From the mouths of babes

We’re pretty careful about what and how much TV our girls watch. Despite this, they absorb information like little sponges. It all started before last Christmas, when our daughters began noticing TV commercials. Then the questions emerged: “Mommy, can you ever buy me that toy?” and “Mommy, can we ever go to Marineland?”

But what surprised me most were some of the other things Olivia started noticing. She was watching cartoons while I was making dinner, when she asked me: “Mommy, would you like a Slap Chop? Because if you do, you have to call in the next 20 minutes.”

Vince Offer & Slap Chop

Vince Offer & Slap Chop

In all fairness, that’s a bad example. Back then, every third commercial featured Offer “Vince” Shlomi (hey, you can’t make this stuff up), A.K.A.  the ShamWow guy, exclaiming “You’re gonna love my nuts!” To this day, I don’t know how that line was allowed to air.

BONUS: Vince Offer Soundboard – perfect for crank calls!

I couldn’t believe Olivia had taken notice of such a random piece of information. I was also partly amused, having worked in marketing since 1997 and being attentive to all forms of advertising ever since I can remember.

I find it utterly fascinating to have slogans recited back to me through the mouth of an innocent child, who doesn’t know any better than to believe the promises she hears. A few nights ago, she was fascinated with the Dollars for Gold ad. For those of you unfamiliar with this amazing service, you stuff any unwanted or broken gold jewelry into an envelope, ship it to the folks over at Dollars for Gold, and wait for your cheque to come in the mail. Seriously.

Tonight, Olivia had two specific new requests, each accompanied by a marketing-induced rationale:

1. Scope Outlast mouthwash. I told her we already had mouthwash. Olivia then explained: “But mommy, this one lasts five times longer!” Never mind the fact that she doesn’t use mouthwash. Or that mouthwash isn’t recommended for young kids because they might ingest it.

2. Pantene shampoo and conditioner. “Can you please, please, buy Pantene next time?” When I asked why, she explained: “They make one for curly hair, one for colour, one for shiny hair.” She actually retained, fairly accurately, their product segmentation. Olivia likes to look good from head to toe. Apparently that includes Pantene Pro-V shiny hair. Diva.

Time for a “Don’t believe everything you see on TV” talk…


Something for Nothing

You know that when I’m not happy about a product or service, I call the provider to fix it. In fact, about 80% of the times I call a provider, I get something in return: a credit on my account, additional services free of charge, etc.

Today, I’ve topped myself. I got something for nothing, when in fact my original premise for calling was wrong.

We recently switched to Rogers Cable. I really wanted Teletoon Retro, a wonderful collection of old-school cartoons from my childhood: Looney Toons, Scooby Doo, Superfriends, the Flintstones and lots more. I love these… I mean, um, my kids love these.

We’d watch Teletoon Retro after we got home, as I made dinner. After a few weeks, the channel stopped coming through. Last week, I called Rogers to explain the problem, and they said they’d look into it and get back to me. Big surprise, they didn’t. I called back and explained the situation to a different rep. I said that since we’d been without this channel for a few weeks, I’d like some sort of compensation. The rep, after some discussion, offered me a handful of additional bundles, free of charge, for two months. He even programmed in the end date, so I don’t have to call and cancel, hence avoiding the probability of my forgetfulness incurring extra charges on my invoice.

A-HA! So they can, in fact, program in end dates to bundles, programming etc. They just prefer to get you to call, hoping you’ll forget so they can charge you. We don’t have to bend over and take it!

I later returned to the Rogers web site, and discovered that I had been wrong – our original bundle didn’t include Teletoon Retro. Those first few weeks had most likely been a free promotional period.

So I got two months of freebies, all because of something I wasn’t meant to have in the first place. Not exactly David and Goliath, but it still makes me all warm and fuzzy inside to think I got something not only for nothing, but due to my own mistake – and ultimately theirs too.

Ding dong, knock knock

Ding dong. Knock knock.

Evidently someone’s at the door.
As I walk down the stairs toward the front door, I can’t see anyone outside. I open the door and still can’t see anyone, so I look around on the ground in case anyone’s left a package.

