Posts tagged ‘marketing’

May 12, 2017

#128) Autopsy of an unfollow #4: Hey, “You Had One Job” – You had one job!

It’s time for another cautionary tale of a social media outlet that met a fate worse than death: the dreaded Unfollow!

Sometimes we need a humorous reminder that our life isn’t so bad and that we’re not the only ones who are idiots. A Facebook page called “You Had One Job” provided me with such reminders – until recently.

For a while, I’d enjoyed having my constant feed of kid pics and political fights broken up by the occasional picture of an intersection with “SOTP” painted in big white letters, cans of peaches labeled “TOMATOES” and the like. But “You Had One Job” stopped doing its one job.

As of the moment of my unfollowing, the last five posts on “You Had One Job” were:

  1. “25+ Crazy Tattoos That Will Twist your Mind”*
  2. “15 Hilarious Love Notes That Illustrate The Modern Relationship”
  3. “What If Guys Acted Like Girls On Instagram?”
  4. “Mom Sews Incredibly Accurate Costumes For Her Daughter To Wear At Disneyland”
  5. “Domestic Bliss: Mother Of Two Takes Darkly Humorous Family Photos

For me, it’s not so much that my desperate craving for photos of handicapped access railings going the opposite way of the staircase has been going more and more unfulfilled by “YHOJ” as it is that I’ve long been over-saturated by the type of content the site is sharing instead. I don’t want to see clever parenting. I want to see Storm Troopers coffee mugs in Paw Patrol packaging.

Would the novelty of “You Had One Job” worn off anyway? Possibly, but alas, I shall never know. The lesson: sometimes it’s better to be a one-trick pony, however niche that trick may be, than to become just another generic face in the social media crowd.

* Don’t even get me started on upstyle.

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April 30, 2017

#127) Drinking problems: Why “Worlds Apart” won’t get me to buy Heineken

There are two reasons why Heineken’s new “Worlds Apart” ad won’t make me buy the beer.

The short reason: I don’t like Heineken. No matter how artfully an advertisement’s visual look is curated, how lovingly its message is crafted or how on fleek its hashtags are, if I don’t like the product, I’m not spending money on it.

The long reason: call me a hater, but Heineken takes the easy approach with “Worlds Apart.” You’ve heard the old adage “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.” Well, no one ever got criticized (at least by the media, the entertainment industry and other People Whose Opinions Matter) for touting diversity. No one ever got fired for joining the fist-shaking mob chasing down someone or something that has been publicly offensive: John Rocker, Larry Craig, Todd Akin and most recently Pepsi and their controversial ad.

Indeed, “Worlds Apart” has been hailed as the antidote to Pepsi’s reviled campaign that featured Kendall Jenner as a saint who instantly creates world peace by giving a police officer a Pepsi in the middle of a giant protest. By contrast, “Worlds Apart” is hitting all the right notes. An anti-trans man meets a trans soldier. A climate change denier meets an activist. A feminist meets a man who feels that feminism is all about man hating. Without knowing that they hold opposite views, these pairs of people get to know each other. After they build a bar together in a warehouse, they learn of each others’ contrasting opinions. They are then given the choice of walking out or discussing their differences at the bar over a Heineken. (Spoiler alert…)

Unity. Diversity. Beer. What’s not to like?

Perhaps if I felt marginalized the way some of the people in the commercial do, I might have an entirely different perspective, but my questions are:

  • Is it the job of a beer (or any other food or beverage product) to teach me about diversity or is its job just to taste good?
  • Has the “I used to hate _____s but now that I’ve met one, I don’t hate them anymore” trope perhaps run its course?
  • Are there sometimes when it’s best to just politely walk away from a discussion you would prefer not to have?
  • Does this commercial expect people with more “acceptable” views to rethink their positions too?
  • Doesn’t Heineken’s response to the Pepsi backlash feel like a perfect sibling volunteering to teach a kombucha making workshop at the prison where the family black sheep is doing time for soliciting an undercover cop posing as a 14 year old boy online? At least a little bit?

Granted, part of advertising is to convince the target audience that purchasing the product will make them feel a certain way – inclusive, tolerant, conscientious –  but, and I say this as someone who has quaffed an ale or two in his time, at the end of the day it’s just beer.

