Sunday, January 31, 2010

Keep Talking: High-Fructose Corn Syrup Campaign Deserves a Hearing.

Going on almost 100 years old, the Corn Refiners Association is the US corn refining industry’s national trade association. Part of its job: A marketing campaign that presents the good (or not-bad) qualities of high-fructose corn syrup – HFCS. I’d pick a single sentence from a recent CRA press release to sum up this effort’s position:

Leading medical and nutrition groups, as well as some of the nation’s harshest food industry critics agree that high fructose corn syrup, a natural sweetener made from corn, is nutritionally the same as sugar.

For 18 months, the organization’s been sponsoring a darn good ad campaign, with commercials created by DDB and supported by a nice (if rather overcrowded) microsite. You can click here to watch the TV commercials; I think you ought to, since it’s worth noting how the creative has managed to get its points across.

The hype against HFCS is proof that the advertising campaign is needed; rumor and supposition have caused manufacturers to kick HFCS out of a large number of package goods (like Gatorade).

My own sudden awareness is the direct result of a short article in this month’s Consumer Reports. Equally surprising, Consumer Union recognizes that the anti-corn syrup hype exists and is not necessarily a good thing. The story says, “But tossing high-fructose corn syrup off ingredients lists may well have more to do with marketing than with science.”

The corn refiners’ ads make strong anti-rumor points, even though the campaign has itself been hammered by food activists who continue to insist that any “manufactured” food product or additive is very very bad.

This just isn’t true. There is room for scientific debate. The industry has every right to marshal its evidence and present them to (hopefully) thoughtful consumers. That’s the point of the ads, too: Touch the subject with a little thought, will you?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Mr Wentland, Against Advertising, Says, “Matter Settled.”

I can identify two possibilities when it comes to advancing maturity – either you broaden your range of acceptable opinions or you focus them more narrowly. Stephen H Wentland of Houston wrote a concise example that appears in the “Letters” section (page B6) of this morning’s Houston Chronicle:

Since the Supreme Court ruled that big business and other large groups can have unlimited access to TV and the Internet, some may think that crowding out the little guy will make it more difficult to decide on issues or select candidates. Not for me. Anything that massive advertising promotes, I’m against. Matter settled.

Those are Wentland’s 54 words as they ran in the paper today.

I imagine Wentland does not drive a car or truck. A man of such firm conviction would never be in favor of using such a heavily advertised product. Perhaps he takes public transportation to do his shopping since Houston Metro spends relatively little to advertise its bus service.

What does Wentland do when he gets to the grocery store (presuming he actually uses one)? Does he put only unadvertised second-tier brands or store labels in his cart? Maybe he eats a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables since he’d rarely see big marcomm budgets promoting bananas and onions.

After a nourishing all-natural dinner, Wentland won’t be watching TV. Advertising-supported broadcast channels would be anathema to him; and cable – well, Comcast is a big spender so Wentland would be against that too.

Before bed, he may brush his teeth using store-brand toothpaste rather than Crest or Colgate. And toilet paper?

Let’s draw a veil over the subject. Wentland has a right to his opinion, especially since it has appeared in the city newspaper. But since the Chronicle itself is supported by advertisers’ dollars..?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Or consider Kool-Aid: More Smiles per Gallon and Hair Color too.

In the realm of haircolor (or hair color), the luxe category features L’Oreal Paris with lovely (even famous) models and genteel sell copy: Completely different than the hair-coloring solutions found in small grocery stores, bodegas and hair supplement shops in any America city.

Welcome to the do-it-yourself aspect of hair coloring. It’s where American entrepreneurialism goes to market – there’s even a current Texas gubernatorial candidate whose fortune has been made in “hair color solutions.”

These colorful packages? The ones remind you of 19th Century religious chromoliths whose resemblance to actual human skin tones is utterly accidental?

Yes, yes, they are cost-effective. Please don’t read the tiny type on the box since you might see a panel that says: Do not use this product if you are ALLERGIC to radioactive waste.

