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Colin Johnson’s blog

Archive for the ‘Advertising’ Category

Coke, Pepsi, and Universities

Saturday, February 2nd, 2019

Why does Coca-Cola still advertise? For most people in most of the world, it is a universal product—everyone knows about it, and more advertising doesn’t give you more information to help you make a purchasing decision. After a while, advertising spend and marketing effort is primarily about maintaining public awareness, keeping the product in the public eye, rather than giving people more information on which to make a decision. There is something of the “Red Queen” effect here; if competitors are spending a certain amount to keep their product at the forefront of public attention, then you are obliged to do so, even though the best thing for all of the companies involved, and for the public, would be to scale it down. (This is explained nicely in an old documentary called Burp! Pepsi vs. Coke: the Ice Cold War.) There’s a certain threshold where advertising/marketing/promotion tips over from informative to merely awareness-raising.

This is true for Universities as much as other organisations. A certain amount of promotional material is useful for prospective students, giving a feel of the place and the courses that are available. But, after a while, a decent amount of both student’s own fee money, and public investment, goes into spend over this threshold; mere spend for the purpose of maintaining awareness. However, in this case, we do have some mechanism to stop it. Perhaps universities should have a cap on the proportion of their turnover that they can spend on marketing activities, enforced by the withdrawal of (say) loan entitlements if they exceed this threshold.

Design Puzzles (1)

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

What’s going on here?

# _____ DAY

This is the back of the packaging of my protein bar. What’s with the white stripe across the top left? It reads, basically “# _____ DAY, fuelled by 12g of PRIMAL PROTEIN”. Presumably the the # is a hashtag marker, and there is meant to be some text between that and “DAY”. Is this some kind of fill-in-the-blank exercise? I don’t think so, it seems rather obscure without any further cue. Did it at one point say something that they had to back away from for legal reasons: “# TWO OF YOUR FIVE A DAY”, perhaps? If so, why redesign it with a white block? Does packaging work on such a tight timescale that they were all ready to go, when someone emailed from legal to say “uh, oh, better drop that” and so someone fired up Indesign and put a white block there. Surely it can’t be working on such a timescale that there wasn’t time enough to make it the same shade of red as the rest, or rethink it, or just blank out the whole thing. Is it just a production error? At first I thought it was a post-hoc sticker to cover up some unfortunate error, but it is a part of the printed packaging. A minor mystery indeed.

Systematic Inefficiencies (1)

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

Every time we have an open day at Kent, the University of Essex (hello to my dear friends there!) pays someone to drive a bloody great van with a mahoosive “University of Essex” poster on it and park it all day opposite the main entrance to our campus.

I can’t imagine that 20-30 years ago, when we first started to talk about having some kind of competitive ethos between universities, that we would ever have imagined that we would end up in a situation like this. And it seems to be a systematic inefficiency baked into the system. Unlike the often talked about “inefficiencies” of public sector management, which seem to be just a matter of motivation and management skill, there are real, ongoing, impossible to avoid inefficiencies at the core of a competition based system.

This is a few hundred pounds that could be going into student’s education or research or goddamn it on nicer port for the vice-chancellor’s summer party. Is there any way in which we can get out of this kind of arms race that is consuming vast amounts of money, time, and attention?

Exciting News (1)

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

First law of Exciting News: Inevitably, when you get an email from some company entitled “exciting news” it is going to contain an announcement that they have “merged with” (been taken over by) a “major partner” (a larger, rather more anonymous company), and that they are “looking forward to the opportunities that are offered by this exciting new development” (ready to make some more money from you by offering you a slightly diminished service level).

Sofa-ry, so good-y

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

I have my own sofa, courtesy of Habitat:

Colin: 3 seater charcoal fabric sofa

(Bonus points to anyone who can get the origins of the pun in the title.)

The Rule of Three (1)

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

Okay, so we sell pizza, we sell pasta. That’s fine, but it doesn’t quite sound like enough. What other foodstuff beginning with “p” can we sell?

"Pizzas, Pastas and Pakoras"

Yours for only a billion pounds!

Friday, September 4th, 2015

I’ll be putting in an offer on Monday!

Featured new home: Edinburgh Castle

Glorious Food (1)

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Discover Delicious Food: Greggs, Wimpy, BHS, Muffin Break

Social Anxiety (1)

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

The idea that there is such a thing as the “thing to bring when you’re told not to bring a thing” (cf. last year’s Cadbury’s ads) is the sort of thing that brings the socially-anxious part of my brain out in a cold sweat.

