Caffeinated ideas and views on marketing communications

If you don’t get it, you don’t get it.

11 Jan
by Deborah Brody, posted in advertising, Communication   |  No Comments

The Washington Post runs an advertising campaign with the slogan “if you don’t get it, you don’t get it.” And on Monday, I did not get my print copy of the Post. I called the re-delivery number and left a message. Five hours later, I had not yet received a replacement copy so I called again, and left another message, asking for a call back. Then I went to the online complaints, and left two messages–one about the missed delivery and one about another delivery issue I had during my end-of-year vacation.

I didn’t get it

I heard nothing from the Post. Not one word. No call back and no redelivered paper. No apology. No credit. No nothing.

Subscriptions matter

The Washington Post has seen an increase in digital subscribers and a decrease in print subscribers. This isn’t surprising since most people seem to prefer to read their news online. However, in terms of advertising sales, which is what pays the bills at the Post and most every other newspaper, circulation numbers are what sets advertising rates. Fewer print subscribers means smaller circulation numbers, which means lower advertising rates. Obviously, the less the Post charges Macy’s and the various other advertisers, the less revenue it generates.

Disregard is disrespect

So subscriptions matter. And yet the Post continues to treat its subscribers with, if not outright disdain, complete disregard. Prices are increased every few months, credits are no longer given even though the print subscription charges for delivery costs, and customer service has been outsourced to Asia, where the agents barely speak English and don’t know K Street from Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Washington Post would prefer if you never called them, so they’ve created an online account/customer service portal. Except it sucks. Every time you want to do something, you  have to sign in, and then somehow, you are signed out of your digital subscription. And not everything works. I tried to change my vacation hold dates, and was not able to. I had to call an unhelpful customer service agent.

When I got home from vacation, I discovered that of the six days I was gone, four days of newspapers were delivered. My vacation stop was not honored. I complained online and nothing. Again, no apology, no credit, no acknowledgment of a mix-up.

Here’s the bottom line: The Washington Post can advertise for new subscribers all it wants, but until it fixes its broken customer service, it will continue to lose print subscribers (and by extension advertising revenue).

Customer service matters more than marketing in retaining customers. Marketing is about acquisition and customer service is about retention. If you acquire customers just to lose them because of poor service, you are wasting money marketing and you are threatening your bottom line.


About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Do Super Bowl ads change minds?

09 Feb
by Deborah Brody, posted in advertising   |  No Comments

I only watched the first part of Super Bowl 50, and halfheartedly at that. I am not a football fan, and I had no reason to root for either the Broncos or the Panthers. Also, I wasn’t at a Super Bowl party. The only part that I was paying some attention to was the commercials.

I have always been interested in Super Bowl advertising from a professional standpoint, ever since my first job as a media buyer at a now defunct Boston ad agency. While I was there, one of the media directors gave a presentation about why it had been worth it to spend $1 million (this was in the 1990s) to run one 30-second spot for a small, up to then unknown, company:

  • He said it increased national brand recognition dramatically
  • And also, perhaps even more important strategically, made this company look like a big player, since the other Super Bowl advertisers are generally well established (well funded) brands such as Budweiser and Coca Cola.

Today, Super Bowl ads cost close to $5 million for each 30-second spot. And then there are the other costs: advertising agency fees, production, talent (and famous talent ain’t cheap), which probably tack on another $1-2 million, making it a huge chunk of the company’s marketing budget.

Is it worth it?

Clearly, advertisers think Super Bowl advertising is worth it. And since we don’t know what their objectives are (brand recognition, sales, image bolstering), it is hard to say whether these are achieved.

(You can check out who the advertisers were on Super Bowl 50 and link to all the spots in this AdAge article Super Bowl 50 Complete Ad Chart.)

In my opinion, one of the best ads of the night was the Bud Light commercial featuring Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer.


It was genuinely clever and funny. And packed a whole lot of celebrity punch. But, are you going to start drinking Bud Light? I bet that if you already drink Bud, perhaps you will feel more secure about your choice. This is called social proof, which means that we believe behavior (drinking Bud Light) is cool if other people (Seth Rogen! Amy Schumer!) think it is.

But, on the other hand, if you are like me, you will never, ever, drink Bud Light. No amount of cute or smart or funny commercials are going to make me choose Bud Light the next time I am at a bar, restaurant or liquor store. I just don’t like it.

I have a hardened opinion, and it is very hard to change this type of view. By the way, the same goes for my opinion of several other big Super Bowl advertisers including Doritos (don’t eat them), Taco Bell (just not going there), and Mountain Dew (really, a monkey-baby nightmare?).