I step outside and look around, to find a tall, gangly 18-ish year-old guy, who had obviously stolen Gilligan’s hat, and who was too busy looking at my driveway to say anything to me.

Me: “Did you just ring my doorbell?”
Gilligan: “Yes.”
Me: “Do you always walk away from doors after you ring or knock?”
Gilligan: “Yes. I offer driveway repair services and I can’t give you a price if I haven’t seen your driveway.”

Mistake number one: you make a dumbass opening move and don’t follow with “Oh, pardon me” or something equivalent.
Mistake number two: you’ve obviously not made a killer impression, and before even telling me anything I actually give a crap about, you announce that you want to sell me something.

Me: “Here’s a thought. Try taking a look at someone’s driveway *before* you ring the doorbell.”
Gilligan: “Oh, OK.”
Me: “We’ve already received other offers for these services. Thanks anyways.”

I shut the door.
Mistake number three: being an overall putz.
Hope Gilligan doesn’t make sales his life aspiration.

Your Ad Here

We’re being bombarded from all sides on a daily basis. Not by bullets or weapons of mass destruction, but by another arguably evil force: advertising.

I’ve worked in marketing and communications for over a dozen years. What marketers really care about is whatever will make you buy what they’re selling. After all, they’re competing with several similar companies for your attention, and with many more for your hard-earned dollars. So in the name of commercialism and the almighty bottom line, they play on your emotions, tell you they’re the only way of reaching your goals, and shamelessly manipulate you.

We see it everywhere: newspapers, magazines, television, radio, billboards, buses, tailored Google ads, not to mention those annoying expanding ads that come across whatever web page you’re trying to read. Even our Rogers cable guide displays a Tim Hortons ad at the bottom of my screen. And don’t get me started on the clutter of junk mail in both our real and electronic mailboxes. Promise after broken promise:

– Our beer will get you laid, or at the very least surrounded by sexy, scantily clad women (if you’re one of the rich, good-looking studs on the commercial)
– Our insurance plan is the only one that will truly give you peace of mind (if you meet all the hidden criteria)
– Our diet plan guarantees results or your money back (but good luck actually getting a hold of us for a refund)
– Our cell phone network is the most reliable (within city limits, off-peak hours, and in ideal weather conditions)
– Our cars are safest for your family (according to our own privately funded study)
– Our credit card company really cares (until the payment due date)

We’re surrounded by countless commercial messages everywhere we go. Supermarkets are filled with cross-promotional offers: buy this pasta and get a jar of sauce; buy this box of cereal and find a coupon inside for your next purchase. Limit 5 per customer. Incidentally, that’s the magical phrase used to compel you to buy the maximum amount, even if you don’t need it.

Many years back, a new evil emerged. I was at the movie theatre, comfortably awaiting the previews. These are fun because in the limited free time we have, it allows you to quickly categorize upcoming movies into three possible categories: Must-see, Possible Rental, or I’d Rather Watch Paint Dry. But what actually appeared on screen was an ad for Avis rent-a-car and a local radio station.

Wait a minute. I’m paying $13 for a movie ticket (plus grossly overpriced snacks), and I have to sit through commercials? I don’t have much choice when I watch TV, but I’m almost certain this is crossing some sort of fuzzy line.

But what put things into perspective was our recent Air Canada flight to the Dominican Republic. We boarded the plane, a flight that cost us hundreds of dollars each. I started going through the entertainment menu on the little screen in front of me: movies, television shows and more, with previews to ensure I select the right diversion for the next couple of hours. Then I hit Play.

Air Canada in-flight entertainment

Air Canada in-flight entertainment

It’s like finding leftover chocolate and taking a bite, only to discover a moment too late that it was actually bitter, unsweetened baker’s chocolate. I was anticipating the beginning of my selection when I was instead subjected to commercial vomit: I sat through nearly 10 minutes of Air Canada self-promotion, credit card ads and tourism ads telling me where I should fly to next. No way to exit or turn it off. You just have to bend over and take it.

You’d think that forking over the money for a flight would buy me a little commercial-free air time. You’d be wrong. They’re going to milk it for everything they can.

