Archive for the ‘Advertising’ Category

Service of Bragging

Monday, August 27th, 2012


Elizabeth Bernstein’s description of Facebook entries in “Are We All Braggarts Now?” and many of the updates I see remind me of December holiday letters. There’s news about the kids, all top of class at Harvard; an exhausting half million dollar remodeling project on a bungalow; brilliant new jobs; magical weeks in Paris and Hawaii and more.

spanishstepsIn Facebook, boasts are minute-to-minute: You and the gang at a four star restaurant, the view of the Spanish Steps in Rome from your hotel bedroom, the $1,000 bouquet of gratitude from a client or the name of your current [famous of course] significant other.

Friends tell me I’m a patsy for boasts. I take people literally. When someone says they are interviewing for a $300,000 job or they are pitching a multi-million $ account–and their agency is no bigger than mine–I believe them.

womaninermineA very successful PR woman I once knew collected fur coats. Her source: a prestigious NYC thrift shop. She had a magnificent ermine, fox and mink for starters and yet she never wore one when meeting clients.

Heavy handed braggarts are annoying. They make me squirm as much as a bad comedian. Their words fall flat on my ears but obviously impress others.

Bernstein wrote that this is how you should deal with a braggart: “‘Feel sorry for them, because they’re doing this impulsive, destructive thing that won’t help them in the long run,’ says Simine Vazire, a research psychologist and associate professor at Washington University in St. Louis. Research on self-enhancement shows that people who brag make a good first impression, but that it diminishes over time.”

That’s nice, but doesn’t this mean that the braggart gets the job and the client?

I refuse to promise what I can’t be sure to deliver, only that I will knock myself out trying. How many PR people are asked to get their client’s product or story in The New York Times, Vogue or on “Good Morning America?” How many of them say they’ve done this for countless other clients, forgetting to note that those clients had life-changing news, were major advertisers or that this happened 30 years ago. It’s safter and more accurate to suggest that to guarantee exposure in such venues, the client had best buy an ad.

I’m in a business where people are expected to brag and boast to their current and prospective clients about how they are the best in the world at what they do. I believe in third party endorsement. That’s what PR is based on. I’d rather my record and others tell the story than a bunch of blah blah on my part.

Are you good at bragging? What distinguishes a clumsy boast and brag from a legitimate sales pitch?


Service of Déjà Vu

Monday, June 25th, 2012


This post is about marketing.

I worry about the newspaper industry for more than the obvious reasons: Shrinking readership, slashed editorial budgets, the good reporters are melting away, little competition and negligible investigative reporting. I think many publishers are following a shortsighted, sure-to-fail marketing strategy that I’ve watched others try, one that has landed others facedown in the mud with a splat.

In Jennifer Saba’s article for Reuters: “Analysis: In scare for newspapers, digital ad growth stalls,” she wrote: “As more newspapers cut back on print to reduce costs and focus on their websites, a troubling trend has emerged: online advertising sales are stalling.”

adspacehereWhy?: “A flood of excess advertising space, the rise of electronic advertising exchanges that sell ads at cut-rate prices, and the weak U.S. economy are all contributing to the slowdown, publishing executives and observers say.”

The electronic advertising exchange concept alarms me the most. The rationale behind using them reminds me of the advent of the 800 numbers. Manufacturers bemoaned them for selling their goods at cut-rate prices. [I wondered: “How did your brand get there and did you have no control over this?”] There were severe discounting strategies and licensing frenzies. Some sold goods with their brands posted prominently at both big boxes and boutiques, the former versions of inferior quality. This demeaned their brands leading to the demise of many. In addition, why would anyone pay full freight for a product that was available at umpteen places for half price or less?

Back to the advertising exchanges, Saba explained that they: “…are electronic platforms that allow buyers to bid on and purchase advertising space at drastically reduced prices. Many websites — not just newspaper sites — rely on these exchanges to sell unclaimed advertising spots, known in industry parlance as excess inventory. The thinking is it’s better to get something than nothing at all.”

