Monday, December 23, 2013

“Tell the truth, but make it fascinating.”

One of the most significant ideas that I’ve found in marketing and advertising is also one of the hardest. It is this famous saying from David Ogilvy: “Tell the truth, but make it fascinating.”
Many times I have been commissioned to write a PR piece, and when I asked the client, “What makes your product special?” I got nothing but a blank stare. I had to push and nudge and pry the information I needed out of the person who wanted me to sell it! Incredible! Didn’t HE believe his product was great? Didn’t SHE think her service was better than the competition? Didn’t THEY think their new gadget was the hottest thing out there? 
If they didn’t, why should I? 
And if they did believe those things, why couldn’t they say so?

This is where we enter into an area of the advertising and marketing business that many dare not enter. To add one more thought from Mr. Ogilvy, he goes on to say that he personally was never able to write effective advertising for products that he did not believe in, and that every time he tried, he was unsuccessful.
I second that thought. I find it nearly impossible to write decent copy for an item unless I can find some tangible benefit either in the product or the company selling it.
The trick is to tell the truth - the real truth - but make it so interesting, engaging and relevant that readers are drawn to read the copy.

Promises, Promises

Last week I quoted Samuel Johnson, a great English writer who once said, "Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement." We live in an age in which we've become jaded and desensitized to the ceaseless barrage of hucksters and flim-flam artists trying to peddle their wares on us. 
The result is that the Mr. and Mrs. Public are no longer so willing to listen to the sweet swan song of an ad-man who promises to make them richer, thinner and younger looking for only $49.95.
Today, if you want to persuade people effectively, I believe that you need to speak to them personally and believably. 
When I was a kid there were ads for bodybuilding programs promising us we could look like Charles Atlas. Today, it's much more common for ads to give specific claims.

"Lose 20 pounds in 4 weeks!"
"Speak Spanish in 12 easy lessons!"
Expectations are kept to a more believable level to keep people from automatically tuning out. 
These changes didn't just happen. They came about through testing and a lot of trial and error. 
And yet there continues to be millions upon millions of dollars spent on ads that are untested - or worse - styles of advertising that have been shown to be ineffective. 
It was proven long ago by testing that ads with extreme closeups of human faces do not do well. They actually turn people off. And yet there are ads all over the place with blown up photos of people’s faces. 
Don’t they know it’s a bad idea?
It’s possible that the people making the ads are ignorant of the research. But even if they’re not, if someone likes the concept of the ad enough to push it through, chances are that it will run anyway. 
As bizarre as that may sound, it is because advertising is not only about selling products. It has become a minefield of egos and power plays, with the actual sale of goods coming in far lower on the list of real objectives.
It’s also been statistically proven that humorous “shtick” ads don’t generally sell well. And yet they are constantly being used because people want to look clever.

Here’s an ad that I saw the other day on the train.

What’s the point? Are they going for humor? For some kind of mild shock value? I don’t have access to their sales numbers, but I’d bet money that there’s no way they can prove any rise in business from running this campaign. If anything, maybe a loss, since there will surely be some people who are offended by it.

On the other hand, I also saw this ad on the train, from Lufthansa, which I thought was brilliant.

In most airline ads, the focus is on the airline. It’s about their planes and their service and all the places they fly to, and all the thousands of people that work for them.
With just one image and a few words, this ad completely changes all that. All of a sudden it makes the focus on the customer, and not the airline. The stewardess is blurred and thrown out of focus so all the attention - literally and figuratively is on the passenger. A person looks at the ad and sees the smiling passenger with the word “Guest.” The message is clear - fly Lufthansa and feel like a “Guest.”

Public response to the Lufthansa campaign has been fantastic. And the interesting thing is that, traditionally, the data has shown that showing pictures of destinations does better then showing pictures of planes. But what’s changed, I think, is that air travel has gotten so darned unpleasant that the airlines have to differentiate themselves based on which one is the least horrific. So shifting the focus of the campaign to the passenger was brilliant, and the smooth, subtle execution was genius as well.

But did they follow the rules I mentioned above? 
Well, it’s a great, interesting ad, and I’m sure the folks at Lufthansa are really sincere in their message of making their passengers feel like guests.

And as George Burns used to say, “Sincerity. If you can fake that you’ve got it made.”

What do you think? I’d love to hear!

Danny Kay is marketing and advertising professional as well as a designer and photographer with over 25 years of experience. He's worked with businesses and organizations of all sizes, up to Fortune 500.
He can be reached through his website,, or at

PS - This blog is now featured on, your source for all the top stories!

© 2013 Danny Kay - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Build it and they will come, and other myths.

How to keep a new business from failing.

Quick. Let’s have a show of hands. How many of you have had an idea for a business that you just knew was a sure thing, if you could just get it off the ground. 

I hate to be the bearer of ill tidings, but in modern day America you have a far better chance of having a successful marriage then a successful new business. 

And when I point out that the general rate of divorce is over 50%, you have some idea of where I’m coming from. 

The generally accepted rate of success for startups in this country is one in ten, and that’s being generous. The vast majority of new businesses fail within the first year. 

But why? Are all these would-be entrepreneurs really just irresponsible bozos?

And what about all those huge companies who seem to blow billions on failure after boondoggle upon fiasco and yet always seem to be in the black? (Microsoft ring a bell?)

