Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Half-retraction


I believe there is great value in taking a closer look, in not flying off the handle and speaking before you have all the information. Why? Because it pays not to look like an idiot when the facts come out.

I thought I was going to have to eat my words recently. Not too long ago, I wrote a post that included my non-number based theory that America isn't buying trucks and SUVS like they used to. Well, it turns out I only have to eat half my words. As of the beginning of December, pickups were still extremely strong sellers, but SUV sales have slumped dramatically. My anecdotal theory had a hole- people actually still need the utility provided by genuine pickup trucks, so their sales haven't slumped nearly as far as SUVs have. I might submit that part of their continued sales performance is due to the deep discounts that have been offered on them lately, but I understand that there are simply people who need to haul things.

It seems that America has voted, however, that the "U" in "sport utility vehicle" is a misnomer as their sales have plummeted about as quickly as the value of Madoff investments. So, pickup trucks, I apologize- the value of your utility is undeniable as non-essentials are cut and your sales remain strong. I proudly eat my words against you. SUVs, you must have known your time was coming. Perhaps the SUV bubble has popped.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Quote of the somethingorother

"I wish my grass was emo so it would cut itself."
- Mike from Virginia

Monday, December 29, 2008

Quote of the somethingorother

"Most cynics are just frustrated optimists."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

What does sound look like?


It's official, I'm tired of being told to look at things on the radio. Radio is a difficult medium, especially with as visual as humans tend to be. It doesn't help that such a hefty part of advertising is built upon visuals. But I still don't feel that's any excuse to ignore the medium's most obvious feature- the fact that you can't see anything. At least two radio ads I've heard recently have done this.

The first is for the new Blackberry Storm. Naturally, a touchscreen is a tough sell on radio, but I'm forced to grind my teeth when the spot starts out by telling me to look at the screen. It's not that I won't, but I can't, no matter how hard they want me to.

The other is for Guitar Hero World Tour. It starts out with the right idea, asking you to remember the TV spot (still a bit of a cop-out), but quickly degenerates from there. First, it tells me to "look at that," then goes on to tell me, "no, stop looking at..."

Know your medium, don't try to recycle your TV spots. Sometimes it requires a little more imagination or even the occasional straight-sell, but at least you won't be insulting people by telling them to see the sound waves coming out of their speakers.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The death of a billboard


I saw a sad sight today. It was a billboard along a major US interstate, bare on both sides. That's right, no message- just empty ribs sticking out into the sky like the skeleton of a woolly mammoth brought to the ground by the spears and ropes of a vicious economy and picked clean by the beaks of close-out sales and store liquidations.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Social media utopia: it runs on dreams and rainbows

Adrian Ho from Adweek suggests that the future of branding is in a system of mini-communications between employees of a company and consumers. He posits that traditional marketing will go the way of the dinosaur and that communications will come from thousands of blogs and twitters that employees at every level will produce to which the public will listen. I think this philosophy is severely flawed on three counts.

The first two places I disagree with Mr. Ho are in regards to his idea about brands embracing the Zappos form of marketing where "mini-communications," if you will, between employees and consumers will form the backbone of future marketing efforts. Here are two reasons I believe this model will always be the exception and not the rule.

One- Executives will NEVER yield that kind of communicative power to the lowly ranks of employees of major companies. Zappos is an exception, and a wonderful one, but if you think for a moment that somewhere like Burger King or Starbucks is going to put the billions of dollars of carefully crafted public image they have created in the hands of their underpaid, overworked, largely disgruntled workforce, you're crazy. They're not going to allow it, much less encourage it. Why? Because most brands cannot, or will not, foster the kind of happiness and loyalty required for the kind of communications above to come out positive, much less consistent.

Two- Mr. Ho's model involves companies keeping employees around long enough to develop long-term relationships with customers. I'm sorry, anyone else here been paying attention to business models lately? Employment at any company is getting shorter and shorter by the year. Why? Companies are doing everything they can to cut benefits and keep wages down to manage costs. Employment is getting shorter and only showing signs of shorterning further as most companies create technicalities where their employees are all "independent contractors" to avoid paying any benefits at all. And I'm supposed to believe the future of brand communications is based on companies extending employment for the purpose of setting their disgruntled employees loose on the public's ear? Please.

My third bone to pick is this- While social media certainly has a place in future communications (especially if anyone starts figuring out how to use it successfully, reliably and cost-effectively), it will not replace all other forms of brand communications. Like TV, print, radio and outdoor, traditional media as an entity will not perish from the earth. They will simply move over and yield market share to new forms as they have throughout history.

More importantly, unless we delve into some sort of "brand heaven" where all employees have long employments at companies they love so much they want to tell the world, Hr. Ho's suggested model will be about as accessible as the fountain of life.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

WHO dunnit? WHO dunnit.

I'm filing the World Health Organization under "unfortunate acronyms."

"Who says smoking is bad for you?"
"Exactly."
"What?"
"WHO says smoking is bad for you."
"I'm confused."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Crossovers: a triumph of branding


First there were station wagons, then they became grandfolk cars.

Then there were minivans, which were inextricably tied to soccer moms.

Then there were SUVs, then trucks with 4 doors.

The people said, Trucks are too high, they use too much gas, they're too big. Then crossovers and hatchbacks came to life.

Crossovers give you the look, people room and cargo room of an SUV with the footprint, gas mileage and ride of a car. They're like station wagons with testosterone or short SUVs. In short they're minivans that look cool. They are your mom's minivan and your grandfather's station wagon, but a new word and a little marketing made them cool. Kudos to the people who came up with the idea of calling them crossovers. They made the dorky, but functional cars of the past cool again, and made a fortune in the process.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Auto Industry Fearmongering


As a caveat to my last post about the auto industry, I wanted to mention an important fact that a lot of people are starting to learn. If the auto industry doesn't get the bail-out funding it's seeking, it's not the end of the world. The whole system will not come crashing down. First, there are other government agencies besides congress that can give the big three money. Second, the worst that happens is that they file for chapter 11. What does that mean? It means they get to do things like the government enforced opportunity to renegotiate (currently ridiculous) labor contracts. It's designed to delay some of their debts and let them get back on their feet, but demands they adjust and become more fiscally efficient as they get back on their feet. It helps cut the fat and the U.S. auto industry is currently a 350lb executive trolling around gold-laden offices in one of those electric sit-down scooters. There are more options, people, so calm down. These guys aren't down for the count. They just have to learn how to do things smart again.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Marketing can't solve everything


The big three American auto manufacturers have finally found a problem that they can't market their way out of.

With GM, Ford and Chrysler going to the government with hats in hands, many American are wondering whether a bailout would actually save the American auto manufacturers or just put a band aid on massive gash. So far, I see no reason to throw more money at companies that continue to prove why they can't run their businesses. And I'll tell you why.

American auto manufacturers simply create an inferior product. They are designed to last half as long as their Japanese counterparts. A car is a life-changing expense. If you know you can buy a Toyota that lasts 100,000 miles before you encounter major mechanical problems for the same price you can get a comparable Chevy that will start getting its problems around 50,000 miles, it's a no-brainer. The big three often tout their highest ratings in "initial quality." For anyone who really knows cars, they know this is an almost worthless characteristic. Initial quality is how nice the car is the moment you drive it off the lot. It will never be that nice again, and it's amazing how nice you can make something if it doesn't matter how long it lasts. And while a Japanese car may not be quite as shiny off the lot, consumers know that the knobs and seat belts won't be breaking at 30,000 miles.

So, what have the big three been doing to try and sell more cars? Well, they have NOT been promoting their fuel efficient models. While they do now have lots of vehicles with great gas mileage that's comparable to foreign vehicles, they aren't spending their marketing dollars on promoting those vehicles. They also aren't advertising their hybrids, though I don't know if I can blame them. While Toyota made a small car hybrid to create one of the most fuel efficient cars on the road, For and Chevrolet are making hybrids out of trucks and SUVs. So, what are the big three spending their money to advertise?

TRUCKS. TRUCKS AND SUVs. How dense do you have to be to spend all your marketing dollars on advertising trucks and SUVs right now?

