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Sunday, November 20, 2011

What to Do About PSU?

This blog will also appear on the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Marketing Association's website.

Anyone in marketing and public relations knows that “perception is reality.” Right now, Penn State has a huge PR challenge ahead of it: altering its perception as an institution that values its football program over the safety of young boys. Penn State has put out an open letter to its students, offering advice for how to handle potential interviewers who ask them about the recent scandal.

Has the Penn State brand been permanently tarnished? Is it possible to damage a brand irreparably? Tiger Woods faced a tremendous backlash and lost sponsors when his affairs were discovered. Many top marketers were guessing that the Tiger brand was done for – BrandHub released an article called “Kiss the Tiger Brand Goodbye” – and those who thought more optimistically said “Some companies will never touch him again, but if he keeps his head down and his mouth shut and wins some tournaments, he might be OK.” And indeed, he seems to have done just that. His personal life has been out of the press, and only his golf game has been discussed. He was still dropped by some of his sponsors and his fans, but people don’t think “Uch, gross” when they look at him anymore.

Penn State is a different animal. A huge part of the allure of Penn State is its football program (“Why is the sky blue and white?” “Because God is a Penn State fan!”). Penn State wins games. To tarnish the reputation of the football program is to tarnish the school itself (as evidenced by student protests over Joe Paterno’s firing – note that the firing of the university president, Graham Spanier, didn’t draw such protests). Joe Paterno was so wrapped up in the school – he was well-regarded not just for his coaching abilities, but for his contributions to academic life. He IS Penn State. And the heinous nature of the alleged crimes that he was supposedly privy to … well, suffice it to say, that’s not something that people will soon forget.

So what should Penn State do? They have to start cleaning up and owning up – a sincere apology would go a long way. An unequivocal “It was wrong, and we are sorry” – not “We’re sorry you feel that way,” not “We’re sorry if our actions were misinterpreted.” Their reputation now is one that ducks, hides the truth; facing the issues head-on, no matter how unpleasant (and I read all 23 pages of the Grand Jury report; they are indeed unpleasant), would take steps toward soothing ruffled feathers.

And perhaps it should take its cue from its open letter to students, which counsels them to focus the interviewer on their specific skills and abilities – what they can bring to the role, how they plan to succeed in the position. Penn State is more than football and Joe Paterno. It must focus on rebuilding without “JoePa” at the center – it has to put its head down and do the work. Find a new president, get kids to class and graduated and in jobs, and keep moving.

Friday, October 14, 2011

How Do You Solve the Millennial Problem?

*This will appear on the Philadelphia chapter of the American Marketing Association's website, I'll be blogging regularly for them, so feel free to check it out!

If you’re in the marketing world, you’ve probably heard a talk or read a paper about how to target the Millennial Generation. (The Millennial Generation’s dates of birth vary depending on who you ask, but I’m working with those born between 1980 and 1995.) I find the fuss over the Millennial Generation fascinating, both as a member and from a marketing standpoint. There seems to be a fear of this generation, as though we’re not flesh and blood people with thoughts, behaviors, and opinions, but avatars that sprung fully formed from Mark Zuckerberg’s head.

Some general characteristics: There are about 80 million of us. Most of us have never known a world without computers, are tethered to technology (how many people in this generation do you know that do not have a cell phone?) and the challenge of marketing to us comes from the fact that we are receiving ad messages all the time. We ignored ads on MySpace, and now we ignore them on Facebook. We block out product placement in TV shows and movies – we recognize it, shrug “Product placement,” and keep it moving. We install pop-up ad blockers and simply close the ads that get through without reading them. We know we’re constantly being marketed to so we simply tune it out.

So if Millennials are so onto us as marketers, how in the world can we reach them? 
  • ·         Appeal to their sense of individuality. Millennials have grown up hearing that they are special and that their opinions are valuable (as the product of a Quaker education, I’m intimately familiar with the “we are all winners” school of thought), and the internet provides an unfettered outlet for self-expression. Millennials feel like they’re a part of the digital framework – they’re business-owners on and eBay, they’re content-creators on Facebook and Flickr. Appeal to their senses of self. Apple’s customizable technology has been great for this (to say nothing of its cool factor).
  • ·         Social media. I admit, I was a late adopter to social media. I’m a private person, and I balked at the idea of putting my life all over the internet. But once I realized how customizable (there’s that word again) it is, I got on board. I choose what pictures are on my Facebook page and who can view them. I choose what I tweet about. I write about topics of my choice on this blog. And as my good friend noted, “Since I spend much of my time on the computer [for work and play], if the marketing doesn't have a heavy Web-component, then I don't know about it.” Browse sites that are created by and for Millennials. Start groups on Facebook. Give your product a Twitter feed. And following that …
  • ·         …focus on brands as communities. You’ll find that social media makes this easy. Make them something people want to be a part of. Obama’s campaign did this exceptionally well. The Millennial generation turned out in record numbers, and political ideologies aside, I think the message of change was a huge factor. There was a feeling of “We are all in this together” that was exciting. His website was customizable, inviting participants to share their stories and reasons for getting involved. In other words, his brand was about approachability as well as action, which fostered a sense of togetherness.
  • ·         Keep messaging consistent. Millennials receive so much messaging that a steady tone and message will stand out – and be noticed if it’s lacking. And again, a consistent message fosters community and trust.
Millennials aren’t scary, just different. We’re a savvy group of consumers, which means that when we choose something, we’re actively doing so because we know exactly how many other options we have. This can foster tremendous brand loyalty, so it’s a demographic to be embraced.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The 99 Percent has 99 Messages

Without getting into it too deeply, I am the 99%. I am also a marketer. So when a friend alerted me to this, where an ad man and two women in PR rate the effectiveness of signs held aloft at Occupy Wall Street, I was immediately intrigued.

