Monday, December 28, 2009

Bergdorf Goodman - Setting Trends in Visual Merchandising

Located on an Avenue aptly called a shopper's paradise in New York City, Bergdorf Goodman is a well known high-end retailer with a flair for visual merchandise. Each year, during the holidays, the legendary store windows attract many a fashionable eye and scores of photographers.

As my photos suggest, this was the year of the fox and a much-needed cross-promotion. The windows depicted sets from "Fantastic Mr. Fox", a movie based on the classic children's book by Roald Dahl. Each of the twelve windows of Bergdorf Goodman Men's Store located on Fifth Avenue and along 58th Street depicted scenes from the film few of which I have captured on a recent visit to the city. The attention to detail made the puppets look almost life-like. The clothes were tailored to perfection and co-branding was achieved seamlessly.

This collaboration is a first for Bergdorf Goodman’s, as never before has his holiday windows been partnered with a major film production house. With the demand for luxury brands hitting a low, this may be one of the smartest moves I have seen in recent times.

Holiday Season Window Display in New York - Cartier and Fendi

As you can see in my pictures, Cartier wraps it up much like last year and Fendi clinches it with a double round. Luxury brands in the accessory segment, each had an elegant touch despite the drop in sales. Hope next year is better for all of us!

Louis Vuitton - Destinations Galore!

As you can see from my pictures, Louis Vuitton hits the nail on the head with their "destinations" theme for this year's Christmas display. Tokyo, Mumbai, London screams the stamps from their Manhattan store on Fifth Avenue. They have successfully managed to promote their brand such that it stands out in the holiday clutter and they have done it without losing sight of the function of the actual product. Luggage = destinations = Louis Vuitton. For a luxury brand in this economy this is a bold step and if I may say so, a beautiful one.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Window Displays from the Streets of Manhattan

Macy's invented the concept of Christmas window displays in 1862. Even today, Manhattan's famous Fifth Avenue attracts thousands of people during the holiday season...they brave the cold and the crowds to soak in an art unlike any other.

Marketing students will be aware of POP or Point of Purchase advertising which of course are known to make quite an impact on sales if done right. After all, the whole idea of "impulse buying" stems from the perfect display.

Above is the window from Bloomingdale's Dynamic Duo theme from this year. Wrapping up a year of blogging, I will be posting a series of window displays from the streets of New York.

Happy 2010 everyone!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Vanity Flies Right Out of the Window

The above is one from a set of three of Jeep's latest campaign. Although hard-core Jeep enthusiasts may not like the new strategy with its lack of a dirt trail, I must say am liking it! I get that this is more of a lifestyle ad than a product communication but given the state of the automotive industry and GM in particular, this seems to be a pretty smart move! And what's more, the core brand value "life outdoors" remains untouched.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Addressable Advertising

TV ads have always lagged behind their technologically advanced cousins...interactive web ads. Not any more.

<- Pic via WSJ Online

According to WSJ Online, "As Comcast gets close to a deal for control of General Electric's NBC Universal, the big cable operator and Madison Avenue think the merger could lead to some major changes in the $65 billion U.S. television advertising market.
The potential new company could speed the development of interactive TV ads and "addressable advertising."
Interactive ads let viewers vote in a poll or use their remote controls to request more information about a product or apply for a coupon. Addressable, or targeted, advertising uses set-top boxes to route commercials to specific households or neighborhoods based on data about income, ethnicity, gender or other characteristics. It lets an advertiser send a sports-car commercial to a childless home and a minivan spot to a home with children."

This summer, Procter & Gamble Co. teamed up with TiVo for Charmin Toilet Paper. As shown in the pic above, the animated ad has an option in the top-right corner with which viewers can interact. If interested, one can apply for a Charmin coupon using their TiVo remote control. For this kind of one-on-one interaction, Madison Ave is ready to spend the big bucks. Of course, the program remains paused and no part of it is lost during the exchange. The coupon is sent by mail but according to WSJ Online, TiVo has declined to provide results for the ads since the campaign is still on.

While this degree of involvement is every advertiser's dream, the actual process behind interactive ads is far from easy. The ads have to be customized for different TV companies which almost always use different technologies. But what seems tough today can be made simple tomorrow. Soon interactive ads may become the norm rather than the aberration that they are today!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Take Charge

O&M does it again. Creativity at its best. The latest from American Express basic charge card, after a hiatus of 7 years is captivating yet simple. The tagline "Don't Take Chances. Take Charge" urges customers to take responsibility for their spending with a lightness of spirit that is hard to ignore. Although the benefits mentioned in the commercial is a huge plus, the charge card in question requires the balance to be paid in full each month. Given the economic turmoil of the past year, am not surprised.

According to Forbes, "The number of credit cards issued this year has decreased 39%, causing further concern for card companies already dealing with financial setbacks. AmEx's second-quarter revenue, reported in late July, dropped 18% to $6.09 billion and profits plunged 48%."

Keeping the above in mind, this campaign is a hands-down winner. It not only encourages consumers to get credit cards and buy stuff (which by the way is great for the economy), but also manages to remind them to be sensible about it. Few campaigns can say it all...and still make us smile. This one sure does.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Coca Cola - From Santa Claus to Social Media

Advertising plays a larger role in our life than we can ever imagine. Did you know that the image of Santa most people have today is largely based on Coca-Cola advertising?

Before the profiling by Coca-Cola, Santa's appearances ranged from big, small, tall, fat, elf-like, bishop-like, gaunt, strict, spooky...and he wore everything from animal skin to a tan suit. Except for the color of his suit, the jolly old man owes much of his persona to the beverage giant.The traditional red coat has more to do with the imagination of Civil War cartoonist Thomas Nast than with any brand color.

Back in the 1920s many people thought of Coca-Cola as a drink meant for warm weather. With the 1922 slogan "Thirst Knows No Season," followed with a campaign connecting Santa Claus with the beverage, the company tried to remind people that Coca-Cola was a great choice in any season. Thus started the association of Claus and Coke.

