Best and Worst Ads: A Year the News Eclipsed Commercial Breaks
Queen Elizabeth II described 1992 as “an annus horribilis” for her and the royal family. This annus may have not been that horribilis for Madison Avenue, but it came pretty close.
The biggest problem was that most advertising was overtaken by events as the year wore on. The best-laid marketing plans of mice and men — or “Mad Men” with mice — proved no match for a historic presidential race and an enormous financial crisis.
That cut both ways for marketers: overshadowing the best ads, but also drawing attention away from the worst. So half the industry is ending the year cursing its poor timing while the other half is breathing a loud sigh of relief.
Here is a recap of some high and low points of 2008.
BURGER KING After the success of the audacious “Whopper Freakout” campaign, which began in 2007, Burger King Holdings kept the heat on its rivals in the fast-food category, with mixed results. Stunts like selling Flame, a meat-scented body spray for men, were viral-marketing hits; the scent and its Web site (firemeetsdesire.com) made more news than if a vegan like Paul McCartney had turned up in a commercial dressed as the chain’s King character.
But a campaign called “Whopper Virgins” — asking residents of places like Greenland and Romania to take part in taste tests, which pitted the Whopper against the Big Mac — was off-putting; the premise came off like cultural imperialism. Agency for both: Crispin Porter & Bogusky, part of MDC Partners.
COCA-COLA A Super Bowl commercial for the Coca-Cola Classic brand sold by the Coca-Cola Company was a warm and fuzzy winner in the spirit of Coke classics like “Hilltop” and “Mean Joe Greene.” Over the skies of Manhattan, two breakaway balloons from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade battle for a balloon bottle of Coke, only to lose to that lovable loser, Charlie Brown. Agency: Wieden & Kennedy.
MICROSOFT After years of enduring a mocking campaign from Apple that turned the phrase “I’m a PC” into a punch line, the Microsoft Corporation struck back with ads that surprisingly appropriated the phrase and effectively repurposed it as a rallying cry.
Teaser spots that preceded the Microsoft counterattack, featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld as a talkative odd couple, were less successful. But they generated almost as much publicity as if the pair had plighted their troth as an actual couple. Agency: Crispin Porter & Bogusky.
MOTRIN Print and online ads for Motrin pain reliever, sold by a division of Johnson & Johnson, foolishly tried to be funny by comparing babies carried by mothers to fashion accessories. J.& J. wound up wearing tons of Pablum tossed at it by parents offended that their efforts to bond with their babies were being trivialized.
The complaints, many delivered in the form of angry “tweets” on Twitter, eventually seemed like overkill, but they killed the campaign. Agency: Taxi.
BARACK OBAMA One reason that so few people paid attention to advertising this year was a race for the White House filled with milestones, which ended with a precedent-setting president-to-be. One reason for that outcome was the deft use of media, new and traditional, by the Barack Obama campaign as well as by his supporters.
An example of an official ad that broke through was a 30-minute infomercial that the campaign ran on seven broadcast and cable networks on Oct. 29. The commercial, filmed like a documentary, managed to be slick and earnest at the same time, and finished with a live flourish with Mr. Obama at a rally in Florida. Agencies: GMMB, part of the Omnicom Group, and Murphy Putnam Media.
An example of an unofficial Obama ad that succeeded was a video clip, produced by the musician Will.i.am, called “Yes We Can,” which was viewed on YouTube and other video-sharing Web sites more than 20 million times.
Heated roofs were installed in 10 downtown bus shelters to bring to life the Stove Top promise of a warm feeling when eating a meal with stuffing as a side dish. The clever campaign was emblematic of what is known as experiential marketing, which has brought sounds and smells to bus shelters in addition to hot air. Agencies: Draft FCB, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies; JCDecaux North America, part of JCDecaux; and MediaVest, part of the Starcom MediaVest Group division of the Publicis Groupe.
TOYOTA A commercial to promote zero percent loans offered by Toyota Motor featured a version of a 1983 song, “Saved by Zero,” by the Fixx. The spot seemed innocuous enough, but incessant repetition got on America’s nerves to the point that consumers were threatening to fix Toyota’s wagon, station or otherwise.
There were even groups formed on Facebook to urge Toyota to pull the commercial. Still, all the publicity may have been beneficial at a time when people were thinking more about bailing out carmakers than buying cars; a headline in The Daily News, over an article about the Federal Reserve Board’s decision to slash interest rates, asked, “Are We Saved by Zero?” Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi, part of Publicis.
