Tag Archives: advertising

8 marketing lessons learned from buying a watch

A few days ago, I bought this:


It’s a Hamilton Day Date Automatic, and I love it. I had been thinking about this purchase for nearly six months, so it was quite a milestone for me. Granted, it’s not an ultra luxury watch, but it’s special to me as it represents the culmination of a few achievements I’ve celebrated recently.

It wasn’t until after I purchased the watch that I started to think about the marketing surrounding the Hamilton brand and how I had moved through an extensive customer journey.  As a marketer, I am normally fairly aware of the tactics being used to target me, but this time around, I was pretty much oblivious to the journey until after the fact.

In retrospect, my purchase raises a number of interesting insights about the watch market and the role of various touch-points in influencing a purchasing decision.

My Journey through the Funnel: An Analysis



That is my Victorinox 241404 Chrono Classic. I bought it before I moved to Hong Kong because I figured I needed a “grown-up” watch to compete in the high-powered world of public relations. I walked into Macy’s and checked out the watches and only saw one or two brands I even recognized. I owned a Swiss Army Knife, so Victorinox was at the top of my consideration set. Then it was a matter of picking one out that I thought looked cool.

Lesson 1: No matter what you sell, sometimes people will just buy whatever they’re familiar with, without research or extended consideration.

Fast forward about four years. My Victorinox has been sitting in my drawer, battery dead, for nearly two years. At some point, I had simply stopped wearing it or anything else on my wrist. This was a typical phenomenon. Young people like myself simply do not buy or wear watches the way generations have in the past.

In 2015, one of my clients launched a smartwatch–one of many new devices on the market designed to redefine wrist-wear. I was tasked with trialing the device for a month to learn more about its features and its role in everyday life. While I ultimately didn’t see the value in wearing a smart device that needed to be charged every two days (I’m not the only one), I did become re-accustomed to wearing something on my wrist. I wanted to make use of my old Victorinox.

I replaced the battery, and started to wear it again, but simply wasn’t happy with it. My sense of style had evolved since my senior year of college. And every time I saw a watch ad or someone wearing a Fitbit, I was reminded of that fact. The less I enjoyed wearing my current watch, the more I started to think about replacing it. Suddenly, it seemed as though watch ads were everywhere.

Lesson 2: Demand generation can come in multiple forms, but once the lever is pulled, marketing communications become immediately more visible to prospects.

One day, I was walking in the MTR (Hong Kong’s wonderful subway system) and noticed an ad for Hamilton, a brand only vaguely familiar to me. I noted three things about this ad:

  1. Its imagery evoked a sense of excitement and wonder by using vintage aviation as its visual focus.
  2. Its tagline, “American Spirit, Swiss Precision”, immediately and clearly positioned the brand as having American style (i.e. martial, simple, clean) with a Swiss movement ticking away inside.
  3. The hero product itself reflected my evolving preferences.

Ultimately, those three elements created a memorable experience at a touch point not typically associated with deep, meaningful engagement.

Lesson 3: OOH advertising for luxury brands need not be complicated, but it needs to be more than a product shot to be successful. It must also represent what it means to be a member of that luxury brand’s exclusive community of buyers.

In Hamilton’s case, its clear brand positioning is an evolution of the brand’s history as an American brand acquired by a Swiss company that would eventually become Swatch Group, the world’s leading watch manufacturer and marketer. Its American origin story differentiates from other European brands through its style, and its brand imagery occupies its own niche. The closest comparison would be Breitling, which focuses on modern aviation, with the addition of celebrity endorsement (John Travolta) and a modern military style.

At this point, I was aware of Hamilton and had a slight affinity towards it. Now to see if it’s any good.


I’ve been burned before.


Before I started caring about watches again, I was interested in only one other watch brand, Shinola. American-made with a class style, in many ways Shinola is similar to Hamilton for its unique story and aesthetic.

However, when I researched the brand, I found that many people on social media felt that Shinolas were overpriced for their quartz movements and that its Detroit heritage story was all flash and no substance. I still like Shinola, but the divisive opinions about the brand online tempered my excitement. The fact that these are not sold in Hong Kong completely killed my enthusiasm.

Lesson 4: Brand belongs to both the company doing the selling and the person doing the buying. Storytelling is important, but remember your audience will interpret that story based on their own experiences.

For Hamilton, there were a few touch points I engaged with to determine a) whether or not Hamilton is a good brand and b) which model would be best for me. These were my criteria:

  • Automatic movement
  • Simple face with no chronograph
  • Leather or fabric bracelet
  • Face size between 40 and 42 mm
  • Sweeping second hand
  • Very easy to read dial
  • Well regarded brand

Note that this list of criteria is unique and would only make sense in a high consideration market. No one walks into a McDonald’s or buys a stick of deodorant with such an exhaustive list of desired features. Outside of luxury and fashion, we see similar trends in other high-priced, high-consideration industries, especially real estate and technology.

As Hamilton was high on my consideration list, I was able to visit http://www.hamiltonwatch.com/ and explore watches that met my criteria. From there, I narrowed down my search to its Khaki Field line, a mid-ranged series of watches inspired by watches given to soldiers.

