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The Gate specializes in handling clients that market complicated, hard to explain, define and differentiate products and services that take thoughtful analysis and scrutiny before purchase.

Our clients don’t market superficial, disposable products like shampoo or toothpaste. They market fixed income products and $10,000 mattresses and ETFs and $450 robotic vacuums and energy efficiency programs and career certifications and auto insurance. For products like these, if consumers buy the wrong product, it matters. It matters to their pocketbook. It matters to their company’s success. It matters to their career success.

These are complex, expensive, considered purchase products and services.

For clients like these, there are no consumers or buyers. There are only “considerers”: potential buyers who can be persuaded to consider your product or service at least once until you prove yourself or until they discover a better option.

Considerers need to be treated differently. They are better educated about what is possible, what is available and what a good product or service is and what it isn’t. They have high standards. They don’t succumb to fluff or obfuscation. Communications need to be smarter, more thoughtful and more insightful.

Because of our clients, The Gate has never had a simple assignment. We’ve dealt with arcane regulatory issues, highly segmented targets, impenetrable technical specs, integrated international campaigns and multi point decision-making. Tackling the hard stuff has made us masters of finding the simple truth that cuts through complexity and gets buyers to seriously consider your product.

If you think that all agencies could be put into neat buckets like big and small or B2B and B2C, we’d like you to consider a new bucket:  an agency that makes considered purchases worth considering.

The Gate is an international advertising agency that makes considered purchase products worth considering.

Let’s be honest. No one likes being told their ideas aren’t good enough. No one likes being sent back to their desk to try again.

But think about your own experience. Hasn’t the opportunity to revise your work made it better?

Maybe not 100% of the time. But at least 90% of it?

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to work for some well-known creative directors. They weren’t just famous for the work they did, but the work they inspired. So I didn’t mind when they sent me back for a rewrite. They knew what they were talking about. My second, or third, or in one case, sixteenth effort, was always better than my first.

Of course, in advertising, editors aren’t just creative directors. They’re also account people, focus groups and clients.

Like anything else in life, there are good editors and bad ones.

The best editors keep us on point. They remove our stale thoughts. They cut extraneous words. They help us reach for more depth, more emotion and more eloquence.

When you’re creating a TV spot or print ad, there’s time to craft your thoughts. So if at first we don’t succeed, we can spend days (or even weeks) trying again.

But what if the assignment doesn’t call for traditional media? What if it calls for social media? Where does that fit into the do-it-over-until-it’s-great mentality?

Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere are obviously based on a new set of rules. Speed takes precedence over insight.

So we’ve become a culture of people who think out loud. And while the honesty is commendable, the byproduct of the unedited thought isn’t. Blogs go on longer than a Unabomber soliloquy. And, as much as I like Twitter, a tweet doesn’t allow us to put our thoughts in context.

At minimum, we risk losing our audience by boring them. At maximum, we risk losing our jobs by offending them (just ask Gilbert Gottfried).

Our mothers taught us to think before we speak. But they neglected to mention that we should also think before we tweet, blog or post.

Which brings me back to the importance of finding an editor you can trust. Bounce your ideas off them. And if they send you back for a rewrite, take their advice and rewrite it.

You don’t just owe it to your audience. You owe it to yourself.

Admit it – we’ve all done it. You see a person wearing their Gucci or driving their Benz and think to yourself, “I bet they are loaded.”  And yes, sometimes this may be true – but not always; how about all those mansions in foreclosure?

I remember what was said to me very early in my advertising career, that “perception is not always reality.” This idea not only applies to the “one-percenters” we see on the street but also to the luxury brands they adorn themselves with.

The reality is that high-end luxury brands usually have the smallest advertising budgets out there.   Granted, the universe of those they sell to is small but it is also extremely hard to reach and, therefore, expensive.  When a color page in the Wall Street Journal is nearly $300K a pop, the investment can quickly escalate.

So you may be asking yourself, “If I’m running marketing and advertising for a luxury brand – what should I be doing?”  The answer – stop selling!

Stop selling means:

  • Stop trying to communicate with the largest target audience you “think” will buy your goods.
  • Stop thinking you can convey quality (or even worse, make up for product shortcomings) by producing large and expensive ad units.
  • Stop buying media that indexes over 150 against A45+ with an average HHI of $250K+ - your buyers are so much more than a number

I can go on but let me shift to the positive, what you need to do is ATTRACT.  Changing your marketing approach to one of attraction will mean:

  •  You start thinking about your perfect customers, the influencers – those who have already bought from you, their immediate social circles and prospects that match profiles based on your ongoing research.
  • Yes, research – you can’t attract if you don’t have an intimate understanding of who you are right for and who is right for you.  You will be amazed at the digital tools out there and what you can learn at little to no cost.
  • Start building relationships – this requires one-to-one, or one-to-few marketing.  Your ad unit is now a handshake and an authentic experience.

