Should a car tweet?
Should a car tweet?

I eagerly awaited the delivery of my 2012 MINI Cooper, tracking it day by day on the boat from Southampton, England to Brunswick, Georgia. When it finally arrived, I was practically giddy.

Meanwhile, most of my coworkers glanced in the parking lot and shrugged: “Uh, what’s the difference?” After all, it was my third red MINI.

But I was excited about this one because of the addition of a new feature called MINI Connected.

What is MINI Connected? Watch the Official MINI Video.

By now, most of us are used to some level of iPhone integration with our cars. Many of us have cables that allow us to control our music from the dashboard, Bluetooth to make calls and that sort of thing. But MINI Connected takes the bleeding edge of automotive technology to a whole new level.

It consists of two components – an enhanced navigation system built into your dashboard, and an app you download from Apple’s App Store.

It’s a little bit unwieldy, because you have to launch the app on the phone, plug it into the dashboard cable, and leave it on the console.

But to hear BMW engineers tell it, that inconvenience is by design. Texting and driving has become an incredibly dangerous habit on our roads. And c’mon, tell the truth: you know you’ve checked a Facebook update at a traffic light.

What MINI Connected (and its similar but not identical sister, BMW Apps) aspire to do is give you some of the functionality of your smartphone, but delivered in a way that’s safer and more car-friendly. Meanwhile, it reduces that temptation to reach for that cell phone and check just… one… more… message.

It includes about a half dozen features, with more being added. Part of the beauty of this is that now adding new functionality is as easy as updating your iPhone. Suddenly, the electronics in your car aren’t a total dinosaur three years after
you buy it.

What can MINI Connected do? You can do a Google local search and program the results into your nav system. You can use Google Send To Car to pre-send various addresses from your home computer to your Cooper nav system. You can subscribe to RSS feeds. You can listen to web radio. I couldn’t be happier to have access to one of my favorite stations, Birmingham Mountain Radio, wherever my travels take me. Or, you can listen to your iTunes, with the Cooper suggesting a mix of music, based on your current driving style.

And you can check your Facebook and Twitter feeds. On a three-hour road trip, I find Twitter especially useful for keeping up with the news. You can read friends’ updates and “Like” or retweet as desired.

Wisely, BMW engineers have made it impossible for 70 MPH motorists to tap out status updates while driving. Instead they helpfully offer a rather hilarious selection of pre-written tweets, based on activity on your iPhone and your car:

“It’s 92° outside and I’ve just talked with
Lewis Communications on the phone.”

“I’m listening to Nirvana and will arrive on
Peachtree Street at 9:32 PM.”

When disconnected, the iPhone lets you carry vehicle stats with you – how much gas is left in the tank, how many miles of range you have. But for me, the most compelling feature is a brand new one. MINI Connected now includes MOG, a music service similar to Spotify. Now, I can drive down the road and listen to virtually every CD on the planet, for $9.99 a month. It takes a toll on your iPhone’s data usage, however, so I’m grateful to be grandfathered into AT&T’s unlimited data plans.

I love the way BMW and MINI are continuing to bring value to my new car with app updates. I suspect that in three years, most cars will come with a 4G LTE connection, and we won’t need smartphones as a bridge.

But if this is where the future is heading, I Like.

Titanic lessons in advertising & branding
Titanic lessons in advertising & branding

Part II

In Part I I covered the first two of five lessons that Titanic can teach about advertising and branding:

1. If you’re coming head on into disaster, don’t avoid it; aim directly for it.
2. Be careful what you say. The message could turn on you.

Now, the remaining three of the aforementioned five lessons that apply to our job as communicators and brand stewards:

3. Don’t forget the keys to the binocular locker.

When it was determined that the White Star line was going to put only its best officers on board the Titanic for its maiden voyage, the existing officers were either outright replaced or offered lower ranks to stay on board. One of these officers was David Blair, the 2nd officer. Rather than accepting a lower rank, he instead transferred to another ship. The day before Titanic sailed, he left, taking with him the keys to a locker in the quartermaster’s office.

