Successful Ads Require Talent

It’s so silly, it almost doesn’t feel like it needs to be said – but to make an ad that works, one must have talent.

Over the last few years, marketers have gone insane trying to figure out how to make a video, “viral.” They look wistfully at the Old Spice ads, and say, “See? We need to do something like that!” Then they proceed to turn out commercials that look like commercials, which no one wanted to see in the first place.

Here’s a great example of the good and the bad: The first is the commercial for 5-Hour Energy that was in wide rotation last year:

This ad gets the product information across but in a stale way. It smacks of laziness. “We got the job done, now let us get back to figuring out our ad buy schedule so we can ruin people’s evenings by forcing them to watch it.” The only time I remember people talking about it was to express how bad those 5-Hour Energy ads were.

Here’s the commercial for 5-Hour Energy that is running now.

Can you spot the difference? Sure, the production value on the newer one is slightly better – if only because there were more edits, meaning more shooting days, and they took pictures of the actor jumping out of a plane.

That’s not it, of course. The difference is the new commercial is FUNNY. The one before that is NOT.

In fact, the first commercial looks exactly like how a commercial is supposed to look: Lame.

"Oh look! Another uninspired pitch man! I better sit right up and listen to what he's saying," said no one ever.

“Oh look! Another uninspired pitch man! I better sit up and listen to what he’s saying,” said no one in the history of ever.

Like I said, the first commercial does what it is supposed to do: Inform you of the product, tell you what it does, and tell you why you need it. It also makes you hit the mute on your remote or go get a snack while you wait for “Big Bang Theory” to come back on, because you didn’t DVR it and so cannot get around this ridiculous commercial.

The newer one gets the same job done – but makes you want to watch it because it is funny. It might even make you share the commercial with your friends, increasing its audience.

Making a campaign or commercial viral isn’t something you get by reading enough blog posts (like this one) about it, or books by people who have declared themselves industry experts.

It is done by being talented – by knowing how to write something that is funny, or shoot something that is engaging. Selling the product isn’t forgotten, but it isn’t the most important aspect of the piece. Since no one wants to believe they aren’t talented, they write what they’ve always written – shrieking, intrusive ad copy – and hope for the best.

This can’t be that difficult of a concept to understand, can it? If you want to have content that sings, that makes people remember you, that gets shared far and wide, you need to hire writers and production staff with talent. Talented people can create something fun that still has the key message development and call to action required in a successful ad. This is true of all forms of advertising, mind you. Paid search ads, landing pages, radio spots, print ads… the level of impact is always increased dramatically when someone decides to significantly up their game.

The key is thinking of your content as something that should be entertaining. Otherwise you’re getting the work done of creating content, but you aren’t getting the job done.

By the way, that image I used above? I found that on Google. It had the title, “I want to punch the 5-hour energy guy in the throat.”

Yeah – I’m sure THAT’S the reaction the company was hoping for.

I’m Done with Social Media – Sort of

I’ve decided to stop posting about social media on this site. I obviously have nothing against social media itself, as I’ve crowed about it for years on this blog. Instead, I’m going to start posting more about marketing and advertising – the things you might want to know about once you have mastered all this new media.

Four years ago I started blogging for the advertising agency I worked for. They had two blogs – one for the agency proper, and one for the Interactive house. I was writing most of the posts, covering what was happening in Internet news and new media, but also in marketing, advertising, PR and traditional media.

When they told me to learn everything about what people were calling “social bookmarking,” that became a hot topic for both of our blogs. Our readers were hungry for information on the heretofore unheard of Twitter, MySpace, SecondLife… things that showed everyone the future was in progress.

That is no longer a problem, though. Just about anyone can get 1000 followers on Twitter, and once they do they usually use that as proof that they’re experts. There are so many bloggers writing about some arcane Facebook trick, there isn’t much of anything you can’t learn about Facebook with a quick Google search. And the number of stories telling you how you need a mobile app and QR code are legion.

However, there’s hardly anyone talking about communications, messaging, and how social media should be used to help your business. I see a lot of people showing their prowess at getting Likes and retweets and now +1, but then they fall short on how to turn these people into customers. It does not matter how neat all this new technology is if you can’t turn online fans into customers.

