On Lee Clow’s retirement, we’re reminded of the importance of trust and our commitment to finding simple, bold ideas.

 

Sue Kruskopf, CEO

Sue Kruskopf, CEO

There was big news in the advertising community on Feb 14th. Lee Clow was retiring from his job as Chairman at TBWA Worldwide. Some of you may not know who he is, but you will know his work. The most memorable were his TV spots for Apple: “1984” which launched the first Macintosh, and “The Crazy Ones” which relaunched Apple with the tagline “Think Different” and became the ethos of the brand during it’s legendary rise.

Lee’s was the kind of work that made me want to get into advertising.

Yes, at age 75, he is ancient by today’s ad agency standard, but he was a friend of Steve Jobs for thirty years. That partnership between two visionaries is a big part of why Apple is the brand it is today. “He was always demanding that [Apple’s advertising] be better, always demanding that it be breakthrough, different—’Ah, that looks like shit like everybody else does,'” Clow recalled Jobs saying. “And for whatever reason, he and I built a long trust that I wanted to do what he wanted to do. He believed that in your heart, you cared about the same stuff that he cared about.”

So much trust. So much wisdom. So much creativity. And so much simplicity.

We understand that the true value of a simple idea goes beyond any spreadsheet or metric. But these ideas are becoming much harder to come by in today’s environment. “What’s throwing our industry for a loop is the complexity of putting messages out there in the world with all these new tools and all this new technology. The tools and technology are overwhelming,” Lee says. “I think a search for simplicity and pure ideas is the only route back to making it more fun again,” he continues. “More than ever, finding brave, different ideas has to be the goal.”

Words of wisdom. I’d add that those simple, brave ideas can really only ever exist on a foundation of trust. And this is what we strive for every day.

Kruskopf & Company adds global concrete and refuse vehicle manufacturer to growing list of clients.

 

McNeilus Truck with KC agency logo

KC was recently named agency of record for McNeilus Companies, a division of Oshkosh Corporation. They are one of the largest manufacturers of refuse vehicles and concrete mixers in the world, and located in Dodge Center, MN.

“We ultimately chose to work with KC because we thought they could give the edge to our branding/messaging that we’re looking for and we really liked the insights and leverage the Truth Workshop can potentially offer us,” said Kelli McConahey, Senior Marketing Representative for McNeilus.

McNeilus Companies is an industry-leading provider of refuse vehicles and concrete mixers, as well as parts and services. KC is excited to bring their strategic and programmatic media prowess as well as creative services to help McNeilus grow.

Meet our newest KCee—Rowdie Erwin, Digital Media Strategist. Rowdie received his Bachelors in Marketing with a minor in Psychology at Winona State University. Since then, he’s been executing paid-media strategy across a variety of brands and industries, including: Subaru, Target,

3M, Dunn Brothers and Columbia School of Business, to name a few.

Born in Austin, Texas and raised in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Rowdie is always up for new experiences and challenges: he has his belay license from Vertical Endeavors, jumped out of two perfectly good airplanes (sans tandem) in the last five years, and just finished his second half-marathon. Then there’s the near-death experience while working on an oil-rig in West Texas, and the summer he spent bartending weddings (both harrowing events).

Rowdie is excited to continue his career in digital at KC, which he sees as an opportunity to continue sharpening his skills in the ever-important world of programmatic advertising. We’re just as thrilled to have him.

Are major outdoor apparel brands in peril?

Aron Shand, Creative

Once an industry that made products for risk-takers and adventurers on mountainsides and roads less travelled, outdoor apparel brands seem to have reached the dreaded parody point. Other than logo placement, it seems harder to separate what makes one brand stand apart from the next.

Look at the 3 jackets in the slideshow below. With the logos removed, can you actually tell which jacket belongs to which brand?

Harold Hotelling was a Stanford University economist who defined an economic theory involving a principle of minimum differentiation, or law of averageness, which says that “rival sellers tend to gravitate toward each other — in location, price, and product offerings — because otherwise they risk losing some of the broad mainstream of customers.”

In this case, the top outdoor apparel brands have become parodies of each other. Many produced gear for niche markets (alpine skiers, climbers, hikers) fairly exclusively. Around the ‘80s-‘90s, consumers became more familiar with outdoor brand products, and marketers figured out how to sell the idea of “outdoor lifestyle” to people willing to spend sums of money on products that were “tested-in-the-field tough.”

