"Product Placement" cartoon
Product placement has been around since the early days of entertainment, but it feels like we’re in an awkward adolescent period, weird growth spurts and all. As the entire nature of entertainment shifts and viewers can more easily tune out commercial breaks, marketers are leaping more than ever into the shows themselves.

Sometimes the results are really obnoxious, like this Bones episode where the characters literally pause a murder investigation to marvel at the parking feature of their Toyota.

In other cases, the brands can help add to the story line. There’s a good Adweek article last week on how reality shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race integrated Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority and Absolut Vodka.

As RuPaul put it, “The integrations allow us to advertise things in a way that’s sort of a soft sell. We do it in a way that’s clever, that doesn’t really offend the intelligence of the viewer. We have fun with it in a way that we know what we’re doing, they know what we’re doing—and we make it an adventure.”

When I worked on the Haagen-Dazs brand 10 years ago, we dabbled in product placement and product integration. We had a product placement retainer to proactively place ice cream containers in TV shows and movies. Our product placement agency used an elaborate media calculation for the value of those impressions: length of time on screen, how integral the product was to the scene, how much of the logo you could see, etc. It got to be pretty ridiculous. I remember they put a quantified media value against a split-second cut of Cameron Diaz opening a freezer, and if you paused the movie, you could briefly see the burgundy package color of a Haagen-Dazs pint.

But then we had a chance to pitch a reality show to the Food Network to create the next Haagen-Dazs ice cream flavor. We put together a whole contest with video submissions from contestants, flew the finalists to our R&D lab to make flavors by hand, and had panels of judges narrow down the winning flavor, which we launched as our next flavor. The Food Network liked the idea so much, they expanded our pitch from a one-hour to a two-hour special, and they didn’t charge Haagen-Dazs anything because they saw it as a show, not an infomercial. They ran the final show over 10 times and it had a huge impact on the brand.

I remember in the midst of filming that my marketing instincts sometimes got in the way of telling the story. We had marketing signage with huge scoops of ice cream with our marketing tagline that I kept trying to drag into the background of the shots. At one point, the producer pulled me aside and told me I had to know when to stop marketing.

Storytelling is all the rage, but marketers are not naturally great at storytelling. Sometimes we have to learn when to stop marketing.

It will be interesting to watch how product placement evolves. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed cartoon print. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

"Branded Content" cartoon
There has never been a better time to take the stage as a brand and share content with our audience. Every night can be open mic night.

Yet the rise of content marketing has created an avalanche of really generic branded content. There is still a far greater emphasis of quantity over quality. Much of it reads the same, as if it could be from any brand, starting with the same formulaic top 10 lists. Worst of all, much of it seems clearly created for the benefit of the brand rather than the audience.

And while our audiences are more accessible than ever before, it is easier than ever for our audiences to tune us right out.

I like this assessment from Sam Slaughter at Contently:

“So if the most clichéd of media pronouncements is in fact true and content is truly king, then nascent and unchecked content marketing risks being labeled the joker, endlessly performing the same knock-knock gags and cat listicles to the general opprobrium of the court while beautifully crafted yet ineffective banner ad campaigns remain the coin of the realm … One of its central problems is that the term “content” is so ill-defined that anyone with a keyword generator and seventh-grade English can claim to be a content creator without challenge.”

Publishing is a privilege. Just because we have a soapbox doesn’t mean there will be an audience to listen to us. Content marketers need to create content worth sharing.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and examples on ways to connect with our audiences with useful and unique content.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed cartoon print. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

Target Market
I first drew this cartoon for a presentation at Google, and I’ve been getting enough requests from people to license it, I wanted to share it here.

Many brands try to be all things to all people. It can be tempting for marketers to try to target everyone, particularly if you want to reach scale. Yet brands that try to appeal to the vast majority won’t be that meaningful to any one group in particular.

In the mid 90s, I worked in Prague for a year. This was a few years after the Wall came down, and an influx of Western brands with deep pockets were trying to crack the former Communist markets. With free competition, it seemed like the days were numbered for some of the local Czech brands. Once of those brands was Kofola, a soft drink invented in 1960 as an anti-Imperialist alternative to Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

I’m back working in Prague for a couple weeks this summer, and I’ve been struck by how Kofola has not only survived, but thrived. Kofola is one of the few local brands in the world that has successfully defended against Coca-Cola and Pepsi (holding on to a 30-something share in Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland).


From what I can tell, Kofola did this by not trying to out-Coke Coke. They seem to target a narrow audience of 20-something Czech pub-goers — a good fit given that Kofola is on tap at most local pubs. They also play up their local Czech and Communist heritage. This narrow focus allows them to run with an edgy insider marketing communication style very distinct from Coke and Pepsi.

