P&G … and authenticity?

02/25/04

Over at Engage, Greg’s focused on Proctor & Gamble’s continuing quest for measurable results and effective techniques in marketing and advertising. He was prompted to comment by Jeff Jarvis, who in turn was spinning off a recent speech by P&G’s global marketing officer.

The speech has a lot of self-congratulation. It makes some broad generalizations. And the easy take-away quote is:

All marketing should be permission marketing. All marketing should be so appealing that consumers want us in their lives. We should strive to be invited into consumers’ lives and homes.

But there’s a more detailed point to be found in the speech notes:

Consumers today are less responsive to traditional media. They are embracing new technologies that empower them with more control over how and when they are marketed to. They are making more purchase decisions in environments where marketers have less direct influence (in store, word of mouth, professional recommendations, etc.).

It’s easy to jump on P&G’s apparent misinterpretation of “permission marketing,” but the speaker does make clear their approach is about “collaboration.” It’s about reaching out to P&G consumers through new and vibrant channels, channels where they have proven receptive and open to innovative marketing messages.

Together with our partners, we’re learning how new connection points can have a profound impact on how we reach consumers beyond the 30-second TV spot (in-store, mobile technology and text message groups, pop-ups, digitized billboards that can be programmed, coffee wrappers).

(Well, maybe not pop-ups)

P&G has been beating this drum for years. They’ve been demanding better consumer information from the media, more creative marketing and PR approaches from their suppliers, and have focused on results that can be measured, compared and improved.

And remember, they’re still in business to sell us fragrance-free anti-perspirant, super absorbent paper towels and scented toilet paper rolls. So they’ll always be pushing something new, something improved, something not necessarily top-of-mind in our consumer consciousness.

That’s why they’ve started Tremor – an advertising arm of P&G dedicated to examining how to build word-of-mouth momentum among young consumers for products like Cover Girl Outlast Lipcolor lipstick, Pringles and Noxzema. Tremor doesn’t break any new ground by focusing on the 1% of youth who are “connectors” in fashion/trends/styles with their peers. It’s the same as the influencers or influentials concept floated by other marketing and PR firms.

But P&G has the resources and the budget to back these ideas, and Tremor is making its impact felt. Dreamworks drew upon Tremor’s network of 280,000 youth members to search for title suggestions for it’s new teen movie. 60,000 responses resulted in 20 identical suggestions; Eurotrip.

About 10 percent of teens who take a seven-question survey about themselves and their social activities and network make the cut. Recruited teens are sent an information kit by mail that includes a notification to parents.

Since she joined, [one teen] has offered her opinion on everything from music demos to facial scrubs. She’s also previewed unreleased songs by Avril Lavigne last summer and Super Bowl ads before they aired.

How successful is the idea? P&G is thinking of starting a similar agency targeted at mothers.

(I’m going to add to this tomorrow)

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P&G … and authenticity?

02/25/04

Over at Engage, Greg’s focused on Proctor & Gamble’s continuing quest for measurable results and effective techniques in marketing and advertising. He was prompted to comment by Jeff Jarvis, who in turn was spinning off a recent speech by P&G’s global marketing officer.

The speech has a lot of self-congratulation. It makes some broad generalizations. And the easy take-away quote is:

All marketing should be permission marketing. All marketing should be so appealing that consumers want us in their lives. We should strive to be invited into consumers’ lives and homes.

But there’s a more detailed point to be found in the speech notes:

Consumers today are less responsive to traditional media. They are embracing new technologies that empower them with more control over how and when they are marketed to. They are making more purchase decisions in environments where marketers have less direct influence (in store, word of mouth, professional recommendations, etc.).

It’s easy to jump on P&G’s apparent misinterpretation of “permission marketing,” but the speaker does make clear their approach is about “collaboration.” It’s about reaching out to P&G consumers through new and vibrant channels, channels where they have proven receptive and open to innovative marketing messages.

Together with our partners, we’re learning how new connection points can have a profound impact on how we reach consumers beyond the 30-second TV spot (in-store, mobile technology and text message groups, pop-ups, digitized billboards that can be programmed, coffee wrappers).

(Well, maybe not pop-ups)

P&G has been beating this drum for years. They’ve been demanding better consumer information from the media, more creative marketing and PR approaches from their suppliers, and have focused on results that can be measured, compared and improved.

And remember, they’re still in business to sell us fragrance-free anti-perspirant, super absorbent paper towels and scented toilet paper rolls. So they’ll always be pushing something new, something improved, something not necessarily top-of-mind in our consumer consciousness.

That’s why they’ve started Tremor – an advertising arm of P&G dedicated to examining how to build word-of-mouth momentum among young consumers for products like Cover Girl Outlast Lipcolor lipstick, Pringles and Noxzema. Tremor doesn’t break any new ground by focusing on the 1% of youth who are “connectors” in fashion/trends/styles with their peers. It’s the same as the influencers or influentials concept floated by other marketing and PR firms.

But P&G has the resources and the budget to back these ideas, and Tremor is making its impact felt. Dreamworks drew upon Tremor’s network of 280,000 youth members to search for title suggestions for it’s new teen movie. 60,000 responses resulted in 20 identical suggestions; Eurotrip.

