Marketing to a New Americana

New AmericanaPhil Knight’s retirement from Nike and my induction into the Advertising Hall of Fame have given me a chance to reflect on how and why I got into advertising.  Its been nearly 30 years since that moment where Phil and Nike invited me to use Mars Blackmon and Michael Jordan to share great sneaker culture stories from Brooklyn to the world.  Films like She’s Gotta Have it and Do the Right Thing told real stories inspired by life in Brooklyn.  In turn, these stories and the Nike commercials that followed impacted sports, entertainment and culture.  We touched on matters then that seemed to be well plugged into the tastes, interests and vibe of the time.  These stories were talking to audiences, tastes and traditions ignored by the mainstream.  Over the years we at Spike DDB have committed to understanding and uncovering those under appreciated voices and crafting great stories that make a difference.  We believe those voices keep culture moving and evolving in a progressive direction. They are the ones creating the new archetypes for the 21st century.  We call them The New Americana.

I am very grateful to Phil Knight because his vision allowed us to do so much more than just sell sneakers to young African Americans.  The great virtue of the Air Jordan campaign is that through Mars Blackmon we told stories inspired by the taste, style and culture that inner city youth were creating in places like Brooklyn, USA.  Today more than ever we need braver marketers who will listen to the unheard voices of our future.  Millennials are the most diverse generation ever and they are not just our youth, they are now parents and entrepreneurs.  They are raising families and doing their thing in places like Brooklyn, Detroit, Chicago and all across America.  Technology is giving them so much at their fingertips that the world is much smaller for them than it was to many of us.  A smaller more interrelated world, an incredibly diverse generation in a nation of immigrants is giving completely new meaning to identity in America.

The New Americana Series #1 from Spike DDB on Vimeo.

American identity has been growing and evolving for over two centuries, and its not stoppin’ anytime soon!  While we have a long way to go, we are definitely seeing our youth, our followers, our consumers really stand up and demand much more inclusion, much more transparency and much more respect.  They are calling for us to tear down boundaries and build up communities. They are asking us to move past old biases and assumptions in favor of greater truth and authenticity.  They are not interested in what’s good for business, they are interested in what good will businesses do.  This movement represents a modern and progressive living interpretation of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.   Simply put, its a New Americana.

Chevrolet – Mo’ne Davis – “I Throw Like a Girl” Documentary from Spike DDB on Vimeo.

The New Americana has a new breed of heroes and new style of leadership.  Today heroes look like Mo’ne Davis.  A young lady at the top of multiple sports and her competition are the boys.  Today, black women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the country.  And despite all this, we are still stuck with old vocabulary and frameworks.  We discuss dates in the future when the country will be majority minority meanwhile Latinos and African Americans already outnumber the rest of the population in many of our largest cities.  Despite the diversity our people and our country demand of us, we still struggle with basic representation in many sectors from politics to advertising.  So while I’m proud of all the work we have done at Spike DDB leading to my induction into the hall of fame, our work is far from done. We are only scratching the surface of marketing to a New Americana.  We aspire to work with brands who believe their products and services can enrich the lives of people.  Who want to have a conversation with people who can set the tone of a future that is better, faster and smarter than it is today.  Simply, we want to work together with these brands to make a difference in the world.

I’m Spike Lee and this is what we are about at Spike DDB.  Let’s change the world.

About the Author

Spike Lee

Spike Lee, 
Filmmaker, Founder & CEO/CCO, Spike DDB

Spike Lee is a trailblazing Producer, Writer, Director and Educator.  He is an icon, not only for revolutionizing the landscape of Independent Cinema and the role of Black talent in film (both in front of and behind the camera), but also for the ways in which his unique vision has influenced American culture. Spike is also the Founder and CEO/CCO of advertising agency, Spike DDB.

