Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Shorter-word thesaurus

That long, complicated word too long for your carefully distilled, inspiring tweet? Then get a shorter word to stand in its stead with the handy shorter-word thesaurus known as Thsrs.

(disclaimer: shorter synonyms generated by Thsrs may cause confusion, loss of meaning, bland prose, flabby fingers, Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia and in some rare cases, loss of cultural flavor)

Sporks up to the Copywriting Underground


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Quicky: 34 Punctuation Inspired Logos

Punctuation- it's not just for books anymore. Here's a collection of punctuation-inspired logos (we'll pretend to ignore the growing overuse of exclamation points in place as the letter "i").


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Adweek: A tale of two Tigers

Adweek has naturally devoted a lavish amount of coverage on Tiger, but can't seem to make up their minds on whether or not recent events will negatively impact his image and earning potential. Here's one Adweek article where they say Tiger won't lose image points or sponsors from the public debacle and here's another from Adweek that says cutting Tiger is generating positive buzz for brands. So Adweek, which is it?


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Irony in action: Climate Summit to create as much pollution as a small city

It seems attendees of the latest Climate Summit to be held in Copenhagen, Denmark have taken a page from the U.S. automaker playbook.

While huge numbers of government officials, journalists and celebrities flock toward the northern European city, they'll be doing it in an estimated 140 private jets, and more than 1,200 limos. It's so many limos, in fact, that the entire country of Denmark can't satisfy the demand, meaning that hundreds of limos will actually be imported (driven one at a time by single individuals) from hundreds of miles away in neighboring countries like Germany.

Evidently, these officials haven't taken any hints from the public flogging U.S. automakers endured when they took private luxury jets to Congressional hearings to beg for tax payer money to save their financially strapped companies.

All said and done, the Climate Summit has already become a public relations nightmare before the Summit has actually begun. Now it just remains to be seen if any of these officials and journalists care enough to adjust their behavior or if they will simply spew eco-speak from the podium that their actions can't back up.

Read more here.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Inching closer to quieter commercials

While most advertisers love turning the volume up to 11 on their TV commercials, few realize that the practice actually makes us hate TV commercials and the companies in the more, making us less likely to buy their products and more likely to skip the ads entirely. Counterproductive, isn't it?

Well, more progress has been made toward quieting down TV commercials to a reasonable level as the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, or CALM has now passed the House Communications Committee.

I'm sure many will fight it, but in reality, reasonable sound levels on TV commercials will lead to less muting, less skipping and less hating, which one can only assume would lead to greater ad effectiveness.

Read more about the CALM Act here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

One upmanship, and the lucky number 13

You may not have though it possible, or at least not likely, but someone has topped TipTipCash.com for repetition in a :60 radio spot.

While Twisted Tea doesn't actually mention their brand name quite as many times, they manage to say the word "tea" 13 times in a mere 60 seconds. That's roughly every four and a half seconds.

But how? With approved phrasing like, "Twisted tea. It's the hard iced tea that tastes like real ice tea." Evidently top quality writing is a common characteristic in ads that repeat things too much. I just KNOW they're going to set themselves apart with groundbreaking lines like, "Try Twisted Tea, it's really refreshing."

And practically comical on top of this is the fact that a brand that looks like a slightly funkier version of Snapple is trying hard to sell an iced-tea flavored alcoholic drink to young men.

The moral
I have two suggestions. First, not a lot of 18-24 males drink iced tea or want anything that tastes like it. Second, you're definitely not going to sell it to them with the voice of a chiding middle-aged woman saying, "My husband calls it his MAN-tea." Man-tea language could help you, but not if the person saying it is making fun of her man for doing it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

9th time's a charm

Getting people to remember your company's name is great, as long as you don't say it so many times they hate you. That's precisely the case with TopTopCash.com, who injects the company name into their :60 radio spot an average of once every seven seconds.

The spot starts out bland and predictable, but bearable and the whole thing sounds like it was written to be :30 long. Just past the halfway point, it becomes obvious that one of two things, or both, happened.

First, someone clearly ran out of things to say. The entire second half of the spot merely repeats the same talking points over and over in a random and non-sensical order.

Second, it seems that someone decided the best way to fill that space was by repeating the company's name as many times as possible. More than half the mentions of the company name are in the last 15 or so seconds with revolutionary writing like, "Again, that's TipTopCash.com."

The commercial is so grading that I actually change the station when it comes on, and it's practically the only reason I ever change my radio station.

The moral
It doesn't matter how well people remember your name if they hate you, and though the guy who stands on a corner yelling his own name over and over will be known to all, he will be friend to none.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Conservative talk shows find advertisers’ limits

With reality TV and “news” programs of all political ideologies sounding more and more like fear-mongering, sensationalist pundit megaphones, I begin to believe there was not longer content you could put on TV that would scare away advertisers.

I was wrong.

Glenn Beck recently discovered where advertisers draw the line when he called President Obama a racist. Within mere weeks of making the comment, 33 sponsors have pulled their advertising from Glenn Beck’s show, including the advertisers with gargantuan ad budgets like Sprint, Walmart and Clorox.

While I am a proponent of free speech, I am not a proponent of punditry parading as news, regardless of which “side of the aisle” it comes from. In an era of increasingly shocking and outrageous television, it’s nice to know there is still a line of decency somewhere, however far, that advertisers simply won’t cross.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Courtesy is a two-way street

I thought it was very timely that with so many looking for work that Yahoo recently ran this article about how often and flagrantly those who do the hiring mistreat those looking to be hired.

