Advertising Thoughts, Copywriting, Marketing Thoughts, social media, Uncategorized

Why Seth Godin’s Rejection Email Was Better Than Most Acceptance Letters


Yesterday, my application to participate in Seth Godin’s summer seminar, “The Agenda Session” was denied. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little sad, because (as a marketer who believes that the acts and voices of businesses and organizations can be used for good and profound work) Seth Godin is my hero. I wouldn’t say that I was shocked when I read my rejection email, however. Only 15 people are accepted to the session every year, a lot of people look up to Seth Godin, and my application was a bit rushed because I wanted to be among the first to apply. All that said, I kind of saw it coming. But one can always dream.

People get rejected all of the time. From jobs. From people. From colleges and universities. What’s the big deal?

What was remarkable about this rejection (yes, his rejection email was worthy of remark) was how touching it was. We’ve all read the We regret to inform you‘s and Unfortunately you were not selected‘s time and time again. And typically we stop reading after we interpret that first sentence to the full intention of the communication. Not only that, but when we receive these rejections, whether it’s in response to a college application, job application or marriage proposal, it leaves a bad taste in our mouth about the organization/person that rejected you. Maybe Microsoft said you wouldn’t be a great fit for that role, so the next computer you buy is a Mac. Maybe USC said their MBA program was full, so you start rooting for the Sun Devils. Yet Seth Godin (as he is one to do) turned the common rejection letter on its head and found a way to create a personal connection with me through a presumably negative interaction. His rejection email was more moving than most acceptance letters and phone calls that I’ve received in my 27 years on Earth. It felt personal. It felt honest. It felt like Seth had called me into his office, closed the door, and with a solemn expression told me why I wasn’t going to get that promotion. And it built in me an even deeper and more profound level of respect for Mr. Godin.

The point is that we as marketers, advertisers and communicators often miss opportunities to create a stronger connection and greater engagement in these kinds of situations. Of course, we are all wonderful at celebrating the good stuff. That’s the easy part. But if you really want to stand out, we need to consider every touch point an opportunity to win more trust and more loyalty. If brands are becoming more like people every day, then think of your brand in terms of your best friends and acquaintances. Your acquaintances love to chat with you about the good stuff, the big stuff, the Super Bowl, the raise, the wedding. But only your best friends will sit down and have an honest conversation about the layoff, the troubled marriage, the loss of a loved one, the rejection from your dream job. That’s the conversation Seth just had with me, via email. And I’m a more loyal fan than ever, now.


Advertising Thoughts, Marketing Thoughts, social media, Uncategorized

The Rise of Experiential: Marketing’s Next Evolutionary Step


Experiential marketing is exactly what it sounds like. And yet it is so much more than anything consumers and marketers have been able to grasp yet. But some are getting close. Indeed, experiential marketing and advertising is creating a new level of consumer interaction that goes beyond selling products to consumers, but guides them along a path that is intelligent, intuitive and, well, the next step in the evolution of marketing sales.

Read this brief selection out of Darrell Rigby’s groundbreaking Harvard Business Review article, The Future of Shopping to get a better idea of what I’m talking about…

“It’s a snowy Saturday in Chicago, but Amy, age 28, needs resort wear for a Caribbean vacation. Five years ago, in 2011, she would have headed straight for the mall. Today she starts shopping from her couch by launching a videoconference with her personal concierge at Danella, the retailer where she bought two outfits the previous month. The concierge recommends several items, superimposing photos of them onto Amy’s avatar. Amy rejects a couple of items immediately, toggles to another browser tab to research customer reviews and prices, finds better deals on several items at another retailer, and orders them. She buys one item from Danella online and then drives to the Danella store near her for the in-stock items she wants to try on. As Amy enters Danella, a sales associate greets her by name and walks her to a dressing room stocked with her online selections—plus some matching shoes and a cocktail dress. She likes the shoes, so she scans the bar code into her smartphone and finds the same pair for $30 less at another store. The sales associate quickly offers to match the price, and encourages Amy to try on the dress. It is daring and expensive, so Amy sends a video to three stylish friends, asking for their opinion. The responses come quickly: three thumbs down. She collects the items she wants, scans an internet site for coupons (saving an additional $73), and checks out with her smartphone. As she heads for the door, a life-size screen recognizes her and shows a special offer on an irresistible summer-weight top. Amy checks her budget online, smiles, and uses her phone to scan the customized Quick Response code on the screen. The item will be shipped to her home overnight.”

