Tag Archives: advertising

Forget Thanksgetting … give Thanksgiving its due

In one of the most awful campaigns in modern memory, Verizon converts the holiday to “Thanksgetting.” Walmart talks about being open early and late on Thanksgiving and implying that “everybody wins” (except for the employees who don’t get more time with loved ones). And my inbox has already seen dozens of emails from retailers about using today to get a jump on Black Friday.


Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I don’t consider it Black Friday Eve.

My memories are of my late grandparents wrangling the extended family for sumptuous meals, laughter and love. We were relegated to the kids’ table, but that was part of the entertainment. If somebody had brought the idea of shopping at a big-box store on Thanksgiving up to my grandfather, he would have ridiculed it, with good reason.

Canadians do their Thanksgiving far away from Christmas, and I’m sure it’s pleasant to just get together with family and delve into food without the clatter of the commercialized version of Christmas nibbling at the edges.

America being America, you can’t bring up the ludicrous nature of retailers opening on Thanksgiving without an argument, since that’s what Americans do. BUT WHAT ABOUT THE FIREFIGHTS AND POLICE WHO WORK ON THANKSGIVING YOU OBVIOUSLY DON’T CARE ABOUT THEM SHARE THIS IF YOU AGREE 93% OF YOU WON’T BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT GOOD AMERICANS, etc.

It’s a disingenuous argument. We all appreciate that police, firefighters, hospital workers and many others work on Thanksgiving and other holidays. It’s required for society to function. I seem to recall society functioning pretty well long before Walmart and its ilk found it necessary to put profits over family by making Thanksgiving about gorging in the aisles too.


OK, I’m out and back to gratitude. Instead of thinking about getting, let’s be thankful for what we have, and who we have in our lives. Go read Dave Cameron’s excellent Thanks-living blog entry to get back to what’s good. And may any arguments today instead be over whether stuffing or mashed potatoes are the better side dish. And the answer is stuffing, of course.



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super bowl™ ads, with student perspectives.

One great thing about teaching an advertising/media copywriting class is every spring brings the gift of discussing Super Bowl™ ads with a sought-after demographic focus group … the 23 students in #brc328. Before class, I asked them all to tweet what they thought were effective ads, and why, then we watched and talked about many commercials.

Five trends/topics worth noting:

1. NFL = Nostalgia For Life? Advertisers frequently want to use nostalgia to reach a specific demographic, but the NFL managed to score a bullseye on a whole host of generations. The students recognized how the ad included everything from current shows like The Office and Modern Family to ’90s favorites like Seinfeld and Friends to “oldies” like Happy Days and The Brady Bunch. Of course, the NFL has the unique advantage of television contracts with all the major players and thus can more easily negotiate the rights to use the shows, which would otherwise represent the biggest challenge.

2. Bridgestone: Difference Between Concept and Execution. Two popular spots with the students for Bridgestone, “Carma” (with the beaver) and “Reply All,” were both very entertaining. But they noticed a difference. With “Reply All,” viewers more paid attention to the frenetic actor destroying various electronic devices and barely noticed the product. But they preferred “Carma” — which gets my vote for best ad this year because it tied directly to the product, in terms of handling and braking ability (and, as one student pointed out, “six months later” showed it lasts). Playing off a timeless Aesop’s fable, employing a cute beaver with human tendencies and providing a feel-good ending, it’s hard to envision creating a better ad.

3. VW Uses The Force. The class favorite, overall, involved the kid in the Darth Vader mask trying to use the Force repeatedly with the payoff of the VW starting remotely. While students didn’t see that as any great product benefit — they’ve grown up in the era of the remote car-starter — the simple storytelling, cute concept and timeless tie-in with Star Wars all clicked. Nota bene: The Star Wars appeal spans generations.

4. Doritos: Finger-Lickin’ Good? While they found it funny and memorable, students had mixed feelings on the ad where the office worker licks the Doritos-crumbed finger of a co-worker. Some thought it successfully communcated the idea that Doritos are irresistibly good. Others found the idea of someone sucking someone else’s finger appropriately creepy. Or both.

5. Chrysler + Detroit + Eminem = Discussion. Much like the Twitterverse, the class split on the Chrysler “Detroit” ad featuring Eminem. They generally thought it had beautiful production values. Consensus found it showcased the Motor City fabulously — I like its underdog tone and one student said it resembled an engaging tourism spot. While many folks of, ahem, a certain age lamented in the blogosphere Em “selling out,” many students already consider him yesterday’s news (one even used the term “old”). As for the connection to the product, one student said “Lose Yourself” made him think of 8 Mile, which brought to mind trailer parks … a world away from a luxury car. For what it’s worth, on production and general branding merit for its three products, I really liked it.