A graduate of Morehouse College and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he is now a tenured professor of film and Artistic Director, Spike has long been recognized and lauded as an groundbreaking filmmaker.  His debut feature, She’s Gotta Have It, earned him the Prix de Jeunesse at the Cannes Film Festival and his epic drama, Malcolm X, received two Academy Award® nominations.  Spike continues to blaze trails in cinema.  He funded his film, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, through a Kickstarter campaign and made it available online through Vimeo before it was released in theaters, and his current endeavor, Chiraq, which continues his tradition of stirring controversy, is the first original film to be distributed by Amazon Studios.  The contribution his body of work has made to American culture continues to be recognized with such accolades as the NAACP President’s Award and his induction this year into the Advertising Hall of Fame.

Spike’s start in advertising came when he directed Michael Jordan in spots for Nike. It opened a new world for him and he knew that his insight as an independent filmmaker would prove useful for connecting brands with audiences they hadn’t considered.  In 1997 he partnered with Omnicom Group’s DDB Worldwide to create Spike DDB in order to reach audiences whose tastes and traditions weren’t being represented in mainstream advertising.

Spike DDB, like Spike’s production company 40 Acres and A Mule Filmworks, is headquartered in the Republic of Brooklyn.  The borough is traditionally a beacon for visionaries, a place that draws people from all walks of life who keep culture moving and evolving in a progressive direction.  Spike DDB, like the borough it resides in, is home to those diverse and dynamic individuals who are driven by a desire to change the world.

What If You Were A Client of The Martin Agency

Since the amazing AAF Hall of Fame event, I’ve been busy with personal and business travel, lecturing and a little mentoring on the side.

One of the things I enjoy most, and have throughout my career, is sharing ideas and passing along some of the wisdom I’ve picked up from others along the way. 

To that end, below is an observation I shared with our staff [at The Martin Agency] in a recent meeting. I hope it will be of some use to you.

What if you were a client?

Some years ago a man named Michael Treacy wrote a book in which he concluded that truly exceptional organizations excel at one of three competencies, and are competitive in at least one other.

     Product superiority

     Customer intimacy

     Operational efficiency

One might conclude, since we are in a service business, that the core competency of an advertising agency should be customer (client) intimacy.  We’ve always looked at it differently here.  We’re in the product superiority business.  Our product is the stream of ideas of all kinds that we produce in all areas of the business.  In a client service business, this stream of ideas is the most valuable service we can provide.

What if you were a client of The Martin Agency?  What would you expect from us?  What would you want from the individuals at the agency with whom you work?

It’s worth taking time to think about.  After the quality of our work, the quality of our relationships is the most important thing we’ve got.  In fact, the quality of those relationships is a crucial ingredient of the quality of our work.  And while we talk about relationship between the agency and a client, we all know there are no relationships between companies, only relationships between people.

I’ve thought about this through the years, and of course, talked to clients.  Of course I’d want great ideas; I’d want work to be done on time and on budget.  But the other things I’d want are the things we all want in a relationship.  So here’s what else I’d want to feel about each of you who worked on my business.

I can depend on you to tell me the truth.  I trust everything you tell me.

I know you care about what’s important to me.  You don’t just understand it, you care about it.

I know you will fight for my company.  I know you want my company to succeed.

You help me succeed personally, and you’re really happy when I do.  Sometimes it feels a little lonely trying to get my management to feel comfortable with the great ideas you bring me and with the cost of some of those ideas.  You help me think through the case I should make.  When I do well in my career, you’re almost as happy as I am.  You want me to look good and do well.

You don’t play games.  You don’t manipulate me or hold things back from me for your own purposes.  You’re transparent.

You seem to care about me as a person.  Maybe we’re not personal friends, and I know you don’t always agree with me,  but when I make decisions that aren’t the ones you’d like, or have to tell you something wasn’t approved, you don’t think I’m a bad person, or a dumb person.  You respect me, and you’re still in my corner.

You say thanks. When I get something approved, when I sign an estimate.  You don’t say thanks once a year, you say it once or twice a week.

I think that’s what I’d want.  And that’s what I’d get. Half a century of that philosophy, in support of a focus on great ideas, has served us very, very well. Congratulations. Keep it up.

