January 28, 2011

Live at Macy's - Life in a shop window

Live in a Macy's window

Life in a Macy's window

Next to Times Square and Fifth Avenue, the area around Herald Square on 34th street is probably one of the busiest areas in Manhattan in terms of foot traffic, tourist penetration, and shopping behavior. Every day, tens of thousands of commuters are rushing from Penn Station into their office towers, and each night thousands of Knicks or Rangers or Lady Gaga fans are on their pilgrimage into Madison Square Garden.

If you are a retailer, advertiser or marketer, and you want to get people's attention in this area, you better come out strong, or you'll fade into a highly cluttered background filled with billboards, electronic displays, phone booth ads, street teams, public stunts, and the list goes on.

Macy's itself is usually doing a great job with their window displays, especially during the holiday season. The rest of the year, you pretty much get used to it, and simply walk past the building without hardly ever paying attention to what's going on inside.

Not so this week. Right in the middle of 34th Street, between Broadway and 7th Avenue, a big cloud of people formed on the sidewalk, right in front of one of the windows. Inside? A carpet, two chairs, a table, a bookshelf, and a bed. On the bed, in PJ's, and with a laptop in his hands - comedian Mike Birbiglia.

"Why is comedian Mike Birbiglia living in a Macy's window? He's here all week - to put the freshness of Ultra Downy April Fresh to the test."

The entire story is streamed live via webcam on the Downy facebook page. A bunch of promotions are cleverly woven into the story. Outside, on the street, you can hear him and his buddies chatting over the speakers. The whole thing is quite funny and a brilliant idea to make people stop for a moment. Not that I'm in the market for Downy - I end up buying the small packages at the local laundromat all the time, but it has put the brand on my radar. And that - for a marketer - is a huge success.

Related link:
Mike Birbiglia live in the Macy's window

January 27, 2011

Higher and higher: Superbowl Ad Cost

Only ten days until Superbowl XLV, and while the excitement in New York has cooled off, since the Jets effort to stage a comeback against the Steelers fell short, the anticipation of hopefully brilliant ads running during the game is creeping in to me.

A quick check on google yielded an interesting retail blog (link below the article), having a nice overview of the continuously rising media cost for a thirty second time slot during the game, and a breakdown of all the Nielsen data around it.

I am often amazed how many brands throw away money buying air time during the Superbowl. Not because they are in the wrong place, but because of their mediocre creative executions. Some even run the same spots they run in their regular media buys. That's pretty lame.

Think for a moment: this is probably the only time during the year, where not just ad people, marketers and media folks watch the game because of the commercials. A majority of regular consumers, who couldn't care less during the rest of the year, are actually looking forward to the entertainment between first downs. It's an incredible opportunity to make an impact. And then you serve the audience the regular, the average?

If you have $3Million Dollars to spend, you should at least free up another $500K to create a great story that will make an impact, that will give you some bang for your buck. Remember the first GoDaddy commercial ever? It ran during the Superbowl a few years back. The impact? Huge!

Then there was a disastrous Cadillac 'Chrome Couture' commercial in 2007, that cost more than a million dollars to produce. The concept was somewhere along the lines of: a Cadillac Escalade on a runway, in the spotlight... it was pretty boring, and the ad agency Leo Burnett took quite a beating for it. Here's the spot:

Conclusion: If you decide to air a commercial during the Superbowl, get your creative team excited. Treat this as an extraordinary project. Get their creative juices flowing. Spend enough time evaluating whether you actually have a concept that will be remembered. Just spending a million dollars doesn't guarantee you success. Then, and only then, go ahead and produce it.

Related link:
RetailSails blog detailing Superbowl 2010 data analysis

January 25, 2011

Classic: Pepsi, Coke & Jimi Hendrix

What if? One can only imagine... Pepsi did a brilliant job in the old days, taking on #1 Coke. These days, Audi is doing a similar approach taking on Mercedes-Benz with their latest campaign. Young, and innovative vs. old and stodgy.

I am not sure where and when Pepsi went wrong over the years. Their advertising messaging, and their identity, has changed as often over the last twenty years as Lady Gaga has changed her outfit in a single month. For the Gaga brand, that is key. It's what's expected. For a consumer brand trying to build lasting brand equity, it's a disaster.

Watch any Pepsi commercial from, let's say 1980, '85, '90, '95 and so on, and you'll see that the brand went in all possible directions. No clear strategy had been defined. The only consistent thing in all this really is the name.

