Innovation Blues

November 19, 2009

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @NYCA 

In this world you got to use what you got. 

He thumped and whomped his two suitcases – a Samsonite floorbase and a tom-tom that had long lost its logo. His drumsticks worked every inch of a snare drum made from a transmission oil can with thick strips of black tape in the pattern of a Union Jack.  “Yeah, well, we’re Americans. Americans,” he spoke with the syncopation of a drummer who hears the beat even when he sleeps. He was jamming on a Sunday afternoon for the flip-flop crowd’s dollars. 

The rest of the drum set is comprised of a tin prison-type coffee cup and a cymbal that was formerly a garbage can. 

“Been playing these since I joined up with him six month ago.” “Him” is the coughing-croaking lead singer and steel guitar picker in the cool-daddy sunglasses. “This guitar cost me $50, parts from the junk yard, better sound than my Gibson which I have but why would I play it?” 

They were playing, answering questions about their instruments and collecting crumpled bucks from the breezy strollers at the farmer’s market. 

This wasn’t a musical performance as much as it was a study in innovation. “Lost most of what I had since the downturn in the economy,” Said the ski-capped drummer, smiling a victim’s smile of acceptance. “The economy broke into my room, took my stuff. I lost the IOU.” It was likely a gimmick but I was buying.

They made their instruments from scraps and played them for all they were worth. 

The recession may have found its troubadours. 

“I heard it’s a cruel world – I don’t buy it. The world is and we are. No meanness,”   he who is known as “Him” side-talked at me while nodding to a dollar dropper. 

“Let’s play another. I think we should play another.” The drummer tapped – more like twitched — on his garbage can. And then they broke into, “Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself,” by Clapton. 

Were they good? Is that really the question? They upped the game from rhythm and acumen to resourcefulness and drama. They gave us a clue on survival, a ‘we’re-all-in-this-together’ nod of community, and showed their invention. They told a story of gumption and vision. Where some see junk others hear music. And where there’s music there’s bound to be some crumpled bills looking for a new home. That’s branding – something more than the usual song and dance to relate to, be better by.  These guys gave me a reason to stick around, to take a picture, to be involved and for that they have a brand advocate. All for replacing a drum with a broken suitcase – because they created a story that engaged me and brought my attention to what could be.  Thanks luggage drummer dude! 

And so I, and I’m sure many others, will pay for some of that. I dropped a dollar in the only suitcase that wasn’t a drum and then I applauded — me and a kid in diapers who’d been twirling enough to tell anyone he agreed with Him. If it’s a cruel world, he too, wasn’t going to let it get in the way of music.


Building Brands through Social Networking:Part 1

August 20, 2009

By Kevin Breid, Business Management and Development Intern @NYCA

By now we have reached a point where the majority of internet users are at least aware of Twitter and Facebook.  Their endorsement and utility are expanding exponentially.  Facebook alone hosts 250 million users.  Nearly half of those users log on to the site at least once every day.  The same goes for Twitter, with estimates stating they have increased by near 20 million users since the beginning of the year.  In the past two months alone, an incredible number of internet users went from having only theoretical knowledge of Twitter to becoming regular tweeters.

social_circles_2Only a couple years ago, these social media sites did not even appear on anyone’s radar.  Now, Facebook, Twitter, and the form of communication they provide are becoming part of everyday life.  Facebooking, tweeting, and texting (which is essentially the basis for Twitter) are quickly approaching a status of necessity and functionality that rivals the cell phone and e-mail.

So how are brands getting into the networking game?  Interaction.  By participating in social media sites and interacting directly with consumers, we can find out what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, and what their needs are.  Beyond metrics and results, we can begin to engage consumers on an individual basis. In return, they have the opportunity to connect with us, speak their minds, and ultimately feel important and even influential. 

A small business, like a privately owned restaurant, can send a message to their regulars through Twitter if, for example, they have a new entrée on their menu.  A regular can then tweet back after dinner and offer their opinion and feedback.  Likewise, larger corporations can give a face to an otherwise seemingly impersonal monster.  Consistent, personal dialogue of this sort can give life to a brand and permit patrons to feel legitimately that you are investing as much in their interests and concerns as they are investing in your company with their loyalty. 

These methods of networking are still new and constantly progressing, but symbiotic brand-and-consumer relationships of this kind could do great things for companies who are willing to open up to their audience and communicate.

With so much on the line, why is most POS work so lazy?

July 10, 2009

By Michael Mark, creative director/ceo @NYCA 

There’s no more intense drama anywhere than at the point of purchase, including most bowl games and bedrooms. And yet Point Of Sale work too often is a dull, sleepy afterthought.   

