Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Very Acart Christmas

If you're a client or partner of Acart Communications, you probably received our official Christmas e-card.

This is not it:

I wanted to let Change Marketing readers meet some of the people I'm fortunate enough to work with every day. They're a varied group, hailing from the four corners of the world, and they all celebrate the holidays in distinctive ways. But what unites us all is our love of the Christmas season.

I wanted this vid to be as real as possible, so I just brought my camera in on Monday and started walking around the office asking people the first Christmas-related question that popped into my mind. The result is a mosaic of real personalities, from Craig's head shake to Al's homespun tales of childhood in Friuli. A little amateur editing, and it's ready to go.

The cast, in order of appearance are:

Me (Intro)
Cindy, Production Artist (First Acart Xmas)
Mike, Controller (Lots of Xmas Ties)
Kevin, Media Planner/Buyer (Musical Tie)
Marco, Developer (Stocking)
Kate, Developer (Xmas Sweater)
Kerry, Art Director (Carol)
Kevin again
Colin, Production Designer (Xmas in the UK)
Julia, Amanda and Christine, Account Executives (Bestest BFFs)
Craig, Account Supervisor
Lynn, Production Manager (Best Age)
Christopher, Copywriter (Letter to Santa)
Leslie, Designer (First Xmas Memories)
Russel, Proposal Coordinator (Best Xmas Gift)
Sarah, Designer (What The Kids Asked For)
Jason, Manager of Digital Media (I Dunno)
Bernie, Receptionist (Xmas for Teens)
Mimi, Account Executive (Engaged Xmas)
Lara, Account Executive (Xmas on the Beach)
Chris, Senior Accountant (Réveillon)
Nat, Media Planner/Buyer (Xmas in NB)
Josee, Senior Production Artist (Xmas in Mauritius)
Javier, Art Director (Mexican/Belgian Xmas)
John, Senior Creative Director (Meat)
Vernon, Associate Creative Director (Hot Pot)
Linda, Director Finance and Admin. (Someone Else Cooking)
Perry, Art Director (Taking it Easy)
John, VP Client Services (Beverage)
Al, President (Fill Your Boots)
James, PC Tech (True Meaning of Xmas)
Me again
Al again

I didn't get everyone, due to illness, vacation and (to be honest) camera shyness. Some notable absences are Gill (Account Director) and Sue (Director of Consumer Marketing). But you get the idea.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone. Change Marketing will return on January 4, 2010.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Spirited

Christmas is a deeply spiritual time for many. Religious or not, they see it as a time to feel closer to other people — family, friends and strangers — and perhaps even to their chosen deity.

But Christmas has a dark side, which anyone who was in a mall last weekend can see. Anxiety, stress, and depression drive some to commit random acts of rudeness that are truly shocking.

It was in this atmosphere of pre-holiday high feelings that a church in Auckland, New Zealand, decided to weigh in on the true meaning of Christmas with the billboard above.

According to Glynn Cardy, admittedly progressive priest at St Matthew in the City Anglican Church, the ad was intended to “lampoon literalism and invite people to think again about what a miracle is.”

“Progressive Christianity is distinctive in that not only does it articulate a clear view, it is also interested in engaging with those who differ. Its vision is one of robust engagement.”

St. Matthew's is known for its cheeky approach to advertising its mission, from an Easter billboard that said "This billboard will rise again. (Next Easter probably.)" to promoting their podcast sermons as "iGod".

The Christmas ad was designed by M&C Saatchi "with the brief that it had to be sufficiently provocative to keep most other churches from allowing it."

And provoke it did.

From Bob McCoskrie, Director of the group Family First New Zealand:
“The church can have its debate on the Virgin birth and its spiritual significance inside the church building, but to confront children and families with the concept as a street billboard is completely irresponsible and unnecessary”

From the The Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Auckland, the Right Reverend John Paterson:
“Discussion of theological perspectives and diversity is encouraged in a respectful way, but this approach is insensitive to communities across the Anglican Church as well as other denominations.”

And Lyndsay Freer, Spokeswoman for the Auckland Catholic Diocese:
"Our Christian tradition of 2000 years is that Mary remains a virgin and that Jesus is the son of God, not Joseph. Such a poster is inappropriate and disrespectful." (Mrs. Freer also called the billboard "non-Christian".)

