Rants on all the ads that suck. Updated whenever it tickles my fancy to do so. Now moved to http://adsthatsuck.ca

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Moving Day

Well, I'm making the plunge. This blog was really just an experiment for me. It went over extremely well, so I'm taking the next big step. I'm moving it onto my own webspace, where I have more control over everything. There's a lot more functionality with an installed application than with Blogger, so it's time to make the move.

So, come on over and visit me at http://www.adsthatsuck.ca. It's not as pretty (yet) but I think you'll like it just fine. It took me two weeks to get everything migrated over to the new server, but I managed to do it.

I won't be updating this blog again, so make sure you update your bookmarks, or RSS feeds, or whatever sort of technology you happen to have going on.

Goodbye, Blogger. We had fun, didn't we?


THIS SITE HAS MOVED TO http://www.adsthatsuck.ca


Blogvertising or Adverblogging?

The great thing about the insurgence of blogging on the web is sheer number of new terms emerging every day that include the word "blog." My personal favourite is "Neighblog," which is used to describe blogs that are geographically close to you, and not, as I first assumed, blogs about horses.

I've been reading a lot lately about the use of blogs for advertising. To me, this completely misses the point of the power of the blog - or more accurately, the POTENTIAL power of the blog. Juicy Fruit tried to be an early adopter of using blogs solely to hawk a product and failed miserably. Honestly, I could write a whole entry on why the Juicy Fruit blog is terrible to the point of being offensive to anyone with half a brain, but I really want to talk about blogs as a whole.

I was recently in Victoria, where I was talking to a friend about how to promote a retail athletic wear store. They're boutique - they're not Sportchek. It's for athletes, by athletes, and you can really tell that everyone in the store knows what they're doing and wants to help. Really a unique business approach, it would seem.

Naturally, blogging came up. A great marketer, but only vaguely aware of blogs, his first instinct was that the blog would advertise sales and events. Maybe, but that's not the real power of the blog. Blogs are excellent (for now) at pulling back the layers of bullshit, and exposing something a little more real. Naturally, corporate blogs are still marketing devices, so they have to tow the party line, but the reason that people are identifying so much with blogs (in my opinion) is because it's not a sales pitch. Much like the nice people on WestJet who talked to me like I was a person instead of a customer, blogs all but do away with advertising speak and open up a conversation.

Sure, but at the core, you're still advertising, right?

I wasn't sure the answer to this question when I was first asked. The conclusion that I came to is that advertising might be a side-effect of blogging, but if you go into it with that as your main goal, it's going to fail. Nobody is going to read it, because it will seem contrived.

If I am going to go back to your blog day after day, you better give me a reason, and it's not going to be your cleverly crafted slogans.
You can't just have your characters announce how they feel! That makes me feel angry!
- The Robot Devil, from Futurama
The effect of crafting a corporate blog is a lot like crafting a play. I need to be lead to believe in what you're saying, not told outright. If an actor simply announce that he was sad, you wouldn't believe it. If his actions lead you to believe he's sad, it's much more powerful. The same is true with blogs.

If you say "we have great service and we really care about you," you're just another voice saying the same thing as every other business. If you show me, I know you mean it. Blogs are an excellent opportunity to show me your intentions without me coming into the store. Once I believe it from the comfort of my home, I'm more likely to come in and try on that new model of Asics.

In a way, it's advertising. In another way, it's much more real.

THIS SITE HAS MOVED TO http://www.adsthatsuck.ca


Advertising vs. Reality

I just discovered Flickr. It's a brilliant site for photographers to post their digital shots to the web, and to allow people to comment on them. The reason it's taken me so long to get on the Flickr train is mainly because I don't have a digital camera. I've always had a 35mm SLR, so the idea of moving from that to a compact was not exactly appealing.

However, after spending a week in BC, taking photos with my roommate's Sony digital, I opened a Flickr account, and immediately wanted one. Today, I decided to act on my whim and make the purchase.

