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Articles, Columns and Interviews – Features by our staff covering the Advertising and Marketing Industry

tech guru David Ciccarelli sees the future

Down the rabbit hole: tech guru David Ciccarelli sees the future as Canada’s first Google Glass Explorer

If you are even remotely interested in tech gadgets you may have heard of a strange new thing called Google Glass. “Glass” is a proof of concept wearable computing technology given to 8,000 “test heads” to wear, share, and socialize with starting Spring/Summer 2013. I spoke with David Ciccarelli, Canada’s first “Google Glass Explorer,” as they are called, to see what he really thinks of this brave new experiment from the Googleplex.

But what is Google Glass exactly? A cool pair of sunglasses, a cosplay mash-up of Star Trek’s Geordi LaForge and those who dream of a machine-human interface in our lifetime, or what?

One way to look at it (pun intended) is to imagine something you can wear, with a small glass eyepiece (which can go over sunshades if needed), which provides a “heads-up display” for relevant information such as your flight status while waiting at an airport, augmented reality (in a very small way) to show you maps to trails while hiking in the mountains, or even translate phrases for you in a produce market.

In fact, Google uses these examples on their “What it Does” page, here: http://www.google.com/glass/start/what-it-does/ .

Google Glass - what it does

Google Glass Explorer: David Ciccarelli

Somebody I’ve known professionally for some time, David Ciccarelli, CEO and co-founder of Voices.com, is one of the first “explorers” chosen to test out the Google Glass experience, and today I spoke with him to get his take on Google’s idea for wearable computing.

Christopher Simmons: Hi, David: Just to get the disclosures out of the way, we’ve worked together in one form or another over the past decade with my company helping to promote yours; however, for this interview I’m taking off that hat and putting on my 30 year journalist hat since I think this is a pretty cool gadget and I’m really curious what you think about Google Glass. We’re not here to talk about our respective companies, but really to explore what it’s like being an early Explorer with this new tech.

Chris: Tell me a little bit about how you got involved in this, how you were selected to be an “explorer.”

David: Earlier this year, I lived in Silicon Valley for three months during which time I heard about a contest being held on Twitter and Google+ called #ifihadglass.

To enter, you simply needed to Tweet or publish to your Google+ page what you would do if you had Google Glass and then add the hash tag #ifihadglass.

My submission was:

Apparently, Google received over 200,000 submissions. They worked with a third party firm and hand selected all 8,000 Google Glass explorers. I am grateful to have been chosen.

Chris: What was it like with the first “out of box” experience, putting it together and getting the system started. The ergonomics.

David: Google Glass wasn’t shipped to me. Rather, I had to go to New York City to pick up Glass in person and go through a training session. After selecting the color I wanted, I unboxed Glass and was shown what the few buttons did. There’s a power button and a button on top to take pictures. There’s also what I describe as a trackpad along the right arm of Google Glass that you use to navigate through your timeline as displayed on the crystal display.

Chris: What some people have missed is the fact that this is not a product you can go buy right now, or even pre-order. It’s really a use test, where Google has in some ways “crowd sourced” interesting beta testers to try this out in the real world and provide feedback. SO, to get to it: what do you think of Google Glass? What do you like the most, and what bothers you about the product?

David: Like any new technology, you have to figure out if it has a place in your personal life. Over the next couple of days touring New York City with my son, I had an amazing opportunity to put Google Glass to the test. We visited the American Museum of Natural History, Central Park’s Great Lawn, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Central Park Zoo.

Google Glass Explorer David Ciccarelli interviewed on Canada AM
David Ciccarelli interviewed on Canada AM
I took photos, videos, got directions and even took a phone call. Glass sits nicely above your line of sight, so it’s unobtrusive. I wore it for eight hours and it never felt uncomfortable. In fact, I quite enjoyed knowing I could take a picture or video very quickly using voice commands, all from a unique perspective – my point of view.

If there were any drawbacks, I’d say that navigating websites could be improved. Sliding your finger forwards and backwards along the arm in order to scroll a web page up and down is not intuitive. I’d love for Google Glass to pick up hand gestures so I could simply wave my hand up or down to scroll.

Chris: When the Apple iPad first launched, I wrote an article about how such devices could be a tool for augmented reality, based on the initial sky/starmap apps. The idea of going to the ruins in Europe or the Middle East, and being able to see overlays of what it used to look like is fascinating. It occurs to me that this could potentially do something similar at some point. What are your thoughts on that? Are there any elements in this test bed for Google Glass to play with that idea?

David: There is certainly potential. In fact, the potential for augmented reality is likely the greatest with Google Glass than any other piece of technology I’ve seen. Already, the “Get Directions” command is pretty close. It’s a 3-D map with directions that you see as an overlay on the street where you are walking.

Chris: How have folks reacted to your walking about with the tech. Do you think this will become a commonplace item if Google brings it to market, or perhaps too much of a distraction for daily lives already over-burdened with tech?

David: As I mentioned earlier, everyone will have to make a personal decision as to whether Google Glass is right for them, and then decide when and where they’ll use it. Nearly everyone I’ve shown it to, by means of giving hands-on demos for 5 minutes, has been blown away. The reactions are overwhelmingly positive. The critical elements for success have nothing to do with the technology of Google Glass but rather the price point and if Google can make it compatible with prescription lenses. If Google can sort those two elements out, then they’ve got a home run.

Chris: Have you already provided feedback to Google about it, and if you can speak outside of any NDA, what did you say and what was the response?

David: Yes, I’ve provided some feedback to Google detailing the same highlights and challenges as described here. Google is committed to Glass and they’ve said and proven that they are also committed to monthly software updates. The first one I received provided a full web browser that was really impressive. It means that having a mobile-ready website or a site using responsive design techniques is all the more important. Google’s in it for the long haul with Glass and when it finally comes to market, this will be an amazing product.

Chris: Finally, what really surprised you or excited you about Google Glass that was totally unexpected, if anything. Or, any final thoughts on “Google Glass” ?

David: What’s surprised me most is the general interest in Google Glass. I had so much interest from friends and business colleagues that I figured hosting an open house at our office would be the best way to give demos and show people how it works. Two hundred people showed up for the open house at Voices.com and after a brief 10-minute presentation, I proceeded to give demos to everyone who was interested. Three hours later, everyone who had lined up got a demo! As I said, the sheer interest in the product is what amazed me most. Google Glass has the potential to offer a new paradigm for mobile computing.

Chris: Thanks again, Dave.

 

Update 7.15.13; 6:45pm PDT: I neglected to include a section of the original article when published, that cited Eric Schmidt of Google stating that they planned to bring Google Glass to market within one year of the Explorers using them. One article quoting a Google Glass Developer claimed that the retail price in the U.K. would be about 200 pounds, which might imply a $299 price point here in the U.S. For information on developing software for Glass and the software technology behind Glass, see Google’s page here: https://developers.google.com/glass/ . — Christopher Simmons.

 
Article is Copr. © 2013 by Christopher Simmons and first published on Advertising and Marketing News (formerly AdvertisingIndustryNewswire.com); all rights reserved. This unbiased article is neither paid nor sponsored content and no fee or any other consideration has been made to this site, its publisher, or the author.

What do you think about Google Glass?
Share your thoughts below.

Kelly Weppler

Interview: Kelly Weppler, principal and founder of WH & Associates chats about B2B Duct Tape Marketing

Kelly Weppler

Getting a B2B marketing campaign started can be daunting, and many marketing experts have adopted the so-called “duct tape marketing” program created by John Jantsch to provide key focus implementations for their clients. Kelly Weppler is the owner and founder of WH & Associates, an inbound marketing agency that works with business-to-business (B2B) companies to “enhance their online presence, to generate leads, and to design a complete customer experience that helps their clients stand out from their competitors.” Weppler uses Duct Tape Marketing and this week is co-hosting a webinar for B2Bs who want to learn more about this strategy and methodology.

Weppler will be a guest instructor alongside Duct Tape Marketing author and founder, John Jantsch, during a three-day online seminar for business owners starting June 26, 2013. For those unable to “attend” recordings of the entire 18 hours of training will be available for a fee. More information on this session at: http://www.creativelive.com/courses/duct-tape-marketing-john-jantsch .

According to Weppler, her agency is known for promoting a unique combination of high tech and high touch marketing in the technology space. With more than 20 years in sales and marketing, she frequently encounters business owners who are paralyzed by the sheer number of choices they face in promoting their businesses.

So what is Duct Tape Marketing? Duct Tape Marketing was created by small business guru John Jantsch and the term came about because duct tape is a household staple that sticks to everything and that’s essentially how you can think of the Duct Tape Marketing program, says Kelly.

I asked Kelly a few questions about the seminar series, and her take on B2B marketing in her area, since she specializes in Southern California companies and brands.

Christopher: HI, Kelly. Q: what is the #1 question that B2B folk ask you about marketing their small business to local, or hyperlocal?

Kelly: B2B folks seems to be really focused on their online efforts, SEO, content, social networking for local growth and are very focused on having prospects find them. And yes that’s important given we research most of our purchases online before we make any commitment.

This piece is important because it’s what helps to generate the leads. But what is equally important for these folks is that most of these B2B sales aren’t made or closed online. That means you have to create some systems and processes in your sales and marketing plan that deliberately take these leads offline to help move them through the buying process. And this is where your offline marketing efforts have to be considered in your marketing system.

It could be an event, introductions to or from other strategic partners, part of your referral marketing system, phone calls, etc. these are all offline activities that are what really move the deal forward and help to close it. Paying attention to these kinds of things are what will make you successful.

Christopher: What do you think business folks who need a marketing boost will learn from the webinar?

Kelly: From this session, I think the most important thing is for business owners to start thinking about marketing systematically. Marketing is not an event, it’s an ongoing part of the business that needs to be performed routinely and consistently because that’s what builds momentum in the business.

When you treat marketing as an event and do it sporadically, you end up with peaks and valleys in the revenue stream. To build a more predictable revenue stream requires routine and consistency.

Business owners will always ask about specific tactics–should I be doing PPC ads, should I be blogging, doing direct mail, etc., etc. And the second point to remember is that there isn’t one magical marketing tactic. There’s clearly evidence that they all work, however, when they are integrated and work together, they are that much more powerful. And when you employ these tactics on a routine and consistent basis, you see all boats rise with the tide.

