Sunday, January 31, 2010

Online ads make strange bedfellows

You know, this practice of topically relevant advertising on websites, where the ad is placed on pages that have content related to the product or service, is quite ingenious. A good thing for advertisers, who can get their messages to their target audiences, and good for web surfers, since the unvoidable ads are, if not less annoying, then at least sometimes actually useful.

But even a system like this, with all those computer geeks and marketing minds working together, can go astray from time to time. Hence this ad for a devotional book for couples, on a message board for singles:
(Click to view at full-size)

Hey, it could've been worse. Much worse. In fact, maybe this one IS on purpose; it's a reminder to all of us still looking for that special someone who can love us for (what's left of) a lifetime (and vice-versa), that the grass isn't necessarily greener on the other side, and that marriage isn't all roses and champagne--that it takes effort as well, because life is a struggle whether solo or in tandem.

Still pretty funny. Especially since Anita is a friend of mine. A professional comic, in fact. Joke's on her! Or us. Or not.

Friday, January 29, 2010

You never even called me by my name

I've been a casual witness to quite a few hopeful openings and almost as many "wonder what happened to?" closings of businesses offering food, music and (usually) drink. Usually from the sidelines, where I notice a new name in the music listings or see the promotional efforts in the local media.

I also have a touch of experience in marketing, especially from the presentation side of things; logos, concepts, copywriting, etc.

So I feel like (or like to think) I have a certain sense of whether a place is doing a good job of establishing a foothold in the hearts and minds of the public, and more importantly, the budget of its target audience (assuming it has one in mind).

I worked at a cafe just off Music Row called Edgehill Studios Cafe for a couple of years, getting the word out about the place and its events through music listings, printed calendars, flyers, radio spots and the ever-changing PowerPoint presentation running on the flatscreen TV behind the counter.

It was an ongoing effort (and often a losing battle) to get people to say the name, the whole name, and nothing but the name of the cafe. Especially one of the original owners (a big-idea guy). Sure, as long as we all knew what we were talking about, fine, but effective branding is essential, as any marketing novice or Disney employee will tell you, so name consistency kind of, uh, matters.

One day we heard from someone who had tried to find us by calling information and they were told we weren't listed. Then I noticed we were listed in the phone book as Edge Hill (2 words) Studios Cafe. Which explains the EH logo (which, I was told, was given about a day's worth of design consideration--not enough, people). I couldn't help but think that if I'd only been there at the beginning, I could've prevented some confusion. My strong recommendation would have been to drop the "studios" altogether; even though it supported the cool concept of a multifaceted creative also no doubt confused people, given our aforementioned location off Music Row (where there are a remarkable number of recording "studios"). And we got one inquiry from someone looking for living space (another kind of "studio"). Or maybe they would've ignored me altogether, I don't know.

The place is still going strong (or at least going; I haven't seen the books). No doubt due to sensible and hardworking management (who are welcome to hire my talents again, by the way). It helps that its main product offering is a legal and addictive substance (caffeine). And it has a great location, and it's a cool space. And I like to think I helped, too.

[UPDATE: New owners took over and wisely dropped the "Studios" part of the name. The place is still open as of January 2014].

Another great little venue with identity problems, this one no longer with us, was located in the building occupied by what had been Sole Mio, and now houses the downtown Copper Kettle. The well-meaning and much-appreciated folks who wanted to make it a songwriters' mecca started with a down-home approach to the menu and called it Ga' Dang. Surprisingly, Ga' Dang did NOT serve Vietnamese cuisine. If you say the name with a strong Southern accent and draw the first part out, you may get it. Yeah.

Then, thankfully, the name was dropped and replaced with Lyrix. Big improvement, but I couldn't help thinking "80's karaoke bar." Didn't keep me from playing there, or enjoying it. Actually, the name was the only negative thing about it, other than the fact that they appealed to songwriters who are not known for big tips (or big orders).

Here's one that is, for me, very close to good: Pick's. Decent logo, but why the apostrophe? Does it belong to someone named Pick? If they'd left it off, it would have that image of guitar picks lying around after the songwriters impress everyone with their well as implying that this place is full of things you would choose ("pick"), and it also could be taken as a sports context (as in "first round draft."). My hunch is they thought the apostrophe was necessary to make it plural. Sigh.

I remember one place in Chattanooga called "The Place." 'Nuff said.

On the other hand, some establishments broadcast the wisdom and good taste of their owners with every mention. They don't have to be terribly self-explanatory or "cool" or stylish or French (please no). The best names are reasonably simple to say and spell, memorable, and meaningful. They at least have something about them that the target audience would be able to relate to in some way. The "Tin Roof"; even if you don't know why that's relevant, you picture it in your head immediately, and it implies a rustic (but hopefully not rusty) charm. The "Wildhorse Saloon" tells you what it is and beckons you to stride on in, cowboy hat optional (unless you're a tourist, in which case it's mandatory). "Mercy Lounge" is a little offbeat, with a spiritual/intellectual air, but "mercy!" is also a Jerry Lee Lewis exclamation, so you get that, too.

