Category: Advertising


Discount Caskets Online? Shop Costco!

casket2.jpgI was feeling in a shopping sort of way this afternoon when I wandered over to There I discovered what others may have long known: the big box discount house sells caskets. What a lift for the spirits! The funeral business has always been notorious for its attractive business environment. Who wants to shop around for the best funeral value? And who wants to be seen as skimping on cheapo casket for a dead loved one? As a consequence, the industry hasn’t been subject to widespread discounting. (But see this.) And now, with the rise of the funeral home chain, the marketplace is amazingly seeing an INCREASE in funeral prices. Yet this situation clearly creates opportunities for entrepreneurs willing to take on the taboo and sell their product based on price (rather than, say, Dignity.) Somehow, I never saw Costco as such a niche player. Clearly, I was naive!

This discovery has led me to ponder a number of questions.

Do people skimp more on the box when they’re buying on the web, in the absence of sales pressure? Or do they buy fancier caskets because they’re more affordable? And who exactly skips overnight delivery, preferring to get their casket via “standard shipping”? (Do some people prepare for the big day, sticking the casket in the garage until it becomes necessary?)

How many people join Costco for the sole purpose of a buying a casket? Maybe Costco doesn’t even try to make money on this segment. Like discounted plasma TV’s and cases of Bounty, perhaps it’s just a loss leader, a way to drive business to the site.

“I came for the casket, but I stayed for digital videocamera.” Or something like that.


Gmail’s Stunned Silence About Child Molestation

After reading Belle Lettre’s interesting critique of Gmail’s email advertising, I decided to do a little IRB-unauthorized research on my own email collection. I figured I’d look at recent messages sent to my Gmail account and see what curious ads popped up. But I found something even more intriguing. A whole category of emails met with silence. Gmail either couldn’t, or perhaps wouldn’t, match me with a single advertiser for this group of missives.

Regular readers may have noticed my recent post on the subject of child porn and sex offender notification laws. Some might say I’m “a child porn apologist“, but I prefer to see myself less dramatically as a skeptical crim law commentator. In any case, the post generated some active discussion in the comments. I receive an email (to my Gmail account) notifying me each time a comment has been added to one of my posts, and these notices include the full text of the comments. It turns out, that – unlike pretty much every other piece of email I’ve received recently – each of the emails containing comments to this child pornography/sexuality post came with absolutely no ads running along the side.

I am quite certain that there are advertisers who’d love to approach someone emailing about child pornography and the like. Some are obvious problem advertisiers – child porn distributors. But what about religious groups trying to reach out to addicts? And what about anti-molestation advocates who do their fundraising on the web? I discovered both of the prior links as advertising to Google searches like “stop molestation” and “fight pornography addiction.” These groups do advertise with Google. Perhaps our exact terms weren’t enticing to these advertisers. Or perhaps the Gmail advertising algorithm exludes advertising based on these terms. Personally, I was hoping for one of those quirky connection ads – like when I got a comment on my Judge Luttig resignation post that said “Was Luttig the jurist using his position on the Circuit Judicial Council to cover up a felony conspiracy of a District Court judge?” And Gmail reponded with an ad for the myspace page of Gil “The Crab.”


Ain’t Them People Funny!

It’s been an awful long time since I booted up and got blogging. A lot has happened in the past month. Lets see: there was that vacation in Seaside, Florida. Then there was my final week in Alabama, during which Isadly packed up my office at UA and made my last, long drive home from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham. Next came the move to Philadelphia and Drexel University College of Law. I took a detour to the fabulous National Association of Sentencing Commissions conference where I visited with favorite crim profs Doug Berman and Ron Wright and gave a talk about the rebirth of rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system. And then back to the mines.

I haven’t had the inspiration to blog – or even to navigate to the “create new entry” page of MovableType – until I stumbled upon Stuart Elliott’s Advertising column in yesterday’s NYTimes. Nothing gets me stoked like hearing about a New Yorker discover culture in the Sticks. Elliott shops at a SuperTarget. (Hello! Is there any greater joy? Can you believe that, now that I’ve moved, my nearest SuperTarget is 193 miles away?) He’s impressed that folks in Alabama and Florida quaff Starbucks and Wal-Mart shoppers buy organic. He’s inrigued that a Super-8 motel would offer free WiFi. He’s also tickled by all the religious billboards.

The article wasn’t explicitly condescending, and perhaps wasn’t condescending at all. But if not, it certainly evidenced the kind of narrow world view that people in the various cities he visits – Birmingham, Tallahassee, Indianapolis, and the like – expect of Northeasterners. Because in the end, most New Yorkers probably read the column and thought “very interesting.” And readers from the 42 (or so) not-so-cosmopolitan states probably thought “only a New Yorker would be surprised to discover that Starbucks has drive-throughs.”

