TRY WRITING INSTEAD: It’s a Private Call–Let Me Share It With You
Further proof, as if it were needed, of the decline of Western civilization: In an unscientific sampling of three screenings of recent movies–The Matrix, The Blair Witch Project and The Sixth Sense–all were interrupted by the bleating of cellular phones. A straw poll taken in our office cross-confirmed the data: People attending a movie these days expect to be interrupted by someone else’s phone call. Ad agencies for Nokia, Motorola et al. can give themselves a pat on the back for assisting their clients’ sales success. But promotional shops hoping cinema audiences will give their undivided attention to product placement (Pop-Tarts are the favored brand in The Sixth Sense, for instance) have cause for concern. The problem, of course, is not the mobile phone, but a lack of manners on the part its owner. Blame it on the equalizing nature of electronic communications in a democracy. If all consumers are equal, then all their phone calls are equally important, whether they are CEOs or taxi drivers. Although the sellable advantage of cell phones is to make it easier for consumers to stay in touch with their stockbrokers, spouses, plumbers, etc., the flip side is that these same people can get in touch with you whenever they want. Like all things modern, the private sphere has retreated to such a degree that a personal phone call is now a public event, no matter how disruptive it is to the commercial activity going on around it–in this case, the showing of a film. Managers of locations that hope to provide an environmental experience–cinemas, restaurants, hotels, stadiums–might want to give some thought to exactly how much equality they are willing to allow their consumers to enjoy. The freedom of the individual is not absolute. A case in point: Last month, The New York Times reported that a British Airways passenger who ignored repeated requests from the pilot and crew to turn off his cell phone was sentenced to a year in prison for “endangering” the plane and the 91 other passengers on board. Perhaps there’s hope for society yet.

YOU’RE SWEET ENOUGH AS IT IS: Too Much of a Good Thing?
In Mary Poppins, the nanny proposed “a spoonful of sugar” to make medicine more palatable. The modern nanny state will be less indulgent if anti-sugar agitators get their way. The feds may or may not accede to last month’s petition by the Center for Science in the Public Interest asking that the Food and Drug Administration require labels on foods and soft drinks to disclose the amounts of “added sugar” they contain (over and above any “naturally occurring” sugar). The petition is a signal that sugar could be the latest substance consigned to the already-crowded category of public-health menaces. If the attack is sustained, brands without sugar will be inclined to give that point greater emphasis in ads and packaging. We might even see ads in which the less-sugared stigmatize the more-sugared. If labeling requirements are adopted, will consumers heed the information? An online poll by CNN Interactive is revealing. While 25 percent of participants scorned such disclosure as “unnecessary red tape for business” and another 23 percent said it would be “easy to ignore,” 52 percent hailed it as “a boon to consumers.”

