Michael Littman – An Agency

Author Archive

What’s the Most Important Thing in Advertising?

Trust.

I grew up in an advertising agency. My dad ran the largest independent agency in Houston. His career ended in the Southwest Advertising Hall of Fame. We talked about advertising incessantly. My room had a wall that was covered by the DDB VW ad ‘Lemon.’ The entryway of our home had a Peter Max 7Up billboard. Advertising was dinner conversation. When dad and I would go to Pizza Hut (a client), he’d explain to me why they had PacMan games built into the table. When we’d go to Foley’s (a regional department store and client), he’d tell me to watch how people behave in the store. He’d talk to me about merchandising. He’d tell me about signage (shopper marketing before, well, it was a thing).

Dad would play tennis with several of his clients. One of them was Jack Helfman. Jack owned car dealerships. After the matches they’d talk about traffic count, deals closed, inventory issues, and financing. 

Dad was a runner. On occasion we’d run Memorial Park together. He’d talk to me about the importance of honesty in client relationships. Transparency, just like in a good marriage. The importance of treating business partners as if they were your closest friends.

It was the simplest of lessons. Dad would tell me that when a client’s business was successful, his business would be successful. And vice versa. It takes two, he’d say, both focused on solving the daily challenges each business faced.

It’s been a purposeful path toward my position as CEO at An Agency — working in Los Angeles, working in a multinational, working as a client, settling into the bulk of my career at Kentucky’s largest agency, Doe-Anderson. And experience after experience brought me to the same conclusion: Ad agencies are a dime a dozen. 

Today’s sales story is data and AI and digital nimbleness and of course the long-stated and long-true omni-channel pitch.

And all that is good . . . and it matters . . . and I understand that those are often the boxes clients are checking off with their agency partner.

But I think we have a better box. 

And the foundation of that box is trust. Because when I go to sleep at night, I’m replaying my dad’s words: “Build your business by building their business. Think less about you and more about them. Don’t promise creativity that’s unfathomable to others. Focus on creating opportunities for your clients. Care more about them than you care about yourself.”   

So that’s my space at An Agency. And that’s my promise to you. We’ll care more about you. We’ll focus on you. We’ll eat, sleep, and breathe your mission — until we’ve so internalized it, it’s almost become our own.  

What are you talking about around the dinner table?

Michael Littman
CEO

Labor Love = Brand Love.

Dusty Bottoms the drag performer leaving an elevator.

We recognize that it strains credulity exclaiming our professional love for Labor Day.

As frequently noted, advertising is neither rocket science nor a lunch bucket profession. Your vision of our team huddled over a Grande no-whip white chocolate mocha with five pumps of an extra shot, made with soy is, well, decidedly accurate. 

Where Does the Twain Meet?

An Agency exists to drive commerce through evocative creativity. We are strategists. We are designers. We are writers. We are makers. We invest whole-heartedly in creating brands that challenge convention. That truthfully reflect our client’s capabilities. That make people smile. Because we understand that your brand is an expectation. A promise.

The Fruit of Our Labor.

We accept the responsibility to lift sales. To make your brand more likable. To develop ideas that fit both your brand and your culture. To create real value in terms of long-term brand equity.

What Makes Our Work Work?

Creativity that touches hearts works. Creativity that is true works. Creativity that simplifies the complex works. Creativity that is disruptive works.

The Proof Is In the Elevator.

Common Bond Hotel Group came to us with an interesting challenge. They were building a boutique hotel outside of Louisville’s Central Business District in a neighborhood called the Highlands. Like Austin and Portland, the area prides itself in staying weird. Common Bond was converting America’s last disco ball factory into an elevated, modern hospitality experience. Expressly not luxe, but absolutely a one-of-a-kind experience that is as unusual as the area in which it is located.

Allow us to introduce you to the Myriad Hotel and a taste for this campaign through this :15 launch spot and :06 pull live streaming through YouTube and other connected services. Love it. Hate it. We believe that this work will touch hearts and is aligned with brand and culture.

A Final Splash.

This weekend when you‘re enjoying that final splish-splash of summer, consider putting our team on your Fall agenda. As much as we love AOR assignments, there is no project challenge that we are afraid to take on. We promise to treat it as a labor of love (see what we did there?).

Michael Littman
CEO

AI, Empathy – Hey, Boomer!