I do believe that “Worlds Apart” is coming from a good place. I think it was made by honest people who care about the issues – yes, they are trying to sell beer, but I also think they want to promote civilized debate and discussion – and want to create something positive in the wake of Pepsi. I’m just not quite ready to jump on the Heineken as Heroes bandwagon.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Heineken does hold a special place in my heart that no other brand – not even any IPA – can claim, but it goes back to something that happened when Kendall Jenner was a twinkle in Bruce/Caitlyn’s eye. My wife visited Amsterdam when she was in her early 20s, took the Heineken brewery tour, did what people do on such a thing and then became the only person I’ve ever known to go to the Anne Frank house while intoxicated. If that doesn’t prove that we’re meant to be together, nothing does.

But I digress.

And I still don’t like beer.

October 28, 2015

#98) When it’s OK for sex to sell

Note: this post is a companion to my review of Hilton Ruiz’s album “Strut.”

That sex sells is a given; the variable is how people react. Most responses are either outrage or a shrug of the shoulders. Don’t like chicks pouring water on themselves? Don’t buy the product. However, there just might be a legitimate upside to the use of sexual images in selling: when sex serves as a gateway to a longer-lasting relationship.

Observe. Fall, 1990. It was my sophomore year and as most of the world was in 1990, I was getting tired of heavy metal. I had been dabbling with jazz for a while, both as a listener and as a player, but it was yet to really click for me. One day while browsing CDs at the library I noticed one with a tasteful and understated cover.

Hilton Ruiz's record, What I didn’t know was that this pair of legs would unlock jazz for me. When I listened to this record by Puerto Rican pianist Hilton Ruiz, I heard the jazz language with which I was still not comfortable mixed with rock energy and a Latin flair that was an exotic contrast to the Boston winter that was rapidly approaching. Suddenly jazz was exciting, not just an academic subject to be graded on. Within weeks I was listening to the Modern Jazz Quartet, Brubeck and Lee Morgan, the doomed trumpeter whose signature composition “The Sidewinder” was covered by Ruiz on this disc. To be sure, the image on the cover of “Strut” may have turned some people off, but it also begat at least one jazz snob. My relationship with jazz has been contentious at times over the last quarter century, but at least I have a relationship with it. Might I have become a fan without Ruiz’s salacious cover? Perhaps, but there’s no doubt that that pair of legs served as an agent for change.

Is the creation of a jazz geek worth the price of objectifying a woman? Maybe, maybe not. Sometimes you have to wait a quarter century for the answer. Perhaps if the woman on the album cover was someone I knew or loved, I’d feel differently but because of the impact that this record had on my life, using sex to sell will never be a black and white issue.

September 21, 2014

#86) Facebook and the NFL: When sucking doesn’t matter

Everyone’s pissed off at the NFL. Everyone’s disgusted with Facebook. Everyone will be watching the NFL this Sunday and letting Facebook know about it.  Yes, despite–or perhaps because of–their efforts to alienate their fan/consumer bases, Facebook and the NFL aren’t going anywhere.

We hate them but we can’t look away. It’s more than the car-crash-staring instinct; it’s a true love-hate relationship. Nobody hates Myspace or baseball. You can only hate something or someone that you once truly loved.

We started loving football in the 1950s and 60s. Football looked better on television than baseball.  Baseball expanded, diluting the talent pool and bringing the game to cities where it didn’t have a chance, such as Miami*. Free agency meant that baseball teams no longer stayed together. World Series games started too late but the Super Bowl was always on a Sunday and the whole family could watch it. With far fewer games than any other sport, each one was an event. We’d anticipate them and spend Monday talking about what those damn Steelers should have done differently. The NFL became so big that it thrived even without a team in the country’s second biggest market, Los Angeles. Rotisserie leagues in baseball became a thing, but NFL fantasy leagues became a bigger thing.

We started loving Facebook in the late ’00s–April of 2008, to be precise, when it officially became the #1 most visited social network site. Myspace had shown us how easy and fun it can be to put together an online scrapbook of photos, websites, songs and pithy quotations, but it had become too messy and impersonal. Facebook made connecting with that kid you used to beat the crap out of (or perhaps vice versa) back in 8th grade simple and easy. Facebook translated better to smartphones.

