Friday, March 27, 2009

Survey Time

To whom it may concern,

Myself and several other Suffolk University students are conducting a survey about how people get their mail. As part of a semester long project for a class on Advertising Campaigns we are looking to gather information primarily from homeowners. The survey is 5 pages long, about 50 questions, and should take between 10 and 15 minutes to complete. Further, if you wouldn't mind passing it onto other homeowners you know we would greatly appreciate it.

Click Here to take survey

Thank you,

Suffolk Ad Students

Friday, March 20, 2009

Obama ≠ Brand

Obama a President not a brand I say?

The notion of Obama as a brand is sexy. Articles in Time, Newsweek, Fast Company, The Herald Tribune, AdAge and countless blogs including and have all found great stories in the similarities between Obama’s presidential campaign and the marketing world. Further, they offer insights into how his campaign may have valuable lessons for marketers!

The idea that political campaigns can be conceived of as brands is nothing new. Today, however, we seem to be more enchanted with this idea than ever. Probably because it feels clever, and arguably it is - Obama is after all the first presidential candidate we’ve had that had with his own logo (I don’t count Bush’s W for several reasons). Further, in a consumer oriented economy this logic is the zeitgeist of our era - during the industrial revolution everything was described in terms of how they were like machines - and it makes sense to frame things in this way.

But, campaigns are not quite marketing campaigns, and Obama is not exactly a brand himself either, and in the excitement I think that we tend to ignore where corporate brands and political campaigns do not line up. In my ongoing studies of the Obama campaign I’ve made some observations about the differences. Here are just a few.

First, what is being sold? Voting for president is a high involvement decision with a high, and unique cost. People have strong emotions about politics and a lot invested in the outcome of an election – we’re being sold the future not a jacket. Some people were looking to “buy” hope and change, but as much as Coke and Pepsi try they cannot promise the same national and even global return on these commodities that Obama could. Therefore soda has much more trouble getting people to invest strongly and deeply emotionally in their brands. Families don’t split on soda the same way they do about politics. Further, the cost of a vote is more intangible than money. We all have one, but only one. A coupon for Obama wouldn’t get a McCain supporter to “try it out.” Presidential candidates are a product category so removed from anything else that I’m not sure it’s a category at all.

Nike and Apple do not exist in a state of constant crisis communication. Campaigns fire back and forth every day over every medium. Moreover, the media discussed the events 24/7, bringing in surrogates and pundits to discuss image and policy issues for every news cycle. Corporate brands simply do not exist in the same information environment as politics, and therefore their communication strategies will no doubt need to be significantly different.

Finally, campaigns are made of multiple, interlocking, overlapping identities. First Obama’s identity was defined both by the combination of his campaign’s message and his party affiliation. After winning the nomination his identity changed once again as his context changed, he was the same product sure, but in the entirely new market of the general election – and was thus perceived differently. Then his choice of Joe Biden as the vice presidential nominee had a significant impact on his image (as Did Sarah Palin for John McCain). Further, endorsement of unions, fellow politicians and celebrities all added up to much more than 4 out of 5 doctors prefer Crest or Tiger Woods on a Wheaties box.

These ideas are still quite fluid for me and I’d welcome some outside perspectives on this (especially if they disagree). There are certainly many parallels between political campaigns and marketing, and they are quite valuable. Moreover, I believe there is a lot that the Obama “ahem” brand can offer to marketers in terms of insight. But, I think we need to be clear about the differences if we are to really learn from the comparison.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Problems you didn’t even know you had.

Things like this (see below and corresponding comments on website) always make me wish advertising had a better track record. Or at least wasn't perceived so negatively. As if it's the ultimate enemy of real culture. Don't ads make some aspects of culture possible in the first place? Or if the Met advertises would these same critics still take issue? I don't mean to be flip, I just wish there were more dialogue.

Maybe we need to start advertising advertising...? It's dripping with irony. It's rebellious. It's antidisestablishmentarianism. The kids will learn to spell that and put it on their skate boards!

Probably a bad idea...

via Indexed

PS I love Indexed. I hope I did not unintentionally insinuate otherwise above.

Shout Out Returned

A friend of mine graciously cited me in a post of his, and I thought I would return the favor by passing it around. It's a great piece that I really had nothing to do with, but he gave me a shout out. So here's to you Derek Gildea! and your fabulous post.

