How Social Media Is Killing the Christmas Card.

For much of my life the Christmas Card Season was a highlight of my year. I loved going to the mailbox to see it stuffed full of cards from friends and family all over the country. The cards typically came with beautiful or funny photographs and a written update offering highlights from the year for each member of the family. It was reassuring to know that the people I hadn’t heard from in the past 12 months were still not dead.

The Christmas Card, and its blue-collar brother, the letter, used to be the only technologies that allowed us to share pictures and status updates with our family, professional network and social circles. The people you exchanged cards with defined your social group. Being on someone elses Christmas card distribution list meant that your relationship was worth at least the cost of a card, an envelope and a stamp.

The Year That Changed Everything

Today things are different. The change began in 2007 with the introduction of two new technologies that were invented to kill the Christmas card: Facebook and the iPhone. Facebook’s expansion beyond the college crowd that year meant that old people, like Gen Xers (and whoever was born before them) could suddenly be reunited, online, with people they hadn’t seen or heard from since high school. This was a crazy time. I was in my 30s, and I was suddenly reunited, online, with people I had completely forgotten even existed. Like my Grandparents.

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Leapfrogging The Polaroid

The newly invented iPhone was actually not a smart phone as initially reported. It was a wicked smart camera. It enabled us to instantly capture and view photographs without the help of a darkroom or a teenage Walgreens associate. Even better, these super cameras enabled us to instantly share pictures with our friends and family via text, email, and Facebook. Later we added Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and LinkedIn to the distribution list.

Dear Letter, I found someone new.

And about that thoughtful letter we used to write, summarizing the recent year. It has been castrated by technology. There is no power left in an end of year letter in an era when social media allows us to know what our elementary school friends had for dinner last night.

I am an active social media follower. So I know about that recent recital, the restaurant you went to last weekend and that tournament that your child’s team won. I already know about the 3rd person you are dating since the divorce. I know that the Christmas tree tipped over when you put that last ornament on it. (Wait, that was me. And who puts another ornament on a tree that has already tipped over?)

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Where do we go? (Oh oh, where we do we go now?)

Does this mean it is time to put the Christmas card to bed? No. Not necessarily. But it does mean that it is time for us to reinvent it. Maybe this means we get back to writing about our personal connection and the memories we share with each individual on our list, instead of mass mailing pics and updates that the recipient already knows.

Opportunity

This also presents a business opportunity to invent a more relevant holiday correspondence. Maybe a Mad Lib type technology that enables us to send personalized digital cards, highlighting the experiences we shared with each recipient. Maybe we use facial recognition software, time stamps and geo tags to effortlessly create cards that show our people when and where we interacted with them throughout the year. And maybe we video chat, or hologram ourselves to sing Christmas carols together on Christmas Eve-Eve.

Since 2007, my family has created a year-in-review video using the best of our digital photography to tell the story of all the things we did, places we went and people we saw. We set it to music, and shared with our friends and family on New Year’s Day, via Vimeo link. Technology makes this so easy that the hardest part is simply deciding which pics to cut out.

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The Grand Consolation

If receiving fewer cards each year saddens you, don’t let it. The traditional Christmas card era was a great one. We will always have those memories. But it is better to be in touch with our friends, family and professional network more often. It’s great to see photos of our siblings, cousins, childhood friends, former clients and coworkers on a regular basis. The real-time nature of social media allows us to celebrate the successes when they happen. And support each other as we go through tough times, instead of hearing about them months later.

Key Takeaway

Just like the newspaper and the horse and buggy, the Christmas card ain’t what it used to be. But these are better, more connected times. We have upgraded to more frequent exchanges of pictures and updates. Even better, technology now allows us to instantly respond to them with real, private conversation through social media apps, or that smart phone that makes it all possible. This is progress. This makes for a better world, year round. Which adds happiness into our lives every day. Not just at the holidays.

Note: The Albrechts are not pulling the plug on our Christmas cards yet. If you are still sending us one, you will still get one in return. 

How to determine the best advertisers in the Super Bowl.

