The salaciously titled Stephen Adly Guirgis play, The Motherfucker With the Hat begins previews in March and certainly presented a marketing challenge. The play centers on a newly sober man and his girlfriend , a continual addict. Suffice it to say, such a dark-themed play isn’t looking to appeal to Wicked or Mary Poppins fans but all marketing materials need to be censored. Its Twitter and Facebook pages utilize the user names TheMFWithTheHat. The main promotional artwork featured on its webpage and on the Schoenfeld Theatre marquee substitutes asterisks for the letters U and C (Motherf**ker).
The above image, a New York Times banner ad, completely eliminates the expletive Motherfucker but includes a line instructing viewers to click for the full title. Given my interest in product displacement and unbranding, I find the act of hiding a significant portion of a play’s title in an ad absolutely fascinating.
On another note, I was invited to attend a preview performance of the show. =)
Morgan Spurlock will premiere his latest meta-documentary The Greatest Movie Ever Sold at Sundance later this month. The film, which is being touted as the first ever “docbuster,” is a documentary about branding, advertising and product placements completed financed by corporate sponsorships. The above poster was designed by Ron English whose work critiques the marketing practices of many brands, most notably McDonald’s. The poster takes some swipes at White Castle, Aunt Jemima and Kellogg’s so click here to enlarge it for a more detailed view.
Thanks to Flickr user Agent J Loves Agent A for the cool find.
While I’m not familiar with fast food franchise FatBurger, they’ve done something pretty remarkable in rebranding 64 of its locations into Bob’s Burger, a fictional restaurant featured in Fox’s new animated series of the same name. 7-Eleven launched a similar promotion in 2007 when it “Simpsonized” 11 of its stores into Kwik-E-Marts for the release of The Simpsons Movie. The FatBurger makeover is a bit riskier because 7-Eleven was integrating elements from The Simpsons, an established TV show and brand. This was lauded as a brilliant example of reverse product placement because it allowed customers to enjoy the fictional world of Springfield with products like Krusty O’s and Squishee drinks. The cross-promotion was a welcomed treat for any Simpsons fan. In comparison, Bob’s Burger is a new series without a built-in fan base or place in pop culture history. Regardless, its refreshing to see brands giving customers the opportunity to engage with fictional worlds.
On a side note, I wonder if it’s just a coincidence that both FatBurger and Bob’s Burger logo are red and yellow
I’m not sure where there’s a FatBurger, but here’s a coupon to use if you’re near one. My gift to you!!
Images via: FatBurger
For its Fall/Winter 2010 collection, Supreme released a line of hoodies which are undoubtedly inspired by the iconic DKNY mural that once graced the corner of Houston and Broadway. The famed mural, which was painted in 1992, proudly displayed the New York City skyline along with the Statue of Liberty in the foreground. While many considered the mural a glorified billboard, after the September 11th attacks it gained greater significance because it featured the World Trade Center towers in the distance. In June 2009, the mural was painted over with a gross ad for Hollister, signifying Soho’s transformation into a suburban shopping mall.
I’ve noticed stickers baring “SUPNY” all over Soho and originally thought the stickers were the calling card of a local street artist. I’ve seen artists such as Dickchicken utilize corporate branding in their work. I’m sure any native/long-time New Yorker is automatically reminded of DKNY when they see the SUPNY stickers. Supreme drew inspiration from that iconic mural that once captured New York before 9/11, gentrification and commercialization dulled the city’s edge. Although Supreme replaced the DKNY letters, it still shares the stage with the fashion label, which is perhaps what the retailer intended. After all, the DKNY mural went beyond branding–it became a cultural icon.
The giant Michelin Man/Pillsbury Doughboy hybrid won’t be stomping through the streets of New York anytime soon, but thanks Omni Consumer Products you can relive your favorite Ghostbusters memories. Pete Hottelet, the defictionalization mastermind behind Brawndo, Sex Panther cologne and Tru Blood, has now introduced Stay Puft marshmellows to the real world. The fictional treat was first seen among Dana Barrett’s groceries during the scene where a carton of eggs explode on her countertop. I’m sure every child of the 80s longed to hoover these down. I sure did and now that I’m a grown up, I’m total using Stay Puft marshmallows to make candied sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving. They’re also caffeinated and go well with Hi-C Ecto Cooler.
Click here to view Dana’s eggs going berserk, which seems very apropos given the massive egg recall.
A recent Adweek article suggests that to combat time-shifted viewing, networks should consider promoting new shows on rival networks. Granted this is all food for thought since most network execs are reluctant to air promos encouraging viewers to switch channels. This kumbaya, teamwork approach isn’t plausible because the networks don’t what to play nice, it’ll never happen because they fail to realize that viewers have evolved and are fully versed in contemporary TV-watching literacy. As the articles states, many of those in the industry, “believe viewers would be confused after decades of conditioning to look for a new show solely on the network where they saw it promoted.”
What? Confused? No!! Television viewing now mimics web-surfing habits. With DVRs and the detailed on-screen guides and menus that are customary with cable packages, people know how to search and find their programs. On that note, viewers are no longer confined to a handful or even a few dozen networks–they have HUNDREDS of channels and would probably opt to actively search for a program than to guess what network it’s on. If the popularity of Google has taught us anything, when people want information or clarity, they search. Those decades of conditioning have been undone. Audiences aren’t loyal to specific networks; they’re free to roam and watch shows however they want.