So there may still be some posts in the future about social, but from now on it will only be in the context of what you should say. I’ll also continue to post commercials I think do a good job of core messaging, and campaigns that work.

I think this is far more important than tips and tricks, and certainly a lot more enjoyable for me to write about.

Because if I have to write another post about how QR codes don’t work or how to get more Twitter followers, I’m going to pound nails into the floor with my forehead.

Meltworks knows Social Media

My girlfriend has gotten me hooked on the latest reality show, “America’s Next Great Restaurant.” The idea is that a group of people compete to have the show’s judges – or investors – back them in opening their short-service restaurant.

Now, normally I don’t bother telling you about the shows I watch, because frankly who cares? (Everyone on being the exception.) However, something happened recently with one of the former contestants and I that I have to tell you about.

Meltworks was a restaurant idea on the show, created by Eric Powell. Their primary food? Grilled Cheese. I love cheese, and grilled cheeses in particular. As I watched the show, judges kept asking, “What’s stopping people from making their own grilled cheese at home?” To which my Girlfriend and I kept screaming at the TV, “Because people are lazy!” or, “Because people only have crappy American cheese in their refrigerators!”

Motivated by angst, I gave Meltworks a shout-out on the aforementioned GetGlue:

Must say, @Meltworks is the only restaurant in the bunch I really want to go eat at right now. @GetGlue

That wound up being posted on Twitter. And you know what? He wrote back!

@ciaoenrico Thank you! Means a lot. Hopefully you have a chance to dine with us soon.

That’s pretty impressive to me. He did not send out a canned, “Thank you for your support” tweet. He could have, and no one would have blamed him. He got a lot of mentions from being on that show. Instead he took the time to respond, and not just to me. All of the people who mentioned him got a response from him.

Do you put that kind of time into Twitter? Sure, you may not be on a show that gets as much buzz. Still, how long do you really spend connecting with people, 1-on-1, with social media?

Eric was eventually voted off, and we were bummed. After cancelling the show from our DVR, I signed up for Meltworks’ e-mail updates on its website. Two nifty things here:

1) The email sign-up form allowed me to send a personal message.

2) He actually responded to my message! Again, not with a canned message, but addressing what I wrote to Meltworks initially!

Eric, [me]

Thanks for checking out our website and for offering some suggestions. Yeah, we were limited to those panini presses for the first few episodes, but were able to get some new equipment that was more appropriate for grilled cheese. We’ve had a number of people suggest just using soups as dips. Since we already have soups on the menu, that could make perfect sense for us.

We’re actually back in the test kitchen now working on new ideas for the concept and should be rolling out more news in the next few months. Hopefully we’ll have a Meltworks in the Tempe area soon and you’ll be able to try out our sandwiches in person.

Thanks again!
Eric [him]

And now, the point

People talk all the live-long-day about social media, and how important it is. Then they go out and write a blog, or post things on Twitter or their Facebook Page, and act in the exact opposite way that makes social media work: They do it without being social. They broadcast, but are deaf to any responses.

Here a business owner has created a social media presence, gotten scads of people to write about him, and has actually taken the time to respond. Personally. And I didn’t work out some deal with him saying, “write me back personally and I’ll blog about you.” I’m blogging about the company because he actually bothered to write me back without being prompted. I’m blogging about the company because they’re a good neighbor in the social media world.

If you are planning on using social to promote yourself, take a page from Meltworks’ book: Don’t broadcast your message, respond to other people’s messages.

And if you use a dipping sauce for a grilled cheese sandwich, you’re a philistine. I’m looking at you, Bobby Flay – you like steaks, right? What if I lathered one up with ketchup? Think that would help its taste? No! A steak tastes fine the way it is! Same with a grilled cheese! Moron…

Sorry for the micro-rant.

Top 5 Useless New Technologies

There are a lot of gadget toys available to us these days. They’re all pretty neat, but how useful are any of them anyway? These five are, in my opinion, the most worthless of the lot.

Sorry ladies - theyre married!

