3 Books On Marketing I Loved To Re-read Last Year

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” – Groucho Marx

During my early childhood years, I was a minimalist devotee TV viewer. Back in the days, in communist Romania, you could access only two stations with an average of 2 hours of boring TV every day. So, despite my love for TV, I can say I’ve grown up without too many options, and books became a needed escape. This is a post about three books that changed how I think about marketing and advertising. I am sorry to disappoint you, but “How Brands Grow” from Byron Sharp or “Principles of Marketing” from Kotler are on another list, not this one.

“Ogilvy on Advertising” – by David Ogilvy himself

The first book needs no introduction for a creative – it’s a classic. I’ve received it as a gift from an Ogilvy friend when British American Tobacco used to work with this agency on communication in Romania. Written and published in the 80s, it doesn’t get old. It glorifies the magic of TV, Print, and Direct Marketing, with no mention of Digital. A recent Ogilvy CEO tried to replicate the book for the Digital age and failed miserably, so hold on to the original. It helps you understand how to get a job in advertising, run or choose an agency, approach TV commercials, or even write successful copy. It’s a goldmine.

“Everybody Lies” by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

The second book blew me away when I first picked it up. It tells the story and the immense opportunity of using search data to understand people’s deepest desires. We confess to the Google Search bar more often than we do to our partners or therapist. Google is our friend, our helper and our confidante. Written by an ex-Googler, this book opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of answering almost any qualitative research question using search queries. The book was published before its time, since even today, most of us still are not aware of this great source of insights. Please read it, go on Google Trends, start an experiment, and make better marketing decisions.

“Presentation Zen” by Garr Reynolds

Hands down the best book on business presentations I have ever read. It makes you ditch the templates, the text-heavy slides; it helps you rethink why you are in front of the audience and makes your slides ready for TED. I would make this book mandatory for anyone that opens Powerpoint. And one tip, get the paper version, not the e-book. The paper does more justice to the beauty of this book’s pages.

Reading one of these books will make you more marketing-wise, edgier, or more mindful about design. Reading them all will make you a marketing star tomorrow.

Photo by Rita Morais on Unsplash

My Marketing Predictions for 2021

This weird year is coming to a close. The need for renewal, to turn the page, and start fresh was never more present in us. We can’t wait to say goodbye to 2020, with the optimism that 2021 will be different. But what will 2021 offer to marketers? I’ll join the herd of future tellers and share my predictions, hoping that Scott Galloway will learn from me and revise his predictions. He actually had a poor record in 2020.

  1. People will ignore ads – nothing new, but something to treasure. No real person wants to see your advertisement before their YouTube video starts; very few want to “dive” into your 3-minute long-form content about your brand purpose, yet most will accept to be entertained if they decide to pay attention. Make me smile, make me cry, move me, entertain me!
  2. Marketers will talk to themselves – we will continue to judge our work output by the number of engagements on Twitter or, in rare cases, AdAge or MarketingWeek mentions. We will enjoy talking in our bubble more than ever, as we’ll probably spend most of the year homeworking again, away from the real world. It was never more important to remember: we are not the consumer.
  3. The TV set will not die – or will it fail again and resurrect while Digital platforms move to capture our attention on our more giant TV screens. I now watch more YouTube on my TV than I do on my Mobile, so TV as a piece of furniture isn’t dead. What could die is the concept of scheduled programs interrupted by ads, something I could not explain to my 5-year-old son. 
  4. Marketers want to become more digital-savvy – when everything we do all day is staring at a digital monitor, sending digital letters, joining digital Zoom meetings, and planning digital holiday celebrations. We probably should identify another milestone to look up to since digital is so 2010s.
  5. Brand equity is back on the agenda – Now that we squeezed (or got squeezed in) the programmatic value chain with no apparent next gain in view, we will turn back to our brand proposition’s equity. But how do you measure the impact of a single Social Ad on your brand equity? If someone knows and trusts the method, please give me a call.

Have an insightful, consumer-centric, multichannel 2021!

