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Rainy Days and Nesteggs

Monday, April 7th, 2014

“The recovery still feels like a recession to many Americans and it also looks that way in some economic statistics.”   — Janet Yellen

The agency business continues to be slow these days. For that matter, I’m well connected with a lot other businesses and as far as I can discern, it’s most every part of the business services category that seems to be plodding along.

Why? Well, I’ve asked a lot of people and the consensus seems to point to a new set of priorities in corporate governance at all those Fortune 1000 companies — the ones that used to dole out business to research firms, advertising agencies, and marketing consultants. The new trend favors building cash, buying back stocks, and increasing shareholder value. There’s been some dispute among the economically elite as to whether this is wise, as we saw with Citigroup trying to buy back over $1 Billion of its own stocks, and being denied by the SEC last month. Citigroup just announced that it will miss its profitability targets for this reason.


Apple: At $159 Billion, an equity value that could rival and exceed the GDP of many nations.

The Times says that according to Moody’s Investors Service, American companies outside the financial industry were sitting on a combined $1.64 trillion of cash by the end of 2013. And tech giants like Apple, Google and Microsoft had the most.

In fact, in The New York Times today, Apple is reportedly sitting on $159 Billion, saving it for a rainy day — i.e., opportunities for acquisition or to cushion a downturn. In the meantime, unlike Google and Facebook — which have shown themselves to be purchase-happy, almost drunk from public cash injections — Apple has never spent more than $1 Billion on any acquisition, and in the last decade it has only purchased AuthenTec, Siri, and Topsy. That’s a financial conservatism that mattress-loving misers could love.

What Apple Could Buy With Its $159 Billion

In the meantime, if the corporate tax attorney that I met last month has any credibility at all, I’m to believe that Apple pays exactly 2% in taxes to the U.S. government each year. For me, this drudges up memories of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in recent years. The protesters opposed greed and pointed their fingers at the very institutions that drive business success and enable companies to employ millions — all while documenting, tweeting, and posting with their store-bought Apple products, purchased with on their self-proclaimed meager wages. Knowing that this iconic company avoids its corporate economic responsibility to our own government — even as we fight an epic deficit problem, isn’t it interesting to see such product worship by these protesters? How ironic, really.

In the meantime, we’re managing well at our firm. We’re delivering to a group of loyal clients and focused on improving our own operations and capabilities, continuing to forge new relationships. I’m especially proud of the new website we have, and most recently the new Resources page we have created, a work in process that we aspire will be an entertaining, educational look at corporate and nonprofit brands:

We have also relaunched a smart industry newsletter, element, which is poised to feature some compelling senior executive VPs in the coming months. We set out to dismiss any and all urges to promote Iridium, and to make this an objective source of ideas for marketing professionals. This is an effort I’m especially pleased with, all expertly managed by Ali Hoffman on the IridiumGroup team:






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Redefining the Corporate Video

Monday, March 24th, 2014

I love watching companies innovate. It wasn’t long ago, a few short years really, when we were all amazed to see the power of the web whenever someone uploaded a cute video of a kitten, or the global, breathtaking speed of a Facebook post that went viral in seconds. The spectacle with PR exec Justine Sacco at IAC comes to mind — she had no more tweeted and boarded her plane when the tweet went viral; reporters were waiting in South Africa to get comments as she landed. From its humble grassroots in consumer expression to the Boardrooms of major multinationals, viral content has grown up.

Advertisers are just beginning to imagine and redefine the opportunities available to them through viral digital marketing, specifically in video format. In fact, many of the top companies are studying Twitter trending in order to develop a better understanding of what works.

It was to be expected. The opportunities are clearly there and the cost-to-benefit is a no-brainer when marketers weigh the cost of purchasing traditional media space. Corporate video reminds me of all those dated hallmark cards that seem so stale and dusty in my local stationery stores; it’s a market that is ripe and just begging to be reinvented. I predict that branded content in video — the really good, smart kind with sophisticated production values — will be making its way onto social venues in the coming months and years, a wise way to get customers engaged that is infinitely more effective than broadcast and print, or those ubiquitous, digital tombstone ads.

Advertisers Use Social Media to Promote Brands in Real Time

From Virgin Atlantic, the good folks who always seem to set a new standard and lead the way for the rest of us, we have a customer/passenger video that presents us with something we could never fathom: An in-flight safety video that is actually entertaining.

Amazingly Good Branding Lessons From Virgin America’s New Dance Video (Yes, Dance)

It’s not only the choreography and performances that are impressive.  Virgin also made it interactive. When passengers (and everyone watching who isn’t on a plane) sees the video, there’s a box asking if you would like to participate in the making of the next video. Virgin committed to creating four videos per year and saw the chance to make this a fun exercise for anyone wishing to play a part. In doing so, they have engaged a far larger audience of customers than anyone could have imagined with an in-flight safety video. Some might argue, that reach is broader than a traditional 30 second spot which would have far more fleeting, less memorable, and more expensive. The in-flight series has a much longer shelf-life and can be repurposed for years across infinite channels.

