January 23, 2004 by Colin
We’ve all grown up seeing the work of graffiti artists: the grand sweeping artworks decorating otherwise blank and bland urban warehouse facades, the quiet murals and memorials on alley walls, and the pathetic little Sharpie tags on every mailbox, cigarette machine and token dispenser.
But an idea in today’s WSJ startled me with its originality. It discussed how a Washington alliance of activist groups, including Greenpeace and Friends of Earth, has enlisted the help of graffiti artists to help in their campaign to secure the city’s railway tracks, and the tanker trains of hazardous chemicals they carry, from terrorist attack:
Just as a spy satellite has a different view of the Earth, a graffiti artist has a unique perspective on his world from underneath bridges and inside tunnels,” Mr. Hind [a Greenpeace worker] says.
Mr. Hind figured that since the street Picassos are always on the rails, they might know what was coming over the tracks. … Scott Davis, a former Amtrak police officer who until 2001 ran an antigraffiti unit in Washington says: “Graffiti on the rails means one thing: access.”
Why help the alliance? “Graffiti writers have a romantic sense of ownership of the rails and tunnels around a city,” [graffiti artist] Serk says. “Those are our spaces. That’s why we decided to help Greenpeace.”
The genius in the alliance’s campaign is in recognizing the unique assets available to help their grass roots campaign. Despite their relatively low profile, Washington’s community of graffiti artists are passionate and posessive about their environment. Just as importantly, they can easily single out security risks along the railway tracks.
January 22, 2004 by Colin
Some interesting demographics on fortune cookie fanciers, and their possibilities as a marketing channel: … about 96 percent of people who eat Chinese food open their cookies and read the fortunes, and that 67 percent read them aloud so that everyone dining with them will hear.
As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tells us, TBS added its own words of wisdom to the lame fortunes in 4 million cookies distributed in the New York metropolitan area. Chinese food lovers who cracked open the cookies — most containing bland cliches like “You display traits of charm and courtesy” — also got this advice: “Kung fu and car chases are in your future. A new hit action movie every weekend in December. Only on TBS.”
If you like fortune cookies you … are 29 percent more likely to spend over $75 a month for wireless, 42 percent more likely than the average Joe to have had vodka in the past month, 69 percent more likely to drink Corona beer, 32 percent more likely to drive a Volkswagen, 36 percent more likely to see a movie in the first two weeks of release, and more likely to have disposable dough.
January 20, 2004 by Colin
Startling results in the race to claim the Democratic nomination – over the past two weeks the guys with the good hair grabbed the attention of caucus participants across the cold wintry state of Iowa. Kerry and Edwards claimed the first and second spots last night, and today blue dress shirts are flying off the shelves as ex-Gephardt campaign staffers scramble to jump on the bandwagon.
Elsewhere in the Style section, Wesley Clark has been taking a lot of heat for picking up a grey argyle sweater in an attempt to soften his image. Then again, maybe he was just trying to stay warm while trying to fufill his New Year’s Resolution: meet every Democrat in New Hampshire by January 27.
Unfortunately, Clark is now trying to spin out of the argyle sweater story (he’s selling it on Ebay, with the proceeds to charity). The sweater has become something of a liability instead of simple prop. Clark’s encouraged the media to cover of previous sweater purchases, likely thanks to the advice of Chris Lehane, one of his senior strategists. Normally, these tips for talking heads are just one part of the common-sense advice we PR pros give to all prospective spokespersons. Unless your candidate has already been well-identified as a charming but uptight former four-star general.
All this reminds me of a song from about ten years ago: “The Sweater“:
Now if the sweater has, like, reindeer on it or is a funny color like yellow, I’m sorry but you can’t get away with a sweater like that.
Look for brown or gray or blue
Anything other than that and you know you’re dealing with someone who’s different
And different is not what you’re looking for
You’re looking for those Alpine-ski chiseled features and that sort of blank look which passes for deep thought or at least the notion that someone’s home
You’re looking for the boy of your dreams who is the same boy in the dreams of all of your friends …
You look at that sweater, carefully
And you realize that love made you temporarily blind
You’ve got a secret now, honey, and though you would never sink as low as him
you could blab it all over the school if you wanted
The label in that sweater said 100% Acrylic.
