Delivering positively stunning results.

There aren’t a lot of posts designed to build the Positivity brand. This isn’t so much a conscious effort, as it is the natural consequence of a business model which only has room for three clients (Two advertising, one entertainment). That said, aided by the efforts and partnership of a lot of other smart people, Positivity has helped Oberto Beef Jerky achieve some pretty remarkable business results in the last three years.

Let’s start with the results.

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 12.53.59 PM









Since the advertising campaign’s inception at the start of 2014, Oberto Beef Jerky has seen dramatic increases in market share as well as velocity.

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 12.54.18 PM









Over the past twelve months, share has grown 40% across all channels and 67% in convenience and supermarket, where the majority of the product is sold.

Here are a few of the things that helped get us there.

1. Creation of a tagline with nutritional, inspirational and philanthropic extensions.






2. Introduction of a brand campaign built around an iconic character called, “The Little Voice In Your Stomach,” whose job is to deliver sound snacking advice and convey the merits of a protein-rich diet centered around All Natural Oberto Beef Jerky.

3. Traditional media, digital media, social media and PR working in a symbiotic fashion, where each not only compliments, but fuels the other.

Gronk & Sherm Talk About Stuff While Eating Jerky: The original digital series that inspired a special on ESPN, dozens of articles and was tweeted out by the NFL themselves.


Great White: Launched at the start of Shark Week, this video notched nearly half-a-million views, was picked up by and tweeted about by a number of celebrities.

Gronk Brackets: Like other props featured in our marketing, the actual brackets used in our commercial that ran during the Final Four were signed by Rob Gronkowski and given away on our social media channels.

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 3.58.15 PM








Jerky Jam: To help bolster retail sales in the New England area, we had Rob Gronkowski lead a dance class and introduce his new touchdown dance, The Jerky Jam. The event was covered by every major local and national sports media outlet.

4. Carefully chosen and managed relationships with celebrity partners who embody the brand, have strong social media followings and embrace the out-of-the-box creative approach we take to content.

5. Constant communication between agency, marketing department, senior leadership and sales.

This probably seems like common sense, but the fact is, at most companies, fiefdoms typically trump inclusion and a mutual understanding of the business goals and realities. At Oberto, the contact between team members is hourly rather than weekly and a culture has been established where everyone from the head of grocery sales to the CEO share their needs and insights. As a result, things get done more quickly and with greater efficiency than is normally the case.

This concludes Positivity’s self-promotion for 2016. And probably, most of 2017.

Different is good.

There are industries that defy convention. Places where heart sometimes trumps logic and madness regularly intermingles with genius. Advertising used to be one of those industries. But folks started getting MBAs, analytics replaced intuition, belts were tightened and, suddenly, the advertising business began to behave a lot like the insurance business. In an effort to prosper in this not-so-brave new world, we all fed the beast. We created new titles, added new offices and touted the power of our network over the potential of our ideas. The dreamers got really good at being responsible and the rebels, well, they became the establishment.

Just under two years ago, I set out to forge a new model. One that mimicked a business consultancy, talent agency or even a personal trainer far more than a traditional ad agency. Some thought it could work. Some thought it couldn’t. Some thought it was a joke. But having been part of teams that handled everything from luxury automobiles to government contracts, I observed that no matter how different the categories, success always came down to the same things. It was always about high-level thinking, the right creative and the right kind of attention to a small group of really good marketing people. I felt all that all these things were achievable without slavishly following the tiny-to-small-to-medium-to-large agency model. In the time since Positivity’s launch and Oberto Beef Jerky’s re-launch, I would argue that a combination of personalized service, creative output and business results has made ours one of the strongest client-agency relationships in the industry.

But the truth is, the model has never been validated outside of Kent, Washington. Not until a couple weeks ago, anyway. At the risk of sounding smarmy, let me tell you why I’m about to start tooting my own horn for the first time in my career over an award—and not even really an award, but a mere finalist certificate.
Oberto Effie Finalist

You see, when Oberto Beef Jerky was recently named one of the four finalists in the Effies “Snacks” category, not only did it put my client in the company of packaged goods giants Mars, Nestle and category leader, Jack Link’s, but it confirmed the effectiveness of the Positivity business model. Because there we were, right alongside very established and very good agencies like DDB, Carmichael Lynch and Dailey. Sure, our respective staffing plans, architectural plans and growth plans couldn’t be more different. But the results were the same; results that place Positivity in the top 1% of what all ad agencies delivered for their clients last year.

