Sep 28, 2007

The Real Story

Not really YouTube. Watch it here.

While today's New York Times advertising column features a rewrite of a press release about some stunt from Unilver's Axe brand, the really interesting story in the business section is this one about how big law firms are turning to YouTube (or, more accurately, a YouTube imitation) in an attempt to recruit law students.

And while the creative is what it is, the idea and use of media is a whole lot hipper than what so many of our clients are up to. So next time someone "just isn't too sure about all this new stuff" you can point out how even conservative law firms in conservative Boston are using it.

Taking Me Literally

So both CK and Bill “Make The Logo Bigger” Green emailed me a press release from an agency called 22 Squared (formerly known as WestWayne) that literally operates under the theory that your brand is indeed my friend and that people are just sitting there waiting for brands to befriend them.

I kid you not.

Here’s what it says on their agency blog, “The C Word”: ("C" means "consumer" which for some reason they feel is a bad thing. More on that in a minute.)

Why we're here: Everybody's talking about how ad agencies and marketing firms are broken. There's a lot of talk, a lot of criticism, and a lot of negativity. What's missing is a solution. A theory that helps understand where things went wrong and, more importantly, where they can go really, really right. People are sick of being called consumers. They're sick of being marketed and sold to. They're looking to be treated like...well, people. We think we've got a pretty unique way to stop selling them like consumers and start befriending them like people. We're looking to share our thinking, to share our belief that if you market brands the way people make friends, you'll end up with a lot more friends (and a lot more money). We're three people with a new lens, and some optimism for marketers everywhere. Try being a friend to people, it's amazing what it does for business. This isn't a monologue or a soapbox, we hope it can become a dialogue and discussion. As any good friend does, we welcome (and hope for) input, perspective, criticisms, and commentary. We look forward to talking with you, Karen, Brandon, & Evan

Now in their defense, I get the broader notion of what they’re trying to do here. (I think.) They’re advocating a less in-your-face sales approach in favor of a more consensual one, where clients tell the consumers things they want to hear rather than things the client wants to say.

But Karen, Brandon and Evan: that ain’t friendship. It’s just a different kind of sales technique. And pretending that we're not consumers isn't just disingenuous; it's dishonest.

As I wrote on my initial post on Marketing Profs Daily Fix (coming Monday, I'll post about it when it's up) marketers who try and pretend that they’re not sales people remind me of the Lefrak family. The Lefraks, a prominent New York City real estate clan, changed the family name to LeFrak about a dozen years ago. And I’m not sure who they thought they were fooling. I mean did they expect Skip and Muffy to suddenly say “Oh, they’re French! All these years we thought they were Jewish! Now we can finally invite them to the club!”

Consumers aren’t looking for more friends. We already have plenty. What we’re looking for is authenticity. That means you tell us the truth. Admit when you’re wrong. Don’t treat us like criminals. And talk to us when you have news.

And Karen, Brandon and Evan, "telling us the truth" means you've got to stop trying to pretend we're not consumers and you're not sales people. Because we both know that's not true. Now you can be much nicer salespeople, the kind of salespeople we might actually like, but it's a strictly commercial relationship we've got going on here, not an emotional one.

Because as everyone knows, Your Brand Is Not My Friend™

Sep 27, 2007

Thursday Break

A little lightness in between the more serious posts.
Check out this very funny video from Digital Kitchen

Sep 25, 2007


So there's this interactive creative team I know, great guys who do excellent work.
I stumbled upon their LinkedIn profiles the other day and it struck me as odd that in the section right under your name, where the rest of us put things like "ACD at BBDO" or "VP/Account Director, BBH," they had this:

Senior Partner, Creative Director/ Workhorse/ Guy with an idea or two, Big Agency* (perform off and online magic)

Associate Creative Director at Big Agency. I dabble in the Internets ;), print , DM, TV, whatever needs to be done

What struck me as odd was that they clearly felt the need to shout out their non-digital, offline creds in order to be taken seriously. And the reverse just isn't true. I mean I doubt you'll find too many Creative Directors at BBDO who put "Creative Director Who Also Knows His Way Around Designing A Website" on their LinkedIn profiles.

And I don't think these guys are misguided: for all the talk of how digital is the future, how it's where everything is going, if you're on the ground, with the troops, in September 2007, the people who work in digital are still not getting anywhere close to the respect they deserve.

