Posts tagged ‘advertising’

GM Gets Burned on YouTube, Again

By , 13 June, 2009, No Comment

As you’ve perhaps seen, if you watch any television, GM is running some ads to acquaint us with the friendly face of its bankruptcy filing. You can watch the whole slew of ads on the campaign’s website. Bloggers have been snarking about this website, but I think it’s pretty sleek and is designed to signal, among other things, that GM understands the new media world and the new media/young consumer. That’s why the campaign is called “Re:Invention” and each page has a title that begins with “Re:” like an email.

A few years ago, GM was internet-incompetent. It knew the web was out there, and important, but it didn’t know how to harness the web’s power for its brand. Like many companies, it tried to access user-generated content by hosting a contest to have users design its next Chevy ad. The ads that came back were spoofs and assaults on the company for its gas-guzzling contributions to global warming. Oops.

There are some similar spoof ads emerging on YouTube! to mock the “Re:Invention” campaign. But as I’ve been researching all year for my Columbia thesis, GM has actually come a long way technologically since 2006: internally, company engineers, designers etc. have learned to use the web to chat to bloggers and car enthusiasts about their work and follow the tech sector’s lead in taking user suggestions about products. They are incorporating viral media, but WAY before the product launch/advertising stage, so most of us don’t know it’s happening. I can’t share details–unless I find a way to turn my thesis into a real life magazine article–so you’ll have to take my word for it.

That doesn’t mean I’m any more optimistic about the bankruptcy itself, or what kind of GM will emerge at summer’s end, but I wanted to correct the record. And also to ask, what do you think of the “Re:Invention” site?

Apocalypse 25: It’s Nicer to Be Right Twice

By , 20 May, 2009, 1 Comment

On Monday, we saw more evidence that the content model of the future will involve vertically integrated news organizations that will allow their audiences to engage at multiple levels for multiple prices. Today, we got a taste of what the ad model to support that might look like–the NYT’s Bill Keller told the NY Observer that the Times would seek some sort of ad share deal with Google rather than going after them aggressively as a monopoly the way others seem bent on:

The solution? He said that the Times is looking at a “carrot approach,” in which, along with the collaboration with Google, The Times would embed ads in its copy, and those ads would stay with the copy wherever it is reproduced.

Despite my own antitrust misgivings re: Google, this is exactly what I recommended for the news industry a while ago. And, I’ve also pointed out, the NYT is already a vertically integrated news org that has grown multiple layers of expertise in-house. It is nice to be right two days running. It’s even nicer to think that the future model of journalism is coming to focus.

Cheeseburgers in Cyberspace

By , 9 January, 2009, No Comment

If there’s one analysis of viral marketing that has really stuck with me, it’s a post my former colleague Burt Helm wrote at Brand New Day in July 2007. He traced the multiple impressions–roadside stands, banner ads, marketing-only websites, special promos, YouTube! videos, a radio soundtrack–it took to persuade him to buy a Wendy’s Baconator! In part, it sticks with me because Burt was my cubicle neighbor, so I got a nice whiff of Wendy’s fast food grease the day he ordered from them.

I thought of that post, and that smell, again today when I read about a new project, this time on behalf of Burger King’s Whopper. We’ll get to the campaign in a second, but first a quick comparison of the advertising interface itself. There’s a mini website, and a promotional deal, but so far no big adverts or street displays. The website is far more understated than the complex design-your-own-burger page set up by Wendy’s last year, and there are few platform’s targeted.

Now Wendy’s and BK are competing for a similar audience of 18-25 year olds, but that audience has dramatically shifted in its attitudes to social media in the time between the campaigns. Where Burt, or I, or our peers were all gung-ho about social media in 2007–more impressions, more platforms was always better–the tide has now turned, with young people annoyed by the frenzy and lack of control that has infiltrated networks like Facebook as they’ve opened up to adult users and corporate sponsors. The personal, intimate connection with real world peers that drew most of us to these networks is fading. Facebook’s not so useful when you have all kinds of ‘friends’ you would never really want to call or see in person cluttering your news feed with their minute-by-minute updates.

THAT’s the key insight, in fact, behind the BK campaign, called the Whopper sacrifice. Realizing that young people are now losing interest in Facebook, BK is offering a Whopper to anyone who will delete 10 friends. In a clever little twist, they’re using a Facebook app to do it.

Put the two campaigns together and you realize what they share is the symbiosis between fast food retailers and adolescent cultures. That’s nothing new: Al’s diner on Happy Days, anyone? Indeed, new technologies aside, there’s a lot in the digital environment that echoes the analog age.

The Greatest Thing since…the last greatest thing

By , 12 October, 2008, No Comment

Advertisers have always sold “youth.” Drink this juice, use this lotion, take this little blue pill and stay 17 forever. But this season brings a new twist . Advertisers are reviving old ad campaigns to sell new products: ie buy this and feel like you did when you last heard this jingle.

