Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Web 2.0

Sometimes I feel like I’m actually catching up with the technologies at our disposal in marketing and public relations. This AM was one of these times ‘cause Judi Swartz of Business Wire threw an outstanding seminar to talk about “SEO and Web 2.0” and demonstrate the company’s new EON product.

I’m trying avoiding puffery here. Maybe I just don’t get out enough. But I did learn more in an hour and a half than I have from a whole bunch of surfing and reading. It gave me an opportunity to connect some of pieces that I hadn’t been able to put together before, from pinging and trackback to RSS feeds and social media.

It took two people to make these connections for me and it was worth every minute. Too bad you missed it.

Monika Maeckle, Business Wire’s Southeast Regional VP and David A McInnis, founder and CEO of PRWeb (left, obviously: does that look like a “Monika” to you? ) did an outstanding job of covering needs and solutions in layman’s terms.

The challenges are: How can you (agency or client) increase the certainty that your “news” will hang out longer on the Internet? Reach more people virally? Improve your company’s visibility in the new world of Web 2.0?

BTW, Web 2.0 refers to a second generation of services on the Web that lets people collaborate and share information (to quote one of the seminar’s handouts). That’s what I do with this blog; that’s what we do with press releases…especially the ones with real news in them.

One current answer is EON, this “enhanced online news” service that Business Wire is offering in partnership with McInnis’s PRWeb, a leader in direct-to-consumer PR distribution. EON is a collection of tools you can use to optimize the language of press releases for higher search engine efficiencies; make the PR releases more…interactive; and measure results. It’s pretty slick.

More important, it really helps to know that there are resources “out there” that have been thinking and perfecting a lot of these mechanisms. Then getting the right people in a room to listen to. (A boatload of thanks to Business Wire for this alone.) I don’t have to do it myself – not that I could. It’s kind of like a college education. If you’re a genius, you’ll memorize everything. If you’re somewhat shy of that level, you’ll at least know where to go to get the information and the help you need.

When it comes to Web 2.0, McInnis probably recalls the words of Max Bruinsma from around the turn of the century (and doesn’t that sound weird?): The content and effectiveness of communication have become strongly context-dependent, not least because the audience…has…matured. In contrast to the impression created by many communication products – from advertising to news bulletins – the recipient is usually not stupid.

The customers and prospects that want to read our sales and marketing messages are probably looking for them right now. The stuff in today’s seminar demonstrated one way to make it a lot easier for them to find our “news.”

Monday, February 26, 2007

“Commit” Date

One of the best integrated marketing and community involvement programs related to healthcare in the region (in my opinion) will be showcased on Wednesday, April 4th, 2007.

The American Marketing Association-Houston’s Healthcare Special Interest Group (SIG) will host the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center’s presentation of its high-powered, multi-faceted “Commit for Life” program.

You could call it “Marketing for Blood,” but thanks to everyone who participated in this program last year, donations helped save thousands of lives and helped The Blood Center exceed its 2006 goal of 273,000 units. (In 2007, the need has increased to 290,000 units.)

The Commit for Life program is a partnership between everyone in the Houston region and Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center that’s focused on saving lives, today... and in the future. Today, The Blood Center has grown to serve more than 220 health care institutions in the 25-county Texas Gulf Coast region. Developing the willingness to give blood on a regular basis is tough but effective work, as I think you’ll see at this AMA SIG presentation.

I started giving blood when I was a teenager, back in Atlanta. Now I participate in the “Commit for Life” program myself. I’m delighted to learn how The Blood Center encourages blood donations so effectively. I think you will be too.

So…commit your time for April 4th. Write it down. The SIG program will run from 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM – place to be announced. And watch this space for more info as SIG program is developed.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Addams, Laocoön

How to tell this story as succinctly as possible? Start with marketer/author Robin Landa. She recently asked a question in one of my discussion groups: I submit to you that any art director worth his or her salt should be able to discuss Picasso’s work intelligently. That art director should be well read and versed in the arts. This should be a given. How can anyone who aspires to design or communicate through a visual medium not be interested in all things visual and the related arts, such as, painting, literature and film? That said: Please list the essential films, books, and/or art works that any art director should know.

