Affinnova Opens Vodka Brand War

A new study from the marketing and branding folks at Affinnova proclaims that a vodka brand’s success is hugely tied to its bottle design. Newer and edgier vodka brands, like Belvedere and Pinnacle, are edging out the old guards, like Absolut, for shelf space because of new bottle designs with bolder color choices. And advertising doesn’t help, the study concludes, because it’s too difficult to reach all the demographics in a fractured media landscape.


The study, which analyzed 500 vodka brands and talked to many vodka-loving customers, found that taste satisfaction could be influenced by bottle design. Worse yet for traditional marketers, poor bottle design can even bring down a positive perception of a brand created by hard-won advertising dollars. Survey respondents generally found Absolut to be a pretty sexy brand until they look at the bottle. This all seems reminiscent to mounting reports that even high-paid wine taste-testers can’t consistently tell the difference between good wine and bad wine in blind taste tests.

Cut the advertising budget and put swill in the fancy bottles? It could happen. It’s just another reminder that we might be creatures of all style and little substance.

Here’s a video reminder why you shouldn’t fight after drinking too much. I will bet you $500 that vodka was involved in this Russian confrontation. I wonder if it came in a fancy bottle.


Volkswagen is Going Back to 1985, sans Michael J. Fox

German automaker Volkswagen’s engineers decided to go back to das drawing board and bring new – corporate – life to the 1985 video that made A-ha’s “Take On Me” famous. So I don’t know about Michael J. Fox, but Doc is definitely behind this campaign.

A-ha’s video took six of MTV’s VMA awards that year primarily because of the amazing way it merged animated pencil drawing and real-actor filming into one surreal reality. The story centered on a bored woman in some boring diner being invited into a comic book by a Patrick Swayze lookalike (those were the 80s). Long story short, there is romance, a mirror, and bad guys chasing the couple through the pencil-drawn world.

Whereas in the original video the protagonist motorcycle racer gets killed by wrench wielding competitors (Mercedes, BMW?), the hero of VW’s version drives a… drum roll… Volkswagen and leaves the bikers in the dust (and leaves us wondering if those were BMW motorcycles). For the perfection-obsessed VW (of the iconic Lemon ad), running away from wrenches is an unusual twist (perhaps VW engineers use gentler tools or sing their cars’ bolts into loosening up).

The “Drive on Me” ad gets even better- the entire race is a dream of some happy VW owner bored in an office meeting (a dream within a dream within… Inception!). Why is he happy – well, because of Volkswagen’s free oil changes. Das what? Has the power of German engineering and the pursuit of perfection given way to the great marketing tool of servicing freebies? What’s next, Maserati advertising free windshield scrubbing?

There’s a lot of ad nonsense garnering attention these days. If Kia’s hamsters are taking over the red carpet, sure the makers of the Volkswaven GTI – ranked #1 Upscale Small Car by USNews – can compete on oil changes.

In the meantime, let’s reimagine other classic music videos as modern ads. How about Thriller, where Michael Jackson is replaced by Geico’s gecko (and squirrels, and cavemen, and – scariest of all – piles of cash)? But don’t get me started about Geico’s gecko or green animals in general.


Subway Makes a Stop at New York Fashion Week

Subway has launched a new marketing campaign right in the heart of a place where sandwiches seldom go: New York Fashion Week. The Project Subway campaign, aimed to publicize its “$5 ANY regular footlong” promotion throughout the month of “SUBtember,” took place on September 11th at Chelsea Piers’ Pier 59 Studios.

For those wondering how Subway managed to link its products to the famous fashion frenzy in Manhattan, it’s quite simple: they featured a number of designs made entirely from items found at Subway restaurants, such as sandwich wrappers and napkins. Subway reports that its designers used 1,500 sandwich wrappers, 1,100 plastic sandwich bags, 500 gift cards, 200 straws, 100 salad bowls, 75 pizza boxes, and 400 cookie bags for the designs. Subway also went out of its way to stress that all of the materials are eco-friendly, in order to highlight the sandwich chain’s sustainability efforts. That should draw a nod of approval from NY Mayor Mike Bloomberg (so long as they didn’t utilize any 32 ounce soda cups, of course).

The panel judging the designs will feature gold medalist Nastia Liukin, “Project Runway” veteran Althea Harper, “City Girl Diaries” star Raina Seitel, 2013’s Mrs. Connecticut, and – unsurprisingly – the legendary Jared “Subway Guy” Fogle.

Lest anyone see this attempt as coming out of left field, Subway executives have stressed that their sandwiches – much like high fashion – are all about individual customization and creativity. Just don’t expect Yves Saint-Laurent to be rolling out blouses made of onions and sandwich wrappers on the catwalk anytime soon.


Gatorade Campaign Stakes Out “Points of Sweat”

Lately, it seems that Gatorade has been trying to match the relentless intensity of the athletes it sponsors. The company has deployed its militaristically-named G-Force teams to 13 markets throughout the American Midwest and South in order to expose a new line of products to athletes in high schools, colleges, gyms, and any other facility where pumping iron is a way of life. Their ultimate goal? To seize a larger chunk of the notoriously finicky – yet highly profitable – athletic supplement market. The new Gatorade campaigns stake Out “Points of Sweat” in U.S. schools.

