Monday, June 30, 2008

Where are the Creatives in the Dead Heat of Summer?

It’s the dead of summer here in Georgia and this weekend was damn hot and humid.

We are now in the midst of those summer days where you welcome the late afternoon thunderstorms, even on the weekends when it forces you to move the BBQ onto the porch.

Six months ago, just after we ushered in 2008, I wrote about interesting brands I came across in our Sunday newspaper FSIs (free standing inserts).

This morning, I got up early, grabbed my Sunday morning AJC (Atlanta Journal Constitution) and drove my MINI down to the local neighborhood Starbucks to relax before cleaning my house.

The AJC is the local Atlanta rag. I can usually “read” through it (note the quotes!) in about 10 minutes or less.

Same thing happened this morning. That was until I got to the ad inserts.

One of the first ones I tripped over was titled “Coffee anyone?” (this is the actual way it was scripted and capped). Underneath the headline was the line “(Brewed Coffee Card Inside.)” Again, this is exactly the way the subhead was scripted and printed.

Also on the front cover were two clear cups of Starbucks iced coffee complete with straws.

When I opened it up… there was another cup of Starbucks with the headline “Love coffee?” with two short sentences on the next page with another headline that read….”Let us treat you to a cup.” And underneath the two-sentence copy was a simple card for a free cup of regular Starbucks coffee.

Back cover was plain. Nothing except this very hard to read line “Have an idea for us? www.MyStarbucksIdea.com.”

Starbucks is at a very interesting junction point…right at the top of the brand’s market “S-curve” peering down at the steep incline below.

The ad insert had to be produced in-house…although thinking out loud…I guess if an ad agency did it and Starbucks said here is what it needs to look like and here is the copy our marketing manager wrote…I bet the agency did what they were told because having the Starbucks brand logo on the agency’s website looks like they do cool things for the BIG brands.

Agencies really get off on having those brand names on their websites.

Just like most other companies that get really BIG and ORGANIZED and bring in the MBA Management teams…Starbucks is just plain in need of a good psych about now.

The insulation sleeve on my coffee cup featured the original Starbucks logo…you know…the one with the mermaid and her exposed breasts. It’s dark brown type printed on a cream-colored recycled paper stock.

Underneath the logo on the insulation sleeve is the line…”Roasting coffee since 1971. The best coffee then. The best coffee now.”

If the line in the ad insert is “A” and the line on the coffee sleeve is “B”…which would you choose if Howard Schultz called you for your expert advertising counsel because the first insert he paid the bucks to run did not drive any increase in same store sales?

Starbucks is a great brand that is struggling right now…but doing stupid ads that fail to project the brand experience is not going to drive business.

I know that when the economy gets slow, many, many CEOs pick up the phone and call their marketing team and tell them to cut their ad budgets, fire the ad agencies and do the ads in-house.

Here in Atlanta, Match, one of the great ad shops, went under in part because Flowers Bakery decided to do just that…and the jury is out right now about just where the Flowers brand is heading.

(Hey Flowers…don’t call Starbucks for ad counsel!)

Starbucks wasn’t the only advertiser doing something stupid…

Today marks the end of June. There still is the whole month of July plus the first two weeks of August before the kids go back to school.

Parents are still up to their eyeballs in church camps, afternoons at the pool, late nights watching Cartoon Network and kids getting ready for the summer vacation trip.

Parents and kids are not in the back-to-school mindset yet… especially as it relates to Larabar, The Original Fruit & Nut Food Bar; Clairol Nice ‘n Easy Gray Solution; John Frieda Weather Works Shampoo, Conditioner and Sealant; and Speed Stick Anti-Perspirant Deodorant.

This is not a joke… these are the featured items on the cover of an insert that Publix (the grocery store chain) is running with the banner title “Back-To-School Savings!”

This insert features other products like Gold Bond Anti-Itch Cream, Kotex Pads, Playtex HandSaver Gloves and Deep Heating WellPatch.

Despite the fact that a set of young kids are featured under the headline, maybe this is actually targeting the teachers that are already having nightmares in the middle of the night thinking about managing the kids in the classrooms.

Publix’s ad agency is 22squared, formerly named West Wayne. Their website leads off with the line “Marketing Isn’t Communication. Its Behavior.”

And that line is demonstrated beautifully with this “Back-To-School Savings Ad”… It certainly isn’t communicating anything that makes reasonable sense…its just another stupid ad.

Maybe Publix’s CMO and the agency’s creative department were all out on summer vacation when the junior A/E decided to be the creative director.

While there was a stack of about a dozen other ads posting in the AJC that make you wonder if the economic turmoil is actually all part of God’s plan to shake the shit out of the business hierarchy to get back on track again, I thought I would keep this Blog short and only feature three.

The third ad is from a company that I really never heard of before…Mednikow.

That’s not a typo.

At first I thought it was a healthcare company that had a typo in its name called Mediknow. No where in the headline nor the copy does it mention what they do until you read the very fine type below their logo that says “Fine Jewelers Since 1891.”

Wow. I have lived within 5 miles of this place and have never heard of them!

While the ad layout is boring…out of all three of these brands, I give Mednikow the best credit for at least thinking “beyond the MBA boxed-in case-logic.”

Here we are in the middle of the summer heat and the headline reads “MEDNIKOW presents Christmas in July” … hang-on…

And the copy on the back of the page reads… “Summer is sizzling, but we’re thinking of snow! Because everything you buy at Mednikow in July will be FREE if there is one inch or more of snow on Christmas Day!”

That is then qualified as being snow that falls between 12:01 am and 11:59 pm on December 25th 2008 at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

I have to tell you that in a time of Global Warming, a media-driven economic recession, sky-rocketing gas prices and 95 degree plus Summer sizzlers… that is one bold move.

Similar to Publix’s, the Mednikow CMO and the agency’s creative department were all out on summer vacation when the junior A/E and the CEO of Mednikow sat in their office drinking martinis and coming up with a summer promotion idea.

Sunday newspapers are quickly moving from the news genre to a similar real-life entertainment genre like TruTV and Spike.

When I see stuff like this… all it does is spell good news for BrandVenture.

Coming up this week is the 4th of July holiday.

Enjoy those hot dogs, Buds, potato chips and macaroni salad. Get out and take a hike or play a game of softball. Sit back and watch those fireworks.

Then get ready for a wild second half of 2008 and keep in mind, that even the companies that have the cash or claim to know their stuff do stupid things that open the door of competitive opportunity!

Celebrate the independence of American Free Enterprise…

And come… let’s journey!

CEO & Discovery Chief at EXPERIENCE Insight Group, Inc. In the business to discover and craft brand experiences that humans seek out and engage in.