Super Bowl Advertising Round-Up, Part 1

Despite the fact that I work in advertising, I actually do watch the Super Bowl for the football, as opposed to the ads.

That said, my Twitter feed last night consisted pretty much entirely of people commenting on the ads and I made sure to watch them all online following the game and since it’s been a long time since I actually posted anything here, I figured I’d give some reviews into the spots seeing as this is pretty much the biggest night of the year for advertising.

Overall, I thought that this was a pretty bad year for advertising. Fuck, for the first quarter, I fel vaguely ashamed to work in this industry, so bad were most of the spots.

There were a few standouts of really strong work.

I particularly liked Google.

It really stood out for its simplicity and elegance the midst of a sea of big budget, highly produced spots and it really served to underscore the point that simplicty and elegance are at the core of teh Google user experience and did a good job of highlighting the Google features that go beyond simple search.

This spot does not get my top prize, however, for a couple reasons. First, it wasn’t a new spot. It actually aired at least 6 months ago and they just re-aired it. Doesn’t take away from the greatness of the ad but doesn’t really meet the criteria for being a “Super Bowl ad”. Second, I just don’t know if it was money well-spent. One of the things I most admire about Google is how they’ve built themselves into such a great brand and such a dominant player with very little in terms of paid advertising. They did by doing things right – offering a great experience, building on WOM, and great customer service. Dropping 2 million bucks on a Super Bowl seems to go against their brand image in a way. Also, it just seems unnecessary for a brand like this to do. I use Google all day long. It’s my homepage on my laptop, it’s right there on my BlackBerry. I get Google Alerts pinging me constantly. I just don’t need a reminder to use it and I doubt anyone else does either.

The spot that gets my top prize – my “Palme d’Or”, if you will – is the latest incarnation of the e-Trade baby.

E-trade has been one of my favourite advertisers for a while and here’s why: a good test of the creative chops of an agency is whether they can do great creative work in what’s considered a pretty boring category. Any agency should be able to do a spot for a cool and fun brand like a Nike or Adidas and knock it out of the park. Doing ads for things like insurance, financial management, etc. – categories most people would rather tune out – needs to be really strong in order to break through. That’s why I’ve loved the Geico campaigns so much over the years. Taking an insurance company client and producing genuinely funny and captivating spots shows mad skillz, as the kids might say.

E-trade has done a lot of great Super Bowl work in years past, satrting with the absurd dancing monkey that was a standout during the year that it aired. They followed that up with a great “money out the wazoo” spot which also stood out. Three years ago, they launched a brilliant spot where they first introduced us to the E-Trade Baby. Check it out below:

i loved it and I wasn’t alone. Yeah, I found it a bit derivative of other campaigns – particularly Geico – with the message of “so easy that even a  _____ could do it”, just replacing “caveman” with “baby”. But the spot worked. It was unique in the category, delivered the message clearly and, fuck, it’s an adorable talking baby dispensing stock tips! What more do you want?

It’s been a while since we’ve had many great “characters” in advertising. The Marlboro Man is pretty much banished and aside from cereals, we don’t really get many iconic, loveable little advertising icons. I think the E-Trade baby may just be the best one today and they were wise to recognize his potential following the first Super Bowl appearance and keep building him up. Below is the best spot featuring him, in my opinion:

I mean, a golfing baby who uses the term “shankapotomous”? Awesome.

Now, the spot that they ran last night didn’t quite live up to that one. It was good, it was funny, just not over-the-top amazing. But I give the agency (Grey – New York) a ton of credit. There’s a tendency in advertising to abandon campaigns just for the sake of “refreshing” the brand – even when the campaign is doing well and still building up brand equity. It’s especially tempting when you’ve got a huge platform like the Super Bowl to force yourself to do something “new” jsut for the sake of doing something new. But they’ve got a great character who has already made two Super Bowl appearances and it was like fans were expecting and anticipating a new incarnation. If he didn’t appear, it would have left people disappointing. So kudos to Grey for not trying to fix what wasn’t broken and giving a strong standout spot in a pretty dismal year.

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How Customer Service Helps…And Hurts

Here’s a great little illustration of the power of social media.

So, the creative director, Ron, at the advertising agency where I work had to fly to Calgary last week to meet with some clients. He flew on Air Canada and, sure enough, they lose his luggage.

Now, this is generally a big pain in the ass in any circumstance and all the moreso in this one since his nice clothes are packed away and he doesn’t want to show up to an important client meeting looking like a slob so he had to go out and buy new clothes to make himself presentable.

