Category Archives: marketing elect

Remembering Geoffrey Frost

FrostGeoffrey Frost died in Chicago on November 17 of natural causes.  He was Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer and brand stewart at Motorola.  We remember him as a man responsible for one of the great acts of corporate creativity and brand rescue of our time. 

Frost and the phone that saved Motorola

Motorola had pioneered the mobile-phone industry, but in the early 1990s it was foundering.  It had lost nearly $6.5 billion in 2001-2002, and was now well behind Nokia, the category leader in the headset market.  Korean competitors were beginning to take away market share, and Samsung and LG now had, as Anthony puts it, a "lock on cool."  Motorola found itself in a competitive "death valley." It was too small to outmuscle Nokia, too large to out-innovate the Koreans.

Frost thought he saw a way out of this position and he made himself the champion of a phone called Razr that had emerged from the Moto City design center in Chicago. This slender, expensive phone was introduced in August of 2004 and it managed to exceed the company’s total lifetime projections for the product in its first three months. 

One of Frost’s colleagues at Motorola, Roger Jellicoe, remembers Frost’s role.

[Frost] was frustrated with how stodgy our products had become. He wanted a couple of initiatives up and running that would break that image. ‘I don’t care what you have to do, let’s get this done.’

Frost left behind this glimpse of his strategy when he drew four lessons from the Razr success:

1. "It was a bet being made, not a base being covered. We didn’t even include it in the sector’s business plan."

2. "No compromise was the standard operating procedure. We didn’t juggle tradeoffs, we just insisted on excellence."

3. "We didn’t try to predict the market for the product based on history, we bet that if it was good enough, it would make its own market."

4. "We put the best, brightest, craziest, and most passionate people we had on it."

"Make it’s own market," now that the way marketer’s used to do it.   But Razr was not just a matter of having the courage of one’s convictions.  Frost had also found a way to spare the Razr Motorola’s version of "death by committee."  (This is nicely documented by Anthony, below.)

It is clear that Ed Zander, the CEO who joined Motorola in 2004, also contributed both to Frost’s opportunities and his new passion.  Zander put dollars behind the Razr, but he made a more fundamental contribution to the world in which  Frost was working.  Here is Frost talking about the effect Zander had on the Motorola corporate culture.

The single biggest change is the meetings have become much more lively, much quicker, much more participatory and conversational, if not occasionally a free-for-all.  We’re getting back to the original culture that was Motorola: smart people figuring out things fast.

The admiration was mutual.  Zander remembers Frost this way:

Frost was instrumental in making Motorola’s brand cool again.  From the start, he shared his infectious enthusiasm for breaking the established norms and challenged us to see the world in a new way.  His fresh insights, passion, energy and commitment to excellence in everything helped renew and re-invent Motorola. 

Frost was a phenomenon.  He won several awards, including an "Effie" Award in 2000 for advertising effectiveness. He was also named one of the marketers of the year for 2005 by Brand Week and Ad Age.

But I am not sure this is quite good enough for a marketer of this stature.  And for those of us who are struggling to figure out the secrets of the new marketing, it leaves key questions unanswered, not least, "who was Geoffrey Frost?"

Looking for Geoffrey Frost

Here’s what I have been able to piece together about Frost from various sources on the internet.  I would be most grateful if blog readers who knew Frost would please give me any additional details they might have.   I have emailed Jennifer Weyrauch at Motorola and I will post anything she is able to send me. 

What little we know.

Frost was raised in New York.  I have been unable to determine where he was to school but we know he spoke Russian and Japanese.  The first official notice of his career puts him at Grey Worldwide and then Scali, McCabe, Sloves, as a creative.  The second puts him at Foote, Cone & Belding as executive vice president.  He appears to have lived in London, Paris and Hong Kong.  He went to Nike in 1996 as global director of advertising and brand communications and there he oversaw brand strategy, advertising, direct marketing and He was responsible for campaigns featuring Michael Jordan ("Frozen Moment") and Tiger Woods ("Hello World" and "I am Tiger Woods").  In 1998, Frost received the Cannes Grand Prix for best campaign in the world at the International Advertising Festival.

