Beyaz Weird As Possible

June 6th, 2011

Birth control ads are strange. Exhibit A: the Nuvaring ad (see HERE) where the gals take off their clothes and climb into a hot tub with their yellow bathing suits on. Each woman has a… each has a number… and… and one has a bathing cap… and then the hot tub spins like a ride at Disneyland… and then there’s a song that makes me hear Satan’s voice urging me to kill (Mommy!).

I don’t know what’s going on, other than understanding that I better use Nuvaring because remembering to take a pill every day is simply too much for me. At least I think that’s what is says.

So in a land of weird, one must rise extra high to be noticed – and I think Beyaz overshot by a mile. Check out the ad (see below or HERE):



The “it’s good to have choices” positioning is fine, but to put women in a shopping setting, where they can simply choose the men, educations, homes and discretionary incomes of their dreams off a shelf at any time – with as much thought and planning as picking a bottle of ketchup – is offensive. And what was the general idea here: that because women understand shopping the best, we can make birth control a section of a department store to help the message hit home?

Then there are the choices themselves. The home the female shopper chooses is a sweet little purple house, with a car out front that looks like it’s from the 50s. Is that where women belong, or when women were “best” – in the 50s? Have we already failed if we don’t want the picket fence?

And the stork: the only “selection” that tries to literally follow the woman once it is rejected (a stalking stork, if you will). All the women in this ad are still in their 20s: are young women supposed to have babies… or else? Note there are no “and” equations in this ad. It’s all about the “or,” as in grad school or a baby. None of the shoppers leave with more than one item.

or me, though, the most disappointing episode takes place over in the Significant Other section of the store. First of all, the store only carries men in inventory. Being homosexual is not a choice in this retail establishment. Then comes the best part: a woman standing in front of a man (under glass…), only to have another female come along with a smirk on her face and snatch the man off the shelf.

That’s nasty and cruel. And pits women against one another.

The site TresSugar.com does a great job breaking down the ad, scene by scene, object by object. Take a look if you get the chance.

Even in the fantasy world of flying snacks, sodas that never make you fat and perfect hair, I think this ad is over the top in its disdain for women.

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This is an encore presentation of a blog post originally published on Stephanie Fierman: Marketing Daily.

Mojo readers know that I follow two wise marketing/business cartoonists and like to share their work once in awhile. On my second blog, Marketing Observations Grown Daily, it’s David JonesAdland. Here, it’s Tom Fishburne’s Brand Camp.

Both offer observations that – in a very tiny space – say volumes about just how goofy this business can be. 

As you might expect, this is not the first time I’ve posted one of Tom’s cartoons about social media.  Enjoy!

Let’s talk about Audi and the choices it seems to have made regarding its newest advertising work.

Audi USA’s new campaign is based on the “Green Police,” a band of roving law enforcers who try to protect the environment.  “You picked the wrong day to mess with the ecosystem, plastic boy,” says a Green Police enforcer to a clueless grocery shopper in Audi’s Super Bowl ad. “A man has just been arrested… for possession of an incandescent light bulb,” says a reporter.  Here’s the ad:

There are even educational YouTube videos, like this one that tells you how many napkins to take per sandwich.

Hoo-HOO! Hilarious.


But if your brand had a history that was, you know, linked to the largest human massacre of all time, how funny would an ad have to be for you to go ahead anyway?


Audi’s problem is that there’s already one Green Police in history – a Nazi organization associated with the forced labor andphoto-original-green-police1.jpg extermination of millions of innocent people.  Audi is one of the companies that converted its factories to make automobiles and heavy artillery for the Nazis.  Both Audi and Volkswagen have been named in multiple lawsuits filed by Holocaust survivors and their families over the years.

So the social media campaign and the TV ad comes out… and some people are upset.  Others race to defend Audi’s advertising process, e.g. Audi did lots of research prior to launching the campaign, and it showed the ad to Jewish organizations and Holocaust survivors who were not offended.


