Ad Agencies Make Their Own Products

I recall the 1999 attention-getting idea by Vancouver agency Rethink. The three leaders of the agency had just left Palmer Jarvis DDB to go out on their own. In order to create buzz for their startup they branded and distributed Rethink Beer. The product helped put Rethink on the map and remained on shelves until 2003.

This is one example in a longstanding series of agency experiments with product development. A new book by Leif Abraham, with an amazingly long title, suggests how Madison Avenue needs to change. His effort is called, Madison Valley: Building Digital Products. Getting the Most out of Talent. And How Madison Avenue Can Be More like Silicon Valley, which is a fine preview of the book’s content. The overriding premise is creative businesses should not restrict themselves to communications but should leverage their talents for real product innovation.

Having worked at, and for, a number of agencies, I know these businesses would love to reap the profits of an iPod or Nike FuelBand as additional revenue or to stave off the long anticipated lower margins resulting from an old business model. Yet, Abraham points out the reality, “Every agency wants to build a lab and make products. Every award show adds product innovation categories. But we haven’t yet seen a successful product coming out of an ad agency. My book gives an analysis on how product innovation is treated in agencies today, what needs to change and why it’s about more than just the product.”

Read more

My IKEA Customer Experience

The relationship I have with IKEA is weirdly ambivalent. I deeply admire their business model and success. The retailer’s clear, contemporary and self-deprecating advertising appeals. Even the faux Scandinavian-named products weirdly please me. However, I cannot stomach walking through their aircraft carrier-sized stores whose layouts were designed by the most sadistic and manipulative consumer behavioral scientists.

On those few occasions when I put myself through the labyrinth I curse my decision just ten feet past the front door. No matter who you are or what you are shopping for, at best, only ten percent of what is on display is remotely relevant to your immediate needs. Yet, if you are like me, you leave the store with one of those oversized contractor flat carts not the wimpy-suburban-mommy shopping cart.

On that flat cart I have been known to pile a Klampen mirror, a collection of Rundlig serving bowls, two styles of giant

Welcome to the prison yard.

Welcome to the prison yard.

family sized laundry baskets, numerous packs of Bastig knobs for kitchen cupboards, a Galant file cabinet, a collection of seventeen scissors with different colored handles, a storage box for other storage boxes, and a twelve-seat dining room set. It may sound super convenient because I found everything I needed but on that occasion I had actually gone to IKEA to buy one bathmat that I forgot to purchase.

Read more

Jeff Keynotes in China

Jeff was honoured to be one of two keynote speakers at the Tsinghua University Design Symposium. He joined Paul Gardien, Vice President of Philips Design along with other great speakers. This is the preeminent design event in China and is held every two years. This time it was in Shenzhen. In preparation for the symposium, the organizers posed four questions to Jeff.

How do you see the conference theme of “design-driven innovation”?

This is a highly relevant and exciting theme. The way I interpret it is good design is the result of observing and serving the needs and wants of consumers. True innovation results when a product or service makes people’s lives easier, more fulfilling and interesting. Even the best marketer in the world cannot help a poor product because the more attention brought to it, the quicker it will fail. Read more

Did You Watch That New Book?

The publishing industry continues to grow and more people are reading more often. Two trade groups, the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group, compiled a recent survey called BookStats. The survey revealed that e-books now account for 20% of publishers’ revenues. That is both impressive and not surprising.

The concern that e-books would doom print has largely abated. Besides, the real issue is the extent to which we are all reading not the device on which our books reside. To me, any uptick in the activity is positive. Reading entertains, informs, and educates. It spirits us away, challenges our conventions and exposes us to new ideas. It allows us to travel and experience so much without leaving our favorite chair.

Read more

Lululemon Sheerly You’re Joking

Losing $67 million on a massive recall of one of your signature products is serious business. More sheer than normal products, dye leaking from some of the brightly colored pieces and other quality issues are undeniably serious.

So Lululemon Athletica Inc. has responded very seriously. Chief product officer Sheree Waterson has been let go. The company apologized to customers and investors. It changed its manufacturing and quality control processes.downwarddog-300

In short, it responded like it’s Tylenol or Toyota.

But it is not. Lululemon is a yoga lifestyle brand. Inherent in that is some degree of brevity and lightheartedness. I understand that its mission is tied to health and wellness and that it is a significant business, but let’s face it, it’s not a pharmaceutical company. Read more

Promoters of the Unnecessary

Have you ever wondered where you can find bandaids with witty Shakespearean insults printed on them or a tongue cover that will help you swallow your pills or thumbtacks in the shape of thumbs. I suspect that these items do not appear on Wall-Mounted-T-Rex-Head-Hunter's-Trophy-2_sqyour shopping list nor would you even expect they exist.

In this world of needs and wants, these items are in their own league. They are things that we could not even dream of requiring and practically we don’t. I cannot imagine thousands of people demanded that a company produce a large T-Rex replica dinosaur trophy head to hang on a wall.

Getting ahead of the consumer has always existed in business. When asked how much research played a role in the launch of the iPad, Steve Jobs cooly replied, “None. It isn’t the consumers job to know what they want.” Of course, there big is a difference between the iPad and a designer chair shaped like female genitalia (yes, it exists). Read more

Social Media is All About the Details

Social media is an ongoing experiment that continues to perplex many companies. The challenging (and fun) part of social media has been figuring out if, where, and how a company should play. The variables are a veritable Rubik’s Cube of choices.

Many companies think they nailed the strategy but fail to anticipate the day-to-day details. This is why countless efforts crash or disappoint. Shocking too, is how little this is mentioned by the experts who prefer to tantalize with metrics of social media’s use.

We assisted a North American law firm on their marketing strategy, a subset being social media. The work has retaught a lesson: if you choose to go for something, really go for it. To their credit, this firm decided to pursue, for their industry, an aggressive social media strategy.

Read more

You Had Me At Gin

I appreciate cool packaging but in the case of liquor am usually quite happy just with the liquid.

BOMBAY-SAPPHIRE_Electro_MediumNow Bombay Sapphire is being distributed a “The Electro Global Travel Retail pack”, a limited edition gift pack using electroluminescence. Electroluminescent ink is used to light up the Bombay Sapphire design, accentuating the motto, “Infused with Imagination”.

The current is conducted from the battery on the base of the pack which uses a hidden mechanical switch to activate it. When the package is picked up, the current runs through the various pathways illuminating them sequentially thereby creating a cascading effect. Each cycle of animation is 18 seconds long at which point the sequence stops until activated again.