How Lucky Are You? And Why?

27 02 2009

There’s a great piece from Max Kalehoff in today’s MediaPost: “What Are Your Best Interview Questions?

There are a lot of good ideas in there, but one really made me think.


“On a scale of one to 10, how lucky are you — and why?

This question has received some attention lately amidst its application at Zappos, a customer-service company praised for its culture.

The question is based on research by psychologist Richard Wiseman, who explored psychological differences between people who consider themselves exceptionally lucky and those who consider themselves unlucky.

His work revealed that people are not born lucky, but, without realizing it, use four basic principles to create good fortune in their lives. They tend to:

– Have an attitude that maximizes chance opportunities;
– Be in touch with and cultivate their intuition;
– Expect good fortunes, which become self-fulfilling prophecies; and
– Thrive on bad fortune by taking control and creating positive outcomes.

According to Wiseman’s Web site, he’s developed techniques that help people increase their good fortune by thinking and behaving more like lucky people. That’s probably a great clinic for any organization, but I’d like to hire lucky people in the first place. I want them on my side!”

At the risk of being preachy, I’d say that too often, we forget how incredibly, insanely, foolishly lucky we are.

For example, if you’re reading this you’re alive, and reasonably healthy. You can see, you’re educated, and are computer-literate. Best of all, you have the unimaginable luxury of being able to think about philosophical issues instead of just survival issues.

There’s a lot of pessimism out there today, and I’m as guilty as the next guy about focusing on what’s wrong. A little optimism wouldn’t hurt.

Here’s a quote I just read that I thought was worth tacking up in my office:

“An optimist is someone who goes after Moby Dick in a rowboat and takes the tartar sauce with him.” – Zig Ziglar

What are you bringing to your job? Sour grapes? Or tartar sauce?

Photo Credit: Jeremy Brooks

Should Every CMO Be A CDMO?

24 02 2009

Carol Bartz, the new CEO of Yahoo! recently said:

“We shouldn’t let marketing decisions be made by a technologist who has never met a CMO”

I couldn’t agree more. But I’m coming to believe that the reverse may be equally true. Here’s a provocative thought.

cdmoWe shouldn’t let technical decisions be made by a CMO who has never met a technologist.

I think it’s time for Chief Marketing Officers to expand their titles to Chief Digital Marketing Officer. That means meeting people outside their comfort zones.

I don’t mean meeting with a digital marketing expert. Or a social media guru. And I don’t mean a sales rep from Hulu or Yahoo or Vimeo or any other company that ends in a fashionable vowel.

I mean meeting from time-to-time with an actual living, breathing programmer. Someone who speaks programming languages fluently, and English maybe not so much.

Why Not Let Someone Else Translate?

Don’t get me wrong. Most of the time, letting someone else translate is the right idea. It’s practical.

A CMO or director of interactive has to trust the experts he or she has assembled, otherwise what’s the point of having them?

But the CMO must also recognize that each of his subject matter experts will tend to view the overall problem through the lens of their own specialty.

Abraham Maslow had it right: “When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem begins to resemble a nail.” Inescapably, professionals love their specialties. They tend to believe their specialty is the best or even only solution for a problem. Pride — and profit — can get in the way.

The virtue of talking with someone who is completely outside these individual specialties is that they are OUTSIDE. That’s where all the fresh air usually is.

What Can A CMO and a Programmer Talk About?

I’ve been lucky enough to meet great CMOs and great programmers. In their day-to-day work lives, they might seem like they live on entirely different planets. But they share a critically important common ground.

That common ground is an openness to possibility, and an appetite for magic that is un-constricted by org charts and silos.

The best CMOs and the best programmers are able to climb out of the quotidian muck and get an overview of the whole situation. They almost have to talk to each other now and then, for things to change.

The Beauty of Misunderstanding

The great thing about CMOs talking directly with programmers occasionally is that it almost always opens up new possibilities. This happens, at least in part, because neither side entirely understands what the other person is talking about.

A completely misunderstood question tends to upend our established ways of thinking. We’re forced to discard our usual habits and patterns of thinking, because we realize they’re not going to work. If we can just relax and go with it, there’s a lot we can learn from straying from what we “know” and exploring what’s possible.

We Learn By Teaching

The other great benefit is that we often see new aspects of what we do when we have to explain it to someone who has no idea what we do, or why. Someone who’s a stranger to our world can ask very basic questions about why we do what we do without fear of looking dumb. Especially now, it’s good to revisit those basic questions: how much of what we’re doing is smart, and how much is simply an unexamined habit?

Smart People Are Smart People

The main thing I’ve learned from talking with techies is that most of them are scary smart and have a fantastic sense of humor. Maybe everybody in marketing should have a “Take A Techie for A Tequila Day”, and everybody in tech should have a “Meet A Marketer for a Martini Day” once a year.

Worst-case scenario? Everybody has a few laughs and learns a littlle. Best-case scenario: new ideas happen.

Smart people are smart people. Who can you learn from?

Literal Music Videos: Head Over Heels

19 02 2009

When was the last time any advertising creative you did online or on TV was as surprising, engaging, funny, or as well-produced as this?

