When you should and shouldn’t be spending money on advertising
Great advertising can do amazing things for a company. The size of the ad spend has nothing to do with results if you understand this. In fact, if you have to spend millions to get the word out, you are probably putting your budget in the wrong place.
While we are an ad agency, our name is The Next Wave Marketing Innovation for good reason. Marketing encompasses the entire brand strategy to connect with customers, and advertising is only a small part of that. Innovation is making you different from your competition, a better mousetrap so to speak. Because we’re students of the craft of advertising, we can pull stories and ads that showcase when Marketing Innovation triumphs over big ad budgets to help illustrate this point. Because we’re also consumers, we can share experiences where companies don’t have a clue on how to keep customers happy- which will undo all hard earned brand equity in seconds.
There is the old adage that a happy customer will tell 3 people, an unhappy one will tell hundreds? That’s kind of changed with the advent of the internet, everyone can tell everyone anything- even if it’s not true. That’s why from the beginning of the rise of Google as the database of human intentions, the algorithm scored results by credibility, which was built by links from those with more links (hopefully from credible sources). So, every customer interaction counts, every response by your customer service people is a test, how you treat your customers is more important than what you advertise. Actions, speak louder than words.
To start off with a positive example, Mike Dubin had an innovative idea- to become “the netflix of razor blades” when he started Dollar Shave Club in 2012. A single, low budget TV spot, that he starred in, went viral. Overnight, Dollar Shave Club was overwhelmed with orders and when he sold out to Unilever in less than a decade for a billion dollars, he was still laughing all the way to the bank. The ad was brilliant, the products passable, and the customer service exemplary (once they got over the initial slam of viral popularity).
Sometimes an ad agency can come up with brilliant ideas for their client to build a buzz. Between 2000 and 2010 Alex Bogusky and his renegade firm out of Miami did it over and over. But, the most noted campaign ideas were for Burger King, a client that had a history of switching agencies every 2 years before going a whole 7 with CP+B. For a case study on their successes see our “Bogusky Freakout” site post on their milestones. They generated more buzz worthy campaigns than any agency known to man, but, when it came right down to the true marketing problem for Burger King- service, cleanliness and consistency, BK could never compete with McDonald’s or even Chic-fil-a. One of our first hires was a customer service evangelist of epic proportions who beat this into our culture at The Next Wave. She went on to a career that took her all over the globe with Starbucks and now as VP of Operations at Shake Shack. You build businesses through positive customer touches- not just sales. It’s “My Pleasure” did more for Chic-fil-a than the cows campaign telling you to “eat mor chickn.”
It doesn’t matter what your business is, you are being measured every time a customer interacts with your brand- from watching an ad, to visiting your site, to mentions on social media to seeing trash with your logo on it. So, when an existing customer contacts you, this is your chance to shine.
Florida Tile makes ceramic tile. It’s a commodity. Most people looking at a wall of tile have no idea what brand of tile it is, it doesn’t have your brand on it, and when they go to the tile store, more than likely, they don’t have a preference for your brand over another- even if they saw an ad with Florida Tile in it. Unless the tile style isn’t like any other on the market (innovation) the tile ad you spent so much money on, could actually prompt them into a store, where they buy a competitors product. Not so when you have an existing customer calling for replacement for their shower tile cove base- that customer wants Florida Tile- to match their bath. This is the moment where your brand has an opportunity to shine. Unfortunately, Florida Tile failed miserably in helping me locate a piece of plain white cove base to match my 30 year old shower install. Last I checked square white tile is always in style, but, their unique size 4.125″ square, their white- and their cove curve- is now going for $15 a piece if someone has it on Ebay (they don’t right now).
Let’s contrast that with Lego, the children’s toy with millions of little unique pieces. A call to Lego gets a totally different response from a company that has decided that making customers happy is their most important marketing tool.
“We have something that we call freaky,” Lütke-Daldrup told me. “Freaky stands for FRKE, which is short for
- knowledgeable, and
And those four words are something we’ve built our customer service on for probably more than 15 years.”
It isn’t just that Lego Group believes strongly in each of those four words. The reason the company is able to consistently delight customers, even when they’re having a bad day because they just opened a new Lego set to discover it is missing pieces, is that the company keeps these words in balance.
Hannah Quill, the company’s head of writing and tone of voice (which, by the way, is an amazing job title that alone tells you what the company thinks about engaging with customers) explains it this way: “One of the reasons that it works so well is that, yes, it’s fun and engaging, and we encourage people to be creative and have fun when they’re writing, but it’s also reliable and knowledgeable. It’s very important that you’re giving the customer the correct information, and that any promise that you’re making, you are committing to deliver that customer service. Freaky doesn’t solely mean fun and engaging, it also means following through, reliable, customer service.”
