Friday, September 25, 2009

Strategists are Method Actors

Strategists are method actors. I know a lot of you highbrow types are scoffing at this headline. "I'm not acting -- it's real immersion into the brand." No, you're acting. Here's how I know:
Yesterday I had three presentations, yes, t-h-r-e-e, on three very divergent brands: a hospital that specializes in quaternary care (that's medical jargon for serious stuff), a well-known franchise pizza brand, and a very large destination fashion brand. And it was my birthday. Oh, AND, to make it all a bit more pleasantly pressure-filled, because everyone knows I love a good challenge, it was my turn to host "Breakfast Club" at the agency -- a monthly agency-wide, themed breakfast for 60. Themed. Breakfast for 60. Birthday. Three presentations.

Getting a sense of the challenge?

I can't begin to tell you what Monday-Thursday looked like. Our shop went into mind-warp. There were papers flying, random people I've never seen before running around, food being delivered non-stop (Pitching clearly makes the average creative department hungrier. Imagine cubing that hunger). My desk was piled so high with studies, reference manuals, version 1 of deck 1, version 16 of deck 2, version 4 of deck 3...and don't forget the birthday card signed by the entire agency and those random guys running around helping this week. It was crazy. There was only one thing that got me through -- method acting.

First, Friday morning I wake up at three. I head downstairs and make the largest pot of coffee man has ever brewed. I head to the shower to prepare for my Mad Men-themed Breakfast Club. Yes, we had also decided to channel our Sixties brethren. There was a very complicated french-twist hair-do planned, because this is what every head of marketing I was presenting to that day was hoping I'd spend time doing -- a Sixties glamour-do and breakfast for 60. I looked good. Then I did this. Off I go to the grocery store to buy breakfast...oh, right, I hadn't bought anything for anyone to eat yet. Now it's 6 a.m. I'm in my sixties frock, rockin' my Betty hair, practicing my pitches in the car, warming up care of Borat (see video link above)...and I remember I just left the house without saying good-bye to my family. Remember, it's my birthday and I have young children that think my birthday is as important as theirs, that we must hold hands, dance around, celebrate and go to Build-a-Bear. Maybe they forgot and there won't be a meltdown for my husband to deal with. Onward...

Three Keynote presentations completed and loaded onto the Mac. Check. Call to make sure conference room prepped. Check. Mini pigs in a blanket. Check. Fake cigarettes. Check. Not clinically insane yet. Check.

Here's where the acting comes in. Before every pitch I do this thing. This breathing thing. I don't think anyone else notices, but it calms me down and opens the file in my brain where all the cultural information is stored about the brand and the thinking I am about to present. I channel the brand culture. And we all do it. If you're a strategist or creative type reading this, you know you do it, too. You adopt the personality of the brand. You talk like it, dress like it, adopt its physical mannerisms, allude to relevant cultural icons and purposefully avoid conversations that don't play into the scene. We method act.

I've come to realize throughout my career this is what makes us good at what we do -- in order to understand deeply the issues and opportunities of a brand, we must immerse ourselves in the brand culture. We must become a part of its DNA. And only then, after we feel it, physically feel it, can we begin to think about it, can we offer guidance and concept creative. So often, we jump into creative thinking without deep experience. I'm not talking about research. I'm talking about seeing the joy of a brand in a consumer's eye. Hearing the way men argue about a brand's worth. Smelling the air outside a store. Touching the fabric on a chair inside. Our brands are human. We have to experience them physically to present their worth completely.

Great presentations are channeled through relevant, compelling and honest brand culture. Every presentation demands a different tonality filtered through the truths of the brand. When we see brands as people, it's easier to adopt their expression, lexicon and belief system. And we owe this to them.

