Why Not a Billboard?

Why Not a Billboard Environmental Interactive Advertising title

The eyesore to the American country side and cityscapes everywhere. If it wasn’t for good art directors, they may cease to exist. When they’re such an expensive, immeasurable form of advertising for most brands, and with limited verbiage (Ogilvy’s recommended words: 5), why would somebody want to use a billboard? Typically for two reasons: direct response (Cracker Barrel’s “14 meals under $7.99 – NEXT EXIT” ads) or to create brand awareness through the mere exposure effect (Ex – You pass the same ATT ad every day on the way to work). Brand awareness works because familiarity leads to purchases.

So why not a billboard?

For one, billboards are expensive. Depending on the city, they cost tens of thousands of dollars a month to make and keep around. For your brand paying that much money and only getting to say “Hey, we’re here. We exist,” and nothing more, it feels there are better options that can provide more value than a quick laugh or another impression to support that mere exposure effect. Why can’t you create exposure to a brand that solves a problem?

Just because a billboard exists doesn’t mean that’s how to say you exist in the physical world. There are a million places in the world to place your brand, and in today’s participation age, to interact with it. You can’t interact with a thin, stagnant rectangle. That is, unless it’s a digital screen equipped with retina sensors and GPS locators in the form of one big Eye of Sauron… In Leo Burnett’s “HumanKind,” their goal is to integrate advertising into the world’s social fabric. With mobile phones & technology advances, you see agencies like Manifest Digital and others popping up to create apps that are incorporated into audience’s lifestyles. Meanwhile, billboards just sit there with jealousy. These mobile apps and particicpatory ads have a new purpose. A purpose beyond saying “Hey, look at me and what I have to say.” Participatory ads say something more like “Oh, what are you up to? Let me help you with that.”

This audience participation leads you to remembering that interaction, because people learn most and retain information best by doing. This leads to taking ownership of the brand, and hopefully ends up with the person becoming the ultimate goal of advertising: a brand advocate who lives their life in accordance with the brand’s purpose and identity.

In February, I helped a Wabash advertising mentor with an advertising overview for students. I spoke about online advertising, but it was my brother Nic’s take on media planning that stuck with me. In his talk on media planning, he addressed the knock that only people in the creative advertising agencies are creative, and that media buyers aren’t creative. He said with all the places you can put media today, that’s simply not true. And I totally agree. Really, the media placement sets the stage for the creative message if the media’s bought first. Which is why, after speaking with a big agency media planner, that media planners are now at the same table as the creative agencies during the planning process. There’s simply too many places you can put an ad for a copywriter and art director to make a well-informed decision for the client. Shoot, Adweek even put up a video from media leader Monica Karo talking about it this week after I wrote this post!

Monica Karo Adweek Interview

Monica touches on the fact that media agencies are beginning to be involved earlier in the creative ideation process due to ever expanding media options.

So for today’s media planners, the times are certainly more exciting. Sure, they can go with the standard billboard and get their name out there to a mass amount of people. But they’ll risk being ignored because like online display ads, billboards are in a specific, reiterated shape and location that we’ve been trained to ignore. Their value is minimal, the ad is just an ad, not a solution. On the other hand, an environmental, experiential ad provides value by solving audience problems that create not just consumers, but brand advocates. Yes, these ads, like IBM’s environmental bench ads below, create product awareness. But these ads “convey a product truth in an engaging, entertaining way,” one of Leo Burnett’s main goals in the path to HumanKind acts. If you do that, the product and brand get remembered, and the ad viewer/user is helped at that viewing-moment. Everybody wins.

IBM Chair Ad

IBM shelter ad

IBM ramp ad

Now, I’m not saying you need to turn a billboard into a giant water generation system (if you can, do it),


but there’s simply better ways to use ad dollars.

HumanKind says that “If communication is trying to change human behavior, the communication itself needs to be located within that behavior.” Screw the billboard. Find a different shape.

Branded Experiences: An Introduction

A coffee can of post-its sits on my desk, and it fills as fast as my current can empties. To be creative, one must listen. Lines at the bar, young lads on the dance floor getting shot down like fighter planes and taking back off again for a shot at another target. It wasn’t their fault; the dance floor was too large, and the ladies felt isolated and out of their comfort-zone. The environment was not conducive to that physical contact and close-conversation intimacy for the guys to last longer than a few lines of small talk.

