Nov 30, 2007

Transnational Blueblood

click to view entire cartoon at host site

Hey. So a friend just turned me on to this hilarious series of cartoons from a guy named Pete Johnson who has a blog called "Transnational Blueblood."

They're brilliantly done snapshots of very recognizable types in our industry. The one above perfectly nails the relationship between general agencies and their online siblings.


You can find the series here
and here
(NB: There are probably others on his site as well, they're not overly organized.)

Falling On Their Face(book)

So Facebook has been getting all sorts of not-very-good press these days thanks a new feature that lets you know what your friends are buying online. The bulk of the objections have been around the invasion-of-privacy aspect of it (it was all about opting out, rather than opting in, until they decided that wasn't working) and while I think that’s definitely crucial to its high annoyance level, there’s also the fact that 99% of the purchases my friends make online aren’t the least bit surprising. Someone bought a book at Amazon? Get out! A movie ticket on Fandango? You don’t say. And when I find out they’re downloading music from some place called iTunes? Wow. Knock me over with a feather.

Point being, all these messages are going to wind up reading like so much spam. There’s nothing interesting or newsworthy about them. And so there’s no reason for me to pay any attention. Which makes it a lose-lose situation. You’ve invaded my privacy AND you’ve provided me with a trough full of useless information in return.

Now I’m not actually sure what the purpose of Facebook is anymore, what with the zombies and werewolves and all those movie quizzes that somehow make it impossible NOT to send a challenge to everyone on your friend list, but I can tell you that this is not doing the whole idea of social media any favors. As it once again proves, Your Brand Is Not My Friend™.

Even if your friend is buying my brand.

Nov 29, 2007

Toad's Friday Fave - Holiday Edition

And so the season begins.

To celebrate, I'm posting this promo video that MTV ran last year. It's brilliantly funny (still) and the propping and casting are genius. Ditto the lyrics.

And to start it off on the right note, I'll remind my UK readers that in the US, a "cupboard" is a cabinet used to store food. (I think y'all call it a "pantry.")


More Starbucks

So the commercial I referenced in my earlier post is finally up on YouTube.

Pretty, pretty treacly.

Clearly not going for the Beverly Hills/Upper East Side/wannabes crowd with this one, which is pure heartland.

Nov 27, 2007

Sometimes You Don't Need A Headline

click to enlarge

I really like this Audi ad, done by fellow blogger Simon Veksner, a/k/a Scamp, who works at BBH in London.

And while I'm sure the chicken-crossing-the-road thing has been done before, I like the juxtaposition of the downscale-joke-chicken with the upscale-big bucks-convertible.

The "get" is nice too- it makes you feel smarter somehow, for solving it. Kudos to Audi for not making them put in a headline or a copy line to explain the joke to the truly dumb. Having to figure out the not-very-difficult-to-figure-out joke on your own somehow adds to the upscale feeling of the ad and the car.

Nov 26, 2007

Dove Gets The Axe Effect

It was sort of inevitable.

At some point, people were going to figure out that Dove was made by Unilver. And that despite the high-minded messaging of the Cannes-award winning Dove viral videos, Unilever, the parent company, still made a whole mess of products that perpetuated the "beauty myth" the Dove advertising bemoans.

Now Axe is certainly one of those products, though it's clear (to me anyway) that the message is pretty tongue-in-cheek. I'm far more bothered that Unilever makes a skin-lightening cream for women in India. (Or so sayeth my fellow blogger, High Jive, who is very up on these sorts of things.)

So Exhibit A is the YouTube video above, a mash-up of Axe ads and the latest Dove video, "Onslaught." It was put together by a planner at the Martin Agency and it's already logged over 40,000 hits.

Exhibit B is this article in Ad Age, about the backlash, which, it seems, has even included editorials in newspapers like the Boston Globe.

My take: It's too easy for us to forget that the megabrands we deal with come with a history. And with a parent company. Dove is Unilever. It's not some homemade soap that's only sold in Whole Foods. There's a lot of history, a lot of older ads featuring the very same unrealistically airbrushed models they're now whining about, and (of course) a parent company that's one of the prime villains behind "The Beauty Myth."

And while I very much appreciate the sentiment behind the Dove campaign, it was foolish of them to think they could launch that positioning without acknowledging their parentage and their past.

