Category: Industry Rants

Starbucks Ad—BMW product placement

Since the Federal Trade Commission has been talking about “cracking down” on brands, ad agencies and PR firms in the social media space, I thought I’d take a better look at the FTC’s actual language.

In a nutshell, the FTC wants social media “influencers” to clearly attribute posts as being an ad, sponsorship or endorsement if they show or mention a product in which the influencer has had some engagement with the brand or its agency. Back in April, the FTC actually sent out letters to 90 celebrities they believe have been some of the “worst” offenders on social media. I think this move is starting to get attention now that the FTC is serious. The FTC has also taken action against a brand or two directly.

While I believe in truth-in-advertising principles, the FTC’s new rules, compared to the product placement rules in TV shows and movies, don’t seem fair to brands and agencies that rely heavily on brand ambassadors and influencers. Why? Mainly because the FTC wants influencers to “clearly disclose” a “material connection” in the first 3 lines of an Instagram post. Ugly, right? Have you ever seen a TV show put “#ProductPlacement” text directly on screen when a character or reality star is drinking a #paidplacement coffee or driving a #paidplacement car? No, you haven’t. But they want it to happen in social media.

The FTC has essentially given two options:

1. Use a hashtag like #Ad or #Sponsored in the beginning of your post, separate from the other hashtags at the end (and apparently #Partner is not good enough).

2. Use a disclosure like “Company X gave me this product to try…” or “Company X gave me [name of product], and I think it’s ______.” This is very similar to the FTC’s guidelines they developed for blogs, back in 2011.

I think option two is a fair enough solution by the FTC, especially for people like the Kardashians who literally speak like a brand’s paid actor on their social media channels. But what if an influencer didn’t plan on writing anything about the product in the post? Many influencers merely wear, or show, a product in their image and hashtag the brand (because it’s often harder to see logos on mobile’s small screens), which to me, is exactly the same as product placement in a TV show or movie. So what is the FTC’s position on product placement in TV or movies?

The FTC has expressed the opinion that under the FTC Act, product placement (merely showing products or brands in third-party entertainment content – as distinguished from sponsored content or disguised commercials) doesn’t require a disclosure that the advertiser paid for the placement.

Great. Let’s follow the stated FTC Act for social media then, right? Not so fast. Because this is how the FTC answers a make-believe influencer question on their official site:

Q: If I post a picture of myself to Instagram and tag the brand of dress I’m wearing, but don’t say anything about the brand in my description of the picture, is that an endorsement? And, even if it is an endorsement, wouldn’t my followers understand that I only tag the brands of my sponsors?

A: Tagging a brand you are wearing is an endorsement of the brand and, just like any other endorsement, could require a disclosure if you have a relationship with that brand.

Because the FTC uses the word “could”, I feel they have allowed an opening for interpretation and that everyone should follow the FTC Act on brands in third-party entertainment. After all, don’t we as consumers go to social media for entertainment and news? Why, in this respect, should social media be treated differently? And remember, these are the same social media platforms where political ads don’t have any disclosure mandatories. (But I’m no lawyer and my agency will defer to what our clients’ lawyers decide.)

No matter how you decide to treat social media influencers, it’s worth reading these two documents from the FTC. I would love to know your opinions on all of this.

FTC Endorsement Guides

FTC Brand Disclosure

Lastly, if you want a good laugh and you are not easily offended or mind the F-word, watch HBO’s John Oliver have a little fun mocking all of Starbuck’s paid placement this month:

FTC’s social media “Product Placement” rules vs. TV/Movie product placements

British Arrows Atlanta 2017

As an account person who has worked with a large range of creative folks who have varying degrees of passion, I have learned that the best work comes from a creative team that cares. And by care, I mean a team that is inspired to produce the best work for the client. Sure, everyone wants to make work that they personally love, but wanting that AND having a client centric focus is the key to long-term success for both the agency and client.

As a client, you should be asking your agency how the creative team seeks inspiration and what motivates them. We often focus on day-to-day deliverables, budgets, scopes and deadlines. But at the end of the day, what separates one agency from another is the level of passion that the creative team has for your brand. An inspired team will create work that gets attention, gets talked about and gets remembered. An inspired agency team will lead to a stronger return on your investment. After all, you’re not investing all your time and budget for the sake of making your brand more wallpaper in the attention-deficit-disorder consumer’s mind.