There aren't many places near my house that sell digital cameras, and I didn't feel like making a trip downtown, since I have to go there tonight. So, I consulted the part of my brain that stores advertising messages, and remembered that there was a "The Source by Circuit City" not a five minute walk away.

I had never been to said "The Source," as I still couldn't reconcile my hatred for their past company Radio Shack. The ads told me they were different, they told me they could change. And I decided to give them one more chance.

I walked in to the cabinet full of digital cameras and looked at the prices and specs. Having worked in a camera store, and been a photography nerd in university, I know what I'm talking about when it comes to cameras, so what was on the little cards didn't interest me all that much. I was interested in using one - to get a sense for the feel, the usability, the reaction time.

I stood by the cabinet for about three minutes before I wandered over to the counter in hopes that someone would acknowledge me. I stood there for another five minutes, while the salespeople talked to customers about how great it is to own an iPod (he wasn't buying one, he just had one) and tried to figure out how to work their POS system. The kids behind the counter (not older than 18, I'm sure) served people who had started waiting after I got there, sometimes taking two people to serve one customer. The other kid leaned against the wall while a guy looked at cell phones.

I waited, in total, almost 15 minutes in a not-very-busy store before expressing my disgust and walking out.

I went across town to go to another store and while I was there, went into another "The Source" to see if the results would be any different. Three people working. Three people in the 750 sq.ft. store. I waited five minutes without anyone so much as making eye contact with me.

All in all, Circuit City spent millions of dollars and months to convince me that they were the place to get digital cameras. Despite the fact that their campaign was boring and unimaginative, it still managed to place "The Source" in my mindspace.

It took a few minutes to lose a $500 sale that I was fully intending to make, and to make sure that I never shop there again.

If you meet someone on the internet who tells you that they look like a model, and they turn out to be 400 pounds and ugly as sin when you meet, there's probably not going to be a second date.

The Source isn't getting a second date.

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Damn you, Molson. Damn you.

Those of you who have read my post on the Rickard's Red commercial will know just how happy I am to see this in my email this morning.

Attention Photo Desk/Assignment Desk:
Media Advisory - Crimson Choir begins quest for Pint of Glory in Toronto

TORONTO, Sept. 21 /CNW/ - On Thursday morning, 18 red-robed members of the Crimson Choir will arrive at Toronto's Union Station to begin a 12-hour journey that will take them through Toronto, singing the praises of the perfect Pint of Glory.
The journey begins with an impromptu concert for the thousands of Toronto commuters moving through Union Station.
Their next performance will take place in the heart of the financial district, at Commerce Court, where Crimson Choir members will honour the perfect pint in song.

Photo opportunity No. 1
Date: Thursday, September 22
Time: 8:30 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.
Location: Main entrance at Union Station (Front Street)
Opportunity: Impromptu concert for Toronto commuters by eight members of the Crimson Choir

Photo opportunity No. 2
Date: Thursday, September 22
Time: 11:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
Location: Commerce Court (by the outdoor fountain)
Opportunity: The 18-member Crimson Choir to sing the praises of the perfect pint


Thanks, Joe.

THIS SITE HAS MOVED TO http://www.adsthatsuck.ca


Over one million arteries clogged

I came across this ad on Seth Godin's blog, and I couldn't resist commenting on it.

I hope you're as big a fan of irony as I am.

This one hits a little close to home. Right now, I'm bogged down in a major campaign to educate parents about childhood obesity - something that is creeping up on us so quietly we can't hear it, but which is going to kill a lot of people far too young. Ten-year olds with hypertension are showing up all over the place... some are so overweight they can't even get blood taken to check.

It's sad that we accept the practice of selling kids this kind of refuse and calling it food, associating it with happy childhood memories and sending them out into the world unable to distinguish between what is nutritious and what shouldn't even be put in dogfood.

