Merry Christmas from the King of Lies

“Captain Atheismo, give me your report on the War on Christmas.”

Yes, Your Eternal Nastiness. This Powerpoint shows highlights of this season’s initiatives:

  • The Yiddish Brigade successfully decoupled Hannukah from December, drawing an estimated 100,000,000 American Jews out of the festivities.
  • Our Moslem allies have so well established Sharia as the law of the land that Allah has become more popular than Jesus in 39 states and the District of Columbia by an average of 14.5 percentage points nationwide.
  • The Fox Shock Troops have instilled fear throughout all remaining true Christians. In a recent survey, 92% cited “fear of retribution by neighbors” as the primary reason for no longer openly celebrating or acknowledging their so-called faith.
Moslems at prayer in a mosque

Hundreds of millions of American former Christians flocked to mosques in December to affirm their conversions and protest the holiday season

Additional results are most gratifying:

  • Christmas music is not heard in any stores catering to the general public
  • Gift buying, Christmas card sales, and UPS deliveries are all down to Depression-era levels
  • Vast forests of Christmas trees remain uncut this year
  • Churches and homes have been successfully prevented from applying both interior and exterior decorations.

In sum, Your Holy Terrorship, Operation Kill Christmas has nearly entirely suppressed the holiday in 2013. Next year should be a simple mopping-up operation.

“Excellent report, Captain. You’ve done your work well. Eggnog?”

Pay for the Photography and Photoshop, Dammit

In an article on web marketing that I wrote recently for MaineBiz, webmaster Al Arthur advised that small business owners cough up the cash for professional web design — advice that I heartily support. But due to space constraints, the article had to leave out Al’s follow-on comment about the comparable importance of paying for decent photography. To that, I’d add professional photo editing, and design for print too. When things don’t look good…they don’t look good. And if customers don’t have a professional’s eye for design, they are at least subliminally influenced by quality when it appears, or doesn’t appear, in any graphic context associated with your company.

Two full-page, four-color ads in the current issue of the Camden Herald (and, I presume, its local sister publications) are good object lessons in how not to do it.

PETA ad shows bad Photoshop and a dead lobster masquerading as a live one.

We really shouldn’t come down too hard on the designer. She lives in Idaho and television ads for Red Lobster constitute her entire familiarity with the species.

This ad by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals purports to show a live lobster being cruelly rent asunder by an uncaring “slaughterhouse” worker. As any Mainer would immediately recognize, its bright red color signals that this is no live lobster. Or as Mr. Praline might say:

‘E’s not pinin’! ‘E’s passed on! This lobster is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-LOBSTER!!

So those two hands that are meant to be so roughly treating this poor crustacean are, in fact, only about to start enjoying supper.

Except: those two hungry hands never really touched said cooked lobster. It may not show very well in my photo (and I apologize for that: my scanner’s bed isn’t big enough to take the full page ad), but those hands have been obviously Photoshopped in with all the finesse that you’d expect from an organization that throws blood at people as a means of political discourse.

Walmart ad shows prescription bottles with bad info on labels

Opposite the PETA ad was this one from Walmart, which opened its new store in Thomaston a day or two ago.

The problem here is subtler. Look below at the labels on the prescription bottles.

What’s that? The fictitious prescription holder lives in Anytown, Arkansas. And her refill order expired in two thousand and frickin’ nine!

Now come on, Walmart! You’re one of the world’s biggest companies; you could fund PETA’s operations for a century on last quarter’s profit. You think that just maybe you could pay for 15 minutes worth of Photoshop to update the labels to make the customer a Maine resident of the current decade?

prescription bottle label shows inappropriate content

No way we’re gonna fill this prescription for you, Jane. We stopped selling fen-phen years ago.

Slightly off-topic, but back to the PETA ad: at the bottom, the call to action reads: “To learn how you can help stop this suffering, visit PETA.org.” Go to that (home) page, however, and you’ll find nothing about Linda Bean and her red, dead lobsters. Perhaps if you dug deeper into the website you might find something relevant, but an advertisement has to: a) make things as easy as possible on the audience, and b) include a meaningful call to action. There’s no indication of what the reader is actually supposed to do to help “stop this suffering.” Call Linda Bean? Sign a petition? Send money? Throw blood on someone? If the information is somewhere on the website, the URL should lead directly to it. A QR code wouldn’t hurt. But the ad shouldn’t require the reader to go to the website in the first place: it should tell me, right there on the page, what it wants me to do.

