25 July, 2007

Advertising's Cult of Performance Enhancement

So, right now I’m just waiting. And as I sit here, I see that Barry Bonds is just 2 long balls shy of Hank Aaron’s heralded 755 homerun mark. Mr Bonds has got to be one of the most vilified “heroes” of our day. Why? Because the majority of America, including myself, believe he used “performance enhancing drugs.” There it is – the specter of “performance enhancing drugs” turns a hero into a pariah. But upon further review, are we, the common masses, really in any place to judge? Sure, he cheated in the workplace, but as society, how can fault him, when we seem to always be looking for the next lab-created leg up? Have the pharmaceutical companies run amok? Are we improving our lives or have we now become the Cult of Performance Enhancement?

Don’t’ think so? Just look at the advertisements that flood each commercial break during any major sporting event. You can’t help but be barraged with a seemingly endless torrent of pharmaceutical firms selling the latest and greatest affliction. “Do you have Ailment X affecting lifestyle goal Y? How can you be sure? You should be frightened because ailment X is particularly nasty for Group Z? Well, there’s no need to worry because now there’s Zxynoxanol”! Yikes.

As I’m still waiting and have the time, I think from an academic standpoint, it’s important to get some sort of historical perspective- an analytical “how did we get here?”

Well, I place the blame squarely on two brands that laid the foundation for insidious fear-based marketing: Palmolive and Wisk. That’s right, I said it. I’m on to your game Madge. Oh, darn these dishpan hands!? Whatever will I do? Madge to the rescue! “Thank goodness there’s Palmolive, you’re soaking in it!” Oh my you’ve surreptitiously placed my hands in some sort of green goo. Thanks, Madge! Manicurist, my arse. Snake oil salesman more like it.

And Wisk? Now who ever heard of “ring-around-the-collar”? Oh what a social nightmare to be cast from society with such a horrid condition. Well, at least in the modern age, we can all breathe a little easier as this is apparently an affliction that has been cured. Did Unilever, the makers of Wisk, finally rid us of this pestilence? Um, no… it was actually when people decided that maybe we should wash our clothes more than once a month.

Anywho, my favorite new pharmaceutical miracle is Requip and the troubling syndrome it alleviates… dramatic pause… Restless Leg Syndrome or RLS. You know, my wife and I spent three and a half hours in traffic yesterday and her legs felt funny. Does she have RLS? Do I? Sometimes when I’m lying in bed, I have the urge to stretch out my legs. Then, other times I like them curled up? What’s wrong with me? Do I need a doctor? Oh my! So while I’m waiting, I decide I must learn more and in doing my due diligence on Requip.com, I just came across this little gem:

Some patients taking ropinirole (Requip) have shown urges to behave in a way
unusual for them. Examples of this are an unusual urge to gamble or increased
sexual urges and/or behaviors. If you or your family notices that you are
developing any unusual behaviors, talk to your doctor.

Man! Why aren’t they marketing that?! Strange sexual urges and the possibility of getting my wife to ante-up for the World Series of Poker… now that is a miracle drug!

So anyway, back to Barry. Is he a cheat? In my eyes, yes. Did he take “performance enhancing drugs?” In my eyes, yes. Is he entirely to blame? Maybe not. Maybe, he just fell victim to some sort of flyer from Balco warning of the dangers of “Only-Above-Average-Musclitis.” Maybe he’s just another willing sheep in our Cult of Performance Enhancement.

Okay, enough waiting. It’s been four hours… I’m calling my doctor.

For more on side effects of drugs in our society please see:

Or for the Cliff’s Notes: http://youtube.com/watch?v=2nMkpMvvgY4
--Ken Hall, Associate Creative Director

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23 July, 2007

Grandma’s Virtual Kick to the Groin

Developing creative for a client last week led to a discussion with one of my fellow writers here at Renegade. Matt held strong in the opinion that he wanted to maintain the sophistication within his creative, not going for the pie-in-the-face or kick-to-the-groin joke. He wanted to keep the humor in his creative subtle. Not surprising from the fine-wine-drinking, fine-cigar-smoking guy who writes about Chivas Regal.

