The Consumer-Friendly Wave of Digital Advertising

“In a world in which ads are becoming optional for users, the key to our industry’s success in the future will be delivering ads that people love, remember and share.”

Man in front of board pointing at "emotion"

This quote comes from Google’s Sandbox summary of their “There’s a Perfect Ad for Everyone” presentation. Their premise is that, right now, too many people are ignoring ads or using software to block ads. Advertisers and ad publishers need to find ways to counter this and get people not only to stop blocking their ads, but to actually engage with them.

Most advertisers, I hope, would agree. The key to success is delivering ads that people love, remember and share. It’s also respecting what consumers want and respecting their space and time.

This is where semantic advertising comes in.

In his article, The 3rd Wave for the Ad Industry, J. Brooke Aker (CEO of ADmantX) describes the first two waves as:

  1. The Internet media explosion of connectivity and multiple devices
  2. Technology that makes advertising efficient but leaves the user as an afterthought

No consumer wants to be an afterthought, right?

Semantic advertising is a more thoughtful method of online advertising. One that actually takes the reader’s emotions, behaviors, motivations and intentions into consideration. Ads are then placed on web pages based on the way the visitor to that page would react to the original content there.

Current digital advertising placement is often based on getting your ads in front of as many people as possible.

Semantic targeting is about getting your ad in the right place at the right time to elicit the right response from consumers.

You can get the response you want from digital advertising without annoying your customers, but you have to be willing to get your feet wet and catch the semantic advertising wave.

Get more details at Catch the Wave, the Third Wave of Digital Advertising. And if you have 36 minutes to spare, watch Neil Mohan’s entire speech on the future of display advertising.

K-Y® Intense Advertising that Feels Quite Normal

I saw the coolest thing this past weekend, so I had to share it here. Notice anything special about this ad?

What’s remarkable about this commercial is that it’s, well, unremarkable. This commercial is actually not K-Y’s first with this plot line—where a couple sets up a scene chatting about each other toward the camera, then BAM, then the assumed after-sex bed shot comes in. But it is the first with a lesbian couple.

K-Y shows lesbians as the main characters in this commercial in the same way they show heterosexual characters in their other commercials. There’s no salaciousness, the sex part of the ad is discreet and humorous, and the characters seem like regular people. It feels quite normal, and that’s the best part.

Huge props to Johnson & Johnson and K-Y Brand for showing gay people like they’re a normal part of society—because they are normal!  No stereotypes, no big to-do, just two women acting like any other couple on earth. This is real life.

Mother New York, the ad agency that created this commercial, says on their website:

With over 1 million tweets and over 230,000 views on Facebook, the first ever J&J commercial featuring a homosexual couple has created quite a buzz.

I’m sure there will be negative buzz as well as positive, but maybe, just maybe, if more retailers and manufacturers were willing to show gay people in everyday life situations, fear and hatred of homosexuals would decrease. That would be a wonderful and long overdue new normal.

Cadillac: A Brand that’s Driving Its Way Back to the Top

Back to advertising this week and with a winner…at least I think so. Let’s see what you think.

Cadillac is a brand I don’t normally pay much attention to. Who does? They’ve been back in the pack for quite some time now. The word “Escalade” seems like the only time we hear about Cadillac anymore.

But that could change. Cadillac’s new wave of advertising—and cars—shows promise.

Check out this new commercial for the Cadillac SRX Luxury Crossover SUV:

What’s not to like about this ad?

It’s so understated, elegant and positive, it evokes a sense of what this brand wants to be all about.

Concept and attention to detail

The man in the SRX is not driving down a noisy city street. He’s driving in a beautiful neighborhood on a rainy day. The start of the ad with just the noise of the tires moving through the soaked streets and then the quiet inside of the car with sports news on the radio sets that “everything’s just right” tone.

