Obfuscation or planned confusion?

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So, I’m reading the New York Times over the weekend and I hit upon a sentence that causes me to vigorously shake my head to clear out the cob webs. I read it again and again and still couldn’t wend my way though it’s mash-up of double and triple negatives. Here it is:
 
“…he opposes (first negative) a ban (second negative) only if it failed (third) to include an exception (fourth) to protect the life of the mother.”
 
When they write this stuff, are they smiling?
 
This type of obtusion (Is that a word? It should be.) is what keeps people from reading. Have you ever, I mean ever, read a user license agreement on a Web site?  Or read a prospectus?  How about an annual report financial section?  Is obfuscation a cottage industry? (Tax preparation, is no doubt a billion dollar business.)
 
I’m not for dumbing down the written word, or journalists writing to a 6th grade reading level, but come on people. Can’t we all just try to communicate a little better?  

Simpler times.

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Imagine a time in the 1700s when America’s green tea came from a single company with two ships sailing back and forth to China. Following a 7-month sail, the green tea arrived in lower Manahattan, was offloaded and brought by horse drawn wagon over bumpy cobblestones to a warehouse near Wall Street at which time the shipping barrels were broken open and the tea transferred to smaller dry casks for shipment to points north, south and west.
 
After stops at two more transportation points, a barge ride, and a jaunt in a rain-soaked buckboard wagon, the green tea arrives at the local mercantile. Taken out of its wooden  cask, smelling oh so rich by the way, it is then put into 3 glass jars with metal claps and cloth seals.
 
You, the store proprietor, must charge $.75 for a half pound of the green tea in order to make a little money, which is quite a high price when considering sugar is $.08 and flour is $.04 a pound. Here in Bumpus Mills, MO green tea is a relatively unknown luxury, and perhaps the most expensive product in the store on a cost per pound basis. Which promotional route do you go? Point-of-sale? Or word-of-mouth?   

Where is the middle?

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Social computing has grown in many directions: social networks, social media, personal homes pages, start pages, just to name a few. There seems to be a crazy gravitational force developing, though, that is pulling everyone toward the middle. Those who have stuck to their core technology and/or mission have reaped the biggest revenue benefit. eBay is still tight. Google is tight. Flickr is tight. YouTube and MySpace are tight. But even these companies are beginning to look beyond their missions. They want more pie and they are greedily pursuing it.
 
The more they target competitor’s customers and develop competitive functionality, the more they lose focus and differentiation. They are all moving toward the middle. What will we call the middle? How will consumers describe the middle? 

Will every main social computing company have so much pie on their face that they become unsightly? Will all those cherries and blueberries and peaches and custards and apples turn into one brown sticky mess?

 
Billy Bob Thornton’s “Uhhh huhh” comes to mind.   

Cathy Horyn

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Cathy Horyn is the New York Times fashion reviewer.  I always look forward to Fashion Week in New York because of Cathy’s column.  She’s a brilliant writer!  I want to wear women’s clothes when I finish her column.  Never will I be confused for a Fashionista, but I often wonder whether her pen can make or break collections. What kind of power does she wield? Carolina Herrera must feel she’s important, she’s banned the NY Times from her shows.

Power or not, Cathy is both fun to read and thoroughly convincing.  Check out her prose all week long in the New York Times and at her Blog http://runway.blogs.nytimes.com/

When is funny not funny?

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Was there one Super Bowl commercial  (Am I allowed to use the word Super Bowl without paying a licensing fee?) that wasn’t designed to make people laugh? It seemed that every marketer cared only about creating a humorous imprint on consumers rather than selling a little product. Don’t get me wrong, I love humor. But in the comedy club that has become the Super Bowl I’m afraid consumers are beginning to judge the work, rather than respond to it. The messages are getting lost in the humor.
 
The ad I remember most over the last couple of Super Bowls was the one in which soldiers returning home from Iraq were met with spontaneous applause in the airport. That was powerful. And though I’m not 100% sure it was Budweiser, I’m going to give them credit. While I’m giving Bud (not Bud Light) credit, I’m going to like them a little more as a company, albeit not in any thirst-quenching manner. 

On what is supposed to be advertising’s finest day, I think we’re losing our way.

