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marketing mayhem

Mr. Max has always had a special talent for memorizing stupid TV commercials and re-contextualizing the dumb tag lines for unrelated in-jokes. (Example: There was an early 2000s ad for bottled water that featured a woman in an office barking at an underling to “get me a Dasani.” Fifteen years later we still yell “Get me a Dasani” from the living room when the other person is in the kitchen.)

I’ve always been a little worse at this game, partly because I fiddle with my phone or laptop as soon as a commercial break starts. Exceptionally idiotic commercials, however, break right through the wall of disinterest to lodge themselves permanently in my psyche. And GlaxoSmithKline did just that with it’s you-are-dumb themed ads for Flonase.

This ad plays no less than 5 times during the half hour of Good Morning America I watch in the morning, so I’ve had plenty of opportunities to analyze it. It starts with a toddler-level explanation of how “6 key inflammatory substances” are responsible for most allergies, and they show us a bunch of Powerpoint smart chart graphics bursting out of the Flonase bottle. They don’t tell us what those six substances are because it would make our tiny brains explode. Then they explain that most allergy medications only work on ONE of these substances. But FLONASE works on all six, so those other allergy brands can suck it.

Then… then they pat us on the head and remind us that “six is greater than one.” And that becomes the tagline, complete with a snazzy graphic using the greater than symbol.

Yes, this smug nonsense is a real ad. Proof:

http://ispot.tv/a/7J6U

There must have been a bit of disagreement in the marketing strategy meetings, because there are three – count ‘em, three! – different taglines in this ad.

  • The aforementioned “Six is greater than one”
  • Inhale life. Are we supposed to stick our faces in a pile of spores or something?
  • This changes everything. Because we now know how numbers work? Because our nostrils are now filled with ‘life’? WHY?

Not content with pseudonymous blog rants, some people have taken to facebook to confront Flonase directly.

Because they “just thought you should know.”

This week’s installment of Marketing Mayhem covers all things epicurean (or at least edible).

Exhibit A: Marketing, Minus the Sense

I’m not usually the flavored coffee type, but I was forced into this caramel blend when the coffee place ran out of regular dark roast. To my surprise, it was actually subtle and tasty — a solid four stars. The marketing copy, however…

Huh? First off, “Minus the apple” is a super awkward way to start a sentence. The lack of a comma makes it even more confusing – I think the first time I read it I wondered what they meant by “apple this coffee.” Are commas not cool anymore? Are we in a no comma trend? They’re handy, people. Use them.

The tone is also strange, and almost apologetic… like this was meant to be a country fair themed flavor, but they ran out of weird apple flavor chemical or something. It’s not like caramel is ONLY eaten at fairs, like cotton candy or funnel cakes. Why can’t they just describe the flavor using generic adjectives like “rich” or “smooth” like every other coffee brand?

Exhibit B: You’ve got Spunkmeyer

Simply put, spunk is not a word you want associated with your baked good.

Exhibit C: Napkin Ads: Not a Thing

I was tickled to spy this super odd innovation in restaurant advertising at a local cafe. An ad on the little paper thing that holds your cloth napkin — wonders never cease! And what does this little piece of promotional paper have to tell us?

That our CD rate might suck! Bon Appetit, old man.

This archaic piece of marketing mayhem appeared, unsolicited, on my doorstep just over a week ago. I can’t think of much that pisses me off more than unwanted paper (see also: free samples of print newspapers delivered directly into our bushes, politician + happy family postcards stuffed in the mail slot) and this was no exception. As a bonus bit of unpleasantness, I had to excavate it from the icy hellscape that is winter in Western Massachusetts.

Before I address the marketing side of this pesty bit of pre-recycling, I must make the point that everyone reading this is now thinking: THERE ARE STILL PHONEBOOKS? Yes, apparently there are. I can’t imagine that even one in 100 of these are opened before they’re heaved into the bin. And yet here we are — cutting down trees and paying delivery people to launch these paperweights into people’s frozen yards. And we call this progress.

