Monthly Archives: October 2008

Pepsi opens and shuts its mouth

So the bubbly beverage company is once again rethinking its logo. Our branding pal Bill Green has been following this drama (see Bill’s genius here). We note Pepsi has built in some graphics flexibility — the new logo treatment opens or closes like an angry mouth, depending on the product and the demo. In a world of a million consumer choices, having only one logo no longer will do. Can’t wait to see the Pepsi logo skull version targeting 18-year-olds looking for max amped ginseng Panax schinseng caffeine.

American politics, tied to the land


Give me some land, lots of land, and you’ll understand U.S. politics.

The slightly fuzzy graphic you see above shows the average votes of U.S. states in the past four elections from 1992 to 2004. Dark red are states that tipped Republican in all four presidential races; dark blue to Democrats in all four; and the rest are variations in the middle. Notice the trend?

Politics is a function of land — the more open space you have, the more conservative you tend to be. The map of voting results looks almost like one of population density; blue states are coastal or northeastern with high concentrations of urban development, and the red could be the wide open skies of Montana and Texas. Politics aside, this makes sense. Liberals tend to advocate a more active role of government, which is needed in urban areas where crowding, transportation, education, police, and health services may be more pressing. Conservatives believe in a lesser role of government, relying more on rugged individualism — which works best where scant crowding does not require cooperation and the resources of the land are abundant. Neither point is right or wrong; but the conservative-independence approach works best where you can carve your own path, while liberal-heavy-government helps manage urban density.

We like this thesis (which holds up if you dig down to county levels within states, too) because it helps explain why America often feels like a nation divided. All economic systems must deal with the creation and distribution of wealth; the father of economics, Adam Smith, after all, was the guy who invented the progressive tax. Politics is the debate over how much should be shared. Americans still haven’t figured it out; the top marginal tax rate was 91% under President Eisenhower, 70% under Nixon, 50% under Reagan, 39.6% under Clinton and 35% under Bush; while today’s structure seems like a historically fair deal, any discussion on changing it brings out heated attacks from both political parties.

As the history of our tax system shows, logic has little to do with either parties’ view; gut instinct seems to take over on whether to share more or less. Marketers might think about the collective consciousness of their target audience tied to the land they live on, and how it drives their motives for independent or cooperative response. If you are launching a campaign remotely tied to such motives in the U.S., very different messaging might work in different markets.

Well, at least we know why we sometimes disagree with the talking head on TV. She was probably born in the wrong state.

The power of finding and forwarding any video clip

Darryl Ohrt over at Brandflakes notes YouTube has launched a new feature allowing you to link to any point within a video. At first glance, this seems like just a clever new web trick of the week.

But consider the implications: Free-flowing video search will soon become video broadcast, where anyone can forward almost any video moment in history. Sure, there is demand for this. On the consumer side, there is huge pressure for music and video content to move to the free; MTV just launched MTVMusic, a service similar to Hulu with lots of free content. On the journalism side, FoxNews and CNN are this week scouring for stories on Obama and McCain, often resorting to seven-year-old clips to find new “news.” Everyone wants instant recall.

We’re not sure if instant retrieval of every clip is a good idea. Remember that bachelor party? Or the night on the town in college? Or the first letter-to-the-editor you wrote 20 years ago? Now imagine if those instances of youthful indiscretion were captured in video and could be pulled up at a moment’s notice. Kind of makes you feel sorry for anyone running for President.

Flossie.com’s Man Vending Machine

We knew we could be replaced. To promote the Flossie.com site, which has a diverse range of entertainment content for every woman, TBWA\Whybin, Auckland created a Man Vending Machine filled with a diverse range of real, live, single men. Women could choose their “favourite flavour” — classic man, action man, romantic man, rich man, foreign man, or, ahem, the battery-powered “Mr. Perfect.” It worked perfectly except for supply shortages; the men were all taken within 30 minutes. The vibrating substitutes lasted a bit longer.

Audi’s funny, dysfunctional family

Brilliant creative by Audi, introducing you to one cool couple and their family of twits who drive other, lesser brands. Audi positions BMW as a jerk, Mercedes as old and confused, and Lexus as a family of preppy nerds with undercurrents of hostility. And Audi? Well, just right. Kudos for a mini-long-form format, too; this is the type of work meant to go viral.

Via Averblog.

Lowe Bull’s instant focus


Focus is hard to pull off in ad creative. South African agency Lowe Bull gets it just right with this creative for Skip washing detergent, turning “stains” into a visceral creature that can be removed in a flash. Break this down and you have eye-grabbing image, definition of the problem, illustration of solution, an aspirational reflection of the consumer, and yes, a dose of sex appeal. Nice.

Via Ads of the World.

The doctor placebo effect


A new study finds nearly half of doctors in the United States regularly prescribe placebos — pills that do nothing but make you psychologically feel better. It’s kicked off an ethics debate over whether the mental health benefits outweigh the nuance of a doc outright lying to a patient.

