We we’re feeling nostalgic for the nostalgia of Mad Men.
We we’re feeling nostalgic for the nostalgia of Mad Men.
There are a few confessions in the following paragraphs. The first is, I was a mediocre student. Prescribed reading and set curriculum fired up my rebellious nature. Unfortunately, that meant denying myself the love of reading until my twenties. When I had choice of what I wanted to read, when I wanted to read it, it became a passion.
It is hard to know for sure but I estimate that I have read over 2,000 books. Many blogs and articles state that successful executives read over 50 books a year. I am now north of age 50 so suffice it to say, that if I averaged reading 50 books a year for 30 years then I have hit 1,500. I know it is more.
But it is not quantity. And, let me be provocative, it is not quality. It is what you pull out of a beautiful page of prose and it is how tightly you have held your nose when you read a stinker. Both offer equal value, if you get my drift.
The value is in the reading. It is the practice. It is the fun. It is the discipline. It is the sense of discovery. It takes you light years beyond learning. It is fireworks of enlightenment and understanding. It is fierce debate and collective understanding. It is an unexpected tear rolling down a cheek and a surprising chuckle that you cannot control. What we read moves us, can change our minds.
Both fiction and nonfiction are powerful vehicles, extraordinary time machines, and streaking spaceships. They take us on journeys.
A press release from September 4thgot me thinking. And that is saying something, given press releases to me are an archaic form of communications. It proclaimed:
KFC is offering a college donation to the first child born on the Colonel’s birthday (Sept. 9, 2018) named Harland…. As a birthday gift from the Colonel and KFC, the first baby Harland will receive $11,000 (in honor of KFC’s 11 herbs and spices, of course!) to go towards their college education, setting them up for future success.
It got me thinking about KFC’s marketing. Is it just a series of goofy events and preposterous merchandise or is there a deeper strategy? And is any of this activity truly helping sell product? Before I answer those questions, I have a revealing confession.
I love KFC.
The brand I mean. I eat the product only once or twice a year. It is a tradition on one occasion at my namesake golf tournament, The Swystonian Institute Golf Classic. On the kick-off night, we order up more KFC than we possibly can finish, then we finish it. It tastes fantastic, but one gorge generally holds me over for the year. In my youth, it was the best damn hangover food. I treasured it cold the next day.
Wow. It is hard to believe that it has been over 30 years. In 1984, London Life Insurance Company hit on an insight through consumer research that would become part of Canadiana. It is the country’s Just Do It or Got Milk? or Reach Out and Touch Someone. London Life established the idea of Freedom 55. It resonated and led to ubiquitous TV ads that ran continuously for 25 years.
Freedom 55 is much more than a slogan or an ad because it was never intended to be. It was the insurer’s attempt, both altruistically and self-servingly, to alert Canadians to what it took to retire. And to retire well enough at a relatively young age. For the vast majority though, we now know that packing in the career at 55 is a healthy fiction. For many, 65 is a stretch.
Yet, for 25 years London Life dined out on Freedom 55 as a brand position and marketing differentiator. Then in 2012, they shifted gears and recognized both life’s and the global economy’s uncertain variables. “It has to be rooted in reality, otherwise people will disengage, and get distracted by the grandness of it all,” said Alf Goodall, SVP, Marketing at London Life.
There was, and still is, tons of goodwill in the notion of Freedom 55. No one put the blame on London Life for a rapidly unattainable goal. As Alf Goodall pointed out in 2012, “People are very willing to broaden their perception of Freedom 55. We were the ones who were trapped a little bit in its literal imagery.” This is one of those rare cases where the populace was educated and adroit enough to separate concept from hyperbole. As early as 2010, only 28% of Canadians expected to attain financial “freedom” at 66, according to Ipsos Reid.
This will make for a great airplane, beach or two-scotch reading. After two scotches, it may even seem brilliant. Download it here… SWYSTUN_Capabilities_2018.
Recently, I passed an advertisement in Toronto’s underground PATH walkway in the downtown. Well, I probably passed scores without noticing. Oversized posters, television screens, storefronts, employees offering samples, consumers with purchases in bags with retailers logos. These were just a few examples of marketing on a relatively short walk to an ATM at my bank that flashed an ad during my transaction.
Anyway, back to that big poster that stopped me. It was nothing special. A bunch of text on white background. At the top it had a statistic, we make 35,000 decisions every day. That’s what gave me pause. People had to move around me as I read the entire ad. It was for a private health clinic and overall was very poor. The clinic needs to tell a more visual story and the ad’s placement sucked.
That is not why I share this story.
I thought about that stat for the rest of the day. It made me recall another. We have 65,000 thoughts every day. That adds up to 100,000 intentions in our head or close to 4,200 every hour and 70 every minute. No wonder we are all stressed, drink and cannot wait for marijuana stores to open.
Those of us in the communication business know we are exposed to over 5,000 ads every day. I deliberately chose the word, “exposed”. We don’t actually see them. We have become inured. Just as I was on my walk until something compelled me to stop. And that is the crux of marketing today.
