Friday, May 4, 2007

Addicted to The Office

Earlier this week I had a nasty sinus infection and was trying to recover the old fashioned way- by laying in bed watching nearly endless amounts of TV. To cheer me up, my roommate introduced me to the highly addictive show The Office.

While watching the fourth straight hour of the US version of The Office, I got curious about how many versions of The Office existed. Of course, there was the original British version, but I wondered if that was it... so I checked handy dandy Wikipedia. It turns out there is a British, US, French, German, and French Canadian version of this hilarious show.

Besides my amusement about the universal appeal of the working world, I began to wonder if The Office counts as a brand. NBC sells DVDs, clothing and other paraphernalia based on The Office, so I think it does. If The Office counts as a brand, I think the introduction of multiple series in different geographic locations is brilliant. Not only because British humor does not always translate across the ocean, but also because it gives the series endless possibility.

Before my mini Office marathon, I had never considered a television show a brand, much less one that can be successful in different countries with very different senses of humor.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Incest.. right or wrong?

Ok, the answer to this is wrong, of course. But the real question is, does referencing incest in advertising come across as funny and clever, or just plain gross?

In Axe's most recent advertisement, a guy is attracted to his sister as a creepy side effect to huffing Axe. For those of you unfamiliar with Axe, it became famous on the premise that spraying four dollar man musk on yourself could attract hot women by the thousands.

Normally I find these ads pretty funny because they usually involve somewhat awkward situations. Also, I can appreciate how incredibly successful these ads have been in convincing 14 year old boys to purchase Axe. This campaign essentially made Axe a household name with teens.

But, this recent ad misses the mark for me. I think parodying the anti drug campaign will certainly be effective in appealing to teens, but I would have picked another undesirable hook up, like an unattractive granny librarian, over his sister. I feel the idea of incest reaches a whole other level of uncomfortable that kills some of the humor.

In life and in advertising, incest just seems wrong to me... then again I am not Axe's target audience.

More on volvo..

In a recent blog posting, Jack Trout talks about the issue of branding and how there is no solution to branding, only directions. Reading this immediately brings me back to Volvo's dilemma in how to regain sales.

Trout talks about one of the aspects of branding that I don't think is mentioned nearly enough- the fact that positioning gives a company a starting place when it comes to problems. Positioning is not only about placing the brand within the consumers' mind. Just knowing what your stands for goes in deciding how to act in difficult situations.

If Volvo started with the premise "We stand for safety, but where else can we go from here," they would begin the process of finding direction and not just worrying about the problem of declining sales.

Switching advertising agencies seems to be more of a solution move than a direction move. It will be interesting to see what strategy Volvo's new agency will take.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Sentimental or Sappy? Confessions of a Publix Junkie

I have a long standing love-hate relationship with Publix advertising. I do not normally enjoy anything sappy, especially in a commercial, but something about their ads always hits me.

I grew up in South Carolina and now go to school in Georgia, so I was raised on the Publix sentimental salt shaker commercials. If you are unlucky enough not to have a Publix in your area, let me explain. Every Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember (which may only be 4 or 5 years), Publix runs these ads about a family of salt and pepper shakers that get separated at the two different tables at Thanksgiving (the kids and the adults). The reason this commercial doesn't completely cheese me out is because it plays on that wonderful insight of what it's like to sit at the kids' table. For all of us with larger families, we know what it's like to wish we were at the big table.

Well, Publix most recent campaign focuses on Easter and family gatherings. The scene starts in the kitchen where two sisters are family favorites that "nana" gave them recipes for. Well, there is this young woman who looks slightly uncomfortable and we later learn she recently married their brother. The whole meal she looks like she just doesn't quite belong, but luckily at the end nana slips a recipe into her pocket as a "welcome to the family" kind of moment and she feels accepted.

I am not much of a crier, much less during commercials for grocery stores, but this ad makes me tear up every time. Mainly because my grandmother had the same kind of beat up index card for her recipes. After she passed last year, my mom had some of the index cards framed for me as a memento of all the good times we had over her famous fried chicken and custard.

Watching this ad today made me think whoever is doing Publix's advertising really does get it. Great advertising is all about having insight into your customers. Publix ads certainly do hit the target on insight. Every one of their ads is all about family and togetherness- not their clean and easy to access grocery stores. It's more than just the cliche family gathered around a table... it's the little true- to -life moments of eating with the in laws for the first time that make these ads so memorable and effective.