Especially in big, allegedly integrated agencies.

*Agency name omitted to protect their privacy

Sep 24, 2007

The Human Flipbook

Saw this on Adpulp and thought it was great. It's for a quirky Midwestern sandwich chain with the equally quirky name Erbert & Gerberts. I'm a sucker for a good flip book, especially a human one.

If you share my enthusiasm, definitely check out the site where you can also see a fascinating-yet-relatively-short video on the making of "Human Flipbook." I usually find these sort of "Making Of" videos incredibly tedious, but this one is well done and the process is really quite interesting.

Kudos to the agency, Colle + McEvoy*, out of Minneapolis for making a spot that's entertaining, appeals to a broad demograpic, and (more importantly) manages to make the client's product a natural part of the entertainment.

*WARNING: Colle + McEvoy's website makes loud pounding noises upon loading in clear violation of Toad's Law Against Agency Websites That Play Music Or Make Loud Noises Upon Loading. Deduct 10 points.

Interview With A Toad

So I went to a "Blogger Meet-up" last week, organized by the lovely and talented CK of CK's Blog where I met a whole bunch of other marketing bloggers and had the unique experience of introducing myself as "Toad."

One of the people I met, Toby Bloomberg, an Atlanta-based PR and marketing dynamo who writes the Diva Marketing Blog (#28 on the AdAge Power 150) thought her readers would find it interesting to read an interview with some weird dude who calls himself "Tangerine Toad."

You can read it here.

Sep 23, 2007

When Bad Ads Happen To Good People

So I’ve been working on an account lately that’s a perfect case study for this proposition.

It’s a big company and the marketing clients are exactly what you want your clients to be: they’re smart, nice people, and actually appreciative of what we bring to the table. I mean they seriously say things like “you guys are the experts.” Even better, they really do seem to get it, so that when we suggest something beyond what we initially discussed, they intuitively understand why and how it makes the ads better.

So where do things go wrong?

Well, they work for a corporation that doesn’t place a whole lot of value in marketing. And so as they send the work around for approval from the non-marketing teams (e.g. sales, corporate) they’re often presented with unreasonable dictates they can’t appeal. Things like “I don’t like blue.” “This sentence needs to read exactly like this:” “Put all four logos at the bottom.” They feel frustrated, undervalued and I fear they’re not going to stick around very long.

So if you’re a client and you’re reading this, how do you prevent your company from falling into this trap? Well here’s Toad’s Plan For Getting The Most Out Of Your Agency So Long As You're Paying Them Big Bucks.

The CEO Has To Value Marketing. That’s step one and without it, nothing else works. The CEO has to support the marketing team. She has to be aware of what’s going on and to let it be known that the new campaign has her full support and that anyone who is actively working against it is going to be actively looking for a new job.

The Marketing Team Has To Be Empowered. Another place good intentions fall apart is when the marketing team is forced to abide by the decisions of other departments, all of whom think they know a lot about advertising (because everyone in America thinks they know a lot about advertising.) So the CEO needs to set up a policy whereby the sales and research and product management teams get to give initial pre-brief input, but where their commentary on the actual creative output is limited to factual errors like “It’s now called the Widget-2100, not Widget-2000.”

Get The Lawyers Out Of The Way. Even where the first two steps are in place, nothing can derail an ad campaign faster than an overzealous lawyer. Now I understand all about our litigation-happy society and why lawyers get that way. But no good can come out of sentences like “The Widget 2100 may possibly be an okay widget.”

This is another place the CEO needs to step in again and take charge. The lawyers who make these sorts of decisions aren’t necessarily experts in advertising law, and so the CEO needs to gently remind them that ads are not legal briefs, that every statement need not be supported by a footnote and, most importantly, that she’s seen the lawyer’s objections and is okay with the ad going forward as is.

Marketing Managers Have To Serve As Strong Advocates For The Work. Small clients are great for agencies because you present directly to the decision makers. Bigger clients, however, have multiple layers and so it’s up to the marketing department to sell the work through. This is a lot tougher than it sounds. Many (if not most) corporate cultures maintain the belief that marketing is the domain of good-looking, socially adept airheads. So anything the marketing department says or does is met with incredible skepticism and/or scorn.

When the CEO strongly supports the marketing department, that perception is somewhat ameliorated. But the marketing team still needs to be strong advocates for the work, selling it with as much enthusiasm as the agency presented it. Even if it means calling in some of their counterparts from the agency to help.