Which is starting to sound a lot like boasting or a thinly-veiled attempt to generate new business. And yet, it’s neither. It’s simply an effort to inspire some of the multitude of friends and colleagues I’ve heard complain about the state of the advertising industry to do something about it. If you’re an agency chairman who doesn’t think your business approach is special and unique anymore, create one that is. If you’re a creative director or planner who believes you could do a better job with a half the layers and a third of the employees, go do it. Most of all, if you’re a CMO who is still trying to rationalize a previous decision to hire the ad agency that made you feel safe over the one that made you feel inspired, stop. There are wonderful campaigns to be created and astounding results to be delivered. And as has always been the case throughout history, they likely won’t come from the expected sources.

Fan Up

me and my son, Chase, who was a PA on the shoot

It’s 2:03 a.m. and 5,000 sweaty, rabid, Texas A&M football fans at Kyle Field have just unleashed a collective scream that would make you think they’ve just won the BCS national championship. The funny thing is, these kids aren’t here to cheer on their team. They’re here to cheer on the filming of our commercial. See the video here: Midnight Yell

Make no mistake about it, these are not consumers. These are fans. Fans of the Aggies. Fans of college football. And fans of our program, College GameDay on ESPN. From the Making of College GameDay Campaign TV show on ESPNU

The question is, how did we work them into this state? Was it happenstance, or was it a carefully orchestrated effort on our part to play into the motivations of the fan?

And if the latter, are there learnings that can be applied not just to other sports shows, but to brands across any category? In short, is it possible to turn people from “consumers” of a product to “fans” of a brand?

To answer that, we have to go back to the source. Because you can’t understand the behavior of the fan until you understand the anatomy of the fan.

Over the years at WDCW we’ve worked on a number of assignments where fan support was not only valuable, but essential to a brand’s survival. These include adidas, ESPN, Michael Jordan Cologne, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Harlem Globetrotters, the Seattle SuperSonics, Teva Sports Sandals, Yamaha WaveRunners, Cobra Golf and Clif Bar.

While the brands themselves and the business challenges they faced were unique, there were clear commonalities among the various fan bases and the way they thought about themselves, their teams and the media that covered them. By analyzing and deconstructing these beliefs and behaviors, marketers can imbue a brand with triggers that will motivate fandom.

The first thing to understand is that fandom is not rational. There is nothing logical or even reasonable about cheering for a group of men or women simply because of the shirt they’re wearing. If there were, I’d be screaming wildly for anyone I noticed in a denim button-down. Given the irrational nature of fandom, it only makes sense then that to get through to this individual, your message must be emotional rather than logical. And yet, because most marketers are so hyper-concerned that consumers understand their communication, they undervalue the importance of whether the piece actually affects them. They over-explain, dumb down and speak to the brain instead of the heart.

If you really want to win a fan’s heart, embrace the absurdity of the situation. Let them know you applaud their conviction, their warped priorities and their occasional meltdowns. We’ve gone to great lengths to demonstrate that ESPN is not merely a purveyor of sport, but a crazed fan. One of our most successful campaigns over the last 19 years was based around a character called, “The Rick.” He’s a sports fan in his early thirties who still lives at home, treats useless sports items like priceless memorabilia and always introduces himself by saying, “My name is Rick but everyone calls me, ‘The Rick’.” The reason The Rick was such a hit with viewers, hosts and professional athletes is that every sports fan could see a little piece of themself in him and a lot of someone else they grew up with. Remember, a character doesn’t have to be aspirational to be effective. He or she just has to exemplify that emotional commitment to the product.

Another thing that’s inherently tied to fandom is immediacy. Fans have always wanted instant updates on scores. Now, they also expect to get injury reports, trade rumors, tweets and general scuttlebutt in real time.

If a brand appears to be on top of the latest news, it reinforces the perception that it’s equally caught up in the excitement, which, as I mentioned, creates that heart-to-heart connection with the fan. It also allows the brand to communicate with fans at the point when emotions are highest. I’m no psychologist, but I’m willing to bet that just as it is with soldiers on the battlefield, with sports teams, this heightened emotional state is where true bonds are made. When Manny Ramirez was traded from the Red Sox to the Dodgers, we placed one hundred single red socks in various laundromat dryers around Southern California. Each had a tag on it that said, “Lose a sock, Boston? ESPN welcomes Manny to the Dodgers.” By just taking some photos of the socks in dryers and posting them online, we began a viral movement that spread all the way back to Boston by the next morning, where the headline on read, “ESPN Punks Red Sox.”

