Ask Terry 2017
This week marks the final episode of the 2017 Under The Influence season. And as we do every year, we're turning this show over to you, our listeners. We'll be answering the marketing and advertising questions you've sent us through social media. From how we come up with new episode topics each week, to why mattress companies don't use sex to sell mattresses, to which commercials are my all-time favourites - this year's questions are fun and insightful.
Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote a song with a musical question back in 1960.
The song was titled Will You Love Me Tomorrow?
The same year, the Food and Drug Administration had quietly approved the sale of the first birth control pill.
It was really the first pop song to ask a very delicate question: Will you still love me tomorrow after we make love tonight?
Put another way, if I take this risk with you now, will you stick around?
Carole King had been dating Jerry Goffin when she discovered she was pregnant at 17. They were writing a song from their own experience.
Carole was only 18 and Goffin 21 when they gave Will You Love Me Tomorrow to the Shirelles. It would become the first #1 song for an all-black female group on the Billboard 100.
"Question songs" have long been part of the musical landscape.
But many of the questions you've been humming over the years have surprising backstories.
Take Do You Want To Know A Secret? by the Beatles.
It was the first Top 10 hit for the Fab Four that featured George Harrison as lead singer.
But you may not know what inspired the song. It was written by Lennon/McCartney but was inspired by a song Lennon's mother used to sing to him as a child.
That song was I'm Wishing – from the Disney movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
The Beatles were close to landing a record deal with Parlophone when Lennon told manager Brian Epstein that he wanted to get married, Epstein wasn't happy. He had been pitching the band to the label as four cute single guys.
Lennon and his wife Cynthia couldn't afford a honeymoon at that point, so Epstein lent them his flat in London with the stipulation they keep their marriage a secret.
When John Fogerty wrote Have You Ever Seen The Rain in 1971, most people thought it was a Vietnam protest song about bombs raining from the sky.
But it wasn't.
It was about Fogerty's band, Creedence Clearwater Revival.
CCR was one of the most popular bands in the world in 1971. They had a string of hits, they were making a lot of money, they were famous and they were all unhappy.
And rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty, John's brother, announced he was leaving the band.
That's what the song was about. They were at the height of their fame and nobody was happy.
Which inspired the musical question, "Have you ever seen the rain comin' down on a sunny day?"
Then there's the musical question posed by the group Ace in 1974.
They asked "How Long Has This Been Going On?"
You may have thought that song was about a two-timing lover.
It wasn't. Exactly.
Like CCR, the song was about the band. Songwriter Paul Carrack discovered their bass player was secretly playing with another band that was trying to recruit him.
Ace felt cheated.
[Footnote: The bass player remained with Ace and even played on the record.]
One evening in 1986, newsman Dan Rather was walking home along Park Avenue in New York when he was mugged by two men.
As one kept punching him, the other kept asking, "Kenneth, what is the frequency?"
Later, when police asked Rather what that question meant, he said he had absolutely no idea.
That bizarre moment was the inspiration for the R.E.M. song, What's The Frequency, Kenneth?
So many hit records have been based around musical questions.
And often, the answers to those questions are surprising…
Welcome to our last episode of the season.
As we do every year, this is the episode where we turn the show over to you and answer listener questions.
We received some excellent ones this year. People are wondering why commercials they hate stay on the air, why some brands are allowed to use their competitor's logos in their ads and why mattress companies don't use sex to sell mattresses.
You've got questions. I've got answers. I just hope you'll still love me tomorrow…
Hard to believe we've come to the last episode of 2017 already.
And here we are – wrapping up our 12th season.
We put out a call for questions a short while ago – and our listeners answered with lots of insightful and fun ones.
We're going to squeeze as many as we can into this half hour.
And we're going to start with Instagram.
"Why would a large corporation continue with a campaign it's getting bad feedback on? I'm referring to the Chevrolet Real People Not Actors campaign. I have never heard from anyone either in the general public or someone in marketing say it's a good campaign. So why stick with it?"
