Category Archives: Advertising Watch

Microsoft and the evolutionary future of on-line advertising


Microsoft is getting serious about on-line advertising.  So the titans mean to tangle.  That’s Google in the blue spandex.  Microsoft in the red.  Stay well clear of the mat, ladies and gentlemen!  This is going to get ugly. 

I think Microsoft could win this one.  Clearly, they want to.  Joanne Bradford, corporate VP of global sales and marketing at Microsoft, says that the Internet ad biz, now worth $13 billion, will grow to $100 billion in 10 years. 

It won’t be easy.  At the moment, Microsoft is playing catch up.  Their ad revenue grew only 7 % last quarter while Google’s grew 80%.  (Yahoo grew 38%).

The problem is the MSN search engine.   It gets only 13% of our search inquiries while Google gets 45%.  (Yahoo gets 28%.)  By sewing up our searches (and, for some of us, our email), Google effectively owns the "billboards" on which internet ads appear.   

Microsoft means to address this with by creating an "adCenter" designed to give better demographic targeting and the opportunity to put ads not just on searches, but free online software services, gaming and cell phones. 

But the anthropological observation is clear.  Microsoft could win because they actually know something about advertising.  They have commissioned good advertising.  They have managed good advertising. 

Google has demonstrated a naiveté about advertising.  Their success came to them without advertising.  So they have no real world experience of what it is and why it matters.  Plus, I think they made the classic error of the quantitatively gifted.  They have looked at advertising and asked "how hard can this be?" 

They are about to find out.  And if they lose a $100 billion contest to Microsoft, naiveté (nee arrogance) in these matters will finally have a price tag.   

Here’s the swing assumption.  I am betting that advertising will undergo a rapid evolution in the next few years.  It will get richer, more complex, more persuasive.  It will evolve to capture the opportunities made available by the net and the competition that $100 billion will bring to the market.

Right now, a Google ad is not much better than a newspaper classified.  It is a line or two.  No images, no music, no mystery, no power.  A 30 second spot on television can move us to tears or laughter.  A classified ad catchs our attention only if we happen to be searching for the 86 Chevy it has on offer.  Classified ads are the penny dreadfuls of the advertising world.  Advertising will begin to evolve away from this model at speed.

Classified are merely, thinly, informational.  (Real advertising helps construct the product by supplying deeper information, rules of use, and meanings mined from emotion, cognition and culture. ) Google’s approach is pallid.  Proof?  When was the last time you clicked on a Google ad?  Our eyes have learned to edit-out Google advertising.  All my search activity and email contains Google ads, and I have clicked on Google advertising perhaps twice in the last 3 months.  How about you?

Online advertising is going to evolve ferociously in the next ten years.   We will move to the incorporation of movement, sounds, color, image, transmedia, cocreation, narrative, the whole flaming ball of wax.  Eventually, the internet will sustain a species of advertising that makes the present 30 second spot on television look like child’s play.  Ilya Vedrashko, my colleague at MIT’s C3 is particularly good on the 3D future of the internet, and when this is installed, Google’s undernourishing notion of advertising will be laid bare, and Microsoft will sweep this contest. 

Of course, Google could take a crash course.  They could throw themselves at the feet of the great agencies and supplant naivete with sophistication.  They could hire Russell Davies, Ilya Vedrashko, or some other leading light.  They could investigate what advertising is when it isn’t a classified.  This could happen.  Sure, it could. 


Messner_adweekThis is Tom Messner.  He writes a column for Adweek.  In January, Tom decided to review traditional texts in the field of advertising.  The essay is called Old Testament.

This is brilliant in the way that the best of advertising discourse is often brilliant.  Just when the world has decided that advertising (of a conventional kind) is over, Messner steps forward, puts this anxiety aside with not so much as a parenthetical acknowledgment, and patiently begins the work of recovery.  What are the key texts? 

The review is filled with wonderful moments, as when Messner stops to come part first sentence translations of Proust’s Swan’s Way. 

Reviewing From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor, by Jerry Della Femina, Messner says,

It is dated and contemporary; shrewd and unwise; avuncular and juvenile. For those who grew up in New York, going to work in advertising was not unlike going to work for steel in Pittsburgh, coal in West Virginia or tires in Akron. I always thought Della Femina had too much fun being Jerry B. Jerry to write the great American ad, but he did write the great American ad book.

Reviewing My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising, by Claude Hopkins, Messner says,

Every syllable says 19th century: He puts a period in "ads." as an abbreviation and is the embodiment of the Puritan work ethic in its best sense. David Ogilvy read his books seven times and said they changed his life; I read them once and remain untouched to that extent but moved by the spare sincerity.

If I may presume to say, this is what happens in moments of crisis.  When all the world runs shouting into the night, some people say, "Ok, let’s review.  What is it we say we do?  What do we do?" in the process extracting the most powerful propositions and processes of the industry  before the naysayers succeed in burning it down. 

It’s a little like Minerva taking flight at dusk,  but in this case, I think it represents a recovery of memory, a return to self, for an industry that systematically refused an idea of what it was.

In this vacuum, post war intellectuals scathingly set up shop.  And advertising became whatever they said it was.  Speaking now anthropologically, this was a very bad thing.  It encouraged the creation of a culture’s self loathing and self mystification.  The intellectuals were pleased to call the advertising community our myth makers, but in fact they are more properly called our meaning makers.  Myth makers, that’s a title we should reserve for the Stuart Ewen and the John Kenneth Galbraith. 