There is a charm to these hair color products although several universities are still trying to decode what that is. Still, once you leave independent businessmen behind, it’s on to cultural adventurism. The onset of Chinese New Year prevents me from pointing out which Asian nation advises that gray hair can be prevented by including black beans, black sesame seeds and walnuts in your diet. (I am NOT making this up – feel free to choose between chemical imperialism and folk remedy.)

But wait. This frontier is hardly for Asians alone. America itself is where the craft element of hair transformation can pay big dividends. You can dye your hair with Kool-Aid® drink mix though you will not find this “trick” on the Kraft Foods website.

According to the hair-dyeing instructions, you’ll want to put on a pair of gloves to apply the Kool-Aid to your hair; and the longer you leave it on, the better the color will adhere to the hair. I would go for grape except my famous suffering from hair insufficiency. You try it and let me know how it goes.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

When Did “Haircolor” Become One Word? And Why It’s Not a Bad Idea.

While I was keeping my own sparse hair under surveillance, L’Oreal Paris® turned “haircolor” into a singleton. I hadn’t noticed before. Don’t know when it happened. For some reason I was captured by its appearance in one of those beauty-related ads in Real Simple. There’s Andie MacDowell with a box of the color crème in question, saying, “It’s the haircolor that makes my hair look and feel younger.”  One word.

Nifty – because when I Google “haircolor” (like this, in quotes), L’Oreal Paris appears top-of-page. Without the quotation marks, Clairol is number one and L’Oreal is number two. When I Google hair color as two words, Clairol is tops. So by changing the usage, it’s possible for a company like L’Oreal to teach people a different term for a conventional product. I’m certain there are other executions of this idea. For quite a while, there were sunglasses and Foster Grants. But that’s a brand rather than a descriptor.

“Haircolor” could be a cultural campaign. Unfortunately, I don’t know if it’s a marketing/creative decision by the company or an oversight. On its many and broad-ranging websites, L’Oreal itself is inconsistent, often not using the word or words at all.

Who knew there were so many euphemisms? Color Crème. Color Formula. Gray Coverage. Revitalizer.

L’Oreal Paris is the largest part of L’Oréal and positioned as a mass-market premium brand. Only when I started reviewing its websites did I realize that haircolor (noun usage) was so huge. For a guy who can only use Grecian Formula 44 to dye his eyebrows, I can excuse my inattention.

As a marketing and advertising professional, though, I will have to force myself to look at MacDowell and all the other celebrities who are using haircolor – or whatever.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I See the Venets At Hermann Park in Houston, for Bob’s Sake.

You may already have heard. I drove to Hermann Park today, not a short trip from Spring Branch but not too far either. I wanted to see the new Venets for Bob’s sake – as well as my own. Every Saturday morning, I call Bob Fusillo in Atlanta. Find out how he’s feeling. What new art has been purchased (a recently acquired Anthony Greene painting is waiting to be uncrated). Etc. But all I’d kept in my head this AM was…big steel sculptures at Hermann Park. By some French guy. I left last week’s Houston Chronicle at home. I also wondered if they’d be easy to spot.

No fear – there are four just up at the north entrance. Fortunately, as I was looking at this one (photographer Nash Baker did the pix for the newspaper), a couple came up with a cheat-sheet from the Museum in hand. Bernar Venet. That’s when I dialed up Bob and casually mentioned, “Yes, yes, I’m at the park looking at the Venets.”

The Chron’s art critic, Douglas Britt, covered the exhibition by art biggie Venet: “Despite Venet’s international stature — with outdoor sculpture exhibitions in 20 cities worldwide — he has never had a major show in Houston.” Now there is one. The outdoor exhibit consists of 15 monumental sculptures in eight locations throughout Hermann Park. The sculptures are made of cor-ten steel – some are as tall as 30 feet – there’s a lot of multiple arcs.

According to Hippocrates, life is short but art is long (or somesuch). The Venets will be here for about nine months, which is long enough, especially if one gets purchased for the city and left in situ. It was good to get out and see the new art early on…for Bob’s sake.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Recovery Ahead? The “Reset Economy” in Marketing, Advertising and Promotion.

