Friday, June 27

Faking The Work: Epoch Films And Friends

If you ever wondered what advertising would look like without client approvals, look no further than the J.C. Penney’s advertisement that had the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival roaring.

The ad features two teens that practice how long it takes to get dressed and undressed before “going down to the basement to watch TV.” Um, sure they are.

The racy spot is creative, connects with the target, and works. The only problem is that the advertisement (which has since gone viral) does not consider the client’s brand nor was it ever approved. Worse, it seems, J.C. Penney doesn’t want any association with the ad since it was criticized for promoting high school students having sex (which is always more scrutinized than other endeavors).

Statement From J.C. Penney

"J.C. Penney was deeply disappointed to learn that our name and logo were used in the creation and distribution of a commercial that was submitted to the 2008 International Advertising Festival at Cannes. No one at J.C. Penney was aware of the ad or participated in the creation of it in any way.

The commercial was never broadcast, but rather was created by a former employee at J.C. Penney's advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, solely as an award submission without J.C. Penney's knowledge or prior approval.

J.C. Penney does not approve or condone its content, and we have asked Saatchi & Saatchi to remove the ad from online circulation and to apologize to our customers and our associates for misrepresenting our company in this manner.”

More Fallout From Saatchi & Saatchi

Saatchi & Saatchi immediately confirmed the statement and added that it had no knowledge that the advertisement was submitted, placing full blame on Epoch Films, a third-party production company. However, former Chief Operating Officer Tony Granger, who is now global creative head of WPP Group's Y&R, told AdAge a different story, saying that it was created for an award submission.

Epoch Films and J.C.. Penny are now referring all further inquires to Saatchi & Saatchi. Epoch Films has requested to withdraw the entry.

Final Thoughts

There are many folks in the advertising industry that covet awards (we have more programs than the entertainment industry) because advertising sometimes blurs the lines between commercial and entertainment. However, the real measure of effective advertising remains with the response.

Sure, the second measure, only after the first has been met, might be entering various award programs. But for me at least, the real beauty of the work isn’t just about making a magical commercial — it’s about matching the magic with the brand and having the client approve it. Otherwise, it’s petty easy to be blatantly creative.

In short, receiving recognition for the “honest” spot that never ran wasn’t worth it. And, one might wonder about J.C. Penney and Saatchi & Saatchi. They’ve both earned ample exposure, placing full blame on the smallest vendor to take the fall for releasing one of those nifty ideas that was unfortunately destined for the cutting room floor.


Tuesday, June 24

Advertising Frankness: Cottonelle

On the heels of a $100 million “Be kind to your behind” advertising campaign for Cottonelle, Adweek asks whether personal products are becoming too frank for consumers. The new campaign, produced by JWT (New York), skips past fluffy clouds and cuts right to reality.

Mark Wodern, brand manager for Cottonelle, thinks so. He told Adweek that consumers are telling them loud and clear that they have more permission to speak to them directly and more overtly about their behinds, cleaning, and care for their bottoms.

Although some companies are still struggling with the idea, the trend extends beyond personal care. Consumers are growing tired of being sold on sappy, happy feel good moments alone. They want to know what the product or service really does (and I don’t necessarily mean they want it to be crude).

We see it here too. The number of clients who expect their copywriting to “sell” the product or service is diminishing as smarter clients are listening to their customers. Better writing communicates the product’s message.

Sure, writing can still be fun, clever and eye-catching. But not in the way some clients used to think. Consumers are developing an aversion to messages that try to hard — to be funny, to be clever, to seem bigger than they are, and to ‘sell’ the product.

They’re right, of course. Any writing that tries too hard is likely to indicate the opposite. More than one woman has complained about the silliness of the new Always campaign. More than one shopper has figured out that adding “!!!” at the end of the “SALE” does not make it more exciting. And most people have figured out that being “one of the leading companies” simply means it’s not in bankruptcy (maybe).

Of course, before public relations professionals snicker at their advertising peers, I might mention they are no better. Especially in the resort industry, laundry lists of facts and figures about floor space litter every release. Reality check needed? Maybe.

“Honey, where do you want to stay?”

“Um, I want to stay at whatever resort has the most square feet of casino floor.”

“Yeah, me too.”

