Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ikea's use of computer-generated catalog images is worrisome.

According to a recent WSJ story, that couch catching your eye in the 2013 edition of IKEA's new catalog may not be a couch at all.
It is likely the entire living room was created by a graphic artist. In fact, much of the furniture and settings in the 324-page catalog are simply a collection of pixels and polygons arranged on a computer.
Privately held Ikea is swiftly moving toward replacing real-world production in its catalogs with 3-D computer-generated graphics to fill the pages of its catalogs, brochures and web site.
This year, 12% of IKEA's content will be “virtual.” Next year, they say that number will more than double.
The head of photography at Ikea says - "It's a clever way to save money.” Sure, but how will he feel when his job is eliminated because there is no photography?
What worries me is actually several aspects of what I hope is not too much of a trend. First, as a consumer, I’d like to know that I’m looking at a photograph of the product I’m considering purchasing. Using pixels, I would think marketers would be tempted to create images that put forth a false representation of the fit, finish, look and feel of their products. Photo-realism is something that certainly can be manipulated, but at least it starts with a photo of the real product!
Next is the economic impact. We all know that photographers like to get paid for their work. Most don't work cheap, but we also know there are a lot of photographers out there. To save money, Ikea could just modify their photography purchasing procedures. But under this plan, this whole category of work could be offshored to India or who knows where, again allowing Ikea to increase profits at the expense of how many domestic jobs.
The WSJ story states, “The company cut prices an average of 2% to 3% every year during the last decade while expanding aggressively, and still manages to squeeze more profits from the operation on a yearly basis.” Sound familiar? Sorry, Ikea. I don’t think I’ll be shopping for a flat-pack RTA room setting any time soon. Instead, I'll be doing business with companies that use technology to enhance the creative process, not replace it.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The 24/7 Agency – are we professionals, or is this Wal-Mart?
The latest new development in the increasingly disturbing “WTF” world of advertising – a new Chicago shop to be launched by Brian Mandelbaum – a 24/7 agency. According to Rupal Parekh’s Ad Age story, the concept is to hire social media content creators and account managers that will work throughout the day and night – always on, always accessible, always clicking.
Sounds kind of like the 3-shift concept of America’s industrial revolution? Or maybe this concept of “the agency that never sleeps” is the next thing in what I would describe as a long, sad, downward spiral for the agency business. Peter McGuinness, CEO of DDB Chicago, described it as “a great way to further commoditize our business.”  He said, and I completely agree, that the problem isn’t whether or not agencies get the job done, or what hours they work. Advertising professionals have never worked a 9-5 structure, and already work nights, weekends, etc. in service of their clients’ programs. He reasons that in an environment where the agency is expected to work at lightening speed, quality will certainly be compromised.
Whatever happened to the perception of advertising and marketing communications agencies as professional service firms? What is Mandelbaum thinking? Is he just pandering to some clients’ needs for instant gratification?
Wal-Mart is open 24/7, but you don’t get better merchandise or a higher quality shopping experience. All you get is low price. Commoditization, indeed. McGuinness is a smart guy. Perhaps that’s why he’s CEO of a major agency in a town that has produced a boatload of real advertising. As for Mandelbaum, good luck. How many graveyard shifts do you think he’ll be working? 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Mad Men doesn't disappoint

Don Draper, you have indeed saved us once again from crap TV. And for that I thank you. With only a week to go in Mad Men's fifth season, I just thought that was worth saying.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Teaser campaign? Make sure the product is worth all that hype.

