The Dangers of Ongepotchket Marketing

Ongepotchket means overly elaborate or excessively decorated.
Ongepotchket means overly elaborate or excessively decorated.

Yiddish is expressive. The Yiddish word ongepotchket is full court onomatopoeia from a language that has given us such classic terms as schlepp, nebbish and oy vey.

Ongepotchket means overly elaborate or excessively decorated. That’s what most Marketing has become.

Marketing used to be campaign driven. What that meant was after a brand agreed upon its positioning, a bunch of people worked really hard to express the brand’s campaign theme in a strong, consistent and often clever way. Yes, this was very much one-way communications. The brand approved the narrative and worked hard to control how the brand was expressed. It was considered managing.

These days controlling the brand is nearly impossible.

When we buy media, Marketers have an imprecise notion of who is viewing their advertising. There’s ad skipping. Advertising overload. Lack of viewability. Ad fraud. Huge ‘taxes’ paid to enablers in the digital supply chain. You get the idea.

The owned and earned media realms are equally problematic for marketing control. Every consumer is his/her own publisher with opinions about your brand. There’s an overwhelming amount of consumer-generated comment you cannot control. You can control what you post on you brand social media sites and your website. But you definitely cannot control what consumers and critics say. What’s more, there are so many venues for folks to use to say it.

To the consumer who wants to buy something there is messaging overload too. It comes from people who are considering your brand. In addition there are countless messages from and about other brands that are part of a consumer’s minute-by-minute, second-by-second narrative. This is marketing ongepotchket.

Solving this problem is not easy. Here’s my simple suggestions on how to attack the issue.

Declutter your marketing. Build a strong, singular compelling message. Deliver this message consistently over all your communications channels.

Stick with it.

Grand Central Station, New York. Photo by Jad Limcaco
Grand Central Station, New York. Photo by Jad Limcaco

Branding is a lot like going to Grand Central Station in New York City during rush hour. There are tens of thousands of people in the terminal, but over to the left you see someone you know. That’s your brand. Uncluttered in an ongepotchket world.

It’s About the Consumer

Customer Choice, Photograph by Joaquin Mixon
Customer Choice shows Consumers Matter,  Photograph by Joaquin Mixon

My friend John Durham, who lives and teaches in San Francisco but practices Marketing globally, publishes the most interesting things on social media. Recently, he retweeted some thoughts from Tom Goodwin who said:

2005- It’s all about 3G

2010- It’s All about Big Data

2015- It’s all about IOT

2017- It’s all about AI

Can’t it ever be about people?

In my experience as a Marketer it’s always about people or in more basic marketing terms it’s about the consumer. If we believe the foundations of Marketing theory (and I do) the definition of Marketing is to understand what people wants and then meets those wants.

Granted, categories of people must involve more than just the consumers who buy your product or service. But consumers are the best place to start. That being said people also means investors, business partners, employees of your company, the media (mainstream and social) as well as folks who may fall into any of these categories in the future. The key is to have a brand, positioning and narrative that will resonate well with all of these groups and reinforce the power of your offering.

Consumers have power well beyond their decision to purchase or not purchase your product. In effect, every consumer is a publisher. With an ability to create or share or share content, opinion and influence all over the world. In the old days companies used to create and control brand narratives. Today there is little to no control. And the narrative is shared.

These changes have major implications in the ways consumers and brands interact. There are as many media channels as people in the world who have access to the Internet. So it’s not about that one big thing. It’s about everything. I suggest you focus less on the latest communications tool. The latest trend. The next big thing. Understand how consumers feel about your brand and you’ll get closer to success.

Advertising Week

Advertising Week, by Dean Harris
Advertising Week, by Dean Harris, photo by Mingwei Li

This week is Advertising Week in New York City. As a third generation New York advertising guy, every week seems like Advertising Week to me. I think about advertising all the time, probably far too much.

The advertising business has changed dramatically since my wife and I started our agency in Manhattan. Advertising used to be a business you could launch with no capital if you had a client and some ideas that persuaded them to hire you.

My wife of 36 years and I met at a wedding. We were not married yet, but both of us were in advertising. She was running a small agency that was about to be acquired. I was in Account Management at a big Madison Avenue agency, working on a pretty high-profile disposable diaper account.

We hit it off, started dated and heard that there was this camera account up for grabs. So, against the advice of just about everyone (you don’t want to mix dating with a business relationship), we pitched the account and to our pleasant surprise, got it.

Etkin & Harris Advertising was in business. We operated out of Marcia’s apartment in Murray Hill with not much more than a yellow legal pad and a phone. We kept the camera account for about a year only to lose it when we refused to put half of our commissions into the company president’s Swiss bank account. Apparently, another agency agreed to that deal.

Back in the day, the advertising agency business model let agencies make a fair profit. We billed 15% on the media we placed and 17.65% on production. In effect, we gave away our creative product for free. The assumption was that as your client grew they would spend more with you and your agency would grow correspondingly. Your success and theirs would be tied.

This model was far from perfect. It promoted increased ad spending at all costs. I remember from my large agency days we were taught to tell the client to spend more when sales were up. And we were trained to tell them spend more when sales were down. Advertising was considered the best marketing tactic and an investment.