As often happens, unfortunately, in matters of faith, the controversy soon erupted into violence as the ad was painted over, stolen, and slashed by angry Aucklanders. The final assault ended in the arrest of an elderly woman, but St Matthew in the City refused to press charges.

Glynn Cardy remained unapologetic over the incident, though, and was proud of his aspproach:
“No doubt on Christmas Eve when papers print the messages of Church leaders most of them will serve up ‘middle mush’. Jesus will be born in a palatial sanitised barn and every king and crook, religious and irreligious, will be surrounding him saying ‘Merry Christmas my friends!’ No reader will be asked to do or think anything risky, no reader will be offended, and no reader will write a critical response. They’ll just yawn and turn the page.”

Regardless, the church says they ran out of money to replace the billboard yet again, and are concerned that things could get even more out of hand. Cardy added that they'd made their point anyway:
"The topic is ... something the church has talked about for centuries, but what is new is that we have the audacity to laugh at something quite so ridiculous as a male god sending sperm down to impregnate Mary. Obviously we can't keep replacing it and there may come a time when we will have to take it down if the vandalism continues. But by then people would have known about it, laughed at it or even be offended by it and the billboard would have served its purpose."

The final destruction of the Mary and Joseph billboard exposed the church's previous billboard, which advertises something a bit less controversial: A Noah's Ark scene encouraging gay couples to come to church.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Five Times When You Need to Go Offline

Yesterday's Blackberry outage was a real panic for some professionals, who have grown to depend on their PDAs as an extension of themselves. But in my opinion these glitches are useful reminders of how much business and life have really changed in the past 10-15 years.

I still remember the boom-boom high tech '90s, when many of my clients were excited by the idea of transforming the way people do business, share, and communicate. Songs like Jesus Jones' "Right Here, Right Now" were co-opted by companies like AT&T to express the revolution that was going on. But the classic bit of '90s optimism and foresight was AT&T's 1993 "You Will" campaign:

So here we are in 2009. I'm blogging at you using a late '90s medium, but you may be reading this on a hand-held device in an elevator, a netbook in a coffee shop, on your HD TV, or a laptop on the bus. You can comment on it, share it, even subscribe to it (hint, hint) so you get notified the second I hit "publish post". Awesome, isn't it?

Isn't it?

I love the convenience of our current communication technology. Don't get me wrong. But new opportunities to collaborate and connect have their downsides too. So allow me to present...

The five times when you need to go offline:

1) When multitasking gets just plain rude

I run a lot of meetings, but I hate meetings as much as everyone else. I want them to be organized, focussed, and productive. But somehow, we have allowed it to be okay for people to read e-mails, text message, and instant message while other people are talking. What the hell?

Whether you're a client or a colleague, I can't pretend that I'm not annoyed by this kind of behaviour. I wish that we could post a sign in our boardroom saying "one conversation at a time, please". While you may think you're being efficient by splitting your attention in the meeting to get other things done, it actually slows down everyone else because you are not keeping up. Stop it please. It's as rude as taking a phone call mid-meeting.

2) When project management turns into buck-passing

One of the other problems with our ubiquitous access to e-mail is the temptation to do everything on that medium. In an ordinary conversation, people have to think about what they're saying. But when you receive an e-mail with a problem, it's easier to forward it to someone else to interpret and resolve than to actually participate intellectually in the resolution. Bad.

3) When you end up making a mountain out of an e-mail trail

Many people suck at expressing themselves in writing. e-mail is especially bad because it lacks nuance or the context of tone or body language. It's not an emotive medium, and yet people make the mistake of committing emotions to the permanent record by ranting and raving via e-mail. Big mistake. Especially if many CCs are involved. You may want to "take it back", but it's out there forever.

4) When you contribute to the death of prose

I'm old enough to have had pen pals. I loved writing letters. That probably helped me develop as a writer.

I'm not one of these people who thinks that texting and online jargon are killing the English language. It has to evolve to serve the needs of the day. But what I do find is that fewer and fewer people coming out of university have the ability to organize their thoughts in a format of more than 50 words.

When I put out an open call for entry-level Copywriters a couple of years ago, I insisted on them writing me an original cover letter. The ones I interviewed had to write a 700-word advertorial as a test. I found my worthy candidates, but I also found that many others who wanted to write for a living were incapable of structuring their thoughts, even in an e-mail. Add to that some truly pathetic spelling, grammar, and general sloppiness. Won't someone please think of the next generation of writers?

