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Caught With Pants Down
(September 28, 2001) We assume that our office is just like yours. Underneath the unread pile of really important trade magazines is the pile of junk mail that might have something interesting in it. We think of it as the paper farm. Once the pile reaches three feet, we turn it over for mulching. On the second turn, we make a charitable contribution to our local recycling center.
In dead spots and down times, we dig into the pile for entertainment. Of course, the priority with which we open them is driven entirely by the chance that there will be giggles for the entire office. If something in the big white (they're always white) envelope moves around, we can be sure that, at the very least, we've been sent a new coaster to add to the pile of unused AOL CDs (in a high tech office, no table should have marks from coffee cups). If it's bigger than a CD, it gets moved to the top of the pile.
We were delighted to find a big white envelope the other day labeled "Something Is Missing From Your Recruitment Plan". "My.my", we thought, "How in the world did they know that?" Unlike the real customers who might have gotten the package (and were effectively warned off by the tag line), we opened it. In the envelope were:
Our simplest guess is that the newspapers have realized that there is more equity to squander in the CareerBuilder brand name so they hurried up to drive the name into the ground.
We looked a little more closely at the big orange piece of paper. It turned out to be one of those very expensive four color brochures that newspapers love (because internal printing is cheap). Ad agencies love to have newspapers companies as customers because price is no object and effectiveness is irrelevant. The guy with his pants at his ankles was talking on the phone, it seems, smiling smugly. The entire picture begged a bathroom humor caricature like you'd see in "Road Trip" or "South Park". That's great for GenX consumer but probably inappropriate for the mainstream Recruitment advertising buyer.
The back cover of the brochure featured a Brian Benben lookalike doing a hip-hop dance under a tagline reading "We've got you covered".
The rest of the package failed the "hang together and sell" criteria as well. No call to action, no clear instructions about what all of the stuff meant together. No mention of how to integrate the elaborate kit.
The problem with the newspapers is that they are going to be replaced by players who are not afraid to ask for the sale. The package must have cost $10 per unit to produce. No call to action, no suspense date, just the fanciest press release you've ever seen.
It's too damn bad, really. For all of its awfulness, the package announced something important....the merger of online and print editions spawned by the recent acquisition of CareerBuilder by the newspapers. Although we're sure the FTC will want to take a closer look at cross-chain consolidation of data and production, the idea in itself is fairly sound and builds on the newspapers' strengths. Local precision and internet reach are a powerful combination.
That said, the best ideas in the world fail if they are not backed by intelligent sales muscle. We believe that the underlying point of the ad was to tell customers that they were walking around with their pants down. What was conveyed was that when the newspapers look out of their little world, all they can see is reflections of themselves.
As for the FTC, if you divide the potential for monopolistic behavior by managerial competence, you get an answer that is so low that there is no need to worry. On the other hand, if you review the history of newspaper anti-trust, you might arrive at a different conclusion.
In both cases, pants are down.
And we still don't know what the blue thing was.
- John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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