Aug 31, 2007

Why We TiVo

A bunch of 2.0-niks - Greg Verdino from Crayon and the very astute Matt Dickman have been blogging about video ads, what people will watch and why we TiVO through them.

I think one of the reasons people zap through ads -- and a widely overlooked one- is THAT THERE'S JUST TOO MANY OF THEM. The average ad pod is now close to 4 minutes (or it sure seems that way) and if I'm in the middle of watching a show, I just don't want to sit through that long an interruption.

Now if there was a 60 second commercial break, I wouldn't bother reaching for the remote. Time/benefit analysis says it wouldn't be worth the effort.

Wonder why no one's thought of that before.

Aug 30, 2007

Buy Prada. Fight Terrorism.

Today’s New York Times op-ed page features this piece by Newsweek correspondent Dana Thomas on the evils of counterfeit goods. Thomas claims that terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah often use counterfeit goods as a way to finance their operations and that such goods are often made by Chinese factories that employ child slave labor.

Now Thomas is the author of a book called Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, and it got me to thinking about what a tough marketing challenge that would be, to convince all those people who spend money on fake versions of $800 Louis Vuitton pocketbooks that they were indeed helping terrorists and to save up their shekels so they could buy the real thing.

Counterfeiting is a huge issue for luxury brands these days and the ability to produce an almost perfect replica for one-tenth the cost has led consumers to question just what they’re paying for. But it’s been tough enough selling the idea that illegal drug use helps fund terrorism. Not sure how you’d get people to see the connection between Calvin Kline (sic) jeans and al Qaeda or a Dickensian factory in China.

If you could though, it would be quite a breakthrough. Because counterfeiting is definitely hurting the high end luxury goods business and because few of those brands have anything approaching a positive image. It’s an interesting juxtaposition too: Save a Chinese child from a life of slavery. Buy a real Gucci bag.

Interesting to see how—or more accurately, if—this one plays out.

Margaritaville Redux


Tommy Bahama, purveyor of tropical-themed leisure attire to men who otherwise wear pleated Dockers and golf shirts featuring the logo of the resort that hosted their last sales meeting, is now getting into the liquor business. On the way into work this AM, I saw a full-page ad on the back of someone else’s paper for Tommy Bahama rum.

Clever brand extension, given that the whole Tommy Bahama brand image is tied up in a more affluent version of a Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville lifestyle. And so using TB rum (ouch, that’s a tough abbreviation) to make your piña coladas while wearing your TB pseudo-Hawaiian shirt and shorts, makes a lot of sense for the target.

Sort of like Ralph Lauren coming out with single malt scotch or Munsingwear coming out with an ironically blue collar beer.

Aug 29, 2007

Social Networking For People Who Work

The future of social networking, as I've predicted, seems to lie in catering to professionals who want to get in touch with each other. Whether to network for job, discuss business issues, or just share information. Without having to see pictures of each other playing beer pong or learning what songs their professional contacts are listening to.

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal affirms this belief, with an article about the growth of professional social networks, including one for our industry called AdGabber, that I'd never heard of, but seems to be a subset of AdRants, and which seems to be more of a traditional message board than a LinkedIn-esque networking site.

Though the article doesn't make a clear distinction between message boards and blogs and actual social networking sites, the line between them is getting blurrier by the day. But bottom line is that the ability to reach out to colleagues from all over and discuss issues related to work is something that continues to have great appeal.

Aug 28, 2007

Your Brand Is Still Not My Friend

Via AgencySpy, we learn that Wal-Mart's attempt to put up a page on Facebook turned into a fiasco as over 300 people left anti-WalMart messages on the page, including this one from a Janine Carmona, who succinctly states the "Your Brand Is Not My Friend™" credo

Facebook should take the number of negative comments on this page as a note that we don’t support this company [for] its use of a space for social networking. This space is for people talking to other people. Facebook, get your priorities straight.


Lazy Links

Hey, it's the last week of summer.

More "CGC" That's Not From "Cs"

Adverganza's always astute Catherine Taylor has a great post about the Heinz "CGC" (that's "Consumer Generated Content" for the uninitiated) TV spot contest, and how all of the alleged "Cs" clearly know their way around a pack shot and then some.
She tells it much better than I can.

Even Lowbrow Brit Humor Doesn't Translate
Interesting article in today's Times about the differences in British and American humor with some good quotes from relevant Hollywood types.