Christopher: What kinds of companies in California, where you specialize, have you seen doing better this year in the up/down economy?

Kelly: I’m seeing technology companies and those in the home services and home contractors area picking up. In both cases, it may be because that was the kind of spending that people stopped the last few years. When the economy really slowed, people made due with the technology they had and what was in their homes, and now you’re seeing growth to the point where it’s become very inefficient and breakage in both of these industries.

I think the other point though is that I’m seeing these businesses pick up and do more with their marketing because they’re starting to understand that doing nothing isn’t the answer either. So these business are getting better educated about what they can do and how the internet can really help them compete. It’s one of those tools that makes a number of marketing tactics that much more cost effective and accessible so they can compete and compete well with much bigger companies that have a lot more resources.

Christopher: Thanks Kelly.

Learn more about Kelly and her services at: http://www.whandassociates.com/ .

 
Copr. © 2013 by Christopher Laird Simmons, for Advertising & Marketing News – all commercial and reprint rights reserved. Photo courtesy Kelly Weppler.

loco for trademark of Day of the Dead

Brand Pagans: Disney gets loco for trademark of Day of the Dead

loco for trademark of Day of the Dead
OPINION: Well, you have to hand it to Disney for trying to capture the market on any product, brand, or service offering in their vast empire, even if remotely related to the original creators of something like the “Day of the Dead.” So many people are growing up today thinking Disney invented Snow White, or mermaids, or Pinocchio, it’s a little unnerving.

Day of the DeadBut they sell the toys, they pull and then hide videos from their “vault” (oh no! it’s going back in the vault, BUY that DVD now!!), and they make a lot of movies and manufactured teen idols, and they love the toys (get ‘em young!). And now they own Marvel, too. SO, what’s the beef? In their latest PR blunder (which started to explode this past week), their marketing department had tried to trademark the phrase “Día de los Muertos,” or “Day of the Dead,” across multiple platforms, so they could tie-in all their offerings with an as-yet-unnamed new Pixar animation project.

Well, guess what? That is a traditional holiday in many parts of the world, except in the largely white-faced mouse-eared American corporate HQ which is The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS). Um. say what? This follows on the heels of their 2011 brain fart when it tried to secure “SEAL Team Six,” the Navy SEAL team that captured and killed Osama bin Laden (and later made into a movie, and TV film, etc.), seeking exclusive rights for use on items like video games and other school-kid gear like backpacks and shirts (hey kids, put the Seal Team Six “logo” on your stuff, be cool, join the Navy!). Reminds me of the Simpsons episode with the boy band doing promos with auto-tune with join the Navy in reverse as the song hook (“New Kids on the Blecch“). Get ‘em while they’re young!

If you look at @Disney on a tweet tracker like Topsy.com, you’ll find a barrage of outrage over Disney trying to trademark an ethnic holiday:

aida_lu aida luna
Día de Muertos is a Mexican tradition, it is part of our culture!!! It s NOT a product. It CANNOT be a trademark! @Disney @DisneyPixar

(it’s actually one of two trending topics this week, along with the #KeepMeridaBrave issue where Disney is doing a “remake” of the Merida lead character from last Pixar movie … but that’s another story).

Of course, you can really blame George Lucas, to a small extent (ironic since Disney also recently bought LucasFilm), to this since his pivotal film “Star Wars” invented the “blockbuster” (with lines around the block, “busting” it), and he was savvy enough to pitch products to every nook and cranny, from records, to retail and he trademarked everything. Many of us older folk remember the outcry when Lucas trademarked “droid” and it stuck. Since then every film release has included in the marketing plan the “merchandising” – long before product placement became the favorite element to get films made. And Disney is now the true king of all media (sorry Howard).

They arguably make more money on their merchandising than some of the films they make, and hence the rush to trademark anything they can slap onto a physical product to sell in their parks, stores, online, at theatres, or overseas.

What is just bizarre is the lack of clarity and “big picture” behind some of the branding efforts of big companies now.

Granted, most people don’t realize the current image of Santa was “invented” by the Coca-Cola company for their advertising, and if it were owned by Disney they would have tried to patent that long ago.

Funny thing: there are actually 17 entries for “Day of the Dead” in the USPTO TESS (trademark search) system, including one from IGT CORPORATION NEVADA 9295 Prototype Drive Reno NEVADA 895218986, which is registered, for gaming machines (presumably slot machines or similar):
(1) Word Mark DIA DE MUERTOS
Translations The English translation of “DIA DE MUERTOS” in the mark is “DAY OF THE DEAD”.
Goods and Services IC 009. US 021 023 026 036 038. G & S: Gaming machines, namely, devices which accept a wager. FIRST USE: 20111017. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 20111017
(2) Word Mark DAY OF THE DEAD
Goods and Services IC 009. US 021 023 026 036 038. G & S: Gaming machines, namely, devices which accept a wager. FIRST USE: 20111017. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 20111017
Standard Characters Claimed
Mark Drawing Code (4) STANDARD CHARACTER MARK

Another existing mark, which is for stage plays, from The Valence Group, LLC LIMITED LIABILITY CORPORATION TEXAS 909 TEXAS AVENUE, No. 1712 Houston TEXAS 77002:
Word Mark DAY OF THE DEAD
Goods and Services IC 041. US 100 101 107. G & S: entertainment services, namely, the continuing production and exhibition of live theater production, stage plays and muscial shows. FIRST USE: 20070831. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 20070831
Mark Drawing Code (1) TYPED DRAWING

And, a tequila product from Elements Spirits, Inc. CORPORATION CALIFORNIA P.O. Box 4734 Ontario CALIFORNIA 91761:
Word Mark DAY OF THE DEAD
Goods and Services IC 033. US 047 049. G & S: Tequila. FIRST USE: 20091101. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 20100201
Standard Characters Claimed
Mark Drawing Code (4) STANDARD CHARACTER MARK

Interestingly a Feb. 2012 trademark was abandoned for t-shirts, and such, by a London-based intellectual property firm.

So, maybe Disney isn’t crazy after all for wanting to protect possible t-shirt sales, energy drinks to bring you back from the dead (oh wait, didn’t Pepsi already do that with their brings you alive campaign?), and backpacks with skulls on them.

Still, should big corporations be allowed to own any common terms like “droid” (actually used in books and film before Lucas made his ‘droids), or “day of the dead” or “little mermaid” — an ongoing discussion on intellectual property. Personally I think not. But, while some consider Disney “big crooks” it’s the little crooks, the counterfeiters and hucksters who copycat anything popular and funnel revenue away from those who do originate content. So, on that score, Disney-Pixar “should” trademark anything specifically related to their creative invention.

This implies the USPTO needs a more specific classification strictly for “film merchandising” that is less general than some of the classifications for something like t-shirts. Meaning, Disney should be able to trademark the brand used for their film-related content, but NOT pre-existing material. Anybody should be able to make Pinocchio t-shirts, or Snow White t-shirts, but try it and see how long it takes to get a call from Disney’s legal department.

In any case, the main take away from any of this now, is that crowd-sourced activism is now instant: between social media, and media coverage of that, it’s hard to pull the wool over most people’s eyes any more, or keep skeletons in the closet. And that’s a really, really good thing.

 
Article is Copr. © 2013 by Christopher Laird Simmons, and originally published on AdvertisingIndustryNewswire.com. — all rights reserved. Lovingly written for modern web journalism without a second draft to make it better. Yay! :-)

Scott G Pencil Head

You Who Be Who’s Who: Direct Mail Blues

Advertising Industry Newswire COLUMN: You are invited! Yes, you! Because you are so very special! So very wonderful! So very important! So very bright and worthy and exciting! And because you will write a check to us! (A brief presentation of a way to make money by publishing biographical listings of people who are legends in their own minds.)

The title of this column does not mean I’m going to be singing scat or bebop. Rest assured, you need not fear that I will break out in an Ella Fitzgerald impression.

Instead, what is going to happen is a commentary on a type of confidence game that eventually shows up in everyone’s mailbox or online in-box. It’s nothing more than an “ego scam,” as one of my clients called it, but it can be very effective and very profitable. (It’s just not going to be profitable for you.)

We are going to examine a scheme that’s as old as time itself. It’s a fake-out that plays on the easily-held belief that each of us is a very special and important person if only someone would notice. It takes advantage of an inner desire to be thought of as exceptional in some magnificent and perhaps indefinable way, just like mom used to tell us.

Because everyone feels a little like this once in a while, it is possible for the unscrupulous to create a dodge or swindle that begins with flattery while absolutely dripping with deceit. And the deception will, of course, encourage you to part with some of your money.

The pitch can be made quite easily by sending you a letter, either using snail mail or e-mail. Let’s try it, shall we?

You Are Invited

Dear Mark Chumpe:

In recognition of your contributions within your community, it is our great pleasure to inform you of an exciting opportunity! Because of the extraordinary nature of your role, you are now under consideration by the prestigious Leadership Archive Memorial Enterprise for possible inclusion in the forthcoming edition of the Federal Archive Keepsake Edition of one of our most highly-respected quarterly publications. There is no cost to participate.

A Select Few of You!

Let us assure you that this great tribute is only offered to a very select few people! In fact, the roster of invitees is expressly limited to the exact number of names in our database, which, in turn, resides in the finite and limited list of people maintained by the United States Postal Service, an officially sanctioned entity of the U.S. Government.

Once acknowledged and accepted by you, the recognition and affiliation with our organization also entitles you to the vaunted Society Collegial Unique Membership (if you are a European resident) or the equally prominent Society Conservatory Altruistic Membership (if you reside in the United States of America). In either case, there is no cost to participate.

Additional Accolades

Naturally, all members, once certified, will also enjoy the privileges and honors that result from our many partnerships and relationships with highly respected societies, which include the Official Historic National Organization as well as the Committee Recognizing Advanced Professionals. Not to be overlooked is this distinction: you will further be promoted and recommended for possible inclusion in the Professionals Honors Edition Workbook. Once again, let us assure you that there is no cost to begin your participation.

Revel in the Honor

In view of your election, the forthcoming edition of the archive will include a professionally written biography of the highlights of your life and it will join the biographies of the world’s most accomplished individuals. This level of recognition is an accolade that is only shared by those executives and professionals throughout the world who have made the decision to join in the inclusion in these hallowed halls. We can truly say that this is one of the single highest marks of achievement.

