Jan 31, 2008

Our Best Audience

So there's this new website (and sometime cable TV station) called Firebrand that a few of my friends have something to do with. And because the site does nothing but show commercials, they've been thinking I'd have an interest in it.

This is not AdCritic (Creativity-Online these days) mind you. Or even AdFreak or AdRants. The site is aimed at the general public and its founders believe that people really want to watch good ads. (Good being the operative word here.)

And while it surprises me at some level that people outside the business actually want to watch commercials, it probably shouldn't. I mean who would have predicted Civil War re-enactors, right? Plus there's that moment we've all been through, when some guy at a party finds out you work in advertising and starts asking you all about his favorite commercial, some local car dealer ad where the salesman gets a pie in the face and you have to (a) pretend you've seen it and (b) pretend you know the guys who did it. And for a brief moment there, despite the seeming awfulness of the premise, you're shocked, completely shocked at how deeply this guy connects with this car dealer spot and you wonder if anyone's ever connected that deeply with something you've done.

And it got me to thinking how jaded we all are to advertising and the role it plays in people's lives. (Okay not all people's lives, but certainly many. I'd even settle for some.) How ads really are little movies or posters that people enjoy over and over every time they see them because they know nothing of all the sweat and grief and 3 hour meetings with account people saying "calendared" that went into making them. They don't notice that the logo is on the bottom left either, even when we all know it really should have been on the top right because they're charmed by the previous 27 seconds and their brains know to tune out for the last 3.

Which is the catch, of course. These commercial addicts have probably never bought anything from any of the brands advertised in the ads they watch on Firebrand. Because the reason they love these commercials has nothing to do with the brands they're advertising, but with the writing and casting and lighting and propping and wardrobe and camera speed and pacing and editing. You know, all that stuff we call "craft."

And so while Firebrand's audience may never turn out to be "brand evangelists" they may well turn out to be "advertising evangelists."

These days, we sure could use some.

Jan 30, 2008

Hipster Hubbub

So I posted my old tirade "Not Everyone Is An Upscale Urban 30something White Male Hipster" over at Beyond Madison Avenue and it's generating a whole lot of buzz, mostly from the hipsters in question, who seemed to regard it as either a personal affront or a call to give One Show pencils to ads for DTC bladder control pills.

Either way, they all seemed to miss the point, which is that having just one prevailing aesthetic in advertising means we tend to judge every piece of advertising according to that aesthetic in determining what we consider "good" or "breakthrough."

Getting the point, however, was our new friend Agency Spy, who gave the post a favorable call-out. (And found a much better picture of a hipster than I did.)

What as most interesting to me, is that this is the second time that post has run-- I've also put it up on MP Daily Fix. The comments at Daily Fix were a world away from the ones at BMA and AgencySpy. Completely different takes, completely different upshot.

Which perhaps just shows the importance of media placement.

Jan 29, 2008

Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire

If you ask your customers to make videos bashing your competitors, does that make you liable for their false or exaggerated claims?

According the today's New York Times, it's something Quizno's is about to find out.

It seems that Subway is suing them over videos made as part of a contest sponsored by the rival sandwich maker where Quizno's fans were asked to create videos that depicted "Quiznos sandwiches as “superior” to Subway’s."

It seems some of the contestants took that to heart, with one video showing a woman returning home with two sandwiches- a Quiznos for her husband and a Subway for her dog.

From my POV, it seems to defy the spirit of the law to allow companies to get their customers to do the dirty work for them. If a company is actually sponsoring a contest, then they need to be held accountable for the truthfulness of the resulting work. If the company has nothing to do with the videos, that's another story. But sponsoring a contest is essentially putting your seal of approval on it and holding your hands up and saying "Oh, but consumers created it. Not us!" is a disingenuous response better suited to 4th graders than to large corporations. I mean seriously, who are you fooling?

It will be interesting to see where the courts net out. Subway is claiming defamation, which is a lot more nebulous than false claims. Because I'm not sure you can actually slander a sandwich (the actual title of the Times' article, to give credit where it's due.) But if the videos fall outside of what would be acceptable under current law, then Quizno's deserves to take a hit.

