Tuesday, February 24, 2009

girl power

i'm getting ready to do a presentation on advertising to a whole bunch of 13 year-olds at the United Nations International School tomorrow morning.

and i'm nervous.

because their teachers dig out those old subliminal seduction books from the 70s and then they show them ads and point out "hidden" sexual organs or secret psychological manipulations that convince them to buy stuff.

or how we make girls feel bad about themselves.

and as usual, i am (like aaron eckhart in thank you for smoking) the evil empire.

i once had to do it opposite naomi wolf who was whooping up the girls and saying, "you need to hold advertising agencies accountable!"

so i said, "you need to hold YOURSELVES accountable."

there's a lot of victim mentality in complaining that images of women make you feel bad or manipulated.

first of all, when you're going down the highway and you see a huge billboard for a big mac or a whopper and fries - and you're older than 5 - do you really think that when you go through the drivethru, your order will look like that?


we are selling an ideal. we are indeed convincing you to buy something by making it look as good as possible. it's a dream. it is not reality.

and the truth is - no one wants to buy reality. not least because we've already got lots of it.

but if you really don't like the advertising, get rid of it.

consumers don't seem to realize how much power they have.

how many creatives have made a beautiful socially-conscious ad for a client and had it get killed in focus groups because the consumers just don't care?

the number of times i've fought to have a woman without heavy make-up and/or retouching and had focus groups complain that she looks tired, ugly or like she just hasn't put herself together.

or shown a woman with a normal body and had her killed (not really just the picture) because "her thighs are fat."

or the number of times a line of copy gets removed or re-written because a consumer writes a letter saying that it insulted or offended him or her in one way or another.

i always say, "if you don't like the advertising - or the way women are portrayed, write a letter to the company. call them or tell them. ask your friends to do the same."

and i remind them, when they complain about britney spears or paris hilton, that they actually have the ultimate power:

"if you don't like britney spears or paris hilton or miley cyrus - don't buy their stuff. consumers control what is sold.

hate it?

don't buy it."

by the way, people are not buying Dove products.

> Study: Skinny Women Better for Bottom Line
> Researchers Find Thin Models Make Viewers Like Brands More, but Themselves
> Less
> Quote: "The really interesting result we're seeing across multiple studies
> is that these thin models make women feel bad, but they like it," Mr. Kees
> said. "They have higher evaluation of the brands. With the more regular-size
> models, they don't feel bad. Their body image doesn't change. But in terms
> of evaluations of the brands, those are actually lower."
> By Jack Neff
> Published: July 30, 2008
> BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Thin is still in for advertising, new research
> suggests, unless you're trying to sell cookies or self-esteem.
> Women who had just seen thin models were nearly four times more likelyto
> turn down a snack pack of Oreo cookies offered as thanks for their
> participation in the study than women who hadn't.
> A study by business professors at Villanova University and the College of
> New Jersey, inspired by Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty," shows that ads
> featuring thin models made women feel worse about themselves but better
> about the brands featured.
> Seeing thin models also made college-age women far more likely to turn down
> a snack pack of Oreo cookies offered as thanks for their participation in
> the study, or to opt for a reduced-fat version. Women who had just seen thin
> models were nearly four times more likely to say no to Oreos than women who
> hadn't, and 42% more likely to opt for reduced-fat cookies if they did
> indulge.
> Women in a sample of 194 college students aged 18-24 expressed more negative
> feelings about their sexual attractiveness, weight and physical condition
> after seeing thin models than before. So-called high self-monitoring women,
> or those more concerned about what others think of their appearance, were
> the most negatively affected by seeing the thin models in the study.
> More likely to buy
> The professors are still preparing a written report on results from a second
> phase of the research, which found that despite the negative effect on their
> body image, women preferred ads showing thin models and said they were more
> likely to buy products featured in those ads than in ones showing
> "regular-size models," said Jeremy Kees, a business professor at Villanova.
> "The really interesting result we're seeing across multiple studies is that
> these thin models make women feel bad, but they like it," Mr. Kees said.
> "They have higher evaluation of the brands. With the more regular-size
> models, they don't feel bad. Their body image doesn't change. But in terms
> of evaluations of the brands, those are actually lower."
> Mr. Kees acknowledged the findings create something of a quandary for
> marketers, who might have a positive effect on young women's self-esteem by
> showing more typical women in ads, but suffer in the marketplace as a
> result.
> "I'd tend to be cautious about using models in advertising that wouldn't
> maximize the attitudes and evaluations of the advertising and the brands,"
> he said. "Certainly [Dove is] getting a lot of publicity, and it's a great,
> innovative campaign. But in terms of the bottom line of how that might be
> impacting ... purchase behavior, I'm not sure."
> Appetite suppressant
> Mr. Kees said the professors landed on the Oreo tactic, in which study
> participants didn't know their post-ad-exposure cookie-eating would be
> monitored, as a way of studying real behavioral impact in addition to the
> usual survey responses regarding ads.
> The Dove Self-Esteem Fund, backed by its Campaign for Real Beauty, has
> exceeded its original goal of reaching 1 million young girls by this year
> and expanded its target to 5 million by 2010.
> The data shows a definite, if short-term, link between thin models in ads
> and eating behavior, but Mr. Kees said he wasn't comfortable making the leap
> that seeing thin models could cause eating disorders.
> Dove and its agency, Ogilvy & Mather, Toronto, weren't reluctant to connect
> those dots in their "Onslaught" viral video released last year, splicing
> scenes of yo-yo dieting and bulimia into a montage of beauty advertising.
> "That's a far stretch to infer an eating disorder from a one-time choice,"
> Mr. Kees said, but added, "That's certainly a scenario that would be rich
> for future research."
> The new study in part concurs with and in part diverges from some prior
> research on the impact of thin models. Research reported in 2005 and 2006
> from psychology professors at University of Sussex and University of West
> England in the U.K. concluded that ads featuring ultra-thin models do make
> women feel worse about their looks, but aren't any better at selling
> products than ads featuring more typically proportioned women.
> The Lower Chamber of France's Parliament earlier this year passed a law that
> would ban the use of ultra-thin models in ads, and authorities in Spain last
> year banned ultra-thin models from runways. Unilever also vowed to not use
> size-zero models in any of its advertising.
> Unilever stays the course
> In a statement, a spokesman for Unilever said the company believes its
> approach works. "Unilever is confident in the effectiveness of its
> advertising," he said. "We believe women have the right to feel comfortable
> with their bodies and not suffer from lack of self-esteem brought on by
> images of excessive slimness."
> Dove's campaign, he said, has "penetrated society and started a dialog about
> real beauty," adding that "we are thrilled by the overwhelming positive
> responses we have received from women (and men) as a result of the
> campaign."
> The Dove Self-Esteem Fund, backed by the campaign, has exceeded its original
> goal of reaching 1 million young girls by this year and expanded its target
> to 5 million by 2010. Campaignforrealbeauty.com, he said, already has
> reached 4.5 million people.
> Despite those efforts, he said, "There is no question that women and young
> girls are being bombarded with unrealistic messages and images of beauty
> that impact their self-esteem." But, he said, "We are excited to see now
> (and have seen in the past couple of years) a growing trend towards more
> realistic and healthy looking women in advertising and in the media."

