Bring us “Save 15% or More” and we’ll bring you a duck.

ImageIn his Nov. 6 Ad Age column, “Why Ad Agencies Aren’t Going Away Anytime Soon,” Al Ries contends that the type of thinking found inside ad agencies is the only hope clients have of keeping their lofty, buzzword laden “boardroom-created strategies” out of their marketing and alienating (or worse, boring) their customers.

This has become a distressing trend, right down to the mom-and-pop level. My armchair analysis follows.

Jus as YouTube has turned everyone into a director, and WordPress has turned everyone into a literary giant, two indisputable facts are leading companies to believe that they can create and distribute all their own marketing without any outside assistance:

  1. Social media is everywhere
  2. Social media is cheap, if not free

Now, this isn’t another whiny “you get what you pay for” observation about how chaining your intern in front of a laptop and giving them free reign on Facebook does not constitute a marketing plan. (Even though it doesn’t)

I say go ahead, use every social media platform that’s out there, and try every new one that comes along. It’s not the distribution channels that bother me, it’s the messages companies are putting there—and the importance they’re placing on those channels at the expense of those messages.

Here’s a primitive analogy. Pretend that all other media in the country has been outlawed save one: megaphones. So all advertisers are forced to spread the word about their products by hiring some guy to stand on the street and yell about it.

Since all other companies are using the same guy, how can one make the best use of him? By paying him to shout about nothing but your product all day, in his own words, and literally drown out the competition? Or by providing him with a compelling, relevant and engaging message that he shouts but once a day?

My money’s on B. Because B is built around a solid idea.

These days, the media clutter is inescapable, especially when most of us expose ourselves to it by choice. It’s not enough just “being there” in someone’s face. You need to be there with something to say.

Companies like mine—whether you call them “ad agencies,” “marketing firms,” “content creators” or “brand consultants”—do one thing companies can’t do themselves: stand on the outside and look in. A client knows exactly what it wants to say about its product. Whether it will resonate with its customers is a different story—and an increasingly irrelevant one.

Agencies (good ones, anyway) are built to represent the customer, and speak to them in their language. Clients may try, but they will always lack the necessary objectivity to pull this off. And without a good agency or outside group, a client can fall victim to Ivory Tower Syndrome, compounded by Yes Men-itis. They are proud of their efforts, they want their efforts to be good and therefore delude themselves into thinking just that, with no one to tell them otherwise.

Google has not helped matters by making nearly every form of online advertising D.I.Y., with tutorials, free phone assistance and attractive rates you can set yourself (pay per click, etc.). What Google does NOT help with is your message. And in the scramble to cut corners and get something—anything—out there and visible to customers, the idea gets left in the dust.

I’m not suggesting every idea an ad agency has is gold, or that every idea a client has is worthless, but just because the media landscape has changed doesn’t mean the agency-client partnership model is obsolete, or that ideas matter less.

I would argue that they’ve never been more important.

Our referral program isn’t a scam after all!


Carolina Back Marketing Director Kelly Lewis proudly shows off her new Amazon Kindle, which she earned outright with a project referral to Strategic Insights.

Just ask Kelly Lewis, Marketing Director for Carolina Back Institute. We’ve worked with Kelly and Carolina Back for a number of years, helping develop their new website as well as other materials to help them help their patients. If you know Kelly, you know she’s very friendly and approachable. Therefore, she was approached by Pat Mills of Cary Ortho, who was looking for a group to develop a website for Dr. Sameer Mathur. Kelly unhesitatingly recommended Strategic Insights.

After meeting with Pat and Dr. Mathur, we all agreed to work together and we had his site up and running by March 2013. To thank Kelly for the referral–as our program promises–we sent her an original Kindle eReader. She says it’s been very enjoyable, on the rare occasions when she’s allowed to use it (Kelly has two adolescent daughters who are avid readers). She’s even attempting to read one of Creative Director Bill Cokas’ recent novels (though not the one about a comical-yet-deadly advertising scheme).

Of her experience with Strategic Insights, Kelly says, “We have worked with Strategic Insights for many years on several projects and it has always been a fantastic experience. The professionalism, feedback, and willingness to listen to our specific needs made my role as Marketing Director an easy one on this particular project.”