To the interviewees
I'm glad to say that my current employer was anything but rude. They were kind, considerate and courteous; traits I see reflected in the way they do business every day. Often the way a company conducts an interview is the way they conduct business in general, so pay attention yourself if you're the one interviewing. You may get some valuable insights into the company you're trying to work for. If you're smart, you'll even have good questions prepared to interview the the interviewers about the company. You can ask questions, too. Even though they may lie through their teeth (as one of my previous employers did), at least you tried. If successful, you can learn a great deal about the company before you ever spend a day on the job.

To the Interviewers
I know you're busy and it seems like you have all the power, but the article I linked at the beginning of this post holds some valuable nuggets you need to keep in mind.

1) You're not the only company this person is interviewing with.

Despite how bushy-tailed, prepared and pumped your interviewee seems to be about your interview, it's mostly because they want a job somewhere. Chances are that you're one of several companies they've interviewed with and if you treat them without respect, you can easily lose that candidate if another offer comes along.

2) Job seekers have long memories.

A great deal of the time job seekers are hunting for jobs frantically in a time of great need. While their interview may just be a mid-afternoon annoyance that's interrupting your concepting, to them it may be constitute days of research, preparation and expense in the quest to make sure they can continue to keep food in their mouths and a roof over their heads. If you slight someone unnecessarily in a time of need like that, they're not likely to forget.

3) Word gets around.

Job seekers who have bad experiences tell ALL of their friends, and pretty much anyone else willing to listen. As small as most industries are, you can have a terrible reputation with potential employees after mistreating candidates when filling just a few positions. Make it a habit and word can start to spread to other cities. I know of one company whose hiring (and operating) practices are so abismal that people are warning anyone they know not to work there, even hundreds of miles away from the company itself. That kind of negative word-of-mouth can really hurt your applicant pool.

Read Yahoo's article on the five most common ways employers mistreat job applicants.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Twisted Giveaway

Thanks to the kind folks over at allmodern.com, I get to reward you, my readers, with a sweet giveaway. Leave a comment on this blog entry and you'll be entered to win the red basket pictured here. And just to keep things interesting, when you comment, let me know what you WOULDN'T do with this delightful piece if you won it. Good luck!

All Modern has a fantastic selection of modern furniture and home accessories from many leading designers. Part of CSN Stores, All Modern is just one of over 260 retail sites that offer a diverse array of products from Herman Miller’s popular Aeron Chair to cookware by Rachael Ray.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Arrogantly screwing yourself

I recently read an article in Adweek where Robert Thompson brought up the fact that Anna G. Esho, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives is drafting legislation to reduce the problem of TV ads being set at frighteningly higher volumes than the shows that surround them. And then it got interesting.

The tone
Mr. Thompson spends most of his article in a very sarcastic tone, telling us that the problem isn't really all that bad, that we're imagining ads being louder, that if they are louder, it's not much and it's not a problem. I'm no old man. I'm a guy in his mid-twenties that loves me some loud music and cranking up the volume on movies. So when I go from straining to hear normal conversation on a TV show to covering my ears because the volume of the commercial pod is painful, there's an issue.

Out of touch
I'm glad to say a quick look at the comments on the article will reveal Ms. Esho is not in the minority and that Mr. Thompson is clearly outnumbered by a lot of annoyed and angry folks.

Tying the noose that hangs you...or at least your buddy
BUT, perhaps the most shocking part of the article is that Mr. Thompson's solution for the problem, which is important because he previously mentions there is no problem, is for people to turn down the volume, skip the commercials or turn off the TV altogether. WHAT!?

Only from the bowels of uninformed academia that hasn't had to deal with the real world for ages could come such an obtuse recommendation. As advertisers, we don't want people turning down the commercials, we don't want people hating commercials because they're loud and our message gets lost in the scramble for the remote. We definitely don't want people TIVOing past the commercials or ceasing to watch the shows altogether. THOSE COMMERCIALS ARE HOW WE MAKE A LIVING. But since Mr. Thompson has a cushy seat in academia, he doesn't need to worry about us working folks.

The bottom line is the ad industry should be lobbying for some sort of change to help limit this problem. Is an act of Congress necessary? Probably not. But some industry self-regulation should be put into play at the least. Why? Because more annoyed people are by commercials, the more they'll skip them, the less they'll pay attention, and the quicker we can all kiss our advertising jobs goodbye.

Adjust the message, not the volume
And by the way Mr. Thompson, if you have to shout your message to get people to listen to it, you clearly don't have anything worth saying.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The confusing world of misleading ads

Yahoo recently featured an article on how to detect misleading ads. It's an easy fact to forget as an ad industry copywriter who's faced every day with the technicalities of what makes an ad misleading or false how little the public really knows about the nuances we hold so dearly (the ones that keep us out of court).

I'm glad to say the article hit on one of the most important points- pay attention to the words. The words are almost always where actual claims are made that have to be substantiated. Vague statements are usually intentionally written that way because specific statements must be proven, and if can't prove you have #1 customer satisfaction in the U.S. (which you would have to substantiate with an independent study), it's much easier to say you make The Ultimate Driving Machine.

What I think the public may not know is the legally agreed-upon safe zone called puffery. Puffery refers to subjective claims that can be neither proven nor disproven. A good example would be, "The best burger around." Best could mean any variety of things. It could refer to temperature, flavor, value, etc. Around gives you no geographical reference. Because who makes the best burger is subjective, advertisers are allowed to make those claims without substantiating them, because it's impossible to substantiate the subjective. If the company said the make "The sandwich people prefer two-to-one," like Domino's did, they would have to substantiate it with legal disclaimers. If you pay close attention to the ads, you'll see them.

