Saturday, March 6, 2010

Of Ads and Artichokes

One of my hobbies is cooking. One of my professions is advertising.

So I guess it is not surprising that I often find links between the two. But Ads and Artichokes?

It occurred to me the other day, when I was preparing one of my favorite Italian artichoke recipes: fried artichoke hearts with garlic. Like much authentically good Italian cuisine, the dish is surprisingly simple. Take some artichokes and remove the stems, leaves and choke, leaving just the heart. Slice the heart into bite sized pieces. Sauté some chopped garlic in olive oil, and then add the artichoke pieces. Fry gently until nicely browned and crisp. Add salt and pepper, and some freshly squeezed lemon juice. Voilà (or perhaps better, Eccolà)! Just eat with your fingers. Mmmmm….Yummy!

Of course, you will find yourself left with a ton of pretty useless artichoke stems, leaves and chokes. Actually, the edible part of the artichoke is less than 10% of the original plant. And so far, I have not been able to find much of anything useful to do with this leftover stuff, except to toss or compost it.

Which brings me to advertising…….
I am now convinced that much of the historically successful business model for advertising was persuading advertisers that they needed to deliver a lot of useless ads. Ads with the wrong message, delivered to the wrong target.
The guiltiest ones were perhaps newspapers. How often do you recall receiving that massive lump of paper on a Sunday, with tons of ads for houses in neighborhoods you were not interested in; jobs you would never want; junk you would never buy? And yet, each and every one receiving a paper got the same mass of stuff.

That’s because there wasn’t really much of a way to target the advertising to the people receiving it: one size had to fit all, and everyone was delivered the same mass of advertising, irrespective of their interests. Who paid for all this waste? Why, the advertisers of course. There is the old saw, “I know half of my ad budget is wasted; I just don’t know which half.” This joyless assessment of an ineluctable reality was what paid for my two children’s costly private education…

Newspapers were among the guiltiest, but by no means the only ones. Wasted radio spots blaring at listeners who had tuned out; television commercials shining into living rooms emptied of their inhabitants who had gone for a beer or a pee….Just lots of waste.Which is why everyone held out such great hopes for online advertising: finally, a truly effective way to dispense with the waste; to deliver only the right messages to the right audience.

Therein lies a great problem for online advertisers: they are selling the hearts of the artichokes, with none of the rest of the plant. Which makes the entire business model that much more difficult to price correctly. Why do online advertisers—at least those using display ads—continue to base their prices on a CPM (cost per thousand) messages delivered basis? Why do they continue to use the same measures of performance that are being used by their artichoke relatives in the realms of classical, old line print, radio and TV ads?

There must be another way, you say, and you are right. To find out which one, stay tuned to this blog. But first, buy a copy of my new book, “The Impossible Advantage – Winning the Competitive Game by Changing the Rules”. It has some hints that might just show you the yellow brick road to advertising success: without the rest of the artichoke!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Wiley & Wiley: No relation, sorry!

I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I have been asked, “Are you related to the Wiley’s of John Wiley & Sons Ltd?” since our new book, “The Impossible Advantage: Winning the Competitive Game by Changing the Rules,” hit the shelves at the beginning of 2009.

Since my family name is identical to that of the publishers I suppose it should not have been surprising that a connection between the two is made. Suffice it to say that to the best of my knowledge, we have no common ancestors; at least as far back as I have been able to take things, which is to the mid-18th century when my direct family relatives immigrated to the United States from Scotland.

Interestingly, this confusion also extended to the printers, who originally thought my name on the spine of the book was a mistaken repetition of the publisher’s name, and almost dropped it. My partners were alert to avoid this error, and my thanks to them!

Now of course, if someone could establish a connection between the Wiley’s of Knoxville, Tennessee; Chicago, Illinois and Milwaukee, Wisconsin with those of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, I would be more than delighted!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My new book coming out

after two years of work with two ex-Procter & Gamble colleagues, my first book appears:

In the words of Maurice Levy, Chairman of the Publicis Groupe, "A must-read for all marketing and advertising people. Particularly in these challenging times."

Get your copy today!