A number of members pitched in (me and my big mouth included). We suggested a variety of materials, plus what some of us felt ought to be “driving forces” behind every creative person’s education. Generally we thought it should be quite broad.

Yesterday, taking a break from writing direct mailers for point-of-sale terminals, I looked through an old cartoon book from my collection: Favorite Haunts by Charles Addams. The cartoon above appears on Page 42. It struck me that this, in part, is an extreme example of what Landa was asking about.

This cartoon is at least 30 years old, maybe more. Addams was extremely popular in those years. His sense of the humorously macabre showed up in cartoons everywhere, from The New Yorker to Playboy. He invented “The Addams Family,” after all, fabled in TV and film. When I worked at BBDO, we even commissioned an Addams cartoon for a Honeywell ad in the wee ’80s. (Addams died in 1988 after a very long career.)

Charles Addams presumed that quite of lot of people, particularly those who read The New Yorker, would recognize his visual play.

Those with a “classical” education, or spent way too many years reading Greek and Roman myths, would. It’s the cartoonist’s take on the statue of Laocoön and His Sons. Also called the Laocoön Group, this is a monumental marble sculpture that’s now in the Vatican Museums in Rome.

Thought to have been created in the 1st or 2nd Century BC, it shows Laocoön and his sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus being strangled by sea serpents. Why? Because Laocoön attempted to expose the ruse of the Trojan Horse. According to Virgil’s Aeneid, the god Poseidon (who was on the Greeks’ side), sent the sea serpents along to get these doubting Trojans out of the way.

Addams replicated the scene using sausages in place of sea serpents – which is amusing to look at, and reasonably funny if you get the in-joke. Now it’s 30 or more years later? Do you recognize the cultural reference? How about your buddies in design, art direction, advertising or what-have-you?

Creative people should have curiosity bumps the size of Stone Mountain. We trade in metaphors and allusions (when we’re lucky) and we should be in touch with enough history and art to give us some extra horsepower when it’s time to create memorable messages.

On the other hand, the Addams cartoon’s pretty extreme (perhaps there was a copy of the statue on display in a New York museum), but especially today. Cultural references shift from decade to decade, even year to year. Go too far outside the cultural mainstream – a stream that’s gotten shallower but broader in the last generation or two – and you’ll lose your audience.

Don’t let that stop you from knowing, though. The more you stuff into your mental attic, the more likely you’ll find a good answer to a tricky challenge…like man-devouring sea serpents.

In addition to serving as a Distinguished Professor in the Kean University Department of Design and running her own branding firm, Landa is the author of ten published books on creativity and design, including Graphic Design Solutions. Her articles have been featured in HOW, Print and Icograda magazines. Favorite Haunts © 1976, Charles Addams. Thanks to Stacy Allen for the technical assistance.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Drillinginfo Collaborative

Ever since Roger Edmondson became marketing officer for Drillinginfo, he’s been working to put the Austin-based oil & gas information company into a new space vis-à-vis the market.

Drillinginfo is an active network of 10,000 North American oil and gas stakeholders, in about 3,000 companies, dedicated to providing and expanding the digital availability of current and historical oil and gas data.

Because it’s open source, engineers, geologists and landmen can use Drillinginfo on-line to expedite the process of looking for leasing opportunities in specific areas of interest. It’s also disruptive – any subscriber can access any data in the system any time, anywhere. (We used the words “unprecedented access, exchange and management of knowledge” to get the point across.)

What are “landmen,” you ask? For those of you unblessed by working in the patch, a landman is a company employee or self-employed individual who secures oil and gas leases, checks legal titles and attempts to cure title defects so that drilling can begin. If you’re politically correct, there are as many women as men who are landmen…which is why we often call the category “land services.” But out here, it’s still landman. Which leads, of course, to this chestnut: “What is 1+1?” The engineer answers, “Exactly 2.0000000.” The geologist says, “About 2.” And the landman responds with, “What do you want it to be?”