Become a brand before you speak on its behalf. Just try not to do it three times in one day. On your birthday. Dressed as Betty Draper.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Creativity and Politics

Obama controls the creative product. Don't believe me? Have a look at history, particularly 1950 through 1960, when America lived through a similar political environment. The Bush administration representing 1950s McCarthyism secrecy and Cold War propaganda and the Obama administration representing the crucial 1960 switch to modern influence and creative expression. We are teetering on this brink of creative expressionism right now. How we use it as creatives is key. First the history lesson, care of Al Filreis thinking and Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States:
During the early 1950s there was a clash of militant economy and socialist idealism. A desire among conservatives to hold steadfast to the prosperous war economy where industry and war manufacturers saw global growth juxtaposed with a desperation among liberals to institute a new, inwardly-focused, secure life for the people. Zinn called this a reliance on a "permanent war economy." This is the division so tangible now. Bush-era control of the people and the spread of fear supplanted with Obama idealism, radical financial programming and fearless, open globalism.

Now, in advertising, we see a similar shift. Our creative community is going through this very same change. Traditionalists, or oldster advertising models, some whom held to the past and even instituted campaigns around the fear of the unknown are being replaced by seemingly radical visionaries -- actionable new thinking -- true digital leaders. The division is so tangible. Either heels planted firmly in the ground, or shoulders leaning forward into the wheel. There is no creative centrism. You're either there or not. You're either a living futurist or a faithful traditionalist.

The crowdsourcing debate of late led by creative folks such as Alex Bogusky, Edward Boches, and Crowdspring founder, Ross Kimbarovsky (now that's a commie name for you, McCarthyists!) is a key example of the virulent debate. Fear of change vs. belief in change. There will be a growing audience of believers -- think Kennedy's Camelot aura. The dream for us, however, is radical creative. A belief in possibility. An open creative environment. Agencies and clients working together to reach the moon. 1960. 2009.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Is Facebook Irrelevant?

Could it happen this fast? Is Facebook dead? Certainly there have been reports of the end of the youth movement there. And early in 2009 Time officially claimed the "old fogies" have ruined Facebook. It's not the application or audience that is wearing on me, but rather the platform. It's cumbersome and time-consuming -- and s-l-o-w. More importantly, for marketers, it's not as portable as Twitter for driving traffic to retail. And we haven't even touched on content yet...

It is not a place for thoughtful exchange. It's definitely a place to learn when your colleague has a headache and is going to bed early, that your high school acquaintance can't decide what to eat for dinner and your former colleague once liked to drink heavily with guys in Greek-lettered t-shirts. It's definitely a great place for ethnographic research of the mass consumer audience, or to learn about the daily lives of old fogies.

What's bothersome to me as a marketer, is the lag of industry understanding of the platform's irrelevance to the youth set. Most marketers still think it's a place to speak to young people. And, yet, statistics show anything but that: reports from July 2009 show college and high school user rates dropped by 20 percent, while the grey-haired audience increased by 513 percent. Yes, 513 percent. Great news for AARP, bad news for MTV.

Facebook is losing relevance certainly for millenials, but also for people who want to converse. It's become a warehouse of memories. Which is wonderful -- and needed--especially for those folks losing their memory. And it can exist beautifully like this for...ever. My argument is that it is no longer a place to market to youth. And it is no longer a place to have meaningful conversations. For that, go to Twitter. Seriously. Here's my handle:@gretchenramsey.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Here Comes the Sun

Pantone just released its Spring 2010 Color Report (Fashion Home ) in time for yesterday's opening of Fashion Week in NY. Color themes for the spring include warm brights paired with neutrals. Slightly peachy, brown undertones appear in all -- even the classic navy of spring is warmed up a notch.

What was most intriguing from the report was the influence of travel on designer's interpretation of color. Destinations such as Istanbul, Japan, London, Morocco all inspired colors of the collections showing this week.

As well, fantasy seems to be playing a role. Obvious escapes such as the beach and the reliable fashion inspiration of "safari" were cited by designers. On the more playful, whimsical front, movement influenced designs cite Degas ballerinas and the Mad Hatter's tea party as sources of inspiration.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ellen DeGeneres replaces Paula Abdul and becomes American Idols’ new 4th judge!

