Tuesday, November 16, 2010

This is NOT what is meant by seamless integration

Product placement is a technique--perhaps trick--to get an advertising message across to a distracted audience. In other words, while members of a TV audience may turn away physically or mentally when the commercials appear on the screen, or when viewers choose to do something else like go get something to eat, product placement is offered as an antidote. Because the "ad" shows up in the context of the program, viewers cannot escape it (at least theoretically they can't). The product placement above is a really bad example. Here's a link to the full article with two more examples of how not to do this.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Advertising and Social Responsiblity in Network Television

To paraphrase the infamous Jerry Lee Lewis song, “there’s a whole lotta’ cusin’ goin’ on” in broadcast television, at least that’s what the Parents Television Council claims. The PTC just released a report detailing what they believe is an increase in foul language in scripted network television during the 2010 season. What might be of interest to students of advertising is that the PTC believes advertisers should exercise their power over the networks as purchasers of commercial time to, as the report says, “encourage greater responsibility in programming…” Well, ain’t that calling the kettle black. Advertising, which isn’t exactly known as the cornerstone of social responsibility itself, is being called upon to influence network television to be socially responsible. The report acknowledges these two “institutions” are tacitly in cahoots, as the only thing advertisers want is to reach a targeted audience, and the PTC believes that the only way broadcasters can attract those audiences is by pushing the edge of the envelope. Now let me be clear, I’m not a fan of the PTC, but there is a germ of truth to the point that those airwaves used by the networks are public and therefore subject to government rules and regulations. The question for you is: should the TV space be a free-for-all no holes barred arena, or do we as a society need to go beyond the “turn it off if you don’t like it” mindset to establish clear parameters in which broadcasters can operate?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lady Gaga and the Illusion of Intimacy Video

When we consider the ways in which new media impact imaginary social relationships, the illusion of intimacy becomes more intense, as social media require such a high level of disclosure. Beyond disclosure, social media require celebrities to directly address their fans. In this way imaginary social relationships, a term John Caughey coined in the mid-1980s, are amplified. The 24/7 nature of new media suggests that such amplication may lead to greater volatility. Think about how quickly Tiger Woods lost some of his key endorsement deals as we learned of his gross infidelities. Lady Gaga, along with Kim Kardashian and several other celebrities are now masterfully utilizing new media in order to manage their public personae.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Emotions and Celebrity Endorsers

So, I’m really upset--that is to say I’m emotional--right now, because I read this morning that Baltimore-based Under Armour signed New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to a major endorsement deal that includes a owning a piece of the company. What? Tom Brady owns a piece of Baltimore? As a Baltimore Ravens fan, I think that sucks. Moreover, I don’t like Tom Brady on so many levels, and that brings me to the topic of my blog post. I’m speaking tonight about Imaginary Social Relationships we conduct with media figures. Sometimes these relationships are based on liking or love, sometimes on extreme admiration, and in this case it’s out and out hate. There’s an advertising connection here, because I buy Under Armour products, or at least I used to. Now I understand perfectly well that I am not the target audience for the line of products that Brady is going to be hawking for Under Armour. However, throughout the history of advertising endorsers were supposed to be those we admired, those we want to emulate. In fact, emulation is the basis for using famous people as product endorsers. So, what happens when someone like me learns that a nemesis is endorsing “my” brand, or for someone else who may have used a product endorsed by Tiger Woods before his fall from grace, or any number of celebrity endorsers for whom we have over the years changed our opinions from positive to negative. My point here is that using celebrities in advertising is always risky business. If there is a consistency between the celebrity, the product, and a set of values that are shared with the consumer, then perhaps it makes sense to use a celebrity as a spokesperson. But Under Armour just made a Nike fan out of me. Take that Tom Brady.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Calvin Klein is up to their old tricks again

Thank goodness Australia has an advertising standards bureau with the power to ban offensive advertising. In this case Calvin Klein has done it again. This time the offending ad depicts what some might interpret as a woman being raped while one man stands by looking rather nonchalant. In the past CK has been called down for their Heroin Chic campaign featuring super model Kate Moss, and  “kiddie porn” campaign that depicted what looked like underage models in sexually suggestive poses. Turns out, after a U.S. Justice Department investigation, those models were not underage, but you get the point, I think. So why do advertisers have to go to such extremes in order to gain our attention, and is it worth it from either a marketing point of view or from a societal perspective? I really enjoy much advertising, but sometimes campaigns like this really make me wonder. Maybe David Potter was correct way back in 1954 when he described advertising as an institution of abundance that, unlike some other institutions, lacked social responsibility. Although this is not the first ad campaign I’ve seen that depicts women in an intolerable situation, it doesn’t make it okay. I find the return to such a tired, old, and totally inappropriate advertising image, depressing. I hope Calvin Klein doesn’t try those ads out in the United States, although based on passed performance, I wouldn’t put it past them.