Nov 24, 2007

Thanksgiving Break

Should have posted this on Wednesday, but I'm taking the Thanksgiving holiday off.
Just to recharge and relax and all that.

See you on Monday.

Nov 17, 2007

Starbucks Goes Over To The Dark Side

One of the key pillars of faith of Web 2.0 is the fact that the most successful companies of recent years (Starbucks, Amazon, Whole Foods) succeeded despite (or because of) very limited use of advertising, relying instead on things like word-of-mouth, store experience and the like. Or as Starbucks founder Howard Schultz noted “the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart… not an ad campaign.”

So it comes as something of a shock to the marketing community that, according to today’s (unlinkable) Wall Street Journal, Starbucks is planning to launch a major advertising campaign. Developed after years of relationship cultivation by Portland's Wieden and Kennedy, the first round of commercials are described as whimsical, roughly animated holiday spots where “a bearded skier and reindeer are stuck on a ski lift, and the skier offers the reindeer a cup of coffee.”

Simple enough, but the whole idea of running national TV commercials goes against much of what Starbucks stands for. The company has tried to retain its image as the friendly "corner coffee bar" through community involvement and lack of any strong national media campaign. Observers feel the impetus for the new campaign was the news that U.S. sales were actually down last quarter for the first time ever, coupled with increased competition from both McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts.

Whatever the case, it’s worth considering whether Starbucks is in fact, deluding itself, whether the company stopped being considered a local brand years ago or if the lack of national media presence coupled with low-key community activism did indeed allow them to escape the imprimatur of “faceless global corporation.”

Ubiquity aside, Starbucks does have a sterling reputation for being a generous employer, and the stores locations in upscale communities allowed them to blend in quite seamlessly with their surroundings. But as they rapidly expand (3,000 new stores in the past two years) and move out into the mainstream, that approach may no longer work. For what appears to be “just another store" on the Upper East Side or Beverly Hills stands out in stark contrast to the chain stores lining the highways of middle America.

So it seems to me that Starbucks has to decide what they want to be when they grow up: the coffee shop of choice for upscale Americans and wannabes, or a national brand that brings top quality coffee to the masses. The former company wouldn’t need to do much advertising—just less expansion. The latter would come to rely on it. And if they choose the latter route, do they risk alienating their core base, who (let’s face it) still like the fact that a Starbucks cup carries more than a bit of snob appeal cachet, something a more mass-market company wouldn’t have.

Curious to see where they go with this.

Nov 16, 2007

Toad's Pre-Thanksgiving Friday Fave

Props to Cathy Taylor at Adverganza for finding this gem of a spot for J.C. Penney via Saatchi/NY. Another entry in my ongoing Friday custom of spotlighting noteworthy TV commercials.

It runs a full two minutes, so I'm not sure where it actually runs, but that's besides the point. It's a wonderful little movie, perfectly cast with the sort of real looking children so rarely seen on television. Even the location, in an old-fashioned blue collar neighborhood with back alleys and Radio Flyer wagons is perfect: there's a timelessness to the setting that enables the fantasy.

There are lots of great little details (check out the signs on the fence) that it's worth watching twice, just to pick up the nuances.

I haven't been to a Penney's in a while, but if the in-store experience can match the magic of the commercial, they'll have a very merry Christmas indeed.

Nov 15, 2007

More Perspective

So like everyone else, one of my first reactions to the news that award show magician Tony Granger was taking over the CCO job at Y&R was "Damn, they must be paying him zillions."

But upon reflection, it hit me that they're probably paying him around $2-3 million a year, which is likely the pinnacle of creative salaries. Which is what numerous not-very-impressive 20 and 30something Wall Streeters make come bonus time. And what numerous writer/producers of network TV shows can make in just one season. And what numerous engineers and other mid-level employees of hot 2.0 shops walk away with in stock options.

Like the title says, it just gives all those late nights a little perspective. But more importantly, it tells me how undervalued our contributions are -- not just us creatives, but the industry in general. Now that we've lost the 15% commission, we need to find a better way to get remunerated for our ideas. Because that's our real contribution and it's not a minor one. We provide real value and benefit to our clients and we need to find a fair and equitable way to monetize it.

Maybe those Hollywood writers are on to something.