Maybe I'm just oversensitive to this issue given my own name issues. But in case you start your own business, especially in Nashville, please get some opinions (preferably including mine--as you may guess, it will not be difficult) before you order that metal illuminated sign.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Good news, bad news

Good news: I have President's Day off (Monday, February 15) because the print center I work for closes when our client (Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County) takes a day off.

Bad news: my choices are to work in another location, take an unpaid day, or burn a vacation day on a Monday when I have little hope of having anything to do that is interesting or necessary.

Good news: maybe I'll get a sweet Valentines Day gig the night before and need to sleep late or travel home.

Bad news: given my current relational status and history, it's statistically unlikely that a Valentines Day gig wouldn't be extremely depressing. Refer to the post-breakup scenes in "The Wedding Singer" for clarification.

Good news: if I did get the above gig, I'd have the whole day to recuperate from the aforementioned aftereffects.

Bad news: I'm being incredibly self-involved by worrying about this at all, much less blogging it.

Good news: I have a job, I have vacation time, I have a day off, I'm single and not completely out of hope (relationally or otherwise), I'm sure that nearly any gig would be in itself the best therapy available (especially call me) and I have a blog to work out all this stuff and hopefully enrich someone else's experience as well.

Good news wins!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Three-Hour Tour

Gearing up for a series of shows in early February; it occurs to me that that would be a really good time to be healthy and for the weather to be good. Feel free to join me in prayer to that end! And my car; let's keep those wheels moving!

For details on each show, click the flyer. Feel free to distribute any way you can. And it'd be real nice if you could drop by one or more of the shows, too. Or send a friend.

Thursday, February 4, 6-9 pm
2nd Avenue Cafe
204 Cumberland Street East
Cowan, Tennessee 37318
With Charlsey Etheridge

Friday, February 5, 6-9 pm
The Mudpie
12 Frazier Avenue
Chattanooga, Tennessee 37405
With Charlsey Etheridge

Saturday, February 6, 6-9 pm
The Celtic Cup
106 North Anderson St.
Tullahoma, Tennessee 37388
With Joni Bishop

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Learn from the best: Steve Seskin & co.

Just got the word that the Steve Seskin Songcrafting Seminar is coming up, Jan. 22 - 24 here in Nashville. This town is host to a lot of seminars, workshops and meetings dedicated to improving your songwriting skills, and numerous individuals with various degrees of industry cred offering to help you for a fee. The Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) would be in the top of my recommended list...and I wouldn't mention the bottom, even if I had anyone in mind. This is not an NSAI event, but it offers the same quality of instruction from some top writers in the field. It's not cheap, but if you want to improve your ability to communicate through words & music, or just hang out with the experts, it's a good value.

You can see what Steve and his talented friends will be offering for this weekend of instruction and inspiration by clicking here. This page includes a link to course descriptions.

Additional pro writers participating in the weekend include Allen Shamblin ("I Can't Make You Love Me," "He Walked On Water") and Gretchen Peters ("Independence Day").

If (like me) you already know everything there is to know about songwriting (HA! as if), and you just want to see a great concert, Steve will be performing at my former workplace-away-from-work, Edgehill Studios Cafe, on Friday Jan. 22. Admission for non-conference folks is $10. See photos from a previous event here.

For more info contact Claudia Young.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

This blog post was MY idea

Here’s something you’re not likely to hear at your next party: “I’m an advertising professional and the new ad campaign for Windows 7 was my idea. You know, the commercials where a pc user brags about how he thought of a fairly obvious computer function, and e-mailed Microsoft about it, and voila! It showed up in Windows 7? Brilliant, don’tcha think?”

The reason you won’t hear this (other than the statistical unlikelihood of those particular ad execs showing up at your party) is that pretty soon people will realize how faulty this premise is, and it will not be something its creators will brag about, or even admit to once the checks are cashed. (Of course, the MONEY may be something they're willing to open up about).

The main problem is that this approach assumes that either:

1) ...the folks at Microsoft are too dense to have come up with these ideas themselves, and rely on the suggestions of customers to improve the product…with no compensation or real recognition for them, by the way,


2) ...pc users are so egotistical, deluded, and/or stupid they assume that when a new product feature shows up in a product made by a huge corporation, it’s because they sent an e-mail to suggest it, and NOT because of the expensive ongoing process of research and development that any competitive company conducts.

Yep, this is a great campaign…if you work for Mac. Or if you have Al Gore as a celebrity spokesperson.

Really puzzling that this made it through the meeting(s). OK, OK, I know, the message is supposed to be "our customers are smart" and "we listen to our customers' suggestions." But at version 7, this begs the questions "Did you think we were idiots up until now?" and "What have you guys BEEN doing with our suggestions all this time?"

I think when it comes to consumer technology, customers expect a company to be led by geniuses who are in touch with their needs, so that new & brilliant features are implemented even before the customer knows it's possible, much less desirable. This is how Mac is perceived...and I'm saying this as someone who actually prefers pc's for the most part. This campaign will not help overcome the "cool" factor of the Mac.

Making your customers and your client look like idiots, and thereby supporting the smug, superior assertions of the competition in THEIR advertising…well, let’s just say this is an unconventional approach to getting more business for your agency. Just make sure your receptionist has some busywork to do to kill time when the phones go silent.