MarComedy: Don’t make me laugh

For what tickles my fancy in media, communications and life in general.

Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category

Tell Me What You Do In 100 Words Or Less

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One of my tasks at work is to manage our relationships with the various relevant industry associations. Our CMA membership was up for renewal and I was asked to provide a company description in 100 words or less for our memembership directory listing.

A standard request but one that is harder than it seems. Here’s what I ended up with:

Vortex Mobile creates mobile solutions that deliver measurable results. Our marketing services group provides full cycle project management for SMS and multi-media messaging programs, WAP site development, J2ME mobile and desktop widget development and Facebook applications leveraging mobile technology.

Our technology services group offers a suite of mobile business tools using two-way mobile messaging. The services are offered as web-based applications using proprietary programming for easy customization and integration with your existing business systems. Our solutions include platforms for managing staffing shortfalls, crisis and other stakeholder communications, and mobile coupons and ticketing

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 92 words. Fairly succinct but I’ll confess it benefits somewhat from loaded jargon-y type terminology to paint the picture.

Recently over at ProPr there was a good debate about a plain language definition for social media. There were some wonderful comments & suggestions but the one that really caught my attention came via Twitter from David Jones of PR Works who said,

Reading @thornley’s “what is social media?” post again. I’m thinking that if you can’t define it 140 characters, it’s too long.

We’re always being asked to describe what we do or define a product or service in a short but insightful way. There’s the famous elevator pitch (link is to the a good post about the elevator pitch 2.0) or when we first meet someone and they ask the inevitable ‘so tell me what you do’ question. And then there’s Twitter and Facebook status updates. Text messages and instant messaging have their own lexicon of symbols and abbreviations.

Clients and prospects, in my experience, lose interest very quickly if you offer a rambling and tangential response to a question. If you’re in PR you have milliseconds to catch a journalist’s attention so what you’re saying better be interesting and snappy.

There’s an increasing premium on a ‘what’s in it for me’/instant gratification mentality. We value connectivity & responsiveness. There are millions of people worldwide who have Blackberries surgically fused to their person. We get our information on demand and consume it how and when we want to (See RSS & PVR).

With attention spans shortening and information consumption increasing, the need for brevity and clarity in communication is tremendous. So here are 6 basic tips that I try to keep in mind:

1. Keep it in plain language. If you can’t walk up to someone on the street and have them understand what you’re talking about, go back to the drawing board.

2. Use a ‘features & benefits’ approach. People will zone out if they can’t easily digest what’s in it for them.

3. Avoid industry jargon. By its nature it’s dense, clouds meaning and hinders interpretation. It’s hard, just take a look at my corporate description. Do you know what I’m talking about? Partially? This goes for double hyperbole and meaningless terms like ‘new & improved‘.

4. Use the active voice. This is grade school grammar stuff but can’t be repeated often enough.

5. Edit, edit, edit. Your brain will inevitably spew out more information than you need. Sharpen that red pencil. Take time away from your work. A refreshed view will often lead to greater clarity.

6. Collaborate whenever possible. You’ll find that another’s perspective helps in focusing your message.

I’d love to hear other thoughts. I’m no expert. I’m sure even in this post I’ve neglected to follow some of the tips. And, well, see point # 6.


Written by Jonathan Dunn

April 23, 2008 at 6:25 pm

When Stock Photography Meets Lazy Marketers

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I received a card in the mail today from Third Screen Media. They’re a mobile ad management co. and I coordinated a client ad buy through them which is why I’m on their mailing list.

The card was letting me know they’ve moved to new offices in downtown Boston:

Third Screen Card

The trouble is that the image they’ve included doesn’t look like downtown Boston at all. In fact, it looks a hell of a lot like the Toronto Skyline (BCE/Brookfield Place, Commerce Court & Scotia Plaza are prominent). Let’s compare.

Boston Skyline:

Boston Skyline

Toronto Skyline (from outside my office on Front St.):

Toronto Skyline 1

or from this angle:

Toronto Skyline 2

Maybe they matched the image to the recipient’s city? This was a mass mail and that seems irrelvant to point of the card (plus requires an attention to detail that seems unlikely). I can only conclude that someone went searching for a stock image, couldn’t find one of Boston they liked and settled on the one they used.