In the “Gamer in the Grease” episode of Bones, the team investigates the death of the only player known to achieve a perfect score on the game, Punky Pong. When I originally watched the episode, I was struck by how it portrayed fandom and exhaustively the promoted the theatrical release of Avatar. Eager fans were framed as overzealous and even called “freaks and fanatics” by one of the characters (click here for a clip). The inclusion of the subplot that consisted of characters waiting in line for Avatar tickets reeked of a poorly conceived synergy effort that would ultimately make the episode seem dated in reruns (click here for more of my thoughts on movie product placements).
The “Gamer in the Grease” episode included several topics that deserve further analysis including the heavily featured Punky Pong game, which is an example of fictionalized product displacement. The arcade game Bones examines is branded with an ape holding a paddle. Punky Pong name itself is a sort of hybrid reference to Donkey Kong and PONG. The actual purpose of the game is exactly like PONG where a player continually hits a ball back to the opponent. Originally, Punky Pong only existed in the Bones world, but in effort to give its viewers a seen-on-TV experience, Fox launched it on its site after the episode aired. A friend, and apparent Bones fan, informed me that Fox aired promos inviting viewers to visit Fox.com to play the actual game during the episode’s commercial breaks.
Fox essentially defictionalized Punky Pong and created a commodity to engage Bones viewers into the crime procedural’s world. Punky Pong also allowed fans to engage with each other by spreading the game’s link and posting their high scores. It also stimulated viewer curiosity–here, one inquires whether the game is real in which another viewer poignantly responds, “It is now. It didn’t exist before the Bones episode (Gamer in the Grease, Season 5 Episode 9) was created.”
I receive a lot of blog and Flickr hits from people searching for information regarding Alt World 2, a fictionalized Second Life-like game that was featured in a Ghost Whisperer episode. Alt World 2 was never developed into an actual game or even a fan forum, but I get the sense that viewers would welcome and even appreciate playing once fictional games. I think people enjoy the possibility of playing a game that they may already be familiar with in a new context that is established by a show they watch. I track a lot of fictionalized brands for my product displacement blog, but never see search terms regarding whether Mapple, ScienceWater or Buy More actually exist.
Perhaps because games can readily be posted online, people assume games featured on shows are real. In the case of Grand Theft Walrus, a fictionalized version of Grand Theft Auto where a walrus kills penguins, it only existed in The Simpsons world, but was then created by fans of the show. Had Fox released GTW with Rockstar Games, it would have given game the authenticity to be rendered defictionalized, but instead the GTW game available online is stuck in the realm of fan fiction.
I’ve recently noticed an uptick of ads where swear words have been replaced or mildly censored. This trend was prevalent before CBS introduced the sitcom $#*! My Dad Says as part of its fall lineup. The show, which is based on a Twitter feed, has since garnered more press over its “edgy” title than its comedic quality. To further push the envelop, CBS will air it on Thursdays at 8:30PM, a timeslot which is traditionally considered “family hour.” Whether the show is a hit or gets canceled before mid-season, expect to see a lot more colorfully titled shows and films, with two recent examples being Dance Your Ass Off and Kick-Ass.
The promotional materials for Dance Your Ass Off substitute stars symbols for the letter S, but the name of the reality competition program has not been censored during broadcast network coverage of it. Ads for Kick-Ass were displayed uncensored and hardly seemed risqué. It seems attempts a censoring the language in titles and slogans works to highlight the swear words used. The censoring of the titles $#*! My Dad Says and Dance Your Ass Off is meant to make otherwise bland/cookie-cutter shows seem innovative.
Using censorship to make boring content seem edgy is a fairly logical marketing approach. What doesn’t make sense to be is why Dreamworks promoted Shrek Forever After with ads featuring the tag lines, “What the Shrek just happened?” and “Where my witches at?” To my knowledge there weren’t any protest against the ads even though they’re riddled with blatant innuendo that any child growing up with contemporary media would be able to decipher. A children’s film isn’t the ideal arena to experiment with word-play derived from foul language, but it seems Dreamworks did.
Hulu is going pay. It was inevitable. Hulu is also seeking to customize viewers’ ad experience by allowing them to vote on whether certain pre-rolls appeal to them. If you use Hulu as much as I do, you’ve probably seen this (Look at the upper right-hand corner). I recently encountered a survey where Hulu offers participants the opportunity to select a charity that will be featured in Hulu videos 250 times. Basically Hulu is getting FREE consumer feedback and showing its “appreciation” by letting users select the ads other users will watch all under the guise of charity.
I hope I’m not coming off as a curmudgeon because Hulu actually features a great deal of ads for charity, which is fabulous for raising awareness (glance through my Flickr set for examples).
The above Weatherproof ad featuring Obama was greeted with controversy when it first appeared in Times Square back in January. Shortly after the billboard was pulled for using Obama’s image without the White House’s consent, a very similar ad for AMC’s Breaking Bad appeared. The similarities between the billboards are pretty obvious (Great Wall of China, black jacket, a smoldering, contemplative gaze) but what’s particularly interesting are the parodied elements of the original ad. The Breaking Bad billboard wonderfully utilizes product displacement to piggyback on the hoopla surrounding the Weatherproof ad. This strikes me as win-win situation for both AMC and Weatherproof since they both capitalize on viewers’ encoding/decoding of the billboards’ cultural relevance .
A special thank you to Brechtbug for the awesome photos!!
Since beginning my initial work on product displacement, I’ve noted several instances in which companies utilize unbranding techniques in their advertising campaigns (Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Freshjive). AT&T’s “Rethink Possible” campaign aims to align its brand with innovation and optimism rather than just promoting their latest products or services. AT&T wants to enhance its image and as mentioned in this NYT article, “selling on price is a pathway to commoditization.”
