March 28, 2022
Case Study

99 Problem Ideas: “Harvey Gabor (art director on Coke’s iconic campaign) burned my ad concept with a lighter”


Customer-first objectives. I thought of these three words when my latest guest described his role in the creation of the first internet banner ad (which had a clickthrough rate of … wait for it… 44%!).

He described the objective behind the ad this way – create a form of advertising that is at once a gift to the consumer, and a doorway to a universe of possibility.

That was one of the lessons from the stories our guest shared with me in Episode #10 of the How I Made It in Marketing podcast.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

99 Problem Ideas: “Harvey Gabor (art director on Coke’s iconic campaign) burned my ad concept with a lighter”

This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

Listen now to hear Joe McCambley, Chief Marketing Officer, Saatva, share lesson-filled stories from his work with AT&T, Sports Illustrated, Boston Edison, Saatva, and many more brands.

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Stories (with lessons) about what he made in marketing

Some lessons from McCambley that emerged in our discussion:

One of the most important lessons he learned as a creative person came as a result of things he DID NOT make

McCambley’s first creative director – Dave Greeley – had a rule that you had to prove to him you generated 100 ideas for an ad before you chose your top idea to share. For every ad McCambley showed him, there were 99 that were not good enough to get “made.”

And yet, the first time he got an ad concept through to Executive Creative Director Harvey Gabor, Gabor threw out the idea – more specifically, he took out a lighter and lit the idea on fire.

In our discussion, McCambley emphasized the importance of showing only the best idea to the client. As his partner at ad agency Wonderfactory David Link taught him, “Why would we ever show something we wouldn’t want to produce?”

There is someone to delight at the other end of every ad

McCambley was on “the T” (Boston’s subway system) and saw a little girl delight in an ad in the newspaper – it was the first ad McCambley ever wrote. Her mom tore it out of the newspaper for her to keep.

Create a form of advertising that is at once a gift to the consumer, and a doorway to a universe of possibility

Kevin Kelly – the founding executive editor of Wired magazine – launched the first commercial online magazine called HotWired in 1994.

McCambley was part of a team that created an ad for AT&T in HotWired, one of the first ads that ever appeared on the Web. As he spoke with the team about the “KPI” (key performance indicator) for that ad, they never referenced site visits or sales or, “engagement” – the goal was to delight the customer.

Fast forward to the present, McCambley hired a real editorial team from a real Time, Inc. magazine with a customer-first objective – to create authentic content with editorial integrity that was meant to guide consumers so that they could choose the best mattress…regardless of whether it was made by Saatva or another brand. The best-performing single blog post has generated $900,000 in mattress sales, and there are 10 blog posts that have each generated at least $250,000.

Stories (with lessons) about the people he made it with

McCambley also shared lessons he learned from the people he collaborated with in his career:

Jack Shelton, Customer, The Continental Can Company: If you always keep your promises, you will be the kind of person people want to do business with

McCambley kept visiting and bringing value – like sharing interesting newspaper articles – and then on the 10th visit the customer screamed, “JOE! AREN'T YOU EVER GOING TO ASK ME FOR AN ORDER?"

Steve Cosmopulos, Co-founder, Hill, Holliday Connors, Cosmopulos: Focus makes an ad great

Cosmopulos used a plywood board with many nails versus a plywood board with a single nail to teach McCambley how to make an impact with advertising.

Ashley Brown, Founder and CEO, Astro Pet Health (ex-Coca-Cola); Nick Utton, Marketing Advisor, MarketAxess (ex-E*TRADE); Bill Clausen, EVP Business Relations, Prelude Software (ex-AT&T); Terry McDonell, Founder, McDonell Company (ex-Sports Illustrated): If you want to create and innovate, you should surround yourself with creative and innovative people

McCambley shares how surrounding himself with creative and innovative people enabled his ad agency to be prepared to launch the first iPad magazine when Sports Illustrated asked them to conceptualize it … back when the iPad was just a rumor.

Related content mentioned in this episode

MECLABS Institute Research Library

Marketing 101: What is baking in?

Marketing 101: What are microsites? (plus 3 successful microsite examples and 2 missteps)

Content Marketing and SEO: The world doesn’t need another blog post

Informed Dissent: The best marketing campaigns come from the best ideas

About this podcast

This podcast is not about marketing – it is about the marketer. It draws its inspiration from the Flint McGlaughlin quote, “The key to transformative marketing is a transformed marketer” from the Become a Marketer-Philosopher: Create and optimize high-converting webpages free digital marketing course.


Not ready for a listen just yet? Interested in searching the content? No problem. Below is a rough transcript of our conversation.

Daniel Burstein: What does it mean to be a professional creative? To get paid for your ideas? I know in my career sometimes it has felt like staring into the abyss, not knowing where that next great idea will come from, just terrified. And really, one idea is not nearly enough. Today's guest is going to share “you must force yourself to push through the easy ideas, those obvious ones that anyone can think of if you're going to be a professional creative, you need 99 problem ideas you can throw out to get to that one real nugget of gold”.

He's also going to share stories from what he's made in a very illustrious marketing career with lessons like, there is someone to delight at the other end of every ad and create a form of advertising that is at once a gift to the consumer and a doorway to the universe of possibility. Plus, he's going to tell us what he's learned from all the people he's collaborated with in his career. Joining us now is Joe McCambley, a Chief Marketing Officer at Saatva. Thanks for joining me, Joe.

Joe McCambley: Thanks Dan. It's great to be here. Really appreciate it.

Daniel Burstein: So, I'm going to look very long LinkedIn and just going to cherry pick a bit from your long career, man after my own heart. You started out in advertising as a copywriter, as I did as well, Chief Creative Officer at Digitas, SVP and GM at Studio AOL, which was America Online's in-house creative organization.

And along the way there is a long list of firsts on the internet. You helped create the first Internet ad for AT&T back in 1994, helped transform Coca-Cola's website into a content experience worthy of any media company. Worked on the first iPad app for E-Trade and you helped create the first magazine tablet app for Sports Illustrated, first site for the Huffington Post. You helped move AOL from disk to HTML, the first e-commerce platforms for Intel and SAP, and the first e-book app for Barnes and Noble. And that's just a short look of what you've done in your career.