I agree that e-mail should be written differently than traditional business correspondence. But I also believe that it takes more thought to compose a concise message than a long-winded one. The smaller the screens (and the shorter the attention spans) that your readers have, the more you need to polish your writing style. This, sadly, is not happening. Even among my generation and older.

5) When work follows you everywhere

Everyone needs a break from being on-call. I know. When I was a kid, my uncle was a family doctor. Being accessible all the time can easily burn you out.

And yet people are afraid to disconnect from their work and social networks, even for eating, sleeping and having personal time. This just isn't right.

Because business is competitive, both client and agency people want to outdo each other in being available and responsive. If you don't answer this e-mail or take this call, right freaking NOW, then someone else will. Right?

Call me naive, but I think we need to change this situation. In my line of work, few crises are as immediate as people sometimes make them out to be. It's just that the opportunity for instant communication has created an expectation of immediate action — even on things that could easily have waited until tomorrow to address.

To me, the obsession with connectivity is a combination of novelty, inflated self-importance, and fear. We need to get over all three.

Anyway, if you'd like to comment on this blog, please do so below. I'll respond when I get around to it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The rumours of marketing's death have been greatly exaggerated

Social media people seem to take great glee in pronouncing the doom of advertising as we know it. Blogs like Post Advertising are built around the idea, and Guy Kawasaki was grimly checking for advertising's pulse over three years ago.

Today I received the latest obituary from Jason, our digital chief, via socialmediatoday:

2010: The Year Marketing Dies...

But inflammatory headline and "obvious death of mainstream media is obvious" statistics aside, the effing article actually gets around to something I can use:

"Of course, if marketing burns to the ground in 2010, a new and more powerful marketing will rise from the ashes."

Thank you. Not just for telling me that I have a future, but also for giving credit to human nature.

As long as we have somewhat of a market economy, there will be marketing. "Advertising", "Integrated Marketing Communications", "Branding", "Social Media"... call it what you will. If someone has something to sell on a large scale — whether it's goods, services, or ideas — then someone needs to figure out how to reach, inform, and persuade their target audiences.

For that reason, the socialmediatoday article made some good sense. And since they are heralding the new era of interaction, I'll interact with the part I like:

The role of the new marketer:

• Won't be simply to focus on outbound messaging but to consult with sales, customer service, and human resources on how the brand must be communicated in every consumer interaction, every tweet, and every touchpoint,

QFT. As consumers become emboldened by their powers of mass communication, they expect their brands to be there with them. The days of one-way advertising are over. Today it's a nonstop, realtime focus group that everyone gets to observe, moderate and attend.

Won't be merely to imagine creative messages but to fashion programs that are seamless with the actual product and service experience,

Not sure about this one. Do consumers always experience products, or do they sometimes really experience brands? When you get into consumer products, I would argue that people are still swayed by status symbols that do not represent true value for money or even decent performance. It's all about membership, and a strong brand can actually shape that identity — especially if a celebrity is involved.

• Won't be to plan bursts of communication on a yearlong calendar but to respond to and be part of the ever-changing dialog with consumers,

This. Things happen too fast for the traditional approach. We see this now with big TV productions, where the need for advance planning and commitment to production details clashes with the need to react to today's headlines. Everything needs to get more agile.

• Won't be to count friends, page visits, eyeballs, readers, or viewers but to measure changes in consumer attitude and intent,

This is the big ROI question, and it's one we haven't been able to adequately answer yet. Fortunately, most of our clients are looking for just such attitude and behaviour changes rather than sales. Perhaps that's why we're not as scared as some others. When we can manage expectations honestly, social media works for our clients.

• Won't be merely to talk at consumers but to listen and engage one to one,

This is the biggest change in the way people consume media. It has become more and more personal. However, I would argue that smart advertisers have always listened to consumers, through market research, and have used their intuitive abilities of empathy and persuasion to create engaging ads. The media may change, but what goes behind the messages stays the same. It's just more immediate, and in some ways more exact. When you see someone starting a 10-member Facebook Group about how much you suck, though, it can also trick you into making a mountain out of a molehill.

• Won't be to build campaigns but relationships,

This has always been the point of branding, even in analogue days.

• Won't be to create impressions but experiences

20 GOTO 10

• Won't be buy media but to earn it.

This is the biggest change of all. When I started this blog last spring, one of the first issues I addressed was the idea that social media should "brand, not sell". I still believe that, and have been testifying this gospel to clients at every opportunity.

