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Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

The recent 3-hour closure of Starbucks stores around the country was intended to show consumers that the chain was dedicated to improving the quality of their beverages. As a PR effort, one would think it was highly successful, since news and media picked up the story and made sure that everyone knew they wouldn’t be able to get their grande skinny decaf iced frappucinos for those three hours, and that desperate caffeine addicts would have to get their fix elsewhere. However, the message faltered in that only about 50% of people surveyed knew WHY the stores were going to be closed. This grand gesture of selfless quality enhancement went right over the heads of about half of their consumers. Rather than try to make a spectacle of the event, they might as well have held the training during non-business hours and saved themselves 3 hours worth of business income.

I wouldn’t call it bad enough to be a failure, but when it comes to PR, the message has to be absolutely clear, because people are way too impatient to read more than a few words.

Found on Ad Age.

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In a great article on AIGA recently, Grant McCracken discusses the beauty of the un-designed, the things that just happen that spark a positive reaction. Specifically, he discusses sounds, like the one made by a plastic coke bottle as it works its way through the mysterious tunnels and slides to land – thunk – into the collection slot, ready for your cold drinking pleasure. This is an accidental noise, not one designed to advertise its product but simply the mechanical noise of delivering said product to you once you’ve chosen to buy it. One might debate that the internal workings of a Coke machine have already been harnessed for marketing efforts, as in the recent epic “Coke Side of Life” TV spots.

Are designed sounds effective as well? That’s debatable:

“This isn’t like the car door closing sound that Detroit builds into cars to persuade us that we have bought wisely, that our automobile is a paragon of quality and workmanship.” 

I can’t imagine that the particular sound of a car door closing would make me more likely to buy a particular car, especially since in order to hear that sound, I’d have to be getting into the actual car at the time, which would suggest that I have already decided at least to give it a test drive. However, if the rumbly growly engine noise passing me on the road is what convinces me that I need to have that car, there’s the good advertising. Honda Civic uses the “accidental” noises in a very ingenious way, with an amazing choir reproducing the noises and interspersing clips of the car going about its normal routine to emphasize the audio illusion. In that moment, the advertisers seem to recognize the beauty of the found sound, something that happens with their product that can’t be designed into being but just is, and can be recognized as a pleasurable sound by aligning their product with it in a companionable way.

The author of the article sums up by saying that some of the most important meaning in sound means nothing, except perhaps the meaning that we ourselves attach to it. In recognizing that not everything has to have some kind of deep truth attached to it, perhaps advertisers can step back and let their customers find meaning of their own, which is a whole lot more significant and lasting.

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Ok. So you want to build a new brand, specifically one that competes with a global powerhouse. In a brainstorming session, some genius suggests giving away money. Who doesn’t want money? That would make people love us! So you pick a huge, overcrowded city and hide your signature vegetable in a public area, then release a press release telling everyone in this huge city to go and find the vegetable which will have cash attached. What could possibly go wrong?

Of course, the result of this colossally stupid idea is that mobs of people, seemingly desperate for a few bucks, rip the public area to shreds and attack the person who finds the money, sending him to the hospital and summoning the police to break up the riot. All of which is captured on video, posted on the new company’s global powerhouse competition, and the new company has successfully gotten its name out to lots of people who now think they are complete idiots. Worse, the event organizers leave the scene without cleaning up their mess (remember the time the raccoons got into your trash cans after a particularly big house party? You get the idea) and any possibility of good PR is lost.

A company representative is quoted saying, “Maybe next time, I would plan this better.” Brilliant!

Found on AdFreak.

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Ever work for a company whose main goal, it seems, is to sell itself on a pile of words that actually don’t mean anything at all? Communications, digital, solutions, marketing, strategies… seriously. What company is going to tell its customers that they do NOT offer solutions? Instead these words are tossed around interchangeably in a desperate attempt to make some companies seem to be on the “cutting edge” and “integrated” with all the latest “digital solutions.”

