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.