Thursday, April 14, 2011

Project overview: the elusive 'connection'

David Ogilvy is the success story that we’d all like to be. Bold. Driven. Unique to say the least. His writing seems to do for advertising campaigns what the Old Testament book of Proverbs does for accepting a Godly lifestyle. Here Ye! Here Ye! These are the words to live by!

While our assignment was to extrapolate our own topic from Ogilvy’s “Confessions of an Advertising Executive”, my ultimate conclusion as the focus of my project seems to have been crafting itself in my gut long before I received the assignment.
Why do some campaigns succeed and others fail?  Why?  Bad idea?  Good idea with a poor plan?  Good idea with a good plan but poorly executed? Why?
More importantly, when is the ‘connection’ made?  The spark between company and consumer that advertising executives like Ogilvy promise to deliver and yet there’s no guarantee their campaign will be a hit no matter how much data is crunched or how many overpriced celebrities endorse the product.
As a journalist and career Army officer, my worldly perspective of any campaign, project, or task is to set a goal, map a route to complete the goal, and then supervise the participants to the finish line.
Advertising and PR campaigns don’t work like that. They just don’t. There are so many factors that the managers can’t control, but yet they try anyway.  And too often, in my opinion, there are variables that are relatively predictable, and yet the decision makers ignore them anyway.
Again, why?
Curious by nature, I set out to research the plan behind some successful campaigns while identifying campaigns that could have been great had they been implemented differently. I also wanted to examine how local TV news stations across the country develop their own brands and slogans and how those images are managed to success for a community audience that has more choices for viewing than ever thought.
In kindergarten we’re taught to connect the dots, and we learn to do it on command.
In high school, we’re taught to connect item A with item B and we figure that out too.
So why in our adulthood, can’t we connect viewers/readers/consumers to an idea in a way that makes sense and includes effective PR planning to achieve that goal?

My research led me to a few key discoveries and investigations outlined as follows:

Campaigns with traction from which we can learn the most
Campaigns with good intentions that didn't deliver
The PR piece of the campaign puzzle
Don't touch that dial!

My quest begins.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hit and miss: The campaigns with traction from which we can learn the most

As I began my research by checking the many on-line lists of the greatest ad campaigns of all time, I was smiling to learn that Ogilvy's fingerprints are on several considered to be all-time greats.

The most notable was the 1959 campaign for Maxwell House coffee --"Good to the last drop".
At first, I was stunned that the slogan was a half-century old (it's actually older than that I've learned). I thought it was new when I was a kid in the 1980's!

The initial campaign was strong by the time it first hit television in the 1970's..

And so it was with more modern TV ads 30+ years later ..

So what can we learn from its longevity? That a simple idea can make a great 'connection' as long as people -- in this case the customers -- are kept in the forefront of the campaign.

Wikipedia and others claim the slogan itself dates back to World War I and may have been shared with Coca-Cola before Maxwell House took the lead and America firmly embraced the brand. (Note: sources differ on whether President Theodore Roosevelt deserves credit for the phrase as well.)

Still, from a campaign perspective, Ogilvy's 1959 approach, which included product placement in TV shows and eventual broadcast commercials in the 1970s, creates a solid message that I feel was certain to connect with audiences because of its simplicity.

Even non-coffee drinkers understand the spin of the slogan. "Good to the last drop" sends the message that "you're getting your money's worth out of every sip!"

That's the connection!

An ad campaign that shows all types of people drinking the coffee solidifies the sell, but maintaining a brand like Maxwell House took a simplistic approach that connects.

By the way, Ogilvy & Mather kept the account for 50 years, until losing it to a Chicago firm in 2009.

A second all-time ad that struck a nerve with me was Volkswagen's "Think Small" campaign, which is credited with a 1959 launch from Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB).

Fifty-two years later, this concept still resonates. Just think about every time you see a VW bug out there on the road. They're small!

No need to sell the idea with talk of gas mileage, comfort, or "0-to-60 MPH in ..."

All of those questions are givens if the connection can be made that "small is good," and "good is right for you."