About 10 percent of teens who take a seven-question survey about themselves and their social activities and network make the cut. Recruited teens are sent an information kit by mail that includes a notification to parents.

Since she joined, [one teen] has offered her opinion on everything from music demos to facial scrubs. She’s also previewed unreleased songs by Avril Lavigne last summer and Super Bowl ads before they aired.

How successful is the idea? P&G is thinking of starting a similar agency targeted at mothers.

(I’m going to add to this tomorrow)

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Ebay, the social network

02/24/04

A column in the Guardian makes an interesting point about Ebay as social network AND reputation managment tool:

EBay does something no other network has done: it treats the social network as the supply-chain and by building systems of communications and reputation management into the network, turns a group of individuals into an organised, structured and wildly economically viable marketplace. The same can be said at an emergent level about open-source knowledge projects such as the Wikipedia encyclopedia.

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Scorecard: how to measure your anonymous informants

02/24/04

Roy Greenslade at Media Guardian has a handy cheat sheet on the different levels of sophistication, knowledge and insight accorded to anonymous informants, including:

* An insider – someone who hopes to know enough, one day, to be a source.

* A friend – the celebrity’s PR.

* A close friend – the celebrity.

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Richard Branson and regional economic development

02/24/04

Richard Branson is a master publicist and skilled marketer. He has built several Virgin companies on a number of continents, each a brand to be reckoned with in its industry.

In the past, he has ballooned around the world (in a giant Virgin balloon, of course), went skydiving, dressed up as a bride and took his fight to market leader Air Canada’s biggest market by playing street hockey underneath the CN Tower with a team of pee-wee players.

These days, though, Branson is the target of promotions and gimmicks. He’s thinking about extending the reach of his Virgin Group to serve domestic US air routes, and cities across the US are embracing outrageous PR and marketing stunts to woo him to their airports.

In San Francisco, a Judy Garland look-alike, drag queens and a tall blond in Virgin-red surfer trunks met his development team upon landing. (Here’s a snapshot of the political firepower, celebrities and stunts a city like SF will call upon to win a new airline and new jobs.)

On the other coast, Boston sent over live lobsters outfitted with Virgin luggage tags. Oh, and offered $1.5 million for employee training.

“Being able to brand with Virgin is important for Boston because it could change perceptions of old revolutionary Boston and show we are cutting-edge … which is very valuable for us,” said Susan Elsbree, spokesman for the Boston Redevelopment Corp.

Northern Virginia is on the list as well, but they’re being close-lipped about their strategy.

How has Virgin USA reacted to all this attention? “We didn’t have expectations of a dog and pony show,” admits Antonio Hofbauer, corporate development manager for Virgin USA. “We have been surprised by the level of activity and the efforts from different agencies and politicians.”

In case you’re wondering how Richard Branson remains so creative and energetic, here’s a recent Fortune article chronicling a few days of his life (sub. req.).

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Now, I’m only a Canadian …

02/23/04

but what is Ralph Nader’s problem?

Sure, he’s right to criticize the corporate and political interests that seem to dominate inside-the-beltway decision-making. Sure, there are thousands of disenchanted and disenfranchised voters who would scream for meaningful change.

But that doesn’t mean you should throw your hat in the ring if all it will accomplish is splitting the vote – to the benefit of your ideological nemesis.

In today’s most oft-cited stat: During the 2000 election, Nader received 97,488 votes in Florida, where President Bush officially defeated Al Gore by 537 votes.

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Is a fry cook a manufacturing job?

02/21/04

When the new Economic Report of the President came out this week, questions were raised whether fast-food restaurants needed to be reclassified. At the moment, they are considered part of the service sector. But is the collection, assembly and distribution of Big Macs really a manufacturing job?

The White House thought this question important enough to box the relevant section, so it stood out from the other stats in the 417 page report.

There is some logic to the proposition: combining water and soft drink concentrate in a bottle is considered manufacturing, but doing the same thing at a fountain is considered service.

Some economists have underlined the need to logically and consistently identify industries – especially if this could have an impact on their eligibility for tax incentives and other forms of relief. Hmm. Maybe McDonald’s should consider pursuing this idea, given their financials.

Then again, this could be a positioning maneouver by the White House. After all, if fast food restaurants are reclassified as manufacturing industries, the dismal performance of the manufacturing sector will seem to improve as McDonald’s, Quizno’s and Pizza Huts continue to open across the country. And retraining programs would suddenly become much more reasonable and affordable if all those auto workers, cabinet makers and millwrights only need to be taught basic food safety skills and how to operate a microwave.

And those would make nice stats for the President’s stump speeches.

(Of course, it would likely take economists another four years to debate the idea. In time for Clinton ’08?)

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Marketing for Razors

02/20/04

As I was chopping my face up with a three blade razor this morning, I had a moment of self-criticism: am I a stupid enough consumer that I fall for marketing gimmicks like lubricating strips, patented blade protectors or ergonomic handles?

Yes. As are most men. Which is why the appearance this week of two very different articles about marketing razors struck me as funny.

On Wednesday, two smaller players in the market announced their plans for disposable four blade razors.

