Ads That Actually Sell Stuff Most ad agencies want you to remember products. Jordan Zimmerman's "brandtailing" approach aims to make you buy them--now.
By Ellen Neuborne

(Business 2.0) – Plagued by declining sales for more than a year, the Florida sandwich chain Miami Subs last year handed $1.5 million over to the hot local ad agency Zimmerman & Partners with instructions to create a new campaign. After one look at his client's stores, however, CEO Jordan Zimmerman decided that what Miami Subs needed most wasn't a catchy ad. It was a good scrubbing. So when Zimmerman and his team presented their advertising plan to Miami Subs's 80 franchisees, they downplayed the conventional unveiling of storyboards. Instead, Zimmerman recalls, "we went into the franchisee meeting with buckets and mops and said, 'Clean up your stores!'" Startled at first, the franchisees welcomed the straight talk.

Most ad agencies have one mission: the creation of memorable ads. Sales? That's the client's problem. But Zimmerman is spearheading an industry shift by committing to improving a brand's retail performance. With Miami Subs, for example, Zimmerman traded reduced fees for bonuses contingent on the chain's sales growth.

The blend of long-term brand building and short-term sales pumping, which Zimmerman calls "brandtailing," has won the little agency a long list of happy clients in Florida and, more recently, work for national advertisers like Nissan and Office Depot. An Omnicom subsidiary since 1999, the 20-year-old firm has gone from too small to register in 1990 to 17th in Adweek's ranking of national agencies, with revenue of $148 million. Bill Katz, recently retired CEO of fellow Omnicom subsidiary BBDO, believes Zimmerman is perfectly positioned. "The biggest problem marketers face today is connecting advertising to retail sales," he says. "This is the boutique of the future."

If that's true, the future holds more ads of the sort Zimmerman created for Fris Vodka Skandia. Fris wanted a tony campaign lauding the product's high-end distillation. But Zimmerman's researchers found that the brand wasn't selling because bar patrons were afraid of mispronouncing its name. So Zimmerman proposed a tagline with a rhyming hint: "Just say Fris--Please." "They were in stores solving the immediate problem," says Fris president Don Hazlewood. "This is not how most agencies work." Sales rose 40 percent the first year.

Zimmerman took a similar boots-on-the-ground approach with the Miami franchise of Papa John's Pizza. Riding with deliverers, Zimmerman staffers learned that when the family craves pizza, it's Mom who chooses the brand. So Zimmerman portrayed the company founder as Mom-friendly, cooking with fresh ingredients. "Sales and customer counts both went up," says franchise CEO Rene Prats.

And unlike most agencies, Zimmerman measures response immediately. For clients with telephone ordering, nearly all Zimmerman ads carry a unique toll-free number, so proprietary software called ZTrac can link sales to individual ads. ZTrac helped pro hockey's Florida Panthers (in which Jordan Zimmerman is a limited partner) hone newspaper and radio placement. "Branding is great," says Panthers COO Michael Yormark. "But my first concern is putting fannies in seats."

One outcome of brandtailing is that no one is more pleased than Zimmerman when fannies do end up in seats--or sandwiches in mouths. Halfway into 2003, when Miami Subs's spiffed-up stores, backed by Zimmerman-produced ads, had earned average monthly sales gains of 7 percent, chain president Don Perlyn's phone rang. "It was Jordan saying, 'See the numbers?'" Perlyn recalls. It's a call any advertiser would be happy to take. -- ELLEN NEUBORNE