Archive for December, 2009

Drinkability: Just Wrong

December 22nd, 2009

I must be getting lazy, as I’m picking on Bud Light for a second straight day. But if Anheuser Busch is going to continue to air Bud Light’s ineffectual “Drinkability” campaign, they must be lazier than I am.

Have you heard anyone talk about this campaign? As with Bud Light’s “Tailgate-Tested” campaign, “Drinkability” seems to have zero word-of-mouth buzz. Speaking of which, have you ever heard a beer drinker use the term “drinkability”? Let’s face it; this term was coined by Bud Light’s ad agency as a euphemism for “utter lack of flavor.”

The latest execution from this campaign shows a young couple about to leave home for a formal event. First the wife attempts to pin a boutonnière on her husband’s lapel, but it doesn’t take. (Super on screen: “Too light.”) Then she attaches the boutonnière with six or seven shots from a staple gun. (Super on screen: “Too heavy.”) We’re then told–rather randomly and illogically–about Bud Light’s “drinkability.” (Super on screen: “Just right.”)

Not only is none of this particularly funny, the staple gun scene comes across as downright sadistic. To make matters worse, the husband has a wispy mustache and sideburns that are straight out of a 1970s porn flick.

There’s a word that comes to mind when I think of the Anheuser Busch execs who let their ad agency convince them that this stuff would make for effective advertising: “Gullibility.”

Tailgate-Tested, 14th Floor-Rejected

December 21st, 2009

I’ve hesitated to rant about Bud Light’s sorry “Tailgate-Tested” ad campaign simply because criticizing it was such easy pickings. However, after seeing the latest execution from this exceptionally uninspired collection, I decided I had to get my feelings off my chest and onto my keyboard.

For starters, the entire campaign can be accused of poor taste by virtue of being a knock-off of commercials featuring the late Billy Mays. When Mr. Mays died unexpectedly several months ago, I thought Anheuser Busch would take the campaign off the air out of respect for the person the ads were trying to exploit, but sadly–for us as well as for Anheuser Busch–such was not the case.

The latest ad, “3-in-1 Condiment Gun”, takes bad taste to a new low within the first five seconds by having its unfunny spokesman ask, “Ever have trouble putting on a condiment?” (There’s nothing like condom humor when you’re trying to impress an audience!)

The rest of the commercial showcases a new invention that combines catsup, mustard and relish. (I’ll pause here until you stop laughing and slapping your knee.) From the demonstration of the device to the reaction of the studio audience, there is nothing in this commercial that made me smile, let alone laugh.

For years I’ve been critical of Bud Light ads for being funny but saying absolutely nothing to make you want to buy the beer. I love ads that wrap humor or entertainment around a compelling selling proposition, but Bud Light’s ads were always funny for the sake of being funny. (Case in point: “Beer Theft.”) In short, they were great entertainment but lousy marketing. Now, however, their ads ar.en’t even funny. In fact, I have yet to hear anyone anywhere make even one reference to the “Tailgate-Tested” ads.

The 3-in-1 Condiment Gun might have been “tailgate-tested and tailgate-approved,” but it’s hard to imagine that this ad campaign has passed any audience test with flying colors. And if it did, my advice to Anheuser Busch would be to find a new testing service.

Does This Campaign Seem Off-Target to You?

December 9th, 2009

For much of this decade, Target was one of the most sophisticated and effective advertisers in the retail industry. Their ads were bright, upbeat and infectious, and they made their products the heroes of every one. Most impressively, these ads were instantly recognizable as Target ads, even if you didn’t see the Target name or distinctive logo until the very end of the spot. In a word, this advertising was smart.

Several articles in various business journals have discussed Target’s recent strategic shift to increase its emphasis on low pricing in response to its soft sales trends. Changing your strategic stripes is always dicey, and based on the slew (sleigh?) of holiday ads Target has launched in recent weeks, it looks like they’ve yet to get a handle on their new tack. And the result could be a real dent in Target’s brand equity.

Several of the ads involve vignettes in which a gift recipient is concerned that the gift-giver has spent too much on them. Each time, the ad ends with the giver saying that the gift didn’t cost as much as it appears, and that’s fine. What I don’t like is what happens in the middle of the ad, which is invariably a downer. In “Confession”, a young daughter’s guilt forces her to confess bad things she’s done, like reading her older sister’s diary and forging her mom’s signature. In “There Yet”, a young woman feels compelled to let her gift-giver know that she’s not as into the relationship as he appears to be. Both spots are only marginally funny and leave you feeling a little sad, a little uncomfortable, or both.

Another ad called “Is It Working?” shows a boy projecting his father’s rear-end onto their big-screen TV, while the unsuspecting father is trying to fix the TV that his son has led him to believe is not working properly. Written or directed differently, this ad could be amusing or even charming, but instead it comes off as sophomoric at best and mean at worst. All of these ads end with a voice singing “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” but the feeling you’re left with is hardly a warm one.

A prior series of ads, including one called “Gingerbread”, featured an over-caffeinated Martha Stewart-like “perfect homemaker” who is clearly stressed out keeping up with all of her holiday projects. The first ad made me smile slightly, but by the third one I wanted this lady to leave me alone and return to her asylum.

I’m all for using humor in advertising, but–especially for a mainstream advertiser with Target’s upbeat brand image–the humor should be smart, uplifting and light rather than clumsy, cynical and dark.

It seems clear that Target’s marketers have abandoned their brand’s distinctive persona without identifying an appealing replacement, and I suspect that the result will be a 2009 holiday season with decidedly off-target sales.

The Gap Could Be Back

December 8th, 2009

In the 1990s, The Gap was one of the hottest retailers in the country–in part because it was one of the savviest advertisers on the planet. In many respects their TV ads were every bit as uplifting, refreshing and fashion-forward then as Apple’s iPod ads are today. Unfortunately, for some reason they lost their way both strategically and creatively, as it’s hard to recall any Gap ads from this decade.

But if their new “Talk to the Moose” holiday ad is any indication, The Gap just might be returning to its former form. This ad features dozens of extremely cute and appealing girls of all ages, dancing and rapping to an infectious beat while–get this!–showing off The Gap’s latest winter wear. Result: the rare entertaining commercial that isn’t afraid to sell product!

I’m not necessarily saying that it’s time to buy stock in The Gap. But, then again, it might not be a bad idea to talk to your broker–and to the moose!

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.