Archive for the ‘advertising’ Category

The new ID-ology is at www.IDbranding.com/idology

We’re relocating our blog to www.IDbranding.com/idology and we’ve made some great new improvements that allow our readers a better glimpse at who we are and what exactly our agency has to contribute to this whole branding thing. Our entire archive of articles has been migrated to the new site–so don’t worry about losing any of our classic posts, its all there waiting for you. Thanks for listening, learning, and contributing, we’ll see you at the new ID-ology!


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Just saying.

– Doug

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GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical giant, recently launched a campaign against cervical cancer. They built a web site, helppreventcervicalcancer.com, to support this effort. It imparts facts and dispels myths about HPV and encourages concerned women to ask their doctor about vaccines to prevent cervical cancer. The glaring omission is that the site (not to mention the Oscar ad) make no mention of the fact that GlaxoSmithKline are the manufacturers of Cervarix, the leading vaccine. GlaxoSmithKline may be saving lives by creating this “public service,” I don’t know, I am no medical expert. I do know this strategy certainly raises ethical questions about how pharmaceutical companies get information out to consumers. Why should we, the consumer, trust that this information is correct? This tactic is an easy way for GlaxoSmithKline to raise awareness that results directly in increased interest in their product without having an ad that spends the last ten seconds listing off all the risks of taking their drug. Pfizer has recently set up a similar site for Fibromyalgia and, guess what? the company has a drug that treats that. This appears to be the new approach for drug companies to market their wares.

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Painting by W+K employee Storm Tharp

Painting by W+K employee Storm Tharp

I find myself returning to a comment made by the Portland art critic, D.K. Row, in his review of an art exhibition at Wieden + Kennedy quite a while back. The show features work done by W+K employees, including the very fine painter Storm Tharp.

Row asks, in his review, why Wieden + Kennedy doesn’t get the local respect it deserves as an important cultural force. One of the reasons, he says, is:

“…that in iconoclast-loving Portland, the convention-breaking agency is still, well, an advertising agency.

Call it an existential dilemma. But no matter our culture’s captivation with fame, appearance, the Internet and its transient, twittering pleasures, we have always valued — and will continue to — the notion of authenticity. Wieden+Kennedy, however, practices a form of marketing judo; it makes money on the savvy, insincere business of manipulation and

Manipulated by the evil Dr. Caligari

Manipulated by the evil Dr. Caligari


I am haunted by the phrase “the savvy, insincere business of manipulation and seduction.”

My pondering of Row’s comment dovetails with an internal conversation we had a while ago at an agency brown bag. Someone essentially asked if, in our theory of Brand Culture, we weren’t elevating brands to the level of religion, art, morality, and all the other things that make most human lives meaningful. In other words, were we ridiculously exaggerating the importance of brands?

This is a terribly important question to ask. Because, as a branding agency, we cannot believe anything naively. Every belief we hold must be questioned and challenged in the light of the the average consumer’s doubtfulness and suspicion.

Are we puppets?

Are we puppets?

Not that people want to be doubtful and suspicious, but they’ve leaned to be – taught by decades of advertising. Too many agencies and clients have believed, either naively or cynically, that they could manipulate people into patronizing their brands. So, Row’s accusation of the category is well-founded. I’m just not sure you can accuse all agencies of manipulation.

At the same time, consumption, fueled in part by brands and advertising, has been blamed for replacing spirituality with a false, materialistic idol.

As far as I’m concerned, this last issue has more to do with a form of capitalism that demands, through the stock market and shareholders, continued growth, which leads to continued growth in consumption. But that, as a topic, is too big to tackle in this blog entry. I do, however, want to tackle the words of Row’s phrase.

First, the word “insincere.” Now, in my past I’ve actually worked with one or two clients who were entirely insincere in what they were selling and how they talked to their audiences. But I considered them the evil spawn of Satan and have never worked with such people again.

So, my clients, for the most part, over 20 years in this business, have been deeply

The cheese made me eat cheese.

Did my advertising make you eat cheese?

sincere, whether it’s Sisters of Mercy Health Systems, Tillamook Dairy, Waldenbooks, TriMet, Entertainment Weekly, M3 Snowboards, Allied Works Architecture, Kodak Dental, Integrity Spirits, or so many others.

In all these cases, I believe we helped them communicate their passion for what they do and helped them build stronger relationships with their audiences. Maybe I’ve just taken jobs at agencies which carefully choose their clients, but I have faced only a few cases of insincerity on either the clients’ or the agency’s part in my entire career.

