Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Social Network - Play by the Rules

Image via Tom Fishburne: Marketoonist
Every brand, big or small is jumping on the social media wagon thinking it to be the solution to all their problems. What they sometimes forget is that it's not the media which holds the key to great branding, it is how they use that media.

This pic depicts a facebook page for a brand (the cartoon is by Tom Fishburne) and brilliantly sums up the problem that brands high on social media face today. Why should I "like" a page and get updates on my feed if the brand had nothing to offer other than talk about how great it is? Wouldn't you hide the feeds or even block a real person like that?

Right from the start of print ads, engaging the consumer was the most viable part of any campaign and it hasn't changed since then. Brands should find a way to promote themselves not just by bragging about benefits but also offer an incentive to the consumer to make sure she interacts with the brand via the facebook page. Remember that the entire web is vying for her attention and each brand is just a click away!

Social media has done much to humanize brands, more than we ever thought possible. So if your brand was a person and his benefits were say like personal attributes, try building a personality people genuinely like.

1. Don't be shy, rude or boastful.
2. Treat your facebook fans like friends.
3. Be accessible.
4. Have a sense of humor.
5. Share. Don't just dump information.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Step Back in Time

This framed poster hung from the walls of the Sporting Eagle Saloon beneath the streets of Havre in north central Montana.

On the third day of my week-long Montana trip, my fellow journalists and me took the "Havre Beneath The Streets" historical tour which essentially consisted of a set of business establishments from the last century, linked by narrow corridors. Of all the things on display, this poster caught my eye as I wondered about the advertising business in those days. They didn't have photoshop to enhance the rosiness of the woman's cheeks and neither could they google the tagline to see if it has been used before.

On the other hand, clients had to be satisfied with the basic layout. I bet the art director wasn't told "I thought we decided on a brunette....and while you change her hair color do you mind changing the color of her bow? The pink doesn't do it for me."

Also, going by the size of the logo and the product placement, I would think that the oft-heard request of "make the logo bigger" is a pretty old phenomenon. Well, as they say some things never change!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Talking Rainbows, Boulders and Trees

Click on image to enlarge. Source:
"High fructose corn syrup" is the new ingredient to watch out for. Move over "trans fat". It's fructose that we hate now. Food and drink labels all over the nation are being scanned for the F-word.

According to "People are concerned that high fructose corn syrup is more harmful or more likely to cause obesity than sugar, perceptions for which there is little scientific evidence. The shift has caused a slump in soft drink sales and a rise in sales of juices and teas, which are perceived as healthier than soda. The nation's makers of high fructose corn syrup are even asking the government if they can start referring to the sweetener as "corn sugar" to change perceptions."

Fighting the sudden decrease in demand, PepsiCo's Sierra Mist Natural (lemon-lime soda) is floating a new campaign consisting of TV, print, digital, radio and OOH. A little bird tells me the budget is 4x the quarterly spend. They
have added "natural" to the name and also modified the packaging design. All fine strategies.

Soda ads usually go for humor, hot models/celebs, computer graphics etc. Sierra Mist Natural's campaign is unlike anything you have seen before. They feature talking boulders, trees and rainbows for starters.You can view some of their ads at It's funny and interesting till you reach the tagline - "The soda nature would drink, if nature drank soda." Wait a second, what?

What does that even mean? This is a case of a good product, good execution and plenty of advertising dollars being overpowered by a kooky tagline bordering plain stupid. I don't know how it will impact sales, but as far as creativity goes, it could have been so much better.

Friday, September 24, 2010

30 Rock raises a pertinent question: Why does Geico have so many spokespeople?

I am relieved. So it's not just me. Last night's premiere episode of 30 Rock had both Liz and Carol wondering why Geico has four spokesmen.

Here's how it goes: we have the Gecko with a cockney accent, the confused and sometimes angry caveman, the stack of money with googly eyes (yeah, creepy!) and of course,  the fake Rod Serling guy. Why do they need so many characters and so many concepts? I can't figure it out...can't say I haven't tried though. Maybe this is exactly what they want, everybody talking and wondering. With a considerable media budget and a motley of accents, attitudes and ideas, maybe stickiness is what they are after. If so, they have got the right ad mix.

Also, no matter how good a commercial is, it becomes repetitive after a point so brands sometimes take on new scripts with the same spokesperson. If that too gets boring, a brand new spot is released.