It reminded me of a classic opinion by Federal Judge Samuel Kent, writing in Smith v. Colonial Penn Insurance Co.:

Defendant should be assured that it is not embarking on a three- week-long trip via covered wagons when

it travels to Galveston. Rather, Defendant will be pleased to discover that the highway is paved and

lighted all the way to Galveston, and thanks to the efforts of this Court’s predecessor, Judge Roy Bean,

the trip should be free of rustlers, hooligans, or vicious varmints of unsavory kind….


As to Defendant’s argument that Houston might also be a more convenient forum for Plaintiff, the

Court notes that Plaintiff picked Galveston as her forum of choice even though she resides in San

Antonio. Defendant argues that flight travel is available between Houston and San Antonio but is

not available between Galveston and San Antonio, again because of the absence of a commercial

airport. Alas, this Court’s kingdom for a commercialairport! The Court is unpersuaded by this

argument because it is not this Court’s concern how Plaintiff gets here, whether it be by plane, train,

automobile, horseback, foot, or on the back of a huge Texas jackrabbit, as long as Plaintiff is here at

the proper date and time. Thus, the Court declines to disturb the forum chosen by the Plaintiff and

introduce the likelihood of delay inherent in any transfer simply to avoid the insignificant

inconvenience that Defendant may suffer by litigating this matter in Galveston rather than Houston.

Defendant will again be pleased to know that regular limousine service is available from Hobby

Airport, even to the steps of this humble courthouse, which has got lights, indoor plummin’, ‘lectric doors,

and all sorts of new stuff, almost like them big courthouses back East.


New Postal Wonders


As many of you know, I routinely look to the U.S. Post Office (as well as church elections) to see exactly what’s happening in America. Today I noticed two interesting commemoratives: “Wonders of America: Land of Superlatives” and “Amber Alert”. The Wonders series features 40 stamps, each boasting of a “highest”, “hottest”, “windiest” or otherwise super-est American landmark or feature. (Not surprisingly, the largest delta is the Mississippi River Delta. But did you know the largest flower is the American lotus? Or that the windiest place is Mount Washington? And did our representatives lobby to have features of their own states included? Why was there no “deepest mine”? Or “furriest peach”?)

The great thing about this series is that, with its subtitle “Land of Superlatives”, it seems to be tongue-in-cheek or at least a bit ironic. This is indeed the land of superlatives and hyperbolia. And so in this vein it seems appropriate to celebrate? commemorate? acknowledge? the Amber Alert, one in a series of initiatives produced as a result of moral panic about child abduction. The media has been relentless in flogging the issue of child abduction and murder, generating near hysterical fear among suburban parents. In reality, of course, there are probably fewer than 400 serious abductions of children by strangers each year. (There are far more child kidnappings in total, but these are almost all by non-custodial parents. Amber Alerts can address these crimes, but the creation of Amber Alerts was hardly inspired by concern over custodial disputes.)

As Eric and Dan have discussed, our media live and breathe overheated rhetoric. Is that really something to commemorate and celebrate? The USPS apparently thinks so, but whoever created that Wonders of America: Land of Superlatives series probably knows better.


Stampvertising – Disney Makes Our Five Years Go Postal

Today I noticed that the U.S. Post Office is selling a new commemorative series called “Romance”, featuring various Disney characters – most notably several of their princesses. The 20 stamp sheet includes Belle and the Beast, Cinderella and Prince Charming, Minnie and Mickey, and Lady and the Tramp. There are many interesting aspects to this marketing campaign but one that struck me immediately was the fact that, with this series, stamps have been fully hijacked as a component of a major national marketing campaign.

As any parent of a young girl would surely tell you, Disney 2006 is all about Princesses. The company has figured out one hundred different ways to package Belle, Ariel, Mulan, Pochahantas, Cinderella, Aurora (i.e., Sleeping Beauty), and Snow White. (Am I missing some?) DVD’s, stadium shows, dress-up clothing. The Disney Princess is the ultimate cultural icon for the (pardon the product allusion) American Girl. What is Disney World, after all, but simply a place one goes to see – and hopefully snare autographs from – Princesses. How often need I repeat this? Disney = Princesses.

So whatever excuses the USPS might have for offering these stamps – nostalgia (for the old days of Beauty and the Beast?), a nod to artistry (fair enough, but doesn’t Walt get enough of these?), whatever – the bottom line is that they must be producing serious money for both Disney and the Post Office. For Disney, these stamps are phenomenal advertising. (I wonder if the USPS pays licensing fees for use of the images. I doubt it.) It’s good for the Post Office because the sheets are dandy collectors’ items. What five year old girl, spying these stamps in a display case, would not demand their immediate purchase? Mine did! And the scary thing is that the price is downright cheap. I’d probably drop six bucks for twenty stickers at Disneyland. With this sheet, the kid comes home happy AND I can use them as stamps (once she forgets about them.)