G-Force has been distributing its specialized lineup of drinks, chews, shakes, and nutritional supplements into a number of locations, with a particular focus on schools with highly competitive athletic programs. They’ve even gone so far as to install specialized, temperature-regulated dispensing machines that keep their drinks ice cold and their chews at room temperature.

The aggression of the push might surprise some – after all, Gatorade commanded a whopping 70% share of the total sports-drink market last year – but in a highly saturated market, Gatorade feels it has no choice but to dominate even more turf. They are also banking on the notion that winning brand allegiance with athletes while they’re young will give Gatorade more legitimacy among hardcore fitness heads in the years to come.

Paradoxically, some of the resistance they face is a byproduct of their own success: Gatorade has such universal brand recognition among the general population that many hardcore athletes don’t take it seriously as a producer of top-notch fitness supplements. To that end, Gatorade is sending field teams of sports nutritionists to the selected locations to preach the Gospel of “Gatorology,” as they call it. It’s an expensive and time-consuming push, but executives say that parent company PepsiCo is committed to the program for the long haul.


Japanese KFC Offers Deep-Fried Soup

First it was Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Quantitative Easing on Steroids. Now, Japan seems to be aping another cornerstone of modern American excess: deep-fried everything. That’s right: KFC Japan has just announced that it will start serving deep-fried corn potage fritters (for the layman, fried corn soup balls). Starting September 5th, Japanese KFC will be offering deep-fried soup!

While this news may come as a surprise to many Americans, it turns out that not only is deep-fried potage scientifically possible, but it’s quite the rage in Japan these days. Corn Potage fever has taken over the famously slim island nation, with upscale restaurants and 7-11s alike selling corn potage-infused potato chips, appetizers, and puffs. It seems that deep-frying the thick, goopy soup was the last frontier, and the legendary greasemongers at KFC were more than happy to push that envelope right into the bubbling fryer.

It’s not everyday that we see another country outdo us in terms of fat-infused delicacies, and it may just bring forth a spate of insecurities in our (admittedly clogged) American hearts. For starters, is Japan finally having their McRib moment? Is this an omen that American county fairs are losing their edge? And the most troubling thought of all: now that we’ve conquered soup, twinkies, beer, and ice cream, what’s left for us to deep-fry?


Famed Kia Hamsters Live For The Applause

Ever since Kia’s fashion-forward hamsters made their debut in 2009, they’ve managed to capture that elusive “so-unnecessarily-bizarre-that-you-can’t-look-away” appeal that is usually reserved for breakout reality TV stars of the Honey Boo Boo variety. Thus, it’s no surprise that Kia recently decided to double down on their favorite spokesrodents for a new primetime ad campaign. The famed Kia hamsters live for applause.

The new spot by David & Goliath features the infamous rodents embarking on an intense exercise regimen, resulting in the red carpet debut of three buffed and toned new hamsters, all set to Lady Gaga’s new single “Applause.” I suppose that this is meant to serve as a metaphor for the slimmed
down, redesigned Kia Soul, but there’s little use groping for logic in a narrative about upwardly mobile, man-sized hamsters.
This commercial premiered early during the broadcast of MTV’s Video Music Awards (which coincidentally opened with Gaga’s live debut of “Applause”), suggesting that Kia is banking on the meme-esque appeal of the hamsters to younger demographics. Given that the video has already gone quasi-viral across the web, it’s safe to say that abstraction and absurdity, once the province of modern art snobs and Lady Gaga’s costume designers, have reached a level of mass appeal. If you think I’m crazy, I’ve got an Old Spice-wearing centaur who’d like a word with you.


Sprayable Energy Runs The Caffeine Race

Is it just me, or has the last decade seen an increasingly bitter arms race for caffeine products? Much like iPods, each new generation of caffeinated drinks and supplements have been cramming more powerful punches into ever smaller packages. But with the 5-Hour Energy Shot and its ilk slimming an energy jolt into just a couple ounces, what new territory is left to conquer? Well, Sprayable Energy has entered the caffeine race.

Entrepreneur Ben Yu has come forth with a bold answer: Sprayable Energy. At the tender age of 21, Yu has managed to synthesize and bottle a sprayable form of caffeine. Four sprays applied to the skin purportedly give you a buzz similar to a cup of coffee. According to the company, absorption through the skin gives the user a more potent and sustained rush, while also smoothing out the widely feared post-coffee crash.

The central appeal of Sprayable Energy – besides its novel ingestion method – seems to be its promise of a smoother, cleaner, more sustained buzz. This has been the vaunted turf that energy supplements have been fighting over the past few years, and it’s clear that the public does indeed want to avoid that much-maligned “2:30 feeling.” Of course, there often seems to be a subtext in the marketing of these high-octane energy supplements. “No crash” and “a smoother buzz” are great, but consumers (read: teenagers) are also looking for the product that will allow them to get as wired as humanly possible without having a nervous breakdown and/or heart palpitations. And hey, what’s an easier way to do that than doffing yourself with a few quick sprays on the drive to work?

Sprayable Energy is the first product born out of libertarian billionaire Peter Thiel’s $100,000 College Dropout Challenge, which Yu won a few years back. It’s still early in the game – and it’s certainly no cure for cancer – but the young entrepreneur just might be onto something. After all, the popular demand for smaller, faster, and stronger energy boosts shows no signs of abating anytime soon.