1) Facetime/Video Phone Calls

I know a lot of Apple people will, again, cry foul at this. It’s a great idea, and why do I keep bashing Apple? I’m doing it because no one uses Facetime, and no one asked for it. How many people bought an iPhone 4 or iPod Touch because it afforded them the ability to place a video call? I sure don’t hear anyone telling me to get one so they can see me while they’re talking to me.

And I’m incredibly handsome!

Out of curiosity, I ran a search for, “does anyone need Facetime,” just to see if there was any consensus on this. What I found were forum posts from people asking complete strangers if they had an iPhone 4, and could they call them “just to try this Facetime thing out.” There’s even an article on how Apple now has a service so you can Facetime them, because they know full well no one uses this thing.

BTW, can this really be called “innovation” when most laptops now have built-in cameras, and there are programs like Skype that people don’t use very much either? The only industry that’s found any niche with video chat so far are sex cams. And I don’t see too many consumers or marketing people in that industry doing a lot of bragging.

2) QR Codes/MS Tags

Heres the QR code for this very post - if you really care.

Both of these things come from the same idea: A physical bar code that can be read by a phone, and call up a web site or video for the consumer. See one on your favorite soda? Scan it and see a commercial for the movie “Avatar!” That’ll be fun!

But it’s not. Setting up the app to scan these things for most users isn’t easy, and the payoff is just seeing the company’s advertising. That’s so lame it defies language.

3) Augmented Reality

Here’s one that sprang up a while back and never took off. The idea was that, though your phone’s camera, you could see your surroundings with additional information – like the location of your Twitter friends, or Google Maps information on the shops your camera was looking at.

The reason this flopped seems to be two-fold: First, an app has to be set up, which is not fun to have to do. I know the first few that came out required several apps running at once. I, like most, gave up after that.

Second, the result was never terribly Earth shattering. Sure, it’s tripy to see a row of restaurants with their review information hanging over them, but actually reading the reviews is easier on a plain old flat page of text.

4) Geosocial Networking

I’m looking at you, Foursquare and Gowalla and Facebook Places. I’ve bitched about these things long enough I don’t feel I need to do much more here. But I did finally, for the last time, end my relationship with Foursquare because of the fruitlessness of it. No one cares where you went to lunch today, no one cares that you’re the Mayor of the local pizzeria, and getting 1/2 off a taco when you buy another taco of equal or lesser value is a stupid offer. I’ll just buy two tacos, and not look like another douche playing with his phone in public, thank you.

5) 3-D

That James Cameron decided this was the “Next Big Thing” should have clued in  everyone that this was not the next big thing. I saw “Tron: Legacy” last week at IMAX, in 3D, and you know what? The IMAX screen is what was impressive – but I forgot I was looking at anything in 3-D.

In fact halfway through the movie I was trying to force myself to see the 3-D and couldn’t. My mind had adjusted to depth – just the way it does when I’m in the real world. The real world is 3-D and I don’t hear anyone saying, “Wow! Driving is such a rush! It’s like all the other cars are coming at me! Classic.”

Even Adolph Hitler knows "Avatar" sucked.

My point with all of these things is that they will not last, unless the developers of these technologies can find an easy way to make us need them. E-mail didn’t need much to become widespread because it’s simple to set up, and simple to understand. It came along when people wrote letters – on paper! – so the concept was pretty easy to get.

If all these companies celebrating their innovation were really innovating, they’d work on fulfilling a current need. Creating a solution, then telling us how we have the need for it, when we don’t, is silly and wasteful.

Beware Web Listings Inc Scam

I recently bought a domain name from GoDaddy. As a result of my registration, I got what looked like a bill from some strange company called Web Listings Inc. – and rather than give this shady outfit a unique inbound link, which they may or may not know is what really helps search, I’ll point you instead to all of the other negative reports of Web Listings Inc on Google.

So why is this company a scam? First off, the letter they sent refers to:




First off, “20 established search engines” is meaningless. What does established mean here? It doesn’t matter. Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and to a lesser extent Ask are the only search engines that are important to anyone, because they are the only ones that have traffic. You don’t need to be listed on multiple search engines, you just need listings on search engines that have a lot of users.