The confusing, and probably unfair, part of puffery is that there are so many words deemed subjective that sound definitive. Words and phrases like best, greatest, preferred, favorite, number one sound like serious claims, but fall under puffery; essentially a legal right to be boastful in a vague way.

It gets even more confusing when you realize that a company can take one of these claims and decide to prove it within ceratin criteria. For example, an auto manufacturer could make the legal claim to be the "Number One-Selling Auto Manufacturer in the U.S." and base it on total number of automobiles sold in a given time period, say the second quarter of 2008 to the second quarter or 2008 while another manufacturer could make the same claim of, "Number One-Selling Auto Manufacturer in the U.S."but defined as total revenue instead of units sold. They could even simply select a different time period if they beat the first manufacturer in that period.

I could give examples all day long, but I'll spare you. After all, several of my college courses had entire chapters, sections or even weeks of the course devoted to differentiating what constitutes false ads, legally misleading ads and puffery. Just to give you a peek at what we learned, false is not the same as misleading, legally misleading is not necessarily the same thing as practically misleading and what seems definite is often considered vague.

It's a complicated world out there, but if you stick to the basics above, you'll be a lot better off.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Dying a trendy death: Crocs

Lots of products come and go. Some are huge flash-in-the-pan products that are selling faster than they can be made one year and forgotten the next. We can add Crocs to the list of companies that grew fast and died even faster according to the Washington Post.

They now join the ranks of jelly sandals, POGS and lawn darts. I'd say a word in rememberance, but the only pair I ever had were a gift and I got rid of them pretty quick.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Eat your words

A company's packaging presents a unique opportunity to communicate with consumers both before and after purchase. It's interesting that more brands haven't taken advantage of the fact that every item you sell can be another ad, except the cost is already be covered by your packaging budget.

Curiously enough, the fast food (and slower food) industry is the one group that seems to get this the most, with everybody from Wendy's to Starbucks putting little blurbs on their products. Even the little guys are getting involved now, like Brooklyn Fare, whose witty headlines serve to further communicate the business's personality, take a few stabs at competitors and even get a chuckle or two.

Sporks up to Aisle One

Monday, July 20, 2009

High-style like it's going out of style

The all-white packaging din has officially hit full force. Carrefour, the world's second largest retailer after Walmart, has jumped on the blandwagon. No, that's not a typo. Once, the minimal, all white looks the exclusive purview of high-fashion brands. Now, it's bland-on-white hysteria sweeping the world as fast as the zombies in 28 Weeks Later. Can simple-on-white be done well? Sure. Should you maybe veer away from it for a while, seeing as how it's a style we can now equate to the discount store brands of giant discount stores? Worth considering.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Lemon in the limelight

If you have anything that's going to see some high-profile time, you better make sure it works. That's exactly what Range Rover didn't do. After Dan Henderson earned a Range Rover for his UFC coaching, he made the mistake of trying to drive it home. The brand new vehicle couldn't even make it the four-hour trip.

Admittedly, some auto makers make more money by creating vehicles that are substandard in some way. However, even it you do, it's generally a good idea to take a little extra care if one is going to be given away to someone that's being watched by a healthy portion of the country.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What hath God wrought?

If you ever wonder if texting has had any effect on the way we communicate (or the tone of our communications), check this out.

Note on style- It is nearly impossible to use text-speak without sounding like a 15-year old girl or basement-dwelling gamer.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

h8 mtng muli-tskng? just say no

I've been witness to a phenomenon that's become quite commonplace these days- in-meeting multi-tasking. For a long time, theorists posited that people on their laptops and blackberries during work meetings were simply responding to being overloaded with technology and information (ignoring other more pragmatic explanations, like whether some meetings are boring, irrelevant or unnecessary).

A recent University Of Texas study just debunked that theory, finding instead that meeting multi-tasking behaviors are better predicted by organizational norms and acceptable behavior. In other words, if the leadership of your organization does it, so will the employees. If you don't announce clear-cut rules about it, your employees will do it. If you turn a blind eye or have a ban on it without any consequences, your employees will do it. So, what's the real way to stop in-meeting multi-tasking? Stop it. Difinitively. People only defy the boss as long as they know there won't be any reprocussions.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

About those people we hated but now inexplicably love

Just for the record, of all the recent celebrity deaths, I mourn Billy Mays the most.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Let me blow your...mind

There's just too much to say about this Burger King ad to even know where to start. I'll let you pick apart this ad one innuendo at a time.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Choose your mouthpiece wisely

Stars can bring a lot of buzz to movies and all the games, toys and merch that often accompany them. However, it's always a good idea to have your star media trained, especially if he's a little wet behind the ears.

