Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Inspiration: Toyota leaves Helvetica in its tracks

Creating peripheral promotional offerings to help boost your new brand or product isn't easy, but it's cool. It's really cool. Toyota is unleashing their newest microcar, a tiny little number called the "iQ". This tiny torpedo seats four and eats up a mere 118 inches of roadspace, which is easy when everyone is sitting on everyone else's lap. What? Oh, it apparently actually does have four seats. Oh. In the video we only really see two designers and a racecar driver slash honoury designer perform the clown car trick, so you will have to forgive me.

Designers Damien Aresta, Pierre Smeets and Zach Lieberman traced giant letters on the floor of an unused airplane hanger and used the agile little auto to skid and squeal it's way through the alphabet while cameras and computers recorded and mapped its paths. The finished product was a tired honorary designer and "iQ Agility", a playful, hand-scrawled looking typeface highlighting the iQ's tight turning radius and maneouverability.

Creating a typeface as an offering may have a fairly limited audience, but it shows a whack of inspiration and creativity sorely lacking in modern marketing. Strike that. It shows a whack of inspiration and creativity rare and prized in modern marketing.

You can download the font here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Edible Junk: real stories about fake food

The one nice thing about being a student is the attrocious diet of trans-saturated garbage and alcohol. I remember when the CBC's Street Cents did a scientific analysis of Cheese Whiz to determine if it were food, or just melted orange trash bags. As it turns out it's actual cheese.

Pringles in the UK recently came under the same scrutiny. What surprised me wasn't that people couldn't tell if Pringles counts as actual food, but that the Procter and Gamble (the parent company) was pissed to find out it was. Turns out, P&G were kind of hoping their crispy tube snacks would be scientifically labelled as some kind of fried-preservative novelty snack rather than actual food so they could avoid an avalanche of UK taxes. Also turns out, that pringles are made of 42% potato, and thus, counts as a potato-based chip.

Around the world, parents send their children "care packages" loaded with fresh undies and comfort foods. In Japan they love to include copious sugar-fried study fuels, so Nestle jumped on board with the Japanese postal syste to create mailable Kit Kat bars with inscription areas and a space for postage. The candygram won the Media Grand Prix at the recent Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. Kit Kat in Japanese is Kitto Katso, and it means "surely win".

What I'm not clear about is what the other 58% of Pringles are made out of (recycled bike spokes or something) and how you get a Kit Kat through the mail in a country as hot as Japan without making those fresh undies look like the morning after.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Media Manipulation: broadcasters now able to airbrush audio

Blogging has been hard on account of work going extremely well, but you know I'd crawl out of a crypt to put a spotlight on something that bugs me.

Keeping with the smart phone theme I've been on recently, I got a tweet from Sam of O&A Radio fame and my first thought is of all those Nazi slaves working for Bayer back in the day. What the hell does that mean, you ask?

Well it seems that Sam was at the NYC Apple Store when a CNBC reporter asked him about the release of the new iPhone 3GS. Snark alert. I
n the most sarcastic way possible explained he was switching over to iPhone because of all the great features that one day might work, and because he was tired of all his calls going through with his existing phone, and was looking forward to dropping between five and $700 on it.

How someone can take this and make one snipped soundbyte support their slant that 3GS is the new tickle me Elmo is beyond me. Really, really makes you think about how the media works, and who pays the bills.

Here's the link to the recording.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Customer DisService: iPhones and BlackBerry's and Palm Pre's, oh my...

Until they start charging for keystrokes, people will use the internet to hand companies their asses back to them on a platter when they treat them like crap. I did a Twitter search for "AT&T" after hearing about consumer complaints, and after going through an endless list of complaints except for one dude talking about that he got a discount from AT&T, but it took forever for him to be able to use it, which is a kind of back-handed compliment I suppose.

I do not have a smart phone, but I need one and the question has been, iPhone vs. BlackBerry. I've come to no conclusion, but this certainly doesn't help Apple's case. "People were saying the Palm Pre would be the iPhone killer. ... nope, turns out that AT&T will be the iPhone killer", according to @brickworkz.

Long story short, with the iPhone 3.0 coming out, existing customers have to doll out $200-300 to upgrade. There are lots of technical complaints about tethering and MMS that I'll let others complain about at length. My complaint is the short-fall in customer care. Like most giants, they're good at attracting new clients, but not good at maintaining those relationships long term. How many times have one of your service providers offered some fantastic upgrade, offer or benefit to new customers that they won't extend to you, the loyal long-term loyalist? They apologize, explain their position, but all you really hear is sit down, shut up, and keep rowing, slave.
This is more to talk about customer depreciation than the merits of different phones or their service providers. My other least favourite depreciation tactic is the Reverse Sales Call. You call up to ask a question and they withhold the help you need until you sit through a sales pitch to upgrade or upsell my services. Perhaps when I have a problem to solve, and I've just run the gauntlet of "press one for this, press two for that", this is not the best time to be asking for more money. I'm just ranting at this point.

I've come to no conclusion on iPhone vs. BlackBerry, but first I'll have to see what flaming hoops my current provider will want me to hop through to terminate my current service. And if anyone wants me to test out a Palm Pre, I'm wide open.

