Eyecube wonders what I will make of this Converse ad site, and, turns out, I’m taking requests.
Well, up to a point. I only watched a little bit of the material in what seems to be a pretty extensive pile of Converse mini-movies. In a way, the content echoes the brand’s earlier strategy of getting fans to make ads on the brand’s behalf — but these seem pretty obviously to be pro jobs. The one I watched some of, Out Of Your League Girl, seemed, to be honest, pretty lame. I got bored really fast. But maybe the target demo will be into this.
Who is the target demo? Read more
So there’s this thing in the book where I mention how bummed out I was when Nike bought Converse, and pretty much every interviewer asks me about it, so I kind of feel like I’ve been on a Nike-bashing tour lately.
Even so, as I say in the book, speaking as a business journalist who writes about branding, I am in awe of Nike: As a capitalist success story, and as an exercise in the raw power of image-making, it is truly astonishing.
Here’s a case in point. The other day I got a call from Eric Neel at ESPN.com. He was writing about some ads Nike had going during the U.S. Open, featuring Tiger Woods. Being totally indifferent to golf, and kind of busy, I knew nothing about this, but he told me the basics. I’ll quote here from Neel’s subsequent June 12 article:
In Nike’s new Tiger Woods commercial entitled “Never,” Earl Woods’ recorded voice plays over clips of his son, as a boy and as a man, practicing his legendary swing. Full of gravitas and pathos, it’s at once the voice of the guru who raised the greatest golfer who has ever lived and the voice of the absent father who died of cancer a little more than two years ago.
While Tiger starts and stops his swings, Earl explains the way he often intentionally distracted his son in order to make him stronger, sometimes dropping a bag full of clubs when Tiger was at the top of his backswing.
“I’d say, ‘Tiger, I promise you,'” Earl says as we look upon his son’s unmistakably steely gaze, “‘that you’ll never meet another person as mentally tough as you in your entire life.’ And he hasn’t. And he never will.”
See the ad here if you like.
Earl Woods, as you may know, is dead. So this is a pretty intense ad. Also possibly creepy, but never mind that. What Neel was curious about was, given that Woods went into this tournament recovering from knee surgery and not in top physical condition, wasn’t there a risk that he would stink up the joint, and both he and Nike would look bad?
In my role as a totally uninformed pundit, I responded that I didn’t think the risk was all that great, or rather that whatever risk there was actually made sense for Nike, which has long taken risks with its advertising, and has been almost impossibly effective at keeping its image fresh and relevant year after year. If this effort failed, well, so it goes.
But — what if Tiger wins? If he does, surely the coverage will be all about his awesome mental toughness and so on. Just like in the Nike ad! In fact, the ad would seem like part of the narrative of the tournament, almost like real-life Tiger was taking his cues from the inspiring marketing campaign.
And of course, Woods won.
Needless to say, I didn’t watch a single second of the coverage, so I don’t know how it all came across. But if Nike took a risk, they sure got the payoff. My musings had nothing to do with any guesses about Woods’ performance. But I will admit I followed a particular instinct: Don’t bet against Nike marketing.
So there’s that. I’ll say something else nice about Nike tomorrow. And it’s not about their ads. Or not exactly.
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.
Zinfandel; Dry Creek Valley
Nero d’Avola; Sicily
[Note: This is the fifteenth installment in a regular Murketing feature. For previous installments and an explanation, go here. As noted earlier, it is also (probably) the last installment in this series.]
I will admit that I purchased Plungerhead because of this project. But I’m not writing about it for the reason I thought I might.
What caught my eye was the illustration: I wasn’t sure if it was interesting enough for the IRoWPaA, but it vaguely reminded me of the “loonies” on Monty Python, and there was something intriguing about this deranged-looking figure as a winery’s icon. Plus, it was visually appealing. I gave no thought at all to the name “Plungerhead,” quickly placing it in the category of “approachable because it’s so stupid – oh, I mean funny.” As you know, that’s a very common tactic among wine packager/branders these days.