Super Bowl 46 Sells Out

You have to be impressed that it isn’t even November and the 2011 Super Bowl commercial inventory is already sold out. Just the other day the remaining two spots were sold at their retail price of $3 million each. The 46th Super Bowl will be played on February 6, 2011 at the new indoors Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. It will be televised live on NBC in the United States and by various other broadcasters around the world. Historically, the worldwide audience hovers around 110 million viewers. Given the state of the U.S. economy, a sell-out is pretty spectacular in my humble opinion. I wish Super Bowl advertising served as a barometer of the economy’s future, however most of the ads are for familiar brands – Pepsi has purchased 6 advertisements. After being absent from the spectacle for two years General Motors is likely to return; that’s a very encouraging sign. But they have a good story to tell and a new tag line “Chevy Runs Deep” to sell. And of course we know there will be some consumer generated advertising (CGA) opportunities to ensure fan engagement. I’ll have more to say about Super Bowl advertising as we move closer to the event. But I’d say that selling out the entire inventory of spots, and these last two at full price, makes me feel very optimistic about the future.

Monday, October 18, 2010

How much does that ad cost?

It's always interesting, I think, to consider how much one 30-second television spot costs on prime-time television. Advertising Age published an article today with the cost per spot for the programs listed above. Which program is the most expensive on which to advertise? American Idol. One 30 second spot on American Idol costs more than $400k, and of course one would never just purchase one spot, as repetition is an important part of the advertising game. By the way, the $400K does not include the cost of producing the commercial, which could easily double that figure.

Friday, October 15, 2010

How do you advertise a commodity?

While creating difference among razors is becoming difficult as manufacturers go from three to four to five blades and beyond, when it comes to commidities like milk, eggs, and veggies the process of creating difference seems unlikely. The "Got Milk" campaign doesn't brand milk, but rather encourages consumption of the category. There are brands of eggs, like Eggland's Best, but what about veggies? Is there a carrot with a difference? The creative folks at Crispen, Porter and Bogusky have come up with a campaign for Baby Carrots that is off the wall, attempting to align carrots with junk food. Novel idea. But I wonder if, beynd the commercial itself, there is anything in a carrot that will make someone turn away from their favorite chip or other snack food. Nevertheless, this is an interesting case study. I always think it's fun to develop creative ideas around products with no discernable differences. Take two quarters, for example. Do you think you could come up with a campaign that makes one 25 cent piece seem better than the other?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Does Grover Smell Like a Monster?

I thought this Sesame Street parody of the Old Spice commercials was a hoot. Thought you might enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

FTC Investigates False and Deceptive Health Claims

It’s like someone turned the lights on at the FTC and FDA, as these agencies have become quite active in their pursuit of false and deceptive advertising. A current complaint relates to the POM Wonderful Pomegranate Juice claim that it treats or prevents diseases including prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction. Is there research to back up these claims? The FTC says no. Government regulation seems to ebb and flow depending on which political party is in office. As a Democratic administration is presently in charge of the White House, we would expect government regulators to be quite active. What is disturbing to some is that in the pursuit of truth and justice, the government is spending the public’s money during a time of fiscal crisis. Consider the FDA’s investigation of Lance Armstrong, the American athlete and winner of the Tour de France. The FTC’s investigation of POM contends that their advertising is misleading, because there is no scientific evidence that the product prevents any disease. The FTC, if it proves POM’s claims to be false, can issue a cease and desist order, which would greatly inhibit the company’s ability to market its products, since the only reason to purchase POM at $3.99 a bottle is because you believe it will prevent or treat a particular disease. Perhaps because of the weak U.S. economy sales of POM, according to one newspaper article, are down 50 percent from a year ago, while advertising expenditures rose 26 percent. This, I would submit, is a good example of the old saw: economics trumps advertising every time. POM executives state on their website they plan to fight, claiming the FTC violated their first amendment rights. While there is no question that the government plays an important role in regulating the marketplace of ideas, it does seem a little odd that agencies lay dormant for so many years (e.g. during the Bush administration) and then become activist when the other political party is in charge, which raises the question: is this regulation or is this politics?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What channel are you watching?

Watching NBC, CBS, Fox? What about the Old Spice channel on YouTube? Now that’s a new one, isn’t it? Hard to believe that, according to an article in Advertising Age, the Old Spice commercials featuring Isaiah Mustafa and his responses to viewers Tweets have garnered 57 million views—yes, your read that correctly, 57 million views. Not only were the initial commercials creative in their use of Mr. Mustafa and their special effects – shot in one take. (Look at one closely to see if you can see any cuts between scenes. You can’t.) What impresses me is the interactive quality between Mr. Mustafa’s video responses to Tweets from celebrities and everyday people (Are they fake. I don’t know, but I don’t care.). There’s pleasure to be had here, and pleasure is the key to engagement. All of this taking place outside of mainstream media. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dazed and Confused by Advertising

Did you ever watch a TV commercial and then say to yourself: “What was that about?” You may not be alone as the trade publication Adweek reported the findings of a poll indicating that “significant numbers of viewers find TV commercials confusing at least some of the time.” This doesn’t surprise me in the least, as my research on advertising related thoughts indicates that we often “get it wrong.” For example, consumers viewing a Doritos commercial, upon being asked to recall the ad may reference it as an ad for Tostitos. That’s an expensive mistake for Doritos. Beyond confusing brands, we don’t pay close attention to advertisements, as there are elements--what I call cues--in advertising that serve to direct our minds elsewhere. I have written about memories and anticipations as the two directions we go in when we are “cued” by ads to think about other things. In other words, while watching an advertisement, or reading one in a magazine for that matter, we may begin to think about something out of our past that has little or nothing to do with the brand, product category, or advertisement. Same thing goes for anticipations. I have described three processes in which consumers either totally blank out when the commercial comes on, fade in and out as the commercial runs, or experience what I call lucid thinking in which the consumer simultaneously watches the commercial and has a thought. All very complicated and perhaps sophisticated activities that I maintain advertising actually trains us to do. But the main point is: no wonder we are confused by the commercials we see; we aren’t paying close attention, and as a result we tend to get it wrong, mixing one brand with another.