Promotions That Make Sense: 99 cent NYC cab rides (tipping is optional, cursing is free)

For those of you new to promotions, it is recommended but not morally obligatory to make your promotions make sense, but it's great if you can. Cut out my heart if I'm lying, but I saw a banner outside a bar that offered free manicures with the purchase of a certain kind of beer. A dark stout beer at that.

My point is this: I used to work for a stand-up dude with a steady reputation in promotions, and somewhere near the top of his list of things that made him crazy were promotions that didn't support the brand. "Why the frak is my bank giving away iPods? What does that have to do with banking?" Unless they're quietly nodding to the mindless hours in line they'd like to help you kill, I'm not sure either. His point remains, if you're going to give something away as an incentive to purchase Energizer over Duracell, or a Whopper over a Big Mac, make it something that supports the brand, like dipping sauce, or a small appliance that eats batteries for example.

Today and today only, I see this aweso
me Verizon promotion. A fleet of branded yellow cabs in NYC will be offering 99 cent cab rides. Think of it as a 95% off coupon for your commute, courtesy of Verizon and McCann Erickson. Thanks guys, now take this cab to Vermont.

It's cool, but how does this support the brand?
Verizon has prepaid 99 cent a day cellular plans which no one knows about, and this kind of guerilla tactic makes a deeper connection to the value the company is offering for just 99 cents. Sad you missed it? Good news then. On the 3rd (of June 2009) they're giving away 99 cent ice cream. As BrandFreak
points out, it will likely be about 99 degrees by then, so they should consider a 99 cent dry cleaning promotion as a follow up.

I promise you, this is a real ice cream menu, and somewhere some poor population is forced to choose between Garlic Amaretto and Bacon Ice Cream on hot summer days.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Reinventing the Ball-and-Chain for the Workplace

In olden times, you could slap a cannonball to a dude's leg and feel pretty confident he wasn't going anywhere. Today, the urge to close your laptop, shut off your monitor and give into the Siren call of the TV or the pub can be nearly irresistable. Advertising creatives are not known for ability to focus and concentrate, so the Study Ball works with your natural inclination.

How does it work? It's a ball, attached to a chain. Oh, attached to a time lock. How cool is that?

The Study Ball is a prison-style, steel ball-and-chain that stays on as long as you need to keep you focused on your task. Weighing in at 21 lbs, it's possible to lug around, but why bother. Unless your office begins to fill with smoke, you're not likely to lug this thing around voluntarily.

In olden times, a con couldn't slog very fast or very far before a guard could waltz up and soften up their skull with a club. For safety reasons, you're not supposed to use the Study Ball on kids, or your wife; the timer can't exceed four hours; it comes with a safety release key, and you need to part with about $115 to get one. Also, by safety, I mean legal.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Human Eye: actually filled with a kind of urine!

Ad school taught me some weird things, and one was that the human eye does a backwards Z across any page it reads, skimming along, hoping to be stimulated, becoming disappointing and trying again on the next page. According to the hard working folks at Eyetrack, it does something more like this:

In actuality, that's a graph of web usage, but it still illustrates the idea that your eye is a skeevy fool who can't be trusted to look at a piece of paper by itself. Who am I to compare the analysis of a closet alcoholic to the practically Skynet-like scrutiny of Eyetrack's creepy machines? Let's focus on it's troubling figures on headlines to start.

First, a giant, domineering headline immediately draws the eye. Wait, don't bail. The numbers show that the average person gives that headline less than one seconds worth of facetime. Not even an entire whole second will be spent on your headline. How are you going to drag them into the depth of your body copy if their brain shuts off after "Call me Ishmael"? Provoke. People are likely to continue reading after the first five words if those first five words provoke their interest. Look at your headline an ask yourself how can it work harder?

Now let's look at that body copy. This eye-eating abomination (not sure exactly how it functioned) suggests that smaller type size encourages focused viewing behaviour while giant large type encourages scanning.
Also shorter paragraphs tracked better in research than longer ones. Ever been on a date with a chatty drunk? They're not that much fun. So why are you philabustering on your layout. Learn to trim the fat. Just the facts. Snag the eye. Drive them to the web for more information. Sites like Lowbrow and One Sentence have always been great for understanding the need for berevity in story telling. Twitter is another great disciplinary tool for staying on point and keeping it short.

A copywriter friend of mine once went on a drink with a chatty drunk who refered to copywriting as "all that stuff between the headline and the logo". Technically, she might have been right. Let me welcome you to the end of this entry. I appreciate it, regardless of what weird path your eye took to get here. Oh, and your eye is not filled with a kind of urine.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Advertising and Children: who needs times-tables when you have Happy Meals™

So my son woke me up telling me he needed Star Wars toilet paper. That Star Wars Toilet Paper was the only paper that could help his bum. He just turned four, and has never seen Star Wars, so I'm thinking there is actually a product called Star Wars Toilet Paper trademarking off Carrie Fisher squating in front of a droid begging for help?