Normally, this would not be a big deal, however in this particular case, that locker just happened to contain the lookout’s binoculars. This brings up an important lesson for each of us in the communications business today. The advertising industry is changing in radical new ways.

Those agencies who embrace that change today probably saw it coming and weren’t caught flatfooted when things shifted. That kind of farsighted vision is an important tool to keep in front of every decision we make. Though some changes headed our way are small, they can have big implications. Just as not having a key to a single locker helped sink the largest, most advanced ship of the time, small things can have a profound impact on our business.

On that dark ocean on an April night long ago, if the lookouts had had the ability to see what was coming ahead of time, they would have reacted much sooner and we wouldn’t be talking about the Titanic right now.

4. No matter how accomplished you think you are, you can still freeze to death like everyone else.

A first class ticket aboard Titanic in today’s dollars cost $69,600. Needless to say, the first class section was a who’s who of American and European society. Titanic’s maiden voyage, if recreated today, would have the equivalent of Steven Jobs, Bill Gates, Michael Jordan, Colin Powell, Brad Pitt, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Tiger Woods and 320 other heavy hitters on board. Yet for all their importance, influence or prestige, they drowned alongside 3rd class steerage passengers.

What is the lesson here? Our company philosophy has always been that the best idea in the room wins. Because I truly believe — like Chef Gusteau in the film Ratatouille says — “anyone can cook.” Great ideas are great ideas and it doesn’t matter if the high-paid CD or the greenest intern comes up with it. It is still a great idea. I have had the misfortune (as have many of you reading this) to work in shops that don’t have this basic respect for ideas. The danger is, when our own self-importance gets out of whack, self-justification can overrule our best instincts.

Everyone has value, especially in the new world where ideas must come quicker and in so many more areas than ever before. The days of a writer and an art director sitting in an office and creating the entire campaign are over. The new order of the day is for agencies to change their structure to embrace this idea. Some of the best ideas we’ve had this year came from a media planner and an account supervisor.

5. Don’t ignore the person who is trying to save you.

Just minutes before the Titanic struck the iceberg, they received a warning from an eastbound liner, the S.S. Californian. The Californian had been forced to stop to prevent striking a very large ice field, and they knew Titanic was within a few miles of their position — so they fired off a telegraph warning.

Unfortunately, Titanic was busy sending messages from its first class passengers to their relatives and friends in New York. So the wireless operator on Titanic rudely told the Californian operator to “shut up.” Which he did. He shut down his radio for the night and went to bed. The Californian was within 11 miles of Titanic and could have saved 1500 lives.

This is a perfect lesson for those of us in the advertising business who think we’ve got all the answers. We assert our expertise as we rush headlong into making yet another deadline. The problem is, we’re doing so much talking, that we may not bother to listen. I’m not going to quote David Ogilvy yet again for this conversation; you know what he said, but his assertion is right and wrong.

Consumers no longer have to sit and listen to what we are saying. They know a lot more than we think they do. And if we listen, we can learn a lot more than we think we know about them. Some of the best ads we’ve written were literally dictated straight from the people we want to influence. The internet is the best tool ever conceived for getting this information. So use it. Listen. Don’t talk. You might hear something you never expected.


Crowdsourcing. All you have to do is utter the word around creative people and you’ll watch a room quickly divide into proponents and naysayers.

Critics love to point at examples like Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s Brammo logo project, in which hundreds of designers slaved for a mere $1000. Some designers will tell you that it devalues their thinking; all you have to do is search for the #nospec tag on Twitter to see hundreds of comments opposed to crowdsourcing and specifically to the Brammo contest. (It goes without saying that Bogusky got far more than a thousand bucks worth of buzz out of the competition.)

Another hotbed for discussion of the crowdsourcing movement has been Edward Boches’ blog, where you’ll find more than a few of my comments on the subject as well.

