Aubie and Big Al
Aubie and Big Al

My family moved to Birmingham from Los Angeles when I was a kid. It seemed like everyone on the playground that first day asked me if I cheered for Alabama or Auburn. “I cheer for USC,” I proudly told them. The other kids didn’t seem impressed. Instead, they further pressed me, “War Eagle or Roll Tide?”

I quickly learned how insane this rivalry is, and it was absolutely necessary to pick a side. The emotions around the Iron Bowl run deep, and all year long. It’s definitely not just a game.

Recently, fans have shown that there are no limits to how far they’ll take things, from vandalizing the lawn in front of Bryant Denny to poisoning the trees at Toomer’s Corner. If you watched the Roll Tide / War Eagle special on ESPN this week, you would agree that it certainly encompassed the extreme nature of the two fan bases. It is a deeply rooted hatred. Fans here mean business.

This summer, we shot new TV spots for one of our clients, Tiffin Motorhomes, who sponsors various SEC football programs, including Alabama and Auburn.

The spots feature Aubie and Big Al poking fun at each other and playing pranks. The mascots put this playful, innocent spin (especially when Big Al steals Aubie’s toilet paper!) on a rivalry that often runs deeper and more extreme than seems reasonable.

I love how these two mascots are able to make light of a situation that can get a little crazy, both on and off the field. Aubie and Big Al are never going to be best friends, but instead of hating each other, they channel their emotions and intensity into silly pranks and poking fun.




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.

It’s fascinating to watch the advertising press get all atwitter (forgive me) about the advent of social media. The simple fact is that a company’s brand has never been defined by lush print advertising, clever TV commercials, or a stunning brochure or website.

The waitress who just forgot to refill your customer’s iced tea? She’s your brand. The door that squeaked awkwardly when your most important prospect walked in? Branding, that could use a little WD-40.

Everything a consumer sees, hears, believes, touches, encounters, smells or feels is the essence of your brand.

The biggest challenge for marketers today is being authentic. Because nothing will torpedo positive perceptions of a brand faster than a negative customer experience.

That doesn’t mean that you, your company, or your service has to be perfect. Consumers don’t expect perfection; they expect satisfaction. What it does mean is that you need to present yourself as genuinely obsessed with meeting your customers’ needs, and willing to step up and make it right when you don’t.


A print campaign for The Scribbler was named Best of Show in the 7th District ADDY Awards in New Orleans (the 7th District encompasses most of the southeastern United States and includes Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Lousiana). The campaign of small space ads for a Birmingham-area stationery boutique was created by ACD Roy Burns, designer Holly Cook and senior copywriter Kathy Oldham. The accolade also marks the second consecutive Best of Show District win for Lewis Communications.

The President, a lizard and a cashier walk into a bar…
The President, a lizard and a cashier walk into a bar…

Who are the most ubiquitous and competitive brands in advertising?

Miller Light and Bud Light? Ford and Chevrolet? Burger King and McDonalds?

What about insurance?

In the last 10+ years, insurance, specifically car insurance, has become one of the most hotly contested categories in advertising.

Blame Warren Buffett for at least part of this. When the ‘Oracle of Omaha’ and Berkshire Hathaway snapped up Geico (Government Employees Insurance Company) in 1996 it enabled Geico to make serious investments in their brand and helped spark an advertising battle among insurers that helped catapult spending to record levels.

From 2003 to 2007, TNS Media Intelligence measured 103.8% category growth in ad spend for insurance from $1.67 billion to $3.41 billion.

When you look at TNS’ data during that same ’03-’07 period just for auto insurance spending, the growth was even more dramatic: 195%.

Why is this category so white-hot?

The ability to quickly quote several different insurance companies has provided consumers with a level of price transparency that has flattened the playing field. The problem for insurance companies is that they are now perceived to be about the same in the products they offer, the service they provide and the convenience of buying or updating policies. Right or wrong, car insurance is now seen by many as a commodity.

In response, Flo, the Caveman, and now The World’s Greatest Spokesperson in the World are all vying to be “the lowest cost provider” with the character making their sales pitch really the only differentiating brand attribute for each insurance company.

So, would you rather buy from the googly eyes or Erin the eSurance spy with pink hair?

The answer for insurance companies may not be to keep jamming more characters at consumers at 300 GRP’s a week supported by constant logo placement at sporting events. Instead, why not borrow a page from one of the most successful marketers in the world?

While it is a far jump from car insurance to personal computers and music players, Apple is a brand that more marketers should emulate. Their products look different and work differently and stand so far apart from other products that the products themselves are their first and best advertising.

Lee Clow the chief creative officer of Apple’s longtime ad agency has said as much, “The Apple Store was probably the best ad we ever did. Everything a brand does is advertising.”

So, maybe instead of focusing so much borrowed interest on characters and spokespeople, car insurance companies might have more success if they first focused on the products they sell and try marketing something truly different.