Keeping up with the Technology Curve

<-- The man himself.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Dear Jon to the Media

Dear TV News Media,

Hi, this is the millennial generation and I think we should talk. I know that we’ve been growing more distant over the years. And well, try as you might, you have no idea how to give us what we want – though we tell you that it’s just for you to do your job – so we (the largest generation in American history) are leaving you. Also, we’d like to say that it’s not us, it’s you. In fact, it’s pretty much all your fault.

FOX, we never really liked you anyways; even young conservatives change the channel. MSNBC, Brokaw was great, but when was the last time Chris Matthews didn’t talk? CNBC, you’re so done, sorry. CNN, nobody likes Lou Dobbs; seriously who watches that? And the “No Bias, No Bull” with Campbell Brown... please just call it the News with Campbell Brown. Finally, C-Span and BBC, any chance we can find you in the HD channels? I’m kidding... not really though.

You tried to win us back CNN, when you tried “D. L. Hughley Breaks the News,” but what we love about guys like Jon Stewart is not just the funny, but also the actual news. Why, we ask again and again and again: why do we hear about the most important news items to us from JON and not YOU? Why do we get insightful opinion from JON and not YOU? We know the Daily Show is not news, and we don’t really want it to be either (and neither does Jon for that matter). But YOU drop the ball seemingly every time! So what choice do we have?

Stewart’s most recent interview with Jim Cramer is a great example of our problem here, but for a reason you might not expect. You didn’t get what we loved about it. Cramer thought Jon was attacking him, but he was attacking the whole industry, YOU. All your commentary afterwards was about who “won” the interview, and you missed that Stewart and all of us were laughing (and disappointed) with YOU. The clips from CNBC that Stewart played showed tacky graphics and overproduced promos for alleged news shows that amounted to nothing more than reading press releases from these big companies they are supposed to be reporting on. Afterwards you should have gone and looked in the mirror.

Most nights Stewart doesn’t have to try to make jokes, he simply plays clips from your 24 hour news casts and we laugh, because unedited they are hilarious and absurd. In fact, we’ve noticed that these days he focuses on criticizing the media rather than politics and the news, and we laugh and laugh. But then we get a little sad, because it’s not satire, it’s real and you really have no idea. You are awful at your job and we all hurt because of it.

I guess what I’m saying is that until you get yourself together, we’re leaving. Not for Jon in particular, but for news like his. I’m sorry it had to happen like this, But, it was just a matter of time.


Most everyone born between 1976 – 1996.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Music w/ Great Videos

Below are a handful of what I consider to be great music videos; most are visually amazing, some tell a great story and others are just fun. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

The Raveonettes - Black + White via pan-dan.

Chase & Status feat. Kano - Against All Odds via Vimeo

Assassins – Guilty via Vimeo

The Wallburds - "Hourglass"via Vimeo

Coeur de Pirate - Comme des enfants via Vimeo

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Innovative Ideas

Matthew Waldman of Nooka, a design agency (or lifestyle brand), discusses the importance of understanding your motivation in terms of information architecture, designing to be more intuitive, and expressing core values. I think there are some really insightful ideas here.

2/27/09 Matthew Waldman from CreativeMornings on Vimeo.

Umair Haque is "Director of the Havas Media Lab, a new kind of strategic advisor that helps investors, entrepreneurs, and firms experiment with, craft, and drive radical management, business model, and strategic innovation." It's rather long but a really interesting look at how the economy may be shifting and what types of innovations will be at the forefront of a new type of capitalism.

Umair Haque @ Daytona Sessions vol. 2 - Constructive Capitalism from Daytona Sessions on Vimeo.

Both via swissmiss

The Language of Brands

In a previous post I threw out some ideas about the unique ways in which Millennials interact with brands. Among other things I said, that “[Millennials] are fluent in brands. We know the symbols, their messages, and the communities associated with them.” The basic assumption here being that our culture has adopted the language of brands. And, I thought I should go into more depth about what I think that means.

Our world as we know it is constructed with symbols. The theorist and philosopher Kenneth Burke described human beings as “symbol-using animals.” Or, as he later concedes in his chapter, “Definition of Man,” perhaps more accurately we should add “symbol-making, and symbol-misusing,” as well. From simple mathematics where x represents an unknown quantity to more complex symbols intrinsic to our culture, they are by nature devices of substitution and abbreviation.