Jan 25, 2008

The Paparazzi Effect

So if the details around Heath Ledger's death prove to be true, we could be in for a serious re-examination of the Cult of the Celebrity.

Even the New York Times is reporting that the masseuse who found him was so afraid of ruining Ledger's reputation and creating a scandal that she called his girlfriend Mary-Kate Olsen several times before calling 911. And that Ms. Olsen's response was also to avoid 911 and all costs and to send over a private security flack.

Now it may just have been that neither woman thought he was in mortal danger. But if the spin on this story is that Heath Ledger died because celebrities are afraid to even seek emergency medical care because of the way the press swarms around them and amplifies their issues to unmanageable heights, then Ledger may wind up being seen as a martyr to the Cult of the Celebrity and the whole gossip industry may be called to task.

Or the spin could just be "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen" and our sympathy for the travails of multimillionaire actors will last the proverbial 15 seconds.

Though my optimistic nature keeps thinking that something will free us from our obsession with anyone and everyone who's ever had a camera pointed at them.

Jan 24, 2008

Facebook Redux: Social Media Gets Less Social, More Useful

One of the things I’ve noticed about Facebook lately is that it demands a lot more of your time. It’s not just about posting updates and pictures anymore: there are movie quizzes and Scrabulous (for now) and zombie attacks and well, all sorts of things that can keep you very occupied. And the thing is that while most of my good friends are now on Facebook, few of them have the time to do something "newsworthy" with it on a daily basis. That means most of the updates I read, most of the movie challenges I receive and most of the new photos I can look at are from people I’m not especially close with.

And that’s made Facebook more of a solitary activity for me. There are enough links posted on there, enough random groups listed, enough sponsored trivia quizzes, that on days where none of the people I care about have actually bothered to post something new on Facebook, I can easily kill a half hour without ever interacting with another person or their profile.

Now that’s a radical change for something called “social media” and while it’s not always my experience when I’m on there, I’m beginning to think it’s where social media are evolving.

Sites like Facebook will basically function as portals, doors through which you can find a world of sponsored and unsponsored content, while still keeping up with your greater circle of friends and acquaintances. Think MyYahoo or iGoogle with social updates. Or even an updated version of the old AOL.

And that works for me. Because it’s only a matter of time before Facebook figures out a way to let me have more control over my social content. To make sure that on days where none of the 10 people I designate have written status updates, that field is left blank. Once that happens, other content slides in to fill in the void. Like maybe some headlines from The New York Times. NBA scores. A widget with the weather forecast. Some movie schedules. You know, the usual portal stuff.

That’s going to make social media far more useful to all the adults out there, the ones who make up the vast majority of our population and who were never going to become social media addicts, for all the reasons I laid out in Social Media Is Only Social If You’re Alone. They have social lives that are important to them. Just not that important. So a site that gives them the best of both worlds would be very welcome.

Now all someone has to do is build it.

Jan 21, 2008

Five Things I Learned From The MacBook Air

Thanks to all of you who weighed in on my earlier post about the Apple MacBook Air. Your insights helped me put together "Five Things I Learned From The MacBook Air" which is the featured post on Marketing Prof's Daily Fix today. Check it out.

Election Day Twitters

Today’s New York Times reports on how reporters have discovered a use for Twitter, one of the new microblogging sites that allows you to broadcast messages up to 140 characters long. It seems several reporters “embedded” on the campaign trail have been Twittering their immediate impressions of events as they happen. John Dickerson of Slate.com is one of them and you have the choice of reading his Twitters on the Slate site or of electing to follow him on Twitter and receiving his updates on your phone or Blackberry.

The trend, which the Times is calling “microjournalism” is one of the first valid responses to the oft-asked question about Twitter: Why would anyone want this? And while 2008 presidential election coverage has a 9-month lifespan, I can easily see microjournalism finding a ready audience among sports fans.

As I’ve noted before, one of the more interesting things about new technology is watching the ways people take them and make them relevant and useful. It’s why the best response to new technology is not scorn but a watchful eye to see where (and if) the popular zeitgeist will take it.

