First, a cork-popping congratulations to the Broncos, and condolences to all the Panthers fans. Now comes the Monday-morning quarterbacking and all the after-game analyses, almost as much fun as following this year’s election season!

But personally, I think the big winner in the game was Kia Motors, whose “Walken Closet” commercial was one of the truly great moments in Super Bowl advertising.  Feel free to click here to watch the spot and then come right back for the play-by-play.


Welcome back!

For a commercial – or any advertising, for that matter – to be effective, it has to accomplish several critical feats: It has to break through and attract attention, it has to be clear in its fundamental selling message, the message has to be compelling, and it has to be memorable when you walk away from it.

I’ve argued for years that most Super Bowl commercials only accomplish the first and last requirements. You watch and enjoy them, you may laugh at their gags and you talk about them after the game.  But on the selling-side, most hardly make it past the scrimmage line.  They don’t leave you wanting to know more about the product or even “get” the product’s unique selling proposition (USP), the thing that makes the product unique among its competitors.  That surely can’t be said of the Kia spot.

First off, who can’t be drawn into Christopher Walken’s creepily intense performance no matter what he does? And the gag about the “Walken closet” is hilarious. But when Walken metaphorically compares most mid-sized sedans to uninspired beige socks and the Optima to the “world’s most exciting pair of socks,” in a way only he can deliver, he absolutely nails the Optima’s unique selling proposition: a car with “pizzazzzzz” in a world of otherwise boring mid-sized competitors. If you’re thinking about buying a mid-size after watching this commercial, you’re compelled to at least check out the Optima. (After all, who wants to be boring and beige?)

This lesson shouldn’t be lost on funeral service advertisers, who are already on an uphill battle considering their subject matter. Are your ads beige or do they have pizzazz, capturing the audience’s attention amid the clutter? Do your ads and other marketing speak to why your business alone serves their interest in a way others’ don’t? Is your content interesting enough that it deserves a second viewing? You don’t need to spend millions of dollars to have a celebrity speaking for you. You just need to not settle for marketing that’s mediocre and expected.

In a world of “beige” mid-size sedans, there’s the Kia Optima. In your competitive world where there’s so much sameness, where do you stand? C’mon, punch it!


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedIn. See agency work via this link.







Going to HeavenIn another couple of months, the next major Funeral association trade show, the ICCFA Convention, will take place.  And like the NFDA Convention, the exhibit hall will showcase all that’s new and not-so-new, from caskets to chemicals, memorial products both physical and digital, and practically every kind of support service one might need or imagine.

Truth be told, we always feel a bit underwhelmed with the amount of sameness, or at least expectedness on the floor.  Even when do we see new and noteworthy products, the manner in which they’re presented is often lackluster, and many times, it’s not at all clear what is being offered…or why.

OK, to be fair, I developed my chops walking the floor of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the largest, gaudiest, showiest, loudest and most competitive trade show there is.  But that’s all the more reason those exhibitors have to be at their very best.  The fact is, the lessons learned from CES can be carried over to exhibitors at funeral conventions, or even the smallest funeral home wishing to have a presence at the local county fair.  In fact, as I write this, we’re helping a mortuary-cemetery combo develop a new booth for an upcoming community Spring Festival.  Wherever and whenever your firm is out in front of a public gathering, that’s an opportunity to make a great impression.

Here are several considerations as you think about your exhibit booth.

Have a single-minded message.  All too often, exhibitors want to sell everything they have and tell attendees every story they can possibly gather up.  In truth, most booths end up looking like either 3-dimensional catalogs or a garage sale.  In either case, they ignore the fact that attendees are often overwhelmed with noise, colors, crowds and a plethora of products.  Better to simplify message and presentation.  The less you say, but the stronger you say it, the better the chance that you’ll be noticed and remembered.

Sell it in advance.  In most cases, attendees aren’t there to see your booth specifically. So you’re just one among hundreds of exhibitors.  That is, unless you let attendees know in advance that you’ll be there and have something of value they’d be missing if they don’t stop by.  If you’re lucky enough to have an attendee’s list, send out several teaser emails a week or so in advance.  Or send out post-cards.  Or advertise the fact that you’ll be there.  Make sure you are clear and single-minded in the reason WHY anyone should stop by.  If you have an offer or promotion at your booth, make sure to present this early as an incentive.

Make your booth about your customer, not about you.  Just as in your advertising, the customer is only interested in one thing: “What’s in it for me?”  So theme your booth with that in mind.  Being merely a presentation of “what we have” misses the point entirely.  Consider a few large signs that telegraph your value proposition – from the customer’s point of view.  Again, clarity and simplicity are critical.

