Friday, March 16, 2007

The tangled web we weave.


With great power comes great responsibility, so said Spiderman. But apparently certain craven elements of the marketing community were watching Goldmember that year, because the idea of responsibility in this game seems to be disappearing like the polar ice caps. This week, three more examples landed on my desk with a damp thud, leaving me in a mood to rant.

It began with a story in Ad Age about how Jeep is going to oh-so-cleverly delegate the creation of its next ad campaign to consumers, just the latest in a string of brands resorting to this bit of marketing seppuku. Inspired by Time, who sweetly informed us that we were all the Person of the Year, Ad Age followed suit, breathlessly making the consumer the Agency of the Year. Then, brand by brand, marketing people, glassy-eyed from watching too much YouTube, decided that if the vox populi was really that smart, maybe it should do its own damn ads. Well, that’s just a super idea. Why don’t we confirm their suspicion that advertising is hokum, and so devoid of meaning that anyone can do it. Why don’t we silence the voices of our own brands and surrender advertising to the compost heap of pop culture. It’s bad enough that ad people believe that if consumers are laughing at our brands they’ll buy our products. Now, we’re going to invite them to laugh at each other. Ask Star Wars Kid how that worked out for him.

Next came a piece in the New York Times about how the Association of National Advertisers was going to demand that broadcasters develop ratings for individual television commercials, the way they do for programming. Because, you see, if people don’t watch the ads, the advertisers don’t want to pay as much for running them. Um, okay. I always thought it was the job of the ads’ creators to make commercials worth watching. But I guess if the consumer is making the ads, maybe not... it’s all so confusing. Anyway, I also thought we already had ratings for commercials. If memory serves, they were called ‘business results’.

World weary sigh.

And finally, speaking of YouTube, how about all that Taco Bell/KFC New York rats hysteria (if you missed it, here’s an example). This story is a couple of weeks old, but it came to mind as I was pondering this question of brands being responsible for themselves, and here’s the line that got me: In an interview with a local NBC television affiliate, a spokesperson for the parent company, Yum Brands (no, seriously) said, “The franchisee is actively addressing the problem.” As they say on the internets, WTF!?

Look, Yum dudes, let me give you some free advice:

Fire the franchisee. Terminate them with extreme prejudice. Swoop down on Greenwich Village like an avenging angel and tear your logos from the front of that building. Say you’re sorry for the lapse in judgment trusting these people with your precious brand and secret chicken recipe and start over down the street. “Actively addressing the problem”!? People came into that restaurant because your brand promised them a consistent experience and a level of accountability that exceeded that of a pretzel vendor. If all you’re going to do now is punt to the franchisee, then I’ll have mine with mustard. At least the pretzel guy will look me in the eye.

There. Somebody had to say it, and it was me. As Spidey put it, “This is my gift. My curse. Who am I?”

Just your friendly neighbourhood Brand Cowboy, baby.

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