The more watches I saw, the more I became convinced that I would be happy with Hamilton style. I subscribed to the brand’s Instagram and Facebook pages, and was surprised to discover that Hamilton had been featured prominently in recent Hollywood blockbusters Interstellar and The Martian.

A scene from Interstellar. Note Matthew McConaughey wearing a Hamilton Day Date Pilot’s watch, similar to the one I ultimately purchased. Business Insider has an interesting article about how Hamilton placed their products into the film and how a major plot point centers around the watch–a notion that should send any marketer drooling!

Lesson 5: Product placement is perhaps less useful as an awareness driver than it is as a consideration driver.

When we’re watching a movie or TV show, we are typically focused on the story. As such, it’s easy to ignore placements, but when we get to the consideration phase, placements help us associate the brand with stories we are already familiar with. Omega’s work with Daniel Craig and the James Bond franchise is an excellent example of this. Rather than just having the placement do its work in the films, traditional advertising featuring Bond wearing an Omega reinforced the brand’s emerging mystique.

For my last criterion, I needed to determine whether or not Hamilton was a brand that would hold its value over the long term. I didn’t want to buy something flimsy or something that carried a negative reputation. And for that, I couldn’t find my answer on Hamilton’s owned properties (e.g. social, web). I had to look at reviews and watch communities.

Lesson 6: Social validation is a critical driver of any luxury product. Encouraging positive conversations about the brand should be a marketing objective for perception-driven luxury brands.

I discovered quickly that Hamilton’s biggest “uncommunicated” message (i.e. the one that isn’t communicated in its billboards or website) is its value. Many watch enthusiasts are vocal about their appreciation for Hamilton’s Jazzmaster and Khaki lines of products, saying that they are the best “bang for the buck” in the mid-range. Beyond this, many watch lovers post fond testimonials for the brand, highlighting its quality and long-term durability.

Both sides of the brand equation satisfied, I committed mentally to buying a Hamilton… when the time was right.

Lesson 7: Purchase isn’t always going to be immediate, particularly with higher cost/consideration items. Then the challenge becomes to present the customer with as many reaffirmations of their commitment as possible.


I decided I wanted a Hamilton around December last year, but I had other non-luxury expenses to take care of–getting married being the most critical.

So I waited. And waited. During this time, I continued to be exposed to a number of touch points which carried forward my interest in the brand, subtly reminding me that the product was out there waiting for me:

  • POSM: Point of sale merchandising promoting Hamilton products is distinctive, consisting of orange and black signage with aviation models or equipment. Every time I passed a watch store, I checked for the Hamilton signage so I could look at the products first-hand.
  • Social Media: Instagram and Facebook served as a the primary, regular sources of Hamilton promotional material, but I also explored Pinterest and YouTube. These platforms did nothing to diminish the value of the brand for me–which is a fear some luxury marketers have when they consider using social media.
  • Complementary Retailers: While I waited for the right time to buy a new watch, I decided to enhance my much-scorned Victorinox by purchasing new NATO straps online and subsequently following that retailer on Instagram. The owner of that online storefront posts a new picture every day with different brands using colorful or interesting straps. I learned a lot about different brands through this, but continued to pay special attention to the Hamiltons that would pop up from time to time.

Not all paths lead to purchase however. There were a handful of barriers to purchase for me.

  • Many stores in Hong Kong only sell the higher end range of Hamilton watches, a reflection of the cultural preferences in the city regarding style. Finding a store that sold Khaki Field watches was extremely difficult.
  • While Hamilton has an online store, I did not feel comfortable ordering a watch online, especially one that I had not seen in person. This is a common phenomenon in the luxury industry.
  • Many brick and mortar retailers in Hong Kong are run by sales people whose salaries are commission based. Walking into these stores often feels like being eyed by hungry vultures. Occasionally, I would avoid looking at their offerings because I knew the sales staff would be pushy. This is not Hamilton’s fault as the sales people have no brand preference (outside of wanting to sell you a very expensive watch), but because it is not a high tier luxury brand, they cannot have their own flagship stores the way Omega, IWC and Rolex do.

Eventually, the stars aligned and I decided to pull the trigger on the Hamilton that met all my criteria.

Lesson 8: Barriers to purchase should be actively sought out by the brand, and minimized as much as possible.


Now that I’ve purchased a Hamilton watch, I feel happy about my decision. I even posted about it on watch enthusiast forums and received compliments (and validation).

Hamilton’s “unboxing” experience is simple, but lacks a call to action reinforcing brand loyalty at a critical time.

Will this be my last watch? Absolutely not. This leads us to our final view of the marketing funnel: loyalty.

I will continue to enjoy my watch for the near term, but when I get a significant promotion or a new job, then I may again decide to purchase another watch. Will I choose a Hamilton or will I choose a different brand?

At the moment, in spite of my current sanctification with Hamilton, I may very well decide to switch to a different brand to diversify my collection. Indeed, Hamilton is best known for its range of products between US$500-2000. If I want to buy something really luxurious, I’ll have to switch away.

But does it have to be that way? Loyalty for luxury can be built by allowing the customer to feel connected to the brand in a way that extends beyond products. Here, loyalty programs should not be about discounts but about exclusivity. Offering Hamilton users access to exclusive communities or content would be an important step for the brand to influence second sales as well as advocacy in an industry that we have already seen is susceptible to that.