Analysts figure the one-upmanship had its limits — would anyone really try a five-bladed razor? — but in the blade arms race nothing is for sure.

Afshin Moghavem, president of Universal Group, said he doesn’t think four-blade razors are inherently better than three-blade ones. Yet this one is, he says, due to its moisturizing strips and thinner, fourth blade set apart from the other three.

A web outlet reports that Gillette, though, has other plans. Here’s a quote from the CEO of Gillette:

“… Sure, we could go to four blades next, like the competition. That seems like the logical thing to do. After all, three worked out pretty well, and four is the next number after three. So let’s play it safe. Let’s make a thicker aloe strip and call it the Mach3SuperTurbo. …”

“Here’s the report from Engineering. … They don’t tell me what to invent—I tell them. And I’m telling them to stick two more blades in there. I don’t care how. Make the blades so thin they’re invisible. Put some on the handle. I don’t care if they have to cram the fifth blade in perpendicular to the other four, just do it!”

You know what’s really funny? The quote above is from the Onion, but it could be real. The market for razors is so competitive, Gillette increased its advertising spending by 30% in the last quarter of 2003. There were duelling Schick and Gillette ads during the Super Bowl. Gillette’s introducing a vibrating Mach3 razor!

Even Junior, the Daytona 500 winner, will begin a marketing and PR blitz on behalf of Gillette.

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What happens to disgraced politicos?

02/20/04

In Stalin’s time, shunned Communist Party apparatchiks and countless others disappeared into horrific forced labor camps in the east of Russia, many in Siberia.

Just over a year ago, the Director of Communications for the Prime Minister of Canada was forced to resign after being caught referring to George Bush as a “moron” during a conversation with reporters at a G-8 meeting.

What happens to senior aides once they resign? In Washington, they move over to “K” street. In London, they take on high profile consultancy roles. In Ottawa, they sometimes apply their extensive experience to the benefit of the public service.

To wit, Francoise Ducros is now a senior executive responsible for Russia at the Canadian International Development Agency.

Today’s Financial Post (sub. req.) details one of her recent trips to Siberia: “she was introduced to an elk farmer who, upon hearing her name, said “Hey, I’ve heard of you. you’re the Canadian who called George Bush a moron.”

As the reporter noted: “welcome to the borderless new world of global information.”

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Career advice from … cod?

02/19/04

The codfish lays a thousand eggs
The homely hen lays one.
The codfish never cackles
To tell you what she’s done.
And so we scorn the codfish
While the humble hen we prize
Which only goes to show you
That it pays to advertize.

– a little rhyme from a biography of cod I’ve been reading. No – it’s actually quite interesting. Really!

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A Brand Supernova

02/18/04

sign-phone1.jpg
The signs have been around for a while. The breakup of the old-school AT&T. The renaming of Bell Labs. The gradual rebranding of the Baby Bells. The last remnant of the old behemoth, AT&T Corp., is now trying to publicize its transformation from a telephone company to the industry’s leading provider of communications services and networking solutions (as the Chairman so deftly put it).

Their ad campaign pushes the benefits of bundled services, focusing on corporate networks and decision makers. The upstart wireless companies, on the other hand, have been working hard and spending billions of dollars trying to develop dynamic brand identities – that appeal to young and mobile consumers. This included AT&T Wireless, a separate entitity from the Corp.

Cingular, for one, has been running catchy ads like the popular “867-5309.” In the UK, Richard Branson’s Virgin prepaid plans offer options like an outgoing message from Will Shatner, music from MTV, and the “rescue ring” – an “emergency” call you can arrange to receive so you have a reason to bolt.

So it was only a slight shock when Cingular announced yesterday that it had won a $41 billion bid for AT&T Wireless. Only a slight shock for Vodaphone, who thought some hard negotiating had their bid sewn up.

What are marketers and PR folk to make of Cingular’s apparent decision to abandon AT&T as a brand in the consumer market? Sure, AT&T Wireless campaigns haven’t rung a bell with wireless customers. Sure, the AT&T brand is an icon, but it is increasingly outmoded and anachronistic – how many times have you seen old-fashioned tin signs at the side of the road, pointing you to “AT&T” pay phones inside the corner store/gas station/diner?

AT&T Wireless has being trying to build its customer base, spending … about $686.9 million across 13 types of media for the first 11 months of 2003, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

Still, some branding experts see the decision as a logical step in an extremely competitive market. “AT&T is so embedded in the mind as a telephone brand, and not a cellphone brand,” says Al Ries … “A new name, Verizon, which was created relatively recently, is more powerful than an old name like AT&T.”

Many of today’s “echo boomers” (look how smoothly I linked to a previous post!) don’t even remember “Ma Bell.” They have no heartstring attachment to the capable, reliable and everpresent service of the only phone company they’ve ever known. They certainly don’t remember the soothing (and sometimes excitingly gravelly) voice of an operator – reached by dialling “0,” not “411”.”

Today, customers want mobility. They want options. It’s all about the performance. Verizon has built its identity on reliability, by driving the originally amusing “Can you hear me now?” advertising campaign deep into our subconscious.

Yesterday, the CEO of Cingular took one final victory lap: in a conference call … he noted that the combined Cingular/AT & T Wireless would overtake Verizon Wireless to become the nation’s number one wireless carrier, in terms of customers.