There is an upside — this complete lack of product relevance is the perfect breeding ground for laugh-out-loud marketing mayhem.

Exhibit A: Weird Anime-ish Cartoon Ads All Made by One Person

What the hell am I looking at? No, it’s not a 2003 era webcomic — it’s an ad for the plumbing section! And another ad for the furniture sales section! Every yellowbook ad features this same weird cartoon guy who looks like Zippy dressed up as Astro Boy. Is this real? Did they let someone’s anime-obsessed nephew design it? And did they think we wouldn’t notice that the same exact ad featured on two consecutive pages?

Exhibit B: Restaurant Page Where We’ve Given Up


Bless their hearts, but this is some serious slapdash. From the gargantuan text to the silhouette-only graphics, it’s clear that this design was created without 1) design software or 2) time.

Exhibit C: DARE-style Ad
Occasionally I make a DARE joke around people younger than me and their blank stares stir in me a deep, deep horror. For young onions who didn’t experience it firsthand, DARE was (and apparently still is, according to a Wikipedia) a drug prevention program that had it’s heydey in the Drug War era of the 90s. DARE is primarily remembered for its cringe-tastic program swag, particularly the black “DARE: To Keep Kids Off Drugs” T-Shirts which everyone received but no one wore.

So it was deja vu when I got to this yellow pages PSA:

What’s not to love about this? The failed attempt at cool-kid humor, the oversized pot leaf wingding, and the very idea that the PHONEBOOK is a good place for a PSA designed for teenagers… it’s spectacular, really.

Okay, now I can recycle this thing.

I literally have no idea where to start with this one:

IMG_20150224_085121

The word ARTISANS emblazoned under the instantly-recognizable Domino’s logo was powerful enough to halt my brisk walk to the train station and deglove my hands in 1°C weather to take a picture. Upon closer inspection I saw the “not,” and the combination of delight and confusion hit me so hard I thought I was going to puke. I started to read the text but “we don’t wear black berets…” was instantly too much, and tears of silent, body-shaking laughter started to freeze on my cheeks.

This pizza box essentially triggered a bout of full-blown mania, and I feel like God is speaking directly to me through it. My life makes sense. The world is a beautiful place. My thoughts are so rollicksome that I will have to make a simple list to point out everything that is going on here in this nugget of perfect, perfect awfulness:

1. Why all the pride in sucking?

The care taken in embellishing the word “NOT” is sad and confusing. The first sentence implies that “this pizza is going to be 100 times worse than any other pizza you have ever had.” I mean, you can make a pizza with all the passion you want (and how do you apply integrity to pizza-making, anyway?), but if you’re cooking it in a microwave or whatever the hell Domino’s uses, it’s still going to suck.

There’s also a bit of a hipster dive bar vs. craft cocktail establishment going on here. Like, “not sucking is so mainstream; we sucked before it was cool and we’re going to keep on sucking.”

2. Pizza chefs DO NOT wear “black berets”

Does this guy look like he’s about to start tossing some dough in the air?

https://i1.wp.com/cdnimg3.webstaurantstore.com/images/products/extra_large/15687/157980.jpg

No, it looks like he’s going to war.

3. And in the end they call their pizza artisanal!

PICK AN ANGLE, GUYS. Are you or aren’t you?

4. That blank signature field says it all

Bitch, please. Nobody wants their name attached to that shit, Domino’s. And what the FUCK is the tiny “oh yes we did!” referring to? We totally lied to you and now you’re eating something that an excess of twelve rats scampered across since yesterday when we made it and heated it up in microwave for you just now?

There was certainly a lot going on in the grocery store today, and not just because of an impending blizzard. There was also a quiet kind of mayhem afoot: out-of-control claims and typos on some weird nature cereal!

Grain Berry? What was I thinking?

Grain Berry? What was I thinking?

The Silver Palate, eh? Who the FUCK are you and what are you doing in my cereal aisle?

