Starbucks has a secret...

The coffee company is opening new stores. This alone isn't really newsworthy; there was a time when the java giant was opening stores at a rate so alarming it was difficult to imagine not getting a venti double-shot caramel machiatto anywhere in the world. But now, as with us all, the mermaid is feeling the recession.

Last July the sun set on numerous café locations around the country, leading to a lot of questions about the company's future. New competitors like McDonald's and old foes like Dunkin' Donuts were stepping up their game, and clamoring for Starbucks' generous market share. Additionally, cost-weary consumers with visions of "acting locally" saw $4 lattés as an expense they could easily cut from their budget without hurting their local economy.

Couple this downshift with the always-looming ghost of Starbucks' image problems as a soulless corporation, and the monlithic institution could quite easily find itself in trouble...Trouble that only careful rebranding could resolve.

And how has 'Bucks chosen to face that rebrand? A line of new stores, "inspired by" Starbucks but otherwise branded completely separately from the parent company. The new stealth stores are called 15th Avenue E.

The shops have a more mom-and-pop feel to them, promise more live music, poetry, and you know... coffeehouse stuff. A decidedly back-to-basics approach for the company.

I, for one, think it's a good thing. Starbucks began in this genre of customer experience, and by re-embracing it they can assert themselves as THE place to get a good cup of joe in a relaxed atmosphere. Enough with the sandwiches and CDs--just make me a respectable, hand-steamed cappuccino. Artisanal and crafty is the next big thing the mind of today's middle-class consumer, and by appearing to embody that image (and backing it up with a big budget) the green apron has a good shot at continuing its dominance in both the market and cultural landscape.

The Wolf in Googly Clothing.

Last week I talked a little about competition. The article focused on the subtle usage of attack ads, and the nature of going after the competition.

There are other ways, of course, to deal with your business competitors. Microsoft, in a bold gesture of "Can't-beat-'em? Join-em!" spirit, has decided to eschew competing with its rivals altogether and will instead now exclusively focus on imitating them. By mirroring the winning moves that challengers have made, ol' softy is hoping to win new customers and make over their image.

The primary disguise Microsoft is wearing is that of Google. I could go into how is rapidly becoming the butt of a grand Internet joke comparing it to the great Google-y moogly. I could mention that many consider the onomatopoeic name more likely an acronym for "But It's Not Google." Or I could just show you some logos...

Below are the logos for Windows 7 (the product that is supposed to redeem the Vista disaster) and Google Wave (the product that is supposed to forever change the way everyone communicates on the internet). I should note that the only photoshoppery performed below was comping the two logos together and resizing them; no color shifting was used, nor were the background or shadows affected.

A little healthy (and secret) competition

The very fulcrum on which the lever of capitalism lifts is competition. Without competition there is little financial incentive for innovation, fair pricing, or customer friendly business practice –without debate, all good things.

Competition also breeds another behavior in the american consumer space, that of negative advertising. It's rare in today's marketplace for one brand to strongly advertise against another. Subtle comparison, distracting wordplay, misdirection, and allusion are the order of the day. In spite of the active use of mudslinging in the political sector it is somehow considered uncouth in consumer advertising and outright inappropriate in B2B.

[A quick editorial aside: I personally don't understand this phenomenon at all. Ad execs often grow to loath their competition, and in private will endlessly rag on the "the other guy." The fact that there is any modicum of restraint or illusion of proper manners in their marketing initiatives boggles the mind.]

So when FedEx launched their new website I was surprised. The site has the look and feel of a grassroots protest site, complete with loads of numbers, a "contact your senator" button, and way more informational content than you would usually find in a corporate microsite. All of this directed at calling out FedEx's biggest rival, UPS.

They even go so far as to parody UPS' whiteboard commercials (complete with shoddy wigsmanship and mom-safe Ben Gibbard-esqu soundtrack).

It's a bold move from FedEx, but don't think this means they've gone all rebel yell/fight the power on us yet. As far as I can tell they haven't done much advertising of this site, or of their political initiatives to resist UPS' lobbying. Keeping your negative ads on the downlow isn't exactly the same as never making them, but it's pretty close.

Check out and form your own opinion on the matter. FedEx clearly cares enough about this cause to bring it to your attention (and to break from convention), but not enough to risk turning off customers in a very delicate race for power. Is that a risk you would take?

The king acts up again

I've spoken in the past about Burger King's raunchy-ish approach to advertising, but their newest ad takes the cake... or sandwich... or whatever:

The King has come to be known for pushing the boundaries of innuendo. Their "big bucking chicken" and "we're all full of sit" angus sandwich commercials used (semi)clever wordplay to get around modern draconian censorship laws.

But this, this is just a blowjob in hoagie clothing. I don't want to say i expected better from Burger King, because I don't really, but I still feel let down. The whole thing is cheap and gross. It surely doesn't inspire me to go eat 7 inches of processed meat food product.

The music industry, as virginal as ever

Last week saw the fall of a giant. The Union Square Virgin Megastore, the last holdout of the big record stores in New York City, closed its doors forever. The death throes of the British colossus sent tremors through the entire record industry, an entity long suffering depleted sales and maligned image.

I personally spent a lot of time in this store. In college I whiled away countless hours in the café reading comic books and not paying for anything. And that's the problem, really. Not simply that I was allowed to sit and read and not spend, but that I was ok with the whole consumption without purchase arrangement. Hell, I felt entitled to it.

I've purchased music from iTunes. I've bought hundreds of CDs. But for every dollar I've spent on legitimate music media, I've probably illegally downloaded ten dollars worth without batting an eye. I never thought twice about what I was doing. What's worse, when I sit down and think about it, all the music I've "stolen," I don't care at all, not one bit. And almost no one else I know does either.

And you know what? This is as it should be.

I'm not going to wave some fight-the-power, 2600, "the information wants to be free" flag. That would be asinine and wrongheaded. The movement for dramatically cheaper music (and, while we're on the topic, cinema and TV) is a step in the right direction for consumer and producer alike. At present only the consumers are seeing real benefit, but even now that's changing. In the future, the consumer-producer relationship will be much more mutually beneficial.

The history of music has been benchmarked not by new ways of delivering content, but by monetizing it. Paying performers to play in your ballroom, purchasing sheet music, picking up LPs at the five & dime, radio, payola, MTV… it's all been about salability. From promoting content to finding new ways to deliver it to the masses, much music technology innovation has sprung from a simple desire to move more units.

That is, until the Internet came along, with its promise of free and accessible media for all. We all know the story of the democratization of intellectual property: And Usenet begat Napster, and Napster begat BitTorrent, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. A sea change has taken place in the retail world, one that has re-aligned exactly what it is we purchase as a public, and what we consider worthy of purchase. The Internet has rather simply made the following rule: If it's an object that I can touch in the real world, it's going to have a cost attached. If it only exists as data, either in human memory or a computer's, it should be free.

But the internet has not made us into a culture of thieves; it just repositioned views on what should and should not be given away. Music, TV, newspapers, and film, we've decided, ought to be free (or extremely inexpensive). As producers increasingly come to terms with this we'll see them figure out new ways to get some return off us. The page is already starting to turn on the retail music industry...

Just last week Virgin announced it was launching an unlimited download music service in the UK. Right on the heels of its megastore close out. Will it have the clout to take on iTunes? Will it ever compare to the estimated $50 million annual profits that the now-deceased Times Square megastore pulled in? Only time will tell.

Pinging Bing: The new kids's pretty but what difference does it make?

Recently Microsoft launched it's new search engine, It's easy to say that is a prettier search engine than plain old google. The large high-def photos (with fun-fact tags), the slick of-the-moment logo, an easy on the eyes grey background; Bing looks good. But does that really matter?

Google--really the only competition worth talking about--is famous for its oversimplified layout. There's an input field, two buttons, and a logo, and that's about it. Sometimes (if Google deems a holiday worthy enough) the multicolored letter logo is "enhanced" with what I can only hesitate to call pizazz.

This simplicity is emblematic of one of Google's core philosophies: easy-to-use products that work reliably. The great googley moogley doesn't want to bother you with a song and dance, it wants to get you to your search results RIGHT NOW. You don't have the time to be bothered, and the sooner you're clicking on links the more money Google's putting in its pocket. Google search is just a tool, the flagship product from a company that makes (internet) tools.