here's what we suggested to AVON in terms of their positioning:

Monday, February 23, 2009

Is this EVIL?

every six months or so, my well-educated, visionary brother (ash meer, who also works in advertising) and i have this argument about the evils of marketing.

he says we are making people obese, debt-ridden, greedy and malcontent.

i say we're giving people hope and optimism. even if just for a second.

then i have lunch with my marketing guru friend, kim vernon - just to play devil's advocate, i take my brother's point that we are leading people astray - and she says, "people aren't so stupid that they believe us. and if they are, that can't be our fault."

that's why i was so thrilled to see seth godin's blogpost this morning:

is marketing evil?

not an NRA supporter myself - but i do agree with the thought - it's not guns, it's the people holding them.

i started take-out media, my advertising agency, as an idea:

advertising is a powerful voice that can be used for GOOD.

we can deliver respect, beauty and love with a greater reach than art and literature (because we've got funding and we keep it simple).

i believe great marketing can save the world.

we started with the project:


my goal is to add some "big-picture" thinking to every project i work on, whether it's a new fragrance or fashion line, lipstick, skincare or a homeless organization or a diabetes foundation.

how does everything you consume make you feel more part of the whole? the community of human beings? the community of life on the planet?

how can you feel better about yourself as well as others? how can you give something back even in some small way?

as a muslim, it's easy for me to see how the power of the pulpit can be misappropriated and cause terrible suffering.

as a sufi, i can see how wide open the spirit is and how the magic of advertising can make flowers grow in very unlikely places.

today, i am going to work with veronique choa on her acai seed bracelets whose profits have already begun to re-forest parts of the amazon that were almost barren.

they are beautiful, cheap, magical and they are for sale at


BUY A LOT OF BRACELETS so they can keep up with kleenex.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ecobracelets and the opposite of Fear

monday, i plan to work with veronique choa on getting her eco-bracelets out & recognized in the world in the nick of time for earth day. a big pr blast.

but i am wondering, in this moment of money meltdown, how to get people to pay attention.

fear is such a terrible thing. makes you grip your chair. your tiny pot of money. hold your breath.
it's like crunching up your shoulders when you walk in the rain, you don't get less wet. but you do get a cramped neck.

