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James F. Thompson

James F. Thompson, a caffeinated Manhattanite, specializes in branding, PR, marketing and advertising. He published A Taste for Absinthe and The Cubicle Survival Guide with Random House, and his career spans digital and print, including, Dos Equis and Field & Stream. He self-published the novel Dead Animal People under the pseudonym Marina Nguyen. He has also taught English in Japan and literature on a Navy destroyer.

Broke Teenagers May Be Wearing Old Fashions in New School Year

When much of the public thinks about back-to-school sales we imagine forlorn kids beings prodded by their parents down supermarket aisles that offer the latest in educational gadgetry, classroom essentials, and overpriced organizers.

Teenagers, however, have their own–and very high stakes–back-to-school rituals that are less focused on education and more focused on (even obsessed with) fashion. Being cool in high school is paramount. Nothing else matters. And for decades corporate America has been ruthlessly efficient in fulfilling and cultivating the superficial needs of teenagers who would do or pay just about anything for a pair of the coolest shoes or the trendiest jacket. The ongoing recession, however, is changing all of that.

Brands like Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle Outfitters are struggling not only because the parents of these teenagers are having a difficult time making ends meet, but the kids themselves are broke. It’s easy to think of the recession as an adult problem, but many teenagers who relied on steady jobs for spending money are learning a critical lesson in the value of money.

Most adults would agree this is an overdue and healthy development. But let’s not forget the societal pressures of being a teenager. After all, they learned to be superficial from us. It’s difficult to preach to your children about the importance of budgeting when you’re holding a $4 cup of coffee. Nevertheless, as we all learn to do more with less, many back-to-school brands are finding themselves in the same predicament as their customers: How do you live with less money? Read more

‘Nudge Marketing’ Most Effective Strategy to Push Produce Sales

Nudge marketing is exactly what it sounds like: compelling consumers to behave in a desired manner by “nudging” them with a marketing message that straddles the delicate balance of not being too soft and subtle nor being too heavy handed and forceful.

It turns out that the public doesn’t mind being marketed to, as long as the marketing strategies behind the messaging is respectful of the public’s vigilant sensibilities. This revelation has emboldened health advocacy groups who feel outgunned by larger food corporations that aggressively, and successfully, market junk food and sugary sweets to an obese and unhealthy public.

This article in the New York Times reveals how several supermarkets are experimenting with nudge marketing techniques ranging from painting arrows on the floor pointing toward the produce section to adding a vegetables only section to shopping carts. The nudge techniques resulted in a dramatic increase in the sales of produce—and decline in the sales of unhealthy foods competing for the same dollars. Not to mention, these techniques require little overhead, which makes them all the more powerful. Read more

CVS Paying the PR Price for Long Receipts

PR experts know the power of social media. Social media, in fact, has guaranteed the continued need for PR professionals. Celebrities, athletes and brands seem incapable of setting down their iPhones and not spouting off to the rest of the world their feelings about Miley Cyrus twerking, turmoil in the Middle East or why haters shouldn’t hate so much.

Yet, as PR experts we love it when the public takes to social media. So we celebrated the recent and hilarious twitter feed, “CVS Receipt,” that both celebrated and vilified the incredibly long receipts being dispensed at CVS stores. The Facebook page, “One Million Strong Against Ridiculously Long CVS Receipts,” does as well. This public reaction stems from those quick observations—like the flash of a camera—we make when something odd occurs in the course of our busy lives. “Huh?” we think. “What’s up with that?” Read more

Spin the Agencies of Record

“There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.”–Linda Grayson

After bolstering its ad spending for the year 2013, Hershey Co. has chosen Interpublic’s Universal McCann (UM) as its global media buying and planning agency. The decision was made after an 8-month review that included incumbent agencies and reflects an initiative by Hershey to focus on both global marketshare potential and current U.S. efforts. The global media strategy leverages all print, digital and television assets and media channels for international and domestic businesses—including English and Hispanic markets.

Hershey’s appointment of Universal McCann succeeds incumbent agency OMD. “After a comprehensive review, Universal McCann will be a strong partner for The Hershey Company and our portfolio of iconic brands,” said Denis Sison, Vice President, Global Marketing Excellence & Equity. “OMD has been a valuable partner to Hershey throughout the years. We would like to sincerely thank them for their work and dedication.”

(Alleged) New Apple iPhone Offers Old-School Pawn Shop Trade-in Deal

It’s hard for the public not to roll its eyes at yet another Apple iPhone upgrade. The juggernaut brand is a PR master of that intersection between human desire and technological promise–a netherworld that offers the chance for elevated social status in the nerd universe of early adopters.

Throughout the years we’ve witnessed long lines of techie geeks, hipsters and wannabes sleeping in tents during sleet storms all for guaranteed access to the latest upgrade, even if the revamped version isn’t that different than the device currently buzzing in the pockets of their skinny jeans.