Exhibit A: “In an Absolut World.” When I was a kid, Absolut had a series of magazine ads with a the tagline Absolut _____. Each ad was a picture of a scene with the Absolut bottle shape embedded somewhere, like a Where’s Waldo. The tagline filled in the blank with a word to describe the scene. “Absolut Brooklyn,” my personal favorite, had the bottles as the arches in the Brooklyn bridge. The photography was pretty stellar, and teens used to collect them like celebrity clippings, but most collectors were underage. Not so good for business. Now we’re all grown up and vodka-drinkers ourselves, so the ads are back: a new series fills in the ____ in the tagline with a place name and gives us a picture that symbolizes the local zeitgeist. In theory, the selling point here is the same as in the old ads, “Drink Absolut and your ____ will be more absolutely ___.” But to me, the ads say “Come have a drink with an old friend, the brand you used to love and can now afford to buy.”

Exhibit B: “Citi Never Sleeps.” Citigroup has this new commercial out “Citi never sleeps.”

If Citi’s agency had invented the line yesterday, it might have worked as a reassuring description of a company watching out for its consumers in a rapidly changing, volatile, even scary business environment. But in actuality, the tagline is a revival of the line “The Citi Never Sleeps,” which Citibank used in the pre-Sandy Weil days to describe itself as financial firm serving Wall Street fat cats and paced to their trading schedule. Hardly the same company. Hardly the same idea. But using the same line today bypasses all the intervening changes to say, “Hey, remember us? We were around when you were getting richer.”

Even deeper down, however, I think the attempt to package nostalgia as a ticket to youth is as much about the ad agencies as it is about the clients they represent. The 1980s, when these campaigns ran, were boom times for the platforms we now deride as “old media.” Revisiting them says “Hey, remember when Madison Avenue mattered?” And whether or not the ads work, dabbling in that nostalgia makes MadAve feel better.

TV for your wallet

By , 10 September, 2008, No Comment

Had a fascinating “aha” moment the other day about my new favorite TV show, AMC’s Mad Men. It’s all about sleezy ad guys in the early ’60s, at the moment when the old black-and-white print ads are about to be turned inside out by edgier copy and the rise of TV. The characters on the show work for an old agency and as they struggle to say afloat in a changing media world, they resort to the dirty and the deceitful.

Wonder why I find it so relevant today…

Compare the show to the last generation of workplace dramas and you’ll notice one key difference. In the 1990s, on shows like ER or West Wing (both of which I loved), there was a ton of misbehavior, BUT the top dog (Drs Carter and Ross at different times, President Bartlet) were good guys we could look up to. Everyone clawed their way to get up there, but the ones who really make it in America, the shows suggested, deserve it.

On Mad Men, the most notable feature is that the guys on top are often the worst of the batch. The head creative, and the protagonist, Don Draper, is guilty of identity theft, cheats on his wife and sexually assaults his mistress, Bobbie. If Mad Men had been made in 1998 instead of 2008, I’m convinced Draper would have been a nicer guy. The key is the state of the American economy:

In the 1990s, when the economy was doing well, workplace shows made the boss look good because people wanted to absolve any guilt about their greed or their success. Go back to the late ‘70s/1980s, however, when the economy was in a crunch, and shows like Dallas were all about sleezy power players, because people in economic distress want to feel justified in resenting those at the top.

Media like television are entertainment and big business, but they are also about tapping into a broader emotional zeitgeist, about turning what we believe into something aspirational, allowing us to reaffirm the values we already have. Advertisers do the same thing, which means Mad Men’s content and storyline function as an interesting commentary on the role played by the show itself. That kind of meta-narrative, the rich opportunities for analysis and debate, are my favorite part of the show. For a taste, check out the opening episode of Season 2, here.

McDonald’s might just get it

By , 20 July, 2008, No Comment


So a few weeks ago, McDonald’s joined the legions of companies who’ve used user-generated content to create advertising campaigns. Sometimes, it’s a disaster because users submit videos making fun of your product and the company gets bad press for censoring those clips out. Sometimes, it’s a flop, because all the ads toe the company line but, for lack of a more technical term, suck: they aren’t funny, they’re badly produced etc. What’s a brand to do?

Along with a colleague, I wrote an article offering some advice on this subject last summer, but none of the user-generation attempts I’ve seen since have taken that advice to heart. The McDonalds contest, however, might reflect a change.

See, company judges just announced five finalists and oddly, one of them is a man who tried to job a Mickey D’s in his teenage years. According to TechCrunch, this is a sign that the idiots at McDonald’s don’t know to run a Google background check. But in fact, I think it’s a sign that McDonald’s understands Web 2.0 branding. People are saying things about you–good and bad–all over the Web anyway; so why not bring your “enemies” inside, where you can counter the attacks. Moreover, the ad in question isn’t critical of McDonald’s so it’s the company’s way of saying that even if you hated us at 14, you might come ’round. I gotta admit, I think it’s pretty coy.