Did you see Super Bowl LII? What a show! The game is always hyped as the greatest television event of the year. It certainly lived up to that billing again this year.

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My fellow Wisconsin Badger Corey Clement scored big. He even started a Conga line in the end zone.

The Game

The game itself was amazing. There were so many Super Bowl records set that I think the game set a Super Bowl record for setting Super Bowl records. There were over 1000 yards of total offense. There were two pass attempts to quarterbacks playing wide receiver. And there was an exciting Hail Mary pass into the end zone as the clock expired. The only thing that would have made the game better for me would have been a Patriots victory. But as a huge Pats fan, I have two Super Bowl miracle wins in the last few years to console me.

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JT told the crowd in Minneapolis, ‘I once went fishing on Lake Minnetonka and caught a walleye this big!’

Halftime Entertainment

After getting off to a slow start Justin Timberlake’s halftime show made a nice comeback and finished strong. The momentum turned during JT’s tribute to Prince. His performance of Mirror was spectacular. Although I worried that one of the hundreds of kids running around the stage holding mirrors would drop one and bring seven more years of bad luck to the hometown Vikings.

 

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My cravings for M&Ms decreased dramatically when I saw this commercial.

The Commercials

Then there were the ads. As an advertising professional I love Super Bowl spots. At a price of over $5 million for 30 seconds, commercials during the Super Bowl are too expensive to get wrong. So most of the spots that run during the big game do what good commercials should do. They entertain us. They make us laugh. They surprise us. They wow us. They make us think differently about the products, services or brands they promote.

The Super Bowl ads are so good that people actually want to see them. They are part of the appeal and entertainment of the entire event. Sometimes they are they best part of the program. Especially when Up With People are the halftime entertainment. Or when the Dallas Cowboys are playing the Buffalo Bills.

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This Peter Dinklage spot for Doritos Blaze made me want to breathe fire as if I were the Father of Dragons.

The Best Advertisers 

So who won the battle of the advertisers? This is a question that gets asked every year. It will be a topic of conversation around the proverbial water cooler all week. Marketing types will weigh in with their professional opinions. And there will be polls that try to determine a winner. However, we will never know the real answer.

Here’s Why.

You don’t succeed in advertising by winning a popularity poll. You win by setting a marketing objective, and then nailing it. Advertising can help increase awareness, brand affinity and purchase intent. All of these dimensions are measurable. But not by a poll that asks viewers to pick their favorite commercial.

Your opinion of the marketing only matters if you are part of the audience the advertiser is trying to reach. I thought the beer commercials were funny. But I don’t drink alcohol. I also liked the Tide commercials, a lot. But I don’t make any of the decisions about which laundry potions my family uses.

 

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I liked this guy. But I still don’t like the taste of alcohol. 

Key Takeaway

Super Bowl commercials are not simply meant to entertain you. They are strategically developed marketing weapons. The only way to evaluate their success or failure is to measure the impact they have on their target audience. Anything else is just playing Monday morning quarterback.

 

 

The most important lessons I learned working with Dale Jr.

I have worked with a lot of well-known humans during my advertising career. Advertising and well-known humans, aka celebrities, are made for each other. That’s because there is a powerful affinity triangle that predicts that if you like a celebrity, and that celebrity likes a product or service, then the chances are good that you will like that product or service too. This is why so many of our moms bought us Skippy peanut butter.  #annettefunicello

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one of the most influential celebrities I have ever worked with. Dale and I worked together for several years on marketing efforts for  Nationwide Insurance, a major NASCAR sponsor.

Nationwide tested every commercial we ever created (and many that never saw the light of day). Time after time, and test after test, I was amazed at just how much influence Dale Jr. had on an audience’s interest in what Dale Jr. was selling. This was made even clearer when we tested the exact same scripts with and without Dale in them. Take my word for it, you don’t want to create a Dale Jr. spot without Dale Jr.

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Dale loved my FRUITCAKE shirt almost as much as I do.

