From Super to Nuts

Thinking you might have an appetite for a variety of musings today, your scribe is pleased to present a smorgasbord, starting with an update on one of last month's rants....

Thinking you might have an appetite for a variety of musings today, your scribe is pleased to present a smorgasbord, starting with an update on one of last month’s rants.

Kraft eats its words

In March I wrote how cheesed off non-Mandarin-reading people must be with a Kraft Kitchens mailer they received. If you’ll recall, nearly all of it was in Chinese. By the time the column went to press I’d only heard from Anglos in Vancouver. Later I heard that Torontonians had received the mailer as well, and found out that Kraft had sent a letter of apology to all recipients, the text of which follows:

‘Recently we sent you some simple meal ideas from our Kraft Kitchens. We’ve since realized that you may not have received these ideas in the language of your choice. If this has occurred, we would like to offer you our sincere apology. The Kraft Kitchens communicates with millions of Canadians every year, and occasionally errors may occur in our distribution process.

‘Enclosed, we’ve given you some of our favourite mix ‘n match dinner ideas. Each one has three simple steps and uses ingredients you have on hand. We do hope you enjoy trying them as much (sic) we’ve enjoyed creating them.

‘Once again, we regret any inconvenience that this may have caused you and your family.’

OK, it’s admirable that Kraft ate some humble pie, but don’t you think they should have done it using proper grammar (see sentences three, five, seven and eight)? And, contrary to what the letter says, the problem wasn’t just one involving their distribution process, because while nearly all of the copy was in Mandarin, the contest rules and regs, as well as Kraft’s privacy policy, were in English. The fact of the matter is, this mailer was screwed up long before anybody in distribution got their hands on it.

I also have a problem with an apology that includes self-justification. In this case, Kraft Kitchens says that they communicate with millions of Canadians and, therefore, there are bound to be mistakes. Sorry. As a consumer, all I care about is how somebody communicates (or in this case, miscommunicates) with me. Why should I find any solace in the fact that others were similarly offended?

You know, I can’t help but wonder how Kraft Kitchens’ mea culpa would have come across if they’d taken a different app-roach. Maybe à la Lee Iacoca. Remember when Chrysler got caught turning back odometers? Lee put out a full-page ad saying something like, ‘Test-driving cars before people buy them is a good idea. Not telling them about it is dumb.’ How can you stay mad at a company that self-flagellates like that?

Or perhaps Kraft could have taken a light-hearted approach and included a line saying, ‘Sorry, we just weren’t using our noodles.’ Or maybe put the blame on some mythical Kraft Kitchens employee – ‘We found out too late that the guy suffers from Linguistic Amnesia.’

It seems that the folks at Kraft Kitchens have good intentions. But methinks they need to take a

little more care cooking up their executions.

Another big company boner

For some years now I’ve subscribed to Peppers and Rogers’ e-newsletter ‘INSIDE:1to1′ about (you guessed it) one-to-one marketing. I usually skim through it and, if there’s an article of particular interest, I might print it out. Sometimes they have special reports and I’ve downloaded a few of them.

I was quite happy with my relationship with these self-proclaimed relationship-marketing gurus…until February 28th. That’s the day they e-mailed to say how much they appreciate my interest in their opinions and offerings, and invited me to contact one of their staff personally if I ever had any questions.

The appreciation and invitation aspects of their e-mail didn’t bother me. And I wasn’t overly concerned about their Subject line: ‘Thank you for your continued interest in’ (I wasn’t aware I had ever expressed any interest in, let alone ‘continued interest’.)

But one line in their e-mail scared the hell out of me. It read, ‘We’ve noticed that you have visited the site quite a few times since it’s (sic) launch.’

I sat back in computer horror. Yeow! They’ve been cyberstalking me! For how long, I wondered? In what amount of detail? Have they been following my travels on other Web sites? What are they saying about me?

