Zeus Jones believes brands are defined by what they do, not what they say. Modern brands are guided by purpose and built on experiences. We've been building a company from the ground up to deliver on this belief through strategy, creativity, design and digital expertise. We're proud to be doing it in collaboration with many great brands.
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Welcome! Here you will find essays on technology, trends and our take on making things work. Beyond that, we post design examples we love, and other cool stuff we find.
Naming is incredibly hard. If you’ve ever been involved in a naming process, you know just how much work is involved finding a name that’s meaningful but not overly telegraphic, evocative but not overly clever, and more importantly, not taken yet by someone or something else.
To make a client feel better about a naming process this week, ZJ CEO Rob White shared just how hard naming Zeus Jones was back in the day. The final result, he said, only came about when everyone was drinking lots of whisky, and it was actually the brainchild of a ZJ founder’s wife. While most people liked the idea of mashing a god (Zeus) with a regular guy (Jones), it took awhile for the name to fully grow on everyone. Such is the case with naming though. We have to grow into our names.
Curious about what the other name candidates were, I asked to see them. Luckily, Eric Frost had them on an old hard drive. They show a lot more restraint than the rejected names I often come up with for things!
Yellow Gray Black
THE CLYDE GROUP
There are many brands out there that probably won’t be around in 20 years. I see them everyday. These are mostly brands that have no chance of appealing to young people, because they’re big and cheesy, unsustainable, or just old-fashioned. Sure some of them will figure out how to innovate, but many of them won’t. I don’t want to lump Barbie in with this category, where I might put, say Olive Garden, because she is a classic icon of our culture, and her image just sticks to something in some girls like a magnet. (She’s also the #1 toy brand.) But after announcement of her new #unapologetic campaign today, I am wondering if it’s rough waters from here on out for Barbie and friends.
Just to recap: Barbie will be appearing in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue in a 4-page advertising campaign and in a cover wrap on limited copies of the issue, according to The New York Times. There will also be a limited-edition Sports Illustrated Barbie.
“As a legend herself, and under constant criticism about her body and how she looks, posing in … [the issue] gives Barbie and her fellow legends an opportunity to own who they are, celebrate what they have done and be #unapologetic,” Mattel said in a statement on Tuesday.
Despite all the potential for getting people to write opinion pieces that get mad hits that this has, let’s remember that Sports Illustrated and reality dating shows have nothing to do with children who play with toys.
For some reason Barbie’s marketers are trying really hard to market the doll to adults. Sure the Barbie Sports Illustrated issue is creating a lot of conversation, but for what good? Most of the conversation has to do with a) the fact that it’s creepy that a doll is gracing the cover of a magazine aimed at men looking for uh … reading material b) how strange it is that Barbie is #unapologetic about promoting body insecurity in young girls c) the fact that the campaign basically rips off Rihanna’s already somewhat patented way of talking about herself and how the public perceives hers as a woman in pop culture.
Barbie’s sales are slipping, and it’s not just because kids would rather play with Monster High dolls. It’s more likely that:
A) The idea of gender-targeted toys is increasingly being scrutinized by Gen-y parents.
B) Barbie’s blonde locks and blue eyes feel increasingly less relatable/desirable in a more and more diverse America. Heroes like Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham are giving girls something more intellectual/ real to look up to.
C) Barbie is cookie-cutter successful in a very 20th-century way (hot, has car, has job, has boyfriend) when 21st-century kids see many more options of carving out an identity of their own. At least Monster High dolls say it’s ok to be weird and freaky.
D) Barbie’s P.R. and marketing efforts are more interested in angering people and scintillating lonely parents than making play more imaginative for kids.
When I was a kid, I barely played with Barbies. She seemed boring to me compared to my American Girl Dolls. They lived through wars, escaped from slavery, and came with a series of books that helped me understand history, which, when you’re a kid is basically how you get a sense of what this world you live in is like. Barbie didn’t add much value to my life then. Considering her latest campaign, she seems to be getting even less relevant to culture. And that’s ok.
At Zeus Jones, we often talk about the value of conversations between brands and their consumers as inspiration for larger-scale awareness campaigns. Sunday night during the “Big Game,” Cheerios highlighted another key reason for brands to invest in always-on content: to continue the immediate conversations mass advertising has the potential to spark.
Although the story is still progressing 48 hours later, I’ve documented below how we collaborated with the Cheerios brand and digital teams to leverage game day buzz into continuing connections that truly deepen relationships and enhance experiences with the brand.