I'm talking of course of Transformer lead Shia LaBeouf bashing games in which he stars. I'm all for honesty, and he may be right about the games not being great to play, but talking down your own revenue steams is never a wise move. They just might dry up.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Prepositions

This article goes to show how little importance most of the country puts on even remotely acceptable grammar. With one of the worst literacy rates in the industrialized world, director Michael Bay is here to remind us that in America, the ability to speak or write coherently is not required. Amusingly, he does this all while lambasting his marketing team for failing to perform up to the last Transformers movie's numbers. Perhaps, Mr. Bay, it's because your instructions were unclear. Or perhaps it's because the GM doesn't have as much money to spend on the tie-in as they did for the first Transformers movie...you know, the kind that includes lots of co-op advertising dollars, in-store merchandising and the like? That fact won't, however, stop me from going to see the new movie. I just hope this hot little pink/purple number to the right is in it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Just a little more expensive than expensive

Someone I know recently got a new (or at least new-looking) Honda Civic. As usual, the dealer put some badges and whatnot on the car to promote the dealership family. What words did this sage dealer choose to entice people to its lots full of gleaming new vehicular devices?

Just north of high prices

On a purely geographical level, this works. The dealership is in fact north of Houston in the suburbs. And if you consider the city inherently more expensive than the 'burbs, you're saying that the dealership is north of the expensive part of town. Kudos.

Unfortunately, the phrase doesn't work that way. Any time you deal with price, "costs just north of" translates to "is slightly more expensive than." If you're talking about a Civic that costs just north of $20,000, you're saying it's a Civic that is slightly more than $20,000.

So, translated, the slogan says that this dealer "is slightly more expensive than high prices."

I don't know about you, but I'm not going to any dealer that claims to have prices higher than high prices. It was a clever play on words with north, but the existing usage of north in reference to price puts this dealership in a tight spot. You could conceivably say "just south of high prices," but it's still not that enticing a claim economically and then you risk confusing folks as to where you dealership is located. All in all, it's a noble attempt that almost works, but ends up meaning exactly the opposite of what the dealership intended.

Monday, June 22, 2009

In reach, out of touch

I love some good modern design. It's one of the reasons I got so excited when I found out there was a place called Design Within Reach. Really? Modern furniture and accessories that are affordable? Sweet! WRONG.

Alas, Design Within Reach is anything but. I'm not sure exactly whose reach it's supposed to be in, but it certainly isn't mine. With items like the Artichoke Lamp pictured here for around $7,700 and the Eames Lounge for around $2,500 without the ottoman and nearly $4,000 with it, I hardly think allusions to affordability are justified.

The name of a business is important. In the best cases, it's supposed to say something alluring about your company and communicate the essence of what you do. In the worst cases, it can be confusing, unclear or in this case, outright misleading. Don't get me wrong, I'm looking forward to the day when I can buy some of the wonderful wares from this posh shop. But seeing as I don't come from money and I'm a young buck in the biz, I'm going to have to hit the lottery to seriously peruse their store any time soon.

I guess it shouldn't be any surprise though. Here in Texas, you can often get homes for $70/sq.ft., including the land, homes by modern prefab home builders that claim to make affordable housing usually run between $200-$400/sq.ft. not including site prep, foundation or land.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Don't talk about things you don't now about

I'm going to skip the whole part where I talk about how little I like most of McDonald's advertising. I believe that even with the best creatives in the world on the task, the executives at McD's would continue to demand the unbelievably optimistic and contrived spots they currently produce, but the McCafe spots are by far some of the worst offenders in my book. Don't get me wrong, it's an interesting concept- transforming something bland into something cool with use of the accent mark. However, the examples they offer up tend to fall flat. But the radio is what gets me the most.

In one radio spot, the announcer is talking about how McCafe can jazz up your life and cause you to spurt out "evocative sentence fragments like 'That's chill dog.' " First of all, "That's chill dog" is hardly evocative. Second, and more important to grammar hounds, "That's chill dog." is a complete sentence. It has a subject and verb, not to mention an indirect object and an adverb. The sentence makes sense and stands on it's own. IT'S NOT A FRAGMENT. All I'm sayin' is if you're going to thrown around grammatical terms on the radio, at least know what you're talking about.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Too much of a good thing, Part 7- THE POINT

One of the main reasons this approach has worked for so long is because it was fairly uncommon. However, as it becomes more and more common, it becomes not the antithesis of homogeneity, but becomes homogenized itself. It’s boring. It has no personality. It has no character or voice. It tells you nothing about the brand but that they hired a designer who’s more interested in their own design perspective than in creating something appropriate for the brand. Minimalism and its elements have their time and place, especially when combined with other interesting, more dynamic styles. However, the bottom line is that if we get enough of these redesigns, the style will be just as ubiquitous and unoriginal as suburban white carpet and just as trendy and flat-footed as neon-colored fanny packs. Everything in moderation.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Too much of a good thing, Part 6- Stop and think

I’m not saying this sort of design has no place. It certainly does, but not with every brand nor with every application. Design should not get in the way of function, but use some judgment and use it where it’s appropriate, not just as a lazy default or because you have some sort of design mantra that demands it. If your theory of design demands the same solution for every problem, you’ve missed the boat entirely.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Too much of a good thing, Part 5- Not a new problem

This is a problem that has already long plagued the modern home industry. Many complain on modern home tours that they’re not shown a thing but uncomfortable, unlivable stark white boxes with giant windows. What’s to tell one white box from another? But evidently that’s high design.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Too much of a good thing, Part 4- Failure to communicate

And on a less design-related note, Target really dropped the ball when it came to informing anyone about the change. Many employees weren’t even informed until a month after products were on the shelf.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Too much of a good thing, Part 3- Dogma over design