Nov 13, 2007

Consumer Reports Bashes Gift Cards

Consumer Reports, the original keep-'em-honest consumer advocate and the forerunner of today's review sites, ran this full-page ad in today's New York Times. An unusual move for them-- they rarely advertise-- but the $8 billion fact they put out in this ad is certainly interesting enough to spark a lot of conversations about the value of gift cards and the number that go unused.

I know it did at the Toad household, where I'm estimating we've got a few hundred dollars of unused cards sitting in a desk drawer somewhere.

Curious to see if this sparks a backlash of any sort, or even just a lot of conversation on marketing/consumer sites. And if CR picks up any new subscriptions because of it.

Nov 12, 2007

And Yet Another Proof Point For The Real Digital Revolution

Today's Adweek has a fascinating story called "Shoppers Want More Customer Reviews" that offers statistical evidence for something I've been noting anecdotally.

What's particularly interesting is that the reviews in question are for things like toys and smaller consumer goods items-- not just the high ticket items (cars, electronics) that gave consumer reviews their initial boosts.

Consumers will go into the store, select a few items they are interested in, and then turn to review sites for their final decision. This means that advertising can do nothing more than get the product into the consideration set (possibly-- we have no idea how much influence the in-store experience and packaging have vis-a-vis advertising). And that's very important because it completely changes the nature of advertising from a purchase-oriented communication to a consideration-set oriented communication.

And places the onus back on the manufacturer to make a product that people actually want to buy. Which is one of the key components of The Real Digital Revolution

Here's a relevant snippet for those disinclined to follow the link:
In other survey findings, many people said they shop seamlessly back and forth between physical stores and Web sites, and they do not examine customer reviews until midway through the shopping process. Most of the respondents said they start their shopping process at retail stores and then seek out online reviews as they near their final choices, looking at the reviews of only a handful of possible purchases. Specifically, 81 percent use customer reviews to decide between two or three products or to confirm that their final selection is the right one and only 40 percent actually start the shopping process using reviews, according to the study.


Today's Ad Age informs us that:
Consumers aren't buying Wal-Mart's new "Save Money. Live Better" ad campaign, according to a survey to be released today by Wal-Mart Watch, which found that only 4% of people believe that Wal-Mart saves the average family $2,500 annually.
Not a real surprise and I suspect the number is artificially low, given the source. But still, even if in reality five times as many people believe the claim, that's still 80% who aren't buying it.

Add to that the fact that I suspect Ad Age isn't going to be the only publication that picks up on a juicy tidbit like that (4%!!!) along with the tortured mathematical formula for getting there, and you have a great example of The Real Digital Revolution in action once again.

Nov 11, 2007

Lasting Effects of the Great Freelance Boom

Back in the late 1990s, hiring freelancers, which had previously been something big agencies did as a last resort, became far more commonplace, and, as the Dot Com Boom overtook us, it became more or less de rigeur.

For a vast majority of my friends, it was a goldmine. It seemed like anyone with a halfway decent book who’d done a stint at a good agency could more or less double their salary by going the freelance route. Heck, I know I did. We could make up numbers and still find people to pay us a big fat day rate. Double dipping was not uncommon, especially in the throes of dot com madness when agencies needed all the bodies they could muster.

And while the party came to a crashing end on September 11, 2001, the aftereffects are still being felt throughout the industry.

You see it in who holds creative director positions at big agencies. With one or two exceptions where turnover has been high (JWT comes to mind) big agencies are led by people who’ve spent a goodly part of their career at that agency. Which is not to say that they’re a bunch of hacks— but the fact remains that the people who were winning awards and setting the ad world on fire 10 years ago are now the ones whose names come up when I go looking for freelancers. And I can’t help but wonder what today’s big and mid-sized agency scene would be like if most of these guys had stayed and were actually running groups or running shops rather than bouncing around helping to lay out print campaigns or landing pages for last minute pitches.

And despite dropping day rates and a rapidly contracting pool of agencies to work for, the freelance road is still the career path of choice for many of the top talents in our business. They’ve realized how easy it is to work for themselves, to feed off the big agency trough without ever having to be a part of it. Or having to go out and actually start their own agency.