Buying a luxury product is a high-involvement process.Consumers need to be informed and nurtured from start to end – the more familiarity with them leads to a stronger relationship and ultimately a higher likelihood of purchase – but first, you need to stop selling them!

During World War II, those words were printed on posters and displayed throughout Great Britain. And while business is not war, it’s not a bad philosophy for companies to live by.

Case in point: A few months back, I was shooting a commercial in which an actress had to smash a priceless, decorative plate into pieces with a hammer. A mysterious act that is made clear at the end of the spot.

If you work in advertising, you can imagine the discussion that went on between the agency, the client and the director. What should the plate look like? Should it be a real antique? What kind of design should be painted on it?

Eventually, the director and prop person went antiquing and came back with several choices. Which prompted more discussion. Finally, after much debate on the morning of the shoot, a plate was chosen. And film was shot.

When all the scenes that involved the plate were finished, we set up the final plate-smashing scene. As it was a one-of-a-kind plate, we knew we’d only get one take. So for safety’s sake, we decided to capture the scene with two cameras, set up at different angles.

As the DP (Director of Photography) set up the lighting, the director had the actress practice her violent act with a stunt plate.

Nothing was left to chance.

Finally, we were ready. The dozens of people on the set held their collective breath. The assistant director yelled for the cameras to roll the film. The director yelled, “Action.” The actress inhaled deeply and, in one burst, hammered the plate.

But the plate didn’t break.

“Cut!” yelled the director.

Nervous laughter rolled through the set. Maybe the actress didn’t hit the plate hard enough. Maybe this plate was harder to break than the stunt plate.

So we tried a second time. “Roll film.” “Action.” BANG!

Again, the plate survived.

But this time, the director looked more closely at the elaborately painted hero plate. Although it wasn’t broken, it now had a dent in it. His jaw dropped as he suddenly realized the plate wasn’t made of ceramic china. It was made of bronze. It was never going to break.

In a parallel universe, the director would have screamed. The clients would have cursed. And the agency would have hidden behind the craft service table. Thankfully, in our universe everyone just started laughing.

Did we waste three hours of a tight shooting day? Yes. But it didn’t take us three more hours to reshoot everything with our second choice plate. It only took one hour because everyone on the set knew exactly what they had to do. The DP knew where to put the lights. The crew knew where to lay the dolly tracks. The actress knew how hard to hammer the plate.

I no longer remember if the 10-hour shooting day went into overtime. But if it did, no one was counting.

In the end, we came home with a commercial we liked ( and a story to tell. Because, much like the British, we kept calm and carried on.

Churchill would have been proud.

So you are not the category leader.

In fact, you’re not even in the top five.

Now what?

Get over it. The truth is that most companies and many wonderful brands are not category leaders and they do just fine.

What’s their secret? They succeed by following several precepts:

1.  Chart your own course.

Categories are made in the likeness of category leaders. While it is tempting to glance jealously at the category leader and mimic their successful strategies, doing so does not guarantee your success.

Instead, turn the category leader’s comparative size and investment in the status quo against them. 

SodaStream is a terrific example of this precept in action. The beverage category does not need a new cola. And the distribution channels are already full with an endless range of flavors.  In this crowded environment, SodaStream found a way to be unique by charting its own course. Instead of focusing on new flavors or new distribution channels, they focus on how a soda is made. SodaStream doesn’t make or sell a soda. Instead, it sells the syrup and carbonated water which allows consumers to make the soda at home. A pretty unique course very far removed from Pepsi or Coke.

2. Do what your competition can’t.

Why did David beat Goliath?

He fought his own battle, not Goliath’s.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote in a New Yorker article titled “How David Beats Goliath: When Underdogs Break the Rules” that Goliaths won 71% of the time. But when the “Davids” chose an unconventional strategy, their success rate leapt from 28% to 63%.

Look at everything your competition does and find two to three things that you do well and they can’t duplicate.

3. Make your truth appealing.

While as a business you aspire to be the leader, consumers don’t care where you rank. They care about what you can do for them. So find what makes you special. There is something about you that consumers find beautiful, admirable or attractive. It’s just a matter of finding it.

Domino’s Pizza took this precept to the successful extreme when they admitted that their product was terrible. In this case, Domino’s acknowledged a very real and negative truth accepted by their customer, and used it to make their product appealing.

4. Nobody’s perfect.

General George S. Patton said: “A good plan implemented today is better than a perfect plan implemented tomorrow.” 