Monday, September 20, 2010

New CGA Campaign for 2011 Super Bowl

Pepsi Max will be joining Doritos for a consumer generated advertising competition in which prize money totaling $5 million will be offered to the winning advertisements that score highest in the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Poll. While Doritos has been participating in this venture for several years, Pepsi, which stayed out of last year's Super Bowl, appears ready to take the CGA leap. According to a news report in USA Today, Pepsi Max has suffered from a "somewhat confusing image." The target audience is males who show disdain for products with "diet" emblazoned on them. Pepsi Max competes against Coke Zero in this category. The campaign, according to the news article, isn't so much about boosting sales as increasing awareness and knowledge about the product.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Gatorade takes social media very seriously

The marketing people at PepsiCo, Gatorade's parent company, are taking their social media very seriously by setting up a "mission control" center in the middle of their marketing department's headquarters. This control center allows the company to monitor its brand on social network sites on a 24/7 basis. There are a number of interesting screens reported on the Mashable/SocialMedia website. Marketers like Gatorade want to monitor consumer sentiment in real time in order to evaluate the nature and level of engagement; engagement being all the rage in advertising circles these days. Engagement, you might say, is the new metric (measurement) of advertising effectiveness.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What do Facebook, Multitasking and Advertising Have in Common?

A recent study of college students in the Netherlands concluded that multitasking while studying will likely reduce a student’s grade by 20%. You know the drill: you’re reading your class notes on the computer and every few minutes you switch over the Facebook to see if anything’s going on. Well, that model of multitasking behavior is also the same process through which we consume other media content, like advertising. In other words, we may watch TV and then turn away to focus on the computer when the commercials come on, or engage in any number of related behaviors. The implications for students' grades are clear. But what are the implications for advertisers? I would suggest to you that similar or worse issues arise when it comes to advertising while multitasking with multiple media, if for no other reason, advertising is not a significant part of our lives, at least not as significant as studying for an exam. My study on the subject, Living in an Age of Distraction, describes how difficult consumers find switching back and forth from one medium to another. And, just like the difficulties encountered by college students who multitask while studying, consumers find it difficult to recall the advertisements they have seen. There’s a lot of research starting to emerge regarding the perils of multitasking. Advertisers are already attempting to circumvent what I think are consumers resistance to their messages. Product embeds, although rarely done well, are one approach. But the cat and mouse game between advertiser and consumer goes on; multitasking is just one tactic employed by consumers to resist the reach of advertising. As for multitasking while studying for an exam, well, that's another story.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Comparing ourselves to those who are less than perfect: An advertising conundrum

There is a trend afoot that is worthy of note, I think, because it goes against the grain of the way beauty has been presented--sold--in American culture since the beginning of advertising. The new trend I’m referring to is the depiction of stars without make-up. To date the only time we have been shocked by a make-up-less star is when there is some sort of expose’ in a magazine like People. But now it seems that celebs like Jessica Simpson, who appeared in no makeup on the May cover of Marie Claire, are leading us in a different direction. (Who would have every thought that JS would lead us anywhere?) Turns out those unattainable traits--Angelina Jolie’s lips, for example--are harming both men and women, and may lead to, among other things, eating disorders. But the list of those celebs who appear in advertisements sans make-up are beginning to grow, and advertisers have been led by the use of realistic models like those in the Dove Real Beauty campaign, which stands out as an example of selling against itself in order to sell itself – an interesting contradiction. And, oh by the way, the campaign failed to boost sales significantly. I’ve done some work in the area of social comparison theory—that is the way we use the media in order to measure our own self-worth against what we see in others—and the findings of my research suggest that viewers of TV commercials (the subject of my study) actually prefer more realistic portrayals because the images they see are ones they can identify with. Moreover, the images in some cases are one’s to which they feel superior. That was probably the most interesting finding. My research revolved around men’s reactions to images of the GEICO cavemen, and other what I referred to as “less-than-ideal” images. For the whole history of advertising, emulation was seen as a cornerstone - you know, we look up to the stars. Isn’t it ironic to find in the 21st century that consumers would rather look down at others, rather than up to them. Looking at less than perfect images simply makes consumers feel good and that’s exactly what advertisers want.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A lesson in values-centered advertising from Steve Jobs

As we begin a new academic year, I think it’s appropriate to attend to this timeless lesson in advertising from Apple’s Steve Jobs. In this circa 1997 video Jobs announces a new ad campaign—Think Different—for Apple computers, he tells us that advertising is not about promoting a product’s features, rather it is about communicating values. That’s a time-trusted vision of advertising’s role offered up many years ago by Albert Lasker, who built the advertising business into what it became in the 20th Century, and it is an approach best exemplified by brands like Coke and Nike. However, with new social media quickly becoming advertising friendly—and new digital ad agencies popping up all over the place—advertising in the 21st Century is beginning to look quite different. Values-based advertising? Perhaps. More likely the instant gratification offered by a message on your mobile phone will more likely rule. Values-centered advertising may be usurped as marketers increasingly employ geo-location, behavioral tracking, SEO and other means and methods to narrowcast a message directly to you when you are in the best physical position to take advantage of an offer. These technical newer approaches, like Facebook Places and Foresquare, among many others, seem to lack the emotional connection Jobs talks about in the video; perhaps these newer approaches are appropriate for the hard economic times in which we live. I don’t know if emotionally driven, values centered advertising is on the wane, but it is clear that new approaches that take advantage of new social media and associated technologies are on the rise.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I'm taking a blogging break...