Come on. It’s not like counting cup holders in a vehicle, which is significantly more important to consumers. Although, I suppose that might be better than calling Playstation 3 “Ready to rumble. It's hot.” It might be marginally more tolerable than duplicating a list of retailers to make the company bigger than it is. And it's absolutely better than asking people to “take the risk” with their antiperspirant.


Monday, June 23

Advertising Flattens: Where's The Connection?

According to Advertising Age, the top 100 U.S. advertisers last year increased ad spending by 1.7 percent, while measured media spending rose a negligible 0.3 percent for major marketers. This is the most sluggish growth for advertising since the 2001 recession.

However, a sluggish economy is not only to blame. The entire industry is slowly shifting toward including and incorporating social media. While those who already are engaged in social media don’t always appreciate the notion, advertising seems to be slowly remembering its roots.

“There is no such thing as national advertising. All advertising is local and personal. It’s one man or woman reading one newspaper in the kitchen or watching TV in the den,” Morris Hite, who once oversaw Tracy-Locke-Dawson before it was purchased by BBDO/New York in 1982.

Sure, newspapers might have lost significant ground over the last few years, with Peter S. Appert, an analyst at Goldman Sachs, telling The New York Times “I think the probability is very high that there will be a number of examples of individual newspapers and newspaper companies that fall into a loss position. And I think it’s inevitable that there will be closures in this industry, and maybe bankruptcies.” But if we remain true to Hite’s point, we remain fixed on a single, simple lesson that sometimes seems forgotten.

The emphasis on advertising needs to be message over medium.

Again, the best ads connect to the consumer before demonstrating the cleverness of the advertising team. It’s the kind of thing that Seth Godin touches on now and again, except with a somewhat different conclusion on how we got here. Advertising wasn’t always about slapping innovative ads on top of average products. That’s a relatively new idea that deviated from its golden era.

If you look at the difference between golden era Volkswagen advertising and the most recent campaign, it might make more sense. The 1960s advertising carried the right message for the product. The new campaign attempts to give a nod to that era, but without a tangible connection to the consumer. Maybe that’s why Volkswagen sales are off this month, which goes a bit beyond the price of oil.


Thursday, June 19

Confusing The Issues: The Consumerist

The Consumerist recently asks whether a CVS/pharmacy is discriminating against teens by only allowing two teens to enter the store at a time after the local high school lets out. The student who wrote in to The Consumerist called it ageism and has vowed to avoid the store from now on.

While most comments seem to defend the CVS/pharmacy policy as did many on SpinThicket (some even suggesting the letter writer ‘chill out’) based on the knowledge that stores around high schools have been employing similar tactics for years (even when I was in high school), most are wrong. Customers are allowed to express their dissatisfaction with a poor customer service policy and the best way to express that displeasure is to write a letter or shop elsewhere.

While I have a difficult time classifying this as ageism or legally forcing CVS/pharmacy to change its policy, I do think it’s beneficial to encourage teens to peacefully express their dissatisfaction with what amounts to poor customer service policy. And, in doing so, it might remind CVS/pharmacy (or any store with such policies) that shopping there is not privilege. On the contrary, it’s a privilege for the store to enjoy the after school rush crowd.

If the students boycotted the store for a few weeks, it seems to me that CVS/pharmacy would to have weigh the risks and rewards of a policy that doesn’t seem to be working for their customers, regardless of age. Not to mention, the security personnel who allegedly sneer at the students might consider that these students are probably the only reason that position exists.

Where this applies to communication is simple enough. Sometimes people tend to overextend their arguments (eg. ageism) when a simpler, less emotional statement might just be enough. And that is where the letter writer could have benefited. Conversely though, those who rose to defend CVS/pharmacy might consider reacting less and looking to the root of the problem. It’s a customer service issue.

You know, it really doesn’t make sense to teach students that they must accept disagreeable customer service simply because they happen to attend high school. On the contrary, learning how to communicate as a consumer early on will help them far into the future. All companies have to be reminded from time to time to time that companies and customers have choices.

Do you want them as a customer? Do they want you as a vendor?

For CVS/pharmacy, which invests millions in CVS Caremark All Kids Can to be kid and family friendly, I suspect they might be able to come up with a better solution that meets their needs of young customers. Likewise, I hope the student who wrote the letter learns that we don't need to scream discrimination when poor customer service is enough.


Wednesday, June 18

Breaking Up With Oil: GM

There’s some buzz in the advertising business as GM toys with the idea of running a spot to “break up” with oil as a fuel source. But as the saying goes, breaking up is hard to do.