VOLKSWAGEN A tongue-in-cheek campaign for the Routan minivan sold by Volkswagen of America, part of the German automaker Volkswagen, sought to spoof the image of minivans as mom-mobiles. A celebrity mother, Brooke Shields, was featured as a scold who accuses expectant parents of wanting children just so they can experience the “German engineering” of the Routan.
Like the campaign for Motrin, the Routan campaign seemed tone-deaf. Maybe Americans consider motherhood no laughing matter. Agency: Crispin Porter & Bogusky.
The coffee shop I hang out at has tea, now the mermaid is trying to save it’s soul, or at least bottom line with more coffee alternatives. From Seattlepi.com:
Starbucks to introduce new tea-based drinks
Beverages billed as more healthful
Starbucks Corp. said Tuesday that it will begin selling three new tea-based lattes and two nondairy tea drinks on Saturday as part of a push to offer customers choices that are more healthful.
The company said all but one of the new drinks contain less than 200 calories for a 12- ounce, or tall, serving.
The new lattes are made with steamed milk and Tazo full-leaf tea bags. The new varieties include the Black Tea Latte, the Vanilla Rooibos Latte and the London Fog latte. The company already sells chai tea and green tea lattes.
Starbucks also will introduce new Tazo Tea Infusions — nondairy drinks made with Tazo black chai tea and fruit juice. The company will offer a Berry Chai Infusion, made with berry and black currant juices, and an Apple Chai Infusion, made with apple juice. That drink contains 250 calories, Starbucks said.
The latte drinks will be priced from $2.85 to $3.50 for a tall, depending on the location of the store. The infusions will sell for $2.40 to $2.70 for a tall.
“The same way we transformed American coffee culture, we want to deliver an exceptional tea experience for customers with our new Tazo Tea Lattes and Tea Infusions,” Michelle Gass, executive vice president of marketing and category, said in a statement.
Starbucks said the move was part of its recent effort to offer customers some more-healthful options. The company introduced more whole-grain, low-fat breakfast offerings earlier this year, including an instant oatmeal that has been popular.
Starbucks shares closed up 33 cents at $9.36 in Nasdaq trading Tuesday.
From my Email:
After my prediction last week of increased attention on customer retention in 2009, I thought I’d provide some links to related articles on customer retention. Here you go:
I had a General Manager a few years ago that started tossing the F-word around when she got stressed. Think that helped make things better? Think again.
One More Idea On Creating the Customer Driven Company
I want to add one more to the list of four ways to create the
customer driven environment. This is a good one. It is an
offshoot to the Golden Rule that says, “Do unto others as you
would have done unto you. The twist on this is, “Treat each
other the way you want your customers to be treated.”
If you are constantly yelling at an employee, how can you expect
him/her to turn around and be nice to a customer? You need to
set an example for each other – especially if you are a manager.
I’m reminded of the manager that takes an employee into the back
and screams at him for the “lousy” job he is doing and ends the
conversation by screaming, “And the beatings won’t stop until the
morale gets better!”
How can you possibly expect an employee to know how to treat a
customer when the boss can’t exhibit the type of behavior needed
to do so? I’ve seen it happen in companies over and over again.
If you want employees to treat customers a certain way, start by
treating them the way you want the customers treated.
Copyright © 2009- Shep Hyken, Shepard Presentations
Shep Hyken, CSP is a professional speaker and author who works
with organizations who want to build loyal relationships with
their customers and employees. For more information on Shep’s
speaking programs, books and tapes contact (314)692-2200 or
Shepard Presentations, LLC
711 Old Ballas Road, Suite 215
St. Louis, MO 63141
According to a new report by FitchRatings, the company forecasts that the contraction in output among the major advanced economies will represent the steepest decline since the Second World War, with GDP in the U.S. to decline approximately 1.2%, while inflation is forecast to be 2.7%.
Regarding the advertising environment, the Fitch media team is more cautious than most major advertising forecasts, none of which currently predict advertising to be nearly as weak as 2001.
Fitch’s cautious view about advertising is, in part, supported by these underlying conditions:
- The 2001 ad downturn was concentrated in national advertising, while the 2008-2010 downturn will include both local and national components. Political and Olympic spending masked the local market weakness in 2008, but the report says the absence of these revenue sources in 2009 will expose the depth of this weakness.
- This weakness in local markets will be compounded by national advertising pressures due to the impact of the credit market events that hit while many large national advertisers were planning their 2009 ad spending budgets, forcing many companies to emphasize capital preservation and liquidity, not just earnings growth.
- With advertising being one of the most easily scalable fixed costs, some major advertisers could plan to pull back on national campaigns considerably until there is more visibility in the market.