You can see the first portrayals of the company’s new position above. Roger and I worked hard to position the company against the competitive field and we arrived at the “Open to Explore” idea at the same time, in the same conversation.

Then Steve Willgren of Willgren-Rios Design brought the idea to life in a clean, effective way by combining classic type, “wide-open-spaces” photography, and white space (oilpatch marcom’s most precious commodity). Standing out in the oil-and-gas data space ain’t easy, yet here they are, one brochure for geologists and engineers and one for land services.

The copy inside is collaborative: I wrote on it, Roger wrote on it, even Drillinginfo’s Chairman, Allen Gilmer, wrote on it: more words than I’d like, fewer words than Allen would have used…but the message gets across clearly in each brochure. We supported the text with screen captures of Drillinginfo software tools and lease maps. Screen captures are standard for this part of the industry; but we kept ours large, supported them with captions to keep that stuff out of the brochure texts, and maintained white space. It’s worth holding the line on this design discipline, because wide open spaces are critical to the new position.

The company’s founders (and Roger) are classic Texas. I think that the “Open to Explore” position, created by us, visualized by Steve, is fresh and spacious. Thanks to everyone for letting me work on these: good examples of a productive partnership.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Anna Nicole

As a Smith of the broad family of that name, Anna Nicole Smith did more for jeans than “Trade” and “Mark” ever did for Smith Brothers cough drops.

Though she didn’t last as long, Anna Nicole Smith was one of those arresting people that occur at the intersection of human being, personality and brand. I confess, I liked her. I’m sorry that she’s gone. Life will be some less colorful as a result of her death. I remember when she first appeared in the Guess ad campaign and boy, howdy, those were great days. (I’m not alone on this – see Sheila O’Malley here.)

Smith replaced supermodel Claudia Schiffer in the Guess ads – not just for jeans, but for the whole Guess line in sultry black and white photographs. The one to the left is the one that I remember so well, though.

Guess was one of the first companies to create designer jeans and during the 1980s it was one of the most popular jeans brands. Because of shady labor practices (as well as the overtly sexy content of its advertising), the company struggled in the ‘90s. By the turn of the century, though, with Guess promoting a different look and sense of style, the controversy that surrounded the company during the nineties had been pretty much forgotten.

Then, the Marciano Brothers (quite distinct from the bearded Smith Brothers) brought sex back. Guess’s sales began to take a turn for the better. By 2005, Guess was catching the eye of a lot of people (mainly teens) who didn’t recall Guess's earlier history. The company still grabs celebrities, sometimes people like Paris Hilton who are famous for being famous. But to me, Paris ain’t no Anna Nicole Smith, and I think her image has always part of the brand package. Today, Guess Inc. is selling at about $85 a share.

According to CNN and AP, Paul Marciano, CEO of Guess, has said: “She had something magic…from the first day I met her, every moment was filled with excitement and drama. Her personality was very complex, but she had a charming, sexy and seductive side.”

You want your brand to buzz? Then you can hardly beat the use of these kinds of personalities. Anna Nicole Smith is beyond the buzz now – and I kinda miss her.

Ad © Guess Inc. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Collier’s Type

We’ve had posts here and here about designing type and designing with it. Today, Steve Collier, a former Houston designer/illustrator now living in Seattle, is guest-posting about the same subject. He began with this quote from classic type designer Giambattista Bodoni: “The letters don’t get their true delight, when done in haste & discomfort, nor merely done with diligence & pain, but first when they are created with love and passion.” Here’s Steve’s own words.

My first encounter with type was during my graphics training years at the University of Southwestern Louisiana through a staff professor who was just absolutely incredible, John Sniffen. He worked in New York for a number of years in the advertising profession and for reasons I am not certain, he signed on as a professor in the Commercial Art department teaching lettering. From the old school of crafting type with tools of the trade, brushes, chalks, pencils, sticks, etc., his hands moved with precision, balance and design to form the most beautiful typography I had ever seen or experienced. It was truly an amazing act to witness, unbelievable.