Then, a trash truck, big and noisy and representing the opposite of elegance, almost ruins this man’s perfect day. His life starts to flash before him as he hits the brakes, bracing for what he thinks is certain doom. But the car stops immediately and all is well.

“Your life will have to flash by even faster,” says the voiceover, as his flashback screeches to a halt also.

I love that line, and it’s tied to all the positive music and imagery we saw in the driver’s flashbacks. The commercial then sends you off with the same happy music and the car driving off to a sunnier spot.

Understated, positive, perfect.

For those of you who don’t know, when driving in rain or through puddles, you’re supposed to tap your brakes here and there to get the water off before you brake to stop. Cadillac introduces a feature that does that for you.

In commercials lately, we’ve seen cars that park themselves (Ford, Lexus) and cars that stop themselves (Mercedes). What I like about this Cadillac is that the driver still has control. The driver stops the car, but the brakes make that stop better and quicker.

Smart marketing

Cadillac sounds and looks like a brand that finally knows what it’s doing. Even their tagline has a bold confidence to it that sounds like a brand that’s not leaving room for any doubts.

We don’t just make luxury cars, we make Cadillacs.” A statement that gives the impression they’re already in the top spot.

They’re close.

Cadillac understood that incentives were the way to go in the darkening economy, that even luxury buyers were looking for deals. And it worked. For the first time since June 2005, Cadillac sales topped those of Lexus and Mercedes and were only second to BMW’s.

Jim O’Donnell, president and CEO of BMW of North America, said Cadillac’s edgy styling and its popular SRX SUV have helped the brand emerge as a legitimate competitor to BMW. (Source: Bloomberg)

“There’s a new generation of people buying Cadillacs,” O’Donnell said. “They used to say that people wouldn’t buy their father’s Cadillac. Well, now it’s the grandchildren that are buying them.”

Knowing their target audience is one big reason for Cadillac’s success. Cadillac seems to be making some very smart moves and this latest SRX commercial is another one of them.

Mercedes still doesn’t see Cadillac as a competitor, but they might want to rethink that. With impressive styling, strong advertising and a clear vision of its target audience, Cadillac may just surprise them…and you.

Lessons from a Death in the Marketing World

Something happened this weekend in the marketing world that made me change my planned topic for this week.

Trey Pennington, a well-liked social media & marketing personality, killed himself Sunday after sending out this final tweet:

Trey Pennington's final tweet

Suicide is never the answer. Unfortunately, for people in a deep depression it often seems like the only solution.

I’m not going to pretend I knew Trey. I didn’t. I only knew him online, tweeted back and forth a few times. But I can tell you, from the interactions I did have with him, he was a genuinely nice and seemingly positive guy.

Piece of Trey's Twitter stream from Sept 3

Look at his Twitter stream, does he sound like a guy about to kill himself? No. That’s exactly the point. There is no standard suicidal person, and that’s often why suicidal depression is so hard to detect. It’s also why we need to talk about depression and suicide more—to help prevent more suicides and encourage people to ask for help and help each other. So, I hope you don’t mind, but this is my subject today.

Dealing with depression

“Depression” is one of those misnomers like “cramps” when talking about PMS symptoms—only much worse because it’s so dangerous. How many times have you heard someone say something like, “I’m so depressed because my favorite show was canceled” or “Stop, you’re depressing me”? Depression is not as easy as that. Clinical depression is a very serious illness. It’s as insidious and as brutal as cancer.

Suicide kills more than 34,000 people each year, and for every suicide death there are 11 more attempted suicides. (Source)

Think of depression more like a sort of suffocation. It’s this deep, dark tunnel in which it becomes hard to breathe and function, and for each person the length of it varies. You can’t see the end. In fact, you can’t see much of anything past a foot or two in front of your face, and traveling through it is so lonely, life-sapping and sharply painful that eventually you feel compelled to create your own end. You can’t see any other way out.

The selfish misperception

After Trey’s death, I saw some tweets saying how selfish Trey was to kill himself. I’ve heard people say that many times when suicide came into conversation.