Right off the bat, I found myself agreeing much more with Ad Exec's critiques and grades than the PR Pros'. I found myself thinking "OK, but did they read the sign?" more than once, because the PR Pros tended to focus more on style and word count rather than messaging. Which stands to reason, based on my PR experience - PR is about getting noticed. The first slide is a perfect example - PR may well have read the sign, but she gives the impression that she stopped reading when she decided it was too long. The ad man read it, liked the content, but thought the sign itself was too slick for a grassroots protest (which I agree with on all counts). It's a much more inclusive critique. With the third slide, the ad man gets in a dig about a BA in Classics (my friend who showed me this has a BA and a master's in Classics, so that got a laugh from us) and wonders who the message will reach. Is it too esoteric? The PR folks think it needs more design. Which ... maybe, but also, does the message work? Slide #7 earns top marks from both: "I'm Just Excited to Be Here!" Simple, honest, and to the point. And I agree. We don't really know why he's excited to be there, and it doesn't matter. He's just happy. The protest speaks to him in some way, and he thinks that's cool.

What's interesting to me about this, about how differently the same signs are perceived and about the varying messages of the signs themselves, is that from my understanding, Occupy Wall Street (both the original in NYC and the offshoots that have sprung up elsewhere around the country) has many messages. There's "We're mad as hell and we're not gonna take it anymore"; there's "corporate greed is evil"; there's "protesting is effective and feels good." And all the messages are valid. The same way advertisers and PR agents look at the same signs and see different things - different intents, targets, levels of effectiveness - is the same way participants saw something in OWS that spoke to them, that made them "excited to be here." Just further proof of how, as we say, perception is reality.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fall TV: What I'm Watching, Might Watch, and Plan to Watch

Fall is my favorite season, hands down. Always has been. I love the weather, I love the changing leaves, I love that it comes after summer, which is far and away my least favorite season, and I love the new TV season (and the return of my favorites).

There's some good stuff on deck, I think. So far:
I've tried:
Ringer. I've never been a Buffy fan and don't have strong feelings about Sarah Michelle Gellar either way - she seems like a nice enough person who has made some movies I liked and some I didn't. So the hype surrounding her return to TV after Buffy was pretty lost on me. I'd read reviews that were disappointed in it, and I agree - it's a pretty typical CW drama, and in general I don't watch those. And they either need to up the special effects budget or not have special effects, because that boating scene green screen was one of the most obvious I've seen. Still, the noir aspect is interesting, as is the "whose setting up whom" component. I'll watch a few more episodes before I make a season pass decision.
Up All Night. I liked it. I love Maya Rudolph, and Arnett and Applegate's characters are a lot like people I know. I'm single and childless but could still relate to a lot of the jokes. And I love that they're not the "clueless schubby husband with his hot long-suffering wife" trope that's so prevalent in sitcoms.

I plan to try:
2 Broke Girls. I love Kat Dennings, and she looks terrifically sardonic in this.
Pan Am. Like Mad Men, but with planes!
Person of Interest. I liked Lost and this combines JJ Abrams and Michael Emerson. Plus EVERYONE in the world is going to watch this and I don't want to be left out.
The X Factor. I broke up with American Idol after Simon left because he's really the only one whose opinion means anything and who looked at music as a business, which it is. So I kind of have to watch this.

I might try: 
Charlie's Angels. I'm iffy. If it's purely campy, I think it could be funny. But while I love - LOVE - me some Friday Night Lights, Minka Kelly does nothing for me acting-wise. She seems like a lovely person, and God knows she's beautiful, but she was always the weakest link of FNL for me, her storyline on Parenthood (which I've dropped from my rotation) was meh, and I'm not sure I buy her as an ass-kicking Angel. It might be hilarious to watch her try, though.
The Playboy Club. Again, this has to be pure camp or it's not going to work.
Terra Nova. If I do watch this, it'll probably be more to see what all the fuss is about than out of genuine interest. It looks like quite a production.

Hell to the naw:
Free Agents. I like Hank Azaria but nothing about this looks funny.

A Gifted Man. Sorry, Patrick Wilson, but I didn't watch The Ghost Whisperer on purpose and don't plan to start now.
Hart of Dixie. Again, my Friday Night Lights love is deep and unwavering, but even Scott Porter isn't enough to make me tune in.

H8R. Mario Lopez hosts AND the title is written in text-speak? Absolutely not.
Last Man Standing. This is basically Home Improvement with daughters instead of sons. I enjoyed Home Improvement as a kid, but it's had its day.
New Girl. You either like Zooey Deschanel or you don't. I don't.
Prime Suspect. I am just not that into taking on another procedural.
Revenge. I don't even know what this is. Feh. 
The Secret Circle. I'm just not the demographic for this. At least it's witches and not vamps.
Suburgatory. It looks pretty pat.
Unforgettable. I liked Without a Trace, Poppy Montgomery's previous procedural, but I'm not sure you can hang a whole show on her and the subject matter doesn't interest me enough to want to check it out.
Whitney. The title character looks completely unappealing and not at all funny.

