Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Tribute To Breaking Rules

At Open Fridge Door skylights make us smile.

Part of it is the playfulness of the idea.

Being able to do something indoors that is only usually possible outdoors: looking up at the sky.

In their own way, skylights are testament to breaking rules.

They appeal to the maverick in us. It's what we like to do for our clients.

Challenge conventions with purpose. Break rules to unlock new possibilities and deliver new experiences.

Light fluctuating from dawn to dusk.

Sounds in flux too.

Wind gusting at different speeds.

An occasional bird brave enough to land on the incline.

And the falling rain.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Communications as oedipal destiny

Poor Oedipus. He was the unfortunate chap destined to encounter the fate he sought to avoid. You have to admire the ancient greeks for their appreciation of irony.

A modern day reenactment was found on the streets of the city by the bay, not by actors but through a visual narrative.

OFD glanced at the message while walking along Van Ness and were were forced to stop. Three plausible interpretations came to mind:

1. The police should watch out for people loitering in the vicinity who shouldn't be

2. It is the police who shouldn't be loitering and they should heed the warning

3. The police were being told to take the sign which warned others not the loiter

As we lingered in a state of confusion about the variety of possible meanings, we realized we were violating its intent. In creating the outcome it sought to avoid, we found a Oedipus alive and well on the streets of San Francisco. Myths are after all timeless.

Friday, February 22, 2008

How Product Advertising Can Build the Brand

The priorities of many business are clear today. Make the sale today, worry less about the longer-term brand (which is squishy anyhow). It’s understandable. Wall Street requires that companies focus on delivering earnings now. Better to have a bird in the hand.

The folks here at OFD see a missed opportunity. If the priority is promoting product to motivate desire which makes the sale, then an innovative, strategic partner will find a way to ensure this marketing effort is also an investment in the brand.

It is not an easy thing to do, which it presumably why so few companies and their partners are doing it. We at Open Fridge Door think it is a necessity to serving our clients well.

Here’s an example of our work.

Client: United Airlines

Situation: Promote the extra legroom of Economy Plus in the second year after it’s launch.

Launch year work was effective in connecting travelers with the familiar discomfort of being cramped. Our belief was that a greater opportunity lay in connecting them with positive virtues

Our Approach: Look to the brand for inspiration. Its focus was about helping business travelers connect with success, so this became the context in which the product needed to be placed.

Our Insight:

There’s a simple truth that physical space begets mental space. Giving the legs space gives the mind room to breathe – an important benefit that the seasoned traveler understands intimately.

The Work

The Result
It leverages product to promote the brand, instead of missing the opportunity to do so.

For the intended audience
, it is simple, engaging work that rewards their attention and respects their intelligence

For the Client,
it increases the return on expenditure by ensuring that an investment in product marketing is an investment in the brand.

Conceptual Thinking Faces a Dire End

The news was troubling indeed, its nature made more ominous by where it appeared. The sign in question literally pointed to a cul-de-sac, a place of no escape from the disturbing proclamation it delivered.

The humble continuum is core to life and human existence. Without it we'd exist in a world of extremes, relentlessly caught in dichotomies. This sign suggested this fate is upon us, at least on Golden Gate Avenue, just west of Leavenworth

Guiness Advertising Campaign: Genius in Message and Medium

Like any good strategy it seems obvious in hindsight. Not unlike the 'Born from Jets' campaign that Saab ran a year or so ago. When it comes to establishing performance pedigree, what better than to leverage the company's heritage as a manufacturer of fighter planes?

The 'Alive inside' theme seems like it emerged in a place that many of advertising's finest ideas come from: the pub. No doubt in the spirit of some old fashioned but time honored product interrogation (which the creatives unusually suggested) someone noticed that there's a lot of activity when the pint has been poured and it is settling.

This was a good starting point but not enough. The idea needed to be connected to some distinct group which shares a belief or mindset, actual or aspirational. The result pays of well in this example of outdoor advertising for the brand in downtown San Francisco.

The inventiveness of the medium is easily apparent. The kiosk supports the idea of a pint of Guiness perfectly, which is what it seen from a distance.

Closer up, however, the Guiness reveals itself not to contain bubbles but instead to be filled with people holding up cigarette letters as if at a concert.

The viewer is rewarded for closer observation, but it also confirms the positioning intent: Alive Inside is a statement that extols as much about the characteristics and ambition of the Guiness drinker as it does the drink itself

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sound Branding Ideology Found in The Unlikeliest of Places

A plaque on the side of the civic center in downtown San Francisco commemorates the spirit of strategically-minded industry and its benefit to mankind.

Looked at another way, it provides a welcome if unexpected dose of good branding sense:

Too often vision and action are not in lock-step under the guidance of those responsible for brand development.

Too often, these stewards lack the creative and strategic acumen to define a vision that will galvanize people not only within the company but in the marketplace too. With the relentless focus on this quarter’s results, there is too much of a willingness to give up a vision for a focus on today.

