The Latest From Echo-Factory

Are You ‘Killing’ Your Creatives?

06/25/2015 by Syble Harrison

Your Leadership Style Could Be Your Company’s Ultimate Demise

Are your deliverables becoming the duckface selfies of the ad world? Is your stuff leaving a smile-frown on your clients’ faces? It could be that your leadership style is killing your company’s mojo. To succeed, your creative agency must operate like an organism healthy enough to give birth to new ideas—and with great prolifery. That said, let me share with you the brutal truth: You will watch your agency die a slow and painful death if you fail to protect yourself from the fatal disease of micromanagement.

Consider my use of the non-word prolifery in the paragraph above. This non-word works quite nicely and even has a peppy ring to it, IMO. And if you’ve read this far, you understood what I meant when I used it. If one of your writers used such a non-word, would you ask them to change it? Would you be afraid that someone reading the article might think your agency hires writers who, banish the thought, can’t write good? Over time, constant requests to change things such as silly non-words in feature articles (things of no real import) will chip away at your organization’s creative heart. Though seemingly insignificant, if excessive, these little changes send a deadly message: I don’t trust you because your work’s not that good.

Please understand, I realize that editing and revisions are necessary parts of the creative process. The thing is, with creatives, as with rebellious, vulnerable children, you must choose your battles wisely. And here’s why: Most creative professionals are rebellious and vulnerable children wrapped in grown-up bodies. Don’t be fooled by their occasional aloofness. They want to please you. They want you to hang their work on the fridge. There are always those who balk at this assertion, but they are invariably the feisty and cynical Hemingway types, and, well, we know how that played out.

Micromanagement — A Buzzword With Which To Be Reckoned

I, like you, throw up a little bit when I hear the buzzword micromanagement. I’m sick of hearing it like everyone else. However, though they eventually bruise our brains, buzzwords serve an important purpose. They help us work through concepts we’re all thinking about. And we tend to think collectively about stuff that is actually important (or cool or awesome, but, in the case of micromanagement, there’s none of that). So why, then, is the concept of micromanagement so important? Because it’s really, really, really bad for business.

Before I offer up the whys of its lethality, I’d like to outline a couple of subtypes of this terrible disease—those with which I’ve had personal experience.

Subtype Wrecking Ball

This aggressive subtype is capable of delivering the deathblow faster than you can say, “I have an idea.” The Wrecking Ball is almost always characterized by loudness. Think J. Jonah Jameson of the Daily Bugle. Only, for the real-life Peter Parkers, the ones who don’t have the self-esteem bolstering outlet of the superhero-by-night identity, the effects of this abuse can be catastrophic to creative ability. Referring back to the inner child, Wrecking Balls, like authoritarian though well-meaning parents, inspire in their creatives a desperate, unmet need to please. The creative living under the watchful eye and resounding disapproval of the Wrecking Ball is trapped in an after-school special with no resolution and no commercial breaks.

The Wrecking Ball might say, I will call the shots! My word is law around here! They’re my clients and this is my company! Of course I have the last say.

Yes, of course you do—and you should. Everyone agrees. But how about having the last say without having to have the constant say? Ask yourself why you wanted to run a creative business in the first place. It was probably because you saw other guys making a living by producing neat stuff, and you thought that was awesome. And it is. But those other guys weren’t micromanaging their creatives (that is, not if their agencies were successful enough that you took notice). To become like them, you’ve got to let go.

Subtype Soft Killer

Though more insidious, this subtype is equally fatal. The Soft Killer is not loud or abusive, just always on the verge of a pass-out panic attack. The Soft Killer is often seen lurking on the fringes of the inner circle because he or she must always be close enough to hear the conversations going on, yet far enough away to avoid engaging in them. He or she is highly compelled to squelch any edgy dialogues that could take the campaign in a potentially disastrous direction. The creatives will know when the Soft Killer hears something he or she perceives as dangerous. They will notice the Soft Killer begin to edge toward the inner circle, feigned composure betrayed by darting eyes and wringing hands. This behavior will put the creatives on high alert because they know that in those twisted mitts, the Soft Killer is warming up a hefty dose of pseudo-sweet slapdown that is sure to deliver slow yet certain death by demotivation.

The Soft Killer might say, But it is too scary; if I set them free, they will run amok like non-neurotypical children on high doses of sugar and red dye!

Perhaps; but good creative is messy. And the best of it is always spiced with a dash of ADHD. Plus, know this: Right there, in the middle of that anxiety-provoking mess, is where you’ll find the ideas capable of taking your company to the top.

The Lethality of Micromanagement

Mike Schaffer, my boss and principal at the award-winning Pasadena advertising agency Echo-Factory, said, “I’ve stood back and watched creative flow wither on the vine because every time a little shoot began to grow, it got snipped off. It’s such a waste of resources. With my team, I approach it like, ‘Do it now. Apologize to me later.’ Is it risky? Sure. But isn’t every great thing? There’ll be fails along the way, but there’ll also be the kickass creative that resounds so loud and long you start to realize the mistakes are part of the process, not a hindrance to it. It’s like this: You can grow flowers pretty easily, but if you want them to be awesome flowers, you better give them the right environment. If you don’t want to do that, you’re going to have to settle for convenience-store bouquets. They’ll do the job, but you might not get a second date.”