The beauty of this discovery is that I didn’t register a single thing about this cereal box until I was back home standing in my kitchen and saw “Network of Smart Antioxidants;” I almost dropped the box. My eyes, contorted by wonder, drifted down to find:

IMG_20150126_151046

High Tannin WHAT? I can’t hear yoooou

I thought this was just some shredded wheat, for shit’s sake. Should I use red wine instead of milk so I can get some RESVERATROL PLUS ANTIOXIDANTS PLUS TANNIN too?

The best of all is the side panel. Behold:

"Drink every time you make a mistake!"

“Drink every time you make a mistake!”

No. No, you don’t “grow” the antioxidants you senile old man. And even if you did “antioxidants” do not “makes” anything. Oh, and nice title, “Grain Berry Grower…”

The back of the box contains too much text to want a picture of, but I will share with you some choice quotes.

“If you have access to a computer and the internet, I urge you to check the discussion about antioxidants by leading medical institutions and universities” Uhm, don’t tell me to just go Google shit about your product, you lazyface.

“Bottom line, antioxidants, and its helper bioactive compounds, fight the attack of these chemicals called free radicals before they can do serious damage and other very bad things.” Science just exploded.

“A leading university of public health states unequivocally that ample evidence suggests that a network of various antioxidants from fruits, vegetables and whole grains provide protection against many of the ‘scourges of aging.'” That’s some flowery language from a leading university of public health…

– –

BONUS CHECK-OUT AISLE MAGAZINE MENINGITIS MAYHEM:

Mmmmeningitis

Mmmmeningitis

What does public health have against ice cream?

This prime example of higher education marketing dots the landscape on my daily commute. It was put up fairly recently, and Mr. Max and I both screamed the first time we saw it. And why wouldn’t we? The concept is hilariously absurd. Forensic… accounting? Having never heard these two words together, we assumed the field would involve some kind of high tech investigative crap, like whatever it is that’s depicted here:

But no, there’s no fancy technology or CSI drama in forensic accounting — it’s more like garden variety number crunching with some paralegal stuff thrown in. That’s almost as disappointing as when the someone tells you they have fireworks and it’s just one of those lame snake things.

Disclaimer: I’m probably not the best person to comment on graduate education, as my standard response to the ol’ master’s degree question is “I’m learning to play the drums.” If accountancy floats your boat, more power to you. But I think we can all agree that rebranding the accounting field as having a sexy side is probably NOT in the best interest of, you know, reality.

The glitz! The glamour!

 

 

THE PINK ERASER: WHAT IS THIS THING AGAIN? I SURE WISH IT WOULD TELL ME.

I love it when people find strange things out in the world and save them for me. It makes me feel like I have the ability to turn the crappy commercialized world into an ironic treasure hunt. And I like that.

Anyhoo, this excellent example of marketing mayhem comes courtesy of co-author Lena Webb’s eagle-eyed mother, who spotted it at a Dollar General. Her only comment in handing it to me was a look of disbelief, with which I agree 100%. It’s not every day that regular consumer goods take the time to explain themselves. I can’t remember the last time I saw a writing instrument adorned with the text, “This is a Pencil.”

But there was something else — something familiar — about this little self-identifying eraser. On further inspection, I realized what it reminds me of: an old childhood relic, the Sanford Pink Pet.

I googled Pink Pet eraser hoping, irrationally, for a Wikipedia entry. No dice. I’ll just have to rely on memory. And Amazon, where these are still available (and poorly reviewed):

I have no idea why the eraser is a ‘Pink Pet.’ Or why the other, nearly identical, eraser is called a ‘Rub Away.’ I do know that I always thought the name Pink Pet was strangely cute. It sounds like a pet rock or a Polly Pocket accessory or something.

As the Amazon reviewer notes, these are crappy, rock-hard erasers (I would add that in addition to not erasing anything, they also leave pink skidmarks all over your paper). Preliminary research indicates the same is true of the Pink Eraser, and that combined with the rubbery aroma tips the nostalgia indicator to ‘High.’ Well played, Pink Pet Knockoff.

