Category: Ad Industry

Our newest client: Spiral Toys

02/07/2015
Entertainment Tech Company Spiral Toys announced that they've selected us 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 purely digital age, a world where computers, tablets, game consoles, and smartphones have become an integral part their lives. Some five-year-olds know more about navigating 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, kids today can't imagine a world without the cloud and wireless technology. Technology has even re-shaped children's interaction with toys. cloudpets in a row They look like typical stuffed animals, but CloudPets are connected through the cloud to a mobile device application, allowing users to send messages back and forth between the toy and the app. 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
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
(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.

Five Reasons Why Your Custom Photography Should Come From a Studio That Knows Advertising

12/02/2014

Custom Photography featured image

Whether You Need Product or Lifestyle Custom Photography, Working with an Experienced Agency Makes the Imaging Process Easier.

By Hayley Raynes You’ve got a game-changing product. It’s beautiful, perfectly engineered and far superior to that of your competition. It’s time to show the world, and you’ve got a plan: one of your employees dabbles in photography and has developed a pretty decent following for your business on Instagram, and thanks to all of those amazing filters, your stuff is looking pretty good. This same guy knows his way around Photoshop, and now you’re set up to do all the photography in-house. It’s going to save money and you’ll have complete creative control. You’re golden, right? Not so fast. When you transfer those photos to your website, they just don’t look right. When you try to design your own product catalog, again, they seem off somehow. And now you’ve bought an ad in your industry’s top magazine, and compared to the rest of the ads surrounding yours, the quality of that lifestyle shot you sent over looks inferior. You can’t put your finger on it, but there’s definitely something wrong—and everyone knows it. Issues like these can kill a brand. They make you look like an amateur—and unless you’re a dimple-faced 8-year-old hawkin’ lemonade at a garage sale, amateur just don’t sell. That’s why working with an experienced agency photographer can be such a benefit to your business.

Here’s a list of our top five reasons why you’ll save in the end by doing it right from the beginning as illustrated by one of our most photogenic clients, Troy Lee Designs:

5. Lighting Custom Photography Lighting Example   Mariah Carey is known for bringing a professional lighting team to her publicity events. Why? Because she knows that when cameras snap, lighting is everything. Lighting is a subtle art, and it takes experience to get it right. Throw in variables like inconsistent background quality, odd-shaped products and lack of experience in highlighting and shading and there’s just too much that can go wrong without the aid of a professional. An agency photographer has taken, literally, thousands of photographs. Positioning, camera angle and light placement are second nature.   4. Composition Custom Photography agencies understand composition for ads   There are photographers, and then there are agency photographers. What’s the difference? Agency photographers have an implicit understanding regarding the purpose of their photos. They know that the photo is just the first step. Product shots will end up Photoshopped onto new backgrounds, while lifestyle shots will serve as an anchor for headlines, copy and logos. A general purpose or amateur photographer may not consider these factors while arranging the composition of a photo, making the eventual ad design look jumbled and disorganized.   3. Models Custom photography working with models   Finding that perfect look to serve as a complementary backdrop for your product or message can be easier for agency photographers, because they routinely work with professional models trained in how to walk, position their bodies and look at the camera in the most compelling way. Agency photographers are connected with talent bureaus, and they can quickly find the professionals you are looking for, in addition to providing professional hair and makeup artists.   2. Deadlines Custom photography working with deadlines   Producing quality work under pressure is just another day at the office for a seasoned agency photographer, while an amateur or non-agency photographer can become flustered and make poor choices under riding deadlines. If it needs to get done yesterday, an agency photographer is the best bet.   1. Creativity Custom photography agency creativity   When a photographer has the backing of a quality advertising agency, he or she has access to creative directors, designers and conceptualists who can not only make product and lifestyle photos look great but can infuse them with the power of persuasion. Agency creatives are trained in color theory and design; they are trained to know what makes a product sell and what doesn’t; and their years of experience simply cannot be bought or faked. Plus, if you need them to, agency creatives can develop campaigns, provide compelling copy, design the ad and work with the publication to be sure the ad complies with its specifications. This saves time and money and results in a higher quality and more cohesive product.   Conclusion The marketplace is tough enough without adding the Achilles heel of poor image quality. In this digital and social age of photo-sharing, there is certainly room for experimentation in your media plan, but at the end of the day, consumers have certain standards and they likely always will. Agency custom photography is one surefire way to meet those standards. Want to see some more great images? Visit our portfolio.

