Typography, advertising and favoured clients


Typographica has run a design nugget that hits upon a pet peeve of mine: the tendency of graphic designers and ad agencies to run with tried, true and often boring formats and designs.

Their interview with Phil Martin, the designer of a number of fresh variations on older typefaces, prompted this comment about a favoured client.

… “It’s too Hot to cook” is as nice a design as I have ever done. It was an ad I did for Dallas Power & Light. Oh, what memories. Every time I had a new face ready, it would become the look of my next DP&L ad. It gave Martin Studios a city-wide showing of a look you could get only by hiring Martin Studios …

[There’s] somebody else to thank for helping me become a type designer: Ray Ward, the DP&L company spokesman and ad man, gave me free range to give the ads any look I chose. [One of Martin’s sample books] shows ten DP&L graphics!

I admit many corporate communicators may not have the leeway to allow this sort of creative input. Branding guides and corporate messaging are an important part of defining and sustaining a corporate identity. Graphic designers, however, are still an important part of the creative process – and if they don’t volunteer new ideas on an old theme, should be pushed and prodded to earn their creative premium.

Otherwise, I can use the corporate PowerPoint template and Photoshop to set up my new ad.

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The subtle details of food porn


How does an editor and a writer become a cook? That’s the premise of Bill Buford’s “Heat” – a book published in mid-2006. While I really enjoyed the book, one passage shed some light on the growing popularity of food porn:

“…The new shows put a premium on presentation rather than knowledge and tended to have intimate-seeming camera close-ups of foods, as though objects of sexual satisfaction.

The skin-flick feel was reinforced by a range of heightened effects, especially amplified sounds of frying, snapping, crunching, chewing, swallowing. There seemed always to be a tongue, making small, wet, bubbly tongue sounds.

The “talent” (also known as a “crossover” personality, usually a woman with a big smile and no apron) was directed to be easy with her tongue and use it conspicuously – to taste food on a spoon, say, or work it around a batter-coated beater, or clean the lips with it.

The aim was spelled out for me by Eileen Opatut, a former programming executive. “We’re looking for the kind of show that makes people want to crawl up to their television set and lick the screen.”…”

The popular definition of food porn fetishizes food, either by preparing intricate and ingredient-rich recipes, accompanied by carefully composed photos (the Playboy of food porn) or the rough and sloppy presentation of clearly delicious but probably quite unhealthy entrees (something other than Playboy. I leave the choice to you).

Let’s be clear: there are two components to food porn.

One, the excessive attention paid to blemish-free and colourful ingredients. This is an ingredient list that demands the chemicals and horticultural shortcuts developed during the nineteenth and twentieth century. The luscious “money shot” of a basket of fruit, a smooth and supple tomato, a tropical fruit that seems freshly picked, even if it is a cold and heartless winter outside.

Two, the emphasis on friendly and attractive cooks, chefs and hosts. Not necessarily stunners – those pinnacles of breeding, genetics and cosmetic surgery are still left for the faux newsmagazine shows – but pleasant and entertaining folk. The kind of strangely familiar person you wouldn’t mind inviting over to help make dinner, maybe pick out some new dish sets, and even redecorate the bathroom.

As this excerpt from a 2005 On the Media broadcast further explains:

“FREDERICK KAUFMAN: It’s also shot very differently. It’s actually shot single-camera as opposed to a four-camera television format. And so it’s almost shot like a 35-millimeter film. You get an amazing angle on Giada, who is beautiful, and who always is wearing a very close-cut sleeveless top. And then you get the food, and then you get Giada, and then you get her fingers on the food. And oh, it’s so moist. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]”

I am sure you didn’t need my help to notice this. The second the Food Network became a favoured channel in dorm lounges, industry executives took note.

I’ve noticed a big difference in the food programming produced in Great Britain and the United States. (Let’s not talk about food programs in Canada) My memories of British food porn only include one scantily-clad chef: Jaimie Oliver. And there is NO WAY I ever wanted to see the bare forearm of either of the Two Fat Ladies.

Meanwhile, wholesome Western New York gal Rachael Ray has appeared in FHM. The restaurant critic at the New York Times – feared by some for his/her ability to cripple and crush new restaurants – has a blog.

All the while, some traditional food writers see this fetishization and popularization as a weakening their trade, limiting the scope and depth of food-related stories prepared for readers.
What would the apex of the food fetishization trend look like? How about Giada vs. Rachael Ray on Iron Chef? (YouTube)

[tags] food porn, food fetish, Food Network, Giada, Rachael, vegetables, popular culture [/tags]

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About that stupid survey …


“The most important phase of the communications survey is the evaluation phase.” Ever heard that? You have, at least from your boss during the annual performance review. Or from a media monitoring vendor making a pitch.

