Category Archives: Advertising

Could Fitbit smartwatch take over iPhone territory?

Though I will never wear an activity tracker. I’ve been very curious about the smart wristband / ‘wearables’ business. Especially the territory Fitbit has been moving into.

Sure, most people will be awed by Fitbit’s ‘SpO2’ sensor, for instance. But despite the clinical USP (to keep tabs of ones oxygenated blood), there are some features that blur the lines between an activity tracker and a smart watch; a wearable that can make contact-less payments via NFC, minus a phone.

There’s also the music feature. A smart watch that could store music could be a game changer. With Bluetooth and WiFi (and GPS) who knows what territory it might lead this ‘wearable’ into? Will it motivate some to leave their phone behind? Would that mess with the iPhone eco-system?

The other reason I’m curious about this wearable is, I plan to use Fitbit as an example in an upcoming class. It’s a class about the Internet, and the connectivity it provides. And the hardware and software that run on the infrastructure students take so much for granted. Following up on last week’s look at Virtual Reality, nothing like bringing up the much-hyped Internet of Things.


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Pepsi lesson: Our B.S. detectors still work

Brand storytelling can be too fixated on featuring celebrities, weaving them in for name recognition, rather than for something they represent.

So why did Pepsi take this latest tack with Kendall Jenner? After all it had decades of insight, having used people from Michael J Fox to Michael Jackson. (Remember this one, in which Michael J Fox braves traffic, and rain?)

Inserting Jenner into a protest movement means nothing to Millenials. Unless Pepsi assumed they would fall for the fake anti-establishment story line. (Throwing in a head scarfed photo-journalist into the mix.) Or they thought most young people would like to see a can of soda solve a street crisis. Maybe they were trying to borrow from the iconic image of that calm activist in Baton Rouge who walked up to armed police.

It reminds me of the cringe-worthy tweet by Kenneth Cole in 2011, trying to hijack the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt with a brand message about its spring collection.

Writer Eric Thomas called out the lame Pepsi ad as “the holy grail of offensive media.” He dissected, frame by frame, what Pepsi got so wrong. He noted that as storytellers, we owe it to ourselves to “fight for more understanding” –and by this he means coming up with course corrections for other storytellers. “Millennials have hyper-advanced B.S. detectors,” warns Thomas.

To me there was positive that emerged out of this brand story. The hoi polloi detected the B.S. and told Pepsi in no uncertain terms.


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Virtual Reality meets Happy Meals meets Education

Is Virtual Reality going to become the next toy? It was going to happen, when marketers rediscover the immersive experience that they never got to realize when the wonders of Second Life never materialized.

Now that McDonald’s has got into the game, letting children re-fold the Happy Meal box into a VR headset (just like the Google cardboard model, but a different template), you could expect many to follow. WIRED reports that these ‘Happy Goggles’ (ugh! I just don’t dig this name), will be available at 14 McDonald’s restaurants across northern Sweden.

Coke has also experimented with similar headsets.

Now, to be sure the Golden Arches says they want to be in the education space. How that will go is left to be seen. Edutainment might be more appropriate.

Nevertheless, VR is well suited for educational experiences like we have never known. Unlike a computer screen, the wearable experience could be used differently. We don’t need ‘toys’ in class, though. Just tools.


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BMW used “the Internet” to sneak in URL for Super Bowl ad

I was truly fascinated that a car company adopted a 21-year old news clip to promote its brand during the Super Bowl. This while other car companies did the same-old, same old car shots.

I am talking about the BMW I-3 commercial, featuring Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel. This one:

Piecing together conversations from the behind-the-scenes interviews on the set, and looking at the two videos (the flash-back shot in the commercial, and the unedited video clip from 1994) it is interesting to see what clever editing was involved. Green-screens, and inserts.

Gumbel and Couric sound genuinely lame, as most of us were about this thing called the Internet in 2004. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) most of us don’t have archive footage of our conversations, when we first encountered the weird string of colon and slashes that were called ‘addresses.’

Around 2007, I recall a very prominent thought leader in marketing and communications similarly question the purpose of Twitter, and its @ sign, of course.

But back to the BMW ad, you may have noticed an email address that slashed briefly on the cutaway shot, as if Gumbel is reading it. (They sliced in his voice to read the address, as if he did it in 1994. BUT, the actual address he read was (You could see the clip here.) Also quaintly, the ‘at sign’ in this clip is a circle around the a, not a continuous line connecting the a.

The neat trick is that the email address domain is a promotional website for curious folk who thought they’d check it out – and I did, because I suspected the ad agency was not going to let that one pass.

Check it out for yourself! There’s probably a one-in-a-million chance of winning the car, but hey!

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Posted by on February 1, 2015 in Advertising, Branding, Social Media


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Brand Voices vs Brand Conversations

It’s easy to confuse the power of voice, when discussing ‘brand voice.’

(Don’t bother Gogling it, as there are some 441 million results, some of it with the predictable talk about signage etc.)

The Voice of the Brand belongs to two groups, depending on whom you speak to:

(a) The people who define the brand, and “know” what it stands for, and articulate it in their channels. This is really what I would call Brand Talk. Sometimes I cynically call it Bland Talk.

(b) The folks to buy it or use it, and talk it up in their own communities, and sometimes on the brand-owned channels. These are, arguably, more authentic Brand Voices. They tell you why people are using the product or paying attention.

But let’s cut through all this and look at brand conversations, to figure out what are the most valuable conversations? These are what social media helps us unearth: those incomplete, poorly phrased sentences, the angst-ridden, or cult-like exchanges in a forum, or comments section. Those self-appointed ambassadors and know-it-alls…

Sadly, brand managers are not always up to snuff on handling the latter; this sort of anarchy; of data-mining conversations; of engaging with those the bosses instinctively want to block or ban those outside voices from the website.

