Monday, August 31, 2009

Advertising Agencies Go Good

Ad Age's new series called GoodWorks reports on the cause marketing efforts of advertising shops. It's an important signal. For years, many talented advertising executives urged their clients to invest relatively small amounts (compared to a big media buy, that is) into good will projects.

For a while the strategy was called "strategic philanthropy," which many battle-hardened marketers considered an oxymoron. After all, it's a transaction based on so many intangibles--giving away money, for starters! It was hard to convince most clients that corporate generosity had any kind of business premise. Even if the reciprocity it inspired generated millions in sales, as Target, Kenneth Cole and Yoplait can attest.

Today, the tactic of making a difference and earning your halo has had a makeover. It's now dubbed "Social Responsibility." And the Internet has lowered the barrier to entry, making possible a Long Tail economy of goodness with many more players enjoying little wins.

The significance of dedicated coverage by Ad Age to social responsibility signals a groundswell. Advertising agencies, which are sometimes accused of housing some of the most cynical, arrogant people in business, are undertaking cause-related campaigns themselves. Walking their talk. Big firms like Leo Burnett have long been active in community good will projects. And they deserve more credit for it. But given the Internet culture of micro celebrity, smaller and mid-sized agencies can roll up their sleeves and plunge into a world full of problems, picking them off one cause at a time.

What these creatives will learn, no doubt, is that cause marketing is time consuming and demands ethical standards. But they'll also experience the rewards. And rather than being white board wonks about philosophy of cause marketing, cultural sponsorship, or strategic philanthropy, they'll be experienced advocates. They are sponsoring the world they want to see.

And THAT is good work.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Good Brand is Hard to Find

Yesterday, we turned off the phones, holed up in the conference room and took apart our own brand. It was painful, clumsy work. How could that be? We do this everyday for our clients.

After two pizzas, endless cups of green tea and two flip charts--we ended the day. We made progress, but at a withering pace.

I called a colleague on my way home from our marathon session. I asked her: Why is it so difficult to see ourselves through others' eyes? She pondered. "Because we're nearsighted." Logical.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Charity Gift Cards Give Back

Looking ahead to the holiday season, (although I'd rather not since Labor Day has not yet passed so it's legitimately still summer), I discovered there's a new twist on gift cards. You know, those only-slightly-more-thoughtful-than-cash plastic cards? Now they've been rendered more meaningful with a cause-related overlay.

Seattle-based TisBest provides consumers with a vehicle by which they can “give twice": once when they give a TisBest card to a recipient, and again when that recipient chooses from among the hundreds of TisBest-selected charities and nonprofits.

According to founder Erik Marks, humans have an inherent need to give gifts to build relationships. But in our materially abundant world, gifts of more “stuff” are not desirable.

TisBest aims to offer an alternative. With a TisBest Charity Gift Card, the gift given is an opportunity to change the world. Just a little bit. Taking small, incremental steps toward making the world a better place is so very RenGen.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Kindle Love: Cuddling Up with My Device

I'm not an early adopter. Every time I'm the first to the parade, I buy the device with all the kinks and I frustrate myself into knots trying to download patches and fixes for them. (Don't get me started on the Asus turd of a mini-laptop I bought!)

So, I hung back from the Kindle. Besides, I believe in books like some people believe in God. But a trusted colleague of mine, George Needham, had one and raved. Like me, he's a book lover.

This year, a beloved friend surprised me with a second generation Kindle for my birthday. It was a lavishly over-the-top gift that knocked my socks off. But would I like using it?

It's been three weeks and I adore it. I'm zipping through a novel, and downloading voraciously. I'm considering whether taking it to the beach this weekend will threaten it with sand? And I'm tempted to join a Kindle book club. Do those exist? Hope so.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sponsor the Change You Want to See: Sam Adams' Story

As summer draws to a close, I've noticed people in my neighborhood are grilling out more often. At dusk, plumes of smoke puff upward from back yards all around me. Even on weekdays, we barbeque as if to savor the precious days left of warm weather.

I find myself buying beer on weekends. It's something I rarely do in the winter months. I'm loyal to Sam Adams because I believe in CEO Jim Koch's desire to help other businesses in his region grow. He sponsors the change he wants to see.

When Jim Koch started brewing Samuel Adams beer out of a nearly abandoned brewery complex, distributors told
Boston Beer Co. they would not deliver his products to liquor stores and bars. Too small, too fragile as an upstart, no one wanted to take the risk.

So Koch added another task to his To-Do list: on Thursday and Friday afternoons he'd snake his truck through alleys in Boston to stop at local bars and sling kegs off the back of a truck.

The company is proud of its latest initiative "Samuel Adams: Brewing the American Dream," an initiative with
Accion USA, a nonprofit that assists small-business owners, to offer small loans from a $250,000 donation by Boston Beer as well as business consulting services to New England entrepreneurs working in the food and beverage industry.