Anyway, these things happen, right? And a major company like Air Canada will surely work hard to rectifty this unpleasantness as soon as possible, no? Especially, for someone who flies as often as Ron, yes? Well, no.

The bag was lost on January 4th. As of this morning, the bag was still not returned. This, despite Ron making call after call and speaking with “customer service representative” after “customer service representative” and being given assurance after assurance that the bag was on its way. As he tells it, the customer service he received was terrible, consisting of being on hold for hours in total, waiting at home for hours for a delivery that would never arrive and generally being treated incredibly poorly by a company who had screwed up in the first place.

So, Ron goes out and creates a Facebook group called “Air Canada: Please Give Ron Tite His Bag Back”. Ron’s a pretty popular guy, so the group grows quickly, racking up close to 300 members in less than a day.  And the press starts to notice. A major TV network gets ahold of Ron and proposes that they send a camera crew over to do a story on it.

Ron gets Air Canada back on the phone and says (I’m paraphrasing here) “I suggest you take a look at this Facebook group and how many people are learning all about how much you guys suck. Also, if you don’t get my bag to me right away, I suggest you in tune into the news this evening when the whole country will find out just how much you suck.”

Ron got his bag back about 30 minutes later.

The moral of the story is that while customer service has always been integral to building consumer loyalty, it’s become even more critical in the age of social media when a person who receives poor service can instantly shre his frustration with every single person he knows. Air Canada found that out the hard way this week.

The reverse to this is that for all the companies who just don’t get it, there are a handful who get it incredibly well.

Here’s the nice part of this generally frustrating experience for Ron: He gets a call from reception that there’s a suitcase waiting for him up at the front desk. It’s a grey suitcase similar to the one he lost with a note saying “We heard about what happened with Air Canada and wanted to help you out. Here’s some stuff to replace some of the things you may have lost.” And inside, is a bottle of wine, a large box of condoms, a selection of cured meats, some handcuffs and a bunch of other trinkets. I assure you that if you know Ron, this is very funny and a brilliant thing to do.

The bag and its contents were sent by a production company called Traffik that our agency has used on the production side. They saw Ron’s tweets and his Facebook group and took the initiative to go out and do this. I don’t know what they spent on this but I’m assuming it’s a little over $100. But I’m assuming that with this nice gesture, they’ve bought themselves a load of goodwill that goes well beyond the small amount of money and effort they laid out. It was fast, timely, funny and downright nice.

Really brilliant move on their part. Air Canada – and a lot of other companies – would be very wise to learn from the example.

Review of Joey Don Mills

So, last night, some colleagues and I attended the launch party for a new restaurant up in Don Mills called Joey. When I got the invite, I passed it along to some people and one of the guys, originally from Vancouver, was super excited. Apparently, this is a popular West Coast chain and this is their first venture into Toronto. Anyways, he couldn’t have been happier to see it arrive in his new city of residence.

So, first the bad news: it’s way the hell up in what I consider the middle of nowhere at the Shops at Don Mills, which turns out to be a very nice little open-air mall with lots of nice shops and a handful of restaurants, mainly of the Jack Astor’s variety. But the location makes it a pain. It’s not really on public transit and if you’re like me and enjoy consuming some adult beverages while you eat, it makes driving a bad idea.

Getting there proved to not be an issue, however, as the good folks at the PR firm handling teh event generously offered to send a limo to take my colleagues and I. So there we are, about 6 of us young advertising folks, waiting outside of our office, enjoying a smoke and dressed in jeans and t-shirts when this massive, white stretch limo pulls up. It was a total 80s pimp-mobile complete with mood lighting and we felt a little awkward tooling around in this beast but it sure beats the hell out of the TTC.

First, a word on the event itself: Huge kudos must go to the fine people at Maverick Public Relations for putting on a great launch. I’ve been involved in big public events before and they tend to get quite chaotic but this was incredibly well-run. Everyone was super prepared and collected and really put together a hell of a party. I’ve never personally worked with these folks before, myself, but some people at my agency have and have nothing but good things to say about them. And after this event, I can see why.

As to the decor, it was okay. I tend to hate chain restaurants for being bland and interchangeable but as far as chain restaurants do go, this would be in the upper tier. It’s a fairly minimalist and sleek, mainly black decor which worked for them. We were in teh lounge area, which is a nice big open space. There are tons of big TV screens which seemed a bit out of place (I only want TVs if I’m in a sports bar) but we got there early enough to secure ourselves a comfortable booth with a good view of the action.

