Advertising in the Animal World

Advertising in the Animal World

Generally speaking, birds and animals advertise for an opportunity to pass on their genetic attributes. Similarly, businesses advertise to make that dollar-dollar-bill-y’all. Both animals and businesses seek to find some way to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack…so to speak.

Some animals want to highlight their physical attributes while others (I’m looking at YOU Bower Bird!) want to show off what an elaborately decorated home they can provide to their mate. The Red Hill Crane does mesmerizing dance to appeal to just the right dance partner. While the Blue Footed Booby (Yep, that’s a thing!) shows off their sexy blue feet to impress the ladies.

Bowerbird Nest (Photo credit: Tim Laman /


Red Crowned Cranes (Photo credit: Evan Pike /


Blue Footed Booby (Photo credit:

All of these birds, as well as the gorilla with the most silver back, the buck with the biggest antlers, and the baboon with the reddest backside are trying to impress with what sets them apart from their competitors. Whoever can catch the eye and the attentions of their intended audience, wins.

So it is in business. We all have to identify what it is that we do better than the others, what sets us apart, what makes us special. And then communicate that to the world. Once we identify our core competency or our extra special widget, we then need to find the best ways to market that product or service to our target audience. If you don’t fully market what you have or do, then your business can never fully reach it’s potential. In other words, don’t be the booby who wears socks to the beach.





My Thoughts on My Pillow

My Thoughts on My Pillow

FEBRUARY 1, 2019

We’ve all seen the My Pillow commercials that pepper our television viewing. Mike Lindell touting the best pillows since ever, which will cure what ails you and give you the best sleep of your life. Have you ever noticed that in the commercials, all minority groups are equally represented? Great, right?? Wrong. There are equally zero non-white actors and customers present in the commercials. Well, one commercial features vaguely Latino factory workers in the background. (That didn’t help matters, Mike!) They appear to be really happy to be making pillows. For white people.

I used to find the campiness of these commercials sort of charming. Mike walked that fine line between creepy and endearing, somehow always landing just barely on the endearing side. And I loved the older commercial that told the story of how his pillow dream became a reality. But then I started to notice that all the actors in the commercials were as white as the pillows. All of them! (Save for the aforementioned factory workers.) There are about twelve different actors per commercial. About twelve of them are white. You have to work hard to pull that off in this day and age. What are the auditions like for these commercials? Is there some secret code in the casting call that says, ‘if you’re not white, don’t bother showing up’? Or is there a lot of, ‘thank you, next’ until they get their dozen white pillow ambassadors?

There is even a lack of diversity amongst the white actors. The women are largely blond. Next time you see one of the commercials, count the blonde to brunette ratio. Any brunette woman will tell you that we pay attention to these things. All the comparison commercials where the blonde gets her laundry-dishes-floors cleaner or brighter than the brunette who just can’t quite attain the same levels of gleam. And here in MyPillowLand, with the implication that brunettes (along with all the non-white people of the world) don’t desire or deserve a nice pillow upon which to lay their heads.

My Pillow has been so successful, that now Mike is expanding into other product lines: a mattress topper and most recently, sheets. Mike takes time in his new commercial to let us know that the sheets are made with the best cotton sourced from…wait for it…Africa. Let’s all pause a moment for the irony to stop reverberating. I think my dental fillings are rattling loose.

So Mike…COME ON DUDE! Were you determined to join the ranks of Hollywood movies that STILL, ALWAYS kill off the black character first, or the bridal gown industry that thinks their only customers are white brides who don’t want to have the image of brown-skinned models in a dress they might wear? (Really. It’s a thing. Google “wedding dresses” and check out the images. Put on your sunglasses first. It’s not just the dresses that are overwhelmingly white.)

I have no neat little lesson to tie back into marketing for this entry (other than, don’t do what Mike does). This is just a rant. I’m irritated, vexed, flummoxed by Mike & his Super White Pillows. The end.

Mashups: The Good, the Bad & the Why

Mashups: The Good, the Bad & the Why

OCTOBER 12, 2018

Mashups. Take one thing and another thing, mash them together, and see how it turns out. Sometimes it turns up unexpected synergies that delight the senses. Other times, crimes against humanity ensue. Let’s discuss…

Musical Mashups are usually fun. Sometimes genius. And almost always, at least an “A for Effort.” Musical Mashup successes I’d like to highlight are courtesy of Danger Mouse (the man, not the animated mouse) and Girl Talk (also a man, actually). Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, seems to have a Magical Mouse Wand that he uses to grace musical projects far and wide. One of the more inspired of which is his production of The Grey Album. You take The Beatles’ White Album, slap it on top of Jay Z’s Black Album, and it shatters into genius. I bet you never thought you’d hear John Lennon singing back up to Jay Z. (Bet John Lennon didn’t see that coming either!) But “Oh Yeah…” now you can never un-hear it and that’s a wonderful thing. Awesome album. Give it a twirl.


