Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ethical and Legal Aspects of Comparative Advertising

The last section of our course deals with advertising ethics. When it comes to making claims, advertisers historically have gone overboard. In advertising parlance, we call this “puffery,” which refers to the exaggerated claims advertisers make for their products and services. Some scholars refer to advertising as “the permissible lie.” The New York Times reports this story regarding how advertisers are now suing one another over claims made in their ads; the issue is that an advertiser may lose market share as a result of a particular claim made by a competitor. Consumers have learned to accept that advertisers overstate their claims, even though to some this may seem unethical. Advertisers have the opportunity to take their issue to the Better Business Bureau’s National Advertising Division, or they can directly sue the competitor to either get the offending ad withdrawn or for compensatory damages when they can prove market share has been affected, and of course that the claim is unsubstantiated.

When it comes to comparative advertising, the FTC has actually encouraged advertisers to directly compare the attributes of their product or service against a competitor's. The government passed a regulation back in 1978 to that effect, and as a result we’ve seen over the years campaigns like the Pepsi Challenge, among others.

The Times reports that a number of brands are going after competitors--Campbell and Progresso to name one--and that this is a response to a weak economy.  In other words, no one can afford to lose market share.  Read the article and look at the accompanying video to consider whether you think comparative claims are an ethic issue or a legal issue?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Coke Ties into new Movie Avatar

In early November I blogged about augemented reality as a tool for marketers to more deeply engage consumers. Advertising Age reports that Coke has an augemented reality tie in with the upcoming movie Avatar. I've provided a link to the commercial here. It's interesting to see AR grow so rapidly as the AdAge article reports that it's not only Coke that's employing the tactic, but McDonalds too is joining in the virtual reality business. The article raises questions regarding whether or not consumers will quickly tire of this because it will be viewed as a gimmick. I think not, at least for some consumers. Kids who are under the age of 15 are users of virtual worlds and games moreso than older teens or young adults. So, there is a generational wave that is coming foward that not only is used to these kinds of technologies, but expects them to be there for them. Savvy marketers need to be invested in augmented and virtual reality platforms or they will be missing out on an important opportunity to engage this younger cohort. So, while you may think this stuff is lame, my guess is that younger consumers think it's cool and it will remain cool as the technology gets better and better with time.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The way advertising works in a postmodern world

I’m thinking about the ways in which media content bleeds into other media content. In this case I was watching a commercial for the Sony Vizio television set, and I’m focusing not on the product (I’m not in the market for a TV set), but on the song. Impressed with the music, I set out on a search. The website informs me that the song is by the electronic group Empire of the Sun and the title of the song is We Are the People. I do more research and find the song on and on Having located the song, I can download it and add it to my music collection for replay on my iPod. This is an unintended use of advertising and it exemplifies, to use a phrase out of cultural studies, the “intertextual web that we weave,” as one form of media content, in this case an advertisement, becomes interconnected with a popular song. This is certainly not the first time I’ve done this. It’s feels like a journey of discovery. I see an ad that attracts my attention because of something that unrelated to the product appeals to me, and I set out to find more about that "thing." On my journey I did visit the Sony website to see if the commercial was playing there, and in the past I have noticed that sometimes companies will “give away” the song on their website. So, perhaps this represents a fair trade-off: on my journey I learn something about the TV set, and I also get a song that I like. From a cultural perspective this represents the "work" advertising does on us, and the "work" we do with it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Imaginary Social Relationships and Advertising Part II

In part one I described the most basic elements of an imaginary social relationship based on extreme admiration, but it’s important to recall that those relationships that endure must be based on something deeper, more significant. In my case, two years ago I was stricken with cancer, from which I was not expected to recover. Obviously, I did survive, and I believe part of my will to survive was in “knowing” Lance Armstrong. When I became ill, one of the first things I did—in addition to seeing lots of doctors or perhaps because I was seeing lots of doctors—was to read Lance’s book which in great detail described his ordeal, but also the book described how he managed his health care and how he handled his recovery.  In other words, he prescribed a method to deal with exactly what I was going through. Cancer: he’d been there; done that. I was just going through my personal ordeal and needed help. And, because it was Lance and because he was a survivor, I took his recommendations to heart.

