Category Archives: Articles: Advertising Industry

The Advertising Industry

Superbowl 2012 - KIA

Super Bowl Ads 2012: New Heights of Depths

Advertising Industry Newswire COLUMN: The ads in the 2012 Super Bowl had big production values and mostly good music. Missing were strong concepts and marketing savvy. With one exception, the Super Sunday telecast was a festival of lame, dumb, and insulting advertising. In other words, business as usual.
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Robo-calling Scum of the Week: StormofWealth.com (Chris Hogan, et al.)

COLUMN: Well, friends and fans, we have another scumbag using robo-calling tactics to call my home phone number (about 2:20pm PDT today, Sunday). Expecting me to be home to listen to your call, frak you, here’s what you get: this week’s award for being one of the lowest bottom feeders in the ad industry. Why would anybody sane sign up for your “wealth building” and MLM (its says MLM on Mr. Hogan’s sites) schemes? The call came from a caller ID of “Chris Hogan” and the phone number (501) 691-3245. If you research that number in Google you’ll find all kinds of MLM crap. Appears to be yet another “fruit juice” sales MLM.

If you look on YouTube there is all kinds of “Mandura” marketing crap, and funnily enough they’re using “scam” videos to try to get you to look at whether it’s a scam, but then try to convince you to get on board the fruit juice gold digger train. (Really?) What’s funny, too, is if you type in “mandura juice scam” in Google the first five pages of results are all about the supposed scam, where the MLM folks are making up pages of junk sites content to get you to go there to find out if it’s a scam. Junk PR sites, junk article sites, etc. — but don’t be fooled. And if you want to get involved with law breakers, then you get what you deserve.

Basically, if you’ve seen all the spam for Mangosteen juice, for Acai Berry, and related junk, this is the latest thing.

The 501-691-3245 phone number has been reported to the FTC for violating my privacy rights, and my phone number being on the national do not call list. Also sent a note off to the California state attorneys general office about the violation of both the robocalling law and privacy law violations on “Chris Hogan’s” various sites. He “appears” to be in Arkansas. I’ll have to look up the State AG in Arkansas to file complaint.

TO REPORT A ROBOCALLER TO THE FTC for calling your home number on the do-not-call registry, go here:
https://complaints.donotcall.gov/complaint/complaintcheck.aspx?panel=2 .

The site being pushed in the robo-call is “StormofWealth(.com)” which redirects to “StormofWealth(.net)” – as in “storm of wealth.” Suuuuuuure. Want to buy this bridge I have out back? It’s a keeper, and you can make internet millions and all the honeys will love you with that big bridge in your back yard. Aw, c’mon, it’s a multi-level bridge. Double decker, even.

What cracks me up is using this tagline on one of the sites, “presented by Rev. Chris & Angelique Hogan” ((chogan.mandurarep(.com))… as if being a Reverend means anything good in the world of questionable MLM. When you break the law, being a “Rev” doesn’t mean God absolves you of your evil doing, brother, and accept this gilt edged invitation to hell. Or, H E double hockey sticks, pal.

Here is the WHOIS record for “StormofWealth(.net)”:

Registration Service Provided By: 1COMS .COM
Contact: +44.7773590344

Domain Name: STORMOFWEALTH .NET

Registrant:
stormofwealth .net
Chris Hogan ()
box 282
Heber Springs
AR,72543
US
Tel. +1.5016913245
Fax. +1.5016913245

Creation Date: 09-Sep-2009
Expiration Date: 09-Sep-2010

Domain servers in listed order:
ns2.hostluck .com
ns1.hostluck .com

Administrative Contact:
stormofwealth .net
Chris Hogan ()
box 282
Heber Springs
AR,72543
US
Tel. +1.5016913245
Fax. +1.5016913245

Technical Contact:
(SAME)

Billing Contact:
(SAME)

Status:ACTIVE.

The server seems to land at a Mumbai, India hosting company, mydosty(.com), with an IP of 75.127.68.101. What’s funny is if you type in the IP for hostluck(.com), listed as the name servers, it comes up with an “this account has been suspended” message. So, you can see there is a bit of jiggery pokery going on behind the scenes with the companies hosting these sites. And, of course, since it’s in India, we can’t really complain about the site owner (Mr/Mrs Hogan) violating US/California laws. They don’t care. Thank you India for making robo-calling such a money maker for your companies and fracking off so many US citizens.

The Storm of Wealth site appears to be living as a shared IP at 75.127.68.98. For those of you wanting to block the IP range in your firewall(s), you can likely block the 75.127.68.1/24 IP range and be happy keeping the scum out of your mailbox, too.

As always, worth noting that the mandura rep site is in violation of various privacy laws including California’s privacy law. The ManduraRep site seems to be an MLM powered by the upstream www.mlmteamsites(.com). With “MLM” in the domain name, you know it’s “gotta be good.” And that site seems to be owned by MLMpublicity(.com) is a division of TenBrink International (a one man company, apparently, aka “Ryan Tenbrink” in Carrolton, TX; one BBB complaint).

So, Rev. Chris Hogan, thank jesus as today you are this week’s award winner for official robo-calling scum of the week. Congratulations.

Christopher Laird Simmons

Robo-calling Scum of the Week: TurboATM-dot-com

COLUMN: Well, it looks like the scammers keep on calling. This week the abusive law-breaking robo-caller is the scum suckers calling themselves “Turboatm(.com)” and calling after 7pm Pacific Time, and calling those numbers on the “do not call registry” in violation of both Federal and California law. The calls originate from 206-350-9029.

Christopher Laird SimmonsIn going to the website being promoted by the illicit robo-caller, we find (big surprise) what looks to be a come-on to make money using a “secret marketing breakthrough!” The site proclaims they have “discovered a secret so powerful it literally ‘POURS’ Cash Directly Into Your Pocket Automatically!!” (capitalized words and double exclamation points from the site).

Besides the fact the site is collecting name, email and phone information (personal information), and does not display a legally required or California law compliant privacy statement, it claims there is “no MLM or Network Marketing.”

From the looks of it, I might suspect it’s one of the wide ranging “cash gifting” scams going around, and which have been widely covered on the TV news here in California.

Since there is only a one-page site (a sure sign of a money making scam, for anybody who has seen these before), the HTML title tag shows “Ez1up Cash System” and the sign-up form is being loaded from aweber(.com), a site offering “email marketing campaign” services, auto-responders, and other bric-a-brac often used by evil-doers on the Web.

I sent a query off to “AWber Communications” which claims to be in Huntingdon Valley, PA, informing of the mis-use of their services. We’ll see if we get a reply.

In looking up what info we could on the domain, the registrant appears to be somebody called “Bo Small” in New York, based on the domain record:

Whois Record Search

Registrant Search:”Bo Small” owns about 58 other domains Email Search: is associated with about 106 domains

Registrar History:1 registrar with 1 drop. NS History:8 changes on 6 unique name servers over 4 years. IP History:4 changes on 3 unique name servers over 4 years. Whois History:6 records have been archived since 2009-12-29 .

Registrant:
Bo Small
300 W St
Buffalo, New York 14201
United States

Domain Name: TURBOATM .COM
Created on: 28-Dec-09
Expires on: 28-Dec-10
Last Updated on: 28-Dec-09

The domain servers, seem to be (apparently owned by GoDaddy)
NS27.DOMAINCONTROL .COM
NS28.DOMAINCONTROL .COM

The reverse domain lookup seems to lead to the IP 64.202.189.170, which is owned by GoDaddy (*to clarify: it means GoDaddy hosts the site for the believed scammers/robo-caller, it does NOT mean GoDaddy has anything to do with the site! GoDaddy is a good company.). Complaints can be sent to the hosting provider, which is GoDaddy at: abuse@godaddy.com.

An entry has been made at “whocalled.us” for the offending originating phone number where the calls originated (http://whocalled.us/lookup/2063509029).

Remember – it’s against the law to call phone numbers on the national “do not call” registry. Robo-calling is against the law in certain locales, like California. Companies that robo-call any of our staff, family, employees, or companies will be glorified with this dubious award of distinction.

So, congratulations “TurboATM-COM” – you’re this week’s winner of the scumbag robocaller of the week award.

Next week we apparently have some signage show in Vegas calling with free pass info. Hooo boy. Lookout! More robo-calling scum to feature. Stay tuned, party people.

Dominos - oh yes they did

The ‘New’ Domino’s Pizza – oh yes they did, or did they?

COLUMN: Well, as somebody who used to enjoy Domino’s “once upon a time,” and who gave up on the poor quality (really, Papa John’s was so much better, it’s just not even a comparison), I was intrigued by the somewhat unusual step for the pizza chain to fess up and admit in their new ad campaign what pretty much everybody knew, “our quality sucked.” Now they claim to have improved their quality of ingredients, their recipe (hopefully there is more in their new sauce than “40 percent more herbs”), and their attitude. But is the pizza any better? After nearly 50 years, they have to do something to change their impression of offering crappy food.

In a relatively unscientific test we bought pizzas from several Domino’s outlets, both delivery and pick-up, and put the new round meals to the test. What we found, however, had more to do with the creation of the pizzas than the ingredients, in this simple test. One pizza was slightly over-cooked (almost burnt on the bottom), one had too much “brushed garlic” on the crust (must have used a house painting brush versus a chef’s brush, more oil than garlic), and one had none of the new garlic on the crust. It’s a new recipe, but the same old crew.

On the one with the best overall construction and balance, we did find that the sauce was better and a little more sauce than on past purchases, the cheese tasted more like a restaurant and less like those $1 per box frozen pizzas many of us had when we were either in school or first fled the next into our first apartments. The sauce was a little sweeter, and had some red pepper in it, and so had more of a sense you were eating restaurant pizza than a fast food product. The cheese did have more taste, and the mix of more than one type of cheese really helped. Crust was better, except the one with too much oil (seriously, three times more than it needed).

When done right, the new pizza is a definite improvement. I would have to say, I don’t find myself wanting to throw half of it away the next day as the last time I bought their product locally (in Southern Calif.); on the other hand, it was not as good as a comparable cost pizza from Papa John’s in my opinion, at least.

Stephen Colbert tried the new pizza on his show, on January 6, and whether you believe him or not, he claims the pizza is better (“did an angel just gave birth in my mouth”), but hilariously rips on how the old pizza was truly truly awful. He called Domino’s Pizza his “Alpha Dog of the Week.” (It’s funny to hear the audience vocally cringe as he’s about to take the first bite.)

CBS’s The Early Show did a report on the new effort, and the staff gave the new taste high marks.

Domino’s has also setup a website, at www.pizzaturnaround.com where they are actively doing both viral marketing and archiving industry and media response to their new campaign.

Surprise! If I were on a desert island and had the choice between coconut skins roasted on the fire or Domino’s new pizza, I would prefer the new pizza. It’s not superb, but it doesn’t entirely suck. Room for improvement, yes; but primarily in the efforts of the crews building the pizzas and baking them. Better than the box it’s delivered in? Definitely a yes.

AIN0809-Ikea-Verdana

The Verdana Monologues – When Ikea’s Designers go Kabookskik

COLUMN: I got my Ikea catalog last week, and like many in the design field, thought something had changed but wasn’t quite sure what. Due to the fact I have been working on the Web more than the printed design space the past five years, it actually took me a little bit to notice the fonts had changed throughout. About the same time, this past Thursday I started to see a whole raft of online articles, blogs and business media responding to the “uproar” about the change: Ikea had changed their typeface. Holy Crap!

AIN0809-Ikea-VerdanaNow, while this falls about as low as one can get down the pole of what matters in the world right now, below unemployment, health care, and so forth, it’s nevertheless become a rallying cry, or topic du jour for the design community who despair over things as minute as the space between headline letters (ahem, I do that, too, admittedly; it’s called “kerning”), that Ikea has switched from a rich custom type font, to the lowest common denominator, a type face created for the Internet by Microsoft, called Verdana. A style of type which was not designed for print where the lovely bits interact with ink and paper, but for the cold cathode ray tube (CRT), and other display technologies which have evolved into LCD, OLED, plasma, and e-ink.

The main upset seems to stem from the fact that Ikea has “always been known for design.” And this is true, to an extent. Ikea has always had a mix of super cheap pressed board crap clothed in lovely colors and silly Sweden-inspired names with a healthy dose of umlauts, very cool desk accessories, storage stuff, and some often inspired decor pieces, as well as some lovely high-end “real wood” furniture pieces. I know, my curved desk I’m working on now, my bedroom furniture, my living room wall unit, and book cases all came from Ikea during the ’90s. I’ve been a graphic designer since my teenage years (ahem, the late ’70s/early ’80s), and I always “dug” the stuff at Ikea because it was both affordable, but some was really cool, too. Plummers was here first, and I tend to like their stuff better now, but Ikea really was a fun place to walk through and look at the mix of whacky desk lamps, and grid design flat-packed furniture.

So, this issue with Verdana … well, the problem stems (sort of a pun there for you typographers) from the fact that it doesn’t look as good when printed large as a headline, compared to a font which has been “drawn” to look good at large sizes, letter space (kerning) is harder to control, and because it’s a wide, open style, whereas many headline styles are designed to have thinner curves, and narrower widths to fit better in page layouts. Verdana just wasn’t built for the world of magazines and newspapers. All you really need to do is look at any price that has a 1 in it, like a large $129 price. The horizontal space, or white space between the 1 and 2 is too much, and creates an unpleasant empty space, even when kerned close together. Yeah, it’s true. But, really, so what. Verdana works because it’s big, blocky and seems to be missing subtle curves in places, and sometimes looks like it’s bold, even when it’s not. But you can read it at a distance, up close, and it shouts its readability. Not as pretty as the old font, admittedly.

But really, is that a bad thing? I am very knowledgeable about type, having gone to Compugraphic Typesetting School in 1984, and I also got my start in design with blue pencils, and dry-transfer lettering which went onto art boards by hand. I had my own typesetting business in 1987, and I started doing Web design in 1994. Verdana was a popular font once it was introduced because it looked great at font size 1 in HTML, whereas Times and Arial/Helvetica did not. Before CSS, it was common practice to use Verdana for footers, captions, small type, superscripts, and navigation. And for text on, ironically, many of the design oriented Web sites that wanted to use something other than Times or Helvetica.