BrandWeek’s Elaine Wong interviewed Steve Pacheco, marketing communications director at FedEx, because the company’s not going to be advertising on the Super Bowl again this year. One thing he said goes like this:

There is a new [way of thinking] in America and beyond where folks are sort of reexamining events. It’s been called the “reset economy” to some degree, and so, we’re giving every marketing investment greater scrutiny than before. In this case, we want to leverage the FedEx Orange Bowl investment in a more powerful and impactful way, [to the point where] we’ll be well served not to have advertised in the Super Bowl, and to have our own Super Bowl with the FedEx Orange Bowl.

Pacheco forgot to credit Jeff Immelt with coining the phrase, at least according to Business Week. The biz-mag quoted the GE CEO himself when he named our current econ challenge the “Reset economy.” He feels that people’s expectations are in the process of being ‘reset’ from the past decade.

Immelt says the reset will impact everything from what’s sold and produced to the prices we pay. That’s an obvious view, but Mary Jo Martin, principal of research firm Cynapsus, agrees with him about resetting expectations: “Things are likely not going to be like the good old days for quite some time – if ever. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.”

To Trevor Eade, Director of Marketing/Communications at EMS, it’s like going back to using a stick-shift instead of an automatic transmission. “Our programs were on automatic, with a smooth momentum. (Everyone had a wonderful ride.) Now we’re learning how to drive all over again, with bumps and crunches when shifting.

“We’re forced to use fewer resources and adopt new techniques. We’ll get to the same destination but a little more frazzled.”

And for CITGO E-Communications Manager Beth Palmer the focus is broader, keeping both programs and executions in mind. “The reset economy means that in 2010 we continue to scrutinize and re-think every aspect of HOW we deliver,” she maintains, “while still dazzling our customers.”

Whether you’re frazzled or dazzled, NPR host/novelist Kurt Andersen can help. A few weeks back, the AMA interviewed him about the start-fresh state-of-mind. It’s a pretty damn encouraging view titled, “Hitting the reset button.” He finishes up the transcript this way:

As companies die – and as terrifying as that can be for people in manufacturing, retailing, media, and all the obviously challenged industries – people don't stop wanting the things they provided.

You might be encouraged by reading the entire transcript. (His similarly titled book Reset is enjoyable too.)

Then visualize a new game in which marketing, advertising and promotion are still in demand because your clients and prospects won’t stop wanting the things that your company delivers. That’s the right reset.

PS. Thanks to AMA-ers Trevor Eade, Mary Jo Martin and Beth Palmer for participating in this post; and to Prism Design for help with the photo-illustration.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bin Laden or Llamazares? Celebrity Endorsement Game Gets Fresh Thanks to FBI.

Now that corporate brands are dropping Tiger Woods like a swine with sniffles – and after I’ve been writing about celebrity endorsements in blog posts like this – the Feds have “accidentally” created a new, fresh personality.

Spanish lawmaker Gaspar Llamazares had his phizz used by the FBI to show how Osama bin Laden may have aged (they’re both 52) and changed over the years. All so that airport security personnel could recognize bin Laden more easily once the “maximum terrorist” leaves his Afghan cave.

Imagine everyone’s surprise – including Llamazares’s. The former leader of Spain’s United Left party said, “I was going to ask the US government for an explanation.”

Now, though he said he “preserved” the right to take legal action, Señor Handsome may have the chance to explore other opportunities. Watch for offers from big-name Hollywood agents to come calling. And remember, you heard it on Signalwriter first.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Even from 9,000 Miles Away, Benzer Billboards are Colorful and Clever.

Attention, shoppers: There are six bright new billboards for Indian retailer Benzer on the Advertising…Made Easy blog today – the rest are just as vivid as the one shown here. I got the word from the campaign’s copywriter, Sunil Shibad.

He wrote me, “Benzer is a high-end couture brand headquartered in Mumbai. Indian women by and large like to stick to traditional ethnic wear. The new collection had a Western touch to it and the brief was to position the Benzer women as a femme fatale.”

Shibad worked with Icecube Design and Film CD Rafeeq Ellias (who also photographed the campaign’s Spanish model) and Art Director Mangesh Rane to get these done.

I have enough fashion sense to thinly coat one side of a dry piece of toast, no one will be surprised to hear this. I do know eye-popping billboards when I see them, though. These outdoor executions qualify big-time: Bright colors, snappy headlines (way to go, Sunil) and very stylish outfits. Good international appeal, too, including the tagline.