That's my agenda so far! My TiVo is bursting and there's even more stuff coming down the pike in October. Man, I love fall.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

This Ad is Tantalizing, But Not in the Way You Think

The new ad for K-Y Intense lubricant, which began running yesterday (but had thousands of hits on YouTube beforehand), features a lesbian couple. I love this ad. I really, really love this ad. And I love it because it's nothing special - it's an ad that features a regular old couple, in unglamorous PJs, who need some help in the bedroom just like millions of other people. They just happen to be two women. And I love that it's unambiguous - they're not thinly veiled "roommates" or "friends," it's clear that they're a couple.

The lack of ambiguity is key. Homosexuality is so touchy for some that ambiguity would put people off in the same way overt displays of homosexuality would. Remember this Budweiser ad? There was an "are they or aren't they" question about the two men featured (my opinion: who cares?), and even the suggestion that they might be gay was enough to turn people off. Budweiser has a very "bro" reputation, and people though a gay couple was at odds with the brand's identity. (That's a polite way of saying that there was a distinct "Gays? Drinking the beer I drink? Eww!" outcry.) So this "in for a penny, in for a pound" approach is completely refreshing to me - if people are going to be grossed out by homosexuality, it doesn't matter how brazenly it's depicted, so K-Y may as well go all in.

And I love that K-Y's approach to the stir the ad has created is basically "Yeah, and?" They've long been supporters of LGBT causes and issues, and they're just continuing that tradition. This has created major buzz for the product and for the brand, but it doesn't feel like K-Y set out to shock anyone. I don't doubt that they knew the ad would be controversial; they live in the world, after all. But it doesn't feel like a publicity stunt at all. K-Y and its parent company, McNeil, come across as very secure as their position that this is an ad they created, that they meant to create, that it's NOT meant to stir up drama, and it's not going anywhere. Well done, K-Y. Well done.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

All press is good press?

Abercrombie is not a fan of Jersey Shore. It offered ""substantial payment" to the cast members NOT to wear their clothes on-air. Which is, you know, the opposite of how that usually works - it's reverse product placement. The brand singles out Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino in particular, saying that "his association with the brand could cause significant damage to [their] image," but also says they've extended the offer to the rest of the cast.

Abercrombie has a very clean image. The cast of Jersey Shore does not. It's a trashy show, and the people on it do trashy things. I wonder, though, if this was a PR ploy on Abercrombie's part. Right or wrong, Jersey Shore is a popular show, and retail numbers are down in general. (I actually walked out of an Abercrombie a few months ago, realizing I'm too old to shop there.) You can call me cynical (and I'd agree with you), but I do wonder if this is an attempt to drum up a scandal. MTV thinks so - but that's really the only card it can play when a brand tells them "One of your cash cows is gross."

I will say that while I haven't watched since the first season, but when I did, I never noticed what the cast was wearing unless it was really ugly. And it surprises me that Sitch and 'nem would wear Abercrombie because their stuff is so clean-cut and all-American. The clothes those folks wear conjure up a number of adjectives, but "clean-cut" is not among them. Also, the show has made the cast a lot of money, and from what I hear The Situation has done particularly well (including a stint on Dancing with the Stars). As cocky as he appears to be, I'd expect him to label-drop Gucci every five seconds, not make a point of wearing Abercrombie.

So what do you think? Genuine concern or PR ploy?

*UPDATE: Larry Flynt has offered The Situation cash to wear Hustler brand clothes. I gotta admit, this cracks me up. And The Situation makes out like a bandit either way.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sexism in Advertising

There's a very interesting piece on about gender and ethics in advertising. This isn't a new topic, but it's worth revisiting for a few reasons - so no one gets complacent, for one (see also: "We have a Black president so racism is over") and also to examine how it looks as the face of advertising and consumerism changes.

Nicole Skibola cites those terrible "Got Milk?" ads that were meant to tout the health benefits of milk as a PMS cure, but instead (in my opinion) just touted the "women be crazy" stereotype. The ads showed men cowering in fear of the women in their lives and even included a website for men to "seek support,"

Skibola also talks about GoDaddy, whose latest TV spot shows Danica Patrick and Jillian Michaels sauntering around a GoDaddy set, nude except for strategically placed logos and stilettos.

They're different kinds of sexist. The Got Milk? ads play up the idea that women are nuts and their menstrual cycles and emotions are to be feared. (Also, as a woman, I don't know any women who snap and start acting the fool during that time of the month - and if they do, a) the men AND women in their lives would call them on it, because menstruation is not an excuse for meanness, and b) they would seek some sort of medical treatment.) GoDaddy is more the standard "sex sells" trope, which has been around for as long as advertising has. Many brands want to be seen as "sexy;" the quickest way to do that is to show something sexy. What's immediately recognized as sexy? A young (or young-looking), conventionally attractive woman who's dressed provocatively. It's pretty lazy, actually, but it also works.

Overwhelmingly, women make the buying decisions for their households. And we don't want to feel like we're supporting a product that tells us we're only as valuable as our cleavage, or that we're emotional nutbars. The branding landscape is changing - it's more interactive, so people, for better or worse, feel more connected to brands. When done well, a brand can feel like an inclusive community for people of similar values and interests. When done poorly, a brand can be ... hurtful. It's not a question anymore of turning off the TV, or turning the page in a magazine when you see an ad you don't like - branding permeates more than these mediums. So when things go wrong, they go really, visibly wrong.