Indirect Messaging in Ads

Advertising is not the practice of the obvious. The best ads are often not the ones that address the subject directly. Indeed, an ad that spells out exactly what the seller wants you to buy can be among the worst. Back in the Soviet days, a huge Moscow billboard carried this (translated) message:

DRINK TEA

That was the whole text of the ad. It said exactly what the state-run tea importing and processing company had in mind, but it was hardly persuasive. Every Russian was already aware of the option — indeed, tea drinking was as essential element in Russian culture as it was in Victorian England — but they were drinking something else (water, vodka… I don’t know) and “drink tea” certainly wasn’t going to do much to make them change. Perhaps it just needed a little tweak: the addition of an incentive, like this one:

DRINK TEA

…OR WE’LL SHIP YOU TO THE GULAG

In contrast, this Geico ad takes an indirect approach.

Geico isn’t trying to sell you insurance — at least not here in this ad. No one buys insurance because an ad makes it sound appealing. You buy insurance when you find you need it: when you buy a new car, or when your current carrier raises your premiums and you decide to look for a better price.

Geico (or its ad agency) understands this, and they build their ads not to sell insurance, but to make you remember Geico in a positive light. They’ve created a whole campaign of ads that are  funny, well-produced, and based on startling (but not disturbing) visual images (e.g., a camel in an office). So that when you find you need insurance, Geico comes to mind: they’re the guys with the funny ads! Remember the camel in the office? Remember the gecko with glasses who looks like Warren Buffet? Of course you do. And there’s a damn good chance that they’re who you’ll call, rather than some more straightlaced company that preaches to you about protecting your family or your investment and whose name you don’t immediately recall.

The indirect sell isn’t right for all products in all advertising environments. If you’re pitching an engineering product in a trade journal ad, for example, you might need to appeal to the engineer’s specific application requirement: our bearings last 33% longer in agricultural applications; our marine pollution spill response service is available for immediate deployment worldwide. But for consumer products, making the consumer love you is often the way to their wallets.

Marketing Vehicles

I’ve seen a number of motor vehicles used for marketing purposes lately, each with a different approach and, IMO, a different level of effectiveness.

Image

The most “professional” of the three is this authentic antique Harley-Davidson police tricycle, dressed up as a Twisted Tea promotion in Shaws.

The vehicle is beautifully restored, and for people who are into vintage motorcycles, it’s an eye-catcher. However, I wonder if it’s a cost-effective marketing tool. To purchase the motorcycle, restore it, and give it a custom paint job must cost a bundle. Then there are additional display fees to the store. I have to assume that they don’t have a whole fleet of these, so all that investment appears in only one location at a time, and then you have to pay someone to load it onto a trailer and set it up at another store a few weeks later. For anyone who’s not interested in vintage motorcycles, it may not be terribly appealing. (Research into traffic accidents has indicated that car drivers who plow into motorcycles generally have no personal exposure to motorcycles, and therefore don’t “see” them.) There’s no apparent connection between motorcycles and beverages of any kind — although it might be possible to establish that connection through a broader promotional campaign (and for all I know, as a non-TV watcher, they might have a whole series of television ads doing just that).

So bottom line, the owner or marketing manager is probably a vintage motorcycle fan and thought this would be an awesome cool thing, but it’s probably not tremendously effective.

Image

This lovely display is in front of the public safety building at the intersection of Simonton Road and John Street in Camden. In case you’re reading on a small screen, the sandwich board says “Don’t Drink and Drive.” (A couple weeks ago, it had an anti texting-while-driving message.)

Again, it’s certainly eye-catching (and really ugly). Unlike the Twisted Tea promo, it probably cost nothing, and everyone who drives will probably absorb the visual part of the message. I really wonder, though, if this will really help drive the message home to people who do, or might, drink and drive. If I were in the habit, I think I’d scoff at it as nagging. But I suppose if the wrecked cars help turn on the light for just one drunk driver, it’s worthwhile.

duck sign on roof of car

Photo from Penobscot Bay Pilot. Click photo to link to original story.

Finally, there’s the Duck Derbymobile, promoting a fundraiser by the West Bay Rotary. This is the most modest of the three, and I think it’s probably the most effective, due to i) its mobility — it’s seen all over the place, ii) the fact that the sign’s image relates directly to the event it’s promoting, and iii) its silly unpretentiousness. Rubber ducks make people smile, and a grown man driving around with one on his car just adds a bit of humor to one’s drive. Will it persuade anyone to attend the event? No. But will it make people aware of the event? Yes indeed.

Why so Little Originality in Auto Badges?

Drive anywhere in the USA, and the preponderance of Toyotas and Fords on the road will have you thinking that almost all cars sport oval badges. But it’s not so! Some of them are round.

Actually, there is a bit more variety in badge shapes, but the great majority are, in fact, either oval or round. I suspect there may be some good design reason for that — I’m surely no designer — but to me, it seems like a lack of original thinking. Why do badges have to fit into a circle or an oval? Come on, automakers: break the mold.