Why? Because a minimal purist got their hands on one more project with which they can slowly homogenize the world with their design manifesto. The “RE” brand of home items prides itself on what it calls a revolutionary use of turquoise. News flash: the native Americans were using turquoise beads for hundreds if not thousands of years before a designer ever set foot here, and my grandmother had a closet full of turquoise that was all the rage in the 60s. The turquoise is jarring at best and fails monumentally at communicating comfort, home or style. And best of all, the way the packaging is designed now, they’ve managed to strip it of any boxes or separated areas, erasing any hierarchy of information that might assist a real consumer in decoding important information at a glance. But I suppose that is all part of the utopian design future.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Too much of a good thing, Part 2- The tipping point

I was finally tipped over the edge when I saw that Target had jumped on the bland-wagon with a redesign of its store brands. Never mind the years and millions of dollars in brand equity and trust that Target has built behind that iconic red target. Never mind that at a minimum, their store-brand of home goods had interesting, comforting, rich colors and patterns that fit the products and made you think of the comfortable, relaxing home you could enjoy with them. Scrap all that.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Too much of a good thing, Part 1- Ubiquity

Since you were a kid, people have been saying that you can never have too much of a good thing. Well, they’re wrong.

I believe clean, modern design is a good thing. However, that does NOT mean it’s something that everyone needs to use all the time. Lately I’ve seen more and more ultra-minimalist wet dreams of fields of white space touched with single color accents and Helvetica (or Helvetica-esque) fonts. I really enjoyed seeing this sort of look originally, because at the time it was, well…original. But when Walmart has taken on the style, it just may have reached the point of ubiquity.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Email babushka

Working on an email campaign recently, one of my co-workers had created several HTML documents to be emailed out. In order to send it, he had to package the files for me to email to our client. My co-worker came to my door and tried to figure out how to tell me he emailed me an email containing the emails. It was at that point we realized that we could create an endlessly digital babushka doll of emails, one contained within the next. Consider forwarding, replying and CCing and it could grow exponentially. Think about that after couple of drinks at happy hour and let your mind expand.

Wannabe a filmmaker?

I've made it no secret that I'm not a big fan of the Geiko Caveman campaign. In more recent history, I find their easily and ostentatiously offended nature not only annoying, but a sad commentary on the state of political correctness in this country. The spots have been slowly veering away from having much to do with insurance at all an more an excersize in what I call advertising masturbation- somthing that feels great to the people doing it, but that not one else really wants to watch and that no one else really gets anything out of. Well, it's come to a head.

In the most recent spot, it's simply a caveman bemoaning his plight to the tune of a popular rock band. The caveman says nothing. There's nothing that Geiko insures in the commercial. The logo doesn't show up a single time. There's not one word of copy. The only thing that even gives you a clue it's a Geiko spot outside of the caveman screaming silently at the sky in the rain is a wall of TVs in a store (the catalyst to his breakdown) that all show the old line, "So easy a caveman can do it." For aspiring filmmakers it's great, but I think it's gone beyond serving any marketing function at all. At least it feels good for the guys making it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Image isn't everything

As much pride as we ad folks often like to take for the rise and fall of corporate empires, the credit, or fault, is not always our own. No amount of advertising can save a truly inferior product, and Chrysler is one such example.

If you want to know what did in the automaker, just check out this CNN article. Then, feel free to speculate on if and how Chrysler can make a comeback.

Good luck Fiat.

Friday, May 1, 2009

from Honda. with curious grammar.

If you thought the choice of punctuation and capitalization on that title was odd, you’re not alone. I do too, and I can’t think of a scenario where I would choose to write a headline in that fashion. However that’s exactly what a new billboard from Honda does.

I see two different schools of thought crammed into one odd and hard-to-support execution. You can use periods, you can use lower case, but you can’t use both.

1) If they wanted the periods, they should have capitalized the first word in each line. Though they may lack the standard subject/verb construction, the periods clearly make the thoughts into sentences, and starting a sentence with a lower case letter is not common usage in any medium except, perhaps, text messaging- something board was not alluding to.

2) If they wanted to go all lower case, which is very much in style these days, they should have left the periods. The fact that the phrases that make up the headline are on separate lines makes it perfectly clear that they’re separate thoughts. And if that weren’t enough, “from Honda.” is in a bright green and “for everyone.” is in grey. If someone doesn’t understand that those are separate thoughts, they’re not going to understand the car-buying process well enough to put their John Hancock on the loan papers.

In essence, it’s a very odd choice, on that I can’t find any grammatical, graphical, conceptual, legal or common-usage reasoning to support. My guess is, either someone was trying to be edgy and missed the boat or it was a Frankenstein-style compromise between two factions as to how they should visually delineate two thoughts in a four-word headline.

The summary? Not horrible, not earth-shaking but a little odd.

Monday, April 27, 2009


I can write in any style necessary, but from a personal standpoint, I'm bored of seeing all of these big companies take a passive aggressive approach. YOU ARE COMPETITORS. It irks me when a company actually has a concrete advantage over another and won't say it because "being negative" (aka this includes saying anything negative about your competitor) allegedly means people will stop buying their stuff. News flash: A negative for your competitor is a positive for you. A positive for you means you sell more stuff, and that's really the whole point.

Now that I've hopped off my soap box, I want to pass on to you one of the most ingenious media placements I've seen that embodies a spirit of clever competition that has been has largely been eschewed in favor of the kind of catty fake niceties normally found in teenage girls.

Thank you Audi, BMW and My Modern Metropolis.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Typos on a National scale

If you look around closely, you'll discover typos everywhere- on billboards, store signs, flyers and pretty much anything with words on it. However, when your words will be worn by star athletes on televised national sports, a missing letter gets even more attention. Check out the whole story here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Web copy tips from design people

Here's a refreshing article by a seasoned writer that can probably do a lot to help make the web an easier place to get information for users and a better place for companies to disburse it.