The answer is that it’s complicated. Since this blog is centered around advertising and marketing, that is the area that I’m going to try to address.

First of all, not every sure fire idea, when exposed to the light of public opinion, is found to be all that great. 

Second, even truly great ideas, if executed or marketed inadequately or unprofessionally, can (and probably will) fail. 

Sometimes it’s simple human nature that leads to failure. People get so caught up in their vision for their new business that they ignore advice from experienced professionals, even when they’ve solicited or paid for that advice. It sometimes takes a discerning eye to see a great idea, and it sometimes requires a lot of trust and confidence in your creative professional that his or her judgement will yield the desired result.

Promise, Large Promise, Is the Soul of An Advertisement

This quote, from the legendary English writer Samuel Johnson, says it all.

Advertising is not altogether subjective. There is hard data behind it, based upon years of research. Certain types of appeals work better than others. And not just a little better - a WHOLE LOT better. A small change in a headline or in the text of an ad can result in a double digit increase in results. Sometimes you can’t know the “right” approach to use without testing. Unfortunately, the vast majority of advertisers skip that stage because they lack either the knowledge or the money. 

If you’re unable to test your advertising, the next best thing is to look at what successful campaigns for similar products have done in the past. Not how they delivered their message, but the substance of what that message was. To paraphrase the great David Ogilvy, no one ever failed to buy a product because an ad used the font Arial instead of Times New Roman. 

Statistics show that people are far more interested in what you say then in how you say it. Time after time I’ve seen great ads shot down because of superficialities.

What's In it For Me

No matter what you’re advertising - whether it’s a business, service or non-profit organization - customers are far more likely to bite if there is a benefit. The benefit can be something physical - Play the Piano in 10 Easy Lessons; Lose 20 Lbs in 6 Weeks. Or it can be intangible; Learn to Make Friends and Influence People; Become More Organized; We’ll Show You How to be a Happier, More Confident Person; The Greatest Show on Earth. These are all straightforward examples. 

Very often, folks in fundraising run up against a brick wall. They feel that that they are looked upon as little more than beggars, and that they have to constantly pester people for handouts. But those with experience can tell you that it’s all in the “promise.” Even when people are donating money, they can and should be made to feel that they are receiving something even better in return.

“Together We Can Save a Life” 
Red Cross
“You Can Create a World With Less Cancer and More Birthdays” 
American Cancer Society
“Thanks to People Like You, Our Community is In Good Hands”
United Way
“Donate Stuff. Create Jobs.”

In these cases, the benefits that are promised are no less powerful, but they’re of a different nature. Saving lives make us feel good. Being told that we helped cure cancer or created a bunch of new jobs makes us feel great. These are benefits!

But there’s one other thing that’s important to remember. The benefit must be clear. If it isn’t then you must spell it out. And even if you think it is, sometimes it helps to spell it out. Don’t assume people will make logical leaps of deduction. They usually won’t expend the time or effort necessary to do so.

Here are some made-up examples.
“Pizza Bonanza - We Deliver - Hot Pizza at Your Door in Minutes!”
“The Acme Giving Society: Your Chance to be a Hero -
Putting smiles on the faces of the world’s needy children.”

Just the Facts

It’s statistically proven that the more factual information an ad includes, the greater response it will bring. People want to be informed. They want to know how your stuff is made - how quality is maintained, how it’s manufactured, what’s in it. The more information you can present in an interesting way, the more you will sell.

And even if you think the information is stale or is something that is common to everyone in your trade, as long as it’s not common knowledge, it can make for great advertising.

You use only triple-filtered all natural spring water in your soft drink? Wow! It has to pass through 2 miles of pipes and tubes and doohickeys until it reaches the bottle? Unbelievable! There are state-of-the-art sensors monitoring it every step of the way so the temperature doesn’t vary by more than half a degree? Incredible!

“But,” you’ll argue, “there’s nothing unique or special about anything I do. It’s simply how the product is made.”

Yes. But nobody knows that. And if you’re the first one to tell it in an interesting way, the story will become associated with your brand. 

Trust me. If it’s done well, it will work. I know because it’s worked before.

As David Ogilvy used to say, “Tell the truth, but make it fascinating.”

I will hopefully revisit this topic in future posts in greater depth.

What do you think? I’d love to hear!

Danny Kay is marketing and advertising professional as well as a designer and photographer with over 25 years of experience. He's worked with businesses and organizations of all sizes, up to Fortune 500.
He can be reached through his website,, or at

PS - This blog is now featured on, your source for all the top stories!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

“I’m a Creative” “I’m a BG (Business Guy)”

Can't we all just get along?

The age old battle of Creatives versus business people (BGs from here on) almost ranks up there with men versus women or cats versus dogs for epic conflicts. 

Maybe it's a right-brain left-brain thing, or some kind of genetic hiccup that accounts for the profoundly different world views of these two distinct species. 

Full disclosure: I'm a lifelong Creative. I'm happiest when I'm puttering around on my Mac or my iPad, or with one of my cameras, or strumming my guitar, or tinkering on some device that allows me the freedom to create. 

But I have a lot of experience with BGs, having been at their mercy for most of my life. 

I mean let's face it; if there were a gladiator match between a Creative and a BG, who do you think would win?