Messner, Tom.  2006.  The Old Testament.  Adweek.  January 16, 2006.  here.
by subscription.

Madison Avenue and the doppelganger strategy


So advertising is dead.  Everyone says so.  In its place, we’ll use banner ads, email marketing, product placement, that kind of thing.  The 30 second spot?  Oh, that’s dead as John Cleese’s parrot. 

Right?  Well maybe.  Me, I think the argument is deeply mistaken.  I believe that nothing manufactures brand meanings like a 30 second spot. 

But I am beginning to think that I am the only one who takes this position.  From the agency world itself, we hear not a peep.  Well, there was Lovemarks, from the head of Saatchi and Saatchi, but this was a book so bad that it almost made me wish that talk of the death of advertising were true. 

Otherwise, all is quiet.

Could it be that the ad world suffers a state of paralysis?  Is it mesmerized by the new marketing and now helpless in its path.  Will MadAve go quietly?

This doesn’t seem very plausible on its face. The ad biz is nothing if not "snappy with the come-backs."  This profession is well stocked with conceptual and expressive gifts.  It is occupied by people who can perform a 180 degree course correction, reinventing the entire logic of the pitch, in the 5 seconds it takes them to register "the client is not happy."  Capitalism has a secret company of improv players, and one day many of these subversives will prove to have been on the payroll of Madison Avenue.

No, I think the problem goes deeper than this, straight into the heart of the industry and the most adaptive of its adaptive strategies.   The first ethnographic work I did in Detroit was for an advertising agency.  An  agency guy saw what we were doing as particularly "new wave" and he regaled me with stories about the old days

In the 1950s, apparently, the agency had a favorite technique for managing the client.  It would go out and hire someone who was quite a lot like the client.  Actually, they sought a match so close, the effect was sometimes chilling.  The agency guy would just happen to like the same movies, the same sports teams, the same Vegas hangouts as the client.  He would kind of look like the client, talk like the client, and dress like the client.  In fact, in some cases, it was difficult to tell the difference between tweedle dum and tweedle dee, all the better to persuade Pontiac (or some other GM account) to sign those breath taking cheques and leave the agency alone. 

Call it a doppelganger strategy.  The 50s version was the most exaggerated form.  But I believe this strategy is with us still.  I believe the advertising world long ago committed itself to having no idea of what is was and what it did.  Surely, this was the smart thing to do.  I mean, if an agency insisted it used the Aaker model of advertising, well, what would happen if a client appeared who was particularly anti-aaker (I mean, of course, Aanti-Aaker)?  Surely, specificity was a bad idea.  The industry decided that on balance a clear idea of advertising would always cost an agency more than it gained it.  Oh, I don’t mean to say that there weren’t tendencies in the ad world.  Leo Burnett was always going to be seen as more "x" and J. Walter Thompson more "y," but, on balance, the industry conspired to create a code of silence on precisely what it was and what it did.  This was the smart, the adaptive, thing to do. 

This sort of thing costs you, I believe, in the long term.  Being all things to all people creates a certain imprecision of self definition.  After awhile, it’s hard to know who you are.  In the day to day, this doesn’t matter very much.  The prevailing notion seems to be, "What does it matter what they call us, as long as we just get paid?"  Everyone harbors the idea that one of these days, if we wanted to do, we could just sit down and sort this out. 

But neglected ideas have a way of disappearing.  Some, the head strong ones, will away in the night.  Others, heart strong, wither and die, proving not so heart strong at all.  And I think that’s where we find the industry.  Now that there is a crisis upon us, now that there is a paradigm shift under way, now that the industry is facing the disintermediation that has destroyed once mighty industries and brands, it proves to be too late.  The cupboard is bare. 

Sir Martin Sorrell once made the sly remark that the "interactive marketing is more measurable than traditional advertising–so its more pleasurable for the decision makers."  And I think this means we are entering really perilous waters.  We know, or I think we know, that much of the best work by the agency world would never have happened if advertising had always occupied a measurable world.  Sure as shooting, the client would have measured the wrong things, leapt to the wrong conclusions, and otherwise mangled the creative opportunity without shame or apology.  (The creative director with whom I worked in Detroit told me, "If I let the client get away with it, every single ad would be about engine specs and turning ratios!")

It’s as if the advertising world has been too fluid, too adaptive, too flexible and now that it is called upon to give an account of itself, it dithers.  "Don’t tell me. I know this one.  Umm.  Oh, damn."  As long as the client had no options, we could pull a "St. Augustine" on them: "do not seek to understand that you may believe but believe than you may understand" aka "just give us the money, and we’ll look after it."  But now that there is competition, there’s trouble.

There is a darker possibility here.  It may be that the advertising world wasn’t merely withholding clear and coherent ideas of what it was.  It may be that it never had these ideas in the first place or long ago ceased to believe in them.  Perhaps there was a creeping dread that there was no value here, that the whole thing was just a lark, a way to pry money out of clients, amusing one another, attending those endless award ceremonies, and dining often and richly on someone else’s account.  Some may have believed secretly that the cupboard was always thus.

I hope I’m wrong.  Perhaps Sir Martin Sorrell has a blistering manuscript in his desk drawer that will throw off the cloak of the shapeshifter, renounce the ways of the doppelganger, and make the case.   Maybe the ad biz isn’t dead after all.  Yeah, that’s it.  Maybe, as Mr. Praline would say, it’s just stunned. 


Cleese, John et al.  n.d. The Dead Parrot Sketch. here.

McCracken, Grant.  2006. Lovemark.  This Blog Sits at… Februrary 24, 2006. here.