I'm off to Europe to present my latest research on masculinity and advertising, and I won't be blogging during the summer months. The blog will resume in September.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tiger Woods - He's Back!

Tiger Woods returned to the world of golf this week, and he returned to the world of advertising with this commercial for Nike. The commercial is a strange one as it has nothing to do with the brand, at least there's nothing "brand worthy" that I can discern. It seems to me like a favor one does for a friend who has fallen and needs help getting up. I've utilized the religious metaphor for resurrection for the ways in which we treat some fallen media figures whose stature we want to see restored. Tiger Woods certainly is not the first media figure to have fallen off the proverbial bar stool, only to later see his media persona restored. Well, we'll have to see what happens with TW. The gossip mill still seems to be churning this story, and of course, we'll have to see how well he does in his return to golf. One of these will likely affect the other. By that I mean, if he does well in the Masters, many people will lose their interest in the gossip. Done Deal. If he fails to make the cut, however, there will be a lot of finger wagging. Will other brands join Nike? We'll have to wait and see. Nike is taking a bit of a risk. The last thing they'd want to do is harm the brand. But sticking by a friend is a noble gesture, and the company may score some points for that. Let's hope Tiger does the same.

Behavior Placement - The new product placement

We’ve recently been discussing the power of celebrity, in particular the imaginary relationships we form and maintain with media figures. Sometimes those relationships provide the motivation to use a particular product or cut your hair in a way that emulates the celebrity, among many other possibilities. NBC television appears to understand the potential influence of television characters and the stars that portray them as they enter into a Faustian bargain with marketers by including politically and socially correct messages in programming, something they call “behavior placement.”  Behavior placement, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal, is not unlike something we’ve talked about – product placement. The idea is that by including politically or socially correct ideas, like going green, within storylines the network wants to kill two proverbial birds with one stone: they want to influence behavior, and they want to use these ideological positions to sell advertising. The article describes one scenario where a hybrid vehicle is featured in a particular dramatic context. Including something that subtle may be appealing to hybrid automakers that may, on that very basis, choose to buy advertising time during the program. The network has announced they will include within regularly scheduled programs features on healthy eating and exercise. Again, scenarios are being written into scripts in order to create a symbiotic relationship between what the viewer should do (exercise regularly) and what the advertiser wants the consumer to do (purchase Healthy Choice meals). This sounds a lot like propaganda to me. NBC, I guess, can feel good that they are touting ideas about health and the environment, but their motives simply are not pure. I’m curious to see if I can pick up any of these idea “placements.” But I guess that means I’ll have to actually pay close attention to what’s on the scene; something I really don’t like to do.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Product Over-Placement

I know that by now you’re familiar with the Lady Gaga video featuring a jar of Miracle Whip. The video is replete with brands, some of which paid for their placement in the video and others who did not. In the case of Miracle Whip, they paid, because the brand is entering into a campaign to reposition the product to reach a younger audience, and Lady Gaga certainly reaches a younger audience.

The recently launched iPad, too, has found its way into television programs, like Modern Family. A Wall Street Journal article reports research by Nielsen indicating that Apple products have found placement “722 times on TV programs last year.” The article goes on to report that Apple never pays for product placement.

The New York Times reports in a similar vein that movie producers are moving in the direction of using more and more product placements. Not that they didn’t use them before, but now scripts are being written with products in mind. Although, product placement isn’t going to go away, from a larger perspective the over-commercialization of the culture is in my opinion not a particularly good thing. Can materialism go to too far? I guess I’m of a mind that we get the culture we deserve, so if consumers are willing to tolerate product placement, then we can expect more of it.  That is what the animated film Logorama that I wrote about a few weeks ago was trying to point out. In the case of product placement, freebees or paid, should the marketer participate in this system, which is somewhat symbiotic? In other words, is there a place for restraint and perhaps social responsibility? But writing scripts with products in mind and the over-placement of products in various media, to my way of thinking, may be overkill. Anyone want to start a movement?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Where are you geolocated?

Geographical location software enabled mobile phones, simply known as geolocation, is the latest rage in social networking. You can be somewhere in the city and let your “network of friends" know where you are located: at a restaurant, bar, etc. It’s kind of like Twitter on the go. And with some of the apps like FourSquare you can earn points toward some sort of reward. There are other services like Gowalla and Loopt that perform similarly. The software is free for your iPhone, Blackberry, and some other mobile devices.