My assumption is that neither the branding / ad agency doing the creative part lasted long enough to create consistency. But much more so I think the Pepsi marketing / brand management team is to blame. What usually happens in this industry is this: one marketing manager leaves his/her job for a better opportunity - most often after 2-3 years - and a new one is being hired. To leave his/her personal mark, they start tweaking the packaging, the logo, change ad agencies, do a massive communication overhaul. After all, you have to show your new employer that you can do stuff.

Then there is the other kind of marketing / brand manager. The one that is executing marketing text-book style, but without a clear understanding of the brand. They are too busy spending the money, moving massive volumes of communication executions around, and not spending enough time and focus on the brand DNA (or territory, or equity). Or they don't know better. That's when they turn to the ad agency, hoping they will hand them the holy grail.

My advice to any maker of consumer goods: Hire a great brand manager. Employ a recruiter to find one, because calling yourself brand manager doesn't make you a good one. Pay him/her well. Make sure to keep them around. Then listen to their advice. Building a brand is about consistency, not constant change. Unless you're Lady Gaga.

January 24, 2011

So dumb: Nationwide Insurance Parrots

This commercial is just so awful - I don't even know where to begin. I guess the whole thing is supposed to be beyond funny, and ironic, and who knows what else. "The World's Greatest Spokesperson in the World!" is already off to a bad start. Casting a guy that looks like Clay Aiken, ten years from now, then make him behave like an idiot, what was the creative mastermind behind this story thinking?

Yes, the Aflac duck is funny. Yes, the Geico gekko is funny. But they are both fictional. We don't see them as the spokesperson of the company. They are branded mascots, setting one boring insurance business apart from the next boring competitor. Once you throw a real person in there, it changes the nature. This guy is a real person, too close in his nature and behavior to other real people. Is he the role model for all nationwide company representatives? If so, the intro line above only adds to his ridicule.

And WTF is going on with the parrots? This entire story is just so... dumb. I am really at a loss for words here. Compared to Nationwide's commercial, the Traveler's dog commercial reviewed in an earlier story deserves an Oscar.

Clay Aiken Sr. isn't really 100% in his role either. Sometimes, you have a character that plays his part so well, you wish they were real. But this guy is somewhat uncomfortable in his role. His performance falls about a mile short of creating an iconic character. Just watch the last three seconds, when the jingle kicks in, and he sits in his chair, forcing himself to be funny by shaking his head left and right, to appear in sync with the music. I just hope the media buy for these stupid thirty seconds ends soon...

January 21, 2011

High Impact: Apple's 1984 Superbowl Commercial

Few advertisers ever achieve what Apple pulled off in 1984. Keep in mind that the above spot only ran once. Ever. During the Superbowl in 1984. Prices for a thirty second commercial running during the biggest event of the year have gone only in one direction as long as I can remember - up. Lately, they've been somewhere in the three million dollar range. That is one-hundred thousand dollars per second.

If you are a Marketing or Advertising Director, you better think twice if you have the material or the story to make a high impact during the Superbowl. If you are planning to run your average commercial, you'd be better off taking your employees on a trip to the Caribbean, or you'll just be one of many that won't be remembered.

If, on the other hand, you plan to leave your mark in Advertising history, go for it. The money is well spent, as this might actually be the only day in the year where people are looking forward to the advertising. Expectations are high, and you better deliver. Apple did it successfully back then, and a few years ago, GoDaddy did it in their special way. They came out of nowhere, made a big splash, and they are still around this day. The domain for this blog was actually bought via GoDaddy.

January 20, 2011

Carnival Cruises & Acid Reflux

How do you like spending all your day in a confined space; the view out of a small window being the same every single day? Your quarters measure about 10" x 15" if you're lucky, and you see the same people all the time. Sounds like prison to me, no?

I've never understood what makes people book a trip on a cruise ship. And I won't even try anymore. I guess it has to do with being content and lazy, and - much more important - with being passive and letting things come to you vs. actively seeking them out. Because the moment you set foot on that ship, you can just turn off your brain cells, and live on auto-pilot. Kind of like the cruising spaceship in WALL-E, with all the fat people being numbed down to passive, lazy, naive, consuming beings.