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

Part I

RMS Titanic represented state-of-the-art technology in 1912. It was the pinnacle of Edwardian achievement and the height of accomplishment in the industrial revolution up to that time. And, it was in service for only 4 days.

The lessons learned from Titanic are profound and many. The sinking changed an antiquated system, and those changes continue to save lives to this day. So perhaps we can also glean lessons that apply to our job as communicators and brand stewards.

1. If you’re coming head on into disaster, don’t avoid it; aim directly for it.

When Titanic sailed, it was the brand new flagship of the White Star Line. So the line decided they should have their highest-ranking people in command. The problem was, most of those officers didn’t have a great understanding of the brand new ship. And that is ultimately what led to the disaster.

This is also true of brands. If the people in charge of a brand don’t understand that the brand really isn’t theirs, but instead is their customer’s property, that brand is doomed to fail in this new era of communication.

Chief Officer William McMaster Murdoch was at the helm of Titanic when the iceberg was spotted. His reaction was to go with his instincts. “Hard astarboard, full speed astern” was his command.

His intention was to swing the ship around the berg to miss it altogether. The problem was, he didn’t understand how Titanic was engineered. His command actually eliminated the ship’s ability to turn quickly. Because the ship “glanced” off the side of the berg, it damaged five watertight compartments. Titanic was designed to be able to stay afloat with four compartments damaged.

The best order at the helm of Titanic that night would have been “full speed astern,” an order to steer directly into the berg. This would have damaged at most two compartments and would have saved 1500 lives.

In a time when a brand can no longer control a one-way conversation, it is more important than ever to do what Officer Murdoch should have done: take on whatever is coming your way directly. Don’t try to avoid it. Don’t try to sugar coat it. Take it head on. The new consumer wants a “relationship.” They want to be able to trust a brand. So they want to feel like that brand is listening to what they have to say.

And just like in any friendship, not all conversations are going to be nice ones. But friendships survive because the two parties trust each other. They may not always agree, but they will always trust. Be authentic. Be real.

2. Be careful what you say. The message could turn on you.

“God himself could not sink this ship.”

After almost 100 years, this quote — which, legend has it, was made on the spur of the moment by a deckhand during Titanic’s sea trials a week before her maiden voyage — has become the defining characteristic of the disaster. Titanic: the unsinkable ship. Ironically, the brand — the White Star Line — never made this claim. Yet to this day it is synonymous with the greatest ocean liner disaster of all time. Why?

Because it was picked up and given life by the media, and by word of mouth, and made larger by each person who passed it along. The brand allowed this exaggeration to take hold and did nothing to influence or quell it.

Why not? The ship was practically unsinkable. It had a double bottom, 16 watertight compartments with three separate systems to activate the doors should the ship need them. What could possibly go wrong? Why not allow this misinformation to circulate? It could only help the brand, right?

Wrong. White Star never recovered after Titanic sank and was eventually absorbed by their primary competitor.

This exact situation lives on today, especially with the advent of social media. Any message, whether true or not, can now be picked up and circulated around the world instantly. The brands of tomorrow need to be cognizant today about a game plan for where the conversation goes and how to shape its life.

Those who have systems in place to guide the discussion won’t be blindsided. You will never be able to fully control the conversation, but you can get your side of the story to take hold if you are prepared. Because once the wrong story begins to spin, it is hard to slow down. Just ask Tiger Woods.

(to be continued)

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?

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.


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.

Design from a New Vantage Point
Design from a New Vantage Point

I am an aesthetics over analytics girl any day, and I always have been. I pursued my degree in interior design because I love to be surrounded by a purposeful beauty, but in my final year in the interior design program at the University of Alabama, I realized I yearned to experience something more.

I had become trapped in the idea that the only choice I had in my career was whether to go “commercial” or “residential,” and I was suffocating. I was on the UA Greek system’s governing board, as well as an active member of the Student Government Association, and I adored planning our big events and being a part of all the small details that take something from good to great.

And then entered Lewis Communications and the world of advertising.

It was a conversation that was had often during that final semester. The summary goes like this: “I have no idea what I am going to do. Help.” Then, during one of those conversations with a mentor and dear friend, I learned about summer internships at Lewis Communications. I had never thought about taking my love for aesthetics in the advertising direction, but I was quite intrigued by the idea.

Here I am today, fresh off a photo shoot for Tiffin Motorhomes. In my role assisting the stylist, I have served on both the creative side and the account side, and I’ve been able to combine my love for visual beauty with my organized, detail-oriented nature. Though it may seem like styling a photo shoot can’t be that different from designing an interior space, I have learned there are so many little things that go into photography that engages consumers. It’s about creating the right shot list with the right colors for each unit for the right medium. Scale and proportion that seem great in person may not translate well in photography, and I have loved taking on design from this new vantage point.

I’m now off the shoot and in the office, and I can’t wait to see what all the work we’ve done thus far will turn into. Already I’ve learned how captivating various images can be for different audiences, and I can’t wait to learn more.