About the Author

John B. Adams, Jr.

John B. Adams, Jr. John Adams has spent 42 years at The Martin Agency, an award-winning advertising agency based in Richmond, Virginia. The agency has been included on the Advertising Age five out of the six years it has been published and most recently, The Martin Agency won an Emmy for an interactive documentary created for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

Adams plays a key role on the team that continues to bring national attention to Martin, representing such brands as Benjamin Moore Paints, Discover Financial Services, GEICO, Hanes, Oreo, Ritz Crackers, Stolichnaya and Walmart.

Adams is an active leader both locally and nationally. He is Chairman of the board of directors at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Brandcenter, and also serves on the boards of ChildFund International and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. He is a past rector of Longwood University and has served on the boards of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Virginia Historical Society.

A member of the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame, Adams lectures frequently on marketing and business issues throughout the United States.

The Four Letter Word that Could Change Your Life by Linda Kaplan Thaler

Sadly, we live in a world that equates uber success with the “it” factor – having Mensa sized intelligence, virtuoso talent, or incredible wealth. But, in fact, research has shown that only 2% of born prodigies ever amount to anything in life. Yet 98% of the world’s most successful people possess, not the “it” factor, but the “grit” factor – guts, resilience, initiative and tenacity. Case in point, Colin Powell was a C- student all through college, Michael Jordan couldn’t make his high school varsity basketball team, and Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school – twice! What propelled them to extraordinary success was a winning combo of determination and perseverance to achieve their goals, no matter how lofty, no matter how far reaching. And the best thing about possessing the “grit” factor, we have found, is that anyone can develop it, whether you’re eight or eighty eight

98% of the world’s most successful people possess, not the “it” factor, but the “grit” factor.

Grit to Great

Grit is humanity’s great equalizer, and it’s the reason Robin and I wrote our newest book, “Grit to Great,” which will debut this September. The book is filled with groundbreaking research, empowering insights, and deeply emotional stories of people who have made it, despite all odds, as well as helpful tips and exercises to improve your grit quotient. And if you’re not sure just how much grit you have, we invite everyone to take our grit quiz at

Trust us, Robin Koval and I, although proud past Matrix winners, are neither geniuses nor prodigies. We are two ladies, born and bred in the Bronx, with public school educations, lacking in wealth, fame, or Ivy League diplomas. Yet, somehow, through sheer perseverance, pluck and passion, we managed to take a fledging start-up company, and turn it into one of America’s fastest growing ad agencies, the kaplan thaler group. We took Michael Bloomberg’s advice when he said, “I’m not the smartest guy, but I can outwork you. It’s the one thing I can control.” And that’s what we did, we outworked virtually all our competitors, going from one account in a small third floor walk-up office, to an agency (Publicis Kaplan Thaler) with over 800 employees worth billions of dollars in billings. And in answer to your question, yes, we did move from the third floor walk-up- four times in fact!

We are passionate about sharing the message in “Grit to Great” and are happily spreading the news, at corporative events, in high schools, colleges, and start-up companies around the country, that success is attainable, to everyone. And early reviews of “Grit to Great,” from everyone from James Patterson, whose meteoric climb to fame is featured in the book, to Arianna Huffington, the very personification of a gritty lady, have been incredibly positive.

If you’d like to take the steps to go from grit to great, please pre-order a copy (amazon, ibooks, BN) and find out just how far you can go!

About the Author

Linda Kaplan Thaler

Linda Kaplan ThalerLinda Kaplan Thaler is Chairman of Publicis NY, the flagship agency of Publicis Worldwide Network, whose blue-chip client roster includes: P&G, Citi, Nestle, L’Oreal, Merck, Pfizer, Tri-Honda and Wendy’s, among many others. Previously, Thaler was CEO and Chief Creative Officer of the Kaplan Thaler Group, which she founded in 1997 and grew from a fledgling start-up to a company with over a billion dollars in billings. In July of 2012, the Kaplan Thaler Group merged with Publicis New York to form Publicis Kaplan Thaler. [Read more...]