As you can see from the above image, AT&T has ditched its brand name and emphasizes its iconic globe. While the company hasn’t completely unbranded itself because the globe symbol boasts a high 90% recognition rate among consumers, AT&T is demonstrating that less prominent branding can empower a company’s image. The omission of the letters is strategic leadership move and “displaying [the globe] without the “AT&T” echoes the way Nike is recognized by its swoosh and Target by its target.” By taking the focus off its products and communicating arbitrary messages about the future and technology, AT&T has adopted an open-ended campaign in which consumers engage with the brand by aligning it with personal notions of what innovation means to themselves.
The “Black Light Attack!” episode of 30 Rock included an entertaining scene where Liz Lemon attempts to persuade the delusional Jenna to accept her age gracefully. Meryl Streep is often listed as an inspiration to many actresses and Jenna’s flattering dialogue is meant to be interpreted as referring to Streep until true to her narcissistic character, she proclaims Madonna’s name. Meryl Streep’s symbol as an acting icon, as well as her age help set up the comedic twist. Streep is currently starring in It’s Complicated with 30 Rock’s Alec Baldwin, which makes me wonder if mentioning her name was a subliminal way of promoting the NBC Universal (parent company of 30 Rock) film; after all, this wouldn’t be the first time a Meryl Streep film was promoted on the show.
Just last season, when Jack revealed to Liz that he had narrowed down his biological father to one of three men, Liz stated, “It’s a Mamma Mia.” The episode, also titled “Mamma Mia,” even followed the musical’s plot. It’s been reported that at the end of the episode, a commercial advertising the film’s DVD release aired. I’m not sure if an ad for It’s Complicated aired during the January 14 episode since the film premiered during Christmas weekend. However, since Mamma Mia was also released by NBC Universal, I don’t believe any mention of Meryl Streep is just a mere coincidence. 30 Rock has always been on the forefront of brand integrations and I think the show cleverly used Streep as a subtle references to promote NBC’s entertainment products.
I imagine Streep’s name was meant to get viewers thinking and making connections such as, “Meryl Streep’s in that movie with Jack. Who’s the actor that plays Jack? Oh, right. Alec Baldwin. She’s in that movie with Alec Baldwin. She plays a middle-aged woman that gets back together with Alec Baldwin, her ex-husband. What’s that movie called? Uh, I think It’s Complicated, that sounds right. Steve Martin is in it too. Oh, wasn’t he in an episode of 30 Rock last season? That was a good episode. I like Steve Martin. It’s Complicated sounds like a good movie. That guy Jim from The Office is in it too. I should go see that movie.” Pure genius!!
The last Coca-Cola ad campaign I remember being launched was “Open Happiness,” which included a catchy jingle that never once mentioned the brand. I thought this was pretty clever and original. Fast-forward a few months and Coca-Cola is beginning a new campaign to promote the brand as being part of a healthy lifestyle because it’s now offering clearer nutrition/calorie labeling and smaller portion sizes. This whole approach is very reminiscent of the changes McDonald’s made to its menu shortly after the fast-food bashing documentary, Super Size Me was released. We all know junk food and sugary drinks aren’t healthy choices, so these attempts at promoting better nutrition and physical activity is kind of like pissing in the wind.
Granted, Coca-Cola’s latest campaign isn’t only about encouraging healthy lifestyles, (ha!) it also touts the beverage giant’s positive impact on communities and encourages people to “make a difference.” This campaign by the way is eerily called “Live Positively” and features a logo that consists of a plus sign and Coke’s signature red and white branding. I believe “Live Positively” was only recently introduced in the United States, but has been used throughout other countries for sometime. I understand the campaign is supposed to communicate empowerment and social responsibility, but the name and imagery reminds me of HIV/AIDS. I know that I’m not reading too much into “Live Positively” because you don’t have to be a master in semiotic analysis to correlate the campaigns symbols with HIV/AIDS. Project Red is a lot subtler in its branding and it’s goal is actually to promote HIV/AIDS awareness.
Even though the disease doesn’t carry the stigma that it once did during the 1980s, the idea of “living positively” is not an ideal. I know Coca-Cola means to inspire positive thinking and positive actions, but the campaign is susceptible to too much misinterpretation. And images like the one above do not help because what I see, and I’m sure others see, is a sort of life-monitoring reading that flatlines. It’s something I would expect Adbusters or other culture jammers to create, not the company itself.
Image via: Coca-Cola Newsletters
In 2006, Goodyear teamed with Disney and Pixar to promote Cars. In the animated film, the main character, Lightening McQueen (pictured above), dons Lightyear tires and the Lightyear blimp is visible during speedway races. Goodyear’s director of marketing, Joey Viselli, has noted that the company allowed Disney/Pixar to have fun with the brand, but not with the actual brand itself, meaning Goodyear’s inclusion in the film stops short of traditional product placement. Instead, the Lightyear cameos are an example of sponsored product displacement. I’ve been tracking product displacement for a while now, and the Lightyear/Cars occurrence is the only example I’m aware of in which a brand lobbies to be parodied or fictionalized. To promote the release of the film, Goodyear tweaked its iconic Spirit of Goodyear blimp to read “Lightyear” for 15 days and offered Cars-related giveaways.
Ads are obviously used to increase brand awareness and likability, so as media habits change, adverting approaches need to evolve as well. Compared to television, watching videos online is significantly more active. People actively seek online video content as opposed to aimlessly flicking through channels. I’ve recently noticed a proliferation of Hulu ads that appeal to the more active, and possibly impatient, type of viewership emerging.