On the other hand, last winter I proposed a campaign where people using the competitors’ product kept getting slapped in the face. A literal metaphor for the competitors’ figurative actions. It was scaled back considerably.

But there’s the question. High brow, low brow or something in between? A perfect mix of all is ideal. Shakespeare wrote subtle tongue-in-cheek innuendo for the lords and ladies in the balconies and lewd, bawdy jokes for the groundlings. He was trying to capture the attention of two different audiences. Shakespeare also had three acts, not :30-:60 seconds or a single magazine page, and he was telling a story, not selling power tools, gym memberships or High-Speed Internet.

I could go either way. Give me the sophisticated brilliance and attention to detail of this X-Box 360 ad, the didn’t see it coming joke in Sprint’s crime deterrent phone commercial, as well as the just-plain-weird/pure genius of E Trade’s 1999 Superbowl commercial.

But remember your audience.

Video gamers want to see something “cool.” Their parents might not get the X-Box commercial, but parents aren’t the main audience. However, you can push the cool factor too far and make something just plain strange, like with this creepy PS3 commercial.

Who was E Trade’s audience? Intelligent, affluent adults, already interested in investing. That commercial might have been lost on Grandpa plowing-corn-fields and Susie-preteen. But the mix of “what the heck” and “duh” got the attention of adults who already figured they knew enough about the market that they could manage their own money.

Sprint was advertising a gadget-filled cell phone. The spots gets in features early and finishes up a gag that gadget-crazy 18-34-year-old males just ate up, told their friends about, and watched again. If you can make someone in our DVR-crazy, 700-channel society excited about a commercial, you’ve done something right.

So the question is audience. Make a spot in that PS3 commercial-style advertising a product to PTA moms during Everybody Loves Raymond, and not only will they not buy it, they’ll try to get it banned. Spend $2 million on explosions, CGI and famous actors when your audience wants to know the bare bones of a product, you probably won’t sell the product and you probably won’t have a job next quarter. On the other hand, when advertising to attention-divided teenagers, you need a hook. Try to give them just the facts and they’ll be on the next channel before they even hear your name.

Advice: Do some research, or have your ad agency do some research. When you make assumptions about your audience, you run the risk of wasting a lot of advertising dollars. There’s an audience for every product, although I’m still having trouble getting fatguysinthongsandalsandnothingelse.com off the ground. I just haven’t found that hook.

Here’s a company that went for a pretty old hook. Girls in bikinis. Tiger Time Lawn Care recently started a new service—the Bikini Cut. Instead of Johnny Overalls mowing the lawn it’s a young woman in a bikini. Their website notes that the client requested Tiger Time’s service because they were trying to sell their house. The house sold in 17 days. Low brow appears to be working for Tiger Time, although Hooters Air wasn’t so fortunate, grounded after only 2 years. My roommate flew Hooters Air shortly after the airline took to the sky. I was surprised to see him again.

Remember: Who is your audience? Don’t be scared to go smart. Intelligence, sophistication and a never-before-seen technique could make you millions—if done right. But try to be too brilliant and you could waste a lot of money and still not reach your audience. And don’t forget that many still respond to what is comfortable and familiar—a warm-friendly face, a pretty girl, a pie in the face, or a neighborly kick to the groin.

The next big thing: Grandma’s Virtual Kick to the Groin. Trust me.

--Captain Awesome, Project Specialist

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20 July, 2007

Pepsi: The Official Soft Drink of…Master Chief?

We're surrounded by advertising every day. As Jason pointed out, some of us are brushing our teeth with the magical saliva of Mary Kate and Ashely Olsen after eating a hefty serving of super-digestible Spider-Man cereal. (If you are raising your eyebrow in confusion right now, read Jason Bloom's blog below.)

We see commercials during TV shows, advertisements before movies, billboards on highways, and banners during the games. And now, we're starting to see the footprint of advertisers in video games more than ever before.

Though my infrequent play as of late makes me a slacker in the XBOX 360 community and my XBOX Live Gamer Score is definitely cringe-worthy (don't worry, I'll save the details for a geekier blog on a different site), I am still a video game fan. So, when I happened upon a link to an article titled Video Game Advertising: Closing In on a Billion Bucks, you're darn right I clicked on it.

