure and indirect than men about promoting themselves. Women will work quietly in the background and hope someone discovers them. They won't. Watch the Katy Perry music video, "Part of Me." Be a Marine!!!!
2. Be positive. Executives hate negative. Remember they are surrounded by negative, they get criticism all the time, they are afraid themselves. Whatever it is, it's a good thing. (I could not use Sharepoint until I changed "workflow" to "playflow" in my mind. Words make a huge difference.)
3. Words before paper. Executives need to see your face, and hear your words, before they see a document. You can spend three years writing a dissertation on the paperless office only to find that some other shmoozer passed you by, got their ear, and got the credit. 
4. Research Your Target. Within appropriate limits, learn about the executive you are trying to reach. At a glance I can usually get the Myers-Briggs and partly the astrology. Learn about their cultural background, history, previous places worked, hobbies, etc. This is basic marketing. It is all about them, you have to speak their language not your own. For example I had another boss who loved dogs. I hate dogs. You know what? For many years I loved dogs. (I guess now she may learn that I hate dogs.)
5. Find Out Who Has The Keys. Are you reaching the right person? You don't have to knock down the executive's front door. Do they have a peer who is more accessible, who cares about what you care about? Are you able to get an appointment with the executive - are you on good terms with the people who work with and for them? You have to approach the executive as part of a network, not as an individual on their own.
Last piece of advice but probably the most important - some executives do not wish to be approached directly. Find out if that is the case and NEVER violate their space. Or you may find yourself in the headlights of that icy glare. Yes, it happens. No it is not fun.

How I Wound Up Buying $50 Worth Of Protein Bars From An Unknown Vendor: Lessons For Marketers

You reach people not with one tactic but by mastering many and partnering or at least getting close to companies that can help you reach your target.

Here's a quick case study illustrating how I wound up buying $50 worth of protein bars I had never heard of before (Green's+) from a vendor I'd never used before (

  • Step 1: Word of Mouth/Lifestyle: Couple of years ago, friend and I have lifestyle conversation and discover we basically think the same: libertarian, socially progressive, prefer healing foods and natural supplements. I recommend Puritan's Pride; she tells me about I don't do anything. The fact that a trusted friend who shares my values recommended this online vendor made me willing to buy there at some point in the future. 
  • Step 2: Impulse Buying/Timing/Appeal: This weekend I go out as usual and wind up at Trader Joe's in midday. They have everything tasty, ready-made, relatively natural. I'm hungry as I try not to eat in the morning. By the time I hit the checkout I am ravenous. There they sit: Green's whole food Protein Bars, $2.49 each, in a basket. I take one and tell her to charge me for it. They're good. I take 8. The fact that Trader Joe's had Green's+, and positioned them in an appealing way (a basket) at the right time (end of the buying process) made me buy them. 
  • Be The Default/Offer Value/Customer Service: I bring a Green's Protein Bar to work with me along with some ready-cut vegetables from Trader Joe's. I've discovered that given a choice, I'll choose the junk food at work; but if I pack healthier food in advance and it's sitting at my desk, I'm too lazy and cheap to buy the junk. The protein bar is so good I think that I want to buy a bunch online and try to get them cheaper. I visit which is my default, and find the bars are not all that cheap. I don't give up. The fact that is my trusted online vendor means that I head there first for everything. This is because of their outstanding customer service and the fact that I know I can compare multiple offers on one site. 
  • Be The Default/Search Engine Optimization/Offer Value: I head over to because that's where I search for everything and search for the protein bars. There it is, Not especially expensive or cheap, but cheaper than and I've heard of it. The fact that had been sitting in my mind for years, and was still there when I looked for it, made it look reliable. And the fact that it was near the top of the search results made it look credible. The price motivated me too.  
  • Coupon Codes and Freebies: At I find the bars, and there is free shipping over $40, plus a big discount for first-time buyers, and there is a coupon code online. Plus they have trial sizes and freebies so I feel like I'm getting a lot of stuff for not that much. I imagine myself healthier and feel like a virtuous shopper. They seem to have good vitamins, but I don't buy - Puritan's Pride has a better deal on that (last time I bought 2 and got 3 free). People like to feel like they're getting a bargain. If you add something on top of the bargain to sweeten the deal you've created a happy customer. 

The way I got here shows how marketers ought to reach the customer by thinking in a holistic, integrated way. People get from want to need to purchase on a complicated path. It involves not just one product or vendor but a family of trusted brands.

As in my experience, you don't have to actively partner with a complementary company to make this work - but imagine if you did!

Procter & Gamble is known for studying consumers in their natural habitats. But you have to go a step beyond and live their lives, if you really want to reach them.

The #1 rule of thumb in marketing: Always think from the customer's point of view, not yours.

Russell Peters Is So Damn Funny

Found this standup comedian on Netflix, Russell Peters.

His entire act basically consists of making fun of different nationalities as he compares and contrasts them.

Peters' parents are from India - he was raised in Canada.

He goes through the audience, picking out and interacting with other Indians, Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians, Jewish people, the Irish, on and on.

What I love about his show is the comedian's uncanny ability to capture an accent, an entire way of thinking, all the the most trivial things in their sheer political incorrectness.

What's even better is how the audiences are able to laugh at themselves, each other - all the things that in real life one cannot say and that tear people apart in the name of "don't disrespect me."

Comedy is like art in that only the truth works and I trust it for that reason. It is a difficult skill to master because it is so easy to let bias and self-consciousness and ego get in the way.

If you have a chance check out the show. It is intelligent comedy for a global era.