Saturday, May 31, 2008

Hybrid culture at six months: getting smugger in spite of myself

Maybe the tide has started to turn for some of the most performance-oriented suv drivers because twice in the past week guys I happened to be parked next to, looked over and DOWN from their Lexxus SUV's and asked me as I stepped toward my Prius, "So you like it?" And when I told them that yes I did, but that I'm not really a "car guy" and I mainly don't like buying gas, they start talking about their $100+ tanks and the wait-lists on hybrids in their area, and I nod consolingly, knowing that my gas mileage is ticking up past 50 as the weather warms up, trying to not to suggest that they kind of made an idiotic consumer choice to begin with for about a dozen different reasons, because I do believe, at some level, that people are entitled to buy what they want so long as they are willing to the price, though I confess that when I find myself driving alongside a Hummer on the highway, knowing that the driver is burning over a dollar a minute, it's hard not to look over and UP with an expression not unlike a winning gambler sitting next to a guy who keeps drawing bad cards.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Poor little scotty (or the new strategic uses of pathos)

Not me, but Mclellan, who as everyone knows or should know, has decided to come clean about his past involvement in the foreign policy disaster we now refer to as the Iraq war. It's a pretty amazing development, but maybe shouldn't be, considering the number of outraged and agonized confessionals of former government employees. You can read the story almost anywhere, but here's a recent bit in the NYT's.

But this blog isn't about policy; it's about persuasion. And I can't help being both horrified and impressed by the shrewd and eerily consistent strategy the Republican officials and party flunkies are using to manage the bad news.

Rather than deny the charges or battle Mclellan point by point, they have decided to insinuate that there's something wrong with him, suggesting a breakdown of some kind. The tone was set early by the current, icily gorgeous Press Sec, Dano Perino, No one has specifically claimed a psychotic episode, but the repeated infantilizing use of his first name (rather than his last or full name) and the words "sad" and "puzzled" more closely match the language of someone concerned about the mental health of a friend or relative rather than an organization confronting a brazen attack on their ethical standards by a former insider.

Rove and Fleischer dutifully expanded on the strange-state-of-Scott story with their pop-psychological "this doesn't sound like Scott," in a tone suffused with befuddled concern.

I'm inclined to call bullshit on their false pathos, but perhaps Scott really does sound different. Perhaps it doesn't sound like him because he's not lying anymore. Or maybe he sounds different because he's so racked with guilt over his involvement in a PR farce that's cost well-counted American and countless Iraqi lives and untold amounts of unnecessary human suffering.

If you want to get a sense of what this can sound like try talking to former and now clean ex-cons speaking about their past crimes, or read about how a former aide to Colin Powell describes his involvement in Powell's speech to the U.N. on bogus intelligence as the "lowest point in his life." Here. Yeah, that does sound a lot different from "Bring it on" now that you mention it.

In any case, this strikes me as whole new strategy against what we might call the truth or (less polemically) any information that doesn't support the party line. Perhaps we've moved past the "I don't recall" defense utilized so effectively by Reagan and the "I wasn't informed of what my own staff was up to" attempted with varying degrees of success by Donald Rumsfeld and Enron executives, and moved onto variations of "He's lost it," to damage the credibility of anyone who dares to say something we don't want to hear.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Maybe not so elusive

Those of us in the business hear so much about the elusive eyeballs belonging to young people that it’s sometimes amazing to hear that kids these days have any eyeballs in their heads at all. I’ve written earlier that I’ve found that teens and college kids are still watching ads, but only the ones they like, and often on their own time on Youtube.

I’ve recently gotten word from some others planners on the street who are hearing similar stories, suggesting that the media habits of college kids haven’t changed as dramatically as we are always hearing. They still watch a lot of MTV and ESPN. They still recite lines from their favorite ads (e.g. “suck one”) with the same enthusiasm that the generation raised on “Where’s the beef?” and “Wassup” did. They still prefer watching their favorite shows on the biggest TV’s they possibly can (HDTV’s now) on the crappiest left-over furniture they can drag from their parent’s basement.