The Creative would be standing there worrying about whether his armor was throwing off too much glare from the stadium lights, or if the trim around the scoreboard might not look better in Pantone 485C, while the BG moved in and busily cut out pieces of his anatomy. 

And how would the Creative fight anyway? Take a swing at the BG with his Wacom tablet? Poke him with his stylus?

One thing you have to learn (if you haven't already) is that BGs are ruthless. They have a laser sharp focus on their goal, and woe to anyone who gets in their way. 

Every deal is designed for their - and only their - benefit, no matter what they tell you. And it must yield the desired result, be it money, power or something else. If you've ever seen an old episode of "Dallas," you have some idea of what I mean, just with ordinary looking people. 

Creatives are chilled. And more, we actually look down on BGs because Creatives can, you know, do stuff. We are the writers and the painters and the composers and musicians and dreamers and poets. And while we're busy doing all that stuff, our overdrafts are getting larger and larger. 

All BGs can do is some vague thing having to do with money. To their credit, though, they seem to be awfully good at it since they’re the ones who always seem to have the money, after all.

BGs are like the Green Berets. You drop them penniless and alone into a desert, and before you know it they've gone and built Caesar's Palace. 

Creatives, on the other hand, would never get a place like that built. They'd get hung up arguing over what font to use in the logo, or what type of marble to make the pillars out of.

Creatives are also the easiest people to take advantage of. 

Most of us Creatives don't understand why we have to work in the first place. In fact, we think we should be highly paid just because we're so darned talented. We consider it demeaning to have to do actual labor for money. For us to have to make an additional effort to collect the agreed upon fee after the project is finished is just adding insult to injury. 

For your standard unscrupulous BG, what could be more perfect? BGs are only interested in money. Particularly the part where they get to keep more of it. 

I once had a client who I thought was a friend. Unfortunately he was (unbeknownst to me) also a card carrying BG. We had a pretty loose arrangement in which he'd regularly send me work and I'd send him bills for payment on account. But after a while I noticed that he wouldn't let me tell him what each job should be costing him. It got to the point that, after a particularly complex project, I tried to tell him what he owed me. He literally ran out of my office yelling, "I don't want to know!"

I thought it was some kind of strange gag or odd personality quirk. I mean he kept giving me work and making payments. He couldn’t intend to shaft me, right? But his tab got higher and higher, well into the thousands of dollars. When I finally tried to settle up, I discovered that he had made up his own 'prices' that he was paying me, and as far as he was concerned he didn't owe me a penny!

Since we had been "friends" it never occurred to me that he'd ever take advantage of me. Needless to say I never got my money. 

The only people who are safe doing business with BGs are other BGs. They can wheel and deal and chisel and drip slime on each other, and us civilized folks don't have to get messy. 

Creatives, on the other hand, can be great people to work for. Since we hate working so much, we hate to make anyone else work hard either. 

Instead of saying to the plumber/electrician/etc., "What?! $200 for fixing that whoosywhatsis?!" we say, "Wow! You did all that work for only $200? Are you sure it shouldn't be more? And can I get you a latte or some pizza as long as you're here?"

By no stretch of the imagination do I think Creatives are more "normal" or well balanced than BGs. Quite the contrary. 

In point of fact we're a whole lot weirder. We're just cooler and more likable.

And I don't mean to imply that BGs are all soulless monsters whose only desire is to separate you from your money. Some of them have a soul! Or at least some have soul in the cultural sense. (But not music. That's only for Creatives.)

It's true, though, that as some of us Creatives mature from teenagers to young adults, which usually happens sometime in our late forties, we do start to appreciate the necessity (if not the value) of money. Bills have to get paid, kids have to be fed, and car payments have to made. And more importantly, by this point in our lives, we've run out of sympathetic clients who'll support our habit of buying the latest tech goodies. 

And once in a very long while there arises a rare individual who embodies the traits of both species. And from gifted, inspired individuals like these we get an Apple or a Lamborghini. A company that produces works of art, and figures out how to get rich doing it.

As for us regular Creatives, maybe if we’re lucky we’ll get to design the stuff for some BGs’ next blockbuster mega-deal. And if we’re really lucky, maybe we’ll even get paid for it, too. 

What do you think? I’d love to hear!

Danny Kay is a proud Creative, and a marketing and advertising professional as well as a designer and photographer with over 25 years of experience. He's worked with businesses and organizations of all sizes, up to Fortune 500.
He can be reached through his website,, or at

PS - This blog is now featured on, your source for all the top stories!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Selling = Interviewing

Guide to Nailing that Ad (and that Interview)

Selling a product is a lot like interviewing for a job. And a lot of the same dos and don’ts that are considered inviolate in the world of job hunting are not given their due in the marketing and advertising arena.

I. Connect the Dots

The late, great Ed Koch had many wonderful sayings. Among them was, “I can only explain it to you. I can’t comprehend it for you.” In this case, however, this is exactly what we have to do.

Just like it's not enough to tell potential employers about your skills, experience and education and rely on them to figure out how you can add value to their business, it's likewise not enough to simply state all of the great things your product can do and hope customers make the connection to how those benefits apply to their own lives. 

You need to connect the dots. Just as you’d tell the interviewer the wonderful job you could do at Acme, Co., and go into detail about the goals you could accomplish and the money you could save them, so too, you should hammer home the benefits of your product, and the difference in can make in people’s lives. It’s not enough to make a bulleted list of features and some starbursts, and hope they get the point. 

