Tag Archives: advertising

Pedigree’s fascinating new dog food commercial – inspired by Pleix

A Saatchi & Saatchi colleague recently sent me a new commercial for Pedigree dog food.  It’s a fantastic piece of advertising from TBWA, Toronto. No annoying voice over, just fascinating ultra-slow motion shots of dogs leaping in the air to chomp down on a single nugget of Pedigree’s vitality+.  I immediately forwarded it to dog lovers I know.  That’s what you want in an age of skeptical consumers who have the power to block unwanted advertising messages from reaching them.  Make something so good, people want to spread it around to their friends.  It’s garnered over a million views on YouTube since going up at the end of February.

The commercial brilliantly conveys vitality and great taste in an execution that breaks with all the boring conventions of the past 50 years for conveying those benefits.  As I said to a dog lover friend of mine, who is also a market researcher, it’s the first dog food commercial I’ve ever seen that communicates great canine taste appeal without showing the animal — who we know was probably half starved to death before the commercial shoot — lunging at a bowl full of food.  Take a look, and you’ll see what I mean.

The execution was inspired by a video produced in 2006 by Pleix Films for the music group, Vitalic. The similarity is unmistakable.

At first, I got all hot under the collar, because there was no acknowledgment on the YouTube page running the Pedigree version that the idea wasn’t original.  We live in an age of mash-ups, consumer generated content and transparency.  I don’t think people have a problem with borrowing ideas, or adapting them for another purpose, as TBWA has done.  But you need to acknowledge that you did.

Neither Pedigree nor TBWA are at fault, because it seems that wherever this spot appears on YouTube, it was posted by others.  Indeed, TBWA does call out on their web site that “the campaign was inspired by the talented directors at Pleix.”  Unfortunately, the post I saw on YouTube credits the idea to TBWA without any mention of its original source.

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The agency of the future will be a horse of a different color

Brian Morrissey recently wrote in Adweek about the “great race” between traditional and digital shops to become the lead agency, that is, the agency that leads all brand communications efforts for the client among a stable of shops covering specific specialties.  Morrissey’s piece reports on a Forrester “state of interactive agencies” survey showing that only 23% of global interactive marketers believe that the “the traditional brand agency is capable of planning and managing interactive marketing activities.”  Conversely, only 22% think their interactive agency is ready to assume the leading role in managing all brand communications.  Thus the great race for world domination of brand stewardship between the traditional and digital agencies is off! To quote Morrissey, “…traditional shops scramble to add digital know-how and digital shops seek to move up the ladder to become brand stewards…”

Joseph Jaffee, in his latest installment of JaffeJuiceTV suggests there’s a third horse in the race, the social media agency.  (Thanks to Joe for drawing my attention to the Morrissey article in his video.)  You have to admire Joe for waving the social media flag, since his company, crayon, was just acquired along with two other companies by powered to create the first “social media agency with scale,” as I believe he calls it.

When a traditional agency acquires digital know-how — usually that means buying a digital agency — that’s one thing.  Integrating that expertise with the brand strategy capabilities of the acquiring agency is quite another.  Whether it’s a two or three-horse race, ultimately it’s about tearing down the walls that stand between traditional, digital and social in our minds and in the way we work so that ideas move freely, are informed and work across all three. It means bringing people of different minds, with different perspectives, together, ideally in physical space, not separating them into silos, so they can create something better and more powerful together.  The agencies that get that right will be the ones that win.  And then it won’t matter if they’re traditional, digital or social.  Because at that point they will be a horse of a completely different color.

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Said the advertising to the academic, “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated”

I’m a little late to this one but I’d like to share some thoughts all the same.

Last March, Eric Clemons, who is a professor at the Wharton School, one of America’s top business schools, wrote a post on TechCrunch entitled “Why Advertising Is Failing On The Internet.” It caused quite a stir.  Professor Clemons’s key thesis is that online advertising will ultimately fail.  There will be less of it in future because in today’s interconnected world, people don’t want, need or trust ads.