McCracken, Grant. 2005.  When Cars Could Fly: Raymond Loewy, John Kenneth Galbraith, and the 1954 Buick.  Culture and Consumption II: marketings, meanings and brand management.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 53-90.  (for one of the accomplishments of the advertising world in the 1950s)

Sorrell, Sir Martin.  Patricia Sellers Interviews…  The Hidden Persuader.  January 27, 2004. here.

Oscar advertising: Amex goes to M. Night Shyamalan


When Peter Sealey, then VP of marketing at the Coca-Cola Company, decided he wanted Coke ads made by big-time Hollywood directors, someone had to tell him that you don’t tell Martin Scorsese to reshoot something because "I can’t see the label."  No, apparently, what you say is, "Thank you, Mr. Scorsece, that was great."

I thought of this during the Oscars when AMEX launched their ad by M. Night Shyamalan.   It’s set in a restaurant.  Shyamalan, playing himself with real cunning and some restraint, sits by himself at a table.  As the camera pans past him we hear a "the joke’s on you" laugh coming from someone who has just glimpsed the possibility the joke’s on them.  This emerging note of panic is a perfect prelude to what follows.

What follows is a mother and son who look alike, a baby carriage that comes to stop before almost motionless couple, and a man who scalds himself with a touch.

The camera finds a couple who doing that thing that couples sometimes do in restaurants: have a humdinger of an argument sotto voce.  It sounds as if the man is saying, furiously, "If I don’t understand a movie, I just stand up and walk out, I don’t care."  Ah.

Then the man begins to choke.  He looks to his wife for help.  She returns his gaze with truck stop malevolence, and then looks across the restaurant at Shyamalan with…complicity, compliance, dull acknowledgment?  We can’t tell. 

A waitress drops a couple of empty glasses from her tray.  People standing around tables suddenly disappear.  We understand that these people must have been ghosts because their departure goes unnoticed. 

A diner engaged in the most banal conversation plucks a fly out of the air with her tongue. 

Then the camera approaches a table with three guys in cowls.  One of them loses his hood as a waitress passes.  When he brings his hand up to replace the hood, we see that his forearm is tattooed with occult symbols. I have no clue what is intended here, but I came to think of these three as the monks of the apocalypse.  I happen to know that this is not the sort of clientele a restaurant normally encourages. 

Then a pretty, young waitress approaches:

"Mr. Shyamalan, I love your movies, I’ve seen every single one of them.  Like in the 6th Sense …"  A deluge ensues including the charming line, "the village, first of all, I love everyone’s shoes…"  Shyamalan ducks away from this witless chatter.  He doesn’t have to look at her.  This is not a conversation.  It’s a recitation…not quite as odd as the other things that have happened here, but something else that’s, well, essentially mysterious.   

Then we here Shyamalan’s voice over: "My life is about finding time to dream, that’s why my card is American Express."  And now we see Shyamalan entering the restaurant.  A flurry of questions arise:  Was this not Shyamalan we saw in the first place?  Was this ad our moment of prescience?  And with his line ringing in our ears, we wonder "is this restaurant a place he will find time to dream?  Are these visions the dreams he looks for, or invasions that keep him from dreaming?  Or is the real problem chatty waitresses?" 

Notice two things.  This ad is riddled with indeterminacy, and in the presence of this indeterminacy, I start making stuff up. 

Indeterminacy used to be a "no-fly" zone in popular culture.  I was actually there when Warren Beatty confronted Robert Altman about the opening moments of McCabe and Mrs. Miller.  Altman wanted all the voices at once.  Beatty wanted one voice at a time.  It was one of those "all voices at once" conversations, I can tell you.  Actually, there was quite a lot of shouting. 

So here we are almost 20 years after Sealey’s reign at the Coca-Cola Company, and things have changed most markedly.  Now American Express reaches out to a director, and the marketing team knows he will make an ad that’s hard to follow.  They give him, um, a blank check with the clear knowledge that he might even make fun of people who get angry when they can’t follow a movie or an ad. 

What happened?  We grew to love indeterminacy, meanings that withhold themselves, ideas that can’t be thought very easily, emotions threatened to damage the instrument of feeling.  Popular culture has moved on.  On Oscar night, for instance, Robert Altman gets a life time achievement award while Warren Beatty settles into a hard earned, well deserved obscurity. 

Marketing, thanks to this kind of work, is perhaps now catching up.  In the words of Diego Scotti, VP of global advertising at AmEx, New York,

Maybe you don’t need to be so loud and obvious to capture consumer attention.  When you go quieter, with longer takes, you break through more. 

They certainly have mine.  If we are sincere when we talk about cocreation, this, clearly, is one of our best methods.  When we unleash indeterminacy, consumers will rush in to make things up, including our messages and our brands.


Frook, John Evan.  "Always" Intact Amid Coke Shake.  Variety.  July 22, 1993. here.

Solman, Gregory.  2006.  GM tops at Oscars.  Adweek.  March 6, 2006. here.


Thanks to IF and PFSK for the head’s up here.

Stuart Elliott vs. Barbara Lippert: Battle of the Bards

Stuart_elliottFame Tracker has a cunning feature called Two Stars One Spot that performs an act of celestial economy:   If two stars are too much alike, Fame Tracker proposes an act of elimination.   

Thus did Wing Chun (Fame Tracker founder) compare Dylan McDermott and Dermot Mulroney in the "Battle of the Probably Quite Affordable Leading Men." 