But once you’ve signed on to supporting the current Disney marketing blitz, how do you justify stopping there? Does it really make sense to promote only media properties, when there’s so much other advertising money out there? I expect to see much more stampvertising in the future. The Swoosh seems like an innocuous next step. But how long can it be until the stamp screams “GoDaddy” or “Motorola Razr” or perhaps “Mission Impossible 5, Opening June 5.” We’ll know the PO is in trouble with the arrival of the first FedEx stamp.

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The Datran Media Case: Information Privacy Due Diligence

datran.jpgRecently, New York AG Eliot Spitzer settled a case against Datran Media that could have some wide-ranging implications for information privacy law. Datran Media styles itself “a leading performance-based marketing company with Enabling Technology that connects marketers to consumers through a comprehensive set of email marketing and digital media services.” This is basically a verbose way of saying that it sends unsolicited email, which is perhaps a kind way of describing spam.

Datran obtained personal information from other companies which violated their privacy policies in selling the data to Datran. According to the AP:

The Internet “customer acquisition” companies proclaimed on their websites that they wouldn’t lend or sell the information provided. Consumers were often enticed to reveal their names, addresses and financial data in exchange for free iPods and DVD movies.

Spitzer accused Datran of knowing of the companies’ pledges but nevertheless spamming those consumers with unsolicited e-mails advertising discount drugs, diet pills and other products. Spitzer’s staff said it believed this was the largest deliberate breach of Internet privacy discovered by U.S. authorities.

In other words, the theory of the case was that Datran engaged in “unfair and deceptive trade practices” when it acquired and used information which it knew was being improperly supplied. Datran settled with Spitzer for $1.1 million. The settlement agreement is here.

Obviously, the database industry is up in arms. In an article critical of the case, Kirk Nahra, a partner at the law firm of Wiley Rein & Fielding, LLP, describes it as an “Alice-in-Wonderland result.” He observes that “Spitzer is holding Datran liable for the list seller’s violation of its own policies.” He goes on to write:

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Sexualizing Victims And Offenders

Rick Garnett blogged yesterday about a recent Eighth Circuit opinion in a sex abuse case. The appellate court reversed a trial court’s decision to close the courtroom during testimony of children allegedly abused by the defendant. A particularly interesting part of Judge Arnold’s short Sixth Amendment decision said:

The government implies in its brief that requiring children to testify in publicin this kind of case could only expose them to voyeuristic or prurient interests.

What did the government mean, exactly? Did it think that the defendant would get sexually excited during trial? Would pedophiles flock to the courthouse to witness the testimony?

I imagine that the government was suggesting that having a child testify about sex has the effect of sexualizing the child. Everyone watching this testimony, intentionally or not, would begin to see the child as a sex object. The government is probably right. Amy Adler has written a compelling piece arguing (in line with Judith Butler) that the criminalization of child pornography transforms images that would not otherwise be seen as sexual into sexual events. She suggests that, once we know child underwear ads might be pornographic, we’ll always look at these ads and ask: “is this this is a sexual image?” And of course once we ask that question, we’ve answered it.

In effect, the mere act of going to trial in a any sex crime case sexualizes the victim. We see that victim in his or her role as sexual object because that is how he or she is presented to us. If the right to a public trial is to have real meaning, Judge Arnold must be right that this phenomenon is no basis for closing a public trial.

This brings to mind an interesting post over at The Smoking Gun. TSG posted a series of mugshots under the heading “Foxy Felons.” One such canid, Casey Hicks, has threatened to sue TSG unless it removes her photo. It seems that she believes – based on blog commentary, no less – that TSG readers are using her photo for their own “private sexual gratification.” Perhaps Alabama, which is ever mindful of the dangers of sexual gratification, will add mugshots to its existing ban on sexual stimuli.


Straw Men In Advertising

take a stand.gif

I recently noticed that Rite Aid’s prescription bag sports the following headline: “One in two women dies from heart disease. One drugstore is taking a stand.” What is Rite Aid suggesting? Have CVS, Walgreens and Osco gone soft on heart disease? Do they condone the illness? It reminds me a bit of Outback’s flummoxing motto: “No Rules, Just Right.” Just what are the regulatory structures handcuffing the eager steak lover? What does a fellow have to do to get a Porterhouse over at Ruth’s Chris?

I’m waiting to see what straw men will be identified next. Will Southwest Airlines boast that their cargo holds are mold-free? Will we learn that Crest does not cause teeth to turn indigo? It’s time to have a talk with the marketing folks here at Alabama Law. I’m going to suggest that we stand up against irrational jury verdicts. Take that, Harvard!