Well, there's only one reason why an advertiser sticks with a campaign like that.
In this commercial, Chevrolet compares its Silverado to a Ford F-150.
So, how has this campaign done for Chevy? Recently, parent General Motors reported that its first quarter revenue surged 34%.
And that big increase came in spite of a U.S. slowdown. In that same period, Ford posted a 35% decline.
GM's increase was the most in any quarter since its 2009 emergence from bankruptcy.
It also set first-quarter records for revenue, pre-tax profit and profit margins, both globally and in North America.
The Real People Not Actors campaign has been running for two years, and with results like that, it's not about to stop.
That's the fascinating – and frustrating - aspect of marketing. Sometimes, the commercials that annoy you the most are the ones that sell the most.
Chevrolet maintains the premise of surprising real people with their truck and car designs is driving sales because the demonstrations are shattering negative perceptions.
And shattering a perception is always persuasive.
David Gilbert asks:
"Curious how you consistently come up with fascinating new topics every week for your show?"
First, thanks for saying so. Two things about Under The Influence. Coming up with topics is the easiest part of the show. Doing the research is the toughest part of the show.
The great thing about the advertising industry is that so many interesting things are going on all the time.
Both here at home and around the world.
So the industry itself provides lots of possible topics and I keep a close and curious eye on that.
While we're on hiatus in the summer, I'll start making a list of tentative topics. We air 25 episodes a year, and last summer I had a list of over 70 ideas.
There are lots of topics that just personally appeal to me. Topics that I know a lot about and sometimes topics that I want to know more about.
Some are historic – like the show we did on adman Albert Lasker, and some are timely, like the episode we did on brands becoming political in the Trump era.
And there's one more reason why we never run out of interesting topics: Our wonderful listeners send us ideas all the time – via Twitter, Facebook and email.
And we always welcome that.
So keep those cards and letters comin' in!
On Twitter, Damien Rowe asks:
"Which country or nationality would you say is typically the most progressive or adaptive in the world?"
I'm going to assume you mean the advertising world.
Well, I look to the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity to answer that.
As I said in our recent Cannes episode, over 90 countries submit over 40,000 ads and commercials to be judged by international juries.
Of the 40,000 ads, only 3% get awarded Lion trophies.
The country with the most wins in 2016 was the U.S. with 354 Lions.
Second came the UK with 164.
Third was Brazil with 90.
I would say, in the last 10 years, Brazil has emerged to be a creative powerhouse. It seemed to come out of nowhere. I noticed that the year I judged Cannes in 2005.
The work was so smart and so universal in its messaging that it didn't matter what language you spoke.
Brazil's work was instantly understandable, clear and creative. It was also progressive in that the work was leading edge and highly original.
I also want to give a shout-out to Australia. A small but very creative country with a population of only 21 million – and it's #4 on the list of the most awarded nations with 71 Lions. Beating out much larger countries like Germany, Japan, Argentina – and Canada – who only won 12 Lions last year.
[Footnote: Canada won a record 44 Lions at Cannes last week.]
On Twitter, @alanpoirier asks:
"How can a company name a competitor and use their logos in a commercial. Thinking of Pepsi in particular."
Well, that's a very good question.
The short answer is… because it's legal.
Both here and in the U.S., it is legal to use a competitor's name and trademark in comparative advertising.
As a matter of fact, the Federal Trade Commission in the States actually encourages it because the FTC believes it promotes healthy competition and helps consumers make more informed decisions.
But there's a big BUT.
The comparison cannot be untruthful, misleading, disparaging or confusing to the public.
In other words, Pepsi can compare itself to Coke in commercials, but it must truthfully show the results. So if more people in a blind taste test preferred Pepsi over Coke, Pepsi can show that in a commercial as long as they can back it up with documented proof.