Yeah... we're all the masters of our own destiny, but if anyone honestly thinks that the average person can compete with the glut of messages telling them to eat more and more - to suck back bacon-ranch infused grade F meat, then that person is either an idiot or not living in reality. It's not a fair fight - especially when the target is children.

I hope that one day society realizes exactly what they're doing to themselves and to their kids, and that the proliferation of fast food and childhood obesity (25% of Canadian children under 5 are obese) are related. Until then, healthcare is going to have a hard time keeping up.

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Advertising is where you find it

I'm currently sitting at gate A4 in departures, waiting for a delayed flight from Vancouver to Ottawa. This week was my first experience with Westjet, and I have to say that after these flights, I don't know that I'd fly with anyone else.

Okay, so it's not advertising in the traditional sense. But, it is creating the conditions for something that people like to call "word of mouth advertising," which may or may not be a complete misnomer.

Imagine if this became part of your marketing strategy:

Be nice to your customers.

This doesn't mean wishing all of them a lovely day, or thanking them for calling Bell, or any prescripted crap that just keeps me in the store, on the phone, or otherwise away from the million things I have to do that much longer. I mean REALLY BEING NICE. It's enough to blow your mind, isn't it?

Everyone I've spoken to at Westjet has been nice. Helpful, genuine and nice. They haven't tried to upsell me on anything, but they were sure to let me know that if I checked in online, I could save time in line at the airport. The flight crew tells corny jokes, and heckles the passengers when they undo their seatbelts before the light goes off. It's casual, and helps to put you at ease. And if there's anywhere you want to be put at east, it's at 40,000 feet above sea level.

Off-topic, I know. If it helps, there is an ad that is displayed just as you get off the plane that says "I dare you to yell "I Love Westjet"" Not only that, it creates something that doesn't happen with Air Canada... people want to talk about what a great experience they've had. Everyone I've talked to before the flight and since, and me talking to you now.

I'd say that is worth far more than the price of a billboard.

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Reading between the lines

Work is still abject madness, and I've chosen this time to go on a week's vacation to Vancouver starting Wednesday, so I expect this will be the only post of the week, but I couldn't go away knowing that I'd left you hanging for over two weeks (I'm so arrogant), so let's get to this.

I would just like to go on record as saying that I do not usually watch the gameshow network. I was at a friend's this weekend, cruising through the channels, and since he had recently signed up with Rogers Digital Cable, he still had the free trial of all the stations that you would probably never watch unless you were somebody's grandmother or unemployed.

It's something I know intellectually, but it always amazes me how different the commercials are on stations that I don't watch. Advertisers know I don't watch these channels, and as a result, don't aim messages at me. It's there that you can get away with the really underhanded stuff, because (and this is a total generalization) people watching these channels aren't necessarily thinking as critically as someone watching, say, the CBC. I'm thinking I might just get the gameshow network so I can watch the commercials.

Anyway, the one that really stood out for me was probably the most complex weasel of a commercial I've ever seen. It got me - for about a second, and then I thought about it.

It was for Allstate Insurance - a friendly black man (very important!) stood by some kind of natural disaster and talked about how they give teddy bears to children who have lost all of their toys in floods, and how to them, it's so much more than just a teddy bear. He explained that this sort of natural disaster can happen to anyone, and that Allstate is there to help.

It ended with "If you have been affected by Hurricane Katrina, please call us so we can help you process your claim."

Now, how's that for an insurance agency? They can't contact you, so they want you to contact them, so that they can make sure that you get your claim processed and you can get back on your feet. Would YOUR insurance agency do that? Probably not.

Now, before you pick up your phone and transfer all of your policies, think about this:
  1. Hurricanes are "acts of God," and usually wouldn't be covered by most insurance policies.
  2. Nobody who has had all of their belongings destroyed in the flood is watching the gameshow network right now.
Now, I'm not saying that everyone in New Orleans is SOL for insurance - I don't know that. But, given what I do know about insurance policies, I would wager that most of them probably are.

So who is this ad aimed at?

