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Vimeo Vamp

October 12th, 2011

When we’re taking a breaks from the salt mines of naming, we often cruise the latest posts on Vimeo - an international repository of short clips by animators and videographers ( http://vimeo.com/ ).

The interesting thing about Vimeo is that much of the best visual imagination springs from places our clients never consider for creative sourcing.

If you’re in tv production, Vimeo is already in your bookmarks file.  As a marketer, it may not be.

If you’re charged with promoting cars or electronics on tv or internet, have a look at Pipe Plant, ( http://vimeo.com/29841219 ), a 3-minute clip by Russian videographer Sasha Aleksandrov that could radically alter how you see what your viewers see.

Teens With Earbuds

October 2nd, 2011

When most adults see a teenager with earbuds in her ears, we assume she’s bopping to a band with a name like Pink War Machine or Artichoke Not Be.

A chance conversation with a high school counselor offered a different view.  Students turn out to be regular listeners to literary audiobooks, particularly “secondary writings of authors they encounter in English lit. classes.”

After a midterm book report on Moby Dick, a kid might download Typee from the iTunes Store.  After The Great Gatsby, maybe Tender Is The Night. Not for class credit, just for entertainment or enlightenment.

Why doesn’t she buy or borrow a print copy or an e-book?  Because she has to sit to read, but she can listen on-the-go.  Other than pale, pudgy videogame addicts, American teens run, walk, ride and otherwise move around a lot.

The gender of our subject noun of isn’t arbitrary.  Our counselor friend sees iPod literature is mostly “a girl thing” in high school, but believes it becomes more gender-balanced in college.

Is there a useful marketing insight somewhere in this?  We think so.

In our experience, more than a few advertising and marketing people see the teen audience as brain-dead zombies who require a loud noise and flash of light to get them to notice the dancing acne medicine package on the screen.  If you watch a reel of teen-focused ads, this “Hey dummy!” tone often comes through.  We think a lot of the kids are smart enough to be offended.  Smarter than the marketers perhaps…

Poverty as Opportunity

August 26th, 2011

In a recent business discussion, we encountered the phrase: “the poverty of American packaged goods art” – so obviously true that nobody in the group commented, much less objected. New products folk don’t talk about it much, but the soft drink, beer, snack, bread, and prepared foods packages that define our craft (think Coke and Pepsi and Bud and Wheat Thins and Campbell’s) are as visually exciting as smog.

America may be the 900 pound gorilla of packaged goods, but compared to the visual imagination of such contemporary products as iPhone tiles, bicycles, and online games), it looks like the packaged goods gorilla lost interest 20 years ago.

A problem? Only if you assume some hot young marketing team in (for example) Baltic Europe will notice our lethargy and convince management to launch in your category here.  Might be a while.  Then again, might not.

Forgive the cliché, but we see it as an opportunity.  If you think about it, all cans of Pepsi or all boxes of Wheat Thins don’t have to be the same.  Without diminishing the brand (which, to a generation that explores the world as text on a screen is a word rather than the PMS color of the paperboard box), the package can be startling, stimulating…different!

Would young consumers buy a 12-pack of beer or a box of crackers because the package art changes?  Not if the change were merely color or typeface or (spew!) a New New New banner.  But brilliant illustration – art for art’s sake – maybe so.

These snippets of art that would grab the consumer by the frontal lobes are clipped from images on what has been called “the richest source of book-related illustration in the universe”.  It’s a website that contains thousands of illustrations – and every one of them is more interesting than anything your design team has ever proposed.

The site’s had several names over the years, but is now 50 Watts.

What Color Is Your Product?

August 15th, 2011

To a marketer, it is obvious that color choices in socially visible products mirror consumer mood.

Design teams and consumer researchers labor mightily to nail the hues chosen for apparel, furniture, socially-purposed alcoholic beverages like vodka and whiskey, and (the big kahuna of social symbolism) vehicles.

To do this, they look backward (what happened last year, long term trends); sideways (what’s going on now that could affect what we want to project in identity-defining purchases); and forward (via the social sciences, including politics and economics).

They hire independent color labs and the consulting arms of makers of dyes, paints and pigments.

At NameLab, we were debating the significance of the fact that the 77% of automobiles delivered in 2010 were painted in “colorless colors”, which we noticed in an article in the excellent Wheels blog of the New York Times (Global Car Colors):

  1. 1. Silver – 25 percent
  2. 2. Black – 23 percent
  3. 3. White – 16 percent
  4. 4. Gray – 13 percent
  5. Blue – 9 percent
  6. Red – 8 percent
  7. Brown/Beige – 4 percent
  8. Green – 1 percent
  9. Yellow/Gold – 1 percent

10.  Others – less than 1 percent

Does this mean that you should reconsider that proposed orange-and-blue beverage label?