Upon final confirmation, and with no cost to participate, you will be listed among other gifted personages in the Official Approbation Foundation, a truly notable compliment that cannot be expressed in mere words including the words in this very sentence!

Future Generations

To further ratify and codify your place among the list of those awarded praises in such a manner as are currently being offered to you, the fully bound volume containing your biographical details will be carefully sealed and entrusted to future generations. How is this possible?

By being placed in the keystone of the next new building constructed in the city that holds a rich place in our nation’s history: Vicksburg. Yes, stately Vicksburg, the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy.” There is absolutely no cost to participate. (For those wishing to avoid any association with Mississippi, the Confederacy, or the tortured history of the South, there will be a small fee to refrain from participating in this aspect of the program.)

Other Worlds

To additionally sanction and array your position amidst the honor roll of those being recognized in such a manner as is currently being offered to you, a second copy of a fully bound volume containing your biographical details will be carefully sealed and entrusted to future generations who may not even be of this earth. How is this possible?

By being placed in the next extra-planetary vehicle to be launched by Charter Communications, a highly-known provider of satellite television services. (For those wishing to avoid any association with potential alien life forms, and for those who deny that science and technology have been able to produce orbiting space vehicles, there will be a small fee to refrain from participating in this aspect of the program.)

No Cost to You

While you may have been wondering if there would be any cost associated with these extraordinary acknowledgements, let us assure you there is absolutely no cost to you. Unless, of course, you would like to take advantage of these exciting prospects of moving forward in order to realize all the connections, networking, interaction, camaraderie, affiliation, and relationships included in this opportunity. In that case, the introductory fee of $69.99 is almost too good to be true.

Your Future, Your Decision

It’s entirely up to you, of course, whether to move forward waving a beacon of success that can serve as a rallying cry to others, or to rest on one’s laurels without taking this one small step that can be so influential to one’s peers, distinguished colleagues, and those among the next generation who may even now be wavering in their resolve. Won’t you at least consider making the move toward triumph over adversity and distrust? We believe in you. And we humbly await your reply.

On behalf of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, our highly esteemed Honorary Executive Publisher Emeritus, we wish you continued success!

Sincerely,

Conrad Mann

Regional Executive Director

Regency International Premier Organization, Federal Fiduciary

P.S. If you’ve already received this e-mail from us, please feel free to respond again.

Acronym Inventory

Leadership Archive Memorial Enterprise (LAME)

Federal Archive Keepsake Edition (FAKE)

Society Collegial Unique Membership (SCUM)

Society Conservatory Altruistic Membership (SCAM)

Official Historic National Organization (OH NO)

Committee Recognizing Advanced Professionals (CRAP)

Professionals Honors Edition Workbook (PHEW)

Official Approbation Foundation (OAF)

 

Article is Copr. © 2012 by John Scott G (aka “The G-Man”) and originally published on AdvertisingIndustryNewswire.com – all commercial and reprint rights reserved.

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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Stephen Monaco 2011

Effective Strategies and Knowledge-Driven Decisions Increase ROI

COLUMN: The rapidly escalating tempo to keep up with ever-increasing business complexity is going to continue like the world has never seen before. In this ‘always on’ world of transparency, continual connectivity, information is constantly available, and enthusiastically shared amongst the staggering number of consumers who are engaged online. In the United States, tens of millions of consumers post online product reviews on a weekly basis, and these reviews recently became the top influencer for buying decisions for American consumers.
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Jack Campitelli JD

Keyword Fraud – How Not to Be a Victim

COLUMN: There is a “cute” trick going around where a site uses someone else’s domain name as their hidden keywords used for search engines and the attendant ranking. It’s a variation on a scam that’s been around for a while and is sometimes referred to as “Black Hat SEO.” You can even read about it in Wikipedia.

A simple example would be if a small publishing website, for example my own AscoliBooks.com, decides to increase its traffic by secretly inserting Amazon.com into its key words / phrases list. This list is hidden. But it might seriously increase the little publisher’s ranking. Amazon takes a dim view of this practice, as well it should.

Why? Because it infers an affiliation or a relationship between the sites that does not, in fact, exist. It also may be violative of copyright and trademark protection.

That’s an easy example. The true pirates do a lot more than that. Our site received an email from someone who had their site “featured” in the hidden keywords of another site. It was an e-greeting card company from Australia that complained. Someone had used their name, along with the trade name “Hallmark” and other similar or household card names in their keyword list.

Here’s what the CEO sent to me recently: I have added “xxx” to delete identifying information.

I am the legal compliance officer and CEO of E-Info XXX XXX the owner and operator of e-xxxx.xxx.xx

Please remove e-xxx.xxx.xx from your keywords otherwise we will instruct our lawyers to commence legal action- passing off is a breach of ALL commercial practices codes of conduct.

I would also suggest that you remove the other “trademarks and Copyright labels in your keywords as you are only inviting extensive and costly legal action

The matter will be reported to ICANN and WIPO- If you can’t do business ethically and with principle then don’t do it!

I also notice that you use exxxxx.com in your domain header / description – Unless you have their permission I would suggest you remove their name from your key words

That sort of got right to it.

I try to get the point across to readers that “fairness” should be your ultimate test. It’s amazing how often “legal” fits inside fairness.

TOO CLEVER BY HALF is an expression that we use in the southern U.S. I don’t know if it has gone transnational yet. Clearly it means that some clever person who thought he was a genius only got it half right – and is usually in deep trouble.

The greeting card company may have actually trademarked their website name. It’s unusual to do this but big companies should do it as soon as they know they are going to be big. I hope that’s you someday. There is some copyright protection in so far as your website should have a copyright notice on it. For example “(c) 2010 greengiantplastics.xyz”. Copyright infringement practice is not my stock in trade so I’m not going to go too far out on a limb here. But, as a general rule, titles are not copyrightable. However, there is a common practice and belief that a domain name is the sole property some person or entity. It is not quite a brand name but it certainly carries some status of ownership and the right to use with it and an identification that carries value. No one is allowed to trade off the value that my trade name or domain name associated with it.

Further, the basis of most trademark infringement litigation is based not just on legal registration but on the fact that a customer can become confused if someone else uses a name that belongs to or was first used in commerce by someone else. It’s fair and it’s the law.

Now as to our latest genius who stacked the deck in his favor using a lot of other folk’s domain names with the hope it will increase his traffic rankings – and thus making more money. These keywords are usually “hidden” and are written for the search engine spiders to find. Therefore you’d never know if someone were bootstrapping their business on the back of your hard work to give their domain name higher ranking.

Lesson: it never hurts to have a look sometimes at competitive sights that may use your domain name in hidden key words. This is not my area of expertise, but running a search on your domain name from time to time may find interesting websites attached to your domain name for no apparent reason. You or your web designer can get behind the html code and have a look at the “keywords” of which yours is one, on strange websites.

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), late last year, published rules mandating that websites and bloggers disclose relationships that are not readily apparent. That means that if I pay a blogger to “promote” my site, I have to disclose this on the blog and on my website. I wish I could afford a great paid blogger that I’d have to disclose but it’s usually me, late at night, who is writing to give folks information with hopes of getting traffic for my site. And that’s what you should be doing too. And I always disclose the relationship between me and the website.

As I have discussed in other reports, this just makes sense. Some folks feel it’s a bad thing to disclose relationships. I say the FTC mandated free advertising for me to shamelessly promote myself and link it to the website. The glass half full or half empty.

Back to fraudulent keywords. Clearly a casual visitor does not see the keywords. Yet their presence may have digitally drawn them to a site that had rankings that it only got by fraud or trickery. I think there is a logical belief that the FTC disclosure requirement of relationships unknown to visitors is applicable here. In addition to whatever copyright and trademark rights are involved.

A visible cousin is cyber squatting and so-called typo-squatting. Both of dubious legality but oftentimes quite lucrative.


Jack Campitelli, J.D., lawyer/author of #1 Best Selling “Internet Law Compliance Guide” sold in 25 countries. Designed to help small to medium web marketers comply with regulations without killing sales. Complete with fully-licensed, editable, user, privacy and purchase agreements. Read “The 10 Commandments of Internet Marketing” — free — http://www.internetlawcompliance.com/the10.html .


VILF - V I L F

HBO Does Bloody Good Marketing with Sexy VILF Tank

COLUMN: In perhaps one of the most clever sexy marketing ideas I’ve seen in awhile, HBO is promoting a True Blood tie-in, a women’s tank top, with the letters VILF across the chest. It’s a clever reference to the now over-used term MILF, except with vampire replacing mother as the first word.

The tank also appears in the June 2010 issue of Playboy magazine, being worn by super-hottie and Playmate of the Year, Hope Dworaczyk (she also wears the “Fangbanger” apparel in the same story and says if she were a shape shifter she would obviously shift into a “bunny” – hah hah ha).

The “V I L F” tank sells for $19.99 at the HBO online store. Other fan gear is available with phrases like “Real Blood is for Suckers.” Mugs can be had with “welcome to Bon Temps,” and “Fangtasia” pint glasses. The usual cheesy “I Love Sookie” T-shirts, and junk with the images of the cast.

I tried the bottled “true blood” soda, but didn’t particularly care for it. A bit too syrupy and too many ingredients to be good for any long term substitute for the “real thing.” If you want to really mess with people at your next PTA meeting, the “American Vampire League” T-shirt might be a good choice.

HBO has also posted a preview trailer teaser for True Blood Season 3. The show is awesome, and the vampire craze shows no sign of waning anytime soon.

You can see the VILF tank here:
http://store.hbo.com/detail.php?p=262694&v=hbo_shows_true-blood .

Promo video follows:

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.

Scott G Pencil Head

Mixed Messages at Super Bowl XLIV

COLUMN: There were more than two thousand seconds of commercial messages during the Super Bowl, each one costing around a hundred thousand bucks. And that’s just for the media buy; it’s not counting the production budgets for the spots. Well, that may be one reason why have-not nations hate us while wanting to be us.

There are other grounds for everyone to hate us. Hell, after seeing most of these ads, I hate us. What is more to the point, I am ashamed to admit that I have anything to do with the advertising profession. Other than making money from it, of course.

