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As a marketer, you may always be looking forward, trying to come up with new ways to present your company's product or service.

But you can find plenty of inspiration by looking backward, too.

Got milk? Whassup? Where's the beef? Think small. Those are all successful ad campaigns from decades past. By analyzing them and other examples of great advertising, you can identify the elements that made them appealing and memorable. Then, you can apply the takeaways to your own creative efforts.

Here's an example.

Stan Freberg's 1967 commercial for Sunsweet Prunes is one of my favorite TV spots of all time. Take a look at it here or above.

If you like it, too, spend a few minutes to break it down. Why does it work for you? What makes it unique? How does its style impact its effectiveness?

A few thoughts.

1) Consider the relatively conservative advertising environment at the time this first aired. Before Freberg, satire was rarely used in commercials, if at all. Throughout his career, he lampooned advertising itself, poking fun at its many conventions. In the Sunsweet spot, that skewering took the form of the disagreeable consumer, the over-the-top announcer and the melodramatic tagline.

Takeaway: When you start, as Freberg did, with the understanding that most consumers don't take advertising literally and certainly not as seriously as brands do, you give yourself great freedom to create for your audience without restraints. You won't be bound by what's "normal" for any marketing channel.

2) Freberg was not afraid to bite the hand that fed him! For nearly half of the commercial, his stuffy, ascot-wearing antagonist expressed disdain for the product, and not in a subtle way. The fact that the character referred to Sunsweet Prunes as "disgusting" was not only groundbreaking, but it was creatively brilliant.

Takeaway: By insulting the prunes, Freberg was giving voice to what his audience was already thinking. He didn't try to ignore or hide the fact that the product has pits and wrinkles; he acknowledged it - in a very funny way. By telling the truth - even if it's an ugly or uncomfortable truth - you earn consumer trust. And by making fun of the product, you can rouse empathy and even encourage people to rally behind it.

3) At 48 seconds into the commercial, the prune eater sniffs. In a late 1960s context, that sniff could have easily been seen as a mistake. In Freberg's spot for Jacobsen's Lawnmowers, a homeowner being asked about the grass in his front yard interrupts the interviewer three times so realistically that the audio is affected in a negative (but intentional) way. And in his Cheerios commercial, the woman being questioned on screen mistakes the cereal for a headache remedy.

Takeaway: The sniff, the interrupting and the confusion are all very human. They added a sense of realism and a unique twist that was notably odd for TV commercials of the era. What "mistakes" or human characteristics can you add to or leave in your advertising? Think of how they might draw attention or differentiate your work and how they might surprise your audience.

4) Visually, the Sunsweet commercial is just one steady shot with two quick right pans, two quick left pans and a product shot at the end. No fancy set. No special effects. No animation. The remarkable writing and perfect performances are allowed to shine even brighter because of the sparse presentation. That style makes it easy for viewers to focus on what the characters are saying and retain the message.

Takeaway: A big budget and elaborate concept don't automatically produce a great campaign. As Stan Freberg showed in so much of his advertising work, a fresh idea executed well can produce effective, memorable work that we can all learn from.

RELATED POSTS: Marketing with Humor
Why You Should Re-Think Your Radio and TV Spots
Don't Let the Radio Station Produce Your Commercials (BusinessVoice)

Marketing Students

Are you considering a career in marketing? Whether you’re about to graduate from college, transitioning from another type of work or ready to move from the client side to the agency world, read these tips before you start your job search.

Define Your Value - Think about your potential employer’s needs and pains first. Research what they do well, but focus on how you might fill a void at their agency. You’ll make a strong impression if you can say to an interviewer, “I believe I can help you in this area or with that problem.”

Then, back up your assertions with samples of your work, relevant solutions you’ve developed for others and testimonials that support your claims. In other words, show your unique and specific value.

Choose Carefully - If you’re not in a hurry to find your next job, take the time to look deeply into each agency you might join.

Learn about their culture, financial health, the industries and clients they serve. Have they had any public relations or legal issues? On average, how long do clients and employees stay with the agency? Can you talk with their current and former team members to get a sense of what the environment is like?

By doing your homework, you have a better chance of identifying the agency that’s the best fit for your skills and work style.

Here are a few thoughts from other MadAveGroup team members.

Michael Seay / Director

Ask Questions - Begin by asking yourself, “Why do I want to work in marketing?”

What is it about the field that excites you? Which of your skills and qualities would be valuable to an agency and its clients? How would you define a successful marketing career? 