First, they're the worst performing categories in all of auto sales right now. I get it Detroit, they were your high-margin bread and butter, but those days are over. Stop crying over it and trying to find new ways to market these gas guzzlers.

Second, no one believes gas prices are going to stay down. With gas available many places for prices we haven't seen in nearly a decade, you might think this is the time to sell the guzzlers again (I won't even touch how they're bragging about 20mpg ratings). It's not. America had $4/gallon gas for long enough, it's worked its way into our psyche. A shift has been made. Moreover, most people just believe the low gas prices are a function of the crippled economy and are sure gas prices will go right back up as soon as things recover.

Third, they're still trying to market their way out of the problem instead of focusing on their inferior products. Are they spending money on R&D to raise quality and tell us about that? No. They're trying to sell us subscription services like OnStar and XM Radio. People want a car to be as close to a one time expense as possible. Stop jamming them full of equipment that will lay there like a lame duck after our free one-year subscription is out.

Fourth, there are WAY too many brands. Even with a few shuttered over the past decade, the big three have more brands than you can count on one hand. GM does NOT need Chevy, Pontiac and GMC. GMC trucks are the exact same trucks as Chevy trucks, just with another name badge and endless overhead from separate dealerships, separate marketing efforts, and so on. Pontiac is the same way- they're just Chevy cars with a different badge and stupendous overhead from supporting another brand. Why not follow the Japanese model? Toyota only makes Toyota and Lexus. Toyota is the general auto brand and Lexus is for luxury. It's the same way with Honda/Acura and Nissan/Infinity. Why not narrow it to Chevy/Cadillac and Ford/Lincoln? Then you could spend the money from a huge number of redundant brand to build single brands. Imagine tripling the money you could use to promote a single brand. That's smart money.

Fifth is actually less of the auto industry's doing but that of the unions. If I knew people could make $75/hr operating a factory press and getting paid 96% of my salary for years after getting laid off, I might not have bothered taking on thousands in student loans to get into an industry that starts people at half of what a teacher makes. If the unions don't loosen up on their outrageous requirements, (which result in thousands more per auto produced in labor costs than foreign competitors) they might not have an industry to work for.

That said, do I have anything good to say about them? Yes. I think the big three CEOs committing to take $1/yr salaries if they get government funding is a good step. I think them selling their private jets is a good step, but these are both largely symbolic measures. I think the auto workers' union renegotiating contracts to lower labor rates significantly over the next several years is a big step in the right direction. Hopefully the Chevy Volt is everything it's supposed to be and that our guys will start taking some of their marketing cash and spending it on R&D to make better quality vehicles. Most important to is that I believe the big three have it in them to be great again. They'll just have to cut the corporate crap, face the realities and allow real progress to happen. Here's to hoping they can get it together.

For my part, I believe this has been coming on for a long time. Ever since the gas crises of the 70s and 80s allowed Japanese and European cars to make significant inroads in to the American auto market, American auto makers have been sticking their heads in the sand.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I'm awesome, my study says so. Wanna buy my stuff?


A study has recently found that promotional items are much more effective than advertising. You can find the story here, thanks to Adweek. Highlights from the study include pretty amazing findings, like the finding that 62 percent of respondents have done business with an advertiser after receiving a promotional product, and that 84 percent of consumers remembered an advertiser based on a product they received. If these numbers seem too good to be true, it's probably because the study was conducted by the Advertising Specialty Institute. The Advertising Specialty Institute is an organization dedicated to promoting the interests of promotional item vendors. Is it any wonder then that the study they conducted concluded that the thing they're trying to sell FAR better and cheaper than the thing they're competing against?


They're not the only ones who have done this recently though. I just can't conceive of how a company misses the importance of source credibility and at least the appearance of impartial study results. Even if these unbelieveable positive results are true, how can anyone put any faith in the results of a study done by a group that has such a vested interest in the study's results? If they were really confident in their product, they would commission a third party study from a reputable research firm. Once again, it seems that executive orders may have overridden the well-meaning advice of a PR person left to pull his or her hair out in frustration over one of the most basic marketing principles violated.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Recycled programming - the next thing in green


It's green week, so even marketers cautious of greenwashing are back on the air with their messages. What contribution is USA making? They're so green, they're even recycling episodes of your favorite shows. In a spot promoting a Monk marathon, USA tells us that's their contribution to green week - showing us recycled episodes (known to lay people as "reruns"). Don't worry about Hollywood either. While they haven't promoted it much, they've been recycling plots for years. Here's to the green pioneers. May someone treat you to a recycled steak dinner.

Location, location, location


Placement can be everything, even when it's not advertising related. Many apartment complexes have gates that require codes or cards or remotes to open. A portion of those actually have gates that work. For those gates that actually close, they each have a method for emergency personnel like the fire department to get in - a special access code, for example. Another common method is a button to open the gate contained in a box that only emergency personnel have a key to. Here's the kicker. I was driving out of an apartment complex the other day and guess where their emergency box was? On the inside of the gate facing in. Oops. And you thought misplacing an ad was a disaster.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

False comparison

If you're an advertising uber-nerd, you've probably heard about the "soup wars" between Campbell's and Progresso. Both are accusing the other of using MSG in their soups. While there's still question about whether MSG is actually bad for you, the arguments (at least one of them) are textbook examples of logical fallacies you learn in a first-semester advertising class.

In Progresso's latest spot, they claim that Campbell's makes 90 soups containing MSG and that Progresso makes 26 soups that contain no MSG. See the problem? Progresso doesn't address how many soups they DO produce that contain MSG or how many Campbells produces that DON'T contain MSG. For all we know, Campbell's could produce 100 soups without MSG to Progresso's 26 and Progress could produce 100 soups containing MSG to Campbell's 90. You can't compare the numbers presented without the rest of the picture.

It's like saying I'm better than Johnny because I have 5 A's on my report card and he has 3 B's. For all we know, I could have 5 A's and 6 D's while Johnny could have 8 A's and 3 B's. But by only comparing the pieces of information that suit them, they create the appearance of superiority without the proof.

I suppose it should come as no surprise though. Others have been using this often hard-to-detect tactic for decades. Auto manufacturers are notorious fans of it. More headroom than car A, more trunk space than car B, thousands less than car C. It makes the manufacturer's model seem superior to them all, when in reality they're only comparing their model to the lowest performer in their model's class for each feature.

I'm not sure who will win the soup wars, but it seems both soup makers fail first semester advertising.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Quote of the somethingorother

Those who know aren't talking. And those who are talking don't know.

-News Anchor

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Huffy and bad packaging goes mobile


If you're lusting for an emerging media post, keep looking, this isn't one of those posts. When I say go mobile, I mean physically mobile...mobile like a guy riding a bike...riding a bike drinking a beer...a beer in a can in a brown paper bag. The maker of the beer would probably have been pretty happy with the bicyclist's choice to conceal the can with a brown paper bag, until they realized their logo was so positioned as to show over the top of the brown paper bag. So much for the wisdom of a tall boy.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The 3 B's

There's a restaurant/bar not too far from where I live called 3 B's: Beer & Burgers. If you take a second to let that sink in, you'll probably be wondering the same thing I am - what's the third B? I've tried to figure it out. I've dreamed up all sorts of words to fill in the blank and I'm sure others have as well, many of which are likely not what the owners had in mind. I bring this up for one simple reason. Be careful naming anything. If you leave any blanks, consumers will fill them in, and you may not be happy with the results.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Color associations


Color associations are funny things, aren't they? Especially with so few primary colors to choose from, overlap is imminent.

Red is hugely popular, even beyond aids control non-profits and economic philosophies implemented by sadistic political leaders.

The American Heart Association is one, the Red Cross, Denmark, CNN, and even a brand that makes it as straightforward as it can be- RedBrand. These are just a few. As you can see, it can get pretty interesting when these associations are crossed. That's it for today's manufactured controversy.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fake right, go left



While many people, including myself, have given Microsoft's Seinfeld spots a mixed review, I think their new work fills a void long felt by a large part of the population. From the first spot, "Pride," which begins by poking fun at Apple for being so elitist and trying to make the rest of us feel stupid and un-hip for not having Apple products, to the half-dozen or more following spots Crispin Porter + Bogusky made in much the same format, Microsoft tells us that it's okay to use the same type of computer as 90% of the U.S. population.

