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Uncategorized April 6, 2024 David Bolgiano A fair amount of my career has been spent practicing the dark arts of advertising. These are the supernatural laws of persuasion designed a very long time ago by some suave and mysterious wizard in a cave with a name like Merlin McCann, Gandalf Olgivy or Dumbledore Draper.  Legend has it that with the right mixture of a few secret ingredients, new customers will pop out of thin air and will live happily ever after. Back in the 1990’s it became more fashionable to describe advertising as marketing because it sounded more sophisticated.  Of course, most creative types weren’t particularly well schooled in the other functions of marketing except making ads. Academics more eagerly embraced it and fit it into frameworks, strategies and methodologies.  As we entered the 21st century, marketing as a term of art became passé and we became brand masters.  The word brand was sticky, meaning it stuck to everything like gum to a shoe.  I still cringe whenever I hear politicians using the word to attack their opponents as in “The Republican brand is tarnished.” Now, we live in the digital age.  With the infusion of technology and the Internet, the old Draper magic has definitely evolved into something new.  Or has it?  The secret to growing your business (or brand if you prefer), is to connect with the potential customer at a deeper, emotional level.  And the easiest way to do that is for them to like you.  (Now you can fire your agency if you like because that’s the simple truth.) In dealing with many advertisers over the years, there is usually one overriding area of conflict when attempting to sell a client on a new, creative campaign. Generally the client will say, “Now I’m not an advertising expert but,” and then they start to lay out a rational set of factoids they believe the customer only needs to hear a few times to win them over forever.  The conflict arises when the ad-marketing-brand-digital guy tries to explain another simple truth: people are practical creatures, but most often buy out of emotion.  I know of what I speak, because I have had many of those client conversations and talked to thousands of the Edwards of the world. I have worked with insurance clients for many years.  In one case, I was testing a variety of insurance television commercials with customers throughout the country.  My research director had added a new spot on the test reel from Geico that featured the now famous talking gecko.  Geico’s agency, The Martin Agency, had created the little animated character out of necessity; there was a Screen Actors Guild strike.  It was supposed to name associate Geico and gecko. Martin Agency creative wizard Steve Bassett found that many customers mispronounced the brand name as “gecko.” The agency and the client hoped they would strike gold with visual/verbal mnemonic that would be a lot less expensive than paying an actor.   As I saw it, the problem was, no one in my focus groups even knew the word gecko so the connection was lost on them.  I only found two people out of forty who knew the word gecko.  They thought the character was as one person put it “a limey lizard.”  My report to my client (who competed against Geico) simply said that the gecko was no threat and that I hoped the agency would keep using “the little green character no one even understand.”  Big mistake. What I had missed in the deeply conservative category of insurance was a break-out moment.  Martin’s client got it while the entire industry, including my own, didn’t.  The agency rejected what I like to call “ FF and L” (facts, figures and legacy) advertising usually preferred by financial services advertisers.  Think of the typical “eighty billion strong and serving drivers since 1932” message.  Geico was not focused on the sort term.  Since Warren Buffet had bought the remaining shares in 1995 (Berkshire-Hathaway had owned a minority interest since 1975), the company was playing for keeps. Auto insurance is a very low interest category.  People are mandated to buy by the state and their bank if they owe money on their car.  The only time you see any value to paying your monthly premium check if an inherently negative experience: an accident or loss of some type.  They see auto insurance carriers as commodities with little difference between the brands.  They often worry that switching to another carrier may cause them to lose valuable discounts.  In the end, there has traditionally been a very low emotional connection to insurance companies. Geico decided to compete on one benefit only – low price.  But it is hard to win people’s hearts with only a rational benefit like savings.  To win at this game they decided it was critical to entertain their prospects while always embedding a simple price message of saving 15% in 15 minutes.   That basic tagline has been used continuously since 1994 in one way or another. The emotional connection Geico has made with their customers has worked.  The combined campaigns have increased Geico’s market share from in the late 1990’s 2% to 14% today.  They have become the third largest auto insurer in the country. Brands reach a cult like status when their advertising enters the popular culture.  A few years ago, on a very delayed flight out of Atlanta, my pilot tried to make us smile when he announced, “Folks, we’re now 20th in line for takeoff.  But I have some good news.  I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance by switching to GEICO!”   Another widely quoted line was “So easy a caveman could do it”.    Geico has stuck with this winning formula.  Often called “The Ultimate Client”, every ad agency is envious of the budget and the freedom Martin has been given to stay with a direction long enough to see dramatic results.  Over the past