The proof is in the results. For example, the company’s net promoter score (NPS), a measure of customer loyalty and satisfaction, is 77 — one of the highest of any company. That means that being good to your customers is good for business. That should be obvious, but sadly, it too often isn’t.
“It’s essential that no matter the inquiry, the team provides the best possible answer and service while also reflecting our core values — and in doing that, they play a very important part to how people feel about our brand,” Christiansen says.
Source: Lego Customers Lose Millions of Pieces a Year. The Company’s 4-Word Response Is the Best I’ve Ever Seen | Inc.com
While Net Promoter Scores are nice metrics, they can only really be calculated for mega-brands, not necessarily small business. But, rest assured, the echo chamber of social media, where unhappy customers tell their friends about how crappy your service was, or how great you are, will have real bottom line results. Lego isn’t a huge advertising power in the toy space, however they have a product that has no direct competition- like the Burger giants, or lodging options.
AirBnB is a category disrupter in the lodging space. Hotels, resorts, destinations are now competing with individual “Hosts” who have a technology to level the playing field. I’m an AirBnB superhost and until recently- an evangelist to other hosts. Now, any recommendations to host come with a caveat- the brands vaunted “AirCover” host insurance plan with up to $1M in coverage, isn’t insurance at all, it’s marketing babble and a hoax. I had a guest who needed a place for 4 days while they were waiting for their new house to be ready. Turns out- the new house wasn’t for the guest- but for his friends- at which point I should have kicked them out- but the family was polite- and they were African- and I didn’t want to be caught in the middle of being called a racist. When they left- late, the house was more messy than normal. They also had more people in and out than the 1 bedroom cottage was built for. They cooked extensively- which is a rarity among my guests who stay less than a week.
About 8 weeks later a guest tried to turn on the oven. The knob just spun. It had been jerryrigged in place with superglue and paper wadding. I filed a claim for the $400 for parts and labor to replace the control and order new knobs. Airbnb told me I had to blame a guest- and had to do it within 2 weeks. This isn’t insurance, this is a guest blaming service. Had the guests just told me they’d broken it- it probably would have been covered, or at least the problem would be between AirBnB and them. Now, according to AirBnB it’s all my problem. Yet, here they are spending millions to attract new hosts to the platform.
Word to the wise, take care of your stakeholder partners first, advertise second. The cost of reimbursing a superhost for minor repairs is way less than the revenue you earn from their being on the platform.
I reached out to support twice and was rebuffed. I reached out on Twitter- and was ignored. Maybe this post will wake them up. Next up, a video, that could go viral, about the failings of their “AirCover” false advertising- oh wait- here’s Nightline with 8M views. Your ad on Youtube only has 52K views.
Size of the claim is irrelevant to the promise of coverage, it’s how you treat your partner. No matter how much you advertise, word of mouth will negate your expensive commercial message.
If you are trying to decide on how much to budget on your advertising each year, the first thing to do is to go out and look at your customer reviews. Make sure you’re delivering happiness first, then, work on delivering a message.
If you need help delivering marketing innovation for your brand, you’re in the right place. We help our clients create lust and evoke trust, the keys to happy customers.
The Next Wave on the A-List podcast
How much do you know about your advertising agency and what makes them tick?
There are books about some of the best and biggest ad agencies in the world, and we try to read them and learn from them. Some of our favorites are out of print- and hard to come by:
- Chiat/Day the first twenty years or Inventing Desire: Inside Chiat/Day: The hottest shop, the coolest players, the big business of advertising.
- Living By Design- Pentagram
- Art of Advertising George Lois on Mass Communications
- The Book Of Gossage
- The Work- 25 years of Fallon
- Hoopla- the Crispin Porter + Bogusky tome with the sandpaper cover, easter egg surprises in the cover and often unreadable text.
There are plenty more, but, these stood out. We’ve been in business now since 1988, and no one’s clamoring to buy a book about us - they read what they need on this site, and now, they can listen to “The A-List Podcast” where Tom Christmann of AdHouse NYC interviews our founder on his origin story and advice on getting into advertising- and how to pick the right agency.
the A-List podcast. Soundcloud Apple Podcasts
We’ve got lots of advice on this site on careers in advertising including tips on how to get a job in it, how clients should select an agency, which are two of the things we discuss on the pod. But, the idea of working with people you like, with products and services you believe in goes a long way to solving the toughest marketing problems.
It’s a 53 minute listen that will give you more insight on The Next Wave and what makes us tick. But, maybe, it’s your first time listening to The A List, where there’s lots of good discussions about what makes good advertising- and how we get from idea to finished project.
Take a listen and let us know what you think.
And, because the link ended up on the cutting room floor- and not in the show notes- after you get done listening- you may want to look at this page: https://thenextwave.biz/alist/
If it doesn’t make you uncomfortable it’s probably not a BIG IDEA
On the front page of our site it asks why are you here? Either to do great advertising and make a lot of money, or, because you work for the competition and want to figure out how we do it.
