It’s not what you say, but how you say it

July 1, 2010

Bernbach made that observation about advertising more than 50 years ago. Today, it still rings true, and is basically what made me notice this ad for the UOB woman’s credit card that appeared in the ST earlier today.

What caught my eye was not the ad’s headline but its tagline – ‘Men don’t get it.’

What a great insight into the way many women think and how well the brand has used it to create a proposition that delivers for it on both a functional and emotional level.

Advertising needs more ideas like this

Ideas that are resonant and based on a clear insight into the way a brand’s audience thinks.

Such ideas make brands distinct and clarify their position in a way that is so too.

In the process they achieve better results more cost effectively and not only help bring respect and credibility back to our profession but also elevate the quality of conversation we have with our clients.


Putting its money where its mouth is – another great ad from NTUC Income

June 20, 2010

Most brands today will do anything to avoid paying compensation to customers.

I should know – I recently ordered an iPAD that never arrived and was told that despite the product never having left the US the only sum the courier company would pay would be $100 – a figure so well tucked away in its terms and conditions you’d had to be better than Google to find it.

So naturally I was delighted when I saw this ad from NTUC Income earlier this week. It appeared the day after the floods devastated businesses on Orchard road. Rather than shirk responsibility, the brand appeared hell bent on accepting it; a stance I am sure consumers would have welcomed.

This isn’t the first time NTUC Income has run well appointed ads like this

In September last year, I wrote about the brand’s advertising strategy and how well thought through and engineered it was (

A modern day ad classic I think was during the financial crisis at the start of last year when the brand ran an ad that said quite simply ‘In times of crisis, the best place to be is home.’

What the ad simply highlighted was the home grown nature of the brand – the fact that it was Singaporean and a brand the locals knew they could trust given the Government would never allow a local institution of its size and stature to fail given the immediate implication it would have on the financial stability of the country itself!

Great advertising is still possible

NTUC Income and its agency (which I believe is BBH) prove that it is. They prove that you don’t have to spend too much to achieve it either. You can out think rather than outspend your competitors. They’ve done that by developing and running communication at the time it’s most likely to have an impact on its audience.

BP. Or why if CEO’s aren’t involved in their advertising it’s time they were

June 12, 2010

BP can change the world - but not for the better its clear. This spoof on its ad campaign was done by Greenpeace. The brand should have been more thorough in analysing the implications of its claims in advertising given the nature of its operations.

Most CEO’s don’t pay much attention to the ads their companies run. Perhaps it’s time they did – BP is a good reason why.

For years the brand has been highlighting its commitment to the environment in its ads. In 2000, it even changed its logo to the Helios (the Greek Sun God) – at a cost of over $100 million – to reflect its new found passion – the environment and solar power as a source of alternate energy.

It must regret those decisions now.

Their only effect – has been to amplify sentiment against the brand.

If BP were to have made it clear that they were simply an oil company that was aware of the risks its activities posed, and would do everything humanly possible to avoid the disasters those risks entailed – engaging with the likes of Greenpeace and other environmental organisations – the brand may have had better equity going for it which would have led to sympathy rather than outrage at the spill that occurred.

However, since the brand chose to rail about its commitment to the environment, its inability to protect it ultimately – I believe – has been a key reason negative sentiment against it was amplified – and many times over.

It wasn’t like BP hadn’t been warned

For years organisations like Greenpeace had been asking them to stop pursuing tar sand work and deep water drilling – due to the dangers they posed to the environment.

Greenpeace even ran a competition asking people to re-design their Green Helios logo to reflect the more real and dangerous nature their oil exploration activities entailed.

The brand paid little heed to the warnings from Greenpeace, didn’t engage with them to hear their environmental concerns and the result is that it finds itself waist deep in one of its biggest crisis ever.

The lesson for brands

Don’t go overboard when it comes to making claims in your advertising. They may sound nice in a focus group but if they won’t ultimately hold up to scrutiny or can’t be supported by the brand’s business strategy then they won’t create equity – they’ll cannibalise it.

Something that’s pretty much happening to BP today!

Brands are valuable assets

But they’re also vulnerable ones. Make the wrong move, act in a way that’s inconsistent with the way your audience expects you to and you suddenly find that any equity you had – you don’t any more.

Can a bank be here for good?

