Sunday, March 25, 2012

Brand Madness.

On Sunday mornings we treat ourselves to a real newspaper. The New York Times in print.  Despite all the extras that come with electronic media, there’s nothing like the scale and flexibility of reading a real pub like the Times.

Jumping from section to section. Full-page, large images you can’t duplicate on an iPad or laptop.
And there she was this morning, on page 5. A gorgeous blonde touching up her ruby red lipstick and holding a vintage makeup mirror as she peered seductively out of the corners of her eyes.

Immediately, I thought of MAD MEN. Was this a promo for the show’s two-hour season premier tonight on AMC at 9 p.m.? She looks a lot like January Jones. 

I studied her beauty. Her long neck and the crisp print dress with an angular neckline descending from her shoulders to her bosom. Circa 1960’s.

Finally, I bothered to read the text. It was indeed an Estée Lauder ad for a new MADMEN collection of lipstick and creme rouge.

Wow! The way that woman looks tonight. This morning. Anytime. It  says we can make you feel like MAD MEN does. Now that’s branding. Simply put, it’s about style.

Without a word. Or a single note of a jingle. Not a glimpse of the logo. And the image told women it’s time to live like you're part of your favorite TV show.

Some marketers get so uptight they insist on following formulas for logo locations and taglines. They don’t realize that’s not what makes branding successful. It’s the aroma, the aura, the hum, the sixth sensation that defines brand character.

The old Apple logo was multicolored and lacked design just like their early products. When Steve Jobs reconnected with his company he brought a sense of flare to products and services that were just as sublime as the handsome silhouette of the current bitten Macintosh.

Now everybody’s trying to copy Apple. The same thing happens in television. ABC’s PAN AM attempted to fly in MAD MEN’s airspace but is struggling to gain altitude amid rumors it will be permanently grounded this May.

Lincoln is trying to draft behind MAD MEN’s high-octane leadership with TV ads starring John Slattery. Slattery plays the slimy advertising exec, Roger Sterling, on the hit show. But they couldn’t capture the iconic MAD MEN look like Estée Lauder did, and had to yack too much about Lincoln’s style and technology instead of suggesting it.

What if they had used vintage Lincoln cars and had “Roger” buying one at his New York City dealership, recreated to look like the 60’s?

Now that would say Lincoln luxury is an American icon like great advertising. But instead, the Dearborn ad men chose to emphasize their logo and features. They missed the point.

The carmaker could buy a ton of spots on tonight’s special AMC show, maybe even provide classic Lincolns for the driving scenes and still not bag the brand power they hoped. Because their cars haven’t been cool for a long time.

Lincoln should start with a vehicle design makeover before they try to rub shoulders with a leader. That’s what Apple did.

Gotta go. MAD MEN is on. And “Roger” just mentioned Oldsmobile.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

County 2012

My wife, Ellen, asked an inspired question recently, after reading about the Kony 2012 video, produced to stir moral outrage about African war criminal, Joseph Kony, who had kidnapped, enslaved and exploited thousands of kids for years.

“Why doesn’t somebody do a “Kony 2012” video to save the kids in America?” she said.

Great point. Why haven’t we called out the gangs and thugs on the inner city streets who are blasting babies and ladies for drugs, money, sneakers and retribution?

If you’ve ever wondered why our law enforcement system is failing, you should have been with me last night at a Dearborn, Michigan St. Patrick’s Day party. As I strolled through the jovial crowd I bumped into one of the few younger professionals there.  She was a county prosecutor just a couple years out of law school and loving her job in a major metropolitan area.

So, I asked her. "What do we need to do to stop juvenile crime?"

“Lock up kids who get in trouble,” the young district attorney replied.

She went onto explain that when kids commit serious crimes, they’re jailed until the trial in a facility about the size of a suburban home. But after trial, they are generally sentenced to halfway houses and allowed to go home.  Juvi law is toothless in Wayne County and kids go back to the streets to become hardened criminals, because there is no appropriated corrections facility for them.

The same is true for adults driving under the influence. Judges have limited beds to house the      40,000-plus DUI’s in Wayne County each year. So, sentences are suspended.

“Even if we fine you $15,000 for your third DUI, if you stop paying after a year, who’s going to come after you?” the prosecutor asked.  “We don’t have the resources to pursue you, and unless you get arrested again, we really won’t know you've stopped paying.”

The more we talked, the more apparent it became that the declining tax base in Wayne County was impacting vital resources cops and courts need to enforce our laws.