Rance Crain’s Ad Age piece on this topic is a very smart look at how teaser campaigns, particularly one by Bright House, can backfire when consumer expectations are heightened, then completely underwhelmed.
Crain sites cable company Bright House, and their four-week teaser campaign titled "Hello Friend." After creating high expectations, the campaign resulted in some agitation when people in markets where Bright House does business found out their local cable company wanted to befriend them.
Crain points out that you don’t see very many big “teaser” campaigns these days. It could be just because of the cost. The upper-management types understandably want to see clear product feature-benefit and call-to-action so they can measure results. It could also be that the advertising consuming public has become just plain stupid. Crain offers the recent Honda teaser ad with Matthew Broderick as an example of how the whole thing could be misconstrued. In January, when Broderick showed up in a teaser campaign on the web reprising his role as Ferris Bueller, thousands of consumers thought the spot was for a sequel to the film. The video was just a teaser to a Super Bowl commercial for Honda, and many of the film's fans were disappointed. Classic example of people connecting dots that aren’t there.
Crain goes on to say, “What disappointed a lot of people is that they got their hopes up thinking somebody or something really cool wanted to be their friend, only to find out that it was their local cable company pledging not to charge them if they showed up late.”
Be my friend? No thanks, but a nice clear picture and a faster Internet feed would be nice.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Can GM rekindle young consumers' interest in cars?

Amy Chozick’s NY Times story – 3/22/12 is an eye-opener. GM is reaching out to MTV execs to step up its game with the youngsters.

It’s difficult for a late boomer generation male like me, who grew up in a car-loving family in the car-dependant suburbs, to wrap my head around this: Young American consumers are losing interest in the automobile.

As far back as the automobile has existed, it’s been a vehicle for escape. We couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel because doing so meant getting away. Car keys equal freedom.

We were into muscle cars. The conversation was all about the size of your “motor” and whether you were packing mechanical or hydraulic lifters, or whether your dual exhaust tips were connected to a true dual exhaust system. Now the car itself seems to be of no interest to the 18-24 crowd. They want to know what digital toys it has.

I can understand that with social media and all the new ways young people now have to connect, they may be less dependent on cars. But do they, as Ross Martin of Viacom suggests in Amy’s piece, think of a car as a “giant bummer?” I guess it depends on the car. If it’s a banged up Hyundai Accent, yeah that’s pretty much a bummer. But I think GM's problem is the same problem they've had for a long time now. Their products are either priced out of reach of the entry-level 18-24 consumer, or they are stripped down "losermobiles" that practically scream, "Hey, go next door to the Kia or Scion store. You'll find something better."

Are high gas prices and ridiculous insurance premiums for 17-24 year-old drivers to blame? Certainly neither is helping matters. Consider also that for consumers in this age bracket, money is tight. Even the cheapest new car is pretty expensive. And driving is - shall we say - not much fun these days.

I think we’ve finally come to a fork in the road. Will this lack of interest continue to trend downward? Will the youngest drivers prefer to drive something old and funky, or nothing at all? It will be very interesting indeed to see if GM can really make the necessary cultural changes to make their cars appealing again to young consumers? Those wheels turn awfully slow.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Please save us, Don Draper, from crap TV.

Have you noticed just how incredibly crappy TV has become?

Sure, there are lots of ways to avoid network television - the premium cable networks - HBO, Showtime, etc. Then there's pay-per view and Netflix. I get it, but sometimes you just want to veg out with some regular old major network TV.

Problem is, it's all such crap. When the lesser of all evils is The Celebrity Apprentice, which for some reason is stretched to 2 hours, you know you're in trouble. I don't know about you, but I could really use a break from the "housewives with gay male friends who find stuff in storage lockers, then pawn it and prospect for gold in Alaska" or some variation thereof.

This Sunday will bring us the long-awaited new season of Mad Men. It's been a long wait, indeed. I'm ready for style, good writing, great acting. Something that's actually worth watching. And can you believe this is a show that struggled to find an audience? What does that tell you about us as a society? I'm ready, Don Draper, for you to save me from crap TV!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Chrysler dealers defend "Halftime in America" spot.

As reported in The Wall Street Journal today, Chrysler Group's National Dealer Council has come out with a unified statement defending the company against complaints about the “Halftime in America” Super Bowl ad.

After an emergency meeting, here’s their statement…

"We have no doubt that this ad had no political agenda of any kind but rather [was] a statement of fact and hope for the future for all of us and America.”