The Hulu ad package has gone from predictable overlays, slates and pre-rolls to experiences where viewers chose which ads play or watch “branded commercial-free” content (click here for video example). Last year, Hulu unveiled what I refer to as their “choices” feature, which provides the option of watching one long-form video or several shorter ones. Hulu describes it as a “win/win experience for both the advertiser and the user” (via: Hulu Case Study). This approach has evolved to Hulu offering viewers ad selection options, which of course provide for a more meaningful and memorable experience.
In a medium where people can search for, create and tune-out content so easily, it seems only natural for them decide what marketing messages they would like to receive. Unlike YouTube, which recently introduced an ad-skipping option to its site, even Hulu’s commercial fast-forwarding feature is brand-sponsored (click here for video example). What Hulu particularly succeeds at, is making its ads seem non-invasive. I’ll go as far to say that it’s creating opportunities for ads to be a form of entertainment. YouTube product manager, Phil Farhi states, “Advertisers like in-stream ads because they look and feel like TV ads,” however to truly reach and engage audiences pre-rolls/in-stream ads must mimic how people use the web (via: Adweek). Case in point: Lowe’s Christmas ads inviting users to tour its websites.
The Lowe’s ads combines terms like “mouse around” and “explore” with interactive displays that invite heavy click-through activity. Viewers are even invited to build their own online Christmas tree, which would obviously distract them from the program they’re watching. Farhi believes people are “less conditioned” to ad interruptions online, but I believe since the Internet consists of perpetual interruptions, advertisers just need to put audiences in the driver’s seat and make those interruptions entertaining.
Hulu in-stream ads aren’t going the way of the 30-second TV spot, they’re going the way of the app. By this I mean they have the potential to develop into fun ways to waste/occupy time. I recently saw a Hulu ad for Toyota that featured a trivia game before my program began. I played out of curiosity and boredom, but was overall impressed by the lack of the hard sell. And with Hulu inevitably transitioning into both an ad-supported and subscription service, the advertising as entertainment approach seems even more appealing and less likely to draw resentment.
Lately I’ve noticed a proliferation of subway ads for cultural institutions such as, MoMA, The Whitney, BAM and Guggenheim in addition to ads for Broadway shows. Of course seeing ads for these New York destinations within the city should be expected, but as a native New Yorker, I don’t remember ever seeing the arts so heavily promoted on subway platforms. I must say these ads are a breath of fresh air from the usual movie, clothing, and liquor posters that are typically plastered beneath the city streets. The grim advertising market of 2008 and 2009 are probably responsible for them as well seeing how Titan Worldwide, an outdoor advertising company, has fallen $7.5 million short in ad sales and payments to the MTA. Titan’s chairman has even noted that advertising contracts with transit agencies like the MTA have never experienced such revenue loss (via: NYT).
If large companies are purchasing significantly less ads as the MTA faces a budget crisis, it makes sense for ad space to be available cheaply for organizations that do not usually have the funds for extensive campaigns. Facing declining ad sales, I would have expected the MTA to mimic the television industry by attempting to woo small businesses with lower rates. Last year, Snuggie commercials reached pop culture notoriety through repeated prime-time airings as many television networks offered record low ad rates. With this in mind, I figured ads for cheap legal counsel, ESL schools, and dermatologists would once again be on display.
In 1997, the MTA began seeking larger, more profitable accounts and limited the banner space available to smaller businesses in addition to significantly increasing ad prices (via: NYT). This past summer, the MTA sold the naming rights of the Atlantic Avenue, Pacific Street and Flatbush Avenue subway stations to bank giant, Barclays, so it’s still very interested in partnering with lucrative companies. In 1996, the MTA generated $23 million in ad revenue compared to the estimated $110 million it generated during 2008 (via: Second Ave. Sagas). Suffice it to say, the dynamic of the city has changed considerably over the past 13 years. Neighborhoods have undergone dramatic gentrification, advertising became more invasive, iPods became the commuter’s accessory of choice and amidst rising gas prices and “go green” rhetoric, riding the subway became a smart, economic and environmental activity.
With some brands steering away from traditional marketing and seeking to create immersive experiences by advertising throughout entire cars and stations, it can be argued that the subway can exude a dry, corporate feel. Granted that’s better than just being overwhelmed by grime, putrid smells and rats, but the MTA needs to keep in mind that the subway is a public space. I appreciate the MTA’s “Arts For Transit” program, which commissions artists to create dynamic installations and murals in stations, and think these sort of initiatives enhance the commuting experience. Perhaps the “Arts For Transit” is another factor behind the system-wide increase in cultural ads, as I’m certain the program encourages a demand for such ads.
When I first saw the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater ad, (top of post) I was reminded of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work. I relish seeing ads for museums and plays on a daily basis. We often become so involved in work, school, technology, or a monotonous routine, that we forget to seek out art, creativity, culture and inspiration. These ads are a great reminder of what the city has to offer and what New Yorkers often take for granted.
According to The Daily Mail, Kellogg’s plans to laser its logo on individual corn flakes. The drastic and peculiar plan is meant to emphasize the Kellogg’s brand name in a cereal market flooded with cheaper generic options, which they refer to as “fake flakes.”