Through four years of college, then working in graphic design for many years, I was fortunate to have encountered numerous other professionals who specialized in typography, crafting and mastering the art such as Herb Lubalin (a founder of ITC, editor of its magazine U&lc. In 1984 he was posthumously awarded the TDC Medal, the Type Directors Club award), Tom Carnase and Michael Doret, to name a few.

Conservatively, there are about 1894 people working in type design; 191 working in the field of typography listed on the Internet; and I would be afraid to quote how many designers who daily overlook the necessity of good typography. There is a need to devote the time and effort in making good typography an essential part of executing any design project. The Herb Lubalins, Tom Carnases and Michael Dorets are people whom I have been inspired by and learned from through the years. To this day they and others contribute to my growing and learning.

With all this in mind, I have taken on personal projects involving type, like the alphabet series (see “Airplane,” above). It was originally created for the Corbis web site, which I have been associated with for several years. The alphabet series was designed with its intent to be used as posters, book illustrations, learning aids or whatever suitable applications the imagination of designers could conceive. It was an exercise that allowed me to project back to the basics of the alphabet integrating visuals and color in exploring the possibilities of incorporating type with graphics.

I experimented with the three elements that make up most projects: letterforms, colors and graphics. It was one of the more interesting and “fun” projects I have completed. I recommend reaching back into the past, forgetting about computers that demand too much of our attention and time, forgetting about deadlines and revisit the art of typography in the privacy of our creative minds and knowledge banks. Good typography is an art that demands attention to detail and dedication in seeing the letters in relationship to each other, space and form. A few tips may be in order (compare these to Susan Kirkland’s tips):

- Don’t mix more than three type styles in one page

- Use sans serif in titles and serif in body text

- Use italics sparingly

- Create contrast

- Don’t use display fonts or too many colors in body copy

- Don’t forget typography is supposed to make the text easier to read

- Use light colored backgrounds with black text for best readability.

Herb Lubalin said, “You can do a good ad without good typography, but you can’t do a great ad without good typography.” ­ From Seattle, my best to all in Houston and watch the kerning….Steve.

Thanks to Steve, now Senior Designer of GalleryPlayer, Inc. The company offers to the public high-resolution art and photography for big screens: rear projection, plasmas and LCDs. Currently, he is designing the packaging for the DVD, SD products and support materials for GalleryPlayer partners like The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; MoMA; and The de Young in San Francisco. He’s still involved in the Houston market with several of his original clients, and with good friends who enjoy his gumbo extravagantly.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Digital Spain

Barcelona is hot, with Europe's major annual mobile phone conference, the 3GSM World Congress, going on this week in Spain’s second city. Yahoo!, for example, has announced, for example, that it’s signed up top corporate advertisers to use its advertising system to run brand ads on mobile phones in 18 countries. Lots of exhibitors, like AdMob, are pushing the mobile marketplace hard as the place to advertise. (AdMob’s website shows an instantaneous update of ‘Live Ad Requests,’ which is compelling.)

A correspondent of mine, Paul Ashby, has just returned from a holiday in Spain – in a more restful portion of the country – and sent these brief notes along:

The advertising/marketing scene in Spain is, not surprisingly, remarkably similar to that in the rest of Europe. Online is attracting increased spend and the Spanish advertisers believe that that is because the key features which they are beginning to find attractive are:

1. It shows what works and doesn’t.
2. Accountability has driven success, driving further investment.

In Spain, as elsewhere, what has emerged is a market polarisation. An increasing number of marketers are committing significant resources to making a success of online business, while a bigger number have done little or nothing.

As one Spanish ad man said to me, “They’ve spent the past 10 years doing what worked…and now it doesn’t!”

The work ethos is taking hold in Spain, best expressed in this little story told me by my Spanish advertising friend, “Sell your soul. Make full use of your spare time; if you already have a second job, take on a third!”

One interesting theory emerging from Madrid is that digital and paper will retain their distinctive strengths and may often be able to promote each other, in other words, during the course of this year print and pixels can enjoy a symbiotic, profitable existence. Spanish agencies seem to be panicking now, desperate to associate themselves with digital. “Putting it at the heart of the company” and even putting it in their job titles.

