Sunday, December 13, 2009

Marketing is your Friend

Marketing has fascinated me since the day I read an article describing the systematically drawn characters on a cereal box. The next time you are walking down the cereal aisle, pay very close attention to the eyes of Tony the Tiger and the pupils of the rabbit on the Trix cereal box. Have you ever noticed how they both seem to be looking down instead of straight ahead? The reason is that the marketing executives at General Mills and Kellogg’s have invested countless hours (and countless dollars) to discover that their sales increase dramatically if the cartoon characters make eye contact with your child instead of you.

This may seem like a trivial detail, but in an industry that generates upward of 9 billion dollars annually, I can assure you that no square inch of your cereal box is left up to chance. However, even with all the scrutiny breakfast cereals are subjected to they are not immune from marketing misfires. Case in point, the next time you are shopping for cereal at Kroger make sure and pick up a box of “Nutty Nuggets.”

While the packaging of products is fascinating, nothing compares to the sheer creativity associated with inventing or misallocating words for a television commercial. Over the past two months, I have catalogued the following nonsense phrases used in real television ads:

“Microburst technology” – Could this be a breakthrough in computer processor multi-threading? An exciting new approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions? Actually, I caught this on a commercial for toothpaste. I assume it was meant to convey the invigoration one experiences when using their product. This is unfortunate since a microburst is a rare, but often deadly meteorological phenomenon consisting of a concentrated column of sinking air. Microbursts are especially troublesome to low altitude aircraft, such as PanAm flight 759 whose crash claimed the lives of 152 people, and a microburst was most recently was blamed for the May 2, 2009 collapse of the Dallas Cowboys practice facility. So the next time you feel some dental upkeep is in order, put a little aviation tragedy on your toothbrush and get those molars clean.

“Crystalline freshness” – Street name for a meth dealer? Title of an early 90’s Jay-Z underground mixtape? Guess again, it is the secret ingredient in Fresh Step Kitty Litter that allows it to effectively trap the offensive odors from your cat’s “party biscuits.” Since the manufacturer alludes to “odor crystals” as part of the formula, I would assume that they were searching for a way to attribute the freshness of their product to the presence of these magical crystals. However, the phrase literally means “of a translucently unsoiled nature” so perhaps the idea is that if you cannot see the feces, you cannot smell the feces.

“Youth Activating Concentrate” – A codename for PCP? A groundbreaking teenage philanthropic endeavor? This mystery substance is the key component of a new face cream. According to LancĂ´me, they have spent ten years of research and groundbreaking in-vitro genetic testing to ensure that your skin is “infused with life.” Genifique is the first and only anti-aging product to offer an ingredient that doesn’t actually exist and apply for seven different patents to protect it. In situations like this I always envision the scenario where the lead geneticist goes home for the holidays and the following conversation take place over a large plate of ham:

Uncle – “What was it that you have dedicated a decade of your career to? Eliminating the scourge of multiple sclerosis? Ending HIV’s reign of terror over humanity? Putting pancreatic cancer in its place?”

Geneticist – “Defeating crow’s feet.”

Uncle – “We all have our calling…”

“Serum Pearls” – Is this a new synthetic anti-coagulant? The pseudonym used by an author of romantic novels? This is the secret ingredient in Softsoap’s Nutri-Serum body wash. According the product’s website, the presence of these serum pearls allows you to “surprise your skin.” Of course, a third degree burn would be a pretty big surprise to your skin as well, but probably not as easy to market. Softsoap is banking on the idea that their customer base will pay extra to find a foreign object floating in their body wash.

“Dynamic Inertia Technology” – Is this a safety feature on the 2010 Mercedes E-Class Sedan? An aeronautic breakthrough that allows the shuttle to reach escape velocity in 30% less time? Actually it is what makes the Shake Weight so effective against “jiggle arm.” If you have not yet seen the infomercial for this triceps transforming wonder, it is a dumbbell that you hold in your hands and gyrate back and forth until you have vanquished all of your unsightly arm-fat.

This particular phrase is a shining example of how to juxtapose words into an impressive (yet uninformative) sequence of nonsense. Taken literally, dynamic inertia technology means “the application of a continuously changing property of matter in regards to uniform motion.” While confusing, this is much more scientific than admitting the device relies on “a big spring.”

This is only a sampling, but I have noticed a distinct pattern for marketing success when it comes to phrasing and sequencing:

· Always begin your marketing phrase with the words nano, micro, dynamic, or infused as these words tend to evoke a sense of confusion and awe.

· Immediately follow these phrases with words that are academically unverifiable but loosely related to the product’s intended use, such as nutritional extract, biotic enhancement, or friction particulates.

· Bookend the phrase with the word technology as this reassures the intended customer that their unfamiliarity with your nonsense word is due to its cutting-edge progressive nature and not the fact that you fabricated it out of a desire to separate them from their paycheck .

For instance if I was selling motor oil, I would inform the customer that my new synthetic blend contained “nano friction particulate technology” and that the absence of this unique additive in my competitor’s motor oil endangered their customer’s engine.

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