This is not an insignificant development. To have a group of car dealers – often the most “hard core” of retailers – to come together like this, or to agree on anything for that matter, is quite an accomplishment.

Oliver Francois, Chrysler's chief marketing officer and architect of the ad (with some help from a really good agency called Weiden+Kennedy) said he finds the controversy perplexing. "It was designed to deliver emotions and I don't think emotions have a party. There was zero political message. It was meant more of a rally cry to get together and what makes us strong is our collective power and not our individual disagreements."

While Chrysler and Jeep vehicles were shown in the ad, there wasn’t a gas mileage claim or cash-back offer in sight. The ad gave viewers something to think about and, as Mr. Francois points out, something to feel.

Bravo, Chrysler dealers. Your brand, and every one of your franchises, just got a bit more valuable.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What kind of car are you driving, Mr. Rove?

It’s halftime in America, and we just can’t resist the urge to politicize everything. Just because it’s an election year, does everybody have to go completely nuts? Does everything have to somehow contain a subliminal, one-sided political message? As Corey Williams of the AP points out, it really does depend on whom you ask. So go ahead, make my day. Ask me.

What I saw was the next step in a progressive, extremely well produced campaign.

In last year’s Super Bowl, the spot that introduced the Chrysler 200 and the “Imported from Detroit” tagline overshadowed everything else. Why? Because of the way it was produced. It was intelligent. No talking smart-ass baby. No slingshot baby. No scantily clad babes. Sure, they were introducing a new model, but did they produce something that looked like every other car spot? No. They had a message to deliver.

This time around, the cinematic two-minute spot featuring Clint Eastwood, an American icon himself, took the campaign to the next level, and blew everything else away. Good advertising should make you think, and feel something. Nice job, Wieden+Kennedy.

But in sharp contrast to the intelligence and artistry of that spot, there’s Carl Rove on Fox News yesterday, feeding the basic instincts of the conservative faithful by saying he was "offended" and characterizing the Chrysler spot as an Obama campaign message. Really? Is he implying that because Chrysler took the $12.5 billion in government bailout money they aren’t entitled to convey an important message? A message about an American brand – and an American city – making a comeback? Does this guy have any idea what he’s talking about? Or maybe he’s offended because this ad recalls Reagan’s 1984 “Morning in America” spot by the late, great Hal Riney. Maybe he's just bitter because he's never had the opportunity - or the ability - to craft messages as well.

And what is Rove driving? Probably a Honda.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

ADDY Awards are up. New hope for local clubs?

Just finished up with call for entries week for the Addy Awards. That's the American Advertising Federation's local/regional/national creative competition that invites all kinds of creative work with divisions for both professional and student entries. If our local chapter - AAF-Suncoast's - experience is any indication of what's to come in this post-recession "new normal" economy, there's cause for optimism. The fact is - entries are up this year by around 30 percent. I can point to a few reasons for this - the market is doing better, lots of local people are making a profit again, not just living hand-to-mouth.
Our club has made an amazing recovery, having atrophied to less than 50 active members in mid-2009 to more than 120 today - and climbing. I can only hope this increase in membership and Addy Awards activity will translate to new vitality and greater involvement - better programs, etc. Since the annual Addy Awards program is a major revenue producer for the local clubs, it is the best indicator of future success, in terms of better quality programs and increased value to its members.
If you have an opportunity to get involved with your local AAF chapter, I suggest you do so.

Super Bowl ads have always brought out the best - and - worst - in advertising.

It's that time of year again. With Super Bowl forty-something just a few weeks away, it's time to think back on the great spots that made us laugh, made us think, or made us wonder why anybody would spend over a million bucks on such a piece of crap. Ad Age just ran a good story on the topic. Numero Uno on their list - of course the 1984 Macintosh spot. Directed by the sci fi master Ridley Scott, I don't think that one will ever be topped. Let's see what the usual cast of characters - beer, fast food, soda pop - come up with this year.