>> Thursday, December 31, 2009

It’s New Year’s Eve and we’re in Carefree, Arizona – which is a pretty good place to be to bring in a New Year (or just about any other day). It’s also where we were 10 years ago, and as this first decade of the third millennium comes to a close it seemed like a good time to reflect on the next ten years from the standpoint of smart brands.

On New Year’s Eve 1999, my wife Teresa and I watched as 2000 rang in, first in Sydney, then Tokyo (our former home), then Shanghai – and gradually headed westward towards the Arizona desert. A couple of weeks later a USA Today survey would find that 69% of Americans agreed that ‘the country was headed in the right direction’. The Dow closed that day at 11,497 and unemployment was at 3.7%.

Today the percentage of Americans agreeing that we’re ‘headed in the right direction’ stands at 25%. The Dow will probably close today around 10,400 and the latest unemployment figure stands at 9.4%.

Much has been written in the past few days about the ‘lost decade’, one which we seemingly didn’t advance our lives much from where we stood 10 years ago – and with two wars going on and having weathered two recessions, the question being asked is whether we made any real progress at all.

Of course we have. But life moves along at its own version of Moore’s Law – the speed of the demands on us and the challenges we all face seem to double every 18 months. And while there have been many achievements that have put the world closer together during the last ten years (we do live in a Facebook/Twitter world, at least for the moment), we have also taken our fair share of bad news, so it’s no wonder everyone feels a bit more stressed today.

But in this convergence of events also exists opportunity – the writing on the wall may be that in this environment, the smart money is on brands and businesses that people trust to make their lives easier. Brands that listen to consumers, and make the changes to help their customers as their lives change. This may mean providing better value, making delivery more convenient or creating healthier options. But definitely brands that hear what their consumers need and are nimble and smart enough to adjust their products and offerings.

Carefree may almost be an oxymoronic name for a place to ring in the New Year – these days, each successive new year seems to be anything but carefree. However, as the new decade gives us the opportunity to start fresh, perhaps carefree is an appropriate phrase for the kind of relationship consumers would like to have with brands they can build trust with in the coming years.

Here’s to a new year filled with wellness on all fronts.



Re-invention. Responsibility. Respect.

>> Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Those are our three wellness watchwords for the year ahead.

They come from the results of our Wellness survey, and we’re already seeing them being validated in the culture, whether it’s Deepak Chopra’s new book, Reinventing the Body, or Liberty Mutual’s Responsibility Project, or Oprah’s decision to respect that the time to end her show had come.

Our wellness watchwords remind us that true wellness goes beyond good health. True wellness, we think, is a function of the choices we make, and the experiences we create. Not just in which diet we choose or what medicine we take. There’s a chance – a need -- to create wellness in every part of our life’s story, from friends and family, to finance and fatigue, to marriage and money. And those are just places to start – the opportunity for wellness is woven in to every part of our lives.

So how do we see our three wellness watchwords coming to play in 2010?

Reinvention. Well, that’s easy. As the economy tumbled all around us, even those still bringing home salaries every week looked for ways to live their lives differently. There’s a debate about whether those changes will stick, but we think it will, at least for the coming year. Those who lost jobs are finding new strengths and skill sets to prepare themselves for a different profession. And with technology changing around us, every day brings a new way to rethink time-tested behavior, whether it’s reading a book or buying a car. Wellness in 2010 will mean continuing to reinvent how we meet both the challenges and opportunities life brings.

Responsibility? Trust has gone down. Way, way down. Whether you’re talking about Congress, big business, big finance, big auto or healthcare, we’re not sure who’s going to take care of us any more. So we’re learning to take care of ourselves – saving money, shopping prudently, remembering how to cook again, and polishing our fingernails at home, thank you very much. And as the gritty optimism of Hopenhagen fades into the fumes of the limos leaving Copenhagen, we know we need to do more for our planet, whether it’s eating lower on the food chain, biking to work or buying antiques (a lower carbon footprint than new furniture!). In 2010, wellness will include taking more responsibility for our actions, because we’ve learned that we can’t afford to be complacent about our health, our finances, or even our planet.

