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.