Stay Tuned/Mothers Day the Visible Behemoth and Razors Redux

From Eccentric Flower


stay tuned

Mother's Day, the Visible Behemoth, and Razors Redux
13 May 2007

Happy Mother's Day, to those of you who are mothers, or are planning to be mothers in the near future. (Everyone who's not a mother can have a happy Mother's Day too; I'm feeling generous.)

Mother's Day, surprisingly, isn't a big holiday for the newspaper circulars, probably because Mom is the one advertisers think will be reading them. The big shopping opportunity for the holiday is to get her a gift, and it doesn't make much sense to pitch her to buy a gift for herself.

The florists, of course, have been trying to get the attention of Mom's immediate family for the last two weeks. I have never really understood the gift of flowers, which may make me well-disposed toward what is, when you stop to think about it, an even weirder idea: an edible "flower arrangement" made of fruit. A business called Edible Arrangements is apparently popular enough to have opened nearly thirty franchises in the area over the past few years, so either there are a lot of other people who are just as flower-impaired as I am, or people really do like the concept. It would be fun to try to figure out if this is one of those gifts which people pretend to be far more overjoyed at getting than they actually are.

The Mother's Day Edible Arrangements ad reads "It's the time of year to give your mother thanks for everything she's given you, including your DNA. Return the favor with a fresh fruit bouquet that's beautiful and nutritious. Which is good, because moms are into that kind of thing."

The copy there is a mite baffling, but it is neither the most gratuitously weird Mother's Day ad, nor the most offensive, I have gleaned from this year's crop.

The former prize is won by the Cold Stone Creamery people, who offer a cake/cheesecake/ice cream/pie hybrid they call "A Cheesecake Named Desire" (please note this name is trademarked), and the copy "Melt Mom's Heart with a Cold Stone Cake." I suppose "gratuitously weird" is not quite the correct description. It's more like there's supposed to be a joke in here somewhere, but whatever it was meant to be, it did not translate well from the original Martian.

On the offensive front, we have the following copy for Suave personal care products:

Looking pretty is one of Mom's top
5 priorities on Mother's Day.
Tomorrow, it loses to cooking.

Don't put your beauty on the backburner.

I think I understand where they were trying to go with this, a sort of "you can have it all" message (their slogan is "say yes to beautiful without paying the price") ... but this is a risky area to play in; the assumption that Mom has to do all the cooking and has an obligation to stay beautiful brings one dangerously close to June Cleaver washing dishes in pumps and pearls.

There's also a certain amount of translated-from-the-Martian quality in this one: What are Mom's other three priorities, and why are they different on Mother's Day?

The Suave ad is taken from a massive set of Unilever ads this week. Unilever bought almost the entire space in that particular Valassis circular, and posted its ten-plus pages of ads with a running set of Unilever headings at the top, to make it clear that all these products were coming to you from the same company. I'm not sure if I can adequately express how weird this is, or how big a paradigm change it represents.

Ten years ago Unilever was the most deliberately obscure of all the massive consumer goods conglomerates, so much so that I made a point of noting every time I mentioned a Unilever product - most people didn't realize they even existed, let alone how much they owned and how varied their product segments were. They have a piece of everything. They own a goodly chunk of your supermarket. (Procter & Gamble and Kraft Foods are probably the only other two companies who own anything like the same amount of supermarket territory.)

Even if secrecy and/or obfuscation was not among their motives, they seemed to definitely have a philosophy of "individual branding" - that is, the products were promoted foremost as being their own names with their own identities, and the fact that they were all made and/or owned by a very large multinational named Unilever was considered to be not germane.

Now all of a sudden they have a snazzy logo and they are trying to build up an idea of "look, all these different products you use are from the same folks," - and I'm thinking, "Hmm, has there been a change in management at the top? Are they listening to a new business consultant? Have they read a new book?" (Old joke in a couple of software firms I've worked for: The thing to be most frightened of is a top-level manager who's just read a new book. Management-theory and marketing-theory books are the fad-diet and pop-philosophy books of the upper echelons of whitecollardom.)