Geico on the otherhand has multiple spokespeople at any given time, taking the variety to another level. But sometimes quantity affects quality and that is why not all Geico commercials are engaging or funny.

If it's a strategy, it needs to be stream-lined. Maybe have just two spokespersons at a time. Saves advertising dollars, keeps us guessing and doesn't take away from the visibility.

On a personal note, I am not too fond of reptiles but find the Geico gecko exceptionally articulate and funny...the rest of them I don't get so much. As far as their service goes, I am a satisfied Geico customer. Guess that says it all.

Related post:

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Kindle vs. Ipad

via Creativity Online

Comparison straight up! This in-house web film from Amazon takes it up a notch.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Seinfeld on Soda Commercials

[image via the Gotham Gotham Comedy Club]

Jerry's opening monologue from a Seinfeld episode titled The Phone Message:

The bad thing about television is that everybody you see on television is doing something better than what you're doing. Did you ever see anybody on TV like just sliding off the front of the sofa with potato chip crumbs on their face? Some people have a little too much fun on television: the soda commercial people - where do they summon this enthusiasm? Have you seen them?

"We have soda, we have soda, we have soda", jumping, laughing, flying through the air - it's a can of soda. Have you ever been standing there and you're watching TV and you're drinking the exact same product that they're advertising right there on TV, and it's like, you know, they're spiking volleyballs, jetskiing, girls in bikinis and I'm standing there - "Maybe I'm putting too much ice in mine?"

Monday, August 2, 2010

Trashing Toronto: Bad Idea but Good Publicity

Recently an ad campaign for Niagara Falls has been causing quite a stir in Canada. In brief, here's what it's all about (via CBC News)
"The Niagara Parks Commission is coming under fire for an ad campaign that portrays Toronto as a city riddled with noise, crime and gridlock. The commission is running four television ads and eight online videos in a campaign that calls on people to leave the stress of the Ontario capital behind and drive to nearby Niagara. The ad has already earned rebukes from Tourism Toronto, as well as a city councillor, Joe Pantalone, who has asked that the campaign be discontinued. The Niagara Parks Commission has said the campaign was meant to be light-hearted and not intended to offend anyone."

I have one of the videos embedded above for you'll to see. Obviously, the more feathers this seemingly innocent ad campaign ruffles, the more media exposure it will garner for Niagara Parks. At the same time, on a more subtle tone, the more people stand up to defend Toronto and rave about its good points, the better it gets for the city right? Win-win I say.

And on a side-note, I have been to the Niagara Parks and found it to be unbelievably crowded on both sides of the border and would never go there again. Toronto, on the other hand is a big city and like every big city in the world has its own advantages and disadvantages so trashing it seems kind of immature and silly even for the sake of some hard-to-come-by publicity.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hotel Room in Melbourne - Free of Charge!

Yes, you heard right.

You can stay for free at the
Lost & Found Hotel Room in the heart of Melbourne. That's what I call aggressive promotion and I like it!

According to PSFK "Tourism Victoria-run e-newsletter Lost and Found recently added a hotel room to their venture, offering lucky subscribers the chance to experience Melbourne’s cultural offerings free of charge. Decked out in products exclusively made in Victoria, the furnishings, gourmet offerings, music, fashions and bath products all “tell a story about Melbourne as a city of creative people producing interesting things.”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mumbai Traffic Awareness

Image via adoholik. Click to enlarge.

This is an example of an effective outdoor campaign. I know because I have driven to work on these very roads. Yes, the laws of billboard ads (short copy) does not work here 'coz as every Mumbaite will tell you, hell you can read a magazine cover to cover and maybe even a paperback given the long hours you spend stuck in traffic.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover

Banana Juice. Designed by: Naoto Fukasawa, Japan. Image via adoholik

 Pop-up Popcorn. Designed by: Packlab, Finland. Image via adoholik

How many times have I reached out and bought something just because it looked good on the outside? If you ask me, of all the P's in marketing, packaging rules when it comes to an impulse buy. Yeah, yeah...don't judge a book by its cover...but haven't we all been guilty of it at one time or another?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Branding a Seaport

On a recent trip to Portsmouth, I was stumped. I couldn't think of a fitting slogan for the city. It's a New England harbortown, favored by tourists and rather rich in history, art and culture.