I can’t stress how important this step is, since I’ve been in too many situations where the marketing department’s idea of selling the ads through was to send a PDF of the work to the appropriate higher-ups and wait for the inevitable fallout. (Now to be fair, this happened in large part because in-person presentations devolved into opportunities for the sales team to mock the marketing team and really, who wouldn’t want to avoid that. But with an activist CEO, this should no longer be the case.)

De-Balkanize Your Ad Budgets. Big companies often have multiple divisions with multiple ad budgets. So rather than one $100 million budget, you have twenty-five $4 million dollar ones, with a whole lot of overlap and the inability to do anything unique or significant. A smart CEO will recombine those budgets into one big pot, giving the company the opportunity to really make a mark with their advertising. If that’s not possible, she should give the marketing team the power to combine some of the smaller budgets and to reevaluate those budgets and the messaging they’re supporting to ensure that there’s no overlap. This requires some degree of planning and vision on the part of the marketing team, but if it’s used to say, fund a photo shoot or video shoot that all divisions can share, it can pay off in spades.

Clients who follow these steps can be assured a strong, consistent marketing program, since it’s been my experience that most agencies are quite competent at their jobs. But CEOs who don’t value marketing and who don’t want to get involved would be wise to create their campaigns in-house. Why pay an outside vendor who charges you for their expertise if you have no intention of ever using that expertise? An in-house team can create ads exactly as you want them for a whole lot less.

Quality, however, is a different story.

Sep 21, 2007

Yom Kippur

The Toad Stool will be closed from sundown Friday September 21 (EDT) through sundown Saturday September 22 in observance of Yom Kippur

The Google Effect

So today Google unveiled a tool that allows companies to create their own print ads. You fill in the templates, upload an image and presto-change-o, the ad is transported to up to 450 newspapers across the USA.

Not something big agencies need to worry about, but if I was a small local shop, I’d be worried.

I’m talking the type of shops who are basically media placement agencies who also do layouts as a favor to their clients. You know, the guys cranking out those ads for local car dealerships, small kitchen tile chains, suburban realtors and the like that appear in your local newspaper or on late night TV.

Because if Google can help these sorts of clients create ads that are both cheaper and better looking that what they have going now, they’re going to bite.

The main hurdle (for Google) is that these sorts of businesses are often run by the planet’s most hands-on clients: they’re entrepreneurs and it’s hard for them to let go of the reins even when it comes to a quarter page ad in a suburban pennysaver.

So I’ll be curious to see if the amount of customization Google offers is enough to allow them to feel in control or if they’ll prefer to stay with their local agencies where they can demand that the logo be “the exact same fucking shade of red as my husband’s Porsche.”

Time will tell.

Sep 20, 2007

Attention K-Mart PR Team

Fascinating story in today's Wall Street Journal about what happens when you put customer service last.

Journal editor Laura Landro (pictured above, photo from was shopping for beach gear at Kmart with her family when she found a pair of flip-flops in a bin. The flip-flops were not in a box, the bin was in complete disarray, and Landro couldn't find a sales associate. So she put the shoes in what she assumed was the correct box and proceeded to the register.

Landro and her family spent around $800 that day. But on her way out, she was detained by a KMart security guard, held for several hours, had her credit card and drivers license confiscated and ordered never to set foot in Kmart again.

Her crime? She'd put the flip-flops in a box belonging to a pair that was $8 cheaper. And Kmart, in their quest to cut down on shoplifting and price-swapping (putting the price tag of a lower priced item on a more expensive one) claimed that Landro did this on purpose.

Her article talks to many security experts and lawyers, all of whom agree that Kmart was within their rights legally.

Fine, but let's talk about the incredible damage this does to customer relations. Because I can't think of a clearer way to telegraph that at Kmart, the customer is always WRONG.

Even if Landro wasn't a WSJ editor, she'd just spent $800 in the store. Something she claimed she did fairly often. To lose a customer like Landro over an $8 mistake just seems absurd. To lose hundreds if not thousands of customers as a result of Landro's article takes it to a whole other level.

While I understand that theft is a real problem for Kmart, there are steps the store could take to ensure that these sorts of situations don't happen. Obvious ones like making sure bins aren't chaotic and in disarray. Slightly less obvious ones like putting in signs reminding people that if they can't find a box to just bring the item up to the register without one. Or to let the cashier know they're not sure if it's the right box.

