at the intersection of brands, media and culture

Archive for November, 2007|Monthly archive page

The sound of branding

In advertising, communications, marketing, strategy on November 29, 2007 at 11:29 am

I think sound is an underutilized brand identifier. Only a few brands have been able to harness sound and most of those have been CPGs. Alka Seltzer has “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz.” Rice Crispies built an entire brand around “Snap, Crackle, Pop.” Eating Rice Crispies just wouldn’t be as enjoyable in silence and I challenge you to make an Alka Seltzer cocktail and not think ‘Plop’ or ‘Fizz.’ It’s impossible, like peeing on command.

One of my clients, T-Mobile, has a subtle branding chime at the end of its television spots. Sprint used to have that gorgeous pin drop that not only served as a signifier but also reinforced its core brand message of clarity. They’ve done it less successfully, in my opinion, with Nextel.

A friend of mine in the film business pointed me to the Wilhelm Scream. Having been used hundreds of times in the last 50-odd years (hear it in movies from “A Star is Born” to “Star Wars” to “Reservoir Dogs”), the sound clip has become a brand in its own right. There is a ton of information on it here:

Brands need the senses more than most of their managers realize. We talk a lot about emotional branding but senses provide the emotional cues and are able to creep past the rational gatekeepers in our minds.

If your brand fell in the forest and no one was around to hear it, would it make a sound?

MIT goes vitual

In communications, education, marketing, strategy, trends on November 28, 2007 at 2:02 pm

I love the fact that MIT publicly pushes the envelope in terms of technology adoption and distribution. I subscribe to and love their blog for the new ideas and applications that it brings to the table.

Now those sneaky academics are posting coursework and lectures online as part of MITOPENCOURSEWARE. Since leaving school I feel like I’ve become focused on the practical and the applicable but still find that some of the best new ideas come from looking at the ephemeral from an academic vantage point.

Part of me wishes that they would stop spending their time doing stuff like this and fill my order for the flying car though…maybe next year.

A.P.C., an unMarketer that I love

In apc, Brands, denim, jeans, trends, Uncategorized, UnMarketers on November 27, 2007 at 8:41 pm

Marketers get a bad rap. I think it probably has something to do with selling people things that they don’t need and generally distracting the public from things that are important in life, like blogs. One way marketers stimulate desire for said unneeded objects is through conspicuous, megaphone-style communications. See Gap RED’s “We care about Africa and you should buy a sweatshirt!” “You can save a lot of money on your car insurance by switching to [insert any brand here].” The joke that’s never lost on my girlfriend: “You have a friend in the diamond business!”

That’s part of why I think it’s important to highlight the unmarketers of the marketing world. Marketers who aren’t desperate for me to remember their tag, jingle or corporate mission; who speak in a normal tone of voice without yelling, cajoling or otherwise force-feeding me their message. And yes, despite being a marketing consultant I still keep to this maxim.

Which is why I love A.P.C. even though the jeans don’t fit quite right…yet. I’ve long read about A.P.C. through their placements in fashion editorial and advertisements. Some kind of understated, chic European brand… I didn’t really get it. After seeing their name enough times and being in NYC this past week I sought out the store in Soho. My encounter went something like this…

I walk into the store. It’s the clean, airy, masculine, minimalist aesthetic that I’m accustomed to with high-end retailers. This being A.P.C. and Mercer Street, the staff is somewhat affected but otherwise friendly. I find a pair of jeans on the denim bar and am encouraged to buy them two sizes too small by a staff member lounging on the couch reading a magazine. First of all, I love the soft sell. And two sizes too small? Awesome. But wait a minute, I can’t quite breathe in these, and I don’t know what’s going to happen when I try to sit down. “Perfect” is the staff member’s response that’s just about right.

A bit of cognitive dissonance ensues as I stutter step to the counter to buy the jeans. I’m equal parts excited and anxious as I hand over my credit card. It’s here that I’m asked if I know how to care for said jeans. “Uh…what do you recommend?” The sales associate informs me that only after I wear them for (at least) 6 months should I attempt to clean them. And by “clean” he means “dry clean.” He hands me an instructions card that suggests some other care techniques including:

#4. seawater recipe

let your jeans get dirty for as long as possible, go swimming in the ocean wearing your jeans, rub your jeans with dry sand, and repeat several times. rinse in fresh (not salt) water and let dry in the sun.

Like contemporary branders such as Seth Godin, I love brands and products with stories. Stories that are weird, funny, fussy, human, strange- anything so long as it gives the product life and enhances it in a sea of sameness. You can’t wash your jeans in a sea of sameness and that’s why I love A.P.C.

A Lesson About Marketing in the YouTube Age

In advertising, Brands, communications, Consumers, pr, Uncategorized, unilever, youtube on November 26, 2007 at 1:03 pm

Unilever has successfully created two strong health and beauty brands in Dove and Axe. Both have strong points of view and viscerally connect to their audiences. Dove does it through “Real Beauty,” asking its audience to reject superficial stereotypes of gender and beauty; Axe through promoting superficial stereotypes of gender and beauty by using promiscuous sex as a vehicle. The brands are two of the best communicated in the industry, leveraging different sides of the same issue. Both score highly on shock value, both have extremely devoted consumer followings and both are, of course, owned by Unilever, which some now see as a big fat (not that there’s anything wrong with that) hypocrite.

