Native Advertising 1959: Industrial Musicals

Ok, technically the industrial musicals of the 1950s, 60s and 70s weren’t advertising, per se. They were Broadway-style musicals scripted and scored to be performed once to a private audience of employees at annual sales meetings for companies such as Ford, Maidenform, American Standard, and others, featuring songs intended to ennoble the prosaic work of selling bras, typewriters, diesel engines or sneakers.

Industrial Musical

I highly recommend you carve out 45 minutes to listen to Terry Gross’s interview with song-writer Sheldon Harnick, actor-singer John Russell, and author Steve Young. You almost can’t believe how authentic these songs sound, until the lyrics register in your brain. Young, author of Everything’s Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals, introduces one tune, written for an Exxon event, as “a stirring bit of info-tainment about the petroleum industry” — and you’d think you’re listening to the theme song from that Disney film about Davy Crockett. Another, written for a Keds sales conference, promotes a new line of casual kids shoes to the tune of Old MacDonald, and literally makes Ms Gross snort on-air with laughter.

The lyrics are mostly atrocious. But what’s relevant to practitioners of modern native advertising is that everything else isn’t atrocious. The companies behind industrial musicals hired top talent from Broadway — dancers, actors, musicians, and song writers — and paid them to make catchy jingles that worked on audiences almost like the real thing. Sheldon Harnick made industrials, and he also wrote the songs for Fiddler on the Roof. Terry Gross admitted that one of the songs brought tears to her eyes, and Steve Young said (with some regret) that a song from Diesel Dazzle was stuck in his head, on and off, for twenty years.

Tell me you wouldn’t retweet a “very well done, very professional romantic ballad about a bathroom”?!

Proposed Taglines for US Postal Service

How cool would it be if the US Postal Service actually adopted one (or several) of these suggested taglines?!

Tucker Nichols Taglines for USPS

The above is an art piece by San Francisco artist (and a pal), Tucker Nichols. It ran as an Op-Art in the New York Times two years ago. (Don’t give me that look. What, you’ve never fallen behind on your reading?!)

All That Viral Goodness And Also On-Message: Intel Presents the Jack Andraka Story

Almost every time someone points me to a heartbreaking or hilarious commercial that’s tearing up the viral popularity charts, I laugh or cry and then ask myself what it had to do with the brand who sponsored it (for example). Or, worse, wonder who sponsored it. This Intel “Look Inside” spot bucks the trend.

Intel Look Inside

It captures an inspiring story of young man’s brilliant medical invention and connects it back to an innovative spirit that Intel wants us to associate with its brand, culture and products. For many years Intel asked us to look inside our laptops to make sure there was “Intel Inside” — a rational appeal to our inner IT Manager. Stories like Jack Andraka’s and the invitation (the dare?) to “Look Inside” ourselves is an appeal to our inner dreamers, and emotional arguments always kick butt over the rational ones.

Taco Bell Commercial from 2001 Featuring Jeff Bezos

I wonder how this came to be.

Sometimes We Need More Back-to-the-Future Advertising

I’m on a plane to New Jersey for my 25th high school reunion, which promises a cover band that will play both Billy Idol and Cyndi Lauper, and a slide show of pictures from when we all had mullets. Low-tech time travel! And earlier this week my kids and I watched the 1989 box office hit Back to the Future II, which features actual time travel. You may already be aware that the movie sends Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) into a distant future — 2015 — to meet his older self and that older self’s wayward children.

It’s always fun when we get the chance to catch up to imagined futures depicted in science fiction (or 80s comedies). In this case Robert Zemeckis et al totally blew it with the flying cars, hovering skateboards and the eighties-only-brighter outfits. But Doc’s pocket computer does look a lot like an iPhone, and I, for one, eat a lot of compressed, dehydrated foods (and our modern foil-wrapped energy bars don’t even require a rehydrating oven).

