Friday, October 30, 2009

Shock done right

I caught this on Adfreak earlier this week, and even though it's old news to some of you, I wanted to share:

What I love about it is that it uses exaggerated crudity and smut to get attention, then rewards us with a true surprise.

There's lots of ads out there that push the limits of broadening social acceptance of nasty sex talk — but in this case, it actually does more than try to shock. It has a strong strategic message. I love it.

I'm also pretty sure the Copywriter is a fan of Eating Raoul. The lady's delivery reminds me quite a bit of John Paragon as the Sex Shop Clerk, giving Paul Bartel a hard time as he offers him his choice of toys such as The Salami, the Man-o'-War and The Alien, and the Ben-Wa Dancing Egg, and utters the classic line: "Le Orgy Gel comes in lemon, mint, cherry or trail mix..."

Speaking of shock, Acart had its Halloween office party today. You can check out pics on our Facebook page.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The genius box

In a news release that shocked nobody, The Nielsen Co. reported that young children are watching more TV now than in any year since 1995. This includes DVDs and PVRed shows. Thirty-two hours a week, on average.

Now, I don't pretend to be the world's greatest parent. Like everyone else, I'm making it up as I go along. We have certain things we are careful about: nutrition (mostly homemade food, organic when it counts), physical safety, streetsmarts, exercise, athletic skills, socialization. But on other things, we are more like our parents. And TV is one of them.

At Four years, 11 months, and change, Ladman loves to watch television. I don't think he's up to 32 hours a week, but he does love to tune in when he gets up in the morning, and right after school. I did the same, when I was a kid, so it doesn't seem that harmful to me. Hell, I work in advertising. I'm cynical that way.

What's different with my son is his viewing habits. When I was a kid, I loved nature and science documentaries. So did my wife. And so, naturally, does he. But while we had to wait for our weekly dose of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, he gets his shows on demand, recorded on PVR, or purchased on DVD. Over and over again.

Some favourites have been the whole BBC Walking With Dinosaurs franchise, as well as the many nature shows produced and/or narrated by David Attenborough (Blue Planet, Life in Cold Blood, Planet Earth). Recently, he has started to gravitate towards nature adventurers like the Crocodile Hunter (we don't tell him how that one ended), Snakemaster, Nigel Marven,Jules Sylvester, and Rob Bredl.

One that I'm not entirely sure of is "Bite Me" with Dr. Mike Leahy. This guy's a masochistic virologist who allows himself to get bitten, stung, envenomated and parasitized by some of the world's creepiest crawlies. Considering Ladman managed to get stung by a jellyfish and bitten by a garter snake this summer, I'm not sure this is a great influence.

But what I'm getting at here is that TV is like anything. It's the content that matters. My son exercises, socializes, gets read to, plays imaginative games (with rubber snakes or live bugs, of course!)... but he also enjoys his shows. And, as a result of watching guys with PhDs and nature nuts run around in khakis, he has a picked up a surprisingly rich scientific vocabulary for a kid his age.

The downside is that the TV shows on National Geographic and other channels are full of commercials, so we get constant advice from the boy as to which brand of yogurt or paper towels we should be buying. He's a sucker for ads. Karma's a bitch.

The thing that really amazed me happened just last night. He insisted on taking a small plastic baggie with him into the bath. (He loves playing with water.) He kept filling it up, and squeezing the water out, over and over again, until he turned to me and said "Dad! Look! This is how my heart works!"

You win this one, television.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Taking work home with you sucks

As social issues marketers, we often hit on issues that also affect our personal lives. But yesterday, the convergence was almost too much to handle.

For those who don't know, we've been working with the Public Health Agency of Canada on H1N1 pandemic preparedness ads pretty much since "swine flu" (we don't call it that) first hit the headlines. I'm actually working on the next phase of the campaign right now, getting ready to record a radio PSA.

With all my involvement telling others how to prepare, I always wondered in the back of my mind how I would react to H1N1 in my household.

