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Recently our city was all abuzz about a group of people running a shock campaign holding signs with graphic images on them that would be enough to turn the stomach of even the most jaded of us. Their goal was to show the “truth” about abortion by displaying gory images of dead dismembered babies, and to therefore sway people to their point of view.

The problem with this campaign is all it seems to do is piss people off.

I heard from people on all sides of the issue and the only thing people were talking about was how awful it was that these people, who claim to be doing this “for the children,” were displaying these horrific images in public places where all ages were subjected to them. Even people who agreed with their basic message disagreed with their methods.

There is a history of lawsuits and uproar concerning this kind of shock advertising, and time and time again it has been protected under the first amendment. Freedom of Speech. One of our most valued freedoms. And yet, we seem to forget sometimes that what we CAN do isn’t necessarily what we SHOULD do, much less what will be successful in getting our point across. When trying to generate buzz on a topic or a product, the last thing you want to do is have people across the board talking negatively about your method, rather than discussing the real issue at hand.

Is all buzz good buzz? I say absolutely not, and it’s a lesson we should all keep in mind during a time when “viral” is everyone’s goal.

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Some less enthusiastic viewers of our new president’s transition into office have pointed out that “Change” isn’t a very unique platform – that most candidates from the opposing party of an incumbent throughout history have run on a similar platform just because they figure the people are tired of the old. Time will tell how well Obama will uphold the hopeful and uplifting message he’s delivered so far, but one major change has already taken place, and it’s an important one. 

The digital face of the White House got a makeover.

Gone is the texty static site from the Bush era. The new website features a brilliant, clean blue-on-white design with red accents, a classic but modern typeface, up-to-date photography and an inviting interface. There’s a blog, a flash interface with featured information, lots of video and a very nice site map right on the front page.

The new president seems to be emphasizing the point that one of the benefits of being a young president is that he understands digital communication. But I think what he’s also underlining is the importance of carefully planned design in that communication. Clean, beautiful design invites exploration. It draws you into the information which is served up in small bites, brevity is king, media is queen. 

I, for one, see this change in our government as one leading in the right direction.

new_gov

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When the big summer blockbusters hit, the average citizen is as unlikely to notice as if an atomic bomb went off in their living room. Typically the movie is accompanied by promotions by fast food, candy, soda, beer, chips, car companies, cellular phone carriers, vacation destinations… the list goes on and on. And on the same token, the average citizen is unlikely to question these pairings, as they’ve become an accepted and expected part of the moviegoing experience. Do these huge movies really need product placements in order to make their money, when their box office sales often run into the hundreds of millions?

An article on Advertising Age today discusses this topic, suggesting that while the movie benefits from the increased exposure created by the hype, the real winner is the advertiser who benefits from being associated with the movie, as well as the “event” surrounding it. Who doesn’t want to be part of the biggest party on the block?

So my question is, who decides which products are right for a movie? There are the legends of product placement that often happen by accident – E.T. and Reese’s Pieces, for example – but lately it seems to be pretty random. Apparently Dr. Pepper is going to be one of the big advertisers for the new Indiana Jones movie. But I can’t think of a moment in the previous three movies where Indiana Jones said anything about preferring that particular brand of cola. So it becomes a forced association, along with M&Ms, Expedia, Kraft Lunchables and Burger King. At least BK is giving their Whopper the nickname “Indy” for the time being, making it seem at least somewhat connected. 

It seems the bottom line is that the big guys talking about each other gets the word out, and nobody really cares if it’s relevant. You think Indiana Jones, maybe Dr. Pepper pops into your head (pops… get it?) and you’d be more likely to buy a super-grande combo Dr. Pepper drink at the concession counter on your way to see the movie. Or maybe not. But it must work, or it wouldn’t be worth the trouble.

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In honor of Earth Day, here’s a very very happy ad for the Discovery Channel.

Called “I Love the World,” it begins with a conversation between two astronauts hovering over Ol’ Blue. “It never gets old, huh?” says one. “Nope.” comes the reply. And then they break into song, which is carried by a wide variety of happy people, from Bear Grylls (from Man vs. Wild) to Stephen Hawking. A few of my favorite moments include Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs crawling through some kind of disgusting pipe, singing “I love real dirty things,” and Adam from Mythbusters casually setting Jamie’s sleeve on fire while merrily singing the “boom-di-a-da” refrain. Like a preview for Mamma Mia, it just makes me feel happy.

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A few months back I discussed how men are being used in advertising as the ultimate fall guys. When comedy is needed and someone needs to look stupid, ultimately it’s the guy in the spot who has to act the part. Fathers and husbands especially are the clueless “Homer Simpson” types who can’t do the simplest task without being correctly by a patient and amused wife, or even the exasperated kids.

It seems that this view is beginning to gain steam in the advertising community, as demonstrated by an article found today on Advertising Age called Men Are Not Idiots. I say it’s about time. I’m all for comedy in advertising, and taking these messages with a grain of salt – but equal-opportunity bashing is called for here. When was the last time an ad was shown where the bumbling, clueless character was the cute-as-a-button little girl in pigtails?

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Last year on this blog, while writing an article about ways that companies and agencies are trying to make a difference, I mentioned the amazing and inspiring results of Sydney, Australia’s effort to bring attention to climate change. For one hour, the city turned out the lights. 2.2 million people participated, and corporations got involved. Their goal was to reduce carbon emissions during that hour by 5%, but the enthusiasm for the attempt resulted in a 10.2% reduction.

This year, the Earth Hour movement has gone global. All across the world, cities and individuals are getting involved and turning out the lights on March 29 from 8-9 pm. Every person counts! Get involved in this event – have a candlelight dinner, watch the stars or have a “lights out” party with your neighborhood. Turn out the lights in your business’s building. Spread the word to everyone you know, and let’s make an impact: Lights Out on March 29!

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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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