The Importance of Proofreading

11/03/2014
Proofreader's books and resources Election Day is almost here! For several months, candidates for public office have engaged in high-profile campaigns, speaking at colleges, chambers of commerce, town hall meetings and fundraisers, telling people the reasons to vote for them. Their words and actions have been scrutinized, dissected and analyzed. Having a solid platform may not be enough to win votes – candidates must consider their public image and the way they present themselves as well. How would it look if a candidate came to give a speech or engage in a debate with his tie askew, a mustard stain on his shirt, and mismatched socks? No one would take him seriously, to say the least. He might have spent hours preparing his remarks and studying the issues at hand, but his appearance may distract his audience and detract from the importance of his message. In a similar way, any final product you send into the world must also be carefully reviewed and polished. If you’re in business, how you market yourself impacts your relationship with customers, potential customers and partners. In short, you want to do your best to look your best. A marketing agency can help you craft your message and your image. Copywriters help you say what you mean in an engaging way. Designers give you a look and feel that reinforces your brand message. Creative directors make sure that all the work is on target to meet your business objectives as well as help you stand out from the competition. Last, but not least, proofreaders are your quality assurance experts. They make sure every t is crossed and every i is dotted so that your message is communicated effectively. A proofreader is not only skilled in grammar and spelling. She also checks for the coherency of ideas and consistency of facts. Her arsenal of tools includes The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, the dictionary and Wikipedia, to name a few. Proofreader's desk and markups She works with graphic designers to make sure the copy and design are well-integrated. It’s best to bring in the proofreader at every stage of the revision process, so that by the time you are ready to go to press, everything is nearly perfect. The last thing anyone wants is to make major changes right before an approved project is going to print or going to go live. The proofreader is not there to be critical, although she must look at things critically. It’s her job to make sure the agency and/or client presents the best work possible. She ties up all loose ends. She polishes and tidies up. She makes sure that the first impression, and the lasting impression, is a good one. She is, in other words, the champion of the work. Don’t be afraid to ask her questions. Trust in her vast knowledge and experience. Maybe you got all A’s in English, but it may have been a while since you had to determine whether to use “which” or “that”. These things you may not notice, but she does. And she bets that someone, somewhere out there, may notice, too. An error-free presentation may be a pivotal point of doing business. Details matter, whether you’re on the campaign trail or presenting to potential investors or customers. That’s why having a proofreader in your corner is indispensable. Once a creative agency puts together all the components of your marketing strategy and materials, the proofreader comes in to make it all shine. Just make sure to get your suit pressed and you’ll be ready to go!

We’re Moving to Pasadena!

09/10/2014

So Cal Ad Agency is Moving to Pasadena

Echo-Factory’s New Home is in the Heart of Old Town

Read the official PRESS RELEASE.

In the 19th century, the Old Spanish Trail carried migrants from Santa Fe, New Mexico to what would one day be Los Angeles, California. The Oregon Trail (the real one, not the computer game) carried pioneers west from Independence, Missouri to the Pacific Northwest.

In keeping with the venerable tradition of American westward migration, Echo-Factory is pulling up stakes and heading west on that old 210 freeway in search of greener pastures (metaphorically speaking, we know California is in a serious drought – do your part, conserve water!). We are headed to a new land of opportunity called Pasadena, and we can’t wait for the adventure to begin.

The office is just about finished and we’re packing up. We’ve bought out the bubble wrap sections of every office supply store within a four-mile radius (exaggeration), and we’ve wrapped everything from the staplers to Mike, our fearless co-leader (no exaggeration). We’re boxing up most of the charm, the personality, the creativity and the fun, and we’re shipping it first class, insured and certified to our new location in the heart of Old Town. (Some of that go-get-em positivity is staying back in the Rancho Cucamonga office, which we are keeping open to best serve our Inland Empire clientele.)

