Monday, December 28, 2009

So, do you want customers or not?

All of the stores in the mall I work behind started opening at 8am during Christmas week. The change in hours, however, was a secret: there were no signs posted anywhere I could see that announced the change. In previous years the exterior entrances all had posted schedules of December changes in hours, but there weren't any this year.

Do they want customers or not? The tenants might want them, but they aren't getting much help from the mall management.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Selling the sizzle, or selling burlap bags

The latest company to purchase all of the advertising space at the Embarcadero BART station is the often-reviled fast-food chain whose coffee surprisingly was rated highest by a rating agency a few years back. Let's paraphrase an acting expression and call it the Scottish restaurant.

Also doing some advertising these days is the leading purveyor of brewed coffee, whose patrons' daily purchases are frequently an example of things to forego in articles suggesting ways to economize. Let's call that chain Celestial Dollars. I've seen one of their billboards at a BART station I rarely go to, and some print ads.

The Scottish restaurant's billboards blanketing the Embarcadero station have a perky orange/yellow bacground; half have snappy sayings along the lines of (I never wake up enough in my morning commute to write down the ads) "brewed just around the corner," "less than half the fare to Orinda" --- a nice acknowledgment of where the billboards are --, and a few others I can't remember. Every other billboard has those lines, on the perky background; the others have up-close views of a the coffee drinks ---- oooh, foam; ooooh, whipped cream and chocolate. As the old saying goes, advertising isn't selling a steak, it's selling the sizzle. The Scottish restaurant seems to be doing a good job of selling, if not the sizzle, then the aroma of coffee.

Celestial Dollars, on the other hand, has its billboard (the one I've seen) and its print ads (I've seen more than one) with text on a burlap bag. The color is a burlapy-brown. There are no photos of coffee products. The texts are either annoying (something about some drink is "like an adult blanky" --- excuse me Celestial, that's WAY too sweet for me) or bland (something about their buyers go everywhere to purchase coffee beans; something that suggests they have high social concerns for those who grow the beans -- true enough for the fair-traded coffee beans it uses, but those aren't the only coffee beans, as I understand it.) Overall the ads are bland. No sizzle; either cutesiness, or an appeal to conscience.

Maybe the blandness of the ads reflects the fact Celestial Dollars hasn't had to advertise much up to now. Presumably this step into advertising reflects the fact that some patrons are listening to those articles on how to save money, and are either switching to the Scottish restaurant, or just plain skipping the chance to not just buy an expensive coffee drink, but to personally micro-manage each ingredient in the drink at Celestial Dollars. For whatever reason, the company is now advertising, but not selling much of a sizzle. I suspect I am not the only person who doesn't salivate at the picture of a burlap bag. Now, coffee with whipped cream and chocolate -- that's another thing entirely.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Checking for children?

The other day I received one of those junk-mail envelopes in the mail that has lots of different ads, more or less focusing on my area. They occasionally have a coupon or two I can use, or can save with the intent to use, so as usual I flipped through all of the ads.

While I don't need to buy any checks right now, the illustrations in the ad from a company that sells checks caught my eye. What caught it were child-friendly designs that took up most of the first and second pages, and a lot of the third. The first page was awash with checks featuring Disney characters -- Pooh and friends; Disney princesses (the ensemble phrase now used for Cinderella, Snow White, Pocahontas, the Beauty with or without the Beast, maybe Sleeping Beauty and the little Mermaid -- I'm not sure;) Mickey and friends, etc; also from whoever produced Daffy Duck and friends; also, for some reason, the Ratatouille rat (I thought that movie hadn't been a very big hit); Betty Boop; and I forget all the others. The other pages were heavy on cutesy little girls, angels, cherubs, etc.

My immediate reaction was to wonder just how many children (mostly, girls) have checking accounts. I must have been avoiding doing some sort of work at home as I kept staring at the illustrations, which showed one design per set on a simulated check, complete with printed name and address. What caught my attention next was that all of the checks in the flyer had the same name, something like George and Mary Smith.

This led, of course, to musings on George pulling out his checkbook to pay for a round of beers with his buddies, and there, for all to see, is a wonderful illustration of one of the Disney princesses on his check. Hmmmmmmm.