One of the toughest hurdles we face, with our clients as well as our own processes, is the fuzzy convergence of advertising, PR, and media in the new Internet. When you create a great viral, for example, you are practicing advertising. But your engagement strategy is more like PR or Media Relations (except that you're talking to unpredictable bloggers like me rather than news editors). And then there are ways to buy your way in as well.

But the bottom line is that great insights, and great ideas, are still as influential as ever. The barriers to entry may have been lowered in terms of access to readers and viewers, but the more choices people have to ignore you, the more the power of breakthrough creative remains key.

In other words, "I'm not quite dead yet..."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jumping on the flu bandwagon

It seems nobody is above opportunistic marketing to a germ-frightened population.

Clorox and Lysol clearly had a lot to gain from their products' germophobic appeal. From Google Adwords to cheesy commercials, they were right on it:

The biggest concern for consumers, though, is fake flu cures that promise miracles and yet often do more harm than good.

With that in mind, I was a little shocked to see the following ad on my bus yesterday:

(Sorry for the poor quality — I didn't want to use flash in a bus full of commuters. Click for larger versions.)

I understand that faith is a powerful thing, but is it really appropriate for a religious group to promise unscientific medical benefits from prayer? I don't want to sound bigoted, but I think a line has been crossed. IMHO, religious freedom shouldn't allow anyone to sucker the easily-influenced into giving up medical treatment in the name of faith, any more than a free market should allow snake oil salesmen to sell fake "cures" in mainstream ad venues.

I know I run a lot of ads on this blog that offend people. But now I've finally been offended. Good job, Christian Science!

What do you think?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Behind the scenes at the flu shot shoot

Last Friday, I posted our latest TV campaign for the Public Health Agency of Canada.

For those of you who aren't in the advertising or production world, it would be quite an eye-opener to see what actually goes into making those 30 seconds.

This ad was shot over three separate days in two cities — Ottawa and Montreal. The main reason for this is that Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, is himself extremely busy managing Canada's response to H1N1. So we had to shoot him in his Ottawa office on Saturday morning, just as he was about to catch yet another flight.

A funny 6 degrees of separation thing happened to me at the shoot. The night before, I was talking to my Mom on the phone and mentioned we were shooting Dr. David Butler-Jones. She said, "there can't be two of them — ask him if he ever lived in Kingston." So I did, and it turned out he was a friend of the family when I was just a kid, attending my parents' church and even visiting us at our cottage. Small world.

The balance of the commercial was cast, shot, and produced in Montreal, where the production house SOMA is located. We do a lot of shooting in Montreal because it's handier to Ottawa than Toronto, and its homegrown movie industry means that it's brimming with talent and resources.

Shoot day two was the following Monday, in a house in the north end of Montreal, for the scene between the man and his pregnant wife. This was an important human touch for the ad, since all the other scenes were in a more clinical context. It was also the one where the interplay between the actors was most crucial.

This is why it might be kind of surprising that the husband-wife scene is the only one in which there is a different actor in the French and English versions.

Most of our government ads are silent shoots, since the verbal information is dubbed in voiceover. But this one had actors speaking on camera. Usually, that would require double casting of each speaking role. But Montreal is different. All of our roles but one were filled by fluently bilingual actors. The sole exception was the husband.

See if you can see a difference in the way the actors play the scene together:

Day three was the "clinic" scenes of a doctor's office, and a public immunization clinic, both shot in a vacant office building in downtown Montreal. I wasn't present for this day of shooting, but it looks like the team was getting pretty tired by that point.

Following the actual shoot, the offline edit was done on Wednesday. This is the point at which the commercial actually comes together in recognizable (if rough) form. Acart people are both on-site at the studio, and watching cuts remotely, to approve the edit for client consumption.

Following the offline, new edits had to be made before the commercial went to final colour correction and online (broadcast-ready) approval. We also had to brief a composer for original music, and get every aspect of production approved.

It's great to have this ad on the air in time for the Christmas season, which is a particular concern for public health officials during a pandemic.

Check out more production pics here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

One of our more in-flu-ential campaigns

While press coverage of the H1N1 pandemic makes it sound as if it has made slow progress so far, with almost 10,000 deaths worldwide the need for personal prevention and public vigilance remains as strong as ever. The holiday season is a particular concern, with people moving all over the country (and all over the world) to spend time in close quarters with loved ones.

