The Tenties: An Ad Agency April Fool’s

One of the biggest jokes in the advertising industry is the number of award shows that exist to honour its outputs. So it is quite clever that Minneapolis-based Colle+McVoy, which has worked with Old Navy, Purina, Target, and General Mills, decided to act on this award show insight for the 11061708_794977273910003_108476885174316937_npurposes of an April Fool’s prank. The agency created The Tenties Awards and sent stylized invitations to various media outlets. It has its own website and is being trumpeted on social media.

The Tenties purport to represent the very niche category of “table tent advertising”. That is advertising that appears atop tables in restaurants, bars and, our favourite … other award ceremonies. And, as one would expect, from such a fine agency, the copy is damn good fun, “This year, we honor the dreamers. The risk takers. The ones who see something more than just a flat surface; they see opportunity. Those who toiled in obscurity, quietly connecting with millions where they eat, sleep and work. 11074708_794592203948510_3500536439816555279_nThey’ve built business empires. They’ve championed societal changes. No more shall their efforts be ignored, for today we celebrate those who did it on a table.”

Colle+McVoy know that award shows are the industry’s way of guarding its delicate self-esteem. The purpose of the Lions, Effies, Pencils and so many others are to make advertising professionals feel better about the profession while suggesting that the awards themselves accurately capture importance and value. DDB’s Global Chief Creative Officer, Amir Kassaei, puts this into context, “I believe winning awards only proves that you are good at winning awards.”

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Under the Influence: Getting Hammered on Alcohol Ads

The beer, wine and spirits industry is one of the most active when it comes to brand-building and advertising. From Absolut to Bud, the industry has produced many of the most iconic ads. They have also been smart and creative when it comes to efforts more “guerilla” in nature. This may date 6a00d83451ccbc69e2013485862140970cback to the late 19th Century when Pyotr Smirnov hired groups of people to theatrically demand his vodka in their local bars.

Over a hundred years later, Smirnoff Vodka teamed up with Wieden + Kennedy to create an urban art project in Sao Paulo. Local artists painted highly stylized and artistic graffiti on buildings across the city. The art was only visible at night under black light that were activated at random to illuminate the creations. In 2012, Absolut Vodka created 4,000,000 uniquely decorated bottles each featuring artwork created with splash guns, 38 colors and 51 pattern types. Absolut estimated it would take 94 quintillion bottles before two similar ones were ever created.

The industry has always been a big spender in advertising. Now a study from The University of Texas on the impact of alcohol advertising raises interesting questions. Researchers found that alcohol ads have increased an amazing 400% over the last 40 years. However, people are not drinking any more. It seems that the advertising spend works only in driving choice, not increased consumption. For society’s sake that is probably a good thing but absolut_warhol_by_lorddavid04for advertising effectiveness it suggests less may be more.

The report is blunt, “Relating these findings to previous research reveals a consistency in that there is either no relationship or a weak one between advertising and aggregate sales. Over this time period, beer sales have exhibited a downward trend since the early 1990s, while wine and liquor have increased their share of total alcohol sales. This is despite large increases in advertising expenditures across all three categories of alcohol.”

This helps support the argument that ads cannot be blamed for over drinking. However, there is one demographic where the industry must be aware of its influence. A study released this year in the journal JAMA Pediatrics shows that alcohol advertising that reaches children and young adults helps lead them to drink for the first time or, if they’re your_dad_was_not_a_metrosexualexperienced underage drinkers, to drink more. “It’s very strong evidence that underage drinkers are not only exposed to the television advertising, but they also assimilate the messages,” says James D. Sargent, MD, study author and professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine. “That process moves them forward in their drinking behavior.”

The industry is under constant scrutiny and faces calls for reforms related to their marketing
efforts like tobacco before it. Recent concerns have covered the targeting of women and adolescent African-Americans. Yet with no evidence of increased consumption, where ads have a role is in brand preference by informing consumers of competitive information such as pricing and availability. This is helpful not evil.

