Jun 05

AARP needs more than ‘sonic branding’ to reach someone my age

Stuart Elliott’s advertising column in today’s Times features a profile of the AARP and its decision to hire DMI Music and Media Solutions to develop a strategy to make music and sound part of the AARP brand.

Officially called "sonic branding," music and sound branding is supposed to provide another new and Aarp different way with which marketers can connect with target audiences. As an example, Elliott cites the familiar "Intel Inside" music as well as the use of the song "As time goes by" by Warner Bros. at the start of each new movie to connect in some soulful way with audiences. Indeed, sonic branding supposedly strikes a chord (pun intended) deep within the target audience and opens their mind to whatever product or service offering is to follow.

For all I know, sonic branding may, in fact, be a smart marketing alternative. But, the AARP, which no longer calls itself the American Association of Retired Persons, will never connect with me. At least not for another 15 years or so.

As a case in point, my assistant recently begged me to join AARP so I could begin receiving all of their considerable discounts. "No friggin’ way," said I. "That’s for octogenarians, not me." And that, in a nutshell, is AARP’s problem. They did a great job positioning themselves over the past 25 years as the THE lobbying group and resource center for old folks. Shortening their name to an acronym doesn’t suddenly make them resonate with me or my ilk. Nor will hearing "Purple Haze," "Strawberry Fields Forever" or "Eight Miles High" in the background of new AARP TV spots change my mind.

With people like me thinking that 50 is the new 30, the AARP’s marketing challenge resembles a "long and winding road." As Sir Mick once sang, "Time is on my side." And, with all of the recent medical advances prolonging life, he’s right.

I’m "Talking ’bout my generation" and until you start doing the same and reflecting my views, AARP, I’m going to remain an unaffiliated "Free bird."

May 31

Crain’s editorial sheds light on why the advertising industry is so reluctant to change

As readers of Repman know, I’ve been talking for some time about the power of word-of-mouth and public relations in reaching the new, technology-enabled consumer. The rise in importance of word-of-mouth and PR is a direct result of both "practices" understanding and managing the "trust" that is so essential to creating digital dialogues between organizations and consumers.

At the same time, though, advertising has been doggedly hanging on to the traditional 30-second advertising spot (and some of you have vehemently protested that the good old TV spot is just asCurrent  effective as ever). Monday’s copy of Advertising Age contained a fascinating editorial by Rance Crain that explained, in part, why advertisers and their ad agencies have been slow to abandon the traditional and embrace the digital. For advertisers, it’s because, says Crain, they don’t "get" digital and are content to play it safe with "sexy and fun" TV spots. For their agencies, it’s because traditional advertising profit margins are significantly larger than what the ad shops can earn in digital. Plus, both parties think they know what’s best for consumers (in other words, they’ll decide what information the consumer will use to make a buying decision).

Crain calls the ad industry’s mindset an "arrogant attitude." In my opinion, it will come completely undone when consumers continue to "Tivo" commercials, channel surf past mind-numbing 30-second spots and walk out on Broadway plays that ambush audiences with live commercials before Act One. When digital media does take over, says Crain, "all the king’s horses and all the king’s men won’t be able to put traditional media back together again."

May 30

Too many advertisers are too quick to hype unproven commodities

Have you seen the Under Armour TV spots featuring some of the top NFL draft picks? There’s Ohio State’s AJ Hawk running agility drills and Maryland’s Vernon Davis whipping through some sprints. Each college phenom looks like the lean, mean fighting machines they undoubtedly are.

But, here’s the problem with companies like Under Armour spotlighting these guys before they’ve ever played a minute in the NFL: the odds are good one or more of these athletes will be a big bust. For a precedent, one need not look further back in the rear-view window than the most recent Winter Olympics where advertising poster boy Bode Miller stunk up the slopes in Torino.