Helen Lyons, Lead Food Technologist at the company states, “We want shoppers to be under absolutely no illusion that Kellogg’s does not make cereal for anyone else. We’re constantly looking at new ways to reaffirm this and giving our golden flakes of corn an official stamp of approval could be the answer. We’ve established that it is possible to apply a logo or image onto food, now we need to see if there is a way of repeating it on large quantities of our cereal. We’re looking into it.” [via: The Daily Mail]
I’ve debated whether generic brands are forms of product displacements and ultimately decided that they are since they mimic packaging and naming conventions of their brand name counterparts. In the midst of a recession, consumers often buy generic products to save money. As generic/store brands improved in quality, consumers realize that when they purchase brand name cereal, they are just paying for advertising.
The Kellogg’s laser idea is an attempt to give their corn flakes cereal a label of prestigiousness. As I’ve stated many times when discussing product displacement, even if a brand is tweaked, consumers will still identify the greeked product with the brand referenced. Based on Lyons’ statement, it seems Kellogg’s is worried that product displacement is working too well because consumers assume that all corn flakes are made by Kellogg’s. Click here for another example of a “generic” cereal. Can you guess the brand name cereal being reference?
In July, Starbucks opened three new coffee shops in Seattle which noticeably lacked its iconic branding. One of the unbranded, remodeled stores will simply be known as 15th Ave Coffee and Tea—a strategy executives are using to capture a more community-oriented feel. Essentially, Starbucks is trying to present itself as a neighborhood coffee shop instead of a corporate conglomerate that ruins small businesses. Critics have referred to the shops as “Stealth Starbucks” and while this sort of marketing is rather subversive, we really shouldn’t be surprised that it has emerged. In an environment in which consumers are bombarded with brand messages and have developed a hyper-awareness and distain for perpetually invasive marketing, companies need to soften their approach. Displacing the familiar slogans, and visual cues that are synonymous with a brand may be a risky move, but several marketers are going this innovative route.
Recently, Coca-Cola launched its “Open Happiness” campaign which consists of a song and music video that do not mention/show the company or any of its products. The campaign seems to be a hit with consumers (mostly outside the U.S.) and according to Umut Ozaydinli, Coca-Cola’s global music marketing manager, “the lack of an in-your-face Coke message is “one of the key reasons” consumers have shown interest in the song” (via: NYT) While not entirely an example of a self-displacement and unbranding, Pepsi began a campaign in Argentina encouraging Argentineans to refer to the brand as “Pecsi.” Pepsi is essentially promoting the “bastardizing [of its] brand name” (via: Naked). The soft drink company is not taking its branding too seriously and welcomes consumer interpretations of its brand. It’s not to say that companies engaging in self-unbranding and displacement are relinquishing control of their corporate identity to consumers—I think it’s quite the opposite.
Starbucks, Coca-Cola and Pepsi are all taking proactive measures to remain relevant and competitive. These companies are catering to an audience whose persuasion knowledge is developing and is perhaps no longer easily susceptible to traditional marketing. Persuasion knowledge involves the interpretation of how people respond, interpret and react to persuasion and influence attempts (Friestad and Wright 1994). Ad messages, whether they occur as billboards, commercials, product placements or banner ads, are losing their effectiveness because of over-saturation. Marketing in general has become rather ubiquitous and invasive, which has resulted in the formation of a hyper-aware audience that sees through and ignores most campaign strategies. As audiences grow jaded and savvy, perhaps the next way for brands to successfully engage them, is by creating ads that do not look like ads. Marketing plans will need to emulate the covertness of Starbucks and Coca-Cola, but also entertain audiences on a personal level.
Friestad, Marian and Peter Wright. “The Persuasion Knowledge Model: How People Cope with Persuasion Attempts.” Journal of Consumer Research. Vol. 21, No. 1. (June 1994).
The 2008/2009 season was marked with a great deal of uncertainty as automotive spending, the largest ad category for network television, steadily decreased. However, desperately needing to reach customers more than ever, the Big Three (Ford, Chrysler and GM) actively sought pricey brand integration deals. General Motors invested heavily in NBC’s quickly cancelled spy series, My Own Worst Enemy. As Brian Stelter notes in his New York Times article, integration deals are very risky and when a show is cancelled, a brand’s exposure from its product placements is as well.
In addition to being a primary sponsor of NBC’s reality show America’s Toughest Jobs, Chrysler signed an elaborate partnership with Fox’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles that included heavy in-program integrations of its Dodge Ram truck. The package also promoted Dodge Ram’s “Never Back Down From a Challenge” vehicle giveaway and featured blatant Dodge branding on all Sarah Connor websites and promotional materials. Dodge Ram was a very good fit for an action-packed show like Sarah Connor and even ranked second in a list of most-recalled hybrid ads (via: Nielsen).
Since Chrysler, was the exclusive automotive sponsor of the show, Sarah Connor provides great examples of techniques used to cover up competitor logos and brand names. I refer to this process as unbranding. It’s more likely for audience members to recall product occurrences In this scene, the “Chev” in Chevrolet were blackened as Cameron walks by a van. This image shows the unbranded grill of a Chevy Suburban that was digitally altered in post production. I was able to identify the SUV during a brief shot in which the Suburban brand name was (probably accidentally) visible. These examples of demonstrate how unbranding serves as a technique to enhance the advertising effectiveness of Chrysler vehicles by eliminating any presence of competitors.