Next up…Girl Talk! Mr. Gregg Gillis, aka DJ Girl Talk, must have a bunch of Mensa Squirrel Ninja’s scampering around in his brain. Gosh, I’d love to take a peek in there! How did he come up with these musical collisions?? Skipping willy-nilly across genres and decades, it all magically works. If you can’t burn a ton of calories on the treadmill listening to his album, Feed the Animals, then you might as well just take another nap. (But warning! If you’re used to listening to the “radio edit” version of these songs, keep a bar of soap nearby to wash out your ears.)

So, there you have it! Two fine examples of mashups gone right. Now…Q: Where do mashups go wrong?

A: In the cereal aisle of the grocery store. Why, why, WHY, would you make Chocolate Lucky Charms?!? Or Frosted Flake Lucky Charms?? Not good. Not good at all. These cereals are pushing the gastric envelope already with sugar crusted oat-shapes bouncing around a bevvy of pastel-hued marshmallows. So why is this happening?

I believe it’s happening because the cereal brands fear that their typical consumer has the attention span of a flea. This is generally true. (Could it be, perchance, from ingesting said pastel marshmallows? Hmmm?). Today’s children do seem to be inundated with such a barrage of constant audio and visual stimulation that it makes sense manufacturers might think this could affect their taste buds. I mean there’s even Swedish Fish Oreo cookies and gum that changes flavors two or three times as you chew it. (Forget George Orwell…Willy Wonka saw the future!)

But I think we’ve got to draw the line somewhere. Being a loyal fan of the mighty Cheerio (toasty-oaty-goodness in a bowl), perhaps I’m out of touch with the cereal needs of today’s youth. But there’s something to be said about preserving the original. Most of the classic “sugar cereal” varieties have been around for decades with their original formula and branding. Well, except for the you’re-not-fooling-anybody switch from “Sugar Smacks” to “Honey Smacks.”

Anyway, just leave the cereal alone. Look what happened when Coke tried to be “New” and Pepsi tried to be “Clear.” It wasn’t good. (Fire up your Wikipedia, young ‘uns, if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

So, Musical Mashups? Absolutely. Cereal Mashups? Please stop. We love you just the way you are. Were. Whatever.

Why Is This Donut Fresher Than All Other Donuts?

Why Is This Doghnut Fresher Than All Other Donuts?


Because it came from a kosher Dunkin Donuts. Kosher Dunkin Donuts? Who knew??

Skokie Illinois is home to a sizable Jewish population. At it’s peak in the mid-1960’s, 58% of Skokie’s residents were Jewish (thanks Wikipedia!). Skokie hosts a large number of synagogues and Jewish schools, with many neighborhoods in proximity for families to walk to services together. And so, perhaps not surprisingly (although I was still surprised), the Dunkin Donuts located at 3900 Dempster Street in Skokie keeps kosher. As such, they serve only vegetarian meat-substitute in their breakfast sandwiches, no pork or other meat items. And they have the…Freshest. Donuts. Ever. I’m not sure if there is any correlation between the kosher status and the freshness of the donuts. Perhaps the additional care and oversight of the menu items? Whatever the case, these donuts are so fresh, that they truly do not taste like the same thing you’ve had elsewhere. AND if you can get there in the morning before they sell out, they offer Apple Fritters. Not those trying-to-be-jelly-donuts-but-with-apple-pie-filling donuts. Real Apple Fritters. So! Drop what you’re doing & head to Skokie for a soft, fresh, perfect doughnut. You can finish reading this blog later.

Are you back?

The moral of my Donut Story is this… Even if your business or product has an attribute/component/aspect that you think is primarily appealing to a particular type of person, don’t let that narrow your customer base.  Expose and educate your potential audience to enlighten them as to why your way or your widget is worth trying!

In a former lifetime, I was part owner of a BBQ restaurant. We specialized in Soul Food. We branded it as Southern Comfort Food so as not to intimidate the white folks (fyi…I’m a white folk, so I can say that). Black people know that “Southern Comfort Food” is code for Soul Food, so there was no worry of losing that audience. And most black people and southern people would agree that this same traditional cuisine has a deep history of being prepared and enjoyed by both groups. But we wanted to introduce this food to the masses, confident that most everyone would enjoy it.

