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!


Advertising Week: The Evolution of Storytelling, One Tweet at a Time

Texting is killing language. Twitter is killing journalism. Technology is killing the way we socialize (OK, maybe this one’s a little true). Too often, people lament these changes rather than recognizing the opportunities that come with them.

For Ted-talker John McWhorter, such changes don’t represent death, but rather, new life. Texting, specifically, with its baggy structure and lack of concern with rules, shouldn’t be thought of as a ‘decline’, but rather, as a kind of emerging complexity through which we are constantly creating new linguistic markers (like the transitional word “slash” or “lol” as a mere marker of empathy).

We’re creating entire new constructions, but still, we think something is “wrong.” And this is nothing new.

What does this have to do with Twitter? And what does it mean for brands?
Read more 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).

Quality v. Quantity

After day two of my internship, I’m utterly exhausted. I forgot how tiring a full-time job can be! (Promise, I’ll update all of you soon, but I can barely stay awake for my Blackhawks right now.) But in the research I was doing for work today, I came across this quote from Volvo’s CMO in Digiday. It’s a pretty succinct summary of — I think — many of the points I continually try to make, so I just had to share:

Q: If you had all of the brand managers from the world’s largest brands in one room and you could give them one piece of advice pertaining to social media, what would it be?

A: I would say impressions aren’t everything. The quality of the impact, the story you’re telling, and how impactful it is deserves more attention than the impressions. Think about quality first and then determine how you want to get that story out. Too often, marketers are putting less emphasis on the quality of the story.

Advertising Week: Perspective is Everything

I love a good Ted Talk. And I love a good British accent. So when I found my first Rory Sutherland talk, I was instantly hooked.

That first talk, “Life Lessons from An Ad Man,” is well worth the watch (and of a similar nature); but for the purposes of this post, I direct you to a longer talk from TedxAthens: “Perspective is Everything.”

Read more after the jump to Advertising Week!

California, Here I Come

Tomorrow I embark upon a new adventure. I’m moving to San Francisco. To work as a strategy intern at Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners. And live with two other interns. On a boat.

Is this real life?!

It is. And this is how I feel:

Luckily for me, I don’t just watch Game of Thrones; I’m in the process of finishing up A Dance With Dragons, and I’m pretty confident in Lord Snow’s character progression.

I asked the junior strategist who I’ll be working under (and who also attended the Brandcenter – as I’ll do in August) for a bit of advice. What he told me was incredibly valuable:

My advice at this point would be to be a sponge. Everything from now until even after you finish with the Brandcenter is a learning opportunity. Be curious. Ask naive questions. Connect the dots. Have fun.

Up to this point, I’ve tried my best to learn as much as I can. I’ve taken extra classes, I’ve read too many books to count, I’ve asked questions. But it’s just the beginning.

I’ve never had an advertising internship before, mostly just sports (unless you count blogging for AWSC), which either makes me terribly unqualified or usefully unique.

Either way, I’m the ultimate sponge. And I’m so ready to soak up more than just the California sunshine (even though I’m pretty excited about that, too).

I’ll be sure to keep my blog up to date with all of my adventures, academic and otherwise.
But for now, here we go!


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.