Pasadena is a veritable hotbed of innovation and entrepreneurship, and that’s our kind of town. Over the past year, organizations like Innovate Pasadena and the companies they represent have sent over the welcome wagon. We’re looking forward to being a positive contribution to this business community that is creative, artistic, scientific and enthusiastic. And while we’ll miss our Rancho Cucamonga home, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

We plan to be up and running at the new location by the end of September. Our new office address is: 36 West Colorado Blvd., Suite 200. We’re on the second level just a hop, skip and a jump away from the Apple Store.

Until then, catch us at Innovate Pasadena’s What’s Up Social next Wednesday, September 17, from 6-9 p.m.

Want to see the new office? Check out our mood boards on Pinterest. Want to watch the moving process in all of its photo-documented glory? Hit up our Instagram. And stay current on company and industry news and trends by following us on Twitter and Facebook.

And, of course, don’t forget to peruse the portfolio before you leave.

MagLite: Rebranding an American Classic

08/07/2014

Maglite_Weather_Banner

MagLite on The Weather Channel.

The Weather Channel is a cable and satellite TV station that has been broadcasting weather forecasts, analyses and news since the early 1980s. The channel is received by nearly a billion American households and has a viewership of about 210,000. When we had the opportunity to produce two commercials for MagLite on The Weather Channel, we knew the spots would bring vital exposure to the MagLite brand and feature the flashlights at their best. We wrote scripts for both a :15 and a :20 commercial that met the challenge of making an impact in a short timeframe.

"Lights Out"

In this :15 spot, titled, “Lights Out,” we created a desperate scenario that was resolved with the comforting and familiar click of a flashlight. To make an impact, we relied on a strong visual and heart-pounding audio. We wanted viewers to have the sense that, when conditions are bleak, they can count on their MagLite. In order to direct the viewer toward a specific purchase, we created two versions of this commercial, each ending with two featured MagLite models. The tagline reinforces a sense of security as well as national pride: “Turn Your Light On, America.”

"There When You Need Us"

In this :20 spot, titled, “There When You Need Us,” we feature a man depending on his MagLite in several extreme situations. Since our deadlines made live action prohibitive, we used custom photography and CG effects to illustrate the message that MagLite can see a person through nearly any unpredictable circumstance. As with the :15 spot, we left the viewer with a CTA image of various MagLite models. We’re loving working with MagLite, and we think these commercials turned out great. For more insight into this project, check out our most recent press release. In our next MagLite update, we’ll introduce their new website, still under construction, and discuss the process and logic behind their reorganized and redesigned online home. Like what you see? Check out our work page to view more Echo-Factory projects and clients.

Early Stage Branding – Ignore At Your Own Peril Part 2

08/01/2014

Early Stage BrandingIn part two of our series on the importance of early stage branding, we take a look at strategy, promotion and expertise.

