Tag Archives: Thoughts

Bootleg Swag can be Good Branding

There are some really bad examples of your product out there that could destroy your brand.

Usually they’re in foreign countries, and usually they are trying to avoid getting sued for making stuff that looks exactly like yours. They tend to come off as the equivalent of movie-only brands. You know, those props that get made with names like Tilde or Bludveiser to avoid having to pay royalties? Well, if you don’t, look at some examples of real-life knock-off swag to see what I mean:


The problem with this stuff is that it can become a subversive means of discouraging sales of your swag.

Disney’s Imitators Ruined My Innocence

My parents used to make me wear ‘Michael Mouse’ sweatpants from Hong Kong growing up. I’ve never bought ANY Disney, legitimate or otherwise, as a result of the ridicule I received. Disney didn’t just lose sales since my parents obviously couldn’t tell the difference between real or fake, they lost an opportunity to advertise to real potential customers.

Those were lame-looking pants because they weren’t at all the real deal. If they had been, the kids in my class might of gotten their parents to buy Disney swag. Instead, they probably threatened to run away from home if they were ever caught wearing anything remotely like what the fat kid they chased around in class was wearing.

While I’m Not Crying

I believe bootlegs of a certain standard should be kept around. So long as the contraband isn’t obviously fake or too much like the real deal they should be allowed to perpetuate in developing countries. Most people living in those countries aren’t likely to purchase the real stuff anyway. Those who can pride themselves on buying the real stuff and being able to tell the difference. Some can afford it but will insist on buying fakes. Forget them, the day you take away all knockoffs is the day they switch to no-name brands. Why not allow the market to flood itself with shoddy-looking knockoffs with your logo on them and get some free advertising? It’ll push their prices down and make yours look more prestigious by comparison.

I realize it’s unauthorized and I understand that some ‘luxury’ products derive value from being rare or from pure functionality. If you don’t have much brand image and your product is function-specific, then you’ve got a branding job ahead of you, invest the crack-down money on that instead. If you’re a rare luxury product, I’d say the real stuff will look even better by comparison, and there’ll be no shortage of people who’d still buy it.

Look, nearly all viral marketing is unauthorized, all you have to do is capitalize on the opportunity.

Bottom line? Stop fighting free advertising.

If you really only want the ‘right’ people buying your product, then you can consider this:

An Example of the Internet Helping

Say you sell a product that isn’t based on some specific function. Say it’s beyond the price range of everybody who seems to be wearing them, because they’re actually identical knockoffs. The good news is it’s free advertising for anybody who can afford them by everybody who can’t. The bad news is if it gets into your target markets. Here’s what you might do:

Incorporate something like a scan-able sticker into the product design. Maybe redesign tags so they shouldn’t be removed. Then do nothing. At least, not until those you don’t really want representing your brand with copies have already purchased your product. Then, rather than try to force producers of fakes into creating fake logos, run a campaign educating people on how to spot fakes, emphasize how much of the core benefit of your product is lost (better fit, molds to body, whatever). Throw in an online component allowing people to post and ridicule egregious examples of fraudulent merchandise. Your pseudo-competitors can’t advertise, but since you aren’t suing them for using your name, they’ll likely keep producing cheap versions of your stuff. The difference is that people will be less likely to buy them once they realize they’re being tracked by those who buy the real goods.

Of course, this could potentially backfire, creating two camps of people who love your product, and people trying to make a statement by buying fakes. But that’s fine, at the end of the day the net gain in interaction with your brand and sales will almost certainly be greater than if you covertly tried to crush your competitors.

And that’s how you might make bootleg swag into good branding.


Teacher Strikes–How unions can keep the students’ families on their side

A Fruit of Knowledge

I had a post prepared today for how advertising is a meaningful method of communications that has potential to work towards what’s good, but that’ll have to wait. What I’m going to write about instead is a little irrelevant but a useful communications problem nonetheless and one that is very pertinent not just to ad students but students of all sorts and may come in handy in future employee-employer problems.

According to the student paper, Humber’s teacher union and administration may be in a logjam that could lead to a strike. A strike that could potentially derail whatever plans the innocent tuition-payers caught in the middle may have for their futures.