Acart has been working with the Public Health Agency of Canada on pandemic advertising plans since before H1N1 hit last spring. Because of the changing nature of the global situation, most of our outreach has been in the more agile media, such as online, radio, and print.

But the need for vaccination was something that could be anticipated far enough in advance to plan a TV shoot. So in November, we filmed these spots in Ottawa and Montreal with Soma and Director Claude Brie.

The result, launched yesterday, was a confident and empathetic — yet urgent — call to action on behalf of Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. David Butler-Jones (as well as actors portraying a variety of health professionals and everyday people).

We're proud to help spread the word about stopping the spread of H1N1. Want to know more about how a commercial like this comes together? Tune in Monday for a "making of" blog post with behind-the-scenes photos, footage and tales from the set.

Stay healthy.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Climate Change Marketing

You may or may not be aware of Greenpeace's "tck tck tck" international campaign aimed to shame world leaders at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, but if you work in downtown Ottawa you've seen the Harper version.

Here's a close-up:

(Strangely, unlike the other leaders, he doesn't seem to have aged a day.)

I loved this campaign's basic concept of looking back from the future with regret. I think that the anticipation of regret is a great emotional trigger.

If there's anything about this campaign that bugs me a little, it's the simplification of the issue. But that's a challenge with any cause marketing campaign. Scientific and social issues like climate change are complex ones that require a lot of mental work to even try to understand beyond the black-and-white thinking that activists and deniers alike exhibit when trying to rally supporters.

But imagine this ad with the headline:

"I'm sorry. We could have tried to agree to make painful efforts to reduce human-influenced greenhouse gas emissions that are affecting natural cycles of global climate change in measurable (yet ultimately unpredictable) ways, but I had to admit to myself that politics simply don't work like that — especially in this economy — and China won't have any of it anyway."

Of course it doesn't work. tl;dnr. Plus, the climate change deniers must love seeing these outdoor ads surrounded by the leavings of the season's first blizzard. (A completely irrelevant but unfortunate anecdotal position that enters every climate change argument.)

Trying to address complex issues in a way that people can understand is actually very hard. Especially in advertising, which is often described as "though-provoking" but which usually aims at the gut. I have heard and communicated many perspectives on climate change through my corporate responsibility and social marketing work with clients as diverse as Environment Canada, Canadian Urban Transit Association, AECL, CAA and the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute. As I recently said to an ad student, "Everyone wants a better world. The eternal problem is getting them to agree on what that is, and how to get there."

Will this campaign shame the leaders into action? Probably not. But it got Greenpeace some new exposure and got people talking, which is all that any client can really ask for.

Let's keep the conversation going.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lingua franca

Most of the work we do at Acart is either for governments, national associations, or regional audiences. So we are very much used to both the rules and the sensitivities around Canada's bilingualism.

For example, with creative copy you never use the word "translate". If a concept is developed in English, then a francophone Copywriter or Creative Director needs to be involved at early stages to ensure that the message can work in a different but equal French language version.

Unlike large consumer clients, ours are either not allowed or can't afford to do unique creative for French and English Canada. So we do our best to go beyond specifics of wordplay and cultural in-jokes to reach more universal Canadian touchpoints.

It's not ideal, but at least we try. And after all these years of trying to reconcile the two solitudes in advertising, it was a little shocking to see the Government of Quebec dismissing other French Canadians.

This was in today's Globe and Mail:

French-speaking residents of Ontario said they were insulted and angry when they received English-only advertising brochures promoting snowmobiling in Quebec. The brochures, sent to 145,000 households in Ontario, vaunt Quebec's snowy trails as "A Ride Worth the Drive."

Some francophones in Ontario, home to the largest community of French Canadians outside Quebec, say they would rather stay home instead.

They said they were incredulous that the government of a province whose official language is French would mail out English-only advertising to the more than half-million francophones who live next door.

"What were they thinking?" asked Mariette Carrier-Fraser, president of the Assemblée de la francophonie de l'Ontario. "We would have thought that a province that's a majority francophone would want to maintain links with other francophones in the country."

What were they thinking indeed? This little language flap gives an interesting insight into Canadian language politics, and one which I'm sure is familiar to my Franco Ontarian friends and neighbours.

Everyone's told and re-told stories of French Canadians getting a hard time in France, but I grew up also hearing stories of Les Ontariens who were as French as toast being berated and snubbed for their dialect when they wandered too far away from the other side of the Ottawa River. I've witnessed situations where a Quebecker "corrected" the French of an Ontario francophone — to their face.