I know the article isn't technically by a designer, but AIGA was one of the last places I expected to find copy advice. I'll certainly be looking for more there.

I think it's also good to note that some more technical products will always need a great deal of content. There will be people pining through technical specs and legal disclosures for industries like banking or technology. However, I still think it's a good guide for the primary content of a page. You can put technical charts and details further down after covering the top-line items briefly to actually assure your audience is interested before berating them with the nitty-gritty details.

All in all, good advice.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Savings minutes saves nothing

AT&T, like many companies has jumped on the saving bandwagon. After all, saving is cool now, as is prudent spending. Opulence and excess will have to wait until the Dow gets back above 10,000 or more.

On first listen, AT&T's spot, one of a series that uses little orange ticking clocks to symbolize phone-plan minutes, seems to make great sense as a penny pinching mother admonishes her blazee son for trying to sell their unused minutes.

"You know, saving minutes saves money and we can't afford to be wasteful," she snipes, "Not every one gets to keep their unused minutes."

It makes sense until you start doing the math, anyway. In reality, you pay the same amount for your allotted minutes each month, so you can't save by using less of them. If you have unused minutes, it means that you essentially have unused goods that you've paid for. And since the cost of your minutes is fixed, the less you use of them, the more you're paying per minute. So, saving minutes doesn't save money. Saving minutes actually wastes money, and from a theoretical perspective makes every minute you do use more expensive. And if you're wondering, the bulk of Americans ends each month with plenty of minutes they neither used, nor needed.

So, kudos AT&T. You pulled a fast one that I'm sure that a great multitude of people will miss and get to pad your bottom line with their misunderstanding. Let's just hope education reform doesn't help out America's math skills and start skimming away your profits.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

When the economy gets tough the tough get chauvanist

I don’t know what it is about tough times, but it seems to have spurred a (hopefully brief) renaissance in chauvinistic advertising. One of the more notable examples was the Bridgestone spot on the Super Bowl with a stereotypically naggy Mrs. Potato head and a Mr. Potato Head that’s only happy when he figures out a way to shut her up.

Recently, Burger King joined the ranks of those who think one of the best places to cut in a recession is gender sensitivity. I’m talking about the new spot for Burger King’s tiny burgers.

For starters, the idea that women would react the same way to tiny burgers as tiny animals simply because they are also tiny is pretty insulting.

Second, the giggling, swooning and sexually suggestive dialog like, “I just wanna squeeze ‘em [the bugers]” means the benefit of these burgers is getting laid. Somehow I fancy if you eat too many, they will have just the opposite effect. There’s absolutely nothing to tie the alleged benefit to the product or its attributes.

Third, the women are clearly objectified sexual objects intended only to serve the whims of the average, but worlds-smarter males in the spot. The wardrobe gives us plenty of cleavage that the males ogle and one woman seems to be dressed as a sexy librarian.

I don’t see how less product-related and more blatantly chauvinist it could be. Beautiful, seductively clad women swarm unsuspecting average guys and lather them with suggestive comments and moaning because they can’t tell the difference between a puppy and a small burger.

Burger King, I hope the Burger Queen didn’t see this or you might be in the doghouse. Unless of course, she’s got a mouth like Mrs. Potato Head that you can chuck out the window when you’re tired or listening to her talk.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

April foolish

For better or worse, April 1 did not hold many surprises for me. A few sites had great April Fool's material deftly integrated into their sites like World of Warcraft's dance battle system and Gmail's CADIE auto responder system. However, a real life sighting topped them all for me.

It came in the form of a utility truck with a huge name scrawled across the side, "Big Johnson Plumbing." Unless they painted the truck just for the day, that was the genuine name of a company that had been doing business for some time. And if you don't see what's funny about a plumbing company named Big Johnson, it's time to loosen up.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Love it / Hate it

While I'm no fan of the "bizummy" billboard Nestea has up on I-45 (see my last post), I saw another one just the other day that I like quite a bit. Same city, same campaign, different line. The headline on this newfound billboard says-

Deliciously exotic flavors.
Strangely normal bottle.

I'm a big fan of parallel structure and I love the feeling this particular combination of words creates. They're almost like words you can eat; an ice cream Sunday of words, each presenting with a new contrasting, but complimentary flavor to create a rare and unique experience for the mental pallette. But enough brain salivating. I mostly think it's intriguing that you can have pieces in the same campaign that can draw such vastly different responses from the same audience.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Making up words is hizzard

The billboards on 45 between the Woodlands and downtown change quite a bit and there’s a new one for Nestea that just hurts me a little. I’ve recommended people leave making up words to the professionals before, but evidently we can’t even always be trusted.

The billboard’s line is, “It’s bizarre. It’s yummy. It’s bizummy.”

I’m sorry, bizummy? What are we, Snoop Dog? First of all, that word is tizzerrible. It doesn’t roll off the tongue and the phonemes are clearly from different words. It has less the effect of combining the advantages of cars and SUVs to make a crossover and more the heir of crashing the two together and selling the wreck as the next thing in automobiles.

Second, I’m not sure bizarre is a word I would want to describe my food. My clothing, sure. Decorations for my home, perhaps. But my beverage?

Third, to my understanding, Nestea is a grown-up drink, which would merit a grown-up descriptor of benefits. Some how I don’t think “yummy” is the most effective word to hit a chi and vitamin water drinking demographic.