“We will be looking in the rear view mirror” at them, he said. Eager to press home the point, he swiped a line from Verizon … and asked: “Hey Verizon, can you hear us now?”

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Those darn kids today! They don’t trust anyone!

02/17/04

The new Yankelovich Youth survey is out today. Its’ assessment of “Echo Boomers” – kids aged 12-17 – reveals that their trust of advertising in all formats is declining.

Especially intriguing, considering this group’s daily use of electronic media and connected appliances like PDAs and text pagers, is the finding that “echo boomers” trust internet ads the least (18%, down from 25% in 1999).

“This generation is about authenticity, authorship, and autonomy,” [Yankelovich Senior Partner] Clurman said. “They want to customize and to have a non-passive media experience.”

MediaPost speculates that invasive internet advertising, like pop-ups and pop-unders, may be to blame.

Maybe its just lame advertising campaigns, poorly laid-out, poorly targeted and poorly delivered.

In a recent Revolution, a “master class” dealt with the details of planning an online advertising campaign. Adam Freeman, head of commercial development at Guardian Unlimited, noted that advertisers really haven’t caught on to the potential of their new “Surround Sessions” advertising format, which provides advertisers with total control of an individual visit, rather than a CPM rate.

“I thought advertisers would want to build a sequential message with different levels, using different creatives as they followed the user through a session. But most have gone for repeating the same message several times or they try to control the user’s time and environment …”

The key to online marketing isn’t irritating software solutions, rich media presentations or suspicious come-ons: it’s effective planning. Just like any marketing plan, your product has to be presented to the customer through retail, online, and direct mail advertising. And it has to be backed up by well-coordinated public relations efforts.

Guardian Unlimited recognizes that agencies and suppliers need to push for better planning and implementation: “…The onus is on us to give advertisers and agencies an understanding of our audience, and the value of what we deliver for them. We want them to value it properly and appreciate it. And if they do, they should be happy to pay for it,” he adds.

Do you want further proof? Micky Pant pushed the Terry Tate viral ad and movie campaign for Reebok. Terry, the “office linebacker,” generated a lot of online and offline buzz, including over 20 million downloads. But, as Ad Age pointed out, sales are driven by more than online promotions:

Reebok International’s “Terry Tate, office linebacker” campaign, lauded for its sharp humor, in the last year has become a pop-culture phenomenon. But as a sales catalyst, Terry Tate seems to be as flat as the office workers he leaves in his wake. Instead of the office enforcer, it’s Reebok’s real-life endorsers driving shoe sales. “[Terry Tate] is a funny campaign,” said one VP of franchises for an athletic-shoe store chain. “But Jay-Z and 50 Cent sold the sneakers.”

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Finally, a politician that talks like Jeff Spiccoli

02/13/04

Bit of a crisis up here in Canada. Turns out some federal politicians and bureaucrats may have “skimmed a little off the top” when processing invoices for advertising and event sponsorship deals.

But at least one federal Minister has called it like he sees it: … Stephen Owen, “who earned a Mr. Clean image while acting as B.C. ombudsman, … acknowledged that the Liberals still face a communications challenge if [the Prime Minister] goes ahead with his plans for a spring election.

“If there is [a spring election] then we’d better be pretty convincing that the answers are going to be found and people are going to be held accountable,” he told The Vancouver Sun.

Or the government, I think, is properly toast.”

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Graffiti tags … and Greenpeace?

01/23/04

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.

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What it takes to win in politics is … style

01/20/04

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.

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Gephardt’s Secret Weapon? Michael Bolton

01/19/04

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.”

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Doesn’t Anybody Have Questions for My Answers?

01/19/04

… 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.

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Is Smaller Really Better?

01/16/04

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.

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Which candidate will hang their hat on Styx’ “Mr. Roboto”?

01/12/04

MarketingWonk pointed to a new web site for Dean supporters today: Songs For Dean.

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)

Some more historic ditties can be found on Presidential Campaign Songs 1789 – 1996 (with some sound clips). Here’s a snappy LAT article on the subject, with choice selections from he 2000 election.

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Starbucks for Dummies

01/09/04

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.”

Of course! Just like on Alice! (theme song here) Remember Mel shouting back an order: “two bacon and eggs!” But I can’t imagine Mel, Alice or Flo using words like “Valencia” or “Ristretto.”

Mary Tyler Moore, yes. Rhoda, yes. Alex P. Keaton, yes. Jo from “the Facts of Life,” no.

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I am Canadian! How I spent the last ten minutes

01/09/04

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!)

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Diet Marketing: I’ll Have A Chalupa and an Atkins Fries

01/06/04

As they might say in the grocery business, 7 – Eleven owns the “high-margin, high inventory turnover retail institution” corner of the market.

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.

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Remembering Late Twentieth Century Satire

01/05/04

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.

But has the world turned on its head? Sarcasm, irony and ennui are now so common-place that John Edwards announced his presidential run on The Daily Show.

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Kinko’s – will a buyout mean global domination?

