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"a watchful eye on technology and marketing"
May 3, 2013 8:01 PM   Subscribe

Back in the day, Ken Segall helped create Apple's Think Different campaign and helped name the iMac. More recently he worked on JC Penney's Yours Truly, commercial, before JCP ousted Ron Johnson as its CEO. He writes a sharp, entertaining blog called Ken Segall's Observatory, where he offers opinions on advertising and design geekery. His take on Ron Johnson's failure is interesting, as is this post on what it takes for an advertisement to stand out in a crowd. He calls attention to surprisingly decent ads from Microsoft and Dell, critiques terrible ads (from Microsoft and JC Penney and even Apple, and comments on whether skeuomorphism has its advantages. He's also fond of discussing product names. Give this one a skip if advertising gives you hives, but for those of you who're interested in things like this Segall's blog is especially choice stuff.
posted by Rory Marinich (26 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite

 
[this is good]
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:15 PM on May 3, 2013


Now I'm sad thinking about the JC Penny's that could have been.
posted by sourwookie at 9:32 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Related: 80s Don Draper. "This cell phone is the brick with which we'll build the future."
posted by oulipian at 9:49 PM on May 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Just do not read the comments.
posted by smackfu at 9:51 PM on May 3, 2013


The stories there are amazing. I think I actually learned more reading the links than I have actually reading about these things in textbooks.
posted by mephron at 10:03 PM on May 3, 2013


This is one of those cases where I feel so entirely out of step with what I hear that I think I must be the wrong one. I thought the direction JCP was headed was great, I started shopping there for the first time since I was a kid, but probably won’t anymore.

His take on it was good, and filled in the blanks in what I thought; the change was too fast and in the wrong order. You need to make money and keep operating while you’re changing and people are discovering the place. I first went into some stores after hearing about the changes and found absolutely nothing interesting. It turns out that store hadn’t made any real changes yet. Later I went into some other stores that had and liked it. They should have implemented the changes and then made the big push.

But what do I know?
posted by bongo_x at 10:04 PM on May 3, 2013


The whole recent story with JC Penney is really interesting. It could make a great opera - I am not kidding.

Advertising itself I avoid as much as I can, as a viewer (which is to say, not really very much), but I do not get hives at all from thinking about it.

I grew up in a fairly culturally snobbish environment, where they taught me that consumerism was vulgar and that most of the culture around me was trash. Of course, we still watched TV, and went to the mall. But at least we knew we were better than people who did those things and thought that all was well with the world.

So, it was surprising to me that, when I accidentally stumbled across books about advertising and its history, I found them to be compelling and fascinating. Advertising - the heart of the plastic and asphalt beast, manufacturing desire. I had been surrounded by it all my life and had barely thought about it, except to sneer at it. I took advertising for granted, but nothing about it was accidental; it had all been carefully prepared - including that I took it for granted! Especially that, actually - it's an effect of advertising's ubiquity and repetition. It has to seem like a natural or inevitable part of the furnishing of the world to really work. Otherwise, you might notice that it's odd that you are, oh, watching a little movie where a guy tells you that your phone sucks and that people are laughing about you because of it.

When "Mad Men" came out, I wasn't surprised at all that someone made a show about the 60's era of Madison Avenue; about half of the books I shelved in the advertising part of the stacks seemed to be glory days memoirs from the titans of the business in that time. It's a really fascinating period in many ways, and there is a romance to it, the optimism and brash youthfulness of the new captains of persuasion. I was surprised that it took so long for someone to do it, and by how well they did it.
posted by thelonius at 10:09 PM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the JCP thing is sad. I went into the local JCP store right after Johnson got axed, just to see what the deal was. There was a Levis specialty store with big promotional posters to use their iPad app to get a custom fit. The iPad was inoperable, the battery was dead. I traced the power cord and it wasn't plugged in. I was passing by the housewares, and saw a display of Fiesta Ware, with a few boxes of place settings, and then like 25 aqua bowls stacked up in front. There was hardly anything else in the area, lots of empty shelves where dishes and place settings should be.