Jan 18, 2008

C(B)GC I Like

That's Chris Bosh-Generated Content.

Bosh, for those of you who don't closely follow the NBA, is a forward for the Toronto Raptors and something of a rising star. The NBA All-Star team is chosen by fan balloting, hence the video. 

Bosh has cleverly realized that people are brands and that Your Brand Is Not My Friend™ does not apply to sports and entertainment figures-- these are brands that fans very much want to be friends with.

He's also figured out that the most successful sports figure brands are those with distinct personalities: Steve Nash, the cerebral point guard; Peyton and Eli Manning, the slightly goofball nice guy brothers; Derek Jeter, the playboy.

Bosh claims he spent $20 to create this video - the cost of the cowboy hat. It's clever, funny, and reveals a side to him that most fans never see. With close to 400,000 hits on YouTube to date, it seems like a very wise investment on his part. One that may eventually lead to an even more lucrative endorsement contract.

Jan 15, 2008

Obligatory Apple Air Post

You've got to hand it to Apple: they've done it again.

Come out with the product that everyone's going to want.

The product no one knew they wanted yesterday, but somehow everyone wants today.

And they've done it in their inimitable Total Branding Experience style. It's imbued into everything from the idea behind the actual computer to its design to the video (featured above) they created (and thoughtfully placed on YouTube) to give you a "tour."

Featuring a Steve Jobs-esque Apple Store employee named John, perfectly cast and wardrobed (he's in his late 40s, wears his salt'n'pepper hair in a youthful "Ross" hairstyle and sports a plain long-sleeved black t-shirt, the better to show off the Air.) I mean the whole thing just says "Isn't this cool. Isn't this worth paying a few dollars more for?" The whole launch is perfectly in keeping with their aesthetic, every bit of it. (Except maybe the line "thinnovation." Punny, but somehow forgivable.)

Now of course not everyone is going to want a machine like this or be entranced by their marketing. But enough people will that I'd call it another genius move on their part. (And reserve the right to change that opinion if The Real Digital Revolution™ kicks in and all the reviews on all the tech sites say it's a piece of crap!)

Jan 14, 2008

Who Needs Ad School

There's a rollicking discussion of ad schools over on G. Parker's Madscam blog.

But browsing about Adpulp, another favorite blog, I found the ad you see above.

$650,000 a month is a lot of scratch. I mean that's around $22,000/day on a 5-day week.

Now who is this Clayton Makepeace? Well just Google his name and you'll find he's done his SEO and SEM homework. He's got every hit on the first page plus every paid link on the right-hand side.

He's got a number of businesses, all of which promise to make you an incredibly rich copywriter like "copywriting legend Gary Bencivenga"

But to give you an idea of the league we're playing in, he does note that:
Maybe you’ve invested some time and money into learning “salesmanship in print” through one of the excellent books and courses offered by American Writers & Artists Institute and others.

Not sure about you all, but I'm guessing the American Writers & Artists Institute is not a direct competitor of VCU BrandCenter or Miami Ad School.

But that's the rub. I'm sure Clayton Makepeace does make a boatload of money. As does Gary Bencivenga. There's a whole world of agencies and creatives out there - DM, medical, classified, who are in the same business we are, but forsook the glamor for the cash and are raking it in.

Just something to think about.

Jan 11, 2008

And Another Thing

As per my Marian Popcorn post, I wanted to add that one of the things that's going to help with TV's resurgence is the tight election race(s) and Beijing Summer Olympics.

With every primary poised to change the equation for both parties, people are going to be turning to CNN and NBC for their news, preferring the group hug feeling of mass media (as well as the immediacy and credibility).

At the same time, they'll be listening to various experts explain what this all means, which will remind them that there are usually valid reasons that people are considered experts.

And when they're not watching Hillary and Obama duke it out, they'll turn their attention to the Beijing Olympics. And while sporting events can be recorded and watched later on, doing so definitely takes some of the fun out of it.

Now mind you, I'm not predicting the death of online or even a bad cold. Just saying that the confluence of events will remind people (and marketers are people) that television still plays a very large role in our lives.

