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Advertising typically reflects the spirit of the times it occurs in.  Lately, I’ve been thinking of building a time machine to escape to the MadMen era. I’ve been seeing a trend that reflects what DC likes to refer to as “our new reality”.  It is a reality that I don’t think many Americans are eager or willing to accept, which might fall under the heading of downsized dreams.

In the past few weeks, as the nation’s investment rating was downgraded and Warren Buffett expressed the odd belief that he and other millionaires weren’t paying enough in taxes, I have begun to notice some of this sentiment creeping into ads. Some of it is subtle, but the subtext seems to be that the American dream is dead or at the very least dying.

VIST Financial borrows an unfortunate image from the Depression

VIST Financial borrows an unfortunate image from the Depression

The first time I noticed it was in print and online ads for VIST Financial. The campaign showcased employees holding up “Will Work for Your Trust” signs that unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally) mirrored the Depression era imagery of the perpetually unemployed holding signs that read “Will Work for Food”.  What next? Apple Annie? Pencil sales on the corner? Bank employees jumping out of office windows after each day’s stock market decline? Can we find another theme? Forget about earning trust; this is confidence-rattling.

Moving on to automobiles, we’ve graduated from Cash for Clunkers to scenes of a Mad Max future. It started with the Eminem SuperBowl spot that showcased Detroit’s grit, but the latest Dodge Durango advertising is right out of Bruce Springsteen’s “rattlesnake speedway in the Utah desert.” The message is that naysayers shouldn’t be declaring America’s auto industry dead yet, but the visuals suggest that it is on life support. If this is a message of hope, Norman Vincent Peale is like a rotisserie chicken in his grave.

Then, there is the spot that led me to write this post — a really well produced spot. It was so well produced that I thought I was watching an ad for one of the big banks. The scene takes place as a couple prepares their nursery for their new baby. The voiceovers and supers promote the idea of starting a college fund for their kids, then for their kids’ kids, then for hundreds of kids in their community. Saving early has always been a great idea. Except the ad isn’t about investing wisely and often. It is about buying Mega Millions lottery tickets. Unintended underlying message — this may be the only way the next few generations will be able to afford higher education. Yikes!

I think we are all in need of an attitude adjustment. We don’t need Pollyanna preaching, but a little positivity in advertising would go a long way toward relieving the grim mood of the moment. Americans want to be inspired, not discouraged that the sun won’t come out tomorrow. We have TV news for that messaging.

And a moment of silence (followed by the opening chords of Layla). This week, a different kind of era sadly ended with the announcement that classic rock station WYSP would fade out, soon to be replaced with an FM simulcast of AM sister station’s WIP sports talk format. WYSP, for a long time the home of Howard Stern before his move to XM, has also long been a staple of the Philadelphia region’s rock scene. It has always been a rival of WMMR, but increasingly, other stations began carrying classic rock fare, from WMGK to BEN FM. Although classic rock has enjoyed a resurgence among younger listeners, the youth music market has many other alternatives from top 40, to hip hop. Like every other medium, radio is a numbers game and with Philadelphia’s love affair with their professional sports teams, it makes sense that WIP can reach an even wider audience via the FM dial, where it can go head to head with its own rival,  97.5 — The Phanatic. Well, at least WYSP fulfilled the wish of The Who, “to die before I get old.”

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Philly fave Tastykake is now owned by Flower Foods but is going national.

Philly fave Tastykake is now owned by Flower Foods but is going national.

This week, two stories got my attention in an interconnected way. The first was the news that Tastykake had been sold to Flowers Foods, a Southern baked goods company. It is depressing that ownership of another of the brands most associated with Philadelphia is moving out of state. However, given Tastykake’s debt troubles, at least the brand will live on and the new plant down at the Navy Yard will stay, along with most if not all of those jobs (that at least delivers some value for the extensive state funding poured into Tastykake in recent past). Better still, Flowers Foods has plans to take Tastykake from regional to national.

That brings me to the other story, which was a regional-to-national success from yesteryear. I heard it by chance on my car radio because Mike Gallagher was celebrating how a multi-generational Chicago area family meat packing business exploded on the national scene in an unexpected way. One of the ad agency execs was recalling for Gallagher how it happened. At the time, the company was on its second generation Oscar and he was a typical, hard-driving CEO of the era.

