Monday, August 27, 2012

Reports of Death of Marketing

Jerry Della Femina, Fairfax Cone, Rosser Reeves, William Marsteller, David Ogilvy, George Lois and Bill Bermbach are just a few names that came to mind at the coffee shop today. A professor friend of mine sent me an article someone wrote about marketing being dead. The e-mail from Dr. John Lewington got me thinking.  A part of that article (in Harvard Business Review) suggests the premise is supported by the fact that people don’t seem to be paying attention to advertising messages any more. Well shoot, ad guys have been making that point since the late 19th Century. People read what interests them. You have to break through the clutter. We are bombarded by thousands of commercial messages every day. You need a unique selling proposition. Use humor and you will increase the likelihood of breaking through. All of these lessons are part of the era leading up to the successful retro Mad Men TV drama. I will grant that the playing field has changed and the challenges facing marketers is certainly greater. Of course lot of the focus has shifted to technology, digital and social media. But, try to give credit where credit is due. Those icons of advertising, blazed a trail that leads us to this point in time. Go back and read some of the things they wrote and you will find plenty of relevance. We still lionize leaders in communications, design and marketing. Maybe now it is less likely to be coming from Madison Avenue but we still look for leadership that is essentially within the marketing realm. Innovation, customer capital and brand building via engagement with existing customers (retention) and new customers (acquisition) is still at the core of business success. 

To those who want to kill Marketing as a profession I would like to suggest a response borrowed from Mark Twain after hearing that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal: Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Tatoos, Turpentine, Tampa and the Central West End

Lynn visits St. Louis August 5-8, 2012

Terminal A is a narrow gauntlet at Lambert St. Louis Airport. United Flight 3141 is on time from Cleveland (Sunday August 5th) and Mary Lynn Morgan appears with her luggage in tow coming through the gate. She’s not sure if her brother will be there waiting. She was indecisive in e-mail and voice mail messages over the past few days. “The deal is this: If you want me to pick you up, you’ll have to put up with a tour of the Laumeier Sculpture Park. I know you are not a huge fan of art but you are in for a docent tour if you want me to pick you up at the airport.”   

Lynn is my sister. We have history, the kind of history that comes from growing up in a Catholic family with six children in the post-war prosperity. We are all baby boomers born between 1944 and 1959.  Lynn uses her given name Mary Lynn Morgan these days out of respect for our mother who passed away last May. I like to call her Zsa Zsa because she has been married three times and yet still remains hopeful for true romance. Lynn is all smiles because she has fond memories of STL and friends with whom she connected on the way to becoming a flight attendant for TWA ten years ago. Her birthday is tomorrow – she will be 60.

It’s an Olympic year and NBC has been broadcasting from London all week. Sir Paul McCartney, at age 70, performed at the opening ceremonies, reminding us all of the passage of time. Lynn marks her approaching sixth decade. She doesn’t hide it. She is quick to announce it everywhere we go. At the sculpture park; at the hotel while checking in; at the restaurant as she orders a Bloody Mary (as a follow-up to a Vodka Martini with two olives she’s about to finish) and at the movie theater while we wait for Steve Sonderbergh’s latest film Magic Mike to roll.

