Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Commercial Within a Commercial, aka Advertising Turducken

This week families around the country will feast on turkey. Some more adventurous families will take their cue from good ole John Madden and go ahead and stuff a chicken into duck and then stuff the stuffed duck into a turkey and enjoy what’s known as turducken. Mmmm, meat. And more meat.

The other day I saw a commercial that’s the advertising equivalent of the turducken. The spot is for a birth control brand, Nuvaring. In it we see women sitting around watching television, or more accurately watching a television commercial. The commercial they’re watching and discussing is for Nuvaring. That’s right, the Nuvaring commercial features the Nuvaring commercial.

I actually think it’s an interesting strategy, essentially capturing what is a very real scenario for us ladies. But, like the turducken, something about it just feels a little weird.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Prius "Harmony" Spots

Since I generally have to cool it with Creative Director-like comments at work, I relish in the opportunity to openly analyze creative with people who give a shit- like you, fair reader! The spots on my mind lately are those that support the "Harmony Between Man, Nature and Machine" campaign.

I love the spots. I think they're visually stimulating, fresh and I'm never annoyed by them even after several views. But I wonder if they might be even more successful with even less copy. I say "even less" because the spots are already pretty copy light and the first lines aren't even uttered until halfway through the 30 second spot.

The entire script consist of the following three lines: "You get more power and more space. And the world gets fewer smog-forming emissions. The third generation Prius. It's harmony between man, nature and machine." But 2 of those three lines are so totally product focused and don't really add much to the story. Interested consumers will find out about the power and space as they dig for more info online. We already know that the Prius is good for the earth. The great line, and the one I propose should be the only one included, is the last one "It's harmony between man, nature and machine." It's such a lovely payoff. So lovely it deserves to stand on its own without all that product mumbo jumbo.

These spots immediately reminded me of the series of brilliant Sony Bravia spots, but where where the Prius spots fall just short with a few too many words, Bravia's brevity is perfection.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Walgreens Launches A New Website

I don't know why I haven't added the phone # to Walgreens Pharmacy in my phone. It would save me several visits to Walgreens.com where I generally have a bad experience and get frustrated with the simple task of finding the store locator. I was pleasantly surprised on my last visit to see a brand new site. Good for you, Walgreens! Especially good is that they've replaced what used to be a wicked top nav with much cleaner and more user-friendly version (using the old one was like smushing the London, New York and Tokyo skylines together and trying to quickly pick out the Emprire State building).

The site is certainly a reflection of the brand's strategy position themselves as "one-stop shopping destination and healthcare provider" (per this AdWeek interview with Walgreen's CMO, Kim Feil).

While the site is an improvement, I can't say I love it overall. The navigation is alright though there are a few big no-no's such as an inconsistent link home on the lower level photo and clinic pages (on all other lower level pages, the "take me home" link lives in the upper left corner under the logo, but it annoyingly disappears when you click on photo or clinic from the homepage primary nav). The look doesn't feel as sophisticated as I'd like a brand that is asking me to trust for health advice should be. There's also a general lack of successful "grouping" on the homepage making it feel chaotic and a bit overwhelming. A step in the right direction? Maybe more of a shuffle.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cool Ikea Shopping App

While I do look forward to the day that I can afford big girl furniture and no longer have to shop the Ikea, I quite enjoy the low prices and typically good design the brand has to offer. I don't even entirely mind having to walk miles through the store to locate what I need (or as is often the case- don't need). But part of the shopping process that don't particularly like is having to keep track of the items I find in the showroom with that little piece of paper and golf course pencil. On recent trips I've used my iPhone to take photos of the tag that accompanies most products as it lists the name, price and location in the warehouse. My system was a bit clumsy and it was always a little annoying to have 25 photos of random furniture. Enter SwedeShop the iPhone app that is the answer to all of my Ikea shopping woes. I can't wait to test this puppy out the next time I make a trip to the Swedish Superstore.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Anti-Branding Campaign, aka Branding Campaign

I just ran across this article posted on PSFK about the streetwear brand Freshjive's campaign to "unbrand" itself. Rick Klotz, the owner and designer for Freshjive, was motivated to embark on this "anti-branding" campaign due to his "disillusionment with the world of branding and marketing and a desire to return to the essence of the design practice". And just what does an anti-branding campaign look like? If you ask me, it looks a lot like branding.