A few recommendations for Hamilton

Being a marketer and having gone through the marketing funnel, I noted a few areas that could be improved to enhance the experience.

  • hamiltonwatch.com and shop.hamiltonwatch.com are split into distinct sites with identical styles. For some reason, traveling between these sites is difficult. If you’re exploring hamiltonwatch.com, it should be easy to get to the ecommerce platform, but currently it is not. When you land on a product page, you only get a description, pictures and the user manual. Even if the typical customer doesn’t purchase online, there should still be a more direct way of doing so. This may be a function of my IP address being located in Hong Kong, but even then, the store finder should be more visible to complete the journey.
  • The unboxing experience was adequate but lacks meaningful resolution. There’s nothing effecting advocacy or loyalty. At the very least, there should be some sort of compelling call to action that encourages buyers to provide their email addresses for future brand communication. Hamilton could incentivize with this value-added services such as extended warranty protection.
  • As previously mentioned, post-purchase content reinforcing exclusivity can be employed post-purchase to validate the sale and encourage repeat purchases.
  • I noted in my research that Hamilton’s CEO claims that the brand has achieved over 400 product placements in Hollywood. A chronicle of this would be very interesting content on their website, although it would have to be managed against the way the brand wants to position itself (it would be too easy to make Hamilton a “Hollywood” watch, for better or worse).
  • In terms of products, I was surprised that Hamilton hasn’t stepped into the smartwatch space considering its heritage with electric watches. Hamilton is likely evaluating the staying power of smartwatches as a trend, but the pedigree of the brand lends itself well to experimenting with the space. Given the popularity of aftermarket straps, there may be an interesting space for Hamilton to occupy with smart bands (similar to what Montblanc is doing).

Final thoughts

When I was going through the process of buying a watch, I wasn’t thinking about it as a marketer. This retrospective analysis has uncovered some interesting insights regarding marketing channels and branding in the digital age.

The final product.

Of course, I can only offer anecdotes supported by my professional experience, but it still a useful analysis that may offer a human layer to the statistics we see everyday in research reports and press releases. Indeed, we are all consumers who should be asking: what can I learn from my most recent customer journey?



Bad Interns have Four Fatal Flaws

I love interns. They’re hopeful and untested. They bring raw energy into an organization. They’re eager to learn. And sometimes they can be really useful. But not always.

Once upon a time, I wrote an article for my former employer on their blog about how to succeed in a PR internship. The advice there isn’t wrong per se, but it’s not as useful as it could be to new interns. Advice like “go beyond” and “seek feedback” is vague at best and forgettable at worst.

But this isn’t a corporate blog. I’ve heard many stories about intern disasters from friends and colleagues, and they all have common characteristics. Rather than tell interns how to succeed, let’s focus on the four fatal flaws that can ruin an internship. What do I mean by ruin? If the person who hired you doesn’t remember your name three months after you leave, you have failed. If the person who hired you remembers your name three months after you leave because you were awful, you have failed in an even grander way.

  1. Arrogance – Having a 4.0 GPA and being president of seven different clubs means you are an excellent student. You should be proud of your academic and extracurricular achievements. But remember that your first priority in doing an internship is to learn. Your employer expects this. What they do not expect is for you to assume a leadership position and order other staff around. At the end of the day, an intern is just an intern. There’s no such thing as a Senior Intern.
    • Biggest Sin: Ordering admin or junior staff around like a mini dictator; you’re not their boss and nothing will infuriate their your boss more than an arrogant intern. Also, don’t show up late and don’t be a diva.
    • How to Fix: Your past achievements are not erased when you enter the professional world. They are indications of your potential, but the professional world really is different from the academic world. Do what you did in school: learn from those around you. Never assume that you are smarter or better than anyone else. Then, with time, your potential will turn into real advancement.
  2. Stupidity Ignorance is expected; stupidity is inexcusable. Interns aren’t expected to know a lot. What good employers look for in an intern is potential–things like positive personalities and a history of curiosity and other positive traits. That’s why ignorance–the lack of knowledge–is ok. Failure to learn from mistakes and use common sense is not ok.
    • Biggest SinNot questioning the context of a task and doing exactly as you’re told. If you could be replaced by a high functioning robot, then you aren’t contributing much to the company. What’s worse, if you’re not actively scanning for errors, big mistakes can slide past you.
    • How to Fix: Just think about what you are doing. Is there a way to do what you’re doing more quickly and with fewer errors? Why are you doing the task? Just knowing the answer to that question is enough to ensure that you are actually paying attention and getting more out of the internship than a wasted eight week journey.
  3. Meekness – This is a tough one. Not everyone is sociable. Sometimes, especially within some cultures, meekness is viewed as a virtue, not a flaw. But in an increasingly competitive business environment, meek people are all too easily ignored. This means that great minds and great workers can slip through the cracks. An internship can be as much about selling yourself as it can be about learning, especially if you’re seeking a full time role at the end of your trial period.
    • Biggest Sin: Coming to work, doing your work and leaving without saying much of anything to anyone (chatting with other interns doesn’t count).
    • How to Fix: “Hi, I’m XXXX. I’m going to be interning here for XXX weeks. I’m wondering if you have any work I can help you with?Or maybe I can sit down with you sometime and learn more about your role?” Actively make yourself useful to everyone in the office. An internship resulting in only three people knowing your name should be considered a failure. Would an ad that three people see in a newspaper be considered successful? Of course not! At the very least, you should make an effort to learn more about what other people in the office do. People like talking about themselves. Leverage that trait.
  4. Naivete –  I was once an intern. I was once hopelessly naive about the realities of the business world. So to a certain extent, this flaw is not the most serious one because one thing all interns learn is that the business world is different from the world they came from. It’s different from Mad Men or Suits.
    • Biggest Sin: Being shocked that business politics is a regular part of working in the professional world. Being shocked that promotions don’t happen over night. Being shocked that not everyone wants the corner office and is happy enough to float along until retirement.
    • How to Fix: Be realistic about the world around you. The best skill you can develop at an early stage in your career is empathy. If you can understand what motivates people, you can better interact with people. The faster you understand basic human behavior and appreciate the fact that people don’t necessarily think or approach problems the way you do, the faster you will shed your intern persona and become a respected professional.