I’m always impressed with students’ variety of opinions, which are well-articulated, thoughtful and multi-layered. What was unanimous? All thought the Groupon/Tibet ad was a really bad idea, but you don’t need to take an advertising course to recognize poor taste when you see it.


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ad analysis: the 3 phases of pomplamoose fatigue syndrome.

If you have a TV, you’ve seen them. Holiday-themed ads for Hyundai featuring Pomplamoose, a musical duo who first gained buzz on YouTube before being thrust into this ubiquitous campaign. And if you’re like a lot of people, exposure took you into one of the three phases of Pomplamoose Fatigue Syndrome.

Phase 1: Intrigue. At first, I thought they were quirky and almost charming. A couple of indie musicians seeming to have fun with a vaguely catchy sound. Chris Martin captured this general spirit with this recent tweet:

But after a few viewings, many people move into …

Phase 2: Dislike. We get irked by the guy trying too hard to act silly, the waifish vocals, the basic disconnect between the concept and what it’s trying to sell. Andrew Careaga encapsulated this phase with measured criticism:

Phase 3: Full-on Pomplamoose Fatigue Syndrome. The ads can go from dislikable to detestable to downright maddening. Amy Mengel, ever the trendsetter, may have been among the first to document Pomplamoose Fatigue Syndrome way back on Dec. 5:

Do a search for “Pomplamoose” on Twitter (but send the kids out of the room first) or check the blogosphere and you’ll find similar sentiment everywhere. But why? Here are a few possible theories.

Familiarity breeds contempt. Overexposure begets outrage. When you can’t watch any given program without seeing some guy cavorting across your screen trying to appear goofy while an odd-sounding holiday tune plays, you’re not likely to welcome the repetition. Many acts, through no fault of their own, encounter backlash with overexposure (cf. Blowfish, Hootie and the), but it can be worse when …

Quirky gets old quickly. OK, we get it. The guy in the band is supposed to be wacky. But he’s trying too hard. And the singer’s voice is not everyone’s cup of tea — it’s a bit off-key, and gauzy, and twisting a holiday classic — thus not helping the situation. Let’s face it, if you have really quirky friends, you can only stand them for so long. And they’re not constantly on your TV trying to sell you a car.

The “sellout” theorem. We expect rampant commercialism from mainstream artists ranging from Lady Gaga to Moby to Bon Jovi, sure, but if a band that has worked on establishing indie cred suddenly appears in ads, there’s an element of betrayal — not only to fans of that band, but the genre itself and the basic indie ethos. Reading this news release on the campaign made it all seem even cheaper.

So what do you think? Have you experienced Pomplamoose Fatigue Syndrome yet?


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twitter as a teaching tool? tis true.

For my Media Copywriting class this semester, I added Twitter use to the syllabus. I didn’t add it for the sake of saying I was using Twitter to teach — after all, I preach goals first, tools second. My particular goal involved trying to boost and broaden class discussion.

A perennial challenge is that, while my students are bright and articulate, they often prove reluctant to participate in, or initiate, class discussion. I decided to start them 140 characters at a time. Their homework, on most class days, includes an assignment to answer via Twitter with a class-relevant hashtag. These work best when cultivating more thinking than a simple quantitative response. Top tweet topics so far include:

Name a Super Bowl™ ad you thought was effective and why. As I’ve said before, having the Super Bowl™ during a class that involves advertising is a boon. Using students’ Twitter responses, I could call on them directly, show the ad they mention and ask for their analysis. When I tried this without Twitter, even as an official assignment, drawing participation was more difficult.

What do you think your brand’s biggest weakness is? Students tend to select the brands they’ll work with their semester (Nike, Dunkin Donuts, Tim Hortons, Wegmans, Fender, etc.) based on strengths or qualities they like. But knowing a brand’s weakness, or perceived weakness, can inform the creative process as well, and provides a nice entree to critical thinking. It also ties into a research assignment I give them that involves a SWOT analysis, finding target demographics/psychographics and critiquing their brands’ current campaign.