This is just pure laziness – hoping either noone would notice or care. Incongruities like this are a pet peeve of mine. If you aren’t making sure that words & images in your marketing collateral match the piece’s message and the corporate/brand particulars, then you end up losing credibility.

Written by Jonathan Dunn

April 17, 2008 at 4:57 pm

Future Shop Hates Customers. Loves Irony

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I was at Future Shop yesterday afternoon trying to buy a microwave. I will spare you the tedious details of what’s involved in buying a unit that Store A does not have in stock, getting a layaway at Store B, paying a deposit at Store A and then going to complete the purchase at Store B.

Suffice it to say, it’s frustrating.

However, my frustration cooled from boil to simmer when I say this sign affixed at their Customer Service desk:

After I stopped laughing, I pointed out the problem with their sign. Despite some confusion, a change was made:

I’m not sure this is any better really…

Written by Jonathan Dunn

April 14, 2008 at 5:27 pm

Posted in Marketing

If it’s improved, it aint new

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I dislike the term New & Improved and I’m calling for it to be exiled from the common marketing vocabulary.

There are two main reasons:

1. The logical tangle. It seems to me that a thing cannot be both new AND improved. It has to be one or the other. If something is new then it simply cannot also be improved as nothing existed previously that could be improved upon. Equally, saying something is improved implies that something inferior previously existed and as a result it cannot be new.

2. It doesnt tell me anything. The phrase tells me only that the thing is New & (or) Improved. . And in fact, this really doesn’t tell me anything that might substantially influence my interest in doing whatever I’m supposed to with this product. If it’s new, what need is it filling? Why does it exist? If it’s improved, what was wrong with the previous model? How is it improved?  Take me on a journey. Help me recognize how this thing will impact my life.

I’ll conceed  a case could be made for exceptions that are both new and improved. Is the video ipod a new ipod or just an improved version of the old-fashioned audio-only ipod as it is still the same essential product (a portable digital media device produced by Apple)? What about a product with a set of features some of which are new and some of which are older ones that have been improved? Valid questions perhaps.

I can see why the phrase has hung around. "Newness" is a sought-after attribute. You have contributed something to the ecosystem and offered options or solutions where none existed. "Improvement" is a worthy and noble pursuit in both personal and commercial settings. It suggests innovation and a customer-centric focus (we are improving it so you can get more out of it, dear customer…). These are important and even necessary attributes and, if valid, worth highlighting.

But they cannot excuse lazy copywriting. Using New & Improved is a thin cover for a lack of imagination, insight and information. It doesn’t stimulate interest nor does it compel me to action. It is marcom white noise and is still used far too frequently.

Today I make the commitment never to use the phrase "new & improved" again (except cynically or in jest). I urge you do the same.

Updated: In the interests of being helpful and not just blustery, I like the "Re-" words for achieving the same thing as "new & improved". Reinvented, revitalized, reinvigorated and the like offer the same short and punchy tone that’s suitable for headlines, taglines and packaging. They also suggest the novelty and innovation that new & improved wants to convey.

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Written by Jonathan Dunn

October 1, 2007 at 9:32 pm

Posted in Hyperbole, Marketing

Persuade vs Convince

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Terry Fallis, he of ThornleyFallis & a podcaster and author of some repute, has a regular segment on the InsidePR podcast called Inside Proper English. There’s substance beyond the clever title as Terry takes a weekly look at words & phrases that are commonly misused with the goal of making us better communicators.

Insider Proper English from this week looks at the difference between convince & persuade. Terry points out that, contrary to common belief & use, there is a subtle and important distinction between the two.

We are convinced by evidence or arguments made to the intellect

We are persuaded by appeals made to the will, moral sense or emotions.

I’d also add a further subtle distinction that we are convinced to think something; persuaded to think & do something.