So how do you differentiate one boat full of lazy people from the next one? Ah, it's all about the 'experience'! In Carnival terms - the 'family experience'! Someone here obviously tried to pull off a 'cool' approach, by having teenage kids actually - for the first time ever in human history - enjoy vacation with their parents during their puberty years.

Something comical came out of this though. I might be the only one with these thoughts, but I'd be surprised if that were true. "Mom just caught air!" does sound an awful lot like "Mom just passed air!" to me. Because - and let's be honest here - it is quite more common for a woman of her age to appear in either a commercial for Viagra or Cealis, talk seriously about retirement, or praise the advantages of Immodium to their hubby who just ate the wrong lunch food.

"Mom just caught/passed air!" And then the final blow horn sound you know from ships everywhere. Sounds an awful lot like a fart to me. Well done, Carnival.

January 18, 2011

Hilarious! Old El Paso Flat Bottom Tacos

On a recent flight back to New York, I had a stop over in Detroit. Torn between two concession stands during lunch time, I decided to think outside of the box, and hit the Taco Bell. Three tacos soon came in a small bag, and as so often with finger fast food of this kind, I found myself trying to find a safe, non-saucy grip on the taco shells. That stuff just always ends up being messy, and as I took on the food challenge I thought to myself: why can't they serve these in some kind of mini racks, similar to those you find in hotels in England in the morning, each holding a selection of breakfast toast slices.

Then, just yesterday, while Rex Ryan's Jets were walking the walk against Bill Belichick's Patriots, Old El Paso presented the perfect solution to the taco dilemma - flat bottom taco shells. They didn't choose to go with the ancient, no-risk taking "NEW" and "INTRODUCING" approach though. Instead, they hit all the available nails on the head. This commercial feels 360 degrees well-rounded. It's great story-telling. It's relevant. It's simple. It's real. It's memorable. And it's funny as hell. I laughed pretty hard.

The amazing thing though is, they manage to do all this in 15 seconds. An introduction. A challenge. A solution. And we're only six seconds into it. It's all wrapped in a story that is cohesive from start to finish.

Too often brands waste twenty seconds drawing an analogy that has nothing to do with the product or the service, then focus a mere five seconds on trying to transfer the benefit to their product, before telling us what it's actually all about.

Kudos, Old El Paso. You are not my first choice when it comes to TexMex, but I'll certainly put you guys on my list again. Because that flat bottom is actualy quite a genius invention.

January 17, 2011

Super annoying: the Progressive girl

This woman just freaks me out. The Progressive commercial comes on, and while a Pavlovian reflex immediately makes me mute the TV, I am wondering how she ever made the cut in the casting sessions.

Grey did a solid job with its work for the insurance company. The visual identity is unique, and cohesive. The sometimes complex legalities of the insurance markets are broken down into small, digestible thirty second segments. Not too complicated, not too simplified. Just right. The visual environment is unique, and I can certainly see this whole story playing for years to come.

Just not with this woman please. I would love to know if there ever was a focus group testing, and what people had to say about her. I find this character quite annoying. Everything about her is just a bit too much. She's behaving like Mrs. know-it-all. She's in your face. She treats everyone else in these commercials like little, immature children.

I'm sure she was supposed to come across as somewhat funny, but it's not. Grey should have a rotation of different sales men and women, so none of them turns into the face of the brand, and the commercial keeps its focus on the product.

January 14, 2011

Size does matter - The naming game

When I was a teenager, my mom always watched this television show called 'Santa Barbara', and ever since, one actor's name on the show has been stuck in my head. Not because of his particular impressive acting skills, but because of his rather unusual name that made me think: "That's not a name! There's something missing." 'A Martinez' was the actor. Not sure what he is doing these days.

Very often, when I hear, see, or read many a brand's name, I feel the same. Just a letter, or two, or three? That's it? Who are you? "A"? What are you? What are you trying to tell me? What is your personality? What do you stand for?

There are many reasons why companies choose certain names, like the ones above. Some never gave it enough thought. Others ignored the advice from their marketing or branding team or simply had bad brand managers. Some just got bored and lazy over the years of pronouncing the full length of their company's or brand's name, and there you go - you end up with two or three letters, void of any meaning, instantly destroying so much of the brand recognition and awareness you have created over many years.

Once you start goggling these brands, learning about the cryptic letters and the world behind them, you can feel the "Aaahs" and "Ooohs" running through your mind. It's like all of a sudden you opened a secret door to the brand's vault. Things begin to make sense, you feel the brand's depth and dimension, like an empty balloon that is being inflated and building up its volume.