These ideas fit well with the conceptualization of memory as an “associative network” of nodes, as described by Kevin Lane Keller. This theory describes how meaning attaches to symbols – explaining that each symbol we encounter has a specific memory node in our brain, and connected to this node, with varying degrees of strength, are other nodes (or sets of nodes) that together contribute to our understanding of the central symbol node. And, Keller argues, branding is about connecting symbols and meaning to products and services. Thus, just like all other symbols, in memory a brand would have a “brand node” with a web of associated nodes linked to it, that in turn add to its meaning.

This begs the question then, with brands as numerous and pervasive as they have become in the 21st century, to what extent do we use this sophisticated symbol set of brands to communicate and create meaning? And further, is this a good or a bad thing?

While I shudder at first to think that Coke and Pepsi may have just as much meaning to me as Starry Night, it seems almost undeniable. And, I have to wonder about the impact of this on culture at large. When Andy Warhol created his Campbell’s Soup series it was said that he elevated “vulgar” pop culture to art. Yet, of this series Warhol said, “I wanted to paint nothing... and the soup can was it.” So was pop-culture art or not then? Did it have value or not? As the Campbell brand was a corporate construction to sell a product and therefore without any "real" meaning behind it - soup is pretty much soup -I'd say he was arguing the latter.

Beyond this, Sarah Nardi asks, “How much of the burden of responsibility are we [the audience] willing to bear? Do we see a soup can or do we want to see a meditation on nihilism?” (Ad Busters Nov/Dec 2008). Are we drowning in a soup of manufactured culture that is at its core meaningless – as Esquire’s famous cover might suggest – or can we see the soup as something of value because regardless it still means something to us?

It seems to me that we are seldom willing to bear the burden of finding meaning, but we are certainly open to being told. With Campbell’s, a meaning that we generally accept has been deliberately constructed for the brand. For many, Campbell Soup does not represent “nothing,” (as perhaps it should?), but something very real, and with very real experiences and emotions attached to it.

Therefore, I would argue that, while fundamentally brands stand for nothing and are without truth (because they were constructed to be facades), today we the consumers are causing this to become less and less true. Because brands are so pervasive, so numerous and their messages so well developed, we are able to attribute real meaning to them and use them as a means of communication. We have taken the ball and we ran with it. That is to say, we have adopted the language of brands, and speak it fluently.

Today, brands are part of our cognitive lexicon. But further, as with media fragmentation, where there might be a TV show, cable channel, magazines etc. all for a very specific subject (i.e. Golf), brand variety and “fragmentation” has provided a rich assortment of brands, each with specific messages and associations. As a result, there are brands that stand for just about everything from establishment to antidisestablishmentarianism! So, you might ask, does this mean there is a brand for me then?

Maybe. When we associate with a brand, we project its associations onto ourselves. And, with multiple brands there is the ability to layer this meaning. As the composers of our image, we consciously and unconsciously choose brand combinations (or layers, or webs of associations) that together contribute to a “more unique” image that expresses our personal identity, shaping how other people perceive us.

Further, because we are actively engaged in using the symbol set of brands to communicate identity, we now also share in the process of creating and shaping the meaning of the brands themselves. With the advent of new media/ social media, constructing meaning has become increasingly a two way process. Because we have communities centered around brands, as their identity evolves so does the brands. Skittle’s most recent stunt might be a perfect example of how brands are increasingly allowing their communities and new media to define them.

There is certainly more to write about this, and even the points I touched on above demand a more thorough evaluation. However, the conclusion I hope to write is about how: what brands have become, the way people use symbols and the advent of technology are all combining to change how we communicate.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

My Gen Y Idea...

Ag Age did a piece on its daily online news show 3 Minute Ad Age, titled, "What if Gen Y WANTS to be behaviorally targeted?" I've been kicking the same idea around for a while and was hoping to pursue it when I had a chance - oh well. I guess I still can, it's just not that original anymore.

It's presented well here, and though it probably needs to be tweaked, I hope it's well received overall because it's a good idea.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

All My Words


Monday, March 2, 2009

ARG - are we ready for it?

Tonight I came across a great post on Edward Boches’ blog, Creativity_Unbound, about an idea for an interactive, ARG-like campaign to promote a new Discovery Channel show, Most Evil. The video explains far better; but essentially, via an open wi-fi network unsuspecting users will find their browser opens to a stranger’s e-mail account. This stranger, users will learn if they poke about, is a serial killer. After several horrifying minutes the screen fades to an ad for the show, informing users that none of it was real. I gues it'd be like being in one of those Pizza Hut bate and switch commercials except rather than eating subpar pasta with friends you'd probably be alone and afrayed you're going to die.