On the other side, during the last referendum I still recall a spokesperson for Maritime Acadians talking about what a raw deal Quebec separation would be for them, but that Quebec didn't care about francophone communities in the rest of Canada.

The CBC coverage quoted Tourisme Québec citing "budgetary constraints" as the reason for the snub:

"We made the choice to produce this ad campaign for markets in New England and Ontario, where the majority of people are anglophone," said Michel-André Roy, communications director for the Ministry of Tourism in Quebec.

If this is a common attitude, then it's sad. Since the Trudeau years, Canada has made bilingualism a national agenda. Not everyone has been happy with it, but regardless the Federal Government and many national advertisers have been ignoring the kind of "budgetary constraint" that Tourisme Québec finds so important, instead going along with laws and programs that support minority language rights on the national stage.

Again from the Globe:

Jean-Marie Leduc, a retired federal civil servant, complained to the Quebec government after he received the English-only pamphlets last week.

"I get advertising in French from Canadian Tire and Loblaws, why can't the Quebec government do the same thing?" Mr. Leduc asked in an interview from his home in Ottawa. "They're not respecting my language."

"This is an insult. To not recognize there are francophones outside Quebec is just an insult," Mr. Leduc said.

I'd love to hear from francophone readers — Quebec and otherwise — about their thoughts on this issue. Are Quebec's fights for language rights only for Quebeckers? Has it all really been about protecting the culture of an island of French in a sea of English — or myopic nationalism?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Dirty minds...?

Did you see the "shiny suds" ad? It was pretty effective at both telling consumers something they didn't know, and going full viral on YouTube.

But according to AdAge, for a few viewers the image of scrubbing bubbles leering at the showering women wasn't really about chemical residue, but something even nastier:

"Little did attendees at the ANA [Association of National Advertisers conference] or most commenters on YouTube and Twitter know, however, that the Shiny Suds were really about degrading women and promoting rape, at least in the opinion of commenters on one blog, Shakesville, which posted the video in its "Today in Rape Culture" section."

Here's one of them:

"I have issues with being seen naked. I even have to turn over books or magazines that have pictures of people looking out on them when I'm undressed because I feel like they are staring at me. So, reading the transcript for that last commercial? Freaks me the fuck out. My skin starts crawling again even thinking about it."

In response to "the sensitive nature of [concerned viewers'] concerns", the advertiser, Method home care and personal care products pulled the official online placement of the ad. But, of course, copies live on forever.

So, what do you think? In my opinion, there was no ill intent in the spot. It fit within Method's cheeky brand, which speaks to "people against dirty", and the perverted bubbles were obviously meant to make people think about the nasty stuff they share their showers with — after using mainstream competitors' cleaning products. It's over the top, for sure, and the woman does look victimized. But this is cause marketing (in support of the Household Product Labeling Act of 2009) — and while self-serving for Method, touches on an important issue of home health.

Maybe the lesson here for advertisers is just to realize that everything out there will be deconstructed to the Nth degree. The shakespearessister online community's reaction to this ad was oddly paralleled by a post on Brand Freak where a poorly-executed Swiss Chalet Xmas commercial that concluded: "The girl seems depressed, and it's heart-wrenching to contemplate what kept them apart so long and why they're so tentative around each other. Did he molest her? Was it divorce? Did the mother die? This is a lot to consider in a 30-second ad."

Some ads just bring out people's inner demons, I guess. But this is a lot to consider in a Friday blog.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Legalize it... and I will advertise it"

Back in the '70s, when Peter Tosh wrote that lyric, it was literally a pipe dream. But today, as the medical benefits of marijuana for cancer and other patients are becoming increasingly recognized by authorities, ads for legal pot are actually starting to appear.

In Colorado, for example, KUNC reports that ads for medical marijuana clinics are elevating the mood of a struggling advertising and media industry:

"Colorado voters approved the use of marijuana in 2000 for debilitating medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS and cancer. The industry is now blooming with more than 14,000 people statewide approved to use the drug, and that's a 70 percent jump from last year...

Colorado's booming medical marijuana industry is doing more than just benefiting dispensaries that sell the drug for a profit. Some media outlets hit hard by the recession are cashing in on the so called gold rush, collecting thousands of dollars in advertising. Others are taking a wait and see approach to the somewhat controversial revenue stream."

