Archive for the ‘marketing communications’ category

New Charmin Campaign a Wipeout

March 6th, 2010

Oh, for the days when Charmin‘s advertising consisted of dear old Mr. Whipple pleading with grocery store shoppers, “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin!” For the past year or so, Procter & Gamble’s marketing antics have surely had Dick Wilson, the actor who played this lovable character (as well as Darrin and Samantha’s neighbor in “Bewitched”), rolling over in his grave. They’ve certainly had me retching on my sofa.

First, about a year ago we were subjected to a TV ad promising that with Charmin you’ll have “fewer pieces left behind.” To make sure that we could grasp the concept, the ad showed an animated mama bear literally wiping pieces off of her baby bear’s behind. Recently, the marketing mavens in P&G’s Cincinnati headquarters have developed (or at least green-lighted) the theme “Enjoy the Go!”, which surely has the parody commercial writers at Saturday Night Live asking themselves, “Why didn’t we think of that!” The ridiculous phrase is not only featured in their latest TV ad (which I haven’t been able to locate online yet), it was the theme of a public relations event in New York City over the holidays. Among other things, this event encouraged people to “Do the Potty Dance.” As SNL‘s Seth Meyers would say, “Really?”

I realize that the world is changing at a rapid pace, but I apparently missed out on this “Defecation Celebration” trend. If Charmin has its way, “Have a nice day!” will be replaced in our vernacular with “Have a nice poop!”

Procter & Gamble, which essentially invented the concept of brand management, is perhaps the most respected marketing company in the world. They’re also probably the most research-oriented marketing company in the world, which suggests that consumer research must have led them to conclude that America was ready for this rather graphic and even celebratory talk about the joys of using toilet paper. On the other hand, consumer research also led Ford and Coca Cola to believe that America was ready for the Edsel and New Coke. Sometimes you have to ignore the research and defer to your judgment.

I do have to give the normally risk-averse P&G credit for having the courage to take a bold step, and I suspect that this campaign has been the subject of great debate in Cincinnati. However, I have a hard time believing that this campaign is not turning more people off than on. Niche brands can afford to do things that offend a lot of people as long as they’re appealing to a meaningful minority, but mass brands like Charmin often have more to lose than to gain by employing controversial tactics. For this reason, I have to question P&G’s judgment in blessing this campaign.

So until I see evidence that this campaign is having a positive impact, I have no choice but to assign this campaign a rating of Floor Number Two.

Crown Royal Advertising Fit for a Pauper

October 15th, 2009

My first real exposure to Seagram’s Crown Royal came in 1981, when I was informed that a bottle of this precious commodity would be the appropriate compensation to Father Lehman for officiating at our wedding in Bemidji, Minnesota. A few years later, when I was living in California and working in the wine and spirits business, we conducted a blind taste test in which Crown Royal was determined to be the smoothest of all the premium spirits in the market. Since then, “Crown Royal on the Rocks” has always been my brown spirit of choice. I love the flavor, and on top of that, I’ve always been a big fan of their packaging, particularly their distinctive label, bottle shape and “purple marble bag.”

You can imagine how flabbergasted I was last night when I saw a curiously low-brow Crown Royal TV commercial featuring a young man playing pool, first with his buddies and then with his father. The tagline of the commercial, which has apparently been on the air for at least six months, makes great sense: “For every king, a mentor. For every king, a crown. Crown Royal.” What I object to–from a strategic marketing standpoint–is the pool theme. I know the economy is tough, but if Crown Royal wants to associate itself with a sport, it should be golf or sailing. A pool-themed ad for Pabst Blue Ribbon or Gordon’s Gin would probably work, but for Crown Royal it’s a total miscue.

What’s worse–and I know this is going to sound obnoxious–the father comes across as, well, a guy who hangs around pool halls. He might be a fun guy, but with his low-rent attire and greasy hair, he’s hardly the kind of guy you’d expect to be drinking Crown Royal. And I doubt that he’s the kind of guy that many viewers–at least the ones who can afford Crown Royal–will want to emulate.

I can only assume that the target of the campaign is people who aren’t drinking Crown Royal now. But since these people are presumably less well-to-do than current Crown Royal consumers, the state of the economy means that stepping up to Crown Royal is less affordable than ever for this target. As a result, I’d be shocked if this campaign has attracted many new users, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s turned off more than a few long-time loyal customers.

