Stealing ideas but not getting caught

We love it when our ads get stolen. Literally, pulled off the wall and taken home. Because when an ad stops being an ad and is “art” you’ve made an emotional connection.

We also love stealing from the best. Think about it, stealing from the worst sure doesn’t make sense. We spend a lot of time studying the best at advertising and taking all of those parts and creating a remix. Because, as any musician will tell you- everything is influenced by something.

Theft is Quentin Tarantinos go to solution in every one of his movies. He says he doesn’t do homages, he steals. So, why is “stealing” frowned upon in business? Blame the lawyers, blame patent law, blame copyright law, blame the idea that creativity has to be original- it doesn’t. It just has to be original to you.

We were recently looking at other ad agency introduction videos and came across a video from Crate 47. We’d never heard of Crate 47, and we thought they were some creative chaps from across the pond, except, well, their promo reminded us of something else…

So we went and watched it, and at first, we thought, maybe this wildly successful viral video was actually inspired by the Crate 47 video…

This ad went viral with a bullet, and was reputedly made for $4.5K Of¬†course, having a CEO that had training in comedy with the Upright Citizens Brigade sure helps. Most CEO’s frown against humor- and would never say their product “is fucking great.”

We looked at the dates: DSC: Published on Mar 6, 2012 with 25M views.
Crate 47: Published on Sep 27, 2012 with 43,500 views. We’re guessing it’s pretty obvious who was the chicken and who laid the egg. But, does it matter? No. Crate 47 took an idea, and made it their own. Their claim of being “Strategically creative” was on the money. Why spend inordinate amounts of time thinking up a concept- when there is a successful model of one to copy? They aren’t in the same business- one sells razor blades by mail, and the other- creativity on getting their message out.

Did it work? Well, of the agency videos we’ve been finding, they’ve had a lot more views than most. And, when it was made, they just had an office in Brighton, but, now, they’re in London too. We’re guessing they got some bangers for their pounds.

Considering that the world at large has the attention span of under 9 seconds, and the amount of media they consume is growing at an exponential rate, being able to produce a grand slam home run (a viral video) is great, but, often what will win games is a constant stream of single base hits.

So if you are going to jack some ideas, remember, be nimble, be quick and jump right over the old school shtick that stealing is shameful. Steve Jobs stole his idea on stealing from Picasso, we admit to stealing our ideas on what makes effective advertising from the best in the business.

Ads that work don’t always win awards

We like to win awards just like everyone else, however, what comes first is “making clients more money than they pay us.”

And that means making ads that work. As in sell, or the phone ring.

The Next Wave was recently retained to properly rebuild a website that a local competitor had mauled as they promised “a digital marketing machine.”

And while it will take a few months to properly rebuild the ecommerce site, what we could do is revamp their print ads so that the phones and cash register would ring again.

The company, Microsun, makes high efficiency, high intensity lamps that are optimized for older eyes. The patented technology makes it easier for seniors to read- without using magnifying glasses or “readers.” They have been running versions of this ad for a long time- and thought that the reason it didn’t work anymore was because they’d “run it out.”

The old Microsun ad that wasn't working anymore.

The ad that Microsun had been running.

If you were already having trouble reading, this ad wasn’t exactly the solution. Black type on grey backgrounds, Lots of small type. And, if you are reading the ad in a newspaper instead of on a tablet or online, you probably need to find a phone number before a website.

We approached the ad thinking, we’re selling a reading aid, not a lamp. We also knew that if we wanted people to read it, large text may help. The phone number is big. The images are of tools they may already be using to read the paper.

Microsun print ad that uses large type and shows reading aids

The new and improved Microsun lamp ad.

The difference in response rates were immediate and clear. A few sales came in via the site the first day, but, the phones rung off the hook with a record day for catalog requests. Large type, simplified message and the idea that we are selling a reading aid, not just a reading lamp, made all the difference. One caller said “I’ve seen your ad before, but never felt compelled to call.”

It may not win awards, but, it is setting sales records daily. What’s even more interesting to their marketing manager is that we’re integrating complete ROI tracking and marketing automation tools into their sales process so everything can be tracked and accounted for. Once the new catalog, site, and PR campaigns are fully in swing, we’ll see the best kinds of awards- bottom line growth for Microsun, the World’s best reading lamp and best reading aid out there.

What business are you in?

Sometimes, the first question to ask a client is “what business are you in” and when you get the “are you stupid” response, you’ve probably asked the most important marketing question to ask.

Netflix can’t answer this question properly lately. Their newest “innovation” is to replace their five star rating system with the simplified “thumb up/down” rating.

United Airlines failed this test by forcibly removing a passenger from a flight.

Apple entered the driverless car market, while admitting they blew it when they replaced the big cheese grater style professional Mac computers that were infinitely and easily expandable with the “trash can” model.

