Category Archives: Marketing

If it’s improved, it aint new

I dislike the term New & Improved and I’m calling for it to be exiled from the common marketing vocabulary.

There are two main reasons:

1. The logical tangle. It seems to me that a thing cannot be both new AND improved. It has to be one or the other. If something is new then it simply cannot also be improved as nothing existed previously that could be improved upon. Equally, saying something is improved implies that something inferior previously existed and as a result it cannot be new.

2. It doesnt tell me anything. The phrase tells me only that the thing is New & (or) Improved. . And in fact, this really doesn’t tell me anything that might substantially influence my interest in doing whatever I’m supposed to with this product. If it’s new, what need is it filling? Why does it exist? If it’s improved, what was wrong with the previous model? How is it improved?  Take me on a journey. Help me recognize how this thing will impact my life.

I’ll conceed  a case could be made for exceptions that are both new and improved. Is the video ipod a new ipod or just an improved version of the old-fashioned audio-only ipod as it is still the same essential product (a portable digital media device produced by Apple)? What about a product with a set of features some of which are new and some of which are older ones that have been improved? Valid questions perhaps.

I can see why the phrase has hung around. "Newness" is a sought-after attribute. You have contributed something to the ecosystem and offered options or solutions where none existed. "Improvement" is a worthy and noble pursuit in both personal and commercial settings. It suggests innovation and a customer-centric focus (we are improving it so you can get more out of it, dear customer…). These are important and even necessary attributes and, if valid, worth highlighting.

But they cannot excuse lazy copywriting. Using New & Improved is a thin cover for a lack of imagination, insight and information. It doesn’t stimulate interest nor does it compel me to action. It is marcom white noise and is still used far too frequently.

Today I make the commitment never to use the phrase "new & improved" again (except cynically or in jest). I urge you do the same.

Updated: In the interests of being helpful and not just blustery, I like the "Re-" words for achieving the same thing as "new & improved". Reinvented, revitalized, reinvigorated and the like offer the same short and punchy tone that’s suitable for headlines, taglines and packaging. They also suggest the novelty and innovation that new & improved wants to convey.

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Persuade vs Convince

Terry Fallis, he of ThornleyFallis & a podcaster and author of some repute, has a regular segment on the InsidePR podcast called Inside Proper English. There’s substance beyond the clever title as Terry takes a weekly look at words & phrases that are commonly misused with the goal of making us better communicators.

Insider Proper English from this week looks at the difference between convince & persuade. Terry points out that, contrary to common belief & use, there is a subtle and important distinction between the two.

We are convinced by evidence or arguments made to the intellect

We are persuaded by appeals made to the will, moral sense or emotions.

I’d also add a further subtle distinction that we are convinced to think something; persuaded to think & do something.

The implication of this for marketing is significant. I couldn’t care less if you were convinced that my widget is better than my competitors widgets if I haven’t also persuaded you to do something about it – buy it, support it, donate to it, tell your friends about it.

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Do Fatter Asses Lead to Bigger Slogans?

One of my guilty pleasure online destinations is the British-based Sun Newspaper (and it’s not for the Page 3 girl). I find the entertainment gossip amusing, the football (soccer) news occasionally informative and the headline & copy writing a real treat..

Today, I can across this story that reported on London Olympic facility designers making seats bigger because, well, spectator’s seats are bigger. That is, people are getting fatter and the stadium seating needs to be more spacious to accommodate them.

To quote:

OLYMPICS chiefs have ordered super-sized seats for London’s 2012 Games — because fans are getting FATTER.

All 20,000 chairs at the capital’s gleaming new Aquatic Centre will be 4cm wider and 5cm deeper than originally planned.

Organisers agreed to the changes after talks with stadium designers, who warned normal-sized seats would be unable to cope with a bulkier UK population by 2012.

It would be my personal hope that people interested in attending sporting events would themselves be participants in physical activities and fitness of some sort. But perhaps that is naive and not a particularly well-supported position if you’ve been to an NFL football game (where, at least, pant seams are well-supported).

So…my challenge is to consider how this will be marketed. After all, the honest truth (Built Ford tough???) will hardly endear fans to the games organizers. Setting aside that there is now more space on the seats for corporate advertisers to flog their wares, I’ve jotted down potential slogans/pitches:

– Olympic-sized seats for Olympic-sized spirit

– Where the only thing spilling over the side is water

– London 2012: The Biggest Games Ever

– Free Deep-fried Mars bar with every seat purchase

And so on….These are off the top of my head. Thoughtful suggestions welcome as well…

P.S. Obesity is a serious issue and this is not a good sign for us all.