Okay, on to the ads.

Rogaine Hair Growth Scam Foam
The procession of hype got off to a tacky start with a cheesy bit of sleaze. This spot made everyone in the room say “eeauw.”

Callaway Golf Clubs
Nifty production with nice graphics and lots of fast cuts. The whole thing screams “high tech” but there’s no way to tell what the hell is going on. Why is the golf club good? Why should anyone care? Around here, we believe everyone who plays golf should be quickly killed (except for those who feel their death should be as slow as possible) so it’s difficult to give this ad the benefit of the doubt.

Hyundai Sonata

The Korean carmaker bought a whole fleet of commercials, all featuring cool and assured voiceover work from Jeff Bridges. The first spot offered some nice sheet metal shots. No big deal, but the car looked great. Another ad showed part of the automaker’s painting process. It made the Sonata look like it had about three inches of coating and convinced me to go see the car up close. In a wonderful change-up, one of their spots showed Brett Favre’s acceptance speech for the 2020 MVP award. As we were chuckling, Mr. Bridges gently reminded us that we cannot know about ten years in the future except for the fact that Hyundai’s 10-year warranty will still be in effect. Wonderful.

Bud Light, Budweiser, Michelob
Also purchasing a passel of promo announcements was Anheuser-Busch, the beer-making giant (nearly 50% of the U.S. market with 100 different brands). One of their Bud Light spots featured a house constructed out of the product, which probably made some folks laugh, in the same way that some people still laugh at SNL sketches. Another spot was a parody of “Lost,” which might be entertaining for those who watch “Lost.” One commercial was pretty cool, with party-goers’ voices filtered through an Antares Auto-Tune. A Michelob Light ad showcased Lance Armstrong and, well, I don’t know what the hell was going on in the ad (or I just was so unimpressed that I can’t recall any of it). One Budweiser spot seemed to suggest cross-species dating between a horse and bull; not certain what this has to do with beer. Another spot for Budweiser had people forming a human bridge to allow a Bud delivery truck to cross a stream. Why? How? Can you say “listen to the sound of crickets” while we wait for the nervous laughter? I mean, seriously, guys, WTF? People, why do you purchase products made by firms that hold you in such contempt? (And BTW, what’s with using Elmer Bernstein’s score for “Stripes” on the spot? It’s brilliant music, but for the licensing fee you could have hired an up-and-coming composer to create something new.)

Snickers
The idea of Betty White and Abe Vigoda playing on tackle football teams in the park is humorous. The idea. But not the script, direction, editing, or acting. Snickers left a bad taste in one’s mouth.

Pam and Tim Tebow
Here’s the controversial spot for anti-family-planning that rightwingnuts at CBS approved for some reason. Best line from the party when this spot finished: “If only Pam had been aborted we wouldn’t have to endure this.” (Image from spot, shown at left.)

Boost Mobile
Wow, talk about stupid ads. If ever there was a way to tell people you are an antiquated, out-of-date, know-nothing firm, it would be to use a nursery rhyme rap with irrelevant spokespeople like half-dead ex-Chicago Bears football players.

Robin Hood
Hey, look, they’re re-releasing the Kevin Costner movie! No? Oh, that must mean the Mel Brooks “Men in Tights” spoof is coming back with a portentous soundtrack. No? Well, it couldn’t be that Ridley Scott has now descended even lower than when he made a “Silence of the Lambs” sequel and is now doing a . . . dare I say it? . . . remake! How the mighty have fallen.

Doritos
Several spots, all snarky, but some got laughs, such as the one where a little kid slaps a would-be suitor to his mom. Others, such as a guy eating while inside a coffin, had the effect of equating Doritos with the urge to vomit.

GoDaddy.com
I like cheesecake, pretty girls, and double entendres as much as the next guy, but most of the GoDaddy.com spots are just so-so. They work at getting your attention, but they tell you little about the company. However, I use GoDaddy.com for my web site hosting and since they provide superb customer service every time I call with a question, I am going to give them a pass. (Now, if they could only get THAT point across in one of their commercials.)

Bridgestone Tires
These folks are a puzzle to me. They have a product that interests me and almost every guy who drives a car or truck. They spend a ton of money producing their commercials. Yet they never show their tires or demonstrate any product benefit. What’s up with that? A speeding truck skids and spins to a halt. A speeding car safely stops on a slick highway. Yeah, so? Unless you tell me why a Bridgestone tire does this more efficiently, effectively, more safely, or for less money, I’m going to buy Goodyear or Michelin or Continental or Pirelli or anybody that tells me something about tread, traction, handling, etc.

Cars.com
Ultra-successful guy’s life is shown but it turns out he’s nervous about buying a car. So Cars.com is his choice to resolve that problem. It made me smile and it showed how their service might help me in the future. Of course, since it doesn’t feature people acting stupidly, it won’t win any audience polls. But it will HELP SELL THE PRODUCT, which some people in this industry seem to have overlooked.

Careerbuilder.com

We are as grossed out as the spot’s narrator as he tries to avoid looking too closely at the work force showing up in underwear for “casual day.” So I’d try to find another job, too. But how does this demonstrate that Careerbuilder.com is the place for the job search? Hey, maybe he landed this bad job through that site.

Dockers
Immediately following the underwear brigade was the “I wear no pants” patrol. It’s like when you open the newspaper movie section and see ads for “Legion” and “Tooth Fairy” and they both feature a guy with large white wings.

Dove for Men
YGTBFKM. This abomination appears designed to drive men away from the products. Perhaps the idea is to convince women they should buy this crap for their husbands and boyfriends.

Dodge
Oh wait, now YGTBFKM. Really, this must be seen to be believed. The message of the commercial is: whipped guys drive Dodge.

Acura ZDX
Great music track and nice shots of the vehicle. Okay, it’s not award-winning and won’t score high in the polls. But it will make me check out the car. Correct me if I’m wrong but I thought that was the point of doing a commercial.

Living Spaces and Carl’s Jr.
Ahh, local dreck bringing everything down a notch with their cheapo craptacular approach to advertising.

Carmax
Wait, here’s a national spot that is confusing and stupid. Something about animals watching auto sales on television? The marketing team was combining Jim Beam with lysergic acid diethylamide.

Monster.com
Okay, there’s this violin-playing beaver. It’s funny already, right? Yeah, so, he plays for tips in the street and then uses Monster.com to move up in the world, until he plays Carnegie Hall and ends up cavorting in a hot tub with a predatory blonde.

Wrap Up:
There were several million more commercials in the broadcast, but they made me so sick to my stomach that I stopped watching. Anyone who endures that much crap is a moron or owns stock in one of the advertising firms. Ain’t that America.

Robo Calling Scum of the Month: Anthem Blue Cross / Blue Shield

COLUMN: It’s unfortunate that Anthem has chosen to attack unsuspecting customers and non-customers with inhuman robocalls. I’ve gotten about a dozen calls this year – and I’m not a customer. Latest one was at 2pm PST (5pm EST) today, and for somebody I’ve never heard of, even though I have had this phone number for 10 years. This is the second “person” they have called for, and the only way to stop the daily calls is to sit hostage to their robofracker and verbally state they have the “wrong number.”
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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.

Megan Fox Peer Pressure

Megan Fox Drops F-Bomb for Viral Marketing

COLUMN: If you’re a follower of Megan Fox, or the latest vampire movies, or you happen to look at the most popular this week listings on your iPhone, you have probably already seen the clever viral PSA (public service announcement) for Megan’s upcoming movie “Jennifer’s Body” (which appears to be based on the foreign flick “Chocolate”, which I liked). The PSA starts out as any typical PSA about “peer pressure.” It then takes a turn which is hilarious and not PG rated.
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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 speaking at an industry function

Communication Nation: Ads Unimpressive During the OSCAR Fiasco

COLUMN: Sure, the 81st Academy Awards show was a disaster, but millions watched anyway (train wrecks are darn entertaining) so the advertisers reached a big audience. Did the ad messages overcome the stench of the show? There’s no way they could, what with Hugh Jackman’s embarrassing dance parodies and the clusterflock acting award presentations.

Not to mention Beyonce’s lip-synch disaster, John Legend not bothering to find the melody of his number, Queen Latifah’s Auto-Tune nightmare, and a horrid setting that seemed to be constructed from remains of a going-out-of-business sale at the El Monte Lamps ‘n’ Lights Bargain Barn.

Just a side note on the biggest loser of the night: Twentieth Century Fox, whose board must be praying that the young audience for “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” will not visit YouTube to see the putrid “musical performances” by Jackman. Despite multiple shout-outs that “the musical is back,” most viewers had a somewhat different reaction: “the musical is crap.”

On to the hype. I mean the ads.

TOP FIVE

JC Penney
With seven commercials, the big retailer was in almost every spot cluster. I don’t know much about young women’s fashions other than they are sometimes difficult to unbutton, but the stuff looked good to me and the music video-style production was just fine. My guess is that these commercials resonated with their target audience in a powerful way.

American Express
The credit card company continued its “if it’s good enough for celebs, it’s good enough for the likes of you” campaign, this time using Dave Matthews, Gwyneth Paltrow, Brian Grazer and Tina Turner to flack for the firm. I hate to admit it, but this approach probably works really well. People are sheep, so herd ‘em along using famous faces.

Maytag
A monster truck runs over a bunch of Maytags and they keep right on working. Almost everything inside of me says this is wrong, except it is right on target for their positioning as the “keeps on working” appliances. So, okie-doke, it works. Co-op tie-in with Tide at the end was annoying (oh look, the ad’s over, oop, no it’s not, there’s an ad-within-an-ad).

Mastercard
Four spots, all different, but each with the “cost/priceless” campaign. One had a dog peeing, which seemed a bit off-putting for my living room, but the story of people helping the lost dog cross the country was pretty cool. And their final spot of the evening was a real gem, as it showed how different types of music can transform us every time we listen.

(Sorry, there weren’t enough good ones to make up a “top five.”)

