September 27th, 2010 — Marketing, Words and writing
Maybe it’s too soon to call the campaign a runaway success, but the respected Middletown, OH Journal is reporting that at least some students at Cincinnati high schools are indeed purchasing baby carrots out of vending machines now that they have been repositioned as junk food.
Evil baby carrots in their vending machine jackets
The campaign was produced by Crispin Porter + Bogusky though I assume without the participation of Alex Bogusky, who pronounced he was sick of advertising and quit earlier this year. It’s not a big media buy, $25M total, so in order to see their edgy commercials you’ll have to hit the right teen programming or just watch them on the web. The most popular seems to be a spot in which a woman fires baby carrots out of a Gatling gun at a guy who is trying to catch them in his mouth.
To me, baby carrots are kind of quease inducing to begin with. They are not actually “babies” at all but mature carrots with minor blemishes which have been tumbled and shaved until they are small and cute. (Thank goodness human babies are not made this way.) And apparently the process makes them last forever since they are typically sold without refrigeration in supermarkets and, I assume, in high school vending machines. Sometimes they get a white powdery coating with age, a kind of patina. But I guess that’s okay, right?
But what’s evil about this is the cynicism of the agency creatives, who seized upon this loophole in the creative brief: we don’t have to make kids eat them, just BUY them from the vending machine. And thus the pro bonos of the healthy school movement are satisfied even though most of the carrots are likely being used as projectiles, bookmarks, doorstops or god forbid this. (A demo of carrot warfare can be found in a fortunately timed V-8 commercial in which two kids are flicking baby carrots at each other across a table in the cafeteria but one of the kids is OK because he’s drinking a V-8… quite possibly containing some of the shavings that were a byproduct of those very baby carrots.)
Changing behavior through an ad campaign is hard, especially when it involves a pliable young audience with a shifting definition of cool. A campaign that did succeed was the “Truth” effort in Florida, aimed at reducing teen smoking by making it cool to attack adults who manipulate kids to smoke. See how many memes are encapsulated just in the description of that campaign? A villain… who may well be your own parent. A superhero… transformed from an ordinary teen. That’s your ad dollars at work.
By contrast, the Baby Carrot people took $25 million that could very well have been used to do something good and spent it on a smirk. Maybe Bogusky quit because he just didn’t want to work with these characters any more. Or maybe he just wanted to go off and be a farmer of great big, foot-long carrots.
January 23rd, 2010 — Food and eating, Marketing
This show didn’t have the excitement of June in NYC, which may be due to the fact that the west coast was harder hit by the recession than the Northeast. (Though many of the same vendors exhibit at all the shows in SF, Chicago and NYC, merchants tend to go to the show closest to them.) There were some empty booths, but good floor traffic. Three trends I noted:
Gluten-free candy... who would have thought?
1. Gluten-free everything. People with celiac disease can’t eat gluten, but for most of the rest of us it’s the wheat protein enhanced during kneading that makes rustic bread chewy and delicious. But marketers seemed to have sensed a trend that “free” of anything equates healthy goodness, so there are many booths advertising “gluten-free” products that would never contain gluten in the first place.
2. Pizza. Lots and lots of frozen gourmet pizzas are on hand, designed to be sold at $6 or more for an individual-size pie. Also a lot of flatbreads that are advertising themselves as pizza foundations.
3. Old-timey packaging. There are an increasing number of packagers trying to make their product look like it has been around for 150 years, with accompanying benefits of heritage and nostalgia and old time values, even if it just came to market. Correspondingly, there’s less of the light and bright “lightbox” look (I call it that because the products are designed to look great when lit from below on a shelf) that has been popular in recent years.
I did a taste comparison of high end vodka pasta sauces, which were easy to find on the floor. I’d had the real thing, more or less, at Rao’s in Las Vegas last week, and the ones I tasted (included jarred Rao’s as well as Mario Batali) suffered in comparison less from being preserved than from being dumbed-down in flavor and salt. Marketers, no doubt with lots of consumer research backing them up, have decided that the product’s personality should come from the face on the label, rather than the actual taste.
This show is not blogger-friendly, by the way. I registered as a media “trade affiliate” which I won’t do again. Maybe guessing I am not a serious buyer, some boothers tend to pull back the sample tray as I approach. Or maybe they’re just worried I am going to suitcase them.
October 13th, 2009 — Marketing, Tech
Fans of my suitcasing thread will be interested to know that I encountered a live example in the wild at the giant Oracle Open World show…. and even (unintentionally) participated in the hijinks.
I was collecting info for a post on Oracle’s use of social media when a gentleman handed me a flyer advertising a “social media meetup” which sounded like a great opportunity to get together with other social media gurus and talk about how Oracle does it. Little did I know he had a prison uniform under the poncho (it was raining hard) and was involved in an elaborate guerrilla marketing scheme for somebody called ActiveVOS.