Two Stars One Spot sprang to mind when I read Stuart Elliott’s column on advertising this morning in the New York Times.  Now, I like Stuart Elliott but I can’t help feeling he has been a little reticent and unforthcoming lately, somewhat off his game.

So this morning was a revelation.  Elliott came out swinging. 

At last, the 20th Olympic Winter Games have finally finished. Rarely have so many worked so hard to produce so dull and disappointing an outcome. And rarely have the flops, flubs and foul-ups been so overwhelming.  But enough about the advertising.

Baboom!  Stuart isn’t taking prisoners.  "Far too many commercials," he said, "were unimaginative, derivative and pedestrian." 

This closes the distance between Elliott and the other great observer of advertising, Barbara Lippert.  Lippert writes a column for Adweek, and her work is splendid.  I mean, really splendid. 

And this is heartening.  Slowly but surely, popular culture has improved its critical standards.  After many painful years, the likes of Rex Reed were supplanted by the likes of Roger Ebert who was then improved upon by the likes of Lisa Schwarzbaum.

So much for the movies.  What about advertising?  Unless I’m missing someone, Lippert was the sole voice that combined the gifts of intelligence and critical acuity.  If Mr. Elliott is now in the game, that’s two. 

There is plenty of room here.  My morning epiphany was premature.  It is too early for a Two Stars One Spot standoff.  Vast stretches of commercial culture remain to be assessed and assayed.  Two people is hardly enough for all the artifacts of advertising. 

Let’s keep our fingers crossed.  Without gifted observers, we cannot give heart or credibility to gifted participants.  More practically, we cannot persuade clueless clients to give agencies the freedom they need to do great work.  A blessing from Lippert or Elliott, this is just the thing to keep the philistines at bay.  A wider distribution of the work of Lippert and Elliott, and before you know consumers themselves will become more intelligent, more demanding..that all creative and critical boats might rise with the tide. 


Chun, Wing (aka Tara Ariano).  2005.  FameTracker: 2 Stars, One Slot: McDermott vs. Mulroney.  here.

Elliott, Stuart.  2006.  More Tin Than Gold for Olympic Spots.   New York Times.  February 28, 2006.  here.

Lippert, Barbara.  2006.  Barbara Lippert’s Postgame Superbowl Critique.  Adweek.  February 7, 2005.  here.

Marketing headline: what’s good for the agency actually good for the brand

Brands_2 Is TV advertising dying?  How about brands?  There is, I think, a connection.

It is now commonplace to announce the death of TV advertising.  The new marketers are positively noisy on this theme.  The assumption is that ads will move from TV to product placement,  internet, gaming, blogging, etc.

And it’s not just an assumption. In the UK, Heineken is shifting a £6.5m budget from television to sports sponsorship.  Ford now spends about 30%-40% of its ad budget on traditional advertising, compared with around 80% five years ago.  The move to online advertising is happening more quickly than expected.  According to Heath Terry of Credit Suisse First Boston, the market for online ads will increase 32 percent to $16.6 billion in 2006.

So is this a good idea?  Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it?  It’s not an idea.  It’s blind rush from one side of the marketing vessel to the other.  We are abandoning TV advertising with scant regard for larger costs. 

And there are larger costs. According to the BusinessWeek Top 100 Global Brands Scoreboard, Heineken has falled from #82 in 2001 to #100 in 2005.  It is, in other words, hanging on to Top 100 classification by its fingernails.  This might not be the time to move from spots  to sports.

My argument is (a) that of all the old media devices at the marketer’s disposal, TV advertising created the most potent meaning and value for the brand, (b) that the new media forms of advertising are pretty modest meaning and value makers, and none competes with TV ads, and (c) that the move from TV to other forms of advertising may be expensive for the brand.

Today, I happened to stumble upon the Account Planning Group awards for 2003.  (I was searching for the exemplary Ben Malbon.)  Here are some of the things I found. 

Rebecca Morgan of Bartle Bogle Hegarty got shortlisted for work she did for Barclays.  (She may well have won the award.  I write this under a little time pressure.)

This market tries to build trust by making banks likeable – we think the job is to make Barclays seem more knowledgeable about money.

This is an interesting marketing proposition and it is impossible for me to imagine that it is something that could be accomplished outside the world of TV (and print) advertising. 

Here’s another. Fern Miller of JWT got shortlisted for work he did for Nestle and Kit Kat. 

Kit Kat was being forgotten by consumers and nothing about the famous "Have a Break" campaign was helping them to remember. The solution is to reinvent the break territory, turning it from a platform for little more than well-branded entertainment into a powerful opinion about the importance of the break in this, the country with the longest working hours in Europe.

Good luck communicating this in any of the new alternatives.  I venture to say none of the campaigns that drew mentions (and awards) from APG could be undertaken in new media advertising (or old media variations). 

Summing up

I know what everyone believes: that people TIVO through ads, that television is losing its audience to gaming and the Internet, that television audiences are fragmenting, that TV channels are multiplying, that the game, is, in effect, up. 

This, too, is true: that the alternatives to TV advertising are abysmally bad.  Product placement is now regarded with suspicion.  From a meaning manufacture point of view, this was always a kind of hitchhiking, effectively borrowing the power and the narrative of the TV show or movie in question. 

Google advertising!  This is ought to be a punch line.  If advertising could be reduced to the classifieds, newspaper advertising would have been plenty, and Madison Avenue would just happen to be a street in Manhattan. 

And those colorful, motionful ads that compete for my attention on the websites of New York Times and Wall Street Journal.  That’s the problem, isn’t it?  I am trying to read!

