Thursday, February 2, 2017

In the Market to Buy Something Daunting, Big, and/or Awkward? These Gals Got You Covered.

The female spokesperson is back!

Ok, maybe she never left. At least we can say in confidence that a new archetype is upon us!

No longer just resigned to demoing household products in the strictest, most well-worn gender roles, but provided R-A-N-G-E! Room to form a persona all their own (NOT product-related); to go off on comedic tangents, and blend the hardline task of selling a product with an almost sitcom-like quality of arbitrary storytelling.

What started as a gamble turned trend, then full-blown craze!

Note: this post is long overdue.
Our subjects have been hardworking, brand ambassadors for YEARS now. Still, a trend in advertising that shows no sign of slowing down and deserves acknowledgement.  

First came Flo

Did you know Flo has been working in Progressive’s “Superstore” since 2008? Nearly a decade now – hellbent on making the dry, mundane task of insurance shopping not only tangible but light hearted and dare I say, fun?

Played by Stephanie Courtney, the commercial break’s now iconic sweetheart has performed in more than 100 spots. And Flo’s presence extends FAR beyond the small screen. Courtney’s character can be seen on web banners, traditional print, turnpike toll booth wrappers, …so iconic, she just needs a bump of hair on billboards for pull through!

Toyota’s Jan

At the dealer reception desk for almost three years now, Jan (played by Laurel Coppock) serves to alleviate some of the stress and intimidation typically associated with buying a car. Who wouldn’t be at ease if Coppock’s character were the first person that greeted them in the showroom?

AT&T’s Lily

After cars comes phones. Growing equally as high in sales pressure (and creeping closer in price, amirite!?) is finding yourself an unwilling participant in the ongoing mobile phone wars. Never fear, Lily is here! Played by Milana Vayntrub, AT&T’s wholesome soldier of the store salesfloor. So, approachable and sweet, you’ll wanna come back for your iPhone 8, 9, and 10!  

British Invasion!

But wait, there’s a whole subset of comediennes we’d be remiss to exclude in this post!
A cadre of cross-the-pond confidants, commissioned to make the buying of all those blush-worthy, unmentionables easier. Why seek help from the UK? Something about that English accent – thought “uppity” by Americans since the days of Hamilton, when placed in dichotomy with awkward subject matter, grabs attention. Consider:

Orbit Gum

Ok, so there’s nothing awkward about gum. But when Orbit called upon the talents of Vanessa Branch to help launch lemon-lime and crystal mint back in ’06, they weren’t just talking gum but taking on bad breath – and that *is* uncouth! ‘Dirty mouths’ everywhere rejoiced and the character has stuck (pun intended) for over a decade, Orbit swapping Branch out for Farris Patton in 2010.

The PooPourri Girl

A product demo of sorts, although REEKING (again, pun intended) of hyperbole for extra impact.
Played by Bethany Woodruff, a gal after this blogger’s own heart, with her constant alliteration and sing-song rhyme schemes. We’d love to see more! Although, how much more explaining is there left to do? Don’t hold your breath (sorry, couldn’t help myself) for a product line extension.

Cottonelle’s ‘Go Commando’ Girl

She’s out to two-ply pamphlet your neighborhood with all the bum-based benefits you stand to bear with Cottonelle. Played by Cherry Healey, Kleenex’s TP is elevated out of the commodity lines with cheeky before-and-after product testimonials.
Does it work?

Let me start by saying as I googled each of our subjects, in EVERY case, [brand] + the word ‘woman’ or ‘girl’ was within the TOP THREE suggestions, often beating out actual product.

If there’s true chemistry, brand + ambassador, it’s a match made in (advertising ROI) heaven.

It works at face value, because we’re all looking for things to soften our anxiety around those daunting, big, and/or awkward purchases.

Equally important: link fantasy with reality.

These spots can’t just be red herrings, dreamt up by siloed marketing departments, but the result of big picture business plans. The execution of strategy also can’t conclude at the end of the 30 second spot; you must tether down to the real world. Now I know commercials are supposed to be idyllic exaggerations on real life. But if Flo won’t be the one answering our call – someone like Flo should be. The in-person experience should capture the spirit and achieve the same vain as the commercial spots – Toyota showrooms should feel approachable and bright. AT&T stores should feel friendly and no-pressure. Otherwise, the whole thing breaks down at the finish line; all your hard work goes to waste.

