Texting and Driving? Any is too many, Chevrolet.
Tuesday April 14th 2015, 10:59 am
Filed under: advertising

If you’d asked me if I could be surprised by any dumb decisions made by GM in the last few years (aside from borrowing money from taxpayers), I’d have said no… ’til now.

The perils of texting while driving (TWD) are widely known. In the U.S. alone, TWD creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted. 18% of all fatal crashes in 2012 were caused by driver distraction, with 421,000 people wounded for the same reason.

So I suppose Chevrolet decided that a new “feature” allowing a driver to look away from the road to send an automatic text response by tapping a screen on the dashboard (e.g. “Call you later.  I’m driving”) was a – what – better-than-doing-nothing response (?), but how could any company publicly encourage a driver to look away from the road? Isn’t zero tolerance kind of what we’re going for here? [If you cannot view the ad below, see it HERE]

A few responses from folks on Twitter:
@amandalinjuly: @chevrolet stop promoting texting and driving. Text response should not be a thing your car comes with.
@rodstickler: Shame on @chevrolet for promoting texting and driving.  There is no safe texting & driving not even w your new gadget.
@mkersich4: @chevrolet I guess you guys are promoting texting and driving with your new “features” to make it “easier” to text.  WRONG. #DontTextAndDrive

When I saw the ad the first time, I literally could not believe my eyes.  When I couldn’t find it on Google at first, I thought maybe I’d imagined it. Sadly, I did not.  Aside from being a lawsuit waiting to happen, I can only assume that this is the result of all the automakers racing to make the “smart(est) car,” with as many whiz-bang techno-widgets shoved in to each unit as possible.  This is an extremely dangerous example of technological ability trumping common sense.

Don’t be afraid to be young and free
Monday March 16th 2015, 11:23 am
Filed under: advertising,stephanie fierman

I am so happy to be starting the week talking about an ad I genuinely like!

Delta: On the Road” is a new commercial from Wieden+Kennedy that I think absolutely nails it, and takes risks while doing so.  Here it is:

They get so much right here. The ad captures the sense of dislocation and the exhaustion of international travel without discouraging the opportunity for personal exploration and discovery. The agency styles actor Daniel London as a bit of a shlub, heightening the aura of awkwardness and making moments like when he’s almost hit by a London cab more comical, while still preserving his executive competence. His aloneness is obviously here, but we also see our hero videocalling his family: unmoored, but attached. And, of course, there are the inevitable hurdles like language all around him, but they work in scenes where he seeks to overcome; he gets good service everywhere he goes, and he works to earn it. Good behavior all around.

It’s so hard to communicate vulnerability in advertising without it being either for comic effect or the opposite: serious and uncomfortable. This ad strikes the perfect balance: we see someone “like us” doing what he needs to do and doing it well, even while managing the little absurdities around us (like whether the traffic moves on the left or the right). And the soundtrack? “Love You” by The Free Design:
  Give a little time for the child within you
  Don’t be afraid to be young and free
  Undo the locks and throw away the keys
  And take off your shoes and socks and run you

The more I see the ad, the more I realize the perfection of the song and its juxtaposition to all this adult world stuff. Now whether a million-hour flight on Delta will be the remedy to all that ails is a different question entirely (you most definitely do not want to “take off your shoes and socks and run you,” even in first class), but – hey – beautiful ad.

Well done.

Weird ad: can’t we all just get along?
Thursday March 12th 2015, 3:11 pm
Filed under: advertising,branding,financial services

So the odd ad this week comes from Amalgamated Bank. Never heard of ‘em.

The good people at Amalgamated have clearly heard of branding agencies, though, as their website is downright winsome for a bank and their mission (yes) is to be “the preeminent bank of progressive people, organizations, businesses and labor.” Sooo hard to accomplish this when your 1-year CD rate is 0.40%, etc., but that’s a whole different post. Stephanie-Fierman-Amalgamated

So anyway, back to the ad. “Does your bank care more about limo riders than subway riders?” In an effort to be clever and “of the people,” Amalgamated has taken an off-base swipe at those who sometimes ride in the back of cars and insulted everyone reading its transit ad.  A double! And given the too clever by half approach to the copy, there is zero chance that anyone would pause to ask themselves the somewhat deep question Amalgamated is asking; said subway rider would be too busy trying to figure out WTF the ad is trying to say.

