28 September 2009

Vegemite iSnack 2.0: Who is being trolled?

Thousands of words have already been tweeted, blogged and otherwise published about Kraft's announcement on Saturday of the new name for its Vegemite cream cheese blend brand extension: Vegemite iSnack 2.0.

As the immediate twitstorm begins to abate, some interesting and thoughtful analysis is emerging. Much of the latest thinking seems to settle around the theme of "It’s so bad, it must be a deliberate publicity stunt".

There certainly is a funny smell about all of this, and it's not yeast extract. Given that the name is supposed to conjure up associations of the internet, I think we should turn to the web for a better and more current term than "publicity stunt" – I reckon it’s a giant troll. Problem is, at this stage, I’m still not sure who's being trolled.

Are consumers the victims? Is our riled-up response on social media playing into Kraft's hands?

The thought that Kraft might risk a valuable, iconic brand with such deep cultural connections in Australia for the sake of some very dubious publicity makes me Vege-mighty uncomfortable. And yet it does seem one plausible explanation.

And not everyone thinks the controversy about the name is a bad thing. Marketing academic Kenneth Miller of the University of Technology, Sydney, says "it's good PR" and "it won’t damage the parent brand".

The idea that "any publicity is good publicity" may have some validity in the case of some up-and-coming brands that consumers have never heard of. Think Paris Hilton.

But it simply doesn’t hold true for a mature brand that’s a household name, especially not in the internet age.

And ugly brand extensions may not cannibalise sales of the parent brand but they sure as hell can damage the image of the parent brand and the reputation of its owner. It's clear that many consumers are feeling a lot less warm and fuzzy about the Vegemite brand and Kraft today than they were last week.

Alternatively, has Kraft been trolled?

The winner of the contest, Western Australian web designer Dean Robbins, admits "it was all a bit tongue-in-cheek, really". In his post hoc explanation, Robbins says the "i" phenomenon and web 2.0 "have been recent revolutions" (my emphasis).

Ahem. Not exactly "recent". The iMac was launched in 1998 – that’s 10 years ago – and the iPod in 2001. Putting an "i" in front of a name has long since had its day as a legitimate "cool" branding strategy.

So for a web designer to be suggesting a name using clichés like "i" and "2.0" smacks of a giant piss-take.

Kraft hasn’t shared with us just how many of the 48,000 entries from 35,000 individuals it received were, to put it kindly, "tongue in cheek", but I’d be willing to bet it was a fair percentage.

The likelihood of getting a great name from a public contest was always low. Seriously, anyone from a smart brand identity agency – or anyone who aspires to work in one – would have run a mile from a half-arsed crowd-sourcing exercise like this.

And it's impossible to imagine that Kraft didn't have a "What if we run a contest and only get crap names?" strategy. So did they have a few ideas already up their sleeves? Was "iSnack 2.0" one of them?

Still, it’s hard to believe one of the world’s biggest FMCG companies would make a strategic branding decision – putting its faith and brand equity on the line with a name like this – without taking some expert branding advice and/or doing some decent consumer research. So who is advising Kraft, anyway, and have they led Kraft astray? Or is this mess all of Kraft's own making?

Kraft might well be inclined to dismiss the almost universally negative views expressed on Twitter and the blogosphere as coming from an irrelevant Gen Y elite, and not reflective of the views of the heartland of Australian consumers. In which case, why did they go with a hipster, pseudo-Gen Y name like iSnack 2.0, as suggested by a Gen Y web designer?

Ultimately, it may turn out that Kraft have tried to be too smart for their own good. Trolled themselves.

14 September 2009

Agency replies to post on Solo pavement stencils with warning and insult... but misses the point

I received an email today (reproduced in full below*) in response to my recent post on the use of pavement stencils in a suburban Melbourne shopping strip as part of Schweppes’ Solo brand’s “Game On” promotion.

Apparently the substance used to produce the intrusive yellow stencils was chalk, not paint.

