Thursday, September 30, 2010

NY Times Roundup: Baby Carrots and Girl Power

Over-focusing on school has sidetracked my blogging lately, so I'm trying to get back to it. In case you missed this week's New York Times Magazine, there were a couple of cool ad-related articles.

Baby Carrots

The first, "Carrot Talk" by Rob Walker, looks at Crispin Porter & Bogusky's baby carrots campaign, in which they packaged the veggies to look like junk food, put them into vending machines at a couple of schools, and created some ironically cliched ads. It's a cool campaign, and the article points to two reasons it works.

First, a human quirk: Marketing makes food taste better. Kids in a 2007 study preferred the taste of food (including milk and carrots) in McDonald's packaging than the same food in plain packaging. (This phenomenon was one of my marketing professor's more amusing examples for how marketing/advertising benefits people.)

Second, the satirical baby carrot ads appeal to teens' sense of irony in what Salon called "the dark art of reverse-reverse psychology." That's a tricky thing to get right, but if any agency could, it's Crispin.

Empowerment as a Selling Tool

The second column, Peggy Orenstein's "The Empowerment Mystique", talks about companies latching on to "girl power" in their ads without actually doing anything concrete to further the cause. She mentions Nike as a rare exception that supported girls' athletics with actual donations in addition to its awesome “if you let me play sports” campaign.

On one hand, ads that portray girls and women as powerful and smart and in control of their lives are a step in the right direction. Still, I'm glad someone is asking what these companies are doing to actually better the lives of girls and women.

Looking at it from an advertising perspective, I wonder how much consumers trust empowerment ads from companies whose actions do nothing to support their messaging. Can advertising without substance make us believe in a company? Luke Sullivan says no (and far more eloquently than I can) in his essay about authenticity in advertising, "Writing To The 2010 Customer". My favorite bit of his advice:
No matter how authentic your message, you cannot become X by saying you are X. You must actually be X. So, after you figure out what your brand needs to say, figure out what it needs to do.

This also made me think of a recent post by Simon Mainwaring, "What to do when good brands make bad things? Or bad brands do good?" in which he writes about the inherent contradictions that occur when big companies engage in cause marketing. At the end, he asks:
Do you agree that we should focus on positive brand behavior to enable others to do the same? Or should we take all brands to task for any behavior that has a negative impact right now?
But I'm not sure if it's a one or the other proposition. Like Mainwaring, I'm more inclined to focus on encouraging the good than criticizing the bad. But I think we have to look a the whole picture and do both.

Well, guys, that's it for now. Thanks for hanging in there.

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