Just ask yourself. What on earth does 'LG' stand for? Or 'IBM'? 'AT&T'? 'JWT'? I recently had a chat with a junior art director from a major New York ad agency, and yes, of course, she knew JWT as an agency, but she had no idea what the initials stood for. It has been just a few years, since the iconic 'J. Walter Thompson' got slaughtered, and the new 'JWT' took its place. Around the same time, the agency completely overhauled their midtown offices, located in one of those lifeless office towers in the Grand Central Station area. Humans disappear in it, being swallowed by its tons of steel and concrete, disappearing in one of dozens of elevators, being carried to one of way too many office floors.

While the agency was ripping out walls - getting rid of that old, stuffy, corporate office environment - and adding color, life and energy to the place, it did exactly the opposite with the one asset that distinguished itself from all the other corporate advertising manufacturing behemoths - its name. Instead of honoring its charismatic founder and heritage, it stripped itself into an empty shell, void of anything. Nothing that hints in any direction. Just three letters. Could just as well have been PMS or DVB.

You can't even argue that 'J. Walter Thompson' is too long, and 'JWT' is so much more efficient. Yes, it's more letters, but it's printed on your letterhead and business card, it automatically appears in your email signature, and on the website. You hardly ever have to write it down. You have to say it though. Might that be the reason? Communicating more efficiently in the 21st century? Can't be. The old name phonetically reads "Jay-Wal-ter-Thom-pson". That's five syllables. The new one reads "Jay-Dou-ble-You-Tee". That's five syllables as well. 'J. Walter' would have been a nicer choice. Three syllables. It flows nicely off the tongue. And it makes sense. Funny to see on their website that they've added the 'J. Walter Thompson' name right below the logo. Seems someone realized the mistake to some degree.

But what's an LG? 'Life's good' they tell us all the time. Is that the brand though? It is not. Apparently, it is the combination of two Korean brands - Lucky and Goldstar. Oh my. Ask a hundred people, and I'd be surprised if five know the answer.

An IBM? Probably a few more. Given that 'International Business Machines' is indeed a very long name, IBM seems to be the right choice. It comes with a caveat though. When you are a brand as  big and strong as IBM, throwing millions of advertising dollars out there each year, reminding us that they exist, pounding their name into our heads, you can get away with it.

The same holds true for the American Telephone and Telegraph Corporation - AT&T. But how about GMC? Seems an easy one. General Motors Corporation, right? Wrong. It takes some digging to find the right answer. Very often, as in the JWT case, the owners or founders initials are hidden in there, which is also where GMC got its naem from. Max Grabowski, whose truck company was founded in 1901 and sold to GM in 1909, deserves the honor. So if you know someone who owns a GMC Pick-up truck or SUV, let them know that they drive a 'Grabowski Motor Corporation'. That might sound awkward, but the same holds true for 'BMW', who is hiding its heritage in the name. When you are driving a 'beamer', you are really in a 'Bayerische Motoren Werke' - a 'Bavarian Motor Factory'. 

Long story short: if you are small, choose a good name. Simple. Easy to remember. One that makes sense. If you have gazillions of marketing dollars to spend, you might even be able to establish a brand called 'RX78TY'.

Related link:

January 13, 2011

Hot when it's cold: JC Penney's winter ads

You don't always have to score big, aim high, go in for the big kill. Sometimes, a simple message paired with the right image placed in the right spot does exactly the right thing: get your message across by being relevant.

JC Penney is churning out work in high volume these days. I see it everywhere. The above is placed on walls in a subway underpass in Manhattan, and it absolutely hits the spot. Someone really thought about the context and the person who is passing by. He/she is in a rush to catch a subway. No one will stop to read endless lines of body copy.

The timing of this media buy is a challenge though: just after the holiday rush and the big shopping bonanza. How on earth do you convince people to go back and spend more? By crafting a relevant message. The above is short and concise, and the copy is in BIG LETTERS, so even those who don't wear their glasses can read it. It's fun, and it's real.

One ad plays off a story we have all experienced around the holidays - getting that weird or completely wrong gift that makes it so hard to keep a straight face, fake smile and say "Thank you! I love it!" to the person across from you whose eyes are wide open screaming "Do you like it? Do you like it? I hope you'll like it!". Aaahhhh.