Then there's the damage control that's needed right now. Kmart needs to respond to this article immediately. Apologize to Landro and let her (and all the other upscale shoppers who frequent Kmart and Target and WalMart for low prices on disposable goods) know that they are truly sorry this happened and that they value her business and that they are taking steps to ensure that this doesn't happen again.

Kmart, are you listening?

Peacock or Peahen?

NBC is certainly taking a bold step forward with their new plan to make their shows available for download. The plan provides two options: a free, non-transferable download with non-fast-forwardable commercials that self-destructs in seven days and a paid version that’s yours to keep and play on as many different devices as you’d like.

All available from an NBC site, rather than iTunes.

Now while this two-tier plan is long how I’ve predicted TV would shake out (me and several hundred other people; it’s not a particularly original notion) I’m not sure why NBC didn’t just do this through iTunes.

I’ve read that they had a conflict with iTunes over the wholesale price of the shows, but absent any real information on that, I can only give you my reaction as a consumer who has downloaded NBC shows off iTunes in the past. And that’s minor annoyance. While I’ll probably track down the NBC site so I can download stray episodes here and there (provided they make it Mac compatible), the inconvenience of having to go to another site to download something that I then have to transfer back to iTunes may make getting last week’s episode of The Office more hassle than it’s worth. A lot will depend on how easy it is to use NBC’s download site, which promises offer auto-downloading season passes as well as individual downloads.

On the other hand, saving the $1.99 for something I can all but guarantee you I’ll only watch once may well be worth the hassle. I especially like the part about self-destructing, since TV shows tend to eat up a huge amount of space on your hard drive, and shifting them to an external storage drive is a real bother.

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, if NBC manages to break iTunes’ monopoly on TV downloads or if consumers decide it’s just not worth the hassle. Those of us who make TV commercials for a living should be hoping for their success though: free TV shows with commercials embedded in them will keep us in business a bit longer.

Sep 19, 2007


Just to show you where advertising is at these days vis a vis the Mad Men era:

There's a review of the book How Starbucks Saved My Life, in today's Wall Street Journal. The book tells the story of the authors descent from unhappy Creative Director at JWT to happy Starbucks barista.

But that's not the relevant part. This is:

At Yale, Mr. Gill was inducted into Skull & Bones. A fellow member of that secret society used his pull to get his friend Michael a much-coveted slot in the training program at the J. Walter Thompson ad agency.
Now JWT no longer has any sort of training program. And even if they did, you can bet you would not need to use your Skull & Bones connections to get into it.

(NOTE TO NON-US READERS: Skull & Bones is an elite secret society at Yale, limited to the sons of the elite. President Bush was a member as was Senator John Kerry, among others.)

Google This

image courtesy of

So the ad industry is all abuzz over Google’s hiring of Ogilvy/NY president Andy Berndt to head up their Creative Lab division, the conventional wisdom being that this is Google’s way of getting into the ad business.

Now I knew Berndt when I was at Ogilvy and the main thing I remember about him (other than his height—he’s about 6 foot 8) is that he’s a very smart guy. Smart in a knows-a-lot-of-things-about-the-world-at-large kind of way. The kind of guy who read books because they interested him, not because he thought it would make him look like an intellectual to be seen carrying them.

And that’s relevant for three reasons: one, Google seems to hire a whole lot of very smart people. On paper, anyway. Take a look at the jobs section of their website. Every position seems to call for someone with a serious résumé. Take this tidbit, from a job listing for a “Strategic Partner Development, Manager, Local Markets Team
  • Bachelor’s degree from a leading institution
  • MBA from a top-tier business school a plus.
  • 3+ years experience at a top-tier investment bank or consulting firm in addition to 3 to 5 years experience in business development or product management, closing, managing or launching large-scale partnerships.

I mean damn, I know very few people with those kind of stats. Certainly not in the ad business. And while a degree from a top b-school or university doesn’t make you a genius, it’s a pretty good indication that Google is looking for the best and the brightest.

Which brings me to point two: If you want the best and the brightest, you’ve got to pay them. That’s something Google is clearly doing to attract that level of talent, but something the ad industry clearly isn’t doing anymore. Yeah, the occasional flash developer seems to be raking it in, but the rank and file are paid a lot less than they were even 10 years ago. Even the very senior rank and file.