It seems that established brands should be sharing and creating dialogue around more tactical benefit messages rather than broad positioning. Both consumer and the industry have to be responsible when it comes to alcohol. A big part of that is being better informed which was why advertising was invented in the first place.

Related Content: Swystun Communications’ report on Wine Branding.

The Personalities of Ad Agencies

The New Yorker published an article titled, What Your Tweets Say About You. It profiled, AnalyzeWords, the latest creation from James Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas who “looks at the words we use, and in what frequency and context, and uses this information to gauge our psychological states and various aspects of our personality.” AnalyzeWords scans recent tweets to uncover your Personal, Social and Thinking styles. You simply enter your Twitter name. I decided to see how the leading advertising agencies made out. The results were interesting.

First, differentiation among them is largely lacking. Leo Burnett, DDB, TBWA, JWT, Wieden + tumblr_lsmyrny9j81r372c2Kennedy, Razorfish, CPB, and Saatchi are shockingly similar. They were primarily Upbeat, Plugged in but overly Arrogant/Distant. R/GA is in a league all its own. The innovative agency moves the bar on all dimensions portraying either a holistic dynamism or schizophrenia. Ogilvy needs to see a therapist given it is the most Depressed agency. BBDO, Leo Burnett, TBWA, JWT, Razorfish, CPB, and Saatchi lack a discernible Thinking style.

Individual results follow with fun commentary (all to be taken with a large grain of salt). Perhaps the social media folks who control these accounts will take notice and either make changes, keep doing what they are doing, or sign up for Instagram.

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How Do You Like To Be Marketed To?

There is evidence that people enjoy a series of articles versus an advertisement. In fact, 70% say content marketing makes them feel closer to the sponsoring company, while 60% believe it helps them make better product decisions (Roper Public Affairs). This has given rise to “content marketing”. According to The Content Marketing Institute it is “an approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

What is amazing about content marketing is the impression that it is new. Apparently, content marketing’s purpose is to attract and retain customers by consistently creating and curating relevant and valuable content with the intention of changing or enhancing their behaviour. That has been the intention of good, old plain marketing since mankind first traded.

If you look at one page advertisements from the early 20th century, content marketing was in great evidence. Marketers told stories in that space. Often these were a series of how-to’s tumblr_nabiqgMYup1r0hb8ro1_1280exclaiming the benefits of a product or service. Both Heinz and Jell-O put out groundbreaking recipe books that instructed consumers how to integrate their products into meals.

Most of this long-form marketing was basically eradicated during the Mad Men era when complex ideas were oversimplified and ads focused on style over substance. Long-form marketing differs by crediting the consumer with intelligence and invites them to learn more. In this age of 140 character communications, long-form marketing has a place as an engaging disrupter.

SONY DSCBlogs, white papers and even websites are long-form marketing types. Yet, it is not the channel that is important, it is the content. People are not looking to be sold. They are looking for valuable content that educates and allows them to make a more informed decision. This is fantastic because marketing communications has become to clever for its own good. Ironically, creativity often obfuscates the entire effort. Marketing is about selling but too often, as David Ogilvy lamented, it is executed solely as entertainment.

Personally, I am pleased that long-form or rich content marketing is back. There are great examples out there including:

American Express OPEN Forum

amexbooming3Businesses of any size can learn something from the OPEN Forum posts by American Express. Posts center around leadership, customer service, marketing, and technology, and they position American Express as a true partner to business owners. It is turning into a LinkedIn of sorts.


Virgin Atlantic’s Curated Instagram Galleries

Virgin Atlantic’s blog is filled with engaging travel content including must-see sights in various cities and visually interesting galleries. The galleries are curated photos from various Instagrammers that offer quick peeks at the culture. Virgin also offers busy business travellers their “Between Meetings” blog series that looks at ways of filling the time with cool ideas.

