Archive for April, 2012

Looks like another controversial ad has been pulled from the air.  This time the culprit happens to be the restaurant formerly known as Instaburger (and thank goodness they changed their name), Burger King.  Their latest ad for crispy fried chicken wraps, featuring Grammy award winner Mary J. Blige singing the RnB jingle, has been voluntarily pulled by Burger King for “music licensing issues.”  However, some have speculated that the ad has sparked an uproar of controversy among audiences as stereotyping African Americans as being associated with fried chicken.  The food chain has stated that they are in the process of re-editing the ad, with a new version to air shortly.  Burger King is in the midst of revamping their entire menu and ad campaign, but it seems that now they’ve put the wrong ingredients on the bun.

The comical and “controversial” ad can be viewed here:

While this ad is quite terrible and a bad career move for Mary J. Blige in my opinion, I don’t quite see the ad as being as controversial as some viewers are saying.  However, it does point to an issue that I’ve seen for many years in advertising.  In fact, I’ve seen much worse than this.  I don’t watch TV very much at all anymore, but once in a while I’ll flip on the tube (or the feed, whatever they call it these days) and while I watch one of the few channels I get on my TV, I see the exact same thing that I’ve seen since I was just a young kid.  It seems that advertisements are still prone to racial profiling, especially when it comes to the food and beverage industry.  Burger King’s commercial is only one example of it.  But let’s be fair – they’re not the only ones guilty of it.  As I sat in my living room with my roommate Mike back in college, we witnessed an ad for McDonald’s one day featuring two African American passengers on an airplane.  And what do you know – they were both eating McDonald’s new fried chicken.

AdLand has always been a bit behind the times when it comes to accurately researching markets and selling products.  The tactics and strategies used to research markets, including surveys, observations and even ideology, seem to only scratch the surface when it comes to actually understanding who customers are and how they fit into society.  AdLand has come a long way from what it was 50 years ago, as portrayed in the series Mad Men.  The commercials portraying white collared white men have gone away… somewhat.  Some research methods have become more advanced, yielding valuable information to marketers.  Looking at the way Facebook, Google and Amazon collect personal information and personalize ads to the users, the industry has a valuable tool for building personal profiles for individual customers.  People really aren’t part of a “market” anymore as every individual can be sold differently.  However, when it comes to visual ads, they just don’t seem to get it yet.  It is true that there is more representation, but the stereotypes are still there.  Women are often portrayed as the homemakers with cleaning supplies and happy kids, and minorities are still portrayed as sticking to their own groups.

Some of my colleagues might argue that I’m being a little too cynical.  I mean, we’ve come a long way to even be seeing these groups portrayed in visual ads.  However, I still see it as a false representation of society.  Women and minorities might be represented, but there are still many indicating factors that these ads are sending subliminal messages such as “know your role” or “stick with your own kind.”  There are some things that you will never see in visual ads any time soon.  When was the last time you saw an ad with an interracial couple?  I can’t remember the last time I saw one, if ever.  Couples and families are always portrayed as being the same race, even as many more couples I personally know are interracial.  Some would argue that such a sight would make viewers uncomfortable, even if it is reality.  Let’s face it; Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner came out in 1967.  Where has our society come since then?  The same goes for homosexual couples, single parents, disabled people, you name it.  When will we see a more accurate picture of our society in visual ads?

There seems to be an ethical dilemma in AdLand.  The visual campaigns seek to sell products, yet they try so hard not to make people feel uncomfortable.  But really, how can we measure people’s “comfort level?”  Are we basing it on sales alone or just following long accepted practices?  What if society is becoming more accepting of the changing times and wouldn’t even notice the fact that an interracial couple was seen in an ad?  We’ll never know if we don’t take the chance.  AdLand needs to reevaluate the strategy and look at where they can take some risk.  Sometimes controversy will result, but sometimes it just might lead to better things in the end such as a well-known reputation and a whole new population of customers.

I’d like to conclude on a lighter note with a vintage ad from Taco Bell, just as a reminder of how much food you used to get for a dirt cheap price (and yes, that’s Cheech Marin).  I wish everything was still only $2.89!