Well, last weekend my (almost 5-year-old) son developed a sore throat, then aches, then a cough. He just lay around all day, not moving or eating much. By Sunday night he had a high fever. At the same time, my health was also going downhill but not as dramatically.

Of course, we spent the night looking up info on H1N1 symptoms and watching him breathe. No respiratory distress other than congestion, but it was still a scary vigil. Kids have died of this thing. Local kids. Unless you're a parent, it's hard to understand what it's like worrying about a very sick child. You wish you could take it upon yourself.

When morning came, he was the same but stable. Advil had brought the fever down to moderate levels. I tried to be a good and brave citizen, and instead of rushing to emergency I stayed home and called my family doctor's office. Amazingly, my doc himself phoned back and went over the symptoms and timelines with me.

If there are any other worried parents out there, let this be my own personal PSA.

Know the symptoms

Almost always:

• Cough and fever


• Fatigue
• Muscle aches
• Sore throat
• Headache
• Decreased appetite
• Runny nose


• Nausea
• Vomitting
• Diarrhea

If you get flu-like symptoms and are pregnant or have underlying health problems contact your healthcare provider.

If you get flu-like symptoms and are otherwise healthy, you should stay home to recover. If your symptoms worsen or you experience difficulty breathing or serious shortness of breath, it is important to seek medical attention.


The American flu site adds the following cautions:

What are the emergency warning signs?

In children

• Fast breathing or trouble breathing
• Bluish skin color
• Not drinking enough fluids
• Not waking up or not interacting
• Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
• Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
• Fever with a rash

In adults

• Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
• Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
• Sudden dizziness
• Confusion
• Severe or persistent vomiting

The CDC site also has an online self-diagnosis tool: link.

By the way, I'm really glad I called my doctor. "Not H1N1", he said. The onset of symptoms was too slow, and it wasn't severe enough. Apparently a bad — but less novel — respiratory infection has been going around. The Ladman is still lounging away at home today, but he's slowly recovering. We were told to keep monitoring, and if he doesn't get better in a couple of days—or worse, seems better then suddenly relapses— we need to go back for medical care.

I won't get into questions about the flu vaccine (which I guess he'll still need to get) here. I just wanted to remind everyone to get your information from trusted sources, stay vigilant, keep calm, don't run to the ER at the first sign of trouble... and try not to take your work home with you.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Showing our support

As you probably know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

As a Social Issues Marketing agency, we wanted to show our support in a creative way. So, after some brainstorming, Cause Loop (Acart's employee-run corporate social responsibility committee) decided that we'd have a "wear a pink bra to work day" to raise awareness among our colleagues, clients, and social networks.

So here I am, typing this blog in my office in the tender embrace of a 42D pink bra.

In the spirit of viral campaigns like that by MTV's Aliya Jasmine Sovani, we wanted this to be a celebration of compassion and awareness for and of breast health, rather than a sad occasion.

We thought our modestly clothed brassiere approach would be a little less controversial, but in promoting the event internally we got some cautionary feedback from a few colleagues who felt our silly focus on ladies' underthings could offend some cancer survivors — or family and friends living with the loss of a loved one from the disease. Those of us who chose to participate mean no offence to anyone; but if any is taken, please understand that our hearts are in the right place.

Another question is why we are pushing for "awareness" of an issue that is high on the radar, rather than soliciting funds. We are actually taking donations in the office, and encouraging everyone who sees this to donate to the cancer charity of their choice. However, as social marketers we wanted to give something special from Acart's key resources: our creativity, commitment, and compassion.

The facts:

This year, an estimated 22,700 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 5,400 will die of it. (An estimated 180 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 50 will die of it.)

One in 9 women is expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime and one in 28 will die of it.

Most women who develop breast cancer have no risk factors other than simply being a woman and getting older.

So enjoy these pictures. There are more on Facebook. We'll also be releasing a video of our exploits next week. Laugh at us, or laugh with us. But we're happy you took the time to think about an important issue that isn't going away.

And most importantly... mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, nieces, wives, lovers, friends: Take care of your breasts. Check in on their health. And stay well.