Our offer still stands: send us a name and (once the deal is inked) we’ll send you some swag.

(Postscript: Pat Mills has just referred Strategic Insights to yet another group needing a website. And the chain continues…)

Big Time Beer gets Small Town Support

ImageWhite Street Brewing Company, Wake Forest’s first-ever brewery, has selected Strategic Insights to assist them with various aspects of their branding and marketing. The agency’s first contribution to the White Street brand was its tagline, currently in use: Big Time Beer. Small Town Soul. Those words capture the essence of the brewery’s mission, which is to produce high quality beers with an old-fashioned work ethic and values.

White Street Brewing Company opened its doors in Fall 2012 and immediately enhanced the local craft beer scene. Founded by Dino and Tina Radosta, the brewery is new territory for both, whose most recent careers were (and still are) in software. But Dino was eager for a new challenge and sensed a void in the Wake Forest community.

“We’re thrilled to be a part of the vibrancy of historic downtown Wake Forest and the recent craft beer renaissance,” he said. “The unique setting of the beer factory combined with the taproom is a first for the area.” White Street beers are served not only in the taproom/brewery on White Street, but in a rapidly growing list of restaurants and bars all over the region.

The Radostas have completely renovated the building, which they now own, that opened in the 1930s as a local Chevrolet showroom. The brewing equipment and other equipment are in full view in the taproom, making daily brewing a spectator event. Head Brewer Chris Bivins recently moved to Wake Forest from Atlanta oversees all beer production. Flagship beers include a Scottish Ale, a traditional IPA, a Black IPA and a Kolsch. Others will be added seasonally, and some will be available in limited quantities and only in the taproom. There are no immediate plans to bottle.

“From our very first meeting, I felt that Strategic Insights really ‘got’ White Street Beer stands for,” said marketing director Tina Radosta. “Their strategy was spot-on, and they managed to bring our brand to life in a memorable and distinctive way that will help us with both short-term sales and long-term market penetration. We’re fortunate to have such passion and creativity right around the corner.”

Making a Meme Your (Campaign) Theme Can Be Recipe for Disaster

Don’t marry your brand with a fad just to get a quick spurt of attention. It takes away from your message and runs the risk of doing more harm than good.

Remember the end of 2012 when Psy’s pony-riding “Gangnam Style” was everywhere? And by everywhere, I mean ABC dedicated a Nightline piece to the “dance revolution”. It was inescapable. We’re all glad that’s over now, right?

WE might be, but I doubt Wonderful Pistachios is.

Wondeful Pistachios’ 2013 Super Bowl commercial features Psy parodying his own viral video, complete with pony-riding pistachios as his backup dancers. It’s weird, it’s riding the line of being too out there, and it appeals to a basic sense of silliness that lurks inside all of us.

That is, it was, until “Gangnam Style” pony-rode it’s way from strangely socially-acceptable to just downright overdone. Even with a Super Bowl airing, the “Crackin’ Style” commercial was making use of a meme that was closer to being out than in. Despite its hefty price tag, the commercial should have had a shelf-life closer to a dairy product than the nuts it advertised.

Yet, every night while I’m watching Hulu+, I’m bombarded with the Wonderful Pistachios commercial. Not just once or twice an episode – I’m still seeing Psy pony-ride those nuts every commercial break.

It doesn’t stop there. “Crackin’ Style” is also the name of the iPhone app Wonderful Pistachios launched (it’s a nut-themed photo editor).

Wonderful Pistachios has taken what could have been a successful (though expensive) marketing in the moment opportunity and made it the centerpiece of the 2013 leg of their advertising campaign.

But, their campaign is all about how celebrities “do it” (crack into pistachios). Doesn’t Psy fit in there?

Taking a step back from Psy and looking at the rest of the commercials in the US playlist of the Wonderful Pistachios YouTube page, it is true that their campaign centers around banking on the popularity of certain celebrities, characters and memes (“Crackin’ Style” was not even close to being the first – both Keyboard Cat and Honey Badger have spots dedicated to them as well).