Yes, Verdana is a font introduced by Microsoft, and was often eschewed by the Mac oriented design community simply because of that, and it being a “Web font,” not designed for print. Funny thing, too, is that the Mac version of another Microsoft font, Georgia, really does look gorgeous on the Mac, and has many of the traditional type elements, where the Windows version is more blocky. I ran into this when I chose to use Georgia for our company logo in 2000, but when we switched to Windows XP in 2006, the font didn’t look the same when you viewed it at 400%, or printed it at headline sizes like 72 pt. I haven’t looked at Verdana on the Mac lately vs. on Windows, but wouldn’t be surprised if there is a slight difference there as well. I chose Georgia for our company for the exact same reason Ikea chose Verdana, it’s a cross-platform, multi-language, multi-format type face – meaning, you can use it for print, for Web, for PDF, for video, and you can have a consistency. And, it does look very clean and open when translated to other languages; Microsoft did a great job at that.

Verdana spec sheet

Now it turns out Ikea is on the defensive because designers claim they have been violated, betrayed, and that Ikea should go back to its original corporate fonts. There is even a petition circulating to tell Ikea to go back to its original style.

In my opinion, that’s a mistake. Frankly, Ikea is acting in a designer frame of mind, they have chosen to go their own way and embrace a standardized font which everybody recognizes. What many of the dinosaur design community is missing is that many of Ikea’s core audience, the folks getting their first apartments, their dorm room furnishings, first couple living together, etc., are now folks who grew up with the Internet. Many of the young adults buying their first EXPEDIT, JAVNAKER, or KVART, have more experience reading their iMac screen, and MySpace page than they do reading the New York Times or Newsweek.

Frankly, Verdana “communicates” very well with youth culture because it’s the typeface of their generation, not their great grandparents. Sure, Futura or Optima, or any of the lovely Adobe or ITC fonts give us a rich history of details in the hand-making of letter styles, but for advertising, marketing and the sale of goods and services, this was a calculated and intelligent design choice.

It’s a business, not a design contest. In a worldwide depressed economy, anything a company can do to standardize, and become more efficient should be applauded and not derided. Of course, most designers work for somebody else and don’t have to deal with the business issues. Very few are both left brain and right brain enough to understand why Ikea has chosen to do this. The negative publicity the design community has drawn out regarding this change has, in fact, proven the point that Ikea’s designers made the right choice. End of days? Not quite.

Isn’t it a designer’s prerogative to buck conventions and question the standard way of doing something, and choose not to do what is expected? What’s wrong with choosing to use the “wrong” thing, to make the right choice for a brand style? Kudos Ikea team, you make me proud for proving you do have what it takes to be a mover in the world of design.

Scott G dislikes badvertising

Communication Nation: Badvertising Strikes Big Corporations

COLUMN: Oil rigs, city lights, rock bands, icebergs, crummy animation, and on-camera presenters wearing perfect make-up and phony smiles all made appearances in the 10 commercials that ran during Sunday morning’s episode of “Face the Nation.” But what were they selling, and to whom were they selling it?

ExxonMobile
Before discussing their slickly produced spot, it might be beneficial to remember that this is a company so huge that it continued making profits even after paying more than three-and-one-half billion dollars in a futile attempt to make the Exxon Valdez oil spill fade from public consciousness. This is not just a mere conglomerate, it is an empire. The online realm of ExxonMobile has a charmingly misleading statement on the corporate page of their Web site: “We are the world’s largest publicly traded international oil and gas company, providing energy that helps underpin growing economies and improve living standards around the world.”

With all that in mind, a commercial would have to be spectacular to stop an intelligent viewer from frowning when their red logo pops up on the screen. And their advertising is far from spectacular. This particular spot is a brightly-lit conglomeration of live action and computer generated animation. It is also devoid of any humanistic touches, including the nervously grinning doofus who reads the scripted words of praise about “breakthrough technology…to access cleaner burning natural gas…to heat 50 million homes for almost a decade.”

Okay, first of all, showing us Erik Oswald, a “Senior Research Geoscientist,” is on the same level as hiring an unknown character actor and dressing him up like a doctor. And second, if what he was reading to us were true, don’t you think it would be making headlines? Especially now, when so much economic news about homes is negative.

This commercial, part of an odious series, is pure misinformation. As such, it should be studied in communications classes right alongside the work of Joseph Goebbels, head of the Reich Ministry for People’s Enlightenment and Propaganda.

Peter G. Peterson Foundation
As if mocking the corporate porn of the ExxonMobile spot, the next commercial pointed out the dangers of “$56 trillion in unfunded retirement and healthcare obligations” and stated that “America must chart a more responsible fiscal course.”

Naturally, it’s easy to be on the side of an organization dedicated to calling attention to “large and growing budget deficits, dismal national and personal savings rates, and a ballooning national debt that endangers the viability of Social Security, Medicare, and our economy itself,” as they say on their site, www.pgpf.org. In addition, the look of their commercial is magnificent, with deep-focus views of icebergs, clouds, ships, and choppy seas stretching to the horizon, all in that ultra-rich color cinematography that looks like steel which has been polished to the point of appearing translucent.

However, the whole thing doesn’t accomplish anything other than directing people to their site for more information. Perhaps it fails because of context. If you’re in the same room with such practiced liars as Goebbels or even Frank Luntz, his modern-day equivalent, your statements might fall a little flat even if you’re telling the truth.

Chevron
More flashing lights of overcrowded cities, plus disingenuousness galore, including a disarming statement that “this isn’t a liberal or conservative issue” and a plea that we use less energy, both of which are odd coming from a leader in one of the most rapacious industries on the planet. The clean look of the production is notable but strange under the circumstances. Because they think you are a complete moron, they direct you to visit this odd site: willyoujoinus.com. As if.

IBM
With quick bursts of images, both live action and animated, this spot is an ode to the beauty of mathematics. “Let’s build a smarter planet,” they say. Well, okay. Tell me more or show me where to go to get started. It can’t just be a matter of buying IBM products.

Toyota
At last, a spot that leads to something affirmative. The message of the spot is simple: less negativity, more positive action. If you want to join them, you can get a ton of interactive information at toyota.com/whynot.

Bank of America
Why is an insolvent bank advertising on network television, I ask myself and everyone involved in the bailout. That said, the spot is beautifully made, with glowing photography, smooth editing and excellent music.

T. Rowe Price
Oil rigs at sea in animation and live action. For an investment company. Okay, I guess. Does that mean TRP invests in oil rigs? Am I supposed to get a secure feeling from this?

Oil and Gas Industry
Yup, here’s an ad from a lobbying organization. How does it feel to have corporate whores presenting you with a dog-and-pony show? Perhaps that should be called a dog-and-pony-up-some-money show. They even have the gall to invite you to go online to read more of their lies at energytomorrow.org. Talk about lack of regulation: the org domains were supposed to be for legitimate nonprofit organizations, not shills for humongous corporate entities engaging in pillaging the earth.

American Chemistry Council
Farms in the country, construction in the city. And more city lights! Medical procedures followed by kids playing. The American flag and NASA. Lipstick. What? Yes, lipstick. It’s all of “What’s essential 2 American life.” When the cosmetics appear, there’s a super that reads “essential2american beauty.” If you go to the American Chemistry Council Web site, you see that they “make the products that help keep you safe and healthy and create a brighter future for you and your family.” Aww, doesn’t that just melt your heart? “We are nearly one million men and women dedicated to making sure you have what you need for today and tomorrow.” Things like sarin, hydrogen cyanide, cyanogen chloride, napalm, agent orange. . . .

Microsoft
This was the weirdest of them all. With quirky animation designed to resemble a USC student film circa 1974, we hear a badly recorded interview with Bob McKnight, head of Quiksilver, makers of clothing for surfing, skating, or snow riding. He is asked about the “economic tsunami” and his first answer is “Um,” which the animators gleefully spell out across the screen “Ummmmmmmm.” Despite the frivolous nature of the visuals, the interview topics turn serious. “Watch the management of your assets very carefully.” Well, duh. “Without technology, we would be nowhere, it helps you to still rip it up.” Well, WTF. Then the spot concludes by telling you to “ask for people_ready enterprise solutions.” Right, “people underscore ready.” This is bad_advertising.

[tags]bad advertising, television marketing, bad TV commercials[/tags]

Google Brings Text Ads into Google News … again

COLUMN: For those of you who use Google News (the news portal that is a subset of the megalith that is the Google content universe) regularly, you might have noticed a month ago (end of January) that Google “flirted” with the idea of ads on their news search pages, with the same look/feel as normal search engine pages. This went away fairly quickly, the same day Google was having style sheet hiccups (I got several hours of “Times Roman” fonts versus normal sans-serif). I was pretty happy to see the experiment go away, and most of February the ads were missing from the news searches.

Well, here we are again the last couple of days of the calendar month, now February, and the ads have come back, and numerous folks have suddenly noticed them and started mentioning it as if it was entirely a new thing. Which, it seems like it will be officially full-time come March 1st.

Certainly we can’t begrudge was is ostensibly a “free” online service from pushing ads in our face, much like everything else in our society (the local TV stations now sell their helicopters in “wraps,” so the choppers look like giant flying McDonalds billboards — at least the birds can see them and fly away in terror); but, for me, it is very distracting from reading the news when doing specific searches, since I am not looking for ads, in the same way I might be when searching in the “main” search engine. Sigh.

Of course, I’ve learned to ignore the ads wrapping my mom’s whacky pet photos in my gmail account, and I tune out most other things at some point, so I’m sure I’ll get used to it. It’s funny to see the kinds of ads that show up in relation to news searches, since I typically look for news on topics completely different from what I might search for in the main engine. Particularly bizarre was a search I was going on behalf of one of my clients, who is running for Los Angeles mayor on a pro-cannabis platform, and he happens to be a pastor. In doing a search for pastor and marijuana, and Los Angeles, some really odd and particularly “adult” results came up. I’ve tried to replicate that, to no avail.

A posting on a Google company blog by Josh Cohen, a business product manager at Google, had this to say:

In recent months we’ve been experimenting with a variety of different formats, like overlay ads on embedded videos from partners like the AP. We’ve always said that we’d unveil these changes when we could offer a good experience for our users, publishers and advertisers alike, and we’ll continue to look at ways to deliver ads that are relevant for users and good for publishers, too.

Oh well. Now I have to see competitor ads when looking for my own company and client news items. Kind of annoying, and sometimes I find myself wanting to click on the ads from a competitor to use up their ad budget. Er, but that would be wrong, wouldn’t it? (Did I type that out loud…whoops.)

[tags]Google News ads[/tags]

Scott G watching himself watching himself

Communication Nation: Not-So-Super Super Bowl Ads 2009

COLUMN: An exciting Super Bowl game may be great for sports fans but it is weird for those of us in marketing, advertising, publicity and communications. The ads and promotions are the whole point of the afternoon and a good game just gets in the way. Anyone watching NBC during the day would have seen four or five pre-game shows, each lasting approximately as long as the Civil War, but finally, the big event started.

Well, the game started. Run, pass, block, kick, etc. etc. etc. Then it was on to the main attraction, the eleven bazillion commercials. Well, supposedly only 67 ads, but it sure felt like more.

Standing out for me were the car spots, like the one with the crashes, and all the ads with people saying really incredibly stupid things. Wow, that made for an absolutely hilarious good time and certainly did a lot to raise the public’s attitude about our profession.

Okay, on to the ads.

Hyundai
There were three commercials for Hyundai, one of which was exciting visually (brightly colored vehicles going impossibly fast) and aurally (Smashing Pumpkins on the soundtrack). The commercial invited viewers to edityourown.com although that site takes so long to load that I’m certain it drives people away. Another was a well-produced montage of rival auto makers shouting “Hyundai?!” as they read about some award the Korean manufacturer had received. The ad was well-produced but insipid. Their last one was meant to be comforting and humanistic, I guess, but instead was just a downer as it condescendingly says “buy a Hyundai and if you lose your income we’ll let you bring it back” or words to that effect. Tell you what, why don’t I just keep my current car and then none of us will have a problem. Besides, since everyone was paying $100,000 a second to run their spots, I don’t have a lot of faith in their fiscal judgment.

Audi
Slam-bang excitement as Jason Statham is on the run through several decades and many other makes of cars until the Audi A6 sedan comes through for him. Big production, superb direction, crisp editing and dynamite audio. Plus, it made me want to go test drive the car. Hey, a commercial that actually achieved a change in the audience. The work of Venables Bell & Partners in San Francisco, this one is worth repeated plays.

Doritos
PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division launched two commercials, one very funny, the other very, um, what’s the word I’m searching for here. . . oh, I know: stupid. The good one had the crunch of the product altering people, places and things until the predictable ending where the product user/abuser got his comeuppance.

Some Beer
Conan O’Brien starred as himself as he considered doing a commercial that his agent claims will only be seen in Sweden. We see the horrible spot, as do his fans, and O’Brien is openly ridiculed. The commercial was supposedly about beer, but I don’t see how.

Bridgestone
It’s difficult to believe that the Richards Group was responsible for this drivel involving Mr. Potato Head in one spot and some astronauts in another. Hey, I like tires and tread and cornering and traction. If you tell me stuff about that, I’ll pay attention. I positively do not purchase tires because of Mr. Potato Head or space travel. These are truly bad commercials. Although the outer space one did have “Jump Around” by House of Pain as the music track. Retro-Cool sounds, man.

Monster.com and their competitor
The Monster.com ad made me laugh out loud and I hadn’t even gotten to the tequila yet. With an operatic aria on the soundtrack, the camera lovingly moves through a nice office with a moose head on the wall. Then it keeps on going to show the cubicle next door where the rest of the moose has its business end right in the face of the chair moistener assigned to that desk. Yup, time to post your resume on Monster, dude. Later in the program, competitor Careerbuilder.com vomited up an ad that was mindless in the extreme, with the same lines repeating ad nauseam. Hard to fathom how the once-great Wieden & Kennedy could be responsible for this reprehensible piece of dreck. Unless, of course, Careerbuilder is for people whose sole attribute is being able to say “Would you like fries with that?”