If you’re a fan of Tears For Fears, 80s music or just Funny Or Die videos, you’ll love it. Happy viewing.

The General Does Battle Against The Private-Label Pirates, And Wins

19 02 2009

UPDATE 3/4/2009: Ad Age reports General Mills has given Target a month-long exclusive on retro box designs for Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs and Trix. They’re even giving away T-shirts with the old designs as part of the deal. Brilliant: these will stand out on shelf vs. private label, provide a nostalgia kick to Boomers, and it fits perfectly with Target’s image. I love this.


Private label pirates accounted for more than $81 billion in U.S sales in 2008. That’s a 10.2 percent leap over the previous year. And, it’s no secret that the worsening economy has put significant wind at their backs.

According to a Nielsen survey conducted in June/July 2008 (when the economic outlook was comparatively rosier than today), 72% of American consumers believed that private label products are good alternatives to name brands. And only 24% believed that name brand products are worth the extra price. No wonder that in late March, Wal-Mart plans to reintroduce its Great Value food line, with new packaging and more marketing support.

cheepiosYet General Mills (which gets about 19% of its revenue from Wal-Mart, by the way) is successfully fighting off private label, against the odds.

What are they doing right? What can we all learn?

No Retreat, No Surrender

General Mills knows that brand perceptions are built on marketing. Instead of pulling back, they’ve increased their spending 19% in the first half of fiscal 2009, which began in June. That’s a big investment in their brands, and it says a lot about their confidence. Private label pirates thrive on big-brand complacency: when companies innovate and go to market with those innovations, private label is forced to play catch up.

50 Year Olds Can Still Be Hot

This marketing spending includes major support for 50 year old cereal brands like Cheerios. There’s a significant effort to reach Baby Boomers, who will make up about half the U.S. population next year, and who apparently eat a whole lot of cereal.

This is smart because Boomers watch more TV than their kids and grandkids. Plus, keeping core brands vital and marketing to the right segments makes it harder for private label to make inroads.

Barriers to entry are critical when your product is just cereal in the shape of an “o”.

Betty Crocker’s On Your iPhone. Do You Have Any Cilantro?

The consumer spend is about more than TV and advertising.

It’s also about digital and utility.

General Mills is marching to the grocery store right next to Mom, on their iPhones.bettycrocker_iphone

General Mills just launched a free Betty Crocker iPhone app that includes a lot more than cake frosting. They’ve got everything from Chicken Enchiladas to Cactus, Zucchini and Red Pepper Salad.

It also makes smart use of technology with a “Surprise Me” button that brings up a random recipe. Pretty good for bored Moms who are tired of wracking their brains. The app is perhaps not as slick as Kraft’s iPhone app, but the utility is there.

General Mills is fighting the war where it matters.

Who else in CPG is doing this well today?

Can you point to other examples?

Cheetos and Boing-Boing: The Orange, Cheesy-Smelling Future of Advertising?

4 02 2009

Confession: I have been in the ad business a very long time.

I don’t mean when dinosaurs walked the Earth, or the end of America’s Civil War, mind you. Let’s just say my first job in an advertising agency at 17 years old was in print production, filing letterpress plates.

The point is, I’m as jaded about advertising as a 90 year old rodeo clown is about the circus.

I’ve pretty much seen all the acts before. Most days I’m less impressed by the spectacle than I am by the prodigious amount of elephant crap being generated.

But, there’s something orange and cheesy-smelling going on at Boing Boing and I think it might be good. First, let’s go to the video:

Here’s why I think they’re on to something.

They partnered with Boing Boing to create it. This brought them fantastic creative sensibilities, intelligence and instant internet credibility at (I’m guessing) a low price.

Boing Boing, to their credit, isn’t hiding its head in shame at crossing the increasingly meaningless line between “editorial church” and “advertising state”. Instead, their site says: “Normally we’d just run this as an ad alongside our editorial content, but I love it and there’s a complicated story behind it, so we’re running it on its own. Now, allow me to explain further. Warning, I am about to get all meta on your ass.”

No billion dollar production costs. The idea can spread virally (if you click from here, it costs Cheetos nada.) Worst case scenario, Cheetos gets to fail fast and learn a lot. Best case for Cheetos, a bunch more people end up having a laugh and getting orange fingers.

It doesn’t take itself seriously. They are not building cathedrals. The idea seems to be to entertain people and get them to think about Cheetos. There is apparently no fiendish master plan beyond this, and that’s a GOOD thing.

It dares to be stupid. Way too often, marketers and ad agencies get so blinded by their own magnificence that they make everything needlessly turgid and strategically complex and deep. There seems to be some misguided notion that the harder and uglier the process is, the larger the sales will be.”

Anyway, maybe it’s just Wednesday but I like what Cheetos is doing here. I like it a lot.

NOTE: Some marketers and ad agency people may bristle at being depicted as “blinded by their own magnificence.” I want to assure you that this is meant entirely as a compliment.

To quote from Monty Python, “Your highness, when I said that you are like a stream of bat’s piss, I only mean that you shine out like a shaft of gold when all around it is dark.”