We don’t know. But you have to admit it’s an interesting question.

Virtual Consumer

July 29th, 2011

The weekly trade magazine Aviation Week & Space Technology puts out an annual “double issue” in July focused on the future of aviation and space industries.

This year’s article on the future of civil aviation includes the observation: “A hundred million people spend more time in the virtual world than in the real world.”

A hundred million? That’s better than one out of 70 of the 6.8 billion humans on the planet at the end of 2010.  Deduct the 4.3 billion too young, old, poor, or rural for internet access and that 100 million who spent more waking hours in virtual space than temporal space comprises one out of every 25 people in the planet: World Internet Access.

Not just any one out of 25. These netizens reside in wealthier nations and tend to be better educated than the national average.  In other words, these teens to thirty-somethings are many of the managers, technologists, educators and bureaucrats of today and the next few years.

AvWeek’s article discusses the future of air travelers.  Netizens who are comfortable viewing each other, chatting, and reviewing documents online are far less likely to travel from New York to Jakarta for a business meeting.  The tipping point at which Business Class slides beneath the waves is already in sight.  The future is EasyJet (leisure travel) rather than Air France.

It affects more than travel patterns. Living in the virtual world revolutionizes consumer behavior.  The same week Borders went bankrupt, Amazon announced 50% quarterly profit growth.

We can’t find any quotable stats, but in wired markets like Europe, North America, Australia, and Europe we’d bet that the majority of this year’s new businesses will be internet ventures.

What does all this mean for marketers?  Those of us who don’t radically alter what we sell and how we sell it are looking at a tipping point of our own.

In Praise Of Product Managers

July 21st, 2011

In addition to monitoring design, development, packaging, testing, pricing, promotion and distribution, the Product Manager has a role that we rarely think about – defending the product from debasement at the hands of the bean counters.

We thought about it recently when one of us bought two new Toyota RAV4s to replace two aging Honda CR-Vs.  We don’t mean to pick on Toyota here.  Their product system is typical of auto manufacturers – but these cars are the real life example we have.

With tens of millions of owners, Toyota is a hugely valuable brand name in the fundamental sense of brand function; the brand you last bought is the default choice for the next purchase.  Considering the profit involved in a car sale, Toyota brand equity must be worth tens of billions of dollars.

Like a can of peas, a car is a physical object.  Your most recent experience of the actual object affects your perception of the brand more than all the commercials you’ve seen from the beginning of time.

When some bean counter proposes saving a few tenths of a cent by reducing the average number of peas per can from 156 to 148, the can-of-peas product manager defends the integrity of his product by pointing out the value of its brand equity.  Whether he wins or loses, he’s there to fight for his product.

Toyota is famously focused on squeezing every last cent out of component cost and every last minute out of assembly time to maximize profit.  If some purchasing guy can save a nickel on a flimsier aux input jack, there’s no RAV4 product manager to argue with him.  The cheap jack goes into the car and the purchaser (us in this case) has to jiggle his iPod cable to achieve a decent connection every time he gets into the car.

If some industrial engineer proposes to cut a few cents in materials or labor on attaching a heat shield to the exhaust manifold, there’s no product manager to object, so some of the heat shields rattle like one of ours does.  Sure the dealer will fix it (the service manager knows just where the problem lies), but it’s a nuisance for the buyer and a blemish on the brand.

If a purchasing guy can save a buck on battery, alternator or ignition electronics at a small cost in reliability, there’s no product manager to pound the table and ask: “Are you nuts?  The core of we’re selling is reliable transportation!” Thus the battery of one of our two new Toyotas slowly goes flat over a couple of weeks of typical use (the service manager recommends that we be sure to drive it every day).

Ours are small but annoying flaws. You’ve read a continuing stream of news stories about more dangerous failures and subsequent recalls. It’s sad for marketing professionals like us to watch a once-great brand like that be debased.

Next time you pass a product manager in the hall, smile and wave.  If you think about it, he or she protects your brand and your livelihood from the fate of Toyota.

Urban Downsizing

July 11th, 2011

Condos being built In North American cities today average about 600 square feet.  In some places, the average new-build unit is closer 500 square feet.  Few industry analysts expect this trend to reverse in the foreseeable future.

What’s going on (and how does it affect marketers)?

Young couples are crowding into cities. The young are mobile, and suburban housing tracts have become unattractive dead zones.  Competition for urban digs has raised the price of a square foot of condo.  But it’s more than price.  They simply don’t need the space.

Bookshelves? Magazine racks?  Replaced by an e-book reader.

