Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Creativity Gone Sour: Motrin, Mothers, and Twitter

Over the weekend I was monitoring Twitter friends and was surprised to discover a bit of a dust up with regard to the Motrin brand. Motrin, it appears, had put up an ad suggesting that mothers who wear those slings to carry their babies are slaves to fashion, and that it hurts their backs. Depending on how you interpret the ad it can also be perceived as calling mothers “tired and crazy”. It also subtly suggests that the sling is not really as much of a bonding experience as it’s purported to be. One would guess the original intention of the ad would be to suggest that Motrin is the answer to all the neck, back, and shoulder pain a mom would would get from using a sling. It was also intended to be a “viral video”. It was! And it was Not Good! A virtual firestorm of negative reaction went aflame on the web.

Motrin, to put it mildly, has really stepped in it (McNeil Consumer Healthcare owns the Motrin brand, McNeil is a division of Johnson & Johnson). Rumor has it that Amy Gates (aka “@crunchygoddess on Twitter) learned about it on Facebook, who told Jessica Gottleib (aka JessicaGottlieb) who took it to Twitter and tweeted — to a huge community of mothers, bloggers, and knucklehead social observers like myself. Then Katja Presnal (aka @KatjaPresnal) created a response video for YouTube. 20 hours later the Motrin brand website is offline…

From a creativity and innovation perspective there are two points about this event I’d like to make.

1. Creativity isn’t useful or innovative unless it solves a problem. Creativity in a vacuum by some ad executive — who think they know the market — can be worse than useless, it can be damaging. We’ve all seen some visually interesting ads and at the end of it said, that was cool — what brand was it? The Motrin ad goes a step further, it’s creative thinking that actually harms a brand. One of the rules of structured creative problem solving is that you really understand the problem. Clearly, those who developed this ad don’t understand the role of slings, and the emotional connection mothers have to them. Now, it may be that slings do indeed cause some pain. Good research might have uncovered this insight. However, that insight alone, even if true, is not quite enough. In good creative problem solving you would not only understand the basic problem, you’d make sure that whatever you create as a solution works for the problem owner, the target in marketing terms. Mom’s clearly were offended by the ad’s tone, assumptions, and suggestions. Motrin aimed for empathy and simply missed the target. With web technologies, like Twitter and other tools, lack of funding is no excuse for not market testing. It’s incredibly easy to show a spot to a panel via the web. Why they didn’t do this is a mystery (or if they did how they missed the negative response). Traditional focus groups would have worked for this testing — if properly designed. I don’t agree with Peter Shankman, a social media guru, on this (his post on this event is otherwise brilliant IMHO). A series of focus groups might have “iterated” the spot and found language that was truly empathetic (or not, the concept may have been unsalvagable). What Peter and I can agree on is web tools like Twitter would have quickly given creators much needed consumer feedback on their ad concept. There is something to be said for the wisdom of crowds in the social media universe.

2. Social Media are Power Tools for creative and innovative self expression. Social Media is coming of age in a fast and furious way. They are powerful and can work for you, or against you. Yes, this might seem obvious, but I believe there is a vast universe of people who are missing the social media boat. I’m personally a Greggey-come-lately to social media. I’ve been on Facebook, Plaxo, and Linked-In for sometime but for the most part have found them to be a waste of time. Don the Idea Guy got me involved with Twitter and I thought, at first, it was completely silly — who would care to know “what I’m doing right now”? Why “micro blog” when you can macro blog or email? I didn’t get it, but am beginning to see the light. The lightning speed at which an organized response to the Motrin ad was put together was amazing, and it can be directly attributed to Twitter. An alert was messaged “tweeted” out and before one could blink there was a video on YouTube with all the outraged responses (nicely done and oh-so-timely by Katja Presnal). Last night it was still possible to see the original ad on the Motrin site, today I can only find it on YouTube. In fact the Motrin brand web page itself has been taken down, I suspect, for re-tooling in light of this marketing fiasco. From ad release to brand web site shutdown — less than 20 hours. Lesson here: be careful with power tools!

It will be interesting to see how Motrin responds to this. How they respond will be make or break for the brand. For more on this story see Fast Company’s take.

For more very short snippets of creativity and innovation news and views, follow me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/greggfraley

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Reality Check, Simply Not Bull Shitake

I’ve been reading, or I should say digesting, Guy Kawasaki’s new book, Reality Check, the Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition. I’d suggest a deep red wine while reading, something to complement a meaty book, perhaps a Cotes du Rhone. It’s a book destined to become a classic vintage, a book about being an entrepreneur, written by an entrepreneur, for entrepreneurs. Its content is the nitty-gritty detail of what it takes to make a start up happen and work. It’s practical, it’s concise, it covers a lot of bases, and yeah, it’s irreverent. I think irreverent is true, but more accurately, the advice it gives is often not the classic BS (“Bull Shitake,” Guy’s term) you might hear at a business school. It’s not just irreverent, I’d say unconventional and out-of-the-box in a real life and helpful way. If you are even thinking of starting up a company, this isn’t just required reading — it’s required eating. Reality Check communicates a passion for the art of the start up; it’s compelling. As I said, you really need to digest this book not read it, so, get out the steak knives, Reality Check is medium rare, with a generous sauce of uncommon insight.