12/30/03

Long tagged as a member of the Generation “X’ (voracious appetite for new ideas, short attention span, wanderlust, reluctance to wear a suit), I remember the wrenching evolution of the workplace in the late 80s and early 90s. Where my parents’ generation stuck with one profession or even one company for life, my friends and I were infinitely more flexible. Employers were now worried about the demographic crunch, our seeming lack of dedication to their mission statement, our explicit self-interest, and our apparent willingness to jump jobs on a day’s notice.

As we developed our generational and individual identities, a number of cultural touchstones emerged. Starbucks, unfortunately, has ruined the independent coffee shop experience for everyone. After the tech crash, Fast Company went from being four inches thick to just a regular magazine. And now, the late night Kinko’s run will likely change – FedEx has bought it for $2.4 billion.

Sure, the news release talks about tailoring “solutions to meet individual customer needs.” But the more ominous claims of corporate synergy are always present: Together, FedEx and Kinko’s will create a broader range of high-end corporate solutions, with physical and virtual connections to the global marketplace.

I remember discovering, during a desperate midnight stop at Kinko’s, the miracle of cerloxing those extra special late night term papers; realizing that a colour laserprinted resume might just make the hiring manager sit up and pick you for that internship (stay with me folks, this was 1991); and, in 1993, resorting to self-designed humourous coffee mugs after mailing 100 resumes didn’t produce a single response (mailing – 1993 – please keep up).

This was the “free agent” life – depending upon Kinko’s for that veneer of professionalism, and it continues today. Will the change in ownership mean more of an emphasis on corporate clients? Will FedEx choke what individuality remains out of the experience?

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Santa’s got a pop-up … display for the trade show

12/22/03

The Advisory Committee’s finalized the marketing plan. You’ve finished the design and production on the new graphic identity and are ready to jump into the rejeuvenation of the Santa Claus, Inc. brand.

Your first stop? An international trade show, of course. But is your marketing team ready? Have you picked the right people to staff the booth? Do they have past experience with trade shows? Do they know how to “work the crowd”?

Many first-time exhibitors work with an experienced contractor; someone who knows how to sweat the details of working in a high-pressure and time-sensitive environment like the Javits Convention Center.

At Santa Claus, Inc., our trade show activities require special preparation. Here are some handy hints:

1) The union considers the sleigh a movable booth, and as such, additional fees will be imposed.

2) The sleigh can’t be pulled by your normal reindeer – instead, you must hire union reindeer at $325 an hour. No less than 14 union reindeer at any time, minimum of 4 hours work per. Of course, only eight of them will actually be working at one time, so you have to book additional booth space for a “grazing
area.”

3) While other companies will be handing out pens, mousepads and stress balls, remember that the handing out of any “presents” in any form will be considered distributing, and you must apply for exemption from the event sponsors – and getting that idea by the Disney folks will be impossible.

4) Cookies and milk will no longer be left out for visitors – instead, you need to fill out a purchase request from the trade show’s authorized caterer. They are $36 a dozen, and taste like sawdust (so the reindeer will like them).

5) Be careful about what promo material you bring. Any presents left unclaimed and out in the open will be inspected by police and may be destroyed. We lost 2500 Tickle Me Elmos that way last year.

6) Dress appropriately. There are many stairs, steps, and backstage hallways – you might be advised to wear comfortable shoes, based on your weight. For the Elves, this means support hose with the padded feet.

7) Commuting from the North Pole is a non-starter, even with the sleigh. Since Santa, the Chief Elf and the marketing Advisory Council will want to hit the hospitality suites every night, you will have to stay at the trade show overnight. You might consider taking a room at a local hotel. Use the code “SNTCLS” for conference rate – which is only 125% of the rack rate.

8) Look around you. Look at the guy at the workbench next to you, sewing the Strawberry Shortcake doll together. Is that elf really a “people person”? Are any of them? Consider hiring special trade show “models” who can smile for hours on end. They also get paid less than elf scale.

Thanks to Peter Shankman for his work on this!

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Piped-In Christmas Music

12/19/03

Has the adult-contemporary or easy listening radio station in your market gone to an all-Christmas format? Do you now find yourself inexplicably drawn to the Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Jose Feliciano and Nat King Cole compliation albums while shopping for windshield washer fluid at Wal-Mart? Do you find yourself asking co-workers if “they’ve heard that funny carol – Walkin’ ‘Round in Women’s Underwear“?

Well, you’re not alone. According to the Chicago Tribune, there are about 366 stations across the United States playing Christmas music around the clock. Why? Ratings and advertising dollars.

In Chicago, WLIT saw its share of all radio listeners grow from a 2.9/3.6 share earlier in the year to a stunning 9.3 during the Nov. 28 to Dec. 11 Arbitron rating period.

Once they saw holiday rating spikes like that — and a 2002 Arbitron ratings study confirmed those holiday-music surges at stations around the country — radio executives started flocking to Christmas formats like revelers to a bowl of spiked eggnog.

Now, more stations are going Christmas earlier and earlier – say, the day after Halloween – because execs think that listeners will stick with the first station to change to a seasonal theme.

In New Orleans, there’s been a format battle as the two soft-rock stations have tried to switch to all-Christmas music:

Given that New Orleans was then without a soft-rock station, WCKW switched to that format a few days later. WLMG did too. WCKW execs soon decided to go back to all-Christmas music again, and its competitor did as well — within 15 minutes.