But is it hypocrisy or is it just marketing? Independently, both brands are compelling but Dove has chosen a manifesto as its campaign as if on a crusade against traditional beauty brands. It asks its audience to vote with the brand’s mission by buying its product. A valiant effort, but it turns out it’s difficult for the King to lead a rebellion. Especially in the age of increased marketing transparency.

Trends in Facebook Applications

In research, social networking, trends on November 23, 2007 at 11:16 am

Facebook Applications Trends Report #1

from nomansblog

“Last Friday I stumbled upon this fantastic facebook analytics site – Adonomics (previously Appaholic), which provides figures on all 8648 facebook applications. It’s similar to what you can view on facebook (i.e. most popular, % of daily activity) but with additional data such as estimate of the net value of each application as well as new and returning users.

The data immediately felt like a goldmine and prompted my curiosity to dig into the chart and to carry out a systematic analysis of the 100 most popular applications – those that have at least 1million users – in an attempt to get a better grasp on favoured activities that take place in this global playground. In a sense it is similar to my Youtube trends reports, only here instead of analysing what people are watching, I want to take a a look at what people are doing.”

Be Anyone – Las Vegas edition

In advertising, agency, Brands, communications, marketing, strategy on November 15, 2007 at 4:42 pm

las_vegas_logo1.gifIn true Las Vegas fashion, the Convention and Visitors Authority has launched the “Be Anyone” website. Here, visitors can create new identities (feeling especially “stylish” and “smooth” today, I’m apparently best suited as Angus, an underwear model from Kansas City) by dialing up or down a range of characteristics. Once complete, you can study up on your alter ego’s bio, wardrobe and lingo so you feel comfortable walking around in their designer knockoffs for the weekend. Print and hand out business cards displaying your new name, city, occupation, website and 800 number. Whatever happens in Vegas is now Angus’s business.

Layer Tennis by Coudal Partners

In Uncategorized on November 15, 2007 at 11:29 am

03.jpgI’m a design appreciator, not a designer. That said, it’s amazing to see what great designers can come up with with the right tools and collaboration. More from this series and others at Layer Tennis

Candidate transparency

In Political Strategy on November 15, 2007 at 10:39 am

The marketing of politics has always been of particular interest to me since it so closely mirrors business marketing. Business marketing pioneered the use of focus groups and online surveys to distill information and inform brand and product messaging but within the last 5 years or so I believe it has fallen behind.

Political parties have gained access to better and stronger means to identify voters, bucket them, understand the issues that matter to them and determine the appropriate media to reach them. The Bush and Clinton brands (and yes, they are “brands”) are as strong as any business brand in that voters feel as though they have a real idea of what they stand for. By contrast, I still don’t understand what Coke stands for even though it has been around far longer.

The other major leap ahead that political parties took was in identifying voters based on their commitment to the brand and likelihood to change intelligences. This classified voters as ‘committeds’ and ‘undecideds’ and put consultants and candidates on the offensive to sway undecideds while maintaining their committed base.

Now comes along a neat little application called that lets you weigh in on a number of issues and matches you up with the candidate whose voting records and position papers best represent your point of view. It’s the type of application that underdogs love because it makes some undecideds aware that the candidate is the user’s “real choice.” Front-runners dread it, because for all the thoughtful, target-specific messaging that gets expounded in speeches and debates, this helpful little tool isolates the issues and reveals a more definitive and truthful (?) position– one that isn’t based on name recognition, charisma or what your husband’s been up to the last 6 years.

Yahoo! and Google, the new, old social network

In Uncategorized on November 15, 2007 at 12:09 am

Ignore Orkut, OpenSocial, Yahoo Mash and Yahoo 360. Google and Yahoo have come up with new and very similar plans to respond to the challenge from MySpace and Facebook: They hope to turn their e-mail systems and personalized home page services (iGoogle and MyYahoo) into social networks.

Web-based e-mail systems already contain much of what Facebook calls the social graph — the connections between people. That’s why the social networks offer to import the e-mail address books of new users to jump-start their list of friends. Yahoo and Google realize that they have this information and can use it to build their own services that connect people to their contacts.

I suppose this news could be filed in the ‘obvious’ folder but it is surprising how long it has taken Yahoo! and Google to catch on in this regard. With social networks on the rise in terms of page views and time spent on-site, they are emerging as the big competitors to the traditional communications providers. And the other truism from mail-centric communication brands is that they are incredibly sticky once users have established an identity and address book of contacts. Users are loathe to leave, even if the service level dips or new competitors enter the scene. This is why you can still find otherwise intelligent people with the email address ‘’

Why writers should be paid for Internet content

In Uncategorized on November 14, 2007 at 11:32 pm

Nice Daily Show clip demonstrating the power that the Internet has to broadcast content. You know, the way the broadcast networks used to.