21 December, 2007

Crank Dat Holiday Party

Once again, the Renegade Agency holiday party revealed the magic that happens when eccentric individuals and free alcohol intermingle. Renegade Idol Karaoke-tacular. A Soulja Boy Christmas. And let's just say that the gift exchange gave us a much clearer idea of what you can wrap up and give to folks when you're gifting anonymously; thankfully, it was a rare instance batteries were not included.

Clips and pics, more for our own amusement than yours. But enjoy all the same. And from all of us here at Renegade. Happy Everything and Merry You Know What.

Avid Editor Craig Anderson showing us why he deserved the award for Most Enthusiastic Thumbs Up.

The evening quickly descended into chaos once Rick James' albino, Princeton-educated cousin arrived to sing 17th century Eastern European folk hymns.

Renegade President Tim Watkins, world renowned for his solos on the Air Clarinet.

Traffic Coordinator Desiree Clark channels Macy Gray as a demon nods its approval in the shadows.
The Creative Department acknowledges a guest appearance by Japanese Prime Minister Fukuda.

VeeP Jen Stine and Prez Watkins bond over pilfered presents.

(You write the caption. Best entry wins whatever's in the yellow cup.)

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20 December, 2007

Convict Commercials

Sitting at a stop light in North Baltimore this weekend, I took note of a group of work-release dudes from the correctional facility sweeping the streets, picking up trash, and generally doing what they could to pay down their debt to society. They labored in grey jumpsuits, D.O.C. emblazoned on the back. Say what you want, but the Department of Corrections knows how to get the most of their ad dollars, and they don’t even know it. For the price of a pair of overalls and screen-printing, they’re sending some powerful messages to folks on the outside, everywhere.

For instance, a D.O.C. jumpsuit tells me right away that the guy with the teardrop tattoo on his cheek is not selling designer purses.

More interestingly though, they’re also providing a PSA of sorts for anyone who’s ever looked at a 7-11 and thought to themselves, “You know, I bet it’d be pretty cool to rob the crap out of that place.” In effect, our freedom-challenged friends are doing us all a great favor, serving (time) as coverall-clad out-of-home cautionary tales. Now that’s as powerful as any billboard warning me to stay off crack or do my best not to batter my wife. They’ve got my attention; it’s not every day you see an advertisement that’s capable of shanking you with a toothbrush shiv.

I propose a marketing experiment. Want the kids to eat healthier, stay in school, not set pets on fire, etc.? Nothing a little stenciling in the prison laundry can’t take care of:

Why not? A local agency actually used the prison itself as a billboard, placing a prominent banner on an outside wall, visible to drivers passing by on the expressway. In the spirit of one-upsmanship, let’s step it up. Sure, you’ll hear complaints about prisoner rights, cruel and unusual punishment and blah, blah, blah hippie-rainbow-wahhhfests. But it’s nothing a few cartons of cigarettes and hush-bribes for the ACLU can’t take care of.

And, naturally, this new marketing channel will become wildly popular. Don’t be surprised if a few select product marketers jump in to drink from the well of my genius. Security systems, police equipment, electronic surveillance—the opportunity’s there. I can see it now: cruising down the highway in my chauffeured stretch Hummer, I notice a guy in an orange jumpsuit mowing grass on the shoulder. Covered with grass clippings and the shame of whatever crime he's committed, he turns to reveal the text on his back: “How was I supposed to know they had LoJack?”

It could happen.

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13 December, 2007

Guerilla Marketing Gets Down and Dirty

You'd think by now I'd be used to the adulation, but I still get a lump in my throat each and every time I read one of the lovely letters you out there send me. Keep them coming. Along with your questions. I received this one a few days ago:

Dear Jason,

I'm a creative-type person at a very powerful ad agency in a city in the US. Lately I've become concerned that advertising, as it is classically framed, is in fact, dead. Or dying, at least. Yes, I know. How boorishly, post-modern, generic, Nihilist of me. But here's my issue: Media glut. The numbers we call "people" who consume our messages are bombarded from every conceivable medium almost constantly. I'm afraid that getting any of these "people" to sort our clients' messages out of the morass, through standard channels at least, is like a Paramecium reading a "Where's Waldo?" book. Help!!

Nietzsche Marketer

Dear Nietzche Marketer,

It's definitely not dead. I poked it, and it was still breathing. But yes, normal advertising channels are becoming more and more like screaming into a windstorm. Or worse, like screaming into a vacuum. Case in point is the continuing erosion of the :30 TV spot by DVR and similar technologies. So what's a creative-type advertising monkey to do? Go guerilla. Ditch the standard channels. Find a new hill to climb--one where no one is standing--and fling your poo in the surety that gravity and a lack of obstacles will deliver your message into the faces and minds of the numbers below.

The folks over at
Street Advertising Services have developed a pretty novel approach to "cutting through the muck." They do it by actually cutting through the muck...with high pressure water cleaning. They call it "Reverse Graffiti." It's like the "Wash Me" messages we've all seen scrawled out of the dirt on the backs of garbage trucks (and my Jeep, for that matter. Punk kids!). For an undisclosed fee, SAS will take an advertiser's message, convert it to a stencil, and then clean it into dirty pavement, walls, and buildings. Any soiled surface becomes a potential messaging spot. And, unlike standard graffiti, this isn't illegal. They're just cleaning the sidewalk, or parts of it at least.

Another sort of "street" advertising is performance art. Create an event, or happening, real or not, that will catch people's eyes. Here are a few examples that, assuming the Infinite Universes theory is correct, could surely happen...one day. Imagine:

- General Mills, in a bid to increase awareness of its Cookie Crisp brand cereal, hires actors to play Keystone Cop characters, chasing the Cookie Crook around Times Square to reclaim a stolen breakfast.

- A California wedding planner stages a lavish mock wedding beside the Golden Gate Bridge with signs everywhere saying, "Wedding Crashers Welcome". In a co-branding effort, New Line Cinema sponsors the dinner buffet.

- Yukon Gold Bank and Trust fakes a robbery in one of their branches, complete with phony police outside, in an effort to compete with larger banks and gain some relatively free exposure; the media doesn't know the robbery is a fake, although the local police are informed ahead of time.

The moral here is this: When there are too many others in your tree, find another tree. All you really need to do to ensure your clients' messages are heard is exercise that creativity pent up in your little simian brain and guerilla market your way to advertising success!

Love Always,

Jason Bloom, Senior Avid Editor

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07 December, 2007

"Clueless" About PETA and Urination-at-law

So, I recently found myself home with my wife donating an hour and a half of our Saturday to the classic 90’s coming-of-age silver screen delight, Clueless on TBS. Guys, that movie is one of the most underhanded chick flicks of all time. As it opens, I’m thinking, “Oh dear, this is painful.” By the end, I’m like, “Just kiss her Josh! Just kiss her!” Then I’m left wondering if I’ve lost some of my inherent masculinity. Dastardly stuff indeed.