Cities are branded by professionals with the help of logos and taglines which are then plastered on buses and brochures. Logos are a different ball game altogether, they need to be much more than visually attractive. They have to tell a story. Like the hidden arrow in Fed Ex. If you look closely, you’ll see an arrow that’s formed by the letters E and x. This arrow symbolizes speed and precision, two major selling points of the company.

What about cities then? On the heels of the FIFA World Cup 2010, Johannesburg in South Africa is being touted as the "golden city" and trying to rope in some serious business for its tourism industry.

New York City or "The Big Apple" is "The City that Never Sleeps", Las Vegas is "Sin City", Chicago is the "Windy City", Hershey is "The Sweetest Place on Earth" while "Cleveland Rocks!"

On a recent drive to Philadelphia, "The City of Brotherly Love", we saw this cute sign-off logo (shown on the right) on billboards and web portals.

Well, branding a city is not cheap on the pocket. According to a 2007 issue of Next American City, "Last year Baltimore paid San Francisco-based Landor Associates $500,000 to come up with “Get In On It”."

Plus it may take months to finalize. Everybody from politicians to tourism boards will have a say in it. You also have to consider the fact that people are usually very sensitive when it comes to their hometown. Get the brand message wrong and you ruffle a lot of feathers.

Here's the  history of city-branding as mentioned in the Next American City,
"Railroad companies may have been the earliest city marketers. As author Geoffrey Ward points out in his book Selling Places, Nebraska was sold to the public in 1881 as “a new brass key” that would “unlock vaults of wealth for the farmer and the stock raiser,” according to a railroad advertisement. The settling of the West by rail also led to cities competing to be the major hub of the heartland, a battle Chicago eventually won. These early efforts contained elements of the trend to follow: sell a place and its potential with a slick marketing image."

People are drawn to brands, as is evident by the record number of visitors in Las Vegas following their "What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas" campaign.

Some city slogans are official while some just caught on. Few of the unofficial ones have a negative spin on them but more often than not, the tone is upbeat and it's a device to improve tourism.

Coming back to the task at hand, Portsmouth needs a brand identity. Voted as one of America's prettiest towns by, there's a sketch of a ship on the harbor trail markers in Market Square. Well, that just says "seaport" to me. What about the rest of it? What defines the city? Dennis Robinson, history writer and editor of seacoastNH is trying to get the branding perfected and he was the one who set me thinking on cities and their brands.

I don't think it's easy to define the city and everything it stands for in one line but this pretty much sums it up for me Portsmouth: Wish You Were Here

It may not be the best slogan ever but it captures the essence of the place and that to me is the first step of branding.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Movies That Inspire Travel

Tourism boards advertise via various media, nowadays they even include social networking sites. But sometimes a movie can promote a place like nothing can.

10 movies which made me want to pack my bags:

1. A Good Year - Directed by Ridley Scott, this adaptation of Peter Mayle's best-selling novel is the story of a London-based trader Max Skinner (Russell Crowe) who goes to Provence in the south of France to check out the vineyard estate that he has suddenly inherited from his uncle. Need I say more?

2. Brokeback Mountain - Based on a short story by Pulitzer Prize winner E. Annie Proulx, this movie is about the intense relationship between Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger). But I will always remember the movie for its stunning cinematography. The film was filmed in Alberta, Canada and not Wyoming as the story suggests. I had a hard time not booking a flight to Alberta after the movie ended.

3. The Holiday - Writer-director Nancy Meyers shows glimpses of Los Angeles and London as the protagonists Amanda (Cameron Diaz) and Iris (Kate Winslet) swap homes, each unique to the characters they are playing. Always made me want to go for a rental instead of a hotel.

4. A Perfect Getaway - Hawaii never looked more enticing, not even on it's most expensive advertising campaign. Throw in Milla Jovovich, an edge-of-the-cliff hike, the blue-green ocean and a pair of shady characters - you have a winner. And yes, she does kick some serious ass but less than usual.

5. The Bridges of Madison County - The beauty of the American midwest, a National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid played by Clint Eastwood and Meryl Street as the not-so-happy Iowa housewife Francesca Johnson come together to present a moving story filmed against a powerful backdrop.

6. Into the Wild - These verses right at the beginning of the movie summed it up for me

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more.
- Lord Byron

7. Under the Tuscan Sun - If this movie does not make you book a flight to Italy, nothing much will. Newly-divorced American writer Frances (Diane Lane) quits her job and goes to Tuscany where she buys a house on a sudden impulse. What follows is a picture postcard tour of romancing Italy.