So, the point is, if you have a specialized product or service that you believe could/should be enjoyed by everyone, go for it! Find a way to enlighten and delight-en your potential customer base. They’ll thank you for it, become repeat customers, tell their friends and you will find that you can expand your reach without losing your core customers.

(Now I’m going to go grab another donut…)

Never Underestimate the Power of Silly

Never Underestimate the Power of Silly

AUGUST 6, 2018

Blog. Buh-log. Blogblogblog. Beluga. Baa-LOOOOO-gah!

Okay…everybody pause reading, to view this animated classic by The Vestibules, courtesy of YouTube:

(You can thank me later as you ponder how you made it this far in life without these words bouncing around in your brain.)

Are you back? Did you watch the whole video? Let me know how many other people you forward it to before the end of the day.

Now, down to business. The power of silly can work, not just in squiggly animation, but in advertising. Consider Aflac Insurance. Although the company was founded over 60 years ago, prior to the introduction of the Aflac Duck in 2000, brand name recognition was less than 12%. Today brand recognition is over 90%. And I know you hear that duck quack inside your head while you were reading that information!

Another case of effective silliness, also in the insurance industry, is the commercial theme for Farmers Insurance. Oh, what a pretty penny I’d have paid to be sitting in the board room when the advertising agency presented their idea for a new jingle: “We are Farmer’s!  Bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-BUM!” Simple, silly, memorable genius. You gotta love it!

So be serious when serious is called for. Be professional whenever professional is advisable. (Yeah, yeah, I know…most of the time.) But look for mirthy opportunities. Sometimes, when and where you’d least expect it, silliness is exactly the doctor (or duck) ordered.

Basements and Advertising: Less is More

Basements and Advertising: Less is More

JUNE 8, 2018

I’ve been going through my basement for weeks. Clearing out, organizing, deciding what is garbage…give away…save. It is an overwhelming deer-in-the-headlights process. Hard at times to know where to begin, what to do next, will it ever end? The temptation is to quietly tip-toe backwards out of the basement, up the stairs, softly close the door and carry on with an innocent expression of “what basement?”

It occurs to me that a cluttered basement can have the same impact on a viewer as cluttered advertising. There may be really cool stuff in the basement or really cool information in the ad, but if every possible nugget of information is crammed into the ad, the viewer will tip-toe away like the aforementioned basement-retreat.

When you stuff too much into an add, it becomes visually and informationally congested and hard to take in. Your viewer is likely to glaze over and move on to something that is more succinct in look and content.

The goal for most advertising should not be to educate the viewer on everything there is to know about a business/product/service, but rather, to compel them to take that next critical step: pick up the phone, look up the website, read a review. That is accomplished by making the advertisement clear and compelling enough to cause enough intrigue to explore further.

We want the viewer to think, “Wow! That’s a really cool rocking horse… There must be other AMAZING things in that basement! I want to explore further!”

Less is always more when it comes to advertising. Inspire your viewer to explore further. Not do the backward shuffle away from an over-cluttered advertisement.

Pick a College by Its Colors

Pick a College by Its Colors

My oldest son is in the midst of researching and applying to colleges. One thing has become clear: You can’t go to a college whose colors are brown and yellow.

A criteria in choosing a college should be presentable collegiate colors and preferably an adorable animal mascot. I’m just kidding. Kind of. But there are lessons to be learned by the visual first impressions of a university. Or a product. Or a logo. Or any marketing materials for that matter.

I am a label reader, a payer-attention-to of advertising and logos and I’m a sucker for good branding. I think we all are. A well-branded product or business gets an automatic foot-in-the-door with a potential client or customer. Then, it becomes up to the quality of the product or services that secures and retains that customer.

But we all need that creative edge to catch the attention of our target audience. Consider the counter-intuitive-genius of Chipotle’s marketing: they serve one of the most colorful cuisines, but opt for a black and white photo…of a burrito…wrapped in foil. Done. Feed me a fajita.

I once did a market research experiment on myself. Two zero calorie, carbonated, grapefruit flavored beverages. Same shaped bottle and pricing. The brand I usually bought had cool labeling. Refreshing looking ice cubes and bubbles, clean modern font, appealing grapefruity colors. I always picked this brand because I was more drawn to it. (Read up on psychology’s “beautiful is good theory” – it’s a real thing.)

The other bottle had boring labeling. Not sad and pathetic. Just uninspired. Nothing to spark my interest. Nevertheless, I bought one of each brand and performed my own little taste test. You know the outcome, right? The boring bottle contained the much tastier product. But I had never previously given it a chance before. The inferior product was wearing the prettier outfit.