Of course, every communicator is painfully aware of the weaknesses of common evaluation methods.

  • Focus Groups? Easily railroaded by dominant personalities. Undermined by poor moderators. Doomed to failure by moderator’s guides developed by committee.
  • Telephone Surveys? Weakened by dwindling response rates. Limited by time. Stupid caller ID!
  • Advertising Equivalency Value? Don’t get me started on this voodoo economics!
  • Media Analysis? How often does the analysis relate your campaign to the paralell activities of your competitors? The analysis is also naturally coloured by the education and cultural upbringing of the analyst.
  • Direct Response Cards? Favoured by the already disappointed and the optimistic freeloader. As one comedian once said “I have a business card. It says ‘Mitch Hedberg, Possible Lunch Winner’.”

Sure. I’m exaggerating. I’m overlooking the benefits that can be found in each approach.

But everyone can relate to MRad’s “Don’t Coach Me On How to Answer Your Stupid Survey.” His VW dealer suggested how MRad should fill out his customer satisfaction survey, so the dealership could keep their company’s high performance rating.

The problem with this approach? By suggesting how to undermine the survey process, the dealer is undermining the customer’s confidence in the “five star rating,” the “certified service,” the “top customer service award” – all the crap that convinced the customer (who’s sitting RIGHT THERE, let’s remember) that this particular dealership wasn’t out to screw him.

Naturally, the dealership wants to make sure you leave a happy customer. There’s even some value, given the emphasis put on quality service by dealer groups, manufacturers and ratings groups, to making sure customers don’t leave with hidden grudges or issues.

But when you influence survey results with customers by drawing the link between their ratings and your pay package, you render the survey nearly useless.

And you weaken their confidence in your actual commitment to quality and customer satisfaction.

[tags] survey, survey technique, auto dealer, customer satisfaction [/tags]

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Hey client! Two minutes for looking so good, you handsome devil!



Is a public relations counsellor’s primary motivation to “make their client look good?” That was the point offered during a favoured podcast this week, and I found myself disagreeing quite animatedly with my car dashboard.

“Looking good” is certainly the goal for marketers, bzz agents, publicity agents, cosmetologists and Maurice Richard.

On a superficial level, PR counsellors are responsible for making sure their clients look good. A sustained and positive corporate, brand or personal image is always the desired result.

Nonetheless, an effective agency or in-house communicator should prepare their clients for any circumstance. That can include glowing puff pieces in the trades, a smooth quarterly call, and a glamorous product launch. It can also cover vital logistics delays, product recalls and labour unrest – not to mention marital discord.

The real test of the relationship formed between client and counsellor comes in those moments of pressure. Will a kowtowing desire for approbation (or a simplistic sense of politesse) prompt a communicator to minimize the challenges that will have to be faced before digging out of a negative public image? Or has the client been prepared, conditioned, warned that effective public relations sometimes means taking a couple of punches and living to see another day?

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Hit ’em right back media relations


The Backbencher points out that Britain’s Office of the Deputy Prime Minister now features a “rapid rebuttal” section on its website (up to the right).

“Putting the RECORD straight” (their caps, not mine) offers short little retorts to recent news reports. Tidbits like:

    This report is utter nonsense. SAVE clearly are only interested in ill-informed scaremongering, not the facts. Nor are they interested in helping communities who have been blighted by low demand and boarded up homes – people who support their local pathfinder programme.”


    This is scare-mongering. We have made clear that any structural changes in local government will not lead to increased burdens on council tax payers.”

I’m tempted to call this the Dee Snyder school of media response. The responses posted so far vary between well considered FAQs and paragraph-long reaction pieces – the latter completely understandable but for the unsettling emergence of “scare-mongering” as a favoured phrase.

Especially when they can’t settle on how to spell the word properly.

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Pricing strategies and compassion: why cut bereavement fares?


Given the storm buffetting the international airline industry, you’d think Air Canada would be taking advantage of every opportunity available to build goodwill and encourage customer loyalty – especially since the airline just emerged from bankruptcy protection and is competing against several strong domestic discount carriers.

According to CanWest news, they have eliminated their discounted fares for bereavement cases and emergency medical travel in North America. Why? I can understand the economic argument: those discounted fares are a remnant from the old airline industry pricing model, where limited seat supply and poor competition created a perfect environment for an airline to gouge short notice travellers. Airlines – at the risk of appearing heartless – had to recognize that these travellers didn’t fit into their normal customer segments and deserved exception from their oligarchic pricing schemes.