Apple has taken great pains to establish its image - the hip, educated, understated socialite. The new ads from Crispin, however, take that positive and turn it into a negative. They let Apple's hard-fought, narrow image pigeon hole Apple to a tiny percent of the population (Apple still only represents about 15-20% of personal computers sold), while illustrating the diversity of PC users. All in all, I put it in the win column for Microsoft.

Of course, Apple has already fired one back across the bow. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a clever counter.

I should be clear that I'm no anti-Mac. Check through my posts and you'll see plusses and minuses for both PCs and Macs. I'm just not a Mac fanatic and I like to skip the hype and get to the substance. Mac has certainly done its job well, though- as an advertising creative, I've been talked down to many times for not being a Mac fanatic. Macs are certainly good for certain uses, like graphics and audio/video editing, but make sure you're using the tool, not the other way around.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Fake word of the day - fassenal

Ex. He's fassenal, but my cousin Vinny is faster.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cutting the fat


Times like this present an opportunity - an opportunity (and strong encouragement) to review your company's portfolio of products and/or services. It's time to weed out the weak performers and focus on your top earners. MillerCoors is doing just that.

Zima is going the way of the dodo bird. The product's sales have been steadily dropping for some time, and MillerCoors has cut production on this lame duck. I only fear the product that they're giving its shelf space to - Sparks - a caffeinated alcoholic energy drink. I know they serve Yager Bombs in bars, but it seems to me the last thing anyone needs while intoxicated is the energy to actually carry out any of the misguided plans alcohol may have helped them form.

From Adweek

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Biglittle


Part of effective branding is making sure that everything you do and say is consistent. Everything Mercedes does is luxurious, everything Walmart does reduces costs, everything mini does is small, and so on. It helps hammer home the message to such a point that when you think of (company) you think of (quality). That said, why does Big Lots have such small shopping carts?

I would think a store with "big" in its name would at least have average sized shopping carts. Instead, (at least where I live) they have tiny shopping carts like the ones you would expect to find in drug stores. It also seems to detract from people who might be tempted to "stock up" on deals, by limiting the amount they can move around the store with a single cart. I would be interested to see if the size of the container you offer a shopper has a substantial effect on the amount they purchase. If so, Big Lots could certainly benefit from the adjustment.

Unless Big Lots offers these small carts to maximize shelf space by reducing aisle width, I might suggest they put the "big" back in Big Lots and upgrade to full size carts. Just my two cents, and possibly a lucrative thesis project.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Right message, wrong medium

In the wake of hurricane Ike, energy companies are scrambling to restore power to the 4 million plus people who lost it. Entergy is of those companies, and is doing a fantastic job of restoring power, especially considering their territory extends into Louisiana where they're still trying to recover from hurricane Gustav. They've also released a heart-warming spot to let them know that they're working hard to get our power back on. But there's the problem.

It was a TV spot. I'll let that sink in for a moment. They released a TV spot telling their customers they're trying to get their power back on. What do TVs run on? Electricity. So, Entergy is essentially telling people who already have power and CAN watch their TVs that they're working to restore the power they already have, but the people at whom the message is directed have no way to receive it because their lack of power precludes them from watching television, and therefor bars them from seeing the spot. Oops.

In all fairness, though, there are quite a few people with generators who may be getting the message along with folks in shelters or folks staying with friends/relatives who have power. I just hope they're also running the ads on the radio, where they'll probably get the biggest bang for their media dollar right now in regards to their target audience.

And now matter what they're doing ad-wise, I have to thank Entergy for getting my power back so quickly. Thanks guys, and keep up the good work.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Getting metaphysical

People all over America often ask the question, "How much effect does advertising have on the world?" Well, based on what I saw today, quite a bit. I didn't have a camera to share the image with you, but I saw the real world impact of advertising today- the impact it had on an apartment building. For those who may not know, Hurricane Ike recently ravaged the Houston area. Winds had evidently caused the pole of a billboard next to the highway on I-45 to fail halfway up. The result?

The billboard crashed into an apartment building, gouging a huge hole where it still sits today. The lesson? When advertising goes down, it takes everything with it. Just kidding...we can't take every day that seriously, can we?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The ultimate in product placement

That's right, my first post with an image. I think it's warranted, and I didn't think you could get the full effect without the visual to see for yourself. Kawasaki is now offering a Monster Energy version of two of its acclaimed motorcycles, one of which (ZX-6R) is pictured to the right.

Why does it represent the ultimate product placement to me? Because Monster is literally putting their brand on someone else's product and consumers are then PAYING to get that product and display Monster's advertising.

There are branded vehicles all over, usually commissioned and operated by the sponsor. The little Red Bull vehicles running around with giant cans in the back are one example. However, few products have earned such a following as to have their brands plastered on other products and sold as benefits. The Harley Davidson edition of Ford trucks is a good place to start.

I guess what really does it for me about these situations is that you flip the advertising paradigm on its head. Instead of you paying to put your brand places so the consumer can see it, the consumer PAYS YOU to display your brand. That's better than free advertising. That's getting paid to advertise. And while there's a possibility Monster actually paid Kawasaki a substantial sum to offer these bikes, the payoff is likely to be much larger.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Some of the plusses of the "new media" landscape

Advertisers and agencies everywhere are scrambling to get in on all the new mediums and content delivery vehicles that people have created recently. However, as Alan Wolk points out, many of these vehicles were created specifically to circumvent and cut out advertiser messages. Why? Because they want more than smiling faces using a product in an impossibly perfect setting - they want facts.

Now, how can this possibly be good for the ad business? Well, as consumers continue to circumvent advertising messages, they will be driven to select the best products on more solid, objective criteria, and worse products will be weeded out. I believe that as companies see this happen more and more, they will be forced to create better products with genuine benefits if they want to survive. Consumers are looking elsewhere for information because commercials so often give them so little useful information, or gloss over product shortcomings. If companies are then driven to create better products with genuine benefits, then they can then advertise those benefits to gain or regain market share. And that's where we ad folks win.

We will get to make more ads for products that actually have a Unique Selling Proposition. We will no longer have to fill ads with smiling-faced actors unrealistically enjoying a product because there's nothing unique or interesting to say about it. We will be able to turn real benefits into compelling messages that appreciably drive sales. Imagine getting a product that actually already has its benefit built in so that you don't have to use your spot to artificially create one in consumers' minds.

And hopefully, if American companies are forced to create better products, we can go back to being a world leader in more than branding and Harleys, helping even out our lopsided trade balance to some degree. It might be wishful thinking, but I've always been a closet optimist.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Picking the right celebrity endorsement

One oft debated tactic used in advertising is the celebrity endorsement. It's been proven that in many cases, the positive affect and personality of a celebrity can rub off on a brand from an endorsement and can actually help create brand preference in largely undifferentiated categories. However, choosing the right celebrity is a delicate art, and badly chosen endorsement can go beyond ineffectiveness to become a liability.

One recent misstep appears to be HP's use of Seinfeld in their new spots. Barbara Lippert from Adweek and I seem to be of the same opinion on this one. I know, I know, lots of people like Seinfeld, but let's take a look at the company's position and goals and see if the once sitcom star accomplishes those goals. HP's recently lost ground to Apple, who paints HP as old, stodgy and unhip. If HP is trying to say, "We're hip, we're with it, we know what's going on today," then why on earth would they select a comedian for more than a decade ago? Seinfeld hasn't been the "it" guy for years and if you're trying to reach today's college students, many of whom were born as late as 1990, you're not going to convince them you know what's up today by using a celebrity that's a favorite of their parents' generation.