Saba continued, “But it also trains ad buyers to expect lower advertising prices. ‘It’s like a publisher trying to sell me an Armani suit for $3,000 but I can walk around the corner and buy it from Google for 90 percent less,’ said Shawn Riegsecker, chief executive of Centro, an agency that specializes in buying and selling digital ads, and counts many newspapers as its clients.”

wallpaperWith the strategy of cavernous discounts and helter skelter product placement, manufacturers lost sight of the value–and sizzle–of their lifeblood. Try to Google images for “wallpaper”  and you’ll not see a slice of the decorative kind–just the electronic variety. I cringe to see newspapers follow the same destructive path.

What can stop this spiral? What other product lines or industries have been destroyed by deep dish discounting and sloppy marketing?


Service of Pennies Wise

Monday, October 3rd, 2011


I’ve seen and heard so many instances of pennies wise pounds foolish lately. I’m a veteran bargain hunter and commend-even celebrate–prudent purchasing. I have never believed that more expensive automatically means better. I relish value for my money. But some go overboard to the detriment of themselves or others.

Now I See You, Now I Don’t

The New York Department of Motor Vehicles is considering the path of 14 other [misguided] states. In discussion: To remove passing an eye test as a license requirement. In New York today, if you don’t want to be tested in person you can send in a form signed by your eye doctor.

mr-magooUnder a new plan, applicants would check a box to confirm that they can see just fine. When questioned, the only defense department spokespeople had was that other states are doing it. So New York wants to have thousands of Mr. Magoo’s on the road too? Bad plan.

Up, Up and Away

An airline steward called The Frommer Travel Show the other week and warned cruise goers who need to fly to the embarkation city to arrive the day before. Air travel is iffy, becoming worse weekly, between weather and regulations and goodness knows what. The Frommers constantly share this advice with their radio show audience as well.

cruise-shipThe steward said, “To miss the ship for a once-in-a-lifetime cruise to save the cost of one night at a hotel is foolish.” By arriving early, you do save something-a ton of stress.

Not a Wrap

The more brand name stores hand me a folded carton and tissue paper for me to wrap a gift-or nothing at all– the more they confirm the sense of my discount store shopping sprees.

No Proof

I may sound sarcastic here but I can only imagine that publishers are saving on proofs when I can’t read a caption or copy in a magazine or newspaper spread because of a background that visually swallows up the words. Otherwise wouldn’t somebody–an assistant editor, an intern, the deli deliveryman waiting for his money at reception with a spread being reviewed by the receptionist–catch this?

Doesn’t Ad Up

My husband pointed to a full page ad in the Sunday New York Times Book Review section recently that left out a crucial piece of information: Who is this history book about?

There was a photo of a past American President on the cover, but the face wasn’t familiar to my husband who has read thousands of pages of American history and has a great memory! [I didn’t recognize him either.] The title included the word President–not which one. Maybe you can read who the cover boy is when holding the hardcover in your hand. You sure couldn’t find out on this page.

The ad had plenty of copy filling up the page–the usual praise from reviews and fellow authors such as “gripping” and “compulsive reading” to “harrowing and fascinating saga” and “crackling tale of suspense.” Maybe this major publisher’s marketing director was fired to save money. His/her assistant was tapped marketing director, saving thousands on salary and losing thousands more from such elementary mistakes.

What false savings have you noticed lately?


Service of Self Promotion

Monday, June 6th, 2011


Repercussions of outrageous self-promotion are largely harmless to others. People who do whatever it takes to enhance their visibility, even if they end up embarrassing themselves, usually achieve their goal: To make money.

I had countless arguments with people in the art community who thought that Mike Bouchet’s sausage rotting in water and its smell that made people queasy and worse was legit and his work meaningful. I considered “Celebrity Hot Tub for Kofi Annan,” to be more of a political stunt than an artistic achievement. But what do I know? It was on exhibit at MoMa PS 1 in 2005 and generated publicity in The New York Times and New York Post [for starters]. If the purpose of art is to create a reaction, Bouchet succeeded if you count throwing up. I know too many artists who deserve public recognition and get little if any so I may be sour grapes. 