Fine. Maybe I should have sent the stencils down to forensics before commenting, but I just described what I saw. I stand corrected.

So it was chalk that dripped and splattered, was walked through by pedestrians and was dumped in adjacent gutters, as my previous pics clearly showed.

And it was chalk that – as today’s photo shows – someone has tried damn hard to remove over the weekend without success. The footpaths and gutters now have residual yellow stains.

The point of my blog – as I think was perfectly clear – was to ask whether pavement graffiti was a legal, legitimate and appropriate tactic for a prominent consumer brand like Solo to adopt. I must now add to that the question of whether it’s a good look for an agency apparently working on behalf of Solo to send antagonistic emails to a blogger with no vested interest who simply comments from a consumer’s point of view.

Glenferrie Road shoppers and shopkeepers to whom I have spoken found it intrusive and galling to have these uninvited bright yellow eyesores in front of stores, especially when traders must get a Council permit for a sandwich board or any other form of street signage or furniture.

As for the warning that not checking facts “could get you in hot water” and the insult – “such dribble (sic)” – I’m happy to take my chances.

* NOTE: Email removed on request of Mike Akers of Foot Traffic Media

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13 September 2009

Breast cancer campaign confusion: Time for another self-examination?

This afternoon, a man wearing an ID badge with a pink ribbon rang our doorbell collecting money for “breast cancer”. I don’t know which breast cancer cause or organisation he represented – I didn’t even open my security door. Rather than giving him the following explanation, I simply told him that we were not in a position to assist. I felt some regret, but also some anger.


Australian consumers have been thoroughly trained over the past few years to recognize that pink and/or a pink ribbon means “breast cancer” and that fundraising for breast cancer awareness and research is a “good thing”. But conventional wisdom tells us too that you can have too much of a good thing.


As someone who has taken a close professional interest in this subject for several years (see my previous pieces in Crikey) I am probably better informed than many. Yet, if I am confused and cynical about the “pinkwash”, where does that leave the average consumer?


No breast cancer organisation has sole rights to the use of the colour pink or the pink ribbon motif, although many have trademarked specific design configurations and slogans. But some seem content to allow consumers to be guided and reassured by the general impressions and emotions conveyed by pink and the pink ribbon without getting specific about their causes.


And marketers that produce special pink products on the back of claims that they support breast cancer causes also rely on general consumer goodwill. The potential for exploitation is obvious: in the US, growing concern about consumer confusion and the potential for marketers to make misleading claims about funding provided through sales of pink products led to a community campaign by Breast Cancer Action called “Think Before You Pink”.

Now it seems Australia’s breast cancer organisations are themselves acknowledging the potential for consumer confusion and recognising the need to compete for share of voice, share of the consumer's mind and the discretionary breast cancer dollar.

For example, the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) now describes itself as "the leading (my emphasis) community-funded organisation in Australia raising money for research into the prevention, detection and treatment of breast cancer". Use of the word "leading" points clearly to competition – if you don’t have competitors, then “leading” is meaningless and pointless.

Breast Cancer Network Australia, which calls itself “the peak (my emphasis) national organisation for Australians personally affected by breast cancer” has been up-front about the risks of confusion for some time. In March 2008, BCNA convened a collaborative meeting between what it calls Australia’s “big three” breast cancer organisations – the NBCF, the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre (NBOCC) and the BCNA – “to discuss ways we can best work together to support each other”.


Of course, identifying a “big three” naturally consigns other organisations to some kind of second tier, although the basis for this classification isn’t clear. High-profile omissions from this list include the McGrath Foundation, which raises money “to place breast care nurses in hospitals and to educate young women to become breast aware”, and the Breast Cancer Institute of Australia (BCIA) which “supports collaborative clinical trial research” in breast cancer treatment and prevention and is sponsored by cosmetics company Avon.


But you can’t expect consumers to get their heads around this hierarchy or to understand how the different organizations might complement each other (if indeed they do).