“In Macomb County, because they have more people who actually pay their taxes, the prosecutors earn significantly more than we do,” the young lawyer explained.

If you campaign to lower taxes, be careful. There’s a price and consequences. We get what we pay for. A deregulated, free-market society.

I’m looking forward to seeing the news series on that.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Power to the Producers

Like more than 70 million people worldwide, I just watched they “Kony 2012” video on YouTube. It’s powerful, engaging and more than worth the time. If you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to spend the 29 minutes.

What can we learn from Jason Russell’s video? Too many things to count. But let me connect a few dots in the world of new media.

For perspective, “American Idol”, TV’s most popular show, reaches 12 million viewers on a typical night. It’s all about entertainment and it’s in its twelfth season. Kony 2012 is a gut-wrenching expose of Joseph Kony, a Ugandan warlord who abducts kids and turns them into sex slaves and soldiers in his rebel army. Documentary producer Russell has reached a massive audience with a serious message by leveraging the power of social media. His goal: to shine the spotlight of truth on Kony and provoke the international community to stop this criminal.

Russell is a great storyteller, effective communicator and social activist with justice in his sights. But imagine for a moment that his strategy is used for less lofty goals. Like selling entertainment.

For example, a producer or production company creates the pilot for a TV show. But rather than sell it to a network, it’s posted on YouTube. It goes viral and builds dramatic interest in the new show and its characters.

Then, teases for other episodes in the series appear on YouTube and Facebook, directing viewers to a Web site where they can pay per view. In Jason Russell’s case, if only 10 percent of his current audience decides to pay to watch the second episode, that would be more than 7 million viewers. And any money, let’s say a buck a show, would go directly to him and his cause.

So, I ask you, in the future, why will creators go to the networks or studios with their scripts? Some will need corporate Hollywood to underwrite their productions. However, in many other cases, private investors could play that role. With on-demand viewing and streaming video, the producer no longer needs a syndicator or regular time slot on a cable network. They simply need an audience that is willing to pay or sponsors who will pony up the dough to reach an established audience. And with Web TV, you don’t need Nielsen to monitor your ratings. You can count hits automatically, record how long people stay with a program and where they go when they’re done.

In fact, you don’t even need the likes of Netflix to carry your show. That streaming service is in peril, as their contracts with the movie studios are running out in the next couple of years. Soon Hollywood’s moguls will be demanding billions, not millions for the rights to stream their movies on the Web. Giants with deep pockets,  like Google and Amazon, may gobble up that territory. As the recession wanes, the value of content is coming back.

So, once again, the creative mind is king. Unless Netflix, the networks and their kind pay to partner with content developers, they will soon become empty pipelines.

Jason Russell’s noble Facebook crusade is attempting to liberate Africa’s children. In the meantime, he may have empowered artists, worldwide.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

TV Reality

Anyone who has every collaborated to produce a television show, knows it’s an imperfect process. Getting creatives to cooperate is a little like herding cats. By nature, people who make TV are fiercely free spirited and tend to be stubbornly committed to their individual visions. And then there are the egos.

Now you can see this dysfunctional yet magical dynamic in HBO’s amusing documentary, “Exporting Raymond.” It features the creator of the Emmy-winning show, “Everybody Loves Raymond”, as he attempts to produce the sitcom in Moscow for Russian television.

This is no ordinary behind-the -scenes feature. Cameras follow Phil Rosenthal through the ordeal of translating the whacky family life made famous by Ray Romano and cast. But in Russia, Rosenthal struggles to convince the production team that his way is funny and theirs is … well, Russian.

Even the czar of Moscow’s high theatre gets involved, and Rosenthal is genuinely in awe of his stature and brilliance.

Although humorous at points, to industry insiders, “Exporting Raymond” will feel painfully real. The conflict between producers, directors, actors and Rosenthal is classic and all too familiar. It is from this friction that the heat of great productions is born. That is if those involved are mature and honest enough to seize the best ideas once they boil over.

In fact, there’s one scene where the head of comedy for Russian broadcasting is watching the taping. Even he sees that it isn’t funny. And at this point when all seems lost, the director finally turns to Rosenthal to ask him how he would change the scene. And then he follows his advice. Suddenly, everyone is on the same page. The lines are clicking. The audience that has been paid to laugh is genuinely cackling.

I won’t spoil the ending for you in case you haven’t seen it. It’s worth the 90 minutes for any audience. But if you’re in the biz you’ll see that it speaks the international language of TV.

Nyet invented here.