Tweet about the first thing you encountered on Thursday that annoyed you. They looked at me funny when I assigned it, but nonetheless talked about roommates, landlords, sinus headaches, slow drivers and other professors. I was providing practice in InDesign, so my in-class assignment was: Do an ad for a product (real or imagined) that would solve your problem (which also illustrates the suffering point concept). The students came up with all kinds of products including landlord repellent, traffic-beating hovercraft and The Shrink Ray, which neutralizes annoying psychiatrists. The amount of ingenuity many put into it was impressive, and the opportunity to blend creativity with problem-solving quite valuable.

As with the creative process itself, the quality of answers are only as good as the questions asked, so my challenge is to keep coming up with good questions. And I’ve noticed the class doesn’t interact with each other (although they do with me) on Twitter — though those accustomed to interacting via Facebook probably do so that way, and I’m not going to require them to cross-converse via Twitter unless I have good reason. But their rate of completing Twitter assignments exceeds 95 percent. And, strange but true, Twitter assignment completion actually runs higher than class attendance.

So Twitter — or any social media platform — can work in the classroom, as long as you tie it to goals you want to reach and are willing to put the time into it to make it relevant.


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super bowl™ ads, through the eyes of students.

The Super Bowl™ presents an excellent opportunity for people, like me, who teach advertising to tie it to key lessons. And, as often happens in classes, I learned almost as much from what students thought were effective ads.

For Broadcasting 328: Media Advertising, I’ve asked all my students to sign up for Twitter (the subject of a future blog post) and each session includes a less-than-140-character homework assignment. This one: Tweet about an ad you thought was effective and mark it with a #brc328 tag.

So while USA Today had its ever-popular AdMeter ratings, the Web was all a-twitter over various commercials and every pundit had their take, the students provided a different view (in a much-sought-after demographic, no less). I learned the three most important things to them were 1) humor, 2) great visuals, 3) a memorable idea. Most popular campaigns with them were:

1. Bud Light/Budweiser. Biggest buzz surrounded the Bud Light House. Clearly, it represents fantasy fulfillment, but it made people laugh, provided a concrete visual and was a clever execution. Moreover, the product was not only the hero, but dominated the screen. They also liked the Lost parody and the T-Pain/autotune spot — both using humor and playing on popular culture. What all ads had in common: They equated Bud Light with partying and fun. The Budweiser bridge spot also proved popular because of its visual impact. I continue to maintain that it’s unclear whether Budweiser gains market share for the outlay, but if college students are impressed and remember the product, that says something.

2. Doritos. One student explained the simple brilliance of the Playing Nice ad: When the child tells his mother’s suitor: Keep your hands off my momma. Keep your hands off my Doritos, it pretty clearly sets the priorities in his world. Hyperbole? Sure. But it makes its point succinctly. The snappy execution of Dog Collar and the (weird, imho) Tim’s Locker/Samurai spots also scored.

3. Denny’s. When’s the last time anyone even talked about Denny’s? Yet the screaming chicken ads, while potentially annoying, sure captured attention. One student shrewdly noted it highlighted special offers for Free Grand Slam Day and free Grand Slam on your birthday. Simple idea — everyone will want Denny’s breakfasts, so chickens have to work harder — that came across loud and clear.

Other thoughts:

Surprising revelation: Many pundits wrote off the Boost Mobile ad because they assumed using the 1985 Chicago Bears couldn’t sell to young adults. Big disconnect, right? Wrong. Every student in my class claims to know the Super Bowl™ Shuffle, perhaps because of how we recycle pop culture. Thus we know what happens when we assume …

Betty White scores: The Snickers ad earned the most positive buzz among people I follow on Twitter (and topped AdMeter ratings), plus the students loved it too. They may not have known who Abe Vigoda was, but they all knew Betty White from Golden Girls. And once you got past the shock of White being creamed in a backyard football game, you got the concept: Snickers picks you up.

Where’s the outrage?: The young women weren’t terribly offended by the Dodge Charger ad, even though it seemed the most excoriated spot on Twitter. Some saw the overstatement and shrugged it off; others didn’t find it any more offensive than the other messages that regularly bombard us.

My personal favorite?: The Google ad. Why Google would need to advertise (imho: to counter Bing) is a fair question, but in terms of simple storytelling and demonstrating the product’s effectiveness, I loved it. A tale of boy meets girl, with some cool music, the brand as hero and a bit of humor. It won’t affect my use of Google, but as standalone branding, I found it just about pitch-perfect.

So you have the opinions of a couple dozen college students and an older dude who works in communication. What did you think? And will you think of any of these observations next time you try to market to students?


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why pros don’t just ‘do some pr.’