Respect. Well, that’s the heart of the matter, isn’t it? Respect for ourselves, and how we want to live, look and feel. Respect for our partners and children and families, friends and colleagues and neighbors. People we know, people we’ve “friended,” and people we’ve yet to meet. Because wellness is all about “we-ness.”

Wishing you well this holiday season – see you in 2010!



Open Happiness - The Mini Version

>> Sunday, December 20, 2009

The world's largest beverage company is downsizing. A couple of months ago, Coca-Cola announced the introduction of its new 90-calorie mini can; now it’s coming to a refrigerator near you.

A full page ad in the Sunday New York Times yesterday announced that “the world is changing and we are too.” The new can is cute and festive, with the image of a Classic Coke bottle on the front. The portion-controlled serving has about 50 calories less than the standard 12 ouncer.

That may not seem like much, but if you want to burn off 50 calories you’d have to take a brisk 15-minute walk. (How do I know? Check out this cool calorie calculator from

Some people say we’re wired by evolution to finish all the food in front of us (and if like me, you were raised by depression-era parents, it can be hard to let anything go to waste). So Coke is making it easier for people who love its original, classic, non-diet, non-Zero taste (you know who you are!) to enjoy it in moderation.

It’s all about making choices that work for you. As Coke’s ads say, you can still choose to “open happiness” -- but now you’ll be able to enjoy it while feeling just a little more virtuous. Which is a form of happiness, too.

Here’s hoping you’re well!



3 Life Lessons for Planners

>> Monday, December 14, 2009

I met Megan Murray when she was a student in my Corporate Branding seminar at NYU: Megan was so far and away the most interesting student in class that I was shocked to learn she was still an undergraduate! Megan graduated from NYU this last Wednesday, and we invited her to join us at Saatchi Wellness for a few weeks to see if Strategic Planning was just as interesting in real life as it was for her in school.

Here’s what she had to say about that – take it away, Megan!

Megan writes:

<<Lesson #1: The bad ideas are (almost) as important as the great ones. Bad ideas are a part of the process, and letting them get you down is far from productive. Sometimes it takes establishing the worst idea possible to begin to move in the right direction (far, far away). Working through a strategy becomes much easier with the understanding that not every idea will succeed. A million frustrating failures can lead you to the message that solves the equation. Getting there, no matter how steep the path, is what matters in the end.

Lesson #2: Know your strengths. A great creative team will sell your strategy better than you could ever imagine. Letting your mind wander into the world of hypothetical creative executions takes you away from your real strength. Spend your energy developing a great message and trust your creative team to hit it out of the park.

Lesson #3: Metaphors… use them! This may be my favorite lesson of all. In the classroom, we strive to make our strategies clear, direct, specific, and succinct. We spend our energy “getting to the point” and waste no time “dancing around it.” But the best communication may involve doing this dance after all. Learning to find the right metaphors for an idea or experience bridges gaps in rational understanding – and is invaluable for communicating deeper emotional messages. A strategy is only as strong as it is deep - if a message can’t get there, it gets lost in the clutter around us.

Like the adrenaline that sends you flying at the beginning of a race, my first weeks here have been exhilarating. I can only hope the lessons I’ve learned stay with me forever, and propel me through the rest of a hopefully, very exciting career.>>

Hope this finds you well!



George Clooney at the Hilton

>> Sunday, December 13, 2009

Last week, I spent about 8 hours in the middle seat of a packed airplane en route from NYC to Dallas Forth Worth. It's normally about a four hour trip, but the storm hitting the northeast changed all that.

We were second for takeoff when the tail wind shifted – and suddenly we were 3300 pounds overweight. The pilot called for a dozen passengers to disembark – unsaid was the observation that each of those passengers would have to weigh in at 300 pounds to make weight. For once, I felt pleasingly thin: even if I did get off the plane, my contribution wouldn’t count. For much.

But no one was willing to give up their seat, despite the fact that without a severe cut in our combined poundage, we were going nowhere. After about 2 hours, the pilot decided to take fuel off the plane. As he’d helpfully pointed out earlier, 3300 pounds too much meant we had just enough fuel to get to DFW, but not enough to actually land. Too much information.