Pollack's No. 5 sold for $140 million.

Pollack's No. 5 sold for $140 million.

Now for the word “business.” Yes, unlike art, we operate a business. On the other hand, in what way is art not connected to and dependent upon commerce – specifically the buying and selling of art? I’m not so sure that art can claim to be separate from business. As to whether art IS a business, well, that’s a question for others to answer. But art certainly conducts business. My business is in helping other businesses build relationships with customers.

Peter Moore, the brilliant past creative director at Nike and then adidas, once told me that the difference between art and what we do is that art is about solving your own problems, while design and advertising are about solving your client’s problems.

The word “manipulation” is one which, as an industry, we need to recognize and own the way Germans must own the word holocaust. It has, indeed, been a part of advertising and branding, and still is in some places. I consider it a question of intention. And integrity.

We, as a branding firm, are tasked with deepening the relationship between a brand and its customers. Like any relationship, that can either be manipulative or not, depending upon the people in the relationship. But a relationship, per say, does not require manipulation, except in the most cynical and paranoid

B.F. Skinner

B.F. Skinner


I remember getting into an argument with a post-grad at the Skinner lab when I was visiting my stepbrother at Harvard. This guy was absolutely certain people’s behavior can all be predicted. I stubbornly believed humans were capable of being unpredictable. He countered that our unpredictability could be predicted. So I smacked him. (Not really.)

I guess I’ve never believed that is was that easy to manipulate people. I associate this view of branding with the Hidden Persuaders hoax where the author tried to get people to believe there were naked ladies in the ice of the Scotch ads – intentionally put there to titillate audiences. Talk about paranoid. The book was a bestseller and many VPackardpeople still believe this is what happens in advertising.

It’s kind of an anti-business anti-Big Brother romanticism. Yes, there are people who want to manipulate the masses. But the masses are not that easy to manipulate. And those who say otherwise always seem to exclude themselves, if you’ve noticed. It’s all those other people who are being manipulated.

The goal of manipulation is the lowest aspiration of our field, which, at least from our perspective, is a field that can, at its best, help people find brands which share their value systems. That’s the whole premise behind our theory of Brand Culture.

That said, we just recently hired someone who worked on a multi-national account at a very creative agency where the client didn’t really care about values or relationships, they just wanted his agency to make people buy more of their product. This new employee is excited that our clients are interested in developing a deeper relationship with their customers.

So Row’s accusation, which bugged me so much, is something which still haunts this industry. And, despite our own attempts at ID Branding to do things differently, some people in this industry still dream of manipulation. I don’t think they’ll be effective, but that won’t stop them from trying.

Sad. Somehow I thought we were way beyond this.

But, as with our client, the Sisters of Mercy Health Systems, who are out to change the way people experience healthcare, we can’t change the whole field, we can only change how we operate within it.

Onward, Sisters.

– Doug

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GM_logoThe whole way GM handles marketing would be fascinating in an academic way if it weren’t for the fact that you, me, and everyone else who pays taxes is going to suffer because of it.

If you want to weep over your own dollars, just read the AdAge interview with Mike Jackson, former GM VP of marketing and advertising talking about the internal culture and the way GM treats its agencies as vendors, not partners, and the countless levels of approval it puts work through.

Even sadder is that I’ve had relationships just like that with clients far smaller than

Mike Jackson, former GM vp

Mike Jackson, former GM vp

GM. It’s a sickness that manages to propagate itself generation after generation. Where does it come from? I mean, is this stuff taught in business school?

On the other hand, the clients we continue to seek out and work with are capable of a wholly different kind of relationship, one based on common purpose, collaborative problem solving, and a belief that creativity has a place in the conference room, as well as the board room.

I suppose you can grossly divide the business world, no matter which industries or disciplines we’re talking about, into two kinds of people: those driven by fear, and those driven by aspiration.

Thank heavens there are just enough of the latter to make this business incredibly satisfying – most of the time.

As for GM’s chances of changing its ways, read the comments under the article for some far more informed opinions than mine. It doesn’t look good, though – for them or us.

– Doug

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The makeover of the Skittles web site this past week has sparked a number of responses from industry professionals ranging from “bold campaign” to “bad use of social media.” If you don’t know by now, Skittles.com is using a number of prominent social media destinations as its website homepage, ranging from Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube. The homepage changes daily amongst them, and you navigate between them through a non-movable widget hovering over the page in the upper left-hand corner.

My initial response was that Skittles doesn’t get social media and how could MARS, Inc. go along with this? Clearly it seems irresponsible to turn control of your (more…)

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