Holiday Joy? Kinda.

21 12 2015

Speaking in generalities, I think creatives have opened a door and walked their clients right through into a commercial reality in which people over 50 are still attractive and sexually viable, women come in all shapes and sizes, families sometimes have two moms or two dads, tattooed people are not criminals, love is dissolving racial boundaries (*bows down to Cheerios*), and the sales discourse ranges across formerly taboo subjects like incontinence, ED, toenail fungus invading the red carpets of Hollywood, and so much more.

Another has opened, and it stands starkly in contrast to all of the warm, fuzzy, and often funny/cute holiday adverts that sprinkle us with yummy sparkling bow-tied rainbows of consumerism. There has always been one or two of these maudlin little :30 tales of heart-tugging, home-for-the-holidays manipulation. But this year, as Advertising Age pointed out, ads number in the double digits that aim to have you sobbing; you can troll for them on its sister site,

The one that has sparked the most social discourse, even a feature on The Today Show, comes from German supermarket brand Edeka. It opens on an absolutely heartbreaking elderly man, left to spend the holidays by himself because his adult children are too busy with their own lives. Cut to scenes of said adult children receiving devastating news, which appears to be that their father died. Alone. Now, too late, they all rush home.

Fake out! He’s still alive!  “How else could I have brought you all together?” he asks his tearful, grief-stricken family. Cut to relief and a big dinner, served up with food from the grocery store totally forgotten as you blow your nose, feeling both happy he’s not dead and shamelessly manipulated.

Not to be outdone, there’s a Claymation ad from German online retailer Otto, involving a lost letter to a (really) dead grandfather, and a special delivery decades too late. Cue the waterworks.

There’s a Brazilian Coca Cola ad, part of a longer-form series, titled “A Bridge for Santa.” In a nutshell (nutcracker?), young boy has father send letter to Santa, letter explains how his dead mother (all this mayhem!) promised to introduce him to Santa. The town’s bridge it out, so Santa can’t get to the town. Dad reads, Dad rebuilds bridge with entire town’s help. Santa rides in, courtesy of a caravan of Coke trucks rolling in to save the (holi)day. And – upshot — Dad seems to have found a new mom for our tiny protagonist. Awww. This one is so transparent, I couldn’t squeeze out a single tear.

Lest you think we can’t game it here in the U.S., there’s this spot for Toys “R” Us – dad and son getting ready for Christmas, mom noticeably absent. Never fear – a remote control truck leads our adorable son to the front door, where mom, still in her military uniform, is there to surprise him. I double-dare you to not cry.

Now that we’ve stepped away from the mayhem, we have Tylenol showing us #HowWeFamily in this spot, featuring peace, love, and families of all races, creeds, and sexual orientation. One minute, no voiceover, less than six lines of copy (counting logo and hashtag). Brilliant.

U.K. advertisers are widely credited within our industry as starting this manipulative, tear-jerking trend, where the holiday advertising season has become the emotionally competitive equivalent of our Superbowl – in particular the rivalry between Sainsbury’s and John Lewis. Here we have a perfect example in John Lewis’ “Monty’s Christmas”:

I was crying tears of joy when Monty found his true love.

And then there’s the spot for U.K. Supermarket chain Co-operative Food, a subtle bit about two millennials prepping for a party. One goes out for ice and anonymously drops off a bag of groceries for an elderly neighbor he noted was afraid to traverse the slippery streets. Yep, tears.

Whether you see these as jaded attempts to capitalize on the heightened emotionalism of the season, or the softer side of marketers, they elevate brand recognition and – with the exception of jaded industry folks such as we – make consumers feel pretty warm and fuzzy about these brands. Bet your local grocery chain has something pretty similar running right now. I know both Publix and Winn-Dixie – my local supermarkets — are hard at it.