Eighteen months after the BCNA-led pow-wow, the situation is no clearer. Here it is mid-September and someone is doorknocking for “breast cancer” funds, yet I read on the NBCF website a call for volunteers for October which is “Breast Cancer Month”. BCNA’s “Pink Lady” and “pink bun” campaign takes place in April-May, with a focus on Mother’s Day (second Sunday in May). But Michel’s Patisserie will probably once again roll out the Pink Ribbon cupcakes this October in support of NBCF.

As the BCNA website still says “We all know there is confusion in the community about the roles of the three major national breast cancer organizations”. Yeah, and the rest…

That confusion can only continue to grow and, with it, the very real risk of consumer cynicism, mistrust and disinterest in what remains a vital endeavour.

Posted via web from qbrand's posterous

11 September 2009

Is Woolworths spending $500,000 to promote a $5000 donation?

Motorists using busy major roads in Melbourne and Brisbane have recently noticed large billboards advertising a $5000 grant from Woolworths to the Somerton Park Sea Scouts.

Some, not recognising the name Somerton Park, have eventually found that it is neither in Queensland nor Victoria but in South Australia. It’s likely that the same ad is gracing billboards around the country.

And there’s a TV commercial too, featuring the Sea Scouts carrying canoes and other equipment funded by the grant through the bush in awkward and comical fashion, to the sound of the Woolies’ banjo and harmonica-tinged jingle.

So why is Woolworths undertaking a national campaign to promote a small grant to a local South Australian community group?

Somerton Park Sea Scouts are just one of 1900 community organisations that have received grants of up to $5000 – to a total of around $2 million – in the 2009 Woolworths Fresh Food Kids Community Grants program.

But, perhaps unaware of the size of the overall grants program, some consumers have observed that the $5000 given to the Sea Scouts must compare very unfavourably with the amount spent on just a single billboard supersite.

And this highlights a classic dilemma for any marketer that undertakes sponsorship of community programs – how much should they spend telling people how much they have spent?

Woolworths have been coy about exactly how much they are spending to advertise the awarding of the community grants. They declined to answer specific questions about the number of billboards, the reach and frequency of TV ads, production budgets and overall media spend on the campaign.

Media Relations Manager Benedict Brook would say only that “a limited amount of our marketing mix has been used to publicise winners” and that “in terms of our overall spend on community projects, any marketing costs are both necessary and negligible”.

Large billboard posters cost up to $5000 each to print and renting space on a “supersite” can cost between $10,000 and $20,000 per month. Even assuming a conservative 10 sites nationally, that’s $150,000 on outdoor alone, not counting the initial costs of photography and design.

A 30-second TV commercial involving a full-day location shoot on high-quality media generally carries a production budget of $100,000. And there is a second TVC for the 2009 grants, featuring the Picton Magpies Junior Cricket Club, southwest of Sydney. So add perhaps another $100,000. It would be most unusual to spend $200,000 on production of two TVCs and then not spend at least that much buying media time to show them.

Ad industry people with whom I have canvassed the issue this week agree that, even on very conservative estimates, the total cost of the outdoor and TV campaigns to promote the grants must therefore be in excess of $500,000, and probably much more. But is this what Woolworths has actually paid?

“Much of our community support marketing utilises media partnerships and free advertising space given to us” by major media organizations, said Mr Brook. This “massively reduces the cost”, he claimed, but he could not provide further details. “How we use our media spend is commercially sensitive information,” he told us.

Just like the proverbial lunch, “free media” is never really free to an organisation like Woolworths. It is based on their total spend and has an opportunity cost, as Mr Brook acknowledged: “We could have used this space to advertise products.”

When you look at the big picture, Woolworths is spending at least half a million dollars to tell us about the $2 million they have spent. This is not at all out of line with what experts tell us sponsors should spend to promote or “activate” the value of a sponsorship. And Woolworths says feedback from its customers “has told us that they are keen to know what support we give to the wider community”.