As I recovered I became involved in Livestrong his charitable foundation that seeks to eradicate cancer. I never ever take off my yellow wristband that is imbued with meaning and significance. During this year’s Tour de France, Lance’s comeback had me glued to the TV screen even more than in the past. The fact that he did so well, placing third overall, moved me deeply, and I hate to admit it, but during the race I followed him on Twitter. Okay, I hate to admit this too, - I still follow him on Twitter.

 Lance currently advertises for Clear2Go water bottle, and he was hawking an energy drink whose name escapes me. I think he’s done ads for Oakley sunglasses, and I think he’s advertised for several other brands that I just can’t recall. I’m aware his new team sponsor is Radio Shack. Ironically, when I see him in advertisements I can’t say that my imaginary relationship is enhanced in a positive direction, and his appearance in those ads does not endear these brands/products to me. To be truthful, his association with advertisements kind of sullies my image of him. Often times when media figures appear in advertisements, changes take place in the imaginary relationship that corresponds with changes in the ways consumers perceive the brand. I guess if products that Lance Armstrong promoted were relevant to me, I’d probably give them a try. And, I do think it was a very strategic move on the part of Radio Shack to align itself with the “Armstrong brand.”  I will look more favorably upon that brand and likely shop at their stores.

I’ve only scratched the surface of my imaginary social relationship with Lance Armstrong. I don’t maintain such imaginary connections to very many media figures, but there are and have been others. I think I could write many more details that would provide even greater understanding of how this process of engagement with media figures works and the role that media figures play in our lives and the implications for advertisers. But because blogs are not books, I’ll end it here.

Imaginary Social Relationships and Advertising Part I

An interesting area of media research, according to John Caughey, author of Imaginary Social Worlds is the subjective social experience that people have with media figures. One significant avenue is the “smarm of bees” in the guise of media figures with which people surround themselves beyond their actual relationships. These pseudo relationships with media figures provide a false sense of intimacy.

Okay. So here it goes: I have an imaginary social relationship with Lance Armstrong the 7-time Tour de France winner and cancer survivor.  He is someone that I greatly admire, and he is someone with whom I have much in common. On the one hand, I’m a big fan of bicycle racing, and I am glued to the TV each summer during the entire month of July when the Tour de France is broadcast. When Armstrong retired from the sport several years ago, my love for the sport was severely deflated. But he came back this year, and I was riveted to the screen every day for hours, intently engrossed in this rather esoteric sport, at least by American standards. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I like bike racing, it’s not very popular in the States. In that way I can “own” it, and therefore be different in a way that adds to my individuality. It’s interesting to consider that I use Lance Armstrong in order to help craft my own individuality. Liking football or baseball puts one with the masses, but liking a sport that isn’t widely appealing and you’ve got the ingredients of a meaningful relationship.

But it’s more than me being a fan; I use to race bicycles myself – sometimes riding 8,000 miles a year when training. I was a proficient stage racer, which is what the Tour is – a stage race. So, the fact that I raced bikes and Lance Armstrong is the best stage racer there ever was provides the basis for an imaginary social relationship based on deep admiration. And it is through Lance Armstrong that I can have a vicarious relationship with the sport.

I have “known” Lance Armstrong for many years, as I became aware of him when he was a young rider, known as a brash and arrogant American and therefore not too likeable. He came up on the heels of the first American to win the Tour, Greg Lemond, who unfortunately was shot in a hunting accident that ended his career. Lance Armstrong as I recall rapidly moved up through the ranks of American cyclists, and for those of us American fans of a European dominated sport without Lemond there wasn’t anyplace else to turn – Lance had to me our man.