Shakespeare’s got the pretty words but when customer meets products meets choice – that is magnificent theatre. When we do POS at NYCA, we like to think of what is at stake. It focuses our work on the specific task at hand: stop and sell. In fact our first piece of work we ever did at the agency for a global client that wanted a TV campaign was a piece of POS. That device made the product the number one seller in the world.  

posLook at the characters: there’s The Customer – searching for something satisfying, not often sure what, even after having searched online, after reading the blogs, listening to her friends, being bombarded with the ads, she still has to see it, smell and touch it for herself. She needs to experience it to believe it.  POS can help answer her innermost questions. “Is it really what I have heard?” she wonders “Is it for me?” Doubt, confusion, hope.  

Now all around The Customer you have The Store just pulsing with the hungry, encroaching competition.  The attractive merchandise surrounding and beckoning the weakening Customer. She came in with one thing kind of in mind but now, hmm this looks good and that seems like it could be nice, too. Ah the heart thumping of opportunity!  

And yet with all this tension, with the entire transaction on the line, we see Point of Sale materials that are flat and boring, worse, acting like they have no role in the outcome.  They are just standing there like limp spectators who have no understanding of the customer in her vulnerable state and seemingly no desire to win her over. And, worse, some that just mumble irrelevant nonsense to themselves when the customer is right before them. 

Too often POS is just a take-down of the brand work that ran in other mediums when the customer was in the gathering state. Good POS knows and talks to the customer in her “buying mindset.” She is in front of you – you are already in the circle of acceptability with others. Now you need to make her your own.  

Bad POS talks to the customer as if she is still at home. It’s just like we speak differently to people who are across the street than we do when they are in arms reach, we need to adjust what we say and how we talk to customers at retail. When we are up close, we’d better recognize her exact needs at that moment or she is gone with the other goods (rising music for emphasis) and we are tragically abandoned. (SFX: lonely wind blows)  

At those moments you need to know your customer well because generalities won’t get it done.  Her “buying mindset” needs rational information over the emotional because POS doesn’t work alone – the item she is considering is the emotional element. You have to double team her. And you better get your part right with the persuasive details, said fast. STOP and SELL. Do the research to understand her ‘buying mindset’ and turn her from a shopper into a cash paying customer. POS stand up for your product and yourself and sell her why you are the best choice. That will get her 40 feet down the aisle to the cash register. That will make the story worthwhile.  

That’s how you should be thinking when creating POS: like everything is on the line.  

And then Ka-ching. The sale is closed. A happy ending. Curtain falls.

Love and fear of metrics

June 30, 2009

By Michael Mark, creative director/ceo @NYCA

I have a love and fear of metrics because I am a story teller. It’s because I care about my audience, even more than my work.  I want to know how they feel, think, what they want to do once they get touched by my work. This is the real creation – the change, what we call at NYCA: the grow!

That’s why I love good advertising.  We use ideas, pictures, words, media to connect to millions on behalf of our clients. And the best part is the analysis to see what happened.

“How are you feeling, honey?” That’s a tender and perhaps worrisome moment – as you listen for the reaction. In advertising it could be the verdict on the campaign you worked so hard on for months.

It’s the most dramatic of pauses as we wait on the answer – far more telling than the unveiling of the strategy or creative idea. Unfortunately, that is where too many agencies stop – and I can understand why. It’s scary to hear the news.

But it would be a lonely, unfulfilling lie if we didn’t know how people reacted to what we put out there. How can you have a healthy nurturing relationship if you don’t have intimacy?  So we have to find out. Sometimes we ask our lover, “How does this feel?” (really, really scary). Same thing at work – kinda. We need our connection points, our messaging, to be well-directed, true in intention and hard-data effective.  It is a professional, personal and emotional matter. In truth, it is all that matters.

John Harris’s talk on TED is remarkable. He has done some great work on following people’s feelings on the web. See how it makes you feel.

Brand Actions Sell Harder Than Ads

May 20, 2009

By Michelle Edelman, President @NYCA

Many an ad agency and marketer have spent their research dollars trying to determine the factors that cause consumers to fall in love with auto brands. With US auto makers in real trouble, and consumers squirreling away their dollars, this insight is perhaps more valuable than ever.   carinshoppingcart

That’s why it’s so interesting that last week, a study quoted in Business Week indicated that a single action caused survey respondents to increase their consideration of Ford by 33%. And the action had nothing to do with rebates, new car launches, or a new cool ad campaign.

Prior to the federal bailout, 41% of consumers had a positive perception of the Ford brand, but according to the survey, after Ford declined to take the loan it increased to 63%.

It appears that when a consumer buys a car, they are also buying the company that’s selling it. They want to know that the company will actually be around at the end of the service agreement. Logical.

But this move has brand implications for Ford. Ford is not immune from industry difficulties. But this decision holds a message to the marketplace that the Ford brand is about hard-working American values. That instead of accepting a government handout, Ford is imbued with the grit and grease that toughs out the tough times. In contrast with the banks, who took taxpayer money and proceeded to still spend some of it on golf events and bonuses, Ford is going to weather the storm by its own wits.