Then, to use Facebook relationship status terminology, it got complicated. Facebook faced questions about the privacy of its users’ information. Naysayers pointed out that it was losing ground to Instagram and Pinterest. The user experience started to seem more about getting into political arguments with virtual strangers than reuniting with long lost friends. In the NFL, Janet Jackson happened. Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress happened. Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson followed. Yes, it got complicated.

Or did it?

As of this writing, Facebook is ranked as the second-most visited site in the world according to Alexa. The NFL saw a 7% increase in viewers of the first Thursday game of this season compared to the first Thursday game of last season. We may say that Facebook is dead and that the NFL only cares once its sponsors pull out. We’re going to watch anyways. According to Alexa, we’re going to spend an average of 27 minutes per day on Facebook this month. Some of us might even call 911 if we can’t log on. No number of poorly handled press conferences or allegations of privacy violations can change that.

It’s not that we buy in in spite of the fact that the NFL and Facebook suck. It’s not that we buy in because they suck. It doesn’t matter if the NFL and Facebook suck or not. We’re married to them. Myspace was our high school crush whom it was easy to leave when things didn’t work out; Facebook is our spouse.  Facebook and the NFL made good impressions on us when it counted and continued to not suck for long enough to convince us to spend the rest of our lives with them. Yes, some of us might get divorced–we all have the friend who has actually followed through on their plans to swear off Facebook and goes to the park on Sunday to feed the ducks while the rest of us watch ball–but most of us won’t. Years of marriage has taught us that fighting usually leads to great make-up sex.  Besides, is it really worth it just to have to file all of that paperwork and decide who gets what? We’ve all got better things to do.

Like watch the New York Jets and post about it on Facebook.

*Yes, I know the Marlins have won the World Series twice. Nobody gives a fuck.

January 28, 2014

#70) You can’t give it away: #1 & #2

Good afternoon readers and welcome to another new sub-series of D-Theory posts.  In this series I will write about free things I’ve been offered but have turned down.  The world is changing and sometimes free ain’t good enough.  In this series of posts I will explore why.

The rule for these posts is that the declined free offer has to be made aware to me by permission marketing; the provider of the free products described here will in fact have reason to believe I might be interested in it.  In other words, you’re not going to find any free vacations for listening to a time-share sales presentation.  Offers described in this series will truly be no-strings-attached; yet I have still declined.

I don’t wish to make these posts a negative reading experience; rather my goal is to enlighten.  As a vendor, it’s easy to assume that “free” is some kind of magic word that will automatically get you the results you want; this is a mistake I’ve made many times when I’ve been on that side of the equation.  I hope that by sharing my own experiences I can help readers understand the consumer’s perspective.  If you, the reader, has either declined a free offer similar to one that I describe or perhaps have made a similar offer to your customer base but have had disappointing results, feel free to share your stories.  Without further ado:

#1) Mark Knopfler, “Privateering”

Last October my wife and I saw Mark Knopfler, former guitarist and lead singer of Dire Straits, in concert.  After purchasing the tickets I was given a link to download Knopfler’s latest solo record, “Privateering.”  I have not yet done so.

As a musician, I understand Knopfler’s desire to keep creating and growing as an artist.  I also can guess that, just as I get tried of playing the same songs over and over again, Knopfler probably isn’t in a hurry to bust out “Sultans of Swing”, “Walk of Life” and “Money for Nothing.”  Here’s the problem: I think I speak for the majority of his audience when I say that I’m not paying for “Privateering”; I’m paying for “Sultans of Swing”, “Walk of Life” and “Money for Nothing.”  I did not hear any of those songs.

The concert was still an enjoyable experience; the musicianship was top notch and the songs were good.  Some of them were on “Privateering”, but I can’t remember which.  My non-downloading of “Privateering” is not intended as a slight on Knopfler or as a revenge ploy for his set list.  It’s simply a reflection of the fact that, while Knopfler might have put just as much effort into “Privateering” as he did into his earlier music, it’s the latter which is in higher demand by myself–and I’m guessing, the majority of his fan base.  Making something free doesn’t automatically give it urgency.