Irony of ironies at the height of his career, he was stricken with cancer that had spread throughout his body. Reading news accounts—all of this took place prior to Facebook and Twitter—was the only way to follow his journey through the maze of healthcare and eventually to the road to recovery. When he made his comeback and went on to win the Tour de France multiple times after being stricken by such a dreaded disease, my admiration knew no bounds. Remember that the root of the word fan is fanatic; yes, I was a fanatic when it came to Lance Armstrong. But the imaginary social relationship doesn’t stop there. Stay tuned for part two.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Participating in Imaginary Social Worlds

Imaginary social relationships are relationships we have with media figures that parallel actual relationships. They comprise just one stop of the wheel of imaginary social worlds. First, a media figure can be a sports figure, celebrity (meaning actress or actress), newscaster, politician and it also might refer to people who are thrust into the news, like Octomom, for example. Anyway, because imaginary social relationships parallel actual relationships, media figures may play important roles in our lives as father or mother figures, mentors or teachers, friends, and lovers, among other roles. Sometimes the imaginary relationship is based on hatred, for example I cannot stand Rosie O’Donnell. I don’t know her, but I simply cannot stand her. From time to time imaginary social relationships tip over too far as was the infamous case of John Hinckley who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in order to impress the actress Jody Foster. Unfortunately celebrity stalking has become all too common in our culture. Putting such extreme cases aside, I think it is fair to say that anyone who grows up in a mediated culture such as ours is likely to engage in imaginary social relationships with media figures. For some people the relationship may be on the level of liking, but for others the relationships may be enduring and quite complex. It is on the basis of deep and meaningful imaginary relationships that savvy marketers consider using media figures in their advertisements. Selecting the appropriate media figure for the right product and communicating with the right audience can produce “magic” for the marketer. The use of such media figures can invoke the wonder-consent-participation process that I have described as a hallmark of postmodern advertising with the result being the ever-coveted deep engagementof the consumer. Imaginary social relationships are just one part of multiple realities in which we exist that extend from the authentic outward to mediated worlds and inward to imaginary social worlds. Each of these “worlds” feeds off one another, as is the case with dreams whose content feeds off our everyday life (day residue) and whose content informs our everyday life (dream residue).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Living in multiple realities: a marketer's dream

Living in multiple realities is a concept that is difficult to grasp. Let me try to explain: Consider the world of media as one reality; and, our own imaginary inner world of day dreams and such as another reality. Couple those realities with our authentic reality (what we might call the really real), and perhaps now you can see that we live in multiple realities. There are more realities that we might include, like the world of nocturnal dreams. All of these realities are intertwined, feeding off one another. Marketing communication plays an important role in this process, and some new technology is pushing the envelope further. Consider the idea of augmented reality. Augmented reality refers to elements of the authentic world mixed with computer generated images. In this well, as the name suggests, reality is augmented or extended. Well, first perhaps look at the video above to see how augmented reality can be applied to marketing problems. Mind blowing. Right? There is a company Total Immersion that has developed the technology used in the Molson beer campaign. When we talk about interactivity and deep engagement, it seems to me the use of this technology as an advertising medium is spot on.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

What it costs to reach a TV audience

Advertising Age recently reported costs for 30-second network television commercials (see chart). As consumers of advertising we rarely think about what it costs to advertise. This TV season, Sunday Night Football leads the way at almost $400 thousand per thirty-second spot. And, as we have learned, you can’t just run a commercial one time; it has to be shown a minimum of three times in order for it to register with the consumer. The figures displayed above are based on audience size, after all media exists to sell an audience to an advertiser. A program like American Idol, that may have an audience of 30 million viewers (their numbers have been going down in the past couple of years from a peak of around 34 million viewers), can charge upwards of $700 thousand per 30-second spot. And, don’t get me started on Super Bowl advertising, which is likely to come in this year around $2.3 million per 30-second spot. We’re talking about the cost of time alone, not production costs. Production costs for a network spot would be in the area of $350,000. When you add the cost of production with the cost of the television time to run the advertisement and multiple the per spot cost by at least three, you can perhaps see why advertisers seek alternative ways in which to reach consumers. This high costs associated with network advertising have to be considered within an audience that is distracted, often multitasking perhaps even with multiple media as we shift from the TV screen to the computer screen.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Men at Work