Make sure art imitates life, or at least life imitates art.

The order doesn’t matter so long as the two are fused.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

There is no ‘I’ in ‘News’ …or is there?

There shouldn’t be. But the term ‘news’ and ‘news organization’ have been bent and/or stretched (however you prefer to make tangible the concept) a great deal recently.

We’re living in bubbles of same-mindedness. We seek shelter and prop up our own opinions among the like-company we keep, thereby shielding ourselves from the reality of mounting differences of opinion.

And now, there are a lot of ‘I’s’ in the ‘news’. …And ‘we’ and ‘us’ and ‘our’. 
‘News’ wants to fit in, so, it’s adopted our lingo and stakes out a view on EVERYTHING.

Like much of what we love/hate lately, we have social media to thank.

More specifically, the norms of communication and expression that have evolved online over time.

We used to Surf the Web. Now, we scroll our Feed.

‘The’ to ‘our’. An important distinction. We used to be a site 'visitor'. Now it’s OUR wall, MY post. Our ‘likes’ add to an algorithm to show us more of the same as we ‘unfollow’ that which we don’t agree.

But what’s Social Media got to do with News Media?

We stopped coming to them, so they came to us.

The number of followers and engagement on social media opened new avenues for monetization and suddenly, every story was a chance to attract eyeballs and add dollars. Organizations had to get crafty; their headlines and taglines had to fit the pithy, conversation-style of the platform.

Click Bait, disguised as Opinion, parading as News.

That’s what we’re left with. Cases in point:

Stop it.

Inanimate publications taking (and LEADING with) specific opinions... No story, no headline, just conversational-style, common language click bait. I know these are just fluff pieces, but that’s what I have a beef with.

They think if they use enough of the latest buzzwords and catchphrases, they can ‘blend in’ and have their voice heard among the scroll of conversation! 
Posts can be enticing without reeking of such desperation. Consider:

“GALLERY: The Obama Family: their Years in the White House”
Possible teasers: How many do you remember? -OR- Which are your favorites?

“INAUGURAL PLAYLIST: A Compilation of Music from the Artists Confirmed to Perform”

Possible teasers: How many names do you know? -OR- A veritable who’s-who of who?!s

Still punchy click bait, but at *least* they don’t appear to take a stance.

research and adjust, posting on the TOPICS your audience cares most about. (You are a business, after all).

structure posts in quick, easily-in/easy-out, digestible sound bites suited for the hyper-short attention spans of the internet era.

DON’T Do the Readers’ Job

Leave the OPINIONS to US. It will give us something new to add on the re-share. (That’s more clicks, more eyeballs on your story, you know). Help us help YOU. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Mobile Wars: Who Has the Balls?

Remember where you were just a kid at the amusement park jumping into the big pit of musty plastic balls? Well, now you can relive that same fun-for-a-few-minutes-than-gross sensation during most any primetime commercial break, courtesy of the mobile phone carrier wars reaching a new height in laziness.

It started out well enough.

There’s no doubt Verizon’s “A better network as explained by ______” series was devised to tackle the age-old challenge of demonstrating superiority in an otherwise homogenous services industry.

Where ______ has been:
  • a door
  • an hourglass
  • an abnormally large basketball hoop
  • an expensive egg
  • a high school 'it' couple (the BEST, IMO)
  • Star Wars (...wait, what? WHY?!)

All were called upon to help make tangible the argued benefits of the Verizon network.

And then they got the balls…

Simple enough, right? The demonstration is easy to follow; the message is clear, but also, a first in the campaign to illustrate the shortcomings of rivals by comparison. Who’s gonna stand for that?

And so Sprint got the balls…

And then T-Mobile got the balls…

Not one, but TWO spots! (ONE during the Super Bowl, guest starring Steve Harvey!)


Sorry, AT&T doesn’t have any.

…At least at the time of publishing, but who wants blue balls anyways!? (Wink face)

Here’s Why it Doesn’t Work.

Look, the spot fits as part of the overall “Better Network as Explained by …” series. It’s a simple premise that works as part of a whole, a single chapter in a larger story.

But as the rebuttals by rivals start to stack up, the impact of each gets diluted.