There is no industry that’s exempt. I knew marketers of consumer products who thought that a celebrity publicist would help them sell their stuff because she consistently popped up in the news. Her headline-generating antics reached a crescendo when she ran over 16 people in the Hamptons in a fit of pique. Note: PR people are supposed to make headlines for their clients.

birth-certificateBetween the trumped up birther brouhaha and brief run for President, The Donald gave a shot of adrenalin to his TV ratings. This was just around the period he was negotiating his contract with NBC. I wish someone at the network had had the guts to say, “You’re fired.” But I don’t own stock in Comcast or NBC Universal so I won’t complain that they overpaid.

When Rudi Giuliani wants to increase his speaking rates because people have forgotten about him, he runs for President.

signpetitionA friend sent me an email on Friday: “I just signed a petition to the news directors of every major news network. Please join me and send a message that Americans want substantive news, not more coverage of Palin’s bogus bus tour.”

Don’t think the initiative made much of a dent. Since Saturday morning I’ve been hearing about Palin’s remarks at Paul Revere’s home in Boston where she described the famous midnight ride: “He who warned, uh, the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh, by ringing those bells, and um, makin’ sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be sure and we were going to be free, and we were going to be armed.”

Do you worry that by some freaky mistake or miscalculation [“nobody will vote for so-and-so, therefore, I won’t bother to vote this year”], the country might elect empty suited self-promoters to positions of power? Then even if it will be too late, the media, that has enjoyed playing with the clowns, might think twice about giving them air in future?


Service of Packaging III

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011


I’ve always used Tide laundry detergent and my mother did also. That is until recently. A large bottle of the stuff just doesn’t seem worth $26 to me especially when I can get something else the same size that cleans our clothes and smells just fine for $7 or $9.

It doesn’t matter how you dress up the bottle. Sarah Nassauer wrote in The Wall Street Journal about how marketers of products from Doritos to Downy–and Tide–are trying to pry open wallets by harking back to the 1970s for packaging design precisely because the brands are feeling competition from the less expensive private label offerings. I think that nostalgia and product loyalty go only so far when stringent budgets are concerned.

cupcakes1In New! Improved! (and Very Old) Nassauer wrote: “As a direct appeal to get moms to buy more Hostess snacks for their kids, the company earlier this year brought back some logos and animated characters from the ’70s and ’80s, such as Twinkie the Kid and King Ding Dong for a limited time. ‘Today’s moms are in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and ’70s packaging is what they remember,’ says Amy Clark, director of snack marketing for Hostess. Hostess hoped parents would ‘want to pass it down, share it with their own kids,’ she says.” [While nobody asked me, I say teach the children to make cupcakes.]

19thcenturypatternI adore vintage patterns from textiles designed in the 19th century such as those by William Morris. I wonder if designs over 50 years old translate to food and cleaning products when price is concerned. According to Nassauer, “The emotional play for shoppers doesn’t always work. Kraft Foods Inc. produced a retro look for the 2009 redesign of its Miracle Whip brand, incorporating elements of the brand’s original label from 1933. At the time, with a recession in full swing, there was a longing to ‘celebrate the past and push toward our future,’ says Carol-Jacqueline Nardi, director of design and innovations for Kraft.” I wonder if Kraft marketers were thinking clearly. While 85 year olds may have warm and fuzzy memories of a 78 year old package design, how many of them will eat a ton of Miracle Whip?

I fell for a $1 tin of Nivea cream [I didn’t need] at the checkout counter of my favorite discount cosmetics store. But what closed the sale: The price or the cute mini blue and white tin with the familiar Nivea name?

Packaging is an art. But I wonder about its impact on consumer choice as disposable income is increasingly diverted to cover necessities and as more and more money is owed to Messers C. [as in Con] Edison, C. [as in Central] Hudson [Gas and Electric], Mobile-Exxon and others? Do sufficient numbers of wallets have enough flexibility to fall for the charming, familiar or stunning package?


Service of Long Lasting Brands

Monday, April 11th, 2011


There are branding specialists galore who help people create and maintain brands, their own, a product’s, a company or corporation’s. Yes, people are considered brands today to be packaged like a good or decorative element.