If you can’t answer those questions, marketing may not be your true calling.

And then, do you like working alone or as part of a team? That answer can help you decide if you should join an agency or cut your own freelance path.

Gwen Hagen / Senior Marketing Manager

Present Your Virtual Self Well - Be careful how you present yourself online. The digital impressions you leave behind are fair game for any employer evaluating everything from your personality to your language skills and opinions.

Make sure your social media pages showcase the person you want your potential employer to see, even if that means removing potentially objectionable content. Update your LinkedIn page to share stories of how you thought creatively and solved problems. Post testimonials from former managers and clients who can attest to your past work experience and successes. And consider presenting your ideas and work samples creatively on your own website or in a blog or portfolio.

Those efforts can round out your digital footprint and give you more opportunities to show your talent and versatility to potential employers.

Jon Marker / Director of Business Development for SensoryMax

Follow Your Passion - If you’re just starting your career, don’t make the mistake of simply chasing the money. Find something you're passionate about and then find an agency that will give you the best opportunity to excel in that role. Your 45-year-old self will be very glad you pursued work that’s important to you. The financial wins will come when you show up every day, invest your care and creativity and enjoy what you do.

Most importantly, when you’re interviewing for that role, prove your passion. Show your potential employer how the work you’ll be doing is important to you and how that commitment will benefit the company.

Learn about working at MadAveGroup

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What Matters to You?

Tuesday, 18 January 2022 16:29

Ready to be Inspired?

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Seek Inspiration 1

Do you allow yourself time to be inspired?

Do you put yourself in situations to experience everyday life in new ways?

Especially if you’re a writer, designer, videographer or anyone else who makes something from nothing, seek inspiration often.

When you have more experiences to draw from, you have more perspectives and solutions to offer.

I encourage our creative team to explore music, fine art, nature, even unique foods. Then, I remind them to keep their senses tuned into those experiences. The sights, sounds and flavors can inform their work and infuse it with a fresh excitement.

One example: our agency’s writers spent a recent afternoon at a glassblowing studio, learning how to make glass paperweights. (Watch the video.) That work has nothing to do with the marketing services we provide, but it put our team into an unusual creative atmosphere for a few hours and allowed them to use their imaginations in a different way.

And at least twice a month, we analyze the work of creators from many diverse disciplines - never to copy it - but to expose ourselves to other points of view and see how we might apply the essence of what we like about it to our own content.

You can't pull water from a dry well. So, regardless of what you do, give yourself and your team permission to refill your creative tanks now and then. Read. Travel. Learn a new skill. Work with a different set of tools. Volunteer. Talk to strangers.

Actively seek inspiration.

It’ll be time well invested.

Thursday, 16 December 2021 16:52

Is Everything Fine?

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Welcoming Customer Feedback

During my lunch at a local restaurant yesterday, the waitress asked me three times, “Is everything fine?”

Yet, each time she posed the question, she was walking away from my table.

It was clear she didn’t care about my reply. In fact, she was almost out of sight each time I answered.

She was merely checking a box.

And checking boxes doesn’t produce memorable experiences, in a restaurant or any other kind of business. It won’t create loyalty or spread great word-of-mouth, either.

Doing only “what you’re supposed to do” will never surprise and delight a customer. And it won’t encourage your audience’s empathy. (Read how Minneapolis residents came to the rescue of a beloved local shop in May of 2020.) 

Is a similar lack of sincere interest in your customers’ feedback showing up anywhere in your organization?

  • Have you buried your company’s contact information deep within your website?
  • Do you purposely keep callers on hold for long periods so they’ll hang up?
  • Are you ignoring comments on your company’s social media pages?
  • Have you avoided asking key customers for their input before developing a new service?
  • Do you quickly email customers post-sale for their positive feedback even without expressing concern for their needs before the sale?
  • Have you delayed training every member of your team on how to respond to customer complaints?

It’s important to always be asking some version of “is everything fine?” But it’s even more important to actively listen to each customer’s reply, then respond in a way that makes them glad they answered your question.


Wednesday, 13 October 2021 08:00

Are You Creating Memories?

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The Cleveland Press Pumpkin

For more than a century, The Cleveland Press was a daily newspaper.

It was the first of many owned by the influential E.W. Scripps Company, later known as Scripps-Howard. The Press was recognized for its journalistic excellence and, in the mid-1960s, was named one of America's 10 best papers by Time Magazine. And when I was growing up in the '70s, The Press was delivered to our house each afternoon.