And with clients, that second date is the first step toward putting a ring on it.

Nancy Andreasen is a neuroscientist renowned for her research on the creative mind. In a recent article in The Atlantic, titled “Secrets of the Creative Brain,” she wrote, “When eureka moments occur, they tend to be precipitated by long periods of preparation and incubation, and to strike when the mind is relaxed.”

A wild-eyed manager hovering over your desk like an aerial battle drone (while it might inspire creative ways to escape) is not relaxing and is not going to do much for finding the perfect tag line (unless the client is an illegal arms dealer).

Recently, to gain some insight on creativity, MIT Technology Review interviewed Isaac Asimov, a polymath, renowned science fiction writer, and pretty much one of the most creative guys ever. In the article, titled “On Creativity,” Isaac said, “Joviality, the use of first names, joking, relaxed kidding are, I think, of the essence—not in themselves, but because they encourage a willingness to be involved in the folly of creativeness.”

Folly. Now that’s a great word, Isaac. According to Merriam-Webster, it means “Lack of good sense or normal prudence and foresight; a foolish act or idea; an excessively costly or unprofitable undertaking.” I left out the parts about criminally foolish or lewd behavior because we’re not trying to do all that, in most cases.

The point is, to generate great ideas, creatives have to feel safe saying what’s on their minds, regardless of how dumb it might sound. The interviewers went on to ask Isaac how, then, creative people could be made to feel safe. He said, “First and foremost, there must be ease, relaxation, and a general sense of permissiveness. The world in general disapproves of creativity, and to be creative in public is particularly bad. Even to speculate in public is rather worrisome. The individuals must, therefore, have the feeling that the others won’t object.”

But object they do—if they’re micromanagers. And here’s the extra-frustrating part: Most micromanagers really admire creative people and desperately want them as part of their organizations. A recent BusinessWeek article reported that, “According to a new survey of 1,500 chief executives conducted by IBM’s Institute for Business Value, CEOs identify ‘creativity’ as the most important leadership competency for the successful enterprise of the future.” That’s way too many chief executives for there to be less than a few hundred micromanagers in the lot.

These leaders characterized the ideal employee as a “communicator” who is also a “pro-active, curious problem-solver and risk-taker.” Nothing will hamstring that character like the mental exhaustion generated by constant, critical supervision.

According to Dea Goldsmith, Echo-Factory’s creative director and other principal, this compulsion to over-edit among many executives is partly the result of a common misunderstanding. She said, “I think people imagine macromanaging as the opposite of micromanaging. Like it’s this free-for-all kind of approach, where there are no boundaries for creatives to work within. You know, you just hand the client’s boilerplate or product description to the creative team and hope for the best. That would be insane—and just as damaging to morale and productivity as micromanagement. The key to generating solid creative work is giving your team parameters to work within, and then stepping back and letting them have at it within those boundaries. The ‘letting them have at it’ part is what scares micromanagers. They need to learn to set effective boundaries so that they can trust those boundaries enough to walk away.”

So what’s the cure for the common creativity killer?

First, take some deep breaths. Then, use your administrative and analytical gifts to design boundaries for your creative team that will allow them the freedom they need to give you the deliverables you need. Third, and most importantly, chill the hell out. The choice is yours. Whether you go on killing them softly, or keep coming in like a wrecking ball, one thing is certain either way: Your clients won’t be hearing a love song.

We’ve just signed ZPower as our newest client

06/08/2015 by Michael Schaffer

Pasadena-based advertising agency Echo-Factory announced today that it has signed ZPower LLC as a client.

ZPower is a Camarillo, Calif.-based manufacturer of silver-zinc rechargeable batteries and systems. The company’s innovative battery technology can match or exceed the performance of the lithium-ion batteries typically found in smartphones and laptops. The batteries’ ability to function in a very small size makes them perfect for specialty applications like hearing aids and wearable medical devices.

“I believe that over the next year, ZPower is going to drastically change the hearing aid market,” said Michael Schaffer, co-founder and partner at Echo-Factory. “I’m thrilled that Echo-Factory gets to be a part of that process.”

ZPower’s innovative recharging system will allow hearing aid wearers to charge their hearing aids overnight, just like a smartphone. The batteries will provide more than 24 hours of power, even in today’s most advanced and power-hungry models.

“Echo-Factory was an easy choice for us,” said Dr. Ross Dueber, chief executive officer and director at ZPower. “We loved their company culture and past work. They’re out to disrupt an entire industry, just like us.”

Echo-Factory will be working on a range of projects for ZPower over the coming months, starting with the launch of ZPower’s new rechargeable solution for hearing aids.

“There are two things that make an ideal client, from my perspective,” said Dea Goldsmith, co-founder and partner at Echo-Factory. “Someone who’s making a genuinely good product, and someone who’s making the world a bit better in the process. ZPower definitely checks off both those boxes.”