Donations can be made at the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, the Breast Cancer Society of Canada, Rethink Breast Cancer, or anywhere else you find worthy.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

This is what they call a "teaser"

Please tune in tomorrow to show your support, and to watch us show ours.

This year, an estimated 22,700 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 5,400 will die of it. (An estimated 180 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 50 will die of it.)

One in 9 women is expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime and one in 28 will die of it.

Most women who develop breast cancer have no risk factors other than simply being a woman and getting older.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sex sells... a career in farming?

All over the first world, the family farm is in decline. My own efforts to give life support to this traditional economy include eating local and buying direct. But apparently the German-speaking world sees the need for a much cheesier approach. (And we're not talking Cambozola).

Following the lead of a sister organization in Austria, the Association of Young Bavarian Farmers has produced an "erotic farm girls calendar" to "present young farmers as modern and open-minded entrepreneurs and do away with the antiquated image and do away with preconceptions".

The Association's mission (pdf) states "We are cutting-edge entrepreneurs who do our utmost for a socially-responsible and modern agriculture". The calendar features 12 scantily-clad (and apparently socially responsible) frauleins posing against a variety of rural backdrops. Very few are doing anything relating to farming, but at least they tried to pay homage to the traditional farm wife with this one:

Now, I don't know about you, but if we're talking about getting rid of the "antiquated image" of farm life, a pin-up girl barefoot and making bread in the kitchen is hardly a good start...

Although I suppose a sexy farm calendar could have ended up much worse.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Throwing free speech under the bus

Ottawa City Council is looking to update its transit advertising policy, after receiving complaints that they had a double standard for ads that talk about God.

The incident earlier this year saw the Transit Committee first refusing to run, then eventually allowing, ads by the Humanist Association of Ottawa that read, "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

Well, as a result of all the hoopla, The City of Ottawa is changing the advertising policies of its transit company to conform with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Here's what will not be accepted as transit advertising in Ottawa, according to the Citizen:
If the revised policy is approved by the transit committee and council, the city will not accept an ad that:

• Is of questionable taste or which is irritating in its content or method of presentation;
• in the opinion of the city disparages any city service, or promotes a product by drawing negative comparison with a city service; or
•Discourages the use of public transit.

The new policy will only encourage ads that "portray positive images of people, avoiding the use of extreme and inappropriate postures that inappropriately accentuate one part of the body."

Ottawa Transit Committee Chair Councillor Alex Cullen also made a statement about decency: "Questionable taste is a large grey area and we have to be conscious of the Charter, but there are times when the majority of people will say something crosses the line."

Clear Channel
, who sell the space on OC Transpo bus shelters, is concerned about this proposed policy. And so am I.

The broad wording about "taste" and "positive images of people", combined with the Councillor's statement about the sensitivities of "the majority of people", basically continue the City's ability to subjectively ban any ad that it doesn't like.

There was also this frightening comment: "We own the buses and we don't like somebody putting on ads that say, 'Don't take this bus'."

City Council does not own the busses. We all do. That's why it's called "public" transit.

That's also why we need fair and transparent policies around the kind of ads that are placed on our shared properties. People have the right not to be bullied or slandered in public communication. But they do not necessarily have the right not to be offended. As long as they are not being targetted by hate speech, obscenity, or other legally-defined nastiness, who is to say what does and does not cross the line? Will we have to start having an ad referendum every time an edgy new campaign comes to town?

I'm just glad nobody complained about this one:

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Best Buy lets me say "Bye Bye" to electronic junk

I don't usually blog on the weekend, but I'm working today anyway, and I'm pretty excited about this Corporate Social Responsibility initiative by Best Buy:

From October 16, to October 21, Best Buy and Best Buy Mobile stores across Canada will offer Trade-In incentives on a number of products including:

