Advertising as Invitation

I’ve been reading Al & Laura Ries’ “The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR“, and it got me thinking: Is advertising really dead? If so, why are so many people doing it? I’m utterly convinced that you cannot build a brand through advertising – at least not profitably. So, what’s the right way to view advertising?Well, first off, there are products that can be introduced and sold to someone in 30 seconds – cheap consumer products and food. You don’t need to be convinced to subscribe to a certain “world-view” to think “Hey, that cheeseburger looks tasty”. So, let’s skip that stuff and talk about things like cars and designer clothes.Branding is about building a imaginary world. A world where people behave a certain way, look a certain way, do certain things. Most of it is completely bogus. Drinking Budweiser will not make bikini girls flock to your backyard. Ralph Lauren Polo shirts do not come with free country club memberships, drinking Starbucks’ coffee does not make you part of the cosmopolitan elite. Convincing people (on a subconscious level) that these worlds are real cannot be done in a 30 seconds.What can be done in 30 seconds is convincing someone that now is the time to become part one of these worlds. One way is to offer a financial incentive (0% financing on that new Lexus). But another way is to simply tweak your message to appeal to someone you don’t ordinarily reach. Someone who knows all about your brand, is intrigued by it, but doesn’t quite feel like they belong. Starbucks can take 30 seconds to show average Joes that their brand isn’t just for rich snobs. Wal-Mart can take 30 seconds to, well, do the opposite.

Is Minimalism Forever?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the trend toward minimalism in design – particularly in logo design. I’m wondering – is this trend simply correct? Is minimalism inherently better? Or is it just part of a cyclical phase?

Comedy Central Logo Vector Downloadimage starbucks-logo

A minimalist logo says “we are capable of doing anything, and don’t want to limit ourselves”.  But is that what people want from brands? Could there be an impending movement toward rewarding brands who explicitly stand for something specific? And if so, would a move back toward more intricate logos reflect that value?

A Thought on the iPhone Keyboard

image While reading an article partly about the iPhone user experience, a thought dawned on me about the virtual keyboard.  Like many other people, I was afraid that the lack of tactile feedback would be disorienting and difficult to get accustomed to.  And, like most people who have moved to the iPhone, I’ve found that it really isn’t.  That got me thinking about the whole nature of “touch typing”.

Think back to high school (those of you who actually took typing classes).  What was the “sales pitch” the teacher gave you about “touch typing”? Well, it made you more efficient by stopping you from having to repeatedly move your eyes from the keyboard to the screen (or, er, paper – at least when I was in high school).

Now think about the iPhone.  Where’s the keyboard? Where’s the screen? Your eyes never have to move more than 3 inches to jump between the two.  AND, with the large visual pop-up key feedback (the real stroke of genius), you can rely on your peripheral vision to ensure correct keypresses, and still never take your eyes off of the entered text.  Apple simply took a negative limitation of a mobile device (limited room for both display and input), and turned it into a positive – the ability to support a virtual keyboard by replacing tactile feedback with peripheral visual feedback.

Turning limitations into advantages is a hallmark of both great marketing and great user experience design.  Whenever you’re in the process of designing a transformative product like the iPhone, always be sure to ask yourself “What old rules no long apply?”

John Sculley: Marketing Genius

Peter Elkind of Fortune just wrote a scathing article about Steve Jobs in Fortune Magazine, but this post isn’t really about this.  It’s about this included quote from former Apple CEO (and sacker of Steve Jobs), John Sculley:

“Apple was supposed to become a wonderful consumer products company. This was a lunatic plan. High tech could not be designed and sold as a consumer product.”

This wasn’t just an offhand comment to the press.  It’s committed for posterity in Sculley’s memoir: “Odyssey” (13 used copies are currently available for $0.01 if you’re looking for further inspiration.)

And this is why he really should have stuck with selling “sugared water”.

Sphinn – Digg for Interactive Marketers

image I randomly stumbled onto and was about to write a snarky blog post (or at least a tweet) about it being yet another unpronounceable Web 2.0 site name.  Then I hung around for a bit and realized it was actually a pretty informative site.  Basically, it’s a Digg clone devoted to online marketing content.  Now, since 99.999% of “internet marketing” content is total crap, this is actually a pretty useful service, and I’ll be visiting frequently.

And it’s not that hard to pronounce… Just like “sphinx” without the “x”, I guess.