These comments just reinforce Audi’s deafness.  Did Audi know in advance or not?  Which would be worse?  And as for the defense that the company showed the ad to some Jewish people… there were thousands of people of multiple faiths caught up in what happened during WWII, and there are human beings of all faiths who could be offended by such a reminder.  We are all citizens of the world – and we are all consumers with money to spend on new cars.  And if I’m not in the market for a car, I can assure you that I talk to someone on Facebook or Twitter or at work who is – someone who values my opinion.

This isn’t about religion, it’s about brand.  It’s about judgment.  It’s about customers.

What was the judgment that Audi made here? As PR flak Melanie Lockhart says on her blog, “Lockstep on PR, “Even if you don’t personally think so, from a PR strategy perspective, it doesn’t matter.  As soon as someone takes reasonable exception to anything an organization does (and especially if that someone has an audience), you’ve got a potential issue on your hands.  Can you reasonably predict that a campaign with resonances of the Holocaust will offend people? I think so.”

green-police-logo-design11.pngOthers on the Web haven’t been so charitable.

Audi volunteered for a big kick in the gut. Why – for a social media campaign? To spend $3 million on a single :30 Super Bowl ad insertion, when said ad drags so much negative baggage with it?  If I were CMO, I’d like to think that I never would have seen the concept in the first place, because my agency would have considered and rejected it. But if it had gotten to my desk and I’d reflexively typed “[Fill in the Blank] Nazis” into Google, it’d have been lights out.  No chance to debate whether or not an ad may or may not offend anyone.  Why take the chance? 

In this case, there simply isn’t enough funny in the world to balance the scale. It’s not as if there’s “another side” to the Holocaust.  This isn’t the same as being “offended” by a bunch of guys farting in a TV ad.  Even if you are one of these folks – in the words of Help A Reporter Out Founder Peter Shankman on Twitter, “Nothing good can EVER come from a PR campaign involving Nazis.”  

In a world where trust is a brand’s greatest asset, one’s very first filter has to be good taste.  Audi had no reason to take this kind of risk.  It makes cars that people love – one guy calls  his Audi TT “lovable and charismatic.” The company doesn’t have any controversial point to prove, and the brand doesn’t need shock value. Why take this road?

And in case you think I’m being overly sensitive, or perhaps that killing the campaign would have been tantamount to censorship, you may have a tin ear.  It’s not about us.  It’s about the audience and the message you want them to receive.

Be tough.  Put ideas to the test.  If one person can “reasonably predict” a problem, don’t hogtie the work and your reputation by asking for a punch in the face. There are plenty of great ideas out there that won’t generate over 100,000* negative mentions on Google.  Go find one.

* On February 14, 2010 a Google search on “Audi Nazis Super Bowl” yielded 107,000 results.

I am disheartened by GM’s new adverting campaign. And the fact that they even have one.

Oh, you say you didn’t know that GM was advertising again with your money? Exactly.

But putting aside the “taxpayer money” piece… what could the company possibly know yet that’s different from what it’s been saying (not doing, necessarily, but saying) for years? “We’re starting over, we hear you, we’re building ’em small, we’re going green, we’re gonna be competitive on a global scale.”

The company’s been bankrupt for 20 minutes. No one’s ever run or worked for or invested in a bankrupt GM. Why not take a breath and think about the very first words you want the American public to hear from you?

But instead the company moved forward with ads that were obviously made prior to the bankruptcy announcement. They already knew what they were supposed to say (see above rebirth, small, green, etc.), so they put some ads out there and paid Donny Deustch a bunch of money to go on Morning Joe and say great things… just as they might have done for any big new happening.

And there’s the rub. This advertising – who knows, maybe any advertising right now – IMHO says “business as usual” for this car company. With a tinge of humility (see hockey player land on his face), it’s all good feelings and autos and rah-rah.

In World War II, auto plants retooled to make planes, tanks and munitions. Michael Moore has said that “the only way to save GM is to kill GM” and that the U.S. must seize this moment in history to re-envision the corporation on nearly the same scale.

Whatever one thinks of Michael Moore, I believe we can all agree that radical change is in order. And maybe GM will shine once again in some new incarnation. I hope so. But by instantly and reflexively pushing out the standard flag-waving, sun-rising, children-playing advertising, GM has sent that first all-important signal to the marketplace: and it looks eerily like the old one.

