Category Archives: Advertising

The Natives are Restless

23KEHR1-articleLarge_editIn the movie “Island of Lost Souls” that the above line references, the beast-men end up no longer feeling bound by Dr. Moreau’s laws, as he himself breaks one of them….

I have a PowerPoint slide I use in my lectures. It is simply the words, “Tell the Truth.” I especially feel the need to use it when I am appearing in a university setting so people can grasp, and hopefully internalize, the concept early. I tell the audience that there is no trick here; that it is not some campaign slogan. It is just a good idea for life in general and for marketing also. When I meet someone and they find out what I do for a living, they sometimes say some version of, “So you try to talk me into buying things I don’t want or need.” That is one way to look at marketing, I guess… I think of what I do as providing compelling truths about my clients or their products so people can make good, accurate decisions about the value of my clients and whether they need them or not. “Shoe-horning” is no way to build a relationship. If your product or your campaign is not good enough to win customers via truth, get a new product or get a new agency.

And it is through that lens that I look at the “new” blossoming of “native” advertising that is very hot right now. (The disguising of advertising as news content.) Apparently we are to believe that hoodwinking potential customers is considered a good start to a relationship. And when I see such storied organs as The New York Times willing to walk this road, I know things are getting bad. The most valuable thing that The New York Times has to offer is its reputation as a purveyor of truth. – I’d say native advertising threatens that and certainly weakens it. – They shouldn’t ask people to value what they don’t seem to value themselves. I often put things into human terms, which, I think, makes it easier for clients to see the relational aspects of an issue. If someone lied to you to get you to go out on a date with them, how would you feel when you found out the truth?
Think about this before jumping on the native advertising bandwagon. The natives will eventually turn on you….

— Simon Dixon

Size matters

Dan Wieden, co-founder of Wieden+Kennedy, one of the largest independently-owned advertising agencies in the world, has a prescient sense of timing.

After speaking to the audience at the Ad Age Small Agency Conference that the ad agency giants are “wobbling like drunkards”, the largest merger in ad-world history took place between Publicis and Omnicom.  I believe him when he says he wishes he were small again. One sees so many of the best creatives leave their big agencies to join or start small ones. And I think it is because big agencies are the enemy of the very reason to be an agency in the first place: creativity.  Bureaucracy, specialization, narrow-focus jobs, boredom – the behemoths abound with such. I wonder how clients imagine they are going to get real creativity from such places. Quite simply, one rarely does. Those billion-dollar mistakes that people laugh and shake their heads at in my lectures? — Big agencies.

We’ve had several “escapees” enjoy the unlocking of creative potential that comes from trading working on one tiny sliver of one account to working on several facets of several accounts. Instead of trying to see the world through a keyhole, one gets to see how people and the economy are broadly functioning, and at the end of the day it is the ability to navigate this dynamic that brings success for clients. When you are just one piece of the jigsaw, you never get to see the beauty of the whole puzzle.

So this may seem like a naked plug for IE. In a way I guess it is. But like Dan Wieden, I am a passionate believer of small agencies. I’m just lucky enough to work for one too. Now you know why I am always smiling.
Simon Dixon, Idea Engineering, CEO

Take a look in the mirror.

ie_iconA little while ago I mentioned the Dove “Beauty” ads in comparison to the Coke “Obesity” campaign. And I said that Dove, unlike Coke, had really got it right. That they seemed to actually care about women’s perceptions of themselves. They did not come off as hypocritical or just looking to burnish their credibility or sales. Well now some new Dove ads have been released and I just want to put out a link to them. Not because they are good (although they are) but because the message is important and I think we should be spreading it. It is too easy for us to believe that we are less than we are. Too easy for us to discount and overlook our beauty and value. And over time these devaluations mount up on us. Please take time to watch these ads. And take a new look at yourself. See your beauty. And maybe tell a loved one (or just an acquaintance) about theirs, too.

Simon Dixon, Idea Engineering, CEO

Lip up fatty

ie_iconWell with all due regards to Buster Bloodvessel and Bad Manners for the above referenced song, I don’t think the conversation about obesity is being won or well engaged by Coke with their new campaign on such. I think they got ill-advised.

If you are the problem then entering the conversation to ameliorate the problem almost always seems hypocritical. If Marlboro said they were going to make smaller cigarettes so you would get less cancer; if Colt said their guns would henceforth be using smaller bullets to make them safer: would you react positively? It would just sound like they were trying to buy you off with some platitudes. Smaller cans? We sell water too? Less junky options at schools?