CLIMBING THE LADDER: It’s All in the Line Reading
There are three possible reactions to seeing this ad for Hotjobs.com:
(1) It’s in poor taste.
(2) Haven’t we had enough Monica jokes?
(3) It’s hilarious.
Even if a majority of readers fall into the third category, do you really want to create ads that have so many possible responses–and most of them negative? The agency’s problem with this assignment is that the client is one more dot com in an ever-growing sea; thus, it has to create something that will stand out. But is this the best way? The client should have learned something from the Super Bowl, when an ad it commissioned from its previous agency was rejected by Fox for being puerile. That spot featured a janitor disappearing into the anus of an elephant. Is oral sex an improvement? Finally, the crassness of the joke jars with the respectability of the tagline: “The experienced professional’s job board.” The agency is McCann-Erickson in Detroit.
Immortality? No thanks. That’s the message from a recent survey of senior adults by USA Today. Two-thirds of those polled said they have no desire to live past 100, though being able to do so is increasingly common. Among their reasons: 46 percent fear worsening health, 38 percent are afraid of being too poor and 13 percent worry about losing their sharpness of mind. The American Association of Retired Persons put an optimistic spin on it: “What people are saying is they want to be independent.” That might explain the booming market in herbal supplements that purport to improve memory and reduce forgetfulness in the graying population, reported recently in The New York Times. At present, some 20 pharmaceutical companies are developing products that they hope will cure or treat Alzheimer’s disease. Eventually, these same products will need ad campaigns.
There’s a lot going on in this Maybelline print ad, and not much of it well. The theme is “Industrial Revolution” because the client’s new colors are “steely shades washed with pink.” The reader, however, is tripped up by the opening line–“Grey goes rebel this fall”–which contains the sort of silly grammatical error that’s intended to add punch to the copy. Instead, it makes one wonder if the agency thinks women who care about the way they look don’t care (or don’t know) about grammar. The ad’s conclusion, “It’s brave new color,” is an allusion to Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World–which has little to do with the Industrial Revolution. Perhaps the copywriter was unable to sustain the metaphor farther than a single sentence. Or perhaps the client is assuming that consumers aren’t well-read enough to spot the inconsistency. Either way, everybody is shortchanged. On the plus side, it’s tough to screw up photos of Christy Turlington. The agency is Gotham in New York.
Branded cheese. Those two words, which conjure up images of a massive factory in Wisconsin churning out industrial vats of yellow goo, do not inspire confidence as a marketing idea. Wouldn’t you rather buy cheese made lovingly at the local dairy? As ever in advertising, it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. The Romann Group in New York is doing it rather well in its long-running campaign for Finlandia. This execution has seamlessly packaged a number of clever notions while keeping the product front and center. The visual subtlety answers the question, “Can you build a better mousetrap?” with the brand as the solution. The “To die for” line neatly expresses desire for the product with a joke about the lethal nature of the device. And it tells the truth: Some consumers are willing to die for the product (even if they aren’t human). Lastly, the iconic rendering makes it instantly recognizable as a Finlandia ad. Other executions include a knife made of cheese (“A cut above”) and a cheese cork impaled on a corkscrew (“Always a good year”). It’s tough to produce a single, consistent idea that will remain interesting through various permutations–TBWA/Chiat/Day’s Absolut campaign is the gold standard here–but the agency has discovered a rich vein to mine. It gets extra points for achieving all this in a relatively uninspiring category. There are only a couple of minor distractions, one being that it is Swiss cheese advertised here–the brand name suggests it comes from Finland, a country not known for gourmet dairy products. However, any confusion on that score is forgivable, given the entertainment value of the campaign. It’s rare when advertising delivers a pleasurable experience, in addition to doing a good job of selling a product.

With the peak of the vacation season, lots of folks will be scooting out of town. But that doesn’t mean summer is everyone’s favorite time for a getaway. While a plurality of respondents to a Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll picked summer (32 percent) for their “perfect vacation,” they’re far outnumbered by the sum of those opting for fall (27 percent), spring (21 percent) and winter (19 percent). Among those who are vacationing this season, the mean outlay per household will be $1,820. That’s up from a mean of $1,368 in a 1991 poll on this topic. Most telling, the rise comes largely at the top end of the spending scale; the percentage spending $3,000 plus has more than doubled (from 7 percent then to 16 percent now). And how will vacationers be spending their carefree hours? Not just vegging out on a beach. “Activities or sightseeing” are preferred to “resting and relaxing” by a margin of 67 percent to 32 percent. Lest you fear for the life of the mind, note that a “cultural activity” drew nearly twice as many participants as getting a suntan.

Is shopping too complicated? Market data provider Yankelovich Monitor says yes. In a recent survey, 56 percent of respondents said a store that “makes it quick and easy to shop” is important in a decision on where to shop. In addition, 53 percent said they were willing to pay more for better service, which signals a welcomed return to civility. Of course, not everyone sides with shoppers’ needs. Think about supermarkets that don’t price items, instead employing obscure price/weight labeling. It’s impossible to discover the cost of an item until it passes over the checkout scanner–and by then, you’ve already bought it. Or is that the point?