Tag Archives: Brand Brief

Beating Marketing FOMO

May 15, 2018 by

I may not be Nostradamus, Jeane Dixon, or even Miss Cleo (and thank goodness, considering they’ve all ceased to be), but I’m fairly confident when I predict that your marketing efforts are seriously behind both the times and the eight ball, and that your company is but one Twitter fail away from extinction. 

How do I know this? Simple: You have no chatbot. Seriously, my good marketing manager, what are you thinking? You need a chatbot. And, come to think of it, an Alexa strategy. And a Google Home strategy. Also, influencers. Gotta have ’em. Never mind that your firm’s main line of business is industrial fasteners. At least you have a chief advocacy officer. What? No? Why do I even bother?

If the above feels a touch extreme, chances are you’re reading this on a Monday morning and have yet to slip back into the cacophonous deluge of marketing tips, tricks, and death notices (TV’s been dead for 16 years, don’t’chaknow) that fill your feeds to the brim. If you pay attention to even a fraction of it, you’re likely second-guessing every marketing decision you make.

And how could you not? This is a fast-paced world full of exponential change that you can’t possibly understand if you’re not taking the deep dive into big data. Right?

Of course not. 

The marketing fear of missing out (FOMO) is real. It also understandable, and beatable. All the things I mentioned above are tools that numerous brands have used successfully (according their own reporting, which may be suspect). But the key word in that sentence is “tools.” Nearly everything you see being touted as the latest, greatest, holy grailiest of advertising excellence is merely another tactic.

And that’s where your years of experience should kick in, helping you to determine which of the new (and existing) tools fit your brand’s needs best. Should you learn about them? Certainly, even though it sometimes seems impossible to keep up. Should you try some out? Absolutely; setting aside a bit of your budget—marketing or otherwise—for experimentation is always a good idea. But do you have to scrap everything and rush pell-mell into the next big thing in order to stay alive? No, a thousand retweets no.

The tidal wave of new-and-questionably-improved ad tools will probably never ebb. But remember this: Anyone insisting that you embrace their prescribed tool is selling a book about it, runs an agency that specializes in it, doesn’t know how to use other marketing tactics well, or all of the above. 

So stay interesting. Create boldly. Speak strategically. Act honestly. Sure, you may miss out on synergizing the newest adtech, but you won’t miss out on the most important thing—having a brand people actually like.


This column was printed in the June/July 2018 edition of B2B.

Jason Fox is a freelance creative director and writer who can make all your dreams come true at jasonfox.net.

Invest In Yourself

January 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There is nothing easy about running a business. But if keeping going is akin to spinning grandma’s good china while juggling flaming knives as you tame a coterie of ill-tempered badgers with little more than a spork—while blindfolded—actually starting the business is doubly so. Ask me how I know, assuming I can manage to get the badgers tranquilized and carted back to Wisconsin.

One of the most difficult things about starting a business is acquiring money. And, if you’re thinking of striking out on your own after 15 years as a roofer, you’re probably not going to find an angel investor at the Colab Construction Incubator who wants to float you a year or two’s operating costs and a pallet of roofing nails. So, maybe you get a loan. Maybe your friends and family invest. Maybe you scrape along project-by-project trying to make the cash flow actually live up to its name. Regardless, you don’t have a fistful of dollars to drop on anything inessential. Which is why you absolutely must lessen your kung-fu grip and drop some bread on your brand.

Notice that I said “brand” and not “marketing.” While I do think you should start making a habit of spending actual money on marketing as soon as possible, I believe in putting first things first. And your brand is first. Because you shouldn’t market what you don’t yet have figured out.

Chances are, you didn’t set aside much (any?) startup money for brand development beyond promising your cousin with the mad Creative Suite skills a case of microbrew for doing your logo. I understand the desire/ necessity to be as frugal as possible. But while it is technically possible to fix your brand later, it’s neither strategically nor financially sound to go that route.

So, here are the things you should consider paying money for from professionals who know what they’re doing: Business name, brand platform, logo, color palette/design standards, tone-of-voice, and doughnuts. Even if you think you have a good name for your company, at least consult someone with no emotional attachment to it or an in-law relationship to you. If you don’t know what a brand platform is, that’s all the more reason to have one—it will keep you focused on doing the right things while targeting the right people. The logo, standards, and tone- of-voice are the embodiment of your brand in the marketplace—it’s easier to stand out when these are done well. The doughnuts speak for themselves.

Combined, these elements give you a foundation for your business that should last for years. And it is even possible to find really great people and agencies who can do them at a cost that won’t cause heart palpitations. Also, even though you can list these things as expenses on your tax return, it is best to consider them investments. Because that’s what they are. And you’ll never have to pay capital gains tax on the brand equity you start building today.

Jason Fox is a freelance creative director and writer. He can be found at jasonfox.net and adsavior.com.

This column was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.

The Importance of Being Less Earnest

August 24, 2017 by

Stop me if you’ve seen this one:

Open on a shallow depth-of-field shot of a business owner, dentist, or HVAC repair technician. They begin: At AAA Acme Services, we know your schedule is busy. Cut to a montage of concerned customers nodding as AAAAS “team members“ show them clipboards and point at mechanical looking things and/or computer screens. “That’s why we put your needs first. Because we care. About you.“ Cut to smiling customers shaking hands with AAAAS “team members.“ Cut to shot of a youth receiving a sucker or “AAAAS Junior Team Member” cap. “At AAA Acme Services, we’re just neighbors helping neighbors by being neighborly because that’s what neighbors do.“ End on logo with tagline “Our best service is serving you.”