Keep your promotions relevant.  If you’re giving away a prize, try to make that prize as connected to what you do or sell as much as possible.  Remember, it’s not just about trying to draw a crowd to your booth, but bringing over qualified shoppers.  Having your booth swamped with people who would never use your services takes away the opportunity to talk to the prospects you really do want to meet.  Staff time is a valuable commodity you can’t afford to waste.  In that same vein, why would you have a candy jar when you know as well as anybody that you’ll only end up giving away lots of candy without creating leads or generating real interest?

Take names and ask questions later.  If you do offer a promotion or give-away, make sure that your entry form does a good job of pre-qualifying the leads so you don’t waste time later in your follow-up calls. Make sure that you put on your entry form big letters requesting that the person write their information clearly.  Also, there are a number of online contest services and apps you might want to look at that can make information-gathering easy, which can also help you with building your Facebook likes and grow your email blast program.  It’s good form, however, to offer an opt-out check-box so that attendees don’t feel you’ll hound them with spam once the contest is over. (Don’t worry, most people don’t check that box.)

And have a post-show plan.  Like golf, tennis and smart sales practice, everything is in the follow-through. The biggest failure of exhibitors is what they don’t do after the show.   They don’t have a program to follow up with their leads.  They don’t send thank-you’s to their attendees.  They don’t publicize their booth attendance or prize-winners or post photos and videos to Facebook.  Well in advance of the event, you should already have a plan that includes how you’ll manage the leads and keep the glow alive long after the show.

I often quote Woody Allen who observed that 80% of success is just showing up.  For many businesses, funeral homes especially, a trade show or community event such as a street festival or county fair is the only opportunity to be seen and actually engage with the public.  Don’t blow it before you’ve even begun: Plan ahead, think strategically and Dare to be Different as you grow your business presence.


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedIn. See agency work via this link.



angerOne of the most challenging efforts in marketing is having any sense of whether or not a new campaign will work before it’s launched.

Even with the most scientific eye-movement copy-testing, focus group testing, or man-on-the-street intercepts, you never really know until the campaign hits.  Besides which, few marketers in the funeral biz have the luxury of affording this kind of advanced reconnaissance.

So instead, what often happens is a proposed ad or website or commercial is passed along to others in the office and the matter is settled with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down by the aggregate.  Which isn’t much better in the end than tossing it into the wind and seeing where that takes it.  It could be nixed by the boss’s wife because she doesn’t like the color of the sweater worn by the model, or approved by the CEO because his son came up with the logo.

I propose an entirely new (albeit equally unscientific) way to evaluate a campaign before it launches that could serve your marketing efforts quite well.  And it costs you nothing!

It’s to imagine the launch of your new campaign and think about it through your competitors’ eye.  Ask yourself, will my competitors hate our new campaign?  Will one of their staff tear out the ad, run down the hall to his or her boss and say, “have you seen what these guys are running!”

Yep, simple as that.

If you can imagine that they’ll react with surprise and upset, you’ve got a potential winner on your hands.  If, on the other hand, you envision their merely noticing your new message and then moving on to other matters, it’s unlikely your sales needle will be jarred very much.  When we create a new campaign, our unwritten goal is to create advertising the client’s competitors will hate.

I’ve had the joyful experience more than once of speaking with a client’s competitor who didn’t know we did the very campaign they railed against, complaining that it was hurting their business.  Oh, the indescribable thrill of hearing them groan!

A variation on that theme is to imagine how you’d feel if the competition, rather than you, ran the marketing campaign you’re now considering.  When we recently presented a series of billboard concepts to the client, they seemed undecided on which concept to choose.  But the moment we asked them which one they hoped their competitors wouldn’t run, the answer was swift: “That one!”

Being able to step outside of your own shoes brings with it the objectivity you need to consider the good, the bad and the ugly in your own marketing activities.  But personally, I like adding to that the gamesmanship of competition – doing what will tick off the other guys – for that means it has a sharper edge on which to carve out more business for yourself.

In any case, I’m sure you’d rather develop marketing your competitors will hate than to hate the marketing they’re aiming at your customers.  Right?


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedIn. See agency work via this link.



December-Calendar-Clipart-3Yikes!  It’s December.  Where oh where did the year go?  As I think about my end-of-year tax planning and all the other things that Q4 means, it has occurred to me that everybody (hopefully) has a Q4 in life.  And that’s a very important concept when it comes to funeral marketing.