The expression “God is in the details” is never more relevant than it is in sports. Each game is comprised of a million little subtleties, from snap counts to hand signals. This extends into the bleachers and beyond, whether it’s the smell of the hot dogs or the way the crowd signs “Sweet Caroline” after the top of the seventh inning. Which is why it’s important to remember in your attempt to capture the bigness of the moment, not to lose sight of the little things that make it so special.

Add to this the fact that fandom is inherently competitive. You  second-guess the manager. You bemoan a bad call or a bad coaching decision. But most of all, you want to demonstrate that you know more than another fan, whether that fan is friend or adversary. And details are your ammunition — batting averages, field-goal percentage, trade rumors, the names of future prospects, and the understanding of rituals, traditions and expressions. Fans always want more and more proprietary information about their favorite teams and players. When a marketer displays an understanding of these subtleties, they communicate an understanding of the fan as an individual.


Finally, more than anything else, the sports fan wants to play a role. This is nothing new. For ages there have been football stadiums where the crowd is affectionately referred to as the 12th Man, the Cameron Crazies or the Black Hole. Add to this the Jumbotron imploring everyone to “Make some noise!”, sports talk-radio programs around the world, and the proliferation of fantasy sports and it’s obvious fandom is not merely about watching, but about participating.

Thanks to the Internet, fans don’t have to wait till game day to express their opinions, share their passions or challenge other fans. Not only that, they can personalize and promote our ad campaigns in ways we never could have imagined even five years ago. The key is to not merely take advantage of these opportunities as they arise, but to bake them into your marketing plan from the outset.

Which brings us back to why the voices of 5,000 rabid Texas A&M fans are currently ringing in my ears. You see, in addition to the eight commercials/viral videos we created for GameDay, this year, we decided to create a Facebook app and allow fans to vote for whichever Division 1 school they wanted to see us feature in our advertising. The GameDay crew would then travel to the school that got the most votes, where we’d shoot an additional spot. We got roughly a million people to vote online, mentions on most every participating school’s website and blogs, a good deal of celebrity involvement and coverage on a number of television networks and radio stations. (Particularly in Texas and Nebraska — the schools that fought tooth and nail till the end.) We also got the opportunity to bring 5,000 people onto our set. People who turned our commercial shoot into a news event and who will go on to tweet, blog and brag about their involvement. All because we simply left space for the fan to affect our communications rather than simply enjoy them.

In the same way that lessons we learn in a classroom can be applied to life, the stuff that motivates sports fans can be used to stir and evangelize other consumers. Just remember to feed into their passions, dial up the emotional content, stay current and leave room for the folks who buy your product to affect and personalize your communications. If you do, you’ll generate enough fans to be able to do “The Wave” in a major football stadium. Which, ironically, might not be a bad idea for our next ESPN effort.


Agencies Implore Clients To ‘Do Something Big,’ But Here’s Why They Need To Do It For Themselves

As seen on

There’s no more common refrain in marketing than that of the ad agency imploring the client to “do something big.” And yet, how many agencies do you recall actually doing something big? I’m not talking about big commercials, stunts or social programs for the brands they handle. But something big for themselves.

Looking back, I can’t tell you I expected our project to generate 55 million media impressions. Not even close. But I did know that it had the structure, heart and drama to make an impact. And that if executed properly, with a little of the luck that seems to befall all good documentaries, it had the potential to profoundly affect people.

It started with a simple, ad-like proposition: In a world of lines that divide us as people, let’s create one that brings us together. The first question was where to place this line that would unite? I chose the gymnasium floor at Compton High School—specifically the free-throw line, a decision based partly on the fact that my son, Chase, had played basketball with boys from Compton since he was young and partly due to an observation that Compton was probably the most rebuked and vilified community I had ever seen.

The first task was to work out the specifics of the program, which centered around a free-throw contest where the winner would receive at $40,000 scholarship and each of the seven runner’s up a $1,000 scholarship. The key was to ensure that the contest came off as a platform for these amazing kids to share their stories, rather than just another reward for athletic skill. My hope was that during our two weeks of filming, what began as competition would gradually become cooperation. Ultimately, the level of support and kindness these eight boys and girls showed one another rose to a level I could have never even imagined, as those of you who watch the film will inevitably see.

