When Imitation Isn’t So Flattering

If the track on this new Weber Grill commercial  sounds vaguely familiar, it is because it is a shameless and flagrant attempt to replicate the style, songwriting, and energy of the Black Eyed Peas without actually having to pay them. Think of it as sort of a store brand generic of the real thing. Horrible!!!! (For those of you scoring at home, the track is called “You Light Me Up,” by some band called “Open Sky”). What is Weber’s goal here- to dupe consumers? Save a few bucks by hiring a cheaper studio band? That’s pretty cynical, and it’s a pretty bad business practice. First, I doubt they are really fooling anyone. Second, we know the Black Eyed Peas are very commercially savvy, have put a lot into building their brand and reputation, and this has “copyright infringement lawsuit” written all over it. I would guess that their lawyers have sent a few nastygrams to Weber already.

As an aside, the whole “look at these fat people dancing, isn’t that funny” thing has also been done a million times, another sign that the Weber team was more intent on ripping off other people’s ideas than creating new ones. They make great grills though- I am a happy and enthusiastic owner of one. It’s another reason this bums me out.

Anyway, loving a good pan as I do, I am still laughing at this reaction to the new commercial posted on a message board by a consumer: “Two thumbs down, and middle finger up to the marketing team that came up with this.” Well put!

If you think honesty doesn’t sell, by the way, check out the eye popping business results for the new Domino’s campaign from Crispin Porter + Bogusky, which admirably (and brilliantly) recognized the giant elephant in the room and basically said “okay, we know you think our pizza sucks, so we made it better.”  How refreshing- and how effective.

The integrity issue aside, let’s hope that more clients and agencies turn to forthrightness simply because they want to build better brands. We would all benefit from it.

One, Two, Three, Four … I Can’t Take It Anymore

I am going to call my local, state, and federal representatives and suggest legislation making it illegal for any marketer or agency to use music by Feist or anyone who sounds like Feist. For those who are not familiar with Feist’s work, she is the patron saint of what is in my purely subjective opinion a true cultural scourge: the insufferably trite, intentionally ironic (which makes it not ironic), and nauseatingly cute genre of coffee-house music, closely associated with a veritable army of Lisa Loeb wannabes.

Some otherwise great brands have been committing this crime. Apple started this unholy mess when it launched its Nano product with Feist herself (photo above; my reaction: screams as if from Hitchcock’s “Psycho”). Target followed suit when it chose a song by some Feist knock-off artist called the Icicles to accompany its “Long Live Happy” spot, which is somehow even more saccharine than the music itself. Now, Amazon seems to be jumping on the bandwagon, recently launching its new Kindle campaign with a tune by someone named Annie Little, who seems intent on out-Feisting Feist. 

Aside: I have seen this Amazon commercial about 20 times now, and have no @*#& idea what the first 28 seconds mean, never mind what they have to do with the final two seconds that deign to tell us what is actually being advertised, or better put, who is paying for those 30 seconds of time, since it could be argued that nothing is actually being advertised other than the soundtrack and the production studio who put it all together. Someone help me out here. Honestly- what the heck is going on?

Anyway, marketers and advertisers everywhere, for the love of all that is good and right, please pay attention. If the song you pick for a commercial could also be recommended by a doctor as a perfect replacement for Xanax should you run out and the pharmacy is closed, please pick something else. First Amendment, first aschmendment—let’s make it illegal. If you cause harm to the viewing and listening public by using a Feist song in a commercial —or anything that sounds like a song that could be by Feist, even if it’s not actually Feist—there should be some sort of medieval punishment exacted. Such as, listening to a Feist song against your will 500 times.


Sounds Good, Part II

The post below got me thinking… beyond mnemonics, what are other examples of great sonic marketing? Where audio is an even more significant part of the labeling, not just a sonic tag, like Intel or the McDonald’s “I’m Loving It” button.

Advertising music, of course.

Like mnemonics, the jingle is becoming a lost art in marketing… and that’s a shame. Because they work. I found the above image for Empire Carpeting by Googling 800-588-2300, OFF OF MEMORY. They have been running essentially the same campaign for decades. In this day and age of phone numbers programmed directly into Outlook and mobile phones, so you really don’t have to remember them, I think the only phone numbers I actually have committed to memory are the primary numbers of my immediate family, maybe one or two close friends… and Empire Carpeting, a phone number I’ve actually only used once in my life.

Think about that for a minute. An extraordinary fact, and quite an endorsement for the amazing power of using song to embed data in the mind.

Wait a minute, hold the phone. There is actually one other number I know by heart beyond those of immediate family, close friends, and Empire. It’s 867-5309. If you were born between 1960 and 1980, or are any kind of popular music fan at all, you probably already know that number, whose number it is, and can even hum the bars that go along with it. If you don’t fall into either category, here is the answer.

There are so many examples of great advertising songs and jingles of years gone by whose endurance defies all common metrics and even common sense. The all time classic “Raise Your Hand If You’re Sure,” for instance, is a jingle that the good folks at P&G brought back after nearly a decade of dormancy, and like riding a bike, it picked up right where it left off. That element of IP probably helped the brand command a reasonable price when it was sold to a different company later on.