I just want to give people a background to understand who I'm talking to right now. But let's talk about what you're doing right now. What is it like being the Chief Marketing Officer at Saatva?

Joe McCambley: We are. But one thing I should say, one caveat for your audience is most days I can't find my pants. So not so impressive. Yeah, so Saatva was the first direct-to-consumer (DTC) mattress brand online. We opened in 2009 and have grown steadily.

If you don't mind, I'll give you a little bit of background for why my day is the way it is. So, I try to wake up early and I'll spend about 2 hours of every day just reading.  So Saatva, like I said, has grown pretty steadily until about 2017 and in 2017 between 2015- 2017, about 200 other brands went online and sold mattresses direct to consumers brands like Casper, Purple, Lisa, Nectar, you've heard of them.

So, for the formative years of the company, while we were growing, we were really the only game in town when it came to say, Google Search. If you did a search for Best Mattress in New York City on Google, we were the ones advertising on Google. We took it to our site, and we sold to you, and really other mattress brands weren't selling online and the ones that were selling offline weren't that interested in Google. We were the only game in town, costs were low, revenues were great. They were growing all the time because there was this secular trend of consumers moving their purchasing behavior online. And we were there to accept their business.

Then you have 200 competitors, and all of those 200 competitors are showing up at the auction every day for Google. They're all bidding on the exact same keywords. And while most of those brands made a very different product, they make what we would refer to as a bed in the box. It's a memory foam mattress that gets compressed and folded and put into a box. And then they ship it to you by UPS or FedEx. It's a very different product from ours, but we're all competing for the same keywords on Google. So, the cost of marketing skyrocketed between 201415 and 2017-2018, such that we were at risk of losing money in 2018.

So, we knew that we had to wean ourselves from an overdependence on Google search and that we had to do other forms of advertising. There are some things that we did in lower funnel like affiliate marketing. We set up a blog that was mostly targeted toward an in-market audience with helpful advice and blogs, it’s been hugely successful for us. But really what we needed to do was move up the funnel and figure out how do we build brand awareness and how do we grow market share. And it sounds simple I think, to say it, but when you're working at a company that has only done performance marketing for ten years, you know, when everybody's mindset is geared toward instant gratification, it takes a while to change those hearts and minds.

And I was not very successful at it. I think when I first joined Saatva because like you are a copywriter, come from a creative agency. I like innovation, I like ideas and I thought that was enough, that all you have to do is tell people the way and they would follow you. And at Saatva it was very different where people would say, yeah, that's not really how we ever have ever done it, and that's not the way we're going to do it.

And so, what I started to do in late 2018-2019 is trying to learn from others that have followed this path. There's a lot of brands that have gone direct to consumer and then found that they tapped out in performance marketing and had to move up the funnel.

And so, I spend every morning trying to understand not just how have other brands done it, what channels do they choose, how do they measure the effectiveness of what they've done, but also trying to call people, speak to them and say all right, I know that you did this, but how did you convince people to go on this journey with you? Because I'm struggling with that and being willing to admit that what you know may not be what other people want to hear, and it may not even be the right way. Was important to me. So, I feel like I probably have learned more in the past two years about marketing than I have learned in the previous 100 years, or whatever it is that I've been in marketing. So, the beginning of my day is just a commitment to trying to learn from others, either by reading what they've written, and I don't mean blog posts on LinkedIn, I mean kind of what you're involved with at MECLABS, like research, university-based research, that is professionally organized, professionally executed, professionally reported. And because of that, it has truth behind it.

So, I didn't I didn't want to follow conventional wisdom that I might find on LinkedIn say because I brought a lot of conventional wisdom to Saatva, and it wasn't working for me. So, what I wanted to do is try to understand what was unconventional to me, what was wasn't second nature to me, and see if I could change and maybe if I could change and learn how I change, I could help others change.

So that's it took me a long time to describe the first 2 hours of every morning. But that's what I do. And then the next couple of hours of the day is that we create dashboards, of course, that report on sales by product, sales by geography, sales by day part. We started opening some showrooms, so sales in the showroom versus sales on the website. What channels are producing sales for us at different times of the day, in different parts of the day. We've got a lot of tests that we're running. So, the next 2 hours of the day is usually checking in on the dashboard, seeing what the results are, looking at the test results that are coming in and then trying to form hypotheses and action plans based on that.

And I don't want to create the impression that every day we're changing what we're doing. It's like, okay, we chose this path two months ago. Does the data still support that we're on the right path? Can I confidently tell the leadership, yeah, we're doing well? You know, relax with for today. And then I have a number of direct reports that I work very closely with. So, I have the Head of Creative, Head of Performance Marketing, Head of Content and Communications, Head of Analytics and the Head of Project Management. And I spend a lot of time each day working with all of them one on one, because we have so much going on in the organization.

Daniel Burstein: I love that you spend just the beginning of the day learning. What a great way to start a day. Something that I've done now, especially since that work from home is like I get up at six and just at first before even that laptop opens. One thing I do is I whip out the newspaper, I get a printed newspaper, I sit down, I read like the Wall Street Journal because the toughest, I'd say the toughest challenge in my job, and it kind of sounds a little similar where you're facing is to come up with those new ideas or there's new ways of doing things.

And sometimes that isn't just going and doing what everyone else has done. Sometimes, again, I read something very different in a very different industry in the Wall Street Journal and gives me an idea of how I can apply it to this. Because as I said in the beginning, we are idea people. That's the biggest challenge. Right.

But let's talk about, you mentioned your previous 100 years, so let's get into your previous 100 years and start fairly early. You mentioned one of the most important lessons you learned as a creative person came as a result of something you did not make. And this is where it gets into a challenge of coming up with all those ideas. So, tell us about that.

Joe McCambley: Well, let's see. I'm trying to think of this specific story because I know that I told you so many things.

Daniel Burstein: Oh sure, you mentioned that your first creative director had a rule.

Joe McCambley: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Daniel Burstein: You had to have 99 ideas you threw out for every idea that actually ran, that actually saw the light of day.

Joe McCambley: Yeah. Can I, do you mind if I mentioned his name?

Daniel Burstein: Go for it.

