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Archive for May, 2009

• Greasy Kid Stuff: The brand that viral marketing built

Instructions: Use lots -- buy more

Instructions: Use lots -- buy more

Long before there was an Internet, there was viral marketing. Admittedly, it was rare. On the other hand, it actually worked.

Take “That greasy kid stuff,” for instance.

In 1962, Bristol-Myers was riding high on a campaign for its Vitalis brand of hair dressing. Unlike Brylcreem, which had reigned supreme since the Roaring Twenties, Vitalis contained no grease and left the hair looking more like hair and less like the aftermath of an oil change. The ads generally consisted of one athlete looking in disgust at another athlete’s hair and asking, “You still using that greasy kid stuff?”

For reasons known only to the gods of pop culture, the tag line struck a chord with the public and a new catch phrase was born. Bill Cosby incorporated it into his stand-up routine to launch his debut album, Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow – Right! And honky-tonk song-writer Cy Coben wrote a tune called “Greasy Kid Stuff,” giving Janie Grant her only Top 40 hit. Read more…

• The hidden truth behind consultants

If youre not part of the solution -- theres good money in prolonging the problem

A word of warning about consultants: a great many of them are clinically insane.

Not all, of course. Many of them are merely idiots.

But the big ones, the ones that make the big bucks — they’re generally completely loopy.

It’s inevitable, really. Who’s going to put out tens of thousands of dollars in return for sane, reasonable ideas?

Consider the great Toronto Transit Commission map debacle of 1992. Read more…

Categories: communications, satire

• Adventures in advertising: This is a recording

I should come clean and admit that this post is appearing in both Ad Nauseam and Editor’s Sidebar since it deals with both advertising and editing. 

Hey, why waste a good post?



Many years ago, I worked at a small start-up magazine. The owner and publisher, Peter, was adamant about the need for advertisers if we wanted to grow our business.   

Of course, back then we didn’t actually say, “grow our business.” We might “increase our business,” or our business might grow. But the idea of “growing” a business hadn’t made its way into the vernacular yet. However, if it had, Peter would have said it. I’ve never liked the expression, although I’m hard pressed to explain why. You “grow” corn. You “grow” turnips. But damn it, you don’t “grow the farm.” Likewise, your children “grow,” but you don’t “grow your children.” Read more…

• What social marketing can learn from learner-centered education


If a lot of the philosophical language surrounding the new social network marketing sounds vaguely familiar, it should: we’ve heard it all before from the good folks in the educational field.


Beginning in the late sixties, picking up force in the seventies, and becoming the foundation of pedagogy in the eighties, the “learner-centered” approach to education called for a shift of control from teachers to students. The idea was that students were in a better position to know how they learned than were the teachers. Given the freedom to do so, students would essentially teach themselves, while the teachers simply provided the resources. To reflect this new approach, teachers were no longer “teachers,” but “facilitators,” while students became “learners.” Lessons were no longer meant to be uni-directional, with one person standing in front of the class imparting information, but to be multi-directional, a “dialogue” in which the ideas and thoughts of the students were of equal, if not more importance than the authoritative course material.

Much the same has been occurring in the realm of social network marketing. Its proponents insist that the consumer is better positioned to know which advertising techniques work, and which don’t. We are to move away from simply broadcasting information about our product or service in an authoritative and uni-directional fashion, choosing instead to engage in “conversations,” the content of which is driven as much by the public as by the company trying to sell to them.

And how has this worked?

Well, in the educational field, it turned out that when you asked students (sorry, “learners”) the most effective way of teaching them (sorry, “facilitating their education”), they responded by telling us to either entertain them, or leave them alone. Course curriculum became subject to whatever pop-culture trends were enjoying their fifteen minutes of fame at any given time, and classroom instruction turned into classroom discussions in which the only opinions that counted were those of the “learners.”

Speaking as a college prof who is tasked with trying to teach the products of this system how to write a coherent sentence, I’d have to say it’s been less than a resounding success. 

“After that I applied for [name of college] and had to write a English test to get in and believe it or not I passed with an excellent mark they even called me to welcome and congratulate me into the program, yeah I was just as surprised as you” (personal essay from student, aged 23)

The profound illiteracy and lack of general knowledge with which we’re faced on a daily basis is disturbing — not to mention debilitating to our motivation. The multi-billion dollar educational system is a sham, and we know it; but there’s nothing we can do about it. Too much has been invested in the philosophy, and those most fully indoctrinated in it (public and high school teachers) are hardly likely to suddenly admit it’s all been a big mistake. Meanwhile, those of us with the least indoctrination are in the post-secondary institutions, and therefore unable to bring about meaningful change where it would do the most good — in the lower grades when students’ minds are still open to learning.


In the advertising industry, things are showing signs of going in much the same direction. It turns out that when you ask consumers (sorry, “participants”) the most effective way of advertising to them (sorry, “engaging them in brand conversations”), their response is eerily similar to that of the students: either entertain us, or leave us alone. In place of uni-directional ads, they want YouTube videos which can be remixed and redistributed to their friends. Instead of information about product features, price, and availability, they want to see the CEO of the company sending out 140 character Tweets about the boring meeting he’s in. 

Speaking as an advertising commentator, I’d have to say that this, too, has been less than a resounding success. Despite the millions of words praising the effectiveness of social network marketing, there have been shockingly few examples of anything approaching a decent return on investment. Where companies set up their own social networking platforms, the only visitors they get are those already committed to the brand: which is fine, but the very nature of such platforms encourages confrontation, and those visitors can easily take offense if their comments or incidental complaints aren’t dealt with in the fashion they expect. And where the brands are trying to invade pre-existing social networks, they open themselves up to mischievous attacks which have a far higher potential of going viral than do the brands’ feeble attempts at being “hip.”