Decades ago, these ideas would have seemed to come from some futuristic novel or movie, but now they seem all too real. Consumers can receive mobile alerts from their favorite brands when an item they might enjoy goes on sale. If it’s close to lunch time, consumers might receive a text message when wander within a 100 foot proximity of a restaurant they like inside a shopping mall or casino. With modern technology like smart phones, tablets, interactive maps and more, experiential marketing almost seems like a natural step. But it actually began in the 90s, and has taken off ever since. Unfortunately, however, few companies have taken advantage of modern technology to develop experiential marketing and advertising to the full extent that they can.

Let’s take a step back and ask an important question: What exactly is experiential marketing? According to Tyler Lacoma of Demand Media in his article What Is Experiential Advertising, it “uses modern forms of communication and interactivity to approach marketing from a different, more personal angle. It combines salesmanship with the ability to connect with consumers and give them something to encounter and interact with, rather than just see or listen to.” With such a broad definition, experiential marketing could include a wide array of advertising tactics. Indeed, when a consumer buys something from and they begin to receive recommendations of other similar items that they might like, would that fall under experiential? Most likely, yes. Amazon is interacting with their consumer using prior behavior to help them find something else that they might like, while also garnering increased revenue for their company.


That said, what is it that experiential marketing brings to the table that traditional and even newer forms don’t, beyond Amazon’s consumer history product matching? It is the deeper level of interaction that consumers don’t just prefer, but crave. With the invention of the loudest communication tool in the history of the world, social media, consumers desire to connect on a deeper level with brands than ever before. They don’t just want to buy the latest pair of Nike shoes, they want to post pictures of them to show their friends. They want their Nike+ mobile application, which comes free with their shoes, to show all of their peers how they are using their latest pair of Nikes to set a new personal record at their next 5K. And they want it all to be intelligently streamlined and easy to use while offering exciting and cutting-edge interactive capabilities. It’s about developing not just buyers, but followers. No problem, right?

Well, yes and no. The problem is that developing these experiential campaigns isn’t cheap, and the companies that have the budget for them don’t necessarily have the inclination. If traditional advertising has worked in the past for these successful organizations, then why do they need to spend all that time and money when their standard mix of television, radio and print are working just fine? Hell, they spent close to a million dollars to develop a cutting-edge website, what more do consumers want? Of course, that isn’t always the case. Many forward thinking companies like Nike, Amazon and Apple understand the shifting landscape of modern marketing. But even the ones that have made the leap into this new era of advertising aren’t finding it all fun and games.

While experiential marketing seems to have a great deal of promise for a new era of consumerism and interactivity, there are (as always) going to be some downsides. These intelligent systems, like the ones described in The Future of Shopping are sure to lead to some Big Brother-esque fear of intrusion. Just how much is too much in terms of what a company knows about you? Or, how much communication is too much? Sure, the intelligent offerings created for our fictional character Amy were a blessing for her, as she clearly enjoys shopping and had a need for a product ASAP. But what about the millions of other consumers who give a bit of personal information at the register or online in order to get the initial 10% discount, but don’t want to be pestered every day about a new pair of shoes that just went on sale?

As the term “experiential marketing” indicates, those who are participating are creating a unique brand experience. It makes the buying process easier, more intuitive and more fun for their consumers. But like any new paradigm, there will certainly be kinks to work out. Not everyone who buys a pair of Nike shoes wants to be part of that community. Maybe they just want to go for a jog in peace. So there will be trial and error, of course. The right experience needs to match the right brand, and perhaps even more importantly, the right consumer. The last thing we can do is assume that everyone wants to join the cult of your company. Many will. Others won’t. And that’s okay. But either way, this is a very exciting new level of marketing that we should all be considering in our next campaign.

Advertising Thoughts, Marketing Thoughts, social media, Uncategorized

Why Red Bull’s Advertising Makes Me Want to Jump Off a Mountain (In a Good Way)

We all remember those old Red Bull television commercials. You know the ones I’m talking about. Shaky cartoon. Innuendos everywhere. Odd banter between strange characters. And the fact that we remember them speaks highly of the advertising, or budget, or both, of Red Bull. But over the last few years, Red Bull has somehow managed to make a fluid transition from cheesy oddball commercials to extreme, life-inspired viral videos that have swept the world off its feet. Their new video efforts have even earned them comparisons with the glory days of Nike advertising. Indeed, Red Bull has made its way from corny side conversation to extreme sports enthusiast. We see Felix Baumgartner plastered in Red Bull gear leaping from space. We see people in squirrel suites (so I’m told they are called) zoom mere feet above the sharp treeline of a tall mountain. We see surfers thrashing across perilous waves. And you know what? It’s actually really cool. My wife may kill me, but I think I’m going to have to try that “squirrel suit” jump in the near future.