However, while styled as a community support program, ad industry observers see the Fresh Food Kids Community Grants Program – which is explicitly linked by name to the supermarket chain’s broader advertising (as the “fresh food people”) – as being more about brand positioning than it is about philanthropy.

Posted via email from qbrand's posterous

10 September 2009

Schweppes Solo: Are public pavements fair game for marketers?

Looks like the members of a Schweppes “street marketing” team are taking the term literally when it comes to the Solo brand’s “Game On” football (soccer) promotion. A series of bright yellow stenciled logos appeared this week on the pavement in the busy Glenferrie Road shopping strip in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn, frequented by thousands of students from Swinburne University and nearby secondary schools.

Just as the original “Solo Man” in the iconic 1980s TV commercials dribbled lemon drink down his chin and chest as he “cracked a Solo”, the corporate graffitists have dribbled yellow paint along the footpath and even cleared the nozzles of their spray cans in the gutters in multiple locations.

Are footpaths and pavements “fair game” for advertisers? What if one of Solo’s competitors (e.g. the Coca-Cola Company’s Lift brand) decided to come along and spray over the Solo stencils? Or tried to outgun them by spraying two or three times the number of Lift logos in the same stretch of the shopping strip? Where might it all end?

And what about the effect on consumer sentiment towards the Solo brand?

My immediate reaction makes me think that the sloppiness and intrusiveness of the stenciling work does the Solo brand no favours.

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08 September 2009

THE EMPEROR'S NEW PROSE: Why someone must confront Kevin Rudd about his writing

The TV series The West Wing gave viewers the not unreasonable impression that great political leaders surround themselves with the best writers available. The hot-shots writing for President Jed Bartlet had honed their writing skills in the law, academia, management, journalism and even TV sitcoms.

Yet the evidence of our own eyes and ears suggests otherwise in the case of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. We want leaders whose words can inspire, but Rudd’s most important speeches as PM have often left us feeling flat and befuddled or, worse still, have attracted ridicule. Sadly, they seem to be the work of the man himself and not communication professionals.

Now, The Age reports that an essay by Rudd has been rejected by the American journal Foreign Affairs. The Age’s diplomatic editor Daniel Flitton cited “dense descriptions” (read gobbledygook) and “runs of clichés” in the essay and wondered whether these might have brought the PM undone.

It’s worth reading the full version of the paper obtained by The Age under Freedom of Information, to identify examples that point to systemic problems with the PM's writing.

Firstly, his prose style, and indeed his spoken remarks in interviews (remember “fair shake of the sauce bottle”?), suffer badly from mixed and murky metaphors. The essay is thick with them.

“...weaknesses in the institutions that underpin the globalization juggernaut”

A juggernaut is an unstoppable force and carries clear imagery of movement. But you don't underpin something that’s moving – in fact, "underpinning" is about securing a structure from beneath so that it doesn’t shift or collapse.

“A G20 structure... bridges the strategic and economic weight of the present and the future.”

A structure can't bridge a weight. A structure can bridge a gap, a gulf or a divide. Alternatively, if Rudd means to convey the idea of bridging the present and the future, then the sentence is not properly constructed.

“…the G20 should act as the lightning rod for global leadership: articulating principles, defining broad objectives and crafting the political consensus…”

Dictionaries define the metaphorical use of lightning rod in terms of a person (or organization) that attracts, or is a target of, criticism or controversy, especially when this diverts attention from other issues. This is clearly not Rudd’s intended meaning – there is no suggestion of attracting negative sentiment or diverting attention – so lightning rod is wrong.

“The largest gap in the current global system is the absence of a driving centre.”

Just what is a driving centre? It sounds like somewhere you might go to learn to drive. But if it’s supposed to be a mechanical metaphor, then what kind of machine has a driving centre? In the end, it’s not clear whether “driving” is meant in the sense of steering, accelerating and braking (as in “driving” a car or a train), or in the sense of propulsion (as in a “driving force”).