We all tend to imagine we’re in a particular phase of life: childhood, adolescence, adulthood, mid-life, and so on. Often these phases are ushered in by some number (age) or rite of passage (graduation, marriage, first career job, parenthood, etc.). And as we enter each new phase, we tend to imagine what’s in store for us next.  Aging is an undeniable phase of life, one that could be thought of as Q4.

In the Beatles song, the number that signifies Q4 happened to be 64.  But for most Americans, it’s 65. Traditionally, 65 was the age of retirement, by choice or by policy. But better health and a worsened economy have pushed the age of retirement to 67, 70 or even later. Still, at 65, Medicare kicks in and that sends a very clear and undeniable signal that Q4 has certainly arrived.

The significance for funeral professionals is that only in Q4 does one become fully aware that mortality is not an academic discussion; it’s real.  After all, within everyone’s Q4, funeral attendance starts going up, often within one’s own close circle of family and friends.  It’s how Q4 closes out for each of us.

So what do we do with this piece of knowledge?

First, respect that this graying group represents your very best pre-need marketing target. All the others have a much easier time denying the immediacy – if not the inevitability – of pre-need planning.  If you’re thinking Twitter, be thinking Facebook instead, or more likely the Times, Oldies radio and CNBC.

Second, consider who falls within the 65-70 year old group: the leading edge of the Baby Boomers, a generation unlike any previous one, whose values systems dictate a radical change from traditional funeral marketing.  Remember, they’re the ones who invented Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll. They’re not going out the way their parents did.  They want choices their parents never considered.  And even though they know they’ve hit Q4, they’re not “old” by their definition.

Third, remember that the older population of 70-80 year olds are also the same generation who brought you surfing, Elvis and the Beatles.  Instead of thinking about Grandpa Walton, be thinking about Mick Jagger (72).  How are you going to sell him?  What are you going to sell him?

Fourth, consider what the values set is for folks in their Q4: security, happiness, longevity, health, choices, and the hope that their family will be secure. How can you harness these values?

The message I’m proposing is to keep your eyes on the target, but know for certain what the target is all about.  Marketing in a fashion that’s too young excludes the Q4 buyer just as much as marketing in a fashion that’s too old.  Be clever but relevant. Be informative but interesting. Look to the media that attracts the Q4 consumer but use it as compellingly and unexpectedly as possible.

As we move through the calendar’s Q4, here’s a wish that you close out your own year on a note of prosperity. And that Q1 of 2016 set you on a course for greatness ahead.


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedIn. See agency work via this link.



iPad RockwellThe Thanksgiving holiday is close at hand.  Usually, for me, that means visions of massive quantities of food and then laying around for hours thereafter regretting how much I gorged myself with all those extra helpings.  But I also try to take time to reflect on the many blessings that have been granted me.

One of those blessings I’d not given thought much about in the past but now pause to appreciate is my involvement in the world of Funeral Service.

Over my many years in marketing, working on everything from real estate to food products to financial services, few categories of business have given me such personal satisfaction as funeral care.  First of all, the people who are called to serve others at the most difficult times of their lives are extraordinary individuals. They give of themselves well in excess of the financial rewards. Who wouldn’t want to work with such people?  Yes, perhaps I might have to do a little more hand-holding at times, not travel to the outer edges of creativity as I might with some new electronic gizmo or fast food chain, and be satisfied with smaller budgets compared to national advertisers.  But in return, I enjoy the friendship of some of the finest human beings on the planet. And I get to create work that’s as human as one can possibly imagine.

And to that point, I feel that what I do, what my agency creates, by association, helps families ease their pain, or better yet, prevents their pain from being unmanageable through pre-need planning.  Every time a funeral service client says that the advertising we do for them brings more families through the door, I know that in some small measure, I had something to do with that, and that’s a very fine feeling.

A few years ago, taking a brief hiatus from advertising, I ran an aerial cremation scattering business and often dealt with families directly, taking their loved ones’ remains into my care (and my plane).  It was rewarding beyond measure, helping them to bring closure.  For the emotional rewards alone, I would have continued that enterprise longer, but my passion for the creative challenges of advertising and marketing called me back.  I’m glad I was there.  I’m glad I’m now here with you.

So to my funeral home clients, my cemetery clients, my clients who support those businesses through the products and services they provide, and to all others engaged in this important work, here is my Thanks. Thank you for allowing me and those I work with to be part of what you do.  It’s a privilege and a blessing.

May you have a Thanksgiving season of bounty, of love and of peace.


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedIn. See agency work via this link.

