Friday, November 21, 2008

Don't call me "senior," you little geek.

Marketers who use the wrong terminology or approach with people over age 40 risk alienating the very demographic group that has disposable income to spend on their products. The term "Boomer" is okay, for the huge group of us born between 1946 and 1964. It simply means we are part of the "pig in the python" post-WWII baby boom. But not "senior" or "mature." However, for people born before 1945, those terms are acceptable.

For those who are advertising to Boomers and other "experienced" adults, here are some "Marketing Insights" from Su Bacon, recently published in the KC Star:
• Boomers (Born 1946-1964):

• Tend to visit Web sites
• May be looking on the Internet not only for products and services for themselves but also for their aging parents
• Value youth and independence
• Prefer choices in products and services
• May make shopping a destination trip
• Recognize and resent "mature," "prime" and other age references

Notes for marketers: Emphasize wellness, health and active lifestyles. Resist references to age such as "senior" or "older" adults -- "boomer" is OK. Consider a broader geographic reach.

The Silent Generation (Born 1945 or earlier):

• Tend to prefer a more traditional, personal approach
• Value trust and structure
• May be concerned about transportation issues
• Tend to shop where they live

Notes for marketers: Establish relationships and credibility with those they trust such as bank officers, financial planners, their children and grandchildren. Emphasize the vital role they plan in their communities and families. The "senior" label is OK, especially when accompanied by the word "discount." References to retirement are acceptable, too. Reach them with direct mail.

What is Art?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Advertising that misses the mark

If you are over 40, you may be puzzled by some of the advertising you see on TV. Crude humor, dizzying digital effects, music that makes you dive for the "mute" button ... Who are these ads aimed at? Well, not you or me. These commercials are created by 20-something ad agency creatives. They don't get how to communicate with any generation but their own. Little geeks.

If you are over 40 and a "Daily Show" fan, you see a lot of ad messages aimed at teens. Like ads for violent video games where players steal cars and AK-47s, shoot, stab or run over each other with big SUVs, and generally stomp evilly around a dark, sinister cityscape. Heck, you can play that game for free by visiting certain East Kansas City neighborhoods.

What do advertisers think I want with a fast-food quadruple bypass burger with cheese, bacon, butter, lard, goose fat and any other artery-clogging ingredients the company can think of? The chief consumers of these gastronomical monstrosities are dietetically illiterate male teens and 20-somethings.

On the other end of the scale, am I the only person under age 60 who watches the network news? Between Charlie Gibson's reports, I'm tortured by intelligence-insulting "slice of life" commercials for hemorrhoid creams, anti-gas tablets, constipation cures, heart medicines, diabetes blood sugar thingies, and Viagra (Sure, I believe a group of "guys" sitting around singing about an erectile dysfunction medicine.). Hey, the news is bad enough. Just leave me alone if you want to talk about your personal physical dysfunctions.

So the net of it is, in the world of advertising, you're either under 40 or over 60. Or if you are between those two ages, you are a candidate for investment services, online trading, insurance and cruise vacations. What if you're between 40 and 60 and don't have a pot to pee in? Well, for you, there's Walmart. And hey, you can probably buy a pot there, cheap.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bailey the Unknown Reindeer

How to have a heckuva good time in the deep snow. With cool vocal by Harry Connick, Jr.

"Meh" - Simpsonese for "boring"

"Meh" enters the Collins English Dictionary

The word, "meh," coined by a couple of bored Simpson kids, has entered the common language and the Collins English Dictionary. The boring word has even migrated from the U.S. to the U.K.

The origins of "meh" are murky, but the term grew in popularity after being used in a 2001 episode of "The Simpsons" in which Homer suggests a day trip to his children Bart and Lisa. "They both just reply 'meh' and keep watching TV," said Cormac McKeown, head of content at Collins Dictionaries.

The dictionary defines "meh" as an expression of indifference or boredom, or an adjective meaning mediocre or boring. Examples given by the dictionary include "the Canadian election was so meh."
[Read more.]

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Blue Man Group Starts Blue School in NYC

The guys with the blue heads have opened a grade school.

One of the most joyful, creative, fun and memorable experiences you can have in Manhattan is the Blue Man Group's show. Silly, thoughtful, absurd, intellectual, surprising, participatory, all of those adjectives apply. But most of all, the word, "creative," pops into mind. To have such untrammeled creativity... what would it be like? I wonder. Well, at least I got the t-shirt.

Most of us creatives are supposed to work within a snug box defined by a client's sensibilities, intelligence, risk aversion, and budget -- not to mention the "input" of a slew of other "stakeholders." Anybody who's done "creative" work for a large corporation can relate.