Having encountered two strikes during my education thus far–once during elementary school with the Ontario Teachers’ Union and again with the TAs at McGill–I’ve found that unions almost always lose the consumers’ sympathy. Whatever legitimate concerns or rights they stake claim to is lost to the majority of paying students/parents. The feeling has always been that the teachers are wasting the consumers’ hard-earned dollars by halting the education process. The question is always ‘Even if you have real problems with your bosses, why do we have to suffer?’

My sympathies are always mixed. The administrations’ line is usually this: by giving the unions what they want, the children of parents who pay for quality of education will be compromised. Followed by: unions just want more money, they obviously don’t care about your child’s education if they’re willing to hold them hostage to get what they want.

It’s hard to argue with a line like that when you’re getting ready to stand in picket lines. Most teachers/TAs I have always explain to classes that they’d really rather not be doing this, and some say they’re obliged by the unions to stop teaching, even if they actually want what the unions want. So everybody blames the unions. Some even secretly tutor students for free out of a sense of guilt.

The administration holds two key resources, without which they lose their purpose:

1. the ability to control what happens to the money

2. the ability to distribute certification (diplomas, degrees, certificates, etc.)

What teachers have is far more valuable–the education itself, without which #2 is useless.

I propose the least imperfect solution possible for the unions, who come under siege from all sides even when their demands are legitimate and fair, and basically it comes down to this: Let your members teach, but don’t let them work for management.

  • Announce that you will be striking instead of teaching next semester, but that your members will complete the current one
  • If possible, encourage students/families to withdraw or refuse to pay tuition for that semester
  • Instead ask them to contribute that tuition towards a transparent union fund on a bi-weekly basis (so as to impress upon families that this will only be temporary), where the money will go towards renting facilities and paying reduced salaries to striking teachers, as well as covering overhead and administrative costs
  • teachers can use the rented spaces to teach courses to the best of their ability, students will be asked to bring for themselves whatever materials they need to learn (lap tops, notebooks, pencils, etc.)
  • teachers with free time can help with administration or join picket lines (although picketing a locked institutional monument really only serves to frustrate members of the general public and janitorial staff since administrators are likely to meet elsewhere, invite journalists to cover your makeshift classrooms for a far more flattering story)

It’s imperfect, I know, because courses will be exceedingly difficult to schedule, extra-curricular activity will be impossible, and resources/space will be extremely limited. But the trade-off is that union members will have higher morale, teachers will be able to continue doing what they profess to love doing, and the real people paying the salaries will see that the staff are making sacrifices because they really do have students’ best interests at heart.

Once you’re off-campus, you will also regain some control on the information front. Parents/students won’t just be getting news from second-hand sources (i.e. the 6 o’clock news). What is more, they won’t be able to claim that they despise unions for taking away what they’re really paying for–quality education for their children.

Some will still be angry because their kids have to wait longer for diplomas, which qualifies them for jobs in the working world. Tell them that what you’re doing is ensuring that that piece of paper retains its value. You’re sorry that their child will have to wait for that grainy page with the principal’s signature on it, but that you’re trying to make up for it by continuing to teach them outside the classroom. Tell them also that the alternative–teachers who are unmotivated and demoralized, who are struggling outside of their jobs due to being overworked/underpaid/unhealthy, are less-equipped to prepare their offspring with the skills they need to demonstrate competence and success in the professional world. And that soon things will lead to a point where the diploma is worthless in employers’ eyes anyway.


I can think of no other industry where labor is so directly responsible for the product. Nor can I think of another profession that is so vital to the functioning of a productive society. Policemen keep law and order, but who would train them if there were no teachers? How could the rest of us obey laws if we cannot learn lawful methods to maintain a living? Teachers have an immense responsibility to their pupils, one which they’d be wise not to neglect while pursuing their own well-being.

While you have a responsibility to teach, you also have the power to choose where you’re going to do it. And yours is the primary reason anybody pays into the school system in the first place. Restrict access to both, and no administrator can hold out for long. By teaching while you’re not working, you remind students/parents of the great value of your service, demonstrate your passion, commitment and commonality with the students, and devalue the smears, arguments and inflated costs of administration. That way, your power and passion will be the most important lesson a strike can impart.

I’m happy, as always, to answer questions, post comments and respond to criticism.

How student books are like combat sports

Found out about Machida’s controversial win recently and it got me thinking about why we shouldn’t have market leaders in our portfolios.

