Are you trying to solve the right problem?

I am sometimes amazed at the difference between what some marketers “think” is the problem (frequently based on hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of research and god knows how many meetings) and what the REAL problem is.

Pretty much anyone can tell you what the real problem is. It’s usually blindingly obvious to anyone who isn’t privy to all this research and hasn’t gone to those meetings.

Here’s a few brand problems off the top of my head.

1. HARLEY-DAVIDSON: your customers are all white grey-haired fat asses. But perhaps this is the natural place for Harley to inhabit. An affordable mid-life crisis on wheels. Maybe you should go with that?
2. GUINNESS: beer is yellow or brown and you are black. And you look really heavy to drink. But you’re cool and Irish! Therefore I will happily sing your praises as I sip my Heineken on St. Patrick’s Day. Guinness’s (not a typo, an in-joke) biggest problem is stimulating trial. And it is an acquired taste. Lager is not.
3. AT&T: you are full of shit. You are a cheating weasel. You’re lousy at what you do. You are the weak link in the iPhone experience,

See, it’s easy. Because it’s TRUE. We all know it’s true.

Smart, ambitious people have the courage to live in the real world and address the problems of the real world. And so they actually have an effect on the real world. That’s how the recent Old Spice work happened. Someone said “Old Spice is old. Let’s make it current”, not “We’re looking to increase share of voice in our key demographic by 25%”.

You know all those ads on TV that seem to exist in their own little world? Well they do. They got their start in an insulated brand cocoon crowded with planners and researchers who owe their very existence to the assumption that the truth is some kind of elusive mystery. It isn’t. It’s staring us all in the face. Always.


8 responses to “Are you trying to solve the right problem?

  1. Amen. Hallelujah. And everything else. Thanks for this. So true. So frustrating.

    When did we (the royal we of the marketing world) become so concerned with big words, colorful charts and fancy PPT decks?

    Frustrating. But we’ve got people like you fighting the good fight. Keep at it.

  2. This was awesome Vinny. In summer of 1982 we did a family trip from NY out west. We were in the Black Hills of SD just before the famous Sturgis Fest. We saw all the gruff biker gangs coming into town. Now all I see on Harley’s is what you mentioned. Still a great bike. But…..

    As for Old Spice shouldn’t they take the ‘Old’ from the name. It really clashes with ‘new’ and ‘fresh’ in my view. I think its hard to change the view of anyone who over 30 who remembers the old commercials that its a new fresh product (though they did spiff up the packaging for the sports line). And under 30 that word ‘old’ is clashing with their repositioning in my view.

  3. thanks ian, we started the pod partly in reaction to all the bullshit advertising was drowning in. it’s just not that hard.

    howie, like i said, maybe there’s more money in aging boomers driving your bikes. but it’s not the best image. i wouldn’t worry about the ‘old” in old spice. it’s new old spice now!

  4. It’s only too bad that most agencies are so terrified of telling the client the truth when the truth hurts.

    I liked to preface such bad news with, “You pay me. Therefore, I am obligated to give you my best, most honest thinking. You, on the other hand, are not obligated to act on it.”

    Of course, that’s one reason I too left the big agency world. And then the smaller agency world. I like working for myself, since only I can fire me.

  5. dave,

    i must confess i leave the real truth-telling to my business partner Norm. i pretty much hide behind him as he delivers the necessary truths. it sounds much better when he says it!

  6. Ha! Believe me, I remember. I hired Norm at DDB and he worked for me for a few years. He was never shy about saying what was on his mind.

  7. really dave? more info please

  8. Oh, c’mon Vinny! You know Norm.

    I loved working with him, in part because he would speak his mind. Always in a laid back way, but direct and to the point. I recall a few times I had to smooth over a few client/Norm rough spots, and I know I bitch slapped him a few times for making things harder than they needed to be. I wouldn’t let on that actually I was glad he spoke up even if it did make my job harder now and then. Norm’s one of the smartest, coolest guys I worked with in all my years at DDB, and I’m not just saying that ’cause he may read this. It’s true, even if I did occasionally have to rope him back in.

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