And if all of this emotional exploitation is bring out the Scrooge in you, Ad Age points out there is always the “Yule Log” vid for Lagavulin Scotch – 45 minutes of noted manly man (and “Parks and Recreation” actor) Nick Offerman sitting next to a fireplace sipping Scotch in blessed silence for 45 minutes.

Watch How I Get Facebook Stats, Selena Gomez, and Man Buns into a Post About the Ad Industry…

12 11 2015


Some relatively interesting figures and facts came out over the last week that are of some interest to people whose livelihood is based on advertising creativity and what’s going in our industry of spastic identifiers – some examples being, “New model, multidisciplinary marketing communications firm; creative and strategic boutique; full-service advertising business; fully integrated marketing agency; and (my personal oh, aren’t-we-hip fav), a disruption company.”

Snapchat logoSNAPCHAT. According to the Sunday Financial Times (you’ll need a sub to read the story), views have tripled from May to date and now total 6 billion per day. The takeaway? This messaging app is THE HOTTEST new toy – I mean tool – for marketers.

Facebook logoFACEBOOK. In spite of the totally empirical data I collect from after-hours mudslinging get-togethers with my disruptive peers, and from my kid and his friends (all around 21), Facebook is over. Yet Facebook counts 217 million active users in the U.S. and Canada that contribute half of the social-media network’s global revenue. That means, as Business Insider helpfully pointed outAmericans and Canadians account for as much of Facebook’s revenue as the other 1.3 billion users worldwide. What does this say about us as society? That we like to humble-brag a lot? But it says to us as agencies that we are still going to recommend ad placement there, and Instagram once they get things a bit more ironed out. In fact, the two together will become a de rigeur media buy in 2016.

AND MORE FACEBOOK. According to Adweek, its ad sales for Q3 increased 45% year-over-year to $4.3 billion, with mobile revenue responsible for 78% of all of those lovely ad sales – a 66% increase when compared to how mobile versus desktop advertising broke out during the same period last year.

But it can’t be all hearts and flowers for Zuckerberg and Friends. Desktop and mobile referral traffic to its top 30 publishers (which range from Huffington Post to, fell 32% from January to October, according to stats quoted in this Digiday story.

Instagram logoIn non-Facebook-related news, it takes an average of 8,000 impressions from a display ad (i.e. desktop or mobile) to produce a phone call within two weeks, according to Marchex, which has a new analytics platform that can measure when any inbound phone call to a call center or store is influenced by exposure to a display advertisement on a desktop or mobile device. Mobile is enabling consumers to engage with brands more directly, and phone calls to businesses from smartphones are expected to nearly double to more than 160 billion by 2019.

Onward. Selena Gomez is the most engaging celebrity on INSTAGRAMaccording to Zefr’s data, averaging 1.4 million likes, comments, and shares for every post in the 90 days after it’s published. This means that Pantene, Adidas, Apple iPhone 6s, and Nicole/OPI nail polish are EXTREMELY happy.

the manbunFinally, GROUPON started on Tuesday selling a “Clip-In Man Bun” in blond, brown, or black for the highly discounted rate of $9.99, down from its retail price of $65. Over 5,000 have been purchased, according to the site. Let’s just say Twitter is NOT impressed:


–Cosmopolitan (@cosmopolitan)


For the hipster that must remain professional looking at work… I present the clip on man bun
–Patrick R Gibbons (@PatrickRGibbons)


#ClipOnManBuns are a thing……………. I think I need a minute to question reality
–Colin ‏(@UberTieGuy)


Am I the only one who thinks that the #cliponmanbun looks like a furry little yarmulke?
–Tatianna @TatiTheGreat_1


The most surprising thing about the #cliponmanbun is that Groupon still exists


Literally do not want to live in world where this is acceptable! #ClipOnManBun
–Jeni-Marie Pittuck ‏@Jenii_Marie

Change Twitter’s Character Limit? Are They Insane?

