Thursday, August 25, 2011

Towplanes and wine. And boob jobs.

When I take my family to the beach, I spend most of my time staring at my kids in the water to ensure they don’t end up floating off to Portugal.  However, one thing always catches my eye (disclosure: three things, really, but this is a family blog): towplanes.

At the Jersey Shore, propeller planes towing advertising banners pass overhead roughly every 15 minutes.  Most of them advertise local bars, restaurants and concerts, which makes a lot of sense given the youthful skew of beachgoers.  However, another set of ads draws my attention as well:

(Disclosure: this ad refers to the two things I wouldn’t mention up top)

I saw this ad a few years ago and thought it was the dumbest thing I’d ever seen.  After seeing his banners many times since then, I determined that Dr. Rack (yes, he has used that nickname) knew something about advertising that I didn’t.

Initially, the idea of selecting a medical professional while playing Kadima seemed abhorrent to me.  Coming from a medical family (dad, two uncles, one cousin are/were doctors), I had regarded the profession as replete with dignity.

It took me years to realize how wrong I had it.  If people feel uncomfortable about their bodies anywhere, they will feel so on the beach.  Granted, the Jersey Shore does not rival South Beach for eye candy, but you can be sure that you’ll see more than one guy who lives at the gym and more than one woman who would have drawn wolf whistles in less enlightened times.

Dr. Rack found a really interesting and innovative (if tacky) use for an old advertising medium.  We marketers often find ourselves falling for the next new thing, be it a mobile doohickey or an interactive TV whatnot.  Certainly, new tactics get all the press.  Moreover, marketers who jump on new tactics often boast of first-mover advantages and eye-goggling returns on investment.

However, old tactics still work well, especially if marketers put a little Dr. Rack-like ingenuity in them.  I call this practice putting new wine into old bottles.  And I challenge you to think about an old tactic you’re using and to think about using it in a new way.

Really, a smart marketer can find a way to re-use any old tactic.  In grad school (I have a Master’s in Advertising, believe it or not), I worked for the local office of a would-be competitor to Stanley Kaplan called Ronkin Educational Group.  The manager had the brilliant idea of handing out carnations in the street on Valentine’s Day with tags promoting the service on them.  For those of you who might not remember, Valentine’s Day falls in February.  For those of you who might not know, Syracuse has the most snowfall of any major city in the continental US.  So I stood out on a corner for two hours and handed out flowers, like a well-insulated Hare Krishna.  

Later, I talked to one of my professors about it, commenting on the stupidity of the idea.  He didn’t blink.  Instead, he said, “so you put a clever line on the tag like ‘if you’ve got your heart set on going to grad school, see us?’”  I learned then that even stupid ideas can have smart uses.

And, if you’re thinking a little work around the eyes might work, give Dr. Rack a call.

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