At times the team was guilty of delving into the dreaded #RTMBowl territory when other brands’ work aligned with our brand purpose, but overall we are most proud of how we turned people’s love for the 30-second ad into ongoing conversations that bring them closer to Cheerios and their families.
Big game commercials are typically mass advertising on steroids – image-based messages intended to grab attention by outshouting other brands and showcasing the supposed genius of their creators. At worst, these ads can waste a good portion of a brand’s marketing budget on a pandering gag that has little to do with the product or experience. At best, creative efforts to impress other marketing insiders serendipitously also make an impact with the American public at large.
This year’s Cheerios ad has a slightly different origin story. Back in May 2013, another adorable Cheerios ad unexpectedly generatedracist backlash for featuring a young biracial girl connecting with her white mother and black father. But with the hate came a lot of love, and one family was inspired to create We Are The 15 Percent as a way to connect with and celebrate multiracial families nationwide.
When the brand needed a new ad for the game, many voices advocated for bringing back the family from the Just Checking spot, including Big G President Jim Murphy and even a few journalists. And Zeus Jones’ own Christian Erickson chimed in with some inspiration from the Murphy-Wests, the family who was inspired by the first ad to create @WeAre15.
Our rockstar producer Leslie Brindley hopped on a plane, along with friends from Rickshaw Films and Big G Digital Marketing Manager Craig Pladson, to meet Michael, Alyson and Alexandra Murphy-West at Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Maine. A busy weekend netted a poignant profile of how they were inspired by Cheerios, and how their brand of family love is something that connects them with families of all kinds.
My favorite quote in the video comes from Alyson:
“We want to see the other one smile: that’s what a family is. It’s based on love, it’s built on love. And we’re no different.”
To us, the Murphy-West video connects the “Gracie” spot with the real families who inspired it, and whom it’s meant to inspire. It also connects the spot to a whole host of content we developed for Cheerios.com called The Family Breakfast Project.
The Family Breakfast Project
As part of our Cheerios.com redesign launched at the beginning of 2014, we worked with the Cheerios team to develop an always-on program that enrolls people in the Cheerios family – giving the brand, product and content ongoing roles in their lives.
Two of our creative dynamos, Elias Martinez and Rachel Hardacre, worked closely with Watertown, MA nonprofit The Family Dinner Project to leverage their exhaustive research and experience helping families connect over meals. The result is The Family Breakfast Project, profiled in more detail by Rachel on our blog here.
#FamilyLove on Game Day
Leading up to game day, community manager Kate Sommers used content from The Family Breakfast Project, Cheerios game day recipes and an invitation to share family pictures, to get our fans excited about one of our country’s largest events for family gatherings.
Throughout the big day and during the game, we enlisted the help of other General Mills community managers to continue conversations with families and influencers. We also leaned in to this unique advertising showcase by interacting with other brands whose ads shared our #familylove theme.
We saw firsthand through our analytics how much people appreciated both types of engagement.
When the Gracie spot finally ran late in the first quarter, the analytics went into warp speed, and for awhile we were frozen until things slowed back down. Then the community managers got right back to work. They responded to as many people as possible thanking them for their love, sharing behind-the-scenes footage to highlight adorable child actor Grace Colbert, and sending coupons to help them get started with The Family Breakfast Project. All the response led to another debate on our Facebook wall, as well as an unanticipated trending hashtag inspired by the spot.
The big game is advertising’s most important event, and Cheerios struck a nice balance between the Real-Time Marketing opportunities it provided and the more personal one-to-one engagements with viewers who connected over the ad’s theme of family love.
As positive responses have continued, we’ve used our social channels to move the conversation to the Murphy-West video, The Family Breakfast Project, and the coupon to help families connect over Cheerios.
Cheerios believes that when people come together, anything is possible. And at Zeus Jones, we believe that a brand’s beliefs and purpose can enlist partners and unite them on a mission to do something valuable for people.
That’s why we’re proud to announce the Family Breakfast Project – a partnership between Cheerios and The Family Dinner Project to help families start the day together and make the most of what each day will bring.
The Family Dinner Project is a grassroots movement whose mission is to help bring families to the table for food, fun and meaningful conversation. They do this because research has proven out that when families connect, it makes a lasting positive impact. Over the last few years, they’ve been traveling the country sharing the importance of family dinner and providing the tools, resources and inspiration that helps families make shared meals a reality.