So, this got me thinking back to whatever happened with Alicia Silverstone and that PETA ad? You may or may not remember, but back in September, the State of Texas, the local cable company, PETA, and Alicia Silverstone got locked in a philosophical debate over an ad featuring Alicia Silverstone in the nude. The point of the ad is fairly harmless with Miss Silverstone like a modern day Lady Godiva, explaining that she keeps her figure slim and trim by not eating meat. The cable company pulled the spot from the Houston airwaves claiming it was “too racy.” I’ll be the first to admit, the ad is a bit racy. I mean, I eat meat, I’ve always eaten meat, and I’ll continue to eat meat, but I did have a hankering for carrot sticks before the ad was over. You do the math. My issue, however, is where do censors draw the line? This is too racy? Have they seen half the advertising that passes on normal television everyday, let alone the programming?**

So as I’m about to get up during a commercial break to refresh my adult beverage, who do mine eyes see during 30 seconds of pure gold? Barry Glazer – Baltimore Attorney At Law. (Are there other kinds of attorneys besides those “at law”?) For those of us here in the Baltimore DMA, Barry Glazer’s commercials have set a gold standard for...something...in local advertising. Picture creepy looking guy standing in front of brick wall, yelling about insurance companies in his best Bawlmer drawl. Cut to still picture of him, dazed and posing with a phone to his ear as a serious-minded voice over details who and what Barry Glazer stands for. Good stuff to be sure.

In this particular gem he waxes on about how the insurance companies are always out to get the little guy. Being comfortably lulled into a sense of glazed stupor at the lack of productions values and schlocky messaging, I could not have been more blind sided by one of the best worst lines I’ve ever heard on television. At the height of his tirade he exclaims, “Insurance companies, don’t urinate on my leg and tell me it’s raining! We’re going to court!” Wow! Then to boot, our serious minded voice over comes in redefining, the aforementioned counselor as “Barry Glazer- Legal advocate for the injured, disabled, and urinated upon.” Man, oh man! What a terrific new peak we’ve reached in low budget cable advertising.

So let me make sure I have this straight, nudity – bad; references to urination – no worries? All I have to say is, if a cable company wants to take a moral stand, that’s fine, but don’t urinate on my leg and tell me it’s raining! Local Content Censors, we’re going to court! Assuming, I don’t choke on this tasty cheeseburger, that is.

**Footnote: I’m guessing the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association must have gotten their greasy fingers involved. Keep in mind, according to the Nation Cattleman’s Association "An estimated 111,875 jobs and $4.82 billion of personal income are generated in Texas from the beef industry." Sounds like about 4.82 billion reasons for the cable company not to air the ad, no?

Ken Hall, Associate Creative Director

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30 November, 2007

Much Ado About Nothing…

What is the most appropriate way for retailers to address customers during this heightened season of religious sensitivity? Do they go with the generic, boiled down “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” or the more pinpointed “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Kwanza”? Big decisions, big debates, big dollars at stake.

Not sure what all of the hub-bub is about. Every passing year, the intensity of the debate seems to get stronger. And this year, the debate rages on…

A brief article in Time Magazine this week noted how the American Family Association's Project Merry Christmas was targeting stores like Lowe's for advertising "family trees" instead of Christmas trees in its catalog. This actually forced an apology from Lowe’s, citing a “proofing error”. Heightened sensitivities indeed.

The same article referenced that seasonal sensitivities are not unique to the United States. A story out of Australia made headlines worldwide after a department-store Santa reported being told not to say "Ho, ho, ho" for fear of offending women. (no joke)

Retailers usually set the tone for the debate early in the fourth quarter with the directness of their advertising. In a pluralistic yet ego-centric society such as ours, it’s a risk major advertisers take by focusing on one segment of the population (Merry Christmas) rather than the population at large (Happy Holidays). However, an overwhelming majority of Americans celebrate Christmas as opposed to their non-Christian counterparts. A national telephone survey by Rasmussen Reports supports this, as 67% of Americans chose “Merry Christmas” to the alternatives.

Now in full disclosure, I’m Jewish. I don’t celebrate Christmas. And I may be in the minority here, but I never really took offense to those wishing me a “Merry Christmas”. I never “corrected” them or attempted to insert my “Jewishness” into the situation, and usually replied in-kind (i.e. with the same verbiage wished upon me). However, there are many out there who do not agree and will rebut anyone who says “Merry Christmas” unto them with a “Happy Holidays” response. I see both sides of the argument. But this is supposed to be a season of harmony, of peace on earth. Therefore, I believe that during this time of year, it is just easier if the minority capitulates to the majority. Now, those who know me know I’m all for a good fight, but I’ve been living with this all my life and have just found it easier to roll with the punches than to take an affront to something so harmless as Christmastime advertising and peer-to-peer well wishing.

For marketers, though, this is a complicated and hyper-sensitive season. I believe that a direct approach is the best approach. Since, as stated above, an overwhelming majority of Americans celebrate Christmas, advertisers need to direct their ad dollars towards the majority. Makes perfect sense to me. Why would Target create a “Happy Hanukkah” broadcast TV campaign to cater to less than 10% of the population? Besides, this year Hanukkah will be over long before Christmas even starts (Dec. 4 – 12). Hardly worth the advertisers’ effort.

Really, the only thing that gets me in an uproar is the debate itself. My thoughts—a Christmas tree is not a Holiday tree or a Family tree, it’s a CHRISTMAS tree. A Christmas wreath is not a Holiday wreath or a Seasonal wreath, it’s a CHRISTMAS wreath. And the likes of Santa Claus need not be matched with the creation of a Hanukkah Harry or the Kwanzaa equivalent.

For me, images of Santa Clause hocking everything from Q-tips to car stereos do not offend me. And though I know he isn’t talking directly to me or my “people”, I can’t imagine a holiday season any other way.

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28 November, 2007

Customer Service Strikes Back

At Renegade, sure we do advertising. We also have a studio, produce films and documentaries, and even handle customer service training, a facet of business that may not be as sexy as Superbowl ads and viral videos, but is just as essential to success .

Picture this: You’re standing in line at your local deli counter, coffee shop or fast food chain. The clerk asks if he can help the person in front of you. As they step forward to place their order, they reach toward their purse/pocket to grab their cell phone, “Oh, hey…Standing in line. What’s up…No way.” The burger jockey waits with a painful, painted on smile for the customer to place their order, “May I help y—” But the clerk is cut off by a single finger of silence held up by the oblivious cell phone talker, as if to sneer incredulously, “Can’t you see I’m on the phone…idiot?”

Or how about this: The jackass in front of you picks up their cell phone, steps forward to place their order while continuing their conversation, and the clerk with a genuine smile and air of satisfaction says, “I’ll be right with you as soon as you’re ready,” pointing to the sign that clearly reads, "If you're on your phone, we don't want to interrupt, so we'll just help everyone behind you first." The clerk smiles as you stride forward. Score one for the little guy in the paper hat.

It’s a trend that’s been slowly catching on. From PA to the PCH, all sorts of businesses–coffee shops, gynecologists and everything in between—are standing up for their employees and their customers with one simple request: PUT. THE CELL PHONE. DOWN. According to an article in the Seattle Post Intelligencer, Robbie Stevenson of phonesoff.net has made silencing this daily annoyance into a lucrative business. In 2003, Robbie sold 1,000 $4.95-$6.95 “No cell phone signs.” Today she sells 1,000 a month to companies from the Girl Scouts to Harvard University. The guy in the paper hat cheers and goes back to studying for the bar.

I may talk on the cell phone while strolling around Safeway, but I hang up or tell the person to hold on the moment I get up to that counter. Despite the urgency I feel to continue a conversation about whether or not Nicole Ritchie is “too thin” or if Suri Cruise really is an alien, I can sacrifice for the two minutes it takes to ring up my Mac n’ Cheese and cherry cola. I don’t know, I’ve just always thought people who don’t hang up the phone are rude. And as a former fry flinger (from back in the day when beepers were all the rage), it tickles my heart to hear that somebody is stepping up for the little guy. (Now, if we could only get the swerving land whale SUV drivers to do the same, I might go so far as to say courtesy is making a comeback in our country—but that’s a different rant.)