THE ALSO-RANS

Hyundai
There were eight commercials from Hyundai. Eight! Sheesh, talk about overkill. All right, two of them were entertaining. Or I should say one of them, because it was the same spot shown in two versions. Both featured superb test track footage of their Genesis Coupe hauling ass, first to music by Yo-Yo Ma and later to music by Smashing Pumpkins. Cool presentation, and I liked the look of the car. The other six spots were silly. Yeah, the carmaker won an award. So what. And devoting five commercials to saying please buy one of our cars even though you might lose your job soon (which is what their Assurance and Assurance Plus programs are all about) is just depressing. Coming from a foreign auto company, it also makes me want to say f#@k you, Hyundai.

Sprint
You know those beautifully photographed spots where the overpaid muckity-muck from Sprint tells us what we already know about our cell phones? This was another one of them.

Diet Coke
Who the hell is Tom Colicchio and what does he have to do with Diet Coke? I could go on and on about the stupidity of using borrowed interest in commercials, but why give any more space to this bit of silliness. There were also a couple spots featuring Heidi Klum in a red mini-dress. Mrs. Seal looked sensational, which I guess is tie-in enough for a diet cola ad, but the ad itself was a mess.

McDonald’s
Reminder ads are a whole other breed. You don’t have to show the product, just the logo. If you’ve got addicts, oops, I mean regular customers, they’ll respond to the iconic image.

Carl’s Jr.
Yup, the two fast fooders were back-to-back in the same cluster. The tone is always crass with these guys, so there’s no confusion between the two peddlers of fat-and-sodium, but you’d think they would want at least one bad car commercial in between them.

Vons
Great-looking spot. Kind of like the old Target ads that showed oodles of product in a free-from-dirt environment. It’s an attractive approach, but it’s too bad their markets don’t look like the commercial.

Infinity
Hands in sand, cars on the road. Yup, makes perfect sense to me. Nice music, worthless commercial.

True North
Nuts. Well, they make nuts, but their campaign doesn’t show the product. Instead, they concentrate on mini-documentaries about people doing good things in the world. I admire their backing of worthy causes. But what about their snacks?

The Proposal
New Sandra Bullock movie. I love Sandra Bullock, and I’ll see it when it comes to HBO. Or Showtime. So, is advertising on the Oscar telecast really money well spent? Media buys are important, people.

BOTTOM OF THE BARREL

Mercedes-Benz
Hey, nimrods, this is the second month of the year two thousand nine. There is no f#@king way you can be advertising a 2010 model. Idiots. As for the production, it was excellent. Lovely EU locations, a great look, strong editing, and nifty music – all for a useless product (another SUV for peabrained folks who are desperately seeking to purchase a sense of self-worth).

Wynn
“Look, some jerk is sitting on a building and then the fake helicopter pulls back to show that it’s a really big building.” Yeah, that’s classic advertising, especially since it was produced on the level of a local used car spot.

Bertolli
A silly and annoying spot with an oaf chef badly singing opera. See, it’s an Italian food product. Italian. Opera. Get it? Mental note to self: if the marketing is this lazy, they probably don’t make good food.

GTF
Excellent product I.D. in this spot: the GTF logo was everywhere! Unfortunately, the commercial was for the Blackberry Curve. GTF, WTF?

The Soloist
Confusing movie trailer. As I understand it, the plot concerns a crusading writer, an insane cellist, street performers, and instrument maintenance. Yup, it’s a must-see evening of cinematic wonder.

Audi
They had a couple spots for an unnecessary SUV. Both mentioned “identity theft” for no discernable reason. One seemed to be about a parking garage stalker, while the other may have been about a mentally challenged kid getting picked up after school. Note to production companies: excellent cinematography doesn’t make up for poor scripts.

Coke
The real thing had three commercials, one a gargantuan production that showed someone imagining Coke everywhere he looked, the second dealing with some sort of scholarship, and the third a well-edited but disgusting spot that seemed to say Coke was recycled from garbage. Don’t large companies hire legitimate communications firms to handle their advertising? Apparently not.

SHORTS

Here’s the conglomeration review of the other spots: a “Dancing with the Stars” promo was really well done, especially considering it’s for a show that is entirely disposable; a “Jimmy Kimmel Live” promo with Jimmy and Tom Cruise was actually pretty funny and accurately reflected the off-the-wall humor of the show; a Tide spot had someone doing a parody of Paul Lynde; a Zyrtec commercial showed people enjoying their lives in almost every type of allergy situation imaginable and was therefore pretty darn effective; an Orencia pharma spot had qualifiers that were longer than the pitch message; a Microsoft Windows commercial demonstrated that their product is designed for four-year-olds; a T-Mobile spot proved their product is ideal for lost idiots and losers; and a Hoover vacuum commercial featured a clean freak who was in paradise when discovering there’s a new line of products called the Hoover Platinum Collection.

WRAP-UP

With just a couple of exceptions, creativity is still sinking to new lows in the communication industry, and what passes for “entertainment” in advertising is pretty disillusioning. This business used to be exciting until the hacks and bean-counters took over.

[tags]advertising, marketing, commercials, Oscars[/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]

Scott G gets the point about PR

PR Blunders: Avoiding Mistakes in Marketing and Publicity

How Not To Write A Press Release. There have been many articles on this topic, but this may be the only one written by someone who works as an editor and writer. Using real-life examples, Scott G examines some ins, outs, dos and don’ts of public relations and publicity.

You have just announced your latest accomplishment (album, product, song, tour, Podcast, interview, press kit, etc.), but no one seems to be paying attention. News editors and feature story writers are all too busy commenting on celebrities who are drunk, stoned or cavorting nude in public.

Clearly, it is time to call attention to something more important in the world, namely your magnificent work.

So, you decide to send out a press announcement. Do it right and your story will be seen by hundreds of thousands of people. Do it wrong and it will be seen by zero of thousands of people.

Three Questions
Before PR professionals begin to write a press release, they ask three questions: What are you selling? To whom are you trying to sell it? What are the interests, or “hot buttons,” of your target audience?

Scott G gets the point about PRWe’re going to use real-life examples in this article, so let’s pick a subject that will be of interest to everybody. Something like, oh, say, my seventh album, Burning Man Soundscapes, which will released by Delvian and on iTunes and Rhapsody.

Naturally, you’re fascinated by this news, but the trick is getting a ton of other people to be aware of it. If I proceed like a pro, I would look to those 3 questions and do the following:

* Define the product (it’s an album of groove-oriented electronic-pop instrumentals)
* Describe the target audience (lovers of new styles of rhythmic music; people with an affinity for the Burning Man event)
* Determine the target audience’s hot buttons, or things that turn them on (describing Burning Man Soundscapes as being like “Gnarls Barkley meets Booker T and the MGs”)

Now, let’s examine the mistakes you can avoid when you create your press release.

Mistake 1 – No Go Pro
You can get off to a bad start by not hiring a professional PR person. Instead, just Do It Yourself and “save money.” Well, sure, it costs less for a DIY approach, but unless you really follow the advice in this article, you’re not likely to achieve much in the marketplace. Ask yourself if you know how to:

* Have your press release submitted to the news editors of the 1,200+ daily newspapers, 5,000+ weekly newspapers, 2,500+ magazines, 12,000+ radio stations, and 1,700+ TV stations in the country

* Get your information indexed by Google, Yahoo, and the major search engines

* Have your press release distributed by RSS feed

* Feature your story on Web portals

* Submit your information to social networks like DIGG, Fark, Furl, Newsvine, Del.ico.us, YahooMyWeb and others

* Embed keywords to enable Technorati to cover your news

* Get your press release onto News.Google, Moreover.com, XTVworld, BlogBurst, eNewsChannels.com, and hundreds of other news content sites

* Have your announcement run as a news item on more than 10,000 Web sites

* Get your information considered for further dissemination by such organizations as the Associated Press, Newsflash, and the Viral Syndication Network

* Make sure your story is “spidered” by news clipping services and news-robots like eWatch, CustomScoop, WebClipping.com, CyberAlert, and InBox Robot, among others, so they deliver your news to their subscribers

Mistake 2 – Ban the Plan
If you avoid those three critical questions mentioned earlier, you might turn out a press release with no purpose or direction. A lot of musicians do this. As an editor at the Music Industry Newswire, I see about three cubic tons of press releases each year, and the majority of them are anemic, muddled, ham-fisted and/or stylistic monstrosities.

Mistake 3 – Heads Down
Another easy goof to make is sending out a press announcement using a headline only you and your mother could love. Here’s an example of a perfectly wretched headline: “Scott G (recording artist The G-Man) releases 7th album called Burning Man Soundscapes on Delvian Records.”

That’s a boring headline. Bore-ing! Stuff like that is virtually guaranteed to be ignored by editors, news directors, music writers, bloggers, ezines, publishers, and wire services because it doesn’t give their readers any news they can use.

Do not write a headline that is “inner-directed.” In other words, don’t write about what you want to say. Instead, write about what your audience wants to read.

Consider these possibilities for headlines:

* Burning Man communal festival inspires creation of electronic-pop music
* Subsonic harmonics create controversy on new CD release
* Music genres are bent, blurred and blended on new indie album
* New album is a soundtrack to the Burning Man festival

It seems counter-intuitive, I suppose, not putting your name or the album name in the headline. Yet the point is to gain readership for your release by creating a story that intrigues your intended audience. Only then do you mention your album title and artist name.

Mistake 4 – Open With Nothing
There are many creative ways to write the first paragraph of a press release and none of them work very well. As a songwriter and composer, I enjoy and respect creativity, but the fact is that a unique approach to writing a press announcement is usually not effective. There are exceptions (as when your audience already knows who you are), but usually what works best is the tried-and-true method of putting a few important points in the opening sentence (or at least in the first paragraph) of the release:

* Name of the person/place/product
* What that person/place/product is doing (especially if it does something for you, the reader)
* Web site of the person/place/product
* UPC code of the product

It may not seem very original, but using the old newspaper story requirements of Who, What, Where, When, Why and How will hardly ever steer you wrong.

Mistake 5 – Babble On
Hey, what is your story all about? Just say it. Say it in a straightforward way without too many adjectives. Say it as soon as you can in the release. And please forget the techno-terminology and psychobabble jargon.

After all, wouldn’t you prefer to read this:

Burning Man Soundscapes was designed as an electronic-pop film score with dynamic tunes and mysteriously swirling ambient tracks.”