Why Good Agencies Go Bad
AdPulp's Danny G. has a really insightful piece on how great agencies are started and why they so often wind up failing.


The Others

One of the more interesting things about the August vacation period is that it provides a rare opportunity for upper middle class New Yorkers and Angelenos to leave their bubbles and come into contact with The Others: that great mass of middle and working class America they otherwise insulate themselves from during the rest of the year.

The contact, worthy of a re-read of Paul Fussell’s seminal work, Class, often occurs at places like Disney and other theme/water parks their offspring have managed to drag them to. Beachside resort towns run a close second, though rising prices have managed to keep all but the upper end of the upper middle classes out of more easily isolated places like Nantucket and the Hamptons.

The initial reaction, especially in a hotel-like setting, is always the same. Mr. and Mrs. Senior Vice President realize that there are a number of families by the pool where the father is wearing jeans shorts and sporting decidedly non-tribal tattoos, the type commemorating the birth of a child or a friend killed in Iraq. There’s the whispered “This place costs $450 a night. How do those people afford it?” Followed by a reassurance that they must either have won some sort of contest or be putting the whole thing on a credit card that they’ll spend years trying to pay off.

What the Senior VPs don’t realize is that they’ve likely bumped up against the Upper Blue Collars: all those plumbers and electricians and contractors who’ve grown rich installing Brazilian cherry wood cabinets, recessed lighting, Tuscan stone tile and the like in their houses. And that those people, whose incomes are often way north of six figures, represent a very different America than the one they live in.

So the Senior VPs will watch in horror as the Upper Blue Collars suck down a six pack of domestic beer at 11 in the morning, scream at their kids for wanting the pink straw instead of the purple one (the Senior VPs inclination being to demand the waitress produce a pink straw, ASAP) and let their unacceptably corpulent bodies bake in the sun without benefit of several layers of designer SPF 100 sunscreen.

Putting comic possibilities aside for a moment (and believe me, it’s tempting to keep running with this) the point here again is one of Toad’s Tirades: Not Everyone Is An Upscale Urban 30something White Male Hipster. Because whether it’s an Upscale Blue Collar family at a Cape Cod hotel or an Actual Blue Collar family on line at Disney World, there’s a lot more of them than there are of us. All too often advertisers and marketers ascribe our narrowly focused tastes and desires to the mass of Americans: I don’t think Tim Allen is funny, ergo no one does. I would never eat at a chain restaurant, ergo people only eat there because they have no other choices.

Wrong.

We sell things for a living. And to sell them, we must be mindful of who we’re selling them to. Now I am not giving you a license to go out and do banal, insulting work because people in The Flyover Zone love Home Improvement and The Olive Garden. No. It’s a much harder task, actually. Create something that you’re proud of that they’ll actually like as well.

It is possible.

Aug 27, 2007

Hilton Gets A Clue

File this under "Things Corporate America Is Doing Right"

Most of us have had the experience of traveling to a city too small to support a major hotel. And for years, the only option was staying at some really horrible small chain or local inn where the benefits of even a Marriott were clearly evident.

But over the past 3-4 years, chains like Hilton Garden Inn, Doubletree Inn and Hampton Inn (all of which are owned by the Hilton empire) have taken a tip from boutique hoteliers like Ian Schrager and chains like the W, and made tremendous improvements in the quality of their hotels.

Little things matter. And so better quality sheets and towels, toiletries that don't look like they'll cause a nasty rash, free WiFi (something many five star hotels might want to emulate) and updated, modern-looking furnishings all make a huge difference. So do HVAC units that operate off a wall-mounted digital thermostat rather than a series of red and blue knobs on the actual unit. And showers with either adjustable sprays or rainwater heads or something other than the rust-stained workhorses of yesteryear.

They've turned staying at these hotels from a hardship post to a pleasure. (Okay, maybe not a full-on pleasure, but close.) It's so rare that corporate America actually does something right, that they actually listen to consumers and give them what they want, that I felt compelled to give them a shout-out. The fact that Hilton has managed to do something cool at all three chains is particularly noteworthy.

Aug 23, 2007

Outreach Program

New Business Buzzword Alert: "Reached out" as in "I reached out to the client and they said they'd get back to us tomorrow."

