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Consumers bite back
Sure, consumer-generated content is all the rage. And we applaud any company that braves the waters, even if, as GM's Chevy did with a recent effort, the company tries to install some controls on that content.
Photo: Hoag Levins
Ken Wheaton is your tour guide to the Web beyond Ad Age. Talk to him at kwheaton@crain.com. Or, LISTEN to him here.
For its launch of the new Tahoe, Chevy tied in with "The Apprentice" for a contest asking consumers to "direct" Tahoe ads using music and video clips provided by the company. That wasn't enough control, however, to thwart those consumers with an ax to grind. Yesterday, automotive reporter Jean Halliday alerted us to one spot calling the America in 2006 "the ultimate padded cell" and leading off with the lines "We paved the prairies, We deforested the hills, We strip-mined our mountains, And sold ourselves for oil, To bring you this beautiful machine." It's safe to say it's not exactly what Chevy had in mind. (When contacted by Halliday, Chevy declined to comment.) And it turns out there are more out there. Blogging at Daily Kos, blogger "by foot" has collected some of them. With titles like "Global Warming" and "WWJD" (What Would Jesus Drive), the spots range in tone from damning ("2327" refers to the number of soldiers killed in Iraq) to mocking ("How Big Is Yours?" should be self-explanatory). (Warning: some adult content.)

Wes Brown, an analyst for consultant Iceology, said marketers trying these kinds of promotions should be aware of the potential pitfalls. “It lets people vent and provides them with an avenue to express their opinions,” he said. “That vehicle can be quite polarizing,” he said of the Tahoe.

We're going to make a safe bet that those entries won't win the contest. And despite the tone of the ads, we imagine this will do little to hurt Tahoe sales and will only increase entries for the Chevy contest.

(Jean Halliday contributed to this item.)

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Pollsters gone wild
Perhaps you've read or watched some of the hysteria about wayward young women on Spring Break on the heels of a poll conducted by the American Medical Association. Mark Blumenthal, aka The Mystery Pollster, with the help of Cliff Zukin, the current president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, takes the AMA out behind the woodshed and spanks it for some sloppy polling. At issue: non-random Internet panels. Interesting reading if you're into that sort of thing. Note that in Part 1 MP doesn't even discuss the subject matter of the poll. And don't worry: All the sex, drugs and alcohol can be had in Part 2

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How's McDonald's better than church?
McDonald's is meeting its business goals. Or so says Mark O. Wilson, blogging at Revitalize Your Church. He offers a list of business results for different companies:

"Percentage of McDonald's franchises that did not sell a hamburger last year: 0%
Percentage of Ace Hardware Stores that did not sell a hammer last year: 0%. . .
Percentage of Methodist Churches that did not receive a member by profession of faith last year: 43%"

We imagine those numbers aren't scientific.

Church Marketing Sucks liked the post. The Consumerist had some strong words about equating souls with hamburgers.

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Marketing challenge of the day
In Zimbabwe, the Rainbow Tourism Group is looking to grow market share for its Rainbow Towers Hotel Brand. Just another day in the hotel industry, right? As if. As the All Africa story says, Rainbow Towers is replacing the Sheraton brand name as Starwood decided to pack up and go home last December. Now perhaps Starwood did that because, as this AP article in Business Week points out, "tourism earnings dropped by half last year." Or perhaps Starwood left for the same reasons the tourists aren't showing up anymore: "soaring domestic inflation, currently the world's highest at 783 percent, gasoline shortages and 'negative publicity' abroad about Zimbabwe's problems." Or perhaps the fact that RTG is a state-owned company combined with President Robert Mugabe's nasty habit of seizing "white-owned" companies had something to do with Starwood's "mutual decision" to end its management contract. Whatever the case, good luck to RTG -- and whatever agency it chooses to work with.

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Sexism in advertising
You know the drill. Sex sells, but sexism, some would say, sells so much better. Women are stereotyped or, worse, turned into a commodity. Marketers trivialize and cheapen women in their advertising. But we're not the only ones. Apparently, they do it in India, too.

March 29, 2006

The 10-year itch
Viral marketing turns 10 this year and, according to Marketing Sherpa, it's in a bit of a rut.

"You know the drill. The amusing video download, the interactive ecard, the engaging game, the forward-to-a-friend sweeps entry, etc. It's all getting a bit too boring for both marketers and consumers alike."

Plenty of charts, data, survey results and a few tips for those whose viral efforts are a bit under the weather.

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Britain does it "for the children"
The Forces for Good seem to be winning the battle of the bulge on the U.K. front in the War on Obesity.

"Ofcom is proposing to ban all TV advertising or sponsorship for food and drink aimed at children, one of four new proposals designed to combat childhood obesity. The media regulator's long-awaited report into advertising junk food to children sets out four alternative proposals, ranging from time and product restrictions to an all-out ban."