An Excerpt From the Coca-Cola Website:

"Archie Lee, the D'Arcy Advertising Agency executive working with The Coca-Cola Company, wanted the next campaign to show a wholesome Santa as both realistic and symbolic. In 1931, The Coca-Cola Company commissioned Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom to develop advertising images using Santa Claus --- showing Santa himself, not a man dressed as Santa. For inspiration, Sundblom turned to Clement Clark Moore's 1822 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (commonly called "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"). Moore's description of St. Nick led to an image of Santa that was warm, friendly, pleasantly plump and human. For the next 33 years, Sundblom painted portraits of Santa that helped to create the modern image of Santa ---an interpretation that today lives on in the minds of people of all ages, all over the world."

More recently, as part of the "Open Happiness" campaign Coca-Cola Company is sending three bloggers to 206 countries on Jan 1, 2010 to find out what makes people happy and then blog, tweet, upload videos and generally create a social media buzz around it for one whole year! Consumers will get to vote, suggest and complain as with any social media campaign. - [via psfk]

From redefining an icon to digging deep into the latest trend, the Coca-Cola Company is all about branding and maybe a secret formula or two. Given the composition and benefit of the product in question, that is the way to go!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Branding Brown

We all know the kind of hype generated by Dan Brown and his books revolving around Harvard professor Robert Langdon. Recently, the character was brought to life by Tom Hanks as summer blockblusters. But apart from being adapted to the big screen effortlessly, Brown's books have a certain brand of their own.

His contemporary J.K. Rowling has claimed her place in fiction fantasy with the Harry Potter series. Her USP being magic and her audience young. Although Brown's latest offering, "The Lost Symbol" has not been able to overtake the sales figure of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”, his books does have a heady mix of mysticism and skepticism, young and old, good and evil. His canvas is larger and his audience older.

But the branding of his protagonist is impeccable. Notice how he describes Langdon's Harris Tweed jacket and collegiate cordovan loafers right at the beginning. What his character wears is part of who he or she is. The BlackBerry and iPhone users in the story are different in their profession, their attitude and their personality. So are the coffee and tea drinkers.

Then comes the branding of the books in general. Described as "brain candy" by the Chicago Tribune, Brown's books can be categorized as a masstige brand. Though accessible and understood by the masses in general, they have a certain prestige associated with them. After all, we are following a "Harvard Professor" in his quest to unlock the mysteries of the world and save a life or two in the process.

Also, the deliberate mismatch in the characterization where academicians form the core of a thrilling plot fit for the Jason Stathams of the world is an obvious play at consumer(reader) aspirations. The actual readers of his books will be likely to be a bookworm whose idea of a Sunday is not chasing fanatics around the globe. So when Brown picks up a Professor from a mundane weekend and places him right in the middle of a chaotic international disturbance, his readers are already hooked. Aspiration as a brand attribute is pretty common in the world of advertising.

Brand Involvement is another key feature in his stories. The codes need to be unraveled, the symbols understood and the mystery solved. He keeps the reader two steps ahead of the protagonist making him or her feel smart.

The marketing of the book is another story altogether. Every form of media is tapped resulting in Doubleday announcing that Brown's "The Lost Symbol" has already sold more than 1 million copies after being on sale for one day in the United States, Canada and Britain. That total includes preorders for the book, which has been at or near the top of for months. The eBook version has been in the news too though the actual sales figure have not been released by Doubleday. The publishing industry is evolving as I write. Not so much the branding. The book, the author and his main character is and will remain a study in passive branding.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Crowdsourcing for Flavors

"Vitaminwater is turning to Facebook fans to come up with its next flavor. The Flavorcreator Facebook app, which launched this week and runs through Oct. 20, is designed to crowdsource the company's next product." - reports BrandWeek.

I am sure Vitaminwater has done enough research before spending money on this venture but I could not help think of Henry Ford's famous quote "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

I checked out the Vitaminwater Facebook application and found that it demands a lot of time of the user. So if you are looking for the ever elusive involvement quotient, it's high. But I still don't know if this is a good idea. Let's wait and watch.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Progress is Beautiful

Created by San Francisco-based Venables Bell & Partners

I know how this Audi Ad is dangerous if imitated, breaks all traffic rules and generally makes no sense. But I am not here to judge or over analyze till all the fun is gone. Now and then, I simply love the thrill of a car chase and nobody does it better than the transporter himself. Aired during this year's Superbowl, this commercial shows Jason Statham behind the wheel of an Audi A6.

Last year's Superbowl had Audi do a parody of the famous "horse head in bed" scene from The Godfather. According to the NewYork Post, "Audi says the ad scored well with dealers and helped traffic to its Web site jump almost 200 percent. It reported a 7 percent decrease in sales in 2008, although that was far better than most of its competitors. At the same time, Audi saw its US market share rise slightly, from 0.7 percent to 0.6 percent."

After a gap of two decades, returning to the Superbowl circuit in 2008 seems to have turned out well for the car company. So this year, Audi has increased its marketing budget by almost 20 percent and again targeted the big daddy of media spends. Post Superbowl 2009, American audiences are being shown shorter versions of the 60 seconder.

With most car companies talking directly to the consumer about savings and assurance programs, Audi's tone and style is like a breath of fresh air.

Sometimes it pays to be different. The recession will not last forever. Meanwhile, let's just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Make Way for eBooks and Book Ads

Last month, Barnes & Noble launched an online store for digital books with 700,000 titles. Moreover, they intend to stock more than a million eBooks in the coming 12 months. To read them, you can download the free eReader from their website which is compatible with iPhone, iTouch, BlackBerry, PC and Mac. It is interesting to note here that it is not compatible with either Kindle from Amazon or the Sony Reader. To get ahead in the battle of eBooks, Amazon recently released a free software to turn our iPhones and iTouch into Kindles.

If all this wasn't enough, now there are talks of placing ads in e-books! Imagine scrolling down Pride and Prejudice to find an ad for a toothpaste. Thankfully, the ads will try and be contextual or be based on the customer's user profile. As if that is any relief.

Don't get me wrong here. Though I love the smell of a brand new book and lose track of time in a bookstore, I am not really averse to the idea of eBooks. I am all for technology and moving on...and of course, marketing.