I don't know what the answer is - more market testing? More diversity in hiring? (I think this is the answer to most things, actually.) But I do know that as a consumer, I want to feel special and respected, and not like I'm not being taken seriously because of my gender.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Rico vs. Teeny

So, Rico is the weird little squirrel-thing at the helm of Air New Zealand's campaign. David Hasselhoff and Lindsay Lohan make gross and sad (respectively) appearances in the spots. I don't think the spots work at all. But I think Teeny, the monster/college student who promotes the 2012 Civic, works really well. I have the same question about both mascots: "What does this have to do with the product?" And I can come up with an answer for Teeny, and I can't with Rico.

Teeny is an Everygirl who just happens to be a giant monster: she goes to class, shops, and tools around with her friends in her Honda Civic. Teeny is relatable and eye-catching at the same time (relatable because she does stuff most people do; eye-catching because she's a monster). And the product is featured well - not only do we see Teeny driving the Civic, but we see the photo she takes in the booth with her friend in the Civic's dash. It's enough to make you think "Cool feature!" (and something a younger consumer would be interested in - it's clear who the ad is marketed to).

On the other hand, Rico is gross. His bulging green eyes are creepy. And why does he have fangs? Do squirrels have fangs? This is what I found myself wondering, instead of being curious about Air New Zealand. And if he's shilling Air New Zealand, why doesn't he have a New Zealand accent? Why make him sound like a bootleg Pepe LePew?

And his double entendres and lasciviousness are also gross. That look he gives the camera when the Hoff says it was "hard, a lot" working on Baywatch among all the women made me cringe.

Like everything that Lindsay Lohan does these days, her spot makes me sad. (Also, on the superficial tip: can she please, please go back to red hair? Red hair is so cool. There was a girl a few years ahead of me in high school with enough long, thick, red curly hair for three women - to the point where I used to wonder if her head got heavy - and it remains to this day the most spectacular head of hair I've ever seen. The platinum clashes with Lindsay's fake tan and makes her look older. ) No one knows better than I do that a check is a check, but it makes me sad to see her reduced to sitting on Rico's couch having to pretend this is funny.

Most importantly ... what is the actual point of this? Who is the consumer? Why would s/he be drawn to Rico? I guess he's eye-catching, but in a " ... What? Ew" sort of way. Where Teeny is appealing with her cuteness and pink toenails and Everygirl status, Rico the lothario is just nasty, and the tie-in to Air New Zealand is muddled at best.

Spokespeople/animals/puppets can work beautifully. I am not drawn to perpetually perky people, but I loves me some Progressive Flo. But Rico is totally off-putting and ineffective.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

RIP, Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse was found dead in London today at age 27, and I find myself really saddened, although not surprised. I didn't know Amy, obviously, but I loved her voice. I listen to Back to Black all the time. I just made a comment on another blog yesterday that I love the soulful singers that are coming out of the UK (Adele, Amy, Jessie J) and I wished Amy would get it together and make another album. And now she never will.

Amy was talented, no question. You can't hear this and not recognize that she had a gift. But she was also really troubled. Plagued by addiction, perhaps unable to handle the demands of celebrity (she was only 20 when her first album, Frank, was released in the UK, and only 23 when Back to Black came out and blew up), and surrounded by people who didn't have her best interests at heart (with the exception of her father and father-in-law, the latter of whom called for a boycott of her music until she got some help). What makes me saddest is that she almost seemed to be committing slow suicide at the end of her life. That clip of her slurring and forgetting the words during concerts last month (she cancelled the remainder of her appearances afterward) ... it was clear that she was deeply unwell, and deeply troubled, and there seemed to be no attempt, even, to get out of it.

A few years ago, one of my best friends and I were gossiping about celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears (this was when she was in the throes of whatever she was going through - I think she'd just shaved her head, which prompted the conversation) and my friend brought up Amy Winehouse. She said she thought Amy would die young. We talked about the news today, and she was sad to have been right. I am too. Hopefully she's found some peace. And hopefully this will inspire others in the lives of celebrities like Amy - young, fragile, turning to bad things to cope - to take their health and safety more seriously.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Goodbye, Borders

I just read that Borders, which has been circling the drain for about a year, will begin liquidating as early as the end of this week. I find myself really sad about this.

It's awful that nearly 11,000 people will lose their jobs. No question, that sucks, and I feel awful for those folks and their families. But I'm the most sad about the end of an era, if I can be corny for a sec. I felt the same way when a few local movie theaters closed - they were the first theaters I got dropped off at, the first places I started feeling grown-up, and now they're a bank and a drugstore. Same with Tower Records.

Growing up in Philly, there was a Borders in my section of the city. (It's been closed for some months now; the space remains vacant.) It was a hangout spot. You could go, drink coffee, read books and magazines without buying them (except for the time I spilled coffee all over Oprah Book Club Selection Songs in Ordinary Time and had to buy it, which is one of the few books I put down without finishing. Too much rambling, not enough goings-on), and no one paid you any mind. You could spend an entire afternoon in there for the price of a snack. If you were wandering around the avenue, bored, you'd end up at Borders. Kept you out of trouble - what's more wholesome than spending an afternoon at a bookstore?

When I was 16, I had a huge crush on a boy a couple of years older than I who worked in the cafe of my local Borders. He used to flirt with me and give me free coffee and whatnot. My crush on him took up the whole summer. One day I noticed him, and then I went back and gaped at him from behind a book, and then I went back and actually got up the nerve to talk to him (which I cheerfully reported to my friends), and then he started flirting back and giving me coffee and having actual conversations with me ... it was SO sixteen and silly and cute. My friends would sometimes come with me to check him out and we'd have powwows in the bathroom: "He IS cute! And he totally smiled at you!" "I know! And he always gives me a bigger size coffee than I asked for!" Borders has all those memories for me. (The boy is in his 30s now and is one degree of separation from me on Facebook, although we're not connected.)