- Trade-in your LCD or tube TV and save up to $200 off the purchase of
a Best Buy exclusive ENERGY STAR (R) HDTV
- Trade-in your old VCR and receive $30 off the purchase of a
Toshiba DVD recorder or $20 off a Samsung Blu-ray player
- Trade-in your old remote control and receive 15 per cent off a Harmony
remote control
- Bring in any camera or camcorder and save up to $100 on a new Canon
camera or camcorder
- Bring in your old laptop or desktop computer and receive $100 off the
purchase of any Toshiba Laptop
- Bring in your old monitor and save $50 off an Energy Star-rated
HP monitor
- Trade in your old telephone and receive $30 off the purchase of any
Panasonic multi-handset cordless phone
- Trade in your old GPS system and save $50 with an upgrade to the
TomTom GO730 GPS with BlueTooth capabilities
- Trade in your old headphones and receive up to $20 off of select
Sony and Bose headphones

As both an '80s guy and a (not yet ready for reality TV) hoarder, I have accumulated a huge pile of semi-functional, obsolete technology in my basement. Remember when stereos came in components? Well, convergence has made most of them redundant.

My big issue was that I knew these things were hazardous waste. You don't want your fake fur covered quadraphonic 8-track receiver going into the town dump. Even newer items can contain lead, mercury, and other nasty stuff. Not to mention what a waste it is to throw out all that metal.

I tried to give away the old components, using the urban tradition of leaving it out by the curb. Not even the scroungers would take them. (Well, they did take some old speakers, but that was it.)

I looked into local recyclers, and they tend to be out in the country, and charge to take things like TVs and monitors. I figured that big box retailers must have some sort of responsibility program to compensate for all the disposable electronics they put out there, but didn't see anything obvious. Then a Facebook friend posted the Best Buy link. I was ecstatic.

So this morning, I loaded up my wife's car with electronic junk and took it in. The guy at the door was friendly, and helpful, and took it right off my hands. They took my broken iron, too! I didn't even want trade-in discounts (there are no coupons, just instant point-of-sale credit for things I don't really need more of). I was just thrilled to know that I now have a couple more square meters of storage space — and I did it right.

Thanks, Best Buy. Bye bye, home entertainment trash.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Web 2.0 For The Win!

We just soft-launched a new online contest to promote St. Lawrence College: SLC FTW

This site gives St. Lawrence College students a chance to tell the world why they love their school, and vie for cash and prizes. It even has a (former-) student-produced teaser video, to get people in the mood:

Only current students will be allowed to enter videos, but once they're up there, anyone can vote for them. We're hoping that contestants will engage the full power of their social networks to make a play for the $1000 cash — and, of course, to spread the St. Lawrence College message far and wide!

The best vids will also be shown at St. Lawrence College's Open House (held simultaneously on the Kingston, Brockville and Cornwall campuses on November 21st), as well as featured in other St. Lawrence promotions.

The contest officially launches next week, but the site's up now to generate advance buzz. I'll post updates here once it gets moving.

Know someone at St. Lawrence College? Get 'em shooting!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Most homoerotically awkward ad ever?

Not that there's anything wrong with that, but:

Yes, it's a real product. It's even been featured on Ellen Degeneres.

I'd give my usual creative and pseudo-sociological deconstruction of this campaign, but I'm feeling a little uncomfortable right now, so I think the less said the better.

If it makes you feel any less awkward, there's a female one, too:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


South Africa's IOL reports that their country's Advertising Standards Authority has banned an ad campaign by a chain of "gentlemen's clubs":

What's interesting about this ruling is that the billboard wasn't just cited for being sexually explicit, but "an offence to the dignity of athlete Caster Semenya".

For those who don't remember, Ms. Semenya was the South African runner who won gold in the 800 meters at the 2009 World Championships in Athletics, only to have the IAAF insist that she undergo a gender test — causing national and global furor.

For his part the advertiser, Lolly Jackson, is playing this scandal for all its PR potential — first of all denying that the ad had anything to do with the runner because he lacks subtlety ("the model on the billboard would have been black, she would have been wearing a pair of athletics shoes") and then vowing to use his future ads to "throw mud" at the ASA.