It reminds me of a project I worked on once. We were tasked with trying to reach junior high students with deeply technical and dull information. We also though comedy would help out, but my older colleague and I disagreed on who our "funny man" should be. I argued for Seth Rogen, who at that time was just coming onto the scene as a serious actor, and was enjoying huge sales at the box office from our target demographic. He was also a young, single, somewhat goofy guy that would have been easy for junior high students to relate to. However, my colleague argued for Chevy Chase, supposedly the quintessential funny man we couldn't live without. I know Chevy Chase was that man for quite some time because my parents and superiors have told me so, but his hay day was in the 1980s, before any of our target was even born. As a male in my mid-20s, I was only marginally aware of his work. What are the chances kids 10 years my junior would see him as anything but a 67-year-old comedian of yesteryear?

In short, be careful with your celebrity endorsement choices. They seem to be used quite a bit to try and dispel perceptions of being old or unhip, but it also seems the celebrities chosen for those important strategic missions are all too often proof that the companies are just as old and "not with it" as they're purported to be. If you need a spokesperson who's cool and hip, try asking your interns or junior staff. They're more likely to give you someone that resonates with your target instead of their parents.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Look before you click

All of us have accidentally sent an email to the wrong person or people at least once in our lives. If we're fortunate, it's something unimportant that goes to an understanding friend. However, when it's a company email about sensitive information, you'd think someone like Carat's Chief People Officer would take an extra-long, hard look at his recipient list before sending off an email like this.

The lesson? Check twice, click once.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Where are the pictures?

I realize that, unlike many blogs, I don't insert pictures or video into my posts. Perhaps I'll do more of that in the future. Perhaps not. After all, I'm a copywriter, not an art buyer. I guess time will tell.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Agency copywriter vs freelance copywriter

Ad Age has an interesting article on some of the similarities and differences between agency copywriters and freelance copywriters, including work environment, pay you can expect, etc. While not exhaustive, I think it definitely contains some nuggets of wisdom for anyone considering one of the two paths.

Since I've done both, I do feel it incumbent upon me to add my own two coppers for the sake of anyone considering trying to become a freelance copywriter. If you're just starting out, you need to get an agency job.

Who Actually Gets the Work
Without professional experience, even if you have internships, it's going to be hard to impossible for you to find decent freelance work without any real-world work experience. Most agencies and companies I've talked to that use freelancers seek someone with a minimum of three years experience and often are more comfortable with people from five to seven years experience, whom they know they can count on. It also helps, because after working at an agency, you'll understand more about how they work and what they need and be better able to serve those needs.

New Business
They also don't tell you how hard it is to find clients and work. Almost all freelance work is project-based, so you'll constantly be spending unpaid hours drumming up new business. You might think that the higher rates you can sometimes earn will make freelancing very lucrative, and if you've made enough of a name for yourself, it can be. However, don't forget that something like 30% of the money you make will need to be saved for taxes and that you always need to live below your means in case business hits a lull.

Overhead
Most of all, if you try freelancing, keep overhead low. Thankfully, freelance copywriting is something that can be done with a bare minimum of equipment, and if you keep your fixed expenses low, you'll be better prepared to weather low-business times, and be more profitable over all. And isn't it cooler to live in an efficiency and have money to travel to Europe than be stuck at home alone in a giant apartment? I guess that's really your call.

Talent Agencies
If you are going freelance, it always helps to get registered with a talent agency like Aquent or Art Squad (or whichever creative staffing firms your area might have). They usually won't keep you busy constantly, but they can certainly get you a project here and there and have connections you don't. They also free up more of your time to devote to paid work as they find new business for you. Don't rely on them to run your business, but a project here and there always helps.

Feel free to share your thoughts on the matter. After all, who wants to stop learning?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Take it down a notch

I've recently been reminded of the fact that on many TV stations, the volume on commercials is significantly higher than the volume on the TV's actual programming.

I heard once long ago that the reason for this was to make people pay more attention to the commercials that they would otherwise ignore. I have to wonder at this logic. It seems to me that forcing a person to adjust his or her television volume every commercial break would do more to annoy a viewer and cause them to associate the offending brand with a negative experience. In a world where people are already trying to find ways around advertising - and succeeding, much to advertisers' chagrin - that such a forceful and unpleasant tactic would one of the first things to go.

I'm not speaking from a numbers background, of course, and I'm curious if there is any genuine research that proves that making people strain their ears to hear their favorite show or quickly cover their ears when they're blasted by a commercial break actually encourages people to pay more attention to the commercials.

Personally, I subscribe mostly to the "uninvited guest" theory that says advertisers are like random people that show up at some one's door and ask to be let in. If the person at your door screams at you as soon as you open it, you're probably less likely to let them in, much less listen to their pitch. In fact, you might close the door in that person's face outright, with little regard to why they came due to the method of delivery they chose for their message. However, if someone in a moderate and pleasant tone comes along, you're much more likely to hear them out instead of calling the police.

One incredibly effective ad used just the opposite principle of loud commercials, in fact. Amidst the over-pumped volume of typical commercial breaks, this spot was completely silent. People who left their living rooms ran back in to see what was wrong and paid extra attention when it came back on to see if it really was supposed to be silent. In addition to getting all that extra attention, it created incredible buzz as people discussed it with their friends to try to get to the bottom of such an oddity.

Like I said, my assertions aren't based on any numbers - and I'd love to know if there are any out there on this subject - but I think crazy volume on commercial breaks is probably nothing more than a relic of the days when shoving a message down consumers' throats still worked.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Morgan Freeman and the Crystal Ball

The Beijing Olympics have seen fantastic viewership numbers, with NBC and many of its Olympic partners benefiting far beyond the original projections. And of course, many of the biggest advertisers have used Olympic themed ads to help draw us in to their own brand stories. Some of these are transparent, some expected, some touching, and some border on clairvoyant.

I'm talking of course about Visa's Morgan Freeman narrated "Go World" campaign, which already gave many people goosebumps without some absolutely fantastic media planning and foresight on the part of TBWA\Chiat\Day.

The planning to which I'm referring involves two ads based around Michael Phelps. Each mentioned the specific number of Gold medals Phelps had at the time of the commercial, which was quite a feat considering how often that number changed. More amazing, however, is that the fully-produced commercials ran in the commercial pod s(that's adspeak for commercial break for any non-adfolk readers) IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING the win of another medal. That means, that months and months ago, the agency put together these ads and bought the space, on the assumption that the events they described would happen. It's a good thing, too, since Morgan Freeman was hospitalized before the ads ran, which would have made it impossible to get his voice-over done in a timely fashion if it hadn't been done already.

The result were two ads that were so relevant to that very moment, audience, emotion, etc., that they almost seemed to be living, breathing things. My hats off TBWA\Chiat\Day.

Monday, August 25, 2008

How can a virus power your car?

We often wonder how technology will advance itself, especially in those big, potentially-history altering ways. We've already got internet on our cell phones, and they're quickly working to make 3D television a consumer-affordable reality. Well, I think the example I'm about to share is another of these, probably even bigger. It's an amazing example of taking a negative and turning into a positive. I apologize for the pun, you'll know what I mean when you read the article. How could viruses change the model of companies like Interstate Batteries? Read the article to find out.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

iPhone 3G: The next Firestone?

Apple often remains at the forefront of the news, but not always for good reasons. If you read by blog regularly, you might get the impression I don't like Apple, which is simply not true. I am, in fact, in awe of the marketing and product development genius that often goes into the company's offerings. However, I count myself a healthy skeptic and don't share the same religious-strength faith in the company that many of my fan boy advertising compatriots do.

As many have heard, there has been a great deal of controversy over the iPhone. From offering vouchers to save their skin in the face of angry iPhone buyers who spent considerably more money on the previous generation iPhone, to the debacle of the two month price drop on the first gen iPhone, to a phone that can't get a 3G signal in places like the middle of downtown Chicago, it's amazing it hasn't generated more bad press. But I guess that's the power of a dedicated consumer base.

The part that really amazes me about the whole thing is that Apple and AT&T have not only failed to address the problem to the satisfaction of their customers, they don't even admit there's a problem at all. Apple is basically telling consumers, "It's all in your head." Tell that to the guy who finally gave his iPhone 3G up only to find out it had dropped 32% of his calls, amongst other problems.

