Is the commercial persuasion business saving the economy? Undermining American values? Or neither?

Last week I read this NYT article about the latest retail data, for May. “Sales of retail goods and services rose 1 percent in May, double what economists had expected.” Wall Street rallied as on what was seen as surprisingly good news. Since reading this, and some other stuff that I’ll get to, I’ve been mulling the relationship between the consumer mood, consumer spending, and the broader impact of the business of branding. It’s going to take me a few paragraphs to draw this together — and even then I end with questions. So if you’re interested, bear with me on this. Read more

Fresh ways to interrupt your TV experience

A friend writes:

I saw something REALLY disturbing on TV and immediately thought of you*. Have you seen these TBS ads for the Bill Engval show? He literally walks onto the screen, pauses the show with a remote, tells you to watch his new series, and then restarts it. It’s insanely awful. Made me get up and write to TBS about how bad it is. Found a youtube clip of it. Obviously I’m not the only one bothered by this…

Whether you watch the clip or not, a quick scan of the 200+ comments confirms that, yes, TBS viewers are mightily annoyed.

I’ve said before — and particularly a lot lately in interviews about Buying In — the real significance of TiVo and click culture (see the book for more on that) is not that it’s all given great power to the consumer (you know, “the consumer in control”) to zap past ads.

The real significance is that, faced with the possibility of people zapping past ads, etc., the commercial persuasion business has completely rewritten the rules about where and how advertising and marketing can appear. (Thus, “murketing.”) This thing is just a blunt example of one small way they’re doing that.

And it’s worth noting that, even now, less than a quarter of U.S. homes even have a DVR. But every home that gets TBS, DVR-ed or no, experiences this unpleasant stunt.

Maybe this particular style of ruining your viewing experience will fade if the backlash is severe enough, but it’ll just get replaced by more experiments in pitches that are tough to TiVo past. As with the just-noted Vespa street art campaign, I think we can expect more of this sort of thing in the future.

[Thanks, Justin.]

[* Yes, as a matter of fact, friends often think of me when they see “disturbing” things on television.]

Can hatred of Crocs sell more Crocs?

When I wrote about Crocs in Consumed (July 15, 2007), I suggested that the fact that many people hate Crocs was probably seen as a plus for those who wore Crocs (“maverick cachet,” etc.). Some, including the person I spoke with at the company, insisted that this was not so.

However, Crocs hatred is now apparently the brand’s new selling point, if this new commercial is any indication. Maybe the brand should’ve simply hired I Hate Crocs.

Via AdFreak.

Murketing’s Sponsored-Film Virtual Festival: “To Market, To Market”

To Market, To Market.

[ –> Details on Sponsored-Film Virtual Festival are here.]

For reasons that aren’t clear to me, part one is in black and white, part two is in color.

“Like the waters of a mighty ocean, people also represent a mighty force,” announces the narrator of “To Market, To Market,” a 1942 film commissioned by General Outdoor Advertising Company, identified in The Field Guide To Sponsored Films as a “major billboard and poster company.” The point of the film: “to convince ad buyers of the value of outdoor advertising.”

After all, the “mighty force” that people represent, the narrator continues, is “known as consumer power.” Read more

Niche of the week: Toyota’s prisoner brand

Reading Virginia Heffernan’s column just now, this week on the subject of an Internet discussion board called Prison Talk — which she writes serves “family and friends of the incarcerated” — I was a little surprised by passing mention of one of the advertisers there: There’s a book of tips for people headed to prison, and there’s Western Union, and then there’s … the Toyota Matrix? (Apparently the car’s slogan is: “Get in touch with your dark side.”)

I wonder what positioning strategy it is that led the planner to do a buy on Prison Talk?

Absolut international incident?



Strange Maps, via The Plank:

This map, used in a Mexican ad campaign, shows what the US-Mexican border would look like in an ‘absolut’ (i.e. perfect) world: a large part of the US’s west is annexed to Mexico.

Needless to say this map made its way to ‘El Norte’, annoying and upsetting many Americans – even leading to calls for a boycott of the Swedish-made vodka. What must be particularly annoying is that this map has some basis in fact.

The Plank also points to the reaction of someone named Michelle Malkin:

The advertising firm that created the Absolut Reconquista ad is Teran/TBWA. Teran is based in Mexico City. The company’s website boasts a pretentious statement of philosophy advocating “disruption” as a “tool for change” and “agent of growth.” (Scroll your mouse over the little buttons in the upper-right margin.) The firm advocates “overturning assumptions and prejudices that get in the way of imagining new possibilities and visionary ideas that help create a larger share of the future.”

Translation: The company advocates overturning borders that get in the way of imagining new maps of North America that help Mexico create a larger share of the continent.

Well. Two things.

First: An ad agency with a pretentious mission statement full of doublespeak clichés about change and disruption? No way! Say it isn’t so! That’s never happened before!