I see the bright side like how ads in eBooks will bring down the cost of both the books and the reading devices.

The ad revenue will positively impact the author, the publisher, the e-book store, the device manufacturers.

The competition between Amazon and Barnes & Noble will result in more and more eBooks and also a better reading experience.

The printing world is anyway trying to revamp itself through this digital revolution. One more change wouldn't hurt.

But what if this trend trickles down to print? According to Austin Modine in The Register, it is a possibility for anybody who wants to avail of a lower price in an on-demand book from Amazon.

Now that may be taking things too far. Or is it the future of reading?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Branding India

I have been writing for travel websites for more than a year now and the way I see it, each city is a brand. Each country needs to be placed right, much like a product. Tourism is an industry which needs to be promoted, much like a service.

Often what bothers me is how India is misrepresented time and again. The poverty is highlighted, women are shown as helpless or oppressed and everthing somehow points at some kind of slum tourism. Any trace of luxury or well-being is strictly avoided.

In a recent World Hum article, I came upon the sentence "In all my train rides so far, she was the first Indian woman I’d seen traveling solo; the first who wasn’t dressed in traditional clothing, and herding children around the train." Well, in all my years in India I have had plenty of opportunity to see women travelling solo, mostly for work and obviously not "herding" children.

The only time I saw the true flavor of an Indian city captured was when I caught an episode of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" on the Travel Channel.

I believe that the right advertising can make or break a brand so I thank the makers of the Incredible India Ad (see video above). It tries to give the right picture of India and succeeds beautifully. The ad portrays the country's diversity without resorting to visuals of the underbelly. Yes, every country has a seedier side to it but why would anybody want to use that to attact tourists beats me.

If we want to brand India, let's do it right.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Marketing is not a cost" - John Gerzema

I follow John Gerzema's Brand Bubble so I clicked on this video posted by my friend Saurav on Facebook. Soon I found myself listening intently to John who was talking about "Avoiding the Looming Crisis in Brand Value" in this year's The Economist Marketing Forum. He cites examples of brands who have done the right thing, he warns us of the changing consumer psyche and of the changing marketing principles. He talks about "trust", "value", "values" and "durability" among other things. Yes, we gotta get down to the basics, offer warranties, cherish loyalties etc. Those I have heard before. What I hadn't was what he said at the end - "Marketing is not a cost, but a fiduciary responsibility to share holders." I second that.

During the conference, John also says that this time around more and more brands are getting innovative with their approach. For eg, McDonalds has this website called where you can send a letter to your friend and stop him/her from paying for over-priced coffee. On the other hand, Starbucks has their Gold Card Program for people who really love Starbucks. These are just one of many promotional or branding ideas, one of which I had mentioned in a previous post of mine where I had maintained that "Quality Matters". Cause' it does. McDonald's can never ever get my coffee right whereas Starbucks does it everytime! But again, that's just my opinion.

Innovation. Competition. Both spell heaven for the consumer. Also, the economic meltdown has given us a chance to look at ourselves and re-think our choices
. Our regulatory bodies have a lot to learn. So do we and the brands we promote or purchase.

John also said that "Trust in brands has declined by 50%" while according to Brand Asset Valuator (BAV), "Trust is the second-most desirable attribute for a brand, right after high quality". It is interesting to note here that "sensuous" is the least desirable attribute.

It makes sense, doesn't it? Consumers want to be able to trust their brands, they don't need them to be sexy! Marketing is definitely a fiduciary responsibility, but we have to make sure we market the right goods or services. Quality matters. As always.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Focus Group vs. Facebook

According to Nielsen NetView, users are spending more and more time on Facebook. The study suggests that the average US user spends more than 4.5 hours a month on Facebook, beating competitors like AOL, Google, Yahoo and Micrsoft hollow. This obviously explains why everything from the Lexus Convertible to a no-calorie Sweetener is nowadays advertised on the said site.

But Splenda Mist has gone one step further by doing away with focus groups altogether. Yes, the dreaded panel of freebie-lured opinionators is slowly on its way out. Because Facebook offers various advantages.

1. Basic information about the target group is already available.

2. According to Adage, "Facebook offered us the opportunity not only to advertise with a brand message and a product message but also the opportunity to solicit feedback and to have our target raise their hand and say, 'I want to sample this product,'" said Ivy Brown, group product director-Splenda. Which probably explains why Splenda gave away more than 16,000 samples in two weeks when it had hoped to distribute 10,000 samples in 12 weeks.

3. Feedback is interactive and sometimes, in real-time.

4. Reach is easily extended to the friends of the target who signs up for a sample or becomes a fan of the product. The fact that he or she has sampled or joined a fan-base immediately shows up on the news-feed of their Facebook homepage.

But what is in it for Facebook in terms of revenue? Makes sense only if it does this for lots and lots of brands. One niche player like Splenda Mist is not going to bring in the moolah.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Have Fun with a Run

Advertising Agency: 72andSunny, USA
Music Artist: Gnarls Barkley
Song: Run (I’m a Natural Disaster)

Nike, the proud owners of one of the world's most popular slogans "Just Do It" and the max-recognized logo, the famous swoosh to match it, has done it again.

At the beginning of this year, (the world's largest running club) tallied the kilometers of men and women who join an official Men vs. Women online running challenge using the Nike+ system through March 13 to April 20. The website is not new, but the challenge is. Those who think User Generated Content or UGC is a waste of time should think again. This idea was first suggested by a consumer on the Nike+ website, an interactive portal launched by Nike way back in 2006. The website allows Nike+ running shoes to transmit data wirelessly to an iPod nano, an iPod touch or Nike+ SportBand. Information on time, distance, pace and calories burned during a run is stored on You can stay motivated by setting goals, challenging others to virtual races, reach specific goals or use the tons of other features offered on the website.

As usual, Nike has partnered with Apple...nothing new about that.

But Nike has got many things right with this campaign.

1. Used integrated media. The above TV spot is just one of many promotions.

2. Made good use of humor and great music, both sure-shot winners with the target group.

3. Carried on with their co-branding efforts with a brand well-suited to their own image. Apple and Nike speak to similiar demographics.