My biggest question is how the whole thing will end. It's my understanding that dedicated Apple customers are used to a certain level of service and support, and I doubt anyone's going to get less vocal about the problems of the exorbitantly (or at least previously exorbitantly) expensive item an its accompanying service agreement. I want to see if the fingers start point, and when they do, who, if anyone, will admit fault. Will Apple and AT&T start pointing back and forth at each other proclaiming it's the other's fault while sales drop and public perception of both companies spirals downward? Or will one or both admit some error and rectify the situation to the satisfaction of the consumers?

I suppose only time will tell.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Faulty methodologies meet Gen-Y

All sorts of people have been trying to figure out how to reach Gen-Y for as long as they've had disposable income. They have encountered some difficulty with this generation in large part because this generation has spent a ridiculous amount of time figure out ways NOT to be reached. They're constantly innovating ways to circumvent unsolicited messages.

One company claiming to be an expert fuelled a recent CNN article that proposes to know how the latest thing in attracting Gen-Y college grads into your workforce. The answer, they claim, is social responsibility.

According to their study, 4 in 5 millenials say they want to work for a company that pays attention to how it affects the world and that 68% said they would refuse to work for an employer that is not socially responsible. That's cute of them.

This is where the problems in the methodology come in. First, they weren't interviewing recently graduated college seniors, soon-to-graduate college seniors, college grads a year out of school who managed to secure their first job, or anyone of the sort. In fact, they didn't even bother with the college freshmen, one of the most idealistic groups known to man. I'm not pointing fingers, I was one of them, too. No, the study was based on INCOMING college freshmen, people who hadn't even gotten as close to the real world as college, people who still have their graduation year painted on the windows of their cars, people still high off the scent of four-color brochures for universities promising hopes and dreams.

In short, they were interviewing people who have absolutely no idea what the real work world is like, and based findings on questions that ask for self report on the aspirations of people who will probably change their majors and average of 3 times before graduating.

The real Gen-Y is happy with pay that's above poverty level, basic health benefits and some semblance of job stability. Why? Because Gen-Y is known as the boomerang generation due to the fact that it's so hard for college grads to find jobs right out of school that most go home to live with their parents for 6-8 months before getting their first job, most of which pay less than a teacher's or nurse's salary until the student gets a few years of experience under his or her belt. And those sorts of salaries don't help much when student loans come calling at several hundred dollars a month.

Perhaps if they did a study of recent grads at 3,6,9 and 12 months out of school, we'd get a better picture for potential employers, because it doesn't matter how many seeds you're donating to plant trees downtown if you're only paying $12.50/hr...if that. What's even better, they only did the study on one class of incoming freshmen at one college in California- hardly what you'd call a satisfactory sample size.

Now, I'm not arguing that given the choice between two equal jobs whose only difference is a measure of corporate conscience, a grad wouldn't choose the socially responsible company to work for. However, if you talk to real recent grads, and take some hard data on where they actually ended up working instead of aspirational self-report, especially in these tough times, you'll find a decent salary, some specter of benefits and the smallest inkling of job security go a lot farther than three Fridays a year off to help Meals on Wheels (a venerable charity, I might add).

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The case for good copywriting, installment three

To survive or thrive? I guess that's really the big question behind making sure you have a good copywriter on staff. Having someone whose job is not writing do your writing vs. a professional copywriter is like your next door neighbor cooking dinner vs. a gourmet chef. You won't go hungry, but you certainly won't be opening up any franchises. It really all comes down to expertise. And unfortunately, since we've all been writing in some form or fashion since kindergarten, most people assume they can do it. It gives rise to a lot of "strategy as concept" ads, and it's akin to someone who plays around with Photoshop calling themselves a designer. I can play around with photoshop, and I even did a few "good enough" jobs for some clients that didn't know their heads from their feet in my earliest days to make ends meet, but once I saw what a trained, experienced designer could do, it became clear that there's a vast difference between technically ablility to create something and true craft, artistry and expertise. Food for though...mmm, I think I tasted lobster tail.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Job Wars: The Economy Strikes Back

Well, it’s no secret that few, if any, industries are safe from current economic conditions. Some of us are feeling it more than others. As of Friday, I was laid off for the second time this year directly due to issues of the economy. I should make it clear that I was laid off and not fired, and considering how much of the industry views copywriting as expendable, just as many clients view their marketing budgets as expendable, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to be one of those let go in either case. It does however, still come as a great blow, because I moved to the Houston area for this job, and would not have moved otherwise. Now I’m in another new city, trying to find my way around the advertising community and trying to get hired on at the 1-3 years of experience level, which is, I dare say, no easy feat.

And now it’s shameless self-promotion time. If you have any copywriting contract work that can be done by telecommuting (which can be anywhere, thanks to the wonder of computers!), are looking for a copywriter in the Houston area, or know anyone who might be, please let me know. I’m getting my portfolio web site up very soon for anyone who is interested, where you’ll also be able to find resumes and contact information. I’ll post the link to my blog here as soon as my site goes live. For now, if you would like to contact me regarding a position or contract work, feel free to email me at admanhal@gmail.com. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go draw an S.O.S. in the virtual sand.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The case for good copywriting, installment two

Some people wonder what advertising would be like at an agency without a genuine copywriter. Remember TV during the writers' strike?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Put away the "where's the concept?" stamp

It's time to let loose of empty criticism. This isn't in response to anything I've personally endured lately, but I do frequent sites like Ads Of The World that showcase work and allow comments and I've worked at a place that got fed its self esteem by chopping down everyone's work so they didn't feel so bad they couldn't do it themselves. The point is, a comment like "where's the concept?" or "weak" or "I don't get it" does not qualify as a valid criticism. It's hollow dribble that's been spouted so many times, it's lost all meaning if it had any to begin with.

Criticism should be clear, constructive and specific. If there was a poor use of filters with regards to the art direction, say that. If the copy was dramatically awkward or lacked a distinct voice, say that. If the strategy didn't resonate with the advertiser's goal, say that. This sort of feedback is helpful, and can assist in improving the creative quality of work, as well as helping hone the skills of a creative professional.

However, those that insist on bashing an ad with their stamp do more to make themselves look like insightless, clueless users of adspeak jargon who are more interested in the prestige of saying "no" than creative sages committed to good work. I think too often those sorts of comments are used to prop up the users' egos and feed their need to feel superior. However, if all you can say is, "well, I just don't get it," I think you've said more truth than you know. And if that one got past you, I guess you might as well keep your stamp at your desk, because it's all you've got.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Quote of the somethingorother

Don't let good grammar ruin good advertising.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The case for good copywriting, installment one

Bad and mediocre copy are like junk food. You won't got hungry using them, and they can even provide a welcome relief from client whining when you just give them what they want instead of what they need. However, that sort of writing will only create a fat, marginally effective beast that will never be the lean, competitive superstar your client wants to be. So, stop feeding your clients the twinkies they cry for. Hire a good copywriter and shape your client into a champion.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Consumer protection groups and the WGA: Strange bedfellows

I recently read an article about how the WGA (Writers Guild of America) is railing against product integration in movies and TV and lobbying the FCC to require prominent disclosures whenever product placement is used.

For starters, I find it infinitely amusing that the film industry is actually on the same side as consumer advocates for once, considering how much thought policing those "advocates" have a tendency to do.

Musing aside, I think the WGA is failing to consider several key points. First, it assumes people aren't aware of product integration. It assumes we're not all bright enough to see that the only branded product in a carefully unbranded movie is sponsored. Whenever a real brand does show up in media, it's so conspicuous no one can miss it. Don't worry though, the WGA is intent on using your supposed ignorance to make sure they don't have to write Reeces Pieces into their script.