When asked at a leadership conference how best to lead productive conversation, one college senior said ‘smaller tables.’ “He gets it,” I thought. Not that I get it. Not all of it, anyway. But smaller tables create more intimate conversations and a feeling of togetherness. Baristas and bartenders face their customers during their mixology at every chance they get in hopes to foster a relationship, a “customer experience.” A similar effect can be found in the mood of a meeting can be determined not by its content, but by whether the constituents sit side by side or across from each other. We share coffee across small tables, yet we eat meals across tables that feel like the Grand Canyon. Who knew six inches could be the difference between your conversation’s life and death?

We share beers side by side while sitting at the bar. Maybe that’s why drinkers make friends at bars so quick. Maybe.

I think we can all be a listener of sound, of structure, of human interaction if we choose to. Why not turn what you hear to solve problems. The sole purpose of a brand, of business, is to solve a problem. To provide a solution. How you solve the problem is the fun part.

The problem I think most brands have is most of them stop solving their customers’ problems after the first problem is solved. They create a product that solves a problem, the problem, and they stop. But these same customers continue to have problems. They wake up and their jeans don’t fit. They get stuck in traffic. They get dumped. They get lonely. They feel useless, they feel the same as everyone else, they feel left out. They die. And they fear dying.

So why stop with just creating a windshield wiper that cleans the windshield when there’s road rage, unforgiving parking meters, and inconveniencing weather? Why stop inside a gym’s four walls when there’s twenty times more people wasting away outside them? Why stop with bike locks when there’s nowhere for cyclists to stash all their stuff before a night on the town? And why stop with jackets and gloves when people still freeze their faces off outside?

Branded experiences can reiterate the feeling you receive from using a brand’s product more times than when the product is used. A Thule bike lock gives the parked rider peace of mind. So does a bike pod storage bin. Not only is it additional brand recognition, but that brand helped their target audience in an additional way. The brand did them a favor. And usually, people return favors.

Especially ever-green favors. I understand event-marketing. Sometimes I love it. The Indy 500, the Final Four convention center, the Budweiser Made In America Tour, the Outside Lands concert festival booths all were a blast and I willingly participated in their experience (I can’t say some of it wasn’t for research, but they were worth it). But while the memories remain, most of those five and six figure experiences last a few days, and they provide sometimes a much needed form of excitement. I think brands need to create experiences with a longer lifespan that are woven into society. Similar to Leo Burnett’s community art museum or the Duracell bus stop. Longer lasting, more meaningful branded experiences that solve an audience & community problem.

In the days of social media and digital interaction, we crave physical communication. Branded experiences offer the opportunity to create grounds for human-to-human connection. They address those psychological needs like fitting in and being appreciated for who you are. And with enough experiences, they create a snowball effect that eventually births social change.

Trying to Be Someone You Might Not Be: Jim Beam

Jim Beam’s been around two centuries, huh? When celebrity endorsements have graced the marketing industry 50 years or more, it’s surprising Beam chose Mila Kunis as their brand ambassador. Long term ambassador at that.

Ambassadors have long been successful ways for your audience to aspirationally connect with your product, when the celebrity’s personality aligns with the brand and its audience. You can imagine how that might get tricky. But David Ogilvy supported celeb endorsements in the ‘50’s, saying “Testimonials from celebrities get remarkably high readership… The better known the celebrity, the more readers you will attract.”

Kunis is well known, and she’s “liked as much by guys as girls,” claims Chief Marketing Officer Kevin George in a recent Ad Age article. Can you please elaborate on that? I’m pretty sure the reasons guys like her and girls like her don’t line up.

I will argue that men don’t aspire to be Mila on an every day basis. Ogilvy also said “people take more interest in movie stars with whom they can identify” and “men don’t like the same kind of girls that girls like.” Perhaps the strategy for the $13-a-fifth brand found that Kunis’s recent movie roles and demeanor are attractive to men and women. Maybe Kunis is the kind of girl that guys like, and some girls like her too. The ad does mention fashion and staying true to who you are, which I can see both men and women relating to.