Now, all the top brands have branched into other areas, making everything from running apparel to swimsuits to button-down shirts you could wear to work on Tuesday.  Instead of buying a $500 jacket to climb the edge of a cliff in the Andes Mountains, most people are sporting these coats waiting in line for coffee at Starbucks.

Sure, you could justify such a purchase because “if it works in the mountains, it’ll work in the suburbs.” But most of the new technology and premium features (like thumb holes, wicking materials and waterproof pockets for mobile devices) can be found in jackets for much lower prices and fairly similar quality. For example, Target’s C9 brand sells seasonal, functional activewear clothing at one-fourth the cost. And these less-expensive products will most likely continue to piggy-back the newly developed tech features from the established brands, all the way up the mountain.

Another example. Look at these catalogue images from different outdoor brands. Can you tell them apart? To me, it looks like it could have been the same photoshoot!

Consumers can buy most anything without leaving their home. And even with comparing price and certain qualities with a product, as well as fellow-consumer reviews for quality verification, what really sets your brand apart? What gives you an emotional edge? What should your brand do?

How about make a bold move and give your brand a relevant voice with purpose.

One example of a brand making a move: Patagonia. Recently, the brand has become very vocal about preservation of land and fair trade practices—although they point out they’ve been politically active since the 1970’s—by responding to President Trump’s decision to decrease the protected land of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments and suing the President of the United States of America. How many other brands have ever done that?

Of course, your brand may experience backlash for planting a flag. For instance, the recent small frenzy of consumers destroying their YETI coolers on social media, after the NRA complained that the YETI Corporation had ended special discount programs for their members. So, yes, there’s a risk that consumers may turn on your brand, but as famed advertising creative Bill Bernbach, founder of DDB, once said, “A principle isn’t a principle until it costs you money.”

And you have to believe that for every potential brand loyalist lost, one or more will be gained.

A numbers-driven person comes face-to-face with KC’s culture of creativity. (Gasp!)

Cory Ober, Finance Assistant

Cory Ober, Finance Assistant

I had only been at KC for 3 months when I went to my new co-worker’s baby shower. I was a little anxious about it, I didn’t know everyone going, I didn’t have any responsibilities to keep me busy at the party, and I was going to be a bit late. For all my worries, though, the party was actually really fun and welcoming. We ate delicious food and there were these adorable llama themed cookies. After lunch they set up a station to get your picture taken with the mom-to-be. This is fun, I thought. But then they showed us what to do with the picture: create and scrapbook page and write something memorable about parenting. Panic. Despite working at a creative agency, I’m not a creative person. At all.

 

Creative people seem to have this innate ability to walk into a space and see all its potential. I really admire them for it. As someone who works on the business side, I come from a more historically focused data driven space. I walk into a space and want to understand its history, when was it built, what has it been used for, if anything in the space is original. This is perfect for what I do because finance is often digging through records and retracing where money is coming from and anticipating where it should be going. And reporting. Lots of reporting. Creativity in finance is generally frowned upon, Enron anyone?

 

This also means finance people don’t usually throw the best parties. In a previous job with the Tax Commission, my coworkers threw me a baby shower. It was a bunch of middle-aged accountants in a room with no windows, sitting around a conference table. No games, definitely no scrapbooking, a no-nonsense potluck. The topic of conversation wasn’t about what I was going to name my baby, but whether or not I was going to keep working after the baby came. It felt like a going away party. 

 

The KC party felt completely different. People were genuinely excited and happy. There was no “Goodbye!” just “Enjoy your time off, we’ll cover for you until you get back.” There’s a community in our creative agency that I haven’t experienced in more traditional finance organizations. And that means that even though I’m on the business side I get to hear all kinds of interesting things about what people are working on, what’s new in the industry, and what’s working for our clients. 

 

But this isn’t the atmosphere of just any creative agency, it’s a culture that’s unique to KC. Where anyone—from any area of the agency—is invited to contribute ideas to help solve our client’s problems. Or to share something that inspires them. Or even to write an observational blog post for the agency website. (Wink, wink)

 

So, back to scrapbooking. After subtly eyeing the work of those around me and making motions of gathering supplies and trying out different designs. I finally gave up and looked for inspiration on the Internet. Much to my surprise a few of my coworkers were turning to the Internet too. Looks like we aren’t so different after all. 