It's a sleazy ad to be sure — in every sense of the word. But I can't imagine an ad getting pulled in this country just for making an oblique jab at a public figure. Can you give me an example otherwise?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

St. Sarah of Assisi?

"Sell the Vatican, feed the world!" is the theme of Sarah Silverman's heretical new viral video:

(Warning: F-bombs)

Amusing stuff. Perhaps offensive to some. But not original — not by a long shot.

The argument over whether or not churches should hold wealth while the poor go hungry has always been there. Has she never seen The Name of the Rose?

(See the debate at the very beginning.)

So, while this is a cutely cocky video, Ms. Silverman has stumbled onto an issue that has been faced by Christian theologians since St. Francis' time. But at least today, nobody has to face an inquisition over it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The fashion ad that makes people want to Ralph

Ralph Lauren is in Dutch with the Internet, thanks to this bizarrely-proportioned model who appeared in an ad:

No, she doesn't look like that in real life. It's a Shoop.

According to Yahoo's Shine blog, the image was first posted on Photoshop Disasters, then picked up by Boing Boing.

And here's where it gets really stupid:

"Ralph Lauren responded by filing a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) complaint against Boing Boing and Photoshop Disasters, claiming that their use of the image was a copyright infringement that fell outside of the Fair Use laws which allow the media to reproduce creative content for the purposes of commentary and criticism."

PS Disasters caved (they say Blogspot actually pulled it out from under them), but Boing Boing did not:

" Ralph Lauren, GreenbergTraurig, and PRL Holdings, Inc: sue and be damned. Copyright law doesn't give you the right to threaten your critics for pointing out the problems with your offerings. You should know better. And every time you threaten to sue us over stuff like this, we will:

a) Reproduce the original criticism, making damned sure that all our readers get a good, long look at it, and;

b) Publish your spurious legal threat along with copious mockery, so that it becomes highly ranked in search engines where other people you threaten can find it and take heart; and

c) Offer nourishing soup and sandwiches to your models."

God love Boing Boing. But to be honest, I'm much more bothered by the attempted stifling of criticism than I am by the pic itself.

I realize that unrealistic body images are a real issue with girls, and I'm not trying to negate any of the complaints against the practice. I just feel, as a righteous adman, that we would be better off educating young people in school not to believe their eyes when they see photographs in ads.

Unrealistic body imagery in fashion has always been there:

The real challenge is that, while nobody thought those illustrations were real, altered photos of models and actresses are deceptively realistic.

I really wish they taught media awareness in public school. I'd love to write in their textbook: "Assume that nothing you see in ads is real. The ice cream is mashed potatoes, the hamburger is foam rubber, and the model wouldn't look like that if she starved herself dead."

Hell, they're even smoking herbal cigarettes in Mad Men...

In defence of nothing

The National Post reports that Mississauga City Councillor Carolyn Parrish has declared war on the "overuse" of colour and whitespace in city print ads, challenging Mississauga's communication people to reduce their ad budget by 30%.

Now, I'm all for being efficient, and I appreciate the Councillor's push to get her city's communications into the modern digital world. But the insistence that municipal ads are "too large, utilize too much blank space or have too many colorized features" is something I have heard many times before. And it's a mistake.

Smart use of whitespace (or "negative space") is an important technique used to get print ads noticed, especially when they're floating in a text-heavy page of editorial.

For example, this sentence, with no other art direction to help it, stands out.

Unfortunately, though, many clients look at their media spending, and dislike the idea of paying for several column inches of nothing. And you end up with a mess like this:

Instead of a show-stopper, like this:

Restrained use of colour highlights can also be effective:

So, if there's one thing I'd like to say to people like Councillor Parrish, it's give your print ads a break. They need all the help they can get.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New anti-obesity ads pretty much ensure I'll never eat again

Look closer. It's shocking. It's gross. It's... veiny. And according to the BBC, these New York City Department of Health ads may be too disgusting to even make an impact:

"These images look so disgusting that it's a turn-off, you look away without taking the message in," said George Parker, an advertising expert and author of The Ubiquitous Persuaders.