Cars.com
Here’s a mini-epic of a guy who oozes confidence and success but who quakes at the thought of negotiating to buy a car. The facts provided by Cars.com are the cure for this problem. Nice spot, nicely done. DDB Chicago done good with this one.

Toyota
Although the production is terrific, unfortunately the ad is for another unnecessary moronmobile, the Venza. And this is from an auto company that’s supposed to know what it’s doing. I guess the idea is that since they’re helping the planet with the Prius they can also go after the troglodyte crowd that has to pad their own egos with an SUV.

Castrol Motor Oil
Monkeys and motor oil? Not a good mix. Although it was nice that the soundtrack features the title cut from Iron Butterfly’s 1968 “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” album.

Coca-Cola
“Mean Troy” puts Troy Polamalu into the part made famous by Pittsburgh Steelers legend “Mean” Joe Greene as he limps into the tunnel on his way to the locker room. But this is for Coke Zero, which, um, is different, and so, uh, different stuff happens, some of which makes you laugh, but I still don’t know anything about Coke Zero. The company also had a long animated spot in which insects steal a Coke from a nice guy and do icky stuff with it. Not sure how this helps make me interested in their product. There was also a Coke ad where people shape-shifted into and out of their online avatars. Coke helped two of them meet each other. Well, I know that my avatar is always thirsty and likes meeting pretty girl avatars, but I’m suspicious that the owners of those avatars are less like Scarlet Johansson and more like Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons.

Beer again
There were more stupid spots for some beer company that shall remain nameless. The commercials seemed to be telling us that horses make their beer, or horses like their beer, or horses sweat into their beer. Or something. A total waste of money IMHO but then I drink Red Stripe or Guinness (thank heavens I can admit that now that they’ve switched to really cool commercials with terrific pulsating electronic music).

Denny’s
Making fun of the kiddie-style breakfasts at their competitors, Denny’s is still ripping off The Sopranos. But they got across the point that they have a serious breakfast.

3D Extravaganza
This was a joke, right? Apparently, 3D stands for dim, dumb and dubious. First, it was nearly impossible to find the damn glasses. After going to a Von’s, two Ralph’s, a Fry’s and a Target, I finally located a floor manager who said they had them at Customer Relations (you know, the Return Counter). It took her 128 seconds to detach two pair of glasses for me. The press materials claimed that 125 million pairs of glasses were being distributed, so at 64 seconds per pair, that’s eight billion wasted seconds for the USA work force. No wonder we’re in an employment crisis. The 3D ads for “Monsters vs. Aliens,” SoBe Water, and an episode of “Chuck” were an embarrassment. The picture was dark, the screen dynamics were on the level of bad storyboards, and there’s more 3D excitement in every panel of “Doonesbury,” which is a 2D comic with witty dialogue but little action. Ya gotta love the publicity department for Pepsi’s SoBe, however, as they had this to say about their silly spot with an angry version of the Geiko gecko: Their ad is a “modern interpretation of the famed ballet Swan Lake, and the rhythmic effects when the players and creatures are infused with the refreshing and reinvigorating impact of SoBe Life Water.” What a load of BeEs.

GoDaddy
Both of their spots pandered to juvenile male sexual fantasies, so naturally I loved them. Brilliant work, guys. Each one directed viewers to godaddy.com for “more” or the “uncut” versions. All righty, I visited godaddy.com and sure enough, you could view the commercials in their TV versions or the “Hot” Internet versions. But the company is making a fundamental error here. There isn’t anything even remotely hot about the Internet versions. There’s nothing in them that couldn’t have aired on broadcast TV. They promised titillation and instead delivered an episode of Hannah Montana. But, you know, without the hot parts.

G
Oh yes, I just love it when a company spends a lot of money to promote my name. Turns out this is actually for Gatorade but there’s no way you would know that from the ad.

Bud Light
Guy in shirtsleeves carries a six-pack of Bud Light Lime through a raging winter location and it turns into summer. Okay, I’ll go along with that. The demographic that buys American beer would probably get this and like the idea.

This. That. The Other.
Man, there were a lot of ads. Some were okay. Chevron did their animated talking car thing with the nice Hector Elizondo voiceover at the end. AT&T showed their spot with the dad on a business trip sending home photos of his kid’s monkey doll. H&R Block showed us Death not getting good tax advice. Funny concept.

Stupidity
There was no end of folly in this year’s crop of ads. E-Trade had their idiotic talking baby. General Electric had a modern animatronic scarecrow with Ray Bolger singing “If I Only Had a Brain” to convince consumers that, um, well, that they like “The Wizard of Oz” I guess. Who knows with that company’s ridiculous advertising. Pepsi had a sophomoric parody of an action adventure show. Or was it Coke? No one knows or cares. Teleflora had something about flowers being delivered in a box instead of by a person. WTF? Who sends flowers in a box? Cheetos had an ad with an animated lion and some annoying people being attacked by birds. Again, WTF? Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes showed growing plants, as if that would convince anyone to buy sugar-coated cereal. Heineken keeps sticking with their bad Franz Kafka ads utilizing formerly good actor John Turturro. Infinity hates their own autos so much they’re back to showing other things for most of the spot, in this case, someone swimming. Cash4Gold was doing some sort of parody of a bad rap video.

And on it went. I’ve left out a bunch of them, but only because I just don’t care any longer. Anti-creativity, anti-innovation, and anti-entertainment were often the order of the day.

[tags]advertising, marketing, commercials, Super Bowl, 3D[/tags]

Scott G on iPod with Rings - Phil Hatten Design

Communication Nation: Apple Wins Olympic Gold

COLUMN: Billions in bucks are being paid out to be official sponsors of the Beijing Olympic Games but there is already one big winner: Apple. Capitalism comes to communist China and both ideologies are the worse for it. According to Advertising Age magazine, sixty-three sponsorship and/or partnership arrangements have been made between corporations and the Beijing Olympics, with a reported four to six billion dollars changing hands for the privilege of getting into bed with the repressive regime.

Just to keep that dollar figure in perspective, it is somewhere between $4,000,000,000 and $6,000,000,000. But I don’t believe that counts the local ads we’re all enduring here at home. Taken altogether, it is a stunning waste of time, energy, talent, and economics.

Scott G on iPod with Rings - Phil Hatten Design
Scott G on iPod with Rings - Phil Hatten Design
All anger aside, I will admit it is entertaining to watch the pandering on the part of the world’s corporations. Invite friends over to play a few rounds of Whose Ads Are the Scummiest? No extra points for the firms with the most dubious relationship to athletics, including Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Budweiser, and BHP Billiton. (Don’t recognize that last one? Talk to anyone living near one of their gargantuan land-defacing mine operations if you’d like to learn about that collection of friendly folks.)

Once past the silliness of the ads for John McCain, we’re left to blur our eyes at hype for Panasonic, Samsung and General Electric; Nike, Adidas, and Kodak; Volkswagen, Visa, and UPS; Johnson & Johnson, Staples, and Lenovo (China’s largest PC manufacturer, as far as I know). It’s mind-numbing, all this scratching for awareness, buzz, mindshare, and brand identity.

There is one clear winner in the Bei-ca-ching advertising and branding sweepstakes…

Apple.

Yes, I know they don’t appear to be on any of the lists of official partners, sponsors or suppliers. Yes, I know they don’t seem to be purchasing any ads. But what is the one thing viewers keep seeing on such athletes as super swimmer Michael Phelps? The distinctive white ear buds of Apple’s iPod.

This may be the finest example of product placement in world history. And it may have cost Apple absolutely nothing.

How do we know those ear buds are attached to an Apple product, I hear someone ask. Couldn’t they actually hook up to a Zune?

Well, no.

First of all, Michael Phelps is a winner.

Second, and most important, it doesn’t matter if they’re hooked up to an Apple product, a Zune, or nothing at all (sorry to repeat myself). The point is that Apple owns the white cord and buds so when you see them, you think “Apple.” I do believe they call that part of the branding thing.

It takes big brains but it doesn’t necessarily take a big budget.

Photo of John Scott G by Snook/Immedia Wire Service.

[tags]Beijing, Olympics, Michael Phelps, Apple, iPod, Zune, marketing, branding, Scott G, The G-Man[/tags]

Communication Nation: Missing Janet

With caustic comments about the addled advertising and mixed marketing messages in Super Bowl XXMVIILVXIVIVMVVVIII or whatever, Scott G also offers a Remembrance of Super Bowls Past.

Call me old fashioned, but I’m having trouble dealing with the new and improved Super Bowl. The idea of an exciting game instead of the snore-fests of yore takes some getting used to. And the concept of having a team of liars soundly thumped by a two-touchdown underdog is the kind of thing you expect in a Hollywood movie, not in today’s world of greed-evil sporting events.

However, I’ll try to cope. After all, it was terrifically satisfying to see those cheating weasels get their comeuppance in the last minute of the contest. And what a thrill to watch the NYG defensive unit smash into a QB whose primary attributes are arrogance, preening, and smirking. As an added plus, we got to view the public humiliation of the architect of his team’s chicanery, the most overrated coach in all of sports, a guy who will be forever known as a bloated douche bag, and a man who turns the phrase “work ethic” into an oxymoron.

And yet I yearn for the days of old, when you could rely on the game to be just a prolonged scrimmage in between the main objective of the day: outrageous and overpriced advertisements. When the game is actually interesting, the ads get short shrift.

Besides, I miss Janet Jackson’s breast and Prince’s thrusting guitar moves. Those were eye-popping events. Each delivered the kind of adrenaline jolt that halftime shows often need. In today’s super sanitized Super Bowl, everything is so watered down and censored and inspected and ratified and expurgated and who-knows-what-all that the only eyebrow raising moment was when the arrow part of Tom Petty’s logo penetrated the heart part. Oooh, sexual innuendo in the rock-and-roll section of the broadcast, what a concept.

The Ads
What? Oh, yes, the advertising. The primary purpose of the event. Right, right. Well, the commercials and promos were less than stellar but not as offensive as last year. Trouble is, very few of them managed to do what advertising is supposed to do: advertise.

Beer
Yes, there were beer ads. And more beer ads. And still more beer ads. One of them spoofed “Rocky.” One was a cross promotion for the next forgettable Will Ferrell film. There were others. They were about beer. What’s the big deal?

Geico
This commercial was a funny blend of live action hottie (Naomi Campbell) and CGI lizards dancing to the 25th Anniversary Edition of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Delightful. One teensy tiny little problem: the ad wasn’t for Geico. It was for. . . well, that’s my point.

Human Growth Hormone
Silly spot about how jockeys can become as large as Shaquille O’Neal. Presumably, if you slip steroids to your horse, you can still win races. Or something. This may or may not have been for whoever bought the Geico ad (see above).

Justin Timberlake
Just teasing us now. No Janet Jackson. No wardrobe malfunction. Just Timberlake’s stunt double getting tossed, tumbled, jerked around, and pummeled. Might have been for a teen product as there was a young girl in it at the end.

Fox
Much as I loathe everything about the Fox organization, I have to admit to enjoying their Sarah Connor Terminator robot beating up on that stupid bouncing NFL robot.

Audi
New car or just a new body style? Whatever, it looked great. Not that we saw much of it because most of the spot was a lovely parody of the horse’s-head-in-a-bed scene from “The Godfather.” Having Alex Rocco scream at the sight of engine grime on his hands was funny. They are fortunate that the auto looks spectacular because otherwise it would have been easy to associate the grease-and-oil with the R8.

ETrade
Couple of spots, both silly, and one gross. The point of their baby-speaks-with-an-adult-voice is, um, well, that immature people use ETrade? That ETrade is so easy even a caveman could use it? That ETrade has a moron in charge of their marketing?

CareerBuilder
Stupid is as stupid does. A lot of people should be fired over this fiasco. Say, aren’t these the cretins who got rid of the agency that created breakthrough work for them last year? What a waste of time, energy and money.

Gatorade for Dogs
A dog slobbers up the stuff. Ummm, must be delicious! Wonder if they make it for humans?

Bridgestone
Oddly enough, these commercials never once mentioned their exploitive business practices around the globe. Instead, they concentrated on drivers almost running over animals. Oh, also Alice Cooper and Richard Simmons.

Coca-Cola
Two spots, both pretty nifty. One featured oversized balloons from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, with the inflatables battling to see who could grab the Coke bottle balloon. It was a beautiful balloon ballet. The other was also charming, as two political rivals (acerbic Democratic advisor James Carvelle and neo-fascist Bill Frist) bond over a coke.

FedEx
Big production offering very little results. The point of the spot is that FedEx delivers packages better than gigantic pigeons. Yes, kiddies, there are adults who get paid to come up with idiocy like that.

GoDaddy.com
A teaser to get you to go to their site and watch the censored ad. Worked like a charm and produced an astonishing number of hits, even during the game.

SalesGenie
WTF?

Planters
Funny skit with an unattractive girl wowing everyone because she smells like Planters nuts. Very entertaining. Mental note to self: avoid buying Planters until the imagery of this spot fades from memory. But very humorous ad, guys.

Taco Bell
Fiesta platters. Umm, looks good. Going out for some fast food now.

Communication Nation: We Are Now Transmitting Directly to Your Brain

After predicting direct-to-brain advertising years ago, Scott G takes a look at the latest schemes to beam advertising and marketing communication inside your skull.

It seems like science fiction or the kind of thing mental patients scream about: “I hear messages in my head!” But it will be happening to you very soon.

The technology to beam audio communication directly into your cranium is already available from two companies. American Technology Corporation (“Shaping the future of sound”), and Holosonic Research Lab (“Put sound where you want it”), have two different systems but both quietly blast messages into your mind.

San Diego-based American Technology Corporation (ATC) offers the HyperSonic system, while Massachusetts’ Holosonic Research Lab (HRL) features Audio Spotlight, and both are in operation across a wide range of applications, including museum exhibits, trade show displays, kiosks, waiting rooms and billboards.

Shhh: We’re Broadcasting
Let’s use a museum as an example of how they work. You step up to view an artwork and your presence activates the audio broadcast. But the sonics are so well-directed that they can only be audible where you’re standing. Other people in the room wouldn’t hear what you’re hearing. In fact, they could be listening to other aural material that you wouldn’t experience unless you entered the proper geographic area.