Interns are as valuable as they want to be. A great intern can become a hot prospect for a company and a bad one can be gossiped about at the company Christmas party for years and years. If you want to be a good intern, be realistic about what you aim to accomplish and what the sponsoring organization expects out of you. Arrogance, stupidity, meekness and naivete will not serve you well. Avoid these fatal flaws, and you might just succeed in the business world.

Similarities between Ad Agencies and Football Clubs

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time playing Football Manager 2014. Be warned, this entire article is a convoluted soccer analogy. 

Believe it or not, this is a game--a game people pay real money to play.
Believe it or not, this is a game–a game people pay real money to play.


Football Manager is a simulation game that lets the player control every aspect of a professional soccer club, including signing and managing players, developing tactics, talking to the media and more. Featuring real teams and real players, the game is highly regarded as one of the world’s most detailed simulations. It’s even used by some professional clubs as a scouting tool.

And for a lot of reasons, agencies and football clubs seem to have a lot in common.

The similarities between football and agency life are purely within the realm of “shower thoughts” but a quick analysis of those similarities reveals some interesting realities about operating any sort of organization. The terminology is different, but the behaviors are the same.


On the pitch, 11 soccer players try to score goals against an opposing team. Simple to explain, but hard to get right. Agencies actually operate in a similar way. In an agency, staff work against deadlines, conflicting demands and other challenges to successfully launch ads, campaigns and other items.

On the pitch, players have different roles and responsibilities, and we can see analogues in the agency world:

  • Defenders and Goalkeepers: Defenders make sure the other team doesn’t score. In an agency, that role typically falls to account services, who work to manage client relationships and set up the activities that have an impact up-field.
  • Midfielders: They control the pitch and the tempo. Working with all functions, project managers ensure that everyone has what they need to succeed, but can fall back to defend when good situations turn bad.
  • Wingers: Fast movers along the edges, strategists and account planners set up creatives for great executions. A good creative brief is like an accurate cross into a small opening.
  • Strikers: The goal scorers. Like the tip of the spear, creatives are the ones who produce the final product. With everyone else supporting creative, there are plenty of opportunities to score. But at the end of the day, it’s up to creative to execute.

Bearing these roles in mind, agency problems can arise when there’s a lack of chemistry or communication between functions. Other problems can arise when there aren’t enough “players” for a position. One midfielder isn’t enough to manage an entire field of play. Likewise, one project manager isn’t enough to run an entire agency’s accounts.

Player Attributes

In the sporting world, assigning players and coaches various stats for different skills is an effective way of measuring the strength of your team and identifying weaknesses.

In the agency world, we can potentially measure the skill of employees based on what they know (technical skills), how they think and interact with people (mental) and how they present themselves to others (physical). Below is a non-exhaustive shortlist of the skills we can use to measure the individual skills of agency people.

  • Creative Tools – The ability to use tools such as Illustrator and Photoshop
  • PM Tools – The ability to use Project Management tools and systems
  • Office Suite – The ability to use Microsoft Office tools, such as Word, Excel and Powerpoint
  • Business Acumen – Knowledge and understanding of client and internal business matters
  • Social Contacts – The number of valuable contacts you have; important for business development and solving business problems
  • Intelligence – How much you know about things in general–not necessarily related to marketing
  • Adaptability – How quickly you learn new things
  • Determination – How much passion you have for completing tasks
  • Idea Generation – Ability to creatively approach problems
  • Empathy – Ability to understand other people’s emotions and motivations
  • Leadership – How effective you are at organizing and motivating people to complete specific objectives
  • Ambition – How much desire you have to advance
  • Persuasion – Ability to convince people that your idea is the best idea
  • Style – How well you present yourself
  • Intimidation – How approachable you are
  • Energy – Your ability to keep on going
  • Health – How frequently you get sick (lower rank = more sick days)

Beyond all this is a measure of perceived value–how much a given employee believes he or she is worth to the agency. The higher this value, the higher salary the employee will demand.