In the same vein, Cheerios cereal has been a part of families sharing time together for decades. Over the years it’s been a part of so many families’ mornings, making it one of a very few truly ubiquitous American brands.
So when we brought the two together, it truly was a perfect fit. The Family Dinner Project looks to help families get back to the table for a meaningful mealtime, and Cheerios aims to help families start the day together with connecting over breakfast.
The Family Breakfast Project is an idea that lives at the heart of the newly redesigned Cheerios.com.
In partnership, we collaborated to create simple, fun ideas that helps families make the time to start having breakfast together.
The Family Breakfast Project page includes more about the value of family breakfast and also how to begin breakfasting together. A simple guide gives families 7 days of ideas to try out together to make mornings easier, more meaningful and more fun.
Each day of activities brings a different spin on how you can connect with your family. Day 6 is all about love. The placemat activity on day 6 gives a simple craft a meaningful touch by filling each placemat with words of love for each family member.
John Sarrouf, the director the Family Dinner Project, shared a few of his thoughts on the Family Breakfast Project:
“With Cheerios, we’ve created this partnership that really is meant to give parents an opportunity to rethink their morning in a way to make families feel more connected.”
We are excited to be kicking off the Family Breakfast Project and with our partnership, we look forward to continuing to bring value and connection to breakfast time.
In Minnesota, winters are cold. That’s why whenever we start thinking about our annual holiday gift, giving out something to bundle up in always comes up quickly. We thought about making the warmest socks possible, or the warmest mittens, but then we decided to focus on hats. You can’t get by in Minnesota without a warm hat – and anywhere you live, a hat can make a statement.
This year, we decided to make hats inspired by the Scandinavian designs that are a part of Minnesotan culture. From bright colors to clean lines, we drew our favorite elements together to create two different hats for our clients, families and friends.
The last post from Christian made the announcement that I’m lucky enough to be able to help write the next chapter in the company’s mission to modernize business. I’m thrilled, so I thought I’d write something to try and tell you why.
In many ways, this has been a long time coming. Just over a decade ago, I remember attending my first U.S. planning conference. At that event, I met Adrian, who was doing the same job I was at Fallon. He was incredibly generous with his time and advice. More presciently, I remember having a long conversation with him about how planners could apply their skills more broadly than the narrow confines we tended to apply them in ad agencies. We were full of belief that the industry could – and would – change.
Four years later, at the same conference, I remember seeing Rob and Adrian give a presentation just after Zeus Jones had opened its doors. They talked about brave, provocative ideas like ‘marketing as a service’ and ‘actions speaking louder than words.’ I was struck by their hunger and belief in those early days and have watched with awe as they, along with the other Joneses, have built an incredibly successful business helping build modern brands for some of America’s most iconic companies. Every time I saw them, I was struck by the impact they were causing and the huge amount of fun they were having creating it.
I realized that it was time for me to take advantage of the opportunities that come with shaping and nurturing modern brands. That’s why I talked to the founders about whether there might be an opportunity to join forces and help accelerate progress on the mission to modernize business. It felt like a partnership that could help us both achieve what we’re passionate about more quickly, while having more fun along the way. Thankfully, they shared the excitement in the idea and from that, Zeus Jones San Francisco was born.
So what do we hope to achieve? Well it’s definitely not measured by size or how big we become. Rather, we’d like to be judged by the size and quality of the impact we have on the clients we partner with and on people out there in the world. Maybe make marketing a little bit less like a four letter word in the boardroom and on the sidewalk. And if we create something that feels in some way like a modern day Eames Studio in its scope of work and impact, then I for one will be a very happy man,
We are deliberately not trying to create an entity that’s all about being new or different. Rather, we want to create an offering with a greater depth of curiosity and diversity of output. A creative company that is, at its core, commercially curious – a creative company that wants to apply its creativity to solving business briefs, not just communication briefs. And we want to do it in a way that modernizes business by building modern brands: brands guided by purpose and built through experience. To do stuff for, and with, people rather than just say things at them. To bake marketing directly into the product rather than making it an increasingly expensive and irrelevant artifice.
We think San Francisco is the perfect place to build, from the ground up, a creative company for the modern age. It has an optimistic, can-do energy and an almost built-in disdain for legacy systems. The irony, of course, is that in this hotbed of business innovation, there’s precious little marketing innovation happening. We see a tremendous opportunity to bring a new approach to branding and marketing that can better help grow and modernize business.
