The Superbowl Ad Tease

Once upon a time, like five years ago at this time, a good percentage of the anticipation and buildup surrounding Superbowl Sunday was reserved for the ads. They were never before seen, creative and surprising. They were an event within an event.. Outside of that, maybe an ad leaked here or an outtake was posted to YouTube there. It was a seldom used tactic a few years back.

Fast forward to this year, and it’s a completely different story. The entire lot seems to not only have been posted, picked apart, and in some cases pulled, but the roster has the full compliment of an expensive PR campaign behind it, with coverage in meta-outlets like AdWeek, but also making the rounds on the morning shows like Today and GMA, with omni-channel treatment providing coverage from their blog pages to expert interviews with Hoda and Kathie Lee.

Is it a slow news week, or did Superbowl Ad previewing just develop into a fully fledged news cycle? And why?

It’s curious at a minimum. I completely understand posting the spots to YouTube both for the producing agencies as well as the products. It’s a viable channel and the great ads, the hits, will get a lift in impressions and all the metrics that count. But I don’t buy the 48-hour post game window. Agencies are wringing the water out of the sponge before the event. It’s Pavlovian consumer behavior resulting from brands and agencies pre-roll activities that has rendered the interest window after the event so short. And it’s exactly because viewers have been beaten over the head with anticipation messaging for a month leading up to the game. That’s called exhausting.

So there may be benefits to releasing the spots ahead of the big event. There are also benefits to surprising and delighting the audience. Chrysler did this with it’s “Halftime in America” spot in 2012. No preview. Just great creative delivered to a huge audience.  And isn’t that the point –– to leverage the exclusivity of the world’s (nearly) biggest stage? Doesn’t that get diluted with the slow drip that is the advance coverage? Hasn’t this dis-incentivized the reluctant Superbowl viewer who “only watches for the ads anyway”?

I know NFL leadership hasn’t exactly been hitting out of the park lately, but if I’m in charge I’m writing it into the contract that spots are embargoed until the champagne bottles have gone pop. Capture the audience, don’t dilute your viewership.

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Personal Identity or Digital Profile?

Do you feel like a person, or a profile?

As the ad world increasingly embraces microtargeting, our individuality grows less defined by how we encounter culture, and more corrupted by how content is assigned to us.

This happens fast, via exchanges that sell our data via the cookies embedded in our Web browsers, and according to the places we spend time while online or using our mobiles devices. The innovation that is “real-time bidding” has certainly revolutionized the ad buy, and though it has its skeptics, it is being adopted by advertisers at a rapid click.

A recent feature in The New York Times Magazine provides a nice primer on the topic, with perspectives from both sides of the aisle. It’s clear to many that as technologies further enable life to mimic art (see the flip phone / StarTrek), we inch closer and closer to becoming one with our devices. Read up on Google’s plans for Glass the “augmented reality head mounted display” they unveiled last year.

As advertisers chase us around, and penetrate further and further into our personal lives via digital devices, the question of privacy becomes more than germane. Microtargeting serves ads to us based on where we’ve been before which creates an ever-narrowing conical experience if we’re not careful.

In the conclusion of the Times article, Eli Pariser, author of the book “The Filter Bubble”, puts it as such:

“Personalization can lead you down a road to a kind of informational determinism in which what you’ve clicked in the past determines what you see next – a Web history you’re doomed to repeat. You can get stuck in a static, ever-narrowing version of yourself – an endless you-loop.”

Time to turn off your cookies, kiddos.

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Peter the Great — Not So Great

Cruelty, in the form of a beard tax, at the hand of the state, is remembered here.

Let us never forget, and stand in solidarity with those who have the boldness required to stand up to the contemporary Peters.

Your beards will thank you.

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Diageo’s brave new world

Thanks to columnist Schumpter at The Economist, this week we’ve gotten an interesting peak into Diageo’s emerging markets strategy, complete with a Willy Wonka metaphor.

Due in part to home market saturation (no irony in using “saturation” in the drinks vertical), the beverage giant is exploiting markets in Africa and Asia with some interesting beverage innovations.

Asian expansion has relied mostly on luxury and exclusivity. But in Africa companies find a very different customer. The company has begun to rollout Snapp, a beer substitute targeted at women with growing disposable income in Africa.