January 19, 2004 by Colin
The Gephardt campaign is using middle-aged crooner Michael Bolton in a get-out-the-vote campaign:
William J. Thompson, who is from Davenport, came to Gephardt’s event … after getting an automated phone call from singer Michael Bolton… “He said, ‘Hope to see you there,’ ” said Thompson, 50, a fan of Bolton but not yet of any particular candidate. A few minutes later, he got another robo-call, this one from Gephardt. “I thought, ‘Okay, what the heck? I’ll go.’ ”
Like a rock star building suspense, Gephardt cooled his heels in a backstage room for 25 minutes after arriving. He was preceded to the stage by Bolton, who warmed up the crowd with a few perfunctory remarks (“I had to fly to Moline to get here, but I couldn’t possibly say no”). The singer then launched into a song called “Go the Distance” (sample lyric: “It’s an uphill slope/But I won’t lose hope”), accompanied by a recording. He then fumbled with his sheet music and muttered, “I can sing another. It’s your call.”
The crowd, having waited so long for Gephardt, seemed indifferent to the notion. When Gephardt and his wife, Jane, finally made it to the stage, the room exploded with chants of “Dick and Jane!”
After Gephardt’s speech, Thompson … encountered Bolton behind the draped-off main room. … A moment later, Thompson turned to a reporter nearby and said, ‘I’m no longer undecided. I’ve decided I’m for Gephardt.”
January 19, 2004 by Colin
… asked Henry Kissinger at a White House news conference sometime in the 70s. The Columbia Journalism Review does some gentle handwringing this month over the professional preparation of spokespersons – and how this is leading to increasingly boring interviews.
January 16, 2004 by Colin
Marquis, a Boston company that specializes in reselling travel on private corporate jets, nailed a premier product placement last night. Its’ jets were the centrepiece in the latest episode of The Apprentice, an NBC reality show that pits overachievers against each other in the quest for a job wrking for Donald Trump.
Marquis has been working with the producers for months in order to pull off a tremendous placement: on last night’s show, the keeners had 48 hours to develop a marketing plan for the company and its product.
“For Marquis Jet to be featured on a really hot show like “The Apprentice” is the equivalent of hitting the lottery,” said Francis J. Kelly III, president and chief operating officer of ad agency Arnold Worldwide’s Boston office.
“If you’re a business jet company and you come out of nowhere and you’re on `The Apprentice’ with Donald Trump, it’s so relevant and cool that it magnifies the significance,” Kelly said. “Product placements are good, but this one is near perfect. My hat’s off to those guys.”
Try looking at the Boston Globe article linked up above for the CEO’s reaction to the marketing plans that were presented – and the mistakes made in developing them.
January 16, 2004 by Colin
Pop! Pr invented the “Arnold Effect” the other day, characterizing how the Schwarzenegger team concentrated their campaign efforts at influencing local and regional papers. According to Jeremy, small and medium-sized PR shops will profit in 2004 as clients find that, sometimes, large PR outfits lose sight of the trees for the forest.
Small to medium sized firms are better suited to local, grass roots campaigns, as they are more apt to look at the larger picture and realize that it’s not just about the large hits, but about messaging and wider range of the public. Hence, they work with the smaller, local media.
By working with smaller firms, clients can profit from greater attention from the principals, more detailed knowledge of local and regional issues, closer relationships with local media, and a willingness to include innovative and individual tactics in campaigns.
There are some parallels in comments Martin Sorrell of WPP made in a recent PRWeek: More focus, less dilution. More specialization. I still think if we know more about a topic, we will succeed. I think it’s organization. Having fewer, better people at the top, and bringing in better young people who can do the implementation and learn the business over time. Well, except for the small and medium-sized part.
But the new focus on individual attention isn’t limited to the PR industry. Over at Saatchi, Kevin Dundas is emphasizing the breadth of their work and expertise: “We have gone through the phase of being an advertising agency. That’s gone. More and more, we have become an ideas company.” Unfortunately, his strategy is anchored by the concept of account planning – whose emphasis on testing and data often seems like creativity for quants.
Is there a happy median – for the holding companies? Can they have their shareholder capitalization cake and eat it too? Boy Meets Girl S&J is going to try. The new London shop was formed by an alliance between an Interpublic network and the mutineering ex-founders from London’s well-reviewed St. Luke’s.
“Advertising can only do a number of things,” [Managing Director David] Pemsel explains. “In the past it has ignored other activities such as direct marketing, PR and design. And, for all the current talk of integration, I have failed to come across anyone genuinely able to create ideas and articulate them well through any form of communication. That’s the Boy Meets Girl vision.”