The point is. Somebody’s getting the message. When you take your customers seriously, they take you seriously, and they appreciate it. The aforementioned article noted that some people complained, but it was about 1 complaint for every 600 “thank you’s.” According to a 2006 survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the Associated Press and AOL, 82 percent of all Americans and 86 percent of cell phone users were irritated by loud, annoying cell conversations in public. THE PEOPLE HAVE SPOKEN!
So in honor of the people speaking, when you think about customer service, think this: “What do our customers really want?” “What would make our customers happy?” And not just the loud, fickle, bully customers whose opinions you’d already know even if they weren’t constantly telling you how to better run your business, but the dedicated customers, too. The ones who’ve stuck with your business through the toughest growing pains, the ones who’ve stayed because they like what you’ve got. Building business is about finding new customers, but it’s also about keeping the loyal customers you’ve got.

Next week we may see Wal-Mart may putting in drive-thrus in the power tool department, but this week, notch one up for customer service.

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15 November, 2007

McDonald’s Hopes to Skim Latte Lovers from Starbucks

Looks like McDonald’s is really serious about McCafé, their new coffee house-styled restaurant concept. So serious that they’re gearing up to make a run at Starbucks’ customer base with it. They’ve revamped their menu and stockpiled it with more affordable coffee drinks, in addition to renovating their restaurants to skew more upscale. But there’s one problem: It’s still McDonald’s.

Starbucks is about the experience as much as it is about the coffee. People feel good with that warm cup in their hands. Whether you’re a school teacher, executive VP, or a bag boy at the local grocery store, you feel like you’ve tapped into something special when you throw down five bucks for that venti Foamalacious Whiptasticular Awesomecino with skim-soy-goat milk. You feel like Somebody. And you want other people to know you feel like Somebody, too, so you plop down on a cozy leather sofa with your laptop (I can’t afford a laptop, so I bring an Etch-a-Sketch) and you get to work tap-tap-tapping out the next great American novel (or etch-a-sketch-sketching a mean staircase) while the musical stylings of Thelonius Monk echo from the rafters. In a Starbucks, the alchemy of ambience and caffeine inspire us to be more than the sum of our parts.

In a 2005 interview, Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz put it this way:

“I can best describe it by stating that we are not in the coffee business serving people, but in the people business serving coffee. The equity of the Starbucks brand is the humanity and intimacy of what goes on in the communities that exist in each and every location. We continually are reminded of the powerful need and desire for human contact and for community, which is a new, powerful force in determining consumer choices.”

My McDonald’s experience, on the other hand, generally trends in the other direction. Whether it’s the homeless guy sifting through his hobo paraphernalia in the booth next to the Playland jungle gym or the semi-comatose counter kid who operates the McFlurry machine like he’s trying to diffuse a bomb underwater, I’ve noticed that McDonald’s restaurants have a “dynamic” all their own . Sure, I’m still Somebody at McDonald’s, but it’s usually that Somebody who’s wondering why he decided to eat at McDonald’s. And that’s why I’m skeptical of McCafé. It’s so opposite of the core McDonald’s brand. It’s less about the experience and more about the end result—getting food in my stomach as quickly as possible (and then getting the hell out of there before I get stabbed by a drifter or a party of eight year olds doped up on trans-fats and high-fructose corn syrup).

Don't get me wrong. I don't hate McDonald's. It serves its purpose, and I've contributed more than my fair share to its multi-billion burger tally. But when it comes to making the coffee house work on the same level as a Starbucks, I’m doubtful McDonald’s can get out of the way of its own brand. It’s developed into a cultural icon—and not in the wholesome baseball-apple pie way, either. Sociologists bemoan the McDonaldization of our civilization. It’s been stigmatized so much so that “Mc” has become the prefix of mediocrity: McMansions, McJob, McPaper, McDermott—see, the list goes on. Adding a latte and changing out your furniture won’t scare Starbucks. Consumers’ emotional connections have a longer memory than the marketing execs may want to admit. There are images from past visits to McDonald’s that continue to haunt me to this day.

My two cents: Use all the effort, the money, the creativity that they’ve been pumping into retrofitting these franchises with McCafés, and simply create a new brand from scratch—and then keep it as far away from the McDonald’s brand as possible. If a marketing guy even suggests sticking “Mc” in front of anything, send him to work a fry line somewhere in Toledo for six months. Make this brand the un-McDonald’s.

Or, better yet, buy out Caribou Coffee. They have free wi-fi and ottomans upholstered to look like stuffed bears. Now there’s a primo place to etch-a-sketch.

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13 November, 2007

Fall is the New Spring

You know what I love? I love fall. Who’s with me here? I bet a lot of hands just went up across cyber space. Or at least a lot of my Gen X/Y compatriots grunted some sort of less than enthusiastic, but positive response. So, I’m thinking about it, and I’m like, “Why do I like fall?” There are many reasons, but I think in some sense the 17.5 years I spent in school has reset my psyche to where I now associate cooler temperatures and crystal clear skies with a nervous excitement about the season to come.

As a kid growing up, I was rife with scattered anxiety and enthusiasm for the school year to come. Then as I got older it only got more intense. At that point, I’m looking at meeting new girls and going away to college-- a whole new level of, well, newness. This inane, yet somehow fixating line of thought led me to an epiphany and a conclusion that I’d never thought of before- fall is the new spring.

It’s true! (For me and all the members of my cult, anyway) In generations past, we were an agricultural society planning our months, and even our measure of time, with one foot on the tractor and the other in a cotton gin (thanks to Eli Whitney). As an aside, I actually don’t know what the heck a cotton gin is, or if you can even put your foot in it, but for some reason, I’ll always remember that Eli Whitney invented it. [Editor’s note: No he didn’t. Catherine Littlefield Greene came up with the idea, but women weren’t allowed to receive patents in the late 1700’s. Way to perpetuate the sexist agenda, Ken.]

Anyway, I digress. [Editor’s note: Yes, you do.] I have never planted an ear of corn. I don’t work the field and look forward to harvest dances with Betty Lou (Who?). I’ve never even planted a flower outside of 3rd grade science class. So I, like many of my generation and probably the generation before, have barely any concept of spring as a time of re-birth and newness. But come the chilly months of September and October, we could always look forward to new friends, new adventures and new challenges.

So, what does all this have to do with advertising? Well, I’m not really sure, but as “experts” on demographics, market trends, and making meaningful connections with an audience, it’s important to identify changes that can take place on a generational level.
If they question time-aged traditions, then so be it because sometimes traditions change without an act of Congress or decree from the Pope. Sometimes a culture evolves without really knowing it. It just happens day after day, season after season. And sometimes, even the seasons themselves change.
Now, I’m left with another inane question-- if fall is the new spring, what does that make the old spring? I believe it has something to do with baseball, but I’ll have to think on it for a while.

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09 November, 2007

Facebook's Social Ads Gamble

Social Ads? Okay, so the name is partially fluff. What ads aren't social? But naming conventions aside, Facebook's announcement of its new consumer-centric advertising model constitutes a major shift in the way messages can be delivered in the digital domain. I know, you’re probably thinking, “But how does it work, Jason? I didn't read any of the other 90,000,000 articles written on this same topic.”

