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.