II. Don’t Lie - It Will Blow Up in Your Face

MBA from Princeton? Phi Beta Kapa at Yale?

Almost every career advice site will tell you in no uncertain terms that any fibs you include in a resume, whether about job experience or education, will inevitably come out. So don't make them. 

So too, when it comes to singing the praises of your new doodad. Don't oversell it with false claims that will only come back to bite you. 

I once worked on a launch for a new retail product. I created a campaign including packaging, point of purchase displays and print ads. The problem was I had never seen, much less used, the product. I relied on the client's rose-colored information to create my materials, and, boy, did they look great. 

They worked great too. The product flew off the shelves for the first few weeks after it's release. Stores couldn't get enough of it. 

Then the complaints started coming in. 

It's not my intention here to bad mouth anyone, so I  won't go into any further detail. Suffice it to say that the item did not live up to the public's expectations, and later sales reflected that. 

Sophisticated advertising and marketing will still work if you lie - but only once. 

III. First Impressions Matter

First impressions really do matter. As one of my old bosses used to say, "Whoever said never judge a book by its cover never tried to sell one." Check out my last blog post for more on that. 

Life is not like "Britain's Got Talent," where a nervous fellow in a frumpy suit can wow the crowd with his stupendous voice and wind up an international celebrity. (True story.)

99.9% of the time you'll have less than 30 seconds to make a positive impression - either on a job interviewer or a customer, and you and/or your product need to look your (its) best. 

This applies just as much in print as in person. You'd be amazed how many promotional pieces use mediocre or downright bad photography. Or else imagery which does an inadequate job of selling the product. (See Sidebar - You’ve Got to See it To Believe It)

You’ve Got to See it To Believe ItThe level of cognitive dissonance in this area is truly astounding. I've had executives at ecommerce firms tell me that they know with absolute certainty that items with higher quality images sell better. And not a little better - a lot better. 
But the same executives then tell me that they're not planning on expanding their creative departments to generate this level of photography since there's no budget for it. 
When I was younger I even tried reasoning with them. "But with better images you're sales will go up. You already know this. The added revenue will more than pay for any additional cost.” 
When that failed, I tried just saying, “Hey, you’ll make more money!”
But it always fell on deaf ears. 
In any case, maybe this job interview metaphor would've been a more effective way of convincing them. 

IV. Do Your Homework

We've all heard this cringe-worthy interview story. 

A young fellow goes for an interview at McDonalds. 
The interviewer very logically asks, "Why do want to work here, at McDonalds?" In a voice full of youthful enthusiasm, the clueless candidate answers, "Well gee, Whoppers™ are my favorite food in the whole world!"

Of course, we all know that Whoppers™ are a trademarked product of Burger King. But our hapless job applicant got his fast food joints mixed up, and had his application rejected. 

If you're interviewing for a job you should find out as much as you can about the prospective company. 

If you're selling a product it's a little more complicated. You should find out as much as you can about both your product and your customers. 

Asking a copier salesman, "How many copies a minute does this baby churn out?" should be answered quickly and competently with the correct information. Inappropriate responses include, "Why would you need to know that?" Or, "I'll have to check with Tech Support and get back to you."

I recently went shopping for a car. When I had pretty much made up my mind which car I wanted, I went to a dealership to check it out. I asked the salesman specific questions about the car. Things like dealer installable options, financing, what the different trim lines included, etc. Standard stuff. The guy’s answers were all either misleading or factually incorrect. 

Hey buddy, FYI, Remote Start IS an option on the Prius V. And the model I wanted DOES come with Premium Sound.

In a similar vein you've got to know your market. Why is it that a lot of restaurants offer delivery? Take-out food is an impulse purchase, and something people very often want to enjoy at home or at work. (Not to mention schools and offices, that order in groups.) The storekeepers know that if they didn't offer delivery they would lose a lot of sales. 

Or how about cell phone service providers offering free nights and weekends as a gimmick to get new customers? They know the times when most people make calls, and they're not giving those minutes away! But it's something with a high perceived value, and it doesn't hurt their bottom line. 

The examples are limitless. 

V. Resumes (and Ads) Shouldn't Be Too Long - Should They?

Old school ad-man will tell you that there's nothing wrong with long-copy ads. Since an ad (or a resume) is doing the job of promoting something, theoretically you should be able to put in as much copy as necessary to achieve that goal. 

But that's only theoretical. The reality is far different. 

Career advisors say that, nowadays, resumes should be 1-2 pages, max. 

Are there similar rules for advertising? It used to be that long-copy ads were accepted under the “right” conditions. Usually that meant big ticket items for a more educated demographic who would be more likely to read a longer ad.

Nowadays, with gnat-like attention spans the norm, it is harder to find the a venue that lends itself to such advertising. Long copy should therefore usually be reserved for more qualified types of pieces - for example, brochures or PR pieces used as follow-ups after a customer has expressed interest. Once someone has shown interest in what you’re selling, you at least have chance that they’ll give you some attention.

The other instance in which long copy may be called for is in specific instances when you’re advertising a product to a tightly defined audience. E.g., if your ad has a headline like “Do You Suffer from Gastric Reflux,” you can be pretty sure who’ll be reading it, so longer copy may be ok.

