Category Archives: Blog Posts

Watching Tomorrow This Weekend

I saw one of the best Science Fiction films I’ve seen in a while, this weekend. Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow. I’m not a huge Tom Cruise fan – I’ve never really forgiven him for Days of Thunder, but being the open-minded kind of guy I am I gave him another chance. The buzz on social media among the film folks I follow was strong, so EoT got the popcorn money this week. It’s everything folks who work on the creative side of the movie business say the movie business needs, but it’s the textbook case study for why the business side of the movies works the way it does.

The film has everything a great summer blockbuster should have – an inventive story, taut writing, solid star power in the leads, off-the-charts special effects and dynamic action sequences. You genuinely care about the characters and there are enough light moments to bring a smile and make it feel real. Yeah, there are a couple of plot holes and then ending isn’t as inventive as the first 90 minutes, but it’s still a top 10% SF film.

The only problem with this summer blockbuster is it didn’t do big boffo blockbuster box office. And that is going to impact inventive original storytelling for major studio motion pictures. Here’s why – studios used to want a built-in fan base for a summer tentpole movie. Now they’ll require it. You have to have lines of geeks or tweenagers camped out at the theater for opening night. Where a 30 million dollar opening weekend was once solid, now that has to be the domestic Saturday night and it better have done $70-90 mil oversees the weekend before. Studios have seen the half billion dollar franchise and that’s what they want – there better be a hundred million dollars in pent-up demand before the script even gets its first set of notes.  Because EoT didn’t have a generation of comic books to stand on or a series of niche genre novels or even a long cancelled TV show to get behind, it opened to a great chorus of “meh.”

Only after it began to run and critics started raving and the film literate began to talk it up, did EoT begin to get some traction. Even then the headlines weren’t that this was a cool film with a great POV and a solid story. No, the narrative became that Tom Cruise got beat by a girl with cancer in a love story that tween girls came out for in droves.  All because there was an existing fan base for the book.

So the next time you feel the urge to wonder why Hollywood doesn’t produce anything original, remember where you were when they did. You were probably next door, with a theater full of orthodontic girls, crying their eyes out to The Fault in Our Stars, a story everyone in the auditorium knew by heart.

The Humble Hashtag Comes to Facebook

Social media just took a big left turn. Facebook now does hashtags. If you aren’t Twitter literate, a hashtag is what the ancient Mayans called a pound sign – #. But several years ago a bright young web guy – Chris Messina –  started the idea that a word or phrase following a hashtag could be a type of topical hyperlink. The concept caught on and Twitter users began hashtagging everything. That led to trending topics and became a means to see what the twitterverse thought was the most important or at least most popularly discussed idea of the moment. There are humble hashtags in use on Flickr, Instagram, Tumblr, Google+ and probably it’s coming to every social media platform there is.

Now the hashtag phenomenon on Facebook. In my opinion – it’s gonna get messy. Facebook says it isn’t “selling” hashtags to brands and advertisers, but is encouraging marketers to use them. There’s a double-edged sword. Let’s say you’re a fine Texas brewery and start tagging all your advertising with the hash #Shiner. That’s great. But you have no control over that tag or who puts what into the conversation. Suddenly your post about the wonders of Shiner as the nectar of the Hill Country is inserted in between a frat boy who got hammered on #Shiner last night (complete with his buddy’s photos) and a protest by MADD against drive-through beer barns selling #Shiner.

On Twitter that’s not a huge problem – Twitter is fleeting. 140 characters and it screams through people’s feed like beer through that frat boy. But Facebook lasts a little longer. Things are more permanent. They remain on your timeline forever, or until Facebook reworks it’s platform and changes everything, so technically ‘ever’ could only be 18 months. Still, that barfing fratboy could still be linked to the #Shiner hashtag on their Facebook page for a long, long time.

Time will tell how hashtags change Facebook. Some don’t think it will be a big deal. I personally think it’ll be as big for Facebook as it was for Twitter. And I can’t even remember what Twitter looked like before the hashtag.