Reality Check is a guide for start up innovation. It’s targeting the nascent Steve Jobs or Guy Kawasaki’s out there more than a corporate brand manager, or Chief Innovation Officer. Another recent book on innovation, The Innovators Guide to Growth (IGTG) looks at innovation through a more corporate and academic lens. Reality Check is through the lens of the experienced serial entrepreneur. That said, Reality Check is exactly what a corporate brand manager needs to begin eating in order to acquire the stomach of a bona fide entrepreneur. If you are a corporate innovator, this is a helpful book to learn how to grow the intestinal fortitude to beat your competition to the innovative punch.

Getting into the meat of this book, let me just say that it’s darn comprehensive. It takes you through sections on planning, fund raising, innovating, marketing, selling, communicating, competing, hiring, firing, and even “beguiling”. Each chapter breaks a topic down quickly and pragmatically, no bull shitake. It does so with a nice dash of acerbic real-life humor, and with concrete real-world examples. What’s nice is if you don’t want to read all 461 pages, you can pick it up and read the great advice it gives for say, press releases (“DIY PR”). I was particularly enamored with the chapter on writing business plans (The Art of Executive Summary). It confirms what I always felt – investors only read the executive summary, and it doesn’t need to be 80 pages long; that summary though – it had better be kick ass. It ends with a visionary section that at times brought tears to my eyes. I’m heartened that he does a bit of “entrepreneur as idealist” philosophy throughout; it elevates this book from a “how to” to a “how to be.” Reality Check goes some distance towards eliminating the myth that the essential motivation of an entrepreneur is greed.

I’ve been part of three start ups in my checkered career, and I’ll tell you this, I wish like hell I’d had this book before I made my bones on those three ventures. I did alright, I’ve lived to write this review, but one of my most heart rending failures might have been prevented if I’d had this practical, pragmatic, insightful book in hand. Entrepreneurs and business leaders, you’d be well served to have this book for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Bon appetite – and that’s no bull shitake.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Creative Life of Studs Terkel, Three Things

I can’t let the moment go by without saying something about the recent death of Studs Terkel. Studs was 96 years young when he died October 31, 2008. I have one degree of separation from Studs — I have Chicago friends who actually know him. I’ve heard him speak, only a few years ago when he was “only” 91. His lunch keynote at the QRCA conference was as lively and relevant as any speaker you could wish for. If you are unaware of this man, read his bio here. I have a few comments to make about him related to creativity and innovation. Briefly, Studs was an award winning writer, broadcaster, actor, and a civil rights/civil liberties activist. He interviewed the likes of Muhammad Ali, Janis Joplin, and Martin Luther King.

What can we learn about creativity from Studs?

Be who you are: Studs was about as liberal as you can get and he made no bones about it. He was self-expressed on the radio and in writing and he did it his way. He did this in spite of being blacklisted during the McCarthy era — but he refused to be shut down. Don’t suppress the essence of who you are even if it’s very different, even if you are punished for it, it’s where your personal creativity lives. It also might be a great way to live a very long and interesting life!

Quantity matters: Studs would not be famous if he hadn’t done so much. His life is a record of creative persistence and productivity. Thousands of interviews, quite a few books, thousands of radio and TV broadcasts. If you look at any one thing he’s not that exceptional. If you look at his whole creative life you can’t help but be impressed. His most important work happened after he was 70 years old. Lesson: whatever your creative product is, produce a lot of it.

History provides perspective: One of the things about Studs that was impressive was that he simply knew things — a lot of things. His knowledge of historical events was no doubt enhanced by all the people in the news he interviewed and his own involvement. I heard him speak of the short memory of American’s who wanted to get rid of government programs. He gently reminded some young people that their parents and grandparents were rescued by programs like the WPA and the CCC during the great depression. If you want to be more creative, whatever it is you do, know the history because it informs the context of the present. Studs said this: “I’ve always felt, in all my books, that there’s a deep decency in the American people and a native intelligence—providing they have the facts, providing they have the information.” Amen brother. If you haven’t read any books by Studs, pick up Hard Times.

Keep your chin up: Studs was an optimist, always. Even after breaking his hip a few months ago he could joke about it, he said, “I was walking downstairs carrying a drink in one hand and a book in the other. Don’t try that after ninety.” He wrote books in order to bring hope into people’s hearts, and he did. He often ended his radio show by saying “take it easy, but take it.” Advice worth taking, thanks for all you did Studs.