Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Human Element

In the digital age, the fact that we are human has become a successful brand identity.

The Dow Chemical Company launched "The Human Element" campaign in 2006. Offered up by FCB (now DraftFCB), the campaign "showcases individual human profiles and circumstances to communicate the power of harnessing 'The Human Element' to foster solutions to human problems around the world." []

It's a nice corporate identity piece. Everyone likes the idea of supporting a company 'that really cares'. From a creative perspective, it's a wonderfully dramatic image that quickly links the idea of humanity (the human element) and science (all of Dow's chemicals they want to sell you).

But, take a step back. In a world where a growing number of people won't do something because they can't do it online and would have to talk to someone (yes, this happens all the time in the younger generation), the company just sold you, rather overtly, on the idea of human interaction. 'Hey, we're nice people, buy our stuff'. While they might not practice it any longer, people buy into the idea of old fashioned values and business practices.

And it's not just Dow that capitalizing on a human brand identity. While not all are as overt as Dow, the human element is a reoccurring theme. Take for example the instant classic UPS Whiteboard. The Martin Agency takes lead agency credit for the campaign, the same agency responsible for the 'what can brown do for you?' slogan. The spots sell UPS in a very human way. It's door to door salesman, face to face. They are talking to their audience as people, not just as profit, and it shows.

The next example is an effort from McKinney/Durham for Qwest. The ad was is listed as a "best spot" for November 2006 by AdWeek.

And the list goes on. Apple with 'Mac vs. PC'. Hewlett-Packard with 'The Computer is Personal Again'. Cisco with 'The Human Network". And I am sure there are more.

I don't know if its a pining for the old days, or people searching for a sunny option in an increasingly cloudy world, but whatever it is, being human is hip.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

America Runs on Terrorism

In America's futile effort to wipe out terrorism, we are searching for terrorism in every corner of the country. And apparently this search includes hidden symbols in advertising.

Recently, Dunkin' Donuts pulled one of their national Internet spots because of backlash over a scarf television chef Rachel Ray was wearing while promoting the Massachusetts-based coffee chain.

Apparently the scarf worn above is similar in design to the scarves worn by Muslim men called a kaffiyeh. This scarf, according to those offended by the ad, is often worn by those associated with terrorism. This particular scarf style was probably most notably brought to the world stage by Arafat, seen here:

I could go on a long rant about the public overreaction to the scarf (I mean, if you squint they kind of look similar...), but I will spare you in hopes that your own common sense has already informed you that this whole situation is ridiculous. Instead, let's look at the reaction from Dunkin' Donuts.

According to, Dunkin' pulled the "ad that began appearing online May 7...because 'the possibility of misperception detracted from its original intention to promote our iced coffee.'"

From a pure marketing mindset, this was the one and only correct option for Dunkin'. Pull they ad, chalk it up to an accident, reaffirm that it was not done intentionally, and let the issue fade into the ether. There was really no other option. Anything else would have tarnished the Dunkin' brand more than it already has been.

At the same time, I would love to see a major company take the risk and push back against the unfounded obsession both with terrorism and political correctness. While the idea that Dunkin' Donuts is a secret terrorist supporter or, even worse, a hidden cell of terror in America is a fairly interesting and perhaps not impossible conspiracy, it is safe to say that this proposition is most unlikely. Why a major U.S. brand would even attempt to show support for Islamic fundamentalism or terrorism is beyond me. And beyond anyone for that matter. They have nothing to gain.

With that, what do they have to apologize for? When is someone going to stand up for common sense? Dunkin' had every right to continue running the online ad. It's obvious that Dunkin' did not mean this ad to be a shout out to all of their terrorists friends, its supposed to sell coffee.

The sentiment that this whole situation is ridiculous seems to be shared by most, or at least by those I have talked to about it. All advertising is open to being misconstrued, so, if in this particular case, there is a large body of people within Dunkin's target audience that thinks the scarf issue has been blown out of proportion, why not cater to them? Why not leave the ad running and say that the common sense of Americans will overcome whatever misperceptions there are about the ad? Often, we are too quick to concede to the boisterous few while ignoring the silent majority.

Ultimately, the strategy of standing up for common sense is shaky at best. But, it would be fun to watch something like that to play out and common sense is an interesting brand quality.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Me fail English? That's unpossible.