There’s yet a newer twist to geolocation with a marketing twist. Advertising Age reports that companies like Proctor & Gamble, Kraft and Citi have been employing this software since December in the name of charity. In other words, the Ad Age article reports you not only check in with your friends, now you can check in with Kraft salad dressing or Gillette razors by scanning the product codes with your mobile phone. Seems bizarre, but people are doing it, as these companies have given over $200K per month to charity in exchange for consumer complicity. Is this a good idea? I don’t know. But if you project into the future and consider Facebook or Twitter in an anytime and everywhere environment – why not? Keep an eye out for this one, or try it out and let me know what you think. As for me, I think I’ll keep my location private.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This is Stupid

This is really stupid. I mean really really stupid. Anytime an advertiser in response to criticism of a campaign slogan has to resort to explaining what they mean by that slogan, the campaign is doomed. As Forrest Gump used to say, "Stupid is as stupid does." This is really stupid. Let me know what you think.

Keeping up with The Jones

There's a new movie  that is relevant to recent discussions regarding new ways to market products. The Joneses is a story about a family that really isn't a family. Rather, they are pretending to be a family living in a "normal" neighborhood and acting, well, neighborly, but all the while they are stealth marketers. Turns out the faux family has been placed in the neighborhood in order to sell products. You can watch the trailer for the movie here. Stealth marketing, sometimes referred to as "undercover marketing" takes place when the audience is not aware they are the object of a promotion. For example, you could be walking down a city street and someone comes up to you and asks you to take their photo with a camera, all the while they are speaking to you about the virtues of the camera. It's a form of one-to-one marketing that speaks to an interesting form of consumer engagement.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Social Media is Not a Panacea

Just because engagement is the new metric in advertising circles, doesn’t mean all the numbers point upward. There is risk involved when companies and organizations embrace new media; social media are no panacea. Take two recent cases in which Nestles and Kmart were attacked for disparate reasons, but attacked nevertheless. In the case of Nestles, the issue revolved around the company’s use of palm oil in its products for which an attack was launched by the environmental group Greenpeace. With regard to Kmart, the issue revolved around an online coupon that consumers thought could be utilized at any Kmart store; turns out they couldn’t, turns out it could only be used at select stores. Perhaps you wouldn’t think something like this would make consumers angry, but it did. I’ve provide a link to an article on The Consumerist so you can read some of the vitriolic comments. What’s the take away? The good news is that social media provide consumers with a direct way to communicate with the company, and in turn a company or organization can evaluate how they are doing in the public’s eye. On the other hand, consumers and other groups can band together to launch an attack on the brand. For professional communicators, the issue is how to manage all of this. As social media a relatively new for many companies and organizations, it’s important to understand fully their implications in marketing communication programs, and remember that measurement is not always in the upward direction.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Warren Buffett creates "wonder" for GEICO

This one is too good to pass up. Warren Buffett is perhaps the third richest man in the world. He is Chairman of Berkshire-Hathaway, a holding company that owns many other companies, including GEICO. And, he is in his 70s! GEICO has a new phase of its campaign running, featuring Warren Buffet doing an impression of Axl Rose from Guns N Roses. It's a hoot; beats a gecko any day. And, the song isn't half bad.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Thinking about advertising: memories and anticipations

One of the blogs I follow today reported that water consumption went up dramatically during the end of the second and third periods of the U.S./Canadian hockey game held during the recent winter Olympics. What they were referring to is the proverbial bathroom break. The idea that people use commercial breaks to do things other than watch the commercials is not new. Other researchers have provided similar evidence of such activities during football games in the United States, attributable mostly to beer consumption. Such activities are what I call “routine practices” surrounding media consumption, including bathroom breaks, making phone calls, texting, shifting to another medium while multitasking, or talking to friends or family members in the room, among other social practices.

Other things we do while the commercials are on include thinking, daydreaming, or fantasizing. Think, daydream or fantasize about what? Other things. In my book Advertising in Everyday Life, I write about the kinds of thoughts we have when we consume advertising, mainly thinking about the past (memories) or anticipating the future. There are elements of advertisements (visual, verbal or textual) that serve as cues, sending viewers off to what I like to refer to as “never-never land.”

All of these activities—thinking, talking, texting, etc.—comprise the ritualistic practices of media consumption. It is in this way that consumers are to some extent empowered to do what they want with and through their media experiences. What consumers want doesn’t always go along with what the advertiser desires, which is to have consumers pay close attention to the advertisements. While consumers develop elaborate social practices as a part of their media rituals, advertisers attempt to seek newer ways to contain and control them. This is what I call the “cat and mouse” game between consumers and advertisers. And, with new media coming online, meaning more distractions and the development of additional practices, the system grows in complexity.

It is difficult for some people to get in touch with their thoughts while they are consuming media, but if one practices, over time the skill can be acquired. It’s an interesting exercise through which we learn much about media rituals and about ourselves.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Logorama: life in an overly materialistic world

Logorama won the academy award for best animated short. Anyone interested in advertising, branding or any aspect of marketing communication should see this short film. The film represents an apocalyptic vision of a world that is over-saturated with logos. The number of familiar characters and brands--there are 2500 logos represented--is simply amazing to see as the film's story unfolds. The film's producer, Nicolas Schmerkin, said in one web-site report, the film is
"not about America. It's about our modern western world. So it also applies to France and Buenos Aires, where I am from, so it's not about Americans. It's about the way we live and the way we react to these logos. The brain can register 14 logos in less than one second. Making the logos characters with sets and props is about what we're living. I'm not talking about what the logos represent. They're used for what they are."
I have to warn you that the language is R-rated. But the film makes an important statement about the overly materialistic world we live in and the consequences of abundance.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The crunch of Cheerios is that of two worldviews clashing