Callaway Golf’s YouTube Channel

Callaway Golf has done something amazing on YouTube. It provides excellent content that is not salesy or promotional. They showcase videos like how to hit a bump and run and vertical centers of gravity in golf drivers. You don’t have to be a Callaway customer to benefit from this content, and next time you’re purchasing a golf club, you might just consider Callaway for their know-how and generosity.











Arcade Fire’s Fan-Sourced Gallery

One way to create content without much in-house effort is crowd-sourcing. Arcade Fire asked fans to submit their own photos of the band’s Reflektor tour, and in return, the photos could wind up on Arcade Fire’s Facebook page and website. This was a win for both the band and fans, as the website benefited from new photography, and fans could earn a spotlight on their favorite band’s online properties.

Random House’s Literary Inspiration

Random House has wonderfully embraced Pinterest. They have started several Pinterest board titles including The Literary Imbiber, What Would Jane Austen Do?, Bookish Nooks, Literary Tattoos, Literary Wedding, and Best Book Covers. Random House doesn’t write all the articles or create all the images but curating them for fans in a one-stop book-lover’s shop is a surefire win. They now have nearly 2 million Pinterest followers.

Intel’s IQ

A classic example of great B2B content marketing, Intel runs a blog called IQ that’s “a peek at the outer edge of design, technology, social and big data.” The blog is largely based on content curated by employees. IQ’s editor in chief, Bryan Rhoads, says: “We developed an algorithm to curate social content in a way that leverages our employees. We want to publish what they’re sharing and what’s grabbing their attention. It’s a combination of a social algorithm, plus an employee filter that crowdsources what they are saying and sharing, and uses that as a discovery tool.”

New Belgium’s Brew Blog

Denver’s New Belgium Brewing blog showcases the brand’s adventurous, fun-loving 14583839577_72f14408d8_c11energy. Recent posts show customer-centered events (like the Tour de Fat), food and beer pairing ideas, and fetching photography of beer fans and brewers alike. And you won’t see any long lulls of silence from New Belgium; they update their blog at least once a week, which gives readers a reason to come back and check often for updates. The approach is a crash course in how to make an audience feel connected to a brand, no matter where they are in the world.

These are cool examples and there are plenty more. Perhaps too many more. Companies have run to content marketing. Marketing Profs reported that 73% of B2B companies produced more content marketing in both 2013 and 2014. So what has been promised as a clear alternative to traditional marketing and advertising may now contributing to the clutter and white noise. Thankfully the best ideas that are well executed are standing out. Those efforts are providing relevant and valuable content and that is what consumers want.

Not So Brand New: 4 Marketing Tactics from History

I have had great fun writing a book called Needs & Wants: A Popular History of Marketing. It is in the hands of my agent and if all goes well will soon be in your hands when we find a willing publisher. The research was fascinating and I discovered that marketing could give prostitution a run for its money as the world’s oldest profession. Here are a few tidbits that go back in time and are entertaining and informative.

AAAAA Towing

Good thing this is a bit of history piece as I will date myself by referencing the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. In the story the characters end up at the A1-EZ OK Parking Garage. Even back then, before my career in marketing, I laughed at the cheesy name. The “A1” bit is worth exploring. Of course, there is the famous A1 Steak Sauce with A1 suggesting it was “the best”. However, I suspect the fictional garage chose A1 to also claim good real estate in the paper version of Google.

For decades the Yellow Pages provided consumers with the information on where to find what. It became a well-known tactic for businesses to pick a name that would put them at the front of the listings in their category. This started as early as the 1890’s. That is why there were (and surprisingly still are) so many AAA or AAAA or AAAAA garages and towing companies. I did a test on Google and found a few businesses that used eight A’s like AAAAAAAA Towing (located in New York). This remains a popular tactic for storage businesses to this day.1934-elinor-smith-200

Finger-Lickin’ Good!

Slogans, straplines and taglines have been around so long and are used so frequently that we have forgotten their long lineage. “Good to the Last Drop”, “Breakfast of Champions” and “King of Beverages” all go back nearly one hundred years helping promote and sell Maxwell House, Wheaties and Dr. Pepper. Ivory Soap’s “99 & 44/100% Pure” and Morton’s Salt “When it Rains, It Pours” go back even further.