Loser (1)

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Why does this little casino around the corner from my flat advertise itself using the one number on the wheel which—unless you bet on it directly—is a guaranteed loss?

roulette wheel pointing to zero

For Real (1)

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Its odd when something turns out to be real. In the back of my head I have a vague idea that brand names like “Dolce and Gabbana” are the invention of a chap called Toby working in a Soho ad agency in the ’70s. It is weird to see that they are actually a couple of real blokes in their 50s:

BBC News: Dolce and Gabbana sentenced to jail for tax evasion

Half (1)

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Yes, Groupon, I’ll happily give you ten pounds to get a shiny new five poound M&S voucher!

Groupon: Marks and Spencer: £5 for £10

Ad (1)

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Just who is this online ad trying to appeal to?

If you DIED tomorrow who would take care of your family?

Am I meant to be the toothless old bloke? That seems to jar with the idea that advertising should flatter the audience; most advertising that is trying to advertise to an older demographic goes for the silver fox look, or the carefree-retireds-on-the-beach thang. Or, is this meant to be representative of “your family”—”poor old toothless grand-dad, who will feed him his soup if you get knocked down by a bus tomorrow?”. Either way, it is very bizarre. The random use of the geolocation (accurate, for a change; it seems to have stopped thinking that I live in Okehampton) only adds to the weirdness of it.

Demographics (1)

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

This delightful headline speaks to a very narrow demographic:
"By the Power of Graysmill"

Pink (1)

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

It’s like feminism never bloody happened:

mother's day pink tool set

Info-stream or Interface

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Online organisations usually have the choice between two ways of making their information available. One is what we will call info-stream, where the information is made available in the form of a stream of machine-readable information that people can view and process in different forms. Twitter is a good example of this: whilst it does provide a fallback option of viewing it through the Twitter website, many users use a different way of interfacing with it such as an app on a computer or phone, or an alternative web interface. By contrast, some other organisation choose to provide the information through a specific graphical interface. An example here is Facebook, who clearly expect all users to interface with the content through the Facebook web-site (or Facebook-provided mobile app). People wanting a different view of the content can get alternative interfaces (e.g. Social Fixer or Facebook Purity, but these appear to work by a screenscraping-style approach that is not designed for in the way Facebook designs its information provision.

What is the business argument (in the broadest sense) for making one or the other of these choices? Clearly one argument for the interface approach is concerned with advertising. One problem with providing an info-stream is that this makes it very easy to filter out advertising. Organisations that have adopted an info-stream approach tend to have a very tight integration between their advertising and their content. For example, advertising in Twitter is in the form of promoted Tweets or Trends, which are Tweets or Trends in their own right; by contrast, the content delivered by Facebook has advertising, but not as part of the main News Feed content.

A more complex example is provided by the choices made by travel, insurance, banking and energy companies. In the early days of the web, much was made of the idea that online commerce would be a purer form of commerce because aggregators would be able to draw a direct comparison between different providers. Clearly, this vision has been realised&#8212up to a point. A number of firms, for example insurance firms Direct Line and Aviva and some of the discount airlines have largely avoided being on comparison sites. What is the business case for this? Possibly, to avoid the commission fees charged by the sites; possibly, to create a more direct channel of direct negotiation with the customer, akin to the old print-advertising strategy of not listing prices but saying “call us for our best price”. Again, this is an info-stream versus interface decision: the “not on comparison sites” are pursuing an interface strategy, where they want to control the interface between the information and customer in their own way; by contrast, the firms that are supplying information to comparison sites are providing information in an info-stream fashion.

"not on comparison websites"

This is clearly not something that was anticipated in the early discussions about e-commerce. It was assumed that organisations would be falling over themselves to provide information for aggregation and comparison. Clearly, though, it is possible for firms to adopt a strategy of opting out of such comparisons. This does not bode well for the development of the semantic web, which (rather naively) assumes that any organisation online will want to readily provide information in a computer-readable fashion. Instead, the choice for a firm is more complex: to provide an info-stream and work on an objective (as far as the measures used) comparison as a strategy, or to provide an interface and rely on more traditional advertising and marketing strategies that leverage the lack of ability to compare directly.

Are there other organisational/business arguments about the info-stream/interface choice?

Advertising Opportunities (2)

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Almost all hotels seem to supply generic no-name toiletries, sometimes branded with some ad hoc private label, sometimes branded with the name of the hotel. This seems to miss a tremendous marketing opportunity for manufacturers of shampoo, shower gel etc. I’m surprised that such manufacturers aren’t falling over themselves to give free samples of their products to hotels, as this is one of the rare occasions where people use products that aren’t “the usual”. I wonder why this doesn’t happen.


Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

I wouldn’t disagree with this delightfully blunt ad (from the wonderful Piemaker on South Bridge in Edinburgh)

PIES: One of mankind's greatest food inventions