Frost joined Motorola in 1999 as corporate vice president of global marketing and communications for the Personal Devices business.  He oversaw brand management, advertising, entertainment marketing, public relations, sponsorships, promotional activities, agency management, customer marketing and global consumer communications strategies.  In 2003, he was promoted to senior vice president of marketing and chief brand officer.  Frost because Executive Vice President in 2004 and was then the head of Motorola’s marketing, communications, advertising, events and design functions. 

We know Frost was married but nothing else of his private life.  We know next to nothing about his intellectual or managerial style.  We don’t know where his passion for design came from.  We don’t know he found his way to the agency world. 

From an anthropological point of view, this is just odd.  We are now treated to endless recitations of the world according to Peter Jackson, the director of King Kong.  Geoffrey Frost made his own quite spectacular contribution to contemporary (and corporate) culture.  Shouldn’t we know a little more about him?


Anonymous.  Geoffrey Frost, Motorola exec, dies at 56.  United Press International
Nov 18, 2005.   here.

Anthony, Scott D. Making the Most of a Slim Chance. Strategy and Innovation, Vol. 3, No. 4, July/August 2005.  Reproduced in the Harvard Business School Working Knowledge under the title, "Motorola’s Bet on the Razr’s Edge."  September 12, 2005. here.

McCracken, Grant. 2005.  The Malamud Effect: ideas and the corporation.  This blog sits at the… September 23, 2005. here.

Sampey, Kathy.  2005.  Motorola CMO Geoffrey Frost Dies.  BrandWeek.  November 17, 2005.  here.

Silverstone, Sean.  2005.  Ed Zander on Motorola’s Tech Turnaround.  HBS Working Knowledge.
November 28, 2005.  here.



I haven’t heard anything from Motorola but there is an illuminating interview with Frost in The Hub, posted at Diablogue here.


Still no word from Motorola, but Tim Manners of The Hub was kind enough to remember Mr. Frost this way:

I interviewed Geoffrey by phone in August but never met him.  He was an outstanding interview — far more thoughtful, candid and forward-looking than many other CMOs. He seemed unusually clear on where he wanted to go with Motorola and extremely excited about it. We need more people like him in marketing.   

See the full interview here.


Geoffrey Frost’s wife recently passed away and her obituary, written by Padmasree Warrior ,may be found here

Massive Change II


As I said in the last post, I had a chance in Vancouver to hear Bruce Mau describe his Massive Change project. The project will show the best ideas, people and projects with which to take on the 4 Ps: pollution, poverty, politics and paralysis.

Mau puts his project somewhere between the good hearted Left and hard headed Right, right there in the excluded heartland of our ideological world.

Good hearted Left

The trouble with most projects that want to “do good” is that they don’t believe they have to “do well.” Somehow, they believe that caring about social problems absolves them having to be efficient. Worse, they use their good works as a way to install collectivist solutions…as when the community organizers “help” the poor by mobilizing them to “fight capitalism.” Still, there are moments when you have to say that this side of the ideological divide is able to capture for free intellectual capital, imagination, and dynamism that is the envy of the business world (think Apple vs. IBM). Perhaps more important, there is a very substantial group of people out there that say only collective, NGO-type solutions can “save the planet.”

Hard Headed Right

On the other side is the private sector. For them, “doing well” is probably enough. They believe that public solutions will swim up out of private initiative. Personally, I believe that this is usually the right approach: governments and NGOs often destroy more value than they create. (See my passionate defense of this notion in the blog entry called “Dr. O’Neill, may I present Dr. Boudreaux?”) More to the point, this group knows how to get things done. The private sector has problem solving skills that make the Left look like an amateur dramatic production of a very bad play. But still and all, it is not clear that private initiatives will address the most global and the most serious of our collective problems. In particular, pollution appears to be, from a private initiative point of view, an intractable problem.