Resumes have similar issues. I’ve spoken to potential employers and sent them my “short” resume. When I mentioned that I had a longer, more detailed version, they asked to see that as well, and were happy to get it. 

In fact, now that I think of it, the only ones to ever tell me my resume was too long were the career advisors I showed it to who told me to shorten it…

Basically, to tie it up and put a ribbon on it, I would say that advertising and PR copy should always be kept as focused and concise as possible to do the job you need it to do. And that goes for your resume as well - as long as you keep it to two pages or less ;-).

I’m sure there are more parallels and similarities between selling and interviewing, and maybe I’ll explore it further in a future post.

What do you think? I’d love to hear!

Danny Kay is a marketing and advertising professional as well as a designer and photographer with over 25 years of experience. He's worked with businesses and organizations of all sizes, up to Fortune 500.
He can be reached through his website,, or at

PS - This blog is now featured on, your source for all the top stories!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Whoever Said "Never Judge a Book By Its Cover" Never Tried to Sell One

I didn't make up the title of this post. It was a favorite saying of the CEO of a publishing house at which I used to work.

It is a statement whose truth is not limited to books, but applies equally to almost every item presented for sale to the public.

We can't help it. We human beings are shallow and superficial and we tend to judge things by their outward appearances. Even really important things whose appearance has nothing whatever to do with their value or function.

So while a book's cover may seem to be of no intrinsic value, it is the first point of contact between the public and what's contained in the book. And in that respect it is extremely valuable.

A book cover, like the outside of a box of cereal or packaging for an iPhone, should give customers an idea of what to expect when they open the cover.

But it can (and perhaps should) do more than that. The book cover or product package can help shape a customer's perception of the product.

Think of it this way. An average guy is at a party and there are two unmarked shots of scotch on the tray. One is from a $200 bottle and one is from a $30 bottle. Certainly he can tell that they taste different.

But, without visual cues like bottles and labels, can he tell which is which?

In his book, Ogilvy on Advertising, David Ogilvy gives this exact example. He posits the question of whether the average person, in a blind test could determine which is the expensive liquor and which is not. His answer? “Don’t make me laugh.”

And that was from a man who made a fortune advertising premium brands like Rolls Royce, Schweppes, Hathaway, Viyella and many more.

In other words, people desire the more expensive bottle because they believe it to be better. It's irrelevant if there's any factual basis for their belief. What matters is that the perception exists. And, more than that, the conditions fostering this belief were likely manufactured by design.

There's nothing inherently 'better' or 'superior' about the more expensive bottle. It's a product whose value is completely built on a perception created by years of marketing.

You Can Fool Some of the People Some of the Time...

This doesn’t work for every product group. For some items, there’s a level of objectivity to the user experience that simply cannot be overcome with sheer marketing bluster. Samsung can trumpet its smartphones as the greatest and best, but when people compare them side by side with iPhones, Samsung’s claims become tough to back up.

And then there are areas that, on the surface, seem to be clearly objective. But because of the particular product, and the skillful marketing of interested parties, they have been thrown into the fog of public opinion.

For example, nowadays, there is a burgeoning industry in the sale of wine glasses - different types of glasses for red or white wine or champagne. Purveyors of these goods insist that wine actually tastes better when imbibed from the proper vessel. They even have all kinds of pseudoscientific explanations of why their particular glasses work to enhance the flavor. (Look for lots of references to oxygenation, tannic balance and similar phrases.)

And people who are invited to sample wines from these glasses tend to agree that, yes, they do enhance the flavor. I’ve read articles in which the authors were originally skeptics, but later were convinced that there was “something” to these glasses.

So is there, or isn’t there?

Consider the following true story from January 2007.

“A man sat at a Metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the top musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats averaged $100.”

This was part of an experiment organized by the Washington Post.

In a concert hall he attracted sell-out crowds. And yet the same talent and skill that won Mr. Bell a Grammy award and using a 3.5 million dollar Stradivarius violin, when transplanted into a Metro Station was completely ignored by the masses.

The same ‘wine,’ but the public perceived it differently because it was served in a different ‘glass.’

So getting back to the original question, does the wine taste different in a special glass? Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the wine drinking experience is enhanced with the glass. It may not really taste different, but you enjoy it more. You perceive it to be better.

And yes, people will insist that it actually tastes better, because that is how they process the enhanced experience.

In the Eye of the Beholder

As I stated above, this can be applied to many different types of products. If something is presented as upscale, it will be received that way. Dress someone in rags with scraggly hair and an unshaven face, and people will think he’s a vagabond. Put him in a Brooks Brothers suit with a nice haircut and a shave, and he could pass for a lawyer.

Similarly, you can take a snack food, put it in a 1oz snack-size bag and sell it in a vending machine for .50¢. But you can also take the same snack, wrap it in a fancy holiday “gift pack” and sell a 4oz package for $3.99 in a store like TJ Maxx or Marshalls. That’s twice the price of the vending machine version just because you changed it from a snack food into a gift. It’s all about perception.

Or here’s another example. Is a baseball game better when it’s viewed from a good seat in the park with a hot dog and a soda? You could watch it at home for a lot less money! But, as any fan knows, the experience is far better when you’re in the park.