Despite the rush to “customization” by the holding companies and larger agencies, there are opportunities for small and mid-sized PR firms. You only have to look at how advertisers are examining how marketing, advertising and PR tactics can be used to communicate with the hispanic and “brown pound” markets.
And, as PR WEEK cautions this week: But as the number of Hispanics increases, so do the complexity of the demographic and the nuances of the culture. Hispanics present scary territory for many corporations: a consumer that cannot be ignored but is often not well understood by those spending the marketing dollars – making a more inclusive ‘urban’ approach an attractive, less threatening option.
And this presents an opportunity for well-informed small and mid-sized agencies.
January 13, 2004 by Colin
Tom Murphy has pointed to an interesting article on the PR challenges faced by US beef producers, now that a case of BSE has been discovered.
In June 2003, The Toronto Star’s entertainment critic drew an amusing, but insightful, comparison between the recent outbreaks of BSE, West Nile and SARS and Steven Spielberg’s thriller Jaws:
The first death is swift, savage and out of the blue. Public officials blame it on a fluke. They predict a speedy and inexpensive resolution. When more deaths occur, the officials shift to denial and damage control. They’re concerned about bad publicity, how it will hurt tourism and trade. The menace
suddenly halts and the officials rejoice: “Everything will soon be back to normal,” they say. Then the deaths start happening again …
Sound familiar? The above, in a nutshell, is how the SARS epidemic has progressed in its three-month Toronto rampage. Parallels can be drawn with the mad cow and West Nile diseases.
It also sounds a lot like a classic Hollywood thriller: Jaws. And we can learn something from it …
Don’t assume it’s an easily solved problem: The SARS, mad cow and West Nile crises all started with single cases, and in each instance, officials laboured to ease public fears of a mass outbreak. … Good intentions, perhaps, but as in the case of the Amity shark, pretending there’s a quick fix can prove fatal.
Don’t put salesmanship ahead of safety: “I was acting in the town’s best interests,” said Amity Mayor Vaughan, sounding an awful lot like the politicians who have fiddled while Toronto burned … Politicians need to do more to solve the long-term health care crisis in Ontario than simply pose for photo ops eating Chinese food and steak dinners.
Don’t be cheap: Sea salt Quint demands $10,000 to hook the killer shark, and Amity officials flinch and hedge. “You gotta make up your minds,” he tells them. “Do you wanna stay alive and ante up, or do you want to play it cheap and be on welfare the whole winter?” … Going cheap on health care has made coping with epidemics all the more difficult.
Don’t assume it’s over: As angry nurses told the Star, Toronto’s second major SARS outbreak can be blamed on senior health officials and politicians who refused to accept the possibility of resurgence by the disease. So eager were the suits to get back to business as usual, they refused to acknowledge that a second shark was silently waiting.
Get ready for the big one: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” Chief Brody tells Quint when he first sees how large the great white shark really is. Good advice for the next big disease to come our way, say Ebola or anthrax. We might look back and think of SARS, mad cow and West Nile as small threats. A bigger health care boat may well be needed.
� There was too much secrecy
� There was too much unjustified reassurance
� The Government needs to be more open with the public
� It is important to acknowledge and deal with uncertainty
Startling similarities, eh?
January 12, 2004 by Colin
Political campaigns have long used music to motivate and energize their workers and supporters. As the result of endless repetition at campaign events, advertising and news coverage, some adopted campaign songs are more recognized for their political connotations than their original success.
The War Room, the successful documentary about the ’92 Clinton campaign for President, emphasized the influence of Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow) – especially in setting the stage at the Democratic Convention in New York and at the Inauguration in Washington.
Farther back in time, Ronald Reagan used Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” as a 1984 campaign theme. Walter Mondale tried to counterattack, and hard, with a brutal ad juxtaposing pictures of children with missles launching, set to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Teach your Children.”
Tim Robbins mined this vein of thought in his “mockumentary” about the political campaign of Bob Roberts, a right-wing guitar-playing candidate for the Senate.
Vincent Camby of the NYT nails the character: He’s young, healthy and sincere. More important, he appropriates gestures and language associated with 1960′s protest movements and uses them in the cause of his own brand of 1990′s right-wing rabble-rousing. He calls himself a “rebel conservative.”
One of my favourite singers, Billy Bragg, made similar comments about the Labour Party’s choice of song in 2001: it was “bland” and evoked “watered-down Conservatism”. He said: “I think so much of New Labour is about presentation rather than detail. “They are hoping we won’t listen to the verse and just hear the chorus – it’s style over content.”