According to the article in the E-Commerce Times, in-game advertising in 2006 was a mere $77.7 million (okay, I know a just used the word 'mere' in front of a pretty hefty sum, but compared to $1 billion it's like loose change in the sofa cushions). So, why is the Yankee Group predicting a sharp increase to almost a billion dollars by next decade?

Simple: because video games are where the eyeballs are. More in-depth games and online game play can easily mean hours upon hours of game-play. I personally know some people who have basically made gaming a mandatory part of their daily schedule. Go to work; pay the electric bill; birthday dinner for sister; defeat 1,000 zombies barehanded in Dead Rising.

It makes sense that more and more advertisers are exploring in-game advertising. And, it makes sense for developers too, as they face the rising costs of creating more advanced game play on more complex platforms. So, how do gamers feel about this growing corporate invasion into their beloved games?

I asked my friend Adam Gallia, a frequent player, what he thought of the issue. His response:

"It doesn't bother me that it's in the game, unless it gets to be gratuitous and overwhelms the game-play experience. It could even make a game feel more realistic. But let's face facts: a good game will sell and offset the costs of development. A crappy game will not. So, make a good product and recouping development cost is not a problem. Seriously, do you hear Bungie (makers of Halo) complaining about development costs? The answer is no. You wanna put a Coke machine in the scenery of Gears of War 2? Go for it! But when Marcus Fenix is running around in Nike shoes with a Stihl chainsaw, I'm officially done with video games."

The key is subtlety. Add elements that make sense to the game without being overbearing. Trust me, what seems like a small addition to the game environment will be noticed, and will earn respect from most players. If you're company is cool enough to support Call of Duty or Madden NFL, then you've gotta be good.

Want to be more obvious and still be respected? Then offer something that adds value to the game-play experience. Online gaming offers opportunities to sponsor new levels of game play, new characters, etc. Hey, you're sponsoring the development of new downloadable maps for Halo 3? Now you're really cool. Check out this guest column from Double Fusion CEO Jonathan Epstein for some more insight.

Developers are beginning to integrate ad technology into their design process. Nielson is looking to track video game use to give more validity to video games as an advertising medium. As advertising in video game grows, this player can only hope that companies and developers know where to draw the line.

--Alicia Taft, Course Developer

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18 July, 2007

The Science Behind Co-Branding: A Satire

Elmo dolls at Build-a-Bear? Incredible Hulk Popsicles? Olson Twins Toothpaste?? Does this seem like a heaping dose of insanity to you? Well it's not, Pope Urban. It's called "co-branding." Co-branding is prevalent in all sectors of the marketplace, from Pillsbury cookies featuring M&Ms brand candies to Starbucks coffee service on United Airlines flights. But nowhere is it more ubiquitous than in the entertainment industry.

Entertainment properties from movies, television, and music are used to sell an enormous variety of products, from shoe polish to breakfast cereals. These pairings often make little sense on the surface, beyond being a convenient way to sell hair gel while advertising your latest video game. But I've looked a little deeper and found that, In truth, there is a strong ethic amongst researchers and marketers alike to create co-branded products that far exceed the standard single brand equivalents.

As a video editor, I take scientific validity issues in co-branded marketing campaigns very seriously. So I launched a rigorous, multi-phased, cross-media marketing analysis that lasted hours and took minutes to complete. Here are a few examples of the science behind co-branding.

Why has everything gone Shrek? It's not because he's adorable, funny or a highly bankable commodity. It's because he's green. Remember how popular Kermit was in the 70s, or Yoda in the early 80s?. In a recent double-blind study conducted in Massachusetts, students at the Perkins School for the Blind were more likely to say they preferred foods colored green over other colors even though the students have no concept of green, or colors in general. And this favoritism jumped 540 percent when the subjects were administered powerful electric shocks when touching the non-green food products! Interestingly, 540 nanometers is the frequency for green light. Coincidence?

Congress doesn't think so. Recent legislation requires automakers to build greener cars by 2012. Why green? Certain harmonics in the paint cut down on drag, making the cars more energy efficient. In fact, green energy initiatives are everywhere, due to the considerable power in green's 540 nanometer wavelength. But color is only one factor to consider when creating a superior product.