While the piece’s title refers to online advertising, Professor Clemons goes further:

“… simple commercial messages, pushed through whatever medium, in order to reach a potential customer who is in the middle of doing something else, will fail.  It’s not that we no longer need information to initiate or to complete a transaction; rather, we will no longer need advertising to obtain that information.  We will see the information we want, when we want it, from sources that we trust more than paid advertising.  We will find out what we need to know, when we want to make a commercial transaction of any kind.”

Earlier in the post he asserts that “the ultimate failure of broadcast media advertising is likewise becoming clear.”  So he is not talking about the eventual demise of online advertising only, but of advertising in general.

There is much in Professor Clemons’s post with which I agree, as well as some excellent perspectives that really got me to stretch my mind.   Especially thought provoking is his description of paid search as “misdirection,” because it sends consumers to pages that are not necessarily the most valuable to them, but rather to the sites of companies that cough up the most money.  (For this reason he believes Google’s business model is probably unsustainable.) Anyone who knows this blog also knows that I not only recognize, but am inspired by the changes web 2.0 and social media are bringing to fundamentals of marketing, communications and brand-consumer relationships.

Still, I am not convinced by the good professor’s thesis that advertising’s role in the marketing mix — online or otherwise — is necessarily doomed to oblivion.  The reason is that Mr. Clemons has a very info-centric view of advertising, as you can see by the previous quote and in the definition of advertising below that he offers in his post (passages in bold are mine):

“Advertising is using sponsored commercial messages to build a brand and paying to locate these messages where they will be observed by potential customers performing other activities; these messages describe a product or service, its price or fundamental attributes, where it can be found, its explicit advantages, or the implicit benefits from its use.”

The rumors of my death have been wildly exaggerated

The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated

If you believe that the only role of advertising is to provide information about a product or brand, or for that matter, that a person’s rational evaluation of a particular brand’s attributes and benefits is the only basis for the choice of that brand over another,  than his thesis makes perfect sense.  But of course we all know that human beings are not especially rationale creatures, especially in their brand choices, and that advertising in many categories plays a role beyond simply conveying product benefits.  It may be out of style to say it, but the truth is that even in an online world where we have easy access to all sorts of information about brands, people are still influenced by other factors in their brand choices than a simple assessment of the benefits received relative to the price paid.

We all know that brands have dimensions beyond the attributes and benefits they offer.  Brands can represent an idea, connect us with a feeling, signify a particular attitude toward life, or express a value with which we personally identify.  Advertising plays a role in shaping those dimensions in our minds, and when the product attributes and quality of two brands are more or less equal, it can be primarily those emotional qualities that determine whether someone chooses one brand over another.

I doubt this will ever change.  It’s in the nature of who we are as human beings.  I remember reading somewhere that it is in our psyche to ascribe human characteristics to inanimate objects.  That’s what’s at the heart of our propensity to ascribe emotional and image dimensions to brands.  It’s through those associations that brands are one of the ways we define who we are to ourselves and to others.  And that’ something else I see no sign of changing.

This doesn’t deny that a brand’s image today is driven much more  than in the past by the thoughts, opinions and impressions that people can now share with thousands of others on line.  But even though online conversations play a bigger role than ever in shaping the collective perception of rational and emotional brand dimensions, this doesn’t mean that brand communications, created by marketers, no longer have any influence at all.  Brand perception is shaped by a myriad of sources — online conversations, ratings and reviews, personal experience, comments from others when we use the brand, our perception of others who use it, and — yes — brand communications.  Just because that last factor plays a smaller role than it did when we lived in a marketing world dominated by one-way messaging from marketer to consumer, it doesn’t mean it plays no role at all today or will play no role in future.

But even if you come from the information angle, I think there is still a role for advertising.  Just because I’m not actively looking for information about a particular product or category, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want information to find its way to me.  I’m a Mac fan.  I’m happy to get “uninvited” messages about a new Mac product or an upgrade to my current one.  Or even to hear about a new flavor of my favorite tooth paste brand.  (I’m a flavored tooth paste junkie.)

One of Mr. Clemons’s arguments is that advertising will fail because people don’t feel it is a trustworthy source of information.  But in future, it’s quite possible that advertising will gain in credibility because marketers will be forced to provide a higher level of truthfulness and integrity in their messages and claims, precisely because in a web 2.o world, any inaccuracies or attempts at deception will be quickly exposed and shared mercilessly.

