Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

That’s Entertainment. . . Not Advertising

May 19th, 2013


Don’t you just love that State Farm TV campaign where the young man interviews several cute and funny kids?

Me too. . . . except that it’s not a State Farm campaign; it’s an AT&T campaign.

This is just the latest example of clever, humorous entertainment that many people–including advertisers and the ad agencies–mistake for effective advertising.

In this case, there’s absolutely no reference to the brand or the benefits it provides until the commercial is three-quarters complete.  Even then, you hear the AT&T name a grand total of one time as part of a rapid-fire voiceover that is virtually indiscernible.  This campaign doesn’t sell; it merely entertains.  And it does a marvelous job of entertaining.  The campaign is brilliantly cast; the guy is dryly hysterical, and every one of the kids is very cute, charming and funny.  But while the campaign is doing viewers a favor by providing free entertainment, it’s doing AT&T no favors.

This is what happens when ads are written by people who would rather be working on a sitcom than on an ad campaign.  (To be fair, I don’t know for a fact that this is the case with this campaign, but it certainly fits an all-too-common pattern.)

And frankly, if the people who created this campaign were to ever develop a sitcom, I’d want to see it.

I just wouldn’t want to see them doing my advertising.

Bully for Red Bull!

October 16th, 2012

Your brand is much more about what you do than what you say, and not many companies embrace that notion more than Red Bull.

For years Red Bull has done an impressive job of reinforcing its edgy, high-energy brand image by sponsoring a variety of edgy, high-energy publicity initiatives, but they really topped themselves with their sponsorship of daredevil Felix Baumgartner’s recent space jump from a height of 24 miles.  

I mean, what could possibly be a better way to bring to life their tagline of “Red Bull Gives You Wings”?

What’s so admirable about this is the risk they were willing to take, and I’m not talking about the reported $7 million they spent on the program over the past several years.  I’m talking about the damage that might have been done to their brand equity had Mr. Baumgartner’s jump had a tragic outcome.

However, this is clearly a smart company willing to take smart risks.  They obviously knew that the scientists and engineers planning the jump knew what they were doing, so that the risk–while not zero–was not irresponsible.  And they also knew that companies that aren’t willing to take smart risks aren’t likely to earn above-average returns.

As happy as I was for Mr. Baumgartner for his safe–and impressively upright–landing, I was equally happy for Red Bull.  Theirs was a brilliant collaboration, and they both certainly earned their wings–not to mention the financial and other rewards they’re likely to reap in the months and years to come.

Ocean Spray Campaign Is the Berries

September 14th, 2011

I’ve always felt that one of the hallmarks of a great TV campaign is the ability to communicate the brand being advertised even if the sound is off.  One campaign that meets this criterion is the long-running series of “Straight from the Bog”  tv commercials by Ocean Spray.

Every ad features the same two folksy company spokesmen: Henry, a no-nonsense, sixty-something grower with a twinkle in his eye, and Justin, his younger, highly enthusiastic–if somewhat dimwitted–fellow grower.  Both characters are very likable and are the kind of people we–or at least I–would like to think typify the members of the Ocean Spray grower cooperative.

What’s more, the ads almost always show Henry and Dustin knee-deep in a bright red bog of cranberries, never leaving a doubt as to the product–and even the brand–being advertised.

If you, like I, are closer to the age of the older gentleman, you’ll recognize that this campaign was clearly inspired by the brilliant Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler ad campaign that was such a phenomenal success in the mid-to-late 1980s.

At the time, I was a Marketing Director at the Ernest & Julio Gallo Winery, which owned Bartles & Jaymes.  The ad campaign, and even the brand name, were created by legendary ad man Hal Riney, who didn’t let the fact that he owned the agency (Hal Riney & Partners) keep him from rolling up his sleeves and writing every brilliant word of every Bartles & Jaymes ad.  And I can attest to the fact that this was one of the most successful ad campaigns in the history of the beverage industry.

Hemingway supposedly once said, “Good writers borrow; great writers steal.”  If that’s the case, then the writers of the “Straight from the Bog” campaign are great indeed.

Miller Lite Campaign Lite on Humor…and Intelligence

April 27th, 2011


It’s hard to believe that Miller Lite was once supported by one of the most humorous and effective advertising campaigns in history.  Sadly, that was the 1970s, and since then the quality of this brand’s advertising has plummeted along with its share of the light beer market.

Their latest campaign–based on a “Liteguard Training” theme–might represent a new low for the brand.  I defy you to watch this and find anything that makes you smile, let alone laugh out loud.

