Category Archives: Marketing/Advertising/PR

Marketing, advertising and public relations

Friend of the trendless

Do you know what’s trending? The word trend as a verb, for one.

Trend as a verb has been around a long time, but its use was always narrow. Data points trend upward, for example. As best I’ve observed, the verb trend is usually followed by an adverb or other modifier.

Lately, everyone’s talking trending, which I fear went out as soon as it came in. Or should anyway. I know, I know, it’s on Twitter, it’s on the news, it’s on the radio, it’s PR-speak. The Today show has introduced a daily feature, accompanied by the most annoying techno music, called “What’s trending Today?” At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, this bugs me. I suspect I’m a party of one.

This doesn’t mean I don’t notice trends. One hit me between the eyes this week. Three times in 36 hours, in fact. Does that ever happen to you? Never heard of something and within a day it’s everywhere?

What’s trending? Pisco. First I read about Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan enjoying a Pisco Sour at a local establishment; then twice more, someone or other was noticed to be sipping it; I think one might have been Justice Antonin Scalia. I’ve read that, as trending goes, Pisco could be the new Mojito. Or for D.C. foodies, the new Mumbo Sauce.

According to PR Web, Pisco consumption in the United States increased 101 percent in 2010. Whether or not that’s a legitimate trend would depend on what it was in 2009, or 2008. I was always taught that a trend is at least three data points.

I haven’t tried this Peruvian potion, Pisco. Heck, I’m not sure I even know what it is. One source I consulted says it’s a brandy while another calls it a spirit. We have a knowledgeable guy at our local liquor store, but I’m afraid that if I went in asking about Pisco, he’d laugh, sigh, roll his eyes or all three.

If he did, I’d know it’s already trended.

In a piece on Monday, Slate cautioned us to not hate Pisco because it’s fashionable.

I don’t think I’ll be serving up piscopolitans any time soon.

8 Comments

Filed under All Things Wordish, Food, Marketing/Advertising/PR, News, Technology and Social Media

Poker face up

Last night, I noshed from the free dinner buffet at the Residence Inn, my home away from home. While most hotel guests watched baseball in one corner of the lobby, I had the whole dining area to myself; so I spread out in front of the large flat screen TV. They must have known I was coming because it was set on my favorite reality channel, C-SPAN.

The federal debt proceedings were winding down, just as a Senate Banking subcommittee hearing on mortgage foreclosures was airing from earlier in the day. Ah, my old milieu.

I was a financial services lobbyist for many years, spending countless hours in the House and Senate Banking Committee rooms, attending hearings and staffing witnesses.

On C-SPAN you can always tell who’s staffing the witness. It’s typically the person in the camera shot trying not to flinch as his or her boss delivers testimony to committee members from the witness table.

I find it enormously entertaining to watch these staff people, who aren’t always used to being on camera. Because I’ve been there.

Facial movements can be a powerful study in nonverbal communication, often to the point of distraction. Unlike Congressional staff—those people who work for members of Congress—who are accustomed to being on camera, witness staff often must sit excruciatingly still for the slow-going three-to-five minutes their witness is testifying, then again during the Q&A. Even moving one’s eyeballs in a tight shot can appear exaggerated to millions of viewers.

If you have trouble maintaining a poker face as I do–as I used to–controlling a cringe is one of the hardest things you can do, especially once the prepared statement has been read and questions must be answered. Eye-rolling was not tolerated in our house when I was growing up; this is the rule has served me best in my professional life.

If you ever find yourself in the position as the person-behind-the-person, take some tips from me:

  1. Pretend you’re one of those human statues seen on the streets of European cities. Keep your eyes glued to your witness, not the camera lens or extreme corners of the room.
  2. If you don’t think you can do this for three to five minutes, pretend to take notes, though be aware, if you happen to be follically sparse, looking down too far could bounce a bright beam back at the camera.
  3. When your witness strays shockingly from the talking points or pre-rehearsed answer, fight the wince and keep your eyes open. Lock your jaw, lest it drop abruptly and harm your cause.
  4. Finally, if you have friends in the room, don’t make eye contact. Trust me.

The next time you catch a hearing on C-SPAN, see how many Dos and Don’ts you can add. Or maybe you’ve been there and have your own list?

3 Comments

Filed under Marketing/Advertising/PR, Movies, Television and Radio, Politics

Blocked

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I seem to have hit a little slump.

There have been days recently when I didn’t post a blog entry, in part for lack of time and in part for lack of inspiration. Also, lately, I feel that my writing lacks the energy it used to have and I don’t want to subject readers to lethargic dronings.

I’ve been at this blogging project for 16 months now, having written 385 pieces. Inspiration used to rush at me faster than I could mash it into the keyboard. Lately? Not so much.