I’m forever fascinated by the longevity of so many who made a mark that continues to achieve buzz and attention even though the venerated person is either no longer in the public eye and most frequently is long dead or out of the public eye well before the word brand was in fashion.

brigettebardotThe April 7 issue of FurnitureSeen that appeared in my emailbox last week featured a Hepburn Modular Sofa which, the copy noted, could have been inspired by either Katherine or Audrey–and Bardot, a “curvaceous seating collection” for which the Spanish designer Jamie Hayon had the French 1950s/1960s movie siren Brigitte Bardot in mind.

Estée Lauder died in April 2004 and yet she still makes headlines for her namesake company that now sells 28 brands. In The New York Times article, “What Would Estée Do?” Natasha Singer quotes longtime employee and global brand president Jane Hertsmark Hudis: “I think a lot of us ask ourselves, ‘What would Leonard do? I also ask myself: ‘What would Estée Lauder do? Am I upholding her values and her vision?'” Leonard A. Lauder is chairman emeritus and Estée’s oldest son.

The End Note of Culture & Leisure Magazine‘s issue No. 44 features a smiling Coco Chanel and a quote, “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” The issue of this smart, fashionable, visionary publication was devoted to southern debutantes and editor/founder Natalie Rushing chooses to remember Chanel.

doris-dayDoes anyone think often of Doris Day these days? Will Friedwald interviewd the top grossing actress of all time recently for The Wall Street Journal‘s Leisure & Arts section in “Sunny Day Keeps on Shining.” Friedwald spoke with Doris on the phone-she doesn’t like being called Ms. Day-who said that when she moved to Carmel, California 30 years ago “I put all my records and everything away. I didn’t think anybody cared if they heard me or not.” And yet she continues to get fan letters and is perplexed that “after so many years out of the spotlight, her recordings and films continue to be cherished by generation after generation.” Friedwald adds that Sony Music will release a retrospective box set later in the year.

What do you think makes a brand long lasting? Does it help if the inspiration is dipped in the rosy glow of selective memory and is no longer in the harsh eye of public scrutiny that seems to enjoy watching people fall? Did these stars of business, fashion and film represent a kind of quality we miss or try to achieve today? Do you consider yourself a brand?


Service of Heart Stopping Goofs

Thursday, March 24th, 2011


I worked at an agency where colleagues loved to give each other heart palpitations by teasing that the printed brochure, invitation or collateral that one had worked on so diligently had a typo in the third paragraph, a flopped photo bottom right or missing copy.

At times there really was a goof. A dog’s age ago a graphic artist designed a logo for a client’s promotion and a major trade magazine gave the launch a lot of space and used a quarter of a huge page to reproduce what the artist sent them. [It was so new that the agency didn’t have the art yet.] You couldn’t miss the logo and normally we’d have been elated. I can’t explain in technical terms what happened, but on the printed page, half the logo, with the program’s slogan, dropped out and made no sense.  I was mortified. The sinking feeling comes back as I write this. That never happened again because for ages [this was before digital], I showed subsequent graphic designers the case of the missing half logo and asked that they take the right preventative measures.

royal-mug2The recent heart-stopping royal mug mishap is only a recent prominent example. Can you imagine opening the carton fresh from China, rushing in to the boss with the first pieces sent express something at great expense to hand the sales staff to generate orders, when someone in the office tells you that featured next to Kate Middleton, the bride, is her future brother-in-law, Prince Harry? “Haw, haw,” you say, only to realize the royally humongous slip up of the missing Prince William.

The good news is that it’s only money. The bad news: Someone at the company has a big mouth. Otherwise, how would the news reach media worldwide, including The Telegraph [where I got the image]?

I mentioned the wrong mug/mug to a crack ad agency art director friend who told me of a mysterious mistake that cost $500,000 to reprint. It involved three aligned coupons. Somehow the copy on the back got switched so that only the middle coupon had the right info.

How to avoid such calamities that cost companies millions? Slow down. slowdown21Being careful takes time. If your copy editor or colleagues and assistants have all been fired, or if you didn’t have any to begin with, ask friends, relatives or neighbors to read or check the material before you click “send” or sign off on anything. When in doubt, check Google.