Second: Like every other agency, what these marketing pros “advocate” is getting paid by their clients. The way they get paid by their clients is to get their clients talked about and noticed. And that was Absolut-ly the goal here. Ad agencies don’t have a political motive. They have a profit motive.

Annals of Murketing: Scion’s cameo in phony ad starring talking rump

On her blog Ex-Files, Brandweek‘s Becky Ebenkamp reports:

To target young adults, Turner’s Adult Swim has developed a mock commercial with ad partner Scion for the second season of its show Assy McGee, which premieres April 6. After the first half of each episode, Assy stars in a 35-second animated ad set at a car lot and offers viewers “low, low prices” for the Scion xB.

Here’s a link to the faux ad. It goes right to the video, so if you’re at work, you might want to make sure no one’s going to walk by and see or hear it.

Now, if you watch it, you might question the wisdom of Scion putting its brand in this situation. Assy McGee is basically a walking naked rear end, with a cowboy hat and a gun. He/it makes exactly the sounds you would expect a walking rear end to make. Also a guy gets his shot off. Pretty crass stuff, etc. And while I would like to get through this item without using the phrase “butt of a joke,” I’ve actually just now failed, because it’s hard not to think of Scion being exactly that.

But think again, my friends. I say this “placement,” or whatever you want to call it, makes perfect sense, and is an excellent example of the murky marketing (murketing yes) of the future.

For starters, you can’t TiVo it and all that. Obvious. And a fine example of what the future holds, which may or may not include fewer 30-second spots, will absolutely include more and more deals like this get corporate dough by putting the commercial message inside the show. Get used to it. This is in essence part of the show. If you miss it, you miss a chance to laugh. And I’m sorry to say it, but I laughed.

Second, Adult Swim programming (subject of 1/18/04 Consumed) has a collegey audience that will also probably be amused, and that is precisely Scion’s alleged target. Won’t they think less of the brand for being sorta-kinda mocked? I doubt it. In fact, as this memorable Brandweek piece noted back in 2006, there’s precedent for brands paying to be made fun of — as long as it happens within the show.

Third, I say young people are Scion’s “alleged” target because I’m well aware that Scion doesn’t just sell cars to young people. (Scion comes up in Buying In, and yeah I’m gonna mention Buying In almost constantly, so get used to that too.) Plenty of non-young people, who might well be appalled to see their brand of car in this context, have bought Scions. But guess what? None of those people will see this ad, because they don’t watch Adult Swim.

Update April 4: AdFreak points out that Scion has actually made a deal to be the exclusive sponsor of Assy McGee. Just so you know.

Dept. of mascot revival

Stuart Elliott writes about the return of Alka-Seltzer mascot Speedy, to introduce the stuff to a new generation:

The idea is to familiarize the desired audience with Alka-Seltzer by introducing Speedy to them as “the good-times enabler,” [some marketer] said, “who shows up whenever guys are being guys.”

I’ve seen some of the new print ads. The translation of the above is: Speedy is now a mook.

Today in dissonance: Deep interaction vs. being banged on the head

I’m struck by this section of a brief WSJ item today concerning the news that Pepsi is going to build a 287-foot-tall Ferris wheel with huge video screen built into the side that will make its logo and branding messages visible for miles around a Meadowlands mall development:

“We don’t want a brand to just put a big sign up,” says Larry Siegel, president of Meadowlands Development. “We want them to bang people over their heads with what they are trying to communicate.”

Advertisers are looking for ways to interact with consumers more deeply. …

The piece explains that aside from the Ferris wheel, Pepsi will devote a large amount of space to Pepsi trivia and historical Pepsi advertising. This, as I understand it, is the “deep” interaction with consumers piece.

It also notes that outdoor advertising — the immense video-Pepsi-wheel being an extreme example — is booming these days because of “marketers’ desire to find new ways to get consumers’ attention.” That, I think it’s safe to say, is the “bang people over their heads” piece.

The two pieces seem dissonant to me. But perhaps the idea is that if a brand bangs us over the head sharply enough, we’ll be in such daze that we’ll believe that learning brand trivia and admiring old ads forms of deep interaction.

When and if we come out of it, I expect some new form of banging-over-the-head will have been invented in the interim.

Crazy fantasy or actual product … or both

Do you remember that ad for some insurance company that was sort of about The Future, and opened with shots of people running around on this big weird springy stilt-shoes? Well here it is.

And more to the point, those weird spring stilt-shoes, to my surprise, are not a goofball ad agency creation of the nutty world to come. They are, apparently, real. They’re called 7 Leagues Boots.
Who buys these?

What do ad agencies stand for?

Adrants has this blip about a project called Unscrew America. It’s a campaign to get people to use compact fluorescent light bulbs. There’s a site, and some ads.

I’m kind of ambivalent about the execution — well, to be blunt, I don’t really care for it. But never mind that. What I’m interested in is that as far as I can tell this is underwritten entirely by GSD&M, not for any client or pro bono client or cause/organization or nonprofit. Just their own initiative, their own time and money.