The FDA, which regulates prescription medications, also regulates health claims made by food manufacturers. In this case the makers of Cheerios have been called on the carpet, so to speak, for claiming that eating the cereal can reduce the risk of heart disease. An opinion article in The Wall Street Journal reports, “their mistake (the makers of Cheerios) was boasting that the cereal could help reduce the risk of heart disease ‘by lowering the ‘bad’ cholesterol.’”  While there may be some sound science behind that claim, the opinion piece goes on to report that the main issue was “making specific reference to cholesterol levels, something that’s typically treated by a drug.” In the larger sense the issue is whether to regulate or not to regulate, which is a topic members of our advertising class have been discussing over the past week or so. If you were to read the 38 comments on the Web that were associated with the Journal article you would experience the vitriol of politically conservative readers who think the government goes to far in regulating both food and drugs. But we are presently living in times where the FDA is more activist on such issues and consumers can expect health claims by food manufacturers to be more closely scrutinized than in the recent past. No one would argue that presenting the health benefits of food is a bad thing, especially when it comes to nutrition and diet. But when manufacturers make claims that place that product in the role of medications, conflicts arise – is it a food or is it a drug? Again, in the larger scheme, the issue relates to how restrictive the FDA should be with regard to health claims made by food manufacturers, and it gives students of advertising an opportunity to see the political pendulum swing from the right to the left.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Campbells goes deep for soup

The subject of neuromarketing first came up in the discussion and assignment on the video The Persuaders. The Wall Street Journal reports today how Campbell Soup is using neuromarketing techniques to get consumers to buy more soup, which it turns out is a slow growing category. The article reports that Campbell has been studying “microscopic changes in skin moisture, heart rate and other biometrics to see how consumers react to everything from pictures of bowls of soup to logo design." This approach is a far cry from the traditional focus group or consumer attitudinal survey. And, it goes beyond the kinds of deep psychological analysis utilized by Clotaire Rapaille. I first became aware of neuromarketing when medical turned marketing researches utilized MRIs to study consumer reactions to television commercials.
Researchers could see what areas of the brain “lit up” as the commercial progressed. This allowed the advertiser to edit the commercial for maximum emotional effect. Clearly, we are going to see more of this as marketers utilize multiple techniques to get inside our heads. This is not about consumer psychology; it’s about biometric responses to marketing issues. Welcome to the future.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Toyota Engages NASCAR fans

I don’t know about you, but the several feet of snow in front of my house is really inhibiting my lifestyle. I’m spending even more time than usual with popular culture, including lots of unavoidable advertising. Which brings me to my viewing of the Daytona 500 NASCAR race on Sunday, which was a sheer act of desperation. I cannot think of anything more boring than watching automobile racing. Yes, I know it’s the fastest growing sport (is it a sport?) in the United States. But don’t count me among its fans. One of the ads I saw was for Toyota racing, which directed the viewer to their website. It’s a really interactive website, and provides a good example of participatory advertising. In particular, I was drawn to the “Design it. Enter it” link that enabled the participant to do all kinds of fun things to a race car. And when finished, you can submit it to a contest. I spent a good deal of time playing around with this pretty cool feature (you can now tell I’m really stir-crazy!). I bring this to your attention, because I spent a considerable amount of time with this brand, and that’s the goal of participatory advertising: to create deep engagement that is sustained over time. Engagement is the new metric (way to measure) advertising effectiveness. We all know that most 30-second commercials go in one ear and out the other, so if an advertiser can get you to participate with their brand in some form or fashion over a sustained period of time, the likely result is deep engagement. Different brands go about it different ways – Starbucks is the pre-eminent user of multiple engagement platforms. But this Toyota website is a good example of how the “new” advertising works. Check it out and let me know what you think – even if you aren’t a fan of Danica Patrick.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Virtual Goods and the Loss of Touch

Kinesics is the study of body language and in that gestures. Simply put a gesture is a cultural practice, like greeting someone by shaking his or her hand. But in our postmodern society, gestures take on new meaning as those who frequent Facebook or Second Life or some other on-line “world” that allows for what may be referred to as virtual gestures. Among the many ways gestures, virtual or authentic, are utilized is to show emotion. And, so on Valentine’s Day, one might give or receive virtual flowers--an emotional gesture--through Facebook. You may think this is absurd, but the virtual goods market is now $1.5 billion per year, according to a post on TechCrunch.

I'm bringing this phenomenon to your attention to point out the way virtual gestures connect to postmodern advertising. If the kind of virtual goods that are being sold aren’t about the product—remember the product is virtual—then what else is it about? Well, one thing is the emotion associated with the gesture. I think that emotions associated with gesturing go back before there were such things as virtual goods. In my book Advertising in Everyday Life I write about the loss of tactility that accompanied the development of mass-produced goods. By loss of tactility, I’m referring to our removal from the means of production – we no longer make our own stuff. And, because of packaging, we are unable to see or touch products we purchase, as just about everything comes sealed in a box. So, in my opinion the act of purchasing goods has been “virtual” for a long time; services because they are intangible to begin with, have always been virtual by my definition. So, virtual goods are no big deal in my opinion, just an extension of a cultural practice—gesture—that is more than 100 years old. What has replaced our ability to “touch” products is advertising. Yes, in a postmodern sense we touch advertising through our participation with it. Whether it’s consumer generated advertising or simply voting, which I’ve written about in this blog, these are both gestures. So, I think that purchasing virtual goods is novel, but the ideas upon which it is based are not new. I think, like postmodern advertising, tactility and in that gestures have taken on extended meaning.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Diesel Jeans are Wicked Stupid

We’ve spent much time discussing advertising that is either rational/intellectual in its orientation, meaning that it contains useful information that is intended to help consumers make purchase decisions, or advertising that is emotional, meaning that it tugs on your heart strings in order to make a connection to the consumer with the idea that consumers are likely to purchase products and services to which they feel the closest and with which they identify themselves e.g. “I’m a PC or I’m a Mac.”