by Hayley Raynes “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”             Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Okay, so in part one we convinced you that you need to brand and brand early, but that’s just part of the deal. You also need strategy. Branding does not mean throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. You need an in-depth, long-term promotion plan built upon a solid knowledge of your business, your industry, your competition, the marketplace and selling mediums, and, of course, your customers. You need to craft a targeted message that speaks to your potential customers in a voice that they will welcome, understand, trust and hopefully become loyal to. Oh, and you have to strategically position this message so that these individuals—your future customers and champions—will see it at their most receptive moments, embrace it and take it upon themselves to share your awesomeness with the world via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, personal blog, text, and…drumroll please…face-to-face interaction with other like-minded human beings! Then you need to track the success and failure of your promotion strategy and revise, revise, revise. No small task, this is, young Padawan. “Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.”             Mark Twain Branding, strategy and promotion are the secrets to success, not only because they whack a path through that crazy overgrown jungle we refer to as the open market, but because this kind of deep business analysis helps you to truly know your company’s strengths and weaknesses in addition to knowing your audience. It allows you to create measurable goals, and when started early, it maximizes what is likely to be a pretty puny budget—which is crucial, because competition is fierce, and you can count on the big boys and girls in your industry to be throwing the kind of money into their branding and marketing campaigns that would make God cry. Good promotion also helps you to attract the best talent in your industry, positioning you for future growth and continued relevance. It establishes credibility both inside and outside of your industry and creates opportunities for partnerships that can provide the capital and influence you need to develop the next phase of your business. But if you promote incorrectly, you simply won’t get anywhere at all. And don’t think that just because you are still in the funding stages you can put this stuff off. VC’s want to know that you have a clear “go to market” strategy, because, let’s be realistic, investors might look upward on Sundays, but Monday through Saturday, they bow to mammon. If you can’t prove to them that you can make them money, the risk goes up—and in the world of post-2008 finance, risk is no bueno. A clear promotion strategy goes a long way in calming the skittish investor—a most dangerous creature. With a startup’s limited resources, knowing where and how to promote is key to stretching those ad dollars, and there is no boilerplate method—every industry has its own pathways to success. What works for retail may not work for B2B, while marketing an app is different from marketing a restaurant. You have to seriously consider your audience. This includes age demos, regional marketing trends, political leanings, religious affiliations, shopping habits, extracurricular activities, tastes in art, music and culture, historical influences, Internet surfing habits, etc., etc., and then this compilation must be used to sculpt a single human persona—a detailed, insightful representation of an honest-to-goodness individual—someone who is unique and special—but also representative of an entire group. And you have to do it with the least amount of bias possible.  “Excellence is not a skill. It’s an attitude.”             Ralph Marston If you dig geeking out on research, then have at it, but let’s be honest, don’t you have better things to do—like, um, I don’t know, perfecting your product? Why would you want to get caught up in this seriously time-consuming business, when you could simply surround yourself with experts to do it for you? We work with a lot of startups and are confronted again and again with the same situation—they know their technology and they know their financial goals, and because of this, they think they know the best path to market. But unpack this attitude and the logic just isn’t there. Knowing one aspect of business development is not knowing all. Think about it, Peyton Manning is debatably one of the greatest football players on the field today, but just because he can throw a football, and be the successful face of a football company’s branding campaign, does that also mean he could make a football without sewing his fingers together in one of the big industrial machines? Of course, he could learn, and one day even excel as a maker of footballs, but why would he? That would take time, money and effort—resources he’d probably rather use to get better at football. Because his is an attitude of excellence. Peyton Manning knows that to be truly great at playing football, he needs to focus on playing football. The same goes for any enterprise. If you are a tech developer, you need to work on your tech—there’s always room for improvement. If your aim is to offer the best service or product available, then that’s where your focus needs to be. Marketers and brand strategists, if they’re worth their salt, are experts, too. They’ve spent years researching, hypothesizing, experimenting and theorizing. They’ve stood at many positions on the field and have had plenty of successes and an equal amount of failures, and this cumulative experience has helped them to develop the kind of hard-won insight and know-how that you—as a fledgling business developer—simply don’t have time for. The point here? If you’re serious about being a brand worth talking about, you need to surround yourself with excellence, hire experts to do the things you don’t know how to do, and then listen to their advice and resist the compulsion to stick your finger in every pot. There’s a crush of competition at every stage of the game. Strategic thinking, planning and promoting is how you get to the end zone.        

Early Stage Branding – Ignore at Your Own Peril Part 1

07/25/2014

Early Stage Branding

In this two-part series, we examine the importance of early stage branding, strategy and promotion for startups.