Does this mean British kids will be deprived the pleasure of being completely freaked out by those recent Skittles spots?

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So much for the value menu
George Beane was accidentally charged $4,334.33 for four hamburgers at a California Burger King, which came immediately from his debit card. Hilarity did not ensue as the charge wiped out Beane's bank account. The local BK guys jumped through hoops to undo the error, but ran into a problem:

"Bank officials said they would reverse the charge only if a representative of Burger King came forward and confirmed the error, Beane said. Even when the error was confirmed, the bank said the funds were on a three-day hold and nothing could be done to release them, she said."

This sort of story always makes us wonder why banks are so quick to take money out of your account, but always seem to have a raft of excuses (legitimate sounding, all of them) for taking forever to put that same money back in. (Via The Consumerist)

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The road less rocked?
Writing on the Hill Holliday blog, Justin Holloway ponders his decision to go into advertising/marketing as opposed to rock 'n' roll. After watching U2 win another Grammy 20 years after getting their start, Holloway makes a connection:

"This came hard on the heels of: A) the Rolling Stones proving that, even well into their sixties, they could still extract a living wage from rock and roll by being selected to perform the Superbowl half-time show. And, B) the news that the average tenure of a CMO had fallen again, to a new low of just 23 months."

March 27, 2006

Making the new-media sausage
Yeah, yeah, yeah, everyone involved with newspapers has by now learned to repeat the mantra of platform-agnostic news delivery. Of course, saying that is far easier than doing it -- especially with some papers expecting twice the output from half the staff. Editor & Publisher's Joe Strupp offers a very in-depth look at how the new sausage is being made in Part 1 of "Across the Web/Print Divide."

"Although a growing number of reporters and editors welcome the ability to expand the print product and compete with their broadcast rivals for breaking news, others claim the expanded coverage translates into a staggering workload and excessive demands to feed the daily-news beast. Others contend that quality suffers when stories are rushed onto the Web too soon, or when reporters and editors are forced to complete distracting tasks like online chats before turning in a less-than-complete print version."

This isn't some consultant promising the world and neither is it an old-school journo protecting his turf. It's a sober look, with plenty of concrete examples, at what's being done, how it's being done and the problems that have come up so far.

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Telecoms to New Orleans: Say bye-bye to free Wi-Fi
In the wake of Katrina, the city opened its wireless network to anyone and everyone. For free. Obviously, with Internet down in half the city and phone service still out in a third of it, many businesses have come to rely on the access. Therefore the city was looking to expand it.

But not so fast.

Chief Information Officer Greg Meffert tells Red Herring: “The vendors, the BellSouths of this world, are not only going to force us back, making our existing Wi-Fi illegal, but also they want to close a loophole for emergencies so that we would not do this again.”

Kicking people while they're down: a great way to build brand loyalty.

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Good morning, Vietnam
Local agencies in Vietnam are having a tough time, according to this story.

"Some 2,900 of the country’s 3,000 registered ad companies have had brief lifespans, operating for a short time only and then closing down for lack of business. Of the remaining 100 domestic ad firms, only 10 are considered successful, said Do Gia Binh, vice chairman of the Viet Nam Advertising Association "

March 24, 2006

Sweet and sour moment for Apple
Steve Jobs and Apple are forging ahead building relationships in France, despite the prospect of iPod being booted from the country. BusinessWeek reports:

"On Mar. 22, the day after the lower house of France's legislature passed a radical new digital-rights law that could eventually prompt Apple to withdraw its iPod music player from the French market, the California company unveiled a long-planned collaboration with one of France's leading universities to promote educational technology centered around, you guessed it, the iPod."

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I'll see your threat and raise you a boycott
Fans of "South Park" are calling out Viacom (and Tom Cruise) .

"'South Park' fans … took to the Internet yesterday urging people to write, phone or e-mail Viacom, or sign their Chef Gate petition, letting the corporation know they and their loved ones will not see 'Mission: Impossible III' (due in theaters on May 5) until Comedy Central runs the more direct Scientology-skewering episode 'Trapped in the Closet.'"

Quick recap: Isaac Hayes, the voice of Chef on "South Park," quits because he suddenly discovers the show is insensitive to religion (namely, his own, Scientology). Then rumors surface that Viacom's Comedy Central, reacting to pressure from Tom Cruise and the "Mission: Impossible III" folks, won't re-air the offending episode. Now, "South Park" fans are threatening to boycott MI3, which just happens to be made by Viacom.

Who does a marketer answer to? The consumers or the talent and his religion of choice?

As Washington Post columnist Lisa de Morae columnist points out:

"Normally these kinds of petitions are quixotic and kinda sweet, but there's no denying that 'South Park's' core demographic -- 70 percent male, 20 percent male teens, 30 percent men age 18-34 -- is a bull's-eye for action flicks such as 'Mission: Impossible.'"