More important, the campaign is as devoid of  logic as it is humor.  As with prior ads like “Skinny Jeans”, the campaign suggests that other light beer drinkers don’t care about taste, and that they need to “man up” by drinking Miller Lite.  This is absurd on two levels.  First, no man–even a light beer drinker–would admit to not caring about taste.  Second, no one who has ever tasted Miller Lite would describe it as having a lot of flavor.  Does it have a teeny bit more than some other light beers?  Perhaps.  But enough more to base a marketing strategy on?  Hardly.

I’m a big fan of humor in advertising if the humor is used to reinforce a smart marketing strategy.  I’d love to see Miller Lite’s agency give that a shot.

While they’re at it, I’d also love to see them use humor that is, you know, humorous.

Jimmy John’s Ads: So Focused You’ll Freak

March 26th, 2011

The first time I ate at a  Jimmy John’s sandwich shop, I was disappointed.  For some reason–probably the sound of the  brand name–I had expected the sandwiches to be pretty tasty, but in fact I found them pretty nondescript.  But if you listen to their radio commercials, you’ll realize that Jimmy John’s is not about tasty sandwiches; they’re about fast sandwiches.

These commercials make no promises about how juicy, spicy, toasty or succulent their sandwiches are; they just promise you that they’ll be delivered to you in a hurry.  That’s something no other national sandwich chain has ever promised before.  And promising something your competitors don’t is a good idea–provided it’s something customers want.  And it doesn’t hurt to make that promise with a very good sense of humor.

Michael Treacy’s The Discipline of Market Leaders was one of the first books to make a compelling case for not trying to excel at everything, but to instead excel at one thing and be “good enough” in other important areas.  Jimmy John’s has clearly decided to excel at customer service (i.e., delivery time), and–almost as important–they’ve had the wisdom to have their marketing communications focus on that story.

That kind of marketing discipline is certainly refreshing.  In fact, it’s almost–sorry, I can’t help myself–freaky!

Ping Quietly Scores an Ace

January 29th, 2011

It’s always impressive when a company performs a sincere act of generosity, particularly when they don’t call attention to it.  And it’s better yet when, despite the lack of self-promotion, consumers somehow find out about the generous deed.

I recently received an email about a wonderful program in which Ping provides a full set of golf clubs to military veterans who participate in the Wounded Warrior Project.  As this article explains, Ping modifies their clubs so they can be used by these heroes regardless of whatever appendages they might be missing.

Now emails like the one I received are making their way to golfers everywhere, making them aware of Ping’s admirable actions and suggesting that it might be nice to reward Ping by making them the brand of choice when it’s time to buy a new driver or set of irons.

My only hesitation in giving Ping high marks for a powerful public relations coup is that it suggests this was a conscious–and exceptionally clever–attempt to build their brand equity rather than a sincere and selfless effort to thank these veterans who have given so much for their country.

Ultimately, I decided that whether Ping is being exceedingly clever or exceedingly generous, they are more than deserving of a rave review.

Mac & Cheese Sculpture Hits It Out of the Park–Literally!

June 18th, 2010

Even when I was running the marketing departments  of big corporations and had access to eight-figure marketing budgets, I questioned the value of paying big bucks simply to have one of my brand logos grace the wall of an arena or ballpark.  I’ve always felt that merely exposing a logo does very little for you, that you need to be tell your story or somehow deliver a richer and more meaningful experience to your target audience. And that’s why I think Kraft‘s new “noodle” sculpture outside Chicago’s Wrigley Field is a real winner (a word with which Wrigley Field has rarely been associated throughout its 95 years).

The sculpture is generating more buzz than those obnoxious Vuvuzela horns at the World Cup.  (Click  news story to see an example of the coverage.)  Of course, part of the coverage is due to the fact that some Cub fans are outraged and insulted by the presence of a “noodle” outside the  venerable Friendly Confines.  But a little controversy can be a good thing, and in this case it appears that the majority of fans are “pro-noodle.”  (When you think about it, the Cubs should be thrilled to have a distraction from the fact that they’re in the midst of yet another lovably losing season.)

What I especially love about this publicity initiative is that Kraft had the guts–and smarts–to avoid splashing a logo on the sculpture.  Instead, the sculpture carries only the words “You know you love it,” which is the tagline for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.  In fact, when you Google “You know you love it,” the first entry you see takes you to their website.  And when you go there, you see a graphic that is strikingly similar to the Wrigley Field sculpture.

Sorry, but I have to go now; I have a sudden craving for some Mac & Cheese!

HP Does Mediocre

March 12th, 2010

HP is about to launch a new $40 million ad campaign designed to tell the world that it’s more than just the world’s largest manufacturer of printers. This post might set a record for my most premature rant ever, but based on the only ad I’ve seen so far–which takes place in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas–I’m not rushing out to buy HP stock.