Retirement 

This weekend Dale Jr. will run his final NASCAR race at Homestead. Then he will hang up  his fire suit and left-hand turns to begin what will surely be a successful broadcasting career. As his time inside the car comes to a conclusion, I find myself reflecting on what has made Junior such an influential spokesperson. Afterall, Nationwide, Chevy, Mountain Dew, Budweiser, Wrangler, Hellmann’s, The U.S. National Guard, TaxSlayer and others wouldn’t be climbing all over each other to work with him if he wasn’t a world-class selling machine.

3 Things That Make Dale Jr. Super Influential.

Here are the top 3 reasons Dale Jr. is a world-class celebrity endorser.

He is relatable. Perhaps the greatest thing about Dale Jr. is that total strangers feel as if they know him. People who have never met him feel like he is a friend, a neighbor, a cousin, nephew or uncle. As the son of another well-known celebrity driver, Dale Earnhardt Sr., NASCAR fans and followers have watched Junior grow up. They know his story. They know his successes and his hardships. And they feel as if Dale is just like them. Which is why he has been voted NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for 14 years in a row.

He is authentic.  I have never worked with a celebrity that knows how to be themself better than Dale knows how to be Dale. After working with him the very first time it was crystal clear the he knows exactly who he is. He knows what does and doesn’t sound right coming from him. We rarely asked Dale to act. We wrote spots so that Dale could just be himself. We let him call an audible on set if he felt he would state a phrase differently than we wrote it in the script. Advertising audiences always have their BS meter on. They can sniff out a phony a Talladega lap away. But Dale’s authenticity assured there was no BS to detect. So racing fans bought into Dale big time.

He means what he says: Dale doesn’t really sell things as much as he shares what he actually believes. He really likes Chevy cars and trucks. He really wears Wrangler jeans and thinks they are real. And comfortable. And jeans. He really protects his businesses, his personal cars, his property, his family and dog with Nationwide Insurance. Which makes it really easy for him to earnestly endorse the merits of Nationwide Insurance.

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Director Adam Jones, Dale, Me, several shadows, and a woman fleeing the scene with her purse and a cool hat.

Dale’s Lasting Impressions On Me:

Dale is a good human being. And I’d be willing to bet that he would be happier to have people say that about him than almost anything else. As I reflect on all the work we did together there are a few profound points that stick out.

Photos:  Dale, like so many NASCAR drivers, recognized the value of a picture. He was gracious with all requests to have a photo taken with him by cast, crew, agencies, clients and fans. In fact, he seemed honored every time someone requested a photo with him. I always admired that.

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My team getting a great picture at the end of a great shoot day with Dale Jr. in Charlotte.

The Beard: We always liked to shoot Dale clean-shaven. For adverting purposes he looks better without a beard. But one year we knew going into the shoot that he had grown a Zac-Brownian beard. After a few lean years on the track he was driving like a superstar again. I have no doubt that he felt his beard was part of his positive change. When he arrived on set the day of the shoot he brought the beard with him. This created drama. He clearly wanted to keep the beard.

We, on the other hand, wanted to see his handsome face. After we sat down and discussed our perspective with him he said that if we really felt that strongly about the beard he would shave. Within 10 minutes he emerged from the motorhome, sans beard, ready to shoot. He never complained. He didn’t hold a grudge (at least not outwardly). He was the consummate professional. We had a great shoot and created two really great commercials. While we may have won the battle of the beard, Dale Jr. really won us over with the way he handled the situation.

The Church Sign: One day we were filming Dale driving his Chevy SUV on a country road. At one point we pulled into a church parking lot to regroup and prepare for the next shot. I remember Dale taking a picture of the inspirational message on the sign in front of the church. It reminded me that we all need to seek out the good, the inspirational and the reassuring, and put it in our pocket, or phone, so that we have it when we need it most.

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This was from the first time Dale and I worked together. One of my clients predicted that we would get along well, because I wasn’t ‘All Hollywood.’

Thank You Dale.

Thanks for all that you did to make each of our efforts together successful. Thanks for your patience. Thanks for delivering for us every time. Thanks for getting up earlier than you wanted to. And sticking around the set longer than you wanted to. Thanks for the great stories you shared during our interviews. Thanks for taking time for just one more picture. And thanks for sharing your friends and family with us too. We had a lot of fun working with you. I think I speak for everyone who worked with you at Engauge and Nationwide when I say thanks for being on our side.