I don’t doubt that television is dying.  But when was the last time you discussed an ad you saw on line, or a product you saw placed in a movie?  No one cares about these ads because they do not have powers of metaphor or narrative.  The 30 second spot is a precious resource in the world of brand building.  To dispense with it is a very bad idea. 


For the Account Planning Group Awards for 2003, here.

Anonymous.  2006.  Top 100 Global Brands Scoreboard.  BusinessWeek.  here.

Berman, Saul J. Niall Duffy and Louisa A Shipnuck.  The end of television as we know it: a future industry perspective.  Publication of the IBM Institute for Business Value. here.

Martinson, Jane 2005.  Agency says goodbye to Walter.  The Guardian.  February 18, 2005. here.

McCracken, Grant. 2006. Product placment as marketing malfaesance.  The Blog Sits At….  January 17, 2006.  here.

McCracken, Grant.  2005.  Madison Avenue and Google: no contest.  This Blog Sits At … November 1, 2o05.  here.   

Thaw, Jonathan.  2005. Online Ad Growth Accelerates, Outpacing Newspaper, TV Spending.  December 28, 2005. here.

Lighting it up at the Coca-Cola Company


I haven’t always been an enthusiastic consumer of Coca-Cola advertising.  But the Diet Coke spots are getting steadily better. 

The "effervescent" campaign devised by Foote, Cone & Belding, New York.  Kate Beckinsale (right) appeared in a spot called Tingle.  Adrian Brody starred in a spot called Bounce.  There were a couple of other spots in the series: a girl roller skating in what looks like Santa Monica and a guy dancing in his Manhattan apartment.  (You can see the Roller Skater spot here.)   I believe this campaign was launched in 2004, a year in which the Coca-Cola Company (TCCC) spend $10 million on Diet Coke advertising. 

Not everyone shares my enthusiasm.

Despite anticipation for the new Coke commercials, at least one analyst says advertising for carbonated soft drinks in the United States, good or bad, doesn’t have a huge impact on the business. "If you look at what is really going to drive the business, it is noncarbonated [drinks] and innovation," said John Faucher at JP Morgan. "It is not a new ad campaign for the core Coca-Cola brand."  (from Wilbert, below)

Golly, what are the chances that this guy has a clue about the relationship between advertising and branding?  I have the utmost respect for analysts.  They practice an empirical and intellectual engagement with the world that puts most social scientists (and, I think it’s fair to say, almost all anthropologists) to shame. 

But I also know how analysts are trained and I know that there are only one or two MBA programs that can talk about the role of advertising in an penetrating way, let alone begin to assess whether a particular campaign might or might not add value to a brand.  Chances are John Faucher has not graduated from one of these.  (His remark tells us so.)

Happily, people inside TCCC are not so hampered.   

“The strategy for the global Coke campaign is to make choosing Coke a purposeful act,” said Mary Minnick, the head of marketing strategy and innovation. “We don’t just want to be entertaining or be different, we want to be more relevant. We want to build a relationship with consumers, not hold a mirror up to them.”  (from Hein and Sampey, below)

This is an interesting model that marketers may with to conjure with.  In the meantime, we may admire the recent Diet Coke ad ("Haircut") that seems to me to capture and perhaps illuminate Minnick’s philosophy. 

A young woman enters a very old fashioned barbershop.  She emerges triumphant.  The risk has paid off.  She went into the shop a great beauty.  She emerges a great beauty who has claimed her beauty with an act of daring and imagination. 

(Let me be perfectly clear.  The Diet Coke ad in question is from FCB.  The global campaign to which Ms. Minnick’s refers is the work of Weiden and Kennedy.  I am merely supposing that what Minnick says of the global campaign gives us a glimpse of the ideas now animating ALL the advertising we will see from TCCC for the forseeable future.  This may be rash.  It may be wrong.  Consider it my demonstration that you don’t have to be an analyst to put your foot in it.)

With this "light it up" spot, TCCC has laid claim to some of the more interesting cultural experiments at work in our world.  It lays claim to self ownership, self construction, self transformation, blurred boundaries, the playfulness of self presentation.

All of these were for virtually the whole of the 20th century a "no fly" zone for the Coca-Cola Company.  With its fastidious reluctance to treat these themes, PepsiCo has enjoyed a free run of the most dynamic and vital parts of contemporary culture.  More exactly, they belonged in the 1990s to Snapple and all the little brands that were prepared to conduct themselves as if they had actually noticed what was happening in popular culture. 

TCCC revved the creative engines.  It reached deep for new inspiration.  It thought on several occasions way outside the box.  But as long as it was unprepared to treat a theme like the one in "light it up" there was no way it could really light it up.  The brand remained the handsome, military officer who was not likely to add any thing to the ball.  Presentable, but a little unforthcoming in matters of conversation, humor, drama, and of course dancing.  Really, he just stands there, looking noble. 

I may have made to much of Ms. Minnick’s remarks, but let’s hope not.  Let us hope TCCC is preparing to rise to the challenge of contemporary culture.  (And why should it not.  After all, it made a good deal of it.)


Hein, Kenneth, with Kathy Sampey.  2006.  Pouring It On: Coke Unveils New Tagline, Products, Philosophy.  Brandweek.  December 08, 2005. here.

Sampey, Kathleen.  2004.  FCB: ‘It’s a Diet Coke Thing’.  Adweek.  May 05, 2004.

Wilbert, Caroline.  2005.  New Coke Ads for 2006.  The Atlanta Journal Constitution.  December 23, 2005.