So! Step back and consider whether your logo, branding, marketing materials, packaging, labels could benefit from a little tweak, or even a total overhaul. Are your colors outdated? Is your font run-of-the-mill? Does your marketing still speak to your base?

If not, consider a refresh. You’ll be amazed at the doors that will open and the new audience whose attention you’ll grab. Sign me up! How can I refresh my branding?? (Hint: call Black Rhino Marketing Group. Super cool branding is our favorite!)

Always Leave the Campsite Cleaner Than You Found It

My father was a Boy Scout. An Eagle Scout actually. He taught me from an early age, “Always leave the campsite cleaner than you found it.” This is good advice. A good way to live. The idea being, that when you clean up your campsite at the end of your stay, clean up anything you brought, or discarded, or left behind. But also, if you should see a soda can or cigarette butt or crumpled piece of paper tossed aside by someone else, clean that up too. Don’t just leave it there because you’re not the one that dropped it in the first place. Make sure that your presence at that campsite results in leaving it in an even better condition than you found it.

This advice can, and should, be applied to most anything in life. Whether it’s picking up garbage as you walk your dog, putting a fallen loaf of bread back on the shelf at the grocery store, or taking the time to turn in a stray mitten to the lost & found. On a different level, “leaving the campsite cleaner than you found it” can (and again, should) be applied to our interactions with other people. In our relationships with loved ones, co-workers, and strangers, we should strive to add something positive, pleasant, encouraging, or helpful to our interactions.

What is this touch-feely advice doing on our marketing blog, you might ask? What does this have to do with your business? Could be, should be…a lot! Applying this cleaner-campsite-philosophy to your interactions with clients, customers, co-workers and associates can have far reaching benefits. A key, however, is that you’re not doing these kindnesses to get a benefit. When you have a self-serving ulterior motive, people can usually see right through that. Do the right thing, simply because it’s the right thing to do.

If you provide financial services, but see that your client could benefit from some legal advice, refer them to a trusted associate. If you own a bakery and your customer is placing their usual order for oatmeal cookies, but inquiring about your new cupcakes, give them one for free. Where you have the opportunity to support other entrepreneurs, do that! We need each other to succeed. Whether through referrals, sharing your time and experience or making networking introductions, your kindness will (almost) always be appreciated and (often) be reciprocated.

We live in an age when many people avoid direct human interactions in place of disappearing into their handheld, laptop, or desktop devices. Try using your necktop device! (See what I did there?) Look people in the eye, shake their hand, smile. Relate with your fellow human beings and do something nice for someone. It’ll be good for your business and good for your soul.

Your Customer's Dream

Your Customer's Dream

Once upon a time, there were three partners in a restaurant venture. They all agreed that a college campus would be great place for their restaurant...

The first partner said, “We should have a hotdog cart. Low overhead, no rent, minimal staff, streamlined inventory. That’s the way to go!” The second partner said, “Well, a hotdog cart may leave money on the table. College students want to hang out with their friends while they eat. I think a fast casual restaurant would be better. That way, the menu can still be manageable, but the average meal will bring in more than a hotdog & a can of soda. Maybe we can cater too…” The third partner said, “I really like raspberry bars. And specialty coffee drinks. We could serve that along side the BBQ and mac & cheese, couldn’t we? What do you think about linen table clothes and real silverware? I bet college students would appreciate that.”

Well, as Goldilocks and all the college students will tell you, Partner #2 was right (although hotdog-cart-guy wasn’t far off). All entrepreneurs have a vision for their business. Usually something they’ve spent years dreaming about bringing to fruition. But if your vision does not match the vision/appetite/taste/needs of your customers, your business will not succeed. Before you open your doors (whether they be actual or virtual), you need to take a hard, honest look at whether your dream is your customers’ dream. You also need to take stock from time to time even if you’ve been in business for years.

Chili’s has done just that. They’ve launched a very interesting and engaging ad campaign to address their own assessment (or feedback from their customers, perhaps) that they had strayed from their original vision…from those core competencies which their customers loved…and which grew them to over 1600 locations since their inception in 1975 (thanks Wikipedia!).

Chili’s recognized that they had ventured down a path that they thought was a swell idea, but that caused their customer base to miss what made them love Chili’s in the first place. Rather than embark on a slick Jedi mind trick to redirect their audience back to their “re-rebrand,” instead, they owned it. They admitted that they’d gotten off track and were taking steps to return to their baby-back-baby-back-baby-back…

Check out the first commercial of the campaign. Fascinating. Never seen anything like it. Well done, Chili’s.