But let’s put aside the debate over crowdsourcing as a source of cheap labor. Let me offer you a better example. One that I think is more pure, more joyful — and in my opinion more promising, as a place where the crowdsourcing movement can lead.

One of my favorite musicians in the world is a singer songwriter out of Austin, Texas named Darden Smith. Check him out. To me, the songs he writes feel like Austin: smart, simple, contemporary, yet firmly rooted in the Texas tradition.

But as much as he enjoys recording CDs and touring the US and UK, Darden gets his greatest joy these days out of something else. It’s a program he created in 2003, called Be An Artist. Professional musicians go into the schools, work with the kids, and before the end of the day, the kids have written a song together. And to hear Darden tell it, sometimes they’re pretty darn good.

But what’s important isn’t the song that results. (Although if you want to check out a few of the songs from Darden Smith’s Be An Artist project, click here.) Is a class full of 2nd graders going to write a better song than a perennial Grammy-winning songwriter team? Um, not every time. And probably, not as often.

But that isn’t the point.

To quote Darden: “Everyone is an artist at something. Everyone is creative. Art surrounds us, from the clothes we wear, the car we ride in, to the music we listen to and the buildings we live in. There’s no escaping it! The Big Three: attention, intention, & the love of doing something. If you have those ingredients, you’re making art.”

Smith isn’t crowdsourcing songs in search of a chartbusting hit. He writes pretty damn fine songs already, thank you.

His motivation lies not in the song that results that afternoon, but in what they’re really creating: a generation of kids more interested in the arts, and more confident in themselves as creative people.

It’s all about the engagement.

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?


The Birmingham chapter of the American Advertising Federation held its annual ADDY Gala at Soho in Homewood. Lewis captured 11 Gold ADDYs and 22 Silver ADDYs, more than any other agency. In addition, the agency won Best of Show/Broadcast for its “Never Saw It Coming” TV campaign for Alfa Insurance. Stephen Curry was honored as Creative Director of the Year and Copywriter of the Year, while Joel Wheat was named Art Director of the Year. In addition, being one of Lewis’ youngest employees didn’t stop Holly Cook from making her mark at the show. Holly was named Designer of the Year, Illustrator of the Year and her work from Auburn University was named as Best of Show/Student. This represents an unprecedented three major honors for a fresh-out-of-school designer.

The Corporate Myth of Free Social Media Marketing
The Corporate Myth of Free Social Media Marketing

Robert McDonald, CEO of Proctor & Gamble, made headlines this month when he announced to Wall Street that “social media is free” — apparently as a defense for firing 1,600 marketing and other non-manufacturing workers.

“In the digital space, with things like Google and Facebook, the return on investment of the advertising, (1) when properly designed, (2) when the big idea is there, (3) can be much more efficient. One example is our Old Spice campaign, where (4) we had 1.8 billion free impressions.”

A closer look at his statement, however, reveals four glaring flaws in his thinking.

1) Nothing “properly designed” is free. Social media efforts take time and talent to create and well-constructed networks of (sometimes) thousands of people to take root. P&G’s social media channel is no more free to operate than are their sales or distribution networks.

2) No “big idea” is free. Sure, it’s easy to sell Knicks tickets NOW. But big ideas, from Jared Fogel to Jeremy Lin, require some risk and investment upfront before they can be spread in any media, including online.

3) Yes, social media “can be” more efficient – but efficient doesn’t mean free. A Toyota Prius can be more efficient to drive, but you still have to buy one and fill it up BEFORE you can save money on its operation.

4) The Old Spice campaign was the opposite of “free”. It was launched via a massive television buy, was produced with world-class advertising agency, production and talent expense, and was supported by what one analyst called, “a forest of buy-one-get-one-free coupons”.

True, the Old Spice campaign was a masterful effort that re-defined the brand and deftly utilized special media. But to suggest that it garnered 1.8 billion free impressions blatantly misrepresents the magnitude of their investment and their well-deserved return.