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Business Bureau’s National Advertising Division, or they can directly sue the competitor to either get the offending ad withdrawn or for compensatory damages when they can prove market share has been affected, and of course that the claim is unsubstantiated.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.