#2) $10 Sam Ash gift card

Sam Ash, the nationwide music store chain, has been providing customers with a $10 gift card for an in-store purchase of $50 or more.  No-brainer, right? Here’s the problem: The gift cards are mailed to you, come with an expiration date and they can only be used in the store.  The motivation behind the gift card is obvious: Sam Ash wants you to come back to the store and buy more stuff.  All well and good but when I have to spend $5 in gas (not to mention an hour in transportation time) to redeem my $10 card, I’ll just order stuff online without the discount.  Removing the expiration date might help; if I am going to be near both a Sam Ash and a Guitar Center and need to pick up strings or another accessory, if I have the Sam Ash gift card and know that I can use it regardless of the date, my decision will be easy.  The lesson here is that “brick and mortar” businesses have to be able to counter the convenience and effectiveness of online shopping and that a $10 gift card probably won’t do much to tip the balance.

May 13, 2013

#54) Tale of four roller coasters (why size doesn’t always matter)




Roller coasters are not only fun, they’re also educational.  They are living lessons of architecture, art and physics.  On our eighth grade graduation trip to Riverside Park (now Six Flags New England) in Agawam, MA, our sales pitch to get our science teacher to ride the “Cyclone” was that if he puked, he would be able to tell how fast it was going when it hit the ground.  But I digress.

Coasters can also provide interesting lessons in business and marketing.  That brings us to the four main players of this story:

The Thunderhawk, formerly the Coaster, at Dorney Park, Allentown, PA

Hercules, Dorney Park

The Beast, Kings Island, Cincinnati

Son of Beast, Kings Island

Dorney’s small wooden roller coaster was built in 1923, and has always been a favorite of enthusiasts.  While bigger, shinier, faster and more expensive coasters have popped up throughout the world, many mavens cherish Dorney’s coaster as a throwback to the golden age of wooden roller coasters.

Needless to say, the Great Depression was not kind to amusement parks.  Even post-war prosperity didn’t help the majority of America’s small amusement parks, as larger attractions like Disneyland became dominant.  But through it all, Dorney’s coaster still delivered thrills to customers.

In the early 1970s, a park called Kings Island opened near Cincinnati, replacing the Coney Island park that had been damaged by floods.  The Racer, a wooden coaster featured on an episode of “The Brady Bunch”, was an instant hit, and in the late 1970s, construction started on a new ride.  When The Beast opened in 1979, it was the tallest, fastest and longest roller coaster in the world.  Although the unorthodox coaster has drawn its share of criticisms (mainly toward the second lift hill, leading to a drop at a mere 18 degree angle, only to hit the brakes at the station), the ride has been a huge success.

In 1989, Dorney Park opened Hercules.  While the ride was not longer or taller than the Beast, its location on a hillside allowed it to break one of the Ohio coaster’s records: height of drop.  While the coaster’s hill was only 95 feet tall, the drop set a wooden coaster record at 157 feet, leading into a wide turn over the water.

Not to be outdone, Kings Island opened Son of Beast in 2000.  At 218 feet, it was the tallest wooden coaster in the world, and had something that no “woodie” before it did: a vertical loop.  (Interestingly, the track was deliberately designed to be about 300 feet shorter than that of the Beast, allowing the older ride to keep its record as the longest wooden coaster.)

But as it would turn out, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

The smaller Coaster, now renamed the Thunderhawk, proved to be a more popular attraction at Dorney than Hercules, which closed in 2003.  Son of Beast would last only a decade.  In 2006, the vertical loop was removed, but the ride still suffered from maintenance problems.  In 2009, a woman claimed to have suffered a head injury on the ride.  Although the circumstances of her claim were questionable, and although inspections of the ride found no irregularities, Son of Beast was closed as a precaution, and never re-opened.

In hindsight, it’s interesting to consider the fates of these rides.  Just as the movie industry has low-budget “sleepers” that beat the odds, and high-budget blockbusters that bomb, the same concept can be applied to amusement parks.  Innovations that seem exciting sometimes lose out to time-tested traditions; grand spectacle sometimes falls to simple pleasures.

It might be a reach to say that the slowing economy influenced the fall of Son of Beast, but amusement parks do depend on discretionary income, and it’s not unreasonable to think that some might have seen the 200-foot plus ride as a monument of excess.  As for the rider who claimed the head injury, her story was a lot more credible than had the incident happened on the Woodstock Express coaster (formerly known as Scooby Doo.)

But the Thunderhawk and Beast chug on.  While the former lies in the shadow of the enormous Steel Force coaster, it has survived the Great Depression and looks like it will survive the Great Recession to celebrate its 100th birthday in ten years.  And for its criticisms, the Beast continues to deliver the goods, proving that its impressive statistics were more than just novelties.