I also love vintage ads, mostly because of how silly they sound to contemporary ears. Like ads encouraging you to pour 7Up down your baby’s throat or doctors recommending Camel cigarettes. But every now and then you find a vintage ad that should still be in rotation, like this one from IBM (thanks, Kurt!):

IBM ad from the January 1985 issue of the Atlantic Monthly

IBM ad from the January 1985 issue of the Atlantic Monthly

From the modern-day Atlantic:

The January 1985 issue of The Atlantic Monthly offered its readers an assortment of wonders. A cover story on “Theaterphobia” — a moviegoer’s experience on Broadway — penned by one David Denby. A humor piece by Patricia Marx titled, cheekily, “Getting Along With Russians.” A literary take on the complexities of E.M. Forster, and of Degas, and of Matisse. And that was just the journalism. There were also the ads. Oh, such ads! Ads for cars (“there is a special feel in an Oldsmobile”). Ads for cigarettes (Marlboro/Merit/Carlton) featuring horses and bold claims regarding tar levels and, in one particularly awesome instance, a surly-looking sea captain. Ads for delights both physical (NordicTrak cross-country ski machine!) and intellectual (Book of the Month Club!).

Plus this ad from IBM promoting its investment in programs to increase the number of women studying and working in science, tech, engineering and math:

In the past ten years, IBM has supported more than 90 programs designed to strengthen women’s skills in these and other areas. This support includes small grants for pre-college programs in engineering, major grants for science programs at leading women’s colleges, and grants for doctoral fellowships in physics, computer science, mathematics, chemistry, engineering, and materials science.

According to IBM’s ad, 13.6% of math and science PhDs in early 1980s were women. I assume that counts all living PhDs at the time, not just graduates in a given year. Given the current stats that say 22% of engineering PhDs and 27% of math and computer science PhDs are award to women (see Inside Higher Ed), the numbers should be heading in the right direction, eventually. But, dang, that’s not exactly lightning-speed progress. And as the recent controversy over Twitter’s all-male board makes clear, the shortage of women in tech needs an explanation that goes beyond math. Perhaps boardrooms that include some women will invest more money in educational programs (and ad campaigns) that accelerate the pace of change.

Brilliant Native Advertising on the Cover of Print Magazine

Print Magazine fish cover

I spotted this in illustrator Wendy MacNaughton’s Instagram feed.

MacNaughton painted the cover art for a recent issue of Print Magazine: A big fish being held by a somewhat smaller fisherman. The cover includes the standard utilitarian elements of a newsstand magazine — the magazine’s title, the issue date, cover lines that tell you about articles inside — but most of the cover’s real estate is given over to MacNaughton’s artwork. It’s the art (or photography), after all, that draws our attention to a particular issue of a magazine. You might say art (or photography) is the native language of magazine covers.

If you’re an advertiser that pays a premium to place your ad on the back cover, then, you would be well advised to do whatever you can make your ad’s creative design as awesome as the artwork on the front cover.

Print Magazine with fish on cover

Or, in the case Shutterstock, the back-cover advertiser for this issue of Print, you might just let the artwork from the front cover spill right into your ad. Then, anyone who wants to enjoy the full Wendy MacNaughton fish illustration needs to open the magazine, turn it face down, and view at the front and back covers — including the Shutterstock message behind the fish’s tail — at the same time.

As the artist herself puts it, “bonus: we got the advertising to support the art. high five, print mag.”

The Advertising Effectiveness Matrix

This ad is awesome, right?

I mean, it’s a viral sensation that’s been viewed millions of times. And in a world where people skip 30-second TV spots and click on YouTube’s “Skip Ad” after 3 interminable seconds, it’s impressive to find yourself watching a 3-minute commercial to the end. But I find myself asking, was it a good commercial?

In a post on product design, Andrew Chen talks about the tradeoff between virality and alignment with your value proposition.

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 1.35.58 PM

It might be useful to plot ad creatives on a similar chart, but with the horizontal axis renamed “brand alignment.” So I had my infographics guy whip this up:

The Advertising Effectiveness Matrix

The Advertising Effectiveness Matrix

Every now and then a brand creates a commercial that tells its story and everyone is talking about it: Awesome. Examples might be Coke’s Mean Joe Green commercial from my youth (and I’m still talking about it, thirstily), or anything from Apple. They create emotional experiences we want to share with others, and they make us desire a product at the same time.