by Hayley Raynes Recently we pitched branding, marketing strategy and promotion to the founder of a tech startup who had achieved some initial success in his industry. The man was skeptical. While he conceded that branding is important, he didn’t think it was necessary at such an early stage in his business’s development. Of course we jumped at the chance to convince him otherwise, because we know that early stage branding is the best and most important kind and that, without strategy and promotion, the risk of failure goes up exponentially. Thankfully, after stating our case, we convinced him to move forward with a strategic branding effort as soon as possible. But it made us realize that his is probably not the only startup out there holding off on this critical aspect of business development. That’s why we decided to put this article together to explain: -Why it’s of vital importance to begin branding efforts as early as possible. -Why it’s important to have a strategic plan that fits seamlessly into a business’s overall goals. -Why hiring a team of experts will save time, money and potential disaster. “Know Thyself”             Inscription in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi In order to effectively communicate who you are to your target market, you have to actually know who you are. And while most businesses think they know, we can’t tell you how many times we’ve started asking fundamental questions regarding operations, budgets, forward strategy, key markets and company goals only to get the following answer: “Let me get back to you on that one.” Developing and positioning a brand to reflect a company’s identity, speak to the right people at the right time and send the right message communicated in the right tone requires that business operators know their company and know their audience inside and out. This means being able to articulate—on demand—the business’s mission, culture and values. The earlier a company tackles this hurdle, the better. Because it’s one thing to have the next game-changing technology—it’s another thing altogether to actually position that technology to change the game. “You may delay, but time will not.”             Benjamin Franklin You have the product; you have your key people; you have an opportunity to present your product to an investor that could catapult your business into the stratosphere. But wait. You don’t have any marketing materials. Crap! Quick. You need a logo—one that can see you through at least the next three to five years. You need a tagline, too—something that sums up who you are in 10 words or less. Oh no, they’re asking for a website? You can’t show them that mess your niece threw together after securing your domain. What about a brochure? A business card? Heck, you’re going to need something—anything that makes you look like you’re actually working out of an office, rather than the garage. More than 33 billion dollars was handed out by venture capitalists in 2013 in the U.S. alone. But getting a piece of that capital is not just a matter of standing in line with your hand out. You’ve got to wow the crowd. Have you been on Kickstarter lately? If so, you may have noticed these wooden map guys. They run a simple business—selling wall art in the form of machine-cut wooden maps. They had a modest financial goal—$7,500 for equipment that will help them expand their product line. As of this writing, they have raised $15,697 and earned a feature on the Kickstarter discovery page. Small potatoes, sure, but relatively speaking, they are killing it. And here’s why: They look legit. They’ve got a website, a YouTube video, professional photography, a blog (though they could post more often)—the works. The result? The world of (Kickstarter) finance takes them seriously. And think about it, if this kind of complete marketing package was necessary to convince the average Kickstarter funder to throw them five bucks, imagine what kind of game you're gonna need to get in with the big VC firms, angel investors and private equity seed financiers. Still not convinced? Don’t take it from us; check out point three in Paul Jackson’s Entrepreneur article about how to secure funding from a VC firm. Because here’s the deal, branding is campaigning. Branding is shaking hands and kissing babies (metaphorically speaking). Branding is persuasion. It’s convincing people to like you, to support you, to promote you, to be loyal to you. There are other choices out there—good, dare we say great, choices. It’s your brand’s job to convince customers—whether they are investors or end users—that you are the best choice, now and in the future. And everyone knows the first rule of politics is: “Control the message.” You see, in the absence of a brand, your audience—whether they are investors or customers—will create one, because not caring about the brand is branding. Appearing not to have a budget for branding, is branding. Cheesy, thrown-together-at-the-last-minute branding materials is branding. Would you go to a job interview (outside of Silicon Valley)with your tie askance, shirt untucked, bed-headed and furry-toothed? If so, that’s probably why you’re reading this in your PJ’s at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday, instead of working. Image matters. And from our side, branding early just makes the whole process a heck of a lot easier. Because if we are involved from the beginning, we won’t have to spend a ton of our time (and your money) undoing the damage of your “non-branding” efforts. Scrubbing an image from the hearts and minds of investors and consumers can take a long time—time you just don’t have in today’s competitive marketplace. Like what we're saying? Stay tuned for part two in our series on early stage branding, strategy and promotion…    

The Good, Bad & Ugly of 2014 Super Bowl Ads

02/04/2014
It's time for the 5th annual installment of our popular(ish) critique of the year's Super Bowl ads. Unless your license plate says "Washington" on it, this was about the most boring football game of the season, which means that this year's ads had an even bigger entertainment challenge than normal. So were they up for it? Were they good enough to entertain us from the single-sided butchery that was happening on the field? Let's see.

