Charlie Fern's Ink

Do what you say. Say it in color.

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Name: Charlie Fern
Location: San Diego-Austin-Washington-London

Charlie Fern is a former White House speechwriter who runs a full-scale communications consulting, PR and speechwriting firm. Ms. Fern is also an adjunct professor who teaches public relations at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Case Study: Dryel can hang the competition out to dry with ads that target the newly budget-conscious

I recently saw a commercial for Dryel (a home dry-cleaning product), and I had one of those “Aha!” moments. Dry-cleaning is one of the first casualties of a household budget during a recession, and that’s a problem for all those “Dry Clean Only” garments in our closets.

For Dryel, penny pinching times present an opportunity to reach an important audience: Upper-middle and middle-class Americans (and Canadians) with a wrinkle in their dry-cleaning budgets. Dryel has a cost-saving solution for that growing pile of "Dry Clean Only" clothes in the hamper.

And someone on that company's executive committee realized that now is the time to spend money on ads that put Dryel in front of an emerging market. People may try Dryel now because they have to. If the product is good enough, though, people will buy Dryel later because they want to.

I looked at the company's Web site statistics, and there was a substantial spike in traffic in October 2008, when news of the recession was really starting to hit hard. I suspect that their website will continue to have higher-than-usual traffic as people start looking for ways to save money...and Dryel makes an effort to show them a different dry-cleaning solution.

So listen up, all you companies out there who are cutting your advertising and marketing budgets, take note. Now is not the time to stop communicating with your audiences. Now is the time to, in the words of character Jean Luc Picard, "Engage." (Thanks Jim Mitchem, advertising guru and expert on the high-impact use of the color orange, for sharing the video, below, with folks on your blog.)


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Friday, December 05, 2008

There Must be 50 Ways to Leave the Caveman

The Martin Ad Agency has earned acclaim among peers and audiences for its clever caveman ad campaign for Geico Insurance. I am not sure why these things come to me every night at sleepytime, but as I lay there staring at the ceiling last night, it occurred to me that the Martin agency has done something unusual. They've not only succeeded in entertaining millions with their caveman commercial series, but they've also managed to develop a distinctly different, second brand for Geico. Not one, but two, brands -- the caveman and the gecko. It seems odd that two such distinct brand identities can exist in one corporate universe without disrupting some laws of levity, or sanity, and causing the whole galloping sideshow to collapse upon itself. Perhaps that's what's on the horizon.

I recently had a conversation about the Geico commercials with a guy who's somewhat more enlightened than a caveman. He said he wished they'd change the current caveman storyline. The caveman, or cave-fellows, need to do something more than encounter a Geico sign and exit, stage left. I agree. The formula is wearing thin: Caveman in an enviable situation. Sees something with "Geico" on it. Leaves scene in disgust. How many different ways can they tell the same story? And what, again, is that supposed to tell us about Geico?

I wonder if the Martin agency hasn't lost some of the purpose and opportunity in advertising with this series. Isn't it now too subtle a storyline for the insurance company...especially since the commercials themselves have taken on a life of their own (as evidenced by the multiple spin-offs and TV series)? And, how many folks understood the concept in the first place? I don't know a single caveman who would leave a vacation with a bakini-clad girl on the beach for the sake of a Geco sign.

These midnight questions led to still others before a short intermission in which my brain's right hemisphere entertained the rest of me with what it remembered of a Paul Simon song. And then I was back to solving the problems of the advertising world again.

What's next for Geico? Product launches with Geico gecko dolls wearing T-shirts with cavemen printed on the back? Bobble-head caveman for dashboards?

What will the good folks at the Martin agency think of next? We're fast-approaching the mother-of-all-ad-venues, the Super Bowl. It's a special time of year for ad firms -- and oh, people, I think we're in for a real treat this year. Just think of all the companies who are fresh from the bank with their bailout checks and have something important to say to YOU! But I digress.

If I were Geico, I'd insist on something new this Super Bowl (let's pretend that decision hasn't already been made). Keep the caveman, if you must, but have him run to a phone booth and put on a Superman costume when he sees the Geico banner flying across the sky. Better yet, why not dump the caveman all together and just stick with the gecko?

In my 18 years as a professional writer, I've certainly seen my share of creative stagnation. I understand the inevitable outcome of a creative or writing team's overexposure to a subject. If you've followed any long-running shows (sitcoms, Saturday Night Live), you might have noticed that what often starts out as a terribly funny show ends up, after a while, being terrible. SNL has had some remarkable seasons, and some lousy ones. Pink slips are bound to follow a season of un-funny writing.

It's a sad truth about our business. When creative minds (writers included) are chained down to one desk or one particular subject for too long, they languish. Inspiration wanes. Quality suffers. Audiences tune out. In order to produce relevant, fresh material, creative talent needs freedom, and food, and sunlight. There are solutions for reviving a staff that's grown weary of its subject matter, of course, but I'll save those thoughts for another (bed) time.

Some firms get it. They're the ones with some of the best creative talent in America. I had the privilege of meeting David Fowler, a creative genius at Ogilvy and Mather about four years ago when he was on the brink of launching a new campaign for the soft drink Fanta. It was terrific four years ago...and it's still going strong today. I watched a new Fanta ad the other day and marveled at how his idea and ad campaign have evolved...unlike the caveman.

I strongly suspect that focus groups across the country continue to elicit the Geico response when testers toss out the words "caveman" and "gecko". But that doesn't mean that the insurance company shouldn't make a new plan, Stan. Geico knows a good creative firm and a good ad campaign when it sees one. The question is, does Geico know the end of a good campaign when it sees one?

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