First time I heard this I figured that there was some sort of problem, hence the account person was "reaching out" to the client. But no, it seems it's now business speak for "called" and/or "emailed."

You know, for the sort of people who have "action items" and "deliverables."

Aug 20, 2007

High School Musical, Again

Today’s Times has a front page story on High School Musical 2. The Times, which has an unerring knack for discovering trends long after they happen, goes on to talk about how Disney and its marketing machine have swept the underserved tween (Times says 9 to 14 year old; I’d say closer to 6 to 12) market.

Two things of significance to those of us in advertising and marketing:

1. A television show actually served as a touchpoint for a generation. Much as we trumpet the death of television and its disbursement into a million little specialty networks, High School Musical is going to be something this generation remembers as part of their childhood, much as we remember The Brady Bunch. Disney doesn’t do a whole lot of online promotion other than on their own site, and that site didn’t have a particularly robust selection of High School Musical offerings. Why? Well mainly, I’m guessing, because the intended demographic is (technically) not allowed online without their parents. But also because Disney has figured out that Your Brand Is Not My Friend™. A marketer trying to insinuate itself into areas of the interweb where kids socialize would be clearly creepy (as opposed to a marketer trying to insinuate itself into an area where adults socialize, which is more annoying than creepy.)

2. I mentioned The Brady Bunch before. That was a network TV show that was aimed at and acceptable for, kids. One of the parents interviewed in the Times’ article noted that “In a regular teen movie, they’d be jumping all over each other and you’d have to bleep things out.” That is huge. I mean other than certain reality shows (e.g. American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance) there’s precious little on during prime time that tweens can watch. Most sitcoms—even those on at 8PM—feature a healthy dose of sex (real or implied), and morality issues aside, a leer-com like How I Met Your Mother just plain isn’t all that interesting to kids. Disney figured this out a few years ago and now they’re sitting back and reaping the rewards. There are many underserved markets out there which can yield similar results, the trick is identifying them and talking to them in a language that suits their aesthetic-- not yours.

Search Ads Not Replacing TV Commercials, Web Banners After All

An article in today's Adweek highlights a new Microsoft study that purportedly shows that search ads are a waste of money.

Relevant quote:
"The reality is those people are already intending to go to your Web site," said Young-Bean Song, vp of analytics for Atlas, formerly part of aQuantive and now a unit of Microsoft. "What you're really paying for is a glorified Yellow Pages listing."
Also noted was that when eBay stopped advertising with Google for 10 days this June, their traffic was "not noticeably impacted."
This conclusion should come as no surprise, particularly to those of you who follow Toad's Tirades. If you think about how you interact with search ads, it's fairly obvious you're using them to find what you're looking for. So if I put "Volvo" into Google, intended to visit the car maker's site, it's sometimes easier to click on the search ad that comes up on top than to go to the list of link Google creates.

Not to say search ads are a complete waste. They're great for small companies in niche businesses where there are no well-known players. So if I'm looking for bird houses, and you're an investment banker who quit it all to open a small carpentry studio in Vermont, a search ad that links to Barry's Organic Bird Houses will definitely yield some results.

Aug 19, 2007

Casting Matters




TSR's comment about meeting the guy from the brilliant Starburst Berries & Cream commercial (YouTubed here as a special Monday morning treat for my lazier readers) put me in mind of how important casting really is.

There's something unique the actor pulled off in the aforementioned spot that takes it from weird to brilliant.

An even better example is "the Dell dude" (Ben Curtis) whose performance took what should have been a forgettably banal spot and turned it into a national catchphrase ("Dude, You're Getting A Dell!") There was something about the guy, something at once charming and likable and goofy that made that work. It's the magic of casting.

To that end, it never ceases to amaze me that clients insist on creating animatics to test TV commercials. (For the unintiated, animatics are crude animated renditions of a TV commercial that's meant to be filmed with live actors. The voices for the animated figures are provided by agency employees who clearly aren't actors and the whole thing bears as much resemblance to the real spot as I do to George Bush.) These monstrosities are, unfortunately, a staple of packaged goods clients and are literally used to determine which spots get on the air. (For those people not in the ad business, the absurdity of commercial testing is so unreal as to border on the fantastical.)