ATC has a section of their Web site devoted to military applications of their products, including the LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) which may be used to generate an “attention-getting and highly irritating deterrent tone for behavior modification.”

In a way, quite a bit of marketing and communications can be viewed as attempts at behavior modification, and now the industry has some new tools.

Flashback
I had been following ATC and HRL since 2001, and I put ATC and their Hypersonic Sound System in my song, “Paranormal Radio” (from the 2003 album ELECTRO BOP):

“Paranormal Radio is what we call a direct-to-brainpan transmission. That means our sounds emanate from American Technology Corporation’s HyperSonic Sound System and go straight into your head.” Some DJs thought I was ranting about something I read in a Philip K. Dick novel instead of the stark reality of the day.

Then, in the article that launched this column a couple of years ago, you will find the following paragraph:

“American Technology Corporation’s HyperSonic Sound system and Holosonics’ Audio Spotlight are perfecting the ability to direct audio messages to individuals passing nearby. So, for example, based on the RFID chip in your purchases, each person in a checkout line would hear a different ad.”

A couple weeks later, in a column about “Advertainment,” I wrote:

“We’re not even discussing the opportunities for advertainment once we move beyond traditional broadcast methodology; when microchips are embedded under your skin, YOU will be the receiver for TV, radio, satellite, telephone, and global positioning system signals.”

Dreadful Combo
It’s the combination of three elements that alarms me and should alarm every professional in the communications business.

1. The proliferation of ad messages into every single thing (and now, it seems, into every single person)

2. The use of RFID-like technology to track and recognize consumers and their purchasing patterns

3. The willingness of corporations to take control of what up until now was your own private space: the inside of your head.

Scenarios
The use of in-skull advertising may open up a whole batch of legal and moral issues. Consider:

* Parents beaming messages at their children (“Clean up your room,” “Piercings and tattoos are bad,” “Call your mother’s new boyfriend ‘Uncle,'” and the like).

* Prisons “motivating” inmates with sound that rewards them (Slipknot, Jay-Z) or punishes them (Josh Groban, Gwen Stefani).

* Clerics instructing the next generation (“Yes, Timmy, God wants you to do this.”)

* Auto dealerships pushing undercoating and extended warranties by recording customer conversations and playing back “buy now” messages in their own voices.

And you thought that episode of The Simpsons with Bart in a boy band sponsored by the U.S. Navy was a spoof on subliminal advertising. “Yvan eht nioj” indeed. As you can see, your own mind isn’t safe anymore. What comes next? Probably your soul.

[tags]ATC, American Technology Corporation, HyperSonic, HRL, Holosonic Research Lab, Audio Spotlight, advertising, mind control, RFID, advertainment, Simpsons, Slipknot, Jay-Z, Josh Groban, Gwen Stefani, Navy[/tags]

Scott G is doing a lot of phoning lately

Communication Nation: Phone Ad Fury

Advertising is everywhere, but does it have to clog up the phone lines? Scott G has a message for marketers using the phone as a sales weapon.

A toddler grabs a table lamp’s electrical cord, gives it a tug and the lamp crashes down on the little one’s head, opening a gash. Broken glass and shards of porcelain crunch underfoot as worried parents rush to give aid and comfort to their child. The cut is deeper than they thought and the bleeding won’t stop.

“Call 911!”

Just before the receiver is lifted, the phone rings. Snatching up the handset, the distraught parent says “This is an emergency!” presses down on the hook and releases it to make the vital call.

Scott G is doing a lot of phoning latelyBut the connection with the incoming call has not been broken. Why? Because it is a recording. An automated sales call for carpet cleaning, auto warranties, reverse mortgages, financial investments, credit cards, construction services, real estate, etc. No amount of clicking gets rid of the intrusion and the emergency call cannot be made from that telephone number.

Ah, you say, those poor people should have entered their number on the Do Not Call registry. Ah, but they did. Advertisers have found a loophole.

Court Action
The scenario above is a speculation on my part, but something similar has occurred and will happen again soon. I’m betting that the resulting jury trial will hold responsible the caller, the marketing agency and the phone carrier. If the insidious loophole keeps the caller and agency from being fined or put out of business, then juries are going to go after the phone companies.

Loophole
The deceit begins with not identifying the advertiser in the recording and blocking the caller ID. Suckers, um, sorry, consumers are asked to leave their name and number for a call back from the offending firm. In order to go after the calling criminals, the state attorneys general and the Federal Trade Commission need the name of the caller, the name of the slimeball company, or at least the number used to make the intruding call.

That means consumers need to give out some personal information and, in effect, conduct their own sting operation to obtain the evidence to get these scumbags arrested.

Either that or it’s time for a class-action lawsuit against the phone companies who are allowing these practices to continue. Ladies and gentlemen, start your attorneys.

[tags]direct marketing, telemarketing, phone companies, automated calls, recorded sales calls[/tags]

Communication Nation: Unspeakable Ad Techniques

Google monitors e-mails for contextual advertising matches, and few people seem to mind. Scott G wonders if these are the same people who will allow Pudding Media to monitor their phone calls.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Scott, it’s Marty.”

“Hey, what’s up?”

“I just got free worldwide long distance calling.”

“Oh yeah, how?”

“It’s from this place called Pudding Media, and-”

“Pudding Media?”

“Right, Pudding Media. It works like Skype. You call through your computer.”

“And it’s free?”

Scott G looking semi-official“Well, no toll charges.”

“How do they make their money?”

“They send ads to your computer screen while you talk.”

“What if I’m working on a song or a layout in PhotoShop or something? Do ads pop up over my work?”

“Don’t know. That would kill it for you, wouldn’t it.”

“That would more than kill it. That would put me on course to hunt down their scurvy hides, stomp out their service, and eradicate any mention of their existence.”

“Hey, an ad just popped up for poetry classes at the Learning Center.”

“That’s odd.”

“Well, no, you mentioned ‘existence’ and they’ve got an instructor who is some sort of expert on existential poetry.”

“Wait, what difference does it make what I said?”

“They use voice recognition.”

Pause. One of those uncomfortable pauses. The kind you know is going to cost you some money or forever change a relationship.

“So,” I said slowly, “this phone call is being monitored?”

“Well, yeah.”

“I see… Um, Marty?”

“Yeah?”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall you letting me know about that.”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry. Is that a problem?”

“Isn’t it a problem for you? You’re the one with the membership to those porn sites.”

“Well, I wasn’t going to bring that up in conversation, so I didn’t think-hey, now there’s an adult ad on my screen.”

“Oesday ethay omputercay understandway igpay atinlay?

“Good question. I’ll let you know what comes up…. Foreign language instruction.”

“Okay, now that I’m on this party line call… you know, with you, me, the computer, and the Pudding Head people, let’s test this sucker out. Hey, Marty, have you seen the new Audi A4?”

“Yeah, good-looking car. Yup! Audi ad just appeared.”

“How about this: car insurance.”

“Yes: Geico ad.”

“Okay, how about: department store?”

“Yup. Target ad.”

“Toothpaste?”

“Procter and Gamble ad.”

“Laundry detergent?”

“Procter and Gamble ad.”

“Pet food?”

“Procter and Gamble ad.”

“This is boring. Let’s try using subject matter instead of product categories.”

“Okay, like what?”

“How about: lying. What comes up?”

“Ads for Republicans.”

“Impotence?”

“Ads for Democrats.”

“Pedophiles?”

“Mark Foley Defense Fund.”

“Man, Republicans again. Okay, here’s one: televangelism.”

“Oh great, now my screen is covered with ads.”

“Sorry. Can you clear them away?”

“Wait, the only way is to restart.”

“Damn them.”

“No! Now I’ve got the televangelists again!”

“I hope you’ll forgi-I mean, hey, sorry about that. I’ve got one more for you, when you’re back up and running.”

“Okay, go.”

“Are you ready?”

“Yeah.”

“You sure?”

“Yes. What is it?”

“Okay: how are you coming with recruiting for your underground cell?”

“Hey, don’t be making that kind of joke. With this administration, that’s just not funny. Oh hey, wait a minute; someone’s knocking at the door. Hang on, I’ll be right back.”

Pause.

“Marty?”

Pause.

“Marty?”

Click.

[tags]Pudding Media, Skype, telephone, telecommunications, electronic eavesdropping, contextual ads, Google, voice recognition, Scott G, gman, Communication Nation[/tags]

Scott G speaking at an industry function

Outrage in Your Mailbox: A Peek into Direct Response Advertising

Ever since the invention of mail delivery, we have had to endure direct response solicitations. These ads-to-your-door may be informative, helpful and economical. But as Scott G points out, they can also be sneaky, intrusive and surprisingly distasteful.

Don’t get me wrong, I like direct mail advertising. Well, I often hate it, too, but you cannot beat a brand spanking new colorful catalog showing a batch of goodies you secretly covet and having it delivered right to your front door.

For me, the best catalogs are the compendiums of musical recording gear. For others, it might be books, clothing, vacation destinations, chocolates or hobby supplies.

Whatever it is that makes you drool, someone probably has a catalog of it, a nice big fat juicy volume that they’re willing to send you, often free of charge.

Scott G speaking at an industry functionTrouble is, the printing and postage costs keep rising, and retailers look for extra ways to achieve revenue. Selling or renting their mailing lists (dare we call them “sucker lists”?) is one way to make a little more income. This is why you find yourself the recipient of wonderfully worded announcements for goods and services you do not need and do not want.

Allow me to present three examples I received in the past week:

Misplaced Marketing Approach
“Win a pre-paid cremation” said the letter. Yes, it’s an attention-getting gambit or “grabber.” It’s also in questionable taste. At least they didn’t put an expiration date on the offer.

Sent from The Neptune Society, which calls itself “America’s cremation specialists,” the note is well written and not overly offensive in any other way. It’s just the offer that’s cheesy, blatant and misguided in the extreme.

I suppose various ideas were considered for their special offer. “Win a box of illegal fireworks” may have been their second choice. Or perhaps “Win a lifetime supply of condoms.”

In glancing at the conclusion of the letter, I notice they state confidently, “If you are not interested in spending your family’s inheritance on embalming, caskets, vaults, markers, fancy funeral homes or cemetery property, then we have the answer!”

Yes, they make liberal use of exclamation points! In fact, 50% of the sentences end with them! (See how annoying that gets?!)

Ironically, the letter was addressed to my mother, who purchased pre-paid cremation from this very firm more than a dozen years ago. Why didn’t they check their database before sending this thing?

Sneak Attack
The post card from Air King, a firm specializing in installation and maintenance of air conditioning, couldn’t have been simpler: it was black-and-white, contained no photos, and featured text in capital letters as if printed from an old teletype machine in a government back office.

Under a stark heading of “Service Reminder” is a semi-ominous-looking line that reads “Notice #SR-364/367.” That’s an easy way to make the card appear to be official.

The brief message then informs the reader that “Your A/C system may be due for its annual health and safety inspection.” You have to admire the use of the word “health” in that sentence. Does it refer to the health of the A/C, the health of your family, or to meeting some new safety code aimed at preventing the spread of avian flu? Whatever interpretation you put on it works to their advantage.

Next, the text recommends that “your system is inspected immediately.” Good technique here: in carny slang, I think it’s called “prodding the mark.” The piece asks you to “schedule your inspection,” which follows the approved “Glengarry Glen Ross” advice of ABC: Always Be Closing.

Finally, it notes that if you make your appointment soon enough, you “will be eligible for a $50 energy rebate.” Not that you’ll receive one, of course, but you’ll be eligible for one.

It’s a beautiful low-cost direct mail solicitation, IMHO. It’s hard-hitting without appearing to be pushy, and accomplishes its work with only about 50 words. But it’s sneaky and just above being underhanded.

Blast from the Past
The last sales pitch was both the funniest and the saddest. It came from The Island Hotel in Newport Beach and included a reprint of a Los Angeles Times story about the place, which contained delicious tidbits of information such as the price of a “room-service breakfast of eggs . . . $32 with service fees” and the speculation that the staff effectiveness is the result of “incentives, like money or, sometimes, fear.”

The story and the enclosed flyer also extolled the virtues of the Palm Terrace Restaurant & Lounge, and offered the headline news that “the inimitable Jimmy Hopper has returned to our lounge every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening.”

In the Times, the inimitable Mr. Hopper is called a “Vegas-style singer,” whatever that means. Their review, by Valli Herman, concludes with a description so horrifying I cannot imagine why the hotel left it in the reprint:

Hopper’s classic rock sets have earned a lively, if aging, following who don’t mind that the singer with the punk haircut needs glasses to read his lyrics. Guys camouflage their gray with highlights, tuck their bellies into leather pants, and betray their fantasies with age-inappropriate dates. Just watch out for the tipsy middle-aged woman singing along to the Journey power ballads. Turn your back, and she’ll hit on your date.

That was the funny part. Okay, it was also quite sad. But here comes the really sad part. Addressed to my father, the letter includes this line: “We at The Island Hotel would like to thank you for your support during a remarkable transitional year.” Unless the transitional year they’re speaking about was in the previous century, they’re a little off target. My father died nine years ago.

[tags]direct mail, gman, Scott G, Communication Nation, advertising, marketing, Los Angeles Times, cremation, home repair[/tags]

Mad Men May Save the 30-second Commercial

The one-hour drama, ‘Mad Men,’ part of AMC channel’s original programming, has many attributes and can be quite entertaining. Scott G says what’s truly intriguing about the series isn’t in the show but during the commercial breaks.

There has been a lot of talk lately about “the death of the thirty-second commercial.” Fact is, the :30 is still going strong, with millions of people seeing hundreds of ads every day, many of them overtly or covertly influencing purchasing decisions in every demographic category.

However, it is true that millions of dollars are moving away from traditional broadcast media in favor of interactive and ‘Net-related communication. So it is noteworthy when a network begins presenting commercials in a slightly new way, as seems to be happening during broadcasts of “Mad Men,” the new AMC original series about an advertising agency on Madison Avenue in 1960.

Scott G recording a commercial voiceoverFirst, there’s the fact that commercials accompanying a program about advertising will be viewed differently by many in the audience. More importantly, AMC is using a tried-and-true technique to retain attention during the sponsor breaks: trivia.