Photo by Dan DeAlmeida on Unsplash

How to Talk to Kids About Working in Advertising

Let’s get real, outside of our marketing bubble; the real humans don’t admire advertising as much as we think. For them, advertising is that annoying video that interrupts their favorite YouTube home-gym workout; it’s the display banner that keeps showing them the electric screwdriver already bought on Amazon last week, or the desired live sports TV interruption that helps them replenish their drink or chips bowl without missing a goal. That’s the opponent we have when our families are asking us to talk about our work. And with small kids, it gets even worse.

My 5-year-old son was super excited initially, knowing his daddy works for M&M’s candies. Then disappointments hit him one by one when he discovered I don’t work in the dream-like chocolate factory, nor I help baking his favorite candy or drive my car to get chocolate delivered to our local supermarket. Working from home for an entire year revealed my real job to him.

Yes, son, daddy is working in advertising. Every day, daddy is speaking with some people with weird headphones on Zoom about the annoying videos that you discovered how to skip on YouTube when you were three years old. But instead of making them shorter or fewer, so you can watch Paw Patrol easier, he is finding innovative ways to make you watch one more second, to seduce you with a shiny candy taste or a funny new joke. He does this, hoping that you will remember that candy one day when you will have to make a buying decision or begging for candy.

Yes, daddy is not baking the real m&m’s, but he helps you discover the new flavor you don’t know you wanted: custard m&m’s, anyone? By talking with lots of people, showing them lots of candy, and asking them questions, daddy understands what they want. That way, Daddy is telling the factory to make more Yellow m&m’s instead of Brown m&m’s because he knows most people like them more.

And lastly, daddy promotes candy to be more popular so that all people will choose m&m’s over another chocolate. And this way, daddy helps the families of the m&m’s factory colleague, the chocolate delivery driver, and the others he interacts with to have a more peaceful end of the year, knowing that they will come back to their much-needed work place in 2021.

How do you talk to your kids about working in Advertising?

Photo by Derek Thomson on Unsplash

Advertising Works Best When It Transfers Positive Emotions

We love advertising! And we love advertising that generates emotional reactions. I wrote some time ago about the particular case when using negative emotions in advertising works and received plenty of comments about the role of positive emotions in advertising. This article is making justice to the role of positive emotions.

Negative storylines are not common in advertising; positive stories abound in the world of marketing communication. That’s because in most cases, the role of advertising is to lift-up consumers and elicit positive emotions, preferably linked to the brand. Advertising is one of the last bastions of positivism in today’s overloaded media world. The never-ending news cycle gets rarely interrupted by positivity, except when an ad-break starts. I see a wide gap in the media spectrum for inspiring and happy moments, and advertising should own that gap. It can become the entertainment of the future, however uninspiring that might sound today.

Neuroscience convinced us, at Mars, that positive messages work best. They elicit positive feelings of love, happiness, empathy, pride, belonging, hope, joy, to name a few. We also learned that positive emotions are better flows to encode in memory the brand messages.

A function of advertising is to make the viewer feel slightly better after seeing the ad compared to how she/he felt at the beginning. If the brand message is understood and highlighted at the moment of high emotional load, the ad becomes a success.

What example of uplifting advertising inspires you?

Let’s Stop Calling Everything Digital

A famous meme of 2020 taught me that Digital Transformation wasn’t accelerated by the CEO or CDO, but by Covid-19. Everywhere you look today in marketlandia, digital takes center stage: your insights are digitally sourced, your brands are digitally advertised, your path to purchase is digitized, and your purchase channels become more digital than ever. Given the ubiquity of the word digital, it’s time to remove it from our vocabulary too probably. In 2020, everything is digital, like in the late 1880s everything became somehow electrical.

COVID 19 – A Wake-Up Call for Digital Transformation, Malak Adouch
Thanks @marketoonist.com

Just ten years ago, platforms like YouTube and Facebook were in their infancy and fighting for the crumbs of the media budgets. Every year since then we wondered at the declining share of investment of Traditional Medias (TV, Print and OOH) and the increase of Digital Media. It’s such a worthless stat to sit and admire or even target. No one outside of our marketing bubble even thinks of advertising as TV vs Digital. What is more important is the reach potential for each media format, irrespective of the pipes build to deliver the signal (pipes which honestly are the same these days too – all is digital).

