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Larry Tate, Meet Terry Tate

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After an afternoon in the sun yesterday, the Summit’s attendees from northern climes actually have a bit of color. That dose of Vitamin D, a little partying and the warm weather did wonders for invigorating the conversations and clashes.


Today started with two looks back. The first was my fond stumble down memory lane, looking at my favorite brands from the last 46 years. I’ll turn that one into a column, but suffice to say that Osborne computers, Swisher Sweets and a 2-year-old with Elmo all get laughs.


Doug Weaver, president, Upstream Group, took us back again by hailing Darrin Stevens and “Bewitched” as the vision many of us held and pursued when we started down advertising lane. But we got a quick reality check after he introduced Joe Cappo, author of “The Future of Advertising: New Media, New Clients, New Consumers in the Post-Television Age.”


My synopsis of the book and Cappo’s brilliant wisdom: The agency biz may not be dead yet, but it’s sure starting to smell that way. I don’t know if it’s just resting or not (if you missed that, rent some “Monty Python” DVDs), but if it is, somebody had better wake it up soon.


So what happened to the agency business? “Its food source was cut off,” Cappo said, referring to the old model in which agencies simply took a 15 percent cut of media they placed. In the 1920s, agencies were simply agents of the media and didn’t charge for creative and other services.


Enter media buying specialists in the 1980s. They offered marketers drastically reduced commissions—two to three percent—which forced agencies to begin charging for other things. That was the beginning of the end of the agency as Larry and Darrin knew it.


“What had allowed the agencies to be a marketing partner with their clients just evaporated,” Cappo said. And like any good earthquake, that had some serious aftershocks. It drove agencies into holding companies, such as Omnicom, which bought 180 small companies in one recent year. These conglomerates snapped up sales promotion agencies, direct marketing firms, creative boutiques, and more.


You’d think it would be a good thing to have all that firepower in one army. It would be if the groups actually talked to each other and created a united campaign for the client. But, Cappo said, “They have failed to integrate those things… It’s an orchestra of instruments playing their own tunes without a conductor.”


That has created what Weaver called a “strategy vacuum.” No one at a high level in any of these advertising colossi is creating a unified strategy that every bee in the hive can work from, so clients are conveying too many mixed messages. Why don’t clients create their own strategies? “They’re just as siloed as the agencies,” Cappo said.


Although the agencies might wake up in time to save themselves, he believes it’s more likely that the big management consulting firms will step into the strategy vacuum and pull things together. Accenture already is doing just that, and others are following. Cappo jokingly (maybe only half-jokingly) suggested that Omnicom should just buy Accenture.


He had plenty more to say on a variety of topics, including the death of the “big idea,” why he thinks TV needs an Osama bin Laden rather than a Boris Yeltsin (trust me, that’s really funny when you hear the context), what the Web is really best at (it’s not advertising), and what he means by the “new” consumer.


I’ll explain all that for you on Monday. If you can’t wait, go get the book. Otherwise, stay tuned.


“I don’t even know why we did it, in hindsight.”


That comment got a huge laugh for Micky Pant. Reebok’s outgoing chief marketing officer (he’s just announced that he’s going out on his own, so if I were his potential competition, I’d be very afraid—Pant is brilliant, charming, self-effacing, effective and should have no problem filling his plate quickly). He was talking about Terry Tate: Office Linebacker and pop-culture icon.


As you read yesterday in Dawn Anfuso’s interview with Pant, the whole Terry Tate thing was a racehorse that ran off on its own. Pant was just smart enough to know how to handle the reins after it left the starting gate. 


As you know, the Tate films are only available on the Internet, but were introduced with one 60-second spot during last year’s Super Bowl. That spot has never aired again, although people tell Pant they’ve seen it dozens of times.


Tate is such an Internet success that Reebok was able to grab more than one million downloads of Tate’s new adventure with a sensitivity trainer in six days after the Super Bowl—but not by advertising during the game. They did it by pulling out of the Super Bowl entirely this year, running teasers on MTV and sending emails to registered fans (I’m one). And that’s on top of more than 21 million downloads from the first four films.


On Monday, I’ll share the four things Pant loves about the Internet, one he doesn’t, and what he believes is TV’s big problem.


And a few of my favorite quotes before I head back to the party, er, meetings…


“I’ve been around dead bodies…if C.S.I. had smell-a-vision , you’d never watch it again!”
--Joe Cappo on TV’s love for “tawdry” programming


“You don’t have to carry it around like a newspaper.”
--OPA study participant on why she prefers the Internet to print


“Advertising doesn’t persuade. Consumers persuade themselves and each other.”
Marketing consultant Neil Perry on lessons learned during 23 years at McDonalds


“In that 30 seconds of a desperate plea for attention, things get said and done that are simply ridiculous.”
--Micky Pant on the dearth of creativity in TV spots


See you on Monday!

Be accessible
There's something inescapably cool about regular people asking the CEO of Ford Motor Company questions on the internet. But if the conversation were in a Ford-sponsored chatroom or run through a traditional online publisher, a lot of people would likely doubt the veracity of the event, speculating that Ford had somehow made certain that all questions were pre-approved. But when Ford CEO Alan Mulally jumped on the company's Twitter account, Ford followers got genuine access to a man in a position to answer their questions about the brand, says Scott Monty, who oversees the car company's Twitter profile, which spreads across several accounts.


When asked about the best thing that has come from Ford's numerous Twitter accounts, Monty cited access above all else.