It’s all too easy to let your marketing go down the expected route.  And that’s what 99% of marketers do. But the brands that stand out and attain prominence are the ones that demonstrate that they stand for something better.

Indianapolis is a lovely city and the October weather was perfect for a gathering of funeral directors. We were there, of course, at the NFDA Annual Convention, red shoes and all.  As usual, we’re always on the lookout for something fresh and interesting, a hint that the funeral business might be on its way to new and more productive changes.  What we saw instead, for the most part, was a lot more of the same.  And I do mean MORE.

If you wanted to find a funeral coach builder, there were at least a dozen.  How about casket companies? Nearly two dozen.  If you were looking for pre-need funding, there were 23 booths on the floor.  There were even more urn companies: 26!  Even the number of companies offering post-cremation metal recycling had doubled from last year.

And yet, hardly any booth successfully stood out (unless they had lots of money and ate up major square footage).  Rolf and I went from booth to booth, first trying to discern a unique “reason-why” from the booth display itself, and when that failed, we asked the exhibitors what made them different.  Invariably, each told us practically the same value proposition that we had just heard from their competitors.

As I was looking at uninspired, bullet-point-laden booth graphics and a sea of sameness, it dawned on me that, whether the business category is funeral service suppliers, funeral service providers, or shampoo manufacturers, the most common marketing problem in the world is this: far too many companies are taking the expected road to their messaging and so they remain fundamentally invisible.

For instance, it’s “expected“ that if you’re a funeral provider, your ad will feature a photo of you and your staff next to an inset shot of your facility, and you’re going to talk about how much you care, how long you’ve been part of the community, and how it’s your family serving other families . . . just like a thousand other funeral homes including, obviously, your competitors.  The result is your audience dumps you into their mental file cabinet as “just another funeral home,” a category that they’d just as soon avoid anyway. Voila, you’re a commodity, a generic me-too, not a brand.

One NFDA exhibitor that was certainly the exception is Dodge.  They, like several other companies who offer multiple categories of products from chemicals to makeup to supplies, had their various wares out on display.  But what they did that was unique was present their brand not as an “end” but as a “means” to helping funeral directors be the best they can be and honor their passion to serve.  Surrounding their booth were headers that weren’t merely big logos or category banners but told a story funeral directors and embalmers could easily identify with.  They presented their brand with a unique and meaningful point of view, the one belonging to their customers. As shown here.

Dodge Banner Trio

Click image to enlarge

It’s all too easy to let your marketing go down the expected route.  And that’s what 99% of marketers do. But the brands that stand out and attain prominence are the ones that demonstrate that they stand for something better. At the risk of being different and possibly even misunderstood, they stray from the path well worn by their competition.  Thus, they’re the few that are truly noticed, whether at a trade show, in a newspaper, on TV or online.

If you’re in the role of creating marketing for your firm, start by looking at what every other company does in your category and then DON’T DO IT.  Leave the sameness and the expected to your competition. Seek out a fresh story and tell it in a way that perhaps you weren’t planning to take, one your audience didn’t see coming.

You do this and you avoid the most common marketing mistake made by nearly everyone.  Besides, it’s always cheaper to out-think your competition than to out-spend them.


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedIn. See agency work via this link.

Do prospects have a clue who your company really is?

mcgraw-hill-ad1Over 55 years ago, specifically in 1958, a powerhouse publishing organization, McGraw-Hill, ran an ad in their magazines that became known as the “Man in the Chair” ad and you’ve probably come across it because it’s become iconic. The ad showed a stern faced, balding,  middle-aged executive wearing a bow tie and a brown suit, sitting in an office chair, hands clasped together and looking intently at the reader as if the reader was a salesperson. To the left of his picture were 7 very direct assertions, followed by an even more pointed question:

I don’t know who you are.

I don’t know your company.

I don’t know your company’s product.

I don’t know what your company stands for.

I don’t know your company’s customers.

I don’t know your company’s record.

I don’t know company’s reputation.

Now—what was it you wanted to sell me?

I think it would be safe to say that the importance of being able to address these questions is as important today as it was in 1958. Crazy how things don’t change. And it doesn’t matter if your business is a B2B or B2C marketer.  It doesn’t matter if you sell DNA preservation directly to consumers, urns to funeral homes or run a chain of cemeteries, how you create and nurture your reputation in advance of a sales call can make all the difference between success and failure to launch. And one could probably argue that in today’s digital and social media world, it’s maybe even more powerful. (Click on the video at the bottom to see what I mean.)   It remains a clear outline of fundamental sales and marketing questions every organization must be able to answer. How your people and marketing efforts address these seven “I don’t know’s” might very well determine if you get the new business…or not.

