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.