There seem to be a whole bunch of people making extremely black-and-white statements about the future of marketing and communications these days, about whether advertising as we know it (or knew it) will fail or succeed, evolve or be doomed to oblivion.  No one really  knows, but certainly a lot of people seem to act like they do.  Rather than channeling all this energy into debate on these questions, which is a bit of a tempest in teapot, we should focus more on exploring and sharing what’s working, what’s not working, and how old and new media potentially work together.  And then see what happens.

Does that mean that this is the last time I’ll ever raise my voice in the debate?

Probably not.

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I love plaid. Plaid Nation that is

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I fell in love with Plaid today.  Not the pattern, the Agency and its road show Plaid Nation.  Plaid is a small shop hailing from the mega-communications metropolis of Danbury, Connecticut.  They do some cool work creating online communities and social media programs for organizations and brands that include Boehringer Ingelheim, Iron Horse Bikes, Segway, Sony Music, Virgin Records and — how lovely — the Westport Country Playhouse.

I fell in love because everything about Plaid lives and breathes the best qualities of social media.  They’re open, real, honest, charming, relaxed, human.  And frankly I just like the design of their web site. It’s fun and funky.

The way I got onto them, though, wasn’t through the web site or their work.  I’d been hearing for awhile  about something called Plaid Nation on different blogs and podcasts.  I knew it was some kind of road show or tour, with a team that went across country meeting with anyone doing interesting, innovative things — people, companies, NGO’s, even other creative agencies.  But I didn’t know much more than that. Today I finally got around to visiting the Plaid Nation 2009 web site and getting behind the story.

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The first Plaid Nation tour happened in 2007.  It began as an idea for Plaid to generate awareness and PR.  A group of company staffers made over a van in plaid and drove across country to visit — unannounced — brands they liked or would like to get to know.  Since then the tour has become, according to Plaid’s Darryl Ohrt in Ad Age, “a produced ‘show’ that profiles some of the world’s greatest, most interesting and innovated business thinkers.”

Indeed it does.  Go over to Plaid Nation where you’ll find interviews featuring:

  • Scott Monty, Ford’s head of social media, talking about his recently completed tumultuous first year at the corporate giant.
  • Steve Pacheco,  Director of Advertising for Federal Express.  Federal Express’s late-delivery rate is tiny.  But when you consider that Fedex delivers millions of packages on any given day, even a fraction of a percentage of late arrivals can amount to a significant number of complaints on Twitter.  In contrast, no one on Twitter is going to post that his Fedex package arrived on time this morning.  That’s just one reason that Fedex has begun to engage in social media.
  • An inspiring visit to the Make it Right project, an organization started by Brad Pitt to help rebuild New Orleans’ post-Katrina neighborhoods with economically and environmentally sustainable housing.
  • A talk with the people running the The Q Hotel  – the first green hotel in Kansas City and one of only 11 hotels in North Amercia that has been certified green.

And that’s just a small selection.  All in all this year’s Plaid Nation July tour spent time with inspirational movers and shakers in Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, Branson Missouri, Jackson Mississippi and New Orleans.  And the tour members shared their experiences through a vibrant combination of videos, blogs, tweets and Facebook posts.

What strikes me most about the Plaid Nation tour is its generosity.  Of course Plaid launched the tour to promote their business.  But  they realize they have the most to gain by giving.  Everyone who visits Plaid Nation profits from the ideas and inspiration they discover there, while Plaid profits from the exposure, sharing the way think and work, and letting potential clients get to know the people who make Plaid what it is.  And of course the people and projects they visit gain through the exposure as well.

Apparently it works.  Plaid says the tour has been a major driver of new business since its inception.

So pay a visit to Plaid Nation.

And to Plaid Nation I’d just like to ask, can we hope to see you in Germany some day?

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Acquiescence isn’t enough, marketers should actively embrace objectivity from their blogging partners

Much discussion has erupted lately on the topic of partnerships between mom bloggers and marketers.  It seems to have started with a call for a PR “blackout” from Momdot, a mom blogger community:

MomDot is challenging bloggers to participate for one week in August in a PR BLACKOUT challenge where you do not blog ANY giveaways, ANY reviews, and Zero press releases. In fact, we don’t want you to talk to PR at ALL that whole week.  We want to see your blog naked, raw, and back to basics. Talk about your kids, your marriage, your college, your hopes, your dreams, your house and whatever you can come up with for one week.