Yet, even with its rich history, its impact on the city and the hundreds of articles I read about my beloved Indians in its sports section, one memory of the newspaper stands out above the rest.

Each October, on the Friday before Halloween, the paper published a gift for the kids of Cleveland. It was the pumpkin pictured above, printed across two full pages.

Every year around trick-or-treat time, we'd see that familiar fold-out taped to windows and storm doors all over town.

Displaying his smiling orange face was a tradition as important as any associated with Christmas. I'm not exaggerating when I say the pumpkin seemed like an old friend who paid us an annual visit.

He was a unifying symbol of our city, linking us together, house to house and across neighborhoods. He was something we looked forward to; something we had in common.

So, when I saw The Cleveland Press pumpkin on a Facebook page a few weeks ago, I was immediately taken back to my youth and memories of that funny grin peeking out from homes all around town. One person who commented on the post wrote that, when he was a child, The Press pumpkin was the only Halloween decoration his family ever had.

It was just an image on a piece of newsprint. Yet, more than forty years later, that pumpkin still evokes powerful feelings for me and - I've no doubt - thousands of others.

What if your brand were the source of a wonderful memory like that?

I'd bet the people at The Press didn't set out to create a local tradition. My guess is they just wanted to surprise their readers that first year. Then, the pumpkin caught on. When you start with intent that pure, your efforts are likely to mean more.

The idea is not to sell something; it's to give of yourself for the joy of others, in however small a way. (Here's another example.)

Fulfill a need. Share your talents. Print your pumpkin.

Happy Halloween.

What You Can Learn from Norm Macdonald Microphone on a Comedy Club Stage

After Norm Macdonald died on September 14, 2021, praise for the writer / comedian poured in from all corners of social media.

And one thought appeared more than any other: there was no one else like Norm.

Talk show host Conan O’Brien: “Norm had the most unique comedic voice I have ever encountered.”

Comedian Whitney Cummings: “Norm is the pinnacle of originality.”

Actor / comedian Steve Martin: “One of a kind.”

Comedian Sarah Silverman: “Norm was in a comedy genre of his own. He was derivative of no one.”

Derivative of no one.

What a compliment. It’s an acknowledgement that Norm was not only a different type of thinker, but that he also had the courage of his convictions.

In an industry that’s filled with sound-alikes, sequels and a desire to appeal to the lowest common denominator, Norm dared to be his own type of creator. He made his individual art, presented it unflinchingly and signed off on it proudly.

Did everyone get Norm or find him funny? No. But he didn’t need total buy-in to be successful or influential or lasting.

And you don’t either.

MadAveGroup CEO Jerry Brown often expresses this idea: "I'm okay if we actively alienate 25% of the audience. I'm okay if we don’t appeal to another 50% of the audience. I just want our agency to stand out and be meaningful to that last 25%." Because, like Norm, we’re not for everybody, whether you’re a prospective client or a potential employee. And we’re not willing to change our unique perspective or culture simply because “that’s not how everyone else does it.”

What about you and your brand?

Are you unafraid to be yourself, whether it’s in how you market your company or the type of work environment you encourage?

Are you focused enough for your brand to be strongly associated with one quality as Norm was? If not, the benefit you provide might be watered down or too generic to stand out as memorable. As a result, yours may not be the first name that comes to mind when your audience needs what you sell.

Are you cultivating what’s unique and special in your team members? In your ongoing brand story? In your marketing touchpoints? In your customer relationships?

Are you bringing your singular personality and humanity to your work each day and looking for new opportunities to apply them? Norm did. And because of that, the world will be talking about him for a long time to come.

RELATED POSTS: Marketing with Humor
Are You Sounding Familiar? 
Are You Too Chicken to Stay True to Your Values? 


Content Creation 5

Each month, I have the opportunity to provide input on marketing-related questions for the Forbes Agency Council. This blog post features a few of those thoughts. It's the fifth in a series on content creation.

Question: Positive emotions associated with a brand make consumers more likely to trust and purchase from that brand. What is one thing marketers can do to create an emotional connection between a brand and its customers that builds such a positive association in their minds?

Answer: Use your advertising to give freely to potential customers. Deliver valuable, applicable information about your product category and related topics with the intent of building trusting relationships before people even walk through your door. Resist every urge to focus on "you." Instead, use your ad content to make your audience's life - and their buying decisions - easier. 

Question: According to research from BrightLocal, “85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.” If applicable, how does your business “nudge” clients or customers for reviews?

