Closure on cat herders, the last word on Lego

This being my last column before the New Year - the following issue of Strategy Direct + Interactive is a glossy magazine devoted entirely to the RSVP Awards - I thought now might be a good time to bring closure to...

This being my last column before the New Year – the following issue of Strategy Direct + Interactive is a glossy magazine devoted entirely to the RSVP Awards – I thought now might be a good time to bring closure to a few of my rants of the year 2000. Either that or the coming of Remembrance Day inspired me to recollect them. Regardless, here’s an update on a couple of the more recent examples of Stupid Direct Marketing Tricks.

The fur flies

Coming from the creative side of the fence, I adore imaginative advertising of any kind, as long as it works at the box office. I also happen to be a fan of felines, as my own cat, Felix, can attest. So you’d think that the marvelously executed ‘Cat Herders’ TV commercial that ran last spring would have had me singing its praises from here to Kathmandu.

But if you’ll recall from my Sept. 11 column, I used it as an example of advertising at its worst – creative that is wonderful unto itself but fails to pay off its raison d’être: to sell an idea, company, product or service.

Although I had seen the spot a few times, I couldn’t remember who the advertiser was or summon to mind the justification for their creative concept. All I knew was that my failure to recall the same was resulting in sleep deprivation for me at night and even affecting my ability to cat nap on weekends.

So I turned to Strategy readers in the hope that I was the only Cat Herders viewer who had failed to recall who the advertiser was and what they were talking about.

I’m pleased to report that many readers came through with the identification answer I sought. And I’m also pleased, in a kind of naa-naa-naa-naa-naa-told-you-so sort of way, that I wasn’t alone in my inability to (a) recall the name of the advertiser and (b) figure out why they had created a commercial about rounding up felines à la the Wild West.

Most of those who responded to my plea had gone on the Internet to learn the ID of the advertiser, keying ‘Cat Herders’ into a search engine or visiting a site like www.AdCritic.com.

Here are a few of their comments:

‘The cat spot was produced for EDS, an MIS company. I believe they were trying to make an analogy between the concept of ‘herding cats,’ an impossible task, and the ability of EDS to manage complex information systems. However, I doubt anyone outside the marketing business would care to give it that much thought!’

Stephen Plunkett, Vice-President, Marketing, Boston Pizza International

‘I wanted to say how much I agree with you on the ‘herding cats’ ad. I loved the ad… Who was it for?’

Della Smith, Partner, Quay Strategies

‘The creative in this ad really ‘rustled’ my attention. Being a huge cat lover, I paid close attention to who the advertiser was. But the ad gave no indication of who this company is and what they do. ‘…in a sense, that’s what we do.’ How weak is that?!’

Gina Gottenberg, Marketing Manager, Onvia.com Canada

‘A client once said to me that dealing with some advertising people is like herding cats. (I also understand that ‘herding cats’ is quite a common term in IT parlance.) So when the EDS ad ran last spring, I was grabbed by the eyeballs.

‘True, because of the brilliant creative, I had to see the commercial a couple of times before I realized it was an EDS ad. But my sports bar friends and I actually looked forward to it for pure entertainment value. I even visited the EDS Web site and attempted to become an e-cat herder.’

George Whitbread, Vice-President, Taylor-Tarpay

‘There’s an old saying that managing programmers is like herding cats. The joke being that programmers are a bunch of independent-minded weirdos, and getting them to work together on a project is a near-impossible task.

‘I, too, question the value of the ad since I couldn’t remember who it was for. A quick Internet search for ‘herding cats’ revealed the answer.’

Jason Moore, Internet Applications Developer, MobShop

‘Great concept but, like too many commercials, it overwhelms the brand. I think it’s a missed branding opportunity, and an expensive one at that.’

Roald Thomas, Principal, Ignition Strategies

My thanks to the preceding writers and to the other kind folks who phoned or e-mailed me to cure my commercial-induced insomnia.

Just before leaving the subject – Gina Gottenberg pointed out that the EDS Web site has some other fascinating commercials on it. And George Whitbread recommends playing EDS’ online cat herders game. The site to visit is www.eds.com/advertising/ advertising_tv_catherding.shtml

Now it’s time to move onto another rant subject before I collapse at the computer and ‘Rigor Morris’ sets in.

Building relationships with Lego

In my June 19 column, I took Lego to task for the frustration their Web site – www.LegoMedia.com – had caused me. It had won a silver at the Clios but, for several reasons, only a lump of coal from your scribe.

The egalitarian side of me was chagrined that girls were told to play Lego Friends while boys were invited to enjoy the speed of Lego Racers.

And I’d had multiple problems trying to join the Lego Racers Racing Team on behalf of my male begat (remember, they’d told me my daughter, being of the female persuasion, was only welcome at Friends).

But my biggest concern was about their electronic postcard service. My e-cards ended up who-knows-where, while I received misdirected kid-to-kid e-cards from children, literally, all over the world. Allowing a child’s name and e-mail address to end up in the hands of strangers is not the best way to ward off cyber-pedophiles.

A few weeks after the column ran, Lego phoned me. If I’m any judge of corporate character, they were genuinely distraught about the problems I’d discovered on their Web site.

As soon as they learned of them, they shut down their electronic postcard service. And when it started up again, they had rejigged it so that the sender’s e-mail address was no longer revealed to the recipient – just in case there was ever another e-card that went astray.

Good for them for taking care of a potentially serious problem as soon as they learned of it. And good for them for also getting rid of those sexist invitations.

But Mr. Lego, you still have a few bricks out of place. I’ve been on your site a couple of times in the past month and not everything is as it is promised.

For example, you ask visitors to vote for their favourite of six characters, but only three of them have ballot buttons to tick. What if I’m really into Basil Batlord but get forced into voting for Veronica Voltage? And how come when you hit the Vote button, nothing happens?

Plus, when I clicked on ‘Characters’, I got a hot hand and that was it. Nothing else happened. And I gave up trying to join the Lego Club for the same reason.

And, last but not least, what happened to your electronic postcard service?

Although I’m glad I could do my part to thwart pedophiles, I’m going to be as sleepless as I was over the cat herders commercial if my rant eliminated e-fun for the kids of the world. Please tell me it ain’t so. And if it is so, and I’m responsible, for heaven’s sake, don’t tell my kids.

One more reader writes

I just received the following e-mail message regarding my Oct. 9 column. ‘Dear Bob – thanks for crapping all over those stupid Baby On Board signs!’ The author’s initials are, appropriately enough, BS.

Bob Knight does more than visit kids’-oriented Web sites and worry about cat commercial advertisers. Sometimes he can be found developing creative concepts and writing copy for a variety of advertisers and other agencies. And Knight & Associates, when not distracted by its namesake, often produces direct mail packages and collateral materials. Both can be reached at b_knight@telus.net