Apparently the brand's logo had been misappropriated (faked) to sell counterfeit goods. Klotz says that the brand's name is "forever defunct". Klotz's answer was to drop the brand's logo and replace it with a black box. Which to me is, well, just a different looking logo.

This guy Klotz seems to be pretty brand savvy but I can't help but want to reply to this move by shouting brand rule #1: Your brand is NOT your logo. Your brand is a personality, a stance, a voice... which is exactly what he's establishing, or confirming, with this effort.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Just because it sells products, doesn't make it good branding

The other night I found myself perched high on a soapbox I've mounted a number of times since entering into the world of advertising. The essence of my stance was that there should be no bad advertising. Period. It's my belief that consumers deserve to be exposed to good ads. Sure, sure I recognize that "good" and "bad" are highly subjective terms but I'm not talking about the definition of "good" that I as an advertising professional would assign to advertising. I'm talking about how my mom, sister or any other non-ad person would define bad. The bad ads that I'm referring to, and those that sparked this debate, are the scream-to-be-heard types that are often associated with direct response or automotive commercials. The argument that's typically made in favor of this style of assaulting communication is that if it works (works = sells products) then it's good advertising. In same breath that the argument is made, products like the Snuggie, Sham Wow and the Chia Pet are used as support. True, these are successful sales stories. But what they are not are successful brand stories.

Advertising should not only be used to sell products, but also to build brands. The need to achieve both of these things is why the "as long as it sells products it's good advertising" argument fails. And while yelling at consumers may get their attention and may even result in sales, it's lack of brand building is where it misses the boat and is therefore bad advertising.

Ok, stepping down now.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The corporation behind the curtain

A few months ago I found myself in a familiar position- slinging lattes behind the counter at Starbucks. My first go round at the ‘bucks was in college and to this day I maintain that I was one of my favorite jobs. So when earlier this year my agency announced that, that thanks to the recession, our salaries would be cut by approximately 20% I thought maybe I’d don my green apron once again in an effort to supplement my diminishing salary. My plan worked. I was rehired to work the opening shift at a store located on the ground floor of the Bank of America Building. Since this store was smack dab in the middle of the financial district and caters to a lot of foils working east coast hours, we opened at 4:00 am. Shocking, I know. Even more shocking was the fact that I agreed to work there despite these draconian hours. Working these hours was actually by design as I wanted something that wouldn’t interfere with my “real job” as a brand strategist. I took the job and went to work. Twice. That's right, I quit after just 2 shifts and it wasn't the hours that prompted me to hang up my apron, again.

I hung up my apron because the Starbucks that I knew and enjoyed working at was a thing of the past. The very things that I loved- the art of pulling a perfect shot, the camaraderie amongst the baristas, the banter across the counter with the customers were gone. Espresso machines are now automatic so there's virtually impossible to NOT pull a perfect shot*. The baristas seemed more like factory workers numbly going through the now monotonous routine. And the customers seem to want nothing to do with an experience. They want their coffee and they want it fast. I should add that the store I was working in didn't have an actual seating area, it was somewhere between a full sized store and a kiosk, so naturally this only perpetuated the factory-like atmosphere.

I've followed Starbucks over the years, as many brand nerds do, but for me it was kind of personal. Sure it's a big, bad corporation but working there allowed me to see that they genuinely care about their employees and treat them well. Combine that with the fact that I think they're selling a fine product definitely makes for a brand that I'm happy to support. But one day I noticed that the counter tops were crowded with stuff and the food offerings stretched far beyond the more pared down cafe snacks that they had offered for years. I could think of only one thing: brand dilution. A feeling that Howard Schultz also had and expressed in the now famous 2007 memo.