Over the weekend, I tackled a small writing project that gave me the same sense of paralysis. Eventually I found the energy to hand in to the client what I think was good work, but not without teeth-grinding anxiety.

This isn’t like me.

As I researched punctuation for Friday’s post, I came upon an interesting perspective on writer’s block. Then another one. Both jumped to the same conclusion: Essentially, quitcherbitchin.

Here’s what author Philip Pullman said in 2006 on the subject of writer’s block:

“Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?”

A bass player named Paul Wolfe wrote a piece recently on his blog, which worked from the same premise—that there’s no such thing as writer’s block—also using the plumber analogy. It’s worth a glance if you can relate.

So if there is no such thing as writer’s block, what has gotten a hold of me?

When I approached my recent client project, you would have thought I had decided to try skydiving. Profound fear consumed me.

I moved my computer from my office to the dining room table so I’d have room to spread out and to breathe. I set my papers out neatly. I took a shower. I returned to the computer. I straightened some knickknacks. I sat up straight, put my fingers on the keyboard and took a deep breath. I opened a six-ounce box of SweeTarts, sifted through the candies and ate all the purple and orange ones. Then I arranged the blue ones along the edge of the box, then the red, then the green. By this time my stomach was in my throat and my heart was racing. Utter silliness. This was easy stuff, nothing complicated. As soon as I typed the first word, the others came, but it took me more than eight hours to finish. It was touch and go there for a while.

So it goes with the blog. I don’t wake up with ideas and words to support them the way I used to.

The bass player says if you believe in writer’s block, then it wins. Pullman doesn’t believe in it either.

So maybe it’s just an old fashioned case of jitters.

Maybe I ought to lay off the SweeTarts.

Or maybe it just boils down to this bumper sticker:

9 Comments

Filed under Marketing/Advertising/PR, Technology and Social Media

That’s no fun

About six months ago, San Francisco’s board of supervisors voted to ban the inclusion of toys in kids’ meals at fast food chains. So began the demise of the McDonald’s Happy Meal in that neck of the woods. I suggested an underground market to keep kids from melting down when their meals consisted of, well, meals.

This week, fast food chain Jack in the Box announced it would eliminate toys from its kids’ meals.

A company spokesman said the decision had more to do with the chain’s focus on food than on the matter of toys.

Luring children into fast food restaurants with colorful toys has become an issue of moral debate in our nation, fueled largely by food-policing advocacy groups.

One question becomes whether these kids are driving themselves to score the coveted toys and the fat laden lunches that accompany them. Another question is the company’s latest ad campaign that targets the stoner clientele Jack in the Box enjoys in its late-night hours and how that squares with JITB’s cute and bouncy persona.

But the question lurking in my mind is why a company bearing this name is turning against toys. Does anyone else see the perversity in that?

7 Comments

Filed under Food, Marketing/Advertising/PR

For real

The City of Buffalo has long been the butt of jokes. Even my father, who’s from there, used to say that Buffalo came into being when “they cloned Cleveland.”

This week, there are new jokes as Buffalo—The City of Good Neighbors, The Queen City, The City of No Illusions, The Nickel City, Queen City of the Lakes, City of Light—takes on a new motto: “Buffalo For Real.”

I learned about this not from the city’s own announcement, which includes a new tourism video, but from the swell of snickers and criticisms from within Western New York and around the country. The blogosphere bubbles with mockery while Twitter tee-hees abound.

Advertising Age slammed the slogan, calling it meaningless. (But do check out their map of the most absurd city slogans in the United States.) Buffalonians don’t appear to be crazy about it either, but they’ve been quick to come to the defense of their city, as they are often called to do, pointing to the depth of Buffalo’s history and culture. One commenter suggested “Buffalo: Leave for the weather, come back for everything else.” Commenters from other cities were cruel (“Denver: at least it’s not Buffalo”), while others were happy to be out of the spotlight for their own cities’ inane slogans.

But back to Buffalo For Real. If the city’s marketeers had consulted me, I’d have suggested some punctuation. Mabye a comma or a colon following Buffalo. On the surface, “Buffalo For Real” does sound a little meaningless. But if you look at the campaign, there’s a broader theme: Buffalo for art, Buffalo for architecture, Buffalo for families, Buffalo for food, for nature, for history, for shopping, for sports, for performing arts. The tourism video addresses the “real” part. The narration holds the city’s past troubles and blemishes up to the light and assures visitors of the vast rejuvenation taking place. “We’ve had our share of hard knocks.” “Some might say that time has left our town behind.” “Neighborhoods given up for dead are being given new life.” Even the snow has an honored place in the script.

Juxtaposed against tourist destinations in which weather is the draw, with little authenticity behind sun and spa, Buffalo stands out as real. Blue collar and white collar workers alike have withstood decades of economic devastation and year after year of bone-chilling temperatures. The people remain ever cheerful, trust me. The city by Niagara Falls has a lot to be proud of.