In early December, as the magnitude of the automotive industry crisis was becoming even more apparent, Chrysler announced that it may not survive after 2009 and would probably file for bankruptcy. It was during this period that Chrysler product placements in began to deviate from the established norm. The “Earthlings Welcome Here” episode of Sarah Connor Chronicles, which aired December 15, 2008, signaled what I can only speculate was the end of Chrysler’s integration deal with the show. The episode does not contain any Dodge Ram occurrences, but does feature Sarah Connor driving a Jeep Liberty. The majority of shots where the Jeep brand name and logo were visible, occurred in a split second and would probably not be noticed by a casual viewer.
As I’ve noted above, unbranding is used by networks and studios to eliminate the presence of rival companies and increase brand recall. Essentially, unbranding helps eliminate the clutter and influence of brands that are not primary advertisers of a show. Viewers are more likely to remember and engage with a brand/product if it’s presented by itself. “Earthlings Welcome Here” demonstrates another industrial function of unbranding, which is to prevent giving advertisers free publicity. While Chrysler make have initially paid for a season long integration package, it’s quite possible that the company pulled out given its dismal financial state. Many of the Jeep Liberty scenes in “Earthlings Welcome Here” feature Sarah Connor driving down long, windy, empty desert roads. These are the types of images you would expect to see in a car commercial.
While I’m sure when this episode was filmed, it’s fairly clear that Chrysler’s Jeep brand was supposed to be heavily promoted, as evidenced by the title character’s (Sarah Connor) repeated use of the SUV. In addition, the Jeep Liberty was given a lot of screen-time, that was however, negated by it’s logo being digitally removed. I have include two images in my Product Placement Flickr set I believe illustrate an intended lingering visual duration of the Jeep Liberty. In this image, the Jeep is moving directly towards the camera, but there is no trace of the Jeep brand name. Several seconds later, just as Sarah Connor is visible behind the wheel, it becomes obvious that the Jeep brand name and logo were deliberately blurred out. This scene consisted of one continuous shot and would have surely generated high recall from viewers if Jeep was not displaced by the show’s unbranding efforts.
No that’s not a typo in the blog title. Walmart recently replaced its widely recognizable logo and ditched the star and hyphen. It seems Fox News (along with perhaps other major media outlets) must not have received the memo, because as I began this post, the network flashed a caption that included the hyphen. The retail monster giant has been plagued by media coverage of its business practices and poor treatment of employees and like many companies concerned with their image and reputation, Walmart is attempting to improve its public perception. This is quite a feeble and poorly executed attmept I must say. Branding company Lippincott is reportedly behind the new logo, but this information has yet to be confirmed (via: Brand New). I guess the agency doesn’t want to be associated with this mess. Click here for an artist rendering of a sign to be used at a test store in Memphis.
The rebranding effort will also include the “Save Money. Live Better” slogan, which replaced the long-standing “Always Low Prices” in 2007 (via: Huffington Post). The old navy blue, sans serif logo was introduced in 1992 and used a five-point star as a hyphen–perhaps for patriotic effect. Click herefor a Walmart logo timeline. The color is definitely softer and is meant to represent the company’s supposed commitment to environmental responsibility. The font is no longer in all caps, which Brand New points out, “…helps humanize Walmart with a name that reads more like John, Albert, Sarah or Wilbur.” The new design seems to be very Web 2.0 influenced. Click here to see examples of Web 2.0 typography and let me know what you think.
A press release from Walmart states, “This update to the logo is simply a reflection of the refresh taking place inside our stores and our renewed sense of purpose to help people save money so they can live better,” but does not explain the significance of the asterisk-like starburst. Brand New commenters have brilliantly compared the starburst to an asshole, which pretty much sums up the suites that run the company.
Over the past couple of months WPP Group has made three bids to take over market research company TNS. In May, TNS rejected WPP’s, an ad agency conglomerate, $1.9 billion offer shortly after announcing it was in discussion to merge with GfK (via: Adweek). On July 9 WPP placed a $2.2 billion hostile takeover bid for the research firm. Hours later, TNS ended its merger talks with GfK. GfK is not backing down though and is raising funds to make counteroffer (via: Adweek). And so the battle begins. It should be interesting!
This Spring I’ve noticed a lot of subway posters for Bravo and Oxygen advertising the quality of their audience. I’ve spotted these ads, which are obviously aimed at media planners and buyers, all over the NYC subway system; not just in prime media stations like Prince St. or Rockefeller Plaza. The pictures I’ve posted above were taken at the Forest Hills/71 Ave. station in my Queens neighborhood, which to my knowledge, is not exactly a major hub of planners. Granted New York is the advertising capital of the world, but it’s a bit unusual to see posters touting high engagement and ROI occupying the same space as ads for movies, radio stations and Skechers.
I first became aware of Bravo’s “Affluencer” campaign when I saw a banner for it included in a Jack Myers newsletter, which directly targets media professionals. Soon after, the “Affluencer” ads appeared on almost every major media and marketing-related website just in time for the May upfronts. The neologistic term “affluencer” was coined by Bravo’s president, Lauren Zalaznic, to describe the network’s highly coveted audience of “affluent” and “influencial” viewers. It makes sense for Bravo and Oxygen, which are both owned by NBC, to promote their trend-setting audience, but why did the networks create such public ads for all the world to see?
I don’t think people generally like viewing themselves as rating points or pawns in a greater marketing scheme, but the Bravo and Oxygen ads seem to frame consumerism in an empowering way. Although geared towards planners and buyers, the posters also help the public identify themselves and define their media habits. Being described as “engaged” and “cable’s best audience” does wonders for a viewer’s self-esteem and serves to add a sort of creditability to their taste in television.