8. Up in the Air - One of my favorite movies, this one simply inspires you to keep moving. That's it. George Clooney and Vera Farmiga make a perfect pair - traveling for work never looked this sexy.

9. Nights in Rodanthe - The film's underlying sense of tragedy is overcome by the beauty of coastal North Carolina. Based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks, Diane Lane and Richard Gere are as much as a treat for the eyes as the soothing landscape. The scene with the wild horses is something which reminds me of Assateague Island. 

10. Autumn in New York - Another tear-jerker starring Mr Gere, this movie has steam coming out from the street vents. Yes, very New York. Travel tip - Autumn is when North-eastern America is all ablaze with colors. A must-see for anyone who visits.

The movies are in no particular order and of course, there maybe many more that I have missed. Going by my list, one thing is for sure, you always don't have to go to Europe or some exotic island for that perfect holiday. As my trips have taught me, North America is much more than New York and San Francisco...and it's all out there waiting to be explored.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Show Me the Money

Recently I read this great post on Knowledge@Wharton. They ran an interview of Jagmohan Raju and John Zhang, the authors of 'Smart Pricing'. As the book suggests, pricing when done right can contribute to the success of a product like nothing can! Competition-based Pricing and Cost-Plus Pricing are the popular concepts used by FMCGs but there are many more strategies in the marketplace, both online and offline. This led me to think about content-pricing on the web. What is the best way?

Since most web-content is free, websites have to develop new and innovative ways to make money., the second most viewed video site (Youtube being no.1) is struggling to make money. Few months back, Adage claimed "Hulu is a towering success, just not financially". Its network backers are not happy with all the free episodes being streamed. Although Hulu does have an innovative ad concept where they interact with the viewer. Right at the beginning of the program, viewers are given the option of choosing the ad they would like to see. Good tactics but still not good enough to make profit.

Google doesn't charge the user, it charges the advertiser. Same with webmails, twitter and social networking tools. Twitter figured out its revenue model just a week back.

The New York Times is free online. Why would you "buy" it from a news stand? The Times is not charging us for reading its online content. Instead, its charging the advertisers. You know, the annoying rollovers that pop up just when you are about to read something.

This is another challenge for free web-content providers. How to make money without spoiling the user-experience? The ads got to be unobtrusive but at the same time you want the target audience to see and click on the ad-link. Only then can the website make money. More clicks = more money. That's how most affiliate programs work on the net.

Some of the very premium or very niche news websites tease the reader. The Wall Street Journal for example. You go to their home page, you see some previews, you click on an article you want to read and then they hit you with the following - "To continue reading, subscribe now". You have to subscribe for full-site access.

It's easy for location-based social networks like foursquare and gowalla. They can easily latch on to the local businesses and keep their service free for users. Geo-targeting is an effective marketing tool when it comes to services like hotels, restaurants, concerts, games etc.

Content and concepts may differ but the goal remains unchanged. Making money. Twitter did it best. They played it slow. Only after they had established a dedicated user-base (close to a billion!), they began revamping their revenue model.

Slow and steady - that's the way to go!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Choice Architecture and Advertising

Say you want to buy a set of cheese from the pack shown in the picture? Which set will you choose?

If books like Nudge by Richard H. Thaler and Prof. Cass R. Sunstein or Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely are to believed, our mind plays quite a few tricks on us, and those tricks actually influence our day to day decisions!  

This piqued my interest in the subject and I realized along the way just how invaluable this field of study, known as Behavorial Economics, is for the advertising industry.

Rory Sutherland via says: "Behavioural economics provides us with an intellectual framework, which allows us to better justify (and charge for) the ideas we already generate as well as generate new and better ones."

"The nine examples below are merely an indication of some of the concepts so far revealed in experiments. Significantly, many of these non-rational behaviours affect us unconsciously, and hence will not be revealed by conventional market research."

1. Loss aversion
2. I'll have what she's having
3. The power of now - and of instant feedback
4. The power of channel preference and interface
5. Scarcity value
6. Goal dilution
7. Chunking
8. Price perception
9. Choice architecture

I will concentrate on Price Perception and Choice Architecture for now.