And that hurts our business in so many ways. It makes it hard to recruit good people. To keep them. But it’s more than that. The bargain basement salary structure reinforces the notion that we no longer have the best and brightest—or anywhere close.

Back in the Mad Men days, advertising agencies generally recruited out of the Ivy Leagues. Not a boon for diversity, but they did get the best people, smart, creative people who were attracted to a frequently glamorous industry that offered the possibility of serious cash. Ask any (very) senior account guy- back in the day, b-school grads all wanted to work for the agency, not client-side. These days the situation is reversed.

Which brings me to my third and final point: we are never going to be taken seriously if we don’t change this perception. If clients regard agency employees as a bunch of second-rate talents who couldn’t land a job elsewhere, they’re not going to take our opinions very seriously. Or even entertain the idea of treating us as equals, let alone experts. And while I realize that much of this is a result of most agencies being owned by publicly traded holding companies whose business models are based on getting more value from fewer people, I’m afraid the net result is just going to be fewer people, as the value of retaining an ad agency becomes less and less apparent.

Sep 18, 2007

More On Conversations

It’s inevitable that certain clients are going to want their agencies to try and insert them into online, Web 2.0 type conversations. And that certain agencies and websites will woo clients by promising that they can do so.

There are certain brands that elicit conversation because they’ve built the elusive better mousetrap. Starbucks. Apple. Porsche. Mini. (You know the roll call.) Now all these brands have competitors whose products generally get ignored. They’ve never managed to capture whatever it is that makes a brand sexy. And so like the desperate nerd at the dance, they wind up throwing themselves at consumers, approaching groups of uninterested consumers with some tidbit that they hope will stir up some sort of “conversation.”

It might be a text message about a dollar-off coupon. A fake blog posting about improved passenger side airbags. Or a MySpace page with music from an obscure London-based DJ. Regardless of what form it takes, the communication comes off like the aforementioned nerd: sad, desperate and ultimately unsuccessful.

Now it’s easy for us to say “well just make a better product and people will talk about it.” That sort of magic isn’t something you can just order up. So what’s a marketer to do when the competition’s become the darling of cyberspace, when random consumers build entire websites devoted to their competitors products. Or create message boards with millions of posts from devotees worldwide?

Let me suggest something that’s both obvious and radical: do nothing. You’re never going to be the prom king. But that doesn’t mean your life is over. You have strengths, even if they’re nothing more than your low price. Recognize that social media sites aren’t the place to tout them. And then go somewhere else (TV, radio, banners) and promote the hell out of them. Play to your strengths and people will start to like you. They’ll realize you’re not trying to be something you’re not. That you’re not lying to them or trying to fool them. They’ll appreciate it and they make actually buy something from you.

Because at the end of the day, they’re customers. Not friends. And customers generally don’t want to stay around and talk to you after their transaction is completed. Remember the Toad Credo: Your Brand Is Not My Friend™

Sep 17, 2007

Tom Messner's Guide To The Blogosphere

Back in the mid-to-late 90s, there was a message board on AOL dedicated to advertising. I'm not quite sure how I found it, but it provided a wonderful forum for advertising creatives, all posting under pseudonyms, to discuss the business and what we thought of current campaigns, account moves and personalities.

A lot like today's blogs.

One of the more prolific posters (and I can't for the life of me remember his pseudonym) turned out to be Tom Messner, who was one of the founders of the agency now known as Euro. I was junior enough at that point to have responded something like "you mean THAT Tom Messner" when he told me who he was. (There were actually a number of well-known ad creatives on that board, but that's another story.)

Anyway, Messner wrote a column in today's Adweek about ad blogos. It's worth reading because his take is always entertaining and because it's interesting to see an outsider's view of something you're quite familiar with. (Okay, it's also worth reading because one of the 5 or 6 blogs he mentions is mine. And damned if I wasn't thrilled about that.)

Read it here. (LINK FIXED)

My only complaint is that the Adweek techs who posted it didn't include links to the various blogs he references. That would have increased usability. Not to mention the amount of traffic to my site ;)

Sep 16, 2007

Whose Conversation Is It Anyway

FATC, a frequent commentor (commentator?) here sent me this link to an article on ZDNet about the "Conversational Marketing Summit" written by Elinor Mills. Ms. Mills questions the whole idea of "conversation" calling it (correctly, in my book) pure BS, since the consumer rarely asks for any sort of conversation. And if only one person is talking, it's not really much of a conversation, is it?