CD/DVD storage?  Digital files live in a laptop, pad, smart phone, or “the cloud”.

Television?  That flat screen is just a moving picture on the wall. With network tv circling the drain of irrelevance and cable tv looking as tired as wired phone service ten years ago, the tv set as a dedicated appliance will probably disappear altogether.

Clothes?  With the demise of specialized office attire, closets can be smaller.

Foodstuffs? Cooking from scratch has been zapped by microwaves and take-home meals, so food storage and kitchen appliance needs shrink.

Downstairs from that 600 square foot condo you’ll find a garage with one parking space for every two or three or four units.  This dramatic reversal of the traditional one-space-per unit standard marks the confluence of zoning strategies to diminish urban traffic congestion; reduced utility of personal vehicles in cities where businesses don’t provide parking; and a perception among young people that a owning a car is ecologically immoral and fiscally irrational.   Public transport and internet-mediated car-share services will do just fine, thank you.

It’s obvious why residential downsizing matters.  With less room for “stuff”, it’ll be harder to sell stuff.

Clearly a boon to the planet, but maybe not so good for annual bonuses.

Peshawar Trucks

June 27th, 2011

The videogames most packaged-goods marketing execs grew up were first-person shooters (you gun down enemy warriors, giant rats, evil ogres) like Wolfenstein, Doom, Marathon, and Duke Nukem.

In the 1990’s, the graphics of these games seemed great. But they feel like kindergarten sketches compared to the eye-saturating imagery of current action games like Crysis, Metro 2033, Mass Effect and Just Cause. Why does this matter?  Because (as we all remember) hours and hours of staring at a game screen affects what the non-game world looks like.

New food, beverage and personal products packages concocted for the teens and twenty-somethings of today look great to product managers and test well enough against existing products.  But we suspect that they seem pretty flat to the young consumers they’re aimed at.

What would win a “gnar” from the lips of a shredder? Visual intensity and complexity beyond anything on the shelf (or in the store) would probably work.

Need inspiration? This image from noor khan trucks might jack up your design director:

It’s Not A Smartphone

June 12th, 2011

That device in your pocket is smart but it’s no longer a phone.

As name guys, what to call it interests us.  “Phone” is wrong because person-to-person voice communication is a shrinking part of smartphone usage. Voice calling will soon be demoted to “an app” alongside Angry Birds and Find A Pizza.

In Japan, text messaging alone accounts for more smartphone usage than voice calls.  This trend was kick-started by NTT Docomo (the leading service provider with a 50% market share), who bundled unlimited texting into every account at the launch of its i-mode service on the smart handset below in 1999.

On a level voice-text playing field, the Japanese consumer opted for texting.

In the U.S., tariffs and rules remain tilted toward voice. Cellphone providers see themselves as “phone companies” – perhaps reflecting the views of senior telecom execs who learned the business in the halcyon days before Ma Bell was rent asunder by deregulators run amok.

The decline of voice calls is easy to understand.  Voice is “synchronous communication” – both parties must be willing and able to talk and listen at the same moment in time.

Text, mail, and just about every other act of socialization possible on your smartphone are “asynchronous”.  Each party reads, writes, or whatevers at their convenience.

So the smartphone is not a phone. Pocket computer is accurate but uninspired.  iPhone is inspired but proprietary and (forgive us Steve) inaccurate.

What to call that thing in your pocket?  The need for a new generic word cries out to us at NameLab.  It’s not a job – alas, the English language is not a paying client – but we’re on it like brown on rice (this is California, after all).

Your ideas would be greatly appreciated.

Concentration

April 28th, 2011

In packaged goods, we expect The Law Of Unintended Consequences to lead to a painful result (the new flavor replaces a long-time steady seller on many store shelves).

Much to the surprise of food marketers in Asia, a higher-margin, higher-frequency condiment segment sprang from a “green” campaign to reduce the footprint of products like sauces and salad dressings.

Manufacturers introduced concentrated gel forms of traditional sauces and dressings in squeeze tubes alongside traditional water-based forms in glass jars.

The smaller and lighter tubes deliver the same amount of active flavoring ingredients as the jars while saving on transportation costs, shelf space, and home storage.

Initial sales were good, especially to younger consumers.  The big surprise is that repeat sales rates are impressively better than those for the traditional products.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many young people squeeze the gel straight from the tube onto sandwiches, crackers, musubis, or whatever because they prefer the flavor intensity of the concentrated form.

Although young American consumers have taken to extra-intense chip and dip flavors, concentrated gel forms of sauces and dressings haven’t (as far as we know) appeared in the U.S.A.

Hmmmmmm…