Secondly, submitting listings to a search engine does not mean you will then get listed for keyword searches. It only means you submitted your site. Submitting your site to Google or Bing is just slightly easier than falling out of bed. The link to do so is easily found, and takes roughly 20 seconds to do. If you don’t know anything about the web, this might sound attractive – but then if you are new to the web, you’re just the kind of people this Web Listings Inc company is interested in: An easy mark.

The most insidious part of this e-mail, however, was the way it was presented: As a bill. When you first start reading the thing, it looks like something that got tacked on when you purchased your domain. Mine seemed to say I owed $85.00, a tear-out to send in with my check, and a return envelope.

Upon closer inspection, however, I saw the joke was on me! It also says,


That is, the poor suckers who thought they owed someone money just sent it in, meaning they accepted an offer they didn’t know they could get out of. Some others who weren’t ever going to pay for something they didn’t know they bought would look into them…

And what, Web Listings? Look you up and decide your product is worth buying after all? Anyone who sends money to you without reading the disclaimer is a fool, granted – but so is anyone else who would send money to a company that sends what looks like an attempt to trick money out of them.

Just a few easy searches for your company turns up a lot of people complaining about black hat SEO, the aforementioned “scam” nature of your business, and some others who, like myself, were galled at similar letters.

As a professional SEO, this kind of thing makes me wince. There is real work involved in getting search engine rankings. Every time someone is burned by an outfit like this, that person assumes there is nothing that can be done to get their website ranked. After all, they parted with $85, or more, and despite being listed with “established search engines,” there wasn’t any further traffic to their site.

If you see ANYTHING from Web Listings Inc, please throw it away. You can submit your site on your own for free. If you want to see how you rank, just running some searches will tell you how you’re doing. If you want reports, there are companies like WebPosition that, while they do charge, will let you run as many reports on your rankings as you’d like – they won’t simply send you something every three months, from “search engines” no one has ever heard of before.

You don’t need these people, and they have no claim on your money – no matter what they tell you.

Finally, really, how good of an SEO company can they possibly be if they’re trying to get business using snail mail?

What’s wrong with Bing’s front page

By now, you’ve likely seen the front page images for – here’s one:

Personally I love this. It’s something different every day, and it draws you in to learn more about whatever they’re showing. The images have square links on them with bits of trivia, and invite you to click through to learn more.

The problem is what they link to. In this case, the link for “What do Windmills do?” just loads a search page for “windmills.” Sure, I can probably find out more about the pangolin’s tongue if I continue to some of these resulting pages, but there isn’t a clear answer waiting for me on the other side of the first link.

If effort has been put into getting me interested in the question asked, not giving me a clear answer is a betrayal. The moment I see I’m not going to get more useful information, I will back out. It’s a strangely bad mistake for a search engine to make.

Similarly, if you have links on your site or ads that promises to provide specific information, you need to give your answer to it immediately. Paid search ads that read, “How will you lose 30 lbs by Summer?” must have that specific answer on their landing pages, since that’s a big reason people clicked on the ad.

If people don’t see it, they’ll bounce out and possibly find someone else who has that answer.

Twitter Auto-posting Services hurt your brand

After two years of Tweeting, I’m still seeing a lot of services designed to post to Twitter for you – Hootsuite,, Ping.FM, and worst of all, the Twitter API to serve an RSS feed. If you are using these services and you follow me, you are BEGGING ME not to follow you back.

I don’t have a problem with these services used as part of your overall approach to Twitter. I don’t ignore someone just because I see, “via” at the end of a post. But I do if every post is.

The reason is obvious: Let’s say you do this, and you follow me, and I follow you back. I will occasionally see these automated posts of yours, but you’re never going to read anything I share. This works for you, because you don’t care what I’m posting. You only want me reading what you’re sharing. You want a one-way delivery of information.

But why in the hell would I ever want that? I’m on Twitter to have chats with a lot of people. I’m there to be social.

You’re there to broadcast. And I have no use for you.

Social networking is a blessing and a curse to businesses – there’s a lot of people using it, but unfortunately, you’re also asked to actually talk to those cretins whose money you want. Can you see where most of us would find that vaguely insulting?