21 10 2015

Outing a rumor that’s been orbiting around the Twiitterverse, tech site Re/Code and the Wall Street Journal reported last week that founder and newly appointed CEO Jack Dorsey (then interim) is spearheading a project code-named “140 Plus” that would purportedly extend the service’s signature 140-character limit.

Twitter logoFeel free to read all about how this is because Twitter needs to grow its user base, monetize, evolve, compete with other social media platforms, blah blah blah, selfie sticks. According to co-founder Ev Williams, during an interview with Bloomberg TV at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in San Francisco, the market-watchers’ focus on Twitter’s user growth, which has stagnated at 316 million people, is overblown. The company has done a good job of driving revenue, he said, though he acknowledged the service wants to rope in more users.

In July, Twitter reported $502 million in revenue, exceeding analysts’ projections of $480 million. In fact, on this past Tuesday, Twitter introduced a feature called Moments, offering curated collections of tweets and discussions across the service – and so far, it’s a pretty cool feature.

But seriously, let’s talk about how an avid Twitter user FEELS about blowing out the 140-character limit.

The whole infrastructure of the Twitter experience is predicated on the ability to say what you will in 140 characters. This requires actual thought, effort, and creativity. I would, however, like to thank Twitter for the “retweet with comment” option rolled out in April so I could add my $.02 USD to the tweets I share. That was sweet, guys.

But even Dorsey said that he wants Twitter to be the most powerful microphone in the world. What keeps it powerful is that quirky brevity coupled with frequency (i.e. tweetstorms). It levels the field in a roundabout way – the clever, sarcastic, thoughtful, raunchy, journalists, podcasters, raconteurs, comics, poets, artists, and others use this 140-character challenge as a form of creative expression. And the trolls, haters, nut jobs, misogynists, misanthropes, dangerous, sociopaths, haters, and the even darker and more dangerous only have 140 characters to spew their messages. And how many times has a public figure accidentally shown his/her true colors in a Tweet? Priceless in and of itself – election year, anyone?

Leave the character limit alone, Twitter boys. You want to exclude links and user handles? I can live with that. But take away the 140, and Twitter is Facebook, Twitter is an office holiday party when you’re cornered by a sloppy drunk co-worker who won’t shut up, Twitter is the grumpy tool causing a line at the post office when you’re running late to work, it’s the anonymous troll in the comment section with an axe to grind and no character limit to cut him/her off, it’s the humblebragger on Facebook you want to unfriend IRL.

Get creative Twitter. You’ll find a way to continue making money without taking away what makes Twitter, well, Twitter. But here’s a suggestion: spell check. Stat.

The Branding Spectrum: From Poo Faces to Facebook

8 07 2015

How’s that for a headline? And yet we’re not being overly provocative here – the last week has seen some of the most over-the-top (or under-the-bottom, to be 100% accurate) and under-the-radar branding campaigns go viral, at least in the ad trades.

First, Facebook rolled out a logo “refresh” that only font wonks noticed until Facebook had to point it out – the company, now allegedly valued higher than Walmart, dropped the Klavika font it started with in 2005 to a custom, in-house designed font still used on the familiar blue background.

According to Adweek, “the new typeface is an attempt to ‘modernize’ the logo and make it appear more ‘friendly and approachable,’ says Josh Higgins, Facebook’s creative director. Higgins also noted that Facebook explored many options but ultimately landed on updating its logo instead of redesigning it completely.”

Compare for yourself:



How many of Facebook’s reported 1.44 billion monthly active users noticed? Our guess would be next to none, but probably more that those who noticed Google’s two-pixel logo tweak a year ago May. Yes, you read that right. Two pixels – and Reddit users actually noticed, and Gizmodo reported on it.

And now for the Pampers spot that took the bronze Lion in Film at Cannes, and a silver and a bronze in Film Craft. Entitled “Pooface,” it is a medley of babies’ faces, filmed in slow motion (400 fps) as they fill their diapers, set to Strauss’ “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” and produced by Saatchi & Saatchi London. After 75 seconds of steadily reddening, highly occupied faces, there is a hashtag #pooface, a shot of a beautifully lit box of Pampers Sensitives wipes, and a final message “Don’t fear the mess.


