Friday, January 30, 2009

The true nature of competition in America

I normally blog about more serious things, and I the underlying issue is very serious, but I have to agree with the title of this one- I couldn't have said it better myself. I won't even bother with the speaks for itself. Thanks, adhack.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Baltimore Trip: Underground Advertising

During my trip to Baltimore over the Christmas holiday, I got to ride on a subway for the first time. I know, I know, but I grew up in Texas, and there aren't a lot of rail systems around here, much less subways. That made my experience trolling around the DC subway system all the more fun. The really fun part, though, was seeing how the space was used for advertising.

I had only recent begun to hear about the group This is Reality, the folks who do the spots denouncing clean coal. So, you can imagine my amazement when I found they had bought out every available inch of ad space in one of DC's busiest terminals.

They didn't even just buy the traditional space, they went for broke, wrapping ads around support columns, hanging long banners from handrails, and more. I didn't even realize they had that kind of funding, but the coalition must be strong, my friends. I can't image that kind of absolute buy-out would be cheap, especially in the heart of DC.

It made me yearn for unconventional OOH opportunities…something that's usually incredibly effective, but rarely tried. Anyone want me to put your brand somewhere cool to grab consumers' attention in an incredibly relevant and memorable way?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Advertising oasis dries up

Throughout the world, especially in hot, desert places, water is seen as a symbol of money and opulence. Don't believe me? Look at the fountains in front the casinos in Las Vegas.

That said, it guess it's only fitting that one of Dallas's most prominent billboards has dried up. For as long as I can remember, one of the primary routes into downtown Dallas has featured a billboard with an actual running waterfall. Usually sponsored by a beer company, the water cascading down the three-dimensional stone waterfall flanked by a sponsor's message greeted me and thousands more into the big D's central business district. However, with the economy, cuts have become a way of life and it doesn't look like anyone sees a waterfall of a billboard as a prudent expenditure. It now sits a dry, barren rock, sandwiched between the bare bones of a billboard picked dry by a bloated leech known to most of us as subprime lending.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Baltimore Trip: Public sign FAIL

The importance of proofreading cannot be overemphasized. I see mistakes in advertising that's running all the time, and I'm talking about unintentional mistakes- not intentional misspellings like the Chick-fil-A billboards (which I love). but you'd think they'd raise the bar for signs that are supposed to guide public behavior.

In a recent Christmas trip to Baltimore, I saw this sign on the side of a grocery store. Walking by, it caught my attention at first because of the handwriting on it...handwriting proclaiming how amazing it is to misspell a word on a public sign that's only two words long. I wonder if the sign affects the enforceability of the law. After all, the sign says "NO LOITERIING," not "NO LOITERING."

Proofread it.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Suspiciously awesome perks for unnamed underling

I need to find out where the guy from the American Airlines commercial works. In the spot, he's a nameless underling kid who turns into his boss's go-to guy for business trips. I'm not sure why he's going, but evidently, the trips aren't very important or they really don't care about their business because the boss doesn't ever bother to learn his underling's name. The amazing part is when we get to the kicker - when the boss is looking for the go-to guy, he can't find him because the go-to guy used the frequent flyer miles to go on vacation...

What company lets you use the frequent flyer miles you accrue on business trips for personal use? I'm not sure if he committed some sort of fraud or if the go-to guy just works for such an awesome company that they let him use those business frequent flyer miles for personal use. I can't think of a company that wouldn't use that free trip for another business trip to cut costs. I might buy it if it were a large company and we were talking about the owner, but the company in the spot is clearly a large company and the underling is just that-an underling. All I have to say is, those are some serious perks.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Writers Unite

This guy is like Braveheart for writers. Now, that's what I call a call to action. I just hope he doesn't get taken down by a fellow countryman like William Wallace.

Click here to see why Jack Neary, Executive Vice President/Executive Creative Director, BBDO Worldwide thinks copywriting is on life support.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Copywriters are creatives too

I'm glad to say my current agency doesn't make this mistake, but it's one I've encountered so many places, I have to set the record straight.