Now for the service: keep in mind that this was a launch party for “VIPs” (like your very important narrator) and there was media there so they were definitely gonna bring their A-game and it may not be representative of what you might experience if you were to go there on a regular night. But I must say that the service could not have been better. Everyone from the hostesses to the bus people were really, really good. The servers were totally on the ball, even in a packed house full of people enjoying free food and drink. Nobody at our table ever experienced an empty glass. They were super fast and attentive and also really nice and pleasant. Their service staff definitely deserves a ton of credit. On another note and if you are teh type of person who cares about such superficialities, I can share with you that even my dining companions of the homosexual persuasion could not resist noting that all of the service staff possessed certain aesthetic qualities that served to enhance our dining experience.

As for the food, basically, the servers went around delivering various appetizers from the Joey menu. I think they had about 6 or 7 different dishes that they were sharing with us and pretty much all of them got excellent reviews from our table. I personally liked the Bangkok Curry Bowl, the first dish I sampled. I don’t like when chain restaurants dial down the spice in teh food so was pleasantly surprised that this actually had some very nice heat to it. I think my favourite app that i sampled was the “tuna taco”. These are deep-fried wonton shells filled with very good, rare ahi tuna with a nice peppery crust on it. Absolutely delicious. Joey deserves credit for not skimping on teh ingredients. This was very good quality and very fresh tuna. The lobster grilled cheese sandwiches also got rave reviews from our table and everyone surrounding it (there was a rush to grab them when the trays came by) , with one diner overheard describing it as “better than an orgasm on cocaine.” Given that my religion forbids lobster (along with orgasms and cocaine), I will defer to their judgment.

Now, for the most important part of any pleasant evening out, the drinks. I didn’t check out the wine lsit so can’t comment on that. Apparently, they have some sort of very impressive cool wine pouring system but, again, I did not partake in any wine. I’m assuming they have all the standard beers on their list (they were serving Stella at the party), but they offer some very good signature cocktails which I would highly recommend. Basically, these cocktails were vodka, soda, fruit and some osrt of icy “slush” like you’d get in a Slushie. I sampled several of these and they were all very good. The apple-flavoured one is the beverage that I would most recommend. These are really tasty and nicely refreshing. They also have some very elaborate cocktails which some of my friends sampled and they looked pretty impressive. The only cocktail that didn’t really work for me was the “super sonic gin and tonic” which came highly recommended by our server. The G&T is one of my standard drink choices but mixing it with this icy slush substance jsut added too much sweetness. So I’d take a pass on this one and stick with the vodka sodas.

Another thing: all my food and drink was on teh house so I have no idea what the prices were and if the place offers value for money. But, generally, I was quite impressed. Excellent service, very good food and some cool and unique cocktails make for a good time. If this place were at Yonge and Bloor, I could see it being somewhere that I’d frequent with some regularity. And word on teh street is that they will be opening a more downtown location at some point, which would be a welcome addition. It definitely is worth the trek to Don Mills at least once to check it out. And if you were planning on doing some shopping up there anyways and looking for a place to eat, this seems like the place to go.

Of course, if the good folks at Maverick would keep sending me limos, I’d be there all the time…

Media Fragmentation and the End of Shared Experiences

Walter Cronkite, the legendary CBS news anchor, died a couple weeks ago. In the widespread coverage of his death, the clip that was used in virtually every story was the one below of Cronkite announcing the death of President Kennedy.

What’s interesting to me, though, isn’t how this media personality became intrinsically linked to a historic event that he reported but, rather, the flip side: it’s how a historical event became intrinsically linked in the popular consciousness to a specific media personality.

The Kennedy assassiantion was almost 20 years before I was born. I didn’t experience it live. Nor did I ever see Walter Cronkite ever broadcast a live newscast. But the idea, the concept, of that day in Novemeber, as it exists in my mind, is completely inseparable from that Cronkite broadcast. If you were to simply mention the assassination, the image that would go to my mind wouln’t even be the grainy Zapruder film of the actual assassination. It would be that image of Cronkite announcing his death – the way he takes his glasses off, the way his voice breaks slightly. It was a moment that entered into and continues to exist in the popular consciousness through a media report. Not only that, but a very specific media report. I couldn’t tell you how the moment was covered on NBC or ABC. This was long before the days of CNN or Fox News or live straming broadcasts on the web or on video monitors on the subway. People experienced through that specific filter and, because of that, the memory is a shared one. everyone saw that clip. Everyone knew Cronkite. He brought that moment to them so they all experienced it the same way. Having seen that particular broadcast is something that connected everyone somehow through a shared experience.

