Toys ‘R’ Us’s “forgotten” slogan

In a Medium post, I discuss a commercial from what turned out to be Toys ‘R’ Us’s last Christmas season – and how that commercial, as much as anything else, foreshadowed this week’s news that the “biggest toy store there is” will cease to be.

During the research – which involved looking at a bunch of old TV commercials on YouTube – I stumbled across a few that used the  late 1980s tagline, “You’ll never outgrow us.” It’s a play on the “I don’t wanna grow up / I’m a Toys ‘R’ Us kid” jingle, and a Toys ‘R’ Us wiki shows that it was in use from 1987-1989.

That seems especially ironic now, as consumer behavior (seeking out lower prices in physical and online locations) led people away from Toys ‘R’ Us. On the other hand, Toys ‘R’ Us didn’t do themselves any favors. Thirty to forty years ago they promised both the best variety and the best value compared to department store toy sections; as they shutter operations now they can offer neither. There will always be a market for toys, but Toys ‘R’ Us couldn’t keep up with it.

The kids of the 1980s and 1990s didn’t necessarily outgrow Toys ‘R’ Us; Toys ‘R’ Us shrank.





Cruz missed an opportunity with “porn star commercial”

Ted Cruz had pretty good, biting commercial knocking his GOP rivals in the week before the South Carolina primary. Then the Daily Caller noticed one of the actresses in the spot had done some films that were, uh, not exactly family friendly.

The Cruz crew have since pulled the ad off the airwaves and released a statement on how such a thing could have happened. A campaign spokesperson blamed a casting company for not properly vetting actress Amy Lindsay, and said the campaign wouldn’t have let her be in the commercial if it had known about her late-night Cinemax past.

What a mistake.

The ad in question is pretty good. It sets the framework for Cruz to draw contrasts with both Marco Rubio and Donald Trump as the “true” conservative in the race:

Pulling the ad represents a misstep for a Cruz campaign which has been smart and overperformed expectations so far. The error isn’t just in pulling a quality ad off the air, but in possibly missing out on a valuable surrogate or at least a nice message:

Prior to the Cruz campaign pulling the ad, Lindsay told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview on Thursday that she’s a Christian conservative and a Republican. While she emphasized that she did not do hardcore porn and that she also appeared in non-erotic films, Lindsay said she thinks it is “cool” that an actor who has appeared in softcore porn could also appear in Cruz’s ad.

“In a cool way, then hey, then it’s not just some old, white Christian bigot that people want to say, ‘It could be, maybe, a cool kind of open-minded woman like me,’” she said of people supporting Cruz.

Since the ad came down, Lindsay has said she is still deciding where to direct her vote, wavering between Cruz and Trump. That’s a shame.

Cruz’s core audience is largely Christian social conservatives, so you can see why the campaign wants to distance itself from the situation. But in doing so, they are undermining their own message. The ad tells us that, no matter your past, there’s a place for you in the Cruz campaign. (This is also a major theme of Christian teaching.) The campaign’s subsequent statements and actions suggest the opposite.

It seems like some legwork from the campaign could have told them that Lindsay wasn’t necessarily a liability, and in fact identified as a potential Cruz supporter. Now, she’s been very publicly rejected and has every reason to keep this story in the news for as long as the reporters call her.

Post-South Carolina, there figure to be a number of Republican voters looking for a new horse to back, so it’s a good time to lay the groundwork for a message of inclusion. This situation offered the Cruz crew a chance to show their arms are open. Did they ever whiff.

It would be a really, really, really, really bad idea for Metro to post Muhammad cartoon ads.

No one has the right to gun another person down due to speech. Obvious, right?

At the same time, mocking someone’s religion is impolite. It’s not punishable by violence, but you could understand the discomfort someone would fee when the key figures of their religious tradition are mocked. That should be obvious, but people still seem to like draw cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority will not accept an ad featuring the winning cartoon from the Texas “Draw Muhammad” contest which ended in gunfire earlier this month. Good for them. It’s one of the few good decisions Metro has made. (Though they, did go overboard by banning all issue-related ads through the end of the year. Perhaps Metro can’t help but be a little wrong.)