Most commercials fall short of that magic but they’re good enough to watch, and with some frequency they can do their job of luring us into the mouth of the purchase funnel. Car and cosmetics commercials generally land here; nothing much to talk about, but we’d all like to look like those handsome happy people on TV. It’s been working for decades, and it still works.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a 2-by-2 matrix that doesn’t have a lower left quadrant. To steal from Andrew Chen, it’s the land of WTF. When I see a commercial that I don’t want to talk about and I can’t remember who made it, I sort of feel bad. All that money and marketing-department optimism gone to waste. Look, it’s hard to make a great film, let alone a great one that can be told in half a minute and also highlights a product. Perhaps we should admire the brands that depart from the traditional promotional formula and flap their waxy wings toward a higher ambition, even if the heat of the sun sends them crashing down in the end.

But back to the Thai cellphone commercial above. The vertical axis is hardly tall enough to capture its viral success. But does the story make you want to switch your cellphone service to True Move H? Did you know it was a commercial from a cellphone company called True Move H? In my case, I was dabbing tears from my eyes for the few seconds during which their logo appeared on screen. No doubt True Move made a great short film, but if I consider it a marketing tool, I’d place in the upper left quadrant: (Un)Branded Entertainment that fails as an advertisement.

2013 US Advertising Growth Includes Print Magazines Too

According to new data from Kantar Media, US advertising spending for Q2 2013 is up 3.5% over the same period in 2012, to $35.8 billion. Cable TV made the greatest gains, up 14.9%, and Spanish-language TV was up 6.1%. On the other side of roster, newspaper advertising is down 4.3%.

September Magazine Issues

The most interesting news to me, though, is the section on print magazines. Ad revenues for consumer magazines are up 1.9%, although (if you want to quibble over the details) they sold fewer ad pages than last year, each one at a higher average rate. And Sunday magazines, the magazines inside newspapers, grew ad revenues by 4.1% — the same rate by which Internet display ad revenue grew.

Digging into individual titles shows more signs of vitality. The September issue of Vogue is the fattest since 2008 — 665 pages of ads — and the September Elle just broke the record for highest page count ever for a Hearst publication. W, Bon Appetit, Allure, Teen Vogue and Glamour all had their best Septembers since the 2008 financial crisis. The Atlantic, with its diversified approach across print, digital and events, is on a tear.

Who’d a thunk it?

This Year’s Yom Kippur Break Fast, Brought to You by Pork

Yom Kippur Sponsored by Pork

My friend Alex was surprised to learn that a buddy’s Yom Kippur Break Fast this year is apparently “sponsored by Pork.” At least that’s what it says on the banner ad Evite placed on the RSVP page. As my mother-in-law always says, you have to keep an eye on those reformed Jews.

Facebook Ads, Now With Better Photos

Yesterday Facebook announced on its blog a new deal with Shutterstock that will give its advertisers access to millions of stock photos for use in Facebook ads. If that means I’ll never see Larry Ellison’s mug on my wall again, that would be fantastic.

Facebook Ads

The real issue Facebook wants to solve is advertiser performance. As Lauren Hockenson puts it in her GigaOM post:

We all dislike ads on (the right hand side of) our Facebook pages. Some of that dislike comes from them being just plain ugly and poorly retargeted. It is hardly a surprise that the click-through rates on these low-cost ads are abysmal. A study by AdRoll last year showed that traditional ad-retargeting nabs 40% more clicks than a Facebook ad.

If the Shutterstock deal leads to more visually inviting ads and Facebook users look at them and click on them more frequently, advertisers (and Facebook shareholders) will be thrilled.

Such a smart idea that you could almost call it obvious. Back in March, Facebook redesigned its News Feed to present larger photos, because, according to Facebook executives, 50% of News Feed posts are photos (March 2013), up from 20% a year earlier (November 2011). An acknowledgement, in other words, that photos are the universal language of Facebook. Maybe I’m asking too much to expect Facebook to give a photo-facelift to their ad products simultaneously with a similar upgrade other user features on the site. Maybe they need to stagger changes of this magnitude, and improving the ad products only a half a year after upgrading the News Feed is pretty good.

But I can’t help reading something larger into this. Part of the reason online ads stink — annoying consumers and disappointing advertisers — is that digital media companies treat advertising as an after-thought. The prevailing wisdom is: Launch the product, iterated until it’s awesome, and then build a giant audience. If all of that goes as planned, you can tack on some ads later. How do ads stand a chance of working (for consumers or for brands) if, on they day they launch, we already hate them simply because they’ve stolen pixels that yesterday were used to delight us with content or service that made the product awesome?