And fourth, did I mention the word is terrible? It doesn’t combine to bring to mind any other connotations or conjure up a new twist on a familiar theme. Creating new words is a delicate art. Creating them by combining other words is no easier. I’d say leave it to the professionals, but obviously even copywriters have their bad days.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


I've bashed pickups now and then on this blog, but I feel I should make something clear. I don't dislike pick-ups.

I dislike some of the giant, super-extended, jacked-up monster trucks that threaten to roll over smaller cars and stick out of parking spots. I especially dislike giant off-road pickups that never leave the pavement. Most of all, I don't think their high margins are justified and think their gas mileage is atrocious.

But if you could create a pickup that got 30 miles to the gallon for a regular pickup price, you probably just sold me one.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Strike the iron while it's cold

Mountains of studies, books and evidence show companies who maintain or increase advertising spending during tougher economic times almost always come out of those economic difficulties much stronger than their ad-cutting competitors. However, the knee-jerk reaction of most companies still seems to be cut cut cut. Once again, a company has proven the old wisdom.

Hyundai, a car company largely not taken seriously even just a few years ago, seems to be solidifying its position as a major competitor in the US auto market, bucking industry trends along the way. I'm not sure of the exact numbers on Hyundai ad spending, but I do know they have at least maintained, if not increased their advertising presence in the marketplace during the downturn. Their reward while other automakers are cutting spending? Two models that have actually seen serious sales GAINS - the Hyundai Elantra is up 33% over last year and the Hyundai Accent is up 30%. That's on top of an '09 North American Car of the Year Award for the Hyundai Genesis.

Take notice automakers. Hyundai's been at the books, using proven wisdom and gaining ground quickly.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Getting profitable by cutting the profitable

Anyone can speculate or make statements based on anecdotal evidence or familiar talking points. That's one reason I try to back my opinions up with real data when I can. I'm glad to say that with some new numbers, my opinion has once again been validated.

The Big Three American automakers have seen their sales slip nearly 50% year over year. In trying to get the company fit and trim, GM is pruning several makes, Saturn being one of them. In a somewhat recent post, I complained that GM is cutting profitable (or at least better selling) vehicles, like the entire Saturn Line, while keeping redundant makes like GMC (essentially gussied-up Chevrolet trucks and SUVs, but not as nice as Cadillac). Well, a recent report found that while GM's sales figures have slipped phenomenally, the Saturn Astra's sales were up more than 30%.

Let me repeat that. At a company that's seen sales plummet by nearly half, in an industry that's tumbled by nearly a third, GM considers the most prudent move to cut a vehicle that's actually seen a 30% gain.

There's simply nothing more to say about it. I rest my case.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Great advertising, terrible PR

Apple is regularly hailed as one of the pinnacles of advertising that other companies should strive for. I have to agree. However, it seems when it comes to PR, Apple seems to feel that outright lies are the way to go. After all, they have to defend the almighty stock price right? After lying about Steve Jobs health for months, saying he had a minor illness, which turned out to be a major and potentially crippling health condition, Apple has pulled another doosey.

Apple has denied denied denied rumors that it laid off staff recently. However, some of the very people laid off had a different story to tell. Apple did, in fact, lay off about 50 people. It's not a huge number, considering the size of the company. And considering they could make a case that the layoffs were inspired by a shift in corporate philosophy, rather than financial troubles, it begs the question why they decided to lie about it in the first place. I can only posit that it's the result of a very backward PR philosophy that's building growing distrust for the once pristine company. If Apple's not careful and doesn't change their approach to public relations, they could end up irrevocably marring the image that they've spent so many years and millions building.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Crickets don't know fast from reliable

Listening to a radio spot by local cell carrier Cricket Wireless recently, I was reminded of how easy it is to pull a bait and switch if you do it quickly and confidently enough. In the spot, two characters are talking in a pretty classic problem/solution format. It's a pretty fast spot, so if you're paying attention, you'll completely miss them dodging a major cell issue.

The guy who's looking for a good cell carrier is listing things he wants from a carrier, and the solution guy is naming all of Cricket's relevant benefits. Carrier seeking guy say, "I want a reliable network." Solution guy replies, "Cricket has a 3G network."

The problem is, of course, that 3G addresses the speed of the network, not the reliability. You can ask just about anyone with an iPhone 3G in a major urban area exactly how "reliable" 3G really is. Who needs service in places like downtown Houston or the central business district in Chicago? 3G has to do primarily with the speed of the network in regards to downloading data like songs or streaming video.

So, props to Cricket for pulling a fast one. Answer a question with a technical term that not everyone understands and you get to substitute speed for reliability. I wish all product benefit shell games were that easy.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Should they stay or should they go now?

If you're wonder what makes and models of cars are going to stick around and which are going to get the axe, here's the latest from Yahoo Autos. While talks and plans change every day, this list is probably pretty close to where things are going. Getting rid of under-performing products. Who'd of thought it would come to this?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Want advice? Ask someone with a vested interest!

My new favorite billboard on my gruellingly long commute is one for Realtors. Its says, "Is now a good time to buy a home? Ask a Realtor." And of course, this billboard was put up by some sort of association of Realtors.