What does the American Freedom Defense Initiative think would happen if such ads went up on Metro? Anyone with $1.70 and patience for delays can jump on the Metro without so much as a pat-down or a peek inside a suspiciously bulky book bag. It is, like many places, a “soft” target for terrorists now. Muhammad cartoons would make it a desirable target as well. “Soft” and “desirable” and “not chocolate chip cookies” is not a good spot on the homeland security Venn diagram.

Sure, a violent response from radical Islamic terrorists would be evil and wrong, just as it was in Texas. But it is not unpredictable, and because of that there are many people – train passengers, Metro staff, and the like – unintentionally in the crosshairs.

They would not engage in any speech at all, yet would bear the brunt of the repercussions. In fact, they may not want to engage in such speech at all – since Muhammad cartoons are offensive not only to the radicals who will respond with violence, but for the civilized who won’t respond at all. There’s no need to needle the latter to poke the former.

By rejecting the Muhammad cartoons, Metro is not limiting free speech. In the first place, that’s because Metro owns the ad space, and should be able to rent it to whomever they choose. But beyond that, there will be plenty of people who don’t want to bear the predictable consequences of that speech. Why should anyone be allowed to put words in their mouth?

Something Hillary got right

It’s been a fun week to make fun of Hillary Clinton, but she knocked one aspect of her video announcement clean out of the park. As I discussed in my latest Communities Digital News post, Clinton only appears onscreen in her own video for fifteen seconds out of 2:15, and in that time she is either addressing the camera or talking with voters.

Except, she isn’t talking to the voters. In every shot, they are talking to her.

Many political ads and videos have a shot of the candidate meeting with supporters. Usually, in those shots the candidate is dispensing wisdom to a small group of supporters. Check out the very first shot from this ad from Terry McAuliffe’s successful 2013 Virginia gubernatorial campaign:

Candidates must do this to show that their leadership. (Though every time I see this type of shot, the audience looks like they are waiting for the candidate to pause so they can break out of the conversation.) But everything her week-old campaign has done so far has made it obvious Clinton is bending over backward to give the impression that she isn’t full of herself.  So in her video, she listens – sometimes with crazy eyes, but she listens.

Surely, Republican candidates expect to be vilified by Democratically aligned special interest groups in the upcoming cycle. For conservative candidates looking to prove their empathetic chops, subtle visual cues like this can go a long way.

“And I’m ‘almost got sued by Comcast Rob Lowe’…”

A few months back, as the wife and I watched DVR’d TV shows on a cold winter’s eve, a funny thing happened: We stopped fast forwarding through a commercial break to watch one of the ads.

It was the latest Rob Lowe DirectTV spot at the time. But last week, DirecTV ended that campaign after Comcast objected to some of the commercials’ claims.

What made those ads so good wasn’t that they were funny enough to get you to stop skipping through a commercial break. (You can still watch them all, incidentally, on DirecTV’s YouTube channel.) When they launched last fall, the alternative Rob Lowes stayed on point; their unfortunate circumstances or ridiculous behavior tied directly to the shortcomings of cable. For example, “Creepy Rob Lowe” was “down at the rec center, watchin’ folks swim” because his cable was out:

(By the way, is Creepy Rob Low related to Joe Biden? Or a time-traveling Young Joe Biden?)

Compare that to recent entries like “Total Deadbeat Rob Lowe,” whose divorce and back alley dice games do nothing to highlight cable’s shortcomings. After loaning his car to a drifter, “Poor Decision-Making Rob Lowe” would miss his show even if he had DirecTV. The commercials were still funny, but they were becoming unfocused and non-product centered.

In other words, they were about to lose their effectiveness.

Comcast may have done DirecTV a big favor by forcing the campaign to end before it got silly.

CDN: Political Ads Face Brave New (On-Demand) World

Nobody likes commercials, so viewers are finding ways around them – through DVRs and subscription-based on-demand programming.  That will make things tough for political advertisers – but certainly not impossible.  My latest column at Communities Digital News explores how political video advertising will have to adjust.  And they will have to – because video remains the best way to tell a story.