Instead of this:

“The composer has developed the 14 stunning tracks on Burning Man Soundscapes into what can only be termed an electronic-pop film score utilizing a full range of ultrasonic configurations in a program that alternates between exciting up-tempo tunes and mysterious ambient sounds.”

Shorter is better.

If you’re not sure about what to write, pretend you’re sitting next to someone at dinner and they ask you “What are you up to lately?” How would you explain it? Would you attempt a snow job with big words and convoluted concepts, or would you just speak normally and let them know about your project? Take that approach with your press release.

Mistake 6 – Spel Ling & Grammericality
Sorry, but spelling counts. It’s a credibility issue. If you don’t know the difference between “there,” “they’re” and “their,” or “two,” “too” and “to,” hire someone who does.

Mistake 7 – Embellishments
There’s usually a paragraph near the end of the release that has a subhead like this: “About Scott G” or “About The G-Man.” Unless you have sold numerous humor columns to several different publications, don’t be funny here. Just write the facts.

The Right Way:
Scott G is co-owner of music production and publishing company, Golosio. As recording artist The G-Man, he has a half-dozen albums in release and has composed music you’ve heard on commercials, in clubs and on college radio.

The Wrong Way:
In addition to his ongoing efforts to bring more zip codes to Antarctica, Scott G is astonishingly erudite about the insect population of Wisconsin. Being one of only a handful of people to have survived encephalitis as a child, he has only two passions: revenge politics and groove-oriented music. So, purchase Burning Man Soundscapes or he will be forced to give your e-mail address to every inhabitant of Nigeria.

You may find it funny, but I guarantee you many editors won’t be laughing and your release will not achieve your desired goal. Besides, even if people find it humorous, it distracts readers from the main point of your release.

Mistake 8 – Who Ya Gonna Call?
Hey, everyone knows you. You’re famous! So there’s no need to put contact information in your release, right?

There are two contact names and numbers that accompany every press release. One goes into the press release itself. It might look like this: “For information about Burning Man Soundscapes, visit www.delvianrecords.com or www.burningmansoundscapes.com.”

The other goes at the end and looks like this: “Media Contact: Scott G, 818-223-8486, g@gmanmarketing.com.” This is not for the public; it’s for members of the press. It can be your name, or your brother’s name, or whoever. But make certain the number and e-mail work because this is where the press will try reaching you if they’re interested.

Mistake 9 – Put In Everything
Editors have lots of spare time and would love to read a 5,000-word essay on the history of your band and your philosophical approach to sonics. Sure.

Keep your press release between 300 and 400 words. And that counts the headline and the contact information. If you truly have more to say, include a link to an online press kit or PDF file. Or send out more than one press announcement.

Mistake 10 – Getting Attached
Yes, everybody is going to fall in love with that high-resolution TIFF image of you pretending to eat your guitar while standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon with that cool PhotoShop image of a Lockheed-Martin X-35A Joint Strike Fighter attacking a stegosaurus over your shoulder. Yup, that’s especially keen because it takes up so much space in an editor’s e-mail in-box.

If you e-mail your PR, remember: no attachments. Well, possibly a .txt file. But usually you should just send an e-mail with the text of the release and a link to your site. Then ask politely if you can send a file as an attachment or mail them a full press kit.

Mistake 11 – Oh, the Humanity
Just because editors also make mistakes, that doesn’t mean they’re human. They may not recognize the brilliance of what you’re sending them. In other words, they may not write about you. You’re going to contact them with profanity and screaming until they say something like, “We’re so sorry, we didn’t realize this was an important news announcement.” Oh yeah, that’s going to happen.

Don’t do anything about it. No angry calls, cards or e-mails. After all, you’re going to want to send them something else in the future (you do have an ongoing career, right?) and you don’t want them thinking “here’s something from that rude bozo.”

Mistake 12 – Throwing in the Towel
Sometimes people get discouraged. Not enough press, not enough sales, not enough gigs, not enough income. But if you give up, the doubters win. Keep going; it’s the only way you can win.

[tags]PR, press release writing, gman, Scott G, Burning Man Soundscapes, guide to PR[/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]

Stephen P Monaco

A Change Would Do You Good

Way too many companies still maintain an antiquated mentality still driven by sales, instead of changing their focus to one that is driven by marketing. Sales driven companies should drop their short-term ways of thinking like a bad habit, and start transitioning their organizations into ones that are “market driven.”

How do you know if your company is driven by marketing or sales?

Hint: If the title of the most popular song in the corporate hymnal is “Churn ‘em and burn ‘em,” it’s a pretty safe bet that your company is driven by sales.

Another sure sign that your company is sales driven is that the sales team can’t stop talking about their latest product or service offerings long enough to listen to customers and learn about their needs.

Stephen P MonacoCompanies that are driven by sales focus primarily on acquiring customers, grabbing market share, achieving immediate revenues, and controlling costs. They concentrate heavily on increasing short-term ROI which isn’t necessarily bad, since consumers always have needs that must be satisfied, and those needs create opportunities for peddlers. But organizations driven by sales grapple with finding ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors except with pricing, which turns into their key marketing tactic. While companies that operate their businesses as such may reduce short-term risk, their methods do nothing in the way of developing product lines that carry on. And that makes long-term success an uphill battle.

In contrast, companies that are genuinely market driven demonstrate an outlook that’s considerably more long-term. And they surpass their rivals by developing superior levels of ability, typically across the areas of research, pricing, product development, distribution channels, promotion, and market management.

Market driven companies have an approach which concentrates on concepts like total customer satisfaction, managing the customer experience, customer retention, and customer lifetime value. Engaging customers at a level that enables a clear understanding of their needs presumes that when customers are delighted, not only will revenues follow, but profits will escalate and growth will ensue.

Having a thorough understanding of market dynamics and consumer needs is implicit to being market driven. These companies continually gaze outside their organizations for the input necessary for developing solid strategies and making wise tactical decisions. Their outward focus makes opportunities more readily identifiable so these companies can capitalize on them.

Staying connected to their customers and cultivating those important relationships makes market driven companies better equipped than their sales driven rivals at anticipating market changes. By maintaining close links to customers – and therefore to the market, the insight gained by market driven companies provides them with competitive advantages which greatly improve their abilities to offer real value to customers.

Developing an organization that’s market driven isn’t brain surgery, but it requires tremendous commitment across the entire organization in order to be successful. Organizations that want to evolve into becoming market driven must consciously make this a priority and dedicate enough attention to the effort so it becomes the strategic objective of their company. But company executives frequently miscalculate what’s actually required to put such a dramatic change of business strategy into action. Companies get tripped up while attempting to implement market driven strategies because their organizations are poorly suited for such substantial undertakings.

Sweeping change isn’t going to happen overnight, and would be completely unrealistic to expect an internally focused organization to suddenly have close ties to the market. That would be like taking the string section from a philharmonic orchestra and expecting them to suddenly start play the horn instruments simply because they are skilled musicians. It just isn’t going to happen without plenty of reconditioning. Rethinking the whole organization and developing new competencies takes time. Executives talk about their companies becoming market driven, but really having the wherewithal to effectively make such a comprehensive transformation throughout the organization is a different story altogether.

Successfully implementing and carrying out this strategy pivots on whether the mindset becomes a central part of a company’s composition through and through – including the long-term allocation of sufficient capital and human resources, including an exceptional Chief Marketing Officer.

As one of the most vital decision makers in an organization the senior-most senior marketers must be thought-leaders, since along with CEOs, they exert considerable influence in determining the direction of their corporations. More so than any other member of the executive team, chief marketers set strategies that quite literally mold the company’s identity, drive business performance, and champion the customer’s needs. Senior marketing executives shoulder great responsibility and need considerable latitude, as their obligation to deliver is paramount.

These challenges require the qualities of outstanding leaders and the support of CEOs who willingly embrace their marketing chiefs as strategic allies. CEOs must motivate everyone throughout the entire organization to recognize the wide-ranging issues that focus directly on customer satisfaction are components which are vital to ensuring the company’s long-term success. Chief executives who don’t openly champion the endeavors of their senior marketer’s customer-centric efforts do so at their organization’s peril.

[tags]Stepen Monaco, If You Mean Business, marketing column, market driven companies, sales driven business[/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]

Stephen P Monaco

Who’s Behind the Wheel of the Chevy HHR?

Remember back in the day, (like, about six years ago), when there was a clear line of demarcation between content and advertising? Content was the programming that was periodically interrupted by commercials. Commercials were advertisements designed to sell products and services. Content was developed by movie studios and the editorial staff at magazines. Commercials were produced by creative directors and copy writers on Madison Avenue and in Chicago.

Nowadays consumers are actively participating in the creative process, production and dissemination of promotional material by way of viral marketing, like passing along video clips of consumer generated content that feature their favorite brands. Some companies are holding contests for their customers to actually create new ad campaigns themselves.

Stephen P MonacoAs part of the Chevy College Ad Contest, which was run by the advertising and sales promotions department at Chevrolet, student contestants learned that the winning ad Chevrolet was looking for would have to be “smart, simple and breakthrough.”

Not only did Chevrolet plan to run the winning commercial on network television, but the company went so far as to debut this ad for their HHR model SUV during Super Bowl XLI, where the going rate to broadcast a single minute of advertising exceeded $5 million.

Chevrolet received entries from over 800 teams from 230 different schools all across the country. Five of the teams, 11 students in all, made it to the final round and traveled to Detroit last fall to pitch their ideas.

The national contest was won by 19-year old University of Wisconsin student, Katelyn Crabb, the youngest participant and only individual finalist.

Crabb’s ad entitled, “Car Wash,” is scheduled to air throughout 2007, depicts a Chevy HHR stopped at an intersection in New York City, where men flock to the vehicle as they literally strip out of their clothes in hopes of washing the car so they can actually touch it. Crabb explained how her ad shows another side of Chevrolet and takes a distinctive approach to advertising for cars, which are usually targeted towards a male audience and portray women.

“We never get commercials that are for us, especially car commercials,” Crabb said of women.

“It’s very simple; it’s very smart because it all emanates from the product. But it has a very different feel for Chevrolet,” said a Chevy spokesperson.

“I really enjoyed it all,” said Crabb. “Learning about the production process from Chevy – from music selection to editing – it was all fascinating. And now to see the final ad on TV – it’s been an amazing experience.”