If I had read the back label, I would have realized that while a packaging/design element of Plungerhead was in fact pretty important, it was not the illustration.
It was the stopper. Read more
Earlier this week a favored Murketing reader drew my attention a curious magazine ad from Weatherproof Garment Company. The print ad shows a caveman in a Weatherproof jacket. Of course this makes us think of the Geico cavemen who have moved from ads to a forthcoming sitcom (see earlier Consumed on that). The tag line on the jacket ad is “Weatherman Approved.” Normally, I guess, Weatherproof uses Al Roker in its ads.
I haven’t seen the sitcom, but this post on the site that is associated with Conde Nast’s business magazine, Portfolio, says that because the show “features a Cro-Magnon TV weatherman (he’s the token minority on a local news show), Weatherproof apparently thought it would be funny to have him play the Al Roker role in its new campaign…. But who pays for [the ad]? Weatherproof? ABC? Geico? All of the above?”
I asked a contact at the Martin Agency (creator of the Geico ads) about this. He mentioned that someone was writing an article on this very subject, so I’ve held off for a few days, but I still haven’t seen that article and I need to get this off my to-do list.
According to my contact, not only was Geico not involved in the Weatherproof ad, they didn’t know about it until the Martin Agency pointed it out. So Copyranter is correct in guessing that this is not a tie-in: “It’s just bald, blatant, shameless appropriation.” And certainly paid for by Weatherproof alone.
It’s not immediately clear whether anybody can own the idea of a caveman, and even if ABC or Geico could claim some kind of intellectual property theft, they’d be pretty crazy to do so.
Reader Braulio wondered what I thought about all this. Here’s my answer.
First, I think it’s a fairly astonishing tribute to the icon status of the cavemen. Clearly Weatherproof assumes that pretty much everybody is up on the cavemen, or the ad would make no sense at all.
Second, if it’s true that this is a reference to the idea that one of the sitcom cavemen is a “token minority” on a news broadcast, then it seems pretty weird for Weatherproof to have him stand in for Al Roker. What, exactly, is the parallel we’re supposed to draw?
Several scenes in the most recent Mad Men rated as either interesting, highly pleasing, or both. The most pleasing was the afternoon work party at a local bar, particularly the moment when all the ladies squealed when “The Twist” came up on the jukebox. It’s such a spontaneous moment of joy, it makes you wish you’d been young in 1960. Then again, it’s just a TV show, so who knows.
One of the interesting scenes was un-hero Don’s steamrolling of clients in a pitch meeting. The geezer running the cosmetics company client seems skeptical of the creative direction the ad men have come up with, and Don basically says: You’re a loser, get a clue, and until you get a clue, get out of my face. The geezer rolls over and does what he’s told.
I was once in a pitch meeting with a very hot ad firm presenting ideas to a very cold company. I assume the dynamic in such moments is never what it would be if there weren’t a reporter sitting there, but here’s how things were similar, and different. One difference is that nobody wore a suit: The sartorial power-signifier uniform was premium denim, worn basically by everybody but me. Another difference was an absolute lack of argument. The main similarity, however, was that the ad firm dominated the meeting in every meaningful way. There was some guarded skepticism, but no real objection to even the nuttiest ideas. The power, in that meeting as in Mad Men was with the agency (albeit in a different way).
Much of the ramp-up hype about Mad Men included assertions that the show was about a time when Madison Avenue was all-powerful, and this scene seemed designed to make the point. On other hand, the giveaway was Don’s mention that the client was the number four player in its industry. I have a feeling this is what sets the power tempo today as in the past: Basically, how scared is the client? How desperate is the client? How willing is the client to believe that these agency guys (then or now) somehow have the secret formula for saving their sorry ass? All of which is why my favorite bit about that whole thing was Don at the end saying, basically: So anyway, let’s hope it works out. “It’s not a science,” he grins. Indeed. My guess is that it’s not so different today.