CHECKERS: THE NEW BATCH

A few weeks ago, I found myself with a group of co-workers at 5 Below, a neo discount store where everything is under five bucks. This is the kind of place where it’s easy to blow $45 on useless stuff that probably doesn’t meet minimum import restrictions for lead. It’s also the place where I found this:

Neon! Checkers!

I love the idea of attempting to market an old game as new and fresh by… changing absolutely nothing except the color of the pieces. What was that marketing team meeting like? I imagine a group of creatives throwing around all kinds of crazy ideas: an iPhone app, a crossover with Settlers of Catan, a Justin Bieber edition, a 21+ version (the pieces are mini shot glasses), etc. etc. But no. The old guard of Milton Bradley won’t budge.

“What if,” the VP for Sales says, “we just… brightened up the color a bit?”
“Exactly!” yells the CEO. “How about if we redo it in the fresh, modern colors of a 1980s ski jacket? Now THAT would really make it pop!”

And it does. In fact, the only way this set could be better is if it were glow in the dark.

Also, protein.

I don’t know, maybe it’s because the word “protein” is stabbing into my brainholes from five distinct locations on the bottle, but when I had a couple minutes to grab something from the store a hand I barely knew reached out from my side and grabbed this Protein Juice Smoothie, ignoring all red flags.

Red Flag #1: Protein Juice?

Yeah, what comes to mind there is “piss.” Protein in your urine is a bad sign; why did I pick this beverage? Oh, you mean protein AND juice? Well it still sounds disgusting. When I think “smoothie” I don’t think of a thin liquid ascending my straw. A fruit broth cannot smooth be.

Red Flag #2: Sediment

This one gave me pause, but my time was running out and I swatted the skeptical thoughts away. I’m trying to get more protein in my diet and exert more control over negative thoughts these days, okay? That kind of thinking must land me smack in the middle of the intersecting Boolean spotlights that Naked calls the “Protein Zone,” because when I turned the bottle upside down (confirming the juice-like consistency) and saw a thick layer of sediment I quickly convinced myself “oh well, you’re just going to have to give it a REAL good shake!”

Red Flag #3: A Bold Choice

It’s my first time drinking Naked (not true in the literal sense, of course. We all did it as babies, and also when we drink beer in the shower) and instead of playing it safe with apple juice or something I go straight for the creamy looking one with tropical fruits and nutritional supplements? What’s next, the voice of God telling me to build a monument out of melted tires in a Walmart parking lot? It’s a slippery slope.

The cashier asked me “are these things good?” and I said that I didn’t know yet. I almost cracked it right there to take a sip and deliver the verdict, and boy am I glad I didn’t. I shook vigorously on my way to the train platform, opened it and took a swig.

My immediate reaction was not to sense a taste but to think “someone shit in my mouth!” As I pushed my gritty tongue against the roof of my mouth the tasting notes became more refined. The overall experience is like someone chewed up a mouthful of Flintstones vitamins and milk, pressed their mouth to yours, opened up and released the suspension. It’s like being the baby of the worst bird.

I was at my local YMCA using the treadmill and staring at the muted television which was set on one of those local news channel with the headline scrolling along the bottom. It’s not Fox News, but it might as well be. I’m outnumbered by cranky old veterans and don’t care about what’s on the TV anyway, so I only glance at it every so often. Lucky me– I caught an infomercial in progress and couldn’t tear my eyes away.

I was hoping to see that beautiful struggle depicted in most infomercials: Man vs. tiny inconveniences. The flailing, the frustration WHY WON’T MY SUNGLASSES STAY STILL ON THE DASHBOARD? WHERE AM I GOING TO PUT ALL THESE SPICES? WHY DO I DESTROY EVERYTHING I TOUCH? No need for volume during an informercial; the contorted faces and flapping limbs say it all. This particular infomercial had a relatively benign problem and solution:

Problem: it can be dark sometimes, both inside and outside.