Putting More Blue in the Blue Light Special

Kmart has never been a brand to stand for class and sophistication, so perhaps it’s really little surprise their new campaign aims for the scatological shopper Shipping Their Pants and the sophomoric snickers of Big Gas Savings. These aren’t just mind-numbing yucks from the Will Farrell – Jonah Hill school of “it was funny when we were 10, why wouldn’t it be funny now?”. These are bad advertising at its fundamental worst, with a hat tip to the fine folks at Sofa King.
Is it bad because it’s cheap laughs and bathroom humor? No, not completely. The biggest problem is it doesn’t sell. That’s the first thing an ad needs to do. I’ve only seen the Ship My Pants ad run once – but I’ve seen it linked to online, posted on Facebook and referenced dozens of times. As viral marketing goes – it’s getting terrific views. Plenty of people are talking about shipping their pants. But is anybody talking about going to Kmart?
This is the problem with using blue humor in an ad – it generates lots of commentary, but unless you do it right, unless you balance the gag with the brand, you are simply running a dirty joke.Entertainment is great, if you’re Warner Brothers. If you are Kmart trying to promote the fact that you have free shipping from your online store? Not so much. Same with Big Gas Savings – This feels like a gag looking for a reason to happen – I’ve never seen a Kmart with a gas station. But then I rarely shop at Kmart and with ads like these, I doubt that’ll change anytime soon.

To me, the sad thing is these could have worked. The gag is in the phrase, not the constant repetition that happens in the spot. The agency could have made the point, gotten the gag through, and easily tied it to the brand, the fact that Kmart has free shipping or Kmart sells gasoline at a discount to their loyalty club members. It actually would have been simple. And blowing that is the reason these are bad ads, not because they are blue light specials.


That was a great ad. Or was it?

Paul Harvey for Ram Trucks

A zillion people watched the Superbowl. How many ran out and bought Ram pickups because they ran a really good ad?

I heard from two camps – some friends who are agriculturally enlightened and some who believe that hamburgers come from somewhere they don’t think about and then magically appear at McDonalds.  The urbanites gave the Dodge ad a small WTF? and moved on. Not exactly the target audience for a half-ton pickup. They don’t need a truck to haul the Bichon Frise to the groomer.

But I come from a  rural part of the world and Dad still owns a small wheat farm. Those friends and compadres from the barnyard world were ecstatic that Dodge would run a spot praising the hard work of farmers. Even the ranchers were impressed. There were large amounts of warm-fuzzies throughout the Heartland. And why not? Here were amazing photos of hard working families, salt of the earth folks, being lauded by the resonant tones of Paul, By God, Harvey. I remember many a day enjoying a Saturday hamburger at Stanley’s Drive-Inn, in Dad’s red Chevy pickup, listening to Mr. Harvey bring the lunchtime news. And then because Mr. Harvey was on the “farm station,” we then got the commodities report on pork bellies and winter wheat prices. Feeder heifers by the hundred weight. That spot was one of the most nostalgic 90, or was it 120 seconds(!?!), of advertising I’ve ever witnessed. Farm friends told me they got goosebumps. Only one problem with the commercial –

Nobody said they’d buy a pickup.

More than a few didn’t even know who was running the spot. The urbanites didn’t get it at all.  And then when word got out that the Richards Group had bought the idea from a different advertiser – A web site? Really? At the end of the day, advertising is supposed to tell you about the product, or entice you to buy it. Will people go look at a Ram pickup because of this ad? Time will tell. I owned a Dodge Ram once and liked the truck. But Ford has a a twin-turbo V6 and Chevy and GMC have new trucks coming out with high-tech interactive displays and new engines. Frankly, I’ve seen farmers. Talk to me about that twin turbo

Good day.

The Golden Quarter

We are right in the middle of the most important marketing time of the year for retailers. So why is the advertising so dang dull? This should be the time to break through. Ads should be slashing through the clutter like a hot knife through gingerbread.

I just did a quick mental rundown of TV commercials I’ve seen this year that make me stop and say, “Wow! Wish I’d done that.”

This year, I’ve got nothing.

Car companies usually do something – I mean I kinda like the Chevrolet campaign with Santa’s day job as a car salesman. They are funny and the guy playing Nick the salesman is dead-on. But there’s something sad at its core about Father Christmas hawking pick-ups at the Chevy dealer. Acura has a different kind of spooky going on – Celebrities driving like maniacs. In these spots, celebs like Dr. Phil, Suze Orman and Santa (he’s an equal opportunity car guy – he also shills for Mercedes) kidnap unsuspecting shoppers and take them for a spin in an new Acura. But they drive like a Jason Stratham chase scene. I guess we’re trying to show a real world confident sports sedan, but it comes off as wonderful holiday panic of distracted driving meets road rage.

