Nonprofits Should Not Depress

Did you know that the World WildLife Fund’s mission is “to build a future in which people live in harmony with nature”? You probably did because over the last several years this organization has grown in influence and now touts 5 million supporters and 5,000 staff. It also appears to sport a serious advertising and awareness budget. The problem is everything it communicates is a problem. I do not care how clever the advertising is…the net result suggests that we humans are just awful and should feel extremely guilty.

The WWF’s current messaging is analogous to the famous Christian Children’s Fund now ChildFund. A few decades back their ubiquitous advertisements featuring sad, malnourished children with spokesperson Sally Struthers initially worked by raising awareness. But after a time they became preachy, judgemental, and downright depressing. People began to change the channel as their own problems took precedent or they became inured to the imagery and cause. Read more

‘Top-Drawer’ Business Books 2012

It is that time of year again when media is flooded with predictions for the coming year and retrospectives on the year ending. A related practice is to put together a ‘top ten’ or ‘best of category’ list.

Through the years, I have contributed “best” business and marketing book list for various websites and magazines. Those opportunities were flattering but I was never completely comfortable labelling any book “best”. So in recent years, I assemble my own annual list.

I call my book selections ‘Top-Drawer’. This tongue-in-cheek title is meant to describe books that are top-of-mind, notable, relevant, well written, practical, thought-provoking, and innovative. Many are ones you may not have connected directly with business and that is the ultimate benefit of this list.

Life is too short to drink cheap scotch – equally so there is precious little time to tolerate books that are not ‘Top-Drawer’. Last year 13 made the list while this year 12 did with one to look for that will be published on December 31. Enjoy and I look forward to feedback on the selections that follow in no particular order. Read more

Analyzing Mad Men

When Mad Men was in a long hiatus due to contract negotiations, I found substitute in a few of the books that have been written about the show. A standout is “Analyzing Mad Men: Critical Essays on the Television Series”. The book is comprised of twelve essays involving the context, politics, women, and nostalgia of Mad Men.

The series is the brainchild of Matthew Weiner and I learned it is based entirely on monitoring the effect of change. And though Mr. Weiner is clearly fascinated with the early sixties, the show is meant to parallel the changes experienced in this last decade. He is interested in knowing whether people in tumultuous times “recognize that change is going on?”

At its base level, the series centers on capitalism, clear roles regarding the sexes and races, and unchecked hedonism. Those topics make for a great soap opera but Mad Men’s appeal is in the search for deeper meaning and connection. All the struggles and conflicts that make up the storylines are predicated on a rejection of the status quo. Read more

Party Plan Marketing

I remember hearing the concept of a “party plan” as a youth and can still feel my face scrunching up in confusion and incomprehension. It must have been in the context of a Tupperware party as that company enjoys an instant connection with the concept. The idea is largely credited to Brownie Wise for devising the actual party plan system of marketing in the 1950’s for Tupperware.

Wise was a former sales representative for Stanley Home Products who then joined Tupperware, and that is where credit for party plan marketing is slightly contested. Stanley Home Products claims on their website that the innovative selling tupperwaremethod is theirs … “this concept was the brainchild of a Stanley dealer, who began giving product demonstrations to clubs and organizations to increase sales volume.”

Regardless of birthright, the concept was a hit because it was premised on the idea that everyone should win. The Stanley approach is described as, “Homemakers would invite small groups of friends to their homes for a product demonstration and light refreshments, and the hostess in turn would receive a gift of choice from the Stanley dealer, who took orders from attendees.”

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Bernbach, Burnett, & Ogilvy on Social Media

The advertising greats who dominated Madison Avenue in the 1950’s and 1960’s left the industry an incredible legacy. Among the assets passed down and still passionately referenced are their quotes. Taken in the aggregate these bon mots represent key philosophies of business and communication. It is amazing how timeless these musings and lessons remain. Yet, much has changed in the practice of delivering compelling communications.

“Advertising” is too confining a label, consumers play an ever increasing role in how brands define themselves, technologies proliferate at ever greater speeds and we are firmly in the grip and promise of social media. This led me to wonder what the leaders of Madison Avenue would think about social media. So I combed through their thoughts to find relevance and application.

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A Mad Message

Professor Marshall McLuhan is an interesting chap. His notable ideas: “the medium is the message” and “the global village” continue to inform (and to prompt debate). Some argue that McLuhan predicted the World Wide Web almost thirty years before it was invented. His ideas also covered metamedia, media ecology, figure and ground media, tetrad of media effects, and hot and cool media.

Born in Edmonton, educated in my hometown Winnipeg, and notable while a Professor at the University of Toronto, McLuhan passed away in 1980. He was a celebrity intellectual and as the Globe and Mail points out, “For most of the 1960s and part of the 1970s, McLuhan seemed to be everywhere – on radio, in print, in film (most notably with a cameo appearance in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall) and especially on television. The latter, ironically, was a medium he considered pernicious, a certain harbinger of the eventual demise of print culture. He distilled his genius, including phrases that became and remain part of the daily lexicon, such as ‘the medium is the message,’ into sometimes puzzling aphorisms, an early form of the sound byte.” Read more

The Origins of “Marketing”

“To Market, To Market”, so goes the nursery rhyme first referenced in 1598. It was passed from generation to generation for two hundred years until printed in Songs for the Nursery in 1805. As a result, it spread and it is thought that families changed the words producing relevant variations. My favorite stanza from the documented version is:

“To market, to market, to buy a plum cake; Home again, home again, market is late. To market, to market, to buy a plum bun; Home again, home again, market is done.”

 Light and fanciful, it ironically communicates shopping frustration: the market does not open on time and then is unexpectedly closed. Yet beckons the consumer as an early advertisement for a range of goods including plum cakes and buns along with hogs and pigs. Read more