I looked through all the sample designs to see what was most macho, and found very few: some Harleys (lots of women ride them too); some macho kids designs (Transformers, Spiderman, Batman); and some rustic outhouses. Maybe there were a few with US flags, US military insignia, and bald eagles, but for the most part, things vaguely male in orientation were vastly outnumbered by all the girlish ones.

I've been mulling over the ad ever since I saw it -- and have meanwhile seen shorter ones in other mailers and in the Sunday advertising supplements, and they, too, all seem rather heavy on princesses, etc. Do men buy these designs? Do they use these designs if purchased by the female half of the printed name? Do these companies know what they are doing? Since I feel vaguely through the looking glass, shouldn't there be checks with Alice in Wonderland?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Woodstock and Warrior Potatoes

Two of the advertising inserts in yesterday's Sunday newspaper had some entertaining stuff.

The insert for the suburban big box store whose name is often pronounced with a French accent had a two-page spread for "Woodstock Exclusives" to "celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival ...." You, too, can now have the Woodstock logo (dove on guitar fret, with one human hand holding down some of the strings) on paper plates or napkins! Or a reversible picnic blanket, solid orange on one side, with a (non-psychedelic) repeating pattern of "3 days of peace and music" on the other side.

The "3 days" slogan is also on plastic tumblers and on some tees. However, in the upper left corner of the two-page spread is a bumper-sticker shaped box, with "Woodstock" and the trademarked logo on one line, followed by "Forty years of peace, love and music" on the second line. Presumably love was left out of the items for sale by the big-box store because someone recognized that in the Woodstock context love was the S in S, D, and R&R description of the sixties (here tactfully not spelled out.)

Meanwhile, in another ad from a big-box store that has a letter of the alphabet preceding "Mart"as its name, there was a two-page spread for Transformers tie-ins from the movie. All in dark colors, except, down in the lower right corner, there was a bright yellow figure, described as "Mr. Potato Head Bumble Spud Taterobt. No ordinary fries, these are POTATOES IN DISGUISE! tm." Only $8.99: I found this so funny I might go buy one. To heck with peace and love.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wink wink, nudge nudge

A billboard on the SF Muni platform at the Embarcadero Station shows that one company knows some slang -- or has an ad agency that does. The ad is for combined cable and phone services, and says, as far as I can remember: "Check out our package. You know you want to," followed by something like "Proud to celebrate SF Pride." That's the clue as to the slang.

It resonates nicely with the one two billboards away touting solar panels, with something along the lines of "Stimulus packages on the roof." That wasn't intended to be slang, but now seems to be.

Sometime it pays to be semi-awake during ones commute.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

I love old dictionaries

Jessamyn West has some interesting comments on ALA's new Connect site:

I added a comment to her post, and felt that I needed to check the spelling of "unfortunately," one of the words in my comment. I used a nifty 1934 edition of Webster's New International Dictionary, unabridged, near the reference desk, and on the way to "unfortunately" I ran across "unforeskinned." Yes, it means circumcised.

Dictionaries: so much fun for simple minds.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

An Extraterrestial Rosetta Stone?

Rosetta Stone is a company that sells foreign-language courses in a box -- probably on CDs, maybe on DVD. The only print ad I've seen shows a teenage boy in jeans, a white tee shirt, and a baseball-style cap, against a backdrop of a field. He's holding a Rosetta Stone box, settling his cap firmly on his head, and looking determined. The caption says something along the lines of "He's a hard-working farm boy. She's an Italian super-model. He knows he has just one chance to impress her." I find the ad both funny and sweet -- and sort of wonder about the back story: just where is he going to meet her? How did he find out about her?

Being without a tv, I only recently saw a tv ad for the same product while channel surfing during a motel stay. The tv version of the ad lacked the story line, but instead had a surprise in its list of customers: along with the US State Department (that makes sense) and the Department of Defense (that also makes sense,) there was also NASA.

NASA? Do the available languages include some extraterrestial ones? Let's try a print ad on that one: He's only a dedicated astronaut from planet Earth; she's a Venusian princess with 12 arms. He knows he has just one chance to impress her before being mauled to death by Venusian sabre dogs."

I love advertising.