And those guys don't really care what Tom Cruise thinks.

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Vroom, vroom
The American International Automobile Dealers Web site has an interview with John Neff, one of the editors of Autoblog.com. Neff speaks of the usual benefits of blogs -- timeliness and attitude -- but hits on something else as well: oddities and obscurities.

"You can find all the major news like the GM-Delphi buyout, but you can also find the most obscure car from Thailand that just launched and those are the things you don’t usually get to see and the traditional magazines don’t have the space on paper to do those things."

It's always good to remember that one of the strong points of the Web is its ability to answer demands -- like interest in Thai cars -- that you didn't even know existed.

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China 101
MarketingSherpa offers the first half of a Marketing to China special report. If you haven't been keeping up with China, it's a good place to start. If you have been keeping up, it provides a basic refresher course. We like it because there's a good dose of caution and realism.

You'd also do well to keep up with our own AdAgeChina

March 23, 2006

The hard shell
Via the Consumerist, we learn about Consumer Reports' Oyster Awards, which go to hardest-to-open product packaging. A dubious honor to say the least. Consumer Reports is subscriber only (if you are a subscriber, link is here), but the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette offers a peak.

"Consumer Reports, in fact, announced its first-ever Oyster Awards in this month's issue, with first prize going to the hard-plastic clamshell packaging for the Uniden Digital Cordless Phone set, which took nine minutes and 22 seconds to open -- not the longest, but by far the most dangerous, requiring box cutters and a razor blade. Second prize went to 'American Idol' Barbie and her packaging, which didn't require the same kinds of lethal weapons but took 15 minutes and 10 seconds to untie all the wires, rip the stitches from her hair and slice the thick plastic manacles off her arms and torso."

Worth the read -- especially the part in which a Consumer Reports editor has his manhood questioned by Kellogg's.

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Majority rules in China
This has to be some kind of threshold:

"Addressing the 2006 China Cable Broadcasting Network exhibition, Zhang said television and radio commercials in 2005 totaled 45.86 billion yuan (5.67 billion dollars), accounting for 51.6 percent of the entire television and broadcasting sector."

Pharmaceuticals spent the most, with cosmetics coming in second.

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Marketing in the way outback
The Australian reports that marketers are finding rich ground out in the bush.

"Industry body Regional Television Marketing says it is seeing a shift in the type of advertisers attracted to regional TV, with more premium advertisers recognising the high spending power of people outside metropolitan areas, particularly in regions such as the Gold and Sunshine coasts."

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ANA blogging
Joseph Jaffe is blogging from the ANA TV Conference. He describes the mood. "Think about the movie, 'The Perfect Storm,' where the characters have all come to terms with their imminent demise and euphemistically joke around and ignore what is yet to come."

That sounds like fun. (See Claire Atkinson's coverage for Ad Age here.)

March 22, 2006

Don't believe the basketball hype
Despite what some would have you believe, March Madness is not bad for your business (especially if you're CBS). Slate's Jack Shafer hammers the press for swallowing gobs of economic bunk in the now-annual online-basketball-viewing-is-harming-worker-productivity-fest.

"[L]ost productivity estimates are almost always bogus, especially when they come from attention-seeking professionals who are in the business of increasing productivity. Challenger, Gray, & Christmas helps companies 'manage' plant closings, among other things."

Shafer also links to the Wall Street Journal's Carl Bialik, who laughs off the numbers and, in turn, links to the St. Louis Post Dispatch's David Nicklaus, who brings up the salient point that millions of American workers don't even have computer access at work.

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Australian politicians to clean up Web
Australian's Labour party is promising to set up the mother of all firewalls.

"Opposition Leader Kim Beazley said a Labor government would force internet service providers (ISPs) to block violent and pornographic material before it reached home computers."

As with many dunderheaded censorship ideas -- be they proposed by "liberal" or "conservative" -- this one is being done "for the children." Actually, the so-called clean-feed system, as long as it contains an opt-out clause (as promised), might be a decent compromise.

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The edge of technology
Moore's law posits that computer chips double in power every year and a half. … The Economist ponders a Moore's law for what we like to call shaving delivery systems, which for the moment seem to be outpacing computer chips.

"For the most cynical shavers, this evolution is mere marketing. Twin blades seemed plausible. Three were a bit unlikely. Four, ridiculous. And five seems beyond the pale. Few people, though, seem willing to bet that Gillette's five-bladed Fusion is the end of the road for razor-blade escalation."

Strange as it may seem, razors are a hot topic in the blogosphere and in the office. Go figure.

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Old school meets new
So where do you go if you want regularly updated thought about the printing industry? To a blog of course! This one is written by Joe Webb, founding partner of PrintForecast.com.

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