This article that ran in the NY Times about a year and a half ago highlighted one attempt that Starbucks made to "revive the intimate, friendly feel of a neighborhood coffee shop." They did this by shutting down over 7,000 of their stores to "retrain" employees. They focused on techniques to improve taste as well as customer service. Unfortunately, this attempt wasn't enough to weather the economic storm that resulted in the closing of hundreds of Starbucks across the country. But that didn't stop the brand from taking yet another step toward achieving the neighborhood coffee shop they long to become.

Last week Starbucks opened 15th Ave Coffee and Tea- the brand's attempt to create an indie coffee shop environment. The difference being, of course, that this "indie" shop is backed by the world's coffee giant so it's a safe bet that unlike most neighborhood shops the tables at 15th Ave won't require a book of matches to stay level. This announcement is being heavily criticized by brand and business experts left and right. But as we know, it's the voice of the consumer not Wall Street that ultimately determines the fate of a brand's success. And on that note, the writing may be on the wall, or more accurately the blog.

I poked around the site, www.streetlevelcoffee.com, and found a blog that currently includes a single post- a welcome message from the store manager Jenna. It was in response to Jenna's post that Kevin, a visitor to the site, made the following comment that may perfectly sum up the very reason why this latest revival attempt may once again leave Starbucks and fans of the brand like myself disappointed. Kevin's comment: "You’re a Starbucks, so why all the cloak and dagger with trying to be an indy. I’d have more respect if you just came out and branded it with the old logo. Focus on the core, the coffee. Seriously as a shareholder this store and move is a disappointment."

*"Perfect Shot" is an actual term that was once used in training materials and in my opinion one of the small things that instilled a sense of pride in employees).

Monday, August 3, 2009

Note worthy

I think the clay notebook carving Sumerians would be pretty excited to see the impressive evolution of writing utensils. I ran across two examples just today.

The first innovation, called the BookMarker, is fairly simple and low tech but still very useful (so long as we're still reading paper books). It was designed by a former engineer at IDEO. It's a simple concept and I like it.

The second one is more high tech and super cool. The product is called the Pulse Smartpen from a tech startup based in Oakland, CA. It essentially digitizes what you write and hear, perfect for college students taking notes during lectures.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Yep, I still post to this blog

I wonder how may blogs out there have posts with the same or a similar title...

An apology is in order for all of my faithful readers (Kelly) who have been starved of my musings as of late. So very sorry. The thing is I've started a new position at work, Information Architect, and it's been sucking quite a bit of my brain power. It's been on my mind so much, in fact, that just a few moments ago I saw a woman wearing a t-shirt that said "Mentor. Team in Training" on the back. It was a stacked layout where "Mentor" was on top of "Team in Training". Kind of a weird flow. There are probably other members of the team had shirts that said things like "Runner. Team in Training". All I could think when I saw this was, they could have benefited from making a wireframe for that t-shirt template. And there you go, my mind has officially been taken over by my new role. My hope is to regain balance soon and start posting more often.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The devil is in the details

If that's true, then I guess I'm a devil lover because I love great details in design. Like this chair from Thonet. A simple, little detail makes this chair super interesting and special. While this is a pretty obvious detail, I tend to love the more subtle ones too. Like purse or jacket linings. I swear I'll buy a purse based entirely on a cool lining design. I think as more consumers have higher expectations and respect for good design, we'll see more of these fun details. Or at least I hope we do.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Walgreens needs to re-brand

A frequent topic of conversation amongst the branding nerd herd is brands we'd love to work on. Typically a bunch of sexy brands - like Apple and Mini are noted - but for me, it's Walgreens. I started thinking about Walgreens a lot after moving to San Francisco where, unlike in Minneapolis, making a "Target run" isn't an easy task- especially when you're car-less, like me. Running to Walgreens, however is simple. I find that I'm rarely more than 5 blocks from a Walgreens store at any given spot in the city.