We took off eventually for an uneventful trip to – wait for it – Little Rock, Arkansas, where we refueled, arriving at DFW around 8 pm. Three-plus hours’ delay felt like a small price to pay for having enough fuel to land. But the marketing coup of the day came not from the airline (which had helpfully informed us that we were the first of four planes to land and take off from Little Rock, and wasn’t that good news?), but from the DFW-area Hilton where we checked in for our one-night stay.

One by one, as we were handed our room card-keys, each of us said, hey, check this out. The face of each card bore an image from “Up In The Air,” the new George Clooney film. And feeling like a road-weary traveler myself at that point, I found myself with an extra interest – actually, an affinity – with the movie. And a dawning appreciation that I was thinking far more about George Clooney at this point than my own small foray into the aggravating side of business travel.

So thank you, Up In The Air and Hilton marketing team. Thank you for taking my mind off the middle seat after a long business travel day. And kudos for a partnership that managed to be both subtle and surprising -- intersecting with me and my life when it was most relevant.

Not that I need any extra encouragement to see George Clooney.

Hope this finds you well.



They're Just People

>> Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I was in a meeting the other day and caught myself doing something that, in hindsight, really made me stop and think. In the course of presenting ideas on how to engage a particular audience, I kept using terms like "patients," "customers," "consumers," and "targets" almost interchangeably, as if the label didn't matter and that one way of describing these groups was just as good as the other. I realized how limiting and narrow minded all of these labels are in describing anyone and tried to think of a better descriptor.

The answer that hit me was the obvious one: our job is to communicate with PEOPLE. Human, individual, unique people.

Of course we have to recognize that at different times throughout their days and lives, yes, people are our "customers" or our "consumers" (just look at the way goods were consumed on Black Friday), or any other label we want to apply. But these are just glimpses of a much more broad and interesting view. We need to take off the blinders and look at the whole picture.

Looking at this bigger picture makes our jobs as marketers a bit more challenging. Greater differences between people are revealed and the neat little groupings that we assemble for ourselves are now less meaningful than they used to be. Our "segmentation strategies" aren't the only things that are losing effectiveness—so too are the mass media channels that we rely upon to reach people, like TV and print. To succeed in this world, we need to make personalized content available within targeted channels to truly engage effectively.

Why have the rules of the game suddenly changed? I would argue that they haven't—people have always wanted to be treated like individuals, not as segments or targets or by attributes (which marketers make up) that lump them together with a bunch of other strangers. The game is different now because we have the means to do something about it. Whether it's the environments where we can interact better or data that helps us understand better, we have an unprecedented ability to treat people as the unique individuals that they are.

Yes, it's harder to engage and connect with people as people. But by dropping labels which narrow our focus, and looking at how we can relate to them within a larger context, our approach evolves and so does our ability to create things that truly resonate. Gone are the days where we launch messages at targets. Now, we must think about how to create and share unique experiences, in whatever form they may be.

I'm taking the first step. From now on no more labels like patients, customers, or consumers. They're just people.


I'll Have My Burger Green, Please

>> Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Notice anything about this logo? Sure, it’s the familiar golden arches. But in enviro-conscious Europe, McDonald’s is changing its ketchup-red background for a color it’s not normally associated with (unless you count cash): a deep green. If you’re traveling in Germany, France or England, you can already catch the new look.

The online space has been buzzing about whether this is “greenwashing” or simply a smart reflection of McDonald’s green values (read about McDonald’s top 5 green initiatives on their web site, or as reported by

When GM publicly considered a new green logo, it was ridiculed. But what I think is most interesting is that McD’s is not changing its logo everywhere – just in the places where it believes consumers act on green initiatives more often. And who still like Le Big-Mac for a quick déjeuner.

Can a brand play with its logo in some places and not others? Classic thinking would say no – but these aren’t classic times. We’re in an era of unparalleled personalization, targeting and re-invention. What’s your take?

Hope this finds you well,