the counterintuitive answer is to loosen your grip. give more. talk more. breathe more.

turn into the direction of the skid.

the more you open up, the more the world opens up.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

derma wand

so far, i am totally in love with this thing.

here i am totally broke with a bunch of sick kids. and i am obsessing about a small electrical device that sends pulsing energy to my face.

here's what it seems to do

de-puff my eyes
reduce and sometime erase the lines from my nose to my mouth (nasolabial folds)
reduce my jowls
smooth my forehead

and makes my cheeks rosy.

mary schook of the famed face machine does it better, with much more dramatic results, but this seems to offer instant (at home) gratification way more effective than strivectin, freeze 24-7 or almost any other grease you can put on your face.

i am finding it somewhat confusing as there are a number of sites selling them, some saying they work at 114,000 cycles per second, some at 168,000 and i am not sure which is which. also, all the packages more or less look the same, but some are derma wand, some are dermawand, and some are 2LOOKYOUNG dermawand...

available on ebay. and also www.dermawand.com. for about $75-145.00

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

psycho, founder's syndrome and letting go

working with a couple of arts organizations - in an ad hoc way - looking at their branding and trying to help them create a more compelling presence and more effective communication.

in this economy, it’s obviously crucial to find ways to drum up money to stay alive - whether it's from ad revenue or audience size.

what’s really interesting (and frustrating) is how much harder it is to inspire change in a loosey-goosey art magazine or dance company or gallery.

a focus group participant sneered, “the problem is founder’s syndrome! they think they got the formula down right from the start and now they’re choking out their audiences.”

when i first came to nyc, one of my first jobs was as a copyeditor and eventually, managing editor of BOMB magazine - then 6 or 7 years old - run out of betsy sussler (the founder and publisher)’s loft.

it was a seething hotbed of artistic inquiry and experimentation. back in the prehistoric times, we used hot wax to glue typeset words and images to boards which then went to the printer to be copied turned into pages. artists manipulated the boards themselves. in our pages, emerging writers, performance artists, architects, filmmakers questioned authority. it was exactly what people want right now.

today, BOMB has real offices in brooklyn, it’s printed on heavy art-gallery-worthy paperstock, with neat, orderly pages. the vanguard is now the old guard. betsy sussler is a legend. she and BOMB magazine are synonymous.

the Battery Dance Company started 34 years ago in tribeca back when it was a land of outlaw artists. jonathan hollander, the founder and choreographer, started the downtown dance festival, helped found the indian-american arts council and was known for his cross-cultural, multiracial exchanges and collaborations. it's breathing and unexpected and exactly what people want to see. but they don't. not enough.

today, Battery Dance Company is fighting to stay visible in the cultural landscape of tribeca (all right, most of the landscape is real estate and restaurants now).

last tuesday, i had breakfast with a bright young swiss woman who oversees the marketing and communication for a swiss fashion brand called AKRIS. AKRIS is the swiss banker of fashion. quietly luxurious. understated, clean and precise. exactly what people who bring home their hermes stuff in plain brown paperbags need. discreet indulgence.

but AKRIS has been owned and run by the same swiss family forever. and almost everyone who works there, from the accountant to the graphic designer is related somehow.

so she’s facing similar digging-in-the-heels because they’ve been successful and always had buyers. (but now those buyers are getting old). and young buyers have never even heard of them.

and the problem is the same – none of the three had to ask the hard cut-to-the-chase, why-is-this-relevant? why-are-we-here? questions that most business people are forced to answer.

so how do you stay alive in your mindshare?

these brands were their founders’ babies.

now they are kicking and screaming teenagers. they’ve got a lot of icons to smash.

in order to stay exciting and compelling and perpetually fresh to new audiences, they will have to question and justify and announce their existence over and over again. in new ways.

if the founders hold on to them, stick to the tried-and-true, keep them safe, it’ll turn into Psycho.

they’ll kill their parents. and extinguish themselves.

teenagers have to take all (or most of)same the insane risks and explosive actions, they have to keep questioning authority and paying attention to what’s current.

all three of the brands have exactly WHAT PEOPLE WANT NOW.

they just need to let them go - set them free.
that's the chance. and the joy.

please, i have human teenagers myself. i know.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

work like hell

i've always loved ted turner's quote - when asked for his secret to success - he said:

"early to bed,
early to rise,
work like hell,
and advertise..."

it's amazing to me that ad budgets are being cut all over the place when it's been proven, again & again, that companies that continue to advertise during downturns are the ones that stay afloat - and shoot to the top when the recovery begins.

so i'm pleased to see loreal swimming against the tide.

plus people are short of money these days so they'll go back to coloring their hair at home. and that's what made loreal to begin with.

now, if they manage to sort out the not liking women issue...