Sprint launched two new ad campaigns this past week, and brought its old ads – featuring CEO Dan Hesse – to an end.

Thank goodness. Those look-how-thoughtful-I-am-in-black-and-white ads – with the single camera shots bobbing in front of Hesse as he walked along – were making me seasick.

Wireless Week thinks Sprint pulled Hesse because the company was worried folks might react badly to the CEO making $14.2 million in 2008.  Perhaps it is a bit of a curiosity, given that Sprint continues to receive dismal customer service ratings and its revenues are falling… but I digress.

So – the new work. The new work is beautiful to watch. The production values are excellent. The problem is that it doesn’t sell Sprint all that well.

The first ad in the “The Now Network” campaign, “What’s Happening Now,” successfully illustrates how much data traffic is running right now. Right this second! This minute! So much is happening! A voice-over drills through statistics, read over crisp animations: “1 million e-mails are en route. 7% of them contain the words ‘miracle banana diet.” “2 million people are sending a text message during a business meeting. Most popular subject? Diapers.” 6 million people are researching restaurants in taxis and 29 of them just left their phone in that same cab.”

A lot of digerati are getting a particular kick out of the references to Twitter: “233,000 people just Twittered on Twitter. 26% of you viewing this have no idea what that means.” Tee-hee (or is that Twee-hee?)!

The ad rolls along at a crazy pace, and you’re working your brain just to keep up with all the fun facts. Whooo, I am truly amazed!

So amazed, in fact, that the brand behind the ad is almost beside the point. Even when the commercial gets down to business at the end, it waits far too long to show the Sprint name and logo. And 3G or 4G, Tier 1 huh? It’s all almost an afterthought.  Take a look for yourself HERE:

This beautiful ad will generate buzz on the Web because of all the fun cocktail party (ad:tech?) stats. That will help, but I wish Sprint’s agency, Goodby Silverstein, would adjust the ad itself to make sure that the brand message gets through. The second ad in the campaign, “Anthem,” displays the same beauty and cleverness… and suffers from the same ailment, as does the enticing website that accompanies the campaign.

The second effort, “Why Throw Your Money Away?” addresses the brand benefits in a creative manner that feels fresh, but the value message is well-worn. One of the spots, “Leafblower,” shows a father blowing lots of money away with a leaf blower while his family tries to grab it all back; viewers are informed that they can save $360 a year over comparable AT&T and Verizon plans.

At least the brand is front and center.

A few minor adjustments could potentially move both the television ads and the website(s) a whole lot closer to what every client (and consumer) hopes for:  work that makes an impression on its own creative merits while it forges a meaningful connection to the brand.

Readers know that I’m partial to a couple cartoonists and I like to share their work now and then.  On Stephanie Fierman – Marketing Observations Grown Daily, it’s David Jones‘ Adland.  Here, it’s Tom Fishburne’s Brand Camp.

On his blog, Tom points out that last year’s “green briefs” have been replaced with “value briefs.”  Or how about… bailout briefs? Obama briefs?  Enjoy!

recession-washing.jpg

A recession landmine is like a real landmine. It’s going to kill or maim whomever steps on it. The guilty, the innocent, the oblivious… it doesn’t matter. A landmine does not discriminate. You just explode.

And so it was with a recent Pepsi ad for G2 (low-calorie Gatorade).

When you watch the ad, you can see what Pepsi was trying to do almost immediately, then BLAM: it hits some wrong notes that have got people accusing the company of insensitivity and worse.  This means Pepsi now have something in common with AIG, but more on later.

The shots move back and forth between NBA player Kevin Garnett and a normal, suburban-looking guy – also named Kevin – who loves to swim. The voiceover also switches back and forth between the two men, and herein lies the problem. In trying to write a Nike-reminiscent “athletic striving” ad, statements that are meant to be inspiring appear instead to mock and insult people who have lost their jobs or are otherwise suffering due to the economic crisis. See for yourself (if you cannot already see the ad on your screen, click HERE).

