Monday, February 28, 2011

The Mt. Cheaha 50K - A Magnet for Great People

What a great day! Mt. Cheaha State Park is only 1 ½ hours away from Atlanta and home to the highest point in the State of Alabama and the 50k Mt. Cheaha Trail. We parked our car at the top of Mt. Cheaha at 6 AM, watched the sun rise on a beautiful clear day and then climbed on to a bus for the 31 mile drive to the trail head. The Mt. Cheaha 50K trail is a spectacular hike on a narrow single track through dense forests that weaves across numerous streams, through tranquil valleys and over scenic mountains with inspiring views.

I am convinced that this trail was designed for a three day back pack adventure hiking 10 or 11 miles per day. Many times yesterday, I was dreaming about the steaks cooking on the open fire the first night and the pasta primavera we would be eating on the second night. I thought about the warm oatmeal and bananas we should have been enjoying for breakfast and the smoked turkey sandwich on a bagel with multigrain TOSTITOS and humus for lunch. I even thought about the trail mix and fresh oranges we might have had during our morning and afternoon breaks. But those thoughts were only hallucinations or temporary mental escapes from reality. Because instead of this being a sensible three day hike, I was on a 50K trail run…officially labeled an Ultra Marathon.

I have always wondered what kind of nut would run an Ultra Marathon and yesterday was my first opportunity to find out. What kind of person would wake up at 5 AM, drive at least 30 minutes to the top of the mountain to catch a school bus for a 50 minute drive to the start and run 31 miles back to highest point in Alabama? Clearly, the 250 people now packed into five school buses all had one thing in common. While the men and women came from all over the Southeast, from different economic and educational backgrounds, they all were committed to doing the same thing – celebrating life by staying in incredible shape, hanging around positive “can do” people, enthusiastically tackling challenges, and having a lot of fun in the process. What a great group of people.

I had the pleasure of traveling with 12 of my running or triathlon buddies from Atlanta (or a friend of a friend) and two Ironmen from Baltimore. The race started at 7:30 AM in sunny 40 degree weather and immediately converged into a single track trail that made passing impossible. That was a good thing because the early pace was controlled and sensible.

I ran, walked, rock hopped, and climbed the first 12 miles with Scott Boylan and Rick Armiger from Baltimore, and George Shaak and Jack Spartz from Atlanta. My biggest challenge was to avoid having my nose hit the ground. The trail was full of hidden rocks, roots, holes, and branches that were natural foot grabbers. Unfortunately, George tripped and used the right side of his face to cushion the fall on a rock at about the 10th mile and had to call it a day at mile 18. Scott came down with a bad cold on Friday and by mile 15, could not get control of his coughing or breathing and joined George for the ride to the finish. Rick, Jack and I continued on sharing life experiences and enjoying the great scenery as the miles started to fly by. We crossed a creek at mile 22 and Jack could only see the creek as a solution for his cramping legs and jump in, shoes and all for a February ice bath. I would not see Jack again until our emotional reunion at the finish line.

Rick and I continued to share stories and until mile 26 when my lighter frame (Rick is a Clydesdale – a triathlete over 200 pounds) was too much of an advantage and for the first time in the race, I was alone. I passed Calvin Gray, our expert ultra marathoner as he was walking mile 27. It was amazing to me how happy and cheerful that guy could be as he dealt with some cramping and was anticipating the wall ahead. Calvin was clearly living life to its fullest.

With only 3 miles to go, someone with a very bad sense of humor put a 900 foot hill, cliff, pitch or rock climb in the course. I was glad I was still wearing my gloves, because this was a two hand and two legs kind of climb. I think it would have been a lot more enjoyable as the second mile of a three mile hike, but on this day, it was the final test, the final obstacle, the final assent to the finish line. I caught up with three guys and started up a new conversation as we climbed up the mountain. No one on the course was a stranger today. The last two miles were relatively flat and very anticlimactic. This was clearly a day to celebrate the adventure of the journey and not about the destination. As Jack so appropriately said earlier in the run, this was a journey that no one was in a hurry to end.