It occurred to me that while my shopping objectives for both stores are typically very similar, my experiences (and total at the checkout) are very different. Even when I walk into Target, armed with a shopping list with 5 items on it, I generally walk out with anywhere from 7 to 10 items. If my Walgreens list is 5 items long, chances are good I walk out with exactly 5 items. Herein lies the opportunity for Walgreens.

Initially, I thought that maybe the need 5, buy 10 vs. need 5, buy 5 situation was simply the result of Target offering more items that I'm interested in. Then I started thinking about my in-store experience and concluded that Target offers a more enjoyable retail environment thus making it more likely for me to stroll around the store and pick up "just a few more things". So Target wins in selection and environment, but they lose in convenience. The opportunity that I see is for Walgreens to leverage their convenience and simply take the time to up their selection and environment game and potentially get closer to the 5:10 ratio that Target enjoys. Ultimately, Walgreens needs to re-brand themselves from the top down.

The future Walgreens is less corner pharmacy and more Target-lite. This approach feels appropriate especially given the fact that so many Walgreens are smack dab in the middle of urban areas. Oh, and let's not forget that in this current economy consumers are looking to brands that they know and trust, something I have to imagine is true of Walgreens. I think Walgreens is primed to take advantage of their position and take a bite out of Target, Walmart and if they play their cards right, maybe even stores like Macy's and Kohl's. And if they don't seize this moment, I suggest Target start thinking about a plan for their brand extension into an urban store... Target Express??

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Strategy is the only timeless agency offering

Last week an art director friend of mine were talking about the future of advertising agencies. Specifically, we were discussing how things like crowdsourcing via sites like crowdSPRING.com (an online marketplace for creative services) and the offering from the SF based tech startup Sprout (a platform that gives the average Joe the ability create his own flash pieces, such as banner ads and websites) are dramatically changing the client/agency relationship. And by changing the client/agency relationship, I mean potentially eliminating the need for agencies at all. crowdSPRING is a more dramatic game changer as its model essentially bypasses the need for an agency organization altogether where Sprout makes less of an impact since it’s really just a platform that creatives may actually use within an agency.

Ultimately, as creative becomes more accessible and less of an exclusive agency offering, agencies will need to prove their worth in other ways. I offered that the greatest value that an agency can provide, one that remains an exclusive offering, is brand strategy. Sure, sure maybe I’m biased. But it’s the one missing element in this DIY creative model. There’s great creative available on crowdSPRING, but what drove that creative? Creative for creativity’s sake is simply art. Only when the creative is rooted in consumer insights does it become persuasive communication, i.e. Advertising.

Coincidentally, these very sentiments were echoed in a recent article on AdWeek.com. Regarding agency payment structure, the article states “there might be a new emphasis on strategic insights versus time sheets and production costs.” And on creative, Michael Lebowitz, CEO of Big Spaceship adds, "the bells and whistles for bells and whistles sake feels very Web 1.0."

In my opinion this is great news for strategists. And frankly in today’s climate of agency closures and hiring freezes, some good news is quite welcomed.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Monday, April 6, 2009

Move over paper towels, there's a new oil spreader in town

I tend to resist buying most kitchen gadgets- I find slicing and chopping the old fashioned way to be therapeutic. There are a few items in my kitchen that are an exception, like my lime juicer. You just can't beat the efficiency of that thing. I love it. I have a feeling if I get my hands on this super rad oil wand I might make another exception.

Smart Design

A great way to remind bikers of the importance of wearing a helmet. Perhaps a bit graphic for some, but I for one enjoy the wit.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Arts & Crafts: Super Simple Home Deco Project

I moved into a new apartment a couple months ago and have been trying to find some cool things to break up what feels like miles of empty wall space. A few weeks ago I bought some simple, black frames but wasn't quite sure what to do with them. I didn't have anything on hand large enough to fill 11"x11" so I came up with this idea to use some extra paper I had and rip holes for photos of mine to peek through. I love the way it turned out and the project was both time and cost efficient running approximately $65 for materials and about 30 minutes to put together (including finding the photos to use, but not including the 2 months it took for this idea to pop into my head).