Here's the basic concept. When a Facebook user visits a brand's Facebook page or external website in some cases, they'll be able to share and promote their interaction with the brand with friends. This user-initiated recommendation is then matched by Facebook with an advertisement created by the advertisers. Advertisers create these ads based on and directed towards demographic information obtained directly from traits Facebook users voluntarily post to their profiles, such as age, interests, hobbies, political affiliations, etc. Thus highly focused ads are directed "socially", from person to person, instead of from unknown external sources.

WTF!? (What the Facebook!?) Exactly. If it works it could be a watershed moment for Facebook and marketing in general. And that's really the question. Can it work?

(Click here to see englarged picture)

As I see it, there are a few hurdles, but all of them are surmountable. First, will users recommend products to friends? On the surface this may seem unlikely. But people do this all the time. In the real world it's known as "word of mouth" advertising. In the online world, I suspect brands will need to offer enticements to get the ball rolling, or make the recommendation process feel more like a game, but I don't think it will take much. People love to make their opinions known and share with friends where their minds are. Twitter is a perfect example of the level of social minutia people are willing to send and consume.

Until recently the assumption was that consumers didn't really care enough about products to visit their websites. Consuming the product was one thing, but who wants to read a website about their favorite brand of toothpaste? But a study conducted by ComScore throws strong doubt on this assumption. According to the study, "a majority of U.S. consumers visited at least one package-goods website during the three months ended in April, with search driving a substantial proportion of those visits."* And these visits were primarily initiated by the consumer. " Only 40% of searchers and 47% of non-searchers said they went to brand sites to seek promotional deals, compared to 73% and 58% respectively who went there seeking information and help."*

But is the demographic information advertisers are using to create their targeted messages reliable? After all, users voluntarily add this information, and are under no duress to make it accurate. Who hasn't fudged the truth a bit (or a lot, depending on how low your baseline is) in favor of themselves when creating an online persona. It's like online dating. Make yourself seem as attractive to other people as possible. They'll have plenty of time to be disappointed when they finally meet you.Ultimately, I think this is a non-starter. Yes, people lie. But I think mild exaggeration and understatement are the worst evils most people include in their online existence. After all, most online social linking (outside of dating) is between offline friends, already known entities. You can't get away with much when your friends are policing you. Plus, the point of online social linking is to find and interact with like-minded others, and lying defeats this.Of course, even outright lies make for useful information. If someone feels strongly enough about a particular idea, product or company to lie about it on their Facebook profile, they'll be interested in forwarding even incorrectly matched advertising messages to their friends and family.

Ultimately, I think socially distributed advertising's benefits will outweigh the detractors. Advertising sent within social interactions feels less like advertising and more like friendly recommendations, akin almost to viral marketing videos on YouTube. At least that's what Facebook and their prospective advertisers will be banking on. And I for one think it's great and highly recommend it!

*Source: Advertising Age - October 23, 2007 - "Study Finds Large Audience Online for Package-Goods Brands", Jack Neff (Look! I footnoted!)

Jason Bloom, Senior Avid Editor

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07 November, 2007

Mrs. Bitterworth

The day I realized that you can’t believe everything you see on TV remains one of my most vivid childhood memories. I was four years-old and running around the grocery store. This was before parents had to worry about their kids getting kidnapped. I'd volunteered to get the syrup as long as my dad agreed to let me have Mrs. Butterworth. I remember careening around the corner and down the aisle, my mind full of what I would say to Mrs. Butterworth when I finally had a chance to have a tête-à-tête with her. You see, I was fascinated with the animated maple syrup diva.

See, my world would come to a stand still when a Mrs. Butterworth commercial came on the air. I don’t know what it was about those ads, but I’d stop whatever I’d been doing and stare at the TV and listen to every word Mrs. Butterworth would utter. I would laugh and feel like I’d just visited a favorite relative—the warmth of her grandmotherly goodness like pancakes fresh off the griddle. Freud might say I adopted Mrs. Butterworth as my surrogate grandmother since I was never fortunate enough to have had one of my own.

Anyway, so I get to the display shelf and see the bottles of Mrs.Butterworth syrup, and I start talking to them. No response. I am crushed. I start to cry. Somehow, I find my way back to Mom and Dad and pour out my heartache. Mrs. Butterworth didn’t really talk or move like she does on the commercial. Could it be that TV had…lied to me?

Now this was back in the 60s (yes, I’m in my 40s and hotter than ever, thank you very much) at about the same time that Juan Valdez made it on the scene. By now, I’m a jaded five year-old, but Juan did have a certain allure for me as that’s when I became cognizant of the world outside the United States. Somewhere south of Baltimore, MD was this really earnest guy who spent his whole life picking coffee beans at just the right time so that my mom and dad could have the best coffee in the world everyday. It wasn’t until I was in high school or maybe even college that I learned Juan Valdez was a fake, too. If I had been a coffee drinker I would have switched to Kona.

Now there’s a new Juan Valdez. In April of 2006, the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia produced a reality show to find the new Juan. This was a top secret mission. La federation wanted no hint of what they were doing to leak to the press until they’d found the perfect Juan with the perfect mustache. They found Carlos Castaneda, a real coffee grower. Juan, I mean Carlos (or is it really Juan?) now travels the world, attending coffee related events. Juan’s been to Europe, Russia, Japan and the US and apparently he’s got an adoring fan base of older women who think he has perfectly revived the Colombian cultural hero.

And isn’t that what these fake people are supposed to do? If you buy into them as authentic spokespersons, (spokesbottles in Mrs. Butterworth’s case) then you’ll buy the product. But therein lies the rub. The Mrs. Butterworth ads spoke to me in a way that the real product certainly could not. That ad made a four-year old feel so good that she influenced generic-buying Dad into coughing up the extra dough to bring Mrs. Butterworth home. But the expectation the commercial pumped into my impressionable young brain could never be met by the real product. I left the supermarket with brand X syrup to spite her. Now, I can’t even look at her anymore. Betrayal—at any age—runs deep, and much like Mrs. Butterworth's thick, rich syrup, it runs slow. Such is the loss of innocence. So I take my hat off to the Federation - at least Juan Valdez is a real coffee grower, even if his name is not Juan, and he can only speak Spanish, but hey, at least he speaks. In your face, Mrs. Butterworth.

Gay Pinder, Director of Program Development

Mrs. BitterworthSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

30 October, 2007

The Truth about Hummers

–noun, plural truths
/ Pronunciation Key[trooth, trooths]

1. the true or actual state of a matter.

2. a verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle, or the like.

3. the state or character of being true.

4. an obvious or accepted fact; truism; platitude.

Let’s face it… the truth is subjective, which means it is based off of the perception of the individuals involved. Where one person sees good, another may see bad. Where one person sees the cup half full, the other sees it half empty. Cops will routinely tell you there are three sides to every story: Person 1, Person 2, and the truth that lies somewhere in between.

Truth in Advertising
According to the Federal Trade Commission, the following truth-in-advertising rules apply to advertisers under the Federal Trade Commission Act:

§ Advertising must be truthful and nondeceptive;
§ Advertisers must have evidence to back up their claims; and
§ Advertisements cannot be unfair.

Remember the 1990 movie Crazy People in which Dudley Moore plays an advertising executive whose idea to write "honest" advertising copy like the following lands him in an insane asylum?

“Volvo... they're boxy, but they're safe.”
“Porsche...you can't get laid in one, but you will once you get out.”

