Coming Soon To A Sky Near You

Over the weekend, 400 drones came together to form a giant purple QR code floating over the city of Austin, Texas. The QR code formed by the fleet of drones, which was hundreds of feet high, apparently was scannable and was part of a promotion of the upcoming release of the sci-fi series Halo on the Paramount+ network. It occurred during Austin’s annual SXSW (South by Southwest) music, film, and interactive media festivals.

According to a report in the Hollywood Reporter, people in Austin were variously “freaked out,” annoyed, or impressed by the marketing stunt. Having been to Austin several times, I seriously doubt that many of the young, uber-cool Austinites were “freaked out” by the display, unless they were already under the influence of some powerful mind-altering substance or were part of the fringe group that believes that we all really live in a computer simulation, as in The Matrix, and saw this as a giant, revealing glitch in the programming. I’d be surprised if most of the residents in Austin’s capital city did anything other than take a selfie with a comical expression on their faces and the giant QR code in the background, post it on all of their social media accounts, and then return to drinking their butter coffee or one of the many Austin area craft beers and riding their scooters around town.

What this really means is that soon the skies everywhere will soon be cluttered with drone QR code ads. Now that the Halo marketers have shown the way, copycat displays cannot be far behind. Drones are cheap and easy to program, and QR Code formations should not be hard to design. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some QR code floating above Columbus on the day of the Ohio State-Notre Dame football game this coming September, or during next year’s Arnold Festival. And ultimately the skies will be filled with competing QR codes and other ads, as seen in many dystopian sci-fi movies about grim and overcrowded futures.

In a way, this development was inevitable. Given the prevalence of marketing in the modern world, we can expect that eventually ads will be everywhere you look, coating every surface and floating in the skies above. The world will be like the internet, and the only issue will be where the next pop-up ad will appear as you walk down the street.

A Dubious Ad Spend

Microsoft shelled out some amount of money — who knows exactly how much? — to have inserts placed in the plastics security lines tubs at LaGuardia Terminal C marketing its OneDrive cloud-based storage product. The insert even has a supposed-to-be-funny reference to not being able to take more than 3.2 ounce bottles through security.

Ha ha! Hey, that’s frigging hilarious! Having just taken off my belt and shoes and emptied my pockets, been shouted at, scanned, and patted down by TSA guys, and then having to hastily gather my stuff in an antiquated and overheated terminal, I’m perfectly situated to look favorably on an ad pitch at the bottom of one of those hated plastic tubs.

Who decides Microsoft’s ad spend? Are they human, or from Mars?

The Lab Coat Factor

Lately I’ve noticed that more and more products — from gasoline to rewards cards to patent medicines — are being advertised by people in lab coats.

IMG_1153Somebody must have done a marketing study about this and determined that Americans just trust people in lab coats.  How else to explain why companies who are trying to decide how to clothe the human mannequins that appear on billboards and point-of-purchase ads would pick lab coats as opposed to, say, a minister’s collar, a nurse’s uniform, or the loud sportscoat and gold-buckled loafers of a used car salesman?  If my assumption is correct, why would people be more trusting of a shill just because he’s clad in a lab coat?  Is it because a lab coat suggests intelligence and precision?  Or, is it because lab coats have quasi-medical connotations, and people trust their doctors?  I’ve known scientists and lab workers and they were decent human beings — but not measurably more honest or credible than people in other lines of work.

Often, the lab coat seems to have nothing to do with the product or service being sold.  Consider the Shell rewards card ad that I saw when I fueled up my car today, a picture of which accompanies this post.  It features a nerdy-looking guy in a lab coat gesturing toward the card.  I guess he’s supposed to be a fun-loving Shell fuel technician . . . but why would anyone rely on a lab worker to provide them with guidance about smart financial decisions?  Lab workers may be adept with Bunsen burners, but that doesn’t mean they know bupkis about whether a payment card is a good deal or a rip-off.

Striking That Delicate Balance In Naming Toilet Paper

During a recent stay at a hotel I noticed that the spare roll of toilet paper in the bathroom was an institutional brand called Subtle Touch.  It made me think of the challenges involved in naming toilet paper.

Toilet paper, of course, has a crucial hygienic purpose that involves a tender area.  The name should indicate that it can get that important job done, but with an appropriate nod toward comfort.  Equally important, the name should suggest that duality without straying too far in one direction or the other.

Consider Lava hand cleaner, for example. The ’60s commercial for Lava featured a square-fingered man’s hand stained with God knows what — grease?  oil?  the entrails of animals? — being washed with the product, which was made with pumice.  The man’s hands came out clean and as pink as a monkey’s butt, but the ad probably scared off most people in the hand soap market.  Lava might appeal to car mechanics and slaughterhouse workers who wanted to be spic and span for the dinner table, but having our skin abraded by stone dust whenever we lathered up was too much for the rest of us.

