Monday, April 26, 2010

I give you one last PNC achievement.

It's the last one I promise. This one is just too good to pass up.

"Achievement is going where you're going." Got that? I'll say it again, "Achievement is going where you're going." Can you feel yourself moved and running over to your local PNC branch to sign up? That stirring message, number 1000 I suppose in a list of 10,000 equally (un)stirring messages, was placed on another bus stop, on the outside so that everyone might see it. Outside. Clever that PNC ad agency. But enough of PNC.

Not only banks write dumb copy. As I read the local fishwrapper today, I came across the story of efforts to save the murals in St. Nicholas Church in Millvale, I came upon this impassioned message by the save-the-mural coordinator, "It's about institutionalizing and permatizing an important work of art...."

Can you feel yourself moved by that message?! Can you imagine this important work of art NOT being "institutionalized and permatized"? Can you imagine yourself marching in front of City Hall shouting, "Institutionalize and permatize the murals. Institutionalize and permatize the murals." Makes the hair stand up, doesn't it?

Why do you suppose these people don't check with me before they utter these inanities? Just kidding, of course. The ad types want to be creative, not direct, and the coordinators (I'm guessing consultants) want to sound impressive, not understood. If they ever heard of the teaching of a guy like me, they'd run in the other direction. After all, achievement is NOT listening to Barr (and his slight but loyal 80 followers). Achievement is institutionalized and permatized.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I bring you the next installment of PNC.

I was waiting at the corner of Arch and North this morning for the 54C. It was late, and when it finally rumbled around the corner near Kindred Hospital (what was once Divine Providence Hospital), I saw what I couldn't believe, but should have suspected, a bus board on the passenger side of the lavender (honest) bus, reading, "Achievement Rides the Bus".

I don't know if you've ever ridden the 54C in Pittsburgh but the last thing that rides that bus is achievement. A lot of mullet heads, a colony of mental health patients and few disoriented elderly populate the bus I ride. I'm guessing many of them have such bad credit that they don't even have a bank account.

But, PNC has begun this "Achievement" campaign and they're going to plaster it every where, even if it makes no sense. Or, perhaps it's some kind of positive thinking campaign. "If we tell them they're achievers, they'll become such and be forever indebted to PNC for helping them." In fact, I predict PNC will begin to label every thing and many people in western Pennsylvania with this achievement thing.

Who needs it more than the Pittsburgh Pirates? Most sportswriters predict that the Buccos will lose 100 games this year. With PNC on their side telling them that "Achievement is hitting a home run" they might only lose 90 games. And speaking of miss (or Miss), Big Ben from the Steelers can benefit as much as anyone in Pittsburgh from a positive thinking campaign, "Achievement stays away from women." I can see it on the sides of kegs at tailgate parties at Heinz Field or on the sides of Steeler players' helmets.

But, back to my daily transportation, the 54C, and PNC's meaningless advertisement, "Achievement Rides the Bus". Can anyone tell me that the message really offers the target audiences a benefit or differentiates PNC in a meaningful way from their competition? Can anyone prove to me that audiences who are overwhelmed with noise will see PNC's message and process it within a few seconds (and then take some action). Even if the audience is exposed to this campaign from enough frequency, will they make sense of these messages? I doubt it. But I offer this prediction: PNC and its agency will win an Addy or two (forget the CLIO) and all will be happy. They may even move the needle a little on name recognition and they will brag on that. But in the process of spending the millions of dollars they are spending on this campaign, they will help to make John Wanamaker, and his famous comment, seem like a real achievement, "I know half of my advertising is wasted, I just don't know which half."

Monday, April 19, 2010

I give you more from PNC.

I took the boys to Tae Kwon Do practice tonight, driving up Perrsyville Avenue through the upper North Side. When I stopped at the traffic light near Perry High School, I saw a bus stop (shelter) with this message on the side: "Achievement-Putting a Kung Fu grip on your finances."

I thought it was ironic that I was driving to martial arts practice and PNC was telling me that I'd be a high achiever if I got a "Kung Fu grip" on my finances. Trouble was, I had no idea what that meant. What does it mean to get a "Kung Fu grip" on your finances? And, how does that relate to achievement? Does Kung Fu teach a certain grip? Do you relate banking to Kung Fu?