Brutal, beautiful, in-your-face honesty is something seldom seen in today’s marketplace. The real truth, however, is that every marketer feels they are writing about their products and services—and only their products and services—when they write the words “above expectations,” “value-add,” “110%,” “better than ever,” and “Return on Investment.” But these words are so ubiquitous, they have become cliché marketing copy. So, the real meat of successful marketing these days is in the succinct delivery of a product’s or service’s features and benefits.

Enter Hummer.

Advertising Age recently reported on GM’s new Hummer campaign, which I perceive to be pure brilliance in strategy and tact (http://adage.com/article?article_id=121560). As gas prices continue to soar, there are those who say Hummers represent all that is wrong with America today. “The brand came to represent an icon for all things evil,” AdAge reports. Many argue that they are ugly, road-hogging, gas guzzling behemoths… an unnecessary and unreasonable vehicle in a time when the auto industry should be focusing on manufacturing vehicles that will make us less dependent on foreign oil. Just look at some of these blog postings:




So evil, apparently, big-time musicians don’t want to be associated with the brand (even for a LOT of money!).

To diffuse the “icon for all things evil” perception, GM’s agency Modernista (Boston) recently created a very practical, emotional, and eye-opening campaign called “Hummer Heroes.” The new campaign will feature print, television, and a new microsite dedicated to those passionate about the brand and those who have used their vehicles in times of crisis. The campaign features one Hummer owner who laments: “Nobody asked me what kind of fuel economy I was getting” when he was delivering water via Hummer to Hurricane Katrina victims in remote locations. Good point, lest we forget that an overwhelming majority of Hummer owners use their vehicle to drive to the mall or the grocery store, not to respond to crisis situations.

However, as the AdAge article so poignantly highlights, these vehicles were built for very specific purposes and have come to the rescue of many individuals in times of need. (The campaign mentions that Hummer has agreed to deliver a total of 72 vehicles to the Red Cross to help them respond to crisis situations.) To shift the focus to those vehicle attributes and uses and the unselfish actions of those who have used their vehicles in crisis situations is pure strategic genius. Kudos to Modernista’s creative team.

Not sure how many more vehicles the ad campaign will help sell, but it certainly may succeed in changing the perception of some Hummer Haters into Hummer Lovers. And, let’s face it… deep, deep down inside, I bet even the Haters have a secret desire to get behind the wheel of one of these mega-macho-machines. Having taken a test drive on one of their dealership courses, I can honestly say it’s a powerful experience (disclosure: I do not own a Hummer).

Not sure what the tagline will be for the new campaign, but if their goal is to create Hummer Lovers out of Hummer Haters, a good starting point would be “Everyone loves a Hummer.” Don’t we?

Jason Cohen, Director of Marketing

The Truth about HummersSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

26 October, 2007


You’ve probably seen this DeBeers diamonds commercial. It features both an ugly necklace and a beautiful cover of Cat Stevens’ How Can I Tell You. I find myself excited for the commercial breaks during my primetime favorites (Pushing Daisies, The Office, and House—for anyone who’s interested) because I know this commercial will come on (DeBeers has bought a lot of broadcast time), and I’ll get to hear Chan Marshall’s sweet mellow voice warble those sweet lyrics one more time.

Never heard of Chan Marshall?

You’re not alone. She’s the front woman of a band called Cat Power, who despite having recorded nine albums, are anything but mainstream. For some incredibly frustrating reason, they haven’t released their recording of How Can I Tell You. Trust me on this one; I did a lot of digging, at which point this blog topic came to be. Most people aren’t familiar with the band’s name so they have to remember the product the song is promoting in order to get the right results from a Google search. Now that’s what good advertising is all about. It doesn’t have to be an immediate call to action, just a call to remember. The use of little known or underground bands in commercials as a means of accomplishing this is becoming quite a trend. See the following for proof (if for no other reason than to have a good song stuck in your head):

JCPenney, featuring Regina Spektor’s Music Box

Old Navy, featuring Ingrid Michaelson’s The Way I Am

Target, featuring The Icicles’ La-Ti-Da

M&M’s, featuring Iron & Wine’s cover of Such Great Heights by The Postal Service

These ads are for enormous corporations and use the music of bands and vocalists who are not well known (by Billboard 100 standards, anyway). The music in these ads is quirky and catchy, pop-ish but not bubblegum, and most importantly, pretty underground. Here’s why it’s effective:

1.) People like underground. It makes us feel cool to like stuff that other people don’t know about yet. It is the reason we have variations of snobs—film snobs, video game snobs, book snobs, restaurant snobs, rock snobs, jazz snobs, sports snobs, etc…. An unfortunate human tendency, perhaps, but one that gives advertisers a ton of material. Create a connection between your audience feeling cool and your product, and you’re golden.

2.) People like mystery. There is an incredibly intriguing element of mystery and story involved in a song you can’t quite identify, especially one you end up humming all day. Once the audience associates that mystery and intrigue with a product, they’ll remember it.

3.) People like personal. Quirky & catchy songs sound personal. Everyone knows Target has a store on every street corner in America. Using a song like La-Ti-Da helps each Target store seem like the neighborhood mom & pop shop—much more personal, much homier. Make the ad feel like something that is being shared with each audience member individually, and a personal investment will develop.

It wouldn’t work if a Britney Spears song was used. Why? Well besides the fact that she’s crazy, she’s everywhere. Too public, not personal enough, too mainstream, not mysterious, and certainly not quirky. Advertising with indie alt-rock songs is all about getting into the audience’s head from underneath. Fortunately for DeBeers, the ugly necklace is probably selling like Cabbage Patch dolls because it does just that.

P.S. For all of those of you out there who've seen a commercial and wondered, "Who sings that song?", here's your one-stop shop for answers: http://adtunes.com/.

Maggie Ross, Production Coordinator

Indie-AdsSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

24 October, 2007

The USA is #1 (in foreign ads)

Last week I had the privilege of spending some time in Rome, Italy. As this was my first trip abroad, I was excited to see the different types of advertising. I had expected to see something more inventive, more sustainable, more intelligent than our average beer commercial, but sadly I was disappointed. I saw, instead, mostly cookie-cutter spots with little inventiveness.

My visit was at the height of the Rugby World Cup in France, the third largest sporting event in the world behind the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics, so naturally I figured I’d get the A-game ads. I wasn’t impressed. In fact, the commercial that seemed to appear most—an ad for Philips’ new electric razor—was disappointing for a number of reasons.

The coverage (and, of course, the commercials) was on BBC World so, naturally, the spot was in English; but there were many things about it that, in my opinion, missed the mark. The spot unfolded as follows – we see footage of Wright Brothers’ flight attempt as an American announcer says, “Flight;” then, footage of an ice ax hammered into ice with announcer saying, “Mount Everest;” then, footage of the moon, accompanied by “the Moon.” Finally, it’s capped by footage of the new Philips’ razor and commentary about its revolutionary design.

Two of the three feats mentioned were accomplished by Americans, the third by a New Zealander, and all of it was told via an American voice over. Keep in mind, the Rugby World Cup took place in Rome and featured four semifinal teams—England, France, Argentina, and South Africa—from three different continents, none of which were North America*. Not that it mattered much. Despite a jump in popularity, rugby probably ranks well below soccer and just above pick-up-sticks with us Yanks.

So, why then, with such little American interest in the sport, in an Italian speaking city, being broadcast by a British station, was this Philips’ commercial being narrated by an American voice? Why, if I’m watching this commercial anywhere but America would I even consider buying anything from this company? I wouldn’t. How many Americans were even watching BBC World, anyway? The answer: not enough to make it worth Philips’s trouble to target our audience.