Jan 9, 2008

Look At Me, I’m Marian Popcorn!

Here’s a half dozen trends I see coming down the pike over the next year or so. (I mean hey, I have as much chance of being right as anybody.)

1. UPPER MIDDLE CLASS ANGST LEADS TO A POPULIST RESURGENCE: As everyone from lawyers and doctors to ad guys and record company execs continues to feel the affects of the growing gap between Wall Streeters, 2.0 Winners and the rest of us, the top 9.5% of the income pool will join with the bottom 90% to wreak vengeance on the billionaires. Okay, maybe not vengeance. But look for an increased top tax bracket on incomes over say $500K, taxes on stock options and other get-out-of-paying-taxes tricks of the rich and famous, as well as reinstatement of the estate tax.

2. EXPERTS ARE THE NEW BLACK: There are only so many amateur videos you can watch. Or badly written blogs you can read. Experts of all sorts stage a resurgence, as people crave well-written articles by people who know their subjects, and well-crafted videos by people who have some experience. Some mainstream publications get in on the act, finding talented amateurs (aka “fresh voices”) and mixing them in with their existing staffers. Grateful consumers, tired of wading through 3,000 Google hits for “review of new Ryan Gosling movie” respond with fervor.

3. MAP READING SKILLS EVAPORATE: Blame it on ubiquitous GPS systems. People’s overreliance on the devices means they forget even simple routes (like home to supermarket) and become slaves to the dulcet tones of the GPS babe. This is a similar trend to the way no one remembers phone numbers anymore thanks to cell phones, to the point that teens and college students form groups on Facebook to re-collect their friends' phone numbers when they lose their cell phones.

4. GREEN BECOMES THE NEW CLASS MARKER: As upper income consumers gladly pay through the nose for any and all products alleged to be “green” or “organic,” the lower end of the income spectrum rebels, seeing these products as the pretentious province of much despised yuppie scum and merely another overpriced marketing gimmick.

5. NEW LOVE IS FOUND FOR TV COMMERCIALS: Media companies find ways to include advertising on TV shows no matter what the delivery method is. Thus lessening the effect of the defection of the upscale viewing audience to iTunes, On Demand, Hulu and DVRs. Marketers simultaneously realize that few advertising vehicles deliver as much reach as TV and that chasing consumers through an ever-shifting maze of blogs, virtual worlds and social networking sites just isn’t worth the effort.

6. ACCEPTANCE OF ONLINE ADVERTISING AS A BRANDING DEVICE: Marketers finally realize that people aren’t going to click away from a website they’re engaged with just because they see an banner ad for a product they might be interested in, thus signaling the slow death of the term “click through rate” as banners are relegated to the same “awareness building” tactic status as billboards and other outdoor media.

Jan 8, 2008

The Marketing Of The President

Kind of a sad side effect of our profession is how cynical I've become about politics. Rather than focusing in on what the candidates actually stand for, I find myself noticing their marketing schemes.

So that when I saw the headlines about Hillary Clinton getting "emotional" my first reaction was "oh that's clever. People keep complaining about how cold and scheming she is, so her handlers found a way to make her seem vulnerable."

Similar reaction to Mike Huckabee's Chuck Norris obsession: my first thought was "brilliant choice. Norris jokes appeal to precisely the type of younger, not-stridently-conservative voters that the Republicans can actually attract-- smart, blue collar guys who feel shut out by the prevailing Starbucks-Whole Foods yuppie culture."

Yeah, I know I should be thinking about the issues and all, but focusing on the fairly transparent marketing schemes is a lot more fun.

Fried vs. Ground

As Howard Schultz takes over the reigns of Starbucks once again, The Wall Street Journal is also reporting that McDonald’s is preparing to open its own coffee bars in an attempt to take on Starbucks. It seems McDonald’s plans on having espresso makers and actual “baristas” in a special section in the front of the store in order to sell their high-end coffee drinks.

And while most analysts are treating this as a head-to-head competition, I’m not really seeing it that way. To me, it’s a questionable move by McDonald’s to sell overpriced coffee drinks to the vast blue collar market that’s unserved by Starbucks.