Leaving aside my adolescent memories ... dammit, I just love being surrounded by books. I always have. I am one of the few people I know who regularly uses the public library. I don't have a Kindle. The dream home I have designed in my fantasies has a library, with built-in floor-to-ceiling bookcases. And Borders has (had) more of a library feel than Barnes and Noble. It felt homier, more personal. Barnes and Noble screams "Big Business" in a way that Borders didn't.

Part of me wonders if Barnes and Noble is to follow. Does it make sense, from a financial standpoint, to pay rent on an enormous retail space when people are turning to Amazon more and more? (Myself included - I love books, but I'm also cheap. Undergrad and b-school texts in particular - I bought all my b-school texts online or from students who were looking to unload them.) And a part of me also wonders if this is all cyclical: if Barnes and Noble falls, will we see the return of small local 'round-the-way bookstores? I'd welcome that, but I'll really miss Borders.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Google+ Vs. Facebook

I was recently invited to join Google+. I'm using both Google+ and Facebook now, although the latter more than the former. My Google+ circles are gradually working up to actively using Google+, and so far my circles are a mix of Facebook and Twitter friends (I replied to a Tweet asking who was on Google+).

This article thinks that Google+ isn't a good personal branding tool, and I'm not sure I agree. I love the Circles feature, because it lets me control who sees what. There's a marked difference between my LinkedIn contacts and my Facebook friends, and a marked difference between what I post in both places. LinkedIn is professional; Facebook is social. It's the same way I have Twitter set to only post my #in tweets to LinkedIn; my professional contacts don't necessarily need to see that I replied to Aziz Ansari about the premiere of the fourth season of Breaking Bad. Circles helps me compartmentalize.

One feature that I'm really curious about is Hangouts, where you can use a video conference to connect up to 10 people. I don't have occasion to use it yet, but I think it could be a great personal or professional tool.

The author and I are on the same  page in that we both think Google+ can be a useful supplement to your personal brand, but it's still best to cover all bases. The author seems a bit more negative about it than I am, though - I'm definitely curious to see what features are added.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Social Media and the Company Website

Jeff Bullas posted an interesting article, wondering if Facebook is cannibalizing companies' web pages. I think he's dead right. It's true that whenever you go on Facebook, one of your friends has "liked" this brand or that brand. I tend to "like" people as opposed to brands: Tim Gunn (he's very wise), Barack Obama, the late (and brilliant) Manning Marable, a former professor of mine at Columbia and prolific author who passed away this spring.

With retail brands, I think there's less of a concern. You can't buy products on Facebook; if I want to replace my Carol's Daughter Hair Balm, I'll either look on the Carol's Daughter website or on Amazon. And if I went to a company's website and it redirected me to Facebook, I'd be put off if it didn't have a site of its own. As Bullas says, Facebook owns the content you post on it - if a company has its own site and social media, it can control the content. Likewise, a brand that doesn't make use of social media may find itself behind. Social media builds awareness.

So the key is to juxtapose social media and the company's own content - to use one to drive to the other. You can use Facebook and Twitter to drive people to the company or brand's website by inserting links and running promotions on social media that refer the user to the site. Look at social networking as a supplement, rather than a replacement for the company website - make the goal to be to drive people to the website and increase brand awareness.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Boom! Roasted.

Charlie Sheen is being roasted in a Comedy Central special airing on Sept. 19. This is also the day that Ashton Kutcher's first episode of Two and a Half Men is set to air, which I highly suspect is a deliberate move on Sheen's part to stick it to CBS. A "you take my show, I'll take your ratings" type of thing.

I'm-a be honest: I follow Sheen on Twitter. I watched the 20/20 special with him and his now-ex-goddesses, with my mouth agape. I read gossip about him out of perverse curiosity, sort of like how I read gossip about Amy Winehouse.* But I don't think this is going to be funny.

Sheen is such a mess that I suspect the jokes will just be plucking low-hanging fruit. "Charlie Sheen does a lot of drugs and has a lot of sex with a lot of porn stars. WINNING!" Remember James Franco in drag at the Oscars, talking about how he'd just gotten a text from Sheen? That was really weak. I think that's what to expect at the roast.

Seth Meyers' remarks at the White House Correspondents' Dinner worked (boy, did they work) because they were topical and specific. That bit about how he didn't think Obama was going to release his birth certificate was great, because it showed that he was paying attention. That's sharp, biting wit. Even when he talked about the obvious, like how America is broke, he did so in a way that wasn't so trite. Or when he took on Trump ... Trump is a completely ridiculous person, but he talked specifically about the ways in which he was being ridiculous in current events. (That joke about "the Blacks" being a family of White people had. Me. Rolling.) It wasn't "Trump has weird hair that looks funny" (although there was a hair joke in there). 

Now, to be fair, the audiences for the Correspondents' Dinner and for a roast on Comedy Central are probably pretty different. But I don't have enough faith in Comedy Central, I guess, to handle Sheen with any sort of depth. And Sheen himself isn't messy in an interesting way, anymore - he's just messy, and it's kind of sad and kind of gross, and his messiness in and of itself isn't funny.