So what I've always wanted to do is put together a reel of classic movie scenes done as animatics, just to show what the effect of casting is. You know, the "Frankly, Scarlett I don't give a damn" scene from Gone With The Wind, the "You talkin' to me? There's no one else here?" scene from Taxi Driver. Vince Vaughn in Swingers. Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man... the list of great movies where casting made the movie is pretty endless. But I can think of no better way to show clients the foolishness of testing anything that involves casting before it's actually been cast than to show them how these scenes would have come off as animatics.

Aug 17, 2007

Get Your Head In The Game

Poor Virginia Heffernan. The Times’ very serious TV critic has the unenviable task today of reviewing the latest iteration of the Disney über-juggernaut High School Musical. And like so many in our business when confronted with content that’s clearly not aimed at them, she makes the mistake of reviewing it from her point of view.

So rather than an thoughtful explanation of why a 9 year-old might be enthralled with the production, we get a long-winded explanation of why a childless 30something hipstress is not.

Now Disney’s marketing machine has all but ensured that this evening’s premiere of High School Musical 2 is a seminal event in the lives of elementary school students across America, if not the world. (The Tadpoles are actually attending a party one of their friends is having where they can watch the show in all its 60 inch screen glory.) But Heffernan is only concerned with how she and her friends can enjoy the show via ironic karaoke experiences and doesn’t try and examine its popularity other than to express her complete bafflement.

The only positive note from her review is that all across Brooklyn the sort of hipster fathers who ban the Wiggles and force-feed their toddlers Death Cab For Cutie are vowing to themselves that their little Oscars and Esmés (and every hipster either has or knows a toddler named Oscar or Esmé) will never ever watch something this banal. (Fat chance.)

But for marketers and ad folk, the lesson here is that content-- whether it's a movie, a show, a website or a TV commercial-- needs to be judged using the aesthetics of the community it's targeted at. Because something aimed at old ladies-- or elementary school kids-- is not necessarily going to have universal appeal.

Nor should it.

Aug 16, 2007

Privacy Matters

So both Ad Age and Newsweek seem to have simultaneously discovered Facebook.

And completely missed LinkedIn and what makes it a far superior networking device for anyone who doesn’t want to mix their business and social lives.

The key to LinkedIn—and I can’t emphasize enough what a big deal this is—is privacy. You see with LinkedIn, the only way I can see who your connections are is if they’re my connections as well. Or connections of my connections. (Even then, it won’t tell you who they are—just that one or more of Xs “connections” knows your buddies Y and Z.) Better yet, you can turn that feature off, so that even people you’re connected to can’t see who else is part of your posse.

That’s huge. Facebook feels like you’ve put your entire address book online for the world to see. Which is very cool when you’re a senior in college, but not so cool when you’re a senior vice president.

LinkedIn also doesn’t require photographs. So I never have to see pictures of people I work with at the beach with no shirt on. I don’t have to know what kind of music they like either, or whether or not they saw “Die Hard 3.” The only feature it seems to have is a “Question” section that seems to draw a surprising amount of traffic. (You only get to see/answer questions from people in your extended network. Most of those doing the asking in my extended network seem to be some sort of HR consultants.)

I’m not saying that Facebook is useless: it’s a great for socializing, particularly if you’re in a life stage where that takes priority. Many of the tools on there are a lot of fun and definitely have potential beyond Facebook.

But for a business-only social network, LinkedIn seems to have found the right formula.


PS: Shout out to Matt Dickman for getting me thinking about all this. The video on his blog about LinkedIn explains this far better than I can.

Aug 15, 2007

A Poll

Mostly as an experiment, and because I'm curious, I've added a poll about the relevance of award shows.

It's completely anonymous and completely unscientific.

NB: I've asked several other bloggers to post this poll on their blogs. Mostly as a Jaffe-esque experiment to test the technology itself and to see the effect of multiple input portals on the data. (I just made that up. I have no idea if "multiple input portals" is a real thing.)
You can also find this poll on
MultiCult Classics
Adpulp
MakeTheLogoBigger



Tricks Of The Trade

A friend of mine got an ad into CA yesterday, and while I was glad for him (it was a nice ad) I have to admit that my first thought was “CA? Are they still around?”

Award shows fall in and out of fashion as the industry changes. CA and the One Show, the West and East coast stalwarts of the 1980s and 90s (respectively) never really adapted to the digital age and thus started to become less relevant. Meanwhile Cannes, formerly a place for big agencies to show off their television work, has stepped into the limelight.