More importantly, is there a benefit in here anywhere? People want to know the benefits quickly, right? Can we agree on that? Also, as we said before, outdoor, transit, bus shelters work best to build brands and support other forms of communication. But, what is the brand here? Achievement? If so, is that differentiating from the competition (although you might argue that PNC doesn't have much competition). Still, these vague messages waste a lot of money since few people see them (I look for them).

Lastly, I was surprised to see the message in this part of town. You might say it's very democratic for PNC to advertise in a poor part of town. But, as I said before, most people, rich or poor, want to know, in direct language, "How can I save money or make money?" They want ease and convenience. They want something new, something that makes them look better than their neighbors. Few are looking for achievement. Most want the easy way out.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Body language can fool you.

It sure fooled the Pittsburgh District Attorney's office this year. The DA's office brought charges against a Pittsburgh PAT bus driver for indecent exposure, endangering the welfare of children, corruption of minors and reckless endangerment when he was seen (first by another PAT driver) to have put his son's head on his lap and to have patted his rear.

All PAT buses run video cameras, and after PAT officials reviewed the video, they suspected evil doing and shared the video with the DA's office. Then the travesty began. Anthony Leffler, 51, was arrested, lost his job and was told to stay away from his sons. This, of course, led to his being humiliated and publicly accused of being a pervert. Fortunately, Common Pleas Judge avid Cashman saw a ridiculous situation and threw the case out, proving that common sense can prevail over poor body language interpretation.

What should you think when a child's head is put in his father's lap? A sex thing going on? What should you think if a man pats his son's (or, worse, his daughter's back side)? A sex thing going on? It seems ridiculous to even consider, doesn't it?

What should you think if the person across from you folds his arms across his chest? That he's angry? Maybe he's cold. What if a woman looks at you? Should you assume she's automatically interested in you? Maybe you have a new pimple on your nose.
What should you think if I look away and up to my left? That I'm lying? Maybe I'm just shy.

We are told that in emotional situations we communicate with few words and much body language (the famous and misrepresented Albert Mehrabian study at UCLA). If it is true that we use body language to understand each other in emotional times, we must think carefully and realize that body language needs to be consider in context and not in isolated body clues. Or, we will attribute messages that aren't being sent or don't exist.

This happened to Anthony Leffler and he suffered for it. Wouldn't you like to talk to his accusers and ask them why they see pedophilia when a dad puts his son's head in his lap and pats his butt?

BTW - Mehrabian said that we express our feeling 7% by words, 38% by tone of voice and 55% by body language. He didn't say that we always communicate this way. It's in emotional times when we express feelings. The bus driver was being emotional and he used body language to expres it. Unfortunately, some troubled people with wild imaginations misunderstood.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Achievement stretches a dollar.

Get it?

If not, welcome to lame headlines, Part 2.

PNC (by the way, my bank) has a series of billboards around town (around the region for all I know) with inane messages like the one in the title of this post.

Tell us, PNC, how does achievement stretch a dollar and how do you expect us to figure that out when we drive by your message at 60 MPH while listening to the cd player, fending off the tailgaters and keeping the kids from throwing things out the window?

Billboards are most effective in brand support, right? We're not going to run to the bank to sign up because we saw a message on a billboard. But how does your message help build your brand when no one knows what the heck you're talking about? Perhaps you will say because you have fitted it with the other millions you are spending on this "achievement" thing.

Well, here's some free advice: Use verbs in your messages, instead of nouns that have been created from verbs. In other words, tell the audience to achieve something, if you must. Verbs hold our language together and drive our communications. And,while you're at it, ditch this achievement campaign and differentiate yourself in some meaningful way. Take a lesson from Michael Porter or Trout and Ries.

Or, go back to advertising 101; people want to know how your product will bring them a BENEFIT. They don't want to be told to work at something, like achievement. And they certainly won't work at figuring out what you're trying to tell them when you say "achievement stretches a dollar". They want a bank for what? High interest rates on their savings, easy to get loans with easy terms and low interest rates. (Or, in this age, they want a bank that promises to be solvent in two years.)