June 11, 2010

A few months ago, Standard Chartered launched a global campaign titled ‘Here for Good’.

The campaign’s key themes – CSR and endurance – seek to establish Stan Chart as a brand that’s here for the long term as well as focused on investments with a positive and ethical social outcome.

While Stan Chart’s goal is laudable, I am not so sure it is credible.

People interpret ‘good’ in many different ways – commercial banking just doesn’t happen to be one of them

Shareholders interpret ‘good’ as being a return on investment that’s in line with, or above, the risk incurred with obtaining it.

People in general however interpret ‘good’ in a slightly more selfless way.

Brands that are deemed ‘here for good’ are brands that are doing work that is humanitarian and that truly arouses the admiration and respect of the human spirit. Brands that stir this in us are brands like Amnesty International, SPCA, Mother Theresa, Kofi Anan, Red Cross, the Salvation Army and Project Red – to name a few.

Can Stan Chart exist alongside these brands enjoying the same sort of esteem they do? I don’t think so – simply because of the fundamental difference these brands have in terms of purpose – compared to Stan Chart.

Even if Stan Chart could claim to be ‘good’ – could it claim to be so more powerfully than its competitors?

All banks are not the same – their structure and reasons for being differ.

Commercial banks answer to shareholders and are fundamentally driven by a motivation to earn profit.  Stan Chart is in this category of banks.

Cooperative banks on the other hand answer to members, are less focused on profit – and more on service to the community instead. Australia’s Bendigo Bank, for example, which is owned by the communities in which it operates, was the country’s only bank to register a world class Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 33 – NPS being a key measure of customer loyalty.

Credit unions exist for a purpose similar to cooperative banks while newer financial organisations such as Kiva or Grameen Bank of Bangladesh push even harder into the social and ethical space issuing microloans to people to break the cycle of poverty.

Against competition of such nature, how does, and indeed how can, Stan Chart claim the title of ‘Here for Good’ more persuasively than these brands?

A clear disconnect between tactic and thematic

Visit the Stan Chart website here in Singapore and you’re immediately greeted by a banner that screams “unlimited giveaways with Stan Chart Cards – start shopping now!

We know that a key global issue – and an important reason countries have faced the economic problems they have – is credit card debt.

Yet here is a bank that encourages it – whilst at the same time making the claim that it is here for good. How can it be – when it turns a blind idea to a key issue facing society – and in particular – its youngest and most vulnerable members!

What Stan Chart needs to do is to get the bank’s product and brand marketing people together and ensure they are better aligned in terms of proposition.

Banks don’t decide whether they’re going to be here for the long term – markets and the fundamental nature of their operations do

It is all well for a bank to make a claim in an ad, it is a completely different matter to be able to support it.

Part of Stan Chart’s communication strategy (as stated in their annual report) is to be seen as the bank that’s going to be here for good (as in for always). It’s understandable that they may want to reiterate this position given the number of banks that have gone under (122 in the US in 2009 alone!) if web reports are to be believed.

But I am sure even Citibank and Royal Bank of Scotland harboured the same lofty ideal of being around for good – yet both were severely tested – and very nearly obliterated – thanks to conditions in the market and the fundamental nature of their operations which finally caught up with them.

Other financial institutions such as Lehmann Brothers were not so lucky.

It is not for a bank to claim that they will be here for good

It is for them to undertake practice that ensures they will – and what Stan Chart is not doing is showing evidence of this in its advertising.

In summary, I think the campaign tries to achieve goals that are laudable but in way that I don’t think is awfully credible.

Structure in advertising

April 22, 2010

For an industry that prides itself on being creative and untraditional, it doesn’t do as much as it probably should to challenge things when it comes to organisational structure – the way people and tasks are organised.

Most ad agencies opt for either the functional or matrix structures – as they’re technically called – though new structures have emerged that can be a lot more effective at driving better creative and business results.

When doing a post grad in business several years ago, I had the good fortune to study organisational structure in a big way and the role it can play in a firm’s success. There are 4 key forms of structure – and these are my thoughts on their role and applicability to our industry.

Functional structure – specialisation the key
The functional structure is the oldest form of structure and basically divides people according to task. Hence in agency world you have the account management department, the creative department, production, studio, traffic, finance, HR departments and so on.

Each person reports to their department head and works on projects that combine individuals from the different competencies.