Camby’s comment about appropriating the cultural indicators of the 60′s can
be applied to a number of candidates over the past thirty years, Dean included. On Songs for Dean, you can find titles like “I Want My Country Back,” “Battle Hymn of the Blog,” “Take Me Out To the Blog Game,” and, interestingly, “With Dean We’re Marching On” – which is sung to the Battle Hymn of the Republic. (warning: this wav is a real church school organ rendition)
January 9, 2004 by Colin
Starbucks, in their unstinting quest to become the world-wide coffee shop of choice, has unleashed a new marketing tool: “Make It Your Drink,” a handy pocket-sized guide to ordering coffee at the chain. Sections include “Learning the Lingo,” “What’s Your Drink,” “Fun with Frappucino,” and “How to Order.” New terms being introduced include “unleaded” for decaf, and “ristretto” for a short pull of espresso.
Starbucks spokeswoman Jenny Walsh said the North American campaign is instructive, fun and intended to highlight the 19,000 combinations of coffee-based drinks and flavours on the menu.
Further, she said that the descriptive terms, many of which are of Italian origin, derive entirely from loyal customers.
The booklet is being distributed at outlets across North America, and includes a coupon for free ‘fixins with your next coffee. “Our goal with the customization tools is to give customers an easy way to experiment with their beverages and feel more confident ordering any drink-on or off the menu.” says an exec in Seattle.
The booklet may be trying to accomplish too much: both encourage regular customers to add extra items to their order (ah – upselling!) AND reassure new customers that the process isn’t too hard. To wit: “If you’re nervous about ordering, don’t be. … But if we call back your drink in a way that’s different from what you just told us, we’re not correcting you. We’re just translating your order into “barista-speak” – a standard way baristas call out orders.”
Mary Tyler Moore, yes. Rhoda, yes. Alex P. Keaton, yes. Jo from “the Facts of Life,” no.
January 9, 2004 by Colin
First I went to Bloglines, to look over my blogroll. Then I jumped to Dana’s Blog, who pointed me to a new marketing blog called What’s Your Brand Mantra?
Browsing through her blog, I noted this entry about a map titled “The World According to the United States,” which can be found on David St. Lawrence’s blog. Politics aside, the map characterizes Canadians as only being concerned about Moose and Hockey. What about donuts?
This reminded me of Canadian World Domination, a website which came out about the same time as the SoSth Park movie. This is a fairly extensive site showing how an aggressive Canada viewed the world. Here’s a map of what they see as Canada’s future dominion.
And here’s the hilarious song from South Park: Blame Canada (wav)
Finally, a few more seconds of Google searching on Canadian World Domination coughed up this great Molson Canadian ad! (Go ahead, watch it. Will Shatner does some free-form verse!)
January 6, 2004 by Colin
Which means it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the world’s largest convenience store chain is jumping on the Atkins trendwagon. Concerned about your weight – but not quite concerned enough to make sensible choices when shopping at the grocery store? Stop at 7 – Eleven for Atkins Bakery bread, Atkins Crunchers chips, Morning Start bars, and Advantage meal replacement bars and shakes.
“Atkins is long past being a fad,” said Kenneth Fries, 7-Eleven category manager for snacks. “What first was considered a fad and then a trend has now crossed over to become a lifestyle for millions of people. An estimated 25-30 million are following some kind of low-carb weight-management program. Fortunately, now you can have your cake and bread, and eat it too.”
That’s right – the spokesman for the new Atkins menu is called Fries.
But the Atkins diet isn’t just causing heart palpitations among convenience store marketers – imagine the stress over at the American Institute of Baking! People just aren’t buying rye, hot cross buns, wonder bread, croissants or bagels anymore. The most recent Fortune discusses the impact of the new low-carb diets on everyone’s favourite sandwich component: After peaking at 147 pounds per person in 1997, U.S. consumption of wheat flour fell to about 137 pounds last year. Bread baskets in restaurants across the U.S. remain unmolested.
But what can stop this decline? Milk, pork, beef have their tag lines. Radio, print, outdoor and TV campaigns remind you to pick some up on your way home, as part of a balanced diet. The industry is worried enough that they recently convened the first meeting of the National Bread Leadership Council.