I will say, though, that people will absolutely tune in for this, not to see the jokes, but to see what Sheen does. Is he going to make a speech afterward? Is he going to ... I don't know, streak? Call someone a charlatan? Just scream "WINNING" at the top of his lungs and run off the stage flapping his arms? I won't watch it (or Two and a Half Men, that show is totally not funny), but I will almost certainly YouTube highlights from it on the 20th.

*I keep hoping that the latest piece of gossip about Winehouse will be that she's going into detox and rehab for three months, getting all new friends and management, moving to a small town in the English countryside somewhere with few negative influences, and re-dedicating herself to her music. I bump "Back to Black" ALL THE TIME. If/when she puts out another album, I will be all over it. Please get some help, Amy, and keep making music.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Who Drinks Whisky?

AdWeek posted an interesting article about the changing face of whisky. I worked briefly on a well-known brand of whisky (a “lifestyle brand,” in PR terms) and the goal at the time was to widen its audience and make it more palatable to young people and women in particular. Whisky has an old, stodgy reputation, conjuring up images of someone’s silver-haired grandfather in a smoking jacket, sitting in a high-backed chair in a library full of dusty old volumes. Not books: volumes.

And in the 50s, whisky was seen as the grown man’s drink. It signified a certain maturity and lack of frivolity. If you’re drinking whisky, you’re a Man. Don Draper, with his suits and pomade and serious voice, drinks whisky (although he engages in plenty of frivolity, but that’s another story). The first ad for Old Grand-Dad, with the bust and the slogan “Bring out the bottle,” wants the consumer to be proud to drink whisky (it was apparently commonplace to pour cheap booze into the good crystal and serve it that way, keeping the bottle hidden). The bust in the ad is an older man, looking stern and watchful. And come on: busts themselves are kind of old. When’s the last time you were in a 20something’s apartment and there was a bust on the mantle? (I haven’t had a mantle since I left my parents’ house for college.)

In the lower ad, the bar is clearly a fancy cosmopolitan one – skyline, dim lighting, table polished to a shine – which appeals to the sleek, urban(e) drinker. The fact that the whisky is “handcrafted in small batches” makes the drinker feel discerning, as though they’re in on a secret. The cocktail on the table isn’t whisky straight up or on the rocks; it’s a mixed drink, which women tend not to shy away from.

The brand I worked for was trying to make whisky cool and sophisticated. The audience was young professionals, and the message was “look how cool.” Look how cool you’ll be if you bring this to a house party; look how cool you’ll be if you give this as a holiday gift; look how cool you’ll be if you just have it around your home for people to notice; look how sleek and cool the packaging is; look how cool it is that these female celebrities drink this brand; look how cool it is to sip a fine whisky, rather than chug gallon-jug wine (not that I would know anything about that). We focused on the less expensive bottles (although we did do a launch event for a $10,000 bottle; when I tasted it I immediately said, “It tastes like money”) and the more mildly flavored ones. We pitched coverage to sleek, glossy monthlies: GQ, InStyle, New York Magazine. Whisky and its drinkers have come a long way, and it's refreshing (no pun intended) to see the market changing. It's still a Grown Folks Drink, but I think it's less intimidating than it has been.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sexually Inappropriate Fruit

Thanks to Copyranter, I just saw a spectacularly terrible ad courtesy of Y&R Mumbai. The product is Lotte Chocolate Caramel with Mango (which sounds gross in and of itself - I love all three of those things but I don't think they go together), and in it, the lecherous mango leers at his pregnant black maid - chocolate! Geddit? - complete with uniform and hanging laundry. Their spawn is, presumably, the candy in question. That I now want to purchase, after dealing with all kinds of antebellum flashbacks. Yes, I TOTALLY want to buy a candy that makes me think of rape! Sign me right up! Yum!

The maid looks weary, as though she's grown tired of Mango's sexual harassment and just goes along with it because she has no choice. Also, Mango's dog appears to be checking her out too, so she's getting ogled from all sides.

There is another such ad, this time for strawberry chocolate, and this one is worse - the strawberry is putting his clothes on after apparently raping the pregnant black Sleeping Beauty. The ad appears to be playing up the whole "knight saves damsel in distress" thing - the strawberry's clothes include a sword and tall boots, but THAT DOESN'T WORK IF THE PRINCE RAPES HER WHILE SHE IS UNCONSCIOUS. I have to say this out loud, really? There is a whole campaign dedicated to fruit raping black women? Does anyone hear how ridiculous that sounds?

*sigh* I have perfect blood pressure, but it's up right now. I suppose it would have been asking too much to just make them a couple. I know that there's a lot of complex politics related to castes and colorism in India, but this is beyond.

Monday, June 27, 2011

How Much is Too Much?

One of my Facebook friends posted a status update today that got me thinking. She works for a nonprofit and was frustrated by the organization's emphasis on social media, wondering if at some point the work itself needs to take priority over how the work is accessed. She proposed a "technology non-revolution."

I'm of two minds. On one hand, there are definitely aspects of social media that I deliberately avoided - I wasn't on Facebook or Twitter for a while because I am, overall, a private person, and wasn't sure about putting my life on the web. I have read PLENTY of oversharing tweets and status updates, and I am just not that person who's going to tweet (or blog) about my gynecologist appointment (I wish I were making that up), or my family. I knew I wasn't going to put myself on blast, so I wondered "What's the point?" Not realizing, I guess, that I had control over what I put out there, and could comment and post photos and whatnot without putting all my business in the street. My last status update was about how excited I was to hear one of my favorite songs come on over the loudspeaker in Starbucks.