Here, thanks to Barbara Lippert, the names of the creative team responsible for "Haircut."

Foote Cone & Belding, New York

Creative director
Gary Resch

Art director
Mark Warfield, Todd Eisner

Greg Wikoff

Agency producer
Kelly Fagan

Robert Logevall

Branding brilliance from Apple

Apple_logo Sometimes, the right choice for the corporation is the wrong choice for the brand.

Take, for instance, Apple’s decision to install Intel chips in the Mac.  There are, clearly, good technical reasons for this move.  But the potential branding consequences…yikes!

The Apple-PC contest breaks along one of the ideological fault lines in our culture.  It pits creativity against productivity, individuals against corporations, imagination against pragmatism. 

Jobs had paid hugely for this position.  Apple became the right machine for the design department, and the wrong machine for the rest of the corporation.   Expensive.  Heroic.  Brand building.

And now at risk.  Putting an Intel chip in an Apple machine, isn’t that like embracing the enemy?  The Mac now had a stow away, an alien on board.  What if, late at night, as we slept, the spirit of the PC slipped out of the chip into the soul of the Mac?  What if the brain of the machine changed the soul of the machine?  What if Mac lost its Macness, and the magnificient brand equity for which Jobs had paid so dearly? 

Well, if you are Apple, you do the right thing.  You confront the problem head on with a little anticipatory meaning management.  Hence the ad that’s been playing this week. 

We are in a clean room.  Technicians are handling a piece of hardware ever so delicately. 

The voice-over (Keiffer Sutherland):

The Intel chip
for years, its been trapped inside PCs
inside dull little boxes
dutifully performing dull little tasks
when it could have been doing
starting today the Intel chip will be set free
and get to live life
inside a Mac.
Imagine the possibilities

This neatly changes the polarity of the event.  It’s not Intel that will change Mac, but Mac that will change Intel.  In fact, the Mac is liberating the Intel chip from its PC captivity.  Indeed, Mac will do for the Intel what it does for those who use a Mac: make both more creative, interesting, engaged.  Beauty!

One particular word of praise: the lab technician who handles the chip in transition is perfectly cast and brilliantly directed.  Her face captures the gravity and the mischief of the event.  Her tiny smile of triumph forms our reaction, by suggesting it, inviting it, proposing it only.  Nice. 

And particular word of criticism: why choose Keiffer Sutherland as the voice over?  To be sure, it is a great voice, combining useful warmth and urgency.  But Sutherland is mostly shaped in the public mind by the show 24, in which he plays a man trapped in a machine he cannot understand.  Is this not precisely the image of the Intel chip we wish to avoid and that the ad struggles to f inesse?

The ad comes from TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles.  It can’t say that I was impressed with this agency when I worked with them for the Coca-Cola Company.  But they are on a tear at the moment.  The Los Angeles office is responsible for the "why" spot for Jimmy Dean.  (A man in a sun suit solemnly tells his daughter that his job is to light and heat the earth.  She responds by wrinkling her nose in the world’s most delicate performance of devoted dubiety ever caught on film.)  The New York office of TBWA\Chiat\Day is responsible for the Nextel "Dance Party" ad, which is very close to a thing of genuis.

It is sometimes the marketer’s job is to build the brand.  Sometimes, it’s our job to remove the brand from harm’s way.  Hat’s off to Apple and TBWA\Chiat\Day for an amazing piece of anticipatory meaning management. 


The Mac-Intel-Apple ad, here

The Nextel ad, here.

For more on the agency, here

The agency world and a new value proposition

Leo_1 [The ad]  business is moving from a culture of ads to a culture of ideas. 

So says John Condon, the new Chief Creative Officer at Leo Burnett. 

He sounds a little like Dan Wieden, as quoted here in November

it turns out — thank God — that the idea is king. At the end of the day, one individual with one good idea can trump an entire network of thousands who don’t have an idea.

Is this the new model?  Is the ad industry saying, "We don’t make ads, we make ideas"?   

Bully!  It’s about time.  The rise of the new consumers, new channels, new media indicate has badly damaged the old business model.  The ad world has found another value proposition.

But horrors!  The "idea" formula leaves the ad business without a difference. 

Lots of people can supply ideas, and lots of people do, strategists, consultants, brain stormers among them.  What’s more, idea production is being democratized in the hell of a hurry.  Even little blogs like this one presume to show where ideas come from.  There are lots and lots of players in the creativity game.  (And now that BusinessWeek has declared that we’ve left the knowledge economy for the creative economy, there will soon be plenty more. )

I can’t help feeling that the better proposition for Madison Avenue is "we make meanings."  The fuller statement: advertising builds brands and brand proposition through the careful, clever assembly of cultural meanings.  We source these meanings from every corner of contemporary culture.  We invest the brand, or the brand proposition, with meaning through the judicious choice and combination of sound, image, language, and media (i.e., advertising, point of sale, direct marketing, on-line advertising, consumer co-creation. etc.) 

In the meanings game, the ad world has few competitors.  There are the design firms  There are the creators of the various forms of contemporary culture (music, film, journalism) who sometimes "sub in."  But almost no one has the depth or the range an agency does.  More important, the meanings game makes the ad biz absolutely bullet proof when it comes to the Google challenge.  Google can wrangle information.  It is clueless and clumsy when it comes to meanings.

But what I like best about the meanings value proposition is that it allows the advertising world to take its true skills, its real accomplishments with it as it enters the new world of new media.

There is some small evidence of panic in the agency world, as if some now believe that "everything they know is wrong" and that the agency world must reinvent itself in every detail.