A tagline referencing the word “king”–twice, no less–is a smart way to reinforce Crown Royal’s brand equity. But associating the brand with the sport of pool was a king-sized mistake.

Lowe’s Deserves High Marks for Latest Ad

October 5th, 2009

Any advertiser wishing to advertise low prices while still protecting its brand equity could learn a lesson from the latest Lowe’s TV commercial.

The ad creatively shows a variety of situations in which a t-shaped item (like an upside-down push broom sticking out of a shopping cart in a Lowe’s parking lot) is placed to the right of the Lowe’s logo, thus creating the word “Lowest”. The ad features several of these shots, each of which is clever and even mildly entertaining, while reinforcing Lowe’s claim of offering the lowest prices available.

The beauty of this advertising is that it registers the Lowe’s brand repeatedly throughout the commercial, which is in stark contrast to the typical commercial that seems almost embarrassed to show or say the advertiser’s name. Moreover, the cleverness of the ad reflects very favorably on Lowe’s’ image.

From a strategic standpoint, I never like to see a marketer hyping low prices, as there will always be someone to come along and undercut your prices and hence your strategy. Still, if that is the strategy you’ve chosen, it’s essential that you do everything possible to protect your brand equity and let people know that you stand for more than just cheap prices. And in that regard, Lowe’s has set the bar very high.

Close, But No “Aha!”

October 3rd, 2009

Have you seen the TV ads from “the proud sponsor of the ‘aha’ moment”?  If you have, do you know whose ads they are? I’m guessing you don’t. 

I’ll end the suspense: the advertiser is Mutual of Omaha. Unfortunately, their advertising represents a bad execution of a good strategy. I’m a big fan of marketing communications–logos, taglines, ad designs, etc.–that are “ownable”, meaning that they can be uniquely tied to your brand.  This concept has the potential to be that, as “aha” composes the last two syllables in “Omaha”.  However, the ads don’t make this clear; I had to see the ad at least a dozen times before I figured it out…and I’m someone who can’t watch, see or hear an ad without proactively looking for clever wordplays.

In fairness to Mutual of Omaha, when they display their logo at the very end of the commercial, the “aha” part of “Omaha” is highlighted. But it’s much too subtle and much too late.  These ads should make it crystal clear from the very beginning that “aha” comes from the word “Omaha” by using a powering and interesting visual device, such as first showing the word “aha” and then adding “Mutual of Om” in front of it. Whatever the device, they should repeat it again at the end of the commercial. It also would help to have a verbal device, such as a line like “Bring your ‘aha’ to Omaha,” or “We put the ‘aha’ in ‘Omaha’.”

Such devices can sometimes be a little hokey, but isnt’ it better to be hokey and get noticed than to be so subtle that your audience doesn’t get it?

J. Peterman Guilty of Brilliant Marketing

September 30th, 2009

This morning I received a brilliant email from J. Peterman, one of my favorite brands as well as one of my favorite marketers. The highly provocative headline in the subject line: PETERMAN DENIES WRONGDOING IN ECONOMIC UPSWING. Although I certainly suspected that this was a tongue-in-cheek communication, I simply had to immediately click on the email to see what this was all about.

The email claimed that the company had been accused of “single-handedly turning the economy around.”  It cited Mr. Peterman’s press conference denial that he lowered prices in an attempt to move the market, but then reveals his admission that there is a “secret web-only code” that gives special savings to participating customers. (Of course, I was able to click on that phrase and immediately link to their website and access the “secret code.”) It also quoted a respected (but anonymous) economist who speculated about J. Peterman’s success reflecting a “renewed public interest in unique, quality goods.”

Offering savings via discounts always entails the risk of damaging brand equity, particularly for a premium brand like J. Peterman.  But if economic conditions dictate that some temporary price reductions are necessary, you can certainly minimize the damage–and perhaps even reinforce your quality image–by taking a creative, amusing approach like this one.

If J. Peterman is ever charged with being a brilliant marketer, no jury in the world would ever acquit him.

Happy, Yeah! Effective, No!