Type “Red Bull advertising” into Google and you’ll get results like Red Bull as Adweek’s Ad of the Day, a Mashable article entitled “How Red Bull Takes Content Marketing to the Extreme” and AdAge talking about a Red Bull video catapulting to the top of the chart. AdAge even named Red Bull’s historic 120,000 foot free fall from space video as the best integrated campaign of 2012. But why did this transition happen?  And has their strategy worked?

After doing some digging, I learned that the “cartoon” advertisements that we all knew and, well, maybe liked, had been aired “for 23 years in 160 countries” (Beuker, 2010). Red Bull had been sponsoring extreme sports for quite some time as well, but their brand identity did not really reflect that. Enter: The digital age. In a Fast Company article by Teressa Iezzi that ranks the Red Bull Media House as the world’s 29th most innovative company, Iezzi describes how Red Bull was able to capitalize on their vast knowledge of extreme sports by creating videos and selling them online. But it wasn’t until they realized that this extreme sports lifestyle was really the DNA of their brand that they made the decision to transition their advertising away from the cornball cartoon ads, and more in the direction of Nike-esque advertising.

And has it paid off? According to Yahoo Finance, Red Bull maintains a 40% market share in what is understood as one of America’s fastest growing industries (projected 86% growth over the next five years). But what’s more important is how ingrained this company has become in the very extreme culture it has supported for so many years. Oh, and let’s not forget the huge revenues they are making off of these amazing videos. According to Iezzi, they spent just $2 million on a video that went on to reign “atop iTunes’s sports, documentary, and overall movie sales charts for a week, at $10 a pop” (2012).

So what do you think? In my opinion, Red Bull is the coolest energy drink company in the world. But, I also drink a combination of Rockstars and Mosters on a near daily basis. To be honest, I haven’t had a Red Bull in years. So is a positive opinion as important as an actual sale? Has Red Bull’s immersion into extreme culture through iconic videos and historically extreme events (think 120,000 foot free fall) persuaded you to buy a Red Bull? Or, perhaps more importantly, has it changed your image about their brand? Something is obviously working for them. All I know is I love their marketing.

Oh, and for old time’s sake, here’s one of the cartoon style Red Bull ads, which they are still coming out with from time to time.

Advertising Thoughts, Commentary, Copywriting, Marketing Thoughts

The Art of Perception

I was fortunate very early in my career to learn a great lesson about a simple, yet extraordinary phenomenon called perception. I had been out of college for about two years and was still honing my craft as a copywriter. I had even become confident enough in my abilities to add that title to my resume without ever having gone to … Portfolio School (gasp!).

I was lucky. But to tell this story fully, I must, indeed, go back two more years. I landed an internship at a good agency just a few months after graduating from a state university in the generic concentration of Advertising. The internship wasn’t on the creative side. I was actually mostly working on research and coffee runs for the account team. But, when I told them why I was really there, they gave me a shot, I impressed them with a few headlines, and the rest is history.

Now, back to the original story. It’s already starting to feel a little too Midsummer Night’s Dream in here, anyway. I was a full-fledged copywriter with a couple of years and recommendations under my belt, and a friend of mine was interested in putting my skills to use. This person worked at another advertising agency. This person was not a copywriter. But, this person had been asked to write a newsletter for one of their clients. This person, in turn, asked for my help.

I wouldn’t be paid for this, because this person wanted their agency to think that they wrote the piece, thus “wowing” their clients and superiors, winning the Most Awesome award and being carried out of the office on the shoulders of their peers for having the amazing ability to both write and account exec (Ya, I’m using “account exec” as a verb).

I didn’t mind. Hell, at that stage in my career, any chance to hone my skill was an opportunity I would jump at. Now, of course, I still would, but there’s usually going to be a price tag attached.

So I wrote it. It took me about five hours. But I wrote it. And guess what happened. This person’s superiors hated it.The page bled in edits. Red replaced black as the majority. Scribble superseded Times New Roman.

This person asked me, “What happened?” I said I didn’t know. I thought it was good. Maybe not my greatest work ever (Does anyone love writing newsletters, after all?), but it certainly should have done the job for a newsletter that would likely be read by a subscribing audience of no more than seven.

So the edits were made. The superiors were satisfied when few of the original words on the document remained. The clients were satisfied when the superiors advocated it. And everyone was happy. Except, this was a monthly newsletter. This process was going to come around in another 30 days. And what then?

