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 clich√© 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

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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

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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!

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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

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