The other one is for all the girls who are facing the daily challenge of showing their assets in wintertime. Puffy jackets, Ugg boots, scarfes, hats and gloves don't allow much freedom for teasing the opposite sex with temperatures around the freezing point. But hell yeah, you can still look hot! Damn right, one or the other girl will say, and will walk right into JC Penney (or any other shop along the way).

January 12, 2011

The Power of Branding: Coke vs. Pepsi logo evolution

When I grew up, I was a Pepsi fan. I liked their advertising better, and quite frankly, I always enjoy rooting for the underdog. As the years have gone by, I have seen five different Pepsi logos, and it did have an impact. Not a good one though.

In particular the last iteration has left me lost and confused. I just cannot warm up to the typeface they used. The really hilarious part about this whole thing Arnell cooked up here is the brand identity document - it circulated on the web about two years ago - explaining the strategic rationale leading to the yin/yang circle and its inner dimensions. I cannot help but wonder if whoever wrote this actually believes all the mumbo-jumbo in it, or just had to fill dozens of pages with ridiculous content in order to justify the hefty paycheck Pepsi had to fork over to Peter Arnell.

Look at the above and I hope you will understand the power of branding. The power of consistency. The power of building a strong brand platform, and building on top of it, versus always changing and modifying it. By doing so, you are communicating that you are confident, that you know what you are doing, that you care about who you are as a brand. Adding to all that is the mystery of the secret Coca Cola recipe that supposedly only very few people have access to.

Pepsi on the other hand. Oh well. They seem to think only in the here and now, and by doing so they ignore their heritage, and have no defined long-term strategy. The Arnell version might already be uncool and outdated in two or three years. I can't wait for the next Pepsi logo to come out. It might be sooner than we think.

January 11, 2011

Starbucks: Another logo redesign disaster?

First The Gap, now Starbucks? What is it these days with major iconic brands feeling the urge to redesign their logos? Let's listen to the folks from Starbucks:

"Here we are today. Our new evolution liberates the Siren from the outer ring, making her the true, welcoming face of Starbucks. For people all over the globe, she is a signal of the world’s finest coffee – and much more. She stands unbound, sharing our stories, inviting all of us in to explore, to find something new and to connect with each other. And as always, she is urging all of us forward to the next thing. After all, who can resist her?" (Steve M., Senior Designer at Starbucks)

Wait a second? The Siren? I never knew there even was a siren. For me, there was always 'this woman' in the circle. I have neither heard of a siren, nor have I cared much about it. For me, Starbucks was Starbucks was Starbucks. Coffee, first and foremost.

"She is a storyteller, carrying the lore of Starbucks ahead, and remembering our past. In a lot of ways, she’s a muse –always there, inspiring us and pushing us ahead." (Steve M. again)

Oh my, I find it fascinating when some people get lost in too much poetry to describe a product they are selling. No one's ever told me a story. I've never seen a lore of Starbucks. I never felt inspired. All I wanted was coffee.

So a new logo it is, obviously. The jury is still out on whether this was the right move or not. I am not sure it was. Yes, the new logo looks more contemporary and fresh, but the last one wasn't really bad. Neither was it outdated. Too much prominence now is given to the Siren. And to be honest, now that I know it's a siren, I don't really understand what she has to do with coffee? She lives in the water, no? Has a fishtail, no? Coffee, good coffee that is, grows in the highlands of Colombia, Costa Rica or Brazil, but not by the water. So why a Siren? I don't get it.

While she was in the circle, surrounded by the Starbucks name, it didn't matter. Now it does. But it doesn't make any sense. Furthermore, much more attention now is drawn to her boobs. She looks like one of those cover girls on Elle or Vanity Fair that are being photographed naked, with only the long hair covering the bare chest. Or is that just my male fantasy imagining things that aren't there?

Related links:
Starbucks official preview site

January 10, 2011

The Good & The Slow: Two Burgers, Customized

BK menu on 39th & 7th Ave in New York.

Advertising can’t solve all of your brand’s problems. Many other factors play an important part as well. Sometimes - as shown in this story - even with all four ‘P’ (price, place, promotion, product) in place, success is not guaranteed.