Of course it was; how exciting! What teenager wouldn’t find this experience amazing?

Crabb said she’s a football fan and has watched the games, and commercials, for years.

In their coverage of the news about the contest winner, Associated Press referred to Crabb as, “a big-time advertising guru.”

An ad guru?

I don’t think so.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking this bright young woman who won the national contest. In fact, I’ve really got to hand it to her since her ad made a genuine attempt at being humorous. Unlike the other General Motors commercial that ran during the Super Bowl with the “suicidal robot,” which was gloomy and disheartening.

But college students can’t be held to the same level of accountability as the marketing chiefs at companies that are supposedly industry leaders, (let alone one that ranks fourth on the Fortune 500 list). With all due respect to Katelyn Crabb, how much could she know about positioning the 96-year old Chevy brand in the mind’s of consumers? How much could any teenager be expected to know about these matters? The real question in my mind is who let a kid drive the creative concept behind an ad campaign for a vehicle from GM’s most well-known and best-selling brand?

Chevrolet’s spokesperson said judges chose Crabb’s ad because it was easy to understand and appealed to all ages.

Are you kidding me?

Do Chevy customers really want to see a bunch of gyrating half-naked men literally bump and grind on the exterior of an SUV to, “Its gettin’ hot in here, So take off all your clothes.”

Does anybody want to see that?

Do the lyrics to Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” (sic) really appeal to people of all ages?

More importantly, does any of this appeal to the people who buy Chevys?

It’s hard to imagine that anyone who knows anything about the typical Chevrolet buyer, (let alone the senior marketers at GM), could find anything even remotely meaningful or effective in this ad that might help solidify the brand with Chevy customers.

General Motors lost $10 billion last year. And part of their marketing strategy for getting back into black ink is to run a Super Bowl commercial consisting of content generated by a teenager?

I don’t know about you, but I’m buying more shares of Toyota Motor Corp. stock.

Getting customers involved with guerilla-style, viral marketing, Internet campaign is smart, but having a teenager produce a :30 second commercial that costs more than $2.6 million to air during the Super Bowl is another thing altogether. What were the objectives General Motors had when they decided to use consumer generated content during the three hours of television that always has the most highly-anticipated and most watched commercials of the year? Will this ad heighten Chevy’s brand awareness? Drive more traffic to their web site? Will it lead to additional test drives? Increased sales? More buzz? Will it lead to any quantifiable results? Anything?

Or will it simply allow an increasingly irrelevant, floundering corporate giant the appearance of being in touch, because they’re dabbling with a new trend involving looking to the nation’s student body to produce content?

How about this?
How about if the senior marketers at companies do themselves, their companies, their brands, their customers and their shareholders all the favor of engaging consumers not to produce the company’s commercials, but in ways so that customer’s contributions lead to the development of innovative product and service offerings?

[tags]Stephen Monaco, If You Mean Business, Chevy HHR commercial, automobile marketing, TV advertising, ad industry[/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]

Scott G doing a voiceover

Zombies, Reptiles and Torture-Porn

Bouncing back and forth between the worlds of marketing and music, Scott G took some time off from writing about advertising in order to cover the musical madness known as the NAMM Show. Upon his return, he finds the communications industry to be semi-chaotic, with zombies, reptiles and torture-porn all over your TV.

Scott G doing a voiceoverA guy goes away for a week and what happens? The ad industry decides it is okay to reanimate the dead, use snakes to sell vodka, and create a YouTube splatter film as an in-joke.

This doesn’t even address the parade of dubious advertising from Pepto-Bismol, Charmin, and all the schlock ads written about by Eric Deggans in his excellent St. Petersberg Times article (http://www.sptimes.com/2007/01/25/Floridian/Slimy_sales_agents.shtml). Full disclosure: I’m quoted in the article.

Dead Man Selling
I don’t eat much popcorn but people assure me that the Orville Redenbacher popping corn is pretty good stuff. So why is my stomach turning when their new commercial comes on?

Well, it could be because Mr. Redenbacher has been dead for a decade. No, this can’t be it because I didn’t mind the Audrey Hepburn Gap ad. In fact, I rather liked the retro/modern mash-up and thought the presentation of Miss Hepburn remained true to her appearance in the film “Funny Face” from which it was taken.

The problem with the Redenbacher ad is the piss-poor presentation. He looks half-mummified or even Joan Rivers-like (not ideal for a food sales pitch, I’d say). The computer manipulation isn’t as awful as those singing sewer rats that Quiznos used a couple years ago, but it’s in the same ballpark.

This reanimation of the popcorn zombie makes him look like a bobblehead from hell.

Snakes on Your TV
I respect most of the marketing for Absolut Vodka. Great-looking work, nicely positioned, and has me thinking well of the product. I looked forward to their campaign for the newest flavored vodka, Absolut Pears and was surprised to see it featured a snake. While I would better understand using a snake for an apple-related product instead of something with pears, that’s not my primary concern.

I’m wondering how many people look at the big pear-shaped lump inside the snake and want to vomit. I guess I just don’t react well to the thought of reptiles swallowing food items whole, especially items that are bigger in circumference than their own bodies. And the live-action TV spot just makes it worse. I don’t want that imagery in my living room, thank you very much. Full disclosure #2: after consuming half a bottle of the stuff, that commercial looks pretty damn good.

Slasher Flick
Then there’s the case of the Chuck McBride slasher film. Staged in the San Francisco offices of TBWA\Chiat\Day, the YouTube video shows bloody dead bodies scattered all over the agency. Adequate cinematography is synched up with amateurish sound effects and the silly thing ends with the supposed killer holding a crimson-coated Clio as if it’s the murder weapon. Whereupon he assures viewers everything will be okay as the Fifth Dimension sing “Up, Up and Away.” WTF?

Okay. Here’s the thing. Most of us know that many employees of large ad agencies have feelings of self-loathing, a paranoid sense of insecurity, very poor taste, and little or no sense of humor. BUT we don’t have to let the public know it by producing tripe like this.

Torture-Porn
Another trend that has to be bothering a lot of ad industry execs is the unrelenting glut of TV commercials glorifying torture-porn. It began with “Passion of the Christ” but is now raging full-force with the “Saw” films and their ilk, including “Hostel,” “Turistas,” “Slither,” “Hills Have Eyes,” “Apocalypto” and “Texas Primeval Chainsaw Hannibal Hitcher Living Dead Amityville Part XLVII” or whatever.

Hey, ad folks, people already hate our profession enough without goading them with beautifully photographed violence every week.

[tags]GMan, gman marketing, Scott G, Communication Nation, advertising, marketing, ad rants[/tags]

THE TRUTH is G-MAN

Will Political Ads Ever Make the Grade?

Political advertisements are frequently insulting, misleading, intrusive, divisive, belligerent, harmful, and/or just packed with lies. Everybody, it seems, hates political advertisements, but one man has decided to try to do something about it. Scott G interviews Tim Warner about a controversial proposal for grading political ads.

THE TRUTH is G-MANSCOTT G: Set the background for us. Why are you taking on the status quo regarding political advertisements?

TIM WARNER: Political advertising is horrifying. Too many advertisements lack integrity. Many of them display little or no morality. Campaigns full of lies and deceptions have misled the public into voting without knowing the true facts, and the whole sordid atmosphere has frustrated many people into not voting at all.

G: Many of us agree that political advertising is corrupt and disgusting. How do you think this came about?

Warner: There isn’t a system of checks and balances in political advertising; no code of ethics.

G: Give us some examples of recent ads you found especially harmful.

Warner: There was a spot that claimed a New York politician called a “party line” using taxpayer money. But it was an aide who had tried to call a government office and got the party line by accident. Phone records show that the call was ended immediately and the correct number dialed. The producers of the misleading ad tried to deceive voters into voting for their candidate based on a distortion of the facts.

G: Any examples in print?

Warner: There was a something called the “California Democratic Voter Guide” which urged a “No” vote on Proposition 87, but the Democratic Party endorsed Prop 87. The guide was paid for and sent out by a political action committee most likely funded by the oil companies running the “No on 87″ campaign.

G: Some might say that mud-slinging has always been part of politics.

Warner: It’s true that unethical campaigning has been around forever, but that’s no excuse for not trying to stop it.

G: Everyone except the makers of political ads knows things are deplorable. The problem is what do we do about it?

Warner: I think the best thing to do would be to create a grading system.

G: Like grades in school, or those restaurant health department grades?

Warner: Exactly. A grading system is something people understand from school, and it has worked well in such industries as restaurants, movies, and video games.

G: What about the free speech issue?

Warner: Using a grading system could be voluntary, so it wouldn’t interfere with free speech laws. It wouldn’t prevent ads from being aired. Best of all, a grading system works well in handling ads that are fair as well as ads that are distorted. Dishonest or misleading ads would get low grades, making them financially unwise to produce. And the system would encourage truth and honesty in political advertising by awarding honest ads with high marks.

G: You made a presentation to the American Association of Advertising Agencies, right?

Warner: My first thought was that they should deal with the problem of unethical political advertising. The AAAA is established, influential, and has a code of ethics already in place.

G: What did you propose to them?

Warner: My suggestion was the creation of a non-partisan “Grading Board” to review political ads. There’s a lot of work to be done on this, such as creating a set of criteria for judging advertisements. They would need a process for gathering the facts, reviewing the ad content, and seeing if the ad message distorted the truth.

G: Research takes time and manpower.

Warner: The board would need a support staff of researchers to investigate the ads, scripts, storyboards, billboards, and so on. The grades need to be designed and there needs to be a uniform way to incorporate them, like the warnings on cigarette ads, for example. No one should be forced to submit an advertisement for grading, but it should be in the best interest of all political ad producers to do so.

G: So ads running without a grade might tend to be suspected of misleading statements?

Warner: That’s right. Even if not all ads are submitted to scrutiny right away, people will start asking why some commercials are graded and some are not. Un-graded ads will be at a disadvantage in garnering public trust, encouraging producers to work within the grading system.

G: Let’s say you get all that accomplished. Then what?

Warner: The TV broadcasters who air the ads need to embrace and promote the system. That’s a big hurdle. They may see it as inhibiting revenue. A grading system could decrease ad dollar profits in the short term, but broadcasters have a responsibility to promote high ethical standards. With a grading system, broadcasters would raise the standards of advertising and compel political ad producers to play by the rules. Once the dust settles, the number of ads being produced would rebound.