I will admit it. I am a proud product of the Baby Boom. I began my career in Los Angeles armed with an IBM Selectric, a bottle of Wite-Out and the expectation of producing 60 hours of work in a 37.5 hour week. Every day was in the office. Every meeting was in person. Technology was a messenger service that picked up packages. The fax machine was a Godsend. FedEx was the last stop of my day. Then Steve Jobs made that funny looking typewriter and everything changed.

Imagine that I grew up with an 8-track player in my car listening to Boston, Bruce and Buffet. I fell in love to Desperado and fell asleep to Johnny Carson on one of the five channels my family tv could produce. Somehow my hair went from over my ears to over my collar to over and out. Like many of my fellow Boomers I have somewhat grim memories of road trips that simply elicit the ‘are we there yet’ mantra of my generation.

Which is as good of a segue to where we stand as marketers in this never-ending technology forward driven economy. Are we there yet with AI? We use AI to boil the ocean digging for insight hidden in reams of data. We use it to jump start creative development. AI produces not-quite-yet-ready for primetime final art. AI optimizes our paid traditional and social media placements. We even use it to drive from one meeting to another (if Pip’s driving weren’t scary enough). We are into it, but are we wholly ready to abandon individual expertise to machine learning?

As a Boomer, I admit to being something less than a digital native. But don’t accuse me, or my generation, of being technophobes. We have lived the learning curve. And I suspect we will continue to adapt as we move through Web 3.0 and whatever else the genius of Silicon Valley produces.

That’s an underlying theme of this blog post. Employing AI to advance our hard skills while continuing to draw from empathy, intuition and experience to bring humanity to all of our work.

The attached long-form reports on Boomers’ lives from two perspectives. The first section largely handles the cultural references that have shaped the generation and how in the broadest sense Boomers are moving into retirement. The second half is a more traditional look at aging through numbers and what the Boomer experience is today.

When you think Boomer, think Brad Pitt. Or for those of you reading this who are Boomers, think Susan Sarandon. Your brand may or may not be Boomer reliant. That is not essential to this read. The takeaway here is to consider the entirety of a person, not simply their intersection with your brand. When you meet a person where they stand, you meet that person in their entirety.

Of course our true purpose is to create a connection with you. To begin a conversation. Our agency is built on the premise that evocative creative work must be built from a sound commercial base. Or as my fellow Boomers might say, let’s run it up the flagpole, think outside the box, get on the same page so that going forward we can cliché ourselves into a Cloud of agility. Ping.

Boomer out!

Michael Littman
CEO

Here’s to the Kind of Clients Who Believe in Punching Above Their Weight

There’s a singular truth in today’s marketing world that’s unavoidable – the one true advantage in a marketing budget is the power of the creative work to elevate your brand beyond competitive spend.

If the work has stopping power. If the work is emotionally connective. If the creative work is built on a sound strategic foundation. If each of these components are in place, the value of a marketing dollar is multiplied.  If these elements aren’t in place, the power of the marketing dollar is minimized.

Which is why we are so pleased – having been in business for a short period of time – that the work An Agency produced in 2022 made us the third most awarded agency in The American Advertising Federation – Louisville.

No award won by any agency at any time has been won without a great client. Everything we do begins with the people who hire us. It’s our clients who win these awards. More importantly, it’s the power of our creative work that makes marketing budgets punch above their weight.

Connecting with your audience today is hard. We live in a :06 world. We must earn our video completion rates, our listen through rates, our lowered cost of customer acquisition. It’s not like the ‘good old days’ when we could bludgeon audiences into action with 400 TRPs from Thursday – Sunday.

Today it’s an ‘opt-in’ world.  Which is why I’m suggesting to you that your team should ‘opt-in’ to An Agency. That decision simply increases your chances to earn hearts and minds. And if you have to make a little extra room on your corporate mantle for a few shiny objects – well, consider that a nice side benefit.

Let’s do this thing. Let’s break through the noise. Let’s make evocative work together. Let’s build brand equity while driving immediate sales opportunities.

Let’s win together, now!

Michael
CEO

Brand Love – Hype or Happening?

In November we introduced you to number 87,713 – our roster spot in the world of advertising and marketing firms in the US. Undaunted, in fact, challenged, we have begun to make our way.

On our launch, we promised that we would live at the intersection of emotion & commerce. We shared our belief that evocative creative work is the ultimate brand advantage. We believe that is our job to challenge category convention. To truthfully reflect our clients’ capabilities. To make people who are exposed to our ideas smile.