Short attention spans have long been an issue in marketing. The slogan is a tactic used to be memorable, smart and entertaining. Some historians argue they got their start in politics pointing to Karl Marx’s “Workers of the world, unite!” and “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too” from the 1840 U.S. Presidential campaign. Slogans are actually memes, a much desired force in modern marketing, and can also be melodies and catch-phrases.

Mr. Clean, Mr. Clean

It is unclear if Barry Manilow knew his Band-Aid jingle would become so memorable and an undeniable bit of pop culture. “I am stuck on Band-Aid brand ’cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me!” was known by parents and children alike. I love the second line that actually mentions brand, “I am stuck on Band-Aid brand ’cause germs don’t stick on me!”

The jingle goes all the way back to medieval times with minstrels first penning and singing odes to the bravery and prowess of knights. They soon applied their skills to products at fairs and markets. The introduction of the radio accelerated and broadened the use of jingles in the early 20th Century. The Oscar Mayer wiener song, 2657036188_1c796f0eceKitKat’s “Gimme a Break”, and Wrigley’s Doublemint gum “Double Your Pleasure” all possess amazing recall and generate fond nostalgia. The one that sticks with me is the Mr. Clean jingle. It actually debuted in 1958 and is the longest-running product tune on television.

Coke Versus Pepsi

The cola wars made famous the blind taste test but the tactic goes back to ancient times. For centuries merchants have been providing samples and when they wanted to overcome all objections resoundingly they would pit their product against competitors. This took place in Greek markets for wine and oils, America’s old west between competing elixirs, and most visibly in 1975 when Pepsi first challenged Coke cementing the longstanding rivalry.

Single, double and triple blind experiments are now used in consumer behavior studies to help launch and promote brands. These go beyond the blind and include studies like putting an inferior peanut butter in the jar of well-known brand and the well-known brand in a plain jar. Researchers then ask participants in the study to try both and identify which is better. The brand is so powerful that overwhelmingly people pick the branded jar with the inferior product.

If you take the time to investigate marketing’s history as I have you will discover that there is very little new in the practice. Smart marketers need to draw on history and continually make relevant the valuable lessons the past provides.

The Sanctity of the Bookstore

We have a soft spot for bookstore marketing and advertising. Perhaps because they are becoming an endangered species. Here are two campaigns from Barnes & Noble. The first one, which we prefer, leverages the fact that one can get lost in a book. The second attempts to address the sanctity and benefits of the physical bookstore but is less resonant.

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Freshly Squeezed: Lessons from the Lemonade Stand

Jeff Swystun drinks more than his share of lemonade to bring you this piece…

The dependable lemonade stand is not only an enduring summer icon but also a slice piece of trade rich with business lessons. This past summer I made a point of stopping at those I spotted. I learned that the exchange of flavored water for a few coins may appear simple but represents aspects critical to business. If you look closely the humble stand provides a mini-MBA covering funding, strategy, production, marketing, customer service and reinvestment. It all starts with thinking about the lemonade stand “industry” which is:

Fiercely competitive with low barriers to entry

Both seasonal and weather dependent

Reliant on a commodity, easily substituted product

Seemingly undifferentiated overall

Unattractive from a revenue and profit perspective

For each of these conditions, one has to tailor the business to succeed. As daunting an industry as it is this has not stopped thousands of young people from starting them up each and every summer. Here are five lessons for your children and your own enterprises.

Delight with a Superior Product

Of course, we will all part with our loose change to help out a tiny entrepreneur. But if the lemonade is tart, weak, overly sweet or thimble size we will force a smile, wish them luck and complain about the product back in our car or as lemonade-stand_5we cycle away. This reaction is no different from any other disappointing purchase. I have gone back to a stand twice if the lemonade is legitimately pleasing in taste.