Who can remember which company is claiming what based on which independent study of what sample pool, etc. anyways?!

Don’t hold us captive to a public splitting of hairs within the construct of a competitor’s campaign!

Advertising budgets are small. Why blow them on direct responses to your category leader? Your negation of Verizon’s claims should ENTERTAIN us! (Ok, the T-Mobile spot with Steve Harvey comes close. It’s self-deprecating and timely, but our minds shift to the Miss Universe flub and we forget why you’re so great).

Fine, if you simply must “set the record straight”, do it in your own style!

Kick Verizon IN the balls and cut a different comparison that feels on brand!

When you respond direct and use the same format, you are letting Verizon set the terms and parameters of the conversation. Mock the simplicity of their latest series, question their intentions behind “simplifying” mobile.

You’re all already advertising everywhere, at least look different and tell different stories.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sprint’s Simply Unlimited Plan + iPhone 6 Ad: Brilliant or Bogus?

Is it bad that the first time I saw this ad I wasn’t sure if it was for or against Apple’s latest?

Maybe it’s the over-characterization of a stereotypical gaggle of clueless girlfriends screaming that put the authenticity of the ad in question.

Me, mouth hanging open: “There’s NO WAY Apple would approve this – the characters are over the top and precisely the type of demo iPhone does NOT want to be associated with.”

Halfway through and I was still scanning the deck for some super-sophisticated, ultra-annoyed female archetype friend, aggravated and eye-rolling as she thumbs her Samsung Galaxy Note Edge – punchline, PLEASE! (Don’t you know the next big thing is already here?!)

Even after the rounds of shattering glass I held out hope that maybe, just MAYBE we’d be treated to the silky-smooth vocal styling’s of Cortana of Windows phone fame ( I’m using the term ‘fame’ as lightly as humanly possible here, you’ve got to EARN fame, baby).

“So should we eat?”

That’s a wrap and my plate’s stacked full with crow.

It WAS a pro-iPhone ad!


Is it that the standard go-to format of feature-heavy demonstrations delivering intimate moments with the ones we love has completely played out or is it that selling on price always boils creativity down to the lowest form of brain-dead entertainment?

No woman thinks she’s like these women (even those women who are TOTALLY like these women) and I’m pretty sure no straight man would ever want to be within earshot of this boisterous BB-Q so who the heck is the ad trying to attract?

I’m out.

And speaking of being out...sorry for the long (unintended) sabbatical! 
I've been off solving all the world's biggest problems, or something like that.
Now that it is once again the most WONDERFUL time of the year, let's see if I can't be more diligent in spreading (read: sparing) the marketing holiday cheer! -DS :)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Social Media Dos and Don’ts in the Face of a Brand Mishap

I’ve been thinking a lot about the evolution of social media as a method for brand communication. Specifically, how it should react in the event of a PR nightmare.

While more traditional advertising channels are rigid – TV/radio pre-recorded, print/billboard, pre-printed and placed – digital can be real-time and responsive.

And with that, comes the HUGE responsibility to do so.

Social can’t be all carefully crafted and canned like its traditional channel counterparts. Its fundamental premise begs of users to be quick-witted and casual, to provide an on-going, authentic dialogue that takes into account real-time global news and perceptions on brand.

Case in Point: Malaysia Airlines.

As a recent example, let’s consider how Malaysia Airlines (MAS) used social media before, during, and after the loss of MA370.

Before MA370 ever left Kuala Lumpur
All systems go. MAS used social media as you’d expect any airline to. They played up back-banter with happy fliers while trying to quell hot-headed tweets re: lost baggage and cancelled flights. They shared radiant photos from exotic flight destinations and high-impact, brand-affirming stories of engaged employees and loyal travelers.

Finding a new voice while trying to find a plane
A quick change in altitude. When Beijing-bound Flight 370 vanished without a trace on March 8th, the airline’s social media profiles immediately swapped full-color logos and image-rich cover photos for solid bands of gray. The feel-good stories ceased with a clear, deliberate shift in intention from promotion to that of reporting facts and clarifying rumor.

