Kleening up

I guess this is negative word of mouth week here at Murketing. While I was away recently, somebody from Not An Alternative sent along this Youtube link, of some activists prankishly inserting themselves in a Kleenex marketing stunt.

The marketing stunt was the Kleenex “Let It Out Tour.” This involves the brand showing up in various cities, and inviting regular old folks like YOU to sit in front of a camera, tell a story that makes you want to cry, climaxing with you actually weeping into your Kleenex. Or something like that. The site says: “Here’s your chance to participate. You might even be featured on letitout.com or included in future let it out™ commercials from the KLEENEX® Brand!”

It’s not clear to me how much this is a ripoff of Jet Blue’s ripoff of David Isay’s work, but that’s another story. Either way, it’s a complete mystery to me why anyone would want to participate in something so transparently phony. But I guess plenty of people do.

Anyway, when the tour arrived in Times Square late last month, activists associated with the Greenpeace project Kleercut were among those to get in front of the camera. After telling a standard tear-jerker, they would then say another thing that makes them sad is the forests being wiped out to make Kleenex. Obviously these confessionals won’t make it into an actual Kleenex ad, but videos made by the pranksters have gone up on YouTube, and have gotten some circulation on the Net.

Could this spark a massive consumer backlash against Kleenex? I doubt it.

But that’s not exactly what the activists have in mind, or at least it’s not the whole picture. As one of the activists in the video explains: “A lot of their money that they spend on PR is put into campaigns like this. If we can show the shareholders that the money they’re using for this PR isn’t effective, and they’re wasting a lot of money, it’s gonna cause shareholders to hopefully back out and demand cleaner, more forest-friendly products.”

Persuading shareholders? Why bother with that! If it’s true that one determined detractor can do as much damage as 100 positive mentions do good, then shouldn’t they simply ignore the shareholders and fight directly in the marketplace?

I know that everyone says consumers are more tuned in to green issues these days, but I think it would still be pretty tough to win this fight in the marketplace. However, it’s plausible that these activists can amass data (how many hits, how many views, etc.) that could be packaged as evidence that there’s a potential backlash. Convincing shareholders to believe in that backlash might be a challenge, but it more likely than trying to convince the public at large.

Coming tomorrow: One last post about word of mouth, backlashing, and murketing.


Speaking of negative word of mouth:

One thing I’ve noticed that many independent artists/entrepreneurs have in common, even when their work and cultural contexts vary widely, is a dislike of Urban Outfitters, which they all assert is a stealser of ideas. Now BoingBoing points out a blog that’s basically about this very theme: “UrbanCounterfeiters.com.”

The most recent post there is from March 17, and recounts a protest at a Vancouver location of the chain.

This seems to be the only way to get through to them – the ground roots approach, hitting individual stores and real people instead of their corporate headquarters where we’ve been virtually stonewalled – so we’re going to be handing out these pamphlets in front of the majority of their locations across the United States and Canada over the next few months. If you live in a city that has an Urban Outfitters store in it and you have a couple of hours to spare for the cause, please send an e-mail to urbancounterfeiters@hotmail.com

Worth keeping an eye on … See the site itself for more.

Plague of visual stimuli: Check it out

Probably you need a recommendation for another YouTube video about as much as you need exposure to more advertising. Nevertheless, here’s a quite nice seven-minute film, on YouTube, highlighted the other day by the site of The Anti-Advertising Agency.

Looks like the film was made by Studio Smack, a “collective of young artists searching for new esthetics and concepts.” The film is basically a tour of an urban environment, in stark black and white, highlighting the logo overload. It looks really nice. The description on YouTube says it gives “an impression of the enormous amount of visual stimuli that plague us every day. The amount is so big that its commercial effectiveness has become utterly dubious.

People have been making the argument in that last sentence for about a hundred years, and I don’t know if I buy it even now. But still. Cool little film.

Too much advertising (in 1926)

Once upon a time back in the lo-fi 1990s, there was a great zine called Primary Documents, which was made up of old articles arranged around a theme. For instance, they’d do an issue with a title like “The March of Radio: Technology and Utopia,” and it would be made up of articles published when radio was new on the American scene, and it would be quite fascinating to compare to contemporary rhetoric about, say, the Internet.

Anyway I was thinking about this recently, and actually paging through my copies of Primary Documents, and then decided to see if any of that material had ended up online. It has! Here (on the site of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, don’t ask me why) is that very “March of Radio” issue. I was really happy to see this, which always struck me as particularly wonderful: A satire of the incursion of advertising every-which-where, published in the New York Sun in 1926, called “What Radio Reports Are Coming To.” It begins:

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the annual Yale-Harvard game being held under the auspices of the Wiggins Vegetable Soup Company, makers of fine vegetable soups. The great bowl is crowded and the scene, by the courtesy of the R. & J. H. Schwartz Salad Company, is a most impressive one.

The Yale boys have just marched onto the field, headed by the Majestic Pancake Flour Band, and are followed by the Harvard rooters, led by the Red Rose Pastry Corporation Harmonists, makers of cookies and ginger snaps.

The officials are conferring with the two team captains in midfield under the auspices of the Ypsilanti Garter Company of North America. They are ready for the kickoff. There it goes! Captain Boggs kicked off for Yale by courtesy of the Waddingham Player Piano Company, which invites you to inspect its wonderful showrooms….

Etc. The rest of that one is here.

Flickr Interlude

Yeah. I’m awesome. Flickr photo by Sarathine.

More semiotic disobedience

I just realized I forgot something I wanted to mention in my post a little while ago about the Point of Purchase show: two other recent examples of semiotic disobedience in the news lately.