That said, there's nothing distracting or wasteful about Bing's looks. The aesthetics are interesting, but they don't serve as much of a speedbump. If you find yourself exploring or surfing around you're either remarkably easy to distract or you weren't super interested in your search query (quarry?) to begin with.

So why dress up your search page at all? And here is where I think Microsoft has taken some time to consider their tactics in the search-engine struggle. Sure, you want to define yourself as something other than Google. You can't simply imitate your competition whole cloth. But it's more than that. Google's homepage is easy to ignore. It drives you to the results, wasting no time on other content.

But if Google seeks to be a tool, then Bing seeks to be a destination. There's just slightly more motivation to spend a second on that homepage, and that second could some day be turned into dollars.

A subtle ad placement, an elegant sponsorship, even a cross-company promotion (quick jaunt on the X-box anyone?) gracefully implemented could spell a lot of clicks. Google would never be so garish as to clutter up their virginal homepage, but that's because it would be a galling distraction. Bing isn't subject to the same strictures.

Bing has left the door open on big-money anchor ads. A door none of its competitors had the chutzpah, or sense, or inclination to prepare for. We'll see in the next year if they exploit it.

Reading the future: Part 2 of 2

Last week in Part 1, I talked about the Espresso book machine: what it is, what it does, and its impact on the modern publishing industry. This week I'd like to suggest a new application for the Espresso that has the potential to dramatically change the print media landscape, as well as the nature of the user's relationship to the product.

The Espresso book machine is currently an awkwardly functional item. If you are looking for a rare or out-of-print book, it's invaluable. However, if you're shopping for anything else in the book store, as most customers are, the Espresso is little more than a grossly over-priced inkjet that can't really help you.

Outside of a perhaps woefully small niche, the book machine has little to offer in its current incarnation. But this is a first generation idea. Down the line, a few versions from now, if we're lucky, we'll see some innovative thinking. To see what is exciting in the future, though, I'm going to take a quick look back into the past.

Consider the Ford Model T. The automobile was priced way beyond the average consumer's means. It lacked the support infrastructure it really required for optimal usage. It even had trouble driving on America's mostly unpaved roads. With all those factors considered, the Model T was a difficult machine to own. That said, the Model T was the harbinger of great things to come. Ford sought to fill a need in the consumer landscape that most thought was (at best) a luxury, or (at worst) a dangerous fancy of the wealthy.

Ford filled this need with a complicated and innovative device, the bleeding edge of technology. In time, the little black buggy's descendants would become the most iconic of American tools, an irreplaceable device used everyday by most adult Americans.

The Espresso book machine has the potential to fill this same roll in our culture. By simply re-aligning the focus of the device, its usefulness to the average consumer is multiplied exponentially.

Imagine stepping into a book store, or a corner deli, or up to a sidewalk newsstand, and instead of grabbing a paper from the stack, you order one up built to your specifications. You don't read the Travel section because it gets you down every time you leaf through it, for example. Have no use for the classifieds right now? Wish you had some of your paper's online blog content in your print edition? With custom print-on-demand at point of sale you could add or subtract the sections of your choosing. Every customer could be the editor-in-chief of their own private international news organization.

For years newspapers have been wondering how they can stay ahead of the 24-hour news cycle curve that the internet created. Today newspapers are out of date by the time they arrive in a reader's hands. By printing at point of sale from a networked device, the content is live and updated until the very moment a customer purchases it.

Subscribing customers could be issued "smart swipe" (or RFID) cards that tell print-on-demand devices exactly which material to spit out. If you wanted to make a change to your daily read, you could update it online like your Netflix queue or your DVR program.

By synching with your RSS, reader the device could recognize which blogs you've already read in the day, and save paper by not printing duplicate information. Or, alternately, it could print out the comment threads those blogs generate during the day for your evening review.

...It sounds like a lot of wasted paper, though, doesn't it, printing out all those articles that you normally would just read on the screen? But consider in comparison the amount of unsold daily newspapers generated every day. By only printing the material consumers need we cut out an astounding quantity of unsold waste.

Printing on demand at the point of sale has other benefits. Costs to publishers are reduced even further by cutting out expensive shipping from the equation. Fewer trucks on the road means lower fuel emissions, something everyone can benefit from even if they never touch one of these devices.

By observing the content customers are purchasing and printing, advertisers can better tailor their messaging. If you're reading a host of content for new mothers, there's no sense in serving up ads for denture fixative. This level of demographic readership knowledge is the holy grail of print advertising. Couple real-time customer information with a google-esque pay-per-ad-served sales model and you've just re-engineered the newspaper business model into a streamlined modern engine.

This revolution need not be limited to the daily rags, magazines, comic books, trade publications could all benefit from this technology. Imagine the ability to purchase academic journals, which are traditionally only available by expensive subscription, for sale on any street corner at a fraction of the current price.

Complaining that internet technology is killing the publishing medium is like starving to death in a car because you didn't know how to turn the key and drive to the store. You have to leverage every tool available to you (and maybe invent some new ones) to stay ahead in the consumer market. Look at the things that aren't working, and figure out what good you CAN get out of them and what must be changed to make them work.

The only thing that beats "free" in the rock, paper, scissors game of capitalism is "convenient," and "convenient" is about the only thing the Espresso book machine has going for it right now. As it stands right now, the Espresso is not the device that can save print media, but it may be prophet for a better time coming. And after a few years of development, who knows?

Reading the future: Part 1 of 2

In the past year I've read a number of articles about the Espresso Book Machine. The item is essentially a vending machine that offers a selection of hundreds of thousands of popular books. It's able to perform this amazing feat by printing and binding the book as you purchase it. By printing on demand, the Espresso doesn't need to be a gigantic machine full of moldering stock no one wants. At the end of the day a worker can simply reload the machine with ink and paper, check to see what titles are selling well or poorly, and be done with it. It's a task more akin to putting toner in a xerox than stocking a bookshelf.

Unfortunately, while the Espresso performs this amazing feat quickly, all told, it does so rather poorly. The end product is wholly black and white and lacks cover art. But at least the books are cheap… right? Well, not exactly. The price for one of these instant pulps is around $43.00 (American). The Dean Koontz paperback you might drop into your beach bag probably set you back 8-10 bucks, and it had cover art.

But this article is not meant to condemn the drolly named Espresso; instead my intention is to peer into the future and see what impact this device might have in our culture. And, if people are paying attention to this technology and thinking along the same lines I am, the Espresso –or machines of its ilk– could metamorphose the consumer media landscape.

The first place I heard talk of the Espresso was from comic author Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Planetary, X-men). He theorized that in the future, people would own devices like the Espresso in their homes, printing and binding books for personal use the same way you run off emails from Grandma or photos from vacations. He goes so far as to reference a thing called Papernet; a sort of hard-copy Napster where authors and consumers trade book files and then create hard copies in their home offices. File > Print > Literature.

Papernet is a lovely idea, but it's also oddly anachronistic. The baroque notion of utilizing bleeding-edge technology to do the work of an ancient form is quaint in its improbability. It would better fit in a steampunk setting than in our real world; it's a throwback to a combination of zeitgeist and technology that never was and never could have been. Ultimately people want one solution or the other: either print or screen reading.

Debating whether or not one reading format will come to dominate the other is futile. I consider myself a futurist, but by no means do I think print is on its way out--but neither are the new organs of reading. It's obvious to all that digital content has toppled more than a few big-name newspapers. This doesn't mean, however, that you should believe any street-corner doomsayer proclaiming that by the end of this (or any) year you'll no longer be able to hear the crinkle of the sports section as you leaf through the morning gazette.

In that big ladder-wrapped New York Times building scraping the sky of 42nd Street, there's an entire floor devoted to research and development. The news giant is thinking about and pouring dollars into new methods of news delivery. David Byrne had a great article about his tour of the facility. Making considerations for existing media devices and thinking about new ones (foldable screens!) is a big step in the right direction.

Eventually the Espresso (and surely some copycat technologies) will find its legs and even its keel, but for now a fifty-dollar book just isn't a supportable model. What is? What can we expect this technology to mean for the the publishing market in years to come? Next week in Part 2 of this article we'll discuss all of that. Stay tuned.