Marketing, like military planning, requires flexibility, speed and the acceptance that sometimes being less than perfect is the best course of action with an emphasis on the word action.

The days of perfectly coordinated program launches are dead. Instead, think of marketing as an expedition. You have a primary goal: cross the country in 35 days. How you get there is really not important. A rigid schedule of predetermined stops in predetermined cities does not allow you to change your plans and implement what you have learned along the way.

Today, we get too much consumer feedback too quickly to be rigidly devoted to inflexible plans.

The great thing about not being a category leader is the flexibility it brings. Enjoy it while you can.

Our agency places a lot of advertising for our clients in major newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and others  – so much so that rarely is there a week in the year where one of our client’s ads is NOT running.

An artist, (OK channel planner) usually likes to see the fruits of his or her labor.  Every morning, Monday through Friday, I board that cattle train known as Metro North from my home in Connecticut to my office in Manhattan and conduct a mini-ethnography of who is reading what and how much time they may be spending on the page in which our client’s ad is placed.

Off and on, I’ve been doing this for four years – I’d sit in the last car and halfway through the hour commute I’d slowly make my way to the front car and take a mental count of what I saw.  For those of you who live in or understand the northern suburbs of Manhattan, you know it is a highly affluent, white-collar population, the perfect demographic for many of our professional services clients.

When I started my daily tally, I found within that sea of newspaper grey (with some pink highlights) the majority of commuters were reading their tried and true Wall Street Journal – about 60%.  Followed by the New York Times at 20%, the Financial Times at 5%, their local paper at 5% and the remaining 10% was a hodgepodge of more obscure titles.

Four years later I have found that “what” people are reading remains relatively unchanged, but “how” they are reading has undergone a monumental shift.

The sea of newsprint is nearly gone, downgraded to a small tributary by the tsunami of the tablet reader – primarily the iPad.

Now, most of you are probably saying to yourselves well of course, we all know that Apple has sold tens of millions of iPads since its debut – you are not telling us anything new.

But here is the sea of change, or lack thereof: even though affluent consumers have changed their medium of consumption, advertisers and marketers have not adopted as quickly as the people to whom we market.

Same consumer, same content (but richer), yet we have not adapted to market smartly in this channel.   Tablet marketing from both a media and message approach should be the primary focus of agencies and marketers in 2012.  It’s a medium where you can obtain the consumer engagement of print and marry it with the interactivity and analytics and digital for a winning combination.

By Eric van den Heuvel

Once upon a time, the advertising stars had to align to produce a Super Bowl commercial. Now everyone’s doing it. And by everyone, I don’t mean every person at an ad agency. I mean every American who can fill out an entry form and upload a YouTube video.

You see, the latest trend in Super Bowl advertising is the consumer-generated TV spot (just ask Doritos or Chevy). So, as a public service, I’d like to share some tried-and-true techniques of past Super Bowl advertising with this new generation of ad makers.

Let’s start with the obvious: Kicks in the groin are always funny. Especially if they’re delivered by a senior citizen or, better yet, a baby.

Speaking of babies, it’s always good to have your babies speak. Such past examples are the talking baby for, the talking baby for Quiznos and, in its latest incarnation, the talking baby for E*TRADE.

Don’t like babies? Not to worry. How about babes? Because if you can base your commercial around a pretty woman in a bra and panties, even if you’re not selling bras and panties, you’re a shoo-in for a top 20 placement on the USA Today popularity list.

Celebrities are another shortcut to popularity. But as an advertising outsider, you probably can’t afford a Kardashian, a Baldwin brother or even a Betty White. So you might want to try the borrowed interest’s second cousin, twice removed—generally referred to as the movie parody. The Social Network, Bridesmaids and Twilight are all ripe for your product placement. (You should probably avoid Star Wars, as Volkswagen seems to own that cultural icon at the moment.)

For those with more ambitious storytelling desires, I’d also recommend the “great adventure in search of the product” technique. The math is simple: Ordinary guy performs an extraordinary act of bravery to get A) a soft drink, B) a potato chip, or C) a date with a pretty girl… who just happens to be waiting for him in a bra and panties.

Follow my advice and your commercial will practically write itself. Probably because it’s already been written and you’re only retracing someone else’s steps.

The truth is, all the techniques I’ve mentioned are sacred cows. You’re better off avoiding them and doing something that hasn’t been done before.

Yup, that’s hard. Even if you write commercials for a living. So if that fails, then by all means have one character kick another in the groin. It may be an old joke. But according to focus groups, it’s always funny.

by David Bernstein


The Gate hires Ulysses S. Grant to fill a position as Director, Agency Entertainment.
Ulysses comes to us from France. This is his first job.