Why is that? Well, first and foremost, award shows are a business, not some sort of quasi-official ceremony. In other words, they rely on agencies paying money—lots of money—to enter their shows in hopes of winning. Look at the UK’s D&AD awards. After years of claiming exclusivity by fastidiously not granting pencils in categories where they felt none were deserved, they’ve sort of been hoisted on their own petard, as agencies started realizing “why are we paying them $10,000 in entry fees if we’re not going to get anything to show for it?” (Clients being notoriously unaware of the difference between a D&AD pencil and say, a Mobius.)

Cannes, to their credit, realized that if agencies were going to spend money on award shows, and send their top creatives to judge them, the idea of an all-expenses paid vacation in the south of France was an especially effective lure. That, and they managed to get the digital and direct things right, thus drawing in a lot of top talent and top work from all areas. And the non-American location makes the whole thing seem decidedly “global.”

And speaking of Cannes, conversations with friends around the industry reveal that pretty much every agency came away from Cannes with the idea of replicating Saatchi New York’s success formula. (For those of you who missed it, Saatchi’s CD, Tony Granger, got their P&G clients to run and (allegedly) pay for a series of ads that were created expressly for Cannes. So while an unusual print campaign for Tide won the Grand Prix, consumers (or the vast majority of them, anyway) never actually saw it.

Now this reminds me of nothing so much as “Fallon Syndrome” in the late 80s and early 90s, where every big agency and junior team went out to try and find a barber shop or hot dog stand they could do ads for, in the hope of replicating the success of such Fallon classics as “A Bad Haircut Can Make Anyone Look Dumb.” (accompanied by a stock photo of Einstein.) A similar strain, “Martin Syndrome” had everyone looking for small quirky museums in need of free advertising.

This is just as dumb an idea today as it was 15 years ago. First off, great work is never easy to pull off, regardless of how many restrictions you remove. But more importantly, as agencies learned to their chagrin back in 1991 or so, if everyone is entering their ad for a barber shop into the One Show, your chances of winning get exponentially smaller.

So what to do? Well how about changing the rules. I mean Saatchi didn’t officially cheat, but come on—what they did certainly wasn’t in the spirit of the rules. Why not change the rules to require that in order to be entered in certain categories, a campaign has to represent a certain percentage of a brands' yearly spending*. Or some other device that prevents agencies from creating campaigns for awards shows.

Letting clients pay for ads that are created for award shows is truly counterproductive. All it does is reinforce the notion that creativity is a precious little indulgence that’s okay for award shows, but that “real” advertising is something completely different.

And that’s just dangerous.


*This is just an off-the-cuff suggestion—please refrain from stating why it makes no sense. Suffice it to say I’m sure it doesn’t.

Aug 13, 2007

Public Shaming, 2007

You know that when the Newark Star-Ledger features a story about the newfound power of consumers on the internet, we're beyond trend and moving on into the mainstream.

The article, which they don't seem have picked up from AP or anything, focuses on how consumers are using YouTube and other such sites to shame companies into rectifying their bad behavior.

This is important because once again it shows us the real power of the interweb, which is to put consumers in the drivers seat. Whether it's to ignore advertising and research their purchases on CNET or to counteract advertising with their testimonials to poor products and services.

Caveat emptor.

Back To School



Proving that there really is creative life in Chicago, a new(ish) boutique agency there called The Escape Pod has put together a back-to-school program for teens on behalf of their client Office Max.

Sorta, kinda based on Demi Moore's husband's show Punk'd, the premise of the show is that music students in a high school in suburban New Jersey are told that due to poor prior performance they are in danger of having their music program pulled and, in order to save it, they must pass a test that consists of pulling together and performing the theme from 2001, A Space Odyssey.

I won't give away more of the plot, but the denouement features the hot band The All-American Rejects.

What's more, the YouTube promo above has been viewed close to a million times already. And the show itself actually ran on live TV on the CW network.

There's a more complete website for the show here

Doing a TV show for a client like Office Max is a great idea. Few things are as tied to back-to-school as the purchase of school supplies. And the whole Punk'd format is a great draw.

There are online and offline elements to the campaign which tie together nicely. And The Escape Pod managed to pull the whole thing together without ever once referring to it as "storytelling."

Aug 12, 2007

Second Life Recap

Some very interesting comments on Friday's Second Life post. My thanks to everyone who participated.