The underlying battery technology used in ZPower’s products has been used for mission-critical aerospace and military applications for decades, including powering Apollo space missions, undersea vehicles, missiles and naval torpedoes. However, it took ZPower’s research and innovation to develop a silver-zinc battery that could be safely recharged hundreds of times with minimal energy loss.

The batteries are also very environmentally friendly. Each ZPower hearing aid battery can replace about 100 disposable batteries, and ZPower batteries are fully recyclable through the company’s own in-house recycling program. ZPower’s batteries are manufactured in Camarillo, Calif.

“Our company has built a product that we’re very proud of,” said Dr. Dueber. “Now we’re confident we have the right partner to help us share that product with the people who need it most.”

 

Let’s All Freak-Out About Mobilegeddon. Or Not.

04/22/2015 by Andrew Hoehn

A FAQ About Google’s New Algorithim Update

Yesterday, Google updated its search algorithm so that when you search on a mobile device, you’ll be more likely to get results for pages that are mobile-optimized.

It seems like the most obvious thing in the world, and the only question everyone should be asking is, “What took so long?”

But tech writers, never a group to let a potential crisis pass them by without adding some melodrama, have generated a storm of anxiety about Google’s update.  They’ve even created a name.  Mobilegeddon.

Ugh.

So, in case you’re on the fence about whether or not you need to freak out about Google’s algorithm update, we’ve created a helpful FAQ.


The Mobilegeddon Freakout FAQ

Q: Is Google Stupid?

A: No.  Google hires the smartest search engineers on the planet, to create search algorithms that deliver relevant results.  They’re not going to suddenly stop returning relevant results because a site isn’t mobile optimized.

This update is simply adding mobile-friendliness as one factor (among thousands of factors) Google will use to rank results for searches from smartphones and tablets.

 

Q: How do I know if Google thinks my site is mobile-optimized?

A: Ask Google what it thinks.

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 1.31.29 PM

Turns out our website is mobile optimized, which is good, because it would be super-embarrassing to be an agency that builds mobile responsive websites, and not have one ourselves.

 

Q: Oh no! My site’s not mobile-optimized! I should freakout, right?

A: Maybe.  Probably not.  If your site hasn’t already been mobile-optimized, it’s still worth remembering that only your mobile organic search traffic will be affected by this switch.

 

Q: OMG, what if I lose all my mobile traffic?

A: First, you need to find out how much “all my mobile traffic” is.  Go in to Google Analytics, click on “Audience > Mobile > Overview” and look at the numbers.

Mobile_Tablet

Like you can see, about 15% of Echo-Factory.com’s traffic comes from mobile devices.

 

Q: OMG, I’m going to lose 15% of my site’s traffic?!

A: No.  On that same analytics page, click the “Secondary Dimension” dropdown and select “Medium.”  The only traffic that will be affected by this update is Mobile and Tablet “Organic” traffic.  That means traffic that comes from organic search engines, on mobile devices.

Mobile_Organic

As you can see, for us, that’d be about 9% of our total traffic.

 

Q: OMG, I’m going to lose 9% of my site traffic?!

A: No.  You’re probably going to see some reduction in your organic mobile search traffic, if your site isn’t mobile optimized.  You almost certainly won’t lose all your organic mobile traffic, but you almost certainly will see some reduction in your organic mobile traffic.

 

Q: So I shouldn’t do anything?

A: Of course you should do something.  Everyone uses the mobile internet, and poorly-optimized sites suck on mobile devices.  Building a mobile, responsive site doesn’t add too much to the cost of a redesign or new site, and adds tons of usability for mobile users.  That’s why every site we’ve built for at least the last couple years has been responsive and mobile-friendly.

But unless your site is highly-dependent on mobile traffic from organic searches, “Mobilegeddon” won’t mark the end of the world for you.  Don’t rush into anything shortsighted, but do plan a sensible strategy to make your site mobile-friendly the right way.

 

Q: If I make my site mobile-friendly, how long will it take for Google to notice?

A: Not long.  Google’s promised that the mobile-friendliness of any site is calculated “realtime”, every time Google spiders your site.  So if you do see a dip in mobile traffic due to the update, you can fix it the minute you make your site mobile-friendly.

Some testing suggests that the actual time to update from a non-mobile-friendly to a mobile-friendly site in Google is less than 24-hours.

 

Q: How do I make my site mobile-friendly? 

A: When you ran your site through Google’s mobile-friendly testing tool, if there were problems, Google probably told you what the problems were.  Unless you’re a web developer, you probably didn’t understand what Google was telling you.

In that case, the best course of action is to talk with a web developer.  We’d be happy to help, but here are a few guidelines to keep in mind.