Through grit and a passion for quality beer, Koch built a brand that is internationally known, but still Boston Beer accounts for just 0.8 percent of the US beer market. As Koch sees it, that means the company still has to act like a small business, and its employees must think like entrepreneurs.

Most of the businesses funded through Koch's program probably won't go on to become national brands like Boston Beer. Indeed, the fund is specifically targeting catering companies, restaurants, and bakeries that fly just below the radar. But his goal is to create jobs and revitalize neighborhoods as Boston Beer did in Jamaica Plain. Funding 30 small businesses that create ten new jobs each makes the collective impact Koch proud to catalyze.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

How To Find A Mate: It Takes 37 Dates

Despite dire economic uncertainty, people are still looking to pair up, get married and build lives together. So, how do you pick the right mate? Turns out you can apply gambling probability to the situation. And the law of odds says it take 37 dates.

John Gilbert and Frederick Mosteller of Harvard University proved that you could raise your odds of finding the best mate to 37 per cent by interviewing 37 people then stopping at the next best. Full story

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sign of the Times: MacArthur and Wachovia Join Forces

Foundations and corporations have radically different cultures. Perhaps that's why they rarely collaborate. When the Wachovia NEXT Awards for Opportunity Finance funded by the Wachovia and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur came across my desk, I took notice.

The awards recognize excellence among financial institutions that responsibly serve low-income and low-wealth people and communities. Award amounts are based on each organization's asset size and comprise a combination of grants and low-cost loans.

The 2009 finalists are the New York City-based Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH); the Federation of Appalachian Housing Enterprises (FAHE) in Berea, Kentucky; the Concord-based New Hampshire Community Loan Fund (NHCLF); and ShoreBank Enterprise Cascadia (SBEC) in Ilwaco, Washington. The three semi-finalists are Coastal Enterprises, in Wiscasset, Maine; Community First Fund in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and the New York City-based Nonprofit Finance Fund.

The collaboration between non-profit and for-profit funders, especially a financial institution and a blue-chip like MacArthur, is path breaking. It's also a trend that Arianna Huffington sniffed out at this year's Davos conference.

Regardless of Wachovia's motivations, it's a sign of progress when foundations and corporations find mutual purpose toward a greater good. It means more cash aimed at the problem. It also means more marketing muscle to make people aware the problem exists. And more innovation occurs when partners from different sectors cross pollinate. Very RenGen.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sponsorship By Any Other Name

If you're like most people working in sponsorship marketing, you're watching dollars being sucked out of those budgets to be put to use in other ways. Tactics like mobile marketing tours and other experiential spends that blend technology with live events are eclipsing more traditional sponsorship marketing. That's a trend that won't reverse any time soon. In 2009, fifty-one percent (51%) of the companies active in sponsorship expect to spend less on sponsorship, according to IEG. Only fourteen percent (14%) of sponsors plan to spend more, while thirty-six percent (36%) said their budgets would stay the same as last year.

Part of the decline is pure economics. But the other truth is that sponsorship is considered old school by the rising cadre of socially networked marketers. So it's either being repackaged as Sports Marketing, or it's achieving the same things but being called something else entirely. Want a sponsor? Pay attention to what department you're approaching and from what source their budget is derived.

Last week, I sat down with event manager Melissa Lagowski from RibFest Chicago and got the skinny on how she creatively tapped into alternative marketing budgets to win bigger sponsorship fees.

Melissa did three things every scrappy sponsorship seeker should do:

1. Stay everlasting at it. This year, Melissa got calls from sponsors who consistently turned her down in previous years. I'm talking after four or five rejections. Still, she keeps companies on the hit list. Sends materials, call them. Invites their reps to the event. This year, it finally paid off with a sponsorship from Playstation. The fees didn't come from a sponsorship budget, but from mobile marketing instead. And the Playstation vehicle animated her event and drew a crowd of younger peeps.

2. Stay focused on the sponsor's needs. Melissa doesn't bring a Power Point pitch to meetings. She brings a notebook. And she keeps asking the same question in various ways: "How does this need to work for you?"

3. Practice creative control. When Captain Morgan Rum wanted to have a presence, she kept drilling down to discover what they really needed to achieve. She packaged up "roaming rights" that gave the Captain Morgan actor and his wenches the right to stroll the event and let locals take photos with the Captain. No liquor was sold on-site. Event managers didn't want spirits at a family event.

Melissa carved out more fees by allowing the Captain onstage to emcee for awhile and introduce bands. She made sure the contract had specific language about how the actor should comport himself. The actor turned out to be more stand-up comedian than pretty face. It was a huge hit!

The future of sponsorship is not in danger. The nomenclature may be. We may stop calling certain marketing tactics "sponsorship." But the interactions, the ability to achieve multiple marketing aims, the fervor a brand can tap...all these elements still work wonders for marketers. No matter what you call it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Culture and Commerce: Zappos, Francesca's Sow Spirit

My latest post on the power of micro-cultures as it appeared in the Huffington Post ...