He called his agency in for a meeting one day and announced that what they needed was to be on the radio with a jingle. The agency folks thought to themselves that TV was the place to be, but Oscar Mayer was driven by limo to work every day and was an avid radio listener. A few weeks later, hoping Oscar would move on to other things, the agency was surprised to be called to his home and to be serenaded by the piano-playing hot dog magnate. The song was an old ditty that the Mayer family used to sing together — even the old man admitted that it was not very good. He added, though, that the agency had 30 days to deliver something better or he was going to go on the air with his song.

The agency turned to a number of jingle writers, one of whom was especially talented as a songwriter, but not as a performer. So, he got his kids to perform his amazingly simple but memorable melody. Despite some early trepidation about the jingle being too childish, the Oscar Mayer jingle was rolled out to instant popularity and memorability and the brand skyrocketed to national status and innocent fun that as this video demonstrates carries over to today.

Could Tastykake follow a similar regional-to-national brand trajectory by pursuing the Oscar Mayer jingle path? Even Oscar Mayer moved away from its own jingly roots last year. While they already have their own memorable “Nobody bakes a cake as tasty as a Tastykake” tune that is well established here, it is a digital world now and even a hyper-creative viral video might not be enough to win the day nationally (I think the taste of Tastykakes elevates them about typical snack food fare and is their greatest asset).  At least they don’t face the challenge faced by a global baked goods company with its US headquarters in the Philadelphia area — getting people to pronounce the Bimbo brand as B-E-E-E-E-M-B-O.

All this jingle talk also made me sad, because it reminded me that the area lost its own great resource in 2009 when Andy Mark passed away way too prematurely at age 58. His Philadelphia Music Works was responsible for many local and national gems. We were fortunate to work with him on music for Buten —The Paint and Paper People, Shop ‘n Bag, and Thriftway. Andy would have loved hearing this week’s tribute to the Oscar Mayer jingle.

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Email Marketing On The Radio

What is wearying about the current economic mess is how often a particular marketing means is oversold like an all-purpose tonic from the back of a medicine wagon. I picked up a bank’s business publication outside a supermarket branch and saw a whole article devoted to how to “Stretch Your Marketing Dollars with E-Mail Marketing.” My first reaction was shouldn’t a bank’s business publication be about banking? As a marketer, I don’t appreciate seeing banks offering advice, however well-intentioned, that gets into my arena.

Then, I read the opening to the bank’s e-mail marketing article:
“Whenever business slows, marketing budgets often are prime targets for owners and managers looking to slash spending. While it may be necessary to cut marketing costs during a downturn to protect your cash flow, it’s absolutely essential to find ways to continue to reach your customer base to market your business and generate revenue.”

How very inspirational. Especially at a time that banks are not doing enough lending to help small businesses during the downturn. Let’s remind companies that they might consider gutting their marketing budgets, so that all that is left are funds for e-mail marketing. Brilliant business strategy.

That is not to say that e-mail marketing isn’t useful, flexible, memorable (when properly executed), and highly measurable. However, it is just one tool in the marketing toolbox and an increasingly overused one. As a result, we are all dealing with newsletter fatigue, information overload, spam filtering challenges, and a much bigger problem — brand underexposure.

Too many single-minded, single-tool zealots are pushing their solo solution to the exclusion of other, perhaps more expensive but also more effective methods of creating awareness, buzz, and sales. I am really tired of hearing about the waste of traditional media, the death of print, the end of marketing as we know it.

I rest my case with Constant Contact, the best-known purveyor of e-mail marketing software. Why are they the best-known purveyor of e-mail marketing software? Because they market the hell out of themselves. Occasionally, I get a Constant Contact e-mailing encouraging me to sign up for their service. But I get the same from Lyris, Bronto, and a whole slew of others. The reason I know Constant Contact top of mind is because of their widely-run radio advertising campaign used to sell Constant Contact e-mail marketing as the most effective way to reach prospects and customers. Rich irony anyone?

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