Machida is the UFC champ. He has tons of money riding on him and support backing him. He also has a proven track record. Both sides put up a helluva fight and while most thought the lesser-known challenger had won, the deciding vote among the judges went to Machida. Why? Because as objective and unbiased we purport to be an awesome reputation precedes. The only real way any unknown challenger can win without contest is by knockout.

We as students are amateurs, it’s like in Rocky, you can train and fight and beat up butcher-shop inventory as hard as you can but Apollo will win, unless you can conclusively convince all ‘judges’ (ie creative directors) that you’re better.

Knockouts are impressive, it’s a clearer win. And losers are easier to knock out than winners. Which is why picking a loser brand’s advertising to beat is a better way to start than trying to convince people you’ve taken down the champ.

Of course you don’t want to fight nobodies either (picking an obscure niche product or making one up) because nobody wants to watch you shadow-box.

It’s not that hard


I should say that I haven’t won awards and I haven’t written anything I personally consider absolutely brilliant. I’ve spent most of this year looking around trying to figure out what was wrong with my work and how to make it better. Now, coming up on mid-terms at Humber, I have realized how crucial portfolio school really is. Nobody really tells you what brilliant work looks like, most people don’t even know it.

Every creative director I’ve shown my book to has given me passes but haven’t let me in. I understand this a lot better today. They don’t want to be your teachers, they are looking for excellent workers. If you don’t fall into that category they’ll just give you encouragement and maybe a water and toss you on your way.

I will probably eat these words if by next year at this time I’m still unemployed and pounding pavement. But truthfully, great creative isn’t all that hard. We see what is ‘good’ by industry standards, what sort of tricks or formulae are tested, and we take a pretty neat idea and mold it to that model. Ideas come after several hours of thinking hard and trying several models. It’s not rocket science, the fate of the free world rests on the shoulders of others. This is just sign-painting.

I’ve seen what great looks like. Now it’s time to go out and get it.

It’s definitely Y!ou, not me.

Thanks to Barbara Lippert, who brought me much insightful commentary and this campaign to my attention. I can’t figure out what I dislike more, how corporate this whole campaign feels when it should be about reaching out to each user individually or how Yahoo can’t help pointing at themselves when claiming to talk about ‘you’.

If you can’t agree on one thing, don’t just incorporate everything

Visually this ad is right up there in meaninglessness with Bing. It’s worse, because Bing could at least make some claim to novelty and at least the cut-scenes could be construed to capture the media-overload problem that product was supposed to solve. Here, Yahoo is professing to be about the individual, which means it shouldn’t really be about a bunch of cookie-cutter demographics. If it is, then it’s about everybody, even if they’re all isolated. At best they’re only extremely loosely-based on people I know. Nonetheless, that means it’s not about me.

It’s tough to try speaking to one person at a time. Tougher to convince them you’re speaking to them for the first time, and that this isn’t some rehearsed spiel that’s been hashed over by marketing departments, account people, creatives and their directors, and a load of focus groups. Ads that have accomplished this in the past didn’t try to reference that fact. Uncle Sam didn’t say, “I Want You–poor/middle/rich, white/hispanic/black, guy/girl anywhere between the ages of 18-35 of fighting age or capable of working in a factory!” he said “I Want YOU” and the message was strong enough. Throw in that other crap and people very quickly realize you aren’t really talking to them.

If your strategy is that you MUST make the brand about this nebulous non-existent person-in-the-street loosely referred to as ‘you’, then evade outlining who you’re talking to as best you can. In this post-post-post-modern era, irony helps. So does honesty. Come right out and say it.

The message is, “We’re interested in you, these are the people who you are obviously NOT (because our marketing department dreamed them up and stuck them in an ad), now tell us who you really are. Prove to yourself that you are not just DNA on a cotton swab, or the space between your retinas, or a blurry image on cold security monitor.”

It’s a little premature to pass all this judgment, and maybe future spots will feature different people, but I feel like it would only reaffirm the fact that Yahoo! is just an extension of Microsoft. If you feature individual people with their own stories, you’re doing what CP+B did with their ‘I’m a PC’. I’m saying there has to be a way to showcase the fact that people are unique without just showing a bunch of people hand-picked based on their congruence with various social groups.