Now comes Diesel, best known for their jeans, with an ad campaign that beckons the consumer to be stupid. In fact, that’s the tag line: “Be Stupid.” The idea behind the campaign is summed up in a copy line from one of the ads: “Smart listens to the head. Stupid listens to the heart.” The implication, I think, is that listening to the head, isn’t much fun. Listening to the heart, however, can be. In other words, feeling is much easier than thinking. The campaign continuously plays on this theme by developing constructs for us: brains vs. balls; what is vs. what could be; plans vs. stories; and no vs. yes. Each of these suggests the same thing – decisions are better left to the emotions. Not a particularly original message, but one that upon review of the campaign you might find engaging.

If advertisers can dislodge us from our rational selves (if you even believe there is one?) they are better able to manipulate our emotions. Feelings are fickle, but rational thought is not. Nudging consumers into an emotional corner is, if fact, the goal of much advertising that seeks to contain and control the consumer.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Toyota and Tylenol Are Not the Same

A classic case study in the history of public relations is the handling by Johnson and Johnson of the Tylenol tragedy in which capsules laced with cyanide were discovered to be the cause of death of seven people in the Chicago area. Because of J&J’s swift action, pulling Tylenol off the shelves of the nation’s retailers, the company in time was able to bring the product back to market and restore the brand’s image. In other words, they utilized a recall and continuous communication from top management to turn a tragedy into a public relations success story. That was 1983.

Fast forward to 2010 and Toyota, by some accounts, is employing similar tactics in halting production and sales of eight of its vehicles. That action is in addition to the massive recall of several million vehicles. According to one pr case book I consulted, the lessons of the Tylenol incident include: candor with the public, integrity of the brand, proactive leadership by management, and effective feedback mechanisms. So, many companies, including GM, Firestone, Johns Manville and Proctor and Gamble, chose in years past not to follow what in retrospect seems like the commonsense public relations practiced by J&J.

But I don’t think the problem that J&J faced and the one Toyota faces are as parallel as some seem to think. First, J&J’s problem was domestic;  Toyota’s is global. Communication media are vastly different now, especially with regard to the ways in which consumers participate in the process. Just do a Twitter search on the word “Toyota” to see what people are saying about the recall. Or go to YouTube and view some of the myriad videos that have been posted regarding this issue. J&J was better able to control the output of their communication, to offer up their corporate leader as chief spokesperson, and to time their communication efforts to their advantage. With Toyota, the media environment is 24/7. And, everyone is or can be a spokesperson on the issue: the president of Toyota doesn’t command any more presence or authority than Joe the Blogger. In an age of participatory media, it will be interesting to see how this issue unfolds and whether or not it will become a model for a world enveloped by social media, and whether like Tylenol, it will find a place in the annals of future public relations textbooks. 

Monday, January 25, 2010

Voting and the Super Bowl

Super Bowl advertising continues to evolve both in terms of who is advertising and the nature of the ads themselves. To the first point, it appears that at least to some extent the old guard is out, as venerable Super Bowl advertisers like Pepsi are out this year. The event is becoming a place where lesser-known brands, well, like Hyundai are choosing to make a big splash. In fact that may be what super bowl advertising is all about – creating an impact that otherwise would be difficult to achieve. Aligning a brand with such an important cultural ritual like watching the super bowl can skyrocket brand awareness. GoDaddy.com is one such brand that comes to mind. But for products like Pepsi, where awareness levels are already quite high, there isn’t much the Super Bowl can do for the brand. Pepsi has, this year, opted for a different route to brand building. To the second point, I’ve noticed the continuation of a trend in Super Bowl advertising that relates to this blog’s title – participatory advertising. There appears to be several if not many opportunities for consumers to vote in and around Super Bowl advertising. For example, in a previous blog post I pointed to Careerbuilder.com as a website where one could vote for their favorite commercial, the winner will air on the Super Bowl. Doritos has been employing this technique for three years and continues with its “Crash the Super Bowl” promotion. Voting is a cultural ritual that we usually think of when considering the election of political candidates. As advertising can also be considered a social practice--another term for ritual which I write about in my book Advertising in Everyday Life--it is perhaps understandable why advertisers want consumers to participate in advertising in a somewhat similar way as another cultural ritual – voting. The ability to step into the polling booth and cast your vote for a political candidate is a form of personal empowerment. This practice – voting – also works in the world of advertising where marketers want to empower consumers, at least on the symbolic level. So, the Super Bowl represents a unique opportunity to step into the polling booth, metaphorically, and vote for your favorite advertisement, becoming an empowered consumer. But to what end, I ask?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Caught with your pants down follow-up