New York is also the wrong city for this ad. Too much of a melting pot.  “Limo” doesn’t have the same universal connotation it might have elsewhere, or at least it no longer does.  The bank’s site refers to helping the same kind of people who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of – hello – 1911. Today, the delineation between (think wealthy) limo riders and (think poor) subway riders isn’t all that clear. Plenty of New Yorkers who use limos for work use the subway on their own time, or when they’re paying. Then there’s the Ubers and Lyfts (limo? car? you decide)… The message just falls flat.

Oh, and one last thing? Why Amalgamated? Where’s the benefit? It’s a cheap shot to promote yourself in a serious category by dissing someone else (and not even someone specific – just “your bank”).

This is a fail, and maybe that’s a shame.  I looked at a bunch of the videos on the bank’s site, and they appear to care about things that are worth caring about. Cool. But as an advertiser? Be sure your voice, the message and the place all work together successfully.  If they don’t, you need to rethink what you’re doing.


Save a life: explain this ad
Thursday October 09th 2014, 10:59 am
Filed under: ad agency,advertising

In the world of ads, there are those I like and those I don’t like, or ones that I think don’t work, but I can’t remember seeing one that I literally do not understand.

Until now.

Have you seen the new Chevy Cruze Diesel ad? If not, here it is:

Ok, so a bunch of people are hanging out in a hyper-friendly, spotless gas mart (because who doesn’t?) and the Cheers theme song, Where Everyone Knows Your Name, is playing. In the role of Norm today is an average guy named Stan, whom everyone greets by name, including a cop who appears to have nothing better to do.  Much personal warmth and friendliness ensues.  Then another guy comes in, and the music stops abruptly.  There is nothing unusual about this man’s behavior and, as he pays for his purchase, the VO says, “Gas stations.  Where nobody knows your name.”

Let us begin.

Why does everyone suddenly go mute when this stranger comes in?  Are they happy to see him, or not happy that someone has intruded in their lovefest?  Are they angry? Is his presence a good or bad thing? And how about the VO – “Gas stations. Where nobody knows your name.” But the whole point of at least half of this ad is that everyone DOES seem to know your name! So what does that mean? And why do they stare out the window as the guy leaves?  And what does this have to do with a car??

And how about the final VO – “It’s the new efficient.” Is the implication here that hanging out with your friends is the old efficient? Or not efficient at all? 

Makes no sense, no?

From the land of WTF…
Tuesday July 01st 2014, 9:35 am
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,women

Ok. Some ads are so weird that I try to turn away and wait – sometimes months, sometimes years – for them to just… go away.

There’s one that won’t. Can someone please explain?

And here’s a new one from the land of WTF. Hi. My name is WITPF (What is this product for?) and I have WAIITA (Why am I in this ad?). Clearly, they think that this will be a useful memory device, but it just makes me C-R-I-N-G-E.

And finally, this gem for a value hotel chain. She’s an athlete. A marathoner. She’s workin’ out. Sweatin’ to the oldies, or whatever. So WHY is she cheerily selecting a breakfast bagel as big as a baby’s head?!

Eat a sandwich, get a shave and come back to me
Thursday May 29th 2014, 2:28 pm
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,women

There are two tv ads running right now with male leads exhibiting some weird hygiene and grooming choices.  I find it distracting and sort of… weird.

First up is an ad for the Lincoln MKZ.  What’s up with this dude?  Is his stubble meant to look hip?  Are we going for hipster here? Because all I get is kind of grody. Oh, and you’re looking a little… gaunt.  Eat a sandwich, ok?