The NFL’s "hall of shame" is chock full of top draft college picks like Hawk and Davis who advertising agencies featured in commercials only to see them flame out on the field. Among the more prominent were Ryan Leaf, Blair Thomas and Johnny "Lam" Jones (the latter two cut particularly close to the bone since they both bombed for my beloved Jets). The all-time, high-profile top draftBrian_bosworth_1  pick flame out, though, had to have been the "Boz." Brian Bosworth was all-everything in his college days as an Oklahoma Sooner. And, the advertisers couldn’t wait to feature his bizarre crew cut or  snarling visage in an endless number of print and broadcast spots. So, what happened? The Boz bombed in the biggest way possible and was summarily drummed out of the NFL.

So, here’s hoping (but not expecting) that advertisers like Under Armour will "exercise" a little restraint in the future and at least wait for these college stars to actually prove themselves in the NFL before paying them big bucks to flex and frolic on the boob tube. In my opinion when these guys flame out, their personal reputations also take a beating because of all the incessant TV chest thumping they did "before the fall." It’s too bad the advertisers aren’t held accountable as well. Sadly, like the Energizer bunny, they’ll just keep on going and going, spotlighting one unproven jock after another.

May 24

Desperate times call for desperate measures

With the advent of the citizen journalist and the myriad of technologies that have empowered the consumer to decide how, when and where he or she deigns to receive content, it comes as no surprise that an increasingly desperate advertising industry is becoming increasingly desperate.

What else can explain the explosion of commercials we’re seeing in movie theatres across the country? Or, sadly, the very first "commercial" to be shown on a live theatre stage.

The nauseating event occurred last night before a performance of "Stomp" at the Orpheum TheatreCurtain_1   in the East Village and featured some sort of pitch by Visit London, a tourist organization. Visit London’s Communications Director Ken Kelling explained why he subjected theatregoers to the live "spot" by saying, "They’re a captive audience. They can’t switch channels or change over or walk out once the thing has started."

How sad. How offensive. But, we can expect to see more of these intrusions as desperate advertisers and their ad agencies continue trying to figure out a marketplace that no longer responds the way it used to. One day, they’ll wake up and figure out the power of word-of-mouth, "influencers" and public relations. But, until then, don’t be surprised if a toothpaste or cell phone ad precedes your long-awaited, much anticipated chance to finally see "The Producers." Hey, maybe they’ll even start selling the products and services they advertise on stage right alongside the CD’s and t-shirts they push on you after the show. I know I would have been open to purchasing some home furnishings after having seen "Pillowman."

May 22

This latest TV infomercial is real crap

Just when I thought TV content couldn’t possibly sink any lower, I happened to light on a new Sunday morning infomercial for a "two-part" cleansing solution intended to "free" the upper and lower intestines of unwanted fecal matter and generate stools with greater girth and length (just like the kind when you were a kid. Remember?).

The "inventor" of this product, who was joined on the Larry King-like talk show setting by a "doctor" Billboard_3 and "health care store owner and nutritionist" said his product helped offset all of the harmful toxins and anti-oxidants that abound in our post-modern, post-industrial, global warming-beset environment. It does so by acting as a roto-rooter that scours the intestinal walls of the unwanted fecal matter that hangs out in there. As "proof" of his claim, the inventor said the pathologists who performed John Wayne’s autopsy found 44 pounds of fecal matter in the Duke’s intestines. This guy then claimed Wayne would have lived many years more if he’d only produced healthy daily dumps (I guess the Western star’s "personal production" didn’t have the desired girth and length it should have). One can only imagine what the Wayne’s family reaction to this drivel will be. Can you spell lawsuit?

While the average, semi-literate viewer will hopefully see this ruse for what it is, I wonder how many other, less astute consumers might be duped (especially since the inventor also claims his two-part solution is a great weight-loss solution since it cleans out an average of five to 10 pounds of unwanted nastiness every 30 days).

Where is the FCC in this shitstorm? Did someone in authority actually screen the segment? Is anyone awake at the wheel?

While there are so many upsides to a free enterprise system, it takes something like this to remind me that what the great 19th century showman P.T. Barnum said way back when still holds true today: "there’s a sucker born every minute."