Let’s face it: in January 2008, the presence of a Starbucks on the corner is as good an indication as any that you are in an upper middle class neighborhood, or a business district favored by white collar professionals. I mean I’ve even read articles about towns pleading with Starbucks to open a store there so as to advance their efforts towards gentrification. And while Starbucks has expanded way too rapidly in recent years, there are still vast swaths of the country where the words “venti soy latte” are never heard.

The McDonald’s coffee bars have their best opportunities in those areas where Starbucks are few and far between and in business districts where speed and convenience are far more important than brand preference. That said, I’m still not convinced that your average McDonald’s customer is going to want anything to do with a $3 caramel macchiato or that the competing smells of brewed coffee beans and deep-fried fast food will be anything other than noxious.

Starbucks may have to close down stores in some of the more downscale areas where they probably shouldn’t have gone in the first place. Maybe even give up on the Starbucks McMuffins. But the market for the two behemoths seems to be wide open: each will take a different end of the market. The bigger question, to me, is will McDonald’s be able to sell high-end coffee drinks to anyone other than harried office workers, high school students and road trippers?

Jan 6, 2008

Status Not So Quo

The front of today's New York Times Style section has an article entitled "The Falling Down Professions" which is all about how lawyers and doctors have suffered a major slippage, both in status and in relative income. (Relative to Wall Streeters, that is.) It's a topic the Wall Street Journal (among others) has been harping on for several years now, but I still find it to be a fascinating, albeit disconcerting, window into our society.

For while it's hard to work up a whole lot of sympathy for lawyers and doctors, whose main complaint seems to be that they no longer get the kind of money or respect they once did, one can argue that both professions are at some level beneficial to society. Now of course not every doctor and certainly not every lawyer is in it to help society, but both professions have traditionally employed at least some people whose main priority was nobly advancing the common good.

That's something you can't even begin to claim about the new "hot" professions: hedge fund manager, management consultant and internet entrepreneur. And that's what disturbs me: what does it say about us as a society that our "best and brightest" are now drawn to professions that can't even claim to be about anything other than selfish motives and large, easy financial rewards? What's worse, all the aforementioned professions operate away from the community-at-large (last time I checked, there were no storefront hedge funds) so they are not functioning as role models of any sort.

Not sure whether this is just a blip or a lasting sea change, but it doesn't reflect well on 21st century America.

There's an interesting parallel to advertising too, which is that our loss of prestige (okay, coolness factor- we never had prestige) combined with dropping salaries, means that we no longer attract the best and the brightest either and that we have a lot of people feeling they bet on the wrong horse. And while society is clearly no worse for the lack of advertising executives, it's an interesting parallel nonetheless.

Well, to me, anyway.

No Experts, Please

There's an article in today's New York Times about marketing to seniors that's one of those odd pieces of marketing journalism I can never figure out.

The piece, which will be read by a great many people, since it is featured in the popular Week In Review section, goes on for about a half page without ever once quoting someone who works for an ad agency, marketing consultancy or actual client. Instead, the reporter relies on quotes from professors at MIT and Quinnipiac as well as some folks over at AARP. (American Association for Retired People).

Now the article is rather broad and makes some very unsurprising conclusions (old people don't like to be referred to as "old") but still-- you'd think someone would have bothered to consult someone who actually works in the business. And while I can't recall any other specific examples, this is certainly not the first time I've read an article in a well-known national publication that relies on a bunch of college professors for insight into marketing issues. So either we have no perceived authority on our chosen profession or the reporters are really, really lazy.

Jan 4, 2008

The Real Digital Revolution™ In Action

So there's a room in the Toad house that was originally a porch and thus doesn't stay as warm as the rest of the house when the temperature drops below 30ยบ.

We have a fan-style space heater in there now that works fine, but I was intrigued by something called the EdenPure space heater, which has been heavily advertised on TV and in the Wall Street Journal. If you click on the image above, you can see the ad in its entirety, but if you're too lazy, the claim is that it's safe/cool enough for a child to sit on it and that it heats the room from floor to ceiling. This was intriguing to me because (a) I have kids and (b) since there's no basement under it, the floor of this room often gets cold.