So too with the products we are promoting, it’s all about the experience. It begins with the package (or possibly before) and continues when the product is opened and used.

And that experience can be shaped and refined to alter people’s perceptions in how they see your product and your brand.

I hope to go into this in more detail in future posts.

What do you think? I’d love to hear!

Danny Kay is a marketing and advertising professional as well as a designer and photographer with over 25 years of experience. He's worked with businesses and organizations of all sizes, up to Fortune 500.
He can be reached through his website,, or at

PS - This blog is now featured on, your source for all the top stories!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

You Can’t Make It to the Peak of Success 
If You’re Afraid of Heights
 Which of These Things is 
Not Like the Other Ones?

It’s a funny thing. In close-knit communities you’ll often find many people driving the same kind of car. It could be a Town Car, or a Taurus or an Escalade. One person gets it, then another and another.

Earlier this year I needed to buy a car. My old one was kaput, and I needed to commute to my then-job, and I simply had to have a reliable car.

In my neighborhood, everyone I knew seemed to be buying Hondas. The Honda Odyssey was THE minivan and the CRVs and Pilots were THE SUVs to get. If you wanted a regular car then it was the Civic or the Accord.

So me being, well, me, when I saw that everyone around me was getting a Honda, I decided that I absolutely positively had to get a car that was any brand other than a Honda.

Well, that’s a little too strong. I guess what I mean is, once I realized that a lot of people were buying Hondas simply because other people were buying them, I resolved not to do that.

I did a lot of research, and test drove several cars. Ultimately, I decided on a Toyota Prius V as the best choice for my needs, and I’m happy with my purchase.

But every leasing place I spoke to tried to push me into a Honda. The reasons were numerous. Honda offered the best deals. Hondas were the most reliable. Hondas held their value better. And, of course, I had only to look around me and see how many happy, smiling Honda drivers there were to see what a good choice it was.

And that last argument was all I needed to steer me in another direction. I can’t help it. When I see a large group of people doing something - particularly if it’s for no good reason - I just can’t bring myself to join in.

It also didn’t help that I spoke to people who were already a year or two into their Hondas and not only couldn’t stand them, but couldn’t remember (or wouldn’t admit) why they had gotten them in the first place.

So as I so often do, I struck out on my own and made my own decision. And from this an idea was born.

Cruise Control - Here, There, Everywhere

Something I’ve touched on before continues to astound me. I look at job postings on the various sites - LinkedIn, Monster, etc - and also some higher end executive recruiting sites. The same companies always seem to be searching for the same positions. How is this possible? In recent memory there has never been such a huge glut of talented yet unemployed people? Companies should be able to fill literally any staffing needs in a matter of weeks, if not days! Yet clearly this isn’t the case.

As I’ve said before, at a time when they should be in the position to get the very best people, many employers are making little practical effort to do so. 

I believe there are a few reasons. First is simply overworked HR departments. They are so inundated with applicants that finding faster and easier ways of plowing through the piles of resumes takes precedence over the caliber of hires.

Second, there is a lack of vision in how employers search for workers. Writing poetic, esoteric job descriptions, or descriptions so crammed with requirements that a 20 year veteran wouldn’t qualify for the position doesn’t help anyone.

Some years ago, I needed to recruit staff for the art department at the company in which I was Creative Director. What I DID NOT do was make a “wish list” demanding years of experience in multiple disciplines and expertise in an alphabet soup of software programs, along with a BFA (Masters preferred). What I DID do was draft a straightforward list of practical skills that I wanted candidates to have, along with the responsibilities they would have to fill. Within a couple of weeks I found a fantastic guy.

The difference is I wasn’t looking to impress anyone. I didn’t care whether the candidate had a BFA because in my experience that credential hadn’t made other workers any better at their jobs. I focused on the person - how he presented himself and his work; how he related to me and to the company, and what benefits we could realize by adding his skills to our team. 

I looked at how “everyone else” was doing it, and chose a different path - just as with my car. And just as with cars, the problem in many companies, and with many individuals, is that they look at what everyone else is driving - er, doing, and then they just, well, go along for the ride. 
In fact you find this everywhere, in every department in every industry. Employees, either from apathy or insecurity simply look at what “everyone else” does and so things stumble along on cruise control.

And those Hondas keep driving on.

Do It the Same… But Different

My point in all this is that you’ll never find real success or happiness by following someone else. I’ve seen businesses try it - mimicking the strategies and tactics of larger more successful competitors. And all it made them were pale shadows of the originals. The only real success they had was when they had the courage to differentiate themselves and stand out from the pack.

And, likewise, employers need to show some vision and forethought to seek out exceptional people. Don’t be afraid of being different! Don’t back away from hiring someone who is incredibly creative and innovative just because he or she doesn’t fit the “mold.”

People with talent, imagination, vision and passion should’t be passed over, held back, or brushed off just because it’s what everyone else does. 

Take a stand. Get that Prius.

What do you think? I’d love to hear!

Danny Kay is a marketing and advertising professional as well as a designer and photographer with over 25 years of experience. He's worked with businesses and organizations of all sizes, up to Fortune 500.
He can be reached through his website,, or at

PS - This blog is now featured on, your source for all the top stories!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

7 Red Chairs
What Most People Wish They Knew About Vision, Imagination and Success 

There’s a lot to be said for mediocrity. Lots of companies make lots of money by catering to the broadest possible group of people. Think Walmart or Costco. They spend big money figuring out what the average customer wants and needs, and they make sure they have lots of it in stock.

