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March, 2015

Well-intentioned Art Director Learns The Limits Of Awareness

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A big-hearted Chicago art director couldn’t do anything about his city’s homeless people’s mental illness, addiction and substance abuse. But he could address another of their problems – amateur typography. So he’s been working, one-on-one, to redesign their signage, according to a March 26 Adweek report.

“Since moving to Chicago in July of 2014,” the art director posts on his blog,

I’ve noticed the abundance of less-fortunate people asking for help on the streets. I’ve also seen how infrequently people tend to interact with them.

As an art director it’s my job to grab people’s attention with great design everyday [sic]. So I set out to see if great design could have an impact on people in the most ignored platform.

Each week I head out and meet someone new. I then spend the week hand lettering a new sign for them. Once I give them the sign I wait another week and then ask them if they noticed any difference in awareness.

As you’ll see from the before-and-after photos in the slide show, his redesigns have been great improvements in esthetics. They’ve also produced big increases in awareness, which in turn produced compliments and led to conversations.

  • “Despite only using the sign for roughly 2 hours the day before and four hours that day, Roger said that he had gotten 12 compliments on the sign. He said he has never had a sign that received compliments like that…He told me he saves it for special occasions because he doesn’t want to dingy it up. However, he said he brought it out on Wednesday and people loved it. He told me that people were calling him over to their cars to talk to him and people who wouldn’t normally stop were stopping to compliment him.”
  • “Mike told me that people really like the sign and that they keep saying how awesome it is. He said the sign is catching their eyes and more people are stopping by now that it’s starting to warm up.”
  • “Fred said that because it was so crazy downtown over St. Patrick’s Day, he wasn’t out. He said that he had managed to use [the new sign] a couple times and hadn’t noticed too much of a difference but that it had been slow lately.”

But while compliments and conversations are nice, they aren’t contributions.

Yes, the art-directed signs are overcoming homeless people’s invisibility. But no, they aren’t doing much beyond that. Which leads to an important conclusion about advertising effectiveness: Awareness is important, because before people can’t respond to ads they don’t see or hear. But, like the best of humanitarian intentions, awareness itself will take you only so far. Once you’ve captured people’s attention, you need to persuade them to do something specific.

With Much To Be Unhappy About, Coke Is Dropping Its ‘happiness’ Ad Campaign

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Even though they’ve spent tens of millions of dollars on it over six years; even though they’ve run it in print, broadcast and digital media in more than 200 markets worldwide; and even though they went so far as to record a single of its theme song (just as they did in 1971 for their “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” campaign), it appears that Coca-Cola’s no longer happy with its  “Open Happiness” ad campaign. “The brand has asked 10 roster agencies to pitch ideas for Coke’s next global campaign: Wieden+Kennedy in Portland, Ore.; David; Dentsu; FCB in South Africa; Martin Mercado; McCann in Madrid; Ogilvy; Santo; Sra Rushmore; and The Cyranos,” Adweek reported March 23.

Maybe it’s because their new (five months on the job) chief marketing officer, Marcos de Quinto, had a case of the New Broom Syndrome. (It’s not unheard of; in 2012, a new CMO eager to make her mark not only fired Avis Rent A Car’s advertising agency, but trashed the iconic “We try harder” slogan that had saved the company from bankruptcy and served them well for half a century.)

Maybe it was because Coke actually means what a representative told Adweek, that Coke was looking for a new campaign “to ensure it continues to have global appeal, engages and entertains consumers, and drives business growth.” Sure.

Or maybe it was because of a reported worldwide implosion of soda sales, particularly diet sodas. As the maker of the biggest diet and non-diet soda brands, Coke would be the biggest loser.

Coca-Cola failed to hit its 2014 long-term growth target; as of the third quarter, profits were down 14 percent. That’s overall. But what’s worse is the continuing decline in diet soda sales and profits. “Sales of low calorie soft drinks in the United States have tumbled by almost 20 percent over the past five years,” writes Roberto A. Ferdman in the Washington Post. “This year, diet soda sales are on pace to drop another 5 percent. By 2019, they are projected to have fallen off by roughly a third since their peak in 2009.”

Sales of Diet Coke, the number-three soda brand (after regular Coke and Pepsi), dropped 15 percent in the past two years and almost a third since 2005.  But Diet Coke’s doing pretty well compared to its competitors. Diet Pepsi sales are down 35 percent, Diet 7-Up 33 percent and Diet Dr. Pepper 25 percent. That’s in the US. Worldwide, diet soda sales were down 20 percent over the decade ending last year, according to Euromonitor. Howard Telford, an industry analyst at the marketing data firm, blames it on consumer fears of artificial sweeteners. “Consumer’s [sic] attitudes towards sweeteners have really changed,” he says. “There’s a very negative perception about artificial sweeteners. The industry is still trying to get its head around this.”