What was the deal here? Were local employees determined to destroy the brand? Or were they just idiots?
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:15 PM on May 3, 2013


Tangentially to advertising, Where The Suckers Moon is a fascinating account of an early 90s Subaru campaign directed by Tibor Kalman. Worth reading with a window to Youtube open, because most of the ads they talk about from the era (Honda, Peper Jeans) are still findable.
posted by migurski at 10:18 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I find it interesting that commentators online weirdly become defensive when they see that Lumia / WP 8 ad, almost as if they are being personally attacked, when people actually associated with the Apple/ Samsung efforts apparently can laugh it off.

I also wonder he has to say about the Samsung G4 release in India.
posted by the cydonian at 10:41 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


His critique of the Microsoft Surface Pro/RT commercials is spot on. I was flabbergasted at how over-the-top bad they were. What were they thinking? For me it was the first solid indication that - no matter how well designed their new device, they were going to blow it, the way they did with the Zune.
posted by Auden at 10:45 PM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is good stuff. Thanks.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:16 AM on May 4, 2013


Just a few months later, Ron unveiled his vision for the “new” jcp at a flashy NY event for retail industry analysts and journalists. jcp would be turned into a collection of a hundred shops, featuring great quality brands.

So... a mall?
posted by stavrogin at 3:25 AM on May 4, 2013


Wait, did this guy work on that Damn JCP Ad With All The Screaming that made me never want to shop there, ever?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:14 AM on May 4, 2013


The latest JCP ad, the one that ends with "come back and see us!", really is shockingly blunt and desperate sounding.
posted by kiltedtaco at 5:14 AM on May 4, 2013


His article on the downfall of Penny's is pure baloney. Of course Ron Johnson despised the JC Penny's brand and its customers - why else get rid of Big and Tall and Plus Sizes? It's not like they had a lot of competition, and it's not like the segment wasn't getting larger every year (pun unintended)... it just didn't fit with the young, hip clientelle Johnson so wanted to impress. You know, the ones without any disposable income.

Also, it doesn't matter if the industry "agrees" with your strategy and vision, if you don't test market that shit, you are going to crash and burn if the slightest part of the plan is out of whack.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:20 AM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Those Apple ads were the worst. Thankfully pulled quickly, but I'd really like to see a post-mortem on the thoughts that lead to them being made and aired.
posted by now i'm piste at 9:35 AM on May 4, 2013


The "Think Different" ads? can you be more specific?
posted by mwhybark at 9:39 AM on May 4, 2013


Not the "Think Different" series, the three ones that featured a Genius outside of the store. The first is talked about in the terrible ads part of the post. Ostensibly meant to showcase part of Apple's retail strategy, they came across as patronizing and clumsy while also being dull and un-informative. Wrong expectations, wrong messaging, and worst of all: not funny.
posted by now i'm piste at 10:01 AM on May 4, 2013


Ah, hadn't even known about them. Looks like I won't have the pleasure, either!
posted by mwhybark at 11:08 AM on May 4, 2013


You can see them here (until they're found and taken down).
posted by ceribus peribus at 11:54 AM on May 4, 2013


You can see them here (until they're found and taken down).

EGAD MAN. I got through the first one and two seconds of the second one and had to close the window. KILL IT WITH FIRE.
posted by 4ster at 12:30 PM on May 4, 2013


I hated Apple for years because they said "Think different" instead of "Think differently". Christ, that irritated me. Still does, actually. Damn you for reminding me of it.
posted by Decani at 3:55 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hated Apple for years because they said "Think different" instead of "Think differently".

No, Apple didn't want to change how you were thinking. They wanted you to choose a different computer. Thus, "Think Different."
posted by eriko at 4:12 PM on May 4, 2013


His critique of the Microsoft Surface Pro/RT commercials is spot on. I was flabbergasted at how over-the-top bad they were. What were they thinking?

Amen to that - for the launch of a new product - I haven't played with surface, but Windows 8 is good, and to introduce it like this? Way to score an own goal.

The Lumina is fun, I like that they have borrowed Henry and Casey from Party Down. A clever touch.
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 4:57 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


His critique of the Microsoft Surface Pro/RT commercials is spot on. I was flabbergasted at how over-the-top bad they were. What were they thinking? For me it was the first solid indication that - no matter how well designed their new device, they were going to blow it, the way they did with the Zune.

The MS Surface commercials have me convinced that owning a Surface is exhausting. Seriously, the ads come up on Hulu and I'm halfway convinced it's selling some kind of campus jazzercise fad.
posted by gauche at 6:55 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


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