Why medicine commercials are such bitter pills

Sarah Haskins is a comedian and commentator for Current TV. For those who may be unfamiliar, Current is Al Gore's TV network of user-generated content. The network reads a little like Gideon Yago/Morely Safer slash porn with a strong liberal bend and a soundtrack by the kid in your dorm who has a Black Flag tattoo but wants to get it covered up with a Radiohead tattoo. I'm not saying it's a bad network; quite the opposite, in fact. The content is always interesting, often insightful, and usually really well produced. The weekly "Target Women" bit that Sarah Haskins offers up is an example of the network at its best. This week she commented on pharmaceutical advertising:

Haskins presents a pretty interesting observation. Pharma advertising uses and reuses the same weak tropes. The commercials are mostly indistinguishable from one another. Pain relief, allergy medication, antidepressants; even while the products vary widly in application the commercials look to be cut from the same cloth.

But why? Advertising fortunes are made on the backs of Big Pharma contracts. You would think that all that money would buy, if not creative innovation, at least some semblance of originality. Certainly, legal compliance and federal regulations place a lot of limits on advertisers. But even considering these stringent controls, how have we ended up with so many similar ads?

I believe in many cases this startling resemblance is born of laziness. We all know what a pharma commercial looks like, because we've been watching the same one for years now. It's easy to produce this commercial and know that it's consumer-safe. It's the advertising equivalent of Jason Statham movies. Statham shows up in about three movies a year. His films are never blockbuster successes, but they always do all right at the box office. I dare you to clarify the differences between the Transporter, Cellular, War, Revolver, and Chaos (all Statham films, all pretty much about a tough-looking bald guy with a gun and an accent).


The safety of similarity is a cop-out answer. In the end, if you have a headache, there's very little difference between Advil and Tylenol. You would think drug manufacturers would be doing all they can to separate their images from each other, but I suspect their intention is quite the opposite.

Modern pharmaceutical advertising is designed to make it difficult for the consumer to distinguish competing products from one another. By homogenizing the message, every ad you see becomes an ad for every product on the market. These spots aren't so much supposed to inform you of the benefits of a particular medicine as they are designed to remind you that you are sick, or that the potential exists for you to get sick, probably in the very near future.

Now, I'm not suggesting some malevolent advertising conspiracy; that's a ridiculous line of thinking that won't get us anywhere. It is simply worth more to get customers into the drug store aisles looking at product than it is for the same consumers to be sitting on their couch forming opinions about products. No one buys Imodium in their living room.

Consider the following scenario: You're at home after a tedious and perhaps stressful day at work. You are simply happy to have some time to relax at the end of the day. You may have some sinus pressure (or a stress headache, or minor indigestion, or whatever) but you're not even thinking about it, because you're just happy you get to watch Lost (or Current TV?) and eat some Háagen Dazs. A commercial comes on describing all the symptoms you weren't really thinking about but realizing now that you have. Now you're thinking about it, wondering if it's going to get worse. Like a cut in your mouth you can't stop playing with. Maybe you should just take something and stop worrying about it...

The best of the rest

Last week I promised you all a post examining some of the better commercials currently running on TV. I present three, although I'm going to cheat and only show you one that's actively airing on TV. I also present to you a commercial you may see only on the Internet or in an electronics store, and one you'll probably only ever see if you live in France.

1. Sending in the Clowns

This bit for Phillips is meant to be shown on their TVs in stores, not over the internet, so imagine for a second that you're reading this blog on a 52" plasma (and that the recession never happened, and that a giant TV isn't a totally ridiculous purchase). In that fantasy world you probably don't have many concerns. One thing you should always be concerned with ––no matter how wealthy you are–– is a gang of clowns invading a hospital, and trying to kill everyone in it. Think about it. That would suck. Well Phillips has translated this nightmare vision into a three-minute ballet of destruction and carnage. This spot shows you the very bleeding edge of digital animation. After seeing this spot you will not understand how a person could watch The Dark Knight on a 19' CRT and live with themselves. And that fantasy world I talked about earlier? It may just appear a little more reasonable.

2. Dow and the Earth

This actual TV spot for Dow is a pure concept piece. There's no product mentioned, just the company. Dow is an industrial giant that's often slammed for its environmental practices. This spot is designed to give you the warm fuzzies when you think about this multinational plastics behemoth. The fact that the spot actually manages to do that is pretty remarkable. The spot stays elegant and simple. It works the same angles that Disney's "Earth" does; reminding us we live on a big and beautiful planet. It sounds like a pretty simple idea, but whenever we are reminded of the width and breadth of the human experience on earth it stirs something inside of us. It's an instinctive human reaction, one that is perhaps too rarely tapped in advertising.

3. The Good Word

Scrabble has sold 100 million boxes in its 61 years on this earth, but recently the brand's image has become a little dusty. The game is come to be associated with nerdy academic types and strange old people who know too many words. In atempt to right this dangerous course, Hasbro has commisioned 3 animated spots from Wizz. They're beautiful. They're smart. They are exactly the kind of commercial that no one seems to think Americans are ready for (WHY!!!?). The ads only appear in France. Check out the other 2 spots Wizz produced.

La Crème de la Crap

I recently made mention of a commercial that, in the time since I wrote about it, has grown so aggressively annoying with its frequent appearances that I'm a little regretful I ever said anything nice about it. But what is said is said, and even when you've got administrative editing power you can't take back your words, or at least you shouldn't.

So, instead of exacting my revenge on a poor helpless sponge and his royal burger friend, I'll instead spend some time discussing two other TV ads that have caused me endless consternation every time they interrupt my favorite shows.

This first spot displays with comic awkwardness just what happens when a company gets so enraptured by self-image that it completely loses sight of its public persona. Watch what I mean:

I know Audi thinks that its "suburban commando SUV" is a whole 'nother animal from a Lexus "weekend warrior SUV." But as far as I can tell from this commercial, the only difference is the paint job. In an cultural atmosphere growing more concerned with the environment and more disdainful of needless consumption, this ad just feels grossly out of touch. Couple this with an awkward misuse of the term "identity theft" and the whole thing smacks of either poor translation or a completely wrongheaded advertising department.

The other ad I'm going to lambaste today is one that's been bugging me for months. This ad is actually the only thing I have been asked on multiple occasions to blog about. It's garnered that much disgust. It's from Heineken. Check it out:

The problem here is a simple one: it's just not funny. It's a joke that wasn't funny 30 years ago. It wouldn't have been funny on a vaudeville stage. It's like someone told the ad team "comparing men and women is funny" and that was the extent of advertising research. The concept was never developed beyond the bar-napkin stage. Seriously, Heineken, how do you go from commercials that specifically engender a notion of academic and social superiority to this brainless pap. This commercial appeals only to the lowest of the lowest common denominator. It's embarrassing.

One of the founding principles of this blog was to offer not just criticism but also solutions to legitimate problems. The Possible Disaster series is focused entirely on the solutions. I've thought all week about how these commercials could be improved and I've regretfully concluded that the only possible solution is to scrap them whole cloth and start over. These are the unsalvageable failures, the unforgivable transgressions. These are the worst that today's television advertising has to offer. Bravo.

Tune in next week for the exact opposite--the very best TV ads going right now--and why they work so well. For now, I need a shower for my eyes.

Personal Advertising: A Dilemma in 3.5 x 2 Inches

Business cards--like sitcoms, vehicle upholstery, and fireworks displays--are a medium that is only noteworthy when a superlative example is offered. Under all other circumstances the great banal mediocrity of the form is not worthy of even as inauspicious a gesture as an under-viewed blog article.

While I’m almost never one to argue the case for phoning in your design to a print company, the humble business card is one of those rare cases where it’s totally appropriate. To wit: far greater damage will be done by folks trying to “get creative” with their business cards than by printers following simple templates.

The function of the business card is that of a thing left behind. It is the interface that a new acquaintance uses to contact you after a personal meeting. This may seem obvious, but it’s worth saying. People often lose sight of those facts and get bogged down trying to “make an impression” with their card.

Watch the business card scene from American Psycho and consider why it’s funny. Certainly any send up of Wall Street decadence is good fun (especially these days), but the real punchline comes from how stunningly similar all the cards on the table are. Really, if you're going to nitpick the difference between "bone" and "pale nimbus" and you aren't a creative professional (or even if you are), you've probably gone too far and need to scale back your design process.

Here's what you should put on your business card:
• Your name.
• A description of what you do so the people you give your card to know why they have it. This is often served by your job title, but it doesn't have to be.
• Your phone number. Just one if you can, two at most (a mobile and an office line). More numbers than that and people won't know which one to call.
• Your email address. Unless you are John McCain.
• If you have a website you want people to visit, go ahead and include the URL. But keep it brief, Spanky, and don't even think about landing a second address on there.