Seems like most of the interesting or successful “good” work I see from agencies is always on behalf of some other entity — whether it’s Arnold Worldwide and Crispin Porter’s famous work, or the TheTruth or the Droga5 Tap Project for Unicef.

Nothing wrong with doing compelling work on behalf of some else’s idea or cause. But are there many other examples of an agency doing something simply to promote an idea that the agency itself believes in?

Maybe there are. You tell me.

Oil and filter change, and women’s cardiovascular health … of course!

Perhaps the whole “cause marketing” thing is getting a little out of hand. Promo Magazine reports:

In its first national cause marketing campaign, Jiffy Lube is encouraging women to focus on their cardiovascular health. Jiffy Lube’s “Maintenance Partners for Life” twins the concepts of maintaining heart and vehicle health.


Huge advertising spends: Worthwhile?

The WSJ had a Q&A today with the head of a company that makes hard drives. The main angle was that they’re trying to boost business by making hard drives that look snazzy. (The headline is: “Can A Hard Drive Make a Fashion Statement?”)

Apparently only 4% of computer users back up their data, and most of those have had some bad experience with lost data in the past. So if that’s true, there’s a pretty big market out there. And backing up your data is an extremely good idea. So this corporate honcho guy observes that “We need to go out and market why you’ve got to do it.” Seems obvious enough. But he goes on to say this:

You take someone like Apple. They could spend $150 million to $200 million on a marketing campaign and not blink an eye. I sat there and watched someone propose a $20 million marketing campaign. And we just vomited all over him. Two days later, my CFO and I approved a $950 million research-and-development budget in about 15 minutes, but to spend $20 million on marketing. We just don’t know how to do that. It just drives us nuts. But we’re going to have to get over it.

Part of what’s interesting about this — aside from the fact that he seems to be simultaneously aware of what he thinks his company should be doing and why, yet unable to do it — is that I so rarely read/hear anyone mention Apple’s massive marketing spends as part of the company’s success. Yes its products are innovative and the design and aesthetics leading-edge, etc. But they also market like crazy, and spend a lot of money doing so — 30-second TV ads very much included. (I have no idea, by the way, if the specific figures he mentions are real or made up.)

I guess people don’t talk/write about this because it’s out of step with the current conventional wisdom about the death of advertising and how now we are only influenced by our Trusted Friends and whatnot. I remember interviewing an exec at Apple a couple of years ago (re the iPod) and talking about this specifically, and I was completely expecting him to say “Well a great product like the iPod sells itself.” But when I said something like that to him, he pretty much laughed at me.

Catalogs, consumer choice, and the annoyance-to-profits formula

Back in October I mentioned a service called Catalog Choice, which is designed to let you opt out of, well, catalogs. I signed up, and have been steadily typing in catalog information ever since. But I can’t say I’ve seen a notable reduction in how many show up in the mail, week after week.

They tell you to wait ten weeks for results, or something like that, so I figured maybe it would just take time. But recently Business Week wrote about the service and it turns out there’s another issue. Apparently what Catalog Choice does is collect this data and turn it over to the catalog retailers, who are supposed to act on it by purging people like me from their lists. But BW says at least some retailers simply “blew off” off this information, and “have done nothing with the names.” And an email from something called The Direct Marketing Association to its members is quoted:

Bearing the subject line “JUST SAY NO,” it warned retailers that Catalog Choice’s “priority is to eliminate catalogs as a marketing medium. It is not in your interest to further their efforts!”

Evidently few retailers were willing to talk to BW. LL Bean claimed it is “evaluating [the Catalog Choice data] for accuracy.” Williams-Sonoma/Pottery Barn “says it ‘is still figuring out the right thing to do for our customers.'”

It would presumably be more accurate to say they’re still trying to figure out the right thing to do for their bottom line. After all, pretty much everybody claims to hate catalogs — but obviously lots of people order from them just the same. So the basic operating procedure is to send catalogs to people who say they don’t want them, and maybe even believe they don’t want them. It might seem wasteful to spend money pursuing such people, but I’m guessing the payoff is there: Annoying potential customers is, really, part of the business model. The question likely boils down to whether the Catalog Choice effort can make a big enough issue of this to embarrass the companies into deciding that maybe its annoyance-to-profits algorithm needs an adjustment.

Dept. of dubious praise

Assessing some new Converse commercials, Ad Rants says they are:

motivating the person viewing them to get off their ass, go buy some Converse kicks and make their mark on the world lest they end up the loser these [ads] allude to. That’s a good thing.

Well, if you don’t mind my asking: Is it okay to get off my ass and make a mark on the world without buying “some Converse kicks”? Is that allowed? Is it possible? Or is buying “some Converse kicks” just part of the package? One of the steps I have to take to avoid being a “loser”? What does being “motivated” to make “a mark on the world” have to do with shopping for a particular brand of sneakers? And why, exactly, is it a “good thing”?