Their first strategy has been to work along some tried-and-true public relations principles. Perhaps a catchy tag line would bring people back to
bread, an audience member suggests. “We’re on that. We have ‘Whole grains at every meal,’ ” replies Kirk O’Donnell of the American Institute of Baking. Mmmm! Crunchy bread! Maybe with some muesli and yogurt!
The NBLC also released a survey that revealed a majority of Americans have
negative impressions of the Atkins diet and the impact of carbs in your diet.
They’ve simply got to correct the “crisis of consumer misperception,” as one NBLC spokeswoman puts it. Ah. The old “let me speak slowly so you’ll understand me” gambit. Always proven to shift consumer opinion and preferences.
Who immediately comes to mind when you think of bread products? Fred the Baker, sweating over a tray of glazed treats at your local Dunkin Donuts (retired, by the way)? Betty Crocker? Aunt Jemima? Hmm. A perception problem definitely exists.
Maybe the bread industry should confront this challenge with a combination of marketing, public relations and old-fashioned hucksterism. After all, 7 – Eleven isn’t facing down an industry-rattling change in consumer attitudes. They’re being opportunistic, seizing onto an opportunity to establish a position in a lucrative niche market. And they’ve done it by identifying products and tastes that would appeal to their traditional clientele.
Really, this is an old lesson. How did the Kellogg’s convince thousands to eat the baked corn flakes they developed at their health retreat? The first impulse to market was demand from customers – then they built demand among the wider population through gimmicks, public relations and old-fashioned marketing.
Subway has recognized the challenge as well. They’ve spent years convincing North Americans that submarine sandwiches full of processed meats are “healthy foods,” but I was a little surprised to see their recent ads for Atkins Wraps. Other companies are preparing Atkins Bakery Bread, and low-carb desserts. One ingenious entrepreneur even marketed low-carb, low-fat doughnuts (he’s going to jail now).
How’s bread holding up? “We don’t promote ourselves as well as the beef and dairy folks,” says O’Donnell later on in the hallway. “It bothers me a little.” (In case you didn’t notice, November was National Bread Month.)
Update: Seth Godin just published an anecdote about meeting up with an Atkins devotee at a grocery store – who didn’t pick up the Atkins chips because they had too many carbs. He notes that the power of the idea – that carbs are bad – in this case outweighed even the influence of the Atkins advertising wave.
January 5, 2004 by Colin
Two recent reviews of long-treasured magazines prompted this little mini-reminiscence. I know I’m overlooking a lot.
Once upon a time, the world was a gentler and kindler place. You had search hard and long for irony, satire and sarcasm in popular culture in North America. Sure, Lenny Bruce, Newhart, Cavett, Carlin and the Smothers Brothers were working clubs and skating a fine line of morality on TV, but you were more likely to see Jack Hanna or Senor Wences talking to Ed or Johnny most nights.
National Lampoon helped crack the veneer of respectablity. Like Carlin, they brought a critical eye to the details and conventions of that defined our everyday suburban life. Slate’s taken a look at a re-issue of a book that made us re-examine our own surroundings – the familiar cast of nerds, dweebs, losers, geeks, sluts, bikers and teacher’s pets we all knew intimately from school – National Lampoon’s 1964 High School Yearbook
National Lampoon’s work continues to resonate in popular culture today. Doug Kenney, one of the Yearbook‘s authors, helped write Animal House as well as Caddyshack. P.J. O’Rourke was another author.
Despite this ground-breaking work, it would be years before the TV networks would reluctantly welcome the caustic wit, mildly offensive skits and satirical observations of everymen like David Letterman – and then only late at night.
In 1986, as Folio reminds us, Spy magazine was launched. Gradon Carter and Kurt Andersen helped rip open the pastel pink underbelly of the egomaniacal 80s – with its attendant power suits, pink suspenders, money clips, flashy cars and pretentious society gatherings. Spy’s irreverent approach to the affairs, parties and peccadillos of businessmen, celebrities and policiticans echoed many of the ideas first published by Britain’s Private Eye and Punch magazines – but in a louder, more aggressive and more colourful manner.
Spy’s influence can be seen everywhere from The New York Times itself (which adopted its disembodied celebrity heads) to the snide asides that pop up in Entertainment Weekly and The New York Observer.
Maybe the loudest incarnation of this influence was E!’s Talk Soup, where hosts like Greg Kinnear and John Henson distilled a day’s worth of talk show freaks, soap opera antics and news oddities into a soundbite and video clip potpourri – narrated with more than a touch of sarcasm.