Susan: So, what was your reason for creating Honest Slogans?
Clif: Well, to go back to the very beginning as far as the catalyst that made me start doing it was I was at a restaurant with my friend and I ordered a Coke, as I say. I don’t know if it’s a North South thing, some people say soda, they say pop when you’re just saying something generally.
When I say Coke because I want a Coca-Cola, and the waitress already had it in her head to say “Oh, is Pepsi okay?” and I just realized that everyone seems to say that because when they don’t have it, they’re just kind of saying “Well, I’m sorry we don’t have what you want, and what is better, but is Pepsi okay, will you be okay to resort to this lower quality soda?” So he and I just kind of joked about that. Like wouldn’t it be funny if Pepsi actually just full transparency mode admitted, hey, we’re not as good as Coke, but is it okay for you to have at this restaurant, please?
With my creative knowing, Photoshop and InDesign and Illustrator, as far as having the tools and the outlet for creating it, I decided it would be funny to start a site of doing it. And I didn’t, honestslogans.com wasn’t taken, and the Tumblr wasn’t taken so I just started with that one. And from there on out it was just kind of an audience of one and a few people I would show that saw the ones I would put up, but I was still having fun with it. So it kind of just started as a joke, as it is anyway I guess.
But it started out as something that I didn’t expect would necessarily get any notice and any time I would think of one I would put it in. I would make little notes on my phone or in my journal, when I get free time I would make one, and yeah, that’s kind of how it started, and luckily like I said, just recently it’s been pretty highly recognized. So now it’s great to see whenever I post one it gets positive reception.
Susan: I think it, you know, you’re really tapped into something on a whole bunch of levels. They’re wonderfully clever.
Clif: Thank you.
Susan: But they’re absolutely what every one of us is thinking. I look at your slogans and go “Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”
Clif: And that’s what I love to hear. I love to hear that because I want it to be something that everybody can look at, at least the majority, and nod their head and say “Uh-huh, yup, that’s how Sears is or that’s what I do on iTunes. And that’s what I love about it is finding those idiosyncratic things about a brand because they exist and everyone knows they do. And unfortunately, or not unfortunately, it’s not always in the most tasteful way. Like Kmart, we still exist is a little bit cruel. I get it. But at the same time they would even agree that yeah, it is kind of crazy that we’re still a company. But, you know, I mainly mean it in a positive, in a very tasteful way.
Susan: I actually think, and I was thinking about this, I think you are, if brands were deeply honest with themselves, I think you’re doing them a great favor.
Susan: I thought about this today. Because I think you are in some ways like the white hat hackers who go in and find where the weaknesses are and gone back to the companies and said, “Hey, have you thought about this? Because the rest of us are.”
Clif: Right, exactly, and that’s kind of what I like about it is if anything it’s just giving them exposure and confirming to them what people think about their brand, which is what they’re trying to advertise to anyway. So I hope that it’s helping them.
Susan: I think it does because I think what it probably does, I think the smarter marketers among them, and I think some of them have some very good marketers, I think many of them are probably going into the c-suite and saying you know what, it’s a whole new era out there, we actually don’t have the control of the brand that we used to, it doesn’t work that way. The world has changed and now they can point to your site and say okay, so this is how the world sees us, this is actually a pretty honest representation of how a lot of people see us, what do we need? It used to be as a brand you could say, well, you know, you would create your value statement and you’d say “this is what we are”, and you would have everybody memorize and put it in handbooks and everybody would parrot it back.
Susan: And I think those days have come and gone. And I don’t think a lot of brands, particularly those that are kind of sloping, a lot of the ones that you kind of parody, I don’t think that they have quite, they may say that they get it, they think social media is a tool not a way of being. And I think that what you’re doing is holding that mirror up, it’s like the emperor with no clothes.
Susan: We’re looking at them and saying gee, you’re kind of naked there, and you’re the first one I think who has said “Here’s the mirror, king, maybe you should put a fig leaf on.
Clif: Exactly, I agree and that’s something I’ve noticed and I think a lot of people have noticed, but fortunately at least for me, I’m the first to have put it out in some kind of outlet for people to agree with and for hopefully advertisers and their companies to see this is kind of the way it’s going now. And with the social media, everyone has a voice, everyone has their pedestal they can get on now and talk about anything. And companies have to be transparent anymore. Look on Facebook, or excuse me, Twitter, almost every company has a Twitter support or Twitter handle that they deal with customers, say someone’s unhappy, they want to publicly, and privately I guess, they want to help this person because everyone can hear anything anyone’s saying about anything anymore.
And like you said, it used to be completely different. I was born in ’86, but even when I was growing up, noticing advertising, it was a one way conversation, or not even conversation, it was the advertiser saying here’s what this brand is, here, like it, here, buy it, do this, and you didn’t really have a way of saying anything, the only way you could rebel sort of is just not to buy it, but now, yeah, it’s such a different conversation.