That makes sense to me as a consumer, and it also shows how DDB didn't over analyze or out think himself on this one. The concept stayed strong in the accompanying broadcast campaign:

In the end, what I take away from the VW campaign is that the ad team probably showed pictures of the product to people on the street and asked them what comes to mind.

"Think small" came 40 years before "Got Milk?" but sets up the same premise -- simple sells.  So keep it simple.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Right idea, wrong execution – learning from campaigns with good intentions that didn’t deliver

What Oglivy and DDB may have made famous using simple strategies isn't necessarily simple for everyone.

Close to home for me -- Akron, OH -- I think back to NBA Superstar LeBron James' now famous "the decision", which was carried live on ESPN to millions across the world.

King James choice to ditch his home-state Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat was sure to upset his core fans in Ohio along with other teams' fans who'd been unsuccessful in wooing him.

Yet what James' team saw as a way to generate buzz and electricity -- along with some ad sales to benefit the Boys and Girls clubs -- became a Public Relations nightmare as sports fans cast James as a villain rather than an independent young athlete reaching out take on a new challenge. A year-long campaign that had steadily built momentum and interest in where the league's next big superstar would land didn't deliver as much as it enraged.

NBA legends came down hard on James, not to mention Cavs owner Dan Gilbert who lit up his former superstar in the press.

Raising money and creating buzz is a good idea and cuts to the core of many public relations and marketing schemes.

Still, didn't anyone see this backlash coming? Where were the PR advisers to the James camp? Where were the confidants and mentors who are supposed to be whispering in a young superstar's ear to keep him from putting his Nikes in his mouth?

The New York Times quickly dubbed the stunt a "new low" in sports.

NYT writer Lynn Zinzer penned " .. James, who just a few weeks ago was roundly considered a laudable, trouble-free superstar with otherworldly talent and a not-too-offensive ego, has been transformed into Exhibit A on why civilization is doomed."

That's harsh. That's the kind of stumble a top-flight superstar carries for a long time and for eternity on the Internet.

My research found plenty of ads that backfired, but most were doomed by bad planning, a lack of research, and often times a misstep by someone in the board room who thought something would be funny or creative and was instead an obvious flop that "even a blind man would have seen as a failure."

Yet in searching for good ideas with good intentions that just failed in the execution phase, a few obvious ones come up.

Everyone takes aim at the failure of New Coke, but I think the other attempt at revolutionizing the soft drink industry fits the category of "right idea, wrong execution" even better -- Crystal Pepsi.

Remember this gem?

In the early 90's Pepsi attempted to broaden its appeal with a clear version of its popular soda. The concept behind expanding its brand while also offering an alternative that might appear healthier because it's not dark in color was admirable.

Most business leaders would say that a company like Pepsi had reached a point where it was time to be bold and take risks.

What makes CP an even larger failure than New Coke is because NC came first!

Coca-cola took a risk with New Coke in 1985 and it failed miserably. So why in the name of Mean Joe Greene wouldn't Pepsi learn from that failure and not add their own chapter? Remember the old adage of "those who don't remember history are doomed to repeat it"? Apparently Pepsi's strategy teams didn't.

Twenty years after NC set the failure standard, MSNBC was still writing about both companies' mistakes.

Again, what channel was Pepsi watching that they didn't realize the guillotine they were placing their head inside?

David Novak, CEO of Yum Brands--which owns KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, among others -- is most credited with the Crystal Pepsi concept and campaign and even discussed it in a 2007 web interview .. most notably admitting ..
".. It was a tremendous learning experience. I still think it's the best idea I ever had, and the worst executed. A lot of times as a leader you think, 'They don't get it; they don't see my vision.' People were saying we should stop and address some issues along the way, and they were right. It would have been nice if I'd made sure the product tasted good. Once you have a great idea and you blow it, you don't get a chance to resurrect it."
Seems we really do learn more from our failures than our successes, eh?  I'm sure Ogilvy would agree.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The PR piece of the campaign puzzle

I know we've heard over and over again about the real need for the public relations staff members -- or at least its leaders -- to have a seat at the table when it comes to a company's major decisions.

