Advertising 101

Can you read the tiny text on this billboard?


Didn’t think so. Imagine how difficult it would be to read it if you were driving past at 40 m.p.h. Back when I worked at ad agencies (I believe it was the Iron Age), the rule of thumb for billboard copy was “7 words or less.” And the goal was to have one key image with words and logo in a large font, so that drivers could get the message with a quick glance as they were whizzing by. Clearly no one at Erie Insurance’s ad agency got that memo. That text up top would be difficult to read if it were a foot from your face, much less from 40 yards away in a moving vehicle.

So basically they’ve wasted whatever money they spent on this billboard. That’s OK, they’ll probably make it up by jacking up premiums.




The opposite of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

As any good child of the 70’s knows, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are “two great tastes that taste great together.”

And yes, that’s Mr. Ice Castles on the left and “Ralph Malph” on the right.

Even in the 80’s, when Walkmans were all the rage, the Reese’s beat went on.

(What’s with the creepy store owner lurking in the background? He’s like Mr. Hooper‘s evil twin. And what’s with folks walking down the street eating peanut butter straight out of a plastic tub? Sure, that’s plausible.)

But not every combo works as well as PB and chocolate. Here’s Exhibit A: Swedish Fish flavored Oreos.

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Swedish Fish are fine on their own, and original Oreos are a classic, but when you combine the flavors it’s clearly too much of a sweet thing. Waaaay too much of a sweet thing. We’re talking instant hyperglycemia. And the flavor combination isn’t quite as  bad as orange juice + toothpaste, but it’s close.

This happens a lot with established brands like Oreo. Instead of trying to create new products, they just slap different flavors on their cash cows. Which is why these products actually exist:

oreo_watermelon2 oreo_pspice oreo_fruitpunch oreo_candycorn

And there’s plenty more where that came from. Lays is another big offender. They love cluttering the shelves with gems like these:


“I’d really like a handful of cappuccino flavored potato chips right now” – said no one ever!

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sriracha Oreos on shelves next summer.

Older. Wiser. Cooler.

Normally when there’s a pre-roll ad slapped on the front of a video I want to see, I click “skip ad” as soon as I can. But the one below sucked me in within the first few seconds. I watched the entire six minutes and 46 seconds and was so glad I did. I wouldn’t even call it an ad, it’s a short film really, a character study with a powerful message. Heck, I didn’t even know what the ad was for until the very end.

Ricky is my new hero, and Doris rocks!

VW? More like BS. Living a lie with Das Auto

My wife and I buy a new car only once every decade, whether we need to or not. In 2002, with Baby #3 on the way, we shed any vestiges of “coolness” by getting a Honda minivan. In 2011, I campaigned hard for a Jetta Sportwagen TDI because I’m a tree-hugger and loved the great gas mileage along with the benefits of the “clean diesel” engine that VW was promoting.


Turns out we’ve been living a lie. VW was gaming the system with a software cheat that tricked emissions testing, something that was uncovered by a professor at WVU. All this time I thought I was doing the environment a solid, while in reality we were driving a nitrogen oxide belching beast.

We don’t put a ton of miles on the Jetta. I still commute to work via bus most days, and have for the past 20 years, so that helps assuage my green guilt over this “diesel dupe.” But that’s not the point – the point is VW did not sell us the car they promised, and we feel betrayed.


The good news is by 2020 Teslas might actually be in our price range.

Sell, you must

Thank goodness that the new Star Wars movie is getting just a wee bit of merchandising tie-in promotional support. If not, folks probably wouldn’t go see it.

Macy’s keeps it pretty basic… just t-shirts:

star wars macys


JCPenney ups the ante with watches, slippers and a few other tchotchkes:

star wars jcp

Target jumps on the bandwagon with toys, “limited edition” cereal and even Star Wars shaped Macaroni & Cheese (“may the SODIUM TRIPOLYPHOSPHATE be with you!”)

star wars target

But the real winner of the Pimp My Movie contest is Kohl’s, as they are selling bedspreads, throw pillows, suitcases, headphones and even friggin’ Christmas ornaments!

star wars kohls



Collect them all before Jar-Jar Binks comes along to ruin it for everyone.