With social media exploding the way it has, what’s interesting is when I was going to school, social media wasn’t a thing we talked about. I graduated in ’09, but even then it wasn’t something that, it really didn’t have a handle, no one knew exactly what it was going to be like and I actually went back, I went back to UK earlier this year and spoke on a panel about my major and now that’s the thing is if you know social media, you’re in, you at least have an in to some degree. Because it’s all about talking to the people and being in the, you know, a spokesperson for this company to the people that are consuming or using that product.
Susan: Or even the listening, you know, that’s the thing that brands haven’t done well is listen. But we also find, it’s interesting that you would say in 2009, saying that schools weren’t up to date. We have found that a lot of the schools across the board wherever they are are way behind. They’re still being taught things that made a lot of sense ten years ago and are not reflective of the way the world is today.
Clif: Right. Yeah, it changes in such drastic ways it seems like. Like I said, in 2009 wasn’t that long ago at all. But things change by the month now it seems.
Susan: Have you ever had a response from any brands, anybody saying “Hey, how dare you?” or anybody saying “Hey, thanks, we needed to hear that”?
Clif: You know, every morning I wake up and before I check my inbox, I always wonder if I’m going to see one from Kmart or DiGiorno or something. But, luckily, or I guess luckily, I haven’t heard from any of them, at least not directly. I’ve heard from people who I worked for advertising for those companies, for that brand, that they were a client and they disagree with me. They just confirm to me that, yup, that’s what it is, you’re right. Which even more affirms as you said, that’s just the way it is now. Going on that full transparency. So I haven’t heard from any. We’ll see if I do in the future.
Susan: Because I think your site isn’t going anywhere. I think it’s such a wonderful commentary because it does strike a vein and I think we live in this era of kind of post-brand loyalty. Or, you know, the concept that we used to establish our brand loyalties and always buy them, well that’s out the window, we no longer do that.
Susan: We go by a whole bunch of motivating factors now that cause us to have a relationship with a brand and it’s just not because we had X number of touch points and people have pushed things at us, it’s a much more complicated relationship now. So I ultimately think that what you are doing will help brands really fully understand in a very “oh my goodness” immediate way.
Susan: How they’re being perceived. And you’re doing it through humor, it’s such a wonderful gift to be able to do that.
Clif: Well, thank you very much.
Susan: I mean, I guess it all came together in that moment. Oh, I’ll do this one and then it led to others. You didn’t sit down and you weren’t strategic about it, it was hey, this is fun.
Clif: It was pretty impulsive, my brain is with almost anything else. It wasn’t like as far as a grid laid out, but it was definitely something that I had in me. What’s real interesting about this too, to see the reception and remember, oh, I sat on my couch at 3:00 am designing and coming up with this because I just found it humorous. I know these products. A lot of it did come from my studying in college, but also my acknowledgment of what these brands really stood for. And a lot of them, as you’ll notice, they’re very dated. They have a time stamp or they’re incredibly esoteric that only a few people might seem to get it, or they might have gotten it a year ago when it was relevant.
For example, the Chik-Fil-A one, we didn’t invent the chicken, just a teenage girl on Facebook. Now, even a year and some months later that doesn’t make sense to some people, but in that week of news when that was going on was when that whole fiasco with gay marriage and Chik-Fil-A was going on and they did that thing where they just created some false profile on Facebook and started creating, it was exposed that that was fake. And of course with social media, that blew up, that was what everyone was talking about was that.
So that one makes sense for that specifically. But now if I was going to do one for Chik-Fil-A it would probably be about oh, I only want your chicken on Sunday when you’re not open. Because that seems to be something that everyone that I talk-
Susan: Humor is very topical, you know? Humor doesn’t always, sometimes what’s funny now, as you point out, not funny a year from now. And vice versa. What do you think brands need to know about how millennials relate to brands differently than say their parents or their grandparents did?
Clif: Well I think one thing that’s definitely different is their exposure to so many different brands and the overflow of different products in the same realm. It used to be you’d see an ad on television or in a magazine, but now as we’ve said, or as I said before, with social media, there’s so many things that they’re exposed to and there’s so much they can find out about said company. Just as I said before that the transparency of a brand anymore is just phenomenal. You can find out anything, nothing is sacred, so to speak, there’s nothing that can really be covered up. So I think the PR that companies and products have to deal with now makes it a lot different than for my parents and for children’s parents now.
Susan: And yet they seem to have rejected so much, they are, I think in many ways much more critical in their thinking. They don’t just accept a brand’s word. They are bombarded.
Susan: And maybe that’s why. When you are bombarded by that many messages, you simply can’t believe all of them, or even a portion of them. Or a big portion of them. You know, you have to reject most of them.
Clif: Exactly, yeah. Sprint.
Susan: It’s fascinating from that perspective. It’s certainly harder for advertisers; I think it’s better for people. It’s certainly harder for brands, you know?