We’ll be opening our doors here on March 1. We’ll keep you posted. But for now, we’d just like to invite both the companies and talent here that embody this spirit and are interested in our offering to get in touch.
In 2007, we created Zeus Jones around a belief that was unique in the agency world: that actions speak louder than words and that modern brands were built on experiences, not communications. Early on, we realized that building our company around this belief was not going to be easy. It meant that we’d need to figure everything out from scratch: the business model, the processes, the mix of talent, the right kind of company culture.
A job like this is never truly done, but over our first 7 years, we’ve made huge strides toward creating a whole new kind of agency. And we’ve been fortunate to put our beliefs to work in collaboration with some amazing brands, companies and clients. The results have exceeded our biggest hopes, and we’ve managed to have a far-reaching impact on the way our clients approach branding. We’ve helped brands find their purpose, created new products and services with them, helped them forge unique partnerships and helped them get more value out of all their efforts.
The most exciting part of the journey so far has been discovering that there’s always something new to learn, along with new problems to figure out, and new opportunities to pursue. And I don’t mean just new clients and new briefs – every now and then we get the chance to take the company itself in a new direction. And when Gareth Kay approached us about opening Zeus Jones in San Francisco, that was definitely one of those opportunities.
We’ve never assumed that Zeus Jones’ destiny is to grow big, and we’ve never set goals around things like how many people we have. We’ve been 100% focused on building a great company culture and doing work that we love to do. Staying independent has been a key part of that, which is why we’re always thoughtful about how we go about growing our company. The opportunity in San Francisco got us excited for a couple of reasons:
1. We had the right talent. Gareth is “one of us” – someone with deep knowledge and experience, who, like us, is always looking for new ways to apply his skills to modern business problems.
2. San Francisco is an exciting market. The bay area is a hotbed of business innovation, one that shares our beliefs in creating value for people over just marketing.
3. It gives us chance to apply what we know and to learn even more. As I said, we are always learning, adapting, improving. When we kicked off our business, we got mostly tactical communications briefs. Now, we’re given strategic business briefs. As a result, we have 7 years of experience building modern brands, and we’re ready to see if some of our approaches and processes can have the same results for emerging companies as they have for established big brands.
So, as of today, we’re officially announcing Gareth Kay as founding partner of Zeus Jones San Francisco! Gareth will be spending a lot of time in the first few months of the year with us in Minneapolis working hand-in-hand with the entire group, learning, teaching and planning with hopes of getting ZJ SF fully up and running the Bay Area by Spring.
Zeus Jones has grown significantly in Minneapolis over the last few years, so we are also announcing some additions to the partnership to help make sure both offices continue to evolve, grow and succeed. Head of Production Dave Annis joins Design Director Brad Surcey and the four founders as partners helping to oversee both offices. And senior designer Peter Petrulo will become partner in Zeus Jones Minneapolis.
We are super excited for 2014, more to come. In the meantime meet Gareth.
Lately I have thinking about Lay’s chips. While I am surrounded by case studies left and right of brands doing cool stuff to appeal to young people, there is something beautifully simple about what Lay’s is doing. Slowly and steadily, they are releasing interesting new flavors of chips. Sriracha chips. Chicken and waffles chips. Chocolate-covered potato chips. It doesn’t really matter what the marketing around these chips is. Put a cool new product in the aisles, and people will buy it. (Especially millennials, who are particularly adventurous and worldly when it comes to flavors.)
Think about how relevant to culture Lay’s chips would be if they had stayed, well, plain. Could any amount of Old Spice-caliber marketing have made us care?
While I realize that developing too many strains of one product can dilute what it means to customers, there is something that makes a ton of sense about starting with the product, not the marketing.
Look at Bud Light Lime, for example. The beer itself has to be facing some challenges in a market where locally-brewed, craft beers are on the rise. But Budweiser has followed the trend of experimentation with flavor by creating Bud Light Lime products aimed at novelty alone. I have had many friends who have been sharing their first experience trying their somewhat strange product, the Bud Light Lime-a-Rita on social media. Now, they’ve got a Cran-BRRR-ita for the holidays – and people are psyched, even if that psyched-ness is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I’m seeing this all over already:
Sure, millennials might sometimes prefer engaged conversations and experiences over well, junk food. (Or as this McSweeney’s article, Our Killer Appears to Be a Millennial, puts it: “This sick bastard loves to engage actively with brands if they approach him in an authentic fashion. He’s hungry for content and what’s new.”) But sometimes, we’re hungry for what’s new, and just something new is enough to matter. Especially if it’s a little bit weird.