If you're too lazy to read the article, here's a great quote:

The emergence of user-generated content has given average citizens a forum for recommending and denouncing products in a way they never had before. "I call it the 'relationship economy.' You value and feel empowered to control your time," [blogger Deborah] Schultz said. "Do you really want to have a conversation and relationship with every product you buy? No."
That last sentence is the relevant one. While people do occasionally want to interact with brands, it's folly to assume that everyone out there is interested in talking to you. And that they share your level of enthusiasm about your product. (Those of us in advertising know this is a common client error: assuming that other people are as interested in the minutiae of your product as you are.)

What's also interesting about this article is it's an example of consumer pushback to the whole idea of conversations and brand-as-friend-you-want-to-hear-from. And, as FATC notes, it appears on a technology website, not a marketing or advertising one.

Word is spreading.

Sep 12, 2007

L'Shana Tova

Happy New Year 5768.
The Toad Stool will the closed until sundown on Friday.

Obama Gets LinkedIn

I logged into LinkedIn this morning to find a new feature, the "Featured Question" with a new question from none other than Barack Obama. Something banal about how a president could help small businesses (someone of his staff must have decided LinkedIn appeals to small businesspeople and entrepreneurs)

Clicking further, I found that you can join his "group" and display the nifty button above on your own LinkedIn page.

My reaction was slight annoyance. Stop commercializing LinkedIn and all that. I don't want to know who my LinkedIn friends are voting for. I just want to know where they worked.

Remember Barry, if you're running for president, you are a brand. And Your Brand Is Not My Friend™.

Poll Results: Do Awards Shows Matter?

About a month ago, I ran a poll in conjunction with several other ad blogs on the importance of award shows. It's completely unscientific and all that, but it's interesting to see the results: people who voted are definitely of the opinion that award shows are less and less relevant these days. In fact, only 23% thought they were still very important.

That's interesting for all of the obvious reasons (e.g. creating ads for awards shows might not be the career-booster it once was) and because it's just another way the Digital Revolution is affecting our industry.


Q: Does the proliferation of opportunities to see good ads on the interweb lessen the value of award shows for creatives?

  • Yes, awards don't really matter any more 23%
  • Yes, except maybe for Cannes 8%
  • Somewhat 22%
  • Too many different media options is what makes award shows irrelevant 14%
  • No, they're still very important 23%
  • Other 9% (see some sample write-in responses below)
• Except Cannes and the One Show
• If we're all aware of what's out there, it makes us mighty critical of how judge
• There are too many scam ads in award shows right now. It's killing their value.
• Seeing good ads online doesn't compare with getting the nod from industry stars

Sep 11, 2007

Life Goes On

It's way too big to scan, but in today's New York Times, the usual suspects on the second and third pages all ran copy in the small space ads they take out daily to commemorate the victims of 9/11. Gucci, Saks, Bloomingdale's, Chanel, Tiffany - all ran memorial ads. And there, sticking out like a sore thumb, was high-end watch store Tourneau with an ad about well, a high-end watch.

Part of me was pissed that they didn't take the time to recognize the tragedy and part of me was glad that they didn't jump on the let's-all-mourn-9/11 bandwagon. Not sure what the statute of limitations is on those sorts of things. Only that, like a lot of tragedies you witness first hand, it seems at once to have happened just yesterday and a hundred years ago.

Sep 10, 2007

Stores I Don't Get

Okay, so it's filler, but I've been meaning to pontificate on this for a while.

GNC: (General Nutrition Center, for my non-US readers, a chain of stores selling nothing but vitamin supplements and powders used by weight lifters.) - Okay, it's not that I don't get why people buy what GNC sells. I myself buy the occasional protein bar there and, in my younger days, I used to buy whey protein and other stuff that I deluded myself into thinking would give me bigger muscles. What I don't get is how there are so many of them? They're not small stores either. I mean are there that many people buying overpriced vitamins, flavored protein powders, muscle enhancers and bee pollen? (Obviously, since the chain's been around since just about forever and does very little in the way of advertising or promotion, but still... I mean there are 3 or 4 in walking distance of my office.) Who is keeping them in business?