This clip has been viewed over 600,000 times at the writing of this post, and has spawned articles in all the ad trades, as well as comparisons to a 2012 Australian ad for Mamia diapers with an operatic score. It won a Clio.

Whether the creatives at Saatchi were influenced by the Aussie ad or not, the spot is brilliant – and no one I’ve shared it with was able to sit through it without laughing out loud.

The point here is that getting the buzz going about your brand often resides at the extreme ends of the spectrum, and not so much in the middle. We all need to think out of the nappy.

Intellectual Property in the Social Media

21 04 2015

So, we have a new addition to Alchemy, and even though this is extremely difficult for such a control freak (yes, me), she should get to write some stuff, too. And so she has…KMO

On April 26th every year, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) celebrates World Intellectual Property Day to promote discussion of the role of IP in encouraging innovation and creativity. I was just reflecting upon this while advising copyrights to a potential client regarding the promotion of her children’s music and story books. Then our office experienced a social media etiquette faux pas during an online marketing campaign for one of our retail destination client’s outdoor concert festival events. Part of our job was designing all of the graphic needs for posters, signage, print and digital ads, and a collection of imagery to use on social media that would capture Facebook viewing attention and brand this “Peace Love & Wellness Music Festival” for our client, while making this artwork available for use by any of the participating retail tenants, businesses, vendors, and the bands. This particular client uses events as its primary source of marketing, outside of a year-round general branding campaign, and we have fun creating visual identities for each event. The Peace Love & Wellness campaign proved very successful with image likes and shares growing viewership to its 3rd Annual event page more than 100% over last year’s page. The ROI was worth the effort.

Alchemy's marketing for the event

Alchemy’s marketing for the event

Obviously, the object of marketing through social media is to entice viewers to attach their identity to the event and share it with others to extend the buzz field. Yes, share the original images on their timeline, add their own descriptive announcement with the post, and tag their friends and businesses. But we had one vendor take things a bit further than that. And I’m certain if you asked him he would say that he was just helping out and thought it was okay to promote his business by making his own flyer out of our client’s collateral. After all, he did slide their logo, although poorly resolute and altered in shape, onto his new graphic. So that’s more than okay, right?

Alchemy's marketing before alteration

Alchemy’s marketing before alteration

Well, actually, not. Our client paid for the artwork to be presented in the approved composition. This vendor did not ask for permission to change it. He did not hire Alchemy to make a poster out of this collateral and change it to feature his business. He added his own banner boldly across the top, juxtaposed shoddy font styles in an unprofessional layout of low quality, dropped in a low-resolution logo, and added his own copy. At this point, neither the client nor we would want our names attached to the altered artwork for credit. We had a conundrum: allow him to promote to his patrons or ask him to take it down. Our client made the decision not to offend him.

More of Alchemy's marketing

More of Alchemy’s marketing

Social media is now a balancing act of etiquette and manners. What is acceptable here is not acceptable there, and the rules are bent and stretched to fit a variety of scenarios. Unfortunately intellectual property, once uploaded into the digital slipstream, has very little protection. According to Facebook Copyright Infringements, violations have to be noticed by the author, reported to the powers that be on Facebook by the author, and then the violator must be contacted by the author and agree to take down their post and make amends. Only after these steps are refused is the author advised to claim a lawsuit. Furthermore, it is up to the author to set the privacy settings to limit the viewership and shares. One has limited protection of ownership if they want their work to be seen. So, in the scenario of a visual marketing campaign, images are out there with permission for the public to share until the original is removed. And according to an article written by a local West Palm Beach, Florida-based intellectual property attorney, Joseph J. Stafford, TO PIN OR NOT TO PINonce something is uploaded on to Pinterest, the author must understand that Pinterest takes no responsibility for the image sharing and usage. The artwork will remain on Pinterest indefinitely. And anything without a registered copyright or trademark is seriously at risk for loss of ownership.

