Observations on Perception, Part 2

    

Watching television commercials is like going on a cruise. You can be bored if you like, you can revile the repetition of it all, or you can look closely and people watch.

Me, I like to think I can look closely enough to see things people otherwise tend to overlook. I tend to not take things at face value.

And so, looking closely at some commercials makes me wonder where they get these euphoric visions of certain items the sponsors are trying to sell us. In some cases, the vision is one of extreme excitement. In some others, a feeling of exhilaration. In yet others, it might be an extreme sense of freedom.

I don’t get bored seeing these kinds of commercials. But I do get curious. And I laugh a lot. Especially when I see the kind pictured above.

At left I chose the Land Rover commercial where we see the vehicle outrunning a desert sandstorm (!), stopping to pick up a team of sailors on their way to whatever is pictured at the end of the commercial—what appears to be an America Cup racing yacht. Yeah.

Here’s a team of guys out in the…desert?…just walking around in the…desert? Huh? And all this to the tune of Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz. Sounds completely and stupidly incongruous. After watching it several times, I still don’t get it. It makes no sense.

Next I chose the Alfa Romeo Giulia ad where the newest ugly car from Italy is being driven down a country road. Ever notice in these car ads that theirs is the only car on the road? Some of the ads for other cars show the vehicle being driven downtown in the same way—all alone. Gee. Do we consumers ever get to drive our cars in a situation like that? Of course not.

Last, I chose the Nordic Track Freestride Trainer ad. This woman is riding her new elliptical exercise machine on top of a building! Not in her apartment, not in her basement in the ‘burbs. Right up there in downtown Metropolis, above everyone else. Does this make any sense? No, of course not.

Which brings me to what goes through the minds of ad agencies when they concoct these things. Of course they’re trying to depict the car (or exercise machine) in an atmosphere of escape from the everyday humdrum of reality. To give that car a mystique that it it really doesn’t have, especially while you’re driving your new baby home from the dealer stuck in rush hour traffic.

That I get. I can even apply that kind of idiom to the Nordic Track, if I squint real hard after another gin and tonic.

But the Land Rover ad escapes any kind of lofty storyline logic. Of course, their slogan is “above and beyond”. Beyond for sure. Way out there.

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New Men’s Belts

     

Ever notice the new “technology” with regard to the way men’s belts are cinched? The old way is the peg/hole standard (actually prong/frame in the belt industry). The new way is more of a ratchet method with a track of indents on the reverse side of the belt with a spring-catch mechanism on the backside of the buckle.

This new way makes cinching the belt both easier and also much more adjustable, given that the tracks have increments at around ¼-inch apart.

That’s a good thing. In the old way, the holes in the leather are roughly an inch apart, with maybe five holes to choose from to make that belt fit an ever-widening waistline. So with the increments much closer in the new “tracked” belts, adjusting the belt to how bloated you feel any given day becomes much more accommodating.

There are two manufacturers in the forefront here. Mission Belt offers a fairly sleek design to their buckle, which has a release latch on the back. Comfort Click’s belts look more traditional and have a different mechanism with the way the buckle operates. The Mission Belt comes in a variety of styles. The Comfort Click comes in just the one traditional style, pictured above.

I’d heard about the Mission Belt a few years ago. The Comfort Click, I believe, is more recent. The thing is, the Mission Belt gets an A in appearance, an A- in the way it releases. The Comfort Click get a A in the way it releases, but a D in its appearance.

New-fangled belts are drawing on old tech in the way they operate. Military belts have a plain shield-like buckle that the strap goes through, and the friction bar behind it locks the strap into position. The similarity here is that the buckle hides the cinching. The new belts have taken this as a jump-off point to rethink just how to make the belts work better and still hide the cinch.

The Mission Belt’s appearance is sleek and takes a more fashion approach with different models to choose from. Its release mechanism is OK, but could be a little smaller. The Comfort Click’s release is pretty smooth, but the design of the belt’s appearance was left on the cutting room floor.

