MarComedy: Don’t make me laugh

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

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

My Boys Got Their Names in Lights

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Marketing magazine’s Sept 10th issue contains the annual Ones to Watch feature. If you’re unfamiliar with the OTW, it’s their list of marketing professionals who are under 30 and poised to be industry leaders (having already made a significant mark on the business). It’s behind the firewall so you can’t read the full profiles without a password/subscription.

However (enter shameless plug), my bosses made the list and I’m re-posting their profile here (with thanks to Lesley Young who wrote the piece):

Brady Murphy & Adrian Schauer
Co-Managing Partners,
Vortex Mobile, Toronto >> Age: 29, 28

Three years ago, at one of their many brainstorming sessions over beers after shooting hoops, longtime pals Brady Murphy and Adrian Schauer hit upon a winning idea about mobile marketing.

The technology was huge in Asia and Europe, but not so in North America. "There was a big void in understanding around text messaging or SMS [Short Message Service] at the time," says Murphy. The pair would zero in on developing cutting-edge marketing technology for North America. Enter Toronto-based Vortex Mobile.

Murphy has the marketing cred, including a few years in account services, while Schauer brings the technical expertise from a stint managing new product development in the wireless industry. The two are an agency match made in heaven, says Michael Keefe, senior director of mobile and interactive strategy at client Carlson Marketing Canada.

"Delving into the mobile industry can be intimidating for some clients. They [Vortex] have incredible knowledge of industry best practices that accompany clear marketing objectives…which takes the guesswork out of the equation."

David Soyka, consumer marketing manager at Vortex client Levi Strauss & Co., agrees. "They’ve given us flexible, terrific MMS [Multimedia Messaging Services] solutions without elaborate infrastructure." A recent campaign for Levi’s, which allowed customers to vote on their favourite jeans model (integrating SMS and viral consumer engagement), resulted in more than 16,000 votes. Vortex also enabled a mobile video campaign for Microsoft Canada.

They’ve come a long way since starting up in Murphy’s basement; growing revenues more than 300% in each of the past two years. They’re now working out of a new downtown Toronto office with 11 employees. "Eventually, we’d like to sell and become part of something bigger," admits Schauer. But until then the two friends will keep shooting hoops, and looking for their next big idea over beers

Brady’s also been blogging at the CMA blog on matters mobile and since I’ve already made one shameless plug, you can find that here.

Naturally I’m very excited for them and I know they’re honoured to be included. Thanks Marketing mag.

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Written by Jonathan Dunn

September 10, 2007 at 10:36 am

Posted in Marketing, News Bytes

Old Friends More Trustworthy or CPR for the 30 Second Spot

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A just-released study called Compose (conducted by Kantar Media Research and the Dutch firm Pointlogic) examined the impact different media has on consumer choice, awareness, preference etc…Among the findings are:

  • Consumers recognize TV as the No. 1 medium for building awareness: 43% rate it as excellent or very good. Magazines (31%), newspapers (29%) and radio (24%) all also performed well
  • Asked which media helped them decide whether "they can trust a brand," TV ranked first again with 26% of the respondents, followed by newspapers (21%) and magazines (19%).
  • The newest media tracked in the survey – platforms like video games, video-on-demand, interactive TV and streaming online video – by contrast are still regarded by most consumers as being niche communication vehicles. Their scores on these measures ranged between 2% and 5%.

This is useful reminder that for all the hype around social media, emerging technologies and what not, the vast majority of people still consume and trust more traditional media. Of course, the future for these new media is good. The popularity of 2.0 apps/site among younger demographics is high and will translate into greater acceptance over time.

I suspect a major barrier for the new media is a credibility gap. With UGC or community/citizen journalism,  its hard for the average consumer to evaluate the accuracy or trustworthiness of content they consume online.

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Written by Jonathan Dunn

August 23, 2007 at 9:34 am

Brain hurt – too much thinking outside of box

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Seth Godin has started a Squidoo lens on the Encyclopedia of Business Cliches. There’s a top 10 that has morphed into a Top 83 (and counting) and that  will change as votes are cast in favour of one or another & other cliches are added. The current top 3 are: Best Practices, Synergy & Thinking outside the box.

The main thrust is that these terms, though (arguably) once useful, have been discredited through over-use and by functioning as a shield agaisnt actually saying something useful, insightful or relevant.

Cliches are more than just linguistic shortcuts, they’re typically also intellectual & creative shortcuts. It’s easy to fall back on one of these vacuous expressions, deferring responsibility for saying something meaningful or least forcing the reader (listener, etc..) to interpret for themselves. In fact, its probably better that these cliches are used so often. It allows the consumer/interpreter to come to their own conclusions.

I’m sure if business rhetoric all of a sudden became honest, transparent, insightful and useful, we wouldnt have a clue what was going on & what was expected of us. At least now, when some someone says "lets think outside the box" we know they don’t have clue what they want and are expecting us to come with the answer that will save their skin.

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Written by Jonathan Dunn

August 14, 2007 at 9:21 pm