“I think its so amusing that Santa Claus could provoke a battle like this,” says WCKW operations manager Tony Florentino. “We’re not out there doing outrageous stunts — we have a nice, tame morning show and we don’t normally get a lot of media attention.”

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Crisis Communications for Santa and Elves

12/19/03

Memo: To all Regional Distribution Managers

Issue: Communicating during Uncomfortable Situations
——————————————————

The Santa Claus, Inc. corporate PR Department has worked on a number of possible scenarios that could be encountered by employees during the valuable Christmas rush. While Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus and the Chief Elf remain the principal corporate spokespersons, every employee must be prepared to deal effectively with suppliers, aviation officials, parents, children and, sometimes, law enforcement officials.

Working through past incident reports, we have created this series of handy guides for employees on resolving stressful situations.

Getting Busted at the 7-11

While the logistics staff make every effort to ensure that the sleigh is fully stocked with hot chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers, we have found that Santa and his reindeer sometimes require a more substantial meal. For most of the year, it means picking up some Chicken Tikka takeout. On Christmas eve, this is a little more difficult, especially if Santa is on the road with the sleigh.

Given our unusual operating hours, Santa Claus, Inc. has found that 24-hour convenience stores are the most available source of Santa’s favourite foods: tacos and Dr Pepper. In the past, storeowners understood the urgent midnight munchie runs of very portly elderly men dressed in red velour, but the increasing number of drunks coming home from office christmas parties has soured them on Santa.

As a result, Santa is frequently being harassed by convenience store owners convinced he is going to “wheze da juice” and run without paying. Here are some tips for avoiding a confrontation with a shotgun wielding store owner:

– Gout is not an excuse for parking the sleigh in the handicapped space.

-Do not use your Santa Claus, Inc. building pass to wheedle a discount.

– Do not try to pay with the Pokemon cards from the Jensen house.

– “Ho, ho, ho” might not be seen as a greeting by some female customers.

– $50 solves everything. It’s under the hat.

Getting caught by a six year-old

Despite all of the Chief Elf’s technological advances, the noise of the reindeer, sleigh, chimney and bored elves poking the reindeer will wake someone up during the night. Some adults go out of their way to encourage children’s mischief. It is important to maintain the illusion of magic, happiness and giving that is Santa Claus, Inc:

– “Holy Crap! What the hell are you doing up!” is not an acceptable greeting.

– Don’t skip out on the milk and cookies, even if you’re lactose intolerant.

-Remind the child that Elves need to use washrooms just like the rest of us.

– $5 will not buy the silence of an eleven-year old boy. FHM will. Take one from aan elf – they hoard the magazine.

Sleigh Accident at Toys ‘R Us

Despite the stagnant economy, it is still hard to find skilled sleigh drivers – especially ones under four feet tall. This has meant an increase in SRDC – sleigh related damage claims. The cost of these claims is naturally reflected in our insurance premiums.

Both to boost morale and undermine Santa Claus, Inc’s competitors, we have begun training our new sleigh drivers in Toys ‘R Us parking lots. This provides open space for maneuvering a large sleigh and team of reindeers as well as plausible deniability.

– “That rich red scratch down the side of your Lincoln could have been caused by that car there, sir!”

-Remember – the sleigh handles like a pig at slow speeds. Why do you think we land it on the roof, and not the driveway, when doing deliveries?

– It also holds about 300 shopping carts – which can be sold off at $300 a pop.

– As the settlement with Wendy’s will attest, the sleigh is NOT drive-through friendly!

Bar Fight on Boxing Day

Inevitably, Santa, elves and other employees will come across one or two people who did not get what they wanted on Christmas morning. Some may even claim Santa does not exist, and will attempt to undermine the work of Santa Claus, Inc. through scientific deduction. If some of them (or you) have been drinking, this discussion might get animated, even physical.

– Logic doesn’t usually work on drunks. The Rope-A-Dope might, though.

– No matter how many elves are with you, you will not win the fight. You are fat, and elf arms aren’t long enough. This is why every elf always carries a sock full of coins.

– If the police ask, you grew the beard on a bet, and these are your pajamas.

– If will take up to 48 hours to post bail. It will take us that long to sell enough handmade wooden toys to get the money.

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FAQ: So you want to hire Santa

12/18/03

So. Your internal communications plan notes that Santa is to host your Christmas event this year, but you have some questions about the the cost, the reequirements and possible complications. Check out our down-to-earth FAQ for the answers to many of the questions you might have.

Q: How much does Santa cost per hour?

A: Santa traditionally works for a rate of 7 cookies/hour + 1 glass of milk for every hour after the second, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. After 3 p.m., Santa’s rates change to 4 shots of bourbon and 2 six minute “elf” breaks /hour.

Q: Does Santa come with his own costume?

A: Yes, due to federal laws, Santa Claus Inc. is required to provide a full and freshly pressed official Santa uniform.

Contrary to previous arrangements, we no longer offer specials on “Pantless Santa” appearances.

Q: Do we need additional liability insurance?