I have written before about the negative depictions of men in television advertising. Indeed it has been a central topic of my research over the past five or so years. My perspective comes out of several research studies that I have conducted on the depiction of men as wolves and lower animals, men as cavemen, and men caught in public literally with their pants down. For the latter study, I collected twenty-seven examples of television commercials depicting men caught with their pants down. One of the better-known commercials featured comedian Dave Chappelle, in an ad for Pepsi, who has his pants sucked off by an over-active vacuum cleaner. While watching TV last evening, I noticed a new commercial for a company, Identity Guard. You can see the commercial above. Notice that the guy in the commercial is, well, depicted in public wearing only his underwear. While on the surface, I agree, this is humorous, and from a creative perspective, the image deviates from the norm and therefore is likely to garner attention.  From a cultural perspective, however, I think more is at work. To be “caught with your pants down” is a humiliating experience associated with public embarrassment. The fact that the individual in the ad is oblivious to his situation drives home the point. If it’s okay to be stripped of your manhood, then there’s nothing left to loose. Considering the loss that many men have experienced during this current recession, there is consolation in the fact that there is, well, nothing left to lose. Maybe we can use such depictions to measure the state of the economy: if there’s nothing left to lose, then maybe the economy is at bottom and will begin to turn around. I have no idea if there really is a correlation; in fact, I doubt it. But when the economy does turn around many of those men who lost their jobs will not be getting them back. I wonder how will advertising treat them when times are good?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dreaming of Oprah

I had a dream last night that I want to recount to you. It took place in Chicago, a city where I have never been, but with which I am familiar because of its depiction on TV and in movies. In the dream I lived in a high-rise apartment, but I had moved from the side of the building that featured a view of the city to the other side of the building where there was no view. I was walking down a boulevard with one of my colleagues who I invited to my home to work on a research project. I was trying to write down my phone number for her so she could contact me, but the color of the ink in the pen and the color of the paper on which I was trying to write were similar, so it was difficult to see what I was writing. Additionally, I had difficulty remembering my phone number. Walking along the boulevard (I think I was on the median strip) who did I spot in her green Porsche convertible? It was Oprah Winfrey who was on her way home from work. It was about six o’clock when I spotted her; that’s how I knew she was on her way home after work. I recall that the Porsche was not a new one. It was a 911 and about 9 years olds. It was a warm sunny day, which might explain the convertible top being down, making Oprah so easy to spot. Oprah – that’s interesting, I think. I have to admit over the years I have had successive dreams of Oprah, some of which I have recorded. I recall when my book was about to be published that I dreamed Oprah and I met at Sara Beth’s a restaurant on the Upper East Side of New York to discuss my appearance on an upcoming show. It was kind of a pre-interview. I don’t know why Oprah Winfrey repeatedly shows up in my dreams. I’m not a fan, although I admire her greatly. I’ve seen her television program, but I don’t watch it regularly. In fact I probably haven’t seen it in a year. I know enough about dreams to realize that Oprah is a metaphor; she’s standing in for something or someone else. I won’t go into a deep analysis of my dream, although over the years that I have been doing dream research, I’ve learned much about dream analysis and can usually apply it to my own dreams with some success. It’s important to point out that even though Oprah appeared in my dream, she appeared as an expedient substitute for someone or something else. Like all media figures that appear in our dreams, she is convenient. And, that is one of the roles that media figures play in our dreams, as a replacement for something or someone else that is perhaps more meaningful. I also want to point out that when celebrities appear in our dreams, according my research, they invariably are our friends. In other words, while we recognize them as celebrities, they lose their celebrity status in our dreams. Oprah. A green 911 Porsche. A well-known NYC restaurant. These are the things from our everyday lives—what Freud called day residue—that show up in our nocturnal world.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Brands as Immersive Environments