But, on issues where people don’t have an opinion or don’t have enough information, a Super Bowl commercial can really make a difference. Another ad that was not only funny but very effective was this one for the Amazon Echo, featuring Alec Baldwin, Jason Schwartzman, Dan Marino and Missy Elliot:

This introduced a product and also piqued interest. I’d be curious to know how Echo sales do after this, but just based on Twitter, there was a lot of chatter about it (brand recognition, check!).

In sum, Super Bowl advertising expenditure is somewhat overblown for brands with strong brand recognition but can be worth it for new products or brands.

What do you think? If you watched the Super Bowl, did you focus on the commercials? Did any make you think differently about a product or brand? Let me know in the comments.

About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Can you do advertising by algorithm?

14 Oct
by Deborah Brody, posted in advertising, Political communication   |  No Comments

You’ve seen advertising by algorithm every single time you go on Facebook. If you’ve done an online search for anything (books, movies, clothing, etc.), you will now see a banner ad for that thing or brand. If you’ve discussed anything with a recognizable name (politician, specific book or movie or brand) on your timeline, chances are you will see a sponsored post about that thing on your timeline. Those posts are automatically generated by algorithms.

Like this one that appeared last week on my Facebook timeline:

Ben Carson sponsored ad in my Facebook timeline

Ben Carson sponsored ad in my Facebook timeline

I had definitely mentioned Ben Carson in my status updates. In a negative way. I had shared several articles about his horrible “gun control caused the Holocaust” comments. I couldn’t believe that anyone, much less a person running for president, would be so stupid and so offensive.

And then the sponsored ad popped up. Obviously the algorithm “if that then this” recipe says something like “if a person mentions Ben Carson more than once in status updates, then show the support Ben Carson ad.”

But I am the exactly wrong target. I don’t like Ben Carson and what I have been saying about him is not supportive. This sponsored post is a #fail as they say on Twitter, and a waste of the campaign’s money.

Don’t let algorithms fail you!

Automatic advertising has its pitfalls. But is the problem the algorithm or the person that makes the recipe for the algorithm? I suspect it’s a bit of both.

There are at least three steps to successful advertising by algorithm:

1. You have to understand how algorithms work

Advertising algorithms don’t do nuance. They can’t judge emotions–negative or positive. They can only scan for keywords and then follow recipes.

Plus, each search engine or social network has its own rules. Apparently for Facebook algorithms, budgets have a lot to do with how and when your sponsored content shows up. Read “The Importance of Understanding Facebook Algorithms, Part 1.”

2. You have to provide strategic guidance 

Before you launch any advertising, including online advertising, you must have a strategy in place. You need to define your target audience and be as detailed as possible. You need to define your objectives. You must understand what you want to accomplish.

3. You have to measure

And with online advertising, especially when you are relying on computer-generated algorithms, you have to measure. You want to understand your outcomes.  How did your ads do? What kinds of people clicked and did they take any other actions? (It’s always about the metrics.)

What would you add? Do you have resources to share about algorithms? What’s been your experience with algorithms in advertising? Successful or not so much? Please let me know. And if you want to discuss your advertising or communications strategy, get in touch!


About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Did Mad Men write this commercial?

18 Mar
by Deborah Brody, posted in advertising, Marketing   |  2 Comments

Now, I should say upfront that I do NOT watch Mad Men, the AMC series about the advertising business in New York City in the 1960s. However, I do know that it shows the very real sexism of the time that ran rampant in advertising agencies.  Women were generally in support staff positions rather than as creatives or agency principals (come to think of it, even in the 1990s, when I worked in advertising, the agency principals were all men…).

On the radio a couple of days ago, I heard a commercial for a home security company. In the spot, a woman is narrating and telling the audience that since her husband started traveling a lot for business, she is afraid to be alone in her house. And because she wishes to retaliate against her husband for taking the job that makes him go out on the road so much, and leaving her all alone , she has decided to get a home security system so that she can feel safe. Now, if she hears a noise, she doesn’t need to reach for the Xanax, but rather look at her computer screen and monitor all the rooms in the house. (I am not making this up, except for the Xanax part.)

The commercial makes several assumptions:

1.) Women are afraid to be alone (being the weaker sex and all).

2.) Only men have (big, important) jobs that require travel.

3.) Women can make the decision to buy something, but the husband (who is the breadwinner after all) is the one controlling the household finances.

4.) Only married people own homes that would require home security (single people always live in apartments apparently).

(I could add  5.) Marriage is only between a man and a woman , but this is so ubiquitous in advertising that it’s a topic for another day).

When I heard it on the radio, I couldn’t believe that a company wanted to advertise its services in this way in 2014. Women have been in the workforce for a long time and they travel for business. In fact, I found the commercial to be quite offensive. But clearly, in the mind of this sexist home security company, as a single woman who is not afraid of being in my own home by myself, I am not the target market.

