competitor keywords
competitor keywords

We’ve all seen it by now. You’re searching for Steve Madden boots or your favorite restaurant, and not only are you given choices in the main search results — you also get several ads that are associated with what you’re looking for.

Many times those ads directly relate to your search, but every now and then, you may notice an ad that doesn’t match up.

Is this an accident or a competitor’s strategic advertising ploy? It could be either, but search advertisers often bid on their competitor’s names in hopes that someone will click on their ad instead. They also look at this as a way drive brand recognition since people may start to associate their search with the competitor’s name.

Great idea, right? Well, actually no.

For starters, most people who search for something want to get results for that exact brand or product. They usually won’t click on a link for something different.

As a result, your search campaign will have a very low click through rate and Google (or other search engines) will flag your ad as being irrelevant to the terms you’re buying. Upon this realization, the search engine will require that you bid more and more on these terms.

In addition to lower click through rates and higher costs, keep a couple of other things in mind as well.

If you start bidding on a competitor’s keywords, who’s to say that they won’t start buying yours? At that point, both advertisers would essentially be wasting money to run ads that cancel each other out.

Finally, there are potential trademark issues. For example, you can currently legally bid on a competitor’s brand term, but in most cases you can’t include a competitor’s name in your ad text. To further complicate the matter, these rules vary from country to country. So, if you’re an advertiser in the U.S. and you’re conducting a search campaign targeting Europe, you need to study these rules very carefully.

Although it can seem like a savvy strategy at first, bidding on your competitor’s brand could be far more damaging than beneficial in the long run.

Finally, advertising makes a rebound
Finally, advertising makes a rebound

These days it’s difficult to escape the heavy-handed and negative media reports regarding our economy, consumer confidence and the recession. We constantly hear off-putting reports and statistics on unemployment, real estate, the stock market and a myriad of other social and economic issues.

The advertising industry has also seen its fair share of negative press. We’ve witnessed media conglomerates collapse, 65-year old magazines dissolve and national mega-newspaper corporations suffer. However, in this massive sea of negativity, it seems as though things might be headed in the right direction.

According to data recently published by Kantar Media, total advertising expenditures in the first quarter of 2010 rose 5.1% from a year ago and finished the period at $31.3 billion, marking the first increase in quarterly ad spending since the first quarter of 2008 and the largest gain since the first quarter of 2006, as the ad market finally experienced a long-awaited rebound.

The study tracked 19 types of media —13 of which increased from this time last year. Network TV, Cable TV and Spot TV all increased significantly (11.6%, 8.2% and 22.0% respectively), as well as Internet (display ads up 5%) and Local, National and Network Radio (4.6%, 19.0% and 3.0%). As a whole, print media recorded a slight decline in 2010 (an average of -3.4%) except in Sunday Magazines (13.7%) and National Newspapers (9.1%).

While we continue to follow the ups and downs of the economy, we can be encouraged by studies like this that provide us with an indication that the ad market is moving forward. With the political season approaching this fall, we anticipate these numbers to increase further as inventory tightens and media costs rise. As I’ve recently prepared media plans for several clients, I’ve noticed a renewed confidence in our vendors that I haven’t seen for some time. I think we’ve seen the bottom of the media market and the only place to go from here is up.

A Film About Sex Trafficking: Hard To Make & Hard To Watch
A Film About Sex Trafficking: Hard To Make & Hard To Watch

Once the initial shock wore off from what I was hearing, the question was “Okay, just how on earth do you tell that story and do it right?”

I have to confess, when I heard Interstate 20 was one of, if not THE largest sex trafficking corridor in the United States, I was skeptical. Shocked and horrified, but mostly skeptical.

I live in Birmingham, Alabama. Not Las Vegas, or LA or New York. There’s no way this could be going on in Birmingham or even Atlanta for that matter. We are in the Deep South. No one treats another person like that in the South.

But once we began doing the research and talking to people who were actually experiencing it, the horror and realization began to set in. How on earth do you tell this story? And is there any way to make it believable?