Dell Diving

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Michael Dell’s announcement to run the company again is a good one, but not if he takes his eye off the ball and decides to build revenue through increased focus on business services/consulting. The direct-sales business model works. The market has never been more conditioned to buy things direct. Dell’s problem is HP, who is really cutting into its share. Mr. Dell should focus on building a better product than HP and maintaining a lower price point. He should also amp (sic) up the design of his notebooks. Dell once owned notebooks, now the gene pool is being diluted. (After ten years with Dell I’m working on a Toshiba, and though I keep typing Stege instead of Steve, due to the funky keyboard, I’m happy. The screen resolution is terrific.)
 
If Dell decides to focus on business consulting rather than building low-cost, good product with good design, they will gateway right out the door…Steve        

Bud A Dud?

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Anheuser-Busch has looked to one of its ad agencies, DDB, to create a Super Bowl spot aimed at the younger target. Let’s call them 21+.   In this age of ceding control of the creative product to anyone who will listen, DDB has decided to enlist interns to come up with this spot, but that’s a topic for another day. AB’s goal of making Bud more relevant to the younger target, is a very good one.
 
Bud is getting killed–at least in the NY Metro area–in the 21-34 year old demo. 
 
Have I dialed into Beverage Industry newsletters and trade pub data for this insight?  Nope. I went to a Pearl Jam concert at the Meadowlands last year and while the beer lines were 40 feet long at the Guinness cart and the other domestic beer carts, Bud devotees could grab a quaff in seconds. It was unbelievable. It was like the Bud cart repelled people. Perhaps my email of this market research study-of-one got through the firewall to AB’s Bob Lachky. 

Are You Elfing Kidding?

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Over the Christmas holidays OfficeMax and their agency Toy Inc. cobbled together a fun little creative effort to build gift sales.  Not many people go to OfficeMax to roam the store looking for Christmas/Holiday inspiration, so getting bodies into the store that time of year for anything other than pen sets and desks is probably a challenge.
 
The program, a piece of branded entertainment called Elf Yourself, generated 36 million visits to the online site over 5 weeks. 
 
Here’s a quote from Ad Age on the program results: “It ended up with a 20% bump in online traffic during the holidays, though it’s tough to say if the web effort was responsible for a sales rise at OfficeMax.” 

Are you Elfing kidding me?

 
If I parse the Ad Age sentence, the quote either means that 36 million new consumer impressions did not translate into store sales, or there weren’t any increased store sales.
I certainly hope it was the former and that there were increases but management felt they couldn’t be sure they were attributable to the 36M impressions. (Must have been those holiday point of sale signs and end-caps.)  If stores sales were not up YOY, then I would call that an Elfing opportunity lost. 

Ford Motor Company

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Ford Motor Company has tanked so badly, it is beyond understanding. By some accounts, for every car they sold in 2006, Ford lost $4,700. No genius I, but perhaps someone should have done something a little more sweeping when Ford hit the $1,000 per car mark. 
 
Marketing is still all about the 4Ps (product, price, promotion, place/distribution.)  Ford’s problem was, and is, the product. Too many SUVs, too many big trucks, and too poor car design for the family sedan. When Ford let the best selling Taurus lose market share to Toyota’s Camry, the cards were dealt. Ford will only come back when they build a new car or two that meet the needs of the consumer: small, responsive, gas efficient, youthful — and then surround it with imagination-capturing promotion (another “P”.)
 
Ford is a geezer brand, with geezer management, at a geezer ad agency. All the YouTube videos in the world aren’t going to change that.  By the time Michelangelo was 28, he had done his most exciting work.     

Strategy vs. Tactics

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Here’s what’s wrong with marketing today:  The tacticians are pushing out the strategists. 

Measure, measure, measure is taking over for common sense, sense, sense.  Big strategic branding ideas are being replaced by campaign management, ROI, and marketing metric dashboard mania.  Pay per click? Please.  Our ADD society is being fueled legions of marketing people who only see today and next quarter.  

Big branding ideas take time to build, to take hold, to burst forth from the seed. Tacticians don’t have time for that.  

Campaigns come and go but a powerful branding idea is indelible.