This ad is aimed at the people watching the gameshow network, who are uninsured or underinsured. The ad is proving to these people that they are a company who can be trusted, and who will go out of their way to get your money to you... even if they have to take out advertising space to do it.

In reality, that may or may not be the case... but the target audience for this ad isn't what they lead you to believe it is.

Advertising can be underhanded sometimes, can't it?

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I'm not dead

I know I haven't posted in some time, and I'm afraid today's isn't going to be much better.

Every once in a while, in my line of work, you get a project that is all-encompassing, debilitating and frustrating that there's nothing else you can do with your life. You come home from work drained of any energy you might have had, and you dread the next day when you have to start it all over again..

It looks innocent enough, but it gets inside you quickly, like a suckerfish that swims up your urethra and extends its barbed hooks, sucking your blood from the inside, getting bigger and bigger until one of you dies.

That is the kind of project I am working on right now. Anyone who does client work knows what I mean.

Let it never be said that I don't have a penchant for the overdramatic.

In the meantime, Joe made an entry about advertising today. You should read it.

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Character depth

One of the most frustrating things in the world for me is when I see an ad and think, "Okay... I don't get it." I like to think I'm pretty smart (which should be blatantly obvious to anyone who reads this site regularly) but every once in a while a spot or series of spots just leaves me staring blankly.

A few months back, Smirnoff Ice introduced "Uri," the generic Arctic-dwelling Eastern European with a fake accent (what's with that?) who uses his back yard for a fridge, and loves his Smirnoff Ice.

Okay, I'm with you so far. He lives in the Arctic, and likes Smirnoff Ice. Makes sense.

Then they started developing that campaign and the character further. Now, usually when companies do that, they mean to keep a character around for a little while. Sometimes it's a character like Ronald McDonald, or sometimes it's a real person like Dave Thomas. Either way, the method of character development in a commercial is much different from the character development in a play or a movie. It's simple. It's linear. Every element works together to create a total picture of that character.

Then I saw this - a bus shelter ad near my house.

I pose this question to you, loyal readers. What in the holy Hell does this have to do with anything? It has nothing to do with the Arctic, it has nothing to do with using your backyard as a fridge, and I don't remember any references to Uri asking stupid questions that belong on the sign of a wacky dry cleaner in a small town.

In fact, I should point out that it wasn't until resizing this image to fit on the Web that I even realized that this ad was for watermelon flavoured Smirnoff Ice. And I walk past this stupid thing EVERY DAY.

Essentially, this ad took my understanding of Uri as a character, and threw it for a loop. I didn't expect it, it didn't fit it with what I already knew, and it didn't back up the brand the way a character like this should.

Bottom line - if I don't get it, chances are most of your audience doesn't either. That's a dangerous game to play, especially in the formative stages of a made-up corporate shill. As soon as I don't understand, I don't care. And as soon as I don't care, I'm no longer engaged. After that, you're wasting your breath - and ad budget.

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What do you do when they just don't get it?

Sometimes they don't - get it, that is. And that ignorance is the birthplace of ads that suck.

I recently had a rather heated discussion with a member of a charity that I work with. He argued that we were spending far too much time and money on designing our collateral material and coming up with a strategy, and not enough time communicating. I argued that we were spending the bare minimum of time and money on strategy and design.

To him, we should take all of the money we spend on full-colour printing, designing and writing (all of which is heavily subsidized by sponsorship) and spend it on photocopying a million flyers so that everyone in the city would have our message. He also suggested that money spent on a publicity person could be saved by hiring a volunteer.

Of course, this is the case of one voice in a very small not-for-profit group. But this is the type of attitude I see in a lot of organizations. "It doesn't matter what we say or how we say it, as long as a lot of people hear."

That's why you see things like this, this and this.

I preach to anyone who is listening about the power of design. It's important, and if you don't think so then your advertising probably looks like crap. Would you buy groceries from Loblaws if it were dank and dirty inside? No, and that's the same impression you get from a company who has a website that looks like it was programmed in 1992 and a brochure that was photocopied at Staples and folded by hand.