So what does that say about Philip’s approach? In an event so patently uninteresting to the average American, why make a spot that’s so very American? When you figure it out, let me know: I’ll be enjoying the Cuban cigar I was able to sneak through customs.

*By the way, USA was in the Rugby World Cup. They lost every game they played.

Nick Piché, Copywriter

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22 October, 2007

The I-Man Is Back—So Should You Advertise With Him?

There’s been a lot of buzz over the past couple weeks that former CBS radio host Don Imus will be returning to the airwaves before the end of the year. My first instinct was, who on earth will advertise with him? The guy was fired practically at the drop of hat. Although, it was a very large, loud hat. But it quickly dawned on me that if ABC is going to give Imus a multi-million dollar contract, they have to believe there will be advertisers.

So I conducted a brief poll among coworkers, friends, players on my kickball team (seriously) and my dad. The questions were as follows:

1) Do you have a problem with this?
2) As a company or agency would you recommend/not recommend advertising on his new show?

The response was, as you’d guess, mixed. Several respondents chose to use the term “ass,” “jacksass,” “pompous ass,” or “talentless ass.” But only four out of twenty had a problem with his return to the airwaves.Those responding who didn’t have a problem with his return (including one woman who noted he was a “jackass in a cowboy hat”) cited issues such as freedom of speech, that he’s sorry and has paid his price, or the fact that he has an audience that wants to hear him, even if the respondents weren’t fans of his show, themselves. Five said they would not recommend advertising on Imus. Four said they would have no problem advertising with Imus. And the remaining eleven said they’d take a wait-and-see approach, or it would completely depend on their product.

First off, I’m not here to address the morality of advertising on Imus. I’m looking at whether or not it is worth a) losing potential customers who dislike the controversial DJ radio personality and b) if you’ll get a substantial return on your investment with Imus. And I should also note that I listened to Imus on occasion more than a decade ago, but have never been a fan.

So, the first thing you have to look at is—who buys your product?
If your audience is people who are connected, culturally aware and racially sensitive, it is doubtful they are fans of Imus, and upon hearing you are advertising with the talk jock may seek to boycott your product—giving you bad press and possibly causing your sales to drop. But there’s one company who obviously isn’t worried about this reaction—ABC. And ABC is owned by Disney! Apparently they expect the Happiest Place on Earth to remain unscathed throughout any upcoming ordeal.

On the other hand, this same audience may be carefully scrutinizing Imus, eagerly awaiting his next misstep, and that means more ears tuning in and hearing your advertising. To quote Howard Stern’s Private Parts,

“The average radio listener listens for eighteen minutes. The average Howard
Stern fan listens for…an hour and twenty minutes…Answer most commonly given? ‘I want to see what he'll say next.’…The average Stern hater listens for two and a
half hours a day…Most common answer? ‘I want to see what he'll say next.’”

Furthermore, when Imus first returns to the air, ratings will probably be higher than when he went off the air. People who weren’t even fans of the show will tune in to see if they’ll hear more of what got Imus tossed out of his studio in the first place. The first few months will be the best time to advertise on Imus, and possibly during the next NCAA tournament.

And don’t forget about his returning fans. Imus was syndicated on 61 different radio stations across the country. He obviously had an audience, and I guarantee this audience will have their radio dials set for the second Imus returns. Despite all of its foibles, my experience has been that talk radio fans are very loyal.
Unless you’re worried about a massive backlash—and I mean a massive backlash—you’d be foolish not to advertise on Imus—if he fit your product’s demographic. Because even the people you’re worried about pissing off will still be tuning in to see what he says, to find another reason to hate him. If you have a product for the masses, you should be advertising on Imus, because when he returns to the air, the masses will be listening. You might even ask for a discount as one of the first advertisers to support his return.

And as a fellow Renegade blogger told me, “Generally people have a short memory for controversy.” Truly, the issue shot up, he was fired, there were press conferences, he apologized, and within only a few weeks the majority of the media had moved on.

Now I can respect a company for sticking to its moral guns. Your image can be nearly as important as your products. If you feel advertising on Imus will negatively affect your company’s image or you feel you have a moral obligation to not advertise with someone you feel is a racist, by all means, don’t. However, I might note to the public that you are purposely choosing not to advertise with Imus and why, to remind people where you stand on these sensitive issues.

It will be a controversial topic when he returns to the air, but people pay attention to controversy, even if only for a few weeks.

Captain Awesome, Project Specialist

What's your take on the issue? Think Imus will have a problem attracting advertisers? Care to venture any guesses as to the brands most likely to give him a shot? Drop us a comment!

The I-Man Is Back—So Should You Advertise With Him?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

17 October, 2007

Branding Me Softly

So I bought a pink can of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup the other day. See, the can is pink because—like companies all over the country—Campbell’s has seen the potential for good karma by colorizing its products to promote breast cancer awareness and research. And, as some marketers have shown, the revenues from going pink aren’t bad either.

I admit it. I’m a slave to packaging, and The Pink is a prime example, though my reasons for buying aren’t always what marketers might’ve had in mind. For example, that Campbell’s Soup can is more than a symbol of my support for the cause—it’s my rebuttal for every time I’ve been called a lout, a misogynist, or an uncaring pig—which, for reasons I can’t figure out, happens with alarming frequency. Now I can whip out my pink Campbell’s can and say, “What? I didn’t hear you. I was too busy preparing my cream of mushroom soup—and supporting cancer awareness.”

Apparently I’m not the only one with questionable motives. A recent AP article casts some doubt on the reasoning behind some companies’ decision to go Pink. It suggests that some companies may be shortchanging the worthy causes they co-op with when it comes time to cut a donation check. Regardless, it’s obvious that cross-marketing for a cause has become pretty chic.

I am, however, going to call marketers out on one point. I can’t help but notice that most “pink-tinting” is reserved for products that have traditionally been purchased by women, like the Dyson vacuum. Last time I checked, most women were pretty aware of the fight against breast cancer. Furthermore, I’d say many even go as far as to contribute, donate, and participate in events that support the cause. In effect, they’re preaching to choir. Maybe the AP article’s skepticism has some merit. Maybe companies aren’t trying hard enough.

You want real exposure? Appeal to your untapped market: oblivious males. The time has come to make a meaningful connection with this demo. Get them on board. I invite companies every where to challenge the traditional awareness initiatives, with a fresh philosophy that reaches out to the guys, too. With the potential to boost breast cancer awareness by nearly 100%, it just makes sense to rethink and rebrand all things macho, all things rugged, all things mega-manly. Just do it softly:

I see a new age in cause-marketing on the horizon; a movement towards Neo-Think Pinkery, if you will.

Oh, yes, we will. We all will.

Branding Me SoftlySocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

08 October, 2007

That’s Advertisement!

Want to prove you have the hottest chili? How about a cloud of nearly toxic smoke, a HAZMAT team, cordoning off and evacuating three city blocks, and firefighters breaking down your front door? That’s what happened to the London restaurant Thai Cottage last Monday. The chef was preparing nine pounds of extra-hot chili peppers for a spicy Thai-dip, which owner Sue Wasboonma described as the “the hottest thing we make…and customers love it.” Wasboonma also speculated that the reason the smoke didn’t go up into the sky was because of the rain and heavy air. A waitress noted, “Next time we might put some posters up to say we are cooking the dip.”

That’s advertisement, a dip so hot you need to warn THE NEIGHBORHOOD about it. How can other restaurants even compete with that?