We at OFD believe that the management of the brand cannot be separated from sales. Done correctly, product marketing can actually build the brand. And the branding can trigger sales. All to often does not. The result is less efficiency and erosion in the brand. We shall write more on this soon.

In the meantime, it is good to find inspiration behaving like it should, emerging in the most unlikely of place.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Innovative communications: a façade carries the meaning behind it

We recently commented on candy as a communications medium. m&ms being edible confectionery carrying a customizable message it’s ideal for bearing valentine’s day sentiments and surely one of the few situations in which eating one’s words is a virtue.

OFD came across another innovative communications medium. Incorporated into the top of a building façade at 214 Van Ness Avenue are a series of large domes that run from left to right. Equality and Independence is what they spell, but it is through Braille not letters that they communicate the core mission of the inhabitants and the visitors they serve.

Lighthouse is an organization for the blind and visually impaired. The name implies a unmistakable presence, in this situation drawing visitors towards it rather than warding them away, which it does in a maritime setting.

The architects Jay and Joel Hendler felt that the building had to live up to the expectations embodied in the Lighthouse idea itself. Their solution was to incorporate it in to the facade itself. They created a design that is as visually iconic as it is symbolic of the organization’s mission and purpose. Now when people think of the company there is a distinctive image that is conjured up in their mind to associate with the institute.

A clever - and distinct - element of visual identity and another example of an innovative communications medium on the streets of San Francisco.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Range Rover’s Ad Campaign Recycles Nissan and Raises The Bar

Many SUV brands face a challenge. Most drivers won’t use the vehicles for what they were built to do. The vast majority will stay on road rather than venture off.

The trick for marketers is to figure out how to showcase capabilities in a relevant way that heightens appeal despite the fact that most likely won’t ever be used.

One strategy has been to promote a distinct attitude or mindset that aligns with the character of the brand to foster strong affiliation and therefore confirmation desire.

Nissan’s Pathfinder
campaign in 2000 was one good example. The SUV’s were featured in a variety of implausible yet possible situations: one ascending a ski slope, another navigating a steeplechase course and a collection of Pathfinders playing polo (rather than horses). “Not that you would but you could” was the rallying cry. It was an inventive solution to exactly the challenges outlined above.

Print copy closed with a similar theme: “…..So, while you may never storm Pikes Peak or own the passing lane in Munich, isn’t it nice to know you could?”

More recently Range Rover does a nice job of using this strategy. It does more than serve up a fresh interpretation. As an SUV distinctly in the premium class, the campaign ensures the prestige and luxury appeals are elegantly delivered.

At rising tide, few of its owners may ever drive to Mont-Saint-Michel – or possibly escape – but as the copy notes, the fortunate ones have the privilege of an extra half an hour for passage. If you listen intently you can almost hear in the wind crossing the flats….not that you would, but you could.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

As Boomers redefine death, Visa misses an opportunity

It might seem absurd but true to their character Boomers are taking on yet another taboo, one might say the ultimate one, and seeking to re-write the rules on their terms. The taboo is Death.

This generational cohort has already left the detritus of previous taboos they’ve disrupted: love, sex, work, home education, taking charge of one’s health and wellness.

Taking on death has come from a fundamental life shift: it's through their ailing and dying parents that Boomers are facing up to their own mortality.

As American Demographics described it: “When 75 million American confront an issue it becomes culturally significant”. Evidence of it can be found everywhere including the current VISA campaign: “Things to do while you’re alive”

It reflects Boomers’ focus on what they want to achieve while they have the time. It represents a missed opportunity because it fails to recognize the cultural milieu of our time: it doesn’t mention death.

You might think Boomers would be afraid of the word death. They aren't. In true Boomer fashion, their navel-gazing reflection on mortality is not silent introspection: they’ve been openly discussing and debating what it is and what it means to them.

Take their reaction to Joan Didieron’s book A Year of Magic Thinking, as reported by The New York Times:

“It is both amazing and unnerving to see the public’s consciousness so thoroughly saturated with a story as personal and intimate as Ms Didion’s. It is one thing to share her journey as her silent companion in a book. It is quite another to see the trip become a public rite, with full page newspaper ads inviting everyone to come along, or to contemplate strangers making chit chat about it day after day in the ticket line, or on the theater sidewalk under the gushy blurb signs.” But that’s the baby boom for you.”

As a key engine of cultural dispersion, the media reflects the growing appetite for and dialog about death, Six Feet Under and Family Plots in TV; How to Die and 1000 Places to See Before You Die in print (which has also been made into a Discovery channel series).

Had Visa understood the cultural milieu – and been brave – it would have different a rallying cry.

Things I want to do before I die.

For Boomers, it would be a lightening rod. Death is what gives life its meaning. Acknowledging death would create a powerful context to ground aspiration rather the mediocre setting of what's possible in the time that’s left.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Further evidence that suggestion shapes experience

OFD recently reported on the phenomenon of confirmation bias: the tendency for people to unconsciously adapt to support the stimuli they are confronted by.

was the stimuli in the study at Cornell University Food and Brand Lab. The resulting bias went further than merely perception: when taste bud receptors are altered by emotive food descriptors such as succulent, the event becomes a physical as well as a mental one.

