New look, same great taste. Soon cereal boxes will be envelopes.

Ever since the enormous fiscal slapping we all received in 2008, I’ve noticed that food companies have been busily revamping their images in an effort to draw consumers and make ends meet. I may simply have become more sensitized to an existing practice, or efforts along these lines may have expanded greatly in the face of growing financial pressures on the market.

Cereal boxes have done the most to catch my eye, sporting a seemingly continuous stream of new boxes, or some other sign brightly plastered signaling that something has changed and that we must take notice as we wander through the aisles. Last week, I came across a box that will remain unnamed with the text “New look, same great taste” on a banner running across the top.

When I compare the new box to the old, there are a few cosmetic changes, but nothing that I could consider ground breaking or shouting for attention much more loudly than the previous box. Indeed, I am a habitual buyer of this brand, so I would have bought this cereal on that trip regardless of whether it had been packaged in a box with flashing lights being carried on the back of a panda driving a car, or if it had been in a plain, unmarked box. Cool. This ensures the company’s graphic designers have something to do from time to time, right? But there’s always a but.

But, upon closer inspection, the box was a little smaller, and contained a slightly diminished mass of cereal, without having a reduced price. Here’s the rub: in order to keep us feeling good about buying cereal despite the growing cost of delivering grain-based foods to the market, companies are reducing the quantity they sell in a box. We’re still happy to shell out our $5,99 for a box of cereal, but we are getting less and less every time we come out of the grocery store.

I get it. It’s a business. I grew up on a farm, so I appreciate the farmer’s stake in this. I’d like it if they could get a bigger cut than does the middle man, but that seems unlikely to change for a while. But you see, I like to be efficient with my time without being hypocritical about what I do. If the cereal costs more, I’m happy to pay more for the same volume, rather than have to come back to the store at an increasing rate wondering why my boxes of cereal are now lasting a few days rather than a couple weeks. Granted, food and I get along very well together, but I don’t need to get a false sense that I’m hoovering all of the grain from the Prairies to satiate my morning hunger.

For marketers to be doing this suggests that there is some pretty solid data to show that these mind games work.  I wish it weren’t the case. I fear that some day I’ll be walking out of the store with an arm full of $5,99 postage envelopes of cereal to get me through the week.

Selling articles through fear: please stop now

Gizmodo put up an article titled A Slo-Mo Mouse Eye View of a Barn Owl Swooping In For the Kill Is Terrifying . I’ve included it here below for ease of reference.

Terrifying? Really? I don’t think I heard any of the people appearing in the video once refer to the owl or the footage as anything that instills fear. How about: “beautiful”, “graceful”, “amazing”, “wonderful”, or any other positive adjective that can be found in the English language? Trying to paint the clip in terms eliciting fear is disingenuous and most likely very far from the producer’s mind when they made the video. What it does is tap into the concept of trying to catch the audience’s attention to generate views through gripping a primal, visceral aspect of human psychology.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a different article on the same site from the day before, by a different author: Get a Terrifying, First-Hand Look at What It’s Like to Ride a 15-Foot-Tall Bike. There it is again. Terrifying. I’ll let you be the judge of whether this video is terrifying:

There certainly is cause to feel a certain trepidation at first, maybe some butterflies in the stomach, but we soon see that everyone is having fun. Being so high up gives a new point of view on the world and hopefully brings a little joy to all involved. I can certainly question the biker’s wisdom by choosing not to wear a helmet, particularly with some of the hazards encountered en route (cars deciding to push around the traffic wardens and the kite string incident), but none of these qualify as sources of terror in my book.

Indeed, let us explore the definition of terror for a moment:

terror |ˈterər|
1 extreme fear : people fled in terror | [in sing. ] a terror of darkness.
• the use of such fear to intimidate people, esp. for political reasons : weapons of terror.
• [in sing. ] a person or thing that causes extreme fear : his unyielding scowl became the terror of the Chicago mob.

The hostage crisis at the school in Beslan in September 2004: tragic and terrifying. A pack of zombies trying to claw my door down at midnight to munch on my brains: terrifying. Climbing 300 feet up a sheer cliff when you realize there’s an avalanche coming down the mountain at you: terrifying. Flying in a plane when someone looks out the window and asks: “excuse me, but is there supposed to be that much smoke and fire coming out of the engines?”: terrifying. Finding out someone has brought to life a T-Rex and has now accidentally set it loose through your back yard: terrifying. A global crisis where the inhabitants of a planet blindly savage its natural resources and pollute its environment in a bid to enrich the few at the cost of the health and safety of the entire world: starting to sound pretty scary. A bird swooping gracefully through the air to get some food : not so much. Some dude pullinga circus stunt in the street: Um. No.