Three things to remember or debate:

  1. Digital Media is not one thing – focus on the behaviors of people, how they view, scroll, skip, multi-screen, or even engage with your content in the multitude of digital formats and channels. Focus less on “we need to be digital-first”, focus on the details of today’s media. 
  2. The most iconic campaigns transcend digital media and aim to become news in themselves. Guess who is also in charge of the amplification: all media, including TV.
  3. And last, if you can’t grab their attention, it doesn’t help that it is digital-first, or TV last.

Digital is now everywhere like the air we breathe, so stop congratulating yourself for inhaling air, and focus on its scent.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Negative Emotions in Advertising

Human emotions are indispensable vehicles for building powerful brands. Our core job as marketers is to elevate brands that elicit (mostly) positive emotions in the hearts and minds of consumers. But what happens when we want to play with negative emotions? In recent months, during the peak of the COVID pandemic, many advertisers converged their thinking that “isolation-sadness packaged as togetherness” sells. It probably doesn’t. But what can you do?

I sincerely believe that building brands through advertising is translated into a desire to make the viewer feel better at the end of the ad compared to how he felt in the beginning. It doesn’t matter how long they paid attention to your commercial or what ad length you used, all it matters is the emotional crescendo—feeling better, in general, haloes into the feelings towards the brand. Memory structures get built easier with emotions and the likelihood that those memory structures get recalled at the point of purchase increases.

The simple path to this crescendo is to have an entertaining, funny ad which most advertisers default to. The other more complicated way is to delve into a sadder story, that has a positive resolution. This latter path is more challenging to nail. The longer time you spend building the negative emotions, the more difficult it is to achieve the uplift in the end. I am not saying it’s impossible, yet solving for negativity faster is a piece of good advice I often give.

Here are 2 examples when we were at our best to turn negative emotions into a positive resolution for Mars brands:

Snickers – Recovery Room
M&M’s – Eating in Bed

And here are 2 examples when we failed to solve negative emotions quickly

Cesar – Love Them Back
Uncle Ben’s – Drawing

Can Advertising and Promotions Work Together?

Product performance, pricing and positioning, packaging and size portioning, brand positioning, in-store promotions and advertising are the levers a marketer regularly juggles to grow brands. Without too much doubt that the last two are the most talked about and controversial, going head to head in their fight for budgets. What should you choose to do: build long term association in people’s minds with the brand or sell the product at a discount now. How brands allocate their budgets between advertising and promotions is a management decision that reveals the short-term/ long-term thinking in the company, the balance of power between marketing and finance, and even the average tenure of senior management.

To me, advertising is the best marketing investment you can make to ensure your brand is noticed, remembered and understood in the long term. Assuming your creatives as great, advertising has a positive sales impact in both the short-term (year 1) and long-term (year 2-3). In-store promotions have a fantastic effect during the activity, but little (and most of the times negative) impact in the medium to long term. And this without considering the adverse effects on brand equity that price drops or multi-purchase can return. My point is clear, we mostly agree with it, but our behaviors diverge. As long as we will only focus on our year-end sales objectives, we will continue to prioritize promotions with their sales spike-like effect over everything else.

As a big believer in advertising, I am not able to defend properly in-store promotions. Maybe some of my readers can start a debate on their benefits. To me there is a role for promotions to play, but preferably a reduced one. One thing is certain, when you are running both at the same time, you are wasting money. Yes, it looks cool on your graphs when the advertising campaign has a spike in sales, but that’s just because of the 3for2 ran at the same time. A much more balanced approach of alternating promotions with advertising could work better, but it is very category dependent (expandable categories have an easy time here). A sizable promotional activity will cause stocking, and your next in line advertising campaign will suffer. There is no magic bullet; research can help. Using a robust insight generation program to test different hypotheses in a randomized control testing environment with store-level data is the way to go. But even with research, your decisions to prioritize promotions vs advertising might not be rational in the end.

Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

Why Evolving Your Brand’s Packaging and Identity is Often a Bad Idea

For this week’s post, I am going back on memory lane to my old days as a brand manager in the evil tobacco business. It was a tough job, the government set maximum selling prices, consumer media advertising was banned, product sampling was unheard of and habit induced taste preferences made switching between brands unlikely. Left without any major levers to pull, marketers started to invent consumer needs. Our favorite was the consumer appetite to see a brand new packaging redesign. In most cases, we did that to cure our marketer boredom. I doubt consumers genuinely wished for “more modern” brand typeface that made their favorite brand harder to spot on the shelf.