Jamba Juice: A chain of stores selling fruit smoothies and the occasional coffee drink. Again, I have bought smoothies there, but are there really enough people buying smoothies to keep a large store like that in business? They're everywhere (even on The Sopranos!) and I have a tough time imagining how they sell enough $5 smoothies to cover the rent, let alone salaries and franchising fees. But again, they're expanding, not contracting, and they do precious little advertising.

Any thoughts from the audience and additions to the list will be greatly encouraged.

Sep 6, 2007

More CGC Done By Ps, not Cs

Professionals, that is.

It seems that “amateur” singing sensation Marié Digby, whose YouTube performances have logged her millions of hits and airplay on MTV and numerous radio stations, is a big fat fraud.

Today’s Wall Street Journal, in a very nice piece of investigative journalism by Ethan Smith and Peter Lattman, uncovers the fact that Digby has been under contract with Hollywood Records since 2005, and that the record label was instrumental in selecting and recording her YouTube appearances.

It was, to give credit where it’s due, a clever approach. Digby, an exotic looking acoustic singer of Irish and Japanese heritage, is shot in her bedroom, strumming on her guitar, as if she were just some girl next door whose boyfriend put video of her up on the internet. Her MySpace music site had a great big “none” next to “Record Label” until the Journal outed her. (Though, as Messrs. Smith and Lattman point out, it’s now only reads “Major.”)

I’ve pointed out on here time and again that there’s not really a whole lot of “user” or “consumer” generated content out there. Most entrants in “make your own commercial” contests are wannabe directors/actors/creatives in search of an agent or a job.

Digby and Hollywood Records are only guilty of taking it to the next level, of using our constant craving for the “next next thing*” to launch her career. Digby is ideally suited to this sort of scam, since her shtick is all about a stripped down, no-frills approach that sounds like, well, like a girl in her bedroom playing for her friends.
They just bottled it and put it on YouTube.

*Props to Michael Lewis for that phrase.

Sep 5, 2007

More Gigabytes, Please

I was all excited about the new Apple touch iPod for about 5 minutes.

That's how long it took me to realize it only had 16 gigabytes of storage space.

Which meant that my music collection wouldn't fit on there. Nor would more than one or two episodes of any TV show.

The Don't Touch iPod comes with either 80 or 160 gigabytes. Which is about what you'd be needing.

Not sure what, if any, the technical rationales are for giving the TouchPod at Nano-esque memory levels.

But I can't help but thinking that there will be a lot of disappointed users who jumped out and bought the TouchPod (and the iPhone, for that matter) only to discover that the storage space is severely limited. Especially for something that's supposed to play video.

Sep 4, 2007

Toads' Summer Faves

I really like this campaign for Clearasil via Euro (the agency formerly known as Messner) for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, it does what so many large, well-known American brands should do: try and own the category. We know all know why Cheerios taste good, why Listerine fights bad breath, why Crest cleans your teeth. Pretty much since birth. And we know that Clearasil is an acne medication. So don't bore me with the name of whatever medicine is in there as if I'd never heard of Clearasil before. Sell me on the benefit of clear skin. I mean it's a pretty closed category, right. Clearasil or Oxy. This campaign sells the benefit in a very charming way.

It's also funny in a somewhat sophisticated way, well-cast, not overacted, no cheesy button at the end and gets out of its own way. Not breakthrough in a "what the heck is this/Subservient Chicken" kind of way, but breakthrough nonetheless because it's telling a story and serving as a reminder to an audience that knows Clearasil. The tagline's nice too "May Cause Confidence" - confidence being the one thing most teens could use more of.

It's also made me forget the brilliant Saturday Night Live spoof commercial from 1990 with John Lovitz and Victoria Principal speaking in faux-German that ran as a "commercial" on Mike Meyers' "Sprokets" show. I think the tagline on that one was "Klearasil Macht Das Pimplen Kaput."

Sep 3, 2007

Power of Propaganda

Article in today's New York Times shows us the benefits of branding.

Consumers, who had eaten a 911 calorie calorie meal at "unhealthy" McDonalds estimated that their meal contained 764 calories. But consumers who had eaten a 911 calorie meal at "healthy" Subway, estimated they'd only consumed 559 calories.

Beyond that, a different study showed that consumers who'd eaten a Subway BMT sandwich, which weighs in at 200 calories more than a Big Mac, assumed their meal was healthy and were more likely to order the full-sugar soft drink, supersize it, and then order cookies for dessert than those dining on the unhealthy-but-lower-calorie Big Mac.