Advertising, Corona Virus, Financial Crisis


I posted opinion piece last March as we moved into our 1st lock-down and the first financial crisis. I'm reposting it to remind you to look for opportunity amidst all of the turmoil. By now you know that not all was lost. Some categories have done VERY well as a result of the pandemic - and will continue to do well afterwards. 

This is a once in a long-time opportunity to see the difference between the impact made by a small, local, online media buy (the kind Google encourages you to set-up and run exclusively on its network) and a real global multi-media campaign. It's also a once in a long-time opportunity to see the difference you can make buy ignoring all the hype, doing your own market research and forging a new path.


Most advertising that you see online, on-air and on the street is tactical, designed to build traffic and clear out excess inventory. The number of tactical ads you see each day is estimated to be in the thousands, depending on where you work, how you commute and how you spend your day. These ads were the bread + butter of daily, weekly and ethnic newspapers as well as community access TV and Radio. Today the low cost of online advertising is challenging the viability of most tactical (off-line) media and has already led to the demise of many great media. I predict the rout will continue for any medium that cannot demonstrate that it offers retail advertisers a decent short term return on investment (ROI). Why? Because too many of today’s inexperienced retail media planners believe that ROI is a great way to sort media options – since they’re only interested in short term ad response rates. 

I’m suspicious because ROI is not directly correlated to the medium’s reach + frequency potential, or the inherent credibility of the medium. Think CBC News vs. Graffiti.    

Tonnage is another piece of the equation. You can see the impact of massive media weight levels in the U.S. Primaries right now. The candidate with the most media support has the best chance of winning the race. 

Here in Canada, we have a lot of micro agencies and a few large ones. Each serves a handful of clients who believe that the thousands they spend every month, or the millions they spend every year are wasted.

Maybe so. Maybe not. Thoughtfully designed research and campaign tracking can address some of their dilemma. A broader perspective would help these clients as well. They need to understand that in the bigger scheme of things, their tactical campaigns really are just a few drops in the daily adverting bucket. So GREAT media planning is mission critcal. 

Last weekend’s ROB featured the above chart with this headline: “Markets see worst week since financial crisis”. 

Last week’s economic down-turn story has been tied to the coronavirus story - the top news story for the past six weeks. Think of it, from an advertising perspective, like a compelling two-part story that has now been told and retold on every TV station, radio station and newspaper in the world. Byond these traditional media, a Google search for “Corona Virus Update" on March 1, 2020, returned 59,200,000 results.

That's the power of advertising! Enough of it can significantly alter global behaviour in a few weeks.

This post is not a rehash of what we actually know about the virus today or about the direct economic impact. 

This post is an appeal to you to assemble your own case study for your own agency + your own clients to help them understand what can + will happen when a highly relevant story is told + retold by a lot of on + offline media many, many, many, many times from sea to sea to sea in every language and dialect. 

This is a once in a long-time opportunity to see the difference between the impact made by a small, local, online media buy (the kind Google encourages you to set-up and run exclusively on its network) and a real global multi-media campaign. 

The markets saw the worst week since the financial crisis not because there was a financial crisis last week, but because all of the global advertising said there is one. Big difference. 


And remember . . . 

“Even a stupid lie travels faster than a brilliant truth.”





The future of work is here


Here’s a great article by Leagh Turner, Contributor to The Toronto Star on Sunday January 3rd, 2021.

Take special note of the bolded section.

COVID-19 has accelerated changes in almost every aspect of our daily lives. This is especially true when it comes to the world of work, where we are in the midst of a sea change, with forward-thinking organizations breaking through decades-old paradigms to meet the demands of a more fluid and frictionless workforce.

Today, all organizations are trying to navigate these uncertain times, figuring out how to be more resilient and agile. The most successful will be the ones who are focused today on improving the employee experience, which drives engagement, loyalty and retention. And for good reason.

According to the Ceridian Pulse of Talent Report, 68 per cent of the Canadian workforce is looking for new job opportunities or would consider changing jobs if approached by another company. Eighty-seven per cent of workers younger than 30 are the most likely to be on the move.