The second one is for a travel site called Trivago (which I keep wanting to call “Zhivago,” as in “Doctor ___”).

Where do I begin? What’s the deal with his uncombed hair? And his unbuttoned shirt? And his low-slung black jeans? And the creepy saunter (that’s right, I said “saunter”)? How about his “hey baby” verbal delivery? This ad doesn’t make me want to travel as much as it makes me want to… wash.

I guess I’m saying that – if you are going to come into my home, and take 30 or 60 seconds that I’ll never get back – I’d like to see you looking like you a give a s**. Could be just me.

Update – August 5, 2014:  It’s NOT just me! Check out this article on Slate about the actor looking “seedily creased, grayly stubbled, distractingly beltless. [A man who] may be looking for a hotel after coming home at 3 a.m. to find that his wife changed the locks.”

Faster slather
Monday May 12th 2014, 3:47 pm
Filed under: advertising,market research,women,wretched excess

I’ve written about this seemingly-vexing problem before, but – given that I just spotted an ad for a brand NEW product – I guess Vaseline wasn’t able to handle it.palmers-rapid-spray-stephanie-fierman

Who are these sad, desperately dry people who are held back from living full lives because their moisturizer goes on too slowly? Maybe we should start a support group: PFILM – People For Instantly Luxurious (Likeable? Liquid?) Moisturizer.

The MTA, going your way (I guess)
Wednesday February 19th 2014, 2:48 pm
Filed under: advertising

ilovenyPoor grammar and word choice in ads generally get me… I just wish it wasn’t annoying me on my daily commute.

Since the logo’s creation in 1977, the I Love New York campaign has been a popular and proud representation of the state and all it has to offer. And if you grew up here, like I did, you couldn’t get the jingle out of your head if you tried.

The latest incarnation of the campaign, though, is weird. “THERE’S MORE TO NEW YORK THAN NY.”   Say it with me: there’s more to NY than NY.

Wait – no there isn’t.

What the ads mean to say is that there’s more to New York State than New York City. So there is, in fact, “more to New York than NYC.”

But “there’s more to New York than NY?” Nope. There isn’t.

What’s The Ad Space In Your Head Worth?
Thursday October 03rd 2013, 1:18 pm
Filed under: advertising,identity theft

Came across a “cheesy, seriously cheesy” but fascinating movie called “Hardwired.”

The premise is that – “only a few years from now” – corporations run and do everything, including a form of brain surgery only a marketer could love.

Here’s how it works: “Hope Industries” implants a computer in your brain that enables the company to show you holograms of advertisements for all kinds of products. A dude who no one else can see appears out of nowhere and pitches you on a new watch. A little girl shows up in your own living room (with that fuzzy appearance around the edges that all holograms seem to have in movies) and tries to sell you gum.

It’s a seemingly brilliant strategy hatched by a crazy scientist played by Val Kilmer who says things like, “Subject 373 could expose Project 660,” and “If they erase his hard drive, we’ll have to know how they hacked in. Prepare for surgery.” Ouch.

But I digress.

The point is that Hope has a plan to embed millions of these chips and then sell the “ad space in everyone’s heads for trillions of dollars.” The ad space in my head. Whoa. That’s like… totally deep.

If you’re in marketing, I would highly recommend this movie, if only for the opening credits. All the grand places in the universe have been branded: the moon has a Pepsi logo over it, the Hoover Dam is sponsored by McDonald’s, with a big “M” emblazoned on it… and don’t even ask me about the Washington Monument.

Mimes and moisturizer
Thursday June 06th 2013, 1:25 pm
Filed under: advertising

Are there a lot of 90-pound, hyperactive French mimes who simply cannot get out the door because they’re waiting for their moisturizer to dry? I’ve never encountered this particular affliction…

Help me! I cannot get a man because of… stress!
Thursday February 14th 2013, 8:46 am
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,women,women online

Secret Clinical Strength‘s NEW AD – and direction – bum me out.