Clif: It really is, it’s harder to find a niche.
Susan: You know, it is. What kind of trends do you think we might see in the advertising world? Around brands.
Clif: It’s an interesting point. I really, I don’t think as far as a physical advertising aspect, a lot of people thinking print’s going to die, which I guess in a sense it is. But I always feel that that traditional idea of advertising is going to stick around for a lot longer than people expect it will. Social media is very useful and it’s interesting, but I don’t think that it has a strong enough hold on the changing aspect of advertising that the roots of advertising has.
I don’t know if that makes any sense, but I just feel like in the near future, it’s going to be I think about the way it is now, but I think print advertising will stick around for a good deal longer. But I think the main struggle will be about staying relevant because right now and the truth is millennials would really rather be on their device, their computer, their smartphone, you know? As they, that’s where they want to be. But I don’t know if that’s enough, if that’s going to make a general change in advertising in the near future, but I could be totally wrong. I think that’s the thing too is it’s interesting actually, before this interview I was reading, I was looking over the Ogilvy on Ogilvy book, Ogilvy and Mather.
Clif: And at the back of it he had his predictions of how he thinks advertising is going to be in the future. And I wish I had it with me, sorry, but every single one of them is way off. And that doesn’t mean he wasn’t perceptive, it just means there’s no way to really know. That’s what the scary thing is. It’s scary to me also being a creative person, I think you just don’t know where that inspiration necessarily comes from or when it might stop, you just have to run with it. Which is hard to do in such a huge business as is advertising. And I think what’s scary for brands is that they want to be relevant, but they don’t want to just throw everything that they’ve done out the window.
Susan: Yeah. And you got a huge amount of talent and trying to shift old ways of thinking and it’s a fundamental shift where we as brands, the whole concept was to create your product as the hero in somebody’s life, and I think that the thing we’ve all come to realize is that in fact people are the heroes in their own lives. And brands fit into them when we want them to and it’s not the other way around. And that’s a fundamental shift.
Susan: Because all of advertising, whether it’s woman singing with a mop because it saved her, whatever it was, it was always about that hero brand.
Susan: And that’s out the window now. And that’s a really hard shift for people. And yet there’s some great, what you do is wonderful storytelling. It’s using the best in humor. It may not be exactly as brands would like it to be, but it’s extremely truthful and insightful, it resonates, it’s all the things that you want advertising to be, really what you’re doing is yours is a public service, that’s how I look at it.
Clif: Right. Well that’s exactly kind of you know, how I expected it to be and how I expect it to continue to be, it is a public service, but as you mentioned, it can be a positive tool for that company as well. If they’re maybe lost on that thing that was known by people that used their product, then this is the way for them to realize or to learn about what the people actually think and that’s one thing too. Of course one huge thing in advertising is marketing research and just researching and focus groups, but there’s only so much you can get from those kinds of things.
You’ve got to really dig in deeper or be that person, or know one of those people who use your product that find that little niche thing about it that everyone seems to be like “yes, oh my gosh, you’re right, of course, of course Capri Sun you’re going to poke the straw through the whole thing at least once when you’re a kid” and everyone remembers that.
I don’t know, so I just really like those little examples. And the great thing about this, and I hope it lasts and continues to go on and on, is the, you know, the material is endless. There’s always going to be products, new products, news about products that make people shift their opinion that week, that month. So, I hope and I have no intentions of stopping so I’m hoping there will be something that will continue.
Susan: I am sure it will continue and I hope I hope there’s some way for you to monetize this, it’s such a great, great thing. If I was actually one of those brands, I would be paying you.
Clif: Well thank you, that’s a very good compliment. I was thinking maybe it would be the opposite; someone would want to pay me not to make one for their company if they’re worried about anything that concerns you. Depending on the slogan. Sorry, go ahead.
Susan: Oh, I was going to say I think as marketers, PR people and marketers, we have to be in some ways fearless and unafraid and it’s hard because we want to protect our jobs and so much is tied to how much people immediately respond to something and nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news. But if we truly care about what it is we’re doing in this world, and we truly care about our customer and being the very best that we can be, then it is up to us to be the conscious of that organization. And speak truth to power and go into that C-suite and say “You know what, we’re not working for our people anymore” I think that’s really hard.
Susan: And I think that doesn’t happen very often, but I think as we move forward into this brave new era, the companies that will do the very best will have the marketers and the PR people who assume that roll as conscious as the advocate for the consumer both about the product and the services that they offer and how the brand lives its values out into the world and does this still fit who we are? Are we saying one thing and doing another? Are we one thing, are we actually not as good as we say we are?
Clif: Right. Exactly. I totally agree with all of that.
Susan: Clif, it’s just been an absolute joy to have you on and I would love to touch back with you because everything you do has got me in stitches.
Cliff: Thank you much, Susan, it’s been a pleasure talking to you.