Think about those Jimmy Choos you bought because the price said $300 in a collection where most of the pairs were worth $1000? Would you splurge similarly on a pair of Faded Glory boots at Walmart? No way. High-end brands and designer stores are all about Price Perception. The higher the price, the greater the perceived value. But ad agencies almost never have a say on the price. So let's move on to Positioning and Choice Architecture instead. Choice Architecture as applied to marketing is the influence of the surrounding options while making a decision.

Did you by any chance choose the $7 cheese in the picture above? Studies have shown that most people tend to choose the second most expensive item on the list. Even though we rarely go for it, the highest price on a list does raise the average. Do you detect a "nudge" from marketers there?

On one hand we find cheap things to be of poorer quality but on the other hand, we stay away from the super expensive. So the best way to market a product will be to price and package it reasonably and place it amongst some very exorbitantly priced products.

As Rory Sutherland says in the article "In an ingenious exploitation of framing effects, one salesman sold Rolls-Royces at a yacht show. Seen alongside a $10 million yacht, a $500,000 car seems like a bargain."

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Opportunity Marketing

Is it a coincidence that the home page of is promoting the Kindle as "easy to read in sunlight" and "thin and lightweight" when the recent nytimes review of the iPad says "You can’t read well in direct sunlight. At 1.5 pounds, the iPad gets heavy in your hand after awhile"?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

reBlog from The looming crisis in brand value and how to avoid it

I found this fascinating post today:

The 19th century U.S department store merchant John Wanamaker once famously said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”. And such is the case with measuring the value of brands. While many forms exist, I took the opportunity to write about our model, which relies on measuring the momentum, creativity and vision of a brand. Through BrandAsset Valuator, we are able to quantify the impact of creativity on contribution to building brand and shareholder value. The more creativity, the more momentum and energy and thus the more sales and profitability to the firm.

Read the whole article on Measuring The Contributions of Brand to Shareholder Value at The Brand Bubble by John Gerzema, Chief Insights Officer for Y&R.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Oscar Winning Short - Logorama - Here for the Long Run

I was one of the lucky few...I managed to watch this Oscar nominated and ultimately Oscar winning short before it was removed from youtube. Yeah, now it is no longer available due to copyright claims etc. What you see above is the trailer. The "trailer" of a "short"! The short gets shorter. Remember we are in the world of "tweets" now. No more than 160 characters please. 

Anyway, the idea here is the all pervasive "LOGO". I think anyone who has ever worked in an ad agency will agree with me on the "make the logo bigger" refrain from clients. Even big brands are not spared.

The art of creating a logo is not easy and it has a science behind it. Ever wondered how some logos get imprinted in your minds? Well, those are the best ones actually.

Anyway, logos are an integral part of branding and they are here to stay. So are shorts by the way!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Travel & Tourism Ads

Images via adsoftheworld - Click to enlarge

After my foray into travel writing and my recent visit to the NY Times Travel Show, I am looking a little more closely at travel ads. These ones by Swiss Tourism for instance have a neat layout, a clear message and the right colors. The creative idea isn't out of this world but it pretty much does the job, doesn't it?

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Killing a Cause

A recent controversy on a photograph put the ad shown below on the front page of leading newspapers during my stay in India.

"Ex-Pak air chief photo ad goof-up: PMO orders probe" screamed the Times of India headline. Further details revealed that a government advertisement has featured the photograph of a former Pakistani air chief alongside Indian icons in a campaign to mark National Girl Child Day. Really? That's the issue here? 

What about the ad which suggests that the sole purpose of women is to bear children? So what next? Kill women after they have given birth to sons? Female foeticide is a rising concern in India and many Asian societies. And in my opinion, this ad is doing more harm than good to the cause.

On the same day I saw this billboard for the Save Our Tigers project. Notice the difference. I must say that India has a better chance of saving its tigers than its women!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Turn OFF the lights

Image from (Click on ad to enlarge)

Advertising Agency: Prolam Y&R, Santiago, Chile

Executive Creative Director: Tony Sarroca
Creative Director: Claudio Wilton
Art Directors: Giovanni Repetto, Fabrizio Capraro
Copywriter: Giovanni Repetto

Can't help but begin the New Year on a cautionary note...and of course, there's not much to explain about the strategy or the message in the print ad shown.

"Save Electricity" should be part of everybody's New Year's resolution. Many people thought that this ad was way too dramatic...but drama's what you need when you want people to sit up and take notice. Believe me, global warming is no's happening even as I type!