In fact, I wanted to check out if anyone else felt this way about Publix ads. I felt some what comforted to know others love Publix ads the way I do. On just the first page of my search for Publix commercials, I found multiple people who list crying while watching them on their blogs. One person even had a picture of the pilgrim pair on his blog. The most interesting thing about his blog was the number of comments by people who had also felt compelled by the ads to purchase these plump pilgrims.

I guess, to be utterly honest, that Publix commercials are my secret love. I can't help it. I hope that one day I can find that insight into my future consumers the way Publix has.

Here is one of my favorite Publix ads:
Valentine's Day

If anyone knows how I can get more Publix commercials, it would make my week!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Volvo = Safety... maybe not anymore

According to the 1976 marketing classic, "Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind," positioning any brand starts with the consumer. In order to position your brand, you need to start with what consumers already think about your brand. In today's overstimulated, multitasking society, changing what a prospective consumer thinks about your brand is nearly impossible.

A basic principle in the book is that positioning is not about creating something new and different, but rather it is about manipulating what's already in the mind of the consumer or "to retie the connections that already exist."

Because advertising and communication messages bombard every element of our lives, keeping the message as simple and clearly connected to your brand is critical if you want anyone to remember it. While many examples in this book are so outdated that they feel nearly antiquated, the basic principles of positioning are definitely still relevant and vital in today's marketplace where so many products and brands cycle in and out so quickly.

This being said, few brands have such a strong and clear cut positioning as Volvo. Many other automobile makers wish they had the position Volvo has with safety. Ask someone what kind of car to buy for safety, and the response will almost definitely be Volvo. According to a recent advertising age article, Volvo executives want to also appeal to the right brain and the emotional aspect of car buying.

These executives feel that the focus on safety is too left brain and not appealing enough. I agree that safety alone may not be enough to get a consumer to purchase a car, but trying to reposition themselves will be nearly impossible. While Volvo's sales have been declining since 2004, repositioning may not have the desired effect. Volvo could end up losing its position altogether, which would be far worse than just being known as safe. Think about car brands with no distinct position like GM or Ford... not exactly the situation a car manufacturer wants to end up in.

Ironically enough, in November of last year, Darryl Siry, author of Marketing 2.0, commented that Volvo's "Who would you give a Volvo to?" campaign was one of the few good automobile advertisements. I didn't really "get" what that campaign was trying to achieve, but I just assumed it was because I wasn't the target audience.

Volvo has since scrapped that campaign and is currently in the process of selecting a new ad agency to launch a global campaign focusing on the sexiness of newer car models. I think that no matter which agency wins this account, advertisers should take advantage of the safety position (with a campaign like safety never looked so sexy).

Just to bring this all full circle, the forward of "Positioning" mentions how the safety position brought Volvo from a small Swedish company to one of the world's most powerful automobile brands.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Buying Cool..

A recent Advertising Age article discusses how marketing and advertising agency executives spent $2,500 to spend the day with super hip, trend setting youth (aged 16 to 29). The Trend School is a monthly 1 day forum organized by Creative Artist Agency's Intelligence Group at New York's Soho House.

These communications professionals spend all day learning about these cutting edge youth, what they are into, and what drives them.

The idea is that by spending time with these youth, executives will be able to pick up on cutting edge trends and bring them back to their clients. By actually spending time with their clientèle, these professionals are supposed to better understand what motivates these youth to purchase.

My question is "Why haven't these executives been doing this all along?" If I have learned only one thing in my marketing and public relations classes, it is that you need to know who you are communicating with in order to do an effective job. No marketing executive worth their salary should attend something like this "Trend School" and find it eye opening.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

playing it safe

Why do advertisers pull ads at the first sign of controversy? In our politically correct obsessed culture, it seems like some great, though perhaps edgy, advertising gets pulled because it's too offensive. This frustrates me when clever advertising that resonates with it's target audience gets pulled, yet garbage that moves nobody gets to continue airing. I think the only way to create truly memorable advertising that compels people to listen is to take risks.

A perfect example of a somewhat edgy strategy is an old school ad campaign from Levy's rye bread. While this ad ran in the 1960s and was well before my time, I still cracked up when I saw it. As the article points out, this kind of ad would never happen in today's society. The ad plays on stereotypes in a comical way, yet these ads would never fly in today's culture.

I think that advertising and marketing are supposed to be two way conversations and when consumers find an ad offensive, they should be listened to. However, I think one or two outspoken opponents to an advertiser or an ad should not ruin something that is genuinely entertaining or enjoyable for the masses -- especially if these outspoken critics are not even in the advertiser's target demographic.