APCO recently published a list of the 100 Most Loved Brands, and the winners might surprise you. As they should, considering branding, business and culture have changed a lot since we hit the millennium. The list is truly a mixture of the old big-hitters, the new world-changers, and some randos thrown in for good measure. (Click through to see all brands, or read about it on Adweek for their context.)
The first thing you will probably say is, “Why is Yahoo! at #2?” Me too. I don’t have an answer for you there. But I bet Marissa Mayer took a break from retooling some major part of the company over the weekend to take a shot or two at this news.
But there are a lot of telling insights to be drawn from the rest of this list. Overall, I would say it confirms what many of us sense as a major sea change in branding. In the last century, the rock star brands were basically unnecessary, unhealthy food brands who did massive amounts of marketing (Coke, McDonald’s etc.) And, maybe because of childhood impression turned into adult ritual, we still consume those brands regularly and maintain that childhood imprint of wonder and affection.
Yet as those brands sink, edging their way up, slowly but sturdily, are different kinds of brands. Useful brands, which significantly change our lives, and ethical brands that change how consumerism works. Examples of the first would be Google, Apple and Amazon, and a powerful example of the latter would be Whole Foods showing up at number 8. Whole foods beating Coke. Now that’s a huge deal.
The next notable group would be brands that provide access to consumers of all price ranges – access to pop culture, access to fashion and access to the home goods necessary to carve out your adult life in a rough economy. Yes I’m talking Netflix, Target and Ikea.
The final big class I’m noticing is large heavyweight brands who have managed to stay relevant to consumers through innovation and connection with culture – Nestlé, Kellogg’s and General Mills. Plus maybe people just love food.
Nike sitting all the way at 18 comes as a surprise. I would have put it in the top 10. But Nike has been very innovative and still connects with fans a lot better than other heavy hitters. It’s faring a lot better than McDonald’s (all the way down at 69) and Starbucks (96).
And Disney being #1 might seem due to the clout they built up in the last century, but they’re still doing amazing stuff today.
Who’s absent from the list? Best Buy for one. MTV (do people still want their MTV? Not anyone I know). Burger King. American Express (a surprise since they’re doing some really cool stuff). Chipotle (can that be?).
A few general lessons we can learn:
-Healthy (or the perception that a food is healthy) is edging out empty calories.
-Cultural clout doesn’t always reflect consumer realities, or Chipotle would probably snatch a high spot from a brand like Yahoo!.
-Brands whose products aren’t necessary or useful will need to create products that are to stay afloat. They should consider developing healthier or more useful products rather than putting all that money into advertising.
-While department stores and mass chains may be less popular with Gen Y, big companies are still putting the most effort into innovation and aren’t having a hard time staying in customers’ hearts.
Peggy Olson on Mad Men has to do a lot to convince men they are talking to women incorrectly. She has to fight with Don about “Bye Bye Birdie,” argue with Freddy about how women don’t use cold cream just to find a husband and well, play nudist with Stan. What often makes this show so uncanny to watch is realizing how little things have changed. Half of the ads directed at me feel tone deaf, like a bunch of Freddy Rumsons paged through a Cosmo and decided women love cursive, yoga and bedazzling things.
While obviously the best way to talk to women in advertising is subjective, I am going to offer some advice.
1. Listen to the People Who are Different in the Office
This scenario is so often flipped in our society. While the people who have unique perspectives should be the ones enlightening people to them, they are often silenced instead. Why? The people controlling the conversations don’t like hearing that they are wrong. This happens frequently to Peggy on Mad Men. “Nah, she doesn’t know what young women want. We middle-aged guys do.” A lot of ads target women and minorities specifically, and a lot of them are tone deaf because of this. Encourage people in your work place to speak up against stereotypes that come to the table. (Yes market research reports are full of them.) When people feel confident enough to speak up about the reality of their situations, you will find that being a woman or being Latino or being homosexual, etc. are not one-dimensional experiences. And thus your advertising will be less one-dimensional too.
2. Talk to Women Like You Talk to Men
This is my gut reaction to the how “How do we talk to women?” question. We are not really that different. We are not exotic deer in the woods whose ears cannot handle certain sounds and whose eyes cannot handle certain fonts. We like straightforward, clever things too. We don’t like being pandered to or talked down to or being “protected” from things we supposedly can’t handle. And if you’re talking to men in a “super masculine” way they probably don’t like it either. Do men like to be hit over the head with how dude-ly they are in advertising? I assume lots of men feel insulted by the advertising of Dr. Pepper 10 or Axe body spray right?