The only reason for me to follow you is because you’re following me – so I can brag about the number of people following my magical tweets. That probably does work for people who think a follow count is important. (Hint: It isn’t. Not even a little bit.)

If that’s how you get people to follow your business Twitter account, what do you think is the quality of those follows? They have no interest in what you’re RSS feed is tweeting for you, they’re just glad to have one more follower. They won’t click on your idiotic links, they won’t come to your site, they won’t buy anything.

By trying to get more customers through social media, you’re really just spinning your wheels.

If you are hiring an agency to do your social media for you, and they’re doing it this way, you’re being ripped off. They will claim they’ve increased brand visibility on Twitter by X% month by month. They will say that because, frankly, it’s the only deliverable they can quantify. The real result of a campaign run this way is that the mass of people tweeting know your brand doesn’t care enough about them to do social well. That, and you’ll have a Twitter account followed by all the other businesses and consultants who do nothing but self-promote. They won’t click on your links any sooner than you’ll click on theirs.

I do some version of this same post every six months or so. Mostly because I cannot believe no one has yet figured out that auto-posting 100% of the time doesn’t work. I’m not the only one decrying this, either – do your research. Read some case studies. If you really care about making your brand known on social, you cannot be lazy about it and expect it to work.

Goodbye, Blockbuster – You died of laziness

Let’s be clear: Redbox and Netflix did not put Blockbuster out of business; Blockbuster put Blockbuster out of business. They were the dominant video rental company since I graduated high school, and they grew to such epic proportions they never thought they’d fail.

This week they announced they’ll be filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. If you haven’t heard about this already, you will.

The reason Blockbuster is dying, frankly, is because they assumed just being “bigger” made them safe. When Netflix started, it was a pretty small affair. Some Internet geek smart asses like myself used it, but it was niche, and Blockbuster didn’t see it as much of a threat. When they did, of course, they tried to implement their own mail in service, but it was too late. It was a response, not an innovation – and they paid for it.

Then Redbox came along. Am I the only one who thought those kiosks looked a little chintzy at first? It wasn’t until I really, really needed to see Moon, and they had it, that I gave it a try. Only $1? Wide selection? Locations everywhere, and I can return the movie at any one of them? THAT’S innovation!

Blockbuster tried to follow with their Blue Boxes, but again, response – not innovation.

In fact, Blockbuster never used any of it’s power to find a new way of doing it’s business. This is why they are now dying. They took the Ma and Pop video rental store model of the 80s, and created chains. They’ve had 30 years to grow into something more, and the best they ever came up with was a broadband movie rental service with Enron. Anyone remember that?

Maybe that’s the experience that made them gunshy. “We’ve got a business that works, why let ourselves get scammed again on this newfangled technology?” Then this broadband idea, which was actually a good one, was used by cable companies as On-Demand programming. So add cable to the list of conspirators that stabbed Blockbuster to death on the floor of the senate. (And that’s your mixed metaphor of the week, by the way.)

Irony: Blockbuster’s business model drove the Ma and Pop video stores out of business. Now Ma and Pop are the people who own Redbox franchises. Suck it, Blockbuster!

So Blockbuster’s decline was inevitable, thanks to poor management and being over-satisfied with their position. There was a time all one had to do was get Blockbuster to pick up a movie for their stores, and it would make millions of dollars. You know that crappy DVD you always see and wonder, “who the hell watches that!?!” The answer is no one does.

It is definitely the end of an era, but in a capitalist way, it’s a good end. Their business is going away because no one needs it anymore. If they had been more interested in innovating solutions than just sitting back and collecting late fees, things might have been different.

A Great Example of how Not to use Twitter: Celebrity business pitching

There comes a time when you’ve seen everything – and then, you see something else.

It started with a follow request from this person:

Crazy Twitter 01

As you can see, this is a new-ish account. Following a lot of people in hopes some will follow back. The people you usually get to follow you back are the people who also only care about follow counts, though, so even if you get 10,000 of these followers, none of them will ever be terribly interested in what you say.

But there’s nothing new about that. Anyway, I don’t follow people back unless they post something interesting.