Oh, please.  No one in the world of business understands the process of meaning management as an agency does.  It would be a pity, no, a tragedy, if this great strength got lost in the stampede to new models. 

Ideas are quite wonderful.  We would be poor, mere beasts without them.  But in the world of marketing (to say nothing of the creative economy), ideas matter because they are the way we manage meanings. 


McCracken, Grant. 2005.  The Idea is king (if sometimes Charles I). This blog sits at…  November 9, 2005.  here.

McCracken, Grant.  2005.  Google versus Madison Avenue: no contest here.  This blog sits at … November 1, 2005. here

Vranica, Suzanne.  2005.  Questions for … John Condon.  Wall Street Journal.  December 14, 2005, p. B3A.  (no url available)

The image is Leo Burnett. 

Great creative

Forgive me, I am a little slow off the mark today.  Recollection seems to take so much longer than just making stuff up.

Here is an Australian ad for Carlton Draught.  This is proof that there will always be a place in the world for creative that’s this creative.  Have a look for it here.


Jim and Laima Dingwall (for the link)

Story time III: Dead man walking on Madison Avenue


If it’s Friday, it must be story time. That the new policy here at This Blog Sits At. (see the posts for last Friday and the one before). 

A couple of years ago, I was called in to work for an advertising agency. I forget the topic. It was probably something like the future of laundry or the world of beer. 

I was ushered in and introduced to the rest of the team. (I can’t identify them without giving the game away. Let me say there were a couple of foreign nationals among us.) 

The account manager give us our task: to think about the product category in question (laundry or beer), identify its most telling cultural characteristics, imagine the consumer in question, and see what the future might hold. (For those of you who are foreign to the world of marketing, this sort of exercise is sometimes useful for strategic and creative purposes.  It can open up new approaches.)

The account manager was then called out of the room, which left the rest of us to carry on. And carry on we did. After the usual awkwardness and false starts, we hit a gusher. Something about the people in place, something about the topic at hand, something about the feeling that we were, now that the adult had left the room, unsupervised children who could just go nuts. We just went nuts.

It was ideas for nothing, creativity for free. The ideas came pouring out. We were suddenly as gods. We could reinvent anything we chose to think about. For a little while we took up topics at random. Staplers! Coffee cups! Was there anything we could not think about? No! We were circus seals.  Throw anything at us and we could make it spin at the end of the nose.

The academic world trains you to dispute and cavil. It requires you to insist on your difference, your separateness.  In my experience, only the commercial world encourages this “one for all and all for one” approach.  If you are Marshall Sahlins (my advisor at the University of Chicago), you probably don’t care to be joined at the mind with 3 other people.  You’re so darn smart, it doesn’t really add anything. But if you are Grant McCracken, this is a welcome outcome.  You are now multiplicatively smarter. And vastly more creative. I had a new brain, and for those 90 minutes, I could see what it’s like to be Marshall Sahlins.

Ah, but you can never stay in paradise.  No, the account manager came bustling back into the room.  And he sought to bring his children to heal. This is a rule of commercial discourse.  The most powerful person in the room gets to say what you talk about, and how you talk about it.  It’s not a successful outcome unless he or she thinks it is.  

The account manager asked “what we had” for him and we told him.  His brow began to furrow.  His face grew dark. He was not happy.  He began to shake his head.  “No, I think this is crap.  You’ve missed it.”  And here he tried on a facsimile of indignation, as if to say, “I trusted you.  I left you to your own devices. And you disappointed me.”

Now, we were the captives of a contraction. We knew we had delivered the goods.  And we knew that the account manager didn’t think so.    So we did the honorable thing. We nodded gravely. We put on regretful faces.  We used face and body to acknowledge that we had failed him.  

Then everything suddenly changed. Our pantomime stopped. We couldn’t convincingly manufacture a show of apology…because until 5 minutes ago we had been as gods, creating ideas so good, so interesting, so robust, that, under normal circumstances, any agency would sell its CEO into slavery to have at them.  

We wanted to be good subordinates. We wanted to play out the charade.  But we just couldn’t and so we stopped. The account manager was still storming his unhappiness, still treating us as wayward charges.  But we knew better. We were not going to contradict him, but we could not agree.  Our only option was to shut up and stare at him.  Which we did. 

Still he stormed. The indignation towered. The room filled with his disapproval.  We answered with a civil disobedience. We just sat there. 

Then it ended. The account manager’s show of indignation came apart like a cheap suit.  He knew his position was crap and now that we had let him know that we knew it too, he just gave up.  

At the movies, this is the place where everyone throws their hands in the air, and celebrates in victory.  But it was so very sad, we just felt badly for him.  

We were looking at more than a moment of humiliation.  This was, in the agency world, what I have come to think of as a “dead man walking.”  Those who try to control creativity, those who dare to defy creativity, are not long for this world.  They will win some of the battles, but the marketing world is so idea dependent, they must lose all of the wars.  We were looking at a man who had made a terrible career choice.  We were looking at an agency ghost. 

new agencies, new clients


Thanks to Irene Done (via Tom Asacker), this quote from Dan Wieden of the agency Wieden + Kennedy. 

"What is critical is not what P&G and Wieden have in common, but what we absolutely do not have in common.  "It is our differences that will push both sides to develop a better model suited for the times ahead."

Yikes. I was some years ago visiting the Chiat Day agency in Venice Beach, California, the one, as above, designed by Frank Gehry, that had the binoculars outside.  I was there with my client, a very talented guy who worked for the Coca-Cola Company (TCCC), and we had come bearing what we thought was a good idea for TCCC and the hope that Chiat Day would help us develop it. 

