Mike Peacock: Hey, everybody. What’s going on? Welcome back to Cosmic Soup. Today’s guest brings an indescribable energy, and over-the-top personality, and unique sense of, dare I say, style to every room he walks into, captivating audiences and delivering some truly high concept thinking into the industry. I’m, of course, talking about Derek Dujardin, Creative Director and Brand Strategist here at 3rdThird Marketing. Even his name is awesome.
Derek has been the architect of many of the award-winning campaigns for 3rdThird and their clients. Today, he’s going to talk about his philosophies on how creative approaches to branding and advertising can have huge impacts on ROI as well as some of his outside of the box ideas on pivoting to minimize collateral damage and maximize results during these challenging times. Please welcome to the show 3rdThird’s own style guru, Derek Dujardin. Derek, welcome to the show.
Derek Dujardin: Hey, man. How are you doing?
Mike: I’m doing awesome. How about yourself?
Derek: I’m doing great. Glad we finally got a chance to sit down and have a conversation about creativity and senior living. It’s nice.
Mike: We’ve been talking about doing this for a while. Finally, we made it happen and our lives can now go on, right?
Derek: Right. Well, the missing part of me has been recovered and I’m excited to share time with you.
Mike: [Laughter] Yeah. As I’ve mentioned to you before, I always like to bring this up. It’s my little thing, but you are easily the most stylish person in the company and probably one of the most over-the-top personality, awesome people I know. I’m really looking forward to getting that personality to show through on this show today and get a little tidbit, just a little taste of what Derek is all about.
Derek: Oh, snap. Okay. That will be fun. Yeah, I can be a little much and I think that I was a little worried when I first started going into the senior living industry that I wasn’t mainstream enough. But I think that’s exactly what this industry needs. I do like to have fun, and so thanks for acknowledging that. I appreciate it.
Mike: Yeah, for sure. Well, now that I’ve made this all super awkward by blubbering all over you, let’s get some background on you. What do you say?
Derek: Sounds good.
Mike: [Laughter] How about you tell us how you came to be at 3rdThird Marketing? What did you do before you came on board and, really, what got you interested in working in the senior living industry?
Derek: Okay. Yeah, so I started my career in the early ’90s. I started in Seattle working for Macy’s department stores. It was called The Bon Marché at the time. Anyway, that was where I got started. I put in a few years doing that.
Then I moved around to different ad agencies, as a young copywriter should during that time. Worked on a lot of different accounts. I wrote the very first nestle.com website way back in the late ’90s, which was really cool. Flew to Vevey, Switzerland.
Derek: Yeah, I’ve worked with Starbucks and T-Mobile and basically Microsoft. Anybody that was kind of in Seattle at that time, I did work with them.
I had a lot of high-tech, B2B experience and I also had a lot of consumer experience. I took all of that, and then I ran into Cynthia. We were doing a lot of direct mail. She was working with VoiceStream at the time and that became T-Mobile later.
We started working together with two other partners. We actually had an agency that we were working together for a while called Three A.M. We used to joke that that’s when the bars closed. It was called Three A.M. Advertising.
We did that and then, in the, yeah, mid-2000s, I just had enough of all of it and I sold my house in Seattle and I moved to Sedona. I was going to start a photography business and leave advertising behind, but my clients wouldn’t let me, and they kept calling me for work. I started really just working remotely from down here.
I did a lot of meditating on vortexes, went into theater and did improve, worked in Toastmasters, and just did a lot of really, really great things for my own soul. I wrote a play called The MENding Monologues that’s still being used in college campuses today that’s all about gender violence, but having men talk about gender violence and it’s affected them through the violence done to the women in their lives. Yeah, it actually is more fun than it sounds, as far as the play goes.
Derek: It’s got some levity in it as well as a lot of serious issues, which is a tricky thing to do. Anyway, I did all that and I’ll be honest with you. Ending up a creative director in senior living was not on my radar. I have a great portfolio. My portfolio, I think, is as good as a lot of ad agencies out there. I was pretty happy just to sort of do this for the rest of my life, just sort of take on different projects and work freelance.
Then Cynthia came into my life again and she said, “You know, I’m doing these senior living branding projects and I’m doing these direct mail lead generation. I’d like you to do some work for us.” I said sure, and I was kind of expecting it to be really boring because I looked up the work that was out there and it’s really bad and expecting, “Okay, I could do this in my sleep.”
Her thing was, “No, we want your creativity. We want you to really approach this as you would any other project with a lot of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. I said okay, and so we worked on our first project that was Affinity. We did some other work and then, after about two years of working remotely, she said, “Hey, I want you to be my creative director.”
What drew me to the industry is there’s not very much good work out there and it’s really easy to win awards. [Laughter] I know that sounds a little…, but relative to everything else out there, I think that there is so much that we can do for our customers and our clients that other agencies aren’t doing.
It’s like they’re stuck in the 1970s. It’s not that they’re stuck there. It’s that they don’t know any better because nobody has ever shown them an alternative. They just think this is how you do it. That’s where Cynthia and I have the meeting of the minds where we both value the creative expression and how creativity in advertising can result in really stellar ROI and getting to stand out and make a really strong brand.
Then, of course, there’s such a great group of people at 3rdThird that it just was a natural fit.
Derek: Yeah, that’s how I got into it.
Mike: Tell exactly now, what is the role of a creative director? What are you responsible for? What do you bring to the soup?
Derek: Sure. Basically, since we’re a boutique agency, if we had a larger stable of creatives, I would be overseeing all of them. Right now, we have a designer and a lot of other people that are solo, siloed, so I basically oversee all the work that comes through and then I make it better.
At the same time, because we’re a small agency, I actually invest myself in doing a lot of the creativity and concepting. I’ve also pled to a role as idea generator, concepting, copywriting, all of that. Then we’re bringing the visuals to the table. I’m not a designer, but I have really good instincts of what looks good and what I think would really get people’s attention.
I bring a lot of these crazy ideas. Sometimes it’s scratched out or different pieces of stock photography that I’ve found with a headline, and then I approach our designer Catherine and say, “Hey, Catherine, can you make this look good?” she always makes me look good, so that’s kind of the role.
Derek: Then, of course, overseeing it, overall, making sure there’s not any ageist content that shows up in stuff. Just all different aspects of it that, at the end of the day, the brand itself is unique, stands out, and there isn’t anything that makes you go, “Oh, that doesn’t work,” so making sure everything works smoothly and looks good.
Mike: Yeah, I’ve seen quite a few examples of your work now at this point. I wanted to ask you about a couple of things, though. You mentioned that you come up with concepts. I’ve seen some of your videos.
I seem to recall one where you were sitting down. It looks like an old west saloon. You were kind of cowboyed up. That was a really cool project.
Then you’re also responsible, I believe, for bringing on the concept of The Dude or The Drude. Is that you? Was that your concept?
Derek: [Laughter] Yeah, well, again, so much of the work that I should actually give Cynthia a lot of credit. A lot of the creativity, I’ll come to the table with a bunch of work, and then she’ll say, “Hey, what about this?” In some ways, she definitely has her foot in the creative realm as well as the account realm. That makes her a triple threat. She’s able to do all of these things really well. I learn a lot from her.
Anyway, we’d actually talked about doing this project called The Big Kahuna for LeadingAge. It was going to be, oh, you know, surf theme because we’re down in San Diego. At the very end of this huge presentation I had done, I said, “Yeah, we could have a guy dressed like The Dude walking around the showroom with a White Russian.”
She goes, “The Dude? That’s what it needs to be about, The Dude,” so then we changed, totally changed everything, and made it about The Dude. I think it was a really smart shift because those are baby boomers. Those of you who don’t know The Big Lebowski, that’s the movie where The Dude comes from.
We used that as kind of a focal point. How would The Dude experience retirement living? The Dude is somebody who has no B.S. He’s going to tell it like it is.
It gave us an opportunity to really talk about what’s wrong in the way that the marketing is nowadays and what’s wrong in a lot of communities, but then how it could be made right. It’s kind of a point for us to say the emperor has no clothes in these certain areas and being kind of a class of just going and blowing everything up and making it better.
Mike: Yeah. [Laughter] I remember meeting Drew for the first time and just being floored by the way that he really embraces that character. I was really thinking how creative that was to take a concept like that and bring it into a completely unrelated industry.
I remember thinking, “I don’t know how this is going to work. I don’t understand what’s going on here.” Then when you see it and you really hear the concepts about taking something as generational like The Big Lebowski and opening it up to everybody and exposing them to that concept, it just blew my mind. That was just so awesome and so fun. Props to you and the team for that. That was a blast.
Derek: Yeah, that was really fun. Yeah, The Dude, he is The Dude in my book, the way that he lives his life. We both got a lot out of that.
Mike: Yeah, definitely. Awesome. If I’m not mistaken, didn’t you spend some time doing either standup or improv? I don’t remember which one.
Derek: Not standup comedy. Improvised comedy, improv acting. Usually, it becomes funny. Improv comedy is a lot like Whose Line is it Anyway? but also I’m a practitioner of long-form, which is Chicago style improv.
I started doing this about 2005, I started taking an improv class, fell in love with it. People thought I was good enough to be on stage, and so they let me on stage with them. Then, after doing that for about five years, our improv group that had started, that person left who started it and it fell apart. Then a few years later, I started my own group and led that.
The thing that I like about improv and why it kind of fits in really well with creativity in advertising is that there is this tenant of improv, which is, yes and. It’s actually two parts. Yes means we’re in agreement. This is what we’re talking about. This is the world we’re creating, right? Then the “and” part is building onto that, adding different aspects of it.
When you’re doing brainstorming, if somebody says no to an idea, that kills the brainstorm. It just takes the kink in the creative flow and it’s really hard to get in good ideas out of that.
Derek: Approaching life as a yes is kind of also a personal philosophy. Then, and how can we make this better? How can we find other aspects of this?
That also works in what we do in advertising. With 3rdThird, everything is kind of this creative walk and a flow. I’ve been at other agencies where there’s a lot of ego and people get really attached to ideas. I think I don’t have that.
I mean I’ll stand up for really good ideas but, with that said, if it’s a good idea, I don’t care who came up with it. I don’t care if it was the person working the front desk, the principle, or Shawn. Shawn has come up with great ideas. Anybody who has a good idea, I’m like, “Yeah. Let’s use that and make it better.”
Mike: Yeah, absolutely. Your background is really entrenched in outside of the box thinking and creativity. What role does creativity play in ROI?
Derek: Oh, yeah. I think that part of that is, in advertising, you need to get people’s attention, right? I think that, in senior living, there tends to be this idea that if you send out too much and you get too much attention, you’re doing something wrong.
People, they want to leads. They want a strong brand. But they don’t want to do anything that hasn’t been done before. Those two opposites, they can’t work. Something has to give, right?
By taking that chance, and we’ve done – let’s talk about this right now. We did a project for The Hearthstone. It was called the Cove East and they wanted to basically sell, I think it was, 32 units of the very high-priced area right on Green Lake in Seattle.
The thing that was going on with this one project is that it was going to be really rare. There’s no other project that was going to ever be like this again. It kept coming back to this idea of being really rare.
Most people would have taken that and they would have probably shown pictures of people running around the lake or something like that. I decided, hey, let’s do something that will get everybody’s attention. It’s going to be as rare as seeing the Green Lake Mermaid.
We ended up doing this picture with this really beautiful stock photography of a mermaid and it says, “The only thing rarer than seeing the Green Lake Mermaid is this new project.” The headline was something like that. I can’t think of exactly what it is right now.
We ran, I think, the ad two or three times and we did two pieces of direct mail. Within about two months, we had sold out the entire project. Because we did that, it ends up – it was going to be basically a year-long advertising campaign. It got truncated into about two and a half months. The ROI on that project was well over 200%, a 200:1 ROI. For every dollar spent, there was $200 that you got back on the marketing.
There you go. If we’d done something more traditional, we probably would have run a campaign for six months or a year. It would have sold out, but it wouldn’t have had that immediate sellout. It’s not just 200:1 ROI. If you think that we also saved another ten months of marketing and we didn’t have to do any more marketing for the next ten months, they probably saved more like 500:1 ROI. Again, creativity works really well on ROI in that way.
Mike: Yeah, absolutely. The money is one thing but, especially in times like now where every second counts on everything you’re doing, the time is, in a lot of ways, even more valuable to organizations than just the money output.
Derek: Yeah. No, I agree absolutely because they also talked about the whole COVID-19 thing. If you don’t sell your home in the next six months and move to one of these communities, that window of opportunity might not open up again for another two, three, five years. There is that as well, so it’s like, take a chance, roll the dice, go big right now because the housing market is about six months behind the rest of the economy. I have a feeling we’re going to see housing values drop pretty quickly. People who have a lot of value in their homes, which that usually is our customer, they sell those homes now and get into a community, they have a much better chance of selling it for a much better dollar value than if they wait.
Mike: Yeah. Well, you kind of touched on it a little bit with your answer as far as creativity and the role it plays in ROI. You kind of led into also some branding elements, which I know we’ve talked to Cynthia about quite a bit because that’s her specialty. You take a creative approach to branding in and of itself as well?
Derek: Oh, yeah. I think the whole thing has to be creative. It’s not creativity for creativity’s sake. The way that we work at 3rdThird, and this really was pioneered by Cynthia, is we go in and we learn everything we possibly can about a potential brand. We learn everything about the residents and all that, become these sponges, and we soak everything in. Then we reflect on it and then, like a sponge, we wring it out, we capture the gems that come out of that, and expand that into what is the true reflection of this brand.
I think you have to look at things from a little bit of a sideways view. By looking at it a little differently, you can elevate some aspects and make that play larger with their brand. Part of it is really listening, really seeing what’s there, and then taking that and then just blowing it up, magnifying it and elevating it in a way that basically is themselves.
See, a lot of times brands, they come to us and they actually don’t have a good brand – they have a really great brand in reality. They have a really bad brand as far as the face they show themselves. Okay? Internally and authentically, how they do they approach senior living within the community, they do a really great job but their branding doesn’t reflect that.
They always say people look better on paper sometimes than they do in real life. That’s usually the other way around for a lot of the communities. They do a really good job in reality but, on paper, in ads, and on their website, they just aren’t reflecting what’s already there.
We want to find that, what’s there, and then bring it up. It’s not about being creative for the sake of, “Oh, we’re going to be crazy.” It still has to be credible and relevant to your target audience, but that’s why I think that what we do really is valuable and nobody else in the industry goes as deep as we do.
Mike: Yeah. How do you approach a client then who wants to just play it safe? How do you break them of that mold that maybe it’s time to try something new?
Derek: Yeah, that could be a tough one because, at the end of the day, they do pay the bills. I think, lately, people have been coming to us. They don’t want safe. They’ve already done the safe bet. They’ve worked with the big agencies that have been doing senior living forever and they’re tired of that same old, same old, and they know that it’s not serving them or where they need to be in the next five, ten years when the baby boomers really hit the market in a big way.
Part of that is, we don’t seem to attract that level of safe customer anymore. With that said, if we do, I always look at them and say, “Okay. Safe is dangerous. If you want to look like everybody else, you will get exactly what they’re getting.”
Now, if they’re getting really good results then, by all means, be that safe, vanilla, gray brand that looks very clinical and medical or insurance-like. Go for that. But if you don’t want that, if you want something better or you want to roll the dice and see if you can’t do better, give us a shot.
Usually, a lot of times, let us start with a direct mail piece that we send out to an area and see how that quality works for you. Then also, here’s the other thing. I don’t know if it plays very well with clients but it’s one of those things that if they do exactly what we tell them to do, they will get results.
The only time that we’ve had projects fail, in my experience, is when a client has said, “No, no, no,” has gone against our advice, and decided, “No, we’re going to do it this other way.” We’ll come up to them and say, “Hey, we’re the experts on this. This is what we believe is the right way to go. This has been our experience. This is what we think your ROI is going to be if you go this way,” and they’ve set that aside.
Then a lot of times we’ll say, “Okay. You’re the boss. We’ll do it, but here are some caveats. We can’t promise that you’re going to get the level of results that you would like.” A lot of times, that will make them wake up.
A lot of times, we’ll do two different types of mailings or something like that. Yeah, it can be an uphill battle but, like you said, if you look at our work, there are not too many people that want to play it safe that hire 3rdThird Advertising.
Mike: Yeah. You mentioned something earlier about ageism and I wanted to kind of touch on that for a minute because it’s a concept that I know that we’ve talked about a lot within our company. I even had a conversation with a client recently about that. There’s this concept called internalized ageism. Can you explain that to the listeners? How does it relate to marketing and branding in senior living as well?
Derek: Yeah, I ran across this concept a couple of years ago. I was reading this article actually by Stacey Burling of the Philadelphia Inquirer. The article was “Old and ageism: Why so many older people have prejudices about their peers – and themselves.”
Basically, she cites a couple of researchers who talk about this idea of internalized ageism. It’s kind of qualified as this. Let me read it so I don’t get it wrong. Basically, it states that all the negative conditioning that we received throughout life about older people creates a bias that can be summed up as our internalized ageism.
It’s kind of like a prejudice against our future self. This is kind of like self-hatred. I know that this appears in other areas as well, like there is some races that have that because it’s been conditioned into them from a terrible past and history.
The thing is, we live in this, right? Since I was a little kid, in our culture, we never venerated age. Age was always, you know, “That’s a silly old person,” “Don’t mind them,” “They need to be looked after,” “They’re not leaders,” that type of thing.
I think, as a culture, we’ve been ingrained to celebrate youth and disdain age. That’s where this concept of internalized ageism shows up.
Then for us, it then becomes something that we need to account for because I’m a big believer in neuromarketing. Neuromarketing is basically a part of marketing that looks at how the brain perceives its environment and perceives signals from marketing point of view.
If you ignore that and you say, “Okay, there is this bias out there,” and you don’t let that – let me back up. You don’t want to show that bias, right? You don’t want to cosign it. But, at the same time, you need to account for it as how you speak to people through images.
We do a lot of focus groups. We bring people in and we ask them, “If you didn’t know how old you were, how old do you think you’d be?” Most people, on average, say that they feel about 20 years younger than they actually are in the chronological age. We take that information and it sits with us.
Then we show them images of older people in ads. I’m not kidding you. A lot of them will look at these older people and they say, “That’s not me.” Even though that person might actually be older than them, they go, “That’s not me. I want to see people in hiking boots. I want to see people with backpacks on,” or, “That group of women look silly.”
When you start seeing that there’s this bias, and I do think it tends to be within the target audience, men don’t carry this bias quite as much but, as we know in senior living, it tends to be women who are the decision-makers and there are more of them that we’re working with that they tend to have this disconnect. Even though they recognize themselves in the mirror, they go, “Oh, I see grandma staring back at me,” they don’t see people who are older in their peer group.
Everybody who has ever worked in the senior living industry, in a community, especially in sales, they’ve all had that prospect that walked in, looked around the room, and they might be 92 years old and say, “I don’t want to live with all these old people,” right? That, I think, is an example of internalized ageism.
Then how we account for that is, we’ll show images of people in an environment but they’re not the whole part of the environment. They’re part of the environment, but they’re usually moving. They’re kind of blurred or they’ll be part of an aspirational, so they’ll be working out. They’ll be doing something aspirational.
We kind of pull it together. I say it really comes down to two things. You need to sell an attitude and aspiration, not age. Age is kind of a lazy way of doing it. It’s better to focus on the positives.
The fact is that the Dove campaign, there’s the Dove campaign that showed plus-sized models. This is for the Dove soap campaign. It got a lot of attention about four or five years ago. This idea of beauty is something that they were exploring that you don’t have to be a size zero to be beautiful.
I think that’s the same thing when it comes to age is that you don’t have to be 25 to be beautiful. You can be 75, you can be 85 if you’re healthy. If you’re healthy, you have that sparkle in your eyes, you’re engaged in life, and you have a positive attitude, that’s sexy. That’s engaging as well. You want to know that person. You want to emulate that. I think that’s where we need to strike that balance between finding that and then still recognizing that we do have a target audience that is of that age without trying to sweep it under the rug.
That’s a long way to answer that question, but it’s something I’m passionate about. I’m writing a blog about it right now, so I’m kind of into that subject pretty deep.
Mike: Well, it was a long answer but, at the same time, you kind of answered another question I was going to ask you, which is, how do you walk that fine line between showing people of a certain age and showing your target audience? You went right into that anyway, so no. Great. That definitely explained a lot.
Derek: Oh, great. Thanks.
Mike: Yeah, absolutely. I think now is a perfect time for us to take a little break, but don’t go anywhere because Derek and I still have a lot to talk about. When we come back, Mr. Dujardin is going to enlighten us with his thoughts on COVID-19 and what we should be doing to pivot, stay productive, and stay positive. Stick around and we’ll be right back with more Cosmic Soup.