The King has what a fashion brand would call a ‘flagship store’ on 39th Street & 7th Avenue, right in the heart of Manhattan’s fashion district. About a year ago, the old joint got an expensive overhaul, and a quite revolutionary concept (within the BK universe) was launched: the customizable burger. The options are more than enough, Prices are great, the Place is contemporary and fresh, Burger King’s Promotions/ads are fun and cool, and the Product is good, with the caveat that it’s fast food.

Within the fast food industry, that would seem to be enough to leave the competition behind. Yet in Manhattan, where two dozens of lunch options can be found in almost any one block radius, you need to do better. Gladly though, the direct competition (no, not McD) is only a block away, on 40th & Broadway – a brand new burger concept place called ‘The Counter’.

Enter BK. 1pm. Lunchtime peak. The previously 4Ps absorbed, I’m waiting in line – a way too long line for a fast food joint. Only two of the four cash registers open, the order taking progresses in a graceful manner, and watching the service staff cope with the challenge of assembling not a cookie cutter burger order, but individually unique meat towers, one can only admire the peacefulness and calm in their workflow. It’s like watching a cooking show in slow motion.

Summary: a shiny storefront, and flashy LCD displays can’t make up for the lack of excitement and passion in this joint. Somehow you get the impression they are trying to sell you an old product in a new packaging. If you’re product is standard fast food, then you’d better be fast.

Passion in a bun: The Counter on 40th & Broadway.

Enter ‘The Counter’. Only one block away, the place is packed beyond capacity (BK was at about 25% capacity). The people waiting in line here don’t seem to bother. A look at the menu: wow! What a difference. Not just the sheer number of options (5 meats, 12 cheeses, 30 toppings, 21 sauces, 6 buns), but also the factor that it’s all fresh, natural, hormone and antibiotics free, tells you that someone here really cares about burgers.

Add another ‘P’ to the marketing mix: Passion. Go see for yourself, take a bite, and you will understand what BK is lacking: the pride and the intrinsic motivation and identification of its staff with its product. Advertising can’t buy that. A nice store can’t buy that. It comes from within. If you care, your customers will notice, and subsequently they will care about you.

Summary: great differentiation from all the fast food chains armed with multi-million dollar budgets, and furthermore from all the delis and bars and grills that throw greasy burgers out there. Betterburger may have had a chance to do the same, but somewhere along the way they lost that special something.

January 9, 2011

Questionmark: Traveler's insurance dog commercial

"This dog deserves an Oscar!" "How cute..." "Love this commercial." The great thing about YouTube is that you get unfiltered, direct feedback from your audience. Having scanned through the first ten pages of comments, one may assume Traveler's insurance scored a big hit with the audience. After all, 625,000 hits on YouTube cannot be ignored.

I am not a dog lover myself, so the emotional "how-cute-effect" is completely lost on me. I do, however, see the emotional appeal and the brilliant storytelling in Traveler's commercial. Is that enough though? Does an entertaining commercial mean it's a good commercial; in our world: an effective commercial?

Let's take a closer look. What is the marketer's goal? In this case: Create awareness for your brand, and subsequently sell more insurance policies. I am not fully convinced this commercial actually does that. Yes, it is cute. Yes, it has been watched more than half a million times here. Many of those views seem to come from the same dog lovers who watch it over and over again. Non dog-lovers like me don't care very much. Let's check off the 'creating awareness' box however. But will it help sell more insurance policies?

I dare to say that the analogy drawn between a dog and his bone and the implied benefit for us humans seem a bit far fetched and very vague. The message is just a little bit too abstract, and the takeaway not very clear. Granted, the implied meaning is "Traveler's takes care of things. You need not worry." But what insurance does not do that? That's exactly the one thing they all have in common - they insure things. That is the whole premise for their business model. Where is the differentiation from the competition? The dog?

Geico has the Gekko. Aflac has the duck. Highly successful brand mascots. Will Traveler's stick to the dog for years to come? Or is this just one story being told. If so - what's next? Where is the cohesive thread that builds brand equity for the future? Is it perhaps in the way the story is being told? Will we see a similar analogy next, featuring a cat? I am afraid that the follow-up we'll get to see from Traveler's will be a completely different story, only tied to the above by the end credits and the Traveler's name vs. building on a clearly defined brand identity platform.

Furthermore, there is another issue with story-telling approaches like this one. Assume an audience that does not pay full attention to the commercial when it's running on TV, and quite frankly only a few people ever do. They checking their smartphone, have a conversation, do x, y, and z..., which leaves you as a marketer with only the audio part of your commercial that potentially reaches the audience. In this case, 95% of the time the consumer hears nothing but music, and just at the very end the words "Traveler's insurance" spoken only once! That's a lot of visual and audio space you paid for that's wasted.

