Brand Blogging

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Charlie Brown goes emo

The best comics store in Manhattan has to be Forbidden Planet. They have a friendly, knowledgeable staff, a good selection, and always something interesting in their window display. Recently, the display has included the new Peanuts anthology books being put out by Fantagraphics Books. Fantagraphics is perhaps best known as the publisher of Daniel Clowes' work, including Ghost World and Art School Confidential, although they also publish a number of other graphic novels and comics that have names like We All Die Alone, Monologues For The Coming Plague, and Angry Youth Comix. And yet curiously, at the same time Fantagraphics also puts out anthologies of classic comics such as Peanuts. However, the portrayal of the Peanuts gang (at least on the cover) for the books in the anthology could be considered "off-brand," at least in comparison to the treatment they receive at The Official Peanuts Website. Here is a side-by-side comparison of the anthology covers (for the books released so far) to the character portraits on the Peanuts website:

In each case, the Fantagraphics version looks upset, angry, pensive, etc., while the version is smiling and happy, except for Schroeder; but note that Schroeder has pretty much always been characterized as somewhat angsty (his favorite composer is Beethoven).

This is part of a calculated attempt by Fantagraphics to not only appeal to the people who like comics such as Ghost World, but also to add a serious air to Schulz' art for those fans who see it as something more than just a comic strip; as Fantagraphics says on its about page,
Fantagraphics Books has been a leading proponent of comics as a legitimate form of art and literature since it began publishing the critical trade magazine The Comics Journal in 1976. By the early 1980s, Fantagraphics found itself at the forefront of the burgeoning movement to establish comics as a medium as eloquent and expressive as the more established popular arts of film, literature, poetry, et al.
In addition, in the press release for the first volume of the anthology describes the "aesthetic sensibility" of the packaging as
both austere and direct, reflecting the quiet and melancholy of the strip in a package that shows the proper respect due one of America’s greatest artists in any medium.
Overall, I think this is an interesting way of presenting the Peanuts comics in a new (or at least underrepresented) light. Even though the tone of the packaging doesn't dovetail with more popular representations of the characters, the anthology—which is being put out at the rate of two books per year until 2016 for a total of 25 books representing 50 years of strips—is designed to appeal to more serious comic fans who may see themselves more like art collectors than casual readers.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Starbucks bottled Frappucino line gets (over)extended

While browsing the beverage aisle today, I noticed a new addition to the Starbucks line of bottled Frappucino drinks:

Strawberries and Creme Frappuccino

My first thought was that it looks an awful lot like Nestle's Strawberry Quik. My second thought was Why are they selling this under the Starbucks label? Indeed, the bottle notes that this item is "coffee-free," making it Starbucks' first grocery item, as far as I can tell, that is in no way contains coffee. While I realize that this is a product that is based on an actual Starbucks store item (although N.B. that the grocery line is actually produced by Pepsi), it seems like an odd choice for a line extension. At least with the bottled coffee drinks (and packaged coffee and coffee-flavored ice cream) they're leveraging Starbucks' reputation as a company based on coffee; I'm not sure exactly how well this "fits" with the consumer's idea of a Starbucks product.

UPDATE: In the interest of fairness, I went out and bought one of these. It tasted like a watered-down Strawberry Quik, which costs less and gives you more (16 ounces of Quik for $1.59 versus 9.5 ounces of Starbucks for $1.79).

Sunday, June 11, 2006

iDon't: Poor strategy, worse execution

In the past few months there have been posters plastered around my area of Manhattan promoting the web site. The site itself itself proclaims
Calling all free thinkers, contrarians, and malcontents. The time has come to rise up against the iTatorship. To resist the monotony of white earbuds and reject the oppressive forces of cultural conformity.

Now is the time to break-free from restrictive formats and a single source for music. It's time for choice, for freedom, for self-expression and - for all independent spirits to stand up and say "iDon't." You don't need to follow. There is now an alternative.
What, you might ask, is this web site asking us to do? Will it give us open-source instructions for creating our own digital music player? Of course not. The site is an advertisement for Sandisk's Sansa e200, and it comes courtesy of that countercultural juggernaut, Grey San Francisco, part of Grey Global, which is itself part of WPP. They're about as underground as Berkshire Hathaway.

I think the campaign fails on two fronts: first, you have a campaign that tries (like the Honda Fit/Toyota Yaris campaigns) to reach an ill-defined group of people (youngish, independent thinkers, etc.) by trying to be all hip and edgy, but it completely fails in the execution—"Hey, groovy dudesters, don't be a sheep who buys into that iPod bullshit, buy our product instead!"; secondly, by deriding iPod users, they've shut out a huge group of potential costumers, namely those people who are considering transitioning from an old iPod to something new. With iPod owning 80% or more of the market, that might not be a good idea.

The desperation is palpable: in this week's print version of the Onion, there are no fewer than three ads for—zombies, donkey, and the Flocking Hell comic strip. You can almost see the sweat dripping down their faces as they try to be edgy but only succeed in digging themselves further into the hole. It's like some sort of seven-layer burrito of irony.

Take the Flocking Hell comic strip, for instance. Its format looks suspiciously similar to Red Meat (which is also in the Onion) and other alterna-comics. And the main thrust of it, which equates not following the pack (being a "sheep" or a "lemming") with buying a heavily-marketed product (the ultimate purpose of the whole iDon't campaign) is incongruous, to say the least. Now, I realize that the use of incongruence is a time-honored advertising technique, but somehow I don't (or perhaps iDon't?) think don't think this is the best application of that approach.

In the end, the appropriation of countercultural elements for a marketing campaign is often sloppy at best and at worst, counterproductive. As I've said before, simply using a certain tone or biting a certain style in your marketing materials will not give the product being marketed any kind of instant street-cred.

OK soda, anyone?