The importance of good advertising and why I’ll never buy Charmin toilet paper

This holiday season, Charmin ran an ad on Spotify to sell toilet paper. The idea was that since talking about going to the bathroom is inappropriate, let’s sing about it. On its face I like the idea. It’s clever, original, and gives the brand some personality and self-awareness. To frame the jingle, a Chris-Parnell-type chimes in with “Here at Charmin, we know you shouldn’t talk about going to the bathroom, so we decided to sing about it.” They then jump into a holiday-themed jingle that’s as cheesy as it is catchy. They use terms like “shiney hiney”, and of course use an endless, monophonic chant of sleigh bells to emphasize the holiday feel. This is enough to bring any grown man into a nauseated fetal position in less than 30 seconds. But it’s ok. Advertising can be cheesy, especially if it’s self-aware, so I gave it a pass at first, because it’s not far off from most of the advertising we see. Cheese, stupid jingles, and brands crying “hey fellow kids!” is the status quo. But I heard this one about 15 times a week for 2 months, and it festered in my brain like a jolly parasite. I started to ask myself why I’m giving it a pass. If something this bad is the product of the status quo, shouldn’t we reflect on the status quo itself?

The first point is one of quantity. One of my favorite advertising quotes (though I’ve forgotten exactly who said it) is “how many times do you have to be told your house is on fire?” Meaning, of course, that if the message is important enough, the consumer doesn’t need to hear it 14 million times. This toilet-paper-themed cacophony violated that rule. In other words, I don’t think that hearing that Charmin commercial 170 more times would have motivated me to buy their toilet paper.

So, I get why people use Adblocker and all that: there’s a lot of bad, cheesy, or downright annoying advertising. But good advertising is out there. Which brings me to the second point, which is one of quality. Good ads use stories that cultivate a range of emotion in 30 seconds and sell you something in the process. Ads that feel like mini movies. Take this ad by Lacoste. The couple are viciously screaming at each other in the beginning and their apartment splits in half between them. They chase each other around their living space as it collapses, pulling all sorts of athletic feats. Then it ends with an embrace and the tagline, “Lacoste: Life is a Beautiful Sport”. They’re trying to sell me a polo with an alligator on it, but I still get chills when I see the ad. They touch something deeply human and relatable, and just happen to be selling something. And even if I don’t buy the shirt right now, the world is better off feeling something and buying nothing than feeling nothing and still buying nothing. Not to mention, I only had to see it once.

This is why we need good ads. And not “good” in the sense that the ad sells a lot and makes some people a lot of money. That’s great too, I want to make clients money. But in the long run, because advertising is becoming increasingly present, we need people making great ads. They have intrinsic value, even if they don’t provide strictly measurable and immediate ROI. Advertising, whether we like it or not, is part of our culture. We should be contributing to it, not detracting from it. And in the end, I’m a Hell of a lot more likely to buy a Lacoste shirt than I am Charmin toilet paper.

The One Reason Nike’s Just Do It Campaign is Brilliant

There are a lot of pundits out there trying to explain Nike’s new campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick. The problem with most of them is that the optics are all wrong. They are looking at it in the context of politics. But that is not why Nike and their advertising agency, Wieden + Kennedy chose to feature the polemical NFL quarterback.

The reason is cultural leadership.

Nike has not exactly shied away from controversy in the past. They embraced bad boys like John McEnroe and Charles Barkley. They used Spike Lee in commercials to promote Air Jordans. And they are highly aware that athletes can be polarizing. They dropkicked Micheal Vick in less than a day of learning about his dogfighting ring.

Thanks to the folks at Nike’s agency of record, the shoe brand has learned over the years that it pays to be part of the cultural conversation. It’s why they began embracing women as women in their communications and product design. It’s why they are leading in addressing working conditions in overseas manufacturing facilities. And why they are among the few large companies to formally address workplace discrimination issues.

Nike is an athlete’s brand. They have one of the most succinct mission statements in corporate history, “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” And as one of their founders once said, “If you have a body, you are an athlete.”

Nike supports athletes. And it is no secret that a majority of athletes recognized Colin Kaepernick’s right to protest during the playing of the national anthem before NFL games.

Where do the majority of Nike’s customers reside? In large metropolitan areas— the same areas that are bright blue on the electoral map. So the ad featuring Kaepernick wasn’t very controversial with most of their customers. In fact, they likely did a few focus groups to test this idea. I doubt they were surprised apparel sales jumped 31% after the launch of the campaign.

The cynics will say that Nike is exploiting a controversial issue to sell shoes. But in an era of contentious opinions, where everyone has a platform to express those opinions, publicly deride and defame individuals for the slightest provocation, and declare a boycott on brands who do not meet their cultural standards, Nike showed leadership.

And it made them more relevant than ever.

‘Burstiness’ is the key to the most innovative teams

How do you get the best ideas out of a group? The key is a concept called Burstiness. It’s when your group creative brainstorm is bursting with ideas. Maybe people are talking over each other. It’d like a raucous family gathering. And it results in some of the best ideas in a short amount of time.

How do you get this in a team? There are a few keys to the creative play session.

  1. Psychological safety. There must be a sense of mutual respect. And that comes with feeling safe to express a really dumb idea for someone else to launch from. This safety should come from the leaders of the team.
  2. Welcome criticism. Despite the old concept that all ideas are good ideas, the welcome criticism concept allows for standards.
  3. Lowered inhibitions. Studies show that the teams with the best innovations have lower inhibitions. In the paper clip study, two teams competed for the best new ideas for the use of a paper clip. The teams with the most creative ideas, like an emergency suture and a new form of art, shared embarrassing stories with one another first.
  4. Task bubbles. The creative process has to move along like a well-oiled machine. Each stage of the creative process, from conception to the finished project must have clearly defined task bubbles, where team members are very clear about their role in the end result at any given time.
  5. The right mix of people. Diverse groups are more creative.
  6. Practicing together. Regular brainstorm practice helps to solidify the team.
  7. Think team first. Instead of looking for creative individuals, think of creative teams as the solution and hire creative teams as a unit. Or try to create a complete unit.

Many of these ideas come from the group psychologist Adam Grant, who has an excellent podcast called WorkLife. In this particular podcast Mr. Grant follows the Daily Show and discovered how they do it four times a week, every week. You can find it here along with another fine podcast on “The Problem with All-Stars.”

The Last Hot Lick

Jaime Leopold
1946 – 2018

Music Legend, Ad Man, and nascent Movie Star, Jamie Leopold has died. Together with Jerry Ketel, Terra Spencer, and Bob Macer he created Leopold Ketel & Partners. But Jaime had a legend behind him as a stand-up bass player for Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks. He was a raconteur of the Haight Ashbury in the late sixties, rubbing elbows with the likes of Alan Ginsberg and Neal Cassidy. He fled the scene in the late 70’s and came to Portland to become a respectable advertising executive and family man. After retirement, he returned to music and wrote enough songs to record two worthy CDs of what he called “American Quirk.” His final act was to become the star of a film loosely based on his later years as a singer-songwriter entitled, “The Last Hot Lick.”

He will be remembered for his charming personality and disarming sense of humor. And his ability to get you to tell him your innermost secrets.

We miss you, Jaime.