The commonest problem with this structure is collaboration and speed. People often end up working in silos with loyalty tending to be departmental rather than organisational.

Such a structure often results in situations where getting things done is a constant battle (sounds familiar?) and the organisation – unless it has a single strong leader – never really coalesces as one.

In this age where collaboration is key to developing truly creative business solutions – such a structural make up is fine for a small agency but starts to be a problem as an agency picks up momentum and growth.

Divisional structure – if you’re going to have a leader – may as well have just one
The second type of structure is a divisional one. In a divisional structure, a lot better suited for agencies that have grown, the organisation breaks itself down into divisions – making each a largely self sufficient unit that invests in all the key resources it needs to operate.

Only an absolute few resources are shared and only when it makes better ‘business’ sense to do so and where efficiency doesn’t suffer.
This is a highly efficient structure and works as leadership is very clear – there is only one divisional head – so the unit has no option but to fall into line.

It is efficient too – as responsibility for the division lies with a single individual – so non-performance can be easily attributed to a single individual and appropriately dealt with.

When I worked at LINTAS in Mumbai city in the nineties, the agency had adopted this form of structure – and a highly effective one it was.

LINTAS organised itself as 5 divisional units called Bombay 1, Bombay 2, Bombay 3 and so on. Each was a business unit by itself and had its own resources – including Creative Director – with only a few shared ones such as studio and production – which were treated as separate business units anyway.

It worked a treat, amplified the power of the agency times five and was part of the reason the agency was able to emerge as the country’s second if not largest and most profitable shop at the time.

Matrix structure – a combination of functional and divisional
The third type of structure is matrix. A matrix structure tries to combine the benefits of a functional structure with a divisional one. People belong to a functional department but are allocated to projects where they collaborate and work with other members as a team.

This is the way most ad agencies today work.

If the members of the team are mature and competent this structure can work and that’s why it’s been adopted in such a widespread manner.

This structure has a high potential to deteriorate and skew more towards a functional type set up that simply pays lip service to its matrix name however.

If this happens, a matrix structure can easily start to become politicised. Games start to be played and factions start to form.

The result is not good for business. The structure starts to weigh the agency down and it is reduced to a point where it becomes impossible to take decisions and get everyone pulling in the same direction.

A matrix structure is basically a compromise – what can make it work is strong leadership. The role of the leader is basically ongoing and to ensure competing interests are managed and people’s efforts are directed to the organisation as a whole.

Cellular structure – a new form of structure
A fourth and relatively new form of structure is called cellular.

This is a structure that I think really works from a creative and efficiency point of view.

In this structure, the agency doesn’t bother with departments at all. Instead teams are formed around a client’s account needs and the structure lives to service their needs or those of a set of clients only.

In a cellular structure, people report to no one but themselves. They work in close proximity to each other and each performs a specialised function such as account service, creative, production and so on.

The benefit – hierarchy, systems, politics, process – usually don’t get in the way – and the focus is totally on the work.

Such structures often operate in a leaderless way – which means leadership is emergent not deliberate – the group nominates who leads based on ability and the leader may be different based on different tasks undertaken and areas of responsibility.

It’s a fluid structure – definitely not for the faint hearted but only the genuinely creative. It’s also a brutal structure with a low tolerance level for non performers – it’s as close as I think you can get to mob mentality today – in a legal way!

The upside – the team spirit, work and commitment is usually unmatched by any other structure.

In Sydney, George Patterson Bates – at one time the country’s largest agency by a long shot – experimented with this structure with good result. They called it the Pod concept. People sat together in pods – whole teams – and worked together on projects. Worked a treat I’m told. I’ve never worked for Patts though I must admit so have not seen it work first hand.

Agencies are creative – why aren’t their structures?
Most ad agencies today adopt the obvious – a functional or matrix structure. My question has always been why – so many more structures exist that are proven to work better.

Many times agencies don’t adopt them for a variety of reasons – weak leadership, leadership that simply isn’t aware that these options exist, leadership that doesn’t want to put noses out of joint (in a cellular structure you don’t need an ECD, CD or CSD – damn I’m a CSD!).

Whatever the reason, if an ad agency looks at structures that go beyond the safe and the obvious, they may find that they stumble upon something that can be game changing for their business.

What Twitter Users Will Do Next

February 23, 2010

Twitter was new, it isn’t any more. And that is going to change the way people behave on the platform.

One of the first things I think we can expect to see people on Twitter do is get more selective about who they follow.

Until now, this hasn’t really been the case, as users have tried to understand the platform by exploring it. In the process, following brands and people who under normal circumstances they may have not.

The behavioural norm on Twitter has been to follow someone – when they follow you. This has had a benefit – an increase in the number of an individual’s followers which for a while could be described as flattering.

I think most seasoned users are over that feeling now and will soon start to look for more control over their experience on the platform. Such control can only come from being more selective about the people and brands they allow on it as far as their sphere of personal influence and interaction is concerned.

I think people could well also start to develop multiple profiles on the platform based on how they plan to use it. People could well, for example, develop a personal and a professional handle to ensure their updates are relevant to the people who are exposed to them. Given the public, or ‘indiscreet’ nature of the platform, it seems only natural that people over time will want to separate their personal lives from their professional ones.

Whatever changes in behaviour do occur, one thing is certain. People will get more selective about who they follow – the simple desire to be more in control of their experience will ensure this.

The implication for brands – be genuinely interesting in your Tweets to consumers. That is, if you want them to continue following you.

How Many Fans Does Your Brand Really Have on Facebook

February 23, 2010

Marketers have started to use ‘contests’ and ‘promotions’ in an increasingly frequent way to build fans for their brands on Facebook.

What they may be doing (and expensively too), is creating a collection of ‘contest enthusiasts’ rather a database of fans – in the true sense of the word.

Genuine fans have a high level of ’emotion’ and ’empathy’ to a brand and are unswerving in their loyalty to it.

However most contests and promotions are not designed to attract such fans (brand enthusiasts or advocates in essence) but a much more mainstream set of customers – including those who belong to competitors.

The result is that many brands have ended up with ‘so called’ fans as opposed to ‘genuine’ ones.

What do you do if you’ve built your fan base using contests and promotions?
The first step is to look at how you might segment it to understand who on your database is actually a fan and who is not.

A good way to do this is to use the principle of NPS (Net Promoter Score). NPS (, was developed by loyalty guru Frederick Reicheld and is now a trademark owned by Bain Consulting and Satmetrix Systems.

What NPS helps you to do is break down your customers into 3 key segments – Promoters, Detractors and Passives – all by their responses to one key question ‘would you recommend this brand to a family member or friend?’

By breaking down your fan base in this way, NPS helps you to understand the emotional traction of your brand – its pull and strength in relation to your fans on Facebook.

What’s the benefit of undertaking this exercise?
It can help you get a more genuine, down to earth picture of the emotional strength of your brand as it relates to your fans on Facebook.

It can help you to figure out who’s a fan, whose not – and start to look at your strategy for Facebook with a  much clearer and better defined set of objectives.

And finally, when you segment your fan base this way, and apply the principle of NPS at regular intervals, you start to see whether the initiatives you’re undertaking on Facebook are having the desired impact and shifting the needle when it comes to your fans – or not.

The Most Effective Ads – The Ones That Confront

February 23, 2010

Some ads leave a lasting impression on people and re-frame the way they think and behave. They do so because they confront their audiences – usually with the truth about their perceptions – before proceeding to deal and convince them of their irrationality (if required) – in a direct and head on manner.

Two great pieces of communication that do this in my mind are ‘the Great Schlep’ with Sarah Silverman for Barack Obama by Droga 5 and an ad titled ‘prejudice’ that was done in 1994 for Hyundai in the UK.
The Great Schlep – Barack Obama campaign – Droga 5

Droga 5 did this viral video for the Barack Obama camp. It was aimed at the Jewish community and its goal was to overcome prejudice towards Obama given his African/American background and get older people down to polling booths to vote.

The video confronted the perceptions the community had towards Mr Obama in a direct yet humorous, funny and eminently watchable way as you’ll see when you hit the play button. The ad also used fact to highlight the importance of voting in certain states. It reminded people for example how Al Gore lost the election to Bush and the state responsible – Florida! All in all a great piece of communication – one of the most powerful I have seen.

Hyundai – “Prejudice”

Another super super ad that confronted people and made them think about what was really driving their decisions to buy a car was Hyundai “Prejudice” – written in 1994 for the brand in the UK.