They also fail to understand that the legislation they support would completely dismantle their goal. The real motivation for the WGA's whining is that they don't want to have to write anything in to their work outside of their tidy vision. More importantly, they don't want product placement "distracting" from their vision or taking any of the attention away from their story. If every show and movie were to scroll a disclosure statement across the bottom of the screen every time a product placement was used CNN newsticker-style, there would be disclosures all over the place. And I challenge anyone to tell me they would be less distracted by a bucket of Church's chicken on the table in a sitcom than by a garish, scrolling disclosure. The disclosure would actually take more attention away from their story and attract more attention to the product. Maybe advertising people should support this legislation afterall. Considering how much the movie rating system boosted box office sales (originally an effort to cut down on the "bad" stuff in movies), it might be worth looking into. And it just goes to prove that the WGA doesn't actually want the warnings, they just want to discourage product placement.

Another thing the WGA fails to realize is that advertising, in its many forms, pays for almost all entertainment these days. Whether it's keeping it cheap or keeping it free, the guy who wants a writer's character to drink a Pepsi instead of a glass of water is paying that writer's salary. Maybe that writer should suck it up be a little more artful with his or her tie in if they're so worried about the integrity of their work. Perhaps I'm too cynical on the issue since I'm in advertising, a profession which puts art to work in the service of commerce, but art alone doesn't pay the bills. It's easy to whine when you're fed by a dozen product placements in a movie, but idealism begins to lose its luster when you're sleeping hungry on the floor of an empty apartment. Artistic integrity doesn't buy groceries, especially at today's prices.

Cynicism aside, I can understand limiting product placement to kids. They are an impressionable group who's been proven to respond strongly to advertising and product placement, and often don't have the full reasoning capacity to fully digest and and analyze the messages they receive. Regulations in regards to kids are reasonable in my mind and wouldn't hurt things that much, to my knowledge.

One last point is this- product placement is nothing new. When radio and television first began, the only reason there were shows was that companies paid to create entire shows, and plastered their names all over them. The reason soap operas have their name is that when they started in the early days of radio, soap manufacturers were the biggest sponsor of the daytime female-skewing programs.

The WGA should count their blessings that they have work again and stop trying to bite the hand that feeds them. If they're not careful, they might just get what they ask for.

Monday, June 30, 2008

HP Shows up Apple for Innovation

I'm no Apple fanatic nor Apple hater, but anyone with two eyes can appreciate the knack Apple has for innovation. That's why I'm so surprised that after leavings PCs and peripheral companies in the dust for so many years, HP got a one-up on the oft-hailed innovators. It comes in the form of HP's new desktop, a desktop with touch screen capabilities. While Apple certainly lead the way with the iPod Touch and the iPhone, HP brought it to full-powered computers first. I had wondered why no PC makers bothered to follow Apple's footsteps in the incredibly efficient model of having the entire computer contained within the flat panel monitor. It turns out HP was just waiting to add an extra innovation to theirs to get a leg up on APple. I'm sure Apple lovers will be fuming everywhere and decrying how it's not really that good, or that it's derivative of iPod Touch's technology. But the truth remains, that HP got a full-powered touch-screen desktop out first.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The name game

I don't know how often most copywriters get naming projects, but in my experience, it's usually rather rare. It's probably for the best because, though lots of fun, naming projects can take a lot out of you if done right. Naming is usually like one of two things- wading through a sea of crap until you find a tiny gold nugget or finding a golden snitch (nerddom unite). The biggest difference is whether you're writing down all your ideas while you brainstorm. Personally, I usually write down at least 60-100 names before starting to narrow down the list. Naturally that includes the crap names you have to get out of your system to let the good ones push their way through, but it can be taxing work. I liken that to sifting through a sea of crap until you get your golden nugget. However, if you're not writing them down, then it's much more like finding the snitch. You can circle around the quidditch pitch for hours looking for its elusive gleam, and once you catch it out of the corner of your eye, there's no guarantee you'll catch it. I don't recommend this practice though because aside from not looking busy and having nothing physical to show for your hours of work, if you're writing them all down and you don't have a lightbulb moment, at least you have a something to choose from. Sure, we'd all love to come up with the perfect name every time, but sometimes the constraints of the real world make this impossible. Happily, that's not the case in my latest naming project. Anyway, it's back to wading...

Friday, June 20, 2008

How Steve Turns Plastic into Gold

There’s a lot of talk these days about “adding value.” For all the jargon, I think adding value is part of the conundrum that has gone unobserved for many marketers for a long time and mystified them at why their efforts are unsuccessful. I think its come to the forefront more recently because marketers are trying to get into channels where they will be ignored, or worse, outright opposed, if they fail to add value, and they’re finally recognizing this.

Giving me a branded baseball hat from a software company? That’s a miss. Having a baby changing station with free baby wipes from a baby-products company? That’s a winner.

That said, I think this idea helps diffuse some of the mysticism surround Apple’s Steve Jobs. Granted, almost anything the man touches turns to gold. He’s a business wonder on many levels. But if any serious Apple lovers are reading who want to keep an image of Mr. Jobs as a paradox of divine inspiration inexplicable by the common man, I suggest checking out the new iPhone instead of reading on.

I think Mr. Jobs success comes mostly from adding genuine value. Practically every innovation he develops gives consumes something they really want, or something they can really use and don’t even know they want yet. What was one of the first things he did when he got back to apple? He created a computer in a tidy, one piece unit that could be easily carried in one hand. It didn’t require the large amounts of space that modern desktops STILL require, but simplified the package, saving space and difficulty when moving it. I wonder if that had anything to do with its success among college students…hmmm…Next, he led the charge into mp3s full speed. He didn’t wait around like most manufacturers, tentatively toe-ing the mp3 waters, seeing if they were right. He knew if you only had to bring the player and not every tape or CD you wanted to play, people would jump on it. And he was right. He also made the interface very intuitive, something that other companies making mp3 players are only now finally getting right. Next, he combined two overlapping demographics- WiFi web surfers and an extremely mobile generation to create the iPod touch. Not only was the interface incredibly intuitive and something our imaginations have been craving since Star Trek, but it allowed people to leave their laptop at home AND have their music at hand in a nice little package. Then, came the iPhone. I won’t even pretend to have to educate anyone on how that added value. And let’s not forget how he turned the desktop into an even smaller, more compact and manageable package with the newest iMacs.

Every innovation has been based on genuine consumer needs and wants. Not just squeezing more power out of a processor or reducing price again. Anyone who compares prices of Apple products to non-Apple competitors knows Apple usually costs twice as much or more. But, still they sell. That’s because they add value. I can’t believe that STILL no PC manufacturer has put a computer into a tidy package like the latest iMac. Their R&D departments must really have their hands tied. The biggest difference I’ve seen between businesses that work one ones that don’t is the ability to say YES vs. the propensity to say NO. I bet there are R&D guys at PC companies all over tearing their hair out to create something that would put the iMac to shame. But management is probably too scared to do anything about it. Meanwhile Steve says yes and stock prices rise again. Ad agencies say “maybe we shouldn’t do that” and people detest cookie cutter advertising. Agencies like Crispin take the chance to say “yes” and maintain god-like status in the business world because they create amazing things. Maybe more of us should take a hint from Steve Jobs and say “yes” instead of cringing in fear of our own shadows. Success isn’t an inexplicable power bestowed by the gods, it’s adding real value and having the courage to try a good idea.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Third Party Credibility and Cannes: Have They Met?

I’m an oddity in the ad world- I’m an advertising guy with genuine PR training (got my B.S. in PR along with my B.S. in advertising). Perhaps it’s because of this, I understand the importance of third-party credibility. It’s one of the foundations of public relations activities. You send a press release to a publication, if the publication thinks its interesting enough, they cover it, in part or in whole. You lose control over if it’s covered, when it’s covered and the exact message. However, you get the coverage for free and people are more likely to believe the message since the information comes from a source (often a trusted source) OTHER THAN the company itself. If LG tells you their new phone is a complete revolution, you will probably chalk it up to fluff. But if an article from a CNET journalist says so, you might think there’s some merit.