The fun really begins with:

Crazy Twitter 04

Because why wouldn’t Justin Timberlake want to talk to a complete stranger from Twitter about his life insurance, which I’m sure he’s thinking about all the time, right?

But you have to give it up to @LifeHealthIns for persistence:

Crazy Twitter 03

The problem is when persistence becomes stalking. You try on the 8th, you try again on the 11th…

Crazy Twitter 02

But if you can’t catch on by the 14th that your plan doesn’t work and you won’t get  a response, don’t you think either JT or his social media guy (if he has one) checks his Twitter account a little more often than once a week?

I’m sorry, Life – he’s just not that into you.

Still, I have to get you props for not limiting yourself:

Crazy Twitter 05

If you’re dedicated to this course of action, you might want to use this list of celebrities who use Twitter. Seriously, there are hundreds of names on here of famous people who will be happy to ignore you.

Good luck!

Creating a Content Page out of Fake News

This is easily one of the smartest on line marketing tactics I’ve seen in a long time: Someone has created this site, a fake “TV News” site, with a lead story purporting to expose the truth about Acai Berry diets.

Acai Berry story

"Julia Miller" - Your number 1 source for bullshit.

The story starts out like any belligerent, TV news “we’re on your side!” type of consumer report. But then the “reporter” goes on the diet to see for herself if it works. And guess what? It does! For joy! Then the story ends with instructions about how you too can get a free sample of this wonder product, where this person lost 26 pounds in four weeks.

But look at the site a little bit closer. The header of the page has a typical local news look, with two intrepid reporters posing out, and what looks like at first glance, “Channel 5 News,” indicating some local TV affiliate. This was really smartly done, because the banner actually says, “Channel Health 5 News,” or rather, “Health 5 News.”

Well what the hell is that?

It’s an attempt to make you think this is a real news outlet, while they still let you know this is only about “health” – or their loose interpretation of it. Then they have a picture of their “journalist,” a screen cap of some young woman from a TV broadcast who doesn’t look like she has an extra 26 pounds to lose anyway.

They even went so far as to design in a toolbar to other locations on their supposed TV news channel site – with all of the links going to the front page of!  I’m in awe of such brilliance, frankly – most people wouldn’t bother to navigate around a site like this, and the designer of this page knew that. So the toolbar isn’t there to get you to anything in particular, it’s just there to further facilitate this fantasy.

I know I sound bitter – mostly because this is the kind of marketing that gives marketing a bad name: Lying to people in such a way that the advertiser can always say, “we didn’t lie to anyone – where do we ever say this is from an actual news organization?” In truth, I’m rather impressed. They managed to ape the look of a local news site so well, you wouldn’t know it was a fraud unless you were particularly skeptical. Skeptical people aren’t customers for a weight loss product that relies on berries to loose 26 pounds in four weeks. Desperate people need to loose 26 pounds in four weeks, and if some pseudo-news organization says this will, then it must.

The larger story here is that we trust these types of sites and their recommendations so well, the people out to make a dollar off of us have taken to using that information against us. Whomever crafted this campaign is definitely not stupid – they know what we are willing to read through and believe. If this same text had been used on a standard landing page, no one would have read past the first paragraph.

Instead, this starts out with the supposition that they are against this product’s claims. Well, sort of – they actually say they will test the product from one company in particular, which they say is the “most credible and trustworthy suppliers on the market.” That company, of course, is the one sponsoring this misleading piece of online advertising.

See how they did that? They mention the company, but still make it sound halfway snarky, like none of the other companies could be trusted more than this. Because we presume they’ll be trashing a company that sells snake oil, we read on. When we get to the conclusion, if we’re not paying too much attention, we take in the real pitch (there’s a “special offer,”) and we become customers.

Is it sneaky and underhanded? You betcha! But I’m willing to bet the conversion rate on this article is also through the roof. I found it as what looked like a supplemental news link on someone else’s blog. I now know that wasn’t a news feed I clicked on, but a paid placement also designed to make me think I was getting an unbiased news report.

In short, if you want to fool people into buying your product, and you can’t get the media to tell the public how great you are, fake it. We no longer teach skepticism to our children, so it should be easy pickings for you.