The question is not whether you’ve recently seen a commercial constructed like the above, but how many you’ve seen since waking up today. Like a fool, I exercise at an unholy hour of the morning (looking this average takes effort, folks) and often find myself watching the local news while working out. Over any given 30-minute stretch, I am liable to see five or six prime examples of what I call “overly earnest advertising.“ Always sincere. Always well-intentioned. Always making me yearn for the traffic report, even though I work from home.

To be fair, some of these spots are very well-produced. Many of the real people in them seem genuinely, well, real. But that’s not the issue. The issue is that well-made wallpaper is still wallpaper. And given its cost of entry on even a local scale, advertising cannot afford to
be wallpaper.

I know why these spots exist. They’re relatively cheap to produce and require little in the way of pesky “creative services fees.“ Businesses want to be seen as relatable, knowledgeable, and trustworthy. Worthy attributes all companies should aspire to embody. But there’s a difference between illustrating said character traits and merely telling people you possess them. To tell people you possess these traits in a manner that has long since lost the ability to attract ears and eyeballs just sets these businesses up for low levels of success. (Why not failure? Because just about any advertising is better than no advertising.)

It just is not enough for advertising to be sincere. Regardless of how honest you are, you are still someone trying to get someone else’s money. As such, consumers’ defenses are always at WOPR-induced levels. Want to be seen as likable? Make a likable ad. Want to be seen as trustworthy? Show people they can trust you with their time by not wasting even 30 seconds of it with a bad ad. It matters. Advertising, if it has any hope of achieving long-term effectiveness, must reflect the personality of the brand as it sells. It cannot merely promise a good experience, it must itself be a good experience. Because a good experience is a memorable experience. People only hire or buy from companies they remember.

I promise. Sincerely.

This column was published in the Fall 2017 edition of B2B.

Jason Fox is a freelance creative director and writer. He can be found at jasonfox.net and adsavior.com.

Design Needs Language Needs Design

May 20, 2017 by

In 2009, filmmaker Doug Pray released Art & Copy, a feature-length documentary that, according to IMDb, aimed to reveal “the work and wisdom of some of the most influential advertising creatives of our time.” Having watched the film on multiple occasions over the years (it pops up periodically on Netflix), I can endorse that description. Even if the names Lee Clow, George Lois, Mary Wells, Dan Wieden, or Hal Riney (to cite a few) mean nothing to you, their stories of turning insights into ideas and ideas into brand- and pop-culture-defining work should be required viewing for anyone involved in marketing. But of all the interesting nuggets one can glean from this movie, one of the most important is hiding in plain sight in the title. I’m speaking, naturally, of the ampersand.

The phrase “art & copy” is not unique to this film’s title. It’s been applied to the two main components of the creative side of advertising for decades: the art (what you see) and the copy (what you read or hear). It also refers to the duos charged with creating all of those hopefully persuasive messages—the teams of copywriters and art directors that first became standard operating procedure at Doyle, Dane, Bernbach in the 1960s. The importance of the ampersand lies in its brief, blunt affirmation that it takes both design and language to create an effective ad. It is not “art or copy,” “art over copy,” or “art instead of copy.”

In a piece of work’s final form, the split between art & copy is, of course, rarely 50-50. That’s natural. Some campaigns rely more on clever wordplay or provocative statements, while others let the design and art direction carry more weight. In the industry at large, the fondness for one over the other tends to be cyclical. Some decades see a renaissance of the written word, only to be followed by a resurgence of the visual.

We find ourselves in an image-driven era. Partly due to the cycle described above, and partly due to the rise of mobile platforms and their associated apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, and whatever has taken the lead in livestreaming. Which is all well and good up to a point. As long as we don’t forget that ampersand. Enticing visuals without narrative—whether in literal copy/dialogue or in a piece’s underlying narrative structure—tend to lack weight. Their impact is alluring for the moment, but their message is forgotten the moment someone swipes “next,” turns the page, or clicks “skip ad.”

We live in a world where good design is all around us, and great design isn’t difficult to find. Not just in marketing, but also in products, publishing, architecture, and even food. (There’s still plenty of hideous design, by the way, so let us not grow complacent in fighting the proliferation of mediocrity.) But how much of that design is just proverbial lipstick on a pig instead of an indication of substance? Once your eye moves beyond the well-composed, shallow-depth-of-field shot to the accompanying text, is the message enhanced, the brand uplifted, and your curiosity piqued? Or do you wonder why it incongruently sounds like a Buzzfeed listicle only less clever? If so, it’s because the design is either dancing alone, or with an oaf of a partner.

It is not enough to merely look good. Because as soon as you, as a brand, open your pretty mouth, you will sound dumb, boring, or indistinguishable from the herd—akin to saying, “just do something” instead of “just do it.” Nor is it enough to merely sound smart (well, aside from radio), as few want to pay initial attention to the visually cluttered or cliché. No. It takes both design & language—rooted in truth, expressed in interesting, relevant ways—to create advertising worthy of its purpose.

No ifs. No buts. Yet always with an &.

Jason Fox is a freelance creative director and writer. He can be found at jasonfox.net and adsavior.com.

This column was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of B2B.