Joe McCambley: My first creative director in advertising was a guy named Dave Greeley. To this day may be the smartest human being I've ever met. But also, a very, very, besides being smart, rationally and analytically, and well-read. He was just very, very conceptual and creative. And his rule was, like I said, you don't bring me an idea unless you can reassure me that you had 100 ideas and you're bringing me the best ideas, the one or the two or the three best ideas.

And he would literally come to your office. And, you know, as a writer, I'd be working with an art director, and he would be looking for the rough sketches that you have on your walls. And he wanted to see that. Do you actually have 100 ideas that you've put up on the walls in this conference room or in this office? And can you reassure me that the three that you've brought me are the best that you can do?

And so, yeah, with every for every ad that I've ever created, there's been at least 99 that haven't run. And I know I told you this story too. Although Dave was my first creative director, the Chief Creative Officer at the agency that we were at was a guy named Harvey Gabor. And he was the art director on the famous Coke campaign. And I'd like to teach the world this shing. So he's kind of this iconic figure in advertising.

And the first time that I ever presented an idea to him, an idea that had been vetted through Dave, Greeley as one of the top 100 that I had generated, I showed it to him, and he took out a cigarette lighter and he lit it on fire. And he said, If you ever bring me a piece of shit like this again, I'll fire you. And yes, kind of instilled the fear of G-d in me. He was kind of a G-d to me, that boy you just have to make sure that if you're going to show him something, it's new. It's innovative, it's creative, it's well-written, well-crafted and perfected before you bring it to him. And that means you throw a lot away.

Daniel Burstein: And it's thought out to really think it out and to vet it, you've got to go down all these other routes that don't work out. And I mean, that is one thing. It's funny you mention that memory. That's one of my favorite memories from early in my career of being a professional creative me and my art director, and just our walls filled with we used to call marker comps, right?

We wouldn't do stuff. It didn't get to the computer until way later you know, and that was just for production that was going to run in a print adore something like that.  And so we just had out the big the big pad, the marker comps sitting around the art directors office throwing around ideas and just, you know, by the time we presented something, our walls had been littered, littered with different ideas that just didn't work out.

And so, I really, if there's anyone young listening there, they're really starting out in the industry I really encourage them. It's not just you sit down, you have an idea and boom, there you go. What can we add to the blog posts or whatever? It is the grueling hard work of all of those ideas that don't see the light of day.

And then the other thing that and hear your opinion on this, the other thing is sometimes you pitch the different ideas when you actually get to the client. Sure. You get past the creative director, the AE (account executive), and sometimes they pick the wrong idea, they pick the worst idea. Because you got to ultimately sell the client on it. So how is your experience now? I'm curious on the other side, the decision maker, the CMO, the brand, the client, how is your experience now reviewing creative work?

Joe McCambley: Oh, wow. Well, you probably remember this, as you go through ideas. You have a lot of art director partners and you're working a lot of campaigns. Inevitably, with every campaign, one of the concepts, if you're developing a bunch of concepts, is we created this product for only one person, you. And like there's probably ten campaigns you can think of that are boilerplate that at the time you think of them, you just think, oh my gosh, people are going to read that and I'm going to think we care about them. That's a great line, You. And then you see something like that on TV and you think, yeah, they didn't have a creative director that threw that idea out because it's bullshit and nobody really believes it.

So as a, as a creative director, now a couple of things. My partner at an agency that I ran called The Wonder Factory, and my partner was David Link, and he was the first one who said to me, and I thought this was important, it shaped my career, he would say, why would we ever show something we don't want to produce? And so, at that agency, we would only show one idea like we would get as many concepts as we could. We would go in the room we'd have one idea, and inevitably a client would say, well, are there other that you developed that maybe were a little bit better than this? And the answer was always We wouldn't be here with this idea if we thought there were better ideas.  It worked amazingly well. You know, when I describe it now, I think boy it even scares me to this day. But it worked. It worked really well.

Daniel Burstein: You know when I worked with AE’s, there is, there's a formula two safes and a daring. So, if I wanted to have something daring in there, I'd have to give them two safes, I’d have to present the two safe ideas first.  And then like, okay, now you can really air it out and see where you could push it, you know, because in case the client thought you pushed it too far while you had something, you knew that they'd be okay with, so I love that.

So, let's rewind way, way earlier into your career and we talk about, oh, actually, no, no, no. I want to talk about when you actually saw the ad, see the light of day. This is a beautiful experience. Yeah. I don't think I've had this experience very often to see my work physically get seen by someone. That's actually something I like about the digital era with social, and a lot of these things, you can kind of almost see someone reacting to what you created, but you actually saw you were, you were on Boston's subway, and you saw someone actually react to one of your ads. Tell me about that.

Joe McCambley: Sure. I was I was asked to do a full-page newspaper ad for Boston Edison which was the electric company in Boston. And, you know, it was one of those projects, you know, in every agency there's like the project that nobody really wants to work on. And this was one of those projects. And so, the ad that I created with my partner was Rudolph, of course, and his nose was lit up. And as a joke, we had his butt plugged into a wall because it's the electric company. Right. And it was a little bit tongue in cheek, but G-d love the client. It was approved.

And it ran as a full-page ad in The Boston Globe. And I used to take the Green Line from Newton into Boston, and I was sitting on the Green Line one day, and there was a woman, very well-dressed woman sitting across from me reading the newspaper. And she had her little girl sitting next to her, daughter with a backpack on, you know, with that cartoon character on the backpack. And at one point, the daughter patted her mother's arm and pointed at the paper and the mother smiled and ripped the page out of the paper and gave it to her daughter. And it was the Rudolph ad. The Boston Edison ad. And just to see how the little girl's face had lit up and how the mother kept glancing down at her daughter and how happy her daughter was.

It was the first experience I ever had where I thought, you know. Yeah, it's a Christmas ad, or the reindeers butt is plugged into a wall. But it delighted another human being. And from that point on, I'm not going to say that every ad that I've ever done has delighted another human being. But every ad I’ve ever done or everything I've ever done since then, held the possibility of bringing joy to somebody. And to know that you can bring that kind of joy to another person. It's a special. It's we get to do that. And most people in life, accountants, whatever, don't get to do that right.