As we look ahead, we see the future of work as borderless and fluid. We believe leading organizations will wholeheartedly embrace fundamental changes that reflect a more intelligent mode of working. In every other aspect of our lives, we expect everything on demand. Whether ordering a burger and fries to your door through Uber or buying a new bicycle from Amazon, we expect instant delivery. This is now becoming the same expectation for our work life. Employees expect job searching, hiring, onboarding, scheduling and pay all to be available on demand. In particular, we believe the notion of a fixed pay period will soon disappear as employees want to see exactly how much they’ve earned at the end of each day and want on-demand access to those earned wages. By enabling workers to access their wages as they earn and need them, employees will be less likely to rely on high-interest loan options. This will help ease stress levels at work as employees no longer oscillate between being cash rich on payday and cash poor as they near the next. We see a much more elastic workforce emerging, where people will work whenever and wherever they want. For employees, this means they will be able to work from anywhere, for anyone and at any time they wish. They may have a primary workplace — at home or a traditional office — or they may prefer a hybrid approach where they split time between a home office and their employer’s office. They may have one employer, or they may want to earn extra income through secondary employment channels. The future is about having the ability to work for multiple companies at multiple locations — wherever one’s skills allow them to add value. We see this happening already in pockets of the retail and hospitality industries. Employees will be able to go to any workplace, identify themselves, verify their right to work, validate their skills and backgrounds, and get paid as soon as the work is done. Who a person works for, and when and where they work, will be driven by a person’s happiness, productivity and financial well-being, rather than by some fading 20th-century notion of employment exclusivity. Free agency is the new norm for many workers.









Say no to Black Friday November 27th

say no to black friday

Across North America everybody wants more for less – plus a lifetime guarantee. And amid the Covid 19 lock-down they want it delivered for free in 24 hours. To satisfy this insane and insatiable desire for more cheap food, goods and services, we’ve sent millions of jobs to China and India. In the process we've taught our kids that if you shop online you can find whatever it is you want cheaper. Not better, just cheaper. We’ve also taught our kids that many manufacturing jobs are not worth doing or having. And now they're impossible to do at all in North America because our workers would like to earn a fair wage - and rightfully so. But the desire for cheap, cheaper and cheapest products and services (rather than good, better and best products + services) has shut down industries and laid waste to cities, towns and individuals all across America and Canada. Where will this end?

When companies don't earn decent profit margins their foundations crumble.

  • They cut back on full time staff, training, development and benefits.
  • Full time staff is rehired as part-time staff with no benefits.
  • They no longer can afford to do research and development.
  • Without leading edge research and development their managers blindly follow the “best practices” of their competitors, and fail because they can't create or defend a relevant USP.
  • Part time staff juggles two, sometimes three, jobs to make ends meet. "Employee loyalty" dies along with their brand alliance - often because they can't afford the products and services they produce.
  • Because they are just making ends meet, time and money to support the arts in their community and those who are less fortunate also declines.
  • It impacts their time with family + friends.
  • Because the business is marginal, it has no rainy-day savings fund to get the business and the  staff through these tough Covid 19 times.
  • And the shit-list goes on and on and on.

As a business owner . . . why not charge a fair price and invest the profits in your people, your communities, your industries and your home and native land?

As a consumer . . . why not shop locally and pay a fair price so that the businesses in your community can invest in the community it serves?



Success + Failure


The 1st job that I recall having was delivering the Toronto Telegram with my brother Martin in the brand new apartments that had been built just north of the CNE in the early 60’s. I was seven at the time . . . 58 years ago. 

I’m 65 now and found myself thinking about how success and failure influenced the roads I chose to take in life.

I was one of six kids. My parents came to Canada from Germany after WWII with just enough money for two weeks rent. We lived in a boarding house for the first few years, we all slept in one room, lived in a second room and shared a small bathroom with two other families. My father was always working and my mother was home looking after us when she wasn't working part time. She taught me how to make a bouquet with the flowers within reach. Even if the bouquet was a broken table, chair or lamp that we found in the alley. My parents didn't have the time to teach us to play nice, collaborate, or socialize, we were taught to work hard + stay out of trouble. To be a contributing member of society.