Here’s an example from one of their TV spots.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on finding your target and thinking like a micro-brand.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed cartoon print. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

How we review creative is as valuable a part of the creative process as the creative itself. Yet the creative review is often overlooked and frequently misunderstood. The most talented designers in the world will create mediocre work if the creative review process is managed in a mediocre way.

I love the video that circulated a few years ago called “Microsoft Designs the iPod Package”. In several hysterically accurate minutes, the sleek Apple packaging design devolves into a cluttered mess because of creative feedback from the Microsoft marketing team. The fascinating epilogue is that it turns out the video was created by Microsoft designers to make a point to their own marketing colleagues.

As a Microsoft spokesperson said at the time, “It was an internal-only video clip commissioned by our packaging team to humorously highlight the challenges we have faced RE: packaging and to educate marketers here about the pitfalls of packaging and branding.”

Breakthrough creative only starts when we treat our creative partners as partners.

I’d love to hear your tips and recommendations on reviewing creative. Following is a cartoon I drew in 2006 on some of the pitfalls of critiquing creative.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed cartoon print. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)


Consumers are increasingly aware just how much personal data they’re sharing with marketers. Whether browsing online or shopping in a store with a loyalty card, consumers reveal a lot of themselves every time they interact with a brand.

In a recent Communispace study (PDF), 86% of consumers would click a “Do Not Track” button if one existed and 30% would pay a 5% premium for a guarantee that their personal data would not be captured.

Yet 52% of consumers would share their personal data with marketers for discounts, with younger consumers more comfortable sharing personal data. A majority of Millennials and Gen X-ers would share data for discounts, while a majority of Boomers and Silents would not.

As I cartooned a couple of months ago, it will be interesting to watch how different brands navigate the tradeoffs of consumer privacy with personalization and relevance. I think that the brands that do best will be the ones that let consumers have a say in what data they share and how that data is used.

The Communispace study raised some interesting takeaways for marketers:

“Our research suggests serious risks for companies who don’t respect their customers’ wishes for privacy and control, and who continue to push messages – even personalized messages – without providing corresponding means for customers to seek them out and signal their intentions…

“While people increasingly accept some loss of privacy as a cost of doing business, or a way to earn perks, the majority say they do not appreciate the covert tracking that takes place in the name of “added value” and “customized experiences.”

“It … suggests a real opportunity for companies ready to engage with consumers on their terms and re-negotiate power in the vendor-customer relationship.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how marketers should navigate personal data.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

Organizations can spot the risks of a new idea a mile away. But there’s a curious blind spot when it comes to the risks of not taking those risks. The path of least resistance is to play it safe and keep the idea as close to the tried-and-true as possible. We just need to ask Polaroid how that strategy works in the long run.

I stumbled across an interesting HBR article from Bill Taylor called “Playing It Safe Is Riskier Than You Think”. In it, he writes about an analogy of risk first framed by two business professors 25 years ago.

“Executives and entrepreneurs face two very different sorts of risks. One is that their organization will make a bold move that failed — a risk they call ‘sinking the ship.’ The other is that their organization will fail to make a bold move that would have succeeded — a risk they call ‘missing the boat.’

“Naturally, most executives worry more about sinking the boat than missing the boat, which is why so many organizations, even in flush times, are so cautious and conservative. To me, though, the opportunity for executives and entrepreneurs is to recognize the power of rocking the boat — searching for big ideas and small wrinkles, inside and outside the organization, that help you make waves and change course.”

When we’re leading a project, particularly at a large company, I think that’s a big part of our job — to continually find ways to rock the boat. The most remarkable ideas go against the flow. But we don’t want to sacrifice the remarkable parts of the idea for the comfort of a smoother ride.

It’s easier than ever to prototype just about every aspect of our ideas to make them come to life. But in most stage gate meetings I’ve attended, where ideas are presented for approval, every idea is shoehorned into the exact same boring PowerPoint template. In that environment, the “safest” idea will win, not the most remarkable.

A few years ago, I heard Doug Hall lead an innovation workshop, and his session on managing risks really struck a chord with me. He said that “meaningfully unique ideas spark fear. Fear causes shut down. The secret to reducing fear is to make the unknown known. We need to turn killer issues into manageable threats”. I think we rock the boat by continually prototyping the unknowns of our ideas so that they become known.

We can’t change the inherent risk aversion of an organization. But we can rock the boat.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

The ad creative process can be just as circuitous and political as the classic Schoolhouse Rock video about how a bill becomes a law.

Creative briefs often read like peace treaties between the client and agency that pack in everything about a brand (except for a meaningful point of difference). When advertising falls flat, the root cause is often a vague and watered down brief.

This dynamic creates a lot of frustration all around, as R/GA and Beats by Dre voiced in presentation at last week’s Cannes Lions Festival (provocatively titled, “F*** Briefs”). They caused a stir by proposing to do away with briefs entirely, particularly when there’s such a need for real-time marketing and no time for navel-gazing or “numbing consensus”.