Okay, but that fails to explain what Pepsico Chairman Indra Nooyi called “a fundamental shift in consumer habits and behaviors” away from sodas in general – diet and non-diet alike.

“Soda, once marketed as an everyday staple, is now seen as an occasional treat, especially among younger demographics” Ferdman notes. “More than a third of consumers aged 18 to 36 years old consider the drink a treat, according to market research firm Mintel.” So if folks are going to treat themselves to sodas only every now and then, why not go for hi-test instead of unleaded?

But that’s only part of the answer. Another part may be that the soda industry is falling victim to what the beer industry has been suffering through for over a quarter-century. Budweiser, for example, has seen shrinking sales year after year since 1988. One factor in this steady decline has been the proliferation of alternatives – in Budweiser’s case, the growth of craft beers, which in 2013 shipped 100,000 more barrels than Bud did. If Coke is the Budweiser of the soda industry, then a whole variety of of beverages – bottled waters, energy drinks, iced teas, vitamin waters, all kinds of fruit juices, you name it – are the craft beers.

Whether Mr. de Quinto’s replacement for the “Happiness” campaign can overcome that trend, nobody knows. But it’s safe to say he definitely has something to be unhappy about.

Budweiser Masquerades As Craft Beer – Again

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In Budweiser’s love-hate relationship with craft beers, the pendulum has swung again, according to a March 18 Advertising Age report.

Three years ago, in late 2012, Budweiser liked craft beers so much that they sincerely flattered them – by going to market with three imitation craft beers formulated to reverse a consecutive quarter-century of slumping sales by reaching out to a lost generation of younger beer drinkers, 65 percent of whom had never tried the brand even once. This obviously didn’t work, because the very next year – 2013, the last full year for which Beer Marketer’s Insights numbers are available – craft brewers outsold Budweiser by 100,000 barrels.

That’s when the hate part of the relationship set in. Planning for their 2015 Super Bowl advertising, the brewer decided that if they couldn’t join craft beers, they’d fight ’em. The result was the brand’s “Brewed the Hard Way” commercial, boasting that Bud was a “macro brew” and taking shots at them gol-derned, newfangled “fruity craft beer” upstarts.

Now, with a 90-second online video,  Budweiser’s trying to love and hate craft beers, to fight ’em and join ’em, all at once. The  video uses the tired, old hidden taste test trick to show that Brooklyn hipsters love Budweiser once they actually try it. In it, a bartender tells the audience that the bar we’re seeing has been wired with hidden cameras, to get the reactions of “unsuspecting customers” as they try “special beer on tap.” When the “unsuspecting customers” belly up to the bar, he tells them that this beer is “brewed to a 139-year-old recipe” and “beechwood aged” (Those descriptions are meaningless to most people, but have the supposed virtue of sounding vaguely artisanal.)  and then asks for their reactions.

On several levels, this approach is as phony as the very idea of passing Budweiser off as a craft beer. The first piece of phoniness is the assumption that Brooklyn is still Hipster Central. It hasn’t been. For years. “Brooklyn was once Mecca for hipsterdom,” writes Ad Age managing editor Ken Wheaton. “Sure, many ‘real’ hipsters now consider it, ya know, kinda sorta played out? Because, like, it’s so expensive and there’s too many people with money and families and stuff? And The New York Times writes about it?”

Phony assumption number two is that hipsters – if there any are still left in Brooklyn – are or ever have been expert beer aficionados. As Wheaton notes, “Brooklyn hipsters were the ones who put Pabst (Motto: ‘What else are you going to drink at this price point?’) back on the map. For hipsters, cheapness was one of Pabst’s two virtues. The other was a kind of perverse exclusivity; because it tasted so much like swill, nobody but hipsters would buy it.

The last bit of phoniness is the on-camera blind taste test itself. First, because it can set up false expectations in the testees. “Blind taste tests are known for making people look like fools (or, in marketing speak, question their preconceived notions about a product),” says Wheaton, “And these people — well, the ones carefully selected for the purposes of this interview for Bud — were totally tricked into thinking Budweiser was some sort of new craft brew.” And third, once you’ve stacked the deck by how you select the on-camera consumers and by the setup you feed them, you can control them further by how you edit their responses; somehow, the negative ones never make it off today’s digital equivalent of the cutting-room floor.

Wheaton sums up the technique as “Just pretend it’s a craft brew; they don’t know any better.” But that’s not completely fair to the so-called hipsters in this video. Despite all of Budweiser’s contrivances, the most enthusiastic responses they could muster were, “I like it,” “It’s a reliable beer,” “This would be great on, like, a hundred-degree day,” and “This is a Budweiser?” And if those were the best of the lot, who knows what didn’t make it into the finished video.