May 19

Bland, banal and boring best describes most print ads

I was skimming yesterday’s Wall Street Journal and was just about to put it down when I spied a half-page photo of a woman standing on a street corner. I decided to try and figure out what the ad was about without reading the text.

The woman is looking straight ahead, and is flanked by men walking away from her in opposite directions. She’s in front of a building, sports a conservative pants suit and has a Mona Lisa-like smile creasing her face.

So, what was the ad for? A new line of women’s business attire? A cell phone company? A promotionDoubletree_ad_1   for some upcoming walk for the cure of some disease? An incredibly subtle pitch for the DaVinci Code movie?

It was impossible to tell, so I decided to read the headline: "Work. Dream. We’ll leave that up to you. But, as far as taking care of you goes, you can leave that up to us."

Hmmmm. Was this a subtle move by Sanofi-Aventis to promote its beleaguered Ambien product? Maybe a mattress maker promoting its product? A sleep clinic?

Finally I saw the tiny Doubletree Hotel logo at the bottom of the ad. Ah ha. Then, finally, I realized that the woman in question was flanked by two carefully trimmed trees…..the Doubletree logo. Talk about subliminal advertising.

Print advertising rarely gets my interest or attention anymore. There simply isn’t any time on my part or, in my opinion, credibility on the marketer’s part. How much smarter might Doubletree have been to follow JetBlue’s lead and enact a viral, word-of-mouth campaign aimed at sharing customers’ favorite hotel experiences? It would dramatically heighten awareness, credibility and trust since prospects would be reading real-world stories from real-world business travelers.

Oh well, until then, Doubletree will have to count on people like me to "double back" and re-read their ads in order to figure them out. How that then translates to a buying decision, though, is beyond me.

Apr 06

I sure hope Ed doesn’t write a book

The ad world is agog at the $56 million lawsuit filed by Steven Dworin against his erstwhile business partner and advertising superbrat, Donny Deutsch.Donny

In the suit, Dworin alleges all sorts of foul and fetid foolishness on the part of Deutsch to attract and maintain business, including such gems as:

– using the excuse that his grandmother died to miss client meetings on several separate occasions

– improperly padding advertising production invoices (this is a biggie and could cause a major crisis if true)

– grossly exaggerating the size and capabilities of the agency up to, and including, the creation of totally false internal phone directories containing the names of fictitious employees (this tact brings back memories of my former firm which had gone through a series of downsizings and was a shell of its former self. To convince prospective clients otherwise, though, the CEO would have his admin place all sorts of folders and personal effects on empty desks to make it seem as if the "workers" were merely taking a break)

Dworin’s allegations go on and on, and mention Donny’s "…frequent trips to the lavatory, emerging with constant sniffing, and his subsequent incoherence in meetings." My favorite charge, though, has to be the quote from the agency’s then largest client, Steen Cantor, the president of Ikea, who Dworin quotes as saying he didn’t trust the agency because, "…Donny blows smoke up my ass, he is full of shit."

I’d have to believe Donny has his personal spinmeisters working 24×7 to combat Dworin’s attacks. But, what about his agency? How would you like to work at a place that’s accused of perpetrating so many heinous frauds? It would have to be demoralizing to say the least. And, what if you were a current Deutsch client? Might you think twice about reviewing that next invoice? I know I would.

I just hope my business partner, Ed, doesn’t decide to write a Dworin-type "kiss-and-tell" book one day. One thing’s for sure, though. I’m going to cut down on the number of men’s room visits I make during the day.

Apr 03

It’s one minute to midnight for some of the big ad agencies

It’s that special time of year when the advertising industry gets together at the "Four A’s Conference" and beats itself up over what it’s not doing right (see today’s Stuart Elliott column in the NY Times).

This year’s lament is the decline of the 30-second spot and the rise of small, independent shops who are landing mega accounts because of their flexibility and ability to offer solutions to the quicksilver changes in the marketplace.