UPDATE: We’ve obviously come a long way from 1977,  when the original Star Wars movie came out. There’s a Cincinnati Enquirer article about a guy who has been designing Star Wars toys since ’77.  It appears the first movie caught them off guard:

One of Boudreaux’s first assignments was helping Kenner figure out how to deal with the unexpected box-office smash despite not having any products to sell. This was almost four decades ago, a simpler time when movies weren’t the carefully orchestrated and licensed consumer bonanzas they are today.

Kenner scrambled but soon realized there wouldn’t by any Star Wars toys ready in time for Christmas.“It was discussed internally that we should have something that folks could put under the tree, to build that excitement and anticipation,” Boudreaux said.

The solution was selling an empty box marketed as the “Star Wars Early Bird Set,” a sort of IOU from the company that could be redeemed for a real toy later. Kenner, which was acquired by Hasbro in 1991, actually made a television commercial for what amounted to a piece of cardboard that could be folded into a toy display stand. In a sign of just how much of a sensation Star Wars was becoming, parents bought the cardboard in droves. Kids could then send away a certificate from the box to receive four action figures by June 1.

I say, bring back the cardboard box!

Wal-Mart has that “not so fresh feeling”


Yes, as this Wal-Mart Sunday sales circular points out, “Nothing says summer like fresh berries.”

WM ad fail 800

Of course, you won’t find those in Pop-Tarts¹, Oreos, Cheetos, Star Wars cereal and all the other processed foods advertised on this two-page spread.

¹I know the Pop-Tarts shown are “strawberry” flavor but the chances that they have actual berries in them are about the same as the chances that Froot Loops contain actual fruit.

More isn’t always better

Saw this ad in the Sunday newpaper’s coupon section:

2015-08-17 17.18.03

I guess what they are trying to say is being a conjoined twin makes you better at karate because you have 4 legs for kicking your opponent’s butt. Oh, and your hair will look better too.

I really think the advertising folks that put this one together could’ve given this one a bit more thought and come up with a better “2 in 1” comparison. Or at least one that’s a bit more common. Maybe a futon?


Going to the dogs

Don’t ask me why, but this morning I was thinking about how the most interesting dog food brands from my youth are now defunct. (A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but I’m doing a pretty good job of it so far.)

My favorite commercial was for Chuck Wagon, with a pooch chasing a Ray Harryhausen-style Conestoga wagon through the house.

And I was always intrigued by Gaines*burgers dog food too, because of their hamburger shape. Love how the TV ad tout and the package both tout the fact that Gaines*burgers are “made with REAL MEAT”.


Notice they don’t say what type of animal the meat came from. Just sayin’.

Stan the Underappreciated Man

As someone who worked in both radio (including a stint on the Gary Burbank Show, a “theater of the mind” comedy show featuring dozen of wacky characters) and advertising, I would be remiss if I didn’t pay tribute to the late, great Stan Freberg, who passed away earlier this month. IMDb lists him as “Composer, singer, actor, author, comedian and advertising executive.” That doesn’t really do justice to his talents. He was a voice in Looney Tunes… he created great satirical sketch comedy for radio… he was Weird Al before there was a Weird Al… he was the godfather of the funny commercial for both radio and TV, including this radio ad that shows how powerful the medium can be:

Here’s one of his more popular radio sketches:

A couple of nice tributes are here and here.

And you can listen to more of Stan’s work here.

They don’t make ’em like Stan anymore, but they should, because the world would be a funnier place.


Stan Freberg 1926-2015

Left or Right or Wrong?

Today’s Target ad touts a sale where shoes are “buy one, get one 50% off.” I didn’t realize Target sold shoes individually. Most stores sell them in pairs. I wonder which shoe is 50% off… is it the right shoe or the left shoe? Or does it vary by shoe style? Can I buy one sneaker and get 50% off a dress shoe?

target ad