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

The Twin Cities have long held an outsized position relative to its size in the advertising world. There’s no greater evangelist for Twin Cities talent than Tim Brunelle.

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?”