I wonder if some people are reluctant to bring others in on a project because they don’t want anyone to know what they are up to. Others fear that by asking for assistance they show weakness. Keeping projects close to the vest may make still others feel a sense of power. Any of these approaches are Petrie dishes for cultivating mistakes.

How do you avoid heart stopping goofs? Can you share any good ones?


Service of Miscommunication

Thursday, March 10th, 2011


We communicate through actions and words and yet I don’t think that some comprehend their impact or the impressions they make when they are misleading, inaccurate or unclear.

A beggar on the sidewalk with a sign on a cardboard box asking for money was puffing a cigarette. He may have picked a butt off the sidewalk or perhaps someone gave him the cigarette. When I give a gift to a friend or relative it comes with no strings, yet I thought: He might have money to buy food if he didn’t smoke. You can argue that $9 or whatever a pack of cigarettes costs won’t buy much, so what the heck, but still. Perception was doing the talking and my wallet stayed shut.

radiowavesThe Saturday before this year’s Oscars an international news source played the same radio segment at least twice: I heard that it sure was going to be cold at the Oscars because a very rare thing happened: It snowed in San Francisco. And here I thought that Hollywood was in LA. Would I cancel a picnic in New York City if I heard an unsavory Boston weather report? Wonder if the person who wrote and/or read this has a map.

There’s an ad on a morning radio show where the owner of the business, an articulate fellow with a pleasant voice, tells you why you should bring your car to his shop for checkups and repairs. I’ve heard it a few times. He gives his phone number-I don’t recognize the area code. But he doesn’t state what town he’s in. I can’t understand why the station’s ad staff doesn’t advise him and let him record his message again. I’ve never heard of his business so doubt it’s a chain.

gastankOn March 4, here was the breaking news report that popped in my email box from a major network: “Dow Tumbles Over 150 Points Amid Rising Oil a day after the markets posted its best one-day rise in three months in the wake of a robust report on jobless claims and falling oil prices.” Hmmm. So what’s going on? Are fuel prices rising or falling? I can tell you what I think is happening if my local gas stations are any proof. And how did that s get into the word market?

The New York Post and LA Times were two of zillions to report this news: “Charlie Sheen to pitch products on Twitter, sets Guinness world record.” In the first place, I can’t imagine recommending to a client that he/she have Charlie Sheen go near their product. But it shows you what I know. According to the LA Times, “Just a day after starting up a Twitter account Tuesday afternoon, Sheen had amassed more than 910,000 followers [sic] the micro-blogging site, landing his user account among the fastest-growing the website has ever had.” I think his followers enjoy watching train wrecks and are not necessarily the folks who will buy Naked Juice smoothie [one of the products he’s promoting with one of his mistresses].

What examples of miscommunication–inadvertent or deliberate–have you observed lately?


Service of Back to Basics

Thursday, February 24th, 2011


I increasingly sight or recognize old fashioned solutions and thought processes for a variety of reasons–not just nostalgia.

Feeling My Oats

quakeroatsWalking east on 51st Street the other night, I noticed hanging from brownstone doorknobs and fences small plastic bags featuring the Quaker Oats logo filled, I bet, with a sample. [Wasn’t my doorknob or fence so I decided not to inspect.] Who knows how long they’d been in evidence? The bags were still in place at 8 pm! Also remarkable.

The little bags reminded me of the ones with toothpaste, mouthwash and other samples waiting for me to discover, fairly consistently, on my apartment doorknob in days of yore. Like any surprise, they were fun to get.

These days, I sample candy, granola, newspaper, juice and soda that people hand me in and around Grand Central Station, especially in good weather.

Phone it In

oldphoneTravel guru Arthur Frommer interviewed the owner of an online discount hotel reservation website who said that if you call his company on the phone you will often get even better prices than the ones published on the site. Arthur seemed surprised that the most labor-intensive option provided the best price cut. I think it had more to do with the hotels discouraging deep dish discount promotions on a website than with any relationship to traditional service.

