Interview: Richard Kirshenbaum

Ad guru Richard Kirshenbaum on branding, marketing, consumers and trends like "bediquette" and "metrosexual."

By Carlin Flora, published March 1, 2005 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Richard Kirshenbaum, entrepreneur, author and self-professed metrosexual, is cochairman of Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners. The New York City advertising agency brought us commercials starring Wendy the Snapple lady, who was the company's actual customer service representative, long before the reality-TV craze. More recently, his firm invented those hyperstylish Target ads in which lampshades are reconceptualized as miniskirts and toothpaste as brick mortar.

Why are Americans cynical about ads?

They are bombarded by thousands of ads a day. Also, everyone has taken a marketing course and thinks they are a guru. It all looks so easy, and people are more aware that they are being sold.

In crafting a product's message, do you play to people's strengths or to their weaknesses?

We do a lot of research to understand who the consumer is. How you talk to them is part of the creative process. When we were developing a campaign for a line of hair-care products, we found that only 13 percent of women are redheads. And only 4 percent are real. Redheads like being unique and different. Look at Lucille Ball, Debra Messing, Ann-Margret. There is a reason why they want to be red.

Brunettes measure themselves against blondes. They feel strongly that they're not talked to the way blondes are talked to. We give these women empowering advertising, like "Become a brunette goddess."

Your new book [Closing the Deal: Two Married Guys Take You From Single Miss to Wedded Bliss, written with Daniel Rosenberg] essentially tells single women how to strengthen their personal brands. Should people in search of love be considered products?

There are times in your life when you need to market yourself.

You also do some trend spotting. What idea will supercede metrosexual?

We came up with tefloning, which is how a man avoids the topic of marriage. And bediquette, a woman's etiquette in bed with a man.

Is there a red state-blue state ad divide?

This assumes that people in [red or blue] states think alike and make decisions in blocs. It's too simplistic.

Are funny ads usually successful?

Humor is a wonderful emotion to tap into. However, humorous ads are troubling because you have to create a link to the product and its benefit. Often, people remember a funny ad but they don't remember the product.

EBay has an ad with the tag line "People Are Good," showing images of folks helping strangers. It almost brings a tear to the eye. Do these earnest ads work?

I don't think imagery of happy, peppy people is going to make people less cynical.

We invented what's called the negative sell. The ad was for Kenneth Cole and said: "Imelda Marcos bought 2,700 pairs of shoes. She could've at least had the courtesy to buy a pair of ours." We didn't show the product. We said she didn't buy the shoes! Honesty is the best way to deal with consumers. They're too smart. And today, they are too well educated.