Another study conducted by field mice outside of Denver found a strong correlation between the shape of molded oat cereals and their nutritional efficacy. The study found that the web shape used in Spiderman Brand Cereal had the highest surface area to mass ratio of all breakfast cereals, causing a nearly instantaneous digestion and absorption of all 12 vitamins and minerals included as part of your complete breakfast. Cheerios? It ranked 54th, six spots lower than Lucky Charms and 12 spots lower than topsoil.

And what about that Olson Twins toothpaste? Two words: super spittle. The gorgeous duo owe their flawless smiles to a minor genetic anomaly that gives their saliva 10 times the cleansing power of any known substance. Toothpaste is only the logical jumping-off point. Soon Mary Kate and Ashley's drool will replace an entire generation of outmoded cleaning products.

I think I've made my point. The next time you're pondering a co-branded entertainment venture please don't let ridiculous mismatches in products and brands stop you. Just make sure the science is sound and everything else will take care of itself. Oh, and look for Jason Bloom brand spray cheese and drain cleaner, coming to a supermarket near you.

--Jason Bloom, Senior Avid Editor

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16 July, 2007

Advertising is Child’s Play

Like everything else on Earth, advertising changes, adapts and evolves to stay new and to keep its purpose from becoming extinct. The most primitive form of advertising comes in the form of a sign that was hung outside shops hundreds of years ago. Those signs eventually turned into newspaper advertising, magazines, outdoor, radio, television, the Internet… the list goes on.

We are always looking for new and exciting ways to get our message to the consumer. High-end technologies and flashy gadgets that promote our message and wow viewers. This was true of the television at its inception, but today advertisers need a new way to reach their target, so why then have they looked back nearly 2,000 years for inspiration?

The zoetrope was invented as a children’s toy in the 1830s by George Horner. However, the earliest known zoetrope was created by a Chinese inventor in 180 A.D. A zoetrope is a cylinder consisting of static pictures and slits cut vertically in the sides that can be spun to make the images appear to be moving. Zoetrope translates from Greek as “life turn,” as you turn it, it comes to life. Now imagine you are inside the zoetrope with life-size pictures and live-action animation.

This antique toy has become the inspiration for a new form of advertising. The concept is simple – place linear pictures along the walls of subway tunnels in a way that makes them come to life as passengers pass by in the subway cars. However, execution may be a bit tougher. A twenty second ad consists of a string of pictures stretching about 1,000 feet and is made up of approximately 4,800 frames in 3 foot boxes.

Two of the pioneering companies are Canada’s Sidetrack and Submedia in New York, and a few of the many advertisers that are already partaking include Microsoft, Target, Lexus, and Coca-Cola.

Transits have swallowed an initial cost of up to $1.4 million, but are seeing an amazing return on investment because the price of placing an ad is running anywhere between $35,000 to $250,000 a month.

If you’re interested in experiencing this “ground-breaking” advertising all you have to do is take a ride on the Red Line in Washington D.C., Chicago’s “L” Train, or trains in Boston, New York, London, Tokyo and others.

--Nick Piche, Copywriter

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13 July, 2007

Reality Shows Come of Age?

MTV’s the Real World debuted in May of 1992, introducing to millions of viewers the sexual mores and antics of America’s youth. Now about to celebrate it’s 20th season, the Real World isn’t reeling in the viewers quite like it used to and MTV is finding that the short-attention-span audience it spawned is paying attention (for the next 5 seconds at least) somewhere else.

It was the Real World that made me a regular MTV watcher back in the day and it was the Real World that turned me into a reality show junkie – except now I don’t watch them on MTV. The issue is that while MTV has remained the same, its loyal viewers from fifteen or more years ago have grown older. We find ourselves much more intrigued by people who’ve actually lived more than two fully grown years on the planet.