What is particularly a bad marketing decision is to be so narrowly focused when home security is something that could be sold to every home owner.  This commercial not only is too narrowly targeted but it could serve to turn off potential customers due to the various outdated assumptions it makes.

Other companies are being more reflective of the reality of gender roles.  For example, a national detergent brand has a TV commercial where the dad is doing the laundry of his very rambunctious (and dirty) little girls. Or the insurance company that shows a single mother shopping for life insurance.

We are not living in the 1960s. Companies that use dated (and sexist) notions are alienating potential customers…and that is not good for the bottom line.

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About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Stop! Don’t start on that next project until you can answer this

15 Jan
by Deborah Brody, posted in advertising, Communication, Marketing   |  1 Comments

It’s January and chances are you are working hard to get the year off to a good start. You may be in charge of creating something–a newsletter, a flyer, an ad–that is intended to achieve a communications or marketing objective. It may be to publicize an upcoming event or perhaps to solicit support for a cause or maybe you are advocating for a policy change. We’ll assume that this project is part of a larger strategy and will help further your overall communications goals.


Before you start any marketing/communications  project you should be able to answer these five questions:

1. What is the main objective for the piece? Or ask yourself this:  What do you want the audience to do with this piece?

2. Who is the target audience? Really, who is it? Be specific.

3. What are the top three messages you want to convey?

4. Knowing who the target is, what is the best way to communicate your message? Will you use graphics? Which ones? What kind of language will you use?

5. Has this piece been done before? If so, why are you doing it again? What was it that worked or didn’t work before? If not, why are you doing it now?

This may seem obvious to some, simplistic to others, but surprisingly, many people trying to create communications aren’t able to answer these questions.  Why else do you think we are inundated with useless letters, flyers and brochures? Even if you are a pro, doing this exercise will help you to create a better product, guaranteed!

What is your process for getting communications projects done? Please share!



About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

I’ll have a venti and some politics please

11 Oct
by Deborah Brody, posted in advertising, Marketing   |  2 Comments

It was not until I saw a full page ad in today’s Washington Post that I realized Starbucks has waded directly into the government shutdown debate. The full page ad (right hand page, far forward, four-color, in media buying lingo) has the headline:

Sign the Come Together Petition

You can see the text  on the Starbucks home page and apparently, at all Starbucks stores starting today.


019/365 by Joseph Nicolia on Flickr

Also today, in the Post’s business section, Allen Adamson, a branding firm director, is quoted about this Starbucks’ move:

It’s always risky when brands mix politics and business.

It’s quite clear that Starbucks is taking a strong political stand against the shutdown, but I am not sure it will be risky. In fact, it may be a huge win for Starbucks (and maybe for the government, if it helps end the shutdown). To my knowledge, Starbucks is the first and only national brand that is saying something publicly about the shutdown– and it’s always good to be the first and only in marketing. Plus, it is using the petition to have people sign up to get updates, either by email or text. You know what that means: database expansion!

Finally, this is a political ad, but it is not overtly partisan, and that’s the key. It assumes that most people are against the government shutdown, and the ad does not point fingers at specific parties or politicians. In this way, Starbucks does not alienate its conservative or liberal java addicts. It may not be your cup of tea, but perhaps it is your venti of coffee!

Did you see this petition in Starbucks or the ad in the paper? What do you think? Wise move or not? Let me know in the comments.

About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Selling “no”

29 Aug
by Deborah Brody, posted in advertising   |  No Comments

If you doubt the power of advertising, then do yourself a favor and watch No, the movie by Pablo Larrain, featuring Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal. The movie (now available in DVD), in Spanish, is set in 1988 Chile, where the government of Augusto Pinochet has been forced by international pressure to call a referendum to see whether the public will support eight more years. Voters who support Pinochet will vote yes, and those who oppose him will vote no.

The No campaign hires Rene Saavedra (played by Garcia Bernal) to come up with a concept. Saavedra, who works for the ad agency hired by the government’s Si campaign, has a track record of edgy, successful campaigns. Saavedra thinks the No campaign needs to feature happiness, thus equating a negative concept (no) with being happy. He commissions a song about happiness and develops a “happy” logo.

As a marketing communications writer and consultant, I was very interested in seeing how Saavedra’s concepts were received by the No campaign. Since they were fighting an ideological campaign, they believed you had to make a case to the people (Pinochet has killed, tortured and disappeared thousands of people). Saavedra’s reaction is that that would not be a pleasant, nice message. The campaign recoils, saying that of course it isn’t a nice message. But Saavedra prevails, getting them to see that people don’t want to scared and oppressed by negativity.

You will need to watch the movie to see how the opposing sides deal with each other, but suffice it to say that Saavedra was right. People respond better to a positive message, or at least pay more attention. He succeeded in putting the Si campaign on the defensive.