That depends if you assume responsibility for transporting Santa, his elves, the large red velour throne and faux panelled wood sleigh to your event. If Santa must deliver it in his 1977 Ford Bronco, we will require an indemnity waiver.

Q: Does Santa come with Reindeer?

A: Due to a tragic violation of federal airspace over LaGuardia Airport in New York, we have discontinued our reindeer rental service. There is, however, a sale on reindeer steaks at the Food King in Queens.

Q: Is there a weight limit for Santa’s lap?

A: Be it boy, girl, man or woman, Santa likes ‘em lean. Elf and waif sizes are also acceptable.

Q: Is Santa a holly jolly sort?

A: While our Santas are relatively kid-friendly, we believe in encouraging an open, honest and thoroughly festive environment for all party guests. Therefore, Santa is strictly professional and distant towards anyone under the age of 18. To engage Santa’s full friendliness, have him interact with females from 18 – 22 years old.

Q: What are some examples of Santa’s interaction with the kids?

A: Santa comes equipped with the traditional array of Santaisms including “Ho Ho Ho” and “Merry Christmas one and all.”

For an additional 3 cookies and shot of bourbon per hour, Santa will ad-lib.
Examples include:

“Reach into Santa’s pants for a Christmas miracle”

“You call this crap eggnog?”

“You don’t want that toy. It’s made by kids your age in third world countries.”

“I heard you’ve been a naughty, naughty girl this year. Care to show me how naughty?”

“Jebus? I don’t even believe in Jebus!”

“You know that Santa on 14th Street? I made him my bitch last night”

Q: Is Santa available for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs?

A: Bar Mitzvahs? Are you insane? Bat Mitzvahs, maybe.

Q: Can Santa answer the essential questions of the Universe, like: How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

A: A woodchuck would chuck as much as a woodchuck could if a woodchuck could chuck wood.

Q: How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?

A: The world may never know.

Q: Why is the sky blue?

A: If it were green, we wouldn’t know where to stop mowing.

Q: Can I get an culturally-representative Santa?

A: Of course! Santa is available to represent the season of giving in many cultures. If your “gift basket” for Santa includes some top shelf shit or a little blow, we’ll paint the big guy freakin’ green.

Q: Will Santa lead us in caroling?

A: No. Santa does not sing. He has enough problems of his own already.

Q: Will Santa’s belly really shake like a bowl full of jelly?

A: Sadly, most of our Santas are not really fat. If anything, his belly shakes like a cheap felt suit full of padding. And smells like the dressing room from the Peoria Little Theatre performance of the Lion King.

Q: Is Santa cool if the shit goes down?

A: Absolutely. Santa comes fully equipped! When the shit goes down, Santa and his elf’s got your back, yo. He’s ready, willing and able. Even when drunk, Santa’s one bad motha’.

Q: Did you notice that if you move the “n” in Santa to the end of his name, you get “Satan?”

A: We did not notice that. While it is interesting, this does not imply an endorsement, either directly or indirectly, for our beloved lord and master, Lucifer.

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Media Training for Santa

12/17/03

Memo: To Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus and Chief Elf
Issue: Preparing for
interviews with the
media
——————————————————–

As the holiday season approaches, I would like to remind you of some basic tips and techniques for dealing with members of the media. I’m sure most of this is old hat, but my colleagues in the seasonal entertainment PR industry are still mocking me about the Santa’s Summer Cruise Wear photo shoot you did for Portly Fashion magazine. Remember the cardinal rule for a winter celebrity: no-one needs to see Santa’s knees.

Keep the message upbeat

Santa Claus, Inc. is a good news story. You have very good positives, and very, very low negatives (as long as we keep the factories in North Korea under
wraps). Because of years of cultural appropriation, we have become the personification of winter fairy tales from countries across Europe. More importantly, thanks to our longstanding partnership with Coca-Cola, we have established an international identity as a joyful and reassuring personality in a number of retail, specialty, wholesale, direct and e-business channels.

This will only continue if Santa Claus, Inc. is represented by personable and upbeat spokespersons: Santa, Mrs. Claus and the Chief Elf. Last season’s totally inappropriate FHM interview and companion piece (Does Mrs. Santa really know who’s naughty and nice?) may have resulted in a temporary spike in views to the image gallery on the Santa’s Workshop website, but it did nothing for sales of the children’s sleepwear line.

Please remember what the focus groups said: Santa is wholesome, he is understanding, he is approachable, and he makes reasonable compromises when faced with children’s demands. (sidebar to Chief Elf: “The Taiwanese make hose things from twine and bark” is not an appropriate answer to a probing question from CNET about a competitor’s new digital camera)

Meeting the Press

Please remember that the PR department spends a substantial amount of time preparing for the holiday season and seasonal coverage in printed media, including magazines, newspapers, trade journals and specialty association magazines.

Remember the initial messaging sessions in June, led by the Research Director? Those messages are driven through every contact with these outlets, with the intent of positively affecting the public’s perception of Santa Claus, Inc. at our most vital moment: the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Preparing for Television Interviews

Remember – make eye contact with the interviewer. Pretend the camera is not there. Any sudden eye movement between the two will make you seem shifty nd untrustworthy.