The danger, of course, is that advertising, like education, will find itself overly-committed to a system that simply doesn’t work; but which nobody is willing to step away from.

Students don’t want to go to school, and if you ask them to redesign it to their liking, you end up with a social club. Likewise, consumers don’t want advertising, and if you ask them to redesign it to their liking, you end up with…well, a social club.

• Best before: #1

Welcome to “Best Before,” a semi-regular feature in which we look at advertising tropes that are long past their best before date — if they ever had one to begin with.

THE CUSTOMER AS MORON

The concept

Upon using the client’s product or service, the consumer is overcome with an inability to function in a normal fashion. He or she (generally he) becomes incapable of normal social interaction, loses all interest in sex, and is often oblivious to physical danger. Read more…

• Unsung marketing heroes #1: Michael Scataloon

In this semi-regular feature we celebrate those unsung heroes of the marketing world who, faced with products that seemed impossible to market, succeeded in defying the odds to create highly successful campaigns.


 

I dreamt I partied for hours in my adult Depends.

Due to a malfunction in the computers that ran their cutting machines back in the early ’80s, a clothing manufacturer accidentally churned out hundreds of thousands of pants with crotches that came down to the knees. Faced with the expense of discarding all this material, the owner of the company took the problem to his ad agency, Dayton, Darton, Burnsten and O’Reilly (DDBO) to see if they could work some magic. Michael Scataloon was a lowly intern at the time, but he was positive he could sell the damaged inventory if given a chance. Since DDBO had nothing to lose, they agreed to put him in charge

I knew traditional approaches weren’t going to work,” Scataloon said in a recent interview with New Pathways in Marketing, “so I set out to explore some nontraditional approaches. We didn’t have the formal concept of ‘viral’ campaigns back then, but essentially that’s what I was after. I just needed to define the right demographic. It had to be a demographic with absolutely no fashion sense. Naturally I decided on the rap culture. I figured any group that could base a musical culture around the absence of music, while dressing themselves in cartoon clothing and jewellery was the perfect prospect for our client’s pants.

Scataloon approached a couple of rap stars (even today he won’t say who they were) and offered a substantial amount of money if they would wear the malformed apparel at some of their public appearances. They weren’t eager to take him up on it, however. Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

• Marketing Heroes: Michael Scataloon

In this semi-regular feature we celebrate those unsung heroes of the marketing world who, faced with products that seemed impossible to market, succeeded in defying the odds to create highly successful campaigns.


Marketing Hero #1:
Michael Scataloon


Due to a malfunction in the computers that ran their cutting machines back in the early ’80s, a clothing manufacturer accidentally churned out hundreds of thousands of pants with crotches that came down to the knees. Faced with the expense of discarding all this material, the owner of the company took the problem to his ad agency, Dayton, Darton, Burnsten and O’Reilly (DDBO) to see if they could work some magic. Michael Scataloon was a lowly intern at the time, but he was positive he could sell the damaged inventory if given a chance. Since DDBO had nothing to lose, they agreed to put him in charge.


“I knew traditional approaches weren’t going to work,” Scataloon said in a recent interview with New Pathways in Marketing, “so I set out to explore some nontraditional approaches. We didn’t have the formal concept of ‘viral’ campaigns back then, but essentially that’s what I was after. I just needed to define the right demographic. It had to be a demographic with absolutely no fashion sense. Naturally I decided on the rap culture. I figured any group that could base a musical culture around the absence of music, while dressing themselves in cartoon clothing and jewellery was the perfect prospect for our client’s pants.”

Scataloon approached a couple of rap stars (even today he won’t say who they were) and offered a substantial amount of money if they would wear the malformed apparel at some of their public appearances. They weren’t eager to take him up on it, however. 

“Here they were, dressed in ludicrously huge, rhinestone-studded sunglasses, gold chains that looked like they’d come from the paste-jewellery counter of a 1940s Kresges, and multi-coloured bandanas with pork-pie hats on top, and they were balking at wearing these pants. Well, I didn’t blame them. I had to up the ante considerably before I finally won them over. A few concerts later, however, and suddenly the ‘diaper pants’ (as our client had taken to calling them), were selling by the hundreds, then thousands. At the end of two months he was sold out.”

Scataloon himself was somewhat puzzled by the enormous success, having started with no real marketing philosophy. “I was just banking on the lemming-like behaviour of teens and young adults to emulate their musical heroes.” In retrospect, however, he thinks the pants just happened to make a statement which appealed to the members of that particular sub-culture. 

“Rappers would travel from place to place doing marathon battles with other rappers, so on the one hand they had to be mobile, and yet on the other, they had to be able to stand their ground for long periods of time. The pants said: ‘When wearing me, you can travel anywhere.’ But they also said: “When wearing me, you won’t have to move from this spot for a week — even to use the bathroom.'”

That the campaign was successful is indisputable. It was originally intended to last only until the damaged inventory had been sold off, but the client and the agency soon realized they had a gold-mine on their hands. There were even rumours of a movie being made about the phenomenon.

“I was approached by a Hollywood screenwriter,” recalls Scataloon. “He put together a script and shopped it around, but ultimately nothing came of it. I think it was called something like, ‘The Cisternhood of the Traveling Pants.'”

Categories: satire