3. Don’t Try to Mirror Us
You’re selling a product or service, and ideally some kind of lifestyle, belief, purpose. Talk about that rather than using your ad to show that you’ve been studying women and can use our “lingo.” We’re not buying your ability to talk like us. Sell us on your company not your market research findings translated to a commercial.
4. Avoid Clichés
Talking to women shouldn’t mean finding our “visual language” (pink, diamonds, lace, cursive, apparently). It should mean bothering to create something new that will genuinely improve women’s lives. And the visuals surrounding that should reflect your brand, not your little sister’s Pinterest. And if your product is not just for women, why do you need to be talking about it differently to women?
5. Forget Our “Aspirational Lives”
We don’t want to see perfect women living the lives we can’t figure out how to have. We want to see women who reflect the challenges life actually offers up. Because if you understand those, then maybe you’re in a position to help us with your product. And in terms of role models, don’t just pick the actress with the biggest boobs and smallest waist. That’s committing a Don Draper – advertising to men under the guise of advertising to women.
6. Include Women
You’d be shocked by how many movies there are that just don’t have a female character. Or by how many “best of” lists don’t include females. When I switched my Rdio station to be “more adventurous” it pretty much cut out female musicians. We feel left out sometimes. Please include women in more things because we love to root for women.
I hope some of this helped. Feel free to comment with any of your thoughts about how you are advertised to.
If I asked if Americans are anti-science, you’d probably reply, “Yes! They deny evolution and the big bang regularly!” So yes some Americans are anti-science.
But the people who buy expensive food in America are not the demographic that I typically think of as anti-science. They are the privileged class, the over-educated class, the wealthy class. They are the people who couldn’t imagine feeding their children a fast food french fry. The kind who might keep a whole meat freezer in the garage for their paleo diet. The kind who only eat heirloom tomatoes and fear ever ingesting pesticides.
They think far and wide about what to and not to eat. They read books by people like Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan. They have campaigned for regulation and labeling of organic, “natural,” antibiotic-free, GMO-free foods. Food is not an afterthought for these people.
And I think all of that is great, except for my suspicion that a lot of this culture is primarily driven by emotion. Overall, what they want is a feeling from their food. They want it to feel pastoral, to feel old-fashioned, to feel simple, and most importantly pure. They don’t want to be puzzled by their food. They don’t like words like “tocopherol” even though it’s just a chemical name for Vitamin E. They don’t want to eat grains because cavemen didn’t and what’s older must be better right?
So while we are busy desiring purity and naturalness and trying to eat like cavemen, on a large scale we are desperately requiring massive innovations and scientific breakthroughs in order to deal with these confounding numbers. And it’s likely that some of those answers are going to come in the form of genetic modification, and lab-grown meats, and all kinds of things that don’t conjure farmers of yore.
I’m not saying it’s bad that we are demanding food become purer and grown with more integrity. That’s necessary somewhat, today, to whip food companies into shape after some of the scary production methods they’ve gotten comfortable using over the last century. But in the long-term, we need to make sure we don’t have an anti-science mentality when it comes to food. Simpler is not always better when it comes to solving fast-approaching global hunger problems.
From a marketer’s point of view, it’s worth it to challenge people to think more broadly about the systems surrounding the food products they’re consuming. Show how you are thinking in the long term, not just how well you can follow trends and demand. I love Chipotle, and I think their new commercial is beautiful. But I’m skeptical about the way they’ve drawn a line in the sand between purity and the rest of the industry. Let’s try to appeal to people beyond just their emotions and fears, but to help them understand how these problems will be solved, yes, with science, in the long run.
From a consumer’s point of view, deciding how to eat is a struggle. Obviously you don’t always want to start deciding how to feed your family by thinking about the long-term global food climate. You just want to pick what’s healthiest, and usually that is going to be organic, fresh, local food without antibiotics and suspect junk in it. Eating mostly processed foods isn’t something that anyone should have to do. But it’s worth acknowledging that the food available to us isn’t as black and white as it seems, and not everyone has access to the healthiest foods. Food companies have to solve problems at a massive scale, and it’s worth having an open-mind as we face a complicated future.