Ray-Ban recently launched a campaign for their new line of Wayfarer sunglasses. The Project Colorize ads and products were designed by five New York artists (Tara McPherson, Scott Alger, Queen Andrea, Ron English, and Toofly) and have been featured in Marie Claire. The billboards, which will run in New York, are expected to 16 million impressions each month (via: Adweek). To kick off the promotion, Ray-Ban sponsored a stunt near Herald Square in which paid actors donned their Wayfarers to stare at one of the billboards (via: Style Wise). Click here to see a couple of pictures from the event.
Wayfarers are back in a big way. I just purchased a pair over the weekend. Although, I love the Project Colorize styles and was really looking forward to getting the ones designed by Tara McPherson, I opted to get a more subtle color. Last year, Ray-Ban introduced its Never Hide campaign, which emphasized consumer involvementthrough its online community and gave a lucky few the opportunity to feel like super-models. If you attended the Project Colorize marketing stunt, please send me pics or tell me your thoughts. It would be much appreciated!
Click here to view Mediaedge:cia’s CEO, Lee Doyle discuss the growing trend of consumers canceling their cable service due to hard financial times. During his presentation at the ARF conference, Doyle notes that “economically challenged” viewers are turning to online video entertainment and no longer consider cable television as a necessity. He goes on to state that a whopping 40% of commercials are not being fast-forwarded by consumers with DVRs and attributes this to Americans’ “conditioning” to advertisments.
Doyle pretty much described my television viewing habits to a T. I watch a lot of television and have subscribed to digital cable and DVR service for years. Recently, however, I cancelled my Showtime and Starz! subscriptions to save money. I found that between watching videos online and catching up with my recorded programs, I just didn’t need the extra channels and expense. Also, skipping ads gets to be kind of annoying and often times I even forget that I’m not watching live TV. I guess I’m one of those “passive” viewers that Doyle described.
The Federal Communications Commission may begin taking steps to regulate the growing use of product placements on television shows. According to a World Advertising Recesearch Center report, the FCC wants broadcasters to make it easier for viewers to know when they are being marketed to. The number of “embedded advertisments” increased 13% in 2007 (via: Reuters) and are commonly seen as a way to reach elusive viewers in a TiVo-filled world. Currently, programs are only required to disclose sponsors at the end of show, to which commisioner Jonathan Adelstein states:
“You shouldn’t need a magnifying glass to know who’s pitching you. A crawl at the end of the show shrunk down so small the human eye can’t read it isn’t really in the spirit of the law.” (via: WARC’s “FCC TO REVIEW PRODUCT PLACEMENT RULES“)
A strick ruling from the FCC could require programs to post notices before or after a product placement occurance. Its unclear how this will be done without disrupting show content or if it will even be welcomed by viewers. It’s no secret that most marketers have taken to product integrations to improve brand awareness and receptivity. While the inclusion of real products/brands adds to a program’s verisimilitude, certain tactics can be rather deceptive.
Product placements are real hot-button issue and marketers and studios have come under fire from not only the FCC and watchdog groups, but the Writer’s Guild of America as well. For years, the WGA has asked the FCC to regulate the use product placements because it views the weaving of ads into storylines as unethical and impedes on the creative process.
I worked for a company that monitored engagement with product placements in prime-time shows and have written extensively about the topic in the past. I can’t wait to see how this develops.
During a recent episode of Family Guy on TBS, Bill Engvall appeared on screen with a remote control and paused the show. Engvall then proceeds to promote the new season of his show as Family Guy remains frozen in the background. What the audience didn’t know was that when Engvall appeared, the show had begun a commercial break. In the past, TBS has wonderfully and seamlessly integrated commercial content into its programming, (the “Very Funny” ad campaigns, for instance) but this time the cable network sought to be deliberately intrusive.
In his Ad Agearticle, Brian Steinberg states:
TV networks have gotten extremely aggressive with the bottom corners of the screen. Some cable outlets even let pieces of promotional flotsam, known in the industry as “snipes,” rise from the corners and take up the bottom third of the TV screen. More recently, however, these animated promos have become decidedly more intrusive, blocking action as it unfurls on the screen or even competing with spoken dialogue.
Giving the spastic nature of Family Guy, the promo may not annoy people as much as it would if had aired on a show such as Lost, which commands a significant amount of audience attention. I think viewers will be seeing a lot more aggressive snipes in the future, especially on syndicated shows in reruns where broadcasters may assume that they are already familiar with the content and plot. The sneaky TBS tactic has already generated quite a bit of discussion, but too bad the effort was wasn’t on such a sub-par show as Bill Engvall.
AKQA, London’s latest endeavor for NikeiD seeks to take mobile marketing to a new level by attempting to deepen the interaction between the consumer and brand. NikePhotoiD, the latest service offered by NikeiD, allows users to customize Dunk high-tops on the fly by simply texting an image of their surroundings with a camera phone. The application then selects the two dominant colors of an image and sends participants an example of a customized sneaker superimposed over the original image they took along with a link to share or purchase their creation. NikePhotoiD will only be available in Europe, but AKQA is working on expanding the product selections and service to other regions.
Paulo Tubito, Nike’s Director of Brand Connections, states, “Where past use of MMS in mobile marketing campaigns has typically focused on short-term, one-way interactions between brands and consumers, Nike PhotoiD opens a genuine creative dialogue between the brand and its audience” (via: Contagious). I’ve always found most mobile marketing attempts to be rather one-dimensional despite being highly user-controlled and initiated. Although NikePhotoiD includes a viral aspect, I doubt designs will be widely shared on a long-term basis. Perhaps its because the NikeiD website has such boring color and material selections, but I’ve never enjoyed viewing the sneaker designs of other people. This really seems like a neat service and when it arrives in the states, I’ll definitely try it out, but it strikes me as nothing more than a gimmick that will lose its appeal after customers satisfy their curiosity. Ross Cidlowski makes a great point when he wonders if Europeans use cell phones differently and questions whether this campaign will have any significant impact on people’s behavior.
