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.

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.