But Blue Man Group is like the free child we were at age 2, 3 or 4. No boxes for us. Experimental, delighting in discoveries of new colors, shapes and sounds. We explored all of that, and ways that physical objects act when you do THIS to them -- or THAT. Like a toddler pushing his Sippy Cup off the table 20,000 times and making Mom fetch it -- or squishing his rice cereal out the sides of his mouth and giggling as it drips off his chin.

It's only natural, in a way, that Blue Man Group should start a school to encourage kids to indulge in what the grown-ups call "silliness." Guess what? That silliness is the way we started learning to be fully, creatively human. Remember? That was before public schools sat us in rows, made us raise one finger or two to go to the potty, and discouraged us from "discovering" anything the teacher didn't present to us. "Hey, that piece of snot from my nose looks pretty funny on that other kid's head." "Johnny, it's time-out for you." "Awwww..."

If I had $27,000+ per year to send my pre-schooler to Blue School, I'd do it in a New York minute, as they say. Read all about it here. And if you want to see a video from the Blue School, go here.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla: Dick Cavett Blog

Dick Cavett is, by far, the most literate person ever to host a talk show. He's heard a lot of talk in his time -- you'd think he'd heard it all during eight years of interviews -- yet the talk of Sarah Palin has him baffled. He's not alone in his bafflement ...


I’d love to hear what you think has caused such an alarming number of our fellow Americans to fall into the Sarah Swoon.

Could the willingness to crown one who seems to have no first language have anything to do with the oft-lamented fact that we seem to be alone among nations in having made the word “intellectual” an insult? (And yet…and yet…we did elect Obama. Surely not despite his brains.)
[Read article.]

Friday, November 14, 2008

AIG's Sullivan: New Poster Boy for Excessive Pay

You thought AIG's expensive junkets for top sales and executive types at exclusive resorts were shocking. A mere few hundred thousand bucks is nothing compared to the salary of the CEO. Read this article and weep -- at what all those millions could be buying besides more Bentleys for the captain of AIG's sinking ship.
Meet the new poster boy for excessive CEO pay. He is ousted American International Group CEO Martin Sullivan.

Sullivan was kicked out of office this week after shareholders and investors complained that the insurance and financial giant posted two quarters of gigantic losses. According to figures from The Corporate Library, Sullivan’s payout package is worth $68 million, despite his less-than stellar performance.
[Read more.]

Starbucks' Spin Cycle Broken

When I heard Howard Schultz's upbeat forecast for his upscale coffee joints, I had a few doubts. In a sour economy, who wants to pay $4.00 for a cup of fancy (bitter, in my opinion) coffee? So here's an article from "The Corner Office," a blog that is "Taking on the big questions facing CEOs, boards, and shareholders." Steve Tobak, the author, makes sense in this article. Credibility is vital for any company. You can fool some of the people some of the cetera.
Why CEOs Shouldn't Put Positive Spin on Bad News

The media metaphors were flying after Starbucks’ latest quarterly announcement:

“Starbucks Cools Way Off”

“Starbucks Losing Its Buzz”

“Starbucks’ Bitter Results”

And yet, in the obligatory press release, CEO Howard Schultz put a positive spin on what was unequivocally a horrendous quarter. The big question, of course, is should he have done that or not? Let’s first take a look at his quotes from the release:

“With a re-architected cost structure at the close of fiscal 2008, we began the new fiscal year with a healthier store portfolio that will allow for operating margin expansion,” commented Howard Schultz, chairman, president and ceo. “Despite a global economic environment which shows no immediate signs of improvement, the steps we took in FY08 position us to deliver EPS growth in FY09.”

Schultz continued, “We appear to be more resilient than many other premium brands. And while we cannot call isolated signs of improving sales a trend, we are encouraged by our ability to drive increased traffic at a relatively low cost, as we did on Election Day. As we head into the holiday season and Calendar ‘09, consumers are looking for value and we’ve been pleased with the steady progress of our Starbucks Rewards program and the enthusiastic reception to the Starbucks Gold Card. I am optimistic we are well positioned to weather this challenging economic environment.”

While I applaud most of Schultz’s efforts, the last line of both paragraphs seems a bit over-the-top. I’m not sure any retail companies should be optimistic that they’re well positioned to weather this economic environment, let alone one that’s several quarters into an attempted turnaround.

In contrast, Fortune editor at large Patricia Sellers had this to say in her post “Starbucks’ Schultz needs to get real:”

“Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz needs less optimism and a stronger dose of reality in his brew.”