For outsiders, the upgrade game is wearisome and annoying because after a while it begins to feel less like a capitalistic scheme and more like a corporate scam. Seriously, does Apple expect everyone to simply hand over their current device in exchange for the latest version? Who has that kind of money, and time? Well, apparently, lots of people do. And Apple wants them in their stores. Read more

KIA Hamsters Shape Up for PR Red Carpet

The PR industry has its share of “It” factor sensations just like Hollywood, the music business and television. In today’s public relations, these aren’t compelling and highbrow artistic ideas that transform our culture like Apple’s legendary “1984” commercial or Coca-Cola’s iconic Mean Joe Green commercial.

Technology has changed many aspects of marketing and public relations. Digitally animated spokespeople, or spokesthings, such as the Geico Gecko and, yes, the KIA Hampsters represent a strange blend of marketing cuteness, humor, accessibility–and in this case Lady Gaga star power–that connects with the public. And it works. Read more

Hempfest Doritos Get PR Buzz from eBay Exposure

Readers of this blog are familiar with the Seattle Police Department’s excellent PR initiative to protect and serve the public by reaching out to stoners during the 2013 Hempfest celebration. The event was held after the passage of I-502, a law which made it legal to possess up to one ounce of pot in Washington.

Most of the public thought the story of how the police handed out free bags of Doritos that promoted acceptable stoner behavior to Hempfest participants would have simply had a good laugh and then fallen asleep in a bathtub with yesterday’s news. But this branding party just won’t die.

In true stoner creativity, and perhaps laziness, those same bags of Doritos have begun appearing on eBay, and are selling for up to $55 a bag. That’s right. You can buy a bag, of Doritos, from your stoner friends for $55 online. It appears that the police and the public alike believe this unprecedented attempt at outreach to a once a fringe element is a classic PR strategy. And it is. Read more

Spin the Agencies of Record

“Good communication is just as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.”—Anne Morrow Lindberg

MWW, one of the top five global independent public relations firms, announced today that it has been hired as public relations agency of record by De’Longhi, the leader in premium coffee, kitchen and home comfort products. As AOR, MWW’s award-winning consumer marketing practice will increase awareness of the brand through an integrated mix of media relations, influencer seeding and event management. MWW will also lead the U.S. launch of the company’s Kenwood food preparation line.

“We selected a PR agency that has the breadth of experience to help build our multi-branded company, crossing the espresso, kitchen and home care categories. MWW brings strong media relationships, industry knowledge and a proven track record of growing brands,” said Mike Prager, President and CEO, The De’Longhi Group. “They will be a valued strategic partner in guiding our multi-brand communication efforts as we further grow our brand portfolio.”

Read more

Breaking Bad PR Motor Home to Sell Marketing Meth to Public

We love Breaking Bad just as much as the rest of the public. So when we see a motor home not being driven by an octogenarian, we know nothing good is going on inside that roving lab of illegal activity.

Since the recession rained down on our industry like a sci-fi meteor shower, PR companies across the globe have slashed travel expenses and relied on technology and old-fashioned ingenuity to execute strategies to reach the public in convincing ways.

So we were more surprised than Pinkman buckling his belt on a rooftop to learn that VP&C, a New York public relations agency, shelled out $50,000 to drive a motor home from New York City to Des Moines, Iowa, and back to promote products such as, according to this article in the New York Times, a “Dornbracht kitchen faucet, Mohawk carpet, J.C. Penney home goods, dinnerware by Q Squared and cabinet knobs from Rocky Mountain Hardware.”

This road trip which includes “five executives and staff members of the agency” is being touted as a marketing effort with the motor home being used as a mobile showroom. We can only guess that this group has named their mobile showroom “Los PR Hermanos” because they’ve got to be smoking some serious crystal blue to think anyone with a home built on a foundation would buy products showcased in a motor home in some crappy parking lot.

According to the aforementioned article, Los PR Hermanos has had to alter its schedule and cancel an appearance in Pittsburg because of traffic delays due to slow-moving tractors in the western part of the state.

As with Breaking Bad, we’re just dying to know how this ends.

Lunchables Faces Competition but Kids Will Ultimately Decide the Winner

Despite sweeping revolutions in the technology, transportation and communication industries, time seems more limited now than ever.

Parents are working harder and longer hours just to maintain the status quo. Children live in such a competitive world that squandering a summer afternoon to chase bugs in the backyard will ruin their academic careers, future professional lives and render them unloved loners with nothing to vouch for their pathetic existences except a dried monarch butterfly in an old mason jar being rolled by rats down a dank alley.

Enter Lunchables: the official lunch option, since 1988, for kids raised by parents who apply their lipstick and don their ties in rearview mirrors—all with a cup of coffee wedged between their legs. Throughout the past 25 years the public has become addicted to convenience, even when paying for that convenience meant having to work longer hours just to afford it. Read more