The biggest change from the previous generation seems to be that more girls are playing video games, making the wii a great way to get young women to join the party on your porch furniture.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The economic condition not to be named

Not sure if I'm just being sensitized by the media coverage of the economic downtown spreading into surprising places (this morning it was the NYT's on a boat repo man having a banner year) , but it seems that the unmentionable situation (which we may already be in!) is hitting the disposable income of the upper middle classes. Last night at an athletic brand sales meeting I was told that health club memberships are down 20% against last year. And then I kept seeing "Going Out of Business Sale" signs (though sometimes they just say "closing") in the windows of various boutiques that line the streets of the affluent seaside town where I work.

The near rich (or still rich by pre-hedge-fund standards) have a big cushion, but even they seem to be cutting back. One thing is for sure, there will be one less place in this town to buy very expensive baby clothes (luckily two other well-stocked boutiques remain standing), get your hair styled by a real pro or buy woven fabrics for your seaside home.

Friday, May 16, 2008

TV as a jukebox or another great thing about ads

Just about everyone has noticed the increasingly prominent role that less mainstream music has been playing in tv ads from the early, bold (if selective) use of Iggy Pop's lust for life for Royal Caribbean Cruise lines to Sting's hit-creating soundtrack for Jaguar to the now career-making appearances of anyone lucky enough to get their track on an ipod ad. The various nighttime dramas, especially those involving sexy teens and doctors, have also incorporated an increasingly wide range of popular, classic r &b and alty music into their broadcasts and storylines.

None of this is a surprise. More surprising, at least to me, on my last round chatting with youngsters is how much new music they still discover through advertising and tv shows they like. You'd think they'd have all the reco's they could handle from all their playlists and social media socializing, but apparently, the right 30 second soundtrack to an appealing half-clothed gamine, high-cheekboned surgeon or equally sexy digital device still strikes a powerful nerve or two.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Kids these days: star-makers in the making

Just knocked off a round of focus groups in Atlanta and New York city and my biggest non-proprietary finding: Kids are a lot cooler in NYC than in Atlanta.

Okay, not fair, based on my limited recruit, but have to admit I was pretty stunned by the Islanders’ range of activities: multiple jobs, internships in Germany studying film distribution, running shows out their Brooklyn lofts, discovering the British Invasion all over again. But the second biggest non-proprietary discovery had to be that the new dream has evolved from wanting to be a star to managing them. A solid third of the kids I met were putting on shows, managing talent and/or distributing content through all kinds of channels. I kid you not: A couple of them admitted that they didn't come to the groups for the token incentive but for RESEARCH! They were listening harder than the people behind the glass. They were there for ideas.

And they still watch ads, but only the good ones and only on their own time, and usually on Youtube. They fast-forward most everything else. So make ads good enough to look up or don’t make them at all. Which of course was what we always wanted to do to begin with

Saturday, May 3, 2008

08 vs. 01? Not as bad this time or just not yet?

It's a truism in the industry that advertising is an early indicator of the economy, and that advertising/marketing budgets are the first to go when the economy shrinks or shrivels, accompanied by lay-offs and consolidations.

But judging by totally anecdotal evidence, the bad news doesn't seem to be hitting quite as hard this time around, at least compared to the last round at the turn of the century. Or at least not yet. Recruiters seem as busy as ever, looking for the ever-elusive web-guru's. And industry insiders are still talking expansion rather than contraction. And I haven't heard about packs of mid-level account managers prowling the streets midtown, willing to work for iced lattes.

Of course, it's always hard to judge because ad agencies generally hype everything as a matter of course. Just look at the inflated new biz win records in the latest adweek report cards. Is it statistically possible for so many agencies to be batting over .500? And for all the obvious reasons, they try to keep layoffs quiet, but the news tends to get around. I did hear a rumor that a couple well-known digital shops were laying people off, which doesn't match the conventional wisdom, but we all know that digital types have a history of overreaching.

But in general, the good news seems to be that the new media engine seems to be keeping us busy, even as mortgages turn upside down and demand slows. Every client we talk to isn't sure what to do and is willing to pay someone to help them figure out. Another reason to love your DVR.