One of Dialogue International newer members, BelowGroup, is cool enough. It has offices in Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla, Spain; and Lisbon, Portugal. A look at its website will give you a visual hint (see its BeOn operation) about what’s happening with digital advertising on the Iberian Peninsula. I don’t know if any of the Below people are attending 3GSM this week…maybe they’ll send me an IM.

Paul Ashby, whose blog you can read here, has been pioneering interactive communication to the advertising and marketing community for 30 years. He intro’d the first regularly scheduled interactive game show sponsored by P&G, and has used interactive techniques in print, radio, TV, and direct mail. As a result, he’s built up a large body of experience and independent research that helps compare how effective interactive communication (properly executed) is to regular advertising. Thank you, Paul, for the contribution.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Consulting Tactician

Will you see a clip about a “consulting advertising tactician” on YouTube? No. Is there room in life for one more title? Maybe. Will you read about it here on my weblog? Yes.

After several years’ mulling, I have coined consulting advertising tactician as the best way to describe what I generally do for a living – It encompasses my “copywriting, advertising tactics and branding” language into a holistic approach. The new phrase knits my capabilities together and defines the value I add to my clients’ efforts.

Look at it from the top down. Clients (or good marketing agencies) are supposed to define business and marketing strategies. The whys and the wheres are strategic matters and should be decided at the upper levels of a corporation – even though they sometimes are not. In classic military thinking, a strategy is the art of using battles to win campaigns or entire wars, operating on a different scale: regional, national, global.

Strategies are absolutely necessary for tactics to have an enterprise-wide effect.

But frequently, the tactical plan needed to make the strategy a winning one goes missing. Sometimes, implementers jump directly to the tactics they know (ads, direct mail, events, brochures and so on) in the hopes that getting a sales message out in these forms will win the war. Sometimes, mid-level decision-makers don’t quite know how to develop a comprehensive approach to taking the strategy to market…or don’t realize that there may be new elements which can become powerful tactical weapons.

When “battles” are fought out individually, divorced from the strategy, without assembling the tactics into a strategically embracing campaign, there is no overall victory. Each battle may be successful: the direct mail campaign may have a terrific result; the webinar may pull in hundreds of participants. But the strategic effect is lost.

Nope, this isn’t a flashback to marketing warfare. Yep, companies recognize that something is missing. Agencies do too, which is why some people have titles like ‘strategic planner.” This term is vague; it’s never quite captured what the job is.

I am a tactical planner as well as an executor of the tactics themselves. It was one of my jobs as Creative Director for many years. Now, because I freelance, I’m a consultant.

So clients who have needed plans that connect their strategies to their tactical executions have called on me to develop these plans for them. A consulting advertising tactician does three things (at least, this one does).

First, fit together a company’s marketing objectives with an experienced and nuanced view of a particular market – and the customers at whom the tactics will be aimed.

Second, represent the customers’ human nature and the appeals of the company’s products or services to it.

Third, work directly with clients to produce a step-by-step plan for getting the strategy into the marketplace, define the nature and the timing of individual tactical elements and propose measurement of results.

Condensing consulting advertising tactician into an elevator statement isn’t immediately easy – but that’s one of my jobs as well. So consider this a work-in-progress. Stay tuned for the next development.

My thanks to War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, by Manuel de Landa. Photography © Photographer: Jonny Mccullagh Agency:

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Be Silly

Today is Saturday. Do something with yourself. Be ridiculous. Get out of the house. Go on. Get!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Typeface Comedy

In “Invisible Numbers” here, I pointed a finger at architects and builders who delight in hiding street numbers, making them impossible to see while you’re driving by.

I also introduced myself (and you) to APHont, designed specifically by the American Printing House for the Blind for “low-vision” readers. It’s worth noting that APH doesn’t use this font on its own website. (And you should really take a peek at the Society of Typographic Aficionados’ site. It’s worse.) Paul Nini was subtle in his criticism about it, as you can read in the February 4 post. Which lead us to into the realm of type and design.