4. Tapped on our most basic competitive spirit, I mean, what can be more fun than Men Vs. Women?

5. Given us the whole Nike experience. The gears, the tracking, the camaraderie and the sheer thrill of a sport which is the easiest and the most difficult at the same time.

Check out the video posted above and tell me if you dont feel like putting on those shoes and going for a run.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Advertising Budget in a Slow Economy

Click on image to enlarge

As the cartoon by Tom Fishburne suggests, this is exactly what some premium brands are doing or thinking of doing. My advice: DONT! In times of economic downturn, the last thing you want to do is lose your premium advantage. Instead,

1. Focus on your core brand value and maintain it.

2. Try and avoid advertising budget cuts as much as possible. When the economy revives as we all know it will, you think it will do your brand any good if you had zero consumer contact during the slowdown.? Naah! I didn't think so.

3. No need to get all sappy. Just maintain brand loyalty through presence in multi-media. Nobody likes to be patronized, right?

4. This maybe a good time to go digital. Saves you money, expands your reach. According to Advertising Age, Procter & Gamble slashed U.S. ad buys 18% in the first quarter but more than doubled digital spending. "Our media strategy is pretty simple: Follow the consumer," said Marc Pritchard, global marketing officer. "And the consumer is becoming more and more engaged in the digital world."

5. Brush-up on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SMO (Social Media Optimization). These are the advertising tools which will rule the coming years.

6. While buying media, this is the time to take advantage of the low cost of entry and increase your share of voice across categories.

The points mentioned above are not new to many as is evident from the fact that brands like P&G did not slash their advertising budget even during the Great Depression. According to TNS Media Intelligence (via Media Post), U.S. media spending declined 14.2% in Q1, mainly because of automobile brands. But companies like GE, Sprint, Johnson & Johnson and Verizon increased their media spend during the same period! Apart from financial gain, these companies will be perceived as stable and consistent, both desirable qualities for any brand. Don't you think?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

To Bing Or Not To Bing

I assume we all know what Bing is by now. After spending $80 million to $100 million on an advertising campaign which forced JWT to thaw its frozen hiring, I would believe the least Microsoft has done is created a brand presence. Always happy to use a new product or the latest in sevice, I jumped in to find out all about Bing. The words "new" and "latest" spell "improvement" and maybe a certain "cool factor" in my mind.

The first thing that struck me were the Bing ads. Here's one from the seriesNow check out the Bing site. What information overload are they talking about? The Bing site itself is filled with unnecessary trivia. Why would I want to know about the benefits of garlic when I am looking for information on Long Island? The brand promise does not match the goods delivered to our browsers. Also, do a mouseover over the homepage image and you will be bombarded with more and more stuff you had no intention of looking up.

I googled my name and my blog showed up. I tried on blog! Only my travel articles or rather, the same article came up multiple times. They have a separate link for blogs you might say, but where is the search box on the Bing blogs page?

Maybe marketers will have to re-think their SEO strategy as Bing throws up sub-categories on a search word. For eg. a search for "Long Island" got me a list of links to Long Island clubs, restaurants, tourism, facts, DMV, softball, economy and even maps. The maps link is kind of redundant when you think of it. I would have clicked on 'maps' at the top like I do for Google if I needed to look at a map.

As for the other players, I have never been able to find what I am looking for in Yahoo so I have stuck to Google for like forever. I was willing to change given a better product. Guess I will have to google words for some time more before I start to "bing" them.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Quality Matters

Image Credit: Starbucks Blog
Click on image to enlarge

In my earlier posts I had mentioned the importance of copy in ads and the increasing influence of social media. Imagine my surprise when I read that my favorite coffee brand is making ample use of both in their latest marketing efforts to combat the launch of McCafe.

Take the above ads for example. According to New York Times, "Starbucks is putting up new advertising posters in six major cities. To further spread its message, it is trying to harness the power of online social networking sites by challenging people to hunt for the posters on Tuesday and be the first to post a photo of one using Twitter." I am told that there are many more social media initiatives lead by copy-filled ads in the pipeline.

McDonald’s advertising campaign is reportedly worth more than $100 million in television, print, radio, billboard and web ads with a launch strategy of "all coffee's the same, so you might as well buy the cheap stuff." This is where Starbucks is stepping in with facts about their quality, which I should add is way superior. The new Starbucks campaign is telling a story with a generous helping of words and they are recruiting you and me to spread it online. Old-time copy heavy advertising coupled with today's viral marketing can be a formidable marketing mix.

We should be happy because:

1. Both Starbucks and McDonald's are doling out the big bucks for their marketing endeavor. That's gotta be good for the economy, right?

2. Their respective ad agencies can now breathe easy.

3. Competition will eventually lead to better products at a better price.
Happy Java-ing!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Relevance is the Soul of an Advertisement

Click on image to enlarge

Source: Via [adsoftheworld]
Agency: JWT London, UK
Creative Directors: Nick Bell, Russell Ramsey, Howard Wilmott
Art Director: Mark Norcutt
Copywriter: Laurence Quinn
Photographer: Mike Russell
Account: John Mitchell, Nick Jackson

Lengthy is out. Brevity is in. Email is out, IM is in. Expressing yourself within 140 characters via Tweeter is in. Attention span of the average consumer is fast decreasing. Time is the new currency - proclaimed JWT, as part of their revamping efforts in 2005. They also started "one-line brief" where the account managers compress a three page-long brief into a line and presents the same to the creative group. This practice led to hilarious situations and plenty of confusion. Glad we came out of that one. Sometimes information helps. And then there is too much information. How do we strike the balance?

Keep it relevant. If "Brevity is the soul of wit", as the Bard would like us to believe, then "Relevance is the soul of an advertisement". And of course, credibility is every bit as important. As I have said earlier, nothing speeds up the failure of a bad product like a piece of good advertisement. Simply put, you don't want people to know how bad your product is. Anyway, let's go back to relevance.

Being relevant should not be confused with typical idea-killers like "making the logo bigger" or "mentioning the brand name thrice" or "listing benefits". Relevance do not stifle creativity. Take the above Kit Kat ad as an example. They have even showed the product for crying out loud!