Call of the Wild

wyatt-earpFrank Rich wrote an op-ed piece about good old fashioned business flim-flammery in “At Last, Bernie Madoff Gives Back.” Rich’s targets were the big banks and high profile businesses that partnered with Bernie Madoff.  In this regard we are still in the Wild West where bandits ride and rule largely unchecked. Wonder who our Wyatt Earp will be?

Generosity: Always in Fashion

Some may remember Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass–a sound from the past. On CBS Sunday Morning I learned what Herb was up to of late. He doesn’t compose and perform but instead, shares his wealth. He’d read in the paper last summer that the 46 year old Harlem School of the Arts was about to close. His was the largest donation–$500,000–to take the organization off the critical list and the seed to attract additional funds to save it.

Hot Topic

inheritthewindSaturday morning, on Turner Classic Movies, we watched the 51 year old film “Inherit the Wind” starring Spencer Tracy. It’s about a 1925 trial involving strict Bible interpreters who object to a teacher who covered evolution in his class. Evolution continues to be a contentious topic in some parts of the country today as is religion, worldwide. The contradiction of something that is supposed to bring peace creating friction is centuries old and always a head-scratcher to me.

What basic solutions and/or golden oldie issues in this high-tech, top speed era strike you these days?


Service of Sheep Marketing

Monday, November 1st, 2010


Some marketers look to the tool du jour to answer all their marketing challenges and they scramble on board like sheep. Often, they think that the tool or trend is all they need, not something to be added to the symphony of ways they should promote a service or product. In their enthusiasm, common sense goes out the window.

Forget who you are writing for or that someone wants to learn something when they get to your website or read your article and potential clients won’t return, use or recommend your business. Other than satisfying the statisticians who keep track of hits to a site, you lose. It seems so obvious.

measuringMarketers who focus exclusively on quantifiable parameters to measure public relations and advertising efforts rather than on their products and the purpose of their marketing aren’t the only sheep around. Many of their customers are as well, but I maintain, not for long. Take special diets. There’s a cereal that advertised that you’d lose weight if you ate it two out of three meals a day. I think you’d lose weight because you’d rather eat nothing than cereal for breakfast and dinner for a week. Fashion and hairstyles make many look more goofy than great when people let image win over the reality of a mirror’s reflection.

Ben Elowitz wrote SEO is Dead, And The New King Is ‘SMO’  in a recent column in “Over the past five years, Web publishing has been so heavily dominated by search engine optimization (SEO) that, to many publishing executives, the right keywords have become far more important than their sites’ actual content or audience. But this movement toward SEO has been dangerous, as it’s moved publishers’ eye off their most important job of creating great content, and onto the false goals of keywords, hacks, paid links, and technical engineering that their audience doesn’t know or care about.”

seoWikipedia defines SEO as “the process of improving the volume or quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via ‘natural’ or un-paid (‘organic’ or ‘algorithmic’) search results…” So if you want someone to find your site in the first or second Google screen, and you manufacture bed pillows, consistently invoke those keywords and any others the pundits identify such as “sleep” or “back pain” in everything you write for the web and count all the visits….zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

So it’s not surprising that now, according to Elowitz, “The encouraging implication is that the audience values content, not keywords. And Facebook sides with the audience. And so it’s time to christen a new era of social-media optimization, or ‘SMO.’ The era of SMO liberates publishers from the exercise of tricks, hacks and keywords. Instead, the big opportunity is now once again creating and refining the most appealing content possible.”

Well that’s a relief.

I envision zillions of marketers slamming on the brakes to back up and launch off in this new/old direction when they shouldn’t have deserted it in the first place.

unemploymentAnd what about the folks who counseled them against focusing solely on the keyword/SEO approach? You’ll find them on the unemployment lines, is my bet, because they didn’t blindly follow the latest trend in a cowardly new world. They foolishly were concerned about quality and getting people to return to a site to reorder or become informed. Silly them.

Why do you think that business people suspend common sense and look for the magic pill to achieve their goals? Do you think that they hope that they can skip over the basics and win? [Baaaaa….what did I do with my Lotto ticket?]




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