What we can all learn from the Best Picture snafu at the Oscars.

When I woke up Monday morning my iPhone was practically on fire. It was glowing and crackling with texts, tweets and push notes. The world was dying to tell me about the disaster at the Oscars. The wrong movie had been announced as Best Picture. OMG!  Hollywood had been embarrassed on national TV! Those poor, wealthy celebrities…

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I couldn’t wait to see the clip. (You can see the whole thing by clicking here. You’re welcome.)

It did not disappoint. The seven minutes of crazy was even better than I could have imagined. It was a train wreck. I squirmed through Warren Beatty’s confusion. I cringed through Faye Dunaway’s quick scan of the card. I felt terrible for La La Land’s la-cast and la-crew celebrating, and thanking, and feeling honored, before having their pants pulled down on stage in front of the world.

I felt even worse for the Moonlighters, who couldn’t really celebrate. After all, they just lost. Now, they didn’t know if they were coming on stage just to have their pants pulled down, before being forced to hand their hand-me-down awards to Manchester By The Sea. I watched it all several times. I will remember those seven minutes of award show infamy longer than I will remember the movies.  

What we can learn.

However, it is important that we take away more from this than the uncomfortable entertainment. Following the debacle I heard many people exclaim, “Someone should get fired over that mistake!”  Let’s think bigger.

We now know that the presenter, Warren Beatty, was handed the wrong envelope by a Price Waterhouse Cooper accountant. PWC has done this for 83 years. Which means a new gremlin was introduced that exposed a flaw in their process. As the founder of the ad agency The Weaponry, I see Envelopegate as a welcomed reminder that we should all use our mistakes to help improve our processes. Not to punish the mistakers.

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In the book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (yes, I really read a book about checklists) Atul Gawande, a renowned surgeon, champions checklists as a way to ensure processes are implemented that help save lives in hospitals. He also cites checklists for having done more to prevent airplane crashes than any other innovation. If a checklist helps save lives in hospitals and on aircraft, certainly a checklist could be used to help save some unfortunate moments at The Weaponry and in Hollywood. And probably when you leave a restroom.

Simple Solution

A simple checklist used by the PWC accountants backstage, and the award presenters, would have prevented the mistake.

  1. Ask presenter what award they are announcing.
  2. Check run of show list to make sure the award they are scheduled to present matches answer.
  3. Read the award category written on announcement envelope aloud to make sure it matches before handing it to the presenter.
  4. Make presenter read the category on the announcement envelope aloud to make sure it matches before allowing them on stage.

Boom. Done. Bonnie and Clyde get away.

A Story

Once upon a time I was shooting a TV commercial in Indianapolis for Donatos pizza. When we arrived at the production company’s office for the wardrobe fitting, I was shocked to see the wrong actress there, trying on clothes. After a quick and panicked huddle we understood what had happened. It seemed that once the client signed off on our talent choices for the commercials, a message was relayed to the production house that we would be using all of our first choice talent. So the production company called, and hired, all the first choice talent. However, the first choices were not the same on both the agency’s list and the production company’s list. Yikes!

That afternoon, the production company made magic. They tracked down the actress who should have played the lead, and got her on a flight that night from Iowa City (which is where you go when you don’t think you got the lead in a pizza commercial) to Indianapolis. The next day we shot the commercial and it turned out great. More importantly, we improved our process. After that, my teams have always confirmed the talent choices by name, not first choice or backup.

What you can do now.

Today, I encourage you to watch the clip from the show again. Because it reminds us that mistakes happen. Mistakes are great at indicating flaws in our systems and processes. If we respond correctly, we come out stronger, with a better way of doing things and a lower chance of that same mistake happening again.

Through better processes we can save more lives, we can avoid plane crashes and we can prevent a lot of embarrassment. Getting angry doesn’t prevent a mistake from happening again. Getting better does. There is no need to fire anyone. I think we can all agree that the person responsible for the Best Picture goof will never, ever make that mistake again. Just as Steve Bartman will never again interfere with a fly ball.

