Advertising Week: The Island of Misfit Toys

The VCU Brandcenter is a bit like the Island of Misfit Toys – but then, so is advertising, right?

This summer, I had the good fortune to work in the same office as now-full-time artist, Mike Shine, who whether he knew it or not, offered me a new perspective on what makes an ‘ad man’ – and no, it’s not Don Draper.

So who are these misfits? Find out after the jump to Advertising Week!


Cool for Useful’s Sake

It’s Monday of my second week on the job — and let me tell you — I LOVE IT.

Love, love, love it.

BSSP is an amazing (and so much fun) environment to learn and grow in, and from day one I was so confident that I’d chosen the right career path.

Oh, and remember how I told you I’m living on a boat? Well, it’s a pretty sweet setup; despite the fact that for the first time this weekend, we fell asleep knowing we were on a boat. It was a bit like if someone was gently rocking you to sleep, if said rocking was the slightest bit terrifying.

My roommates are great, and we’ve gotten to do some pretty cool stuff (like the Chipotle Cultive Festival and wandering around Haight Ashbury). We might be bums during the week, but I intend to make the absolute most out of every weekend we’re here.

Spent time in the Bay Area? I’m open to any and all recommendations!

Anyways, my job (planning) involves lots of reading. From Adweek and PSFK to Trendspotting and the most obscure of blogs. What’s great is that, in essence, it’s a lot like what I do for this blog and for AWSC. Only more intensive.

It’s awesome to see all of the cool executions that come out of markets other than the US. Last week, I found two that really stood out.

So many cool things come out of Brazil (like this clever use of Vine from @heinekenbr or this ad for Peugeot).

This is just the latest:

Award fodder or not, the execution is pretty amazing. Sure, it’s tangentially related to the product (Nivea’s new sun protection line); but still, the idea of an ad that harnesses the power of the sun to charge your phone? That’s insane. Difficult to execute, but extremely well-done.

And who wouldn’t want that surprise in their beach read? I certainly would. How useful! And memorable.

The second execution that stood out to me comes out of Paris, where Scrabble (no, not Words With Friends, we’re talking the classic) took it upon itself to provide Wi-Fi to the masses — so long as they were able to spell.

In places where there wasn’t any WiFi, Scrabble armed vans with a portable Wi-Fi connections and then challenged people to join the ‘Scrabble Wi-Fi Network’ to win their free minutes by turning Scrabble words into passwords.

What I love about both of these is probably something I’ve said before. They weren’t just ‘cool for cool’s sake’ — they actually had a purpose, and a useful one at that. By doing so, both brands gave consumers something tangible to remember them by (and likely laid the groundwork for awards season, too).

Abercrombie & Lessons in Exclusionary Marketing

Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.

Taken out of context, that’s a lesson in marketing.
It’s undeniably true — especially in our era of boundless choices.

But then you put it in context. And learn it’s a quote from loathsome Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries. You know, he of the thoroughly insane private jet rules (which can be read in their entirety here). And you begin to understand why plenty of people are angry.

But the brand itself isn’t the problem. If A&F isn’t your (or more pointedly, your children’s) cup of tea, if you’re not part of that niche, you needn’t shop there. Just as Jeffries’ company targets “the cool kid,” stores like Lane Bryant target plus size women, Hot Topic (despite their hilarious transformation) targets your resident goths and punks. It’s how brands work. There will always be groups of people — that’s the nature of our society.  Join the school uniform debate. I went to Catholic school for 14 years, I’m well-versed.

It’s the CEO that’s the problem. He’s — well, he’s a jackass. We all know this.

But he runs, unfortunately, a pretty damn successful company.

Bully, yes. Completely.

It’s sort of a chicken and the egg argument. Does grouping allow for brands like Abercrombie? Or do brands like Abercrombie facilitate grouping? Regardless, it’s a battle that needs to be fought from the ground up. At schools, within families. And it’s not the topic of this post.

But this?

You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.

It’s why a majority of advertising is just awful. Not only awful, ineffective. You can’t please everyone; it’s bad for business. Vanilla is right.

The idea, instead, is pretty common sense:
There’s always* a way to go about targeting your primary segment without alienating secondary consumers. 

My Brandcenter application asked me to select an ad that didn’t appeal to me, explain what the strategy was and why it didn’t work. Here’s what I said:

On premise alone, exclusionary advertising is generally not the best idea. There is a way to go about targeting a primary segment without alienating a secondary segment of potential consumers.

Perhaps the best recent example, though not the topic of this essay, is the Dr. Pepper 10 “It’s Not For Women” campaign. I understand the motivation behind marketing a diet drink toward men. While I know many a man who drinks diet, it’s certainly a more ‘feminine’ trend, and one that few men want to be expressly associated with. That being said, was it necessary for Dr. Pepper to alienate women in borderline sexist fashion in order to appeal to men? I don’t think so. Especially when considering that most often (some estimates are as high as 90%) the primary shopper is a woman.

With that obvious bit of exclusionary advertising as a backdrop, I want to talk about Apple’s much-maligned Olympic ‘genius’ campaign.