When I first heard about this controversy, I’ll admit it: I really, really wanted to support Pepsi.  Pepsi’s a great brand.  But this spot was not well-considered in light of current circumstances.

Its lines are being called “arrogant and insensitive” and a “cruel” “slap in the face“:

Garnett: “I’ve never been handed a pink slip…” “I’ve never had to tell me wife ‘We can’t pay the mortgage.’” (Kevin “The Big Ticket” Garnett has a $24.75 million contract with the NBA)

Normal Kevin: “I’ve never had to fill the holes in my sneakers with cardboard.”

Garnett: “I’ve never used the backstroke as a ‘coping mechanism.’

And with these statements, my professional armor fell away and I became a father who can’t pay for food, a mother who cannot afford health insurance, a student who has to drop out of school. The sneaker comment IMHO hit a particularly dissonant note.  Suburban Kevin pushes us swiftly down the road, past unemployment, with homelessness straight ahead.

How did this happen? The financial services companies got into trouble for how they handled their (financial services) business. They made endemic mistakes, in their own backyards. This energy drink runs right into a buzz saw for no reason at all.

And so let us come back to how Pepsi now shares something with AIG. Both companies failed to grasp how people are feeling today… how “business as usual” no longer applies. 1.3 million children in the United States are homeless at some time every year – and that was before the recession started. One could assume that some of these children must use cardboard to fill the holes in their shoes.

If you think I’m being overly dramatic, please don’t.  A seemingly-benign or joking comment, on the job or at a cocktail party, can drop you on your own personal landmine, damaging your own personal brand.  Do not underestimate millions of people in pain.

Personally, I am counseling clients today to look hard at their messaging right now. If you are running ads, for example, make sure they are seen and tested with a much broader swath of consumers and experts – people who may not be in your target audience – because it’s not just about saleability anymore. Put campaigns through the mill. Have linguists and child advocates and food bank directors mull every word, every off- and online image.

Is all this fair? Fairness is not at play; raw nerve endings are. We are all in the business of selling, of course, but at what risk at this very moment? The news and current events are swinging wildly from one day to the next: are you comfortable deciding what positioning won’t spark an undesirable (albeit inadvertent) reaction? Think long-term. If you’re not 100% secure in next week’s flight, cancel it.  Because getting this wrong could negatively affect your brand’s reputation for years, if not a lifetime.


A version of this post is available at www.ReputationGarage.com.

I’m feeling a bit huffy about Advertising Age these days.

First it was the story on ad agencies that have their own bars and – woo-hoo! – staffers who drink on the job. Now, I know that this is all just good bonding fun: 99.99% of folks aren’t getting drunk on the job. I just thought the piece was a little insensitive (and not too reader-friendly) given that the rest of the issue was focused on layoffs, ad cutbacks and clients bleeding to death.stephanie-fierman-adage-cover1.jpg

Now comes what I would call the “Call Me Irresponsible” issue (August 4, 2008).

1. A sidebar about the TV show Mad Men discusses the big sales of Frank O’Hara poetry after Don Draper reads O’Hara‘s poetry on the show. The article’s title: “TV Can Boost Book Sales, Too.” Didn’t Oprah prove that… years ago? And, like, over and over? Hmmm.

2. On a Law & Order episode I saw last weekend, a witness testifies that violent television programming makes juvenile delinquents delinquent. Sam Waterston then proceeds to eat said witness for lunch by quizzing the guy about the difference between “cause” and “correlation.” Now comes the inadvertently humorous, self-involved AdAge article, “Ad Cutbacks Backfired For Bankruptcy Victims.” [Even though your product is lousy, and you expanded too fast, and your customer base dried up… you’d have been fine if you’d only kept advertising!]  The article does admit that perhaps there are other factors that make companies go belly up, but when push comes to shove…  See Wikipedia on this topic.  