The important distinction here is that when people preferred Pepsi, it was opinion. Not fact. If presented as fact, it would have to be substantiated with major research. Neither the FTC or the Canadian Advertising Standards Council takes that kind of thing lightly.
What Pepsi cannot do is show people tasting Coke then grimacing or spitting it out in disgust. That would be disparaging.
A company can compare its product to a competitor's product to show it is less expensive, as long as it is an absolute apple-to-apple comparison.
In one interesting case in the U.S., H&R Block sued Intuit Turbo Tax for the following commercial. In it, we see a couple suddenly recognizing a plumber they have working under their sink:
H&R sued for several reasons. First, it sued because Intuit Turbo Tax used its trademark in the commercial.
But foremost, it sued because the commercial suggested that H&R tax people aren't experienced.
As we heard in this ad, the plumber moonlights as a tax preparer at a "tax store."
But the court eventually sided with Intuit, ruling that while tax stores do train their tax preparers, there is a distinction between being trained and having experience.
The court said that certain consumers who go to major tax stores theoretically could have their taxes prepared by someone who is trained but has no prior tax experience - as experience at tax stores varies.
And prior experience as a plumber wouldn't disqualify them from tax store employment. As for the statement that more Americans trusted their federal tax to TurboTax last year than H&R Block stores and all other major tax stores combined, the court ruled it was true.
So there you are. It is legal to name a competitor and use their logo in comparative advertising – as long as the claim is truthful and can be proved.
As Chevrolet is doing with its Real People Not Actors campaign we mentioned earlier.
On Instagram, Barry Snetsinger says:
"Years ago I ran the Kraft account at advertising agency JWT in Montreal. My boss, the agency president always told me, 'Never put a face on your food.' To this day I shudder when I see an ad where there is a food character. Any thoughts?"
Well, let's look at advertising history for a moment.
And more specifically, let's look at a major advertising agency called the Leo Burnett Company.
Started in Chicago in 1935 during the Depression, the agency was started by an advertising man named… Leo Burnett.
Short and rumpled, Leo usually had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth with ashes all over his shirt. He described himself as being "deficient in the charm department, incurably optimistic, outspoken but mumbles his words. Doesn't smile easily, but likes to think he has a sense of humour…"
Because Leo Burnett's agency was situated in Chicago and not New York, it maintained a solid, mid-western sensibility. Burnett stocked his advertising agency with people who had prairie-town views and values.
Burnett believed in giving products a personality and a character. He insisted that advertising should be fun to read or watch.
One of the first clients he landed was the Minnesota Canning Company. It sold canned corn and peas and beans. Burnett brought a character to life to personify the company.
They called it the Jolly Green Giant:
The early Green Giant TV commercials of the 1950s showed a scowling green man wearing a bearskin. As one of Burnett's people said back then, the problem with that tall green man was that he made babies cry and the dog ran under the bed.
So Leo Burnett added the word "Jolly" to the Green Giant's name and one of his writers added these three memorable words to the Giant's vocabulary:
That character became so successful and so famous that the Minnesota Canning Company eventually changed its name to the Green Giant Company.
Leo Burnett company really became the foremost food advertising agency in the business.
Here's just a partial list of the characters they created for their food clients. See how many you recognize:
Charlie the Tuna.
Tony the Tiger.
The Pillsbury Dough-Boy.
The Keebler Elves.
And Cornelius the Corn Flakes Rooster
You probably know them all, because they are all still in existence.
Green Giant was created in the 1930s.
Tony The Tiger -1952.
Charlie the Tuna -1958.
The Pillsbury Dough-Boy- 1965 (who by the way, still gets 200 fan letters a week, by the way)
And the Keebler Elves – 1969.
All of those animated characters have endured to make those food brands famous. In many ways, Leo Burnett was the Walt Disney of the advertising world.
Then there are the food characters created by other agencies. Like:
The M&M Candies.
The Burger King.
Snap, Crackle and Pop.