Designer/writer Susan Kirkland is very direct in “Tips on Type.”

Personal computers have lifted the barriers to copysetting and I know more than a few typographers who get their share of hearty laughs each time an award show goes up. The amateur typesetters are everywhere, sitting at their keyboards pecking away at the regression of professional typesetting. I hope when they see the new readable typeface for the visually impaired, it inspires them to take the lead and design something beyond APHont.

The “history” of type can be comically short. Designing type started just after the printing press was invented. Designing with type became an art form in the past couple of hundred years max, with particular emphasis on the last century. Wrecking a layout with bad type, ignoring the wise rules of type design: these have been with us forever. Sometimes it’s hanging right in front of us. If you can’t think of an immediate example of your own, just Google “bad typography.” The results are laughable – or downright ugly.

There’s no substitute for a talented eye on the font front. I’ll admit I’ve been lucky. I’ve worked with designers and art directors who genuinely cherish great type. Susan is one. Rosario Laudicina of Pensar LLC is another.

But just as the advent of “desktop publishing” empowered everyone to make their own brochures, the computer (as Susan says) makes miss-designing with type too easy. There are plenty of typefaces to go around and most of them are used badly. Learn the rules – or team up with a great designer – and produce outstanding creative.

To start with, read more about good type design in Susan’s recent post.

Patricia Breen Treat Seeker Ornament from Neiman-Marcus. No longer available, thank goodness.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Reflected Glory

I just had an e-mail from Julie Pitts at Direct Marketing Network (DMN) announcing that the Houston-based agency had won big at the recent international MarCom Creative Awards competition.

According to its sponsoring organization, the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals, this competition has grown to perhaps the largest of its kind in the world. The competition is so well thought of in the industry that national public relations organizations, local ad clubs, and local business communicator chapters are entrants. The winners range in size from individual communicators to media conglomerates and Fortune 50 companies – and at least one energetic and growing agency here in Houston. (Example: this past December, DMN was selected by American Airlines Federal Credit Union as its direct marketing agency.)

DMN-created campaigns for clients Kraton Polymers, Reliant Energy and Advanced Data Exchange were chosen from more than 5,000 entries in this year’s competition. A website for Kraton and a direct mail campaign for Reliant Energy went “Platinum.” The Advanced Data Exchange sales promotion kit won a Gold Award.

And two direct mailers for Reliant Energy, conceived by DMN’s Charles Eldred and yours truly, were Gold Award winners as well. One of the Reliant pieces, “Alarm,” is pictured above – a clever use of an everyday object, I think.

My thanks to Principal Pam Lockard, Charles Eldred, Shannon Rasberry, John LaCour and all the other DMN-ers for giving me a chance to bask in their glory, reflected in the shiny finish of the agency’s newly gained MarCom award statues.

Photograph © 2007 Direct Marketing Network. All rights reserved. With thanks.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Schoenbeck’s Take

Super Bowl XLI is history. At first it seemed as if something unusual might actually occur: that the game was going to be more interesting than the advertising – especially if one were a Chicago Bears fan. However, it was not meant to be.

Regardless of your predilection however; when it comes to the Super Bowl, there is no denying that the numbers are impressive, even if most of this year’s commercials were not. Forbes Magazine has deemed it “the most valuable sporting event” in the world weighing in at an impressive $379 million*; followed by a distant second ‘Summer Olympics’ ($176 million) and the ‘World Cup’ (at a paltry $103 million.)

Of course, what makes it so valuable to CBS, the NFL and AFC, the coaches, players and anyone else who happens to have a ticket on this gravy train are the almost sixty commercials, each of which coughed up a record $2.6 million (per 30-second spot – you do the math) to reach the more than 90 million die-hard couch potatoes (curiosity seekers and a few Prince fans) who tuned in.

WHY PRINCE? Of the last five Super Bowl acts, these performers (including the Rolling Stones, U2 and the unforgettable Justin Timberlake/Janet Jackson duet) have seen an average 187% increase in album sales in the week following the game. Paul McCartney scored an impressive 542% increase in 2005, thereby preventing a collection agency from foreclosing on the mortgage of his mansion.