The ad questions consumers on why they really wouldn’t buy a Hyundai. It confronts them with the dark truth that it might be due to something none of us in a civilised world ever want to be tainted with – prejudice.

The ad is on the line but doesn’t cross it. It is questioning but not accusatory. Beautifully scripted, it opens a doorway to viewers at the end – highlighting how though prejudice may exist – knowledge invariably overcomes it.

Hyundai Prejudice – another case of the Brits once again showing the industry the way. I saw that ad in the nineties and it left a lasting impression on me that I felt compelled to share.

You Have a Social Media Monitoring Tool. Now What Are You Going to Do With It.

February 22, 2010

Social media monitoring is high on everyone’s agenda at the moment. Technology companies have been quick to respond. They always are (they’re the guys who gave us CRM and Y2K remember!). They’ve now introduced tools that do everything from capturing conversations to segmenting them by sentiment – negative, positive and neutral.

The real challenge for brands though the way I see it is not capturing conversations but doing something about them.

This is not as simple as it seems.

Social media conversations – issues vary

Very often I’ve found that social media conversations relate to the way a product has been designed, built or sold. Sometimes they point to an issue with the way a firm hires or treats its customers. And in still more cases they suggest a need for ethics, or for a firm to re-look or refocus on key elements of strategy such as staff empowerment or business process – such as its decision to outsource for example.

These issues do not require a company to set up a blog or presence on Facebook or Twitter. What they require it to do on the contrary is “introspect” and make fundamental changes to the way it operates if it is to successfully change the nature of conversations consumers are having about it online.

Bose – the brand people love to hate (well some people anyway)
Bose is a high end audio brand with a significant amount of negative publicity online.

This is driven largely by the audiophile community who see the brand’s products as “overpriced” and “poorly built” using components that enable to maximise profits over performance.

Audiophiles (and they include high end audio dealers – a key influencing segment) – also rip into the brand for the way it chooses to sell its products. Bose insists on dealer exclusivity for example and does not allow customers to take their system home to try it before they buy it – a practice considered standard among audiophiles.

If Bose seeks to influence the conversations this segment (audiophiles) are having about it online, it will need to do a lot more than set up a blog or page on Facebook. It will need to relook its entire marketing value proposition – all the way from product design to build and sales experience.

Bose’s response to social media so far has been unimaginative. It sued Consumer Magazine in the US for a negative review for $200,000. Only a change in its fundamental approach to business will get audiophiles to think and talk differently about the brand.

The problem – no one will review Bose’s products any more. An issue given that when people buy an expensive audio system the first they do is check out its reviews online.

Walmart – people count – their opinions too
Walmart is America’s biggest retailer with 2 million employees worldwide.

Consumer groups and employees slam the brand for its policies on a range of issues -low wages, poor working conditions, predatory pricing – the list goes on.

The unions started websites like to force the retailer to change its game. The comments on the site are damning like this one from a staffer who chooses to remain anonymous “I’ve only been with Walmart for 3 months, and can already see the writing on the wall. Low wages, backbreaking work, unaffordable health insurance, and no personal life due to a ridiculous schedule!”

To make matters worse, in Feb 2009, a 58 year old employee set himself on fire and died saying he “couldn’t take working there any more”.

What’s amazing about all this is that Walmart had embarked on a social media strategy which consisted of engaging with bloggers, providing them with news and information about the company and even inviting to Walmart’s headquarters to see how things worked – as far back as 2005!

The strategy clearly hasn’t worked, as negativity towards the brand has continued.

The reason Walmart’s strategy hasn’t been successful I think is because the brand’s focus is still on social media – not the issues it has raised and that it clearly still needs to resolve within its business. The only way the brand will change conversations is by taking the issues people have raised head on and doing something concrete to address them.

Nike – if the shoe fits – wear it
Few brands have faced as much damage to their reputation as Nike. The brand’s refusal to address allegations over its use of sweatshops in Asia were one of the key reasons that competitors like Adidas were able to re-emerge as challengers.

Today conversations about Nike and its use of sweatshops continue in social media. The new debate is about the use of China as a hub to manufacture. The issue – workers are paid not just low rates but organised unions are not legal so they can’t complain.