Of course, inspiration can come from many places, and often times from some of the amazing work our peers do. Seed Factory recently hosted the British Arrows for the first time in Atlanta. After watching 75 minutes of the award winning, best of British TV commercials, I’m proud we brought this “short film festival of brands” to Atlanta. Hopefully it has helped spark creativity for agencies and brands alike.

Before this year, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis had been the only U.S. city showing these “brand film shorts”. In fact, this has been a Minneapolis tradition for over 30-years and has amassed an annual attendance of over 25,000. If you know your Advertising and Communications cities, you’ll also know Minneapolis is/was a hotbed of creativity for decades. British commercials are often strong on storylines and character development just like short films, making it pretty hard to leave the theater anything but inspired and excited to put that energy to good use (for our clients, of course).

We were happy to host the inaugural Atlanta British Arrows 2017 to inspire marketing directors, creative teams, strategists and agency account managers in our home of Atlanta. We also look forward to bringing it to Atlanta every year to come – to connect, laugh and be motivated by thoughtful and timeless story telling.

In the meantime, does your brand want to work with us and one of these fantastic British production companies? We have experience concepting award-winning work and collaborating with some of the best directors nationally and internationally.

Check out some of our favorite spots.

Cancer Research UK: Cancer is Happening Right Now: Adyan Sings

John Lewis, Interactive Christmas VR Experience: Buster The Boxer 

Sport England, This Girl Can: Phenomenal Women

Seeking Creative Inspiration

As the Atlanta economy picks up speed once again, many Atlanta ad agencies are feeling the uptick in business. Seed Factory has been around for almost 2.5 years and we’re busier than we’ve ever been. Our current roster of clients are keeping us busy with rewarding and challenging work.

Currently we have some exciting projects going in healthcare, DIY and home improvement, commercial construction, business consulting and outdoor sports categories.

We’re sure the bigger agencies in Atlanta, like BBDO, JWT, 22Squared, Ogilvy, Fitzco, Digitas and Moxie are putting in long hours trying to keep up with the work loads their Fortune 500 clients are piling on, just as we are putting in very satisfying, but long hours for our clients. Even the mid-sized shops like Brunner, BlueSky, ASOY, Three and Van Winkle are having to make sure they are properly staffed for the larger workloads.

As a boutique Atlanta advertising and PR agency with the ambition and talent to grow into a mid-size agency, our current clients keep continue to assign us more projects as we deliver exciting results and value. If you’d like senior staff working on your advertising, PR and branding projects, make sure to contact us to learn what we’ve been up to lately, and more importantly how we can help grow your business.

Atlanta Ad Agencies—Business is Good

We are firm believers that there’s never a bad time for coffee. And lucky for us, our agency just happens to be located close to some of Atlanta’s best coffee shops. Here is a list of some of our favorite local spots to get you through the day.

West Side

Revelator – This is our in-house coffee-connoisseur’s go to shop. He swears the pourover brew is the best in the city. The absolutely gorgeous interior, paired with great coffee, keeps us going back.


Brash – Located across the street from the Revelator and housed in an overhauled shipping container, Brash brews up some mean espresso drinks. The small shop is perfect for a quick stop-in and the atmosphere provides a great backdrop to hang out and sip your brew.


Chattahoochee Coffee Company –  Another Westside shop with delicious espresso is Chattahoochee. Along with great coffee drinks, it has an awesome view of the skyline from west midtown.

Octane – One doesn’t talk coffee in Atlanta without mentioning Octane. They’ve been keeping Atlanta caffeinated (with good coffee) for more than 12 years now.


Star Provisions – This awesome little shop is tucked away and serves the Atlanta roasted Batdorf and Bronson coffee, and have an incredible selection of house-made pastries. Make sure to grab one of the coffee cakes too, they’re huge!


Other Locations

Chrome Yellow Trading Co. – Located on Edgewood, they brew delicious coffee in a gorgeous, well lit space. There’s also a trendy shop full of clothing and other goods in the back.

Taproom – Kirkwood’s hybrid coffee bar, Taproom serves fine coffee drinks and beers. They even feature a hop infused nitro cold brew they call the “beerspresso”.