  • Don’t Be Afraid to Redesign. Editing an existing site to be responsive and mobile-friendly can be a lot of work.  Designing a site from the ground-up to be mobile and responsive doesn’t add much work to the overall redesign process.  Even if the cost is about the same, if you go with a redesign, you’ll have a new, fresh site design to work with.
  • Use a framework. There are several frameworks that make building a mobile-friendly, responsive site easy. We usually use bootstrap, but there are other good options like foundation, skeleton, gumby and more.  Which framework you choose mostly comes down to personal preference, so let your developer chose their favorite.  The important thing is that you’ll save tons of time and money by using one vs. building a responsive site from scratch.
  • Test it Out. When you see your first beta version of your new responsive mobile-friendly site, test it out on your phone.  It’s one thing to make Google think your site is mobile-friendly, but you also want to make sure you’re giving actual visitors a good experience while they’re there.

 

 Q: Thanks. I feel much better.

A: That’s not a question, but you’re welcome.

Building A New ‘Oz’ For Advertising Photography

04/10/2015 by Syble Harrison

Unlimited Usage Rights Are Forging A Golden Road To Better Client Relations In Advertising Photography

Photo, we’re not in Kansas anymore — the yellow brick road of the digital age now leads us all to a land overflowing with digital visual delights. And it’s time the advertising photography industry got the picture. So listen up, Scarecrow.

Here’s the reality: Anyone can take a picture and upload it in seconds, and rights-protected work is easy to access for free. The digital realm is full of imagery and equally full of people working on projects that require visual content. For these folks, a little flick of the right click, and—voilà! Their stuff can be good enough. But good enough is not what we want for our clients.

Yes, downloadable images of anything are all over the Internet for the taking. And while there are amazing lawyers out there who have dedicated their lives to protecting content, try as they might to end all photo filching once and for all, ain’t nobody got time for that! At least, not yet.

In the interim, then, should we accept that advertising photography has lost its artistic sacredness? “Good enough” work is captured in seconds on cell phones or downloaded in a flash. So, it’s all a done deal, right? Silly Cowardly Lion, no! Digital media is not the Wicked Witch of the West. Sure, decent pictures are everywhere. But great pictures take a little something else. A trip down the road of social media will demonstrate the point. And that’s where the temptation of point and click loses its power. Our creative is our ruby slippers.

We could almost say, then, that digital media is our Glinda the Good Witch, making us better photographers by raising the standard of what defines a work of art—and any real artist knows that raising the bar is always a great thing. Not to mention that we’re operating in a global advertising photography market estimated at $230.9 billion in 2013, which any real business owner would agree is a very great thing. The problem is many photographers and ad agencies have allowed the old-school business model to become the Little Darling, holding them back and squashing their creative mojo. What we have to remember is that, in the 20th century, print ads dominated the advertising world, and a publication’s use rights were generally restricted to a specific outlet or geographic location. So it made sense that photographers collected fees for individual images, each one licensed for a particular use. But then came the Internet, where photographs are displayed through almost countless channels, across international borders.

So, granted, the Web has made the advertising photography industry a tough place. It’s become difficult to determine and enforce the copyright usage boundaries of the photographs we create and sell. And the Internet has certainly added to the sprawling field of options out there. But I think we ought to start listening to the good witch: Stop focusing on the bottom line and start focusing on the creative. The ruby slippers will work.

As soon as it opened its doors in 2007, Echo-Factory, with its in-house photography studio, strapped on the slippers, taking a forward-thinking approach to managing the evolution in the business of pictures by offering clients unlimited usage rights to custom advertising photography the agency creates for campaigns. Echo-Factory President Michael Schaffer believes this is the simplest and best approach to meeting the challenge of change. He said, “This model allows Echo-Factory to focus on the creative what we do best. It eliminates the hassle of contracts, and instead of concentrating on single-use images — and single-image customers — this agreement typically results in the production of a body of work over the course of a long-term relationship. Our clients get the most out of their investment, and we don’t have to spend time and money chasing our best work all over the Internet.”

Looking up the road, we see a highly competitive advertising Oz dominated by visual appeal. But have no fear, my pretties; the ruby slippers are within reach. Agencies in the advertising photography industry just need to spend their energies making outstanding images — an effort that will allow them to seamlessly adapt to the changing market and render them able to maintain the fine balance between profitability and the creation of great art.

Check out our Press Release to learn more. Also, visit our Work Page to see Echo-Factory’s portfolio of advertising photography and to request a quote.

Thinking About Acquisition? Think About Branding

04/03/2015 by Michael Schaffer

(article written for CSQ magazine)

Branding can play an enormous role in creating or destroying value during an acquisition

 

Bringing in a CFO to “clean up the books” before acquisition is a common process. Even if the books aren’t particularly dirty to begin with, a good CFO has the ability to help cast the company in the best possible financial light to potential investors.

The fact that CFOs can make or break an acquisition isn’t news1, and any CEO worth their salt would recognize their importance in the process. What many worthwhile CEOs might miss is the fact that good branding can be equally important in an acquisition.

In marketing, “customer perceived value” is a common term. It refers to the benefit the customer expects from the product. This perception can be strongly influenced by branding.

On this level, acquisitions are really no different than any other purchase. The company being acquired is the product, and the company doing the acquiring is the customer. Even the best product can use the benefit of good branding to increase its perceived value.