We understand that your brand is an expectation. A promise.

We invite you to experience the promises we have made in our early days as An Agency.

Proof positive that it isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog (courtesy Mark Twain).  

And on that rather snarly note, we thank you for your time and look forward to the moment when you enlist us to create Brand Love for your team.

Michael Littman
CEO

An Agency creates Brand Love for Airport One, Aviation Insurance Association, Common Bond Hotel Group, Dant Clayton, First Breckinridge Bankshares, ISPA, Kentucky Fair Housing Council, Mary Dowling Whiskey Company, Papercone, Rabbit Hole Distillery, The Grainwright, Third Lutheran Church, Whitney Strong Foundation, Wild Eggs, Work Architecture + Design and Zeochem.

Fear, Loathing, and the Need to Define True Customer Value In 2023

Fear, Loathing, and the Need to Define True Customer Value In 2023

Uncertain times such as these suggest a rethink of how marketers approach brand messaging in 2023. Let’s start with an optimistic view. A recent Ipsos survey found that 64% of Americans are hopeful that 2023 will be better than 2022. Perhaps that’s why holiday sales rose 7.6% from the prior year. Underpinning that growth were two factors, the first unsurprising, the second critical to addressing marketing opportunities in the year ahead.

Retailers discounted heavily. Not a surprise, and not a tactic that should be universally pursued.
Consumers diversified their holiday spending to accommodate inflation — directing more dollars towards shared experience and festive gatherings.

While inflation has slowed (so-called ‘core inflation’ stands at 4.7%, more than double the Fed’s preferred level of 2%), its impact is clearly felt — particularly for grocery items — with prices increases of 12% year-over-year.

How Have Consumers Responded?

People are reevaluating where they shop and which items they choose to purchase. Short term, both discount retailers and private label brands benefit. Longer term, discretionary purchases are reevaluated. Consumption continues as Americans decide which products/services we value and which we can reduce or eliminate. In our world, that suggests that people are shopping harder, a continuation of two megatrends from the past decade: empowered consumers and omnichannel shoppers. Proof points: holiday season on-line sales were up 10.6% from prior year, while in-person spending rose 6.8%.

Stepping away from the sales register, the Chapman University Annual Survey of American Fears digs into our deeper concerns:

One last piece of troubling news. Experts predict that 2023 will be the tipping point year for AI messaging on-line. We have come full-circle with our Terminator moment. Fact and fiction becoming completely impossible to distinguish while being rapidly disseminated through social media.

How we see it:

An Agency creates brand love. We drive commerce through creativity — from a single project assignment to a fully integrated brand campaign. What we lack in overhead, we make up for in well-seasoned expertise. Get to the big idea faster by calling Michael Littman at 502.541-4454 or sending an email to michael@anagency.com.

In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lion

Influencer

As 2022 turns to 2023, we want to close the marketing chapter with a wide-ranging blog that tracks the challenges that we face moving forward. The red thread here begins with brand development, takes a turn towards influencer marketing, considers how those influencers are living in Web 3.0, and finishes considering the wild ride that values-driven marketing has taken in the most innocuous of product categories: pillows.

Admittedly an ambitious effort, but here goes.

Don’t Sleep on the Notion That Your Brand Is an Expectation.

More to the point, that your branding, your marketing, sets an expectation of experience that your product and service must routinely meet. The bromide that good advertising kills bad product isn’t true. Advertising that wasn’t aligned with your customer experience was bad from the beginning. Perhaps Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake & Palmer described it best: An album is a promise to pay that has to be redeemed in a live performance.

What Expectations Do ‘Super Influencers’ Set for Your Brand? (OR, Is Physical Beauty a Substitute for Authentic Expertise?)

For decades brand research has consistently concluded that recommendation is preferred to advertising when gathering information guiding a purchase. This was of little consequence to mass marketers before social media, and the power of influence became democratized, amplified, and monetized. Three minutes later it became clear that some people could sway opinions more than others.  

Turns out that attractive people get paid more, get considered for more jobs, and have stronger social skills than less-attractive people. Need proof. Here are the 15 Most Powerful Influencers on Instagram. Wonder what they might have in common?

Have we failed to identify the basic truth of our exhaustive research? That being, are all of our ‘friends’ recommendations of value – or just those of the young, fit, and physically attractive?

Is Web 3.0 Deserving of the Support It’s Garnering?