Monday, March 30, 2009

Signs, signs, everywhere are signs

Today on a lovely little bike ride through Golden Gate park I came across this sign at Ocean Beach. It struck me as being oddly straight forward, even honest. It made think about other signs and how they might be different if they took this same tone. Instead of 'STOP' we might see 'Cars have been smashed into by enormous SUV's while running these.' Or maybe 'Please Recycle' would say something more along the lines of 'The earth is rotting because people are carelessly tossing their trash. Asshole.'

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Random Thought Monday (on a Tuesday)

I frequently listen to podcasts on my commute to and from the office- my days at American Public Media turned me on to some great radio shows. On my way home last night I had an episode of Radio Lab playing, a great science show out of WNYC in New York. While listening, I found myself having to keep rewinding the show. My mind was wondering so much that I would go minutes without absorbing a thing they were saying. Conversely, as I rode the train this morning enjoying an episode of This American Life, I noticed that I stayed tuned in the entire time. Of course, this doesn't surprise me at all as I've long been a "morning person" and have suspected that my mind is sharpest in the wee hours of the day, but still I found this little exercise that truly demonstrates that fact to be quite interesting. I think I may take these findings to my boss and make a case for a 3:00 quitting time...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Encyclopedia Wines

The other weekend I was at the grocery store (my favorite grocery store) and stopped to taste the wine they were sampling (this is why it's my favorite). They were featuring the newest line of wines from Francis Ford Coppola called Encyclopedia Wines. The concept focuses on educating drinkers about wine, which evident on the highly informative and academic-themed website. The packaging caught my eye right away- rather than the standard shaped wine bottle this line of wines is bottled in what looks like a piece of equipment from a science lab. The wine rep at the tasting told us that the bottle itself is meant to be reused as a decanter. Seems they're targeting a younger crowd who is both new to wine drinking and also appreciative of an environmentally conscious package. I think it's a great concept overall, I have a feeling it'll do better than the slew of animal-themed wines we've seen emerge in recent years.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Better Banners

"Online spending is on the rise"... "Marketers continue to shift budgets online" ... "Online advertising, the cost efficient and effective choice for advertising in the recession"...

I get it, online = good. What I don't get is why banner creative continues to = BAD. I was perusing the webby awards website the other day and was impressed, but not in love with, some of the banners I saw. I couldn't stop wondering why I'm not seeing MORE of these placed on sites, not just grouped on award pages??? Why do I continue seeing shitty, annoying banners trying to sell me a student loan?!?!

There's a gap that's really bothering me: online advertising is targeted, cost-efficient and immediate yet the click-through rates are dismal and the general effectiveness of banners is relatively low. This simply shouldn't be the case. Banners should be performing better. I believe the only way this will be the case is when the level of creative out there takes a huge leap ahead. I hope that day comes soon.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Recession Wear: Power Suits

An interesting sign of the times-"Interview Must Haves" on bananarepublic.com.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"You like me, you really like me" -Commercial Breaks

There was an interesting article in the NY Times titled "Like the Show? Maybe It Was the Commercials". The article highlights research that found that people tend to enjoy experiences more when the experience is interrupted. The same holds true for negative experiences- when they're interrupted, they level of dissatisfaction or annoyance increases (think: loud vacuum that keeps getting turned on and off over and over). The theory was put to the test with commercial breaks and the findings were consistent- viewers enjoyed the TV show more when it was interrupted by commercials. I think at the heart of all of this is simply that interruptions allow for more time to process our experiences thus lending to a heightened sense of awareness and as a result we have more intense emotional reactions.