Daniel Burstein: I love that. And you say the lesson is there's someone to delight at the end of every ad. And the reason I love it, you were mentioning earlier, you go in every day, you're looking at that dashboard. Right. And the challenge I think of us marketers today is that data obscures the humanity of the people on the other end.

So, I had not as good of experience. I wish I had that experience early in my career, but somewhat similar. I was given a total dog project, which was there's a real estate newspaper. And in that real estate newspaper, every, you know, big new home development, they have some sort of spiff campaign for realtors where they sell one house, they get $1,000. If they sell three, they get $5,000, whatever it is. Yes. And every ad you go to that newspaper is the same thing. It's a big wad of money being held up. And it's like, you know, we're going to pay all this money. And so, we say, it's a dog, no one wanted to work it.

So, I sat back, and I thought, you know, I'd bought a house recently before that. Like, what's it like to be a real estate agent? And so, the ad that we were able to run, which was hugely popular, was a thank you ad, it didn't just show a bunch of money. I said, thank you. It said, like, thank you for missing dinner with your family, to hold the hands of the first-time homebuyers. They saw the home. Yeah. Thank you for, you know, running out in the morning before you could put your makeup on to meet the inspector at the house to make sure everything was fine and all this stuff. And then, of course, it said and to thank you, we're going to give you $1,000 for one house, you know, 3000 for whatever. But again, I think, you know, kind of to your point is, instead of looking at the realtors as just, oh, there's commission, there's money, boom, boom, boom. Let's look at them as people. Let's look at them as human beings.

Joe McCambley: Yeah, yeah. And on the flip side, when you think of like the clients that people don't want to work for sometimes. I had a chance two clients early on in my career. One was named Symbolix, they invented the Unix operating system or the Unix language. And I was asked to write an 800 word two-Page spread for the newspaper about Unix. And you can imagine if you're working in a creative agency, everybody ran for the exits when that assignment came up. But I can remember when doing the research and writing about Unix and what it was going to be doing. And, you know, even before there was an Internet, thinking guys this is big. This stupid is company is doing something that is going to change everything as we know it.

And that's what kind of led me to choose to go into digital marketing maybe ten years later. Like that's where it's going to happen. You know, another client was named Data Translation. They created the first video editing software for the Mac. And again, nobody wanted to work on that because the client didn't pay a lot of money, but they changed the world, they changed the world of advertising. And it was so phenomenal to be able to sit in a room with the CEO that had founded that company that took that kind of risk and put everything on the line to do what nobody else had done. What a great example for copywriter.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah. There there's a magazine called The Week that has a great column. I know it's called Boring But Important. And I love that. So true and so true.

Joe McCambley: That's me going for it.

Daniel Burstein: Well, let's jump into how you got into the digital era. So, tell us the story behind the first Internet ad, one of the very first Internet ads. And you said the lesson behind it is create a form of advertising that is at once a gift to the customer and a doorway to a universe of possibility. How do you open up that possibility of Internet advertising?

Joe McCambley: Well, we, the genesis of all this was when Wired magazine launched the one of the first digital magazines, Hot Wired magazine. And they knew that there was going to be a problem down the road of monetization for publishers. So, they were trying to solve that problem for themselves early on. And there were people I don't know if you've heard of Kevin Kelly, who was the founder of Wired magazine, and I don't want to go through too much of the who's who, but that magazine and the first ads that ever appeared on in that publication. There were literally a thousand people that were all working on this process.

So, I happen to be the copywriter who wrote the line for the banner of the first ad that got served by the Hotwired serve, and I think we make too much of that when there were so many other people involved in it. But be that as it may, when we would, we'd sit around and conceptualize what we wanted to do with this first ad, we would talk about how finally we were going to create a doorway into infinite possibilities. That if somebody were to click on this ad, they could go to an infinite number of other pages and do an infinite number of things.

Now, yeah, it was, we were all using 1200 baud modems at the time. Graphics were horrible, browsers were not very sophisticated. But I remember, we were complaining at the time about how limited it was on the internet to create good advertising. And somebody reminded me that, well now, Shakespeare wrote all of his sonnets in iambic pentameter, and by putting that fence around his creative he created the best poetry in the world.

So don't look at these as limitations and obstacles, look at them as opportunities. And we really did try to look at it that way. So, the first ad was at the time AT&T had a television campaign that was running, and it was about how the Internet was going to change the world. And they would ask questions like, have you ever driven through a tollbooth without stopping to pay a toll? Have you ever put your daughter to bed from 12,000 miles away? Have you ever conducted a meeting from the beach? And at the end of each ad, they would say you will, like this is the promise of the Internet.

And so, the banner, and the ad was, you know, just because nobody had ever clicked on an ad in the history of mankind on the Internet, we just said, have you ever clicked your mouse right here? Stupid line I'm embarrassed by the line. But then if you clicked on it because that ad was part of a sponsorship of the arts section of HotWired magazine, it took you to a variety of online museums.

So, remember, you know if you could go to the Andy Warhol Museum, you could go to the Library of Congress, from there. So, remember at the time there was there were no search engines. There is no Yahoo, there’s no Google. The most popular sites on the Web were like, here's ten new websites you should know about. So, it was a time on the Internet when people were really hungry for you know, they knew that there was great possibility on the Internet, but nobody knew what was there. And so an ad that could open the door to them and say, look, you can you can go to any museum on the planet. And yeah, it's a little bit rudimentary now. But imagine what this is going to become. It was all, you know, part of that you will campaign, this will be important.

And so, as we were talking about the concepts for this advertising, it was really about, this is not just shouting at people and trying to break through the clutter. This is a way that we could invite people into this experience. And because we can make such an amazing experience for them this time, they're going to pay attention to us next time. So, in our world, even today, when a TV ad comes on, we all go to the bathroom because you know what, TV ads stink. Most of them do.

So, we thought that this was a chance to really reeducate people about what advertising could be online and how amazing and wonderful it could be. And I really do believe that in 94, 95, 96, there were so few people doing creative on the Web at the time. But anybody who's doing creative on the Web is very idealistic. It was a force for good. It was good for mankind. It was good for people; it was good for everything. And everybody had this kind of universal commitment to doing good through advertising.