Now the ads certainly make the product sound great and the web site has lots of rave reviews. But before I shelled out $300 for one (easily three or four times the price of other space heaters) I did a quick Google search online.

Which proved to be a wise move.

Consumer Reports, it seems, was not a fan. Neither were dozens of people on a site called "InfomercialRatings.com" (and they all seemed to have similar complaints). I found a whole mess of other links that led to message boards and blogs and the like, none of whom seemed to have anything good to say about it. (Though to be fair, I did find this one positive review.)

I saved $300 and much grief. The makers of the EdenPure have a bigger problem, however, because the word is out that they are selling an inferior product that doesn't live up to the claims they make in their advertising.

For those of you new to the blog, this is what I call The Real Digital Revolution™, the fact that people no longer rely on advertising for product information, that they can find out the truth about products from a variety of sources- expert and amateur- online, and that this forces advertisers to be honest and to strive to create better products and services.

Jan 3, 2008

It's Not Brain Surgery, Though It Might As Well Be

One thing that continues to amaze me is how difficult it is for many people in the business to actually understand how the interwebs work as an advertising vehicle.

I mean the most basic of all interweb ad concepts-- that people need a reason to come to your site-- is seemingly lost on many of my colleagues, who seem to think that like TV, putting something online guarantees viewership and that any video posted to YouTube automatically becomes "viral."

But back to the first point.

I can't tell you how many conversations I've had over the years where I find myself saying some variation of "But why would they go there? How would they know the site existed?" only to be met by blank stares or a comment to the effect of "because it's on the internet."

And no, the usual suggestion of placing the url at the bottom of the print ad or end of the TV spot (without any indication of what you'll find when you get there) is not a valid option.

Especially not in 2008.

Happy Anniversary Bill

So CNN reports today that William Shatner and Priceline are celebrating their 10th anniversary together.

I hadn't realized how long it had been since Shatner first appeared on TV, singing his campy renditions of current pop hits.

The campaign's success is one of those advertising paradoxes: badvertising is often every bit as effective as great advertising. Especially when the product in question has low price as its main selling point. For some reason, we seem willing to accept that a brand that's selling us on its low prices- be it a car dealership, an online travel resource, or Crazy Eddie- is best served by over-the-top, in-your-face ads that manage to stick in our respective consciences far longer than charming, strategic ones.

Jan 1, 2008

Even More Toad

I'm also going to be posting on "Beyond Madison Avenue" a blog run by The Talent Zoo.
In case my rantings on here don't satisfy your daily dose of me.

Fashion Holds Steady

I found this image on a site called liketotally80s.com- it's not anyone I know

As fast as everything else has changed these past 8 years, the one thing that doesn’t seem to have undergone a sweeping change is fashion. People today pretty much look the same as they did in 1998 – I mean maybe pleats have become less common on men’s pants and things like Ugg boots and Crocs didn’t exist back then, but overall, the way people dress and wear their hair hasn’t radically shifted since the mid-1990s. Compare that with the shift between say 1968 and 1978 (or 1978 and 1988) and you’ll see what I mean.

The only theory I have on this is that the interweb has made it that much easier for trends to move across the country and so nothing’s stuck around long enough to make an impression. I mean if you think back to the 80s, it took Big Hair a couple of years to make its pouffy way inland from the coasts. Today, it would happen in a matter of weeks and be over with just as quickly.

It may also be a reaction to the rapid change the interweb has engendered in other areas of our lives: the changes in how we communicate, view media, buy things, etc. have left us a bit unmoored and so not changing our fashion sensibility may help us feel more grounded. (Though to argue the other side, the 1960s were an era of great change and fashion changed just as rapidly. Though the 1960s was about social change, rather than technological, so perhaps that's the difference.)

What set me to thinking about all this, in case you were wondering, was something I saw about an 80s party. I was wondering what an ‘00s party would look like and all I could come up with was someone manically typing on their Blackberry.

Happy 2008.