Which brings me to the third noteworthy scene, which was both interesting and pleasing: Don hanging out with his bohemian mistress and her absurd beatnik pals. (“We’re going to get high and listen to Miles,” one of them deadpans.) There’s an almost comical air of Us vs. Them in the scene, as the beatniks mock Don for his complicity in creating The Lie that we need more stuff, and toothpaste will solve our problems, and so on — all the sorts of things that have made people like this so tedious for the entire history of people like this. I think one of them actually calls him a “square.” Don’s palpable contempt is a laff riot — “I hate to break it to you, but there is no Big Lie, there is no System” — and he’s unapologetic about drawing a bright line between himself and these sentimental bozos. He’s part of society, and they’re not, and they can kiss his ass.
Well, you already know what’s different today on this score. Today’s equivalent of the beatnik counterculturalist would not say, “Your toothpaste can’t solve our problems.” He would say, “Your toothpaste needs to sponsor an artist series if you want to connect with my demo.” And the ad-man wouldn’t say kiss my ass, punk. He’d say, “Yeah, we’re talking to Banksy.” Also, everyone in the scene would be dressed exactly alike. Maybe that’s progress, and maybe it isn’t. But a marketing pro openly sneering at the fauxhemians to grow up already? That’s about as likely today as a chorus of squeals greeting a pop hit from a jukebox in a bar. But I think it would be — almost — as much fun to experience firsthand.
[Complete Mad Men musings archive here.]
I don’t know how many scores of advertising and marketing professionals I’ve met over the years. I do now that I almost always ask them what got them into the business. And that to date, precisely one has mentioned an interest in persuasion. Why is that answer so rare? Persuasion is an interesting subject, and it’s at the heart of the advertising business. Maybe it’s just not polite to talk about it. I wouldn’t know.
I bring this up because there was very little ad-talk in the most recent episode of Mad Men, and if I want to keep going with my little series about the show, I have no choice but to go a little meta this time. So: I think it’s pretty clear that our (un)hero Don is very interested in persuasion — in fact, he’s interested in manipulation, persuasion’s even-less-polite-to-discuss cousin. And of course when I say he’s “interested” in manipulation, I mean he has a near-pathological drive to manipulate and control others.
This manifests itself amusingly when he works off whatever weird hostility he has toward his boss by tricking the older man into a 23-flight stairwalk, causing the poor sap to vomit up his 24-oyster, multi-martini, and cheesecake lunch in front of some important clients. Heh heh heh.
It was a weird moment in what was definitely the weirdest — and I think the best — episode of Mad Men to date. Don’s wife slapping a neighbor in the supermarket, Young Turk Guy delivering a bizarre monologue about how great it would be to eat what you kill as fondles his new rifle, the Dreiser-ish secretary he delivers it to offering an impossible-to-read confirmation that such an existence does sound ideal, etc. Some of this material can be read as dealing with How To Be A Man In This Modern Age, but some of it is just wack. In a good way.
Still, I hope they get back to more ad-talk next week.
Oh, and speaking of ad-talk, persuasion, and going meta: There is of course a marketing firm marketing this show about marketing. It’s called Crew Creative Advertising. I’m a little annoyed to have learned this by way of a post on Madison Avenue Journal, which says, “They contacted us early this week with a request to pre-promote this based on your robust response to date!”
Well! Nobody from Crew Creative has contacted me. What’s up with that? Don’t they want to persuade me to persuade the Murketing audience to watch their client’s show? Maybe the problem is that I haven’t been sufficiently upbeat about the program itself. Today’s post is pretty nice, though. Maybe I only did that to manipulate Crew Creative. But if so, I guess I shouldn’t talk about it.
[Complete Mad Men musings archive here.]