I’m not sure Subtle Touch really hits the proper mark on the toilet paper-naming spectrum.  Who wants subtlety, given the essential function of toilet paper?  Other potential toilet paper names that would stray too far toward the comfort end of the spectrum:  Angel’s Breath, Seaside Breeze, and Wispy Wonder.  On the other hand, I doubt that many people would be tempted to buy toilet paper called Scour Power!, Scrubbington’s, or Rump Blaster.

There’s a delicate balance to be struck.  Come to think of it, Delicate Balance would be a pretty good name for this very special product.

Buying Barack And Marketing Michelle (Cont.)

By coincidence, on the same day that I wrote about the marketing of President Obama, I ran across a news article that, I think, highlights the issue.

According to ABC News, the Obama re-election campaign is suing a website called that is selling t-shirts, bumper stickers, and buttons with the Obama campaign logo.  The lawsuit charges that the website is infringing on the re-election campaign’s trademark.  The article also notes that every sale of such items by means lost revenue for the Obama re-election campaign, and also means a lost opportunity for the campaign to get name, address, and other contact information that would allow  the t-shirt purchaser to be approached for additional campaign contributions later.

The owner of says he’s worked cooperatively with Democratic candidates in the past and is disappointed at being sued.  He says his website supports only Democrats and is used primarily by state and country Democrats who don’t want to pay the high prices charged by the Obama campaign website.  Whereas a single t-shirt on the Obama website costs $30, you can get 500 t-shirts from for $5.49 each.  (I suppose that bit of information tells you something about the Obama campaign’s product mark-up, doesn’t it?)

It’s odd to think that a presidential candidate would object to someone else selling shirts with messages that support that candidate’s election, but we apparently have moved past that innocent notion.  In politics today, business is business.

Buying Barack And Marketing Michelle

The world has come a long way since Joe McGinniss wrote The Selling of the President about the role of marketing in the 1968 campaign of Richard Nixon.  Back then, many people disapproved of that trend and criticized the Nixon campaign for commercializing the serious business of electing a President.

Forty-four years later, the Nixon campaign tactics seem old-fashioned and tame.  Campaigns employ pollsters to gauge public opinion, advertising gurus to target the message as the internal polling indicates, and spinmeisters to try to make sure that public opinion moves the way the campaign wants it to move.  All of this is widely accepted in our digital, hyper-communicative age.

I still balk, however, at the sale of product by presidential campaigns.  Go to (the official reelection campaign website) and you will see a “store” tab.  Click on the tab and you’ll find a wide range of products for sale, ranging from t-shirts and hoodies and ball caps and coffee mugs to an “I Meow for Michelle” cat collar — and that’s just on the first page of items for sale.  Some items are even marked down, and you can get discounts for others if you enter the right “promo code.”

I suppose this is the logical extension of a culture where presidential campaigns last forever and cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and fundraisers need to produce money however they can.  I suppose you can even argue that t-shirts are just a logical extension of the campaign buttons of days gone by.  Still, I can’t help but wonder if pushing the President and First Lady as celebrity “brands” detracts from our perception of President Obama as a President.  With the focus on money, money, money, how can you not help but wonder if his decisions aren’t motivated, just a bit, by a cold-blooded desire to sell a new style of t-shirt that gets rolled out a few days later?

Faith As A Selling Point

Why do politicians running for office seem to speak so often about their religious beliefs and religious themes?  I suspect that it is due, in part, to their belief that their acknowledgement of their faith somehow legitimizes them as decent and dependable.  They hope that voters see their churchgoing habits as a sign that they are someone to be trusted.

I’m sure such protestations of faith appeal to some voters, but for me they tend to set off alarm bells.  In my experience, vendors who advertise their religious beliefs — say, with a cross on their Yellow Pages ad or a religious saying on the sides of their panel trucks — often turn out to be less than scrupulous.  It’s as if such people use the overt religious symbols and sayings as selling points for their services, in an effort to entice the unwary.  They appear at your house to give you a quote, sprinkle some Bible phrases or references to “the Lord” or “Christ Jesus” in their presentations, and hope that you let down their guard.  And then, weeks later when the job has been done poorly or not done at all, you can’t reach them.

I’m not saying that businessmen who talk openly about their religious views are all a bunch of crooks, but I am saying that, in the business context, people who wear their faith on their sleeve tend to raise my level of skepticism.  That same heightened skepticism applies to politicians who dwell upon their religious views.  Being religious doesn’t make a person a better plumber or house painter — and I don’t think it makes a politician any more likely to live up to his campaign promises.