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‘Microsoft spreads the spirit of the season on 5th Ave’

Microsoft’s holiday-themed commercial:

Cute idea, but I completely missed the point on first watch. It wasn’t clear to me exactly where the Microsoft crew was caroling. The ad offers only fleeting glimpses of the Apple logo outside the flagship 5th Avenue store. Maybe Microsoft was reluctant to showcase its rival—and celebrate an Apple Store pilgrimage?

Microsoft repurposes and recontextualizes the song (“Let There Be Peace on Earth”) here. On the one hand, the commercial excises the piece’s overtly religious lyrics (“With God as our Father / Brothers all are we”). That’s appropriate—and not unusual; marketers secularize Christmas carols every year. There’s a more troubling change, though: should a childrens’ peacemaking anthem be deployed as a calculated gesture of corporate solidarity?

Leaving aside religion and politics, the commercial demonstrates just how much the companies’ once-fierce animosity has cooled in recent years. The ‘Mac vs. PC’ war didn’t end, exactly. But mobile and cloud computing makes the desktop market somewhat of a sideshow. In fact, these days, the core businesses of Apple and Microsoft barely even overlap. Stated simply, Apple builds mobile hardware, mostly for consumers. Microsoft builds productivity software, mostly for businesses. It’s hard to maintain a spirited rivalry when your teams don’t really compete.

Another reason for these technology giants to reconcile? They’re so alike—in that they both have questionable fashion sense. Which uniform is uglier: Apple’s Christmas-red mock turtlenecks or Microsoft’s pastel fleece caps?

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marketing Uncategorized

Retroactive ads.

As commercial breaks become less and less effective (thanks to TiVo), embedded advertising will take over.

Films and television are overrun by this covert advertising. In fact, almost any logo or brand mention on modern shows has almost certainly been purchased by a multinational conglomerate and placed according to a strict marketing contract.

What’s the problem?

On the one hand, we might celebrate these developments. The two minute commercial break is hardly beloved by the TV-viewing public, and preroll ads at the movie theater are almost universally despised. Moving to an embedded advertising model eliminates the interruptions and lets the medium tell its story unhindered.

Rebuffed by consumer technology, advertisers have invaded previous sacrosanct areas. Without ‘commercials’ in the traditional sense, we’ve lost the border between artistic content and purchased advertising. The consumer can no longer be sure a plot point or visual represents the creator’s intention, a corporation’s insertion, or some amalgam. Such marketing is scarily subliminal, often passing underneath a viewer’s radar altogether.

Not only have advertisers invaded our present, they’re surreptitiously hijacked our past, as well. Reruns now included retroactively-inserted ads, purchased long after the original content creators surrendered creative control. Your favorite Friends episode inserts a box of Oreos next to Chandler, that lovable doofus. Don’t you want to be lovable like Chandler? Such marketing capitalizes on our sense of nostalgia, embedding corporate brands into our collective memory.

hypotheticals

Where will such digital rewrites end?

What if broadcasters catered its in-broadcast product placement to appeal to you, specifically? Google and Facebook know what you click on the web–what if Jerry Seinfeld’s shelf showed Golden Grahams for my wife and Cracklin’ Oat Bran for me?

Where would we draw the line? If a viewer preferred brunettes to blondes, why not make the change on-the-fly, to keep them glued to the program? Why not prolong the relevance of a sitcom by retroactively updating the hairstyles, cell phones, or computers of the characters?

stepping back

Of course, these are television programs. These are sham worlds, inventions of the ad-driven media conglomerates. They aren’t classics or sacred art; How I Met Your Mother isn’t Casablanca. And if your memories are so media-saturated that altering TV shows upsets you, you may need to build some real relationships and make some worthwhile memories.

But these may not be safe, either. What happens when advertisers purchase rights to alter our more personal images? What if Nabisco could add a box of Oreos to photos from your summer vacation? Lest you scoff, consider this:

Changing pictures on Facebook to include product placement will create false memories. We will have memories of things we never did with brands we never did. Our past actions are the best predictor of our future decisions, so now all of a sudden, our future decisions are in the hands of people who want to make money off of us. That makes me very, very scared. I can see this happening and I can see it happening very soon.

—Aza Raskin, keynote speech, University of Michigan School of Information. Via readwriteweb.

Get ready for Nostalgia(tm), brought to you by Starbucks.

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marketing Uncategorized

Urinal logos: flushing your brand down the drain

Conventional wisdom says that you want to get your brand out there, no matter what. Sloan Valves, manufacturer of my school’s waterless urinals, has apparently taken that to heart.

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The drain canister on a Sloan waterless urinal. Photo credit: TSOMPITM.

Any press is good press, right? After all, by printing their company name here, Sloan enjoys near-constant exposure to potential clients. People will stare at their brand for 10–20 seconds, non-stop, multiple times per day. That’s a blessed eternity in the marketing world. And these customers-to-be wouldn’t dare look away, or they risk a mortifyingly public stain. Guaranteed brand exposure for Sloan!

But did anyone at the company stop to think this through? Yes, your potential clients know your company’s name… but at what cost? Might the eyeballs advantage be offset by the fact that people are literally peeing all over your brand? Every time I empty my bladder, I fortify unfortunate subconscious associations. Through sheer repetition, I’ve established a Pavlovian response: when I see the Sloan logo, I’m hit with this overwhelming urge to give it a golden shower.

In addition, consider the unpleasant sense experiences to which Sloan binds itself:

That sickly unmistakable, ammonial stench.

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“Yeah, let’s sink our brand right into that mess! Great idea, Jenkins! Photo credit: What grinds my gears.

Another disagreeable association: like any plumbing fixture, Sloan’s waterless urinals get backed up. When they do, a pool of pure, undiluted urine collects in the bowl. Eventually, it “mellows” and develops that golden-brown hue that marks well-ripened waste. Sloan sinks its logo right into the middle of that unhappy puddle.

One last unsavory connotation: the urinal session is one marked by territoriality and self-consciousness for many men. We space ourselves out carefully at the urinal wall, determined not to unwittingly ‘show our hand’ to our fellow evacuees. We concentrate on maintaining a stolid poker face–one that says, “Ha. I’m completely comfortable with whipping out my equipment here.” With all that anxiety floating through our heads, is this really the time you want to burn your brand into our brains? You risk tying your product to every experience of male inadequacy.

In the end, though, Sloan took that risk. And who can blame them? When your business is building toilet parts, maybe you want customers to associate you with human waste. Along these lines, look out for Sloan’s newest campaign slogan: “Sloan Valves. Making shit happen since 1906.”

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marketing Uncategorized

Highway signs: when ‘south’ doesn’t mean ‘south’

This is Interstate 85 as it runs through Durham, my current hometown. Here’s the thing, though: they call this “85 South,” as it runs from right to left across your screen. Not only does this confuse the horizontal with the vertical, it completely inverts the compass. When you drive down 85 South out of Durham, you’re actually driving north.

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Let’s be honest, shall we? Original photo credit: Wikimedia user MPD01605

But I guess it could be worse.

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The Federal Highway Administration, making the impossible happen since 1893. Photo public domain.