Hmm... what else? We don't need your postal address. Ditto any other "alternate" info; give us one path to you, not more. No one needs to know your fax number on a business card. If someone needs to send you a fax you've moved beyond the "referencing business cards" phase of the relationship. Go ahead, spring for color, but remember: less is more. Keep the logo small, unobtrusive, and –unless you are Apple Computer in the 80's– one color.

One more thing you really ought to avoid is any effect or gimmick that makes your card a nonstandard shape or texture. Lots of things are made to hold business cards. You may think that by making your card doubly long or half as wide you're bucking the norm and making a standout presentation, but in all honesty you're making your info harder to access, and a lot easier to throw out. You know those guys on street corners who hand out postcards for upcoming club shows? You ever notice that there's always a lot of postcards littered on the street around them? There's a good reason for that.

Really the best advice I can give you regarding business cards is to do the opposite of whatever Joel Bauer tells you.*

*Joel Bauer claims that the over the top personality he displays in this video is "acting," but i don't buy it. Anyone who is SELLING you self-improvement and business advice doesn't have your best interest at heart. Take a look at his website. Is that the kind of image you want to convey?

A question of audience, or "How children end up with Mr. Crabs... down there"

If you have been to a karaoke bar in the past 10 years you will understand that Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" is one of the most important cultural anthems of our day. The message is clear (he don't want none unless you got buns, hon.) The argument is well made and honest (after all, he CANNOT LIE.) The song's adult themes and booty-shaking video sent a generation all atwitter with its never-subtle innuendos. Through careful licensing and media placement the song has stayed a perennial favorite.

The most recent adaptation of the song is for Burger King:

Do I need to even mention that parents’ groups are unhappy about this ad? Obviously anytime you use a combination of raunchy sexism and beloved children's cartoons you are going to put bees in someone's bonnet.

But the real thing I want to talk about here is the question of audience. I'm all for Commercial-Free Childhood. They do fine work. But they've missed the point on this one.

This commercial wasn't ever meant for kids. Yes, it's ultimately advertising a Spongebob Squarepants kids’ meal. Yes, it features clips from the Spongebob show. And yes, the commercial was co-produced by Nickelodeon. BUT—and this is most assuredly a big but(t)—this commercial is entirely directed at late 20- and early 30-somethings who have kids.

The punch line comes from an awareness of the source material, not the song itself. The new version of the song is self-referential mockery, going so far as to state unequivocally "Spongebob, I wanna get with ya/ 'Cause you make me richer." It's not about laughing at what’s being sung, it's about laughing at why it's being sung that way. The immature mature allusion of the modern comedy landscape has come to the burger kingdom: serfs and fry cooks beware!

The commercial is in high rotation during late night comedy shows like Letterman, The Daily Show, South Park, and Adult Swim, the kind of TV places where children fear to tread (or at least are dissuaded from watching, assuming their parents are well reasoned adults with a modicum of good judgment.)

And let us not let Spongebob himself off the hook. That little guy is almost as big a stoner hero as Jeff Spicoli. His appeal to the 18-35 male demographic is strong. The landscape of Bikini Bottom is just the kind of mellow psychedelia that doesn't harsh on anyone but reminds you there's fun to be had. The show is essentially a grand advertisement for hanging around with your dumb friends and eating burgers. Spongebob Squarepants is at its worst a weird greasy kid show, and at its best the Sistine Chapel of good times.

After a thoroughly unscientific experiment, wherein I spent the morning/early afternoon hours watching 5 children's cable networks, I get I didn't see the ad once. I did sit through way more "Yo, Gabba Gabba" than is probably safe for an adult of my age.

Sure. This commercial is puerile and, perhaps even a little lewd, but it isn’t trying to corrupt the younglings. Burger King has produced an ad spot that is perfectly in tune with the modern standards of comedy entertainment. Good comedy is always going to push someone's buttons. While I'm not going to hold up this commercial with the likes of Carlin or Hicks or Bruce (it's not even cut from the same cloth), this commercial exists only because of the groundwork those luminaries paved. Comedy is rough sometimes, and that's often what makes it funny. If you’re all that concerned, wear a helmet while you eat your kids’ meal.

Riding the rails of verisimilitude

The NBC show Kings doesn't have a hope in the world. Poor ratings and a difficult concept have pretty much written the show's fate in stone. It will likely be stored in the annals of great but canceled television shows next to the likes of My So Called Life, Gun, and Firefly.

One of the things that makes the show really come alive is a very strong and unified visual identity. There simply isn't another show on television that looks quite like Kings. Part of this "brand unity" comes from the strong national identity of the show's fictional monarchy, the kingdom of Gilboa. I won't take your time explaining the symbolic or heraldic significance (it's interesting, watch the pilot episode to find out) of the nation's flag –instead I'll simply present it below.

Pretty, simple, boldy iconic. Additionally it bears a striking resemblance to the recent flight of Amtrack Acela train flash banner ads:

Making things that make sense

I’m not going to get into the habit of using this blog as a simple link exchange, but tonight I read something particularly fascinating, prescient, and well conceived.

This NYTimes article from Allison Arieff about the roll of designers in the current economic climate is well worth the short time it will take to read.

The debate over “designer responsibility” is one that has existed since we left the caves. The ability to make objects that do not simply serve a function but also exist for aesthetic purposes (or perhaps exist only for aesthetic purposes) is one of humanity's defining features. Arguing about the necessity to do so is pretty much the root of every art discussion ever.

Is there reason to design a $73,000 cell phone? Certainly arguments could be made to it’s worth as a design object, but at some point the phone is being embelished for the sake of creating an intrinsically expensive article. Given these lean times there will likely (hopefully) be a reversal of this effect.

In the coming months I believe we’re going to see a number of healthy forward-thinking start-ups with low priced, cleverly designed products that are meant to ACTUALLY BE USED BY REAL HUMAN CONSUMERS. I’m not going to be so bold as to predict a new renaissance of affordable usability but a vague showing to that end doesn’t feel that unrealistic.

The G20 have logo cancer

President Obama remains in europe after last week's tranquil G20 conference. He's even missing throwing out the first pitch of the baseball season because he's so committed to prevention of oversight, better business practice, and global harmony.

If anyone in the G20's design department had turned this philosophy on their own logo treatment the world would be just that much better a place. Take a gander at how horsey this thing is:

Who let that through quality control? Seriously. Aside from looking more like a phone carrier than anything else* the logo is so bloated with elements that it could easily be two or three logos. In fact...

Here’s a fun game you can play at home:
Step 1 - remove any two elements from the existing G20 logo. Go ahead, just cover them up with your finger or a piece of paper or something.
Setp 2 - That's it. Your done. You've now got a better logo for the G20. This probably shouldn't count as an actual step.

It’s a great game because you can’t lose. Unless you're the G20 –then you're stuck with a Wendy's loaded baked potato for a logo. Sorry, better luck next time.

* There's a reason this thing reminds you of cellular telephony. In fact, there's a lot of reasons. For starters the four red squares in the G20 logo are the pretty much the same size and space ratio as the four grey squares in the T-Mobile logo. Secondly that little globe at the top? If you weren't thinking AT&T, well, you are now (I know, it's supposed to look like the UN but the UN also looks a lot like AT&T). Lastly putting "G" next to some numbers reminds us of 3G and 4G technology, the networks that power our iphones and oh yeah, most of Europe. It's like a perfect storm of visual reference.

Kodak's inkslinging campaign -or- When I think back to all that crap I learned at Stanford

In 1999 there was an interesting report out of Stanford U about the potential effects of negative political advertising on commercial advertising media. The paper theorized that the lack of controls in political advertising could eventually bleed over into the commercial form, leading to more “comparative” ads and generally mean-spirited ad spots.

The paper also conjectures that this will inevitably be BAD for commercial advertising, that those styles of political ads turn off consumers and lead them to dislike and distrust the product shown. In fact the presence of negative political ads contributes to the efficacy of standard commercial ads by providing a harsh contrasting example. By witnessing how foul a poltical attack ad can be we’re more accepting of a spot for a car or a new TV show or whatever else they want to sell us.