And it's changed since then. Of course, you know, we've all been taught the worst thing you can do is click on a banner today because, you will never get the same kind of reward today as we all thought you would be getting today. Had we stayed on that path. But at the time, I don't know, such an optimistic time to be involved with advertising and the possibilities that it offered.

Daniel Burstein: Well, you're very humble. I think that's a great line. It's one of those lines where I'm like, I think that is, you know, because I was trying to think when we were first talking about, okay, you know, the first Internet and I'm trying to think what would I write. And then when you said it, I was like, it's obvious. That's it of course, that's got to be the first Internet ad.

Well, let me ask you. I mean, obviously now the big change that I've seen in my career going from let's say you know, I started in print newspaper ads and then getting into digital is KPI's and measurement like how drastically that changed? You know, when we would test back in newspaper ads, it was two different phone numbers, right and it how you'd be testing and see when something pulled. So, was there any discussion around the KPIs or the analytics or anything behind it?

Joe McCambley: Yeah, actually, you know. Of course, we were already at the time talking about clicks. Like will people click on this. And so that headline, we just thought people would click on that. And just anecdotally.

Daniel Burstein: …early clickbait.

Joe McCambley: Early clickbait, yeah, but we didn't say click here on the banner. And about a month later we took that exact same banner and added the word click here and it doubled the click through rate. It was, I think it doubled the click through rate. It was amazing that at one point the banner generated about a 44% click through rate. So, imagine getting that kind of a click the rate today on anything or that kind of engagement. So, we weren't using words like engagement and click through rate. We were talking about clicks. But we weren't really using the language of KPIs, we were talking about the person and the experience and how awesome it was going to be for them if they clicked on that ad. And it was, really about, our biggest KPI was awesomeness and wonderfulness. And could we deliver this promise of the medium to consumers in some way that would not just be good for the advertiser.

So of course, you know, somebody clicks on an AT&T banner, it's good for AT&T. But AT&T’s commitment when they hired us to do the advertising, they said, you know, we're spending hundreds of millions on this campaign that tells people that the Internet is going to fundamentally change their life. Our Internet advertising should fundamentally change their relationship to a brand. And so that's what we were talking about. How do we do better than any other creative team or advertisers that have ever been out there? And I think if you were to talk to every creative team that was involved with the launch of Hotwired, they were all talking the same language in their rooms, wherever they were doing their conceptualization.

Daniel Burstein: I mean, that's a great lesson today. Obviously, banner ads are nothing new, but there's something new. There's the metaverse and there's whatever, you know, and there's something new next year and next decade. I think that's something great to learn from that don't just look at how can you squeeze every, you know, scent or sale or lead out of it, but how can you delight?

And so it reminds me of this great quote from Howard Gossage, advertising luminary, it used to be up in one of my art director's office, which we tried to live by, failed but tried to live by it. He said, People don't read ads they read what interests them, sometimes it's an ad. And I think it's kind of getting to that understanding because back in the day now, you know, with content inbound, some things that's changed back in the day, like we had a media budget we could get in front of people. So, we kind of felt, you know, and by we, I mean, you know, brands, marketers kind of felt this, I don't know, like we had the right to just do whatever we wanted with that media budget.

And I think something that I've seen change now that that I like a lot is I think the customer and their attention, their engagement has kind of risen where they have a lot more power in this situation. And what hopefully that drives is that we need to do, like we were talking about content earlier, we need to do the things that engage and we can't just be like, oh, we get to interrupt 30 seconds of their time. We can do whatever we want, right?

Joe McCambley: Yeah. Yeah. You know, it's so interesting to me because getting to that people will read what's interesting to them. So one of the things that we did in 2017 and 2018 was we hired a real editorial team from a real magazine from Time, Inc. and we asked them to create authentic content with editorial integrity that was meant to guide consumers so that they could choose the best mattress whether it's ours or not. Don't mention Saatva so much as how do you find the right mattress like if you have back pain. And we have one blog post for instance, that is so interesting to people that in just two years it cost us about $400 to create it. It's generated over $900,000 in revenue.

And what I mean is people read the ad, not the ad that the blog post, they click from the blog post to the product mentioned in the blog post and they buy it. Over $900,000 in two years. We have ten different blog posts that have generated over a quarter of $1,000,000 that way. And it's all because we, you know, when we hired this editorial team, we said, look, you're the experts when it comes to writing, to being a media company and writing things that are interesting to consumers. This is not about advertising. It's not even about commerce. It's about being interesting. If you can just be interesting, we're going to trust that it will work and it has you know, it really has.

Daniel Burstein: What's the topic of that blog post? Out of curiosity?

Joe McCambley: I can't say. If you don’t mind, I’d rather not say.

Daniel Burstein: Oh, sure, sure, you leave us, people have got to surf the Saatva website and find out for themselves.  But actually, let's talk about some of the stories of the people you've collaborated with. And one of your first stories you did wasn't called content marketing. I don’t even think we used the words back then, but it very much reminded me of content marketing. You said, if you always keep your promises, you will be the kind of person people want to do business with. And you learned that from Jack Shelton, the founder of the Continental Can Companies. You want to tell us how did how did you learn this from Jack?

Joe McCambley: I will and yeah and Jack, he wasn't the founder of Continental Can. He became a customer. But when, where this is related to advertising kind of is that I studied advertising undergrad and when I graduated from school, I called the Creative Director at Foote, Cone & Belding in San Francisco and asked him if he would interview me and said yes. And I went over and saw him, and he said, okay, where's your book? And I said, What? Like throughout my college education, where I studied advertising, nobody said, oh, if you want to be a writer you should have a portfolio. So, my career hit the rocks right away. And I, I got a job with the Continental Can Company and working in the Pacific Northwest, assigned to selling paint cans, mostly to the paint industry.

And Jack Shelton was a distributor of cans, and he was about 80 years old like everybody in the Pacific Northwest working in the paint industry. And I would call on him every Friday because he was kind of on my way home and he was a nice guy and I would like to sit by his desk and I might bring up like a paint can with a rosebush planted in it for his assistant and I would bring interesting newspaper articles about, you know, welded cans versus soldered cans, lead soldered cans.  And I tried to be an interesting salesperson to engage him.