Now, the badge isn’t necessarily the same as the brand’s logo. Sometimes it is, but often it’s a variant of the logo (like, say, the logo with a CIRCLE around it!). Anyway, here’s the result of my investigation, mostly conducted at the local Big Box Emporium of Cheap Plastic Crap (where, I defiantly acknowledge, I do a fair amount of my nonfood shopping). Images are in random order; all are mine, except the following, which I’ve borrowed from other sources: BMW, Audi, Cadillac, Lexus, Infiniti, Mini.

Toyota badge.

Toyota: two ovals in an oval. Dull.

VW badge

VW: as round as round can be.

Volvo badge

Volvo: mostly, it’s a circle, but the arrow at 2 o’clock gives it a certain..masculinity?

Suzuki badge.

Suzuki: the courage to have the initial letter, in a dramatic font, standing all by itself, with no border of any kind.

Subaru badge.

Subaru: The collection of stars is a pretty strange logo which really does need a border to contain them.

Nissan badge.

Nissan: The horizontal bar breaks the circle a little bit, making it just a little bit more interesting than a logo entirely contained by a circle.

Mitsubishi badge.

Mitsubishi: some of this conglomerate’s companies go by the name “Three Diamonds.” Doesn’t need no stinkin’ circle, does it?

Mini badge.

Mini: a circle with wings. Right. Circles have wings. Little boxy cars can fly.

Mercury badge.

Mercury: a boring round badge for a boring brand with no sharp edges.

Mercedes logo.

Mercedes: yeah, it’s round, but it’s different. The circle doesn’t encircle a symbol or logo: the circle is an integral part of the symbol. For this reason, we call it classy, not dull.

Mazda badge.

Mazda: the border isn’t quite round or oval: it’s kind of squashed. And it’s really a part of the design, as in Mercedes’s badge. So we’ll give it a B.

Lexus badge.

Lexus: an L (or is it a nose?) inside an oval. Boring.

KIA badge.

Kia: a name in an oval. Kind of dull. Could the  logotype stand by itself, with no border?

Jeep badge.

In comparison to KIA, Jeep’s all-typography badge seems to work fine without a border. And each letter is affixed separately.

Infiniti badge.

Infiniti: basically an oval. Who took the first piece of pie?

Hyundai badge.

Hyundai: an H in an oval. How do you say “boring” in Korean?

Honda badge.

Honda: another H in a border; this one a rounded, vague trapezoid. The border still makes me snooze.

GMC badge.

GMC: the big, masculine letters closely spaced have good design integrity, don’t need a border to hang together.

Ford badge.

Ford: the ultimate oval logo. Since it’s probably the oldest badge on the road, we’ll give it a pass. Heck, they might have invented the oval badge!

Dodge badge.

Dodge badge: the big bad ram (um, it’s really just a sheep) in a shield-shaped border. OK, it’s not round. And I like the pretty baaa-lamb.

Chrysler badge.

Chrysler: those are some big wings you put around that round badge there, Grandma.

Chevrolet badge.

Chevrolet: The logo is plenty intact and self-supporting, needs no border to set it off. It’s a cross, but it’s so different from the “usual” cross that probably few people associate it with Christianity.

Cadillac badge.

Cadillac: GM is always tweaking the Caddy badge. At its heart, it’s a heraldic shield. The current iteration, however, is flanked by a garland that damn near encircles it, and then the whole thing is placed on a circle, thereby making it solidly dull.

Buick badge.

Buick: I think those heraldic shields could stand on their own, without a round border. See also: Cadillac.

BMW badge.

BMW: the logo itself is round; there’s no round border encircling it. Works for me.

Audi badge.

Audi: it may be made of circles, but it’s definitely not a logo within a circle. Pretty much one of a kind.

My takeaway is the obvious one: Don’t let the design ideas of your competition steer your designs. Think outside the oval.

Pink is for Girls

I was browsing in the hardware department at WalMart yesterday and this brightly colored electric screwdriver kind of jumped out at me (not in a good way).

Pink electric screwdriver

Screwdriver for girls

OK, I get it. Girls like pink things, right? In spite of this great routine by Ellen…

…it appears that a lot of big companies have the numbers to back up this kind of marketing-driven design. It can’t be the first time that they’ve made a pink tool and found that it performed in the marketplace. The number-crunchers rule at these places, and if it didn’t work, they wouldn’t do it.

And isn’t that nice? A percentage of the $39.97 purchase price goes to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Plus, the package include 5 screwdriver bits!

But RIGHT ABOVE IT, there’s this product:

black and red electric screwdriver

Screwdriver for manly men

Apparently the same tool, except for the colors. Same voltage. Same warranty. Same price too: $39.97. But gee, the pink one donates money to charity. Might as well buy the makes-me-feel-feminine-and-virtuous one, right?