Today, pricing is driven by route-by-route competition among carriers, seasonal specials and web promotions. An Air Canada spokesperson has argued the discounts aren’t necessary any more as their pricing is much more competitive, especially on the web. In effect, competition has outstripped their old pricing strategies. (Vancouver Sun, behind a stupid subscriber wall)

Fine. The airline’s economic environment has changed. But why is WestJet, a discount carrier and strong competitor, continuing its bereavement discounts?

Because WestJet can look beyond its spreadsheets to see the customer at the counter. To see the human who needs help and compassion at a particularly stressful moment in their life. Who just wants a big faceless company to acknowledge their challenges and maybe offer some help.

And that extra moment of attention helps build lasting customer relationships.

A final point: Air Canada still offers these discounts on their international routes. Which gives the impression that their international customers are still paying extortionate prices, or are more favoured than their domestic customers.

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Tour de France: I’m just not a target market


Every July, I tune into the Tour de France. It’s a formidable enterprise, with hundreds of bicyclists straining up impossible hills and racing across hundreds of kilometres. Chasing behind them are hundreds more team managers, equipment cars, motorcycle cameras, helicopters and mobile TV studios.

I dabble in mountain biking. I know the bike manufacturers, the equipment makers, even some of the personalities battling it out during each stage of the race. The leading racers have strong personalities, push big rings through the pain and endure horrible injuries: but any emotional attachment I may develop will eventually end in marketer’s wishes going unfulfilled.

Watching the Tour, you cannot help but be impressed by the marketing strategy put into the event. There are logos, banners, flags, posters, bike stickers, helmet decals, emblazoned shirts, personalized sweaters, and silkscreened bicycling caps everywhere. Every inch of useable space is exploited.

Nevertheless, I am completely disconnected from the marketing juggernaut created to support the Tour. Race organizers boast of the millions of viewers watching the race in dozens upon dozens of countries, but what’s the accuracy of the marketing efforts?

Unfortunately, Coke’s sponsorship didn’t win a convert in the McKay family – I was hooked after my first happy meal at McD’s. I admire the team assembled under the sponsorship of the US Postal Service, but I can’t use their mail service.

I recognize some of the French, Italian and German brand names splashed across the backs of the favoured riders, but I will have no opportunity to run down to the store and pick up some Davitamon. I don’t need a Phonak hearing aid.

Still – I do recognize Sodexho – and remember the regrettable menu selections made by the “chefs” they had working in my university cafeteria.

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Why do people lie to pollsters?


We know the general public lies to us: during focus groups, in-store sampling, telephone polling, door-to-door canvassing, and in every other form of public opinion research.

Marginal Revolution has been thumbing through (what we consider) an old university text, and unearthed an excerpt from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s public opinion theory that might shed some light. Here’s his comment:

This is an interesting public opinion theory. It assumes that aggregate public opinion has two components – a selfish and biased component and a component that produces the “right” public policy. The difference between the optimal policy and the median voter’s policy is due not to ignorance or systemic error, but to selfish desires that undermine the provision of public goods.

Ideally, public opinion research would prompt decisions that favour the “right” public policy. Unfortunately, the clients actually paying for the research frequently get in the way. As do genpop participants who lie about their motivations, goals, influencers, favoured goods and preferred policies.

As Slate told us in October:

“The correlation between stated intent and actual behavior is usually low and negative,” writes Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman in his influential book How Customers Think. After all, he notes, 80 percent of new products or services fail within six months when they’ve been vetted through focus groups.

That would explain how Coca-Cola thinks C2 will be a success.

Oh – and if you’ve drunk the POR Kool-Aid and are insufficiently cautious about extrapolating POR results, all those anomalies can be explained through sampling errors, measurement errors, margins of error, coverage error and non-response error. Here’s a short primer.

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Posh and Becks – riding out the wave of celebrity shame


Richard Bailey’s got a couple of good links to possible PR tactics for David Beckham and Posh Spice, who are facing claims of marital infidelity.

Excerpts from two separate articles jump out:

Just think: if you or I were facing such a crisis in our marriage, whether anyone had ever heard of us or not, the overriding priority would surely be to find somewhere – anywhere – where we could get to the bottom of the facts and then review our subsequent feelings in private …

But not Mr and Mrs Beckham. Faced with exposure and humiliation on a monumental scale, their immediate response, Ceaucescu-style, is to phone not a counsellor or a friend for advice but a photographer for an image fix.(Guardian, reg. req.)


Along with instructing their lawyers, this seems to be the tactic most favoured by the Beckhams.

The couple have been seen frolicking in the snow at an exclusive French ski resort, leaving a London restaurant hand in hand, larking about at Beckingham Palace, and out and about in Madrid.

But the strategy has come at a price, with every facial expression scrutinised for hidden meanings. (BBC)

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