The implication of this for marketing is significant. I couldn’t care less if you were convinced that my widget is better than my competitors widgets if I haven’t also persuaded you to do something about it – buy it, support it, donate to it, tell your friends about it.

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Written by Jonathan Dunn

September 24, 2007 at 8:14 pm

Posted in Common Use, Marketing

Do Customers Leave Brands By Mutual Consent?

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News out of London has Jose Mourinho leaving his post as manager of Chelsea Football Club by mutual consent. As a fan of Manchester United myself, I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand I respect his track record and football acumen. He’s also amusingly arrogant and a true showman. But with big bucks behind him, he’s also turned Chelsea into a massive rival for ManU. I’d imagine Ed Lee has similarly mixed feelings…or maybe not. A lot of people hate Mourinho.

To say that he left by mutual consent is spokes-babble for the fact that he lost a pissing match with his boss. There’s been a well-documented chilling of relations between Mourinho and Roman Abramovich, the club’s owner, over the expect standard of sucess. Something gave. But not before "the
special one" (a handle he picked up after saying at his opening CFC press conference: "Please don’t call me arrogant, but I’m European champion and I think I’m a special one.") had completely reinvented and revitalitzed Chelsea. And that’s the reason for the official line.

But do customers leave brands by mutual consent?

For the most part, brands wouldn’t consent to a customer leaving them. That means lost revenue and a lost supporter. Brands (and I use the broadest sense of the word) are constantly working to prevent you from leaving them. Relentless advertising extoling benefits. Product placements and strategic alignments to help us realize how the product/service/whatnot completes us. Occasionally brands will stop courting a particular set of customers if they feel they need to move in another direction. But that’s by mutual disinterest really.

There are loads of reasons why a customer leaves a brand. The main one would be breach of trust. It’s really a category of reasons:

  • failure to deliver on brand promise;
  • a bad customer service experience;
  • failure to live up to legal or social standards;
  • personal or financial injury and so on….

When a customer leaves a brand its a one-sided affair. The brand can stand outside the customer’s window blaring "In Your Eye"s all it wants. There’ll be no happy ending. The term we’re looking for is Irreconcileable Differences.

And that illuminates some parrallels between the Mourinho/Chelsea saga and the Brand/Customer relationship (apologies for the shoddy production values…):


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Written by Jonathan Dunn

September 19, 2007 at 9:00 pm

Do Fatter Asses Lead to Bigger Slogans?

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One of my guilty pleasure online destinations is the British-based Sun Newspaper (and it’s not for the Page 3 girl). I find the entertainment gossip amusing, the football (soccer) news occasionally informative and the headline & copy writing a real treat..

Today, I can across this story that reported on London Olympic facility designers making seats bigger because, well, spectator’s seats are bigger. That is, people are getting fatter and the stadium seating needs to be more spacious to accommodate them.

To quote:

OLYMPICS chiefs have ordered super-sized seats for London’s 2012 Games — because fans are getting FATTER.

All 20,000 chairs at the capital’s gleaming new Aquatic Centre will be 4cm wider and 5cm deeper than originally planned.

Organisers agreed to the changes after talks with stadium designers, who warned normal-sized seats would be unable to cope with a bulkier UK population by 2012.

It would be my personal hope that people interested in attending sporting events would themselves be participants in physical activities and fitness of some sort. But perhaps that is naive and not a particularly well-supported position if you’ve been to an NFL football game (where, at least, pant seams are well-supported).

So…my challenge is to consider how this will be marketed. After all, the honest truth (Built Ford tough???) will hardly endear fans to the games organizers. Setting aside that there is now more space on the seats for corporate advertisers to flog their wares, I’ve jotted down potential slogans/pitches:

– Olympic-sized seats for Olympic-sized spirit

– Where the only thing spilling over the side is water

– London 2012: The Biggest Games Ever

– Free Deep-fried Mars bar with every seat purchase

And so on….These are off the top of my head. Thoughtful suggestions welcome as well…

P.S. Obesity is a serious issue and this is not a good sign for us all.

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Written by Jonathan Dunn

September 10, 2007 at 8:37 pm