Hey, wait a minute. The boy’s version includes TEN screwdriver bits, not the measly five in the girl-driver package. So some of that money that Skil is donating to charity? Sorry, Sucker-ette — YOU’RE actually making that donation by giving 5 driver bits back to the Robert Bosch Tool Corporation, the owner of Skil, while they get a nice little marketing boost on your dime!

p.s., I’m with Ellen on this. I suspect that if I were a woman, I’d be insulted by this pandering to my supposed girly taste. On the other hand, if the color kept my husband from borrowing my electric screwdriver…

When the Media is the Marketing Message

Pilot marketing tools

Marketing handouts and promotional gimmes exhibit the Pilot’s visual branding, which relies on fashionable colors and bold design.

How does a news medium market itself? That’s the question The Penobscot Bay Pilot faced before it launched in September, becoming the Midcoast’s newest news source and advertising venue.

Almost any other type of company would send news releases to the local media, and run a few ads saying “We’re here!” In addition, those ads might promote a “Grand Opening Special!!!” (can’t forget the exclamation points!) to get people through the door and overcome the natural resistance among potential customers or clients to changing suppliers.

But that approach obviously wouldn’t work for the Pilot: sending news releases to the VillageSoup newspapers would be an explicit acknowledgment of their importance as a news medium in the region, and it’s questionable whether the Soup would run the news in any case. And it would be a bitter pill indeed to purchase ads from a direct competitor for local advertising dollars.

Instead, the Pilot based its launch strategy on a combination of distinctive branding, social media marketing, and personal contacts. Sales Directors Terri Mahoney and Janis Bunting say that they didn’t solicit advertising until the day the site went live. As soon as they had something to show potential advertisers, however, Mahoney and Bunting began an aggressive push, targeting 20 organizations with whom they had done business in their previous roles selling ads for Village NetMedia, the former owner of the VillageSoup brand. “Just getting out and meeting people face to face and showing them what we have available” has been one of the new company’s most productive marketing strategies, says Mahoney.

By offering free trials of the Pilot‘s Affiliate program to those former clients, they overcame initial resistance and had all 20 come on board. This leant the site credibility and in turn encouraged other advertisers. (Many of the original 20 organizations have been successfully transitioned into paid Affiliate status.)

Online marketing has taken off in several complementary, directions. Of course the Pilot maintains a Facebook page (current “likes,” about 3,600), and has a Facebook “Main Street” page for its advertisers “designed to make it fun, easy and rewarding to put your money where you live,” according to Mahoney.  They’re also active on Twitter, and their Pinterest account has followers who appreciate the separation of content into various pin boards for news, sports, recipes, etc. The most popular board is Contests, Giveaways and Free.

Perhaps the most strategic element of the Pilot‘s social media program is to make the site itself a social medium. Readers are invited to submit stories and upload their own photos. With the website’s tight integration of all common social media platforms, readers can then easily forward their own photos to friends and acquaintances and share them on their own Facebook walls. This goes beyond simple reader engagement and helps create emotional investment in the medium. Reader uploading took off in a big way during the recent winter storm that was named for a cartoon fish (Sorry, Weather Channel, but we’re not on board with you branding public weather events.), and it got another boost a day or two later during the National Toboggan Championships.

Photo uploads are further encouraged by the QR code on a giveaway tote bag, and by another, more unusual gimme: an “egrip.” These are little imprintable rubber pads that you stick on the back of your mobile phone to prevent it from sliding around on your car’s dashboard. The Pilot‘s version is imprinted with the message “See Something? Shoot it/Share it” with an upload address.

Branding, too, played an important role in the launch. Working closely with Adventure Advertising, the Pilot developed a striking visual identity that relies on large blocks of contrasting, contemporary fashion colors, lots of “white space” (which isn’t white), and unusual but not inconvenient organization of content. Business cards and rack cards were printed in non-standard sizes which, while distinctive, may involve some functionality tradeoffs (for example, the square business cards don’t fit in a wallet). But aggressive face-to-face efforts by Mahoney and Bunting have been successful in getting the 7″X7″ rack cards placed in many stores, restaurants, cafés and even libraries, even though they don’t fit in a typical literature-rack pocket.

Graphic-wrapped PenBayPilot car

The Pilot’s graphic-wrapped car is a can’t-miss-it moving billboard

Whether seen individually (each staff member has a different color business card) or together (as on a car wrap), the designs and colors are eye-catching and memorable. “Adventure Advertising was extremely helpful,” says Mahoney. “They were instrumental in a lot of our creative concepts and were a great organization to work with.” And the sales directors have some attractive, high-value goodies at their disposal, including color-coordinated travel mugs, tote bags, and a logo-inscribed yellow rubber “cause bracelet” that conceals a USB drive. (Disclaimer: this blogger received all of these goodies, and they are awesomely cool.)

The Pilot still faces better-established competitors, most notably, the VillageSoup newspapers and website, and their cousin publication The Free Press. But the Pilot‘s innovative marketing efforts and its proposition of free news for all readers look to be a combination for success for this new local medium.