It would appear that Kodak never read the report:

Kodak has long enjoyed excellent PR. One of the big pop hits of the 80’s was essentially an ad for kodachrome film. For years the company could afford to keep the Cos’ on its side. Hell, the very word “Kodak” was invented to stick in peoples minds. But these days the photographic film industry isn’t looking quite so glossy. Companies are seeking new strategies and products. Apparently aggressively attacking your competition with all the production values of a late night infomercial counts for strategy in these lean times.

While Kodak is not exactly a newcomer to the printer market its wolfish attack ads certainly are. Printer ads are usually pretty basic, forgetable affairs but they can occasionally wander into the world of elegance. The kodak ad however, takes a running leap in the wrong direction.

Even the website the commercial directs you to is infuriating, demanding you turn traitor on your own printer by offering up it’s brand and model number before accessing ANY information about the Kodak ESP printers (the product you are supposed to be interested in).

I’m sure the folks over at Kodak think they’ve got our best interests at heart. I’m sure they think those monsters working for other printing companies are just about as bad as lord satan himself. Well, I think it’s time they got off their high horse, abandoned this asinine marketing strategy and try to get back in our good graces. My thoughts on the best way to do that: Bring back Dr. Huxtable

The Commercial as Content

Saturday night live’s “MacGruber” sketches existed before pepsi bought in but now the two properties are pretty well married. To wit:

Why doesn’t SNL do all of it’s commercials like this? The troupe is often at it’s best when it’s apeing advertising. The show could make more money by charging advertisers more for their air time and the use of their writing staff. Advertisers would look hip and edgy and SNL could claim it’s “commercial free.” By simply prerecording its advertiser’s messages over the summer (like it does with it’s spoof ad’s) the show would still have time to change sets and costumes between sketches.

SNL doesn’t have to be the only show to take this initiative, Late night chat shows would also be a good fit for this style of television. This, of course, isn’t a new idea but in a time when the networks are scrambling for new ways to make money simple approaches like this can make a lot of difference.

Possible Disaster: Marketing the Elephant in the Room

Possible Disaster is a section of the blog where a specific real world problem is considered and a new marketing solution is offered. The advice is presented in an easily parseable format: First a summary of concept is described, then an elementary problem is presented followed by a solution, this repeats till a full advertising campaign/web strategy/branding initiative/media plan has been hashed out. Neither Adverting Disaster nor it’s writers make any guarantees that these solutions are foolproof or steadfast. These solutions are educated suggestions. We greatly appreciate your comments regarding their efficacy.

A QUICK DISCLAIMER: This is not a post about politics, it’s a post about marketing. I am going to do my best to remain impartial in my social opinion and focus only on branding strategy. Any criticism contained herein is of the image/strategy/marketing of the republican party, and not of it’s policies.

Selling the Right, rightly (Summary of Concept):
Politics is the purest form of public relations branding. There’s no monetized content, only supporter appeal and public opinion. It is the sterling acme of consumer marketing.

And that’s why the recent withering decentralization and subsequent marketing nightmare facing the United States’ republican party is so interesting. Interesting enough that it’s the subject of yet another installment of Possible Disaster.

Here’s the big problem; our current national woes came at an incredibly inopportune time for the Republicans. As the Bush administration left office it was easy for the Democrats to pin the nation’s troubles on the folks walking out the door. Even easier was it to blame the strange caricatures of leadership that helmed the Bush presidency: the boy idiot, the evil puppet master. The “change” platform is nothing new, but it has perhaps never been so well leveraged against an exiting administration.

On the surface it certainly appeared to be a close race back in November, but hindsight reveals that the Republicans really didn’t have a chance. They ran sloppy campaigns, they didn’t stay abreast of developing technologies, and try as they may there was little they could do to distance themselves from the breathtakingly disliked Bush presidency. Looming tall, above all those other problems though was a lack of strong leadership.

After the staggering losses of the past election cycle the Grand Old Party has become a splintered and factionalized group of morbid depressives playing a game of hot potato for who should take the blame for their phenomenal failure... And it’s not getting them anywhere.

The GOP needs to re-organize, get up to speed on the tech curve, and find new key opinion leaders. Once that groundwork is laid the party can begin the long uphill battle of reclaiming congress and seating a president. Until then it has to run a tightly unified national marketing campaign, a public relations war... or perhaps we should say "surge".

It’s grand sure, but it’s also old (Problems/Solutions):

The biggest problem the GOP has is that it lacks a singular leading figure. Rush Limbaugh holds no official office in the party, but often acts as it’s public voice, and he does so without any apparent consideration of the effect it may have on the party's image. Behind Rush is a litany of other talking heads and media personalities that represent the paragons of Republicanism. This is just plain distracting. When the public thinks of iconic Republicans they need to think of actual politicians, people in power, not pundits. The GOP needs to direct more attention to it's real leaders and not it's peanut gallery.

Michael Steele is the actual chairman of the national committee, but his marketing directives are hopelessly out of touch. His plan to interest youth by adopting hip-hop language is practically obscene. I understand the desire to get out of your comfort zone and attract new demographics –hell, that’s a strategy I almost always advise– but coming from the republican party it’s such a patently false gesture that it’s laughable. Hip-hop culture values above all other things “realness.” There is nothing more phoney than the descendants of the dixiecrats marching under a flag of annexed black culture.

Certainly if the Republican party is going to succeed moving forward it needs to get more young people in it’s ranks. I think the party knows this but what it doesn’t appear to have a firm grasp on is how to actually get the job done. That’s ok, really, understanding the task at hand is the more important step. Maybe it’s oversimplifying but the Reps should look at what the Dems did this past year, how they leveraged tech to rally youth. Ultimately, Republicans want to find new and exciting ways to use that technology, find ways to out Democrat the Democrats. I’m not the first person to tell them this, as evidenced by Steele saying in the above interview: "I don't do 'cutting-edge.' That's what Democrats are doing. We're going beyond cutting-edge."

Ok, so under that ham-fisted and kind of douchey statement is a grain of truth, and it appears to be taking hold in the party. During the president’s speech to the joint houses, more republicans were twittering than democrats. That’s great news, that means that the Reps are getting their heads (or thumbs) in the game. When Mccain revealed that in regard to the usage of computers he’s “an illiterate who has to rely on his wife for all the assistance he can get" it was a damning contrast to the Obama candidacy; A candadicy inextricably linked to mobile computing. It appears that some republicans understand that they have to at the very least appear to be tech-savvy or face serious public scrutiny. And really who can blame them? If you can’t figure out how Excel works, are you really going to be able to keep trillions of budget dollars organized and in perspective?

Response to congressional twittering has been mixed, but I think it cleaves on an pretty even line. Generally speaking: people who use twitter think it’s a great idea, people who don’t seam to think it’s rude and unnecessary. And who do you think is using twitter? The sagacious, forward thinking public the Republicans are trying to embrace. But despite the recent crazy ass media love for technologies such as twitter it’s frequent and adroit use doesn’t constitute a strong branding platform.

Shocking, I know.

There is a second issue hampering Republican efforts to interest voters in their cause. I’m going to call it the “Old White Guy Factor” and it doesn’t just turn off the kids in the room, its starting to sour middle aged demographics as well. Republican politicians are almost universally older white males. Shenanigans you say? A rude stereotype? Well here’s some numbers to back that up:

• Of the 41 Republican Senators 3 are women, 1 is hispanic, 0 are black.*
• Of the 178 Republican Representatives in the House 17 are women, 1 is Asian, 1 is Native American, and 0 are black*
• Of the 22 Republican state governors 4 are women, 1 is Bobby Jindal (an Indian American)*

There’s a lot of disdain for the Old White Guy Factor right now. Folks equate it with the Wall streeters who cost them their retirement funds. The term “populist outrage” is getting real buzzy these days, and it’s getting pointed at the old white guys in the room. Between this and the overwhelming feeling of honest-to-goodness national pride people are feeling for having finally overcome a great hurdle of racial inequality in the american presidency... Let’s simply say now is not the best time to push such a white bread image.

One final thing before I offer some simple directives towards solving this mess. Earlier in this article I mentioned Bobby Jindal. He’s been heralded as the great hope of the GOP. He’s been called the Republican Obama. Bobby Jindal is NOT the Republican Obama. Anyone who tells you otherwise is woefully overestimating his value to the party as a figurehead. Sure, he’s one of only a very small handful of non-white Republican politicians. Sure, he’s the youngest governor in the nation. But Bobby Jindal lacks the charisma, speaking ability, and transparency of message that the Republican party really needs. For a first term governor he’s garnered a great deal of public disdain (mostly from folks comparing him to 30 Rock’s resident moron, Kenneth). The guy may have fine ideas, they may perfectly dovetail with your message, but the delivery is so sing-songy and patronizing that he could be reading the word of god writ large and audiences would be turned off to him. You don't really want another Palin on your hands, do you?