Street-art star Banksy got a lot of attention for his latest stunt, which was shopdropping some altered Paris Hilton CDs. “Banksy is notorious for his secretive and subversive stunts,” the BBC explains, adding some details about this particular prank:

Banksy has replaced Hilton’s CD with his own remixes and given them titles such as Why am I Famous?, What Have I Done? and What Am I For? He has also changed pictures of her on the CD sleeve to show the US socialite topless and with a dog’s head.

Banksy’s done some cool stuff, but this seems pretty lame. Seriously: Paris Hilton? Is there supposed to be something surprising — let alone subversive — in the idea of criticizing Paris Hilton for having no talent? Hasn’t that idea already been expressed by, oh, I don’t know, everybody? Maybe this doesn’t even count as semiotic disobedience after all, since the aim seems to have more to do with hyping Banksy than striking a blow against a silly socialite. Or maybe it’s all a meta comment on publicity.

Anyway, the other example: The Ronald McHummer Sign-o-Matic. This, too, is getting a lot of attention online. A response to a McDonald’s promotion that involved giving away Hummer toys, it is “an interactive website that lets you write your own slogan or message about the Hummer giveaway, display it on a McDonald’s marquee, and send a message to the president of the fast-food chain.”

As I type, the site says, “over 99,000 signs served,” presumably referring to the number of messages sent to McDonalds’ execs from the site. If that’s accurate, it’s pretty impressive.

Gaming The System

In Consumed: Disaffected! An online anti-advergame as a form of “semiotic disobedience.”

Persuasive Games, based in Atlanta, is one of many companies that create online games. Sometimes it does this for name-brand clients, including Cold Stone Creamery and Chrysler. Earlier this year, however, Persuasive Games released a game about the copy-shop chain Kinko’s that was rather different. For starters, Kinko’s is not a client. And the game, called Disaffected!, is not a typical example of an “advergame.” In fact, it’s billed as an anti-advergame. As the company explains: “Disaffected! puts the player in the role of employees forced to service customers under the particular incompetences common to a Kinko’s store.” …

Continue reading at the NYT Magazine site, by way of this no-registration-required link.

Additional links: Persuasive Games; Water Cooler Games blog; McDonald’s Video Game.


WhyTheyHate.Us is a participatory web photo project using images submitted to Flickr, a popular photo hosting site. The images are chosen at random from uploaded photos tagged “whytheyhateus”.

The images displayed on the site are not curated, edited, or censored. Anyone can contribute any image to the dialog. Eventually every image will be shown in the random display.”

Interesting, no? This information courtesy of Stay Free! Daily.

Flickr Interlude

Originally uploaded by !HabitForming.

Touring Wal-Mart

In the latter half of the 1990s, we lived in the West Village in Manhattan. Somewhere during that time I had this idea of starting a Gentrification Walking Tour. It would be just like any of the other many, many walking tours of “historic New York,” but instead of visiting and pointing out the building where Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin (that’s a joke), this tour would visit the various Starbucks and McDonalds and other chain locations of the Village. A very loud tour leader, who I envisioned an overweight man with a beard, a straw hat, shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, and a fanny pack, would barge into these retail spaces and start bellowing to the members of the walking tour about what this or that space used to be, until it was taken over in whatever year by whatever chain occupied the space now.

Consistent with most of my schemes, this one never got farther than me talking about in bars. Toward the end of the 1990s, we moved, and that was that. But I was reminded of all of this over the weekend because I finally got around to listening to the Podcasts at SweatShopper.org, in which artist Kris Hall gives a guided tour of a Wal-Mart in Maine. (I first heard about this on Marketplace, back in April.) Instead of taking off from the shouted-walking-tour idea, her project is more like an iteration of one of those headset narrations you can get at big museums. In this case, rather than hearing biographical anecdotes about Thomas Hart Benton or whatever, you get Hall telling you when to look up and count the security cameras, or making points about the secret labor history of a pair of jeans.

I’m sure some people will find her arguments a bit shrill at times, but I was impressed. Even for a listener who is not literally walking through the Wal-Mart she describes, it has the effect of making you want to look more closely and think harder about retail environments and the abundance within.

There are two recordings here, but they’re close to identical. And for those of you in Skowhegan, Maine, Hall is apparently at the local Wal-Mart, or on a public sidewalk near the store, from 2 to 4 p.m. today, “making the tour available via portable CD player to those folks who do not have ipods. If you are in the area, please come down and be part of the conversation!”

Popping of caps

Courtesy of the always enjoyable and not-even-slightly pedantic Uni Watch: Here’s a thoroughly entertaining thrashing of the fashionization of caps, by way of hip hop. (That general topic was touched on in a recent-ish Consumed.) “Statements like ‘I root for the Blue Jays’ are gone, and have been replaced with ‘I’m a douche bag who color-coordinates my shoelaces with my headband,'” says some guy writing for a site called The Phat free.

At Murketing.com we are strictly neutral on such matters; the goal is not to endorse harsh opinions regarding consumer behavior, but rather to point them out, for your amusement.

Faux Logo

The Blackspot: A brand that appeals to the toughest consumers — the ones who are sick of brands.

“Dylan Coyle, who is 24, studies music at San Francisco State University. He has been a vegan for five years and is a careful consumer. Last year, somebody asked him what he wanted for Christmas, and he said he wanted a pair of Blackspot shoes. This was a considered choice: the shoes are made from ‘vegetarian materials,’ including organic hemp and recycled tires. They are manufactured in a ‘safe, comfortable union factory’ in Portugal and sold by the creators of Adbusters, a magazine best known for its withering critique of the advertising business and of mindless materialism….”

[To continue reading at NYT Magazine, follow this registration-free link.]

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