The truth is in what they chose to run for their $4m slot in the Superbowl. That was for the big gun: Coke. And you know what? That’s fine! I don’t think people think badly of Coke as a company. They are a beloved brand. Why are they muddying it with apologies? No-one with concerns about obesity in America will be mollified by this. And people who enjoy Coke are having their buzz killed. I am wondering how Coke will follow this up: free Clearasil for teenagers perhaps?

The right conversation done correctly was well-demonstrated by the folks at Dove. They came out looking fresh and clean.

Simon Dixon, Idea Engineering, CEO

Nice to be noticed.

ie_iconI love art. In many forms. When I am at our DC offices I always try to make time to take in a gallery or show or walk the streets looking for cool street art. One evening I was in Dupont Circle strolling back from picking up a book at the wonderful Kramerbooks and spent 45 minutes watching some amazing street performers.

DC street performers
DC street performers

As I walked back to my hotel I saw a shirtless, shoeless man lying on the street surrounded by some very interesting art pieces. I stopped to take it all in. The man jumped up and starting speaking to me from a rather toothless mouth. He was definitely either on something or missing something but it turned out that he was an artist of some acclaim (at some time) – he even had a magazine article to prove so. He had certainly fallen on hard times. We stood and chatted about his art and many other things, (some on a level of “visitors from space”). I asked if he might sell me one of his “shrunken head self portraits.” We ended up at a price of one bottle of Pellegrino, one bottle of Pepsi, a box of Cheez-Its, a pack of Marlboro 25′s and $89. Not your standard auction fare… I came back from my shopping trip to do the exchange and from somewhere he had dug up a couple of bags and some bubble wrap (!). As I said my goodbye he got teary and thanked me for stopping to talk with him. “Most people work hard not to notice me,” he said.

Art for sale

Art for sale



I was flipping through a magazine recently and was halted by a series of Macy’s ads where the clothes being featured were modeled by people with disabilities of different kinds. I was not sure what to think at first. It certainly caught my attention. Was it some cynical advantage taking? Or was I the cynical one? I decided to go with the “thanks for noticing me” route. I bet these people were very chuffed to be in these ads. And guess what? People with disabilities buy clothes; maybe now from Macy’s. George Will once said, “Obama’s great political talent has been his ability to grant his admirers permission to think highly of themselves for thinking highly of him.” I love that observation. I think Macy’s just pulled off something similar and threw in the models feeling good about themselves for good measure. Good one Macy’s.

The “burning wreckage” antithesis of this would be Coke’s recent anti-obesity ads. More on that later…

— Simon Dixon, Idea Engineering, CEO

It ain’t over…

ie_iconAs a teenager I lit out for the territories and moved to London to seek… who knows what, probably girls. During the few years I lived there, the job I enjoyed the most was as a page-boy at the Park Tower Hotel in Knightsbridge. (If you ever find me with a mojito in my hand ask me to tell the “escort” story…) Anyway, when I interviewed for the job, I was sat down in front of the Head Concierge (a big-deal job in Europe) — the very regal Mr. Snook. He asked me what appealed to me about the job. I told him I liked to “meet people.” He told me I would not be there to meet people — I would be there to “serve people.” Over the years I have learned what an important distinction he was making.

Just last week in DC I had a similar conversation about ad campaigns when a young (and very smart) woman studying advertising told me that a campaign was a success because a lot of people got to know the product. My point was that that was not what the agency was hired to do. The job was to SELL a lot of the product. I know of no company that posts “how many people know us” as part of their financials. It was an important step in that campaign but NOT the finish line.

I think that a lot of mediocrity in advertising (and in people’s work in general) comes from people doing the job they “want to do,” versus doing the job they are being “asked to do.” A campaign should be centered on the finish line of the client.

I have been known to say that branding and advertising is the highest form of art. A fortnight or so ago I took in the wonderful Caravaggio exhibit at LACMA and then (much to my son’s relief) hit the modern galleries. With such art the goal is an emotional response of some sort. Yours might be different to mine and different again from the artist. But that is just fine — it is a personal journey.  In advertising the goal is a SPECIFIC response. As it turns out, that involves expertise and critical thought. So make sure you or your agency is applying it to your next project.

— Simon Dixon, Idea Engineering, CEO