As I commented on his post, this idea immediately reminded me of two computer games from a few years back with a strikingly similar innovative concept. Both Majestic (2001) and Missing: Since January (2004) – along with its sequel Evidence: The Last Ritual (2006) – expanded game play beyond traditional boundaries to interact with players in their real lives.**

Further, in terms of marketing, the most successful crossover of this concept that I’m familiar with is the campaign for Halo 2 (Viral with Value).

These are still pretty new ideas and for the most part people have no idea that experiences like this even exist. Moreover, the Discovery campaign, unlike the above mentioned games or Halo 2 campaign, does not give users the choice to enter false reality, but thrusts it upon them. I suppose that is what makes the concept so interesting, but with little to no prior ARG literacy I worry that users might not easily reconcile the experience afterward.

In fact, I think that new media literacy may be one of the biggest problems we face as advertisers as we seek to innovate online. People are not learning and adopting new technology (even when readily available, e.g. Twitter) half as quickly as it continues to grow. As a result, I wonder if we may find ourselves stuck in some odd limbo between old and new technology, attempting to appeal to both early adopters and and old-tech hold outs at the same time. An awkward place to be for sure.

But still, returning to Discovery's potential campaign, I really love the idea. And, it seems that innovation is often about breaking the rules - they just needs to be broken in the right way. In my opinion it's a great concept that, like Majestic and Missing, may be too far ahead of its time to work as well as it deserves to. But, with some minor changes I think it could be a great success today.

Mr. Boches was kind enough to respond to the comment I left on his post (very similar to above), writing: "this execution actually begs the question as to whether it's about the show, the creative idea that advertises it, or the viewers willingness to be part of the experience. Says something about where we'll go and what we'll do in the digital space." I wonder if we'll look back on these games and campaigns in a few years and think this is when things really started to change? I suspect the answer is yes.

Majestic, the first of the ‘faux reality/thriller subgenre,’ was a bit of a flop, but it was innovative in that it took advantage of the wealth of interactive opportunities presented by the web. Its IGN review states, “A game that relies on all of the unique facets of the Internet, while feeling familiar to anyone who's touched any of today's popular media.” Through e-mail, phone and IM the game presents the player with various puzzles (and clues) that require online research to for necessary information to solve them.

Missing and Evidence (or Missing 2) refined the ideas tried out in Majestic. Throughout the game you are on the trail of a serial killer called "The Phoenix," and game play progresses through frequent e-mails sent to you from your partners and the killer himself. Similarly, puzzle solving requires online research (a task more interesting than it sounds).

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Simple Ads that Work

Waiting for a friend at the Red Hat yesterday, while idly sipping my drink and trying to make less obvious that I was sitting alone at a bar, I spaced out watching commercials. When one of my recent favorites came on, Jim Beam’s “the girlfriend,” (sort of an Absolute rip off, but w/e) it hit me that even though I thought it was clever, it didn’t move me to buy the product. So how good was it really?

It could be that I’m a little overexposed to advertisements and thus place a higher value innovation. But, when I began thinking about ads that have really 'worked' on me, moving me to buy a product, in most cases they were simple, well-constructed spots with a straightforward message.

A few simple favorites:

The old Snickers campaign, “Not going anywhere for a while... grab a Snickers,” worked on me like a charm. It demonstrated that a Snickers Bar could be a filling snack rather than just another candy. The message reworked the brand’s attributes and benefits; no longer a sweet sensation, it was now an accessible, substantial food. And, this encapsulated the selling idea: never feel hungry with Snickers (an idea still present in their ads today). Pretty soon it became the first thing I reached for when I was on the go.

The Burger King “Whopper Freak Out” spots had me craving the flam broiled burger for a week. Classic reverse psychology, and I gave right in. After seeing the ad for the first time I distinctly remember turning to a friend and saying, “Woah, I really want that, right now.” My dream is to one day make a commercial that does that.

Hall’s new campaign, “a deep breath of fresh air,” is very similar to the Snickers campaign in that it changes the products benefit - making cough drops relevant beyond the context of a cold. I bit. Last week I grabbed a pack before getting on the train, thinking about the commercial as I swiped my debit card. There was no trick, the ad simply convinced me to buy them.

Sham Wow! Don't even get me started on this spot, woah. I still almost dive for my phone when I see it. Two minutes of glorious, mind blowing demonstrations; "did you see how it got the cola off that carpet!" I yelled into the living room when I heard the ad come on from across the apartment. But, then again, I have a soft spot for low budget infomercials - "Beware of imitators!" love it.