Audi Rings the Bell

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Audi is launching a new advertising campaign using San Francisco’s Venables, Bell and Partners. I saw an Audi TT ad last night and hadn’t a clue what it was all about. Good thing I read the newspaper this morning. Apparently the Audi TT, a very cool car, is so fast the agency shrunk all of its features and beauty shots into a 2 second segment, which must be viewed using a DVR in slow motion. The whole spot is :15 and thoroughly unintelligible.

 
It’s no wonder the ad was a slurry of creativity; the strategy was unfocused.  If you follow Audi’s new marketing executive, Scott Keogh, whose explanatory quote in today’s Wall Street Journal, was “We are putting our foot in the ground and saying this is who we are,” I’m betting we are in for one long strange Audi trip.
 
What’s the idea? I’m not really sure. The new tagline is “Truth in Engineering,” which as any marketing student knows is every German company’s strategy. And though impressive engineering can be a strategy, from everything I’ve read and seen so far this campaign is all tactics with not even a hint of an idea. Stay tuned.
 

DVRs

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Digital Video Recorders, now reported to be in over 17% of homes with televisions are often vilified for making it easy to fast-forward through commercials, and deservedly so. I admit to shrinking shows I’ve recorded to 44 minutes, or so. But sometimes, I forget to fast forward and watch, especially if they are good commercials. Not many are, though, and that is a problem.
 
There is a DVR phenomenon worth noting that not everyone talks about, and that is multiple viewings of a program by different household individuals on different schedules. My house may watch “24” three times in a given week. And some people, my son for instance, like to keep shows on the hard drive and watch them over and over. “Kill Bill” Volumes 1 and 2 have been on the hard drive, along with the commercials, for months. These are cases of DVRs actually adding to commercial viewership, Mr. Nielsen. 

Has Starbucks met its match?

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It appears as if Starbucks, the marketing juggernaut, has met its match in Ethiopia.  Getachew Mengistie, Ethiopias’s director general of intellectual-property, has asked Starbucks to sign a licensing agreement which will allow Starbucks to use some (pending) Ethiopian trademarks associated with 3 regional brands of coffee. Starbuck has fought back, gotten a little stink on itself, and seems to have agreed  to terms. This is some real “first world” shit Ethiopia is pulling. Brilliant!
 
My coffee already costs $3.50 at Starbucks and it may go up a few cents, but I’m addicted. I can’t help but feel that Starbucks is a dressed version of the East African khat dealers who sell their leafy stimulant on street corners.  It’s more than a fad. We American’s really need our stimulants. And for the record, khat is believed to have originated in Ethiopia. Are you listening Mr. Mengistie?

Partners in Care.

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A while back I interviewed for the director of marketing position with Partners in Care, the private care division of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, and was edged out by a traditional marketing executive.  My background is agency. 
 
There should be more advertising people in marketing positions.  The good ones really understand how to communicate with and motivate consumers. They don’t over-analyze. Traditional marketers who approve advertising, often try to put too much into ads, or too little, for fear of pigeon-holing themselves. 
 
Anyway, I’m thumbing through the newspaper this week and see a Partners in Care ad. As is my way, I ask “What’s the idea?”   Here’s the headline:
 
“Our aides provide exceptional care. Then again, we’re
exceptionally careful about how we choose them.”
 
The headline sits beside a picture of two smiling women: one or a certain age, the other of a certain age in reverse. The copy goes on about commitment and skill and fla fla fla. What the ad does not say is that Partners in Care is a fee service, not covered by insurance. So what is the idea of this ad? They are exceptional? They hire well? Come on. And even if that is an idea, where’s the proof?  Where are the demonstrations of the idea?  Where’s the consumer?  

Partners is a great organization. It needs to take better care of its message.

 

Paint the planes? OMG

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 Delta emerged from bankruptcy yesterday with a big new financial plan, some product and service modifications, a politically inspired ad campaign, and new logo and color scheme. I’m not sure this latter part translates to “paint the planes,” but I certainly hope not. 
 
When USAir changed to U.S. Airways (don’t forget the periods after U and S), they painted the planes. If memory serves, the cost to paint each plane was $2 million and it took the equipment out of the sky for a number of days. Arguably, the paint job in that case was needed as was the name change. People were referring to USAir as US Scare. What was needed more than a paint job, however, was newer planes, a consolidation of plane types, and improved safety standards. (Oh yeah, they went bankrupt, too.) 
 
The last thing Delta needs is to change its color scheme and paint its planes. That’s not a demonstration of sound fiscal management to the public – especially, when gas is $3.15 a gallon. Demonstrating sound financial management is the objective. Proving it is the story. A new color scheme is off message.
 