Is there nowhere left we can go, to escape the clutter and the noise?

Walk a mile in these shoes

I’d like to know who designs flip-flops? Cause I’ve got a bone to pick with you.

It’s almost June. We’ve wallowed all week in hot, sunny weather. Women all over have been kicking off their shoes, peeling off their socks, and painting their toe nails in anticipation of wearing pretty sandals and cute flip-flops.

I was out shopping for a pair of flip-flops. Although I love sandals, walking around excessively with a new pair will only yield blisters, regardless of how much you spend. Since I’ve never been a fan of wearing sandals with either blood or band-aids, my solution is wearing flip-flops to and from work, and changing into sandals at the office.

After shopping, I came to two conclusions:

1. most flip-flops for women look obscenely cheap (even for flip-flops)

2. most flip-flops feel worse than they look

Usually, the sole is absolutely flat. It offers no comfort whatsoever, which is surprising for footwear basically made of compressed foam or rubber. The top is usually made up of cheap, stiff, too-often bedazzled man-made material, assembled by a small underfed child in China. Whoever designs these shoes hates women. Even the Airwalk and Nike varieties are designed as a form of punishment for feet.

I’ve found the men’s flip-flops to be marginally better. From Airwalk to American Eagle, the sole is thicker (although still hard) and the strap on top is often made of a cotton weave or leather strap. But I still wouldn’t wear them daily, even less if there’s a $30 price tag attached to them. $30. For flip-flops.

I used to laugh at people who would pay an outrageous $40-$50 for a pair of Crocs. What a gimmick! I’m sorry. You’re not going to sucker me into buying Crocs, no matter how big that crocodile smiles. First, they are nearly $50. Second, I’m not 12 years old.

Crocs clog

Crocs clog

Until the day I actually tried a pair of Crocs flip-flops. My feet discovered the soft, comfortable, lightweight, superior-gripping, non-marking and odor-resistant caress of Crocs’ proprietary closed-cell resin. The sole acts as a cushion, absorbing shock as you walk; and – can it be – arch support from a flip-flop! It’s the way walking was meant to be.

I happily dished out the $45. Because in the end, I’d rather pay a little more for a superior product. I still hold that the original Crocs clogs are best suited for children and tweens (and yes, both my daughters wear them), but I was happy to see the gift of comfort being extended to many other footwear styles, from sandals to high heel shoes.

More Crocs styles

More Crocs styles

On behalf of sore and tired feet everywhere, I declare Crocs the undefeated casual footwear hero.

A Marketing Fad… Clearly.

Crystal Pepsi

Crystal Pepsi

The other day, I was driving to work when the radio played a blast from the past: Van Halen’s Right Now, circa 1992. Even before I started my marketing career, I was always attuned to advertising and marketing. Exhibit A: the song didn’t take me back to any college parties, but rather planted a clear image in my mind of Pepsi’s short-lived 1993 flop, Crystal Pepsi, and its advertising campaign.

Let’s face it: it’s easier to piggyback on an existing idea or trend and somehow still get some credit for it. At the time, it was somewhat of a fad to market “clear” versions of products – the theory was that consumers would equate clarity with purity. Ivory Soap was the first, remaking their classic creamy solution into a clear (and presumingly pure) liquid.

Enter Pepsi, with its own clear concoction, Crystal Pepsi. Launched at Superbowl 1993, below is one of their 30-second spots:

What exactly is Crystal Pepsi? Precisely what it sounds like: a colourless version of its cola self. Not a citrus-infused drink like many other clear, non-cola beverages, but simply one that tasted suspiciously like regular Pepsi. So what was the point?

Hence Crystal Pepsi’s meteoric rise to… nowhere. But all is not lost. After all, it provided valuable material for Saturday Night Live, who didn’t waste a second to pick up the pieces and rearrange them into something disturbing, albeit hilarious.

Lessons learned? Pepsi the drink has been around since the 1890, although Pepsi the brand was trademarked in 1903. Think twice before screwing with your brand just to unjustifiably jump on the latest lemon-scented and new-improved bandwagon.