And that’s where we get to Cannes. I’m going to try to use the name of the award event as few times as possible because I’m so sick of seeing it on every advertising site and blog I can’t stand it anymore. I shall therefore call it, the Festival. In an AdWeek.com column called “Categorical Support for Cannes”, Mark Tutssel, CCO of Leo Burnett hails the Festival as a great beacon, measure, forecaster of the future, gage of the present, trendsetter, cultural experience, etc. etc. etc. Obviously Mr. Tutsell thinks quite highly of the Festival. In another strange turn in the column, Tutsell goes on to describe how one particular award that the Festival has just invented, the Titanium Lion, is “the most precious and prestigious awards to win.” In fact, he spends more than a paragraph going on about how the Titanium Lion “is an idea that's so unique, pure and new it cannot be labeled in a conventional way.” But then we see the byline, and it call becomes clear.

Mark Tutsell is the president of the Titanium & Integrated jury at Cannes. I’ll give you a minute to let that sink in….the president of the Titanium & Integrated jury at Cannes. I challenge anyone to tell me that Mr. Tutsell doesn’t have an vested interest in promoting a Festival he helps run and praising the merits of an award category which leads. Am I really supposed to believe anything in this column now? Don’t get me wrong, the Festival and the new award could indeed be all the things he says they are. But how is any one supposed to believe such high-minded, idealistic Festival-worship from a man who’s part of the very thing he’s praising. And how is anyone supposed to believe the jargon-laden dribble about category shattering, revolutionary blah blah blah from the man who heads the very award he’s showing off? Maybe it’s just a shot at transparency, maybe he was just so excited, he wanted to share his vision, but if anyone is to believe a message like that (which would have to lose some of the embellishment to get credibility from any source), maybe Mr. Tutsell should have looked into using PR to get some real third-party credibility instead of praising his own doings under his own name.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Copywriting in the Stock Photography Era

I think we can all admit that stock photography has made advertising possible and more profitable for a great many people and agencies. Gone are the days of assignment photography for every assignment (sorry photographers, honestly). In fact, unless you’re a fairly large agency, you’ll never have a single shoot. Almost all advertising today is done with stock photography. But this begs a question.

Why so much emphasis on visual solutions when it’s becoming harder to create them? Stock photography means that already over-taxed art directors and designers have to do Photoshop back flips to Frankenstein together an image that hopefully looks something like the intended result. Instead of trying so hard to squeeze water out of rocks (props to those who do so on a daily basis), should there not be more emphasis on copy? I’ve seen a disturbing trend in many agencies of cutting copywriters. But when one of your two artistic elements is already set and incredibly difficult to change in even small ways, should not there be added importance to the one you can change and tailor to an incredible degree? In other words, when the pictures are already taken, shouldn’t there be added importance given to copy, to the remaining place you can actually express and articulate everything you’re trying to say?

But nobody reads copy any more, visual solutions are the only solutions. Tell that to Mini. The incredible success of the entirely new make of little autos was built upon a campaign that featured a simple product shot, truly insightful copy and an unassuming, but unmistakable colored box outline. Or perhaps you think the footage that could have easily been replaced with stock footage (if it wasn’t stock in the first place) from MasterCard’s Priceless ads would be just as effective if the announcer didn’t say anything and items with prices didn’t show up on the screen. The truth is, copy is a great way to inject real personality into your ads, a way you can do it without the technical difficulty of creating crazy visuals, a way to give your brand a unique voice that make it more accessible (or less, depending on your brand’s intended personality), and a great way to ease the load on your probably over-burdened art directors and/or designers.

Finally, emphasizing copy more in the stock photography era is actually very economical. Don’t be misled to believe that the copy idea takes less time to think up. But I think we all know that once the thought work is done, the copy rarely takes the same amount of execution time as the design. And, you can change and tweak the copy very easily, even once it’s in place. Not so of the design. The point? All this adds up to hours of work that the agency is paying for. In essence, copy is a cheaper way of giving your ads real creativity because the total amount of time to execute and make changes significantly drops with copy-driven solutions. Turn-around time increases. Art directors and designers have their burdens lightened and the client’s brand gets a voice beyond a funky visual.

If you ask me, that’s a win-win.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Predicament of Content Creation and Social Media

Marketers create branded communities that get limited patronage because those communities are transparent attempts to use community to further their brands, and will obviously only provide information/content beneficial to their brand.

Marketers are also willing to invest huge sums to sponsor programs and websites that are relevant to their category, names that people trust in that category, but names that obviously also have information on the marketer’s competitors.

What will never happen? Creating a forum that covers other brands than your own. Why would it be beneficial? People would see you as being more concerned about their needs than your sales and would be more likely to buy from you. Your forum could also prove a pre-eminent source of information on the category, lending extra credence to any information you might provide on it. Incredibly important- people interested in the category would seek your forum for information, and while they might not have gone to your website to consider you before, your branded presence on the forum means you’ve just put yourself in the consideration set for people who weren’t looking to consider you in the first place.

Why it will never happen? Marketers have a clear, yet artificial division in their minds between content created by them, and content created by others. Imagine asking Nike to put up a forum that allows discussion of Reebok and Converse shoes. Never gonna happen. Then imagine Nike sponsoring a leading forum that discusses cross-trainers. They’d consider it a must-have. When you really take a look at it, both a sponsored third party forum and a Nike-made forum would do the same thing. However, one would be essential and one unconscionable in the modern marketing atmosphere. Looking at it closely, the difference between the two begins to seem rather ridiculous, since both offer consumers the same information and both would be branded through and through. It’s the artificial boundary of who creates the content in marketers’ minds that makes the difference between the who. And if you did happen to create a branded forum that allowed honest discussion of other brands, and it did become a go-to source for info for consumers in your category, it could actually prove to be a revenue generating tool. Having your competitors pay you to advertise? It doesn’t get much better than that.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tattoos & Taglines

In recent years, many have doubted the usefulness or value of taglines. Certainly in some cases, taglines have acted as crutches for otherwise undifferentiated products. And for some advertisers, their brand promise is so clear even without taglines that they can get along fine without them. Starbucks, to my knowledge, doesn’t have one, yet they remain a household name. However, saying that taglines are useless because they don’t always increase sales is tantamount to say advertising doesn’t work because it couldn’t sell the Ford Edsel.

For starters, taglines exist on a branding level, not a promotional level, and are therefore pretty hard to quantify, especially over time. Somehow I doubt Nike would be as strong without “Just do it.” Second, even unsuccessful companies and products use taglines. No amount of advertising or clever line is going to save a bad product or a company who lacks a clear brand promise. I think that taglines are more difficult than most people realize, that focus groups destroy the possibility for truly effective, insightful taglines, and that corporations often get in the way with their undifferentiated grandiose vanilla “Innovation. Commitment. Dedication.” type lines. Kudos to companies who can get out of the way of great work, it takes great courage.

Taglines can give people a few things that can really ad value. It gives them something familiar to hold onto that’s not visual. People don’t carry little trading cars with corporate logos on them, but they can sure spit out a slogan or two. For anyone trying to recommend your brand or product to another, it can help them communicate what you do, creating easier brand evangelism. For new companies, it can help communicate and/or clarify their brand promise. When FedEx came onto the scene, we knew they did shipping. But their tagline, “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” positioned them not just as a shipping company, but as the authority on fast shipping. I think it would have taken longer for the company to take hold without it.

In the modern era of consumers increasingly interacting with and influencing brand communications, the NBA has had a huge hit this year that illustrates the power of a well-crafted tagline. (I should mention here that the difference between brand lines and campaign lines can be blurry) “Where amazing happens” and its many iterations was a massive success this year. And while some purport that the success of this season’s playoffs is due to a lack of tattoos, I submit that it was due to a tagline that provided endless possibilities for customization and created something that consumers could take and play with, change around, have fun with and make their own. How else can you explain the hundreds of thousands of parodies of the Where Amazing Happens NBA spots online? The same concept was behind the overwhelming success of Elf Yourself. While more conservative thinkers might posit that letting someone “bastardize” your brand like that is a detriment, it’s actually a great brand building tool. It lets consumers interact with your brand on their terms, share your brand, get excited about it and associate it with positive experiences. If you still doubt the utility of taglines, maybe you should scrap logos too. After all, facebook uses plain type and it’s a cultural phenomenon.

