Be Greater Than…Smoking.

The latest Marlboro cigarettes ad campaign from Philip Morris International is global in reach – deployed in 50 countries – and is sparking quite a controversy. The question at hand: do these ads target teens?

Let’s take a look at the visuals: crowd surfing at a concert; sucking face in the street; catching air on a snowboard. Well, that’s a big yes. What about the copy? The headline concept always involves the word “maybe” — as in, “maybe” is what weaklings think; strong individuals take action. Action like smoking cigarettes, I suppose. So don’t be a maybe…be a somebody and smoke Marlboro. That sounds like peer pressure any way you read it, which is another indicator that this campaign targets teens.

Now let’s look at the tagline: the word “Be,” the “greater than” sign that teens just learned about in math class, and the Marlboro box. What does this mean? Either it’s “Be greater than, Be Marlboro” – which is the intent. Or, maybe (just maybe) teens will read it as “Be greater than Marlboro” – in other words, be greater than smoking. So even if it’s the latter and encouraging readers in some bizarrely subliminal manner not to smoke, it’s another element that has “teenager” written all over it.

Tsk tsk, Philip Morris. No wonder Germany banned your ads. Now if you really wanted to reach teens without sparking a storm of media hate, maybe you should put old people in the same ads and go for an ironic effect. But I’m thinking you wanted the free press…after all, if mommy and daddy hate the ads, it’s just one more reason to pick up a pack of reds, right?

~ @AdvertGirl (aka Denise Blasevick, CEO, The S3 Agency)

Haunting Charity Ad Brings the Conflict Home

We often turn to YouTube to see the latest cat video, social snafu or viral hoax. This video is none of those – and it showcases YouTube’s capacity as a global information tool.

U.K.-based Save the Children charity asks viewers to remember that, just because the Syrian conflict is happening far away, that doesn’t mean it isn’t really happening.

The spot uses a series of 1-second-a-day video snapshots of a young girl from one birthday to the next to slowly reveal a nightmare version of Britain. What a difference a year can make. And even though it isn’t shot in the US, this video is something anyone in America can immediately understand. Perhaps that is why it gained nearly 11 million views in under two days on YouTube.

~ Walid Elshahed, Web Designer, The S3 Agency


Who knew watching 20 strangers kiss for the first time on camera would be so interesting? With over 37 million YouTube views in just three days, this clothing brand ad that initially masqueraded as a viral video is drawing kudos as well as some viewer ire.

The first thing I thought when I watched this video was “I wouldn’t mind being one of those twenty people,” because they are all absolutely gorgeous. Then I realized that while they may all technically be strangers, there was nothing random about the professional models, actors and musicians included in this video. But I’ll be honest I didn’t think this was a fashion ad. Maybe a social experiment about awkwardness and intimacy, but not an advertisement for a clothing line.

Filmmaker Tatia Pilieva paired up with Wren Studio, a LA-based fashion label, to launch this video in support of their 2014 Fall collection. Wren’s founder and creative director Melissa Coker said that the video was launched as part of's video fashion week. “We make these fashion films every season,” Coker said. “I strive to make them an interesting film that exists on its own rather than something that feels like a commercial, and it seems to be touching people — not only people who are in fashion and would see this, but also random guys who aren't connected at all”.

So, while initially it seems as though the intention of this video was to pay tribute to every first kiss ever the reality is it was a brilliantly executed marketing stunt that got millions and millions of people talking about the Wren fashion label.

However, many who were drawn into the video by the apparent random romance are feeling “duped” when they find out that it is, indeed, an ad. In today’s transparent world, audiences don’t like to be duped. But when you look at 37 million views (and growing), all the social shares and chatter, plus the earned media (even if it’s negative), a whole lot more people know about this brand than they did four days ago.

~ Tracey Jeffas, Account Supervisor, The S3 Agency

Does Maytag Man Stand Out? Depend On It!

As a recent first time home buyer, I had the oh-so-exciting (not) experience of shopping for appliances several months ago. Store after store filled with row after row of stainless steel extra cooling super durable whatchamacallits. Even the word appliance has a negative connotation. The branding is equally lackluster: you could swap the logo on any 2 machines and they would have the exact same customer ratings. Some good, some bad.

The advertising for these items is as boring as the product themselves, often touting how reliable they are (they aren’t). However, Maytag recently came out with a new series of “Maytag Manthem” ads, aimed at humanizing these appliances and showing off how much abuse they can take. Here’s one of the spots:

Gone is the old Maytag Man, who had been around for 2 decades, and here now is a younger face with a hint of dry humor and wit. He takes the place of your household appliances, and speaks to you while performing the machines duties. Knowing that no one gets excited over a dishwasher, the product is only shown for a second at the end, then is gone. I was introduced to the campaign on TV, but it’s 360 degrees; online, social media, and in-store branding are included.

