Archive for March, 2012

Show And Smell

(This was originally published February 8, 2012, on

The sensory approach to advertising is expanding.  Gone are the days when helmet-cam footage and the sound of smoking rubber have to bear the entire burden of pounding  the excitement of NASCAR into viewers’ skulls.  No longer will the fake, spray-painted turkey in the Jennie-O commercial have to convince viewers of its deliciousness and realness just on its Fotoshopped looks.  Smell-vertising has arrived and is already bringing product scents to the out-of-home industry.  Soon Smell-O-Vision will be in your living room, and before you know it, Terry Crews will be exploding through your wall to douse you in Old Spice POWER!

According to Creativity Online, McCain’s frozen pocket potato line has installed out-of-home advertisements that feature a fiberglass replica of a baked potato that heats up and emits baked potato-scented gas into the surrounding atmosphere.  Typically I would think that being bombarded with tuber-vapor would be unappealing and unappreciated.  However, the installations seem to be primarily at bus stops, making it more likely that this ad is only the second or third worst smelling thing to call the bus stop its home.

I was so taken aback by this idea that I had to look deeper into it.  Predictably, this is not a new idea, and has been done before.  If we can believe what blogger Joseph Giorgi says,then this grocery chain billboard in North Carolina secretes clouds of beef-scent around mealtimes.  This also seems like a weird and overwhelming scent to blast onto passers-by.  I loathe walking through the cologne section of department stores because of the gauntlet of trigger-happy salesclerks that line up to hose me down with eau de toilette, like I just stumbled into the worlds most noxious watergun fight.  I cringe to think that walking or driving down the street will soon be like this.  Only, with all the steak and potato fumes clinging to me, I’ll smell like I just left a Sizzler.  Where I rubbed my meal all over myself.

Quickly losing faith in humanity, I was excited when I discovered that someone had finally gotten this idea right.  The San Francisco Chronicle reported, in 2006, that about a half dozen bus shelters had been upgraded with advertisements that exuded the fragrance of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.  Finally, someone is using a smell that doesn’t punch me in the nostrils.  So who could be behind such a bright idea?  Pillsbury?  Nestle Tollhouse? Paula Deen?  Surprisingly enough, these ads were executed on behalf of the California Milk Processor Board.  I’m really keen on the fact that milk is selling itself in such a roundabout way, almost as if it recognizes its role as a supporting character.  Milk & cookies may be better friends than peanut butter & jelly, and even give man & dog a run for the money.  The connection is so ingrained yet marginally subliminal that there almost seems to be a Pavlovian response expected from the viewer/smeller.


Less Is More

(This was orignially published January 30, 2012, on

Attention spans in America are shrinking faster than the polar ice caps and Obama’s approval rating combined.  This alarming state raises many questions.  Are we spending too much time in front of the microwave? Is A.D.D. fashionable again? Are Adderall’s pharmaceutical reps in bed with psychologists nationwide?  Although the answer to all of these questions is “Yes,” they are beside the point, and don’t address the real issue at hand. In this day and age of truncated focal capacity, how must we adjust our communication to yield effectiveness and profitability?

Communicating with the distracted can present a frustrating challenge.  It can often be difficult to hold the attention of the scatterbrained long enough even to explain that you are trying to sell them your leftover Ritalin prescription at a really great price, and how generous that is, what with it being exam week and all.  On the A.D.D. scale, I, myself, fall about halfway between “well-grounded human” and “NASA approved space cadet.”  Whether I am in limbo or a liaison, having a foot in both camps offers an interesting perspective and awareness of how my common condition comes to bear on the shape of interaction in general.

Mass communication has undergone many changes that reflect the influence of shortened attention spans.  Long format blogging and email were too burdensome and tedious, so text messaging and microblogging platforms like Twitter set a new attention span standard at about 142 characters.  Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming is comprised in a large part by a score of 15-minute time slots, catering to the ephemerally attentive youth of America.  The best slogans and taglines are four words-long or less, and when was the last time long copy appeared in an ad, anywhere?  Everywhere you look, mass communication is all about short and sweet.

Is this a good thing? Is anything objectively good or bad? Of course not, so, let’s examine a couple of cases that came up in this week on AdAge and AdWeek.

Alloy, the production company behind Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl, is producing a web-based series called “Dating Rules From My Future Self,” and has attained considerable viral success.  While the webisode is not a new or extremely challenging format, what is novel about this concept is that it is released as several seven-minute installments throughout the week.  The webisodes are sponsored by some big names, but because of their diminutive length, there are no commercial breaks.  Instead there is logo-flashing and shameless product placement.  The episode I watched (yes, I’ll admit to that) featured heavy branding from Schick at the intro, and the protagonist’s Siri enabled iPhone 4S is practically a supporting character.  I assume Apple is paying handsomely for their product to get more screen time than several of the human actors.