Ad Age posted an article today by Maureen Hall on this subject today, which happens to be one of my pet peeves. It’s one thing to toss these words around in meetings in an attempt at sounding credible or informed, but it’s another thing altogether to decide to make these buzz words part of one’s company name or part of one’s everyday speech (worst: bringing it home with you – “Honey, we need to review our strategy of financial integration with digital offerings and a multimedia tier-structure proposed by this direct marketing platform.”). The most grating can be when some puffed-up clueless manager-type starts spouting buzzwords without a clue what they mean, and often quoted incorrectly to boot (“We need to start thinking outside the square. I’m just talking out loud right now.”)  

I’ve discovered that the best therapy for this pet peeve is to make it into a game: watch for company slogans and advertising campaigns that use these empty words, and replace them with blah blah blah – and I think I end up with a much clearer view of what they are selling.

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In a deliciously nasty opinion column on AdAge, Richard Rapaport skewers the recent tendency for advertising to be… well, nasty. Using several examples of ads that use sophomoric witticisms or put-downs in an attempt to make their product seem cool, he postulates that this cutting humor is either a reflection of the downturn of the economy and dissatisfaction with American politics or somehow causing a domino effect of the snotty, ambivalent attitude typically associated with sixteen-year-olds (which, oddly, he compares with Ty Pennington, who seems to be one of the most passionately involved TV personalities, throwing his slightly manic ADHD-type self into every family-saving, tear-jerking project with the kind of zeal typically expected from a rabid badger, and ending each episode with a heart-rending interview in which he can usually be expected to tear or choke up at least once – somehow, despite his freshman-in-college-just-rolled-out-of-bed appearance, this doesn’t say “ambivalence” to me).

Nevertheless, it does seem to be true that comedy in advertising is more often choosing a sacrificial blunderer in their ads to skewer in the name of marketing. To me, this is not a new thing, but I think the choice of target is changing a bit. It used to be that every ad featuring a family showed either a) Mom unable to complete her womanly duties in the expected briskness due to some kind of faulty product, causing Dad to be grumpy that his collars aren’t clean enough or his dinner isn’t waiting for him when he gets home, and causing kids to whine in righteous indignation at the abuse they are enduring in the name of her store-brand cheapness; or b) Dad as the ultimate bumbling idiot who can’t read a map, tie his shoes or pick out a loaf of bread without constant, aw-you-poor-thing intervention from both mom and kids. Now, however, the sacrificial lamb is often the gray-skinned cube-mole of corporate America, or the clueless neighbor, or the slobbering, panting neanderthal male attempting any stupid stunt to attract the attention of some ridiculously beautiful woman entirely out of his league.

What do people find funny these days? Watch any of the myriad excessively stupid recent comedy movies (Epic Movie, for example, which we TiVo’d just out of curiosity, and quickly deleted less than 5 minutes into the first attempt at watching) and you’ll find gross-out violence, potty humor and excessive stupidity to be the hallmarks of what makes the average watcher chuckle. Family Guy, a TV show that I admit has made me laugh on more than one occasion, relies on the kind of snide, cutting wit that supposedly reflects an increasing dissatisfaction with society at large.

So why would this type of comedy be off-limits to advertisers? The author of the article postulates that the ads often communicate an attitude that the advertisers can’t be bothered to try and sell you anything, an ultra-hip detachment to all things earnest. My response to that – cool sells. It always has. If your target market is a group of people (teens & early twenties) who are living in the culture where the measure of one’s coolness is the only thing that matters, and often caring too much is way uncool, why would any savvy advertiser be bothered to create an earnest, dorky ad to appeal to that target market? Regardless of the product, a spastic, sweating Tony Little in skintight leotard screaming about his latest gizmo for only 12 payments of 29.95 just isn’t going to sell as much as a similar ad that parodies that kind of over-the-top salesmanship, no matter whether the product is a similar gizmo or a stick of gum.

So what is your response? Do you think the article reflects a kind of “turn down that racket” maturity, or do you see sarcastic advertising as a reflection of the snarky, Dubya-era American way?

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