Five of the top 10 advertising categories, or over 40% of the ad mix (according to Advertising Age), will be under meaningful pressure next year, says the report:
- No.1 Retail (12% of total)
- No.2 Automotive (12%)
- No.5 Financial Services (6%)
- No.6 General Services (6%)
- No.9 Airlines, Hotels and Car Rentals (4%)
And, notes the report, advertising inventory has proliferated (from online and emerging mediums as well as traditional ones) since previous downturns. Media companies are likely to compete more heavily on price in this downturn to fill the vast supply of ad space available.
Advertisers have many more options in the current environment than at any other time for maintaining a presence with consumers while trimming their budgets and scaling back high Cost Per Thousand (CPM) advertising campaigns, says the report. Even healthy advertisers are likely to use this increased bargaining power to command better price terms and concessions from media companies.
The study offers trends and outlooks for several advertising subsectors in the report, as estimated by Fitch:
Newspaper industry revenue growth will be negative for the foreseeable future as both ad pricing and linage will be under pressure within each of the four main components of newspaper companies’ revenue streams. Fitch believes more newspapers and newspaper groups will default, be shut down and be liquidated in 2009 and several cities could go without a daily print newspaper by 2010. This has already happened in several cities and only those that can reinvent their business model to produce a balanced balance sheet will survive.
Few markets will be able to support more than two directories and most markets will eventually only be able to support one book. Another year of accelerated declines in yellowpages advertising could significantly pressure the intermediate-term solvency of the two pure-play incumbent directories companies. This was once a growing industry but I believe there is nothing that can salvage it. It will die a slow death, 10 to 15 years at the most. It is a generational preference to online vs. a phone book coupled with the cost of advertising that will kill it off.
Radio has no unionized workforces, and convert a higher percentage of EBITDA to free cash flow giving them more cushion to endure the secular challenges. Listenership is likely to continue to fall, though available inventory should remain relatively stable, and pricing could be up on some advertisers. Internet streaming provides additional day parts to sell. The continued roll-out of factory-installed high definition (HD) radio into automobiles could provide upside to listenership.
This is my business. Between 80 to 90% of Americans listen to an FM or AM radio station weekly. Most of them listen daily. HD Radio is not the answer. Local and meaningful programming will keep the medium alive. The real challenge is, as it has always been, finding the sales staff that know how to sell so it is a win-win-win situation for the radio station-advertisiers-listeners.
Fitch expects the larger players to rationalize available print advertising inventory through consolidation and closing down titles. Several categories that used to have multiple titles will likely have advertising bases that can support only one major title. With limited catalysts for growth in the core print product, magazine publishers have become more proactive online. I’m not sure about this one. Overall readership is down due to the internet, but as long as those that survive have a business plan that makes money, they should be okay.
Fitch believes the potential negative effects of increased inventory from digital roll-outs should be tempered by increasing appeal to national advertisers, as well as decreases in price per unit. Cost structures should benefit from digital billboards, as displays can be centrally managed without physical deployment of work crews. Low CPMs and better networked national sales pitches, position outdoor advertising companies to endure the downturn and rebound with the economy. This is one advertising medium that should always work as long as the creative is on target.
Cable industry ad inventory has grown significantly over the past several years, causing a deceleration of the decades-long increase in ad dollars, but cable continues to be a targeted medium, at a lower price relative to broadcast and with significant reach. Fitch expects it to continue to gain share from broadcast. Fitch expects the cable networks to continue to embrace VOD and digital strategies, which could provide some modest upside to revenue growth. I’ve been told that over 80% of our city is wired. As long as the cable sales staff can create campaigns that make sense for the advertiser and not just line their own pockets, this media should continue to grow.
Online could be negatively affected by advertisers scaling back experimental expenditures in favor of more proven, performance-based mediums. Search is likely to be more healthy than display. Remnant advertising is likely to be hit by a shakeout in the ad network space. While CPM growth is likely to moderate and could be under pressure, online video and social networking are likely to support growth. Regulatory issues associated with privacy could be a factor as firms attempt to implement more behavioral targeting. Over the longer term, online advertising is expected to rebound from economic weakness and continue to capture share from traditional outlets. This is the great unknown. Banner Ads, Text Ads, Web Buttons & Links, Social Media and what will be next? The big mistake I see is that people do not understand the motivational factors that prompt action to advertising and marketing, and those people are looking for the technology to be the answer. Money will be spent in 2009 and beyond as all of us try and apply advertising and marketing principles to this media platform we call the internet.
For more detailed information within the original report, please visit here.