There was one notion in the article that I disagree with, however, and that was that the content of the interruptions didn't impact the level of enjoyment the viewers experienced. I have to believe we've gotten ourselves into this whole Tivo/Hulu/Ifuckinghatecommercials mess entirely due to the shitty commercials that are forced upon viewers. Despite the fact that our acceptance/enjoyment of commercial interruptions is subconscious, I believe a better overall commercial experience in terms of content is absolutely something consumers would consciously respond positively to.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Random Thought Monday

At dinner the other night the subject of cocktail dresses came up. This got me thinking about why we call them "cocktail dresses" and further if we can have cocktail dresses, why not have sandwich pants?? This conversation occurred while a few friends and I were eating at Farmer Browns, a great place here in San Francisco with yummy southern comfort food (and really cool interior design/decor). Two people in our party were enjoying the Po'Boy of the day and agreed that sandwich pants should definitely have elastic waist bands.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I hate you and your stupid new package!

Turns out I wasn't the only one who missed the straw on the Tropicana packaging (see post). Beginning next month the old packaging will replace the new design on store shelves. This decision is a result of consumers expressing their disapproval of the new package. Blogs buzzed with feedback about the packaging being generic-looking and difficult to differentiate the types orange juice in the line. Apparently the prospect of bringing home the pulp-free juice when all you wanted was some chunky oj was really upsetting to folks. Oh the horror!

The president of Tropicana North America was quoted in the NY Times saying "We underestimated the deep emotional bond they had with the original packaging. Those consumers are very important to us, so we responded.” Allllright friends. Now, I love good package design and I certainly believe that there is a relationship between a consumer's preference for a brand and the packaging. But do I buy that there's a "deep emotional bond" between the consumer and package? No. Plain and simple, no. Do I believe that the internet has enabled (empowered) consumers to conveniently voice their opinions to the masses? Yes.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Absolutely Lovely

This Absolut spot, which debuted during the Grammy's, marks the first time a spirits brand has advertised on CBS prime time in major markets. At a time when the world has more hugs in our pockets than coin, a message like this seems perfect. That said, let's not forget about the product being advertised: booze. I think what saves Absolut, however, is their long history of brand advertising that focuses less on the product itself but rather on a shared mindset of idealism.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Another break

I really like the stuff KitKat is putting out there. While this website isn't as immediately valuable to consumers as the bench it still manages to support their "take a break" campaign.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Just Cool

Gimme a Break

I love when brands can find a way to provide a true value to consumers in a way that's both relevant to the brand/product and actually makes someone's day/life better. Here's a simple ambient piece from KitKat that does a great job. Bravo KitKat.

Is the T-Mobile Flash Mob Stunt on Brand?

I really like the T-Mobile "Dance" train station flash mob stunt. I think it's fun to watch, it's "real" and definitely has talk and pass-along value. What I'm not sure about is whether it's relevant to the T-Mobile brand. Though to be honest I'm not entirely familiar with the T-Mobile brand across the pond, so it's tough to evaluate. All I know is that even after I read the payoff "Life's for sharing", I couldn't help but feel that the spot would be better suited for a different brand, perhaps Creative Labs Flip camera.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Packaging Nip & Tuck

In addition to the recent Pepsi soda makeovers, Tropicana Orange Juice (also a PepsiCo company) and Heinze Ketchup have both had a little work done. Both packages focus on the health-benefits of the food inside- Tropicana touts "100% Orange" and Heinze ditched the pickle and now features just an on-the-vine tomato and the words "Grown not made." While I admit that until I was reminded that there was a pickle on the Heinze bottle I forgot that it was on there- but noticeable missing is the orange with the straw stabbed in it. I like the new carton better, but I'll miss the straw.

New Year, New President, New Post

It's appropriate that the day I finally have time to fire up the ole blogging machine happens to be the day Obama is inaugurated (see last post). Lots of new things: new administration, new year, and NEW BLOG POSTS!!!!!! Yay! Cheers for all the great, new things ahead. That's all for now. Good bye.