Well, I had done some freelance work for this agency in the past. I was currently working at an internal marketing department for a very niche product, so there was absolutely no conflict of interest … Just in case you were wondering. Ironically, the agency reached out to me the following month to write the succeeding five page newsletter. The same young copywriter that they had thrashed and stained in red the month prior. I hesitantly agreed, knowing that this was an opportunity to learn and grow. And make some extra money, of course.

So I wrote it. Again. And again, it took me about five hours. And you know what happened this time? They loved it. A resounding, unanimous acceptance, without edits, of the golden god of newsletters. It was perfection in local publishing. It was heaven on paper. I could hear the applause from my office on the other side of the city. No edits needed. No changes required. A masterpiece. They showed my friend, the one who had initially solicited my help, stating “This is how a newsletter is supposed to be written.”

I am sure that a small part of that person wanted to spill the beans, if not walk from superior to superior kicking everyone in the  “beans”. But I think at that moment, this person realized the same lesson I learned when I got the news. Perception means a whole hell of a lot.

I pride myself on learning from past mistakes, writing or otherwise. But there is no way that over the course of one month, I could have gone from writing a newsletter that was about one more edit away from becoming garbage, to a beacon on which all other newsletter should strive to resemble. The decision-makers of this ad agency saw the first newsletter and were prepared to see a flood of writing errors and missed voice attributes, because it was coming from someone without specific experience in copywriting. And because that is what they expected, or perceived, they found the errors they were looking for, and then some. A self-fulfilling prophecy.

When they looked at the second newsletter, they expected a certain level of greatness. One, because it was coming from a copywriter, not one of their Account people. And two, because they paid a freelance fee for it, and wanted to validate their expense.

Perception means everything in the world of consumer marketing and advertising, as well as B2B. What does your customer think of your company and does what you are saying about your company match up with their perception? “Think Different” worked for Apple, because they had always portrayed themselves as the outlier to the corporate big brother of IBM and Microsoft. “Just Do It” worked for Nike because their customers are athletes, and that’s exactly what they want to do, and need to be told sometimes. But if you were just another clothing store on the corner, “Just Do It” and “Think Different” would make no sense, and a pair of the greatest taglines ever would have been wasted.

I’ll give you another example. Stephen King, the world’s most renowned horror author of all time was rejected by over 30 publishers before someone decided to back Carrie. King went on to a successful career that continues to horrify and captivate audiences, from paperback to big screen to Amazon Kindle tablets. But for a brief period, King wanted to find out if he really was as good as people thought he was, or if it had all just been a fluke, and was now being carried by his name alone, and not his quality. So, he penned novels under the name Richard Bachman. The secret didn’t last long, but King found, much to his delight, that he sold nearly as well, and the quality of his writing was, at least in large part, the reason for his continued success. But, it was the perception of his fans that he wanted to test. And it could have just as easily failed. If it had, it would have proven my point in a much stronger fashion, but you get where I’m going with it.

Cool begets cooler. Smart begets smarter. Fun begets excitement. Building perception in a forward direction is like rolling a rock downhill. As long as your product, and the perception of your consumer matches up, your success will be imminent (as long as that perception isn’t shitty).

Shifting perception is another beast altogether. Volvo is still considered the safest line of automobiles in the world, when, in fact, they are no longer even ranked in the top ten, as far as safety is concerned. But I won’t get into that right now. Shifting perception, as I said, is a whole other beast.

Just remember the importance of perception. It affects everything. You. Your brand(s). Your work. Your friends. Your family. Find a way to use it to your advantage, and realize when it is working against you. Once you take perception into account, you’ll find a lot of formerly unanswerable questions become much simpler.

Advertising Thoughts, Copywriting

Why All Copywriters Must Be Zeitgeists

–noun German . the spirit of the time; general trend of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period of time.

Politics. Pop Culture. Social Trends. Technology. Guess what, copywriters, we’ve got to be up-to-date on all of these things.

There is a difference between being a writer and a copywriter. Writers need an imagination, a firm grasp of the rules of language, and knowledge of one particular subject (ideally, the subject they are writing about). Copywriters also need those traits, but we also must be zeitgeists. We must be comedians. We must be political pundits. We must be tech-savvy experts. We must know public opinion on movies, fashion, health care, cars, and anything and everything else going on in the world around us.