In this way, the brand has a measure of integrity and roll-up-the-sleeves workmanship that is analogous to its own core consumers, allowing them to relate and connect to The Ford Motor Company in a way that transcends its advertising. In this way, the company’s behavior has become the most important part of their media plan.

Smarten up marketers – it’s a personality contest out there!

April 28, 2009


By: Creative Director/CEO, Michael Mark @ NYCA

My friend is a rascal. He wangles his way into places he doesn’t belong better than an A-list celeb thronged by his thick-muscled posse. He slips out of trouble like a greased David Blaine. This guy’s smart but he’s no Mensa grad, he’s not that good looking, he’s not well-connected. The tools of his trade?  His genuineness and natural charm. He’s likeable. Watching him work is remarkable. It’s not so much what he says – it’s all about how he says it. And don’t think he’s some butt smoocher – I’ve seen him tell people to take a long walk off a short pier, and they look forward to the trip!

My friend is a poster boy for reminding us, as we craft strategies and executions for our advertising campaigns, that brand character can be even more persuasive than the selling message.  It’s hard to be emotionally committed to an attribute. Features don’t beget followers.

A great deal of strategic development time is focused on getting the message right: delivering the single-minded relevant point to the target. We task it with being original, unique. Ownable. I was schooled that this was by far the most critical element in strategic positioning because it was where the big idea dwelled. Well, according to Jack Trout’s latest missive in “Forbes,” there are no new ideas anymore. We are blowing time and our clients’ money with the over-reliance on the rationale. (Tales From The Marketing Wars Minds Hate To Change)

Let’s concentrate on the brainy quotient, sure,  but heavy-up on the tone, the manner, the body. That’s where brand personality comes strolling in, dressed for success, making the everlasting first impression before he ever speaks an SAT word.

We can learn from a master teacher: Apple. You wouldn’t know it from their raving user base but these are machines, for cripes sake. Plastic, wires, glass and tiny pieces soldered together to help create pictures and words, remember them, and connect. But I know MAC users who’d would rather go graphicless in public than fraternize with a PC. They would revolt, feeling like they are betraying their friend. The machine seems to understand them, empower them – but this is lunatic devotion. A MAC has no feelings (yet!) so why does it stir them up?   And techies, please don’t blog/flog me with, “it’s the operating system.” That’s just a microportion of the emotional equation.  To see it another way:  I’d venture that PC people could more easily – emotionally speaking – move to Mac than the other way around. They aren’t as devoted to IBM and the like as MAC users are to Apple. IBM just doesn’t have the magnetic personality of Apple.

The Apple personality was brilliantly reverse-designed. They may have built the machine first but they sold the personality first. So the initial contact is the embrace of the upbeat, creative, change-the-world brand character before you ever boot up. It’s in the logo. And at every touch point the personality is true. We feel the easiness in their open, friendly clean-lined stores, enjoy the good-natured yet competitive TV ads, groove with (not just listen to) their ipod communications, hug their black-jeaned, bespectacled wonderboy leader. Personality perfectly designed.

Barbara Coulon, vice president of trends for market researcher Youth Intelligence, says that surveys show, “Apple has a clear brand personality. People feel like they are part of a tribe. There are a lot of people who are passionate about it. It’s sort of a cult brand. Apple is a way of life,” she told MacNewsWorld.

So study-up and invent a brand message that’s university smart. But invest some creative muscle in developing the brand’s personality so it’s genuinely persuasive.

Great brands have defined personalities within their categories but they’re not exclusive to their sector. So you can easily borrow inspiration. Here’s two examples off one personality statement: Down-to-earth, family oriented, genuine, and sincere.

Now who would that be – Coke or Pepsi?  Easy. But pour a glass of each and stand an inch from them – you couldn’t tell the difference. Brown sugar water is brown sugar water.

Take the same words for a car: Volvo or BMW?

Again, no doubt. Because their brand personalities distinguish them as much as their safety or handling claims. Better.

A well developed personality has the power to engage from afar, stir deep feelings, and make it all up-close and personal. And that’s the flashpoint where interest moves into buying and buying into loyalty.

You know, maybe my rascal friend is a genius after all.

What is creative anyway?

March 12, 2009

By Dave Huerta,

Vice President, Associate Creative Director @ NYCA


Well, very simply, it’s whatever causes a consumer to think,

feel or act in a positive way toward your brand, product or service.


But great creative is that which connects on a much deeper subconscious,

involuntary level and causes change. Like when you put your hand in 300px-incandescent_light_bulbfreezing water or over a flame or when you have an itch.


Remember the last great movie you saw? Most likely you don’t remember scenelighting or camera moves or that you were sitting in a theater watching actors deliver lines.


What you remember is the story or message – the movie’s essence.


When this happened, you were changed.


Every brand or product has an essence too.


What we do is find it, or if it already exists, we brush it off, and tell its story in a meaningful way to your consumers.



When we do that, they’re changed.

And when they’re changed, that’s creative.