I like the new slogan. I just wish the video had been narrated by someone with a Buffalo accent.

Now that would be real.

3 Comments

Filed under All Things Wordish, Marketing/Advertising/PR, Technology and Social Media, Travel

Mother matters

Two of my favorite sitcoms this season are The Middle on ABC and Raising Hope on Fox. Perhaps it’s because they’re as real life as can be, especially when it comes to the mother roles. I also like ABC’s Modern Family and NBC’s Parenthood because they reflect the humorous imperfections alive in families.

This morning I pulled the Parade magazine out of the cellophaned supplements and smiled to find featured the four mothers on these shows. In “The Mom Squad,” the actresses playing popular TV mothers give their takes on motherhood.

Whether or not you’re a mother, I think you’ll see a little bit of yourself in one or more of the characters the actresses portray. I know I did.

“A type A anxious mother . . . a little nuts, a little stubborn.”

“She likes to eat. She likes to drink. She loves her kid, but she’s not focused on being the World’s Greatest Mom . . . She’s not reading the mommy blogs, but she has this gooey center.”

“Works because her family needs the money. But in other ways she’s a lot like Lucy in I Love Lucy—she freaks out about stuff, tries to overcontrol situations, and does harebrained things. And her husband is this calming, sensible force who says, ‘Let’s chill.’”

“A stay-at-home mom, but the kids are getting older and she’s trying to work out who she is now that they don’t need her so much.”

(Another favorite quote from the article is one in which actress Martha Plimpton describes the twins who play her granddaughter on Raising Hope. She says, “the little fat behind the neck is like a fine foie gras.”)

So which modern TV mother are you? Or maybe you’re more of a traditional TV mother like June Cleaver or Edith Bunker. Or a mod 1960s or ‘70s mother like Samantha Stevens or Shirley Partridge. Which one do you wish you were and why?

While we’re on the subject, notice I said TV “mother,” and not “mom.” I have a little peeve about this and what better day to air it than on the eve of Mother’s Day? Notice it’s not Mom’s Day. Mom is a name. Mom is not a noun. In my view, someone is not a mom. She’s a working mother, a stay-at-home mother, a single mother or simply, a mother. Madison Avenue is the worst offender, often producing ad copy that says a product is “preferred by moms.” (Such a claim is also backward for this day and age.)

Some dictionaries have acquiesced a bit, but most define “mom” as informal for “mother.”

In my opinion, it’s all right to refer to “my Mom,” but to use “mom” to refer to any woman with children is sloppy speech. Same goes for “dad.”

Why? Because I said so.

3 Comments

Filed under All Things Wordish, Holidays, Marketing/Advertising/PR, Movies, Television and Radio

Candy coating

There wasn’t as much time as I had hoped yesterday to read my new Euphemisms book; however, euphemisms continued to play in my mental background as I went about my business.

At one point during the day, my mind wandered back to my days working for a Fortune 100 company, employed in what my new dictionary calls “legislative advocacy leadership.” Large corporations are masters at euphemistic technique, a talent that serves them well when applied artfully. I am betting there are readers who have worked in corporate America who have examples to share. Please?

We had “resource realignment,” translation: layoffs. When competing for business that we didn’t win, we were “deselected.” When we made one of the cuts preceding final selection, we were “down selected.”  We also had an “appearance policy,” which was a dress code. Oh, the good old days.

It’s been a while since I worked directly for a corporate concern, but yesterday I received notice of a seminar on “Capture Management.” At the risk of revealing a pinhole in my skill set, I trust this has something to do with sales.

Government uses euphemisms too. They have “revenue enhancements” and “quantitative adjustments.” The financial industry refers to “correction” when the market falls. Every sector has its rose-colored lingo.

I’ll close today with a list excerpted from comments posted on an article on Education World’s website. It’s been around the block but never ceases to amuse me. I might award first prize to our nation’s hardworking teachers for euphemistically finding the bright spot in every trying situation:

Molly demonstrates problems with spatial relationships.
It’s November and she still hasn’t found her cubby.

Paul’s leadership qualities need to be more democratically directed.
He’s a bully.

Jonathan accomplishes tasks when his interest is stimulated.
He has the attention span of a gnat.

Alfred demonstrates some difficulty meeting the challenges of information retention.
He’d forget his name if it wasn’t taped to his desk.

Bunny needs encouragement in learning to form lasting friendships.
Nobody likes her.

Joel appears to be aware of all classroom activities.
He just can’t focus on the one we’re involved in.

David frequently appears bored and restless. You might want to consider placing him in a more challenging environment.
Prison, perhaps?

3 Comments

Filed under All Things Wordish, Marketing/Advertising/PR