We just issued this press release:
“The Impossible Advantage” is a new book about business strategy which could not be hitting the shelves at a more appropriate time. Today’s unprecedented global financial and economic crisis in fact offers extraordinary opportunities to those who understand how to employ unconventional, breakthrough thinking in order to generate exceptional growth in the face of the most daunting of obstacles.
An ancient Chinese proverb says that when the winds of change blow, there are those who build walls and those who build windmills. How companies can turn the “headwinds” of today’s financial crisis to their own advantage is the subject of a new book from international business consultants Andreas Buchholz, Wolfram Wördemann and Ned Wiley entitled “The Impossible Advantage – Winning the Competitive Game by Changing the Rules” which will be published by John Wiley & Sons on January 16.
“Uncertain or even overtly critical market conditions sometimes offer the best opportunities to uproot conventional rules of the game and to put in place dynamic new power relationships,” argues Wolfram Wördemann, co-author, founder and manager of the management consultancy Buchholz-Wördemann Partners outside of Frankfurt am Main. While the market declines overall during periods of crisis, the authors observe that at the same time customers tend to “speed-change” their attitudes, values, and preferences in a dramatic fashion, something unthinkable during good years. This can create unique opportunities for those players who act quickly to acquire a previously “impossible advantage” over their competitors.
During the current US mega-SUV crisis, for instance, Japanese manufacturers like Toyota and Honda exploited the sector’s collapse to overthrow the hegemony of US manufacturers and vault their more economic “wannabe” SUV – ennobled and celebrated as the new Crossover generation – to “impossible” heights. “Crises can turn hopeless losers into lasting winners”, the authors say. Now would be an ideal time for managers and entrepreneurs to go back to the drawing board and determine how to create an “impossible” competitive advantage – delivered by crisis – able to work for their own products, services, and brands.
“Nothing better demonstrates the weaknesses of accepted wisdom than a full-blown crisis such as that which is currently unfolding,” says Wiley, who runs a new media operation for the Axel Springer publishing group. “When the strategies of the so-called Big Players are shattered and strewn, chances arise for new entrants or smaller participants to fundamentally change the rules of the game.”
The authors distinguish four success strategies that companies can employ during a crisis or recession to dethrone old market leaders and achieve a breakthrough. What is particularly exciting is to witness how even small or medium-sized firms are able to take control of their markets and to force larger competitors to play the Game by totally new rules.
Buchholz, Wördemann and Wiley say that their new volume constitutes a first “guidebook” to help individual companies intervene in the rules of the game in their markets, especially in these difficult times. By challenging those previously accepted rules, they are able to acquire a truly “Impossible Advantage” over previously dominant competitors. The new approach makes use of Game Strategy, which is a novel way of thinking, analytical tool and strategic instrument, all in one. Game Strategy starts where traditional competitive strategies leave off, especially those that are based on the classic models of Positioning, Differentiation and Unique Selling Propositions. “Conventional thinking accepts the marketplace rules as part of the untouchable general conditions,” according to the authors, “but for those who know how to intervene in those rules, they can become the most powerful levers of all for growth and success in the marketplace.” And there is no more perfect time to start than in the midst of such turbulent market environments.
Buchholz, Wördemann and Wiley have been active participants for decades in the development of growth strategies for national and international brands, sectors and companies. “Almost anyone can achieve a turnaround in their market or unleash a revolution,” says Wördemann. To this end, the authors have developed four distinct Game Strategies that every firm can use to acquire more influence and control, and gain the upper hand in the competition. Even when they are not currently among the market leaders, quality leaders, innovation or price leaders. By working with Game Strategy, you don’t necessarily need a spectacular product innovation, huge budgets or the power of as multinational concern. As Wiley concludes, “Marketplace revolutions don’t always take place inside research and development labs, but sometimes around the conference tables of the best strategists.”

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Shoebox Bailout

Back in 2000, some really clever Masters of the Universe invented a wonderful new product:

Shoeboxes.......filled with dog shit.

The found that if they just closed the boxes tightly and told everybody there was wonderful, absolutely safe stuff inside, that they could sell them for lots and lots of money.

This was a great business. There are tons of dogs around and they make tons of dogshit: virtually for free. The boxes are pretty cheap too.

Of course, to have a really great business you need product endorsements: I learned that selling detergent.

Enter the: Rating Agencies. They played along: AAA+; AA++ A+++ and on and on. These boxes were great stuff.

As happens in all businesses, after you saturate your home market, what do you do? Go overseas. No problem there, lots of Masters of (smaller) Universes in China, Japan and Europe really eager to get some of those boxes of dogshit. In fact, one of the German banks even sent money by automatic transfer after one of the Masters (Lehmann) had declared bankruptcy.

Which brings me to where we are with the tale. Just like at that little coffeehouse in Haarlem (Netherlands) in 1642, when someone held up a tulip bulb for auction and no one said anything, and the next day the economy of Northern Europe ground to a halt, at some point someone began to smell something in one of the shoeboxes. Hmmm, what's in there? Never thought about that. Maybe we should have a peak? What?? This thing is just full of: DOGSHIT...

Now the (dog)shit hit the fan. There were tons of these boxes all around the world, and suddenly everybody realized what was really inside. Things are desperate. No one wants them anymore. What to do???

Right!!! Call the government.

And there they are, right on time: as Ronald Reagan said, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

Sorry guys, this is what is happening. Unfortunately, the only thing I can see doing is forced nationalizations and forced winding down of all the Masters of the Universe.

One thing is certain: all those guys should be made to live off their BOXES OF DOGSHIT.