However, as the ill-fated celebrity Gilderoy Lockhart ominously said in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, “Fame is a fickle friend, Harry.”

The risk with relying on social fads, trends, memes, and even celebrities as the basis for your brand’s campaign lies in the fact that popularity is an untamed beast. There’s no telling what will be popular with the masses, for what reasons, or for how long. Even more dangerous, there’s always a risk that a fad, trend, meme, or celebrity won’t just slink away back to obscurity, they could fall out of public favor to the point of becoming famous for the wrong reasons (possibly becoming a villain character). If they are integral to your brand’s image through their use in a campaign, that villain is now synonymous with you (Psy himself became at risk of receiving the “public villain” treatment when his former anti-American concert and statements came to greater light following the success of the Gangnam Style video – the Wonderful Pistachios spot aired after this controversy).

Celebrities and memes come pre-loaded with a certain reputation and instant popularity. But, are you really popular or just sitting at the right table in the schoolroom cafeteria?

It’s high school 101: Have a popular friend speak highly of you and see your reputation soar. Suddenly you have dates to the prom, plans for Saturday night, and friends to ditch those boring classes to go try on jeans with at the mall. But, if you need to take your little sister to see Yo Gabba Gabba! on ice, you’ll find that all of your newfound friends have important plans they just can’t get out of.

Plus, your reputation is now wholly dependent on that popular friend’s reputation. Sure, some kids heard about the Yo Gabba Gabba! incident with your sister, but you’re just too sweet to say no like that. Your friend however, started dating that guy who doesn’t shower for some unexplainable reason. In the eyes of the student body, her speaking highly of you should have been their first indication that she really has bad taste. Your sudden rise to the top ends with an equally sudden – and long – fall from grace.

When you piggyback your reputation onto that of a person or meme that is already popular, it runs the same risk of backfire. Not to mention, it’s just out and out cheating – cheating yourself out of making a unique reputation that speaks more accurately to who your brand really is.

Not all celebrity endorsement is a flash in the pan, though.

Make no mistake, I’m not saying that all celebrity endorsements, use of celebrities in advertising, or even making a timely connection is bad for your brand. Used appropriately and with intention, these methods can be extremely effective, memorable and successfully showcase a side of your brand the public may have previously missed.

I do caution against taking a celebrity’s brand and marrying it with your own, however. Likening your company to someone who is truly similar is one thing, but riding the wave of someone else’s popularity completely is a gimmick that will either provide a short-lived buzz around your business, be seen through by your customers, attract attention from groups who have no potential to become customers, or miss the mark entirely and have a negative impact on your brand.

To me, “Crackin’ Style” is an example of just such a gimmick.

 Jennifer Soloway [follow me on Twitter] // Senior Art Director // Strategic Insights

You know I’m cringing my way through every Hulu+ commercial break at night, but how do you feel about it? Is Wonderful Pistachios taking a huge risk or does it speak well to the brand?


Strategic Insights Joins Wake Forest Chamber of Commerce

ImageIt’s easy to get stuck in a rut. But sometimes moving beyond one’s comfort zone can have surprising results. For example, Strategic Insights Brand Marketing recently made a move that would have been unthinkable just a year ago: it joined the Wake Forest Chamber of Commerce.

At this point, we should make it clear that that one year ago, Strategic Insights relocated its headquarters from Raleigh to Wake Forest.

“We’ve attended a few Business After Hours events so far,” said co-owner and creative director Bill Cokas, “and have dutifully exchanged business cards and elevator speeches. It’s led to a couple proposals and at least a half dozen new relationships in the community.”

Co-owner and associate creative director Chris Griffin agreed that the there is evidence the membership is already paying off. “We found an insurance agent for ourselves through the chamber, as well as a PR resource that will enable us to co-pitch pieces of business that are looking for things we don’t handle in-house.”

On May 6, Strategic Insights volunteered at the annual Meet In the Street event on behalf of the Chamber, providing vendor assistance up and down Brooks Street. “It was encouraging to see so much participation, both from an attendee and a vendor standpoint. One of our clients and a major event sponsor, White Street Brewing Company, had a destination presence set up on White Street with its beer garden facing the music stage.”

