Showing posts with label Microsoft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Microsoft. Show all posts

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Good, the Ad and the Ugly

"There are a lot of great technicians in advertising. And unfortunately they talk the best game. They know all the rules ... but there's one little rub. They forget that advertising is persuasion, and persuasion is not a science, but an art. Advertising is the art of persuasion."
Bill Bernbach

It used to be that a good advertisement made you laugh, smile or cry but a great ad was one that you had to watch at least five times before you got the deeper message. Not because it was too complex to understand but because it had layers and subtleties that you would not fully appreciate in your first or second viewing. It was a story whose finer points slowly unfolded with each new viewing; that is what we in the industry used to call a great advertisement. Hard to believe today, but those ads were ones people wanted to watch over and over again. It was these subtleties that made the brand in them memorable, relatable and formed an emotional bond with consumers long after the ad itself had stopped running. There was one other trait in those ads that set them apart from the dribble we are subjected to today. Advertising used to be based on strategic gut and creative instinct, with a little bit of research done to gain insight into the needs and motivations of your customers. The advertisements themselves were never subjected to research, or focus grouped to death with prospective customers. Those ads were based on ideas; today’s advertising is built on research and rarely has a discernible idea behind it. I loathe research not because you are unable to learn or because I believe that admen know better than anyone else but because of the way it is conducted. Rather than use research to better understand consumer behaviour, attitudes and beliefs, it is used to show customers five different ideas and ask which one they like most; all that achieves is the worst possible middle ground and lowest common denominator. If people always knew what they wanted and could articulate it, the world would be a very dull, unimaginative and limited place with few inventions or breakthroughs ever taking place. And besides you can never make everyone happy. The truth is that the industry uses research as a means to cover their backsides. By asking the consumer, they absolve themselves of any responsibility for failure. There is a reason the phrase is “risk and reward” and not “safety and reward.” I close this argument with one fact that may startle people. Apple, the most admired and coveted brand on the planet, now also the biggest company (bigger than Google and Microsoft combined), has a policy to never do consumer research or testing when developing new products and services. I rest my case about research.

The US SuperBowl is watched as much for the advertisements as for the American football played. Some even argue that the ads are more popular than the game itself; which could be true depending on the teams that end up competing. This yearly television event is the most watched TV show in America, and also the most expensive to buy an ad on. A TV spot can cost from $3.5 million to $4 million for 30 seconds, depending on the placement. It is for this reason that companies use the SuperBowl as a platform to introduce new products, make big brand announcements, launch a company or simply try to gain bragging rights to having aired a SuperBowl spot. Today, one could argue that the effect of a SuperBowl spot is much greater thanks to the internet. We not only have real-time conversation through social media and live blogging during the game but also an extended post-game analysis on the Monday morning that can continue for days and weeks after the last whistle has been blown. So a good advertisement has the potential to quickly become a global phenomenon through YouTube and other places but the stakes are equally high for the misses. Given this, one would think that companies would at least make the effort to put their best foot and creative minds forward every year. Yet, the opposite seems to be true, and it feels to me like it has been getting worse every year. Let’s review five ads I picked at random from this year’s crop for SuperBowl XLVI, and you be the judge.

First I would like to offer what I believe was a great ad (and long running campaign); one that has all the ingredients of advertising that I talked about up-front.

1987, Volkswagen Golf with Paula Hamilton (DDB)

“If only everything in life was as reliable, as a Volkswagen.” This ad is truly brilliant not because of special effects or a celebrity endorsement but purely because of its simplicity and its insight that ties Volkswagen, in a relevant and meaningful way to a core human need; one that cuts across borders and boundaries. I guarantee this ad was never researched prior to making it.