That goes double for advertising and image campaigns.

As a father of three, I can openly admit that the Disney Channel is a big hit at our house, and for my youngest son, now 9, Hannah Montana gets more than its fair share of views.

Miley Cyrus was on the fast track to not just stardom, but stardom with a purity ring.

Her 2008 Vanity Fair photo shoot was aimed to bring out a more mature Miley and it's no secret that the magazine knows how to push the envelope when it comes being edgy with photographs.

Vanity Fair eventually made a video to showcase the story-behind-the-story and still bares it all (the story that is) today on-line .. the more controversial (and copyright protected) photos aren't included in the video but are all over the web ..

The pictures put Miley in the cross hairs of every celebrity and Disney critic and her common sense was questioned along with her parents' permitting her to be photographed in this way.

Could that have been predicted without a crystal ball? Um .. yeah!

Where in the world was her PR staff when the concept became camera clicks and Miley was captured in much, much more mature poses showing lots of skin and even at times including her father?

Veteran PR strategist and blogger Natasha Nelson wrote an entire piece about this exact misstep in the campaign and the lack of PR guidance that allowed this Magic Kingdom to crash:
"Where was her PR representative? Surely someone with the experience of protecting their clients image would have brought up the fact that these type of sexy photos could be damaging to her 15 year old image of innocence. Also, why didn’t her family and public relations rep have the final say on the images? No look at a proof before they go to print? Seems curious. If she really didn’t want to portray the sex-pot image…there is no reason these should have been released."
Nelson is right. Absolutely right.

The more I looked, the more mistakes like this I've found. Often times, the public just blames the organization -- or in Miley's case, the start herself -- for poor judgement. Yet, once again, there was someone on staff who could have provided the needed guidance to better connect the intent of the campaign yet the connection was missed.

Had the PR staff had a seat at the table, maybe they would have been able to predict open letters to Miley from upset moms across America like the one Deborah Levine penned in the Huffington Post which included ..
"Your client, Miley Cyrus, is only 16. Should she know better? Of course, but it's you, her public relations representatives, her managers, her 'handlers,' who should have made sure she did."
Ogilvy may not have had to weigh PR pros and cons in his bullet points to success because so often he seemed to listening to others around him already and many had a PR influence to their thoughts.

Still, I wonder if he would have taken a campaign like Miley's 'coming of age' tour if he had known that the PR piece of the puzzle wouldn't hold much weight in the decision-making process.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Don't touch that dial!

As a broadcast journalist, I know that the connection to the viewer is as much about the way the viewer feels about our station before they can really allow themselves to feel about the topic in evening news stories. I don't have to like it that they need to like the wrapping paper before they'll warm up to the gift, but that's the way it is.

The look of the station's product -- the color scheme, music, anchors -- all play a part in that connection. Maintaining those viewers (the customers in this equation) often includes giving them a slogan that represents who we are, what we did, and why they should buy in to the whole game.

I've had several good ones (slogans) at the stations where I've worked over the years, but I've always wondered how the plans were put together to make the right connection -- just as Ogilvy has done with traditional advertising campaigns.

Of all of the lists of slogans I found, NewsJunkieNow had the most complete and also one of the best since it doesn't really draw conclusions as to whether the slogans were a hit or a bust. I'd rather be able to look at each campaign with an open mind instead of having an immediate 5-star rating scale next to the entry.

Many slogans contain the word "news" (obvious) and many others love to include "your" as a way to make consumers feel that they have a say in the product while implying ownership.

Obviously, since television is a visual medium, the slogans must also lend themselves to visual storytelling. This one (it's actually two as there was a sequel to the original as you'll see) was one of my favorites as a child growing up in Northeast Ohio and still has great lessons to teach us today:

In this case, the station was putting a face on its slogan creating the idea that "we've got a team of journalists who go together like peanut butter and jelly unlike those other guys who just have talking heads".

ESPN has taken the idea to an all-time level with its series of comedic spots that sell the viewer on the idea that the sports network enjoys what it's doing and therefor will make an enjoyable product they can view each night on cable.