For a video of a front-seat ride on the Beast, click here.

For a video of Hercules, click here.

November 28, 2011

#32) Four life lessons from one commercial

It’s not even the Super Bowl yet, and I’ve seen a commercial that I can’t get out of my head.  I speak of the recent Audi commercial featuring former Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, here’s the basic set-up: An angry chef threatens to fire one of his employees after he makes a mistake.  Jackson, known for the “zen” philosophies he used in his coaching, strolls by calmly and says to the chef, “I’ve found that anger is the enemy of instruction.” (Lesson one – as a music teacher, I’ve already gotten a lot of mileage from this one.)  The chef says, “You don’t know the egos I have to deal with.”  (Lesson two: no matter how bad your problems may seem, someone else has it worse and is dealing with it.)  Jackson knowingly says, “You’re probably right.”  (Three: never enter a battle of wits with someone who’s unarmed).  As he makes his exit, the chef says, “Thank you…whoever you are.” (Four: you never know when Phil Jackson might enter your restaurant, so act as if it could happen at any time.)

Now, was the commercial successful in its ultimate goal of selling me a car and not just imparting life lessons?  Well, as a music teacher, it’s unlikely I’ll be buying an Audi any time in the near future, but should this or any of my other blogs take off and make me rich, I just might swing by the local dealership for a test drive.

No matter what happens, this commercial still beats the hell out of that annoying one for Lexus.

November 19, 2011

#30) The tragic death of Mama Zuma’s lover

It’s kind of ironic: celebrities are paid millions to endorse products, but yesterday I bought a bag of habanero potato chips from my friends’ store, Olives Gourmet Grocer, after being inspired by a fictional character.

Mama Zuma, you see, is the face of Route 11’s habanero-flavored potato chip.  The habanero, for those who don’t know, is the hottest pepper (much hotter than a jalapeno) that you can get without having to go on the black market.  But there are a surprising number of gluttons for gastronomical punishment out there, which means that there are many entrants into the habanero potato chip market.  So Route 11 decided that Mama Zuma might make their product stand out.

But they didn’t just stop at having a sexy cartoon character emblazoned on the bag.  They gave Mama Zuma back story.  She wasn’t always mean, you see.  But when her lover died in a “bizarre and tragic potato peeler accident”, it drove her into a fit of rage and she made her life’s mission to burn as many men as possible with her kiss of fire.

Well, any mind creative enough to come up with a story like that deserves my dollar, I decided, so I picked up a bag to go with my lunch.  The chips were deceptive: at first, they tasted more like strong barbecue chips, but the real habanero flavor kicked in and I quickly required a water chaser.  I would recommend them, but those who are not used to the taste of a habanero pepper should start with one at a time.

But the real point is that what attracted me to Mama Zuma was not the fact, but the fiction.  So many commercials are fact-oriented, which gets boring pretty quickly.  (Go on all you want about how your food is made on a self-sustaining farm in Guam by indigenous peoples who are paid a fair wage; you’ve lost me after ten seconds).  No matter how much celebrities may be paid to tell me what to buy, Mama Zuma’s tragic story made her product jump out at me from among all of my other lunch choices.   In the end, I was just another one of her victims.

August 1, 2011

#19) Selling It Old School

A New York Times commercial shows people relaxing, enjoying the Sunday crossword puzzle; listening to the crinkle of the pages as they spread them out.  A telephone land line commercial shows a family, all talking on their own extensions, listening to their soldier son calling from the Middle East, allowing them to share the conversation in a way that a cellular phone wouldn’t allow.

I normally ignore or fast forward (thanks, Tivo!) over commercials, but I liked these two: they’re taking print media and land line telephones, two things that many people think are doomed, and finding new meaning in them.  They’re not necessarily saying that the traditional products are better than their modern counterparts.  They’re just reminding us that while modern inventions can make our life easier, sometimes the older way can have its place too.

Of course, singing the praises of the “good old days” isn’t exactly a new concept, but these ads place a new twist on it.  Often, the subject of a “good old days” take is something very obsolete, but here, we see them in their decline, not in their extinction.  I’m sure the makers of these ads know that, despite their best efforts, in this day, far fewer people will ever read the Times in its print form than online, and that mobile phones will be more popular than land lines.  But still, these ads aren’t letting their products go down without a fight, and I like that.