Here, again, as with Wheeling Jesuit University (Is PNC related to WJU somehow?) we see ad types being clever (hoping to win awards or be like Mad Men) and executives who have swallowed this garbage for some strange reason. Maybe they don't want to look non-creative. So, I say to PNC (my bank),as I said to WJU, fire your ad agency (Is it the same one?) and the staff responsible for bringing you this lame work and start to think like a customer.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Use Your You.

No, I didn't just write a typo in the headline. And, you didn't misread the sentence. "Use Your You" is the slogan of Wheeling Jesuit University, as recently seen in a newspaper insert, titled, "College Bound", an insert no doubt created especially to draw college advertising dollars, and presumably targeted to teens and their parents.

If that weren't bad enough, the university seems to have created a whole campaign around this vapid message. (See their website

The word "lame" was created for this slogan. If ever there were an inane message, this takes the (dis)honors.

What could "Use Your You" possibly mean? Use your (emphasis) you, not someone else's?. And, what message of benefit does it give an 18 year old looking for a college to attend? How exactly does one use his/her you? Or, is the message meant to take the "against position", as in against the colleges that won't let you use your you? Perhaps it competes with the colleges that tell you to use your not-you. I don't know; it's baffling to me.

But, I've seen this kind of thing before, especially from America's colleges and universities. This ridiculous message comes from some creative type in the recruitment office or some academic who convinced the recruitment office that he was creative. I can just picture the person philosophizing and then rhapsodizing over his/her message. Ironically, the message couldn't have been written by a Jesuit. Jesuits are known for their practicality. This message smells distinctly of academia.

Why doesn't the message work? For many reasons. It offers no tangible benefit. It has an assonance that makes it nearly impossible to say. It makes little to no sense, especially to readers whose minds are already cluttered beyond control with straightforward messages from the world's most sophisticated messengers. You know, people like Coke, Pepsi, McDonald's.

And what are 18 year old boys, WJU's target audience, interested in? I'll give you a hint, it's a three-letter word. Eighteen year old boys already spent their early teens discovering their "yous". I know; I was one. They long ago knew how to use their you. I'll admit, though, that 18 year old girls, being a more mature group than the boys, might be thinking about how to use their yous as they enter college. But still....

Let's face it: the message sucks. It will not attract attention, lead to interest or action. No one knows how to act on it, anyway. So, I suggest that WJU (that's Wheeling Jesuit University) immediately fire its ad agency/marketing firm as they obviously are run by a bunch of creative types who spend all day wondering how to win Ad Week awards. Or, if the campaign was created internally, move the writers back to the classroom where they will do less damage and hire a good writer/marketing person. Hire someone who knows that clever seldom works in media environments as saturated as ours.

If nothing else, put these writers in a room and tell them they can't come out until they use their yous.

Monday, April 5, 2010

You must understand your audience.

I recently travelled to Latin America where I watched a difficult business transaction unravel during a late night dinner.

The American, Mr. Low, whom I accompanied, was negotiating business contract language with a Latin American, Mr. High. The relationship began to disintegrate as Mr. Low (representing a low context culture) insisted that the proposed contract re-structuring include specific financial goals. Mr. High (representing the high context culture) was quite insulted by the demand for the specific language.

"You don't understand my culture," he said. "My word is my bond. If I say I will do it, I will. This is bad. We don't do things this way in my country. You should have studied my culture before you came here."

"You should have studied mine," Mr. Low replied. "I have a boss and he wants to see the language in the contract. What if you or I die before the end of next year. Who will remember our agreement? I trust you, but I am being asked for this contract language. If you had studied my culture, you would know this is how we do business."

The situation was worsened by the fact that Mr. High had a colleague with him and didn't want to lose face. Mr. Low wasn't worried about that, to him this was just business.

I had studied the difference between low context cultures and high context cultures but this was the first time I had witnessed them in action. And it was uncomfortable. The Latin American man seemed genuinely hurt by the American's approach and the American seemed genuinely puzzled and perplexed by the whole thing. As for me, true to my Libra nature, I saw the points both of them were making.

These two intelligent and otherwise friendly businessmen were simply struggling inside their own high and low context cultures and neither understood the other's culture enough to step out of their ways to find a third path. The evening ended with Mr. Low repeatedly telling Mr. High as we walked back to our hotel that he trusted and respected him while Mr. High tried to understand what was happening. It was rough. And, as far as I know, they still have not resolved the issue.