Before each commercial, a brief factoid about the ad business appears on the screen. I didn’t know this was going to happen, and since I had TiVo’d the show, I attempted to fast-forward through each break but was caught every time by a word or phrase in their trivia tidbits, causing me to go back and take a peek. Did it get me to watch a few of the spots? Yes.

And it would have been even more effective if the trivia directly tied-in with the spot that followed.

Are we seeing the birth of a new style of ad presentation? Could be. It just needs a catchy name and about two hundred pages of focus group research and we’ll be selling this concept all across the country.

Some names I suggest we consider for the technique: facting, fADding, introing, and ad-on.

“Mad Men” is co-produced by one of the industry’s leading commercial production houses, @radical Media, but there’s no indication they’re also working on the spots or the ad-ons. Here’s hoping someone steps up to talk about this concept. The ad industry might applaud.

[tags]gman, Scott G, Communication Nation, advertising, marketing, tv series, Mad Men, AMC, commercials, radical Media[/tags]

In Praise of the Product Demonstration

Dating back to the days of cave dwellers, the humble product demonstration can be one of the most persuasive sales techniques. Scott G examines this method of selling in the light of today’s new media realities.

“This miracle elixir is guaranteed to soothe, lubricate, heal and otherwise transmogrify your throat from top to bottom.”

Or words to that effect.

It’s one of history’s most entertaining product demonstrations and it occurs in “Poppy,” a 1936 film in which W.C. Fields plays American frontier salesman Professor Eustace P. McGargle.

Scott G of Advertising Industry NewswireThe good Professor stands at the back of a wagon in a town square, holds aloft a bottle of suspicious-looking tonic and extols its virtues with mellifluous phrases spoken with great power and loving care. Unfortunately, he gradually loses his voice, so he uncorks the bottle, takes a hefty swig, and then proclaims in full-throated roar, “It cures hoarseness!” And the customers flock to purchase the snake-oil.

You can’t beat a good product demo, as we all witnessed recently in a television campaign for the Apple iPhone. The elegant ads do nothing but show how the product works. And the world gaped at the spots in fascination.

Done well, the product demo can do wonders for immediate sales (“Watch as I show you how easy it is to club your enemies with this mastodon bone”) but it also has the potential to help establish a long-term position for a brand. Consider the reverse product demo used for years by Maytag, with their repairman bored out of his mind because their products never break down.

Sounds of Sucking
Of the many product demos currently on display are commercials for vacuum cleaners, including one where viewers are given an inside-the-product view as dirt enters the chamber.

Ads for the Dyson vacuum are the most stylish in this category, but they are spectacular failures in that they refuse to show how the devices “never lose suction.” I can remember the product benefit but I don’t believe it because they never prove it. (Not that I believe that the rival Oreck can nearly suck up a full-grown human, but at least they don’t make a claim they can’t back up visually.)

New Media, New Realities
Product demo advertising currently accounts for about eleventy gazillion dollars in sales (you can see that I’ve done quite a lot of research on this topic) but a significant amount of that may have to change in view of today’s altered media landscape.

Thirty-second broadcast commercials are not dead, but they are steadily losing share of corporate advertising budgets (they’re down 33.79% according to figures I just made up). Online ads rule, but even that may be changing as people easily skip over online messages or engage in gaming.

The point isn’t the raw data; there are research firms who can give you the actual numbers. The point is that potential customers are actively seeking ways to avoid your message (unless you’re the iPhone) and you’ve got to find a way to convince people to look at your product announcement.

If People Want Info, Your Ad Is Relevant Data
When you have a product people want, your ad isn’t viewed as an ad; instead, it becomes information. Or infotainment, depending on how you present your product benefits.

Sometimes, a public relations campaign can pave the way for your advertising to reach out and make the sale. Other times, you need to design your advertising for the new media. Hence the proliferation of online games and interactive quizzes that just happen to mention products.

The closer you can get the game or the quiz to reflect the product benefits, the more effective you’ll be in branding and the more success you’ll have convincing customers to make a purchase. Or, put a better way, you’ll be more successful the more you can have a consumer make a mental association between your product and the benefit.

Final Word: Doing the Demo
One nifty advantage of the product demo ad is the instructional aspect, or the guide it provides for people. When first picking up an iPhone, most users I observed go through the same sequence they saw on the commercials. Effective spot, wasn’t it.

[tags]iPhone, gman, Scott G, Communication Nation, marketing, Dyson, Oreck, TV commercials, WC Fields[/tags]

Scott G on the iPhone

Smile, You’re on the iPhone

With the nation’s collective craving for Apple’s iPhone, the product seems poised for the most consumer-friendly product launch in marketing history. Scott G speculates about that little ‘camera’ button in the upper right-hand corner of the screen.

You’ve read about Apple’s spectacular new gadget, the iPhone. Most people in the Western Hemisphere have seen at least one of the commercials. And we’ve all done that mental calculation about our budget (“okay, it’s five or six hundred dollars, but it’s a business expense. . . “)

Scott G on the iPhoneWith people practically drooling over the iPhone, this high-tech tool is going to launch with the largest number of in-the-field product demos in the history of the world. Virtually every one of the first few hundred thousand iPhones sold will be used in personal presentations as proud owners happily run through the features and benefits at the office, at parties, in the elevator, at the mall, in bars and restaurants, at the gym, and wherever today’s modern humankind gather for business or pleasure.

It’s going to be a smashing success. My question is this: we know it can play videos but will it also be a video device? Is that a hidden benefit of the first models, or will it be an upgrade soon?

If not on the iPhone now, this feature is coming. Apple has been diligent about offering Webcam technology, and it seems only natural they would offer it in the iPhone.

And what changes it will bring:

* Working moms will want to check in with the nanny to see little Britney or Josh eating, napping, playing, etc.

* Employers will want the feature activated to make certain that “ill” employees aren’t actually standing on the first tee

* Shoppers will ask store personnel to prove that a product is in stock in the right color

* And the opportunities for the creation of personal porn will expand exponentially

Suddenly, the price doesn’t seem very high at all.

iPhone image copyright 2007 Apple, Inc.

[tags]Apple, iPhone, video phone, Gman, Scott G, advertising industry news, marketing, personal porn[/tags]

Carl Doesn’t Know Jack or Dick

Dick Sittig, the marketing genius behind the Jack-in-the-Box ad campaigns, has created a commercial concept so powerful that he now has rival Carl’s Jr. helping him spread the word. How? By being so funny and acerbic that Carl’s is trying to sue for relief.

I have long wanted to write about the off-the-wall humor in the advertising for Jack in the Box (JITB) restaurants, a West Coast-based fast-food firm. While they are a good-sized company ($2.7-billion in sales), JITB is not a national chain (their locations are in only 17 states).

Under the direction of Dick Sittig, the Jack advertising has consistently stood out from the clutter, succinctly demonstrated their product advantages, and almost always made viewers smile.

Scott G in the studioThe humor ranges from mainstream to delightfully warped, as might be expected from creatives at an ad agency called the Kowloon Wholesale Fish Company (although to save their receptionist from too many calls from food distributors they are dba Secret Weapon Marketing).

With their most recent marketing onslaught for JITB, the belly laughs are too loud to ignore. Plus, they have done what every marketer must dream about: suckered their competitors into a publicity war from a foolish lawsuit.

The Commercial
In the opening spot of what I expect will be a series of humorous ads, we see spokesperson Jack, a human with the JITB logo for a head, in a boardroom explaining their new sirloin burgers to JITB employees. He uses a chart to illustrate the various parts of a cow, and points out the location of the meat-eaters’ desirable choice, sirloin.

One employee notes that their competition is selling Angus burgers and asks Jack if he would show where find “the Angus area of the cow.”

Pause.

At this point, we watch a puzzled Jack standing by part of the chart, the part displaying what my dad used to call the north end of a south-bound cow.

“I’d rather not,” says Jack, and the spot concludes with their regular branding imagery.

The Reaction
Like lemmings, the people at CKE Restaurants (formerly Carl Karcher Enterprises) have gone to court with paperwork that reportedly claims the JITB commercials create “The erroneous notion that all cuts of Angus beef are derived from the anus of beef cattle.”

So, basically, CKE is saying its customers are too stupid to get the joke.

I suppose this is possible, given the nature of the CKE ads for Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants. For years, sloppy eaters have been a mainstay of their ads. One commercial for milk shakes has two male yokels placing their hands on the Angus end of cows and attempting to vibrate them. Get it? Milk . . . shakes.

Another ad has cab drivers talking with their mouths full and insulting women who pass by.

The Comedy Keeps on Coming
Alana Semuels of the Los Angeles Times noted what Dick Sittig told industry magazine Adweek about the JITB “where’s the Angus” campaign. He said that the humor in the spots was “no more crude than a middle-school joke about the planets, or one planet in particular.”

The people at Secret Weapon Marketing are probably enjoying putting in a few extra hours writing snappy one-liners about the Angus fixation of Carl’s and Hardee’s. The braintrust at CKE can only fuss and fume about how misunderstood they are for their Angus love.

Perhaps this is why JITB has sales of $2.7-billion in 2,000 locations while CKE has sales of $1.5-billion from 3,100 locations.

Rules to Live By
I have friends and professional associates in both music and marketing, but in each case, there are certain rules by which we live. One, treat everybody the way you expect to be treated. And two, never go up against a comedian.

[tags]Jack in the Box advertising analysis, CKE lawsuit, marketing, positioning, fast food advertising, advertising industry news, Scott G[/tags]

Take Aways: What Consumers Learn From Ads

Advertising and marketing executives say their business is art, craft and science, and Scott G admits that may be true about a third of the time. Consider a few current ad campaigns that leave potential customers exhilarated or puzzled, intrigued or disgusted.

When presenting ad concepts to clients, much is made of positioning a product in the minds of a target audience. What is often overlooked is the message that resonates in a consumer’s mind after viewing or hearing an ad. It’s what is known as the “take aways.”

Scott G casts a shaded eye on current advertisingThe ultimate test of a campaign lies in the sales figures for the product, but behind those numbers are the feelings that well up in the hearts and minds of potential customers. There are immediate and long-term take aways, but for the examples below, I can only speculate about the short-term effects since most of the campaigns are new (or they’re new to me).

Note: the take aways listed here are all IMHO. Feel free to post your own reactions below.

Audi
The TT coupe and roadster models are being introduced to the public in a magnificent-looking multimedia campaign that leadoff with superbly edited fifteen-second commercials featuring a section with what they claim are .02-second-long images. Take aways: Audi = design, sleek, new, power, style, grace, and climax.

BMW
Because BMW has a full line of cars and two boxy truck-like vehicles, there are multiple campaigns running at the same time, making for an easy take away: BMW = unfocused, confused, attempting to be all things to all people.

Individually, they have two commercials appearing here in Los Angeles, one for their behemoth vehicles that discusses the cupholders (!) and I won’t dignify this with any mention of what consumers might make of it. The other utilizes “Spiderman”-style animation of flora rapidly growing out of the roadway and turning into a car. Take aways: BMW = evil, unreal, slithery, silly.

Mercury Mariner
The current TV ad for this minibehemoth features “Day of the Triffids”-style animation of flora rapidly growing out of the roadway and turning into an SUV. Take-aways: Mariner = stupid, unreal, pollinated, silly.

Charles Schwab
Taking live-action “scripted interview” footage and converting it to posterized cartoons, this is one of the more reviled campaigns of recent months. Is it eye-catching? Yes, which may be good enough for Schwab to score some points in top-of-mind awareness studies. But the vignettes are so mundane that you would need violent and semi-porn anime to hold any interest. Take aways: Schwab = whiners, losers, petty people.

GM
There are about 45 different campaigns for various vehicles in their numerous product lines. Can you name some of them? I’ll wait.

(pause)

Right, that’s my point. I have no idea what the hell they’re doing except for the super sleek music and cinematography in the commercial for the Caddy truck monstrosity I wrote about a few columns ago. Perhaps that’s why GM’s VP of Marketing and Advertising for North America is leaving as of June 15. The truly weird part of the GM announcement is where they say the position won’t be filled.

K9 Advantix
This advertiser insists on showing horribly bad spots, one containing a dog singing “Ain’t No Bugs On Me” and the other with a dog singing new lyrics to “Dance of the Hours” from La Gioconda. The composer, Amilcare Ponchielli, died in 1886, and thus isn’t around to defend himself. These embarrassments manage to reach new levels of annoyance. They also mention their competitor, Frontline Plus, in an attempt to get consumers to confuse or equate the two products, presumably because Frontline holds the leadership position in the category. Take aways: K9 Advantix = manipulative, unprincipled, calculating, heartless. (Of course, since they kill ticks and fleas, perhaps those are not bad take aways.)

Dow
I’ve written favorably about their “human element” campaign before, and now they’re extending it with beautiful work on behalf of the Blue Planet Run. Outstanding work. Take aways: Dow = caring, quality, commitment.

Retail
Finally, everyone can name several dozen firms in their own city with ads full of shouting announcers, screaming headlines, bursts, snipes, giant type, tons of exclamation points, and not one second or one square inch of an ad that doesn’t contain some sort of sales message. This is the advertising equivalent of bludgeoning you to death and taking your wallet.

But you know what? These awful things often work. As someone who values wit, taste and style, I hate to admit that these abominations are frequently effective. And what makes them work? The take aways: ugly, shouting, messy, crapola ads = cheap. And cheap = lower prices.

So, consumers, if you like bad ads, just keep on purchasing products pitched to you with crummy marketing.

[tags]advertising industry news, marketing mistakes, gman, consumers interpret advertising, Scott G, horrible shouting ads [/tags]

Scott G looks askance at bad ads

Ad Industry Thinks You Are an Idiot

Scott G often works in the advertising industry and he’s frequently appalled by what he sees, as when large corporations insult your intelligence with misleading marketing, or when they treat you like absolute morons with super-silly or saccharine-sweet ads.

You are stupid. You’re aware of that, right? I mean, you must know it since you’re reminded every day that corporate America feels you have just nine brain cells left in your cranium. You’re a clown, a dumbbell, a geek, a patsy, a jerk, and a mark.

That’s what the ad industry thinks of you.

Well, they must believe that when you look at some of the foul-smelling tripe they unload on you every day.