Oracle, as mentioned in my other post (coming shortly), has a long reach and an iron grip when it comes to exacting loyalty from its users. ActiveVOS offers a BPM (Business Process Management) solution that can be used with Oracle… or, without! So rather than buying booth space they decided to position a bunch of people in prison uniforms outside the convention area, to make the point that you need to break free of Oracle’s chains by using products like theirs. It got good press, picked up by PC World and IDG.
SO, I asked marketing VP Alex Neihaus at the meetup, this really isn’t about social media at all, is it? Sure it is, he said. He used Twitter and Facebook to get the word out, and indeed I saw tweets advertising the meetup embedded in the stream of happy chirps from Oracle loyalists on the Open World Live site. Alex says this is “authentic” and it is a reality of social media marketing that, for better or for worse, once you buy into it you don’t have a lot of control over who says what.
The link to the ActiveVOS website was oddly missing from the invite to the meetup (maybe they were worried that Larry Ellison would mount a DoS attack?) so here it is.
June 18th, 2009 — Marketing
My Yelp friend Sandor has a habit of only reviewing closed or failing restaurants… after an analysis he always concludes with “and so it goes”. When I walked into the once-proud New York DM Days yesterday, I felt like I should start doing the same thing for trade shows. Attendance was sparse, far down from peaks of a few years back, a problem made more noticeable by the cavernous reaches of the Javits Convention Center.
Empty seats at Wednesday's DM Days keynote
There wasn’t a lot of business to do, so I started asking exhibitors what they thought of the show and how they were coping. Many predict better times when it moves back to the NY Hilton next year. This is a hard-core direct mail show (vs web) and the Hilton is close enough to 6th Ave. that publishers can stroll over on their lunch hour.
My colleague Dick Goldsmith points out that with fewer attendees, he has a better opportunity to work each one of them. His company now has a service called Per-Keys that allows mobile text messages to be personalized for higher response rates. The Per-Key is a unique code used to access the system, so he sent a Per-Key to every preregistered attendee so they can check it out. With slow traffic, he also has the opportunity to issue codes at the booth and do a more elaborate demo.
Other exhibitors abandoned their booths at lunchtime to man a “lunch with the experts” area where they and attendees could discuss topics of mutual interest. Better than staring off into space or just folding the tent and leaving, as several of the exhibitors had done.
Since the show was slow, I strolled over to the wonderful ad hoc "park" in Tmes Square.
In other news, I did not see any “suitcasing” at the show—a relief, I guess, but also sort of a disappointment. I had a side project to find cheap eats in the garment district which was unsuccessful because most of my recommended places were closed (“and so it goes”) but did stumble into Lunch Box, a clean and brightly lit spot right around the corner from Penn Station. Five Chinese dishes for $5, or an assortment of sweet and savory pastries from 95 cents to a couple of bucks. Better than $10 sandwiches at Javits.
May 25th, 2009 — Marketing
My first DM Days in NYC is coming up since I moved to NY, and I’m debating whether to attend. (Crikey, it’s expensive, and I missed the early bird deadline!) I find that I am at least as fascinated by the sponsors’ warning against “suitcasing” as by the program itself.
Now, if you have young children in the house, please do NOT look that term up on Google. Stay here with me while we read on the DM Days registration page that “Anyone observed to be soliciting in the aisles, lunch tables or other public areas, or in an exhibitor’s booth will be asked to leave immediately.”
Now I guess it’s fair enough that a vendor who decides to stand in the aisle and distribute their brochures from a suitcase (I’d actually recommend an open carton on a luggage carrier, so you don’t have to constantly zip it open and shut as you would with a suitcase, but I digress) is stealing good money from this show which like others is probably financially strapped. But I’m worried that I, a freelance copywriter, might pull an article out of my pocket or use my iPhone to show a colleague a web page I’ve written—and be 86ed as a “suitcaser” who not only gets ejected, but is publicly branded in a very embarrassing way. (You did look it up, didn’t you? Then you know what I mean.)
I also think there’s a place for think-outside-the-booth trade show marketing of the type that Foodzie did at the recent South by Southwest Interactive conference. Foodzie is an up and coming mail order company “like Etsy, but food”—they find farmers and artisanal makers who are too small to have their own ecommerce site and they sell their food on the web. Their four partners were everywhere there was a line at the show, handing out samples of their vendors’ wares. Maybe they should have paid something for a both at the trade show at SXSW (which was extremely lame) but this is where they belonged, making their pitch to a captive audience of slightly buzzed developers and venture capitalists standing in line for free booze at some party.
Suitcasing? Perhaps. But also effective marketing.
P.S. After the colorful definitions at the top of my “suitcasing” Google results, I scrolled down and found that the International Association of Events and Events offering various anti-suitcasing tools including this poster which you can download here.