The Evolution of the TV Tray Table

Remember those gaudily decorated, cheap metal fold-out trays? With the advent of a television in every home in the 1950’s, families soon needed a way to hold food and beverage items while watching one of the three available channels. The TV tray table quickly became a must-have. Their IMG_2165design and ubiquity make them an undeniable pop culture icon.

So what came first the TV tray table or the TV dinner? National advertising for TV tray tables first appeared in 1952. Two years later, C.A. Swanson & Sons introduced the frozen TV dinner, marketing it as an easy-to-prepare, fun-to-eat meal, with a disposable tray that reduced clean-up time. The TV dinner tapped into excitement over television and the tray table was there to literally lend support. By 1960, nearly 90% of American homes had a television and a similar percentage had a TV tray table set.

My family had one. There is a pretty good chance you had a set too. They were loyal little things. We know Walter Frederick Morrison invented the Frisbee, Gregory Goodwin Pincus devised the oral contraceptive pill, Bette IMG_2164Nesmith Graham came up with Liquid Paper, Richard T. James brought us the Slinky, and William Greatbatch tinkered until he had the pacemaker. Sadly, the inventor of the TV tray table has never been credited.

The original models consisted of a metal tray with grips mounted underneath and a set of tubular metal legs with rubberized tips. The grips secured the legs, which could be opened up to support the tray, or collapsed for storage. When not in use the four trays were housed in a rack out of the way but always within reach.

TV tray tables are retro because for a time it seemed that they had entirely disappeared. That is, unless you happened across them in an aging family member’s home or at a garage sale where they stood like sad sentinels next to dusty wooden golf clubs and rusty gym weights. The fact is they never went IMG_2162away.

I am here to tell you that they evolved. In fact, when I set out to write this I contemplated calling it, “The Return of the TV Tray Table”, but that is inaccurate. They can be found in homes everywhere albeit in slightly modified, more progressive forms. These helpful friends are examples of furniture Darwinism in the home.

Early tray patterns included nature scenes, food illustrations, and later even television characters. The look of the trays emulated aesthetic trends of the day. See, they were always adapting. The original tray tables are still made today, some in retro styles mimicking the IMG_2158old ones. Others now come in sleek metal and wood modernist constructions.

The trays are marketed not only as platforms for food but as side tables, desks, and beverage trays. The recent retro fascination with repurposing and reusing items from yesteryear extends to the TV tray. They are popular particularly in small living spaces given they can be tucked away. In this era of Netflix binge TV watching and continuous Internet connection, more and more meals are being consumed in front of a screen. This may be sad for society but guarantees a long life for the TV tray table in all its incarnations.

Brand Invasion

The force that was the British Invasion had never been experienced before nor has there been anything like it since. It has been examined for its musical influence which was considerable. Supporting the talents of these bands was marketing. There is much to learn from how these bands deliberately and accidentally built their brands. So line up for this magical marketing tour. You can download the paper (SC_BrandInvasion) or read it below.

Brand Invasion

Marketing Lessons from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks, and the Animals

In 1965, The Rolling Stones released (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. According to Keith Richards he started the song on March 6th of that year which happens to be the day I was born. The band was on tour in America at the time. “I’d woken up in the middle of the night, thought of the riff, and put it straight down on a cassette. In the morning, I still thought it sounded pretty good. I played it to Mick and said, ‘The words that go with this are: ‘I can’t get no satisfaction.’ That was RS1just a working title. … I never thought it was anything like commercial enough to be a single.”

The song attracted attention for its implied, risqué content but I always enjoyed the knocks it made against the media, advertising, consumer culture, and materialism. In the lyrics, the radio broadcasts “more and more about some useless information” while the television advertisements tease with personal improvement and brand status: “how white my shirts can be – but he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke the same cigarettes as me.”

With great irony this stand against materialism launched the Rolling Stones and grew their collective bank account. Along with the Beatles, the Who, the Kinks, and the Animals, they produced timeless songs that continue to attract and keep fans. Make no mistake, these bands are brands and music is their product. If you think they did what they did solely for artistic or altruistic reasons you would be wrong.

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You Get What You Pay For: Why Logo Contests Disappoint

The latest example in a long line of backlashes against logo contests is making waves, or in this case, shaking leaves. This one comes from the Government of Canada who invited submissions to mark the 150th anniversary celebrations of the country. The winning design is a multi-coloured, pointed maple leaf shape that has produced interesting criticism.

It is not because the leaf is a safe, smart bet given it is an image that Canada “owns” along with Mounties, beavers and canoes rather the disapproval comes from the professional design community. The Graphic Designers of Canada, the national body that certifies graphic and communication designers, released an open letter criticizing the government and specifically Canadian Heritage who championed the contest. Their chief concerns involve exploitation and the government’s inability to recognize the value of good design.