Packungsevolution Lucky Strike – Design Tagebuch
Evolution of Lucky Strike Packaging in Germany

The best method to recognize brands on the shelf is to recall their distinctive assets visually. These are design elements surrounding your brand that generate memory structures in the busy minds of your consumers. Advertising’s role is to show those distinctive assets and build the memory muscle continuously. Think years not days here. Altering your distinctive assets frequently is a recipe for confusion, and rarely needed. Your packaging is one of your most prized distinctive assets, don’t play with it. The orange juice brand Tropicana learned it the hard way (read the case study here). But if you are short on time, the bottom line conclusion of the study is “don’t do it”.

Tropicana label Fail - Robert's Graphic design

Recent Black Lives Matter protests stirred some ripples in the advertising and brand world too. Brands started moving away from images that could generate a PR drama, and packaging redesign became trendy again. While in this instance, playing with your packaging to “update” your brand could be a wise move, in all other cases it’s probably not. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Ten years since I left the tobacco world, I wonder what marketing departments are busy with these days in BAT. In the context of more countries moving to plain packaging with non-distinctive branding communication, marketing teams must get bored with something else. What could that be?

Guidelines for plain packaging changes
Guidelines for plain packaging changes – Singapore

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

How Can You Make Your CFO Happy?

An unspoken rule of many corporations is that the CFO doesn’t get along with the CMO. The Finance and Marketing functions, while working for the same common corporate growth goal, are staffed with different personality types that inevitably get to clash. A well-oiled corporation is one in which marketers and finance people slowly get in sync. But how can a marketer make a CFO happy? Here are three ways of answering that puzzle. I recently discovered at Mars the machine is oiled precisely.

Show them the numbers in a new light. Finance people are in love with their numbers. They collect them, control them and know them by heart. But for Finance, in general, a number is just a way to check progress against a target. First, show them you master your ROI numbers and then you have the permission for more. Show them how, for marketers, a number could be a recognition of a real advantage in the marketplace, a deeper connection with a large number of consumers or permission to be bolder in your future communication strategy. Tell a story! Do your job!

Show them the fantastic progress in how we decide. Don’t underestimate the level of awareness someone from Finance has on what advertising looks like in 2020. Yes, their kids might be playing with TikTok, or themselves they might use Instagram, but you need to remind them what marketing looks like today. We focus away from good old TV and Print magazines into a multi-media world that is consumer-relevant and incredibly diverse. Illustrate the transformations: show them how you understand deep consumer behaviors better by using innovative technology, show them how people consume media today and demonstrate your expertise in the advertising ecosystem. 

Focus on their feelings. At the end of the day, we are all emotional beings. Take them on a journey away from the numbers, into a world of experience. Play a song, show an emotional ad, what moves consumers – should move a colleague too. Make them experience your brands in a similar way your consumers are, bring that experience to the room. Don’t be surprised when they’ll look differently at the numbers going forward.

Photo by Chronis Yan on Unsplash

In the World of Brands, David Rarely Beats Goliath.

This week I joined a Mark Ritson webinar to hear his words of wisdom punctuated at every second sentence by obscenities. Popcorn time! You always learn something new from Mark, and my highlight this time was his point on the unfair advantage brand size offers to win the game of marketing. Music to my ears.

We read a lot how new entrants in a category are continually disrupting the old guys; they are stealing market share and are the talk of the “marketing press”. But how many small players manage to grow big? What if there is a survivorship bias here? What if for every small brand that makes it, 29 brands fail to become big? What if, similar to Venture Capital investments, bidding on small brands is a high return low probability event. We often think of media investment as a fixed percentage of brand sales. And this is where we might be wrong.

The less you spend, the less people you will reach, the less sales you will drive, and the less your brand will grow. Why do we think that magically small brands have a more natural path to growth? They don’t; there is one single specific path to build brands: invest in them. I often see huge expectations and tiny budgets. In Mark’s words, identifying when we mismatch our growth ambitions with our budget allocation, should be a checkpoint for every marketer. And yes, a big brand will always have a more comfortable ride, it will have the scale to generate the return you want, it will have the size to invest in mass media and will most likely, win.

Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash