Reflections of an Advertising Professional

Steve DiManni provided marketing and advertising services to the hair replacement industry for over 25 years. He saw the industry evolve from a wig and toupee-based market to a sophisticated multi-solutions market headed by financial analysts and database managers. Steve was accustomed to rapid change; indeed, his business was creating change since he worked for a prominent New York advertising agency. However, no matter how much the industry restructures the fundamentals remain the same.

In this article, Steve takes us back to basics and reminds us that we are dealing with that most delicate of all emotions, a man or woman’s self-image and that this needs to be addressed with empathy and understanding. Steve believed that strong feelings like these are best addressed through carefully crafted marketing and advertising and urged companies to develop strong communications programs. Steve was a close friend of The Hair Authority and one of the most insightful analysts in the hair management industry. A 24-year veteran of Madison Avenue and a 23-year veteran of the hair restoration industry, Steve won almost every major advertising industry creative award in existence, including Clios, Andys, and Effies. He was a Senior Vice President and Creative Director at a $100 million New York advertising agency and a long-time consultant to the OnRite Company. Steve DiManni passed away in 2011.

Early days – I want to take readers back in time to the 80s when the hair industry as we know it today was still in development. HRS, the brainchild of Leo Benjamin, was being developed by Jules Bornstein. It was a marketing cooperative that was soon to become a franchise. Hair Club for Men was about to move from print into its first TV commercials. Monte Carlo, who you don’t hear about today, was a leading hair manufacturer. Print advertising was delivering lead costs at $50 a lead, so if you spent two or $300 for an ad in a New Jersey newspaper, you’d get five leads. Then we all went on TV and, all of a sudden, we began getting leads at $20-$25 and the phone would not stop ringing. Everybody wanted to buy hair. People wanted to know about hair replacement and barbershops and men’s hair salons started seeing their fellow haircutters make money and they wanted to be part of the business too.

Wild West – By the late 80s, everything had kicked into high gear. The industry was being largely driven by Hair Club, but other people were starting to copy Hair Club commercials. Even independent operators would try to copy a Hair Club commercial, sometimes almost word for word. It was the Wild West, but everyone was making money.

Smarter Consumers – With the passage of time, the consumer got smarter.The consumer started realizing that this hair system thing was really like a toupee or hair weave and the wonder factor left. Unfortunately, the industry did not help matters. It stayed with the same old story of building confidence. “I’m so confident now… I’m confident with all the girls… I’m on the Jet Ski… I’m on a motorcycle.” The advertising showed people doing ridiculous stunts to show that their hair wouldn’t fly off. Why did they even raise the question?

Get Professional Advertising Support – Sy Sperling got lucky in the beginning because he had a good counselor and his early commercials were believable. But when amateurs started making commercials, they came up short. That’s why there are advertising agencies. General Electric has an advertising agency. McDonald’s has an advertising agency. They’re smart people. E*TRADE has an ad agency. They’re smart people. But people who try to go it alone without professional help; well they’re not smart. If, you had blocked arteries, wouldn’t you go to the best cardiac surgeon you could find? Well if your business is important to you, you want to go to the best advertising people you can find.

The Plateau – The industry reached a plateau in the late 90s. Around 2000- 2001, things began to change for the worse. It was a perfect storm. Number one; transplants were getting better and better and the transplant industry was not shy about talking about its improvements. Number two; hair growth drugs, Minoxidil and Propecia gave people hope. People were saying, why put something on my head or have a transplant when I can sprinkle something on or take a pill and I’ll grow my hair back. Those two factors, combined with the traditional hair business not keeping pace with the times and the commercials getting more and more ridiculous, really hurt the nonsurgical hair replacement market, and it has still not fully recovered.

Around this time, I moved from HRS to OnRite and we were producing some very effective stuff. We made a lot of money for studios that ran our commercials, but we could see that the independent market was getting to plateau. Lead costs were rising, and studios began to wonder if advertising still worked. What they didn’t understand was it wasn’t the medium, it was the material. Homemade commercials don’t work. Amateurs think they are very creative but then not. Many local media don’t even hire copywriters, they write the scripts themselves. They’re too busy trying to be TV producers, Madison Avenue creative directors or Hollywood moguls. It’s an insult to me as a professional who makes TV commercials for living. The saddest part is when a group of people pool resources to produce a commercial and start running it until they find it doesn’t connect with the consumer and everyone jumps ship. There was one studio owner who produced a commercial that delivered $800 leads. The guy who was responsible for this disaster bailed out and wouldn’t even run his own commercial.

Calling All Researchers – Most of the problems in the hairloss market can be traced back to a dearth of research and a poor understanding of the market. This is a big problem, but it’s also a real opportunity if and when we do our homework. Most guys realize that Propecia and Minoxidil don’t work. Or don’t produce results that are cosmetically sufficient. As for surgery, there will always be people who will be drawn to transplants and others who will rule them out. As for shaving your head, doing the Bruce Willis thing, well, that’s kind of passé now. So, there is still this demand. If you could put your finger on what men are truly looking for, there could be a renaissance of the man’s hair business.

Catch 22 – The male consumer has not been addressed in a meaningful way for a long time. It’s become a catch 22. Many studio owners think men don’t want to buy hair anymore and so they believe that advertising to them is useless. I don’t know how they think they are going to sustain themselves in the long-term because, although the women’s market is a nice niche for them, fewer women lose their hair than men. It’s a nice market segment and has served the industry well, but you can only take the cream off the top for so long. At some point they will have taken all the cream, and then they’ll not be in great shape.

Turning Things Around? I think priority number one is more research. Ideally on an industry-wide basis. At OnRite, we did a series of focus groups with two groups of men and women that Andy Wright paid for out of his own pocket. We came up with some interesting insights. Of course, focus groups are qualitative, not quantitative, but you can see what red flags are out there. One of the flags waving prominently in three of the focus groups was. “If they talk about ‘confidence’ one more time in these commercials I’ll rip my hair off. I’m not doing this for the confidence. That doesn’t have anything to do with hairloss – it’s demeaning to say that.” What you got is the industry pushing this button called “confidence” and the consumer saying, “no, no, no.” And every time you say confidence, you drive the consumer away. And now people are sitting back saying, advertising doesn’t work. That’s not true. Advertising does work. You just need the right approach. We’ve tried some small stuff like radio. And we get a lot of leads. So advertising is working. My message to salon owners is you have to work with professionals. You are doing yourself an injustice if you’re not getting marketing materials that keep up with the changing consumer. There’s always going to be attrition, you’re always going to lose clients, so you have to keep replacing clients, otherwise you’re going to grow smaller and smaller.

You Get What You Pay For – Studios have to address the fact that it’s a more complex marketplace out there. The appeals that worked well in the past just don’t hold water today. We have to find new ways to reach out to the consumer, and studios have to open their wallets. A lot of studios say, “I just put up a website.” People think that the Internet is free. Digital media is not free. Unless you put money into a website it’s not going to work. You either have to pay per word or pay per click on the search engine. You’re also going to need your own administrator. You have to have a carefully crafted website and you’d better be using traditional media like print or television as well to drive traffic to it. You cannot just do it digitally. People are trying to do things on the cheap and they’re getting very little back because they’re putting very little into it. You get what you pay for.

How do you know what works? – Talk to other studio owners. See what they are doing and then sort through that advice. Talk to a lot of people. Not just your friends. I go to industry conferences. Every manufacturer has a conference. Find out what’s working for other people. A lot of studios are trying out-of-the-box marketing techniques like getting ads posted in health clubs or getting on closed circuit TV in spas and health clubs. There are all sorts of alternatives out there. See what successful people are doing and stop listening to the naysayers. All the negative people say you can’t make money. But there are a lot of people out there doing very well. What sets them apart is the fact that they are not following what worked in the past; they are looking to the future.

I wish we could change our industry culture – If one day a famous Hollywood actor came out of the closet and said, “You know what? This is not my own hair. I’ve had a hair replacement for years.” Then, perhaps, things would change. Until then, they’re always going to be jokes, stuff about Joe Biden’s hair transplant when he was running for office and so on. There’s only so much you can do about it. Of course, there are actors who’ve have had a hair replacement like Nicolas Cage or John Travolta, but they don’t talk about it. Everyone used to make fun of William Shatner, but he’s almost 80 years old and he looks like a million bucks. He’s had a hair replacement for about 50 years now and I think the guy looks great. I don’t know if William Shatner would be William Shatner if he didn’t have hair.

About Branding – I definitely think this is the place for studios to go. “Branding is key. If the market is flat, a studio has to take share from its competitors. One of the ways you take share is by having a greater presence in the marketplace.” If there are four hair studios and you are the most well known, you’re more likely to get whatever hair replacement dollars are out there. It becomes even more important for studios focusing on a particular audience like women or a therapy like laser to brand themselves and define their market positioning.

About Hair – Hair is still seen as a commodity product, kind of like sugar. I don’t see that hair itself has a cachet. “We’re in the service business more than the product business. What we do is an art form. Base your brand on your unique skills.”

The Women’s Market – Women’s hair loss is a taboo subject. Until recently, nobody talked about it. Men are allowed to go bald; women don’t have that right. Society does not accept women with thinning hair. The psychological impact of losing your hair is devastating for a woman. It is hard for a man to understand how powerful these emotions can be.

You’re Not a Hollywood Mogul – Stop trying to be copywriters, advertising agency executives or film producers, and stop trying to make your own advertising because it’s not going to work. It’s just never going to happen. Number two; stop saying advertising doesn’t work. It does work; it’s just that your advertising might not work. Number three; don’t always believe what other studios tell you because a lot of the time everyone is not telling the truth. The biggest mistake people in our business make is thinking about what they want and what they like, not the consumer. It’s not about them. It’s the client who’s doing the buying and he or she probably has very different ideas. If you run a commercial and you don’t make money, it’s a bad commercial. This is not art. It’s not like going to the Louvre or the Met. This is an instrument of commerce. Advertising exists for no other reason than to make money. Advertising is not for the public good. Advertising is not an art form. Advertising is not a way to gain insight into humanity. Advertising is about selling something. And therefore, if it sells, it works. That’s good. If it doesn’t sell, it doesn’t work and that’s bad. That’s the only opinion you need.

Things to do now – Check with your suppliers to see whatever marketing materials they have available. Number two; evaluate your website, how you’re using it and what you expect from it. And number three; check into media opportunities in your area that are more than ‘standard issue.” I keep talking about ‘creative’ because that’s the discipline I work in, but media selection is just as much a part of successful advertising as the creative end. Too many studios buy their own media. As with making commercials, buying media should be left to experts.

Change or die. If studios do not review how they are marketing their services and do not adapt their efforts to stay compatible with consumers’ current way of thinking, or dare I say, “future way of thinking,” then the studio will become more and more irrelevant.

Expand or specialize ­ Salon managers should expand their current offerings, but with one caveat: they had better be darned good at providing these expanded service offerings. In other words, if you want to expand into the women’s market, you’d better understand that particular target segment, and your techs had better be able to deliver a top-quality product. Women do not accept compromises.

The changing market – We are now in the post-digital age. Digital media is a reality, everyone uses it, whether we’re talking about email or websites or social media. This means a profound change in the way we reach out to consumers and garner new clients. Thirty years ago, you could get about 40 channels on cable. Today, you can get about 400. Now, expand that into all the choices that digital media gives consumers. It takes a specialist to navigate this new media marketplace.