And on about my 10th visit to his office and his office was like a 40-foot wide but a long hallway and it probably had about 50 to 60 people that were all working there, you know, typing on their IBM Selectrics. And so, walk this gauntlet, go down the hallway and I'm about to leave. And as I put my hand on the doorknob. He says, Joe, And the whole office goes quiet. It says, Joe, I turn around and I, yeah, Jack. And he said “When the hell are you going to ask me for a sale? And I said “Jack, will you buy a truckload of cans from me”? And right away everybody stood up and started clapping. And desk drawers open, and there are people that had buckets of ice with champagne bottles on them, and they had been waiting every Friday night for when will this stupid kid actually ask for an order?

And to make a very long story short, or longer. It just taught me that, you know, if you're in sales, you gotta ask for the sale. If you're in advertising, you have to ask for the sale. But, because I had shown up regularly to him, because I tried to be interesting to him, because I had tried to help him, I think I became the kind of person that he wanted to buy from. And later that’s what he told me; it's not just about asking for the order. It's about first becoming the kind of person that people would be eager to buy from. And then asking for the order. You can ask for the order too soon. So, some people will say, oh, he's asked for the order in the first meeting, and it's probably a good idea in most cases, but I don't think it hurts to gain the person's trust, to treat them like a human being, try to help them, and then good things will come after that. And that was a huge lesson for me that kind of guided so much of what I believe in about in advertising today.

Daniel Burstein: Well, yeah, and when I heard that story, what it got me thinking about too is not just direct person to person sales, but everything really we're doing in the internet and digital marketing is just some sort of fake replication of those Person-To-Person relationships and what you were doing to me sounded a lot like content marketing, like you were showing up, you were delivering value.

Joe McCambley: Yes. Yes, that's right. Yeah.

Daniel Burstein: Right. So, we like, for example, going in kind of like, you know, when I create content, I think a mistake I made was I always try to create it for me. Like, so when I do marketing things, I always had to be the most advanced thing because that's what I was interested in. And I learned that by accident, I think I just did a marketing 101 poster. I think we had our new hires do these marketing 101 post’s. We do like marketing 101, what is baking in marketing 101? What are microsites? These very basic things. And what I didn't realize is we were just helping people and it was really popular and then that kind of guides them along in that journey.

And so, I think that's a great in-person lesson of probably what you're doing in Saatva now…you’re just helping people? And then over time they see that, and they are like, you know, I want to buy a mattress from these guys, they seem to know what they're talking about, right? Well, let's talk about your next lesson, focus makes an ad great. You learned this from Steve Cosmopolis, the co-founder of Hill Holiday. Connor's Cosmopolis, the great story. How did you learn this from him?

Joe McCambley: I got to the point where I'd been working sales jobs and I kept telling my wife that I wanted to get in advertising. And finally, she said, you know, you have to shut up and just get a job in advertising. So, she gave me the license to quit my job. And I spent literally the next nine months every day, my eight-hour day job was writing pretend ads and putting together a portfolio and taking it to different creative directors around Boston. To get their evaluation.

And early, after I finished one of my first versions of the portfolio, I called up Steve Cosmopolis back in the day when you used to call people. And he would be willing to see you, he would see almost anybody, as long as you were willing to show up between five and five 30 in the morning, like I guess that's when he does his research, right. And so, his office, he wasn't at Hill Holiday at the time. He had another agency, Cosmopulos, Crowley, Daly and he was on Boylston Street in Boston. So, I showed up at about five in the morning I ring the bell. It's dark, it's snowy, it was in February. And he let you up into his office and he sits there and for about 10 minutes he's going through my book. It's very quiet and he's got his head in his hand and he eventually closes the book, and he says, your book is awful, which isn’t really what I wanted to hear. And I didn't know what to say to that. And he said, let me show you why.

And so, he goes across his office, and he pulls up from the floor. He has this piece of plywood. And sticking through the plywood is about 40 nails. And he lays it down so that the nails are facing up off of his desk. And then he's got another piece of plywood that's just flat plywood. He raises it over his head. I thought it was going to hit me with. And he smashes it down on the nails. None of the nails, doesn’t stick because there's so many nails. And he holds the board in my face. And he says, see, see nothing penetrated, there’s too many points to penetrate. And then he sweeps the bed of nails onto the floor, and he replaces it with another board that has one like railroad spike sticking up through the middle. And then he takes the same piece of plain plywood, and he crashes it down on the railroad spike, and the spike penetrates the board, and he says see if you only make one point that's what the consumer can handle. That's what they can remember. You need to be focused.

And then he went back through my portfolio, and he showed me how in so many of my ads, I was just like loading them up with benefits that people should pay attention to. And so now at this point in my career, I over index when I when I coach young people in our creative team, it's like I prefer that we make one point per ad and it's hard. It's hard to resist the temptation to load it up because you feel like you only have this one opportunity with the consumer. But like I learned from Jack Shelton when I kept visiting him ten times every Friday night, you get multiple hits at the, you know, multiple swings at the ball in advertising. And you've got to trust that if you create one good ad with one good point and then another good ad with another good point. Another good ad with another good point that eventually you penetrate, and you help the consumer.

Daniel Burstein: You know, I've definitely seen that in paid media where you work on an ad. They have a certain amount of space. And the client, we just want no whitespace, they want to fill it all. They pay for the thing; they want to fill it all up. But, you know, digitally, I found that's true too. Like with content marketing. I remember I was writing up, you know obviously a series of blog posts. I was writing one one day and I just realized, and I called it the world doesn't need another blog post, like why even create another piece? Why does it need to be created? And then you have to figure out the reason why it needs to exist. And really, when it comes to advertising or content, I think there's only two things in the world, right? The customer has a pain, or they have a goal.

And you just need to figure out what is the pain or the goal, and then how can your product serve them and to your point, make that one point. You know, and if you can make that one point, like if you're trying to make ten points, forget it. You can make that one point. That is a win. That's hard. That is difficult. And as you said, then you've got that positive brand experience. And maybe like with your story with Jack, you know, ten times down the road, they'll finally say like, okay, I want to buy from them. I want to buy from them already, right?