How Plasti Dip navigated from a specialty hardware product to auto aftermarket to the Pinterest set.

Shannon Burgess, Account Manager

Shannon Stark, Account Manager

Your brand and products won’t appeal to every consumer in every market. No news flash here. But in some cases, your brand will appeal to multiple markets with vastly different interests and demographics. Which is something that may not happen all at once, but over time and over the life cycle of the brand. As a result, your products could be gaining traction with audiences you’ve never targeted in the past.

 

So what do you do next? Do you care? Well, fun facts: before bubble wrap was used to wrap fragile items, it was marketed as wallpaper. The original Frisbee was used as a pie tin. Neither of which would still be around if they were limited to their intended uses.

 

Don’t be afraid of new markets

Take our client Plasti Dip. Plasti Dip is a peelable rubber coating that comes in gallons or aerosol cans in an assortment of colors. It’s a product and brand that started out very differently from where it is today.

Originally conceived as a household handy product for adding extra grip to tool handles, Plasti Dip eventually expanded to–and exploded in–the automotive aftermarket, when consumers began using the aerosol cans for spraying vehicles and car accessories, which could then be peeled off and re-“dipped” again and again. We deemed this following our loyal “Dipheads” and the product continued to gain traction, from “dipping” car emblems, rims, grills, to full car paint jobs. It was dippin’ awesome.

Then something funny happened. Consumers continued to find new ways to use it –all the rules went out the window (although Plasti Dip would appreciate that I point out to use your discretion and please see the Plasti Dip label for proper use). Beyond car applications, Dipheads, DIYers, and crafters started to use Plasti Dip for tons of projects: paintings, vases, jewelry, costumes, theater set design, grips for socks and slippers, protective covering for electronics, shoe repair, and most recently, Cosplay armor…just to name a few.

Follow your customers

Companies don’t always make the time to listen to their consumers, especially if they aren’t using their product the way it was intended. But this felt like something big, and Plasti Dip saw the potential to tap into a new market and segment: the Pinterest and Etsy set.

Their target audience since inception had been primarily male, with an interest in home improvement and car modification projects. Plasti Dip had to figure out how to talk to an entirely new audience emerging within the craft market.

According to a Venveo consumer market report, the DIY consumer market is nearly 50% women, where previously it was a male dominated market. How would they establish a tone that reaches more women than before, without abandoning their current audiences and automotive markets? The key is learning about the consistencies between this audience and the loyal Dipheads. What does this new audience like, what they don’t like, what drives them and their use of the product? Is it a fad or have they found a use for the product that will stand the test of time? Then create a communication plan that meets both audiences needs.

The next burning question: is an investment in this new craft audience worth it? The crafters and DIY market is a 29 billion dollar market that continues to grow among age groups. Plasti Dip used this to their advantage and decided to move forward with new product development, specific to the craft audience, launching Plasti Dip Craft.

With new product labels, colors, and a reformed tone, Plasti Dip Craft was carefully designed from the get-go to target the new craft audience. Not so much so that they’d steer away from existing Plasti Dip users and Dipheads, but enough to make a splash in a market that is saturated with DIY products.

The goal of Plasti Dip Craft is similar to that of the original Plasti Dip – get creative with a variety of colors, spray customize whatever your heart desires, and when you’re bored with your project, peel it off and try something new. And as Plasti Dip learns the best ways to engage and interact with this audience in conjunction with Dipheads, they continue to diversify the brand and as a result, increase revenue potential. Cha-ching!

 

Is your brand ready to evolve?

The reason the Plasti Dip Craft product opportunity emerged is because consumers started using Plasti Dip in ways the manufacturer never truly intended. Listening to your consumers, learning from them, and letting them drive how you talk about and execute strategies around your brand can open up new doors you otherwise thought were closed. It’s a reminder not to become complacent within your existing market, and not to ignore potential opportunities that have (or haven’t yet) presented themselves.

When shopping sites become all things to all people, they risk losing their identity, and their customers.