Which made me wonder just why a company—which obviously prides itself on innovation—would market a retro-style belt, its only model. Seems to me that you’d want to have your new belt work and look like no other. But here the buckle, with its traditional frame and prong appearance, is fake.

That’s like a car company introducing a new 2018 model with a revolutionary drivetrain, yet on the outside it looks like one from 1965. It’s backward thinking.

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Some Things Never Change

“You can kill a horse, but you can’t kill a Cadillac.”

That slogan appeared in ads for the Cadillac Automobile Company in 1905, a few short years before being purchased by General Motors. The slogan changed throughout those early years, always somewhat lengthy by today’s standards. After the Great War, slogans got shorter.

Some people refer to them as “taglines”. Doesn’t matter. Slogans are one of those things that advertisers can’t seem to let go of. They’ve been around for close to 150 years.

They’re everywhere and every advertiser uses them. And some of them become part of the lexicon, at least in this country. Those in particular have been around a while, probably longer than you’d think. Nike says, “Just do it.” That’s from 1988. Subway says, “Eat fresh,” from 2000. McDonald’s has been saying, “I’m lovin’ it,” since 2003. Maybe time for a change on each of those, but maybe not.

The reason slogans are here to stay is because just saying the name of the company or product in an ad isn’t enough. Marketers want to leave you with a thought in your mind. And that’s not to say they want just to tell you that their’s is so good you can’t live without it. Saying that probably won’t make you run out and buy it.

Maybe back in 1905, people were more receptive to it, but over time—and certainly now—we’re much more jaded.

Giving a product an attribute—a quality no other advertiser has thought of—will set it apart from the rest. That gives the product a new quality that even the creators of that product hadn’t thought of. It’s about perception.

Above is a small collection of automobile logos with their respective slogans, as they appear in TV ads. Notice that most of them use a slogan as a suggestion for you to look at their brands in a different light.

Ford says, “Go further,” a reference to suggest maybe more MPGs or maybe a longevity of ownership. Or something else. In this way, what they suggest becomes interpretive, meaning that they’re making you think. The process becomes interactive in your mind. Does it stick?

Chevy asks that you “Find new roads.” Toyota says, “Let’s go places.”

Land Rover goes a step further by saying, “Above and beyond,” (almost like Buzz Lightyear’s “to infinity and beyond”.)

But BMW brings it back down to Earth. They just talk about the car in no uncertain terms. Is that a German thing? Even Mercedes Benz says, “The best or nothing.”

The thing is, it’s about perception, what the advertiser can place in your mind. It’s no longer just a car. It’s an adventure.

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How Does a Thought Become an Idea?

How does a thought become an idea? No, they’re not the same thing, not in design. A thought is just a few passing synapses in the brain, whereas an idea, a real process in which we apply a thought to a solution, now that’s something else.

Each of us has a mind and we all have thoughts running through our brains every day, all day long. And those thoughts are an amalgam, a mixture, of our experiences tinged with an imagination. The imagination here is what begins to separate one person with design capability from the rest of us, in various degrees. A designer can harness that imagination and channel it to see into the realm of design solutions. So the real difference between a designer and everyone else is that a designer can control that product of experience and imagination and make a thought come alive graphically.

All of us have heard the expression, “I can’t draw a straight line.” Most designers can’t either, but what they can do is convey a graphic idea, a plan to map out a graphic solution. I’ve known many art directors who can’t draw, but what makes them valuable is that they see the possibilities in their mind and can speak to those who can draw, or otherwise make the solutions come to life.

And there are as many ideas out there as are designers, packed with the experiences of life—their environments, their passages in growing up, their friends and acquaintances, things they’ve done, places they’ve visited, personal interests, their education. Like painters, they each have a way of seeing the world through the lens of their experiences. There are countless paintings out there in the world done by countless painters, and each canvas is literally a depiction of what that painter sees. Sure, each exhibits a style, a technique in application of the paint, but it’s all flavored with that painter’s way of seeing.

