A few grammar tips

Just some clarification on a few grammar errors I’ve been seeing lately, including one mistake made by a major U.S. newspaper.

immigrate vs. emigrate

One immigrates TO somewhere; one emigrates FROM somewhere

“My grandfather emigrated from Poland”

“My grandfather immigrated to the United States.”

 

should have, not should of

“I should have brought my umbrella with me”

or as a contraction: “I should’ve brought my umbrella with me.”

 

more than, not more then

“George is more than likely to show up early.”

 

Why History Matters if You Work in Marketing

Did you hear about American Apparel’s social media snafu last week? Apparently one of the social media managers was attempting to be festive for the July 4th holiday. Did he or she provide the obligatory patriotic image of the Stars & Stripes, the Liberty Bell or fireworks bursting over a city skyline? Nope. What about any images of baseball, hot dogs and apple pie? Nope, nope and nope.

A recent social media blunder by American Apparel

Instead, this person chose to use what he or she thought was a cool photo and re-blogged on the brand’s Tumblr account an image of the space shuttle Challenger exploding. You know the photo – it’s the one of the white trail of smoke that loops around against a deep blue sky. Accompanying the photo were hashtags with “smoke” and “clouds,” and the blue sky was changed to a red background.

#Fail. The image was immediately recognized and triggered a deluge of shaming responses that lit up Twitter as American Apparel was called out on such an egregious American error on the most American of holidays. Here’s the company’s response:

“We deeply apologize for today’s Tumblr post of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The image was re-blogged in error by one of our international social media employees who was born after the tragedy and was unaware of the event. We sincerely regret the insensitivity of that selection and the post has been deleted.”

Okay. I accept the apology. What I don’t accept among younger people today is what I have often observed to be a lack of iconic historical knowledge, accompanied by a blasé excuse that they truly believes gets them off the hook: “That happened before I was born.”

Really? No seriously, really? That attitude would be akin to me – born in 1967 – not knowing or caring to learn anything about WWII and its significance today, just because WWII ended 22 years before I was born.

I’m not suggesting that everyone in business have a history minor. But I do think that advertising and PR executives should realize that knowing key social, economic, and historical events and trends of years gone by is an advantage for them now for three reasons:

Geico ad with Lincoln

Geico ad with Lincoln

1) Being informed and well-rounded makes for more a marketable job candidate. It gives an edge to those that are able to draw from the past in order to help solve current business challenges and to generate creativity today (most of the best Creative Directors I know have a keen understanding of history that they have successfully incorporated into great client work – think of the Geico ad with Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln to be exact).

2) It prevents future offenses like the American Apparel one – or something even worse – from occurring in the future.

3) It helps you do your job better. As a marketer it gives you a better understanding of your target audience, and to me, that’s what it’s all about. Your target audiences’ past experiences have played an important role in shaping their buying habits and purchasing power today.

Think about it. You could be missing a game-changing opportunity to engage and truly resonate with your target audience; all because you weren’t born before “Friends” originally aired.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

7 Tips for a Better Brainstorming Session

brain-storm-thinking-300x191

photo credit: clearmarketboard.com

Having worked in the marketing and communications industry my entire career, I’ve participated in my share of brainstorming sessions. Many have been very successful in reaching objectives; others not so much. One of the biggest misconceptions about brainstorming is that it’s only the marketing or creative department experts that can add value to a session. I completely disagree.

Watch the Master
One of my fondest brainstorming bombs was when I worked for a vacuum cleaner manufacturer years ago. While the small marketing department had always done a fine job of naming products, on this particular occasion, the chairman of the company had hired a “real expert” advertising consultant to join us in the session. This guy was some big-shot ex advertising agency CEO who now peddled his years of experience and expertise to consumer products’ companies in exchange for big consulting bucks.

The new product was a hand-held vacuum cleaner that actually housed a light, stretchy hose (for suction in hard to reach places) on the little vacuum itself. It’s old hat now, but at the time in the early 90s, it was a real breakthrough for the hose not to be a separate attachment.

The team was on a roll spewing out words and phrases that embodied the new product’s main feature and benefits: the hose on board offered power, ease of use and convenience.

We were a half hour into the session and our consultant hadn’t uttered a word. We all figured he was drawing from his vast experience and wizardly marketing talents, strategically waiting to wow us. We knew that once he did speak, he would utter the ‘be all end all’ of names, one that would end the session and henceforth be the genesis for all new product names.

Then he magically spoke. We waited for his wisdom.

“How about,” he asked while beaming and nodding his head, “…hand vac with hose?” He looked around the room, now nodding his head more fervently. The group was silent as we couldn’t tell if he was joking. Soon enough, we realized he was indeed serious.  We did our best to contain our laughter, and a few of us offered several disingenuous nods.

Correctly interpreting our silence for disapproval, he appeared to have another “Aha” moment and stood up with excitement, waving his arms. “No, no, no. Wait,” he shouted proudly. “This is it. I’ve got it! I’ve got it.” He could no longer contain his own excitement and flashed a huge smile, “What about… hose vac!?”

Needless to say, that was not what we named the product.

Tips For A Better Brainstorm Session
Over the years, I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, and I’ve come to recognize a few practices to get the most for your time and money.

  1. Include a mix of people from different departments or areas of expertise – Creativity and great ideas aren’t just limited to the marketing folks (as my story clearly proves). In fact, sometimes marketing folks are too close to a project and lack the objectivity to see an idea from all sides. Plus, everyone is a consumer. I was in a brainstorming session once when someone from the financial department had a great idea that eventually germinated into the platform for a successful new product launch. You really never know where a great idea will come from.
  2. Have a desired result for this particular brainstorm – Be sure to establish what you want out of this particular meeting. Are you looking to develop an employee incentive program? Or maybe a great new product name or the theme for your next annual meeting? Remember that it will likely take a few meetings to reach your goal. Define what your objective is and let the team know so that everyone is on the same page at the session.
  3. Have the meeting off-site if possible – A different setting helps get people out of the usual “work mode” which can be stifling for brainstorming. Being offsite also better prevents the chance that a fellow brainstormer might be paged or interrupted and consequentially throws off the momentum of the entire session.
  4. Implement at fun exercise to get people in a relaxed and positive mood – Start off with a fun exercise to get the group in a mindset that lends itself to creativity. It could be a group game of MadLib’s, or the game where everyone tells two truths and one lie about themselves and the audience guesses the lie. The point is to create a sense of belonging and camaraderie where members won’t feel embarrassed or restrained to contribute.
  5. No bad ideas – Try not to be discouraging to ideas you don’t agree with or like. Write everything down. Be open-minded to know that any idea can ultimately lead to “The” idea. Well, except for ‘hose vac’ maybe.
  6. Provide a recap to participants – This is beneficial because, as stated above, seeing these ideas and notes from the brainstorm might actually trigger other creative thoughts and ideas from the brainstorm members.
  7. Don’t be disappointed – If you don’t reach your objective in the first brainstorm session as it typically the case, realize that the initial brainstorm is a stepping stone to other ideas and insights from participants. Who knows, someone might even mull the idea around at home over the family dinner and come back with some great options.

Remember, brainstorming is a process. Treating it as such helps eliminate the anxiety of having to come up with a solution with your back up against the wall. Of course, this will happen from time to time, but in most cases, if you choose your group wisely and determine goals, you’ll be able to reach your objective in a reasonable time frame. If not, I think I might know a very talented, retired ex agency CEO who might be able to help you…at least he’d be good for a laugh or two.