Restaurant: Our sauce is hot.
Customer: Does it require a three-hour blockade, HAZMAT team, fire brigade and notifying the neighborhood every time you make it?
Restaurant: No.
Customer: Then it can’t be that hot.

I’m sure once their front door is fixed, the 17-year-old restaurant will sell out of this particular dip (which they make only once a year) very quickly.

Now, I’m not going to recommend this sort of marketing (accidental as it were)—public mayhem and cloud of scary smoke—but you get the idea. Sometimes you have to think big. And I’m not talking a giant gorilla on the roof of your car dealership big. Honey, look, a giant crazed gorilla. We should buy a car there. I mean outside-the-box big.
Remember the whole cartoon network Boston terrorism scandal from this past winter?
That brought national media attention to a crudely animated 15-minute television show on Adult Swim, a Cartoon Network brand that airs only 45 hours of television per week (there are 168 hours in a week). And the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie—the Cartoon Network show and movie that feature the characters shown in the Boston LED displays—doubled its estimated $1.5 million budget on opening weekend this April.

Now the negatives. Turner Broadcasting, Cartoon Network’s parent company (a division of Time Warner), was not fined, but they offered to pay $2 million in restitution to the city of Boston, and the incident cost the head of Cartoon Network his job. Also, this campaign was carried out in 10 U.S. cities, but Boston was the only place where it grabbed any attention. However, after the Boston scare, people across the country began searching for these devices, and saved them as collector’s items or sold them on eBay for as much as $5000. Nevertheless, in 9 out of 10 cities, the advertising may have gone for naught.

Still, you can’t buy advertising like that. And $2 million is nothing for a company as large as Time Warner. Warner Bros. probably spent 10 times that marketing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Now, I’m not saying you should create some sort of bombing hoax. Sarin gas will never help your business! I repeat, “DO NOT ORGANIZE A BOMB HOAX TO ADVERTISE.” I’ve gone on the record many times with that advice. NO BOMBS!
Why? 1) That’s a stupid question. 2) $2 million is a lot of money. Can your company afford a $2 million hit in the wallet? 3) It only cost Turner $2 million and some bad press. Thai Cottage (although their “advertisement” was not planned) suffered a broken front door and loss of business for an afternoon. Heaven forbid there was a riot or someone further misunderstood the situation or that maybe one of Cartoon Network’s ad gorillas took things a little too far.
The point is, they thought bigger (or as in the case of Thai Cottage, were blessed with an interesting accident). They went outside the box. Granted, once you go outside the box, suddenly everyone copies you, and pulls the box back around you. But people remember the companies who did it first and the companies who did it best. Whether you’re an edgy, relatively new product like Adult Swim, or a product that’s been around for decades like Budweiser, Geico or Travelers Insurance, you have to be willing to buck the trend and try something different. The problem with trying something different is it’s scary. Because if it doesn’t work, you’ve spent all that money and are right back where you started. But if it does work, you may bring your brand or product to an entirely new audience, make tons of money for your company, and look like a genius in the process.
In the changing marketplace and in the world, those who adapt, succeed. Those who remain stagnant, die. So you can take a risk and possibly fail or do nothing and die. Hmmm. Risk sounds good.
-Captain Awesome, Project Specialist

That’s Advertisement!SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

24 September, 2007

Ecko Rocks the Vote, or Why I'm a Genius.

OK, for the regular readers of this blog (thanks, Mom and Dad!), you may remember my post discussing how to get the maximum marketing mileage out of Barry Bond's homerun ball. Kudos to Marc Ecko for taking my advice (or the advice of someone who shamelessly stole my advice and passed it off as their own) by putting the fate of the ball up for a vote by the masses. Well played, my friend. Well played.

For the record though, I come to not to praise Marc Ecko--only to analyze his approach. So, how's the campaign stack up?

Originality: Grade B+

It’s the best idea ever stolen from me. Consumer voting has been used before, but usually it's been more closely associated with a product (e.g. choose a new color for M&Ms, pick your favorite Doritos commercial). In this situation, he's using it as a brand builder. Ecko, the fashion maverick that he is, understands his demographic. His clothes have always been for The People. Now, his brand is of The People; by providing us everyday folks with the chance to weigh in on an emotionally/historically charged topic, he’s telling us we matter. Yes! Us, 1. Not Mattering 0.

Creativity: Grade B+All right, burning the asterisk into the ball is pretty hardcore. I dig the irony. And sending it to the Hall of Fame is a classy option. But shooting it into space? (Cue cliché 80’s high-school movie slow-clap, building to enthusiastic applause.) Bravo. Granted, I’d still like to see the ball shredded in a wood chipper and mailed to Barry Bonds, COD. Ecko does however miss a prime opportunity to further blend his brand with the fate of the ball. Perhaps pull it apart, make something wearable out of it, then auction it off and donate the proceeds to whales with cancer or, better yet, me.

Impact: Grade A-
At the time of this writing, the vote tally was just shy of ten million. Not bad considering this campaign has existed almost exclusively in forwarded links, word-of-mouth, widgets for people to include on their own sites, and a few national TV interviews. Extra points for the frugality of execution (even including the bazillion dollars he paid for the ball).

Extension: Grade Incomplete
After casting your vote, you’re given the opportunity to submit your email address to receive voting updates and final results. Not sure where it goes after that. I submitted the email addresses of people I don’t like and none of them has complained they've received additional spam…yet. My guess is email lists will be used for further CRM initiatives and sales promotions, eventually.

All-in-all, Ecko’s Vote756.com campaign is a great way to build a little brand equity, if I do say so myself. And as the brain trust behind it, I do. Man, I rule.

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06 September, 2007

The Power to Raise the Dead

Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim began back in 1990, resurrecting a popular cartoon character with origins back to the 1960s. Space Ghost Coast to Coast was a smashing success at its inception. A cartoon hosting a talk show? How absurd. However, it is that sort of thinking that has given birth to Adult Swim’s ever-expanding lineup of original programming and lead to a large underground following.

They struck gold with recent shows like Robot Chicken and Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Aqua Teen was even made into a feature length film, released earlier this year, which made them twice their budget on opening weekend. Unfortunately they made more of a splash in the media when their guerilla marketing campaign for the movie, mistaken for a bombs, nearly shut down all of Boston.

Even before the Boston scare, Adult Swim was playing to larger audience, thanks in large part to its airing of syndicated episodes of Family Guy. I know this is old news at this point, but Family Guy was a program with a cult following that was saved by Adult Swim. Fox had already cancelled Family Guy twice before Adult Swim got their hands on it. Based on the rabid response from Adult Swim viewers, Fox re-upped with series and hasn’t looked back.

Now, Adult Swim’s done it again. The greatest, in my opinion of course, animated show ever created has been dragged back from the depths of despair. Futurama has been running ad nauseum on Adult Swim to my delight. Comedy Central’s announced that it will begin airing new episodes of Futurama in 2008, and I for one am thrilled that it is starting to get the acknowledgment it has long deserved.

Yeah, this makes us Futurama fanatics happy, but what, if anything, does this mean to the masses that could really care less about these animated series? It means that somewhere, beneath all the reality-show garbage littering primetime lineups and beyond all of the politics of ratings and revenue, maybe, the true voice of viewers is finally coming through.

Tune in, write the network and support the forums that support your show. Adult Swim allows its viewers to do all three of those things. Now if we could just get people that interested in our political system some greater good may come out of it.

