Controversial ads aside, the Super Bowl could use a makeover

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The Super Bowl is still five days away but the buzz around banned ads and controversial commercials continues. Last week’s ManCrunch.com ad was axed by CBS amongst cries of homophobia and discrimination. And then there’s the Focus on the Family commercial that features college football star Tim Tebow .  Naturally,  it wouldn’t be the Super Bowl without a totally disgusting misogynistic Godaddy.com that was deemed too hot for TV. The most recent advertising reject is cellphone provider KGB’s raunchy advertisement featuring a man who’s head literally goes up his backside.

All of this hoopla, while it makes for decent headlines, seems to be a cry for attention for a major event that could use a creative overall. The 2009 telecast was down in viewers compared to 2008’s record breaking numbers.  This year’s network CBS won’t likely be stirring up any Janet Jackson-like controversy as aging rockers The Who headline the halftime show. Younger viewers will be wondering “the who?” as older viewers may confuse the band’s more

What would Katie Couric do?

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When Katie Couric took over as anchor of The CBS Evening News in 2006, media watchers lined up with bats to take a whack at her like she was some sacrificial journalism pinata. The former Today show host was always thought to be too perky, too eager, and not evening news material.  Her arrival at CBS was highly hyped and endlessly promoted while Couric’s salary was rumored to be astronomical. The overwhelming consensus after two months, however, was that CBS had made a big mistake. Her ratings were awful and the reviews were unkind to say the least. So how does a television whipping post like Katie Couric wind up winning the Edward R Murrow Award for best newscast in both 2008 and 2009? Tracking the anchor’s phoenix-like rise from the ashes is valuable seminar in new media marketing, technological innovation, and good old fashioned “never give up” persistence.

Katie Couric’s morning show fan base always admired her happy-go-lucky and friendly demeanor yet this persona simply would not fly in a nightly news format where anchors are expected to be stoic like Walter Cronkite. Instead of abandoning the personality that put her on the map, the newswoman struck gold at the 2008 Democratic National Convention with original web content that featured a relaxed Couric who could be seen clowning with crew members, ribbing politicians, and offering personal insights into the event’s goings on. The popularity of the coverage lead to the creation of @katiecouric, an online news program that allowed her to let her hair down and be the Katie viewers fell in love with. The show features a looser format, frank talk and opinions, and most importantly, original content not to be found anywhere else. This week the show featured a blow by blow of the President’s first State of the Union address.

With @katiecouric, the anchor was reinventing CBS’ longstanding reputation as, ” the old people’s channel” and the makeover didn’t stop there. Couric tapped into the social media craze by supplying more original content on her Facebook and Twitter accounts. Daily updated, her social media sites promote The CBS Evening News as well as her original web content.  Moreover, she communicates directly with her viewers by asking them to send in questions for interviews, suggestions for stories, and photos from news making events.

The most important thing any struggling business can learn from Katie Couric is to never give up. Instead of quitting and opting out of her big bucks contract, Couric rolled up her sleeves and got creative.  When she famously grilled what’s-her-name from Alaska, Katie asked the questions that were on her viewers minds without apology or cynicism. The interview, in turn, has become one of the most famous political train wrecks of all time while the interviewer gained respectability for staying true to who she is.  Producing webcasts, diving into social media marketing, and tapping into your own marketable identity are tasks that virtually everyone can do. So the next time your scratching your head to come up with a new marketing plan ask yourself, “What would Katie Couric do?”

You got your digital in my print.

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Contrary to the phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan in the 1960’s, the medium is no longer the message. Take print for example, the once holy grail of advertisers is once again becoming a vehicle to deliver advertising to the masses but not in the form of ink. According to The Gaurdian,  Entertainment Weekly magazine is about to debut two video-in-print advertisements in the September issue of the publication for subscribers in the Los Angeles and New York areas. These auto-play videos will come in the form of tiny cell screens that will display short clips when the magazine is open to that page; similar to greeting cards that play a tune when you open them. Advertisers CBS and Pepsi will promote various products in the micro-video ads and are hoping to target their messages to people who enjoy getting their entertainment information from print. But are they going too far? Clearly the novelty of the medium can be a good thing and to be honest, I can’t wait to get my issue in the mail. But the message in these videos had better be pretty entertaining for readers like me not to get annoyed that advertisers snuck in a video in their favorite magazine. Recently I had the pleasure of going to AMC theaters to watch “Inglorious Basterds” and was not shocked to see television commercials being played before the movie previews. The first one was for Starburst and I have to admit, it was entertaining and funny, so I gave them a hearty thumbs up. The next two were pretty lame, which led me to direct my displeasure at both AMC and the advertisers. I say if you’re going to shove advertisements in front of unsuspecting faces, you’d better at least give your audience something more than a sales pitch. But I suspect that television commercials running before movie trailers will become the norm unless people start to complain about them, or ignore them. In regard to the micro-videos, Clickz says this may be a moment in history akin to the old VW lemon ad that supposedly marked a change in how advertising agencies got their message across to the masses. According to Clickz,  “We can start sprinkling interactive experiences all over the place.” I say, please don’t! We already have enough “sprinkling” of advertising out there. In fact, so much so sometimes I even step in it. Outdoor media companies like Clearchannel and CBS have a networks of digital billboards all over Los Angeles. Drivers and pedestrians rubberneck to see the scrolling ads that flash full color messages even in the light of day. Digital billboards are not new, but they are novel. Now, you can expect to see a proliferation of next-generation media coming at a (fill in the blank) near you. Will this mark a new era of in-your-face advertising? Or will it be accepted as the norm as advertisers continue to find innovative ways to get advertising messages in front of you? I believe it will depend not on the vehicles (billboards, in-print videos, etc.) but on how entertaining or interesting the ads are and if viewers get some kind of value out of them. Will advertisers give viewers something to ignore, or will they offer up something of interest? If advertisers want to continue their conquest of innovative media, I would suggest they focus on the latter.