Archive for May, 2009

What are advertisers reading?

We hope that they are reading the views and opinions of other advertisers which are included in our article just published by the ANA.  You can find it at the ANA’s online publication,

Increasing numbers of marketers are ready to move beyond the traditional brand positioning model.  They recognize that it doesn’t work for them any longer.  They are gravitating toward compelling narratives with strong metaphors as a better method for branding.  

This sea-change in branding is being led by CMOs.  Agencies, in general, are lagging behind clients in this instance.  You need only look at the websites of the major agencies to see the prevalence of “brand positioning” — in its many flavors — to recognize gap between what clients actually desire and what agencies think clients desire.

By the way, in this context ANA refers to the Association of National Advertisers.  

The confusions caused by abbreviations of associations are quite common.  Imagine you are working in pharmaceutical marketing. The AMA could refer to: The American Medical Association or The American Marketing Association or even The American Management Association.  One could write an entire doctoral thesis around the need for humans to turn everything into an acronym or acrostic.

What role do luck, pluck and magic have in brand case studies?

Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading through a number of brand case studies.  Some were in books, some in journals, some in presentations.  They were developed by agencies, academics and corporate brand managers.  Many of the case studies were of the same brand — Apple and Harley-Davidson being among the most popular.

In every case study the set-up predetermined the outcome.  It seemed inevitable that the case would prove this point or that point.  

Comparing these case studies to the reality of my own experience, I was struck by the 20/20 hindsight clarity of the case studies.  As we all know, in real life these programs are not to neatly wrapped up with a ribbon.  They take unexpected turns.  Decisions are made for reasons of personal taste and nothing else.  Or else they are compromises.  Or the timing of a decision turned out to be better than anyone expected.

So I propose that all case studies should have a special section for what I call luck, pluck and magic.

Luck is just that.  Often luck is about the timing.  A great idea can fail if the market isn’t ready for it.  The happy accident of timing, the alignment of the stars.

Pluck is the willingness to take risks.  The executives at MSN showed extraordinary pluck when they selected the butterfly design.  Even with the market research validation, it was still a bold move for them.  Can you imagine the meeting in which they presented to Bill Gates and explained his internet offering was going to be a butterfly!  Pluck!

And magic. That is the inspiration that seems to come from nowhere.  It is not derivative.  It is not imitative.  If anything, it is inductive not deductive.   Let me try to say this another way.  Magic does not come from a process.  And it is not a matter of lucky timing.  It is the creative process at work.  Where did that MSN butterfly come from?  It fit perfectly with the strategy of Microsoft providing everyday amazement on the web.  But the metaphor came from a wellspring in the imagination of Michael Thibodeau.  

Can you imagine being shown a case study and the key decision turns out to have been made by the wife of the CEO?  It happens.  but it never shows up in the case studies.

So my modest proposal is for case studies to include luck, pluck and magic in their analysis.  The world is a messy place. Case studies that ignore the complexity leave important lessons untaught.

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