Apple’s ad won the Holidays

It’s too bad that Apple’s “Misunderstood” commercial probably won’t end up being replayed every single year, the way the spots touting Hershey Kisses and M&M’s do. It was the best commercial of this holiday season, and it looks like Apple spent lots of time looking at Google’s advertising handiwork.

The ad features a seemingly self-absorbed kid spending the holidays messing with his phone, only to reveal that he’s been carefully crafting a video memory for everyone.  The message is self-serving: that technology which isolates us actually brings us together.  But it’s well done, and who doesn’t have some nostalgia for big family get-togethers?

Best of all, without a word of dialogue, it tells a story.  You know this family loves and cherishes each other. From the joy of the first greeting to the ice skating and sledding to the grandmother’s wistful tears on Christmas morning, they enjoy each other’s company.  They’ll treasure the memories when they look back on this video.  And, of course, Apple hopes you’ll look at it and remember the idealized Christmases of your youth, tugging at your heartstrings the way “A Christmas Story” reminds you of that toy you wanted.   Niagara Falls, Frankie Angel.


Facebook Ad exploits the shutdown



The Wydler Brothers – the Hans und Franz  of Beltway-area real estate – are promoting this picture in Facebook sponsored posts.  It’s not entirely original – plenty of shops in and around DC are trying to drum up business based on the shutdown – but it is pretty clever,

It might be the most useful though – depending on how the messaging wars go in the next 13 months, there could be some new lobbyists/former Senators looking to buy.

Why Microsoft’s Bing Ads Suck

An ad for Microsoft’s Bing search engine came on TV last night.  The message, obviously, is that Bing is better than Google:

That’s a cute commercial, but it will never allow Microsoft to topple Google’s search dominance.  Neither will the “Bing It On” challenge commercials that demonstrate Bing’s supposed superiority.  Compare Bing’s factual analysis of which search engine is better with this:
Google’s commercial tugs at your heart strings.  Forget about searching for Chinese delivery places or a good deal on hardwood floor installation; Google is there with you while you live your life and save your treasured memories.  It’s an effective emotional appeal, which keeps Google’s TV presence more appealing than Microsoft’s. Microsoft got this back in 1995, when they used the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” to roll out the then-new Windows 95 and its Start Button.  Commercials of the time were low on the facts of the new operating system but heavy on the new frontiers offered by the new generation of computers.

J.C. Penney: Remembering The Golden Rule?

After a year and a half of missteps, J.C. Penney may have gotten something right with their new commercial:

Remembering the Golden Rule

Here’s a fun fact: the first store opened by the J.C. Penney company was called The Golden Rule.  The idea was to run a business where customers were treated fair and square.  This could have been a running theme over the past year, as the new “JCP” sought to push low price points.  The disastrous mis-marketing of the last year instead tried to divorce JCP from any connection of the pre-2012.

That was a mistake.  This ad, on the other hand, mixes old images of J.C. Penney stores with modern Instagram-ish clips of young customers.  The final image of the commercial includes the company’s full name, J.C. Penney, rather than the JCP square logo that had punctuated previous ads.

The design is still minimalist, but there is no doubt that the commercial embraces J.C. Penney’s past.

Owning the Mistake

Frank apology ads are usually the domain of politicians.  This ad makes as frank an admission as a company can in a television spot.  Most of J.C. Penney’s failure came from trying to dictate to consumers how to shop; this level of honesty sends a message that the company understands why customers left and won’t insult their intelligence by  pretending like the last year and a half didn’t happen.

Will It Last?

It’s easier to make a good commercial than to save a business that has alienated many customers.  The last 18 months showed that customers do not hold blind allegiances to their department stores, and that their shopping habits are not set in stone.

Those customers might come back to J.C. Penney, but there real challenges remain for a department store still stuck between the discount prices of Target and Wal-Mart and the loftier tags of Nordstrom’s and Macy’s.  Johnson may have been a bad CEO for the company, but there were plenty of others who didn’t know how to turn the rudder, either.

At least they should have an idea about what doesn’t work.