By the time I turned sixteen I had drowned twice and had been hit by cars four times. The fourth (and last) time I was hit I was riding my friend’s brand new bike across an intersection. The drunk driver was charged and his insurance paid my friend $85.00 to have his bike repaired, I got $10.00 for a new pair of shorts, but nothing to compensate me for a lifetime of epilepsy due to the acquired brain injury. 

The three most common triggers for (my) epilepsy were sleep deprivation, stress, alcohol and not taking my medication as prescribed. To keep my driver’s license I had to take really good mental and physical care of myself because my anticonvulsive drug had a lot of side effects that I could reduce but not eliminate. Those years of mental and physical care didn’t start paying dividends until I hit my 60’s. In retrospect being hit by a drunk driver improved the quality of my life.

Epilepsy and the drug’s I took for about 45 years changed how I learned, behaved, thought and how I was perceived by others. I went from an effortless A student to a C student who struggled with most courses after the brain injury. The injury capped my confidence, ambition and diminished my sense of self-worth. 

Because I was one of six kids in a busy household, one of a thousand in school, and still getting passing grades, no one really noticed but me. 

I didn’t know how to ask for help – or what kind of help to ask for.

I studied Business Administration, Management and Marketing at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, now Ryerson University. I chose Ryerson because it had a more practical curriculum than U. of T., offered a three year program, offered more bragging rights than our Colleges could at the time and it was cheap. 

I didn’t connect to many students or professors, but there were a few who inspired me to make the most of my unique combination of skill sets. A game of hearts decided my future. My friends and I were nearing the end of our third semester, and as we played we talked about the courses we’d take in our final three semesters - courses designed to hone us into Canada’s best new business leaders. Most of my friends decided that the chartered accountant path or the all new computer sciences path promised them the most stable, risk-free future. One of them asked: “Why would anyone take the Management Studies option? Make a wrong decision and you’re toast?” Most agreed. Silently I thought “I’ll take that bet because where there's risk, there’s also opportunity”. And if I make smart, educated, well informed decisions I’ll (always) be in demand. Also while I barely passed my accounting exams, my friends were averaging 98%. So I sealed my fate and have never looked back.

When I graduated from Ryerson I failed miserably on the interview circuit. Every recruiter saw that I had lots of drive and potential, but also a C average. They could tell I was hiding something, but I wasn’t about to tell them about my issues

It took me a year of trial and error before I made another life-changing decision over a game of backgammon.

My friend Jennifer told her friend (and my backgammon opponent) Rick that I was looking for work. After a short chat he gave me his number and asked him to call me at his office. When I did he asked me to call three well known advertising directors.

  • The 1st one didn’t have a job for me but helped script me for my interview with the 2nd Advertising Director. 
  • The 2nd one didn’t have a job for me either but liked me + encouraged me to keep looking. 
  • The 3rd one had five openings and offered me an entry level position a few days later.

That 3rd contact was Peter Logan, a young Media Director at Foster Advertising who exposed me to the wonderful world of applied art in which no two communication projects are ever the same.

My 40 years in advertising have taught me that:  

  • in hindsight my failures have turned out to be some of the most important bridges to my success,
  • to convert failure into success you need time and resilience,
  • if you’ve never failed or have never been fired, you’re no where near your potential boundaries,
  • the best ideas come from jamming with smart people who don’t care about the consequences – just the most interesting mental and physical paths between here and there,
  • wings are nice but you don’t really need them to fly,
  • a great career, like life is a numbers game: you'll meet hundreds of people at work who’ll support you and like you in social media when you’re winning. But very few will be there when you loose. 
  • like many other businesses, ad agencies are full of some wonderful people and brands, as well as sociopaths and vindictive assholes. 
  • The most incredible, insightful and helpful people; the ones who will help you define your life, will cross your path when you least expect them to and in the most unlikely places. Like a pool-side backgammon game, the grocery store, during a quick cigarette break with a stranger or during a late night chat with the person next to you on the red-eye to Boston.