How have I survived to the ripe old age I have and not been confronted with “stress sweat” and the havoc it can wreak on my life? My love life, specifically, as this young woman doesn’t appear to be concerned for herself: only the impact her scent may have on her chances to get a guy.

And Secret makes sure this woman behaves like a powerless juvenile by mentioning how her “unmentionables” aren’t “cute.”

Really? Come on – we can do better than this.

Welcome to a new year of bad advertising
Tuesday February 12th 2013, 10:12 pm
Filed under: advertising,Reputation Managment,Wall Street Journal,women

I think it’s fitting that my first “bad advertising” post of 2013 has a lesson in it. A sort of, higher meaning.  A clarion call.  I mean, why not think big thoughts until September or so, when you could fit all my thoughts on the head of a pin?

Anyway… Here’s a full-page ad from the WSJ this week.   Marcus & Millichap.stephanie-fierman-mm

Now, I’d never heard of Marcus & Millichap, so I did my research.  It’s a REIT based in California. That’s the end of my research.

Note that the ad congratulating the company’s “top investment professionals of 2012″ contains 35 photographs: all white men.  35 out of 35.

That’d be – wait, wait, don’t help me – 100%.

A couple thoughts:

1. If you have a company and your top 35 producers are all men, I would advise you not to voluntarily ANNOUNCE IT TO THE WORLD in the Wall Street Journal, because it makes you look like huge jerks.  You may not BE jerks, but it doesn’t matter. You’ve also offended some good number of the female WSJ readers in the universe (online, that’s 42% of readers and, in print, 32% of the sub base).  Not to mention potential female employees, partners, etc.  That is, if you want those kind of people – meaning women.

2. If you have a company and your top 35 producers are all men, you may have a serious diversity problem.

And there you have it.  This is less bad advertising and more “Stupid Pet Tricks Advertising,” but I had to start somewhere.

‘Til the next time…

Interesting Ads This Week
Sunday October 07th 2012, 7:05 pm
Filed under: ad agency,advertising

2 interesting ads for the week:

1) avigilon: Avigilon is a company that makes high-def surveillance systems. I noticed this print ad because I thought it did a nice job of using storytelling to draw the reader’s attention: something that’s far too rare in B2B advertising.

2) Litter Genie by Playtex:  From the company that brought you Diaper Genie comes… Litter Genie! The products even look the same, which is – sort of weird.  Anyway, Litter Genie is a cat litter “disposal system” – the “ultimate” in cat litter odor control – and its new ad qualifies for my “Imagine” award of the week.

The “Imagine” award goes to an ad that makes me imagine that I am the client, sitting in a conference room, and a creative director has just started an ad pitch by saying, “Imagine…”

So I guess this conversation would have started with this: “Imagine cats – cool cats – wandering around under the influence of psychedelic drugs.  There’s groovy music, they’re all kinda wandering around, and then comes the product demonstration. We’re gonna shoot it like it’s a music video.”  Here’s – I swear, this is the ad’s real name – “I Haz A Catnip in Mah Head.”

Alas (as Adweek points out), even tripping cat ads are derivative these days.

I Am Not Your Cupcake
Sunday November 06th 2011, 4:35 pm
Filed under: ad agency,advertising

Wait – what? You’re like a cupcake, or you’re better than a cupcake? And the “Not The Best-Tasting Cupcake” shot near the end means that your cereal is not made of cupcakes (which we know), or that it doesn’t taste better than a cupcake (which we also know)?

And if I am in need of fiber I’m not exactly doin’ a jig, you know, so why mention cupcakes in the first place?

I don’t get this new ad from Kellogg’s:

Enroll at our school, or Granny’s a goner
Tuesday October 25th 2011, 10:37 am
Filed under: advertising,Internet,US economy

Fear-based advertising is nothing new for auto manufacturers and personal injury law firms, but colleges?