You don’t have to be a Don Peppers or Martha Rogers to know that privacy on the Internet is a huge concern among people using it. Depending on which piece of research you prefer to quote, between 82% and 89% of people rank it as their primary Internet concern. So what’s a supposedly-astute relationship-marketing consultancy doing confessing to people that they’ve been tracking their every move? To paraphrase Mr. Iacoca, ‘Spying on people on the Internet can be an enlightening exercise. Telling people that you’re doing it is dumb.’

Plus, I may be getting confessed to in error. I don’t think I’ve ever been on their Web site, except maybe in the beginning so I could subscribe to their free e-zine. And if I did only visit their site once, surely I shouldn’t qualify, as they describe me in their e-mail, as a 1to1 Web site ‘most valuable customer’.

With one-to-one marketing ‘experts’ doing stuff like this, don’t you shudder to think what the amateurs are doing?

I spy with my little…

When I was a kid, I was always enthralled by spying equipment like periscopes and invisible ink. So it’s not surprising that my imagination would be captivated by a three-part direct mail campaign from a place called The Spy Store. However, it wasn’t just their advertised wares that enchanted me. It was their whole approach.

Each of the packages came in a closed face #10 envelope with nothing but the store’s name and address printed on it in black type and, of course, the name and address of the recipient.

Inside each envelope was a memo featuring the store’s ‘Department of Sales’ logo, which looks, at a glance, similar to that of the FBI. Very official. In boxes along the bottom of the memo are the form number, The Spy Store’s name, and the store address. Except for the form number, everything is in black type. We’re talking simple, folks. And cheap. And effective!

One of the mailings contains only a dozen words of copy. In the Subject box at the top are the words, ‘Category: U.V. Security Pen & Light. Status: In Stock’. The salutation says ‘Dear Cus-tomer’. And that’s all the copy there is! The rest of the correspondence area is totally blank. Why? Because you need the advertised product in order to read what they’ve written.

Another letter features nothing but words like ‘DH74JBA8fn, jkdhbf&nsj88hnk KJNii8 ljise88 HJSJ888 jkefhu8 ieuO8N…’ It’s promoting the Spy Store’s ACS-W Scrambler.

The third in the series is

a memo that looks like it just came through a paper shredder.

I don’t need to tell you what it

was selling.

There’s so little good humour in direct mail and so few genuine ideas, it’s cause for lament for anyone with a creative or strategic bone in his or her body. But this little gem of a series should provide encouragement to all.

Plus, it’s a rare example of retail direct mail getting away from price/item advertising and into branding. As the great Stanley Marcus once noted, ‘the store is a state of mind.’ That’s a lesson The Spy Store has obviously learned, and one that I bet consumers are hoping more retailers will learn

as well.

Funny money

In my January 29th column, I praised CIBC’s ad campaign featuring the prime ministers that appear on our currency, but showed a similar campaign I’d worked on for Westminster Savings as early as 1996. Fine. It’s quite possible that CIBC and its agency just happened to come up with the same concept first developed by WS.

But now AGF mutual funds has also jumped on the prime ministerial bandwagon. They’re running an ad in The Globe and Mail that shows Sir John A. in sunglasses, as did part of the Westminster Savings campaign in the ’90s. And, of course, it’s hardly far removed from what CIBC is currently running.

Come on, guys. Maybe the Canadian dollar isn’t worth as much as it used to be, but that shouldn’t inspire anyone to declare creative bankruptcy.

Is plagiarism now a laughing matter?

I spotted a classified ad in the March 24th issue of The Globe and Mail that every student of advertising must have clucked over. It read: ‘THEY LAUGHED at How I Invested. But when the MARKET went DOWN…’ Remind anyone of John Caples’ famous headline, ‘They laughed when I sat down

at the piano, but when I started

to play…’

When not worrying about being stalked by one-to-one marketers, Bob Knight reminds one and all, ‘They laughed when I sat down at the computer, but when I started to write….’ In addition to providing copy to ad and DM agencies, Bob helps produce various communications materials for companies through Knight & Associates. He can be reached at