The Best

Car Companies This year, car companies led the field with the best ads of the big game. Volkswagen's "Wings" commercial was excellent. I get shivers down my spine imagining the client meeting where someone from Volkswagen's agency sat in front of a marketing VP and said, "So, then at the end, when a car hits 200,000 miles, a rainbow comes out of his butt." I'll happily buy a round for the creative team at Argonaut for convincing a client to let them run that ad on national television. I'll buy a second one for managing to keep the ad on message and suggest that an average Jetta could really make it 200,000 miles. Chevy's two truck ads also deserve a special mention. Before their Super Bowl spots, the automaker's "A man and his truck" campaign was completely uninspired. It was the same "drive a Chevy and be a manly cowboy" tune they've been singing for the past few decades. But, "A man, his truck and an aroused cow" takes things in a whole new direction. No one expects Chevy to take a chance on advertising that might make viewers uncomfortable, so they deserve recognition for taking a risk and pulling it off. Their "Life" commercial was a genuinely sweet counterpoint to the merciless thrashing happening in MetLife Stadium. The clever offroading Smart Car spot was Sarah's favorite, and Jeep and Kia did a good job of respectively reinforcing and changing perceptions of their brands. Audi's Doberhuahua was a big winner in our office, being picked by Sydnee, Roni and Hayley, giving it the most "favorite" votes of any spot. As relatively obscure luxury brands, Maserati and Jaguar both ran very good branding spots that should help 5 Series and S-Class shoppers at least take a second look before they hand over their large wads of cash to BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Even Kia's Morpheus ad made me stop and think, "Huh, maybe it would be nice to ride around in a Kia." That's something I've never ever thought before. The only real exception to the whole bunch of good and great Super Bowl car ads was Hyundai's "Nice". It wasn't necessarily bad, just boring. Proof that paying celebrities to be in your ad isn't the secret to advertising success. Oh, and Chrysler's Bob Dylan spot, which was so boring that I forgot about it until just now. Bob Dylan's a legend. His commercial wasn't legendary. Other Standouts Dorito's Time Machine was on both Mike and Carl's lists of favorites, and Mike and Sydnee both like Stephen Colbert splitting open his head for Pistachios. Also, does anyone know how Pistachios™ became a brand? Are almonds going to spend $4 million on a spot next year? Will walnuts start an intensive social media campaign in the fall? What about legumes? When will lima beans get a trademark? Mike, who's no fan of Bud Light, admitted that Ian's adventures just might be enough to get him to drink one. I don't know what more you could ask from a $4 million spot. He also liked Duracell's very inspirational Derrick Coleman spot. I agree, though I'm not sure it will influence my battery choices next time I'm buying double-As at Costco. Coca-Cola deserves recognition for knowing that its multilingual "America the Beautiful" commercial would enrage our country's racist nut-jobs, and choosing to run it anyway. Check out Atlanta news anchor Brenda Wood's monologue on the topic if you're still not sure which side of the nut-jobbery fence you're settling on.

Mixed Reviews

Sarah and Mustafa are wonderful people, but I totally disagree with them when it comes to Greek yogurt advertising.  I hope we’ll be able to stay friends. Oikos's Full House reunion got Mustafa right in the nostalgia, but I thought it was too forced, and didn't really say anything about the product it was trying to sell. On the other hand, I thought Chobani's rampaging grizzly was great, but Sarah picked it as her least favorite for being "random and pointless". I guess Chobani's messaging wasn't as clear as I thought. It's also worth noting that about five years ago, no one in America had Greek yogurt in their fridge, and Sunday we watched at least $8 million worth of advertising for it during the country's biggest television event. I'm also on the losing side of intra-office opinions on Tebow for T-Mobile. I love to see a celebrity make fun of themselves, and before now, I've never seen Tim be anything but sincere. Mike thought it was a good idea, poorly executed. Carl thought it was straight-up awful. Mike was also conflicted about Radio Shack being called by the 80s. He felt it was a good spot, but in his own words, "Too bad a commercial can’t actually get me to their terrible store."

The Worst

Here's a line I could copy and paste into every Super Bowl roundup we've ever written. "GoDaddy's commercial was awful." Like my hero Richard Sherman once said, "When you pick a sorry registrar like GoDaddy, that's the result you're going to get." Or something to that effect. At least this year the GoDaddy commercials were slightly less awful than normal, and managed more inclusiveness by objectifying both men and women. That's progress. Mike's uncontested pick for the worst ads of the 2014 Super Bowl went to Budweiser's A Hero's Welcome and Puppy Love spots. Don't get me wrong, every veteran deserves a parade like the one they threw for Chuck Nadd, and interspecies friendships are adorable. But as Mike put it, "in advertising, using war veterans and puppies is cheating."

Weigh In

Think we got it wrong? Didn't give GoDaddy a fair chance? Totally misinterpreted the meaning of Tim Tebow? Then tell us in a comment, or leave us a nasty message on Facebook. We're adults, we can take it.