Too many times, account people have asked me to "work with the creatives," not work with the other creatives. Too many times have I heard, "Hey, we're having a meeting. We're gonna need all the creatives, and you too." "Let the creatives handle that." "Give this to a creative." "This invite goes out to you and the creatives."

And for some reason, every time, the "creatives" are art directors or designers. I realize that the days of the traditional copywriter/art director pair are long gone at most agencies these days, but for people who went to school for this sort of thing, you'd think it would be clear. Maybe they didn't think what I did was that creative, maybe it wasn't valued. Perhaps, because I wasn't using specialized software they had little knowledge of, I wasn't included in that group. Or perhaps, they just weren't used to having a copywriter around at all.

Whatever the reason, it confuses the bejeebuz out of me. 99% of ads are composed of two crucial elements- the visuals and the words. That means copywriters create HALF of the creative product of an ad, assuming they aren't entirely responsible for coming up with the concept themselves. So, to not call a copywriter a creative in my mind is insulting, as it implies that we "just write" and aren't creative. It implies that what we do serves some tertiary function and that the art directors/designers are the ones doing the real creative work. It's tantamount to pretending the House or the Senate has no role in making laws. They both have equally important roles, and to imply otherwise is brazen and smacks of under-education.

So remember everyone, copywriters are creatives, too. If you don't realize that, you need to go back to school.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Multicultural billboard FAIL

Here in Texas, multicultural means Hispanic. And Hispanic usually means Spanish. I'm not saying these are the right way to do things, but they tend to be the way they're done.

I'm not a huge fan of Pepsi's new campaign, and neither is Barbara Lippert of Adweek, but I almost wanted to give Pepsi some "multicultural" credit for an appropriately placed billboard en Espanol.

The billboard says ¡Delicioso! and of course the Os are the strangely revised Pepsi icon. It does double duty, because who can't figure out what delicioso means, even without knowing a lick of Spanish. However, someone made a production mistake that snuffs out half or more of the multicultural credit this billboard worked to get.

You see, I didn't even see the exclamation points until the third or fourth time I passed the billboard. Why? Because they're bleeding of the edge. Literally half to two-thirds of each exclamation point is off of edge of the board, meaning you have to strain to see a third of a white punctuation mark on a light pink billboard (that's right, it's light pink).

I'm sure you could find any surfer dude on the west coast who would know what delicioso means, but the upside-down exclamation point is something unique to Spanish (and by that, I mean we don't have it in English) and shows some genuine cultural (or at least lingual) understanding.

Yet, this crucial element was obscured by a production mistake.

I'm just not sure how a mistake like this happened. It's common practice in anything involving print production to leave "dead space" or an area around the important stuff that doesn't have anything important in it. Media channels ask you to leave this dead space because what they do doesn't always come out to an exact science and want to make sure your work isn't ruined if one of the cut measurements ends up a little off. I kind of doubt this was the production company's whoopsie. Perhaps it was the work of an inexperienced graphic artist whose work went unchecked by an over-busy creative director who didn't want to be bothered with proofing (read "ick!").

But enough speculation, the result is the same- billboard fail.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The REAL reason we'll always have the BCS bowl system

As a longhorn, I'm obviously a proponent of going to a playoff system instead of the current BCS bowl game system. Unfortunately, I've realized a dark truth that I believe explains why we will NEVER get that system. It's not all about tradition, "That's the way we've always done it," though I'm sure that bent plays a part. It's not because, as the BCS claims, "It would be hard on players," which is a crock. It's not even due to some anti-Texas sentiment I feel is prevalent in many sports, both pro and college (even after winning four championships in seven years, the Spurs still can't get a top rating in the NBA). It's marketing, baby.

As with most things, the bowl games started getting sponsors. Now, it's the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. These sponsorships raise a ton of money for schools who play in the bowls, the stadium owners, and revenue for the towns where the bowls are played. It's such a lucrative practice for both sides that there are now 34 bowls. That means bowl games for 68 teams.