If you have a process improvement story spurred by a mistake please share it in the comment section. You may help others avoid the same mistake. Or maybe you’ll just make us laugh. I’ll take either.

3 rules of marriage I should have told Brad and Angelina.

If you want to do something great, like create the perfect agency, it’s helpful to have a great partner on your side. Like my wife, Dawn. It doesn’t even matter which side of you they are on (just choose one and go with it). But finding a compatible partner for your life-business is really hard.

I reflected on this as I heard about the shocking break up of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Ok, so I wasn’t really shocked. While I am certainly not a pessimist, I am pretty good at spotting trends. And I know that if you are a famous person and you marry another famous person, you’re not likely to end up in the Marriage Hall of Fame.

Despite the fact that we once shopped at Famous Footwear, my wife and I are not famous. And while studying for our marriage (yes, we really studied) we learned some important facts. One was that 50% of marriages die before the people in them do.

Like most couples, Dawn and I celebrate the victories in our marriage. Like anniversaries. Next week we will have been married 14 years. And we celebrate the anniversary of our first kiss. Mostly because it was the day I stopped hopping like a frog.

But there is another thing we do in our marriage that most couples don’t do. We view other couples’ divorces as our wins. I realize this sounds bad. But if 50% of marriages fail, this is a game of survival. And while we are always saddened to hear of a friend, coworker or family member that got voted off Marriage Island, we’re thankful to still be playing the game.  When we hear of a couple splitting up, Dawn and I always high-five (seriously).  It’s as if we just scored a point in the Marriage Sand Volleyball league.  We knew someone was going to lose that point. And it wasn’t us.

There are lots of ways to help ensure your marriage is successful.  But if I was in charge of the Department of Homeland Matrimony, I would create 3 laws to improve the marriage success rate.

  1. No famous people marrying other famous people.
  2. No getting married before you are 30. We change too much during our 20’s and make too many dumb choices.
  3. Everyone must listen to the audio book, Marathon Marriage by David Moore. Dawn and I got this 4 CD series as an engagement gift from my Auntie, Jan Faust. It made us think about and discuss important issue before we signed the contract. It tried to scare us out of running the marathon. And it forced us to think about building a strong marriage that will last. And not just throwing a great party.

Brad and Angelina, if you are reading this, I’m sorry things didn’t work out. I’m sorry you and the six kids have to go through this tough time. I’m sorry it is being talked about in all of the media. But I’m thankful it is you, and not me.

Why there has never been a better time to wear white.

Welcome to After Labor Day! This, unfortunately, is the darkest time of the year. Because now we are supposed to put away our white clothing until Memorial Day. Or until Diddy invites us to a party. Whichever comes first. I have known about this rule since I was old enough to make my own fashion faux pas. But I didn’t understand the rule, until now.

After long minutes of research (hey, it’s the information age) I discovered the Labor-Day-White-Thing was basically a mean girl rule established by a small gaggle of old money biddies in the late 1800s. They decided that they would use the imaginary rule to identify and ostracize new money ladies who didn’t know the insider rules, and wore white on the wrong days. Yet over time everyone adopted this standard.

How lame is that?  

This isn’t a rule. It’s a joke. Or at best a standard we follow without reason. With this knowledge, how do you pick out your clothes tomorrow?

There are two ways to view these widely followed, but non-rule-rules.

  1. We can adhere to them, just like everyone in-the-know.
  2. We can see them as the gifts they are. And use them to help us stand out from the masses.

When I was in college I had a track teammate named Alex Mautz. Alex liked wearing shorts so much he decided not to pack them away after Labor Day, or Halloween or Thanksgiving. In fact, Alex wore shorts every day for an entire year. Which is no big deal if you live in Florida. Or Ecuador. But we lived in Madison, Wisconsin. Where I experienced -26 Fahrenheit without windchill. Alex turned heads everywhere he went. Not only was he memorable, he provided total strangers with an instant conversation starter from November through April.