This is not to mention, which I will anyway, the pre-game programs (that began last Thursday): Road to the Super Bowl, All-Iron Team, Super Bowl Today and the Kick-Off Show among others, providing those who want to be associated with the game the opportunity to do so at a fraction of the cost.

But I digress. What, you might ask, motivates these advertisers to spend their lucre so willingly? Advertising companies included many of the biggest name brands in their respective categories (Automobiles – Chevrolet, Honda, Toyota; Beer – Bud and Bud Light; Cosmetics – Revlon; Soft Drinks – Coke, Sierra Mist, Snapple; Snacks – Doritos, Snickers and Emerald Nuts).

EMERALD NUTS? Once again, Diamond Foods announced that it would be back with another commercial for Emerald nuts. “The Super Bowl still has a huge lure, and it’s a great creative platform to really show off your ads,” says Andy Donchin, national broadcast director at media-buying agency Carat. “It’s an engaging event, and people watching the game also watch the commercials.”

Which is one reason Emerald joined those who bought ad time. Emerald’s attempt to stand out in the Super Sunday featured theater and music personality Robert Goulet, who plays off the energy that nuts can provide. (Remember him? His presence may well suggest that when an advertiser spends more than $2 million on air time it cannot afford to hire big-name, expensive talent.)

Apparently Flomax prostate drug, King Pharmaceuticals for heart medication, Garmin GPS Navigator and Go Daddy also feel this is a worthwhile investment.

GO DADDY. The CEO of this august institution, Bob Parsons, wrote on his website, “…after watching our commercials, the vast majority will smile, then try our company. Then after they have a chance to experience our outstanding customer service, great products and prices they will become customers for life. That’s why is now the world’s largest registrar — more than twice the size of its closest competitor!”

To paraphrase Leo Burnett, one of advertising’s icons, if I want to get noticed I can walk around with a sock stuck in my mouth. Regretfully, most of the commercials appearing in this year’s Super Bowl weren’t really all that super. In fact, many would have been better off buying a pair of socks.

If you didn’t have the occasion to see them yourself, you can check them out
here (or any of the more than 28.5 million websites listed on Google; which is one of the reasons for running a Super Bowl commercial in the first place). Perhaps you’ll find, as I did, that the majority of these efforts lacked substance.

Disappointingly, the Bud Light commercials (Rock, Paper and Scissors; Great Apes; Wedding Reception; Fist Bump and Hitchhiker) were surprisingly puerile and perhaps a bit crass. They bordered on insulting the viewer as well as the drinker, especially when compared to the Budweiser spots (Spot the Dog; Wink and Crabs), which at least had charm and made one feel good about being a Bud drinker.

NOBODY DOES IT BETTER. Perhaps the most memorable commercial in this year’s line-up was the Doritos
commercial (Live the Flavor) created by one of its consumers, Dale Backus, at a fraction of the cost of a normal production as the result of a contest developed to engage greater interaction with its audience. So much for an ‘advertising agency!’

THE UNMENTIONABLES. Then there were the “unmentionables” – which I will mention anyway: Career Builder, Go Daddy, Emerald Nuts and Snickers. They were definitely “sock ads” and may be the topic of conversation around the water cooler; but for all the wrong reasons.

Does this mean the days of “great” advertising are over? Is Leo turning over in his grave? No. Coca Cola came through (Timeline; Happiness Factory and Video Game – a 21st century version of “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke”) with some simple, memorable and relevant creative that, dare I say it, had something to do with the product (which the Chevrolet commercials didn’t). The Blockbuster commercial (Mouse) was not only cute, but also had a strategy and everything to do with the idea.

MVP AWARD. Ah yes, the idea…which leads me to the MVP (Memorable, Valuable and Plausible) Award: TA DA! This year is presented to Toyota Tundra for its commercials (see Saw and Ramp). These two spots were not only engaging and memorable…but had an idea. They related to the product and provided a striking, but believable demonstration of its performance.