I get it. I get why people feel that way, especially if the person had kids. My cousin had two kids when she killed herself. My friend’s wife had three kids when she killed herself. It seems very selfish from the outside, from our easy seats outside of depression. But I can tell you that a person who kills herself usually honestly believes that the world—even her young, vulnerable kids—will be better off without her. The pain is so brutal and blinding that the person cannot see outside that pain.

My friend’s wife suffered tremendously for years with depression. She reached out for help and tried so very hard to get better. She had a loving husband and family that tried to help, many friends that tried to help, numerous doctors that tried to help and the monsignor at her church tried to help. Most people don’t have that much support, yet she still didn’t make it.

I don’t think she wanted to hurt anyone. She might not have even wanted to die. She just couldn’t take the pain anymore and truly thought death was the only way out. That’s not selfish, it’s sad.

Anger and blame

The rush of emotions you feel when you learn of a loved one’s suicide is unlike almost any other death, except maybe murder. Not surprising, because that’s really what suicide is—murdering oneself. So know that it’s okay to be angry. Go ahead and get all that anger out. Trust me, you don’t want to keep it inside.

I remember being in tennis class in college the day after I learned of my friend’s suicide. My fist clenched so tight around the racket in my hand and every time I hit the ball I really wanted to hit the ground instead. I could almost feel myself smashing that racket into the ground over and over again and screaming—nothing in particular, just screaming. Instead, I asked to be excused from class and walked home. I ran into a roommate who was also headed back to our apartment, and I tried to say something, but I think I was just so afraid of what all that emotion would do to me or what it would do to others around me if it came out, that I stayed quiet. Don’t stay quiet.

And don’t blame yourself. I blamed myself for years after my friend killed herself. I saw her right before I went back to college and before she went to hers. I knew something wasn’t right. I wanted to hug her (and at the time, I wasn’t a very huggy person). But I didn’t. I asked her if she was okay, but she had people waiting for her and didn’t have time to talk. She gave me only a small bit of info, and then I said the dreaded trivial, meaningless words, “Don’t worry, you’ll be back at school soon. Things will get better.”

A person considering suicide cannot comprehend that things can get better. They’re past that point. But, even if you say all the right things—and here’s the really sucky part—that person still might kill herself. It’s very tough to convince yourself of this amidst overwhelming grief, but keep repeating it—this is not your fault.

There are only two things you can do for a suicidal person (and this still might not save him or her):

  1. Listen, without judgment, and be supportive in your words and actions.
  2. Get him or her to professional help as fast as possible.

Instead of blaming yourself, learn from this. Next time you have an inkling that your friend or wife or brother may be depressed or thinking of killing him- or herself, trust your instinct. Resolve to be brave and ask your loved ones the scary questions—Are you depressed? Are you thinking of killing yourself?

Yes, the answers might be scary, but you don’t have a chance of helping them if you don’t ask.


You cannot focus on the “if only…” and recover from grief. And, if you get stuck in this part or the anger portion of your grief for too long, seek professional help for yourself. The way the person ended his or her life will stick with you for a long time, so the key to getting to the other side of your grief is to start focusing more on the life, the person, not the mode of death.

Everything you feel is valid and you must allow all your feelings to come out in some way. For me, I write. After my friend died, I wrote a play about suicide. For you, it might be talking with friends, working in your garden, training for a marathon, or painting. Only you know what will help. I know it won’t be easy, but I also know you can recover from pretty much anything. You just have to focus on recovering—over and over and over again.

Remember that your loved one was in pain, pain you can hardly even imagine. And hope that he is finally at peace now. Have compassion for him and have compassion for yourself as you go through this very difficult time.

And don’t stay quiet.


To Trey’s family and friends, my heart goes out to you and I wish you well as you try to cope with life without him. And for anyone thinking of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website for resources to get help.