Now I offer five of the worst advertisements, of Super Bowl 2012, in no particular order:

1.    Century21 Real Estate LLC

This was Century 21’s first foray into the SuperBowl, and sadly for them I would have used them to buy or sell my house before I saw their ad. First rule of advertising, never feature Donald Trump in your ad. Second rule of advertising, just throwing in a reality TV star and celebrity athletes does not mean you don’t need an idea. If they wanted to differentiate themselves as “Smarter. Bolder and Faster” then they needed to do it in a way that re-assured a prospective client of those traits, in a relevant way. Would you have faith in real estate agent who claims to be smarter than the Donald, or spends time racing Apolo Ohno and showing up Deion Sanders rather than focusing on research and your needs? I like the intention behind it but the execution leaves much to be desired…

2.    Samsung Mobile USA – Thing Called Love

I am all for big grand shows but have to admit that in this instance that I have no clue about what the “The next big thing” from Samsung is from this advertisement. It is clear they are taking on Apple’s iPhone and iPad but with what is the question. Perhaps, it is the stylus pen because we have not seen this magnitude of innovation since 1996, when the Palm Pilot launched! Or maybe it is the me too front and back video on their mobile phone? Either way, if you want to promise consumers something BIG, then have something memorable or ground-breaking to show them, or you will look like a mindless ad filled with wannabe rockers, circus rejects and random gospel choirs that leave your audience scratching their head all the way to the nearest Apple store.

3.    Pepsi – King’s Court

There were only two thoughts that went through my head when I watched this commercial. First, I felt bad that Elton John had clearly fallen on such hard times that he needed to do this Pepsi ad. Second, that if this was the opening gambit of Pepsi’s resolve to take back huge losses in market share in America – then they should just quit while they are ahead and focus on their food business.

4.    Best Buy – Phone Innovators


There is an old Japanese philosophy called “Keiretsu” relating to the company you keep, and something we often used in advertising in the spirit of first among equals, that is the company you keep rubs off on you. Idea being to always strive for partnerships and associations that help you lift your brand value and product excellence. That is perhaps all Best Buy got right in this ad by trying to associate itself with these entrepreneurs, and inventors. They forgot the second and most important part, which is to demonstrate to us how they (Best Buy) fit into this group or belong in this league of innovation – just selling more products from more companies is more than a stretch, to qualify to be first among these equals…

5.    Budweiser – Return of the King

There was a time when the Budweiser advertising stood out and was memorable, and some of the early Clydesdale ads gave people goose bumps. This ad lacks an idea, context and memorability. There is nothing tying Budweiser or the Clydesdale’s to the message or situation – the end of Prohibition; that does not hold true for any alcoholic beverage. Nor are they offering a metaphor for today. In fact, it feels like Budweiser is now owned by a foreign company who is desperately trying to feel American, and demonstrate that the brand and beer remain a part of the heart soul and fabric of America. Oh wait, maybe that is because Budweiser is now owned by a Belgian company!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Internet Privacy and Prying Eyes

“Privacy is not something that I’m merely entitled to, it’s an absolute prerequisite.”
Marlon Brando

You are a 39 year old man who likes to play baseball, drink premium beer and go on long bike rides. You are married with two kids, work in the financial services field, own your own home, make roughly $150,000 a year. You have a college degree, and you struggle with mild depression. Have we met? No, and we probably never will, but I can find out everything about you simply because you like to surf the internet. Based on the keywords we use in search engines, our news sites, shopping habits and even simple things like restaurant reviews we write allow companies to get to know us more intimately than your neighbour and maybe even your spouse. Welcome to the world of today’s personalized internet marketing, a world that has moved well beyond simple cookies and even beacons. I am not talking about the ones mama used to bake or guiding lights, but something far more sinister. These new tracking tools are eyes designed to carefully and surreptitiously watch your every move and even everything you type, depending on the nature of the individual software that gets downloaded every time you open a webpage. And yes, I mean any and every webpage. Originally, these tools were meant to be harmless reminders of our preferences on a specific site: which geography we were in, our saved shopping cart items, and our shipping and billing information. In addition, these were cookies installed by the website, but today they have morphed into digital stalkers whose actions are akin to going through your trash. Worse yet, in many instances the site you are visiting may not even be aware that this type of watching software exists on its web page. It is increasingly being used by third party content providers of which there can be dozens on any given page, who are serving content from ad banners to free software downloads. Alarmed yet?