Viagra

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An ad agency in Canada – Taxi — has developed a unique TV commercial for Viagra in which all verbal communication between the protagonist men is nonsensical gibberish. The only discernable word in the entire spot is the brand name “Viagra.” Thanks to a law, drug companies do not have to list side effects so long as they don’t mention the condition a drug is treating. Pfizer, therefore, feels it can parlay Viagra’s high brand recognition and consumer understanding into what it calls a “reminder” ads, conveyed in :15.
 
What I like about the idea is how hard the visual impression of the ad, i.e., the actors’ performances, must convey product benefit. Without words, all eyes are on the story. Perhaps every TV commercial should be considered through this lens. Does the spot, without words save for the brand name, convey the sales story?  If we deconstruct our ads and look at the components are they working hard enough to sell product? Food for thought.  
 

Moto

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Motorola, a company that has had its ups and downs over the past 15 years, made the cover of the Wall Street Journal today for its rather sudden fall from earnings grace. This was attributed to Moto’s not having a big hardware winner after the amazing run of the Razr cell phone line.  The article cites how the company didn’t properly anticipate and prepare for next generation cell service. For a company that used to build and market cell infrastructure switches, this is a bit surprising. In the consumer marketing business, you always have to look forward, it seems Moto didn’t.
 
In a couple of days, my company’s first big product launch, Zude, will go off and I’m expecting it to be huge. The Internet being what it is, we may have millions of users in a matter of days, weeks or months. But what’s next? That’s the truly exciting question. 
 
I’m already looking ahead. May 1st 2007 (our beta launch date) is so 2006.
 

List ads.

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Driving in my car the other day I heard a radio ad for the New Jersey Dept. of Tourism. It was a prime example of a bad “list ad.” What’s a list ad?  It’s a long recitation of features and benefits, separated by commas, that tries very hard not to leave anything out. Even so, I bet those brave product managers who approve list ads often feel they have left something out. Ooh, that hollow feeling.
 
Here are just a few of the things strung together in the NJ Tourism ad: “ You can hike the Adirondack trail, visit a revolutionary battlefield, raft down the Delaware, visit antique stores along river towns,….” No doubt there were the obligatory beach and skiing mentions.
 
As someone who has actually hiked the Kittattinny Ridge in NJ – an amazingly beautiful hike – I can say with certainty that it deserves its own ad. That goes for the antique stores. And the rafting. But no, we got a list. Decision makers want to include the most features per media dollar they can. When you say everything, you say nothing. It doesn’t work in TV and it certainly doesn’t work in radio.

The Webertarian party

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I am the marketing director for Zude, a new Web property poised to launch May 1, 2007. Personal success and pride aside, we really do hope Zude goes big for some altruistic reasons. It may sound corny, but our mission is to give everyone in the world their own website.  We believe that when everyone has a voice and a forum, the world will be a better, more informed and tolerant place. Stop laughing. Think about it.  

People have already demonstrated a desire to express themselves on the web; that’s what’s driving the social computing phenomenon. The problem is, there are still too many restrictions and limitations on the Web — not the least of which is that most people can’t build their own site.  Without going all commercial on you, Zude solves much of that.
 
So what’s this Webertarian thing? Well, when you build a new product and a new brand, you need to understand your target.  That understanding is required to create the big idea and insure messaging fit. And the bigger the target the better.  Our target is “Webertarians.” Webertarians are those who cherish their freedom. Webertarians believe that, within reason, less rules and less governance is better. Webertarians believe that big corporations shouldn’t own proprietary tools that limit access and action. It’s the big Webertarian party (little “p”) my friends, you may want to stay tuned.
 

A whole lotta “ones.”

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My day job is director of marketing for an Internet start-up called Zude. Zude, we like to crow, is the fastest, easiest way to build and manage a personal website. There is lots more you can do with Zude, but you don’t have the time so that’s the boil down.
 
As people begin to sign up for the Zude Beta launch (May 1) and I review the database of email addresses and comments, I realize that it’s going to be very hard to deal with each of these users (there are thousands) on a one-to-one basis. Now, I have never gone one-to-one with Martha Rogers or Don Peppers, but I would say to them that I can treat my users like individuals. I can mail them more appropriate mail, I can serve up more contextual ads, but I will not be able to have a meaningful conversation with each and every one of them.
 
What I will be able to do is sample their feelings, their likes and dislikes, and design a brand plan that best delivers on that information. With a promise that’s clean and can be articulated without an Excel chart.  If the promise is right and we stick to it, we will have built a brand and a whole lot of “ones” will know what we stand for.