Ellen DeGeneres replaces Paula Abdul and becomes American Idols’ new 4th judge! It's true. Amazing move on the part of the producers. And it gives the DeGeneres brand access to the millions of prime time consumers that aren't exposed to her by day. Super smart. Now, I wonder if Kara will have to take on the "crazy one" role. Or has she already...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fashion Thought Leadership

J.Crew is pushing hot and heavy towards owning America's fashion thinking. A few months back the brand brought Jenna Lyons, SVP of women's design, out of the closet in a big way to lead the brand's style conscience and move product.
The "Jenna's Picks" campaign pulls together elemental pieces for the season -- the must-haves -- for the J. Crew lover and serves them up in simple block-like guides sent through email or plastered like a shining shrine to commerce behind the counter at any J. Crew store. The issue, or clever marketing move, is that not all J. Crew stores are carrying all of Jenna's picks. So the J. Crewaholic must go to the larger, "better," J. Crew to access the product immediately, before it's all gone! Brilliant, really.
Jenna is on a media tour, educating the masses on the whimsical J. Crew style. And her advice is good. Simple and direct. A "do this, not that" approach to dressing. Here are her tips for men's dressing:
(By the way, in full disclosure, I just bought a ton of stuff from J. Crew for Fall. You'd think I'd be above the marketing machine. Damn.)
Rules of Style: J.Crew's Jenna Lyons
The creative director on vintage watches, slim jeans, and the horror of pleats
By: Men.Style.Com
May 27, 2009
  1. There's nothing sexier than a blazer, a tie, and jeans. And yet most men can't put it together; they either end up with a suit and tie or jeans and T-shirt. Try taking half from one look and half from the other. Chances are you'll get something a little bit cooler.
  2. Men don't shop enough. Being current has everything to do with finding the place you want to shop, whether it's J.Crew or Tom Ford. You have to get off your duff and get out there, because styles evolve. Certain things are classics and they do stay, but men need to keep updating their wardrobe, because change is subtle. For example, denim is getting slimmer. If you're wearing jeans from two years ago, they probably don't look current. Get a new pair of jeans.
  3. Overplucked, overdone men are frightening to me. Women want a man who looks like he takes care of himself but doesn't look like he thinks about it more than she does.
  4. A pressed shirt signals work mode. But a washed-cotton shirt automatically makes you feel more touchable, more approachable. It's effortless. However, if everything is washed—that's not interesting. When washed is paired with a blazer and a tie, it looks amazing.
  5. Most men don't have a clue about tailoring. They hate to ask for directions and they hate to ask if something looks good on them. Learn to ask the salesperson. Ask a woman. Great tailoring always makes guys look better.
  6. Get dressed, then change one element. With a suit, wear a pair of Converse, or take off your dress shirt and put on a chambray button-down instead. You can also do the reverse. Try khakis rolled up with wingtips. Tweaking one thing is an easy way for guys to modernize an outfit, even if they don't know what the hell they're doing.
  7. Three subjects are off-limits to my husband: my mother, my ass, and my age. The worst thing you can do to a woman is to make her feel like she's not beautiful anymore. The best thing is to pay her a compliment.
  8. What women notice are the shoes and the watch. Go for understated elegance, whether it's a vintage Rolex or a classic Timex or a watch that was your grandfather's. It's the same with shoes. I love a pair that look like they've been resoled 10 times.
  9. A giant shirt is not cute. If it feels overly comfortable, it probably doesn't look so good. A simple fit test is to check your shoulder seam. It's designed to be on your shoulder line—not somewhere near it.
  10. We don't need you to be perfect. What we do need is for you to look a little bit more pulled-together. And no pleats, please, not ever, ever, in your life. Ever.