But in that business model there’s an inherent flaw. When you base your business decisions on statistics, there will always be people - often lots of people - left out.   

For example, I have a large family so I sometimes shop at Costco. They happen to sell a certain shirt which I like. I’m a big tall guy and I wear the largest size they make. But I can almost never find shirts in that size. I used to think there must be lots of people my size buying up all the big shirts, since they had plenty of smaller ones. 

Then one day I happened to notice one of the shipping cases that the shirts come in. Right there, printed on the box, were the quantities of each size that were included in the shipment. The closer a size was to “average,” the more shirts of that size were shipped in each case. So how many of my size (18-36) were in every case? Only one. And I can tell you that I’ve met a number of people at Costco hunting around for larger sizes just like me. 

In some office somewhere the bean counters at Costco have gotten so inexorably bound to their statistics that the actual reality on the ground is irrelevant. The fact that there are piles of unsold “average” size shirts, and untold numbers of larger size customers who can’t find shirts in their sizes is simply ignored. They look at what size the average American is, and sell shirts to fit that person.

They’ve become slaves to mediocrity.

Sorry, Elvis Has Left the Building

Ever since the economy crashed, the job market has been horrible. And these days, more than ever, the power is in the hands of the employers. But have you ever looked at the job descriptions they put out? With an unprecedented amount of power in their hands, you’d honestly think they would look to hire only the very best candidates for every position. Instead, HR departments are looking more and more to automate their procedures - using OCR scanning to search out keywords, and other high-tech tricks to winnow down the big piles of applicants. They pile on silly and irrelevant requirements which are no help whatsoever in finding qualified people. It’s simply a means for the HR people to raise the barrier of entry and to cover themselves. 

A Masters Degree needed for what is basically an entry level job? A BFA to become a low level graphic designer? An MBA required for a sales and marketing position? I’ve seen job postings with all of these requirements. Sure they sound reasonable if you don’t know much about the jobs themselves. These companies claim they want “rock star” employees but their rigid bureaucracies only allow them to find and retain people with the most bland backgrounds and tepid abilities. 

They can’t look at individuals, and so at a time when they should have the greatest choice and therefore the greatest success at finding good people, the exact opposite is true. The process has become more dehumanized, and candidates are not judged on their own skills, personalities or achievements but rather what they can feed into an OCR system or an overworked HR recruiter who is more interested in finding people that will draw the least amount of attention, than with finding truly outstanding talent. 

As much as they say they want the exceptional, they can’t rise above the mediocre.

He Who Laughs Last

Some of the greatest products, businesses and services in the modern era were scoffed at for being silly and impractical. Fred Smith, the founder of Fedex, famously wrote a paper in college in which he outlined his concept for what would one day become Federal Express. The professor gave him a C, criticizing him for coming up with something so impractical.

Steve Jobs was kicked out of his own company for being too brash, dynamic and forward thinking by the dusty old fellows on the Apple board.

Over a century ago, there was a company that came up with a new formula for soap. Can you think of anything more mundane then soap? But they had something which they though was unique. They had developed a formula made from two tropical plants, which they found had truly unique cleansing properties. They met with a number of advertising professionals who discouraged them, telling them things like the product was not marketable, they didn’t have enough capital, there were already enough brands of soap, and so on. 

At the end of their rope, they met with a new ad agency that had a very creative team, and who felt there was some promise here. They did a test promotion in a small town called Benton Harbor, MI, which was a great success. That led to further promotions and then to a nationwide rollout, the success of which is still being felt to this day. The soap that was made of the oil from two tropical plants - the palm and the olive - Palmolive - and almost wasn’t, because most people - even most professionals - couldn’t see beyond the mediocre.

7 Red Chairs

So what’s the deal with the 7 Red Chairs?

It’s a well known fact that if you ask a bunch of people to choose a number from 1 to 10, most of them will say 7. If asked to name a color, the majority of people will say red. Likewise, if they are asked to name a piece of furniture, most people say a chair. Hence, “7 Red Chairs.”

It’s my personal metaphor for the ultimate in mediocrity. 

Except that it’s not. When viewed by themselves, 7 red chairs are unique; something that attract attention, and not at all mediocre.

The point is that by looking at common elements among people -  common ideas, common tastes, common feelings, common needs - it is possible to come up with ideas that are fresh, different and new.

But you have to be open to these ideas and ready for them when they come.

What do you think? I’d love to hear!

Danny Kay is a marketing and advertising professional as well as a designer and photographer with over 25 years of experience. He's worked with businesses and organizations of all sizes, up to Fortune 500.
He can be reached through his website,, or at

PS - This blog is now featured on, your source for all the top stories!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Secret Ingredient 
Every Good Ad Must Have
Everything I Need to Know 
I Learned From My 2 Year Old

I was running an errand one day, and I had my very active 2-year-old daughter Miri strapped into her car seat keeping me company. I flipped to the classical music station (really!) and turned up the volume, hoping the soothing tones would keep her quiet. 

“What’s that music?” she asked. 

“It’s some nice music for you to listen to,” I answered.

“But what is it?” she persisted.