THE BRANDING GAP

I’ve worked with many companies that had a significant gap between their actual value and the value their branding suggests.

I’ve seen $20 million companies that look like $1 million companies because of outdated, amateur or non-existent branding. I’ve seen $1 million companies come off convincingly like $10 million companies because they invested intelligently in their branding.

WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE

I’ve been through the process of helping companies clean up their branding before acquisitions several times. Every company is unique, but the broad outlines tend to look the same.

The process starts with a company that’s successful, but for any number of good reasons has branding which doesn’t reflect or amplify that success.

Maybe branding was ignored because growth was happening without it. Maybe other areas of the business had more pressing needs for investment, or (more often than you’d expect) branding was neglected simply because no one ever really got around to focusing on it.

Sometimes, the company has a target goal for acquisition. They want to get bought within a year, two years, four years. Other times they’re not sure what that timeline will look like or even if acquisition is the path they want to pursue, but they want to make sure they still look good to potential acquirers.

Regardless, the process is the same. We start by developing a strategy. Something that addresses their biggest branding deficiencies, and will make the biggest impact to their potential customers, who are the companies that might acquire them. The specifics often depend on the industry. In B2B, we frequently focus on improved product support materials, a bigger presence at industry events and an overall brand refresh. In B2C it’s more likely to be direct consumer outreach, merchandising and carefully targeted media campaigns.

Once we’ve settled on the most effective strategy, we work with the company to implement that plan over the course of their target acquisition timeline.

THE RESULTS

Branding is no different than any other investment. In the end, it all comes down to ROI.

The challenge is that with branding, ROI can be difficult to compute. In an acquisition, how much precisely is the purchase price affected by branding? It’s hard to say.

What I can confidently say is that branding can contribute enormously.

We worked with one company that spent less than $400,000 on branding and marketing over the course of 4 years. At the beginning of that company’s branding campaign, they were valued at close to $5 million. When they were acquired 4 years later, it was for close to $25 million.

Of course we can’t attribute a company’s entire increase in valuation to branding.

In this particular example, the company’s CEO estimated that branding accounted for somewhere between $5 million and $15 million of that increase. That’s somewhere between a 12x and 37x return on investment, simply from helping to increase the perceived value of the company.

HIRE MORE THAN A CFO

If you’re thinking about an acquisition, by all means bring in a CFO to clean up the books and make sure that potential investors will be impressed with your financials. But don’t stop there.

If your books look great but your branding doesn’t, you’re going to leave a lot of value on the table.

Our Article Published in Intelligent Utility’s Smart Cities Library Series

03/30/2015 by Echo-Factory

intelligent utility

Here at Echo Factory, if we were asked to provide insight as to how one successfully markets a business or product, we would say first and foremost, “know your audience and know your industry.”

 

Nowhere is this truth more relevant than in the energy management and delivery industry. To be successful in a field as complicated, multi-faceted and important as this one, marketers must understand all the varying perspectives at play. Echo Factory, Inc. has a number of energy industry and efficiency clients. Our clients range from start-ups to nationally recognized brands, and we have provided marketing support, for many of them, from the infancy of their businesses, through acquisition and beyond. In positioning them for success and through our drive to build our own knowledge and understanding, we put a significant amount of time and effort into researching the energy management and delivery industry and understanding its dynamic and ever more powerful customer base.

 

All of this research has resulted in a fairly comprehensive view of this industry and has even allowed us to contribute to the greater conversation in what we hope is a useful and meaningful way. This week, Intelligent Utility, one of the industry’s leading sources of information regarding the current and future state of energy management, published an article authored by Echo Factory writer and brand strategist, Hayley Raynes. The article explores the potential for Class A building demand response implementation from the building operator’s perspective. If you’re interested in having a look, you can access the article here: Achieving Efficiency in the Commercial Building Sector.

 

We are grateful to the folks over at Intelligent Utility for giving us the opportunity to share what we’ve learned with the utility industry, and we look forward to seeing how this conversation will evolve.

 

If you’re interested in seeing how our industry expertise helps position our clients for success, please visit our portfolio page.

Echo Factory Participates in This Year’s Techsparks Cross Campus Tech Crawl

02/19/2015 by Michael Schaffer

More than 100 Innovators Toured the Echo Factory Office 

tech sparks tech crawl pasadena


Last Wednesday, as a featured business on this year’s Techsparks Cross Campus Tech Crawl, Echo Factory opened its doors to the Pasadena innovation community, welcoming more than 100 of the area’s brightest entrepreneurs for a tour, some socializing, a drink or two and some great discussion.

As one of five tech-affiliated businesses on the crawl, we hosted four groups averaging around thirty people each. Making the rounds between Cross Campus, Ayzenberg, Central Desktop and Ableton, visitors toured the Echo Factory office and studio, had their photo taken on our EF step-and-repeat, learned about our business and viewed some of our work.

Did we mention the drinks? And the robot cake pops? Delicious.