Talk about naïve! No, Chiat Day was not interested in our idea.  What they were interested in was having us bow before the genius that was Chiat Day.  We were ushered into a small room where very attractive people made a point of telling us how lucky we were to be there. 

The chief rhetorical device was a sense of rapt anticipation…as in, “I’m so excited that you’re so lucky.  This is going to be great! You are going to meet Mr. Morrison*! Wow, what a extraordinary day this is for you!”

When we did not warm to this, they got all explicit on our ass.

“You know who you’re going to meet, don’t you?”

 “Um, no, who?”

 “Robert Morrison!!!”

 “Oh, that’s great,” we said, with manifestly feigned enthusiasm.

Generally, I do what I’m told.  But my client from TCCC is a certified talent, I mean a real “don’t mess with him” talent. I once saw him beard an entire room of his colleagues at TCCC.  As we were taking our seats, he said, “this is what we should do.”  And we said, “well, why not let the adults think this one through?”  And about an hour later, after we had exerted ourselves heroically, there was a little sign hanging over the proceedings.  “The kid’s right.  We’re done here.” We gathered what remained of our self love, and left.

But my client was on his best behavior and we suffered this patronizing treatment without protest. We did our best to look on admiring as Mr. Morrison treated us to the full measure of his genius.  Ever so modestly, we wondered if Morrison and his brilliant team might consider the idea we had brought with us. Hah! We clearly did not understand. 

We were the milk fed client, the great shaggy, four legged beast.  We didn’t have ideas. And this is why we were so fabulously fortunate to find ourselves in the presence of Robert Morrison, idea incarnate, routine producer of the BFI (big fucking idea), captain of consumer preference, the very fount of brand value, the man without whom capitalism would indeed merely and always the captive of the dismal science.  If there was color in the world, if there was joy in any heart, if there was thought in any head, it was because Mr. Robert Morrison had put it there. Surely, we could see this.  I mean, it was the single most shameless act of patronizing I have ever seen.  Count your blessings. Come to Jesus.  And shut up with the ideas, already.

Sorry, got carried away there a little. (I think I still always think of Friday as “story day.”  As a kid, my local library would read stories on Fridays, and I haven’t got over it, apparently.)   The point I wish to make is that the remark from Wieden marks how much things have changed.  Agencies are, some of them, the best ones, at least, no longer God’s gift.  They are now there to listen and, actually, there to learn.  Wieden takes this a step further. The agency is there to change as the client does.  Indeed, client and agency will transform as they interact with one another.  (They are becoming in the language of complexity theory, complex adapative systems!)

I am fast running out of time here, but let me propose that we think of this in terms of a four part table.  (When I have the time, I will try to produce this graphically.) 

In the upper left cell, we have client and agency both as gods.  The game here is for the agency to persuade the client that they, the agency, have just had a BFI (as invented by the likes of Mr. Morrison) and that they (the client) must now pay the agency a huge amount of money.  Mark this cell: Agency god, Client god.

In the lower left cell, we have the agency as god and the client has supplicant.  This was the model operating with the Chiat Day case described above.  In this case, the agency doesn’t even pretend to solicit ideas from the client.

In the upper right cell, we have client as god, agency as supplicant. In a competitive marketplace, this is what you would think all relationships look like, and perhaps today many of them do.  Frankly, I think it’s the account manager who does the supplication, and often the creative team remains committed to the “do you have any idea how lucky you are to be working with us” model. 

In the lower right cell, we are looking at “client not a god, agency not a god,” and this appears to be where Wieden has located his agency’s relationship with P&G.  And this is really interesting. Now we are looking at a relationship in which both organization are moving at the speed of light, both are undergoing a continual transformation, and the relationship between them will amount to a daring in space docking which may or may not both organizations forever transformed.

Or, thanks to Dilys, this vastly better image.


So do we learn to live with dynamism. (Thanks for coming to “story time on Fridays.”) 

* not his real name.


The full story from Adweek.


With thanks to Dilys for the image.

those nutty consumers

The Swiffer ad features a woman dancing around a house. It turns out she is dusting someone else’s house. A Microsoft house shows members of the corporation dancing. A Honeynut ad shows a guy wandering around telling anyone and everyone that he has just lowered his cholesterol, including a little girl who has no idea what he is talking about. A recent ad shows a man sitting in someone else’s car, practicing his driving skills.

Is it just me or are we seeing a new theme emerging here? Call it the nutty consumer theme.

Certainly, these ads are funny. And that’s reason enough to encourage the theme. They also show an appealing side to the consumer. These characters are innocent, caught up in the moment, helplessly transported by their own fantasy.

But this is very different from the smiling talking heads that were once featured in ads. This old approach gave us the consumer as someone who wants us to know how much they like the product in question. They address the camera with the full knowledge that we are watching and the apparent hope that we will consent to, and be persuaded by, their recommendation.

The new approach gives us a consumer who doesn’t know that we are looking in on them, who doesn’t know that anyone is looking in on them, who is so caught up in the moment that they are worlds away.

What is going on here? We live in a culture that encourages self dramatization. We are all ever more vivid actors on the public stage. But this dramatization is witlessly performative. These consumers are entertaining in spite of themselves. Public performances have given way to private reveries.

Why this face for the consumer right now? What does it say about contemporary culture? Why is it so recurrent in our advertising?

As usual, the anthropologist has no answers, only questions.