Archive for June, 2009

IKEA Has a Better IDEA

June 29th, 2009

In marketing, as with virtually all forms of communication, it’s not what you say but how you say it. In IKEA‘s case, what they want to say is that they have a big sale going on. That, particularly in this economy, is hardly unusual. But rather than tell their story the way other retailers do–such as by using predictable, been-there-heard-that language such as “It’s our biggest sale ever!”–they show a female shopper who has just left the store with her purchases yelling (presumably to her husband/accomplice), “START THE CAR!!! START THE CAR!!!” What you quickly get is that the prices she just paid are so low she feels like she’s just robbed the place.

I don’t know just how deep IKEA’s price reductions are–I’m not in the market for furniture–but this ad leaves no doubt in my mind that they are VERY deep. And the cleverness of the commercial leads me to assume that the furniture that’s on sale is probably pretty cool.

In fact, I find this advertising so compelling that I’m tempted to use Google Maps to get directions to the nearest IKEA while yelling to my wife, “START THE CAR!!! START THE CAR!!!”

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.”

GE Couldn’t Care Less

June 15th, 2009

I often blog about truth-in-advertising, but in this case the subject is truth-in-phone-numbers. The particular phone number that’s the subject of this Monday morning’s rant is 1-800-GE-CARES, which, based on my recent experience, could not be a bigger farce. Here is how that experience went:

On Thursday, the day before 12 houseguests were to arrive for my daughter’s high school graduation, our 6-week-old GE microwave simply stopped working. I called GE to schedule a repair and was told they would be happy to fix the problem–in one week. I explained that we needed a working microwave to help us deal with a weekend’s worth of meals for 12 houseguests plus a graduation party on Saturday night for about 50 people, and asked the customer service rep if it would be possible to schedule our appointment for the following day. I was immediately told that this was impossible. I then asked if I could speak to the rep’s supervisor, but after about 10 minutes on hold I was told she was “at lunch.”  (I thought GE was a large company, but apparently GE has only one customer service supervisor.) I was assured, however, that the supervisor would call me upon her return.  She did not, and four days later, I have yet to receive a phone call. By the way, anticipating that this might be the outcome, on Thursday I also went to GE’s website and asked to be contacted about this situation. After four days, GE’s online customer service people have yet to contact me. Before starting this post, the morning I naively decided to give it one more shot by calling customer service again, but after over 30 minutes on the phone, the call got disconnected. I won’t insult your intelligence by asking if you think the person I was speaking to called me back.

I really didn’t expect anyone at GE to grant me special dispensation and move my repair appointment up–although it they had, that pleasantly shocking experience would have been the subject of this morning’s rave. I did, however, expect to at least get the satisfaction of speaking to someone with some degree of decision-making authority and submitting my relatively reasonable request.

Your brand isn’t what you say; it’s what you do. To tell your customers that you “care” is both insulting and unethical unless your actions demonstrate that you mean it. Not surprisingly, GE’s brand equity has taken a huge hit with this particular customer–first, because of the poor quality of their product; second, because of their exceptionally poor service; and third, because they have the audacity to lie to me by claiming that “GE CARES.”

It’s well-known that GE corporate is trying to sell its appliance division. As a business person, I’ll be interested to see what buyer attempts to turn this organization around. But, as a former GE customer, I couldn’t care less.

GM: Does Better Advertising Signal a Better Company Tomorrow?

June 3rd, 2009

I just saw the first ad from the new General Motors “Reinvention” campaign, and I have to admit that I’m surprised–and impressed! (Check it out for yourself: Whether it will ultimately prove effective is impossible to say, as the odds are certainly not in GM’s favor. But if the refreshingly candid approach taken by this ad is any indication of the attitude that resides within the halls of this once-great company these days, I’d say their odds of making a successful comeback are greater than I would have thought.

The goal of this extremely well-written ad is to convey that GM gets it–that they realize they need to make big changes, and that they’re determined to get back on track. It begins with one of the most brutally candid lines you’ll ever hear in advertising:  “Let’s be completely honest–No company wants to go through this.” The challenge is for GM to admit they need to change without being overly apologetic, as it’s essential that this ad inspire confidence.  Upon first viewing, the ad seems to strike the right balance. Rather than simply saying “We messed up,”  it takes a subtly-but-significantly different tack by saying that things that made sense in the past do not make sense today. In doing this, GM reminds us that they were once a great company that made smart decisions, which suggests that perhaps they can once again be able to attain that level of greatness and intelligence. In short (althought the ad doesn’t say this), “We’ve done it before and we can do it again.”

There are some other verbal gems in this 60-second ad created by the Deutsch, Los Angeles ad agency, including, “This isn’t about going out of business. It’s about getting down to business. Because the only chapter we’re focused on…is Chapter One.”

As someone who has ranted several times about GM and its advertising during the past few weeks, it’s hard for me to believe that I just wrote the above paragraphs. And it’s clearly naive to think that a 100-year-old company plagued by decades of mismanagement is suddenly on the right track simply because of a well-written new ad campaign. Still, something tells me that the badly-damaged aircraft carrier that is GM is not only going to stop taking on water, but it just might start turning itself around as well. Either way, it’s going to very interesting see what Chapter Two holds.