Other innovations of note are Orijin, a fabricated “traditional” African juice beverage, and Senator Keg Lager, allegedly named after President Obama. Each targets the African market by emphasizing aspects that the harken African tradition and pride.

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Protest Beard

So, I’m growing a protest beard, to stand in solidarity with those who have suffered without power through the current summer heat wave.

As part of this effort, I decided that it would be apropos to take an analytical cross-section of facial hair in modern times. The attached story board outlines my preliminary efforts.

To wit.

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The Times China Desk

In a note to readers posted online yesterday, The New York Times announced to the world that it, like so many other multi-nationals, was going to China.

Not surprisingly, the China edition is web-based for now, and according to an article by Bloomberg,  it may stay that way.

At face, this looks like a smart new revenue play. Without the burden of print The Times China edition rather resembles a very high powered blog with an unparalleled pedigree.

Overhead for the new operation consists of local staff based in Hong Kong and Beijing, and some level of editorial oversight from Manhattan. No printing press.

The ad play is as obvious as the summer days are long – luxury goods and financial services. Pretty simple. Retailers are expanding into the region in droves, and they’ve already got Bloomingdales on board.

Seems like a strong start.

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Oh Canada

A colleague has provided me with this deft analysis of the Canadian provincial & geographic layout.

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Homero Aridjis on Walmart

In his op-ed in The New York Times today, former ambassador and poet Homero Aridjis sums up nicely the problem with corruption in Mexico.

He basically posits that corruption is so ingrained in the culture of Mexico that it should come as no surprise that a supposedly honest American company would engage in the practice to gain an advantage.

While not yet advocating for complacency, Aridjis wraps the piece up using the words of a former governor of Chihuahua, “If we put everyone who’s corrupt in jail, who will close the door?”

Well said.

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Classy Pop Up Ad for the James

Apologies for the snark, but if I’m not mistaken, the James cancer center is a reputable, first-class facility.

It is also an operation that people come to in times of great need, crisis and worry. If the people that need the James are lucky enough to come out the other end with a positive result, I would imagine it fosters a lifetime relationship of unbreakable trust and gratitude.

This pop up ad, appearing in one of the most inelegant servers of digital advertisements, The Columbus Dispatch, would make it seem that the media folks over at the James have a bit to learn about brand voice.

It’s a bit off.

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The Paradox of Walmart, Google and the FCPA

So, over the weekend, the New York Times published a report that tore a hole in Walmart de Mexico and its longstanding and continued commitment to bribery in Mexico.

The article surfaced seven years late, as the result of an internal whistle blower whose message was stifled at corporate HQ back in Bentonville in 2005. Though estimates vary, Walmart de Mexico is said to have spent something like $20 million in bribes in a short period of time, a large sum, mostly to secure permits for real estate and construction, in direct violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), then covered up by the C-suite. Right at the top.

Reverberations are running through stock market, and will continue to cut into Walmart for some time. Criminal charges may be brought at the executive level, and some analysts are already predicting trouble ahead, as much of Walmart’s growth strategy depends on expansion abroad. Suffice it to say that issues with FCPA compliance were not written into the last round of P&L projections.

Fast forward to Tuesday, where we find a report on the federal lobbying spending by some household names: Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple, to name a few. It would appear that Google has grown a target on its back, and has spent slightly more than $5 million on lobbying in D.C. in the first quarter of this year alone.

A large part of the issue in the Walmart de Mexico case is the executive suite’s comfort with ignoring a very serious, potentially damaging and well-documented problem. Surely they should have been more proactive when it was brought to light.

The lack of ethical judgment at the corporate level aside, there is also the issue of bribery itself. Google is spending at a rate that would amount to $20 million this year on federal lobbying activity in our nation’s capital. That money goes toward access, permissions and favorable legislative treatment. It’s a lot of grease, no matter whose palm we’re talking about.

It begs the question, when it comes to the FCPA, Walmart, or any other business operating abroad, is bribery considered illegal activity simply because it’s happening outside of U.S. borders? Or conversely, does the DOJ consider bribery legitimate when the transaction is contained domestically?

Bravo to the Times for consistently excellent reporting. It’s a vaguely satisfying, visceral reaction when we see a corporation like Walmart take a PR ding. However, the FCPA, as written, and now enforced with increasing zeal, is going to create a significant burden, even a competitive disadvantage, for U.S. companies doing business abroad, especially in countries where bribes are the norm.

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