Until then, kudos to Adult Swim for giving loyal viewers the voice to create change and for bringing back an American animated masterpiece. You truly are the place where the dead go to live.
--Nick Piche, Copywriter

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27 August, 2007

Bear Attacks Are Good for Business!

Not a year goes by that I don’t read about several shark attacks; bear attacks; or someone being killed by the exotic snake, spider or tiger they kept in their apartment. In the past week I’ve read three articles on crocodiles, one about an idiot who decided to wrestle a wild alligator, two about bear attacks, one about a rabid beaver attack and one about an alligator eating a shark (there was a special that day).

These animals have some serious advertising clout. Unfortunately, their message of, “Stay out of our clubhouse,” keeps getting lost on both seasoned thrill seekers and amateur morons. But what these animals have done is create an incredible buzz campaign. People don’t want to just watch or learn about these animals. They feel compelled to get closer, to touch them, to feed them, to offer their limbs as tasty snacks to ever-so-friendly WILD ANIMALS!

Nevertheless, their “advertising” has gotten these animals a lot of attention. How do you duplicate that for your product?

1. Create a product people are interested in (or you can make people interested in) when they encounter it—so much they’ll want to share this product or experience with others. “I nearly ceased to exist thanks to Nature’s Perfect Killing Machine. Want to go see it?”
2. Spend time. Build the hype. These animals have been doing it for centuries. You probably don’t have that kind of time, but you will need to spend some time and really dedicate yourself to that buzz.
3. It can’t be available everywhere. Not everyone can walk out their front door and see a Grizzly or Great White. That’s why people plan trips to zoos and aquariums. The zoo or aquarium presents something people can’t see every day. The same can be said for Disney World or Medieval Times. I mean whatever happened to street corner jousting? As far as products go, when my uncle was in the Navy, he was told to stay away from Ouzu, a Greek liqueur. What do you think was the first thing he did when he got to Greece?
4. The buzz has to pay off. You hype something up to be amazing, but if it turns out to be less interesting than watching carpeting glue set, your buzz may backfire. If it pays off, the buzz just continues to build. But you hype a movie for months and it turns out to be a horribly shot film with no plot, that ends in a dark shack with no clue to the actual ending, and people will be pissed off and tell their friends it was a waste of money. The buzz dies.
5. There has to be some sort of supply. When people can’t get something, they want it even more. X-Boxes, Playstations, Talking Elmos, Cabbage Patch Kids. But you can only hold people’s attention for so long. If the product appears too difficult to reach, eventually people lose interest. The pony you’ve wanted since were 3, Guns n’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy album that has been coming “next year” since 1999, or the fabled flying car. At this point, just give me a jet pack.
6. Finally, update the campaign. Keep it going. Keep your product growing.

An incredible example of this type of advertising is from Red Bull Energy Drink. Before Red Bull, “energy drinks” were sodas. Now there’s an entire market dedicated to these products. And although Red Bull’s advertising seems strange, it’s very sophisticated. There are the quirky Red Bull cartoons featuring the tagline, “It gives you wings.” They have massive branded “fringe” events like Flugtag and The Streets of San Francisco. They have “energy teams” who buzz anything from gas stations to huge events giving away Red Bull to tired attendants. A friend comes up to you and says, “Where did you get that?” You reply, “The Red Bull guy drove up in some crazy truck and just gave it to me because I looked tired.” Your friend says, “What’s it do?” You say, “It gives me wings.” Now your friend wants one. The buzz is there. Oh, and it helps that it works.

Throughout all of their advertisements, though, Red Bull rarely notes the features or benefits of their products, or they at least keep those benefits vague enough to pique people’s curiosity. Yet Red Bull is the number one selling energy drink in the world, dwarfing competition from larger companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Anheiser Busch. One should also note, it did take more than a decade for that buzz to really build. At first Red Bull was only available in Europe, and the spread throughout the U.S. was gradual over the past 10 years.
Creating buzz isn’t easy. It takes a vision, a plan and dedication. Our animal friends got people’s attention, but their message was lost. Despite all of the advertising that said, “Don’t poke that rattlesnake with a stick,” there are still plenty of people who see a rattlesnake and immediately go looking for that stick

But the business landscape is filled with companies who created the buzz and got the messaging right—Red Bull, Nike and Macintosh, just to name a few (tell me you didn’t ask a friend to see that first generation ipod or iphone). When done right, a good buzz campaign is more effective than the most expensive super bowl commercial you could buy, because real people, with real social contact do the marketing for you.

Wait a minute. Red “Bull.” Dangerous animal + brilliantly marketed product. This just might be the smartest advertising on the planet.

--Captain Awesome, Project Specialist

Bear Attacks Are Good for Business!SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

21 August, 2007

Marketing Mike Vick's Misery

OK. My wife and I have been accused of being a little eccentric because of the number of animals we keep (two dogs, six cats, and a pond full of koi). We collect pets the way Bill Paxton’s character on “Big Love” collects wives. We’re Polanimalists. That being said, I’ll spare everyone my own personal diatribe on everything that’s wrong and disgusting about the dog fighting incident and about Michael Vick as a human being.

I will however give mad (rabid, even) props out to the people who’ve found a way to make a difference—or in some cases, make a dime—off of the guy’s stupidity. The beauty of America is its marketing spirit, and our natural ability to turn terrible circumstances into causes célébres and cash-a-plenty. Simply take a look at how many American flags Wal-Mart sold on September 11, 2001 compared with the same date a year earlier (for those keeping score at home, it was 116,000 units to 6,400 units, respectively). They made money, and people were able to display their support of their country. That’s the win-win of Patriotic Consumerism.

So when I saw the Mike Vick chew toy, I was ecstatic. Like it or not, you’ve got to give the four budding entrepreneurs who started the venture some punk points for inventiveness. Their product is molded, vulcanized rubber irony, guaranteed to stand up to even the toughest pooch. Now, whether they actually follow through on their website’s promise to share a portion of the profits with organizations dedicated to animal welfare, is another story. But they’re back-ordered, and that means business is good. Even better, Vick isn’t making a penny from it. Until he eventually sues their pants off.

PETA’s in on the action, too. Vick’s dog fighting charges—and plea bargain—are exactly what they needed to raise real awareness about the atrocities that take place in dingy urban basements, abandoned warehouses, and back-road trailer parks across America. The number of tips they’ve received has jumped since they rallied their efforts around condemning his actions. He’s the ultimate boogeyman, like the lurking burglar in ADT spots or the slippery floor that no elderly person can escape from in Life Alert ads. He’s the best and worst thing that’s ever happened to the animal rights cause in recent memory.

Who knows. Maybe Vick will even figure out a way to market his own mistakes. Think about it. Once he’s out of the pokey, he’ll no doubt be any network interviewer’s first round pick for easy ratings.

“Tell us how you’ve changed, Mike.”
“What made you do it, Mike?”
“Is that an Armani suit, Mike?”
“Who do you think will win the AFC, Mike?”

He’ll be on TV in no time. Then, perhaps a book. An acting gig. Hey, maybe even parlay his infamous persona into a professional wrestling career. In some way, he’ll find a way to get paid. And that, too, is what business in America is all about.

Marketing goes both ways, benefiting the good guys and the bad guys alike. Like the light and dark side of the Force or Andy Dick. It’s a just little tough to tell which is which, sometimes. As a pet owner, I feel pretty good that something positive will come out of this mess. As an ad guy watching people make money and promote their causes at Vick’s expense, I feel even better.

--M.M. McDermott, Senior Copywriter

Marketing Mike Vick's MiserySocialTwist Tell-a-Friend
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