Fortunately for us copywriters, I think that is part of the reason we got into this business. If it wasn’t we’d be writing screen plays, novels or newspaper articles. But we love the variety. We love knowing what’s going on about ALL things at ALL times. We’re inquisitive almost to the point of being nosy. We’re like journalists without the AP style requirements or the ethical, objective code. We write about what we want to write about. Okay, maybe not. We write about what our client and creative director want us to write about.

Point is: Stay attuned, stay abreast. Know what’s going on. About everything. I’ve come to realize that the biggest positive feedback in my writing always comes from my timely and culturally relevant quips.

When I took 2nd place in my school’s humorous writing contest, people always said their favorite part was when I joked about the iPhone. This was in 2008, so it was big news at the time. My piece was about airport waiting areas … and people loved the bit about the iPhone. At first it didn’t really make sense. It certainly wasn’t my favorite part of my comedic story. But then I realized that it was relevant to the time. And it all made sense.

I love knowing a little bit about everything, and I guess that’s the key. Be a know-it-all without the annoying attitude. There aren’t many areas in which I’d say I’m an expert, but I do know the basics of a lot of things. And it helps me so much in my writing. It’s just a necessary part of being an advertising copywriter.

Advertising Thoughts

Forget the Steak & the Sizzle … Sell the Status

steak sizzling

Why in the world would someone buy an $80 Lacoste polo when they could get the same exact thing at Ross for $10? Why do women love to see that “C” on their bag when they know their significant other will have to spend half his paycheck on it? Why buy a Lexus when Toyotas are made from the same parts? Answer: Other than the fact that the crocodile looks pretty cool … Status.

When we write copy for products that are high end, the challenge can be to make it sound luxurious, without sounding like you’re trying to make it sound luxurious. Naturally better. Innately superior. Routinely premium. And that’s how it’s got to come across.

I made this mistake with one of the first clients I ever got to write live copy for. It was a resort chain in Mexico that offers high-end time shares in the most exotic Mexican locations. Being young, I thought the best way to convey luxury was by saying it . . . repeatedly. After a resounding “Try again” from my Creative Director, I thought a bit more about it. How do you say luxury without saying luxury?

To this day I sometimes struggle with this issue. I’ve always responded to advertising that is creative yet straightforward . . . but I’m also not in the “luxury” bracket yet. From all my research and study, rich people want to know and be told that they are rich . . . but subtly. And that’s what I figured out on my second draft of my magazine ad for this luxury timeshare resort.

When you are selling anything that isn’t in the bottom rung of its industry, you want to tell your consumer how it’s going to make their life better. Short-term . . . maybe. But how is this product going to make them feel better and look better to their peers for good.

If your consumer buys your car, will their boss respect them more? Any car has horsepower or MPG these days. But what are their friends going to think? Their superiors? What about that candy bar? Will your consumer be the envy of their class when they pull it out of their backpack? Will the teacher get mad because of how distractingly good that candy bar is for the rest of the students?

Here’s the goal. Sell the steak. Sell the sizzle. But for brand loyalty, sell the status.

Advertising Thoughts, Commentary

Banner Ads Have Indirect, but Legitimate Value

I’m starting to think that online banner ads are indeed quite valuable in brand promotion. Not because there is value in the click-thru-rate, and not because these banner ads will directly lead to conversions, but because, like billboard advertising, banner ads keep brands in top-of-mind awareness.

The last exact statistics I read put banner ads at around a 1% click-thru-rate … Not good when an advertiser is paying per impression.  I have heard something to the effect that with recent developments, interactive banner ads, better design work, and altogether more interesting ads, click-thru-rate has gone up. But I don’t have exact data to back that up right now.

So, based on a 1% click-thru-rate, and based on paying for all 100% of users who see a banner ad, an advertiser would metaphorically, if not literally, crap his or her pants to see the direct ROI from said banner ad. But, it is my belief that the true profit and ROI from banner ads come from indirect conversions.

What does that mean?

People are inundated with advertisements from the moment they open their medicine cabinet to pull out their Crest toothpaste in the morning until they take their last sip of Aquafina before falling asleep at night. Branding, advertising and promotions are happening constantly. Some are small and hardly noticeable while others are more eye-catching. Banner ads, while comparatively smaller than ads on the outside world, take up a huge amount of real estate on the small screen. They are the billboards of the web. And like billboards, there is not often going to be direct response involved with a banner ad, but rather a thought-change, an idea-shift, or simple top-of-mind-awareness as a result.

So while the CFO of your company will be a very hard-sell on the idea of indirect conversions through online banner advertising, do your best to explain that it’s on the soft sell side of web marketing, along with social media. Now, when we get into retargeting or event promotion through banner ads … that is a different story altogether.