This past weekend I participated in the Nike Human 10K Race – a virtual race for runners from all over the world. As we have been discussing ways in which consumers engage with brands through immersive environments like, I thought it might be beneficial to attempt to recount my experience to you. From the outset, I want to emphasize just how strange it was to run a race (I use the term loosely) all by myself: no one to run with; and, no one to cheer me on. When I passed other runners in my neighborhood, I wondered whether they were doing the same thing I was. But all I could do was nod in acknowledgment. It was a rather strange feeling, I must say. I could have joined a “community” online, but that would have been a virtual experience, not a real community of runners to actually run with. I guess I could have attempted to locate local runners who were participating in the Nike Human 10K and run with them, but that seemed kind of like a weird thing to do. So, I ran a race alone. What place did I come in? 5,421. Doesn’t sound so good, does it? Five thousandth place. But then again there were tens of thousands of runners. So, it was only when I uploaded my run to the NikePlus web site that I was able to get a feeling of some satisfaction. I could locate my place at the finish, and I could compare my time to people from all over the world.  I walked away (metaphorically speaking) from the event with a pretty good feeling about the whole thing. But I can’t say I felt connected, socially networked. It wasn’t a bad experience, and since I use this website on a regular basis, running in a virtual race—in the end—was just an extension of what I already had been doing in this immersive brand environment.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

There's an app for that?

Pepsi seems to be catching some flak for an Apple iPhone app for its Amp Energy drink. The app is aimed at guys who want to pick up girls. A story was reported in the 10/14 issue of The Wall Street Journal that raised the criticism of the app because it is, well, tasteless. There was critical buzz on Twitter, and blogs like regarding how the app objectifies women. Is Pepsi going to pull the plug on the app? Maybe and maybe not. At this time, it isn’t clear as I think they are measuring whether or not such product positioning and the accompanying critique actually helps the brand or whether public pressure will force them to withdraw the app. All of this--the app and the criticism--speaks to the issue of engagement. Multiple channels are at work here: there is the app, then there's the Twitter feed, then there's the blog response. Creating controversy is a means to activate consumers, and serves the role of making advertising more interesting, and by that I mean engaging.

Monday, October 5, 2009

So, you want to be a buzz agent?

You might want to think twice if you are considering blogging on behalf of a brand and receive some kind of payment or freebie. As new media become mainstream, it is incumbent upon the regulators, like the FTC, to revise their guidelines governing such changes in arenas where media and marketing converge. In fact, this is the first time since 1980 that the Federal Trade Commission has revised those guidelines on endorsements and testimonials; they guidelines will now cover bloggers who get paid to promote products and services. I think it’s good to see government regulators moving on this issue as consumers become more complicit in the marketing of products and services. Not only are word of mouth marketers like Buzz Agent involved in this newer form of communicating, but so are sponsors who are taking advantage of Twitter, compensating some consumers for plugging their products for a fee. The October 15 issue of Time magazine, includes an article on paid tweeting, which is controversial, as consumers don’t know if the endorsement is authentic or paid. When the advantage goes this far against the consumer, it’s incumbent upon the government to step in and do something to level the playing field. In this case, the FTC has updating its guidelines. I think it’s odd, however, that consumers themselves are participating in this new practice. Maybe this is just the ugly side of participatory advertising.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Some new buzz in Ad biz...

I came upon some new and interesting forms of participatory advertising that I thought might be of interest. The first comes from the people that brought you the Got Milk? Campaign. This is an update of their White Gold campaign of last year aimed at the youth market. This updated version has a website that launches October 5, 2009. According to Shootonline, for the current campaign, “White Gold goes beyond music videos to star in his own 20-minute online rock opera, Battle for Milkquarious…White Gold is billed as the star, writer and producer for the rock opera which chronicles his quest to save his hometown of Milkquarious from a devastating milk shortage. The villain Nasterious steals the town's milk and kidnaps White Gold's love interest, Strawberry Summers. White Gold travels across the galaxy to rescue her and return the stolen milk to the townspeople.”

The next campaign was written about in Online Media Daily. This new campaign is for Coca-Cola, which has “signed on as the first sponsor of "Sounds of Buzz," an online community launched by pop-culture blog publisher BuzzMedia offering live concert coverage from top bands, photos, video, news and show reviews.” The article reports that “Coke is partnering on the effort with BuzzMedia's music-focused blogs Buzznet, Stereogum and Absolute Punk. The site, which will be up through Oct. 31, features ample Coke branding throughout. As part of the broader campaign, Coke and BuzzMedia sponsored Katy Perry's recent show at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles. The full concert is now available at the Sounds of Buzz site.” Check out the Katy Perry concert – pretty cool, if you’re a fan.