My time of 7:29 was about 1 ½ hours slower than my original naive expectation, and I could not have been happier. Fred Soller, Jeff Tomey and Dave Curry, the young studs of our group were so far out in front that they had changed and had lunch before I got to the top. The same can be said for our two ladies – Carey Kilton and Corinne Odermatt. Dick Jones and Bishop Leatherbury slugged it out together and came in shortly after Jack. Gary Kessler stepped in a hole at the 3rd mile and was pulled off the course. He wrote me last night and said he would be looking for another 50 K to try it again as soon as he comes off injured reserves.

As for the food, well the steaks, oatmeal and pasta were only a Fig Newton of my imagination. I ate all day to try to keep up with the calories I was burning. Meals consisted of handfuls of M&Ms with peanuts, peanut butter filled pretzels, bananas and a couple peanut and butter sandwiches. As for beverages, water and an athletic drink called Heat. I think it is made from chalk dust out of a primary school class room. At least that is what it looked and tasted like.

I came away with three lessons from yesterday’s event.
1. Appreciate whatever you have. I was fortunate to be able to complete the course today, injury free. Three of my friends were not so lucky. Two of the Atlanta Team reminded us all to appreciate just being healthy as Jack ran in honor of his brother Jimmy who is recovering from his second stroke and Calvin ran in honor of his friend Brian who is having his sixth and final Chemo treatment this week.
2. Never underestimate the importance and true value of camaraderie. Having shared experiences with friends always trumps “material things.”
3. Actively participate in events that attract people who are living life as an adventure. Their positive mental attitude and “can do” spirit is infectious.

Special thanks to the Todd Henderson (Cheaha 50K Race Director,) all my friends who I mentioned above who were part of this experience, and all the volunteers who hung out in the middle of the woods all day to staff the six aid stations.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Wien's Irreverent Review of Super Bowl Advertising 2011

Super Bowl XLV will be remembered as the clash of the classics…two championship teams that date back to 1919 for the Packers and 1933 for the Steelers. The critical difference in the game was turnovers. Pittsburgh gave up the ball to Greenbay in two interceptions and two fumbles. And that is pretty much what we watched in the commercials – too many interceptions of the message by advertisers being too creative and too many fumbles by advertisers losing focus on their core customers.

In last night’s contest, the real winners where the ads developed by counterintuitive thinkers. Professionals who were more interested in breaking through the clutter by communicating something very specific and unique to their target audience. Unfortunately, too many companies follow the path of humor and entertainment through the use of impressive creativity while forgetting the most basic principle of successful advertising – speak to your target audience in a way that is compelling and motivates them to do something different.

First Quarter

Bud Light (Hack Job) - When a house make-over is just placing a six pack of Bud Light in the kitchen and cases in the yard, I start to wonder if the only thing they did right is name the commercial a “Hack Job.” A disappointing start for a company known for only the best.

Doritos (Pug Attack) - Here is the reason why you do not let the consumer pick your advertising. (This commercial was developed by consumers and was the winner of an internet contest. ) Funny – Yes….Suspenseful – Yes again. Kept my attention – You bet. Watching a loser tease a dog and then get “Crunched” – Rewarding. Having the loser represent my brand – Disappointing. (Discloser – Mike Wien worked on Doritos as a brand manager in the 1970s).

Audi (Breaking out) - High net worth individuals (Audi customers) stage a breakout from prison. Fifty five seconds of entertainment that is a funny collection of clichés for the upper crust. For six million dollars, you would think they would let the Audi break-out and not get lost in the creative.

Doritos (Best Part) - This commercial of a guy sucking another guys fingers to get the Nacho Cheese seasoning makes the first Doritos commercial look great. Who are these guys trying to appeal too? This is the Super Bowl. What were they thinking? You can’t outsource advertising to twitter!

Chevrolet (Misunderstanding – Eco ) - Chevy does a nice job driving home the main benefit…42 miles per gallon. However the commercial features an audience that has hopefully had their drivers licenses revoked. While they used humor to drive home their impressive fuel efficiency, if they were trying to communicate anything positive about the brand, no one could hear them.