I love customized sneakers and appreciate how Nike is inviting customers to capture the environments that inspire them. The creative process, however, is severely limited by the lack of color options and ability to actively design the sneaker. Perhaps a more effective way for Nike to strengthen its mobile communication with consumers would have been a relaunch of the NikeiD website with better navigation and palettes that allow visitors to create custom colors and patterns.
The polls will close at the end of June and a new soft drink will join the Mountain Dew family. In November, PepsiCo, which owns Mountain Dew, teamed up with WhittmanHart and launched an exceedingly interactive ad campaign to revitalize the brand. The campaign consists of several phases where players of an online game design their own Mountain Dew drink. The user-generated beverages were then narrowed down to three flavors (Supernova, Voltage, Revolution) and are currently being sold for a limited time. The packaging instructs customers to visit Dewmocracy.com and vote for their favorite flavor. It goes without saying that Mountain Dew is playing off of the excitement of the national elections and even displays results from each state.
“Dewmocracy” is the first large-scale web marketing campaign by Mountain Dew that targets teens and Millennials, who have grown up with the Internet. In 2007, the brand ended its highly-successful “Do the Dew” and “extreme sports” approach to end being labeled as an energy drink like Red Bull. Ending its long-time partnership with BBDO and opting to collaborate with WhittmanHart has so far demonstrated impressive results. The agency has incorporated many opportunities for consumers to be entertained and collaborate into the media it created. The “Dewmocracy” website in particular contains experiential features where visitors can post messages and create there own 20-second campaign commercials to share on their social-networking profiles.
In addition to the website and multi-player game, WhittmanHart created a 4-minute short filmto provide “Dewmocracy” with a back-story. The power to design a drink is framed as an act of defiance against evil corporations seeking to eliminate people’s freedom to make their own choices. This sort of rhetoric that addresses cynicism toward corporations is similar to how Mountain Dew appealed to “Gen Xers” in the 90s and will likely make the campaign a success. Although members of “Dewmocracy” may not view themselves as full-fledged counterculturalists, they look for outlets of self-expression and the site provides exactly that. In March, WhittmanHart reported “Dewmocracy” drew 70,000 visitors that spent an average of 26-28 minutes on the site.
To promote the three flavors, PepsiCo has been giving customers free bottles and 12-pack cans at several supermarket chains. I’m sure the soft-drink giant is hoping to get people hooked on a particular flavor and so they will visit Dewmocracy.com and become brand ambassadors campaign supporters. Overall, the interactivity of Mountain Dew’s new marketing strategy is top-notch and engaging. Voting-centered ad campaigns seem to be popular and enjoyed by consumers. In 2003 and 1995, M&Ms drew a lot of attention and participation when the company asked customers to select a new color for its candy.
I must confess, I was a little amused when I spotted a subway poster that read, “You do look fat in those jeans Sarah Marshall.” My head did turn when I saw another declaring, “My mom always hated you Sarah Marshall” further down the platform. I’m not the least bit ashamed to admit that I logged on to ihatesarahmarshall.com as soon as I arrived at work even though much of my curiosity was diminished when I noticed the MPAA rating. It was that moment I realized I was tricked! These scribblings weren’t some poor sucker’s way of dealing with a bad breakup, a cheating girlfriend, an itchy STD, or all of the above. Nope, they were the latest addition of viral campaigns sweeping the marketing industry.
Even though the Forgetting Sarah Marshall campaign is generating a lot of buzz from ad execs and audiences alike, it misses the mark on many levels. The website/blog for example, provides way too much information and makes me long for a case of magnesiaamnesia. You don’t have to be the swiftest deer in the forest to figure the film’s premise or predict which way its humor will blow. Also, compared to the simple billboards, the site comes across as overdone. The potential interactivity of the site is negated by how visitors are bombarded with youtube clips and unable to leave comments.
Overall, my biggest complaint about the campaign is its tranparency. It had so much potential to hook audiences and create genuine curiosity and word-of-mouth. Seeing these ads, I can’t help but think about the 2006 Cartoon Network billboards featuring phrases such as, “I pooted” or “My boogers itch.” There was no hint of a URL to a gaudy website on these ads. Instead, they were shrouded in mystery and required observers to Google the terms or wait a couple of weeks before characters and the CN logo were revealed. There’s a lot to be said for discovery; it gives people a sense of knowledge and accomplishment that spoon-fed information fails to provide. While web content and an online presence is quickly becoming a part of many marketing strategies, it’s important to prevent all the bells and whistles and streaming video from becoming too much too soon. By its very nature, the Internet is already an interactive and viral medium, so perhaps the most captivating and memorable experiences are the ones people participate in creating themselves.
I’m thinking about doing a Funniest Ad post every week. This Lay’s Potato Chips ad originally aired in January. Whenever I hear the words, “baby I want you…baby I need you,” I literally run to my TV to watch it. I’m not sure what agency worked on it, but it is by far more entertaining than any spot that aired during the super bowl. There’s also been quite a bit of on-line discussion about the actress’ resemblance to Natalie Wood. Personally, I don’t see it, but regardless, the look on her face at the end is priceless!