Everyone talks about how much mobile media and social networks are connecting the world.   However, what many people tend to forget in the midst of it all is that although our modes of communication are becoming more advanced over time, there is still a significant portion of the population that is not connected to things like the internet and cellular networks.  They do not enjoy the luxury of logging onto their email or favorite websites from their own homes and must instead depend on access through public schools.  In a realm where people have the technology to connect to the world, they are the “have-nots.”

This reality, known in the communication world as the Digital Divide, explains the idea that although technology continues to advance, not everyone will have access to it.  Those who have access might be considered part of the “in” crowd, while those who do not have access continue to be disconnected from what we commonly perceive as the real world.  Thus, a divide is created with two parallel realities very similar to a class structure.  The reality of the have-nots is shaped by many factors, ranging from citizenship status, income level, and culture.  Compared to the class system, the attribute of access seems to contribute to a person’s overall status in a society.  If you are not connected, you tend to be treated as a second or third class citizen (on top of all the other factors that cause you to be identified in such a category).

2002 was an important year for studies into the Digital Divide.  Studies by Dickard and Schneider broke down the Digital Divide by demographics to show how race and income were defining attributes of those who lacked access to the Internet.  Mason and Hacker also took a look at several types of divides that exist within the Digital Divide.  Hard questions were being asked as to who the have-nots really were and what was the government doing about it.  However, both studies asked an important question: can the divide be bridged, and if so to what extent?

Although I can’t quite answer that question myself, I can identify one area that has potential to close the gaps that exist in the Digital Divide.  This movement is being led among the coffee shop scene.  Originally spawning from the Internet Cafe scene, advancements in wireless internet connections enabled shops to save money by providing a signal that people could connect to using their personal laptops.  Since the early-2000s, many coffee shops across the United States have offered free wifi connections in-shop to their customers.  Starbucks and Panera Bread were some of the mainstream shops that advertised their wifi to the public.  Soon, many other locally owned coffee shops began providing the same kind of wifi service.  These wifi signals are relatively inexpensive for shops to maintain; the only obligation for customers is to purchase at least one item from the menu as a means to keep the free service free.  Many shops allow customers to stay as long as they would like to utilize their wifi service.  Today, most customers still use their own laptops to access wifi connections, but some coffee shops still have in-house workstations that users can also access.

At the counter of the Bean Cycle.

In the Fort Collins area, there is a coffee shop on just about every single block.  These coffee shops all have their own cultures and identities which really make them feel like you’re meeting a new group of people at each shop.  Momo Lolo is a classic coffee shop that is close to campus, and it also friendly to musicians who want to jam with their friends.  The Wild Boar, also close to campus, provides great coffee and a great menu of affordable food items in addition to two floors of study and social areas.  In Old Town, you’ll find several other unique shops.  The Red Table is a great place to experience art, coffee and sandwiches.  If you’re more into finding a comfortable place to read, the Bean Cycle has great nooks and crannies in their shop to get comfy, as well as a wide selection of books from the Matter Bookstore.  Alleycat, my personal favorite, is open 24 hours and provides just about all of the above, including a patio for a hot summer day.

A cup of joe from The Wild Boar.

To customers living on the other side of the Digital Divide, the resources that a coffee shop provides are a dream come true.  Give a family on a budget a single wifi-capable laptop and a cup of coffee that in some places costs under a few dollars, and now they have access to an entire world that couldn’t be achieved in their own home.  The ability to go to a shop once or twice a week and have internet access is something monumental for a family that lives below the poverty level.  But it’s not just the wifi connection that makes it possible to bridge the gap.  Besides the world that exists online, the culture that lives among the coffee shop scene is indeed a world in itself.  Every coffee shop is welcoming to its customers no matter who they are.  And every shop provides a place for people to come together – meet up with old friends, read a book, watch a band or artist at an open mic night, or just start a conversation with a complete stranger.  All of these things contribute to bridging the gap between people and entire societies.  It’s more than just digital – it is cultural and social.  The possibilities of one coffee shop are endless.