Sponsors don't even necessarily have to compete for the existing bowls anymore. If there isn't a bowl you want to sponsor available, create your own! There are bowls that don't have names of their own- they're ONLY branded bowls, like the EagleBank Bowl and the Meineke Car Care Bowl. What does this mean? It means that there are already more sponsorship opportunities than would likely be available with a playoff system. It also means that under the current system, there is essentially an unlimited inventory of sponsorship opportunities- as long as there are teams to play and venues to host, you can create more bowls, since most are only loosely based on a variety of stats and standings at any given point.

If you had a property where you could sell advertising, would you rather reduce the amount of space you had available or opt for a system where you can keep creating space whenever you need it? You'd do the latter, just like the BCS will do, much to the chagrin of many college football fans who are more interested in fair season outcomes than BCS revenue streams.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Pain in the ad

We "experts" can debate about whether some ads are good or not and nitpick the details. However, you occasionally see an ad that clearly illustrates a complete lack of understanding of advertising.

There's a billboard I see on my drive home from work every day that makes the adgeek in me cry every time. It's a tiny thing that's fairly badly positioned to begin with. But let's ignore the placement for now.

The copy reads "Where does it hurt: Stand-up MRI." The most important part to note about this is the fact that there's a colon instead of a question mark between the headline and the subhead. A colon denotes an explanation, not a question. So instead of posing the question "Where does it hurt?" and suggesting that the stand-up MRI is the solution, the billboard suggests that the stand-up MRI is the place it hurts. I can't say my stand-up MRI has hurt much lately, but I'm probably not the target audience.

Also, the entire background is black. This matters because the tiny subhead "Stand-up MRI" in white (probably the most important part of the board) is sandwiched between the large yellow headline "Where does it hurt:" and the red phone number. Did I mention that there are both serif and sans-serif fonts, not including any logo?

And just for good measure, let's include a strange and barely-related image. The small image relegated to a small square of this ad on one side is a silhouette of a skeleton riding a bicycle...that's right...a bicycle. I'm not even gonna touch that one.

In short, an unclear and terrible ad does two things at once- gives me professional pain every day on my ride home and illustrate how far off-base you can get when you don't know what you're doing.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Newspapers' perfect storm

While they have been slowly losing ground for some time, newspapers appear to be on the final downhill slide. With companies like the Tribune Co. filing for bankruptcy, it's becoming evident just how outdated and un-useful these papers have become. I'm not saying it because I want them to go away. To the contrary, working in advertising, I'm generally a fan of just about anything where you can sell more ad space. But, as part of a generation who can find little use for them but to wrap my dishes when I move, I understand why it's happening.

Newspapers' functions have largely been taken over by others who can perform the same functions better and/or cheaper. Newspaper classifieds often represent nearly 50% of a newspaper's income. However, craigslist lets you do the same thing…for free…and it's searchable. Free to post. No paper to buy to browse. It allows descriptions as long as you want as opposed to the pay-per-word model of newspapers and allows multiple full-color pictures where newspapers allow none. Oh, and did I mention it's SEARCHABLE? And if you want to go global classifieds, check out Ebay or Small fee, the entire world of classifieds at your fingertips.

The function of reporting news is done better by others. We can now get news 24/7 on our TVs, radios, computers via the internet and even on our cell phones. Why should I wait until tomorrow at 6 am to find out when it's already a headline on at 10am today? Oh, and did I forget to mention, I get all this other news FREE? Why should I pay for a paper when I can get more in-depth information, even video, faster and free of charge?

Newspapers also get some fallout
from the green movement, stalled as it may be. When we're trying to save paper and gas and everything else, how can you justify printing hundreds of thousands of hundred-page monstrosities every day, many of which go straight to the garbage can because they were never even bought? They use so much paper, so much of which is never used, and all the information they contain is available elsewhere from non-paper using sources. Why contribute to environmental decline in such a gluttonous way?

And, probably most unfortunately, the remaining advertisers who haven't already fled the dying medium are all in dire straights themselves, slashing their advertising budgets. Who are traditionally the biggest newspaper advertisers? Auto, financial services and retail. Who's in the biggest trouble with the current economic situation? Auto, financial services and retail.