As we move towards digital advertising, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) becomes one of our most important tools and relevance the key factor. If the right words and the right tags are not used, wouldn't we find ourselves lost in a sea of digital information? CDA, a digital communications consultancy carried out a study that revealed the importance of both keywords and carewords in SEO. Keywords being the short precise words used to search for a particular information and then carewords being the more descriptive words on the webpage itself which invoke action.

Traditional media may have been kinder towards lack of relevance but there is no place for irrelevant ads in the future. Consumer profiling is becoming more specific and advertisers are choosing their images and words with care. True, mindless ads will still exist but it will get that much harder for them to sell the goods.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Nobody reads copy anymore

I cringe everytime I hear this. A visual and a logo is fine, but what about the sanctity of the written word? The words which build your trust, the joke which amuses you, the promises that make you shake your head with disbelief. I go as far as to read every cereal box and every wrapper that comes my way. When I buy my pouch of ground coffee, I read about the aromatic beans imported from some faraway country, mildly roasted to perfection. I read, I visualize. Am not gullible enough to believe every word that is written but atleast I allow myself the pleasure of reading. You will never find me chucking the written word without reading it first.

Think about a print ad which has copy and a logo but no visual element. Billboards do it all the time. And some print ads do it too. Some of them have shown us how much fun can be had with just the copy. Take the Economist ad or the Femina ad shown above for example. We may be on our way to reading newspapers/mags online and e-books on Kindle. We may have gone past the thrill of newsprint on our thumbs. But words still possess the beauty and power to persuade, to entertain and to it on a moth-eaten book or a back-lit computer screen.

In these days of interactive ads, copy is not given its due. The digital innovation is the main draw, but if you want people to look deeper, make sure you use words which can be read or heard. Words which engage consumers with your product. Words build relationships when said right.

If reading is so passe as some people would like us to believe, then why do you think I heard a 4-year old burst out "Listen to what this says, Mommy! Creamy blend of chocolate ice cream with rich caramel swirls....." He was reading out from an ice-cream carton in the frozen goods aisle and trying to persuade his Mother to buy some. Trust a kid's imagination to see the description for what it is. So what if sometimes the words do not match the product? As long as it is just a stretch of imagination and not a lie, we might as well enjoy the written word in all its glory. I know I do.

Image Credit for Femina print ad -

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dove and CW present the Cwingers!

After pod-busting, we have another innovative TV advertising format, the "Cwingers". As the name suggests, this format swings from TV to Internet and will be broadcasted by the popular US network CW, owned jointly by CBS and Time Warner.

April 27, 2009 is the D-day when CW will unleash this new format on its young viewers. Studies suggest that viewers, aged between 18-34 are constantly switching between various media. More often than not we are hooked on the net and our mobile devices while we watch TV. Can't say I disagree as am guilty of all three right now. CW and Dove have decided to share the cost of producing formats which allow them to follow our zig-zag pattern of media consumption.

According to Advertising Age, "Unilever's Dove, which is getting set to release a new product, Go Fresh Burst Body Wash, aimed at women in their 20s, will sponsor video vignettes about four real 20-something women who once lived lives similar to the characters in the popular drama about wealthy Manhattan private-school kids whose adventures often border on the decadent. The first part of a vignette will air during "Gossip Girl," and then viewers will be directed to watch the rest of it online."

We all watch our favorite shows online at our own time and pace with minimum commercials. This cannibalizes the viewership ratings of the actual TV show. Last year, in a desperate bid to make us watch live TV, CW stopped streaming "Gossip Girl" videos on their website for five consecutive episodes and even had a live TV contest. "CW ran "watch and win" contests that allowed viewers to enter to win a "Gossip Girl" party if they found the program's signature "XOXO" in a scene and reported its location within 36 hours of the episode's on-air debut. More than 100,000 viewers logged on to to enter, and more than 50,000 people entered via mobile. - TV Week.

If the above numbers are any indication, Cwinger ads will be a huge hit. Talks are on for other shows like "90210" to follow suit. And of course, if the viewer profile matches, it won't be long before we see cross-promotions. Instead of forcing people like us to watch more of live TV, CW is trying to find a multi-media solution for the multi-tasking generation. Come next Monday, and am ready to zip!

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Magic of Touch

It is time we lost the keyboard, the mouse and the remote control. It is all about touch, tap and flick! On March 13 2009, Levi Strauss & Co.'s Dockers San Francisco brand launched the first interactive “shakable” mobile advertisement. Of course, the innovation made use of iPhone's inbuilt accelerometer technology and is available within a custom-built ad network of iPhone applications such as iBasketball, iGolf, iBowl and iTV.

Motion sensitive and sound-enabled, these ads are here to stay. Though a relatively new advertising format, they are catching on fast as the world gets caught up in "interactive play". Apart from ensuring that the consumer spends some time with your brand, these ads also help by having a targeted reach and capturing the all-essential data. Here I must mention that though knowing your consumer inside-out sounds like a sweet deal, the world of data capturing is murky and it is best to obtain the required permissions before plunging into a sea of information.

"The Dockers iPhone ad, titled "Shakedown 2 Get Down," features Dufon, a.k.a. Orb/Orbit/Orbitron, a freestyle dance expressionist from a Seattle group called "Circle of Fire," dancing around the screen wearing Dockers Vintage Workwear Khakis. In between levels of gameplay in the select application, users are prompted to shake the iPhone setting off Dufon's dance moves." - says

"Click to view" will soon become a faint memory. It is all about tilting, shaking, rotating, pinching, swiping, flipping and tapping. You gotta touch it to play it. Think of your GPS, your grocery self check-out, movie tickets, train tickets, ATMs and many more applications of daily use. It's all about interactive touch-screens.

Technology is moving ahead and so should advertisers.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Chocolate never felt this good before - repositioning a brand with style

Piyush Pandey, the Executive Chairman and National Creative Director of Ogilvy India has redefined Indian advertising in more ways than one. But in the midst of all his achievements, awards and accolades, there is a commercial from the nineties which can make you feel good like nothing can. Well, almost nothing. See it if you don't believe me.