Capella University is running a wild TV campaign that shows all the terrible things that can (and WILL!) happen to you if you don’t get a Capella degree.  My favorite is the one that implies that your mother/grandmother will meet at ignominious end if you don’t act now:

Here’s another – this one threatens that your kids won’t reach their “full potential” unless you go to Capella.

And lastly, here’s one that seems to be saying that you will be able to help save people from a terrible tragedy – or maybe stop a terrorist attack (“help prepare our first responders”) if you have a Capella degree.  I love it.

Who knows? Maybe the Ivies should go this route…

Makes Me Wanna Copy Something
Tuesday August 09th 2011, 9:28 am
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,branding

I want to give a big hat tip to Xerox and its global ad campaign from Y&R.

Launched in the fall of 2010, the campaign explains that Xerox can handle all of a company’s (your company’s) business and document management needs so it can focus on its “real business.”

These ads are so pitch-perfect that I actually stop and watch them whenever they come on the tube.  Pithy without being obnoxious, demonstrating an exxagerated situation that still gets the point across, fantastically cast with actors whose mere head tips communicate everything you need to know…

Well done. Not everyone agrees, but I don’t have a theoretical issue with two brands in an ad if (a) they’re there for a reason and (b) the supporting brand doesn’t eclipse the primary advertiser. I think we’re good here.

Here are my two favorites.

XEROX AND MARRIOTT: “I can’t hear you because I’m also making you a smoothie!”

XEROX AND DUCATI: “Are you busy!?”

Trump Is Just Being Trumpy

Today, I was asked what effect Donald Trump’s supposed presidential run is having on his personal brand.

In my opinion, Trump’s flirtation with the presidency doesn’t impact his brand value one way or the other.  This is because – whether he originally intended it or not – Trump has had a bifurcated brand for years.

Trump has a business side and a farcical side. The farcical or “personality” side is what’s enabled him to create (and – hellopublicize) entertainment properties, because it drives him to behave in an entertaining way.  In his real life, he’s a paunchy, weird-haired real estate guy, so to be entertaining, he needs to be over the top.  Brad Pitt can just stand still and attract attention; Trump cannot. Donald’s got to jump up and down to draw interest.

This means that people expect to see Trump behaving in an outlandish sort of way, so his “presidential bid” isn’t new news: it’s just The Donald being wacky again.

Therefore, his recent jaunt through Kookytown (a) doesn’t impact people who expect it (and that would be everyone by now), and (b) wouldn’t put off anyone who actually wants to do real business with the Trump Organization (those who ignore stunts and would be interested only in the deal they were getting), so… this is Donald Trump status quo.

Let’s clarify: I loathe what’s happening and agree with The New Yorker’s David Remnick regarding the reasons for Trump’s behavior.  But that wasn’t the question and, unfortunately, our pseudo-celebrity culture – in which many don’t think any deeper about a person’s character than what dress she wore to court – will simply bump along the surface before moving on to its next source of amusement.

The Ad Agency Is Dead. Long Live The Ad Agency.
Monday March 21st 2011, 8:37 am
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,cmo,Internet,social media,Twitter,web 2.0

One of the new business friends I’ve made on Twitter is an agency in Pittsburgh called Fitting Group, run by Andrea Fitting. Check them out at http://fittingroup.com. We found each other based on our mutual interest in and work with challenger brands, or big category-leading companies who need to change and can learn from challengers.

Anyway…  Andrea wrote a blog post referring to a January 2011 Fast Company article, “Mayhem on Madison Avenue.” In “Mayhem” (and numerous articles just like it) the author essentially explains how and why digital marketing – particularly social media – will precipitate the extinction of advertising agencies.  And while she did spend four years at an ad agency (during which time I’m sure she saw plenty of function and dysfunction), the writer has never been a client, let alone a CMO.

Andrea called her blog post “Calling All Chief Marketing Officers (or Those Who Play Them on TV)” and asked several CMOs to read the magazine article and offer our points of view. Here’s mine (as posted on the Fitting Group site).


Personally, I think the hype about social media being different, experiential, never finished, “perpetual beta…” is hooey. Or rather, the process of smart learning for a CMO is – at a high level – unchanged.