It's unfortunate, because they probably are some of the most knowledgeable people about that question. However, I don't care who you are, if you have a vested interest in the answer to a question, I'm going to be have a hard time taking your advice. Realtors only make money when they sell houses. No houses selling, no money. Who in their right mind is going to tell you not to buy a home if their entire livelihood (today a very battered livelihood) is 100% dependent on you doing exactly that? If I sell apples and someone says, "Is now the time to buy apples?" It would be stupifying for me to say, "No, now is not a good time to buy apples." Of course I'm going to tell you to buy what I'm selling, just like the Realtors are. And it's unfortunate, because there's a good chance their advice is good, despite their built-in bias.

I think everyone needs to take a course in third-party credibility.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Direction Proof

I see a veritable plethora of billboards on my way to and from work every day, and the importance of proofing never escapes my thoughts. The most recent offender is a huge billboard for Lone Star Ford.
The billboard says "exit Shepard," which is unfortunate, because to get to Lone Star Ford, you really have to exit Shepherd. I can see a confused driver or two saying, "Was that the exit?"

Location-specific billboards with directions on them are a great way to drive people to a location, and can be very effective, even devoid of creativity. However, you have to make sure to point your potential customers in the right direction, because two letters can be the difference between ka-ching and "Was that our exit?"

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Condoms on your butt

When it comes to media, placement is everything, and while CondomDepot.com’s sponsorship of various UFC fighters may hit the right audience, the specific placement of the company’s logo might raise an eyebrow or two. So where did they put it?

Right across a UFC fighter’s butt. I know there’s not much space on a fighter to put an ad- you essentially have use of his shorts, unless you’re going to tattoo him (not unheard of) . But I think there are certain implications to slapping “CondomDepot.com” across the backside of a sweaty man who’s wrestling another sweaty man while neither of them are wearing many clothes. Always carefully consider your sponsorships.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Vroom Vroom Brand Flubber

I remember Conan O-Brian, I remember New York, I remember ridiculous Swedes in a commercial within a commercial and a lying talent agent. What I don’t remember is a brand.

A hilarious commercial that I love and have seen several times now is lodged in my memory; I could tell you the entire story line, but I couldn’t tell you what brand it’s advertising. I think it might be beer, or an energy drink, a beverage of some sort. I haven’t checked yet to verify the advertiser who was treated to very memorable work that shoves their brand so far into the background of the New York star glitz that a professional creative can’t remember the product after multiple exposures.

It just reminds me that no matter how clever and entertaining we can be, at the end of the day, we still have to sell stuff. And if a potential customer has no idea what you’re selling, you’re not selling it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Quote of the somethingorother

A new word a day keeps ignorance away.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Bathwater dirty? Throw out the baby.

With GM in need of some serious restructuring, they’ve been looking at narrowing the makes and models they offer. Oldsmobile is gone, Pontiac is getting pared down and GM is looking for buyers for Hummer and Saab.

Recently, GM planned put Saturn on the chopping block, while looking to keep Buick. I had to ask myself why GM would kill the younger, hipper brand for the stodgy old standby full of outdated sedans and undifferentiated SUVs. It turns out the reason is many-fold.

Abandoning the Brand Premise
For starters, the Saturn brand was built on community. In its early days, Saturn owners were like part of a special club, with events arranged, forums created and stories of their love for their Saturns exchanged. However, it seems GM was only interested in that push as far as it could launch the brand, and pulled the plug on the whole “community push” once the brand was relatively established. Guess what? When you build an entire brand on a premise and then abandon that premise altogether, your brand it going to feel it.

Chucking the Marketing Support
Second, Mark LeNeve, VP of Marketing, Sales & Service for GM North America admits in AdWeek that GM has cut the marketing budget for Saturn and hasn’t given it sufficient marketing dollars to successfully launch new models. Saturn has largely gone dark in several key media in a mature category where advertising is a big influence on brand preference. If you don’t put enough marketing behind a product in a crowded category like cars, it’s going to falter.

Selling Galoshes in the Desert
And third has been so far a systemic problem at GM of trying to survive under the old model where you try to sell people what you want to sell and not what they want to buy. Did they let Saturn stick to its original base of unique, small, economical cars? Nope. When gas hit $4/gallon, the GM folks were having Saturn scrap its best-selling small car in favor of introducing multiple SUVs based on Chevrolet platforms. Anybody see a problem with trying to sell what people can’t give away and discontinuing what people are trying to get faster than they can be made?

In short, I think Saturn is a brand that should stay around if it is managed with some semblance of competence. Let it get back to its core. At the very least, Saturn’s body styles are at least more up-to-date than Buick’s attempt at updating the classic 1920s Hudson.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

New Pepsi logo goes Oprah

I'm not even going to touch the fact that Pepsi thought it was a good idea to shirk the old logo that has decades of equity in favor of something suspiciously reminiscent of Obama's logo while touting a finger-shakingly similar message (Obama-Hope, Pepsi-Optimism).

I'm not even going to touch the fact they thought it was a good idea to instate three logos instead of one, making it impossible to identify the company without referencing a specific product line.

The really amusing part is that the logos contain "smiles," as Pepsi calls them, of such different girths. After reading up, it seems that they're intended to reflect something like a smile, a laugh, and a grin. Yet, my first instinct was that the size of the "smile" indicated how many calories or sugar, etc. was in each of the drinks. I thought they were visually delineating for the consumer whether they wanted to be small medium or large. But alas, with the fattest logo on the diet and the medium logo on the original drink, it just doesn't work out that way. Put them next to each other though, and it does begin to look like a chronicle of Oprah's waistline over time.

Sorry Oprah, that's was below the belt…then again, that's not the only thing.