Whatever the reason - maybe they're smoking something interesting in Rotterdam - this is a very odd thing indeed. And Procter & Gamble appear to have caught the bug. At some point in the last couple of weeks (I had a backlog of circulars to go through, so I'm not sure of the timing) they did an advertising spread which dwarfed Unilever's. Unilever just bought a lot of Valassis space. P&G put in their own circular, twenty or so pages dedicated to nothing but the proposition that 1) all these products are P&G and 2) here are all the new things we are trying out; isn't it exciting?

Of course, I am delighted with all the new products, because they provide me with such a rich field of material. (Did you ever stop to think how few new products are actually good or useful? It's been a case of "throw everything against the wall and see what sticks" for years now.)

Just to mention a few tidbits in passing, and limiting myself to things from this P&G circular, we have:

Oral-B toothbrushes: Indicator Deep Clean, which has those bristles that fade so you know when to buy a new toothbrush, except these are yellow instead of the typical blue, and apparently "reach 65% deeper between teeth than a regular manual brush," which this is; Pulsar Pro-Health, which is one of those ones with bristles that spin and vibrate and a battery that runs out in a week; Advantage Glide, which has bristles that "slide up to 35% deeper between teeth than an ordinary manual toothbrush," and which makes me think the Advantage Glide unit and the Indicator Deep Clean unit weren't comparing notes; and the Advantage Breath Refresh, which has a built-in tongue cleaner (hint: just brush your tongue, people; toothbrushes do not have a magical filter on them which restricts them to only cleaning teeth).

Crest Glide dental floss: Shred Guard, which is "guaranteed shred resistant; up to 30% stronger than Glide Original." What you should be asking yourself is: Now that this product exists, will the original product continue to be sold? And the answer is, why of course yes. This is not about improving a product; this is about giving consumers false choices.

And of course they have a whole bunch of new Gillette razors.

Razors, razors, my god, the razors. I could write a column every week about razors, I think. In their desperation to make their women's razor line just as insane as their men's line, Gillette has added (I am not making any of this up) the Venus Vibrance, which comes with a battery and "gently exfoliates"; the Venus Divine with "intensive moisture strips"; the Venus Malibu disposable with "vibrant lubricating strip" (write your own joke) and another of those damned scented handles; and the Venus Breeze with built-in "shave gel bars."

We recently tried the Venus Breeze here at Stay Tuned HQ (we were sent a sample), and the verdict was that we hadn't thought it was possible to make a razor with a larger, more unwieldy head than the original Venus, but they did, and this one oozes slime onto your legs to boot.

And as I say, this is insane, but it has not yet caught up with the insanity of their men's razor line, so there's room yet for more. Seen in this same circular: The Gillette Fusion Power Phantom razor. That's right: Fusion Power Phantom. "Power so advanced, you'll barely feel the blades."

Nor are the competitors any saner. The advent of warm weather is the silly season for women's razors. We have already discussed the Bic Soleil. Schick has a razor called the Intuition Plus (of course you can tell it's for women; if it were for men it would be called something like the Acceleration Plus) which makes the Venus Breeze look compact and slender. Actually, it's less a razor than a lotion-dispensing system which happens to also cut hair. Another offering: The Quattro Go!, "A Shave So Smooth You Can Skip A Day or Two." (I'd like all the women in the audience who shave their legs every single day to raise their hands, please?)

It costs a lot of money to bring a new product, or even a new workup of an existing product, to market. Yet there are thousands of these bad or dubious or merely ridiculous ideas every year. And most of these products will sink like a stone and vanish.

Next week I'll talk about some of the factors that make the cost a worthwhile risk for the big boys, including such divers case studies as Chocolate Reinvention, The Competitor's Toothpaste, and Pudding Sexiness. Do tune in, won't you?

and now back to our program

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