So this piggish ad exec and his colleague are pondering the mystery of women as they sort through their agency’s research on behalf of a cosmetics client, and the piggish guy says, “I don’t speak moron. Do you speak moron?”
Apart from suggesting to the Mad Men audience — once again — that the typical 1960 ad agency employee held a truly contemptuous view of women, surely the line is an intentional echo of David Ogilvy’s famous observation: “The consumer isn’t a moron,” he admonished his fellow ad-makers in Confessions of An Advertising Man, published in 1963. “She is your wife.”
Ah, but on Mad Men, most advertising professionals seem to think their wives are morons. So it’s no great surprise when the secretarial pool is herded into a room to try on lipsticks, and the ad gang watches through two-way glass, amusing themselves with a barrage of nasty and condescending remarks about the women. Then again, Mad Men itself doesn’t seem that impressed with the female consumer of 1960. When one secretary declines to paw through the free samples, and manages to articulate an opinion that rises above the incoherence of her peers, she’s treated like singular creature: A thinking female. She’s treated that way by the fictional ad men, but also, really, by the show itself.
Now that she herself has apparently been drafted into the efforts to create advertising to sell lipstick, we’ll see what the writers have her come up with.
The interesting thing about Ogilvy’s famous quote is that he was making a broader point about the importance of facts in advertising. What the consumer wants, he wrote, is “all the information you can give her.” Amusingly, he suggests that in a market where “competing brands are more and more alike” (sound familiar?), sometimes the best strategy is to list facts that are true of all products in a given category. For instance, his ads for Shell gave consumers facts, “many of which other gasoline makers could give, but don’t.” (We saw this idea deployed by Mad Men central character Don in the first episode, for client Lucky Strikes.)
In other words, Ogilvy was really pretty much neutral on whether the consumer was a moron. His point was that the consumer doesn’t want to be treated like a moron. The ad pro may or may not be fluent “in moron,” as our piggish friend above put it, but better not use it to communicate. That’s an interesting distinction to think about next time you hear a contemporary marketing expert going on about today’s savvy consumers. Let’s face it: We’ll never never know what they’re saying behind the two-way glass.
[Complete Mad Men musings archive here.]
With interests stretching from Savannah to Padre Island, we pay attention to hurricane coverage here at Murketing HQ. The slow season had its first big event over the past week in the form of Dean, which meant The Weather Channel, which meant learning of the latest product from the makers of Head On.
You know about Head On — “apply directly to the forehead.” This was followed by the more versatile Activ On — “apply directly where it hurts.” Famously, these short and repetitive and relentless ads make no promise that the product would actually help alleviate headaches or other pains. They simply say you should “apply” the stuff. What’s supposed to happen at that point is left to your imagination.
So the new one is Prefer On (YouTube link). It’s for people with “embarrassing scars,” and features what I guess is my favorite pitch of the year: “Apply directly to the scar.” Yes!
Again, no promise of what will happen when you do. Will the scar disappear? Is Prefer On basically paint? And what bizarre series of naming focus groups led to the decision to call the stuff Prefer On?
I suppose — I kind of hope — that we will never know.
The not-very-subtle theme of the most recent episode of Mad Men was secrets & lies — or, to say it more politely, “privacy.” Our (non)hero Don is not only juggling his boho girlfriend, suburban wife, and at least two other potential love interests, he also turns out to be living a plot-line right out of General Hospital: Secret identity, suddenly-appearing sibling, endless staring into space for dramatic effect, etc. No surprise, given all this, that he barely needs to bother brainstorming ideas for a banking client, suggesting that what the modern man of 1960 really needs is a “private” account. That is, a second set of books that he can conceal from the family, to fund his double life. All the fellow ad-men see the wisdom of this immediately.