Case in point… My new favorite guilty pleasure is NBC’s Age of Love, the series that pits 20-somethings against 40-somethings in the quest for the attention of a 31-year-old gorgeous guy. I had the opportunity to watch this show with the daughter of a friend. As the women in their 40s continued to impress tennis pro and bachelor Mark Philippoussis with their conversational skills, poise and self-confidence, my 23 year-old friend yells out, “That’s not fair! Those girls are dumb.” Before I knew it I replied, “Do you think it was that hard for the producers to find eight dumb girls in their 20s?” Now before I get a lot of hate mail from the younger set, let me just say for the record this was not a very PC thing to say, and I know not all 20-somethings have the IQ of a pretzel, but hey, you do have Paris Hilton. Can you blame me?

Anyway… It occurred to me that MTV and these young women had a lot in common. They each assumed that youth would win the day but are quickly learning that there’s a whole lot of competition out there.

--Gay Pinder, Director of Program Development

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11 July, 2007

Viral Video?

Yesterday I came across a video at Break.com, a favorite site of mine for watching foreign commercials, funny videos, and guys ages 10-30 hurting themselves. Thanks to Break, I firmly believe skateboarding is the most dangerous sport in the world.

But in this video, “Dog Goes Crazy After Drinking Slurpee,” a dog drinks a Slurpee, shows its blue tongue, walks backwards, then jumps through a wooden fence, causing the fence to collapse. Something looked fishy. Not only can most dogs not walk backwards, but even fewer can leap three feet in the air and propel themselves through a fence. Also, it reminded me of the Toyota Tundra commercials where the Tundra is in the background, and the focus is on the people in the foreground. Then the Tundra is pushed off a cliff or is struck by a meteor and survives. Yay Tundra! What begins as a mildly interesting commercial ends with a big bang.

So I went back and watched the video again. They say “Slurpee” at the very beginning. The Slurpee logo is prominently displayed on the side of one cup for 3-4 seconds. And the cups are an easily visible pink or purple. The only colors that bright in the video are the blue Slurpee in the dog bowl and the dog’s blue tongue.

Then I searched YouTube and, sure enough, found the same video titled, “Watch the Mental Dog!” However, this video had a tag at the end for a contest run by, http://www.slurpee.com.au/, Australia’s Slurpee website. Aha!

Viewers of both videos noted the video was funny, that is was cruel to give the dog so much sugar or that the video was obviously an ad. So I typed the words “slurpee” and “dog” into the youtube search engine and came up with a few similar hits of different dogs drinking Slurpees, always with the Slurpee logo prominently displayed.

If makers of the video hadn’t gone through so much trouble to force in the Slurpee image or to make the outcome of the video so over-the-top, I probably would have been fooled. Of course, “Dog Drinking Slurpee” isn’t nearly as interesting as “Insane Slurpee Dog Jumps Through Fence.” I should also note the description for the original YouTube video didn’t state the dog jumped through the fence. That’s the surprise. That video, posted in November, had nearly 7,000 hits. The Break video, on the other hand, did note that the dog jumped through the fence, so I clicked.

The best viral videos are subtle, not intrusive, so viewers can’t sniff out the advertisement. When you can get a viewer interested in a product, but keep them from realizing they’re being advertised to, 1) you get around the cynicism some people have towards advertising—the “I’m not gonna buy that just because you want me to” attitude, and 2) the customer now thinks they know more than the other guy, and wants to be able to say they were one of the first to get in on the next big thing that the not-so-smart consumer didn’t see.

Subtle product placement or product imbedding also does this very effectively—an athlete drinking a hip new beverage on the sideline, a celebrity flaunting this year’s hot new item while “hanging out” at some media-rich event, or a Red Bull refrigerator in the liquor store on an episode of 24. Jack Bauer must be tired. It’s almost 10 PM. I’m tired too.

Look in the background, see what advertisements you might be missing. But makers of this video were a little too by-the-advertising-book, and thus were easier to catch, by me and by many advertising-savvy Web surfers. So good try, Slurpee, but we figured you out. Looks like Slurpee lost this one.

Or did they? As of yesterday, the Break video, posted this Sunday, had almost 400,000 hits. Oh, one more note. Today is July, 11—7-11. Hm. We figured you out, Slurpee, but not before you got your advertising message out to nearly half a million people. Slurpee, you win this round.