Friday, September 4, 2009


In 2001, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was a client of mine at MRM Gillespie. The Port managed the World Trade Towers. Part of our job for the Port was to promote the Towers -- to drive traffic there -- make them more of a destination. They wanted the everyday worker and families of Lower Manhattan to visit more, shop the retail stores, enjoy lunch there. Throughout the summer we promoted a live music luncheon series that took place between the two towers; we also held a children's festival for Lower Manhattan between the towers. A few weeks prior, my son, husband and I were there enjoying the space, the silence, the beauty. Looking up at the beautiful sky framed by the soaring spires and stretching up with them to the sky. That was August.

On the morning of September 11, I boarded the New Jersey Transit Train on my way into the City. For some reason my credit card wouldn't work. The portly fellow at the Trenton Train Station I've chatted with many mornings for years said he is having trouble connecting -- the credit cards aren't working. I took my bags and headed down the stairs to the platform. I think I have cash. Yes, cash. Ticket. Perfect. We started on our way. Then stopped. And waited. And waited. Something's wrong. Reverse. Please get off the train. Take your belongings. Get off the train. We are not approved to go in to New York. When? We're not certain. When will we know? They won't answer. There's no communication. Back upstairs. I could hear the hearts beating.

Everything poured out slowly like a gentle, flowing surreal dream. The sun streamed through the large windows. A crowd gathered around a small TV with a wire-hanger antenna shaped like a diamond. "What is it?," I say to a young, brown-haired man with a tattered leather briefcase. "What's going on?" He doesn't look at me. "Look. It's the Tower." Through the fuzzy screen I see the tower smoldering. I reach out for it. Someone looks at me to see if I can help. The man with the tattered briefcase answers his phone. "We're under attack," he says. "They just bombed the Pentagon." I go back to the TV. I have to focus there. My head is having trouble. I hear my name. It's been an hour. I hear my name again. My husband is running across the train station. He looks panicked. "You're here," he says. "Thank, God. You're here." "Something's going on with the Towers. We've got to go." We head home.

We have a large screen TV at our house. It was way too big for the room. The Towers fill my den. There is smoke everywhere. I try calling work. I can't get through. I try calling. I can't get through. I'm holding my husband's hand tightly. And then it goes. The South Tower explodes into a ball of gray. What is happening? No! I'm screaming. No! No! I reach again for the TV. I try to hold it up. I try to hold up the tower. My face is wet. Tears are streaming. No! My son is so confused. "Mommy, are you OK?," he says through Peter Jennings voice. I hear him, I do. But. I can't speak. I run to the bathroom and get sick. I can't breathe.

Several hours go by. They're gone. The towers are gone. Burning. I stare at the screen -- my shirt is wet. Where is everyone? I get a call finally from work. We have to get emergency messaging together for the families of the Port Authority. The entire media relations team was in the building. I sit down to write. "All families of Port Authority employees please call the hotline for information." I call the TV stations. Give them the correct number. They were all in the building.

Two days ago, I saw DDB Brazil's ad for WWF. I lost my breath. A nightmare. All those planes. The rumbling. I felt myself reaching for the City again. I got sick. Again.

We all get the point. The tsunami was immense when comparing the number of lives lost. But this is too close for us. We lost colleagues, friends, family members. The images are too powerful. For those of us close to the City, for those of us who lost people, for those of us...for all of us...the images are too powerful. They weren't just buildings. They were America.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Bob Saget Effect

People like to be surprised. I'm talking full-on, cigar-smoking, curse-slinging Bob Saget surprised. I just watched his roast on Comedy Central and I got to thinking that we could build an entire marketing theory class around this guy. Forget Madonna, this guy is the King of re-invention. Although, I'm not certain he is actually re-inventing anything -- just revealing himself. First, let's just reflect for a moment about this photo shoot:

They really loved that sweater. "Bob, let's get a close up of you in that acrylic number. Yes, hand on cheek, gently... not too masculine...perfect...and a little semi-smile, just a bit, not too teeth...yes...yes... Got it!" So, what's so fabulous is that this guy was actually acting. He really was acting. All through the Eighties -- laughing at little twin babies who can't talk so well, hugging awkward teenage daughter, paltry jokes, semi-smiles. Eight years of this. AND we haven't even begun to talk about America's Funniest Home Videos. Which is known by the entire South as AFHV. It actually is known by the acronym -- and Saget is the God of the acronym to the most conservative faction of our global society. He may be the best actor of our time. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say he is. He is the best actor of our time. Because he's a dirty old man. A dirty, dirty, lover of spandex-wearing Hollywood hotties, dirty old man. Or maybe that's an act, too. Jesus. He's the Einstein of pop culture. And he's funny. Surprisingly funny. Dirty and funny.

Now, what does dirty and funny have to do with advertising, you might ask? Or maybe you are not asking, in which case you probably work at Crispin, Porter and Bogusky, or some scary little shop down a back alley in Las Vegas. Well, it has to do with surprising your audience. We love to discover something new about our brands. We love little unexpected presents. We love secrets, discovery and mystery. The best brands offer engaging new products, hidden campaigns for the most zealous of supporters, operational solutions, brand experiences beyond reason. They surprise us. Over and over again. It's the Bob Saget Effect. I'm not suggesting you run out and make a Keynote about the Bob Saget Effect, unless you have some really liberal clients -- like Hugh Hefner liberal -- but I do believe we should embrace this thinking when our brands seem tired and our consumers even more so. Just peek beneath the acrylic sweater. Just a bit, not too much...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Bloggers are not journalists. They are opinionists. And in my opinion, more powerful in many ways. In the latest Neilsen Global Online Consumer Survey, more than 70% said they trust consumer opinions posted online...from people they don't know. That's huge. Now, I'm not knocking Katie Couric. Well, maybe I am -- or at least her make-up artist -- what is with all that eyeliner? But the truth of the matter is people believe their peers. Possibly because they feel they have nothing to gain from a complaint or recommendation. There is no intention other than to help the online community form an opinion. Bloggers, reviewers, commenters are the rock stars of the written word. The new pushers. Or as Trendwatching reported in its most recent trend report: the new advertisers.

And they are only going to get more powerful as the mobile web becomes more mainstream. Offering opinion is now, and will become even more so, a way of life. Check out ShoutIt or Yelp for a mobile review app. Here's a review of the review app:

And reviewing is immediate. Twitter is the most acceptable and definite quick source of reviewing available today. As marketers, we should jump on Twitter quicker than you can say "tweet." Forget expensive research, just sit with your brand on Twitter one day. Follow the crowd -- see where they take your brand, what they believe, hear their opinion.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

All Together Now: How to Not Suck at Crowdsourcing

I was just reading a bit of Twitterly chit-chat about crowdsourcing. I'm begining to feel a bit like I'm reliving my existential days at Penn--crowdsoucing thought about crowdsourcing. Good. God. For neophytes, crowdsourcing is the mass undertaking of an assignment to meet a business goal. Simple. Or is it? The most difficult thing about crowdsourcing is not the actual call to action, but rather the willingness of the individual to give up control. And by individual I mean CEOs, CMOs and the brand officers that "protect" the image. Trust is really the most perplexing piece of the crowdsourcing puzzle. Getting clients to the place where opening their brand up to collective thought may be the biggest hurdle. Great brands will thrive on this new world order of crowdsourcing. Trust will open the brand to its most innate evolution -- one driven by truths and built by believers. Consumers not only own brands now, but shape their reputation. Every day. On Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Wordpress, Blogger (knuckle-punch)...could crowdsourcing be replacing advertising? It's free thought commerce. A collective advertising agency. What could be better? For more on the crowdsourcing revolution read Jeff Howe's blog -- he's the guy from Wired who coined the term:

Heathrow Airport installs Alain de Botton as writer in residence - Springwise

Super cool. Wrters are taking over the world! Heathrow Airport installs Alain de Botton as writer in residence - Springwise

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