Who would have thought that guys caught with their pants down or conversely being encouraged to “wear the pants” would be such a vital trend in advertising. As pointed out in my previous blog post, I have kept track of nearly three-dozen commercials over a period of years that depict guys caught in public with their pants down. And, I have described the use of this technique in my academic research as a way of debasing masculinity: masculine gender identity becomes like raw skin irritated by a dull razor and no shave cream. Just as the trend looked like it was picking up steam again—see the two ads in the previous post—Dockers comes along with an about to be launched Super Bowl campaign that encourages men to simply “wear the pants.” So what is a man to do: wear the pants or take them off in public? Metaphorically, wearing the pants is aligned with traditional masculinity as in the male “wears the pants in the family.” Wearing the pants would assign the male the role of breadwinner; chief wage earner. But we know that is not based on fact given what the recession in the late-eighties/early nineties did to men’s ability to obtain gainful employment; same for this current recession where men have been displaced from their jobs at a greater rate than women. In fact a recent Pew report says 22 percent of men with "some college" are now outearned by their wives. So the message expressed in the Dockers ad campaign in based on a myth. But much advertising is mythic in quality; myth being another word for a lie. The Dockers ad theme is based on a male fantasy and the idea is consistent with what Susan Faludi wrote in her book Stiffed about men becoming “ornaments.” No longer are many men the sole or even major breadwinner in their families, so the only way they can recoup their virility is to, in this case, wear Dockers. While the phrase “wear the pants” may be strong in tone, it is offered to a weakened male consumer. The advertisement in this way offers recompense for the male consumer’s lost status in society. Advertising, and in that purchasing Dockers, in this instance becomes the solution to his personal problem – loss of status. Furthermore, the counter messages offered by the sum total of all this advertising—pants off/pants on—is to send a message of confusion to males – which is it? In this way masculinity becomes problematic for the consumer as these and other advertisements raise the question: who am I? The only way to answer is to purchase the product. As Faludi might suggest: men have become mere ornaments.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Caught with their pants down: Men in advertising

This blog is titled Participatory Advertising because consumers are taking a more active role in the advertising process as demonstrated by consumer generated advertising (CGA) and myriad opportunities via dedicated web sites and social networking sites to interact directly with brands. Careerbuilder is one company that is “pre-gaming” the Super Bowl with a campaign that asks consumers to view three commercials and vote for the one they like the best, which will appear on the Super Bowl. In this way, the company empowers consumers, allowing them to participate in the construction of meaning and experience. This is a direction that advertising has been following for a short while and one that I have been documenting in my blog. But I also want to point out Careerbuilder commercials that represents a trend that I have been following for several years; that is, commercials that literally depict men in public without their pants.

Careerbuilder is the latest brand to join use this tactic. I wrote an academic paper on this subject in which I deconstructed more than two-dozen commercials that depicted men in public without their pants. I concluded that the tactic was an opportunity to strip men of their masculinity—literally and figuratively—and rebuild them (metaphorically) into the consumers advertisers wish them to be. In my paper I write critically of this approach, which I think serves as an irritant that diminishes masculinity and makes it problematic. When you look at the commercial, I’m certain you’ll think it’s humorous. But if you can get past the humor, consider that commercials like this one are aired several if not many times, and if you consider the number of commercials that utilize this among other emasculating tactics (see the Identity Guard commercial below), perhaps you’ll understand where my criticism comes from.

Oh, and to reinforce the issue check out this American Idol audition. As we begin our course this semester, we will be considering issues regarding the depiction of gender, race, ethnicity and sexuality in advertising. The treatment of males is as good a place as any to begin.

Friday, January 8, 2010

As the Domino's fall, so goes advertising

I have to admit that I was absolutely appalled by this advertisement for Domino’s pizza in which members of a “focus group” talk about the shortcomings of the product. Of course, the commercial resolves this dilemma by declaring that Domino’s has changed for the better. But whatever happened to the logic of “don’t ever let them see you sweat”? In other words, why would any company air their dirty laundry—in particular the shortcomings of their product—on national television and beyond? But in the new world of advertising there is no place for logic. While some advertising is interested in creating meaning for consumers, other advertising is simply interested in creating a visceral reaction – an experience. Whether or not that visceral reaction is positive or negative doesn’t seem to matter, because in this age of distraction, you first have to get the attention of consumers by whatever means you can muster. In my book Advertising in Everyday Life, I write about a three-step process--wonder leads to consent, which leads to participation--that extends beyond the kind of cause and effect reasoning of earlier advertising processes, sometimes referred to as the hierarchy of effects. What interests me about the Domino’s advertising campaign isn’t just the television commercial, the 897 comments (to date) the ad received and the 200,000 hits the commercial received on YouTube have to be considered as a form of engagement. And, beyond the commercial and the buzz it created through “new media,” we must consider the almost five minute segment that the campaign received on The Colbert Report.

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Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Alpha Dog of the Week - Domino's Pizza

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Even though Colbert’s segment is a snarky attack on the logic of the ad campaign, I don’t think that offended Domino’s executives in the least. Having said that, I would love to have been a fly on the wall when the advertising agency convinced the Domino’s brand manager that this was a good way to go. The approach simply defies logic, but the new advertising dictates that logic be thrown out the window, replaced by attention getting ploys that are intended to engage consumers through their own participation with the ad campaign. That's the way the new advertising works.