For Netflix, this isn’t the first time to question if they understand what business they are in. When they tried to split off the disc delivery service as Quicksilver and then DVD.com they showed they didn’t get it either. Netflix is the film fanatics club- for serious movie buffs to feed their habit. From the online reviews (which were hidden), to the removal of the DVD queue from the mobile app, from cutting off access to IMDB, Netflix has consistently isolated itself from its core business- being the movie purveyor to people who love movies. Even their default autoplay of the next episode gets it wrong- their core audience watches the credits, and doesn’t want to have them cut off (this feature, can be disabled in settings after searching).

Netflix built its brand on a better suggestion algorithm, now it tossed it.

While the bigger, newer audience may just be there to binge watch episodic TV, the people who built your business are not the people you ignore.

Read that last paragraph again after each example, substituting what the core business is.

United Airlines bloody logoUnited is an airline. Scratch all the added mystique and branding of “fly the friendly skies” or trying to romance air travel, which has been turned into a very dehumanizing experience for most commercial travelers, the primary reason people fly is they need to get from point A to point B faster than driving, a bus, a train. When you sell a ticket to a paying customer, forcefully removing him from his seat, once boarded has violated every part of your basic business premise.

To add insult to injury, this wasn’t an overbooked flight even, they were removing four paying customers so a crew could fly. Fundamentally, United’s business is to transport paying customers. Any questions?

MacPro 2012 vs MacPro 2013Apple is known for its ease of use in computing. It invented “desktop publishing” - which today sounds almost funny. Prior to the Macintosh and the LaserWriter, the ability for people to craft a page of print that had different sized type, photos, and print it themselves was unheard of (I know this is really hard to fathom for anyone born after 1984). They were the tool of graphic designers across the globe, the one people relied on to create everything from restaurant menus to revolutionaries handbooks. As Apple expanded the capability from print to video, the tools of the professional needed more horsepower, more options, more drive space, more memory. Apple saw things differently. Sure, the iPhone changed the world of communications, and the iPad finally made a device that could replace paper, but, the content that was viewed on these devices was crafted by the people who built Apple up- and stuck with them through some incredibly stupid moves.

And yet, the professionals are being shortchanged. The elimination of ports to be replaced by a plethora of dongles, memory and storage that can’t be replaced or upgraded, screens larger than 15″ for a portable no longer exist. Sure, Apple has changed the way they make money now- even though they fail to understand it (if Apple realized most of their profits come from app, software and content downloads, instead of device sales- they would have an answer for Chromebooks for education which are way cheaper than anything Apple tries to proffer and would have created an iPad priced to giveaway to newspaper subscribers to replace printing plants). The prices Apple charges for a terabyte drive in a MacBook Pro or a MacPro are now so insanely high, that professionals feel like they are being insulted when purchasing a new computer.

Apple doesn’t know what business it is in, at all. They are in the controlled content creation and delivery business, not a device or software business. The only thing that Apple should be worried about is putting content creation tools in the hands of the most people possible- and making it easy for them to monetize it through Apple’s secure and safe content delivery network. Cars are a distraction. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

  • When you own a restaurant, you are really in the making people happy business.
  • When you are a school, you are really in the self-actualization business.
  • When you are an ad agency like ours, we’re really in the help you make more money business.

So what business are you really in? Really?

Customer service is marketing

Before buying anything these days, customers are able to find out all kinds of things about your products and your company- with a simple Google search. For many, the first place they may look is a review site- Amazon for general merchandise, B & H Photo and Video for photography gear, or user forums- either run by your company or by your fans.

There are also review sites that are independent, offering testing and evaluation of your product that will tell you more about your product than you probably ever want to know. In photography- you can go to:

I own and ride a BMW motorcycle. Invariably, I find lots of good information about outfitting, repairing, or general knowledge about my bike on the BMW forums- which aren’t run by BMW-

Where you can find information from people “just like you” who have the same questions.

All those searches, all those clicks, all those links- which could help the BMW brand grow its brand reach, are on sites where BMW doesn’t have any control.

You know the old adage, a happy customer tells a few people, an unhappy customer tells everyone? Well, it’s your job as the Chief Marketing Officer of your company to make a decision- do I spend more money on ads talking about how great we are, or do I spend that money making sure our existing customers are super happy and only telling a few?

Even though we’re in the business of making ads- we’re going to tell you that great customer service stories out perform any ad. Making ads about customer service stories only resonate if every customer gets that kind of level of satisfaction when they have a complaint/problem/issue with your product.

Cover image of Tom Peters The Pursuit of Wow!

Tom Peters was into Wow! A long time before the Internet made it so easy to share experiences

Some businesses have distinguished themselves with outstanding customer service. Zappo’s is one example. They focus on creating “Wow” experiences. Don’t believe me- google it: zappos customer service stories. But don’t think they were the first to come up with this, Tom Peters wrote “The Pursuit of Wow!” back in 1994.