Solution: InstaBrites <— click the name to see a video and find out more! (warning: the video starts without prompting so be prepared if you hate that sort of thing like I do)

These clever little lights stay off when they’re close to a magnet, but when pulled away they turn on to illuminate drawers, cabinets, closets– you name it! So, basically refrigerator light technology but wherever you please. Sounds neat, but let’s be real:

Find a goddamned light switch. If your partner gets mad at you for turning the light on while you’re desperately trying to find your insulin in the en suite bathroom it’s time for a divorce, not InstaBrites.

Why the hell do you need to see your sewing kit in the goddamned dark? This question goes for cleaning supplies and storage containers full of clothes as well. If the entire room is dark, InstaBrites can’t help with whatever you need to do now that you have located that spool of thread. How do you even know there’s a mess to clean if the room is dark? And didn’t you put that sweater in the storage bin because you weren’t planning on wearing it anytime soon? Why do you need it now, in the dark?

Fine, putting the lights in a cooler is kind of rad. It’s definitely way better than using your phone as a flashlight and dropping it in the slushy cooler because it’s dark and you’re probably drunk.

I’m going to lay it down and say that any infomercial product can and should be used in a way not suggested by the information in the commercial. If those freaks are telling you to put the lights in your car’s glove compartment, they are scraping the bottom of the idea barrel. Show them what you’ve got with some:

Outside-the-Box thinking. I don’t know how much those kids’ shoes that light up cost, but I bet InstaBrites are cheaper. Put the magnet on one shoe and the light on the other.  Ungainly, but as your kid walks the light should go off when its feet are close together, creating a very slow flicker. Maybe if you find yourself fencing in the dark, you can see where your sword has made contact by putting a magnet on the sword and coating your opponent in InstaBrites. Look, I don’t get paid and I don’t know anything about fencing. Or kids.

What The Hell Am I Eating: Part 1 of 2

I spied (and purchased) this choice example of Marketing Mayhem during an evening Stop and Shop run. It’s a “rockin’ bag of [coffee] beans from Joey Kramer of Aerosmith.” Where do I begin? The whole concept is utterly ludicrous. I get using a leathery rock dude to brand certain things (music equipment, cheap bourbon, “chew”) — but organic coffee? Does Joey Kramer even drink coffee? Apparently so, at least according to the website, which describes him as “a coffee-lovin’ Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer [who] has pounded the skins since his early teens fueled by love for music and spirited beans.” Maybe this isn’t a weird celebrity endorsement…maybe Joey’s just a dude who really loves his coffee?

Despite the presence of a flaming dragon, the coffee was actually pretty good.

It WAS artisan micro brewed.

Design Assessment: Weird and a little “Planet Hollywood.” I think they should go all the way with the tackiness and include a temporary tattoo right in the bag.

What The Hell Am I [not] Eating: Part 2 of 2

I bought two bags of these tortillas at a health food store because they were out of the kind I usually buy. The graphic design style is what I refer to as “1970s-era health food.” Note the smiley sun graphic, the use of psychedelic primary colors, and the groovy religious imagery. Nowadays organic stuff tends to be all slick and hip, but back in the day everything looked like it was designed by a team of Unitarian Universalist volunteers armed with crayola markers and free love.

Mr. Max is an expert on pre-yuppified health food. As a tyke, he ate a lot of the kinds of things you needed to buy at weird-smelling bulk food stores, like Frookies (well-acknowledged to be disgusting) and Panda licorice chews.

He warned me that these would be bad. I didn’t listen.

For dinner, I made a delicious burrito filling with black beans, chipotle peppers, and roasted vegetables. Then I ruined it by putting it inside one of these completely inedible tortillas. We each choked one down and immediately chucked the rest. I still don’t understand how these could be so awful. Mr. Max thinks it’s because they’re “sprouted.” I think it’s because of the addition of millet AND spelt. Maybe. But whatever the reason, there’s no way they’re “New Mexico style.” Unless they love things that taste like fermented wheat grass and butt in the land of enchantment.

Design Assessment: Accurate. Beware anything that looks like it’s been designed by someone on a commune.