The field of public relations has come a long way since Ivy Lee virtually created the profession more than 100 years ago. Unfortunately, perception of public relations — and professional communication in general — remains, in large part, in the stone age.

To wit: I frequently field the following types of requests:

Q. Can you do some PR for our speaker?

Q. Can you help us advertise our event?

People asking those questions always want publicity, not PR or advertising. Some helpful definitions on each to differentiate:

Public relations: Planned and coordinated actions of an entity (corporation, organization, etc.) to promote goodwill between itself and various publics, including the community, employees and customers.

Publicity: Information about a person, group, product or event disseminated through various media to gain public attention.

Advertising: Calling public attention to a product, service or need via paid announcements in such media as newspapers, magazines, TV, billboards or the Internet.

Public relations involves actions, moreover the aggregation of actions, to solve a problem or achieve some planned goal. PR tends to include research and a campaign, determining audiences, tactics, media, messages and desired outcomes. It’s a process, not a five-minute task. You don’t just do some PR any more than I would wander into a lab and do some science.

Put another way, public relations can include publicity and advertising, but these are only tools or components of larger PR efforts. Public relations is a field, a skill requiring a certain amount of education/training and best executed with accrued experience. It’s not just cobbling together a news release. Everyone with Microsoft Word may think they can do some PR, but this is as far-fetched as anyone owning Photoshop thinking it automatically makes them an artist.

So with that primer on public relations and communication, here are the correct answers to our previous questions:

Q. Can you do some PR for our speaker?
A. What is he trying to achieve? Or did he run into the audience and bite a VIP and needs image rehabilitation?

Q. Can you help us advertise our event?
A. Sure! How much do you want to spend? And you realize I get 15 percent for handling the account.

Tune in next week when we discuss why The New York Times doesn’t want to run your news release on its front page.

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tasting the rainbow: sweet or sour?

People have invested many keystrokes into the recent Skittles social media campaign, and opinions vary greatly. Sweet or sour? Fair or foul?

While some reacted viscerally and negatively against Skittles’ garish social-media stream, we should acknowledge that likability doesn’t always correspond with the bottom line. Consider:
– Throughout the 1970s, Charmin spokesman Mr. Whipple would consistently poll as both one of the recognizable and most hated figures in the U.S. Charmin sold well anyway, because the product (not the pitchman) was seen as squeezable.
– One of the most admired TV campaigns of all time was Piels beer’s droll animated spots with the voices of radio humorists Bob and Ray. The campaign nonetheless failed to move product, though if you’ve ever tasted a Piels you know why.
– Bud Light ads tend to gain the highest approval ratings during the Super Bowl™ extravaganza. For several years, I’ve asked if anyone has any post-event sales data showing a spike in Bud Light sales justifying the investment. I’m still waiting.

In terms of generating buzz, Skittles certainly succeeded. One day earlier, no one was talking about the brand, now folks everywhere debated whether this ploy was brilliant or awful. If you measure media mentions as dollar figures, it was a huge hit. If it spared us from seeing one more horrid Taste the Rainbow TV ad, that would be a plus too. I suspect a quick spike in sales figures followed. But will that bump in sales — which, ultimately, convinces stockholders whether it’s successful — last? Talk to me in a month, but I suspect I know the answer.

(Some would cite the old chestnut there’s no such thing as bad publicity in defense of the campaign. The mark of an amateur, this phrase has never been uttered by anyone I know working in public relations for non-profits or higher ed, where one bad letter to the editor or inaccurate article will send managers to battle stations.)

My bigger concern is that this stunt cheapens what many of us are trying to do in social media; it makes this field appear the province of hucksters and spammers. People on the fence about joining the Web 2.0 community (and I know a surprisingly large number) will pause upon seeing headlines like Skittles campaign bombards social media. Bear in mind that one of the original appeals behind online communities involved escaping the sales pitches that saturate public life and popular culture. Sure, it was only a matter of time before the critical mass of social media would attract marketers, but on Facebook and Twitter the signal still far outweighs the noise.

Not surprisingly, the biggest boosters of the Skittles campaign were social-media marketers and consultants, those who earn their pay commoditizing the field. You can tell your clients that social media is about communication, but when every hit is seen as a dollar sign, do you lose sight of the big picture? We value ourselves as individuals making connections, not as one more market-ready aggreggate of demographic and psychographic data. The Skittles campaign did nothing to ultimately connect to us, and what was the branding statement? That they … had a social media campaign? The stunt may have penetrated our minds, but ultimately our mouths were filled with a lot more discussion than candy.

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