In a world full of communications inhabited by people with busy lives and minds … how can brands meaningfully connect? The answer is as old as mankind. Storytelling. It has been, is, and will continue to be, the great connector.
Here is an assemblage of evidence proving the power and impact of storytelling.
An episode of the U.S. version of the television comedy, The Office, involves a Halloween costume contest at the paper supplier Dunder Mifflin. The top prize is a discount book offering coupons from local businesses. The retail cost of the book is $40.00 that offers $15,000 in savings if all coupons are redeemed. One character on the show, Oscar Martinez, is an accountant who takes exception to the irrational exuberance of his colleagues towards this prize.
The employees throw themselves into the contest. They produce topical and highly detailed costumes to best each other. The competition dominates the workday. Oscar’s frustration grows to the point where he challenges their thinking, “Everyone realizes this coupon book is not actually worth $15,000 right? You would have to spend $200,000 on crap you don’t need to get $15,000 of benefits. I am not the only one who sees this, right?”
Apparently, he is.
The employees escalate the competition by upgrading their costumes and strategizing how best to present them. Oscar tries one last time to educate his colleagues on the economics and their behavior. They aggressively rebut or outright disregard his argument.
To them, the coupon book represents $15,000 in real value. Oscar chooses to confront this irrationality head on. He switches from a colorful disco themed dance outfit to a very staid and generic ensemble worn by an everyman. Oscar explains to his colleagues using air quotes that he is now a “rational consumer”.
The contest commences with the participants showing off extremely elaborate creations including a samurai, Lady Gaga, a mummy, film director Michael Moore and a sexy nurse. Each employee casts a vote for the winning costume and to everyone’s surprise Oscar wins but the victory is greeted with little enthusiasm. The show cleverly reveals that the reasons why people voted for Oscar were as irrational as their view of the prize.
Given our confusing behaviors, it should come as no surprise that the earliest writers in marketing were psychologists. Understanding why people do what they do is at the heart of marketing. Yet, marketers constantly struggle to better their performance.
What do you think of when you hear, “the advertising industry”? Is it the embellished glamour of the Mad Men era or do you see logos and hear jingles. More abstractly, you may imagine a long assembly line spitting out ever more advertisements adding to the communication clutter in our lives.
One of the most prescient thinkers on media and marketing was Professor Marshall McLuhan. It is argued he predicted the rise of the Internet and the advent of social media decades in advance. McLuhan was the fellow who said, “The media is the message.” I was amazed to learn on a visit to Facebook headquarters that the professor’s books are required reading for staff.
One of his lessor known quotes is a doozy, “All advertising advertises advertising.” You could spend a lengthy dinner party unpacking the meaning and intent of those words. The quote caustically equates ubiquity with effectiveness while suggesting that the industry that produces ads is a self-perpetuating machine.
So where is that machine headed? What is the future of the ad industry?
Okay, um, wow. I am positively blown away by Matt Zoller Seitz’s book, Mad Men Carousel. His sentences are paragraphs, paragraphs are chapters, and chapters an entire work in density not length. I mean this in the best possible way. I never knew that when Don was stopped at the railway tracks, he was contemplating suicide. Or when Betty vomits in their recently purchased automobile it ruins the new car smell and is a form of revenge because Don has stunk up their marriage. Matt brings tons to light.
He schooled me on what is really going on in a series I have watched five times. In viewing, I was enamoured with the historical accuracy and the portrayal of the ad business, specifically the pitches. My last viewing was paired with this book (like martinis and oysters). I would watch a few episodes and then read Matt’s corresponding analysis. Then I would switch the order by reading then watching.
In so doing, I got an incredible amount more out of the stories, characters, and historical context. Matt is incredibly balanced. He calls the series out for missteps and mistakes especially when they appear to back off issues and subjects when they shouldn’t. He acknowledges the complaint of many that, “the series is merely a high-toned soap opera gussied up with period detail and allusions to literature, mythology, and other signifiers of respectability.”
Recently my stepdaughter shared an article called Rise and Shine: The Daily Routines of History’s Most Creative Minds. She is entering the creative and competitive world of acting and writing in film and television. In sharing she could not help but note that I am well practiced in the routines of coffee, long walks, and inebriation (aren’t I the greatest influence?).
All family kidding aside, I struggle with the discipline and creativity required by writing. Writing is so much of what I do now. Branding and marketing requires conveying relevant and different ideas so I have always honed this talent. Now I am writing fiction and screenplays, as well as, ghostwriting for others. I like to think I am getting better at the craft but that does not mean it gets any easier.
Oliver Burkman’s article is a review of Mason Currey’s book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. In it Currey notes that Joyce Carol Oats worked the morning, took a big break and cranked up again in the evening. Anthony Trollope set the goal of 250-words per quarter-hour. Meanwhile, Friedrich Schiller could only write in the presence of the smell of rotting apples (for me it’s fermenting grapes).
I like background noise and always have. Since studying in high school and university, the tunes or television have been on. As I type this blog on my computer, one earbud is in place hooked to my tablet where Better Call Saul is in rotation.