3. Finally, an article titled “How The Economy Is – And Isn’t – Affecting Our Lives” tries to take a sort of tongue-in-cheek view on how the recession is changing consumer behavior. We’re buying (cheap) coffee at McDonald’s instead of Starbucks. We’re “ordering from the dollar menu” instead of choosing Big Macs.” We’re “knitting ponchos” instead of “buying back-to-school clothes.” OK.  Not brilliant, not offering me any insights for my subscription dollar, but fine. Then I got to a claim regarding our reading habits: We are “reading Stephanie Meyer,” but not “reading Maureen Dowd.” The writer’s evidence for the latter is The New York Times’ declining profitability. 

Oh… Trying.  To.  Move.  On.  Can’t…  Drat.

(a) Nearly every newspaper is losing money at this point because offline readership is declining, (b) Maureen Dowd has written two books that have done pretty well, and (c) Dowd’s columns are quite popular online where – unlike the paper – they can be read for free. So what the heck does the Times‘ profitability, in this particular case, have to do with Maureen Dowd? Nothing.  The article does, however, include a picture of Maureen Dowd, so maybe they just thought that that would attract attention. And while I’m on a roll, the author’s supporting evidence for the idea that we’re knitting ponchos is Martha Stewart Living’s increase in 2Q08 sales while consumers are cutting back on back-to-school clothes.  Help me.

If AdAge was known and purchased for its satire, this wouldn’t annoy me. And you may conclude that I’m making a big hoo-ha over nothing.  But you know what? I really look forward to getting something out of AdAge every week.  I give Crain Communications my time and my money, and this stuff isn’t worth either.  It’s just dumb.  A revered trade journal owes its readers more.

I look forward to and enjoy Rob Walker’s Consumed column in every Sunday’s The New York Times Magazine.  Recent topics have included Pirate’s Booty, Safeway‘s push into store-brand organics and the magic of the Flip video recorder. 

I have found the columns to be interesting, insightful and well-considered.buying-in-cover-stephanie-fierman.jpg

So I am bewildered by Mr. Walker’s new acclaimed book.  In Buying In, Walker pulls back the proverbial curtain to reveal that there is a “secret dialogue between what we buy and who we are” because, although consumers will almost always claim they make purchases based on rational factors such as price, convenience and quality (here comes the secret), it’s not true.

He refers to a Roper Study in which only one fifth of responders claim that branding is a factor in what they buy, and then he debunks it.  He says that there is a “knee-jerk bias against logos” and uses the word “concede” to describe the emotion we would all presumably feel if we had to admit that brands, images, logos and symbols matter.  The Washington Post’s review of the book says “Walker… makes a startling claim: Far from being immune to advertising, as many people think, American consumers are increasingly active participants in the marketing process.”

And in another Buying In review, Po Bronson offers that
Walker “obliterates our old paradigm of companies (the bad guys) corrupting our children (the innocents) via commercials. In this new world, media-literate young people freely and willingly co-opt the brands, with most companies being clueless bystanders desperate to keep up.”

Who said that consumers were immune to advertising, and what kind of huge revelation is it that brands and marketing matter?  Where is the explanation that you can make research say just about anything (take my word for it)?  Why the implication that consumers who pay attention to advertising are fools and suckers, and that advertisers are “desperate?”gucci-ad-stephanie-fierman.jpg

In my experience, consumers readily admit that brands can represent something that transcends the actual products their companies manufacture.  Nike (with the swoosh), Apple, American Apparel… Pick your favorite indulgence. Would Walker say that I had been duped into wanting $250 Gucci sunglasses because of how they make me feelWould he believe that the only way to buy sunglasses is to compare the polycarbonates and chemical coatings and that, if I’d only done so, I would have surely purchased $5 street sunglasses instead?  And on top of all this, I lose $250 pairs of sunglasses in taxis just like I lose $5 ones.  This last piece of irrationality would probably give Walker a fit, but OH! the Guccis are so much more fun.  So, non-news flash: I’m not an idiot.  People love brands.  We assign a meaning and importance to them with which most of us are comfortable, and certainly not ashamed as Mr. Walker envisions.

And with serious respect for Mr. Bronson, I suspect that companies/brands such as Sony, Mentos, Comcast (with a sleeping technician plastered all over the web, and Bob Garfield “seeking ideas for the consumer jihad”) and AOL (with the multiple videos riffing on Vinny Ferrari’s experience) would think it old news that consumers are dissecting, adopting and co-opting brands any way they like.