The first hurdle our production team needed to cross was trying to get someone to go on camera and talk about it. The people involved in the business won’t say anything to you—if you can even find them. They are so good at hiding in the shadows that if you show up to film anything, you’d be spotted by any number of lookouts they have posted well before you pulled into the parking lot. Most of the customers helping fuel the industry won’t talk to you. Why would they? They have a new 16 year old just waiting for them at the next truck stop, which is sad, but true. A few brave truckers talked to us about the inside details and gave us a starting point for what we needed to capture. And we thank them from the bottom of our hearts.

Finally, that leaves the victims themselves. After a few initial interviews we quickly realized that trying to get the victims to tell their stories is a lot like asking a soldier fresh from a firefight to describe his experience. Just like soldiers in combat, these victims suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and are unable to emotionally recall their ordeal. They can talk, but they seem so disconnected from everything they are saying, it is hard to do it with meaning. We decided the best we could do was capture their stories and re-create them for the purpose of the film.

So, with cameras and chase cars in hand, we hit the road. Turns out, of all the elements in the video, the road was the easiest. The road doesn’t talk or try to hide. So our group spent weeks driving up and down the corridor between Birmingham and Atlanta to capture footage we needed. With a Red Epic, Canon 5D’s, GoPro Heroes, and a motion control rig, we were able to capture this part with relative ease. Only an occasional curious state trooper or motel owner even noticed us.

In the commercial ad business you always look forward to creating imagery to help tell your story. For the first time in my 30-year career, however, this was not the case. Every scene we captured in the film left an impression on our crew. Working in an old theater to recreate the “pimp” and “torture” sequences was as distressing to shoot as it is to watch. Some so distressing, we ended up using still photos rather than moving pictures to keep from crossing a line of taste somewhere. I don’t think “taste” and depicting sex trafficking even live in the same universe.

It took more than a year to capture and stage every scene for the film. Some of this was because of the schedule we needed in order to use key locations, and some of this was because the entire project was produced pro bono and had to be filmed after hours and on weekends. The time-lapse sequences were captured by going out just about every weekend to different locations along the interstate.

I hope the story we’ve told does justice to what we discovered. If we can prevent just one little girl from falling into this trap, we will have done our job. And if we can help give the victims back the life that was stolen from them, then every second of effort poured into the film was worth it.

Spencer Till

Stephen Curry

John Pope, Charlie Brown Sanders

Jeff Williams

Time Lapse sequences
John Pope

Charlie Brown Sanders

Flame and finishing
John Pope

Audio and sweetening
Barry Brooks

Jacob Garner, Leigh Ann Motley and Ben Fine

Clarity hurtling towards you at 21,000 mph
Clarity hurtling towards you at 21,000 mph

According to some British scientists, on May 19, 2031, an asteroid about the size of Manhattan is predicted to center-punch the Earth, effectively eliminating all human life within a few months.


So, we probably don’t have to put quite as much emphasis on that global warming issue. (What is Al Gore going to do?) Not to mention those who are currently building a house don’t need to opt for the more expensive 30-year roof.

21 years left.

So does knowing the exact amount of time you have left change anything? Does your list of “somedays” take on a newfound urgency? Are you now going to quit your job and go help the less fortunate around the world?

I say if that’s what you want to do, you should pursue it with unbridled vigor. For me, knowing now I will never retire actually provides a little more clarity. How many times do you attempt to look way off in the future and you feel like you somehow won’t live the life you have at present. Well, no need to worry about that anymore I suppose.

Now we all have something in common to worry about: May 19, 2031. So let’s all just stop worrying about everything else that is suddenly not so important: the economy, our 401K’s, the death of advertising, or TV or NASCAR. We’re all going to be just fine. You know how I know? Because if you’re reading this, you are probably in the advertising (uh, sorry…the “communications/social influence”) business. Which means you’re in the greatest, most exciting and interesting career on the planet. You make a living on ideas. That is NEVER going to change. Sure those ideas will manifest themselves in new ways, but who cares? Great ideas will always be great ideas up until that fateful May Monday in the not too distant future.