For one thing, I don’t care for their tagline, “Let’s do amazing.” I’m never crazy about copy that uses poor grammar, but I could forgive that if the words were clever, and especially if they were a natural fit with the brand name. But they’re not. Any number of brands in any number of product categories could lay claim to that tagline just as easily as HP can. Moreover, I can’t imagine anyone ever trying to inspire their co-workers by saying, “Let’s do amazing!”. “Just do it!”, yes, but “Let’s do amazing!”, no.

I’m also not a fan of advertising that relies on celebrities, and this campaign will be swimming in them. I am a fan of the actor Rhys Darby (from HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords”), who’s featured in all of the ads, but apparently most of the ads will also feature additional celebrities like Annie Liebowitz and Dr. Dre. If you’re trying to make HP the star of the campaign, why detract attention from its glow by forcing it to compete with real stars? If HP were a new or unknown brand desperate for credibility, then maybe relying on celebrities would be a wise investment, but I don’t see it making sense in this case.

Finally, the Venetian ad mentions the HP name twice, and shows the logo only once–during the last 3 seconds of the spot. Considering that HP isn’t exactly the most distinctive brand name in the world, the odds of this ad making any meaningful impact seem pretty remote.

Perhaps the campaign will grow on me once I’ve seen more ads. After all, it took me a few times weeks before I realized what a great TV show “Cougartown” is. At this point, however, about the only thing I find amazing about HP’s new campaign is the fact that HP management agreed to spend $40 million on it.

Why Xfinity Is Anything But Comcastic

February 20th, 2010

It was recently announced that the company formerly known as “Comcast” will now be known as “Xfinity.” The ostensible rationale is that since the Comcast brand is associated with cable television, it is cannot effectively represent the expanded services the company is now starting to offer. Interestingly, company spokesmen also acknowledged that the company’s less-than-stellar reputation for customer service had reduced the consumer equity of the Comcast brand.

Okay, I understand the predicament they find themselves in, but I don’t think they have a smart solution. First of all, it doesn’t matter what they call the company if they don’t fix their problems with customer service. Assuming that they do fix those problems, it’s not clear to me that a name change makes sense. I have to believe it will cost tens of millions of dollars more to create awareness of the new brand than it would to tell the story that Comcast has dramatically improved its service. (Note: I wouldn’t say that if the Comcast name were an object of scorn or considered to be the universal symbol for bad service, but I don’t believe that to be the case. Rather, I suspect that most consumers would be willing to change their image of Comcast as long as the company gives them a legitimate reason to do so.)

Moreover, I don’t like the name “Xfinity.” It looks like a typo and sounds like a typo. There’s simply nothing interesting or clever about the name. Two similar but better choices right off the top of my head are “Nfinity” (which sounds like “infinity”) and “Dfinity” (which sounds like “divinity” and is a play on high definition).

To make matters even more confusing, the parent company is still going to retain the name Comcast, so the name they can’t wait to get rid of has been exhumed even before it gets buried.

What’s ironic about all of this is that I’ve always been a fan of their use of the phrase “It’s Comcastic!” To create an adjective that they could own was a brilliant stroke of marketing, and now the value of that trademark will soon be absolutely zero.

I just hope we’re not soon going to be subjected to ads exclaiming, “It’s Xfinitive!”

Lattanzi Ristorante Serves Up Delizioso Service

December 2nd, 2009

The other night a client treated me to a wonderful dinner at Lattanzi Ristorante in the Broadway area of Manhattan. He eats there every time he visits New York, which surprised me given that he’s a real bon vivant who enjoys trying new restaurants. I asked him why he was so loyal to Lattanzi, and he had a great answer.

The first time he ate there several years ago, he and a friend had just happened upon the place. They ended up having a great time, as the food, wine, service and ambience were all excellent. The only problem was that when it was time to pay the fairly sizable bill and he gave the waiter his Visa card, he was informed that the restaurant only takes American Express. Since he didn’t have his American Express card or much cash with him, this wonderful night suddenly looked like it was about to have a very embarrassing and inconvenient ending.

Expecting the worst–after all, he was in a city that’s not exactly known for its warm and fuzzy treatment of visitors–my client asked, “What should I do?” The waiter’s reply: “It’s no big deal; just mail us a check when you get home.”

My client was both shocked and relieved. And not only is he now a very loyal customer, he’s told this story to dozens if not hundreds of people over the years. To be sure, Lattanzi Ristorante took a conscious risk that he would forget or neglect to send them that check. But the potential cost associated with that risk is dwarfed by the value of not only the subsequent business he’s given them himself, but the business from new customers who heard of his experience.

What I love best about the story is that the waiter didn’t create a scene by running to the manager to resolve the problem; he simply dealt with the matter quietly and gracefully right on the spot. Whether he was formally empowered to do this by Lattanzi’s management or he just took it upon himself to do the right thing, it’s a refreshing example of smart customer service.

And smart customer service makes for truly fantastico marketing.