Which makes us think of most product and service marketing. People tend to buy things (or, this fall, vote for candidates) that they believe will please them — and consumers use preconceptions to judge the value of their choices. The vast majority of advertising is designed to create a placebo-type artificial reality around a product. Is a Lexus with leather seats really better than a Toyota with leather seats, if 90% of the parts in the vehicles are the same? Somehow the brand badge on front makes people feel better about the purchase.

Bottled water, vitamins, gas stations, coffee, supermarkets, leather jackets, men’s suits, toothpaste, personal computers, non-smart cell phones, consulting groups, hospitals — the list of commodities differentiated only by our expectations is long.

Setting expectations is more important in marketing than meeting them. You can order shoes from Zappos.com after reading about their incredible customer service — which is true — but you’ll probably end up with a shipping box containing shoes. The reality of true service or product differentiation is almost non-existent … but if you believe it exists, you’ll feel better.

Photo: Brendan Adkins

How transparent are you?


An Australian blogger we know under the nom de plume Kelpenhagen wrote a great bit recently on transparency — asking how much personal information she or anyone should reveal online. Anonymity has its merits; it can intrigue (think Joe Klein as Anonymous writing about Bill Clinton) and protect (think about who you really are, where you live, and whether the world should track your personal dating habits).

Personally, we’ve almost given up on hiding anything. If you work in any supply chain — as a manager or marketing executive or ad agency director — you must balance the fear of upsetting your clients or suppliers or employees with your opinions vs. not being “real” and never making a connection. The most nimble modern communicators, such as Scott Monty of Ford or Tony Hsieh of Zappos, use blogs and Twitter to connect with thousands as real people. There are idiocies emerging, too. Many use social media to broadcast all about themselves, like that accountant you met at the holiday party who just won’t shut up about a tax-savings scheme. If you do expose your real identity, try to listen more than you talk. If you publish a book, drop a hint but for god’s sake don’t write 30 blog posts about it.

The most terrifying trap of social media is for people to get caught up in self-monitoring, tracking how many “followers” they have on Twitter or the number of daily readers of their blog. If you reveal yourself, and if you speak for an organization, the meaning of what you say will go further than the number of links you create to the world.

Our own recommendation is to be real, be open, and let the chips fall where they may. In this new age of the internet, people will find you if they want anyway. We just started a professional relationship with Segway and yesterday sent them a clip of a monkey falling off the two-wheeled gyro-scooter. For a second, we feared they might be offended. But what the hell. Laughing is part of who we are.

Photo by Phil H.

NY Times (gasp!) begins linking to outside web sites


Back in the ancient 1990s creatures called newspaper reporters would race to get a scoop — a bit of news so mesmerizing it would sell papers, and something so fresh competitors couldn’t re-report it until at least a day later. When a reporter won, the newspaper turned from commodity into gold for 24 hours.

No more. Now information flows everywhere and newspapers are dying because of it. Revenues are down, NYT stock has been battered to only $10.68 a share, and ad dollars are expected to flow further away to vast networks of niche blogs and video sites.

NYT is responding smartly by beginning to integrate blogs and outside media into its own reporting. Links began appearing in August on the NYT Ideas blog. The Annotated New York Times respins the NYT home page with feeds from the acquired Blogrunner. Caroline McCarthy of CNET notes NYTimes.com itself will soon launch a TimesExtra version to add feeds from around the internet.

This seems like a no-brainer, given the average web user tendency to leap from site to site, but large online news publishers have long resisted linking to other news sites — an anachronistic point of view tied to the ancient days of scooping. (Today, “scoops” last about 10 seconds, not 24 hours.) Brian Stelter of NYT wrote recently that this commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Link To Outside Sites,” actually hurt the media by making them seem less relevant than other sites enabling site-to-site information flow.

Readers and advertisers are moving elsewhere. The cat is out of the bag. Kudos to the Times for admitting it, and herding some of those cats back.

Google turns its home page into a billboard for G1 phone


So now Google is promoting its own G1 phone (built in partnership with T-Mobile) on the www.google.com home page. Is this fair? Or, more exactly, does Google face a conflict of interest in accepting advertising dollars from thousands of companies in the wireless industry, and then surpassing them all by putting itself one click above them?

We had to think for a minute before determining why this bothers us. Yeah, this type of self-aggression has been done before. Amazon keeps serving up the Kindle on its home page, too. But Google is more than a single web site or media channel — it has become an enormous marketing and communication sector. More than $16 billion is spent annually on Google ads by marketers vying to get top positions on search results pages.

In the short term, the G1 promotion is a great play for Google and T-Mobile. But we wonder if some in the ad industry and government will begin to question the potential monopoly power of a major media sector tooting its own horn.

Via Tac Anderson.