Barbie World less than rosy

I grew up playing with Barbie dolls in the 70’s. I had it all: the furniture, the house, the RV, and the pink Corvette. Lots of Barbie friends, and boxes of clothing and accessories. In fact, my goal was to someday have the lifestyle that my Barbie had.

Today, my daughters play with Barbie dolls. But I’ve noticed some changes in the blonde bombshell that I’m less than enthusiastic about.

True, since her 1959 debut, Barbie has had about 125 careers or occupations, including aerobics instructor, U.S. army officer, astronaut, veterinarian, McDonald’s cashier and ballerina. She is a great toy for little girls to fantasize being anything they want to be. But lately, I’ve been wondering what exactly Mattel is trying to inspire girls to be.

Besides the obvious physical anomalies, which would cause Barbie to be 5’9″ tall, with a 36″ chest, 18″ waist and 33″ hips and missing about 20% the body fat required to menstruate, Mattel has made a few marketing blunders. Among these:

– Teen Talk Barbie, in 1992, featured a doll that spoke various phrases, including “I love shopping!” and “Math class is tough!”. Mattel has always claimed Barbie could be a positive role model for girls. Perhaps they meant for girls aspiring to marry rich.

– Oreo Fun Barbie in 1997, a cross-promotion with Nabisco, was criticized because in the African American community, Oreo is used as a derogatory term, meaning you’re “black on the outside, but white on the inside”.

– Totally Tattoos Barbie, in 2009, featured a series of tattoos that girls could apply to Barbie, including a lower-back tattoo. I mean, what if things don’t work out with Ken? Will Mattel throw in laser tattoo removal as part of the divorce settlement?

Ken Tattoo

Ken Tattoo

As a girl, my Barbie accessories ranged from fun to glamorous. Today, it seems challenging to find anything for Barbie that doesn’t scream “I charge by the hour”. I’ve been to various toy stores. I searched online on sites including Barbie and Toys R Us. In fact, I think Mattel is encouraging girls to think “sexy” at a premature, inappropriate time — shorts that barely cover Barbie’s ass, shirts that she shouldn’t bend over with in public, and outfits that look just plain sexually provocative.

I thought my point would be better illustrated by using examples of Barbie merchandise I found on the Barbie and Toys R Us web sites, and playing a little game called Name that Barbie:

1. Frat Party Barbie — complete with Daisy Dukes, easy-to-remove top, and Jell-o shots. Promotion: Purchase Frat Party Keg and get Tipsy Tina for real cheap.

Frat Party Barbie

Frat Party Barbie

2. Escort Barbie — includes cheap faux-chic ensemble, black boa, stiletto heals and matching purse perfect for carrying condoms. Barbie’s all about safety!

Escort Barbie

Escort Barbie

3. Mile-High Club Barbie — from the skin-tight teaser uniform to the f#@k me boots. Bonus handcuffs inside luggage.

Mile-High Club Barbie

Mile-High Club Barbie

4. Poolside Fling Barbie — comes with, evidently, very little material and Barbie’s own cabana boy

Poolside Fling Barbie

Poolside Fling Barbie

5. Little Black Dress Cougar Barbies — Can be sold separately, but usually sold as a pair of aggressive, slightly used dolls

Cougar Barbies

Cougar Barbies

My point is that Barbie is moving beyond the merely flimsy onto the full-blown skanky. Just in case I haven’t illustrated my point, here’s one more item, taken online from Toys R Us. They call it “Premium Pink House furniture”; I call it Barbie’s venture into adult films.

Barbie Boudoir

Barbie Boudoir

Am I the only one here who sees the inappropriateness of some of the available toys? And yet Mattel has launched an “I can be” Academy, meant to inspire girls by putting on display all the careers Barbie has held. There’s a great article in the Ottawa Citizen explaining the Academy and how it highlights Barbie as a positive role model. Girls can even design their own engagement rings, cakes and wedding dresses. They can walk down a pink carpet and receive a diploma from Barbie herself. Now there’s one to add to your CV.

They say the goal of the campaign is to empower girls. Just seems oddly self-contradictory with the other messages they’re sending.