Had this campaign come out a few months earlier, I definitely would have had something to remember at the point of sale, instead of looking at rows of soulless machines.

~ Mike D’Ambrosio, Interactive Art Director, The S3 Agency

DHL Prank Delivers!

OK, we know UPS is brown, FedEx has a hidden arrow in its logo, and DHL…well, what do we know about DHL that differentiates it from its competition? Now we know, thanks to DHL’s very clever PR prank that put UPS to work delivering their message: DHL IS FASTER.

This is an example of a creative idea that was hard to pull off — and probably had many naysayers when it was first suggested. It’s also an idea that, if it didn’t work, nobody would hear about it — so the risk was low. But if it worked…

Here’s what DHL did: they wrapped large packages in thermoactive foil and made them so cold that the paper turned black. Those packages were given to UPS to deliver to “difficult-to-find” city addresses — which would be just another day in the life of a UPS delivery person except for the fact that, by the time delivery came, the packages had warmed up and revealed the real message. The oversized packages were actually bright yellow with “DHL IS FASTER” emblazoned across the front in large red letters.

In short: UPS workers were being spotted carrying giant yellow billboards that screamed “DHL IS FASTER.” Mortifying, yet they had to do what they were contracted to do. Pretty sneaky, DHL. (And kudos to UPS for being professionals about the whole thing.) I wonder if FedEx was intentionally left out or if they were targeted as well and just didn’t play along?

~ @advertgirl, The S3 Agency

The Rewards and Challenges of Teaching Web Design

About 7 years ago I decided to take a part-time teaching position at a technical post-secondary school.  My time in the classroom has been very challenging as well as one of the most rewarding experiences in my career.  I believe everyone should spend time in an educational setting teaching others their craft.  I also believe that sharing knowledge with others is a responsibility to help your own industry flourish. I wanted to share some of my experiences to help you consider such a move for your own career.

Let’s start by looking at the challenges and some of the solutions I’ve used to meet them over the years.  

Not Everyone Learns the Same Way
Over the years, students from all walks of life, age groups and experience levels have sat in my classroom.  Fundamentally, teaching is about presenting a concept in the best possible way for your students to grasp. However, no matter how well you prepare, the reality is that your materials will work great for some students and not so well for others. Everyone learns differently and at their own pace.

When you receive feedback from your students, use it to adjust your lesson plans to make sure you reach all students and not just the best and brightest.  Try to find ways to get those slower-paced learners up to speed. For example, I’ve allowed students to record lessons so that they can go over them later at their own pace.  I wasn’t crazy about the idea of being recorded but I felt it would help so I allowed it.  Sure enough the change was usually immediate in those students and they end up making a quick turnaround.

Not Everyone is Cut Out To Be a _______________  (Fill in the blank)
The reality is that there were still some students who no matter how much extra attention I gave them or how much tutoring and extra materials I offered, simply didn’t understand the concepts being taught despite my best efforts.  In most cases these students tried really hard and having to sit down with them and explain that I didn’t think they were right for the field is easily the most uncomfortable thing I have had to do as a teacher.

If you’re going to be a truly effective teacher, be prepared to make difficult decisions.  As uncomfortable as these conversations are, they sometimes necessary for the good of the class.

You Represent The Industry
You will be the first industry professional most of your students have ever met or been able to speak with.  To them, you represent the industry.  The stories and opinions you share will shape their understanding of the industry.  That is a HUGE responsibility!  The hardest part is trying to not take any negativity from a bad day at the office into the classroom.  I wasn’t trying to represent the industry as all rainbows and unicorns but I wanted to always teach students to respect clients no matter how frustrating some were.

Instead of just blowing off steam and complaining to students about clients, I tried to use the experiences in a productive way by explaining some of the obstacles they may encounter on a day-to-day basis and how try to overcome them.

The above are probably some of the most substantial challenges to face as a teacher, but if you meet those challenges, the rewards are even more substantial.  

Helping Others
It wasn’t long after starting to teach that I began to feel the huge impact I had on my students.  Spending time with people who are genuinely interested in the craft and the knowledge you have to share is an amazing feeling.   Many of my students were unemployed or underemployed at the time of enrollment, and seeing them graduate and find good entry-level jobs in the industry is very rewarding. Hearing students later on telling me how the lessons and conversations in the classroom helped prepare them for success really makes all my hard work worthwhile.