Finally, there’s the buzz created around Arby’s, which was recently rated by J.D. Power and Associates as the most talked-about quick-service restaurant online among "early careerists" (those between the ages of 22-29). This was at least in part due to this summer's Wednesday Freebies promotion. The J.D. Power and Associates report was based on several hundred thousand conversations on social networking sites. This is a good example of how marketers are utilizing “engagement” as the new measure of campaign success.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Pepsi and team up for a social networking experience

Pepsi is providing us with a really good example of consumer generated advertising (cga) with its new campaign from and LMFAO that allows consumers to remix different music segments and to post them online. While the general concept of participatory advertising is no longer new, we can see that the levels of engagement continue to increase as marketers find more creative ways to bring consumers “into” the brand and to place the brand “inside” consumers. In the process of creating their own mixes, consumers also join a community through collaboration and sharing; yet another twist on Web 2.0, social networking. The level of complicity on the part of consumers—in other words, their willingness to participate in marketing schemes—is unprecedented. Check it out on YouTube and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Social media: Nobody doesn’t like it

Sara Lee has made a foray into social media with a series of webisodes that utilize real moms hawking Sara Lee products. The use of “real moms” lends an air of authenticity, which we know is important for believability. Beyond that, the web series is posted on Facebook, YouTube and Metacafe. Social media are the cornerstone of the “new advertising.” Added to the appearance of the video series on social media websites are blogging and tweeting. Who would have ever thought that advertising would come to this? But these are the tactics of the moment and fit nicely into the rubric of Participatory Advertising, with engagement being the measurement of success. Perhaps it’s these difficult economic times that are driving marketers like Sara Lee toward the use of social media. The use of social media websites with their interactive qualities should provide a good lesson in marketing economics. This is especially important given new tools to measure engagement in the marketplace. While traditional advertising may work well at establishing awareness and it may serve as an important reminder, brands that want to engage deeply with their target markets much utilize social media.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Advertising: It's Everywhere, It's Everywhere

The insidiousness of commercial communication is so rampant that we no longer notice it, and we no longer think about its intrusion into our daily lives. Whether it’s supermarkets tracking our purchases as we swipe our cards, or the innocuous selling of magazine subscription data to marketers, consumers do not see the process of selling data—there is no transparency—and so they don’t know to care. What has seemed innocuous has turned uglier in my opinion. Behavioral tracking or behavioral advertising as it is sometimes called allows a website to collect information about you and then sell it to potential advertisers. A good example was offered up by a student who said, after purchasing something from American Apparel, she noticed the next day that an ad for American Apparel showed up on her Facebook page. Any organization that collects data—in all possible forms—is in the position to sell that data to others. Data mining is big business for politicians and for marketers of products and services. For the consumer, the playing field has again become uneven. Consumers don’t stand a chance, because they aren’t even aware this is going on. At the beginning of September, ten consumer advocacy groups appealed to Congress to do something about this growing problem. Today, it was reported the FTC would take up the issue in a series of public discussions that will take place in December. What may come out of those discussions are answers to questions regarding our right to privacy. Why the discussions are limited to behavioral advertising on the web and do not extend to other database marketing tactics is beyond me. To the extent that people care about their privacy, this is a huge issue. But I’m not sure people even care that much; we live in such an over-exposed society. Awareness is a good first step, as you cannot respond to an issue unless you know it’s going on. Many people don't mind this at all; they don't perceive it to be an intrusion. For those consumers would prefer to keep their purchases to themselves, some guidelines and perhaps regulations by the FTC may be in order.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Doritos "Crash the Super Bowl" Consumer Generated Advertising Campaign