Scott G looks askance at bad adsYes, there is some excellent advertising out there. The Lexus ads are superior in every way. The TV spot for that turd of a truck, the Cadillac Escalade, is beautifully done. Dow’s “Human Element” campaign is wonderful. The whole approach from ADM, UBS, and Sprint feel quite good. And Crispin’s VW “crash” spots may have changed auto advertising forever.

But a lot of advertising is way bad these days. Consider these recent examples:

Air You Can See
The American Petrol Institute presents an 18-wheel truck roaring down the highway spewing clean air from its smokestacks. This ridiculous piece of twaddle is lovingly produced and bounces along jauntily to a nifty rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies.”

The spot touts ULSD (ultra low sulfur diesel) fuel and the friendly folks at the API would like you to visit a propaganda site called energytomorrow.org. And you probably thought that the “dot org” address was reserved for true nonprofit organizations.

Despite the nice photography and special effects in the spot, the message leaves a bad taste in your mouth as well as blight on your brain. Although, come to think of it, we probably shouldn’t be surprised by such outrageousness as they are part of the industry that says the following, with a straight face:

It may surprise you to find out our industry’s earnings are typically in line with other industries, and are often lower. We’ve prepared this short paper, based on well-documented data, to help you better understand the oil and gas industry’s earnings by putting them into perspective.

They go on to claim they are enjoying earnings of only 9.5%. Right. And Ashlee Simpson sings live. And Britney’s I.Q. is in triple digits. And the CSI shows are based on reality.

Look Who’s Talking
Animals, that’s who. The pitchmen have become pitchmammals and pitchreptiles. Because, you know, it’s just so CUTE when those clever animators show you a talking dog, cat, lizard, bird, horse, bear, snake, rodent, insect or fish.

At this point, everyone with an ounce of sensibility is saying “yes, you’re right, these are dumb commercials.” And you’re hoping I won’t name one where you secretly enjoy the antics of the armadillo or the monologue from the moose, or something. Don’t worry. I’m not even going to dignify this category of offal with product names.

Trash Talking
Carl’s Jr. has 9 TV commercials running at the moment, mostly well acted and well photographed, but each with a curious undercurrent of stupidity (yours, if you buy any of their products).

“Cow Shake-Off” has two slack-jawed yokels getting physical with two innocent bovines. Nothing says “creamy delicious milkshake” like massaging a cow’s ass.

“Cabbie” has two lowlifes talking about a monster-sized steak burger and then insulting a woman who walks past. Yes, we all aspire to emulate cretins by purchasing the same food they masticate as they attempt to speak.

“Indecision” has a twit in Canter’s Deli unable to decide which Neanderthal’s eating habits he wants to copy. Perhaps he should meet the guys from “Cabbie” in a sequel.

“Surgeon” has a creepy doctor discussing breast augmentation while leering into the camera. Turns out he’s talking to a chicken. Ah-hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! I mean, ohmigawd is that ever a humorous concept.

“Those Days” has a cool music track while a beautiful girl samples almost everything in her ‘fridge on one of “those days after those days.” Nothing says “come to our restaurant” like a feminine hygiene message.

“Vacuum” attempts to make you salivate over something called “boneless buffalo wings” by showing someone using an industrial-size vacuum on his car. Yum. And what are “boneless buffalo wings” anyway, chicken armpits?

“Soldier” attempts to play on our national desire to support our troops but trips all over itself by making the actor recite lines that are, um, how shall we put this. . . oh, I know: stupid.

“Girlfriend” uses the tired concept of two hot babes vying for the same guy. A guy, mind you, whose idea of a dinner date involves eating at a plastic counter. Okay, perhaps this one isn’t saying we’re all stupid; just women.

“Little Wings” has a guy sitting along at the bar in a dive trying to make a meal of the free wings while nursing one beer. All right! NOW Carl’s has found their audience!

What Does “BP” Stand For?
Up until not long ago, BP was British Petroleum. Then it became BPAmoco, and now it’s BP Plc (in the U.K., that stands for public limited company, or one whose stock shares may be purchased publicly). As part of their “Beyond Petroleum” campaign, BP is unleashing achingly cloying animated commercials showing little kids driving cars into ultra-clean gas stations.

Here on the West Coast, BP owns Arco stations and the Arco AM/PM Mini Markets, so I guess the point of the campaign is that the nice, warm, fuzzy and cuddly BP company is tearing down all those mean, old, ugly and polluting Arco gas stations and is replacing them with that miracle of modern humanity, the BP gas station. Bad Perception. Big Disdain. Being Patronizing.

(Yes, I know this is the second anti-big-oil item in this column, but I prefer to look at it as merely a right cross following a left jab in the battle against corporate greed, malfeasance and lies.)

[tags]bad advertising, advertising industry news, marketing mistakes, lowest common denominator advertising, Gman, Scott G, advertising commentary, animals in advertising[/tags]

Scott G doing a voiceover

Ideas, R.I.P.

A manifesto entitled 100 Ways to Kill a Concept is currently bouncing around the Internet. It is being sent in anger, frustration and/or glee by anyone who has ever had the misfortune to present an original idea to a boneheaded boss or calcified committee. Scott G lauds author Michael Iva for his horrific hundred.

The title pretty much sums it up: “100 Ways to Kill a Concept: Why Most Ideas Get Shot Down.” When designer and advertising provocateur Michael Iva penned it, he was able to call on a lot of people for help: all the idiots he’s ever encountered who put the brakes on creativity.

Scott G doing a voiceoverNow, if you’re one of the lamebrains who consistently quake at even a glimmer of a new idea, you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about. Why are so many people downloading this diatribe and e-mailing all around the Internet, you’ll ask your assistant.

But if you’re in the business of designing, developing, devising, conceiving or creating advertising (or anything, for that matter), you will love this list.

Some of the items will make you nod; some will make you laugh; and some will make you shake your head with the profound sadness of one who has seen originality trampled, twisted, smashed, distorted, buried, ignored or (horror of horrors) sent to a committee or focus group.

Hats off to Mr. Iva, whose work here is for “everyone who has ever had an idea for anything that is new, improved, unique, different, and/or better.”

The manifesto is available for everyone who wants a copy. Download it now, download it often.

http://www.changethis.com/32.04.100WaysKillConcept

[tags]creativity, 100 ways kill concept, Michael Iva[/tags]

Scott G insisting he's in the music biz

Smart People in Advertising – Please Step Forward

Curiouser and curiouser, weaker and weaker, stupider and stupider. That describes much recent advertising from major brands. Clogging the airwaves with badvertising is nothing new, but it does seem as if idiocy is lately on the rise. Scott G lists a few of his least favorites from the past couple of weeks.

In “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” a crusty and colorful character named Percy Garris, played with gusto by Strother Martin, is exasperated at come silly comments by the two anti-heroes, Butch and Sundance. He says, to nobody in particular, “Morons. I’ve got morons on my team.”

Scott G insisting he's in the music bizJust like Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the title roles, many of us are chagrined to hear that line spoken about us, the folks in the ad biz.

But that’s what we are.

Why?

Because of what we do in our jobs.

Consider:

* Verizon Wireless V-Cast commercials, in which cretins stick sweaty earbuds into our orifices so we can hear approximately 7 seconds of a song. What do I remember about the V-Cast phone? One word: eeeeeeeauw.

* Procter & Gamble Swiffer commercials, in which simpletons talk to their kitchen cleaning implements before we get to hear a few seconds of “One Way Or Another.” What do I remember about Swiffer? Blondie wrote pretty good songs. Oh, and Devo wrote good songs, too (“Whip It” was in the prior wave of Swiffer ads.)

* Nabisco Chips Ahoy commercial, in which clueless animated cookies “sing” along to Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me, Baby?” What do I remember about Chips Ahoy? They have mouths, cannot sing, and are quite squirmy just before you grab them.

* Dr. Scholl’s shoe inserts commercials, in which mentally challenged young adults make inane puns on the made-up word “gellin'” over and over and over andoverandoverandover until you must make a mental note to never even consider buying any of their products ever again.

* Avis and iTunes have combined for a spot showing braindead people holding their mouths open as if music is coming out. The synchronization is poor enough to make you think it was dubbed by the people who used to import Japanese monster movies.

* Guinness is running a series of “animated” commercials so amazingly awful that you’d think it was the result of encephalitic horses instead of marketing executives. This crap is so embarrassing that I no longer buy Guinness; which is too bad because I like their Stout quite a bit. Or I did like it in the past.

* Personal hygiene products advertising, in which. . . well, the splashing, squirting, foaming, layering, lathering, and God knows what all is just plain disturbing.

Does anyone have any ideas of how to stop this type of thing? I am tired of people looking at me like I was an insect on their food if I admit to working in the advertising industry.

[tags]moron marketing, dislike of advertising, intrusive ads[/tags]

Uncle Scott wants you

Superliminal Advertising

Sponsored messages worm their way into entertainment and news. Tracking of consumer purchases allows for precise targeting of those messages. Computerized production technology enables marketers or government agencies to control what you see and when you see it. Scott G plays George Orwell by putting these 3 ideas together.

Technology can be a wonderful thing. It can also give corporations and governments new ways to track you, hound you, monitor you, and control your life.

Yeah, I know that cries of “paranoia” will greet this column. But every time I write one of these “look out for the future” articles, it only takes a month or two before people begin making press announcements that reveal all my ramblings are true.

Uncle Scott wants youIt happened with my RFID article (“Your Panties Are Broadcasting On My Frequency”). It happened with my “advertainment” column (“Advertainment Sneaks into Film, Music and TV”). It happened with my data and ad glut story (“Advertising, R.I.P.”).

It will happen with this article, too. Come with me now on a short journey into the future of marketing communication. We are going to make just 3 points.

Ads Appearing As If By Magic
First, you need to think of the computerized ads inserted into televised baseball games. (Please note: this is simply one very obvious example of ad placement; it occurs in TV, online games, Internet communication, etc.)

You see the batter at the plate as every pitch is delivered. Behind the batter, on the wall just over the catcher’s shoulder, is a different type of pitch: an ad in full color. Sometimes a different each inning. Sometimes a different for each batter. Sometimes a different ad per pitch.

Now, the ads aren’t actually there in the ballpark. They are electronically inserted into the broadcast. This permits great flexibility for marketers. For example, regional advertisers can have ads in the broadcast that only appear in their geographic area.

But it gets better than that.

Ads Targeted at You
Marketers and media know enough about you to schedule ads based on your demographic needs. Thanks to credit card purchases and registration with your cable or satellite TV provider, they know your age, gender, residence, neighborhood, viewing habits, TiVo usage, and pay-per-view choices.

Add in the data from any shopping you do with a credit card and they may also know about your choices for groceries, clothing, restaurants, bars, movies, magazines, books, music, hobbies, health club visits, telephone usage, travel, banking, betting, online game playing, auto repair, pharmaceutical products, doctor visits, and porn. Oh, and your Social Security Number.

Yes, armed with that data, marketers can make very educated guesses about what ads will be of interest to you. There’s no need to worry about subliminal advertising; the facts about your life enable us to take normal advertising and aim it at you as if using laser beams. This is superliminal advertising, baby.

But it gets better than that.

Control of Information
What’s the first thing dictatorships do upon taking power? Seize control of the media. How would you do that in “a free society”? You would concentrate ownership of the media among as few firms as possible, and make certain they were all huge corporations with right-of-center owners. (Not too difficult; how many large left-leaning corporations can you name?)

Then, you will replace news anchors with the type of computer generated imagery employed in many motion pictures and begin beaming totally controlled “news” to the population.

Most people wouldn’t notice the difference. Hell, they might prefer it because they would begin receiving broadcasts catered to their prejudices, beliefs, class, education, employment, income, geographic location, and buying habits.

It would be . . . so easy. Not that any cable news channels aren’t already doing this.

[tags]G-Man, Gman, gman marketing, Scott G, Communication Nation, advertising, marketing, ad rants[/tags]

G-Man on and off the wall

Your Brand Here: The TV Show

With the announcement that the Geico Insurance Cavemen are being written into a script for a television series pilot, the issue of branded content again rears its ugly head. Scott G speculates on some of the oddities surrounding this silly side of advertising.

Some people are debating the wisdom of putting commercial characters into programming. Obviously, the folks behind the mildly entertaining Geico Insurance “Caveman” campaign think it’s a splendid idea.

G-Man on and off the wallAnd there is ample precedent for it working very well. In the movies, we have seen “Paper Moon” speak up for bible salesmen. The “Saw” series boosted sales at Ace Hardware. Some people claim that “Passion of the Christ” extolled the virtues of governmental torture policies. And there have been dozens of overpriced, overloud and underthought films created to help market video games and comic books.

As you can tell, I am not a fan of this sort of thing, although I freely admit that you can probably present almost any concept if you do it with enough wit, taste, timing, and style.

For example, consider the following unlikely ideas and their successful realizations: A comedy about patching up wounded during an undeclared war (“MASH”); a long drama about someone not getting around to making a movie (“8-1/2″); a comedy about a bunch of losers sitting around a bar (“Cheers”). All were excellent, despite their subject matter.

As the Geico announcement reveals, there are a great many possibilities as yet untouched. Some suggestions:

The Hands Talk Back
Allstate Insurance “good hands” try to get through life while coping with lots of bad “hand job” jokes and comparisons to “Thing” from the Addams Family.

Hit the Road
Co-sponsored by General Motors and the National Parks Service, this docu-comedy follows families on vacation as they drive merrily across the country to pose in front of landmarks.

Good Neighbors
Feel-nice documentary program about good deeds, good Samaritans, random acts of kindness, etc. Brought to you by State Farm Insurance.

Pun for Your Life
TV version of “Run Lola Run” with contestants racing through US cities making puns about sneaker manufacturers.

Yo
Adventures of assembly line workers battling robots in a Toyota factory.

Barbie Becomes. . .
Each week, a Barbie doll replaces someone on the job. Network news anchor, Pussycat Dolls dancer, TV network executive. . . roles requiring no brains or talent.

Fashion Uncovered
“Friends” meets “Queer Eye” starring the Fruit-of-the-Loom bunch.

Who Will Be the Next Britney?
Combining game show stupidity, reality show voyeurism, and moronic phone-in voting, this new show is brought to you (and broadcast) by YouTube.