But to put things in perspective, here are some key things I think we now know about Second Life:

It's first and foremost a game and any sort of high-involvement game is going to get some extreme types. And while I was being somewhat facetious, the fact that someone logs on to Second Life to have their avatar work as a security guard in a mall created by another avatar says just about everything re: the level of involvement of SL players.

The technology has great potential for things like business conferences and trade shows that can take place outside the confines of a game. Crayon, Jaffe & Verdino's not-an-agency has had some success showing off this potential.

BUT it also seems clear that bringing mainstream advertisers on there is risky.

First off, no one's asked the more umm "dedicated" players how they feel about having Reebok and Coke in their world. I mean given that people are starting and building their own businesses (both physically and metaphorically) - do they want competition from real world businesses? I ask this because even for brands whose demographics overlap those of the typical Second Life player, being there could prove far more harmful than helpful if Second Life players feel that (you knew it was coming) Your Brand Is Not My Friend™.

Now Jonathan Trenn had an interesting idea, which was for the companies to work with the Second Life businesspeople to provide them with items they may want, e.g. sign someone on there up as a Second Life Reebok store owner or give them virtual Black and Decker tools to build their virtual stores. But no one seems to be doing this. Yet.

Experimenting with a technology like Second Life is a great idea. We just need to be more thoughtful as to what shapes those experiments take, lest we be branded (once again) as nothing more than a bunch of charlatans.



Aug 10, 2007

Second Life Takes Another Major Hit

Poor Jaffe.

If Second Life hasn’t taken enough of a beating in the press lately, today’s Wall Street Journal weighs in with a particularly devastating article about a typical Second Life player.

Entitled “Is This Man Cheating On His Wife?” the article*, by Alexandra Alter examines the truly sad life of one Ric Hoogenstraat, a 53 year-old Arizona resident who is employed as a $14 an hour call-center operator.

The article focuses on the havoc his Second Life obsession is having on his relationship with his real-world wife Sue. Because whereas in real life Mr. Hoogenstraat is an aging hippie who suffers from diabetes and chronic joblessness, in Second Life he is a muscular young entrepreneur with a fortune of some 1.5 million Linden (SL’s virtual currency) and a hot young Second Life wife. (Mr. Hoogenstraat’s SL avatar married a female avatar in a ceremony that was attended by several dozen other avatars. Really.)

One telling statistic of the article is that even LindenLabs, SL’s owner, admits that the number of “active users" is closer to 450,000. (Another is that Mr. Hoogenstraat is able to “employ” a virtual security guard for one of his virtual malls. Which means that someone is logging on to SL to pretend to be a mall security guard.)

But after reading the article, and the pathetic picture it paints of Second Life players, all I could think is how I’d hate to be on the other end of the phone when the CMOs of Coke, Reebok and countless other companies that have been duped into spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on Second Life, get a hold of it.

That said, I don’t mean to dismiss Second Life totally. The technology itself holds much potential. Businesses are already using SL to interview candidates and hold virtual job fairs, but one real payday will come when someone adopts the technology for business meetings.

To wit: I have a lawyer friend who is often on all day conference calls. Video conferencing isn’t a great option because everyone can see you squirming and yawning. But if he was able to attend these meetings as a voice-enabled avatar, and if every time he spoke there was a little label under him that said “Joe Smith, Dewey Bilkum & Howe” it would be a drastic quality-of-life improvement for him. For those of us in the ad biz, we’d be able to virtually present concepts to clients, who would see them in real time on their screen rather than cheating and peeking at them ahead on time from the PDFs we’ve posted on the extranet.

*The Wall Street Journal is a pay site, but I was able to access the entire article on their site. Not sure why, but hopefully it will work for everyone else.

Aug 9, 2007

File This Under "What Were They Thinking?"

Front page of today's NY Times Business section has this article about how Johnson & Johnson is suing the American Red Cross for copyright infringement over the use of the aforementioned red cross.

Seems the ARC is selling first aid kits and other tchotchkes with their name and logo on them and J&J is all bent out of shape.

And I'm reading this thinking WTF? Why don't you go and run TV spots* showing your CEO kicking puppies and kittens to death? It would have a less deleterious effect.

I mean absolutely no good can come out of this for J&J. Even if they're in the right about the red cross logo, you're not going to convince America about that. People like the Red Cross. And suing a popular charitable organization over something so blatantly trivial?