G: There are time constraints to political ads.

Warner: Sure, a time frame would need to be established. The committee would need a certain number of days to research and grade a script. Then the ad producers could make the spot with the awarded grade, appeal the grade, or rewrite the script and resubmit it. The number of days needed to appeal or resubmit would need to be determined. After you shoot and edit a spot, it would need to be re-submitted to see that they adhered to the approved script. I know it’s complicated, but it’s a process I think we need more than ever these days.

G: What about the appeals process?

Warner: There would need to be a separate appeal board. Ad producers should be able to argue their case, and the Grading Board should be allowed a rebuttal. The appeal board would make a decision based on the evidence and arguments presented.

G: You want to keep government out of this process?

Warner: Government regulation in this should be viewed as a last resort. I believe that the advertising community itself should force a change. If the industry shows solidarity in getting behind a grading system, clients and broadcasters will be forced to accept it.

G: There are bound to be objections to this plan.

Warner: Some people argue that it would be impossible to find an objective and independent panel to judge the ads. But the MPAA has had an independent rating system for decades. The U.S. court system is based on the idea of a jury of individuals making objective decisions. The federal Supreme Court is non-partisan but makes decisions on political issues.

G: What about costs?

Warner: The costs for implementing a grading system would include setting up a central office for the judging committee, hiring and paying a research staff, and miscellaneous office costs such as supplies and shipping charges. To offset these costs, advertising agencies could take a cue from the MPAA and impose a small fee in commercial budgets, or look into grants.

G: What was the response from the AAAA?

Warner: They had a number of valid points, but mostly they relate to time and costs, both of which I think would resolve themselves once the public began demanding that political ads receive an independent grade.

G: So you feel this is worth pursuing vigorously?

Warner: Absolutely. A grading system helps put power back in the hands of the people by letting them decide which ads get attention and which ads are ignored. This actually helps with campaign finance reform because it limits the effectiveness of misleading and dishonest ad campaigns funded by special interests and big corporations. By making it unwise to spend large sums of money on ads that will receive low grades, the industry will be forced to become more ethical and make ads that are honest. And with advertisements that focus on candidates’ stands on issues and on the true nature of ballot propositions, the American people can make a much more informed decision about how they vote.

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

Numbers Game

Announcing the number one fastest-selling product of its kind released on a Wednesday aimed at 29-54-year-old left-handed female residents of Midwestern states! You wouldn’t put much stock in that as a marketing boast, but Scott G points out that sales figures often approach that level of absurdity.

Scott G logo by Phil Hatten DesignThis column is 2007’s most popular online opinion piece on a marketing topic written by an advertising professional who is also a recording artist (OOPOAMTWBAAPWIAARA).

Okay, so it may be the only OOPOAMTWBAAPWIAARA, but we’re not going to let that spoil the fun of making up some hype.

The point, for those of you who are no longer attempting to pronounce the world’s longest made-up acronym (“oop oh am twa-bap we are ah”), is that the business community appears to be awash in facts and figures that don’t actually mean anything.

Consider recent sales reports on portable audio players. In a CNET story headlined “Zune Fails to Crack Top 10 in Sales,” the piece quotes a study by a company called Current Analysis that claims that the Microsoft audio device “captured 12 percent of the hard-drive-based player market for December.”

Oh really? Let’s set aside for the moment the fact that the survey listed 8 Apple iPods in that top 10 sales list. (I don’t believe Apple has 8 different models of iPod, so that in itself is a pretty neat trick.)

Let’s also set aside the weasel wording that focuses on hard-drive-based units instead of taking in the whole category of portable audio players.

Instead consider that the survey tracked sales from Best Buy, Circuit City, CompUSA, Staples and RadioShack. Do you see the problem? Those are fine retail outlets. I respect and admire them. And I’m certain they sell a few Zunes and a ton of iPods. But so does Amazon.com, the Apple.com online store, and Apple retail stores, none of which were tracked by the survey.

In other words, the Current Analysis analysis of the sales figures was just slightly bogus because, well, because it lacked the sales figures.

If we’re allowed to print anything we like, let’s say the Zune had 1% of the market for portable audio players. Would you care to prove me wrong? Fine. Just send me some actual numbers.

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

Exxon: Please Go

A public restroom. Dripping faucets. Double entendres. Another annoying pharmaceutical spot for medication that shrinks prostate glands? Nope, it’s for corporate polluter ExxonMobil. Scott G admires the photography while hoping the communications industry holds the big Ex up to ridicule.

Scott G of G-Man MarketingIf you watch any of the three major Sunday morning commentary shows, you see an annoying number of commercials for pharmaceutical products.

Actually, if you watch almost any news-related TV show, you’ll be inundated with messages about drugs designed to bring you up, let you down or slide you sideways.

So last Sunday morning, when a commercial began with a guy running from a vehicle to a public restroom, I naturally assumed it was for one of the 5-alpha reductase inhibitors that shrink the prostate, or one of the alpha-blockers that relax bladder muscles (isn’t it great what you can pretend to know just by using Google?)

But there was something odd about the female voiceover. The smarmy double entendres about “holding more” and “going” etc. were all on behalf of ExxonMobil.

WTF? Yes, the slimewads who gave us the huge disgusting environmental disaster involving the Exxon Valdez have the gall to create a commercial in which they brag about creating ships that carry even more payload.

The spot is nicely directed, beautifully lit and crisply edited. In fact, the entire production is just excellent. But the script sucks and the basic intent of the campaign is insulting in the extreme.

Memo to ExxonMobil: no, we have not forgotten. Please go now.

[tags]G-Man, Scott G, Communication Nation, advertising, marketing, pharmaceutical ads, ExxonMobil, ad rants[/tags]

Groovy Close Up

Bank of America. Lower Standards.

Yes, they attempted to ruin a lovely song. Yes, the company admits to firing the person who leaked the video. And yes, they are wasting money on an executive with enough spare time to trade misspelled barbs with people on YouTube. But in defending its horrific version of U2’s “One,” Bank of America stands up for dorks, dweebs, jerks, idiots, morons and no-talent greedwhores everywhere.

Groovy Close UpBy now, you’ve probably seen and cringed at those two mentally-challenged Bank of America part-timers utterly destroying the lyrical beauty of “One,” a song by U2 from their 1991 “Achtung Baby” album.

Wait. That probably doesn’t go far enough. These guys earnestly, deliberately and painstakingly took this song of angst, longing, heartache, intensity, introspection and communication and walloped the daylights out of it. Crapped all over it, in fact.

If you have not yet had your mind boggled by this thing, try here:

Seeing those two misguided souls doing their little skit in a typical corporate sales meeting room complete with too-bright lighting was hilariously funny in a curiously sad sort of way. Like when you attend the grade school pageant and find yourself smiling and squirming at the antics of the kid in the back row and not knowing where to look when a child in the front row starts picking her nose.

Yes, it’s like that. Only worse because (A) these are, chronologically at least, adults, and (B) the organization is (and I quote from their own materials) “the nation’s leading financial institution.”

Quick: Do I Have a BofA Account I Can Cancel?
My first reaction was to mentally list my bank accounts, IRAs and credit cards to see if I was in possession of one I could cancel. After all, any company stupid enough to permit this travesty shouldn’t be trusted with my money.

The raw lunacy of taking lyrics about the nature of the world at the moment the Berlin Wall fell, then perverting those words, twisting them, torturing them and trashing them to become a paean to a credit card is too outrageous to comprehend. What lack of humanity must affect these two creatures if they can spout such tripe as “pick a card that shows your heart and your pride” and brag about how “we’ll make lots of money” and then, in a stupendous example of Charlie Brown-Nose sucking-up, work several of their fellow employees’ names into the song?

When the stunted sub-human “singer” curdles up his face and spews out the line “Have you met Michelle Sheppard, she’s leading the team in the Northeast?” you have to wonder if there is an iota of sensibility in the guy. (And what of poor Ms. Sheppard? Did she approve this burlesque, or is she an innocent victim of corporate-sponsored buffoonery?)

Different Perspective
Well. Let’s take a step or two back from the wreckage. Perhaps Bank of America is doing us a favor here. By displaying a complete absence of taste, wit or sensitivity, they are lowering the bar for everyone. Maybe we should celebrate BofA for making our jobs easier.

“Hey Larry, how’s that new ad campaign coming along?”

“It’s just okay, I guess.”

“But it’s better than BofA, right?”

“Absolutely.”

“Great. Let’s knock off early.”

There was a lively debate being waged on YouTube postings. The defender of the BofA garbage was a 61-year-old who accused everyone else of being someone who worked at Taco Bell or McDonald’s and who bragged about being able to retire soon with more money than anyone else could dream of. (Hmm, interesting pattern there, but the two goons in the video did not appear to be 61, although with that lighting, who could really tell?)

One post claimed that the sexagenarian was actually Ken Lewis, the CEO of BofA. Now that couldn’t be, could it? The bank’s Board of Directors wouldn’t sit still for one of its executives having so little to do that he could take time to type out ungrammatical missive after ungrammatical missive on a social video/networking site. Would they? (Note to self: make certain your portfolio does not contain any BofA stock.)

Whoever the jerkoff was, it was strikingly painful to watch him praise the “spirit” of their parody version of the song while almost in the same breath talk about how they have fired the person who posted the video as well as threatening to hunt down any BofA employees who dare to post any disparaging remarks about the repellent duet.

Next Up in BofA’s Campaign to Lower Standards
Possibly, we need to make note of guitarist Jim DuBois and vocalist Ethan Chandler (combined I.Q., 129), not just for being bad apples in the corporate marketing barrel, but for serving as a signpost that warns us to heed the human side of the communications business.

On the other hand, there are still a great many excellent songs that the schlock mongers at BofA can trash. Here are a couple of ideas that they’re probably already working on: Using Brian Wilson’s “God Only Knows” as an announcement of new rates on certificates of deposit, and turning “Strange Fruit” into an ode to home equity loans.

[tags]G-Man, Gman, gman marketing, Scott G, Communication Nation, advertising, marketing, ad rants, ad music, Bank of America, U2[/tags]