Summing Up
Here is a shopping list of what the party needs RIGHT NOW to start getting itself back on track:

• A handful of young, well spoken, socially moderate opinion leaders. This social moderation this is key. The nation is moving in a pro-science, pro-government control direction. While the GOP would surely like to nip this in the bud, they have to go with the flow a little, ride the wave a bit before they can turn it back towards the other shore.
• More independant, assertive women and minorities in leadership positions. This is a no-brainer. You want to look modern, look like you actually regard the progress made in the last 50 years of social rights as progress. Distance yourselves from the old school segregationist, chauvinist boy’s club image.
• An initiative to start leveraging tech to connect with voters in a real and interactive way. Post well-made and interesting videos, tweets, blogs. READ THE COMMENTS POSTED and parse what it is people are trying to tell you. Never before has it been so easy to understand what a constituency is saying, it’s foolish to ignore the writing on the wall when it’s being written right on your homepage.
• Select some key political issues and focus all efforts towards highlighting those issues to the exclusion of others. You may step on some pet causes here and there, but it will unify your message and affirm to people that you are a driven and goal oriented party.

That’s the big three. Don’t bungle around with overt pandering and youth marketing and don't just focus attention on the same old tired methods of incendiary punditry. You want to make friends not enemies (or worse: disenfranchised independent voters). It’s going to be an uphill battle for the Republican party in the next four years, but if they are willing to recognize and learn from their mistakes, they have a reasonable shot at retaking the hill.


The Juice Flop of 2009

When Pepsi re-branded its fleet of beverages at the start of this year, there were cries of both celebration and outrage. The G (Gatorade) campaign has been pretty well heralded by both consumers and industry folk alike for breathing life back into the product. The new face of Pepsi itself has met some mixed reviews, but for the most part has been welcomed.

The same could not be said for Tropicana orange juice. The rebrand of this product has received so much scorn and contempt that Pepsi is pulling the new designs and returning to a pre-update look.

The complaints have been legion “It looks like a store brand,” “it’s too euro,” “I don’t recognize my orange juice,” “It’s so generic,” etc...

To sum up people’s thought’s on the juice:

How did this happen? In an interview the NYtimes conducted with Neil Campbell, president of Tropicana North American, he revealed that $35million was sunk into the new packaging (and related ads). You know that this project got hella focus grouped. Potential consumers totally saw the new look before it launched and gave it the all clear.

Here’s where things get tricky. Those focus groups were most likely asked to report their feelings on the new packaging in a controlled setting –most likely a corporate meeting room or lecture hall. They probably were never shown a grocery store wall of OJ and asked their opinion. The problem Tropicana has is one that any web developer or game designer should have been able to point out early in the marketing process. The problem is THE INTERFACE.

Users (that is, folks who buy orange juice and prefer Tropicana) didn’t recognize their brand in the store. The logo changed and was given a very weak placement on the box —running longways up the side, away from all the colorful imagery that draws the eyes in the first place. The orange with a straw that had become a brand mark was absent. Even the color pallet had shifted; The average color of the new boxes is quite a bit lighter and brighter, highlighting the yellow tone of the actual juice instead of the reddish orange of the fruit’s skin.

These factors all contributed to a perfect storm of reduced functionality. Our standards of interaction with the brand at point of sale had so drastically changed that people literally couldn’t find the product when it was right in front of them.

So, next steps. Tropicana’s probably going to backpedal and release a new box that’s very similar to the one they were moving away from at the end of 2008. A box that by all accounts is rather boring and forgettable.

But perhaps not. This may be an opportunity for some exciting change but it will depend on what the brand takes away from this debacle. If they think that the problem was rooted in moving to far away from the tried and true and getting experimental, the best they can really hope for is to find themselves in the same place they were when they started.

BUT... If Tropicana realizes that it’s mistake was in the way the user interacts with the brand maybe they’ll start thinking of new ways to improve that interaction. If that’s the case (and it’s a big if) we might get lucky and see some interesting, next-level type of thinking in the refrigerator aisle. We’ve been buying groceries the same way for a long time, if one product or family of products was able to break that mold they would really set themselves apart from the competition.

This may not be the unforgettable fire of revolution, but you’re either thinking about the future or you’re totally irrelevant.

Can we heist that slogan? Yeah, we totally can.

No matter your political stance, when you hear the name Barack Obama your mind invariably turns a number of different thoughts. Maybe it’s hope, maybe it’s worry, maybe racial struggle, maybe anger, or national pride, or any number of really loaded subjects.

I doubt, however, that you think immediately of rheumatoid arthritis.

The good people over at Bristol-Myers Squibb hope they can change that. They have co-opted the president’s inspiring catch phrase to move their prescription medication Orencia. Check out the commercial:

In a world where the public hadn’t already associated that phrase with a battery of emotions and events Orencia would have a perfectly suitable motto with “Oh, yes I can”. But would the creative team working for Bristol Meyers have even ended up in the same place if the expression wasn’t already a part of the national (perhaps global) zeitgeist? I doubt it.

Pharmaceuticals aren’t the only people who have made ham-fisted adoptions of the president’s turn of phrase: takes you to a public education charity in Mobile Alabama (not to be confused with another southern public school charity Yes we can is also the name of a group that organizes national children’s asthma programs.

An argument can be made that “yes we can” is a powerful slogan, regardless of it’s associations with Barak Obama. On the other hand 2009, isn’t the first year we’re seeing the slogan’s use, just the first it’s gained so much cultural currency.

In 2004 president bush was campaigning on the “Yes we can” bus tour. But that didn’t really stick in American minds, despite Bush’s re-election. We already knew Bush, what he stood for and what he had planned. His image was established and rebranding him with new slogans wasn’t necessary.

Only now that we have undergone the epic, historic election of Barack Obama does the phrase have real sticking power. “Yes we can” is inextricably linked to the cultural hugeness that is the Obama event, and the guys in marketing know it.

I imagine in the next few years we are going to see a lot of "change" and "hope" based brands coming out of the woodwork. Ultimately it's a pretty lazy attempt at cultural relevance. There's a grave difference between being inspired by the spirit of a nation and awkwardly co-opting the jingoism of an image savvy president.

But then again... if you can't steal from the government, who can you steal from?

Possible Disaster: Time to Save the Donuts or How to Pull Krispy Kreme From the Brink

Possible Disaster is a new section of the blog where a specific real world problem is considered and a new marketing solution is offered. The advice is presented in an easily parseable format: First a summary of concept is described, then an elementary problem is presented followed by a solution, this repeats till a full advertising campaign/web strategy/branding initiative/media plan has been hashed out. Neither Adverting Disaster nor it’s writers make any guarantees that these solutions are foolproof or steadfast. These solutions are educated suggestions. We greatly appreciate your comments regarding their efficacy.

15 steps, then a shoe drops (Summary of Concept): 
Last Friday Yahoo Finance dropped a pretty serious article on us, titled ”15 companies that might not survive 2009". The article was a dire prognostication, citing crushing debt, consumer fear, and all the other sturm and drang we’ve come to expect from today’s business world. For this, the very first article in the Possible Disaster series, I’m going to examine one of those panicked brands and offer what I think are some good strategies for pulling them out of the lurch. That brand... Krispy Kreme donuts.

2009 is going to be a rough year for just about everyone. There are some notable exceptions but for the most part retail is crawling to the bunker, hoping it can weather the storm. Krispy Kreme is no exception. The pastry chain over-expanded in the nineties and earlier half of this decade, and now they’re stuck with a big sticky cruller full of debt. As a matter of basic survival they’ll have to dig their way out of the hole one saccharine circle at a time.

Deconstructing the Donut (Problems/Solutions):
As I already mentioned, the glazed one is facing down a lot of debt. It’s suffered a loss the past three years running, and it’s stock has been tanking (due in no small part to the publishing of Yahoo’s article of ill omen). That’s going to mean that whatever solutions we come up with have to be as easy on Krispy’s budget as possible. There isn’t going to be a multi billion dollar Pepsi style re-branding in Krispy Kreme’s future –fortunately that isn’t really the answer. Rather than re-branding, Krispy needs to reevaluate it’s prime demographic and find new ways to utilize it’s customer/fan base. 10 years ago this would have been a technological and cultural impossibility, but that was 10 years ago. 