Mau in the middle

I give you Bruce Mau. He scorns the Left and its inclination to pretend solutions it does not have. He was apparently roped into designing Naomi Klein’s NO LOGO before he fully understood its content. He casually dismisses the Kleinian approach as “lunacy,” (I think this was the term he used. I still prefer my own “clanking stupidity,” as below.) Brands are not, Mau says, the work of the devil. They are the “public address system of capitalism.”

Mau stands with Ashoka, the champion of the “social entrepreneur.” Ashoka will be one of the themes of the Massive Change exhibit. He believes that capitalism has got steadily better in the last 50 years, while governments have changed not at all. Mau believes that social solutions come when we harness the economy, the profit motive, property rights and market initiative.

But these solutions happen faster when summoned and dramatized by a collective undertaking. And that’s what Massive Change is for. This will be, among other things, an exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery in October of 2004. If the exhibit is anything like Mau’s talk, it will be a stunner that manages in a few hundred square feet to review the best and brightest people and ideas now at our disposal, and to create a problem solving momentum that you normally associate with the CEOs rallying the troops at the annual conference. The sheer imaginative scope and energy of the thing is something to behold.

Mau embraces Arnold Toynbee’s notion of ‘the welfare of the entire human race as a practical objective” What differentiates his ‘take” on this notion is the emphasis he gives to the word “practical.” Mau may have his head in the clouds, but he has his feet firmly on the ground. This exhibit is about what we can do right now to begin doing something right now. His review of the best and brightest people and ideas leaves you thinking, ‘that’s right. We can do this.” So much for the “J’accuse” indignation and pessimism that comes so often from the Environmentalists.

It is now clear that we live on a “small planet.” We are looking at problems that are global in reach. We are looking for solutions that must be global in scale. And, as Mau demonstrates, we have the solutions. What is called for as something that pushes us beyond the conventional approaches into the realm of the possible. Massive Change is a wonderful push.

Rocket Science IV

Note IV from an interview with David Altschul, CEO of Character.

Yesterday, we took up a larger issue: an imbalance of trade between culture and commerce. There is a still larger issue.

If marketers occupy a “middle space” and make themselves “net exporters” of commerce to culture, they are in a position to speak to the criticism that casts them, I think often falsely, as exploiters and appropriators of innovations taken place in culture.

By itself, this might be enough to encourage middle space marketing. But there is a more urgent reason to engage in it. Engaging in cultural production (not just cultural consumption) gives the corporation a way out of the “catch up” in which marketers follow trends, always a little too late to be participants in them. (I owe this last point to Rohan Oza, senior VP of Marketing Energy Brands and a fellow participant in the Sterling Rice, UBS conference that brought me to NYC).

In both cases, middle space marketing gives the corporation a way to respond to the challenge issued by Douglas Rushkoff a couple of years ago.

Dare you lead, instead of follow? Instead of identifying a trend and then mass-producing it before it has had a chance to mature into something of depth, why don’t you develop some trends of your own?

Note on the “rocket science” series:

David Altschul has asked me to point out that things I attributed to him should be shared with other members of the Character team. I will make more particular corrections when I am back in Montreal.

Note on life in NYC

Something about making my living in New York City, as I do from time to time, makes me feel like a grayhound. I arrive in the city in a small container and I am moved about the city in small containers until the race begins. A bell sounds and I start running as fast as I can. It looks as if we are chasing a rabbit but with all the other gray hounds make it hard to tell. Eventually, the rabbit goes away and I am returned to a small container until the race begins again the next day.


Rushkoff, Douglas. 2001. The Pursuit of Cool: Introduction to Anti-Hyper-Consumerism. Sportswear International. Volume 201, issue 150 (Summer), pp. 1-5.

Rocket Science III

Note III from an interview with David Altschul, CEO of Character.