Everyone in an agency would possess a ranking from 0 to 20. John Smith might have a 20  in Persuasion and a 0 in Ambition. He would be completely switched off, which is a shame because he could convince a client to accept really bold creative. Someone with 0 in Persuasion but 20 in Ambition would be relentlessly tone deaf, and frustrated at his inability to advance inside the organization.

Let’s play a quick game.

I’ve randomly generated faces (using this hilarious and amazing site: http://www.morphases.com/editor/) and random statistics for each of those attributes. Let’s judge six candidates as if we’re looking to staff an agency:


Creative Tools 3
PM Tools 14
Office Suite 11
Business Acumen 16
Social Contacts 15
Intelligence 19
Adaptability 7
Determination 16
Idea Generation 10
Empathy 14
Leadership 10
Ambition 4
Persuasion 17
Style 19
Intimidation 18
Energy 3
Health 15
Perceived Value (1-5) 3.06


Scout’s Notes: First, let’s not judge a book by its cover. I’m sure Ellie is more beautiful on the inside than on the outside. Now then, we’ll assume she sent her CV to our fake agency looking for any suitable job, so let’s see what she’s good at (>15):

  • Business Acumen – 16
  • Intelligence – 19
  • Determination – 16
  • Persuasion – 17
  • Style – 19
  • Intimidation – 18

Ellie is very smart and has the right skills for a good accounts person. He’s persuasive, stylish and intimidating, which means most clients wouldn’t mess with her. The fact that she’s got good business acumen means she can back her arguments up with solid knowledge. Now for her weaknesses (<5):

  • Creative Tools – 3
  • Ambition – 4
  • Energy – 3

Not many weaknesses. As an accounts person, she wouldn’t need to use creative software and the lack of energy and ambition might even be a good thing… under the right circumstances. Her lack of ambition means that she’ll likely want to stay in her current role for a long time, which means that turnover shouldn’t be a big problem. That said, she’ll never be an all-star. More of a solid performer.

And with a 3.06 PV rating (out of 5), she’ll be a little expensive, but as a long term investment, she’s worth it.



Creative Tools 18
PM Tools 3
Office Suite 17
Business Acumen 0
Social Contacts 4
Intelligence 1
Adaptability 8
Determination 6
Idea Generation 14
Empathy 2
Leadership 1
Ambition 14
Persuasion 10
Style 20
Intimidation 2
Energy 12
Health 12
Perceived Value (1-5) 2.12


Scout’s Notes: Marica, Marica, Marica… Great mullet. But is she an appropriate candidate? Let’s look at the good:

  • Creative Tools – 18
  • Office Suite – 17
  • Style – 20

That style ranking… Mullets are in apparently.  Now for the bad:

  • PM Tools – 3
  • Business Acumen – 0
  • Social Contacts – 4
  • Empathy – 2
  • Leadership – 1
  • Intimidation – 2

This person doesn’t even know what a business is. Her average stats across the board really don’t do her any favors in any of the other categories.

Utterly forgettable intern candidate. Pass.


Creative Tools 8
PM Tools 8
Office Suite 4
Business Acumen 7
Social Contacts 6
Intelligence 11
Adaptability 11
Determination 9
Idea Generation 16
Empathy 4
Leadership 4
Ambition 12
Persuasion 7
Style 7
Intimidation 7
Energy 11
Health 2
Perceived Value (1-5) 1.97


Scout’s Notes: Aside from his broken nose, Egbert could be a hero in disguise. Let’s see his positives:

Uh oh. Literally no stats above 12.  What are his particular weaknesses?

  • Office Suite – 4
  • Empathy – 4
  • Leadership – 4
  • Health – 2

Most of his other skills are below 10. Sickly. Poor leadership. Not good at Microsoft Word.

Poor Egbert.

Recommended to competing agency. Pass.


Creative Tools 9
PM Tools 16
Office Suite 18
Business Acumen 13
Social Contacts 9
Intelligence 13
Adaptability 8
Determination 18
Idea Generation 5
Empathy 6
Leadership 19
Ambition 6
Persuasion 2
Style 1
Intimidation 14
Energy 1
Health 15
Perceived Value (1-5) 2.54

Scout’s Notes: The random faces all have such strange noses. Maybe the applicants all came from a highly irradiated place. Pripyat, perhaps. At any rate, let’s meet Ellie:

  • Office Suite – 18
  • PM Tools – 16
  • Determination – 18
  • Leadership – 19

We might have a PM here. Let’s look at the downside:

  • Persuasion – 2
  • Style – 1
  • Energy – 1

Despite the fact that she might shut down after 11am each day, her determination means that the job will get done… eventually. Not a bad choice for a PM, since client-facing responsibilities would not necessarily be a major part of the job. Her PV of 2.54 makes her a reasonable addition to our team.



Creative Tools 14
PM Tools 5
Office Suite 12
Business Acumen 7
Social Contacts 10
Intelligence 6
Adaptability 18
Determination 19
Idea Generation 20
Empathy 17
Leadership 18
Ambition 15
Persuasion 14
Style 6
Intimidation 18
Energy 8
Health 18
Perceived Value (1-5) 3.31


Scout’s Notes: Look at this guy! Exhausted maybe, but has potential. On to the good stuff:

  • Adaptability – 18
  • Determination – 19
  • Idea Generation – 20
  • Empathy – 17
  • Leadership – 18
  • Intimidation – 18
  • Health – 18

And weaknesses?