Here's some stuff you need to know about children and advertising I want to pass on courtesy of the National Institute for Media and the Family.
In 1997, $1.3 billion was spent on television advertisements directed at children. Counting all media, advertising and marketing budgets aimed at children approached $12 billion (McNeal, 1999).

By the age of two, my children are all able to call out McDonald's, Zoo and Home Depot logos. The average child watches as many as 40,000 commericals a year, and can't tell the difference between commercials and regular TV shows. What I can say is my guys know when the really good, really short little shows are lined up and perk up for commercials so they can bow to the alter and play "need it, want it".

Simply put, children influence parental spending, so all advertising now aims at children to increase "nag factor". I've pointed out in the past how marketers target the young to create brand loyalties and children don't just influence spending on kids toys and food - it's everything from carpets to cars. A lot of adult products are being paired with kid-friendliess (oh, and billions of dollars) to influence the young to pressure the old to part ways with their money.

We're all familiar with the use of cartoon characters and toys to draw attention to all kinds of products, but I was surprised to learn there was a Sports Illustrated magazine for Kids. And I was really surprised to know there were ads for Minivans in it. Come join me in my slack-jawed awe at these tidbits of information.

  • databases of child customers are being built from information gathered on Internet sign-ups and chat rooms, from electronic toy registries at stores like Toys 'R' Us

  • in-school news briefs force kids to watch commercials in school

  • budget cuts draw advertisers like food brings racoons, offering cash for access to students

  • in-school news briefs force kids to watch commercials in school

  • Promotional licensing of products aimed at kids which include media pitches

  • Do you have any idea how many Children's TV and radio networks there are?

  • Children's toys are starting to carry product placements (Barbie™ dolls with Coca Cola™ accessories for example)

  • almost every fast food chain now has give-away programs including promotional merchandise (McDonald's™ "Happy Meals, etc.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Brainstorming 101: suspending your disbelief for the benefit of all mankind

Doga: yoga for dogs. Let me say that again: doggie yoga. Before you say anything, here's how CNN handled this topic with stern grace: "between layoffs, threats of terrorism, and tainted dog food, the world can be a stressful place for you and your four-legged friends." You think the writer had to do the rape shower after penning that masterful prose? You could be that writer. Here's your assignment: resist every natural impulse, and now convince me why I want to join doggie yoga.

One of the most important things for everyone working in advertising and marketing to remember that no one ever points out is if you are not the ideal target for a product, you have to pretend you are. I was recently in a brainstorm for pet food, and I was the only person in the room who didn't actively hate animals. Somehow the brainstorm turned out to be a complete success because this crowd was able to bury their feelings and emote like they were the end-consumer.

I can't tell you how many brainstorms I've been involved in where most of the participants can barely contain their distain for the product they're attempting to market. Brainstorms can begin with hundreds of different creative exercises to loosen the lobes and prep the mind, but I've never seen anyone ever prep a room to temporarily become the target audience themselves. How do you turn a dog lover into a cat lover? Or a vegetarian into a meat eater? Or a vampire into a warewolf?

Here's one I just made up. It's called Positive Visualization. Pretend to be a different person, a split personality; tell yourself you are that person and act like it. You're going to need a heavy s
uspension of disbelief, and a certain level of gut maturity that allows you to method act till the clock runs out. Your opinions and insights are going to match the target consumer because you are one, and you know how important your opinion is.

It won't be easy, but if you can't find a way to become an empath or an actor, you should maybe sit out any brainstorms for products or services that strike you as dumb or funny or absurd. Many off-strategy advertisements could be avoided if everyone could remember this simple principle. This will totally benefit all those industry noobs, and the following video is a walking tour of the kind of insanity you might face one day. Will you be able to keep a straight face?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Product Sampling: the rise of the machines

Yesterday I pointed out that statistically, more people have been crushed to death by vending machines than killed by swine flu this year. Wait, stop dialing. I'm not calling for an all-out panic on vending machines. I'm using it as an excuse to talk about free sampling.

To my knowledge, free sampling is a popular mechanic for generating product trial and has killed no one this year. But here's the secret truth about free sampling - the thing they don't tell you. When marketers offer free samples they're hoping to cannibalize you away from whatever brand you're already using, stealing away your loyalty by changing your preference, AND they're hoping you'll unconsciously purchase their product faster than your normally would, even if your need for it isn't totally immediate! Wait, that doesn't sound all that evil either.

Okay, so what do vending machines and free samples have in common? Last time you checked, your relationship with your vending machine was "you eat my money, I'll eat your snacks". Well meet the BooBox. Belgian designers Fosfor have created a machine that spits out different trial-sized samples of good. It can even handle chilled items.

Both marketers and actual people are always looking for more experiential ways to generate trial and move samples from cargo van (A) to shopping list (B). To date the delivery has been fairly one-sided, either through direct-to-home mailings or interception teams in stores or on the street. Delivery systems like the BooBox put the sampling decision in the consumer's hands, but unlike calling or emailing for a redemption, the pay-off is almost immediate. All you do is send out a text on your phone and they fire back an PIN number for free goods. Boo(m)! A more interesting vending and sampling experience signed, sealed and delivered.

So where's the evil? You fell right into their hands.