Every channel, every communication vehicle, every media outlet and interaction capability… each has its own ways and rules. TV had its own ways and rules we CMOs had to learn. Email. Radio. Whatever. Now it’s today’s version of social media – it is a living channel with its own characteristics, feedback loop, expectations, organizational demands – all new to the channel, but not a new way of approach to assessment and action for the good CMO. For the great CMO, everything we do lives in a state of constant learning and improvement – it’s how we work with our CEOs, CFOs and teams every day.

And as with all things new, a CMO will always seek real experts and advisors who understand the organization in which s/he operates, can help build a case for new initiatives, can help shorten the organization’s learning timeframe and get sustainable initiatives up and running. Oh, and help the CMO look and feel smart and confident.

The problem is NOT that ad agencies SHOULD be moving toward extinction. It’s quite the opposite: CMOs need and welcome the help. The issue IMO is that too many analysts and agencies are stalled in the shiny object phase, where social media is new and exciting and OOH! look at that Facebook page, and see how smart I am, etc. etc. – as opposed to truly understanding the client’s brand, objectives, operating environment, organizational/budget limitations, the various stakeholders whose concerns must be addressed… all the factors that make an agency a true partner vs. a hit and run “guru” who has no real interest in the less flashy parts of the world in which the CMO operates.

Agencies that can do that will be in business forever – whether the topic is social media or the next big thing or the next one after that.

Beyaz Creepy As Possible
Monday February 28th 2011, 8:59 am
Filed under: advertising,stephanie fierman,women

Birth control ads are strange. Exhibit A: the Nuvaring ad (see HERE) where the gals take off their clothes and climb into a hot tub with their yellow bathing suits on. Each woman has a… each has a number… one has a bathing cap… and then the hot tub spins like a ride at Disneyland… and there’s, like, a song that makes me hear Satan’s voice urging me to kill (Mommy!).

I don’t know what’s going on, other than understanding that I better use Nuvaring because remembering to take a pill every day is just too much for me. At least I think that’s what is says. 

So in a land of weird, one must rise extra high to be noticed – and I think Beyaz overshot by a mile.  Check out the ad (see below or HERE):

The “it’s good to have choices” is fine, but to put women in a shopping setting, where they can simply choose the men, educations, homes and discretionary incomes of their dreams off a shelf at any time – with as much thought and planning as picking a box of cereal – is offensive.  And what was the general idea here: that because women understand shopping the best, we can make birth control a section of a department store to help the message hit home?

Then there are choices themselves. The home the female shopper chooses is a sweet little purple house, with a car out front that looks to be from the 50s. Is that where women belong, or when women were “best”– in the 50s? Have we already failed if we don’t want the picket fence?

And the stork: the only “selection” that tries to literally follow the woman once it is rejected (a stalking stork, if you will).  All the women in this ad are still in their 20s: are young women supposed to have babies… or else?  Note there are no “and” equations in this ad.  It’s all “or,” as in grad school or a baby. None of the shoppers leave with more than one item.

For me, though, the most disappointing episodes take place over in the Significant Other section of the store.  First of all, the store only carries men in inventory. Being gay is not a choice in this retail establishment.  But my favorite part has to be a woman standing in front of a man, only to have another female come along with a smirk on her face and snatch the man off the shelf.  


The site TresSugar.com does a great job breaking down the ad, scene by scene, object by object.  Take a look if you get the chance.

Even in the fantasy world of flying snacks, sodas that never make you fat and perfect hair – this ad is over the top in its disdain for women.

Luxury Auto Ads On Auto Pilot?
Monday January 17th 2011, 9:55 am
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,branding,luxury,market research,US economy,wretched excess

Do you think that Cadillac and Audi know they’re running nearly identical ads?  Cadillac describes its positioning as “red blooded luxury,” Audi “progressive luxury…”

I’m afraid it’s a “you say potato…” kinda thing, at best.