This blog is titled Participatory Advertising because it follows a trend in which consumers are, well, generating their own advertising messages and disseminating messages in new ways. Take Doritos, for example, which just announced its newest contest for consumer generated advertising (CGA). The winner will have her or his commercial shown during the February 7, 2010 Super Bowl. Moreover, the winner could earn $5 million, according to an article in today’s USA Today. The contest has its own website Crash the Super Bowl where contestants can upload their commercials and others can view the entries and vote on them. We’ve become familiar with the notion of viral marketing of which this is a great example – the expectation being that through social networking friends and friends of friends will be directed to the website where they can view and vote for what they think is the best commercial. Last year’s prize was $1 million, so the ante has been upped. It will be interesting to see if the amateurish nature of much consumer generated advertising, given this year’s prize, will give way to more professional involvement. At base, I think this is what we’re dealing with regarding consumer generated advertising: the work of amateurs vs. the work of professionals. There’s an interesting book by Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Amateur that speaks to this issue. There is a certain sense of authenticity to amateur production that must be acknowledged, but the nature of these things is that over time they become slicker and slicker, replicating what was there prior to the advent of consumer generated advertising.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Gardasil for men? Oh, I can see the ads now!

On September 4 The Wall Street Journal reported that the manufacturer of Gardasil, the vaccine that is suppose to prevent HPV in women has now been approved by the FDA for use by young men. I know you could not have missed the prolific advertising campaign for Gardasil, so can you imagine the onslaught of commercials you’re about to see for a male version? I can just see the ads now: young man standing with a beer in one hand and syringe in the other with the tag line “Party On.” No seriously…The subject of direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising is the subject of my current research. You can see the data from my most recent study of 18-24 year olds here. Part of what concerns me is that pharmaceutical manufacturers are aiming their messages at younger and younger consumers. Gardasil is a product for use by women 9-26 years of age, and while the ads may be directed at moms, those messages are also reaching younger women. Now Gardasil will be advertised to parents of young men, but we all know that young men will see the ads too. This is what I’m calling “ad creep” where direct to consumer prescription drug ads are directed toward younger consumers. Prescription drug advertising has a generalized effect on young people’s attitudes toward prescription drugs. Young consumers don’t think they can be harmed by prescription drugs and are more than willing to share them with friends. Think about the people you know who are taking Adderall, and think how easily such a medication gets circulated among students for whom it is NOT prescribed when they have to study for an exam. Therefore, the prescription drug pump is already primed, and advertisers couldn’t find a better target audience, as Generation Y represents the largest in history. If Gardasil prevents genital warts on young men, then by all means they should be able to learn about it from their doctor. But do we have to advertise it? You can see my video on this subject here.

Desperately chasing the audience

Jay Leno’s new (old) show is about to premiere on NBC the network, his home for the past 17 years. This event dovetails with a discussion we’ve been having about audiences. In the case of NBC, the network where the Leno program will air, the number of viewers has been steadily dwindling from the era of “must see TV” when programs like Seinfeld garnered millions of viewers. The network will be happy if Leno can pull an audience of 5 million, which is more than their lack-luster late prime schedule of the past couple of years. If you understand that television is merely a vehicle to deliver an audience to an advertiser, perhaps you can understand why the defection of the network TV audience to cable stations or the Internet is cause for concern. Yes, there are some “reality” shows, like American Idol, that can still pull 30 million viewers on a good night, but even their numbers have been trending down (for myself: no Paula, no watch). But there are no more late prime-time dramas that seem to have the kind of pulling power to which the networks had become accustom. Mainstream media have been writing about Leno’s new/old show as if it were the death-knell for the network; the best hope is that this program becomes the new model for late prime-time network programming. Like reality programs, this one is cheap to produce, especially when compared to an hour-long drama. And, you know how ads are weaved into American Idol in a somewhat seamless manner? Well, Leno will be doing live commercials as a guard against the Tivo effect. At a certain price-point a low-cost variety program could be profitable to the network, and it might also satisfy advertisers looking for a moderately sized audience of 50-plus middle Americans – not exactly the group many advertisers wish to reach, because they just don’t buy the way younger consumers do. On the other hand, that older group is 96 million strong, so I wonder if we’re likely to see the program peppered with ads for erectile dysfunction, high cholesterol, incontinence and the like. Is the future of network TV doomed? Or can we just take a pill to cure what ails us?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Living in an age of distraction

