This is Why They Hate Us (#2)

"All natural flavors" doesn't mean "all natural"

You don’t have to tell a lie to be misleading. I love Tillamook ice cream (I have the body to prove it), and noticed that the top of this package of Mint Chip brags about having “all natural flavors.” Who doesn’t love all natural things?

But look more closely at the ingredients and you’ll see “Yellow 5” and “Blue 1” on the list. These are thoroughly artificial ingredients—but of course, Tillamook didn’t say “all natural ingredients”, they said “all natural flavors.” They are being completely truthful, because they use natural peppermint extract.

This strikes me as a cheap ploy for getting to write “all natural” on a package that isn’t an all natural product. Sure, buyer beware, and the ingredients are listed for inspection, so Tillamook is legally covered, but it’s that kind of careful wordplay that makes people distrust marketing. (Especially disappointing when it comes from a local company that I like.)

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Feel-good idea recycling

I love ads that espouse a positive outlook on life. Our lives are full of friction, and I appreciate every effort to lubricate the gears of our day-to-day lives. Thus, I am not knocking the Life Vest Inside spot that is making the rounds on Facebook, the one that AdAge called “one of the great feel-good spots of 2011”:

It’s a warm and fuzzy spot that shows how repaying a small kindness can have ripple effects that extend far beyond our small action. Good story — and it was also a good story when Liberty Mutual told it five years ago:

Considering how the ad industry redeploys ideas with only minor variations, I shouldn’t be surprised that the pay-it-forward concept would appear again. But it seems strange to me to praise a spot that has broken no new ground. Unless taking five-times longer to tell the same story counts as breaking new ground.

But as I said, I’m glad to have another positive message out there, so please forgive my grumbling.

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Oh man, this is distasteful

I don’t have much to say about this atrocious campaign for Dr. Pepper. I’m not arguing it’s offensive in a feminist way — it’s offensive in a masculine way. The concept is so poorly conceived, even in this post-modern-Old-Spice-Guy era, that the campaign already seems like of parody of itself, though rather than being tongue-in-cheek sly, it’s foot-in-mouth ridiculous.

But I do have at least this much to say:

  • Seriously?! I mean, really, seriously?!
  • If 10 calories are manly, then apparently, one ingredient of the real Dr. Pepper (weighing in at 150 calories) is pure testosterone.
  • If this Dr. Pepper is manly, can I safely assume every other Dr. Pepper product is not?
  • If you believe you can define your masculinity through your diet soda choice, you are an idiot — which most women will argue is a masculine trait, so you’re right.
  • “The manliest tab on Facebook”? Wow, that is gloriously self-contradictory.

If you are a marketer and you think, “Let’s not simply ignore half of the world’s consumers, let’s tell them they’re not welcome”, you will succeed in getting buzz, but you will fail to get sales. This is going to make New Coke seem like a pretty good idea. Drink up now, boys, because it’s not going to be around long. 

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This is Why They Hate Us (#1)

I regularly hear folks rant and rage about an insidious evil that has permeated modern culture, a huge and unstoppable force bent on undermining the willpower of innocent people in order to feed its own bald-faced greed.

The heinous enemy of the people I’m speaking of? “Marketing.” According to the simple summary, marketing tells whatever lies it has to tell to get people to spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need. Marketing is a branch of The Corporation, staffed by soulless scumbags who shouldn’t be able to sleep at night because of their sins on humanity – and if they do sleep, they dream up new ways to take advantage of people.

That might be true for easy villains like tobacco and oil companies, but most marketing involves benign efforts to spread the word about a product. (And yes, sell the product.) And sometimes it’s better than benign: keep in mind that The Red Cross relies on marketing to encourage people to donate life-saving blood, platelets, and plasma. (Creepy Red Cross, using marketing to literally suck the blood from our veins. Shame on them.)

Yet now and then I encounter an ad that reminds me why people think of marketers as liars. Last night I heard a radio ad from CenturyLink, a Louisiana-based company that recently purchased Qwest here in the Northwest. The ad touted the usual attributes that make one broadband provider better than another, but the line that caught my attention was the reassurance that they were not just a big corporation. It included:

“…and because we’re locally-operated, you can count on…”

The line continued with a standard list of reasons to praise shopping locally, which demonstrated good market research because I know here in the PacNW care about such things.

“Locally-operated.” Think about that phrase: unless you’re in the mail order business, what company isn’t locally operated? Starbucks is a locally-operated coffee shop; McDonald’s is a locally-operated restaurant; Chase is a locally-operated bank. The phrase means nothing, yet it provides an opportunity to include the word “local,” and because people don’t listen closely to radio ads, it might just leave them with the impression that CenturyLink is a local company, not the third-largest telecommunications company in America.

The ad didn’t lie – the company simply polished the copy to appeal to the local market and create a good image for itself. But it essentially used a very careful choice of words to give the impression that a lion is actually a kitten – because who doesn’t like kittens? That’s the duplicity that gets under the skin of the anti-marketers – the double-speak, the deception. And in this circumstance, I completely agree.

Tangent: While looking for info on the company, I ran across this blog post from Daughter Number Three, which makes an interesting point about CenturyLink’s use of Slinky™ toys in their print and video ads, and whether a 70-year-old toy is the best mascot for technological advancement. Good point, and a good, quick read. 

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Slogans I admire in five words or less (part 11)

Never Stop Improving.

This is the new tagline for Lowe’s, and I love it. It’s active, it’s positive, it’s encouraging. It transcends the product and offers advice for life, yet it weaves in so splendidly with the product, a home improvement store.  According to Tom Lamb, senior VP of marketing and advertising for Lowe’s, “‘Never Stop Improving’ is not just a tagline – it reflects our customer’s mindset about their homes and their lives.”

I’ve been paying attention to the taglines for the big-2 hardware box-stores for several years. I was always impressed with Home Depot’s old slogan, “You can do it. We can help.” It felt empowering, like I could tackle the project, and I had somewhere to turn if I got in over my head.

Then Lowe’s came onto the national scene, and they’re catch-phrase was, “Let’s build something together.” It was similar to Home Depot’s line, but it couldn’t have been more different. I didn’t feel empowered by the phrase, I felt fatigued by it. We weren’t going to build it together — I was going to do all the work, and Lowe’s was going to drain my wallet as I stumbled through the process. Home Depot was the clear winner.

Then in 2009, Home Depot decided it was time for a change and debuted a new tagline, “More saving. More doing.” had a nice post about how the new line corresponded to the national recession, and more saving was meant to appeal to the budget-strapped customer. Yet when I hear it, I don’t hear “save money,” I hear, “More work.” Doing home improvement projects is hard enough without being reminded that it’s going to require more than I’m expecting.

Lowe’s was wise to stop making me think about work, and to start making think about the results. Improving….isn’t that something we all want to do?

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Simplicity Stands Up

The resignation of Steve Jobs as Apple’s CEO (you heard about that, right? It was mentioned a couple of times on Twitter) has brought up deep and well-deserved nostalgia for Apple’s impressive string of innovative and intriguing television ads. Advertising Age ran a top-10 list of their faves, and seeing the old iPod silhouette ad reminded we what a crisp and exciting visual feast this was:

Completely captivating while stunningly simple, sexy without being sexual, and the product is featured clearly and cleverly, well-before the white-corded earbuds became a ubiquitous accessory. These ads knocked my socks off when they came out, and they still look fresh and engaging today.

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Are there so few ways to write a W?

Every time I see someone wearing a Washington Nationals hat, my first thought is, “Walgreen’s has a baseball team”?

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