None. While he’s not particularly intelligent, he could make a world-class creative director. He’s always changing his style to reflect the world around him, determined to get the job done and can lead others to greatness. His PV of 3.31 means that he’ll be a bit expensive, but with those stats, he’ll be worth it. And he almost never gets sick!




Creative Tools 3
PM Tools 18
Office Suite 9
Business Acumen 6
Social Contacts 4
Intelligence 1
Adaptability 3
Determination 13
Idea Generation 3
Empathy 9
Leadership 7
Ambition 5
Persuasion 8
Style 8
Intimidation 2
Energy 0
Health 8
Perceived Value (1-5) 1.57


Scout’s Notes: Ezra, something tells me you’ve gone through life rather misunderstood. Was it your eyes? Your teeth? Your lack of energy? Probably the teeth. Any redeeming characteristics?

  • PM Tools – 18

On the other hand:

  • Creative Tools – 3
  • Social Contacts – 4
  • Intelligence – 1
  • Adaptability – 3
  • Idea Generation – 3
  • Intimidation – 2
  • Energy – 0

Dumb, stubborn and listless. Ezra’s best ideas come out of his nose, which might be why he doesn’t have many friends. I’m sorry Ezra, but we can’t hire y–

What’s that? His father is the Global Head of Retail?

You’ll make a fine account planner, son. Hired.

Of course, not all statistics are created equal, but the exercise above illustrates an important factor in any organization’s staffing requirements: if you’ve got a limited budget, then you will have to make tradeoffs somewhere. Let’s say you have a budget that equates to a total PV of 3.5. With the candidates above, you could hire the amazing creative, Jian or you could hire two less skilled options, Ezra and Egbert. Do you need manpower (adding depth to the roster) or a single key addition to fill a gap (a play maker)?

The skills above refer to current skills, not potential ones. Ezra might very well be the world’s greatest strategist, but his stats wouldn’t reflect this. He might have potential value that is difficult to measure. In addition, some skills are very difficult to assess up front. Things like style or intelligence can be measured in an interview, but leadership could take months to manifest. That’s why a an all-star hire could turn out to be a flop.

And this, folks, is why we have probation periods.


Nothing else in the soccer world reminds me of agency life quite as much as transfers. Players are rarely loyal to their clubs the moment a good offer pops up. The same thing happens in agencies. When someone calls in sick, transfer rumors abound.  It doesn’t hurt that a fifth of the articles in industry publications are about senior transfers between agencies. Can you believe FC BBDO traded John to Saachi Utd? I’m shocked! I thought he was going to Real Edelman. 

Some people criticize soccer for the mercenary attitude of its top players, but at least the sport is honest about its disloyalty. A good manager is better off accepting reality, and view his or her team as a soccer team than as an American football team–which is bound by longer term contracts and team-loyalty. That recognition allows him or her to continuously develop the team to endure past turnover.

Star Players

I like agency life and I like soccer. Sure they’re both frustrating sometimes, but it can also be really rewarding when everything clicks into place and something great is produced.

I write this article today as the Philadelphia Union has defeated FC Dallas to go to the finals of the US Open Cup. In the semi-final match, Philly’s goalkeeper Zach MacMath saved two penalties which led the Union to its victory. Sometimes, no matter how strong your team is as a whole, a single player can make all the difference.

In the agency world, this is true too. Great ideas usually come from a single person. Committee-style brainstorming is often ineffective as it becomes a contest for people to decide who in the room is the smartest.

The agency world also hosts an incredible amount of self-styled experts and charlatans who rest on past successes or uncertain qualifications. Finding these weak links is very important. After all, with a great defense, a goalkeeper might go untested until it’s penalty time.

The Right Team

An all-star striker won’t accomplish much without the support of the rest of the team. Similarly, a well functioning office need not be comprised of amazing players; what’s more important is that the players play together effectively.

That last sentence is fodder for an inspirational poster, but it ought to be an uncomfortable reality for some people. If you are a brilliant writer, but don’t work well with others, then you are not necessarily as valuable to the agency as you might think.

In Football Manager, I can get an accurate appraisal of players and their collaborative qualities. Real life is much harder. But by thinking of the organizational systems common to both football and agencies, we can better approach the problems we frequently face within agency environments.

This was a silly article. Hope you enjoyed it.

Apple isn’t Apple anymore

Apple recently released its newest ad promoting the iPhone 5s. Take a look.

Chirpy, feel-good indie music accompanies people doing incredible things with their iPhones. Painting murals, plotting courses, administering medical aid to impoverished people. The possibilities are truly endless.

And that really is the message of this ad. With an iPhone 5s, you are empowered to do amazing things–things you might not have realized possible.

It’s a pretty ad. But it’s terrible.

Who needs a soul when you have product features?

The thought process behind this ad is not hard to see. People view iPhones as lifestyle devices. It’s popular and ubiquitous, but market research probably showed that most people don’t know what their phones are capable of.  I certainly didn’t know that I could take a horse’s pulse with a phone.