Taking issue with mixed metaphors isn’t just a matter of grammatical pedantry. Metaphors are supposed to enhance the communication of ideas by tapping into existing knowledge structures and imagery in the reader’s mind. But ill-chosen metaphors often obscure the writer’s intended meaning.

Kevin Rudd also has a recurring problem with sentences that head off in one direction but take a strange turn or lose their way.

“There is a yawning gap between the capacity of existing global institutions designed to deal with the challenges of the past, but insufficiently mandated, resourced or representative of emerging power realities to deal with the challenges of the future.”

This sentence teases the reader by setting out to describe a yawning gap, but the two sides of the gap or comparison introduced by the word between are never identified. Hence, a yawning gap remains in Rudd’s meaning.

“But this in turn misses the point because in China… the way in which China formally conceives of its role in the world is of practical importance in shaping the terms in which China might be profitably engaged in a dialogue about its future participation in the international order.”

Shortening this unfeasibly long sentence helps to reveal why it is problematic: the writer’s perspective moves from internal (in China…) to external and objective (the way in which China…) and finally to a decidedly subjective and strategic view from the West (the terms in which China might be profitably engaged in a dialogue…). The shifting perspective makes the reader uncomfortable and obscures the writer’s point of view.

Not surprisingly, the Rudd essay contains numerous empty phrases that, rather than adding meaning or gravitas, simply make the writing less accessible. For example, Rudd’s vision for the G20 should be a crucial point of clarity in the essay. Instead, the vision is obscured by fog:

…an enabling agency capable of constructing the political momentum necessary to cut through layers of national and international bureaucracy that at present impede real progress on fundamental global reform that is now urgent.

Yes, there is more mixed metaphor (e.g. you can’t construct momentum) and awkward structure, but many of the words in this sentence are unnecessary or just poorly chosen. For example, a combination like an enabling agency capable is difficult and unpleasant to read.

Overall, this essay illustrates the kind of writing that Don Watson – former speechwriter for Labor Premier John Cain and Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating – railed against in his books Death Sentence and Weasel Words.

Dozens of weasels – and possibly some stoats and ferrets too – appear to have taken up residence in the PM’s word processor. Furthermore, the presence of spelling and punctuation errors in the manuscript suggests that it wasn’t even properly proof-read prior to submission.

That it reached a prestigious journal in this sorry state is embarrassing. It cries out for the assistance of a professional writer and editor.

But perhaps of greatest concern is the inference we must draw that there is no-one in the Prime Minister’s staff willing or able to confront him about these obvious shortcomings in his writing style.

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Amnesty International confirms repression in Fiji. So why do Aussies turn a blind eye?

It's getting harder and harder to understand the attitudes of many Australians to our island neighbour Fiji. Despite clear evidence of the repressive nature of the Bainimarama regime, most of the talk I hear about Fiji is about how cheap the airfares are and which resort is the best.

From a branding perspective, what are the forces that perpetuate our view of Fiji as a sleepy, friendly tropical paradise when we get worked up about human rights in Burma and Zimbabwe, or about media censorship in China?

Is it just proximity? Or is it that so many Australians and Australian enterprises with commercial interests in Fiji are willing to be apologists for Bainimarama and his military government?

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07 September 2009

Facebook 'enhances intelligence' but Twitter 'diminishes it', claims psychologist - Telegraph

Facebook 'enhances intelligence' but Twitter 'diminishes it'

This looks like a ridiculously superficial approach to comparing the effects of two different social networking sites on human intelligence.

"Working memory" may be a relevant issue. But many other factors could easily outweigh effects on working memory. The nature of the content posted and the conversations in which one engages on Twitter as compared to Facebook must surely be far more important.

On Twitter, I have engaged in deep conversations and spirited and thoughtful debates on complex issues. And via Twitter, I have been alerted to thousands of articles like this one.

Excuse me a second... What's that Facebook? You want me to do another quiz? Pick 5 foods I hate?

How about I pick 5 reasons why i think this article is crap?

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