 

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Looking Back on Mad Men

Our paper originally appeared in The Agency Post, Marketing, and Sparksheet. It was also featured on Flipboard in Advertising.

As the last season winds down, Mad Men is being examined for its impact on television and its reflection of society both in the period it is set and our current day. We invite you to enjoy this work which is rife with observations, insights and images that will delight fans of the show, pop culturists, history buffs, along with all those who enjoy marketing and advertising.

Get it here … SC_LookingBackonMadMen

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Under the Influence: Getting Hammered on Alcohol Ads

The beer, wine and spirits industry is one of the most active when it comes to brand-building and advertising. From Absolut to Bud, the industry has produced many of the most iconic ads. They have also been smart and creative when it comes to efforts more “guerilla” in nature. This may date 6a00d83451ccbc69e2013485862140970cback to the late 19th Century when Pyotr Smirnov hired groups of people to theatrically demand his vodka in their local bars.

Over a hundred years later, Smirnoff Vodka teamed up with Wieden + Kennedy to create an urban art project in Sao Paulo. Local artists painted highly stylized and artistic graffiti on buildings across the city. The art was only visible at night under black light that were activated at random to illuminate the creations. In 2012, Absolut Vodka created 4,000,000 uniquely decorated bottles each featuring artwork created with splash guns, 38 colors and 51 pattern types. Absolut estimated it would take 94 quintillion bottles before two similar ones were ever created.

The industry has always been a big spender in advertising. Now a study from The University of Texas on the impact of alcohol advertising raises interesting questions. Researchers found that alcohol ads have increased an amazing 400% over the last 40 years. However, people are not drinking any more. It seems that the advertising spend works only in driving choice, not increased consumption. For society’s sake that is probably a good thing but absolut_warhol_by_lorddavid04for advertising effectiveness it suggests less may be more.

The report is blunt, “Relating these findings to previous research reveals a consistency in that there is either no relationship or a weak one between advertising and aggregate sales. Over this time period, beer sales have exhibited a downward trend since the early 1990s, while wine and liquor have increased their share of total alcohol sales. This is despite large increases in advertising expenditures across all three categories of alcohol.”

This helps support the argument that ads cannot be blamed for over drinking. However, there is one demographic where the industry must be aware of its influence. A study released this year in the journal JAMA Pediatrics shows that alcohol advertising that reaches children and young adults helps lead them to drink for the first time or, if they’re your_dad_was_not_a_metrosexualexperienced underage drinkers, to drink more. “It’s very strong evidence that underage drinkers are not only exposed to the television advertising, but they also assimilate the messages,” says James D. Sargent, MD, study author and professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine. “That process moves them forward in their drinking behavior.”

The industry is under constant scrutiny and faces calls for reforms related to their marketing
efforts like tobacco before it. Recent concerns have covered the targeting of women and adolescent African-Americans. Yet with no evidence of increased consumption, where ads have a role is in brand preference by informing consumers of competitive information such as pricing and availability. This is helpful not evil.

It seems that established brands should be sharing and creating dialogue around more tactical benefit messages rather than broad positioning. Both consumer and the industry have to be responsible when it comes to alcohol. A big part of that is being better informed which was why advertising was invented in the first place.

Related Content: Swystun Communications’ report on Wine Branding.

Spam’s Last Marketing Frontier

What do you think of when you hear the word “Spam”? And let me clarify that I am talking about the tinned variety. We will get to intrusive communications in due course. For most of Spam’s 78-year history, the product has been disparaged and dismissed as inedible and “Something Posing As Meat” or “Scientifically Processed Animal Matter”. Yet, more than eight billion cans have been sold since Hormel launched the product in 1937.

Americans buy 113 million cans of Spam annually. This means 3.8 cans are consumed every canssecond in the United States. To keep up with demand, the slaughterhouse next to the Hormel plant in Austin, Minnesota butchers 20,000 pigs a day. So how can we reconcile what is bashed so publicly with what is bought in such mass amounts?

Spam was successful out of the gate having grabbed 18% market share in its first year of sales. By 1940, over 70% of Americans had tried Spam which on any measure is incredible. This was largely attributed to an economy still suffering from the Depression and it began Spam’s longstanding association with low-cost and frugality. Sales still spike when times are tough.

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Not So Brand New: 4 Marketing Tactics from History

I have had great fun writing a book called Needs & Wants: A Popular History of Marketing. It is in the hands of my agent and if all goes well will soon be in your hands when we find a willing publisher. The research was fascinating and I discovered that marketing could give prostitution a run for its money as the world’s oldest profession. Here are a few tidbits that go back in time and are entertaining and informative.