As Leo once wrote: “We want people to say ‘That’s a hell of a product,’ not ‘That’s a hell of an ad.” I’m sure he would agree that after watching this year’s Super Bowl extravaganza, this is something which is not likely to be said about most of its advertisers.

My thanks to guest blogger (and Bears fan) Rob Schoenbeck. He grew up in Chicago and started his career in marketing there. After five years he was lured over to the agency side by The Leo Burnett Company, where he spent the next 22 years working with virtually every client in the agency; beginning in the US, then Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. He subsequently moved to Houston with BBDO to manage the Texaco and Shell business. From there he moved on to Fogarty Klein Monroe as SVP responsible for all CPG Clients including ConAgra Brands. He has also served as COO of The Cartel Group, a multi-cultural San Antonio-based ad agency.
Currently he is sharing his vast experience and guidance as CEO of his consultancy, Carpe Emptor. Rob brings a strong strategic perspective and a wealth of packaged goods experience combined with a fresh approach to every project he tackles.
*Included in this figure are advertising revenue, sponsorship revenue, ticket receipts and licensing income.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Invisible Numbers

A beautiful three-building set on Post Oak here in Houston is a pain in the ass. Designed by big-name architects Johnson/Burgee and completed between 1975 and 1981, One, Two and Three Post Oak Central represent really quite excellent architecture…and ignorance about the needs of people to find them easily.

For example, the Turkish Consulate is inside the building at 1990 Post Oak Boulevard. Google it and you’ll even find the zip code, so you can use Google Maps or Mapquest to locate it properly. But which of the three buildings is “1990?” One? Two? Three? Even after having visited this lovely complex a number of times, I couldn’t immediately tell you.*

You sure won’t be able to identify the correct building easily as you drive by at 35 miles per hour because the street numbers are not readily visible on the complex’s signage.

It is an act of architectural hubris (“Overbearing pride or presumption; arrogance”) to assume that people will be so familiar with your property that they don’t need no stinkin’ street numbers…just One. Two. And Three.

I’d been looking for an opportunity to point this out and it arrived via the AIGA’s Clear: Journal of Information Design. Paul Nini wrote, in “Typography and the Aging Eye: Typeface Legibility for Older Viewers with Vision Problems,” about type designs and sizes:

The population is rapidly aging and becoming a larger share of the marketplace. 13 percent of the population is currently over 65 years old. In 30 years that group will double to 66 million people. People change as they age. Sensory, cognitive and motor abilities decline. The built environment is not typically created with the needs of the aging population in mind. How does the choice of typeface in signage systems, for example, impact the older viewer who is experiencing vision problems typical to that age group? Are certain typefaces more suitable to the aging eye?

The writer is talking about type. He points out there’s already a type font for aging eyes, APHont, designed by The American Printing House for the Blind, specifically for readers with vision problems. It incorporates consistent stroke widths; a “j” and a “q” with underslung descenders; open counterforms; and larger punctuation marks.

As a designer – and a good one – Nini says that APHont may not be an aesthetically pleasing typeface, but it’s a starting point for accommodating the needs of aging eyes.

I’d suggest starting the process earlier: building architects and owners should decide up front that they’re going to put the street numbers…well, up front. Where everyone can see them.

Johnson/Burgee is hardly the best-known offender; try looking for a street number on a wide array of shopping centers and strip malls – if the little storefronts have numbers at all, they’re too small to be seen from the street.

At the beginning of World War Two, the British feared invasion by the Germans and so removed all the road signs in the country. If you’ve been outside of London, you’ll recognize that this act alone could have stopped the Wehrmacht in its tracks.

My plea for architects, developers and builders is similar to many clients’ cry, “Make the logo bigger.” Put the street numbers of your office buildings and stores where ordinary people can see them easily – and big enough to see from inside a moving car.
Boy – I’m glad I got that out of my system!

*Three Post Oak Central is 1990 Post Oak Boulevard. Top photo courtesy of Houston Architecture.Info; APHont from AIGA.