We’ve run into clients who don’t want to run a forum on their site to respond to customer issues. “We don’t have time for that” is what they say, yet, when they get call after call about the same issue- they may put up a lame-o FAQ or write a blog post, but only after the 10th call.

Forums are easier to manage than ever, as well as running great help desk type software. The difference between the two is who is answering the questions- on a forum, your fans and customers can work with other customers, while a help desk means you will be running it. We strongly believe that the investment in a well moderated forum is as critical as any large ad campaign. Customers will find out about your arcane policy on battery replacement, or that your manual has a problem on page 37 a lot faster than your staff will.

Smart companies don’t implement “social listening” without having a well supported customer service department to work through the problems. We often find the people involved in social monitoring to be more responsive than those in traditional “customer service” positions. The social media amplification factor of dissatisfaction is and can be deadly. Dell Computer learned this early on in the age of the web when Jeff Jarvis blogged about his customer service nightmare- which he called “Dell Hell” and it blew up online.

Here’s some advertising advice- go Google your products, and problems, and see where you end up? If it’s not on your own site that you manage, get to work. If you need help, you can call us.

Self limiting your brand is a mistake

When it comes to branding, naming your company after your location isn’t a great idea. We watched a hair salon move four times from it’s original eponymous address 23 Second Street and the local grocery chain, Dorothy Lane Market doesn’t have a single location on Dorothy Lane.
Of course, that’s just in the name, but what about your audience? A local company makes tarps and tents. They’ve been doing it since 1948, and only see two markets, farmers and local tent rental. The only advertising they do is in a farm equipment guide. Are they self-limiting their brand and their sales? Of course. Every roll-off construction dumpster needs a tarp to cover the debris as they haul it to the dump, yet, despite making the same product to cover grain trucks, the demolition and waste hauling markets are ignored.

Sometimes companies get confused about what they really sell. Department stores used to be a convenience, in that all the things you need for your household are in one place. That was great until malls came around and did the same thing, only the specialty shops within the mall often offered more focused service, and a better branding experience. The reason for a department stores existence stopped once every single department was duplicated in the mall- at least to younger shoppers. Sears was the sole exception, having built strong brands in Craftsman, Die Hard and Kenmore, while the rest depended on other peoples brands to carry them.

Amazon is what it is today, because Jeff Bezos specifically didn’t call it Amazon Books, but just Amazon. Don’t limit your brand by making it synonymous with your first product, and don’t think any company only has, or will have just one market, because limiting your vision will limit your ability to grow in the future.

Subtracting value: learn from Apple #FAIL with maps in iOS6

Apple is famously and profitably successful because of their attention to design detail and simplicity and consistency of their user interface. And while they’ve made more than a few mistakes along the way, the replacement of the Google maps application which has been a part of the iOS operating system from day 1, may become a classic business case study in what not to do.

Taking away benefits/functionality from your customers without their consent is a very dangerous move.

To summarize what happened- Apple and Google are no longer friends because the open source Android mobile operating system has gone head-to-head with the proprietary and highly regulated Apple iOS. Apple deleted the Google Maps application in favor of their own mapping software with iOS6- despite it not being either an improvement or even a good replacement for the original software. When you start making the New York Times about your product changes, it should be a bit of a worry.

Screen grab of tweet that Apple left out transit maps because Apple users only drive BMWs

Apple’s reckless deletion of functionality of transit maps in their iOS6 mapping app brings satire to the surface

Missing are the highly useful public transit details- a system that is invaluable in NYC, and much of the data that has been tweaked and refined over the years by millions of users. Frankly, Apples map program is being forced on users as an “upgrade” when it isn’t. This isn’t what the customer bought when they bought their iOS devices.

The right to take away a purchase after it’s been bought is a slippery slope, that smacks of “Big Brother” - the very same one that Apple so famously rallied against in their classic Superbowl ad 1984 that launched the Macintosh. What’s next- publishers having the right to come to your home and take back books that you bought because they were too useful? (Textbook manufacturers are becoming guilty of this- but that’s another matter).

Rumors abound that Google is going to release a version of Maps via the Apple store- however, that would and could possibly sink the chances of the Apple maps app from ever reaching parity. Digital maps data is improved by the size of the user base, a primary reason Google was probably willing to allow Apple to use their data when the iPhone launched before they had an Android OS.

Google could probably rake in millions by selling their app on the iTunes store now, but the shopkeeper, Apple, despite a chance to gain 30% of sales may still block it from happening (debate is raging on this subject).

But this is a lesson for all marketers. The restaurant that used to offer free bread that now charges, the gas station that stops offering free air both risk alienating customers by taking away something that was previously accepted. Once one fast food chain began offering free refills on soda for dine in, going back is nearly impossible as is not offering the same option.

Apple may be getting cocky at the wrong time and place as the newest king of corporate monopoly, but we’ve seen companies make potentially fatal flaws before: thinking they know what’s best for their customers and trying to force a reset. Quikster anyone?