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Uncategorized April 6, 2024 David Bolgiano For customers there really is no middle ground.  The question is why there are so many products that don’t.  In theory, it seems simple enough.  The Balridge Performance Excellence Program is dedicated to improving the competitiveness and performance of U.S. organizations. They define product performance as “performance relative to measures and indicators of product and service characteristics important to customers. Examples include product reliability, on-time delivery, customer-experienced defect levels, and service response time.” Yet, most experts agree that over 90% of most new products fail.  Sometimes the product is poorly marketed.  Other times, it is a brand extension that is so far afield of the root brand that potential buyers are confused.  But usually, it is just because the product doesn’t do what the customer needed it to do in the first place. Fail There’s a place where products that just didn’t perform end up.  It’s kind of the graveyard for product flops.  Aptly called The Museum of Failed Products in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the museum houses thousands of losers, many from some of the biggest enterprises in the world.  In his book, The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, Oliver Burkeman explains why he believes so many failed products line the shelves at the museum. “Each one must have made it through a series of meetings at which nobody realized that the product was doomed. Perhaps nobody wanted to contemplate the prospect of failure; perhaps someone did but didn’t want to bring it up for discussion. Even if they realize where things are headed, there’s a perverse incentive for marketers to plough more money into a lemon: that way, they can force some sales and preserve their dignity. By the time the truth becomes obvious, the original developers will have moved to other products, or other firms. Little energy will have been invested in discovering what went wrong; everyone involved will have conspired, perhaps without realizing what they’re doing, never to speak of it again.” It seems that many of these products made it through their company R&D pipeline with little thought, much less consultation with actual potential customers.  Who could forget classic brand mash ups like Ben Gay Aspirin?  Clairol’s Touch of Yogurt Shampoo?  Coors Rocky Mountain Spring Water?  Bic Underwear?  In hindsight, these are colossally bad, even foolish ideas for products.  Is the idea of shampooing with yogurt any better than if we had something called Shell Oil Cologne?  (To my knowledge, no such product exists.)   Thankfully, the marketplace put these pathetic products out of their misery without much fanfare.  I’ve studied many of these dud’s overs the years. My favorite failure is still Colgate Kitchen Entrees.  Yes, what a perfectly delightful combination; toothpaste and dinner!  Some geniuses at Colgate Palmolive decided the world needed yet another line of frozen meals.  Kitchen Entrees set a new low for brand extensions. The product was a complete disaster because customers could see no valid connection. How Does This Happen? What drove management forward on these incredibly bad product ideas?  Were they dreamed up in some kind of stream of consciousness brainstorming session?  Someone in authority had to approve the idea, fork out the money for testing, prototyping, production, and marketing.  How does this happen? “Hardly a day goes by that we don’t see an announcement for some new product or technology that is going to make our lives easier, solve some or all of our problems, or simply make the world a better place,” designer Bill Buxton writes in his book, Sketching User Experience.  “Few of these products survive, much less deliver on their typically over-hyped promise.”  Buxton, and great designers like him, believe that there is no design context.  “To design a tool, we must understand the larger physical, social, and psychological context in which it will be used. And that’s something designers are trained to do,” he says. This means simply that when companies ignore the human side of product performance, they are setting themselves up for failure.  Customer focused design is the key to performance.  What’s the point of creating bizarre new product combinations or adding meaningless bells and whistles if the ultimate buyer could care less?  If they are happy with the products they are currently using, it’s doubtful they will suddenly be struck by lightning to switch to a new product.  In fact, most companies, even conservative ones, wildly overestimate the success their new offering will have in the market. It’s clear that companies need to have a clearer path to understand what performance criteria their customers expect.   Better design must be present in products, services, and experiences.  Subscribe × Submit your email to sign up for our newsletter: Business Wiser Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.Email * Submit Close