All these feelings derive from the fact that the strategy is after men, of course. If Jim Beam wants to use Kunis to win more of the female whiskey audience, that’s great. But the second you turn feminine on a historically masculine product, I feel they’ll lose male marketshare. And maybe Jim Beam is okay with that. Maybe they’ve been losing male marketshare for awhile now. I need more numbers.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the “long-term partnership” and how it develops as Mila’s character identities continue. Will they bring in a guy to repair the damage if it fails? Or will they just let it fail straight into the ground? Or, will it succeed?

All I know is that I still identified with Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, despite Mila’s more attractive laid back, sensitive, tough girl attitude compared to an immature Segel with his life being in all sorts of shambles. And I definitely will drink whatever Frank Sinatra drank over a current day actress, or probably any other celebrity for that matter… as long as I can afford the $150 price tag.

Mila Kunis Jim Beam Make History Ad

Mila Kunis my Jim Beam rep? Not quite feelin’ it.

Sidenote: Frank Sinatra edges Mila Kunis in the PPC ad battle. Kind of helps to have your own line of whiskey products to make Product Listing Ads. Keep an eye out for more PPC ads driving queries to branded media pages. Sometimes a brand struggles to beat the ad and news websites to the top of the white space (organic) listings, and the brands have to pay for the ad in order to be seen.

jim beam mila kunis serp Frank Sinatra Jack Daniels Serp

Image source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNAmT9ZPqOE


Ogilvy, David. “Confessions of an Advertising Man.” London: Southbank, 2004. Print.

Predictably Irrational: Why People Do What They Do

Predictably Irrational Summary Notes Print

The first book recommended to me by an advertising mentor was “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” by Dan Ariely. Ariely’s backstory is incredibly interesting and worth researching, but it’s best to know he’s become a keen observer of people’s behavior and has written several books covering his experiments. Within a year after listening to this book during bike commutes to work, it’s arisen in numerous conversations and has given reason to why I and others behave the way they do.

Yes, these tactics can be used in advertising, but they can also be used by the consumer. For example, if you understand the concept of the anchor and how your first experience with a product (ex. – your first car) becomes your measuring stick for the next product, you won’t settle for anything less than your first car. Following your second purchase, you’ll then want an equivalent or better car, and so on. Thus, it’s important to remember the reason you made your first decision. If that was three cars ago and you’re now with a newer, nicer car, chances are your standards have changed even though you claim you’re the same person deep down inside. Each point can help you understand why you’re about to make a decision, and perhaps help you reconsider if the motive behind your choice is why you truly want what you do.

Many of these concepts should be familiar: Fear of Loss, Sex Appeal, The Price of Free, and perhaps a few more. One fascinating point about the price of free is that people are more willing to do something for free when the effort is exchanged for something related to social norms and cannot be defined by monetary value. For example, your friend says he’ll help you paint your house if you help him move this weekend. The answer is most likely yes. But if the friend says he’ll give you pizza and beer for helping him move, you then associate the pizza & beer with a cost of $20. Compared to a the salary of a moving company, $20 for a day’s work leaves a sour taste in your mouth and leaves your friend to find another mover. To make things even more interesting, a friend is more likely to help by treating it as a goodwill / friendship deed than offering to pay them less than a) what they make at work or b) what movers make, which would be their anchors.

I could go on about the others, but the one that’s changed me the most is the point about perception. I’ve thought that if something’s overly described as positive, it will end in letdown because it did not live up to the hype. And that may be true when taken to the extreme. But when you continuously focus on the positives and what’s going to be great about something, you convince yourself to make it great. Based on a get-together or two throughout the year, I can attest that this notion does indeed work.

Predictably Irrational Summary Notes

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How to Get Smarter: Tips to Increase Your Intelligence

Man, it’s been awhile since July, hasn’t it.

Anyways, this link was passed around in Moz’s Top 10 Links of the Week, and it was a pretty enjoyable read. I really enjoyed learning the science behind building your brain power, and have often wondered if you’re born with a high IQ or if it can be developed and improved, much like athleticism. I summed up my notes & printed it off for myself and thought the internet might like one as well.

So internet, here you are.

how to get smarter tips

Notes from an article by Andrea Kuszewski on the Scientific American blog. Click to print!

source: “You can increase your intelligence: 5 ways to maximize your cognitive potential.” Andrea Kuszewski, March 2011 http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2011/03/07/you-can-increase-your-intelligence-5-ways-to-maximize-your-cognitive-potential/