However, the article also quotes a legal expert who states that pot advertisers are still in danger from prosecution because they are breaking federal law.

In Sacramento, California, apparently advertisers are getting around this problem by using vague copy:

"There's no need to suffer in silence, Canna Care is here to help...If you're coping with chronic pain, arthritis, nausea, glaucoma or side effects from chemo, there are reliable alternatives."

Of course, this is just mainstream media. Online communities like "" actively promotes itself as "a place where medical marijuana vendors and medical marijuana co-ops can legally connect to exchange overgrow."

Then again, there was a time when today's illegal drugs were common medications:

I'm curious to know if anyone can find me an example of a modern Canadian ad. I'm doubtful, though. Medical marijuana here has been mostly decriminalized since 2000, but the dope itself seems to be sold either quietly by the government or through speakeasy "compassion clubs". I doubt either of these sources is eager to advertise.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"Yellowtail: For when your mother-in-law drives you to drink"

Saw this billboard on my way to work yesterday, just around the corner from Acart. At first, it gave me a snicker (even though I unstereotypically like my in-laws) but then my inner adman kicked in and asked "can they do that?"

Don't get me wrong. I'm an unapologetic social drinker, and I would like to see Canadian society have less bipolar attitudes about alcohol. But I also do corporate social responsibility work for clients in the intoxicant industry, and I know the rules:

Specific brands or types of alcohol can be promoted, but not drinking in general. Advertisements cannot imply that drinking is important for social or business success, athletic prowess, sexuality or sexual opportunity, having fun or achieving a goal. Drinking cannot solve problems. Alcohol advertising must not appeal to people under the drinking age or be placed in media that are targeted at them. Songs that attract minors are not allowed and well-known personalities that appeal to young people are prohibited unless the person is not promoted in the advertisement. Alcohol advertising cannot associate drinking with any activity involving care, skill or physical danger. Links between alcohol and driving motor vehicles or playing some sports fall within this regulation. Finally, advertising cannot suggest illegal activity involving alcohol.

Now, maybe I watch too much old TV, but I'm pretty sure that half of the intent of this ad was to joke about how one's inlaws saty for the holidays can drive one to drink. (The other half being how their leaving is a celebratory occasion.)

Hopefully other people, less beaten down by super-sensitive advertising regulations and policies, will not overthink it this way — they'll just smile knowingly and perhaps remember to stock up. And even if some hall monitor does lodge a complaint, the advertiser can always make a "who me?" face and say that the ad is really saying "Yellowtail is great for entertaining family over the holidays, and great for sipping when it's just the two of you".

But I'm on to you, Yellowtail. Don't worry, though — it's not something a case of Pinot Noir couldn't fix ;)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mo Bro No Mo

It's been a good month. Thanks to generous donations from friends and family, my moustache and I were able to raise $437.24 for Prostate Cancer Canada as part of Movember.

Along with me, Mike, James and Christopher sported dashing 'staches for the month.

Moustaches have a long and proud history at Acart Communications. For most of the company's history, Al Albania's Italian classic was as much a part of our brand as the Pegasus. (He shaved it last year, just for a change.)

Today, facial hair still abounds across the generations, championed by our bearded VP Client Serices, John Westbrook, and our moustached Senior Creative Director, John Staresinic.

But it's just not me. I had fun, to be sure, rocking the 'stache around town and seeing how people reacted differently to me. Teenagers were more likely to call me "sir". Store clerks treated me with a little more deference. My neighbours in Vanier treated me like one of their own. I even got some bona fide compliments from a few men and women alike.

But enough's enough. I promised my wife the whiskers would go, so off they went early this morning.

There are more pics at my MoSpace page:

Thanks to all my supporters from Canada, as well as the United States, Spain and Australia: Marylil Megginson (you can always count on Mom!), Mary Jo Megginson, Lyle Fairfield, Jill Relyea, Rachel Playfair, Paul Notman, Bonnie Robinson, Raf Khan, Paul Megginson, Doug Robinson, Jason Hamilton, Kerry Cavlovic, Chantal Vallerand, David Megginson, Luther Caverly, Richard Lefroy, Ann Lefroy, Art Brion, Mary Beth Wolicky, Daryn Wantuck, Tim Wantuck, Meeta Chawla and Jesse Perrin.

And a big Mo Bro shout out to the competition at McMillan, where their 13-man "Stachinistas" team cranked out $2,660 in donations.

When we gang up to kick cancer's ass, everyone wins.