On the other hand, I was delighted when an old friend I haven't seen or heard from since we were 13 friended me on Facebook, and even more delighted to see that she seems to be very happy. (I have had to hide a few oversharing folks, though.) And Twitter has been both fun (the tweets from the Fug Girls are as funny as the blog posts themselves) and informative. I follow companies on Twitter and learn about their upcoming projects and strategies. I was on Twitter when the news of bin Laden's death broke - I follow my local news as well as ABC News, CNN, and Anderson Cooper. I got advice about what bike to buy on Facebook, and get great recipes from the Food and Wine Twitter feed, as well as from my favorite Top Chef contestants (Hootie Hoo, Carla!).

Now, my Facebook friend's status update wasn't maligning social media altogether; just saying that she thought the focus should be on the work itself, rather than how the work is consumed. And without knowing what kind of work her organization does, it's hard to know how effective social media is for her organization in particular. She's certainly not opposed to highlighting the work her group does; she just doesn't want to get so focused on talking about the work that doing the work falls by the wayside. It doesn't do anyone any good to tweet about shoddy work. I don't think anyone will argue with that. In fact, it's a hindrance - if you have a big social media presence and a crappy product, that just means that many people are aware of your crappy product, and have many different public forums to discuss just how crappy your product is.

As a marketer, you kind of have to find social media useful, because it's as much a part of marketing as buying ad space. So it's easy to forget that it can be invasive for people who just use it to stalk their exes, or read what witty thing Wanda Sykes is thinking about at any given moment. Or that people just want to put their heads down and work, and not worry about page views and the number of followers. So I hope that my Facebook friend is able to strike a balance between talking about her work and getting it done to the best of her and her organization's ability.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Cadbury/Naomi Campbell Controversy

If you're unfamiliar, Naomi Campbell sued Cadbury over comparing her to chocolate in an ad for Bliss Dairy Milk Chocolate. The ad's tagline was "Move Over, Naomi, There's a New Diva in Town." The Advertising Standards Authority deemed that the ad was not racist, but Cadbury pulled it.

Campbell has, to put it kindly, a reputation as a "diva." The term "diva" has morphed from "a celebrated voice in opera and theater" to "demanding superstar." Off the top of my head, stories about Campbell throwing phones and screaming at her service staff, wearing couture gowns to do community service as a deliberate snub to the process, and knowingly accepting literal "blood diamonds" from Liberia's former warlord spring immediately to mind. (In my opinion, this goes well past "diva" and toward "terror," but that's me.) Cadbury's intent was to liken the Bliss line of chocolate to Campbell's diva image (but I'm sure the intent was to compare it with the "softer" side of her diva image - I doubt they want to liken the chocolate to someone who abuses her assistants). Bliss is fierce, bold, luxurious, like Campbell. Bliss is billed as a "dreamy chocolate truffle," so fancier than your average chocolate. The photo depicts a bar of Bliss atop a mound of diamonds, so certainly Cadbury is working to cultivate a luxurious brand image for Bliss. (I did find myself wondering if the diamonds in the ad were a dig at Campbell's blood diamond scandal.)

As a black woman, I am intimately familiar with the connotations of juxtaposing blackness with chocolate. Black people have a history of being commodified, objectified, and treated uniformly (our skin tones go way beyond "chocolate" - Campbell's skin and mine look nothing alike), and slapping Campbell next to chocolate perpetuates that. They're personifying the chocolate, and there's nothing wrong with that in and of itself - all good, memorable brands have personalities. It's one of my favorite parts of branding. But they would not have used a white woman in this campaign. "Move over Barbra, there's a new diva in town," with Barbra Streisand next to a picture of milk chocolate? Never would have happened. Racism, or racially suspect behavior (there's a difference), is often subtle. This is a key example of institutionalized racism - in the brainstorming meeting, once the idea was set to compare the chocolate with a person, how many of the names tossed around were of black women? I'll probably never know, but I'm guessing "most."

Do I think Cadbury meant it "that way?" No. Should someone in the brainstorming session have tossed out the possibility that it would be taken "that way?" Absolutely. I'd have done it. I'd be curious to know the racial makeup of the team on the account, because I certainly could have seen this coming. I'd have done it with the Dove Visible Care ad too. Another ad that wasn't intended to be racist (and I truly don't think there was any negative intent there at all - it's just a careless layout), but needed someone to say "Hey, let's take another look at this."

I have issues with many of the things I've read that Campbell has done, but she does get a say in how her image - an image that she has worked for decades to cultivate and maintain, that is literally her livelihood - is used. At the core, if she doesn't want to be mentioned in the same space as chocolate, that's her right.

And at the end of the day, the intent is secondary. This is true for race relations AND marketing and PR. Marketers say it all the time: perception is reality. If the ad is perceived as racist, by Campbell or anyone, the image is tainted. (Which begs the question: why choose Campbell? Again, her reputation goes beyond "diva" and toward "criminal," and she's pretty much only in the news for bad behavior these days.) Al Sharpton was calling for a boycott. Not all press is good press.

There's no easy solution, as is typically the case with race matters. Cadbury pulled the ad, but I have issues with the ASA making the decision that something isn't racist ... it feels out of their purview. They can say the ad wasn't meant to be racist, but to just deem it completely fine along racial lines feels really dismissive to me. It reeks of "Oh, don't be so sensitive." But I do appreciate the discussion this has generated - there's no progress without discussion.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Why I'm Mad About "The Killing"

The season finale of The Killing was last night, and it made me really mad. Judging by the blogosphere and Twitterverse today, I am not alone.

