Monday, October 6, 2008

Lip Service

Exactly where does the saying "Like Putting Lipstick on a Pig" come from?

Pigs have been rolling around in proverbial expressions for centuries: a "pig's ear", a "pig in a poke" as well as the Biblical "pearls before swine". Another expression, "You can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear" seems to have been in vogue in the 16th century or earlier. In fact, the phrase, "A hog in armour is still but a hog" was recorded in 1732 by British physician Thomas Fuller.

The clashing contrast of pigs and cosmetics was expressed as early as 1926 by Charles F. Lummis, writing in the Los Angeles Times: "Most of us know as much of history as a pig does of lipsticks." But the exact wording of "putting lipstick on a pig" doesn't show up until 1985, when San Francisco radio host Ron Lyons of KNBR used the phrase referring to renovation plans venerable Candlestick Park (instead of building a new downtown stadium for the Giants and 49'ers).

Unless you've been stuck in the mud somewhere, you've seen the snappy, first-to-market Apple ads that personified Microsoft as a dorky loser in a cheap suit. That branding initiative is now being challenged by a $300 million dollar Microsoft campaign, kicked off with some surreal spots featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld.

But wait!

There's more!!!

As regular visitors to the The Seamless Brand are aware, it is a rare day indeed when we post two videos to help add depth and perspective to a particular subject.

Today is one of those rare days.

For the record, Jerry Seinfeld is being paid $10 million for his role in helping Microsoft shed its "sad sack" image. As you might imagine, the offbeat humor in these ads has produced dramatically varied responses. In his post at the Church of the Customer, Ben McConnell argues that any reaction is a good reaction. "You loved them, hated them, or were baffled by them. That made them polarizing, therefore a strong foundation-builder."

Personally, I disagree.

Even if you threw in George, Elaine and Kramer, all the marketing in the world won't undo the fact that Microsoft's Vista is widely regarded as a "Pig in a Poke", referring to a Middle Ages trick, when meat was scarce but apparently rats and cats were not. The scheme entailed the sale of a "suckling pig" in a "poke" (bag), however, the wriggling bag actually contained a cat—not particularly prized as a source of meat—that was sold (bag unopened) —to the unsuspecting victim. The word on the street at least from about 7 or 8 out of 10 people I talk to is that Vista is a real porker. And if that's not enough, Microsoft leaves me with the feeling whenever you run into a guy or gal desperately trying waaayyy too hard to come off as cool. These days COOL - as proven by Apple - is a BUSINESS. Everything from vodka bottles and airlines, sneakers and hamburgers, brand leaders are searching for ways to make stuff cool:

  • How do we become the iPod of our industry?
  • How do we do what Nike did?
  • How do we get the mojo WestJet has?
    • I don't know about you, but I am not sure trying to have your brand some off as slick as a Ron Burgundy sign off lies in responding with a campaign that feels like a stammering Brick Tamland retort."Where'd you get your clothes... from the... toilet store?"

      Is it possible to try and "out-cool" another brand with celebrity shills alone? And just how relevant is the "cool" factor to your business?

      Do you believe all great marketing starts from the inside? And can you think of a single case where a superficial marketing fix ever repaired a deep product or service issue?

      Or is that like putting lipstick on a pig?

      "The only way to bag a classy lady is to give her two tickets to the gun show...
      [kisses his biceps] and see if she likes the goods"


      Darren said...

      I agree - throwing Jerry Seinfeld ain't gonna get rid of the real buzz on the street!

      Rick Nicholson said...

      It might have been a great advertising response 10 years ago, when hype seemed to be more important than substance.

      In 2008, our Bullshit meter's are at full attention.

      We don't believe you PC. You're dead to me...

      Rick Nicholson said...
      This comment has been removed by the author.