The rise of the citizen journalist and technology-enabled consumer is causing a real migraine for the aircraft carriers of the ad industry whose business structures are predicated on the 30-second spot and whose management teams live under intense pressure from the holding companies to produce quarterly profits (or, in the case of Interpublic, to mitigate quarterly losses). It’s quite a conundrum for the big guys and is not unlike what Rick Waggoner and his GM cohorts must be dealing with. How do you totally change your outdated business model while simultaneously satisfying the ravenous demands of Wall Street? Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Happily, the sleek, smart independent shops are able to step into the breech and provide clients with new and immediate ways to reach consumers in a 1-to-1 manner. Not saddled with trying to sell yesterday’s solutions to today’s problems, these small firms are eating the big agencies’ lunches.

I’m not sure the same thing is happening in public relations since there is no equivalent to the 30-second television commercial model. That said, I still think the best small firms can out hustle and outthink our larger counterparts. But, then again, I’m prejudiced.

Regardless of what goes down in PR, it’s fascinating to watch the megalithic dinosaurs in advertising vent about the unfairness of it all. Somebody changed their world, and they’re not at all happy about it. In point of fact, they should be happy they still have a chance to turn things around….even if it is one minute to midnight.

Mar 27

Hey, Interpublic Group, could you fire me as well?

Interpublic Group, the beleaguered holding company, announced last Friday that they fired their CFO, Nicholas S. Cyprus, after only two years of service. While they wouldn’t say why they canned Cyprus, they were forced to disclose his severance package. Wow, talk about sweet. Check this out: he gets more than $1.6mm in salary, incentives and allowances, will be vested to receive 110,508 common and restricted shares of Interpublic stock, and options to purchase an additional 76,109 common shares. He’ll also receive up to $35,000 in outplacement and legal fees.

Phew! Where do I send my resume? If this is how Interpublic Group rewards failure, what must they do with the winners? Private villas on the Mediterranean? Fractional jet ownerships? A yacht or two?

More to the point, though, this sort of embarrassingly-high severance package will do nothing to assuage Wall Street that these guys have turned the corner and are making fiscally smart decisions. Some organizations seem hardwired to repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot. Sadly, Interpublic seems to be a classic example of the genre.

Mar 20

Ready…Fire…Aim!

Now that advertising agencies, PR firms and marketing firms have finally noticed that the Hispanic market is the fastest growing consumer market in the United States, they are more aggressively targeting this population. However, sometimes agencies are moving too fast and firing before they aim; think of it as a metaphorical Dick Cheney incident.

Case in point: the Volkswagen debacle which was recently featured in Wall Street Journal. Volkswagen’s ad agency, CreativeOndemanD, came up with the slogan "Turbo-Cojones" for VW’s new GTI 2006 model that was placed on billboards in Miami, New York and Los Angeles. Although Turbo_1 Americans use "cojones" colloquially to mean "gutsy," the literal translation from Spanish to English is "testicles." And, according to Luis Perez Tolon, an instructor at Miami-Dade College who was quoted in the Wall Street Journal article, "In English, Turbo-Balls might not sound so offensive. But in the Spanish-speaking community, it will always have a vulgar connotation."

How did VW react: they took down the billboards.

How can a Miami-based agency not be in tune with what translations resonate well and which do not work at all with the Hispanic population? How can any ad agency, PR firm or marketing firm, for that matter, which says it wants to target the Hispanic market not do their homework? And, it’s not just the Hispanic market. According to the article, a few Asian countries banned Australia’s new tourist slogan "Where the Bloody Hell Are You?"

Agencies and corporations must both be accountable and conduct the appropriate due diligence before trying to influence a specific market or culture. By not doing so, they are demonstrating to other populations just how ignorant they are and how much they do not care about the population’s culture. Why, then, should the targeted population care?

One misstep could result in months or years of trying to earn back the trust of the now alienated population.

Corporations are so concerned today about how to manage their reputations in the digital world of blogs and message boards. They need to be equally concerned about their reputation when focusing on traditional advertising, PR and marketing.

In this case, ignorance isn’t bliss….it’s "bloody hell" for the corporation, not to mention the agency.