Krispy is a family company, it’s web presence, it’s commercials, it’s entire corporate outlook is very “mom safe.” Very middle america, very middle of the road. However, moms are probably the last people in the world Krispy should be targeting right now. Mom’s are the family bankers, the budget tighteners, they do the food shopping and they decide what’s getting cut. Additionally we’re seeing a lot of consumer drive towards healthier, lower fat foods. Moms are becoming the spearpoint of that movement. I doubt it will be long before NYC’s mandatory calorie listings on menus becomes a national initiative. And honestly, you don’t want to know how big that little donut really is.

It’s time to refocus Krispy’s message on two groups: college kids and office workers. Perhaps not at the exclusion of other groups, but with a very directed marketing effort. Fortunately these are two of the easiest (and cheapest) demographics to market to in this modern age. 

There’s already a great love of junk food in general and Krispy Kreme specifically in the 18-25 crowd. In some regions the love of the product borders on fanaticism:

Before the above video did you know about the Krispy Kreme challenge? I sure didn’t, I only learned about it researching this article. Stuff like this is marketing gold if you can push it to new regions. 

Imagine a World Krispy Kreme Competition of Champions campaign that focused on locally organized donut-centric sporting events. By leveraging pre-existing social networking sites Krispy could sponsor/host/brand any number of ad-hoc event/gatherings all over the world, document them on the web, perhaps even award prizes. 

This all takes very little in the way of actual output on Krispy’s part: a central website that gathers user output and possibly ranks it, some game instructions and advice on logistical support, a few employees managing a facebook group. Seriously, this is in your budget, Krispy. Hell, this is in MY budget, and I’m an underemployed blogger, not a pastry giant.

This kind of crowd sourcing, semi-competitive, community organized culture is rapidly becoming the hallmark of a generation –its already elected a president. And the college kids that are bearing this flag are one of the few groups in America that has some discretionary cash (stipends, allowance from parents, jobs but not many bills) to burn on sweets and treats. And let us not neglect the power of hungry college stoners. If there ever was a movie where Seth Rogan huffs airplane glue for 2 hours then NEEDS a donut, Krispy is made in the shade. Harold and Kumar didn’t go to White Castle, they saved it (and that Doogie kid) along the way.

The second half of this marketing initiative is directed at office workers. The office drone is rapidly becoming a coveted US job. With so many people out of work lots of overqualified folks are clamoring for anything with a desk and a paycheck. The wage slaves constantly need new ways to melt off the boredom of a long dull work day. Krispy Kreme should be there to help.

Offices love donuts. They’re a cheep way to boost morale, create a temporary spike in energy, and they provide a simple prop to socialize around. If Krispy can get it’s donuts into more break rooms nation wide it’s going to create more weekend customers. So how do we do that? By pushing the brand and by giving away donuts.

Giveaways have become sort of commonplace lately. It seems that every major national event is being celebrated with a cup of comped coffee or a freebee french fries. And with good reason, people show up to get a free treat will often buy something else along with whatever they’ve been given, AND they are more likely to come back as a regular customer. It’s not throwing out stock, it’s investing in your customers. Krispy needs to start doing more giveaways (they did one on inauguration day), and they ought to do so shamelessly. Let’s say one a month. More than that, let your fans decide when they get their free donut, this can be accomplished two ways:

• Let everyone vote online for next months free donut day. This is a pretty cheep and easy bit of web tech to set up on your existing site, shouldn’t cost all that much, and it creates an exciting coordination between web presence and brick and mortar stores.

• Start a frequent user card initiative (much like starbucks). People put money on the card, and every couple bucks they spend they get some swag (like a free donut or coffee). These cards are doing great at Starbucks; learn from the competition, and build on their example. These cards can open up a slew of other “member” benefits as well. This might be a bit more pricey on the front end, but I think it’s a direction we’re going to see a lot of chains going in, and not something you want to be behind the curve on.

So that’s some ways to make sure people are getting your donuts. But how do we get those office folks interested in the Kreme in the first place? Well, it all ties back to the work those grassroots kids are doing. See all those videos and events and such, that’s the promo. That’s the advertising. The office guys find the crowd-sourced content, and they wile away the workday hours watching people interact with donuts. What do you think they are going to want to eat when they get home?

Summing up
It’s been 62 years that Krispy Kreme has been feeding us donuts. If the company is going to survive another 62 (or 2 for that matter) it has to realign its targets and learn how to leverage free modern technology to get its marketing across. It might be a hard lesson to learn, but it's a necessary one. This isn’t the future of marketing we’re talking about anymore, it’s present day. Long live the donut.

The branded location experience/Vagrant Marketing

Let’s play a little game together, shall we? I’m going to name some brands and you're going to tell me which ones are products and which ones are franchises. Ready?

1. Lipton tea
2. Home Depot
3. Mr. Clean

Think you’ve got it? Well number 1 is a product, number 2 is a franchise, and number 3 is both.


Recently, Procter & Gamble, the parent company that owns the Mr. Clean brand launched a new franchise: Mr. Clean Performance car washes. Mr. Clean promises to be something of a "mac store" of car washes (my words, not there's) with a coffee bar, free wi-fi, and multiple flat screen TV's.

The Mr. Clean brand is already associated with home car washing:

A hitchhiker I once picked up extolled the virtues of the Mr. Clean AutoDry carwash system (seriously). He was surprised that I did not use the product personally –I was unaware of it at the time– because my car seamed so clean (it should be noted that at the time my car wasn't exactly sparkling clean, I think the hitch hiker was trying to be nice, or perhaps he was suggesting I wash my car, or perhaps he was very high; I have noticed that most hitchhikers are often very high).

This event occurred early in the summer about a year ago, when the product was new. Throughout the rest of the summer I felt like everywhere I turned I saw people in their driveways with that blue and green raygun washing their cars. Apparently the vagrant was right.

But there's a big leap to be made when going from the store shelves to becoming a brick and mortar location providing a tangential service. Apple got a lot of criticism when it opened it's first retail locations in 2001, and all it was doing was centralizing a location to purchase it's existing product. It wasn't striking new ground into another business sector entirely.

But really, what is Mr. Clean competing with? Most existing car washes are local affairs with one location. When one thinks of car washes they don't ususally associate a luxury or even, perhaps ironically, a CLEAN image. Car washes are usually about as clean as the gas station or auto body shop they are frequently attached to. Also, car washes are often run by edgy comedians or rappers who haven't made a good album in a while. At least as far as I can tell.

But P&G promises a different kind of car washing experience, something more sophisticated, controlled, and above all... well, clean. (Note to potential future employees: the boss will likely mind if you sometimes act the fool).

So while Mr Clean will face some competition from the mom and pop outfits, what challenge is really facing the bald titan? The same thing that's facing down every start up, the current economic climate. Car washes sit on real estate, and while that's cheaper than it's ever been, it's still a big up front expense to potential franchise buyers. Secondly, in an economy as jittery as ours, where consumers are more and more conservative with their spending, how does a luxury car wash convince people it's necessary in their lives?

If P&G overcomes theses hurdles could it blaze a trail for other products? Could we see Pepsi "POP" soda fountains? Nintendo Wii arcades? Only time will tell.

PS- A closing thought. Perhaps that hitchhiker was not, in fact, very high. Perhaps he was instead a shill, paid by Procter & Gamble to wander the byways of this nation and comment on car care, mentioning casually a new system for cleansing. Though I doubt a late 40's overly thin man with a grey beard and yellow teeth was the picture of "Connection" or "Stickyness" that Malcolm Gladwell was envisioning when he was drafting The Tipping Point but perhaps he should have been.

I'm going to coin a term here, and I want you all to remember it: Vagrant Marketing. Doleing out logo emblazoned winter jackets to bums? That's Vagrant Marketing*. Giving out starbucks coffee in re-usable, branded begging cups? That's Vagrant Marketing.

*It's also old hat. In the 80's it was common practice to spray paint your tag (or throw up) on a sleeping bum's jacket. It was better marketing then train bombing in some cases, because bums will go weeks before changing, or trying to get your paint off, and they have the habit of wandering all over the city.