Throughout the office, we set up a number of stations where visitors could learn about our tech clients, and the work we do on their behalf. Featured clients included:

Mag-Lite

Cloud Pets by Spiral

Ray Products

P-2 Precision Paragon

Emergency ID

We at Echo Factory had a lot of fun and really enjoyed meeting and interacting with members of the Innovate Pasadena community. Being new in town, the crawl was a great way to make some new friends and learn more about the innovation going on each day all around us.

And, let’s be real, who doesn’t value a solid excuse to drink it up with a bunch of smart, well-spoken, good-looking people?

Thanks to Innovate Pasadena and Tech Sparks for hooking us up with this opportunity, and thanks to all who turned out, had a shot and talked some shop. We hope to see you again soon. In the meantime, check out our portfolio, we’re updating all the time.

Our newest client: Spiral Toys

02/07/2015 by Michael Schaffer

As announced recently by Entertainment Tech Company Spiral Toys.  We’ve been selected to lead their branding and marketing effort which began with the transition of the name and Stock Ticker Symbol to Spiral Toys (STOY)

http://money.cnn.com/news/newsfeeds/articles/marketwire/11G031568-001.htm

Spiral Toys Logo

Kids today are growing up in a digital age like nothing anyone more than 30 years of age probably ever could have imagined. The world has become so digital and connected with computers, tablets, game consoles, smartphones and the like and is an integral part of many young children’s lives to the extent that some five-year-olds know more about getting online and doing things via the web than their grandparents or even their parents.

Where many adults a few years ago were trying to wrap their brains around connecting to the web without an Ethernet cord and what the “cloud” even is, youngsters today don’t even know any different.

Technology has even re-shaped interaction with toys, much like the way Spiral Toys, Inc. (OTCQB:STOY) has done with its CloudPets™.
Cloud Pets
Looking like a typical teddy bear, CloudPets are connected (here’s a surprise) through the cloud to a mobile device application, allowing messages to be sent back and forth between the bear and the app. Spiral Toys, sells its CloudPets for $29.99 (+$8.99 processing & handling), however a quick check of the CloudPets website shows them to currently be out of stock and asks for an email address to be notified when they are available again.

Spiral Toys, a developer of innovative products in the mobile connected entertainment space that launched its Toy-Fi line last June, was acquired by Rocap, Inc. (formerly OTCQB:ROCP) last July. On Wednesday, the company announced the completion of the name and ticker change to Spiral Toys and “STOY.” The company also said that as part of the re-branding effort, it has partnered with Echo-Factory, a full-service advertising and design firm. Echo-Factory has a pretty impressive portfolio, working with household brands, such as Mag-Lite and General Electric (NYSE:GE), and superstars like Taylor Swift as part of a promotion with Altura Credit Union.

“Echo-Factory understands the space we’re in, and they have the vision and talent to help us continue to build our brand so we can eventually own that space,” commented Spiral Toys CEO Mark Meyers in a press release today.

“We’re excited about Mark’s vision… and to be honest, the technology is just so cool, and that makes Spiral Toys a dream client for us,” added Mike Schaffer, principal at Echo-Factory.

Further, Spiral Toys said today that it has partnered with international toy distributor Jay@Play and On Demand Global to launch CloudPets on Direct Response Television on March 1, 2015. Jay@Play, a division of Jay Franco and Sons, is the distributor behind the popular plush animal brands “CuddleUpPets,” “Hideaway Pets,” “Seat Pets” and more, so the Spiral Toys look to be a natural fit for their distribution channels. Spiral Toys also says it plans to release CloudPets into mass retail stores across the U.S. this August. In a bid to gain exposure, CloudPets commercials will be airing on major kids television networks such as Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and Disney Junior.

Spiral Pets has management with top-level experience in the business and has aligned itself with some marketers that can get the job done. Shares are moving the right direction in the past three months, from a low of 30 cents to 45 cents per share in Wednesday trading (up a penny on 14,000 in volume), equating to a market capitalization of only $18.6 million. Now, the company had better get some product in the warehouse.

The Feels Bowl 2015

02/02/2015 by Andrew Hoehn

SuperBowl_2015_v3

This year, the Super Bowl was dominated by ads that tried to make us tear up, and tried (perhaps less effectively) to make us better people.

Toyota, Dove and Nissan all encouraged us to be better dads. The NFL reminded us to not follow the example set by of many of its players, McDonalds will pay us to be nice, and Coke reminded us not to bring our soda into a data center. I’m not really sure what American Family Insurance was trying to do, but apparently we were supposed to feel kindly towards a singing Norman Rockwell painting.

I honestly don’t know if this year’s Budweiser commercial with puppies and draft horses is different from last year’s. Maybe the wolves are new? I don’t know. Anyway, puppies and draft horses are cheating, and I award them -50 points for further vilifying wolves when there are plenty of misguided individuals already doing that for them. I now want a puppy and a draft horse, but still don’t want a Budweiser. Also, how many times are we going to watch that cowboy lose the puppy?  Does the SPCA need to get involved?

All of these were sentimental and sweet, but I don’t know if any of them will make sales rise, or actually make the world a better place.