Through the years there have been some classic Christmas ads – Santa riding a Norleco shaver, Lexus started a big trend with the giant bow on the car as a conspicuous consumption gift and beer companies usually do nice things. The Bud Clydesdales in the snow are impressive. I always liked the Miller ad with the one horse sleigh to a class version of “I’ll be home for Christmas.” Some of these ads are 30 years old. I don’t see anything this season that deserves to be running next week much, less next decade.

I know how hard it is to create a breakthrough campaign, but retailers must demand this of their agencies at this time of year. The next year of survival might just depend on it working right now.

Chasing Stingrays

Every 5 or 10 years a marketing event comes along that I really enjoy. It’s the introduction of a new model of Corvette. January of 2013 will be such an occasion. The seventh generation (C7 to those of us in the community) will bow on January 13th at 9:00am Eastern, to be exact. But who’s counting?

I’ve been a Corvette fan my whole life. Literally. My Uncle Phil has had Corvettes since before I was born and he took me riding before I could walk. I was hooked. Power. Speed. Noise. Strangely, this same thing didn’t happen in my Dad’s Studebaker Lark.

I watch these introductions as a fan, an owner and as a marketing guy. GM has had a rough time of it over the last few years, but they still know how to introduce a Corvette. This time there’s the expected long lead to the North American Auto Show in Detroit and the marketing wonks have unleashed a fantastic teaser campaign with a website countdown clock, YouTube videos that show snippets of the car blanketed in camouflage. There’s a camoed prototype C7 in the Gran Turismo 5 video game, so gamers can run it on all the great tracks of the world before the intro.

There’s always a game of cat and mouse as spy photographers try and capture every nuance of the car. They chase it through the mountains in cold weather and altitude testing. They camp out near the proving grounds. This has gotten really tough for the GM engineers since every phone in the world now takes HD video and high rez photos. The PR generated by this game of tag is huge with the slightest sighting generating ripples of buzz across the internet.

The Corvette brand managers trickle out information – here’s the logo. A few weeks later – here’s the info on the engine. Then the gauges… It’s a textbook case of product striptease. And the fans go wild.

So I comb through the web, looking for the new images, the dropped hint, the reporting of a casual conversation with a “GM insider who might lose his job if this gets out.” I know I’m being manipulated. I really don’t mind. Because at the end of this there will be a whole new product that’s more everything than the one in my garage. Cooler, hipper, faster… if I could just see it now.

I wonder if Uncle Phil has ordered his yet?

Does the Internet hate everything?

There’s a saying that everyone is a critic.
While the Internet has made that old chestnut true, it’s also given the world a situation where the critics have the anonymous power to shape communications. With a sharp wit and a screen name, anyone can derail months of planning and strategy by simply creating the buzz of disapproval, feinted insult and unsubstantiated offense.

Recently, the tourism folks in North Dakota unveiled a campaign touting the ability to visit North Dakota and “Leave A Legend”.  A print ad was moved to their Facebook page and lo-and-behold, someone took offense. The ad shows two gentlemen flirting with three women through a tavern window. Apparently the headline “Drinks, Dinner, Decisions…” was too much for someone.

I’ve done my share of ads that somebody, somewhere, didn’t like. And on more than one occasion a member of the general public even called a client to complain. They didn’t like a photo or a headline. In the case of every fast food ad I ever did, you could set your watch to somebody yelling that it didn’t look like the cheeseburger they unwrapped when they got it home.

It’s a fact of advertising life.

The simple truth is that not all advertising is directed at everyone who happens upon it. At some point the issue is reaching the most people with the right message.  If that strikes some as the wrong message, then the advertiser has a gut check.

My message to advertisers? It’s easy to kill an ad because somebody complains. But by the time somebody sees that ad, there are thousands of dollars invested in it. Even on the cheap.  If in the review process nobody raised the possibility of it being racy or offensive, then you need to do more than just pull the ad. You need to review your strategy, your team and your understanding of your target audience. If that passes muster, then stick to your guns. Advertising isn’t all things to all people. I hated the Burger King stuff from Crispin+Porter. The King in somebody’s bedroom, pranking a sleeping 20-something, bugged me more than it made me want to eat at BK. But I figured I’m not the target market.