It's apparently also triggering a backlash campaign by the Center for Consumer Freedom who are running ads that throw up statements like "You’re too stupid to make good personal decisions about foods and beverages" and “It’s your food. It’s your drink. It’s your freedom.”

The New York Department of Health ad is a hard-hitting one, if you take the time to stare at it and make the connection between unsightly fat and sugary drinks. If. But if you'll excuse me, I now feel like purging my healthy lunch.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Payola... Pay-oh-el-ay-ol-la...

Just caught news on CBC that American bloggers are now expected to be transparent about who is paying them off:

The Federal Trade Commission on Monday announced new rules that require bloggers in the United States to disclose "material connections" — or "connections that consumers would not expect" — with the subjects they write about. The connections can take the form of outright payments, advertisements or free products given to the blogger by the subject.

Not complying could cost bloggers up to $11,000 U.S. per post. Meanwhile, Canadian authorities aren't in a hurry to enact similar rules, because they can't figure out who's territory blogs are.

The U.S. rule seems kind of dumb to me, since blogs are supposed to be subjective and suspect by their very nature. I prefer to take care of this on the consumer level, by educating them not to believe everything they read, and to always assume ulterior motives.

Anyway, just in case Canada happens to enact similar rules, I'd like to state for the record that I am a [bleep]ing adman, and therefore in the pocket of every client we have. There can be no "payola" scam here, because I am proactively disclosing that I will use this blog to promote paying clients whenever possible.

Take public transit. Become a foster parent. Go back to school. Stop elder abuse. Protect yourself against H1N1, Etc.

But if you still want something Payola-related, here you go:

This isn't really about skincare, is it?

There are very few social issues I'm uncomfortable discussing in a work setting, but reproductive politics is one of them. Not that I don't have strong opinions on the issue. It's just that we, as polite and reserved Canadians, don't really want to get into it again. At least, not in the office.

And so it is with great awkwardness that I present Clarins' new POS campaign, as spotted at The Bay:

There's no way those words are coincidental. It's just too far a stretch from the headline to the real message of a selection of ecologically-friendly gifts with purchase. Also, the two-level font size is a dead giveaway.

Now, whether you're the straw man barking "How dare they shove this pro-choice rhetoric doen our throats in a retail setting!" — or the one growling "How dare they make light of the most important women's rights issue in a generation!" — I'm sure you'll agree that it's not a fight we want to have at the makeup counter.

Do we?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Instant Brand Fail

Have you seen the Starbucks "Via" instant coffee taste test ads yet?

No, I am not taking the taste test. If I wanted to drink instant coffee, I'd drink instant coffee. Or perhaps, in a pinch, I'd drink fresh-brewed coffee that is indistinguishable from instant. Which, according to this ad, is what Starbucks has been selling for years.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Remix is okay — as long as you're just in it for the attention

Caught a cool viral video made by Students at l'Université du Québec à Montréal:

Great stuff. User-generated, relevant to its generation, and it shows off their campus, fellowship and school pride. It's too bad we couldn't do this for our clients, though, because they could never afford the rights to a Black Eyed Peas song.

And there you have one of the biggest challenges to viral marketers: We're answerable to actors' unions, record labels, and in some cases the Queen herself. While individuals can, and often do, get away with violating copyright on their personal projects on YouTube and wherever. And so they should. The beauty of the we have today is that creative expression has never been as democratic, and media has never been such a meritocracy.

Where many copyright owners miss the boat, in my opinion, is strictly policing their content. If they complain to YouTube, for example, they can get the video or audio portion deleted.

As a Creative myself, I believe in an author's moral rights to preserve the integrity of his or her work. But I also think it's time to say that, as long as the original work is out there somewhere, "remix is okay":

The thing is, letting go can really spread your material in an organic way without really costing you a cent, while nuking every unauthorized use of your material just seems small-minded these days. I understand not wanting to let some adman make money off your work. But what could harm can a bunch of attention-seeking kids do?

So, will the Peas' record label kill one of the best — free — promo campaigns the band has ever had? Stay tuned.