Sue Kruskopf, CEO

Sue Kruskopf, CEO

When online shopping first became available, I was in heaven! To sit at home, have a glass of wine and buy the kids Christmas presents on Amazon was way better than trudging through the snow and crowds at Target. Finding that perfect handmade gift for my friends on Etsy was like going to one of the best boutique stores. eBay was the place to go to find that one-of-a-kind necklace—it was like going on a treasure hunt. Zappos had a bigger shoe selection than any store on earth.

 

As we all know, bricks-and-mortar retailers got spooked. Many went bankrupt. Some even went out of business (e.g. The Limited, Sports Authority, and most recently Toys-R-Us). But others got smart. Competition forced them to get better and more creative.

 

Best Buy beat “showrooming” by price matching and improving customer service. Restoration Hardware went BIG—big furniture, big high-end real estate and even big rooftop restaurants. Eddie Bauer recently launched the EB Ice Box, a meat-locker-like display that is cooled to 13 degrees. (Truth be told that still wouldn’t get me to Eddie Bauer but hey, it sure is creative!) The smart bricks-and-mortars are putting a stake in ground. They’re defining who they are and reinventing in-store experiences as a driving force for success.

 

Suddenly, the script is flipping. What is happening to those original shopping websites? They all seem to be moving towards an “all things to all people” strategy. For Amazon, that might make sense (it’s still where I spend the most money, and I dare say, I’m not the only one). But what about those shopping sites that used to have a strong brand? They’re becoming a pile of mush.

 

Etsy is no longer just handmade, handcrafted items. They carry vintage goods as well as new stuff you could find at TJ Maxx. Who are you now, Etsy? Ebay, too. Now it’s like going to one of those monster outdoor flea markets where the really great antiques are jumbled in with tons of new merch that you can find anywhere. That’s not what eBay is supposed to be. Zappos decided they needed to add clothes and other accessories. Why would I go to Zappos for clothes when they are a shoe place (doesn’t the name actually translate to shoes in Spanish)?

 

These online retailers risk losing their identity, and with it, their revenue. Etsy recently had massive layoffs and has yet to turn a profit. eBay is working on their business model and had a decent 4th quarter but can anyone come up with a good reason to shop there (I can’t). Zappos was bought by Amazon and represents a microscopic fraction of their $136 billion in sales. And of course, now you can buy clothes at Amazon, too. Talk about confusion.

 

If these shopping websites don’t start getting back to who they are and making it the fun experience it used to be, I may have to shop at Eddie Bauer. Please, don’t make me do that.

 

Senior Copywriter

Peter Hajinian, Senior Copywriter

You used to have to stand in the checkout line at the grocery store to read ridiculous headlines from magazines like the National Inquirer, Weekly World News, or InTouch—now you can read them anywhere on the internet! Even Weather.com!

 

 

 

 

Here are my TOP TEN:

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These are ridiculous, but they’re entertaining and eye-catching—even if you never click on them (and I have, they just lead to more clickbait). This is the world your online messages are competing in, especially if you’re doing native ads or sponsored content. Can you let your brand breathe enough to be as catchy and compelling as these are? If you’re offering a product or service, you’ll already be a step ahead: Your ads will be giving people something, as opposed to sending them to an infinite click hole. 

 

are your ads adding to the bs

A successful salesperson is someone who truly believes in what they’re selling. A successful advertisement is one that illustrates what the brand believes in. 

Media Coordinator

by Nola McDonald, Media Coordinator

In a time where ads rule our media spaces, it’s hard to go a day without seeing an advertisement for any number of brands. Watching TV? Ads. Listening to the Radio? Ads. Think you’re going to get away from them by streaming your favorite shows on the internet? Nope! Ads. This wouldn’t be so annoying if ad space wasn’t so full of BS. Like campaigns that don’t portray what a brand actually stands for, or worse, ads that don’t get noticed in the first place

 

Every ad is your opportunity to create the image of what comes to the mind of a consumer when they think of your product. Yet so many brands squander it by being blah and/or unclear about what their brand stands for. Sure an ad is supposed promote your product, but it is even more important because it builds your brand with consumers. So why not connect what your company is passionate about to the brand through your ad?