“The entrepreneurial optimism and clever marketing that Schultz used to create one of the world’s best brands now seems to be interfering with Starbucks’ turnaround.”

Investors didn’t seem to agree with Schultz’s optimism, driving down Starbucks’ already depressed shares another ten percent.

As a former marketing executive with more than his share of communications experience, I take a decidedly pragmatic view of positioning, messaging and spin. Of course, company and product positioning should be positive, but only if it meets these five criteria:

  • It must be true, omissions notwithstanding
  • It must be straightforward and crisp
  • It must be ethically unchallengeable
  • It must be credible, which means that big elephants in the room should be dealt with in a proactive manner or it won’t pass the laugh test
  • It can’t come back to haunt you later

Just to be clear, I don’t hold morals and ethics above business success. Rather, I consider them necessary for business success. In my experience, if positioning doesn’t meet these criteria, there is a high probability of it backfiring and actually harming the company’s brand.

Most executives have a relatively straightforward time with the first three criteria, but it’s the last two that trip them up.

In the case of Starbucks’ announcement, I think Schultz could have dealt more effectively with the elephant in the room – namely a prolonged and challenging turnaround during a brutal market climate. And because he didn’t, it might come back to haunt him later, depending on Starbucks’ performance in subsequent quarters. My tone would have been more on the neutral side, but that’s just me. What do you think?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Buy-ology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy

Do you feel religious about Coca-Cola? If you're one of 2,000 subjects whose brain activity was observed via MRI in a recent Martin Lindstrom study, it sure looks as though you do.

Turns out the brain lights up the same way in response to powerful brands as it does to religious icons. So does that mean we'll soon be seeing St. Luke's Aspirin? Or Pope Benedict's Pasteurized Imitation Cheese Food Product? Or packages shaped like the Virgin Mary? Probably not, since it's hard to imagine how these findings will be useful to advertisers.

But there are a few results that either confirm or refute industry knowledge:

• Product placement in TV programs or movies is ineffective, unless the product is an integral part of the story.

• Cigarette warning labels encourage smokers to smoke more.

• Subliminal advertising is still used. Use ear plugs when you visit department stores.

• Sex usually doesn't sell products. But controversy about sexy ads does.

Nice to know... How about an ad campaign featuring Pope Benedict in a thong?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Christians Mad as Hell over Humanist Ad Campaign

There is a growing number of atheists, agnostics and just plain ol' non-theists and people of non-Christian religions who do not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday.

So why not be good for goodness' sake? That's the point of the American Humanist Association's ad campaign, which will run via Washington, DC bus cards throughout December. The campaign plays on the words from the familiar song, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," which, unless Santa himself has become a religious symbol, can hardly offend any rational person. But you can count on Bill O'Reilly (aka Bill-O the Clown, for you Keith Olbermann fans) to take umbrage over the terrible "War on Christmas" throughout December.

Almost makes me want to tune in, just to see Bill-O's face turn red and green.

Inscrutable Korean Air

A few days ago, this new Korean Air ad debuted in Time. The headline says:

"From departure to arrival, the world is a step closer with Korean Air."

Huh? However, if you read the tiny body copy, you learn that Korean Air's "fast and convenient global network serves you anywhere around the world in style."

Okay. But what in the world is this fantastically stylish winged creature? The Little Mermaid of the airways? A San Francisco Gay Pride Parade queen? Beats me.

This ad relies heavily on the abhorrent "borrowed interest." Meaning it uses a gimmick unrelated to the product benefit to reel in the reader. I'll probably never fly Korean Air, but gee, I'd sure like to know where that lady got that swell ball gown.

Sarah Palin probably could have gotten one of those courtesy of the RNC. But now, of course, she'd have to give it back. If she could find it. You know, "the kids lose underwear," she said. I wonder, what is the RNC going to do with all those duds Wasilla's winking wench purchased at Saks and Nieman-Marcus on their American Express card? Wouldn't you love to see Dick Cheney in that little Korean Air number? As he's marched off to an international war crimes tribunal?

Earlier, I wrote about Korean Air's inscrutable TV spot. I finally found the video on YouTube. It doesn't work as advertising, and the video doesn't work at all on the Korean Air site. Duh. (Make you wonder about their planes?) Anyway, here it is:

From an August news release about the campaign: “The ads create a tantalizing undercurrent. They’re quite flirtatious and a real departure from anything we have ever done. They have a retail sense to them. Our new commercials definitely showcase the absolute beauty of our mantra, Excellence in Flight”...

The agency is LG Advertising, Seoul.