While the Babyboomers are rekindling their summer of love spirit as they ease into retirement, Generation Ipod is getting it's first at bat of the real world. The outcome? They struck out swinging in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded.

The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans. Unfortunately that generation, myself included, has a huge cliche of a flaw: they are utterly unprepared for the real world, or at least the world our parent's generation is leaving to us. Mostly because we were never allowed to fail.

Everybody gets a trophy. First place, last place -- doesn't matter. Everybody is a winner, everybody gets to play and it doesn't really matter what happens as long as you have fun.

Go to a Little League game sometime and watch the parents wearing the specially made T-shirts with their kid's name and number on the back. Kids are kids, and adults are kids. Child worship has created a generation of parents who go through life fearing rejection.

Our kids can't fail, and they can't be exposed to disappointment. If our kids are disappointed, then we have failed as their keepers.

If they do fail, we'll just change the language of failure until it becomes success.

And oh, by the way, there's no such thing as a mistake. We now call that a good try.

We send them into the world with bellies full of self-esteem and nothing to back it up. Years of being conditioned to feel good about themselves with no accomplishments required eventually breeds a feeling of entitlement.

It's a culture of acceptance, and that's why it's an unpopular argument to suggest a guy with carbon-fiber legs shouldn't be allowed to compete in the Olympics. You don't win many points coming down against a legless runner. [read more][]

While that story is written in the context of sports, it's implications are universal. Business and recent culture have what appears to be a very explosive intersection looming in the near future.

Don't get me wrong. The members of the rising generation are not complete failures. They seem to be able to compensate what they lack in general work ethic/ life experience with being tech savvy. The intuitiveness this generation has in regards to the digital paradigm allows them to be the lead innovators of the digital age. Facebook, Google, Napster: all created basically by college students.

While I agree with author Tim Keown and his sentiments on a philosophical flaw on how this generation was raised, I do think most are quick to label the America's newest workforce as sub-par. Perhaps they are entitled and lazy, but the Internet throws a wrench into any judgment made about Gen Ipod-- perhaps their latest performance in the real world is not a "failure", but the origins of a major shift in American culture. And I think most would agree that American's cultural fabric is being rewoven. So why are we expecting that our thinking, our ideals, the way we do business, any every other aspect of our society are not going to change along with it? It seems we are judging a new generation on an antiquated scale.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Political Strategery

Amidst jaunting words from Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Hill-dawg grasping at every last straw there is, and a clear-cut division within the democratic party, John McCain is using one of the oldest tricks in the book to secure his spot in the oval office: poking fun at himself, and doing it quite well.

While the democrats have not had much time to sling mud at the republican hopeful, McCain does have some dirt on his face that will question his ability to take the rains come next January- mainly the fact that he is old enough to have known my great great grandmother. Other than being considered Bush Jr., the largest public criticism of the long-time politician is his age. America just withstood Cheney's dodgy heart and Bush almost went down from a pretzel, they are weary of another president being on their last leg. That and the generation gap creates quite a cultural division between McCain and the bulk of the voting public.

The issue of McCain's age exploded a week or so ago when Obama dropped the line that McCain had "lost his bearings" on an issue. Thought to be a dig on McCain's age in addition to a disagreement over policy, the McCain camp responded with a rather terse statement. It seemed that the election was beginning a downward spiral into a personal, bitter and, let's admit, entertaining campaign war.

At the time, it seemed surprising that McCain would jump so quickly and so emphatically over a short quip that was not a direct attack. Much like the issue of race, the more your make a big deal over it and talk about it, the more of an issue it becomes, when in reality it should be a non-issue. It seems a strategic mis-step for the McCain camp to really address the issue of age, rather than ignore it, claim it as being irrelevant, and letting the issue fade into the background.

McCain, wisely, took another route. He addressed the issue in a serious manner first and this past weekend appeared on Saturday Night Live to make fun of himself for being old:

McCain, I think, accomplished three important things through this appearance. First, by making fun of himself for being old he made the issue of him being old less important. People seem to be accepting of perceived negative qualities if the person admits to having those qualities. The line "but at least they know they are [insert negative adjective here]" is commonplace. McCain should embrace his age and make it his own unique quality. It's all about spinning the issues.

Second, the appearance is endearing and humbling. With the republican brand in trouble, McCain's character and image are extremely critical in terms of him garnering support from a deteriorating voter base. America likes a humble president. Part of Bush's appeal to the blue collar vote was that he was someone they would want to have over for dinner. This appearance connected McCain with the people, obviously.