Strategic Insights looks forward to future events put on or participated in by the chamber, as well as the numerous opportunities for networking, referrals and exposure.

Back Pain Relief Front and Center in New Spinal Surgeon Website

sameer pic 3Strategic Insights has just launched new website for Dr. Sameer Mathur, a surgeon specializing in minimally invasive back solutions, working with Cary Orthopaedics in Cary, NC.

While Dr. Mathur is represented on the main Cary Orthopaedics website, he was looking to bring some more visibility to his own specialties and attract more patients directly, independent of that site. Strategic Insights agreed more exposure is never a bad thing, and sat down with Dr. Mathur and his assistant Pat Mills and devised a comprehensive sitemap that would showcase his unique talents and the results he’s produced for patients.

Having recently designed and built the website for a related practice, Carolina Back Institute, the agency got “back” into that mindset and devised a soothing palette that also suited the medical nature of the business, creating an overall welcoming impression. The Strategic Insights team consisted of Chris Griffin, associate creative director and web developer, and Bill Cokas, creative director and copywriter. Both worked closely with Dr. Mathur and Pat throughout the process.

The new website makes aims to make the process of seeking back pain relief easier and less intimidating by incorporating pictures of Dr. Mathur, lifestyle images to depict one’s life after surgery and multiple resources that either answer questions or provide the ability to ask them. Under “educational info,” for example, prospective patients can watch a series of instructional animations that walk them through a particular medical procedure offered by Dr. Mathur.

Of the experience, Pat Mills had this to say: “We found Strategic Insights great to work with. They were patient, helpful, creative and quick to get back with us when we had lots of questions. We were looking for a fresh, user-friendly, informative site, and they helped us to achieve that goal. I feel like it takes Dr. Mathur to a new level of professionalism with our marketing.”

Serious Sausages Served Up Amidst Cartoons Exposing “the Conspiracy”

ImageIn one of its most unusual–and enjoyable–projects to date, Strategic Insights has launched a branding/interior decorating effort for Firewürst Flame-Grilled Sausages & Dogs, the first location of a new QSR concept devoted to “the other side of the backyard barbecue.”

According to Firewürst co-founder Bill Morgenstern, America is saturated with burger, pizza and Mexican joints–it’s time for a little variety and time, in his words, for people to “break the burger addiction.” And who better to usher sausages and hot dogs into the aught-teens than Morgenstern and his son co-founder Chas, who both trace their roots back to a Romanian forebear–and sausage-maker extraordinaire.

In finding the right tone for the venture, Strategic Insights suggested a series of satirical cartoons that would expose “great sausage conspiracies” throughout history. “We want to give sausage its due,” said Creative Director Bill Cokas, who created the cartoons along with Associate Creative Director Chris Griffin. “It’s time this venerated meat got some respect, so we shone a spotlight on some forgotten moments throughout history where sausages and hot dogs were present–but not necessarily accounted for.” The overall goal was to engage customers and provide them a fun and rewarding visit.

“I mean, come on–how can you be too serious when it comes to sausages?”

Moments depicted include the inspiration behind the first telephone transmission, the end of the Cold War and Napoleon’s secret reason for keeping one hand concealed at all times.

The characters depicted in the posters also make a second appearance over everyone’s heads in what the team ended up referring to as “sausage clouds,” an inspired idea from the Morgensterns to add a little bonus levity to the experience.

Strategic Insights also designed and built Firewürst’s website, menu boards and a series of informational posters throughout the restaurant, known as Firewürst Fresh Facts.

“Not only was the work a blast, but it appears to have paid off,” Cokas remarked. “Customers are surprised when they find out the sole Cary location of Firewürst is not, in fact, a national chain. We consider that a mission accomplished. And Bill and Chas have made sure the food is incredible, so the whole customer experience is a win-win.” Firewürst has since announced a Brier Creek location, with others in the würks [sic].

Between Cokas and Griffin, the pair has created memorable work for McDonald’s, Golden Corral and Raleigh-based Rocky Top Hospitality.

“We love working for restaurants,” Griffin observed, “as long as it’s not in the kitchen.”

View the entire poster gallery here.


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