AAAAA Towing

Good thing this is a bit of history piece as I will date myself by referencing the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. In the story the characters end up at the A1-EZ OK Parking Garage. Even back then, before my career in marketing, I laughed at the cheesy name. The “A1” bit is worth exploring. Of course, there is the famous A1 Steak Sauce with A1 suggesting it was “the best”. However, I suspect the fictional garage chose A1 to also claim good real estate in the paper version of Google.

For decades the Yellow Pages provided consumers with the information on where to find what. It became a well-known tactic for businesses to pick a name that would put them at the front of the listings in their category. This started as early as the 1890’s. That is why there were (and surprisingly still are) so many AAA or AAAA or AAAAA garages and towing companies. I did a test on Google and found a few businesses that used eight A’s like AAAAAAAA Towing (located in New York). This remains a popular tactic for storage businesses to this day.1934-elinor-smith-200

Finger-Lickin’ Good!

Slogans, straplines and taglines have been around so long and are used so frequently that we have forgotten their long lineage. “Good to the Last Drop”, “Breakfast of Champions” and “King of Beverages” all go back nearly one hundred years helping promote and sell Maxwell House, Wheaties and Dr. Pepper. Ivory Soap’s “99 & 44/100% Pure” and Morton’s Salt “When it Rains, It Pours” go back even further.

Short attention spans have long been an issue in marketing. The slogan is a tactic used to be memorable, smart and entertaining. Some historians argue they got their start in politics pointing to Karl Marx’s “Workers of the world, unite!” and “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too” from the 1840 U.S. Presidential campaign. Slogans are actually memes, a much desired force in modern marketing, and can also be melodies and catch-phrases.

Mr. Clean, Mr. Clean

It is unclear if Barry Manilow knew his Band-Aid jingle would become so memorable and an undeniable bit of pop culture. “I am stuck on Band-Aid brand ’cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me!” was known by parents and children alike. I love the second line that actually mentions brand, “I am stuck on Band-Aid brand ’cause germs don’t stick on me!”

The jingle goes all the way back to medieval times with minstrels first penning and singing odes to the bravery and prowess of knights. They soon applied their skills to products at fairs and markets. The introduction of the radio accelerated and broadened the use of jingles in the early 20th Century. The Oscar Mayer wiener song, 2657036188_1c796f0eceKitKat’s “Gimme a Break”, and Wrigley’s Doublemint gum “Double Your Pleasure” all possess amazing recall and generate fond nostalgia. The one that sticks with me is the Mr. Clean jingle. It actually debuted in 1958 and is the longest-running product tune on television.

Coke Versus Pepsi

The cola wars made famous the blind taste test but the tactic goes back to ancient times. For centuries merchants have been providing samples and when they wanted to overcome all objections resoundingly they would pit their product against competitors. This took place in Greek markets for wine and oils, America’s old west between competing elixirs, and most visibly in 1975 when Pepsi first challenged Coke cementing the longstanding rivalry.

Single, double and triple blind experiments are now used in consumer behavior studies to help launch and promote brands. These go beyond the blind and include studies like putting an inferior peanut butter in the jar of well-known brand and the well-known brand in a plain jar. Researchers then ask participants in the study to try both and identify which is better. The brand is so powerful that overwhelmingly people pick the branded jar with the inferior product.

If you take the time to investigate marketing’s history as I have you will discover that there is very little new in the practice. Smart marketers need to draw on history and continually make relevant the valuable lessons the past provides.

The Sanctity of the Bookstore

We have a soft spot for bookstore marketing and advertising. Perhaps because they are becoming an endangered species. Here are two campaigns from Barnes & Noble. The first one, which we prefer, leverages the fact that one can get lost in a book. The second attempts to address the sanctity and benefits of the physical bookstore but is less resonant.

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Authors with Marketing Roots

Many famous authors got their start writing copy for ad agencies, positioning products and services, and finding ways to convince consumers to try and buy. Branding and marketing has always been about storytelling. It is a compelling narrative that first links consumer and brand. The ability to spin a yarn with credibility is an admirable talent that few possess. Among now-famous-authors who got their start promoting brands are:

Salman Rushdie

An Ogilvy & Mather alum who penned the Daily Mirror’s tagline, “Look into the Mirror tomorrow—you’ll like what you see.” He also produced “Naughty. But nice.” for a cream cakes company and “Irresistibubble” for Aero, which remains the candy-bar’s slogan in certain markets.

standardoilTheodore Seuss Geisel A.K.A Dr. Seuss

The famous children’s author and illustrator drew and wrote for brands far before ‘green eggs and ham’. Beer companies received his unique treatment and soon Ford, NBC, GE, Flit, and Standard Oil were among his clients. The “Moto-raspus” for Essolube five star motor oil is immediately recognizable as a Dr. Seuss creation as are the boys in this 1932 ad for Standard Oil. Read more