And designers are no different. Here the differences among designers may be more subtle, but the differences are there nonetheless. The thing is, each designer is constrained only by the limits of his/her imagination. The more experience a designer can bring to the fore, the more imagination he/she can use to bring about successful designs.

The above examples show differences in design solutions. Each shows a container with a built-in handle to make the container easier to use. But other than the additional fact that both have a cap that doubles as a measuring device, the similarities really begin to fall away. The colors, bottle shape and contour, the label—all are different. Both are successful solutions: they convey the idea of cleaning and freshness, otherwise abstract concepts.

Note that in neither example does the label read that it’s laundry detergent, however. Maybe the designs themselves are good enough visually to say it.

 

 

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Where Has the Art Gone?

   

Look at the images above. They’re beautiful, aren’t they?

These images are all fruit crate labels, all made during the golden age of illustration, between 100 and 140 years ago. So this will serve as a history lesson of sorts.

During the last twenty years of the 19th century, America was beginning to perfect the marketing of fruits and vegetables, especially to areas of the country where they were hard to get. Small canneries and growers in California and Florida began to merge into associations and getting agreements with the transcontinental railways to ship their goods across the country.

All the crates holding the veggies and fruits had labels like these. And they were printed using color lithography, still in its relatively primitive stages. Color labels were expensive and because of that, they were used over and over again. A crate in good condition with a label was nothing to be discarded.

By the end of the Great War, printing technology became much more advanced and mechanized, allowing the printers to gang the images and save the associations a lot of money per label cost.

As the systems of getting the crates to the markets evolved, so did the businesses grow. Associations became corporations. For example, the California Fruit Canners Association eventually became Del Monte.

Then during the Great Depression, consumers began to want more information about what they were buying and had more health concerns about the food. With the government stepping in with regulations and listing nutritional values, the art suffered, producing a somewhat less artistic image.

Adding to that, offset printing came of age in the 40s and label manufacturers were now using photography, replacing the illustrator.

The rest is history (I hate saying that) because all that stuff you just read also applied to every other area of printed advertising and package artwork.

Art will always be art. But will it ever have the use like what we see here? No. Not on this planet.

Can you imagine what it must’ve been like back then? A century ago, those illustrators did the entire images you see here, lettering included. He was also the art director.

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Let’s Talk Visual Sensitivities

What makes a design—of anything—more enticing than others among a given group? Ever think of that?

The reasons behind a decision to buy something over another, at least at first, is subliminal on the part of the individual. That buyer reacts to something about the appearance—the design—because it reflects certain associative memories in that person’s brain. If that image evokes a bad memory, he/she will be turned off at the sight of the design. If it evokes a good memory, he/she will like it.

We all have that associative circumstance, ever becoming a pre-condition with life and experience going forward, as we encounter the sight of new things, new designs. And the more we experience the influential stimuli around us, the more we judge objects by their appearance. It’s very personal. That’s why we have so many different designs in any one arena. And it explains how non-objective we all become over time.

In fact, with the media blasts of TV and movies—especially action movies—we actually become biased without thinking about it.

The designers themselves all have the same influences as they go about drawing up new products. And automobiles are certainly at the forefront of exhibiting that influence. I continually pick automotive design for examples in this column because cars and SUVs are so omnipresent. Everybody sees them whether they want to or not. I also think that automobiles reflect futuristic design thinking because auto manufacturers want their designs to consistently be on the cutting edge of design.

So futuristic design thinking has to come from science fiction. And that’s been going on probably since before Dick Tracy was using his two-way wrist radio. Star Trek picked that thinking up in the phasers, and the iPhone picked that up in several steps further.

So it follows that automotive designers use what they see in that science fiction (action movies being the driving force here) to redraw their designs. It’s art imitating art: comic book artwork defining what we actually use here and now in our daily lives. Look at the above examples to see what I mean.