It’s such an arresting campaign I wish Benzer applied the concept to its website. But I understand the retailer has to appeal to an immense range of consumers. Only a few customers would wear the high-end fashions but everyone can be influenced by the vivacious look-and-feel of a leading brand. Even at a distance of 9,000 miles.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

After a Few Centuries, Goodbye to Classifieds as We Know ‘Em.

Rob Schoenbeck sent me a list today, “25 things About to Become Extinct in America.” Among which:

23. Classified Ads. The Internet has made so many things obsolete that newspaper classified ads might sound like just another trivial item on a long list. But this is one of those harbingers of the future that could signal the end of civilization as we know it. The argument is that if newspaper classifieds are replaced by free online listings at sites like and Google Base, then newspapers are not far behind them.

Now, your newspaper classified ads? They’ve been around since the 1600s. A weekly newspaper called The Public Advertiser consisted almost entirely of ads for a wide range of services and products – books and other trade goods (retail), quack doctors (healthcare), coffeehouses offering not just “cophee” and chocolate but an “excellent…China drink, called by the Chineans tcha, by other nations tay, alias tee.” Also: Fairs and cockfights (entertainment) and coach departures (destination marketing).

By the way, that “tee” was “by all Physicians approved.” There really isn’t anything new under the sun – except maybe government regulation.  The first issue of PA was May 1657.

The online world is simply the continuation of advertising by other means. Technology just keeps changing up those means and some take longer than others to have an impact. Radio never actually replaced the newspaper despite dire predictions. And certainly, there are plenty of forecasts that the time of print-edition newspapers is almost up perhaps as soon as tomorrow.

You may well look for motorcycles or forklifts or kitchenware on Craig’s List. Get your ads over your iPhone now that we’ve been assured that mobile apps are the hottest thing going. But even though the numbers of users are changing fast, there will be plenty of overlap – lots of time for more mature users like me to get used to new media.

The April 24, 1704, edition of Boston Newsletter ran this ad for classified advertising:

All persons who have any houses, lands, tenements, farms, ships, vessels, goods, ware or merchandise, etc., to be sold or let, or servants run away, or goods stole or lost, may have the same inserted at the reasonable rate of twelve pence to five shillings.”

Now, of course, just put any of it up on eBay and say bye-bye to that nasty printer’s ink.

NOTE: This old stuff about newspaper classifieds? It’s from the 1892 Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities, William S Walsh.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Guinness: “Fortune Favors the Bold” Ad Not Bold at All.

Compared to some vodka ads, the new Guinness stout TV campaign by BBDO is limp-wristed and derivative.

A story about the new Guinness campaign is still appearing in AdWeek online under “New Advertising Campaigns.” (I don’t expect news to be a month-and-a-half…old.) The campaign began in November and supposed to run on networks including ESPN, Comedy Central, Discovery Channel and FX, in November, December and March – the brand’s traditional St Patrick’s Day push. Facebook is included, too, though it hasn't shown up yet.

Its new theme is, “Fortune favors the bold.” Unfortunately, the campaign misses bold and that is the least of its problems. Hey! It’s an opinion, right?

So – no bold. The spot takes far too much time with its Rube Goldberg beer-traveling gig, with a cheesy music track that is more boring than brave. The young businessman asking for a raise for his team – the spot’s joke – is an afterthought. This Guinness-hoister is not bold, he’s smug, the product of entitlement. It’s like there are (at least) two different commercials going on here.

Is this particular Guinness spot purely for the US market, where there’re certain formulaic demands? Because otherwise, Guinness has a fine record of “big” spots – world-record-styling commercials involving entire villages, or parodic overblown spots like “Bring this place to life.”

It gets worse. Put the “Bold” spot up against Budweiser’s “All together now” Chicago commercial, released this past summer; the Guinness TV fails on yet another count – a second major indictment being, perhaps, lack of ambition.

The three beer spots mentioned here fall into the journey category rather than the in-the-moment category. For Guinness this time around, both the journey and the joke are trivial.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Svedka Vodka: Strangely Appealing Robot Love-and-Liquor Combo.