Pepsi Max (Love Hurts) - Wife acts as a warden in keeping hubby away from bad calories, but approves Pepsi Max with no calories and maximum flavor. Fun concept until they try to ad humor in the mix. Accidentally hitting an attractive girl with the can and running away fell short. The surprise here is a bad one and prohibits this commercial from being a knock-out. (Discloser – Mike Wien worked at Pepsi in the 1980s)

Bud Light (Product Placement) - When a director is forced to include products in his feature film, he takes matters into his own hands and puts Bud Light everywhere. It is absurd and attacks some of the crazy practices by the establishment. Welcome back Bud Light. Finally a commercial that is not so light on connecting with the target.

Chevrolet (Tommy – Silverado) - A take off from the old Lassie TV series – Tommy getting into trouble and the Silverado getting dad to come to the save the little boy. An entertaining commercial, but weak on selling the brand. I am not sure how the Silverado can rescue the advertising team on this one.

Pepsi Max (Automatic Cooler) - Preppies making fun of the fat guy. Oh no, another cliché. But the fat guy makes friends with the guy who has an automatic cooler launcher and has a Pepsi Max launched right into the Preppies…you know whats. Dumb might be funny, but not for launching a brand.

Doritos (Clean Up) - When a guy leaves for three days and asks his roommate to feed the fish, the guy does what is expected, let’s the place fall apart. As the roommate returns Doritos helps make everything come to life including grandpa coming back from his spilled ashes. This one should have never been brought back to life.

Kia (Optima) - A production extravaganza that has the Optima being stolen by everything from a high tech helicopter to a UFO. The good news is that the car was the center of attention. The bad news is that the message was also stolen by the creative.

Second Quarter

Bridgestone (Copy all) - Have you ever done that…copied all on the wrong message? I have and our star did exactly what I wish I could have done. Great commercial. I just wish the connection with tires was a little more obvious.

Chevrolet (Discovery Volt) - Well, if one of the strategies for Chevy is to remind us why we are proud to be an American (without hitting us over the head with a hammer), they have succeeded. Focusing on breakthroughs that have defined the future instead of the benefits of an electric car is counterintuitive, and very effective.

Go Daddy – Go Daddy has become one of the leading web site address registration companies by being irreverent. If their objective is to drive men to their web site and drive brand awareness, then they have scored on this one.

ATT – (Coverage) – A really pretty artistic commercial showing flowers spreading like Kudzu and all over major cities. Well done…I just hope this was paid for by ATT corporate donations as part of their support the arts program and not by the marketing department. If it was marketing, someone needs to be pruned.

Brisk (Eminem) - Eminem does a very convincing job of telling us why he does not make a very good spokesperson for a product. The folks at Brisk should have taken his advice.

Budweiser (Outlaw) - The bad guy cowboy shows up at the dusty bar ready to kill everyone for being out of Bud. Fortunately, the Bud is delivered just in time. Few can get away with this kind of entertainment. Budweiser did. Unfortunately, this was the annual Clydesdale commercial and it galloped away from the emotional heritage that made the Clydesdale commercial a perennial winner.

Teleflora (Love your rack) - Giving flowers is suppose to be emotional. The set up was great, guy trying to put into words something special to go with the flowers. Based on what he wrote, even the most beautiful bouquet will be wilted on delivery.

Motorola Xoom - This was a take-off on two of the greatest Super Bowl ads in history…The Apple 1984 commercial which set the standard for Super Bowl commercials and Apple’s Lemmings that was aired the following year. Motorola aired a brilliant commercial about how technology might play a role in bringing us all back to more personal relationships. I loved it…only I thought it was an Apple commercial for iPad. I hope Motorola gets Apple to pay for 80% of this one!

Coke (Fire Breathing Dragon) - How far can we push animation with the technology available today? Coke delivers an incredibly impressive commercial with a dragon being satisfied by a Coke. Another example of technology and creative snuffing out any message.