There were plenty that claimed to be "everywhere" in their coverage, but isn't that nearly impossible to back up on the evening broadcast? Shouldn't a PR person have enlightened the station's managers so they understood the criticism they would endure on the first big scoop that their competition nails?

Just ask FOX News, which continues to take grief for its "Fair and Balanced" slogan on a nightly basis.  It might be simple and catchy, but it's also open to interpretation and debate as Jon Stewart and others attack nightly including this gem from 2009:

My favorite discovery was the one that WKMG-TV (CBS) in Central Florida launched in 1996 with "Where will we take you tonight?" The idea invites the viewers to come along for a journey without promising to deliver a Watergate-level investigation or a fluffy entertainment story about Charlie Sheen. At least to me, a slogan like that implies a way to be creative without being stupid or condescending.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


"Hit and Miss: the campaigns with traction from which we can learn the most"
  1. "Maxwell House", last modified at April 13, 2001 at
  2. Kiran Aditham, "McGarryBowen snags Maxwell House"., December, 2009 accessed on April 1, 2011.

"Right Idea, Wrong Execution -- learning from campaigns with good intentions that didn't deliver

  1. Lynn Zinser, "A New Low in James' race to the top". New York Times, July 9, 2010, accessed April 1, 2011 at
  2. Michael E. Ross, "It seemed like a good idea at the time." MSNBC, April 22, 2005, accessed April 2, 2011 via's
  3. Kate Bonamici Flaim, "Winging It", quoting David Novak's The Education of an Accidental CEO: Lessons learned from the trailer park to the corner office. Crown Business. April 28, 2009.

"The PR Piece of the Campaign Puzzle"
  1. "Miley knows Best", Vanity Fair. June, 2008.
  2. Natasha Nelson, "Where was Miley Cyrus's entire PR team?" NNPR, Public Relations Insider, May 2008
  3. Deborah Levin, "An Open Letter to Miley Cyrus's PR Team From the Mom of Two Kids with Almond-shaped eyes". Huffington Post, February, 2009.
"Don't Touch That Dial!"

NewsJunkieNow, "Local TV News Slogans." accessed April 3, 2011 via

Monday, April 4, 2011


Bob Garfield, "Top 100 Advertising Campaigns." AdAge accessed 4/2/11 via

Crystal Clear Pepsi Commercial,

D. Drew Design, "The 10 Most Successful Ad Campaigns of All-Time and How They Came to Be". D. Drew Design, August 2000 accessed 4/1/2011 via

David Ogilvy, Confessions of an Advertising Man. Southbank Publishing August 1, 2004.

Deborah Levin, "An Open Letter to Miley Cyrus's PR Team From the Mom of Two Kids with Almond-shaped eyes". Huffington Post, February, 2009.

ESPN: LeBron James "The Decision", ESPN.COM  July 2010.

Jon Stewart, "'i' on News". The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, 2009, via

Kate Bonamici Flaim, "Winging It", quoting David Novak's The Education of an Accidental CEO: Lessons learned from the trailer park to the corner office. Crown Business. April 28, 2009.

Kiran Adithan, McGarryBowen snags Maxwell House.  December 29, 2009 via

Legendary VW Think Small Commercial,

Lynn Zinser, "A New Low in James' race to the top". New York Times, July 9, 2010, accessed April 1, 2011

Maxwell House, last updated April 13, 2011.

Maxwell House coffee commercial,

Maxwell House commercial 1987,

Michael E. Ross, "It seemed like a good idea at the time." MSNBC, April 22, 2005, accessed April 2, 2011 via's

Miley Cyrus Vanity Fair photoshoot, Vanity Fair and, 2008.

Natasha Nelson, "Where was Miley Cyrus's entire PR team?" NNPR, Public Relations Insider, May 2008.

NewsJunkieNow, "Local TV News Slogans." accessed April 3, 2011 via

Volkswagen, "Think Small", Doyle Dane Bernbach, 1959

WEWS-TV5 Cleveland -  Clever News Promo - 1977,