The tour hopefuls gather outside the Museum Shop at the sculpture park. It is a robust group that includes enthusiastic visitors, a dozen people: an engineer wearing a yellow polo shirt with his daughter and her boyfriend wearing a straw cowboy hat; a mother and her tween-age daughter; an Asian woman wearing a makeshift sash announcing her 21st birthday with her school mate; a middle-aged woman from St. Louis with male and female aged twenty-somethings who are relatives visiting from Ft. Worth, Texas; my sister and me.  It is a good cross-section of people.  Everyone is engaged in the tour which covers a good bit of the trails, the south lawn and the signature monumental pieces by Alexander Lieberman (The Way), Mark DiSuvero (Bornibus and Destino) and comes to a reasonable conclusion at the Tree Tent by Dre Wapenaar, which is part of the Summer featured exhibit entitled Finding a Home in an Unstable World. Lynn admits the tour was fun and was glad to have been a part of it.
The Central West End in St. Louis is a comfortable urban mecca for Lynn. The attraction to this place is hard for her to explain. It’s at Dressel’s Public House where we find an outdoor table to enjoy a late lunch. Her two drinks, lamb-burger, my Black & Tan and seafood chowder make for a leisurely meal. There is just enough pedestrian traffic for people-watching and a warm comfortable breeze mitigates the slow service. (We are in no hurry.) The waitress manages her quirky Morgan clientele with humor, if not tremendous efficiency. She and Lynn compare tattoos. Lynn has confined her canvas to her right forearm where a colorful crest and initials celebrate her two boys, Jimmy and Philip. (Who gets a tattoo when they are 59 years old?) The waitress feels compelled to show us the artistry, a work-in-progress tattoo that covers the small of her back and her left shoulder-blade. She nearly removes her shirt to show it. (I hope Lynn doesn’t get that ambitious with her body art but she admits that she is intrigued by the prospect of permanent eye-liner.)

I am just sentimental enough to bite on the heavy-handed hint from our youngest (and best) brother Rob that Lynn might like to add to her Pandora charm bracelet as a thoughtful birthday present. This little social-media campaign started months ago.  Rob did his duty and was successfully manipulated into adding two charms to the collection. Dan followed suit with another. Sundance would not be tempted. Greg simply procrastinated until it was too late. (Rob wins again! Naturally.) I did not want to be a sucker and open Pandora’s Box. But I did. At lunch, I presented a new charm to Lynn in a gift I wrapped in such a way as not to allow her to guess what it was. To my delight, she seemed genuinely thrilled by the gift box, the card and the charm as presented.   

The waitress laughs when I cut her off abruptly as she starts to explain potential dessert options. “No Thank You, we’ll just take the check. We are headed to the movie theater at Chase Park Plaza.” Mathew McConaughey dominates the marketing for Magic Mike. (The dramatic comedy love story isn’t even about his character.) The theater is filled with women giggling in anticipation of a movie about male strippers in Tampa, Florida. Lynn finds it amusing that I am the only guy in the theater. The movie is contrived but it has its moments. I can’t help wondering how challenging it must be to make a motion picture commercially viable. Maybe to sell tickets you have to play to the lowest common-denominator. Here I am in a theater full of women, feeling a little bit like a piece of meat.

Lynn is returned safely to her hotel, a Comfort Inn on Lindell before 11:00 p.m. She insists they told her when she made her reservation that she would have a room facing the pool. (Ha – the place doesn’t have a pool.) She didn’t have a valid credit card and wanted to pay cash. This is a dilemma for any hotel clerk, especially one who speaks English as his second language.  (Ha – travel 101.) So, my credit card guarantees the room. I hope she doesn’t get any funny ideas. She asked about room-service (Ha – no room service. This is a Comfort Inn.)  There is a friendly but mysterious woman hanging out in the lobby who acts as a self-appointed tourist ambassador. “Do you work here?” Lynn wants to know. (Ha – this woman is a vagrant!)  “Can I have some ice delivered to my room?” (Ha – by now everyone in the place is trying to cater to the delusional hotel guest, Mary Lynn Morgan. She is about to turn the big 6-0 don’t cha know?) A cleaning woman fills an ice bucket and presents to Lynn. “Is there an Honor Bar in the room?” (Ha!) Well, in fact there is: it consists of a giant bottle of turpentine (an off-brand vodka) and your choice of mixer – cranberry or tomato juice. Some things you just cannot leave to chance. A trip to Schnuck’s Grocery was an essential stop between the sculpture park and Dressel’s Public House. Pleasant dreams Lynn.

TEXT MESSAGE at 7:01 a.m from Lynn Morgan the morning of her Birthday
 – thanks for making my birthday extra great xo.

Lynn must be making her way over to the Chase Park Plaza (accross the street) to be poolside. She has plans with a gentleman caller for dinner and wants to add a bit of golden color (tan) before then. Tomorrow,  a reunion with Erin and some other cronies from STL. Who would question Zsa Zsa at the pool? Who are you calling delusional?  She is a Morgan.