The Quaker Oats man.
I could go on and on...
If history has shown us anything, it's that putting a face on food brands definitely works.
But it raises a question: Can you put a sexy face on a mattress brand…
On Facebook, Sandra Lambert asks:
"Why don't mattress companies use sex to sell mattresses?"
Ha, ha, that is a very good question.
The quick answer is that people spend way more time sleeping on a mattress than having sex.
And if you're the opposite, I tip my hat.
But it's interesting that almost all mattress companies avoid that subject and concentrate on sleep as the selling feature.
But not all mattress companies have been so conservative. Here's a recent commercial for a British mattress company that shows a mattress undergoing a number of surprising mechanical tests that simulate …making whoopee.
Simba's advertising agency looked at the new technology in the mattress and decided to advertise it in a new way.
As agency creative director John Hegarty said, every mattress company talks about the same thing – sleep. Nobody else was talking about the other thing you do on a mattress.
And that became Simba's advertising theme: A mattress for grownups.
On Instagram, Melina Thompson asks:
"Is it ever wise to question a company's morals or back out of a project if you personally disagree with their product or idea? Will your name be mud around the industry or will you be commended for sticking to your guns. How thick of a skin do you need in advertising?"
Well, if you work for an advertising agency and you are assigned to a brand you have a moral issue with, you can always be asked to be re-assigned.
When our company did work for a federal political party, a few of our staff asked not to work on the advertising. We understood and re-assigned the job to other people.
Many advertising agencies will not work for certain categories. Ogilvy & Mather refused cigarette accounts in an era when tobacco companies were major advertisers.
Other agencies won't take on alcohol accounts.
An advertising agency I did work for once resigned a prestigious German car account because they wanted to put a black person in a commercial and the carmaker protested. So the agency walked away from the account.
Over the years, our company chose not to do business with various companies for various reasons. Either we were wary of the service being offered, or we didn't like the client, or we didn't like the way the client's staff treated our staff.
I don't think a company's name will be mud if it stands by its principles.
As for your other question – do you need a thick skin in advertising – the answer is a resounding yes.
Advertising is a business of rejection. Your ideas are shot down constantly. You have to learn to roll with the punches. You have to learn to fight for good ideas.
You have to be prepared to be fired by a client if that fighting gets too frequent.
It's a business filled with pressure and crippling deadlines.
And I loved every minute of it.
We have time for one more question.
On Instagram, Jackson Mayhew asks:
"What is your favourite commercial of all time?"
OK, that is an impossible question to answer. I have too many favourites.
But let me pick one of the top five.
It's a Volkswagen TV commercial from May of 1970.
In it, we see a long line of black funeral cars in a row on a highway. We hear the deceased reading his will. At the very end of the long line of limousines is a lonely black VW bug doing its best to keep up:
So funny. So smart. And so in keeping with Volkswagen's sense of humour back then. Only VW could make a funeral funny.
And a personal connection. The actor in the VW Beetle at the end of the commercial was my friend, the late, great Danny Wells.
It was the amazing VW advertising of the 60s that first brought humour to advertising.
And that's why it's still the best of all time…
And that's a wrap for our last show of the season.
First, to our wonderful listeners: Thanks for tuning in every week.
We never take that for granted and we appreciate it. Our Under The Influence team work their hearts out for you every week. And we hope you enjoy the show as much as we enjoy making it.
This season was brought to you by...
Long-time sound engineer:
Fantastic theme music composers:
Ari Posner and Ian LeFeuvre.
Amazing Digital Content Producer:
Remarkably resourceful researchers:
And Abby Forsyth
Superb Sirius Satellite audio editor:
Callie Rae O'Reilly.
Wonderful CBC support provided by:
Barb Dickie, Leslie Peck and Susan Marjetti.
Swanky production facilities provided by:
Pirate Radio & Television.
Have a safe and happy summer.
Meet you back here next January!