Price was the stimuli in the study from the California Institute of Technology. Dr Rangel gave his volunteers sips of what he said were five different wines made from cabernet sauvignon grapes, priced at between $5 and $90 a bottle. He told each of them the price of the wine in question as he did so. Except, of course, that he was fibbing. He actually used only three wines. He served up two of them twice at different prices.

Dr Rangel used functional magnetic-resonance imaging, which can detect changes in the blood flow in parts of the brain that correspond to increased mental activity. He looked in particular at the activity of the medial orbitofrontal cortex. This is an area of the brain that previous experiments have shown is responsible for registering pleasant experiences.

Participants gave higher ratings to higher priced wines. In addition the scanner showed that the activity of the medial orbitofrontal cortices of the volunteers increased in line with the stated price of the wine. This suggested that the confirmation bias was influencing recipients in a physical capacity as well as mental one, just like the Cornell findings.

Marketers will be satisfied at just the perceptual effect of bias. They've long known that levels of pricing come with their own implied associations including quality. If a consumer leans on these and it supports perceptions, does it matter if it is only an event in the mind?

The anthropologists among us did find the evolutionary-oriented origin for confirmation bias fascinating. The point of learning is to improve an individual's chances of surviving and reproducing: if the experience and opinions of others can be harnessed to that end, so much the better. Dr Rangel suspects that what he has found is a mechanism for learning quickly what has helped others in the past, and thus for allowing choices about what is nice and what is nasty to be made speedily and efficiently. In modern society, price is probably a good proxy for such collective wisdom.

However, goods can be desirable for a reason other than survival value. Many of the things for which high price is an enhancement are purchased in order to show off, as any male confronted with the wine list in a fancy restaurant knows. Indeed, conspicuous consumption and waste are an important part of social display. Deployed properly, they bring the rewards of status and better mating opportunities. For this to work, though, it helps if the displaying individual really believes that what he is buying is not only more expensive than the alternative, but better, too. Truly enjoying something simply because it is exclusive thus makes evolutionary sense.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Loyalty drivers that Apple and Microsoft miss

There’s an easy yet effective way that major companies can inspire their current consumers to stay within the brand and not defect when the time for repurchasing rolls around.

The principle is simple: Recognize the investment the consumer has already made in the relationship and reward accordingly.

It’s standard practice in certain categories such as automotive, who offer a trade-in on existing models.

It’s not just huge ticket items either. Finis, makers of a second generation waterproof mp3 player (below) are offering a discount for owners of the original version, retailing at about $180.

The reasoning is simple: help a consumer unlock a fair residual value in his existing product and he’ll be more likely to buy a new replacement. But it goes beyond economics to something altogether human and valuable when it comes to profitable relationships: respect. This quality is all too absent in many brands strategies yet it does much to inspire attachment and loyalty.

The reason why Apple and Microsoft haven't ventured down this road is no surprise: they feel they don’t need to and focus on maximizing profits. Consumers don't expect a trade-in with computers the way they do for other categories. Certainly, with new marketplace mechanisms like eBay, consumers can dispose of their older version on their own more easily than they could in the past (though that responsibility is still left with them).

Overtime, however, it can leave customers feeling like they are paying too much to continue the relationship. One of our OFD staffers is about to acquire his third laptop. An Apple clamshell and Titanium G4 Powerbook sit on a shelf. In seeking a new, faster model, he’s considering defecting brands. $3800 has already been spent on hardware and animal-themes upgrades of OSX over time. Yet when he steps inside an Apple store to contemplate the purchase of the new Airbook – or any other computer – his loyalty is unrecognized: his value to the company is seen no differently from a potential first-time buyer.

As with any relationship, what incentive is there to stay in it when you don’t feel valued?

Friday, February 1, 2008

Unconscious perceptions of proportions guides grazing behavior

We like to believe we’re in control of much we do and how we act. Our ego and sense of self requires it. We’re not nearly in command of our actions as we like to think however.

The latest humbling reminder comes from some research, courtesy of the folks at Cornell University. Apparently, the amount we eat has much to do with a sub-conscious assessment of the quantity we are taking.

In the research study, a collection of students were invited to a superbowl party and served roasted nuts and chex mix from one of two buffet tables.
One table had two big bowls of the snacks. The other had the same amount and type of snacks split into four small bowls.

Those who took from the large bowls ate 56 percent (56%) more than those who munched from the smaller bowls. The difference: 142 calories.

"The size of serving bowls provide a subtle cue of how much we should eat," says Brian Wansink, Marketing professor at the college who led the work. "A handful of Chex Mix from a large bowl doesn't seem like enough, but one from a medium bowl seems just about right."


This kind of spatially-oriented visual processing of the brain can be used as a form of social engineering to encourage people to eat less - or more or - of certain kinds of foods.

For high calorie foods, smaller bowls will encourage people to eat less.
For lower calorie (and perhaps less appetizing but more healthy) foods such as carrots, larger bowls will encourage people to take more.