Things in the world of advertising changed in a number of ways. There were a bunch of high profile agency buy-outs. Agency founders made huge dollars. Well known agency brands became part of large international holding companies. At the same time, agency services started becoming decoupled. So, clients could shop for creative, media and production services separately. Not surprisingly, there was price competition and agencies margins went down.

Enter technology into the ad world. Agencies now had other avenues to make money. It was a way to keep the lights on. Much of this ad technology was complicated and often it was far from transparent. Sometimes agencies found ways to build their own bottom lines, not the bottom lines of their clients. Things like agency trading desks enabled agencies to arbitrage client media dollars. And programmatic ad tech, which was supposed to save money, sometimes meant less working media spent on behalf of agency clients. An unreasonable share of the spending went into fees, not into media that would push brands ahead.

I get it. Clients want to get the most for the advertising dollar. And agencies need a way to deliver profit for their shareholders.

As Advertising Week comes to an end in New York, I want a return to the glory days of advertising. And I don’t mean three martini lunches served with a huge dollop of sexism. I want advertising to make a difference in business again. I want advertising people to be respected. And I want both clients and agencies to be pulling for sales success together.

Communications in A Short Attention Span World


It’s an understatement to say the way we communicate with one another has changed. In fact, saying this really understates the issue.

When I was in school eons ago we used a rotary telephone, wrote our term papers on typewriters, watched television shows on a television set, saw movies at a movie theater and listened to music on the radio or via a vinyl record using a record player.

Our interactions were different too. We spent a lot of time talking with people face to face. Our days were a lot less crowded. We were not on always-on. Generally, we carried on a single conversation at a time and rarely consumed multiple forms of media simultaneously. Our communications choices were far more limited. Media was not omnipresent and was not available in the palms of our hands. For the most part, we viewed our content in real time with no time-shifting.

Research and data were different too. Generally, consumer research took some time. At best, it was overnight, but often it was available monthly or quarterly. You waited for the research, analyzed it carefully and then acted on it.

Things are different today. We live in an always-on, data-driven communications dense world. In marketing these days data dominates. The pendulum has swung from the storytelling Chief Marketing Officer (me) to the data driven Chief Marketing Officer (not really me). I won’t disparage the value of data in marketing, but some have said it’s little like the difference between poetry and plumbing.

Plumbing is valuable. Late one night a Park Avenue neurosurgeon (that’s a fancy NYC address) was having trouble with his toilet. He called a plumber who showed up almost immediately and then made the repair in just 10 minutes. The doctor was impressed asked the plumber for the bill.

“That’ll be $17,000.” said the plumber.

“$17,000!” replied the doctor. “I’m a world-renowned neurosurgeon and I don’t get $17,000 for 10 minutes of work.”

“When I was I neurosurgeon I didn’t get that much either,” said the plumber.

Whether you like this joke or not, there’s a good chance you’ll remember it. That’s because it’s a story, not merely a data informed, optimized, real-time cross-platform piece of communication. Humans have responded to stories since the beginning of time when tribes sat around campfires late at night creating and reinforcing the narratives that defined their lives.

Storytelling is particularly important in today’s media intense, short-attention span world. As brand communicators, we have less time to make our pitch. And we have more pressure to make certain that what we say is on point.

There is however a longer-term marketing goal. It’s to have all of our brand communications be part of something larger; something that will endure beyond the moment. Back in the day we used to call this a campaign. Classic marketing campaigns lasted for years as they told, re-told and reinforced a brand’s unique positioning. Campaigns also avoided the pitfall and the pain of having to make the consumer evaluate the primary selling idea/brand association in a new way over and over again.

I recommend that we try to solve a short-term mentality with a longer-term approach. Think beyond the moment. It will pay off.

Why I like old brands

Pinald Aftershave
Pinald Aftershave

I like brands that endure.

I wear Brooks Brothers (1818), Orvis (1856) and LL Bean (1912) clothing.

My aftershave is Pinald (1810).

I drive a BMW (1912 again).

And I live in an old town in New England that was settled in 1649 in a house built in 1927. The house we lived in before this one was built in 1770.

All of this is not a coincidence. I like to think that the brands I favor have stood the test of time. These brands deliver quality and value even as they have adapted to changing market conditions, competitive threats and new ways of doing business.

There’s another reason I have stuck with these brands for years well beyond the fact that I am an intensely loyal person. There are emotional and often irrational reasons I like brands in the first place. It’s pretty clear that I have not picked my brands because they were the lowest cost or that they deliver the highest status. I’ve selected them because they work for me functionally and passionately. The $7 after shave that I buy at the drug store has little in common with my 5 series BMW. On the surface, there is little commonality. Beneath the surface these purchases are very much the same. They all are interesting. I feel good buying them. And I enjoy using them.

When it comes to building brands, I want to create brands that will last. This includes offering both practical benefits and emotional connections to our audiences. I want my brands to be logical, distinctive, interesting and at the same time familiar.

There’s something irrationally rational about brands. That’s the puzzle we marketers try to solve every day.