Spiller Park – Spiller Park is located in the center of Ponce City Market. They have an awesome list of coffees for various roasters across the globe, and the selection is always changing. Go here for one of the best pourovers you’ve ever had and grab a Sublime donut while there.

Condesa – Another hybrid coffee bar, Condesa has been around for a while. With a location in downtown and one in Old Fourth Ward, they make great pour-overs and have a nice, chill atmosphere for getting work done.

Dancing Goats – Another shop serving Batdorf and Bronson coffee, Dancing Goats on North Avenue, is situated right behind Ponce City Market. What we love most is their killer patio – seriously, you could spend an entire afternoon there. They’re definitely a favorite for hanging out on nice spring days.


Top 10 Best Coffee Shops in Atlanta

There’s the original ad, and then there’s our suggested make-good ad.

Pearl Izumi and their ad agency are taking some heat (see NBC News article) for taking their humor too far. This ad showing a dog that has died by trying to keep up with his owner (who can run so much farther wearing Pearl Izumi shoes) has gone over the line.

It went over the line because it showed death. But not just ridiculous, unbelievable, crazy death. It showed death in a way that can really happen. It showed believable death in a believable situation. That’s where the ad went wrong. It showed a real issue; A real problem that happens with pets that owners need to be aware of. Dogs die of exhaustion by over excercising in summer months. They don’t sweat like humans and therefore cannot regulate their body temperature as efficiently as humans. But will a dog stop running when it’s too hot? No. Not if his human companion keeps running. A dog’s loyalty and love of their owners will actually kill them if the owner isn’t cautious with the dogs amount of exercise.

Anyway, I see the positives of what this ad was trying to do. And I see many negatives.


  • Great photography
  • Well produced
  • A conceptual ad based on a smart position—run farther
  • Tried to create an emotional tie to the consumer through humor


  • Used humor poorly
  • Didn’t understand the nuances of executing humor well
  • Body copy takes it way too far with the bad humor and shows they didn’t understand the difference between humor and bad taste
  • Didn’t get ridiculous enough with the humorous execution of a smart position so it failed

So Pearl Izumi encountered a shit-storm of outrage through Twitter and Facebook and has decided to pull the ad. Their apology was a little shallow; As in, we don’t understand what the problem with this ad is, but we’ll stop running it because people don’t like it.

Our idea is, since they’ve spent all this money on the great photography and they’ve taken heat for being clueless, why don’t they just turn the ad into a educational ad? Look at our execution of the ad. Does this image not work as a serious, educational ad while still emphasizing the shoe benefits? Now I would never present an image and concept like this to our clients as a platform for a campaign, but now that the damage is done, would it not be smart for Pearl Izumi to flip the ad on it’s head and show people they understand everyone’s concerns? Acknowledge that it’s a real issue by changing their own ad into a educational message. This could be turned around and possibly create good press for them if they actually supported “dog overheating education” as a real PR platform.

So often companies run an ad that takes a ton of heat and they simply pull the ad and make a weak apology. Has an advertiser ever turned that same ad into a completely different message that shows they understand their audience? Pearl Izumi, here’s your chance to do it. We’ll be waiting for your call when you want to execute this.


Pearl Izumi Ad Humor Goes Over the Line, But—

Wow, what a week! We filmed a TV commercial on Tuesday starring WWE wrestlers Rey Mysterio and Alicia Fox, who are appearing in a new client spot that will air during the NCAA Basketball Tournament. We’ve had the opportunity to work with incredible clients to produce two TV spots for the NCAA over the past year and were thrilled to work with such a remarkable talent like Rey, who is prominently featured in the commercial.

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to meet Robert McClain of the Atlanta Falcons, who is interested in helping to promote the Atlanta Humane Society and show his dedication and support of the local non-profit. An animal lover since childhood, Robert has a shepherd mix named Melo. We look forward to filming a PSA and getting him involved in many of the AHS events (as much time as his busy schedule will allow that is).

We are looking forward to producing the spot featuring Robert in the next couple of months and showing what a big animal advocate he is. We’ve had a blast with the pro sports talent this week and helps us realize why we love our jobs so much!

Pro Sports Week at Seed Factory