[tags]G-Man, Gman, gman marketing, Scott G, Communication Nation, advertising, marketing, ad rants[/tags]

All Data Fox-Checked For Accuracy

The news is no longer the news. Scott G points out that we are in the midst of some bodacious blending: information & invention, data & political agenda, fact & fiction, actuality & publicity, and truth with whatever else comes to mind.

With the advancement of made-up news that is so prevalent at Fox, CNN, MSNBC, and far too many other places, the public is starting to take everything with a grain of salt. Actually, many who tune to the faux news channels are obviously taking it with bags of salt, after which they wash it down with Kool-Aid.

Scott G in the studioPlease note: I’m not including The Daily Show in this mix because anyone with a conscience and/or an I.Q. above 85 can tell that this is a comedy program, not a news show. (That it happens to present more actual news in a half-hour than most news programming does in several hours is fodder for another column.)

Today, sponsors are able to place their names, logos, slogans, images, and messages in news broadcasts, editorials, feature stories, television programs, interstitials, radio shows, newspapers, magazines, blogs, ezines, Web sites, and even casual conversations in public places.

As reported here in “Advertising R.I.P.” and “Your Panties are Broadcasting on my Frequency” (and several other columns), advertising messages are now EVERYWHERE, including in the news. There are even entire cable news channels where most coverage is made up and everything is available for purchase.

So, what does this mean for advertisers? Well, it may mean quite a lot, including:

* Programming is more likely to be viewed at the same level of acceptance as commercials, and vice versa

* Corporate videos can be sent to news programs and appear as “content”

* Press announcements can show up as scripts happily read by automaton news anchor personalities

* Propaganda can be disseminated easier than ever before

Yes, it’s a fine time for the marketer without morals. As someone said to me the other day, “Everything in this story has been Fox-checked for accuracy.”

“You mean ‘fact-checked,’ right?”

“No, I don’t.”

[tags]G-Man, Gman, gman marketing, Scott G, Communication Nation, advertising, marketing, ad rants[/tags]

Contextual Counter Branding

Contextual Counter Branding: Your Pizza is My Pizza – Why Search Engines Want to Sell Your Trademark to Your Competitors

While the subject of contextual branding against other company’s trademarks will not be a new issue to some people, and I had been aware of the problem from the past couple of years of litigation between major companies and search portals like Google and Yahoo!, nevertheless I was a bit surprised when my brand was targeted by an upstart competitor.

Pay per click (PPC), and pay for position (PFP), advertising was pioneered by the folks at Goto.com (which became Overture, now part of Yahoo!), then picked up as a good idea in different flavors by companies like Findwhat.com (disclosure: I was on the FW launch team), Google, and MSN. It’s a great concept, type in a search for tennis shoes and you might find an ad for my favorite online shoe store Eastbay.com, or type in computer parts and you might find a popular PC parts vendor Newegg.com.

That’s great for advertisers, and great for online shops and sellers. It is called “contextual advertising,” where ads which are related (in context) to what somebody is viewing, are shown. Makes total sense. If you’re doing a search about guitars, why shouldn’t you see advertisements about guitar shops and online music stores?

Contextual Counter Branding Where this process gets a bit contentious, and in some cases downright ugly, is when you type in a search for a major brand, or even a registered trademark, and competitors can bid to buy a spot higher than you, under your own brand. Imagine looking in the white pages of your phone book and right above the listing for Pizza Hut (alphabetically), there would be a boxed add for Domino’s Pizza. Might this not cause confusion, or be some kind of unfair competition?

You might think so. However did you pay for that white page listing? No. Similarly you and I are not paying Google to list our site in their directory (arguably if you’re paying Yahoo! to be listed this could be treated differently, as we’ll see later). So, in effect, Google’s builders believe that they can do anything with what is in their system and your trademark, brand, personal name, or product, is fair game to any advertiser.

Well, isn’t that free enterprise? Sure. But what got my nipple nuts in a twist was the placement of Google’s AdWords advertising and Yahoo! ads within other sites’ content under my registered trademark — my brand which I’ve spent seven hard years building into a respected entity in the PR business.

Mixed Messages in Advertising Placement
For instance, not long ago I happened to be looking on Technorati for my site’s submitted content under our brand, Send2Press�, and I was a bit surprised to see an advertisement for some newbie upstart in my industry called Mass Media Distribution with an ad right above my content listings, and then again in the middle halfway down the page. I thought… “W.T.F.” then said it aloud for personal emphasis to mine own ears.

I contacted Technorati, and was told they couldn’t do anything about it since it was Yahoo! ads being served based on the keyword or searched term. (Note: coincidentally, about a month after my complaint, Technorati changed their page layout, and the contextual ads don’t sit within content listings for tag searches, but do still sit atop results for “in blog posts” results. Oddly, when I checked today, they have now switched to Google ads in place of Yahoo! results.)

So, I trundled (virtually of course) off to Yahoo! and tracked down the page on their website to issue a complaint about unfair use of my precious U.S. registered trademark. Yes, steam was coming out of my ears, but admittedly, partly because I’d been caught with my pants down by somebody who found a loophole in non-traditional advertising and was trying to put their brand name front and center in front of my clients and audience. All I could think though, was “Damn dirty apes!” and let my fingers stab at the keyboard while hunting down where Yahoo! hides such information in their advertising system.

First thing to do was go place a bid in Yahoo!’s ad system, and suffer the indignity of having to outbid some upstart company for my own trademarked brand. Done. Then I went again in search of the page on Yahoo! to address this. Luckily, since Yahoo! does offer paid inclusion in their search, they do have to respond to this kind of issue since it’s arguably a conflict of interest to sell inclusion, and then let somebody bid on an advert that will run above your listing in their search engine. Or, at least that was my thinking, which could be blind hope on my part as to what’s right and what’s wrong in this mixed-up world of online advertising.

So, I was unable to locate the trademark page, but I did put in a query with their information request form, and they sent me back a personal response and link to the trademark page: “Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. So that we may properly investigate this issue, please go to the appropriate page on our Web site, as outlined below and provide some additional information: http://searchmarketing.yahoo.com/legal/trademarks.php. Once there, please review our trademark policy and provide us with the information. Please send the information directly to the e-mail address given on the Trademark Information page: trademarkconcern-ysm @yahoo-inc.com.”

One minor amusing point is that all of the emails back from Yahoo! on this matter all came from the Overture mail system. Hasn’t it been a couple of years since Yahoo! switched Overture’s brand out of the mix?

I was pleasantly surprised to find that three days after sending in my concerns and proof of the problem, my trademark status with the US PTO, and heartfelt ramblings, I got this letter back from Yahoo’s support:

Dear Chris:
Thank you for your correspondence. This email will serve as our response, you will not receive further notification from us.

Yahoo! Search Marketing does not approve of or condone websites that infringe trademarks. However, we generally have no control over the content presented by the advertisers who list their websites on our search engine. Yahoo! Search Marketing does require that each website be relevant under our guidelines. To summarize, we allow advertisers to bid on a search term that may be the trademark of another party so long as their listing meets one of the following conditions:

1. Reseller: The advertisers site must sell (or clearly facilitate the sale of) the product or service bearing the trademark (for example, an online shoe store that sells Nike shoes on their landing page would be allowed to bid on the search term nike).

2. Information Site, Not Competitive: The primary purpose of the advertisers site is to provide substantial information about the trademark owner or products or services bearing the trademark, AND the advertisers site does not sell or promote a product or service that competes with the trademark owners products or services (for example, a site that provides product reviews may bid on the brand names of the products being reviewed, and a site that provides news information about a company may bid on the company name as a search term).

3. Generic Use (Non-Trademark Related): The advertiser is using the term in a generic or merely descriptive manner unrelated to the trademark owners goods or services (for example, we would allow an advertiser that sells apples to bid on the search term “apple,” whereas an advertiser in the computer software/hardware industry bidding on the term apple would be required to have relevant content regarding the Apple Computer, Inc. brand of computer products and comply with our policy as described above).

For additional requirements and information on Yahoo! Search Marketing’s policy on trademarks as search terms, please visit our Trademark Information page at: http://searchmarketing.yahoo.com/legal/trademarks.php.

While we are not in a position to arbitrate trademark or other intellectual property disputes between third parties, if a trademark owner brings a website to our attention that it believes does not contain relevant content, we will review the website for compliance with our guidelines. Therefore, we will review the search results returned through Yahoo! Search Marketing’s search services on the search term(s) in question, and the corresponding websites, and will take appropriate action. Please note that it may take up to ten (10) business days for the results of our review to become effective in our search results. You will not receive any further notification from us.

Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions. We hope that we have addressed your concerns.
Thank you.
Trademark Department
Yahoo! Search Marketing

First, I was happy to get any response from Yahoo!, since other queries to the company over the past few years related to content and branding proposals have gone into a black hole of doom (aka the round file). And, about two weeks later, the little varmint who had been buying ads against my brand on Technorati was no longer included. Yahoo! had gone with the side of right and helped protect the big guy from the little guy.

Yahoooo oooooh! (How do you do the Yahoo! yodel in print?)

The Goo the Bad and The Ugly at the Googleplex
Whew! Now, onto the Google side of this story. At about the same time, I went and bid on my own brand on Google AdWords, which I’d never had to do before, except when my main company changed its name from Mindset to Neotrope� at the end of the ’90s. I still run an ad for Mindset, so that my old customers and friends can track me down, since the business was known as Mindset from 1983-1999. That’s where contextual advertising really comes in handy. (Ahem, ironically, the companies now calling themselves Mindset might complain, but since they are part of the reason I changed the company name to avoid spending tens of thousands of dollars to litigate them, I will state that I have every right to be doing the exact thing I’m complaining about, in this particular instance).

Just for laughs, I went and did some test searches, and it seems like the Mass Media Distribution folks are trying really hard to let everybody else know about them by buying ads under every major player in the news distribution business: Send2Press�, Business Wire�, PR Newswire�, Market Wire, and even the outfits that resell PRN services such as eReleases�.

To mess with these Mass Media Distribution folks a little bit for a couple of months in response to their activities, I bought a keyword against their company name so when you typed in “Mass Media Distribution,” you would see one of my ads next to their Google listings. Tit for tat, baby. Seems like eReleases had the same idea, since they’re buying ads under “mass media distribution,” as well. I’ll probably stop, since it’s a waste of money in my opinion.

On the other hand, to take things a step further, since my company has been one of the leaders in SEO since 1996, I started to do some “keyword seeding” in our ContextEngine� system under “mass media distribution services” and my site now comes up as the second organic site listed in Google out of 12.1 million results. And this was without even trying. Since their brand consists of three common words, it is not particularly challenging to build content around those words. They will also have issues trying to trademark their dotcom business name, since it’s so generic.

It’s all about competition in the marketplace, right? Where I think this gets really annoying is that if you build a brand called “Mary’s Wedding Dresses of Santa Barbara” another seamstress across the street could buy ads and even outbid you for your own company name, if not your own personal name, simply by buying an ad on Google.

What is Google’s response? First, their form is hard to find, is badly implemented, and states you need to fax or mail them the information, which it seems you do not, since once the form is submitted, they tell you you’re done and need do nothing else. Their trademark form, which you will have to search for here: https://adwords.google.com/support, requires you to list a number of things such as the trademark, registration number, and ownership info.

The canned response reads like this (Jan. 8): “Thank you for using our online trademark complaint form. We have received your complaint and have queued it for review. Once our investigation of your complaint is complete, we will send you an email confirmation. Please note that we receive a high volume of trademark complaints and address them in the order they are received. We appreciate your patience.”

About a month later (Feb. 6), here is the final response: “Thank you for sending us your trademark complaint letter. Your complaint has been processed and the ads in question no longer include your trademark: SEND2PRESS. Please note, we only processed the exact trademark you submitted. If you would like us to investigate variations or misspellings of your trademark, please supply us with a list of the exact variations or misspellings and we will review them. If you have additional questions, please ask.”

Thanks Google. But hey, guess what. Now there are three companies bidding against my trademark, which includes a sister company to MMD, called PRbuzz (well, of course by company, I mean a website), and I’m no longer the highest bidder. Not that I plan to get into a bidding war for my own company name. One study suggests that actually being the lowest bidder on the right in Google ads, when there are less than four advertisers, is actually more visible to viewers, since if somebody reads down the page in organic listings, then reads back up the right side, the lowest advert is actually seen first. But that’s minor comfort.

It turns out that Google’s trademark policy turns out to only protect brand holders from advertisers using the brand in their actual ads. So, this means that the Mass Media Distribution and PRbuzz people can buy ads which appear under my trademark, and even outbid me for placement all over the Internet for Google AdSense placements, but they cannot use my brand in their ads. So, they couldn’t have an ad reading “We will Send2Press your press release.”

Perhaps this is better than nothing, since it does provide some protection from a company saying “We have better services than mass media distribution,” or “Why settle for a ‘prbuzz’ when you can get real coverage with a legitimate newswire.” Of course, those “brands” are not registered U.S. trademarks, so under both Yahoo! and Google’s rules, I could conceivably use those brand names in my own advertising. Maybe I should do something like “get the REAL prbuzz here” or “Send2Press offers the best mass media distribution since 1983.” But that would be wrong, wouldn’t it?

pay per click attacks
ARE YOU SURROUNDED? Examples of counter branding: 1) buying the top spot in Google AdWords, which appears above the organic listings; 2) secondary bidders against a brand term or trademark; 3) organic placement using SEO methods against a brand name.

Confusing the Consumer for Fun and Profit
I personally find this irritating, not simply from a competitive standpoint, but from a “confusing the customer” perspective. I run into customer service calls all the time from people who don’t understand how to use search engines, what the information being presented to them really means, or where they are being sent when they click links.

I had one person call me last year who complained I was spamming them about my PR and press release services. I replied that we never send spam to anybody, ever, and it’s our corporate policy to never send promotional emails about our company or services. She said I’m seeing your page right here on my screen, and I said where did you get that URL from? And she said your promotional email. I said what company sent you the email, and she rattled off some no-name start-up news spammer claiming to send 10,000 people a press release for $50. Stupidly, they had put a Google AdSense box across the top of the page which was feeding ads from all other press release services firms, one of which was my site. So, since it was at the top of the page (above the logos and navbar for the site), she assumed it was my site and that I had spammed her. She clicked the link from that site in the ad box, which sent her to my site, which is how she got my phone number.