The advent of transformers, predators, and alien imagery culled from the likes of apocalyptic movies like the Road Warrior series and alien creature features make for an interesting, if not encouraging, design future in this area.

Automobiles never looked like this decades ago, because we never had these futuristic action movies decades go.

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Observations on Perception, Part 1

 

This entry will be the first in a secondary series about perception in advertising and how it plays an important part in what makes things sell.

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You know, the fashion and cosmetic industries have something going for them that only a few other realms in the ad world are recognizing. But not all of those areas can actually use that something and have it come off nearly as well. It’s that British accent they use to promote their products.

Why is that? What is it that advertisers are trying to do, having their voiceovers done by a Brit? Look at this:

  • The Geico gecko is voiced by actor Jake Wood, a Brit
  • Cottonelle toilet paper is voiced by English actress Cherry Healy
  • Orbit gum is voiced by English-born Vanessa Branch
  • Victoria’s Secret ads voiced by Elizabeth Sastre, also a Brit

According to Brian Wheeler, writing for BBC News in Washington, D.C., fantasy and science fiction on television is best enjoyed by viewers when the predominant accent in those shows is British. He points out that the accent is “sufficiently exotic” to put the mind of the viewer in a different reality.

But if that transports the viewer—at least temporarily (remember, we’re discussing perception here)—to a different reality, how does that thinking translate to TV commercials?

Somehow, in this country anyway, we’ve come to the point of making subliminal judgments about social status, based not so much on what is said, but who says it and just how it is said—what accent is used. British accents, according to polls, are judged to reflect intelligence. That same commercial for Victoria’s Secret just wouldn’t be the same if delivered in either a Mississippi or Boston accent.

French is too provincial and Spanish not high-brow enough. None of this is based on statistics. It just is. Apparently, the fashion and cosmetics industries decided this was the way to go. It works for them. And for them, it translates to viewers that they are getting the best for their money. And that perception translates then to dollars, because that’s all part of the packaging aspect. And they can charge more.

And so Jaguar and Land Rover use British voiceovers. Of course, those are British products. It only makes sense here. But now Lexus is doing it, and that looks and sounds foolish, because Lexus is made by Toyota, a Japanese manufacturer.

Who are they kidding?

 

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Whatever Happened to Men’s Shaving Kits?

 

I’d been thinking about this for a while, and then thought about the term ”system.” Because the two thoughts came together while I was also thinking about what a “system” actually is.

The word “system” is merely a marketing term to cosmetics manufacturers. My wife uses a shampoo made by L’Oreal called Everpure Sulfate Free Color Care System. But it’s really just a shampoo. Of course, the cosmetics industry likes to set its own rules.

One thing they love to do is spend millions upon millions of dollars on beautiful expensive packaging. Not sure just how we arrived at this, but we’ve grown accustomed to seeing and buying the most elaborate printing and box designs surrounding ordinary cosmetics.

Getting back to men’s shaving kits—a real “system”—I was thinking just how they’ve all but disappeared. I go to buy razor blades at the drug store and almost always look at the latest razors on display. But I don’t see the total package, the system.

Whatever happened to that? Why is there not a box with the razor, the blades, and the shave cream? Maybe even an optional handle for that razor. You know—a kit. Because when you buy that razor inside the blister pack and you slit your knuckles trying to open it, all you have is the razor with a blade in it.

And I have not yet seen an optional handle for that razor. Why not? Men like custom things. That fishing rod he’s got probably has a cool new expensive reel on it. And that new TaylorMade driver has an adjustable head in it.

But apparently Schick and Gillette haven’t thought about this. Harry’s has a system that at least includes almost everything. But that’s only one manufacturer. Bevel comes close, but there’s no box.

Would men buy it? Would they spend the extra dollars on a superb shaving kit? I think they would. Two reasons: 1) the kit is all inclusive and travels better—it’s all in the box; 2) the guy doesn’t have to grope around in his usual zippered case and possibly nick his fingers on the loose razor.

Plus, it makes a great gift.

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