September 15th, 2009

I’ve never been a fan of commercials that don’t say the name of the brand being advertised out loud. More often than not, these ads are developed by people who would rather be making movies or TV shows and want to minimize the commercial aspects of their wondrous creations. My feeling is, if you’re ashamed to be doing advertising, you shouldn’t be doing advertising.

To have a prayer of being successful with an ad that doesn’t mention the brand, you had better have very high-impact audio and video. The latest campaign from Howard Johnson has neither. The video consists of Mr. Bill-like animation, which evokes–to me, at least–notions of a cheap flea-and-cockroach-infested hotel room. And the audio consists largely of an unappealing song whose sole lyrics are, “Happy…yeah!” I’d probably heard this annoying commercial at least a dozen times over the past several weeks without having a clue as to what was being advertised. It was so bad I finally decided to pay attention just so I could see which advertiser was tormenting me.

I’m pretty sure this campaign isn’t going to make Howard Johnson’s target audience, or its shareholders, very happy.

The Bad Samaritan

September 15th, 2009

Have you seen the TV commercial where a guy picks up a stranded taxi driver and drives him to a service station? It seems like the kind act of a Good Samaritan, until the jerk driving the car decides to show off by taking an alternative route with numerous tight curves that allow him to bounce his poor passenger around in the back seat like a rag doll. The car owner’s snide smile and obnoxious behavior is essentially saying, “Hah, hah!  I drive this really hot car and you’re just a poor schmo driving a broken down taxi!”

The ad’s intent is presumably to demonstrate how impressed the taxi driver is with the car’s handling, but instead it just leaves you feeling sorry for the guy–and hating the guy who just gave him the joyride.

But this commercial isn’t just obnoxious; it’s also ineffective, and in three ways. First, in the “action footage,” the car appears to be going about 20 mph, which hardly wows the viewer. Second, the car’s design is squat and boring, which is a bad fit for the “hot car” positioning this ad is inexplicably shooting for. And third, it does a lousy job of communicating the brand. (The manufacturer is Suburu, by the way, although I’m still not sure what the model is even though I’ve seen the commercial at least six times.)

Effective marketing communications call attention to the brand, make you feel good about that brand, and impress you with what the product can do for you. This commercial fails miserably on all three counts.

If Suburu really wants to be a Good Samaritan to consumers–and its shareholders–it should park this commercial in the garage.

Michelob Ultra’s Ultra-Bad Advertising

June 23rd, 2009

The latest Michelob Ultra TV had contains what just might be the most poorly-written announcer copy in recent memory: “Your life has never been one-dimensional.  So should your beer.”  Huh?!?! I’m pretty sure what they meant to say was, “Your life has never been one-dimensional. Your beer shouldn’t be, either.”

I appreciate that sometimes it makes sense to be less-than-grammatically-perfect in advertising as well as everyday speech, as correct grammar often sounds awkward. (For example, “It’s me!” sounds much better than “It is I!”)  This, however, isn’t a matter of grammar; it’s a matter of illogical, nonsensical communication. Whenever I observe a piece of careless communication, it always makes me suspect that there are probably other areas of the company that aren’t getting the care they deserve. After all, if they will allow mistakes to be made with something that is visible to millions of people, it seems possible that they could be making even bigger mistakes with things that are not on public display–things that are potentially more important than advertising.

There’s one other thing that bothers me about this ad: the presumptive and patronizing line, “Your life has never been one-dimensional.” This and lines like it (e.g., “You demand the best of yourself,” “You never give less than 100%,” etc.) immediately press the BS button for me and, I suspect, for millions of others. First off all, you don’t know me, so don’t pretend you do. Secondly, I’m not a perfect human being and, what’s more, I’m aware of that fact. So don’t insult my intelligence with false and insincere flattery; just tell me what your product will do for me and why it’s superior to my other alternatives.

I have never been a fan of Anheuser Busch’s commercials for Budweiser and Bud Light, which I find to be overly preoccupied with entertaining their audience and insufficiently concerned about selling them on the superiority of their products. While the Michelob Ultra ad doesn’t try as hard to be entertaining, its poor writing gets in the way of its efforts to tell a compelling sales story.

Or, as Michelob Ultra’s copywriters might put it, “Our advertising has never been very effective. So should this ad.”