Joe McCambley: Yeah, yeah. So, but then you I think you brought up another important point that would be important for creative people to realize. You write a blog, and you're right, who needs one more blog? But I'll bet that the process of you're writing a blog as regularly as you do, forces you to have a point of view, forces you to defend your point of view, and keeps you aware of what's important to you.

And, what's better for a creative person today than to understand what their point of view is and to be able to defend their point of view, whether you publish the blog or not. Having that kind of a writing habit and is a great way to figure out what you who you are, what you believe in, what you stand for.

Daniel Burstein: No, I love that you say that because, you know, I often get asked, but like, okay, especially content marketers and you know, copywriters, I don’t have an idea. How can I, what can I create about, what can I create about? I always just say, just sit down and write. Yeah. Because I know for me, like you said, that's how I figure things out, you know? So I start, we've got the topic or whatever, you start writing. Then you figure it out because when you are you’re writing it specifically for someone not just writing down generally and trying to have having to make a case like you do in a blog post, you can't just write about something in general. Not, a commercial blog post, right? You have to make that case to someone and then you help figure it out in your own mind. What, is the point of view, but also what is the value to them? Right? What is the value to them of whatever topic we're going to talk about or this product or whatever it is? So, I love that you say that.

Yeah. I mean, if you're struggling right now, if you're struggling even with something unrelated, right? If you're struggling with, you know, what is the overall value proposition of your company? Well, here's a great one. Here's a great one I've come across recently, hiring has been a major challenge. Why should someone work for your company? And if you just have that general post of like, okay, you need five years of Google Analytics experience, an MBA or whatever, I don't know if you're gonna win in the marketplace, but if you sit down and you write that job description, and you write that I love those job descriptions and we've written them, they've always had a point of view of, Okay, here's what we're about and here's who we're looking for someone about this. And if you're that type of person, let us know.

Joe McCambley:  I hope you won't mind. I'm going to interject a quick story because it's related to what you're saying about like not knowing what to write. I worked on a campaign a few years ago for a brand of adult diapers and we came up with this idea, and as I was presenting the creative to the client, you know, I tried to paint this picture and imagine you're a woman, and your 54 years old and you're sitting on the edge of your bed. You've got a light on your bedside table and it's, you know, it's a 40watt bulb and it's not very bright. And sitting next to you on this on your bed is this package of adult diapers. And you're about to put it one for the very first time in your life. And you know that for the rest of your life, these diapers are going to be a part of your life. And think about how that makes you feel about yourself. So, we did this story and I swear to God, there is one woman at the table who was crying after we did this set up and we showed the ads and they were very, very well received because of the set up. And at one point the CEO said, well, would you mind if we just run these by some consumers?

And so, I said, sure, we can do that. I'm sorry, I coughed. I hope that didn't come through. So, we were doing at the time, we would do what we called “park bench research.” So, you just go out and sit next to people and these were elderly consumers, and you'd be amazed at how easy it is to get people to talk about adult diapers. So, I sat down next to one guy, and I said, Hey, I love to get your idea about something. I showed them the storyboards, and he kind of looks at me like I'm a crazy man. And he says, let me tell you something. I parachuted into France five days before D-Day. And my job was to take out enemy guns. I parachuted in with 40 men, three of us came out. If you think wearing an adult diaper is hard. You haven't had enough life experience. That's nothing to me.

And others on the creative team did the same kind of research where older adults were telling them, this is nothing. Let me tell you about my life, sonny and if you're ever at a loss of what to write about or what to talk about or what to say in your ads. You have to do what too few of us do in advertising. Just go out and sit down with your constituency and actually have a conversation with them and shut your mouth and listen. They'll tell you everything you need to know. You know.

Daniel Burstein: That's great. That that is a really good point. So, you know, often in the digital age, I try to fake it. Look at customer reviews online. Customer reviews are a great thing to actually see people talk in their own words. You know, whether it's a Yelp or B2B, it's an industry site. There's not nothing beats actually talking to potential customers. Yeah, right. Especially when the challenge like that is when they're so different from you, right?

Joe McCambley:  That that old guy that had parachuted into France as he was walking away from the bench, he turned around and he said, I'll bet I could kick your ass today. And I wrote an ad with that line in it that didn't get approved, but I just thought that was gold.

Daniel Burstein: That is gold.

Joe McCambley:  Yeah, I wear a diaper. But I can kick your ass.

Daniel Burstein: I don't think any copywriter, me included, can write a better line than a customer can write themselves just in their natural words when they're not trying. And that's where that research really helps. I've always felt that writing is 80% research. You know, it's 80% knowing what to say. It's 20%, you know, crafting it and saying it well, but 80% is just knowing what to say and talking to customers is a great way, and now we have other tools, A/B testing and analytics, all these other things, but really just kind of getting into what the heck are we going to say here.

Joe McCambley: Yeah.

Daniel Burstein: All right. But the downside, that’s a beautiful, that’s a great story. The downside is  I had a perfect Segway, Joe. I had the perfect segue way of saying, okay, writing your job descriptions to get the right people onto your team because hiring is so difficult now. Because your last lesson is if you want to create and innovate, you should surround yourself with creative and innovative people.

So that's why hiring is so critical right now. Right? Also, if you're out there looking right now, choosing who you work with. So, I want to read out just a quick murderer's row of people you've worked with. Okay. Ashley Brown right now is founder and CEO of Astro Pet Health work with Ashley at Coca-Cola. Nick Utton Marketing Advisor of Market Access when at when Nick was E-Trade, Phil Clawson, EVP of Business Relations at Prelude Software when Bill was at AT&T and Terrie McDonnell, founder of McDonnell Company when Terry was at Sports Illustrated. So wholistically, what have you learned, like you said, have you learned by surrounding yourself with these right type of people?

Joe McCambley: Well, I'll use an example. So, Terry McDonnell was a client of ours when I was at a company that I ran with a partner, David Link, called The Wonder Factory. And we would.

Daniel Burstein: Great name for an agency, by the way. Oh, I Wonder Factory I love that.

Joe McCambley: Thank you.

Daniel Burstein: It’s not McCambley and Link and this and this and this but The Wonder Factory.