Memorable jingles were almost common back in the day. Jingles used to really work in political advertising, well before “going negative” became so unfortunately in vogue. Any question about what the “brand” is of this one?

I think that with modern technology, we should be seeing more use of proprietary advertising music, not less. Hasn’t happened yet, however. I think it’s because the elite agency types see campaigns like Empire, featuring the guy with the creepy glasses and a voice that makes you want to protect your children, and otherwise shlocky production values, and think the jingle is beneath them… which in many ways, I suppose it is. But on its own, and particularly in the right setting, the jingle can be an unbelievably powerful and enduring tool.

Postscript: as further evidence of its lasting effect, 867-5309 has to be one of the more covered songs in history. I used to be in an energetic but not all that good garage band not all that dissimilar to this one, and we tinkered around with the song too (although never live, for some reason). The best cover I found, however, goes to the inimitable and epic Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters, even incomplete. Great stuff! Anyone out there know if the Foo Fighters ever did cover this one live?


Sounds Good, Part I

It was with great interest that I read – or rather, heard—this article in Fast Company about the most addictive sounds in the world, most of which were created for commercial purposes (think Intel: “bummm… ba dum dum dum!” Aside… what is the best characterization of those sounds in print, anyway?)

Linking brands to unique sounds— or “neuromarketing” – can be an incredibly effective tool for establishing and maintaining brand awareness, which ought to be the primary objective of any marketing effort. If nobody recalls the brand, then no amount of digital wizardry, riotous humor, compelling insights, clever media planning, or any other creative revelation will mean a darned thing… that is, if the agency and marketer actually subscribe to the idea that advertising is supposed to build businesses, not serve as free entertainment with clients as mere underwriters.

Beyond its tactical effectiveness, a strong mnemonic (or, audio logo) can also emerge as a defensible and valuable element of intellectual property.

This is not to suggest that sonic marketing is right for every marketing challenge. But it is a technique that is overlooked (overheard?) all too often.


All Right

I have long held that a slogan or tagline must not only be able to stand on its own, it must be proprietary to the brand. By proprietary, that means that no other brand, especially a competitor, could logically use the same line, irrespective of legal issues. Mostly this means that the tagline should have the brand name actually in it (“Have a Coke and a Smile,” the “Kodak Moment,” and so on), but sometimes it works if the line is specific to a product attribute that is so unique that it is obviously baked into the brand (Alka Seltzer’s “Plop Plop, Fizz Fizz…” is an example).

That’s why I like this new All detergent advertising, notable for the line “All Good.” The line might be a bit cheezy, and I am sure that many snooty and highly confident (translated: cocky) agency types are scoffing at it, but it is sort of catchy, definitely memorable, and actually has the brand name in it, which makes it ownable, and therefore valuable to the brand. Back in my advertising days, I worked on the initial roll out of Pepcid AC. The line we went with was, “You Can Be Heartburn Free With Pepcid AC.” A bit hokey for sure, and our colleagues gave us some heat for that… but hey, the line actually explained the benefit of the product, and the rhyming made it unique to the brand (“You Can Be Heartburn Free with Zantac” didn’t have quite the same ring to it). It did gangbusters. Agency folks often forget that their ultimate mission is to sell product.

So many taglines today might express an interesting thought or reflect a salient insight, but are not tethered closely enough (or at all) to the brand. Most taglines, in fact, aren’t even obviously tied to the product category. If the line doesn’t build the brand, what’s the point? For example, consider “There’s A Way,” a tagline for a huge national brand that is in the midst of being jackhammered into our collective consciousnesses with approximately ten gazillion dollars in ad spending. Who or what has a way… can anyone identify the actual brand? How about the category? Or even the industry? (answer below)

There are some exceptions to the rule that the tagline must be proprietary to the brand, but they are few and far between. “Just Do It” is an example of a line that is obviously associated with Nike, although Adidas or Reebok could have theoretically told consumers to just do it also, had they come up with the idea first (and executed with such precision). Woodbury Soap’s “The Skin You Love To Touch” is another example. In order to effectively meld a brand and a line that are otherwise separate, the marketer must be very good, very patient… and also very lucky.

– PE

(identity of the mystery advertiser above: Walgreens)

The ultimate brands

Look at all those logos!

The opening ceremonies in Vancouver tonight- with the parade of athletes, each decked out in national regalia, and brandising flags- prompted the question… is a country a brand?

Absolutely it is… by my definition of a brand, at least.  Take any nation, and evaluate it against this brand-or-not-a-brand test:

(1) Compelling narrative (bigtime – just as Coca Cola has a compelling story behind it and untold user experiences, so too does, say, Ghana)

(2) Unique name? (yes- only one country is called Estonia; there’s only one Montenegro, etc.)

(3) Distinctive logo? (sure- is a flag not a logo?)

(4) Slogans, characters, jingles? (how about “In God We Trust,” Uncle Sam, “Star Spangled Banner”)

(5) Loyal, deputized, passionate consumers? (mostly… for the sake of world peace, let’s hope that more passion is channeled in productive ways… )

And so on.

See? Don’t mean to be too cynical, as obviously national identity trumps any commercial label in its impact and significance, but it’s sort of interesting to ponder. And hey, this is a brand blog.

– PE