Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sidewalk Campaigns

“9/11 was a HOAX.”

“Barack Obama kills babies.”

“McCain SUCKS!”

These are just a few of the messages I subconsciously noticed last fall as I walked the sidewalks of Indiana University. Our student body, like many across the country, has a fascination with “chalking”. This rather childish marketing technique involves hoarding together as many students as you can, bribing them with Chipotle, and herding them around campus to spread their message via sidewalk chalk.

Political groups especially seem to love the chalking experience. IU’s College Democrats organization even includes chalking in the description of their public relations efforts. The hippies are apparently so confident in Obama’s socialist health care plan that they’re willing to jump the gun on back arthritis. Sadly, my accidental water bottle spill over one pink-and-yellow “HOPE” chalking didn’t seem to have an impact on the Dem’s work; Obama is almost bigger than Bobby Knight down there.

One must wonder whether the chalking technique is an effective one. Unless you’re Barack himself and walk with your nose in the air, at least some of the messages naturally seep into the brain. Whether that’s a good thing or not, I don’t know. I wonder how many easily-influenced (and perhaps stupid) students started questioning the events of 9/11 after walking to class.

Chalking is cheap, easy, and could be fun (after a bar crawl, maybe). But when everyone’s doing it, the clutter becomes a problem. At times last year, our sidewalks were literally packed with pastel-colored slogans and meeting times. It was a little like the internet, without a bookmarking system in place. Scary.

Let’s hope this type of communication stays on campuses. Twitter seems to serve as a better outlet for people to share ideas or market products. Plus, if chalking ever did get hot, it wouldn’t rain enough to keep overzealous Kool-aid drinkers off the streets.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Facebook Trumps Unemployment

After witnessing my 51-year-old father curse out Facebook when it failed to find all of his old girlfriends, I doubt the social media fascination will ever fully extend to all generations. However, Facebook is tremendously useful for a lot of things when you’re young.

Rather than dealing with the awful business of conversation, Facebook stalking allows you to follow every second of your friends’ lives. When you’re in need of an insult, memorizing and reciting (mockingly) another’s profile quotes in front of a large group of people seems to do the trick. And, most importantly, keeping up on sorority gossip is made simple with the provided message function (which comes without a spell check function – perfect for maintaining the ultrahigh Greek ego.)

But one 23-year-old managed to tap into a new (and actually useful) way to use the social media outlet. Yonnick Hammond, used Facebook to trump unemployment and land a job in politics. He made a Facebook ad, which was shown alongside profile pages on the site.

“When I had thought of the ad, I was over three months into unemployment,” says the former RNC staffer and legislative assistant to Rep. Henry Brown Jr. (R-S.C.). “When I applied for jobs, my resume and portfolio would get buried under literally hundreds of other resumes.

Hammond knew he had to do something creative to make himself stand out from the young and eager masses waiting in line for jobs on the Hill. After learning how to create effective online ads through a friend’s consulting shop, Yonnick put his skills to the test.

“I figured if I can receive ads urging me to ‘meet hot young singles’ in my area, I can use an ad to sell myself to employers.”

Yonnick says he was overwhelmed by the reaction to the ad. By looking at Facebook reports, he learned that 166 people clicked on the ad within four days of its creation. Others messaged him through Facebook with encouragement or praise for his innovative use of technology.

“I found that both younger and older people were very receptive,” he says.
However, Yonnick targeted the ad for people in their mid-to-late twenties. He said he felt that audience would be most likely to hire him because they’ve already established themselves professionally. The pin-pointing was obviously successful; Yonnick is now working for the Republican Party of Virginia as their Absentee Ballot Director.

Despite his struggles, Yonnick doesn’t believe young Republicans looking for work should stay away from DC. However, he does think recent college grads should be prepared to take a different route to their preferred job.

“The best advice I can tell anyone who is trying to find a job is to roll up your sleeves and be willing to work, even if it’s not your ideal job.”

Monday, June 8, 2009

Keep it simple, stupid.

Super Bowl commercials have become increasingly lame over the last few years. This year’s game featured only one commercial I found worth my time.

The entire second I dedicated to the Miller High Life commercial was the best second of the entire night (I hate the Steelers).

I had heard about the ad on the radio, and stayed glued to my screen to make sure I didn’t miss it. Sure enough, the trademark Miller High Life guy (Windell Middlebrooks) eventually popped up on the screen, and yelled, “High Life!” The ad really was just one second. If I had blinked, I may have missed it. But the uniqueness of the advertisement and the simplicity of it stuck with me long after I had finished trash-talking Big Ben.

If you pay attention to the advertisements and marketing pieces you notice, you’ll find a common trend: simplicity sells. Making eye-catching promotions requires attention to the eye’s capabilities. Long, drawn-out commercials often get muted. Visually complex billboards get blurred out or overlooked. And wordy writing gets ignored. (I could go off on a rant about exclamation points and the uselessness of them, but I’ll save that for another day.)

Does this mean all TV commercials should be reduced to a mere second in length? Probably not. But it does mean the marketing community needs to refrain from overcomplicating messages.

This is especially true in the direct mail business. Most people will assume your mail piece is just another piece of junk mail. A simple message that’s easy to find will help your readers pay attention. A mail piece that’s visually cluttered will tend to be automatically avoided. No one has time to search for the message. Take a look at Faulkner Strategies’ portfolio to see some examples of visually simple yet effective mail.

Here’s some examples of visually-simplified marketing that works – and visually-complicated marketing that doesn’t:

Bad: 2009 Toyota Prius commercial: This ad reflects what I picture when I listen to my mother reminisce about her experiences in the 60’s (mixed with some Across the Universe clips.) There’s way too much going on visually to focus on the car. However, the childlike unrealism of this ad helps explain why all Priuses are plastered with Obama bumper stickers.

Good: Compared to, it’s much more visually clean. Don’t let your 3rd grade art teacher’s lessons confuse you: white space is necessary. The simplicity of this search engine giant makes it more mobile accessible, too.

Awesome: The fact that The Office is my favorite show doesn’t bias my positive critique of its marketing. The very essence of the show is simplicity: there’s no absurd settings (except maybe Dwight’s beet farm), the plots are rather ordinary, and the characters themselves are, well, simple-minded.

NBC has capitalized on this simplicity with an equally simple marketing scheme. The TV commercials are full of short sound bites. The fan gear is usually black-and-white. And the photos used to promote the show are almost as plain as Pam’s wardrobe. But it all works.

Don’t let visual possibilities overwhelm your marketing message. Yes, Photoshop does allow you to tie-dye every aspect of a print design in a different shade of blue. No, you should not do this (unless you’re attempting to bring back Eiffel 65’s 1998 hit, “I’m Blue”. If so, carry on. That song still rocks.)