A Few Lessons Learned From Hard-Fought Advertising Battles


You can deliver on a “drive sales” mandate and still build a brand.

It's 2001, the dot-com bubble's bursting, the telecom industry's dying and I get to lead the team that's charged with repositioning AT&T as an e-business enabler. Our branding wins awards, the calls-to-action produce 40,000 leads and 300 enterprise sales. And yes, bandwidth allocation and virtual private networks can be human and funny. 


It's not the keywords, it's how you use them.

A while back I challenged a young writer to create an inside joke. Something that would poke fun of a businessperson's lack of understanding for what software developers do, but in a way that would be funny to them and no one else. • He said, "Why are we looking for a C+ programmer, can't we at least find a B-?" • I said, "Great, use it." • He said, we can't use it, it's Scott Adams, it's famous. I told him we had to do  something just as funny and he said, "How can we be as funny as Scott Adams." If I were a chop buster, I would have said, "that's your job." Instead, I gave him a more boring direction to cover and an hour later showed him, "Why does he need a function to return a handle? We're not in the hardware business." Client bought a different concept, or that would be here. Instead, I show this banner which I only approved as a creative director. When you elevate a buzzword to an inside joke , you tell them the audience that you "get it." In this case, high-level solutions architects got it to the tune of hundreds of new subscriptions.


Personalization is about needs, not names

Here’s my secret to  driving better results in any project or media. Don’t assume relevance. Focus on it. Tell the person who’s seeing or getting your message why it’s relevant. Sometimes the outcome is a clever little teaser like this (which successfully sold  auto mini-leases). And sometimes it’s 31.2% more leads from only a 4.8% increase in media buy.


Sell to the heart, not just the head.

Okay, so I date myself. But except for the most anal among us, we’ve all been here; the only difference between a shoebox and a hard drive is form. So many calls came into this storefront insurance and investment brokerage, they nearly doubled in size.


If you have nothing to say, say it well.

The trade press had already covered products from vaporware to beta. Our brief simply told us to announce that the products were ready. (Yes, we had to use that word.) So the products became members of the band Ready and live demos became stops on “Launch Tour.” The campaign ultimately rolled out into 95 countries and 200,000 “fans” showed up.


If you have something to say, say it.

On those occasions when I’m asked to speak at direct marketing classes, I bring this old postcard. I’m told it outperformed high-impact mailings (thick mailings with premiums), lifted response rates by 20% and knocked three months off the sales cycle. Sometimes, you just have to find the right message and get out of its way.