 

Many successful brands do this, and there is a reason for that. It works. It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle of another ad to skip on YouTube or a commercial to fast forward through, but if your advertising is different and exciting your brand will be noticed. For example, Red Bull. When you think of Red Bull what comes to mind? It may be the energy drink, the product behind the brand; it may be the numerous extreme sports athletes that Red Bull sponsors or maybe events like Red Bull Crashed Ice. Regardless of what you think of when you hear Red Bull, you know the brand and you know that it ‘Gives You Wings’. Red Bull is a household brand that has been at the forefront of the energy drink industry for quite some time, but what this company has done is connect their brand to a core belief that is expressed in their product.

 

One of Red Bull’s founders and current CEO, Dietrich Mateschitz, is a known extreme sports enthusiast. His interests brought energy drinks into a new marketplace – extreme sports. Mateschitz created an identity for his brand by involving his brand with his passions resulting in an empire. Because of this, at the core, Red Bull represents adrenaline. The rush that an adventure can give their athletes and the rush that their energy drink can give the consumer and even the rush that their consumer can get from watching their athletes.

 

When Red Bull started their venture into extreme sports, it was uncharted territory in the unsaturated energy drink market. Other brands such as Monster and Rockstar have followed suit and started sponsoring athletes and sporting events instead of creating their own ways to enter the market. It is now the norm for energy drinks to sponsor athletes and events due to Red Bull’s trailblazer attitude; though, it would have been interesting and much more entertaining to see each energy drink brand come up with a new, unique way to advertise their product. No two companies are exactly alike, and their strategies should differ as well.

 

So, with that, I challenge other brands not to do what the energy drink industry did by following a well-known brand into an already developed category. I want to challenge brands to ask themselves these questions when they are coming up with campaigns and ways to advertise their products:

  • What are you?
  • Who are you?
  • What does your company stand for at its core?
  • Are you portraying who your company is with your advertising?

Embrace your answers to these questions and let that shine through in your marketing efforts. Don’t be a follower – create your own path and focus on what makes your brand unique. Your brand should be a reflection of your company and if your advertising isn’t illustrating that, then you’re just adding to the BS.

Executive Creative Director

by Mike Cronin, Executive Creative Director

The recent Facebook data scandal and ensuing war of words between Tim Cook of Apple and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook have again opened up the debate about how brands handle private user information.

But there’s a deeper layer to this story that could easily get overlooked, and it goes straight to the heart of who each brand is truly trying to serve.

First, let’s revisit each CEO’s comments. In regard to Facebook’s handling of user data, Cook said, “The truth is, [Apple] could make a ton of money if we monetized our customer — if our customer was our product. We’ve elected not to do that.” Zuckerberg took offense, saying, “At Facebook, we are squarely in the camp of the companies that work hard to charge you less and provide a free service that everyone can use. I don’t think at all that that means that we don’t care about people.”

Now, let’s dissect what they’re really saying. When Cook talks about Apple’s “customers,” he’s talking about people who buy and use Apple products and services. Apple’s customers ARE its users. They are one in the same. For Apple, keeping customers happy means essentially the same thing as keeping users happy.

Not so at Facebook. Facebook’s users ARE NOT its customers. Advertisers are. Brands (and agencies like ours) are keeping the lights on at Facebook. As Cook implies, Facebook’s product is, in effect, its users. It makes money selling advertisers access to its users by leveraging data that is accurate and robust enough to ensure those advertisers’ messages get in front of the right eyeballs. That doesn’t mean Facebook doesn’t care about users. Obviously, it needs to keep users signing up, logging in and refreshing their feed again and again. But for Facebook, keeping users happy and keeping customers means two different things.

Remember the old adage “The customer is always right?” How does Facebook reconcile this? Who would Zuckerberg say is always right?

Facebook may continue to reassure users about how much care it takes with their data, but collecting and selling access to accurate, robust–and often highly sensitive–user data will never go away at Facebook. (At least not until the company starts turning its users into customers by offering something like a paid, non-ad supported version of the platform. A move Zuckerberg recently hinted at during his time in front of Congress.)

Zuckerberg is clearly trying to paint Apple as not looking out for the average person. (“Facebook is free! Free I tell you!”) But time and again, Apple has proven itself as a brand that is highly protective of user data and privacy. So much so, it’s willing to fight the government to protect it and to lose out on a large revenue stream from potential advertisers. The question is, who is Facebook really out to serve? If it is users (as Zuckerberg suggests), what actions will he take to back that up?