Returning to protocol post tragedy (the tricky part)
Mayday-mayday!! MA370 is (still) a HUGE global story of human interest! 239 people are missing without a trace and presumed dead. What’s Malaysia Air doing? Asking its twitter audience to choose between a sunrise and sunset.
Wait. Those aren’t the same waters you lost a plane in earlier this year, right?
They’re also trying to launch and promote hashtags like #MHJourney and #MHMoments (where ‘MH’ is their IATA airline designator). What current ‘journey’ or ‘moment’ with MAS does NOT remind you of the missing jetliner?

Here’s a smattering of recent posts. You don’t have to be a professional comic to come up with dark, clever retorts to any one of these:
I’m glad SOMEONE had a smooth landing! #whereisMAS370
What QUESTIONS do you think #MA370 passengers should have thought to ask?! #BESTjourney How about the South Indian Ocean? “Memorable experiences” flying #MAS, that’s for sure!

Look, I’m a stone-cold Marketer.

I get why MAS would want to put this tragedy behind them and get back to the glamorous world of shameless self-promotion.

At first glance, it’s just disrespectful and in poor taste.

But beyond that, it’s also confusing. You want to ask, was marketing not clued in!? Do they not know MAS lost a member of its fleet a few months ago!?

It’s just naïve to be so brazen with the promotions in the face of a very recent, very clear product fail.

There are no definite rules here.

No algorithms to follow, plotting size of tragedy with length of marketing moratorium. We’re all learning as we go, praying we never have to make the call ourselves.

Still, here are a few down-and-dirty suggestions to start.

Draw a Clear Line

Communicate your intention to shift gears before you actually do it.

No one likes a blind-side. Hire a passionate writer to craft a rich letter or produce a heart-felt YouTube video and broadcast a final apology. One that honors the past, owns fault, and recommits to your roots with a promise to survive and thrive. Don’t forget to test for goose bumps.

Start Small

Before you decide to flip back on the promotional power grid, maybe consider first a feel around in the dark? Listen to social media. What’s the buzz and prevailing sentiment regarding your brand?

If it’s still hot with rage, delay.

And Build

When you finally do return to your “regularly scheduled program,” cut the frequency and soften the tone. Social media is rich with human emotion and your brand voice should come across the same; moving on but irrevocably changed by the event.

And whatever you do,
Don’t pitch softballs to all those cynical twitter super users and haters!!

Challenge every tweet. Comb through those 140 characters again and again, pressure testing for even the slightest chance someone might misconstrue intention or grab hold of a double-entendre and run with it at your expense. People love to kick ya when you’re down. It’s a pandemic and everyone wants their jab to go viral.

Social media in the face of brand implosion.
Can you think of any other examples of the good, the bad, or the ugly?

Have a great long weekend, everyone. :)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Michael Sam Kiss: Opportunities Met and Made

When Michael Sam was selected by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft, he made history as the first openly gay player to be admitted to the league.

Moments later, he made history again, when upon receiving ‘the call’, Sam’s celebratory kiss with his boyfriend was broadcast live as part of ESPN’s continued coverage of the Draft.

[I don’t have to include a photo of the moment here, right? Y’all don’t live under rocks.
You know what, fine. Here. Take it.]

Now almost a week later and the pro-vs-against battle rages on.

Our more conservative constituents – (that’s the “anti-kiss” side of the equation) – are calling ESPN’s decision to broadcast the tender moment a blatant opportunity to generate buzz and make news.

They’re absolutely right.

I can agree with the claim, even from the liberal side of the equation (and when am I not?).

I’m pro-kiss.

Heck, I’m give-me-more, why not show-me-some-tongue, pro-kiss!

But I can still agree that ESPN saw the potential for personal gain in broadcasting the moment.

And that’s great.

You want to know why?

Because if ESPN thinks gay = gain, and we all know in business that gain = good, what ESPN is really saying is gay = good (and THAT’S good).

It means that another organization (a traditionally macho one at that) sees the up-side of “coming out” as pro-gay (or at least gay-tolerant).

That’s HUGE.

It says to me that ESPN has checked the pulse of an ever-changing world and made account for the gradual but persistent trend in tolerance when it comes to sexuality.

They are making a (business) choice to include homosexuality as part of the mainstream.

Sure, the cynical side of me can say “they’re using our way of life to get attention/boost ratings.”

True, the short-term benefits belong to brand – replays and shares, posts and news topics.