ONE OF THE FEW AD-MEN who bucks the trend and critiques one-way Brand Talk, calls for true brand conversations.

Nimal Gunewardena, CEO of Bates Strategic Alliance, happens to be moderating a round table discussion I will be part of, when I launch my book, Chat Republic, in Sri Lanka in a few weeks.

His screed about Brand Conversations, called for an abandonment of ‘sales talk’ and the 30-second-commercial mindset. It seemed akin to 1st century monks arguing against using calligraphy.

“It’s time to start thinking beyond that 30 second commercial. It’s time to combine the power of TV with the connectivity and engagement power of digital and social media. It’s time to explore new formats. Two-way conversations, rather than one-way broadcasts. It’s time to talk to communities who have common interests.

To which one person commented:

“oh how our vocabularies have changed recently! We are all part of a social media revolution and it’s simply not possible to have our heads deep in the sand any more.”

It’s so easy to provide knee-jerk responses to the role of conversations: To engage, to discuss, to share etc. I try to pry these apart in Chat Republic, and encourage readers to think of conversations as the ‘operating system’ for their community (OK, maybe the brand) they manage.

We cannot bury our brand-saturated heads in the bland.


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Augmented reality at point of purchase. Will it change the way brands ‘talk’ to customers?

When I first covered this thing called Augmented Reality’ people gave me a few blank stares. After all, in 2010, smart phones penetration in the US was 25 % of all mobile users, and was just picking up speed.

Today, smart phones account for 50.4 of mobile phones. The comfort level people show with using apps, and engaging with tools such as QR Codes and Augmented Reality is making those who work in Marcom rethink what they do.

  • Should they stop writing ‘copy’ and start writing story ideas that work in these personal, mobile spaces?
  • Is it time to retire headlines and tag lines, and think of ‘swipe lines’ — inspired by the fast growing habits of new touch interfaces
  • Should we stop thinking of ‘chunks’ of brand-laden text, and start thinking instead of scenarios for different moments during the point of purchase?

Take a look at this communication between the label of a bottle of ketchup and someone in the grocery story diving into content that hide behind the label. The content is no longer on the label, but somewhere in the cloud. With a small touch that information (a recipe, ingredients, a promotion etc) could be transmitted to the shopper’s smart phone.

It’s getting better! See how a Dutch magazine, Veronica, uses the same idea to make print come alive.

It blows my mind to think of the possibilities for print advertisers who could turn the reading experience into a point of (online) purchase.


Posted by on June 26, 2012 in Advertising, Social Media


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Time to teach ‘media literacy’ to kids

I have two rules in the about TV for my daughter. (1) No watching TV from Monday through Thursday. (2) No turning to watch commercials when someone else is watching a program.

I’ve imposed rule #2 in spite of –perhaps because of– the fact that I once worked in advertising. I appreciate the fact that it is the commercial material that pays for the content in the media. But since Media Buying and its cousin Media Planning  is quite a science, with a wicked –often desperate — streak parents need to be vigilant. It is not accidental that advertisers deliberately place family unfriendly message in family programs. Few know that such a thing as product placement (and such things as ‘adver-games‘) exist to “regain the attention of consumers who can avoid advertising (by) using digital video recorders” etc.

I cannot begin to count how many parents have told me how they have had to do something about preventing their pre-teen son or daughter seeing trailers of movies that have a rating of PG-17 or higher. Because my wife and I are in education, we are constantly asked about how to deal with the problem. But while we rail against TV, let’s not forget the Internet could also be an equally bad influence when children use it unsupervised.

My first response is usually a question: “Do you have a TV in the bedroom?” If the answer is yes, then there is no rule on earth (no filter good enough) that could reduce the impact of the problem. A recent study in Britain found that nearly 8 out of 10 children watch TV by themselves for two hours a day.

My second question is related to  how many hours of TV or internet. The typical answer is “Oh, about 2 hours a day…” Two hours of passive entertainment may seem benign, but it is really two hours of training a young brain to accept information with no critical perspective, no time to reflect on what is presented. Worse, it trains young children to not use alternative sources of information, entertainment, relaxation.(Libraries, trees, sleep!).

But in the end, rules and timers will not be enough. What we need to do is teach our children some basic Media Literacy. Not in some academic way about theories of Marshall McLuhan or Neil Postman (Amusing ourselves to death). What’s needed is a way for parents to be able to tell their children that much of what they see and hear on television was designed to not make them think; that game shows and reality shows are far removed from reality –life simulated on studio sets. And that the emotions displayed in very realistic programs are planned, edited, and the people have been screened and coached.

Sadly, in the British study cited above, 66% of parents didn’t even know the characters or story lines of the shows their kids are watching. Experts who say TV for kids is not so bad recommend ‘co-viewing,’ but in that study 20 percent of parents who co-view approximately “sit in silence with their children.” Other studies have linked television watching to behavioral health problems.

Indeed Media Literacy  is hard, especially when it is easy to turn on the videos in the back seat of the SUV and keep the kids quiet and have an undisturbed chat on your bluetooth. 

Take a cue from the American Academy of Pediatrics which says media education for children could counter the negative effectsof watching violent TV.  Pediatricians have linked food marketing and obesity –an increase of 12 percent with one hour, increasing by 4 to 5 percent for each additional hour.  (May 2011 report).

A rudimentary lesson on media literacy would be a good start for children 4 and up. But it needs to be updated every six months. Later on, when the children grown up and you are fighting the deeper problems of over-sharing on social media, and sexting, you will be thankful you did!

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Posted by on September 5, 2011 in Advertising, Social Media


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