So man up, North Dakota. Run the ad.

Let’s see if it leads to thousands of tourists leaving Vegas for Mt Rushmore and the potential to become legendary. And if that leads to young men winking at young ladies through tavern windows, folks are just going to have to deal with it.

Improve sales. Use a bulldog.

I’m a sucker for bulldogs. English, French, Boston. If Kuala Lumpur had bulldogs, I’d probably be a fan. One of the great things about bulldogs is they also star in some great commercials. This is mostly because they have wonderful dispositions and will pretty much stay where you put them.

My current favorite bulldog commercial comes from VW, purveyors of some excellent advertising recently, and I’m told, fairly decent cars. The spot uses Johnny Cash’s “Dirty Old Egg-Suckin’ Dog” behind Scott, the Scotsman from the Scotts’s lawn care commercials. Scott’s headed to his day job apparently, in a business suit, looking for his keys which he can’t find. He eyes the bulldog, picks him up and carries him to his VW, which unlocks when he holds the dog near.

With the bulldog on the backseat, Scott punches the start button and upon arriving at the vet, he holds the dog near the door and the windows automatically go up. Bulldogs are truly amazing.  The ad is from Deutsch, Los Angeles, and while I may never be a fan of Donny Deutsch, his people do know where to go to get the perfect canine co-star. As for the keys to Scott’s Volks? Well, this too shall pass.

Kill that ad

There have always been obnoxious ads. One of the great inventions of the 20th century, up there with the polio vaccine, integrated circuitry and Teflon, is the TV remote.  It’s the single greatest weapon against bad advertising. I wear out the batteries in mine killing off ads. Lately, it’s gotten a workout against a new nemesis:

The Samsung Spider.

The spot shows a typical business lunch until the phone on the nicely placeset table rings and lights up to reveal a tararntula screen wallpaper. The woman at the table leaps from the table screaming a high pitched wail that deafens babies, starts dogs barking across America and probably creates fertility issues. Her colleague leaps to action removing his shoe and begins to whack the thunder out of the Spider-Phone.  (Cue Homer Simpson singing “spider-phone, spider-phone…”)

I guess there is a reason that would make a company beat the tar out of its product beyond John Cameron Swayze telling viewers that Timex takes a licking and keeps on ticking, but in this case I don’t think so. By the time the phone rings and the big bug appears, I’ve hit the remote and am off in search of another phone that doesn’t need hammering.

Advertising lesson – breakthrough creative doesn’t become so obnoxious that it makes people change the channel after they’ve seen the spot twice.

How much are customers willing to pay for your social media efforts?

Coca-Cola has more Facebook followers than any other brand. Social Media experts and those who are trying to make a buck off new media love to point out the tremendous success and innovative ways that Coke has created and expanded its online community. But at what cost, and exactly who is paying the freight?

Here’s a tale of two sodas – these pics were at the local WalMart. There are plenty of Cokes available at $1.28 (the everyday “low” price) but the store brand which boasts considerably fewer than the 35 million Facebook fans Coke has, is all but sold out at 78¢.

It started me thinking – who is paying for the miracle of social media? It’s not just Mark Zuckerberg sucking dollars out of wallets to fashion an online paradigm shift. Here’s the world’s largest purveyor of colored sugar-water putting a premium price on its product to help support the marketing effort that creates a fanbase. People united by their willingness to join together and pronounce their love for caramel coloring and carbonation. Which they can get for half the price a few steps away.

There has to be a law of diminishing returns – what’s the break event and where the heck are the metrics that could possibly suggest that the Brand Managers at Coke are balancing the creative and management costs of all this social media to create an affinity for a product that all the creative and management make cost more to the consumer. Could the higher costs of Coke’s massive marketing efforts and the price point difference created by that branding effort be turning some consumers to the cheaper store brand alternatives?

As that great purple philosopher, Barney the Dinosaur once said, “I love you, you love me…” but where does that relationship go when it’s costing me 50¢ more a bottle to have you love me back?