The client does too — and in fact laughs with glee. Why? Because, he tells Don: Plenty of his customers are already doing this, “we just hadn’t figured out a way to charge them for it. “
Damn! Could this show be any more cynical? (I’m not even mentioning the sub-plot in which the junior exec is pimping out his wife so he can publish a short story — which he wants to do for reasons of office rivalry, not literary ambition.) Don’s skill seems to come from his hard-wired instincts for manipulating a consumer nation motivated largely by a desire to keep its tissue of lies together. Meanwhile, his corporate clients just want to monetize the delusions and duplicity of the masses, and find it hi-lar-ee-us when they succeed.
As always, this can all be (reassuringly) read as comment on the phony conformity of the 1950s and the soul-rot it concealed, soon to be washed away by that whole 1960s hoo-ha that I’ve read all about. Usually I’m skeptical of this line of thinking, since it’s often pretty easy to draw parallels between the persuasion industry depicted in the show, and the real one of today. But this time, I admit, I’m going to hide behind the hope that this was an episode about an America that doesn’t exist anymore. The only alternative would be to conclude that our era of Botox, premium denim, no-money-down jumbo mortgages, and self-promotional Web presences isn’t based on authentic self-expression, but on delusions that, like Don, we defend by hurling wads of cash at any threatening reality-based counter-evidence. Even I’m not that cynical.
[Complete Mad Men musings archive here.]
The primary client in the most recent installment of Mad Men was, of all companies, Bethlehem Steel. Since this follows Lucky Strikes and Right Guard in an aerosol can, I’m getting the feeling that the show’s creators like picking brands and products and firms that seemed mighty in 1960, and are irrelevant, marginal, or gone today. (Bethlehem Steel dissolved in 2003.) Anyway, protagonist Don makes one mildly interesting comment – about advertising’s frequent role of telling us something we already knew but hadn’t thought about lately.I thought maybe that would be the subject of today’s Musings, but this turned out to be Pete’s episode. He’s the junior agency guy with big ambitions and all that. We learn that he’s from some kind of blueblood family, and his cartoonishly WASP pop sneers at the ad business as a disgrace to the family name.
Later, we can kind of see Pop’s point. Since the initial pitch meeting sputtered, Bethlehem’s honcho is staying in New York overnight to give the agency another crack at new ideas. Pete is given the job of entertaining the codger – an assignment that, so far as I could tell, boiled down to lining up a couple of hookers. It’s never quite made clear that that’s what the young women are, but I’m not sure what other conclusion we’re supposed to draw. It’s all handled rather matter-of-factly.
Now, I’m not in the ad business, and never was. So I don’t know. But was this standard operating procedure at one time?
In any case, later in the episode when Don wants Pete fired, the move is blocked because the agency can’t afford to alienate the old-line power families of New York.
What’s interesting about all this is that it suggests 1960 was not, perhaps, the moment of ad-agency all-powerfulness that some observers of the show have suggested. Instead, maybe, it was a time when admen were still trying to shake their image as sleazy hucksters. Maybe they were trying to become respectable members of the professional class, but — suits and posh offices and suburban homes and fancy martinis aside — not quite making it yet.
Footnote: Clearly my Mad Men musings have had little to do with the show as, you know, a show. Basically, I’m not sure I’d be watching if I didn’t happen to have an interest in advertising, and how that business/practice/cultural form changed over the course of the 20th century. However, Time’s James Poniewozik makes a fairly convincing case for the show as pure entertainment, “showing an intriguing ability to change itself up from week to week.”
“Honesty — it’s a good angle.”
This line, by one of the ad agency guys in the early scene in the most recent episode of “Mad Men” when Don and his colleagues are talking about the famous VW “Lemon” ad — which came out around 1960, when the series is set — was easily the episode’s highlight moment. (If you’ve never seen the “Lemon” magazine ad, here it is.) In its time, the VW campaign that this ad was part of was different because it did not engage in overt hyperbole. In fact, it subtly mocked the overt hyperbole of, you know, every other ad in the world. Various other print pieces poked fun at the empty planned-obsolescence style “advances” touted by most car ads, for example.