This led to a well-meaning marketing head at Apple requesting that the agency create an ad focusing on product features, in order to educate consumers. This led TBWA to create an ad focusing on the specific and surprising capabilities of the iPhone 5s.

So what’s the problem?

Replace the iPhone in that advertisement with a Samsung Galaxy. Or an LG G3. Or a Sony Xperia. Would the advertisement still make sense? The answer is yes. This is the mark of a troubled advertisement.

The message “your phone empowers you to do amazing things” can be applied to the majority of the smartphones on the market–certainly those competing with Apple. If anything, Android phones already have a better reputation for amazing capabilities due to their customization and the fact that for the past couple years, Android manufacturers have led the way with new features (e.g. waterproofing, smart watches, etc.).

This ad is a clear departure from what made the iPhone so popular in the first place: accessible technology through Apple’s sleek and easy-to-use UI, all in a styling form factor. Other brands caught up to Apple, but Apple, rather than innovating to stay ahead of the competition, began to chase competitive features.

If Apple continues along this path, then it will suffer in the face of Android’s dramatic increase in market share.

Iconic Apple

Smart phones have changed the world as we know it. It has given us the power to communicate easily with the world at-large. But recently, smart phones have increasingly become commoditized with fewer features to distinguish them. This means that branding will become more and more important (See: Selling the Neighborhood). If Apple focuses on product features and less on the brand qualities that makes Apple iconic, then it’s easy to see where Android competition can eat away at Apple’s position in the market. In the absence of a clear differentiator, brand takes precedent.

So what is the solution?

Apple should return to its roots in order to convey a clear message to potential customers: the Apple design philosophy is about simplicity and style–not a million features you will never use.

Here’s to the good old days.


There’s something incredibly arrogant about this OOH ad. It’s like Apple isn’t even trying. Never mind the fact that the ad itself blends into the building. It’s just a side view of the phone. You know what? I’m sold. Where is the nearest Apple store?



Selling the Neighborhood: Quick Thoughts on Branding

Around this time last year, I was assigned a theoretical brief to promote LG in the Hong Kong mobile market. LG sits behind major competitors such as Apple and Samsung, and its marketing at the time focused heavily on new product features, such as curved screens (“Thrilling!” said no customers).

I spent a lot of time thinking about this brief, because it was given to me as part of the hiring process for my current employer (Spoiler: I got the job).  Around the same time, I was thinking about moving after my lease expired, which was about six months away. Starting the process, I spent most of my time thinking about which neighborhoods I would like to live in.

I realized then that mobile phones and apartments are very similar in terms of buying behavior. Not everyone is in the market for an apartment, but that doesn’t stop people from “shopping” different neighborhoods.

  • “I want some place quiet, but I have a limited budget.”
  • “I need to be at the center of things.”
  • “I want to be near public transportation and have a view of a nearby park.”

Mobile phone customers are the same way. If someone buys a mobile phone every two or three years, then the majority of product-specific advertising they see will be completely irrelevant, no matter how interesting it is. Most customers realize that the product will be out of date by the time they are in the market for a new phone.

This is why branding for companies selling high involvement, low frequency products is so important. Customers are frequently shopping for neighborhoods (i.e. brands) rather than for specific apartments (i.e. products). The next time I buy a phone, it might be an Apple 6, 7 or 300s, but since I have no way of knowing what that product will be, I first settle for the neighborhood (Apple) and then when I’m ready to buy, I do so based on existing brand preference.

Frequently CMO’s must meet certain objectives for individual product launches, so they are hesitant to engage in any meaningful branding at the expense of product-specific campaigns, which are only relevant to a particular audience, and are quickly forgotten by everyone else. It’s a common problem, but one that will certainly not go away as phones become increasingly commoditized. Customers only care about processor speed or screen size up to a certain point. When the market becomes saturated with such features, all that is left is branding. The Apples and Samsungs of the world are left in a good position. But what about the LGs and HTCs?

Would you buy a great apartment in a bad neighborhood?

Drugs are winning the advertising war

Anti-drug advertisements have to be some of the least insightful pieces of marketing garbage  out there. Maybe that’s because the people making them don’t properly understand the motivations or consequences of drug abuse. Maybe it’s because the people paying for such advertisements (i.e. governments) are naturally risk-averse and don’t want to push the limits of advertising. Maybe it’s because we’re trapped in an endless cycle of preconceptions and notions about people who get addicted to drugs.

Truth be told, I don’t know why anti-drug advertisements are so bad, but I do know that these are the results in Hong Kong:

Drug friends? What?

Drug friends are the worst. Always bleeding everywhere…

Words. Words. Words! More words. Words.

Words. Words. Descriptors! Words! Dramatic effect!

How I imagine this conversation went: "Hey John, what are some bad drugs that people shouldn't use?" "Uh... ketamine. Heroin." "Aren't they like the same thing?" "I guess" And thus an advertisement was born.

How I imagine the conversation behind this ad went:

“Hey John, what are some bad drugs that people shouldn’t use?”

“Uh… Ketamine. Heroin.”

“Aren’t they like the same thing?”

“I guess.”