[Note: I had to shake a similar notion when I first saw the Honey Maid “
This is Wholesome” and “Love” ads – how else could they get THIS MANY PEOPLE talking about crackers?]

But with more and more brands coming on board, those types of self-serving benefits will wane.

The long-term benefits belong to the greater good!

Increased exposure adapts the mind for a new definition of “acceptable behavior.”

Our Conservative counterparts call this FORCING the homosexual agenda (their phrase, not mine). Look, we’re never going to get EVERYONE on board. Right and wrong are deeply entrenched in our being, a summation part enculturation and part intuition.

I don’t need everyone to be OK with me, but I’m grateful to see that big chunk in the middle softening on the issue and widening their perspective on “normal”.

Talk isn't cheap.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the brands that make room in their broadcast.


PS: Sorry it has been so long! What can I say, duty calls -- there's real work to be done! I will try to better manage my time and schedule in a few more rants per month. Appreciate your attention, as always.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Nothing new at this year’s Super Bowl

Building hype for commercials – what an age we live in!

For the last few years, advertisers have used social media teasers in hopes of cultivating additional interest and intrigue for impeding Game Day ads.

From obscure behind-the-scenes photos or video to full-blown commercial-length preview spots, advertisers who committed to the Big Game made sure you stayed glued to the screen for their 30-seconds of fame.

But this year, previewing the WHOLE commercial spot!?

Tebow for T-Mobile, a Full House reunion over spilled Oikos, a Cheerios first, Clydesdale puppy-love, and Audi’s Doberhuahua. (Just to name a few)

I was browsing YouTube last Friday and the Volkswagen ‘Wings’ spot even popped up as a rollover.

At $4 million per 30-seconds, you’d think advertisers would want to keep things under wraps as long as possible. You know, really get their monies worth!

There is plenty of time to “go viral” POST game day! Seriously, why spend so much cash on a creative repeat?

Why advertise during the Super Bowl at all?!

Enter the brilliance of Newcastle Brown Ale.

So the promotion of Super Bowl advertising is evolving…fast.

If everyone’s Game Day ad is going to run BEFORE Game Day, there’s gotta be a way to capture similar hype and just skip the placement (and GYNORMOUS cost) all together.

And that’s precisely what Newcastle did.

First of all, ever heard of ‘em? I hadn’t, but again, NOT a beer drinker.

Their “If We Made It” campaign is pure genius.

The whole premise was built around the notion that Newcastle had every intention of producing a spot for the Super Bowl, but then didn’t. It was too expensive, the story concepting process was mismanaged, (never mind that Budweiser basically owns the Super Bowl).

Popping up nearly a week in advance, the campaign’s hub,, is self-deprecating humor at its best.

Video testimonials by:

But they didn’t stop there.

On Super Bowl Sunday, Newcastle watched the actual ads along with us, ‘recreating’ a selection of them via storyboard animation. Selected ads that Newcastle made more ‘MEGA HUGE’ included Wonderful Pistachio, Chobani and GoDaddy (twice), just to name a few.


Seriously, when you consider it costs $4 million for 30 seconds. And that’s just placement, never mind all the costs associated with the spot’s production…

Newcastle spent less, built MORE and, by most estimates, stole a huge handful of exposure and acclaim at this year’s Super Bowl.

…without actually producing a spot FOR the Super Bowl.

Hats off, Newcastle! Can we expect a Part 2 in 2015?

Happy Monday,
-Daniel :)

Afterthought: What’s next in the Super Bowl Advertising Evolution?

If everything is previewed in advance, how will marketers in the next 3-5 to 10 years REALLY secure (actual) Game Day impact?

Answer: Total Shock and Awe

Think mega-huge giveaways, a total change in brand or positioning – no previews or warnings, no hints whatsoever we’re talking Beyoncé surprise-album-dropping-at-midnight hysteria here.
Brands have dabbled with it already. Denny’s Free Grand Slam breakfast in 2012. Really two this year: U2’s “Invisible”, given for free in support of (RED) and eSurance’s $1.5M post-game spot savings giveaway.

Every brand, each more shocking then the last (all, no doubt, with paths into social-share). But wouldn’t that make for a thrilling night of TV? Almost like watching a high-stakes sporting event, or something!

Can’t wait. :)