If you still don't believe me, put on a dirty track suit, go to your bank and try to get a loan.

People receive messages a thousand times a day. If yours is just another one of the bunch, then you've wasted the money you spent on that message, however meagre. The only way to break through is to talk to the people who are listening and to engage them. When you have a small budget, it's even more important that you break through that clutter, otherwise you're nothing more than a raindrop in a thunderstorm.

Personally, I think it's better to be the thunder.

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There is a certain poetic irony in getting spammed on a site that is dedicated to talking about ads that suck. While that irony is not lost on me, it still fills me with impotent rage every time I read about what stock is p0is3d to sKyr0ck3t!

Imagine my boyish glee as I noticed that some eager reader had commented several times since I'd left work, leading me to believe that readers the world over were now visiting me to read my cheeky remarks and discuss the world of advertising.

And then, dear readers, imagine my dismay, as I read davenelson70's comments telling me about " ='Brand New News Fr0m The Timber Industry!!'=".

I really like it when people comment on here. I love hearing the different points of view about something that affects all of our lives, for better or worse. Since I'm not about to turn the commenting off, those wishing to post (and I really do want you to) will have to go through an extra step of word verification. It's easy, and it elminates comment spam.

It makes me incredibly angry that these less-than-disgusting excuses for human beings would use something like this for something so stupid. Posting links on Blogger does not increase Pageranks. Spam does not get read. It seems like the only reason to do this anymore is just to prove you can.

I would love to see the day when spammers are hanged publicly for wasting people's time, costing companies money, and generally ruining things for everyone. Since I'll probably never see that day, I'll settle for them getting taken to court and losing everything. Their houses, their computers, all their assets. Put their face on milk cartons so that the entire world knows that this is the face of an asshole.

In closing, I will say this: davenelson70, if I ever see you walking down the street, you better start running the other way, bitch. It's on.

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Best slogan ever!

God love the Japanese.

As if their culture wasn't weird enough already, a company has begun marketing a guarana-infused non-alcoholic beer imitation aimed at kids. Fittingly named "Kidsbeer," the carbonated drink comes in beer bottles with authentic looking labels. The company started out shipping about 200 bottles per month and has now expanded to over 75,000 monthly.

Besides the obvious things that are completely and utterly wrong with this product, it bears what is now my favourite slogan of all time, translated from Japanese.

"Even kids cannot stand life unless they have a drink"

I hear ya, kids. Playtime is fucking rough sometimes.

Original article: Japan Times - August 6, 2005

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When opportunity jumps up and bites you in the ass...

... I have no idea how to finish that sentence, but no matter.

I know I've veered slightly off the topic of advertising to public relations and marketing over the past little while, but, to be fair, it's what I do for the better part of my waking hours, so it's to be expected, really. While this entry is about PR specifically, it's about missing the point even more.

Long story short, guy is locked into two rents, is having trouble getting by, much less buying furniture for his new place. Instead of sleeping on the floor, he uses a bunch of FedEx boxes to build furniture. It's not just your typical milk-crate and stolen plank type of furniture, either... this is good stuff.

So, he posts them online at www.fedexfurniture.com.

What results is a cease and desist order from FedEx and the threat of legal action under the... wait for it... Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Yes. Copyright. The lawyers for FedEx, who I'm guessing are a lot of fun at parties, maintain that this fellow was clearly doing this for profit, because he registered a dot-com as opposed to a dot-net.

Mind boggling. But what is even more confusing to me is why FedEx chose to go this route. When was the last time a major corporation made themselves look like heroes by suing a guy who couldn't afford to shop at Ikea? They had a loyal customer (according to him) who was promoting them for free. It even backed up their message that if you ship with FedEx, your package would arrive in tact because "look how strong the boxes are!"