Always
The Always (which honestly until this moment I thought was by Dove) #LikeAGirl campaign was far and away the best of the bunch, for effectively championing change and showing most viewers something I expect they’ll take to heart. However, it’s disqualified from being the best of the SuperBowl by virtue of being released in June of 2014.

The Best

My nominees for best ads go for ads that were very effective and making me think twice about things I would have otherwise dismissed.

Carnival

Cruising is, in my mind, the worst kind of vacation. You’re stuck on a boat with 1000’s of other boring lazy people, gorging yourself for a week while doing precisely nothing, and forgoing all of the challenges and experiences that make travel worthwhile.

If Carnival had done anything like the typical “shots of families going down waterslides and snorkeling” cruse ad, I would have given them a pass. But they didn’t. They used voiceover of JFK introducing the America’s cup, and made cruising about much more than endless buffets. A very good, very effective ad that I expect will help them reach a new demographic.

Fiat

The second honorable mention in this category goes to Fiat’s blue pill ad by the Richards Group (who makes great commercials but hasn’t apparently updated their website in the past 5-years). I think the 500 is a great little car, but feel that all the oversized Fiat’s are ugly.

In this spot, Fiat managed to be funny, tie their brand back in with their Italian heritage and make a positive association with the 500 as a 500x.

Lexus

As the owner of an ad agency, you have a choice between 4 makes of cars. Mercedes, BMW, Lexus and Audi. Dea’s somewhere out in left field with a Volvo, but Mike decided on a Lexus. After watching their great the remote control drifting spot, I can’t blame him. It says, “buy a Lexus and you’ll have fun,” which is really what we all want from our cars.

Office Favorites

Stephanie had a shout-out to Budweiser’s live-action PacMan spot, and I have to agree with her love of GrubHub’s flying burrito. That’s mostly because there are few things I hate more than the forced interaction of calling someone on the phone.

“…without ever having to talk to a human being” would sell me just about any product. Finally, someone gets me.

Mustafa fell for the delight of Mountain Dew’s kickstart promo, saying, “something about showing a dog doing the booty dance will always make me laugh.” How can you disagree?

Mike was a fan of “whatever car company tricked me to think my tv went out, but the fact that he can’t remember which car company paid for the spot means something. I do have to say I’m a big fan of the copy on that one. There’s something simple, straightforward and true about, “You know you want a truck.”

I don’t need one, but yeah, I do kind of want a truck.

Most Improved

No question, but this award goes to GoDaddy. Since time immemorial and the dawn o the internet, GoDaddy Super Bowl ads have been crass, immature, sexist and fully cringeworthy. They did nothing but build controversy and name-recognition, and we’ve discussed their awfulness in the past.

But this year, they went in an entirely different direction. GoDaddy’s core demographic is small business owners. People who have a DIY ethic, who work hard and for whom building a good online brand is a key consideration. For once, GoDaddy hit the nail on the head.

It pains me to do it, but I have to give credit where it’s due. This was a great spot, and spot-on.  It’s almost reassuring to learn that their tasteful and quite good commercial that actually ran was a replacement for a somewhat-awful original, pulled after complaints from animal rights group.

A Personal Favorite

I’m not sure it’ll be very effective combating Gorilla Glue’s ownership of the market, but Loctite’s spot was fantastic and hilarious. Mike loved it too.

Sadly, I just went to the store this morning and bought Gorilla Glue, despite the undeniable appeal of fanny packs. Sales might have been boosted more by showing how strong the stuff is, but I have to take a moment to thank Loctite and Fallon for 30 seconds of pure entertainment.

Begrudging Admiration

I hate the entire Game of War ad campaign, but I have to admit that “Kate Upton being rubbed down in a bathtub with monsters and explosions” is pretty much 100% spot-on for the game’s target demographic of 13 year old boys.

While it didn’t do much to convince me to try Clash of the Clans, I do like watching Liam Neeson threaten his phone.

Contested

Weight Watchers

Stephanie panned Weight Watcher’s food-porn ad, commenting that neither she nor “anyone who watched that commercial will be going to Weight Watchers anytime soon.” I thought it was awesome, and the “me vs. the world that’s trying to make me fat” attitude was on target.  Also, great job finding the George Clooney voice-alike who was doubtless cheaper than the real thing, and nearly as effective.

Nissan

Mustafa picked Nissan’s dad-racer spot as one of his favorites. I thought it was good, but there’s no way a Nissan factory racer is picking up his kid from school in an Altima. It’s no accident that Nissan seems to have dubbed the exhaust note of a GT-R over the Altima, because there’s no freaking way the real world version of that dad is driving anything but a GT-R.

Object Lessions in Near Greatness

Weathertech
Last year, Weathertech had a great spot. This year, they almost had another one.

It starts on all the right notes, blue-collar, made-in-america, then gets simultaneously too generic and technical. “Quality automotive accessories” doesn’t mean anything because it’s too generic, and and “laser-measured custom-fit” doesn’t mean anything because nobody knows how it benefits them.