FAC Badge 2021Answer: Most people are flattered when asked to share their opinion. It's a compliment to be told "I value what you think." So, when we know clients are happy with the experience we've delivered, we ask if they'll provide feedback. We encourage our clients to ask for input from their customers as well, and then make it easy for people to share their thoughts via links to Yelp and other review sites. 

Question: With so many brands turning to inbound marketing, consumers have become inundated with an overwhelming amount of content. With so much saturation, what's one way for a brand to create differentiation in its content strategy?

Answer: There's only one you and, especially if you're the face or voice of your brand, you are your own differentiator. Don't be afraid to let your true personality and perspective show via your online presence. Your style may not be for everyone, but those it does attract will likely be longer-term consumers of your unique content and, ideally, what you sell.

Question: What are your main "go-to" resources for drawing inspiration for your work (i.e., industry publications, mentors, etc.)?

Answer: I grew up in the 1970s, but always idolized the announcers and copywriters of the ‘40s and ‘50s. I often reference their work with mine: the rhythm, the word choice and what now feels like charming humor. I also love Stan Freberg’s advertising. And when I re-watched the 1970 Crocker Bank “Wedding” spot recently I found it inspiring in its concept and sincerity. So, try looking back to look forward.

RELATED POSTS: 6 Tips on Using Testimonials
Giving vs. Taking: A Fresh Approach to Advertising
Forbes Forum: Content Creation - Part 4

Wednesday, 16 June 2021 10:00

Fatherly Advice

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Fatherly Advice from the Dads of MAG Staffers

As a marketer, you may look for feedback and advice from senior members of your team, the trades, social media groups, or even a personal mentor. But, after reading this post, we encourage you to think back to one of your earliest sources of wisdom - your dad.

In celebration of Father’s Day, we asked a few members of the MadAveGroup staff to share some of the business-related lessons their fathers imparted.

April Rietzke / Director, Marketing Management

“My dad had lots of advice for me growing up. The thought that sticks with me most is ‘a job worth doing is worth doing well.’ He gave work his all, and he’s the reason I’ll work late to get something completed as it should be. He’s why I push through when I’m faced with challenges.”

April’s dad, Bill Zitzman, is a retired tool and die maker who was with Chrysler for 20 years.

Steve Evert / EVP of Operations

Steve recalls two lessons that have had a big effect on how he approaches life. “When I was a little kid, my dad said, ‘He who hesitates is lost.’ That sentence has made more of an impact on me than any other I’ve heard. It’s stuck in the back of my brain ever since.”

The elder Evert also reminded his son that “’the world doesn’t owe you a living.’ It was his way of saying you’re responsible for your own lot in life and be grateful for anything you receive.”

Steve’s dad - also a Steve Evert - is a semi-retired commercial tire sales rep and entrepreneur.

Gwen Hagen / Marketing Specialist

“If you’re on time, you’re late. Be early or don’t be there at all.”

Gwen says she still carries her dad’s words with her to this day and applies them to her work. “I’m always early for in-person or Zoom client meetings because I constantly hear my dad’s reminder in my head.”

Terry Brassell, Gwen’s dad, is a Regional Sales Manager at Silverback Supply.

Cassandra Evans / Creative Consultant

“My dad always pushed the value of a great education,” said Cassandra. “When I was in high school, I mentioned my interest in marketing and he became my biggest advocate. My dad set up personal meetings with college professors, went on campus tours with me and even attended my orientation.

“Then, the constant learning opportunities began. My dad would point out weak TV commercials, point-of-purchase signs and billboards and say with a smile, “That’s why a good education is so important. If I ever find out you do bad marketing like that, I’ll call your job myself and tell them to fire you.”

Cassandra’s dad, Paul Kaegi, is an AVP & Sr. Credit Analyst at Premier Bank. 

Account Executive Victor Tehensky’s dad, Joe, reminded him to “always be a leader, not a follower.”

“Only look up and forward, not backwards. You’re not going that way.” That’s the advice Jim O’Bryant gave his daughter Susan Harris, our Fulfillment Manager.

And CEO Jerry Brown’s dad urged his son to “always question everything. Don’t blindly follow or implement something if it doesn’t make sense to you.”

How did your dad encourage your business or marketing goals? Did any of his advice change the course of your life? Is it still a foundational idea for you today?

And what ideas are you passing along to your kids or the younger members of your team? Tell us about the insight you share on our Facebook or LinkedIn pages.

Happy Father’s Day.