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Much of the consumer world is based on desire – on pleasure.  There is no disgrace here (overspending aside):  many if not most consumer franchises are built on brand, not feature differentiation, and everyone I know knows it.  Walker seems to be a smart guy, so I fail to grasp his argument or the value that is created by 300+ pages of him holding his nose around “frivolous” marketing and “phony image making” (AKA marketing).  If he was going to invest what was probably years in researching and writing a book, it would have been great if his thesis added to the conversation about the relationship between brand and consumer, rather than detracting from it.

If you enjoyed this post, check out my daily blog Stephanie Fierman – Marketing Observations Grown Daily.

welchs-lickable-stephanie-fierman.jpgMagazine inserts have long been a fact of life.  The “interactive” ones most familiar to women typically deliver a scent (marketing perfume) or a tiny sample of lipstick, blush, foundation or cleanser.  Boooring.

Now we’re in a whole new world!

For me, the insert became noticeable again with Welch’s grape juice LICKABLE insert.  Have you seen this thing?  It’s crazy!  And clever.  I sat on my own couch and licked a magazine.  And it wasn’t even a picture of George Clooney this time!  Oops, sorry… How’d such an ingenious ad happen? It was sparked by a new CMO, of course.  With sales down, the team looked hard at everything from Welch’s age-old positioning focused on moms to its CPG-typical media mix of heavy TV and Sunday coupons. 

kid-licking-welchs-ad-stephanie-fierman.jpgSidebar: When looking for innovation, sometimes the biggest obstacle can be your own history.  I’ve been the “change agent” in many situations, and it can be very hard to motivate and inspire tenured employees.  Many sometimes feel that you’re disregarding a brand’s history: that you don’t appreciate that that history is precisely what’s gotten you your new job, etc.  It can be tough going.  One of the things I’ve noticed in the Welch’s case is that its new CMO was in fact a VP promoted into the job.  Let’s assume that he’d been there for awhile and that his promotion indicates that he is well liked and respected for his work.  This doesn’t guarantee success, but being on the “inside” can make a significant difference when delivering a message of change.  Fellow employees know for themselves that you truly understand and respect the brand’s history, challenges and realities.  This helped pave the way for this guy, Chris Heye, to succeed with a “nothing is sacred” approach to an decades-old brand and (with a little help from Britney) win big.  Major kudos to him. 

To kick it all off, Chris challenged his team to create an ad that would stop people in their tracks.  JWT subsequently First Flavor, a company that created the first lickable ad using “Peel ‘n Taste” taste strips that dissolve in the mouth like a breath strip, and turned to print to reach Gen X.  People Magazine – with its huge circulation and experience handling odd materials – was the big choice.  The luck came with the Britney Spears cover that happened to grace the issue in which the ad first ran. 

Then viral success whipped the attention even higher with a flurry of news coverage from the Wall Street Journal, GMA, NPR and more.  Based on the brand’s own research, nearly 16 million consumers say they heard the Welch’s name in the month after the ad ran.  The company says those are big big numbers for them.

The most recent new innovation in inserts – also tipped into People – is the one for the upcoming movie, Mamma Mia!.  “Singing” greeting cards and inserts aren’t new, but this one let’s YOU record your voice, too (and suggests you try singing the Mamma Mia! song yourself.  Pass.).

This intriguing technology comes from Americhip, which claims to create “the most vibrant, spectacular, interactive Multisensory solutions experienced anywhere.”  Judging from my first experience with them, and their impressive website and client roster, they may just do that.  

So what do both these mini case studies have in common?  The answer is an ability to recognize and leverage the old – the true essence of the brand, what makes it special – but deliver it for new audiences in new ways.  Welch’s grape juice tastes great.  The calling card for Meryl Streep’s new movie is unquestionably the great ABBA song by the same name.  Neither team made the mistake of straying from these positives: they just refreshed the delivery.    Both are great examples of good judgment matched with a healthy restlessness to stay current and breakthrough in an exceedingly cluttered world.