I just decided to vote for Obama. That is the end of the line. Unfortunately, the Connecticut voting commission has still to send me my absentee ballot. So once again, I can claim taxation without representation.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Neither Seen Nor Heard - Why Germans aren't having children

Perhaps it is just human nature, but there is a common perception that today’s rapidly globalizing society is experiencing stresses and strains of a nature and intensity not endured by previous generations. That may reflect a certain presumption, as previous generations had to deal with wars, economic depressions, political persecutions and the resulting waves of immigration. Nonetheless, modern media assures that we are sensitized to and reminded frequently of a vast array of problems unique to our current situation.

None of these problems is more existential than the dramatically falling birthrates in developed countries, and Germany is at the forefront of these declines. The numbers are sobering: female fertility in Germany is currently at 1.3 children per woman of childbearing age, significantly below the minimum “replacement rate” of 2.1 (the number of children needed to keep total population levels stable).

This low birthrate presents some inevitable, and inevitably dismal, prospects for German society. The current total national population of 85 million is expected to decline to close to 60 million by the year 2050. This means that Germany is likely to lose its preeminent position as the most populous country in the European Union, falling to second place behind France. This assumes, of course, that fast-growing Turkey has not ascended to the first place by that time, or that no other more prodigious members are accepted to the EU club.

The very real implications of these demographic trends are already starting to materialize: in the state of Brandenburg, (the area surrounding the national capital, Berlin), more than one-third of all primary schools are set to close within the next five years. The children that would need those schools are simply not being born.

The reasons for what has been characterized as an impending demographic catastrophe for Germany have been analyzed ad nauseam in the popular press, on television talk shows, in beer gardens and at cocktail parties across the country. Some attribute the decline to inadequate state-financed child care for infants and pre-school children. Others point to long-term increases in workforce participation by women, with the resulting time demands and decreasing “availability for motherhood.” Still others link the situation to increasing levels of education, with German women now surpassing their male counterparts in terms of level of education completed.

As a foreigner living in Germany for more than six years, I think the answer to this conundrum lies elsewhere. It has to do with the fundamental sense of “order” at the base of German society. This is combined with the fact that over time, children have become, for a variety of reasons, more “disorderly.” With this disorder, comes, not surprisingly, noise.

What brought me to this conclusion was an article in the Financial Times Deutschland, one of the country’s leading daily business newspapers. The story (“Whooping according to the technical limitations on noise” – March 23, 2007 by Kai Beller) describes the efforts of the Federal Parliament’s Children Commission (Kinderkommision des Bundestages) to find some form of national principle to regulate noise production by children.

The matter reached national attention when in 2005 a local judge in Hamburg ruled in favor of a complaint by residents in a neighborhood where a Kindergarten was located demanding that the Kindergarten be forced to move premises due to unacceptably high levels of noise created by the young students. Because the judge’s decision made reference to federal emission protection legislation, (Bundesimmissionsschutzgesetz), the issue was propelled beyond a purely local dispute.

Germany is a country of engineers. This can be seen in the preeminence of its automotive industry for high-end vehicles, as well as in a seemingly endless array of products and services requiring the best technical standards. It is not for nothing that Germany leads the world in terms of high-technology exports, surpassing both the United States and Japan, countries with populations that are two- to three-times larger than Germany, respectively.

There is a dark side to this fascination with superlative engineering: the irresistible tendency to apply technical tools to almost every imaginable type of activity, not excluding the care of young children. Kindergartens, according to the Environment Ministry, are actually “Technical Installations” (Technische Anlagen). As such, they are subject to the same kinds of regulations as industrial facilities.

The words used in the course of the public debate (including members of Parliament; the Children’s Commission and the Environment Ministry) would sound bizarre in any other country. “The behaviorally-related noise of children cannot be avoided by the current state of technology,” commented a representative of the Environment Ministry. Furthermore, one has to deal with the “vital expressions of life” which children inevitably issue.

Technical matters require metrics, and here, of course, the Germans lack nothing. There are official decibel limitations for different types of children’s activities: Playing is 81.3 dB; Eating 80.2 dB; Gymnastics 86.2 dB. Put in the perspective of an industrial drill at 90 dB and it is easy to see how children can present a problem. In the case of many localities, maximum permissible sound levels may not surpass 50 dB. Some localities go further to specify an average acceptable sound level for schools of between 78 and 88 dB, with an “impulse allowance for whoops of joy” (it sounds so much better in German: “Impulszuschläge für lautes Aufjuchzen”) of an extra 8 dB.

Oh my dear, the little ones can be so bothersome. True, it was the Victorian English who invented the dictum, “Children should be seen but not heard.” The Germans, I am convinced, have taken this one step further: what does not exist, cannot make noise. So in the Germany of the future, the children will not be heard, because they simply will not be.

Berlin, July 2007

(©2007 Ned Wiley)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Axel Springer establishes new operating unit for universal content navigation

State-of-the-art navigation solutions for editorially guided access to Digital TV, IPTV Games, Online content and more

>>> Download Press Release