If Hindi as a language is not your strong point, watch this one. Though I guess the original version is always better, which is Hindi in this case.

Pandey repositioned Cadbury chocolates as an impulse buy for adults. Not a mean feat considering the fact that chocolates and children were synonymous in most Indian households back in the nineties. In the early days of globalization, lack of variety and the popularity of Indian sweets relegated chocolates for the kids in the family. The ad shown above, which is my all time favorite and a series of ads based on the same strategy changed the way Indians looked at chocolates. And Cadbury expanded its target profile by leaps and bounds. When it comes to the parent brand, it is not surprising that Cadbury India has stuck with Ogilvy & Mather for ages, despite the prevalent fickleness in most agency-client relationships.

Apart from making you smile, another striking quality of the above ad is the lack of celebrities. Pandey doesn't believe in spending money on celebs as is quite evident from the best of his work. I have worked with clients like Colgate and Cadbury who would have gasped in horror at the mere idea. They had a point. Some of their brands were built with a certain celebrity in mind and the brand personality matched perfectly. They had the currency, the resources and the contacts. Who was I to complain? Though I still think it is unecessary provided you have a great idea.

Well, Piyush Pandey had it. The "great idea". He did magic with a brand and made it acceptable to a larger population. In India, that means a perceptible increase in sales figures. So everybody from the agency, the marketing and sales department and the consumers are happy. How many brands can say that with confidence?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

How smart is your phone?

Smart phones are the answer to an advertiser's prayer. Each application you download and each site you visit become part of your profile information. Which in turn helps companies target specific products and services to an interested set of consumers. The recent New York Times article on how smart phones are being used to generate user profiles can be found at

Spielberg's Minority Report doesn't seem like that much of a stretch of imagination now, does it? The mall scene is one of my favorites in the movie. So here's a peek.

Obviously, this raises questions about privacy. But it is a gold-mine for any advertiser on any part of planet Earth. The more data they procure, the more focused their ad spend becomes. Which of course translates to a greater ROI. Like it or not, consumer profiling from smartphones is here to stay. As for the interactive ads and the eye-scans bugging Tom Cruise as depicted in the above scene...well, let's just say that nothing is impossible.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Social Media - What are the rules?

Image Credit: Fred Cavazza

Click on image to enlarge

On March 1 2009, Skittles gave up their corporate website and replaced it with user-generated content from social websites like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and You Tube. The result: more than 600,000 fans on facebook, zillions of blog posts and in short, a frenzy amongst netizens or as I call them, "the web-connected". People who are constantly in touch with the virtual world. Just type in skittles social media on Google and you will be bombarded with information on the campaign. The approach is detailed out with screen shots and charts, the pros and cons are discussed in excruciating details and the campaign is praised and shot down in equal measure.

The Result:

Brand Presence - Unprecedented. Check out any of the blogs that come up on your google search. The world "skittles" have more mention than the financial crisis, says one post.

Numbers - Short term sales are likely to be impacted but like in all fads, long-term gains are debatable.

Drawback - Lack of monitoring has resulted in brand abuse in some cases and irrelevant references to the brand in others.

The last point is not very desirable, right? Social Media when used randomly can prove to be fatal for a brand because you don't pay for it so you can't monitor it. It is unearned brand talk and like most things "unearned", quite "uncontrollable" as well.

Television channels seem to have a somewhat handle on the problem. For e.g., when you watch a news program on CNN, they give you the opportunity to blog, email, twitter or facebook it. Then they screen the comments in real-time and only the relevant ones show up on your TV. I prefer the lack of abusive or inane content. Also, if you want the audiences' point of view on a particular subject, opinion polling is a cakewalk. No phone calls, no jammed lines. Just the touch of a button on the screen of your phone or computer.

As with all emerging media, there are no set rules yet and the applications are mind-boggling but instead of dumping the conventional media altogether, it makes sense to use both. Every brand has its unique personality. After all, it wouldn't be very nice if all your facebook page had was comments from other people. You want to say stuff about yourself too!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Crunch on it!

Click on image to enlarge
Market Research agencies. Most clients are obssessed with them and most creative directors couldn't care less about them. Welcome to the nightmare that is account management.

Having said that, I must say I am with the creative team on this one. The amount of money spent on analysis, re-analysis, focus groups and dissection of basic human emotions could very well feed a small country.
Here's an example from when I worked with a well-known confectionery brand in Mumbai, India. The product was a candy worth 1 Indian Rupee (which roughly translates to 2 US cents). We were part of a team doing a television spot worth much much more. (Sorry, the amount is confidential). Three scripts were finalized.

Storyboards were sketched and developed into roughly animated videos, which were handed over to the "research agency" to test. Focus groups were based on the core target group and a huge amount of money was spent. Again, the amount is confidential. On the day of the presentation of the final result, the research agency walked into the conference room armed with the latest laptops and loads of findings. Client and agency waited for the final verdict.

Much was said about the "state of one's mind" while chewing a hard candy vis-a-vis a softer one. The "crunch factor" in the candy was scrutinized. The eating technique was discussed with figures and charts. Did people suck and then bite or bite and then chew the pieces or did they just go on sucking till the candy melted in their mouth? The creative was classified into sections based on certain parameters, few of them quite vague and the audience response even more so. More charts and figures followed.

The client chose the script with the most ratings. The spot was made. Another bout of research followed. Also known as the post production testing. The spot did okay. Client was happy. The spot was released on national television.

Last I heard, we are going back to the drawing board because the client's marketing department has done some research which has gone on to show how our brand proposition is all wrong. Gotta start from scratch, guys!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Geico Gecko - a strategy which makes sense

When a green reptile, friendly or otherwise, tries to influence your decision about something as major as car-insurance, you may not take him seriously. But over the years, the Geico Gecko has done just the opposite and has grown to become the third-largest personal auto insurer in the US. The lizard struck the right chord with the target demo, so much so, that it was voted America's favorite advertising icon in 2005.