Mind-boggling.

To make matters worse, the Times reports that the head of the American Red Cross is "clearly outraged" about the lawsuit. Which means lots and lots of bad publiciity raining down on J&J.

Ouch.

UPDATE: Check out the comments on AdFreak in defense of J&J and up in arms about the assault on J&J's cherished brand. Am I the only one who doesn't think these comments are random?

*And yes I know, for less money they could then post longer versions on YouTube and maybe even set up a website ;)


Aug 8, 2007

The Toad Stool's New Look

In an effort to save the eyesight of my loyal readers I've selected a new template from the blogger.com template collection.

Because it seems David Ogilvy was right-- black type is easier to read than white type.

Let me know if you like it, hate it or are merely indifferent.

Thanks,

Toad

Your Taste or Your Customers? Children’s Edition

Ratatouille vs. Underdog

In my ongoing campaign to get advertisers (and agency creatives) to realize that there is more than one standard to judge work (e.g. not every product is marketed to upscale early 30something hipster males) I’d ask you to turn your attention to two children’s movies that Disney put out this summer: Ratatouille and Underdog.

The former was universally praised—nay, slavered over, by critics, while the latter was universally panned.

But from the POV of the children who sat through them, Ratatouille was an abject failure and Underdog a charming-if-not-totally-memorable tale.

Now why is this? Well I’m guessing it’s because Ratatouille is a wonderful movie for an adult film critic—and for the imaginary ideal child the adult film critic wishes he had—while Underdog is merely well done KidFlick 101 and thus reprehensible to serious artistes.

Let’s start with the basic premise: Ratatouille is about being true to one’s art. Now call me crazy, but this is a concept that is pretty much lost on anyone under the age of 14. It’s also set in the world of French haute cuisine. (Ditto.)

The most telling scene in the movie is one where the forces of good take back a 5-star gourmet restaurant from the forces of evil, who have put out a line of frozen burritos and frozen pizzas under the name of the famous chef who started the restauant (e.g. a little Wolfgang Puck joke for the more urbane adults in the audience.) And to celebrate, the forces of good make a bonfire of the frozen entrees. Now in the theater I was in, the kids were completely baffled as to why anyone would consider the destruction of frozen pizza to be a good and noble thing. I mean frozen pizza is one of the foods your average 10 year old lives on. Destroying it just seems… wrong.

I have yet to meet a kid who really liked Ratatouille. Older kids didn’t exactly hate it, but it was clear to them there was a lot in there they just didn’t get.

Underdog, on the other hand, every kid gets. First off, it’s about a boy with a dead mother. (And you know how psychologists and English professors love to come up with theories on why kids love stories about kids with dead parents. But they do. It’s a formula Disney warmly embraces, as just about every popular Disney movie to Bambi to Cinderella to Lion King features a kid with a dead parent. But I digress.) The plot in Underdog isn’t all that surprising… to an adult. To a kid who hasn’t seen several thousand movies, the fact that the boy at first rejects the dog and then comes to love him is actually a surprising and heartwarming plot twist. And it’s a dog. Kids love pet movies if the pet is at all loveable. And Underdog is pretty loveable. Critics have complained that the plot is hard to follow, that it’s not clear what Simon Bar-Sinister (Peter Dinklage) is actually plotting. But that’s not important to kids. It’s clear he was up to no good, Underdog and the boy stopped him and that’s all that matters.

One review I read actually complained that having Jason Lee do Underdog’s voice made him think of My Name Is Earl the entire time. Can we all agree that none of the 7 year olds in the audience were bothered by this? (For those of you unfamiliar with 7 year olds, it’s because none of them have ever seen My Name is Earl.)

Now critics aren’t ad agencies, but I think the analogy here is a pretty solid one. Giving your tastes greater importance than those of your audience is a recipe for disaster.

Even if your audience is only four feet tall.

Aug 7, 2007

A Rose By Any Other Name (More On Storytelling)

So Bill Green, better known as the erudite host of Make The Logo Bigger, has provided some insight into this insidious thing called "storytelling."

It's just good old fashioned sales promotion, all gussied up in interweb garb and sporting a brand new name.

To wit:
The idea of storytelling as he explained it to me was simliar to a script, as that's how he approached it. People here are missing the intent behind this mindset. Don't think of story in the traditional way. The 'story' is the sequence of how the whole campaign would unfold initially, yes. This could include print, TV, radio, non-traditional, etc,.