Lastly, the people McCain connected with are the younger generation. Think about the issue of age and then think about the generation that watches Saturday Night Live. He not only made fun of his age, but did it to a younger audience that is probably most concerned about his age. McCain is winning strategically right now with the democrats still locked in the primary race.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Chocolate-coated, Freaky and Habit Forming

Well, it's about time I posted something on here that I like. This one comes from the merry land of England and was pointed out to me by Jen (spot on, Jen, spot on).

Short and simple, this is a great ad. First, the premise of commercial is hilarious. Who doesn't want to see a gorilla rocking out to Phil Collins. But going beyond that, the commercial does a great job of dragging you in. The first time you watch it, you want to keep watching it just to see what it is for. The fact that it is Cadbury may furrow a few brows, but the commercials fit the tagline a glass and a half of joy. They found a great, unexpected way to sell you on that line. Well played Cadbury.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Just look to the heavens, and then buy some beer.

Well, when you run out of things to exploit on Earth, I guess the next logical place to go is the moon.

We can't move there yet and create our very own Jetsonian society, but Rolling Rock is going to project its logo on the moon during the next full moon come March 21. Moonvertising, the way of the future.

Where to begin with this one. First, from what is flying around the internet, it's a hoax. No laser is strong enough to put an image on the moon, not to mention numerous other factors that makes this currently impossible. A nice PR stunt, either way. It has garnered a lot of attention and a lot of word of mouth just discussing the advertising before it is even happening. It's a nice tounge-in-cheek campaign.

It's a creative idea and guess someone had to do it sometime. If society is going to accept anyone defacing the moon, beer seems like a logical choice. I think its going to be fairly easy to get a bunch of drunks to stare at a logo on the moon. But why Rolling Rock? Sure, the moon is a large, rolling rock, but this style seems more consistent with the branding of RR's other green-bottled competitor- Heineken.

I love the idea of projecting things on the moon, but RR seemed to stop the creativity there. They are relying solely on the publicity of projecting on image on the moon to sell there product. Very much to their credit, the cross-platform thinking is there. The Web site allows visitors to see the videos on the background of the project, write their own messages on a virtual moon, and see a calendar listing of full moon parties for that night. Kudos, kids.

But other than name recognition, what is RR gaining? I could not even tell you their current tagline or, really, a solid brand positioning for RR. Given that, RR can only exploit the publicity of the event and not their own USP or branding. From what I can tell, RR already has brand recognition, but perhaps not the brand affinity that competitors have. This latest stunt will only help the former. There is no tie-in back to their brand. Yet, even with that potential set-back, the publicity of the event should still be enough to throw this latest stab-in-the-dark advertising attempt into the success column.

Given this, I am not as interested in this initial test run of advertising on the moon (which is undoubtedly cool), but more interested in seeing where moonvertising goes from here as a medium. There is creativity beyond just using the moon as a medium that has yet to be discovered.

One last thing. Moonvertising? That's what you went with. All the creativity that went into coming up with this project and you call it an obvious moonvertising? From a creative stand-point, bit of a let down there.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Every Second, Brain Cells Die.

This is by far the oddest, catchiest, funniest, worst/best PSA I have ever seen. It is supposed to teach people the early warning signs of stroke and how important it is to get help quick. Pretty noble a quest, indeed.

What we got was a cartoon that just makes the inner kid chuckle. Whether its the guys face drooping or the horrible rhyming, I can't help but laugh [funniest- check]. That laughter, however is shadowed a bit when you think about how creepily chipper the characters are and how upbeat the song is. [odd- check]

But the larger question is how did this get passed? I mean who signed off on this and thought, yeah this is the right way to teach people about the early warning signs of stroke. Cartoons? Upbeat about a serious issue? Elementary production? A fucking jingle? None of it, theoretically or strategically works. [worst- check]

Yet, what happens is they do such a horrible job at producing this commercial, it becomes funny enough that people pay attention to it. Read the comments under it on YouTube. People saying that they were looking for the commercial because they loved it so much. A friend ripped the song from the commercial to my iPod [catchiest- check]. It's hysterical, but I do know the warning signs of the stroke. Give it a week, you will too. [best- check]

Well. Enjoy...

does it droop when you ask him to smile???.....