A superior product differentiates, communicates care and quality, provides value in the exchange, engenders loyalty and prompts word-of-mouth.

Pick a Smart Spot

Location has always been critical to business. As a child, I ran a stand at my home in Winnipeg, Canada situated on a quiet street and later that day while dumping the warm, unsold liquid treat down the drain vowed to learn from the experience. The next time I loaded up my wagon, trundled half a mile, and set up outside the gates of The Tuxedo Golf Club. With that experience I learned another lesson – have adequate stock. My location was so good that the would-be Tiger Woods cleaned me out fast.

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Big Value: Small and Medium Ad Agencies

Swystun Communications was commissioned by a private equity firm to examine small and medium sized advertising agencies. Our client gave permission to share a portion of the study including trends and insights that challenge the commonly and historically accepted perception of these players. The report’s contents are:

Section 1: Advantages | Disadvantages

Section 2: Challenges | Opportunities

Section 3: The Big Learning

Section 4: Insights

Section 5: In Conclusion

We found that owners and leaders of smaller agencies are bullish on their future. They are recognizing the change in their value proposition but need to creatively rebrand to take advantage. Size of agencies will always be a consideration but new models that deliver scale without comprising quality will be disruptive competitors.

Download the report: SC_BigValue.


Authors with Marketing Roots

Many famous authors got their start writing copy for ad agencies, positioning products and services, and finding ways to convince consumers to try and buy. Branding and marketing has always been about storytelling. It is a compelling narrative that first links consumer and brand. The ability to spin a yarn with credibility is an admirable talent that few possess. Among now-famous-authors who got their start promoting brands are:

Salman Rushdie

An Ogilvy & Mather alum who penned the Daily Mirror’s tagline, “Look into the Mirror tomorrow—you’ll like what you see.” He also produced “Naughty. But nice.” for a cream cakes company and “Irresistibubble” for Aero, which remains the candy-bar’s slogan in certain markets.

standardoilTheodore Seuss Geisel A.K.A Dr. Seuss

The famous children’s author and illustrator drew and wrote for brands far before ‘green eggs and ham’. Beer companies received his unique treatment and soon Ford, NBC, GE, Flit, and Standard Oil were among his clients. The “Moto-raspus” for Essolube five star motor oil is immediately recognizable as a Dr. Seuss creation as are the boys in this 1932 ad for Standard Oil. Read more

Eminently Quotable

These quotes carry amazing lessons…

“Advertising is a craft executed by people who aspire to be artists, but is assessed by those who aspire to be scientists. I cannot imagine any human relationship more perfectly designed to produce total mayhem.” John Ward

“Advertising did not invent the products or services which called forth jobs, nor inspire the pioneering courage that built factories and machinery to produce them. What advertising did was to stimulate ambition and desire – the craving to process, which is the strongest incentive to produce. Mass production made possible mass economies, reflected in declining prices, until the product that began as the luxury of the rich became the possession of every family that was willing to work.” Bruce Barton


“It used to be that people needed products to survive. Now products need people to survive.” Nicholas Johnson

“In marketing there are those who satisfy needs and those who create wants.” Juan Carlos Castillo

“The talent for discovering the unique and marketable characteristics of a product and service is a designer’s most valuable asset.” Primo Angeli

“Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum. The creative person looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport.” Robert Wieder


“Genuine ignorance is profitable because it is likely to be accompanied by humility, curiosity and open-mindedness; whereas ability to repeat catch phrases, cant terms, familiar propositions, gives the conceit of learning and coats the mind with varnish waterproof to new ideas.” John Dewey

“Strategy is not a lengthy action plan – it is the evolution of a central idea through continually changing circumstances.” Von Clausewitz

“We tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing inefficiency and demoralization.” Petronious

“The universal current conviction that one deserves better, that one is employed beneath one’s station. Everyone dreaming of the higher job he or she has so richly merited, while botching the one he is lucky to have. And as the waiter dreams his dream of upward mobility, he spills the soup downward into your lap.” John Simon