...and Alchemy's marketing post-alteration

…and Alchemy’s marketing post-alteration

The increasing cultural trend is to share, save, tweet, or post any image as your own without thought or concern over identifying the true author. This virtually attaches ownership to any pinner for multiple re-compositions. The only protection would be to add a backend code for tracking violations or the application of a watermark across the image that would be difficult to remove or alter. So what can professional social media communicators do? Stay aboveboard and remain very professional for our clients in social media activity. We should set an example by creating our posts with integrity. If we are sharing the photo or work of another author then we should make time and effort to give credit where credit is due. Photos courtesy of…, or original painting by…, etc. Vintage ads and old movie stills are grandfathered for acceptable use as long as you are not selling them. But be very careful in the use of trademarks and brand collateral. I even went as far as to get corporate-level permission to create an original floral pattern reminiscent of Lilly Pulitzer for social media promotions of an event it sponsored for charity. Lawsuits can happen and they can be very costly to settle when they do. It’s better to be respectful and safe than sorry.

Above you see the original pieces of artwork created for our Facebook promotional campaign, and one of the altered and unapproved versions. What do you think about the modification and reuse of collateral materials without permission?

-Lori Herrala, Communications Director at Alchemy

Taking Proactive to the Next Level

19 03 2015

Last fall, I wrote a blog post for Alchemy that featured a long-form advert that mashed up the Internet’s obsession with cat-based cuteness and the super-cut, sweaty aggro look of sports apparel and fitness beverage spots. It spoke of my admiration for this fully blown viral campaign for Mars Petcare’s Temptations Treats for Cats. The centerpiece was a truly inspired YouTube video (link to come later, because this post really isn’t about it yet).

Almost five months later, I received an email from a very friendly person at the brand’s PR firm pitching me a new campaign constructed in the same fashion: hook, hashtag, user engagement, full media campaign, digital content, social media — and a new video:

While I appreciate the video a whole bunch and contributed to its views and shares (that is a seriously catchy vibe, Los Saicos), what I’m writing about is that this gigantic corporate enterprise and its agency found my blog post. And responded to it.

I find that level of digital search-and-conquer impressive. It reminds me that our efforts leave a pixelated trail of breadcrumbs that can circle back to our clients when we handle this whole integrated media thing properly.

If you’re the least bit curious about the post that provoked the response, just scroll down…that first video is there, too.

Chicks Rule

15 01 2015

There was a brilliant article making the rounds in the creative community last week, on the new advertising industry website called, the US version of a UK publication whose corporate parent owns, among other things, PR Week.

YearAheadWomen-20150106050542869The author starts the article with a statement that ripped through social media like a spike heel: “The woman who does not require validation from anyone is the most feared individual on the planet.” Writer Kat Gordon makes a case for 2015 being the year women in advertising use social media as the accelerant to create a better ad world than the one where agencies still refer to “women’s accounts” as “mops and makeup.”

While a lot of what she says is a bit of “inside baseball” to those not specifically in the ad industry, anyone in marketing/communications – whether public relations, advertising, corporate communications, social media, outside agency, in-house marketing, or some combination thereof – should understand that pinkwashing isn’t going to cut it anymore. “Female Empowerment Advertising” is yesterday’s Chromebook. Women now make up 52% of the population, so we are remarkably helpful and creative when it comes to understanding how to approach an overwhelmingly female marketplace. Let’s just say we know whereof we speak. As Gordon says, “I’m talking about calling out everything, ranging from all-male creative departments to wage disparity to things we do mindlessly like STILL have Miss America-types handing out the hardware at award shows.”

So, regardless of your gender, if you are looking to engage the female consumer, you better be thinking like a woman.

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