Sounds like the perfect storm to me.

Monday, January 5, 2009

How to lose an account with green initiatives

Want to lose an account quick? Suggest to your client that they can make a significant environmental impact by combining all of their edits into a single round before sending them to you and limiting the number of overall revisions they make.

After they're done screaming at you through your funky triangular conference phone about being "non-responsive" and "inflexible," give them some numbers on exactly how much paper they could save, both on their end and yours. Honestly, if you could genuinely push the above policies though, you could probably cut paper usage by 70-80%. After all, most printing I see is a result of small changes that usually come in a few at a time- a comma here, a sentence reworded there.

I'm not even saying this is your client contact's fault- he or she is probably dealing with many bosses even busier than they and are lucky to get anything looked at before deadline. But, if there were a way to streamline the whole process, we could all save quite a few trees.

With newspapers in their current state, I guess we'll all be able to save quite a few more trees in the near future anyway, albeit perhaps not by choice. I'm just waiting for the day when most everything has gone paperless and we start considering the natural resources we're using to build and power all the servers that hold all of our paperless information. Maybe rich text editing and flash will be the next newspaper and plain text will be the new green.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Apostrophe overstock

Lots of things are overstocked these days and apostrophes seem to be one of them. I say that because I'm seeing apostrophes on ads, posters, billboards and all sorts of marketing materials where they don't belong. I started doing some research, only to find this is such a prevalent error, there are entire blogs devoted to it. There are only a few uses for apostrophes and I thought they were pretty simple to remember. After all, we all learned them in elementary school. There are even a few instances where I understand some confusion, but these are not the instances where I'm seeing mistakes. I'm seeing mistakes like, "Come see the big boy's of the sea." I sincerely hope you can see what's wrong with that. So, just for the record, I'll take us back to third grade so we know where our apostrophes go.

Use apostrophes to show ownership.
CORRECT: Bob's dog ate the steak. CORRECT: The children's toys are all over the place.

DON'T use apostrophes with possessive pronouns.
CORRECT: The dog wants its bone. INCORRECT: The dog wants it's bone.

Use apostrophes to form contractions and signal missing letters.
CORRECT: It's about three o'clock. (This means "It is about three o'clock.") INCORRECT: Its about three o'clock.

The most common mistake I keep seeing
DON'T use apostrophes to make plurals of nouns.
CORRECT: Cats make great pets. INCORRECT: Cat's make great pets. (this means "Cat is make great pets")

These are the most important apostrophe rules to remember. There are a few circumstances where apostrophe use is incorrect or debatable that I at least understand. One of these is using apostrophes after numbers-
ex. The 1960's were a time of great change. (incorrect) ex. The 1960s were a time of great change. (correct)

I also understand people using apostrophes to pluralize acronyms, even though this is technically incorrect.
ex. There were three M.D.'s in my graduating class. (incorrect) ex. There were three M.D.s in my graduating class. (correct) ex. The AE's lost it when they got the new time line. (incorrect) ex. The AEs lost it when they got the new time line. (correct)

I don't know how these mistakes, most of all the one in red above, make it through writers, creative directors, agency owners and any number of levels of client eyes. The pluralization of nouns rule above is not even debatable. It's flat wrong. Yet, I've seen it on billboards, collateral, ads and more. I just beg everyone to review your materials and keep atrocious errors like this out of your work. There are English majors and copywriters the world over who cringe every day because of them, especially when they're as obvious as this.

P.S. Why robots won't take over the world.

Even as I type this entry, I'm reminded of how dangerous it is to rely on spell-checking and auto-correcting software, as words that I'm typing (and know for a fact are correct, verified by multiple reputable sources) are tagged as incorrect. Don't rely on them. They will give you the wrong form of a word, make it plural when it should be singular or fail to recognize real worlds while recognizing brand names. I suppose it's one more reason robots will never take over all professions- even with all their formulas, they still can't comprehend something as basic to humans as written language.