Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Art vs Advertising: What Fluid Hair Salon didn't know...

The uproar has been deafening. People's social media feeds have been flooded by the debacle. Fluid Salon in Edmonton produced the above ad, and it has caught the eyes and ires of people across the country.

I don't need to discuss whether the ad was good or bad, appropriate or not. The people have already spoken on that one. You can see the creators' defenses here and here and Ryan Jespersen's incredibly well written response here. There have been a number of PR professionals who have used this as an opportunity to share conflict management strategies. (Namely, accept that people got offended, apologize and make good. Simple. Reminds me of another mess with an Edmonton actor at last year's Fringe festival.) There has also been a lot of anger.

The ad has been defended as art. That there is perhaps more going on than the obvious interpretation. But there's a problem with that. There's a logo. There's a tagline. It's not art, it's advertising. Although I believe that there is artistry in creating ads, advertising and art are not interchangeable words.

I'm not going to try to define "art." Philosophers have been struggling with that one for centuries. But I am going to distinguish it from advertising.

Art is meant to be dissected. Discussed. Unpacked. Pondered. Ruminated upon. Advertising is meant to be instantly meaningful. Straightforward. The smart advertisers tap into the skills of excellent creatives to manufacture powerful images. Images that tell compelling stories in as short and efficient a time as possible. Stories in seconds. No time to look for hidden meanings below the surface. An ad can make you think, but the first conclusion people come to had damn well better be the right one or you're sunk. What you get at first look needs to be the intent of the ad.

A first look at the Fluid ad is pretty clear. "Abuse is fine as long as you look good, and we'll help you look good." That's it. And that's all anyone can be expected to take away from it because it's an advertisement.

All ads operate a certain way, whether they are effective or not. An ad conveys a businesses beliefs and values, and promises an emotional benefit. Ads are supposed to resonate with those who share those values and beliefs, and who crave that emotional benefit. What does the Fluid ad say about what the salon values? What is the emotional benefit promised by this ad?

Jef I. Richards, an advertising professor, made an interesting distinction when he said, "Creative without strategy is called 'art.' Creative with strategy is called 'advertising.'" One has to ask Fluid what their strategy was. I think they didn't have a solid one, and are now suffering the backlash.

An excellent post by Fiona Farrell of Donovan Creative draws attention to the fact that ads are also a request for business. Fluid wants your money. That's fair, every business that places an ad wants the same thing. But by using domestic violence to ask for it, they imply that they believe domestic violence is a way to get your money.

I know that's not what they were trying to do. But advertising isn't about intent. It's about effect. The road to hell, you know. And there's a lot of amateur creatives at the end of that road.

This is your brand people. Your identity. What you are asking people to believe of you. Your brand is the emotional mythology of your company. There are some messed up emotions tied into that ad. And the biggest surprise? The people most likely to be offended by the image are the heart of Fluid's target market.

I don't think any of them knew that the target would be their right eye.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Captain Morgan Spiced Rum campaign, and why it's never gonna work...

Give the gang at Diageo credit, the concept behind the 'Captain and Cola' campaign is subtle and clever. It shows an ambitious strategy and the potential to greatly increase their market distribution.

Too bad it will never work...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fringe Festival Handbilling as Marketing 101

Copyright Pixelens Photography

It's amazing really. I watch people handbilling on the grounds of the Edmonton Fringe Festival and I see a microcosm of all things marketing. Sure, it makes sense. People doing shows have a product and they are trying to find a consumer to pay for that product. But the number of basic advertising tenets that manifest themselves in these many transactions, both good an bad, continues to amaze me.

I know a bunch of people who hate handbilling. Mostly because they hate interrupting someone to thrust an unwelcome, uninvited advertising message upon them. Which is a good reaction to have. Because people hate to have unwelcome, uninvited advertising messages thrust upon them.

Read on to see just a few of the marketing lessons that can be gleaned from watching an earnest actor simply trying to plug their show.

Friday, March 18, 2011

What Starbucks Did Wrong With Their New Logo

Starbucks officially launched their new logo last week. Stores were running out of stock with the old logos and had to 'hold on' until 'new logo day' to replenish their stores. It looks like the official launch day was relatively uneventful. But of course, that's because the ruckus had already occurred a few months ago when Starbucks announced their new logo. People were shocked, outraged, even though the logo wasn't drastically changed from its previous incarnation:

Some even went so far as to ask where the idea for "the mermaid" came from, even though you can see the siren has been a part of the logo since the beginning. So why all the fuss? Why the complaints? Sure, it wasn't the backlash that Gap experienced, but it was definitely there. Why were people so put out about a change to the logo?

Because, Starbucks forgot their own brand promise.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Beauty Scars

Aesthetics of Surgical Scars by Jackson McConnell

The next time you're walking through Enterprise Square in downtown Edmonton, check this out. In fact, make it a special trip. There's a display from a design class called The Aesthetics of Disability. It's a fascinating display of ideas about "rethinking ... the aesthetic direction and qualities [of] an assistive device..." Every time I walk through the square, this picture catches my eye. The entire display is excellent, showing all sorts of futuristic prosthetics that embrace technology and aesthetic design, but this one really seems to crystallize the core idea which I believe is at the heart of this exhibit, and is an idea we all need to embrace.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Treading Carefully Between Faith and Reason

© Loca Luna

Okay, here’s the caveat right out of the gates: I am exploring this issue to generate discussion. There is no judgment here. In fact, any comments on this post will be moderated viciously to make sure there is nothing inflammatory posted. I just think this bears open-minded, intelligent, honest, rational discussion. And an important note: In this discussion, when I use the word ‘faith’ I am not referring solely to religious belief. It’s also political or philosophical ideals. Even psychological. However, the religious argument is the biggest lightening rod for this discussion.

Still slightly fuelled by my last post and the discussion on it, and going through the Critical Thinking course, I stumbled upon a hot-button point. An obstacle to proper critical thought is the ‘blind faith’ paradigm, “It just simply is that way.” In a discussion analyzing truth and ‘how things work’ we are often driven, even subconsciously, to believe things on a gut level that can be proven to be wrong. But we are usually afraid to let go of our ideas, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Possibly because they resonate so strongly within us. Possibly because we are afraid to have a strongly held belief that could be wrong – a factor which only increases as we get older and thus more ‘experienced’ in the ways of the world. As was discussed in my last post, it takes a rare sort of bravery to expose our ideals to critical thought with a willingness to change them if they are proven to be incomplete or unsubstantiated.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Perhaps None Of Us Are As Smart As We Think We Are

© Jonathan Gill

So, I'm taking a 'Critical Thinking' course right now. Yes, it's apparently a skill that needs to be taught. And yet, maybe it's not so apparent. Everyone wants to believe that they are critical thinkers. We all have strongly held opinions and we stand behind them, but it seems we need to be taught how to be critical about our own thinking. It's a great question to ask. Am I a critical thinker? If I have a strongly held belief, will I change it if I am presented with irrefutable evidence to the contrary? Few of us will. We are experts at justification and rationalization. We can create amazing arguements for our case, but are they credible? Do we have the bravery to change our views if necessary?

If we ever want to change the world, we will all have to become a lot braver.