So take a look at what is on your desk right now. There are a million excuses not to make it the best it can be: “I don’t have enough time,” “I’ve got too much on my plate,” “It will cut into my Facebook time,” “The AE is clueless,” “The client won’t like it,” “The creative director is stupid,” “The strategy is wrong,” “There is no budget,” “They’ll never buy it,” “I can’t make a difference,” “The category is shunned by the shows,” “My computer screen is too small,” “I am a hack,” (okay, I admit I still believe this one). The difference between good work and GREAT work is the unwillingness to give in to the voices. So just take things one at a time. Pick your projects, clients, etc. that will most help you make a difference. And have fun. Most importantly, make whatever you do GREAT. Make it memorable. Make it funny, or serious or compelling. Just make sure to get it done by Sunday night, May 18, 2031. I can promise you, this time there’s no way you’re getting an extension.

London 2012 is Over. Which Brands Won?
London 2012 is Over. Which Brands Won?

Team Great Britain, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Gabby Douglas and countless others won athletic gold in London, but which brands came out on top during these games?

The Peacock
In the U.S., NBC’s brand saw mixed results with soaring ratings delivering a huge and positive impact to their bottom line. Unfortunately, the hashtag #NBCFail was ubiquitous during the games and reached a crescendo last night as Bob Costas pulled the ultimate bait-and-switch promoting an appearance by The Who, but only after a pilot for a new sit-com. NBC pays billions of dollars to have the U.S. broadcast rights for the Olympics, and must make hard decisions about how to recoup that investment. It is still hard to see how going out of your way to aggravate your viewers is a winning long-term strategy.

The Swoosh
Although Nike wasn’t an official Olympic sponsor, they almost don’t need to be. The swoosh logo was shown on screen thousands of times on athletes’ shoes and apparel. Their guerilla marketing campaign “Find Your Greatness” was brilliant in both strategy and execution by featuring everyday men, women and children finding greatness on a less-than Olympic stage, but still in a town called London.

The Ultimate Branding Machine
One of the less-heralded Olympic partners was BMW Group who found smart and relevant ways to keep their brands and their cars top-of-mind. In addition to TV spots touting their sponsorship, BMW riffed on Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket by driving a Golden Bimmer around London giving free tickets to those who shared photos of themselves with the car. During the closing ceremonies, Jesse J and two other singers were transported into and around Olympic stadium in three Rolls-Royce Phantoms specially built and badged for the event. BMW’s Mini joined in the competition with remote-controlled Mini’s carrying javelins back to athletes finding a way onto hallowed athletic ground that is supposedly free of commercial clutter.

Proctor & Gamble, Omega Watches and several other official and not-so-official sponsors of the games were highly visible with TV spots, online video, and social media memes. The brands mentioned above stood out most to me during these games, but branding is seen through the eye of the beholder.

Which brands grabbed your attention and won Gold in London?

A 30,000-foot view of taglines.  Make that a 22,841-foot view.
A 30,000-foot view of taglines.  Make that a 22,841-foot view.

Make that a 22,841-foot view.

Just Do It. Sounds trite, but I firmly believe that I stood on the top of Mount Aconcagua, one of the highest mountains in the world, on Jan 14, 2011 because of an ad man from Portland, Oregon. Our industry has the power to influence. Sometimes for good, sometimes not. I’m not a copywriter, as witness to this blog post. I’m an art director. And while I do believe that art can certainly move you, words, on the other hand, have a lasting quality and a power that transcends a memorable photo or a striking illustration.

“Just do it.” has remained Nike’s official tagline for over 20 years, and is one of the most memorable slogans in advertising history. It’s also a mantra that can be heard on any weekend bike ride, or college keg party. You can hear it at the local gym, an 8th grade dance, or maybe on a morning jog with a few buddies. It always comes to the surface when someone is contemplating something new. Something that will most likely push them out of their comfort zone. A tagline written for a shoe company has changed lives. It changed mine, of that I have no doubt. No, I don’t have a Nike shrine under the stairs at home. I don’t even buy Nike shoes. But I bought in, 100 percent, into their marketing effort. I love “Just do it.” Sometimes it gets me in trouble. Sometimes it puts me in places I thought I would never be. Like the summit of the tallest mountain in the Andes. So in a way, I guess I do use Nike’s product. The fact that I think about Nike’s tagline every time I push back at the urge to sit on my ass, is testament enough.

Words have power. The power to persuade. The power to motivate.