A few months ago we got a call from Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak asking if we would collaborate with his team on a print ad campaign. Generally speaking, print advertising isn’t something we do around here — Zeus Jones’ philosophy about the role of marketing is fundamentally different from the traditional agency world — but this project was pretty unique.
Following the May 2013 passage of legislation that provides equal marriage rights to same-sex couples in Minnesota, Rybak wanted to proactively showcase Minneapolis as a destination city for loving gay and lesbian couples who are ready to take the matrimonial plunge but aren’t empowered to do so in their home state. For starters, he wanted to strategically place ads in regional cities like Chicago, Madison and Detroit, inviting out-of-staters to savor both the fruit of our legislative progress and the talents of our local wedding industry.
Zeus Jones has a history of outspoken, tangible support for equal marriage rights. On that basis alone, we were eager to help. But if we were gonna defy our steadfastly modern approach by working on a print campaign, we wanted to make sure it had meaning beyond the page and reflected our larger belief in the social movement behind the law.
Simply put, we think support for same-sex marriage rights isn’t just a political position. It’s a value held by real working people all over Minnesota — some mildly, others more passionately. A lot of those people have decades of experience making great weddings happen. So if we’re going to invite people from other states to come into our community on that basis, we want them to see the faces of actual men and women who not only support marriage equality but also live and work in the service of loving connections every day. Many of these folks are positively elated about the new law, not just because it might mean more business and more income but also because it gives them a chance to do what they do best for a previously marginalized group of people whose love deserves the same level of ritual and recognition.
The choice of the first-person statement “I Want To Marry You In Minneapolis” as a de facto tagline is intentional. Every person pictured in the ads has a personal story and a set of values they bring to their craft. Mayor Rybak is the one making worthy PR waves, but it’s hardworking wedding-industry pros who’ll be delivering on his invitation and living up to Minnesota’s collective promise of support. (One of those pros is photographer Leslie Plesser, with whom we’ve been proud and happy to collaborate on this project among many others.)
Of course, we also feel strongly about the parallel impact that a campaign like this can have on public discourse. People in every state should be talking to each other about marriage rights. If a Minneapolis-based florist, caterer or wedding photographer can help to spark those conversations, we see it as one more way our local community is supporting the interests of same-sex couples everywhere.
I am frequently tasked with explaining how products work. That means understanding what kind of research went into a product, what kind of thought went into choosing the materials that make it, what kind of quality and safety measures surround it, etc.
And that has changed the way I assess everything I see, hear and consume. And it has generally made me more optimistic.
For example, I generally assume that the meat in Taco Bell products is fine. Taco Bell may not have 100% grass-fed, free-range beef going on, but they’re doing their due diligence to make sure that beef (or beef product) is consistent in flavor and safe to eat. And that’s really what you’re paying for, isn’t it?
The other thing I have started to think about is how many goofy commercials are out there using elaborate metaphors to explain what their product does. For example, in a Tide Pods commercial, they show a tiny futuristic laundromat opening up inside of your laundry machine, with tiny little people personally removing all the stains for you.
When I see something like this, I picture a team of corporate lawyers shaking their heads. They do not like the insinuation that the stain removal capacity is as good as someone personally dry cleaning a product. I have started to automatically be able to point out not “false” advertising but lightly stretched portrayals of just what a product is capable of doing. And usually these stretched portrayals of what a product can do happen in these silly metaphor commercials.
Which makes me wonder why they still exist.
In reality, I’m sure the chemistry and innovation behind the Tide Pod is way more interesting than this cute storytelling I am seeing on the TV. I’m sure hundreds of hours of R&D went into coming up with that thing, and designing it to work optimally in the package it’s in. I would rather hear about that.
I understand why many advertising campaigns center around these cute, entertaining metaphors. There didn’t used to be a channel (the Internet) where consumers could sit and read for hours (or minutes – still longer than a TV commercial), about how a product works. Companies just had to say, “Trust us, there is innovation here, here’s some analogy for you so you can know it does what we say it does.”
But now you can provide that information for consumers. And I truly think they want it. Sure some people just want Go Daddy-style ads that say, “there’s girls with cleavage, buy our stuff,” but I think consumers are for the most part both smart and interested in learning more.
And leaving that gap between what you’re actually doing and what consumers know about what you’re doing can be dangerous. In an absence of transparency, they will go ahead and assume that what you’re doing is way worse than what you’re actually doing. Or, they will start to demand things out of their products that they don’t necessarily understand are unsustainable. And people will go ahead and demand unsustainable products forever as long as they have no clue how products are developed or how a supply chain works. And companies will generally go ahead and keep supplying them.