I watch a pretty wide swath of TV. Some of it is quality: Friday Night Lights, The Good Wife, Mad Men, other cerebral dramas and smart sitcoms. Some is straight trash. But when I watch trash, stuff that I'm using purely as background noise or because I have half an hour to kill before I have to be somewhere or do something, I know it's just that. It hasn't been billed as anything else and it doesn't pretend to be anything else.

The Killing billed itself, repeatedly, as better and smarter than the average crime procedural. It wasn't. It was boring, except when it made no sense. By the end of the season, I had no idea who Rosie Larsen was, so her death meant nothing to me other than the general "Aw, that's sad" when you hear that someone young has died. I only knew bits and pieces of her parents, especially mom Mitch (who I started to hate when she Lady Macbethed all over Stan and goaded him into beating Bennett Ahmed into a bloody pulp); I thought I knew Holder but it turns out I didn't. I knew that the mayoral candidate had lost his wife, picked up escorts and slept around after his wife died, and that he was running for mayor, but the show failed to make his campaign interesting (and as an Organizing for America volunteer, I know they can be), so I didn't really care about that part.

And I could live with that if the plotting had been consistent. Instead, we got red herrings, capital-I Issues (female genital mutilation, Native American burial grounds and casinos, prostitution), and filler. The third to last episode involved the two detectives on the Larsen case, Linden and Holder, driving around looking for Linden's teenage son (she's a single mom), not working on the case. We do get to know them better, sure, but with three episodes to go, the time for that character development was much, much earlier in the season. With a 13-episode arc, there's no time for filler. (Not to mention that when they do find the kid, it turns out he was with his father, who hasn't been in his life. In the next episode, Linden meets up with her son's father and tells him she'll have him arrested for kidnapping if he comes near her son again, and in the final episode, she's on the phone with her son talking about "I'm glad you're having fun with your dad. Let me know when you want me to pick you up." Now what now? What happened to the kidnapping charges she was going to file?) I was past the point where I wanted to know about Linden and her life: I was only holding on for the whodunnit payoff, so this was a waste of time.

And I didn't even get the whodunnit! I have no idea whodunnit. Oh, it was the mayoral candidate - except it wasn't, because Holder is in someone's pocket and is framing him. (And don't get me started on the stupidity of Linden going alone to his apartment when she believes him to be a murderer, and not arresting him. The second time she just goes over to yell at him. Quit poking the bear, Linden.) And now I have to watch Linden and her son NOT move to Sonoma some more (her fiance either has the patience of Job or he's an idiot) and work this out? That could have worked if the show had built up any sort of goodwill, if it hadn't spent an entire season doing just this - introducing subjects and then clearing them, not making any progress.

Alan Sepinwall, with whom I frequently agree, notes that as much as Veena Sud, the showrunner, claims that The Killing doesn't have a formula, it totally does. (And there's room for great work in a formulaic procedural drama - Cold Case, for example, Sud's previous show, had a standard solve-a-case-per-episode formula, but don't try to tell me that "Best Friends" and "The Sleepover" weren't great episodes of TV.) The formula is, basically: "Don't develop the characters, introduce seventy-'leven red herrings and then clean some of them up in the next episode, but also leave a few of them hanging, and show some grief porn and rainstorms." And that does not make for entertaining TV. I have no reason to care now, about any of it - who killed Rosie, where Mitch went, when Stan will go to jail for nearly killing Bennett (and come on, there's no way Mrs. Ahmed wouldn't know who Stan is, nor would the hospital allow him to see the man he beat within an inch of his life), who will win the mayoral race (was this not the most boring political campaign ever?) ... anything, because I know the show is just going to make it up as it goes along, and insult my intelligence.

The one thing I sort of care about is who's pulling Holder's strings, because I think he's the most interesting character on the show - but I have no reason to believe that the show will respect me enough to handle it well, so that's not enough. If a show's not going to be interesting, it should at least be entertaining. This wasn't.

So that'll do, Killing. I do hope that Mireille Enos and especially Joel Kinnaman find vehicles that are worthy of their talent, because they did the best they could with what they were given. But ... yikes, what a mess.

Friday, June 17, 2011

If She's So Popular ...

The title of this blog comes from a pun: "If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy all her friends?"

I had zero interest in Barbie as a kid. I liked to read and "play pretend." I don't remember my childhood friends taking much of an interest in Barbie either. We were unusual, though, because Barbie is EVERYWHERE. Barbie has a dream house and a boyfriend. Barbie has a kid sister (but no parents, so apparently they sprung up from the ground). Barbie has a Token Black Friend. (When I graduated from high school, one of my relatives gave me a black Barbie, complete with cap, gown, and diploma, as a gag gift. Ha ha?) Barbie has a car. Changing careers for Barbie is as easy as changing outfits. Barbie has been re-created in "real life" countless times. A former teacher of mine wouldn't let her daughter play with Barbie because Barbie was anti-feminist. Barbie is, in short, one of the world's most recognized brands.

As a marketer and avid media consumer, I often think about what makes brands successful. Brands are built. They have personalities that change and grow with their consumers. At the core, brands are vying for your friendship. Barbie works because she's been around for so long - she's changed with the times, somewhat, but those proportions are still the same - she's immediately recognizable.

This blog will take a look at ads and brands that work or don't, and why, and how media helps make or break brands and campaigns. I will probably make fun of a lot of stuff. Most of the time, I kid because I love. Most of the time. Some stuff is just wack. We'll get there, trust.