A simple note can change the course of someone’s life. A single paragraph from a paperback book, graffiti on a wall, a love note passed in a 5th grade classroom. Just a few words from a speech put 12 men on the moon. Words can move people, change people. Words can make you cry, make you laugh. A message on an answering machine, or even the lyrics from a song can have a profound impact. Like the tagline of a shoe company that put an old art director on the summit of Mount Aconcagua.

A resolution on resolution
A resolution on resolution

I still remember it like it was yesterday. My dad (always one of the early adopters) brought home our brand new, round-screen RCA Victor Color television set. He plugged it in, adjusted the rabbit ears and turned it on. With a low pitched hum, starting slowly from a single dot in the middle of the screen, the screen grew to reveal an ABC news broadcast already underway. Eagerly, we three kids leaned in to be able to see “color TV” for the first time. The problem was, the local TV station wasn’t broadcasting in color yet. So we had a wonderful color TV set that we didn’t get to actually see a color program on for about another three months.

Fast forward to the year 2010. We’re all supposed to just think about TV and it magically pops up, filling an entire glass room in our home, right?


Oh sure, we have 1080p high definition on 120 channels or so, but we’re still very much in the dark ages when it comes to the local affiliate commercial break. It seems as though someone forgot to notify the local broadcast channels in just about every US market that the local breaks are still sponsored by local advertisers.

Even though stations happily broadcast the network feeds in hi-def and tout their HD coverage, the local slot is filled with wonderful lo-def mediocrity. Which means for clients and agencies: that $1.5 million dollar TV ad campaign you just authored in hi-def? Well, it is going to be shown in standard definition. In most cases, in the old 4:3 format of older tube-type televisions.

Welcome to 1965 all over again.

So picture me on a soapbox now, screaming at the top of my lungs at every local affiliate that will invest in the equipment to broadcast a network feed, but won’t take the small added step of upgrading their carting equipment, so they can show local spots in hi-def as well. Fine. That’s okay, we’re just the ones paying to keep the lights on.

Following this logic, may I tell my clients that we can’t do their website or handle their social influence because we’d rather not spend the money to pay for an internet connection? I’m thinking, no. They would fire us and move on to someone who would. We spend months poring over our creative product to make it the very best it can be, and then unless we are prepared to do a national network buy, we are saddled with playing that television spot through the digital equivalent of gauze.

This is not a difficult request. But it does take influence. I suppose there are just too many advertisers out there who are willing to settle for mediocrity. Until the silent majority of local advertisers who are willing to settle for less than top quality will take a stand and demand better, we might as well break out the hip boots and Peter Maxx posters.

Okay, I admit it. I am hooked on Snapped, a true-life crime show on Oxygen, the network that encourages women to “live out loud,” which in this half-hour of programming is defined as first-degree murder. Despite the title’s promise, no one ever explodes into an ax-wielding frenzy. These homicides are premeditated, usually motivated by jealousy, greed, or boredom, and carried out in such a ham-fisted way that Helen Keller* could probably solve the case. But I do have to give these ladies props for their courage, even if they do end up as sunken-eyed inmates with bad hair.

Lesson #1. Don’t be afraid to take risks.
A note pad, a spare afternoon and boxed sets of CSI can be a literal lifesaver for someone looking to get away with murder. Case in point, the fate of the ladies on Snapped. How might their lives have been different with tips, such as: Don’t dispose of incriminating evidence in your own trash can. When staging a burglary, break the window from the outside. Homicidal motorcycle gangs are extremely rare, especially in suburban Connecticut. And my favorite: after murdering your husband, don’t plop into your hairdressers chair and say, with a giggle, “Guess what I’ve been up to?”

Lesson #2: Always do your homework.
Inappropriate behavior during a 911 call is an immediate red flag in a criminal investigation. When reporting an emergency, most people tend to be frantic, terse, and unguarded. Unlike the callers on Snapped, they seldom laugh, make jokes, answer call waiting, attempt a British accent, sound as if they’re reading, or ramble on as if chatting with a girlfriend while folding laundry. “So I was making chili for Troy’s Scout meeting (many minutes later) and my husband is bleeding from the neck.”

Lesson #3:
Use the appropriate tone when communicating with your target audience.

* Note: No offense to Ms. Keller, who would be the first to admit she is not qualified for police work.