Marketing Ploys


The cola wars

Just like the current wars (er, “conflicts”) in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Cold War and George Orwell’s fictional wars between Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia; the struggles between Pepsi and Coke are seemingly endless. It could be said that the Cola Wars began in 1975 when Pepsi introduced the “Pepsi Challenge” blind taste-test campaign. After watching their sales plummet, Coca-Cola struck back in April 1985 with the introduction of “New Coke.” New Coke was roundly ridiculed and unpopular, causing Coca- Cola to re-introduce the “original” Coke as “Coca- Cola Classic” in July of 1985 (though unlike the “original” Coke, Coca Cola Classic was made with high fructose corn syrup rather than cane sugar). By the end of 1985 “Coca-Cola Classic” was outselling both “New Coke” and Pepsi and the company’s sales had increased at twice the rate of Pepsi. The success of the re-introduction of Coca-Cola Classic led many to believe that New Coke was a ploy designed to fail and create faux nostalgia for the original Coke, now made with a cheaper sweetener.

Apple’s progression from “1984” to the iPod

Apple Computer’s famous Ridley Scott-directed advertisement introducing the first Macintosh computer during the 1984 Super Bowl cast Apple as the heroic company as opposed to IBM’s “Big Brother”-like omnipotence. A quarter century later Steve Jobs and Apple have a strong foothold in the PC market and with the introduction of mobile electronics like the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad; Apple is more commercially viable and Orwellian than IBM or even Microsoft. To top it off, they throw absurd checks to musicians to use their songs in iPod commercials — most recently Cake’s “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” but also the Gorillaz, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, Feist, Daft Punk and even (gasp) Bob Dylan. The day a Tom Waits’ song appears in an iPod commercial we will know the apocalypse is upon us.

Political ploys

With midterm elections creeping up, the brain trusts of political candidates are busy at work crafting well-coiffed, populist images for their campaigns. John Edwards nearly rode his fabulous hair, glittering smile and son-of-a-millworker schtick to the presidency. Had he not been caught cheating on his cancer stricken wife, he at least could have occupied the role that Joe Biden is currently playing. Though marital infidelity followed Bill Clinton throughout his political career, his appearance on “The Arsenio Hall Show,” where he showed of his chops on the saxophone, and when he answered questions from Gen-Xers on MTV (and took a stand on the always relevant “boxers or briefs” question) he endeared himself to the populous enough to take down Bush I in 1992.

Low-budget, local advertising

There have always been tacky, low-production value advertisements for local car dealerships, furniture stores and other local enterprise. But thanks to the internet each region can share their delightfully amateur efforts with the world. My favorite from the Triad area is the “U-Pull-It” advertisements. When the owner sings the U-Pull-It phone number in an a cappella jingle “Dial 7-8-8-9-9-2-2/ and we’ll come pull that part for you,” it never fails to put a smile on my face.

One-dollar items Everybody’s parents and grandparents love to reminisce about how inexpensive products used to be back in the day. These days anything beside some varieties of gum, a single (or “loosey”) cigarette and silly bands costs at least $1. Wendy’s was the first fast-food restaurant to have a value menu where each item cost $1.06 with tax. A junior bacon cheeseburger, a small chili and a water cup ran me $2.12 when I was in high school. Alas, Wendy’s Super Value Menu is not exclusively one-dollar items anymore; but McDonald’s and Burger King have picked up the slack with dollar menus of their own. For my money the best dollar specialty are the tall cans of Arizona Iced Tea. Their Arnold Palmer, peach tea and watermelon flavors come highly recommended for the thirsty and thrifty. Furthermore, any bar with a dollardomestic beer special gets raided on that night by those of us stacking Washingtons and not Benjamins.

McDonald’s dollar menu breakfast rap

Speaking of “Wac Arnold’s,” their recent TV ad that portrays a 15-passenger van filled with African-Americans and Latinos eating various items from the new breakfast dollar menu while another passenger raps about the menu items is demeaning. The implication is that these minorities, car-pooling to work because they can’t afford their own transportation, can still afford to eat a good breakfast from McDonald’s dollar menu and they are “lovin’ it.” Though I’m sure whoever wrote the 30 -second rap about McDonald’s breakfast menu cashed a nice paycheck.

Profiteering from tragedy

This is not a new trend but the most recent blatant example is the influx of 9-11 memorabilia in the form of T-shirts, bumper stickers and collectable coins. The TV ads for “special issue” coins depicting the twin towers supposedly valued at $50 but that you can receive for a limited time for $29.99 comes to mind, as does any T-shirt or bumper sticker with “9/11… never forget” scrolled across it — as long as the profit is paying somebody’s bills and not going to charity — is an insult to all who were affected by the tragedy.

Disney musicians

After former mouseketeers Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Christinia Agiulera went onto pre-teen pop super stardom after they left Disney, Mickey and co. realized that in order to reach that coveted demographic, they needed to keep their talented youth in house. Hence the incessant barrage of Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus, the High School Musical franchise and the Jonas Brothers, the latter of which is — according to “South Park,” anyway — kept in check by a giant, megalomaniacal, fire-breathing Mickey Mouse.

Almost every beer commercial ever

Most advertisements for beer depict men suddenly becoming more enticing to females because of their selection of a certain beer. But sometimes they flip the script and depict the man showing more devotion to his light beer than the obviously out-of-his-league significant other. I could ridicule specific beer ads forever but it was already perfected in Chris Farley and Adam Sandler’s SNL parody ad for “Schmitts Gay” so just Google that.

Big tobacco marketing cigs to kids

Winston cigarettes once sponsored the Flintstones television show. There was even a commercial depicting Fred and Barney relaxing by lighting up Winstons that Fred proclaims “taste good, like a cigarette should.” I recall seeing a Joe Camel billboard every day on the route to middle school. I knew that cigarettes were bad and I should never smoke, but Joe Camel, at least to me at the time, exuded that elusive quality known as “cool.” Full disclosure: I am a smoker (I know it doesn’t make me cool) and I wince every time I see a big tobacco funded “Truth” ad.