The final hurdle, if you don’t count lawyers, was money and resources. I turned to my agency, WDCW, for both. After an initial round of friends and family fundraising, we were still in desperate need of cash and skilled people to bring the project to life and adequately reward all the contestants. There was no way to justify these investments from a P&L standpoint. There was only the promise of doing something that felt important.  And I will be forever proud of my partners for believing that was enough.

You may have heard what transpired during and after the event, as it became the lead story on Yahoo News and one of Bing’s “Decisions That Shaped 2011.” But if not, it’s all here in the eight-minute TED Talk I recently delivered.

And the film, titled “Free Throw,” was just released on Apple iTunes, Amazon, Video On Demand and through our website,

Ultimately, the size and value of what we accomplished is better judged by someone other than myself. But as I’ve watched this line go from metaphor to a reality, I can say that, personally, I will feel less hypocritical next time I go to one of our clients and ask them to “do something big.”


The moment.

In addition to the obvious, “Seeing my children be born,” I realized last night that I’ve had the good fortune to experience some pretty cool things.

I got to walk the red carpet at Mann’s Chinese in front of Will Ferrell at the premiere of my movie, Old School, while a bunch of college kids on either side went nuts. At the time, my heart was beating so fast that I had to go to the bathroom and throw water on my face before I took my seat because I thought I might pass out.

I got to stand on the coast of Nova Scotia with Colm Meaney and my entire family as the director, Adam Massey, yelled, “Action!” on my independent film, a Lobster Tale, after ten years of watching the script fall in and out of “option.”

And just last month, I got to share the Audience Award for our film, Free Throw, won with about a hundred of my high school, college and work friends at the Boston Film Festival.

But I think the single most satisfying moment of my life took place two days ago at the Manhattan Beach TEDx event, Journey To Purpose.

It was partly being asked to be part of a dais of that included everything from a professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, to the former ambassador of Uruguay, to someone who works with NASA’s aerospace and science technology. This group was so inspiring, yet humbling, and I couldn’t help but feel like a kid who had snuck into the party through a back door that some dishwasher accidentally left ajar while he was on a smoke break.

It was partly knowing that I was able to fight through my nerves and use my eight-and-a-half minutes to make a presentation that lived up to what I rehearsed in front of my dog. (I can’t tell you how intimidating it is to have no cue cards, multiple cameras, four hundred people and a giant digital clock that is forever counting closer and closer to “zero” from the moment you take the stage.)

Mostly though, it was simply realizing that this project that meant so much to me had, indeed, struck a universal chord. People laughed. People cried. And to my amazement, when I left the stage, they all stood and applauded. Walking back onto that stage was one of the strangest, most wonderful, out-of-body experiences I have ever had.

Thank you to John, Marla, Denise and everyone who helped make it a reality. It’s something I will genuinely never, ever forget.

Imagine frozen Koolaid with a crunchy idea center.

Here is my recent Ideasicle podcast with Will Burns. What I liked about the experience and the final product, was that it felt a lot more like a discussion than an interview. I don’t know about my answers, but Will’s questions were certainly interesting and provocative.  I hope you find it somewhat informative and, above all, motivating as you work on your own creative endeavors.

The Power of Positive

On March 9, Agency Spy ran a piece announcing that I was undertaking a charity/documentary project called, “Free Throw.”  The comment in the thread below the article which had the most “likes,” (11) started with the words, “How utterly horrendous.” Four months later, on Monday, July 11, I appeared on CNN with one of the eight students in our event, capping a week of PR that included appearances on ESPN, Fox and the Los Angeles Times.

Here’s a personal account of what happened in between.

Those who have worked alongside me have seen the word I taped on my laptop years ago: “Positive.” I did this to help myself through moments of frustration and insecurity when I’m not writing particularly well. But I also did it because it’s probably the guiding principle of my creative life. Whether I’m producing my own work or leading the department, I always strive to focus on the positive and the upside, rather than dwelling on the obstacles and shortcomings of any situation. This is not due to any sort of morale principle. It’s simply because I believe cynicism and negativity, while often glorified in our business, are the death of creativity.

But that doesn’t mean the comments didn’t get to me. So, as I sat waiting for a client meeting to start in Orange County, I typed a message saying something to the effect of, “I understand your skepticism, but here’s what I’m trying to do, here’s why it’s not ultimately going to be about basketball, and here’s why I’m hoping you’ll give me the benefit of the doubt for just a few months before you publicly slam the idea and my motivation for developing it.” But each time, I erased the message, fearing any comment would just fuel the firestorm of negativity.

Continue reading