Remember: for television appearances, Santa ALWAYS wears the uniform. Santa does not dress in Alexander MacQueen suits. He does not appear on the Today Show in Joseph Abboud casual wear. Santa is reknowned for wearing half-moon reading glasses: he does not wear tortoiseshell glasses left over from the 1970s corporate parties at “54.”

Similarly, the Chief Elf ALWAYS wears an elf hat (with required bell) and wooden togs. The two minute interview on NEXT@CNN last week was very informative, but the “Gates Sux” t-shirt detracted from the overall message we were trying to convey.

Finally, Mrs. Claus will NEVER, EVER again appear as a Barker Beauty on The Price is Right. While the initial concept was approved, we should have foreseen the potential embarassment of a “summer splashing” prize package – with Mrs. Claus illustrating the value of a hot tub.

We really should have learned from our past appearances on the Match Game.

Preparing for Radio Interviews

When doing a phone interview with a local radio station, please make sure all nearby stereos, computers and televisions are turned off. Not only is microphone feedback a possibility, but sometimes the radio listener can hear the noise in the background. The interview with Rick Dees last year went well – except for the portion where listeners could hear certain Ned Beatty lines from the WTBS broadcast of Deliverance then being shown in the Elf Lounge.

Also – be very aware of added sound effects. While the Santa Claus, Inc. PR department does provide sound files of reindeer grazing and elves caroling for use in radio and tv broadcasts, some unscrupulous show producers have been known to insert sheep sounds and other inappropriate noises into the broadcast.

Meeting an Editorial Board

Meeting the editorial board of a newspaper provides an opportunity to present a sweeping view of the work and interests of Santa Claus, Inc. Santa, Mrs. Claus and Chief Elf, as corporate spokespersons, can all participate in editorial boards, with appropriate preparation.

While board members expect spokespersons to be open, honest and frank, spokespersons of Santa Claus, Inc. should never use the phrases “You never heard it from me, but …” or “While at the biker bar, I …” or “FAO Schwartz had it coming …”

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Are you a Department Store Santa?

12/16/03

Memo: To all Regional Managers

Issue: Recent Incidents involving Seasonal Character Hires
—————————————————–

As you may be aware, some stores in the chain have recently suffered embarassing public relations incidents because of poor hiring decisions – particularly in the selection of Santa and associated Elf characters.

In the Texas region, a part-time Santa recently decided to ride the bucking ronco brought in as part of a cross-promotion with a local country radio station. While there were no injuries – among store patrons – the store’s lifesize Nativity Scene now only has two wise men and Joseph looks remarkably like last fall’s standalone pop-up for Tiger Woods-brand clothing.

In upstate New York, our seasonal Santa met some overly friendly “elves” at the “gentleman’s club” next to the mall. After a free lunch and some extended imbibing, our seasonal hire drove the young ladies home in a “borrowed” service van from the appliance department. 35 mail boxes and a deer later, he was arrested.

Once again, let me remind you of the personality traits and behaviour we expect from our key seasonal Character, Santa:

Guidelines for portraying Santa Claus

Santa is:

Jolly, not sarcastic
Friendly, not saucy and suggestive
Engaging, not overly touchy-feely
Chipper, not liquored-up

Santa wears:

Red velvet hat with white cotton or fur ball
Red velvet coat with white trim and cuffs, not red velvet coat with biker colours
White shirts, not mesh shirts
Red velvet pants, not leather pants
Black boots, not cuban heeled boots

Santa says:

“Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas!”
“And what is your name, little boy/girl?”
“What would you like me to leave under the tree this year?”

Santa does not say:

“Ho Ho Ho! Daddy’s Home!”
“And what is your name, mommy?”
“How ’bout I make a special delivery?”

Santa’s helper is:

Cheerful
Helpful
Considerate
Dressed like an Elf

Santa’s helper is not:
Smoking
Dismissive
Surly
Dressed like a Santa Groupie

When leaving the Display Area, Santa says:
“Pardon me, kids! I’ve got to check on the reindeer”
“I think Mrs. Claus has my coffee ready.”
“I have to go check my list for who’s naughty and nice.”

When leaving the Display Area, Santa does not say:
“Watch out kids! The Sleigh’s double parked and Santa doesn’t want another ticket!”
“Excuse me kids! I’ve gotta shake the weasel!”
“Me and the Elf have some important business to discuss.”
Please remember these guidelines when hiring Seasonal Characters.

Herbert Kornfeld,
A/National Manager, Cross-Platform Marketing

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Some thoughts from an Average Elf

12/12/03

If you’ve ever wondered what the life of a rent-an-elf is like, you have to visit “Now is the winter of our Discontented Elf”, a great journal of one person’s life as a seasonal character hire. A sample entry:

The Suits came to check on Santa today.

Santa: (watching Suit approach) He’s going to ask us where all the kids are.

Suit: (approaching) Hey, Santa, where are all the kids?

Elf Winky: In jail?
Elf JoeBo: Doin’ your wife?
Elf Destructo: Selling crank in Bath and Bedding?
Elf Cranky: Or even, in school at one-thirty on a Wednesday afternoon?
Santa: (to Suit) Ho ho ho!

Thanks to Jeremy Popper for the pointer!

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