Amazon is acquiring Zappos. On the face of it, the deal should work. Similarities abound. Both companies are online retailers--one sells books, CDs, and devices, the other shoes. Both CEOs are visionary and respected. It should be a happy union save one striking difference: Zappos' legendary culture. In a recent Advertising Age magazine poll, 60 percent believed the merger put Zappos' innovative marketing culture at risk.

Jobs and opportunity are shifting away from giant corporations, often defined by their rigid cultures. Today, the action is ....more

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Overthrowing the Woodstock Establishment

It made me a little sad when a recent article about Woodstock in the New York Times was pelted with negative comments from Gen X and Gen Y. "Get over it, Boomers!" was the gist of the stone throwing. I didn't go to Woodstock. I was in grade school at the time. But the spirit of the event was not lost on me. It's a remarkable thing when large numbers of people can gather, somewhat spontaneously and peaceably, to share an experience.

So why all the negativity about Woodstock? I suspect it has something to do with the oppressive influence Boomers have over younger generations. Boomers just don't seem to be going away any time soon. They stay in charge. They keep calling the shots. And they vaunt their cultural artifacts, like Woodstock, as if nothing else is significant. They are...the establishment. And the younger generations have every right to trample the snow fences surrounding Boomers. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

I only ask one thing. Could we just maintain a little humor in the process of this inevitable overthrow? Creative wiz Cameron Dilley did so in his hilarious rendering of Woodstock for an exhibition in Tampa.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Target Will Sponsor More School Field Trips

This year,Target will set aside $4 million aimed at sponsoring school field trips. To stem the way the recession has eroded school funding, Target will offer 5,000 grants up to $800 to education professionals throughout the U.S., which enables one out of every 25 schools in America to send a classroom on a field trip.

Since the program started in 2006, the retailer has given 7,400 grants benefiting more than 729,000 children nationwide. Target also provides a field trip destination generator, found at

I wonder if they've considered letting parents and community members also apply? Sometimes, it's Moms who make the field trip happen.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Real Don Draper

I watched my teenaged daughter scrawl Mad Men Returns in big red letters on the August calendar. Next Sunday, she and I will dim the lights, make popcorn, and settle in front of the tv to watch the new season of Mad Men. One of the inspirations for the Don Draper character in the AMC show was Draper Daniels, who was the creative director at Leo Burnett in the 1960s. His wife talked to Chicago Mag about her life with him. It's a fascintating story.

Oh, and if you're a Don Draper fan, as well, you'll get a laugh out of the Don Draper's Guide to Picking Up Women.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I Want You to Want Me: Visual Data Trend

Gorging ourselves on data is creating mental obesity. Minds so bloated with information that we can't tease out what's useful. That's why data visualization is becoming such a hot new art form. It rubs together art+science+technology. Done well, the remix can be arresting. And it makes the transfer of knowledge about socially complex ideas fun and interactive. Very RenGen.

Take online dating, for instance. Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar were commissioned for the
Museum of Modern Art’s 2008 “Design and the Elastic Mind” exhibition. In their installation, "I Want You To Want Me" Harris and Kamvar mined self-generated profiles on dating websites. The raw data can be viewed in myriad ways through a touchscreen interface. Harris calls it a “mosaic of humanity” that reveals, for example, what most 30-year-old men want, or where online daters most often go to meet.

Oh, and what are the top five turn-ons among online daters?
1. Intelligence
2. Confidence
3. Nice smile
4. Sense of humor
5. Good kisser

Check out their video

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

StockTwits Lands Nasdaq Sponsorship

Long time, no blog. I skipped my usual Sponsorship Monday post to tend to a cry for help from an old client. But when I came across the news that Nasdaq is sponsoring a StockTwits, I had to post about it. A day late is better than a dime short, yes?

StockTwit is a Twitter-based platform for investors who are interested in talking about stocks. The seven month-old site only has about 1,000 unique contributors a day, sez But Nasdaq is investing in the potential, not to mention the activity from the group. As founder Howard Lindzon writes on his blog, those users tend to be super active, posting a total of 8,000 daily tweets. And since they’re trading stocks, they’re obviously a group that Nasdaq wants to target.

The exchange is also turning to StockTwits for a new ad campaign. Its branding is being played up on StockTwits and real-time Nasdaq stock quotes will be added to users’ streams (Non StockTwits users on Twitter can also now get Nasdaq stock quotes by direct messaging @datajunkies). This use of a highly targeted Twitter population for delivering branded messages is ground-breaking. And it gives us a peak into Twitter's potential for a sustainable business model.

The partnership is impressive, considering that the prestigious Nasdaq tie is the first major sponsorship for the seven-month old site. StockTwits raised $800,000 in a first round in May and $800,000 in a seed round in December.