Unfortunately, Hong Kong isn’t the epitome of awful anti-drug advertising. It inherited the nonsense from America’s War on Drugs and some of the worst, tone-deaf advertisements of all time. Enjoy:

All drugs will literally kill you immediately. You wouldn't smoke cyanide, would you?

All drugs will literally kill you immediately. You wouldn’t smoke cyanide, would you?

A dog wrote this. If smoking pot gives me the ability to talk to animals, sign me up.

Co-branding won’t save you. Funnily enough, I think “Get a pizza” is the best advice in this incredibly awkward drug deal gone wrong.

Nah, that’s an egg.

20 years later. Still an egg.

Someone thought this was a logical argument.

And the biggest culprit of all.

And the biggest culprit of all.

But wait! Isn’t “Just Say No” the pinnacle of anti-drug advertising? It’s what people think of when they talk about anti-drug campaigns! My response is: how many times have you heard “Just Say No” without an ounce of irony attached to the expression?

The trouble I see with anti-drug advertising isn’t the execution. Some of it is kind of clever. The trouble comes from the insight. Rather than deal with the complex human emotions that are associated with trial, use and abuse of drugs, most organizations seem content with heuristics–gross simplifications of cause and effect.

The thought process behind a typical anti-drug advertisement

 “John, we need to create an ad campaign to get kids away from drugs.”

“Makes sense. Drugs are bad. Let’s think about this logically. Why are drugs bad?”

“Because they are bad for you!”

“People don’t like doing things that are bad for you! Let’s make an ad about how drugs affect your brain!”

“Great idea, John!”

“Yeah, when you’re on drugs, your brain gets scrambled… like an egg!”

“John, you glorious bastard, you just won our agency a Cannes Lion for sure!”

/end scene

Did anti-drug advertisements skip account planners?

The simplification of anti-drug advertisements is problematic because it ignores the bigger issues at play with drugs such as social pressures, depression, curiosity, hopelessness or boredom. It also lumps drugs into one big category where you have advertisers claiming that heroin and ketamine are literally the same thing.

Some ads try to attack root causes, but it’s not enough. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles example above  is the worst offender of the bunch. Yeah, social pressure can theoretically get kids to try drugs. But does anyone in their right minds expect a kid a full foot shorter than an older drug dealer to shove said dealer and say, “I’m not a chicken. You’re a turkey.”

I mean, WHAT.

Social pressures aren’t as simple as a shady guy walking up to a kid and doing a hard sell. It’s more likely to come from a friend, which undercuts the whole “us vs. them” dichotomy that many of these ads try to establish. “Hey, I’ve known you for about ten years and we’re best friends. But you just offered me a joint. We’re done forever, pal.”

Tackling drugs

First, a short economics lesson. For all goods and services in the world, there exists the concept of elasticity. Some things are relatively elastic in terms of demand. Store doesn’t have Coca Cola? “Whatever. Pepsi is fine.”

Other things are far more inelastic, meaning demand doesn’t change much, even if supply is short. Drugs are a perfect examples of an inelastic good. If there’s high supply due to legalization, then obtaining drugs is simple. If there’s low supply due to law enforcement or smuggling restrictions, demand remains the same but the costs of obtaining drugs rise dramatically. Bear in mind that those costs include the actual price and the risk involved. Crime rises when the supply falls.

So attacking supply seems like a poor way of dealing with the drug problem. This is where legalization arguments come in. If it’s legal, people will still buy drugs, but at least they’ll do so in a regulated environment. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Attacking demand for drugs is a far more effective anti-drug strategy, because with less demand, there’s less of a need for an expansive international drug network with its associated crime. In theory, anti-drug advertisements should be effective–if they actually address the root causes of drug demand.

For anti-drug advertisements to be effective, they need to recognize some key issues:

  • Elementary school kids probably aren’t going to be taking heroin. Re-adjust your audience targets, please.
  • Realistically, “just say no” isn’t enough. The social world of a teenager is complicated enough without introducing a black-and-white moral judgement into their lives. All JSN does is empower other kids to cast judgement on other teenagers, which helps no one.
  • Teenagers think they’re invincible. Just look at teen mortality rates behind the wheel. Does a description of the effects of drug use actually dissuade this already irrational audience?
  • Anti-drug advertisers need to stop pretending to be cool. Even if an ad were 99% authentic, most people would be able to sniff out that 1% that was clearly influenced by someone too straight-laced to be relevant to their target audience. This means never include hip-hop in your advert.
  • Word of mouth advertising is the most powerful kind of advertising. Let’s say Kid A sees an anti-pot ad. It says pot will turn your brain to crap. Let’s say Kid A has a friend, Kid B, who smokes pot. But Kid B doesn’t have a crap brain! Is Kid A supposed to believe the ad or his actual experiences?
  • On that note, don’t lie to your audience. Pot won’t cause you to die an incredibly painful death. There are problems with pot, but don’t over-sell them or your entire facade of credibility is ruined. Laziness and over-eating are perfectly valid criticisms of pot use. There’s no need to exaggerate.

Whether or not the government should outlaw drug use is a big, complicated question. But if the government decides to enact an anti-drug campaign, it does have a responsibility to ensure that its policies have a minimum level of effectiveness. Otherwise I’m wasting my tax money.

Just say no (to bad anti-drug ads).