One of the most important things we do at The Perfect Agency Project is find ways to help people and organization stand out from the crowd. That’s how you build a memorable brand. And if you want to be noticed, cultural and category norms are a gift.

White wedding dresses don’t stand out. Red ones do. I have seen thousands of diamond engagement rings that all blend together. But my sister Heather’s stands out. Because it’s an emerald ring. Chick-fil-a is one of my favorite restaurants. But unlike most restaurants, it isn’t open on Sundays.  Yet Chick-fil-a is the first restaurant I think of every Sunday (can I get an Amen?).

If you, your brand or business want more attention, find a convention and start doing the unconventional. There are opportunities all around you. If you would like help finding your white clothes after Labor Day let me know. We could grab some caramels and talk.

3 things every business can learn from Super Bowl commercials.

The greatest sporting event in America is this Sunday. Maybe the greatest sporting event in the world. I know there are arguments that the FIFA World Cup is bigger than our football game. And that the Olympics have more flames, more luge and more cowbell. But neither of those is the Super Bowl. Our Super Bowl is the Super Bowl of all Super Bowls. Which I admit is a super dumb thing to say.

In 2015 more than 114 million Americans tuned in to the big game. And for good reason. Actually there are three good reasons to tune into this spectacle. First, for the football. The game is usually exciting. And this year we again have two great teams and a compelling matchup featuring Peyton “Old Man” Manning vs Cam “New Kid” Newton. (see what I did there?)

Second, the Super Bowl is a cultural phenomenon. It’s what everyone in the office will be talking about around the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine on Monday morning. If your office still has a water cooler the talk probably won’t be about the Super Bowl. It will be about why you still don’t have a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine.

And the third reason to watch is the commercials. The Super Bowl commercials are a fascinating study. Because we look forward to the commercials as much as we look forward to the game itself. Even though the commercials slow down the game and make the whole night last longer than a Wagner opera. But why?

The magic of the Super Bowl is that for at least one night a year we all recognize that the commercials themselves add value to our lives. They are entertaining. And on Sunday night, we as a nation will be in the mood to be entertained. The commercials are usually humorous. Some are big funny. Some are small funny. Some are produced like mini-blockbusters packed with action and drama. Some are touching and cute, usually with an animal tugging at your heartstrings. Which is particularly impressive when you consider that most cardiologists can’t even find your heartstrings.

As a whole the commercials are interesting and engaging. But even the lesser spots enable us to play commercial critic. And as we learned from American Idol, a few train wrecks amongst the stars makes for oddly enjoyable TV.

As you prepare for Super Sunday here are three things every business can learn from the Super Bowl commercials.

Meet people where they are.  As a business you need to put the audience you want to reach first. Understand their wants and needs. Understand their habits and how you can fit into them. If people want to party, like they do during the Super Bowl, party with them. If they want serious information to solve a serious problem, get serious with them. But don’t cross streams. Trust me on this one.

Offer a consistently enjoyable experience. A major reason we look forward to the Super Bowl commercials is that we enjoyed them last year. And the year before. And like Pavlov’s dogs, when we hear talk of the Super Bowl, we start salivating for Doritos, Budweiser and Coca-Cola commercials. So deliver a great experience every time. Because when you do, whether you’re a carpet cleaner, a dentist, a software company or a mortician, your customers will look forward to interacting with you again. Wait, scratch mortician.

Make great things.  Americans love greatness. We have a deep appreciation for things like a well crafted Super Bowl commercial, or say, a well written blog post. Great things get elevated in our culture.  Yeti coolers, iPhones and American Giant sweatshirts are all great products from great companies that generate a lot of love. In turn they help build great brands that command love, respect and a premium price. So focus your business efforts on making things great. And the profits will follow.

I hope you enjoy the game. I hope you enjoy the commercials.  And I hope you enjoy the conversations about the game and the commercials on Monday. But most of all I hope that by this time next year your business is competing in the Super Bowl of your industry. And that you have a long line of customers lining up outside your door.  Unless, of course, you’re a mortician.