The people who capture and sell this information say that an individual’s anonymity is protected because we are never identified by name or address. But all this information is being collected from a combination of gleaning publicly available databases and using surreptitious tracking tools on the web as described in the opening paragraph. These companies then add some smart geeks who write programs that can analyze this information and attach assumptions by cross referencing things like home ownership records, family income, medical records and even favourite restaurants and brands you are loyal to and make very detailed and scarily accurate assumptions about each individual. This information is mostly packaged and sold to advertisers, marketers and even financial services companies who are quite likely to be making credit card and loan approvals based on these assumptions, which includes the credit worthiness of an individual. Even though financial companies claim that they are not using this information to profile or reject people for loans, but to better target their products and services. Marketers and retailers say they are able to more effectively do the same. I know from working on websites for various clients that we served up the landing page of a site by recognizing who you are, but this was non-intrusive and based on your visit and purchase history, and limited to your secure activity on that site (and with your consent). It was never based on your general surfing history or activity outside that particular website. The promise of this technology was individual customization; however, what I am now describing goes far deeper and uses information far beyond the reach and remit of one particular web merchant. For example “If we've identified a visitor as a midlife-crisis male," says Demdex CEO Randy Nicolau, a client, such as an auto retailer, can "give him a different experience than a young mother with a new family." The guy sees a red convertible, the mom a minivan.” (Wall Street Journal article: http://bit.ly/96MiWX).

I understand that the world we live in today is very different from the one our parents grew up in, or for that matter even from the one we grew up in. Technology has changed our lives in many ways, and one of the sacrifices of convenience and the instant gratification which we all seem to yearn, is our privacy. For us to not have to go through the pain of initiation and identification each time we land on a webpage, to shop or consume news, or read recipes means each site needs to remember who we are and what our preferences are. In simple terms it means that each time I go to read news I will not have to specify my geography for the edition I want or have to re-enter my credit card or shipping address each time I shop at my favourite online store. All this is reasonable to me and I am sure to most people, and more importantly we are able make this choice. You can, for instance, delete cookies after each internet session, and voila, the same site will treat you like a first time visitor until you sign in to your password protected account. However, in this new world, the majority of time we are not told, or even aware of, who is tracking and monitoring our surfing activity or how much of it is being watched, stored, analyzed and then sold to a third party. Many young people today seem to feel that privacy is an old-fashioned notion for an old-fashioned generation; I completely disagree, but that is a matter for another blog. If someone wants to share his or her life’s every waking moment, from brushing their teeth in the morning to crying themselves to sleep at night and everything in-between, then all the power to them (suffice it to say, I will never accept you as a ‘friend’ or quickly ‘un-friend’ you) but that is your choice and mine. Taking away my privacy or invading it without my knowledge is not acceptable, because I did not volunteer to give it up. This is where I have a fundamental issue with this new practice, and the laws that govern our privacy are hopelessly outdated for this new digital world. So for all those people who believed the internet was the last and greatest bastion of anonymity - simply put, you’re no longer a random IP address.

I encourage you to read the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article and series I cited above, on Internet privacy. Below I am listing sites you can visit in order to Opt-Out from being tracked and a link to download Privacy Choice, a WSJ vetted software, which tells you who is watching you on every site you visit (the company that provides the software does not track or monitor you). While these are things you can do to take greater control of your privacy, you should keep in mind that all of this is based on companies that voluntarily disclose their tracking tools, and are members of the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI), a body formed to create greater transparency and protect our online privacy. Many of the companies tracking us are not members of NAI and do not disclose their tracking tools, only the big and reputable companies do.

List of sites to Opt-Out:


Privacy Choice: the website offering FREE software tool that allows you to see who is tracking you on each site you visit: http://www.privacychoice.org/trackerwatcher/download