The Y!ou logo is, in my opinion, poor design. It smacks of self-serving smugness and smells of burnt designer souls. This is the icon for Yahoo, and a shorthand of their logo:

This is how they write it when referring to the audience in second-person:

The question is, who are they putting first? An exclamation point is used to emphasize what comes before. They couldn’t even include the rest of us in the excitement. The rest of the word is tacked on alike an afterthought. This really reads, “It’s Yahoo! ou”, or “Yahoo! owns u” (because that’s what this campaign is trying to do really, own the very idea of self). Even the body copy begins with a boast about how great the company is.

I predict that nothing is really going to change, whatever increase in traffic they get will come from those who aren’t using yahoo even though they’d rather be because Google is actually that much better at delivering the goods. They will try Yahoo and likely leave again because the core message, and I suspect the whole corporate culture, was never about anybody but themselves.

Glad SOME good’s come out of DDB Brazil

Quickly, what happened last week:

Ad Agency DDB Brazil won some awards for a VERY CONTROVERSIAL ad linking 9/11 to Global warming and American interference in, well, everything. At least that was what I took away, and was promptly informed by some that I was reading way too much into it. I maintain that my viewpoint wasn’t unique, and that at least some extreme-patriots-cum-reverse-conspiracists must have seen these ads as anti-American.

copy reads: "THE TSUNAMI KILLED 100 TIMES MORE PEOPLE THAN 9/11. The planet is brutally powerful. Respect it. Preserve it. http://www.wwf.org"

Anyway, dabitch at Adland has covered this in far better detail than me, and informs many of the facts I have here, so you can get a fuller story there. Before I forget, Barbara Lippert was where I found this stuff first.

Long Story Short

Suffice it to say that creatives at DDB Brazil came up with this ad, the agency somehow sold it to WWFBrazil, ran it once in a small publication, and then submitted it all over. Cannes and OneShow awarded them for their, ahem, efforts. Then people started to get REALLY offended by it. While people were getting angry, some of them pointed out that it wasn’t even a REAL ad. It only ran once, it wasn’t even in a big paper. The head offices of both DDB and WWF never approved it. Then One Show revoked their award, the creatives were fired, and due to some excellent blogging by the Dog and Pony Show, new rules have come into effect at the One Club. The main punishment is a retroactive and cumulative 5-year ban for anyone submitting fake ads.

Effective beginning in 2010:

  • An agency or regional office of an agency network that enters an ad made for a nonexistent client, or made and run without a client’s approval, will be banned from entering the One Show for five years.
  • The entire team credited on the “fake” entry will be banned from entering the One Show for five years.
  • An agency or regional office of an agency network that enters an ad that has run once, on late-night TV, or only because the agency produced a single ad and paid to run it itself will be banned from entering the One Show for three years.

So that’s it. At least now it’ll be harder to get away with cheating. It won’t stop ads that have only run once, just those that are run disingenuously at late hours or paid for by the agency. Gotta love those clauses, because for a second there I was worried Apple’s “1984” by TBWA/Chiat Day were gonna get screwed (it only ran one Super Bowl).

Still, my question is how those guys won. The morning-after consensus is almost unanimously that DDB Brazil deserves their award IF they had run it in a real magazine, or more than once, or any of the other criteria above. Except that the original reason everybody was angry was that the ad flat-out made little sense and worse, pissed off more people who saw it than otherwise. So how do judges pick these things? Are awards but a complex form of chicken in which the agency with the biggest balls and the ability to cajole clients wins? Or was the coup great because they ran something so offensive that next-to-no initial public response to such a slap in the face could be termed ‘a win’?

As a student of advertising I’m really confused here. Any help?

After Price and Function come…

Aesthetics. And that, sadly, is why the Zune can never win.

No news about whether this version will let you play songs you got for, uh, “free” (and come on, what’s the point of owning an mp3 player if you can’t control which songs you can play?). Price doesn’t seem that different from the iPhone ($219 for a 16 gig Zune vs $199 for iphone with similar specs). So it’s down to aesthetics:

Compare with the iPhone:

The Zune’s design is so overdone it’s hard to tell if it was imitating the Nokia 6300 or the iPhone. It’s angular design and austere logo may lend it an air of ‘business’ but the blocky all-caps sans-serif interface screams arrogant hipster. Which means? HD or no, just about everything from package design on down to apps and appearance will signal square.