Juliane Assange famously said that Facebook is the “most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented.” Somehow our society has rejected the notion that not every part of our private life needs to be public and digitally documented.  Perhaps, ahem, because we’ve learned that our social influence has financial implications. That we can monetize our personal brands, sacrificing only our privacy. 

Only our privacy. 

Web 3.0? It had promised to be a more open, more decentralized platform where smart bots would lead us on more meaningful and compelling journeys. If Web 2.0 was about social media, streaming, and online shopping, Web 3.0 promises us a world of Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, and most importantly for the majority of us, the ability to regain greater control of our personal data.  

At what cost? Currently 3.0 comes with a greater risk of cybercrime. Aggressive hate speech. More disinformation without accreditation. Our advertising dollars are funding these unintended consequences of progress. Even as ad support appears to be waning in the Elon Musk chapter of the Twitter-verse, dollars flow into the decidedly more dangerous Web 3.0. It should go without saying that the expectations set for your brand are as impacted by medium as they are by messaging.

Maybe Politics and Advertising Do Mix?

Which leads us to close on this insight around Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow, a company he founded in 2004. Today, company sales exceed $260 million, more than doubling since he rose to election-denier fame in 2019.  Lindell is now the largest advertiser on Fox News, spending over $80,000,000 annually concentrated in their primetime opinion talk shows. He’s regularly featured on right-wing media outlets. His advertising dollars fuel an expanding universe of right-wing podcasters and influencers (there we go with that term again). To each podcaster, pundit, and activist he provides promotional codes giving them a stake in each sale and an incentive to promote both his products and his political agenda. After being questioned by the FBI for his election-denial activities, he used a promotional code “FBI” that saved his customers up to 66% on their next purchase.

There’s a calculus in all of this. His strident stance has cost him retail shelf space. WalMart and other big box retailers pulled MyPillow products off their shelves (but still sell their products online), a potential loss of $100,000,000 in sales revenue. And yet his DTC empire continues to gain speed, even as lawsuits swirl that threaten his personal and corporate success.  

Personally, I fell in love with advertising in the ’60s when Coca-Cola taught the world to sing. I was reinvigorated when Benetton united us with color. Even now, I’m susceptible to Subaru’s support of the ASPCA and the National Parks. Today, connecting company purpose to product performance is a high-wire act being played out across the political spectrum. 

Is it worth the risk?

Mr. Lindell’s net worth exceeds $174 million dollars. But tomorrow? It all goes back to calculus. 

Setting Appropriate Brand Expectations.

What does all this suggest? Here’s a handy-dandy summary that I hope brings these different thoughts together, and provide three simple-but-actionable communication approaches for 2023.

An Agency is here to help your voice rise above the noise. To simplify the complex. To tell your un-embroidered truth compellingly. All without losing a single night’s sleep on a politically incorrect pillow.

Our best wishes to you and yours as we all enter this most joyous of seasons.

87,712 Advertising Agencies in the US. Introducing Number 87,713

Brand Love

Dear Prospective Client

I suspect that you’ll remember me from my past decade+ at Doe-Anderson. For years I imagined that there could be no greater challenge than gaining consideration for our team as your advertising agency partner.

In retrospect, that was easy-peasy.

Today, I lead the smallest agency in Kentucky. Well, not the smallest (nine is larger than one), but certainly not the size of a firm that is typically considered.

No fear. I’m not asking for the implausible.
This asks only for the possible. 

Against the trope of the 2000s, where you’re forced to pick between “good, fast, and cheap,” we stand for doing exceptionally fine work, on time, all the time, and for a fair fee. 

Our core strength is in identifying and then bringing to life the red thread that connects human insight to brand strategy enunciated evocatively in execution. We have defined that space as living at the creative intersection of emotion and commerce. You will hear us say that truth lives at the intersection. You will hear me say that the user experience with the brand defines the expectations that the advertising must engender. That’s the thinking.

Just as importantly, you will find us to be genuine, responsive, and kind. We are driven to simplify. We want to get to the challenge faster and with less embroidery. Your bottom line is ours. That’s the performance.

My first 60 days here have led to additional assignments from First Breckinridge Bancshares (financial services), Rabbit Hole Distillery (premium spirit), Weyland Ventures (regional hotel chain), and Wild Eggs (regional restaurant chain).

We are well launched. We are adequately funded. We would love to be appropriately challenged.

Thanks for considering #87,713 — with any luck soon to become #1 in your heart.

Warm regards,

Michael