Yesterday, we noted the “middle space” strategy engaged by David as a way of addressing the problem of cultural wear out.

Today, we will take up the larger issue here: an imbalance of trade between culture and commerce. I am on the road, so this will have to be brief.

Commerce has, made substantial contributions to contemporary culture. Coca-cola shaped our notion of Santa Claus and Christmas in the 19th century. Nike helped define and drive the fitness trend of the 1990s. Starbucks, with its contribution of the notion of a ‘third space” between home and work, has helped change the way North Americans think about the possibility of social life in the public sphere. (See the notes on “clams” in this blog for a more extended argument of a fourth case in point.) There isn’t the time here to make these arguments in any detailed way. I do wish to note, contra Naomi Klein and many others, that commerce has had something more than an appropriating, exploitative relationship to North American culture.

But for all of these contributions, commerce has been a “net importer” of cultural meanings, which is to say, it takes more than it gives.

And this is, I think, one of the interesting implications of David’s contribution of a ‘third space.” As more and more marketers are obliged to engage in third space marketing, they become, necessarily, the makers of culture, not merely the users of it. As we noted yesterday, David engages in third space marketing for a strategic reason, to give the client more control and greater depth. But it is clear that what marketers may do for strategic purposes has important implications for the relationship between culture and commerce.

To put the matter too summarily (and more on this on my return), marketers engaged in third space marketing could help to make commerce a “net exporter” of meanings or at least to diminish the asymmetry that now exists between culture and commerce.

Rocket Science II

Note II from an interview with David Altschul, CEO of Character

Yesterday, we noted a new and urgent task, identifying the “smart ones” in marketing, and we observed that David Altschul is one of these.

David helped invent characters like the California Raisins and he uses these to help companies build brands.

Many of us have an unsophisticated view of what a character is and how it adds value. As David puts it, “some people think it’s putting sun glasses and tennis shoes on the package.” When David talks characters, some of us think cartoons.

David believes that characters help create strong brands when they are not a cartoon, but something more fully developed. He is thinking of something closer to the characters that now pour out of Hollywood: Shrek, Nemo, Scooby-Doo, and so on. David is talking about brand characters with range and depth. In the place of sun glasses and tennis shoes, David wants characters with a deeper story.

Why does this matter? It gives us, through the character, a claim to a bigger, more persuasive, piece of cultural meaning.

Here’s how David and his team put it:

Brand characters are unique in that they straddle the worlds of marketing and entertainment. Clearly they exist to represent a brand, but they live in a consumer frame of reference that puts them in competition with characters from television, movies, video games and novels. To be truly effective, brand characters have to combine the best of both worlds. They have to be engaging characters in their own right while staying authentically rooted in the brand.

I think they are on to something. We need to build brands that have deeper connections to culture. And he’s right. Brand characters are a particularly potent way of getting the job done.

A brand is many things. It’s a promise of quality. It’s badge for the utilities of the product.

It is also a bundle of meanings. Coca-Cola stands for “refreshment.” Marlboro stood for the “freedom of the open range.” Starbucks branded an urban ‘third space.” Pontiac stood for “excitement.” Philip Kotler, the dean of marketing, puts these meanings at the core of the product. One of his favorite examples is Charles Revson of Revlon who said: ‘In the factory, we make cosmetics; in the store we sell hope.’” Brand meanings are what Sidney Levy meant by “symbols for sale.” They are what Theodore Levitt called the “intangible properties” of the product. (References below.)

The problem is that there is now a certain amount of wear out. It is getting harder and harder to source effective meanings. And it’s getting harder and harder to build them into the brand in an appealing, persuasive and enduring way. We’ve got too many brands chasing too few meanings in a manner that is haphazard, contradictory, unpersuasive. We are not making substantial connections between brands and culture.

We know the reasons why: consumers are fickle on the one hand and skeptical on the other. They have been told once too often that, “Pontiac means excitement.” We can hear them yawning in response, “if you say so.” Increasingly, they want brands that do not merely claim “excitement,” but actually fashion a more substantial connection to excitement.