“Just nice music, sweetie. Why don’t you quiet down and listen.”

We went through a few more rounds before I zoned out, letting the lilting melodies carry me away from that perky, demanding little voice. And I distinctly remember thinking how silly it was to think that a 2-year-old could actually relate in any way to this beautiful sophisticated music.

All of a sudden, Miri’s voice broke into my thoughts. “It’s ‘Twinkle Twinkle!”’


“Twinkle Twinkle!”

I directed my attention back to the radio and, sure enough, it was playing “Twinkle Twinkle.” Well actually, it was playing a piece by Mozart, “Ah, vous dirai-je, maman,” also known as, “Variations on Twinkle Twinkle.”

I burst out laughing. Here I was, the big sophisticate. I had thought this music so far above the level of my young daughter, and yet within a couple of minutes she was able to find something in it to relate to. They were playing her song!
The fact that it was a piece by a great composer was irrelevant. All the subtleties and nuances and harmonies of the variations went right over her head but it didn’t matter. She only had ears for “Twinkle Twinkle.”

The Secret

Although it took me a while to realize it, I learned a powerful lesson that day. No matter what you’re promoting, you absolutely, positively have to find a way to make it interesting and engaging to your audience.

You may think that’s not possible, but if my daughter Miri could find something to appreciate about classical music, you can find something interesting and engaging about whatever you’re selling.

“But,” you’ll argue, “she wasn’t really interested in classical music. She thought it was kiddie music!”

I say it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to capture people’s interest and get them to let you in to tell your story. I’m not saying to misrepresent what your product is or does. But use some kind of storytelling device to peak people’s interest and draw them into your little artificial world where you can let them know how much their lives would be enriched with your product or service.

It does’t need to be complicated. In fact it’s usually better if it’s not. I once created some ads for a company that sold ready-to-bake muffins. The batter came in a tray, and you just had to pop it in the oven to get fresh baked muffins. One version of the ad had a fresh hot muffin next to a cup of coffee. The headline read, “Mmmmmmmmm.”

It was a great ad with a simple message. Fresh muffins + hot coffee = delicious! The campaign was a terrific success. Stores could not stock the product quickly enough to supply the demand.

Of course not everything is as easy to sell as a muffin. But as I’ve said in other posts, you’re not just selling a product you’re selling a feeling

Give me almost any product or service, and I’ll find an emotional hook. 

Here are some examples of products and the emotions and ideas associated with them that could be used to write effective advertising.

Home alarm system - security, fear, wife, children, possessions, physical safety

Car - comfort, style, envy, technology, eco-friendly

Makeup - vanity, desire to look beautiful and attractive, if there’s a celebrity sponsor then a desire to look like or be like the celebrity, if the product solves a specific problem (dry skin) then it will attract people with that problem

Food or other consumables - Usually presented in way to make you want to eat it. But even more, to make the viewer identity with or even want to be the person in the ad doing the eating (Think Marlboro Man)

Health Care - Product will solve a problem, improve quality of living, make people happier

I could keep going, but I think you get the idea.

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Advertising needs to reach your audience in a specific way. But truthfully every communication - every ad, every PR piece, every interaction - between you and your customers has got to reach them in some real and meaningful way. They need to relate to it and feel that your brand or product is relevant to them personally - that there is somehow a two-way relationship between you. Companies like Apple, Disney and Nordstroms are all known for just this sort of branding and relationship building.

I once brought my Apple laptop into one of their stores for a non-warranty repair. I wound up having to wait at the Genius Bar longer that is considered normal, so they did the repair for free. In other words, I was treated like I mattered. And I’ve had other similar experiences with Apple in the past.

To explore Apple a little further, the entire Apple Store experience from the moment a customer crosses the threshold is crafted to bolster positive feelings and proactively manage customers’ expectations, so no one is left feeling slighted. Employees are instructed in how frequently they need to interact with customers - even if only to let them know they haven’t been forgotten - to reset people’s mental clocks so they don’t feel as if they’ve been kept waiting for too long a time. Laptops are displayed with the screens at an angle that requires customers to adjust them in order to try them out. That makes people put their hands on the products, which increases sales. And there are many more tricks of the trade employed to engage and involve customers. It’s no wonder that Apple Stores are among the most profitable per square foot of any retail stores in the world.

Even something as mundane as purchasing a product and opening the package can be transformed from a meaningless “rip the box open” moment to a significant point of contact between you and your customer. With proper design and planning it can become an “unboxing” experience that introduces people to your product and your brand and creates a bond that can ultimately lead to positive feelings and tremendous loyalty.

I’ll end with one last example. I worked on packaging for a product a while ago. It was a teddy bear with Bluetooth speakers built into it. How do you advertise something like that? By trumpeting which version of Bluetooth it uses? How loud the speakers get? Maybe how long it will last on a single battery charge? I humbly suggest that if you use a strategy like that, you won’t sell very many pieces. You need to sell it with love. Show a kid playing with it. hugging it, dancing with it while it plays favorite tunes. It’s the feeling that will sell, not the features.

What do you think? I’d love to hear!

Danny Kay is a marketing and advertising professional as well as a designer and photographer with over 25 years of experience. He's worked with businesses and organizations of all sizes, up to Fortune 500.
He can be reached through his website,, or at

PS - This blog is now featured on, your source for all the top stories!