Rather than kill the brief, I think marketers need to kill the “numbing consensus”. A brief is simply a container. It’s a reflection of whether there’s a real story to bring to life in marketing communication.

I like how BBDO CEO Andrew Robertson framed it after the R/GA talk:

“Precisely because you want to be able to move in real time, you have to have had a really crisp, well-thought-through, well-articulated strategy. If everything just becomes an impulse, instead of creating a stronger wall, you’re just going to end up with a pile of rubble.

“You don’t restart every time you start another piece of work, because you know what you’re working with. You take Snickers—’You’re not you when you’re hungry’ is so precisely defined, we could, right now, write a Snickers ad set at this table in this location because the idea is so crisply defined.”

Taking the time to get to a “crisply defined” central idea is the trick. And yet so often the brief lacks that kind of powerful hook, and instead recites time-worn platitudes about the brand.

I like how this Ad Age article illustrated the situation:

“When you write a creative brief, you’re not filling out a form. You’re crafting the story of your product and its reason to exist and thrive in the world. This is the first, and arguably the most important creative act of the entire process. And yet it’s often approached with all the delight of passing a kidney stone.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the role of the brief and how to avoid the “numbing consensus”.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

Here’s a related cartoon I drew in 2011.

Marketing Technobabble
Marketers can go a little trademark crazy. Sometimes we focus so much on the trademarked features of a product that we lose sight of the actual consumer need.

Last week, someone sent me a piece of marketing communication for a new razor, the “Gillette(R) Fusion(R) ProGlide(R) with Flexball(TM) technology.” The string of four trademarked names to describe a single product cracked us both up.

Shaving is the poster category for feature proliferation. This dynamic creates opportunity for startups like Dollar Shave Club. Dollar Shave Club’s famous launch video went at the category head-on: “Don’t buy shave-tech you don’t need.” Instead of technobabble, they simply claimed “Our blades our F**king Great” and then focused on a real consumer need.

Here’s a cartoon I drew on this dynamic in 2010.
EPSON scanner image
Marketing Technobabble is common with technical products, where innovation can be tech-centric rather than consumer-centric. From razors to B2B software, brands often start to breathe their own exhaust.

I think there’s a lot that technical brands can learn from the Dollar Shave Club approach.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

How Draconian are your Brand Guidelines? Many brands focus so much on maintaining consistency that they forget one of the most important goals of Brand Guidelines — inspiring creative work.

Building a brand takes a village, inside the company and out. From agencies to packaging engineers, there are a lot of people who touch and influence how a brand comes to life. Marketers often put together guidelines to codify the rules of the brand.

When done well, Brand Guidelines are a rally cry that can inspire the extended team’s best work. When done poorly, Brand Guidelines are a wet blanket that ensures the status quo.

In 1997, I worked for one of the first interactive agencies in San Francisco, helping build web sites for Disney and others. I remember how difficult it was to apply the rigidity of the Disney Brand Guidelines to the relatively new medium of the Web. Because Disney wrote their guidelines from a print mindset, they unintentionally limited the potential of their agencies’ work and the resulting web sites looked and felt like virtual brochures.

I see the same dynamic at play today, with the evolving landscape of branding, from mobile to content marketing. Our extended brand teams need guidance, but they also need the freedom and flexibility to experiment.

When I worked at method, we invested a significant amount of effort in our Brand Guidelines for such a small company, updating Brand Guidelines practically every year. Our brand experience team tried to strike the right balance of consistency and inspiration.
Screen Shot 2014-06-14 at 1.47.18 PM
Marketers should be more than Brand Police and Brand Guidelines should be more than a set of rules to enforce.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories about creating effective and inspirational Brand Guidelines.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

push marketing


There’s a fine line between Push and pushy. Marketers have an extraordinarily powerful tool in reaching consumers through their mobile devices. There is potential to deliver messaging to consumers that is perfectly matched to their intent.

Yet much of the push marketing that I’ve experienced is anything but. Push without relevance is invasive.

There is also a fine line between cool and creepy. As marketers try to dial up the relevance of their offers, they can come across as stalking. A friend of mine received a push notification offering a hotel deal on the same street where he was standing. In one sense, this was highly targeted. Yet in another sense, it seemed a little like Big Brother. Also, the location data wasn’t cross-referenced against his billing address to know that he lives just a short drive away from where the hotel deal was offered. So, it was targeted enough to be creepy, but not targeted enough to be relevant.

We’re in an awkward adolescent stage of mobile marketing. Marketers will continue to experiment with different ways to use this new technology, and will alternately annoy and amaze consumers.

I’d love to hear your stories of mobile marketing, good and bad.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)