Even if they didn't want this to be seen by many, suing the guy gave him international exposure. This has been posted on some of the biggest online communities around, including a story in Wired Magazine. Now millions of people know the story and FedEx comes off looking like a bunch of douchebags who sue poor people for liking their products instead of a company that makes their boxes really, really tough.

Great issue management, guys.

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The product is you

I ordered some nicer clothes in April, and they finally got here last week. According to Joe, this makes me a yuppy (despite my distaste for latt├ęs), but it actually helped me realize something that I've been preaching for years.

Design matters - as much, if not more, than content.

Oooooh. The journalists didn't like that, I bet. Read on. I'm about to contradict myself.

These nicer clothes that I speak of are a new custom merino wool suit and three custom french cuff shirts, which is great, because I have a weird, ape-like build that makes it very difficult to buy off the rack. Prior to this acquisition, I didn't dress badly, but I was definitely more business casual than I am now. I like it all - they're good quality, and I'm a fan of french cuffs. They're just ostentatious enough.

The clothes changed how I look, if only slightly, but something else changed, too - and that's what surprised me.

The way people interacted with me changed dramatically. All of a sudden, salespeople were flustered when talking to me, random people were greeting me, opening doors for me, smiling at me. The property manager of the building I work in apologized to me about the carpet in the hallway not being finished on time while I was on my way to the little boy's room. In general, I've been treated far better since I've started wearing slightly more expensive clothes.

To me, this proves a very important point. People decide whether or not they like someone before they interact with them at all. We make snap decisions - it's our nature. As Seth Godin put it in All Marketers are Liars, if we had to spend a half hour deliberating whether or not cro-magnon man was friend or foe, we're pretty dead.

Marketers would be stupid to ignore this idea. Look at the iPod and iBook. Everyone I know who owns one of these has, at some point commented on how "cute" they are. How many times do you think you didn't pick up what would become your favourite book because you didn't like the cover?

Of course, design isn't everything. But it is everything for that first impression where people are deciding whether or not they like you, or dislike you. If I turned out to be a complete ass, or completely incompetent, all the shirts in the world wouldn't make them like me. But, assuming I'm a worthwhile product (which my mom assures me I am) then I've crossed that first hurdle of making people like me, and once they interact with me more, that suspicion will (hopefully) be confirmed.

Have a great product? Skimp on design, and you're doing yourself a disservice. The reason iPod is successful is because it combines "cute" with a really well-made product that delivers what it promises.

The lesson is far more important in the world of advertising, where first impression is everything. It would be strange for someone to warm up to an ad, or learn to like it after they got to know it a little. The greatest copy in the world won't help a badly designed ad sell your product.

Think about that next time you have a college student design your corporate stationery.

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This post censored by QCC Legal Standards

If you've seen the Mott's Clamato ad that begins with a warning about how they had to cut out all of the good bits of the commercial because they were too racy, you're probably curious as to who, exactly is keeping this clam-juice related lascivity from you. And, if you're like most people, you don't care enough to actually do the research. Gotta say - I can't blame you.

The first time I saw it, I assumed it had something to do with a Quebec communications regulatory committee, just because of the initials (QCC). Regulations on advertising are different than the rest of Canada, and they're usually more strict, especially when it comes to marketing to children. Then it occurred to me that since the ad is not being shown in Quebec (as it is in English) there is no reason that this fictional regulator would have anything to do with it.

So, curiosity got the best of me, and I did some research.

QCC stands for Queue Communications Corporation, which, if you visit the site, it tells you is an affiliate of the agency. Queue Communications Corporation is, in fact, a trademark of Omnicom Group (a rather offputting name, if you ask me), which is the parent company of DDB Canada, which is the agency of record for Mott's.

So, fear not, lover of advertising-based soft-core pornography. There is no governmental big brother keeping those Caesar-toting, laytex-clad naughty nurses from your airwaves. It's just a clever (?) ploy to make you think that Mott's just just too hot for TV. There is no banned campaign... just the illusion.