About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Are you reinforcing your message?

26 Aug
by Deborah Brody, posted in advertising, Marketing, Websites   |  No Comments

I had a conversation with a potential client the other day, and she was saying she wasn’t sure she needed to continue advertising as most of her customers came from word of mouth/referral.

Word-of-mouth and referrals are very powerful marketing forces, but they do not operate in a vacuum. Most people take their time making a decision, even when they have a referral (or referrals) in hand.  People often like to do some research themselves, even when they have glowing recommendations (just because a hair salon did wonders for straight-haired Jane does not mean they can do wonders for curly-haired Joan). This is why you need to reinforce your message.

Often, you need to remind your potential clients/customers of why they should consider working for you. You also need to let them know the basics: how to contact you, where you are located, who you work with, how much you charge, what your services/products are.

How do you reinforce your message? You can do it several ways:

1. Have an updated, attractive, easy-to-navigate website.

2. Have marketing materials such as ads, brochures, etc. as necessary for your target. For example, if your target audience reads specialized journals, it makes sense to advertise there. If your target walks past your store, it may make sense to have brochures or information cards available.

3. Have an updated, complete LinkedIn profile and on other social media channels as appropriate.


Relying on word of mouth without reinforcing the positive referral will not always result in business for you and could actually work against you.

What are you doing to reinforce your message?

About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Why Uber is successful

17 Jul
by Deborah Brody, posted in advertising, Communication, Marketing   |  No Comments

Have you heard about Uber? Basically, it’s an on-demand a car service that you “hail” via app, web or text message.  The service is available in major cities in the US, including San Francisco, Boston, New York and Washington, DC, some European capitals and a few cities in Asia, including Singapore.

I started hearing about Uber on Twitter, but had never experienced it personally until recently. My friend Barb Jump  had invited me to join her at the Kennedy Center.  After the performance, in the elevator, Barb said she would get a car service to pick us up.

Barb texted Uber, Uber sent back a confirmation, and nine minutes later, Kareem (the driver) was pulling up to pick up in a town car, complete with bottled water, tissues and mints.  Apparently nine minutes is a long wait time, because Barb says they are usually there in about four minutes, which if you live in Washington, means it is much quicker than waiting for the Metro.

What turned Barb on to Uber were two basic issues: she doesn’t carry cash and she doesn’t feel safe hailing a cab at night as a woman alone in the city.  Uber solves these two issues. Since you must set up an account beforehand, the payment is charged to your credit card on file, thus there is no need for cash (or figuring out the tip, since there is no tipping). And, since you are directly ordering a car from Uber, you are not getting some random cabby. Uber also sends you the name of the driver and his/her picture so you know who to expect.

Fill a need and differentiate from the competition

Uber is successful because it found some very specific needs that were not being met by traditional taxis or car services. As its website says quite succinctly, these three needs are: request from anywhere, ride with style and convenience, and hassle-free payment. These could also be called DIFFERENTIATORS. As a plus, for Barb (and for other women), these also translate to added safety.

The bottom line is that for a business to succeed it has to meet a need that is not being adequately met by others in the marketplace. And to be uber-successful (jeez, aren’t I clever?) it has to meet those needs while differentiating itself from any competition.

Fulfill your brand promise

Everybody knows that saying something and doing it are two different things. If you do what you say you do, you are, in effect, fulfilling your brand promise. Uber’s tagline is  Everyone’s Private Driver.  I think Uber certainly lives up to that tagline’s promise–anyone can set up account, “hail” an Uber from their smartphone (anywhere they may be) and get a driver whom they will recognize because Uber provides this information beforehand.

Have you experienced Uber or other companies that are succeeding by differentiating well and living up to their promise?


About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Wait–why you can’t rely on spell-check

12 Jul
by Deborah Brody, posted in advertising, Communication   |  No Comments

Yesterday, while working out at the gym, I nearly fell off the treadmill when I spotted the following ad from Sephora in InStyle magazine:

Sephora ad

At first, I thought perhaps Sephora was engaging in a not-so-clever play on words, since the wait could be over for a weight-less product. But I see no evidence in the copy that Sephora is highlighting any weightlessness in this product. In fact, the sub-headline says: “Finally, smoother, softer, satiny style in half the time.” Clearly, the concept is about time, so the appropriate word would have been wait, not weight.

It is hard to believe that Sephora’s ad people would have let this one go to print. Back when I was a print buyer in the 90s, we sent actual film to our magazines. A mistake in the film would be a major problem, and fixing it would involve high cost. Today, ad agencies send over PDF’s, which are way easier to fix and re-send.

So next time you think you proofread your document and used spell-check to do so, I suggest you wait, and read it again.

Do you think the headline is right? Let me know why.


About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.