The Kennedy Assassination was my parents’ generation’s “Where were you when…?” moment.  For my generation, it was September 11th. Eight years later, I can tell you exactly where I was when I heard the news and exactly where and how I watched the coverage. But my experience that day was not a “shared experience” in the same way that the Kennedy assassination was for my parents back in 1963. And this because we did not experience it through the same unifying filter. There was no “Cronkite moment” that brought it home.

I can’t tell you what TV channel I watched it on. Probably because, like most people nowadays in the age of remote controls and hundreds of channels, I was flipping back and forth between all of the different networks seeing if tehre was anything new to report, any information one network had that the others didn’t yet have.

Some people watched September 11th unfold on NCB or ABC or CNN. Others were watching online or checking their BlackBerrys (did those even exist yet? If not, the next “Where were you?” moment will have even more mediums through which to experience it.)

We all saw the same images and we all probably experienced the same feelings but 40 years from now if I’m ever having the “where were you when…?” conversation with someone who saw those same things, we won’t be able to point to some sort of unifying witnessing of how it unfolded.

And I wonder how many media-covered events really qualify as unifying experiences anymore. I’m reading a book right now about the Brooklyn Dodgers. And anyone who really knows baseball history knows that the all-time-greatest baseball moment was the pennant game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants in 1951, where Bobby Thompson won the game with the “shot heard ’round the world” and the moment was forever immortalized as announcer Russ Hodges started repeatedly screaming “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

Virtually every person who lived in New York back then remembers that game. It was another “Where were you when…?” moment. The entire city stopped that day. Kids skipped school. Adults skipped work. People gathered around radios on street corners, leaning in to hear the broadcast and be a part of the experience. This was before they knew how it would end. The game could have been boring and broadcast mundane but everyone jsut has this innate sense that there was something special about that game, something meaningful that elevated the moment beyond a mere ball game into some grand unifying, shared event that they knew they’d one day tell their grandkids event.

And in our current society with a thousand channels and a billion websites and everyone self-segregating by narrow interest and forming exclusive social groups, I just wonder whether those big, meaningful shared experiences will ever happen again.

Just a thought as I leave work on a Wednesday afternoon.

The New Relationship Between Consumers and Brands, Part 2

Okay, so we’ve established that the old way of doing things – putting ads on TV and being confident that they’ll be able to reach consumers – is no longer a viable model on which we can count. We need to develop new ways of connecting with consumers.

But how do we do that?

Well, the big thing is: we need to create value for our consumers.

And by that, I don’t mean “talk about value” or “explain the value of whatever it is we’re trying to sell.” That’s what we’ve been doing up until now. Talking about all of the wonderful attributes our product or service has and how buying it will bring value to the consumer’s life. What I’m saying is that the marketing, itself, needs to be of value.

In fact, if I could make one prediction as to the big shift in direction that marketing will take over the next several years, it would be this:

Marketing will shift from a communications-oriented role to being a value-creation tool.

Because in this incredibly ad-cluttered world, it is only useful, real value that will stand out in the midst of a sea of junk.

Marketing can go from being something annoying that consumers actively try to avoid and can become something that consumers actually genuinely want, value and enjoy. Even something they actually seek out. Even something they are actually willing to pay for.

When I look back at the great marketing from the past few years, the stuff that really blows me away haven’t been traditional ads at all but, rather, what I like to call “branded utilities”.

What that is is basically where a brand goes out and actually creates something useful – something that will provide real utility in the consumer’s life.

Ask any marketer and they’ll tell you that brand messages need to be delivered in a manner that’s relevant. And they’re right. But I think that’s just become the price of entry; that’s the bare minimum your brand needs to do to even get noticed a little bit.

But I think we need to go beyond relevance to usefulness; to actually deliver a brand message in a useful way.

This way, your message becomes less about “information as pollution” and more about information that helps people get through life.

Here’s an old example:

The Michelin Guide

michelin_guide_cover_nyc_2008

You’ve probably seen this before. It’s a guide to restaurants and it’s sponsored by Michelin, the tire manufacturer.

Michelin needs to get their name out there, to remind consumers about their tires. But most people aren’t all that interested in reading about tires. So rather than put out a brochure about tires, Michelin went and created a restaurant guide, branded with their name.

The edition above is a recent one but this initiative goes back decades. What’s the relevance between a restaurant guide and a tire company? Well,  the guide first began when cost and manufacturing efficiencies made automobiles accessible to the average person. Suddenly, average folks could afford a car and were no longer bound by the schedules and locations provided by mass transit. So Michelin tapped into this newfound freedom and the mindset that went along with it and said, basically “Now that you’ve got a car and can go wherever you want, whenever you want, you can now go out and explore all of the great restaurants in different cities. And, hey, here’s a guide to let you know about all of the different restaurants out there.”