VW Passat (Darth Vader) - A cute commercial that focuses on a little boy trying to test his powers in his Darth Vader suit. The dad making the light blink by remote control makes the little boys day. If a remote control key lock was a new idea, it would have made Volkswagen’s day too.

Snickers (Logging) - Last year, I took a lot of criticism for not loving Betty White getting clobbered. This year, Rosanne is the one that gets clobbered and Richard Lewis makes an appropriate appearance as the guy who needs an energy boost. The best thing about this one is the great casting. If the target is an older audience that watches Curb your Enthusiasm and remembers Rosanne’s TV show, then it works. But when did the number one candy bar in American walk away from the younger generation. Someone else needs to be clobbered.

Career Builder (Parking Lot) - The star in this commercial is an everyday nice guy that is surrounded by chimpanzees and “stuck between a bad job and a hard place.” This commercial speaks to all those people who have hung on to a bad job in a difficult economy and can’t wait to bail when the timing is right. This is proof that humor can support the brand’s reason for being and the main character can be a hero in the eyes of the viewer.

Chevrolet (Facebook Status) – Chevy’s ideal target is the young consumer buying their first car. These new buyers want something that is both economical and “with-it.” A guy checking a voice activated link to his facebook account after dropping his date off speaks right to this audience and demonstrates the power of focusing on a specific target.

Carmax (Kid in a candy store) - This commercial started off with a great premise that focused on the real advantage of Carmax. However, the rapid fire vignettes that follow could only be designed to confuse the viewer and garble the message. They continued their creative misfiring in the third quarter with a nostalgic look at customer service by losing the message in the creative.

Third Quarter (Go first) - Fun concept, but they should have listened to their own advice and let the commercial they aired in the fourth quarter go first. Cars talking about their reviews was right on strategy and drove home the reason for being in a creative way.

eTrade (Baby with tailor) - Who is the target…a less sophisticated investor. Who is watching out for that investor – eTrade. Another example of how the message can be sewn in to a funny and cute commercial.

Best Buy (Ozzie buy back) - Best buy has a great message – they will buy back your obsolete technology. Great message, but only Ozzie can make it so complicated, it becomes confusing. And the Super Bowl is the wrong vehicle for this type of detailed message. Pass the chips and dip please.

Home (Hotel disaster) - This is a great web site and a wonderful product. But if you have to spend most of the commercial attacking your competition, the viewer is bound to get lost and miss the message. Fifteen yard penalty for trash talk.

Groupon (Eating in Tibet) - When a humanitarian looking commercial takes a sharp left turn and tries to insert humor and introduce a new service concept, someone is bound to get sick. This was not a good deal.

Coke (Guard Station) - Two soldiers from opposing countries who might have been alumni from Hogan’s Heros guard their respective sides of the border. When one guard shares a Coke with the other, the viewer is only left with what has made Coke the number one brand in the world for over 100 years. Simple, straightforward, effective.

Stella Artois (Romantic Singer) - This commercial is one of the many fall-outs from Anheuser-Busch being purchased by InBev. The folks at Budweiser can’t very well ask for an exclusive on beer commercials when Stella Artois is part of the same company. But, they also have an obligation for stopping a sister brand from doing something stupid in the United States. Wrong venue for this emotionally sappy story line.

Fourth Quarter

Bud Light (Dog Sitting) – The perfect fantasy for the beer drinking guy. A house full of dogs serving an endless supply of Bud Light. They got this one right.

Pepsi Max (I wonder) – Guy and girl thinking two different thoughts. I think we would feel better about the brand if they both kept their thoughts to themselves. Another miss for a company that use to be on top of the charts.

Volkswagen (New Beetle) – Here is another example of how an advertiser can use great animation to create excitement about their brand. The animation was relevant and left the message in good shape.

Verizon (iPhone) – Verizon finally broke ATT exclusive on the iPhone. If I had a message that big, I would not be so subtle about communicating it. This one looked more like a commercial for iPhone with Verizon being an afterthought. Maybe Apple paid for this one too.