My guess is it’s a classic case of a client wanting to fit too many messages in a single ad, and the agency not having the ahem gumption to stand up and tell them no.

Dove
Dove’s #RealStrength dad-ad is an even better example of near greatness.

A beautiful, moving montage of children saying “dad”, ruined by an ending featuring “the most generic and cheesy radio announcer guy ever.” It’s obvious the original spot ended with a much softer branding/logo fadeout, and the awful CTA was added at the last minute by, to put it gently, a fool who has no business in advertising.

Without the ending it’s my personal favorite, with it it’s a case study in what not to do for advertisers everywhere.

The Worst

Far and away the worst of this year’s crop is Budweiser’s “Beer for people who don’t care what their beer tastes like and just want to get drunk” ad. (Alternate title: “Craft Beer is for Sissies.”)

I didn’t take pride in the fact that I’d never actually drunk a Budweiser until that spot came on the air. Now it’s gone from a strange fact to a personal goal. I think anyone who’s ever actually tasted good beer would rather be at the table of guys “dissecting” craft brews than knocking back a cold one.

What You Think?

I know it’s hard to imagine, but sometimes people disagree with us.  If you’re one of them, let us know in the comments.

The Faux Resurrection of Branding

01/26/2015 by Michael Schaffer

(Article written for CSQ Magazine)

Invest In Helping Your Customers Like You 

It has been announced that branding is dead, and perhaps has been for some time. Wired claimed it in 2004. Fast Company agreed to it in 2008. A bearded creative director confirmed it just this year.

Consultants preach it. Commentators bemoan its loss. One book even goes so far as to suggest that branding is not only dead, but also an art only fit for cows.

The apparent causes of its demise are many. Some attribute branding’s passing to a prolonged bout with transparency, often brought on by unprotected contact with social media. Others point to the more vague “digital age” as branding’s ultimate undoing, or SEO, or packaging (as though packaging were somehow totally separate from branding), or even the supposed education of the consumer class.

It’s that last one that I find particularly hard to stomach. You only need to spend two minutes reading YouTube comments to realize we consumers haven’t come too far.

But every consumer, even those commenting on YouTube, can recognize that branding is alive and well.

When you look behind the “branding is dead” headlines, you usually find that what the author actually means is that the definition of branding has, or should be, expanded. But you and I both know we’re more likely to read an article titled “Branding Is Dead” than one titled “The Definition of Branding Has or Should Be Expanded Slightly.”

 

We’re all suckers for a punchy headline.

 

Branding Is Bigger Than Ever

Branding has grown not just in definition, but in value. Interbrand, a branding agency that manages to maintain 33 offices in 27 countries despite the supposed death of its core offering, recently published its 2014 Best Global Brands report. This report lists the “contribution of the brand to business results.”

It’s the closest we can come to quantifying the value in dollars of a brand, and those values are staggering.

Perennial branding favorite Apple’s brand is valued at $118 billion. Another textbook branding case study, Nike, comes in at a $19.9 billion brand valuation.

If you mention the word “branding” in a classroom at ad school, Apple and Nike are the first two words likely to be shouted back at you, so nobody’s surprised that their brands are thought valuable. But there are also plenty of less recognized branding powers that made Interbrand’s list.

Ever thought about the power of a brand to absorb bodily fluids? Pampers gets swaddled with a $14.1 billion brand value, while Kleenex comes in at $4.6 billion.

Brands are also plenty capable of planting stuff in the ground and moving dirt around, as evidenced by John Deere’s $5.1 billion and Caterpillar’s $6.8 billion brand valuations.

All told, Interbrand’s top 100 global brands this year account for more than 1.4 trillion dollars, which is a lot of money. So much that it starts to lose its meaning. So let’s look at it another way.

As the most valuable company in history, Apple currently has a $483 billion market cap. Interbrand estimates that its brand alone accounts for $118 billion. In essence, Apple’s brand accounts for about a quarter of the company’s value.

Sound Investment Advice

No one has ever accused me of being a financial wizard, but here’s some investment advice I’m confident standing behind: You’re probably not investing enough in your brand. Unless your name’s Tim Cook, you’re not at the helm of Apple, but your brand is probably worth more than you think. Or at least it could be.

Branding is much more than just a logo and a tagline. Branding is anything that influences a customer’s perception of your company. And that’s a lot of things.

When a customer emails your company, how long does it take to get a response? Is that response helpful? What does the response look like? What tone does it take?

When a customer visits your website, how easy is it to find the information they’re looking for? Is your site pleasant to use? Does it look as good on their computer screen? Does it look good on their smartphone?

When a customer reaches out to you on social media, do you respond? Do you have an active presence? Do you have something interesting to say on social media, or is it obvious you just have a profile because someone told you that you should?

Branding isn’t magic. It’s just making sure that when your customers come in contact with your company, they like what they find. And chances are, you’re probably not investing enough in branding.

If you do make that investment, I’ll bet that you’ll not only make your customers happier but also increase your company’s value.

Not bad results from something that’s been the subject of more obituaries than I can count.