The campaign scored on brand recall. What could be more recognizable than a bright green lizard talking jauntily with a distinctly British accent?
But now the stakes are higher. There are financially unstable companies all round. Which is why Geico's longtime agency, the Martin Agency (part of the Interpublic Group of Companies), has unleashed a secret weapon that can make a great impact in today's market. The latest campaign is all about how Geico is owned by none other than Berkshire Hathaway. And yes, the brand message makes ample use of Mr Warren Buffet himself.

From the New York Times of Feb 18, 2009: According to Ted Ward, vice president for marketing at Geico - “The strategy for this is driven by the need to emphasize to people there’s a way to save money without risking hitting stability, trust, the right things to be talking about in this environment."
"It becomes a little more interesting that we’re a piece of this really, really solid company,” he added, referring to Berkshire Hathaway. “There are not many triple-A-rated companies left in the world; it doesn’t hurt we’re one of them.”"

What also doesn't hurt is the Geico Gecko's confident persona, which is why it is far more acceptable than any other campaign clouded by financial worries. I mean, how can anyone not smile at a talking lizard spouting financial wisdom wearing no pants or even a suit for that matter? A point made in some of its recent ads, albeit in a tongue-in-cheek manner. In one spot, the Geico Gecko is given a tiny suit coz' "Looking a bit more businesslike might help."
The recent strategy to incude the Buffet name is one of the many moves of this insurance giant, most of which have served it well. What also helps Geico is that it delivers on its promises. I know because I use it. Finally, it is all about the product. But advertising when done right can breathe life into a good product and make it a brand to reckon with. Advertising will not create a brand benefit, it will simply convey it to the right audience, effectively. On the other hand, as William Bernbach said "A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster. It will get more people to know it's bad."

If you are in the mood for a laugh, check out two of the spots at

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Super Bowl Commercials - why spend so much money on them?

So much is being written about the Super Bowl commercials. The spots are being rated, categorized, praised and criticized. Well, nothing new about that. What is new though is that companies are reducing costs and struggling to survive in this economic slowdown.

According to, the game attracts almost 100 million viewers, a rather astonishing number given that there are only about 300 million people in the country. In 2008, the official price of a Super Bowl ad was $2.7 million for 30 seconds. This was up from $2.6 million in 2007 and $2.5 million in 2006.

Guess what, this year, it was a whopping $3 million for 30 seconds. Of course, it offers a great marketing opportunity for big brands with big budgets. But does that justify the ad spend? Most advertising agencies in US would jump at the prospect of creating a Super Bowl commercial. For once, the Creative Department would accomodate crazy deadlines and make life that much easier for the Account Management guys. But I can't seem to get rid of this doubt...does spending millions on a commercial make business sense in this economic situation?

Companies are freezing salaries, people are getting laid off, big organizations are downsizing and even the holidays couldn't make people spend like they did last year or the year before that. So why this sudden splurge?

The Super Bowl spot is best used to launch a new product or create long-term brand associations. Remember Toyota Prius and Macintosh? Both made their debut during the Super Bowl. And then we have Coke, Pepsi, Budweiser, Audi, Castrol Oil...the endless list of long-term brand builders with deep pockets and fancy computer graphics. But are today's worried consumers listening? Seems like they are...but only to which concern them.

According to Media-Research firm Innerscope, the top 5 most emotionally engaging Super Bowl ads had everything to do with the present state of the economy. CareerBuilder and Cash4Gold being case in point. Even Hyundai, with their Assurance Program is making an impact on consumers scared of losing their jobs.

Obviously, if an ad sends out the right message at the right time, the target demographic will be engaged but will they be convinced enough to buy something they don't really need? With tips to live frugally flooding the web, will a car-chase or a talking monkey move the American people to shell out their hard-earned dollars? Will a "laugh-out-loud" moment or a "feel-good" ad make us reach out for our wallet?

No, I don't think it will. What it will do though is inject a drop of hope into our minds. Making us imagine a world filled with brand new product possibilities, a healthy rise in consumer demand and subsequently a recovering economy. For now, it is all a dream. But, doesn't all great achievements start with one?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

'Trust Me' me on TNT - branded entertainment at its best

Creative executives, Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny are part of the team responsible for creating "Trust Me", a series premiering tomorrow on TNT. The authenticity is provided by the fact that both have worked at agencies like Leo Burnett, JWT and Y&R.

Now, what does this mean for all the brands competing with each other in every possible media in every possible way? Can we hold the television viewer's attention in today's fast paced touch-screen dominated world? Let's hope so, for Unilever's sake. Apart from being one of the sponsors of the show, Dove hair care products are actually being woven into the story-line. Which of course is no big deal since the show deals with brands and products anyway.

And that is why big brands like Apple, Chris-Craft boats, Effen vodka, Green Giant, Hallmark, Frosted Flakes from Kellogg’s, Nike, Pillsbury, Potbelly Sandwich Works and Starbucks have jumped on the proverbial bandwagon. Not all of them have the luxury of being the focus of an episode, some are merely being mentioned or or in-film brand placement as we know it.

To balance out the heavy dose of real brands, the show also has a few imaginary products like Arc Mobile Cellphone Service. But is that enough to ensure that the series maintains its distinct flavor and doesn't become lost in a sea of brand promotions? In order to preserve its individuality, the script of the show may sometimes deviate from what the sponsors prefer.

According to the Jan 21, 2009 New York Times - David Rubin, United States marketing director for Unilever hair brands in Chicago is fine with it. “What is so central on any branded integration,” Mr. Rubin said, “and I’ve worked on a bunch, is that with the ones that do it right, the brand’s involvement adds to the story being told without usurping the storyteller’s job.The show has to be great entertainment for me to succeed in doing what I’m trying to do.”

True, and given the premise of the show, it will be fairly impossible for it to be anything other than entertaining. Having worked in an advertising agency including two of the three mentioned above, I can safely say that no advertising firm can dare to be boring. Ego clashes, weird fashion choices, creative temperament, hard-to-please bosses and unreasonable client demands...all add in making an ad agency unlike any other.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Pod-busting, but of course!

In a desperate attempt to engage viewers, more and more TV networks and advertisers are resorting to creative innovation in US. The last couple of years saw a surge in "pod-busting" which was initially restricted to MTV, VH1 and Comedy Cenral keeping their young gadget-friendly demographic in mind. In 2005, MTV invented the concept of pod-busting which proved to be partly successful though not a radical movement. Slowly bigger networks caught on. Now, what exactly is pod-busting?