Our society is fixated by the use of superlatives. Everything has to be more extreme, more awesome, more epic than the last. If it is not, we have been conditioned to believe that it must be worthless, and definitely not worth our time or money. I know the phenomenon of using fear to market items and ideas has been around for a long time, but when fear is used this blatantly and with such negligent frequency to qualify menial or even positive aspects of life, it loses all of its meaning. It devalues the events which do indeed qualify as terrifying by diluting them in a sea of lesser issues that are lumped in by them. We become  hypersensitized to fear, and learn to be afraid of everything, taking dramatic actions to protect ourselves from the dangers we perceive to be lurking everywhere, rather than embracing the unique and exhilarating opportunities that life holds for us.

That, or come up with new adjectives that allow us to provide much needed context and contrast to the upper tier of emotional reactions. If that’s the case, I’d like to coin the term “übspazrificating” for the media to start talking about really scary things. That should help them sort their priorities out and use the word only when it is really needed.

You heard it here first, folks.

Book promotion tips from Teleread

Teleread on book promotion

Many posts on tactics for improving the exposure of a book seem to offer ideas, but little data to support how those activities help.

Teleread offers a little more insight, however, I find the survey results would need more definition.

What exactly are the results of? Is it a measure of effectiveness of the tactics, or simply a measure of what the respondents use? Who were the respondents? What is the effect these engagements tend to have on the sales or exposure of said book? Does it vary by genre?

I am looking forward to seeing more on the topic.

Twisted translations and product sales: does one impact the other?

I know manufacturers are cash-strapped and feeling the crunch in these hard fiscal times. If I were in such a situation, I would be looking for every opportunity to find efficiencies and cut operating expenditures as well. One unlikely place seems to be in paying translators to migrate product blurbs from one language to another.

In Quebec, products are required to sport their information in both French and English. Some companies demonstrate substantial attention to detail in either language, ensuring that the product description, ingredient list, titles, subtitles, etc. are painstakingly accurate in either language. Far too many companies, however, appear to scramble for the easy button, particularly when translating from English to French. An apparently prolific use of either their nephew’s-best-friend’s-uncle’s-daughter-who-is-in-third-grade-taking-a-language-class-and-can-translate-this-for-nothing or Google translate creates a tide of poorly-translated, often humorous, sometimes incomprehensible information on product labels. I suspect it most likely is the latter as companies can access the service for free from anywhere, anytime, and it is fast. They also appear not to care much about double-checking the translation. I have also seen this in action in other provinces and countries.

What fascinates me about this phenomenon more than the laziness at play, or the uncontrollable fits of laughter that inevitably come from trying to figure out the gibberish that is proudly displayed on a self-serious product for which some marketing guru was undoubtedly paid good money in getting the product to market, is the question of whether such poor labeling affects sales in any way. If it did, I would have to believe that the products would be examined, and corrections made to ensure that they appeal to their market.

That this does not happen, or happens infrequently, suggests that consumers aren’t voting with their dollars, they don’t spend any time looking at labels, or that they don’t know better. Each possibility contains fascinating nuggets for debate in a society where we are supposedly short on money, believe that marketing sells, and that the education system is under continual strain to deliver more for less while being unappreciated.

Aggressive marketing is such a turnoff

Dear Mr. Matt Murphy of the MBNA Bank,

Thank you very much for taking the time to personally address a mass-mailer advert letter to both my wife and I. We feel honoured that your system has taken the time to identify us specifically for the bounty you believe us worthy of. We are even touched by the miniature credit card sticker you provide for us to affix to our application for your revered service. We also appreciate the fact that you have sent us this letter every month in case we have previously missed it.

Some advice to marketers: although your analytics suggest you know everything about me, do not for a moment believe that by putting my name on something I will feel more inclined to purchase your product. Also, if I didn’t buy it the first time, I probably won’t the second, third, or tenth time you try. You eventually begin sounding like the children in the back of the car asking “are we there yet?” for the ten thousandth time. Eventually, the answer will be an exasperated “No! I will never, ever buy your product.”

Now please, stop sending me letters, and save a few trees. Heavens knows the planet needs those more than it needs your credit cards right now.