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Lots of Fizz, not a lot of flavour

Hat-tip to Joe Thornley of ProPR for pointing out this clumsy example of self-inflating marketing/pr. Joe’s talking about the launch of Sprite Yard, a new social network/community from Coke. There are good points on the legitimacy of this as a social network and even better points about the hyperbole and audacious rhetoric used in this release.

Among the more egregious examples (which, to be fair, Joe already highlights):

Forget Myspace and Facebook. That’s old news. Now, there is Sprite’s exclusive network called the Sprite Yard.

Coca-Cola expects the Sprite Yard to set new benchmarks for consumer brand engagement

Measurement metrics have been built in so Coca-Cola can track, in real-time, which features consumers are using most to the direct impact on beverage sales. It enables Coca-Cola to react very quickly to what their market wants.

How do you look if you don’t grow to be bigger, more entrenched, than Facebook or MySpace? What if you don’t set new benchmarks for consumer brand engagement? Do you know what those benchmarks are? How about you share them with us so we can track how you’re doing too? What if you can’t react quickly to what the market wants (for the record, I know of very few nimble multi-billion dollar multi-national consumer goods companies)?

A big problem with this kind of hype is not so much that everyone’s going to think you’re a blow-hard (and quite likely loose interest as a result – though that is a problem), it’s more that you are now backed into a corner with nowhere to build up to if things go well and nowhere to hide if things go poorly.

Choose your words wisely. You’re settng expectations for how people (consumers, media, advertisers) will judge you.

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Olympic Spirit or Spirits?

Tip of the old hat to Seth Godin for pointing out a great (?) example of the kind of marketing jibberish that plagues the industry and makes us seem like absolute wankers to many in the general public.

Cribbing from this post, here’s a quote from Lord Coe on the subject of the just unvieled London 2012 Olympic logo:

"This is the vision at the very heart of our brand," said London 2012 organising committee chairman Seb Coe."It will define the venues we build and the Games we hold and act as a reminder of our promise to use the Olympic spirit to inspire everyone and reach out to young people around the world. It is an invitation to take part and be involved."

Here’s the logo that is being referred to:

The logo is to hangovers as Lord Coe’s words are to drunken slur-mons.

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Details – Starbucks’ Environmental Commitment

Starbucks (front)

I’m sure we’ve all seen this before. It’s the sleeve that Starbucks gives you so you don’t burn your fingers on a cup of their coffee. It’s also an output of their social responsibility programming. Starbucks, to their credit, has been active and progressive in their CSR activities – placing an strong emphasis on using only fair trade coffee, reducing their environmental footprint and leveraging their purchasing power to work only with suppliers that help them minimize their impact on the environment. All very noble efforts that I am in no position to argue with or criticize.

I got this sleeve after ordering my standard venti latte, extra hot, no foam. I am, it seems, rather simply in my own coffee consumption. But I found something troubling when I turned over to the other side of the sleeve (you should be able to click on it for a closer inspection).


There are two prominent pieces of text on the back of the sleeve. The first talks about Starbucks’ commitment to reducing their environment impact – great! It even has a call-to-action for consumers to help them help the planet. Okay, no issues there. The second piece of text, right below the first statement, mentions how this is the first 60% post-consumer fiber sleeve. Again, great. This is tangible proof of Starbucks’ environmental commitment.

But there are also two things that I find to be completely at odds with these two statements.

1. There is no recycling symbol on the sleeve.

2. If you look closely, right above the legal jargon protecting Starbucks rights and patents, you’ll see the phrase "Intended for single use only".

That statement & omission seem to me at odds with everything else that Starbucks says and does regarding their environmental policies and programs. Are we not to recycle this sleeve? Instead just use it once and throw it out with the rest of the garbage? It seems that post consumer fibers can still be recycled. Shouldn’t Starbucks make sure that they pay attention to the details and do all that they can to get consumers to take heed of the ‘help us help’ call-to-action?

I’d like to think that this is not what Starbucks intended. However, these details, though likely unnoticed by the vast majority of consumers – I, for example, have consumed hundreds of Starbucks coffees without picking up on this – are troubling to me.

Sadly, for me, Starbucks trips up in this attempt to walk to talk…

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