Learning By Teaching
Probably the most valuable benefit of teaching is how much I’ve learned in the process.  Try to explain the difference between HTML and CSS to a new student and I guarantee you will understand the concept better than before.  This experience in explaining technical concepts to students will also help you speak with clients without being too technical or intimidating.  

Generating Business
Speaking of clients, I wouldn’t have expected this when I started teaching, but it lead to a number of projects outside of the classroom.  Multiple students and teachers have passed along solid leads to me because they couldn’t handle the projects themselves with their level of experience.

Over the years, people have asked me if I realized that I was training professionals who will one day replace me or take clients away from me.  I’ve honestly never felt that way because there’s plenty of work to go around.  From my experience, being a teacher and making a positive impression on your students won’t lose you clients, but could actually generate business for you and your agency.

If you ever decided to start teaching and sharing knowledge of your industry, I assure you that the students will not be the only ones who get something positive from the experience.

~ Walid Elshahed, Web Designer (and educator), The S3 Agency

Oscar Mayer Gives New Meaning To “Wake ‘n Bac(on)”

What’s better than waking up to the smell of bacon being cooked in the kitchen (by someone else)? Nothing, it seems. However, Oscar Mayer has introduced a clever runner-up: a bacon alarm clock app that attaches to your iPhone, releasing whiffs of savory goodness and sounds of unmistakeable sizzle. That’s right: it transforms your iPhone into a Bacon Scent Alarm Clock. The bacon scent alarm adds a new dimension of phone gadgetry enjoyment. It ties nicely into mornings – perhaps encouraging people to have a little more bacon during the work week by waking up earlier, rather than relegating its deliciousness to weekend enjoyment. It also taps into the unique Pavlovian-response inducing smell that may not belong solely to Oscar Mayer, but as the largest player in the bacon wars anything that’s good for bacon is good for Oscar Mayer.

The down side? (Other than potentially annoying the vegan in the bed next to you, who probably still likes the smell of bacon and may even be settling for tempeh “Fakin’ Bacon”…) Only 4,700 bacon fans will be lucky enough to receive this sensory device. To try and claim one, just go to their website: You may have the bacon gods smile upon you…or you may be greeted with an apology from this guy:

Should you be unable to join the elite 4,700 owners of this smell-tastic device, however, you can download the Oscar Mayer Wake Up & Smell the Bacon free app. You won’t get the scent, but the sizzling sounds may just provide enough reason to get out of bed.

~ advertgirl


Mobile technology keeps getting better. The average smart phone today has more computing and processing power then a desktop did 10 years ago. Because of this, people are using their mobile devices increasingly for everyday tasks. Currently, 28% of a typical website’s traffic comes from a mobile device (tablet and phone combined)*, and that number will only go up in the future.

With all these mobile users looking at your website, perhaps it’s time you took a look too – to make sure it’s truly responsive. Does the content automatically reflow to fit a particular screen size well? If not, that lack of responsiveness can be hurting your brand’s digital experience just as an unresponsive company representative can negatively effect the customer experience.

Take for example. Visit the site via your phone, and you will see the standard website, with microscopic body copy and tiny images. Sure, you could zoom in, but then you’re missing all the content on the right side – including the advertisements for which brand are paying but whose impact is clearly minimized. This digital experience simply doesn’t do the renowned automotive magazine justice.

Compare that to Jalopnik, a popular automotive blog who has a much more modern online appeal and sensibility. Right away, you’re met with bold headlines and easy to read copy. Simply scroll down for additional stories – today’s mobile surfer has no issue with scrolling down, after all. Before you know it, your 15 clicks into the site. It encourages you to read, rather then making you work.

Car and Driver has been around for over 50 years, while Jalopnik is just a few years old, which has allowed the latter to respond (no pun intended) to technological needs much faster. As magazine subscriptions continue to decline, I suspect sites like Jalopnik will only continue to become more relevant.


~ Mike D’Ambrosio, Interactive Art Director, The S3 Agency

Trend Alert: The Rise of the Subscription Box

In the midst of email bombardment, there’s nothing quite like getting a package in the mail. It’s even better when that package contains new goodies just waiting to be discovered. This is the idea behind the explosive subscription box industry, a service that’s moved beyond beauty boxes to encompass nearly every consumer product under the sun.