The funny thing is, we’ll tell you how to do it, but most of you will still fail. Because, we’ll make you uncomfortable. You’ll ask, “has anyone done this before” or “show us a case study” to somehow soothe your rankled idea of what works. And by the time you are able to rationalize, to knit pick, to quiet that little demon on your shoulder saying “are you willing to bet your career on this idea”- that idea has sailed. It’s done. It’s too late.
Lee Clow has disrupted the ad world and done some of the most iconic advertising ever. He’s also failed spectacularly- but, after bringing Apple back from near death to be one of the most valuable companies on the planet- maybe, you can trust him just a bit. At TBWA\Chiat\Day they call that discomfort “Disruption” and here’s their little manifesto:
People couldn’t stop complaining about the tagline “Think Different” for not being grammatically correct, while they showed a whole rogues gallery of people who were told that they were trying to do the impossible. They made those people, or the idea of rising to their level, to be associated with Apple. Never mind that Mohamed Ali, Mahatma Gandhi, Picasso, Einstein never touched an Apple product on their rise to fame.
That this video isn’t on an Apple official YouTube channel is proof that even with the best advertising agency and smart people, some companies still don’t get how to do this right.
At Crispin Porter + Bogusky, or Crispin Porter Bogusky+ - they had a poster that said “Your heroes are your competition” as a motivator to do better work, to work harder, to outsmart the competition.
So when CP+B suggested to Domino’s to tell the world their pizza sucked- and that they were going to change it with “Pizza Turnaround”- was the only reason they allowed it- because Domino’s were either at rock bottom- or the people selling the idea rock stars? You decide.
The crazy part is everyone thinks they know the secret to great advertising, because they can identify it when they see it, but, even when they see it- sometimes, they still don’t understand it. Ryan Reynolds isn’t an ad guy- but his Superbowl worthy ad for Match.com is great advertising- even if it breaks all the supposed taboo’s of dating site ads- suggesting you may end up with a sociopath for a date- or worse- Satan.
If it makes you uncomfortable, it’s probably going to make you remember it, share it, think about it, have some kind of emotional response. If it’s just funny, snarky, or cute- it probably doesn’t have a real basis to convert thoughts into an action. The real question is if Match knows how to make this more than a one hit wonder- will it keep doing what it’s supposed to do- after the 2020 dumpster fire is over?
The true skill in advertising is finding an insight, a universal truth, a way to connect your product or service to something the customer already believes, or knows, and wants more of- and getting the client to trust your skills enough to be brave, to disrupt, to evoke trust and create lust. To do this- you start with truth. It’s authenticity that’s the currency, not the size of your budget.
On the last day of 2020 I sat down with my favorite former intern, who left us to get a masters at BIC, and went to work in a NYC agency. He was a bit disillusioned with the business- because so many people are too timid to greenlight work that will work. And that’s a part of the business too. You come up with great ideas- and then the client kills them. Over and over. He was in the first meeting we had with the following client- there’s a funny story that had us both wondering if we were going to get shot on the spot to the answer I gave to a question, but, that’s a story for another time. Instead, the client tortured a big idea to a slow death soon after we started on the account.
At the beginning of 2016 we had a client who made a light that was optimized for old people who loved to read- and we had a new president who was elderly and proud of his not-reading. We quickly put together an ad for the Washington Post- that the president supposedly did read.
By the time, 4 months later, the client was done picking it apart and re-writing it, Trump had started to perfect his “Squirrel!” strategy of distracting people daily. The days to contemplate the idea of actually reading his daily brief was long gone- and the client stripped out the address line. And, then, it only ran once, as a remaining space ad. C’est la vie. BTW- the “Get illuminated” line was contributed by the one and only Alex Bogusky. Yes, I ran it past the Creative Director of the Decade for suggestions and he liked it.
A Public health anti-covid campaign that doesn’t suck
Just before the second spike of Covid in the fall of 2020- we responded to a public health RFP to reach out to minority communities to get them to be smart about Covid- to warn them of the dangers of not wearing a mask, not washing your hands, not gathering. It had a fixed budget. The RFP was written by people who had no idea of how to write a brief or an RFP (see this post). They asked for the moon- on a shoestring budget. As part of our activism, we’d uncovered them as crooks 6 months before- handing out a no-bid contract for even more money to the agency that would do a county officials political campaign. Needless to say- we knew we wouldn’t get the contract- but, with good ideas and good connections- we decided to pitch them the moon. We came in dead last on the score sheet. Why? Maybe because we’d embarrassed them- or maybe because they have no idea or tolerance for a great idea. Here it is:
Strapline: Don’t bet your life.