I don’t know who you are

When was the last time you made a major purchase without knowing anything about the company? Every sale requires a knowledge base or understanding of the brand or the person prior to a sale taking place. Now, however, salespeople spend less time on cold-calling, so that familiarity has to come from somewhere else. What is that “somewhere else” for your organization?

I don’t know your company

Buyer behavior has changed a lot… in even the past five years. The main change is that today, a buyer has practically infinite sources of information.  In fact, the buyer probably doesn’t want to talk to the seller or vendor because they’re the least credible source of information. So the buyer goes around and does all their research often without first talking to the seller.  And could conceivably talk to many, many sellers before getting around to speaking to you.  The implication is that sales opportunities depend on how easy it is for the buyer to find your info and say, “I’ve heard of you.” And the only way you can do that is by producing really amazing, useful, relevant content that a prospect is happy to engage with, happy to consume and happy to share. How strong is your presence in the digital and social media space?  How visible are you when your buyer is reading magazines or watching TV?

I don’t know your company’s product

Personal selling is still an important part of having people know something about you, but not in the way it used to be. Word-of-mouth was always important, and it’s ten times easier to get word-of-mouth advice today as a result of the all the online resources available.  People want the information right away, and if it’s not available or where they think it should be, they’ll look somewhere else. Another prospective sale — which could have led to numerous repeat sales — goes to a competitor. Your making sure that product features and benefits are clearly known beforehand will be the difference between speaking to a prospect or not.

I don’t know what your company stands for

Whether you call it a USP or value proposition, without it, without a good one, you’re dead!  If you can’t very quickly describe what makes you, your service or your company truly special in the eyes of the customer, don’t expect your customer to do it for you.  By default, they’ll just put you on the shelf called “commodity” and there you’ll stay. To have a lasting, profitable business, building both brand awareness and credibility is job-one in marketing. After all, it is much easier to open doors when the potential customer inside knows who you are, what you’re about and why you might be a better alternative than the next guy who knocks on the door.

I don’t know your company’s customers

Especially in the funeral business, a word from a satisfied customer counts most. In today’s world, those words show up, both good and bad, with a simple Google search.  Today, buyers depend more than ever on word-of-mouth references from people who have used those brands or products – often in the form of online reviews or client testimonials.  Think Google reviews, Angie’s List, Buzzillions or Yelp.  In fact, according to a the marketing group, ODM, about 90% of consumers trust the word of people they know and 70% of consumers trust the word of people they don’t know.  Just look at how we shop online: one of the first things we do is check the customer rating number on the product. And then we typically read the actual customer reviews to see why someone gave that product 1 star and why others gave the same product 5.

I don’t know your company’s record

Letting prospects know your company’s track record is easier today than it used to be. There are channels upon channels – from your website to social media to e-newsletters and email blasts to press releases – that can be used to ensure that the message is delivered in a consistent manner. Buyers want to have some comfort in knowing that you’re a company with a record of achievement and innovation, a company that has won awards for products or service or operation, an organization that’s been around for a while, one who isn’t caught up in multiple lawsuits, etc.

I don’t know your company’s reputation.

We’re talking about your company’s standing…status…character. Things that boil down to “can people trust you?”  How will your prospects find out that you do what you say you’ll do? Do you come across as thought leaders in your industry? Is your brand aligned with other organizations that have good reputations? You get the idea. Buyers cast verdicts on reputation with their pocketbooks, withholding business from companies they believe are ethically deficient and rewarding those with positive reputations. And, it doesn’t take long for judgments to spread. Will prospects see a company that values its customers or a company that people have no problem calling out in social media?

Now, what was it you wanted to sell me?

The original “Man in the Chair” ad was published long before Twitter, Facebook, Google, blogs, and digital hangouts. We’re in a new era. We’re all learning new ways to connect with prospects.  But as things look like they have changed in the ways that we engage, inform and become known to our markets, the basic message behind the ad is just as relevant today as it ever was. Being visible to our prospects and winning credibility in word and deed is still critical. Today it takes new ways of thinking and new ways of engaging in our markets and conversations as well as reframing some of the old ways that we went about it before.

As we know, sales start before a salesperson makes contact.  Times change, markets change, technologies and approaches change…but marketing fundamentals and human nature don’t. What would be said if the next sales conversation your company had, over the phone or even in person, was with “the man in the chair?”

Click on the video and see a comparison of the original “Man in the Chair” with how that would play out in a modernized version for today’s world. It’s eye-opening.

# # # #

Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedIn. See agency work via this link.


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