Audition contests for performing arts? Inclusivity? Videos with exceptional entertainment value that also engages everyone in their brand, and gets customers to learn about safety? It’s not just a best-in-field execution — it’s innovation, a smart application of a new medium that should have marketing executives everywhere working to emulate the experience.

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Human Interest in B2B?

Friday, March 14th, 2014

There’s a scene in the 2013 film, “Philomena” when the character Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), rebuffs the daughter’s request to do a human interest story on her mother. Having lost his job as a government labor adviser, he plans instead to write a book on Russian history.

Human interest: Sometimes trite, always rife with emotion, can easily invoke skepticism or even contempt among a crowd as intelligent (and often cynical) as the corporate marketing manager. Yet, it may be one of the most undervalued genres in business advertising and corporate marketing. Used judiciously and wisely, it’s easily one of the most successful ways to resonate with your target audience.

I always argue that people are people, and no matter their focus while viewing an exhibit at a trade show, browsing professional journal advertising, or reading a brochure, they want to be surprised and delighted — as well as being educated.

In our business marketing initiatives, we’ve earned a reputation for using unpredictable imagery that arrests the eyes and minds of the reader. We aim for ways to interpret fairly complex ideas for our professional associations and business services clients with photography that can strike right to the heart, or appeal to professional executives on a different level. Clichés are just visual noise that clutter, demean and dilute the brand image. In fact, most of the photography being used for B2B and association marketing actually works to erode credibility in their brand. The inherent challenge of illustrating a complicated idea can even leave creative teams with a “text-and-graphic-only” design approach, which abandons an enviable chance to build brand through art.

Managers sometimes consider the art less critical than the copy. It becomes a less scrutinized function that falls at times almost exclusively into the hands of a creative team, but it can be a powerful part of the corporate identity. Marketers need to see the importance, the value and opportunities in a smart rethink of the image component of their brand. As brand professionals, we stress messaging and content, but is the art not also content with a message? Can it not project a brand positioning in much the same way that copy can?


TBWA/Chiat/Day developed this ad campaign for Accenture, an excellent example of “the unexpected” in business marketing. It turned traditional trade or B2B on its head, taking a consumer approach to art.

The art and the headline for any good advertisement or editorial product can connect on a visceral level of emotion or intelligence. Applied with a clever interpretation of art, your marketing products can elevate the level of communication and intimacy, leaving the reader with a wink, a nod and a grin. Or they can even communicate more deeply in an experience that allows the customer to understand and appreciate the thought that went into the art presentation.

No One Ever Rejected a Pitch With a Kitten
Animals are fair game as well in business communication. It can even be humorous. There’s an old cover from The Economist that I recall that featured an image of two turtles mating. There was nothing so compelling or special about the stock photo, other than the headline that accompanied it which read, “The Trouble With Mergers.”

Reinterpreting an existing image that was originally used for a whole other purpose is another smart practice. It’s a pleasure for client or customer, when they recognize that they’re seeing art which has traditionally been thought of one way, and yet is being applied in an imaginative new way. A picture of a children on an amusement park ride takes on a whole new life when used to communicate business volatility.

A branding consultant once told me that the most enduring, powerful and equitable brands have always been built on a deep human connection of emotion. While B2B execs may scoff at the idea, we let the messaging and the content carry the benefits of the value proposition, but we take advantage of the art as a platform to hook, entertain and connect.

All customers need first to be engaged and that’s where the ability to connect on a human level can be highly effective. It’s this creative opportunity that drives many of the best agencies to imagine new ways to design with image and headline — to provoke, stimulate, and inspire a sense of curiosity.

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Moving Pictures

Friday, February 21st, 2014

I love film. Most evenings I can be found sifting through Apple TV for that indie surprise that flew under everyone’s radar.

One might argue that film is more engaging, persuasive, and even more memorable than its static alternative: print. In today’s ubiquitous digital climate, our devices have ensured that we as customers will be able to enjoy what we want, whenever and however we desire it.

Advertising has used broadcast as a medium since the beginning of television, but like anything empowered by emerging technologies, whole transformations are taking place. Websites — even a platform of digitally responsive design — are all an accepted industry standard now. Organizations are rapidly turning to a new type of video as a form to express their brand image.

Imagine your brand finding fresh legs. Consider your key messages being projected during the course of a video experience that is enjoyable, on-strategy and on-brand, a 30-45 second film that has endless shelf life, drives attention to your social channels, and achieves that enviable, holy grail of marketing: Online traction. Finding a home for such a branded minifilms isn’t hard. There are endless venues online to upload these digital assets, small brand-building cheerleaders for our clients that are pervasive, viral transporters of their company image to a billion users on social networks.

In our offices, we are presently working on three short video expressions of branded content for our clients. In my mind, this genre of corporate marketing has yet to discover its full potential. There are not traditional terms to define this. Corporate video? No, it’s not talking heads. Motion graphics? Not quite. I want Iridium to be the company that pioneers, even defines this area of advertising for our clients, and we’re throwing all we can muster behind the investment.

Moving pictures, moving whole industries. Sounds to me like innovation. Sounds like business progress, and I like it.

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Founder & President,
IridiumGroup Inc.

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