Ironically, she ended up becoming a customer once I showed her that we were a real 24-year old PR and brand identity company and not a dotcom sending out spam to try to sell questionable bulk email services to people wanting to send press releases to the media. And this woman was a veteran PR professional, not a first time Internet user.

With this example in mind, I am worried that easily confused potential customers who type in my company name in Google — perhaps after seeing one of my many interviews in Entrepreneur Magazine, or my inclusion in a new business book for women business owners (Career and Corporate Cool™ by Rachel C. Weingarten, ISBN-10: 0470120347), or similar — and then see a new competitor’s ad in a featured box above my organic listings, might thus cause my customer to be directed elsewhere than to me. While my new competitors want exactly this kind of thing to happen on Google and elsewhere, I do not. (I use the word “competitor” loosely, since I don’t expect them to steal much business after looking at what they do, but you never know.)

Planning for Contextual Counter Branding
When planning any contextual marketing and PPC or PFP program, the issue of counter-branding such as MMD is doing, is something every company should take into account. Much like buying up alternate domain names to protect your brand identity from “typo squatters” it now seems more important than ever to include a budget component for PPC against your own brand and product names to ensure transparency with potential customers as to who is whom.

For search engines this is, of course, a win-win for them in getting more advertising from both sides of the counter-branding arena. So, there is no great incentive for them to change, unless the lawyers get involved.

One easy way to check if your brand or product names are at risk is to log-in to your advertising account with any major search portal and do a bid against your company name or product brand, and see if there are other bidders. Depending on the bid preview, you may have to enter the smallest acceptable bid and see if somebody else would have a higher position. Simply checking the search engine by typing in your brands may not always reveal everything, since all contextual ad accounts allow for budgeting, such as “stop when it reaches $100″ so it might be that you have a competitor whose ads only show for the first week out of every month, or only show up on content sites and not the main search engine results.

Using SEO practices to counter-brand can be tricky since litigation can ensue for mis-use of a trademark. For example if MMD started putting my registered trademarks within meta tags of their site pages simply to show up in search results under my brand, they would get an immediate cease and desist from my lawyer.

It seems more important than ever to spend the money and get yourself a trademark attorney (I use a fellow by the name of Matthew J. Booth, www.boothlaw.com) and register any brand you consider viable and which is not simply a dotcom that you’ve thrown up to stick your toe in the water. With some search portals, like Yahoo!, having a registered trademark can be critical to removing potential confusion by way of keyword brand bandits.

And, of course, the best solution is to simply do a better job than your upstart competitors. Strong deliverables, long-term stability, credible management and staff, and proof of performance for any service business will still always put you on top in any marketing program.

All trademarks, service marks, and registered trademarks in this article are the property of the respective mark holders, and are acknowledged.

[tags]contextual counter branding, trademark bandits, Christopher Laird Simmons, When Advertising Attacks, legal issues with context ads, pay per click bandits, mass media distribution services, getting the prbuzz[/tags]

Scott G pretending to look thoughtful

Ad Backlash

Too many ads in too many places appearing way too often. Product placement invading content. Messages triggered by RFID chips. Advertorials. Sponsorships. Hype. Spin. Noise. Scott G isn’t the only person who thinks we’ve gone too far. Some consumers are fighting back.

Readers of this column know that I like the communication industry as a whole but dislike its more annoying practitioners. Well, “dislike” isn’t exactly the right word. Loathe is perhaps a better way to describe my feelings towards some people in advertising and marketing.

Scott G pretending to look thoughtfulI refer to those who don’t take “no” for an answer, such as the telephone pitch people who continually find ways around the National Do Not Call Registry (NDNCR). And the recorded political blather that is apparently beyond the reach of the NDNCR.

Or the marketers who think people’s mailboxes are fair game no matter how much they protest to the post office. As well as the crass and gross marketing executives who participate in crass and gross (and intrusive) campaigns in every medium.

Not to mention those people spraying you with perfume in mall department stores (although maybe they’re actually a guerrilla force designed to convert you to shopping online).

The sheer volume of ad messages, paid placements and annoying interruptions is outrageous. I’m not the only one who is fed up with the number of promotional messages bearing down on us every second of every day. People are fighting back.

Consider:

* Consumer-generated commercial parodies

* Mailing back blank order forms found in between pages of magazines

* Mailing back postage-paid envelopes with four ounces of paperclips inside

* Organizing groups to call toll-free numbers of telemarketers

* Creating phony Web sites mocking the real ones

* Picketing outside offices of companies producing offensive advertising

I would write more on this but I’m being called away from my desk. It seems there is an angry mob chanting “Death to Lamisil” outside the CGI animation studio that created that terrible commercial with Digger, the foot fungus. I have to go join them.

[tags]G-Man, Gman, gman marketing, Scott G, Communication Nation, advertising, marketing, ad rants[/tags]

Scott G making a client presentation

What Do Creatives Do?

When an ad agency gets a new client, a lot of people swing into action. Account managers assess the brand, competition, positioning, and strategy. The media department finds target audiences. And the creatives, well, just what are they DOING back there with that loud music and riotous laughter? Scott G tells all.

Scott G making a client presentationIn the music business, I have several highfalutin’ titles: composer, producer and publisher. But in the world of advertising and marketing, while I prefer to be called a “consulting creative director,” people call me the copywriter.

Fortunately, I often get to create ads with a great graphic designer named Phil Hatten. Between the two of us, we’ve helped sell millions of dollars’ worth of financial products, automobiles, clothing, healthcare services, computer systems, entertainment, and food items.

“But what is it that you actually do?” we are sometimes asked, usually when discussing our fees.

A Confession
Okay, here’s the deal about people in the creative department. What we do is amazingly simple. All that happens is this:

1. We begin with a blank computer screen.

2. We put in some words and images.

3. And then we’re done.

That’s all there is to it.

Oh, I Almost Forgot
Just a couple things you need to consider about the process utilized by copywriters and art directors . . . Remember the “words and images” from point # 2, listed above? Good. Here’s what those words and images must do:

* catch your eye
* motivate the proper response
* improve a company’s image
* sear the brand name into your brain

Suddenly, what we accomplish takes on a significance that may not have been readily apparent to many of you.

Worst Case Scenario
Sometimes, everything we do to build your brand and increase your sales must be accomplished with “no budget” and completed “ASAP.”

Too many times, some or all of what we’ve created must be “changed,” “revised,” “tweaked,” “altered,” “amended,” or otherwise transmogrified because “it didn’t test well.” Or because “the focus group didn’t get it.” Or because “the client’s spouse didn’t like the color.” Or just “because.”

Different creative teams handle this in different ways. Some tell dumb client and/or dumb account manager jokes. Others create scatological versions of the ads (dangerous in this age of YouTube).

I try to keep my anger from taking tangible form. In private, I read aloud from Roget’s Thesaurus entry 471, “Fool,” with all the lovely and fitting terms such as jackass, schmuck, clown, buffoon, sop, lunatic, chump, boob, klutz, dingbat, jerk, goof, schlemiel, dolt, dunce, dullard, idiot, ninny, dimwit, lamebrain, dummy, blockhead, simpleton, imbecile, moron, and many more.

Attempting to Answer Client Needs
Faced with odd ad requests, Phil and I sometimes do two versions of the assignment: one that we know will work, and another that reflects what the client (or the ad agency) asked for. That way, even if the less effective idea is selected, at least we know we tried to give them something good.

The Most Important Creative Act
Separating the true professional from the dangerously psychotic individual, good creatives have the ability to suppress the urge to kill when asked to make the idea smaller and the logo bigger.

And really, that’s the greatest thing we creatives do. You should thank us for it.

[tags]G-Man, Gman, gman marketing, Scott G, Communication Nation, advertising, marketing, ad rants, creatives[/tags]

G-Man at the Mic

Vista Spot an Ow not a Wow

Microsoft once paid the Rolling Stones millions for the use of “Start Me Up” to inject some excitement into their campaign for a new operating system. Scott G tells why MS better buy the rights to a whole bunch of rock, electronic, country and hip hop songs because the launch of their Vista OS is currently dead in the water.

I use Microsoft products. I dislike them as much as the next person, but I use them.

Most of my clients work for companies run by bean-counters, and it is well-documented that people who use spreadsheets for a living are not comfortable with Apple products’ sleek design, intuitive efficiency and facility for creativity. Or the fact that they cost more than PCs.

G-Man at the MicWhich means that most clients use PCs. Which means I always have at least a few PCs in my studio. While I rely on Macs for music creation, I use PCs to create the words and ideas for advertising and marketing.

But that doesn’t mean I have to like MS or its wasteful, bloated, and buggy software. Many users of MS products feel the same way.

So when MS launched its five hundred million dollar ad campaign for their long-delayed Vista operating system, I was prepared for some real razzle-dazzle in the advertising. Like when they licensed the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up.” Well, they better start licensing every hard-thumping high-adrenaline song they can find because the current Vista campaign seems to have embraced lunacy as a strategy.

Sixty Seconds of “WTF?”
The new commercial features superb location scouting, superior cinematography, effective acting, seamless special effects, outstanding sound, sleek editing, and impressive direction. Yes, the production company can be proud. But the committee that wrote the spot should be shot.

Here’s what appears in the commercial:

* A nostalgic sequence capturing the awe most Americans felt as the U.S. entered the space race.

* A vignette showing soccer players influencing young TV viewers around the world.

* A man encountering a deer outside his suburban home.

* The Berlin wall comes down.

* A little boy marvels at seeing his first snowfall.

* A little boy displays good basketball dribbling skills.

* A little boy impresses a little girl at a wedding reception by pulling a tablecloth out from under the dishes.

* A woman jogger achieves her personal best.

In each case, someone in the scene says “Wow.”

For the final sequence, there is a voiceover: “Every so often, you experience something so new, so delightfully unexpected, there’s only one word for it.”

* A man looks at a computer screen and sees 4-year-old Mac technology, presumably on a PC equipped with Vista. For some unexplained reason, he also says, “Wow.”

The Sound of One Hand Clapping
Okay. While I don’t think sporting events are as much of a “wow” as the space race, I understand that all of these moments can be emotionally satisfying. But in the spot, they lead up to a big let-down.

Ultimately, the commercial says, “Hey, remember some good things? Well, our product could perhaps maybe in some teeny-tiny way be kinda-sorta thought of a little like that, if you had never seen how a Mac worked during the past half-decade.”

I don’t know if Vista is a good product (less than a week after its official unveiling, a Google search of “Vista bugs” brought up only a quarter of a million listings, and at least one television news commentator suggested that installing Vista is so difficult that the best way to get it is to buy a new computer with the OS already inside) but the spot is just well-produced hogwash.

Because if this commercial is to be believed, Vista is not “now.” And it’s certainly not “wow.” In fact, the complete statement from that man viewing the PC screen might well have been, “Wow, this is incredibly lame.” And correct me if I’m wrong, but that is not the reaction you’d like from your expensive marketing efforts.

[tags]G-Man, Gman, gman marketing, Scott G, Communication Nation, advertising, marketing, ad rants, Microsoft[/tags]

Scott G lurks behind a mic

Ads Masquerading as Content

Paid placement is a dirty little secret of advertising and public relations. Scott G explores a few of the subversive, sneaky, snaky, snarky, sleazy and very profitable methods of putting your product in front of the public in just the right light.

Scott G lurks behind a micOn the Internet, we all know the difference between banner ads and editorial. On radio and television, we all know the difference between commercials and content. In magazines and newspapers, we all know the difference between ads and articles. In news broadcasts, we all know the difference between opinion and fact.

Or do we?

When Paula Abdul holds a Coke on American Idol, we know it’s because a promotional fee has been paid. But it doesn’t stop there. Her clothing, shoes, hair, makeup, lip gloss, eyelashes, and jewelry didn’t just appear there by whim or accident.

The same thing can be said for ______ TV and movie personalities. Fill-in-the-blank with: A) some; B) many; C) most; D) all.

There’s the problem: we don’t know what appears on screen through free choice and what appears there because of a marketing decision and the exchange of some filthy lucre.

Pay-to-Say
In prior articles, I’ve spoken of our living in a pay-to-say society. If you have the money, your point-of-view can be stated over and over in front of millions. You could even be making things up, as on “Fox News.” The facts are not important. Commerce is important.

How many times have you enjoyed a book or CD review without considering how the selections were made? My sixth music album is being released this month and I asked about submitting it for review to one of the popular DJ-oriented glossy magazines. “No, we don’t buy ads in that company’s publications so there’s no point sending them the album,” was the distributor’s reply.

Wait. Are reviews of new albums actually miniature ads? Perhaps. Even if a reviewer’s opinion isn’t influenced, the fact that the deck is stacked in terms of the selection of product seems to go against the very nature of a “free press.”

Is the same thing true of many other “editorial” sections of newspapers, magazines, e-zines, radio shows, and TV news? When I’ve raised this issue amongst marketing and public relations professionals, the reaction has been along the lines of “Scott, stop being naive.”

Payola
As long as we’re had popular music, we’ve had payola. Recent lawsuits by Eliot Spitzer’s office have alerted the public to the practice of radio conglomerates accepting money to play non-hits often enough to have them called hits. Yet it’s the innocent recording artists who were named in most of the news stories, not the executives at the stations. Why? Because the executives are going to be buying ads in the future.

Possibilities for Hidden Persuasion
Okay, now consider other forms of “editorial content” and take a moment to speculate on the possibility of some guidance from the “hands of commerce.” Story on political candidates. Round-up of the latest electronic gadgets. Descriptions of new kitchen appliances. Article on housing developments in your area. Automobile reviews. Stories dealing with new pharmaceutical products.

See any potential problem areas? I do. Working in advertising, marketing and public relations, I have watched some very smarmy deals go down.

What About This Column?
Nope. I’m not for sale. But as a human being, I sure as hell can be influenced. And in today’s world, how can you tell the difference?

Photo illustration by Phil Hatten Design.

[tags]G-Man, Gman, gman marketing, Scott G, Communication Nation, advertising, marketing, ad rants, paid placement, public relations[/tags]