According to the International Herald Tribune, "This year, for the 2008-2009 television season, the networks are betting on a panoply of "pod-busters" - unconventional content meant to entice viewers to pay attention during the commercial breaks, which are also called pods.

"It's a form of creative insinuation," said John Ford, president at Discovery Channel U.S., part of Discovery Communications. "It's a little Zen-like: being intrusive without seeming intrusive." On the drawing board is a promotion for "Shark Week" during the series "Deadliest Catch," during which digital sharks will leap from the water.

The main types of pod-busters can be classified as below:
  • Minisodes/bitcoms/ micro-series sponsored by marketers

  • Sponsored clips that combine elements of shows and commercials

  • Promos of one program shown inside another program, thanks to digital effects

  • Content of commercial matched to theme of the program (In fact, the buzz word for matching themes of shows and commercials is TV in Context. While it sounds right strategically, it helps in pushing engagement metrics only when done right.)
Examples of pod-busters to help understand the concept:

Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.(TBS) - The cable network started offering "bitcoms" in 2008 — an original comedy sketch involving a brand, followed by its ad.

Sunsilk - The Unilever hair care brand worked with TBS to create Lovebites, a series of two-minute "minisodes" presented by Sunsilk which ended with offers of product samples from the Sunsilk website. This minisodes were aired during "Sex and the City". Yes, similiar content is a major driver in such innovations.

This does not mean that networks are giving up on the conventional 30-sec format which makes up more than 50% of TV advertising. It is cost-effective, it is a standard selling unit and it is very much alive. Marketers are just trying to find better and newer ways to keep the target audience engaged. Not an easy task in these days of TiVos and other DVRs.

If the advent of pod-busters means we will see less of inane logo-driven commercials, testimonials and comparitive ads, then this is definitely the direction of the future. The results are complying. Known for their penchant for pod-busting initiatives, MTV, VH1 and Comedy Central have jumped from -15 percent to -5 percent in their commercial ratings deliveries, according to Adweek of Jan 14, 2009. No mean feat in today's distracting environment and a young demographic with an ever-decreasing attention span.

Is India listening?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The architecture of advertising

My brother, who is studying architecture once told me that one cannot design a building without knowing its purpose. Similiarly, you can't create an ad without a strategy.

Creative without strategy is called 'art.' Creative with strategy is called 'advertising.'” - Jef I. Richards (US advertising professor). The marketing team from the client's side and the account management team from the agency's side usually decide on the perfect strategy and consequently, the brand message. Depending on the creative team and the target audience, the same brand message maybe be treated differently. What happens when the creative rendition of the same brand attribute of a similiar service is radically different in two different countries?

Take the example of Hutch and Verizon Wireless. Both are cellular service providers with the same USP - great connectivity. Both are major players in their respective markets, India and US.

What O&M did with Hutch is legendary. The year was 2003. The basic concept was a boy with a dog which followed him everywhere, kind of like Mary's little lamb. This idea was spread across a series of TVC, print and every other media possible. What followed were awards, accolades and a significant increase in the sales of the dog, a solemn looking pug. The tagline was "wherever you go, our network will follow". The dog was a powerful visual aid symbolising the network and eventually became the Hutch mascot. The TVC was devoid of any unecessary conversation, a lilting background score not only made the campaign entertaining, but also pushed up the brand recall.

Did it work? According to Businessworld, "Hutch saw its subscriber base shooting up by over 70 per cent right after the campaign broke."

McCann-Erickson, armed with a simliar brief for Verizon Wireless created a TVC, with parodies of horror movies and ghoulish looking characters trying to scare a person with tales of a Dead Zone, who calmly responds that he or she has Verizon, and then the slogan appears, "Don't be afraid of Dead Zones". The scare lingers and the message is crystal clear. The brand attribute is understood and brand recall is very high.

Did it work? The ad was released in June 2008 and an October 27, 2008 issue of the New York Times says "Verizon Communications' stock price jumped 10.1 percent Monday on news that profit increased 31 percent for the third quarter, buoyed by surprising gains in the number of new wireless customers. Verizon Wireless added 2.1 million customers in the quarter — to total 70.8 million." Please keep in mind the economic condition of 2008 when you read this.

The premise of the Hutch campaign could in no way be called anything like that of the Verizon campaign. The campaigns proved that similiar strategies can have dissimiliar execution with exceptional results in both cases.

Here I must add that Vodafone acquired Hutch in 2007 in India and Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon and the Vodafone Group. Seems like network supremacy is the motto for this telecom giant.

One from each of the series of Pug Ads and the Dead Zone Ads for you to get an idea

Monday, January 12, 2009

Mentioning competitive brands in your commercial

After spending five years in Indian Advertising, I moved to Connecticut, the bedroom of New York. Hoping to get a first-hand experience of US ad agencies and their work, I dived in. Of course, anybody who is interested in advertising can see first-rate ads from around the world, thanks to the Cannes website, ad-based shows on TV and the youtube....but what about the regular Joes? How and where are American products being promoted day in and day out?

The first thing that struck me about American TVCs was the abundance of "comparitive ads". Pain relievers, sandwiches, car category is spared. As an ad executive and a consumer, I can say that it does not work. What I am left with is either confusion or the competitive brand.

Let's take the example of Advil, a popular pain reliever in US. It actually shows us a split screen comparison between itself and its competitor Tylenol, complete with a voiceover and on-screen scribbles underlying the benefits of taking Advil over Tylenol. But know what, by the time my mind has juggled back and forth over the two brand names and their pros and cons, I have already moved on to another channel or the next ad.

Next time I am at a pharmacy, my mind has happily glided over the details and I am left with a feeling of "either this or that". Both are good as both are market leaders is the message that I have retained. Differentiation be damned when the basic composition and the usage is similiar. Note how the brand message is lost in a clutter of comparisons.

Also, why would you promote your competitor in your time? You bought space or time in a particular medium to advertise your brand, why waste it on anything else?