Here’s how to tap into your inner ‘Mad Man’

Tim Brunelle
Tim Brunelle

The Twin Cities have long held an outsized position relative to its size in the advertising world. Both on the client side and the agency side, this cold Omaha has produced groundbreaking work for more than half a century.

There’s no greater evangelist for Twin Cities talent than Tim Brunelle, head of the local ad shop Hello Viking and new president of the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association.

In his spare time, Brunelle has been hosting a fascinating project to stimulate thinking about the direction of the advertising industry at a time of unprecedented change.

The fourth season of “Conversations About the Future of Advertising” is set to launch Feb. 8 with a presentation by Edward Boches, chief creative and social media officer of the Boston-based agency Mullen. The conversations will continue monthly through May. All events begin with a 5 p.m. happy hour at the Fine Line Music Café in downtown Minneapolis, and all are free with no registration required. For the full schedule, go here.

I asked Brunelle for his own views on advertising. Like me, Brunelle thinks that the local ad industry has been something of a prophet without honor in its own land.

Lots of local talent
“We’re better than New York, we’re better than San Francisco on many levels,” he said. “I think it’s a shame that the major media in the Twin Cities don’t recognize the level of international talent in marketing technology, marketing strategy and marketing creative in the Twin Cities.”

I can attest to that. As a business reporter for the Star Tribune, I often had to fight with my editors to get marketing stories in the paper. They viewed marketers as people with something to promote and were skeptical about giving them coverage.

My argument was that this is a clean, creative industry employing highly educated, highly compensated people. If another city had a chance to import our marketing industry, the way they bid on a Toyota factory, there’d be nothing they wouldn’t offer to land such a business.

Now, after sharp cutbacks at all the major traditional media, there’s less marketing coverage locally than ever.

Brunelle also has a simple business argument for major Twin Cities companies looking for marketing assistance.

“I would say to your Best Buys, your Targets, your Cargills and General Millses: Why would you spend your money with agencies on the coasts when the talent in the Twin Cities is just as good or better, and your overhead is lower?

“If you think advertising is a commodity, then you should be shopping in the Twin Cities, because the product is just as good — and it’s cheaper.”

Return to sponsored events
As for the future direction of advertising, Brunelle says it lies in customization and microtargeting. Mass media are imploding, and outside of a few extravaganzas like the Super Bowl, audiences increasingly can be reached only in narrower niches.

Also expect to see a return to sponsored content, a subject I wrote about for MinnPost here. Brunelle, the son of renowned conductor Philip Brunelle, aptly used a musical example to make his point.

“Back in the day, the Twin Cities office of Bell Telephone had two full-time orchestras. They supported them, gave them time to practice and sent them on tours.

“I’d love to see a Target or 3M sponsor an employee rock band. How about sponsored rock bands of employees competing in a corporate ‘American Idol’?”

For more insights like these, join the conversation at the Fine Line on Feb. 8. It promises to be fascinating — and you get to drink, too. What better way to tap into your inner “Mad Man?”

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Richard Parker on 01/04/2010 - 04:29 pm.

    These are different times, but Brunelle’s remark about a Target rock band bring to mind the Original New Yorkers, a great traditional-jazz band in the 1960s-1980s that played at the Emporfium of Jazz in Mendota among other places, performed at jazz festivals and made several LP albums. The cornet player was Bill Price, chief financial officer of Data Card Corp. and a nationally known jazz musician, and the driummer was Bill Drake, Data Card CEO. Their company was a leader in a new industry at the time — magnetically encoded wallet cards — and their music was superb.

  2. Submitted by John Reinan on 01/05/2010 - 12:18 pm.

    I wonder why branded bands haven’t been used much. Certainly well-known acts like the Rolling Stones get huge sponsorship deals, but that’s different from using a musical group expressly to promote a brand.

    One of the first successful national radio programs back in the ’20s featured the Clicquot Club Eskimos (Clicquot Club was a popular, now defunct, soda company). In the ’30s, NBC created the NBC Orchestra solely for promotional purposes and hired Arturo Toscanini as director.

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