The viral success of the series and the prestigious promotional partnerships are evidence  of this being  a financially sound format model.  However, it seems questionable whether it will remain desirable, particularly if seven-minute webisodes become the new paradigm for entertainment.  Even the most distracted viewers may be looking for a more lengthy escape session, an extended release.  It’s hard to create depth and build strong emotional connections in seven minutes.  This makes it the perfect amount of time to spend in the closet with someone at a junior-high party, but the wrong amount of time to get viewers to commit to coming back for more. It may be working for the moment, which I attribute to novelty and its singularity in this category.  However, I can’t foresee this being a good bandwagon for other emerging series to jump on.

Also drastically chopping the length of TV spots, Wieden + Kennedy rolled out roughly 120 ads for Target, each clocking in at 15 seconds and highlighting a single product.   In terms of hitting the mark for short attention spans, this campaign is a bull’s eye for Target.  A nine-second lead-in illustrates situations in which a certain product is crucial, but does so in a sufficiently ambiguous and unpredictable manner to make the one-second reveal a true moment of epiphany.  Engaging, clever, and truly relatable, the writing of these ads is brilliant.

Done properly, concise is great.  However, it lends itself best to simplicity.  A complex message about a complex product or proposition may be done a disservice by brevity.  An important distinction between the above cases is that people seek out TV shows and webisodes as a welcome distraction.  Shortening this may decrease satisfaction.  Commercials, on the other hand, are an intrusion of reality into TV fantasyland, an unwelcome distraction from distraction.  So, in the case of commercials, less would often seem to be more.  Ultimately, it is crucial to know the capacity of the audience and the nuances and complexity of the product. Essentially, we are tasked with finding the intersection of how much the audience needs to know, and how much they can stand to hear. –Richard Carman

Company Ink

(This article was orignially published January 23, 2012, on

My mom always hated Zebra Stripe Gum when I was a kid.  Best characterized as the crack cocaine of the bubblegum world, its intense flavor lasts a mere 15 seconds before disappearing completely. The user craves another and yet another piece, until all 17 sticks have been fervently gnashed.  This tendency towards heavy use, combined with my cavalier youthful attitude towards gum disposal, inevitably resulted in a sticky breadcrumb trail leading back to my Zebra Stripe den.

What my mom hated wasn’t nearly as much cleaning up a connect-the-dots of bubblegum on walls. It was what she always found me doing at the end of the bubblegum road.  It was the temporary tattoos.  They came free in every pack and they were a guaranteed mess. They were difficult to administer, and invariably produced a great deal of smearing and running of colors.  The end result was Hollywood-quality fake bruises that made a lot of the first grade class look like they belonged under the care of Child Protective Services.  All in all, the tattoos were probably not a good branding and marketing strategy for already controversial Zebra Stripe Gum.

I assumed that the temporary tattoo-marketing craze died with the DEA ban on Zebra Stripe, and my assumption held until I recently opened a package from  I was shocked to discover a high quality temporary tattoo folded in with my packing slip.

A Michigan based outdoor and adventure sports outfitter for whom quirkiness and ironic humor is a central brand characteristic, Moosejaw, is one of few companies for whom this ploy could work.  A fresher idea than another damn bumper sticker, the temporary tattoo is intriguing.  The tattoo, itself, however, was an illustration of toenail clippers.  It occurred to me that the tat may be too much of a joke on itself to ever see the warm embrace of a wet washcloth.  Even if this is the case, it is hard to chalk it up as a waste.  The gimmick may be just an end in itself for strengthening a brand identity.  Maybe you can’t realistically ask people to ink your branding onto their skin, right?

Wrong. Just this past week, in New York, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, and here, in New Orleans, Sailor Jerry Rum gave away 101 tattoos, yes, REAL tattoos to commemorate the 101st birthday of late artist Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins.  The catch; the tattoos had to be one of the trademark designs offered by Sailor Jerry Rum, who footed the bill, according to AdWeek.

Sailor Jerry’s marketers are apparently working off the classic spring break model of “Here, dude, drink this spiced rum. Yes, all of it. Great, now, we’re going to buy you a tattoo.  No, you can’t get whatever you want.  Actually, we were thinking Hello Kitty.”  I can tell you with certainty that this is not a good strategy, because it yields tattoos that bearers would rather die from than live to regret.   I would personally be embarrassed to have a stranger recognize my dragon or dice tattoo as a piece of corporate branding.  Don’t get me wrong, the designs, themselves, are cool.  I dig the whole West Coast nautical throwback style, but tattoos are supposed to be unique expressions of individualism.  I can’t foresee this being embraced by the tattoo community because it reeks of phoniness.  Nothing about this stunt makes sense to me.

Only blockheads like this guy dip in company ink (via Designboom)

Tattoos are a staple of the fringe community, a mainstay of alternative lifestyles.  And if there’s anything that counterculture does not embrace, it is rampant branding being forced down their throats, and now, under their skin.  No thanks, Jerry.  I’ll keep my Captain Morgan, and my dignity.   –Richard Carman