Advertisers use robots in the pages of certain trade publications and nerd-mags. Wired, for example. I thought robot-featuring ads were going to take over this magazine in 2009, although paging through back issues I could only spot a couple reliably.

Ford’s SYNC®, “the guru of directions,” is a generic monowheeler. ESET, more I-robot-y, promises to protect us against cybercrime.

These days, I’m enjoying Svedka® vodka’s fembots.

They’re not the first CPG-related robots but I have come late to this brand*. I’m not hip enough myself (anymore if ever); I don’t live in the trendy parts of Houston or other large metro areas like Chicago and New York City, where the brand’s promotion is heavily deployed.

Despite early criticism (New York-based Copyranter, for example, hated these ads), I think the brand has three likeable attributes.

First, Svedka is value-priced, recognizing that there’s quite a bit of hype in the tonier brands of vodka which, no matter what people say, is still “an unaged colorless liquor originating in Russia.” Want to drink a lot? Drink this one. It’s both cheap and good-tasting. It’s from Sweden. Which keeps on being cool without being snooty. The current bottle shape is more reminiscent of Absolut.

Second, Svedka states it’s “voted the #1 vodka of 2033.” Wonderful, this claim: Neatly counter-intuitive, much less pretentious than some of the upscale vodkas. Besides, 20-plus years from now, no one will remember it and won’t need to.

Third, since the brand is invested in an imaginary (and party-hearty) future, Svedka can use…robots. See ‘em on the website, even build your own, a nice but not complicated level of interaction. See ‘em in advertising like the ones shown here, and in a range of other marketing materials.

Constellation Brands bought this vodka in early 2007 and says it’s now the third largest imported vodka brand in the US. As big as Constellation is, the brand is nimble and wry. A year after the purchase, Svedka offered then Presidential candidate Hilary Clinton free vodka for the rest of the 2008 election season.

The offer appeared in a full-page ad complete with fembot and coupon appeared on Page A11 of The New York Times. But unlike Clinton, the Svedka vodka campaign is still running.

*Svedka robots were created by New York-based agency Amalgamated in 2005 and the vodka has been an Adams “Growth Brand” and an IMPACT “Hot Brand” awardee every year since 2006. I’m just behind the curve.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Oh Santa! Your Standards Have Fallen So Low. Or maybe it’s Wild West Products.

The company claims these are the Big Guy’s Christmas Eve yummies: Santa’s Favorite Cookies. A small box came under the Signalwriter™ eye from a remainder bin at Central Market because the box art is an imaginative mix of what looks like stock Santa illustrations.

Maybe that’s not a surprise. The maker, Wild West Products, claims this provenance:

Hello Fellow Cowboys and Cowgirls! Welcome to our little corner of cyber space. We know this is a fur-piece for you, but you’ll be glad you came. Let me tell you our story…It began with Tina. You see, Tina was a big City Slicker living in New York City. She was a graphic designer and did great work, but she was destined to move to the quiet life of San Antonio. Looking for something to do, she baked up a batch of Cow shaped cookies and sold them at the San Antonio rodeo.

The website is actually kinda fun; the opening Flash animation is an nice use of “oater footage” – clips from old cowboy movies. I think you’d enjoy seeing what this Yankee designer has created in terms of food brands and imaginative packing, especially (for example) the Rancher’s Trail Mix varieties. The web marketing concept is deep enough to please.

On the other hand, Santa’s Favorite Cookies, described as “low fat chocolate chip,” are very bad indeed. They cost a remaindered 50¢ but still, here’s a product that doesn’t live up to its on-line brag:

Wild West Products makes some of the greatest tastes in the West (and east)…the best of the American spirit – the spirit of the Old West – a spirit of fun and adventure in the pursuit of fresh ideas and fresh products with great taste at a great price.

Maybe it’s because WWP didn’t actually bake these low-fat disks, only “distributed” them. Maybe Tina didn’t taste them before they ended up at Central Market.

Either way, the Carrollton, TX-based company ought to be more careful about its hype. When Santa finds out what it’s claiming about his taste in cookies, Wild West Products is going to get a big cease-and-desist from Claus’s lawyers. Happy New Year!