Not that I blame them. Except for a certain lack of control over your schedule and uncertainty over the next paycheck, freelancing is a pretty sweet gig. You don’t deal with politics or personalities or long term issues. You just go in and make ads. Your goal is to make the CD who hired you happy and to make sure everyone at the agency knows he’s happy so they’ll keep you around or bring you back soon. Period. End of story.

It’s not a bad life, but it’s not one that leads the industry to a better place. Imagine if the top players in the NBA were free agents who moved around a few times every season. Mostly to fill in for injured players or to shore up the team for an important series.

But that’s exactly the position our industry often finds itself in. It’s demoralizing to the people on staff, to have these highly paid superstars jump in and show them how it’s done, all while collecting nice sized day rates. And yet agencies aren’t reaching out to the freelance talent pool either, and trying to figure out ways to bring them on board. Now it may just be that they don’t want to: someone who’s been a freelancing for 10 years may not have the mindset necessary to succeed at a big agency. And then of course there's the salary requirements: agencies can rarely match what a hard-working freelancer brings in per annum.

So then the question that remains is how do we save the next generation from falling into the freelance trap? Should we save them? And if so how?

Curious to see if anyone has a theory. And if my UK and other international readers have seen a similar trend in their markets.

Nov 8, 2007

Defeating The Armies of "No"

My post on Defeating the Armies of "No" -- all those people outside the marketing department who have the power to maim, kill or destroy an ad campaign-- is the featured post on Marketing Prof's Daily Fix today. Check it out.

Nov 6, 2007

Geico Does It Again

This is from the same series as the Flintstones commercial. Featuring a Cabbage Patch Kid, it makes me laugh every time I see it. (Which, if you watch Nets games on YES, is pretty often.)

Nov 5, 2007

Facebook and the Case of the Unnatural Degree of Intimacy.

While Facebook’s stock continues to soar, I thought I’d share this (likely familiar) story of Facebook’s major problem: creating an unnatural and artificial degree of social intimacy between two people who barely know each other.

So there’s an art director I work with who asked to “friend” me on Facebook. Now I keep an account under my real name mostly for research purposes: I joined up with a friend of mine about six months ago and the only people I’ve added are those who have found me-- about three dozen altogether.

Now this art director seems like a nice enough guy, his office is not far from mine and I say hello to him in the hallway. But honestly, friends, all I know about him is his name and the state he hails from (long, not-very-interesting story). I don’t know what accounts he works on, who his friends are, where he’s worked previously: none of that.

But now, due to Facebook, which he is quite active about updating regularly, I know all sorts of things about him. That he has a new girlfriend (thus ending one mystery), where they’ve gone on their dates. What her pet name for him is. What movies he and I both like. What books we’ve both read. Which “Friends” character he is most like. His zombies and werewolves have attacked me, and he’s written somewhat amusing messages on my “FunWall.”

All fine and good, except he’s not some long-lost college roommate. He’s some guy I work with and when I see him in person, it’s extremely awkward because I now know all these somewhat intimate details about him and yet we’ve barely exchanged more than “hello.”

I mean what am I supposed to do – go up to him and say “Hey relative stranger. I saw on Facebook that you went to Lars And The Real Girl the other night. Since I also know that you and I appear to have similar taste in movies, did you like it? And what about this new girlfriend of yours—she sure looks hot in her profile pics—did she like it too? Oh, and how was her trip to Michigan to see her sister? Sounds like you really missed her.”

Creepy, right? But thanks to Facebook I can know all sorts of bizarre details about people I barely know in real life.

And that's the problem. Why would I want to put any of my business contacts on a site like that? And don't tell me that all they have to do is give you a mechanism to sort your friends into levels of intimacy. Because the second you label someone who thinks he's your good buddy a "business contact" you've got a world of hurt feelings to attend to.

Solve that, social networking site builders, and then maybe you can get a money-making model in place. But until then, you're not providing me with a whole lot of value.

Nov 2, 2007

Odd Sponsorship

So the Continental Airlines Arena is the New Jersey Meadowlands, home of the New Jersey Nets is now known as the Izod Center.

And I'm trying to figure out who decided that a brand that aspires to exclusivity and class (especially vis a vis its archrival Polo) should put its name on a basketball arena. In a swamp. In New Jersey.

Unless of course Izod is putting its logo on the Nets uniforms or something.

Which would definitely be even more puzzling