"People have seen that they have direct access to executives within Ford," Monty explains. "[When] I asked Alan Mulally to take some questions on Twitter during a media day, he happily participated and answered five questions in quick succession. People were thrilled that they got to have direct access to the CEO and were impressed with his candid answers."


One of those people was Jessica Gottlieb, a Los Angeles woman, who says she now thinks more of the brand because she's been able to hear from the company's executives directly. And while Gottlieb may not run out and buy a Ford car tomorrow, she says she will look at Ford (something she hasn't done for past purchases) because both Mulally and Monty took the time to engage on behalf of the brand.


Talk, listen, or both?
Ecommerce retailer Zappos has reached legendary proportions on Twitter. But for Zappos, it's not about tweeting a branded message endlessly. In fact, more often than not, it's about hearing what hundreds of thousands of people have to say about the brand.  


Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, one of the first major CEOs to tweet, is noted for engaging with followers, but Brian Kalma, who manages the day-to-day Twitter activities for the company, says customer feedback has been the No. 1 benefit for the brand.


"[Twitter has] become a massive feedback mechanism where we can hear peoples' thoughts on site improvements, what we are doing well, what we are not doing well enough," Kalma says. "We can aggregate the feedback and turn it into actionable items for improvements."


Kalma cautions, however, that feedback is only the result of genuine engagement, because if the brand can't have a real conversation with its followers, the followers aren't likely to tell the brand what they think. 


Of course, what people think might not always be positive. Take this recent example from TDS Telecommunications, which used Twitter to address a serious service outage.


When a TDS phone exchange went down in Milwaukee, Wis., the company used its Twitter account to update customers on the situation.



According to DeAnne Boegli, national public relations manager for TDS, the outage may not have pleased customers, but they "loved" the company's response, which garnered the brand 100 additional followers the next day.


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But don't be so serious all the time
But where some interactions are serious, others trend toward silly.


Consider Dunkn' Dave, who helms the Dunkin' Donuts Twitter account.


While a donut outage may be cause for alarm (especially in the Northeast), that eventuality (thankfully) has yet to occur. So what does Dunkn' Dave tweet about with the company's 10,000 followers?


Donuts. It's just that simple.


"[Using Twitter] we've found what we've always known to be true: our customers are extremely passionate about the brand and love Dunkin' Donuts," says Michelle King, director of global public relations for Dunkin' Brands. "We love the real-time feedback. Recently, Dunkin' Dave, sent out a tweet asking our followers about their favorite donuts. We got a lot of responses, and watching them flood in was exciting. When Dave has some time, he's going to sort through the answers and announce Twitter's favorite Dunkin' Donut."


While that announcement will likely boost sales, that's not the real point of the account. King says the primary goal of the account is to acknowledge the customers for their contribution to the brand.


For DEI Worldwide, the agency that handles Kraft's Twitter initiatives for its Philadelphia Cream Cheese, the customer's passion for the brand is critical, but equally important is the fact that the brand is able to engage the customer on their own terms.


According to Tyler Starrine, VP of campaign development at DEI Worldwide, Kraft's presence on Twitter serves a multitude of functions, from advertising, to customer service, to PR. But at their core, each function is about letting people connect to the brand, and each other, through a network that is essentially for, and promulgated by, people who love cream cheese.


Of course, with donuts and cream cheese, it's kind of hard to have a dissatisfied customer, which is why brands like Texas Instruments are using Twitter to give customers an extra level of support that wouldn't be possible through a standard call center.


According to a company spokeswoman, Texas Instruments has begun letting various members of its engineering team field questions from the general public via Twitter, and in many cases, that has led to product support from people who actually designed the device in question.



The result has been a kind of two-way street. For customers using Texas Instruments' more complicated products, the customer service has been greatly improved. But for the company’s engineering team, Twitter exchanges have led to insights into how people use the products they make.

Be helpful
If there's a common denominator to any successful brand profile on Twitter it's this: helpfulness. While helpfulness can take on different forms, the key component is answering specific questions or concerns posed by the larger community about your brand.


That's something that Jennifer Cisney, Kodak's chief blogger, does everyday. According to Cisney, each day of twittering features the usual dose of disseminating cool photography sites, highlighting interesting pictures online (hopefully shot on Kodak equipment), and talking generally about photography. But it's that last one, talking, that Cisney sees as the most important, because she's doubtless being followed by avid photographers (professional and amateur) and all of them love to talk shop.
 


For Cisney, that passion is an opening that allows her to position Kodak's brand into conversations about photography at a time when the industry is changing so quickly because of digital cameras.


"It amazes me that I am in contact everyday with people that use, or are curious about, our products," Cisney explains. "One huge example is the conversation about the Kodak Zi6 HD Video camera that occurs on Twitter. So many people were asking the Twitterverse questions about the Zi6, and I am able to give them the lowdown. I have lost count how many people decided to go with the Zi6 after that."


But that wasn't a sale pitch, Cisney says. In fact, she doesn't advise any brand to tweet in a sale-oriented way. Instead, Cisney says, "Be real and be yourself. Just write like you would talk with a next-door neighbor. You don't want to be pushy or salesy. Be helpful and honest. That's the best policy."


So does that make Twitter the ultimate conversational marketing tool? Perhaps. But like any tool, it's only as good as the user, and the brands that are making the most out of Twitter are the ones that have designated a person or team to engage with users in a casual and frank way. That's what makes the conversation happen.




Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.

I'm iMediaConnection's content guy. My stellar team compiles, edits and writes all of the editorial content you see on our site.  Best part of the gig is getting to work with all you fine folks, and commenting on the wacky world of brand...

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