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

Eminently Quotable

These quotes carry amazing lessons…

“Advertising is a craft executed by people who aspire to be artists, but is assessed by those who aspire to be scientists. I cannot imagine any human relationship more perfectly designed to produce total mayhem.” John Ward

“Advertising did not invent the products or services which called forth jobs, nor inspire the pioneering courage that built factories and machinery to produce them. What advertising did was to stimulate ambition and desire – the craving to process, which is the strongest incentive to produce. Mass production made possible mass economies, reflected in declining prices, until the product that began as the luxury of the rich became the possession of every family that was willing to work.” Bruce Barton

Prada

“It used to be that people needed products to survive. Now products need people to survive.” Nicholas Johnson

“In marketing there are those who satisfy needs and those who create wants.” Juan Carlos Castillo

“The talent for discovering the unique and marketable characteristics of a product and service is a designer’s most valuable asset.” Primo Angeli

“Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum. The creative person looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport.” Robert Wieder

Clutter

“Genuine ignorance is profitable because it is likely to be accompanied by humility, curiosity and open-mindedness; whereas ability to repeat catch phrases, cant terms, familiar propositions, gives the conceit of learning and coats the mind with varnish waterproof to new ideas.” John Dewey

“Strategy is not a lengthy action plan – it is the evolution of a central idea through continually changing circumstances.” Von Clausewitz

“We tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing inefficiency and demoralization.” Petronious

“The universal current conviction that one deserves better, that one is employed beneath one’s station. Everyone dreaming of the higher job he or she has so richly merited, while botching the one he is lucky to have. And as the waiter dreams his dream of upward mobility, he spills the soup downward into your lap.” John Simon

Tie

 

It is Tough to Be Original

I have always wanted to be an investigative journalist and blow a story wide open. Something on par with Watergate would suffice. Then I really thought I had my own ‘Deep Throat’ in the form of Netflix. This provider of on-demand Internet streaming media distributes content that is an archival treasure trove of pop culture.

This is especially true in the eclectic and never-ending seasons of television shows it offers. As a subscriber you can toggle bewitched-cartoon-openingbetween Quantum Leap and Knight Rider and Fawlty Towers. Or you can enter the worlds of Dexter, American Dad, Lost, The Rockford Files, and McMillan & Wife. Not to mention Portlandia, Twin Peaks, Charlie’s Angels, and Breaking Bad.

There is even a little show called Mad Men. The charmer of critics and frequent award winner has legions of fans. These acolytes wait for Sunday nights to witness the shagging and drinking shenanigans of Don, Roger, Peggy, Pete, and Joan. Then they gather around the water cooler at work on Mondays to ask, “Did you see it?” Read more

Nonprofits Should Not Depress

Did you know that the World WildLife Fund’s mission is “to build a future in which people live in harmony with nature”? You probably did because over the last several years this organization has grown in influence and now touts 5 million supporters and 5,000 staff. It also appears to sport a serious advertising and awareness budget. The problem is everything it communicates is a problem. I do not care how clever the advertising is…the net result suggests that we humans are just awful and should feel extremely guilty.

The WWF’s current messaging is analogous to the famous Christian Children’s Fund now ChildFund. A few decades back their ubiquitous advertisements featuring sad, malnourished children with spokesperson Sally Struthers initially worked by raising awareness. But after a time they became preachy, judgemental, and downright depressing. People began to change the channel as their own problems took precedent or they became inured to the imagery and cause. Read more

‘Top-Drawer’ Business Books 2012

It is that time of year again when media is flooded with predictions for the coming year and retrospectives on the year ending. A related practice is to put together a ‘top ten’ or ‘best of category’ list.

Through the years, I have contributed “best” business and marketing book list for various websites and magazines. Those opportunities were flattering but I was never completely comfortable labelling any book “best”. So in recent years, I assemble my own annual list.

I call my book selections ‘Top-Drawer’. This tongue-in-cheek title is meant to describe books that are top-of-mind, notable, relevant, well written, practical, thought-provoking, and innovative. Many are ones you may not have connected directly with business and that is the ultimate benefit of this list.

Life is too short to drink cheap scotch – equally so there is precious little time to tolerate books that are not ‘Top-Drawer’. Last year 13 made the list while this year 12 did with one to look for that will be published on December 31. Enjoy and I look forward to feedback on the selections that follow in no particular order. Read more

Analyzing Mad Men

When Mad Men was in a long hiatus due to contract negotiations, I found substitute in a few of the books that have been written about the show. A standout is “Analyzing Mad Men: Critical Essays on the Television Series”. The book is comprised of twelve essays involving the context, politics, women, and nostalgia of Mad Men.

The series is the brainchild of Matthew Weiner and I learned it is based entirely on monitoring the effect of change. And though Mr. Weiner is clearly fascinated with the early sixties, the show is meant to parallel the changes experienced in this last decade. He is interested in knowing whether people in tumultuous times “recognize that change is going on?”

At its base level, the series centers on capitalism, clear roles regarding the sexes and races, and unchecked hedonism. Those topics make for a great soap opera but Mad Men’s appeal is in the search for deeper meaning and connection. All the struggles and conflicts that make up the storylines are predicated on a rejection of the status quo. Read more