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.
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.
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.
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.
If you’ve seen the Filet-O-Fish commercial McDonald’s airs for Lent, then you’re familiar with “Frankie the Fish” and his infectious jingle. Not being one to miss an opportunity to capitalize on kitschy sentimentality, McDonald’s has released a “Frankie the Fish” novelty frame that was obviously inspired by pop culture sensation, Big Mouth Billy Bass. We’ve seen fictional products from shows be developed into real products; (ex: Tru Blood) Rob Walker calls this “imaginary brands” and Brandweek has described the process as “reverse product placement.” Based on McDonald’s bringing the tacky decoration to market, “Frankie the Fish” garners as much if not more attention to than the menu item being advertised.
I assume that the reverse product placement of the Frankie frame is the result of constant television airings and Internet hype. I imagine somebody purchasing the frame to be ironic or for a cheap laugh. Whatever the reason, the irony and humor of “Frankie the Fish” is fleeting and can probably only be appreciated during Lent, when the ads air frequently. Coca-Cola introduced the red and white branded Santa Claus, whose image is a cultural signifier of Christmas, so perhaps “Frankie the Fish” is the McDonald’s way of creating a holiday mascot with a catchy jingle and all.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!