How often do you find yourself wanting to try a new shampoo or a different snack food, but don’t want to shell out the money for fear you won’t like it? Subscription boxes solve that problem by curating monthly goodie bags with sample sizes of cool new products, giving you the chance to try before you really buy. Monthly subscriptions are intriguing to trendsetting consumers as they seek to discover cool, new products ahead of the game.

Beauty has become a staple in the subscription box business, with companies like Birchbox and YouTube star Michelle Phan’s Ipsy leading the way.

Bespoke beauty products are handpicked by social savvy experts and shipped to the thousands of eagerly awaiting fans. And beauty is just the beginning. There are boxes for everyone: crafters, health food nuts, stylish shoppers, foodies, sports fans, wine lovers, bookworms, kids, coffee connoisseurs, and more. There’s even a box for your dog: BarkBox!

What does this mean for brands? Securing a highly coveted placement in a monthly box can grow sales and brand loyalty as subscribers get the chance to try your product and join your fan club. Subscription boxes act as a turnkey brand ambassador and the social celebs who curate them can be great publicity for your product.

~ Christine Perez, Account Coordinator, The S3 Agency



Tweeting Groundhog Campaign Takes Over @TurtleBackZoo

NJ's #1 Zoo turns Groundhog Day into a monthlong prediction event

On February 2, the world places a rare focus (and a lot of pressure) on a certain rodent: the groundhog. Expected to predict whether or not an early spring is forthcoming via the sight or lack thereof of its shadow, this small creature is the center of quite a stir each Groundhog Day. While Punxsutawney Phil may hog the spotlight on that one day, Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, NJ is leveraging social media to take over the month.

Essex Ed, the prognosticating groundhog at NJ’s #1 zoo, has taken over the zoo’s Twitter account (@TurtleBackZoo) – and has turned Groundhog Day into Groundhog Month. Complete with his own hashtag (#EssexEd), the furry futurist is taking his predictions way beyond the weather. Olympic wins, color trends, TV series hits…nothing appears to be beyond the groundhog’s abilities. Ed even answers prediction questions posed to him by the Twittersphere.

Combining a sense of humor (apologizing for predicting a long winter) along with useful information (predicting the zoo’s closure on snow days), this social media promotion shows how a brand can leverage a holiday in the right way. First, the tie-in makes sense from a consumer standpoint – it feels appropriate. Second, it is fun and not forced, as evidenced by the campaign’s ability to remain fresh across an entire month (an eternity on Twitter). Third, it engages and converses with followers instead of simply speaking at them.

The “Groundhog Month” was a natural extension of Turtle Back Zoo’s annual Groundhog Day prediction festivities, in which visitors and press are invited to see Essex Ed make his weather prediction each February 2. This year he accurately predicted the long winter and the Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory, since Groundhog Day fell on Super Bowl Sunday – and then shared those predictions on Twitter, bringing a dose of reality to the virtual world.

To ask the social-savvy rodent to weigh in with a specific prediction, tweet your question before February 28 to @TurtleBackZoo and be sure to use the hashtag #EssexEd.

~ @AdvertGirl (aka Denise Blasevick, CEO, The S3 Agency)

Note: Campaign created by The S3 Agency

This column originally appeared on The Examiner. It would be great if you followed me there too!


I know it’s meant in a light-hearted way. I know that McDonald’s does not literally mean to equate an Olympic gold medal with a Chicken McNugget.

Except, well, in their new Olympic commercial, they do. 

Olympic gold medal. Chicken McNugget. Here it is:

I can feel my brain pushing against the inside of my skull. This spot makes my head want to explode.

Chicken McNugget. Olympic gold medal.

Still, I suppose there is some precedent…such as this 1948 commercial featuring an Olympic athlete for Camel cigarettes…

~ Adam Schnitzler, CCO, The S3 Agency 


This week, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese brought 90s rapper Vanilla Ice into its marketing mix with an ad targeted to 90s-chicks-turned-moms and their kids. Next to “Ice, Ice Baby,” one of the musician’s best known phrases is “Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go!” from his performance in the 1991 movie “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.” A full 23 years later, Kraft has adeptly connected that ear worm to the launch of its Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-shaped Mac & Cheese.

At first, that might sound like an idea that was great in the agency’s kooky brainstorming session but could be hard to pull off in a 30-second spot. Props to all who made it happen: it really works, from Vanilla Ice’s grocery stock boy role to the mom who recognizes him and busts some sort of moves to the thoroughly mortified child watching the scene unfold in the aisle. Take a look: 

For those who can’t get enough of Vanilla Ice in his turtle-green get-up, there’s even an incredibly well-done behind-the-scenes reel that satisfies hungry fans and educates those who simply can’t look away. What might you learn from the outtakes, you ask? Well…for one thing, Kraft launches a new Mac & Cheese shape every year. Another: the rapper has a full-on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle tattoo. Still want more? How about that his favorite Turtle is Raphael, because of the first three letters in the name. Even in the outtakes, Vanilla Ice proves fun to watch. He no longer takes himself too seriously, which offers just the right balance that Kraft is banking on.

