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On a recent day trip to the beautiful (and beautifully underpopulated) village of Cherry Valley, I spotted this poster for Mighty Flame, a brand of propane tanks.

Initial Observations
We’ve got two figures gleefully running over the Windows XP field to get to a giant propane tank.

It’s totally the XP field.

So in this weird Alice-in-Wonderland-style alternate universe, people don’t wait in line at a gray cement gas station to fill a propane tank. Instead, they run through a technicolor meadow. And they’re so darned happy that they don’t just run, they skip. This includes not only the pigtailed girl but ALSO the awkward 30-year-old dude in a black tee shirt. Can you imagine the photo shoot for this? I sure like to.

Mighty Flame, Mighty Fears
As a vegetarian who sunburns in 15 minutes, I’m probably the wrong demographic for ads related to backyard grilling. Propane tanks also terrify me because one time a loose arsonist nearly blew up the front yard of our old apartment, tanks included (true story). So, at least for me, “Mighty Flame” is the worst possible brand name. “Mighty” put in front of “flame” evokes exploding propane tanks, house fires, brush fires, kitchen fires, and other nightmare fodder. “Tiny Flame”, “Safe Flame”, “Can’t Blow Up” — all would have been better, less alarming, choices.

Run out and Get One
Marketing loves commanding words like “Get.” “Get out there,” says Ford. “Get Your Own,” says Subway. This always feels a little pushy. “Run out and get one” implores us to do not one but TWO things. Jeez, man. I’ll do what I want, when I feel like it.

Overall Rating
Quaint and awkward. I’ll take that over slick and brainwashy any day.

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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.

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.

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.