Cecropia Unveils“Personality Gaming”Demo

A while ago I posted about Cecropia, a game company which had pioneered a totally unique video game called “The Act“.Using a simple knob, the player smoothly adjusts the silent protagonist’s personality, causing the characters around him to react accordingly.   All the action takes place in ultra-smooth Disney-quality animation, with absolutely no UI elements – creating the first true interactive cartoon.Unfortunately, Cecropia has had a real problem with “The Act” – namely, how to market it.  It’s far too short to make into a console game, and the knob (which most users don’t have) is pretty much critical to the experience, which would require a special hardware investment for most people.  The animation quality is far too high to package into some kind of Flash game.  It really would make a perfect arcade game.  Unfortunately, the market for this kind of arcade game died out in the early 90′s.So, anyway, they’re taking their technology in a new direction, facing up to the realities of today’s gaming market, and trying their hand at interactive Flash “advergaming”.  They’ve put up a demo on  I won’t tell you how it works (figuring it out is part of the fun).  If you’re at all involved in interactive marketing, get in touch with these guys.  What they’re doing is truly groundbreaking, and they deserve a lot of attention (and money).  And, who knows, maybe someday The Act will see the light of day, in some form or another.

Revisiting”The Danger of Design”

When I was at Hill, Holliday I wrote a controversial blog post (still available on their site) called “The Danger of Design – How Not to Build an Online Community“. It was so controversial, I was actually called into the Executive VP’s office and told “You shouldn’t say stuff like this, this is what we’re trying to sell“.I was just going through my archives and decided to re-read exactly what I wrote, and decide whether I still stand by it today.Yes, I do. Absolutely.When I wrote this, MySpace was the king of social networking. My argument was that MySpace’s “amateurish” design encouraged a sense of community. Nowadays, Facebook is king of the hill. Does this invalidate my argument?Absolutely not, in fact it reinforces it. Facebook succeeds for the same reason MySpace did – and then takes it one step further.Facebook succeeds because, like MySpace, it does not impose Design (again, that’s “capital-D Design”, as I describe in the original post) on the users. And it one-ups MySpace because it prevents its users from imposing Design on others.Design (capital D design!) is polarizing. Design forces you to make a decision – does this product’s image represent me, or does it not? If you want to attract a certain demographic, you want your products’ Design to speak to exactly that demographic. That’s Marketing 101.If you want to appeal to everyone, start undesigning.

Advertising vs. Product Design

I used to work in advertising. Now I work in product design.Advertising is kind of like product design in reverse. You take a product that already exists – that may have gone through hundreds of incarnations and several changes of direction – and you pick it apart, asking yourself:

“What is there about this product that just happens to be different from all of its competitors? What Big Idea can we convince people was the motivating force behind this product all along?” 

Dunkin’ Donuts is a huge client for Hill, Holliday. Their idea is: “America Runs on Dunkin’”. It’s a GREAT idea. Dunkin’ Donuts stores are everywhere. People go to them when they need a pick me up during their day. An ad agency took a fast food chain that was selling a lot of coffee and donuts and saw it for what it really was: a gas station for human fuel.Dunkin’ Donuts didn’t even realize what it was until an ad agency told them. The ad agency extracted a Big Idea from an existing product. That’s quite a skill, and for that I hold talented advertising people in the highest regard.But advertising and its “idea archaelogy” strikes me as a tactic of last resort for a company that forgot to put the Big Idea in in the first place. And I’d much rather spend my time working with companies that need help putting their Big Ideas into new stuff, than with companies that need help digging Big Ideas out of old stuff.But that’s just me.

Windows Live Writer and the Big and Small

Microsoft has a major Web 2.0 PR problem. I’m an avid blogger and I had never heard of Windows Live Writer (which has been in Beta for over a year) until now. It’s out of Beta and I’m using it to write this very post, and I have to say, this is a killer “desktop” blogging tool. I’ve tried out several, and this is by far the best I’ve ever used. Do get it if you’re a Windows-using blogger.If this program were developed by a small “Web 2.0″ startup, the blogosphere would be all over it, raving and gushing. But it’s by Microsoft, so it’s gone practically unnoticed.Microsoft is a purveyor of big, expensive software like Windows and Office. Any time they release a small, inexpensive/free, but totally useful program (the very essence of Web 2.0), it just automatically feels like a “throwaway” app. I’m wondering how they can shake this sort of bias. Clearly creating the “Live” brand is a step in the right direction, but I think they have a way to go.Is Web 2.0 not only about what is developed but who develops it? Spend enough time in the blogosphere and you realize that the conversations around products are often as much about the creators as the products themselves. Cults of personality are built up around single developers or small teams, and people root for the success (or failure) of the product based on these perceptions. This generates significant buzz.Can a truly successful Web 2.0 app be made by a small anonymous team in a small division of a giant corporation? Just putting that out there… I don’t know the answer.