The challenge with all this is that as a marketer (the ad agency's client) you need to combine your business needs with an artistic approach (which is what you pay the ad people for) by applying knowledge that is built from past experiences (ideally yours) and tons of research results available to everyone these days (Journal of Consumer Research etc.).

Too often though, the ad people don't care about research very much. They want to win a creative award to bolster their portfolio. The marketer however should be interested in winning an Effie, not a golden pencil. After all: do you want to have just a well-known brand (think: Camel) or do you want to have a successful brand?

January 8, 2011

Flying under the radar: Delta & Coke

Two weeks ago, on a transatlantic flight from New York to Europe: the seat belt had been fastened, the baby three rows up front started its free concert, the guy across the aisle began his cough attack, and the flight attendant made the following announcement: "Welcome aboard flight 1234, .... once we are up in the air, our service staff will come around with the beverage cart and serve you a selection of Coca Cola products for free, alcoholic drinks and beer are seven dollars...".

A similar announcement was made a couple times during the flight, and only the third time around I realized that the beverage cart contained more than just Coca Cola products, and also that in the past the flight attendants announced 'refreshments' or an unspecified 'beverage selection' vs. explicitly calling out Coca Cola. A week later, on the return flight back to New York, the same announcements were made. Obviously, this was neither a one-off, nor the spontaneous inspiration of one flight attendant.

The Coca Cola company must have struck a deal with Delta Airlines to actually write these words into the announcement each Delta flight attendant reads off a sheet during the flight. What a brilliant way of getting your brand name into the consumer's ear!

Why is this so billiant? Well, for a number of reasons:

As a marketer, you are facing every brand's dream scenario: a captive audience. They are not just all huddled up together in a confined space without anywhere else to go, they can't even tune out the message or turn down the volume! If you are using the inflight entertainment system, the inflight announcement system automatically pauses your movie, tunes out your music, and all you can listen to is the words coming out of the flight attendant's or captain's mouth.

The Coca Cola marketing managers must love it: simply take the daily / weekly / monthly number of delta flights and the passenger volume, and you know exactly how often you have gotten your brand name in front of how many passengers.

For brands such as Coca Cola, this is simply a fantastic way to catch every consumer group, from the young kid to the middle aged working professional all the way to the senior citizens, reminding all of them across America of its products. Whereas many brands face the challenge to find and target their consumers in a highly fragmented media landscape, Coca Cola and its various brands target everyone. And that is exactly who they get on an airplane.

In times of advertising and promotional clutter, this way of getting the name out is simple, it is subtle, and I'm certain other airlines will follow shortly.

January 7, 2011

The minivan dilemma: Honda Odyssey

And a never-ending odyssey it seems to be... trying to sell and/or advertise a minivan in an exciting way. The problem is: a minivan is just not exciting. It's neither nice, nor sporty, nor does it fit any of the emotional categories that get a guy's juices flowing. Just imagine the guys from TOP GEAR, and their blunt, unfiltered comments about any kind of this unfortunate automotive species.

Well, here is another failed attempt. What the hell was Honda thinking? Lighting fire around the car? Showing an image of a panther for a split-second? Filling this vehicle with a Marshall sound system? The only thing that's missing is some B-list celebrity testimonial as to how awesome this car is. Urgh...

Let's be honest for a moment. The target group for a minivan is, and always will be a family with more than one kid. No single guy in their right mind would spend a buck on a minivan. No married man with the kids sent off to college will be willing to continue driving around, and being seen in one. This is a functional car, and while the kids live under the same roof as the parents, this species has a right to exist.

What's wrong with this commercial / car? Multiple things:
a) the fire & lighting - it's just stupid and a desperate attempt to create excitement
b) the panther - Jaguar owns the positioning territory associated with a cat of prey
c) the Marshall sound system - a complete waste of money loading a minivan with that kind of technology

Honda had better put out a special edition of their CR-Z, the Element or the Ridgeline. The kind of guys who drive these cars might appreciate this 'rock' angle and a Marshall sound system. They will however, never ever voluntarily set foot into a minivan.

This is just a totally wrong concept of a car. The advertising only makes it worse.


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