One of the reasons why advertisers have shifted away from traditional approaches to advertising and traditional advertising mediums is because consumers—particularly young ones—are so distracted. One source of that distraction is the simultaneous use of multiple media, what is commonly referred to as multitasking. Media research firm Nielsen confirms in a recent study that, indeed, more than half of American consumers use the Internet and tune into television at the same time. This is nothing to celebrate in my opinion, as each of these mediums “utilizes” the human brain in different ways: television relaxes the brain; and computer use stimulates the brain. While I recognize that many consumers are consuming multiple media simultaneously, I’m not sure—over the long term—how this affects brain development. A couple of years ago I did a study on this phenomenon and the findings suggest that consumers find it very difficult to “get,” that is understand, advertising messages when they are multitasking with multiple media. You can read the study here. So the fact that 57% of us are engaged in this behavior is not good news for advertisers. Living in an age of distraction does not make life any easier.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Art & Copy: An advertising documentary

There's a new documentary film that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival about advertising. It isn't showing here yet, but I hope it will be soon. In the meantime, you can check out the trailer and visit the film's website. We'll be watching The Persuaders, which is a PBS Frontline documentary on the advertising business. It's getting a little old, but is still quite relevant. You can check out the documentary's website here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What's your favorite brand?

A brand is part of the meaning system of a product or service. Brand refers to the value added to a basic product or service. In this sense Starbucks isn't just a cup of coffee, it is the "place" between home and work. It is the latter that refers to the added value. So perhaps it's not surprising that a recent survey identified the following as the most trusted brands:
1. Johnson & Johnson
2. Sony
3. Apple
4. Colgate
5. Microsoft tied with 6. Coca Cola
7. Toyota
8. Nike tied with 9. Bank of America
10.Target tied with 11. Dell

How does this list gel with your own list of most trusted brands?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Just what is advertising?

I have to admit I’m confused…I’ve been studying advertising for a long time, but I no longer seem to know what it is. If you “Google” the term advertising there is consensus that it refers to the promotion—informing and/or persuading consumers--of a product or service through paid announcements. But when you consider, for example the “dancing babies” video for Evian bottled water, how might we square it with that definition of advertising? The video’s distribution is not paid for, it contains no obvious message (what in advertising, they used to call a selling point), and it lacks persuasive elements and information (product features or benefits). So, how can you call it advertising? What the video does have is an emotional kick, which is intended to provide consumers with a vague association between those positive feelings the video evoked and the brand or product/service. Those feelings may be strong enough that consumers want to spread the word to other consumers.

In this way the advertisement is the consumer herself or himself. And, that is how products and services are being promoted in the 21st Century. This position is confirmed in an August 27, 2009 Wall Street Journal article in which Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP Group, the world's largest (by revenue) advertising firm, who says, “it’s not going to be in 30-second TV ads; it’s not going to be in newspaper or magazine ads; it’s going to be…digital.” So, perhaps a good starting point this semester is to reconcile the traditional definition of advertising with this newer form. Do we even want to call it advertising?

And, what skills do you think it takes to create successful advertising of this kind? I’ve always said that confusion is a mark of intelligence, so it is my hope that through this confusion that you will comment below regarding how you might explain the Evian dancing babies, Cadbury eyebrows, or T-Mobile dance viral videos. I think that would be a good place to begin our semester.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Anyone hungry to learn about advetising? Double Down or Double think

KFC has given us, perhaps, a good place to begin our Introduction to Advertising course. The story goes that KFC is testing a sandwich they call Double Down that places two fried chicken filets on a single sandwich. Oh, and it includes bacon and cheese as well as some secret sauce. Yum, right? If this were a calorie contest the KFC Double Down would probably win over other fast food chains. But this isn’t about calories, fat, cholesterol and salt – all that rational stuff. This advertising campaign is titled, “Unthink,” because KFC is asking consumers to “unthink” what they know about sandwiches. So, perhaps the first place to start this semester is to consider the difference between thinking, which in advertising parlance refers to rational decision making, or as in the case of KFC, unthinking, which is another term for feeling. In advertising parlance behavior based on feelings is non-rational. The difference between the two—rational decision-making and emotionally based behavior—will guide you for the remainder of this course. Check out the commercial and let me know what you think. You can read the article here.