The video just launched yesterday, but don’t be surprised if you suddenly start hearing people whispering “Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go!” as they go about their daily business…or hashtagging their tweets with #GoNinjaGo. And just like that, two pop cultural icons have collided in a perfectly cheesy way.

~ @AdvertGirl ( Denise Blasevick, CEO, The S3 Agency ) 


In the wake of consumer outcry for food companies to nix many of their more damaging additives, Subway recently announced that it would be removing a chemical found in yoga mats from its bread, and Kraft announced that it would replace the preservative used in Kraft Singles slices with a natural alternative. While this is good news, as well as a step in the right direction, it also prompts the question: Good Lord, what else is in packaged “foods”? The short answer: probably not what you think, and marketing has everything to do with it. Before you toss that Buffalo-Blue-Cheese-Byproduct-Dip into your shopping cart just because it showcases a happy cow on the container, watch this…and then maybe visit your local farmer’s market instead:

Author’s Note: This video promotes, a collection of some of the largest organic food producers in the US. As organic farming becomes more corporate, it also becomes fraught with its own marketing falsities so be sure you really know what you’re getting, no matter where you buy from. It’s still a damn good video though.

-Trish Salge, Sr. Art Director and Expert Box Label Reader, The S3 Agency

Chevy Pushes the Envelope with Olympic Ads

If I didn’t love the brand before, I sure do now. Chevy debuted two new television spots during the Olympic opening ceremonies that are sure to cause a little controversy. Probably not because the ads feature gay couples, but because the 2014 Winter Olympics are being held in Sochi, Russia where there are laws around homosexual propaganda. Although Chevy denies there were any political intentions, these ads are a very clear statement of what the brand stands for.

One ad, called “The New Us,” for the Chevrolet Traverse, shows quick shots of many different families, including a gay male couple with a son and a daughter. “While what it means to be a family hasn’t changed, what a family looks like has,” a voiceover states. “This is the new us.”

Another ad, an overall Chevrolet brand spot, features a collage of different images of America, including a shot of a gay couple getting married. “Like the old love, the new love starts with a kiss,” a voiceover states. “Like the old community, the new community still keeps us connected. … A whole new lineup for a whole new world.”

These are great examples of advertisers trying to be more inclusive in terms of who they show in their commercials, while raising the bar for the overall industry. Chevy has done a great job of truly showcasing what our nation is made of and it’s refreshing to see that they aren’t afraid to say it in mainstream advertising.

So, was the airing of these ads during the Olympics a dig on the propaganda laws in Russia? Who’s really to say, but regardless Chevrolet just got some serious cool points in my book! Rock on, Chevy! Maybe my next vehicle purchase will be a Traverse.

Tracey Jeffas
Account Supervisor, Chevy Prospect

The Art of Subliminal Advertising

"I see what you did there."

When a brand puts something out there that has a bit of a wink to it, consumers have a chance to get in on the joke. Sometimes, however, things are so clever that one wonders if the brand intended such a connection to be made…and those who get said über-clever connection are left wondering whether it was intentional or serendipitous.

The Aleve tie in to hit-TV game show Jeopardy is a great example. Take a look at this photo featuring New Jersey resident Jason Keller at the end of one of his many Jeopardy victories. The smiling Keller adds $25,000 to his growing pot and gets to stay for another try at winning even more money. What about the other two contestants? The connection from Aleve at first seems obvious: the analgesic is relieving their pain by providing some token “loser money.” But what else do you notice?

This isn’t just any pain reliever sponsoring Alex Trebek’s forum for geniuses and trivia masters. There is some subliminal reinforcement of the “Aleve” brandname. The winner gets to stay. Each loser must, ahem, leave. “I leave.” “Aleve.” Now look at the photo again, from left to right: I stay (to compete again), I leave (with dashed dreams), I leave (having to face friends and relatives after an abysmal performance).

Did Aleve intend this subtle and even comical brand reinforcement? Or is this just a “happy accident” waiting to be discovered by some viewers? Perhaps the brand will provide the answer to this post.

~ @AdvertGirl, (Denise Blasevick, CEO, The S3 Agency)

Note: This post originally appeared in my Examiner column. Please follow me there.