So, are taglines dead or futile? Not a chance. They’re an art that just have to be handled very well to be successful.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Greendexing

I’m proposing a much needed new word. I’m allowed to make up words. I’m a copywriter. I do it for a living. I only say that because of the litany of terrible made-up words (presumably not by copywriters) that pervade much of modern life- words like Brangelina, Rathergate, and greenwashing.

Greendexing would be the infinitive form of a root word whose base is greendex. A greendex would be a score given to products, services or claims that companies proclaim as green. Greendexing would be the act of rating these products (infinitive- to greendex).

I think this idea is especially necessary, considering the adoption by companies of the green message. Now any company that uses low-electricity lightbulbs to save on their own budget claims to be green. However, a company that runs completely on solar and wind energy is also green. You see the problem? There’s no scale.

I therefore propose the scale of greendexing to help consumers understand the degree of green-ness a product or service really offers. I think a greendex for products and services, for example, should work on a 10 point scale. It should be based on the actual environmental impact combined with the motivation of the company.

Example 1
For example, a company who says you should buy their insulation because it makes your home green by saving on energy costs related to heating and cooling would get a 0. First, insulation has been around for a long time and has always done the same thing. Just because it happened to match with a green talking point doesn’t qualify it as anything new. Also, as to motivation, the company’s interest is clearly in selling you something and not at all with environmental interests because it is doing nothing different.

Example 2
Another example might be a company that claims to be green because it uses lower wattage and natural lighting it its warehouses to reduce its carbon emissions footprint. This claim might get a 2. The company is actually doing at least the smallest amount to help the environment, but only in the tiniest way. And naturally, their reason for telling you this is to convince you of their conscience so you’ll buy buy buy. Last, but not least, their motivation for making those changes is probably primarily budgetary- less energy costs helps their bottom line.

Example 3
An example of a 6 might be a crushed seaglass countertop composed of 80% recycled glass that washes up on beaches. This product clearly provides substantial environmental benefit by using recycled materials. What’s more, it doesn’t do it at a negligible level- 80% of the product is made from recycled material, which is pretty impressive. Why not give it a higher score? Because products like this usually command a premium that will knock your socks off. This might cost you two or three times the cost of a normal countertop. So, despite its overwhelming environmental benefit, the motivation for creating the product is still clearly one of profit, as evidenced by the huge markup. It preys on people needing green cred.

Example 4
Finally, imagine a house that runs completely on solar and wind energy, has a cistern and water collection system for water, uses energy efficient lighting, heating, cooling, bamboo floors, etc. and has a base of shipping containers as structure of the house. This house would do great on practically all fronts, assuming it’s not arbitrarily marked up for being green. Everything it does helps the environment. You might be wondering about those shipping containers, though. It’s actually a growing practice as of late to use shipping containers to form the primary structure of a home. Since the US has had a trade deficit for so long, there are giant farms of shipping crates just sitting around. Using them for housing puts them to good use, and not in ugly landfills, and they’re actually very sturdy and affordable. Some of the homes are also quite nice. So, like buying second-hand furniture (which they now call “reclaimed” because the new green yuppies wouldn’t be caught dead with something “used”), it’s not only environmentally friendly, but also cheaper.

Rating People
I also thing people who have “gone green” should be rated, perhaps on a 100 point system for better accuracy. This is less crucial, but there should be a difference between someone who buys CFL lightbulbs (not a magnanimous difference) and someone who buys a home like the one above. I won’t bother with examples here. Just think it over.

So, that’s why I think we need this made up word, greendexing. It will help us sort through the clutter and figure out what’s really environmentally responsible and what’s just a twist of words for profit. After all, greenwashing (shudder) is already rampant and consumers are already lashing out.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Banned in Boston

If it’s been banned in Boston, it must be good. While many have told me how fun and progressive a city Boston is, I have to wonder sometimes. My guess is that they must have some of the most boring advertising and bookstores around due to their pension for banning anything remotely interesting. In fact, as one article illustrates, they’re perfectly happy to ban something that hasn’t garnered any public complaints or broken any rules. It’s the kind of thing that makes me want to start a Banned in Boston list that serves as a guide to help people find really good, fun innovative stuff. Who knows, maybe it’s already been done. For now, my apologies to any Bostonians I may have offended, I hope you don’t ban me for it. I hear you have a lovely city, though it seems you have to enjoy much of it in hiding.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Making the Smart Car Look Stupid

When the Smart Car came to the U.S., I was elated. I’m a huge fan of things that genuinely contribute to environmental sustainability, cut out the fat and get more efficient and things that save space. Naturally, the Smart Car looked like a Mecca at first glance. However, checking it out online, I discovered that while it did cut out the two back seats that rarely any of us without kids ever need, that was about it. It doesn’t get much better gas mileage than my Corolla, which has considerably more interior space, and it’s not much cheaper either. I thought it was supposed to be a bare bones vehicle that did everything smart, not a fashion accessory. If I can pay the same and get a roomier vehicle with the same gas mileage, there’s no reason to foot for the Smart Car than to LOOK smarter to the uneducated, or if you genuinely want to save the room, which the car does wonderfully. It kind of reminds me of those pseudo-intellectuals I knew in college who knew less but pretended to know more. In short, I’m at a loss for what’s so smart about the Smart Car. Moreover, when it comes to affordable cars, they’re taking the cake in India. The Tata Nano is set to retail for $2,500 in India once it rolls of the assembly lines. It’s got room for four, too. Now, that’s smart.

How Kelly Ripa Sent the Women’s Movement Back 50 Years

It’s hard enough to justify our profession to the general public sometimes when some polls show people trust us less than lawyers and doctors. I try hard to explain to people the benefits of advertising, while that conceding a host of factors often lead to bad ads and practices that are hard for a single person to control. However, companies like Electrolux don’t make that job any easier. In their latest ads for new Electrolux appliances, Kelly Ripa is depicted as an updated version of the 50s supermom. She works a full-time job, takes impeccable care of the kids, take impeccable care of her appearance, is a perfect hostess who tends to everyone’s needs before they realize they have them, and the icing on the cake- she loves doing every bit of it. Many of us know that one of the dilemmas for the modern women is the expectation to be both career woman and career homemaker and do both flawlessly. People have been working hard to dispel this expectation, as it’s almost impossible. The new supermom image, build much, I’m afraid, on the shoulders of advertising also says this woman does all of this work while looking strikingly beautiful and poised in designer clothing, and probably most detrimentally, that she should enjoy everything about her 120 hour weeks. Kelly has certainly done her job in furthering the unachievable image of the supermom. And just in case there was any doubt about Electrolux’s intentions, the entire ad is set to a subtle soundtrack of nostalgic 50s music. I love retro touches as much as the next guy. In fact I think the kitschy Enzyte ads do a great job of using retro satirically to take some of the discomfort out of a touchy subject. But Electrolux’s most recent ads are clearly an effort to put women back “in their place,” as some of the older generation would say, with the added twist of the modern supermom’s responsibility to hold full-time employment. Women, good luck, and my sympathies.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Will One Misfit Be Conspicuously Missing?

It was released today that Verizon is buying Alltel, a deal which will make it the largest wireless carrier in the U.S. I’ve got a few questions though. First, is Alltel keeping its name or simply having its resources folded in under the Verizon name. That question is mostly important to me because it leads to my other queries. If the Alltel brand remains, will it continue to run its wannabe Mac vs. PC style commercials? And if so, will the crazy cat playing the Verizon guy be gone, leaving a conspicuous absence? Or perhaps, they’ll have the Verizon guy join ol’ Chad (the super cool, all-knowing Alltel guy from the spots). Naturally, if the Alltel brand disappears, this is a moot points, but if it remains, I’m curious to see which way it goes.

P.S. This assumes Verizon is planning on retaining its name. While I don’t see the Verizon name going bye-bye anytime soon, a well- known competitor ditched a more lucrative name in a merger that ended up doing it great damage with the younger demographic and sealing its image as a dust-and-cobwebs icon of big business.