Joe McCambley: Exactly. Exactly. So, we would, you know we took an example from Google and we would give our employees the opportunity to spend 20% of their time creating, doing innovative things that were interesting to them. And at the time it was around 2009 going into 2010. The iPhone had been out for a while and there were rumors that Apple might launch a bigger device at some point and a couple of members of our creative team put together a prototype. It was an animated in keynote. It was phenomenal, if Apple did launch a bigger device what would a magazine like Sports Illustrated be like? You know what if you could use an infinite number of photos and an infinite number of videos and connect to anything through this portal, kind of like that first ad. And they put it together and we loved it. We didn't really have a place for it, though, because there was no device like that.

In one day, we got a call, my partner did from Terry when he was at Sports Illustrated, Terry McDonnell. And he, because Dave and I had both worked at AOL at one time, and AOL had a close relationship with Time, Inc. that we were kind of like cousins with Terry, if you will. He called and said, you know, I have a problem that I want to talk to you guys about. You may be able to help me. So, he came in and we brought in lunch to a conference room, and he said, you know, there's rumors going around now that Apple may be launching a new device, a bigger device than the iPhone. And we think this could be an opportunity for Sports Illustrated. And I've been told by the board to come up with an idea for if this device launches what Sports Illustrated would be like. Would you be interested in working on concepts for that?

And, you know, this never happens in advertising, where Dave and I looked at each and we just thought, oh, my G-d, this is like there's a G-d. So, we brought the prototype up on a screen. We showed him the prototype of what we thought Sports Illustrated could be, that our creative team had put together. And he said, we're going to do this. And not only is, when you think about, you know, Terry had had worked at some pretty phenomenal magazines. And he's a huge figure in magazine publishing. He's an innovator. He's been a risk taker. He's brought about big changes in the publishing industry. And oftentimes if you're a creative person or a creative agency, you need clients like that that have the guts to instigate change. So eventually, Apple did announce the iPad was coming out and the Sports Illustrated did launch on the iPad. And it was a phenomenal success for them. But others, like you mentioned, that got Nick Utton. Nick was the CMO at MasterCard, I believe it was CMO at MasterCard when they came out with the priceless campaign. And then he was at E-Trade when they came up with the E-Trade baby. And now how many times in your life do you get to be in the same room with that kind of a person?

You can't help but grow when you have somebody like that pushing you to be as good as you can possibly be. So, you know, you often hear people at companies or agencies and say, our companies not innovative enough and they don't do this, or they don't do that? My suggestion to think it out is don't waste your time working at a place with people that don't embrace the kind of change that you're trying to create in your world.

Life's too short. And the more you can expose yourself to people that are smarter than you, more experienced than you. The more you can shut up and listen to them and learn from them, the better off you'll be and pay them back by trying to be equal to them. Not by trying to be smarter than them but trying to reward them for giving you that opportunity to be in the same room with them.

Daniel Burstein: Well, let me tell you, so one thing I found in my career, I call this informed dissent, right. This is not just being around creative and innovative people who have all the brilliant ideas or who you can, which is very true and very important, but it's also being around this type of people who can tell you when it's a dumb idea.

You know what I mean. And so, one of the hard things I've seen is you get this sort of like, I don't know, culture, this this uncomfortableness of everyone's got these ideas and there was this idea at some point in the world and I know brainstorming that there's no bad ideas.

Joe McCambley: Yeah. Yeah.

Daniel Burstein: But the people that have been so valuable that I've, you know, collaborated with, have been like no that's a bad idea, and here's why. And then they really get you thinking. I found that also in some of these collaborations.

Joe McCambley: Oh, absolutely. I mean, that is the worst myth to hit creativity in the history of mankind. I thought that there is no such thing as a bad idea.

Daniel Burstein: I'm glad you say that. I'm glad you say that.

Joe McCambley: Yeah, that is the biggest crock of crap. But when you're going through the process of developing, say, 100 ideas, you have to keep in mind that on some level, quantity is important because you've got to get through the obvious to get the un-obvious. So it's okay to embrace all ideas as being good until you're ready to embrace the thought that all ideas aren't good. And there's one that I'm going to hold on to, you know, so yeah, absolutely. There are bad ideas, but bad ideas are part of the process of getting to a really good idea, I think.

Daniel Burstein: Well put.

Joe McCambley: Yeah. Well, thank you.

Daniel Burstein: Well, there's some great stories. Thank you for taking us all through that. But let's give something to the audience. Let's leave them with this one answer to this one essential question that we really all need to know. What are the key qualities of an effective marketer?

Joe McCambley: Humility, number one, humility. You if you're in marketing today or if you've been in marketing for the past 20 years, it's a hockey stick in change, in changes in technology, in changes in people's awareness and their ability to get information, and the ability to get what you wanted a moment's notice. I mean, things are just changing like that. And what you learned a year ago isn't relevant anymore, or it may be relevant, but you have to be open to the possibility that your experience and things that you did in the past are less important than the process of embracing what's new and being open to new people and new ideas.

One, probably my biggest pet peeve, and I know that I'm guilty of doing this, I'm trying to cure myself. But when people say to me, you know, well, I used to work here and we did that, and this is what I learned. And of course, you did. And of course, that's your truth. But it may not be true today. Be open to the idea that the ideas that you held dear a year ago aren't as relevant as they used to be and embrace something new. And that means shut, I can't say it enough shut up and listen. And I know that my team is probably going to hear this podcast and they're going to say, have you ever shut up and listen, yeah right.

Daniel Burstein: Now they can hold you to it.

Joe McCambley: Right. But it's an aspiration, let's put it that way.

Daniel Burstein: Well, that's a great way to put it. It's an aspiration. I hope you don't mind my saying, but my experience with Joe is that he has lived that humility. In fact, we were off the air, he was saying, should I be doing this podcast? I'm still learning, am I the right guy? But as we talked about and we learned Joe's truth today, and I hope it was helpful to you. I know it was helpful to me. So, thanks for joining us.

Joe McCambley: Are you saying thank you to me?

Daniel Burstein: I'm thinking thank you for joining us. Yes. Yes. We didn’t rehearse the outro.

Joe McCambley: No really! No, Dan thank you for having me. I hope my children take your example and listen to me.

Daniel Burstein: Well, now, I will also thank our entire audience for listening. Thank you for giving us some of your time. I know you're busy marketers. Goodbye.

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