-Captain Awesome, Project Specialist

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09 July, 2007

The Winter of Chivas's Web-Content

Poet George Santayana said it best: Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

In 1812, Napoleon’s Grande Armee’ invaded Russia with 610,000 troops—in the middle of winter. Within a year, he lost 85% of his men to starvation, disease, and desertion. Fast forward to 1941; in the thick of World War II, the German army makes a move on Moscow with temps already plummeting to -30ºF in an attempt to do what the French were unable to. Result: over 730,000 casualties on the German side.

And then, there’s BudTV.com. Launched in 2006, the online TV channel sponsored by Anheuser-Busch featured branded content, games, original entertainment, longer form commercials, and a potpourri of humorous vignettes. Despite the big expectations, it lost over 100K visitors within its first month and is expected to get the yank by the end of the year.

Now, for the big SAT analogy: The French army in Russia is to BudTV.com as the German army in Russia is to_________.

If you said the Chivas channel, you obviously weren’t in any of my classes at the Junior College of Ceramic Arts and Automobile Sciences. Apparently whiskey brand Chivas isn’t too concerned with history. They’re moving full-speed ahead with their new branded online network dedicated to livin’ large: sailin’ boats, travelin’ abroad, smokin’ see-gars, and drinkin’ scotch. Because, as we all know, the masses want to watch rich people enjoying themselves, right?

Don’t worry, folks. Some seem to think Chivas has a plan to bring in more visitors and avoid the fate that befell Anheuser “Moscow’s balmy in January” Busch. Based on their “state of the art” age verification system, they’ve all but opened their site to an untapped market: underage visitors. If you’re old enough to outsmart a pull-down menu, you’re old enough to live it up online with Chivas:

While not Fort Knox by any stretch, BudTV at least gave it the old college try in its efforts to deter minors, utilizing software that required info directly from an ID.

In my opinion, Chivas’s relaxed age verification system is of little consequence, though. Honestly, how many kids are going to be clamoring to watch videos that range from learning the bagpipes to enjoying foreign cuisine? Hell, I’m 30 and I’d rather mow my neighbor’s lawn than watch video of an investment banker sunning himself on a pontoon boat off the coast of Morocco.
Minors or not, the Chivas channel has an uphill climb; its online features are geared to a narrow demographic: the young and affluent. BudTV’s content appealed to a much wider audience, and still couldn’t bring in the numbers it needed to stay afloat. At least, that’s what I’ve heard, anyway; I never did get around to visiting it.

-M.M. McDermott, Senior Copywriter

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01 July, 2007

Meet Sean Sutherland / Associate Account Executive

Hello, I'm Sean Sutherland, newest Associate Account Executive at Renegade and newest Contributer to Renegade's award winning, Agency Confessional blog. Rather than bore you by writing about myself, a colleague of mine offered to do it for me.

The following was written by Jim Luparello III, fellow AAE who has the great honor of sitting next to me:

"What can be said about Sean Sutherland that hasn’t already been said? Well, since no one really knows who he is, you can say anything you want. All we really know is that he is from Michigan and graduated from Michigan State University, he knows how to Relate to the Public (ie. Public Relations), and from what we can tell from his outstanding contributions to the Agency Confessional, he knows how to spell.

The rest is a blur of his stunning work ethic, a charming sense of humor and a passion for his fiance, Jessica, action figures, and comic books that is unrivaled by any other living creature. And I think he said he plays hockey, or likes hockey, or watches hockey. That probably means he’s a Red Wings fan. They definitely don’t serve Natty Boh up around 8 Mile."
Dictated, but not written.
Thanks for that endorsement, bud!

I also frequent Brand New's discussion on branding and you can find me on twitter.

Happy to be in the cozy offices of Renegade after living in the wilds of PR freelancing for so long.

Meet Sean Sutherland / Associate Account ExecutiveSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Alicia Taft, Course Developer/Jr. Copywriter

I am a Course Developer/Jr. Copywriter at Renegade. My favorite color is yellow and my favorite song is “Comfortably Numb.” I like animals, the ocean, traveling, and lots of music. I can’t stand typos, so please correct me if you catch one. Thanks!

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