What you didn't see

Sex and the superbowl (and all of network television for that matter) have a history so complex, so on-again-off-again it puts the byzantine plots of daytime soaps to shame. In recent history we most prominently remember the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction of 4 years past (yeah, it’s been that long). In 9/16ths of a second and one tittie later the American adscape changed irrevocably.

Outraged by the events of nipplegate, our government stepped up it’s restrictions and controls of content, especially during the big game. American network television has always been comparativly sanitized– even neutered– when viewed in the light of european TV.

I drag all this out so we have some context to talk about PETA. Specifically to talk about the following ad. An ad you did not see during Sunday's game, because NBC refused to air it. It's this refusal, and the resulting coverage that's so fascinating. (NOTE: unless you work in the most white-bread of offices, this is probably safe for work):

'Veggie Love': PETA's Banned Super Bowl Ad

Welcome back. I know you all want to go out and fuck the ever loving shit out of a pumpkin right now, but please, restrain your passions till the end of the post (then have at it, that squash is asking for it). So lets not concern ourselves with the actual quality of the ad. All told I think it’s probably a 4.5 (of 10). The production quality is pretty good for a not for profit. The typography is a bit... Er... Well the typography sucks real hard. But that’s not the point.

So what’s the point? Well the point is were here talking about an ad we weren’t supposed to see. PETA sure didn’t plunk down 3 mil on the barrelhead like everyone else who got beamed to us during the game and yet they got just as much Monday morning watercooler lip service as the clydesdales and the ball jokes. The Gorgon sisters of view even gave it a chat up:

All press being good press is old news, and banned books always sell well, but you have to wonder what PETA was thinking. If they were smart enough to realize that by going just a little bit over the line they would be able to get the wine at the cost of the cork good for them. But the group has a history of shock advertising that’s... What’s the best way to put it... A bit more adversarial. For example (maybe safe for work):

Too Hot for TV: PETA's Banned Ads

Aggressive ads like this have been PETA’s stock in trade for a while now; It leads me to think they lucked out on this media coup. Truth be told I imagine a PETA board room meeting was probably had to discuss how to tune down the companies attitude to make their ads more suitable for network, the result is the commercial we see above.

I also imagine a PETA board room smelling like flax seed/burdock root farts and unfinished liberal arts/women's studies degrees, but that’s just me.

The most superest of bowls.

The game was rife with fighting and near misses and unexpected gains and staggering losses. The commercials were... eh. It's been a bad few months for advertisers, and it showed. It wasn't until days ago that all 67 of the game's 30 second 3 million dollar slots were bought up.

The noted economist (and eugenicist) John Maynard Keynes once said that in a depression a government should pay it's people to dig holes, then fill them back up again. Seeing the lackluster dreck that was shoveled onto our plates last night leeds me to believe that the creative teams at the helm of these multi-million dollar campaigns are perhaps filling these make-work, government subsidized positions. But alas if that were the case there would be a lot fewer unemployed ad executives, marketing consultants, or art directors.

The stultifying lack of inspired communication, exciting presentation, or even the presence of a new and unique product was so blatantly apparent that the next few days' water cooler talk will likely be limited to discussion of the ACTUAL GAMEPLAY. A sure sign of wasted advertising dollars.

Some highlights:
•NBC itself probably netted the most laughs at my party. The laughing my ass off commercial in particular was fine blend of culturally relevant and sassy enough for the kids but safe enough for the parents. What really is worth talking about was the use of their network stars in non-clip based commercials. The cast of Heroes battles NFL greats on a dark grid iron, the cast of Medium lipsyncs oldies pop, It may not have been groundbreaking, but it was cheap to produce. For an underperforming network it was a great use of resources and speaks to NBC's well strategized marketing.

• The "art house" filmic style commercial was represented a few times this year. Audi gave us a chase sequence through time action piece, starring Jason Statham. Statham feels like a good choice, he's well known for his "Transporter" film franchise, a series of films that butters it's bread with kinetic chase sequences. After actually seeing the commercial, though, the viewer is confused, because you're not sure if you're actually seeing a spot for a new Transporter movie. Well edited, well shot, but the casting muddled the message, and in the end I think it left more people geared up for an unrelated (and non-existant) product than anything else. There was a little dig at competitor Lexus thrown in there, Implying it's a car for old people. See if you can catch it.Check it out here.

The second cinematic bit came from the recently re-branded pepsi. Pepsi was really pushing it's bank account this year, it's rebrand only launched earlier this week and it had a lot of varied spots for it's product. A smart choice i think. I'll end up talking about another campaign from the cola giant in the coming weeks and a few of the SB's better commercials below but for now i want to focus on the Bob Dylan/ "Refresh Anthem" bit. It compares the similarities between the mid-late 60's and present day. It's a nice bit of clever archive research and spot on editing. In another year this would have probably been lost in the shuffle, but surrounded by lackluster performances, this was stand out. Also, you have to wonder if Pepsi got some dollars from Toyota for cross promoting the Scion as young and hip.
Watch this one on youtube

Not to be outdone by a competing cola company, Coke had an elegant touch this year with a Arthropodic Rube Goldberg CGI nightmare. Watch it, and never again sleep out of doors.

• As always lots of movie trailers. A first look at GI Joe, Transformers, Land of the Lost, Fast and Furious, and Angles and Demons. A new look at Star Trek, Up, Aliens Vs. Monsters, Race to Witch Mountain, and Year one. The studios don't want us to forget that there is monetized content out there. Big movies move popcorn, and in an industry as shaky as film, you need to get the word out.

• Speaking of Aliens vs. Monsters, and the 3D Sobe bit. Offset color is what killed 3D in the 70's, who thought it would be a good idea to step back from polarized lens tech? Did this person not understand that it makes you sick watching it without the glasses? Seriously, how dumb do you have to be?

• Doritos and Budlight had the usual fart/balls/giant horses humor that we've all grown woefully bored of. Retire the clydedales, people stopped giving a shit about that years ago. You don't see us all wondering where Spuds McKenzie went, do you? (Hint, he works for target now).

• bores us to tears with a celebrity endorsement that doesn't really go anywhere. Remember they spent 3 million on this. What would you have done with that money?

Ed Mcmahon and MC Hammer for Best use of forgotten celebrities, a superbowl staple. Usually this company has the "late night infomercial on cable access" style spots, and while this bit didn't have the polish that the rest of the lot had, it was funny, clever, and right on time.

In the end we ended up sipping some pretty weak tea. A few stand outs, a few honorable mentions, but no real winners. Pepsi,, and got some laughs, but nothing that's going to stand out in our minds for weeks to come. There wasn't an apple 1984, nor was there even a budweiser frogs. Tomorrows a new day in the world, and it would appear we have our work cut out for us.

Adverting Disaster


This is Adverting Disaster. This is a blog about the media, commercial advertising, and information communication. The desire to create this blog has existed in my head for quite a while, eternally on my long term planning to-do list, never getting crossed off. Now, on the eve of a new commercial year (it's superbowl sunday), at the dawn of a new governmental administration, in a time of unprecedented uncertainty and upheaval in the both the business and consumer world I'm starting a fire. It's time to burn things down and see what's left standing.

See it all comes back to that title, specifically the use of the word "disaster." That word and it's ilk are getting thrown around a lot lately. Emergency. Crisis. Meltdown. An economy in shambles, a people depressed, afraid, broken on the wheel and in the wallet.

Changes in the way we consume media and use intellectual property have shifted so radically in the past few years (months?) that advertisers, producers, even the talent is scrambling for a way to monetize content. Household brand names are dissolving at a startling rate. Well known products are getting aggressively rebranded. And all this amidst an economic climate where the public is exceedingly wary about how it's going to spend it's currency.

We have reached the Rubicon. This the watershed moment. This is the point in the history of consumption and communication that the lever bent upon it's fulcrum.

But it doesn't have to be all doom and gloom. Desperation breeds desperate attempts, a throwing of ideas against a wall to see what will stick. Some of those ideas are going to be the spearpoint of the next generation of penetrating ideas. For those with the foresight to predict the cresting of the next wave are going to be the demanded, as well they should be. The radical idealists, the forward thinkers, the progressives, these are the vanguards of development.

This is an exciting time, folks. We're going to push things forward.

This blog is about that push. I'm not going to simply document and comment, I'm going to offer solution, and so are you. This is a conversation. This is a forum. Comment freely, advise, detail, relate, anecdote, annotate, get up and over and make it your own. We're all in this together. We can avert disaster. We can alter the course.