Apple is known for amazing advertising: 1984, “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC,” the launch ads for the iPod and iPhone.  So this campaign, which depicts an Apple “genius” helping clueless mac users with relatively simple tasks, was a head-scratcher.

The strategy, likely, was to highlight Apple’s superior service, a key differentiator for the company, through humorous spots. It fails because the message and mechanics of the ad itself are not on-brand. Known for clever spots (I wrote most recently about the Heart & Soul iPad Mini ad here) that portray ordinary people doing extraordinary things by way of Apple products, this sitcom like series of ads made Apple users look clueless.

Now, getting to why this could be considered exclusionary. One might argue that the ads are aimed at first-time Mac users, but Apple is driven by the enthusiasm of its core ‘fanboy’ customers. Without specifically targeting those enthusiastic consumers, they can (and have in the past) appeal to new users without appearing ridiculous to their core base.

Therein lies the problem. The creation of sitcom-like characters that, rather than tell an engaging story like “Mac” and “PC” did, diminish the Apple user while creating a caricature of employees á la Progressive’s “Flo,” does nothing to add to the brand. Rather, it uses cheap humor (albeit effective in the case of “Mayday’s premise) to the effect of embarrassing current Mac users who voiced extensive criticism in the blogosphere.

In short, this strategy failed because it did not fit with the very carefully planned brand image the company (and its late CEO) is known for. And fans recognized the misstep. To Apple’s credit, they admitted their flaw, quickly pulling the ads after their Olympic stint ended.

*I’m sure there are exceptions. But let’s say most always.

My point is that there’s a way to be exclusive without being exclusionary.

— And yes, it would probably be wise for A&F to rethink their PR strategy and rein in their ever-so-controversial CEO.

Advertising Week: This is Your Brand on Stories

The other day, I did an interview for a big girl job. Mostly for practice and experience because I’ve already committed to a summer in San Francisco and two years in Richmond; but nonetheless, a real, intense day of interviews. As the day went on, the questions moved from behavioral, experience-driven “tell me a time when” questions to more high-level thinking questions about industry knowledge, etc.

It was in the last interview of the day that I was most caught off guard.

Find out why after the jump to Advertising Week!

Happy Summer! Plus: Technology + Creativity FTW

It’s been a while, so let me update you. Since you last heard from me, I’ve finished up a lot of exciting things and started prepping for the next steps in my life’s journey. I finished up my independent study, which ended up being way more interesting and engaging than I imagined going in. It’s called “Brand Personification in the Digital Age: How has the evolution of social media impacted consumer-brand relationships?” and if you’re interested, you can check it out here. Exactly one week ago, I graduated from the University of Michigan. Which is absolutely insane — I miss Ann Arbor and all my friends already, but I’m excited for my next steps.  A couple days ago, I signed a lease for my first year in Richmond at VCU Brandcenter with a couple of GREAT girls! AND I found out I’ll be living on a BOAT in Sausalito, California for the summer as part of my internship at Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners!

I plan to use this blog a great deal throughout the summer to keep everyone up to date on my experience in San Francisco, so keep an eye out. And my latest AWSC post should be all the way live real soon — I’m SO excited about this one. It’s all about digital vs. traditional publishing and how we love on the interwebz. If you haven’t already, take a look at Robin Sloan’s revolutionary tap essay, “Fish” — promise it’s worth your time.


Moving on, I’ve had this link on my desktop for a while now and finally found the time to share. There’s been a lot of great work circulating as it relates to cause marketing lately; but the most powerful example I’ve seen is Grey Spain’s work for Aid to Children and Adolescents at Risk Foundation (ANAR for short).

The outdoor ad made use of “lenticular printing” in order to create an ad that changed based on the perspective you viewed it from. Adults (well, those over 4’5″) see an image of a sad child with the copy, “Sometimes, child abuse is only visible to the child suffering it.” Children, on the other hand, see bruises on the child’s face and the copy, “If somebody hurts you, phone us and we’ll help you.” Brilliantly executed, the secret message allows a child to see the message even when accompanied by his or her abuser.

Grey Spain uses lenticular printing to create dual-images.

Digiday put it best — “It’s a powerful message that’s enabled by technology, rather than overwhelmed by it,” an issue that often comes into play when technology is put into play for technology’s sake only. Sure, it can be cool, but does it add anything? It most certainly does here.

This gets me so excited to work alongside the talented art directors and creative technologists at VCU Brandcenter in the fall. With such amazing technology at our fingertips, I can’t wait to see what we’re able to produce together.

Advertising Week: Special Teams Deliver in 2013 Brand Bowl

When he who lives under the nearest rock asks you who won the Super Bowl, you might be tempted to scream Beyonce!#$!, but you’ll eventually answer ‘the Ravens’.

When he who lives under a slightly more academic rock asks you who won the Brand Bowl, you’ll be confronted with several possibilities.

Ram, with unarguably the most beautiful spot of the night from The Richards Group, was excellent. Hyundai had a great night. Audi, Taco Bell, Kia, the NFL – not to mention the ever-adorable Budweiser Clydesdales – all deserve our praise.

But who really won the Brand Bowl?

Find out after the jump to Advertising Week!