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Can a Joke Without a Punchline Still Be Funny?

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I’m going to depart from the customary “buildings, buildings, buildings” emphasis of Sitegeist today to talk about a local branding campaign that has gotten much buzz over the last couple of years locally. I started thinking about the “I Hate Steven Singer” campaign when a branding newsletter passed across my desk. Steven Singer is a local jewelry store in the Philadelphia area, which has targeted its branding efforts to the 21 – 30 year old male demographic. The article extolled the success of the campaign, noting that the messaging spoke particularly well to its core audience and noting that annual revenues at Steven Singer have appreciated a healthy 15 – 20 percent since the introduction of the campaign. Here’s how the campaign has progressed, in a nutshell… According to Wall Street Journal online article. The campaign began “..with a radio spot featuring a man’s voice saying, “I hate Steven Singer” and inviting listeners to find out why by visiting the store. Next came the billboards, followed by graffiti-style “I hate Steven Singer” stickers on store windows. The phrase also is still plastered on an array of promotions.” The official “byline of success” of the campaign is that, upon reading “I Hate Steven Singer,” viewers have been compelled to go into the store to satisfy their curiosity or go online to learn more about the campaign and the store’s offerings. Once at the website or in the store one learns that the “I” in the tagline is, in fact, a prototypical Steven Singer customer and the reason he hates Steven is because his girlfriend/fiance has made him spend lots of money there or the jewelry was an inadvertant cause of marriage and fatherhood. It’s all very cheeky, irreverent and sometimes sexual. If you buy into the popular wisdom the campaign succeeds because it cleverly reaches the “guy” demographic who, truth be told, would probably rather be spending a few grand on any number of other things besides jewelry for the missus. And, although you can’t argue with Singer’s claims of great ROI on his advertising dollar, I’ve always had a few issues with the campaign. Just out of curiosity, for instance, I stood outside Steven Singer’s store this morning and asked ten randomly chosen folks if they knew what the slogan meant. My responses basically broke down into three categories. Six people had absolutely no clue what the slogan meant. Three folks told me that the slogan refers to the fact that “the competition hates Steven Singer.” And, lastly, one was able to correctly explain the tagline. The lack of understanding about the meaning of the slogan is one of the problems with the campaign, perhaps. I asked Jami Slotnick, a partner at the Philadelphia/New York Marketing Firm, Munroe Creative Partners what she thought of the campaign and she expressed a couple of concerns. The first concern raised was, at the time of the campaign’s rollout, there may not have been enough brand penetration for the client. In other words, instead of asking “WHY is Steven Singer hated,” folks were asking “WHO is Steven Singer?” Secondly, there seems to be a “delivery failure” issue with the question itself. None of the non-billboard print signage that one sees around town tells people how they can find out “who” hates Steven Singer and why. The billboard signage does have the web address listed, but it’s questionably legible at sixty miles an hour. The net result of this is that there are a whole bunch of folks around Philadelphia who have heard the ubiquitous slogan but don’t have a clue what it means and, possibly, who Steven Singer is. One has to wonder if the initial “teaser” campaign asking the question could have been followed with a campaign that gave a more clearly expressed “call to action,” telling people what they could do to find out who Steven Singer is and why is so loathed. In the end, of course, the client’s net happiness and perceived return on investment is really all that matters. In that regard, the buzz on the street is that the healthy growth in sales over the last couple of years is a clear indicator of success. Of course, that healthy growth has probably come with a pretty big price tag. The most prominent media outlet for the store’s advertising is the Sirius-based “Howard Stern” show. I can’t back this up with facts but, I’m guessing, that advertising on Howard don’t come on the cheap.

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