Enter David Altschul, Brian Lanahan, and Jim Hardison. Brand characters give the marketer a kind of “middle space” between the brand and the culture (or, as David’s call them, “marketing” and “entertainment”). The brand character has a foot in both domains. (One can only imagine the image David would make of this.) On the one hand, the character is fully the creation of the brand. On the other, with a back story in place, it is rooted in the culture “out there.”

As a middle space, the character gives us a staging area in which we can cultivate all and only the meanings we want for the brand, and a meaning delivery device that we can use to get these meaning into the brand. In short, a character gives us a better platform to create and claim more powerful meanings for the brand.

A lot of innovation in marketing these days is “middle space marketing.” The move towards branding the in-store experience is middle space. The move to experiential marketing, urged by Pine and Gilmore, and Schmitt, is too. (Reference below.)

In sum, brand characters make a powerful, timely addition to the marketer’s tool kit. It is a step beyond the old methods of meaning manufacture in which we were inclined merely to shout “excitement” over beautiful images of cars driving through pools of water. The character is one way to claim this middle space and to build a staging area for better brand construction. It is especially potent as marketers learn to come to terms with the new realities of contemporary culture and the market place.


Kotler, Philip, and Gary Armstrong. 1999. Principles of Marketing, Eighth Edition. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, p. 238, 239.

Levy, Sidney J. 1999. Brands, Consumers, Symbols and Research: Sidney J. Levy on Marketing. Dennis Rook, editor. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Levitt, Theodore. 1980-1986. Differentiation–of Anything. The Marketing Imagination. New edition., 72-93, New York: The Free Press, p. 74.

Pine, Joseph, and James H. Gilmore. 1999. The Experience Economy: Work is theatre and every business is a stage. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Schmitt, Bernd. 1999. Experiential marketing. New York: Free Press.

Ok, so it is rocket science, after all

Note I from an Interview with David Altschul, CEO of Character

Marketing is one of the places that culture meets the market place. This makes it a necessary study for someone interested in anthropology and economics. But it is also the place I make my living and I have found myself doing an anthropology of the field in spite of myself.

One of the first things you notice is that the field has a “quality control” problem on the personnel side. Some people are very smart. Some of them are pretty dumb. Many are merely ordinary.

This is a problem in any case, but it may be getting worse. If marketing is an interface between culture and the marketplace, and if culture is becoming more complicated and more changeable, then marketing is becoming more difficult. What was once a quality control problem is becoming a quality control crisis.

Not everyone has got the news. There are several very well known knuckleheads who continue to flourish in the field. And the field can be, in my opinion, surprisingly tolerant of stupid people. These people will be “grandfathered” out of the field, but for the rest, standards are rising.

What has not happened yet is an institutional acknowledgement of this development. It is not clear that the smart people have found one another in a well established round of networking, conferences and other kinds of contact. And until this happens, good cannot begin to drive out bad in any substantial way.

My contribution here is to identify and interview the smart ones. This is a small part of the winnowing process. But we all must do what we can.

I had a chance to talk to David Altschul a couple of days ago and I thought, “hey, I should interview this guy.” David is the head and founder of a firm based in Portland called Character. David creates characters for brands. He helped create The California Raisins, the Domino’s Pizza Noid, and the M&M’s Red, Yellow, Blue, Green and Crispy.

To use the language of the Protestant revolution, David is part of the “elect.” He is one of the smart ones. You don’t feel that you have to make a careful study of what the listener may or may not be “getting” when you talk to David. He just gets it. There are people in the marketing community who are still working with a 56k modem, if you know what I mean. David is broadband, baby, broadband.

Tomorrow: we will talk about where David puts his company, how he uses characters to build brands and add value. It turns out he is in exactly the right place to speak to the new complexities of contemporary culture on the one hand and marketing on the other.

For more on Character.