"It's one spot, and it's not in its final creative treatment yet," GM spokeswoman Kelly Cusinato told Automotive News today. "We don't know if we're going to run it."

Two other commercials, created by McCann Erickson, airing on Planet Green are less blunt but do place an emphasis on GM’s continued consideration of alternative fuels. While there has always been considerable speculation about the effectiveness of green advertising, there is one message that resonates with consumers — gas prices have topped $4 per gallon.

Hummer could even be the heaviest causality of GM’s apparent plan to introduce more vehicles that rely on alternative fuels, including electric. As for the reservations in airing the advertisement? While some people speculate that oil companies might have some hold over GM, the more obvious answer is that GM doesn’t need another critic. It has plenty.


Tuesday, June 17

Making Lazy: Passive Customer Service

When it comes to communication, the most impacting miscommunication almost never appears on the news, in print, or anywhere near the marketing department. It happens on the front line, and the people impacted are customers, one at a time.

The two most common causes of miscommunication for larger companies is trending to be passive communication (eg. expecting customers to stay up to date on the company Web site) and scripted employees (eg. requiring representatives to work from scripts even in non-script circumstances).

There are plenty of examples that we’ve helped several companies resolve recently, but I thought it might be fun to share some personal examples to illustrate the point.

Passive Communication.

Cox Communications Inc. recently implemented a new e-mail filtering program to block a specific Internet port. The only mention of the service change is on their Web site.

The reasoning behind the implementation was a good idea, but they did not notify their customers of the change in service beyond posting to their Web site. In fact, we may have never known there was potential problem had it not been for a small number of clients and contacts using Cox as their primary e-mail provider. For some reason, our Cox service provider was disallowing our POP e-mails to Cox customer clients.

Their customer service representatives are now investing time to research the problem and provide a solution. To their customer service department’s credit (once the script questions were ruled out), they immediately upgraded their level service, even calling back with updates rather than leaving us on hold.

While the person-to-person customer service was great, I’m still wondering if better front-end communication might have prevented any service interruption.

Scripted Employees.

It works in reverse too. Not all companies are so fortunate to have proactive employees willing to research the impact to their customers. Some customer service representatives seem too lazy to move off script. This recently occurred when one of our last payments to Volkswagen Credit disappeared in the mail.

We were notified of the missing payment, first by receiving our next payment coupon, which required a double payment, and then by an automated call from the company on the same day the double payment went out. (Again, these are passive communication solution as opposed to a letter or live person phone call). Regardless, my wife called immediately about her car.

Despite learning the payment was likely lost in the mail, the first customer service representative insisted she answer personal questions, without explanation, including about her employment status. Not only did it seemed overly intrusive for a lost payment call, the representative informed her that the missing payment would be reported because the company had allegedly made numerous calls to notify us. Knowing that was not true, she then asked to speak to a supervisor.

“No, you may not speak to anyone else. I’m handling your account.”

For real? As unbelievable as it sounds, yes. She took his name and number and then promptly ended the call. She called back to speak to someone new. The difference was like night and day.

“I see you’ve never missed a payment. I’ll clear this up right now.”

As for those calls? They never happened. The first representative made it up. As for the general ill-tempered representative? The second representative was left having to apologize. As for the personal questions? Volkswagen Credit has recently created a program to save people who are struggling financially from defaulting on their payments. It’s a great idea, but it didn’t apply to our circumstance nor did the first representative mention “why” he needed to ask.

Mixed Messages.

Considering how many companies lean toward intrusive marketing to push products and services (I even had a mortgage company come to my door yesterday), it’s equally amazing how many become passive once you become a customer (I hope you know that periodic calls to your credit card and insurance company almost always result in lower rates).

As for the examples above, proactive communication seems like it could have been the best answer to keep everyone happy. And, once we, as customers, were forced to take proactive steps, the outcome was tied to how empowered the representatives were to make decisions.

Sure, some executives think scripting employees helps representatives stay on the same page. In reality, scripting employees only leads to one-way communication, which we already know is no communication at all.

The solution is somewhere in the middle. Proactive post-purchase communication and strong internal communication can help develop a consistent, and not overly scripted, level of service that empowers employees and reinforces to the customer that they have the right company.


Blog Archive

by Richard R Becker Copyright and Trademark, Copywrite, Ink. © 2021; Theme designed by Bie Blogger Template