Heidi Klum Understands the Basics of Marketing

While I was at the Playboy Mansion interviewing Heidi Klum was as much of a mystery to me as anyone. I was working on a project to help the sport of bowling. My client had a bowling ball made with the famous Playboy bunny logo on it, hence the involvement of Heidi and the folks at Playboy.

One side note - I happen to have spent much time over the past seven years helping Ebonite International market bowling balls and other consumer products. The industry has a substantial problem: they are losing league bowlers. They have a dire need to grow the sport.

Anyhoo...Heidi (we are now on a first name basis) was perplexed at why I was agonizing over what to do. She thought the product was cool. My problem was I didn't understand how a simple ball design would make people want to bowl more. Help me Heidi!

"This ball can make people feel sexy," she said.

"Uh, sure Heidi. One problem. Bowling is not sexy. It's nachos, pitchers of beer, loud crashing noises and lots of other things. People do not think bowling is sexy."

"Well isn't that what smart marketing is supposed to do; make people think differently about something than they did before? If it were only about reinforcing current behavior we really would have no need to spend millions of dollars on advertising would we?"

Wow. So simple but so true. I had become so focused on the rules of engagement prescribed by years of marketing to "bowlers", that I was unable to look outside the norm.

Okay, for clarity, the above scenario did occur this week - in a dream. I guess between my work related activity in bowling and watching re-runs of Project Runway (it was with my wife I promise) the two topics fused together to create a really cool project work-start meeting in the Playboy Mansion.

Nonetheless, there's a cool lesson. As marketers, we can sometimes be bold just by changing the rules. There's a great book about this very idea called Beyond Disruption. It's all about identifying the rules of conventional thinking and creating methods for disrupting and standing out. That's the whole point of building a memorable brand!

Now I must dig out of this dream with my loving, beautiful and understanding wife Dolly.

The Secret Sauce for Achieving Advertising Rock Star Status Is Revealed Over Dinner With Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s Ryan Kutscher

Crispin Porter + Bogusky is hot! Real hot! They were recently named Advertising Age’s 2008 Agency of the Year to no one’s surprise. Unless you live under a rock, you’ve seen their work. They’ve been Burger King’s agency for the past several years and received some strong attention with their recent "Whopper Virgins" campaign and "sacrifice-a-friend" Facebook application. They have also recently produced work for Microsoft (Bill Gates & Jerry Seinfield), Volkswagon and Coke Zero (they were responsible for the Mean Joe green re-make in this year’s Super Bowl).

Recently, I had the opportunity to have dinner with one of CP+B’s Creative Director’s Ryan Kutscher, who works on the Burger King account. This was an opportunity to learn the magic of CP+B! I could take this knowledge, bottle it up and sell to the millions of advertising geeks looking to become famous over their big idea for marketing toilet paper. But before I reveal the CP+B secret, let me briefly describe Ryan Kutscher.

Simply put, Ryan is the rock star we all want to be. I picked him up at the Nashville International Airport. He was waiting for me in baggage claim when I arrived. He wore giant dark shades - the kind that cover up your entire face. Designer blue jeans with a huge belt buckle probably emblazoned with his latest creative award and some cool t-shirt that implicitly said, “I am one cool dude!” He stood well over 6 feet tall and carried the frame of a competitive body builder. Needless to say I was impressed. He fit the stereotype of the ad world's idea of a well-known agency creative director.

So back to dinner and my quest to learn the secret sauce of advertising greatness. I could practically smell the money I would make from the many speaking engagements and books deals that would soon follow. After a delicious coffee cured steak from Stoney River (if you haven’t had this you must try it) which Ryan and I both ate (no we didn’t share it), it was time to drink a glass of red wine and talk shop. No more waiting. Here it goes. “Ryan, what’s the secret at Crispin? How do you guys do what you do? How do you continue to do great work and get more big name clients?“

Ryan didn’t hesitate to answer. After all, it was engrained in his skull from years of Crispin training. “Man, I think some of it was being lucky.”

“Lucky?” I gasped. “Surely you guys have a Whopper-like special formula for creative success?”

Ryan kept the discussion pretty simple. To paraphrase, he said something like this, “To some extent I think the agency had a bit of luck in finding the right clients at the right time. Maybe that was one hundred percent planned. Not sure. I wasn’t there. What I do know is that the agency got an opportunity with TRUTH, and it turned out to be a great fit. The result was some really great work. Creatively, strategically and tactically it was really successful, really smart, and really different. That sort of began this momentum. MINI again just seemed to really click with the style of the agency. I’m not sure you can ever really know that’s going to happen like that. That’s why I say luck. And then there was BK, who I’ve been told, was widely considered one of the worst clients in advertising. Which is hard to believe, because I do have experience working with them. It was the first client I worked on, and now about 5 years later I can tell you, they’ve got to be one of the best. Luck again? Not sure. But, I think there was a little good fortune there.”

So that’s the secret sauce? A little luck? Wait a second. Perhaps the secret sauce is not a process. Perhaps it’s just a firm stance to be different and sometimes bold, regardless of the size of budget or how well known the client name is now. Anyone can create water cooler chatter over a Super Bowl spot for Budweiser using millions on production costs. Tomorrow’s rock stars are going to be made by the assignments and clients waiting to be popularized just like the Truth campaign. After all, that’s why they hire an advertising agency. Making them famous and creating fans are part of the job.

To end this blog, thanks Ryan. You taught me well and saved me from the embarrassment of buying an entire new wardrobe. I don’t need rock star jeans, cool shades or bulging muscles. I honestly don’t think they would have the same affect on me. Instead I’ll apply what we’ve all learned and relearned every few years as we watch another small agency rise to rock star status.

1. Do great work for our existing clients – NOW – using whatever budgets they give you. No excuses.

2. Push your clients to be unconventional in their approach to marketing. Big ideas that do this are why they are pay us.

3. Be willing to tell a prospect no if they are not willing to do #2.

I’m still buying a belt buckle.

Will 'Crazy Larry' Be Leaving Car Advertising? If not, at least one person gets it.

I was churning out some serious cardio mileage at the new fancy shmancy YMCA Nashville this past Friday. I was in a zone. No distractions could break me. Suddenly, my attention was seized by a TV ad for Action Nissan. It demanded my attention. It was so unusual and unique versus other car dealerships.

Here's the big surprise - there was no "crazy Larry" screaming his head off. No host showing off cute children assuming I'll be mesmerized into buying a car. "Gee, I get it. Your kids are cute so you must know a lot about cars?" No damsels tempting me to taste the forbidden fruit of great deals. No, the Action Nissan ad was unlike any other car advertiser of recent memory. It treated me like a smart consumer!

I have no idea who produced the TV commercials, but I guess that makes this less self-serving. Action Nissan actually stood out and created great awareness by being different (Marketing 101). Their message was clean, simple and informative (it was also nicely produced for whomever did it). Sure, they are pushing products like the next guy, but they didn't look like the next guy. I even went to their web site, and lo and behold, it reflected the same design and messaging as the TV spot. Continuity! What a glorious day it is! Hope is not lost. A change is coming in the world of marketing. Action Nissan is proof. And we can all be a part of it! Yes we can! Yes we can!