So, rather than just do a clever ad, they gave consumers something of value and associated their brand with pleasant experiences of freedom and exploring.

Recently, more marketers started to recognize the value inherent in creating a utility versus a traditional ad.

Nike Ballers Network

nike_ballers_network

Here’s a really cool little app that Nike created for people who like to play pickup basketball. You can download it to your BlackBerry or iPhone. You put in your location, pick a time and day and it will give you a list of pickup games that you can join. And once you’re in, you can manage teams, keep track of stats, and all the rest.

Now, Nike is a brand that has consistently done great advertising, some really legendary work. But, at the end of the day, what did it really provide to people beyond 30 seconds of entertainment? This app, on the other hand, provides real value, something that Nike’s consumers can really use. And every time they use it, they’ll feel better about Nike.

Another example:

Fiat Eco:Drive

fiat

This is an app from Italian automaker Fiat called Eco:Drive. Here’s how it works: you get a little USB key that you can plug into the dashboard of your car. After driving, you can remove the USB, plug it into your computer and it will analyze your driving style and give you tips to be a more eco-friendly driver, reduce your emmissions, lower gas mileage, etc. Here’s an example of a brand seeing a consumer desire – to be a more green-friendly driver – and going out and actually building a unique app that lets them do jsut that. The consumer gets something of value, the brand gets to position themselves as green and get big points for innovation.

The New Relationship Between Consumers and Brands, Part 1

Okay, so my old blog got sadly neglected but I rather missed it so decided to start a new one over here on WordPress.

To get things rolling, I’m gonna kick things off with a multi-part post about what my agency has been calling “the new relationship between consumers and brands.”

Before we can get into all of the aspects of just what exactly constitutes this new relationship and what the implications of that new relationship are for us as marketers, we need to take a step back and look at what happened to bring about this new relationship in the first place.

I warn in advance that the first post will be pretty basic and obvious to people in teh business. But I need to set things up, right?

If I were to give the first chapter a title, it would be:

“Nothing Has Changed. And Yet Everything Has Changed.”

So, to summarize: brands and branding haven’t changed.

And since some people still get confused as to just what the hell we’re talking about when we use words like “brands” and “branding”, lets clarify what a brand isn’t.

A brand is not:

-a name

-a logo

-a trademark

-a slogan

Rather, here’s how I like to define a brand:

“Collectively, what people think, feel and say about your product, service or company.”

Consequently, “branding” is:

“Using marketing to influence peoples’ attitudes towards, and perceptions of, the brand.”

Those things haven’t changed.

And here’s something else that hasn’t changed: Brand loyalty will still be earned over time through consistently positive experiences and engagements with the brand.

What has changed is pretty much everything else.

The old ways of building brand loyalty – the ones marketers could count on consistently, decade after decade – are becoming increasingly obsolete.

That old model was based upon the following:

-captive audience

-short bursts of information

-built around interruption

-repetition, repetition, repetition

And success was measured by:

-reach

-frequency

-number of impressions

Well, we now live in a world where that model can no longer adequately serve us as marketers.

First of all, the audience got fragmented. We’ve gone from 3 channels to 30 to 300 and growing every day. Putting an ad (even a really good one) on a popular show and then putting your feet up and knowing that everyone will see it is no longer feasible. For one thing, what constitutes a “popular show” has changed dramatically. You’re not competiting only with what’s on the other 2 networks. Or even what’s on the hundreds of other networks. Even if you do have a great show with a huge fanbase, they’re not necessarily watching it at a set time on a set day in a set location where they’re captive viewers for our ads. They may PVR it and watch it the enxt day and skip all the ads. They may watch it online. They may jsut wait till the season’s over and get all of the DVDs and watch them together, ad-free. So, in short, the old model of pushing messages at a captive audience and counting on the mass reach of the TV medium is a model that is rapidly dying out.

And the clients who hire us agencies and pay our fees and count on us to deliver their messages have taken notice.

Here’s a quote that I love from Trevor Edwards, the VP of Marketing over at Nike: “We’re not in the business of keeping media companies in business. We’re in the business of connecting with our consumers.”

Exactly. Those mediums are great as long as they’re serving our purposes. Once they fail to do so, nobody on teh client-side is going to prop them up out of a sense of loyalty or nostalgia. What they care about – and because they care about, we have to care about it – is being able to connect with their consumers. If the old ways no longer work, we need to create new ways.

How do we do that? I’ll explain in Part 2.