Idea: Groucho Marx used to host TV show- You Bet Your Life. We will have Dave Chappelle talking to people about betting their life on Covid- in a very Dave way.
Action: We’ll have scratch off lottery like tickets to win in a sweepstakes. The scratch offs will be distributed in gas stations, corner stores, minority businesses, churches. They will be supported by a poster by Shepard Fairey and Studio No 1.If you don’t think you know Shepards work- you missed the whole Obama Hope and Change poster thing.
First round prizes- 1 in 4 chance is to win a deck of washable playing cards. 56 chances to share messaging- and lots of room for sponsorship. You can play solitaire with yourself- and take no chances- or you can play cards with friends and engage in risky behavior.
By filling out an online form- and allowing us to continue to message you via text or email- you can register to win a top of the line phone and service for a year- from T-Mobile who was signed on to sponsor. 10 prizes available
To get pastors into the act- they were to do short video sermons against gambling- either *wink* lotteries and scratch off- or with the virus. The top ten in shares and views would be randomly eligible to win a complete video streaming system.
And- the grand prize- sponsored by a local funeral home- for if you gamble and lose, a complete pre-paid funeral. Because if you bet your life with Covid- you stand the chance of needing one.
The last part- well, it made the “evaluators” nervous. Talk about death, oh, no. As if it’s not something everyone will face?
We pitched it to the State as well. The former newspaper reporter who runs public health communications, and knows nothing about advertising said “At first glance, I don’t think it strikes the right tone that we are trying to convey.”
And there you have the death of a big idea that would have made a difference.
A US Army recruiting campaign- for your mom and dad
Here’s one more. The US Army is a huge marketeer, it’s hard to get people to sign up to risk dying for their country. The account, worth $4B over 10 years recently went to DDB. They had some brilliant insight in their pitch to the Army and their new tagline, “Tomorrow takes an Army” was a huge departure from the gung-ho video gamer campaign the Army was running- “Warriors Wanted.” As a former soldier and disabled veteran, I understand the dilemma of teens on deciding to join the service- and their expectations, better than most people in advertising (very few minorities and very few veterans in the field). Unable to get in at the last agency or current one- we went to Ft. Knox in November of 2019 to pitch our idea based on a key piece of insight: a higher percentage of recruits come from families that have veterans in them.
We pitched a reality TV show called “Back to Basic” where old veterans went back through basic training to finally dispel the eternal myth of “It was harder back in the day” and compare the experiences- and the wisdom gained by serving. We had hoped to get parents with their kids at the same time. We had the perfect host- a celebrity MMA star who had served- and we knew it would do blockbuster ratings.
The Army rejected us- saying “We’ve done reality TV” and it didn’t work. Hate to tell you, Mark Burnett has done a lot of reality tv- and some has worked out just fine, others have bombed, but that doesn’t stop him from continuing to try.
Well, last month we found the vindication for our pitch. AARP posted a video about a 59 year old veteran who had to go back through basic training so he could serve with his kid. In less than a month it had 750K views, it’s at 847,411 in 50 days. That far exceeds the views, shares and discussion of anything the Army is producing right now.
If an idea doesn’t make you uncomfortable, it’s probably not big enough.
And, the size of your agency, the size of your budget, has nothing to do with the size of your agencies ideas.
American Police need a brand refresh
Do little kids still want to grow up to be police officers in America? By the time they’ll be old enough for the job, they’ll have seen a constant stream of news of police officers making major mistakes and causing significant damage to their professions reputation.
If Police in America were a major airline, which killed random customers daily and “accidentally” do you think they’d still be “flying the friendly skies?”
Reputation management is something we do at The Next Wave. This would be a major challenge, up there with getting kids to stop smoking, or people to trust a brand again after a major fail. We believe we need a national conversation to take place about what it means to “serve and protect” and being an “officer of the peace” looks like in 2021.
One thing we’re certain of, showing up in military gear to a legal protest is probably not the best way to diffuse the situation. We put together a series of posters/memes to try to show how ridiculous this has become. Note, we don’t own the rights to these photos, nor do we have permission to use them. However, since it’s educational and for public criticism of the new “trade dress” of police in the US- we believe it falls under fair use.
We believe it’s time for a national re-training of the police in this country, It’s time to re-examine what service police are here to provide and it’s value and values. When protesters say “No justice, no peace” what does that mean?
Can you honestly tell little kids that being a police officer is still a desirable job when they will hear stories of police shooting people in their garages, holding a subway sandwich, or in a raid in the middle of the night, or even when an officer comes “home” to the wrong apartment and shoots it’s occupant? The common thread- is the victims are Black. I’m not linking to any of these stories or naming names, because to do so is actually minimizing the scope of the problem. It’s happening way too often, way too frequently, and that’s the basis of our call for a rebrand and some reputation management.
It starts with public perception. It starts with how you come dressed to the party. It’s time for reform.