But the key here is that the consumer could enter that story at any point in a non-linear way, not at the beginning or the end. (Think Pulp Fiction with its out-of-sequence non-linerar approach to scene juxtaposition.) So the consumer might see a website, which in turn may lead them back to a tv spot to be released later. Or a viral campaign drives them to search Google for more clues, and so on.

Like many of you, I've done campaigns like this without calling them "storytelling." We called them "promotions" or "events" and swore to the client that whether someone saw the ad in the newspaper or the TV commercial or heard the radio spot, they'd be able to enter the promotion and get the whole story. Later we added website and YouTube video to the mix, which allowed for more clues and fun, but we never called it "storytelling." I mean the whole point of promotions is that the consumer can come in at any point and still catch on/catch up.

Now this is not to take away from these sort of efforts. Many of them are quite good, and very effective. After all, sales promotions were the original "interactive" vehicle.

It's just that "storytelling" word that's so irksome.

Aug 6, 2007

Really Mad Men

In order to sell their clients' product, a breakfast cereal aimed at kids, a team at an ad agency came up with the idea of creating their own animated series. The videos, which are available in four 5-minute segments, are about a new superhero, and while kids may take it at face value, it offers a great big wink to those adults watching along, with sly jokes and parodies built in.

Three other animated shorts are included with the superhero videos, with preroll and postroll spots after each one touting the clients product.

The videos are very successful and prove to be viral, as kids tell other kids about them and more and more people watch.

As a result, the account guy, who was one of the writers of the series, leaves the agency to start his own animation production company, which outsources the actual drawing to Mexico, thus realizing considerable cost savings.

Another interweb success story?

No.

A success story from the Mad Men era: 1960, to be exact. The superhero was Underdog, the agency was Dancer, Fitzgerald, Sample (now Saatchi), the account guy was W. Watts Biggers and you can read about it here.

Aug 2, 2007

Disney's Newest Character

AdAge, G. Parker's new favorite ad magazine, reports that Disney just spent $350 million to buy Club Penguin, an ad-free sort-of-social-networking site aimed at kids 6 to 14.

Those of you without kids in this age range have no idea how big Club Penguin is with kids in this age group.

But I'm wondering if Disney bet on the wrong pony here. Club Penguin's biggest competitor is Webkinz™, and if the Tadpoles and their friends are any indication, it's Webkinz by a mile.

Webkinz is one of those ideas you kick yourself for not thinking up. It works like this: you go to the store and buy a Webkinz stuffed animal for around $10-15. And not just any store. Webkinz are only sold in Hallmark stores and other non-traditional locations, thus ensuring scarcity.

Now once you have your Webkinz, you go online and enter the secret code that's in an envelope stitched onto the animal. You name the animal and set up a room for him/her in your Webkinz house. You need to feed and play with your animal to keep it happy by buying food, toys and furniture from the Webkinz store. You buy this all with KinzCash- virtual currency you earn by playing games in the Webkinz arcade. (The Tadpoles all seem to know which games earn the most money for the least effort)

There's no end to how tricked out you can make your Webkinz house and what accessories you can buy. You can also talk to your friends (or make new ones) online, but only via a series of about 2 dozen canned comments-- no independent chat allowed. You can also send a gift to your friends in the hope they'll send one back to you.

I actually find it educational in that it teaches them money management and responsibility-- each Tadpole currently has about a dozen Webkinz and they're quite good about logging in and taking care of their virtual pets. (You also have to remember to log out: it seems a friend of theirs logged out leaving her Webkinz on a treadmill and came back to find it quite ill and in need of a visit to the Webkinz Clinic. For real.)

But when I tell you guys it's huge, it's an understatement: every one of their friends seems to have at least a dozen Webkinz and everyone I work with who has kids that age seems to be in the midst of this mania as well.

Now I'm not sure if Webkinz has actually surpassed Club Penguin (a fully online experience that does not require any offline purchases), if my town is part of the "Webkinz Belt," if there's any sort of socioeconomic factor involved in which one you go to, or if Webkinz (which is newer) is Club Penguin 2.0.

I do know, however, that this is another evolution of social media, one that's evolved specifically for tweens. And that if I were the guy who came up with it, I'd be one rich Toad.