That’s the honesty part. The angle part is that the campaign gave a new image to a car that, as Mary Wells summarized in her memoir, had previous been seen as “small,” “ugly,” and “a Nazi car, too soon after the war.” This is alluded to in Mad Men; one character mentions that last time he’d seen a VW, he was throwing a grenade into it. (This remark is made at a suburban house party, where the general idea that honesty is just another angle hovers over the somewhat predictable proceeds: We learn, for the umpteenth time, that shiny suburban facades conceal assorted grubby secrets, etc. But as always, I’m less interested in the plot than in the passing mentions of advertising history. So back to that.)
Thomas Frank, in The Conquest of Cool, observes: “That by the end of the decade the [VW] was more hip than Nazi must be regarded as one of the great triumphs of American marketing.” Particularly so given that its “hipness was a product of advertising, the institution of mass sociaety against which hip declared itself most vehemently ad odds.” Frank argues that the agency that made the campaign, Doyle Dane Bernbach, “invented what we might call anti-advertising: a style which harnessed public mistrust of consumerism — perhaps the most powerful cultural tendency of the age — to consumerism itself.”
Sound familiar? Sure it does. It’s a point of view that’s now so thoroughly built into contemporary marketing, we pretty much expect it. The most scabrous critiques of the culture of marketing, are produced by marketing professionals, on behalf of whoever their paying client happens to be. Transparency, the consumer-in-control, co-creation, etc.: All today’s most progressive-sounding marketing tactics are all about honesty. It’s still a great angle.
In one of the handful of scenes in the second episode of Mad Men that was explicitly about advertising, main character Don listens to the ideas his creative team has come up with to sell an exciting new product: Right Guard, in an aerosol can.
The ideas turn on the excitement of this new technology, which the creative gang says ought to be linked to, you know, rockets, and the exciting future. (The assignment is a clever choice by the show’s writers, given that aerosol cans, which no doubt really were seen as a breakthrough at the time, were eventually demonized as an environmental menace.) Don says this approach is all wrong, because plenty of people fear the future, and because while the product is for men, it will be bought by women, and the rocketships & progress approach won’t work for them.
Put aside whether these observations are original, or even true. Instead consider the way Don arrives at them: it’s an instinct, a hunch, a feeling in his presumably golden gut. Read more
The most enjoyable moment in the debut episode of Mad Men was — of course — the scene in which the advertising agency protagonists meet with their big tobacco-company client. It’s 1960, and becoming clear that tobacco companies aren’t going to be able use the rational-sounding sales pitches about how cigarettes are somehow good for you. Everyone’s has read in Reader’s Digest that the data just don’t back this up. What to do?
The meeting seems to be in a tailspin when Don, the slick-hair, gray-suit, main character of the show, asks the crusty old Southern tobacco magnate how his cigarettes are made. He latches onto a word in the man’s matter-of-fact description: Toasted. He writes it on a chalkboard: Lucky Strikes tobacco — It’s Toasted.
But, the magnate says, every brand is toasted. Then it sinks in. Here is what can replace the rational pitch — the meaningless pitch. Just put the phrase out there, and let the consumer fill in the blanks. Toasted? That sounds good. Must be good. Must be a point of differentiation — and a damn good one — if they mention it in their advertising.
None of this is spelled out, of course. But it’s a fair summation of a broad-brush shift that makes advertising today so different than it was in earlier eras. Read more
Pinot Noir, Montery County, California; South Eastern Australia
Chardonnay; Casablanca Valley, Chile
[Note: This is the fourteenth installment in a regular Murketing feature. For previous installments and an explanation, go here.]
Located several shelves away from each other in the same liquor store, these items simply demanded to be purchased in tandem. In fact, I briefly assumed that they must be offerings of the same vineyard. Not so. Still, it’s a particularly interesting showdown in the context of wine-label design at the present moment: Which is better, looks-wise – irony or sincerity? Read more