Going it Alone ­ The average independent will always have a place. Look at the mainstream salon business. Sure, you have a few chains, but the independent salon that does really good work still reigns supreme… provided consumers know about it, of course.

Threats – Complacency is the biggest threat facing a typical salon today… thinking you can do the same thing time and again and still expect a different result. They teach young psychologists that that’s the first sign of psychosis. OK, so, how do you get around this? Well, start opening up your mind. Forget about what Sy did twenty-five years ago. Immerse yourself in current culture. Look at what other businesses, in unrelated fields, are doing. Read different magazines, go to movies you ordinarily might pass by, listen to new music, and sometimes, just take a few moments to look around and study people.

Opportunities ­ I don’t really know if there are secret opportunities, per se, but I do know about trends. For example, I know that men’s toiletries are selling in increasing numbers. “Skin care” is no longer the province of women alone, for example. Is it that far fetched for hair replacement studios to offer skin care regimens to their clients? How about fashion? Why shouldn’t a hair replacement studio have a referral arrangement with a men’s clothing store?

Technology ­ The consumer has taken center stage with the advent of social media, digital communications, etc. As for branding, it has moved far beyond what people originally thought it meant. It’s not just about a logo, or a TV commercial, or a public relations effort. Every consumer touch point is part of the brand. I mean, everything, from the way the studio answers its phone, to the way it handles complaints from its clients. Even little things like having current magazines in the lobby, is part of the studio’s brand.

On Leads – Is a lead still a lead? Sure, it is. As for the quality of the lead, there’s no way to tell until you “prospect” it. A lot of studios will say, well, I got a lot of leads, but they were really low-quality leads. Well, what makes you say that? The studio owner might respond, “Well, no one came in and bought anything.” So then, you’ll follow up with the obvious questions, such as, “Did you telemarket them? Did you send them a brochure? Did you send a follow-up letter? Are you planning to contact the lead again in the next several months?” And a lot of times you find out they did none of those things. I worked my way through college selling advertising space in the college newspaper. A lot of times, I’d see some sleepy little storefront selling antiques or whatever and tell myself, “They’re not going buy an ad from me, I mean, this is a college newspaper.” But sometimes I’d walk in just for a lark and they’d give me an ad. And they’d tell me, “A lot of our customers are faculty” and here I was passing them by! As for conventional and new media working together, well, I could take the whole Hair Journal issue on that one. So, let me put it as succinctly as I can: the consumer doesn’t differentiate between new media and conventional media; neither should we.

The “educated” consumer ­ I don’t think that today’s consumers are really better educated or more discerning. I think that they’ve always been a lot smarter than people in marketing give them credit for. Sixty years ago, David Ogilvy said, “The consumer is NOT a moron, the consumer is your wife.” In other words, people all want the same thing: to be treated with respect and to be spoken to in a language that they understand. If the consumer thinks you understand their problem, they are far more likely to believe that you can offer a solution.

What to Tell the Children – I think that the hair industry has a vibrant future, unless someone comes up with a pill tomorrow that will instantly grow a person’s hair back. Failing that, and I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon, the hair industry provides a valuable service. A lot of people just don’t want to be bald. How we appeal to these people will always evolve; so too, will how we market ourselves. The market for our services isn’t going away any time soon.

What Market Are We In? – People replace their hair for different reasons. I’m not sure it’s an anti-aging thing; rather, an attempt to look one’s real age. Is it vanity or personal enhancement? Well, one could say the same thing about wearing nice clothing or driving a nice car. As for the “confidence” thing, that’s always been lost on me. I would just say that hair means different things to different people. I mean, the reason a 35-year-old man replaces his hair is unlikely to be the same as a 50-year-old woman who adds or extends her hair. That’s what makes the advertising business so interesting, and so challenging.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in The National Hair Journal and is reproduced again because this advice remains as pertinent today as it was when Steve first wrote it.

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