To influence conversations, Nike must address the issues they raise. Unless it does so, demonstrating in the process a visible commitment to fair wage levels, the conversations people have about it online will continue to be mixed.

United – if you’re going to break anything – make sure it’s not a guitar
When Dave Carroll, lead singer for Sons of Maxwell boarded a United Airways flight bound for Nebraska and looked out of the window he was horrified to find baggage handlers throwing baggage into the air cargo hold

Part of the baggage they were throwing, were his band’s expensive music equipment which included his beloved Taylor guitar.

He immediately informed the air stewardess about the matter and asked if she could do help. She said she couldn’t as the baggage handlers were not United Airlines staff but contracted agents. If Dave wanted them to stop he’d have to speak to them himself.

He did. But they brushed him away as they left the tarmac.

When Dave got to Nebraska he checked his guitar and found that it had been smashed due to the way it had been handled. He spoke to United about the matter for the next 6 months but they refused to replace or repair his damaged guitar.

So then Dave did what any musician in his shoes would. He wrote a song about his experience “United breaks guitars’. The song went viral and got more 6 million views on YouTube with 37,000 comments about other customers’ experiences with the airline.

The issue for United
It’s not Dave’s guitar. It’s the systems the airline had in place to address his complaint, the level to which staff were empowered to act and the Airline’s decision to outsource an increasing number of processes – baggage handling being one of them.

Sure United may have saved a bit of money by contracting baggage to an outside supplier. However in doing so the airline lost control over the quality of service provided. In the process, they damaged their reputation…and Dave Carroll’s beloved guitar!

To stem the flow of negative conversation online, United doesn’t need social media marketers or bloggers to help. It needs to get its act together internally. Only once it does, will it have any chance to move the conversations the right way.

You have a social media monitoring tool.
Question is – what are you now going to do with it now?

You could spend hours playing with the options the dashboard gives you. You could sit in on any number of presentations by consultants to show you month after month what the latest conversations about your brand online are. Or you could – once you’ve identified the issues – decide to act on them. Move your focus from outward to inward, involve your organisations key stakeholders – and work with them to develop a lasting solution – ground up – to addresses the problems customers have raised – whatever they may be.

What Makes A Social Media Strategy Work?

February 21, 2010

In my last post (below), I discussed the 4 levels at which companies are using social media. In this post, I look at another key result of my study – the 5 key things a firm needs to get right if its social media strategy is to work.

1. Clarity of Intent. For a firm’s foray into social media to be successful, its intent in terms of what it seeks to achieve from the exercise must be clear. In the case of Ford (the example I used in my last post below), the objective is very simple – position the company as open, honest and transparent. With Zappos they’re clear too – they want to be selling culture not shoes. Kickstarting the exercise with clarity of such nature is key to success.

2. Clear understanding of the medium. Social media works differently to traditional media. There are some things a brand can and can’t do. It would be a mistake for example to sell overtly on certain social media territories like Facebook. Moderation of content while always tempting is frowned upon by communities. They’re there to give opinions – brands that are afraid to accept them shouldn’t play in the space.

3. Adequate resource investment. Social media strategies require resource to manage them. People will comment, and brands will need to respond appropriately. Resource needs to be in place to allow them to do so. Nothing is worse than an untended initiative. And there are many of them by way of corporate pages on sites like Facebook. They get no traffic and damage rather than enhance the profiles of brands.

4. Dynamic not static engagement approach. It’s good to go in with a plan. It’s also good to keep the plan fluid. This can make the approach consistent but also responsive. Things change very quickly in the digital world. One needs to keep a close eye on change to ensure one’s strategy is always dynamic – and aligned to shifts that may be taking place in the market.

5. Management commitment. The last point that’s important for companies, once they launch themselves into the social media arena is to stay committed to it. Many brands, particularly if their strategy is designed to operate at a corporate level receive initial flak based on perception or earlier decisions. We are seeing that happen to the Pope in a big way for example. It’s all a natural process of catharsis. If a brand is serious about its social media strategy it will learn from it. And if it does, it will use the knowledge gained to improve the way it conducts its operations.

Social media is here to stay
It will soon, if it doesn’t already, exert an influence on the way your company is perceived at a corporate, brand, product or service level. By understanding how social media works (see previous post below), companies can harness its might to develop a powerful strategy to build a clear advantage for themselves over competitors.