Thursday, 18 March 2021 11:30

Marketing with Humor

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Marketing with Humor

Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?

A: To avoid running into the billboard.

Like many forms of domestic fowl, you, too, may consider marketing and advertising content to be an interruption. It gets in the way of what you really want to watch, read or hear.

You may try to avoid ads by reaching for the remote during commercial breaks or even moving to the other side of the street, as members of the poultry community so often do.

Those are two of the reasons we work to make marketing funny.

The Benefits of Humor

Humor encourages people to actively engage with marketing content rather than turning away. It also increases the likelihood that the audience will enjoy their encounter with the brand. When they do, they may be willing to look at the company's future posts or listen more intently to their next radio spot.

Jim Hausfeld agrees. He's an advertising agency Creative Director who heard our Humor On Hold while judging an awards show. Jim wrote, “Superbly written copy and extremely dry humor that was a perfect match for what could've been a dull subject. I laughed out loud at points, and when a caller starts with that reaction, it's a great way to start a conversation.”

We create Humor On Hold through BusinessVoice, our Caller Experience Marketing agency. We use it to turn the negative of holding into a memorable, positively surprising moment for callers all over the country. Listen to the sample in the video below.


More Than Laughs

When applied skillfully, humor can make content about products and services more palatable to an audience. “The On Hold Marketing scripts BusinessVoice creates are not only funny, but also informative,” wrote Steve Eaton, CEO of Med-Line Express Services. “They provide valuable information about specific aspects of my operation that some may not be aware of. In the 15+ years I’ve been in business, this is by far the best marketing money I have spent.”

This five-spot radio campaign we created for Ray's Trash in Indianapolis informs listeners of just about everything the company does, but with a humorous tone. 


Using Humor Online 

What about your company's online videos? Wouldn't it be great if more people watched, shared and remembered them?

Incorporating humor can help you meet those goals, while still leaving plenty of room to inform and persuade. Take a look at this quick capabilities video we created for Binkelman Corporation. It's the first in a series.

Here are a few of the comments LinkedIn users have posted about that video:

  • "I. Love. This. Period." - Jeff S.

  • "What a fantastic corporate video. Taking something that could potentially be stale to listen to and making it fun - not to mention memorable - is genius! Nicely done." - Amy J.

  • "Love it! Great video. We need more creative work like this today." - Kerrigan Q.

The video above is a self-promotional piece we created. In 2021, it won a local Gold ADDY and Judge's Choice ADDY (details) and the same two awards at the District 5 level (details). Here's why Denver agency owner Jennifer Hohn singled out the work as award-worthy:

"It's one thing to land just one joke, but to be able to stretch this joke over a minute and 42 seconds is a pretty huge feat, and this video does that brilliantly. Really well done. Really strong stream-of-consciousness copywriting. Loved how it's something that you don't see every day. It's always fun to see work that stretches your mind and makes you laugh a little bit."

Before you as a marketer can hope to have a deeper conversation with prospective customers, you must first attract and keep their attention. Working with our team to put a humorous spin on what you do shows your potential buyers that you'll be fun to work with because you don't take yourself too seriously and that you make the effort to create content that people enjoy.

When you're ready to stake out your unique position in the marketplace with humor, drop me a line at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

For many more Humor On Hold samples and reviews, visit our dedicated humor page at


TV Commercial Tips

As in the recent past, there were certain commercials that aired during this year's Super Bowl that looked like they cost a lot more money to produce than others. They were the spots that featured several celebrities or many locations or loads of computer-generated effects.

But I found those spots to be the least effective at communicating a memorable message. They came off as all flash and no substance. ("Look at how many famous faces we hired!") Or they were so quickly edited or crammed with visual elements that they were tough to follow.

Naturally, during the biggest television event of the year, advertisers want their commercials to stand out even more than usual, but within the game environment, the glitzy spots seemed to cancel out each other.

As a contrast, imagine a Super Bowl commercial featuring a stagnant shot of one person reading quirky copy against a white background. If well executed, the spot would pop against all the others if only for its simplicity and divergent tone.

A Few Takeaways

1) When producing your advertising and buying media, think context. Is the landscape you'll be participating in loud and fast-paced? If so, consider taking a soft and slow approach with your content.

2) Spending lots of money on the creation of your advertising doesn't guarantee success. Good ideas well executed can trump a big production budget.

3) Strive to deliver value to your audience. Don't leave them wondering, "what was the point of that commercial?" Make them happy they invested their time and attention in your message.

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