So let’s story-tell around more of that less sexy, more information-based stuff. Companies are already doing a lot of research on the supply side. Consumers are doing research on the demand side. The more we can connect those two processes, provide transparency and educate consumers on products, the more we can build a sustainable economy.
I was lucky enough to get invited to talk at Cannes with a bunch of other fine folks. The subject was innovation and agencies. In particular, why can’t agencies innovate and what can they learn from innovation companies. This is a modified version of the talk I gave.
I think many women have the same basic experiences with the magazine world:
1. You grow up loving magazines, learning about makeup, fitness, life experiences, relationships, whatever from them.
2. You discover men’s magazines and realize that the scope of them is a lot more broad. For example, there are articles about planning your stock portfolio regularly. This discrepancy of content feels insulting to your intelligence, and your life plans. But it feels too late – you have been trained to think more about how to properly apply under-eye concealer during the formative years of your life.
3. You realize that men’s magazines are not a safe harbor, but are in their own way very sexist. (Read this if you don’t believe me.)
This article very well articulates how frustrating the world of magazines, and moreover, professional writing, can be for women. One of her main conclusions was that women’s magazines used to be up to very high standards, but when they started integrating advertisements, things changed. The advertisers wanted their ads to be integrated with content about clothes, makeup and weight loss products, and thus the content started to lean heavily in those directions. This is all true, although not exclusive to women’s magazines.
The classic criticism of the advertising industry is that it purposely lowers women’s self-esteem to sell them products, and it creates a false sense of beauty that they have to aspire to. While this isn’t something I’m going to argue against – I don’t think it has to be an inevitability.
A scene from Mad Men comes to mind here. Peggy is charged with making an ad for cold cream, and she reaches the insight that the cold cream application process gives women an excuse to stand in front of the mirror and look at themselves, something she believes women just like doing. Not out of any particularly pathetic tendency, but just because it helps them get in touch with themselves and feel more beautiful. Her writing partner, Freddy Rumsen, continually insists that her approach is pointless, and that they should hit hard on implying that the product will help women land a husband.
This was an interesting scene to me because it showed how a lot of the advertising that has changed women’s culture, and the editorial content surrounding it, was created by men who didn’t always have a Peggy around to say, “No, that’s not how women think.”
I don’t think it’s necessarily a sinister plan against women, but more a result of a system created before women had much of a voice in the matter. To be positive, I think there are many factors that are leading away from advertising having such a negative affect on women’s editorial content (and on their egos in general).
1. More Women Working in Advertising
A lot of women work in advertising now – but there are probably still a lot of ways that sexism remains in this industry. For example, many of the customer profiles we use are generalized types of people that exist as a result of a gendered world, whether created by it or created in opposition to it. Having more women working in advertising means more empathy, ideally, so that the content is more meaningful and less, well, stupid.
2. More Anthropological Understanding of Consumers
Lumping types of consumers into one broad category and reflecting what that looks like is still common in many types of ads. For example, many car ads aimed at women are like, “I love indie rock music and adventure! I’m a woman who loves this car!” But this isn’t the future of advertising. Because we have a lot more resources in culture to reflect what people are actually like (social media, blogs, etc.) and the means to analyze that more deeply, we can start to ditch the old customer profile in favor of more sweeping examinations of a product’s role in culture, as well as the customer’s.
3. The Death of the Print Ad
Print ads used to be the meat of people’s advertising portfolios, but now they have to compete with massive digital strategies, cultural initiatives and participatory platforms like The Pepsi Refresh project. What did you remember more this year – the Dove Real Beauty Sketches or any print ad you saw for makeup? Probably the former. Magazines and the ads that support them are no longer the sustainable business model they used to be. Many are desperately tailoring content around the advertising demographic as a last-ditch attempt to stay profitable, but I’m skeptical about the efficacy of that strategy. People read magazines for their unique point of view, which is why Monocle and Vice are doing just fine.
It will take awhile for women-targeted editorial systems to change. In the meantime, we as the people putting out brand messages can be dedicated to being more conscious of the way we’re affecting the media channels that shape women’s lives. We can hire people who resist one-dimensional portrayals of women in the work they’re doing. We can push for strategies that further the content people’s 12-year-old daughters are reading in interesting, useful ways that will make them grow up to be stronger women. And we can listen to women more often.