Burnout, not objectivity, is the reason behind MomDot has recommended a blackout.  They suggest that the array of product reviews, promotions, giveaways, etc. in which mom bloggers engage is distracting them from more general content about home and kids.  Nevertheless, the question of blogger objectivity has come up in posts about the blackout, and the issue of objectivity, paid sponsorship and editorial vs. commercial content has been a hot topic in the blogosphere for awhile, and recently in a New York Times article, as increasing numbers of marketers link up with bloggers for the purpose of reviewing or promoting their products.  Recently the U.S. Federal Trade Commission announced that it is reviewing its guidelines for “endorsements and testimonials in advertising” with bloggers in mind.

Compensation for product reviews takes on different forms — e.g. pay per review, free stuff, promotional giveaways — but what is common to all is that most bloggers will only agree to the deal if the marketer in question allows them to write honestly about the product.  While bloggers say this allows them to maintain their integrity, one has to wonder if  — even with the best of intentions — they can remain truly objective when being compensated.  Won’t there be a little voice, whispering from the subconscious depths of their mind, suggesting that, despite everything the marketer says, a negative assessment will reduce the chances of being offered a paid review in future?

That’s why marketers shouldn’t simply agree to honesty and objectivity from their blogging partners, they should embrace it actively and vocally.  Here’s why it’s in their interest to do so:

  • The online social community space rewards transparency, while it sniffs out and exposes secrecy and collusion.  A marketer who tries to manipulate product reviews will be found out eventually.  That negative word-of-mouth will spread exponentially and the overall take away will be that something must be wrong with your product, if you weren’t confident enough to let the product speak for itself, free from manipulation.
  • In contrast, a marketer who makes it known that it demands absolute honesty from its blogging partners builds trust and credibility.  It tells people that you’re completely confident in the quality of your product.
  • Negative criticism isn’t a threat, it’s a fantastic source of knowledge and opportunity.  You can learn better than any focus group or quantitative test about the strengths and weaknesses of your product through an honest assessment from a blogger and the ensuing comments and online conversations about that assessment.
  • The only thing you have to fear is fear itself.  The blogosphere will forgive a mistake, provided that you listen to the criticism, acknowledge the problem and keep everyone informed about what you are doing to fix things.  You have nothing to fear, and everything to gain, provided you listen, show that your listening, take action and follow up.

Several blog posts I read on the topic of transparency and objectivity talk about the steps bloggers should take to make their disclosure and review policies clear to marketers who approach them.  This suggests that bloggers feel the need to defend their wish to remain transparent and  objective when it comes to paid-for product reviews.  Similarly, the FTC’s actions to revise its policies regarding endorsements and testimonials to address online practices would indicate that it doesn’t think the marketing community is taking adequate steps to self-regulate.  The alleged need for these policy changes implies that, generally speaking, marketers are more inclined to manipulate online reviews and comments about their products, rather than encourage the transparency and objectivity that brings true value to both the marketer and the customer.

It’s hard to say definitively if marketers are “doing the right thing” when it comes to embracing objectivity from their blogging partners.  However, when I think of all the articles, posts and comments I have read on the issue, I can’t recall any I’ve seen that have come from a marketer.  If you have, please let me know.

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Spoofs of GM’s new “Reinvention” commercial

I merely critiqued the commercial. Others have gone further.

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A 30-second message from our sponsor — how cool is that?

In this amusing clip Malcom Gladwell fantasizes about a world in which digital media always existed and newspapers were only invented a few years ago.  He imagines that digital natives would find it totally cool — information on paper, no need to lug your laptop to the breakfast table every morning.  I’ve had a similar thought about 30″ TV spots. What if blogs, product rating sites, consumer generated content, online conversations, etc. were the only ways to learn about brands? Then someone came along and said — “Hey, I can tell you most of what you need to know in 30 seconds! How cool is that?”

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